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AlexRast's Profile

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Custard , bread & butter or Lennon pudding cake

Why not serve custard *with* the bread and butter pudding? A classic combination.

Apr 14, 2014
AlexRast in Home Cooking

pet peeves for other 'foodies'

Complex topic.

There are those with actual allergies, or at least severe reactions to some foods. For them, a given food may be actually dangerous. It should be noted too that kids may have an allergy or intolerance that their parents don't suspect, hate a given food for the obvious reason, but everyone is mystified why until the reason comes to light.

There are those who may be able physiologically to have a given food, but can identify by the smell (which is rather reliable) that it's something they're going to detest. There is a difference, it should be noted, between things where the smell is mildly unpleasant, and things where it's clear to a person that they're going to hate it.

There are those who have moral/ideological objections to a specific series of foods. Don't go there.

There are those who might like a food, but have only been exposed to very poor-quality versions of it. In that case they *might* like a very good version, but it's probably best to present it as an option, if you know a very good source, rather than attempt to foist it upon them.

There are those who have bad associations - not necessarily taste-related. Such people can often be more receptive - it's a matter of breaking the association, which they may recognise is irrational. However it's not a given that the association won't win.

And then finally there are those who are genuinely unadventurous by nature - who may respond to mild prodding, but you have to be diplomatic and sensitive.

Apr 13, 2014
AlexRast in Not About Food

Foods Without Enemies

Detest sparkling water. It always tastes metallic to me, you can't drink as much, it isn't as refreshing, and it's not really suitable after intense activity. But love still.

Can anyone articulate what it is that they prefer if they like sparkling better? Of course sparkling tends to prevail in preference on the Continent.

Apr 12, 2014
AlexRast in General Topics

What would you consider are your 6 essential spices?

In order (most to least) of amount used:

Cumin
Paprika
Cayenne/chile powder
Allspice
Cardamom
Pepper

Cinnamon deserves an honourable mention.

Apr 12, 2014
AlexRast in General Topics

Infographic: How to Tip Waiter, Barternder, Barista and Deliveryman and Not Be Mean

Which always seems strange to me. I can understand US law applying taxes after the notional sales price, but I don't really understand why they would also require (as seems to be the case) that the *listed* price of an item of any sort NOT include tax - so that you can never know exactly how much you're going to pay for something until you reach the till.

Incidentally, on another point spoken of earlier:

"Plain and simple -- the restaurant isn't paying them money to live on....so who do you think is paying them?

I'll assume that you're paying tips when you eat at a restaurant -- so YOU are paying them."

This fact is true *regardless* of the specific system whereby the payment reaches the wallet of the waiter. After all, the restaurant gets its money from its customers, so whether the cost of staff is incorporated into the price of the food, whether it's appended as a service charge afterwards, or whether it comes through tips, you're still the one paying. But if it's built in to the price of the food you have a better, clearer picture of the *true* cost of the meal.

Thinking along a totally different line - how is the liability towards their waitstaff changed or affected under US law by the method whereby the restaurant chooses to pay them? Are there specific legal advantages to making it come in the form of tips? If so I can understand why restaurants would customarily do this - and if this is true, then it's likely the system will NEVER change, whatever the public dissatisfaction may be.

Apr 11, 2014
AlexRast in Not About Food

Infographic: How to Tip Waiter, Barternder, Barista and Deliveryman and Not Be Mean

Heartily agree that this is one of the more despicable and pointless aspects of the American system. The silly think about it, is, it devalues the tip itself as an expression of appreciation. Once, as in the US, tipping is not optional but required, and at a fairly standard level set by convention, then it stops being a personal gesture of goodwill and merely another impersonal part of paying the bill.

It also denies waiters any sort of after-the-fact positive feedback on their job; after all, if they get a tip, even if it's a generous one, they know it's only part of the quid pro quo for serving customers - so they can't really know how the customer actually felt. That robs them of any feeling of having done a good job if they did, and equally, gives them no easy way to identify when they've done a poor job.

What the system is in truth is a way for restaurant owners to conceal the *actual* price of the meal from their customers; what you see on the menu isn't a good reflection of the actual amount you'll pay. I'll also say that not including taxes in the listed price is another part of this concealment; what's with that? Is that actually US law? If so it again is absurd - it adds another layer of calculation so unless you're mathematically clever or carry a pocket calculator around with you you're not going to be able to estimate accurately how much your meal will cost before actually paying for it.

