Thursday, July 31, 2008

Clam Chowder in Sourdough Bowls: Bringing the Wharf home

First, Don't Forget to Vote in Do's Poll at right! It closes Saturday at 9 a.m.

I walked around the Knob and Russian Hill neighborhoods yesterday. Wait, scratch that. I freakin' mountain-climbed up and over the tallest, steepest hills in San Francisco yesterday, and have the blisters to prove it! I mean, look at this photo (courtesy of Pam's Public Gallery). On many streets, the cars HAVE to park at a 90 degree angle, or they will roll down! Whose brilliant idea was it to build a city on Monster Hills? (Reminder, this is the girl from Chicago, the city that's flatter than a pancake).

I was duly impressed.

In addition to checking out the parks and views of Russian Hill, I found the Albert Einstein stained glass window at Grace Cathedral, slurped down a thick chocolate shake at Ghirardelli's Square, and fought off tourists at Fisherman's Wharf (it was a long walk).

It's good to be unemployed.

Poor Do.

Do visited San Francisco once as a kid, and has vivid memories of the Fisherman's Wharf. This makes sense: the place may look depressingly crowded and commercial to adults, like a tourist death-trap, but kids are entranced. The gigantic carousel! The tchochkes! The ubiquitous sourdough bread bowls filled with clam chowder! It's like Disneyland! Do has mentioned those sourdough bread bowls at least once a week since we moved to Oakland. (model at left is from

So I decided to surprise him. If Do couldn't leave work and frolic around San Francisco with me, then I would bring San Francisco to him. I would make homemade clam chowder and serve it in sourdough bread bowls.

(I'm embarrassed to admit it, but I was so excited about the idea that I had to call him up and share ... so much for the surprise part. But it did mean that he was a very happy boy for the second half of the afternoon).

The bread bowls were easy: Boudin Bakery, a company that prides itself on serving San Francisco sourdough since the '49ers showed up, has a demonstration bakery right on the Wharf. Their smallest sourdough round was half a pound, and the samples tasted quite good, sour and fluffy with a good crust. I picked up two, and sauntered to the Bart (well, limped -- remember those blisters) looking more French than the hordes of mostly-French tourists (I was carrying fresh bread; they were wearing "I escaped Alcatraz" sweatshirts and shivering in their shorts).

The Clam Chowder took more creativity. Once I got to thinking about it, I started getting less pleased with myself and more intimidated: Do's very particular about his clam chowder. He feels very strongly that it shouldn't involve any pork products, it should have almost-overwhelming clam flavor instead of veggie flavor, and it should be super thick. His family is into clam chowder in a big way: last summer his parents embarked on a Great New England Clam Chowder Roadtrip. Not to mention that we regularly stuffed ourselves on the best Clam Chowder in Washington D.C. Well, at least that gave me something to shoot for.

The cans of chowder on prominent display at the wharf were bypassed in favor of guidance from Foodie Fashionista (she adapted Barefoot Contessa's recipe) and Diannes Dishes (with a brilliant secret ingredient -- Bay Seasoning). Their recipes and comments really helped me figure out what I wanted and how to get there. I wanted caramelized veggies, so I sautéed them instead of boiling them. I wanted thick, so I made a substantial roux and leaned towards Barefoot Contessa's artery clogging quantities of butter and cream. I wanted lots of clam flavor, so I used a ton of clam juice and clams.

Finally, it was done. The consistently was right, the spicing was right (the Bay Seasoning and thyme are indispensable), but it was missing some deeper, underlying flavor. Do's suggestion of Soy Sauce sounded so weird that I wouldn't let him add it to the whole pot, but he tested it and it worked! I know it sounds crazy, but this clam chowder turned out amazing and definitely competes with our Washington D.C. favorite. Complete triumph. Since this is one of the first times that we've creating a recipe and it worked, we'd like to share this recipe with Lore and her relatively new Original Recipes event.

Do's New Favorite Clam Chowder
8 Tbs butter (1 stick), divided in half
1 yellow onion, chopped
2 large celery stalks, chopped
2 large potatoes, diced
1 1/2 teaspoons thyme leaves
1 Tbs Old Bay Seasoning
3 bay Leaves
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
4 cups clam juice (3 bottles)
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 Half-Pint carton of heavy whipping cream
3 cups Baby Clams, drained and rinsed. (3 cans)
Half a bag of frozen corn
2 1/8 tsp Soy Sauce
Garnish: Chopped parsley

Melt 5 tablespoons (1/2 stick) of the butter in a large heavy-bottomed stockpot. Add the onions, celery, and potatoes and cook over medium-low heat for 10 minutes, or until the onions are translucent. Be sure to stir regularly to keep the potatoes from sticking to the bottom. Add the thyme, Old Bay seasoning, salt, and pepper and cook for another 5 minutes. Add the clam juice and the bay leaves, bring to a boil, and simmer, uncovered, until the vegetables are tender, about 20 minutes.

