Wednesday, August 25, 2010


I was walking past the McDonald's on Wolf Road today when one of their lawn sign caught my eye. The sign read "Real Fruit Smoothies" and it kind of made me sad. We live in a country where a sign that simply reads "Fruit Smoothies" implies very-sweet-fruit-free-high-caloric-nutrition-less-drink. Adding the word real doesn't change much, but some form of fruit is on the ingredient list. Sad, right?

My kids love this place. We do not go often and the problem with that is a trip to McDonald's be comes a treat. I'll never know what they see in those nuggets. I will say this, I don't know what is in the Hi-C Orange Drink (probably better that way), but I think I could drink it until the machine ran out.

Have you ever seen this?

I think the imagery is amazing. Look how clear Long Island is. And the Florida Keys too. Turns out that if you are in the lower 48, the McFurthest you can be from a McDonald's is 107 miles if you have a James Bond style jet pack. If you have to drive, you'll need to go a little further - 145 miles.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

The Fresh Market

If you are into food and never leave your cave, you will be surprised to know that The Fresh Market opened in Latham today. I love going to new super markets. I didn't write about it, but I was horribly disappointed in the Davenport, Florida super markets outside of Disney.I just can't believe locals do their weekly shopping there.

I didn't go to the actual 9 AM opening. I love new super markets, but not enough to use vacation time. So, I stopped on the way home. The place was packed at 4:15. So packed, that it was more of a once around the store look, than actually going shopping. The store looked nice. Produce looked good (better than what is in most local markets). The prepared foods looked good. Everything looked good. In fact, I would say this store is nearly identical to the one I visited outside Raleigh, North Carolina.

The main goal of the visit was go quickly poke around, grab some stuff that could go on the grill and get out. I saw some very nice apricots that the kids would love - grabbed 4 of them. The prepared food counted had a line that was 10 people deep. Peeked at the case and moved on. The seafood counter was packed - didn't really even get a look. There was a lady heating and passing out crab cake samples as fast as she possibly could. Missed that too. Looked good though. The baked goods looked nice. Meat counter looked good too. I don't buy beef out (got half a cow in the freezer), but there were several cuts of veal, pork, chicken and lamb. They actually had a flanken cut of short ribs. I've only seen that in Asian markets up here. Several kinds of prepared sausage. I got 3 kinds of chicken sausage and 1 turkey sausage to try. The 3 chicken sausages were much better than the turkey sausage (nothing special about that one). Wandering into the cold section I saw a few kinds of yogurt that I never heard of. In the home good section, I grabbed some cheesecloth - I'm was out of it. And with my 3 items in tow, I wandered over to try and check out.

That took a little while. And with nothing to do, I turned into that guy on his cell phone. I was talking to my buddy Joe. He and his wife are starting to freak out about having a kid in kindergarten. The idea of their kid being on the bus scares them. Anyhow, we talked for about 25 minutes (he's got a long commute) and then I was at the register.

I am pleased to have another market in the area. I expect to be in this one regularly. I am also curious to see how their pork tastes in homemade sausage. I also hope the Times Union article today is correct in theorizing that if this store succeeds, others like it will follow. Based on today's turnout, people want this store around. Maybe we can all coordinate days to go shopping there. The "everyone in the world show up on Wednesday" won't work in the long run.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Fire in the hole!

Back when I did construction inspection, I used a seismograph to monitor some blasting. This big gruff guy with a scraggly beard was in charge of placing and setting off the explosives. Before a blast, he used an air horn to signal every one on the site. One long honk from the horn meant a blast was about 5 minutes away. Two long honks meant get out of the way, I'm setting these charges off in a minute. Three long honks meant you better start running and screaming because if I don't see you in the next few seconds, you are going to have a very bad day. After the set of 3 honks, he'd look around once more and with the kind of grin you'd see on a kid's face he'd quietly say, "Fire in the hole." And then the ground would shake from the explosion.

Well, this fire in the hole was slightly less dramatic than setting off explosives and making people think there was an earthquake. But I was looking forward to it all day and couldn't wait to get going once I got home from work. Here's how I set up the space I was using. Two tables with toppings and space to prep the dough and the Firedome.

I started two chimney's of lump charcoal on top of the support bricks. I hoped they would heat up with the charcoal.

Then I spread the coals around and started to heat the cooking bricks.

I added more charcoal and a few branched of apple tree to the fire. Felt like 20 to 30 minutes later (I should have timed it), I wanted to get going on the pizzas. The kids weren't going to wait forever. I check the temperature of the cooking bricks with my new super awesome hand held thermometer. Most of the surface was around 600degrees F. Some spots were a little hotter. 700 or 750 degrees would have bee nice, maybe next firing with a little more time and coal.

The first pizza in was a margarita. It came out nicely. Next was a prosciutto with chopped kalamata olives and cheese pie. Both were very good. I think both would be improved with a little more pizza making experience.

