Tuesday, August 30, 2011

A Steakhouse anniversary dinner... without the steakhouse

foie gras poelé, sauce échalottes


Steack, beurre a l'estragon, purée, couscous

This year, we have a zero in our anniversary. With the economy being in such a sorry state, celebrating in a restaurant was not an option. Pan-seared foie gras, Champagne, USDA prime steak with tarragon butter and duck fat garlic mashed potatoes and summer couscous would have really broke the piggy bank. Doing it ourselves wasn't exactly a bargain, but then no tip, no corkage fee, no potential DUI and back inside our house in less than two minutes go a long way to make up our lack of extravagance.

Pour vous qui habitent hors de l'état de Californie:
Nos politiciens qui sans doute mangent que de "fast food" merdique, avec un gouverneur qui pensait que le foie gras était une mauvaise chose, mais tromper sa femme n'était pas, se mit ensemble pour détruire tout fabrication et vente de foie gras dans notre état, parce que nous ne devons pas avoir le droit de décider pour nous-mêmes de quoi manger. Donc, ils ont signé un loi qui transforme un délice en un délit. Des le 1 janvier 2012, nous n'aurons plus le droit de manger comme nous voulons, et si on veut du foie gras il faut le chercher dans l'état de Nevada, voir plus loin. On verra si nous deviendrons des trafiquants de foie gras, recherché par les agents habillés en noir sans pitié et sans âme. Peut-être il sera plus simple de déménager vers le Canada où pour l'instant le gouvernement laisse le peuple libre choix sur leurs préférences gustatives.

Monday, August 29, 2011


This was the last of the pizza-like things that can be done with pizza dough. It was also our least favorite, perhaps because it's got the least amount of browned, crispy crust among the four pizzoids tested. The filling was not at fault, since it had lots of flavor. In fact, part of the filling was left over from the piegata so it's identical to what went into that dish.

Since the dough is rolled into the center in a spiral, there's less browning going on. Where a calzone would have the outside browned, a piegata would have two sides browned, and a pizza would have one side (the bottom), this thing has lots of bread in the center where browning just isn't going to happen. So, more sponginess and less crunch.

This was almost an ovo-lacto vegetarian version of something that normally would be stuffed full of cured meats, saturated fats and sodium. A bit of uncured bacon did find its way into the mix, but simply as a subtle nuance. Not that I have anything against cured meats, fat or sodium; it's just that I happen to be out of most of them at the moment. I do have lots of peppers and tomatoes, thanks to the garden - so might as well take advantage of summer's offerings.

There were two fillings: the bell pepper/bacon/onion/garlic from the piegata, a tomato/onion/garlic/oregano filling made for these things, all with a blend of goat cheese and sheep pecorino romano. The coup de grâce was some fennel seeds sprinkled over the top and pressed into the dough. Those little seeds gave depth to the dish, yanking it back from the precipice of ordinary to create a more dynamic flavor profile.

Although I would hesitate to eat either a piegata or a calzone cold, I wouldn't have the same issues with a stromboli. This is really more a spiral-stuffed bread than anything, and does not remind me of pizza at all. So, I could imagine myself somewhere in an Italian olive orchard, a red and white checkered picnic blanket spread on the ground, a bottle of Chianti in the center, some cheese, some salami, a few oil-cured olives and some stromboli. Yes, definitely upscale picnic food. Ants optional.

Pizza piegata

Toss a pizza, but don't put anything on it. Just slide it into the oven, bare. Naked crust meets hot oven, the end result can only be crispy, and that's the whole point. Four surfaces (top & bottom, folded), all tanned and crunchy. Not one like a pizza (bottom) or two like a calzone (top and bottom). Better yet, you can keep raw things raw. Like basil, or maybe smoked salmon, or sushi... nah. That would be strange. Although...

This piegata used finely diced onions, sautéed until transparent, mixed with some garlic, smoked sea salt, a bit of finely chopped uncured bacon and finely diced bell beppers from the garden. This mix then cooled while the cheese mix was prepared and the basil picked. We had some leftover blue cheese, so in it went, along with a generous amount of fresh goat cheese. Some roasted pine nuts joined the cheese. The basil got a chiffonnade and was set aside.

When the piegata came out of the oven, rippling with heat, half was immediately slammed with the diced cheese and pine nut mixture. Then the lukewarm onion/pepper mix, then the basil. The pie was folded in half, sliced, sprinkled with more basil, some olive oil, a dash of pecorino Romano and served.

