Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Dark Side of the Mojito

"Reality is an illusion that occurs due to lack of alcohol."

If you are an avid reader of this blog you will notice that limes make an appearance over and over again. This is no accident, I'm afraid. In fact, I've often entertained the notion of moving somewhere closer to the limes, Costa Rica maybe. But this particular drink is more about fresh mint. A good friend brought me some, and I couldn't help but to think that a mojito was in order.

I'll cut to the chase:

6 Fresh mint leaves
1-2 tsp. Superfine Sugar
3 oz. Aged Rum - I prefer Flor de Caña from Nicaragua
1 Mexican Lime
Handful Crushed Ice

Place 6 mint leaves in the bottom of a Collin's glass (or other tall narrow glass). Add sugar and gently muddle. Add the juice of one lime and the rum. Stir to dissolve the sugar. Add the crushed ice and stir. Top with additional rum. Garnish with sprig of mint.

Notes: I don't garnish with lime wheels, which is traditional - besides their kitschy presence, have you ever tried to squeeze juice from them? You can (and should) reuse the mint to make another drink. Don't waste it! Also, the traditional drink is made with light rum, but I prefer the aged variety as it brings a more interesting flavor. I also use very little sweetener in my drink; you may find it necessary to add more sugar. And finally, it is common to top this drink with club soda, but I prefer to finish it with more rum; which I'm sure Hemingway, a connoisseur of the drink, would very much approve.


Wednesday, July 22, 2009

It's a Daiquiri. Seriously.

Many of you may be unfamiliar with the daiquiri in it rawest form. You probably noticed first of all that it's not red. And it's not frozen. And there's so little of it!

For what it lacks in size, however, it more than makes up for in quality. Like the finest hors d'oeuvres, well made cocktails pack a ton of flavor in a small package, often relying on complexities that mystify and intrigue the palate. Cocktails should pack a strong punch without being overwhelmingly alcoholic. Only proper spirits can achieve this beautiful balance without requiring absurd amounts of sugar to hide the harsh flavors. Cocktails should be kept simple; my favorite recipes include no more than four ingredients. Lastly, Americans have a tendency to reach for the grandiose 22 oz. cocktail glasses which is complete overkill. It's a far better approach to keep your cocktails small, and simply make more of them. A 5 oz. cocktail glass is perfect. And it should always be chilled. This will ensure that your cocktail served straight up will stay nice and cold while you imbibe.

The daiquiri is a Cuban drink born of rum, lime juice, and simple syrup. This one is made with Flor de Caña rum from Nicaragua that's been aged for four years. I like a well rested rum for my daiquiris rather than spiced rum. I've fallen for the Flor de Caña recently due to its buttery coconut flavor and low price point. Seriously, it's only $13.00! - about the same price as Crapton Morgan. For a few bucks more you can get the five year old rum, but it's better suited for sipping straight. Stick with the four year old stuff.

I make mine in the same proportions as Lillian Hellman (though I certainly don't consume them in the same proportion):

2 oz. Aged Rum (light rum can be used, but will offer a less complex flavor)
1 oz. Freshly squeezed lime juice
.5 oz. Simple syrup

Pour ingredients over ice in a cocktail shaker. Shake well and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a twist of lime. Enjoy.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Grilled Pizza!

Saturday was a great day for grilling, but Becka and I couldn't decide what we were hungry for - we both wanted something vegetarian. I had procured some arugula, spring onions, and squash at the farmers market earlier that day, and we finally decided to grill a pizza; and it was amazing! We gathered a ton of fresh produce and piled it on: Arugula and Basil Pesto, Fresh Tomatoes, Sun Dried Tomatoes, Spring Onions, Cremini Mushrooms, Grilled Yellow Squash, Arugula Leaves, Fresh Red Chilies, Garlic, Mozzarella, and Parmigiano Reggiano Stravecchio.

First, you'll need to make a crust. I use the Italian Bread recipe adapted from Wayne Gisslen's Professional Baking, but you can use any recipe you want.

Pizza Dough (yields about 6, 8" pizzas)

1 lb. Water (warm)
.25 oz. Instant Yeast
1 lb. 12 oz. Bread Flour
.5 oz. Salt
.13 oz. Honey (or malt syrup)
.63 oz. Olive Oil
.25 oz. Sugar

Use the straight dough mixing method (everything goes into the bowl at once). Mix on second speed for 8-10 minutes until the gluten is properly developed. You'll know it's correct when you can take a small piece of dough and stretch it so thin that you can see through it before it rips. Ferment for 1.5 hours at 80ºF, or 2 hours at 75ºF. Punch down, and remove from the bowl. Divide into six portions, and roll out into rounds.

Next, prepare your grill so that all the coals are on one side, leaving the opposite side empty. Immediately after rolling out, grill the rounds over high heat (the side the coals are on) for about 1-2 minutes on each side. At this point, you have to work quickly to maximize the life of your coals. You may want to add more coals at this point.

