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.

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

A Surprise From Stewart's

Things have been dragging lately. Work has been a drag. The weather getting cooler is a drag. School starting again is a drag. Everything has been a drag.

But then something surprisingly nice happened. Stewart's is discontinuing their house beer, Mountain Brew. That's not necessarily nice and if you are one of the people that likes it, this is just another thing falling into the drag category. To pay homage to the beer, the Stewart's Shops twitter account posted a link to memorial post featuring tweets praising the beer, tweets hating on the beer and then a handful of bizarre tweets mentioning the beer. You'll never guess where my tweet is...

Now, I actually remember this exchange. There was a journalist that put up a tweet about one of their first articles from years ago being about a pack of wild dogs in Rensselaer. To that, Rich Azzopardi, replied that he would like to meet their tailor. (Little side note, Rich Azzopardi is pretty high up in the Cuomo administration and for the life of me I cannot figure out why he follows me, and occasionally retweets me.) Anyhow, following Rich's reference to the classic Warren Zevon song Werewolves of London, I wrote a tweet. The original line is, "I saw werewolf drinking a pina colada at Trader Vic's. His hair was perfect." You may or may not remember Tom Cruise acting the lyric out in a great scene in The Color of Money. Oh well, I guess if you have to explain the joke...Rich got it. Whoever is handling the Stewart's social media did not.

Also in the Bizarre Section was this tweet with old twitter/blogging friends Albany Eats and RidiculousFood

 A nice surprise in the afternoon.

(hi mom)

Monday, May 11, 2020

A Tale of Two Pizza Experiences

Another shout out to Mom. I think trying to provide her with a little something to read might breathe some life into this blog. No promises though.

I clearly have a problem with pizza and here are the tales of pizza experiences.

A bit in the past:
Back in February before the country shut down, we went to New York City for a show and then headed to Connecticut to visit my mother (hi mom). I don’t know when, but Colony Grill opened an outpost near her, so we headed over on a Friday night. I had never been and from what I had heard about it was that Colony Grill was one of the original places for a bar style pizza. They were also known for a hot chili oil.

The place was packed.

I mean mobbed. Busier than the New Haven Pepe's on a summer Saturday night. The waiting area was shoulder to shoulder and it was going to be 45 minutes to get a table for 5. Carryout boxes were constantly leaving the door. And bar pies are small so people were leaving with mini towers of pizza boxes. My expectations were getting higher. The crowd at this place was something out of the fantasies of most restaurant owner. Groups of 2, 4, 10 or more. Bar area jammed. Relatively fast table turnover. Plus, a good size crowd of people willing to wait for their chance to get seated at a table.

I hated the pizza. Really hated it. Like getting mad the longer you think about it kind of hate.

Here are some of the pictures I took. They have a very similar look to Start Tavern in Jersey, but Star Tavern is better than this. The photos look a lot better than the pizza tastes.





The dough was completely flavorless. It was like someone forgot to add the salt when the dough was being made. They have a salad pizza which is a lovey tossed salad on top of one of their pizzas with or without cheese. It would be better as just a salad. 

Salad Pie

I can not believe the business this place is doing. This is a place that pizza nuts travel to try. It is straight up bad. And all those people leaving with carryout…the edible shelf like on the pizzas is less than 30 minutes. We took out leftovers home and they do not age well. I will give credit where credit is due. The hot chili oil is good, nice flavor and heat to it, but the oil would excel on a better pizza,

Hot Oil Pie

And they serve beer in those good mugs with the little nobby part for your thumb. I don't drink much beer but I like these mugs better than pint glasses.

During a phone conversation with my mother I made a joke about getting some of their pizza to go. My mother said, “I think I’ll go back there never.” Pretty much sums it up. Five out of five of us are fine never returning...

A little closer to the present:
The pizza community is pretty cool. I'm definitely on the outside looking in but you can see how the shared pizzeria experience between people working in the field forge great friendships. I originally joined Instagram to keep tabs on my kids’ accounts. I quickly found there is a pretty large pizza presence. And like any other social media thing, once you find one there are more recommendations and then you find a few people from the pizza forum and it just keeps snowballing to include pizza makers in Italy and around the world. Plus, pizza people are some of the greatest people in general.

One of the people I followed when I signed up was Scott's Pizza Tours. Scott Wiener is by every account a guy with an incredible knowledge of pizza history and the Guinness World Record for most pizza boxes. From following Scott, I was introduced to The Za’Report (Miriam) who is one of the guides for Scott’s Pizza Tours. Since the quarantine started, Miriam has been making pizzas at home for first responders, out of work people and pretty much anyone wanting a pizza. She also does live pizza making things in her apartment in Brooklyn. They are entertaining to watch and they regularly coincide with when I am making dinner. So I prop the phone up and listen to her make pizza while I cook. It has been nice. She also occasionally does “bedtime stories” where she talks about something pizza related. The history of Queen Margherita and the origins of the Margherita pizza was great. Making a long story longer….