Apr 10, 2014
AlexRast in Not About Food

pet peeves for other 'foodies'

You can't assume that's what will happen. There's no inevitability about the trajectory of restaurants, either in respect of who patronises them or what the quality will be like. Nor, for that matter, in how it or its employees respond to positive reviews.

Tourists are a sufficiently random sample of the population that their restaurant choices are an equally random sample.

Apr 08, 2014
AlexRast in Not About Food

pet peeves for other 'foodies'

Two that really do bother me.

People who are dismissive out of hand about restaurants that are well-frequented by tourists. The presence of tourists, *in itself* is a non-data point, it neither implies poor quality nor suggests good quality (nor, for that matter, suggests average quality).

People who slag the quality of anything: food product, brand, restaurant, whatever, (possibly after an initial period of gushing praise), once a it's been around for enough years to have become familiar.

Apr 07, 2014
AlexRast in Not About Food
1

Foods Without Enemies

In Italy, at least, pizza doesn't necessarily have cheese. Indeed, one of the classics of Naples, Pizza Marinara, doesn't. So that isn't a complete explanation.

Speaking of cheese, though, DETEST! cheesecake. But then again, I'm English. It could be an American thing.

Ones that I think ought to be on the list: Strawberry shortcake. Ice Cream. Shortbread.

Apr 07, 2014
AlexRast in General Topics

What is your budget

If you want to make the budget go far, then go for the beans and grains. Particularly in bulk, they're absurdly cheap for the amount of nourishment you get out of them, and making them the major component of any dish maxmises the budget like nothing else. Potatoes are also in the same category.

With an insignificant fraction of the total budget you have (probably much, much less than 10%, you can meet most of your food needs - and then use meats, fish, vegetables etc. a bit like condiments. Think of the Italian pizza/pasta model (not gluten free of course, but it illustrates the point) Both use large amounts of a basic starch backed with small amounts of vegetables and meats. And are very satisfying without having any feeling of austerity attached. So it goes in many cultures, e.g. rice pilaf, tortillas, injera with stew, etc. etc.

Apr 02, 2014
AlexRast in General Topics

Lobrano on croissants

I think a note of caution and real life is in order here. First, I don't think it's a given that it's automatic that the best croissants are going to be in France, and it's even less of a certainty that an arbitrarily chosen shop in France or, specifically, Paris, is going to be good. Like most places the majority are going to be...average.

The same is true of, e.g. coffee in Rome, sausages in Berlin, bagels in New York, or dim sum in Hong Kong - anything reasonably cheap and part of the daily life of a community. The idea that "all places are good" in a given city or country for a given product is one of the more common and less accurate of broad generalisations in my opinion. People are people wherever you go, and commodity markets are always filled with a lot of very average goods. There isn't any sort of mystique surrounding particular products in particular areas, that makes the *average* level of quality fantastic.

However, in an area with a large population, where a given item is popular, and especially when it's part of the popular culture, it's highly probable that there will be a greater *absolute* number of really good establishments, because there's more local demand, but this is in the context of a greater number of establishments, period. As the market gets larger the distribution of quality/price/convenience gets closer to a smooth curve rather than a stepped or isolated scattering of points, so more of the high end is exposed (but also more of the low end). That does make your chances of finding a good place for croissants or whatever higher than in a low-population, uninterested culture (e.g. I doubt the croissants available in, say, Berwick-on-Tweed are anything particularly special, although there can always be freakish exceptions). But all of this is just a function of statistics and numbers. If you want quality, you still have to know where to look and how to search - because to the uninformed person wandering the streets of Paris the number of shops selling croissants is so large even within a 5-minute wander that they'll have no way of being able to single out a given place.

I also would disagree with the idea that most people won't be able to tell the difference - because it's my experience time after time that anyone can tell the difference between great and good instantly. Indeed, that is part of the definition of great: something so manifestly excellent that to everyone who experiences it, it's instantly self-evident that it's in an entirely different category from usual or even good. In the case of food, that difference is particularly stark because greatness evokes a powerful, visceral reaction that you can't mistake or ignore - and if it doesn't do that then it's not great. Greatness is not a difference in finely graded distinctions.

