I Pity the Fool
The weather is glorious today. In Miami, fall is spring, and we are finally getting temperatures that make outdoor life bearable. I may actually DO something, like painting the soffit that was repaired months ago.
No, surely not.
I had a great experience last night. I went on a fast this week, and the end point was 6 p.m. yesterday. I was planning to make sourdough garlic rolls and pizza (in moderate portions, since I was fasting partly to keep gluttony out of my life), but my father offered to buy me dinner. He took me to Randazzo’s Little Italy, a restaurant run by a former boxer. I love this place. They play The Godfather nearly all the time, on big screens, and the food is pretty much what I would cook if I were Italian. Giant portions of red and white food, and it’s all tasty.
Last time I was there, I had rigatoni with neckbones and sausage, and I told the maitre d’ they needed to brine the neckbones in baking soda to kill the boar taint. I don’t know if they’re doing it or what, but last night, the neckbones were totally stench-free. Delicious. And the waiter grated a big pile of extra romano on a side plate, just because I asked for a heavy dose. That’s how you run a restaurant, baby. A lot of places cook pansy food that looks healthy but isn’t and tastes like silk flowers, to satisfy people who can’t get real about what they want. Randazzo’s puts a feed on, and you’re expected to take it like a man. The menu tells people that if they have high cholesterol, they should go eat Chinese food.
I enjoyed my dad’s company, and the food was fantastic, and I even had the sneaky pleasure of knowing my own food is a little bit better. On the way home, my dad made a special cell call to Mike to torment him with a description of the food we ate. All in all, I give the event a 9.
I am the opposite of a food snob. I completely understand beer snobbery and whisky snobbery, since good beer and whisky are a thousand times better than bad. But I do not understand frou-frou girly food. Give me twenty bucks, and I can make a dinner for four that will bring my guests to their knees. A great biscuit is better than boring pate. I guess Mr. Randazzo feels the same way. His ingredients seem very ordinary, but the food rocks. Good cooking isn’t about innovation or cleverness or expensive ingredients. It’s about knowing what tastes good, pure and simple. It reminds me of what Glenn Gould said: “You don’t play the piano with your fingers. You play it with your mind.” Good pianists say you can play anything you can hear. I think a determined cook can cook any dish he is capable of conceiving and appreciating. If you can imagine the taste, and your instincts are good, you will eventually be a great cook.
I can’t find the exact wording of the Gould quotation, but I think it’s right.
I’m fooling with sourdough today. I’m not sure how to work it. The first batch I made fermented for one day, and then I added yeast and let it rise. Last week, I made a batch to store in the freezer, and I let it ferment for two days, and it rose without yeast. This is interesting, because I’m sure sourdough without yeast has its own great qualities, but I don’t know how to manage it.
I will explain.
When I made the first batch, it fermented enough to taste good and have a great texture, but it didn’t rise until I added yeast. I put the yeast in and then formed rolls, and then it rose. This took around two hours, so the dough stayed in the shapes I created. If I use bacteria alone, I believe the rise will take a lot longer. This will probably cause the dough knots to melt back together overnight, and that would mess up the rolls. You want them to come apart in pieces.
I decided to take some dough out of the freezer, form it into a loaf and some rolls, and see what happened. I suspect the bacteria ate so much of the sugar in the dough that the dough will not poof up again, but you never know.
I’ve noticed that the fermentation makes the dough very sticky, as though it had extra water. So I guess next time I’ll have to cut the water back by maybe 5%. Maybe it’s just the gluten, absorbing water overnight. I don’t know. I am not a real baker.
I’d like to learn to make breakfast rolls with this stuff. If you’ve traveled to Europe, you may have had fresh-baked hard rolls with a continental breakfast. The ones I’m thinking of have a shiny crust, and they’re chewy. I’d like to make something similar with sourdough. I think it would be one of the greatest breakfasts possible. I already make croissant-type deals full of chocolate or strawberry and cheesecake filling, and if you put hard sourdough rolls next to them, along with strong, sweet hot chocolate, you’d have the makings of paradise.
My two favorite breakfasts are a Kentucky breakfast (country ham, biscuits, et cetera) and McDonald’s with ketchup on the side. After that, continental breakfast with butter and really good preserves. After that, eggs Benedict. So the rolls are clearly a priority.
I wanted to do sourdough biscuits, but I wasn’t sure how. I think the fermentation would kill the baking soda, and the biscuits wouldn’t rise. And the texture would be funny, because the gluten would activate. It occurred to me this morning that maybe the answer is to sour the milk, not the dough. Of course, that would be a lot like buttermilk biscuits, wouldn’t it? But as I understand it, the buttermilk we buy in stores is fake and doesn’t taste like the real thing. I wouldn’t know; my mom used to get the real thing when she was a kid, but she is no longer around to tell me what it was like. I suspect the sourdough bacteria would give a different result. Can’t hurt to find out. I can set some milk out with sourdough culture in it and see what happens. Ohhhh….hey! What if I gave up on the biscuits and made sourdough GRAVY? Oh, man. THAT’S an idea.
If I could make it with cultured milk, I could freeze the milk in advance. What convenience.
Now I’m thinking about croissants. Some day if I love someone enough to do it, I should make a big continental breakfast with pain au chocolat, strawberry cheesecake croissants, and sourdough rolls. That would KILL.
I wish I had a source for real butter. The expensive stuff they sell in stores (Plugra, and so on) is no good. If you’ve ever had fresh (churned) butter from an actual cow, you know what I mean. Maybe the crud in the churn gives it flavor.
I made the mistake of watching The Food Network while fasting. I watched Man Versus Food. It’s a show in which a guy goes around trying to eat challenging objects.
I respected some of the things he ate. There was a greasy roast beef sandwich that looked good, and the same place also served roast beef combined with a cheeseburger and sauteed onions. But for the most part, it seemed like the restaurateurs simply took ordinary food and made it larger. That’s not cooking. That’s engineering. Boring. I make a lot of big food, but generally, there is more to it than size. For example, I make chicken-fried steak on a Frisbee-sized biscuit, but I use a home-aged rib eye instead of a nasty chunk of cube steak with varicose veins, so it’s not like I just added weight. Anyone can make food bigger. I can’t get excited about that.
The show is good, even if the food is not always interesting.
I also enjoyed a show about cheap restaurants. The title is “Something, Drive-Ins, and Dives.” I forget. A guy with bleached hair traveled from place to place, checking out great cheap food. I particularly liked a Mexican place he found. They operate out of a Shell station. Seriously. A Mexican family put a restaurant kitchen in there, and the food is supposedly really good.
I keep thinking of my dream of opening a pizza place. I won’t rule it out. I’ve learned so much at my church, I can crank out six dozen garlic rolls in twenty minutes, starting from zero. Pizza is also pretty fast, and if I used sourdough, it would be even faster, because I could do prep days in advance. And I still haven’t had a cheesecake that compares to mine (Randazzo’s has a very good one, though).
Maybe some day. God has to open the door and show me a way. Restaurants are really bad investments, because they almost always fail, so you don’t want to start one without a higher power stacking the cards.
Randazzo’s was inspiring. It shows how well one good cook can do, if things work out.Stumble it! Save This Page