Thursday, February 26, 2009

Dear Pay-Less (and Kroger, and Frys)

The time has come for us to part ways for now. I think you have gotten a little too big-headed for me to hang around in this relationship. I will be honest; I went to Marsh the other day. And I loved it. I enjoyed the better vegetable selection (they actually carry Italian parsley and dried mushrooms), I liked their friendly meat counter which sold more than hamburger and kabobs, and I thought their sushi was great. Fair Pay-Less, I will always remember your fantastic lunch meat and good deals. But the horrible service, the dirty stores, and the dingy fresh food were just too much. I turned a blind eye when I watched you start importing bakery goods from a central hub, and though I was sad, I let it go when you stopped selling good cheese and started providing spreads.

So Pay-Less, it's been a good run, and we had some memories. As I sit here eating this tasty organic apple from Marsh, I am happy of my decision to pursue higher quality and better service, and I hope that some day you can understand.


Monday, February 23, 2009

Cooking Pasta

Ee all use boxed pasta. It's just a way of life. But what comes with that is an overcooked, mushy mess. Yep, whoever thought up the current pasta directions for cooking that is labeled on the boxes was either asleep or had no teeth. Pasta is meant to be al dente, which means "to the tooth". This does not mean stick to your teeth, it means the pasta should have some firmness, some bite to it. So enough with the "if it sticks to the wall it's done", that only leads to mushy pasta and bad wall décor. Here are a few tips to help your pasta become the mainstay in your dish once more.

- Use a lot of water. For a pound of pasta, you should be using about a gallon of water. This will help in even cooking.

- Salt the water. Use a lot of salt. It has nothing to do with the boiling point and everything to do with taste. Do you not salt the rest of your food? So why should pasta be different. Use about 3 T for a gallon of water.

- Add some oil. 1 T is plenty, and this actually has nothing to do with flavor. It prevents the pasta from sticking and the water from boiling over (really, it works). Most of the oil will be kept in the water and not make it into your dish.

- Don't rinse your pasta. It washes away starch and prevents the sauce from sticking. Unless you need to shock it for later use (cold water will stop the cooking), rinsing your pasta will only cause it to be watery and your sauce to remain on the plate.

- Whatever cooking time the box tells you, decrease it by 2-3 minutes. When that time comes up, taste the pasta. If it is way too firm (and has a dry center), cook it for a minute more. Remember when you toss the pasta with sauce it will absorb a little bit more of the liquid, so undercooking it slightly is not a bad thing.


Wednesday, February 18, 2009


I sometimes have a trend of starting a post out with something negative and then turning it on a positive. This is no different :) I'm not a fan of Bisquick. In fact, I have only had it once, and I thought it was pointless. Sure, it's great for the family in a pinch who needs a quick breakfast. Just take said powder, add eggs and milk, and cook. Wait a second...that's not easy, it's just 2 steps more than actually making pancakes. And what else do you get when you use a mix? Chemicals, preservatives, and nasty bits that make pancakes taste like ground up spoons. No thank you.

I love these pancakes, based on the Fanny Farmer version from 50 years ago. They are still that good. I alter them a bit for some more fluff and cook then at a much higher temperature for a crusty outside. You can make these in no more than 20 minutes and I'm certain you have all the ingredients for them. Hopefully this will lead to you wowing the pants off your significant other this weekend when you surprise them with homemade pancakes (extra points if you make them look like hearts).

Buttermilk Pancakes

1 c. flour
2 T butter, melted and slightly cooled
1 egg
1/2 t baking soda
1/2 t salt
2 T sugar
3/4 c buttermilk

Sift flour, sugar, salt, and soda into medium bowl. In separate bowl, combine the egg and buttermilk. Add the butter and stir (it will clump, don't worry). Pour the wet into the dry ingredients and fold in with a spatula until no flour remains. Do not over mix! Heat a griddle or nonstick skillet over medium or medium high heat (depending on how crispy you want them) and lightly coat with cooking spray. Spoon out batter onto hot surface, cook for about 3-4 minutes per side or until each side is golden brown. Serve immediately with warmed syrup.

If you want to make these fruit pancakes, fold in ¾ cup of your favorite fruit (I like blueberries) after mixing.

No buttermilk? No problem. Instead, use milk and swap the baking soda with 2 t baking powder.


Tuesday, February 10, 2009


As I have stated before, I'm a big fan of Top Chef. And the head judge, Tom Collichio. I have his cookbook (extremely tasty) and I identify with his simple approach to food. So OF COURSE I was going to give his new Craftsteak (located at the MGM grand in Connecticut) while on a trip to see Em's parents (side note, Connecticut continues to amaze me with good food and gorgeous weather, I love the place). We showed up for what was about to become quite an experience.

