Tuesday, November 10, 2015

The Intrinsic Value of Art

There is one thing that Vic Christopher once said to me that has really resonated. If you know, or have had any interaction with Vic - you know that he is a goldmine for wisdom - intentional or not. He often says things that are deeply reflective as part of every day pleasantries, and while sometimes these things can seem a little silly..this is one of my favorite things about his personality. 
Over the winter, Vic dined at Peck's Arcade with a friend. We knew he was in the dining room - as we can see every seat from the kitchen, but in an effort to give a real experience..we did not offer him any special treatment (at least no more than anyone else). 

After his meal we talked to him about it.. to see what he felt about everything. How comfortable was he. The music. The energy. The service. The food, and every aspect of it. The timing. Literally everything. He had some minor criticisms that we took and adjusted accordingly, but overall he was very impressed.  This was his first time in the restaurant as a guest, and he was shocked about how different everything felt - just by changing his role, and not being stuck behind the DJ Booth. One thing he said was he was in a seat facing the exterior wall (Franklin Alley side) and he noted that there wasn't much to look at and that it sort of robbed guests sitting in that orientation of some of the experience. They missed out on seeing the rhythm of the dining room and all the things that happen in it. We talked about it a little - mentioned seeing mirrors on walls like this in other restaurants. I recalled seeing lots of art hanging on walls of restaurants in the past, to which he said, 

'The wall is the art'. 

My gut reaction was, as it so often is, 'Thats ridiculous'. But you know what? He was right. So much thought, so much work, and effort, and Im sure anguish and emotion went into designing this room - every detail was worked out and redone and then redone again for good measure. When you start to expand what you think of as a canvas you realize that creating that wall is really no different than creating, say, a painting. Here I caught myself putting arbitrary limitations on what art can and cannot be. I began to think about various paintings I had seen hanging in galleries and museums that, frankly, reminded me of the wall at Peck's. 

Some google image search examples:
Ethan Harper, Mountain Mist II
Helena Hildur, Blue Painting #01
Helena Hildur, Grey Painting #2
Maeve Harris, Creme 2

It bothered me that intuitively I rejected the idea of the wall being art. I love going to museums and galleries but without fail, my favorite to visit are Contemporary Art Museums. I don't care how 'good' or 'bad' the exhibits are - what I love is how fun they always are. How freely people will discuss the art - rather than the annoyingly silent galleries you find at more traditional museums. I think that.. more or less...Contemporary Art is the goto 'this is bullshit' art that regular people are most critical of. I often hear people say something like 'I could make that' or 'Anyone could make that' as a criticism. All I can say to that is its unfortunate that the only value youre placing in a piece of art is how difficult it is for you to recreate it.

Before we went to Montreal this fall, we were out to dinner with another couple. One of them asked if we were going to Musee d'art contemporain de Montreal. We weren't sure at that point - but they strongly suggested that we avoid it because when they went it was the absolute worst museum they have ever been to. They described an exhibit in great detail - which I cannot remember, unfortunately,  and how much they hated it. 

I asked them when they visited. It turned out to be a decade ago. I then asked if they could describe any other exhibit they have seen at a museum that they loved. They could not. The point I was making is that their initial reaction was that this particular exhibit was terrible. But here they are ten years later, remembering specific details - more clearly than any other exhibit they had ever seen - yet they still think it was terrible art. I suggested that not all art is supposed to be beautiful or make you sit in awe about how wonderful it is - and maybe the point of this exhibit was to create visceral reactions. Im not sure if this got through to them, but it helped lay out my thoughts on art for me. 

'Good artists borrow. Great artists Steal'

For me - the best exhibit I have ever seen - that is to say the one that I had the strongest emotional reaction to - was the Picasso Looks at Degas exhibit that the Clark put together in 2010. I visited mostly because they were two artists that I was familiar with - but not ones that I had much of any opinion of. If you are not familiar with this exhibit - it basically spanned the career of the two artists and showed Picasso's admiration for Degas' work and how he often borrowed or copied ideas. What I remember most clearly was Picasso's, 'Nude Wringing Her Hair'. Looking at the texture of the brush strokes, and the movement from beads of paint running down the canvas... for reasons I don't necessarily understand, I found these things to be deeply moving - and I'll remember these details for the rest of my life

Pablo Picasso, Nude Wringing Her Hair

Friday, November 6, 2015

Dinner: Blue Hill at Stone Barns

In early August, J&I had the opportunity to visit Stone Barns Center For Food and Agriculture and have a fairly transcendental meal at Blue Hill at Stone Barns. Because of the extended length of this meal I am going to streamline this post into mostly photos.

