Posts Tagged ‘California’

I’ve eaten many pizzas in my quarter century on this planet. I know most people have eaten plenty of pizza, I wouldn’t claim to be unique in that. But I’ve eaten a lot of pizza. When I was a kid, there was almost nothing better than plopping down in front of the TV for Saturday morning cartoons and a Red Baron breakfast pizza (now sadly discontinued). In elementary school, I would long for pizza day in the cafeteria, despite being subject to the rectangular, near-crustless grease bombs. High school got a little better in that regard, upgrading closer to a New York style, complete with optional red pepper flakes and Parmesan. College brought be within spitting distance of NYC,  where I could gorge myself on Ray’s while wandering the unfamiliar terrain. I’ve even spent some time in Italy, sampling the classical Neapolitan style from traditional brick ovens (I will throw it out there the the best pizza I had was at a small shop in the town square of Siena, and came topped with hot dogs and French fries).

Growing up on the east coast, you pretty much get whatever is frozen at the grocery store, or a version similar to New York-style. While delicious in it’s own right, I’m of the opinion that Deep Dish and Chicago styles are casserole and not pizza, so we won’t touch on that. Since moving last fall, I’ve been making a lot of pizza at home. This largely, if not entirely, due to the local grocery store carrying Everything Bagel pizza dough from Portland Pie Co. They have garlic dough, basil dough, Shipyard Ale dough, but Everything Bagel is the one that really grabbed me. It was months later that I discovered I had been playing in the sandbox that is California-style pizza.

California cuisine came into it’s own in the late 1970’s and early 80’s, and California-style pizza follow shortly after. Popularized by Wolfgang Puck, the style builds from a personal-sized crust with similar structure  to Neapolitan. From there, we throw out the rule book; Any combination of complimentary flavors spanning world cuisines, utilizing farm fresh vegetables and local cheeses, and generally a wide variety of vegetarian and vegan options. When I started making pizzas, my only real goal was to move away from traditional red-sauce-based pies, and I was also trying to work on more vegetarian dishes to save a bit of money on meat; Pretty much falling perfectly into the California style without ever really meaning to.

Mascarpone, Cured Salmon, Red Onion, Capers, Dill (I dream about bagels and lox)

Peanut Sauce, Stir-Fry Vegetables, Mozzarella, Scallion, Radish Sprouts

Curry, Cauliflower, Mango Chutney, Cashews, Cilantro

Olive Oil, Potato, Tomato, Mint, Ras al Hanout

Butternut Squash, Chickpeas, Broccoli Rabe, Red Onion, Parmesan

17333207_394041167635812_3185024146144755712_nHoisin, Marinated Tofu, Mixed Pickles, Serrano, Fresh Herbs (A Banh Mi-zza, if you will)

White Sauce, Chickpeas, Frank’s Red Hot, Celery, Gorgonzola, Ranch

Cheez, Mushrooms, Peppers, Onions, Provolone

Kansas City-style Barbecue, Eggplant, Smoked Gouda, Red Onion, Cilantro

IMG_5730Ricotta & Chevre, Sweet Corn, Maple Bacon, Arugula, Parmesan

Pizza is such a fun concept to play around with and I don’t plan on stopping any time soon. Apparently I’m bad with segues, so here’s 9-year-old Olsen twins rapping about pizza.

Neapolitan Pizza Dough from Modernist Cuisine
Life-Changing Pizza Dough from ChefSteps


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In countless cities across the country, and the rest of the world for that matter, street food has long been a staple of local culture and cuisine. Originating from a lack of space or finances to open a full-scale restaurant, food trucks and carts have recently exploded in popularity and feature immense diversity in cuisine and availability. New York’s classic hot dog carts and roasted nut vendors have evolved from their humble beginning to eateries rivaling five-star restaurants, and at a fraction of the cost. When I was a kid, I remember on weekends, my parents would take my brother and I into town to have lunch at a ramshackled yellow bus doling out greasy burgers and fries, and I didn’t think food could get much better than that. While my tastes have evolved quite a bit since then, whenever I get a hankering for nostalgia, I can  find that same bus parked in it’s usual spot, now a convenient two blocks from my apartment. Street food has such a wide appeal, for obvious reasons: It’s cheap, it’s portable, but most of all, it’s delicious. Well, for the most part anyway. The 12th week of Reddit’s 52 Weeks of Cooking Challenge is here, celebrating all that is Street Food.

