Grant McWilliams

Food Blog

Food Blog

Food is the only art you can eat.

Frozen Microwavable Flame Broiled Cheeseburgers?

I couldn't resist capturing the epitome of our gastronomic downfall in America. I saw this in Albertson's Grocery and couldn't believe my eyes. Flame Broiled Cheeseburgers.... sounds good until you realize that you've wandered haphazardly into the frozen section and the box says they're microwavable. Any burger coming out of a microwave is going to taste like something big and brown from a pasture but it won't be cow. What's worse is that it comes with a bun and cheese. I'm sure the microwave will do wonders to those as well. I'm also a bit confused about the flame broiled part. So they're flame broiled, frozen and then warmed up in the microwave? Why don't they just rub shoe polish on them because a shoe polished patty will look about as close to flame broiling as this pile.

Is it that hard to just make a hamburger? Really? You take hamburger, flatten it and cook it. Seriously folks you could do it with one leg tied behind your back (I'm aware that the saying usually contains an arm but it's more fun for us to visualize this way). If the thought of warming a pan brings sweat beads to your forehead and uncontrollable rocking then head on over to McBurger Queenville's 5 Brothers burger shop and grab a 99 cent cheeseburger. I'm sure their food sucks but at least each part is frozen seperately and then reheated on something that does more than excite the water molecules by beating the crap out of them with electrons.

The worst part of this is the price. Check out the sticker on the bottom left - $5.48/lb! Are you crazy? Buns cost about $1/lb and cheese about $4/lb. That means that 2 oz hamburger patty is coming in at around $9/lb. I have another idea, get a meat grinder and a blind fold. Put the blind fold on and head to your local meat counter (if you're driving be careful), once there point in the meat's general direction, then take whatever you bought home, grind it up (legal counsel tells me I need to inform you to remove the blind fold somewhere around this step) and cook it. I guarantee you this will make a better burger for the same price and in under 10 minutes time.

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Broiler + juice = welding rod

After spending 84 days sitting in a hospital I finally have the time to post. Actually I don't but at some point I need to post something anyway so here goes. One of my first chores as soon as I arrived home was to replace the broiler element in my oven. While roasting bell peppers in December some juice splattered up on it and the element turned into a welding rod. I kid you not the intensity of the "fire" was very similar to a welding rod and even burnt along the element until it broke clear through. I ordered a new one online for about $35 and it arrived around the first of the year and sat waiting for me. The other night I wanted to have Sweet Pepper Tortellini and that requires that I have a working broiler element so I took some time to put it in. It amounted to 5 very stubborn sheet metal screws and holding a wrench at a bad angle to get it in but once done it worked wonderfully. Even if I don't broil my oven seems to use both elements because the couple of times I tried to cook pizza in the oven while the broiler element was out the bottoms ended up scorched. With this new element I was able to roast peppers with the rack about 8 inches away which increases the likelyhood that it will survive. I may however, keep an extra one in the garage for such situations as this. I'm sure I'll blow it again roasting peppers or making steam for bread at some point.

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Munchkin Pumpkin Pots de Creme

I have a few more Cinderella pumpkins in the garage and needed to use up some of the puree so this is the result. I made these a few years ago and they were a big hit so here we are again. The basic recipe is really easy if you have pumpkin puree around. If not you can take the meat of a pumpkin cut into cubes and brought to a boil in 3/4 cup of milk then simmered until the pumpkin meat is tender. Once that's done (or you bake your pumpkins like I do) just follow the recipe. The Custard recipe comes from The Good Food Channel in the UK so I oppologize ahead of time if you're not used to metric measurements. Any decent set of measuring cups have both metrics and American Standard measurements on it. Sugar is measured in weight (as it should be) so you'll need a scale or you can go online to find a converter.

  • 375g pumpkin puree
  • 125ml double cream
  • 3 large eggs
  • 60g caster sugar
  • 35g soft dark brown sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 50g unsalted butter, melted and cooled

Puree the pumpkin and 125ml of milk in the blender. In a medium bowl whisk the eggs and cream together then add the pumpkin puree/milk mixture, the caster sugar and brown sugar and all the spices. Definitely use fresh grated nutmeg in this recipe, you can thank me later. Add the melted butter and pass the mixture through a fine sieve.

