Category: eating

Out with Barley Risotto, in with Orzotto

I was making a barley risotto the other night when it dawned on me, doesn’t “risotto” mean “rice” in Italian, or at least something rice related? Indeed, it does, making “barley risotto” nonsense, albeit an easy to make and delicious form of nonsense.

Before we go any further and before anybody gets hurt, let me be clear: barley is not gluten-free. If that’s your jam, stick to classic risotto made with rice.

So what should we properly call a dish made in the manner of a risotto (rice slowly cooked in broth) but using barley instead of rice? In Italian, rice is riso and barley is orzo, so it seems that orzotto would be the answer. But wait, you protest, isn’t orzo a pasta? Indeed, not only is orzo also the name of a type of pasta, that pasta is shaped like… grains of rice. If that’s not sufficiently confusing, I must also mention that you can also make a risotto-style dish using orzo pasta in place of rice. I guess that would be orzopastatto or something.

Risotto – or orzotto – is also an excellent leftover disposal system, a dish into which you can put nearly any random food items you have lying around. In that spirit, here is the recipe for last night’s “going out of town soon really should get rid of these leftovers” orzotto. Serves a hungry two. Many searches contributed to the recipe, but this one contributed the most. You can, and should, substitute as needed.

  • Scallops? What scallops? I have no idea what you're talking about.3 cups mushroom broth
  • 1/2 cup barley
  • 2 sprigs of thyme
  • 1 yellow onion, about the size of an egg
  • 1 really big clove of garlic
  • 8 oz of assorted mushrooms, fresh and/or dried
  • 1 sausage link – I use Field Roast Grain Meat [vegetarian] sausage links
  • 1/4 pound scallops (everything else can be leftovers but these need to be fresh)
  • 6-8 oz dry white wine
  • a hunk of parmesan cheese
  • salt and pepper
  • a few tablespoons of butter and/or oil
  1. Put the broth in a covered saucepan on low heat to simmer. If you’ve got dried mushrooms, put them in with the broth to rehydrate.
  2. Slice the mushrooms and sausage, dice the onion and mince the garlic. Pull the little leaves off the thyme stems and chop them up a bit. Discard the stems. Taste the wine.
  3. In a large pan, heat some oil then cook the onions till they’re translucent, then add the barley, stirring it to coat with oil and let it toast a bit, stirring occasionally. Add the garlic.
  4. When the barley is toasted, add two splashes of wine (one into the pan and one into your mouth) and a ladle or two of the broth. Stir and cook until the barley has absorbed most of the liquid.
  5. Keep adding broth a ladle at a time and stirring until the barley has absorbed most of the liquid. It’s done when the barley is soft enough to eat but not mushy. You might have broth left over, or you might have to add more liquid. You can do the next two steps in parallel with the barley cooking.
  6. In another pan, heat butter or oil and cook the mushrooms. If you’ve got dried mushrooms reconstituting in the broth, you don’t need to cook them again, but take them out, slice them, add them to the fresh mushrooms when they’re done.
  7. You may choose to cook the sausage and scallops in the same pan at the same time as the mushrooms if you’re into that sort of thing. If not, set aside the mushrooms, deglaze with some of the wine, and repeat with the sausage and then the scallops. If you have enough burners, pans and hands, you can do these all at once. Ideally, cook the scallops last and at the end when everything else is done.
  8. Do not overcook the scallops. If you have overcooked the scallops, toss them down the disposal, pour yourself another glass of wine, call it a mushroom sausage orzotto and deny that there ever were any scallops.
  9. When the barley is cooked to your liking, add, in no particular order, a few grates of cheese, the thyme, mushrooms, sausage, and scallops, plus salt and pepper to taste. Stir to combine and drink the rest of the wine.
  10. Serve with more cheese, fresh ground pepper, and a pedantic lecture on risotto, rice, orzo, orzotto, and orzo pasta.

Three Cheers for Three Cheese Edamame Bread

I was looking for a savory scone in all the wrong places and I’d almost given up when I wandered into Paris Baguette, a French bakery inside Central Square’s Korean grocery store, H-Mart. What did I find? Three Cheese Edamame Bread, that’s what.

I don’t know if this is a Thing, but it sure was something. If it’s a something crossed with a something else in the mode of the chimerical cronut, those things would be savory bread pudding and edamame.

It was cheesy, salty, and oily for sure, edamame-y, only if you paid close attention, but it filled the savory scone void pretty well. I found a recipe that might be close to this item on Cookpad Japan: Edamame and Cheese Rolled Bread.