However, that doesn't necessarily make it something you'll need or even want to have every day; if you live in Paris, self-evidently practical considerations, if nothing else, are going to come into play on a day-to-day basis; if that really wonderful patisserie or boulangerie is 8 metro stops in the wrong direction away, it's going to become an occasional treat rather than a daily visit. I do think however it's worth supporting such places with regular "occasional treats" - to make sure they have a reason to stay in business.

Of course as you say a mistake isn't tragic - indeed it's perhaps an excuse to try them all! :-) But for the visitor on holiday or on a business trip, with limited opportunities and possibly no prospect of a return any time soon, they are likely in a mood to optimise their chances, if nothing else. That's where a little information is better than remaining silent.

Parigi, words may have meaning but most people are not technical scientists or grammarians who are taking pains to use explicit and unambiguous language. They want to convey their ideas simply and approximately.

Even if we did want to split hairs over terminology, though, saying "what's your favourite" or "what do you like", does not, in fact convey the idea of identifying the great from the good - because someone's personal favourite may include factors other than intrinsic quality of the croissants on offer, and furthermore because there are others who aren't really bothered about great versus good anyway, who might respond with favourites based on a "decent" level rather than an "excellent" level. It's a bit like asking "what's your favourite chocolate" - a question that's not likely in a random group to identify the great. For similar reasons there is probably a big difference between someone saying "We're staying in (x), what's convenient?" and "We just want anything and aren't too fussed; which one is the nearest?"

However, it's not necessary to have done an exhaustive sampling to be able to answer a "best" question - unless the person asking the question is going to hold you responsible for your statement as a matter of absolute empirical fact. (And as I've mentioned, that kind of expectation is absurd). It's sufficient to have tried enough to understand what the landscape of possibility looks like, and then it's easy to extrapolate from that to identify the place(s) in your own experience for which a case can be made that they're the "best" (A list of recommendations is usually more informative than a single choice)

Apr 02, 2014
AlexRast in France

Lobrano on croissants

I'm not sure taking a pledge not to respond to "best of" questions is the fairest or most productive approach.

On the one hand, yes, there are some people at one extreme who, imagining there's a single "best" in the sense of an absolute rank order, develop an obsession with going there and nowhere else. The arguments against this approach are numerous: it doesn't give due respect or credit to the (possibly many) other people in any trade who are working hard and producing a top-quality result; it distorts the importance of a particular person or business in a way that can lead to a "honeypot" effect; it can end up driving worthy establishments out of business, if too much attention is paid to the hypothetical "winner"; it risks the creation of a "canonical" style imagined to be superior; perhaps most fundamentally, it imagines that there can be such a thing as an objective "best" in a qualitative area. I would agree with all of this.

On the other hand, however, a reverse extreme that some others take is that there are no meaningful differences in quality at all and that the choice should be made purely on the grounds of expediency. Suprisingly, this brings with it very similar problems: the driving out of business of quality manufacturers (since the necessarily higher cost of a top-notch product makes them uncompetitive in an indifferent market), a lack of due credit to any business (since they're all the same anyway), homogenisation of style (because it doesn't matter, so they will drift towards the cheapest approach), and also can lead to a general cynicism in the industry, if no one seems to appreciate their product beyond basic satisfaction of immediate need.

The truth is that there are real and meaningful differences in quality, and this doesn't stop at simple broad divisions between good and bad - there are always a smallish group of truly great places, pursuing their chosen craft with an obsession, who put out products so manifestly better than even the majority of "good" ones that it makes it worthwhile to seek out some places over others.

My suspicion is that many if not most people asking for "best" aren't expecting some absolute authoritative statement which attempts to narrow the choice down to a single establishment, but rather are asking for different personal opinions that identify the great from the good - they want to make it clear that they're seeking the extraordinary rather than the simply day-to-day acceptable. For similar reasons I suspect that most people who say they don't really care are really saying that while they may want something decent it's not as if price, time, and logistics are irrelevant. It's just 2 groups with a different "good-enough" threshold.

In that light not responding at all to "best" questions is just keeping hidden all the possibly worthy establishments that might benefit from a mention - and if you don't mention anything it is certain they won't go there unless it's already well-known. That's not doing the business any favours.

As other posters have mentioned, Paris does operate rather as a series of semi-independent villages, with good establishments in each, but if they're not mentioned, they're certainly not going to make headlines or get noticed, and again this risks them eventually being driven out of business.

