Thursday, November 6, 2014

Quick update

So I just wanted to touch base here and say that I have quickly realized how difficult it is to update this thing from the road. We have been out 70 days so far and look to be about half way through now. We've completed the northern half of the United States and are currently in San Francisco. I won't be trying to update regularly until we are done with the trip - but we've been keeping journals / notes and have been taking an enormous amount of photographs. If you would like to see or track our progress along the way, the best way is to follow me on Instagram. You can find me on there with the username flappysmacks . Adios !

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Trippy Stuff & Ghosts of Meals Past Vol 2 - Fish & Game, Zak Pelaccio

For the past few days, I have been doing an endless amount of research for the upcoming trip.  In the past,  my traveling has been much more intuitive - but this time there is a goal for the trip: Find a new home. And I have a companion with me this time, who I have to consider at all times. So while typically I would just get in my car and go wherever I feel like, this time I have an itinerary..and need plans for each stop so time & money is not wasted. I'm finding the whole thing difficult because the things that interest me in a place to live are not necessarily the same as the things that interest me in a place to visit. And the things that I am interested in seem to be very similar - do I want to go to 50 different art museums in the next couple months? Do I need to stop at every farmers market? There are a lot of things to weigh here - but regardless the trip is definitely shaping up to be a very interesting mix of stops, sights, and attractions. I will post the rough itinerary at the end of the list - if you have any thoughts or suggestions for any of the stops - leave it in the comments.

Now for some pictures. This meal was at Fish & Game in Hudson. There has been a fair amount of hype for this place - both locally (Hudson is not far from me) and nationally. I try to keep my expectations in check so I don't ruin the meal for myself. This is very important to remember when going to special restaurants - or places you have read a lot about or have obsessed over. If you put something so high up, think so highly of it - it will be nearly impossible for it to meet your expectations.  Its like when you try something from your childhood that you remember loving and its not very good - or go back to a restaurant you had a fantastic meal at a few years ago, and have the same dish again. This has happened to me several times in the past. It can be tricky to figure out if a meal wasn't good or if you had unrealistic expectations. So now-a-days I try to take a much more relaxed approach to these things. I still get excited and have expectations for things but...I try not to dwell on them. And this approach pays off.

SO - Fish & Game. We went here for my birthday dinner. If you're not familiar with Hudson NY...its a pretty cool town...getting very trendy. You see a lot of money from the city coming up to Hudson and while I'm not going to try and say this is good or bad - the town is definitely seeing a resurgence...and I like that because its a very historical place, and has a lot of beautiful buildings that will now get some money poured into them. Fish & Game, for instance, is housed in a 19th century blacksmith shop. 

Not too much else to say. You probably already know Zak Pelaccio. What he is doing here is downright brilliant. A classic example of perfect in the field, perfect on the plate. Not over manipulating things. Just great, comforting food. I don't have photos for the entire meal - sometimes you dig in and when you're looking at your empty plate you realize you forgot to take one! Sometimes there just isn't good lighting or you just took a shit photo. Either way...I'll describe best I can, with or without a photograph.

This was one of the most memorable dishes I have had in 2014, but I wasn't thrilled about how it was sold to us. The meal at Fish & Game is a set tasting menu - so you just kind of sit down and food starts coming to your table. Our waiter simply asked if we would like to start with this mushroom toast. We did not realize this was an add on to the menu, but regardless, we would have purchased it & we absolutely loved it. It was Morels in cream sauce on toast. We still go on about this course - some 5 months later. Whenever we eat something good it inevitably comes up.  Its a prefect example of how a few ingredients can combine into something that is so much greater than the sum of its parts. Lesson here, don't fuck with your food and it will be better because of it. Utterly satisfying on every level.

