Saturday, October 27, 2012

PIzza On Steel

By pizza in the near future, I meant tonight. Here's the stone after 3 flax seed oil curings, one in the smoker and two in the oven.

And the cast iron pans look a hell of a lot better too. They could probably use a few more protective rounds in the oven but three is all they are getting for now.

Around 4 this afternoon, I cranked the oven back up to 550 with the steel on the second to top position for a preheat. I didn't use the top to give myself a little more working room and I remember reading somewhere about being too high makes the broiler less effective. I started pulling stuff together for the pizzas. Got the dough coming to room temperature on the counter. Cooked up some bulk sausage - it is in the bowl with the paper towel. Cut up black olives - the kids love these on pizza, I don't know why. Not that they are bad, but in the realm of pizza toppings, black olives certainly don't make my top 5. Some sauce in a bowl, little bit of parm on the micro plane and a bag of Trader Joe's mozzarella.  

I pointed my el-cheapo temp gun at the plate and registered almost 600 degrees. I wouldn't have thought the oven was over heating. My guess is that I'm getting a reflection off the steel to the heating gas heating element or the temp gun is showing its el-cheapo-ness. Didn't matter, I'm pretty sure the steel was hot.

Pizza number one ready to go in the oven, black olive for the kids. I'm get better at working with pizza dough and this dough was fairly forgiving.

I don't have a clock with a second hand in the kitchen. I would guess I took the pizza out of the oven between 3.5 and 4 minutes. Not too shabby looking.

Pizza number two, sausage ready for the oven.

Here it is out of the oven. Took about the same time to cook.

I remember to take a picture of the undercarriage this time.

Pizza number three was a combo, sausage and black olive. This one may have taken just over 4 minutes. I opened the oven to spin it. One side was browning faster than the other.

All in all, I think the steel performed well. It did cook faster than the other times I had made it with a stone and I think the undercarriage was better. This isn't up there with the best pizza I've had (not really even close), but I have paid for worse. I think less operator error would improve future runs. I'd take the dough out a little sooner to remove more of the chill. I'll hopefully continue to get better at shaping pies. The puffiness of the outer crust is all on me, can't blame the dough for that. The pizza should be bigger for this amount of dough (about 13 oz.) I think I might divide this amount of dough into 4 smaller pizzas to help with the shaping. Time to watch a few more youtube videos of people working with dough. That, and practice.

Any pizzeria's out there that want to train a completely inexperienced, part time pizza maker that is only willing to come in when its convenient for him? No weekends. If so, drop me a line.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Pizza Steel

Somewhere in Modernist Cuisine, there is a discussion on a steel surface being better than stone when a making pizza in a home oven. Apparently, the heat in the steel moves into the dough faster. Based on that information, a guy started a Quickstarter campaign to sell pizza steels. It was enormously popular and tested at the Slice website with very good results. They recommend putting the steel near the top of the oven and heating it as mush as possible. Slide the pizza on the steel and crank up the broiler. A few minutes later, eat. The commercial pizza steel goes for about $75.

I'm of the mindset that this is just a cleaned up piece of scrap steel. So yesterday I stopped by the Steel Supermarket on Railroad Avenue Extension (if you ever just need a little piece of steel, this is the place to go). A piece of 1/4 inch thick plate similar in size to the commercial version would cost about $22. I splurged, added an inch and was out the door for just under $25. Here's my 17" by 14" by 1/4" plate and some of my left foot.

The fine folks at the Steel Supermarket ran the edges with a belt sander. One edge was a little rough but some sand paper took care of that. I cleaned the steel with acetone to remove any production oils. A very thin layer of oil is often used to prevent rust during storage and fabrication. Then there was a very thorough hot, soapy water cleaning. From the sink, there was a quick towel dry and a longer dry in a 200 degree oven. While I was at it, I'm doing a little work on some cast iron pans I had completely forgotten about owning. I found them cleaning up my Epic Dinner Fail.

From the oven, everything got a very thin skim coating of flax seed oil.