The kitchen window

A couple take aways from the experience 

1 - Sone Barns is incredibly beautiful and inspiring in many ways. You can tour the Center separately from dining at Blue Hill. It is more than worth visiting and we plan on going back

2 - The meal was, essentially, everything I love about dining. Ill spare you the obvious details about their philosophy but what I loved was that it was so vegetable forward, everything was prepared in a very disciplined way - meaning there was no heavy handed ness. No over doing it. No bells and whistles. Just incredible produce and ingredients being presented in incredible ways. 

3 - While the number of courses we had here was close to or greater than what I had at Alinea, I did not leave hungry or ever feel uncomfortable. 

4 - Changing out of sweaty 'farm clothes' into formal wear in a Honda Fit while surrounded by Mercedes and BMWs and their owners was fun

5 - If you haven't seen the episode of Chefs Table about Dan Barber (and this restaurant) and you have Netflix (or other means), watch it. Really.

6 - The overwhelming theme of the day/night was education. About farming, about tradition, about the future, about food and food system, and many other things.

Ok - onto the goods.

The first thing you notice when arriving is how unbelievably beautiful everything is here. It is one of the most picturesque farms we have been to. 

The restaurant, as seen from one of the crop fields
The road leaving the restaurant
Some sort of cellar, built into the side of a hill behind the restaurant 
The bountiful terrace garden
The path through the woodlands

Blue Hill sheep grazing

There are many activities you can do throughout the day.
Making pesto in the garden
We took a wonderful, informative tour that explained quite a bit about what they do at Stone Barns Center

Once our tour was up we changed in the car and headed in to start our meal...
Crudites - simply prepared raw vegetables, picked just hours before. 
Incredible squash with poppyseed butter and poppy seed, harvested table side
Asparagus with cat tail pollen
Needles in a Haystack - Grissini in hay
Venison Liver
Peach, Speck, Charcoal
Weeds from the grounds + charcoal mayo
Corn Cobb Lemonade
Cucumber & Yogurt
Marionberry Bush with a little surprise underneath 
A perfectly petit tart
Tomato burgers
Ham Sandwiches & Pork liver with Chocolate
Green Gazpacho Julep - Reminded me so much of the gazpacho I had at Town House, which still haunts me today
The most incredible melon and farmers cheese. With sesame. This was the stand out dish of the night, so good we just sat there in awe.
Cucumber, Crab, Fennel
Copa, Melon
Peas, Corn, Lardo - Another stand out dish.
Fish taco, Kohlrabi Tortilla, Bloodline Tapenade - Tied for best dish of the night
Onion grown in soil amended with hazelnut, Hazelnut, Caviar 

Beans grilled with herbs, Peach Pit Yogurt & Blossoms

A detour to the patio, where we had Beet Hot Dogs with some beer as we watched the sun set.
An example of the restaurant educating its guests : three types of potatoes they are working on developing. Our server discussed many differences between them in taste, texture, starch and sugar content, etc..
Experimental Butter Potato, Baked in a compost crust
..Served with their cover crops. Another stand out course
Potato Pizza
Zucchini Bolognese, Peach 
Lets not forget the incredible bread
Blue Hill Pork, Spinach, Eggplant
Cabbage, Lardon, Lard
Oats, Blueberry ?
Plum Kouign Amann ?

Its hard to summarize this meal. We chatted a lot with our server and it wound up spanning about four hours time. There were a few stand out dishes (I'll never forget that farmers cheese) and really no duds. Our least favorite, if I recall correctly, was the half sour asparagus with cat tail pollen. The whole experience was deeply involved - from touring the farm, chatting with the farmers and researchers, to discussing the evolution of the restaurant and the conceptualization of dishes with some of the chefs. Often times in restaurants of this caliber, its easy to feel like you're just there watching, yet at Blue Hill..we felt involved. Seeing everything from the ground to the plate - being educated at each step...it was quite an experience. Its easy to have buyers remorse when spending this kind of money on a meal but we were discussing our return before we were done with our meal.