Clams, Prosciutto Broth, Mi Na Ri (I *think* this is Chinese Celery), Asparagus (tempura). Oddly enough this is another dish we were talking about recently. She has been working at a fish monger this summer and needless to say our seafood consumption has gone up exponentially. Its pretty great when your other half comes home with some soft shells & sable fish unannounced. Anyway, she was lamenting that she has never had a clam dish that was very memorable - except for that really great one at Fish & Game. was great. The asparagus was great, young & barely cooked and it retained its crispy texture for the duration of the course. The clams were tender, meaty and delicious - and the broth was sensational. It was the very essence of prosciutto - which I know the next course has some they made in house - so I can only assume this broth was made with the same ham. It was meaty, buttery, with a great amount of salinity. 

This was - after the morels - my favorite course. Egg (super soft poached), Fish & Game 15 Month Aged Prosciutto, Herbs. In a nutshell - this was a perfectly poached egg, wrapped in the best prosciutto I have ever had (keep in mind I am not by any means a prosciutto connoisseur) on top of some really, beautifully pungent and herbaceous ramp leaf salsa verde. Just a prefect combination of fat, salt, umami, and pungent green flavors. I have made this for myself several times since. Its never as good. 

The next course, which I have no photograph for, was: Bok Choy, Wild Onions, Meyer Lemon Syrup. I remember liking this, but I also remember it being my least favorite course of the night. 

Rice, Sausage, Green Garlic, Lobster, Squid. This was described as 'kind of a sea food fried rice' - and while that was not entirely inaccurate - it certainly does not do it justice. The dish came covered, and when the lid was removed the seafood aroma was almost overwhelming - we continued to get whiffs of it for the remained of our meal as other tables received the same course. This reminded me a lot of the good, comforting rice dishes I would have with my ex girlfriends (Taiwanese) family. Just really nicely cooked, flavorful rice with great ingredients on top. 

Chicken, Mushroom Gravy, Rhubarb (pickled, or maybe persevered.. if I remember correctly), Dumpling. I don't remember this dish as well as the others so, what you see is what you get. 

Corn Shoot Ice Cream, Black Cardamom Cracker. This was such a relief, after such a long period of time without having really, properly made ice cream , we had this. Ive made Corn Husk ice cream before - and this was reminiscent of that, just a little sweeter and a little more 'green' flavor. If you have had corn shoots before - I remember having them fairly often in Chicago in 2011 - this tasted just as you would imagine. I liked the cracker a lot, however she did not.

Last course was Pine (biscuit - biss qwee - the cake), Mint (chiboust), Chocolate (ganache) & Cheese. I remember enjoying this, however the chiboust - which is pastry cream with meringue folded in, very close to a mousse - was a bit broken (folded too much) and the mint flavor was a bit over powering. I like mint, to a certain degree, but you have to be very delicate with it - as it can overpower a dish very easily. The ganache was nice and the cheese - I don't remember what it was, I do remember it was salty and microplaned over the dish (I want to say it was Danascara, but I really don't remember). I liked the way the cheese worked with the chocolate and it made me want to play around in the kitchen - which regardless of how successful this dish was - is something I love to feel after eating something. 

So, overall, the meal here was great. Everything was carefully thought out, and well executed. I also had a very nice cocktail - the only detail I remember was pickled celery - but it was good! Hah. If you're in Upstate NY or feel like taking a train north out of the city - go here, you won't regret it. 

Ok - now for the itinerary, if you care. There are more, smaller/quick stops that I didn't include. And, of course, all of the in-between. A lot of the mountain passes depend entirely on when we get there & the weather so some of these stops may not happen:

Albany NY
Pittsburgh PA
Indianapolis IN
Chicago IL
Bolingbrook IL
Madison WI
Iowa City IA
Ames IA
Denver CO
Boulder CO
Fort Collins CO
Rocky Mountain National Park
Steamboat Springs CO
Grand Junction CO
Aspen/Snowmass CO
Arches National Park
Park City UT
Salt Lake City UT
Grand Teton National Park
Yellowstone National Park
Bozeman MT
Glacier National Park
Spokane WA
Northern Cascades National Park
Seattle WA
Bellevue WA
Olympia WA
Portland OR
Eugene OR
Mitchell OR
Crater Lake National Park
Bandon OR
Redwood National & State Parks
San Francisco CA
Berkeley CA
Santa Cruz CA
Monterey CA
Sonora CA
Yosemite National Park
Death Valley National Park
Las Vegas NV
Zion National Park
Bryce Canyon National Park
Page AZ
Grand Canyon National Park
Flagstaff AZ
Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument
White Sands National Monument
Carlsbad Caverns National Park
Llano TX 
Austin TX
New Orleans LA
Jackson MS
maybe Nashville TN
Chattanooga TN
Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Asheville NC
Charlottesville VA
Richmond VA
Washington DC
Baltimore MD
Portland ME
Burlington VT
Albany NY

Friday, August 8, 2014

Ghosts of Meals Past V1: Blackbird, Dana Cree

Over the past few years, I have amassed quite a collections of photos - stuff that would have made it to the blog had I made any effort to stick with it. Now...I stopped taking notes a long time ago and I have very little recollection of the details but thats just fine. These 'Ghosts of Meals Past' entries will be mostly photographs and I guess whatever information that I can scrounge up. 

Im going to kick things off with a meal I had at Blackbird the last time I was in Chicago - the summer of 2013. Blackbird was where I had my first meal in Chicago and I have had many fantastic meals there since. Its always my first recommendation to people wanting a nice meal. Ive always thought it was the most consistently delicious, creative and exciting food available in the city. Its not the most cutting edge, or the fanciest - but frankly I think that its found a balance of things that eludes most other places. The menu changes often enough to keep it fresh, Ive never had a dud, the food is exciting and beautiful and thoughtful. And its very affordable for a restaurant of this caliber. 

Anyway, last time I was in town I was out on a little adventure with my friend Alejandra (who I'm sure I will write more about later when I visit her new bakery) when our sweet tooth struck. Where we were in the city, I can't really remember, but for whatever reason we couldn't find anything suitable. She asked me where we could find something good and Blackbird was the first thing that popped into my head. We decided to go with the spur of the moment idea and headed over there. When we got there and sat, it was obvious there was only one choice - order the entire dessert menu. These are the photos.

A side note - Dana Cree, the Pastry Chef at Blackbird is, hands down, one of the best Pastry Chefs in the country (read her ridiculously good blog here.) Seek her food out if you are in Chicago - its available at not only Blackbird but also Avec, and - if Im not mistaken, Publican Quality Meats as well. 

The meal started with the two cheese options. 

This dish was my favorite of the night, and frankly, one of my favorites in all of 2013. And look at it, its absolutely stunning. When they put this in front of us we both knew this was going to be a special meal.

This dessert was pretty great too. The ice cream flavor was bubblegum and made entirely with fruit. Im not sure if I am supposed to say what blend of fruits create the signature flavor probably have them all in your house right now. I only know what they are because of hints from a pastry cook at Blackbird & a careful eye on twitter.  Ive tried for a while to hit the mark in recreating the flavor and haven't quite hit the nail on the head the way she did here. It was remarkably 'bubblegum'.

While I don't necessarily remember the details of this one, I do remember a bit of the story. We were told that the plating inspiration for this one was something to the tune of weeds growing through broken wood or boards on a deck or something like that. And that throughout the menus life the weeds grew, meaning that they became less hidden and more prevalent. I remember liking the danish (yes, the pastry, its the swirly thing at 6:00) a LOT.

I guess thats all. I'm not sure if we can budget a meal at Blackbird this summer or not - but I sure hope so!

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Well well well

It sure has been a while. Nearly three years by my count. Not sure what to make of this now-a-days. My hiatus was due mostly to a 2 year stint running the pastry department at a restaurant in Upstate New York. That and being completely uninspired and lazy. I can't really make up any excuses - it can be a real pain to  keep this thing updated with any regularity. But I've had some time off, some time to reflect. I miss writing. I've always felt that this blog felt somewhat forced, I pretty much just stuck with restaurant & food. Not any more. I think removing the boundaries will free me up to write more frequently and intuitively. Whats been going on with me? Not a whole hell of a lot that merits discussion. We're planning on traveling this fall, taking a road trip around the US. It is shaping up to be fairly extensive and should last a few months. So...I suspect I will be writing mostly about that for a while.

So what now? Well shit...I'm not sure. I will start with some random pictures.

Testing out the fisheye I picked up for the trip. Best $40 investment I've made in a while!

Another fisheye shot, in the garden.

Paella cooking

Serving the Paella. We made this (for 20 people) for my grandparents 70th Anniversary. 

Some PadrĂ³n Peppers from the anniversary. You picking up on the theme?

We constructed these trellis' for all of our melons and squash - growing them vertically saves an enormous amount of room and the only expense was the chicken wire - all other materials were salvaged. 

John Boyd Thacher State Park

Somewhere in Upstate NY

I found Wild Strawberries just about everywhere this summer. 

Some fungus on Peebles Island. 

A Croquembouche I made for a wedding sometime in the past year or two.

And lastly, my main man, Petey Wonder - in the shit. Read his blog, it is better than mine.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

No Knead Pain Au Levain

Lets talk about Jim Lahey's no knead bread. I have made it a few times in the past, and thought it was alright..but only recently realized how good it really is. As much as I love the entire bread making process - it can be a bit of a pain to do on a regular basis at home. So I have been playing around a bit with the no knead recipe because it is practical to make regularly at home. I want to see what I can do to improve on it. First things first - get a weight measurement rather than volume - which is what was printed in the New York Times. Easy enough. I think my third time making the bread I weighed everything and this is what I got (and have been using since).

472 g Bread Flour (I use King Arthur)
1 g Instant Yeast
8.3 g Salt (8 g is fine if you dont have a scale that measures less than 1g)
370 g Water (Filtered or Spring. 24 degrees C)

Simply to combine everything, let it ferment 18 hours, turn out onto a bench & fold a few times. Rest. Shape. Proof two hours - when you start proofing turn your oven on to 450 & put a dutch oven in it. Once the bread is ready to bake, put the dough into the hot dutch oven, cover and bake 30 mins. Remove cover and bake until done, 15 - 30 additional minutes. 

With that down, what is the next step I can take to improve the bread? 

Use a poolish. 

There are...different interpretations of what a poolish is but in the interest of brevity and ease (remember I want a bread that is a breeze to make often) I would recommend using one that I learned from this man. What you do is start with your water in the container that you plan on fermenting your dough. Sprinkle your yeast on the surface of your water, and then add your flour. No need to mix, just let it sit as is. Put your salt in a small well on top of the flour. Let this sit at room temperature a minimum of 15 minutes - and then proceed as normal (mix everything together, ferment, and so on)

How much does this improve the flavor? Marginally, if at all. So what else is there?

Pate fermentee. 

This is what I was doing for a while, with consistently good results. You start as normal, mixing everything together and letting it ferment 18 hours. Immediately after folding your dough, that is after turning it out onto your bench, cut away a fist size piece and put it into a container. Keep this in your fridge until you are ready to make another batch.  The next time you make the bread, add the (couple day) old dough to it. After the bulk fermentation, cut out another piece and save it for the following time you make bread.  Keep doing this every time you make bread. I felt that this helped the flavor of the bread quite a bit. 

And now the pain au levain, or pane levan, or whatever you want to call it. This is naturally risen bread. Made without the use of commercial yeasts. If you are looking to make this bead I can only imagine that you have a starter that you maintain. I keep mine refreshed at a 1:1:1 ratio. So if you want the bread you see in my should too. But its not that important. If you have a liquid starter or a firm will all work so long as it is alive and active. 

Here is the recipe that I use - as you can see it is a modified version of the regular recipe. 

475 g Flour
370 g H2O (24 C, filtered or spring)
8.3 g Salt
190 g Levain 

Measure the water, add the levain and mix until it is pretty much dissolved. Then add the other ingredients and mix until they form a dough. 

Put the dough in a large container & ferment for 18 hours. As you can see below, my dough had expanded to about 2.5 Q.

After fermenting 18 hours, turn your dough out onto a floured bench. Fold it a few times until it feels manageable. Let it rest, covered, for 15 minutes. Shape however your heart desires and proof for two hours - on a floured couche or silpat if your using the dutch oven. I use a banneton/bratform. It all depends on what shape youre going for. In the end you should bake it at 450 for close to an hour. Its a big loaf (if your not using the dutch oven you could divide it into two loaves). 

This is what you get. Beautiful crust & crumb. Lovely sourdough flavor. Just a great loaf of bread. And easy enough to make every day.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

How Wet Is Your Dough or A Visual Representation of the Effect of Dough Hydration on Hearth Baked Bread

Left to Right: 50%, 60%, 70%, 80%, 90%, 100%, 110%
So I wanted to give a visual representation of the effect that water has on your bread.  The hydration level of your dough is directly related to the amount of flour in your dough. To figure it out you  divide the water weight by the flour weight. For example if you have 100 g of water and 200 g of flour, your formula would be: 100/200 = hydration level or 100/200 = 0.5 which means you have 50% hydration. Simple enough, right?

I seem to have 'misplaced' my notebook where I wrote the specific recipe that I used but the ratios were based off of Jim Lahey's 'No Knead' recipe (which I translated to weight measurements a while ago). I just scaled it down to have smaller loaves and - of course - I changed the water measurement. 

I decided on making doughs with 50%, 60%, 70%, 80%, 90%, 100%,  and 110% hydration. In order to eliminate as many variables as possible I did not knead any of the doughs...seems appropriate for using the no knead forumla. Anyway - I also skipped over some techniques that bakers use to make higher hydration doughs more...friendly to work with. I did not score the doughs. I did not use steam (pitching ice cubes). I baked everything for the same amount of time at the same temperature regardless of how 'done' it was.

The actual process went as follows: 
1. I scaled everything
2. I mixed all the doughs
3. I fermented the doughs at 24 degrees C for exactly 18 hours. This would provide adequate time for gluten to develop without kneading the doughs. 
4. I folded the doughs 2 times
5. I rested the doughs 15 minutes
6. I shaped the doughs into 'boules'. (I am using that term loosely)
7. I proofed the dough at 24 degrees C for exactly 2 hours.
8. Everything was baked for exactly 45 minutes and then cooled on a wire rack until room temperature. 

Clockwise from the top right: 60%, 80%, 70%, 50%
The 50% was not extensible at all and was rather difficult to shape. Things got progressively easier as the hydration level went up (go figure).

Clockwise from top right: 100%, 110%, 90%
This is where the hydration started to make shaping the dough more difficult. The boules are a bit larger because rather than holding a nice shape, they spread out.

50% - Notice the tight, round shape & fluffy, sandwich bread like crumb.

60% - Shape still holding pretty well, crumb starting to have larger bubbles. This looks like a store bought loaf of 'french bread' to me. 

70% - Maybe a bit more open structure than 60% but still pretty similar

80% - Losing its shape a bit, noticeable change in the crumb.

90% - Not sure why this one held its shape better than the 80%. 

100% - Less round shape, crumb looks moist, chewy crust.
110% - Flattest shape, open structure, moist interior, chewy crust.

Lets take another look at the first photo:
Left to Right: 50%, 60%, 70%, 80%, 90%, 100%, 110%
Here you can see pretty clearly that the crumb progressively became more and more open and moist - as well as the fact that the dough held its shape better as the hydration level went down. 60 - 80 were a joy to work with. 50 & 90-110  were not so much. I had a batch of 120% but it was more like a batter and...well it didn't survive. It could have though, if I was more prepared for it. Ill give it another shot sometime soon.


Sunday, October 16, 2011

Back Online


Thursday, September 1, 2011

Sous Vide Coffee ..?