Don't Fear the Pies of March, it's Pi Day Again

I’ve been calling the ascendancy of pie over cupcakes for years, and whether you’re with me on that or not, you’ll have to grant pie its moment in the limelight today, pi day. In the US reckoning of dates, it’s 3/14/15 today, and those who are way way into it will no doubt be digging into some pie at 9:26, because 3.1415926, you know.

I set out this morning to get to Petsi Pies in Cambridge at 9:26 to see what, if anything, would happen. I arrived early enough and bought a slice of apple and a slice of pecan, and settled in to await the irrational minute.

Pecan pie from Petsi pies

The place started to fill up, probably not much more than a typical weekend morning, and at the tick of 9:26, nothing unusual happened. No countdown, no pi-themed cheers, chants, or songs. Rumor has it that fancy stuff was going on at the Somerville location, but I was happy to observe pi day quietly.

That’s what’s great about mathematics: unnoticed, unobserved, or unappreciated, it still just is. Now, where can I get some piroshki for a 9:26pm dinner?

Cheap Kablet for your Kitchen Cabinet

It’s been some time since we’ve had a kitchen technology update, not since the the two-port usb kitchen, in fact. So pull up a chair and I’ll tell you more than you wanted to know about how I installed a dedicated kitchen tablet.

My people call them "tomahtoes"Every now and again, via some design, gadget or kitchen blog, I read about some fabulous new gizmo for using your ipad or other tablet in the kitchen. By and large these things make me laugh.

Specialized kitchen tablets seem foolishly overpriced and not all that specialized. Kitchen ipad holders are not so different from old-fashioned cookbook holders, just more expensive and sometimes far less well designed. Maybe these work for some folks, but I just don’t see it – mostly they seem to be terrible wastes of that most precious of kitchen resources, counter space.

If you’re going to have a tablet in the kitchen, it seems to me it should be mounted on the fridge or a wall or a cabinet, roughly at eye level as you work.


So I hatched a plan: try out the idea of a kitchen tablet with a cheap android tablet and mount it to the cabinet door with by some means that will leave no trace when I move out. This device will carry a handful of apps that will make cooking and cleaning up in the kitchen a little more convenient and pleasant.

Hardware & Installation

I hit a minor snag as a surprising number of “white” tablets (of course it has to be white, the kitchen cabinets are white) have black bezels on the front. Ultimately, I settled on the expansively-named iRulu X1s -Quad Core 7″ Google Android Tablet, HD IPS Screen, Quad Core (4* 1.4Ghz), 1G RAM, 8G NAND Flash, Bluetooth, Android 4.4, Google Play Preinstalled, Hottest tablet for 2015 -(White) for $66 and picked up some Command Picture Hanging Strips too. These things, by the way, contain some seriously weird and wonderful material science.

These Command Picture Hanger things are amazing.

Knowing that I wasn’t likely to actually experience the advertised 3 hour battery life on this device, I planned to keep it plugged in at all times. Luckily, I found an open outlet inside a nearby cabinet – if you have a microwave or convection oven mounted above your cooktop, there’s a good chance it’s plugged in to an outlet installed nearby for that purpose. Unluckily, the white iRulu X1s comes with two white micro-usb dongles and one black micro-usb AC charger. At some point I’ll have to paint it white or cover it up with some white electrical tape or something.

Lucky for me there was an outlet in the upper cabinet

So there you have it, a small and cheap but fully-functional tablet just about at eye level above my primary prep space, the two feet or so of counter between the oven and the sink.

Breakfast of champions: toast with avocado and chia seeds, served with iced coffee in a peanut butter jar

Software & Apps

As cheap as this tablet was, it contains a slightly more recent version of Android than my phone, which cost a bit less than 10x as much. It also has a refreshing lack of the crud that mobile phone carriers glom on to their Android devices. These are the apps I’ve installed for kitchen use:

Kitchen Timer. There are a lot of timer apps, and I didn’t spend too much time shopping around. This one’s free, has two timers you can configure with different sounds, and if you ignore the ton of buttons on the left, it looks nice enough.

Kitchen Timer App

There are a ton of recipe and nutrition apps, but for now I’m skipping them. I downloaded Chrome (why is Google Chrome not installed by default as the browser on Google Android devices?) and will most likely view recipes and other info there.

Colcannon in Chrome (it was delicious)

For shopping list management, I was already using Wunderlist on both my laptop and phone so that whenever I actually remembered something I needed, I could quickly add it to the list and have that list in my hand at the store. Accessing the list in the kitchen seems like good sense.

