Required Reading: Two sites of notes

There are a couple of websites that have caught my attention recently, one that focuses on baking and another that focuses on food geekery. I know of both of these sites through twitter interactions with their respective owners, and I am quite pleased to have found them. The first is a site called Bowl of Plenty. The high concept is, "I like food. I like data. I like to put the two together." What caught my attention was a couple of posts where the writer, whose name and gender I do not know, made some almond butter. As part of the process, a series of photographs were taken of the food process to show how the almond butter changed in texture.
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That is a small sample, and there a little over twice that number of photos for just that entry. Here's a detail shot:
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That's some great information. But even better than that is the article on baking powder. If you've read Bakewise, you know that Shirley Corriher goes into quite a bit of detail on the workings of baking powder, the different types, when they act, etc. This article looks to be at least as extensive, and perhaps a bit more so. It warms the heart and shames me for my lazy ways. The second blog is Pastry Methods and Techniques. This is written by Jennifer Field, who is keen to get the world to understand that baking and cooking are not as difficult as people make it out to be. We are like-minded on that score, and consequently are working together on a secret-project-that-you'll-find-out-about-when-we're-done-and-not-before. Pastry Methods and Techniques will teach you things from how to make your own puff pastry and various styles of pie crust to why salt is important in sweet foods as well how to throw together a dessert in nearly no time. What? Yes, I said make your own puff pastry. Even Alton Brown skipped that, but she is not afraid, and she doesn't think you should be, either. Jennifer also shames me by the quality of her posts, and shows me up to be the slacker I am. So go there as well to learn all kinds of interesting things, and not just about baking.

Chocolate Guinness Cake

The image for the article is licensed by robplusjessie under a Creative Commons By-NC-SA 2.0 license. If I need a relatively simple dessert, or if I feel that I have earned a reward, or if I think of it, I like to make Nigella Lawson's Chocolate Guinness Cake, from her cookbook Feast. It is the perfect cake, because not only is the cake itself rich and flavorful, but I actually enjoy the frosting as well. Generally, I despise frosting in more than trace amounts, and I will ditch the frosting from a cake without a second thought. This cake, though, is great with all of its frosting. Indeed, the frosting balances out the dark chocolatey, Guinnessey nature of the cake. It is a well-balanced cake. The problem for others has been that, as far as I knew, the recipe wasn't available online. However, Susie Nadler from The Kitchn showed me that it was in the New York Times all along. Hooray! So run, run, run, and make the Chocolate Guinness Cake. Serve it to people that you like, and notice how they like you just a little bit more now.

FoodPairing is now 200 times better

I've written about FoodPairing before, which has always seemed like a great and useful kind of site, but I've never used it. As a brief introduction, FoodPairing gives a graphical representation of which foods go well together, and which foods can be substituted for other foods. It is a beautiful site, and suffered from only one flaw, which was that I could never quite understand what the graphs meant. Did this line mean that it was a pairing, and were these other lines substitutions, or did it work the other way around? Would each of these things pair with the other, or was it a one-item-only sort of thing? Very confusing. Now, however, everything is different. The FoodPairing folk have made two changes that have completely revitalized the site and will make it the reference I have always dreamed of. First, they have separated the what fits well with… graphs from the What can replace… graphs. Not having them do double duty makes them so much more readable. Second, and most importantly, they wrote a section on how to use the FoodPairing site and graphs. Instructions make all the difference. So run run run to FoodPairing and learn to use a combination of rosemary, peppermint, and sage to replace basil, or learn that chocolate pairs well with cheese. Run!

Illustrated Tour of Alinea Dinner

Lucy Knisley, whom I will admit to knowing absolutely nothing about aside from this thing I am about to describe to you, has mad a comic about her visit to Alinea. You should go read it, as it is a lovely tour, and then you should do as I want to and make a reservation to go there yourself. If this intrigues you, then you should (shameless Amazon Associates link) by a copy of Alinea, the book.

