Friday, June 30, 2006

Universal Housewares

I just had the sort of experience with a company that makes me want to tell all of my friends to buy from them. When I was in New Hampshire, I bought a manual meat grinder from an antique store. I'm sure the reasoning was that since it wasn't the sort of thing you plug in, and it did look a little old, that it was obviously an antique. I took it home and have used it several times, with great success. But lately, I've been wanting to get into sausage making again. I made quite a bit of sausage at school and it was a lot of fun. And the fact that I get to choose what goes into it is a definite plus. And let's face it, I'm a food hacker. Having personal insight into my food's source code is at least as useful as being able to read the source code of the CPAN modules that I use in my Perl code, if not more so.

Anyway, a few immediate problems did present themselves. For instance, I was unable to find anyplace that would sell me sausage casings for the longest time. I now have a few sites online that sell them. I also needed a sausage stuffer, which can get pretty expensive. And lastly, I would have liked different sized cutting dies for my grinder. You see, you can actually choose how big you want the meat to be cut. My grinder came with a pretty standard-size cutting die, but I wanted to play with larger and smaller dies. This is when I visited The Mending Shed, which is a shop down the street from my house that's really good at finding parts. They informed me that my grinder was not just old, but really old. In fact, there was a pretty good chance that I was just out of luck. After a search through their inventory, they eventually gave me the phone number for the original manufacturer, Universal Housewares.

I was immediately impressed when I called them. The girl on the phone was very friendly, and informed me that they did indeed have a die kit for my model. As it turns out, my model grinder was in fact a current model, even advertised on their website as such. Even better, the kit came with a sausage stuffer attachment, which would save me anywhere from $50 to $200 or so. The kit was only about $25 + $5 shipping, so I sprang for it. A week later, it came. As I opened the box and examined the components, I got increasingly excited. There were four different sized dies, and three different sized sausage tubes. They even included a cookbook! My excitement, however, dwindled when I removed the old die from my grinder and compared it with the new. The new ones were about 1/4" larger, and would not fit my grinder.

Travesty! I checked the packing slip and the box. Both were for my model, the 323. Perhaps I had an older model 323, which was no longer supported. I took several photos, uploaded them to a directory on my website, and called the company back. I was expecting to have to show them the photos and describe my grinder in detail. I was also expecting to be told that eBay would be my best bet, unless I wanted to buy the newest model 323. The girl asked me several questions, and informed me that she would have to have somebody else call me back (he was at the post office at the moment).

When he called me back half an hour later, it was not the call that I was expecting. The man asked me a few different questions about the grinder. Rather than asking me about my paperwork (which the antique store did not provide for some reason), he asked me to read some names from the grinder itself. He informed me that it was indeed an older model, with smaller parts. Before my heart had a chance to sink, he informed me that he would make me new parts and ship them right out, including the correct size sausage stuffers. I asked about sending back the incorrect parts, and he told me not to bother, because it wasn't worth it. He's probably right too, it probably wouldn't be worth it for him or me.

So as it turns out, the people at Universal are extremely friendly, they make a killer product, and they'll do what it takes to make their customers happy. They won't make you jump through hoops, and they're extremely eager to help. This is the kind of company that I love to work with. Not only do I plan on buying from them in the future, I think it's worth it to tell everyone else to buy from them. The Mending Shed does carry a few of their recent models in their showroom, so head on down there and check them out.

I'm hoping for my parts to arrive in a week or two, so that I can post a few sausage recipes. I'll keep you posted on both the new parts and the recipes. Stay tuned!

Foods to Avoid

My last post refered to an article on the 8 worst foods you can eat. Their article was actually written as a response to an article on MSN about the 10 absolute worst foods you can eat. I thought I'd chime in with my own list, since this is the Internet, and that's what people do on the Internet. I'm probably going to get a lot of people mad at me with this, but hey, I'm not forcing you to read my posts or agree with me.

Fast Food

I could list all the health reasons why you shouldn't eat fast food, but I won't. Truth is, there is some healthful fast food that you can eat. For instance, there's a lot worse things you could do to your body that eat a turkey sub at Subway, and that still qualifies as fast food. But when was the last time you sat down to a good, home-cooked meal with your family and/or friends? This is part of the idea behind the "slow food" movement. I don't care how unhealthful you think ma's biscuits and gravy are; they have the one ingredient that you can't get at the golden arches: love. If you're so worried about health, why don't you try eating your green beans or broccoli for once? She didn't intend those greens as garnish. It scares me to think of how often families decide to go out to eat instead of cooking at home. A couple of weeks ago, I started leaving my notebook at work during the week, so that I wouldn't have any distractions when I got home. When I got home, I no longer spent the time waiting for my wife to get home on the computer; I generally spent that time cooking. When she got home, we would have a nice meal, and then hang out a little. It didn't always work, but when it did, it was nice.

Diet Food

I don't care how popular the Atkin's Diet is. There's nothing healthy about eating saturated fat-laden foods. And yes, I know that snack pack is only 100 calories, but they're empty calories. There wasn't anything healthy about them before they were portion-controlled, and they haven't gotten any better since. Junk food is still junk food. Look, if all these fad diets and diet snack foods were so healthy, don't you think more doctors would be recommending it? But when was the last time you heard your doctor recommend a box of SnackWells? If they were such a huge breakthrough, don't you think the FDA or USDA would be a little more interested? I do believe that the government has a vested interested in our health; dead men pay no taxes. Seriously, don't you think it's maybe just a little cheaper to eat right in the first place than to screw ourselves up and then try to get the doctors to fix it?

Anti-Diet Food

Just because I told you not to eat diet food doesn't mean it's okay to eat non-diet food. Go ahead, eat your veggies, they're good for you. They're not just "rabbit food". I didn't just give you carte blanche to eat half a cow just because it's not diet food. Look, just because it's healthful doesn't mean it's a) flavorless or b) diet food. It's entirely possible to make healthful food taste good. Tofu doesn't have to be horrible. Neither does eggplant. I've had many a stir-fry with tofu that I honestly thought was extremely flavorful pork or chicken at first. Alton Brown's eggplant recipes are fabulous. You should try them sometime. Asparagus, properly cooked, can be really, really tasty.

Snack Food

I'm not talking about every snack food. I'm just talking about the stuff that you're eating. That Snickers bar isn't winning you any marathons. Look, it's not such a bad thing to snack on carrot or celery sticks. Not flavorful enough? Go ahead and dip that celery stick in a little natural peanut butter. No, not the kind that never requires any stirring or refrigeration. I want you to try out the stuff that only has two ingredients on the label: peanuts and salt. Yes, you have to stir it. Yes, you have to keep it in the refrigerator. Yes, it does actually taste pretty good, and is extremely good for you.


Yeah, I know. You like the taste. You drink responsibly. That photo of you dancing half-dressed on the coffee table with a lampshade falling off your head was photoshopped. Look, I know that the experts are telling you that wine is good for the heart. So is grape juice, and as near as I can tell, most kids love grape juice too. You can bond with your kids! Let's face it, beer is nothing but empty calories. It impairs your judgement. It impairs your physical ability. It's also not winning you any marathons. I've met a lot of people in my lifetime that seem to believe that it's not possible to have any fun without alcohol. I've also known a lot of people that seem to manage. I'm not calling for prohibition here. I'd be first to admit that I love the Jack Daniels burger at TGI Fridays. I remember a meeting with the Utah Bakers Dozen where one of the members suggested that using Everclear in your airbrush was a really good way to paint foodstuffs, because it has so much alcohol, it almost immediately evaporates away. I'm certainly not going to drink it. What if I decide that I'm going to get totally trashed, and then suddenly a family member calls for help, because she's stranded on the other side of town with a flat tire? What if a web server crashes and requires my immediate attention? If I'm passed out with a bottle of Jack in my hands, it's going to be a while before I get that page that my monitoring software sent me.


This is what it all comes out to. When I was in cooking school, our nutrition teacher gave us homework the weekend before her class even started. We were to write down everything we ate that weekend. When we came in, we entered it all into the computer, and analysed what we ate. I thought I'd get a head start and make it look like I was already eating pretty healthfully. Not only did I scrap the burgers that weekend, I even bought a bottle of V8 splash. I made sandwiches with turkey and romaine lettuce, on whole wheat bread. I felt like I was cheating. When I came in and put it all into the computer, I was in for a shock. For my height and weight, I should have been eating around 2300 calories a day, just to maintain my weight. My average for that weekend was over 4500 calories/day! And I have been making an effort to eat light! I spent those weeks in nutrition class revising what I ate on a regular basis, and reduced my daily caloric intake to about 1800 (since I had several pounds to lose). Because of that class and that revelation, I left cooking school significantly lighter than when I started, even though all my friends told me I would gain significant poundage from being there.

Look, try some moderation sometime. I know ma's green bean casserole is fabulous. I know you would love just another bite. Let's try holding back a little. You've already had three servings anyway. Maybe you should have just stuck with one. I know that waiter just brought you a lot of food. I know you already felt full half-way through. It's okay, you don't have to finish it all now. Just get a to-go box. That's what they're there for. Imagine your coworkers' jealousy as you finish that bruscetta chicken pasta at lunch tomorrow. It's okay to eat out sometimes, just not all the time. Let's try just thinking a little about what we eat. Did you even stop to taste that double cheeseburger you just wolfed down? Slow down. Chew your food. Try new things. That brings me to what I think I will use to finish up here.