My biggest regret with the whole meal was not doing the wine pairing. We are not extremely knowledgable about wine - just appreciate it on a kind of...basic level - and often times pairings are not worth the expense to us ...were better off ordering a glass or two of something we pick out carefully but a few days later, when I was attempting to get ahold of the restaurant to discuss a Taiwanese version of the corn lemonade that they were very interested in I noticed their sommelier is Charlie Berg - who I had some very memorable pairing form when he worked at Town House - which remains far and away the best restaurant meal of my life. If nothing else, I wanted to pick his brain about a sake pairing at the Town House meal that I have been trying to figure out/remember since 2011. So next time...wine pairing.

In the end - I cannot recommend BHASB highly enough. If you read my ancient posts when I was hopping around lots of high end restaurants in Chicago - you will know that most times I do not think its worth the time or money. This meal, however, we will cherish and remember for many years.

Monday, November 2, 2015

The wall is the art

Here's a quick one made up mostly of notes since the last one...some are more dated than others 

Some Shit:

I recall one time at a restaurant where I used to work,  I ran into one of our runners early one day. I asked, 'Why are you here now?" and he said 'I was told to come in so I could sit in the office all day and submit votes for the restaurant' - this was in regards to some 'best of' thing in some paper or web site. I cant remember the specifics, but you get the point

New paint wont cover up shitty food

The best food we had at the Columbia County Fair was apple cider from Golden Harvest.

Lots of recipe testing for Little Pecks these past few weeks. 

J&I are heading to Montreal this weekend. (Last weekend of September)

We had many great meals in Montreal - including a dinner at Le Mousso

Wanderlust is all-consuming 

Unlike spring, fall is coming (came) in right on schedule. I pass Dinosaur BBQ every day on my way into work - the smell of crisp fall air mixed with smoke on an overcast morning...its a welcome change 

There are so many ideas that will have to wait until next year

For the past nine (eleven) months we have been pretty certain about relocating to Seattle sometime next year - but after recent discussions we have decided to play roulette with relocating. We will look for work in several cities (and countries) and wherever we get a bite first - we will move.

We are planning another road tip before we move.

As much as I hate the heat - all I can think about is the dessert in the American Southwest

Its Hatch Chile season (not for long) (nope)

The Tavern Noodle Pop Up was fun - but we are all glad to be back to the regular grind of Peck's.

I remember getting Hatch Chile cheeseburgers at McDonalds in Arizona.

We've found the best (and most consistent) time to eat at La Mexicana in Schenectady is early Sunday afternoons. Any other time is a gamble. My normal order is a Tlayuda and a Michelada.  


'You're sweaty, like a lizard' VC

'All I do is eat pizza in the alley way. Thats my life' VC

'I wish they would have a grease fire already' JH

'Fried chicken should just replace croutons in all salads' NR

'This dude came here with his department of what the fuck shirt on' CN

'Good morning!' - 'What's so good about it?' HD

'How ya doin?' - 'Better than some, worse than others' DT

'The craziest pizza I ever had in n y c, it was like lasagna noodles on pizza with some pepperoni or something' HM

'Mom! I'm looking at the new star wars stuff! It looks so different!' - 'I DONT care' (kid & mom at target)

'Did anyone happen to find two balls of mozzarella I set down earlier?' NR

'I don't want a magic stegosaurus' JB

Tuesday, September 1, 2015


Some Shit:

Well this is interesting, isn't it?

Change is on the horizon.

Susie Davidson Powell's reviews - as entertaining as they can be - tend to be just as much about her as they are about wherever she dined 

Steve forgot to mention that the two varieties of oysters on our tower do not include Gold Bands (frozen garbage) or Blue Points (just garbage) - like some of the others mentioned do.

Troy politics are so fucked

Troy parking is so fucked

Daniel, I hate to burst your bubble...but we have served Mac & Cheese. The catch is that it was actually good.

The best tamale I have ever had I bought off of a random guy at a Walmart Parking lot in Bakersfield, CA.

Writing inscriptions on my plates in chocolate will be the reason I leave this industry. 

Its easy to share a statistic. Its not easy to cite the source. 

Any time I cut a corner or don't do something as well as I would like and still go with it, someone I care about or a VIP will come in and try whatever it is. Without fail. 

There is a lot more to food culture than restaurants. I wish I appreciated this sooner.

