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Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Book Review: Food Substitutions Bible

If you cook much, you know the feeling:  you get started, but then you go to your cupboard, spice rack or pantry, and a key ingredient is missing.
I know the basic rule of mise en place:  have everything ready to go, before you start. It makes eminent sense. I just don’t always do it. Or I try to do it, only to discover as I’m getting everything ready that I’m missing a key ingredient. And I may not have the time or desire to go to the store to get it.
So what’s a home cook to do? The best alternative, if it’s possible, is to come up with a substitute ingredient. Sure, for some things there are no easy substitutes, but if comes down to a teaspoon of coriander or oregano, there must be some way around it, right?
At that point, I tend to get online and start searching for substitutes. That’s fine, but it can be time-consuming, especially when you start to find contradictory advice.
So it’s nice to have an authoritative book on hand to answer these questions. And that’s why I was so happy to receive a complimentary review copy of The Food Substitutions Bible, by David Joachim.
Joachim is the co-author of The Science of Good Food, has won the International Association of Culinary Professionals award and been nominated for a James Beard award, and has been involved in the writing of more than thirty cookbooks. So he knows whereof he speaks, foodwise.
This is, literally, not a lightweight book. It runs close to 700 pages, and lists more than 6500 food and ingredient substitutions. For sheer comprehensiveness, it warrants the “bible” monker.
There are the basics, of course, like brown sugar, eggs, and evaporated milk. But the book goes well beyond that. One of the pleasures of thumbing through this book has been to read about the myriad ingredients I’d never even heard of, like Bryndza, cupuaƧu, and kefalotyri. Get familiar with these terms, and you’ll be a Scrabble champion in no time.
The list is not limited to ingredients, either. There are also entries about equipment, like rice cookers, electric mixers, and cheesecloth.
If that’s not enough, there are several excellent appendices. These include sections on measurement equivalents, and ingredient guides covering coffee, chiles, rice and other kitchen staples. One of the handiest is the guide to pan size equivalents, so you’ll quickly know, without needing a calculator and geometry formulas, whether your rectangular cake pan holds more or less than the round pan called for by the recipe.
I keep my cookbooks in a couple of places, with my frequent go-to books close at hand, and the “occasional” books on a shelf further from my stove. (Anything below “occasional” gets given away to my local library for their book sale.) This one’s going on the go-to shelf. It’s terrific.

The Food Substitutions Bible, by David Joachim
Paperback: 696 pages
Publisher: Robert Rose; (2nd ed.)

Monday, October 27, 2014

A Note on Reviews, Grades, and Reader Comments

I posted a review the other day of City Grill, which I gave a B. I hesitated about rating it at all, since it's been open for only about six months, but two friends and I shared three pies, which seemed like a pretty good sampling, and six months is not nothing, so I figured, why not?
We all liked our pizzas. My friends, I think, would've given them an A. But I found a few flaws, nothing too significant, so I gave it a B.
Today I see that a Facebook reader, Jason, went to City Grill the other night and pretty much hated the pizza. He'd give it a D. I was sorry to see that, because I hate to feel as if I've steered somebody wrong.
But I welcomed his comment. My reviews are based on one-time visits, and I'll be the first to agree that they are not definitive or comprehensive evaluations of a place. In writing this blog, I've found an inherent tension between wanting to provide a useful guide to local pizza and simply recording my experiences. So what I've tried to do is to record those experiences, with grades (most of the time), but with the caveat that they are just reports of individual visits, and that you take them for what they're worth. I simply don't have the time or money to pay multiple visits to each place before doing a review, and still keep up with all the pizzerias around here on a regular basis.
And that's why I invite reader comments, especially from readers who have been to the places I've reviewed. All I can do is give you my opinion, one visit at a time. If you go to a place I've reviewed, please take a moment to add your two cents here on the blog, to help other readers. Your opinion is as valuable as mine. All I ask is that you provide some specifics - "it was delicious" or "it sucked" doesn't help much.
So my apologies to Jason, but thank you for the feedback. I still think City Grill is worth a try, and I'll be curious to see what other readers think of it.

