On Lobsters and Pain

Karen Weintraub reports for the NYT on Switzerland banning killing lobsters by putting them in boiling water. The idea is there are more humane ways to kill the animal since they’re presumed to feel pain—a point which is debated by scientists.

I’ve not cooked a live lobster myself, but everything I’ve read from chefs say the best way to kill a lobster prior to cooking is to quickly cut at the head.

Donald Lau, Chief Fortune Writer, Quits

Tod Perry, writing for Good Food:

For 30 years, Lau served in the unique position of “Chief Fortune Writer” at Wonton Foods—America’s largest fortune cookie producer. Sadly, Lau has been forced to is step down due to an affliction that has stymied even the world’s most prolific scribes. “I have writer’s block,” says Donald Lau, “I used to write 100 a year, but I’ve only written two or three a month over the past year.”

(via The Loop)

'The Secret Behind Italy's Rarest Pasta'

I love food & cooking, so I found this story by Eliot Stein for BBC Travel fascinating:

Su filindeu is made by pulling and folding semolina dough into 256 perfectly even strands with the tips of your fingers, and then stretching the needle-thin wires diagonally across a circular frame in an intricate three-layer pattern. It’s so difficult and time-consuming to prepare that for the past 200 years, the sacred dish has only been served to the faithful who complete a 33km pilgrimage on foot or horseback from Nuoro to the village of Lula for the biannual Feast of San Francesco.


“There are only three ingredients: semolina wheat, water and salt,” Abraini said, vigorously kneading the dough back and forth. “But since everything is done by hand, the most important ingredient is elbow grease.”

(via The Loop)

Karen Datangel's Keurig 2.0 Review

My friend Karen reviews the coffee maker on her blog, Karen On:

Overall though, I’m deeply in love—no, grossly obsessed—with my new Keurig. I’ve been able to drink a lot more coffee in the morning because it’s just so easy to brew a cup. Plus, it’s also easier to enjoy my mornings as a whole when I’m having coffee that I love. Keurig has exposed me to so many different types and flavors of coffee.

The Keurig we have at the house is an older model, but it works. Before moving to San Francisco, I had never used one before. It doesn't produce the best cofee on the planet, but I love the sheer convenience of it. If I'm not drinking Starbucks, then I'm usually drinking coffee from the Keurig.

(Sorry, Marco.)

The Starbucks Reserve Roastery and Tasting Room

Hayley Petersen, reporting for Business Insider:

Starbucks is delving into the high-end coffee market with a new kind of store that looks nothing like the coffee chain we know. The first Starbucks Reserve Roastery and Tasting Room opened Friday in Seattle, and the company has plans to build another 100 locations in the coming years. [...] In addition to coffee, the roastery will also offer a food menu prepared by James Beard Award-winning chef Tom Douglas. The menu includes seasonal pizzas from a Serious Pie restaurant located inside the building, as well as pastries, sandwiches, salads, and sweets.

'You Could Buy Those Two Books and Save 50 Grand on Cooking School'

Carolyn Jung, in a profile of Jacques Pepin for the San Francisco Chronicle:

He is a throwback to the days when cooking shows actually were about teaching people to cook.

While others on TV are hell-bent on histrionics, throwing down he-man portions of food and boosting bad-boy personas, Pepin’s gentlemanly manners and graceful movements with a knife are enough to leave a roomful of culinary students rapt as he merely bones a chicken. His seminal “La Technique” and “La Methode” cookbooks are modern-day bibles of cooking. And his TV shows are beloved and watched repeatedly, even by veteran chefs, such as Mark Franz of San Francisco’s Farallon, who say the episodes never cease to inspire them.

Pepin is, unquestionably, my favorite TV chef. His food knowledge and his knife skills — his speed, in particular — are extraordinary. I watch reruns of his shows all the time; the fact that he teaches instead of entertains (in the Food Network sense) is so refreshing to me. He truly is the chef’s chef.

'At CIA Starbucks, Even the Baristas Are Covert'

Emily Wax-Thibodeaux, writing for The Washington Post:

This coffee shop looks pretty much like any other Starbucks, with blond wooden chairs and tables, blueberry and raspberry scones lining the bakery cases, and progressive folk rock floating from the speakers. (There are plans to redecorate, possibly including spy paraphernalia from over the decades.) But the manager said this shop “has a special mission,” to help humanize the environment for employees, who work under high pressure often in windowless offices and can’t fiddle with their smartphones during downtime. For security, they have to leave them in their cars. Of note, CIA operatives even use Starbucks for recruitment purposes: The chief of the team that helped find Osama Bin Laden, for instance, recruited a key deputy for the effort at the Starbucks, said another officer who could not be named.

