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Ask the Profussor – All I Want for Christmas

December 22, 2011

So Chanukah is here and Christmas is around the corner. I don’t know much about Festivus but I already aired my grievances. Then it’s the mad dash to New Year’s Eve. That means year-end retrospectives, posts about bubbly and maybe a cocktail or two, and thoughts about what the future holds for the FLB.

As far as I can tell, the only time to post an Ask the Profussor is now. And that’s pretty much perfect, because all I want for Christmas is to be caught up with my answers.

For those who are unfamiliar with this semi-regular feature on the FLB, I am committed to answering every question that is asked of me (provided they include proper punctuation). However, not all of these get answered in a timely way. Many of them get stacked up in a pile, much like presents under a tree. Except these require more than batteries, they need answers.

Today I’m unwrapping my presents early, so I can focus on the more urgent subjects ahead. The next ten days are going to be great. So now, without further ado, onto the questions.

When it came to wines from the finger lakes irisira was shocked:
What?! No comments on this post?

Comments are capricious. I never know what stories are going to really resonate with you all and which ones just will fall flat. Some of it has to do with timing, I’m sure. But thanks to irisira’s outrage, two more readers were inspired to comment on this post. Seriously, if you haven’t taken a look at my impressions on four different dry Rieslings from the Finger Lakes, it may be worth a peek. These would go great with snacks before Christmas dinner.

Mark Romano is keeping tabs of my adventures:
Did you get to Schuyler Bakery yet for donuts?

I’ve actually been there a few times. Mrs. Fussy likes it a lot. I’m less impressed. I do like the classic nature of the bakery. It’s just that their donuts are oddly and blindingly white. That, and a bit tough. They were included in the Boston Cream donut challenge, and lost handily. Although if I recall, they were one taster’s favorite of the bunch. Still, it was a minority opinion. And if anyone hasn’t been, they really should visit, because this establishment is remarkable.

Lakeside was surprised by the recent restraint of the Table Hopping community:
A very nice review, and not many comments on the Table Hopping blog. How often does that happen?

Much like some of my posts go by without much commentary, so is it with Table Hopping. Just because the Table Hopping readers didn’t trash this Mexican restaurant up north, doesn’t mean it meets with their approval. I just assume for some reason the review didn’t pique their interest. Which is a shame, because from what I’ve seen the place looks lousy. 

derryX was stymied by my last visit to Jake Moon and requested clarification:
So you went, thought you were going to get a burger made with locally sourced beef, didn’t order that because it wasn’t actually locally sourced, then ordered the red flannel hash which also isn’t made with locally sourced beef?

Here is logic. Sustainably raised and slaughtered beef is important to me. But it’s more important for ground beef than it is for hand cut cubes of beef. Ground beef can be some really vile stuff. In the hash, the beef chunks were just another ingredient in a dish I wanted to try. The burger was all about beef. Does that make sense? Additionally, I have no reason to believe that just because the burger wasn’t local that the cubed beef in the hash wasn’t local. It just as well could have been.

Deanna really wants to believe in Jake Moon:
Did you find out anything else about the beef? Even if it wasn’t local, was it a sustainably-raised meat source? It’s a hard industry to get right every time, and perhaps what was served was a “lesser of the evils” scenario.

I did not. The waitress didn’t seem to know or care much about these details. She had to run into the kitchen to talk with the chef about the burger. I wasn’t about to keep sending her back there so I could order a burger with a clear conscience.

If this is something that is important for the restaurant, they need to find a way to make it important to their staff. Or at least some way to make it more transparent to their customers. Because as it stands now, I’m sure many people don’t even realize there is anything out of the ordinary going on with the ingredients used by the restaurant.

irisira had some thoughts about weekday birthdays:
Why not extend the festivities for as long as you can milk it? ;)

Because it’s called a birthday. It’s the same reason I don’t dress my kids in costume on October 30 or November 1. Halloween is a holiday.

-R who knows a thing or two about coffee asked/stated regarding K-cups:
Certainly, you can’t be surprised at the popularity of those blister-pack coffee-flavored gizmos?

No. I’m not surprised. Just dismayed. Much like I am about the prevalence of microwaves.