Susie Davidson Powell reviewed another restaurant that everyone already knows is a joke. What I cant wrap my head around is that she spent $530.83 on 2 salads, 2 apps, 3 entrees, 2 sides, 1 dessert, 5 drinks, 1 sparkling water and 20% gratuity. For $120 more,  J & I dined at Blue Hill at Stone Barns  - and had 5 cocktails, about 35 courses each, and left 20% gratuity. BH@SB is considered one of the best restaurants in North America (Currently #49 in the world) and it was a deeply moving and transformative experience dining there (more so than any other restaurant I have been to in the top 50). 

The Metrolands Best of Food & Drink came out. Best Vegan Bakery but no Best Bakery? What is wrong with this paper?

Chefs having photos taken of their baby in chefs whites is not cute, witty or original. 

Even though he (?) thinks The Shop is serving 'tasty and innovative fare', I sure would like to see more writing from Masticating Monkey 

The tone in Dominic's posts during track season was noticeably different that his non-track season posts.

While it is entirely possible that I am imagining it - I am pretty sure we are attracting the track crowd at the restaurant. I have seen a lot of orders and special requests that remind me of things I would see when I worked in downtown Saratoga. Its difficult to not be annoyed by this (even if its my imagination).

Lack of trust is exhausting.

Ive been buying all of my peaches from Yonder Farms (who I also have a fruit CSA with) - Its been a pleasure getting to know the people at their stand by HVCC.

The puppy started obedience school.

Kevin McCashion is witty, interesting, and often times hilarious - but I cannot follow him on twitter because he tweets way too much. 

I need to plan a trip to Mexico City. 

Rock & Rye Tavern in New Paltz is worth the drive, especially if you like cocktails

Gaskins in Germantown is worth the drive.

John Shields & Karen Urie Shields are opening a restaurant in Chicago later this year (or maybe next year). Town House remains the best restaurant meal of my life - and I have no doubt that this will be the most significant restaurant opening in the US in quite some time. 

I ran into Daniel while his kids were getting some soft serve at the Grocery. He said to me that the 'Word on the street is you guys are making your soft serve'. This is something that I would like to clarify. Currently we do not make our soft serve base from scratch. We purchase a soft serve base that is made by Crowley Dairy and then we flavor it in house. The traditional method here is to use extracts, syrups, emulsions that you can purchase from any number of sources to flavor these soft serve bases. We do not do this. We use real ingredients and flavor it from scratch. For example - most soft serve places would strictly use green tea extract to flavor their green tea soft serve. We used real green tea to flavor ours. We believe that this is giving us a superior product - but we are not making it from scratch. Furthermore - most places that claim to be making their soft serve from scratch are in fact using a pre made base that they flavor with extracts in house. Thats *most* places. You may wonder why we make our ice cream from scratch but not our soft serve - and also now recall you have seen a lot of ice cream places that make their hard pack but not soft serve. The answer is fairly complicated. Basically there are a whole new set of problems that arise because of the way soft serve is frozen, held, and served with its machine. These problems can be stability, whipping properties, flavor dispersion, maintenance of dryness and texture - but the single biggest problem is fat separation from thermal shock and agitation during the (repeated) freezing process. Because of these issues - soft serve is formulated much differently than traditional ice cream (which is typically spun and then held in deep freeze). Learning about this stuff is not easy - information is scarce and hard to find. Misinformation is everywhere. It is an on-going project for me and I hope that at some point we will be making our soft serve from scratch - but this may require me taking CE classes at a Dairy School such as Madison or Penn State. But until then - it will be made with the best stuff we can get our hands on and flavored with real ingredients.

Applying to jobs in different countries is exhilarating

Applying to jobs which you are not at all qualified for is exhilarating too

For a while now I have been wanting to write about the over-reliance on convenience products in restaurant kitchens - Ive started new drafts every week since June...but for whatever reason it s not flowing the way I want. Basic idea is almost all restaurants rely far too heavily on convenience products - even ones that say they don't or say they're entirely from scratch.

