Silver Spring Lunch Calculations

Lunch Time!

Lunch Time!

If there are two things software engineers like to discuss and optimize the most during their work day, they are the commute and where to go for lunch. The latter is the topic of discussion today.

A few weeks ago I decided to put a makeshift lunch-chart on my whiteboard. I listed all the lunch places along one axis and all the people I generally go to lunch with on the other and had everyone rate their choices from 0 to 10. Later on I back-ported a meaning onto this 0-10 scale: multiply by ten to get the percentage chance I could get you to go to this place if I proposed we go there.

Eventually everyone got annoyed that we couldn’t fiddle with the numbers to generate cool statistics. One person even proposed doing an “affinity” chart to see who generally likes the same places as others. All this was too tough to do on a whiteboard, so I ported the numbers over to a Google Spreadsheet (in my spare time, of course). The image above is a slightly dated version of that Spreadsheet.

I think Google Spreadsheet is really awesome and I hope that maybe if you live or work in Silver Spring, this chart will be somewhat beneficial to you, too. And if not, maybe you can make your own chart for the places near you!

View the whole spreadsheet here!


Variations on Crab and Wasabi

I promised to post recipes for some of the dishes from the Fel Iron Chef competition, so here they are! You may be able to tell the difference in styles of the two Chefs by looking them over.

The recipe for the most innovative dish by Chef Poob:

Creamy Wasabi Mustard (Camo Sauce)

2 tablespoon cup sour cream
1 1/2 tablespoon wasabi
2 tablespoon mayo
3 tablespoon mustard dijon
dash of onion powder
dash of sugar

Crab Poppers

1 large can Poblano peppers

1 lb crab
2 tbs fine chopped bell pepper
2 tbs fine chopped onion
1/4 cup cracker meal
1 beaten egg
1 clove garlic
1/4 cup milk
salt, pepper, and cayenne to taste

2 cups cracker meal
1 cup milk
2 eggs
salt and pepper

cut peppers in half and stuff with filling
bread and dump in boiling hot oil until kitchen bursts into flame

The recipe for the most innovative dish by Chef Orlo:

Crab and Cauliflower Soup (serves 2-4):

Key notions:
We are mixing textures as well as flavors in this dish. The broth is not poured until the very last minute in order to keep the nutty flavour of the cauliflower and the crispy, sweet crab meat distinct and separate. What brings them together is the acidity of the tomato and leek, all under the umbrella of lemongrass and wasabi.

1 head Cauliflower, flourettes chopped into small bits
Fresh Crab meat : 1/2 to 3/4 of however much cauliflower you have
1 glug Olive/Canola Oil
1 glug oil, olive or Canola
1-2 liters vegetable stock or filtered water
1 cup chopped leeks
1 tomato, very thinly sliced (alternatively, you could chop them to cubes half the size of the cauliflower chunks)
3 cloves garlic, roughly crushed
1-2 strands lemongrass, smashed
1 tbsp wasabi paste
1 whole crab (the redder the better, for color and taste. Frozen is OK)

finely chopped chives
1/2 tsp Salt
1/2 tsp Pepper

1. Preheat oven to 375

2. Begin to boil water or stock in an appropriately-sized pot

3. In a bowl, dress the cauliflower with pepper and salt, and rub in oil until all pieces are covered and salt and pepper are distributed evenly.

4. Spread cauliflower out on a thin baking sheet and place in the pre-heated oven near the top

This is the fun part:
Smash, Bash and Crush the crab and garlic and optional lemongrass into bits. We won’t be eating these directly; they’ll be flavouring our broth for our soup ( But save the crab claws to snack on while cleaning up)

5. place leeks, crab, smashed garlic, wasabi paste and lemongrass into the water/stock.

6. Let stew for as long as you can. The longer the crab stays in there, the redder (and prettier) the stock gets. Taste periodically to make sure you have the desired amount of salt and wasabi . Start with light salt… you can always add more, but you cant take any away!

7. While the soup is stewing, check on your cauliflower. After about 7-10 minutes, or when your cauliflower is just turning golden brown, spread some of the fresh crab meat onto the same pan, next to the cauliflower. By roasting the cauliflower and crab, we are allowing the more complex carbohydrates to un-tangle, making them more receptive (and sweeter) to our tastebuds. Roasting the crab will also give us some bite for when we put it in the soup.

8. While the cauliflower and crab finish, start preparing your soup bowls. Place one or two of the very thin tomato slices in the bowl and dress it with some of the chopped chives.

9. When the cauliflower and crab look ‘toasted’, pull them out and let them sit for a minute, then place them on top of the tomato in the soup bowls. Notice that we have not added any of our crab stock at this point.

10. When it comes time to eat, serve the bowls of tomato, crab and cauliflower, then gently pour in some of the broth around the edges of the bowl, making an effort not to drown our beautifully toasted crab and cauliflower. Garnish with more chives, if you wish, a stalk of lemongrass or a leftover crab claw climbing out of the bowl would look awesome too.