There's no risk of a soggy layer under the ingredients here. Since the crust bakes separately from the toppings, there are four crispy layers: two bread-like layers and the filling in the middle.


Note: We made these in professional cooking, under the name "piagata". Curious, I searched the web for "piagatta" then "piagata" (one "t") to see who makes these and how they're prepared. No results. Nothing related to food anyway, although one dictionary said it was "something covered in sores". Not appetizing. Beurk!

I vote for a new name: pizza piegata, or simply piegata ("folded"). Better spell it right, though! Even better, pizza piegata actually yields culinary information when searched on the net, albeit mostly in Italian.

Some more digging revealed that folded pizzas are indeed served in the historic quarter of Naples, but they're called a libretto ("booklet") or a portafoglio ("wallet style"). Or maybe pizza a fazzoletto ("handkerchief"). With so many different names, I doubt anyone will mind me calling it piegata.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Peppers. Eggplant. Peppers. Calzone!

Future calzone. No Papa Whozits here!

Courses 1, 2 and 3

Look at those peppers, right from the garden!

Pimientos de padrón

Aubergines du jardin!


Calzone, ready to eat!
Our eggplant was ready! So were the more interesting peppers. Our eggplant hung on the plant, months in the making, finally ready to be cut from the bush and devoured after some culinary transmogrification from pasty, greenish pith to a succulent luscious melt-in-your mouth wonder. OK, it's not the biggest eggplant ever grown, but it's ours. It grew from a violet flower, week by week, despite cool nights and hordes of whiteflies. It was everything I expected from a vegetable anticipated for weeks then slowly braised in water, Vermouth, olive oil, garlic, salt, pepper and oregano : a tender, succulent, melt in your mouth, wish for more extravagance. The other ingredients stepped in to play supporting roles to the eggplant's main note, adding layers of flavor and complexity like a jazz band laying down overlapping rhythms.

The eggplant wasn't the starter, though. Another plate needed to titillate the audience while the aubergine was being prepped backstage. That role went to the padrón peppers. These peppers can be blazingly, painfully hot. Or not. We were spared the burn this year, perhaps due to the cooler than normal weather - although drinking wine with the peppers set off a tip-of-the-tongue fireball that only ignited in the presence of wine.

Padron peppers are fast. Just a quick sauté and they're ready to plate. Heat some olive oil, throw in the peppers, add finely chopped garlic, dried oregano from the garden and a splash of dry vermouth. Let it simmer and reduce a bit, adjust the salt and serve. I added a bit of butter at the end for a nice finish.

Then for the prime attraction: a calzone bursting with goat cheese, pecorino romano, parmesan, fresh basil, and the star attraction, some red sweet Italian peppers plucked from the bush at their prime. Toss the dough, lay it out, put down a layer of fresh goat cheese, pecorino Romano, a bit of Parmesan, the sautéed peppers, some fresh basil. Throw in a few pine nuts, pour the pan sauce redolent of garlic and the essence of fresh summer peppers over the mixture, fold the dough over the top, seal and put it on a pizza stone in a 550° oven for 10-12 minutes. Find that the oil leaked out and smoke is pouring from the oven. Turn off the oven and open all the windows before the smoke alarm goes off. When the smoke has cleared somewhat, add fresh basil over the top and serve.

Another nice summer dinner al fresco, accompanied with some lightly chilled low tannin red wine. By the time we went back in the house, all the smoke had cleared without a trace.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Whoa, there! Cowboy steaks is fer grillin' pard'ner!

Cowboy Steaks. Them critters is thick. Two inches. Right now, they's runnin' around two pounds, bone in. Thicker than a rattlesnake that just et a jackalope, an' that's thick. I hear some slicker down th' trail talkin' bout pan cookin' his steaks. Why, a piece o'beef like that needs flavor on the outside.

Now that there Frenchman, My-yard, he figgered out all this stuff about stuff turnin' brown and flavor. I do say that you can set that steak down in a right hot cookin' iron and you'll get lots of browning.

Yep, packin' a cookin' iron in the chow wagon is a right good idea and it's mighty useful come breakfast time when a body's yearnin' for bacon. It just ain't great for steaks, unless burned on the outside an' rare on the inside is yer idea o' fine meat. It ain't mine.