FN Crazy

FoodVu is a food site with a definite video bent. They host a number of different styles of short-format, food related video, including instructional and humorous videos. The flagship video series is The FN Crazy Show, which explores what's happening at the Food Network. Not to be confused with FN Dish, which is a Food Network-owned blog that occasionally intersects the television network. The FN Crazy Show follows Food Network shows, people, and trends in a way that shows they really do enjoy aspects of the Food Network, but it's the flaws that make for good copy. There's an underlying plot to the series of videos, generally having to do with a power struggle around the hosting of the series. Speaking of hosting, the show's primary host, Sarah East, is adorable, which is a French word meaning, "adorable." Oh, wait. Those actually look the same written out, don't they. Sigh. The delivery is fast and punchy, much like an older film where they wanted to fit in a lot of dialogue in a short space, and imitated in more modern times by The Hudsucker Proxy, Pushing Daisies, and The Middleman. Given the choice between delivering meaningful insight or making a joke, FN Crazy will go for the joke. That is not a criticism; the show is funny, and there are plenty of commentaries hidden in there, but if you're looking for a video show that's trying to change the fundamentals of inequality in society, this is probably not the one for you. So: I certainly recommend.

Food Timeline

Serious eats asks:
How long before The Food Timeline makes the rounds on all the blogs
And I say that I'll do my part right away. The Food Timeline is a, er, timeline of food. Food history, rather. It's a series of links organized by time, telling us important tidbits and giving us a chance to understand the context. For example, I did not realize that the koolickle (Kool-aid Pickle) is a recent invention (2007 from all accounts), nor that Peanut Butter cookies were invented in 1933 by the Pillsbury Flour Mills Company. Pre-history, apparently, involves water, ice, salt, shellfish, non-shell fish, eggs, mushrooms, insects, and rice. From there we find that the first real non-whole foods are bread, beer, and soup. All of which are related, if you think about it, and can easily make a whole meal. In any case, like the medieval recipe translations, this looks to be a quick stop for anyone wanting to learn about the history of food. Because it was created by a reference librarian and IACP member, there is even information in the "About this site" section about citing the site. It is properly copyrighted and not creative commons, so be sure to cite properly if you use information from the Food Timeline.

Medieval recipe translations

From infodoodads' 12 sites for foody foodness (which, I should mention, featured me), comes Medieval Recipe Translations. I know, I know. "But they didn't even have sous vide back then! What kind of barbaric cooking do you expect us to do?" It's fair. I understand. Still, how can you pass up a recipe for a frothy wine/ale drink called Caudell which, apparently, gets its froth from the egg whites that you cook in it… with, uh, saffron… Okay, maybe that wasn't the best example. The thing was that they knew what was important: fried dough. That's right, Crispels, or dough fried in oil and covered with honey have been around since the 14th century. When you eat fried dough at a Medieval Fair, it's not because they think you're just the sort of unhealthy person to only eat fried food at a fair; no, it's because it's historically accurate. It's also interesting to see how things evolved. For example, you can see from this Milk Qualing recipe that in the 15th century they knew that flour would thicken milk, but the roux had not yet been invented. So, if you're looking for a little food history, or if you want to have some manner of historically accurate medieval feast for your holiday dinner party, then the Medieval Recipe Translation page is obviously for you.

Drinkhacker's Holiday drink guide

I discovered via FoodVu's twitter feed that there is 2008 Holiday Drink Gift Guide from Drinkhacker. It's an interesting collection of drink options of various types (Bourbon, Scotch, Absinthe, Gin, Vodka, Rum, Tequila, Brandy, and a Liqueur). I am certainly intrigued by the Bourbon and Liqueur choices, and will probably have to get a bottle of each. As for my own recommendations, I suggest the St. Germain Elderflower Liqueur. It's a sweet liqueur with a lovely aroma. It pairs well with gin, sparkling wine, and citrus. It's also mentioned as an optional drink in the guide, but I think it's a must have for any drink cabinet.

Edible.com: for things that (many would say) aren't

I ran across this little specialty food site today called Edible. When I write "specialty food", I seriously mean it. The items that caught my immediate interest were the Wild Black Vanilla Pod and the infamous Civet Coffee. The vanilla because the mind just overflows with the possibilities inherent in a wild version. The coffee because, well, it's kind of gross. Which leads me to the strength of Edible.com: the Insectivore Section. Oven baked tarantula, toffee scorpion candy, and Chocolate Covered Giant Ants are merely a representative selection of the sorts of critters that I am not currently interested in eating. I mean, none of those are local, so justifying the expense of shipping them just for the gourmet experience seems excessive in our current climate of ecological responsibility. My one real gripe, because if someone wants tasty tarantula, more power to them, is that, if you're going through the trouble of harvesting coffee from the solid waste of a civet or a weasel, then why would you pre-grind it? This is supposed to be a sublime gourmet experience, which is the only reason why you would take something that passed through the digestive tract of another creature (well, that and for medicinal purposes, I suppose. And for money). Why destroy the flavor by grinding it ahead of time. That's just stupid. I don't know if it's edible.com's fault, but I will not be ordering pre-ground civet coffee. Oh, and the Monkey-Picked Tea looks cool. In any case, it looks like their stock varies somewhat from time to time, and it's definitely the place to go if you need something for that extra-special dinner party, so check often for new and interesting experiences. via MonkeyFilter.

