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Grease glorious grease!

April 2, 2012

On most Thursday evenings you can find me somewhere in Dumbo, Brooklyn covering myself in grease.

I spend the first part of the evening ‘volunteering’ at Recycle a Bicycle.  (That’s volunteering in quotation marks because I’ve got so much to learn about bicycle maintenance that I am able to make only minor useful contributions, while spending most of my time learning from the very generous crowd of more experienced folk who come to share their time and knowledge).  Still, after about 5 months of more or less regular wrenching, I do find myself assimilating some knowledge and last week was able to fix and adjust the breaks on  my lovely Dahon Mu all by my big-girl self!  Its a great organization and a fun night out: you can see more about it in this video made by fellow volunteer Roy Blumenfeld (watch carefully for a chance to see me with my hands positively coated in glorious grease!)

Having done our best to scrub most of the grime off our hands we generally head out to Rebar for beers.  And there I find myself dipping my hands into buckets of greasy goodness once again.  Rebar offers a mix and match popcorn menu where you choose a ‘fat’ (olive oil, butter, smoked bacon, and duckfat) and a ‘powder’ (garlic, paprika and cheese) to create the most addictive version of this humble snack imaginable.  I’m totally besotted with the duckfat and garlic version and so, of course, I found myself unable to resist experimenting with uber popcorn at home

Making popcorn is super easy.  So easy that I simply cannot comprehend the need for the ‘microwave popcorn’ shortcut (which serves a side of carcinogen from the coating of the bag with your snack).  First: purchase some good kernels: I really like the Rancho Gordo Crimson Popping corn whose beautiful jewel like kernels burst into the brightest white puffs, and taste more essentially popcorn-y (Noerah says they are the flavor of popcorn she grew up with).  Next, I use the steps from this recipe to get the kernels popping. But beyond the basics, the key to creating Rebar worthy popcorn is playing with various flavor combinations —  I highly recommend trying any of the following:

  • really good olive oil (I bought some L’Estornell Organic Arbequina olive oil to make Olive Oil Ice Cream and it is magnificent – a powerful aphrodisiac even, and something I’ve been known to drink, albeit just little sips at a time!)
  • animal fat (goose/duck/bacon!)
  • assorted salts (Atlantic Mesquite smoked finishing salt, anyone?)
  • spices (chili powder if you want to kick it up a notch)
  • parmesan or other cheese

And there it is: you are ready to host your own greasy Thursday evening volunteer night – though I won’t hold it against you if you chose to watch bad TV and gorge yourself instead (that my Friday night favorite activity, lets be honest!)


Plenty of Plenty

March 24, 2012

I try to think about what I eat, to choose food that is sustainable and healthy, but too often good intentions get swept aside and I land up making (or buying) whatever it is I’m craving – and frequently that lands up including either meat or chocolate (and very occasionally both simultaneously).

Fortunately, some friend’s recently introduced me to a cookbook that has left me drooling over vegetables.  Its a pleasant change to be cooking vegetables for the sheer love of the flavors and not because I’ve shamed myself into it!  If it wasn’t so passé I’d consider cooking my way through the entire collection (OK, OK – I mostly don’t want to sign up for that and then fail to complete the exercise, I have enough unfinished projects lurking around my home these days).   The book is Yotam Ottolenghi’s Plenty and I highly recommend it – the photographs are inspiring and the recipes, while easy enough that you’ll want to make lots of them, are special enough to be worth the effort. You can also find a great collection of Ottolenghi’s recipes online.

I started by making his Black Pepper Tofu – an asian inspired dish that packs plenty of heat from both chili’s and black pepper, and that I served with rice.  The only change I made was to use chili flakes instead of chopped fresh chili’s (I really don’t love working with fresh chili, I always manage to wipe some in my eyes!).  I really love this sauce and am planning to make it a second time this weekend substituting eggplant for half of the tofu – I’ll let you  know how that goes.


Inside planters: take two

June 20, 2011

For some reason I am generally unable to grow plants indoors.  I once killed a cactus because I forgot to water it often enough, and lets be honest, they don’t require an excess of hydration.   Outdoors  I manage OK (right now my tomato plants are doing magnificently, even if I don’t say to-may-toe).

