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AskTP – Eight Weeks

May 7, 2014

Technically, I have just over seven full weeks left in New Jersey. If everything goes according to plan, I’ll be back in Albany at the start of July. Now don’t tell anyone, but I’m going to be up there briefly for a bar mitzvah in just a few weeks.

There are always a small handful of people who wish I would just leave the Capital Region, and that’s fine. Technically, they got their wish for the past several months. Although, as some of you may have noticed, I never really let go of the place.

But regardless of where I am, questions continue to flow into the blog via the comments section. And long ago I made the commitment to answer every question that was submitted, just so long as it was asked using proper punctuation. Sure, I may not answer the question quickly. I also don’t guarantee the veracity of the answer. But it’s an answer nonetheless.

In an ideal world, I’d answer all of these questions when they were first posted. The problem is that I don’t want to junk up the comment threads with my face. Really that’s there for you all to hash it out. I’ll step in periodically as I must. So instead, all questions are rounded up and answered in this semi-regular feature we call Ask the Profussor.

Now without further ado, on to the questions.

KB @ Home-Baked Happiness is frustrated, so she’s packing up her things and leaving:
God DAMN it! Why is EVERY SINGLE COOL THING happening on the SAME WEEKEND?!? So frustrating… there’s like a million cool things already going on that weekend, but I’ll be out of town! :(

I’m pretty sure this is what happens every weekend once the last of Albany’s winter melts away. Right? Everyone is so thrilled to get out of their houses that it’s just like a wall-to-wall party. Maybe one of these days I’ll get better about scheduling my events far enough ahead for everyone to cancel all their other plans. But I kind of like these to be more spontaneous events as much as possible.

WrigsMac may not have been the most lucid judge on the Tour de Buffalo Wing:
I’ve had frozen yogurt exactly once since the previous frozen yogurt craze of the mid-90′s. I’m pretty sure it was Dante’s unless there’s another frozen yogurt joint in downtown Troy. It’s hard to remember, it was after the wing tour and a fair number of beers (but before going back to the Ruck for more wings). It was probably(?) good! :-)

Not that I would know anything about this, but Dante’s separates itself from the pack with the supremacy of their spoons. Was the spoon awesome? If so, you were at Dante’s.

Kerosena must remember when I was adding links to songs at the beginning of my posts:
Is it wrong that in my head, the theme song to this post is Frank Sinatra’s “My Way?”

Maybe, but only because “Regrets, I’ve had a few” isn’t all that close to “No Regrets Regret.” I had only one regret, and it was because I was trying to leave without any. Was there a Catch-22 soundtrack?

Masticating Monkey has a good question about my complaint regarding Jeni’s ice cream:
Question: What’s so bad about tapioca starch?

If you are making pudding, nothing. Its role in ice cream is to produce a creamier texture and prevent ice crystals. And that would be fine in a lesser ice cream to help it along. Yes, I can understand why Jeni would want to use it as a hedge. You really really don’t want people who paid $10-15 for a pint of ice cream to be chomping down on something icy. But Haagen Dazs doesn’t need to add starches for their $4 a pint product. Even Halo Farm doesn’t need them for their fabulous and miraculous $2 a pint ice cream.

Plain and simple, adding the tapioca starch is a compromise. We’ve seen quality compromises like this before where ingredients are added or processes employed to extend a product’s shelf life. That’s what’s going on here. I get it. But if Jeni’s is going to trade under the umbrella of ultra-high quality, it’s a compromise that I can’t condone.

Dave S. is going to get me to admit something that I’d rather not:
“gefilte fish… pickled herring. Man, I do enjoy the foods of my culture.”
Being not of your culture, are you buying them in Price Chopper, bottled, DIY? or what?

Fin – your fishmonger had some amazing herring. Park Side Eatery does too. But more often than not, I’ll just pick up a jar of pickled herring from the refrigerator section of the grocery store and doctor it up with a dollop of sour cream at home. The best gefilte fish is homemade, but I don’t make it. Once I year I get a jar of the same stuff I ate growing up. It’s not great, but it’s mine. And I think you have to grow up with it to enjoy the stuff. Then as now, I am compelled to blanket the fish loaf with a thick layer of beet horseradish. But that’s part of the taste memory experience. If you really want to try gefilte fish, Wolfgang Puck has a recipe that’s delicious.

Rosemarie must be desperate if she’s asking me for etiquette advice:
One thing I have trouble with is when a dinner guest will come into the kitchen and engage me in conversation when I’m in the process of preparing, plating and serving the food. How do you handle that without insulting the guest, especially if the guest is not good at reading facial expressions or body language or doesn’t ask if their presence is too distracting?

