I've done articles before comparing the Seattle to Portland travel options of driving vs. flying vs. the train. Although my initial impression was that driving would win on cost and flying would win on speed I was wrong. All three methods take the same amount of time from downtown to downtown if being fair (ie. you need to put gas in the car, get through security, wait in line to board the train etc..). The train ended up being cheapest for up to 3 people and by far the most enjoyable. Flying lost every comparison. When you fly you have less usable time, more interruptions (light rail, security gates, boarding, wireless disconnect, de-boarding, light rail) and more discomfort (small seat, TSA) so it lost in every aspect. The Amtrak Cascades won in most aspects outside of freedom once arriving at the destination and frequency.
The reason I'm writing about this again is that Hipmunk a travel search engine has added Amtrak to it's search results. What's also interesting about Hipmunk is that it includes an Agony filter. You can sort by least Agonizing trip. I'm not sure what criteria Hipmunk uses but I'll show the results for Seattle to Portland trips. Also keep an eye on the prices for a round trip ticket. The trip with the least agony is also the cheapest.
We just had a discussion on Google+ about eating on a budget. Seems I need to write that book afterall. One of the strategies I've always employed is food subsidies. That just means that a cheap food subsidizes an expensive one. Restaurants do this all the time, that's why you have starches (potatoes, rice, bread) with your meats. The price of a starch is a fraction of the price of herbs, spices, aged cheese, wine and meats. Next on the ladder is most vegetables. It's a rare occasion for vegetables to cost more than $1 per lb. When was the last time you bought meat for $1/lb?
So with that in mind I'd like to focus on breads. Now if you buy the budget American white bread you may be able to get it for a dollar for a 24 oz loaf. You can make it cheaper but it's really the yeast that costs so you have to commit to buying a block of yeast to make it worth the trouble. Then there's the rising time etc.. Usually these hurdles are too much and people avoid saving money by buying bread and understandably so. However, flatbread can be easy to make and dirt cheap. Pita usually costs about $3 in the store for 10 ounces. That's a starch for the price of a meat. Pita is fairly easy to make too and I have a Wheat Pita recipe that I like a lot here at The Man, The Myth, The Legend.
However, what I'm about to show you will make even homemade Pita look expensive! I can make 8 pita at home for about $1. If I buy large blocks of yeast and 25 lb of flour I can get them down to about 10 cents each and it takes only 2 hrs from start to finish to make it. Following is how to make flatbread in 30 minutes for 1/3 the cost of Wheat Pita. How is this possible you ask? India! If you had to feed 1 Billion people and they had little to no money I bet you'd find a cheap way to do it and they have. The flatbread I'm referring to is Chapati (or Roti). To make Chapati you'll want to look around for an Indian/Pakistani market and pick up a large bag of Atta (Chapati flour). Atta is a blend of wheat flour and malted barley flour and you should be able to get it for about $1/lb if you buy a 20/lb bag. To make 8 Chapati you'll need one cup of Atta and enough water to get it to come together. Since you're paying about 33 cents per cup of Atta and water is free Chapati ends up being one of the cheapest and easiest flatbreads to make.
1. Put one cup of Atta in a food processor bowl. Turn it on and add small amounts of water at a time until it comes together in a ball. Unlike how westerners make bread (put in ingredients, then add flour to get it just right) Indians put the flour in the bowl and add water until it's just right. Be careful not to add too much water because adding flour doesn't fix it. If you're kneeding by hand just dip your knuckles in a bowl of water and kneed by punching the dough down. Food processors however do a good job and you'll be done in about 3 minutes.
2. After the dough comes together put it in a bowl and cover for 30 minutes to let it rest. During this time you can make the rest of your dinner.
3. Heat a flat comal or griddle pan to medium tempurature.
4. Roll the doughbull into a long rope then cut it into eight pieces. One at a time roll each piece into a ball then flaten and roll out into a very thin circle about 6-8 inches in diameter.