Anyway, despite my brown thumb with houseplants, a while back I bought these beautiful upside down Boskke planters – I thought that having such gorgeous vessels would make me more attentive to their contents.  (Also, in addition to looking good they have a water reservoir that means they need less frequent care) I went out and filled with various herbs and vegetables, and a surfeit of optimism – all of which wilted and died (including my confidence).  It was very upsetting.  This year I got suggestions from my local garden supply store and decided to plant some decorative plants that are known to thrive without the need for too much water!  So far they are doing great, I’m particularly pleased that my orchid is still flowering.  And its cool to watch the plants fighting gravity to grow up the right way to the light.

the taste algorithm

May 31, 2011


A couple of months ago Julia Moskin’s blog post Google’s New Recipe Search brought to light the new algorithm Google implemented in February to seach for recipes.  She said that these days people are more likely to look for recipes on Google rather than Food Network or the New York Times.  The latest changes made by Google for their one billion recipe searches per month was to add to the left hand side of their results a column containing choices you can streamline your search by, such as ingredients, cook time and calories.  Although at first glance these might seems helpful and creative, but Moskin points out, “..this means is that Google’s search engine gives vast advantage to the largest recipe websites with the resources to input all this metadata, and particularly those who home in on “quick and easy” and low calorie dishes (which, by the way, doesn’t mean the recipes are actually healthy). In so doing, Google unwittingly — but damagingly — promotes a cooking culture focused on speed and diets.”


She also goes on to say that the search results turn up recipes that don’t meet the criteria the user requested, but hidden somewhere in the metatag for the recipe was probably this false information which caused the recipe to show up on the Google’s first page.




Interestingly enough, her blog post was picked up by Kavi, a product manager on Google’s search quality team as well as David Lebovitz (and not to mention New York Times).  Kavi wrote a detailed comment on the post stating that these new filters are used by very few people and most people scan down the list of unfiltered recipes.  The ingredients filter gets the most usage from all the filters.  Recipe quality is hard to gage by a ranking algorithm unless it has been recommended by other users.  He agreed that food blogs are underrepresented in recipe view results.


He said, “Recipes on food blogs tend to be written differently than recipes on database-driven recipe sites. There’s often more discussion of the dish and the preparation, a greater focus on photos, and visitors to the blog leave comments rather than ratings or reviews. We need to adapt our markup formats to better fit the content that appears most frequently on blogs. We’ve already started to make some changes on this front. “



Google displays rich snippets when you search for a recipe.  They look like these two examples below:


These rich snippets, which appear in search results can be added to your own post so it displays similarly.

I looked further into what is involved in making google recognize a blog post with a recipe as a searchable recipe and rich snippets.  It seems that hidden microdata has to be added to the HTML of the post.  For example where it says

Prep time: 30 minutes

It needs to say:

Prep time: <time itemprop="prepTime" datetime="PT30M"> 30 minutes </time>

A full explanation of all microdata HTML tags are given in this google article.  The name of the recipe and at least two other properties need to be added to the post from the following list: photo, prepTime, cookTime, totalTime, ingredient, calories or review.  After you have added these tags to your recipes Google provides a tool to check if the rich snippets appear correctly in a search result.

This is a lot of work but with some practice it can become part of your workflow.. just like photo processing.  innBrooklyn has never used this before but I am intrigued to see how this can might change searaches that find us.  If we implement this we will report the results back to you.

by Noerah

Bit of better butter…

May 24, 2011

When I moved to the U.S from sunny South Africa I found myself fitting in and settling down without much ado.  Apart from the snow, most of my troubles were linguistic:  nobody knew what a robot was (a traffic light, obviously) and there was that whole aluminum/aluminium debacle.  But the phrase that really threw me was ‘homemade whipped cream’ – it seemed as unnecessary as offering to make some home-boiled water.  Soon, though, the prevalence of canisters of slightly plastic-y tasting, overly sweetened, faux dairy foam showed me that this was not a lexical problem but a gustatory one.  I was outraged.

The thought of being too lazy to whip one’s own cream made me froth, but the thought that I would one day make my own butter would have been equally alarming.  What kind of person makes butter when bars of the stuff are available in every supermarket in the country?  Well, ironically, the difference between whipping cream and making butter; between ‘how lazy can you be’ and ‘why bother’ is really only an extra couple of minutes in the kitchenaid.

All this is not to say I’ll never buy butter again (and it probably hasn’t cured me of my tendency to be judgmental, either!) but I am here to advocate for giving homemade butter a whirl, at least once.  The way I made it was super easy, beat the cream past heavy peaks until it separates into butter and buttermilk (you don’t even have to watch, just leave the mixer on and you’ll be able to hear liquid splashing once the separation occurs – but do cover the mixer so that you don’t land up with a kitchen covered in cream.)  Pour off the buttermilk, squishing the butter to get out as much liquid as possible (which of course you should save to use in pancakes), then rinse the butter and refrigerate.  It was well worth the effort: delicious, and very light and creamy – with a flavor that made me confident that the happy cows who were the source of the raw ingredient had enjoyed a sunny morning grazing and a little extra clover.

Salutations and salmon

May 12, 2011

Salmon on board for slicing

We’ve really missed you and we’re sorry we’ve been away so long.   Its been almost 8 months since the last innBrooklyn post and it has been a time of upheaval for both Noerah and I — changes both good and bad — but now we are settling into our new routines and ready to start posting again (though we cannot promise to be quite as prolific).  Welcome back, us!