Miriam recently started working at the original Paulie Gee’s location in Greenpoint. A pizza maker that trained her there Chris, aka trunkbeer on Instagram, is currently in Albany for the quarantine. Miriam told me he was looking for some supplies (the Jon in Albany handle game me away) so I reached out to Chris to point him towards a few local places he could try.

Well, Chris now has a Ooni or Rockbox, not sure which, and a very pretty spiral mixer (I definitely have mixer envy).and when the mood hits, he has contactless pizza pick up in from of his house. The first few times I was too late to get a pizza. The available pies can go pretty quick. My time slot was 12:30 on Thursday. Now this is exciting, right. You’ve got a professional pizza maker personally making you a pizza at a designated time.

It was nice to meet Chris, even though we were both wearing masks. It was also nice to inhale some fresh pizza. The basil smelled so good. The pizza, already good, is going to get better as Chris continues to dial in the mixer and oven.  He’s started another Instagram account called trunkpizza. I'm guessing future pizza sign ups go through that account. Give both a follow if you want to try one of the Chris’ pizzas. You’ve got a little time. He’s taking this week off.

Sunday, May 10, 2020

Happy Mother's Day

Happy Mother's Day to moms everywhere. This is my mother and her 3 sons in the mid to late 70's.

Thursday, April 23, 2020


She’s the main reader of what’s left of this blog and currently stuck in a condo in Connecticut.

I’ll start with politics to get it out of the way: Ignoring the giant cheese doodle in the room and skipping right to Kentucky...

I am a big fan of bourbon. I like a lot of whiskey styles, but bourbon might be my favorite. I enjoy drinking it with friends at the curling club. I enjoy drinking it home. I don’t do much cocktail drinking but a good Old Fashioned is growing on me (Lost and Found as well as Kiernan’s Craft Tavern have good versions). The idea of me going on a bourbon trail to visit distilleries in Kentucky isn’t a big stretch. All that being said, here is my pledge: If Mitch McConnell gets re-elected the entire state of Kentucky is dead to me. I’m done. No more bourbon. Definitely not going on a distillery tour. No KFC (it’s not good anyway). I think Reynolds Wraps are from Kentucky. Gone. Jif peanut butter is made in Kentucky. Choosy Mom's will avoid choosing anything from Kentucky. And I promise to pay extra for a flight even if the best priced airfare has a layover in Kentucky - in case you didn’t know, the Cincinnati airport is actually in Kentucky. Seriously, fuck that guy and anyone who votes for him in November.

If you’re still with me, great. If you are thinking about leaving a disagreeing comment in support of Mitch, don’t bother. I won't be responding. This is not a discussion, this is a fact (remember those?). If the schmuck gets reelected, Kentucky might as well sink to the center of the earth as far as I’m concerned. As for the bourbon, there is a lot of whiskey made outside of Kentucky. I’ll spend my time and money exploring them.

Back to your regularly scheduled blog post:

The March Pizza Challenge extended into April and was “What do you do with leftover dough?” My uses for leftover dough are stretch it into a log and bake it like a small loaf of bread (warm, fresh bread goes great with dinner) or I flatten in out into a rectangle and make a Stromboli. Nothing too creative. At some point, I should try making garlic knots.

Like a lot of people, I recently tried my hand at sourdough. Following Jennifer in Saratoga’s lead, I tried developing a starter using all purpose flour. It looked like it was starting to work a little. Then I used some flour that I milled from wheat berries (some time ago I bought an old mill on E bay). The starter seemed to do a little better with the whole grain but instead, I decided to discard the first attempt and try again, this time starting with the fresh flour. Instead of discarding the original starter, I tried to incorporate it into a pizza dough. Pretty sure I screwed up the math since the dough ball I made was lighter than it should have been. In the end, that dough ball over fermented but I tried to cook it anyway. It basically disintegrated in the oven and made a huge mess on the oven floor -luckily it was the wood oven and not in the house, still a mess but a lot easier to clean. You can see in the top of the picture I've already moved the coals over the mess to burn it off.

My first sourdough bread attempt came out better than the second. I need a better way for the dough to rise. I don’t have one of those bread baskets. Maybe a floured cloth in a bowl would work better than just a lightly oiled bowl. Might throw another loaf together tonight.

Pandemic Pizza- I’ve made two rounds of Pandemic pizza. Both rounds with over 20 pizzas that are picked up or delivered to be enjoyed by family, friends and neighbors. 

