December 21, 2008

The Digg Effect: Bacon Edition

Filed under: Waste of Time — Chris @ 3:02 pm

In case you’re curious, here’s a snapshot of the Digg effect hitting this blog, from beginning to end:

11/22 - 12/21/2008

11/22 - 12/21/2008

In short: our average daily traffic, from July through Dec 14, 2008, was between 10 and 50 page views. On Dec 15, after appearing on the Bacon Reddit (?!), we had 292 page views. On Dec 16, after appearing on the front page of Digg (?!!), we had 20,960 page views. Even today, after the wave has passed, we’re still getting several hundred page views a day on the bacon post, including a trickle of referrals from and the like (who are these people?!).

Bottom line: write more about bacon, even if it’s stupid.


Top Chef: Conspiracies Afoot

Filed under: Top Chef — Chris @ 2:28 pm

I’m not one to jump to the conclusion that producer interference has led to one cheftestant going home over another, but… is it a coincidence that the judges decided not to send anybody home this week, when Jamie—a strong contender and a one-woman Victorian melodrama—had a full-on judgment breakdown and served mediocre scallops raw and under-seasoned in a lukewarm vichyssoise? Her only hope was that Eugene stuck his neck up on the block by stubbornly defending his sickly-sweet poisson cru in the face of the judges’ criticism (Rule #8, people! It’s like you don’t even read the blog!). Here’s a tip for you, Eugene: if Tom Colicchio says your dish is too sweet, do not counter with “to me … it was tart.” Tom Colicchio has good reason to think somewhat highly of his own palate.

So what’s the deal with nobody going home? Was it always planned, as part of the holiday theme? Was it actually a response to the refrigerator snafu, in spite of the fact that neither of the affected cheftestants under-performed because of it? I’m getting progressively more weirded out by the pretenses and lacunae in the presentation of the show: Thanksgiving and Christmas in July, complete with disingenuous references to seasonal ingredients; Gail’s Potemkin bridal shower; the presentation of decisions most likely handed down by the legal department as evidence of the judges’ beneficence. Or how about a “one-pot wonder” Quickfire Challenge in which at least half the cheftestants (including the winner) didn’t make anything anyone would consider making in one pot, ever. For example, Fabio’s polenta and duck breast. Have you ever made polenta? Have you cleaned a polenta-caked pot? Would you seriously make polenta, clean the pot, then sear a duck breast in it instead of just using a separate sauté pan for the duck? Preposterous. I understand they want to present an show that is interesting and exciting without getting bogged down in unnecessary details… can’t they do that without insulting my intelligence?

Private to Padma: scallops are something I associate with winter, especially considering the New York State Atlantic bay scallop season runs from November to March (i.e., winter, more or less).

Private to Arriane: six kinds of deviled eggs? Six? As an hors d’oeuvre?

Just to Annoy H…

Filed under: Waste of Time — Chris @ 11:00 am

And because it’s awesome. Can you identify this bit of film dialogue, and explain to my wife why it’s hilarious?

A MAN and a WOMAN are lying in bed, kissing and caressing.

WOMAN: What else should I know?
MAN: I could teach you the secret of how to treat azaleas.
WOMAN: Oh, tell me. I’m all ears.
MAN: I can see that. Well… just treat them the same way as you would a begonia.
WOMAN: No kidding?
MAN: That’s gospel.
WOMAN: You mean what you’re saying is what’s good for azaleas is good for begonias?
MAN: You got it.
WOMAN: [MAN’s name], this is fascinating.
MAN: I thought you’d be interested.

For extra credit, explain why the above scene is funnier than the following.

A SECURITY GUARD finds an OTHER MAN engaged in a theft.

SECURITY GUARD: Hold it right there, nigger.
OTHER MAN: Hey! How you doin’, old dude? What’s happenin’?

December 14, 2008

Bacon-Wrapped Bacon

Filed under: Food, Not Tech — Chris @ 8:27 pm

This is either the best kitchen tip ever or proof that H and I are certifiably insane… You know how bacon is delicious and you want to have it on hand? And you know how you don’t want to eat a pound of bacon every week? And you know how bacon generally comes in one pound packages with overlapping slices that freeze up into a giant block that cannot be quickly and easily thawed?

A Pound of Bacon

I think we may have solved this problem.

Take a baking sheet (or you may need two (or you may need to eat some of the bacon before you freeze it)) and lay a sheet of plastic wrap over it. Lay your slices of bacon side by side (not overlapping!) on the plastic wrap. Lay another sheet of plastic wrap over the bacon, smoothing it out so there’s no exposed meat. Put the baking sheet in the freezer.

Plastic wrapOf course, you don’t want a giant baking sheet of bacon in your freezer indefinitely. Once the bacon is frozen (overnight, probably), remove it from the freezer. Horizontally roll up the bacon, one strip at a time to form a cylinder of delicious frozen bacon (this may require some repositioning of the bacon in order to introduce adequate slack in the plastic. Or else you can take this into account pre-freezing, if you’ve got extra baking sheets and room in the freezer). Put the wrapped-up bacon in a gallon freezer bag.

