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AskTP – All I Want for Christmas

December 24, 2012

Usually we drive down to Pennsylvania on Christmas day. There is a passable Chinese restaurant in State College that allows us the chance to have the traditional Jewish Christmas dinner. But then we hit the road before taking in a movie.

This year we are a little off our schedule. A big pre-apocalyptic trip can do that. While we were away I was scheduled to post my bimonthly Ask the Profussor. That didn’t happen. And now there’s even a bigger backlog of questions that has stacked up.

So today, just in time for Christmas, I will make sure that all pending questions have been answered. And as it just so happens to work out, this will be the last Ask the Profussor of 2012. Soon I’ll be spending some time looking back on the past year and contemplating 2013. But now it’s time to fulfill my commitment of making sure that every question asked in the comments receives an answer (provided, of course, it was written with proper punctuation).

So without further ado, onto the questions.

jenh718 isn’t alone in her consternation:
I can’t get over that you eat at Hooters. Would you like to see your daughter work there? When she’s of hooter having age, of course…

I would like to think that when Little Miss Fussy is an adult, she can do whatever she chooses and we’ll be supportive of her decisions. She’s really smart, and I like to imagine that she could turn that gift into something less physically demanding than waiting tables. But if she could make enough money as a waitress at Hooters to fund her first patent, then I see nothing wrong with it.

matt is apparently a farmer who faces a challenging business decision:
I have a hard decision to make for the 2013 growing season. Do I use more BioTelo, switch back to polyethelene mulches or go strictly organic with straw type mulches? I personally would prefer only straw based mulches as I KNOW they will degrade, but I will loose the acclerated growth I get get with the black mulches.

I say listen to your heart. Do what you think is best and pass the costs on to the consumer. Because then you can stand behind your product and know that it’s the most responsible food you know how to produce.

sean had a bad idea that might be better than he thinks:
And to subvert any credibility I might have had, can we “slum it” a little on one of the next “Tour de…” and try something like “General Tso’s Chicken”?.. ::hides behind the couch::

The Tours are supposed to be focused on foods that are special or somehow distinctive to the region. However, I’m also going to be adding in Tastings. Much like the great cupcake tasting of 2012, where we brought a lot of food into a common space and evaluated it blindly. Since General Tso’s Chicken is something a lot of people eat as takeout especially, it could be interesting to do a blind tasting. The seed has been planted.

todd has found something out about the FLB and its readers:
@ KB- you don’t seem so Happy? Even though Daniel didn’t grow up here…he lives here now…and I feel does a great deal for our local food ‘scene’..I have lived here all my life and always thought everyone knew about mozz and Raspberry sauce…Had it in school at Syracuse U in the 80′s….Lake George in the 90′s…Clifton park…Saratoga…Schenectady..Colonie…Woodstock…that is most of the “Capital region” so maybe in many ways it is a Regional specialty….But we each grew up locally and had different lives and experiences, maybe the places we frequented were just that different…Mine had mozz and rasp…your’s didn’t? To each his own…seems like it was a fun group outting, regardless >;)

I can be a bit of a grump. And as I grump around about food, I tend to attract other grumps. There’s some kind of mutual attraction there. Have you met Mr. Sunshine? Anyhow, I don’t begrudge any of my grumps their grumpiness… even when it’s focused in my general direction. Live by the sword, die by the sword. That’s how it goes. I’ve got a thick skin. I can take it. But thank you, Todd, for your support.

Burnt My Fingers used the word terroir when talking about maple syrup:
After my post I realized that all the Grade B I’ve purchased, amounting to several gallons, comes from half a dozen farms within 100 miles of each other stretching from Speculator to Washington County to Fonda. (And I actually recall the Fonda tasted a bit different.) So we have common terroir (maybe except for Fonda) and common grading standards… so maybe the surprising thing would be if they WEREN’T consistent?

Maybe. But I’m not getting into another conversation about consistency today.

Burnt My Fingers is on the pioneer kick:
I’m with you on the Pioneer Woman, Christine. But what about Barbara McMartin? Would you buy her cookbook if there was one? (I don’t think there is… I think she preferred to run down her game and eat it o the spot.)

There has to be something about cooking in her introduction to camping, no?

todd weeps crocodile tears for my children’s lack of lobster love:
As for the Lobster….hard to cry about the double lobster for you….but if you want, I can send my 7 yr old son over next time you do the lobster meal….He will show them how it is done! right now his record is 4dz steamers and 1.5 lobsters…he is a machine! Do you think it is something they’ll grow into…or out of?

