On this week’s ‘Not My Job’ segment of the NPR quiz show Wait, Wait…Don’t Tell Me!, the guest is food expert Sam Sifton, creator and editor of New York Times Cooking for the paper’s app and site. He and host Peter Sagal have a very personable conversation about the world of restaurant reviewing, which he did previously, before getting into recipes. Though their talk about recipes is fun, as well.
Here's another of those "50 People Try to..." videos from Epicurious. Today's is about tossing pizza dough. I figured that this would be a good time to post it, since it's Pizza Night.
One of my treats during the pandemic is that I make pizza every week from scratch, happily using my pizza stone and pizza paddle. The one caveat is that the reason I used to rarely have pizza is I try to keep my fat intake down -- and pizza simply has only a rare place in that world. But I make it close to non-fat. No oil in the dough (though more spices) and Trader Joe's has a variety of very low-fat shredded cheeses. They don't have much flavor or melt well, but they add a proper texture that you want. Then I add a lot of toppings like onion, olives, chopped tomatoes, jalepenos, and bell pepper and whatever else hits my fancy. Often anchovy paste, which I love but wouldn't put on for guests... And all that is where the flavor comes from, not the cheese.
Is it good like a real pizza? No, not even close. But is it tasty? Yes, very much so. The dough has fresh, yeast flavor, there's a nice tomato sauce, and all the toppings are delicious. It's just not a "real pizza." But for someone who loves pizza but rarely eats it, this has been a treat -- and especially so during the pandemic, when one tends to need a treat.
Unlike the video here on tossing the dough, I mainly stretch it flat, and occasionally use the “droop” method. Not only am I not good as spinning, but it sends flour all over the place. I was intrigued by the expert at the end, but I won’t say more about that, other than I was glad to know that I come pretty close. Also, I use a pizza peel (paddle) and put corn flour on it that acts as sort of like ball bearings, so the pizza dough slides off easily onto the pizza stone I use.
I know a lot of friends have been periodically ordering takeout from restaurants during the pandemic. And I understand why, and that they've been safe. And I understand the interest in supporting restaurants. I haven't done so, though. It just wasn't worth the health risk to me. I knew it was likely safe, but I also knew I was fine cooking at home.
I did order takeout once at the very beginning of the shutdown. There's a good pizza place a couple blocks from me, and I wanted to give them my business. So, I ordered a pizza and walked over to pick it up. But I think that was last February, and I haven't eaten restaurant food since, for over a year.
As I've written here, I've had my two vaccinations, and the two week waiting period has ended. And my friend, the inveterate Chris Dunn has had this two shots, as well, and passed the waiting period. And that set up the idea of getting together to order takeout at some place, and bringing it back to one of our homes and eating it there, perhaps outside. Therein lies the tales.
Not long before the pandemic, Chris introduced me to a new restaurant, Hotville Chicken that was one of the leaders of a new style of food being introduced into the Los Angeles area. It's called "Nashville hot chicken," and basically is fried chicken served very moist and with a particular hot and spicy bread coating. Hotville has its direct history in Nashville, coming from the family that invented the style, rather than being just a local restaurant participating in the trend.
And its reputation was high. Los Angeles magazine rated them as the best in the area. And the New York Times even wrote about the place -- very well, noting that "the result is juicy, seasoned to the bone, crisp and crimson.". And yes, it's hot. Hotville has four levels of heat, and double-check that you've been there before if you ask for just the second hottest level. (I think they may have a fifth level that's off the menu.) The New York Times article begins this way --
At the bar, a man insisted on Hotville’s hottest level of hot chicken (“Nashville hot”), though he hadn’t tasted medium or even mild before. The cooks had seen this a hundred times, and when the chicken came out — a large, gleaming quarter of a bird — a teasing call came from the kitchen: “Hot enough for you?”
It was very good. Very friendly, as well. I got The Shaw sandwich, which is a chicken breast in a substantial bun, some pickles, a side of kale slaw -- and a mound of seasoned fries, for $12. I think I ordered it at the second level of heat -- fairly mild but with a good kick. But I also love chicken wings, so I ordered their small portion to take home. And tried the level three head. The "small" is four massive wings, and was absolutely wonderful. And definitely hot, but no uncomfortably so. But good to have water at hand.