Well, even that hombre knows this, so that there slicker goes right out and throws that piece o'cow critter into an oven to finish her off slow like. Yep, ya heard that right. Ya figger some ranch hand's out there on the Goodnight-Loving Trail packin' an oven? Nope. Me neither.

Now I figger that pilgrim makes a right tasty steak in his own kitchen. He's prob'ly got a mighty fine cellar full of fancy wine from the likes o'Napa and thereabouts. But after a day a-saddle convincin' ornery critters which way they gotta go, ain't nobody gonna light an oven to grill a steak. No siree.

Ya see, we got these contraptions that work on charcoal. Pure, hard wood mesquite. Burns with a sight o'sparks, a real Fourth o'July, but boy does she grill up steak pretty. Them things look kinda like this, an' this is how ya gotta set 'em up fer grillin':

Now, ya see where it says, "sear"? Well, that's where you put the steak after you've rubbed it down with some salt, pepper, maybe some chili and some herbs you found along the trail, then let it set to warm up a bit an' dry off. Now this side's just fer brownin' and searin'. Don't do no cookin', cause if ya leave it on this side all you'll get is a burned to tarnation steak, blacker than an Angus in a tar pit and not much tastier. That's why ya have the side that says, "cook". There ain't no coals under there - so when that meat's lookin' nice and seared just slide 'er over and do her slow. Keep flipping her over and don't run off for no reason. Ain't nothin' important enough t'drag you away from that meat. Keep pokin' her with yer finger, soft is rare and hard is Too Late.

Now, don't ya go eatin' her all at oncet. That steak, she's gotta set pretty in a plate for five minutes or more. Just let the juices get back where they belong. Then carve her up and let the fandango begin! Don't try cuttin' her in two, neither. Just pick her up by the bone, whip out your ol' Bowie knife and slice her thin like prime rib. Smoke an' fire on the outside, tender an' moist on the inside.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

A birthday dinner under the stars

Now I know why restaurants have different chefs for different things. Although it sounds simple, this menu needed bread for the aigo bolido, pizza dough and pate sucrée for the pies. Plus prep on all the pizza ingredients - one of which was eggplant that had to be slow cooked in garlic and olive oil so it would melt into the other ingredients on the pizzas. Pastry cream for the pie... glaze... getting everything in advance either from our garden or the farmers' market. 

The aigo bolido is simple - fresh thyme, sage and bay leaves thrown into some chopped garlic and boiled with some salt and pepper. At the end, the herbs come out, the garlic is blended and the broth is thickened with an egg yolk. This is then poured over French bread that's been liberally doused in olive oil, salted and peppered. Normally this would be more of a soup, but it works great as an appetizer this way, with the broth soaking into the bread and the olive oil giving richness and depth.

There was no meat in anything - only eggs and dairy. This made the pizzas different since I couldn't just load on pepperoni or sausage for flavor. Everything had to be fresh and at its peak. Once you've had a pizza made with heirloom tomatoes,  you won't want to settle for that stuff out of a can. There was a quick sauce made with San Marzano tomatoes, garlic, oregano, salt and pepper with a bit of fresh grassy extra virgin olive oil poured over the top, then on went the toppings: braised eggplant, bell peppers, garlic (heirloom from Corti Brothers), sliced onions, fresh basil, pine nuts, mozzarella, goat cheese, and even some thinly sliced squash.

Funny, but nobody wanted to try tossing a pie - although one person was interested in the process.

The party started at 5:30. All the prep was done at 5:29, and the only thing left was plating and putting the pizzas together as needed. Why couldn't my timing be that good in Pro Cooking?

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Me, the vampire killer

Funny how things work out. We were walking through the Crocker after lunch when we happened to run into someone Annette met at an art gallery about a year ago. Someone mentioned Hungary, or being Hungarian, or how Hungarian is such a difficult language. I guess she is part Hungarian, in any case. I mentioned that Corti Brothers has Hungarian garlic - and that I was going to try to make some Hungarian flat bread (Langos).

She said to just use sliced rye - the crusty kind - and sprinkle it with salt, pepper, paprika and olive oil - then add sliced onions (or garlic) and enjoy. That's raw onions or garlic. No cooking to mellow it. Feel the burn! Strong stuff indeed.

I just happened to have baked a loaf of this type of bread last night, so I had all the ingredients, more or less. Hungarian garlic, rye bread, olive oil, a mix of Hungarian paprika and Spanish Pimentón agridulce, kosher salt, black pepper. Almost no preparation. Finally, something to eat that's not squash!