My hope is that the kids learn to love lobster after they have graduated from college. Otherwise I might need to return to a more lucrative career path in order to keep them well fed and pay the heating bills.

Kate D. is mad as hell and she’s not going to take it any longer:
Most frustrating are the stores that don’t follow their posted hours. Why even go into business if you can’t commit to a posted schedule?

Because you are just looking for some way to get out of the house, and opening a store seems like just about a good idea as any?

albanylandlord may not love fat as much as he thinks:
You mentioned lardo at NWB… Can you explain the appeal? I had it at the Gastropub and didn’t get it, it tasted like a pile of fat with a hint of rosemary. And I love fat but didn’t enjoy this. I feel like I am missing something that I am supposed to get, and that makes me insecure…

Chef Ric’s lardo is different. He rubs his by hand and converts it from a thinly sliced piece of pork fat into what he lovingly refers to as “meat butter”. But at a recent meal at Septime in Paris, Mrs. Fussy and I had translucent strips of lardo draped over an otherwise vegetarian appetizer of braised endive. These added a depth of flavor and meatiness to the dish in addition to their silky texture. Now, not all lardo is created equal. And it’s quite possible that the Gastropub was not using its lardo to its full potential. I don’t know. What I do know is that I’m a fan of fat. That makes me a fan of lardo.

Mr. Dave may be trying to scare me:
Is Dnipro still open?

I sure hope so. It’s been a while since I’ve been. Now you’ve made me nervous. Damn you, Mr. Dave.

Gina Martin may be trying to kill me:
the WalMart brand is actually pretty good as far as ingredients. I read the labels on this stuff a lot because I’m avoiding wheat and corn starches, and that brand had only cream, milk, etc., nothing else. Cabot is a disappointment, they used to have thickener-free sour cream back in the late Jurassic. For unadulterated sour creams, I have found my favorite brand so far to be Daisy. Perhaps a blind taste test is in order?

Sadly, that doesn’t fit into my current diet. Maybe we tackle it again next November when bulking up season begins again in earnest.

Burnt My Fingers wants to go to a museum:
the Museum of Natural History has recently opened an exhibit called “Our Global Kitchen”. Have you seen it? Includes tastings!

Funny you should ask. I was actually invited down for the media preview. Couldn’t make it. Still haven’t been. But really would like to go. There are so many great things going on with food that it’s impossible to attend them all.

Ed had a long list of places I should try in Paris, including this one:
Stop by a Monoprixe (SP?) incredible food stuffs.

It’s Monoprix and I totally missed it. Maybe next time.

Tim suggests travel is best taken slow, but he’s plagued with self doubt:
But what do I know?

You know how to tell a good story, and to my old friend Raf that was the entire point of life.

Speaking of points, JD tries to make one about my Tonno del Chianti:
Which brings me to my second point, you really have to know your audience. Do you go to Bellini’s often? Did you check out their customer base? What were most people ordering? How are they dressed? What kind of cars do they drive? What do you think they average check is? Average entree price? Did you back into a 32-35% food cost on your dish to see what the retail price would be? Organic cold-pressed Spanish olive oil is very expensive – and from a time perspective, no efficient kitchen wants to take the time to strain pork flavored olive oil and store it – and you need to have another use for it on the menu. Think about the value proposition for the average Bellini’s customer… “potatoes cooked in pork oil?”

These were all things I took into consideration when submitting this dish. I’ve been to Bellini’s. I know their customers. I know their price points. My dish cost $20 to prepare four generous portions, paying retail for all ingredients. It’s mostly pork shoulder (cheap), cabbage (very cheap), and dried beans (crazy cheap). The liter of olive oil costs only $6 at Trader Joe’s and the recipe doesn’t even use it all. So even if you had to dump the reserved olive oil and suck up the whole cost into the dish, using the multiplier provided (at retail prices again) an order of the pork would cost $15. Based on the wholesale prices the Marrello group gets for its bulk purchasing, it would be much less. Regardless, it comes in well under the $16-27 Bellini’s charges for their meat based “Secondi” plates.

Plus, people love pork. They especially love pulled pork. This is an Italian take on pulled pork and it would have filled the pork hole in Bellini’s menu. There’s not a pork dish on that thing, which is unthinkable for an Italian restaurant. If they wanted to they could have sold this dish. They just didn’t want to. I get it. But don’t for a second suggest this dish was “too expensive” for the restaurant, because they could have sold it for $19 and made a killing.

Burnt My Fingers doesn’t seem to understand the allure of the green canister:
Why don’t just refill the parmesan canister with the good stuff next time the Kraft runs out?