Possible variations:

Try adding some Thai basil or cilantro at the end, to make more of a pho-flavoured dish. Add some broiled or crispy pan-fried white fish just before you pour the broth for a more seafood-y soup.

I Have Way Too Much Leftover Crab

I’ve been meaning to do the wrap-up post for the Iron Chef-style battle we held back in February, but I hadn’t gotten around to it until today. So here it is: the results of the showdown in the Kitchen Arena:

The contenders with their game faces on.

The contenders with their game faces on.


The Weirdo Chairman


Cool Programs: thanks Mom!

The battle was not nearly as intensely fought as it is on television, the competitors were more cordial and atmosphere was a bit more relaxed. As the chairman, I wore a maroon bathrobe along with the longest formal black tie I could find. I tried to follow the program as closely as possible: The introduction, the coin toss, the biting of the pepper (actually very yummy), the unveiling of the special ingredients and the battle itself.

We had three cameras going during the battle. Mine died fairly early due to lack of battery life, but the other two stayed on. The hope is that a video will eventually be produced but that takes a lot more effort and will than a blog post, which has taken me 2 months!

Each contender prepared three dishes.  First up was Chef Poob:

n722117939_1355104_7163 Crab Dip with Pita Wedges A rich and creamy crab dip with cheese on top served with fried pita wedges for dipping and garnished with wasabi mustard sauce.
vlcsnap-6062289 Poblano Poppers Poblano Peppers stuffed with crab and cracker meal, breaded and fried to perfection.
tradpoob Crab Quesadilla A traditional quesadilla stuffed with cheese and crab and cut into strips served with dipping cups filled with wasabi mustard.

His dishes were very well received.

Chef Orlo responded with:

caulsoup Roasted Crab and Cauliflower Soup Roasted cauliflower and roasted crab along with fresh herbs and vegetables with the broth poured tableside to preserve the texture and taste.
cakes Asian-style Crab Cakes with Soy Sauce Lightly fried crab cakes with Asian spices served with wasabi and soy sauce.
crunch Open-faced Crab Quesadilla with Orange Pepper An open face quesadilla on a half-tostada heavy on the crab and light on the cheese with fresh orange pepper and wasabi on top.

His dishes were also well received and analyzed thoroughly by the judges.

The final adjudication was really tough because I didn’t want anyone to lose!  Someone has to in a competition, I guess, though.  Both culinary masters did well but only one came out the winner and the first “Iron Chef.”

Here are the final scores:

Poob Orlo
Judge Taste Plating Originality Taste Plating Originality
Judge 1 9 4 4 8 5 4
Judge 2 7 4 5 9 4 5
Judge 3 7 3 3 8 5 4
Total 23 11 12 25 14 13
46 52

Here’s a video of me announcing the winner:

As I said, a little too low key.  And I got the score wrong, also.

Many thanks to competitors, judges, attendees, and everyone who was involved for making it totally awesome!  On Friday I will post the recipes that the competitors sent me for their dishes.

Some lessons learned for the next battle:

  • It is important to hold the tournament in a neutral location.  If one competitor has cooked or practiced in the location, they have a definitive advantage.
  • Have a better plan for how to do the math.  We used clipboards and score sheets that were a little confusing and I added them up wrong.  We had two accountants at the battle but neither checked my numbers!
  • Buy less ingredients.  I went kind of crazy with the ingredients but since both contenders already sort of had a plan in mind, they didn’t need many of them.  Almost none of the vegetables got used and very little of the cheese.
  • Be more flamboyant.  A flamboyant chairman makes for a more exciting battle.

We already have two possible contenders lined up for the next battle. Chef Orlo is planning the next event (so as to find an adequate challenger) and has already picked a secret ingredient to challenge the competitors.  He is only biding his time before the ingredient is fully in season. You have not seen the last of this culinary tournament!

It’s Good to Be the Chairman!

Image from Flickr by Paul GoyetteA while back on this blog I came up with the idea to hold a cooking competition at my place between my sometime-cobloggers: my brother “poober” and my housemate “orlowski.”

Well, I got organized and it’s happening! I’ve lined up the competitors, some judges, we’ve agreed on a date, and I’ve even lined up someone to be in charge of video recording. This could get interesting…

Anyway, I thought I’d just share my first draft of the rules for the competition with you to invite comment. The competitors themselves will also need to meet sometime so we can conference on the rules and get them straight, but I’m giving you the first peek!

Here they are:

Fel Iron Chef Cooking Competition Rules

Thank you for your interest in the Fel Iron Chef Cooking competition.  The following are the guidelines that all entrants must follow to remain qualified for the competition.

The first competition is Battle Wasabi Crab Quesadilla.  The general set of ingredients for this battle will be known in advance although specifics will not be revealed until the battle begins.