Although it doesn't sound like much, this combination of flavors will have you coming back for more. Annette decided to add French butter with sea salt and things got even more interesting (and less healthy, but so it goes).

In the end, we'd each consumed one raw clove of the finest Hungarian garlic. Maybe more. It's fizzing on my tongue as I type, and I can almost hear the Nosferatu packing their bags and calling UPS to ship their coffins back to Transylvania.

Lunch at the Crocker Art Museum

Real food bloggers obsessively haul their cameras around, snapping typically washed-out, poorly focused images of whatever sits on their table. I happen to think this is going too far, and refuse to transform a convivial table into a food porn stage. Besides, sketches are more fun since I can alter reality a bit. Put the soup next to the burger when they arrived sequentially. Add art where there was none. Remove the other diners. Change the burgundy blend wine into a rosé that they didn't have.

I'd heard about the burgers, made from high quality beef, prepared under the watchful eye of someone from Mulvaney's, their buns a perfect balance of sponginess and structure. The meat beefy and succulent; the sauce dripping with blue cheese with a few strips of smoky bacon appearing randomly as the burger is devoured. The fries, recently whole fresh potatoes, now succulent and crispy.

The truth is, the burger was well executed. The rather sparse bacon hid like a shy pig, then resisted being bitten through. The meat and cheese played well together atop fresh leaves of lettuce. The bun indeed held it all together without being tough or disintegrating into sauce-laden stain bombs. So, despite the light bacon dose, one of Sacramento's better burgers.

The fries were more of a mystery. Although sculpted from fresh potatoes, flavorful and fresh, they lacked crunch. They lay on the plate, golden yet limp and relaxed, yielding to the teeth without that all so important initial crunch. Were they not pre-soaked to reduce their starch content? Were they fried in a single dipping instead of having a rest between dunkings? My friend asked if I was going to inspect the kitchen, but I resisted. Sometimes ignorance is, if not bliss, at least more conducive to an enjoyable lunch with friends than on the spot investigation of arcane french fry gastronomy.

Today's soups were sausage and gazpacho. I happen to love gazpacho, but initially received the sausage instead. It smelled wonderful, but back it went. Summer calls for at least one cup of gazpacho, when all its ingredients are at their peak. It arrived with a flourish. Mellow red, cool as a cucumber with a bit of spice coming in like castanets in a flamenco serenade, it soothed yet stimulated as tomato tangoed with cucumber, garlic and chili heat.

Overall, the prices were reasonable, considering that the cafe is located in an art museum - a locale known more for high prices and mediocre food. The burgers cost about what they'd run in a more upscale burger joint. There were some quirks, like one diner receiving about half the portion of fries as the others - but overall the service was prompt and professional. The high point was the gazpacho, not by any lack in the burger, but because it's not something I eat often and this version was done quite well.

Hanger steaks, squash, tomatoes, color theory

We're getting saturated with squash. The plants don't care; they keep producing. This time, I just julienned the vegetable and boiled it in salted water. It was just there to brighten the plate, glowing greenly between the steak and the carmine chunks of tomato added for acid and herbal notes. Braised shallots in a wine reduction nestle against the deep purplish red near-raw meat. Their function: add more umami to intensify the steak flavor and counterpoint all those veggies.

So, the color theory works like this: red/green complimentary contrast, not too strong since the squash sits way over toward the yellow side. The stronger complimentary contrast comes from the purplish meat and yellowish squash, even though the meat's color isn't as saturated. The gray plate and shallots intensify the colors, making them appear much more vivid than they would if the plate were white. Since the steak is dark and the squash light, there's a value contrast to perk things up even more. Texturally, everything is similar shapes, but different sizes.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

The rare and elusive Beckyjo pie, captured

These pies go fast. They're not easy to spot, sitting at or above eye level on top of the deli case at Corti Brothers Market. This pie was Blackberry Pluot, a mouth-pleasing mix of tart and sweet with the emphasis on tart, overlaid with a buttery note for richness.

When I arrived after noon on a Saturday, only two pies remained. Naturally when I left only a lone pie sat waiting (probably not for long). These things are selling like hotcakes, even though they're neither hot nor cakes. They're hand pies, and come in sweet and savory variations with an emphasis on the sweet (at this time). You can read more about them here.

