Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Travel Sandwiches

Yeah, after a couple of days of these the idea of a shitty hamburger and flaccid french fries will sound pretty good.  But for about 15¢ each it isn't so bad.  Or so good.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Nothing good ever came out of Mentor, Ohio.

"First I was born.  Then the trouble begins."

So it isn't that I'm opposed to boutique grilled cheese restaurants.  I'm not.  What I have trouble with is them doing it poorly.

So while in Columbus, Ohio I went to lunch with my Father et al. at a place in the "Short North" called "Melt".  Wow, the Short North continues to change.  Pretty soon it will creep far enough north that it will meet the South Campus mall-like development juggernaut and there won't be any smutty parts of town left—and I can't get behind that.  The atmosphere was really just something that we should have let die in the 90s.

BUT ABOUT THE SANDWICH: Nice attempt, poor execution.  What went wrong?
Well, first there was the name.  "Kindergarden".  Just because it wasn't made with crab cakes or bull semen it is some sort of under developed piece of crap that lacks maturity?  Come on!  I'll tell you what, you have to master the basics before you paint like Francis Bacon.  And there is the problem.

The bread: too thick.  Cooked too quickly, leaving too much moisture in the center so that it totally collapses when you bite into it.  Not only that but the high temperature and nature of the bread lead to an unfortunate pattern of browning—a thin ring at the crust and a spot in the center with the space in between left underdone.  So for the most part there wasn't a good bite to the sandwich.  It just squishes. See, a good grilled cheese should have a slight snap when you bite into it—sort of like a fine hot dog, but less so—a quality entirely absent.

The cheese: Fine.  A bit too much.  It was a mixture of provolone and cheddar.  But where there is too much bread you'll usually find too much cheese.

Over all I just think we lacked refinement.  I think someone needs to spend a few months alone in a cabin in the woods with a loaf of white bread, bunch of "cheese" singles, and a fucking hot plate.  I know, it isn't exactly fine dining, but stripping down you it will teach you how to handle your materials in a more meaningful way.

I'm sure you'll hear more about my grilled cheese journey here.  For now I'll leave you with this thought:
Not perfect, but fair for 35¢.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Fly Free, Giant Eagle

Shocking.  I'm eating more doughnuts.  
Of course I'm eating more doughnuts.  Good ones for sure.

This time they are from Giant Eagle, a Pittsburgh based grocery store.  Not to be confused with Giant Eagle Market District—their upmarket version.  These came from the regular Giant Eagle at Bethel and Sawmill in Columbus, Ohio.

See, they do very similar doughnuts.  But Market District tries to make their version more, well, upmarket.  The result is, well, upmarket and a bit cloying.  I think I even ended up with a custard filling once.  I don't think there is anything wrong with a custard filled Long John, but it is a real shock to the system to bite into something and get gush of custard if you have no warning.

Now, these doughnuts—these doughnuts—are pretty good doughnuts.  Why?  Well, I'll tell you:

The Pastry:  
1. The Skin: When you bite into there is little resistance caused by the skin—a doughnut shouldn't have a crust and the skin should be barely noticeable.  Staleness is going to happen, but overcooked doughnuts have an unnecessarily thick and crunch skin.  That might be nice for a fritter, but not so much here.  B+, a little too much bite, but only a little.
2a. Interior Texture: Tight, but not too tight.  Ok, here I think for a glazed ring you want a more open crumb (something on the baguette end of things), but for something filled you need a medium crumb.  A crumb that is too dense will create dense nodules when displaced by filling—too light and it isn't satisfying.  A-, good, supportive texture, nice chew.
2b. Interior Moisture: The crumb is moist—almost but not quite custardy on its own.  Not wet, that would be terrible.  But a dry crumb makes for an unpleasant doughnut.  A, just about right.

Frosting: Dark, not too sweet.  Not too much.  A-, it could have even more bitterness for my taste, but I am likely a bit extreme in my taste.  

