A chocolate cake to bake

I'm a big fan of baking and cakes, so this recipe for, An easy flourless chocolate mousse cake caught my eye.

The resulting cake is more delicious than I imagined. Just 45 minutes in the oven was perfect to develop a crisp, crackling crust over a layer of brownie-like dough that concealed an almost molten chocolate center.

The cake is impressive enough in a rustic-dessert sort of way to serve guests or bring to a dinner party. It is elegant with a simple dusting of powdered sugar. Or you can get fancy and drizzle it with a raspberry sauce, or top it with vanilla ice cream.

Mmmm..crackling crust...mmm...brownie-like dough....

Remembering the first Keller meal

It's hard to believe that it's been almost four years since our trip to the French Laundry and my first taste of Thomas Keller's cooking. I can never get enough of re-reading about that trip. That is a meal I remember eating! So for old time's sake, here's my post, It's All About Finesse and Jason's, A visit to the French Laundry. I'm getting hungry again just thinking about it. Perhaps it's time to start putting the money in the can again to save for a return trip. Of course, now I'd also need to save for the plane ticket to California, the hotel, and the rental car. But I think it'd be worth it. There's a magic there I've never experienced in any other restaurant, not even when I ate at Per Se last fall. The light, the food, the views, the smells, everything. For me it will probably always remain the best restaurant and the best meal ever.

Counting down the best dishes

Before we speed too quickly into spring and the second quarter of 2006, I'd like to recall Opinionated About Dining's Countdown of the Top 25 U.S. Dishes of the Year. These of course, are dishes of 2005, and dishes he ate. The list is pretty heavy with New York restaurants, but mentions some of my favorites: Mas, Blue Hill, and Per Se. Everything he describes sounds good, and it makes me realize I don't pay that much attention to what I eat during the course of the year. I have my "Best Dishes Ever" list, but I don't take notes so a lot of stuff just remains in my memory as, "Wow, that was good" with "that" being whatever I vaguely recall from the meal. I wonder, is it too late to have a New Year's resolution to pay more attention to what I eat for the long term? Record it so that I can recall it in a year-end list? Or maybe just record things here more often? Hmm...we'll see. Usually I'm so happy just eating something tasty that all other thoughts abandon me and I just think, "Yum!"

Today it is easy

I highly doubt that if you've been reading this site for its food news, you somehow haven't been reading Frank Bruni's blog. But if that's the case, then today it ends! New York Times restaurant critic Frank Bruni's Diner's Journal is a great addition to the New York culinary landscape, and it's only getting better. If you're not reading it, you should. That is all for today.

A bit of Maya history

While in Mexico, I'm hoping to do some traveling around to various historic sites. The Yucatan peninsula is filled with ruins and temples of the Maya civilization. When I lived near Mexico City I visited some Aztec/Toltec/Olmec ruins, but I've never been to this area of Mexico before, so I'm looking foward to it. The Wikipedia link above has a ton of information about the Maya, including this section about their Pyramids and temples. Between visiting such sites, some colonial cities, hanging on the beach, and sleeping, it should be a pretty busy visit.

The oyster and New York

The Big Oyster: History on the Half ShellOne of the books I'm reading on my honeymoon is The Big Oyster: History on the Half Shell by Mark Kurlansky. It was a gift from my parents to both of us, but since I'm the bigger oyster fan, I'm reading it first. It's a history of the oyster and New York. Apparently New York City used to be known for its oysters. And when the Dutch first arrived, there were so many oysters in the waters around the city that it was possible to find oysters as large as eight inches! Of course with all the pollution now, there aren't any oysters anymore. But I shall hold out hope that one day we'll clean things up to the point that oysters will return. Then when I go out to eat, the waiter will say, "Tonight we have two different oysters: a nice plump Hudson River and slightly smaller tasty East River. Both are $1 a piece." Because you know, in my fantasy, the oysters will also be cheaper because they're so local.

Babbo staff picks at the Greenmarket

Over on the Babbo website there's a section of staff picks. I especially like this older one from May 2003, Spring at the Greenmarket. Though it focuses on only three items, they're three things you hear foodies talk about a lot in the spring: ramps, sweet onions, and green garlic. I haven't been to the Greenmarket in Union Square recently but I imagine it's starting to get pretty good. By the time I'm back from Mexico, I hope it's in full-on spring mode. Perhaps I'll see if I can pick up some ramps. Also when I return, perhaps I'll check out Babbo, as I've never been and that's another thing you hear foodies talk about a lot here in New York.

