Culinary Wisdom

Kitchen Tech Saturday: New York Public Library Digital Collections

Normally, when we’re talking technology, we think of the future, as in, new technology. The latest digital, computerized whatchamacallit that will change the way we cook, or shop, or go out to eat.

But today’s Kitchen Tech Saturday is actually kind of a time machine… one that only goes backwards.

A few years ago, the New York Public Library put all of it’s digital collections online, for free, and available to the public. The collections grow all the time, and you can look up everything from old political campaign pins to pin-ups, but today, we’re talking about a couple of search terms I’ve been using lately: recipe and cookbook. I’ll warn you up front– this website can become quite the rabbit hole.

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Right off the bat, the word “recipe” will get you not only cool, old images from, oddly enough, a tobacco company, but also their corresponding recipes. Decades ago, tobacco companies were the source of a lot of collectibles… things like baseball cards, and obviously, recipes.

lemonbuns

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But as you dive deeper into the search results, you’ll see everything from old advertisements for a variety of products, handwritten recipes, snippets from old cookbooks, recipe collection brochures and their covers.

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For a real treat, also add “menu” to your list of search terms. You’ll see some really great menus from restaurants, events, and even hotel room service menus!

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If you’re a big culinary history nerd like me, you’ll find that this time machine also has the odd effect of also speeding up time. You sat down for a quick little poke around in the archives, and before you know it, it’s 2am, your tea’s gone cold, and some random infomercial for people who have a hard time with pancakes is playing in the background. Seriously. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Online digital archives are a real treasure trove of information, and the NYPL collection is definitely my favorite. There’s material in there on a huge array of subjects, although, obviously, this is the one I come back to time and time again for not only a NerdyFunGoodTime, but also some serious culinary inspiration.

Kitchen Tech Saturday – Reduce food waste with the foodkeepr app!

I’m going to try this cool (?) thing for Saturdays, and I’d love some feedback. Every Saturday, I’m going to introduce you to a piece of tech designed to help you out in the kitchen, doing your shopping, keeping track of recipes, etc.

I’m not so clever with the names. If you can think of a better name for all this *waves hand around the post*, please speak up! I haven’t designed a graphic to go with the series because I’m sincerely hoping someone far more clever than me can help.

Anyhoots, this week’s technological wonder is the foodkeepr app. It’s a simple little app that helps you create a shopping list, then, once you’ve made your purchases, keeps track of the expiration dates of all perishables and will remind you to use them up before they go bad. It’ll even connect you to Food Network to help you find recipes to use up those last little bits of things before they’re past their prime.

foodkeepr
$200 BILLION (!) dollars worth of food, or about $1100 per household, is wasted in this country… Thrown away because we didn’t get around to using it before it went bad. That’s both horrifying, and preventable. Little things, like shopping lists based on what you really need, meal planning, and getting over that weird fear you have of leftovers (ok, maybe those of you who have been subjected to 4 day old tuna noodle surprise might not find that so easy) can help.

Join me in the fight against food waste by using foodkeepr grocery list!

Android: http://goo.gl/t0QBZJ

iOS: http://goo.gl/zMIWLq

Lessons from Culinary School

Happy Wednesday!

One of the things I really wanted to get back to this year is passing on some of the stuff I’m learning in school to you all. These past few weeks have given me some really cool firsts: First time making bread that actually worked and the first time I’ve ever made my own pasta. Exciting stuff, yo!

Lesson 1: Bread

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I’ve tried bread a few times in the past. It’s come out… ok. Edible. But definitely not something I’d be proud to bring to the dinner table. This time, though, I think I’m on the right track.

First thing I learned? Be patient and be prepared. Bread isn’t all that mysterious, but I’m impatient and in the past I think I’ve just been in a hurry to get to the final product. Basic bread dough is simple– flour, yeast, salt, and water. If you can remember 2 cups flour, 1 cup water, 1 tsp instant yeast, and 1 tsp salt, you can make dough that will make a baguette, a round loaf, or even rolls, if you want.

Make sure all your ingredients are at the right temperature. If you keep your flour in the freezer, bring it up to room temp before you start. Cold flour will keep the yeast from activating. If you’re one of those people who would rather bundle up in the winter than turn up the heater, make an exception. Warm up the kitchen a little before you start mixing the dough. The best temperature for activating yeast depends on the type you’re using.

75°F–95°F (24°C–35°C) Best temperature for yeast activity
85°F–100°F (29°C–38°C) Best water temperature for hydrating instant yeast
100°F–110°F (38°C–43°C) Best water temperature for hydrating active dry yeast

Also, dough needs to be kneaded. Probably a lot more than you think. If you have a stand mixer with a dough hook, that becomes a lot easier. If you’re doing it by hand, remember that the dough should be smooth and elastic, and the gluten strands need to be well developed to get there. If your dough reaches a point where it just keeps snapping back on you and refuses to stretch, put it down and let it relax for a bit. If it’s still sticking to your hands and the counter top after a few minutes, knead in a little more flour.

