Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Dirty Laundry

I am sitting in the laundromat, yet again, lamenting the fact that I go through clean clothes at the speed of sound.

It really is quite nice to wear yoga pants and hoodies to work, to not care at all how you look, just as long as you're clean when you walk in the door. It's comparable to waking up in the morning and switching out sleeping pajamas for work pajamas. I'm not complaining. It's wonderful, except when laundry day rolls around, Since I get so darn dirty at work, laundry day rolls around way too often. Laundry day is also very expensive because generally I don't want to wash my regular clothes with my chocolate-raw egg-shortening covered workwear.

It would be great if the bakery would institute a uniform, preferably a nice white chef's coat, and would launder them for us at daily intervals. That would make me so happy. I haven't worn a chef's coat regularly since culinary school. Occassionally I wore one at Alliance when I was giving a wedding cake tasting. It would be cool to wear one. As dorky as it is, I feel proud in one.

I wear Dansko clogs. They are, by far, the most comfortable shoes to stand in all day. They last forever. I've had my current pair for three years and they still feel great. I kind of wish they'd wear out so I could justify these.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Getting Loopy with Yeasted Doughs

Odds are, if you're reading this, you're not a baker. My friend and ex-coworker Kristal is probably the only exception. Odds are even slimmer, since you are not bakers, that you have heard of "dough hits." Believe me, dough hits are something that you need to know about, even if it's just good party conversation.

There are 12 steps to baking bread. These steps are fairly consistent for any dough that includes yeast as a leavener.

1. Mise en place: The fancy French words for getting all your shit together before you start. Scaling out your ingredients so you don't realize midway through step 2 that you don't have any flour in the house.

2. Mixing: Kneading. Break a sweat and do it by hand or throw it in the mixer with a dough hook. This builds the gluten strands that are soooo important to bread.

3. Primary Fermentation: The first big chunk of waiting time. The yeast does it's thing, making little yeast gasses and releasing alcohol. The gluten strands developed in step 2 trap the gas, making it rise.

4. Punching Down: A good chance to release the day's agressions by beating the crap out of your beautifully risen dough (if it's done correctly it should have doubled in size). The dough is punched (usually just one time, so really give it a good whallop) to release the trapped gasses, which deflates the dough. REMEMBER THIS STEP. It's where the dough hitting fun begins.

5. Dividing: Scaling the dough by weight according to how you want to bake it.

6. Rounding: Yes. You round the dough, that is now portioned by weight.

7. Benching: Resting the dough. Give yourself and the gluten a chance to relax. This takes some time, so maybe have a beer.

8. Shaping: Shaping the dough, which is now perfectly weighed, into whatever you want (baguettes, boules, dinner rolls, aligators, whatever).

9. Proofing (Secondary Fermentation): A second opportunity to let the yeast do it's thing. The dough is going to double again, only this time it's shaped into aligators. Those gators are going to get huge.

10. Baking.

11. Cooling: If you eat bread right out of the oven you will get a stomach ache like none other. Don't be stupid.

12. Storing and Eating: Pretty much the best step, except for step 4, because step 4 leads to "dough hits."

In step 4, you punch the dough down, and in doing so release a whole lot of trapped gas and alcohol. Here's how to do a dough hit:
* Inhale and exhale deeply
* Punch the dough down
* Get your head into the bucket/mixing bowl/whatever recepticle is holding your dough as fast as you can and inhale all of the gas and alcohol that is released. Work quickly - you only get one shot at this before all of the yeast byproduct is dispersed into the air. It sort of smells like a brewery. Hold the breath in your lungs for several seconds before exhaling.
* Enjoy the tingly feeling you get all over your body, along with a serious burn in your nasal cavity. It lasts about 10 seconds, and is seriously one of the funkiest feelings I've ever had.

I googled dough hits looking for more detailed scientific information about what happens to the body during a dough hit. I was surprised that it came back with no relevant information. I guess I won't be waxing "Alton Brown" today.