5. Lay on the griddle for about 30 seconds then flip. It will puff up if your pan is up to temperature. If it doesn't puff up wait a few minutes before cooking the next one.
6. Brush a little clarified butter on them when done. This is optional but it gives them a nice flavor. See my recipe on how to make clarified butter (Deshi Ghee).
My first Cinderella Pumpkin was very productive and gave me a great deal of pumpkin so naturally I wanted to do something with it so I made bread as I always do. I've always been very reluctant to put up a Pumpkin Bread recipe because there's a LOT of method involved in how I do it. The reason for this is the amount of moisture in the fresh pumpkin I use. Also every loaf has a full 2 cups of pumpkin in it thus compounding the problem. When you have wet recipes it's very easy to end up with a mess. Also my readers pumpkins may be dryer or wetter than mine thus needing modifications to the recipe. So after 10 years I've still not posted the recipe for my bread.
In addition the first loaf of the year may or may not turn out since I'm getting the feel of my pumpkins. I've made the recipe more reliable in the past by putting the pumpkin meat in a pan over low heat and condensing the flavor by steaming out some of the liquid. This also takes some of the moisture out of the bread which I don't want. It's all about weights and balances which only my eyes and fingers know. Recipe or no, I baked a loaf and of course took photos.
I'm sure there will be more later.
It's that time of year again.... The leaves are falling, the grapes are a bit surprised at our 60 degree daytime temps and pumpkins are available from the farms. It's Pumpkin Bread time - a 20 year tradition at The Man, The Myth, The Legend. It all started two decades ago when we got coupons to spend at the local farmers market. Not knowing what to spend them on I bought a pumpkin and made bread from a recipe out of the 1971 edition of The Joy of Cooking (not to be confused with the 1969 edition of The Joy of Sex, something you only do once for sure). The bread was not bad and we got to use the pumpkin. In the last 20 years I've cooked pumpkin every way possible, changed recipes, tossed out ingredients, added others and about 10 years ago figured I was done. Since then I've played a bit with baking dishes, clay tiles etc. but the ingredients and methods have been locked in and now is just a tradition that we look forward to. Following is a few tips.
- Don't use Jack-o-lantern pumpkins for anything. No really, don't. They're not food, they're tasteless mass.
- Buy Cinderella Pumpkins no larger than 12 inches in diameter
- Buy your pumpkins from a farm. Most farms have them from late September to Halloween. Not all farms have Cinderellas so you might ask first.
- Don't get pumpkins from the store unless they're Sugar Pie pumpkins (my second choice)
- Do not boil, steam or bake open side up. You actually want to keep the flavor, not disperse with it.
- Don't believe Christopher Kimble and the America's Test Kitchen staff when they say fresh pumpkin isn't worth the effort. The next time I see him I'll bring both canned and fresh to see if I can change his mind.
I've cooked many different types of pumpkins many different ways. If you use Jack-o-lanterns from the store you might as well just pick up a can of pumpkin puree because you won't be able to tell the difference. Cinderellas have consistently won my choice as the best pumpkins for the following reasons.
- Best flavor. Sugar Pie is also good
- Large enough to be worth the trouble. Sugar Pie don't have a lot of meat so take a great deal more work
- They last forever. I don't know why but they do. I've had Cinderellas which were picked in October still be cookable in December. This extends my Pumpkin Bread season.
- They're a flat pumpkin (think Cinderellas Carriage) so you can cook both halves in a standard oven at the same time otherwise it would take 6 hrs which is quite a lot.
- Good texture. If cooked like I outline below the meat nearly has the consistency of applesauce (no strings).
