In response to my earlier post on making homemade pizza with The Best Pizza Dough You Didn’t Make, my buddy and I got into an interesting discussion about pizza stones.  While our conversation centered mainly around topic number 4 below, I thought I’d share my entire collection of thoughts re: pizza stones for those who may be interested.
1. Why use one: Crispy, crunchy, gloriously crusty crusts! They do wonders for frozen, leftover, and fresh pizza alike.  They also work well for reheating soggy leftover sandwiches, burgers, french fries, etc.  A lot of people like to use them for baking cookies, biscuits, scones, etc. in order to achieve a lovely crusty bottom. Personally, I don’t like the idea of alternating between sweet and savory uses due to the residue that naturally collects on the stone, but that’s just me!
2. How to use one: To optimize effectiveness, you must do two things: preheat it and keep it naked. A cold stone is totally ineffective, so make sure the stone is already in the oven when you turn it on to preheat. (In fact, I just keep my stone in the oven on the bottom shelf all the time – it’s kind of heavy and cumbersome to keep having to move it around, and it does just fine hanging out in the oven). The second, yet equally crucial, component of effective stone usage is that your food must be placed directly on the surface of the hot stone. Do not place a layer of anything between your food the stone – no foil, no parchment paper, nada. You should lightly oil the stone the first few times you use it to prevent sticking (after the first few uses, the stone absorbs enough oil to where you won’t need to do this anymore). But otherwise, there should be not a blessed thing between your food and your stone. It has something to do with the magic of science and the hot porous stone sucking away excess moisture.
3.  Where to get one: I’ve been using this one (available on Amazon) since 2007 with great results. I bought my first one 4 years ago; it cracked after 3 years of residence in the bottom of my oven, and the identical version that I replaced it with is still going strong: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B000297YAS/ref=wms_ohs_product_img_T2
4.  My thoughts on Alton Brown’s substitutes: Once upon a time, back when I was in law school, I watched an episode of Good Eats where Alton Brown recommended using an “unglazed quarry stone tile” as a cheap and easily accessible substitute to a storebought pizza stone. I promptly went to my neighborhood Home Depot to collect such a tile and test this theory out. Except…I couldn’t figure out which tile was the right kind of stone/slate/material. There were SO many types, and not a single one was called an “unglazed quarry stone tile.” Asking the employees yielded no illumination, especially when I made the mistake of telling them what I was using it for. I finally sort of just closed my eyes and picked one, brought it home, scrubbed it down, and tentatively tried to bake a little pizza on it. I honestly can’t tell you whether it turned out okay or not. All I remember is images flashing through my mind of the dirty, dusty piles of tiles at the hardware store where I’d gotten this one from. In the end, I was so freaked out by the idea of cooking with and eating off of something that had come from a dirty hardware storeroom, and that had never been intended (and therefore treated in any way) for use with food, that I just chucked it and called it a day. Since then, I’ve been using the $15-$20 iterations mentioned above with great results. So I say, why take the risk? Spend a few extra bucks and buy a stone that was intended, cleaned, and treated for cooking purposes. Not a chunk of rock (or, as Alton is apparently recommending nowadays, a piece of terra cotta pottery) that’s traveled through lord knows how many layers of dust, dirt, and grime from trucks, storerooms, and showroom floors, and been exposed to heaven only knows what sorts of chemicals and substances. I think peace of mind and a painless tummy are well worth the extra $14, don’t you?

Chocolate pudding is one of those things that always sounded like an amazing idea, but whenever I bought it, it never really lived up to its promise. It was always kinda goopy, not super flavorful, never quite as chocolatey or as creamy as it looked like it would be or seemed like it should be. And then, one fine day, I decided to make my own. And my world was forever changed.

Ok, maybe not my ENTIRE world, but definitely my sugar-oriented world! This stuff tastes AMAZING and is SO easy to whip up. It’s such a simple recipe that it really allows the chocolates (that’s right, it calls for more than one kind) to shine – hence its amazing flavor. This even puts the fancy farmers’ market stuff to shame!

