Blog of an aspiring foodie

Archive for January, 2006

Some days it just goes right

Posted by beer_chris on 25-January-2006

There are days, days where I feel like I'm never going to have a moment to enjoy cooking again. Days where I'm eating a ham sandwich for dinner for the fifth night in a row, days where I drink one beer and am too exhausted to even consider heating up a bowl of Spaghetti-Os, and even ordering from Pizza Hut online is a serious struggle.

And then there are days like today.

Days where I feel like I've got it right. Days where the preparations and back work I do on the weekends and on nights when I have a lot of time pays off. Days where I feel like my kitchen really has reached that self sustaining perpetual bliss that is always described in the forewords of cookbooks in accusatory, 'if you can't do this you're not really a home chef' tones.

Days like, well, today.

Today I took the bus. Usually that means I'll get home late and exhasuted, have a Saint Arnold whatever (Christmas Ale of late), eat a bit of cheese and collapse on the couch, lucky if I have a few saltines and some summer sausage before bed. But today was different. I knew ahead of time that tonight I would somehow cook the venison backstrap my brother in law brought home for me, and that I had been thawing since Sunday. I knew this because I had worked out a meal plan on Sunday, and so I had prepared to have the meat ready to go when I got home on Wednesday evening, along with a few other key ingredients.

On the bus, I read the Food section in the Chron. There was a review of an Australian winery, and a recommentation for a $9 Shiraz with a complex fruity and spicy flavor. I decided to stop at Spec's on the way home (2 minutes from the Bay Area P&R) – I thought this wine would go well with the venison. (The Shiraz was a 2004 Wynn's)

I got home and got to it. I pulled out the backstrap, about the size of a pork tenderloin (that's what it is after all), washed it off and wrapped it in bacon. I decided grilled venison would be nice, and so grabbed charcoal and some mesquite wood chunks I keep for just such an occasion. I fired up the Weber I keep right outside the kitchen, and while the fire was getting hot I made the salad out of avocados and tomatoes I had purchased on Sunday, both of which had jut hit the peak of ripeness.

Thinking about a starch course I remembered the surplus cheese and garlic mashed potatoes I made on Monday, and I put those on to heat, splashing them with just a bit of the heavy cream I always keep on hand.

I cracked open the wine, poured myself a glass, put my backstrap-mignon on the now hot grill, put the avocado, tomato and basil salad in the fridge to set up and settled in on the couch to watch a little Law and Order with Jaime.

In about 35 minutes, the backstrap was ready, the bacon crispy and mesquite smelling. I let it rest a few minutes and then carved off 3 medallions each for Jaime and I. Potatoes, perfectly creamy and just warmed, salad, just cold enough to taste right, and a hand torn piece of my baguettes, 1 day old and still tasting awesome, chewy and substantial made for a heck of a home cooked plate.

I drank my wine (the youngm fruity peppered flavor melding perfectly with the smoky game) and just couldn't believe that I had prepared, basically, a three course balanced meal with completely from-scratch ingredients, and had spent maybe 30 minutes total in the kitchen.

THAT'S a sustainable kitchen, and THAT'S what keeps me cooking. People say that you play golf for the one shot in a thousand that makes you feel like a pro. Tonight was that way for me.

Totally sweet.

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Bread time!

Posted by beer_chris on 23-January-2006

Trying something new today. With the success of my frozen pizza dough last week (I made it on Sunday froze it, and thawed and ate it on Thursday), I'm trying the same with some baguette dough. I made a double batch of french bread dough out of my Kitchenaid cookbook (the one that came with my Accolade stand mixer).

Let it rise once, punch it down, freeze in a ziploc bag. We'll have to see if the yeast can survive.

Generally speaking from my homebrewing experience, yeast are pretty darn adaptable creatures. While freezing temperatures generally burst their little cell wall bodies, I'm hoping there is enough oomph left to create a couple of baguette-style loafs this week for dinner.

Side note – I've been pretty disappointed with the performance of the Kitchenaid with bread flour. It just can't handle more then 1 or 2 cups of the stuff. It rocks the bowl right off of the little slide lock mechanism. Maybe I need a Hobart (it's $1500 – maybe not). I made this recipe with bread flour (the all-purpose flour in the bread I had been making just made for a much too grainy crumb for my taste). With 7 cups of flour, my poor mixer did good just to form a ball. I had to knead it entirely by hand – this batch for 10 minutes. The last batch I only hand kneaded for about 5 mintes, and the crumb was still too soft for my taste (none of those nifty bubbles in the crumb caused by extra strong gluten strands).

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Complete and total stream of blogging thought

Posted by beer_chris on 19-January-2006

Fist off, Robb Walsh is back, and just when some of us were starting to get worried.

