November 30, 2008

Top Chef: Less (um, Fewer) S’mores

Filed under: Top Chef — Chris @ 8:56 pm

Richard loses on Sub-Corollary #4.2.1 (Don’t be cute with culinary terminology—is anything more essential to a S’more than melted marshmellow?) and, as an off-camera bonus, Rule #1 (Never make a salad). The S’mores reminded me a bit of Erik’s corn dogs (Season 4): a reasonably tasty foodstuff that was entirely inappropriate to the occasion. In both cases, the dish was never going to hold up after sitting on a buffet.

Not much more to say this week. The challenge this week was really pretty sadistically difficult. I was pleased, if a bit extra-perplexed, that the show didn’t even try to pretend it wasn’t Thanksgiving in July (apparently, Tom Colicchio feels obligated to continue to maintain the pretense). BTW, it’s really unfair that the judges often fault the cheftestants for using “out of season” ingredients when they are cooking seasonal meals in the wrong season.

P.S. A non-rule bit of guidance: foam never helps.


November 25, 2008

Selection Bias

Filed under: Top Chef — Chris @ 11:59 am

I think Padma confirms my theory that Jill talked (read: inarticulately blathered) herself into elimination last week in the following interview (via Amuse-Biatch).

Vodpod videos no longer available.

more about “Padma Lakshmi on Morning Joe“, posted with vodpod

P.S. Top Chef blogging will be delayed this week, because I will be at my grandmother’s for Thanksgiving and her Internet connectivity is dodgy. As a preaction, I will say that I am always distracted by holiday specials that are obviously produced months in advance, so everybody has to put on a sweater and pretend it’s Thanksgiving in July. I do not expect anybody to learn any lessons from the Season 2 Thanksgiving catastrophe.

P.P.S. Has Stefan forsaken me? :’-(

November 24, 2008

Peanut Butter Panic*

Filed under: Food — Chris @ 7:01 pm

Peanut butter is a problem. No right-thinking person would condescend to eat Skippy, but “natural-style” peanut butters are annoying: they separate, usually coming with a puddle of oil on top; no matter how well you mix them, they get hard and nigh-unspreadable by the time you’ve reached the bottom. The way I see it, you’ve got three options:

  1. Remove all of the peanut butter from the jar, mix it using a hand or stand mixer, and then put it back into the jar. The resulting mixture will be more stable than anything you can accomplish with a butter knife from atop the jar. This is, needless to say, a bit of a pain in the ass.
  2. Purchase a special-purpose peanut-butter stirrer. But that’s crazy. Anybody you might buy such a thing for would be liable to fail to appreciate it, and you’d be frustrated.
  3. Make your own peanut butter! This is surprisingly easy.

Even if you prefer Options 1 and 2 for your everyday, average peanut butter, making your own peanut butter affords you the opportunity to add things like honey, maple syrup, garam masala, and so on and so forth. I.e., just generally dress that shit up. Here is my very own, extremely easy recipe for honey roasted peanut butter, which is, IMHO, the very best kind of peanut butter and, served atop a toasted English muffin, makes, IMHO, the very best quick breakfast a man could ask for.

Honey roasted peanut butter
1 c. roasted peanuts, unsalted
1 tsp. kosher salt
1 Tbsp. honey
1 Tbsp. peanut, canola, or other vegetable oil

Put the peanuts, salt, and honey in a food processor. Press Go (or Start or Yes or whatever). The peanuts will go through a few stages: chopped nuts, finely chopped nuts, nut meal, nut paste. At the paste stage, the mixture will form a ball. At this point, start drizzling oil into the food processor. The ball will gradually de-form in something recognizable as peanut butter. The whole process will take 2-3 minutes. Adjust the amount of oil to get the desired consistency. Adjust the salt and honey to taste. Keeps in the fridge for several weeks, at least.

* There are about three people in the world who would know where I got the title of this post. And none of them read this blog.

November 22, 2008

An Intrepid Upgrade

Filed under: Linux — Chris @ 3:45 pm

Intrepid Ibex

Every Ubuntu upgrade gets a little bit better, but they are never painless. Why is that?

  • Wifi didn’t work at first, or after a reboot, or after the next one. But then it started working—I don’t know why—and it’s fine. The blinking light is annoying, though.
  • Sound completely died: any attempt to play a sound would yield a quiet crackling noise from the speakers. The semi-official PulseAudio HOWTO didn’t help (though it didn’t hurt). It turns out the PCM setting in alsamixer was at 0. Jacking that up fixed the problem. (Thanks to psyke83 on the Ubuntu forums.)
  • Boot-up doesn’t drop down to the console for interminable fsck runs, which is nice.
  • Ibexes are cool, but the old logo was better.

