Better than McDonald’s

A couple months back I set out to make shoestring fries at home. As anyone who’s attempted this can tell you, it’s frustrating. Homemade fries, especially McDonald’s style shoestring fries are very hard to do well at home. There’s a reason for that. McDonald’s and others’ french fries are made in a factory, and created by food scientists using equipment and ingredients the home cook doesn’t have access to. Most homemade fries lack the crispness and golden color of chain restaurant fries. They come out limp, dark brown, have an overcooked taste, and lack the lightness of processed fries.

I started doing research and stumbled upon a technique that works. I used my harshest critic, my wife, as a taste tester and after eating a few, she said to me, “These are better than McDonald’s.”


Making these fries are a process, and they’re somewhat of a pain. But, the result is nothing short of spectacular. They’re very crisp, with a golden color, a light fluffy interior, and great flavor.

I start with Russets. I buy the longest potatoes in the bin. Then I cut them into shoestring shape on a mandolin. Next, I brine them in a salt and white vinegar brine for two hours. The salt and vinegar brine help to pull startch and moisture out of the potatoes which helps to create crispness. Next, I fry them at around 275-300 for three to four minutes until they’re just cooked through. It’s important not to get any color on them, we’re essentially blanching them in the oil. Then I lay them out single file on a sheet pan and freeze them. Once they’re fully frozen I put them in a ziploc bag until I’m ready for the final cook. Freezing is important. The ice crystals that form in the interior help to create that light fluffy texture that’s so pleasant to eat. Lastly, I fry the frozen fries at 375 degrees for about 3 minutes until crisp, being careful to not let them get too much color.

These fries are just as good, or better than McDonald’s. And really, all of the work is done ahead of time. I make a big batch and can pull as many fries as needed from the freezer to have amazing fries in just a few minutes.


Years ago, I fell in love with Neapolitan-style pizza. I loved its light, airy, char-speckled crust. It was a revelation to me. But really, that revelation was due to never experiencing great pizza and growing up in an area where mediocre pizza was the norm. As time has worn on, and I’ve eaten dozens of styles of pizza all over the country, in literally hundreds of pizzerias, I’ve cooled on Neapolitan style a bit

I am a big fan of a neo-Neapolitan style. Still light and airy, but not as thin and soupy as Neapolitan and with some crunch, too.

I’ve been working on perfecting a neo-Neapolitan style and have come close to my ideal. These pizzas have a light, and tender/chewy crust with a little crispness.

This dough is 64% hydration. It’s a mix of 60% Caputo Pizzeria, and 40% Caputo Chef’s flours. 24-hour fermentation. Cooked at 800F for two and half minutes.

Torn basil and red pepper flake.
Sliced jalapeño.
Light, airy. tender, and pleasantly chewy.
Charred blisters on the undercarriage help to create a more tender crust and add crunch.


Thick and pillowy upside down Sicilian inspired by L&B Spumoni Gardens in Brooklyn.

The dough is 65% hydration, with 4% oil. I cooked it in a 10×15 quarter sheet tray. 825 grams of dough, enough for 5.5 grams of dough per sq inch, which made for the perfect thickness

I’m pleased with how it came out, with one exception, I overcooked it a bit, and the crumb wasn’t quite as moist as I would’ve liked. The bottom was well browned and crunchy, and the crumb was light and tender enough. There was a satisfying amount of sauce and cheese, with that pleasant “sauce first” eating experience you get with an upside down slice.

All in all, very good for a first try.


I used Roma Sausage—Utica’s most famous tomato pie—as my template when I set out to make a facsimile. In my opinion, what makes Roma’s pies so special is the sauce. The sauce is laid down in a thick layer, and one gets lots of that deliciousness in each bite. The sauce is simple and tomato forward. Its balance of salt and sweetness is nearly perfect.

Utica tomato pie is working-class fare. It’s supposed to be cheap eats. This is not gentrified fare we’re creating. I used inexpensive crushed tomatoes.

I added nothing to the tomatoes except some tomato paste for body, salt, and a little sugar to get the salty/sweet balance just right. I cooked it just long enough to thicken it up a bit.

I didn’t want the sauce to cook in the oven. I wanted a light, bright sauce, not one that’s concentrated and cooked down like an Italian gravy. The pizza will spend a reasonable amount of time in the oven, and the sauce will further cook during that time. When I baked the pie, I put only a very thin layer of sauce to prevent the crust from browning. I added most of the sauce post-bake.

I was delighted with the result. The eating experience and flavor profile were very similar to Roma’s.

My tomato pie is on the left. On the right is Roma’s tomato pie.