It can be difficult to categorize a convenience product. More accurately - it can be difficult to say if one is 'ok' or not. Think of it like this - is it okay to use peeled garlic instead of whole bulbs, which you break apart and peel yourself? What about frozen french fries? Frozen Bread? Pre-made sauces? Mayo? Nut-butters? Dried Pastas? Cheeses (or at least ones that are easily made in kitchens)? Sour cream - or any cultured diary products? Ice cream? Pre-cut or pre-fabricated meats? Pre-made sausage? Pickles? Where is the line drawn?  - For me its a balance between being truthful (which, again, most places are not) and being smart. Are you making a pasta recipe that traditionally uses dried pasta? It it logistically possible to mill your own grains? Do you have an ice cream machine? Ultimately - I just think you cant rely on them. If you suddenly were without them, would you still be able to put up your whole menu? Are you just too lazy to make a real aioli?

Pecks is - truthfully - the most 'from scratch' kitchen I have ever worked in. Not just in New York. We have a small handful of convenience products that we use in conjunction with everything else - but nothing takes center stage, nothing is done out of laziness or ineptitude - its all used reasonably and intelligently. All of us work at a fast pace every day to prep our menus from scratch. I will literally make everything on my menu every day I am there. There are much easier ways to do this work - but they all would sacrifice quality.

Peck's is also the only restaurant I have worked at in Upstate New York that refuses to order from Sysco - is willing to spend money on good ingredients - and actually cares about the source and quality of all the ingredients we use.

It always pays to try things back to back, so you can better understand the contrast in quality. Early on at Peck's I had a dessert with an orange sorbet on the menu. I knew that using fresh squeezed orange juice would be better than bottled. I decided to try making the sorbet with bottled juice to see if it was okay - and it was still very good. It wasn't until I made the sorbet again with fresh juice that I was able to compare it to the bottled - which, again, tasted very good with no other point of reference. When I was able to taste it next to the sorbet made from fresh squeezed juice - it tasted bitter, stale - and just awful. I have not used bottled orange juice for anything since. This can be applied to a lot more than just food.


'Vic is in the noodle zone' 

'Why are you moving to Arizona, did you kill someone?' - 'I wish'

'I bet you haven't shit today, I saw how much ricotta you ate'

Monday, July 20, 2015

Pretty Good Bread For (Normal) Restaurant Service

Some shit:

Classic example of the , 'Dentist has too many dinner guests suggest they open a restaurant' : Bread & Honey.

Maria did a wonderful job warning me about people like herself in her response to this AOA article

Not being able to sleep just one night really derails my entire week.

I average about 5 hours of sleep a night and (unfortunately) live on an enormous amount of coffee. This is not sustainable

There is a lot of internal conflict about accepting new projects when I already feel spread thin.

Our house bread today vs. when we opened - there is no comparison. Complacency will kill you in this industry.

I am honing in on a great biscuit recipe. Almost there. 

My garden is a sorry excuse of its former self.

I love my CSA. Thank you Daniel. We haven't tossed a single item yet. Triage, as you put it, is critical. 

I've always wished there was a 'New Pastry Chef Handbook' with all the little things that you need to know or wind up learning along the way. There are books that contain a lot of this information - but they always seem to be written for people who work in these mythical kitchens (hotels, very high end restaurants) that have every piece of equipment you can imagine. The reality is that most places you will work will be built for the hot side (where the majority of food sales come from) and the 'pastry department' will have to make due with whatever is available. Some places are better than others - but the sooner you realize things are not going to be ideal - the better off you will be.

A good example: You do not need a proof box for your dough - you just need to find someplace in your building this is warm and hopefully a little moist. For a while I would fire up the oven in the apartment over the wine bar, crack it open, and line up a few chairs in front of it, which I would put my trays of bread on. When the heat was turned off for the season this no longer worked - so I figured out how to rig our dishwasher to have its heating element on with the door open. I would then carefully stack (covered) trays of dough in it and they would proof beautifully. Then we got a new dish machine that turns off whenever the door is open. There was a short period of time where I proofed bread in the oven with just the pilot going - this took forever because I had to pull the proofed bread and then wait for the oven to get up to temperature, and often times the pilot gave off too much heat. Now I proof the bread in a dank little room in the basement that has our walk in condenser in it - so it is always warm and fairly moist. My point here is that there is always a way. Think outside the (proof) box. The better you are at adapting to each situation, the easier your life will be. 

