Saturday, October 9, 2010

Thus Far A Fine Fall

I shall always remember the start of Autumn 2010. It began September 29th when me and a student drove to Miami to first, visit sifu (teacher), then meet up again on Saturday October 2nd to see the Rush Time Machine tour at Coral Sky in West Palm; then hit up the 1st Oriental Market for those harder to find items (yuzu mainly but also char siu) and my favorite Banh Mi shop in Orlando. After the return home a trip to Sesame Street Live on Wednesday was on the agenda as was a Saturday of shopping for Halloween decorations and a visit to the pumpkin patch! A man could be in worse situations.

After having read my wife Grace's blog and my sister Tania's blog , and given the coolness of recent events, I thought it was an appropriate time to "resurface".

One of only two signs in the world

I stopped by my sifu's school in Miami to complete the jong (we favor the Cantonese variation). Thus far this has done my kung fu immeasurable good. First the added vocabulary makes it infinitely more fun and interesting to improvise the jong. Second, I know have a point of reference for the way in which mine plays. With mine the arms are considerably more dense and have much less wiggle room at the openings; also I think the trunk may be a bit heavier, actually it just seems more heavy duty in general. What I thought was very cool about the jong at school though, was feeling all the contours in specific areas-- the results of repeated strikes over the years. I wondered if or when (after how long) I'd begin to detect any concavities of the years on mine.
Regardless I now feel as though I am becoming fluent with it. Like someone that can summon rudiments at will, in asymmetric time, while grooving; I am in full exploration mode. Recently my daughter spied me playing with the ideas in section 4 and things were never the same.
"What's that?" She said.
"That's a Jong." I replied.
"Jong." She affirmed aloud.
"Me too?" She inquired.
I immediately lifted her to arm level and she proceeded to "play" the jong. When she'd hit it too hard, she would rub her little hands, then go right back to attempting maneuvers. This was about a week ago. Since then she calls every pole (from swing sets to parking meters) a jong then proceeds to close in and flail about it. I hope this keeps up.

Sifu's Miami Ving Tsun class at around midnight when most people had left

Dahlia on the jong. Filmed on 10/09/10

Mine; debating whether to name it.

Friday October 1st was a great day; morning with mom, lunch at the Shake Shack (which was excellent by the way), a day with my sisters and "The Bot" after procuring my favorite cigars, then dinner at South Garden (more than merely respectable) with Tania.
On Saturday the 2nd, my sisters and I had lunch from La Sandwicherie, (which thankfully have started bottling their dressing) and then drove to West Palm after picking up my student in North Miami.

Excellent burgage, but better frozen custard (not pictured)

The gentleman who hand rolls all of my cigars. He does stellar work!

Later that day
I can go on and on about the show. How it was a little warm but not unbearable. How the obnoxious beer vendors would manifest, with whistles, at the worst possible moments then purposely opt for the route that made the most people move to maximize attention. I was not quiet with my opinions; nor diplomatic (thinking back that was counter productive). Or how Geddy's voice was shaky during Spirit of Radio and Time Stand Still; but came together during Presto and nailed every note since. I think I'll stop now.

Coral Sky used to be my favorite venue. I have never seen a bad show there. Unfortunately the beer vendors ruined some glorious moments.

The next day, Sunday October 3rd, was all about Char Siu and Banh Mi. After spending the night in a Ft. Pierce La Quinta, the next stop was at 1st Oriental Market in Orlando. Their bakery and prepared foods section (where the Char Siu was) were impressive. No luck finding Yamasa brand soy sauce but I did find jellied yuzu (no yuzu juice alas) and the almighty char siu for making my own Banh Mi at home. We then headed to Ba Le Bakery on North Mills avenue for the finest Banh Mi in Florida. It was stellar as usual.

A remarkable Banh Mi from Ba Le Bakery

The baked goods at 1st Oriental Market

Fresh eels.

Minutes later they brought out an entire deep fried pig.

Char siu

The new week had brought with it Sesame Street Live and on Wednesday the 5th; we all went out for pizza and a show. My daughter Dahlia seemed to have a wonderful time and was sufficiently spent for a fitful sleep that night.