November 20, 2008

Top Chef: Not the Sharpest Knives

Filed under: Top Chef — Chris @ 12:26 am

Jill loses on Rule #2 (Never make something you’ve never made before: “An ostrich egg quiche? That’s got to be good! Hey, how do you open this thing?”). I also think she got herself Eliminated at Judges’ Table (see Rule #8, below)—judging by what was on the plate, it probably should have been Hosea, who blundered into making something everybody hated (and he thought it should have won!).

Some additions and amendments:

The main text of Corollary #2.1 should be amended to include the following: If you have to choose between interesting and delicious, choose delicious. If you have to choose between difficult and delicious, choose delicious.

Rule #3 should be amended to read: Never be a culinary student, a caterer, a Mom, or a seafood chef.

And some new rules:

Rule #7: If your plan leaves you stuck with an inferior product, change your plan.
For example: your fresh Dungeness crab salad might be a winner, a canned crab salad won’t be. Just ask: Spike and his frozen scallops (Season 4).

Rule #8: Be prepared to defend your dish at Judges’ Table.
Be prepared to tell them why you thought it would be good. Also be prepared to tell them why it wasn’t entirely successful (even if you liked it). Delusional tirades do not go down well. Nor does incoherent rambling about how you’ll try to do better next time, somehow, maybe, if you can only clear your head. Just ask: Jill, tonight, and Ryan (Season 4).

P.S. Top Chef producers: please define “hot dog”? Is a hot dog any kind of sausage (not necessarily in a casing) on any kind of bread? And what value, exactly, was added by having the hot dog stand lady there during the Quickfire?

P.P.S. Did anybody understand what in the hell Fabio did to those olives? When that dish came out I thought, “beef carpaccio with arugula? Lazy. (Delicious, but lazy.)” Then the judges freaked out over the olives, which they said were like egg yolks. How? Why? And how?

November 18, 2008

On Emulsions

Filed under: Top Chef — Chris @ 4:49 pm

Josh Friedland arrives late to the emulsion debate, drags Alan Davidson and Harold McGee into it, and winds up getting it wrong:

Stefan was wrong. A vinaigrette is an emulsion.

The correct answer was:

Stefan is arguably right, but he’s being an asshole.

This was a drunken late-night pissing contest. The standard of proof is not, “does there exist an interpretation of the word emulsion which falsifies Stefan’s claim?” The standard of proof is, “(a) do you have a douchey beard? and (b) does Stefan have a leg to stand on?”

And the answer is, yes, you do, and yes, he does. The distinction here is between a strong or stable emulsion and a weak or unstable emulsion. It is possibly, through cunning and chemistry, to emulsify a vinaigrette to the point where it will remain stable for several days, but that’s nothing compared to butter, margarine, mayonnaise, or magma.

Get on the right side now, because the strong will annihilate the weak.

November 16, 2008

A CharBuffer is Not a StringBuffer, or Something You Already Knew If You Read the Documentation

Filed under: Tech — Chris @ 3:46 pm

A Java CharBuffer doesn’t behave the way I would expect.

CharBuffer buf = CharBuffer.allocate(8).put("foo");
System.out.println( "'" + buf + "'" );





This is because a CharBuffer is not a StringBuffer: toString() gives you everything from the current “position” to the end of the buffer. I.e., what you haven’t written yet. (Those funny symbols, or the lack thereof, are nulls.) Instead you want

CharBuffer buf = CharBuffer.allocate(8).put("foo");
System.out.println( "'" + buf.flip() + "'" );

which yields


flip() makes the current view of the buffer what has been written to it so far.

P.S. Why can’t flip() return a CharBuffer, so that

November 13, 2008

Top Chef, Season 5

Filed under: Top Chef — Chris @ 1:09 pm

Let me take a stab at blogging Top Chef this year… though I’m not particularly excited for this season and last night didn’t get my hopes up. There’s a well-known tendency for competition reality shows to get stale after a few seasons and Top Chef is no exception. I think it’s not because the challenges have gotten repetitive (they have, but they’re usually fairly interesting), but because one grows weary of watching the cheftestants make the same mistakes over and over again.

Here’s a few quick guidelines for the cheftestants of the future.