After the pizzas are assembled, place as many as will fit back on the grill. This time you will want to put them on the indirect side (the side without the coals). Cook with the lid closed for 5-10 minutes or until done. You will probably want to use a pizza peel or a large spatula for this. For a crisper crust, slide the pizzas over direct heat until they are nicely browned.

Notes: It's important not to ferment this bread twice, which I did by accident. I didn't have the grill lit in time, and my dough rose a second time in the bowl which meant that it didn't have enough juice to rise correctly on the grill. The result: slightly dense dough. It was still delicious, however! If you need to buy some time, you can refrigerate the dough to retard it. Also, prep and organize all your toppings first, so that assembly is as fast as possible.

Also, instant yeast can be found at Gordon Food Service, and is very inexpensive. You don't need to bloom it in water like active dry yeast - just add it in with the dry ingredients. You can, however, bloom it in warm water to speed things up; and since it's alive, store it tightly sealed in the refrigerator.


Monday, July 6, 2009

Gaggia Running Out of Steam?

Imagine my surprise when I discovered how easy it is to disassemble my Gaggia Espresso Machine. An appliance that is actually meant to be opened up and repaired; no prying through fragile little plastic tabs, marring the surface with a screwdriver, and completely voiding the warranty. Plus, replacement parts are widely available all over the internet.

A few months ago, the Gaggia began loosing steam pressure and started to leak steam around the grouphead. A few attempts at descaling helped, but didn't completely solve the issue. Generally, it would start to steam a pitcher of milk, and fade away about half way through, and I would have to stop and wait for the steam pressure to build again. It might take four or five of these cycles to get the milk temperature to 150ºF. Finally, I'd had enough.

Like my other post about fixing my KitchenAid Mixer, I'm not going to provide a step by step walkthrough. I will, however, post some pictures that might help somebody as they attempt disassembly. These pictures actually came in very handy for me when I forgot the correct way to reassemble the boiler. I plan to disassemble about once a year as a maintenance routine.

Gaggia Coffee Deluxe

Pouring a lovely shot after being fixed!

First, remove the shower screen. It can be cleaned with a mildly acidic solution.

Remove the water spreader and give it a thorough cleaning. Notice the mineral scale on the hex head screws.

The grouphead with the screen and spreader removed. Clean it with a soft bristled brush. Remove the hex nut and pull out the spring valve with the little rubber ball on it. Clean this well, as it keeps steam and water from leaking from the grouphead. I have also removed the steam wand and the four screws that hold the boiler in place. You might consider replacing the rubber seal that surrounds the grouphead and makes contact with the portafilter.

This is a view from the inside. The bright orange part is the pump which probably doesn't need to be removed and cleaned. The weak of heart should turn back now!

Pay attention to all the electrical connections and label them with a marker or tape. This is very important! If the contacts get mixed up upon reassembly, you could fry your machine.

This is the boiler. Open up the steam valve and make sure there are no blockages. Ditto for the steam tube. Also note how the boiler is disassembled - maybe apply a witness mark. Notice the beer. You weren't thinking of attempting this project without a beer, were you?

The inside of the boiler and nearly complete disassembly. Clean any mineral scale from inside the boiler and soak other parts in an acidic solution. Be careful not to get the electrical connectors wet. Notice the different beer as an indication of time lapse.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Tuna Tar Tar in Cucumber Cups

Sometimes when I'm craving sushi, but I'm too lazy to prep everything, I go Tar Tar. It couldn't be simpler:

Score 2-3 cucumbers (as straight as you can find) with a channel knife, and slice crosswise into 3/4 in. sections. With a Parisienne scoop, hollow out the seedy part in the middle being careful not to scoop all the way through the bottom - we're going for cups here, after all.

If your tuna is frozen, give it a medium dice right before it thaws completely (8 oz. of tuna will yield about 15 portions). Add to this about 2 tsp of grated fresh ginger, 2 tsp of toasted sesame seeds, a dash of quality dark soy sauce, a few drops of dark sesame oil, and a splash of rice wine vinegar or a squeeze of lemon juice. Toss to coat, and let sit for a few minutes until the tuna thaws completely.

Make a bit of Sriracha Mayo by adding just enough of the Sriracha hot sauce to some mayonnaise until it's light orange in color (or spicier if you prefer). Finish with a squeeze of lime or lemon juice, and transfer to a squeeze bottle if you have one handy. Squeeze a small dab into each cucumber cup, then gently fill each cup with a heaping portion of tuna. Garnish with toasted sesame seeds. Enjoy!

