Thursday, April 23, 2009

Pink’s Pizza / How to Resurrect a Pizza and How to Make Your Own

The Chronicle pretty much took all the wind out of my sails on Pink's. I had been working on a Pink’s post for over a week now, but that’s what I get for taking too long (the reason for my delay should be evident in the size of this post). I think most of my post is still valid, so without delay, here goes!

We ordered the Deuce, which includes goat cheese, spinach, portabella, sliced tomatoes, garlic and pesto. Pink’s consistently violates my number of toppings rule (1 meat, 4 total TOPS), but the Deuce gets a pass because the pesto, tomatoes, and garlic are sauce-like ingredients.

I like the fact that Pink’s has more gourmet ingredients on their pizzas (goat cheese, prosciutto), but they just skimped on the most important one: the crust. I just can’t take any pizza place seriously that uses one of those conveyer pizza ovens. It’s like a burger joint using preformed frozen patties. It’s just wrong. Predictably, the pizzas come out singed on the top, sorta cooked on the bottom, and nowhere near done in the middle.

How to Resurrect a Pinks Pizza

Alas, there is hope. We took the rest of the pizza home, placed a pizza stone in the oven and cranked the temperature to 500 degrees. Once preheated, leave it be for 10 minutes so the stone gets hot, then place directly on the stone and cook for 3 minutes. The cheese should be talking to you (sizzle sizzle) and the crust should have a slight crisp to it. Perfecto! If you’re dealing with a refrigerated Pink’s Pizza, lower the temperature to 400 and cook on the stone for 8 minutes. It won’t be as good as the lukewarm to 500 degree version, but it will be an improvement over the “fresh” Pink’s Pizza version.

As you can tell, I’m not too enamored with Pink’s. Asking the home cook to rescue a dish is a big no-no in my book. I see great promise with Pink’s, but they have to get rid of that cheater oven and the plastic shiatsu massage rollers before I take them seriously.

How to Make Your Own

I decided to post the recipe and technique I use to make a decent pizza at home. It takes a bit of work and requires lots of gadgets, but I think the results are well worth it. I use a modified dough recipe from the Dean and Deluca cookbook.

You will need the following cookware: stand mixer, pizza stone, flour sifter, digital food scale, and thermometer.

For the ingredients, you’re going to have to get out of the heights and head to Central Market (Westheimer and Wesleyan) for the flour. CM is the only place in town that I’ve been able to find Tipo 00 flour. Apparently in Italy, they grade flour on grind, not on gluten content, and Tipo 00 is a very fine grind, but with high gluten. The only substitution that works is cake flour, but that is a compromise due to cake flour’s low gluten content. You can mix AP flour to bring the gluten content up, but that won’t have the fine grind or the optimum gluten level. I’m not a trained baker, so I’ll leave it to others to comment on a good cake flour/AP ratio that might work.

About ten years ago I was able to find live active yeast in a number of grocery stores, but no more. They have it in CM, but it’s too expensive at $2.19 per block (you would need three!). I just use the jar yeast and get decent results.

Sift into a bowl:

  • 350 grams of sifted Tipo 00 flour
  • 25 grams of sifted AP flour
  • ¾ tsp of fine sea salt

Heat in microwave for 60 seconds (that’s what mine takes), or until reaches 105-115 degrees:

  • ¾ cup milk
  • ½ cup water

Stir in 2 tbsp dry yeast. Wait for 5-10 minutes for the yeast to foam.

Combine dry with wet ingredients in stand mixer (with dough hook) and turn it on to medium. Add spoonfuls of Tipo 00 flour every 30 seconds until the dough no longer sticks to the bottom of the mixing bowl. The dough will be extremely sticky. Form the dough into a rough ball and add 1 tablespoon of Olive Oil to the bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and a kitchen towel and leave in a corner for two hours minimum. The dough should double in size.

Preheat the oven (with pizza stone) to 500 degrees. Turn the dough onto a floured work surface and divide into four quarters. Form each dough quarter into a 10 inch circle by flipping the dough (flouring each time with AP) and pushing the dough from the center to the edges. Do not use a rolling pin! Transfer to a pizza peel/cutting board that has been coated with a layer of corn meal. Let rest to rise for at least 10 minutes, covered with a kitchen towel.