Bread cooling in our garden

Baking bread for a restaurant can be a very daunting task. It requires a lot of intuition that really only comes from experience. Things like adjusting the recipe based on dough conditions. Too wet? Add flour. Too dry? Add water. Too cold? Ferment somewhere else. Its not proofing? Wait longer and maybe move it somewhere warmer. Things of this nature. Its also just a lot of work for something that is nearly always given away for free. When I started at Peck's, we talked a lot about our bread service and what we wanted it to be like. Up until that point, I had only done pop-overs (and at shittier places where I was not in charge, served thaw and serve bread) for bread service - so I had to figure out the systems that would need to be in place and how to get past the fact that we only have two conventional ovens (the same as what you have in your house). 

I was lucky that before 15 Church opened, I was in negotiations with Chef Jason to be their pastry chef - and took it upon myself to go stage at a friends restaurant in Chicago for a week - to learn her bread program. Her restaurant was also brand new and she had to figure everything out on her own. Even though I ultimately declined to work at 15 Church, the knowledge and skill I picked up during my stage proved to be very valuable.

Im still not 100% sure that I have everything down pat with our bread. There are days when I am dumbfounded by how the dough is behaving and what caused it to change. There are also days when I cannot believe how good it is. Ultimately I think I have come up with a bread program that is completely manageable - it adapts to your schedule (to some degree) - it requires very little work - and the product is without a doubt better than a lot of restaurants. Is it the best bread ever? Absolutely not. In fact there are very simple ways that I could improve it - but they all require purchasing new equipment...and the whole idea behind this bread is that it is practical to do at virtually any restaurant - without making any investments. We serve it room temperature - which Im not 100% convinced its good enough to do that - but its close. Its great warmed in the oven or toasted. 

So with that; here is my recipe and all relevant information for my 'House Bread', which we serve just about every day at Pecks. 

Yield: I make 12 loaves and then either play around with whats left, use it as a pate fermentee for the next dough, or portion it and freeze it for pizza dough. Ultimately you can get about 14 x 1# portions.

2903 g Water, Room Temperature (Troy's finest)
3870 g AP (I strictly use King Arthur AP (retail) or King Arthur Sir Galahad (food service) 
10 g Yeast (SAF Instant)
70 g Salt (Diamond Kosher)

Scale all of your ingredients. In a very large container (I use a...big Carlisle container...like what you mount your immersion circulator on) add your water. Follow with your flour, and then yeast. Lightly mix the yeast into the flour. Finally add your salt and begin mixing everything together. I like to use a bench scraper for this, but really anything works. The dough should come together as sort of a raggedy, kind-of-moist mass. All I really care about is that there are no excessively wet spots. Once it is together, wrap the container up and place in a warm spot to ferment for 18 hours.  Once 18 hours have passed, generously flour your workspace and turn the dough out. This is a relatively wet dough...so like I said, be generous with your bench flour.

Begin cutting the dough into roughly 453 g portions. Its ok if it stays within 10 grams in either direction.

Once dough is portioned, pre-shape each piece it into a rough boule by stretching the edges to the center in while rotating the dough:

1 dozen pre-shaped loaves
 Once your loaves are pre-shaped, give them all a final shape. I couldn't photograph this process because it required two hands but its easy to find online. This video is a little different than how I do it, but it gives you a good idea of the process. I typically hold the dough in my hands when I shape, rather than doing it directly on the bench, and I pinch the seam with the (pinky) sides of my palm.

Once the loaves are shaped, I place them on a sheet tray that is lined with two pieces of parchment paper, where the top layer of parchment is sprayed with pan spray. It is important to use two sheets of parchment and to spray the top layer (you'll see why in a second). You can fit 6 x 453 g loaves on a full size sheet tray.

I then cater wrap the tray, spraying the inside of the plastic wrap with pan spary - this prevents the plastic wrap from sticking to the loaves.

Look closely and you can see the pan spray
Once the loaves are wrapped, I put them in the cooler for 24 hours. This will slow down the fermentation and develop an enormous amount of flavor and - as far as I can tell it improves the texture of both the crust and crumb.

After 24 hours the bread is ready to bake. I pull them from the cooler and place them somewhere warm to proof. While they are proofing, I set up the oven. First thing is to put a cast iron skillet on the floor of the oven, which you will throw ice cubes in to create steam when you are baking the bread. I am not 100% convinced it is necessary when baking in this type of oven.. because the heat transfer is so crappy (so you don't get much spring...so no need to delay crust formation) - but...I do it anyway.