I personally don't buy the low price argument though. Real quality doesn't have zero cost. A truly high-quality place will inevitably have to charge somewhat more than a mass-market place. Now yes, there are always a few places trading exclusively on reputation, who use this as a way to inflate prices beyond their intrinsic value, but I *don't* believe that all people operating in the business are bound to be cynical operators or that developing a good reputation inevitably corrupts people.

Apr 01, 2014
AlexRast in France

Lobrano on croissants

Whose chocolate do they use? As far as I'm concerned this is critical. Ideally Cluizel (or possibly Bonnat, although these tend to have too much cocoa butter in this application). Not Valrhona, not any more; the quality has declined precipitately.

And what style of feuilletage do they use - the medium-number-of-layers style or the true millefeuille? It looks like the former from the pictures on the site at least. I admit I prefer the millefeuille style.

Mar 30, 2014
AlexRast in France

Florences top restaurants for splurge meal?

To a large extent it really depends upon your expectations; if what you're looking for is something that seems to capture the essence of traditional Florentine cooking one set of choices is likely to satisfy, but if what you're looking for is something that aspires to the elite level of cookery a different set of choices applies. It will be said that usually it's the latter category that fits under the "splurge" designation.

Buca dell' Orafo is the kind of restaurant that probably comes close to a certain mental image that I'm sure a lot of people have when they think of "Italian" or "Tuscan" - both in atmosphere and in food. It's definitely in the traditional idiom, and the dishes are probably fairly authentic. Quality I would say is upper-midrange, that is to say very good but I wouldn't say they're obsessed with maximum possible quality nor have I had anything there that I would consider sublime. It's not really in the category of a "splurge" - in the sense of offering the very, very best without compromise that Florence has to offer but it's a great choice if what you want is something quintessentially Florentine.

Ora D'Aria might be considered Tuscan food in a modern idiom. Marco Stabile makes more than a nod to local tradition and is obsessive in using local ingredients, but it can't be called food drawn from the traditional Florentine canon. Atmosphere is likewise modern and refined rather than traditional and convivial. In terms of quality it's a quantum leap above Buca dell'Orafo in almost every sense, and I've definitely had dishes there I would consider sublime. There can be no question it's in the category of "splurge" and yes, you will have to splurge for it; the prices are significantly above even most of the high end in Florence.

Cibreo seems to be attempting to recreate the atmosphere and traditional style of somewhere like Buca dell' Orafo while reaching for the food quality of an Ora d'Aria. Unfortunately for me at least it achieves neither, in part because the menu is decidedly idiosyncratic; it might be thought of as "forgotten Tuscan", in part because the atmosphere comes off as vaguely generic and pastiche. I've not had anything sublime there either, and at the prices - definitely in the splurge range - they should be getting much closer to that than Buca dell' Orafo. That's not to say Cibreo is bad, indeed, it's an interesting choice, but you have to go there without excessive expectations or you'll be disappointed.

Mar 28, 2014
AlexRast in Italy

Tip on chopping a large block of chocolate

It rather depends on whether the end result you want is a series of reasonably large chunks or genuinely small bits.

The chipper mentioned is for creating small bits; it's not particularly efficient if you want to "split" a bloc into large chunks, possibly one for use immediately, others for use later. However if what you need is small chips, and aren't concerned about sectioning off the bloc (usually when the amount of chocolate you need isn't critical) the chipper is the tool of choice.

A very heavy chef's knife is the best tool for creating large chunks cleanly. What you do is, place the blade in the position that will section off the amount you need. Now, rock it back and forth with a little (but not too much) force until you create a score line. The score needn't be too deep; 1 mm is more than adequate. Now, place the blade in the centre of the score. Make sure the blade itself is dead-vertical with respect to the bloc (This doesn't mean point-first into the block, as though you were going to stab down through it, but rather blade end on, as though you were going to slice into it.) Place the palm of the hand not holding the knife handle over the top centre of the blade.

Now, in one clean motion, throw your weight directly down over your palm, suddenly and totally. The bloc should split cleanly along the score line (if it doesn't you've got poor-quality or possibly bloomed chocolate)

You can repeat the process to section off other bits of the bloc. Pieces smaller than about 4-5 cm on a side can easily be chopped thereafter with the same knife.