In a small pot, melt the remaining 3 tablespoons of butter and whisk in the flour. Whisk continuously over the lowest heat setting for 3 minutes. Gradually whisk in a cup of the hot broth from the pot and then pour this mixture back into the cooked vegetables. Carefully whisk the chowder to incorporate the roux (this is boiling chowder people!). Simmer for a few minutes until the broth is thickened.

Add the heavy cream, the corn, and clams and heat gently for a few minutes to cook the clams. Add the soy sauce and taste for salt and pepper. Garnish with parsley and serve hot in bread bowls!

Yields 6-8 servings

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

The Return of Do: Fighting the Recipe Backlog

Disclaimer: we forgot to break out the camera while Bar-B-Qing last Friday, so the beautiful hamburger photo that you see comes from and the brisket photo comes from

Which dish(es) would you like to hear more about? Vote at right!

From the upper right to the bottom left:
- Beef Brisket (Food&Wine June 2007 meets Cook's Illustrated American Classics 2008)
- Hamburger stuffed with Blue Cheese (Silver Palate Good Times Cookbook)
- Pasta Puttanesca (Silver Palate)
- Breakfast of Egg, Grilled Chorizo and Jalapeño Peppers, and Toast
- Himalayan Mushrooms (Hiltl Virtuoso Vegetarian)
- Grilled Chicken burrito wrap
- Malakoff -- Deep-Fried Cheese Fritters (from this blog)
- Spinach Pasta with Salmon and Cream Sauce (Silver Palate)
- Halibut with Spicy Asian Vinaigrette and Wasabi Cream (The Gourmet Cookbook).
- Fresh Fruit and Yogurt for Breakfast
- Scallop and Corn Chowder (Real Simple's Meals Made Easy)

It's been a long time since I posted, and I didn't want you all to think that I'm anti-social by choice. Since moving to California, my life has been dominated by The Graduate Student Schedule. This entails working from 10am-6pm, taking a break for dinner, and then going to bat again from 8pm-1 or 2 am. As you can imagine, Neen is tearing her hair out. We're trying to get our schedules to overlap, which leaves me trying to cram work into every waking moment that I'm not with Neen. Meanwhile, my head is becoming more and more crowded with recipes that I want to blog about.

Many of these recipes go back to my Birthday Dinner Bash last month, which I never got around to telling you about. When Neen asked me what I wanted to do for my birthday, I knew immediately: I wanted to cook a ridiculous plethora of interesting dishes. With the final dish count reaching
5 large dishes and 1 loaf of (homemade) bread, you might figure on other people being invited. Nope. My birthday fell on our last weekend together before I moved out to CA - no one else was invited. Instead, Neen and I both took that Friday off and embarked on a three day long birthday. This, of course, involved multiple renditions of happy birthday, multiple pieces of cake from CakeLove, and plenty of opportunities to use the "We are doing X, because it's my birthday" argument.

My Birthday Menu included:
Scallop and Corn Chowder
2. Halibut with Spicy Asian Vinaigrette and Wasabi Cream
3. Spinach Pasta with Salmon and Cream Sauce
4. Cheese Fritters
5. Chicken and Bok Choy Salad with Asian Vinaigrette

You will notice that Number 5 does not have a photo associated with it above - that is because it was a flop. The vinaigrette was nice, but the salad itself was rather bland and monotonous. The remainder of the dishes, however, were fantastic. I was amazed at how consistently we hit great recipes.

- The Scallop and Corn chowder came out smooth and rich, with large chucks of vegetables and whole scallops to give many
variations on texture and flavor.

- The Halibut was succulent, the flavors of the vinaigrette and wasabi cream sauce mixed perfectly to give a contrast of sour/sweet and spicy/rich. (Neen inserts: Weird, but intellectually interesting).

