Cooking tools I couldn’t do without — September 24, 2017

Cooking tools I couldn’t do without

Not only does Steve Read, Steve also Cooks. I get great joy out of these things:

  1. Chef’s knife from Global. The only knives you need are a chef’s knife, a serrated knife (for tomatoes and such), and a paring knife. Don’t bother with knife sets; they are stupid, and mostly low quality. Get a chef’s knife, sharpen it regularly, and rejoice. (If you’re in Boston, get Patti to sharpen your knives when she’s in your neighborhood.)

  2. Boos block. It’s like a cutting board, but larger (quite heavy) and much better. I lovingly maintain this one using “mystery oil”, and make sure to dry it off after using it, ever since I destroyed the first one I owned. The trouble was that it sat next to the sink, and would stew in sink water for hours and days after cooking. Eventually it became so warped that it would wobble on the countertop. So now, after I’m done with this Boos block, I stand it on its edge and wipe down the counter around it. And whenever the board looks like it’s a little dried out, I slather it in oil. It’s stayed in great shape for a year and a half, and I anticipate many more years of use.

  3. Bench scraper. You might not think you would need a specialized device to scrape things off countertops (and off Boos blocks), but it turns out you do. This one is particularly lovely, and maybe too expensive to buy sight unseen (I believe we got it as a wedding gift), but this one is also great, and costs $7.08.

  4. Apron. I didn’t know much of a difference an apron makes (over constantly getting all your clothes dirty, and/or wetting your hands every few minutes). Turns out: quite the difference!

  5. Any pans from All-Clad. I first encountered these ten-odd years ago, when I was living with roommates in a house on U Street in Washington, D.C. One of my roommates (Ed) owned the house, and didn’t enjoy cooking very much, so I had the kitchen basically to myself. The story went that the house had been owned by an airline pilot or some such, who had bought it to live in with the love of his life. They both enjoyed cooking, so the kitchen was especially lovely: beautiful restaurant-grade six-burner stove, and all the All-Clad cookware a man could hope for. But the dream died quickly: the owner’s partner cheated on him; by the time Ed came to look at the house the owner wanted to get rid of it as quickly as possible and forget that the whole thing had ever happened. The owner sold it to Ed without an inspection, just to speed the process along. Which all sucks, but … All-Clad cookware!

    We have this sauté pan, or something close to it. I think it may be among the more entry-level All-Clad pans; I think there aren’t as many layers to the metal as in the higher-end All-Clad stuff. One of these days, when I have a ton of money, I’m going to invest in all the high-end stuff, and then just spend my days cooking.

    Basically what makes All-Clad great is the evenness of the heat: neither the pan nor the food ever has burned patches. I think that comes from the complicated combination of metals inside, but I’m not sure. All I know is that cooking with All-Clad made me feel like a culinary genius. And the sauté pan we have is the nicest stove-top piece we own.

  6. Cast iron. We have a Dutch oven and a 12-inch skillet. They’re heavy, and require a bit more care than other cookware (never use soap on them, and always dry them quickly), but they repay the effort: the heat is perfectly even, and these pans will last forever. I fully anticipate that I’ll be passing them on to my grandchildren, who will wonder why the hell they’d use musty old cast iron rather than brainwave cookery.

This is some good-as-heck butter — May 3, 2016

This is some good-as-heck butter

I would commend Beurre de Baratte to your favorable attention. To quote Jonathan Gold:

DTLA’s Lydia Clarke sometimes says that the Beurre de Baratte is her favorite cheese in the store.

It really does have the depth of flavor of a beautiful cheese.

I found out about this stuff from Gold’s appearance on the Bon Appétit podcast; his mentioning the butter comes within the last couple minutes. I apparently need to see the movie about Gold, having first learned about the man, I believe, from a New Yorker article which documents both the man’s gustatory adventurousness and his function as a food anthropologist:

In April, he announced a recent migration from Mexico’s Distrito Federal. How did he know? You could now get D.F.-style carnitas in Highland Park, “loose and juicy, spilling out of the huge $1.99 tacos like Beyoncé out of a tight jumpsuit.”
In the past year or two, Gold has noticed a surge of new restaurants serving very hot country-style food from Sichuan, a shift that he attributes to migration after the 2008 earthquake.