I spread the oil all over the plate then I put them all in the offset smoker and cranked it up.  I was hoping to leave the smoking oil smell outside. I got the pit pretty hot. I know I was in the 500 degree range near the plate. Probably a little cooler near the pans. Tomorrow, I'm going to give them all at least two more cycles of oil and heat using the oven. If I smoke us out, at least I should be able to open the windows.

Next up, dough preparation. The bowl has flour, salt, sugar and instant yeast. The cup has water and oil. They all go for a spin in the food processor. The recipe is here.

I kneaded the dough a bit and then divided it in to three balls. They are slowly rising in the fridge.

Not sure exactly when, but sometime soon there will be pizza. But for now, I've got to go clean up the mess I made in the kitchen. The new counter tops are awesome for kneading dough.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Defazio's in the Tournament of Pizza

Another All Over Albany Tournament of Pizza has come to an end and once again, DeFazio's is left the runner up. This year to Marisa's. I don't get it. Sure the pie DeFazio's submitted to the finals did look like their best work, but I've had pizza from Marisa's. I actually drove past it today. And didn't stop. A reheated slice there is alright, but the whole pies I've bought...not good.

I equate rooting for DeFazio's to cheering on the UConn men's basketball team before they finally won a tournament in 1999. That victory was amazing. My brother Mike and I spoke on the phone until 2 in the morning that Monday night. Then we talked to each other almost every Monday night that year. "And how are you enjoying week 21 of being National Champs?"

But this Defazio's loss reminds of UConn's 1990 tournament. Scott Burrell threw a full court pass to Tate George with a second left. In Connecticut, it is referred to as "The Shot." "The Shot" is like DeFazio's submitting the highest rated pizza in tournament history in this year's semi. What a high.

The Tournament of Pizza Finals this year, well that is like the next game UConn played in the 1990 tournament against Duke. Freakin' Laettner. That buzzer beater ended the Dream Season and sent UConn home.  To make it worse, CBS sports played the clip of Laettner hitting that shot during the opening credits for years. Maybe they still do. I don't watch often anymore.

I've got another pizza project of my own in the works which reminds I need to take a few measurements tonight. Nothing like a project to take your mind off the agony of defeat.

The Cheese Traveler

As someone that tries to keep up with Capital District food, how could I not go poke around the Cheese Traveler during the soft opening last week? I didn't take any pictures of the store since there were just 3 of us: me, Eric the proprietor and a woman putting up some painting tape for what looked like a future stripe on the wall. All the internet stories about Eric are true. If you have the time and desire, I believe he would tell you everything about everything in the store for as long as you wanted. Alas, I didn't have that kind of time.

One of the first things that caught my eye was the basket of Olympic Provisions products. I had heard of them before and they have an excellent reputation. They are one of the brands discussed in the last issue of Lucky Peach. Eric kindly gave me a description of the various types and offered samples. I tasted the sopressata and was sold. I'm a sucker for sopressata. Heading back to the cheeses, I picked out the Robinson Family Swiss made in Hardwick, MA. The price tag sticker description says "An award winning farmhouse cheese handmade from a herd of 40 grass fed cows. Made from certified organic raw cows milk." My daughter Allison is a sucker for Swiss and I thought this might broaden her horizons. She really enjoyed the cheese.

I was slightly disappoint in the sopressata. The piece I had in the store was better than what I brought home. In the store, it tasted like the sopressata I tried to make but couldn't. At home, I thought mine was better. So did Allison and Casey. Salami is a fickle beast. I've never made the same one twice.

The Cheese Traveler store looks very promising. I will have to go back and try some of the meats they are offering too. I suspect the place will be packed just before Thanksgiving.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Repackaged PIckle

I saw what first glance was a new-to-me brand of pickles on the shelf in Price Chopper this morning. Then, I noticed they were Vlassic.

There are a few differences. There is more salt in a serving of the Farmer's market style along with red pepper, carrots and garlic. The ingredient change that really struck me was the coloring agent. The Beta Carotene in the Farmer's Market style left the pickles almost gray. The Yellow#5 in the traditional gives the pickle a strange, but more vibrant color.