Actually, I don’t think this is an etiquette issue at all. The solution isn’t kicking people out of the kitchen, it’s recognizing that your dinner party is not a restaurant meal. Which isn’t to say that it couldn’t be. My grandmother used to have a cook and hire help to serve and clear. She even had a button built into the dining room floor by her feet so that she could signal into the kitchen without breaking the flow of conversation. Sadly, I was never old enough to attend one of her dinners.

The best dinner parties are the ones where the host can entertain the guests. And to do that and cook a lovely meal, you have to think ahead. The best dishes for these affairs are ones that don’t have last minute prep, and ideally ones that can hold in a pot or an oven without harm. I’m partial to dishes that can be served on platters family style, but that’s not to say you can’t excuse yourself to serve plates from the kitchen (provided you can do it quickly). Fish en papillote is great for this, because it’s one pouch per plate and everything is in the parchment.

Jessica R. sounds like she’s in the market for some tools:
What food processor model do you have/recommend?

I have an old Cuisinart. It’s fine. I’m not crazy about the plastic bowl, and I’ve had to replace the blade. It is hard to justify the expense of a Robot Coupe in a home kitchen. But if I were made out of money and still had the time to cook, I’d totally get one. Professional equipment is awesome, and I’d put it next to my (as of yet imaginary) Vitamix.

Burnt My Fingers must never have been told about poking tigers with sticks:
So, how long should I cook my honey baked ham? 90 minutes, right?

If you actually had a HoneyBaked Ham, you would know that the moment you get it in your hot little hands that it is already fully cooked. Save the oven for baking soft homemade rolls. The ham goes out on the table to get to room temperature. If you want your ham hot, you can get a much better one for a heck of a lot less money elsewhere. HoneyBaked hams are perfect as they come and are easily destroyed by even the slightest amount of time inside even the coolest oven.

Marcia Freed is a real person who I corresponded with over email, but policy is policy:
Are there new issues of fussy little blog or did the author stop writing in 2012?

Yes.

Jacki C. as far as I can tell must be referring to the title of the blog post where she asked:
please tell me the title of this story? One of my preschoolers was singing it!

The post title was taken directly from a picture book by Leslie Patricelli of the same name, Yummy. Yucky. It’s a fantastic story for little ones, “Fish sticks are yummy. Fish food is yucky.” Naturally, the book is made of thick cardboard, so it too is yucky.

cattywampush might as well be asking me why people heat HoneyBaked hams:
I have a few catered functions this week and asked a ‘chef’ friend to help me during his mornings off. (We can talk about the liberal use of the title ‘chef’ another time)? We got into a conversation about the applications of boiling, braising, steaming, sweating, and poaching and why its important to know each technique and the where/when/why they are applied. I have seen cooks boil stew beef in a pot of water to break it down, rather then braise. Why?

There is actually a running lists of posts that I’d like to write. It’s a long long list, but I just added, “The liberal use of the title ‘chef’”.

Perhaps the cooks who boil instead of braise do so because of time pressures. Maybe it’s because of a complete disregard for their ingredients. It could be out of contempt for those who will be eating the food. I could imagine that the meat might in the end get chopped up beyond recognition and drowned in some overly salty and fatty sauce, so that any flaws are well hidden. The cook may not know any better. In reality, I would suspect the answer is some combination of the above. But without knowing the specifics I cannot say for certain.

Burnt My Fingers went for a three-fer:
What is it about your first post you want to change? (Other than taking out Kraft Mac & Cheese.) It seems pretty open ended. (Actually, it IS the Mac & Cheese, right?) Also, what is this “new optimism” of which you speak? Must be an Ivy League thing. Don’t think it’s made it to these parts.

Hopefully now that you read the Fussy Manifesto: On Good Food some of this has cleared up on its own. Really, I don’t think the Fussy Manifesto reflects the current direction of the blog and the things that I’m holding up as examples of good food. Yes, the Kraft Mac & Cheese is a big part of that. But I needed something that could tie together my love of Trenton tomato pie, pork roll, and locally raised pastured eggs.

The “new optimism” comes from surviving six years in the Capital Region and continuing to find new and notable things to eat. Even at restaurants that are largely mediocre at best, there is the potential for at least one dish to be really special. I suspect this holds true most places, and this is how I’m now approaching the challenge of food beyond the great food cities of the world.

Todd was appalled at the refusal of tap water at a New Jersey pizza parlor:
They have ICE, right? Coffee? I wonder how those are made?

It’s not that they didn’t have water. Clearly they did. They just weren’t going to give me any. It was clearly a lie. And I asked really nicely. Plus I was there with my cute little daughter, who was also being very polite and well behaved. Really, the water was for her. So it kind of makes the refusal that much more heinous.

jenh718 has a simple answer to a not so simple problem:
It’s simple really. No water? Take your business elsewhere. People understand that.