Surely this sounds ridiculous. Maybe you don't even believe me. Just remember step 4 the next time you're pulling out your bread machine and give it a shot. Inhale, hold, exhale.

Happy Memorial Day.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Tuesday's Dinner

Tuesday night with the Ghetto Gourmet was another smash. It's very fun to cook this way, and I especially enjoy plating. Chef Efrain Cuevas is one talented guy, and very generous to share his personal supply of beer. I am really looking forward to getting more involved with this kick ass group of people. But apparently, many of you guys already know that, as Maura has become a one-woman promotions machine for my involvement with The Ghet. Can someone please forward me the email she's got circulating??? Some how I didn't make it onto the email list. Ha!

Check out the menu:

2 Tamales, wrapped in Banana Leaf
Corn Masa w/ Duck Confit, Filled w/ Smoked Duck w/ Black Cherry Mole. Accomp By Pickled Yellow Carrot and Tomatillo Chipotle Salsa

Black Bean Soup w/ Epazote and Roasted Peppers, Topped w/ Duck Cracklins

Paella Risotto w/ Smoked Chicken, Spanish Chorizo, Jumbo Shrimp, and Asparagus w/ Spicy Cilantro Peanut Pesto

Chocolate Sponge Cake Roulade, Spiced w/ Pasilla Chile, Cardamom, and Ginger, Chocolate Cinnamon Whipped Cream w/ Orange Zest and Spicy Candied Pecans

(Doesn't it just make you want breakfast?)

Monday, May 21, 2007

Charlton Heston Wasn't There

Extremely short notice, but I'll be cooking with The Ghetto Gourmet again tomorrow night. There's still tickets available if you're interested in checking it out. It would be great to see some of your faces.


I spent the day fumbling through the NRA Show at McCormick Place. That's "National Restaurant Association" to your non-food service industry folks, so disregard those thoughts of AK47s and holsters.

The NRA Show is one of the largest trade shows held in America. It encompasses anything and everything you might need to run a food service business, and many things that you would never ever need. From stemware to industrial fryers, chef's coats to soda fountains, the NRA show allows exhibitors to display their wares, cuisines, and products. There are lectures and demonstrations, cookbook signings, and a whole lot of food and beverage samples.

I was advised to go on an empty stomach. Within a couple of hours I was stuffed. I remember eating Greek yogurt with honey, a huge meatball, a couple different kinds of cheesecake, some kind of panini, some other kind of wrap, a chocolate chip cookie, Cavendish french fries, green and yellow wax beans, popcorn with some weird mesquite barbecue flavor that came out of a hairspray bottle, hickory-smoked bacon, and a whole lot of other junk. If I had had a bit more time, I probably could have tracked down an entire Thanksgiving dinner.

Coca Cola's booth was swarming with people. They had a robot as part of their display. I forget it's name, but it was actually pretty amazing. You could ask the robot anything and it had an intelligent answer. I overheard someone ask it who would win the 2008 Presidential election, and it replied with "The candidate with the most money. Ha ha ha. No, the candidate with the most electoral votes will win." I sampled the new Diet Coke Plus, which is fortified with vitamins and minerals. It tastes a bit like licking a rock. I don't recommend it.

I saw a chef doing a very intricate sugar showpiece, which always amazes me. I also saw a blender so powerful that it was making powder out of golf balls. Several culinary teams from different nations presented their gorgeous competition plates. There was also a couple of bowling lanes set up, although I'm not sure how that fits into the mix. A woman was walking around in a dress made up of plastic swipe cards held together with chain mail (she was nearly naked).

I've just realized that this entry is all over the place. In actuality, it mirrors the NRA show. Organization is minimal, McCormick Place staff is clueless, and forget about even trying to map out a plan of attack. It's better to wander aimlessly and enjoy what you happen to come across. There is so much to consume, with the eyes, ears, and mouth. The vastness of it all is pure entertainment, and really, isn't that what the restaurant business is all about?

Thanks Miss Diana for the opportunity to go to the show!