Rule #1: Never make a salad. If it’s great, it’s just a salad. If it’s not great, you’re going home. Just ask: Lauren, last night; Carlos (Season 2). [UPDATE] I forgot Marcel (Season 2), who probably would have been the Top Chef if he hadn’t served a salad (with a failed attempt at a vinaigrette “teardrop”) in the finale.

Rule #2: Never make something you’ve never made before. Especially not some random Chinese noodle you just assume will work in your dish. Just ask: Patrick, last night.

Corollary #2.1: Don’t assume you’ll get bonus points just for trying. Daring counts for very little.

Corollary #2.2: Never make dessert. You’re probably not good at it.

Rule #3: Never be a culinary student, a caterer, or a Mom. For obvious reasons. Just ask: Patrick, Betty (Season 2), Antonia (Season 4).

Rule #4: Never make risotto. The judges can be persnickety and risotto is easy to nitpick. Just ask: Howie (Season 3).

Corollary #4.1: If you make a risotto, make it Rocco Dispirito’s way. Otherwise, his face might betray an emotion.

Corollary #4.2: Never try to be cute and call something that’s not risotto a risotto. That’s not cute. Just ask: Almost everybody last night.

Sub-Corollary #4.2.1: Don’t be cute with culinary terminology in general. Especially French culinary terminology. Just ask: Casey and her non-coq au vin (at the French Culinary Institute!) (Season 4).

Rule #5: Never be the team leader. If your teammates fuck you, you’ll probably take the fall. Just ask: Tre (Season 3), Dale (Season 4).

Rule #6: Never try to shift the blame. Aka the “under the bus” rule. It never works, and it makes you look like a jerk. Just ask: Dale (Season 4), Elia (Season 2).

In closing, I would like to attempt to unpack Stefan’s assertion that a vinaigrette is not an emulsion. (My first instinct is to say Daniel loses the argument by virtue of having douchey notches cut out of his beard. But let’s follow this through.) An emulsion is “a stable suspension of small droplets of one liquid in another” with which it does not mix. For example: mayonnaise. Although a vinaigrette is undeniably “emulsified,” it is not stable (i.e., the vinegar and oil begin to separate almost immediately if left to sit), and therefore not an “emulsion.”

So Stefan is arguably right, but he’s being an asshole. My kind of asshole.

November 6, 2008

Good job, America.

Filed under: Politics — Chris @ 1:34 pm

Probably the most historic aspect of Tuesday’s election is that it broke my four-year-old election-canvassing jinx:

  • In 2004, I canvassed for ACT NOW (not John Kerry, wink wink) in Liberty, Missouri. John Kerry lost Missouri by 196,000 votes (though he won Jackson county by 53,000).
  • In 2006, I canvassed for Lois Murphy in Pennsylvania’s 6th House district. She lost by 3,000 votes.
  • In 2006, I canvassed for Diane Farrell in Connecticutt’s 4th House district. She lost by more than 6,000 votes. Her opponent, Chris Shays, was the only New England Republican to win re-election to the House. (In fact, this year he did not win re-election. But I didn’t canvass there this year.)

This year:

  • I canvassed for Obama in Northeast Philly. Obama won Pennsylvania by more than 600,000 votes. He won Philadelphia country by more than 450,000 votes. (I knocked on about 200 doors, at most.)
  • I did Election Day phone-banking for Obama into Miami-Dade County in Florida. Obama won Florida by more than 194,000 votes. He won Miami-Dade by more than 139,000 votes. (I made maybe 100 phone calls… By around 4:30PM, there were no voters left to call who were willing to pick up the phone.)

Barack Obama has taught me an important lesson about democracy: A really good candidate with an overwhelming advantage makes all the difference. And I make no difference at all.

AN ALTERNATIVE THEORY: LC’s brisket and Stroud’s fried chicken on Election Eve are bad for Democrats. Chink’s cheesesteaks? Electoral gold.

November 4, 2008

Seriously, People: Vote

Filed under: Politics — Chris @ 6:01 am

If you live in a Blue State: Vote.

If you live in a Red State: Vote.

If you live in a “battleground” state: Vote.

Tell your parents: Vote.

Tell your siblings: Vote.

Let your born-again uncle slip your mind.

Tell your slacker friends who think they’re too fucking cool: Vote.

Tell your yuppie douchebag friends who think they can never leave work: Vote.

Tell your cat: Vote.

Tell your dog: Vote.

Tell Mickey Mouse: Vote.

Then: Vote.

Vote, vote, vote.

To find your polling place, visit*

* If you are uncomfortable asking Barack Obama where your polling place is: Don’t Vote.

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