BBum's Guide to Tequila

BBum is Bill Bumgarner an Alpha Geek programmer, works at Apple in a seriously geeky software engineering position, former owner and now adviser to CodeFab. Geek, for sure. Tequila is… well, you know what tequila is. Or you think you do. However, BBum really does, and he's made a post to tell you all about what tequila really is, and how it can be good. Food + geek = stuff worth knowing. There are a couple of local places that have large tequila selections, and one new one that is a Tequila tasting bar. There is some seriously good tequila out there, with a depth and complexity of whiskey. Expect the trend to grow over the next year or so.

Holiday Shopping: Jurassic BBQ Apron

Every good food geek requires properly geeky attire when cooking. Maybe not all the time; you can't just go getting dressed up in a lab coat when you just want to throw together some eggs and bacon, but when taking extinct animals and cooking them for pleasure and nutrition, sometimes you need a little something extra. The WearScience store has just the thing: the Jurassic BBQ Apron. Perfect for the summer barbeque parties or the holiday get-togethers. Impress your friends! Frighten your family!
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From the product page:
Hypothesis: Over 99% of prehistoric animal species are now extinct, many of which were no doubt delicious. By mastering advanced cloning techniques we can incorporate these long dead animal species into a unique and scrumptious BBQ experience.
Note: I'm not getting any money or other kickbacks from this, but I do think it's a swank design.

LimoncelloQuest

There is something good to be said for focus. Technically The Food Geek dot com has a focus, and that is food, but food is a huge topic. Huuuuuge. There are those that are even more focused, and the one I ran across today is LimoncelloQuest. Since returning from Italy, I have been planning on making some Limoncello. For those who aren't familiar, Limoncello is a liqueur that is generally homemade around Italy, though it is available for purchase. You take some lemon peel, soak it in grain alcohol for a while, mix in some simple syrup, and you have yourself something tasty. Simple. As those who follow cooking enough know, simple things are the hardest to do. Any small mistake features largely in the final product, because there are so few things covering for it. The tagline of LimoncelloQuest is "A personal pilgrimage to create the perfect Limoncello". The site owner is taking every variable and, well, varying them. Organic vs. standard lemons, adding juice or no, whether to and how often to filter the grain alcohol, how long to let everything rest, all of that. LimoncelloQuest is not only great for those who are interested in finding out how to make great Limoncello, but it's great for anyone who has a personal quest for perfection, and wants to see how someone else manages that quest.

Espresso as an extraction

There are a couple of sites that I have a difficult time not linking to whenever there's a new post. Ideas in Food is one of them, and khymos.org is the other. They have consistently good information and you should probably just add them to your rss reader if you haven't already. Today I've failed at my attempt not to link to khymos.org, in this case a lovely initial part of a multi-part series on espresso. When I first started this site, I did a series of articles on coffee. I thought of doing a series on espresso, but it's a large topic that I have limited knowledge of. Before, I didn't have an espresso maker, and now I have a super-automatic, so I went from no experience to limited experience. While the espresso that I make is likely to be better than any random coffee store you might wander into in a random US town, it's not perfection. Without striving for that perfection, it just didn't seem the proper series of articles that I should write. However, the article Wonders of extraction: Espresso (part I) is everything I could have hoped to write and more, so it saves me no end of work to just point you there. Go to it. Read, learn, follow links, etc.

Making your own hard cider

There's this site called instructables. Its purpose in life is to have step-by-step instructions of doing just about everything, all generated by users, with the ability to comment and so on. A lot of these projects are electronics, or carpentry, or steampunk, or what-have-you. Cool stuff, but not useful for thefoodgeek.com. However, instructables recently held the Hungry Scientist Contest intending, I think, to give me all sorts of crazy things to link to whenever I'm feeling lazy. In this case, they gave me one of the front runners, Home Brew Hard Cider from Scratch. This takes about 20lbs of apples and turns it into fizzy, tasty, alcoholic cider. There's juicing, there's pasteurization, there's brewer's yeast, there's special valves to keep the wrong critters from colonizing your cider. It's got it all. If you don't have a juicer, you could do like JohnnyT and build your own cider press from things you have laying about. I'm not sure all of those materials are food safe, but people are adventurous.

