10.10.2008

Pizza Dough

Have you ever tried to make pizza dough from scratch? About a year and a half ago I decided I was going to have more control over our food and make pizza dough at home from scratch – instead of always buying pizza at Costco, as delicious and cost effective as that is. I searched recipes, decided I wanted to make whole wheat pizza crust, bought the more expensive whole wheat flour and proceeded to make pizza crust. I was happy with myself with the healthy choice for my family I was making.

So I began one morning, preparing the dough, getting the yeast to foam, using the bread hook on my countertop mixer, put the dough in one of my Pyrex bowls, placed it in a warm spot in my kitchen to rise and left it alone. The appropriate time later, according to the recipe, I came back and no rise in my dough or at least certainly not enough! So I let it longer thinking the kitchen was not warm enough. Nothing. Nada. Zip. I turned the oven on low to warm things up, set the bowl near the vent on top of the stove – not much better. I went to plan “B” for dinner that night.

I though perhaps it was the yeast, it had not expired but I only had it a few months. I bought more yeast and a few weeks later tried again. Same results. I was frustrated, but I was going to concur this challenge! I found another recipe and tried again, this time using a bit more yeast, thinking that might help. The weather was warmer, so I put the dough out side in the sun to rise and left it for twice the specified time. Still no success – we went to Costco for pizza that night, I was very frustrated.

I let the project rest for a few months, even though the “third time” was NOT the charm, I still wanted to try and rise to the challenge. But how to do so. I read some stuff on whole wheat flour, and finally found an actual whole wheat flour pizza crust recipe – not just the pizza crust recipes I had been working from and substituting whole wheat for regular white flour. The whole wheat flour pizza crust recipe I found called for just a little bit more white flour than whole wheat flour proportionately. Apparently, whole wheat flour does not rise the same as white flour – go figure!

I bought more yeast, new whole wheat flour (I had used up the bag I had on all my “errors”), and new white flour – just to be safe. I combined the feature of one recipe I thought sounded good, with fresh rosemary in the crust, along with my new whole wheat pizza crust, and viola! The dough did not rise as much as I thought it would, but it sure rose a lot more than my three other attempts. I was so excited to finally be serving homemade whole wheat pizza that night!

We agreed that it had a good flavor, with rosemary and sea salt, but that it was still more like flat bread than the airy pizza crusted you get at a pizza place. And at least I can better control what is on the pizza like homemade red sauce, low fat mozzarella cheese and turkey pepperoni (don’t tell my husband!)

10.07.2008

Calgary

Last month we were in Calgary on business, and had the opportunity to discover a few delicious meals along the way.

We started off downtown on our first night at Milestone’s. We had walked about looking for recommendations, and got a few for types of fare that don’t always appeal to us, so we set out to discover. It was a drizzly evening, very fall-esque at the end of summer; we wanted some place that seemed cozy and warm.

After walking all around we ended up across the street from our hotel at Milestone’s. It was cozy because we were inside, and chose a table in the bar right next to a “window wall” so we could watch the city-goers on their way home for the evening. We started off with Yummy Yam Fritters (good, but needed more) with Moroccan spice mayo and chipotle mayo, and Milestone’s famous hot spinach & artichoke dip – we always try to try this when it is on the menu at a restaurant. Then we progressed to Roasted Garlic Caesar salad (delicious), Roasted Corn & Potato Chowder (not what I expected, it was a tomato based broth, not cream, but good), and Bocconcini Garlic Bread (not what we expected in garlic bread with an olive tapenade and sundried tomatoes). The atmosphere was lovely, and on our first night in town it was nice to be able to be close to “home” when we were finished.

The next morning we stopped at the Avenue Diner, also downtown. We had discovered the Avenue Diner the evening before when we were looking for a dinner spot, although they are only open for breakfast and lunch. Avenue Diner is an upscale diner with an “urban eats” menu. We sat at the last table in the long, skinny diner right by the kitchen – which was great. I got to see the staff working in the kitchen as they prepared all the items for other diner. We ordered their traditional eggs with Yukon Gold potatoes, multigrain toast and your choice of smoked bacon, maple buffalo sausage or spicy Cappicolla – we choice the bacon and sausage and shared. I always like some salsa, or barbeque sauce in a pinch, on my scrambled eggs. They didn’t have either, but offered some roasted red pepper jelly. The chef combined a small amount of the jelly with my eggs, it was delicious!! The potatoes were great, the bread and homemade on-site jelly was wonderful, and we really enjoyed both the sausage and bacon.