Start by combining sugar, cornstarch, salt, and cocoa powder in a medium saucepan.

Next add one cup of milk, and whisk to combine. Once that’s all nice and slurry-like, add the remaining cup of milk and whisk until combined. Put over medium heat and cook, whisking constantly. At first it will feel just feel like you’re whisking milk, and will look like this:

But after a few minutes you’ll be able to feel it start to thicken up. Make sure you scrape the bottom and sides of the pan as you’re whisking, b/c the bits that thicken first tend to collect there. When it’s time to stop whisking, your mixture will look like this:

But wait! You’re not done yet, my friends. Next comes the part that really takes this recipe over the top: adding in the chocolate chunks. Take your pot off the heat and toss in the chocolate, like so…

And then whisk your little heart out until the chocolate has melted completely and all you’re left with is a smooth, creamy, dreamy pot full of delicious:

Allow it to cool for at least 30 min before serving – and that’s if you want it warm and goopy. (Nothing wrong with that!) For a sturdier, thicker pudding experience, chill the stuff for at least 30 minutes before devouring.

Chocolate Pudding (aka The Jello-Killer)

Ingredients:

3/4 cup white sugar
1/3 cup dutch cocoa powder*
3 tablespoons corn starch
1 teaspoon salt
2 cups milk**
1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate – chopped, chunks, or chips***

Instructions:

1. In a medium saucepan, combine sugar, cocoa powder, cornstarch, salt, and only 1 cup of the milk. Whisk until completely combined, then add second cup and whisk until completely combined (again). If you try and add in all the milk at once it will be a lot more difficult to get the dry and wet to combine thoroughly.

2. Once mixture is all whisked up, place pot over medium heat and keep on whisking. Whisk constantly, scraping sides and bottom of pan, until entire mixture has thickened to the consistency of a thin pudding.

3. Remove pot from heat. Add chocolate. Whisk until chocolate has melted completely.

4. To serve warm, cool at room temperature for approx. 30 min before serving. If serving chilled, chill for at least 30 minutes before serving.

*I prefer dutch cocoa powder for this recipe, but encourage you to experiment with regular cocoa powder and see which flavor you prefer.

**You can use milk of any fat-content here, from skim to heavy cream. I find that it turns out plenty tasty when I use skim, but have made it with cream before and it was ridiculously, richly divine.

***I find that semisweet chocolate provides the right balance of chocolatey-ness for this pudding, but you should definitely experiment with various levels and combinations of dark/light chocolate until you find your favorite.

Fantastic NYT Op-Ed piece debunking the myth that junk food is somehow cheaper than eating at home. The message here is clear: Americans need to stop making excuses and get in the kitchen. Cooking is cheaper, healthier, and with a little forethought can be just as convenient as driving through McDonald’s. I think this quote from the second page of the article sums things up perfectly:

“Real cultural changes are needed to turn this around. Somehow, no-nonsense cooking and eating— roasting a chicken, making a grilled cheese sandwich, scrambling an egg, tossing a salad — must become popular again, and valued not just by hipsters in Brooklyn or locavores in Berkeley. The smart campaign is not to get McDonald’s to serve better food but to get people to see cooking as a joy rather than a burden, or at least as part of a normal life.” (emphasis added)

Is Junk Food Really Cheaper?

By: Mark Bittman

Published: September 24, 2011

THE “fact” that junk food is cheaper than real food has become a reflexive part of how we explain why so many Americans are overweight, particularly those with lower incomes. I frequently read confident statements like, “when a bag of chips is cheaper than a head of broccoli …” or “it’s more affordable to feed a family of four at McDonald’s than to cook a healthy meal for them at home.”

Daniel Borris for The New York Times

This is just plain wrong. In fact it isn’t cheaper to eat highly processed food: a typical order for a family of four — for example, two Big Macs, a cheeseburger, six chicken McNuggets, two medium and two small fries, and two medium and two small sodas — costs, at the McDonald’s a hundred steps from where I write, about $28. (Judicious ordering of “Happy Meals” can reduce that to about $23 — and you get a few apple slices in addition to the fries!)