- The Spinach Pasta with Salmon and Cream Sauce was the Home-Run derby winner of the Birthday Celebration. The original recipe called for spinach pasta; we used regular pasta and then just added spinach. I think this was the right call. The salmon and spinach flavors work so well together that I was happy to have a lot of fresh spinach flavor mixed in. The Salmon had to be poached, which was a little intimidating at first glance but turned out to be very simple (especially since we just happened to have a dead bottle of white wine in the fridge).

- The Cheese Fritters were exactly what I had wanted - and if I am brave, I will even show you pictures of the fiasco I created in the kitchen during the cooking process. (It was another opportunity for me to try to kill myself using oil and fire). The outside was very delicate and crispy, while the inside was pure melted cheese. I used a Gruyère cheese that was th
en marinated in white wine. Simply delectable. (Oh, and did I mention that involved a lot of oil and a hot fire?)

The next set of recipes is also related to my birthday. When Neen's parents were in town helping us get our apartment in order, they gave me a large Weber grill for my birthday (Go Them!). And to go with the grill, I was also given a lesson on how to cook Bone-in Pork Butt. Well, needless to say, I love the idea of grilling - as anyone who has read about a certain addition I am proposing to the Olympic Sports Committee will understand. So, when Neen's little brother was in town last week, we broke out the grill and I made Silver Palate's version of inside out blue-cheese burgers, some sausages from our local grocery, and a Beef Brisket. All of which turned out really well.

The Beef Brisket was a combination of recipes from Food & Wine (for the rub, the prep, and the BBQ sauce) and from Cook's Illustrated (for the method of cooking a Brisket in 5 hours instead of 11). The combination worked wonderfully. The F&W recipe gave the meat a wonderful full flavor, while the cooking method delivered a fork tender meat (really it was hard to cut because it would fall apart). We took the brisket to a picnic organized by my lab, and it got rave reviews even from the Texans!

The burgers were good, with the flavors of the herbs accenting the combination of meat and blue-cheese. I was not astounded, perhaps because I have made something similar before (a recipe from the NYT minimalist inspired me to use blue-cheese and stuff it inside a burger - I should mention I also added Trader Joe's Truffle Mouse to the top of that burger... mmm, decadent).

Okay, I really must sign off. One last thing to think about - I would love to post some expanded recipes and comments for a few of these dishes, but you guys need to let me know what you're interested in. Neen was kind enough to set up a poll on the blog - if you have any preferences for which recipes I should post on more thoroughly, please let me know.

Though I do reserve the right to veto if you don't vote for the best ones! :)

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Good Day: Front Stoop Visiting and Recycled Leftovers

Yesterday was a good day. An old friend called while I was making dinner: she was walking someone else's dog and wanted to swing by. A couple of beers later, some homemade tomatillo salsa, and our front stoop was used exactly as it was meant to: for impromptu visiting. Our upstairs neighbor swung by and chatted, we all petted the dog. It felt so... endearingly neighborly. Like out of a fairytale book for urban planners.

The easygoing setting fit right in with the company: B. and I met two summers ago in Ségou, Mali, where we were both doing research for our undergraduate theses. It was a very West African meeting ("Ah, you seem to be a friend of my friend! Can I sleep in your one-room house for the next 7 days?"). B was studying the Tuareg people and how their cultural identity changes as they migrate south from the Timbuktu area; I was studying Jeffrey Sachs' Millennium Village Project (ever heard of the One Campaign?). B. had been in Ségou for a while and spoke Bambara, the local dialect, so I stuck to her like glue and we became quite close. But then the summer ended and we returned to our respective Universities to write the darn theses and finish our senior year. So imagine how cool it was when, almost exactly two years later, on my very first day in Oakland, B. and I bumped into each other at an intersection!

By the time B. and I had caught up on the past two years, we'd polished off our beers and made a serious dent in the tomatillo salsa (hey, talk about a great way to use leftover Enchilada ingredients!). B. took the dog home and I went back to the less endearing activity of turning almost-dead leftovers into dinner.

As this post and this post show, I have a history of being completely inept when it comes to recycling leftovers. It doesn't help that our new fridge was not set to a sufficiently cold setting and our food spoiled faster than normal this past week (the problem is now fixed, but our compost bin is a lot fuller). A potato, three carrots, and some sour cream had survived the initial massacre, but needed to get used pronto. Remarkably, my brain clicked... how about a kugel?