A Chef's playground, an outdoor living-cooking-dining-enjoying space

Click here to see a plan, more pictures and text

Rays of light drift through the fragrant smoke, falling from cutout metal panels overhead. Colorful tiled columns and mosaic counters greet you as you arrive while people gather around cooking stations, the aroma of different foods mingling with the smoke to heighten anticipation of the evening meal, or tempt you over for a sample...

This is something I designed for a competition. The idea was to design a space for meeting, cooking and dining that follows the natural progression of a party: greeting, cooking (for some), dining, relaxing and moving gradually toward an exit. Why not have a space designed for each of these uses that still lets them communicate? Why not add a fun theme, like Moroccan, to the mix and transport everyone away from the ordinary?

Intermingling zones facilitate a great experience for guests and fun for chefs:

Movable seating and serpentine seat walls to encourage people to move around and mingle. The bar is also near this zone, and has burners for hot appetizers. After the fun, this is a place for saying, "see you next time".

This is where the fun starts. A sauce/stock/pasta station with burners set into a counter. A raised planter full of fresh herbs. A paella bar with a built-in paella ring so people can sit around as the rice bubbles. Grilling and baking stations with lots of prep space. Refrigerators under the counters for quick access to cold foods. The idea is that a flock of chefs could descend into these areas and play. A central storage shed holds dishwashers, plates, utensils and most items needed for a banquet, keeping the Chefs' Playground more or less self-contained.

The big dining table lies under hanging Moroccan lights, backed by a fireplace. It's separated from the cooking area by a counter with built-in refrigerators and wine coolers.

After the meal, another large patio and garden paths let everyone stretch their legs and enjoy a wall fountain, fragrant plants and colorful mosaics.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Bacon Salad

The French know how to eat. Really. This is proof. Bacon salad. Bien sûr, they don't call it that; they use the much more refined term, "Frisée aux lardons". Or in this case, "Frisée aux lardons, vinaigrette aux mûres". Pork fat, by any other name, would taste as sweet.

This is a great dish to munch while you're waiting for your mesquite-grilled chicken or some other port-deprived dish. One of the best things about bacon is that after eating it, you're not hungry and can wait as long as it takes for the next course to be ready.

Frisée aux lardons, sauce mûres

  • Frisée, one head, base cut off, washed, artfully arranged on a plate in a mound of frizziness.
  • Bacon, in this case uncured (that makes it health food)
  • Fresh blackberry juice/pulp, seeds strained out
  • Brown sugar
  • White sugar
  • Water
  • Red wine vinegar (formerly Two Buck Chuck and mixed reds)
  • Salt
  • Black pepper
  • Lemon juice
  • Lime juice
  • Garlic (this was some fancy French stuff, and it worked well)
  • Pine nuts
(yeah, that's a lot of ingredients for a salad but not to worry)

  1. Pour the sugar (to taste) into the water in a pan, reduce down until it caramelizes (this is the base for a gastrique).
  2. Add the blackberry juice, reduce some more.
  3. While the gastrique is doing its thing, sauté the bacon with the garlic and pine nuts. Reserve.
  4. Arrange the washed frisée leaves on a plate, making sure to create an artful and appetizing mound of leaves.
  5. Spoon the bacon/pine nut mixture over the frisée.
  6. Add the lemon and lime juice to the blackberry sauce.
  7. Spoon or pour the sauce over the bacon mixture and frisée.
  8. Taste for saltiness. It should be adequate because of the bacon. Likewise, you don't need to add oil because the bacon takes care of this for you. If it needs a bit more salt, garnish with something cool like Maldon smoked salt flakes or Hawaiian black sea salt.
  9. Serve immediately while the bacon is still warm.
You don't have to use bacon. You could use Pancetta or some other fatty, porky delicacy. You could even use gésiers de canard confits... but then that would be more of a salade landaise (my absolute favorite, but getting preserved duck gizzards is a challenge here).

Thursday, August 11, 2011


Three bulbs of garlic. Three varieties. One question: what do they taste like, and how different are they? Our local market, Corti Brothers, trotted out their garlic collection for 2011 with over a dozen varieties of the stinking bulb from which we selected three.

The method: one clove separated from its mother bulb, sliced, placed in a labeled saucer. Raw. Then, sauteed briefly until they showed just a hint of color.

Raw: Initial taste hot, then a bit grassy moving on to a mellow finish.
Cooked: A nice garlic hit without being too assertive, its heat mellowed a lot with cooking. These would be great for garlic chips, if they were bigger. With a bit of salt, these were pleasant to munch straight.

Tzentendere, Hungary.
softneck, silverskin

Raw: Initially hot, a bit more so than the Xi'an but still not overpowering. A similar grassiness to the middle flavor, tapering to a mellow finish.
Cooked: Another candidate for garlic chips, although a bit more powerful than the Xi'an. Still, a mellow bulb with perhaps a bit earthier flavor than its Chinese cousin.

Tarne, France
hardneck, Rocambole

Raw: Aie! Ca pique! This one comes on strong with an attack of garlicky heat backed by a bit of a sour note. Once you get over the initial heat, there's a lot of flavor - but that burn will be there all the way into the finish.
Cooked: The heat's still there, although mellowed a bit. The other, mellower garlicky flavors are more pronounced and the heat is tempered, fading slowly into a firm garlic aftertaste. This variety will benefit from long, slow cooking where its strong garlic flavor can develop and its heat tone down.

Our favorites were the Xi'an, followed by the Tzentendere with the Tarne coming in last due to its biting heat.

We both think that the Tarne will probably be great, perhaps even better than the others when cooked due to its rich flavor. It's from southern France, so that's a start. Ratatouille, anyone?

I'll probably try the Tzentendere rubbed raw on some Hungarian style bread with olive oil, the way I had it in a restaurant years ago.

The Xi'an is so mouth friendly even raw that it will probably be paired simply with vegetables where its flavor won't be masked. Maybe garlic fries...

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

How dumb are we, exactly?

One of our big corporation run supermarkets is at it again. Here's the deal: buy one steak, get one free. The week before, this meat was running about $7.00 per pound. On sale, it was around $14 per pound if you bought one steak, or about $7.00 if you bought two. The second one is "free". Get it? Funny, though. If you'd bought two steaks at the old price, the total would have been... probably less, since they had smaller steaks then.

Where you might have (gasp) bought one large steak, grilled it, fanned it out and served it to two people, now you either buy two steaks for twice as much or go elsewhere.

Welcome to the 21st Century, where everyone is a victim and Corporations are King! We really seem to be living in some sci-fi dystopia, but the real question is which one? Minority Report? Blade Runner? 1984? Brave New World? Little Heroes? All of the above, with a few twists thrown in?

Why is nobody screaming about this? Where is the organized boycott done as a retaliation against being treated like idiots? We're being conned, mislead, manipulated and disrespected, with no end in sight and not even a token protest.

It's not just about pricing, either. What's in that food we're eating? What's the "color added" in the salmon? Why is there sand in my spices? Which foods have ground up bugs that live on cacti added for color? If something isn't sustainable, how come it's renamed instead of discontinued? Greenwashed yet un-green. Does high-fructose corn syrup really need to be in everything? Why can't they ferment and distill the stuff for ethanol to add to my gasoline instead of feeding it to me?

Is is true that as long as we have good televisions, we'll remain pacified and controllable? Like the graffiti in Porto said, "Don't wait for the revolution while sitting in front of your TV" But, figuratively or otherwise, we're ALL sitting in front of our TVs.

Oh, and to all those idiots who think industrial geniuses like the ones in Atlas Shrugged will save us, please remember this: that was a work of FICTION. It also neglected to mention what happens to the ordinary workers, since everyone can't be a genius CEO. Although, if every worker were considered an independent asset instead of a cog in a corporate machine, where the government existed to ensure fair treatment to all and guarantee equal access to services... wait. That would mean re-writing the entire system, taking the power away from those currently at the top and giving it to those at the bottom. Using some sort of just informational system to eliminate concentrations of power and wealth that lead to inequality (yes, I'm also talking to you, Communist Party leaders!). This is only a food blog, not a revolutionary political manifesto.

If it were a manifesto, I'd also mention that it's no wonder that governments are broke, when they have "spend it or lose it" rules that don't reward saving and working within a budget. What if agencies could carry over unspent money, allocating it for special projects like people saving up to buy a house?

But, this isn't a manifesto so I'll stop. Now.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Pizza, a great way to use fresh vegetables

Tomatoes, basil, eggplant, heirloom summer squash, dried oregano... all from the garden. Add garlic, onion, olive oil and you've got something healthy and tasty. Add pepperoni and you lose the healthy aspect but gain some extra flavor. A bit of goat cheese doesn't hurt, either. For extra gooeyness, Mozzarella is a must.

I didn't want to make tomato sauce - for one thing, this isn't the best year for tomatoes and yields are low. For another, a 550° oven makes the kitchen hot enough without adding bubbling pots of sauce to the thermal mix. So, after shaping the 'za, I added olive oil, sliced red, ripe garden tomatoes, fine strips of basil, julienned onions, garlic, and goat cheese. Then I decided that was too healthy and threw on some pepperoni and olives.

A quick transfer to the pizza stone in the oven, a bit of bubbling and rising and eccolo! A home made pizza. Nobody missed the tomato sauce since the garlic, oil, oregano, tomato and basil pretty much created the sauce right on the pie.

Since the dough is prepared in advance and pizzas bake very quickly, this is the perfect light summer meal with friends.

Pizza Dough
This is still a work in progress, so it's subject to change, and I've been playing with a mixed grain version, too. Yes, it's a metric recipe. It's so much easier to scale up and down when everything is in grams. Digital scales and measuring cups normally have metric capability, so no whining. No conversion necessary - that's a pain!

  • 7g instant (SAF) yeast
  • 18g honey
  • 300g bread flour
  • 100g high gluten flour (Giusto's Vital Wheat)
  • 5g kosher salt
  • 40g extra-virgin olive oil

  1. Combine dry ingredients: flours, salt, yeast. Mix well.
  2. Mix the honey into the water,  stir well.
  3. Mix the water into the flour, briefly
  4. Mix the oil into the dough, then knead well.
  5. Form into a ball and let proof until it rises
  6. Divide into two pieces, form into balls and refrigerate until ready
  7. Take the balls out before use to let them warm up. Place a pizza stone in your oven, preheat oven to max (550 works).
  8. Toss if you're good at that kind of thing, or form with your hands.
  9. Coat with olive oil, toppings, etc. I'm assuming you're not from Betelgeuse and know what a pizza looks like.
  10. Using a peel, slide the pie onto the stone and close the oven door quickly.
  11. Your pie should be ready quickly, depending on how thick you made the crust and how hot your oven gets.
  12. Turn onto pizza pan if you're really well-equipped, or onto a metal baking sheet if not, cut and eat.

This method is set up for a food processor since I don't have a fancy stand mixer. The idea is still to mix all the ingredients in the flour very well and knead enough to develop the gluten. Do NOT, EVER, add more high gluten flour than this or you will get something more resembling a sticky, fibrous, elastic ball than dough. It won't taste as good, either.

One more thing: if you want to add an egg to your pizza, crack it over the hot pizza as it comes out of the oven, so the yolk will run all over your pie but the white will be set up. They do this in Europe. Not really an American thing, but if you have too many eggs or like the flavor combination, give it a try.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Raffles: the scourge of social interaction

You're deep in a conversation, deconstructing and reconstructing a complex subject, when suddenly the dreaded voice floats above the crowd, "We're now starting the raffle". All conversations die a sudden death, social interaction replaced by silence as everyone focuses on the person with the microphone. Neurons associated with greed, probability theory, jealousy and memory of the prizes spring into action. Neurons associated with free thought, dialog, critical thinking and human interaction shut down.

Prizes flow to a few people, while the others become more and more resigned to their prizeless fate as the top pieces pass to undeserving hands. The mood darkens as the final little-desired beads and trinkets are announced, a vain effort at consolation.

The raffle ends. The winners greet each other, since they're now members of the exclusive People Who Win Raffles club. The vast majority of the audience finds excuses to be elsewhere, anywhere, and leaves, all social opportunities quashed by the dark mood engendered by their loss of the Super Cookbook, case of wine or other Desired Object.

Why do potlucks and other events so often have raffles? Do they think their event is so onerous that they need to draw people in with a gimmick? Why can't they spend the effort that went into the raffle to make the event more interesting and find ways of encouraging people to mingle and interact face to face. To actually make them put down their smart phones, stop texting and start talking.

I've come to the point where any event with a raffle makes me cringe. I dread sitting in a crowd of mostly disappointed people, captive to my own expectation of winning something useful combined with my dread of having to accept something useless. Overlay this with brutal probability that predicts I'll likely get nothing and I'm wasting my time. Twenty or more minutes of my life gone, wasted, submerged in lower emotions of greed and envy without even a lousy mug or refrigerator magnet to show for my attendance.