Cut off the tops of 8 munchkin pumpkins and scoop the seeds and strings out. Fill the pumpkins to about 1/4 inch below the surface and place in a large roaster. Fill the roaster with water to about halfway up the sides of the pumpkins. Place in a 170c degree oven (325 Fahrenheit) for about 35 minutes or until the custard has set. The surface should feel firm when pushed and liquid should not ooze out from under the top. I put 35 minutes as a general measurement but I think it takes longer than that, I haven't measured. Just start looking at them when they've been in for 35 minutes and cook them until done. When done grate some more fresh nutmeg on the top and let them cool.

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Butternut Squash Ravioli with Pistachio Cream

There's a small restaurant in an Italian town very few have heard of that serves a butternut squash ravioli in pistachio cream sauce that's so good the clouds part and the angels sing – or so they say. Modena is a town sparse with foreign tourists but famous among automobile enthusiasts as the home of passionate car maker Maserati. Not only does Maserati reside here but a few miles down the road Ferrari makes some of the most beautiful machines the earth has ever seen. If that weren't enough a few miles in the opposite direction is Ferrari's arch rival and raging bull Lamborghini. That as they say is a lot of Italian Passione in one spot. Everywhere in Modena you get the feeling of vibrancy. It's in the narrow cobblestone streets lined with bright orange, yellow and pastel pink houses, the music and the food. If one strolls to Piazza Giacomo Matteotti at the heart of the city they will come upon this famous restaurant serving the aforementioned pasta that brings forth the angels – or so they say.

I was in Venice on a very rainy day with nothing to do so I hitched a ride on a train to Moden to taste this wonderful pasta and hear the angels sing. Down the narrow streets, across the piazza and past the stacks of bistro chairs and deep read awnings I hurried only to be greeted by a hand written sign reading  - Chiuso. Closed? I've come 10,000 miles to taste his pasta! In Italy there isn't a reason more important than one living life the way they want to live it and apparently my troubles were not great enough for the owner to interrupt his life to make me some past. I left vowing to return another day.

Two years later I was in Bologna tasting what is supposed to be the world's best Gelato and remembered that Modena wasn't that far away. Another train and a brisk walk lands me in front of the exact same restaurant on the exact same piazza looking at the exact same sign. Questa è la vita - such is life.

Butternut Squash Ravioli in Pistachio Cream sounds lovely but unfortunately after 4 trips to Italy I've still not had the pleasure of hearing the angels in song. However, I have spent some time imagining the results and I've crafted my own version which you see here. Angels don't sing when you eat it but you might hear a slight murmur. I won't be putting up a recipe because I make it so rarely that I haven't had time to write down what I do to get the result I want. There's de-shelled, poached then de-skinned and finely ground pistachios, minced garlic in olive oil, brown sugar and cream in the right quantities and of course butternut squash ravioli. How much of each? You decide, they're your angels.

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French food in Seattle?

To celebrate the lack of fatal accidents involving myself from November 2009 to November 2010 my kids decided to take me out to eat for a late lunch. Having just spent the last week slaving over Cassoulet and still craving French food I perused the menus of Place Pigalle, Cafe Campagne, Restaurant Campagne and Maximilien in the Pikes Place Market in downtown Seattle. In Paris I choose my restaurants on how serious they are about that little bird that everyone loves - the Duck. If a restaurant lists at least two of the three holy duck dishes (Foie Grois, Confit de Canard, Magret de Canard) then it's worthy of consideration. It seems however, that in Seattle if a restaurant possesses at least ONE of the three they're considered French but being in the northwest and a long way from France they can fill up the rest of the menu with Asian Fusion dishes or seafood. If a Seattle French restaurant prepares two of the three holy duck dishes they're exceptional and so far I've not found one establishment that will make all three. They will have either Foie Gras and Magret or Magret and Confit or Foie Gras and Confit but never all three.

