Wednesday, March 31, 2021

March 2021 Monthly Pizza Challenge

The monthly challenge on the Pizza Forum ( was "smoked."

Over the holidays, one of my neighbors got a pellet smoker. He's been making some really good stuff in there. We had already been talking about collaborating on a pastrami (pastrami is so damn good) and even discussed a few pizza ideas. So when the challenge came up, I texted him and we made some plans.

First up was going to burnt ends. Since the Detroit style pizza I have been working on only takes about 5 hours from idea to baking in the inside-the-house-oven, it was a prefect match for the absurdly windy March we have been having. I made the dough and he dropped off a bag of smoke brisket burnt end pieces. For that pizza, I've got the dough topped with a colby-jack/mozzarella/muenster cheese blend. I put on 6 jalapeno slices so there would be one in each piece of pizza. When the pizza came out of the oven, I added a barbecue sauce drizzle and depending on the eater, a little pickled red onion I made. Personally, I think red onion really perked it up. Made one for me and another for my neighbor.

A little later in the month, we collaborated on a pulled pork pizza. For that, it looked like the weather was cooperating and I was planning to fire up the wood oven for a zoom birthday party (pizzas were made at 5 locations in New York, Connecticut and Wisconsin, it was a fun time). Well, I was expecting a cup or two of smoked pork. He brought me 6 or 7 pounds. And cole slaw. And buns. This is a rough neighborhood.

I ended up making a pretty similar pizza using a different dough and the wood oven. Little bbq sauce on the dough, no Muenster in this cheese blend just colby-jack and mozzarella, some jalapeno, a post bake bbq sauce drizzle and the pickled onion. This came out pretty good too. Made one for my neighbor (also brought them a cheese) and another pulled pork pizza later for me.

When we were talking a few days later, he told me that just before  I dropped the pizzas off, a family had arrived for a pulled pork dinner. So now they've got 2 pizza boxes there. The dad friend asks, "I thought you made pulled pork. You ordered pizzas too?" 

"Nah, those are from my neighbor."

"But they're in boxes?!?"

"Yeah, He really likes pizza."

I think I liked the burnt end pizza a little more. Both we're really good and I definitely would turn down a slice of either right now. The beef was just more flavorful. We had a nice pulled pork dinner the next night, some with bbq sauce and some with a North Carolina vinegar sauce I threw together. There was enough leftover for me to freeze pizza topping sized portions of the pulled pork for future pizza bakes. 

Wednesday, March 10, 2021

Untitled Pizza Movie

 I've been watching and enjoying the documentary Untitled Pizza Movie.

I first heard about it on the pizza form, because, really everything I hear about is on the pizza forum. I don't get out much (but no one does these days). The movie isn't just about pizza, it is more about life, people, addiction and redemption with a running pizza connection between everything.

One of the threads in the movie follows Andrew Bellucci for about 25 years. I've never spoken directly to Andrew but we have had a few interactions on the pizza forum. Not sure they are enough that he would remember my name, but maybe. The guy is clearly passionate about pizza. It has been such a big part of his. From a start at Two Boots, moving on to Three of Cups and wood fired and then the reopening of Lombardi's with a coal oven. There's a little hiccup in the story line when some earlier fraud/theft caught up to Andrew. All of this happened before I had ever heard of him.

When I first new of Andrew he was on the pizza forum talking pizza. He then went to Kuala Lumpur to open NY style pizza places and introducing the area to a slice. He built a very cool looking multi fuel oven at his place. It was neat to see the oven in the movie after seeing it on the forum. From there, Andrew worked at the Joe's near Times Square (if you want the recipe, it is on the forum) and then went to Michigan to open the Ann Arbor location.

There are ups, there are down and there is the currently ongoing shot at redemption. Back in December, Andrew opened Bellucci's in Astoria. Looks like business is booming. They've run out of dough at least once. And by run out of dough, it isn't that there wasn't dough in the shop. There wasn't enough properly fermented dough and he'd rather close then sell something less than ideal.

The photos of his pizzas look great. One of the topping combinations is a Vodka-Roni. It starts with just cheese and pepperoni on the dough. When the pizza is done, splashes of warm vodka sauce are blotched on Jackson Pollock style. The last time I made pizza, I gave it a shot with my own, quick n easy vodka sauce that doesn't actually have vodka.

I think I've got to get the sauce a little thinner. Even so, this was delicious and I definitely want to try the original. I predict you will see this is more and more places just like Hot Honey went everywhere a few years ago.