For those that want a doughy soft crust (like my 8 year old stepson), you’re ready to go once the oven is preheated. You really get best results when the stone has been heated for at least 30 minutes (one hour would be better). Jiggle the pizza crust on the peel to make sure it isn’t stuck then quickly apply toppings. Slide onto the stone and cook for ~8 minutes or until the cheese on the top is a bubbly.

This technique does a fair job of producing a good crust, but it won’t be crispy. The problem is that the stone doesn’t get hot enough to cook the dough at the same speed as the toppings and cheese. The stone really needs to be blazing hot, and a 500 degree oven won’t get hot enough.

For those that want a true New Haven style crust experience, I’ve had great results cooking the dough before I apply the toppings. Make sure you have your toppings ready, cook the crust for 3 minutes, take the crust out of the oven and QUICKLY apply the toppings, cook for another 5 minutes or until the toppings are bubbly.

Topping Recommendations

I’m picky with my toppings (see topping rule above). For the crispy crust, I generally only apply mozzarella cheese, gorgonzola cheese (just a small smear every three square inches) and basil strips. I always salt and pepper the pizzas before they get cooked and apply a tsp of olive oil after they come out.

I steer clear of the following toppings/condiments: pre-sliced pepperoni, hamburger, Canadian bacon, chicken, green peppers, raw onion, and ranch dressing. I generally only use fresh tomatoes (chopped or sliced), roasted garlic, cremini mushroom slices, and basil.

Happy pizza eating!

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

News: Block 7 Wine, Opening Soon!

Thanks to Jenny for the news... it appears Bizarro Heights is about to get another wine bar type thingy, but this one looks a little different.

I'm curious to see if the area can support this many wine bars.

Chilosos Taco House

The discussion on Twitter today seems to be about breakfast tacos, so now seems like the appropriate time to mention Chilosos.

Chilosos sits in a converted bungalow on the north side of 20th Street. The space is warm and welcoming, although the ordering process is a bit convoluted. I would recommend going in with a plan: just order what looks good at the steamtable.

The breakfast tacos are enormous and priced ridiculously low. One taco is large enough for a meal, but be advised that any and all additions (save the green or red salsa) will cost you extra. Doctoring your tacos with cheese, sour cream, pico de gallo, cilantro, or guacamole will quickly send the price per taco way above the original price. Breakfast tacos come in six varieties, with egg and chorizo, egg and bacon, and egg and potatoes as the best varieties. The flour tortillas are homemade; large in size and strong enough to hold the contents, yet light in texture.

Chilosos has the best flour tortillas that I've tasted in Houston. With Teotihuacan and their corn tortillas just a few short blocks away, it appears that this small area of Houston has both sides of the tortilla market covered. Is this a wonderful town or what?

I've heard others talk about how the tortillas at Lupe Tortilla are the best. Interesting how both Chilosos and Lupe serve tortillas the size of hubcaps, although the ones at Lupe are much larger. Is there something about flour tortillas where bigger means better?

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Waldo's Coffee House

Waldo's sits in a converted bungalow on Heights Blvd, just south of 11th. It's an interesting place to say the least. The front porch was occupied by the slacker/dog owner/smoker contingent, while the inside was quiet and subdued. Inside, there was a cozy sitting area to the left that was completely packed with this adorable group of elderly ladies. A lone barista manned the coffee station (uh oh), dispensing the obligatory caffeinated beverages and preparing the breakfast sandwiches.

The "uh oh" needs some explanation. When I moved to the Heights a few years back, there was not a good cup of coffee to be found. Anywhere. Seriously. Then, a new coffee shop opened on Yale that served a decent cup o' joe, had good muffins and other baked goods, and I thought "hells yeah this isn't so bad." Well, then things went downhill. Fast. Orders took forever to get delivered. Another occasion, they ran out of lids and handed me (I kid you not) a cup of coffee through the drive thru with no lid. Last straw, the guy behind the counter threw a fit (and a carton of cups across the store). I vowed never to return. A month or so later, I wasn't surprised to see it shuttered.

Back to the "uh oh." You're going to try to serve coffee AND make breakfast with one guy behind the counter? Really? I just don't see this ending well, although to give Waldo's credit, getting two cups of coffee didn't take long.

We purchased two espresso drinks. The vanilla latte and plain espresso drinks were just ok; the espresso lacked that essential espresso bitterness that is essential to a truly great coffee drink. I would rate it below Starbucks, and certainly way below Catalina Coffee in the Bizarro Heights.