'The Psychology Behind Costco's Free Samples'

Joe Pinsker, writing for The Atlantic:

There’s no brand that’s as strongly associated with free samples as Costco. People have been known to tour the sample tables at Costco stores for a free lunch, acquired piecemeal. There are even personal-finance and food bloggers who’ve encouraged the practice. Costco knows that sampling, if done right, can convince people that its stores are fun places to be. (Penn Jillette, of the magic act Penn & Teller, has on more than one occasion taken a woman on a date at a Costco warehouse.) [...] It’s true that free samples help consumers learn more about products, and that they make retail environments more appealing. But samples are operating on a more subconscious level as well. “Reciprocity is a very, very strong instinct,” says Dan Ariely, a behavioral economist at Duke University. “If somebody does something for you”—such as giving you a quarter of a ravioli on a piece of wax paper—“you really feel a rather surprisingly strong obligation to do something back for them.” Ariely adds that free samples can make forgotten cravings become more salient. “What samples do is they give you a particular desire for something,” he says. “If I gave you a tiny bit of chocolate, all of a sudden it would remind you about the exact taste of chocolate and would increase your craving.” I often joke that I eat a full meal whenever going to Costco because of the free samples.

'How Ramen Got Me Through Adolescence'

Veronique Greenwood, writing for The New York Times:

For more than three years I ate a packet nearly every day, a thousand steaming bowls. I read easily hundreds of novels. My life had two poles: the reliable, satisfying bite of those shelf-stable noodles and the warm cocoon of the world’s books. Ramen --- Top Ramen, which I think is the brand Greenwood alludes to --- is a staple of my childhood memories. I vividly remember my grandmother making it for me, always straining the broth and putting melted butter atop the cooked noodles. I also would cook the noodles sans seasoning packet, and add my own ingredients from the pantry to create a sort of pasta salad-esque concoction. Ramen sticks with me to this day, although it isn't the dietary regular that it once was (fortunately). I still eat it cooked, but my girlfriend has turned me on to "Asian Cheetos": broken up, uncooked noodles mixed with the salty goodness of the seasoning packet.

On Truffle Oil

Priceonomics, "The Truffle Oil Shuffle":

The truffle stands in stark contrast to the convenience-biased trends of the late 20th century that allowed wealthy consumers to buy fruits and vegetables during any season and filled bread with enough preservatives that it lasts weeks. Admirers contend that the truffle begins to lose its flavor as soon as it is pulled from the ground, and fresh truffle season really only lasts a season. The rarity and temporality of truffles have made them -- at €4,400 to €11,000 per pound for Italy’s prized white truffles -- the most expensive food in the world. In 2007, a Macau casino owner set a record by paying $330,000 for a 3.3 pound truffle unearthed in Tuscany. The combination of these two trends -- the desire for a convenient, ever-ready supply of an ingredient and a hunger for the traditional, the rare, and “real food” -- led to what would seem to be a remarkably successful scam on foodie culture: truffle oil. Despite the name, almost all truffle oil does not contain even trace amounts of truffle; it is olive oil mixed with 2,4-dithiapentane, a compound that makes up part of the smell of truffles and is as artificial and associated with a laboratory as Californian food is associated with local and organic ingredients. Essentially, truffle oil is olive oil plus truffles’ “disconcerting” smell. In some ways, chefs’ embrace of cheap, artificial truffle oil represents the absurdity of believing that any food is worth thousands of dollars per pound. It also demonstrates that truffles are so amazing -- or at least unusual and prized -- that prestigious chefs fell for the con like sinners buying absolutions from swindler priests. Seems that every celebrity chef that I know avoids truffle oil like the plague, precisely because it bears no resemblance to actual truffles. Truffle oil is an artificial, synthetic product. (via The Loop)

Starbucks to Offer In-Store Charging Stations

Roger Cheng, reporting for CNET:

Starbucks said on Thursday that it would roll out Powermat's wireless charging station in its Starbucks and Teavana shops. The deployment will begin in the San Francisco Bay Area this year and expand to other metropolitan areas in 2015. [...] But Starbucks and Powermat plan to install "Powermat Spots," which will be located in designated areas such as tables and counters, that run on a different and incompatible standard championed by the Power Matters Alliance and Duracell Powermat, a joint venture between Powermat and Procter & Gamble's Duracell brand. Only the addition of a compatible charging case would allow most phones to work with the spots. I'm happy with my charging solution, but this is a good move by Starbucks.