So three cheers for Jonathan Gold, and three cheers for the butter he loves.

Two tiny experiments in food — October 8, 2015

Two tiny experiments in food

  1. I’m making this right now. I’m just past the “Sprinkle surface of dough with 2 Tbsp. sugar” part. Seems to be going well so far.

    I got obsessed with this pastry at Ames St. Deli, and found what is (thus far) its apotheosis at Flour. Flour will even be teaching a class on how to make this tomorrow; the class has long since sold out. I think this pastry is something of a mini-obsession around here; and like all things which are high-quality in Boston, there’s always a gigantic line for it and it sells out early. So maybe if I can make these on my own, I can slake my thirst for them.

  2. Ever since we went to Italy, we’ve been obsessed with Aperol spritzes. I ran out of Aperol, so I’ve been experimenting with other amari. A Cynar spritz is very good, though I need to change the ratio from 3:2:1 prosecco:Aperol:seltzer to 4:2:1 prosecco:Cynar:seltzer. Amari can taste quite medicinal, and I love that about them, but in the spritz that needs to be cut a little bit.

    For the record, Campari spritzes are also delicious. I’ve not worked out the appropriate ratio there yet.

P.S.: A friend tells me that he and his wife drink a cocktail that is roughly 1.5 parts Campari, 1/2 a part vodka, 1.5 to 2 parts grapefruit juice, and 1 part soda. That sounds dang nice.

What tequila “should” taste like — May 7, 2014

What tequila “should” taste like

This article is kind of annoying. It’s a bunch of people explaining what tequila is supposed to taste like. Apparently aging tequila too long is bad, because you end up tasting the notes of the aging and not tasting the tequila itself.

I mean, maybe. But we went through this with coffee. Back in the 90s and early 2000s, French roast was the thing, so people loved Starbucks. Then at some point the George Howell thing took over: now we’re only supposed to drink lightly roasted coffee, because “all those oils [that you see on the outside of a French-roast bean] ought to be inside the bean.” (For the record, I think Howell’s coffees are great as espresso, because the high-pressure / high-temperature extraction process gets more of the good stuff into the cup. I’ve not yet found a way to make them work well for French-press coffee.) Now maybe we’re in the full-city-roast era.

Whatever. Drink whatever you want to drink. Then there will be people who will tell you that you’re doing it wrong. Maybe you drink Cuervo, and maybe it’s shit. I don’t know; I’m not familiar with tequila. But maybe you’ll develop a real taste for tequila, and you’ll sip it neat, and eventually you’ll gravitate to other tequilas. Maybe some of those will be aged in oak for a long while; maybe others will be on the sweeter side, and will be less oaky.

Eventually you and I will both be dead, and it won’t matter at all whether we drank the “right” kind of tequila or coffee. Drink what you want to drink. Fuck those guys.

(I guess I’m feeling irritable today?)

Restaurant recommendation of the day: Giulia in Cambridge, near Porter Square — November 10, 2013

Restaurant recommendation of the day: Giulia in Cambridge, near Porter Square

Just like it says up top: you should go to Giulia, in that part of Cambridge that is equally inconvenient to both Harvard Square and Porter Square; in that same little area are Simon’s (formerly the best coffee in Cambridge until Crema came to town), Marathon Sports, and the West Side Lounge. M’lady and I have gone to Giulia twice now, and had an absolutely lovely time both times. They have delicious cocktails, and plenty of lovely Italian small plates that even vegetarians such as myself can enjoy. The décor is warm, cozy, and inviting, such that I’m sure Giulia will be a welcoming destination in the dead of winter.

Highly recommended.

Because Backbar, in Somerville’s Union Square, is remarkably un-webbable, I give the world this — December 31, 2011

Because Backbar, in Somerville’s Union Square, is remarkably un-webbable, I give the world this

Backbar, in the Union Square neighborhood of Somerville, is on Facebook, but I’ll be danged if I can find their website through any combination of reasonable search terms. So let’s try this:

* Backbar is on the web.

* You can find directions to Backbar, and even a map!

Perhaps this will do some good. I see that the indispensable Boston Restaurant Talk included Backbar’s URL, but for some reason didn’t actually provide the link.

