Sunday, November 20, 2011

Turkey Run v6.0

Last year my consecutive Turkey Run streak was disrupted by an awful November ice storm that created impossible travel conditions.  And even though we got a little snow overnight, this wasn't going to prevent me from getting to St. Paul to participate in my 6th Turkey Run 5K!

Yours truly at the Turkey Run, Lake Como starting to freeze over
It was cold overnight; 15 degrees.  The main highways were fine, but the city streets in St. Paul were not good.  The couple of inches of snow we received got packed down on the roads, turning them to a sheet of ice.  Here is what the starting line looked like:

Ice, ice, baby!
Yeah, not exactly ideal conditions for running!  The roads were really slick, and the paths around Lake Como were snow packed and a little rough.  The crowd seemed smaller as well.  Seems this race usually attracts 300-400 runners.  I would guess that number was cut in half today, so I think the weather kept people away.

No need for a big race report.  The Turkey Run is the same as always with its loop around Lake Como.  The one funny thing worth noting is that a huge number of people messed up the instructions, which is pretty tough to do.  When the race starts, you run north on a road and then make a 180 degree turn to run back down an adjacent trail to start your loop around the lake.  A majority of the crowd got mixed up and took to the trail for the northbound route instead of the road, which created quite an interesting traffic situation when the leaders were coming back south down the trail.  Whoops!

This year's Turkey Run shirt.  I love their logo.
Needless to say, I was slow.  I crossed the finish in 26:15-ish, or something like that, making it one of my slowest 5K's ever (and this is the course where I got my best 5K time, nearly 5 minutes faster!).  Traction was so difficult, and I didn't want to do anything stupid, so I just tried to stay upright (mission accomplished!).  Still, I had an enjoyable time.  Hey, it is the Turkey Run!  How could you not?  At least I can now tell stories about the slipperiest race I have ever run.

The best part of the day, however, was learning how my Tiguan handles the snow and ice.  The answer; incredibly well!  I cruised up icy hills and pulled away from slippery intersections with ease.  All-wheel drive rocks.  The Little Beast and I will dominate this winter.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

'Tis the season

I went for a nice 12.5 mile run this morning.  Quite pleasant and reasonably mild at 31 degrees and not much wind.

My route was the southern loop of Elm Creek.  I only met four other people - two runners, a biker, and a walker.  But wildlife far outnumbered humans! 

I scared up a small herd of four or five deer.  Two pileated woodpeckers flew over my head.  I heard a pheasant clucking in the tall grasses.  And I spotted hundred of geese, as well as a large flock of trumpeter swans.  It sounded like a bad junior high band practice on the lakes in Elm Creek Park today!  A fun run.

And I was glad to get the run done early, because this is what we are dealing with now:

SNOOOOOOW!
That's right, our first accumulating snow of the season!  I went out for lunch at Culver's (the crispy chicken sandwich is awesome, by the way), and by the time I left, some flurries have started to fly.  In fact, the roads were starting to get pretty greasy on the drive home.  

I took the above photo at about 2 PM near my place.  Not much accumulation, but roads are slick.  Local TV was reporting a 3 hour drive between St. Cloud and the Twin Cities this afternoon; normally a 45 to 60 minute trip depending on your location.  No good!

So, welcome to winter, as they say!

Tonight I made a dish I have never prepared before - Cincinnati-style chili.

This is a somewhat interesting regional chili preparation that contains such exotic ingredients as cinnamon, clove, allspice, and nutmeg.  And, it is served over spaghetti.  The protocol is that chili with spaghetti is considered having it "two-way."  Top that with cheese and you have "three-way."  Throw some chopped onions on for "four-way."  And the addition of beans makes that a "five-way." 

We're cranking this one up to five today, baby! 

I used this recipe from Saveur.  All amounts were exact, with these additions or substitutions:

  • Substituted 1 cup of beef stock for the 1 cup of water
  • Added perhaps a tablespoon of sweet paprika
  • Added scant amounts of cayenne pepper and crushed red pepper for a little heat

The flavors were quite good, and I enjoyed this dish - but it was different, for sure.  I actually think the chili would probably be best served as a chili dog topping as opposed to the focus of a meal!  