In general, despite extensive government subsidies, hyperprocessed food remains more expensive than food cooked at home. You can serve a roasted chicken with vegetables along with a simple salad and milk for about $14, and feed four or even six people. If that’s too much money, substitute a meal of rice and canned beans with bacon, green peppers and onions; it’s easily enough for four people and costs about $9. (Omitting the bacon, using dried beans, which are also lower in sodium, or substituting carrots for the peppers reduces the price further, of course.)

Another argument runs that junk food is cheaper when measured by the calorie, and that this makes fast food essential for the poor because they need cheap calories. But given that half of the people in this country (and a higher percentage of poor people) consume too many calories rather than too few, measuring food’s value by the calorie makes as much sense as measuring a drink’s value by its alcohol content. (Why not drink 95 percent neutral grain spirit, the cheapest way to get drunk?)

Besides, that argument, even if we all needed to gain weight, is not always true. A meal of real food cooked at home can easily contain more calories, most of them of the “healthy” variety. (Olive oil accounts for many of the calories in the roast chicken meal, for example.)In comparing prices of real food and junk food, I used supermarket ingredients, not the pricier organic or local food that many people would consider ideal. But food choices are not black and white; the alternative to fast food is not necessarily organic food, any more than the alternative to soda is Bordeaux.

The alternative to soda is water, and the alternative to junk food is not grass-fed beef and greens from a trendy farmers’ market, but anything other than junk food: rice, grains, pasta, beans, fresh vegetables, canned vegetables, frozen vegetables, meat, fish, poultry, dairy products, bread, peanut butter, a thousand other things cooked at home — in almost every case a far superior alternative.

“Anything that you do that’s not fast food is terrific; cooking once a week is far better than not cooking at all,” says Marion Nestle, professor of food studies at New York University and author of “What to Eat.” “It’s the same argument as exercise: more is better than less and some is a lot better than none.”

Continued at:

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/09/25/opinion/sunday/is-junk-food-really-cheaper.html?pagewanted=1&smid=fb-share

The grilling season is winding down, but there’s definitely still time for a few fall BBQs before we pack our grills away. So I wanted to squeeze in this post about my favorite grilling discovery of the summer: grilled peaches over grilled poundcake.


Grilling fruit is a phenomenal way to bring out its sugars and juices, and can really up the wow factor when it comes to entertaining with your grill. Peaches are so far my favorite fruit to grill, but any juicy, sturdy fruit (pineapple, mango, stone fruits, even strawberries) generally do well on the grill.

Start by cutting your fruit as desired – try to maximize the surface area of the cut side, so that you can maximize the grilled yumminess of the fruit (since that’s the only part that will actually be on the grill). I opted to just halve my peaches here b/c I was feeling lazy, but slicing it into wedges would really give you a lot of surface area to work with! Brush cut surfaces lightly with oil or melted butter. Then place the fruit, cut side down, straight on the grill over medium heat.

Depending on the size of the fruit, the heat of the grill, etc., it could take anywhere from four to eight minutes for the peaches to be ready. If you’re working with multiple cut sides (i.e. wedges, rather than halves as pictured above) then you’ll want to all of the cut sides of the fruit to get equal time on the grill. When you start to see the skin of the fruit start to pucker where it’s closest to heat, it’s time to pick one up and peek underneath. If your grill is really clean, the heat is up high enough, and the fat you used is cooperating, then you should get some lovely grill marks. Otherwise, just look for some areas to have turned a lovely, caramelly dark brown – this means the sugars have started to caramelize.

