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the taste algorithm

May 31, 2011

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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.

 

WHAT GOOGLE PRODUCT MANAGER HAD TO SAY ABOUT THIS

 

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. “

 

ADDING MICRODATA TO YOUR RECIPE

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

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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 epicurious.com, 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!

Just peachy

September 1, 2010

As summer nears its end I want to try pack in the things I enjoy for a few more weeks before they are over.  Summer is cycling in the park and movies outside.  Summer is kites and picnics, though I’ve done too few of either.  Summer is the abundence of produce.  Summer is fruity.  I go to the farmer’s market and there are so many brightly colored, sweet fruit to choose from I don’t know where to start, its hard to believe that in a short while we’ll be reduced to apples again.  Months of apples!

But anyway, for now there are still lots of fruit.  And my favorite (since mangos are not available here in New York) are peaches.  But for a peach to reach favoured fruit status it must be ripe, fragrant, juicy, sweet; the kind that leaves your arms totally sticky all the way to your elbows, so that you try to lick off the juice without looking like a crazy person!   I was told recently that the way to choose good fruit was to follow the bees, and since I’m a fan of bees, I tried it, and it does seem to work, the market stall that I bought my peaches from was awash with the little critters and the peaches were overflowing with flavor!   I remember reading Roald Dahl’s James and the Giant Peach as a kid and so wishing I could join James where  “…the walls were wet and sticky, and peach juice was dripping from the ceiling. James opened his mouth and caught some of it on his tongue. It tasted delicious.”   Though I have to admit if the giant bees were as big as the giant worm I’d be hard pressed to follow them to the peaches!

Of course, being a canner I’ve done my share of peach preserving so that when winter comes I will not actually be reduced to apple eating.  This year I doubled the number of peach recipes I put up.  I made a delicious peach chutney, I did some plain peaches and also the peaches in brandy from a NY Times recipe originally publised in 1930.  And I made peach butter with lavendar…

 A few weeks ago we got an email asking us if we’d be interested in receiving two books from Ashley English’s Homemade Living series: Keeping Chickens and Canning & Preserving.  Her editor thought that given the homemaking going on here and the sustainable slant to innBrooklyn, that we would enjoy the books.  And indeed, these are beautifully put together books, and the canning book in particular is a treasure for me (since my current living situation with only a fire escape and a front lawn, is unsuited to even the most well behaved of urban chickies).  I love that the canning book is organised by season: its the obvious way to do it, and the real question is why all the other books are not arranged this way.  Its a really good book for beginning canners, full of lots of advise for how to get started.  I am often asked to recommend a beginning canning book to friends who are fascinated by my many jars, and this is certainly the best option I’ve had to offer them.  Thanks to Ashley I managed to keep this years peach halves and peaches in brandy a perfect vivid orange rather than letting them succumb to discoloration.   I’ve actually already made several of the summer recipes from here, but you’ll have to wait for those.  For today I present this peach butter with lavendar. (and if you have left over lavendar, don’t forget to try making it into a citrus cordial!)

Peach Lavendar Butter from Canning & Preserving with Ashley English.

Ingredients (makes about 6 half-pints)

  •  3lbs peaches
  • 1/3 cup water
  • 2 Tbs fresh or dried lavendar
  • 3 Tbs bottled lemon juice
  • 1 1/2 Tbs lemon zest
  • 3 cups granulated sugar

Directions
1. Peel peaches and chop.
2. Bring the 1/3 c water to a boil and add lavender. Let steep 15 minutes.
3. Meanwhile wash & sterilize jars and lids.
4. Combine lavender water, peaches, lemon juice & zest in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil & then reduce heat to a simmer for 15 minutes. Peaches should start to break down and create a thickened sauce.
5. With an immersion blender (or food processor or regular blender), puree peaches until smooth. Cool before hand, if necessary.
6. Add sugar to peach mixture and bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve sugar. Reduce heat to simmer and cook for another 25 minutes.
7. Process in sanitized jars in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes.

–By Talia

Preserved on newsprint

August 17, 2010

We are very excited that a picture from one of our posts, Cantastic, featuring Talia’s glorious canned foods, was printed in the food section of the Tyler Morning Telegraph, a Texas newspaper, on August 4, 2010. innBrooklyn was also noted as the Blog of the week!