Andrew's isn't the only story in the movie. There are also two childhood friends who grew up in the city. In the beginning, they look like they could be out of an old Billy Joel song. Like they might not have been friends with Brenda and Eddie - the popular steadys and the king and queen at the prom, but they knew who they were. It follows their lives as they go from inseparable to distant. One of my favorite moments so far is Leeds talking about a greasy, orange slice in the first episode. "The old orange slice. You remember that slice? It was orange, it was greasy, it was super thin. They handed it to you with both hands. It's a dying thing. I never seem to find that slice. Maybe technically it's not the greatest slice you ever had in your life you know, etcetera, etcetera, but it was an old friend. It was the slice of my childhood." This is basically the pizza cognition theory a full decade before the pizza cognition theory.

For about another week, the Untitled Pizza Movie will be up at Metrograph. It's a $5 monthly membership for access. I haven't watched the extras yet, but most episodes have interviews immediately after the screening. The last episode comes out tonight. The rumor is that the sreies is getting picked up by another distributor (3 letters, starts with H and ends with O is the rumor).

Anyhow, if you get a chance, give Untitled Pizza Movie a shot. I've been enjoying it.

Monday, February 1, 2021

It Really Tweaks My Melon - Health Food Store Edition

It is time for the annual Best Of list from our local paper, The Times Union. Year's ago, Daniel formerly of FussyLittleBlog fought the good fight against the list. There were some pretty weak things in the list back then. Subway was voted best Sandwich shop with Panera in the #2 spot. A Japanese restaurant in the Best Chinese restaurant category, that kind of stuff.

In the past, I've written about about the TU food reviews that I've stopped reading, but I still try to keep up on the food scene comings and goings in the paper's Table Hopping blog and the weekly food section. I typically flip through the food/restaurant portion of the Best Of issue that will be coming out soon. But not this year, I'm done. Out. Not even going to hate read it. Right in to the recycle bin.

The list starts with a nomination period. That system might be a few years old. Every ad in Sunday's paper had a "Nominate Us" thing in it. This isn't about a local survey of businesses people love any more. The Best Of is now just product placement for advertisers. Last night I saw the one that really tweaked my melon. It was for Best Health Food Store. Honest Weight Co-Op versus Trader Joe's, a battle between the local store and a national chain.

I don't consider Honest Weight a health food store. It is a great store and I enjoy shopping there, but it isn't a health food store. I also like Trader Joe's and enjoy shopping there but, no way in hell is Trader Joe's a health food store. If our state's liquor laws were different, the local Trader "Not A Health Food Store" Joe's would have a wine section. Ever hear of Two Buck Chuck?

Simply having some things that would also be found in a health food store does not make you a health food store. You can get vitamins, lots of gluten free stuff and even my preferred brand of lactose free, soy free, gluten free, nut based "mozzarella cheese" for vegan pizzas in Target. Doesn't make Target a health food store. Neither is Walmart, Price Chopper, Hannaford, Wegman's, Whole Foods, Healthy Living Center, Trader Joe's or Honest Weight Co-Op.

What has happened is that the availability of items that typically could only be found in a health food store can be found in lots of places now. Earthly Delights in Schenectady was a health food store. Dean's in Westgate was another. When I first started making gluten free things, you had to go to a health food store or use mail order to get ingredients, That stuff is everywhere now. Sad truth is, we are running out of Health Food Stores. They are going extinct. Both Earthly Delights and Dean's are gone. Online shopping and expansive supermarkets have pretty much eliminated them. 

So, yes, you can get some vitamins and lots of things in a Trader Joe's are organic. It's not a health food store. And yes, you can get those things plus I'd argue even more health food store style things at Honest Weight. It's not a health food store.

If you are going to have a Best Of category for health food stores, might as well actually rank the few remaining real ones. But chances are they never advertise in the Times Union.

(Hi Mom!)

Wednesday, December 9, 2020

YouTube, Simon & Garfunkel and fondue

I was screwing around online last night. Mostly watching music videos from the 80s and 90s. Then I watched a Springsteen video (an early 80s live version of Thunder Road). Off to the side in the you might also like column was a clip of Simon and Garfunkel Live in Central Park. I hadn't thought about that concert in forever.

The Simon and Garfunkel concert in Central Park was my my second concert. The first was Sha Na Na. I was a fan of their show and my parents took me when they had a concert nearby. For the Simon and Garfunkel show, I was 10 with older brothers and they brought me. We got to Central Park in the late afternoon. There were so many people there we couldn't see the stage, but we could hear the concert. So on a warm September night, me, my two brothers, my brother's friend and an estimated 500,000 other people listed to Simon and Garfunkel. It was pretty cool.