Something gets lost in the push for quantity. There’s less enjoyment in the pizza making. It’s still fun and I plan to keep doing it, But adding the elements of speed and being ready for a set pick up time takes something away. Also, the topping combinations get scaled back. I bought a big bag of sliced pepperoni and it's fine, but not as good as a stick sliced by hand. I need to find somewhere locally that will sell me Ezzo pepperoni. Or at least the Hormel pre-sliced cup and char. I think they are coming out with one to be sold in grocery stores.

In other pizza news, I listened to as much of PizzaZoom 2020 as I could. It was basically a parade of well known pizza people meeting through Zoom and you could just eavesdrop in on the conversation. It was like hanging out with them in a bar after closing. There were demos from both home kitchens and restaurants. Parts were funny. Some stories were amazing – the back story on Angelo’s Pizzeria in South Philly put that shop on my to-do. They also make their own bread for their cheesesteaks which look and sound great. There was a fun session with Chris Bianco. It is a combination of interesting and entertaining to listen to him talk. Good stories plus a willingness to help other pizza makers in the same way people helped him. He offered some excellent life advice: Just don’t be an asshole. The 3 days of web conference cost $5 with all the proceeds going to Pizza vs. Pandemic which is a new arm of Slice Out Hunger. They get pizza to hospitals and first responders because if anyone deserves a good slice of pizza right now, it is these people. 

Also at the web conference, I saw a Dexter P177A pizza cutter. I had to have one. I picked it up while getting some cheese and more pizza boxes at restaurant depot. The difference between using a 4 inch pizza when and the smaller 2.5 inch wheel I had been using is huge. I love my new pizza cutter. To paraphrase Ferris Bueller, it is so choice. If you have the means, I highly recommend picking one up. And the P177A is also significantly cheaper than the Ferrari that Ferris was talking about. It’s beautiful, isn’t it?

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

February 2020 Pizza Challenge

This month's pizza challenge: Make a pizza you have never baked before.

I read the challenge and immediately had a plan: I was going to use the left side of my oven.

My oven floor has two materials. The right side is regular firebrick and the left side is biscotto that I, like a crazy person, had imported from Italy. The idea was bank the coals on the left and I would make a more American styled wood fired pizza with bake times in the 4 minute range. Bank the coals on the right, really crank up the heat and then launch Neapolitan style pizzas on the biscotto tile to the left. I have spent a lot of time trying to dial in my version of the wood fired pizza I ate growing up (serious Pizza Cognition Theory in effect) and now I end up making that with minor tweaks. It can kind of feel like that is the pizza I’m expected to make when the oven gets fired up and it is easy to fall into a rut. So, in all the time I have had a working wood oven, Sunday was the first time I banked the coals on the right side of the oven, got the fire roaring and launched pizza onto the biscotto.

I picked up a bag of Caputo Chef 00 flour. I was going to get an unmalted All purpose but couldn’t find one. If you are cooking at temperatures this high, the malt can burn. Check out a bag of your all purpose flour in the pantry. My guess is that it either has some kind of enzymes added or something with the word malt. That's what makes your cakes and cookies brown at 350 degrees. At over 800 degrees, that would burn. Not all, but most of the Italian 00 flours do not have malt added. Anyhow, Saturday morning I combined 600g flour, 376g water, 18g salt and 0.6 g of instant yeast, let it rest a bit and then did a series did 3 stretch/folds over the course of an hour. This gave made four about 245g balls and let I let them sit in a 60 degreed basement for about 24 hours.


 In the end, I think the dough might have been a little under fermented. Might be a bit colder in the basement than I thought. The dough was definitely the weak link of the pizzas Could have been some operator error opening them too. I made 3 Margherita pizzas experimenting with how the mozzarella was cut. Wasn’t impressed with Roma's fresh mozzarella. Tasted like they forgot the salt in the water so I added some salt to 2 of the 3 Margheritas pre bake. The other pie was a pepperoni/green olive that gave me a chance to play with my new olive pitter.

Bake times for these 4 pizzas were in the 1:30 to 1:45 range and the oven floor was about 850. I forgot to toss in a small log before launching the longer baked pie. And yes, I am my own worst critic. You could easily have paid $12 for a worse wood fired pizza than these (ask me how I know).

After making these Neapolitan pies, I took a little nap, let the oven cool down some and then made a bunch of my usual pies. A few for us, one delivered across the street and two were picked up.

All in all, a fun day.  Kind of makes me think this could be a regular plan. Blast the oven and make Neapolitan pizzas around lunchtime. Take a nap and the make my usual for dinner. You really can't have too much pizza...