Last night had dinner with the old krewe at Dave's family's house. Old school spaghetti dinner. Yum. During dinner I shared my newfound obsession: cheeseburger pizza. This incarnation was most recently had at Pizza Inn, which opened one of their new 'we wish we were CiCi's' buffets near my office (interestingly, I had no idea Pizza Inn was founded in Dallas and is still headquartered near there until I went looking for some type of press release detailing the cornball design of these new buffet restaurants. I never did find a press release, but I did learn that Pizza Inn has revenues of only $13M. A whopping $1.5M (>10%!) of that went to legal fees for 'ongoing litigation' (see below for likely explanation).

By comparison, a quick financials search shows that:
Papa Johns has revenue of nearly $1B ($978M), with market cap of about $580M
Dominoes: $1.5B sales, $1.6B market cap
Pizza Hut is part of PepsiCo, and I don't feel like trying to dig that up
Mr Gatti's is privately held and recently purchased, sales were reported at the time of the sale to be around $150M

I find that shocking. Pizza Inn is the smallest (in terms of revenue) of the small time pizza chains? Smaller then Gattis even? Papa Johns is two-thirds as large (again, on a revenue basis) as 300 lb gorilla Dominoes, but with less then half the market cap? I know Papa Johns is kind of unique, since they are both in the store ownership and ingredient selling game (whereas Dominoes and Pizza Inn, for example, simply sell ingredients and collect franchise fees), but I still find that kind of surprising. Is the pizza market so competitive in Texas that a normal consumer couldn't figure this kind of stuff out logically? I suppose not . . .

On the lawsuit topic, here's an interesting little story about corporate collusion and poor ethics.

From the same site, I quote the following from an article titled “Winners and Losers in 2004”. I'm guessing that's why the legal fees are being reserved so high:
[SNIP]
An ongoing board of directors scandal has all but halted any growth or progress at the 410-unit chain. In June the chain's legal counsel and senior vice president, Keith Clark, stepped down, followed by the ouster of Pizza Inn's CEO and President, Ronnie Parker, in November. Both men were part of a group of four executives who, with board approval, rewrote their labor agreements in 2002 to include huge parachute payouts that could devastate the company. Proof that Parker viewed himself as the largest hog at the trough: His annual compensation package consumed nearly 50 percent of Pizza Inn's profits in 2004.

Clark is now in arbitration with Pizza Inn, and Parker is threatening to sue the chain.
[/SNIP]

Ummm, Pizza Inn was deemed a 'loser' in 2004.

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Food oddities

Posted by beer_chris on 14-January-2006

Wow. LJ virus email forwards. How can I resist? In any event, kathrynblogs started this with me, so here goes. I'm going to try and keep this focused on food, since that's what this little bit of the blog-o-shpere is all about anyway. Here goes…

Ground Rules: The first player of this “game” starts with the topic “5 weird habits of yours” and people who get tagged need to write an LJ entry about their 5 quirky habits as well as state this rule clearly. In the end, you need to choose the next 5 people to be tagged and list their names.

Tagged by

1. I like to eat the same thing for lunch for days, sometimes weeks, in a row. There's something satisfying about knowing that Carl Buddig chicken sandwich is waiting for me in the desk drawer every day.

2. I tend to like strange combinations of foods, sometimes probably because they are strange, and not necessarily because they actually taste any good at all. Tops among these are: Cottage cheese and anchovy sandwiches, goat cheese rolled in cocoa powder, peanut butter sandwiches with dill pickles and salsa.

3. I forget recipe amounts in the 5 seconds between looking at it and going to the fridge to get the ingredient. I often have to look three or four times before I add something to a dish.

4. My beer fridge currently has an estimated $500 of malted beverages chilling for future consumption. This scares and excites me.

5. There's nothing better in the morning then hot grits with butter and salt. You yankees can shove your cream of wheat.

My tragic lack of LJ friends and my disdain for viral email stuff like this means I must serve as the FluMist for this 'weird habits' email virus. No links!

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Meyer lemon ideas

Posted by beer_chris on 8-January-2006

Every fall Jaime is able to get about 2 dozen Meyer lemons from a coworker with a mature tree. I've struggled each year to use all of them in applications that can really feature the unique flavor of the fruit, somewhere between a lemon, a lime and bitter orange.

However, this year I've tried a couple of new applications, and they have worked well.