I've looked at the Maximelien menu a million times and even though their lunch menu had only one of the three (dinner has two) they also had escargot so we entered through the heavy wooden doors to our little French sanctuary amongst the hustle and bustle of the market. As soon as that door shuts the market goes silent and you find yourself in a small 10-12 table restaurant fitted in supple dark woods with a staircase bending it's way to a second floor. The second floor stops about 2 feet from the outer wall leaving an air gap connecting upper and lower floors which lends to making the place feel a bit larger overall. The walls are covered with mirrors presumably to add to this effect. From the outside Maximilien always seemed bigger and I was very surprised to find it this small.

The host had a very strong but not very familiar French accent. I didn't get around to asking him where he was from. The server smiled to the point where I thought she was going to explode but always provided us prompt service and kept refilling our bread basket. Magret de Canard wasn't on the lunch menu so I had Confit de Canard and an escargot appetizer. The escargot was the best we've had in the states so far and the table bread was perfect for soaking up the butter and parsley in the escargot plate (no they didn't serve them in the shells).

The Confit was OK but you'd be hard pressed to tell it from a turkey leg. I'm not a huge Confit de Canard fan so I've not eaten it very many times but it was still good and the duck fat that was attached was nice. The sliced potato rounds tasted like they were fried in duck fat as they had a nice crispy texture and the flavor was good. Both the potatoes and the Confit were served over a bed of lentils (God knows why). I'm not sure why you'd mix up food with lentils and even more perplexed as to why you'd serve both on the same plate. I personally prefer my food to change color and p { margin-bottom: 0.08in; } consistency during the digestive process.

Overall it wasn't a bad experience but we didn't have any OMG! moments either. The environment was quaint, the music decent (you can listen to what's playing in the restaurant right now by going to their RSS feed - neat. I'd like to come back for dinner and try their other dishes before I do a full review of Maximelien.

 

 

 

 

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Vegetarians avert your eyes - it's Cassoulet time!

Last fall I was in the Languedoc-Roussillon region of France which is known for it's duck dishes and another odd standout - Cassoulet. It's a standout because so much of French food is elegant and fine that you'd be hard pressed to identify Cassoulet as French. The truth is Cassoulet is peasant food and is great for those cold winter months.

About two weeks ago when it was cold and wet out I got the itch to have Cassoulet. It's taken a week to get the ingredients (at any cost) and even then I didn't get them all so I had to substitute a few things. To those unfamiliar with Cassoulet it is, according to wikipedia "a rich, slow-cooked bean stew or casserole originating in the south of France, containing meat (typically pork sausages, pork, goose, duck and sometimes mutton), pork skin (couennes) and white haricot beans". I had most everything but the pork skins so I decided to go ahead with the show. As you may have noticed this is definitely a meat eaters dish with only beans being the exception to that rule. Actually in preparing it you use vegetables but funny enough you strain them out and throw them away before finishing the last cooking step. Yes, you strain the vegetables and throw them away.

The ingredients list reads something like this:

  • 2 pounds ham hocks, semi-salted with 1 cup coarse salt (see Note 1)
  • 2 pounds medium-size dried white haricot or Great Northern white beans (about 4 cups), soaked in water to cover overnight
  • 2 pounds confit de canard
  • ½ pound salt pork
  • ¼ pound pancetta (replaces traditional petit salé)
  • 1 pound fresh pork skin
  • ½ cup duck fat from the confit
  • 1 ½ pounds saucisse de Toulouse
  • 1 ¾ pounds pork shoulder
  • 1 ½ pounds mutton or lamb shoulder
  • 2 medium-size onions, peeled, and each studded with 2 cloves
  • 1 large carrot, sliced into rounds
  • 1 pound ripe tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and finely chopped
  • 3 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 10 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
  • Bouquet garni, tied in cheesecloth (10 sprigs fresh parsley, 10 sprigs fresh thyme, 2 bay leaves)
  • 2 quarts bottled imported Evian
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 2 cups fresh bread crumbs made from a French baguette

It does actually have 19 ingredients! One of those ingredients takes 4-6 weeks to make (confit de canard), one is impossible to get (saucisse de Toulouse) and another I had to substitute with pancetta. The hardest one to get was the confit de canard which currently sells for it's price in gold. In lieu of buying it I decided to make confit de canard except - only I did the 1 day recipe instead of the 4-6 week recipe ie. I didn't let it set in the fridge for 6 weeks before using. Even cutting short the recipe by 6 weeks it still ended up being a three day process - one day soaking and rinsing beans and salting ham hocks, one day cutting, browning and cooking meat and one day of making the final product.