First, something that happened after the meal. While Em's father and I were walking through the bar, we saw some beer taps that we did not recognize. We asked the bar tender about them and he happily explained what they had (Harpoon and some nice local brands) and told us about a coffee stout that a local guy was making and they carried it. He then proceeded to pour us some and we talked about and how it was different and such. All this after the guy knew we had already finished our meal and were on the way out. What great service.

Now, back to the food. It's (obviously) a steak house, and it's pretty much what they do. They do have some pasta, chicken, and fish which I am sure is all tasty, but I came for meat. They provide a nice selection of grass-fed, corn-fed, and wagyu beef. Wait, what? Feedings differ? Oh, yes, dear reader, as we found out they do. The stuff you more than likely are getting in the market is corn fed. Simple as that. Craftsteak ages theirs (28 or 40 days are the options, I think) which gives a lot of beefy flavor. Grass-fed is very lean and pure in flavor. Wagyu is crazy, hand-massaged, beer fed beef. I stayed away from that (it's really good, I know, but one of them was $26/oz). I got a New York corn-fed and was extremely pleased. Others sampled were the grass fed beef, filet, and a hanger steak (a much underappreciated cut). All were delicious and cooked perfectly. I also enjoyed all of the sides we tried, such as piquillo pepper risotto, Brussels sprouts with bacon, and sautéed wild mushrooms. Without risk of talking too much, I will also say that the chocolate soufflé I had for desert was nothing short of divine.

Overall the dinner was fantastic. I appreciate the simplistic, almost rustic approach to the food, all the while maintaining meticulous detail with how everything was prepared. Nothing was too fancy, and everything tasted and melded well together. If you are in the area of one of these restaurants, I can think of very few better ways than to spend an evening meal.


Thursday, February 5, 2009

Cake or Death!

Two cakes enter, only one will leave! Ironically, this is about angel food cake. I was quite conflicted on a recipe to go with. On one hand, I had a tried and true recipe from Alton Brown that my mom has made and was quite good. On the other, I had a recipe from Cook's Illustrated that seemed to go together quite well. What to do? Why make both, of course.

Angel food cake is pretty similar no matter how you make it. Beat egg whites, add flour and sugar and various other components, bake, let rest, and eat. It has two main attributes going for it, one being its pretty easy (if you have an electric stand or handheld mixer, if not, good luck beating those white to medium peaks before your arm falls off), and the other being that it is ridiculously healthy. The one aspect of this cake that might set people off is the need for a special pan. An angel food cake pan is a unitasker and that kind of stinks. However, I have started making this cake pretty often and that makes it worth it. When you do purchase one, get one with the feet on it or you will play heck trying to get it to balance upside down.

First up was the Cook's Illustrated cake. Calling for a dozen egg whites, some sugar, some cake flour, almond and vanilla extract, and cream of tarter, the cake had some pros and cons. The pros were it tasted delicious, hands down the better of the two. The cons were the texture, it was a bit rubbery, and the fact that they had me line the pan with parchment paper was a bit silly. Next through our gauntlet is the AB cake. Fantastic in texture, this recipe called for super fine sugar and less extract then the other. The results were quite different. It was much lighter and fluffier but the taste was not quite there. Hmmm, a difficult choice.

In the end, I choose both. Yep, a cop out after all of this. But my reasoning is good. For the most part, I prefer the Cook's taste but AB's texture. Therefore I decided to go with the first recipe’s flavor, but use superfine sugar and forget about fussing with parchment paper.

Angel Food Cake

12 egg whites
1 ½ cups sugar (see note below to make it superfine)
1 ½ t cream of tartar
¼ t salt
1 ½ t vanilla extract
½ t almond extract
1 ½ t lemon juice
¼ cup warm water
1 cup cake flour

Preheat oven to 350°F. To make superfine sugar, place the desired amount of sugar in your food processor and buzz for about 2 minutes. Sift half of the sugar with the salt and the cake flour, setting the remaining sugar aside (sifting is important; it will help avoid pockets of flour). In a large bowl or stand mixer, add egg whites, water, extracts, and cream of tartar. Beat for about 3 minutes or until eggs are foamy. Slowly sift iun the reserved sugar, beating continuously at medium speed. Once you have achieved medium peaks, add the lemon juice, and then sift enough of the flour mixture in to dust the top of the foam. Using a spatula, fold in the flour mixture gently. Continue until all of the flour mixture is incorporated.

Carefully add mixture into an ungreased tube pan. Bake for 35 minutes before checking for doneness with a wooden skewer. (When inserted halfway between the inner and outer wall, the skewer should come out dry).

Cool upside down on cooling rack for at least 2 hours before removing from pan. Remove the cake from the pan by slicing around the outside to loosen the cake from the pan. Serve with berries or whipped cream (or both).


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