There is a time and a place for Kraft parmesan. Even in the Fussy household, in emergencies we occasionally resort to a frozen pizza. Those sad poor disks of dough need every little bit of help they can get to perk them up. But I’m not wasting the good stuff on that processed pie. The same goes for certain lackluster delivery pizzas that could benefit from a little extra seasoning. I think of it as pizza salt. Like ketchup, it has a role. Especially in a house with young kids.

Burnt My Fingers must have had some free time this week:
How is your camera issue different from refusing to eat in Albany restaurants because they served bad, overpriced food ten years ago?

Okay. First, I’ve only been in Albany for five years. Second, my primary hangup isn’t that the food here is bad, but just overpriced for what it is. Third, I have to eat in Albany restaurants to write my bimonthly piece for All Over Albany. And while I happily acknowledge that the food has gotten significantly and steadily better over the years, it’s still a challenge to come up with something great to write about every other week.

addiesdad is looking for some cocktail advice:
I have my bottle (two, actually) of Ironweed Bourbon Whiskey from our friends at Albany Distilling, but the flavor profile is a bit too young for me (not a big white whiskey fan), though it does open up when poured in a glass. Any cocktail suggestions for this immature bourbon? Something other than a Manhattan?

This is the whole point of cocktails, to tame the fiery spirit. We forget this. Ice dilutes and suppresses flavor. Bitters add complexity and depth. Liqueurs and syrups sweeten, while the acidity from citrus helps to balance the sweet.

Try this: let’s call it the Fort Orange. Take two ounces of Ironweed, pour over one large fresh ice cube, add one dash of Fee’s orange bitters (you could substitute Regan’s, but not Angostura), a tablespoon of Grand Marnier, and flame the oils of an orange peel over the glass. Then tell me what you think.

Burnt My Fingers must have missed an important detail in my post:
Food-curious beginning cooks read about anchovy larvae (do fish actually have larvae? Do people?) and throw up their hands and decide they can never master good cooking at home so they spend their lives at the salad bar at Fresh Market or the deli counter at Price Chopper.

I did say explicitly that, “I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it as a first cookbook to anyone.” But yes, fish do actually have larvae. No, humans do not.

irisira got her question in as a parenthetical:
(Tour de Tavern-style pizza next, perhaps? Not sure that’s really local, per se, but egg sandwiches are also a stretch, as that’s solidly a Long Island specialty)

Damn, that would be one long tour. Those pizzas can take some time to cook. And this recent tour was pretty much a Tour de Tavern. As far as egg and cheese sandwiches go, every region has its own take on the form, although some would argue that it came from the direction of the tunnel and not the bridge.

irisira and I may have to duke it out over Walmart, but I’m glad we share common ground:
Costco? Ugh. I’m happy with Adventure in Food Trading. No membership fee either.

If you couldn’t pay me to shop there, then there is no way I’m paying for the privilege to do so myself. That’s madness.

Masticating Monkey wanted explicit intellegence on the croissants of Paris:
So, how were the croissants compared to something you might get in, say, Albany? Or even at La Boulange in San Francisco?

It’s been a long time since I was at La Boulange, but I recall there being better croissants available in San Francisco elsewhere. But we have Mrs. London’s, and hers can play with the big boys on the left and right banks. The best French ones may be better, however we are quite lucky to be so fortunate in this northern outpost.

It sounds like WrigsMac may doubt my honesty:
Be honest, are you truly content getting back to your normal routines after only three days in Paris?

Here’s what I said, “As much as I’ll miss Paris, it will be good to get back to the comforts of home and my normal routines.“ Look, I knew the limitations of this trip when I decided to come along. I think it would be fabulous to spend a year in the city eating little more than bread, butter, cheese, and wine. But the secret of happiness is to be content with what you’ve got. And as much as I would have loved to stay longer, I feel quite lucky to have had the chance to make this trip without the kids in tow.

JohnH has been to France more times than I can count, so I found this amusing:
You got to go to Frenchie. You are a lucky bastard. Good for you. Now, tell us about the cheese. Did you try more than 50?

Officially, I went to the Frenchie wine bar. They say it’s the same food in a more casual setting. Plus you can get in because they don’t accept reservations at the wine bar. The trick is to show up right when they open at 7p. And it was there that I met a lovely couple that just flew in from Mill Valley.

I wish I could have eaten more cheeses (and more butters). This is one area where I feel that I failed. On the upside, I made sure that every cheese I ate was a fermier cheese, and one of them was spectacular. I even have photos. That will be a post of its own.