There is ONE way to cook pumpkin and retain as much of the flavor as possible. With the longest stiff knife you own cut the pumpkin around the equator (beltline). If you do it right your blade will return back to where you started in the exact latitude. Sometimes I'm off by an eighth of an inch. In this case cut the surface on both pumpkins so it's as flat as possible. Place them face down on a counter to see if there's any air gaps. Scrape out the strings and seeds until the walls of the pumpkin are smooth and lighter orange colored. The strings and goo attached to it have a deeper orange color. Don't dig too much into the meat, it's precious. The texture of the meat changes depending on the season, how much rain, how early you picked the pumpkin and so on. If it's spongy and dry be especially careful of removing meat. If it's firm the go ahead and scrape the walls smooth. The best meat is around the beltline of the pumpkin so try to keep as much as possible while still leaving a smooth surface.. Once they're flat place them cut side down on a half sheet pan and in an oven at 350 degrees. It will take somewhere near 3 hours to cook. You will get to know when they're done by looking at them. The outside of the pumpkin should be charred a bit but it should still be holding it's shape. The reason for this is if you got a good seal the steam inside the pumpkin holds it up. This is very important because if you didn't get a good seal the steam will escape and the meat of the pumpkin will rest on the pan and burn. Cut it right and it will turn out. If the pumpkin hasn't caved in and you're not sure if it's done leave it in the oven longer. When you think it's done stick a pie server under one edge and lift. A large amount of liquid will come rushing out. Suck this off using a Turkey baster so it doesn't spill when removing the pumpkin from the oven. Remove and let cook.
Once the pumpkins are cool place another half sheet pan on the skin side of the pumpkin sandwiching it between the two half sheet pans. Turn them both over quickly and remove the pan that the pumpkin was cooked on. This will leave the cooked pumpkin facing cut side up which eases the removal of the meat. I've been using a cheese slicer for 20 years to scrape out my pumpkins and sadly this is it's last pumpkin. I've already started looking online to find another. It's the perfect tool because of the round shape of it. You could probably use a large spoon but your goal is to scrape, not scoop because you'll never get the walls smooth and you'll lose too much meat. Perhaps a very shallow spoon would work with a nice defined edge.
As I've said the best pumpkin is around the beltline and I'm a bit picky about the meat near the stem as it's flavor isn't as nice. If your pumpkin is cooked properly you will take the meat around the beltine clear out to the skin. Near the stem go by color. If it's looking a bit dark leave it. It won't hurt you but it's more bitter.
I've experimented with all the liquid that comes out of the pumpkin. It HAS flavor but reducing it with the meat doesn't make enough difference in my opinion to be worth the effort. I'm still looking for a use for it though. I wonder if it could help flavor squash soups etc...
Store the pumpkin in a plastic container with a lid that seals in the refrigerator. I've tried canning and freezing the cooked meat and I lose too much flavor both ways so I've decided that pumpkin bread is seasonal and why not? You have to have something to look forward to in the fall.
Well, that's it. In the next few days I'll be making bread so there will be an article on that.
I've been asked for this many times from budding cooks. How do you know that pears go with walnuts or browned butter goes with sage. Why does honey go with duck so well and how do I know that mint will work well with lamb? Someone made a graphic over at Information is Beautiful that shows this. They don't link up ALL the great connections (the aforementioned lamb and mint aren't on there and they don't pair duck with orange which is classic) but it's a good start. Enjoy.
Here's a pre-view. To see the entire thing click the link above.
My tomatoes are coming along nicely but I'm afraid their days are numbered. It's October 1st (already?) and the average highs for the week have been in the 60s which won't last much longer. I planted Brandywine (Heirloom), Champion VFNT and Better Boy tomato plants in the spring. As you may recall from a previous post the Brandywine plants came from eastern WA where it's very hot and dry and took some time to get over their shock concerning our mid 70 degree summers. The Better Boy is supposed to be a great tomato for Seattle weather and initially started producing fruit about 3 weeks earlier than any other but overall they haven't done a whole lot. The ripening of the fruit hasn't gone well and even now I still don't have ONE good tomato from that plant even though it still has a lot of green fruit on it. Some are turning orange now so we'll see. The one plant that's turned in a great performance is the Champion VFNT which came from behind and has kicked out more ripe fruit than all other plants combined (I have 6 total). It continues to grow and ripen fruit even now but I cut them off due to energy wasted on trying to grow fruit that will never have a chance to ripen only keeps the fruit that does from finishing.