The other killer kitchen app, at least for me, is audio. There’s already a radio in there perma-tuned to NPR, but sometimes what’s on is not what you’re in the mood for. I added Google Play Music and NPR One. I thought the hardware would let me down on audio, especially since the tiny speaker is on the back of the device that I just mounted to the cabinet door, but the air gap created by the mounting strips seems to be just enough. It’s not hi-fi but it’s good enough for the setting.

Kablet Home Screen

And finally, in case my meal plans go down the drain, perhaps literally, there’s Foodler. I made a point of not setting up mail and instant messaging clients, but of course one could.

Summary of Findings

For well under $100, I’m pretty proud of this kablet. I can definitely see how a larger screen would be helpful, as scrolling while cooking is a bit of a drag. The cheap tablet is, well, cheap, and I’d be a little worried about how well it would hold up as a child’s tablet – neither build quality nor computing horsepower would likely be up to the task – but it seems quite sufficient for the limited role I’ve assigned it.

Having the grocery list always right there in the kitchen might be the most life-changing part of this install, since I’m prone to completely forgetting that I used the last egg the instant I leave the kitchen.  I’ve cooked up a few meals already with the recipe on screen while using the timer and music apps, and it’s working well. It turns out that music helps make washing dishes easier, too.

If I were the owner of this kitchen and handier with tools, I could see possibly mounting the kablet permanently in the cabinet door, and definitely running the power cable through some holes to get it out of sight.

I’m not a very messy cook and the tablet is probably far enough from the stovetop and sink to get splashed or spattered, but maybe a layer of plastic wrap would be a smart addition to the setup. I’m not about to buy a fancy kitchen ipad stylus, but I will report back at some point if vegetarian sausage can activate a capacitive touch screen.

Hooray, it's Cheese Day

I know what you’re thinking, “silly cow, every day is cheese day!” Well you’re not wrong, but I’ve just learned that today is National Cheese Lover’s Day here in the USA. Says who? Who cares! Is that really where the apostrophe should go? I doubt it!

You've got a friend in cheeses.According to a nutty and herbaceous press release from the estimable Chris Lyons Communications, the Massachusetts Cheese Guild has some suggestions for this special day:

Boston, MA . . . (January 12, 2015)     The 21 artisan cheesemakers of  the 16-month-old MA Cheese Guild are a picky bunch. That’s what happens when you spend your every waking hour dealing with the intricacies of this ancient and magical process. Even those who sell it, or just eat a lot of it, have strong opinions. Take a tip or two from the MA Cheese Guild members below, and seek out a locally produced cheese to savor when National Cheese Lover’s Day rolls around on January 20:

Who am I to blog against the wind? We have a cheese guild, and you can join as one of three member types: “Artisan members are commercial cheesemakers who certify use of Massachusetts milk. Trade membership (retailers/wholesalers/distributors/ journalists) and Enthusiast membership is also available.”

If you’re so inclined, you can certify your status as a cheese enthusiast for just $25 a year. I count 20 artisan members on the site, so I’ve got a local cheesy bucket list of sorts to get working on. I hope you’ll seek out some local cheese today, whatever your locality.

Fun-sized statistics that melt in your mouth

I’m told that there are treatments available for those of us who are compelled like to count and sort our candy by color before eating it. I can stop any time I want, of course, but today’s fun-sized pack of M&Ms gave me pause.

This Unit Not Labeled for Individual Retail Sale

No yellow. There’s a yellow guy on the package, but he’s a peanut M&M. Do the regular chocolate ones still come in yellow? Yes, they do, but not in this pack. What are the odds?

Well, assuming that the little packages are filled from an effectively bottomless vat of M&Ms representing the official color distribution (24% blue, 14% brown, 16% green, 20% orange, 13% red, and 14% yellow) and that every fun-sized pack has 17 candies like this one, the odds of no yellow should be (1-p(yellow))^17, or 0.84^17, which is about 5.16%.

In a much more rigorous and costly investigation, the estimable Josh Madison bought 48 packages (larger than mine, each had an average of 55 candies) of M&Ms and ran the numbers. No word on the number of pepcid tablets he needed, but not one of this 48 bags was bereft of any single color. Madison did, however, find that the actual distribution in his sample was not so close to the published ratio, with a lot less blue and more of all the others, especially green.

On the off chance that you’re still with me, I bet you’re wondering, “ok, professor chocoholic OCD, is there something I can use here?” Well, I think there are two ideas worth remembering if you’re in the business of counting or estimating or forecasting things:

Size Matters. Sample size, that is. If you based your view of the M&M world on my single 17-candy packet, you’d have a pretty messed up view of reality. If you used one of Josh’s 55-candy packs, you’d be a lot better off, but even with 48 such packs, you’d have only partially cracked the code.