For addiesdad I think a clarification is in order:
Did you not already know how central butter is to French cuisine? Have you ever perused any of Julia Child’s cookbooks? “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” may be a tome, and the techniques old fashioned, but it’s how I learned the basics to cooking almost anything under the sun. Or Jacques Pepin? Maybe you meant this as a throw-away line, but I am gobsmacked that it took a trip to Paris for you to realize the importance of butter to the French. Maybe it’s time to focus less on Marcella Hazan (who’s “Essentials” are also my go to source for cooking Italian dishes) and more on some of her continental peers?

It’s one thing to read something in books. It’s another thing to see it in practice. I’ve read Julia and Jacques both separately and their companion book from the PBS show where they cooked together. I think the part that was missing from the post was the observation of just how much butter was available at even the local supermarket. The butter selection at La Grande Epicerie was a marvel. And now when I grow up I want to find some way to be a butter broker. I just want to surround myself with it and bring better butter to the masses.

Randy K is married to the right man:
your recap reminds me of my photo albums of our honeymoon in Italy. we have one full album entirely dedicated to the food we ate! sure, we saw some beautiful sights and visited some incredible museums… but for us, the trip really was extraordinarily food-focused :) at least we know what we like, eh?

Oddly, I don’t have a ton of pictures of food. Frenchie was way too dark and Mrs. Fussy hates it when I take snapshots of food at restaurants so I have nothing to chronicle the meal at Septime but memories.

irisira has me confounded as to how she scrambles an egg:
I’m telling you, scrambled eggs cooked in olive oil are – dare I say it? – tastier than those cooked in butter. Or at minimum they’re just as tasty. They do burn faster, though, so you need to watch that. :)

Burn? A scrambled egg? It’s always moving in the pan and removed before it is fully set, so it doesn’t overcook on the warmed plate. How does it get burnt?

Jafe C asked one question, but he’s getting two answers:
Dan, what are your thoughts on juicing in general and as a means to eat healthier and/or lose weight? Also, Tim Ferriss has come out with a new book “The Four Hour Chef” (; would be interested in hearing your opinion on it.

I tend to favor whole foods. Juice isn’t, so for me I consider it a treat. Usually I dilute it heavily in seltzer or water, as I don’t have a big sweet tooth. Nor do I care much for vegetable juice or wheatgrass. I’m also old-fashioned in my mindset on losing weight: eat less and exercise more.

As far as Tim Ferriss goes, I’m loath to weigh in on a book without reading it fully. But I took a cursory a look at both the tome and the man behind it, and I can see why as SF Gate said, “His writing has fostered a healthy number of skeptics, who liken the sound-bite-speaking Ferriss to the P.T. Barnum of our times.”

6 Comments leave one →
  1. addiesdad permalink
    December 24, 2012 11:48 am

    Sign me up for your butter of the month club, Daniel. Butter is to the French what olive oil is to the Italians and maybe more so. Do we get a cheese review of upr trip to Paris?

  2. Mr. Sunshine permalink
    December 24, 2012 12:24 pm

    Who you calling grumpy?

  3. December 24, 2012 1:32 pm

    I think we have had this discussion before: I love good food, but I personally am a terrible cook. I should say I am bad at cooking like I am bad at math: it doesn’t come easily to me, but I can do it with practice and patience. However, because of this it is a chore. :) ANYWAY, yes, I have been known to burn (that is, overcook) scrambled eggs.

    Also, the Costco comment was me quoting you, which was not as evident as it should have been. I find the membership store model annoying at best. However, the rest of Costco’s business model is one I can support, and is the only one of the membership stores I would consider … :)

    Touché on tunnel vs. bridge. You may be correct. However, Long Island solidly wins on bagels. :)

  4. Stevo permalink
    December 25, 2012 9:02 am

    I am continually amazed at how many people don’t know how to make great scrambled eggs. There is nothing easier.

    Hot pan (medium high), butter. Add eggs. Let them sit in the pan for a few seconds till they begin to setup. Then gently turn them, and keep tuning until they are the doneness you like. Remove from heat.

    The whole process should take no more than 30-45 seconds or so depending on how many eggs you are making. And I suggest doing separate batches if you’re making a lot.

    • December 26, 2012 2:49 pm

      See, that’s the problem. I try to multitask when I cook eggs. (Or anything, for that matter.) :)

  5. December 26, 2012 2:59 pm

    I’m experimenting with cultured butter again over the holiday. I can’t squeeze ALL of the buttermilk out and even salted it doesn’t last long enough to sell to the public. Apparently The Cheese Traveler’s customers are asking for it, so I’ve cultured some cream that I’ll work with over the holiday break. Would you like to come talk & taste butter when the time is right?

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