In my travels, has limited as they may have been thus far, I always try and seek out little carts and food stalls. Generally, wherever the line is longest, you’ll find the best food. Nowhere was this more prevalent than when I travelled to Italy in the Spring of 2012. Much like in any large city, the buildings are tightly grouped to fit as many people and things as possible into a small amount of space. In cities like New York, it’s more planned and manageable because, on a modern global scale, New York is a pretty young city. In places like Firenze or Venezia that have been around for centuries, the modern aspects of the city are built on top of, around, and even through pieces of history. Clearly, business owners needed to adapt to the lack of space, and a great culture of street food arose. While I was in Firenze, a few friends I decided to wander away from the group and find our own lunch. We came across a small courtyard, surrounded by about a dozen shops, with a small food cart in the center. Since there were only two or three of us that spoke Italian well enough, we basically decided to order based on price. Most people in our group got a slice of pizza or a panini, fairly cheap and safe as far as what could be in them. I decided, probably against better judgement, to be a bit more adventurous and try the Trippa al Fiorentina, a sandwich I later found out consisted of a soft bun filled with braised tripe and a spicy tomato sauce. While I was hesitant at the time, it turned out to be one the best things I had ever tried. Unlike any other meat, the tripe had a unique unctiousness similar to mushrooms that played well against the bright tomato sauce. I knew that if I was making street food, this would be what I had to make. However, that’s not where the story ends. Luckily, the grocery store I normally shop at carries a wide rage of offals (I’m guessing due to a large immigrant population) and normally is well stocked with tripe. I had never cooked it before, so I looked up a few recipes to see how to make it as tender as possible. The verdict: Cut into thin strips, then slow cook with stock or water until tender. Simple enough, right? I put everything into the crock pot and left it on low overnight, dreaming of the sandwich I would have for lunch tomorrow. I awoke in the morning to a peculiar smell; It had to be the tripe. I opened the crock pot, and after skimming a layer of fat and scum off the top, pulled out a piece of the tripe.  It kind of felt like a wet rubber band, and at the texture of a warm gummy bear. I felt the same sense of foreboding that I had when I first ordered the sandwich in Italy. I decided to try a piece. I almost don’t have the words to describe how truly awful  this tasted. You know that gross feeling you get when you bite into a piece of cartilage in chicken or beef and it makes you want to instantly spit it out? Imagine that, combined with the weird, wet crunch of a halfway-cooked potato chip. I love writing about trying new things and loving the experience and having a new mindset about different foods. Sadly this is not one of those posts. After that first bite, I knew that there was no way I could continue with the dish, and defaulted to my backup plan.

My other memory of a great street food experience occurred in the summer of that same year, when I was lucky enough to travel to California’s Napa Valley for a recipe competition hosted by my school and the National Honey Board. Oddly enough, I had never actually made the recipe that I submitted for the contest until after I was told that I was a finalist. I ended up not winning the competition, but I got a scholarship just for showing up and I got a free trip to California, so I really wasn’t complaining. While we were there, the school had hired a student to drive us around the area and show us some of the sights and try some cuisine, which was almost more interesting to me than the competition. We went to the Oxbow Public Market, a small hub of local producers and sampled a few meats and cheeses before moving on. We stopped by a vineyard, whose owner the student was friends with. We sat about ten yards from some of the best grapes in the state, drank a few bottles of wine, and listened to Phish. The owner had a few kegs of beer left over from a recent party, and insisted that he got us some to-go, proceeding to fill several wine bottles from the keg. The day finished off driving back to our hotel through the small town of Yountville. If you’re not in the food industry, Yountville probably doesn’t mean very much to you. If you are in the industry though, you’ll probably know that Yountville is home to Thomas Keller’s French Laundry, a restaurant which for the past decade been consistently rated as one of the top ten restaurants in the world. With a menu that costs several hundred dollars per person and a waitlist of up to two months, we were not stopping in for dinner and my soul wept a little bit. We did stop by to check out their garden though, and were invited inside by the general manager to check out the dining room and kitchen which was a pretty mind-blowing experience. However great it may have been, we’re here to talk about street food. After leaving the French Laundry, we drove up the street about two or three blocks and stopped at a taco truck for a quick bite. Besides the food being fantastic, three of us ate a full meal for about fifteen dollars. I got the tacos al pastor, a spicy, slow-roasted pork taco. Traditionally served with pineapple, the also topped theirs with fresh cilantro and thinly sliced radishes. Being that I am… incredibly from the North, I’ve never had much experience with real-deal Mexican cuisine, and this was a totally different beast from the ground beef and packaged seasoning that I was used to. With the tripe being a flop, this dish was the next best street food experience I’ve had.