My brain doesn't usually put two and two together and come up with a delicious dinner (definitely more than the sum of its parts). It's just not how I think, even though I've been wanting to try kugel for a while now and have several recipes bookmarked. No, shamefully, kugel occurred to me only because I had just spent the afternoon at San Francisco's Contemporary Jewish Museum. Side note: they have a lovely exhibit on William Steig, the guy who wrote Shrek!, Sylvester and the Magic Pebble, Doctor De Soto, Amos & Boris, and who was a New Yorker cartoonist for 73 years. Does anyone else remember his books from their childhood? I now know that "Shrek" is Yiddish for "Fear."

So, improvised Potato Kugel it was. I've been wanting to make Kugel because, reading ingredient lists, I just couldn't imagine what the final product would taste like. And you know, it wasn't half bad. The texture was a cross between a casserole, mashed potatoes, and an omelet. "A very German texture, very creamy," Do adds. It could have used more mustard, maybe some paprika, and Do felt that it absolutely shouldn't be any sweeter (there go my aspirations for Apple Kugel or sweet kugel. Do other folks serve these as desserts?). But for a first try, with no Ashkenaz cooks or cookbooks in sight, I think we did just fine. In fact, we'd like to share the Kugel at Ben's new bi-weekly I love Baking event. In the mean time, anyone have any tips, stories, or insights on Kugel?

It was a good day.

Potato-Carrot Kugel (serves four as a side)

1 potato, cut into chunks
3 carrots, cut into chunks
1/3 cup milk
2 large eggs
1 cup Parmesan, grated
Half an onion, sliced
3 Tbs sour cream or plain yogurt
2 Tbs mustard (maybe more)

In a medium saucepan cook potatoes and carrots, covered, in boiling water about 12 minutes or until carrots are tender.

In a large mixer bowl, mash potatoes and carrots with a potato masher or an electric mixer on low speed. Gradually beat in the milk till mixture is creamy. Stir in eggs, the 1/2 cup of parmesan cheese, onion, mustard, and sour cream or yogurt. Transfer to a 1-quart casserole.

Bake, uncovered, in a 350F oven for 20 minutes. Sprinkle with leftover Parmesan cheese, and bake for 15 minutes more, or until center is set.

Tomatillo Salsa (makes 3 cups)
1 1/2 lb tomatillos
Half an onion, chopped
1/2 cup cilantro leaves
1 Tbsp fresh lime juice
1/2 teaspoon sugar
3 Jalapeño peppers, stemmed, chopped
4 tsp ground cumin
Salt and black pepper to taste

Remove papery husks from tomatillos and rinse well. Cut in half and place cut side down on a foil-lined baking sheet. Place under a broiler for about 5-7 minutes to lightly blacken the skin.

Place tomatillos, lime juice, onions, cilantro, Jalapeño peppers, sugar, and cumin in a food processor (or blender) and pulse until all ingredients are chopped and mixed. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Cool in refrigerator and serve.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Rabid Toilets and Curry Eggplant Soup

The toilet attacked me this morning.

I wish I were kidding. There I was, non-threateningly fiddling with the shower temperature before climbing in to wash my disgustingly greasy hair -- part of a daily battle against the SF smog that insistently wafts across the bay and coats every single strand with grime -- when the toilet decides to take advantage of my obvious state of under-preparedness and EXPLODES! It started burping water in giant, evil bubbles and then, when I frantically hit the flush (hoping that "flush" was ToiletSpeak for CTRL ALT DELETE), it gushed water and, er, dirtied water at a speed that made me freeze like a deer in headlights.

At which point, I reverted to Automatic Shutdown and screamed for my Beloved. Do rushed in and, seeing me with my feet covered in fecal matter and very little else, had the presence of mind to throw me a towel before my brother arrived, and then flipped out in his own right (he was barefoot). Sensing that it was outnumbered, the toilet abruptly retreated and tried to look innocent and immaculately clean.

New York City may have its Alligators, Tuscon has Cockroaches in its pipes, but Oakland apparently doesn't need living critters. Our toilets won't have anyone else stealing their show.

Special brownie points to Do for letting me cope with my trauma in a nice, warm shower and mopping the bathroom floor himself. That is what true love looks like.

Moving on.

Before my week became nutsoid with Rabid Toilets and Little Brothers and Yankees Bar-B-Queing Brisket (more on that when Do posts), we had what began as a very calm, chill encounter with Curried Eggplant Soup. I think that I got this recipe from Bon Appetit's May issue, the article where Clotilde of the Chocolate & Zucchini blog took readers around hip but unknown Paris restaurants, but I can't seem to find the article or the recipe online. My clipping says, "this recipe is from Agnès Morsain, co-owner of Zoé Bouillon," so that'll have to do in terms of ethical sourcing points.