Friday, October 24, 2014

City Grill, Rochester

City Grill Rochester on Urbanspoon
With a couple of friends, I recently had lunch at City Grill, which opened some months ago at the corner of East Avenue and Alexander Street. I've lost count of how many restaurants have been in and out of this location in recent years, but this one might stick for a while.
What drew me there, of course, was pizza, in this case wood-fired pizza. I don't want to go into a long digression here, but before I go further, I should say a word or two about wood-fired pizza.
I have mixed feelings about the recent proliferation of local restaurants offering wood-fired pizza. Wood-fired pizza is not inherently better than pizza baked in other types of ovens. There are many factors going into any given pizza, from the ingredients to the preparation, to the attention paid to it while it's in the oven. The type of oven will certainly affect the end result, but a wood-fired oven does not by any means guarantee a better end result than a standard gas-fired pizza oven. In fact, if the pizzaiolo doesn't utilize it to its best advantage, a wood-fired oven can very easily yield a worse pizza than a more conventional oven.
But: the wood-fired trend has led to a lot more places around here offering pizza, and that's not a bad thing, from my perspective. So if I seem to be focusing recently on wood-fired pizza, it's mostly because I'm always looking for new places, and that's where most of the growth seems to be coming from lately.
OK. Back to City Grill. I don't think I'd ever been there before, under any of the restaurant's previous incarnations, because I was surprised to discover how large a space the restaurant occupies. There are two dining rooms (and an outdoor patio), and my friends were waiting for me in the back room. It's an attractive space, with a fireplace (not in use on this warm sunny day) and an open kitchen.
I ordered my usual Margherita (correctly spelled on the menu), while my two companions ordered a five-cheese pie and a "classic" pepperoni.
All three were nicely done, with some char spots underneath and a pliable crust that had some surface crispness.  There was some noticeable corn meal on mine, which was a bit unusual for a wood-fired pizza, in my experience. Some of the corn meal had carbonized, in other words, blackened, which I find a little off-putting, but it wasn't too bad.
To quibble a bit more, the crusts were a tad unevenly done, with some areas along the edge quite blackened, while others were only browned. But I know that's tricky with a wood-fired oven, and none of them were over- or underdone overall. So again, not a big deal, but I bring a critical eye to my pizza, and in the interests of giving a complete description I thought it worth mentioning.
Aside from those minor issues, I liked the crust, which had a bready aroma and a chewy but not tough texture. It was thin and pliable but not floppy, and was dry underneath.
We all enjoyed our toppings. The sauce seemed to be the same on all three, and had a basic tomatoey flavor with some herbs in the background. The toppings on my pie were  a little unevenly distributed, with the cheese and sauce coming close to the edge in some spots and other areas where there was a wide swath of naked crust, but this was no major cause for complaint. I would, however, have liked a bit more basil than just the few sprinkles that I got. What basil there was, though, was good, and had been added at the end, so it wasn't burnt, browned or dried out.
Pepperoni pizza is about as basic as American pizza gets, but this was a good one. The toppings were well balanced, and the pepperoni was especially tasty, with a good, meaty/spicy flavor, and just the right combination of crispness and chewiness.
The five-cheese pie was topped with mozzarella, aged provolone, Asiago, Fontina and Gruyere cheeses. While it wasn't overloaded with cheese, they combined to give it a sharp, pungent flavor and aroma. I liked it, but you've definitely got to be a cheese lover to appreciate this one.
In addition to these three pies, City Grill offers an "Italian," topped with crumbled meatballs, onions, tomatoes, cheese and parsley, a chicken-and-pesto pie with ricotta cheese and cherry tomatoes, a Greek pizza with shredded eggplant, kalamata olives, goat cheese, spinach, artichokes & roasted peppers, and the only one I would take a pass on, a wild mushroom pizza with shitake, portobello, crimini & porcinni, topped with a truffle sauce. All pies come in two sizes, which are priced at $11 and $15. The menu also features a variety of other dishes, including a wood-fired s'mores pizza with Belgian chocolate and marshmallows on a graham cracker crust. There's a full bar to boot.
So will City Grill succeed where so many others have tried and failed? I suspect that it might. I can't say what went wrong with the other establishments, but on this visit the food and service were good, business was brisk, and the atmosphere was comfortable yet - to use a word that I dislike, but that seems apt - sophisticated.
I'm not prepared to give City Grill's pizza an "A," at least not yet. (Maybe with the proliferation of wood-fired pizzas, I'm becoming more demanding, and I should probably revisit and re-rate some of the places I reviewed months or years ago.) But it's well worth a stop. For now, I'll give it a B, and I look forward to my next visit.

City Grill, 384 East Ave.

Mon. - Wed. 11 a.m. - midnight
Thu. - Sat. 11 a.m. - 2 a.m.
Sun. 11 a.m. - 9 p.m.

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