The Usual

I know you love that carbonara. That's why you always order it. Have you tried the chicken marsala? No? Maybe you should give it a try. If you don't like it, you don't have to order it again. Maybe you should try that salad. Maybe it will taste good. Heaven knows it has at least as many calories as the steak, except that ordering a lot of salads in life won't eventually make your arteries sieze. Yes, you can order the steak once in a while. Just don't overdo it, okay?

So that's at least a partial list. If I've made you angry, well, I don't think Blogger has a freeze on new blog signups at the moment. Tell the world why I'm wrong. I'm just some hack anyway.

Thursday, June 29, 2006


You know, I started thinking about this when Ali commented in my last post that I'm a food scientist, rather than a chef. I largely believe this to be true. I mean sure, I like good food and all, but I daresay I'm more interested in the physics and chemistry of it all than the food itself. This has probably the cause of several of my views towards food.

I've decided that a lot of Americans have been duped by buzzwords. For instance, have you seen this new "all-natural" 7-up? I want you all to remember something: if a food substance has been derived from a natural source, it can legally be called natural. Example: high fructose corn syrup. Corn is good for you, right? I mean, it's a vegetable and everything. And where does fructose come from? Things like apples. I mean, it's a pretty common substance found in fruit. So that means that high-fructose corn syrup must be a) all-natural and b) good for you, right? Of course not. Most of us aren't that stupid.

Shifting gears here, I remember once when I was working at a bakery, I had an idea for a pastry of some sort. I don't even remember what kind. I was asking the executive pastry chef about various means of getting something to work with it and she told me that a certain ingredient was out of the question, because it was an additive. I've never forgotten that. I do admire her valor in creating all-natural foods, but I don't believe that just because an ingredient is an additive makes it bad. I mean, it's not like it's not there for a purpose. Manufacturers don't just throw things into their formulas willy-nilly. I thought about this extensively as I worked on Ali's focaccia recipe, which calls for things like gelatin, which is not normally found in bread. Technically, it's an additive. But it's one that helped maintain a structure that would normally have been performed by gluten, which was not an option, for medical reasons.

This brings me to an article I found on a food blog that tensai sent me to. This article talked about 8 of the worst foods you could eat. It was referring specifically to health, not flavor. The one that caught my eye was this: "Pasteurized, processed cheese food - No, we don’t care how well they melt. These melty, spreadable, day-glo orange 'cheeses' have to be labeled as 'cheese food' because of the addition of preservatives and liquids. Yum."

Okay, I will be the first to tell you not to buy that junk. I don't care if it's convenient or melty or produced by one of the world's largest tobacco corporations; it's just plain disgusting. But did this person even think about that last sentence? Well, the one before "Yum"? Preservatives? Liquid? I hate to tell you this, but most cheeses have a very common preservative added. We in the biz call it salt. I suppose if you wanted to make it sound chemical, you could call it sodium chloride. What are some other preservatives? Well, sugar is a big one. How about smoke? You cure foods with smoke to make it last longer and to keep off the flies, right? And... liquid? That's the worst of your worries. Don't tell me, let me guess: you were one of the ones that got all uptight over that dihydro-oxide, weren't you? Yes, I will agree with you about everything in that statement except for your reasoning.

Another favorite is monosodium glutamate, aka, MSG. People still get uptight about this one, and Chinese restaurants are still getting a bad rap over it. There's the headaches, the dizziness, all that fun stuff. My favorite part is how many of these people love mushrooms. Vegetarians, and especially vegans, will readily decry MSG, while ever so willingly offering you mushroom burgers and seaweed wraps. I've got news for you people: the Chinese have been getting their MSG fix from seaweed for years. And Shiitake mushrooms have one of the highest concentration of MSG of any plant. The Japanese have even discovered that there are actually five basic tastes that the tongue can detect, not four. In addition to sweet, sour, salty and bitter, they've discovered "umami", which describes that metallic taste that we sometimes pick up in red meat, mushrooms and MSG. Did I mention MSG occurs naturally in meat? Dairy too. And let's not forget peas. Don't forget to eat your peas.

I guess I don't know what point I'm getting at, except that maybe people should start doing some more research on things, and maybe try and re-evaluate a few of your biases. Stop listening to everything you hear on TV, the radio, the Internet. I don't even want you to take my word for any of this post. I'm just a cook that's trying to figure things out for himself. But at least I'm taking that first step. Now it's your turn.

Pina Colada Fudge... Almost

So, now confident in my fudge-making skills, I decided to try a whole new flavor: pina colada. Now, based on the drink recipes I've seen, a classic pina colada is about equal parts pineapple and coconut, plus rum. I'm not sure how alcohol will affect fudge, so I decided to replace it with molasses. Why not? Rum is derived from molasses, molasses is an invert sugar, and that helps retard crystals, right? Nevermind the fact that rum and molasses don't actually taste alike.

Get ready to examine my failed logic. I went with 2 3/4 cup sugar, 1 tablespoon corn syrup, 1 tablespoon molasses, 1 cup pineapple juice, 1/2 cup shredded fresh coconut and 3 tablespoons butter. I decided on this ratio, because the water part of the pineapple juice is supposed to evaporate, right? And I decided not to toast the coconut, because it was fresh. For the record, if I ever decide to work with fresh coconut again, it won't be for a long time. I picked up more battle scars from that then I did in my butchery class in school.

Process was simple: it all went in the pot, stirred slowly until it came to a boil, slapped on the lid for 3 minutes, then removed the lid and added the thermometer. I might have let it come to 231F instead of the 229F that I was shooting for (remember elevation, kids). Cooling down didn't go so well. I put the pan in an ice water bath, of course. My thermometer refused to sit inside the concoction unless I put it at an angle, and when I did that, it all cooled unevenly. I eventually got sick of inaccurate readings, hoped that it was somewhere around 115F, and pulled it out and started stirring. After a while, it started to get light in color, so I poured it into my prepared pan and let it sit.

Now, with the peach fudge, it started to set up within the hour. With this stuff, it still didn't look like it was ever going to set up 3 or 4 hours later when I went to bed. When I woke up in the morning, I was surprised to find that it did indeed set up, even though it still looked a but wet. The texture was really grainy, and the flavor was all pineapple, with a tiny hint of caramel. The texture that the coconut gave it didn't work for me at all.

I am currently reformulating my plan. Next time I plan to go with 1/2 cup coconut cream (if I can find it) and 1/2 cup pineapple puree. No molasses, but I might add some rum flavoring. I will keep the corn syrup in there, but I will probably also bring butter up to 4 tablespoons. Still, I am heartened by the fact that it did set up. Turns out when you go at it with the correct understanding, it is just a little bit less of a gamble than you'd think.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006


Sometimes I just don't understand this world that we live in.

A few years ago, late at night, I was at my local megamart picking up supplies for the next morning's road trip. While I was looking around, I saw a some bottles of peach soda. I thought it looked pretty good, so I grabbed a case. Tired as I was, it didn't immediately register in my mind when the checker asked to see some I.D. I showed her my drivers license, which satisfied her and she went on. A moment later I realized that I had just been carded for buying peach soda. I said to her, "you know, it's not beer, it's just peach soda." She was truly and utterly embarrassed, and even more so when I told her that now we had a funny story to tell.

Today I stopped by the store on the way home from work to buy some pineapples and some bananas. While I was there, I decided to get a six pack of ginger ale in bottles. At the register, the checker rang up my fruit, then my soda, and then asked for my birthday. I gave him an odd look and said, "for ginger ale?" He told me that the computer was asking for my birthday. Thinking it was odd, I gave it to him, grabbed my stuff (I had to tell him that the ginger ale, which had a built-in handle, did not need a bag) and headed out to the car, wondering about the birthday thing. As I drove home, I realized a couple of things. First of all, it was the computer that seemed to be interested in my age, not the checker. Odd that a computer would confuse ginger ale and real ale. Then I realized that the checker hadn't asked for my ID. Just my birthday. And he made a point of telling me that he believed me.

I can only think of a couple of explanations. First, I had paid with my credit card. Could it have been a security check? If it was, it was a new one, because I've used my card there several times before, including last night, and never been asked for my birthday. So the other explanation might be that whoever put the ginger ale in the computer was in fact a complete idiot that thinks that ginger ale is a real beer, with real alcohol, and therefore should raise a flag to the cashier to do the age check. Thanks to my seriously cool beard (which is actually only about half as thick as it was when I was 17), the checker decided that I was obviously old enough. You know, I actually had a couple of 20 year olds ask me to buy them beer when I was only 19 or 20 myself. It's kind of fun to tweak with people's brains, even if it is unintentional.

Tell you what. Those of you that have a Harmon's near by, why don't you head on down and see what other kinds of silly things have made it into the system. They've already got two strikes, with the baggers and the ginger ale. What else is going on there? Don't get me wrong, I love Harmon's. I actually have 5 other grocery stores nearer to my home (Smith's, Albertson's, Macey's, Super Target and Super Walmart) and I still prefer to drive from south Orem to north Orem to buy groceries. But guys, c'mon, get your act together! Don't make me change my mind about where I shop!

Update (6/28/2006 7am): I bought a different soda and a couple of bags of ciabatta rolls this morning with the same credit card, and they didn't ask for my birthday. So unless they're suddenly requiring age checks on bananas or pineapples, they carded me for ginger ale. I did get a lot of glares from people there, though. Almost every person in the store, in fact. It wasn't until I left that I remembered that I was wearing my University of Utah t-shirt in BYU territory.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Fruit Fudge: Part 3

Before I do anything else, I would like to dedicate this post to the lovely Ruth, who very kindly told me that what I was trying to accomplish could not be done. Ruth, I hate to tell you this, but I just did it. Third time's a charm, right?