The Curried Eggplant Soup with Parmesan Cream sounded interesting, especially as I've been abstaining from eggplants for months after discovering that out-of-season eggplants are a close relation of cardboard. Unfortunately, my first taste of this soup was disappointing: it tasted like Soupe de Spice Rack. Got the curry powder flavor, there's the turmeric, but where's the eggplant?

Plan B was, If you can't make it, fake it. In went red pepper flakes, more curry powder, a dash of red wine vinegar, salt, and maybe cumin. Because the Parmesan Cream flopped (mostly my fault: I whipped it too long so it clumped, and was more like Cream lumps with Parmesan sticks poking out of it), I hid it by dumping an entire handful of Parmesan on top. (The posted photos were taken the morning after the Parmesan Cream had a close encounter with the compost bin, so the white stuff is yogurt).

Do, despite all my efforts and warnings, liked it. He says that eggplant doesn't really taste like anything anyway, but was there for texture. He liked when the clumpy cream melted into the thick purée, he really liked the cacophony of flavors. He had seconds!

So I don't know what to think. I'm going to give you the recipe straight up, as it appears on my sourceless clipping, and you can try to muck around with it. Maybe roasting the eggplant cubes first would bring out eggplant flavor?

Curried Eggplant Soup with Parmesan Cream (6 servings).
1 1/2 Tbs olive oil
1 onion, thinly sliced
1 small garlic clove, minced (or two, or three...)
1 tsp curry powder (more, or garam masala?)
1/2 tsp ground turmeric (why be stingy?)
2 1/4 lbs eggplant (about two medium), peeled, cut into 1-inch pieces. (In a half-hearted attempt to reduce the serving size, I used one eggplant)
4 cups of water (For the one eggplant, I used 2 1/2 cups)
1/2 cup canned crushed tomatoes with added purée (what added puree?)
2 Tbs chopped fresh basil (Couldn't find fresh, got depressed, used dried)
1/2 cup chilled whipping cream
1 Tbs freshly grated Parmesan cheese
(I also added cumin, red wine vinegar, and red pepper flakes to taste)

Heat oil in heavy large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add onion; cook until golden, about 8 minutes. Add garlic, curry, and turmeric; stir one minute. Add eggplant, 4 cups of water, and tomatoes; bring to boil. Reduce heat to medium-low; cover, and cook until eggplant is very tender, about 40 minutes. Cool soup slightly. Mix in basil. Working in batches, puree soup in blender. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Whisk cream in medium bowl to soft peaks; fold in cheese. Bring soup to simmer. Ladle into bowls, then top with dollop of Parmesan cream.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Enchiladas Verdes: Worth the Effort.

I don't know much about Mexican food. If you don't count Do's sister's scuba-diving wedding in Cozumel (I wouldn't), I've never been to Mexico. I do know something about Dominican Republic food, since my family lived there for four years and I worked there for two summers, but since I live in San Francisco and not Brooklyn, that doesn't help me much.

When my Dad and I were driving from D.C. to Berkeley, we made a big effort to eat at uniquely local places. In El Paso, after driving 570 miles in a day, we had our socks knocked off at a Mexican roadside diner, Carnitas Queretaro. It didn't look like much on the outside, a cheap diner next to a gas station on a major thoroughfare. The restaurant had been recommended by Steve, a blogger who writes extremely thorough and helpful restaurant reviews. Oh man. The food was really, really superb. Moist, flavorful, with the right degree of spice, perfectly prepared -- this wasn't trashy Tex-Mex. This was top-of-the-line Mexican food. Wow. Must repeat.

Fortuitously, this month's Cook's Illustrated has a recipe for Enchiladas Verdes (someone has posted the full recipe here) This is your cue to laugh at me for trusting a guy from New Hampshire to teach me to make Mexican home-style food. A couple thoughts:

1) Tomatillos are just plain cool. They're not actually tomatoes -- check out that husk! -- though they are of the same family. Many Latin American sauces char-grill tomatillos before turning them into pulp for sauces, and the flavor is incredible. Think smokey and tart. I am SO EXCITED to have a neighborhood grocery store that offers tomatillos (and poblanos, and varieties of plums that I've never heard of... more on how much we worship the Berkeley Bowl at another point).

