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AskTP – Raked

October 27, 2014

Late fall hurts. It’s great to get back into the swing of really cooking. Simmering stocks. Stewing beans. Slow roasting end-of-season tomatoes. The raking, I could do without. Still, it’s good practice for the snow shoveling that’s coming. I wouldn’t want to suffer a heart attack because I’m so out of shape.

Complaining aside, the blog has been doing gangbusters lately. It’s likely we have some new readers this week who are not familiar with the semi-regular feature I like to call Ask the Profussor.

Here’s how it works. A long time ago, I committed to answering every single question that was asked in the comments section of the blog. But there’s a catch. The question has to use proper punctuation. What I never committed to was a time frame for providing the answer.

Sometimes I’ll answer questions immediately. Other times I’ll save them for these regular Q&A posts. Questions are separated by the mysterious link of the day. So don’t be shy. If you ever have a question, ask away. You’ll get an answer. Eventually.

The best way to see how this works is to get on to the questions.

daviddoughan had some obvious questions about the Mama Mia’s tragedy:
My question is how can they not know who you are? And why not just make a new pizza?
Lilly echoed the sentiment:
Do they KNOW that you are judging for the tournament, or are you just five or six people coming in for some pizza?

The roving gang of All Over Albany pizza judges neither hid nor announced our presence. That said, the five judges did have their scoresheets and pens laid out in front of them. And any casual glance of the scoresheet header would reveal its intention. Cameras were out to take pictures of the pizzas upon their arrival. And the conversation around the table was all about pizza judging and evaluation. It wouldn’t take a rocket scientist to know we weren’t just a bunch of people there to shove some food in our pizza holes and hit the road.

Why not make us a new pizza? It’s hard to say. I remember working in a restaurant years and years ago. When mistakes were made in the kitchen, management rewarded servers who were able to sell the botched dish to minimize food waste and reduce the strain of a refire on the line. Had we not been there for the TOP, I would have strongly pushed for a remake of the pie as soon as the problem was identified. However, we have to judge what each shop chooses to put in front of us. And Mama Mia thought it would be a good idea to dump unseasoned boiled broccoli on top of a white pizza. They got the score that they deserved. But that doesn’t make it any less tragic.

Mister Dave may be a hipster because he loves switchel but hates the $12 Whole Foods price:
Weren’t you just talking about the culinary exploitation of our ol’ timey farm-house traditions yesterday? This is a firm example to support your point.

It was something like that, but I don’t think I would put it in such terms. What did I say? Oh, look. Fortunately, I wrote it down. I pointed out, “we are stealing food from the poor.” Regardless, I think your example still holds as a proof text. Thanks for being ever vigilant.

Burnt My Fingers must not remember a post I wrote for The Chefs’ Consortium:
Used to be Whole Foods only carried Niman Ranch uncured hams (the “petite” ones you mention) because they did not believe in selling foods with nitrites (of course, the foods cured with the nitrites in celery juice did not count). Interesting that they appear to be selling other charcuterie which is presumably cured with nitrites, or is it? La Quercia does make some “nitrite free” products but they are hard to come by. Can you give us a bit more insight on this? And while you’re at it, how about a rant on the hypocrisy of “uncured” meats?

Below is the blurb I wrote for the Chefs’ Consortium all the way back in 2012, I think it covers all the questions you had on the matter. Unfortunately, this piece seems to have been scrubbed from the CC website in its multiple format changes and server transitions. No matter, because I still have the original:

Here’s a very simplified version of the debate. Consumers have been conditioned that nitrates and nitrites are bad things. However, they are important to bacon, ham and some kinds of sausages. If it’s pink inside, even when it’s cooked, that’s the result of these compounds. The process is called curing.

Interestingly these compounds are found naturally in vegetables and are highly concentrated in things like celery juice powder. When these naturally sourced ingredients are used, the label can call its contents uncured, even though that’s clearly not the case. The meat is still pink. It’s still preserved. It looks cured, acts like it’s cured, and used the same chemical compounds. So I’m calling it cured.

However, it’s not just marketing. There are some who are concerned that industrial sodium nitrite might contain nasty things like residual traces of heavy metals, arsenic and lead.

So I’m very glad that Vermont Smoke and Cure does no such thing and relies solely on natural occurring chemical compounds to produce a Summer Sausage which in other hands is often nothing more than a factory produced meat byproduct. One would expect an industrially produced meat log to be shelf stable at temperatures up to 80-degrees Fahrenheit for up to six months, but for a small batch, naturally made version of this supermarket staple to do the same thing is amazing.

Jessica R. is somehow conflating fish sticks with chicken nuggets:
“hand-formed gourmet chicken nuggets”
We’re already seeing something like this.
Wasn’t it you excited about fish sticks from fin?

Surely, I was not the only one who was excited for fin’s handmade sustainably sourced fish sticks. But excited I was. To be clear though, these were not the fish equivalent to chicken nuggets. The fin fish sticks were solid strips of fish filets that were breaded and ready for a crisping in the oven. I was glad for the convenience of this childhood staple, but other have suggested trying to make this simple dish myself. It’s something I should probably do. However, it’s going to have to wait until CSA season is over. Our evenings have been erratic over the past few weeks, and we’re facing a significant backlog of produce.

Josh K. has a few specific questions about the AOA TOP final:
What was your opinion of having the general populace do the voting in the final found?
Also, did you think being served the lukewarm pizza hurt the pizza?