I had so many ingredients that I had to use two dutch ovens in order to cook it properly.  Duck fat was especially difficult to hunt down (pun intended) but I ended up finding it in Chinatown (er, I mean the International District) at Uwajamaya Market. Armed with duck fat, lamb shoulder, ham hocks, duck legs and breasts, pork shoulder, pancetta, salt pork and one or two vegetables I set out to make Cassoulet. The recipe calls for cutting up all the meats and browning them in the Dutch oven, once that's done you add the vegetables and bouquet garni and bring it to a boil. Then add all the meats back in and simmer for about 90 minutes. Doesn't seem too bad quite yet until you realize you spent several hours cutting all the meats, dismembering a duck, browning sausages and cutting vegetables. At this point you're invested about 4 hrs. After 90 minutes of simmering I let both Dutch ovens cool (it took hours thanks to the heavy cast iron they're made of) and put them in the fridge. Four hours working on a recipe and I don't get to eat it yet.

That was yesterday. Today I figured I just had to put it back in the oven to warm through and I remembered something had to be done with bread crumbs. Thankfully I checked the recipe at about 2 pm because the second stage has to cook four more hours.This section is more fun because I took my new clay pot that I bought from TJ-Maxx specially for this purpose and laid down salt pork in the bottom, added a layer of beans then a layer of all the various meats - duck, lamb shoulder, pork shoulder and so on then covered it with another layer of beans. I poured the broth reserved from the vegetables until it covered the beans then layered the bread crumbs over it. A sprinkling of the bread crumbs with duck fat completed the process and it went in an oven at 275 degrees F for four more hours. Every half an hour the crust needed to be cracked and turned so it became thoroughly soaked in juices. When done we let it cool for a bit before digging in.

You're probably expecting an OMG!! This is soooo good! right? If so you're lost - you should have taken a left back there at the off ramp to MySpace. Cassoulet is a very subtle dish and I can remember my impressions of it in France (both Toulouse Cassoulet and Carcassonne Cassoulet) - the beans are boring. This is my first impression here too as well as both Jade and Piper's impressions. Jade said "it just tastes like meat and beans". Maybe that's because it IS meat an beans. As you take your second bite you notice some depth then you take your third and so on. This is a dish that you have to eat when it's cold and rainy (or cold and snowy) and it grows on you. The juice is very flavorful and the meat tastes wonderful as does the breadcrumb crust. The beans stay boring but I guess they're an important traditional element.

Is it worth it? No, of course not but then making a lot of French food isn't worth the time but I still do it because there's something else to it, something that's intangible. I don't know what it is but to have good food it takes good effort. If we look at the amount of time involved in preparing food in relation to the amount of time it takes to eat it to determine if it's worth it then we probably shouldn't be discussing food should we? Food is art. Food is experience. Food is a family spending time together talking without the distractions of technology. Food draws people together and provides a common point of reference. I think I'll be making this again and I'll definitely be making confit de canard even if it takes 6 weeks.

 

June 10th 2012,

I thought I'd update this item since I now make Cassoulet several times a year. It's interesting to read my first hand opinions above. Cassoulet started out as a "checklist item" where you do it once just to say you did. Then I decided to make it again and did a better job, then I went to a French restaurant and realized mine has flavor as good as theirs my beans stunk. I returned to the beans and continued working with dried beans and eventually nailed them. They're now as smooth as butter and very flavorable. I've also doubled the amount of duck, cut back on the pork shoulder and realized that pig skin is a necessary ingredient. I've also learned the hard way that this is a 3 day dish, not a 2 day dish. One day making the confit, one day cooking the cassoulet ingredients and one day cooking the combined cassoulet. After trying to squeeze it into 2 days I realized that I lost a lot of flavor. Such is life. Now that I've cooked this about 8 times I've darn near nailed it. IMHO my cassoulet tastes better than the stuff in the restaurants. This fall when I make it again I'll put up a proper recipe.