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Steak and Shady

I apologize in advance for publishing a picture-less entry post, but I'm frustrated with, and very concerned, for my beloved Steak and Shake. If it weren't for some pretty powerful nostalgia, I probably wouldn't give a damn about the place, but I grew up sipping shakes and slamming burgers while listening to the oldies station play at this pseudo 50's style diner. Later in life, I would sip the same shakes, nosh the same burgers, and listen to the same oldies, but at three in the morning (occasionally consuming whole hot peppers right out of the bottle). So, to see it go downhill greatly saddens me.

Apparently the economy hasn't been kind to S&S, because instead of just selling overpriced hamburgers, they are now straight swindling people out of their money. I first noticed this when they launched their "4 meals for under 4 dollars" campaign. I ordered a "meal" and asked if I could substitute a shake for the soda that comes with the meal (expecting a surcharge, of course). I was informed that "drinks do not come with the meal, just the sandwich and fries." I ordered water instead. At the time, this struck me as odd, but I didn't give it much thought, except that every other fast food joint includes a drink in their meals. Is S&S in such dire straights that they can't afford to throw in a drink which costs less than ten cents? While technically, this isn't swindling, it's misleading at best.

The second incident took place about a month ago, and I very nearly blogged about it, but I thought it would be petty to blog about 27¢. I went to S&S one afternoon to take advantage of their new "happy hour" deal (another sign) which is half price shakes on weekdays from 2-4pm. I ordered my favorite fruit and yogurt raspberry shake, and was informed that they no longer carry yogurt shakes. Disappointed, I ordered a cookie dough shake, which was $3.49 on the menu. As I waited in the drive-thru I began to calculate the final price and tax, which should have been roughly $1.92. Instead, my bill was $2.19. When I questioned the drive-thru attendant about the price, he insisted that the shake was $3.99 on the menu. I began to doubt myself and paid the higher price, but circled the building to double check the menu. Sure enough, I had been correct, but I was too frustrated and hungry to go fight for my 27¢. This is the shadiest I've ever seen S&S. I was cheated, but still didn't learn my lesson.

Today, I was SO hungry after getting off work, that I decided to stop by for a quick single. Again, I went through the drive through, and before I could order I was informed that "Fries now come with all of our sandwiches if you want them." The price of a single steakburger is $2.29. I ordered it with everything on it, along with the complementary fries. The order rang up to $2.79, which is $3.07 after tax - a 50¢ upcharge. I immediately questioned the price increase, and was informed that "Oh, the fries are just a little bit more. Do you still want them?" I told the attendant that I did not want the fries (I should left, but I was REALLY hungry), and that I felt the whole deal was very dishonest. It could have been that she misread her cue card, but I'm pretty sure it's a subtle scam. Either way, I left with my $2.29 single steakburger, disgusted.

Which brings me to S&S's rapid decline in quality. First, it was the elimination of the fruit and yogurt shakes. Admittedly, they were probably very costly to make - they did have real fruit, albeit frozen, but were still delicious (and maybe a bit less bad for you than a regular milkshake). And the new cookie dough shakes - they're powder. The cookie "dough" is powder. It was the most disgusting imitation cookie product I've ever have the misfortune to put in my mouth, and there was no longer a cherry on top (no big loss there). Furthermore, the ice cream had a very thin mouthfeel, like it was made entirely of skim milk. It didn't even hold a candle to the hand-dipped milkshakes of the past.

The burger I choked down today was, hands down, the worst sandwich I've ever eaten at S&S. It was smashed flat - about an inch tall, had no lettuce, and no tomato, despite the fact that I ordered it with everything. The onions were of the McDonald's-ish minced variety instead of slices, and neon green Chicago style relish now resides where the famed pair of long-cut sandwich pickles used to sit. A very disappointing sandwich indeed.

I guess it's hard to compete with the dollar menu. People just can't afford S&S anymore. Hell, I couldn't afford it when the economy wasn't in the tank. If S&S survives, they have some serious restructuring to do. Hopefully, they can return to their former glory, but they won't do it by swindling people. Eventually, people are going to take notice, and people like me hold grudges.

Note: S&S is a franchise, so this may not be the case in all locations. These incidents all occurred at the S&S on Big Hollow Rd. in Peoria, IL.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Smoked Turkey Leg with Greens

This is a recipe that I adapted from Alton Brown. It's completely simple to make, but you'll need a decent sized stock pot. Basically, I simmered two smoked turkey legs in about a quart of water for 10 minutes. Then, I added about three bunches of chopped collard greens, one bunch of chopped mustard greens, three whole cloves of garlic, one teaspoon of sugar, and a few grinds of black pepper. I simmered the whole lot for 45 minutes, occasionally moving the greens about. I chose to omit the salt due to the saltiness of the turkey legs (think miniature hams).

I served this with a nice helping of smashed red potatoes, and a glass full of the pot liquor (not pictured). The pot liquor is just the flavorful cooking liquid, and is actually not too bad to drink. It's full of nutrients, anyway. Note: one of these gargantuan turkey legs will feed one hungry person or two normal people.