Archive for May, 2007

Preventing Pasta Slabs

Wednesday, May 30th, 2007

Jesse, how do you cook the really wide rice noodles for a dish like Pad See Ew or Chow Fun? I mean the 1″ or wider kind that I think are only available fresh. I buy them from the freezer section at Lotus but can never get the dense, gelatinous slab apart. I end up with white, gooey globs of noodle in my stir-fries.


I’ve never worked with the exact noodles you’re asking about, but when I worked at an Italian restaurant, we cooked a variety of fresh and frozen pasta, including wide noodles. The two main keys to getting your pasta to come out well are 1) lots of water and 2) stir, stir, stir.

Many times, people try to cook pasta in too small a pot of water. I keep trying to convince Aurora that she needs to get out the big pot every time she cooks pasta, but she resists the idea because the pasta will fit in the smaller one and she doesn’t want to heat up all that water if she doesn’t have to. But, heat up all that water. It really is necessary, especially when cooking the larger noodles.

In addition to there being a larger volume of water to dilute the starch that cooks out of the noodles, the larger pan gives the noodles more room to move as they cook–and you more room to stir them. Helping them swim around the pan is important to unsticking the noodles and preventing them from coming out as a giant slab of pasta.

Lastly, be certain that your water is at a full boil when you add your pasta to it. If you’re putting pasta into water that’s cooler than that, that will contribute to the sticky, gelatinous nature of the results.

Fat and Cholesterol in Cheese

Friday, May 25th, 2007

hey - I know someone who really loves cheese (the good stuff, we’re not talking Velveeta or Kraft here), but she’s worried about cholesterol content.

Is there any data out there on cholesterol and fat content of non-processed cheeses, and I am especially interested to see if you compare the cheeses made from different animals (ie, sheep, goat, lamb and cow). Maybe a comparison of a fresh-style cheese (meaning still high in cream/water) for each and then a hardened, aged chese for each. I’ve heard that harder cheeses tend to be healthier than soft cheeses. Is one animal’s cheese in general healthier than another’s?

There are a variety of sources where you can find nutritional information about cheeses. One of the more comprehensive is the USDA, which has a web page where you can get full nutritional information for a wide range of cheeses.

Based on the information available on this page, I examined a variety of cheeses for nutritional content, from imitation cheese food product to higher-end gourmet cheeses. Based on the data I found, there is no hard and fast rule as to whether a harder cheese contains more or less fat than a softer cheese.


Reducing Menu Waste

Wednesday, May 23rd, 2007

You mention the menus and that they should have been updated and copies made; i can’t help but find that wasteful, although clearly the system in place at UUBU6 is inefficient in other ways. aside from a walk-up counter-style menu posted on the wall or a chalkboard with the daily specials listed, have you come across any alternative ways to present an ever-changing menu without printing a new set daily? i mean, i guess they don’t have to print 80 menus for a dining room that seats 80, so maybe it’s not as bad as i think, although any amount less waste is good to me. not to mention, i remember you used to set people straight for using paper towels unecessarily- these days, i rarely use a full paper towel for anything, and i think of you whenever i rip one into thirds. not that i ever ripped you into thirds.


You know, I was considering similar questions as I was getting dressed this morning, before I’d even seen your comment. The best answer I could come up with for an UUBU6-specific answer was along the lines of, ‘any restaurant serving toothfish obviously isn’t too concerned about using fewer resources,’ but that’s not really a valid answer.

Posting a chalkboard/ whiteboard works in certain settings (like Frankie & Johnnie’s in New Orleans), but doesn’t quite fit expectations at an upscale establishment. Having the waiter deliver the entire menu via oral recitation makes no sense, either—there’s no way everyone at a table can catch everything and you wind up with several repetitions of, ‘wait, what else was in that thing with the shrimp?’