They Go Really Well Together 11 Wrap Up: Banana and Cloves

Khymos.org has wrapped up its most recently flavor pairing challenge "They Go Really Well Together" (TGRWT) #11: Banana and Cloves. The TGRWT challenges are a general web challenge to create new dishes that use a non-traditional flavor pairing. I have not participated in the TGRWT challenges yet, but they're always fascinating. I wrote about them some in my post on Cooking Creatively. One of the great thing about TGRWT is that you're encouraged to post failures as well as successes, because it's a learning endeavor. We don't really know the best way to pair some of these new flavors, so rather than having to try it all yourself, let others show what they've done and give results. Then you'll know what went too far and what worked out well. As you can imagine, there are more than one banana bread in the bunch. There are also a couple of pork-based dishes. There are some desserts, and there is a martini. If you're looking for inspiration for a dish, try one of these, or try something based on the TGWRT challenges.

Alltop Bacon: All Bacon, All the Time

Automated bookmarking site Alltop, from Guy Kawasaki, has added a new channel: bacon. Because bacon makes everything better, Alltop is now instantly better. So if you feel you don't have enough bacon in your life, visit the Bacon Channel on Alltop. It looks like it has 18 bacon-specific newsfeeds, for roughly 90 bacon stories at any given time. There look to be bacon recipes, bacon podcasts, bacon reviews, and bacon songs. Update: Yeah, that's what laziness gets me. Guy Kawasaki dropped by and commented below, so I'll clarify what he's, um, clarified. Also: spelling error fixed. Alltop is created by people going about and finding a bunch of links to sites that follow a common theme. The automated bit is that it uses the RSS feed to grab the most recent stories from each site. It displays the headlines, and has some fancy technology to show you previews of the sites or the stories when you roll over them. Guy (and, I presume, his other editor or editors at this point) use personal knowledge along with the power of the internet to find their sites. I've seen a call for blogs of interest on twitter from him, and he is instantly deluged with what must be 200 billion or so recommendations. It's a good blend of technology and editing, in a compact form. If you're looking for some sites to follow, or you just don't use RSS or its related formats, then Alltop is a handy site to visit.

Hot cheese bread: grip it and rip it! | King Arthur Flour - Bakers’ Banter

Hot cheese bread: grip it and rip it! | King Arthur Flour - Bakers’ Banter: "40016FE2-BB03-45E9-AE0A-DEF144C94025.jpg If you’re a yeast bread baker, you know that different loaves provoke different visceral responses. There are sandwich loaves, golden brown and perfectly domed, that seem almost too beautiful to cut into. And there’s country sourdough bread, whose occasional lack of beauty is made up for by its enticing aroma. Focaccia begs you to cut it into squares and dip it in seasoned olive oil; a baguette makes you bend down and listen to it ‘singing’ as it cools. But one response all homemade yeast breads invoke in common: they all say RIP INTO ME RIGHT NOW. Hot-from-the-oven bread envelops your house with a yeasty aura of warmth and comfort. But it’s not enough to simply enjoy the aroma of bread, or to admire it as it cools. Though you’re cautioned not to cut into a hot sandwich loaf, lest your precipitous cut turn it gummy (and yes, if you cut oven-hot bread, that does happ"

(Via Slashfood.)

Must…make…bread. Wow.

Seasonal Ingredient Map

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Seasonal Ingredient Map: "Epicurious has created a handy, interactive map of seasonal produce by state. Select a month, hover over a state, and a list of in-season ingredients is displayed with links to the ingredient descriptions and recipes....

I was looking for one of these a couple of years ago, and this one seems pretty good. It does a little grouping, I've noticed: when it says that this month is good for spinach in Virginia, it really means leafy greens in general (we get quite a bit of kale, mustard greens, and the like as well). With that minor quibble, it's a lovely tool. I am actively working to become in tune with seasonality, and we are attempting the noble goal of eating a family's share of CSA vegetables between the two of us (and whichever guests we happen to have over). While this tool won't change much by way of what we do, it will be nice to know what to expect when, and hopefully reinforce the memories of which point of the season we get which fruits and vegetables.

(Via Required Eating.)