Last night I took another stab at fresh fruit fudge. Those of you who missed my previous forays may want to check out this and this. I was out of strawberries, but I still have a pretty serious supply of peaches, so I went with that. I've been studying all sorts of fudge recipes since my last two attempts, and I've come to a conclusion: my theories about the basis of fudge were all wrong. You see, I, like most people, tend to associate the word fudge with chocolate. And because of this, I assumed that the physics of fudge were based on chocolate. I mean, why not? The physics of truffles are based on chocolate.

As it turns out, the physics of fudge are based on sugar. Having watch the Fudge Factor episode of Good Eats time and time again, you'd think I would have figured this out, especially since the episode is almost entirely about crystals. But sugar crystals aren't the only factor, of course. As it turns out, the fat content has a lot to do with it as well. And, as you might have guessed, so does the moisture content. In fact, these are the only three factors present: crystals, fat and moisture.

This time, I replaced all of the milk and half & half with a mashed up large peach, minus the skin and pit. It had a lot of liquid. All in all, it was probably close to a cup, including pulp and liquid. I was confident that this amount of moisture, being less than usual, would have time to evaporate without picking up that "cooked flavor". I added 2 3/4 cups of sugar, 1 tablespoon of butter, 1 tablespoon of corn syrup and the juice of a lime to the peach. I stirred occassionally while bringing to a boil, and the slapped the lid on for 3 minutes to allow for the condensation to wash down the sides. I removed the lid, slapped on the candy thermometer and brought it to 229F (keeping in mind my high altitude, at sea level it would be 236F). I pulled it off the heat, put 2 more tablespoons of butter on top to melt in, and moved the pan to an ice water bath. When it reached 115F, I pulled it out of the bath and stirred vigorously with a wooden spoon. It started out looking pretty clear, but eventually it started to lighten up and pick up a little opacity. When it got gloopy and my arm felt like it was going to fall off, I poured it into an 8x8 pan lined with parchment and let it sit overnight.

It set up! It actually set up! I cut it into squares this morning and tried one out. Oh man! This stuff is intense. I think that the peach might actually make it seem sweeter than it really is. A couple of notes: I meant to stir in a little vanilla as a flavor enhancer just before stirring. I also meant to add a pinch of salt to the sugar before bringing it to a boil. This recipe still needs some tweaking to keep it from being too sweet, but at least it did set up, and can now properly be called fudge.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Peach BBQ Sauce

What does one do when one sees a flat of fresh peaches at CostCo for super cheap? One suddenly has a need for peach recipes. Fortunately, I already had plans in mind from the moment I saw those ripe beauties.

Peach BBQ Sauce

4 peaches
2 jalapenos
1 garlic clove
1/2 tsp olive oil
pinch salt
1 Tbsp molasses
1 tsp liquid smoke
2 tsp cider vinegar
1 Tbsp mustard
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 tsp worcestershire
1 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
juice of a lime

Peel the peaches and remove the pits. Mash 'em a little with a potato masher and set them aside. Put a large saute pan on medium-low heat. Mince up the garlic and the jalapenos. When the pan is hot, add the oil, along with the garlic, jalapenos and a pinch of salt. Sweat for a moment, and then add the peaches and everything else. Bring the heat up to medium-high, and let simmer for a few minutes, stirring occassionally. Pull out your trusty immersion blender and puree. Yes, while it's on the heat. Don't worry, you'll be fine. If you don't have a stick blender, well, let it cook a few more minute just to tighten up a little, and toss it in a stand blender to puree it. Just remember, it will thicken a little as it cools, so it's okay for it to be a little loose while it's hot.

What does one use this stuff for? A better question might be, what doesn't one use it for? Pulled pork or beef would be perfect. You could use it to make baked beans. Or if you're like me, you might season a piece of salmon with a little salt and chile powder, give it a good sear on both sides, and then add some of the peach sauce to the pan. Turn the salmon over in the sauce and serve with a little more peach sauce on the side, and some Hawaiian rice.

For Ali: Gluten-Free Focaccia

A week or two ago, my good friend Ali asked a favor of me. You see, she's allergic to a lot of things, primarily gluten. No, she doesn't have celiac disease. But anything wheat-based is out. From what I understand, the biggest thing that people forced to go gluten free miss is bread, and I can't say I blame them. I used to be a baker, you know. I love the stuff. I'm a bit of a snob, too. I couldn't even tell you the last time I bought white bread. It's not the fact that white bread is almost completely devoid of any nutritional value, it's just plain boring. Unfortunately, Ali can't have any of my beloved whole-wheat or sourdough bread. What she wanted was a wheat-free bread that wasn't hard as a rock and dense as a brick.

So I started to do some research. See, baking is largely based on wheat flour, specifically because of its gluten content. As I understand it, there is nothing else in the world that contains gluten, or the necessary proteins to make gluten. So when one learns to bake gluten free, one must forget just about anything they know about baking and essentially start from scratch. I looked at several celiac websites, trying to get a few ideas. I even picked up a copy of The Gluten-Free Gourmet Bakes Bread, as it seemed to be the best book my local bookstore has on gluten. As it turns out, if all you want to do is bake bread, this recipe collection doesn't seem to be bad. If you actually want to understand the physics behind gluten-free baking, it pretty well sucks.

In my research, I did discover a few tricks. You see, gluten is important in bread baking because as it develops, it becomes stretchy and elastic. When yeast is in the dough, it starts to feed on sugars and starches around it. As this happens it produces gas, which begins to expand into little air pockets. These air pockets are held together by the elasticity of the gluten, and so the bread rises, becoming light and fluffy. Without gluten, these air pockets have little to hold them together. But as it turns out, xanthan gum is powder that when it gets wet, it holds onto molecules around it, and acts as a somewhat elastic binder. This substance has been the saving grace of celiacs everywhere.

As I pondered a couple more ways to simulate gluten, I realized that gelatin is another binder, of sorts. It's certainly nowhere near as strong, but it could come in handy. I wasn't surprised when many of the gluten-free recipes that I came across included gelatin. Eventually I combined a few recipes together and came up with a version of focaccia that I thought might work.

Gluten-Free Focaccia #1

1 Tbsp yeast
2/4 cup warm water
1 tsp sugar
1 1/4 cup brown rice flour
1/2 cup amaranth flour
1/4 cup tapioca flour
1 1/2 tsp xanthan
1 tsp gelatin powder
1 tsp dry thyme
1 tsp dry marjoram
1/2 tsp onion powder
1/4 tsp garlic powder
3/4 tsp sea salt
2 eggs
1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 tsp cider vinegar

Preheat oven to 400F. Mix together the yeast, water and sugar, and set aside. Combine all the dry ingredients in a bowl and whisk until thoroughly mixed. Add the wet ingredients, plus the yeast mixture, and stir to form a sticky dough. Don't worry about overmixing, that's only a concern when gluten is present. Spread out on a cookie sheet, brush with more olive oil and sprinkle with Kosher salt, freshly ground black pepper and Parmesan cheese. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise for about half an hour. Remove the plastic wrap and bake in a 400F oven for about 15 minutes, until a toothpick stuck in the center comes out clean. Remove from the oven and allow to cool for about 5 to 10 minutes, before moving the bread from the baking sheet to a cooling rack.

Now, focaccia is my all-time favorite bread. I love it even more than ciabatta, and I was huge on ciabatta way before it got popular. This stuff... well, it won't be replacing wheat-based focaccia anytime soon. It may look exactly the same, but the texture is definitely different. Not in a bad way, but stuff different. It's light and fluffy, and perfect for sandwiches, or to just eat with oil and vinegar, or even by itself. Ali, I hope you like this one.

Update (6/28/2006): Ali liked it! She posted a tidbit on her blog about it.

Friday, June 23, 2006

New Site Design

I'm so excited! I liked the old design that I picked from Blogger's selections, but I needed something a little different. Sometime that let me do more. Something that let me use my new logo. You like it? For those non-geeks out there that don't get it, look at the power button on your computer. I wanted something that adequately described both me as a geek, and me as a cook.

Now, aside from the logo and the header image, I didn't do this site design either. One of the nice things about Open Source is that when my own abilities aren't enough (as is usually the case), somebody else has usually stepped up to the bat to do what I need anyway, and they're more than willing to share. In this case, I found my design on the Open Source Web Design site.

I also added Amazon to my list of advertising options. Hopefully I've managed to stay unobtrusive. I've always thought it was cool when each month Wired would publish their list of music that they were listening to. This was way before iPod celebrity playlists. As much as I love music, books are probably really more along my lines. So I decided to post a list of books that I'm currently working on. Hopefully somebody will find them useful.


Am I just nitpicky? Okay, so I know I am about a lot of things. But this was kind of obnoxious. Just a little. I went to the store down the street for lunch. I needed to get out for a few minutes, and I like their turkey sandwiches. While I was there, I saw some chips that looked good (Lays Sensations Sweet Chili & Sour Cream, they were okay, but I probably won't buy them again). I also decided to buy a bottle of Jones Soda (I love that stuff).

Now, the sandwiches there are made fresh every morning, and then shrinkwrapped. The bag of chips, as with most bags of chips, was puffed up with nitrogen. Neither one is likely to take a lot of damage from each other, nor from a tiny, 12oz bottle of Fufu Berry Soda. My attention is focused on the cashier as she tries to ring up my sandwich, which has a screwy label. As I turn to the bagger, I note that he has put my bottle of soda by itself in a bag, placed that bag aside, and then put the bag of chips in a seperate bag, with room for the sandwich.

Why? Why do these kids think that one bag cannot possibly hold more than 2 or 3 items? I'm in shock whenever I get home and start unpacking groceries, to discover that the cashier has decided that a loaf of bread is too heavy to put on top of a carton of eggs. I do appreciate that they did not put a gallon of cranberry juice on top of the eggs, but seriously! Just because it's whole wheat doesn't mean it's so heavy that it will crush a carton of eggs! It's absolutely ridiculous to purchase 10 items, which have shared the space in that hand basket just fine up until now, and to find that the bagger has decided that 8 bags is appropriate!

I don't remember which store it was, but a few months ago a local megamart was actually using bags that said something like "Strive For Five Items Per Bag". Not once during that campaign did a bagger ever put more than 3 items in any one bag, unless I told them to. In today's shopping experience, I made an effort to take the bottle of soda out of its single bag and put it in the bag with the chips and the sandwich, with the hopes that my example would encourage the bagger to think about his wastefulness, and to use the bag more wisely. As I turned to sign the credit card receipt, I watched out of the corner of my eye as he took the now empty bag, and threw it away.

This is one of the reasons why I'm starting to love the supermarkets with the self-checkout stands. I buy 10 items and use 1, maybe 2 bags. Sometimes I don't even use a bag. I've been to places before where they checker or bagger has actually asked things like, "do you want your cold drink/candy bar/other snack left out?" What a thought! Asking the consumer what they want? Brilliant! In even rarer circumstances, I've had them ask if I'd rather use just one bag or two for my purchase, because they weren't sure. But for the most part, even if I'm only buying a single magazine, I still have to tell them that "I don't need a bag for that."

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Trail Mix

There are a few foods that I just don't like: popcorn, avocados, Americanized Asian food, ranch dressing, anything served at the golden arches (you know the place, and their McEvil) and, of course, almonds. Granted, there are exceptions to almost every rule, including the aforementioned. For instance, McEvil serves Coca Cola, of which I am a long-time fan. And I frequently use crushed and/or ground almonds in baked goods. But whole almonds, that's just gross.

Among the much longer list of foods that I do love is trail mix. Like some molés, it's one of the few foods that you can put chocolate in and still pass off as healthful. I usually have a jar or bag of the stuff at my desk at work, and it usually keeps me from buying candy bars when I get snacky. But have you ever tried to find a trail mix without almonds? It's near impossible! And if that weren't enough, it's almost as if some manufacturers like to find anything else good in there and tweak with it just to screw it up. I mean, I love pineapple. Dried pineapple can even be good, but when everything in the mix is about the size of an almond except for the half rings of dried pineapple, or the massive chunk of dried mangoes, well, that's just a good way to screw up a good trail mix. So I decided to take matters into my own hands.

Joseph's Standard Trail Mix

2 cups cashews
1 cup dried banana slices
1 cup cubed mango/pineapple mix
1/2 cup golden raisins
1/4 cup dark raisins
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1 cup macadamia nuts
1 cup chopped dried apricots
1 cup peanut M&Ms

Mix 'em together and you're good to go. Just a couple of notes. First, my local market happens to have a mix of cubed dried mangoes and pineapple. The cubes are small, maybe 1/4-inch each or so. They're perfect. Dried apricots are rarely perfect, because they're usually the big hunks that I dislike so much. I just use my kitchen shears to cut them into smaller pieces. Don't try using a knife, things will get really sticky and you'll end up pretty unhappy. Also, because the macadamia nuts were already salted, I just bought raw cashews and roasted them myself without any salt. I need to be careful, you know. And as it turns out, I'm not a really huge fan of just peanuts. But they are good for you. And as it turns out, the addition of peanut M&Ms is a perfect way to include them anyway, and sneak in a little chocolate while you're at it.

Of course, this is just my trail mix, formulated for me. It's probably just a touch more expensive than commercial trail mixes, but at least I don't have to go through picking out almonds. And if I get tired of something else, I can just leave it out next time. If I find something new, I can just add it in. I don't think I even used golden raisins last time I made this, but I had some in the cupboard, so I used 'em. It's just like the pasta salad, do what you want to do. You have the chance to do something that nobody else can really do: make something that's perfect for you.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Culinary Artistry

I have a lot of cook books. There are many that are little more than recipe collections, that outside of the recipe itself, provide little more insight than, "we used to love these on summer afternoons" or "my brother got in so much trouble trying to make these himself" or maybe, "my sister used to squeal on me when I would try to make these myself."

Most of the cook books that I read and use on a regular basis are more concerned with theory. Several are dedicated to the science of how food works. In those, the majority of the recipes exist purely to demonstrate a particular theory or theories. And then some are non-fictional books written by or about chefs. And when you read enough books and articles by chefs that consistantly refer to a particular text, you know it's going to be good. And when, in looking for books on something completely unrelated, you run across one of these books, you know you have to buy it. Right now. No, don't worry about how much money you have in checking, you have a credit card too. This one is worth it.

I picked up Culinary Artistry by Andrew Dornenburg and Karen Page, and I was not disappointed. In fact, I have been geeking out with this book since I bought it on Saturday. It's certainly not for the faint of heart. In fact, I would guess that most home cooks would probably feel a little alienated reading it. Imagine this: you have a panel of perhaps 2 to 3 dozen brilliant chefs, names that culinary students are required in school to learn, and a mediator in the middle directing conversation. You are in the audience, watching as a topic is presented, and a handful of the chefs in the panel discuss various theories and concepts, often disagreeing but never fighting. As one chef discusses her dislike of tall dishes, another may state how he occassionally likes to add a little extra height, but disdains elements that don't belong, such as a single rosemary sprig standing up in the middle of the plate.

I'm sure my wife grew tired of me within the first few minutes of my cracking open this book. Every other paragraph seem to say to me, "yeah brother, I know what you're talking about". I would read an entire paragraph to her, basking in its profundity, and seconds later have yet another paragraph to read aloud. The side margins are littered with quotes from famous chefs, both alive and dead. I would often almost get frustrated at the sheer volume of information that was available on a single page, that I couldn't cram all into my brain that very second.

As I read this book, I discovered something truly of value, possibly more than the panel of chefs. There are pages and pages of reference material, ranging from an index of ingredients and what other ingredients are perfect matches, to sample menus, accompanied by brief overviews from the chefs who constructed them. And yes, there are recipes. I practically drooled on myself at the mere mention of Duck Prosciutto. And when I saw the recipe, in all its simplistic glory, I would have grabbed my car keys to run down to the store that minute to buy duck breast, had it not been 11 o'clock at night.

If you're just looking to feed your family at dinnertime, this book is probably not for you. Even if you're planning a special dinner for your significant other, a one-time meal that you want to be truly special, this book is probably not for you. But if you're truly passionate about food, if the latest Anthony Bourdain or Jeffery Steingarten is far more exciting to you than the latest Michael Critchen or Steven King, then this book is for you. If your biggest culinary aspiration involves flipping burgers, then feel free to go on with your deprived palate. But if you can't watch Emeril Live without screaming at the TV about how it's not a real bechamel if you use heavy cream, if you run your own high-class restaurant or have plans to do so, then you need to buy this book right now.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Mango Chicken Curry

It was a challenge that I had left for myself. Sunday night, I moved a large chicken breast from the freezer to the fridge, to thaw. I didn't know what I was going to use it for. I only knew that I was going to use it somehow. I had 24 hours to figure out how. I of course promptly forgot about it.

Monday night came and I began to get a wee bit peckish. The moment I opened the fridge, I saw it. Sitting on the bottom shelf (one would be foolish to put raw meat any higher) in its polypropelene zip top bag, inside a Pyrex dish (security against leaks) was a large chicken breast. It needed to be cooked. And I was the man for the job. Unfortunately, I was also the unprepared man for the job.

Having put a frying pan (not non-stick) on medium-high heat, I quickly searched the fridge, and found a mango. Mango... Maaaannnngooo... Er. Sorry. Anyway, I peeled, cored and sliced the mango into thin strips, and then set them aside. I took the chicken breast and did likewise. I put the chicken strips into a bowl and tossed with just enough peanut oil to coat, a large pinch of salt, a generous sprinkling of Madras curry powder and a splash of Worcestershire sauce (why not?).

I laid the chicken into the frying pan as straight as possible and browned on both sides. Cooking through was not a big deal, partially because the strips were so thin. With the chicken properly cooked, I moved it to a plate and deglazed the pan with a small can (5.6oz) of coconut milk. This is why you don't want to use a non-stick pan. With non-stick, there would be nothing there to deglaze. I added the mango slices and let the liquid reduce a little. While it was reducing, I added a couple of small handfulls of roasted salted cashews. Salted was nice, because the mango and coconut milk had no seasoning of their own. When it looked like the liquid had tightened up significantly, I added the chicken back to the pan and tossed to coat. I let the liquid tighten up a little more, and then served.

Now, anyone that's read a few of my posts knows that I like my food hot. So you probably wouldn't be surprised to know that I used hot curry powder. At least, it was labelled hot. But something about either the mango or the coconut milk really smoothed out the heat a lot, so that it had a much more mild kick. It was actually just about perfect. In fact, I'm really starting to like this Madras stuff. The aroma is smooth, almost sweet. It almost makes other curries I've had in the past seem harsh in comparison. I'm going to have to start using this stuff more often.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Haute Pizza

We went to visit my in-laws yesterday. On the way home, I was feeling pretty hungry. I was ever so tempted to stop by Pizza Hut on the way home and pick up a pepperoni pizza. It's a weakness of mine. I don't know what they do to the pepperoni to make it all crispy, but I love it. But I couldn't bring myself to do it. I didn't want to spend the time, the money, etc. But I really wanted pepperoni pizza.

Now, I grew up on French bread pizza. Grab a big old loaf from the store, cut it in half or thirds, add some sauce and toppings, and toss in the oven. But we had no French bread. Normally in such a situation, I would improvise and just use regular sliced bread. Alas, we were out of that too. What to do? And then I realized: we had a bad of whole wheat ciabatta rolls in the freezer!

When we got home, we turned on the oven to 450F, pulled a couple of rolls out of the freezer and put them on the table to thaw while we prepped the rest of the ingredients. And of course, by ingredients, I mostly mean the cheese. We pulled a fresh new jar of organic pasta sauce out of the pantry, and my ever-present bag of pepperoni from the fridge. But when I looked at our cheese situation, there was a problem. My unopened bag of fresh mozarella wasn't looking so good, so I tossed it. We had cheddar, but I was looking for something a little more white.

Further reconnaissance yielded fontina and Lincolnshire poacher in FoodSaver bags, and a small wheel of smoked gouda. Perfect! I probably grated about equal parts of each one, just enough to cover four halved ciabatta rolls. Speaking of the rolls, they were just about thawed enough to cut in half. We halved 'em, sauced 'em, cheesed 'em, and pepperonied them. We put them on a sheet pan and put them in the oven, pausing to switch it over to broiler mode. That was my strategy, to get that pepperoni crispy.

In retrospect, I should have just left it in oven mode for long enough to melt the cheese, before setting it to broil. I pulled the pizzas when the corners were just starting to pick up a little char. Not enough to ruin it of course, just enough to add a little flavor. Much to my delight, some of the pepperonis actually picked up a little crisp! I should have added more pepperoni, though.

Halfway through the pizza, I realized that the only ingredient that may be considered a lower quality was the pepperoni. I had just created haute pizza! Well, okay, maybe not so much. But it really was pretty good.

Sunday, June 18, 2006


Last night we had a BBQ with a few of the Linux Users Groups (LUG) in the area. It was potluck style, so we were well-stocked with a variety of chips, pasta salads and drinks. For my part, I brought a fine selelection of Tabasco sauces (regular, jalapeno, garlic, chipotle, habanero and of course, Tabasco soy sauce.

I also brought a couple of flank steaks, because it's not very often one has enough people in attendance to help eat a whole flank steak, much less the second one that usually comes with it. And you know, I just love flank steak. It's my absolute favorite cut of beef. I love the flavor, and I also really like the cut itself. It's a flat piece of meat with all of the grains running in the same direction. This means that if you cut it one way, you get nothing but shoe leather. But if you cut it in another direction, it's tender, juicy and almost just falls apart in your mouth.

When we cooked flank steak in school, our teachers taught us the following words: big smile, small slice. The idea is that when a customer wants a big old slice of flank steak (and who wouldn't?), we engage them in conversation and distract them while we cut a little thin slice, on the bias so that it looks bigger. Yeah, I didn't do that. I dispensed with the big smile, small slice and just made sure to cut against the grain and encourage everyone to take some. But I'm getting ahead of myself. Let me get you some recipes first, since I promised everyone there that I would post them.

Pineaple Soy Flank Steak Marinade

20oz pineapple chunks
1/4 c lite soy sauce
1 1/2 tsp chipotle
splash Worcestershire
1 Tbsp sesame oil

Curry Flank Steak Marinade

2 (5.6oz) cans coconut milk
2 Tbsp curry paste
1 tsp curry powder
1 Tbsp sesame oil

Same thing with both, just mix 'em up and toss 'em in a zip top bag with a flank steak. Let marinate overnight. Now, you may have noticed a serious lack of salt here. There's two reasons for this. First of all, soy sauce has a lot of sodium. Even lite soy sauce, which has significantly less, still has a lot of sodium. The curry paste had a little too. Second reason: I have high blood pressure. I have to go easy on the salt. Plus, spices like curry are a good way to add seasoning without needing to add salt too. If you like, you can add a tablespoon or two of salt to either marinade.

When the time comes, toss the steaks on a hot grill and get some grill marks on 'em. Now, the nice thing about flank steak is, it actually tastes better rare or medium rare. Even to me! But I wasn't sure how these people would take to that much red, so I went almost medium. This was easy, because the grill wasn't as hot as we'd hoped, so it took longer to cook. No crust, but it was also cooked pretty evenly. It went over pretty well too. My favorite was the pineapple soy, but my wife loved the curry one.

We had some other killer foods too. Gabe brought some chicken kebabs that were pretty awesome. I forget who brought the hand-rolled sausages, but I would love a copy of the recipe. In addition to the burgers (which I had one of) and hot dogs, there were also things like chicken burgers and turkey burgers. Jayce brought a macaroni salad that was pretty good, though I think I liked the previous version of it that we had at another function. I'm kicking myself for forgetting to get a rice krispy treat. Somebody brought a lot of terra chips. I love terra chips. And somebody brought a lot of habanero chips too. And a kid tried one, and suffered greatly for his efforts.

I spent most of the night hanging out with Lars and his wife. Lars reminded me of a joke, about a guy who died and went to heaven. A guy in front of him was refused passage to heaven because he loved money so much, he married a girl named Penny. The next guy was refused because he loved wine so much, he married a girl named Sherry. That was when the guy turned to his wife and said, "we'd better get out of here, Vanna." Okay, so that was kind of lame. But it does bring me to a point. After all my years of computer networking, I married a girl named Nat. You geeks out there are either laughing or groaning, or both.

Speaking of geeks, you know you're at a geek BBQ when the music provided is coming off of a notebook running Ubuntu Linux. Download it, install it, be happy like me. Yeah, that was my notebook. But the sound system wasn't mine. It was provided courtesy my good friend Troy, who is a killer DJ. You should call him and hire him for your next event. He's also a killer web designer, and runs a web hosting company. His number's on the site.

All in all, it was a good time. I met a lot of geeks that I'd only known previously from the Utah Open Source Planet. Hey all! It was good to meet you all.

Update: It was Andrew that did the sausages. I was thinking it might be, but I wasn't sure. I have a horrible memory. I'm hoping he'll forgive my forgetfulness and let me see a copy of the recipe.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Utah Bloggers Conference

Last night Jayce^ and I attended the first semi-annual Utah Bloggers Conference. I wasn't sure what to expect. After all, blogging is nothing new. This is the sort of thing that I might have expected 3 or 4 years ago, when the word "blog" was said to be the biggest search word on the Internet. Still, free food and t-shirts were promised, Jayce^ offered to drive, and the wife was going to be at a friend's house, so why not?

I think more than just a couple of people were stymied by the food that was being laid out when we got there. A fine selection of CostCo veggies and sugary snacks (more snacks than veggies) were in the process of being unwrapped. Fortunately, pizza showed up as we were sitting down and networking with the other bloggers. I saw no fewer than three other members of the Utah Open Source Planet in attendance, and I wouldn't be surprised if more were there. Speaking of which, I'm amused to discover that the first rule of cheesecake (don't talk about cheesecake) is routinely ignored by those to which the advice is dispensed. Hey guys, you were warned.

Speaking of food, I need to get this off my chest right now. There are a few rules of salad that I need you people to always remember, and to teach your children, so that they may in turn teach their children. First of all, do not dress a salad until just before you serve it. This holds true especially for vinaigrettes, which hold acids that can and will wilt any and all greens they can. Do you want to serve wilty salad to your guests? Do you want to eat wilty salad? And this brings us to the second rule: never, ever, ever serve salad on top of hot foods. Ever! If they weren't wilted before you put them on the hot food, they certainly are now. I'm amazed every time I get talked into going to California Pizza Kitchen (Wolfgang Puck-wannabe extrordinaire) and look at what has eventually become my pizza of choice (with modifications): the Pear and Gorgonzola. This really was a brilliant idea. Caramelized pears, chopped hazelnuts, fontina, mozarella, and of course, Gorgonzola cheese. I always have them add the chipotle chicken from the pizza of the same name. The spice accents everything else, and makes it a truly great dish. I also always ask them to serve the salad on the side. This is the salad of field greens, tossed in the ever-so-original ranch dressing, which is meant to go on top of the pizza. What is wrong with these people? It makes me wish Gordon Ramsey would come and smack a few people upside the head. Repeatedly.

Back to the conference. I ended up sitting at a table with a couple of other foodies and a few other geeks. There was a panel of pros, including senatorial candidate Pete Ashdown. When I first met Pete several years ago, he was much different. His long hair only added to the fact that he looked like he was coming off an all-nighter. Knowing him to be a fellow geek, he probably was. Now he's some clean-cut politician, fighting for digital rights, among other things. I look forward to hearing from him again at tonight's PLUG meeting.

Several other geeks also graced the panel. I was amused to see Tim Stay, one of the founders of FreeServers. There were a couple of Phils there, notably Phil Burns and Phil Windley, both of whom I'd also heard of, if only briefly. Rounding out the panel was its only female member, Cyndi Tetro, whom I'd never heard of before. Still, despite her previous anonymity to me, she was every bit as engaging as the rest.

Apparently, they're planning on making the next conference in 6 months a little bigger event, more of an all-day thing. I'm a little more excited about it, now that I've seen how well this one went over. Then again, I think there's just something about eating pizza with my fellow geeks, with notebooks at hand, that just makes the world feel right.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Absorption Pasta

I found this recipe on another cooking blog recently, and I've been dying to try it out. It's called absorption pasta. This truly is an oddity. Normally when one cooks pasta, they cook it in a lot of water, and then they drain the water away and add sauce and/or other accompanyments. This pasta isn't like that. It's more like risotto.

Now, normally when one makes rice, they add a lot of water, tightly cover, and let it cook slowly, while never ever stirring. When it's finished, it should be fluffed as carefully as possible, and never stirred. Risotto is different. It uses a different rice, in fact. It uses a medium grain rice, rather than the long-grain that most Americans are used to. Basically, as the rice is cooking, one adds hot stock and stirs the rice constantly, which causes starch granules to rub off the rice and join into the liquid, which actually creates a sauce.

Absorption pasta is like that. To start, I added a wee bit of olive oil to a pan, and a large clove of garlic, minced. I let it cook a little over medium heat, and added a couple of handfuls of egg noodles (because that's what I had). I stirred a little in an attempt to coat the pasta, gave up, and added a bit of hot stock. I also added a couple of pinches of Kosher salt. Now, the recipe I went from said to add just enough stock to cover. Well, I didn't quite cover it with the stock, but I came close. I put the cover on the pan and let it cook over medium low for a couple of minutes, before uncovering and giving it a stir. After stirring for a minute, I covered again and let it sit. I repeated a couple of times, and eventually dispensed with the cover. After a while, when pasta was almost cooked, I added just a little more stock. All in all, it was probably a little more than a cup. As the pasta cooked, some of the water from the stock would evaporate, and some of the starch would rub off into the remaining liquid. Eventually what I was left with was a pasta covered in a silky, self-made chickeny sauce. I sprinkled with a little grated Parmesian and some ground cacao nibs, just like in the article I stole the rest of the recipe from. You'd be surprised how good that is.

I don't know if I'm going to cook my pasta like that every time now, like the woman that writes Chocolate and Zucchini suggested, but I am going to try more variations. I have a few sun-dried tomatoes that I'm thinking about adding, and maybe some kind of chile sauce. Not too much, just enough for flavor.

Terrines: I almost did it

This is what the last couple of posts were supposed to lead up to: a terrine. This isn't something that you really see a whole lot of on this side of the pond. A lot of cooks (such as myself) learn how to make them in cooking school, and then never get the chance to do anything with them in the real world, because a) most Americans don't know what terrines are and b) they couldn't handle them even if they did.

I'd been wanting to make a vegetable terrine for some time; mostly because I'd never made one before. I'd made meat terrines, baked pates made out of anything from chicken to foie gras, back in cooking school. Honestly, I didn't like any of them. I don't know why. Maybe they were too bland, maybe something in my American brain just isn't ready for them. Maybe I just don't like cold sausage. A couple of years ago, I made a chicken terrine, with salt pork, dried cherries and dried apricots added for extra flavor. My tasters at the time thought it was just about the best thing ever. I thought it was disgusting. Did I mention I also don't like cold chicken, or chicken sausage?

So I decided to try out a veggie terrine. A nice southwestern-inspired bit, with chiles and yellow squash and chevre. Okay, so not completely southwestern. And then I never did it. I kept meaning to, and I just never got around to it. And then I got a brilliant idea! Brilliant!

I took a loaf pan, gave it a quick spray and lined it with a piece of parchment paper. Then I took about 6 marinated roasted red bell peppers (from my previous post) and lined the pan with them. I cooked up a (14oz) can of black beans, simmered until just fork tender, and then rinsed and cooled them. I mixed them into a (14oz) can of refried beans, along with a teaspoon of chipotle Tabasco. I laid down about half of that as a layer inside the red peppers. Then I took about half a pound of smoked pork (no, I'm to lazy to make it, I bought it from Lon's Cookin' Shack) and mixed it with about half a cup of salsa. I laid that down as a layer over the beans, and then another layer of beans on top. Then I covered up the whole thing with the remainder of the red peppers. I wrapped it in plastic wrap, put another loaf pan on top, with a few cans of tomatoes on top for weight, and put it in the fridge overnight.

About an hour before it was time to eat, I unwrapped it and put it in a 350F oven until the middle reached 165F (which took about an hour). Normally, terrines are served cold, but hey, who wants to eat this thing cold? So I decided to break more rules and serve it hot. This is when I learned that rules exist for a reason. Sharp though my knives were, the terrine still buckled from the pressure of the blade. In retrospect, I probably should have used my electric knife. So this wasn't the best presentation ever. In fact, I'm pretty embarassed about it. But I'm honest, so I tell people about my screwups. And dang, it tasted good! We served it with Spanish rice, with black bean hummus, salsa and blue corn chips on the side.

Friday, June 9, 2006

Veggie Marinade

Okay, are we all good on infused oils? Time for a recipe.

Joseph's Spice Oil #1

3/4 cup veggie oil
1/4 cup olive oil
1 tsp whole peppercorns
1 tsp whole coriander seeds
1 tsp dried minced garlic
1/2 tsp dried thyme
1/2 tsp dried marjoram
1/2 tsp whole allspice
1/4 tsp whole cumin

Combine and heat on medium low for about half an hour. Let cool, and then refrigerate overnight before straining. And need I tell you, the longer you keep the whole spices in there, the stronger it will get. Yields 1 cup of infused oil.

Now that you've got your infused oil, it's time to do something with it!

Joseph's Veggie Marinade #1

1 cup Joseph's Spice Oil #1, including spices
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
2 tsp chipotle Tabasco
1 tsp Kosher salt
2 tsp chile powder
a few grinds black pepper

Whisk to combine, and then add to a zip-top bag with a few veggies. In my case, I roasted 6 red bell peppers under the broiler until they were well-charred, and then put them in a tightly covered bowl for a few minutes. They steamed themselves enough that when I took them out, I was able to easily peel off the skins. Now, I actually peel them myself instead of washing the char off. I just went to all that trouble to make all that flavor, the last thing I want to do is wash it down the sink! Cut the tops off and give 'em a slice down the side, so that you can get all those seeds out. Let them cool before sealing them up and marinating. I have them sitting in the fridge right now, soaking up some of that awesome marinade.

There's any number of other things you could use this marinade on. Chiles, yellow squash, zucchini, mushrooms, carrots, you name it. And since you're only marinating veggies with it, you could probably even reuse it a couple of times (obviously not something that I would recommend with meat marinades). Once my red bell peppers are marinated, I'll be able to call them pimientos. You have no idea how excited I am.

Wednesday, June 7, 2006

Infusing Flavor

Before you do anything else in the kitchen, you need to do this. If you don't have a microplane grater already, you need to go out and buy one. They sell them at most kitchen stores these days, so you shouldn't have any problem finding one. There's so many things you can do with one, I don't think any one person will figure them all out. But today, we have a purpose.

Okay, you have your microplane? Next thing you need is an orange. What the heck, grab two of them. Okay, got 'em? Look at the shiny outer layer that we call the peel, or rind. You know, the part that you always peel off and throw away, in favor of the juicy goodness inside? Believe it or not, that rind has a lot of flavor tucked away. That's why chefs call it zest. The flavor is packed into some pretty concentrated oils, and we're not going to waste them anymore.

Get a small saucepan and put about half to a full cup of olive oil in it, depending on how strong you want it to be. Don't bother using extra virgin olive oil for this one, it has a lot of subtle flavors that are heat sensitive, and most of them are not going to be able to handle even the low heat that we'll be using. Take your microplane and remove all of the zest that you can get to from those oranges. Leave the white stuff behind, it's called pith, and it's pretty bitter. You only want the orange bit. Go ahead and add the zest to the oil, and give it some heat. You don't need much. In fact, if it's sizzling, it's too hot. The last thing we want to do is fry anything.

Now, let the oil sit on low heat for about half an hour. It won't hurt anything if it goes a little longer. Then turn off the heat and let it cool. Then move to a non-reactive container (plastic, glass, stainless steel, but not aluminum) and let chill in the fridge overnight. In the morning you can strain it, or just leave it as it is. Guess what! You have orange oil!

What can you do with orange oil? Well, technically you could cook with it, but the flavors are probably a little too subtle, and would get lost. So I recommend a cold application. Mix 2 1/2 parts orange oil with 1 part red wine vinegar. If you decided to leave the zest in, bonus! This, by itself, makes a killer salad dressing. It might also go well on a sandwich. Or you could use it as a vegetable marinade. Just remember, you probably don't want to keep it around for more than a week, so stick with smaller quantities when you make it.

Now, here's the key: you don't have to use olive oil. You may prefer to use a more neutral oil, such as canola oil. Heck, you don't have to use oil at all! You can do exactly the same thing with vinegar. Try making an orange champaigne vinegar sometime. Oh, and did I mention you don't have to use orange either? Any citrus zest will work. But that's not all! Any herb or spice, dried or fresh, will work. But there are some things to remember. The flavors in dried herbs and spices tend to be more fat soluble, while the flavors in fresh tend to be more water soluble. So dried tends to be better for oils, and fresh tends to be better for vinegars. Zest is a little different. Even though it's technically fresh, all of the flavor is already in oils. So it tends to infuse better into oils.