2) This recipe was a lot of work. Think Madhur Jaffrey or Silver Palate or Gourmet level of work. It consists of 6 mostly-unrelated steps that have to be done in sequence, so that you can add the broth from step 1 to the salsa in step 3 and stuff the filling from step 4 into the tortillas in step 5... ack! Definitely not a project for a weeknight or for a cook who doesn't excel at multi-tasking. I actually had a lot of fun, but that's probably because my little brother and I made this together, with a couple of beers, Randy Newman on the kitchen speakers, and a leisurely evening of Battlestar Galatica reruns in front of us. With two, the complicated, inter-related steps seemed almost like a dance.

Of course, it helped that the result was absolutely spectacular. This recipe gets added to our All Time Favorites category. It was that good. The chicken was moist and flavorful, the tortillas soaked up the tomatillo salsa and the cheese to have the perfect texture, and the salsa itself was delightfully smokey. The cumin and peppers give the salsa a light, bright flavor, then cheese and chicken keep the enchiladas firmly anchored on the ground. This recipe is outrageously good. Please, if you have two hours to spare and aren't feeling stressed, make this recipe. It's really, really good.

My brother and I followed the recipe closely, with very few changes (we added more cumin to the salsa and a dash of black pepper). Our tortillas were already pliant, so we didn't bother to soften them before stuffing them. We also couldn't bear to throw away the fragrant liquid in which the chicken cooked... so we drank it. It was so, so delicious. Finally, Cook's Illustrated didn't remind readers that roasted poblanos are easier to peel if you throw them in a paper bag and let them sit for a few minutes. As my brother discovered, it makes a big difference.

Two thumbs up.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Why are We so Vehement about the America's Test Kitchen - Deborah Broide Publicity screw-up?

Over 100 people have commented on Melissa's blog post, "Illegal or Not?" Dozens of foodie blogs have posted about it, indignant conversations abound. Plenty of bloggers have dropped their subscription to the America's Test Kitchen products, or vow not to pick one up. We as a community are really, really upset.


I mean, in addition to the fact that Deborah Broide's interactions with Melissa were galling, that her claim to copyrighted material was unfounded, and that the "policy" that America's Test Kitchen's recipes can't be modified is laughably absurd. Which is reason enough to feel peeved, but plenty of us are still fuming and/or squirming uncomfortably days after.

Krysta's post, "Still Pissed Off," got me thinking. Everyone who starts a food blog and uses others' recipes has to develop a position on intellectual property. We've all thought about it: can I post this recipe, even though I got it from Gourmet/Joy/Aunt Susie? Should I credit it? Should I rewrite it? Should I modify it? Or should I just talk about the food and post photos without giving a recipe? There's no real convention in the blog world, although most people do credit the original source and link to the blog site/magazine site/cookbook site on Amazon. We love our recipes, we love the places where we found them, and we want to share our discoveries.

The America's Test Kitchen-Melissa interaction made us wonder if, maybe, we've gone too far.

We haven't, or at least Melissa didn't in this particular instance. But America's Test Kitchen's defensive position made us all look back and wonder whether we've been fucking over our favorite cookbook authors. Rationally, legally, we have every right...but there's still lingering doubt. I know I feel mildly queasy about posting on tonight's dinner (which, unhelpfully, happens to be a Cook's Illustrated recipe for enchiladas). As Mindy, a new foodie blogger, commented on Krysta's post:

"This is just depressing! I'm so new to this and have just assumed if I'm lauding (or even mildly appreciative of) another person's recipe--and announcing that it is in fact THEIR recipe that I used to create MY version--that I was acting responsibly and respectfully. I figure it's free--though well deserved--advertising for that person's books, blog, or other publication. Now I feel I have to approach with caution, and am a little concerned that I've broken the rules by not asking people if I can reference their creations."

We're also upset because recipe swapping, modifying, sharing is an inherently positive activity, both in real life and in the virtual world. The foodie blog world isn't competitive: typical feedback is friendly, over-the-top encouraging, with helpful suggestions instead of criticism. Unlike with most communities (political blogs, religious blogs, etc.), blackballers are very few and far between. So when Deborah Broide told Melissa what she could and could not do, dictating limits on Melissa's creativity, we were dumbfounded. You can't do that!, we splutter. It's my kitchen, it's my blog, it's my fucking potato salad. I'll make it however I damn well please. I don't need your permission to say that I used your recipe as a reference. Who the hell do you think you are?