It should be emphasised that you need a large chef's knife. Mine is 30 cm. Small ones, for instance the common 8"/20cm knives usually don't have the leverage. It should also be very sharp; dull knives are another reason for flying chips.

The other option you may wish to consider is getting bags of pre-formed chocolate bits rather than a bloc. Most manufacturers are now offering chocolate in this format - e.g. Valrhona, Callebaut, Cluizel, Guittard etc. etc. The bags are very convenient - the only thing they can't be really used for is when you need to grate or sliver the chocolate, e.g. for truffles or chocolate decorations. In that situation the bloc is the only real option.

Mar 28, 2014
AlexRast in Home Cooking
1

Have you ever made Croissants?

I've made them - it wasn't too difficult for me, BUT, I have lots of experience both in bread-making and puff pastry making, both of which are involved. Your results will almost certainly depend upon your expertise in these areas and in particular if you're not familiar with puff pastry technique you can expect indifferent to poor results (unless you get lucky). That said, if you do have the requisite expertise, your result will almost certainly be far, far better than anything you can buy (almost) anywhere; my results have been comparable with Pierre Herme's, i.e. spectacular.

The other part of it that you need to consider are the logistics. If you want them for breakfast, then you will have absolutely no choice but to get up extremely early indeed, 4 am or possibly even earlier. However you arrange it, you need to be mindful of the fact that you have to arrange your day, possibly 2, around the making of the croissants, so it's not feasible during the work week unless you have extremely flexible working hours. It does also rather take over the kitchen with boards and flour until complete, and I'd advise not tidying the kitchen between rollings, because you'll only have to do it again.

For me therefore it's a "special-occasion" sort of thing, something I might do once or twice a year.

Mar 25, 2014
AlexRast in Home Cooking
1

Prime Rib Eye Steak or Filet Mignon?

No, the rib roast is the usual prime roasting joint. Sirloin is popular for roasting, yes, but we roast all sorts of joints anyway - roast beef in general is very popular.

By "reverse sear" do you mean bung in oven, then sear when cooked? If so, I think that's actually the worst of ALL worlds, a poor way to do any steak or roast. Definitely bad for steaks because at ANY degree of initial internal cooking you won't be able to get a good outside sear without overcooking the centre. Bad for roasts because then you have to start the cooking at a low temperature; this renders insufficient initial fat, and then you don't get good gravy development; and also the texture suffers (becomes more gelatinous and "blobby")

But maybe you mean something else?

Mar 24, 2014
AlexRast in General Topics

Another Chocolate Chip Cookie Problem: Once Flat, Now Puffy

I find that imitation vanilla is quite easily distinguished from true vanilla, by an initial sharp, citrussy component. Real vanilla has a softer, more floral/dairy initial component.

But, I also think that once you've already stepped down by using extract, then the differences start to matter less. Extracts add their own flavour notes, thinner and somewhat sharper than the real vanilla bean. And the intensity is much lower, so that the amount you'd need to add to get comparable flavour strength starts to matter in recipe formulation.

In chocolate chip cookies I always use vanilla beans, their contents scraped and blended with the sugar (pod discarded), then allowed to sit for a while, partly for the flavour, and partly so that I'm not adding any more liquid (even if in extractives it would be a small amount. But to get the same intensity out of an extractive you'd perhaps need a fairly large amount anyway)

Mar 24, 2014
AlexRast in Home Cooking

Prime Rib Eye Steak or Filet Mignon?

Neither. IMHO both should be used for roasting - to a degree that makes it close to a desecration to use them as steak.

The sirloin (U.S. New York Strip/Top Loin) is IMHO the cut of choice for steak.
If forced to choose between the 2 choices you give for a steak, I'd take the rib eye. But I'd be disappointed.

Mar 21, 2014
AlexRast in General Topics
1

Easter 2014

I've got a very traditional list that I do with minor variations every year.

Home-made sausage rolls - this means both the puff pastry and the filling.
Home-made pork pie
Fish in puff pastry (using up the rest of the pastry dough I make!) - usually some sort of white flatfish like turbot or plaice, but whatever looks best at my local fishmongers.
Racks of lamb
French beans, or flat beans (again depending on which looks best)
New potatoes (as Harters says Jersey Royals are sometimes in, sometimes not. Definitely to be preferred if they are)
Kulich
Strawberry Charlotte
Chocolate torrone - made myself (terrifyingly addictive but needless to say you really have to mind the sugar)
Chocolate easter eggs, both the solid foiled ones and the speckled praline eggs.