The place is a bit of a drive in the Crenshaw district of Baldwin Hills, located in a large shopping mall. But I was looking forward to going back. And then the pandemic hit. Fortunately, Hotville Chicken was able to survive because they have a small outdoor patio, and there's a big park nearby with tables. Plus, it's a food that travels well.
By the way, this is The Shaw. To be clear, the photo makes it look like a small slider, so you get two. In fact, it's a big chicken breast, a bit larger than your fist, and you just get one.
Anyway, after my second vaccination, and as I neared the two-week mark, I wrote to Chris about going back after he had his own second shot and two-week waiting period. His response was, "How about going next Thursday." Hey, good enough for me!
The restaurant inside was blocked off, but they seemed to be doing respectable business. It was slow when we got there early -- which was the point of going early -- but by the time we finished eating on the patio, there were half a dozen people waiting for their orders.
I ordered the same this time -- The Shaw sandwich and chicken wings to go -- although Chris and I both had now graduated to that third heat level (what they call Music City Medium). The heat level was great, it was definitely necessary to have water at hand, but not "burning." That said, Chris discovered one issue worth noting -- while dining on Music City Medium was fine, when you put your face mask back on (which also makes it really hard to drink water...), the lingering heat really kicks in. Fortunately, he finished first, so I learned my lesson from him, took my time, and drank a lot of water after the meal. All was well. For me, at least.
And I look forward to the chicken wings for my next meal at home. (Again, I'm not sure if the photo does them justice, but each wing is about six inches across.)
Anyway, going there -- or anywhere, for my first trip to a restaurant in a year -- was a total joy. On the one hand, it was a weird experience, actually ordering from a restaurant. On the other hand, I just fell right into it, and it seemed totally normal. Even Chris's legendary "four stories" (which he explains are the only four he knows, and so "Stop me if I've told you this one...") were a treat to hear again. And contrary to his insistence, he's added new stories, as well. What helped, too, was that it was delicious – and getting extra to take home.
(Total digression. One new Dunn story came after our conversation moved to Billy Wilder. I mentioned having seen Wilder at a Writers Guild event for a Q&A after one of his movies screened, and I repeated a story he told about Sabrina that William Holden had co-starred in. Chris mentioned tracking down this video from the 1978 Academy Awards.)
I have a few other friends who are also past the two-week waiting period after their second vaccinations, so more takeout is in the future. I know for many people who have been ordering takeout from restaurants the past year, this is no big deal. It was for me.
With the Super Bowl coming on Sunday, I thought we'd head back to the kitchens of Epicurious for another of their "50 People Try to..." videos. Since big party gatherings will generally (oh, please...) be avoided this year, events should be much smaller and simpler. So, with that in mind here are "50 People Try to Open a Champagne Bottle." This isn't as convoluted as must, but there are some fun moments -- and stick around for the end, where they expert has a bonus.
After another day of the impeached Trump handing out pardons like Halloween treats this week alone to mass murderers, convicted felons who wouldn't testify against him, and the father of his son-in-law who set up his own brother-in-law with a hooker and videotaped it. -- none of them showing remorse or turning their lives around with good deeds -- I decided I needed a palate cleanser.
I was going to write about Joe Biden's great press conference on Tuesday, where he blisteringly took Russia to task, blamed them for attacking the U.S. on Trump's watch -- noting that Trump wasn't watching and making clear they should be held accountable and that he would do so if Trump didn't. But good as that was, it was pretty much what you expect for a President. (Although, admittedly, Biden isn't a President yet, and you don't really expect it from a President-Elect. But then when the actual president is AWOL, popping up only for pardoning remorseless convicted felons and vetoing a defense bill, the President Elect pretty much has to step in...
Instead we're going to go with Mark Bucher.
Mark Bucher owns the Medium Rare steakhouses in Washington, D.D. and Arlington, Virginia. He was on MSNBC yesterday morning talking about his Feed the Fridge initiative, getting free food to those in need, sort of a local version of what the great Chef Jose Andres has built on a national scale. It was wonderful, but what stood out was his enthusiasm to get the government involved, as well as other restaurants.
You can read a very good interview with him here, but to go along with that, here is that interview from yesterday, only 3-4 minutes and worth every moment.