It's unsettling to see how even cooking can get infected by the "mine!" attitude. Usually the kitchen is the best place to escape that.

I'm saddened by this whole episode. I really like Cook's Illustrated, pretentious testing and all. It fits with how Do and I approach cooking (which I understand doesn't work for many others and that's cool). I would really like to think that this PR fuck-up and the policy behind it is the fault of Deborah Broide Publicity.

In the mean time, I'm going to make me some enchiladas. July 2008 issue.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

America's Test Kitchen, DON'T alienate food bloggers

I really like America's Test Kitchen. My Mom got Do a subscription to their magazine, Cook's Illustrated. He adores it and cooks out of it all the time. In fact, yesterday he picked up an America's Test Kitchen product at the grocery store, and I'm planning on making an America's Test Kitchen recipe tomorrow night.

America's Test Kitchen is one of the only foodie magazines out there that doesn't offer free access to their recipes online. This makes sense, as they are much smaller than Gourmet or Bon Appetit, and need the $ much more than the free publicity.

When blogging about their recipes in the past, this website has tried to a) link to a free copy of the recipes at the America's Test Kitchen website, b) link to a verbatum copy of the original recipe on someone else's blog, or c) post only recipes of our creations that were inspired by an America's Test Kitchen recipe, such as here. We felt comfortable with this, because we were not giving out their copyrighted recipe but we were still giving them the free, positive publicity that they deserved.

Then fellow foodie blogger Melissa had this extremely off-putting run-in with America's Test Kitchen's PR firm, Deborah Broide Publicity.

America's Test Kitchen, the food blog world is your friend. We are a fount of free publicity, we laud you, we encourage others to check out your products. If you don't want us to post your copyrighted recipes without permission, that's legit. But we are real people with real kitchens -- it's absurd to think that you can prevent us from modifying your recipes. America's Test Kitchen, please don't force this fight. At best, you'll encourage a lot of food bloggers to steer clear of America's Test Kitchen all together. At worst, you'll get a backlash of angry bloggers and you'll lose a lot of customers, and you won't gain anything anyway since we'll still blog about what we're cooking. America's Test Kitchen, let's be friends. Don't piss off the foodie blog world. It's a lose-lose idea.

And you may want to rethink your internet PR policies. Unless negative PR is your game plan.

Reward for Braving the Chinatown masses: Serious Dim Sum

Did you know that San Francisco's Chinatown is the largest Chinatown outside of Asia? Or that it has the second highest population density in the country, after Manhattan? That last one definitely gave me a pause. Most buildings in the neighborhood are only four or five stories tall! That's a lot of people crammed into closets. and onto sidewalks. and into shops. In fact, that's a lot of people, period. The photo to the right must have been taken at 5 a.m., because it does not do justice to the crowds.

On Sunday, Do and I joined forces with a college friend (make that a very good college friend -- Do did crash on his floor for five weeks this summer) and this friend's childhood bud and ventured out to get us some Dim Sum.

For those who have never had Dim Sum (me, before college), wikipedia describes it as "a Chinese cuisine which involves a wide range of light dishes served alongside Chinese tea." Instead of ordering from a menu, trays of goodies are wheeled past you on carts and you simply point at whatever looks good. Pointing is the lingua franca, since you usually can recognize and name only the steamed rice or chicken feet. It costs less than ten dollars to stuff yourself silly. Dim Sum was almost a monthly habit for us when we lived in Chicago. We and a regular group of friends would drive over to the Phoenix around 9:30 a.m., before the line started but after the carts came out, and would delve into a ridiculous quantity of deep-fried rolls and dumplings and things for an equally ridiculous price.

So, map in hand, we crossed the bay and made our way to San Francisco's Chinatown. Wow. Block after block of tea houses, tourist tshatshkes, sidewalk food markets, and cheap restaurants. And it was crowded! These were no Midwestern-sized sidewalks and streets like in Chicago's Chinatown. People were jostling around each other, using the street as often as the sidewalk. It felt alive. Woe be to the car trying to inch its way along.

When we got to the Dim Sum restaurant, Dol Ho, we were the only Caucasians in sight (always a good sign). The place is a total hole in the wall, and we were seated right next to the kitchen (score!), just to the left of this photo, and therefore got to watch them make all of their dumplings by hand, including the dough. English wasn't getting us far, so the friend of our friend actually pulled out his very limited Cantonese to get water for the table. The whole thing was a total trip. The Dim Sum was excellent and plentiful, better than Chicago's Phoenix though without their variety (admittedly, it could be that the Phoenix is larger and so the carts pass through more often). For the four of us, including three male Science grad students (I don't know if they eat more than other graduate students, but it's possible), the total came to $26. We didn't eat for the rest of the day. It was glorious.