Bacon Roll

Now, any quantity of bacon from one strip up to a full pound can be extracted from the freezer and ready to cook in less than a minute. Enjoy.

[UPDATE] Welcome Diggers. A few notes:

  1. I have not filed for a patent on this technique. No doubt it has been done before.
  2. Wax paper is a good idea. With wax paper, you could probably roll up the bacon before you freeze it, and it wouldn’t glump together.
  3. My camera is broken (damn modern world). The drawings are better anyway.

Thanks to H for her precise rendering of rolled-up plastic wrap.

Free Clip Art Provided by Copyright 2007. All Rights Reserved.

December 11, 2008

Top Chef: Sploogefest ’08

Filed under: Top Chef — Chris @ 10:56 am

Let’s say this right off the bat: I like Stefan. Every season of Top Chef has at least one polarizing cheftestant. If that cheftestant is a joyless lesbian (Tiffani, Lisa, um, Jamie?), I will hate her. If that cheftestant is a whip-smart, cocky, and socially awkward man (Marcel, Hung, and Stefan), I will shower him with unconditional love.

There is no reason for this that I can think of.

Sure, he was dead wrong about the sorbet and got under Jeff’s skin about it, but he was damn sure right about Eugene’s “deconstructed” plate of random crap nobody would want to eat (and the teddy bear pants! Oh, Jamie, give him that kiss!) and Eugene refused to listen because Stefan is an “asshole” and Danny “Dumbbell” Douche-beard clouded his mind with the power of delusional thinking. This calls for a new rule:

Rule #10: If you let somebody get under your skin for purely personal reasons, you will lose. “I would rather be on Satan’s team than be on Stefan’s team.” Seriously, Radhika?  Because Stefan is going to be in this competition longer than you, I guarantee it. Just ask: Betty (Season 2), anybody who ever worked with Lisa (Season 4), but, curiously, not Ilan (Season 2).

Now, on to Danny: out on Rule #8 (“Be prepared to defend your dish at Judges’ Table”). This does not mean: be prepared to recklessly assert your unsuccessful dish was good. There is no doubt in my mind: if Danny had simply admitted that the dish had failed and been clear-headed about why, it would have been Eugene who went home (since it was his disastrous concept). The question is: is Danny really so insane as to believe that was good food, or did he make a massive strategic error by trying to bluff the judges? (Rule #8, Danny! They never fall for it!)

Note to Jamie: Historically, even top contenders only win 1 or 2 elimination challenges (and 1 or 2 Quickfires) in the whole season, often only in the back half. Don’t act so chagrined when you don’t get called out. (Also, as H shouted at the screen, a carrot puree will never win over well-cooked meat.)

December 7, 2008

Saving a Laptop from Your Clumsy Wife

Filed under: Not Tech — Chris @ 4:15 pm

Believe it or not (nobody is more surprised than me), I am writing this from a laptop that was doused with a full cup of coffee two days ago (by my lovely and wonderful wife, against whom I hold no grudge whatsoever, but whom I do most definitely blame). Here are the details of how my computer was rehabilitated, in the hope that they might be of use.

  1. Within one second of The Incident, the power indicator on my flashed red and the computer turned itself off. This seems to have been some self-preserving behavior on the hardware’s part and not a sign of catastrophic electrical failure (?).
  2. As quickly as I could (this wasn’t very quickly as it was early in the morning and I hadn’t had my coffee yet), I disconnected the computer from the AC power and removed the battery.
  3. After some dithering, I dismantled the entire computer, right down to the motherboard, wiping things off with a damp rag as I went. This turned out to be a good idea: there was milky coffee in the pins of my CPU. If that had dried and hardened in place, all would have been lost.
  4. I put the keyboard and plastic pieces through a rinse cycle in the dishwasher. I somewhat more delicately rinsed off parts of the motherboard and the CPU. This may seem a little risky, but clean water is not dangerous to (disconnected) electronics—much less dangerous than milky coffee to be sure. The key is to make sure everything is completely dry before you put it back together and plug it in.
  5. I waited 2 full days for all the components to dry out before I re-assembled the laptop. I also bought a hair dryer blew cool air on each component for a little while before attempting re-assembly. I have no idea if this could be done faster, but I didn’t want to take any chances.

Et voila. It works. I haven’t tested all of the external ports (after a similar incident, with less effective disaster relief, H lost the use of the video port on her old iBook. It wouldn’t be such a big deal if I lost my external video, since I have never successfully used it to give a slide presentation), but I am feeling confident. I will update later if anything goes haywire.

“Banh D”? More Like “Banh F”

Filed under: Food — Chris @ 1:10 pm

Having now made the same mistake twice, I need to get this down in Google to protect my future self: the “Banh D” sandwich at Sidecar is not only a bad value compared to a $3.50 Ba Xuyen banh mi, it is not even a particularly tasty sandwich, poorly conceived from top to bottom.