Over the winter I'll be experimenting with aeroponics and I've decided that at the rate the Champion makes fruit ONE plant will produce more than I will ever need. All three of my varieties are Indeterminate Tomatoes meaning they continue to vine and make fruit indefinitely as opposed to having one large crop at a time. To me the idea was that I'd rather have a continuous supply of tomatoes than a pile I can't eat fast enough then nothing. I'm still interested in the Brandywine but it's clear that it's not an outside tomato plant for the Pacific Northwest.
So my plans are to create a home brew aerogarden in the garage this winter and grow one Champion and maybe one Brandywine until I get it all figured out. I can always find a use for tomatoes (ketchup, pasta sauce, tomato juice, tomato paste, BBQ sauce etc...) and sometimes it takes a great deal of tomatoes to make the product. If nothing else I can give them away because tomatoes in the middle of winter run about $2.99/lb. I don't think I'll have a problem getting rid of them. Stay tuned as I'll be posting about the aeroponics later. I'll also be growing all my herbs in it as well.
I've had decent luck with homemade tortillas but sometimes the mixing, rolling and cooking process can get a bit long. Corn tortillas seem to roll out better than flour and don't have the stretch factor. Mission however, has just made my life better by introducing fresh rolled flour tortillas so I picked up a couple of packages in various sizes to see if they were worth it. There was a $1 off coupon on each package so I ended up getting about 90 oz of tortillas for $3.60. I figured even if they turn out horrible I'm only out a couple of bucks.
The tortillas look like rolled flattened pasta dough (yellow and a bit translucent) and take only 30-45 seconds to cook. If you cook them on a lower temperature and longer they end up tasting just like the cooked tortillas from the bag however, I like the fact that you now how control over how they're cooked. I'll be playing with deep frying them in their raw state as well.
You do have to be careful with them before they're cooked as they can break easily. Also they need to be refrigerated but I'm testing them in the freezer to see how well they keep. I'll update this after I have results.
Conclusion: Outside of the cost break (because of the coupons) I don't see a huge advantage to uncooked tortillas since they cook up to taste just like the cooked ones. I do see more waste because if you don't have that pan at the right temperature you'll burn a few. However, you do have more flexibility in HOW you want them cooked and they may possibly keep better than cooked ones but that remains to be seen.
What I'd really like to see is an uncooked real mexican tortilla made with lard. I know it's passe to want lard in your food but they taste great and most people don't keep lard around because it's too much work to render (or they keep that hydrogenated lard type stuff which isn't any good).
Since I just got done thrashing on Fusion To Go and their mixing of Bahn mi, Macaroni Salad and Tacos I thought I'd see how the other half lived and made Chimichangas and Macaroni Salad for dinner. Actually to be honest, the macaroni will get eaten tomorrow night but still...
The Macaroni Salad will be added to the recipes section later as I get it just right. The Chimichanga's are a remake of the Pork Chimichangas at La Raza in Lynnwood where they pour heavy cream over them. You can't say this is authentic since Chimichangas come from Arizona. You can't even say that their close cousin the un-deep-fried version is authentic since they come from Texas. However, it is a nice meal and there's something to be said for having a grease soaked burrito smothered in cream. As a matter of fact 9 out of 10 cardiologists approve (of you helping pay for their new villa).
I usually use heavy cream (36-40%) with a touch of Mexican sour cream mixed in to thicken itup with a spinkling of paprika and cilantro leaves but I only had half and half and sweetened condensed milk so that's what I played with. It didn't work very well to be honest. As soon as I have heavy cream again I'll make more. The pork is your basic shoulder cooked either as carnitas or sliced into small strips and grilled. I prefer the latter with a touch of lime juice. Combined with black beans and Mexican rice (ancho chiles, tomatoes, garlic and cilantro in medium grained rice) it makes a decent meal. Again, not very Mexican but worth the trouble in my book.