For my birthday last year I was given The New Brooklyn Cookbook – a wonderful book that entices one to eat out at each of the 31 featured restaurants but compels one equally to stay home and cook their food for yourself.  I have done both and am thoroughly enjoying working my way through the volume.

The first recipe I tried was Applewood’s ‘Coriander-Cured Wild Salmon’.  I had not made gravlax before – somehow the description of the process always sounded too good to be true and I pictured myself wrestling with a large wild fillet and landing up with nothing but food poisoning for my pains.   Fear not piscine adventurers: the process is exactly as simple as it sounds — the essence of the method is to cover the fish with a salt/sugar/spice mix, wrap it tightly in clingwrap and allow it some time in the fridge to cure, then rinse, slice and enjoy!  The end result is similar to smoked salmon but with notes of citrus and heat from the coriander, balanced by the less pronounced flavors of the pepper, garlic and bay leaves.  Because this recipe is all about the salmon it really pays to buy a piece of quality fish (and don’t forget to choose sustainable seafood: more on that here)

The recipe calls for serving this on a bed of pickled corn and pea shoot salad and I am definitely going to try that soon (pea shoot season is just around the corner) but for now I’m eating it on a slice of fresh bread with a generous dollop of creme fraiche and nothing else!

Coriander-cured wild salmon from Applewood restaurant via The New Brooklyn Cookbook

** the quantities given in the book make enough spice mix for about 12lbs of fish… I have adjusted the recipe to make one 2lb fillet**

  • 3 Tbs whole coriander seed
  • 1 Tbs whole black peppercorns
  • 3/4 cup coarse salt
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 2 garlic cloves, smashed
  • 2 bay leaves, crushed
  • 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1 oz spicy bush basil or italian basil (I just used dried basil)
  • One sockeye or coho salmon fillet, about 2lbs, skin on, pin bones removed

Combine the coriander seed and peppercorns in a large skillet over low heat. Toast until fragrant, about 3 minutes. Allow to cool slightly, then grind them to a powder in a spice grinder (or with a mortar and pestle)
In a medium bowl, make a curing mixture by combining the ground spices, salt, sugar, garlic, bay leaves, red pepper flakes and basil. Lay the salmon fillet skin side down on a rimmed baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Coat the fish generously with the curing mixture, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 4 hours or overnight.
Rinse the fish well, pat dry, wrap in plastic wrap and store, refrigerated, for up to 1 week.

salmon and spice

Salmon sandwich

sliced salmon

Biscotti Mania

September 13, 2010

I’d like to say that when we styled this veritable dolmen of biscotti for photographing by Tamara Staples my intention was to make the pile of tastiness call to mind the antiquity, the longevity (not to mention density) of this Italian baked good.  But actually it was only after I started to read up on the history of the biscotto that I realised that they originated in ancient Rome where their long shelf like made them a perfect staple of the army rations of the Roman legions.  Can’t you just picture Obelix of Gaul carting a massive almond infused boulder on his back, instead of his usual menhir?

The reason that biscotti make such a long-lasting soldier’s treat is that they are given a second go in the oven (the name biscotti, from the latin root biscoctus, literally means twice baked)  making them extremely hard and dense.  As a result that are especially delicious dipped into coffee or dessert wines.  Apart from having to cut them and then put them in the oven a second time, these are extremely simple to make, no different from creating a basic cookie dough.  You form the dough into a long, flat log like shape, bake until just starting to get hard, then slice into the typical, long oval shape and bake a second time.  The secret to the perfect shape is simply to select only the long, elegant biscotti for your guests keeping the misshapen, but just as delicious morsels for yourself!

Generally, I am wary of any food that lasts too long.  It’s almost always a sign of an excess of chemical preservatives.  But its easy to see how in the days long before refrigeration, and with few natural preservatives, it was considered extremely attractive if one found food that would be, (according to Pliny the Elder) “edible for centuries” .  It turns out that I can barely keep a batch around for even a week so I have no way to prove the validity of this impressive claim.

All the recipes I’ve used to date have been from, including the three great sweet biscotti  pictured above–
Pistachio, Raspberry, and White Chocolate Biscotti, Double Chocolate Walnut Biscotti and Nonna’s Biscotti (a traditional almond biscotti, like my grandmother might have made if she were Italian and not instead Jewish and making blintzes).  I also once tried this rather strange savory concoction that we served at our house-warming party a few years ago, and which tended mostly to surprise people who were expecting a sweet treat and instead got a mouthful of pepper – but was actually pretty tasty once you know what you were getting yourself into.

If you haven’t made biscotti before, I highly recommend it: its easy and people tend to be impressed by the results!

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