On the plus side, last night Little Miss Fussy was playing in a toy kitchen making a pretend cup of coffee for Mrs. Fussy. The first thing she did was run the toy blender. Why? Because she was grinding the beans!

Maybe there is hope for the future.

Emily got aboard the anti-K-cup train with us:
Ahhh – don’t they seem horrible for the environment in addition to sucking in taste?? Also expensive?

Yes they do. But I didn’t call upon that argument just because it has one hole. That would be the disposable, refillable K-cup. It reduces the environmental impact and expense of the enterprise. What it still doesn’t do is make good coffee. I try to make the best case I can for my position, and felt other arguments were stronger indictments of this machine. But thanks for chiming in with those two too.

WrigsMac suspects that I might be superstitious:
Will you enlighten us with the fortunetelling aspects of your Turkish Coffee adventure?

No.

Greg K never got his answer from a fellow reader:
R, can we hang out?

I think that should be arranged. If you two need some help greasing the wheels, or would like a third party there just so it’s not too odd or awkward just let me know. We’ll set a time and place.

Jon in Albany had an easy question about burritos:
I’ve been to a Chipotle twice and wasn’t impressed (Clifton Park and Latham). What do you order when you go?

There’s a hot beef burrito that I enjoy. It’s just a soupcon of rice, a hefty portion of black beans, barbacoa, hot tomatillo salsa and a little bit of sour cream to cut the heat. Sometimes you have to gauge what you order based on how the ingredients look in the steam table. It’s a benefit to have all the food lying out in front of you. Should the steak look awesome, you should get it. Same goes for the grilled chicken. These are the most variable meats in the operation. But even the carnitas and barbacoa can look to wet or dry. Eat with your eyes and order accordingly.

Deanna says that she’s just curious:
Why does no one talk about the Fresh Market anymore?

I was going out of my way to get there for the first few months. I did enjoy their roasted chickens and they had decent challah. However, it was a schlep, and the traffic getting in and out of there on a Friday afternoon was just too much. There’s a lot going on with local supermarkets and the old standbys are upping their game to battle the incoming competition. There’s good stuff at the Fresh Market. But it’s not so good that it justifies more than an occasional trip, and there is a lot of stuff there that isn’t terribly good and just very expensive.

Jennifer had some ideas about food gifts:
How about going online to King Arthur and getting an ingredient that’s hard to find in most supermarkets?

I think that’s a great idea. But I hate paying for shipping. Call me a child of the dot com boom.
Shipping kills me.

mg doesn’t see what all the fuss is about from my favorite fast food burger joint:
I tried 5 guys three times. Each time it was dried out,tasteless,and well done! Can’t for the life of me figure out why it is top rated?

Because it’s beefy as hell. I am a bit worried about the chain’s rapid expansion and their ability to maintain standards. If your burgers were dried out and tasteless, they were an anomaly. The thing that sets Five Guys apart is just how fatty their burgers are. It’s what allows them to remain juicy even when cooked to the point of well done. It’s a staggering feat. And all that fat translates into flavor.

I wonder how much of your perceptions are driven by appearance. Sometimes seeing a well-done patty can trigger an expectation for dry and tasteless. The mind is a powerful sensory device. What we experience is only partially in the mouth. Most of it is in the brain. Maybe next time you try closing your eyes before biting into the burger?

Jenny on the Block wanted some more info on the provenance of Rolf’s pork:
Here is a question — if the pork is conventionally raised, is it then a given that it is also not raised locally?

I asked Glen about this, and his pork is not locally produced either. Again, he sees the pork that comes in as a blank canvass for him to apply his craft. And he swears that using a more expensive pork would result in a product that tastes exactly the same (just more expensive).

Nicolette and I may agree on some things but we disagree on others:
Buy local–support your local farms. Sometimes it’s cheaper, sometimes, not; but it is a known fact that produce loses its nutrient content the longer it sits on a shelf. So what are you buying really? I’m willing to pay a little more for farm to table freshness because I’m buying nutrients in my food.

So local products don’t sit on shelves? The local winter storage vegetables we are buying at farmers markets in Febraury have been sitting around for a while. But it still might makes sense to buy them locally. Why? Because of taste. Smaller farms can give crops more attention. They can plant things because they taste good, not because they conform to a size and shape that fits easily in a bag.