Cincinnati-style chili, five-way
You can definitely taste the cinnamon, clove, and allspice, but the chili is fairly balanced.  I was glad I added some cayenne and crushed red pepper, as the heat played nicely with the sweetness.  Some sharpness and creaminess from the cheddar, a bright, contrasting crunch from the onions, and the beans add good flavor and texture as well.  I liked it, but for my money, this is probably better in small doses.

We will find out if this is proper carb loading for the Turkey Run tomorrow. :)

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Sourdough pizza revisited

It was another busy week, but things are feeling a little more settled.  Or at least as settled as they can be when one is preparing to buy a home and move. 

I have a closing date set, and I received word that the loan should be approved next week, well in advance of that date.  It will be one less thing to worry about, and I can get focused on all the little details of packing and moving preparation.  There's still a lot to do, but I am feeling better about where things are at, and I am finally starting to feel some excitement about my new home.

So enough talk about banks, real estate, and moving headaches - I am overdue for a long-winded talk about food!

I have been making sourdough pizzas for close to a year now.  I feel like am really getting the hang of this and can pretty much make the dough in my sleep.

Buffalo chicken sourdough pizza from a couple weeks ago

I have two different sourdough starters now; there is "Hope," the original, 11-year-old starter given to me by my friend Eileen.  Also, I have a variation of Hope.  This summer I fed a batch of Hope with a scant amount of beer.  The beer was a local MN brew - Brau Brothers "Forgotten Flem," a farmhouse-style ale. 

Why did I do this?  Well, this particular beer is "bottle conditioned," meaning it is either unfiltered, or in this case, reseeded with yeast for a secondary fermentation once it is bottled.  So there is still some yeast left in the bottle.

Of course, I have know way of knowing if there was any active yeast still in the bottle.  However, it is fun to think that some of the exotic Belgian Saison and Champagne yeasts from the "Forgotten Flem" took hold in my starter.  But I do know this particular batch of starter does taste and smell slightly different (probably due more to the beer than anything), and it rises faster during the feeding that the original Hope.  Therefore, I only thing I can really conclude is that Hope loves beer!

It was the Serious Eats "starter along" recipe for sourdough pizza that I found a great deal of success with.  Over the course of the year, I have made some tweaks to this recipe, so I thought I would revisit this and share what I am doing.

I've got this down to a science now and can successfully make a batch of dough over the course of one day.  Usually I will do this on a weekend, just because it's easier.

In the morning, I feed Hope, or Hope's boozy cousin - equal parts starter, water, and bread flour by weight (very important - weight is always more accurate than volume).  I generally find it takes about four hours to double in size, although it seems to be taking longer now that the weather is turning colder.

Hope, getting nice and bubbly!

Once I have my active starter around midday, I do the prescribed mix of 4 oz. starter, 1 oz. water, and 2 oz. flour and let that double in size.  You can usually count on another four hours to accomplish this.

I am then ready to make the dough in the late afternoon.  For the final mix, I do a couple of things that deviate from the recipe:

  • One, I add 1 tsp. of sugar, just because pizza dough and yeasts like sugar.  
  • Two, I follow the prescribed amounts for everything else with the exception of the flour. 

The recipe calls for adding 8 oz. of flour at this stage, but I have increased that to 9.5 oz.  With only 8 oz., I found myself always adding more flour because the dough was too wet.  I am not sure if it is because of the consistency of my starter or what the deal is.  But 9.5 oz. of flour is the perfect amount for me every time, and it results in a supple, smooth, and pliable ball of dough.

I cut the dough in half and shape it into two nice round balls (which makes enough for two 12-inch pizzas).  Now comes the hard part; you throw them into in a Zip-loc bag and refrigerate for at least two days for the final rise and fermentation.  It takes time.  The sourdough rises much slower than commercial yeast.  But it is worth it.  Patience will be rewarded! 