As we enjoyed our meal, I saw some wonderful things coming out of the kitchen, including waffles and an amazing looking yogurt parfait with homemade granola, Greek style yogurt and berry compote.

I also noticed a few other things on the menu that looked mouthwatering, so I knew we needed to return before the end of our trip. We made it back on our last morning and had the burrito with scrambled eggs, refried beans, Yukon Gold had and the delicious homemade roasted red pepper jelly I had the other morning; and “The Ultimate” fried egg sandwich with smoked bacon, tomato, aged Cheddar cheese, basil and aioli. We shared; I started with the fried egg sandwich, my Honey started with the burrito. Both were delicious. The egg sandwich was warm and rich and creamy and delicious. The burrito was spicy and incredible. I was glad I started with the egg sandwich and moved to the spicy burrito. My Honey wished he had done the same, since the egg sandwich seemed a bit bland in comparison – but was not on its own.

We also found the Lion’s Den for breakfast one morning, which was right across from the Calgary Stampede fairgrounds. It had been there for a long time, and was still decorated from the 1970’s. They had a lot of stuff from the 1984 Winter Olympics, and the owner Rick had lots of stories to share. I honesty can’t remember what we had for breakfast – something very traditional, but obviously not earth shattering.

We also had burgers at one of the casinos one night, because my Honey wanted a buffalo burger. The burgers were great, and when asked if I wanted a bite of the buffalo burger and was told that it was more gamey than traditional beef that was it for me – no thanks!

So if you are ever in Calgary I HIGHLY recommend the Avenue Diner downtown for breakfast or lunch. I can’t wait until our next trip up there (when ever that might be…) to try the rest of their menu!!

10.05.2008

Big Fresno Fair BBQ Contest

The Big Fresno Fair held its annual BBQ Contest and Chili Cook-Off yesterday. These were just the contests for a rainy morning on a fall morning in Fresno, especially since it had been 97 degrees on Wednesday!

There were a number of categories for BBQ – Healthy Choice, Seafood, Poultry, Pork, Beef, Juniors and Winners’ Circle. Winners’ Circle consists of the winners of the first five categories from the previous year. There are a number of contestants who enter year after year, it’s a fair-time social event for them; and there were a few new contestants as well.

I got to sample a few things - Ani’s Hawaiian Shrimp, Bulldog Bob’s decadent bread, Ashleigh’s Chile-Lime Shrimp with Mango Salsa, Kevin’s Korean BBQ Beef with Kimchee Style Slaw, and Dylan’s Pineapple Polo Baby Backs. Eating on the fly in the midst of the contest is always a challenge, but I have learned that if I don’t do it when they offer me something, samples will be long gone when the contests are done and I have time to sample. That’s what happened with Vern’s Chicken Fajitas, oh well, I will just have to make them myself. The fajitas sure looked amazing, though.

The most talked about dish was young Dylan’s Pineapple Polo Baby Backs. Dylan was in the Junior division with Ashleigh. The ribs were incredibly tender, juicy and moist, but the sauce…oh, the sauce! It was delicious! The sauce was thick, sweet, rich. I’d like to try that sauce on a few other things as well – scrambled eggs, pork roast…

The judges could not say enough about Dylan’s dish. So during the comment phase of the awards ceremony (I always ask the judges to collectively come up with some positive constructive comments for the Junior Division participants) they said they thought Dylan should find the best culinary school he could afford and enroll as soon as he is eligible! He’s only 16 and still eligible for the Junior division next year. I have never heard the judges talk about ANY contestant’s faire, in the seven years I have helped with this contest, as they did yesterday about Dylan’s! Way to go young dude! (I secretly wonder if we should have a “best of show” dish, Dylan probably would have won this year. But with two panels of judges, judging different categories, I don’t know if that would work so smoothly or efficiently.)