Meyer lemon dressing


1 tbsp Meyer lemon juice
1/4 c olive oil
1/8 tsp dry mustard
1/4 tsp salt

From Barbara Kafka's Vegetable Love

I served this with an avocado, tomato and basil salad

Meyer lemon smoothie


1 whole banana
2 tbsp lowfat milk
2-3 c frozen strawberries
2-3 tbsp sugar (to taste)
zest and strained juice of 1 Meyer lemon

Add all ingredients except the sugar and the milk to the blender. Add enough strawberries to fill the blender to the top. Process until smooth. In my blender I hold the milk out so I can add it as a melting agent in case things get stuck. Add sugar to taste – the sugar is required to really bring the flavor from straight up lemon-bitterness to the tangy sweet Meyer lemon flavor, so don't be afraid of it.

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The Haul

Posted by beer_chris on 2-January-2006

Going back to work tomorrow. After 9 days off (10 if you count my sick day on Friday the 23'rd), I'm not sure I remember what my job is. Now's as good a time as any to run down the Christmas food booty (footy?)

  • Large silpat (called roulpat or something). Not the one that has pie and pastry size markings on it, but pretty awesome. I was able to roll out 14 inch pizza dough on it and just barely go over the edges
  • Barbara Kafka's vegetable cookbook ('Vegetable Love'). Have already made my first recipe – an avocado and cherry tomato salad with basil and Meyer lemon-vinaigrette.
  • ATK binder style cookbook – designed to replace the ubiquitous BH&G cookbook everyone has. It's got some good stuff in it – it just may accomplish its goal in my kitchen
  • Two new cutting utensils – a microplane (finally, I really needed this. Thanks, B) and a mini mandoline with one of those new ceramic blades.
  • A super sparkling beautiful stainless steel pot rack from Pottery Barn
  • New set of casual glassware (juice and drinking) rom Crate and Barrel
  • Le Creuset soup tureen. I bought this for myself from Sur La Table on a trip to get something for someone else. I did, in fact, get the gift I went there for, just spent a little extra on myself.

Quite the haul – now that I've written it out. I still need a few things – a french style rolling pin (my marble one is in good shape but the handle is broken, and marble is a bit too heavy for good pie crust) and a new work bowl and pusher for my Cuisinart. I also want to get the grinder and pasta making attachments for my KitchenAid.

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Pizza at last

Posted by beer_chris on 1-January-2006

Well, after 3 weeks of fits and starts, planning for it and never quite getting the time to do it, I finally got around to making homemade pizza. It's the dough that takes the time, as it is a yeasted bread and so has to rise for 1-2 hours. However, as I put this together, I decided to concoct my own marinara, which I think is pretty darn good. I was inspired to do this by the mainly simple recipes I was finding – I just figured that something that made up as much of the ingredients of a pizza ought to have a lot more flavor and not just be a straight tomato sauce.

Ytee's Mighty Marinara (n=1)
———————-
2 tbsp oil (I used the drippings from the italian sausage I browned for the pizza)
1 tbsp fennel seed, ground
3 cloves garlic, pressed
2 anchovy fillets
1 28 oz can whole tomatoes and juice
1-2 tbsp tomato paste
1/4 c sun dried tomatoes + oil
1/8 cup fresh oregano (torn)
1/8 cup fresh basil (torn)
1 bay leaf

Heat the oil, garlic & anchovy until the garlic becomes aromatic. Add all other ingredients and simmer until thickened. The whole tomatoes will break up, but be sure to leave some chunks.

The pizza dough came from my Kitchenaid mixer book – it was OK, but I didn't par-bake it first, and so it was pretty wimpy and not crisp. I also made it with all-purpose flour – I'll probably make it with bread flour next time, supposed to give it a little more 'chew'. I used primarily mozzerella, but included some medium sharp cheddar and some really sharp provolone, which ended up not being enough to even taste. I used sandwich size pepperoni slices (that was all they had at the deli and I was not going to buy the bag stuff from the cold lunchmeat section), and that turned out pretty good – the fresh sliced pepperoni was easy to bite through (as I had expected), and the slices were big enough so that every bite had some pepperoni in it without having to overload the pizza with it.

Baked it at 450 for about 20 minutes.

The marinara really made the pizza. It was great, even without a really crisp crust. This marinara is SO EASY, and has sold me on making my own tomato sauce instead of buying the oversweetened jarred stuff.

I think the anchovy can be left out – I'll try that next time as Jaime got scared when she saw that on the ingredient list. It's supposed to add depth of flavor without fishiness, I think that was accomplished, but not sure if it was already there with the sun dried and paste. We'll see if n=2 without anchovy as as good. Also, the bay flavor was strong, but I really liked that – thought it balanced really well with the fresh oregano and ground/roasted fennel seed flavor. Would NOT use dried herbs in this by any means. Dried oregano to me tastes like soap.

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