I understand that as time goes on people take ideas from other areas. The fact that rice is very popular in South America is a great example, it grows well there and is cheap so it satisfies the need. Imagining Mexican food without rice is difficult. I also understand that if I'm in Seattle and I want to have a French restaurant I'm probably going to cook Salmon because it's readily available and the locals like it. Sometimes you can get food from one culture in another because people request it. An example of this is the amount of soy sauce you find in Thai restaurants. I've been in Thai restaurants and had someone say "what kind of Thai restaurant doesn't have soy sauce?". That's like asking what kind of Polish restaurant doesn't have Italian food.
I was at the annual Seattle Night Market in Chinatown/ID last night and took a photo of this food truck. Now granted, the trucks name was Fusion on the Run but I think we're stretching the term a bit when you have Banh Mi, Tacos and Macaroni Salad in the same truck. Reminds me of the old joke - A Vietnamese man, A Mexican and a white guy walk into a bar... Never mind.
My issue is not that you can't have different kinds of food from the same truck/restaurant but that the odds that the cooks will know and understand each different culture and be able to do a decent job is small. The only way I could see this working is that if you actually had three different accomplished chefs that decide to do what they do best and combine their efforts. I don't think this is how these things come together though. It's usually an entrepreneur trying to figure out what his customers want and providing for that.
The Blimpies Sub shop near the Everett Mall is run by people from India who make burritos. I was talking to the owners and they relayed to me that Mexicans come into the shop and tell them that they don't actually eat burritos in Mexico and yet when you go into a Mexican restaurant there they are - burritos. I rest my case.
Fusion keeps life interesting and we can be thankful for it otherwise Thai and Indian food would be bland, Italians wouldn't have red sauce, the Irish wouldn't have potatoes and the middle east wouldn't cook rice but still I wonder some times.
After weeks of skipping out on any sort of food related post I was in the garden today and thought I'd update people on the science of tomatoes. That's a fancy way of describing me avoiding work and staring at plants.
Since I'm trying to learn about Tomatoes I ask everyone what they grow. I'm finding out that people know as much about what they grow as what they drink (referencing wine drinkers that think red and white are varieties) which doesn't help me learn. So here's the current results of my tomato growing experiments. Keep in mind that we're talking about Seattle climate and if you live somewhere else all bets are off.
I grew two indeterminate hybrid varieties (Bettery Boy and Champion) and one indeterminate heirloom (Brandywine). Indeterminate just means that they'll vine forever and keep producing fruit throughout the growing season instead of one batch like a determinate tomato plant. The Hybrids have been bred with certain traits. The Better Boy is a VFN and the Champion a VFNT. This means they're resistan to certain diseases. The key is as follows.
V - Verticillium Wilt
F - Fusarium Wilt
FF - Fusarium, Races 1 & 2
N - Nematodes
T - Tobacco Mosaic Virus
A - Alternaria Stem Canker
St - Stemphylium Gray Leaf Spot
Going into this I had two tomatoes in mind - Brandywine and Black Russians. I chose them of course based on flavor, not practicallity. I gave up on finding the latter and picked up 4 Brandywine plants in eastern Washington. They were a little shocked and surprised at the change in weather and did nothing for about a month. The Better Boy was chosen because it's suposed to fruit quickly and I wanted *something for my effort if the others failed. The Champion was a good compromise and is resistant to quite a lot (VFNT).
I was told that indeterminate tomatoes like being pruned and I have to agree. Pruning is everything. They respond to pruning as well as my grapes do. Early on I thought my Better Boy was going to be the only plant with fruit on it and even now it's the only one with red fruit. However, it seems to be very sensitive to water on it's leaves (rain) and has been fighting off a cold. The Champion however, did nothing but make leaves forever and then one day it exploded. The Brandywine thinks it has all year to make fruit although it has at least started if very late.
Here is the results so far:
- Bettery Boy: 13 tomatoes
- Champion VFNT: 26 tomatoes
- Brandywine: 2 tomatoes