Mar 21, 2014
AlexRast in Home Cooking

Another Chocolate Chip Cookie Problem: Once Flat, Now Puffy

That sounds very strongly like the problem was too much flour, based on the observations that1) the result was bready; 2) you had to work hard to get the eggs thoroughly mixed. However in what sense did you have to "work hard"? Was the dough very stiff (it sounds like it)? Or was it so loose that the eggs just added additional fluidity and led to lumping?

There's a decent chance that you were using a different flour than usual - either a different brand, a different composition from the same brand, or possibly even just a different batch, but in any case one with more protein. This would explain both the bready texture and the thickening as you were scooping (due to gluten development)

There's also a chance that you mis-measured butter or the sugars - increasing the flour ratio.

Mar 19, 2014
AlexRast in Home Cooking
1

Too-dark chocolate transformation?

Actually it wouldn't melt sooner, it would melt more unevenly. Also once it's fallen out of temper the flavour loss during baking would be more drastic. For some that won't be particularly noticeable, but I think you'd be likely to end up with rather coarse, grainy chunks; not the best result.

Mar 17, 2014
AlexRast in Home Cooking

London hamburger taste-off: one man's opinion

"But isn't the problem with this approach is that you may find supplier A has the perfect patty and bun but supplier B has the better sauces, additions etc."

For me that wouldn't affect the outcome. Supplier A would be in my mind better than Supplier B.

"...that isn't how most eat their burgers so your premise that these are the "central elements against which all must be measured." is flawed."

I'm not trying to argue tasting methodology as though it's some sort of propositional truth. It's definitely my approach - others may or may not adopt it. But if we take your approach it seems to me that *no* meaningful comparison could be made because there isn't one way "most eat their burgers" - the variations are endless. Maybe that is, in fact, your position - there is a school of thought which regards comparative evaluation of restaurants as an empty exercise. Fair dos, if so. But I'm of the persuasion that there are meaningful differences in different establishments, and that it's rather fun to try different places comparatively to really see those differences.

By the way, if you "stardardised the test with each restaurant serving the same patty and bun" I think that would utterly flatten out the differences - because a large component for me of the outcome is the quality of these items themselves. If you standardised them, it would come down entirely to execution which is only part of the evaluation.

Burger selection when *not* specifically doing a test really rather depends highly on my expectations and prior experience. For example, if I were going to somewhere I'd never tried, which I had reason to believe would be great, I'd definitely opt for the plain. But if it were somewhere I'd been before and who had interesting options, I'd probably try some option combination. Also if I didn't have any reason to expect that by themselves the basic components would be particularly wonderful.

It should be noted that I can't have cheese - which is an absolute limitation.

Mar 17, 2014
AlexRast in U.K./Ireland

London hamburger taste-off: one man's opinion

Really I think it depends on what you're trying to achieve. When doing a side-by-side comparison, one important reason for me to strip it down to the "bare essentials" is because otherwise it's too easy to end up comparing apples to oranges.

When you speak of "interaction of ingredients" to me this really gets into the area of chef interpretation. I'm not one who values that particularly highly, at least not when it comes to a classic, canonical item like a hamburger. In my view interpretation is decidedly secondary to underlying quality and execution in this case.

On "don't relate to how the dish is usually served"... the problem is that the possible variations of how hamburgers can be ordered are so myriad and so personal (everyone has their own list of additions or subtractions) that the idea of "how it is usually served" seems to me a little meaningless. I certainly don't think that "saucing is the component of the package that holds integrates the patty and bun together to make it a dish". I think the patty and bun can and should stand perfectly fine on their own as a complete dish.

Meanwhile on the television example I have to say that particularly something like ease of wall mounting would be so immaterial to me as to be absolutely irrelevant. If I need some particular mounting ultimately that's my problem to deal with and if the stock unit doesn't have what I need then I can rig something up or build it if necessary. When it comes to connectors, too, a lot would depend upon what external devices you were connecting to and their respective quality. It's certainly not a given that digital is better than analogue - and with respect to the connectors themselves that also not only depends on the type of connector but also on the quality of the particular connector used (the same style of connector often comes in various grades) and on how well the electrical connections/wiring/soldering had been done - all of which would probably make more difference than simply which connectors had been made available. In any case I'd see them as far from fundamental to get maximum amount of satisfaction. Now once picture quality and then sound has been maximised, OK, I might use connector quality in the limit to choose between otherwise identically-performing models, but otherwise they wouldn't rate.

