Archive for March, 2008

Big Avocados

Sunday, March 30th, 2008

I’m so accustomed to seeing only hass or calvado avocados in the stores that I never gave much thought to what other types of avocados might be out there. My friend Pauli put an end to that when she brought be a couple of avocados from her parents’ tree in Miami.


The Safety of Steak Tartare

Friday, March 28th, 2008


Recently a chef tried telling me that Steak Tartare is perfectly safe to eat, that I shouldn’t worry about the possibility of E. coli contamination. He claimed that the spinach outbreak of 2006 was evidence that leafy greens are more dangerous than meats. That doesn’t seem quite right to me. What do you have to say on the subject?

–A reader in MA

Steak tartare is ground, raw beef. As it is served raw, it is no different than any other raw meat product and it carries with it the risk of bacterial infection. Specifically, as beef, it can be tainted with E. coli. E. coli is naturally present in a cattle’s digestive system and during the slaughtering process, the cattle’s intestines can be torn apart, resulting in the meat being splattered with fecal matter. While the beef is washed before it is further processed, packaged, and sold, some bacteria may remain on the surface, resulting in a surface contamination.



Tuesday, March 25th, 2008

Hi Jesse:

I really enjoy your blog! I like your writing a good deal - I’m a member of the Co-op and get the newsletter so I’ve read your articles. It’s nice to see some food blogs out there that are local to me. I have kind of a silly question: I tried to get Bourdain tickets just over a month ago and they were sold out then. Drue Heinz never sells out. This makes me think that there is some food culture here in Pittsburgh that I’m totally unaware of. I just wanted to ask, am I living under a rock?

Thank you,



Banana Sampler

Tuesday, March 25th, 2008

Now that I know that a banana doesn’t need to be a Cavendish, I decided to branch out the last time I was at the grocery store and give some of the lesser appreciated bananas a taste.

My local grocery store had three non-Cavendish bananas in stock when I went: Red (they’re the red ones), Nino (they’re the ones that look like miniature Cavendish), and Plantains (which, though not uncommon are not anywhere near as popular as the Cavendish, with which they are genetically identical).


Easter Dessert Recommendations

Friday, March 21st, 2008

Martha says

I forgot to pick up my pies from the PTA fundraiser and now they’re at the food bank. What am I going to do for Easter dessert?

Hmmm…. that is a bit of a quandary, especially if you were counting on that course having been taken care of for you already. You can’t really get away with serving a plate of cookies at a formal meal; and you probably have a fairly extensive menu of savory dishes that you’ll need to make. Which means, you’re looking for a tasty, attractive dessert that can hold its own at a formal table but can be made with minimal time and effort.  Lucky for you, I’ve got a couple of ideas.

If Your Sign Says “Pies”…

Monday, March 17th, 2008

Call me old fashioned, but if your restaurant has a large sign above the door that says “Freshly Baked Pies,” your restaurant should stock freshly baked pies.  The Market Caffe on Route 228 in Seven Fields, PA doesn’t agree.

I stopped there entirely because they have a large sign proclaiming that they have pies.  No pies were to be seen.  Not even a list of pie flavors could be found.

I asked the woman behind the counter.  “We have pies,” she said, “but they’re special order.  You have to order them 24 hours in advance.”

The restaurant had many other baked goods and full espresso bar capabilities.  I have no idea how any of their offerings taste, though, because I left rather than succumb to the bait-and-switch of their pie sign.

Rating: 0 Oranges, for lying to me with deceptive advertising.

Cranberry Oatmeal Coffee Cake

Monday, March 17th, 2008

I was going to make muffins, but as I was mixing my dry ingredients, i was inspired to try something new, and I was extremely pleased with the results. High in fiber, fruit, and whole grains, this cake is evidence that healthful eating need not mean poor taste.

I could also go off on a rant here about how processed “diet foods”, “health foods”, and artificial sweeteners claim best nutrition based on an analysis of caloric values and current dietary fads but in fact often have but a tenuous connection to actual ingredients, and how the chemicals included in such foods interact with our bodies in ways that scientists still do not fully understand; you’re probably more interested in the recipe.
Cranberry Oatmeal Coffee Cake

  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 cup rolled oats
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 Tablespoon plus one teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 Tablespoon pumpkin pie spice (mixed cinnamon, ginger, allspice, nutmeg)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 1/2 cups milk
  • 1/3 cup butter, melted and let cool slightly
  • 2 cups cranberries (fresh or frozen)

Combine dry ingredients thoroughly. Mix together eggs, milk, and melted butter. Pour wet ingredients into dry and mix until just combined. Fold cranberries into batter. Pour into greased 9 x 9 square baking pan. Optional: top with streusel topping. Bake for 25-30 minutes or until toothpick inserted into center comes out dry. Oven temperature: 350 F for dark pan; 375 F for glass or light-colored pan.

Note: recipe was tested using a dark pan. Baking times may vary slightly for lighter pans, so monitor the situation as estimated finish time approaches.

Revised Baking Instructions (9/22/12)
I have a 10-inch rectangular cast iron pan that I bake this in. If you don’t have one of these, I recommend using a 12-inch cast iron skillet. If you don’t have one of those, divide it into two 9-inch pie plates.Bake at 375 for about 30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.

Knife Recommendations

Friday, March 14th, 2008

Knife Guy asked:

What type of Chef’s knife do you recommend?

I mainly recommend the knife that feels right to you.  Definitely high carbon stainless steel, and I advocate spending at least $85-$100, assuming that you’ll treat the knife well and get it professionally sharpened 3-4 times a year.

The knife should be sized appropriately to your hand and have a weight balance that you are happy with—so hold at least 4 or 5 different knifes before you decide on the one you want.

For my full guide to shopping for a knife, read this article and for more tips on the best way to use your knives, follow the links in my knife skills table of contents.

Two-Pan Stew

Wednesday, March 5th, 2008

I went to a vegetarian potluck dinner the other day and as my contribution took a pot of vegan chili. The host of the event told me as I was leaving that he’d like to have the recipe. I assured him that there was no recipe for it–it’s more of a method, and he said he understood but would like a description of the method just the same.

My secret for making a successful stew begins with potatoes. If you begin by cooking the spuds, you can get a very nice caramelization going on in the bottom of the pan that’s a fantastic flavor base to build from. Also, the starch from the potatoes will thicken the stew as it cooks, so you don’t have to worry about adding a starchy flavor in the form of a cornstarch slurry or a flour-based whitewash to thicken it at the end. Also, the lack of flour makes it a great dish for persons unable to digest wheat gluten. (more…)

One Last Chance for Anthony Bourdain Tickets

Monday, March 3rd, 2008

Anthony Bourdain is giving a lecture in Pittsburgh on March 31. I have tickets, which is fortunate because the show is sold out, save for a private opera box that is currently up for auction on Ebay.

Mind you that the minimum bid (as of when I’m typing) is $810, but if you have the wherewithal to compete, you can get private seating for 6, signed copies of Mr. Bourdain’s book, invitations to a VIP lecture, and more. It’s not quite in my price range, but I’m sure whoever the lucky bidder is will have both an excellent view of the event and a magnificent evening.

If you happen to get the package, be sure to let me know about your experience!