Battle Parameters

The battle will take place at 5:30 PM on Sunday, February 15, 2009.  Contestants should arrive by 5 o’clock.

Contestants should prepare 3 (three) dishes.  One of these dishes must be a crab wasabi quesadilla and the other two must use at least one of the semi-secret ingredients.  Contestants should expect to prepare enough of their dishes to serve 9 (nine) people, including three judges, three spectators, the chairman and the contestants themselves.  Contestants agree to release their recipes at the end of the battle.

Each contestant will have 45 minutes to prepare their dishes.  Preparation times will be staggered.  A coin toss will determine who goes first.  The second contestant will begin 30 minutes after the first contestant.  The contestants should expect to serve their dishes immediately at the end of the 45 minutes.

The battle will be filmed.


There are three classes of ingredients.

1. Semi-secret Ingredients – The contestants will be provided with a variety of styles of the following ingredients: Crab.  Wasabi.  Tortillas.  Cheese.  Mexican-style Fruits and Vegetables (including but not limited to tomatoes, onions, peppers, and avocados).

2. Staples – The contestants are free to use anything available in the provided kitchen and are asked to provide a list of staples they feel they may require at least 2 days before the battle.  Both contestants will be allowed to make use of all the staples on both provided lists.

3. Special Ingredients – The contestants are welcome to bring at most 5 (five) ingredients of their own choosing to the battle.  Each contestant will have sole use of these ingredients and does not have to share.  Ingredients can be store-bought or pre-prepared although if the pre-prepared materials make up a substantial portion of any of the dishes, points may be deducted.


There will be three judges.  Each judge will award points according to this system:  up to 10 points for taste, 5 points for originality, and 5 points for plating.  All three scores will be added together leading to a possible maximum score of 60 points.  The contestant with the highest cumulative score will be declared the winner.

A Gastronomic Challenge is Issued…

Not to interrupt the excellent on the spot Blizzcon reporting from orlowski, but my appetite has been whetted by an interesting search that led someone to find this blog:

japanese crab wasabi quesadilla recipes

I challenge both of my cobloggers, who are both culinary wizards of one sort or another, to come up with a recipe that sates this unlikely searcher’s desires, and then prepare it!  If they both succeed at meeting this challenge, I will assemble a panel of judges to choose the victor, IRON CHEF STYLE!

Disclaimer: The panel of judges may consist of only me.

Now I see why I like Chipotle so much

I’m supposed to be on a low-sodium diet, theoretically, but I tend to eat one of these at least once a week:

Nutrition Facts
Amount Per Serving
Calories 985 Cal from Fat 380
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 43g 66%
Saturated Fat 17g 83%
Trans Fat 0g
Cholesterol 70mg 23%
Sodium 2485mg 104%
Total Carbs 114g 38%
Dietary Fiber 25g 100%
Sugars 13g
Protein 33g
Vitamin A 0% Vitamin C 0%
Calcium 0% Iron 0%
* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet. Your daily values may be higher or lower depending on your calorie needs.
INGREDIENTS: 13″ Tortilla,Tomato Salsa,Green (Medium) Salsa,Cheese,Sour Cream,Guacamole (4oz),Black Beans,Rice

…and I think I will continue to do so. Still, it has about my daily recommended intake for sat-fat and well over my daily recommended intake for sodium. Next time I have one I’ll have to avoid eating anything other than broccoli for the rest of the day.

Vulgar Vegetarianism

I tend to engage in vulgar vegetarianism.  Yes, I’m a vegetarian.  Except I eat fish.  And other seafood.  And I don’t really eat all that many vegetables.  Mostly it comes down to grains, dairy, a little bit of fruit, and plenty of old-fashioned junk food.

Recently I came upon a list of foodstuffs that I had made up a year or two ago as possible dinner items.  I didn’t want to lose the list, but I also didn’t want the paper laying around, so I figured here is as good a place as any to keep a record (and maybe start doing a little more cooking like I used to.)  I know I have at least 3 gluten-free readers and 2 vegans and this list pretty much violates everything they stand for.  Oh well!

Possible dinner items for a vulgar vegetarian:

  • quesadilla
  • cheese enchiladas
  • grilled cheese sandwiches
  • (fake) BLT
  • (fake) hot dogs
  • lasagna
  • fettucine alfredo
  • spaghetti
  • ravioli
  • pancakes
  • pizza sandwiches
  • eggplant parmesan
  • curried potatoes and onions
  • (fake) sloppy joe
  • vegetarian chili
  • tuna noodle casserole
  • tuna sandwiches
  • bagel beauties
  • bean burritos
  • bean tacos
  • boboli (pizza)
  • boboli (mexican)
  • mushroom soup
  • salmon
  • seafood salad
  • omelet
  • scrambles
  • greek salad
  • cheese + bread
  • cheese + crackers
  • mac + cheese