Quick note on Boston-area ramen — October 12, 2010

Quick note on Boston-area ramen

I’ve had ramen now at two Boston-area establishments: Sapporo, within the Porter Exchange; and now Ken’s, within the Super 88 Market in Allston. I’d heard from multiple sources that Ken’s was the best around here, but I was sorely disappointed. One item on the menu advertised a rather more intense pork flavor, and the waiter recommended that, so I got it. It was not intense. The broth was thin and uninspiring. The only real plus side to their ramen was the combination of boiled egg and nori. Plus the noodles were maybe a bit more substantial than Sapporo’s.

Sapporo … I’m kind of obsessed. They advertise their broth as being filled with “rich collagen” after cooking for “over ten hours.” It really is an intense, flavorful, buttery, full-bodied broth. That’s broth you want to bring home to mother. But you wouldn’t, is the thing, because it is soup rather than a person.

Next time I’m at Sapporo, I’ll ask them if they can throw in a couple sheets of nori to their house ramen. With that added, it won’t even be a contest.

__P.S.__: I need to check out Men Tei, it seems. I’m always glad to explore the area’s ramen.

__P.P.S. (14 October 2010)__: Verdict on Men Tei: Nice noodles, and a lot of noodles, but uninspiring broth. Also not much *in* the broth. I got the pork cutlet, which definitely felt as though it came from a package of frozen cutlets. This is of a piece with the octopus balls, which people on ChowHound suggests really do come from a frozen package. Men Tei seems to have very little kitchen at all, so this isn’t surprising. But in any case: nothing to write home about. I think my Sapporo homecoming will come soon.

A cocktail I’m obsessed with and another one that is somewhat like the first but also different — October 5, 2010

A cocktail I’m obsessed with and another one that is somewhat like the first but also different

I’ve recently become obsessed with a cocktail they make at Drink called a Trinidad Sour (so named because Angostura bitters are from Trinidad). The recipe I use is

* 1 part Angostura bitters
* 1 part lemon juice
* 1 part rye. I’ve been looking around for 100-proof Rittenhouse Rye, but what I have on hand is 90-proof Russell’s Reserve and 80-proof Old Overholt; I think higher-proof ones wouldn’t hide so easily under the rest of the ingredients.
* 1 part orgeat. I use a brand called Ferrara, which sells it as ‘orzata’. Around these parts it’s available at Capone Foods (at least at the Cambridge location near Davis Square).

The recipe I started with used 3 parts orgeat, 3 parts bitters, 2 parts lemon juice and 1 part rye. Another variant used 2:2:2:1. I found that 1:1:1:1 suits me best; it’s a bit more astringent than the other recipes. Not that the Trinidad Sour is actually sweet; it’s really quite tart. It’s some bizarre magic trick whereby a full ounce or more of bitters lands in a cocktail that is … not bitter. One night I forgot to put in the orgeat; *that* was bitter. So the orgeat is the thing, I guess.

Last night Drink constructed for me a variant on the Trinidad Sour called Don’s Little Bitter, or DLB; it apparently originates at a pretentious bar I’ve been to in New York City called Please Don’t Tell, or PDT. Its recipe is

* 1 part Peychaud’s bitters
* 1 part Angostura orange bitters (available around here at The Boston Shaker, along with the Peychaud’s)
* 2 parts Angostura bitters
* 2 parts lemon juice
* 2 parts Fernet
* 2 parts simple syrup
* 4 parts Barbancourt 8-year rum

It’s like a Trinidad Sour, but you can taste the bitters much more decisively — still not overwhelmingly, but they peek out over the top just a bit. If I had more of them, or had mulled more over the one I had last night, I might be able to tell you more about it. Fernet, for instance, has a distinctive taste, and I imagine I should be able to spot its effects more.

(My buddy Jon and I have a longstanding, lighthearted debate going over whether Fernet is, as the kids say, “narst.” In my queue is a novel called [book: Cooking with Fernet Branca], which I gather is based around the absurdity of trying to cook with something which [newspaper: The New York Times] describes as “bottled bile.” Anyway, I really enjoy the stuff. After-dinner bitters are great for the stomach. Trust me on this. Or go buy a bottle.)

The idea of using more than a splash of bitters — of, in fact, making bitters central to the drink — is novel and awesome. I approve.