 

 

 

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Duck Fat - Liquid Gold

The poor duckies should have tasteless fat. I feel for them, I do but because I'm higher on the food chain I appreciate their existance. About two weeks ago on a particularly rainy day I got the hankering for Cassoulet, a heavy dish made primarily in the southwestern corner of France. It's not fine food like you'd expect from the French but rather a heavy casserole with lots of meats and beans in it. Arguably the most important meat in it is Confit de Canard - or duck preserved in duck or goose fat. In my effort to avoid giving up a years salary to an online reseller I decided I'd just make Confit de Canard and in doing so would need about 5 cups of duck fat. My recipe says the best way to get duck fat is to just pour it off every time I make something with duck in it thus saving the cost of buying it. Like I or anyone I know cooks duck every day right? I do this for bacon grease but I'm afraid I don't cook enough duck in a year to get a cup of duck fat so I had to go hunt for it. A quick google search for "duck fat seattle" gave several results pointing to various grocery stores and markets that had it. One of my favorites - Central Market in Mill Creek was listed so off we go for a 1 hr bus ride to pick up our duck fat. "We usually carry it" was the answer I got and empty handed is how we left. The next day I boarded the Swift/M358 bus to Central Market in Shoreline and there I found duck fat - for $16/lb.. Gag, cough. I needed about $30 worth of duck fat for one meal - a bit steep I thought. Getting the M358 bus to Seattle again and an hour later I was in Chinatown (the International district, ahem) at Uwajamaya Market. They had duck fat too in solid blocks but a man standing between me and my duck fat kept putting package after package into his cart which he talked on the phone. He left only 3 packages - which thankfully was all I needed. Had he taken the rest I would have followed him around and package by package removed it from his cart. It's not legally his until he pays for it right?

Duck fat in hand I returned home to make my Confit de Canard. To make this you salt duck thighs and legs heavily and let them rest for two days. Then you melt the duck fat in a pan on very low heat so it doesn't boil then you rinse the salt cured duck pieces then dry. Once dry you cook them in the duck fat for about 90 minutes and let them cool. Salt the bottom of a dish, layer duck fat in the bottom, layer duck pieces then melt the rest of the duck fat again and pour it over the top. Then melt pig lard and pour a layer of that over the top, cover with plastic wrap and put in the fridge for 4-6 weeks. Yes 4-6 weeks. I did everything except the 4-6 weeks part. It seems that making Confit de Canard out of a bunch of ducks at the same time would be more effecient. Then take the carcases and make duck stock out of it.

Why all the fuss over Duck fat? Because it's very very nice. I don't know how one fat can taste better than another but it does. I've never had the urge to drink vegetable oil, peanut oil, olive oil or lard but it's taken all of my strength not to go to the fridge and take a swig of the duck fat. The smell is all over the house, it's on my hands and it's in my mind. I can't wait to fry potatoes in it. Since my primary motivation was to make Cassoulet I'll have a later post up about that as soon as it's done. This one meal has been a week long project.

 

 

 

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Goodbye Food Emporium - it's been nice knowing you

Businesses who survive are businesses who change. A winning formula in 1920 wouldn't work in 1930 or 1940. If your sales are tanking you probably need to find a new angle. One of my favorite grocery stores announced on Friday that they were closing after 15 years. They've put the blame on their products being premium and shoppers tastes during the recession have been less than premium. This I find is true, but this doesn't excuse Olsen's Food Emporium from fault. At one time there were 13 Food Emporiums but eventually the Olsen's sold 12 of them to QFC for 39 Million dollars. They kept the Mukilteo Speedway store.

What made Food Emporium special was their choice of products to sell. They had the usual frozen pizzas, bags of flour and so on. They also had every single soda I ever drank as a kid including Big Red, Green River and Bubble Up. They are responsible for getting me hooked on Virgils natural cream soda. They had hundreds of bbq sauces, locally made jams and syrups and a wine section with employees that actually knew what they were doing. They were one of the first stores to integrate a Starbucks into it and they were smart enough to know that they didn't make the best doughnuts in the world so they bought them from Henry's - which is a real doughnut shop. Safeway and Albertsons could both take a hint because their doughnuts stink. If you needed some Berber spice for that special North African dish you could get it there as well as Dalmation Juniper Berries. They were never cheap but when you're the only store in town carrying these things you didn't need to be. If I needed Juniper Berries I'd go to Food Emporium. I started shopping at Food Emporium because every week they'd give away a free item in the paper, one week it would be eggs, the next something else. I wasa a water drinker as they say - I took the free item and didn't buy the overpriced stuff. At some point though I started desiring their special items and started shopping Food Emporium just for things I couldn't get elsewhere. I also started talking a walk along the north shore of the lake to Food Emporium so I could sit, drink cofee and eat doughnuts. I can't say I've ever done this at a grocery store before.