I didn't buy either bottle, or any pickles at all today, but the Farmer's Market package seems a little dishonest. Oh, I only got a few funny looks while taking these pictures. But I think I might be starting to enjoy the awkwardness. That's probably not good.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Visit to Rolph's

I was in the area of Rolph's and had wanted to pick up some mustard recommend by Saucisson Mac. I had already looked for the mustard in a few stores that I get to more regularly than Rolph's without success. I wasn't sure Rolph's would have it...but I was pretty sure it would be there and Rolph's did not disappoint.

While I was there I picked up a little mini ham to eat with the mustard for dinner that night. The recommendation was to wrap the ham in foil and cook it in a 350 degree oven. The cut is lean so it could dry out quickly.

After 5 minutes in the oven, the power went out. So once the sweet potatoes I was steaming were cooked, I put the ham still wrapped in foil in the steamer. The stove still works without power, the oven doesn't. Disaster averted.

Good mustard and good ham. I should get to Rolph's more often than I do. But everyone that's ever been to Rolph's feels that way.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Very Specific Catering Menu

I am on the road in Buffalo. We had dinner at the Italian Village Restaurant. On a table near the entrance, they have piles of take-out menus, catering menus and these.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Strange-ness at Stewarts

I saw this earlier this morning while picking up some milk. In the spirit of Mr. Dave, I snapped a picture.

They've met the goal. The date for Alan pumping gas in a dress didn't appear to be set. Alan rung up my milk purchase. He has yet to pick out a dress. He plans to go shopping this week.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Albany Distilling Company

I blew off some work today and headed down to the opening of the Albany Distilling Company. I'm glad I did. I liked everything about the place. I got there just before 11 and there was a pretty good turn out waiting for the opening ceremony to begin. Actually, in what is becoming an opening event tradition, I walked into the building with Steve Barnes, my BFF from the Shoprite pre-opening. They didn't waste any time and the ceremony started right at 11. Jerry Jennings talked and Neil Breslin both talked but I thought the best speeches (other than the brief words by owners Matt and John) were from the people that had gotten to see the business grow first hand. I didn't take any notes so I don't remember any names. Their banker had some very kind words and the person representing the small business assistance organization that helped them was also clearly impressed by the drive of our hometown distillers.

Jerry Jennings was introduced first.

Here's everyone else that spoke waiting their turn. Neil Breslin is back there. I didn't catch everybody's name. The other gentleman is from the small business organization. Between him and Breslin is the the bank representative. Truth be told, I was more interested in purchasing some New Make whiskey than being a reporter.

Here are Matt and John welcoming everyone to the distillery.

And then the ribbon cutting.

I was surprised to see the Valley Cats being represented there too. If you stuck around long enough, you got to see the man behind the mask. Relax, I didn't take any pictures. Your secret is safe with me.

The space was pretty much just open to the public. Here is the distilling equipment.

Some barrels aging whiskey to be sold at a later date.

and some bottling equipment. That machine on the bottom rack puts on the labels, one bottle at a time.

While I was waiting to introduce myself to Daniel B of the FussyLittleBlog (if you watch the YNN coverage of the event you can see him kind of blurred in the background), I stood back and watched a mini media circus. Everyone was getting shots of drinks being poured, bottle being sold, interviews with the owners, and shots of just the reporter talking. One woman was actually the reporter and the camera-woman. All the reporters seemed to have a ritual before the got filmed, kind of like a batter getting into the batters box. Look down, fluff hair, shuffle feet, another hair flip, look left, on me in 3,2,1...

After a very nice conversation with Daniel B. (who kindly offered me the rocks glass that came with his bottle)  I got in line to taste the whiskey and buy a bottle. I liked what I tasted. I think my brother Mike is going to love it. The Cool Yard New Make whiskey will also clearly mix well. I'm really looking forward to tasting what comes out of the barrels. I am very tempted to get my own oak barrel and age a liter myself. I think it would be interesting to taste some white whiskey, aged at home whiskey and the Albany Distilling Company's aged whiskey side by side.

My favorite part of the bottle is the labeling of how long the whiskey stayed in oak barrels. Apparently it has to spend some time in a barrel to be sold as whiskey though there is no specification on how much time. This batch spent minutes. 