Which brings me to the controversial subject of Starbucks. I know this seems counter to the manifesto, but I actually like Starbucks. Sure, it's not great coffee, but Starbucks has done more to advance the woeful state of coffee in this country than pretty much anyone else. I'm not suggesting that I would want Starbucks on Heights Boulevard, but there isn't one to be found between the one on the North Loop and the one on I-10. This in a city where there's one on every corner (sometimes two). How about classing up Shepherd (northbound), replacing one of the nasty fast food joints? Certainly, the new one on the North Loop classed up that area.

Rant over, Starbucks probably isn't coming (no more rapid expansion). An even BETTER idea: Catalina, open a location up here. Everybody wins!

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Shade (Spring 2009)

Back in 2003, Shade opened to critical acclaim in the restaurant-starved Heights area. The restaurant has stayed with the formula of serving well prepared, modern American interpretations of Southern classics. A recent change in executive chefs has only (so far) resulted in modest changes to this blueprint.

In the summer of 2008, David Luna joined the kitchen of Shade, replacing longtime executive chef Jeb Stuart. Described by the bartenders as being "from Hawaii," it is not surprising to see an appetizer such as Ahi Poke (the dark red tuna is served raw over a bed of seaweed salad); or a main course like the gulf snapper, served over a bed of stir fried asian vegetables with a Thai red chili sauce. The flavors are bold, and certainly a departure from what we consider the classic dishes that Shade traditionally offered.

As was the case when it first opened, meat dishes trump everything else. You won’t go wrong ordering any of the heartier meat dishes, especially those served with traditional southern greens. A duck two ways entree (breast and leg confit, served over collard greens and polenta) was simply incredible. We're all for cooking meat medium rare, but were glad to see the breast was cooked through. Duck that tastes like duck; what a concept! A simple red wine reduction, with crispy duck skin pieces (a la bacon crisps) made it sing.

Pork chop, thyme gruyere bread pudding, swiss chard

In an area with a shortage of good cocktails, the bar is an underutilized gem. In a part of town known only for beer bars, it’s refreshing to find a place that can actually serve a well made martini, cosmo, or mojito.

Which brings me to my last point: where the hell is everybody? We walked in on a Friday and were immediately seated. The next weekend, the bartenders were going crazy for the First Saturday crowd, but informed me the place was dead the night before (they closed early). I'll only play booster when I see the need. Best to support places like this, or you'll be sorry when they're gone.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Beer/Wine Find: Screw Kappa Napa

Apparently it's going to drop into the 30s here tonight (remember those pets and plants!), so I'm thinking we're going to stay in and make a good beef stew with a hearty red wine to celebrate the last use of central heat for the season.

I picked up this bottle at Roma's Liquor (1531 W 18th St.) for $11.99. Roma's is much better than I expected, and certainly has a much better wine selection than Fiesta. As for the screw cap, don't be a hater!

Jazzie's Cafe

Jazzie’s signature item is the authentic New Orleans po-boy, served with your choice of fried seafood (catfish, oyster, shrimp, or soft shell crab) in a sliced French roll. The key to a great po boy is the bread, and Jazzie’s nails it: an ideal blend of crusty and chewy, never doughy. The chef cooks the fried seafood with a very light flour crust, with generous portions. For those avoiding fried foods, the “jazzed up” grilled tilapia po boy is more than an adequate substitute (the jazzed up version adding a blackened Cajun flavor, with mushrooms). In addition to po-boys, the restaurant offers the same stellar seafood in a variety of different platters. All platters come with their Cajun spiced French fries, all enough to share. Rarely is the restaurant crowded, so it is likely you will get samples of other menu items while you wait. Beverages are strictly canned sodas and bottled teas, but you are welcome to bring your own wine and/or beer.

Softshell crab po-boy. Like a five dollar foot long, except good.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Beer/Wine Find: Markham 2006 Sauvignon Blanc

I made a quick stop at the Kroger at 11th last night to pick up two cartons of milk. On the way to the register, I walked quickly through the booze aisle and found a Markham 2006 Sauvignon Blanc:

$13.99 is not a bad deal for a decent wine, and Markham is a quality winemaker known mostly for their reds. A good rule of thumb to follow is to buy a wine for a reputable winery, and Markham certainly qualifies. It's not cult wine/knock your socks off, but you could certainly do a lot worse.

The ever-so-helpful sign (probably unreadable on my blackberry photo) says "Pair with a spicy Asian dish" and I concur. How about the H4 at Thai Spice on 19th (Sauteed Spicy Seafood, $13.99)?