Off on my honeymoon

I'm off on my honeymoon for a couple weeks, so posting will be limited to a small number of items I've scheduled in advance. Nothing major, though honestly this site hasn't seen major amounts of posting in some time! Hopefully that will change after the honeymoon. In the meantime, enjoy yourselves and I'll see you in a few with some travel tales and pictures. Hopefully.

The tyranny of TV in public

PBS's MediaShift blog has a post wondering Do We Need TV in Public Spaces?

I spent the past week on a work vacation of sorts in Austin, Texas, which is a good thing. But one annoying thing was when I was stuck in an airport, and couldn’t tune out the ubiquitous TV monitors blaring the CNN Airport Network .

As a longtime news junkie, I used to consider this TV broadcast in airports to be a service, a way to get updated on top news while on the go. But now it feels like overkill, with so many other ways to get news.

This is a question I've been pondering lately because my bank has a TV mounted over the teller line. As I've been doing more banking at the counter, I've been subjected to CNN (bank version?) as I wait my turn. I find TV pretty insufferable in general, and when it's politics, it's even worse. The other day when I was in there they were doing a live broadcast of some talk President Bush was giving, and it was nearly impossible to tune him out. It was like some strange 1984 moment where I wasn't allowed to have my own thoughts anymore, and had "more important" thoughts hoisted upon me.

Can't we have some unmediated time to ourselves anymore? What's wrong with standing in the line at the bank, just spacing out or day-dreaming about stuff? Some times it's nice to just stand there and be.



More on the organic business

I've gotten several emails and pointers to related articles about the whole eating organic vs. local vs. sustainable thing that's grabbed my attention of late. Alas, I don't have time to read them all or write proper posts, but in the interest of sharing, here are three:

Is Organic Food Safer?
The Organic Verses: On organic food and farming
Measuring "Organic-ness?"

And for fun, two inspirations for your weekend cooking: Bravissimo! Sweet Stirrings of Springtime, "Creamy, luscious risotto is easier than you think. With the right rice and a light stock, it's a showstopper." and Recipe: Braised Pork With Red Wine. The second one might a bit wintery, what with daffodils opening and trees blooming. It's almost a real spring weekend here in New York City, and it should be a good one for me. I hope it is for you too.

Sustainable looks at organic

Over at the Sustainable Table blog, Choosing sustainable does not always mean choosing organic, they're mulling over the same issues about when it makes sense to buy organic. I used the word "local" in my arguments, but I think a better word for what I'm thinking about it, and what's important to me, is sustainable. Though I suppose local, sustinable, and organic is my sort of culinary triumvirate. And ultimately, my goal.

What's not wrong with eating organic

Because it's never easy to figure out what the "right" thing to do is, (see recent post on Less fish and more cow in my belly) I am now unsure about what I just wrote yesterday regarding what's wrong with eating organic foods. Reader Erik from MA writes:

I think the article might be wrong. Organic from far away might be the kinder apple.

From page 62-64 of the Union of Concerned Scientists' "Consumer's Guide to Effective Environmental Choices" (1999):

"Our findings suggest that although food processing, packaging and transportation play a significant role, they are not the leading cause of environmental damage due to food consumption. ... The majority of impacts come from the cultivation stage ... [T]ransportation accounts for 26 percent of greenhouse gas emissions from the fruit, vegetable, and grain category... [and] only 0.6 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions traceable to consumer purchases."

The book doesn't address organic vs conventional since it's looking at avgs across the whole economy, but the above makes me think it's better to buy the organic.

Well, that makes sense to me too! What to believe? What to do? Erik reminded me about the Shopper's Guide to Pesticides in Produce (.pdf) which, "lists the 12 popular fresh fruits and vegetables that are consistently the most contaminated with pesticides and those 12 fruits and vegetables that consistently have low levels of pesticides." It also gives you a handy guide to print out and carry around.

Of course, what's on the most contaminated list? Apples! Doh! I should have chose something else for my example. Also, spinach and potatoes and bell peppers and celery. When did eating become so complicated?

What's wrong with eating organic foods

Slate takes a look at, "[t]he dark secrets of the organic-food movement" with Is Whole Foods Wholesome? As a regular Whole Foods shopper, I am often irritated by what's available in their produce section (apples from the west coast, or even farther) vs. what's available a few hundred yards away at the Union Square greenmarket (apples from upstate New York). Ideally I'd like to eat local and organic, but often I'll take local over organic, if I can get it. The article sums up why quite nicely:

Let's say you live in New York City and want to buy a pound of tomatoes in season. Say you can choose between conventionally grown New Jersey tomatoes or organic ones grown in Chile. Of course, the New Jersey tomatoes will be cheaper. They will also almost certainly be fresher, having traveled a fraction of the distance. But which is the more eco-conscious choice? In terms of energy savings, there's no contest: Just think of the fossil fuels expended getting those organic tomatoes from Chile.

