Archive for July, 2011

PUNCHFORK: Cooking with Algorithms

A watched pot never boils, eh? Well, a friend just hipped us to a website that’s sort of like watching lots of pots boil except fun and visually irresistible.

Punchfork is a recipe aggregator that uses social data — tweets, Facebook shares — to determine what recipes are trending in real-time. Or, as its mission statement puts it: “Bringing algorithms and analytics into the world of cooking and recipes.”

Punchfork homepage

Drawing from a current roster of 32 websites and blogs — from blue-chip publishers like Martha Stewart and Food Network to blogs like Smitten Kitchen and Cannelle et Vanille — Punchfork displays recipes on its homepage in a lush grid of photo links that refreshes continually and grows row upon row as you scroll down. Each recipe gets a 1-100 rating based on how much it has been “talked about and shared on the web.” There’s also a heart icon for registering your love for a recipe.

The presentation is elegant and super appealing; perusing all those beautiful food shots after dinner tonight, I got hungry all over again. You can sort them by what’s trending, what’s new, and what’s top rated, as well as look at the collected recipes from a particular publisher.

Punchfork recipe page

When you click through to a recipe, you’re taken to an internal Punchfork page, which at first struck me as a cheap ploy to steal one more page view before sending me to the original recipe. But in addition to telling you how many people tweeted or shared the recipe on Facebook, the recipe page lists the ingredients used and organizes them based on Punchfork’s own taxonomy (if you want the recipe preparation, you have to click to the original source). And that taxonomy makes searching for recipes by ingredients a very satisfying experience.

The Menlo Park, Calif.-based company was founded in May 2010 by Jeff Miller, a Silicon Alley entrepreneur and angel investor (he’s a backer of Forkly). The site also lists as an advisor Akimitsu Sano, the founder and CEO of the Japanese site Cookpad, described as “the world’s largest recipe community.” Asked recently on Twitter about the origin of the name “Punchfork,” Miller replied: “Two syllables, sorta catchy, memorable, easy to spell, .com domain name was available. That’s about it :)”

Works for us. We’ll be keeping an eye on Punchfork, a great discovery tool for recipes that’ll only get better as the list of publishers gets bigger.



Quinoa Tabbouleh (gluten-free)

I may have mentioned that Domaphile is on a gluten-free diet these days after learning of a potential sensitivity to gluten, that essential protein in wheat that gives elasticity to dough and structure to baked goods…and a whole world of trouble to people who can’t easily digest it.

I’ve known for a while how dicey gluten can be — I have lots of friends or children of friends who either have a gluten allergy or full-on celiac disease. But about six months ago, when I began to consider the possibility that I might share their affliction, it was as if every other news story or magazine article I came across was about gluten allergies, how common and pervasive they were. Funny how that happens.

Unless you suffer from celiac or react dramatically to even traces of gluten, following a gluten-free diet is not overly challenging. And some of the challenges — like getting creative about substitutions — can be downright fun. Some things, though, are tough to replace — much as I like the buckwheat buttermilk pancake recipe we found at, I still long for the fluffy wheat-flour ones we used to make. And I’m still ambivalent about kasha. I’ve drawn most of my recent inspiration from the Gluten-Free Girl.  Her blog is excellent, and her cookbooks are mouthwatering – you won’t notice what they are missing.

I recently took a day-long gluten-free baking class at The Natural Gourmet Institute, which focused on using flours made from alternate grains, pulses and starches. It was lots of fun and something I’ll report on in a future post.

But my favorite gluten-free concoction we’ve made recently is a simple adaptation with a single substitution: tabbouleh, the classic Middle Eastern grain salad, with quinoa instead of bulgur. Quinoa has a similar earthiness and chewy texture, and if you like it already in its own right, you won’t miss the cracked wheat! Unlike the Lebanese version of tabbouleh, which is heavy on the parsley and lemon juice, this one has more grain than herb and isn’t overly acidic. The lemon zest brightens things up and plays well off the mint. Enjoy as a mezze salad, with hummus, labneh, babaganouj, and roasted red peppers, or alongside grilled fish or chicken. Hold the pita.

Quinoa Tabbouleh
Yields 4-5 cups

1 cup dried quinoa
4 scallions, minced
1 bunch of mint, chopped fine
1 cucumber, peeled, seeded and diced
½ to 1 bunch of Italian parsley, chopped fine
¼ to ⅓ cup olive oil
Zest from ½ to 1 whole lemon
Juice from 1 ½ to 2 lemons
Salt and pepper to taste
Optional: 1 red pepper, seeded and diced, and/or 1 tomato, seeded, juiced and diced

Rinse quinoa, combine in a saucepan with 2 cups of water and a ½ teaspoon of salt, and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer, cover, and cook for 15 minutes until the water is gone and the quinoa is fluffy and chewy. Transfer quinoa to a mixing bowl and allow to cool to room temperature. When cool, toss in the minced scallions, mint, and parsley, and diced cucumber. Add the olive oil and mix to coat the grain, vegetables, and herbs evenly. Add the zest and lemon juice to taste, depending on how acidic you like it. Season with salt and lots of fresh ground pepper.

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Hot weather remedy: Agua de Jamaica

Joder! Hace Calor!  Looking for a refreshing way to cool down? I recommend mixing up a pitcher of Agua de Jamaica, a simple and delicious hibiscus infusion.  Over the years, we have incorporated a number of dishes brought to us by our daughters’ babysitter, Julieta, who hails from Puebla, Mexico, and is an excellent cook.  In the summer months, she is never without several aguas frescas in her refrigerator and our kids can’t get enough of them.  So we have started to make them, too, as they are really easy and a nice alternative to juice and lemonade.

Most recipes for Agua de Jamaica direct you to boil the flowers first, then cool and strain them.  Although Julieta concedes this can be done if you are in a hurry, she insists that the best way to make it is to soak the flowers overnight in non-heated water.  Here is her method:

Take two cups of dried whole hibiscus flowers, which you can find in a health food store or order online here.


Add the hibiscus flowers to 8 cups of fresh, cold water.  Cover and let sit overnight.  In the morning, strain the flowers through a cheese-cloth lined sieve into a bowl.

What do you think of this arty photo depicting the pouring of the aqua into a nice glass pitcher? Don’t answer that.  But that is what you do next.  Here is where you can add a sweetener of your choice.  Most recipes call for 1/2 – 3/4 cup of sugar, but I think you can get by with a lot less.  Honey works, but it takes awhile to mix in.   If you are in Jamaica, you can add rum.  Frankly, at this point, you can doctor it up any way you wish, but it is really just excellent on its own, lightly sweetened, over ice.

Happy Hot Weekend!

2 c. dried hibiscus flowers

8 c. water

1/2-3/4 c. sugar, or sweetener of choice.



On the sublime qualities of the Andalusian Gazpacho

Gazpacho. It’s a classic Seinfeldian conundrum. Is it a cold soup? A savory smoothie? A drinkable salad? What’s the deal?

It’s also a perfect and simple summer staple that hasn’t fared well in the US. Sure, you could say that about lots of far-flung foods that have been adapted and adulterated through the generations. But let’s just say that whatever the dubious qualities of Campbell’s canned tomato juice from concentrate may be—viscosity, high-fructosity—they are not improved by chunks of assorted garden vegetables.

Generally associated with Moorish Spain, gazpacho has a murky past. There are several etymological traces–to the Latin word caspa, meaning “little pieces,” and the Hebrew word gazaz, meaning “to break into little pieces,” among others–and its ancient origins point to the central ingredients of bread soaked in water, olive oil, and vinegar. There are versions with grapes and almonds. New World ingredients like tomatoes and cucumbers came later.

The version I grew up with—the one that dominated the daily specials boards at every university-town vegetarian cafe—is that chunky Osterized medley with too much red onion, old vinegar, and dried herbs. Not that there isn’t good chunky gazpacho out there—I’ve enjoyed the version at Good & Plenty to Go on W. 43rd and 9th Ave. There’s just so much bad chunky gazpacho.

It wasn’t until a trip to Spain, in the spring of 2005, that I discovered a way to leave all those chunks behind. Being our first trip abroad as parents, it was momentous. Our firstborn was 20 months, and we were offered a free house with a pool in Estapona, on the Costa del Sol. When that turned out to be less than the dream set-up it seemed to be at first, we jumped in the car and toured Andalucía. Quick stops in Cádiz and Jerez before we rolled into Seville in the early evening.

That was when we lost power steering on the rental car just before the left turn to the hotel in the Jewish quarter and ended up in Medieval blind alley, where we had to make a painstaking 15-point turn. But why dwell on that? Or the time our daughter, in an awesome display of defiance, squatted in a plaza, dredged her hand along the cobblestones, then slowly licked her open palm all the way up to her finger tips while the abuelas cried out in disgust. Or the day we spent cancelling credit cards and cursing our bad luck after we thought my husband lost his wallet—and before we found it that evening, resting conspicuously on the coffee table of our turned-down hotel room. (Memories!)

Let’s focus instead on those clean, crisp 1 Euro cervezas that were so perfectly refreshing after a day of humping through Seville in the June heat. And the fact that Spaniards (with the exception of the Iberian Airlines flight attendants) love small children, who make great dinner companions when you can park them, asleep in the stroller, next to your two-top on the plaza for tapas at 10 o’clock.

And let’s recall the lunch at that archetypal “nondescript outdoor cafe” where we first had red Andalusian gazpacho. It came silky smooth, bright with just enough garlic and sherry vinegar, and creamy with the bread that’d been soaked and blended in. Golden drops of olive oil pooled on the surface. And this time, the chunks were on the side: little condiment bowls filled with diced cucumbers, green peppers, hard-boiled eggs, and avocado.

It was transporting and provided brief lull before the next mishap (waiting for la grúa to come and tow away our broke-down car).

When we returned to the States, we quickly found a cookbook, ¡Delicioso! The Regional Cooking of Spain by Penelope Casas, with a recipe for Andalusian gazpacho (from Bar Bahia in Cádiz) that will convert any gazpacho hater into a thirsty salad drinker. Straining the blended ingredients is worth the effort and produces a vibrant liquid infused with the ghosts of the vegetables. We make several batches between Memorial Day and Labor Day, which help us get through the sweat-soaked summer evenings in New York City like real Spaniards. ¡Joder! ¡Hace calor! Time for a dish of olives, some Marcona almonds, a glass of chilly rose, and a bowl of silky smooth, chunk-free gazpacho. ¡Disfrute!

Gazpacho Andaluz, Estilo Salvador
From ¡Delicioso! The Regional Cooking of Spain by Penelope Casas (Knopf, 2004)
Serves 8-10

A 4 1/2-inch length of bread, cut from a long narrow loaf, crusts removed
2 pounds tomatoes, coarsely chopped
3 green frying peppers (about 6 ounces), coarsely chopped (Note: cubanelles work well here)
1 kirby cucumber, about 5 inches long, peeled and coarsely chopped
1 medium onion, preferably Vidalia or Spanish, coarsely chopped
6-7 large cloves of garlic, peeled and chopped
1/2 cup mild extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon sugar
6 tablespoons white wine vinegar
2 tablespoons sherry vinegar
2 cups cold water
Finely chopped tomato, green pepper, cucumber, hard-boiled egg, and/or avocado for garnish (optional).

Soak the bread in water and squeeze dry. Place the tomatoes, peppers, cucumber, onion, and garlic in a large food processor or blender with the olive oil, salt, sugar, vinegars, and bread. Process/blend until as smooth as possible (do this in two steps/batches if necessary). Pass through a strainer or chinois into a bowl, pressing with the back of a wooden spoon to extract as much liquid from the remaining solid pieces as possible. Stir in the water. Add more vinegar and salt, a little at a time, tasting after each addition, until the flavors are fully developed. Chill thoroughly. Taste again for salt and vinegar, and serve in chilled bowls with an ice cube in each, if necessary, to keep the chill (several mini ice cubes are more attractive). If you like, pass small bowls with the chopped vegetables so each diner can garnish to taste.

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Love letter to Ramen

I love the fact that, in 2011, when we are supposed to be reading all content digitally on our ipads and kindles, one can still visit (some) newsstands and find an artifact as beautiful as Lucky Peach, or Remedy Quarterly.  I finally had the opportunity to pick up the former –  which made its debut a few weeks ago –  and am now paging through the longest, most beautiful,  love letter to ramen, ever.  Conceived of by David Chang (of Momofuku fame) in concert with McSweeney’s, Lucky Peach is a new food quarterly that occupies the intersection between food worship, writing and design.  This issue is devoted to all things ramen, including an entertaining travelogue through the noodle shops of Tokyo, a handy guide to Japanese regional ramen, and an interview with the proprietor of the number-one selling instant ramen in Tokyo, who also happens to be a Jewish guy from New York who puts rye flour into his homemade noodles.  And recipes. Everything from how to make those alkaline noodles from scratch to creative things you can do with instant ramen (gnocchi, anyone?).

All this is inspiring me to make another trip to Mitsuwa in New Jersey, pick up some shinachiku and narutomaki, and whip up my own batch of the stuff.  Except it isn’t really that easy.  Why? Because making ramen involves something like 39 steps from start to finish.  Steps we tried last fall, succeeding only marginally.  But try again we must.  If all else fails, we will make gnocchi out of instant ramen and let you know how that goes. 

In the meantime, if you really want to get your ramen on, check out Lucky Peach.  If you can’t find a copy, fear not, the ipad app is coming soon.  In the meantime, you can watch Cooking with Dog show you how to make Yakibuta Ramen:



The Victory Garden of Tomorrow

Have you seen the Victory Garden of Tomorrow project? It’s the inspiring work of Joe Wirtheim, a graphic artist in Portland, Oregon who started working on a series of agit-prop posters in 2007 aimed at promoting community gardens and environmental issues.  While drawing on the design sensibilities of the mid-20th century – specifically WW2 propaganda posters and World’s Fair materials – he has created something that beautifully combines the current and the historical.
His work is available on Etsy, and I’m thinking a space pickle poster is just what we need in our kitchen.  Check it out!



2 sustainable seafood initiatives : Slow Food USA

To follow up on my earlier post about choosing ocean-friendly seafood, I would like to share this recent post from the folks at Slow Food USA:  2 sustainable seafood initiatives : Slow Food USA.  In it, they talk about a new approach to combating invasive fish species.  Take a look, and in the meantime, I will be on the lookout for Lion Fish recipes. Send them my way!

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