What went wrong? I have to admit I knew it was there for years but never shopped in it. I think the reasoning was that local groceries are more expensive and worse I related it to a grocery store we had in eastern WA called Food Pavilion which was very expensive. Another reason is that it has one of those excellent/horrible locations. Excellent if you look at a map but horrible if you're driving by in your car. If you were driving south on Highway 99 you never saw the store because of a slight hill. If you're driving nouth you never saw it until you were already past it with very little chance of flipping a U-turn. If you were driving by on Mukilteo Speedway you also never saw it until too late. By the time you got to the next light to turn around you were at Albertson's which is cheaper anyway. It was an excellent location but the signage was horrible. They needed to have some sort of flashy street signs to alert you before it was too late.

Another failing was the prices. For instance Food Emporium sold el Monteray burritos for $4.79. Safeway sold them for $3.79 and often put them on sale for 2/$7. Albertsons sold them for $3.50 and put them on sale for $3. Winco and Grocery Outlet consistantly sold them for $2.50 which is nearly half the price. I understand economies of scale and all of that but twice the price??? I have no problem paying a premium price for some local jam or bbq sauce but to pay a premium price for a product that's half as much down the street is hard even if the cause is good.

Food Emporium's strength was it's oddball product selection. You could find just about any gourmet product there. Unfortunately stores like PCC, Whole Foods and Central Market have to also sell other items as well because you can't live on Maury Island Blackberry syrup forever.  PCC and Whole Foods put their stores in Seattle where buyers are more discerning and also focus on healthy foods. Health nuts will pay a hundred bucks for a granola bar if they think it's healthy. Food Emporium is in an area where not too many people would care about a $100 granola bar.

The solution they missed: They should have called up Winco and asked to make a deal. Winco's prices to the customer is probably what Safeway gets it for. Since Winco is putting in a Silver Lake Store they need to truck grocery items to South Everett now. I think a deal could have been struck where Winco would bring a truck by once a week to drop off cheap products so Food Emporium could compete on the everyday items while still being able to offer the premium products.

But this is not what they did - they plodded on until they couldn't go any longer and then announced they were closing. I was there today and I have to say the overall feel of the customers was one of disbelief and sadness. Where will I buy Dalmation Juniper Berries now? I hope the best for the owners and the 75 employees soon to be out of work. I will miss my times at Food Emporium and it will be sad to see them go. I don't however, think it was necessary.

 

 

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Bred to save the day (tic)

Sometimes things work out and other times you just empty the fridge into a pot and give the old dial a hearty twist. When it comes up to temp you serve it (in solitude). Tonight I looked through the pantry and realized I had nearly everything I needed to make Chili which would save me a trip to the store in the rain. I threw in one slab of hamburger (I fill 1 gallon freezer bags with a 1/2 inch thick square of hamburger and freeze it, they stack like sheets of plywood), two cans of whole tomatoes pulsed in the food processor, onions, bell peppers, tons of chile powder, cumin, coriander, garlic and so on. After having it simmer for an hour I gave it a sip and I was swept back to my childhood memories of navy green kitchen cabinets and brown shag carpet. You might not see the connection quite yet so I'm going to help you out a little (this one's a freebie but you can show your gratitude by sticking a thank-you note to the invoice of a 2010 Mustang GT and send it to the usual address). The thing that both the chili and the my childhood memories have in common is their lack of taste. Oooh! you say. Try and keep up, the clocks a ticking.  So it seems my chili powder had turned to chilly powder. After much deliberation I added another quarter of a cup - call it a stimulus package if you will as it yielded the expected results - everything pretty much stayed the same. The cans of tomatoes were 99c grocery outlet random brand which seemed to be getting most of their flavor from the water they were packed in. Remind me to send off a letter to random brand to beef up the tomato flavoring in their water. Long story short - simmering it longer only lessened the cleansing nature of drinking 8 glasses water a day and boiling the hell out of it only resulted in the same amount of hell taking up a smaller amount of space. We have a rule in our house that on certain days we eat monastery style. This means that if anyone opens their big mouth they find themselves without a place to sleep. This was one of those times.