Years later, as a senior in high school, I was part of an exchange program with a school in France. One evening in a small town outside of Nimes, I was in the house of one of the French students that was also participating in the program. While we were talking before dinner, they were playing the album of the Simon and Garfunkel concert in Central Park. They listened to the concert regularly. In my best French, I told the story of being at the park for the concert. It was fun connection point to have with the family. 

Part of the dinner at that house was the most amazing fondue I've ever had. Everything about it was amazing. The bread. I'll never know what cheeses where in the mix. Even if I did, I probably couldn't get them in the US. As the fondue got down to the last few tablespoons or so, they added something - a little local wine or maybe a liquor - and stirred it all up. That bite...that was the best bite of fondue I will probably ever have.

Saturday, November 7, 2020

Dough and Reminiscing

Made a batch of pizza dough. Weather looks like it will cooperate on Sunday so I am jumping at the opportunity to play with the oven. While I was dividing the dough, I started thinking about the first job I got after moving to the area at Bountiful Bread in Stuyvesant Plaza. It was smaller and on the other side of the plaza. I think a Cold Stone Creamery is there now. It wasn't open yet.

The interview I went to was with a baker named Sue who was running the place. I met her at the Mangia that used to be in Stuyvesant Plaza. Same group owned both places and a few others.We sat in a booth. Her on one side with lots of folders and binders and papers and me on the other with no real food service experience to offer. I had bused tables for a few months once. Anyhow, the first question she asked was, "Are you drunk?" A little confused I told her I wasn't. Apparently the last interviewee was drunk.

Sue went on to tell me about her vision for the bakery, the coffee and baked goods (Sue made some seriously kick ass flourless chocolate brownies), the fococcia, the breads, one was going to be a sourdough made with a really old starter from La Brea...

"The bakery in California?" I asked.

You've heard of it? You're hired.

Sue was great. We talked food. We talked cookbooks. She tried to teach me some baking and kitchen skills. She could knead and ball two doughs at the same time, one ball in each hand. And it was disturbing how much better each of those balls looked compared to the one I would use two hand and twice the time to shape.

For the life of me, I can not remember Sue's last name. I'd be curious to google her name and see what she is up to these days. Like an idiot, I just went to go see if there was anything on Bountiful Bread opening in the Table Hopping Blog. Pretty sure that started some 10 years later. I'm sure she is doing something good. I also wonder what Sue would think of my pizza making. I managed to get these dough balls divided, shaped, bagged and stored in under 15 minutes.

Probably would have taken Sue 5. She could probably also get the picture to not be upside down.

Monday, October 26, 2020

Home Made Bitters and Softball

Hi, Mom. No hidden message this time. Just a cryptic, super-secret code no one but you will will be able to decipher:

The vinegar is in the mail. 

On to the post...

Homemade bitters is the answer to my Jean's Green's question. The goal is a mostly homemade Old Fashioned. I might try to turn some frozen cherries into my cocktail garnish too. To make the bitters, am am mostly following the recipe from The Tasting Table. I'm only making half a batch. The hardest part of the recipe besides fining the gentian root was getting the orange rinds. I wanted the be able to make thin slices so I didn't want to use the microplane I normally use for anything zest, I have a fruit zester somewhere. It wasn't in the drawer I thought it was in. The last time I used it was before I had a microplane and we lived in a different house. The little zester may be missing in action. I ended up using a sharp knife. It took some time, but my fingers smelled like orange and no stiches were needed. I put as much orange peel as I thought I needed for dried orange and put them in a low oven to dry out. The convection feature helped that along. 

I got everything together and measured out what I needed.

Everything went into a mason jar with some booze. Probably not the best idea, but I used a combination of things so this exact recipe will never be duplicated. I added a splash of not made in Kentucky bourbon, some locally distilled Oligan "moonshine" and some vodka.

Also, this could be me being a little nuts, but I don't want a typical mason jar lid to be in contact with high proof alcohol. I envision the alcohol vapor melting whatever seals those lids during the canning process. I cut a circle out of a sheet of PFTE. From what I've read, this is better. Years ago, I tried making homemade lemoncello out of grain alcohol. I used a water bath to speed up the lemon extraction and that worked really well. I diluted it with a simple syrup but I don't think any amount of tinkering is going to make Everclear grain alcohol sippable. Anyhow, a jar of this sat in the basement forever and when I finally tossed it, the lid looked a little used. Maybe the key is not to use one of these lids with alcohol for several years. In ay event, I don't expect any issues with my new lid.

On to ranting...