Now that spring is nearly here, I'll be shopping at the greenmarket more often. I'm looking forward to a summer full of local and organic veggies. And a summer of meeting the people who grow my food.

More on fruit PLUs

Several people have emailed with more information about the numbers on your fruit, also known as PLUs, or product look ups. It seems the 8 or 9 are just modifiers, added to the original number. So 4011 is a regular banana, while 94011 is for organic bananas. If you're interested, here's a big list of PLU codes. Also, our emailer notes, "When there was such an uproar against GM foods, only one GM product, a modified version of papaya, was registered. So you'll almost never see an 8 and if you do, it will be 84394." Speaking of, some emailed to point out that GM food wasn't bad, and that's what gardners and growers have been doing all along with selective breeding. I don't agree, but that's a post for another time. Thanks Robert!

Read the numbers on your fruit

Another little tidbit gleaned from April's Food & Wine: those sticker numbers on your fruit actually mean something. Here in the US, fruit often comes with stickers on it, sometimes telling you where it's from and/or what it is. There's also a number, but I never paid attention to that. But on p. 72 I spotted this interesting bit of information:

"[T]he sticker labels on fruit: The numbers tell you how the fruit was grown. Conventionally grown fruit has four digits; organically grown fruit has five and starts with a nine; genetically engineered has five numbers and starts with an eight."

Yesterday I checked out the organic apples at the market, and yes, the numbers did indeed have five digits and started with a nine. Pretty handy, if you can remember it. I'm not sure whose bright idea it was to have the genetic numbers and the organic numbers the same length and begin only one digit off. Seems like a potential source for confusion. I'm remembering it this way: organic is better than genetically engineered (IMO) and nine is a bigger number than eight, therefore it's "better." Uh, yeah. That's honestly what I came up with to differentiate the two.

His Bouchon Bakery at the Time Warner Center here in New York is opening today. I may just have to duck out for a little bit and see if I can get my hands on some treats. Thanks to MUG for the tip.

A burger joint for Keller

According to a little blurb in April's Food & Wine, my fav Thomas Keller (of French Laundry and Per Se fame) is doing a burger place:

"Rumor has it that Keller, who is a huge devotee of the West Coast chain In-N-Out Burger, will also be launching a burger joint of his own in the Napa area."

This is in addition to the butcherie he plans to open this summer across from Bouchon (his bistro) in Yountville, CA, where he'll sell, "his favorite cuts of meat." Imagine living in Yountville: you could eat TK's food nearly every day, and on the days you didn't, you could be cooking his favorite cuts of meat in your very own kitchen. It's enough to make me want to pack my bags this minute!

Looking for the elusive wine bargains

You may remember last December I wrote a post about How to order a good bottle of wine. Well today I spotted this article, San Francisco numbers wizard calculates which wines are bargains. I was hoping to see some formulas in the article, but it's more of an advertisement for this fellow's wine value newsletter. And part of his calculations are based on wine reviewers' opinions, which doesn't sound very scientific to me.

Vacuum packing for the home cook

I was reading about culinary trends of 2005 over at when a little bit of information ragarding sous vide cooking struck my eye, Slow and Low: Sous Vide Goes Mainstream. Sous vide is French for "under vacuum" and refers to a process by which chefs vacuum-seal a product and then simmer the product in its pouch in a water bath at a low temperature. While the results have been yummy, the process seemed overly complicated for a home cook, and I anticipated a prohibitive cost. Then this quote from the above-referenced article:

The term sous vide was actually coined more than 30 years ago in France, to describe a technique widely used in the commercial food industry -- mostly to package frozen food products. But in 2005 the technique went mainstream, as chefs across the country realized that they didn't need to invest in expensive commercial-grade Cryovac machines. A simple countertop FoodSaver machine is really all you need.

Really?! Quick, to Amazon! Where, voila, a FoodSaver Premier Series V1205 Vacuum Sealing Kit can be yours for $129.99, and there's free shipping! Now not only can you buy a bunch of meats and things at Costco and stock up, filling your freezer with vacuum-packed cuts of whatever, when you thaw them, you can cook them like a pro! If in 2005 sous vide when mainstream in restaurant kitchens, then perhaps 2006 will be the year sous vide hits it even bigger in home kitchens!

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