Over the course of the two days, you will see the dough has expanded and risen, filling the corners of the plastic bag.  The dough is ready to be made into a pizza after two days, but you will find it tastes even better if you wait three to five days.  That extra time allows for additional fermentation and flavor development.

When ready to bake, allow the dough to come to room temperature (one and one half to two hours), and pat it out into the shape of a pizza on a well floured pizza peel. Top it how you wish, and bake for 7-8 minutes on a pizza stone in a 500 F preheated oven.

The flavor of the crust is really nice.  When people think of sourdough, a really tart, tangy bread might come to mind.  But this really isn't like that.  The sourness is very subtle, and what you are left with is simply a really hearty, pleasing, homemade bread with great flavor and texture.

That being said, here was tonight's creation - sourdough pizza with pepperoni, Canadian bacon, artichoke hearts, and green olives with fresh mozzarella, Leerdammer, fontina, and asiago cheeses.

Sourdough pizza is so good!

Turned out very nice.  The crust got a great rise on the edge, and it baked up beautifully with lots of interesting flavors and textures - spiciness from the pepperoni, sweetness from the Canadian bacon, and a pleasant briny flavor from the olives and artichoke hearts, all combined with the creaminess of the variety of cheeses.  A great meal tonight!

So that is what I have been able to learn about making sourdough pizza over the course of the last year.  I am looking forward to seeing what I can learn with another year of practice.  In my new kitchen.   With custom Corian countertops that are simply begging for pizzas to be made on them.  I am almost there. ;-)

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Fast Forward

As you have no doubt guessed from my last post, things are moving forward with the house.  And quite quickly, I might add!

I did the home inspection yesterday, and that went great.  The inspector told me the place is in excellent shape - just a couple minor things that should be addressed, but otherwise solid.  That made me feel good.  Now, I am working on the loan, packing up my apartment, and planning the move.

I am pretty excited.  But I wish I felt more excited.  Currently, I just feel overwhelmed.  I wish I could fast forward the month of November!

This whole experience has been so stressful, and aside from the actual process of looking at homes, not much fun - making the offer, waiting for months to find out if I even got the place, getting jerked around on the price, etc.  This week had me scrambling around doing tons of paperwork while trying to stay focused on work, trying to plan the move, and thinking of everything I need to do.  It is hard to go through this process by yourself; one of the drawbacks of being single, I suppose.
  
I got the approval letter for the sale on November 2nd.  For my apartment, I am required to give 60 days notice (even though I am doing a month-to-month lease).  It would have been nice to have given notice in October to be out at the end of December.  Naturally, there was no flexibility or sympathy from the dingbat apartment manager ("Aw, you missed it by only two days!").  So in this instance, a 60 day notice is really an 88 day notice, and I am stuck with the apartment through the end of January.  Nothing like throwing rent money straight into the trash for an apartment I won't be using, all the while paying for my new place, too.  Ugh!

At least this means I can take my time moving!  Call it an expensive silver lining...

Now I am waiting to find out the closing date, and to figure out the schedule of events.  I am worried the closing is going to occur in very close proximity to Thanksgiving, which is playing hell with me trying to schedule vacation time for the holidays.  I really want to be able to get home to visit my family and not worry about something I am forgetting or need to be doing down here.

I promise I will quit complaining!  This too shall pass, as they say, and ultimately this will be a really good thing.  I can't wait to have my own place.  And I hope once I get settled in and cook my first meal there (the kitchen is awesome, by the way!), my mood will brighten considerably.  Just need to get past this next month or so.

(Someone hit the fast forward button, please...)

But don't worry - I am still running and feeding myself quite well, as last night's sourdough pizza can attest to...

Friday night's pizza with Calabrese sausage, fresh mozzarella, fontina, and asiago
Onward and upward!

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Update

Just a quick update...

I got the house.  I'll be moving in a month.  Let's do this!

Thanks to all for the kind comments and e-mails.  More later. :)

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