The analogy applies back to food - e.g. in a hamburger, the type of plate/box/bag it comes on/in is close to irrelevant (exception - some out-gassing plastics), what other things you choose to put in it may depend on what you're having with it (e.g. having double bacon plus cheese is probably overkill if you're planning to have a chocolate cake afterwards) and even when included more is going to depend at least in my view upon the quality and execution of whatever else is used than whether it's there at all or not.

All of this is just to emphasise that I think we are talking about basic differences in outlook, not something provable or with any sort of definite answer.

Mar 16, 2014
AlexRast in U.K./Ireland

Cooking hash browns: a side-by-side method comparison

Have you tried shredding raw potato, baking the shreds (relatively briefly), cooling, then frying? You'll have to put the shreds on a sheet of parchment and disperse them well or they're likely to stick while baking. I emphasise here I've not tried this either but thinking about it, it occurred to me as a possible method to try. If nothing else it might improve the onion-underdone aspect.

I can definitely see how the freezer method would work - freezing partially dehydrates, so you'll get a drier result and you're starting with precooked potato so the heat doesn't need to reach the middle in order to cook the potato itself.

Mar 16, 2014
AlexRast in Home Cooking

Help! My French Bread is too bready!

It should be noted that French bread is made with a somewhat lower protein flour than typical strong bread flours - proteins for French flours are in the 10%-11% range. This contributes to the fluffy as opposed to "bready" texture. As mentioned by other posters, your dough should really be quite wet, such that it sticks aggressively to your hands if you don't have them quite well-floured. I usually shape my loaves using gravity, rolling the dough between my hands while holding it in a vertical position and letting its own weight pull it into the classic baguette shape. Very effective and it produces perfect results every time.

Mar 15, 2014
AlexRast in Home Cooking

London hamburger taste-off: one man's opinion

Yes, that's a difference in basic philosophy. My approach - and this applies to *any* food no matter what the category, is to first distill it down to its essence - the components without which it ceases to be able to be called by the name given. In the case of a hamburger, for instance, it seems to me this consists of the patty and the bun. Everything else is to some degree optional. Then I evaluate what someone has done based on that most-basic configuration, to find out if they've maximised the basics. This to me is the essence of good food, first, you get the essentials as good as possible, then consider the accoutrements. Until I feel that there is no real room for improvement on these basics, my evaluation of them won't change based on any additional items, and a place that does a better job on the basics, will always rate higher for me.

It should also be noted that in the case of patties and buns sourcing would only be part of the equation. There's also the fundamental recipe they used to bake the bun (method, bake time, ingredients, etc. etc.) whether it's toasted and if so for how long, seeded or unseeded bun, etc. etc., and likewise on the patty there's the size, aspect ratio (small or large diameter, thick or thin), cooking method, execution in the cooking, etc. etc.

You could consider this similar to the way I might approach, e.g. evaluating a TV. For me, for example, things like screen size, remote control, command features, setup, etc. etc. aren't really important. There are 2 things that matter, picture quality (by far the more important) and to some degree sound quality - although this can be usually improved anyway by directing the sound output to a hi-fi stereo - in which case evaluation of sound quality really comes down to the performance of the sound decoder in the TV receiver). So a television could be stripped bare of features, and still rate higher for me, if the picture quality was superb, than one that was feature rich but whose picture quality, while excellent, was marginally less good. (In fact, this is true in actual fact; the televisions that I prefer overwhelmingly are the professional video monitors, which are always all about video performance)

Mar 15, 2014
AlexRast in U.K./Ireland

Best coffee places in London

My own experiences (based always on a plain single espresso - choosing origin or other "premium" bean when possible):

Workshop (both locations): Not nearly as good as they should be, nor IMHO by a long toss the best in London. The espresso seems always to be a bit thin, too acid for
my taste.
Dose: Burnt. A real disappointment.
Department of Coffee: Much better, much closer to what I'd expect. A bit generic though; didn't get much in the way of unique flavour from it. Would like a shorter pour.
Prufrock. Very similar to Workshop - highly acid and thin.
Speakeasy. Exact memory fails me - which means it has been generic. Have been several times hoping for more but I can't recall a time that I've been impressed.
Monmouth. Given the quality of their coffee I wish they'd do more origins as espresso from the bar. Oily, a bit dark. Good but I'd say only in the same way that a lot of caffes in Italy are good.
My new favourite is TAP (Tapped And Packed) on Wardour Street. Interestingly it seems to be quite an improvement over the Rathbone Place shop. Very nicely done espresso; they have the pour time, volume, and temperature down to an art. Additional marks for instituting the Italian pay first, go to the bar and order your coffee second system.