Every attempt I’ve encountered to “class up” a banh mi has been a failure. This is perplexing. The banh mi is a very simple sandwich, which offers very simple—though profound—pleasures. It stands to reason a clever cook could “elevate” (to use an obnoxious Top Chef cliché) the banh mi into something both delicious and worth $11. But… no.

I mean, tell me: why ciabatta? Vietnamese baguettes are absolutely delicious: crispy, fluffy, and chewy all at the same time. Ciabatta is not an improvement. Is there any such thing as a good sandwich made better by ciabatta?

In fairness, I will point out that Sidecar’s fried chicken is delicious (though they charge an extra dollar or two for dark meat, which is bullshit). I also hear good things about the burger.

December 4, 2008

Top Chef: Attack of the Next Food Network Stars

Filed under: Top Chef — Chris @ 11:04 am

Never make dessert people. Never make dessert! This shouldn’t even have to be a rule (though it is, Corollary #2.2), every single person who has ever watched Top Chef knows it in their bones. Don’t make dessert.

The persistent delusion amongst the cheftestants that making dessert gets you a “free pass” is inexplicable. Richard got eliminated for a dessert last week. (Remember him, Alex? He wrote you a letter and you cried?) The only support I can find for this notion is last year’s “Wedding Wars” episode, where the cake makers (Stephanie and Lisa, as I recall) were both considered strong team performers.

That said, this week’s challenge was ridiculous. If it had just been about the culinary aspects of the challenge (keep it simple, be prepared, make it fast (but don’t rush), etc.), that would be fair enough, but to judge a cooking competition based on host/camera rapport… it’s just lowbrow. The challenge heavily favored egomaniacal extroverts and those with television/live demo experience—not necessarily the best chefs. Jamie ended up in the bottom three primarily because she failed to remain chipper and upbeat, a morning-show mortal sin. Sure, her eggs weren’t cooked, but come on: no TV chef has ever cut a corner and rushed a dish when the clock was running out?

I enjoyed Melissa’s total perpuzzlement at the critique of her too-hot habeñero sauce. I wonder if her palate is so inured to capsaicin that she really didn’t know what they were talking about? When a South Indian girl like Padma can’t handle the heat in your dish, you’ve gone too far.

Note to Danny: You want to be Bobby Flay, but actually you’re Rupert Pupkin.

Finally, a new rule:

Rule #9: You’ve got to know what an amuse bouche is. No excuses. Amuses only come up in Quickfires, so you won’t get eliminated on this rule, but follow it anyway, for your dignity’s sake.

[UPDATE] Alex kept saying, “I should have stuck to my guns”. What are your guns in this metaphor, Alex? Which guns? Where? What are you talking about?!

December 3, 2008

The Granny Paradox

Filed under: Not Tech — Chris @ 12:02 pm

Granny isn’t sure she really wants a computer, so she buys the cheapest PC that Dell will sell her, with barely enough memory to load Windows XP.

Granny doesn’t like spending money on things she doesn’t understand, so she has her friend install a free antivirus scanner, the side effects of which are not much better than a full-blown spyware infestation.

Granny wants to use her computer to share pictures and print boarding passes, so she installs a bunch of bloated, buggy software from Kodak, Hallmark, and HP (because installing your printer drivers should take 3 hours, otherwise how do you know they’re good?).

Granny doesn’t know what’s so great about computers, anyway. They don’t work very well.

December 2, 2008

Argh, Pot Pie

Filed under: Food — Chris @ 4:37 pm

I feel duty-bound to report that I have made this pot pie recipe twice since my first post on it, in both cases unsuccessfully.

The first time I made it, I made a drop biscuit topping. The biscuits didn’t really rise, but they tasted fine. The filling was, if anything, too thick.

The second time I made it, I used a sheet of puff pastry on top (I did not make a cheesy stick lattice, because that is crazy) and used chicken and chicken stock instead of turkey (it wasn’t Thanksgiving). The puff pastry cooked perfectly, but the filling didn’t thicken properly.

This last time, I used a sheet of puff pastry on top, but I cut vents in it (on the theory that the thickening problem was due to insufficient evaporation), I left out the chipotles, and I added a fistful of extra frozen veggies. The filling bubbled up through the vents and prevented the pastry from cooking. After some time, seeing that things were not going well, I removed the puff pastry and threw it away. Luckily I had another sheet of pastry, which I cut into squares and put into the oven on a baking sheet. The filling wasn’t thickening, so I stirred in several tablespoons of corn starch and put it back in the oven.

The filling didn’t thicken.

Maybe I’m an idiot and I’m doing something that’s really obviously stupid (e.g., failing to adjust the flour/corn starch ratio to the water content of the milk/cream/veggies as I nip and tuck the recipe). Just be warned: the recipe is not foolproof (I’m the fool that proves it).

It was delicious that one time, though.

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