Monday, January 15, 2007


There have been a couple of cool photos of sooty buildings recently bouncing around the blogosphere. Here in New York, was this photo, originally posted at (click to see it full size):

That photo shows the dramatic effect of power washing a building on the Lower East Side, a building that apparently hasn't been cleaned since coal use started to decline many decades ago...

And today I ran across this photo on inhabitat (via Streetsblog), showing a "reverse graffiti" artist. Instead of putting paint on walls, these street artists "seek out soot covered surfaces and inscribe them with images, tags, and even advertising slogans using scrub brushes, scrapers and pressure hoses." Click to see more reverse graffiti images:

Even though the air here in NYC is vastly cleaner than it used to be, I still get black soot building up on the sills of open windows. Perhaps I should make an art project out of it rather than just spraying it into submission with 409...


Tuesday, January 09, 2007

chocolate truffles

As promised recently, I made truffles. (The suffering I go through when having to use up a pound of Callebaut baking chocolate!) They're not technically difficult, but there do seem to be some tricks, not all of which I've figured out yet. Despite that, they were delicious, even when making them vegan, with coconut cream instead of dairy cream.

The main recipe I used was the techniques from Cooking from Engineers. They talk about making the ganache, which is just a mixture of chocolate and cream that has enough chocolate to be soft, but not liquid, at room temperature. They then suggest putting the liquid ganache in the fridge to cool it, then making balls of ganache, then cooling again, then coating with cocoa powder (easy) or tempered chocolate (tricky). But when reading in McGee, I noticed that he said that professionals often let the ganache sit at room temperature overnight to harden naturally, instead of chilling it. Apparently, as with tempered chocolate, the cocoa butter in ganache needs to crystallize slowly to have the best texture at room temperature. Unlike with tempered chocolate, that texture is not dry and hard, but smooth and silky. So that's what I did; the only refrigeration was after forming the ganache balls, to harden them enough to coat.

As I noted, however, I wanted to avoid the dairy that traditional truffles are made of, so with the help of Google, I found that you can make truffles with coconut cream! (A number of other web sites advocate tofu or soy milk enhanced with margarine, but that sounds like a bad idea...) So I got a can of good-quality coconut milk (no water or flavorings in the ingredients!), and put it in the fridge so the fat solidified. I then scooped up the semi-solid cream off the top, leaving the transparent coconut milk on the bottom. I used the same proportions as with dairy truffles, 1 part coconut cream to 1 1/2 parts chocolate, scalding the cream and stirring in the chopped chocolate until smooth.

I decided to make half of the truffles with hazelnuts, so I stirred in a tablespoon of Frangelico to half of the ganache before it cooled. I then finely chopped a small handful of hazelnuts, and roasted them in a frying pan on low until starting to color and smell good. After the ganache solidified (a little softer than I would have liked; I might use 1.75 parts chocolate next time), I rolled little balls, chilled them, and used spoons to coat the plain ganache in cocoa powder and the hazelnut ganache in chopped hazelnuts. I found that squeezing the nuts into the ganache helped them stick. The results were very good...


Monday, January 08, 2007

pet peeve: cold butter at restaurants

One of my culinary pet peeves is cold butter at restaurants. You sit down, are served slices of hand-made, utterly delicious French bread with a perfect crispy crust and a soft interior, and... an ice-cold bowl full of these:

Argh! What are you supposed to do now? The butter is hard as a rock! It doesn't spread; it barely slices. You try to put it on your bread and the bread becomes a squished shadow of its former self. You try to thaw it over the candle and you burn your fingers. The only bright side is that Italian restaurants now usually serve olive oil instead of butter...

Clearly this is some misguided attempt to abide by (often misguided) health code regulations that require that dairy products stay below 41 degrees. But (I believe) products can be warmed if they're to be served, so all that's necessary is for the butter to be left out at room temperature for 15 or 20 minutes, and it'll be nice and soft and ready for spreading. Or if the butter's in paper wrappers, a few seconds in a microwave would do the trick nicely. This is my single most common complaint about otherwise good restaurants!

I was reminded about this pet peeve, and inspired to rant, by a new product that the Boston Globe mentioned today. Called the ButterWizard, this thing is a rechargeable (!) electronic butter dish that keeps your butter at a specified temperature for hours. Cute, but totally superfluous! The B.G. reporter says "We're vulnerable right before Christmas. You've run out of ideas and suddenly that mechanical dog that wags its tail to a catchy tune sounds just right for impossible Uncle Ed.... I might have sprung for that ButterWizard a few weeks ago when I was desperate for one last gift. But now January's thriftiness has set in. And who's eating butter this month, anyway?"

Although the ButterWizard might in fact be useful if you're hosting a party in sweltering summer weather, and wish to keep the butter from melting into a greasy puddle, I personally would advocate central air conditioning to solve that particular problem... Otherwise, a few minutes of forethought will avoid annoying your guests, or your customers.