I had a very nice time at the opening. Met some very nice people - the group from the Hudson River Coffee House were very friendly and meeting them made me want to go to the coffee house. Which is saying something because I don't drink much coffee. I also spoke with Matt and John. They are very friendly and I encourage you to visit them for a tour. I'd like to go back on a calmer day to learn more about the equipment. Now that I'm thinking about it, I should have bought my brother a bottle. Looks like I've got to go back...

Albany Distilling Company
78 Montgomery Street
Albany, NY 12207
(Next Door to the Pump Station)

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

I'm going to be "That Guy" for 10 minutes

There's a new restaurant with a Utica theme opening this week in Albany. Personally, I've enjoyed my visits to Utica. Like the food there. Like the people too. I wish the restaurant the best of luck. Seriously. I know the restaurant business is tough. I hope this one succeeds.

That being said, I'm going to be an internet asshole for a minute. I wasn't going to, but here I am typing so I guess I am "That Guy."

The menu for the restaurant has been posted at Table Hopping and All Over Albany. Some things look better than others to me, as with any menu. The wine list is what is turning me into the aforementioned internet troll who is complaining about a restaurant that hasn't even opened yet. The wines of choice are Carlo Rossi jug wines. No problems with the wine. My issue is with the cost - $4 a glass. I'm not sure how big a serving will be (I did say I was being an asshole), but those jugs Carlo Rossi Paisano wine in the pictures retail for $12. Retail, not wholesale. I imagine the restaurant will get it cheaper.

I get markup. I get you can go into a restaurant an buy a $9 bottle of wine for close to $30. A 300% ballpark markup seems pretty standard. I few weeks ago I was in Mingle and had a glass of Concannon Petite Syrah that our waiter recommended. The glass of wine cost $6. A bottle at Empire Wines is $7. With a little over four 6-ounce pours to a bottle they are charging $24 for the bottle (which is Mingle's price if you want to buy the whole bottle too). That's a 343% markup.

Let's compare. These are 4 liter jugs of wine. That's about 135 ounces, or just over 22 six-ounce pours. At a price of $4 a glass, that $12 jug will cost customers $88. That's a 733% markup.

Maybe a serving of wine fills a pint glass, or a small carafe. Or maybe I'm completely off base with restaurant wine pricing. I don't know. I'm currently being an asshole so I don't care. Should I visit this restaurant to eat someday, the cheap bastard in me will have glass of water. With lemon, please. At least until I see a really big glass of wine go by.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Flour City Pasta

Flour City Pasta has had a table up at the Troy Farmer's Market for awhile and I'm finally just getting around to trying their stuff. I picked up half a pound of "Pizza" pasta (right) and mushroom fettuccine. Each pasta comes with a suggested recipe.

The pizza pasta had various noodle shapes. Normally, this is something I hate. I don't know why. Maybe there's a little OCD in me, but I don't combine pasta shapes. It's not that people who combine pasta shapes are morally bankrupt or evil....they're just not to be trusted. But I thought the kids might like it so I gave it a try. The various shapes are different colors and have different flavors.  There are tomato, mushroom, basil, onion and oregano flavored noodles in the mix.

While the pasta boiled I made a quick tomato sauce with homemade ground sausage.

The pizza smell coming out of the boiling pasta water was noticeable. The oregano was the strongest scent. I took the noodles out a little early and let them finish cooking in the sauce. Not the prettiest dish in the world, but it was tasty. Stuck in my ways, I think a singular noodle shape would improve the dish. The kids were more interested in playing with the neighbors, ate a little bit and then headed out the door. Nothing was going to hold their attention that night.

Later in the week I cooked up the mushroom fettuccine with some mushrooms, olive oil and Parmesan.  This was also pretty good. If I made it again, I'd do the sauteed mushroom and sauce a little differently and use some more garlic. Can't fault the noodles for a lack of garlic, that is purely operator error.

They guys running the stand were very friendly and they have a pretty wide selection of pasta flavors and shapes. Just another one of the interesting stands that makes the Troy Farmer''s Market fun to walk around.