I hear you. The problem in this case was that Little Miss Fussy wanted pizza. I wanted to take her to Pizza Town USA, but she couldn’t wait that long for food. Even still, we drove ten minutes to get to this otherwise well regarded local shop and she was hungry. There was no leaving without tears. However, there will also be no going back. But mostly that’s because the pizza was unremarkable. Had it been amazing, I still would have gone back despite the blatant lie about no tap water.

Amanda wants me to put my money where my mouth is:
How much would you pay for a cup of tap water? $1 or $2 + tax and tip? I think restaurants are making a lot of profit on most beverages, but I don’t know the numbers.

I suppose like all things restaurant related it would depend on the service. A long time ago Daniel Patterson’s SF restaurant served tap water infused with cucumber in elegant thin rimmed glasses. It was free, but it was refreshing and wouldn’t clash with any of their magnificent wines. If push came to shove I wouldn’t balk at $2 for that glass of water (plus tax and tip) provided it stayed full during my meal.

Which isn’t to say that I’d pay $2 for a small plastic cup at a pizza joint. I wouldn’t blink at a quarter for that. I’d pay fifty cents, but would feel taken. I’d pay a buck for a large cup with a lid and straw that I could then take with me, but that water better be cold and delicious.

jenh718 probably isn’t going through an identity crisis, but I’ll play along:
I don’t think McDonald’s food tastes good. What does that make me?

An outlier. But I also think it helps that you know how good real food can taste. Most people don’t, and that’s a big part of the problem too.

enough already! isn’t happy with my generalizations, she wants details:
Daniel, what question on table hopping are you referring to? You didn’t say and I’m not on Facebook. I have noticed less activity there lately, and also more on notes on napkins and do appreciate the updates there.

I’m glad to hear someone else has noticed this too. The question had to do with what makes a good server. Over the past day or so the comments have picked up on the blog. But when the story went live it kind of sat around like a turd for a while with only a few pecks. However, the same question posted to Facebook bolted up to over fifty responses during the same period. Or at least that’s how it looked to me. Facebook can be tricky to untangle sometimes.

Jessica R. will hopefully get to see for herself what a team based tour will look like:
A team based tour? I’m intrigued! I’ll like to suggest an “Italian Mix Sub” tour, if one hasn’t already been suggested before.

Yep. The Tour de Fish Fry wasn’t officially a team based tour, but it turned into one since nobody could eat five fish fry sandwiches in one day. I thought I could, but partnered up with another solo participant along the way. It was the smartest thing I did that whole year. The thing I’m going to have people eat in the summer is probably best split four ways. I suspect it will be a ton of fun. The trick will be trying to find a way to get the teams interacting. But I’ll cross that bridge later.

Luigi must not have gotten the memo about the aesthetic of modern FroYo:
I wonder if the fruit toppings didn’t look so fresh at Dante’s because they were preservative free? I am sure the other places use preservatives to make their fruit look all bright and “fresh”. Wish this tour had bothered to inquire about that issue.

Berries can be macerated in sugar. Sugar is a preservative. Lemon juice can be used to prevent some foods from discoloring. So can a quick soak in acidulated water. Look, I have no love for artificial preservatives, nor do I want FroYo that tastes like chemicals. The yogurt shops that served a product that had chemical or artificial aftertastes were docked points in the taste category. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to expect food for sale to look appetizing.

Sure, you could argue that the sweetest strawberries aren’t the giant blemish free behemoths sold at mass grocers. Those unfortunate “berries” are grown for style over substance. The best berries are the smallest ones. And the sweetest, ripest ones may be bruised or otherwise marred. Those can get turned into amazing jam or a staggeringly fragrant puree. But even knowing that, I wouldn’t want to put bruised fruit on my beautiful FroYo creation.

One Comment leave one →
  1. May 7, 2014 5:52 pm

    Martha Stewart’s first book, Entertaining, is a good read regarding the guests in the kitchen question. I think your answer is good also. Martha sez to bring ’em into the kitchen because you want your guests to feel part of the scene and she gives a few ideas. Rosemarie may want to think about ways that guests can participate ahead of time, so that she can make work/help assignments. My own attitude about dinner parties is that I like guests to be in there feeling comfortable that they’re making a contribution to the party in general. But it does take some skill in delegating, like: Karen, can you get those olives into these dishes? or: Bill – make the martinis! Being a shy person myself I like to go to the kitchen to help because it always takes me a little bit to warm up to the crowd, so I appreciate a host who can shelter me in there until I’m ready.

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