al pastor

Al pastor originated in Spain, following the tradition of Lebanese immigrants and the classic Gyro meat.  While al pastor means “of the shepherd” (gryo meat traditionally being lamb), al pastor is made with marinated pork, prepared the same way: shaved into thin slices, then stacked together, roasted vertically, and thin shaving are cut from the whole roast. Since I don’t have a vertical roasting spit, I packed my sliced pork into a loaf pan a slow roasted it in the oven. After a few hours, you can shave hunks off the loaf and achieve the same effect as the traditional method. As you may already know, slow-roasting pork yields a lot of delicious fat and juices. This time, the fat is infused with all the flavors of the marinade, and works great for roasting the pineapple with. After everything is cooked, the assembly is a cinch: just pile your toppings on a warm, toasted, corn tortilla. I like a nice squeeze of fresh lime on mine, but that’s totally up to personal preference. The flavors of the pork, fruit and radishes meld so nicely together, I really don’t think it needs cheese or salsa or any of the more common American condiments, but tacos al pastor probably wouldn’t be worse for having them. Taco night is the best night, and this dish is easy enough to change up your normal routine.

Tacos al Pastor

makes about 12 tacos

  • Dried Ancho Chili, 2 each
  • Dried Guajillo Chili, 2 each
  • Chicken Stock, 1/2 cup
  • Vegetable Oil, 2 teaspoons
  • Mexican Oregano*, 1 teaspoon
  • Cumin or ground Cumin Seed, 1 teaspoon
  • Chipotle in Adobo, 2 each plus 2 teaspoons adobo sauce from can
  • Cider Vinegar, 1/4 cup
  • Garlic, crushed, 3 cloves
  • Kosher Salt, 2 1/2 teaspoons
  • Sugar, 2 teaspoons
  • Pork Shoulder, boneless, thinly sliced, about 2 pounds
  • Pineapple, diced, 1 each
  • Corn Tortillas, about 12, or as needed
  • Radish, thinly sliced, as needed
  • Fresh Cilantro, picked, as needed

Remove stem and seeds from dried chilies. In a cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat, toast chilies until soft and very aromatic. Add chicken stock to hot pan and transfer chilies and stock to a bowl. In the same pan, add vegetable oil and heat. Add oregano and cumin and toast until aromatic. Add chipotles and adobo sauce and cook about 30 seconds. Add vinegar, salt and sugar and remove from heat. In a blender or food processor, combine chili and stock mixture with toasted spices and vinegar mixture. Puree until smooth. In a large bowl, coat sliced pork in marinade. Let marinate at least 24 hours, up to 48 hours. Preheat oven to 225F. Pack sliced pork into a loaf pan, creating even layers. Cover loaf pan in aluminum foil and place onto a rimmed baking sheet. Roast pork at 225F for 4 hours. Remove pan from oven and drain fat and juices from pork, reserving separately. Heat oven to 350F. Coat diced pineapple with pork fat and place onto a baking sheet lined with aluminum foil. Roast pineapple at 350F for 30 minutes, or until browned and slightly crispy. Place  corn tortillas on a baking sheet and heat at 350F for about 5 minutes, or until pliable. Shave roasted pork lengthwise across the loaf and, if needed, reheat in a cast iron skillet with reserved juices. Top corn tortillas with shaved pork, roasted pineapple, radish and cilantro. If desired, squeeze fresh lime juice over taco.

*Mexican Oregano can be found in most grocery stores nowadays, but if you can’t find it, substitute half as much Italian Oregano.

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