Saturday October 9th the look of the day was gorgeous and a family trip to the pumpkin patch, which has become an annual event, was in order. Since we were here early this year we will most likely be back before Halloween as no doubt the Jack-O-Lanterns will have rotted by then. Alas the outside decorations are up and I am armed with a list of seasonally inspired food items (Candy Apple Cake, Graveyard Pudding, Pumpkin Flan, etc..). I actually made the pumpkin flan. I consciously held back on the amount (both volume and varieties) of spices I used since, pumpkin especially, is easily over spiced. The flan is flavored with a dose of vanilla bean, a whisper of mace and a flick of cinnamon. The syrup, is a light-ambered tangerine caramel. The flavor was spot-on perfect; the texture, unfortunately, turned out a little mealy. Next time I shall stick to heavy cream.

At the pumpkin patch. I love The Great Pumpkin theme!

The Pumpkin Flan; molded and unmolded.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Respect the Vegetable: Ratatouille Sandwich

The Ratatouille Sandwich is a bit high maintenance but the results are well worth it. An earlier incarnation was made with a much more superior ciabatta loaf; but this time they were sold out leaving me, instead, with ciabatta rolls. I don't want to flat-out say that they (the rolls) ruined my sandwich, but if I had to do over again, I'd store the components (each vegetable) separately and go back for the loaf the next day.

Why respect the vegetable?
Vegetables had always been an after thought for me; some necessary component to a complete dish. I never really respected vegetables. It all started when I got the idea to marinate some blanched green beans in a soy/mirin/sesame oil/honey/garlic/ginger/scallion/red pepper flake solution. After a brief sauté they were unreal. Long story short: I learned to treat vegetables as you would proteins (try it). I then saw this sandwich. I was inspired to vamp on it.

Here is my version.

Ratatouille Sandwich

1 Loaf Ciabatta Bread
6 Tomatoes (plum, vine, heirloom though preferably local)
1 Eggplant
1 Sweet Onion
2 Red Peppers (Roasted, Seeded, and Peeled)
1 Green Pepper (Roasted, Seeded, and Peeled)
4 Dried Porcini or Shitake Mushrooms
1 sprig fresh thyme
1 Tablespoon Herbs de Provence (My version: Oregano, Basil, Lavender, Rosemary, Thyme)
Mozzarella Cheese
Goat Cheese (or Bleu Cheese)
Balsamic Reduction
Sea or Kosher Salt

Two days before!
Prep Tomatoes
Cut tomatoes in half length-wise, place cut-side down on a parchment-lined sheet pan; brush peanut oil lightly over their skins and place in a 150-200° (F) oven, with the door open, overnight.
Peel and seed tomatoes then place them in a fine mesh strainer, covered with plastic wrap, over a bowl in the fridge overnight.
The next day reserve the liquid and keep tomatoes covered with wrap.

Roast and peel the peppers. Place in fridge after cooling.
Reduce some balsamic vinegar and let cool. Place in fridge after cooling.

On the Day of Consumption
Cook The Eggplant
Cut eggplant into 1/4" discs and assemble them onto a parchment-lined sheet pan. Drizzle generously with balsamic vinegar and olive oil. Lightly salt and place into a 400° (F) oven and monitor closely until tops are barely dried. Flip them over and lightly salt; continue cooking until, once again, the tops are barely dried. Remove and let cool.

Rehydrate Mushrooms
Place dried mushrooms in a hot, just off the boil, solution that is half chicken stock (preferably homemade) , half red wine, and add a splash of cognac or brandy after the liquid is off the heat but before adding the mushrooms. Let stand for5 minutes, then remove the mushrooms and reserve the liquid.

Caramelize the Onions
Saute the onion in some peanut oil and fresh thyme until caramelized. Salt to taste. Set aside.

Final Reductions
Reduce the liquids from the tomatoes and mushrooms by half to three quarters. Salt to taste. The tomato "juice" will be sweet and intense. The mushroom "sauce" will be only slightly sweet but wonderfully rich and earthy. Set aside.

One Last Condiment
Add chili powder to your favorite mayonnaise to taste. Mix well.

Assemble the sandwich
Place ciabatta cut-side up on a sheet pan. Drizzle with olive oil and toast in oven set to "Broil" until very lightly toasted. Remove and in the following order assemble the sandwich on the bottom slice.

Drizzle of Mushroom "sauce"
Herbs de Provence
Roasted Peppers
Drizzle of Tomato "juice"
Mozzarella Cheese
Goat Cheese

Place under broiler until cheese is all melty.