If you want the freshest foods, you can pay a bit more to have things air freighted to you from South American during their growing season, while we suffer through eight months of mud and ice.

Sometimes I find the “buy local” mantra annoying. I’ll buy local when it tastes better. But just because it’s local doesn’t mean it’s any good or even necessarily better for you. These are rhetorical traps one must be careful of falling into.

Burnt my Fingers is parsing my Rolfs vs. Rolfs bacon challenge:
Great question and a great proposed tasting test… EXCEPT that if the main difference between the heritage/natural and factory pigs is the fat content, then the decision will be made on which has more and more satisfying fat, right?

Well, maybe. Except I’m holding firm to the belief that fat carries flavor. Then it would go to figure that the more fat, the more flavor. Although on one level you are right since past a certain level of fatty unctuousness, its heaviness can get a bit overwhelming. To make it a fairer fight, we may need to have a butcher trim the two bellies as similarly as possible, to at least manage the exterior fat.

Collin has a good strategy of taunting me and asking for something at the same time:
Can we partake in the bacon tasting? Because I love me some bacon… Assuming this competition ever comes to light.

That’s a really interesting idea. In fact it could help to defray the costs of all that belly. Great suggestion! I wonder how much people would be willing to pay for two to three bacon strips. Maybe we can release three different findings.

1) Glen’s
2) Food Writers/Chefs
3) General Public

You know, that is if it ever comes to light. You sir, are killing me.

WrigsMac hasn’t quite learned that I’m much like Horton the Elephant:
You say we could choose our gin but will you not at least be fussing over our choice in your mind? Would you cringe if I ordered Beefeater?

I meant what I said and I said what I meant. There would be no cringing at Beefeater. Sometimes one has to limit the scope of a goal. That evening was about the superiority of stirred martinis over their shaken counterparts. I wouldn’t have even winced at Hendricks.

NorthCountryRambler will need to cite his sources:
Bitters? Not since 1900. Other than that, I agree with everything up to stirred, not shaken ~ and olives. You must use an olive – brined, not in oil.

So I’m citing Michael Jackson of the Simon and Schuster pocket guide to Cocktails. Michael Jackson was a giant in the beer, whiskey and spirits world before he left us. It was his guidance that sent me to London in search of orange bitters. And let me assure you, he postdates 1900.

We all have our cocktail gurus. I’ll pit mine against yours. But first I need to know who I’m dealing with here.

DavidS of the 12 Bottle Bar seems to think I’m literate:
Have you read The Hour by Bernard DeVoto? If not, have Mrs. Fussy buy it for you as a holiday gift.

A better holiday gift would be for Mrs. Fussy to read it and then tell me all about it. I’m a bit behind on my reading these days.

CP nailed something that I was hoping someone would notice:
One question — I noticed you like your martini extra dry. Have you tried any of the artisanal vermouths that have come out in the past few years? My husband used to be a dry martini guy, but when he started buying Sutton’s vermouth he slowly migrated from 8:1 to 5:1.

THANK YOU! I was waiting for a question like this. I’m so glad it was asked.

No. I do not like my martini extra dry. I said I was going to order my martini extra dry. This is because I inquired about the vermouth the bar stocked in advance of my acceptance of the offer. They pour Martini and Rossi. Which honestly in the grand scheme of dry vermouths stocked by bars is better than most. But with that as my option, your husband would certainly agree that extra dry is the way to go.

With finer vermouths, I will go exceedingly wet. Not all the time. But I’ve been known to enjoy an occasional fifty-fifty.

In the end, I did like my martini at Jack’s Oyster House extra dry. And I was very pleased to find they stock The Bitter Truth orange bitters. Maybe one day more bars in town will stock better vermouths. But it’s all about baby steps. This event was a big win for orange bitters, stirred drinks, and martinis with no junk. I won a few converts, and that’s what matters.

Happy holidays. You know, because this year, many are happening concurrently.

One Comment leave one →
  1. December 22, 2011 12:55 pm

    I’ll have to go back to Schuyler Bakery. Maybe their quality has slipped. Their glazed, old fashioned nutmeg and jelly were quite good. I don’t remember any blinding whiteness though. Or maybe it’s just a matter of difference in taste.

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