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Bad for Business

Epicurious.com is the online home of Gourmet and Bon Appetit magazines, and one of my go-to sites for recipes of all kinds. They have millions of visitors, and I've often found the user reviews that accompany recipes to be quite helpful.

Right now they're featuring an online demonstration on how to bake, build, and decorate this wedding cake.

The feature includes recipes and step-by-step videos. If I had had this tool three years ago, I could have forgone a year of pastry school and thousands of dollars in student loans! Well, maybe that's a bit extreme.

Posting at my own risk, hoping that business doesn't plummet when everyone in America starts making their own wedding cakes, I give you Layers of Love.

Sidenote: "Layers of Love" is what Epicurious is calling it. I could never seriously say that!

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Monday Lunch

Hot Doug's. What an experience.

If you arrive early or late enough to avoid the long line at lunchtime, you're greeted first by Doug himself, sporting black horn rims. He takes the orders himself. One wall shouts, "There are no two finer words in the English language than "encased meats." Have truer words ever been uttered?

This place offers much more than the standard hot dog/Polish sausage fare typical of Chicago joints. Each menu item is cheekily named after a celebrity, and several items have been renamed when their original namesake falls out of favor. "The Jennifer Garner," for example, is formerly "The Britney Spears," and is a mighty hot fire dog. (Ouch Britney! Perhaps you should considered concealing your nether-regions in public? Just a thought...)

On Fridays and Saturdays Doug cooks his french fries in duck fat, which is possibly the most delicious idea ever, but Monday through Thursday, the fresh cut potatoes are fantastic and extra crispy. To quote my brother-in-law, Matt, "they're the fries you break your diet for."

Matt and I had an early lunch at Hot Doug's yesterday. He's partial to "The Don Rickles",

a Thuringer sausage made from ground beef, pork, and garlic and smothered with Gouda cheese and french fried onions. I took a gamble with the weekly-changing game sausage. It was rabbit topped with pomegranate creme fraiche goat cheese and vodka-soaked dried blueberries, and it was amazing. The goat cheese and vodka imparted a pleasant tang that was offset by the sweetness of the fruits.

With a combination like that, it's clear that Doug has some major culinary prowess, and that his hot dog stand is a cut above the rest. If you need more proof, consider that two customers at a table near ours were drinking wine with their meals. That's high-class. It was 11:15 a.m. That's not for me to judge.

Check out the full menu avoid the noon hour like the plague, and remember that they close at 4:00 in the afternoon.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Our Favorite Font

Check out this link that celebrates the birthday of Helvetica. As in the font. The video is really cute, and you'll love the song.


Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Fresh Strawberries

It's still a bit early in the season, but right now I am eating strawberries for the first time since last season. Strawberries are something that I avoid buying out of season for several reasons.

1. Although they can be deceptively lovely, they taste like 100% water in the winter months.
2. They can also be as hard as an apple.
3. Customers pay a pretty penny (maybe even $4.00 per pound) to eat gorgeous strawberries that taste like water and crunch like apples.

Need I say more? Seasonal food movements have made a lot of progress in recent years. There is another reason to support seasonal food theories, other than the obvious health benefits that come along with eating fresh produce. After months of foregoing underwhelming fruit or veg, there is the anticipation of eating something truly delicious.

Strawberries are a prime example. In the off season, which is about nine months out of the year, they taste like nothing. But come June/July (admittedly, I have jumped the gun a bit this year), they are one of my favorite fruits. These are good. They're sweet and fragrant. They don't need anything added to enhance their flavor, as they're very nice on their own. In the next few months I will buy strawberries like crazy and eat them with reckless abandon, because come late summer, my personal embargo is back on.

Monday, May 7, 2007

Photos from The Ghetto Gourmet

These pictures are from last week's Ghetto Gourmet event. Efrain was teaching me how to make empanadas. I look really stone faced, but was actually having a lot of fun. Thanks to Ellie from The Orphanage for the awesome pictures.