A few days ago I was trying to figure out what temperature I should try my first round of sous vide coffee at...I sat on the web for hours trying to find any bit of information on making coffee this way and...well I didn't find any. Ive already talked about how crappy my googling skills cut me some slack here. This caused me a bit of stress because there were an infinite number of variables...any temperature (above say...4.5 C) for any amount of time. So there I was trying to think of other things...similar enough to coffee that I could try to find some times and temps for. As I was doing this I was sipping a cup of coffee and I realized that it was a very nice temperature. Not super hot, still I stuck a probe in it and took the temperature....51.5 C (124.7 F for my fellow Americans). And with that I had my starting temp. 

For this round, the brew was the same for all cups - the variable was the time.

Brew: Standard, Sous Vide
Room Temperature: 24.7 C
Water Bath Temperature: 51.5 C
Grinds: 10.6 g, room temperature
Water: 171 g, filtered through a Brita, room temperature

Brew Time(s):
Bag A: 10 minutes
Bag B: 30 minutes
Bag C: 60 minutes
Bag D: 120 minutes
Bag E: 180 minutes
Bag F: 240 minutes

(*some bags stayed sealed at room temperature for a few minutes while I filled and sealed the other bags)

Bag A:
As you can see this brew is pretty clear. I decided on 10 minutes as my first pull because the water temp was...about half what a normal brew would be so...therefore it would take twice as long (logical, right...ugh). Really, I was having a particularly groggy I wound up guzzling the entire glass before realizing I should save some for a comparison at the end of the test. Oh well.

So what did I think of the 10 minute brew? Not bad, actually. It was a little...watered down. That is, the flavors were not very intense yet. It was mellow, nutty, roasty - had a sweet middle and was definitely not very acidic. 

Bag B:
Maybe a shade darker than Bag A? 

This brew had a slightly stronger flavor. It was actually a really good cup of coffee. Not very acidic, lots of darker flavors, the perfect amount of bitterness. I also drank this entire it was not present for the comparison at the end. I suspect this was my favorite brew but it may have been...

Bag C:
Getting darker..

Very similar to Bag B. Enough so its difficult to describe their differences...but I think this one was just a tad better. The finish seemed a little more bitter...and it was just slightly less sweet overall.

Bag D: 
Looks pretty dark now

So this one was the first brew that was opaque. As you can see, light was not passing through it completely. It also did not filter as easily as the others. It wasn't bad either...bitter up front that quickly dies into a mellow...sweet flavor..and then finishes bitter. Overall the flavor was starting to seem a little out of balance. Maybe a little too much bitter flavors here.

Bag E:
Hard to tell if its any darker than Bag D, but...well its dark.

This one tasted a bit...chalky. Is that a flavor? Kind of bland. I don't seemed odd.

Bag F:
Definitely the darkest of all the pours

This was...okay. A bit acidic now.

So in the end, I had kept some of Bags C, D, E & F in the fridge to see how they compared to each other.  Here's what I thought:
1: Bag D (120)
2: Bag C (60)
3: Bag F (240)
4: Bag E (180) - I thought this ones flavor was the most similar to the n2o cold brew I was doing, but it had a very strong bitter finish that kind of ruined the flavor.

Now..I drank these cold, and...if you don't already know - you perceive flavors differently at different temperatures. This is why you should always adjust seasoning after tasting something at the temperature you intend to serve it at. Initially, for the hot pours I thought that my favorite was either Bag B or Bag C, but cold I definitely liked Bag D more than C. So...a definitive line up is hard to give. Here's what Katie thought (she only tried the cold pours of Bags C,D,E, & F):

1: Bag F (240)
2: Bag C (60)
3: Bag E (180)
4: Bag D (120)

What does that tell me? We both liked Bag C? Hmm...yeah, but really its the same as before - all of this is totally dependent on flavor preferences...which can change at any time for any reason. If I ran this today my results could have been completely different. 

One conclusion I did make with this though? This middle temperature brewing kind of brought the best of both worlds (as far as I am concerned anyway). It wasn't too sweet, like cold brews have a tendency to be. It wasn't too acidic, like a lot of hot brews are. It had a very nice balance of both slightly sweet (cold brew)  and darker, more roasty (hot brew) flavors. I'm excited to explore it some more.