Now, I want everyone to try this out, just once. I'm going to be posting a recipe in a few days that makes use of infused oils.

Tuesday, June 6, 2006

Focus and Tradition

Tasting Menu recently posted a couple of articles, on Focus and Tradition. Allow me to quote, for just a moment, a snippet from the Tradition article:

The first moment of clarity I had around culinary tradition was after a conversation with an amazing chef I know. The focus of his cooking is a little known region in Northern Italy. But he's so talented I figured he could apply his skills to any cuisine. I asked him if one day he might consider applying his prodigious skills for simplicity and picking perfectly complementary flavors to combine to Thai food. And that's when he said the thing that made a deep impression on me: "I can't do that. I wouldn't know what it's supposed to taste like."

All of a sudden enlightenment and understanding rushed in like a really cold drink making its way through your chest on a hot day. You need to actually know what the food is supposed to taste like before you make it.

I'm not sure I entirely agree with this. Don't get me wrong, I wholeheartedly believe that tradition is important. But I do think that that statement could use some revision. I come up with a lot of dishes off the top of my head. Sometimes I give them names, sometimes I don't bother. I am often amused by the similarities between these dishes and "real", classical dishes. Do I know what my new creation is going to taste like before I make it? Well, I usually have a pretty good idea, but I don't really know for sure until it's already made.

Then again, I'm not talking about traditional foods, am I? Rarely do I make anything traditional. In many cases, I do know how. I've trained with some excellent chefs, and they tend to beat into one's head what something is supposed to be like. Yet, ask any 10 chefs how French Onion Soup is supposed to be made, and you're probably going to get somewhere in the range of 10 different answers. And most, if not all of them, are probably right.

I think that if you're going to try and pass something off as a specific dish, it probably does help to know firsthand what it is supposed to taste like. But given a recipe and ingredients, the aformentioned Italian chef could probably pull of a Thai dish that tasted perfectly wonderful. That doesn't mean he'd serve it in his restaurant, or even try to pass it off as a Thai dish. He might even regard his efforts as clumsy, depending on how modest he is. But give him excatly the same ingredients but with no recipe or any idea of what he's supposed to come up with, and he would probably still come up with something that tasted pretty good, and might even claim as Italian, depending on how close the ingredients are to Italian food. And he might even serve it.

In the article on focus, the author goes on to discuss maintaining a focus and vision. I'm a little more with him on this one, thought probably not for the same reasons. Personally, I'm a lot more likely to have dinner at Chile's than Applebees. Is it because I prefer the food at Chile's? Hardly. It's because when I go to Chile's, I know that no matter what I order, it will probably be influenced by Southwestern American cuisine even if only vaguely, and that just happens to be my favorite style of food. I've long-since given up trying to find something with any decent amount of spicy heat at Applebee's. The last several times I've asked (hoping for different answers in different locations), I've been told that they could blacken the chicken a little bit to make it more Cajun. Listen to me, people: blackening food does not make it spicier. Nor does it make the food the least bit Cajun. Adding more spice to food makes it spicier. Adding Cajun spices and/or flavorings makes it more Cajun.

Unfortunately, both restaurants have made it to my blacklist. Well, okay, gray list. It's not that the food is bad. It's certainly better than Mimi's Cafe, which has found its way to the deepest, darkest depths of my blacklist. And while I will now find any excuse to avoid Mimi's, even for a free lunch, I don't mind Chile's and Applebee's on occassion. Yet, they're rarely among my choices when I get hungry. Is it because my standards have gone so high that nothing makes me truly happy anymore? Hardly. My guess is that it's because I've been spoiled.

One of my all-time favorite restaurants is the Red Iguana in Salt Lake City. Not only does their food have that kick that I love, the one that actually causes me to perspire, but it's well-planned, well-seasoned and well-cooked. They have a molé line that makes my knees weaken with anticipation. I'm also particularly fond of a restaurant in Sugarhouse, UT called Kyoto. The first time I tasted their tempura, I was in heaven. Their miso is beyond any miso I have ever tried before, and even something so common as chicken teriyaki is so well made, and so different from the norm as to almost be considered a different dish altogether. What's odd about my liking these two restaurants? The fact that a) I don't particularly like Japanese food and b) despite my love of Southwestern fare, I'm also not a really huge fan of Mexican food. And yet, these are my two favorite restaurants in Utah.

These places have focus. Is that what makes them so good? Hardly. They also have quality. Much of my food also has quality. While I have tossed together some pretty awful food, I daresay I've also put together some mighty fine meals on occassion. Some of them were classics, such as fettucine alfredo or chicken chasseur. And some were just casseroles, with store-bought tomato sauce and sausage, seasoned with anything from "Cajun seasoning" to ground cloves. I just like good food. If focus and tradition help you make good food, then all the more power to you.

Cheesecake Crust

Okay, now that I've shown you how to bake a cheesecake, it's time to graduate from store-bought crusts to homemade crusts. The basic cheesecake crust is even simpler than the basic cheesecake: 1 1/2 cups graham cracker cumbs, 1/4 cup sugar and 4 tablespoons melted butter. Mix in a bowl (I like to use my hands) and press into a 9-inch cake pan. I like to use a straight-sided glass to press it down evenly. Bake at 350F for about 10 minutes, and let cool thoroughly. Trust me on this one. Unless you want a pool of fat between your crust and your cheesecake, you will let this cool completely before pouring in your batter.

Now, this is your standard cheesecake crust. And really, it can be used for lots of things: tarts, pies, you name it. It's so classic, it hurts. And as far as I'm concerned, it's also so boring that it hurts. C'mon, people! Let's use a little imagination here! Anything that's dry, crispy and can be made into crumbs can be made into crust. All you need is a plastic bag and a rolling pin to turn it into crumbs. My standard cheesecake crust is crushed shortbread cookies. My very first one used Lorna Doone cookies, and my new few used Sandies. It doesn't matter which one you use, really. Just go with what ever is cheapest and doesn't taste like cardboard.

Another fairly common one you see is Vanilla wafers. These are actually still kind of boring to me, but not so much as graham crackers. Oreos aren't a bad idea either. Just make sure to scrape out as much of the white stuff as possible. And this brings us to another good point: remember that 1/4 cup of sugar? It's not technically required. It won't add any structural integrity. That's what the butter is for. I've often wondered if sugar was just added because it seemed like a good idea at the time: "Hey, I'm making a crust for a dessert, that means sugar, right?" The white stuff in Oreos is pretty sweet, and let's face it, there's no way to get it all off. And when you move into the world of savory cheesecakes, I don't think you'll be wanting to use sugary crusts anyway.

What you use for the crust depends entirely on what kind of flavor profile you're going for with the rest of the cake. Graham crackers, vanilla wafers and shortbread cookies are all great for a classic, plain New York Style cheesecake. But use Oreos and people will be scratching their heads. Making a cookies and cream cheesecake? You won't want anything but Oreos. But let's think about some other options. Got a peanut butter cheesecake you're just dying to try? Why not try peanut butter cookies? Or even better: use Oreos for the crust, and fold chocolate chips into the batter. And believe me, you won't go wrong putting your eggnog cheesecake into a ginger snap crust. Got a recipe for margarita cheesecake? This is the time to break all the rules and put together a pretzel crust.

But hey, why stick with crumb crusts? There has been more than one occassion where I've used a brownie crust. Just make up your favorite brownie batter and pour about a 1/4-inch layer into the bottom of your cake pan. Bake most of the way (but not completely) and allow to cool. Fold 1/2-inch cubes of brownies into a plain cheesecake batter, and pour into your pan. Bake as normal. The cheesecake batter will actually insulate the brownie pieces and keep them from cooking anymore. However, the batter won't protect the crust, which still needs just a little more cooking. It will finish baking at about the same time as the cheesecake, and add a nice chewiness to each bite. I wouldn't try this with a regular cake batter, though. I don't think you'll be happy with the results.

So let's get out there and explore a whole new world of crusts! Next time you're at the megamart, I want you to spend some time in the cookie and cracker isle. Look at each one and think to yourself, "what would taste good with that?" Just make sure to stay away from the soft cookies, and the world will be your cheesecake.

Monday, June 5, 2006

Spotted Dog Creamery

It's not every day one gets to tour an ice cream factory. This was my second. And I must say that despite the difference in size, I'm much more impressed with the Spotted Dog Creamery in Salt Lake city than the Ben & Jerry's factory in Vermont.

The latest meeting of the Utah Bakers Dozen included a tour of the Spotted Dog Creamery, an ice cream demo and tasting, and an ice cream and cupcake social. John Winders, owner of the Spotted Dog, is one of the coolest people I've ever met. He's mellow, friendly, and looks a little like a young Bill Murray.

He made 4 flavors while we were there: vanilla, strawberry, strawberry banana, and coffee. I only had the chance to sample the first two, and they were dang good. He actually has a good couple dozen or so flavor bases that he can go from, and he doesn't mind special orders. I thought the Bloody Mary ice cream that he had a chef request once was particularly interesting. That is certainly the only reason I can think of why I would have seen V8 and Lea & Perrins sitting on the flavor shelves. Iron Chef America, here he comes!

There were a few very interesting things about John himself. For instance, when he goes out and peddles his ice cream by the cone, he only uses very tiny cones. He believes that ice cream is an excellent treat, but overconsumption just isn't right. He's the first ice cream vendor I've ever heard of that actually encourages moderation. Apparently, he's even lost a few customers over the issue. He told us about people leaving him voice mail saying, "hey, I just ate a whole pint of your ice cream at once, so there!"