Lesson 2: Pasta

BLOG_PASTA
I really lucked out this quarter for European Cuisine. I got an actual Italian chef instructor. He’s passing along his family recipes for things like bread, sauce, and (yay!) pasta. It’s such an easy formula I memorized it on the spot.

6 eggs
3 1/2 cups flour
1 half an egg shell of water (about a tablespoon)

I didn’t get a chance to make my own pasta way back last year when I was taking fundamentals, so I was stoked to get a shot at it this time. You guys… it’s so easy.

Put the flour in a bowl, make a well in the center, crack the eggs into the well, add the water, and start mixing with a fork from the inside out, slowly incorporating the flour into the eggs until it all comes together. Knead it a few times, until it smooths out, then cover it and let it rest for about 30 minutes. Roll it, cut it into whatever size noodle you want, cook it in well salted boiling water for about 5 minutes and there you go.

If you have a pasta roller, or an attachment for your stand mixer, of course that’s ideal, but I experimented a little with some of the extra dough and found that in a pinch, you can roll it out thinly enough with just a rolling pin. Just takes a little work, and you should not try to roll out the whole thing at once. Just do a little at a time. Also, once it’s cut, let it hang out over the edge of a bowl, or on a sheet pan with a little flour for about 10 minutes to let it dry and relax from all the rolling. It’ll give you a better texture in the final, cooked product.

I hope if any of you have ever let either of these things intimidate you, you’ll put on your big girl (or boy) britches and embrace the challenge. I think you’ll find it’s not so complicated after all, and it can be something you’ll take pride in knowing how to do for the rest of your life.

 

Kitchen 101: What a tool!

kitchen101

Folks, let’s take a minute to talk about tools. For those of you who haven’t been reading this blog for long, I’ll tell you right up front that I’m not a tool snob. I don’t care if you have the fanciest equipment, or the latest doo-dad, or a drawer full of gadgets. If you don’t have a tart pan and want to use a plain old brownie pan or casserole dish or some thing you fashioned out of aluminum foil and cardboard, I will never tell you that’s wrong. Let’s face it, outfitting a kitchen can be expensive. I don’t have the best equipped kitchen, but over the years I’ve learned how to make what I do have work for me. If there’s one thing I don’t have that I deeply, intensely, desperately wish I did, it would be a stand mixer. Otherwise, I’m doing ok.

However… (You knew there had to be a however.)

There are some tools that are just imperatives for cooks, including our knives. Very little gets done in a kitchen without them. If we have a good, comfortable in our hand, sharp Chef’s knife, we can get a lot done. If I was going to add one more “must have” knife, I think it’d have to be a paring knife.

I’ve used a few of those over the years. Do these look familiar?

oldschoolparing

I feel like everyone I knew growing up had three or four of these simple, little plastic handled paring knives in the drawer. These were the go to tool in our house for peeling potatoes and apples. In fact, I’d never even seen an actual peeler until I was in my late teens. I had no idea there was such a thing because any time something needed to be peeled, we’d just dig around in the drawer for one of these little babies. That sounds totally safe, yeah? Feeling around in a drawer for a knife… Genius!

Last year at the International Food Bloggers Conference, I met the lovely folks from Crisp. I had picked up the 4-in-1 zesting tool I told you about last September in the SWAG room, but the next day I got a closer look at the whole line of Crisp tools and I was intrigued. They sent me home with a paring knife to try out.

I’m going to try very hard not to sound like a commercial, here. It’s super important to me that you know that I will never, ever tell you that you must go out and buy something, or that the brand I use is the only brand in the world that will ever work. But, let me just say… I love this paring knife.


crisp paring

I use it in class, at home, and at work all the time. If I had to choose between this little $12 knife and the semi-fancy looking one that came in the knife kit from school, I’d take this one every single time.

First of all, it stays sharp. That’s important. It might sound counter-intuitive, but you’re actually more likely to hurt yourself with a dull knife than a sharp one. Plus, see that little notch thing in the knife cover? That’s a built in sharpener, so if you need to sharpen your knife, it’s not a big ordeal. Just a few swipes through the sharpener and you’re back in business.

Second, it’s comfortable to use. Maybe at home you don’t really use any single tool long enough to experience hand and wrist fatigue. But, in a kitchen lab for four hours, or at work in a professional kitchen trimming 20 pounds of radishes, the tool in your hand becomes about more than just the job it’s doing. It has to be comfortable to hold or your hands and wrists are going to get tired and sore pretty quickly– another contributor to potential injury.

I’m telling you I like this tool because I use it almost daily so I know it’s good. I’m also telling you about this tool because it’s affordable, as are all the tools in the Crisp line. They also sent me the vegetable peeler and the bird’s beak paring knife to try, and I love them, too. I love them because they feel good, they work well, and they are something I feel comfortable telling my fellow students and you about because buying them will not break the bank. There’s not a single tool on the Crisp website over $20, and most of them are under $15.