If you really want to take it up a notch, you can drizzle the cut side(s) of the peaches with honey or sprinkle sugar over them a few minutes before they’re done grilling. Return the freshly-sugared fruit to the grill and allow it to finish. Since sugar burns fairly quickly, you want to make sure you give the fruit a few minutes to grill on its own before adding the sugar. The peaches are ready to be taken off the grill when they look, more or less, like so:

Now the piece de resistance: the poundcake! This is super easy but never fails to impress. Just slice the poundcake very thickly – you want the slices at least an inch thick, if not moreso. Throw it on the grill while the fruit is doing its thing – just a couple minutes on each side should do the trick. You can certainly brush it with melted better or drizzle it with honey beforehand if you like, but it’s not necessary. You just want the cake on there long enough to get toasty on the outside, but still be soft in the middle. Once you start to see some grill marks forming, you’re good to go – don’t leave it on there too long, or you’ll just end up with dry cake. And nobody likes dry cake. The super-thick slices help prevent dry-cake-syndrome as well. Once your cake is nice and toasty, simply top it with a few pieces of your juicy, caramelized grilled fruit, and you’re good to go! You can also spoon some freshly whipped cream over the whole shabang if you’re REALLLY looking to do it up, but I find that that can be a bit too heavy for a summery dessert.  Totally your call though!



Okay, so the CNN Money article below makes an interesting claim: apparently the inflation rate of food purchased in grocery stores is rising faster than that of food purchased in restaurants. In other words, buying food from grocery stores is getting more expensive at a faster rate than buying food from restaurants is. If this is true, then the implication is that eating in will soon become more expensive than eating out. Whaaat?? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VcE5wjCrQ1c&feature=related

Fine. Interesting. Possibly important. But I have one big question…a question which the article doesn’t address in any way. Food is food, right? So how is it that the price of food in grocery stores is going up faster than the price of food in restaurants? As I understand it, they’re more or less sourced from the same places; restaurants then add labor to the raw materials, driving the cost of the end product up. So how is it possible for grocery store prices to be rising faster than restaurant prices? I’d love to get a more in-depth explanation of this alleged phenomenon, or maybe just clearer evidence that this is actually happening (can someone explain that second chart to me please??) But here, see what you think:

Food inflation is far worse in grocery stores than restaurants

Your grocery bills are climbing at a much faster pace than restaurant prices.

By Howard Penney and Rory Green, Hedgeye

According to the latest government figures, the consumer price index for food at home increased by 60 basis points year-over-year to 6% versus the 10 basis point gain in food away from home CPI inflation to 2.7%.

Food inflation is now the most important household expense, according to Wal-Mart’s (WMT) commentary during its earnings call last month. Food prices, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, continue to accelerate higher. The charts below illustrate food cost trends and food cost trends versus core inflation. It’s worth noting that the spread between food at home inflation and core inflation widened month-over-month while the spread between food away from home and core inflation narrowed.

Continued at:

http://finance.fortune.cnn.com/2011/09/16/food-inflation-grocery-restaurants/?section=money_topstories&utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+rss%2Fmoney_topstories+%28Top+Stories%29

A few weeks ago, friend of mine requested a birthday dessert that involves bananas. The celebration was taking place in conjunction with some good ol’ fashioned Texas Football watchin’ at our local watering hole, which meant that the dessert would be sitting out for quite awhile before anyone actually got around to eating it. Which meant that fresh bananas were out of the question. Because fresh bananas + oxygen exposure = brown, mushy, ick. And that doesn’t exactly scream “Happy Birthday,” now does it?

So I decided that I would play with caramelized bananas instead. But I kind of hate the way that cooked bananas taste, so my goal was to maintain the fresh banana taste and create a crisp, sugary outer shell to protect it from oxidization. And since I was as yet lacking a brulee torch in my kitchen arsenal, I decided to go with the next best thing: my broiler.

Move your oven rack to its topmost setting, and turn your broiler up as high as it goes. Then, using your trusty microwave, melt together butter, sugar, and salt…

To form a delicious syrup:

Next I sliced up a couple of bananas into 1-inch thick slices.

You want to do the slicing after you make the syrup so that the sliced bananas don’t have too much time to start oxidizing. This also gives the syrup a chance to cool off a bit before the next step – coating the banana slices with the syrup:

Once they are thoroughly coated, lay them out on a tray and pop them under the broiler. Because the heat is up so high and rack so close, you want to check them roughly every 30 seconds. Pull them out as soon as the sugar starts to visibly caramelize and they look like this:

Let them cool completely before eating or using to decorate. They should feel hard and crunchy to the touch once cooled. I used mine to decorate a chocolate cream pie, and the combination was pretty popular!