I thought I'd see if I could find one of the fun "50 people try to make..." videos from Epicurious that would Thanksgiving-related. And I did, and it was perfect for a few reasons. And those reasons mean, too, that this will be a bit different than the others we post here. This is for making cranberry sauce.
The main reason this is perfect is because making cranberry sauce seems to scare people off and instead they buy it from a can. And making cranberry sauce is SO mind-numbingly easy -- I mean truly brain-dead easy, literally not much more difficult than opening a can, though it takes a little more time -- and it is SO much better than canned that it's almost like eating a different food. In fact, cranberry sauce is even easier to make than the professional Epicurious chef describes it at the end, since he says you should keep stirring it all the time, and I've never done that. I stir it a few times at the beginning and a couple times as it cooks, but I don't stand over the pot stirring.
Also, this was perfect because it allows me to present a recipe to show how easy it is. And it's perfect too since it lets me present my own twist on the easy recipe that is almost as easy, and soooooooo much better. I love making cranberry sauce not only because it's so easy and people are impressed that he actually made it, but also because the end result is so much better than people think it will be.
First, here's the video. It's a lot of fun, especially when knowing ahead how bizarrely and ridiculously easy it is -- and delicious.
Okay, first, here's how actually easy it is to make.
I package of cranberries
1 cup of water
1 cup of sugar
Yes, that's it. Pour the water and sugar in the pot, stir and bring the mixture to a slow simmer. Then, dump in the bag of cranberries, stir, cook for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.
And that's all. Really. It truly isn't much more difficult than opening a can. And it's delicious, and tastes like a real fruit, because it is. To even think of gelatin cranberries makes me shudder. You could probably eat it hot, but I refrigerate it until its cool.
But here's my recipe to make it even better. You can adapt the amounts according to your taste.
I package of cranberries
3/4 cup of water
1/4 cup of sherry
3/4 cup of sugar
In this version, start by cutting the apple into cranberry-sized pieces. Why apple rather than orange peel and orange juice like many recipes suggest (including the Epicurious chef)? A few reasons. First, orange peel is bitter and orange juice is acidic, and since cranberries are bitter to begin with, I think the sweetness of apples are a better complimentary mix. Second, because apples are so sweet, you can use less sugar (which also brings the calories down). Third, apples have natural pectin, so it creates it's own "gelatin." And finally, I think the mixture of cranberries and apples is SO delicious because (to me) it almost tastes like strawberries. And to give full credit, I got this tip as a little kid from my Grandma Rose. Her main focus was on the natural pectin.
And to those concerned about the alcohol from the sherry, know that boiling the sherry cooks the alcohol out of it. But if you don't want the sherry, fine, leave it out and just use a cup of water. But I think it adds a rich flavor.
You make the dish almost the same way. Bring the water, sherry and sugar to a slow simmer. (Let it boil enough to cook the alcohol out.) Mix in the bag of cranberries and the chopped up apples. Stir, cook for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.
And that's it. Ideally, let it cool. And taste it -- if you feel that the apples didn't sweeten it enough for your taste, just mix in some more sugar until it's how you like it.
But that's how easy it is to make cranberry sauce. And to make it even better.
With the weekend just around the corner, I thought it would be a good time to head back into the kitchens of Epicurious for one of their Basic Skills Challenges. This time, 50 people try to make...pancakes.
Since so many people are still doing much of their own cooking these days, we head back into the kitchen with Epicurious magazine. And this time, the ask 50 people to try and make an over easy egg. Which you would think might be...well, easy. But the fun is not only how many people don't even know what an "over easy egg" is -- but also to watch their expert going into more specifics than you might expect on doing it right.
On this week’s Al Franken podcast, his guest is Andrew Zimmern, who hosted MSNBC’s excellent series, What’s Eating America. If you haven’t seen any episodes (I’ve seen a few, not all), the show is very well-done and offers a unique perspective on its subject -- food. As Franken writes, “Turns out food is important. Andrew Zimmern, host and producer of MSNBC’s new series, What’s Eating America talks about the intersection of food and health, immigration, climate, and addiction – including his own harrowing journey to sobriety and grace.” This latter episode is one that I did see, and it was terrific -- open and fascinating.
Since people tend to have a lot of time to spend in the kitchen these days, we're going to head back for one of those "50 People Try to..." videos from Epicurious. And today we have something pretty basic, but the fun is discovering that it's not that basic for everyone -- how to pancakes.
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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