Anyway, here are the first place results:

Junior – Dylan’s Pineapple Polo Baby Backs
Seafood – Ani’s Hawaiian Shrimp Bar-b-que
Healthy Choice – Veleda’s Surf & Turf Lettuce Wraps
Poultry – Vern’s Chicken Fajitas (served as soft tacos)
Pork – Garo’s Jo Jo’s Smoked Pork Sandwich
Beef – Michael’s Bogoli Barbeque
Winner’s Circle – Kevin’s Korean BBQ Beef Short Ribs with Kimchee Style Slaw
Chili – Carmen’s Chili a la Mexicana

I was able to connect with a few of the contestants at the end of the competition to ask if I could share their recipes at hollysdiner.com, and some granted permission. So I have four recipes to share with you on the recipe page. They are all blue ribbon winners, including Dylan’s soon-to-be-famous ribs. Enjoy!

10.03.2008

Chicken Charlie's

Chicken Charlie is a staple on the Fair circuit. Charlie is also the darling of the media at many Fair’s in the past few years. In Fresno right now, a local TV station does their afternoon and three evening anchor broadcasts from the Fair. They are in the middle of a major walk way with a scrim in the back to shade the light, while still allowing the “Fair” through. So their “backdrop” ends up being Chicken Charlie’s.

Charlie tries to come up with something new to serve each year. Whether the item “has legs” to stick around or not, is not the issue. It’s about something new to talk about, something new for the local media to cover and a new reason for fairgoers to visit his stand – along with the tried and true favorites.

Now Charlie obviously sells chicken, his famous broasted chicken to be exact. But he is also the fry king. He fries fries (of course), avocados (which are pretty good!), tomatoes (which turn to mush), Oreos, zucchini, Twinkies with a topping (the “start” of the fry-anything craze, but not very good – the best part of the Twinkie fresh out of the wrapper is the filling in the middle and it melts during the deep fry phase to become a runny mess), frog legs, onion strips, a chicken sandwich, chicken kebob (the only thing not fried and very good), veggie platter (onion strips, zucchini and mushrooms), Fried Fair Special (fries, chicken strips and something else fried) just to name a few. He has recently added a fried chicken breast on a jelly filled Krispy Kreme donut cut in half as a bun with honey on the side (pretty good!), and deep fried White Castle burgers. Plus this year, it’s the deep fried Pop Tart with a topping, and deep fried Spam (served in chunks with a sweet and sour sauce) – I’ve heard it is very salty!

Charlie doesn’t have deep fried Snickers on his main menu here in Fresno, but he has served that in the past. I’ve had that, and I have to say, the deep fried Snicker is a little slice of heaven in your mouth! I’m a Snickers fan anyway, but this is incredible! I had it a few years ago sliced, so I only had one small slice – that was enough! With the Snickers deep fried, it has a fabulous sweet batter coating on the outside, and the Snickers inside is warm and melty, chewier than normal, but smooth and creamy and decadently delicious! Have I sold you yet?!

Charlie has also been known to do deep fried pickles on request for pregnant Fair staffers. Just take him your pickles-of-choice, he’ll fry them up and I have known a few women whose cravings have been satisfied completely on the spot!

10.01.2008

The Big Fresno Fair

The Big Fresno Fair! Yes, that is really its name.

The Fair starts today, in California’s central valley. The west coast’s heartland of agriculture.
It’s exciting! It’s fun! It’s time for me to visit with friends, and eat. Some of us try not to eat junk everyday, and quite frankly, I just can’t eat fair food everyday any more – for a couple of reasons. Opening day of a Fair is always fresh and sparkling, exciting and hectic. I walk around and smell the food; it’s different at each Fair. There are some food vendors who travel the circuit, and there are always a few who are local and indigenous to that particular Fair. Here in Fresno it’s beerocks.

Now, I have never had beerocks, but like anything, everyone has their favorites. First of all, what are they? Beerocks are a German hamburger. They are a pasty stuffed with ground beef and cabbage, seasoned with pepper and a few other things. My friends who live here always make sure they have beerocks a few times from a certain vendor. For some reason, the desire for a beerocks has never struck me.

There are also the soft tacos. Not that Mexican food isn’t available around town and circuit vendors, but the soft tacos are a little different, a little “special” according to everyone around here. They are good, but I don’t know if they are that exciting.
Anyway, the things I look forward to at this Fair are the veggie “gyros,” Milo’s corn dogs and Country Fair Cinnamon rolls.

There’s also some food in the town of Fresno that I look forward to, and the barbeque/chili contests this weekend.

I hope one of those makes your taste buds salivate! I’ll keep you posted on the culinary adventures at the Big Fresno Fair!