 

 

Thankfully you can always count on the act of "breaking bread" to save the day. The term breaking bread always reminds me of that time in Paris where I thought I was smarter than the French and tried to buy two baguettes on Saturday so I could eat one on Sunday when my boulangerie was closed. Breaking bread is not entirely accurate as the bread was the one opening a can of whoopass on everything it was whacked against. Our bread had no cause to be broke as it was made of corn and fried nicely in a cast iron skillet heated until the lard (yes I said it - lard) in the bottom was smoking. Piper also broke bread in the form of bagel dough turned mini-loaves. Seems the bagel dough was very wet and difficult to work with (sounds like someone I used to know) so she stuffed it into mini dutch ovens and it cooked up nicely. Someone needs to remind her about greasing and flowering her mini-dutch ovens though as the bread and the vessle in which it was cooked were tighter than Sonny and Cher which could only be separated by using one very hard object and a great deal of energy. I'm still talking about the bread here - try to stay focused.

Overall things worked out as they always do. Tomorrow I will attempt to save the leftovers, no pun intended.

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Poor lazy people eat better

You may be wondering about the title of today's article. You may also be wondering if I'm nuts but just hear me out. I've always loved bread and when I was a kid I'd visit my grandmother who made bread every other day. I can remember the amount of work involved but loved putting real butter on a slice as soon as it came out of the oven. I make most of my flat bread at home because I just can't get myself to choke down the store bought stuff. I also make all of my sweet breads for the same reason. Over the years I've dabbled with baking artisan breads and have had decent luck with them.

In case nobody has noticed the States (and maybe the world) is currently in a bit of a recession so for a lot of folks money is a bit tight. We're also having a food epidemic in that we keep eating more and more crap and the country as a whole has become unhealthy and obese. This is a more complex problem then what I'm going to discuss right now but you can watch Jamie Oliver's TED speech if you doubt how bad this problem has become. So whenever I run across a solution to more than one problem with little to no drawbacks I get excited about it. In my tiny corner of the universe I'd like to save a bit of money and eat better. This isn't so hard to do but you usually have to sacrifice a great deal of time to do so until now. On good advice I've been playing around with Jeff Hertzberg and Zoë François' book Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day. The idea is if you make a bunch of dough, keep it in the fridge and just cut off a chunk every day to bake then you're only spending 5 minutes per day making homemade bread. The reality is you're spending 5 minutes of your time but start to finish it takes about 90 minutes to 2 hrs a day to have bread but you're not doing anything during that time. You could be watching a movie. Not any dough can be used in this manner so they came up with a super saturated dough that will keep in the fridge for up to two weeks.

The process goes something like this. Throw a bunch of stuff in a mixer, turn it on for a couple of minutes just until it's mixed (but don't knead it) and cover it to let it rise for about an hour. Then take the dough, put it in the fridge and then the next day you can start baking. Because there's so much water in the dough it's much nicer to work with when it's cold. Whenever you want bread you just cut off a grapefruit sized portion, fold the corners under so it makes a nice ball and drop it on a cornmeal covered pizza peel. Forty minutes later after it's warmed up you pop it in the oven and cook it for half an hour and you have fresh bread in 5 minutes a day.

So far I've been very impressed because all of the work involved in traditional bread is just not there. You don't knead the bread ever, you don't have to start 4 hrs before dinner making the dough, you don't have to watch it's rise and punch it down half way through or anything. The only real issue is that since it's so wet it can be quite sticky. I'm trying various things to combat that. Cornmeal on the peel helps but doesn't solve the problem. Tonight I put down flour and then cornmeal and it still stuck but an oiled spatula was able to break it free and onto the clay tiles in my oven.

To summarize you can make good bread in 5 minutes a day for about 35 cents a loaf and you don't need any special equipment outside of a baking stone. Poor lazy people eat better.

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