I loved having the public vote in the final round. It warmed my heart that the people’s choice for best pie went to Marino’s. It was a great shop, and they made a delicious meat pie with homemade sausage and homemade meatballs. Combined with a spicy pepperoni, it’s no surprise that it was the popular favorite.

Going into the final, I suspected that the judges and the public would come to the same conclusions. Amazingly, that played out in practice too. The scores of both groups gave DeFazio’s the stronger veggie pie, with Marino’s taking the meat category. And both groups gave DeFazio’s the overall win. While the public vote may not have been unanimous, all of the judges were in agreement.

When you get pizza for takeout, getting it lukewarm is the unavoidable trade off for convenience. Granted, one could always reheat it at home. But then you’re cooking it twice, and ultimately changing whatever it was the pizzeria made in the first place. I do not endorse takeout or delivery. Sadly, for most people, takeout and delivery is how they normally eat pizza. The TOP replicates this and tries to do it as fairly as possible. I salute them for the effort.

Does a cooler temperature hurt the pizza? You bet. But it’s an even playing field that replicates real world conditions. I encourage everyone to call ahead to reserve a table at DeFazio’s and try it hot. It’s even better. Then drive out to Schenectady and get a pie from Marino’s, because it is also better right out of the oven in its time-worn dining room.

Burnt My Fingers sounds like he’s feeling the hardship of the ancient seafaring journey:
No leaven for the bread? Maybe Christopher Columbus had his own stash of sourdough, but I doubt it since he demands flour with the salt already mixed in.

I’m going to trust the Mariners’ Museum on this one. And remember, they say that despite it all, Columbus made sure his crew ate well relative to other expeditions.

-R is singing the praises for simple food well done from The Grille at 138:
I felt the preparation, presentation, service and quality ranked it as one of the finer meals I’ve had out in some time, as well as being a decent value. Nothing too exotic or challenging (hell, when’s the last time you saw meatloaf on a menu that’s not at a diner?)

Um… not to take away from your review or pleasant dining experience, but a quick peek on Yelp reveals meatloaf has been on the menu at New World Bistro Bar, Albany Pump Station, Blu Stone Bistro, Mingle, Standard, Creo, Justin’s, Taste, The Cheesecake Factory, O’Toole’s, The Ginger Man, Milestone, Illium Cafe, Chez Mike, and more. It’s very possible that most times people just turn a blind eye to meatloaf on the menu. Much like seeing tripe on Italian menus everywhere in Old Forge, PA. After a while, it just blends into the background.

Weenie Girl noticed we skipped the flight of wine but got the flight of sorbet, and wondered:
You use the word “flight” several times. What does it mean in this context?

Generally speaking, in food terms a flight is a series of similar items served at the same time. So you could have a flight of butters, where you are presented with five different examples of the form. The fun is to taste them side by side so that one can really experience their unique differences. When doing wine tastings, I prefer a minimum of four glasses in a flight, because it’s a more interesting intellectual exercise. I do wonder if the wine flight at Taste isn’t more like a pairing (in which they bring you one glass of wine with each course). But I’ll have to get back there to find out.

Elyse gently implied my list of small, cheap and unique restaurants was incomplete:
Have you ever tried the Dutch Pot (Jamaican food) in Albany? The food there is excellent- and inexpensive!

I haven’t. The Masticating Monkey said good things about this place when he was writing for All Over Albany. The reason it didn’t make my list however, is that there are a handful of tasty Jamaican restaurants in the area. My list was really supposed to highlight things that in some way are one of a kind. That said, I’m really glad you mentioned the Dutch Pot in the comments, because it too deserves more attention than it gets.

Innae Park as if to prove my point about good places existing under the radar:
ugh, so sad to hear about Shwe Mandalay before I could get there. AND THERE’S A PERSIAN RESTAURANT IN SCHENECTADY?! done.

See? This place got three posts on the Table Hopping Blog and a positive casual dining write up by Bryan Fitzgerald in the Times Union. Yet most people still haven’t heard of it. It’s almost as if the Times Union could really benefit from having some brash, deeply opinionated, and occasionally controversial advocate for better food, screaming about these such things from the rooftops.

But I got the pretty clear impression they aren’t interested in that.

caravan70 is doing a good job of making me jealous, even if that may not be his intention:
I should add that this time I took her to La Taqueria on Mission… maybe a staple in your SF days? ;) I figure giving her the opportunity to make up her own mind allows me the chance to tour every Mexican place South of Market once again. And that’s a circumstance I won’t reject.

If any of the SF Mission taquerias ever made it to the level of staple in my diet, it would have to be Pancho Villa. The place was great. It may not have the cache of La Taqueria, but their carne asada was ridiculous. Burritos are just massive, and as I got older, I tended to veer away from this giant meat and fat tubes in favor of the infinitely more moderate street tacos.

The one thing I do regret is the number of substandard burritos I ate during my time out west just because they were convenient. Oh, what I wouldn’t give to have those calories back, and the opportunity to have eaten more of the best burritos of my life in their place.

It’s true what they say. Youth is wasted on the young.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. October 27, 2014 12:10 pm

    Hipster? I am pretty much the anti-hipster… In any event, I do have 5 gallons of apple cider vinegar doing its thing in my basement. A lot of switchel is in my future.

  2. albanylandlord permalink
    October 28, 2014 1:32 am

    Thanks for the great mystery link, that blog is interesting and entertaining so far.

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