Filling: Somewhere between soft peaks and stiff peaks.  You know, medium peaks—ones that stay peaked, but sag under its own weight when you take a bite and it splooges out the other end.  Sweet, a little vanilla (not overpowering, but necessary to balance the chocolate).  Shouldn't be oily or wet feeling.  A.

The only sad thing is that I don't have more of them.

Young Lovers

Thursday, December 12, 2013

The Fat Days

A blast from the past: my typical lunch back in late winter 2011.  Back then I could afford to be a vegetarian (the sandwich is fake hickory smoked turkey, provolone cheese, and either hummus or mustard and mayo--the sandwich cost about 90 cents).

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Everything is Bigger in Texas

Dateline: Houston!

Turns outthey have their own ways of doing things here. When I went into the candy shop and asked if there were pecans (although I said "peck-ans") in the candies they call "Longhorns" I was shocked that I wasn't thrown out, but gently corrected and told that they are made with "pee-cans". In my day I would have gone to far. Have we gotten so soft-even in Texas?

Of course, the real news is about something really important: Donuts.

Donut is what the sign promised--and delivered. You have to understand: My preferred doughnut is usually a tender sugar-cream filled long john. The skin should offer no resistance and the interior must be moist and not too airy (about half way between sandwich bread and a baguette crumb)--you know, a crumb that is a bit custardy. They have those here. But they call theme éclairs (no, they call them eeeee-clares, ok?). The thing about that is that they are a slab of doughnut measuring about 9 by 4 inches, about an inch high. Less an éclair or long john, not even a chocolate frosted log (yeah, the maple log is more common, mostly occurring out west). No, this is clearly a milled or hewn plank of doughnut. I could club a seal with this thing if it were just stale enough.
Almost as good as a medical grade sterile 2x4.

How was it? Big. It came off a bit stale at one end, but had a nice bite otherwise. The crumb was a bit tol thight, but without being too heavy. The frosting was typical-not chocolaty enough (ideally the frosting is chocolaty to the point of almost being to the edge of being bitter, but not over the line-the sweetness is provided by the filling). Here is the real problem: the filling. It was oily, yes, but we'll take what we can get. See, it wss loose. Almost a liquid. Lacking in viscosity. Still, not bad for an airport doughnut.

Now, if I had to eat dinner here in Houston I'd definitely eat at Space City BBQ. Every other place is too fancy--including both burrito places in terminal B. Space City BBQ has a sign printed on foam-core and stuck up with foam double stick tape. Too bad I'm not hungry.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Pizza for 40

Good Friday (kneaded but not risen).
It may be in bad taste to compare pizza to Jesus, but let's not keep us from cooking for three dozen people.

Kneading this much dough is a pretty good workout. 
Easter Sunday (Risen!)

And then I failed to take an after photo.  The good news it they ate it…all.

Ready to be baked.

Whisk together in a very large bowl:
23 ½ c Flour (I always use King Arthur AP unless I'm really broke)
5 T Salt
4 T Active Dry Yeast

Heat to about 100° F:
8 c (½ gallon!) Milk
then whisk in:
1 c Olive oil
3 T plus 1 t Sugar

Be sure sugar is dissolved.  Then add wet to dry.  Mix until it forms a shaggy dough. 
Turn onto floured counter.  Knead until it feels right.  10 to 12 minutes.  You know how it feels, right?

Place dough on a lightly oiled (use the same olive oil) half-sheet pan, rub a coating of oil over surface too. Cover loosely with plastic wrap.

Let rise 1½-2 hours.  Or for faster rise place in over at about 160° oven (this is what I usually do—but I cover with tin foil rather than plastic wrap when it goes in the oven).

Split dough into 5 balls.  Usually these are about 1150-1200 grams each.  Let sit for about ten minutes to relax dough, then stretch out to fit in half sheet pans.

Lightly coat bottom of 5 sheet pans with olive oil and throw in the dough.  You can dress these now or later.  Let rise about half an hour.  You can chill them, then let them rise or whatever (I put them in the ice shed and then pull them out after the third end).