Seemingly Rare Events aren’t always as rare as you think. Intuitively, a small pack of M&Ms missing a color feels like a rare thing – how often have you seen it? But the math puts it at 5%, one pack in 20. Huge businesses are built on the preferences of market segments smaller than 5% of the population. The United States contains about 4.5% of the world’s people.  And sometimes rare events are even rarer than you think. What are the odds of picking up a fun-sized pack that’s all blue (the most common color by the official stats)? Do you think that would be 100 times rarer, maybe 10,000 times less common than no yellow? How about 0.0000000029% or about 1 all-blue pack in 34 billion, compared to 1 pack in 5 for yellow-deficiency? If all 400 million M&Ms made each day were put into 17-candy packs, they’d make only 8.5 billion packs a year. That would be a rare event.

The odds of a rare event happening are 1.0 after it happens. No matter how crazy it might seem, events with long odds can happen, and once they happen, they have happened. You could choose to believe something’s not right in your calculations or in the world, and you’d probably be smart to check. But once the all-blue pack is in your hands, there it is. Just remember that the odds of getting another one are just as small as they were before.

So think hard next time you put M&Ms into some kid’s trick or treat bag. Who knows what might happen?

Stoked for pies that r round

One of the small upsides to a torrential rain at lunchtime is that there’s nearly zero line at the food trucks. Finding myself at Dewey square in the company of old favorites Bon Me and Mei Mei, I opted for the as yet untried (by me) Stoked Wood Fired Pizza truck. How do they get a wood fired oven in a truck and how do they get a permit for something that sounds, even on a rainy day, like a recipe for a dramatic and garlic-infused explosion? I have no idea, but I ordered the mushroom pizza anyway.

Mushroom pizza from Stoked
Made on the spot, the mushroom pie includes mozzarella, pecorino romano, seasoned mushrooms, roasted garlic, and truffle oil. (listed as “optional,” but why would one opt out of truffle oil??) Also present but not mentioned, caramelized onions. It took a few minutes to prepare and cook, but even after a five minute slog back to the office, it was still hot and crispy.

They should call this the umami pizza. From the pecorino to the mushrooms and truffle and garlic it was full of salty (not a pejorative in my book) savory umami-y goodness. And while the char on the bottom might put some off, I found the smoky note comforting on a cold day.

A hungry person could easily eat an entire thin crust pie from Stoked, and I recommend doing so at your earliest convenience. After all, even with a wood-burning oven on board, this truck will probably go into hibernation with the others sometime in November.


Happy pi approximation day

Today, July 22, or 22/7 as the Eurostyle daters would have it, is pi approximation day. Why? Because 22/7 = 3.1428… which is a an approximation of pi, one that’s a bit bigger and a lot less irrational than the real pi. If this shakes your faith in religion or something, you can refer to this song for something approximating solace:

A little bigger
I’m bigger than you
And you are not me
The lengths that I will go to
The distance in your eyes
I’ve circumscribed too much
I messed it up

Or maybe not. Perhaps you prefer the wisdom of a couple of dinosaurs on the topic of pi day vs pi approximation day:

Dinosaur comics approximates pi day

That feels a bit more satisficing, but what would really hit the spot is something that’s almost pie, but not pie and just a bit more than pie. Maybe that’s pie a la mode, or a crumble or a brown betty. Call me irrational if you like, but I’m going to look into this and get back to you before next March 14, approximately.

Five years later, my cupcake prophecy is fulfilled

Just about five years ago on this very blog, I called peak cupcake and announced the age of pie. Finally, the world is catching up. You can scoff at me five years ago, but behold the WSJ delivering the truth earlier this month:

Crumbs "signature happy birhtday" cupcake, in cross sectionBut the popularity of high-end cupcakes—embodied by chains such as New York’s Magnolia Bakery and Los Angeles-based Sprinkles—has waned in recent years, even as new players crowded into the field. Crumbs posted a loss of $18.2 million last year, layered on a loss of $10.3 million in 2012, according to securities filings. Its cash on hand fell to $893,000 at the end of 2013, down from $6.3 million the prior year.

If you hadn’t caught the headline, Crumbs global cupcake empire was reduced to its namesake particles as it was delisted from the NASDAQ and closed all its stores. As of this writing, nobody told their webmaster that cupcakes are over.

Really, when you think back on it, end-of-days pastry like the cronut should have tipped us off.