-Noerah

Something fishy

August 13, 2010

Several years ago I went on a vacation to Mexico.  We split our time evenly between a week of touring and a week of beach time.  The former included some very long bus rides, amazing Mayan ruins (with musical accompaniment by howler monkeys) and some gorgeous mountain villages with intensely colorful and lush courtyard cafes.   Our week at the beach was spent in the company of a group of locals as I attempted to learn to kite surf.  My kitesurfing adventures to that point had included one ostrich egg sized head bump obtained after flying 20 ft in the air and landing hard, head first, on the sand (the very first time I harnessed in to a powerful monster kite), a weekend class in Cape Cod where I got the official safety tips to prevent a repeat of said head bump (hopefully) and a few attempts to keep my own medium sized kite in the air while I got to my feet on a board in the ocean (all unsuccessful).  Still, I’m nothing if not stubborn, so a week in balmy Mexico seemed the obvious place to try hone my craft!  In reality I spent most of my time waiting for the wind to be ‘just right’ and dragging around behind some of the experienced kite surfers so they could give me some tips.  I returned from Mexico still unable to go for a solo surf and have not managed any better since.

Minor kiting lessons not withstanding,  hanging out with the local surfer crew has one decided advantage: a direct line to the restaurants only the locals know about.  Following the lead of the boys, we would start the morning early with massive fruit smoothies and then eat pretty much nothing till dinner time.  So by evening we were all famished and we’d sit down in one or another restaurant for a massive family style spread.  We had fabulous steaks, spicy guacamole, the freshest of tortillas, great local beers.  But my hands down favorite was the ceviche we had on our last night in town, the perfect fresh seafood dish for the end of a summer vacation.

On my return I decided to make this same ceviche for a Mexican themed dinner held to share tales of our trip with friends.  It took some searching and some tweaking of recipes to get the same flavors we had enjoyed but now I have my recipe right and I don’t stray.  The secret is to keep it simple: this is not a salad or a salsa, its mostly about the fish – and since it is about fish, you need to make sure you use great fish   I have a lot of thoughts on how to select sustainable seafood, many of which I shared in a sister post to this piece that I wrote for Daring Kitchen’s Food Talk – I hope you will head over there to read all about ethical fish feasts – with links to several tasty recipes besides this one!

The photo above is the second of the shots we took during our day with professional photographer Tamara Staples at her studio.

Mexican Ceviche:

  • 2 pounds white fish, cubed (I went to the farmers market and got a selection of three different fish from them after a long chat with the fishmonger, this recipe is pretty adaptive, so you can use the best fish you can find)
  • 1 pound scallops
  • 2-5 Fresh jalapeño chiles (depending how hot you want it)
  • 1 Onion, diced
  • 2 cups halved cherry tomatoes
  • 1 – 2 cloves Garlic, minced
  • 2 Large avocado, diced
  • 1 bunch Cilantro,  diced (keep a few Tbs of cilantro for garnish)
  • 1 Tbs brown sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups Lime juice
  • 1 1/2 cup Lemon juice
  • Pinch Salt and pepper

In a large bowl combine all ingredients thoroughly – the lime/lemon juice needs to completely coat the fish as this is how the fish is ‘cooked’.  Cover and refrigerate at least an hour (you can make this several hours ahead), stirring occasionally.  Once cooked, the fish will change color, becoming whiter and the scallops will become opaque.  Serve in large glass bowl, or individual glass dishes, garnish with  cilantro and serve with tortilla chips, fresh tortillas or crackers.

–By Talia

Green Gas Saver

August 10, 2010

photo1-1-2010-08-10-21-19.pngIt’s been a while since I reviewed an iPhone app and so now that I have the iPhone 4 which has an accelerometer (my old 3G didn’t have it) i decided to review the app called Green Gas Saver by TheAppleseedStore.com. This is a fun app that rates your driving while you are driving and gives you warning beeps when you are not driving well! It monitors your fuel efficiency and reminds you when you are accelerating too fast or cornering too hard. I have been using it every now and then and aim to avoid hearing the offending beep and find out in real time when I’m not driving green.

GreenGas has two gauges and warning lights and beeps. The top gauge tells you when you are accelerating too fast and the bottom gauge tells you when you are cornering too hard to the right or left. The LED lights on the gauge go from green for ‘green driving’ to yellow for ‘cornering’ or ‘accelerating’ to red for ‘reckless driving’. Warnings are provided by text and beeps and both can be turned off individually.

The app rates your driving by giving you an average score. It also displays a live score that goes up and down with the quality of your driving. When you are not driving green it reduces your average score for the trip. You also get separate scores in accelerating and cornering.

I recorded a test drive with the app and found that the Acceleration gauge did not work throughout the drive.. and I know I accelerated!  The cornering worked pretty well and it is nice to hear the beep reprimand me when I am being bad.  A big thanks to my mom for sitting in the back seat and recording my little experiment to share with you!