Do is very excited to go to a Chinese tea house and I'm sorely tempted by all the inexpensive groceries (79 cents for a bag of ginger the size of an onion sack!). My brother arrives tonight for a five day visit, so there are good odds that we'll be checking out another Dim Sum spot this Sunday. Exciting!

Disclaimer: I took none of the above photos. I was too busy oogling at everything and trying not to lose Do in the crowds.

Disclaimer 2: We still don't have internet at home, and Do is always crazy busy at lab, so it looks like you're stuck with me until AT&T gets its act together. I promise, he hasn't died or lost interest or anything. In fact, he's cooking Pasta Puttanesca tonight (score!).

Monday, July 21, 2008

Finally Done Moving

After a month of driving across the country and a week of moving in, we're done. The DMV trip still has to happen, the internet doesn't start till tomorrow, and our landlord has yet to install rods in the closets, but, really, we're done. I swear, we're not moving again until Do gets his PhD. This whole moving-every-9-months thing is getting old.

Several of you have asked where the hell we were and why the hell we weren't blogging. Here's a super quick overview of our (well, my) Grand Cross-Country Road Trip:

- stayed in the world's best B&B in Harrisonburg, VA and had a gourmet dinner.

- crashed with my Uncle and Aunt in rural East Tennessee and visited a down-home country fair. Left Tennessee with homemade Chianti, homemade honey, homemade moonshine, my Grandmother's set of Rosenthal China, and a set of paintings that my Grandfather brought back from Korea.

- had a vegan brunch in Athens, GA and some mediocre pulled-pork Bar-B-Q in Roswell, GA. Mind you, my family is from the South-East, so we have really high standards for pork Bar-B-Q. And for all you Yankees, not all Bar-B-Q is equal: the South-East specializes in pork while Texas and Missouri are into beef. And oh man, are the regional specialties ever worth it.

- Crashed in nowheresville, AL, outside of Birmingham. The town boasted 29 restaurants, 29 churches, and a WalMart. 19 of the 29 churches were Baptist. Toto, we're not in D.C. anymore.

- Had a great time touring the Civil War battlefields around Vicksburg, Mississippi and had one of our best meals at Walnut Hills restaurant. It felt like eating in someone's kitchen. The southern cooking was simple, but really delicious. And it was such a nice change from the deep-fried 'southern' crap we'd been running into. Really highly recommended.

- Toured the much-loved East Texas Oil Museum in Kilgore, TX, under the enthusiastic tutelage of several senior citizen locals. Learned more about Kilgore in the 1930s than I ever really needed to know. Ate ribs at the renowned Kilgore Country Tavern.

- Toured the very, very impressive Blue Bell Ice Cream Factory in Brennan, TX. The company is fascinating: they've managed to channel the whole feel-good, family-owned, eat local vibe even though their ice cream is the #3 best-selling in the country. And they acheive that ranking even though they only distribute in 16 states! Those of us who don't live south of the Mason-Dixon line are really missing out.

- Crashed with my folks in Austin, TX. Activities included a 1950s Latin Doo-wop event, the LBJ museum, the outlet malls, Dad's homemade Sourdough bread (I got some of the starter!), and an unforgettable trip to eat Bar-B-Q in Lockhart, TX. I swear, Kreuz's Market serves the best Bar-B-Q that I have ever had. You order directly at the pit, and they plunk down slabs of meat, by weight, onto butcher paper. You then proceed to the next room to get your sides. The meat was so luscious, so flavorful, so perfect.... It's no surprise that Kreuz's was recently rated one of the top five Texas Bar-B-Q joints. Please, do yourself a favor and make the pilgrimage.

- Drove to El Paso and had excellent Mexican food in a diner (Carnitas Queretaro) recommended by a fellow blogger, Steve.

- Crashed in Tuscon, AZ with my godfather and his lovely German wife. Decided that Arizona is definitely prettier than New Mexico.

- Braved suburban L.A. traffic. Survived. Barely.

- Arrived in Oakland and promptly began daily trips to Ikea and Ace Hardware. :)

Expect more regular postings from here on out, as we discover the quirks of our new kitchen and our new city.