RIP: Flat White. This used to be my favourite, but since the refurbishment the quality has dropped catastrophically, and the baristas don't seem to care. What a shame, for a shop that was in the van of the quality coffee development in London.

Mar 14, 2014
AlexRast in U.K./Ireland

London hamburger taste-off: one man's opinion

This got me to thinking: I wonder how much the difference between burgers absolutely plain and with "everything" is a cause of the difference in opinion between my uninspiring experience and others' enthusiastic reception? As you say the addition of sauce, onion, and other strongly flavoured additional ingredients will tend to mask the flavour of the meat, so what I experienced as mediocrity might not even be noticed. Meanwhile the same effects would tend to accentuate any bun superiority - because the robustness and flavour of the bun will be enhanced by a sharp and rather messy counterpoint.

If this hypothesis has any truth to it, then what could be happening at P&B is that people are reacting to better bun and possibly better accoutrements, while the patty sort of goes by unnoticed. For the same reasons, other places with potentially better actual patties might receive lower ratings, because the superiority of the meat would similarly go by unnoticed, masked by everything else, while bun inferiority would make itself apparent.

Interesting that your chips experience was different though. It could be that you can be lucky or unlucky depending on your timing, if they batch-fry the chips and then leave them over a heat lamp.

Mar 14, 2014
AlexRast in U.K./Ireland

Too-dark chocolate transformation?

If you add any form of sugar in granules, the sugar will NOT dissolve in the chocolate, and this will not be changed by baking it either. You'll end up with a very grainy, coarse chocolate similar to Cioccolato Modicana. Even confectioners' powdered sugar will be a bit gritty, and again the sugar will not dissolve.

In addition, if you simply melt it down and allow it to cool the chocolate will fall out of temper (the cocoa butter will separate), and the result will be unappealing. Whatever you do you need to temper the chocolate, unless you plan on mixing it with some other fat to stabilise it.

A liquid sugar like glucose in very small amounts could add sweetness without affecting the texture too badly, but if you're not careful you'll end up with chocolate sauce.

As recommended, the best way to dilute it is to mix it with a lower-percentage formulation. Milk chocolate, however, can be difficult to work with and temper; you need lower temperatures than what you need for dark chocolate so your mixing challenge will be that much greater.

You can use the chocolate in baking recipes that call for dark chocolate melted and fully blended into the dough/batter (e.g. brownies, chocolate cakes etc.); if they add additional sugar the result will probably be sweet enough. It should be noted that 85% usually has a higher cocoa butter (fat) content - 45-50% as opposed to the 35-45% typical of lower-percentage dark chocolate. This may mean slightly adjusting the recipe to compensate for the additional fat.

TBridges, I'll mention too that you need to be a bit careful in characterising chocolate by country of origin of the cacao - there are are a lot of variables here and the bean type can matter just as much as the country of origin. Peru, for instance, has a wide variety of different cacaos; the mild, nuts-and-light-fruits Piura is the most prestigious, although very difficult to get in *verifiably pure* form (a lot of chocolates labelled "Piura" are getting it from mixed harvests with some Piura possibly in it - you have to verify that the manufacturer has very good source contacts and control), but at the other end of the scale there is a lot of cacao coming out of there using CCN-51, a variety with a rather vegetal, earthy flavour to it. Nice Colombia Nacional tends to be extremely fruity in a candy-strawberry type of way; the result is pleasant in high-percentage chocolates but can be cloying when the percentage is reduced. A "coffee" flavour is more typical of roast than bean, and indicates a dark roast. Your experience of Colombia isn't based on the Pralus interpretation, perchance? Pralus is legendary for a very dark roast. Some of the manufacturers operating in Colombia itself also tend to roast dark, due to local expectations.

Mar 14, 2014
AlexRast in Home Cooking
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