Some questions about acquired taste — August 25, 2010

Some questions about acquired taste

(__Attention conservation notice__: Wherein I think out loud for about 900 words on the subject of acquired taste, with particular reference to espresso — not because that’s the most important example, but rather because it helps me make things a bit more concrete.)

I’ve had this nagging question in my head for a long, long time: how do you judge what something is “supposed” to taste like when it’s an acquired taste for most everyone?

This isn’t a rhetorical question; it may be reasonable to demand that, say, scotch taste a specific way. But there are a number of tastes that virtually no one enjoys when they’re young; black coffee and wine come to mind immediately. This may be just an American thing; I don’t want to universalize it too much. But childhood food tastes tend to the sweet. I’d hypothesize that sugar is not an acquired taste, but espresso is.

So what I’ve wondered for a while is: who decides what espresso is supposed to taste like? Some possible standards:

* It’s supposed to taste like what the average consumer likes, including those who at present don’t drink espresso. Imagine, for instance, that you gathered people at random off the street and put a number of different espressos in front of them. The best espresso, by this standard, is the one that the most people liked.

The trouble here is obvious: you’re appealing to the average, and that may not be what defines “the best espresso.” The average person may, in Dave Barry’s words, not be able to distinguish between red wine and melted popsicles, but that doesn’t mean that melted popsicles are what wine is supposed to taste like.

* It’s supposed to taste like what those who’ve tasted many espressos say it should taste like. The trouble here is that their perception of what it should taste like may be colored by what the community they’re in says it should taste like. I seem to recall that French-roast coffee was all the rage 10 or 15 years ago; nowadays lightly-roasted coffees seem to be on the upswing. Does this mean that those coffees are objectively “what coffee is supposed to taste like,” or does it just mean that master baristas are driven by fads like everyone else?

* It’s supposed to taste like what those with highly perceptive senses — think Robert Parker, the “man with the million-dollar nose” — say it should taste like. The trouble here is a bit of the last bullet — the Parkers of the world probably spend their time conversing with like-minded folks — but also that it’s not clear how much I have to learn from someone whose palate is that finely honed. Yes, one day I hope to be able to register as much as Parker does when I quaff a fine wine, but in the meantime most of the subtlety is lost on me. Should I be drinking espresso that appeals to people with far different tastes from mine?

* There’s no right answer; it’s supposed to taste like whatever you like drinking. This is a fine standard, and in fact in some ways it’s probably ideal. But it does demand discipline from the drinker: if you’re going to make your own standards, you owe it to yourself to drink many different kinds of espresso (or wine, or scotch, or whatever) and decide which you like best.

All of these, I suspect, could be taken beyond the realm of food and into art or literature or comedy. What makes Andy Kaufman funny? Picasso is harder to get into than Thomas Kinkade; is the latter better than the former? I have less to say about those disciplines, because I know less about them.

In general, I certainly hope that interpersonal comparisons are possible. If they’re not, that makes life more boring; I find it fun to discuss food and literature and whatever, and you probably do too. I doubt you feel as though there’s an impassable wall between you and me that makes it impossible for us to compare foods. We read various critics; sometimes they call our attention to aspects we might not have noticed in books we’ve just read or coffee we’ve just drunk. Then we decide for ourselves whether the standards that they use to judge books or food work for us.

Is that the most we can say about acquired tastes? That there’s no right or wrong taste for espresso or wine or whatnot, but only whether someone else’s standard rings true for you? That doesn’t feel quite right to me, because it’s likely to be driven by fads. Fads are less a measure of what’s good than what’s popular. Yet I don’t want to go to the opposite side, either, and assert that there’s no right answer other than what you yourself enjoy; there are people who know more about a given product than I do, and I owe them some deference.

I decided to write all of this down after reading a piece about American espresso that crystallized a lot of what I’m wondering. The argument that American espresso is a different breed from what Italians like certainly makes a lot of sense to me. Though I’d want to see it confirmed empirically, by putting the same espressos in front of Americans and Italians and seeing whether there’s really as little overlap as Milos would suggest.

One fellow on Twitter is rather more decisive than I am in his feelings about Milos; he says, “This man is a dick with ears.”

Because Google failed me for approximately the first time ever — April 17, 2010