And guess what? They were nice enough to send a paring knife along for one of you! I love that they were willing to do that for me, but truth be told I would have been willing to buy one to give away because I like this paring knife that much. And, well, I just love sharing finds like this with all of you. It makes me happy.

For a shot at your very own Crisp paring knife, all you need to do is answer this question in the comments:

What new kitchen skill or technique would you like to learn this year?

 

I’ll draw the winner next Wednesday and announce it in all the usual places. Good luck!

This giveaway is sponsored by Crisp™, but all opinions are my own. One winner will be selected at random and will be announced in another post and all applicable social media accounts on Wednesday, January 21, 2015 no later than 12pm MST. Winner will have 72 hours to respond to notification of win or the prize is forfeit and a new winner will be chosen. Prize will be sent via US Postal Service so you’ll need to provide your mailing address if you win. Please allow 6-8 weeks for delivery. Open to US residents only including APO & FPO addresses, must be 18 years or older to enter.

IFBC: When The Universe screams in your ear, you better listen.

When I headed to Seattle for the International Food Bloggers Conference (IFBC), I expected to be educated. I expected to eat some great food. I expected to try some interesting wines. What took me by surprise was the validation.

I know, I know, that sounds just a teensy bit melodramatic. Validation? Really, Jordan?

Hear me out. Let’s recap what happened in the weeks leading up to this trip. I said, out loud, that I wanted to quit my corporate gig and go work in food for real. I did the first thing, and got a job that fulfills the second thing. I said I wanted more time to focus on school and the blog. The new job gives me that. I’ve also had the chance to work with and talk to some really great local chefs over the past month or so. Once I made the decision to finally follow my bliss, The Universe answered.

And then I went to IFBC. I had the sessions I wanted to attend all mapped out, and then I ended up going to completely different ones that turned out to be exactly where I needed to be, hearing speakers that so loudly echoed all of my most recent decisions that I had no choice but to pay attention. Two sessions really spoke to me on a pretty personal level.

It started right off the bat with the Keynote from Karen Page and Andrew Dornenburg, authors of The Flavor Bible and the soon to be released Vegetarian Flavor Bible.

IFBC_D2_02
If you  had been watching the IFBC tag on twitter, you’d have seen the same quote tweeted out from nearly everyone in the room at once:

“Being a good writer has to do with living an authentic life.”

Seems like that message hit close to home for a lot of us. Page and Dornenburg encouraged us all to follow our chosen path regardless of how popular/unpopular it might be, and to keep walking it no matter how many times we fall or get pushed down. They showed us samples from rejection letters they received from publishers telling them that their first book idea was too narrow, and wouldn’t reach a large enough audience to be marketable. They kept trying, and eventually they got that book deal. Needless to say, that book (Becoming a Chef) sold well, and won a James Beard Award.

They also encouraged us to taste everything. Every taste, every texture, every smell goes into our taste memory, ready to be called up, “like a song in a jukebox.”

The next big food trend? Vegetables! More and more people are moving to a plant based diet, and chefs are paying attention. They’re treating veggies like meat– braising, smoking, grilling, and curing them, just like they would meat. For vegetarians and vegans that’s good news, especially when they go out to eat. They won’t get stuck with some boring rice and veggie skewer dinner. It’s also pretty great news for us omnivores, because it means that we can order veggie based dinners and get the same kind of satisfaction that we’d get from one with meat as the main event.

They closed out their session by reminding us how powerful we can be as food writers, and leaving us with an important question, one that’s really got me thinking, “What kind of world do you want to create with this power?”

Joe Yonan, Food & Travel editor for The Washington Post, was another speaker whose message resonated with me. His story, one that started with a confluence of not so wonderful events, led him to make some big changes in his life and his approach to writing.

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He took a year off from the paper to write a book and spend time working on his sister and brother-in-law’s homestead in Maine. He spent mornings working on the farm, doing just one task at a time. It was difficult at first, he said, to focus on “uni-tasking,” and to avoid the temptation to constantly check his phone. But over time, he found that he began to enjoy the opportunity to focus, and when he set out each afternoon to work on the book his head was clearer.

I really loved his sense of humor. While telling us about his obsession with keeping the chicken coop clean, he likened it to “being a Lilliputian in the world’s biggest catbox.”

Well, maybe you had to be there. 🙂

When he went back to work, he continued making changes, and decisions, that helped him keep his perspective. He encouraged us all to think about the changes we can make to keep ourselves happy and passionate about what we’re doing, to give ourselves time away from the craziness (whatever that craziness is for us), to pick a day to unplug from all our technology and just be in the moment, and to learn new things by doing, not just by reading about it or watching a video about it.

I feel like there was so much more covered, but I’m still ruminating over all of it and trying to figure out how to apply all of this great advice. I’ve already picked Sunday as my “unplug” day. I’ve never considered myself a social media addict, but as a food blogger every time I’m around food, or someone cooking, or the farmer’s market, or a hundred other places, out comes the phone so I can take a picture and try to turn it into a writing opportunity. I feel like much of what I heard over the weekend said, “Don’t force it. Be yourself and there will be plenty to write about.”