I think perhaps the solution most approaching practicality is to recognize that even a restaurant that changes their menu on a regular basis, be it daily, weekly, or monthly, has a somewhat stable rotation of dishes that make regular appearances. Therefore, restaurants could print the dishes and descriptions on index cards that would slide into clips on the menu holder. Each dish could be swapped out individually and the cards could be saved for future use the next time that dish makes an appearance. Updating the menu might take slightly more manpower than it currently does; but when the waitstaff meets for lineup, they could form an assembly line, with each individual responsible for replacing a single card at a time.

As far as infrastructure concerns go (the cost of producing holders for these index cards), photo albums are already mass produced and available cheaply. They would be perfectly suited to this proposition.

UUBU6 Not Ready To Expand

Tuesday, May 22nd, 2007

As part of the celebration for my wife’s PhD graduation, our extended family had a very enjoyable dinner at UUBU6. We all enjoyed ourselves and the food was, for the most part, quite good. The service was excellent; I was particularly impressed by the manager’s wine pouring ability–he finished each pour with a precise snap of his wrist guaranteed to eliminate any potential of a drip.

On Monday, I read in the newspaper that the restaurant is facing some resistance to its expansion plans. Residents protest that there already isn’t enough parking, and that they must keep their windows closed to keep out fumes from the kitchen’s exhaust system. Those are both good reasons for neighbors to be wary about expansion plans. From a culinary viewpoint, I fear that they are not yet comfortable with the size they are now, and would be moving too quickly to add more seats.


More About Asparagus Pee

Sunday, May 20th, 2007

Ever since I put up my original smelly urine post, Aurora has been insisting that asparagus doesn’t affect her urine.  Turns out, though that she’s just one of the folks who can’t smell it even though the odor is there.  Weird….

Poisoning the Bees?

Friday, May 18th, 2007

There’s a possibility that the mysterious bee deaths may be linked to the tainted pet food. To recap the individual stories, many bees have been dying mysteriously, which is a troubling development because if the bees die, who’s going to pollinate the flowers; and if the flowers aren’t pollinated, how will our crops grow? Meanwhile, pets have been getting sick, and in some cases dying because a Chinese pet food manufacturer included melamine in with its wares in an effort to make the protein content of the pet food appear to be higher than it actually was.

The intersection: the bees may be dying because their feed has perhaps been tainted, too. From the front page of today’s Pittsburgh Tribune-Review:

Sometimes, a fast buck just isn’t worth its price. There’s no money to be made on a dead planet.

Dingy Guacamole Unavoidable As Time Passes

Thursday, May 17th, 2007

Is there a way to keep my gaucamole a bright green for more than an afternoon? Will citrus preserve its color?



Unfortunately, avocado turns brown fairly quickly once it’s been mushed up for guacamole.  Citrus will delay the color change slightly (I use either lemon or lime juice in my guacamole, depending on what I’ve got on hand; sometimes I’ll also add a splash of tequila), as will putting the avocado pit in the bowl.  Short of commercial preservation and coloring techniques, nothing will keep your guacamole a vibrant green overnight.  It’s a dish meant to be consumed within a short time frame after making it.

Ode to the Bench Scraper

Wednesday, May 16th, 2007

If there’s one piece of kitchen equipment that I’d name as a must-have (after a good knife or three and maybe some cast iron pans), it’s a bench scraper. They’re so useful that I have three of them, so that I’m pretty much always guaranteed to have at least one clean.

The most common use I have for a bench scraper is to collect the pieces of food that I’ve cut and transfer them to a bowl or a hot pan. It’s wide enough that you can fit much more food onto it than you can onto a knife, plus you don’t run the risk of cutting yourself.

In fact, they’re so handy that when I was packing kitchen equipment to take with me on my trip to a woodlands cabin this past weekend, I made sure to take one along.

They’re also handy for portioning dough or scraping cutting boards clean.

Photo credit: Nestor Gomez

Using Cast Iron

Monday, May 14th, 2007

I’m interested in hearing your thoughts on what situations are ideal for the cast iron approach.