Sadly, Spotted Dog ice cream isn't all that easy to get outside of Salt Lake County, but much to my excitement, he tells us that we should be expecting him in Utah County soon enough. I liked this guy. I like him enough to give him a shameless plug. You need to buy his ice cream. You need to buy it because he gives to the community. You need to buy it because he's a big supporter of various animal organizations. You need to buy it because he's the little guy. If nothing else, you need to buy it because it's some of the best dern ice cream I've ever tasted.

Friday, June 2, 2006

What's On TV: Throwdown

There is a new show coming this summer on Food Network: Throwdown with Bobby Flay. As with all shows involving Chef Flay (Food Nation with Bobby Flay, Hot of the Grill with Bobby Flay, Iron Chef: Insulting Master Sushi Chef Morimoto with Bobby Flay), this one has to include his name in the title. If I were to judge the entire series by last night's performance, I would say this is the premise of the show: Bobby Flay challenges an "amateur", who just happens to be one of the best at what they do, to a cooking showdown, only to get his butt kicked. Now, I'm not sure where he got his definition of "amateur"; contestant number one had a stack of BBQ trophies taller than Flay himself, and number two was judged in Italy to be the second best pizza chef in the world.

But wait, there's more! Each chef has no idea that they're about to be challenged. They think the camera crew is there to build a Food Network profile. Little do they know that a Celebrity Chef (TM) is about to show up at their family function and start causing trouble. They have no idea that the food that they've just been cooking on camera is about to go up against an accredited chef that has studied them extensively, has been perfecting his recipes in the Food Network kitchens, has been getting a play-by-play of the competition's dishes and techniques, and is allowed to bring whatever equipment he wants to the competition. Isn't that fun? And somehow, despite the huge advantages that Bobby brings to the table, he still loses!

Really, it's not as bad as you think. It is a friendly competition, and both "amateurs" were excited just to meet Flay, and apparently honored that he would "challenge" them in the first place. The BBQ guy kept telling everyone in his family to hug Bobby. Talk about friendly! I had fun just watching people have fun. If you don't mind the documentary narrative that's come to become a standard in All Shows with Bobby Flay, and don't mind the cheesy bicycle courrier who drops off the "challenge" to Bobby (and who looks to my Utah eyes like he's about to go paintballing), then you might want to check it out.

Now, if I were a Professional Food Writer, with "people who know people", I might already have the press release for the upcoming episodes of Iron Chef America, and might even have seen the sneak preview. But I'm not, so I'm going off the commercials for this one. Because there weren't enough Celebrity Chefs (TM) on ICA, and well, Mario Batali seems to be losing ground in the sex appeal categeory, there is an upcoming episode featuring two of the Iron Chefs going head to head, with Giada DeLaurentiis (Everyday Hottie Italian) and Rachael Ray (master of the 30-Minute Meal) as sous chefs. Personally, I'm pretty excited. While I don't care for the actual style used in filming Everyday Italian, Giada does know her stuff, and she did spend some time working for former Iron Chef Wolfgang Puck in the Hollywood Spago location. And I do watch Rachael almost every day when I get home from work, and as far as I'm concerned, she could cook circles around Emeril Lagasse.

And for those of you who are also fans of my patron saint Alton Brown, Good Eats has recently embarked on yet another fabulous season. There will be a new episode, House of the Rising Bun, airing next Wednesday. I'm pretty excited about this episode, because an animation in it is said to include the face of Mikemenn, webmaster of the Good Eats Fan Page. A past episode, Stuff It, also features Mikemenn, along with Flowerchick and Holly from the GEFP Message Board, as "average American cooks".

Alton has also been filming Feasting on Asphalt, a show that he's particularly excited about, as am I. He will be driving across the country on his motorcycle, sampling the local food as he goes. Apparently, he plans to be stopping in Utah, if he hasn't already, though his press release does not say where. The show premiers on July 29, thankfully just after I get home from my upcoming trip to Las Vegas, and will be a 4-part mini-series.

Thursday, June 1, 2006

Baking Cheesecake

First rule of cheesecake: don't talk about cheesecake. I'm not kidding on this one. If anyone living near you finds out you know how to make it, you're screwed. You may get invited to more parties, but that's because they expect you to bring a cheesecake. Church functions will be no different. If the church ladies find out your little secret, expect a call from them any time something comes up. There is only one strategy: tell people you bought it from the store. If they ask which one, make up one just outside of driving distance, and if they try to get there anyway and can't find it, tell them that they must have closed. Do not take credit. Are we clear on this?

Okay, now that that's out of the way, here's the scoop: cheesecake is actually pretty easy. The basic ingredient list is small, and so long as you get the prep method down, you can bake almost any cheesecake that your little heart desires. There's only one problem: it isn't a quick process. You're not going to be just whipping one up for dinner that night. It must be done at least a day in advance.

I'm not going to talk about crust in this post; just filling. You can buy premade crusts for now. The basic ingredient list is as follows: 8 oz cream cheese, 1/4 cup sugar, 1 whole chicken egg. That's it! Well, okay, that's just the foundation, designed for scalability. I use a 9-inch spring-form cake pan when I make cheesecake. For this size pan, you can use 32 to 40 oz of cream cheese, which is about 4 to 5 packages. And you don't have to use just cream cheese. Feel free to swap out one of those packages with an equal weight of a creamy bleu cheese (only recommended for savory cheesecakes) or swap out any or all of it for neufchatel, or some other kind of fresh cheese. Your milage may vary when getting truly experimental, but the closer to stick to the basic cream cheese, the more accurate you'll probably be.

Now, this is all about ratios. You need to keep in mind how much sugar, fat, liquid and protein you're playing with. In playing with your ratios, I recommend changing only the ratio of sugar to everything else and/or eggs to everything else. I've seen recipes that get away with using only 2 tablespoons of sugar for every 8 oz of cream cheese, and as much as a 1/3 to 1/2 cup. Just keep in mind the sweetness level that you want to achieve. I'm not sure I've ever seen sugar in a savory cheesecake recipe, so I don't think it's even a "required" ingredient for stability, but you will generally want some at least for flavor.

Last basic ingredient: eggs. Without these, you're going to have a hard time acheiving the sort of structure you need for cheesecake. Technically, you're making a custard, which requires eggs. Eggs will set up a protein matrix which will set as a bakes, and further as it cools. They will add some moisture and some fat as well. The more eggs you add, the more liquid your cheesecake batter will be. This is important to keep in mind.

Okay, let's say you're making a classic New York Style Cheesecake. You'll want 32 oz cream cheese, 1 cup sugar, 5 to 6 eggs and 2 teaspoons vanilla extract. Why more eggs? As it turns out, the bigger the recipe, the more you can fine-tune it. Because there is more liquid in this batter, the surface will have more of a chance to flatten out, and the resulting cheesecake will have a much more custardy texture, so long as it is not overcooked. The vanilla is there in this cheesecake as a seasoning, not a flavoring. It will add some moisture, but not much. You could leave it out, but I don't think you'd be as happy.

Procedure: beat the cream cheese and the sugar together until it's nice and fluffy. The softer the cream cheese, the easier it is. Almost room tempurature is ideal. Make sure you scrape down the bowl and the mixer at least a couple of times to make sure it all gets thoroughly mixed and integrated. This is key, if you don't want chunky cheesecake. When it's nice and fluffy, add your eggs one at a time and keep mixing, waiting until there are no traces of eggs before adding the next. You will want to stop the mixer and scrape (bowl and mixer) at least once every one to two eggs. Did I mention scraping is key? Add the vanilla last. Pour into a prepared pan and move to a 260F oven. No water bath required! Okay, if you really want a water bath, just make sure to crank the oven up to 300-350F in order to compensate for the water. Now, the baking process usually takes about an hour. But don't go by time! You'll need to see how wobbly it is. Put on some oven mitts and give the pan a shake. If it looks almost set but not quite, you're ready for the next step. Turn off the oven, leave the door open a crack for one minute, and then close the door and leave it in the oven for no less than an hour. Then move to the chill chest for no less than 6 hours (overnight is ideal) before serving. You can refrigerate for up to a week, and probably freeze for up to a month, if it lasts that long.

Now, there's other tips and tricks out there. You may be saying, "but I always add cornstarch" or maybe, "isn't there supposed to be cream in there?" Those of you who are familiar with Alton Brown's recipe will probably recognize a few steps, and wonder what happened to others. I've never actually made his recipe. But I did make several dozen cheesecakes at Deer Valley, and that's where I get a lot of my technique. My recipes come from comparing several recipes, both online and off, and making up a composite recipe that's largely an average of everything else. Cornstarch isn't a bad idea. It will add stability, much the same way it does in a slurry. Flour will also add stability, but I've found it to be kind of a pain in cheesecakes. If I'm nervous about a recipe, I often add tapioca starch, which makes a darn fine replacement for corn starch almost anywhere. Cream isn't a bad idea, seeing as we are making a custard, and custards usually include some amount of cream. Note that Alton uses fewer eggs than I do, in favor of a small amont of cream. As for AB's sour cream? Take note how much less cream cheese he uses.

I love baking cheesecake, even more than I love eating it. And no, don't ask me to make you any, I don't have that kind of time these days. But what I love about it is that it can be a serious food hack. So long as you keep your ratios in check, the possibilities are almost limitless. After you've screwed up and told your friends, and subsequently made a few cheesecakes, you'll get a feel for them. More cheesecake recipes to come.