Archive for February, 2010

Pizza Madness

Posted on February 23, 2010. Filed under: hodgepodge, pizza | Tags: , , , , |

I’m obsessed with pizza. Like Ed Levine obsessed. Possibly not quite as obsessed as This Guy, but I’m up there. At home in Los Angeles, it’s tough to satisfy the craving. Pizzeria Mozza might have the best crust I’ve ever tasted, but the sauce is imperfect, and a personal sized pie never manages to satisfy like a proper sized slice. Joe’s Pizza in Santa Monica reminds me that I’m missing Joe’s Pizza in Greenwich Village. I’m a crap baker, so until I meet an adorable pastry girl, making my own is a challenge.

I had planned on a eating a wide variety of food on my most recent trip to NYC. (By wide, I mean that in addition to pizza, I would eat deli, Chinese, Indian, and bagels…) Turns out, what I ate was mostly pizza.

I ate like a champ. Twice, I visited three pizza joints in a single day. I visited old favorites (Sal & Carmine, I love you with all my heart), and randomly found a terrific slice in Brooklyn (the Grandma at Vinny’s Pizza).

There was a moment or two when I thought I was satisfied. But those moments passed quickly. Back in California now, and the pizza dreams have started again.

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At the Farmers’ Market: Grapefruit

Posted on February 18, 2010. Filed under: fruit, healthy, hodgepodge, local | Tags: , , |

I always thought of grapefruits as horrible softballs of sourness that grandparents eat for breakfast and fad dieters believe are spiritual. And there certainly is something to that stereotype; they are indeed sour & astringent, fad dieters love them for their high lycopene and vitamin C content (as well as a mythical, yet unproven nutrient found only in grapefruit that, when combined with protein causes rapid weight loss), and, as they are grown primarily in Florida, many old people eat them for breakfast.

But there is more to the grapefruit than sour old fads. They’re in abundance right now at Los Angeles farmers’ markets (CA is third in the nation in grapefruit production, behind Florida and Texas), so it made sense to give some a try.

Oro Blanco: Larger than a softball, the Oro Blanco is a white grapefruit with lemon-green skin. Nearly half of the fruit is pith, with means it will keep at least a week on the counter, even longer in the refrigerator. The sections of flesh are small, and there are a few seeds. When you cut the Oro Blanco open, you’ll be hit with a strong citrus smell, almost like surface cleaner. The taste is acidic and astringent, almost as mouth puckering as a lemon. There is a mild sweetness, but I found I needed to add a pinch of sugar to eat the whole thing.

White Marsh: Lemon colored, medium sized grapefruit. The white marsh smells refreshing even before it’s cut into. There isn’t much rind to it, so store in the refrigerator. The fruit separates easily into individual sections. The flavor is like natural sour candy- it’s very tart, but the tartness is pleasantly balanced with sweetness. It was the most complex and interesting of the bunch.

Pink: Slightly smaller than a softball, with deep orange skin flecked with pink. The interior is pink. When you cut the pink grapefruit open, you get a natural burst of grapefruit room spray. Sadly, that was my favorite part of the experience. The fruit itself was acidic and astringent. For me, pink grapefruits are best as part of a juice blend.

Ruby Red: The most popular commercial grapefruit. Sadly, none were available at the farmers’ market, so I picked one up at the grocery store (via Texas). The Ruby Red is about the size of a softball, and has a bright orange outside. One the inside, it’s deep pink. The flavor is very sweet- it’s the least complex of all the grapefruits I tried- but, it’s also the most accessible to those new to eating grapefruits.

Pomello: The basketball sized father of the grapefruit. Lemon yellow on the outside, the orange-yellow inside is buried beneath a wall of pith, making it a perfect storage fruit (if you have room for it). It has a soft, sweet flavor, with just a touch of astringency. Very refreshing!

So try a grapefruit. They’re great for you, and taste better than you might think.

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Brunswick Stew

Posted on February 11, 2010. Filed under: one pot, recipe, simmer | Tags: , , |

I have no idea how this wonderful creation avoided my radar for so long. I love southern food, and this stew is a perfect example of why I love it so much.

Brunswick Stew has been cooked in Virginia for at least 150 years, though it’s quite likely versions of the recipe go back at least another 100 years. Brunswick County in Georgia also lays claim to the recipe, but historical evidence seems to support Virginia.

Originally cooked with squirrel, the thick stew is now made primarily with chicken- rabbit and pork often being added as well. Like most traditional dishes, everybody and their uncle has their own version, so feel free to experiment. You can use my recipe, or you can work via poem:

First catch your chicken, clean and cut them.
And in an iron pot you put them
And water nearly to the top
And in it salt and pepper drop
Boil slowly.  Your tomatoes peel;
Put in a shin or so of veal;
And for the flavor, bear in mind,
A chunk of middling with the rind.
Next some onions you throw in,
The young and tender skin,
And butter beans do not forget;
And what is more important yet;
The corn, but do not be too fast,
For you must cut and add it last;
For better than the flour you’ll find it’ll do
To give some thickness to the stew.
Some lemon peel cut very thin
May now be added and stirred in,
And err it’s taken from the fire,
Give it a dash of Worcestershire,
And soon you’ll hear it’s praises ring,
This is a dish fit for a King.
–Virginia S. Woodroof, 1930
Here’s what I did: Cook over medium heat for 10 minutes:1 1/2 Cups Diced Onion 1 Cup Diced Carrots1/2 Cup Diced Celery Add:One Whole Chicken, cooked and shredded1 Pound Smoked Pork Shoulder, shredded1 1/2 Cups Crushed Tomato1 1/2 Cups Chicken Stock1/4 Cup Whiskey 1 Cup Diced Potato2 Teaspoons Dried Thyme2 Teaspoons Black Pepper1 Teaspoon Hot Sauce1 Teaspoon Chili Powder1 Teaspoon Mustard Powder2 Bay Leaves Simmer 45 minutes.Add:1 Cup Frozen Sweet Corn1 Cup Frozen Lima Beans1 Tablespoon Worcestershire Sauce Simmer 15 minutes.Serve. *You have options with the chicken and pork. You could boil the chicken first, making a chicken soup that you use later for the dish. Or you can oven roast it. Or smoke it. Or you can buy a pre-cooked one. Same with the pork- I was able to find a wonderfully smoked pork shoulder. This saves a lot of time!

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Frozen Food Test: Pacific Natural Fire-Baked Thin Crust Pepperoni Pizza

Posted on February 8, 2010. Filed under: frozen, hodgepodge | Tags: , |

I was wandering through the frozen food isle the other day, thinking about how long it had been since I’d eaten anything from it. So I thought it might be an interesting idea to test the quality of frozen foods these days.

First on the list: Hal B. Klein eats a frozen pizza. I chose the Pacific Natural Fire-Baked Thin Crust, with pepperoni. If I’m going to eat a convenience food, it might as well start with a pizza, right?

Pacific Natural is an organic food company located in Oregon. They are known mostly for their organic soups & broths, and have now expanded into boxes teas/mates/nut drinks, as well as frozen pot pies & pizzas.

  • Good Ingredients: Pacific Natural’s pizza is made with better stuff than you’ll find in most frozen pizzas. Crust & sauce contain no high fructose corn syrup. Cheese is made from actual cheese.
  • Pepperoni: Nitrate free pepperoni. Excellent flavor with a hint of spice. Exactly what you want in a pizza topping. (When you want a topping- I’m generally a purist!)
  • Perfect amount of cheese
  • Topping to the edge: A pizza needs an edge. How am I going to hold it if you top it all the way?
  • Not actually a thin crust: You can’t call your pizza thin crust, and then not deliver on it. While we’re talking crust- it didn’t have any give. Too soft, for sure. This is the area that needs most improvement.
  • Sauce too sweet.
  • Took longer to cook than advertised: Box instructions suggest cooking for 12-14 minutes at 400 degrees.  After 12, the pizza looked very undercooked. At 14, it seemed edible, but still not perfect. I ended up leaving it in the oven for 16 minutes. That’s a little too long for something meant to be convenient. One could have a pizza delivered in nearly the same amount of time.

Not bad, but it didn’t make me feel all giddy inside, either. Pacific Natural is trying to build a reputation for wholesome foods; however, unlike their soups, teas, and pies, the “artisan” pizzas contain no organic or sustainable ingredients. Also, they are factory made, which makes them not artisan at all, and I don’t like cheeseball slogans.

Would I get it again? Too soon too tell. My frozen pizza experience is still too limited. It’s a step up from Mama Celeste, at least. But is there really a frozen pizza that will ever satisfy my pizza obsession?
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Hearst Ranch Flank Steak

Posted on February 3, 2010. Filed under: beef, hodgepodge, recipe | Tags: , , , , |

I met Brian Kenny, manager of Hearst Ranch Beef, at the Foodbuzz weekend last November. He took part in a conversation on grass fed beef, and the workings of Hearst Ranch, that had me all kinds of excited about the future of beef in America.

A few weeks later, we followed up with a phone conversation. Kenny spoke more of Hearst’s commitment to careful stewardship of the land. His philosophy (one that I share) is that cows reared on a natural diet, living a stress free life, produce better meat. We also spoke about Kenny’s innovative approach to marketing better beef by supplying convention centers and other large venues.

I love free things, and I love steak, so imagine my happiness when I was offered a gift card for Hearst Ranch beef. This was very nice indeed.

It’s one of those strange SoCal days when it seems perfectly sensible to grill in February. So I made a little spice mix, and put a flank steak over the hot hot hot coals. This beef is fantastic.

Pat one Flank Steak with:
1 Tablespoon Worcestershire Sauce, per side

Rub both sides with spice mix.
I used:
2 Tsp. Salt
2 Tsp. Sugar
1 Tsp. Celery Salt
1 Tsp. Black Pepper
1 Tsp. Garlic Powder
1 Tsp. Onion Powder
1/2 Tsp. Cumin
1/2 Tsp. Chili Powder
1/2 Tsp. Ground Mustard

Don’t overseason. Or underseason.

Let rest for at least one hour, up to twelve hours.

Grill over very hot coals for five minutes per side.
Let rest five minutes before slicing.

*Let the meat come to room temperature before grilling. You’ll notice an improvement in the texture.
*You could cook this on a gas grill, or even broil it, but coals are best for this one. I even added a few wood chunks, too!

*Ask for grass fed beef at your grocery store. If they don’t carry it, tell them they should. Then walk away, without buying any industrial beef. You can order directly from Hearst if you’re having trouble finding well raised cows near you.

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