Next I take two sheet trays, flip them upside down, and put them onto the rack in the oven. This will be the 'hearth' that I bake on.

Once the oven has the skillet and sheet trays in it, I turn the heat to 500 F and let everything get nice and hot while the bread finishes proofing. It typically takes about 1 hour for the loaves to proof - but its important to know that there are a lot of factors that can change that and you just need to be able to recognize properly proofed bread. Sometimes it takes 1.5 hours to proof - I remember a day where I couldn't find a warm spot and I waited 3 hours for them to proof  and they still could have gone longer. This seems to be the number one problem people have - they adhere to the suggested time frame for proofing and wind up baking grossly under-proofed bread - and then they wonder why their bread is so dense. 

Once the bread is done proofing, I get some ice and get ready to slide the loaves onto the 'hearth'. To do this successfully you have to pull the 'hearth' out of the oven, set it down next to the proofed bread - grab both pieces of parchment in the corners and slide it right over the edge onto the 'hearth'. If you only use one sheet of parchment, sometimes it absorbs too much moisture and winds up ripping apart when you pull on it. Good luck getting the bread onto the 'hearth' if that happens. The pan spray is used to prevent the paper from sticking to the loaves, which seems to happen about 30% of the time if you do not use the pan spray.  

Set up and ready to slide over
Bread is now on the 'hearth'. 
 Now quickly put the hearth back into the oven, throw some ice into the cast iron skillet (it will hiss and steam) and shut the door. I bake the loaves for 30 minutes, undisturbed, at which point I pull the 'hearth' and paper out, leaving the loaves directly on the rack. This helps the bottoms of the loaf to crisp up a little. 

After 30 minutes
'Hearth' and parchment removed, loaves rotated.
 I then continue to bake them until they are properly colored - which usually takes between 5 and 15 additional minutes. Once they are done I cool them on a resting rack and they are ready to go! 

Notice the micro blistering. There was no dutch oven. No stone. No real hearth. Just shit that is on hand in every restaurant

I don't bother scoring the bread because there is not enough oven spring with these sheet trays that it will open up attractively. I also don't spend a lot of time shaping them perfectly because
 1 - There is no time and 
2 - We serve slices, which will look good no matter how 'ugly' the loaf looks. 

What is important to me is that I have achieved a good crumb and a decent amount of flavor by using such a long fermentation and rise. The bread only requires a small amount of active work (maybe an hour total) that is spread out across 42 hours. Its also very forgiving. I can walk in the door and start proofing the bread immediately or I can do some other work and get to the bread whenever I feel like it - The same goes for the shaping at the 18 hour mark. 12 hours is fine. 20 hours is fine. Do it when it works for your schedule. Your still doing a very long fermentation. You can proof and bake them immediately after shaping if you want. They will not be nearly as good, but they will still be totally fine. 

Some especially nice looking loaves, using this recipe and method. 
Earlier I mentioned that there are some pretty easy ways to improve this recipe - but they require spending some money. This is a good example - I followed the recipe and method exactly, but baked this bread in a covered & preheated dutch oven. The big difference is you get more oven spring, so ultimately a lighter, more bulbous loaf, and a significantly improved crust. 

Just look at that crust
 Some other bread I have been playing around with at the restaurant:
Pain Au Lait
Rye Pain Au Lait
Wheat Tortillas
As I said before, sometimes we like to make pizza with any extra dough

Some desserts I've run in the past few weeks. All gluten free, of course: 

Strawberry Shortcake - Caramelized biscuit, Strawberry Coulis, Whipped Cream, Vanilla Ice Cream, Strawberries. 
Morita Ice Cream. Masa & Chocolate Cake. Honeycomb. Strawberry. Lime
Neapolitan - Vanilla Panna Cotta, Chocolate Cake, Gianduja Mousse, Marcona, Red Jacket Cherry Sorbet 
Vegan Massaman Curry 'Ice Cream', Herb Salad.
Mocha Sundae - Blue Bottle Cold Brew Ice Cream, Vanilla Ice Cream, Brownies, Espresso Caramel, Hot Fudge, Caramelized Chocolate Marcona Almond, Whipped Cream....Who knows what else. 

 Some other fun;

About two weeks ago I started fermenting some pineapples and spices to make some Tepache
Which we all drank, mixed with some Modelo, after service this past Saturday.

 Oh and J & I adopted our first puppy: