Thursday, October 13, 2011

How to Yelp. Or How I learned to stop worrying and love my restaurants

banana cream pie

1)The Yelp mobile app is nigh on useless for me. I need to skim mass amounts of reviews in order to get a good sense of what I'm looking for.

2) Where are you? Are you somewhere that has a strong Yelp presence? Does every restaurant have reviews? Otherwise chowhound or whatever local review system is being used is a way better idea. Yelp in Indiana? Useless. I tried. I failed.

3) Who is reviewing this place? If it's people that have just a few reviews, then this is a restaurant that makes people go out of their way to review it. It's a place that makes people have strong opinions. Even if the opinions are mediocre. They're strong neutral opinions. If the people who are reviewing this claim that they "know" the food they're eating, be distrustful. It's the internet. People tend to talk big.

4) What is the complaint? Plenty of places that have great food have bad reviews because of poor locations or service. Parking can be a reason for stars to get taken away.

5) What do you care? Are you taking out the boss for dinner and need a place that can stand up with excellent service and an approachable wine list? Are you looking for delicious food and don't mind an hour long wait and/or poor service as long as the food can make you cry? Yelp is great with overall ratings, but you need to take a look at what matters to YOU.

6) Are the first reviews reflective of the overall rating? Sometimes the first few reviews can be negative. Don't let this fool you. Look at the overall rating, and then look at the specific comments. I've been told in the past that if companies don't pay yelp, their negative reviews are listed first. I don't have confirmation if this is true, but it would make sense.

7) When did they review it? It's easy for chefs or ownership to change, and the quality of a restaurant to either soar or bomb out. Take a look at recent activity. If something's changed, yelpers tend to notice and post.

8) What did people eat? Did they eat the specialty of the restaurant? Did they complain about the vegetarian options at a meat-centric restaurant? Did they complain that the General Tso's isn't very good at an authentic Shanghai style Chinese restaurant? If you're getting the wrong thing, of course your meal isn't going to be very good. This tends to happen more at ethnic restaurants. At the same time, this can tell you what you should order.

9) Take everything with a grain of salt. Yelp is not the final say. It can be accurate, and it can be inaccurate, and use your own opinion, judgment, and the judgment of others that you trust to help you decide.

Happy eating and you may be a special unicorn and you might disagree with Yelp. That is okay. Good Luck!

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

On Seasonal Baking

(double open faced Strawberry pie)

As I sit in Maryland with the rain pouring down, I begin to mourn the season of cheap berries and delicious stone fruit, and look forward to apple season.

When it comes to pies, and baking with fruit, season can be extremely important. There's a reason you don't see many fresh cherry and blueberry pies in the winter. The cost of berries makes it not worth it. I'm saving my cream and nut pie recipes for the winter and churning through my fruit recipes. Here's what I hope to make before Summer is over (shut up I understand that it's October)

Whole Wheat Rasberry Ricotta Scones
- Fresh Cherry Cheesecake
Peach Crostada from Huckleberry
- Chocolate rasberry cake from Paris Sweets book
- More strawberry pies

To me Summer is the time for stone fruit pastry, Fall is time for nuts and apples Winter is time for cream and citrus, and Spring is time for berries!

One piece of advice I have is to look in the super market before you choose what you're going to make so you don't break the bank, but you don't miss your favorite seasons. Right now Hatch Chiles are everywhere which is the once a year time to get these great quality chiles, and I know I would have cried if I missed Rhubarb season earlier this summer.

I'm also fairly sure that I'm the only person on Earth who can't stand pumpkin pie, so this year I'm going to make a pumpkin roll (cream cheese frosting is the best thing in the world) and perfect an apple pie!

Look out Fall! You're totally going to get your ass kicked!

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Macaron Followup

photo by Eron Rauch

Well it took 4 batches before I made macarons with some semblance of a pied or foot (the little cracks underneath the cookies that make a macaron a macaron), and the fifth batch finally looked pretty. It also took 4 months (or more... ok I made them last at Easter. Shut up I've been busy.) before I actually posted about these!

The key to Macarons, tends to be the process known as Macaronnage, or the stirring of the complete batter. I'm still not exactly sure when it's completely done, but I know if I stop too early or too late I'm screwed. The other thing that's super important to making the pied, is the macaron's drying time. Make sure they are dry but not too dry. If you lightly touch them, a little bit may come off on your finger, but only a very small amount.

It was however, after I figured out how to make the macaroons, that I completely failed on the filling. The buttercream that was at first so sickeningly easy, totally failed. I don't know what happened, but I know it sucked. I gave up, put lemon curd in between the cookies and will try again next time.

A really easy way to fake your macarons looking good is food coloring. Pink things are prettier. This is science.Also, be patient. Macarons are hard to make and will take several tries to get right much less perfect. The great news? the mistakes taste amazing!

I used this adorable book to learn how to make Macarons 

The book is super gorgeous and tells you a lot of different ways to make different macaron flavors and fillings and helps you figure out where you went wrong. It's called I Love Macarons by Hisato Ogita.