-Noerah

Wild fermentation is wild indeed

August 7, 2010

Making ginger beer is incredibly easy, most of what it takes is time, first waiting for the ginger bug to get started and then leaving the bottled product for a few weeks to ferment before drinking.  In fact it seemed so easy that as I looked at the bottles sitting on my kitchen counter I could not believe they contained anything worth getting excited about.  I shook them and peered at them to see if there were signs of carbonation but all i really saw was a little bit of sediment floating around in the liquid.  I was so sure they were going to be disappointing that I delayed opening them for quite some time after the two weeks required for the ‘beer’ to ferment.  Finally I cracked open a bottle, and with a celebratory pop and fizz the ginger beer proved me very wrong.  This certainly is a drink to get excited about.  It feels like a bit of magic actually getting all that complex flavor and all those bubbles out when so little went in.

Indeed contrary to my expectations, the bottles quite ‘fizzethed over’ when I opened them.  I should have expected this, I suppose, since the recipe included a warning note to just that effect, which I clearly paid no attention to.  So I’m taking this chance to let you know, the carbonation will be strong.  And if you are lucky enough to be friends with a professional photographer who agrees to spend a day taking photos with you for your blog, you should be extremely wary of opening a glass of homemade hooch onto her extremely expensive lens.  In any event, I don’t think any lasting damage was done to either the lens or the friendship, and as you can see from the photos, the day we spent with Tamara Staples in her studio was very productive indeed!

I got the instructions for making the beer from Sandor Katz’s fabulous ‘Wild Fermentation’, a book which I highly recommend both for its simple instructions in making all things fermented, from sauerkraut to vinegar as well as for the  inspiring and informative tone which leads you to want to turn your kitchen into a veritable laboratory full of bubbling and fermenting potions.   I’m planning to work my way through much more of the book, though I fear I may get sidetracked by the need to make constant batches of ginger beer.

The first transformative step is to make a ginger bug – a simple mixture of sugar and grated ginger in a cup of water which is left open to the air to soak up the local strains of yeast.   Sure enough after a few days the mixture was foamy and bubbly and then I just kept feeding it until I was ready to make my magic drink.   Talk about local eating, not even the strawberry planters at the front door can hold a candle to the locavore street cred of harvesting little yeasties right in the kitchen.   I’d continue to wax lyrical about the whole process but its just past 5pm and the time is right for a dark ‘n stormy, so I’ll have to leave you now!

Ginger Beer

  • Gingerroot for the ginger bug + 2-6 inches of ginger root for the beer
  • Approximately 2 cups sugar
  • Juice of 2 lemons
  • Water

First start the ‘ginger bug’ by adding 2 teaspoons each of grated ginger (skin and all) and sugar to 1 cup of water.  Stir well and cover the mixture with cheesecloth to keep out the bugs and leave the mix in a warm place.  Add the same amount of sugar and ginger each day or two until the mixture starts to bubble (mine took just three days) and then continue to ‘feed’ the bug until you are ready to make the beer

Boil 2 quarts of water and add the grated ginger (2″ will yield a mild ginger flavor, 5″ will be pretty intense, which is what I did!) and 1 1/2 cups of sugar.  Boil for 15 minutes then allow to cool

Once the mix is cool, strain out the ginger and add the lemon juice and the strained ginger bug (if you are going to continue making ginger beer continuously you can keep a few tablespoons of the active bug as a starter and replenish it with more water, ginger and sugar).  Add enough water to make 1 gallon.

Bottle in sealable bottles (even recycled soda bottles will do, but beer bottles with swing tops are great or get a bottle capper and use regular beer bottles).  Leave the bottles to ferment in a warm spot for at least two weeks, then refridgerate before drinking.

–By Talia

Brooklyn Cookin’

August 2, 2010

Last month I attended a three-day food photography workshop in Brooklyn called Brooklyn Cookin’. Chris Marquardt, a professional photographer and a podcaster from Germany and Chef Mark Tafoya, a personal chef from New York City got together and crafted this unique workshop. I had been listening to Chris’ podcast Tips from the Top Floor for a couple of years and loved the easy to understand tips he provides in layman’s terms. Half the participant were aspiring chefs and the other half were aspiring photographers. The chefs worked their magic downstairs while the photographers received instructions upstairs and both parties met at given times to photograph action shots as well as prepared foods.This was the first (in person) workshop I had been to. It was great to be able to ask questions and receive instruction in person.

We spent the first day at the indoor Chelsea Market. It used to be an old Nabisco factory and was converted into an indoor food market. It had remnants of the factory still visible and was very well lit with warm lighting. It was difficult to take a bad photograph. Following that we visited the Union Square farmer’s market for more photography fun. The second day we met at a house in Brooklyn where we received instruction and awaited inspiration from our chefs. We were not disappointed! We learnt about photography using available light. The third day we met at the same place and dabbled in flash photography using strobes, soft boxes and gels. I will highlight some great tips I learnt followed by pictures of each of the three days.

Composing the Background
Sometimes you can get really lucky and get the perfect lighting, perfect contrast, perfect subject and perfect background. Read more…

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