Homemade tomato pie.
Homemade tomato pie.


A Detroit-style pizza I made on a whim. 75% hydration, with a mix of 90% King Arthur 00 Pizza flour, and 10% semolina. Cubed Monterey Jack and Mozz blend. Topped with pepperoni and red chili.

It turned out beautiful. Tender open crumb, with a crisp undercarriage and lovely caramelized edges.

All Aboard the Palate Train!

Picky eaters drive me nuts. There’re few things more frustrating than dining with a picky eater. Some restaurants don’t have food that they’ll eat, and that usually means one person will dictate where a group eats because they ‘don’t like’ whatever it is the group wants. Any shared dishes must be chosen to appease their picky palate. They don’t like broccoli, so this dish it out, or they don’t like tomatoes, so we’re not ordering that appetizer. There’s no telling the weird restrictions picky eaters will enforce. I’ve met people who don’t like potatoes of all things.

Cooking at home is the same. Picky eaters enforce lowest-common-denominator cooking and dictate what is made. Sometimes two separate meals need to be prepared, one for people that will eat whatever you put in front of them, and one for the picky eater. I find it to be unfair, and I understand it’s not intentionally so, but it’s selfish.

To be clear, I’m talking about those who “don’t like” and choose not to eat certain foods. Allergies are a different issue; dietary restrictions due to allergy are not made by choice.

There’s a great irony here. I was a picky eater.

Continue reading “All Aboard the Palate Train!”

Death by Cheeseburger VII – Best Burger in NY State

Daniel B., Albany’s Yelp Ambassador, was gracious enough to invite me to participate in a burger tasting. He knows I’m a big fan of the form, and I’d enjoy judging a few burgers. Initially, I was a bit hesitant, but ultimately decided I’d do it, and I’m glad I did. It was a blast. There were four judges in total, and besides Daniel and me, Josh D. the Syracuse Yelp Ambassador, and Yelp Elite Thomas C. also took part in the fun.

But this was no ordinary burger tasting; we’d be judging the “Best Burger in New York” contest, run by the NY Beef Council. It’s a contest they do every year, and the goal is to highlight local beef producers and the businesses that sell their product. That’s great, and a noble cause in my opinion.

The restaurants all happened to be in Central NY, between Utica, and Syracuse, which meant a long day, with lots of driving. Daniel picked me up at 9:30 am, and we didn’t get home until 11 that night (after a little side trip to Utica for pizza). It was indeed a lot of driving and of course, a lot of eating.

Continue reading “Death by Cheeseburger VII – Best Burger in NY State”

The Politics of Apologizing

No, this post is not about politics. As George Bush the elder once said, “Not gonna do it. Wouldn’t be prudent.”

This post is about an experience my wife and I had the other night. It’s about a “stuff happens” moment that was initially handled poorly and my thoughts about how it could have been handled better.

I won’t mention the name of the establishment; it’s not relevant to the story. This could’ve happened anywhere, at most any restaurant. It was a local, sit-down full-service restaurant that is very much like a “better” chain, in the vain of casual dining similar to Cheesecake Factory, or Bonefish Grill, etc., and it has to do with the length of time we waited for our meals to come to the table. For context, I think it’s reasonable to expect that you should be eating within 20-25 minutes after being seated.

Continue reading “The Politics of Apologizing”

My Wife’s Salad Dressing

Search my yelp reviews for the words gooey or gloppy and you’ll find a few rants against bottled, factory made salad dressings. I can’t stand them, and in my opinion, most of them are just terrible.

Most use soybean oil, which is flavorless, and they’re loaded with thickeners, which gives them that gloppy consistency. Plus there’s the artificial colors and flavors they’re made with. And they’re usually too sweet. Worse, they’re sweetened with high fructose corn syrup, which is just awful for you.

I really don’t get why people like them. They just can’t compare to a simple oil and vinegar based dressing. Not only because of the unpleasant gooey texture, or cloying sweetness, but they tend to be salty, and artificial tasting, and they cover up a great salad instead of complimenting it.

Continue reading “My Wife’s Salad Dressing”

My Dream Kitchen

Everyone that loves to cook, dreams of having the ultimate kitchen. And those who have the money build them. I used to work in construction, and I’ve worked on some homes with really nice kitchens.

Ask most home cooks what their dream kitchen would consist of and you’ll pretty much get the same answers. A big 6 or 8 burner gas stove, with double ovens. A big island, granite counter tops, lots of counter space, and lots of cabinet space, and maybe they’ll want a big fridge and freezer.

That’s all well and good. But they’re missing the point.

Continue reading “My Dream Kitchen”