For most purposes, I have a cheap 6″ skillet and a cheap 8″ skillet and I use my roomie’s really nice 10″ sautee pan for big jobs, all non-stick. But in the back of my mind, I know I’m missing the boat, eg, when I make skillet-based dishes with potatoes. The cast iron would help produce that tasty golden crust… But are there other areas where I’m missing out on having the right tool for the job?

Or in other words, *please* help me justify getting some cast iron cookware

I use my cast iron for almost everything: bacon, potatoes, stews, steaks, pork chops, etc., so I’m fairly biased; About the only thing I don’t use my cast iron for is tomato sauce: the high acidity of tomatoes is bad for the pans: it wears down the seasoning and prompts them to rust. The one big argument that I can make in favor of you trading in your cheapie non-stick for cast iron is that cast iron has most of the benefits of non-stick pans (once it’s been properly seasoned) without having the coating that flakes off and adds weird chemicals to your food.

I have a non-stick pan that I use exclusively for omelettes and try to store it in such a way that nothing comes off the bottom, but if a skillet like that is in everyday use, it’s bound to pick up nicks and scratches. I’m not exactly sure what’s in Teflon, but I know that I don’t want to eat it.

Buying Cast Iron

Sunday, May 13th, 2007

I’m graduating from college and need to buy some skillets/pans. I really like cast-iron and I think you’ve mentioned Lodge as a good brand. But what size do I need? If I were to get one or two pans what is the most useful size?



As far as sizes are concerned, that all depends on what you cook and how many people you’re cooking for—the more people you’re cooking for, the larger of a pan you’ll need. My biggest piece of cast iron is a 15-inch skillet. It spends most of its time hanging out in the basement, too big to be of use, but when my wife and I went to a cabin with three other couples this weekend, it was extremely handy when it came time to make hash browns, pancakes, and fried eggs (three waves of food through the pan). I doubt you’ll need anything that big, though. My guess is that you’d do just fine with an eight-inch and a ten-inch.

Lodge is a good brand, and widely available, but truth be told, you don’t really need to worry too much about brand names when it comes to cast iron. Three of my pans (the first three I bought) are Martha Stewart brand from K-Mart. They’re a bit thicker than my other skillets and heat up a bit more slowly, but they work just fine and will be a permanent part of my collection.

A good source for getting quality cast iron is Cajun Cast Iron, which is currently offering a three-piece starter set (6, 8, and 10-inch skillets) for only $9. That’s a great deal—probably less than I paid at K-Mart (though i didn’t have to pay shipping on that purchase)—especially considering that they’ve got the 10-inch by itself marked at $9. Although, when you follow the link for the 3-piece set, the price mysteriously goes up from $9 to $14.

If I were you, I’d act on it quickly before they discover the bug: call them on the phone and tell them that the front page says $9, so they really ought to be selling it to you for that price according to truth in advertising laws. Even if they adjust the price before you get there, though, the three piece starter set will get you the most commonly needed sizes at a fraction of the price of buying each separately, and the pans will still be useful when your grandchildren are dead.

Some of my favorite pans are of indeterminite brand: purchased from antique stores and flea markets and so old that the brand is obscured (or perhaps not even marked). If you’re buying used, the main thing you want to look for is rust. Superficial rust is okay, and scrapes of quickly with steel wool or a stiff wire brush, but if the rust goes deep, you’d be better off not buying it.

A couple of other favories are my Wagner Square Egg Skillet, which is (to my knowledge) only available used. It’s essential to make the perfect fried egg sandwich (the square egg fits the bread), and my dutch oven, which makes great stews, pulled pork barbecue, and popcorn. My next cast iron purchase will be a griddle that fits over two burners. Before I can get that, though, I have to convince Aurora that getting a fifteenth piece of cast iron isn’t ridiculous overkill (which shouldn’t be tough because she knows it’ll come in handy [don't you, honey?]).

You’re making a good choice getting cast iron. You’re guaranteed to get good, sturdy pans that will serve you well as long as you take care of them correctly.