Spread chili mayo on top-side bread

Drizzle balsamic reduction over cheeses

Serve open-faced and enjoy.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Formula for Hydration Percentage

The new GQ magazine features a list of what Alan Richman (GQ's resident food critic) believes are the 25 "best" pizza places in the U.S. I won't go into the details of which restaurants made the list (you can find them online already) or why they made the list. The pizza issue did get me thinking about once again making pizza at home. I saw an interview with Anthony Mangieri, owner/pizzaiolo of New York's Una Pizza Napoletana, where his advice to home cooks was to use a very wet dough since home ovens lack the required juice to cook a pizza properly (in excess of 700° F) and will dry out the dough due to its relatively low temperatures (in an excellent resource for pizza making, Jeff Varasano wrote: "Try baking cookies at 75 instead of 375 and see how it goes").

So all this talk about pizza and pizza dough got me thinking about Baker's Percentages and subsequently Hydration. Certain formulas called for hydration to be at around 65-70% (again for the home oven). Immediately I went searching for the mathematical formula for hydration but to no avail. I began to wonder why it was so elusive? I recalled Ruhlman's most recent book Ratio:The Simple Codes Behind the Craft of Everyday Cooking. I reasoned that where there were ratios, there were percentages. The book states that the basic bread dough has a ratio of 3 parts water to 5 parts flour and the quantity of any other ingredients are negligible.


I have checked the (mathematical) formula against existing dough recipes (formulas) with known hydration percentages and, lo & behold, the numbers work. What follows is a brief excerpt from my personal recipes which I have in HTML format; very much a work in progress but getting closer to done every day. Also, if you spot an error either in concept or computation please let me know. Thank you.

From the file:

"Dough Formulas: Hydration, Measures, & Process

The two most important factors to keep in mind when making bread are Hydration and Process. As far as hydration goes, here's a little equation that explains it all: Hydration = (liquid/dry). Whether you're measuring in grams, ounces, or pounds is irrelevant so long as the units are consistent. Problems arise during inconsistencies in metrics, if you measure your flour by weight and the liquids by volume there is going to be an issue. Without getting too much into the Physics involved (Density as it relates to Mass as it relates to Volume as Mass relates to Weight relates to etc.....) long story short: a fluid ounce of water is close enough to its ounce by weight (an avoirdupois ounce) such that it is negligible for baking if not space travel (1 fl. oz. of water =approx. 1.043 avoirdupois oz of water).
In conventional home cookbooks liquids and dry ingredients are both specified by volume. I suppose the thinking there was a "close enough" approach with respect to varying densities of all liquids and dry goods (both in and of themselves AND how they interrelate!!!!!), and figuring that home cooks will never, ever, need to scale a recipe or formula. What it all leads to is inconsistency. If you measure by volume exclusively and, all things being equal, your breads result in varying degrees of success from batch to batch now you understand why. If you can live with that more power to you and on with the formulae. If you want consistency and the ability to scale up or down, invest in a decent scale and weigh everything. You will yield consistent results and play with hydration to adjust end product to your tastes using the equation above.

Quick example: to find the hydration percentage to Michael Ruhlman's White Bread Ratio (5 flour:3 water)
Hydrtn% = (liquid/dry)*100
Hydrtn% = (3/5)*100
Hydrtn% = .06 * 100 = 60%
Simple algebra will show you how to adjust liquids and/or dry ingredients to achieve a desired hydration (assuming units are in grams for this example)

65% = (liquid/400 g Flour) * 100
.65 = liquid/400 g Flour
400 * .65 = liquid
260 g = liquid "

QED! (well...not really)

Monday, June 22, 2009

Father's Day

When your father dies, say the Irish,
you lose your umbrella against bad weather.

When your father dies, say the Welsh,
you sink a foot deeper into the earth.

When your father dies, say the Canadians,
you run out of excuses.

When your father dies, say the French,
you become your own father.

When your father dies, say the Indians,
he comes back as the thunder.

When your father dies, say the Russians,
he takes your childhood with him.

When your father dies, say the English,
you join his club you vowed you wouldn't.

When your father dies, say the Armenians,
your sun shifts forever.

And you walk in his light.

Thank you Michael Ruhlman (originally posted on his blog).

Monday, June 1, 2009

Crickets and Neglect

Yes yes I know. All I can say is that I promise to have an update shortly. Life has been very good (no tragedies to report) but very busy; I'll tell you all about it...soon.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Song of The Day

Ship of Fools - Robert Plant - Now and Zen

Friday, October 31, 2008