Dress with sauce (recipe below), about 1¼ pound of grated mozzarella cheese.  Other toppings as desired.  I cover with pepperoni—a seven ounce package per pizza is more than enough.

Combine a large saucepan over medium heat:
¼ c Olive Oil
2 heads Garlic

Cook the garlic in the oil, then add:
3 cans (28 oz) Crushed Tomatoes

Simmer until nice and thick.  Usually takes about 2 hours.  Watch out for the splatter.

This is about $5 for the flour (the good KA AP sutff), $1 for yeast,  $2 for milk, $2.50 for olive oil (sauce, dough, and for pans), and maybe 10¢ each for salt and sugar.  $8 for peperoni, $17 for cheese, $2 for tomatoes and 70¢ for garlic.  That totals about $38.40, so a bit under a dollar a person (2 slices each, 16 slices per pie).  I usually end up spending a bit closer to $45 because it takes a bit more than a 5 pound bag of flour and you can't get cheap cheese in the intermediate quantities—but I use the leftovers. 

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Fasting for Immigration Reform

This time we are talking about food.  We're talking about not food.

For the next day I'll be fasting as part of the Fast 4 Families.  Just 24 hours.  From 5pm Sunday to 5pm Monday.  Water only.

A lot of people have already been fasting and will go on doing so—a day is just a gesture of solidarity with them.  Of course, I write this as I suck down a bowl of ice cream before the start time rolls around.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Chocolate Bonus Saturday!

This is how it happened:  I was at Aldi waiting in line and there it was.  Big ass chocolate bars (7 ounces or so) for 79¢!  With eight rows of four blocks I'll eat an eighth of the bar at a time (most times—sometimes I'll just take two block in the car).  

Serving cost: 8¢

Shut up, you know I bought 10 bars.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Hedgehog Repair

We can't spend all our time cruising the frozen food and canned vegetable aisles.  Oh, no.

Today we spent some time repairing worn dog toys—she gave the hedgehog a rather rudimentary lobotomy.  Now the hedgehog is well again!

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

The 12¢ Donut

[In the voice of Dr. Hathaway] Good evening.  Tonight we're going to look at something most of us take for granted… the doughnut.  What does it look like?

Ok, yeah, a donut is nice.  I like doughnuts a lot more though

Oxford Encyclopedic English Dictionary, 3rd Ed., 1996
Ok, there isn't any.  Donut is a shortened spelling of doughnut that is particularly common in the US.  But I feel like there is a difference.  I'm not talking cake versus yeast or some sort of geographic thing.  I can't even draw a distinct line to separate one from the other.  I can't say that either is the platonic ideal of a doughnut—even if there were, I wouldn't want to know about it.

Webster's Third New International Dictionary of the English Language, Unabridged, 1963
That pretty much covers it all.  I suppose something doughnut like (sense 2) really calls for the longer spelling, right?  Otherwise it is up to you.

That being said, I still feel like there is a difference.  There are a couple of things that can make a doughnut a donut:

  • Made to keep for days—so it is usually sold in a box, maybe even in a miniature form (like Donettes or the superior Tastykake Mini Donuts).  Yes even Entenmann's donuts—even their chocolate coated ones—fall well in donut territory.
  • Bought in a connivence store—7-11, QT, Sheets, and others often sell fresh donuts.  They are ok.  But usually not that fresh.  Or made with a great deal of care.
  • Those sold by most grocery store bakeries—They just aren't that well made.  Usually it is the bite and mouth feel that downgrade these to donuts.
  • Krispy Kreme—I don't really like these greasy bastards with donuts or doughnuts.  They are their own thing.  Even though I "don't really like" them sometimes I eat them.  And if I eat more than two I enter a world of pain, Smokey.
That isn't to say that you can't get a good doughnut in a grocery store bakery.  I know I have.  Meijer, based near Grand Rapids, usually has pretty excellent doughnuts.  As does Giant Eagle out of Pittsburgh.

But, I, unfortunately, am not in either of their territory.  And I can't afford a 75¢ doughnut.  

The good news it: I'm willing to settle:

12¢ donut, 15 to a box, from Aldi