Next was a sausage and cheese pizza which got devoured by the kids. The piece I had was tasty too. That was leftover sausage I made. It is always a nice ego boost when the kids go for something like that. My wife isn't the biggest fresh basil fan, so I left it off the last pizza.

Lessons learned: the dome needed more fuel and more time to heat. More wood making flames on the side might help cook the top of the pizza. And the fresh mozz needs to be a little drier. I also need to learn how to shape dough.

Definitely worth it. Not a bad pizza oven for under $50. I am looking forward to Round 2.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Prepping for pizza

I'm going to light up the Firdeome tomorrow. First order of business: make some dough. I've read a bunch of recipes online and in books. I'm trying a variation of one I found over at the Forno Bravo website. That's where I drool over brick ovens. Many there say to use an Italian type OO flour. I found a small bag of it at Cardona's. So here's what I did. I dispersed 10 grams of fine sea salt in 500 grams of the OO flour. I added 325 grams of water and a little over a gram of yeast. I mixed it all together with the help of a stand mixer for about 2 minutes. Then I let it sit for 20 minutes. After the 20 minute waite, the stand mixer kneaded the dough for about 10 minutes. I left it on the counter for about 90 minutes. Separated the dough into 4 balls and put them in the fridge for a slow, overnight rise.

The one gram of yeast seemed low, but that was recommend by a guy in California who built an amazing oven. The photos of the food he has prepared give him a very large benefit of the doubt.

If I knew anything about HTML, I'd rotate the next picture. Don't know why that happens. If you put your right ear on your right shoulder, you will see the neatly organized and pre-measured ingredients on a clutter filled counted in my trashed kitchen.

Here is a very wet dough. It didn't look very we to me, but then I tried to pick it up.  It's wet.

Ready for the fridge.

Tomorrow, there will be fire.... and a fire extinguisher nearby. I'll let you know how it goes.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Building a Firedome

Ever see Fast Times At Ridgemont High? When Spicoli says, "My dad is a television repairman, he's got this ultimate set of tools," he could have been talking about my father-in-law. He was a machinist, not a TV repairman, but the set of tools is very impressive. And because of this weekends trip, my version of a Firedome is nearing completion.

I already forgot the name of it, but there is a tool that is like a Dremel on steroids that hooks up to a really big air compressor. It had no problem cutting the lid. I had the door laid out. Painters tape helped make a visible line. Theoretically, it was supposed to help keep the enamel from chipping. Notice the deck paint in the back. The rail still needs painting. I'm finding I have completion issues with things that aren't food related.

First we drilled holes for hinges. Then we cut on the line with this roto-zip-compressor thing. Lots of dust and some sparks. No worries, Mom. I wore safety glasses.

No here's where the my miscalculation  became obvious. Those hinges will not work there. They will actually fight each other forcing the door to remain closed. My door opening is smaller than the original version and the top cut is through a curved portion of the dome. In my defense, I don't work with hinges. We converted the original two hinge plane to a one hinge configuration with 8 decorative holes. Depending on how well this works, I might take the door off completely. Anyhow, the maximum width of the door is just under 14 inches and the height is about 4 inches. Here's the finished one hinge door with an eye bolt door knob.

I've got the fire brick set up too. I have 3 full sized brick at the bottom. They will help keep the coals towards the outside. The also help support the grate holding fire brick cooking surface. Splits (half height bricks) were used for the cooking surface.

And here's a pizza will see as it slides through the door.

Just a few more things to do. I am going to file a few of the rougher edges. I also have to link an S hook to the door knob so the door can be held open. After that, I have to find some time to cook. Maybe later this week...

Monday, August 2, 2010

Destroying a perfectly good grill

There are a few things I troll Craigslist looking to find on the cheap. The list is pretty much 3 things.

1. a 10 inch wet saw good for bricks (if I have the saw I might as well build the oven)
2. pipe (the cow fence needs mending and pipe makes good posts)
3. and I type in Weber looking for a grill to help push my brother-in-law further into a charcoal grill obsession.

What can I say, I'm an enabler. This week I hit the jackpot. A friend of a friend has a brand new dirt cheap 22.5" Weber grill for my brother-in-law. He won it playing golf. Perfect. But I also saw a $30 used grill that turned out to be located about a mile from my house. Now that would be perfect for making a Firedome. It even sounds exciting. (Photo borrowed from the Weber Cam Blog - hopefully without any offense)

Earlier this afternoon, I picked up some firebrick splits. I'm going to use that as my cooking surface. I'm also going to try and shape the door differently. In brick oven design, the door is close to 63% of the dome height. I'll measure again, but I think it was about 4.5 inches. Hopefully that will be big enough to work with. Things on the to-do list: borrow an angle grinder to cut the door, get some hinges and a some kind of door handle (I think the smaller door will need some help staying open), and get to work destroying a perfectly good grill.