Caramelized Bananas

Ingredients:

2 tablespoons butter
1/4 cup sugar*
Pinch of salt
2 medium bananas, sliced into 1-inch-thick pieces

Instructions:

1. Move your oven rack to its topmost setting, and turn your broiler up as high as it goes.

2. Melt together butter, sugar, and salt. The microwave will work just fine for this.

3. Slice bananas into 1-inch thick slices.

4. Coat bananas thoroughly with syrup.

5. Arrange coated slices on baking sheet and place under pre-heated broiler. Check bananas every 30 seconds, and remove immediately once caramelization is visibly apparent (see photo above).

6. Allow to cool completely before eating or using to decorate.

*I used a combination of light brown and sugar in the raw this time, but I encourage you to try different combinations until you find the one you like. White sugar would also work nicely in the mix

Business Week article on Five Guys’ franchising difficulties.

If you’re going to franchise, this is the way to do it: a simple, easy-to-replicate model and a VERY watchful eye on quality control. I love that they bought back the stores that weren’t getting on board with the Five Guys Way: that sort of non-negotiable insistence on consistency over unsustainable profitability is key to long-term success when it comes to a simple model like this one. Clearly this philosophy has proven successful for Five Guys. It will be interesting to see if Danny Meyer is as successful at maintaining this level of consistency and control as he expands his Shake Shack brand across the country. Given his dedication to his empire and his attention to detail, I would expect nothing less!

Behind Five Guys’ Beloved Burgers

Carnivores keep coming back for the authentic vibe as much as the beef, but maintaining it throughout the franchise is no simple task

Five Guys says last year it used enough peanut oil to fill the stream of the Jungle Cruise ride at DisneylandFive Guys says last year it used enough peanut oil to fill the stream of the Jungle Cruise ride at Disneyland Brian Finke for Bloomberg Businessweek

By 

Jerry Murrell bursts through the swinging glass doors of a hamburger restaurant at a shopping center in suburban Virginia. Van Morrison is rocking through the speakers, and line cooks are shouting orders across the open kitchen. Murrell, 67, who is tall with sporty sunglasses perched atop his bald head, enters as if he owns the place, which he does. The founder and chief executive officer of the Five Guys burger chain approaches the counter, takes his place in line, and makes a show of slipping a crisp $100 bill into the tip jar.

Murrell passes up Five Guys’ regular cheeseburger, which comes with two patties and 840 gluttonous calories, and orders the “Little Burger”—a single patty with lettuce and tomatoes. No cheese or jalapeños, no mushrooms or any of the other 11 free toppings. Not even ketchup. Though he’s proud of the offerings, chosen by his sons who help run the business—“Every little one was a decision,” Murrell says. Today he keeps it simple.

The Murrells realized that while many franchisees clicked with the brand, others never quite got on board. They’ve since bought back around 75 stores and run them themselves. Much of the company’s financing—which includes a $30 million investment from the private equity firm Miller Investment Management and a $100 million line of credit from GE Capital (GE) —is funding the development of corporate stores. “It’s a whole lot easier just to run ’em yourself than to try to convince other people how to do it,” Murrell says.

Back at the Virginia Five Guys, Murrell finishes his food and announces that it’s time to go back to the office for the weekly management meeting with his sons, where the family is debating even more growth. As we hop into his pickup truck he explains, “We’re getting pulled real heavy toward Western Europe.” They’ve already started looking for suppliers and potential business partners. Making the final turn into headquarters, Murrell says that, like other decisions, they’ll only move once everyone’s ready. “All my family has is Five Guys,” he says. “We don’t want to screw it up.”

Weise is a reporter for Bloomberg Businessweek.

Complete article available at:

http://www.businessweek.com/magazine/behind-five-guys-beloved-burgers-08112011.html?chan=rss_topStories_ssi_5