On Cover

Ryan Lawler, writing for TechCrunch:

Payments app Cover wants to make it easier for restaurant goers to “dine and dash.” To do so legally, at least. And now it works in select San Francisco restaurants, in addition to those that accept it in New York City.

The app lets users skip waiting for a check, with a seamless process for paying a restaurant with your mobile phone instead of breaking out cash or a credit card at the end of a meal.

Just as Uber stores your payment details and automatically charges your card after your ride has been completed, so too does Cover allow you to “pay” without seeing a check.

I'm a big fan of Uber, so this idea is very appealing.

I downloaded the app and signed up; it's nicely done. I spend the majority of my time nowadays in San Francisco, so I'm excited to hopefully get a chance to try it out sooner than later.

On Nutritionists and 'Big Food'

Kiera Butler, reporting for Mother Jones:

With 75,000 members, the CDA's parent organization, the national Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND), is the world's largest professional association for nutritionists and dietitians. It accredits undergraduate and graduate programs in nutrition science and awards credentials to dietitian degree candidates who pass its exam. In Washington, its lobbying arm is active on issues including childhood obesity, Medicare, and the farm bill. It also has strong ties to the food industry. In 2013, Michele Simon, a public health lawyer and food politics blogger, launched an investigation (PDF) into the academy's sponsorship policies. Simon found that its corporate support has increased dramatically over the past decade: In 2001, the academy listed just 10 sponsors. By 2011, there were 38, including Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, Nestlé, National Cattlemen's Beef Association, Mars, and many others. Corporate contributions are its largest source of income, generating nearly 40 percent of its total revenue. Because when I think "nutrition", I think of McDonald's.

On Suspended Coffee

Sylvia Poggioli, writing for the NPR’s The Salt blog:

The Neapolitan writer Luciano de Crescenzo used the tradition as the title of one of his books, Caffè sospeso: Saggezza quotidiana in piccoli sorsi (“Suspended coffee: Daily wisdom in small sips”).

“It was a beautiful custom,” he recalls. “When a person who had a break of good luck entered a cafe and ordered a cup of coffee, he didn’t pay just for one, but for two cups, allowing someone less fortunate who entered later to have a cup of coffee for free.”

The barista would keep a log, and when someone popped his head in the doorway of the cafe and asked, “Is there anything suspended?” the barista would nod and serve him a cup of coffee … for free.

It’s an elegant way to show generosity: an act of charity in which donors and recipients never meet each other, the donor doesn’t show off and the recipient doesn’t have to show gratitude.

Cool gesture — and, I agree, an elegant way to show one’s generosity.

(via Shawn Blanc)

Best Practices for Eating Sushi

Jessica Saia and Isla Bell Murray, writing for The Bold Italic:

In the spirit of education, I went to one of the best sushi restaurants in San Francisco: Ichi Sushi. They’re in the process of opening a new location and commissioned lettering master Erik Marinovich to paint a huge mural in the new space that beautifully breaks down all the do’s of eating sushi. It’s a fantastic mural, but lacks the hard truths about what exactly we’ve all been doing so wrong. Allow me to show, not tell. Here, I’ve chosen five rules detailed in Erik’s mural, and asked a fellow sushi lover (who knows she holds her chopsticks weird, okay??) to reenact the good, the bad, and the OH GOD STOP IT YOU’RE EMBARRASSING YOURSELF of sushi etiquette. I shall not reveal the way my little sister eats sushi --- it's in the OH GOD, PLEASE DON'T! category.

The Bacon Method™

Tonight, I tried Dan Benjamin’s (of 5by5 fame) popular Bacon Method. I’m pleased to say the bacon came out incredibly delicious — by far the best bacon I’ve ever had in my life. I let it cook an extra 2 minutes at the end, but the end result was worth it. Crispy, porky goodness.

To recap, the steps are:

  1. Place bacon in a single layer on an baking sheet lined with either aluminum foil or a Silpat mat.
  2. Place the tray in a cold oven.
  3. Turn the oven to 400℉.
  4. Bake for 20 minutes.
  5. Remove from oven and transfer to a plate lined with paper towel. Cool.

I promise you, this Method renders (see what I did there?) the best bacon you’ll ever have. After eating bacon cooked this way, I’m unsure if I’ll ever cook it in a sauté pan ever again.1

  1. Well, not unless I’m cooking eggs or potatoes. ↩