There was a softball tournament this week. When I left the house on Sunday morning. I think it was 35 degrees. Not exactly softball weather. My daughter is on a new team this year. I like the coaches. I like the parents I've met. The players look like they have fun. Really, there's nothing like a tournament to remind you how non-competitive I am with sports.

There are some coaches that are constantly borderline cheating to gain an advantage, drill sergeants that think they are in charge of an army. I've seen coaches wave their arms like a ball was hit fair when everyone there including the umpires saw it land 10 feet foul. This guy actually said, "I had to try," when everyone was looking at him funny. No bud, you didn't. This weekend there was a play where our team was in the field. Ball comes in from the outfield and the other team has a runner just about at second base. The coach is yelling "Home! Home! Home!" at our defense. I think he was trying to get someone to throw the ball to home plate to advance his runner one base. It's the only thing I can think of that he was doing. What he really did was make a dozen people think he is a moron. I cannot imagine living a life where advancing a runner one base in a pretty meaningless tournament meant that much to me. Some of these guys will basically do a dance to give the batters and base runner a signal. You know what nice coaches do? There are a number of signal systems that can be explained in about 10 seconds. They use one of those. At one point this weekend, one of these dancing signal coaches very loudly and in a way everyone there could hear told his batter, "The pitcher just threw 4 balls in a row." He was trying to get into a teenager pitcher's head to knock her off her game. The batter took the next pitch, which was a strike. Serves the POS right. There was one time, the same guy called for a bunt with runners on 1st and 2nd. The batter bunted the ball but did it in a way that the ball hit her and she was called out. I actually heard this guy congratulate himself on a great play call, that failed. Anyhow, it is seeing that kind of coach that makes me thankful my daughter has never been on that kind of team or had that kind of coach.

The tournament was in Bethlehem and before the weekend, some serious COVID restrictions  and protocols were sent out. Mask on when you leave your car, no shared equipment, no team water cooler, no shared food (often at these tournaments, parents get together and there are basically full team tailgates - none of that), two spectators per athlete and they should be parents/guardians...the list went on for a while. It was 2 pages.

For the most part, people followed the rules. The people who seemed to be breaking the mask rules were the Umpires. There was one umpire that would actually lower his mask to talk to someone and then put it back on when he walked away. I have found there are two kinds of softball umpires. Some umps (all female umps with one exception - she means well but is just an awful ump, if I understand the infield fly rule better than you, umping isn't your gig - and some guys) are there because they love the game and enjoy being a part of it. And there men who are probably miserable to be around most of the time and enjoy the power trip of being in charge of something. You'll never guess which ones followed the mask protocols.

And finally,

Thursday, October 15, 2020

Jean's Green's

Every so often, I get into a good cocktail conversation. It's probably not that common because I am mostly a "pour it in the glass and drink it" kind of guy. Not that long ago, I was having a conversation and it gave me the inspiration for yet another completely unnecessary project. So I started looking into it. A google search here and there, a little more reading and it looked doable but one herb needed to be bought online. I figured we've got the Honest Weight CoOp. They'll have it.

So, it took a few weeks for me to finally get over there. I stocked up on a few things I needed (they've got a bulk chili powder that I like a lot for your rubs and other chili powder related needs). But I couldn't find what I was looking for in the bulk spices and figured I give the vitamins/supplement/essences section a look. I didn't see it there so I asked the person stocking shelves. Was happy to find out she at least had heard of what I was looking to find.

There was a brief pause as she mentally went through her inventory and she told me they didn't have it, but Jean's Greens probably would. I thanked her and continued shopping my way through the CoOp.

Honestly, I spent the rest of my visit looking at things that could be possible pizza toppings. I have gotten awful in a store. I did find that Honest Weight carries Miyokos vegan mozzarella which to date is the only vegan "cheese" I have liked on a pizza. Vegan mom (hi Mom) and vegan neighbor agree. In fact the vegan neighbor made a point to ask me what brand it was and her husband once said, "Don't tell her I liked it or she'll make me go vegan too." 

Eventually I made it out of the store and back to the car. I looked up Jean's Greens and found it to be a spice shop in West Sand Lake. Been there for 25 years. How have I not heard of this place? The website makes it look like the kind of shop I would have loved to have roamed just a short lifetime ago. You can place orders online or by phone and they ship, or you can pick up and they will bring it outside to you. Super friendly people at Jean's. There are some other odds and ends mixed into the order, but most of my stupid project ingredients are here. 

Really looking forward to seeing how it turns out. Any guesses? I'll give you a hint (no google cheating): Gentian Root is the item not carried by the CoOp. They'd have a version of everything else here.