Monday, April 14, 2014

Food Cart Project Part V: Lease Signing, Repacked Bearings, Rust Removal and Sous Vide

Things are moving along nicely with the food cart project. On Friday, I signed a three month lease for the space where I'll be building the cart, beginning in May. It'll take me longer than three months, of course, but the initial lease is for three and then it's month to month after that. The space itself is at a warehouse full of artisan studios called Civilian Studios, which is run by my upstairs neighbors. Build out will occur in the middle garage bay, conveniently located steps away from the wood shop:

Before any of that occurs, though, there's still much work to be done on the trailer itself. This weekend, I hitched up the trailer to my across the hall neighbor's truck (I have awesome neighbors) and took it to Les Schwab to have the bearings repacked.

That, combined with the new tires I had installed a couple of weeks back, has this trailer rolling very nicely. It still has a good amount of surface rust, however, which I've just begun the process of removing. The rust removal rig is a pretty simple affair:

Here are the rust removal results, thus far anyway. This is going to be a multi-day project for sure, and once done, I'll give it a coat of paint before moving it over to Civilian.

I've also been playing around with the new sous vide rig. Why, you might ask, do I need sous vide for a simple food cart? Well, I don't, really. But as a matter of practicality, sous vide makes a lot of sense. And, to be honest, it's just hella cool. This technique has made its way beyond the realm of molecular gastronomy and is becoming fairly commonplace in mid-market professional kitchens. It's a great way to cook up, say, twenty five chicken breasts or fish filets at a time. And because they're vacuum packed, they keep in the fridge for a good long while, and you can pull them out as needed for service and give 'em a quick sear for some color and extra flavor. For the vacuum sealer, I went with the Vacmaster 260:

I'm pretty happy with it so far. The immersion circulator itself is a Polyscience unit, the "Chef Series," which is the smaller of their two professional grade circulators:

If you're not familiar with this technology, basically the way it works is that it has a heating element which brings the water up to temperature, and a pump to keep the water circulating so no cool spots develop. Food is vacuum packed, and submerged in the water bath, hence "immersion," and "sous vide," which is french for under pressure. These things were originally designed for keeping laboratory specimens at a constant temperature, and they're precise to within a tenth of a degree. I've got mine set up in a Coleman party stacker cooler because, in theory at least, it's more thermally efficient than a Cambro container. I cut a notch out of the lid for the circulator, and Bob's yer uncle:

So, like I said, things are moving right along. Stay tuned!

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Food Cart Project Part IV: New TIres and More!

The trailer got some new tires this past weekend. Looking pretty nice, I have to say:

Still need to get the thing into a shop to have the bearings repacked and the springs looked at to make sure they're up to the weight they'll be holding, but fortunately they can do all that at my local Les Schwab (for those of you non-Westerners, Les Schwab is a regional competitor to Firestone, Goodyear and the like). I'm also fortunate to have been able to reclaim a significant amount of lumber from the trailer's previous incarnation. Said lumber has lots of screws to be removed (many of them bent):

And now for the really exciting news of the day: My immersion circulator arrived this afternoon!

Rather than go the standard stock pot or Cambro food box route, I've set up the rig with a cooler, to minimize heat loss. Or to maximize thermal efficiency. Or both. Or whatever. Anyway, I'll be cutting a notch into the lid for the circulator, and as soon as the vacuum sealer arrives, I'll start playing around with sous vide!

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Food Cart Project Part III: Down to the Frame!

We've gotten a run of good weather this week (sorry, Midwesterners), and I was able to get out this afternoon and do some more demolition work on the trailer. Loosened the rest of the bolts, ripped out the rotten plywood that had been serving as a floor, and voila, the Cow has now been stripped down to her frame:

And a nice frame it is, I have to say:

A little rust here and there, but on the whole it looks pretty solid. Obviously, that tire in the foreground will have to be re-inflated or, more likely, replaced, and the bearings will probably need to be repacked. So, at some point in the next few weeks I'll take it to a shop and have it brought into proper working order.

In other food cart related news, I managed to get in a little more research last weekend in San Francisco. My friend Justin picked me up at SFO and we had lunch at Yamo in the Mission District. I sampled their lahpet thoke (very good) and their mohinga (also very good, but mine's better). I also have a pressure cooker on the way, which I'll be employing in the making of stock. So, things are moving forward...

Monday, March 10, 2014


Four friends and I had an outstanding dinner last Thursday at Daniel Patterson's restaurant Coi in San Francisco. The name, as Patterson explains in this YouTube video, is an archaic French word, from the same Latin root that gives us the word coy in English, which basically means tranquil. I don't know that I'd use that word to describe Patterson's food, though; I'd say it leans more toward bright, energetic and whimsical, but the word certainly applies to the space, and the atmosphere, in which we enjoyed it.

Eating food of this sort, it's often said, amounts to a conversation between the chef (and his or her cooks) and the diner. It's been said often enough, in fact, to have become a cliché by now, but in many ways it's still true. The tasting menu at Coi presented us with a twisting path through a landscape of acidic, rich, vegetal, sweet and earthy flavors that could only reflect the personality of an auteur with a deep love of exploration and surprise. The first surprise of the evening last Thursday was being led into our own private dining room at the back of the restaurant:

The menu involved thirteen courses in all (I'm using a somewhat loose definition of "course"; it could have been considered twelve, or even eleven), with five wine pairings. I'm going to hold off, for the most part, on trying to describe the flavors here, because frankly, I don't think I'm up to the task; better to let you imagine them from the photos and general descriptions. That being said, our evening began with a colorful amuse-bouche of blood orange ice with black lime and pink peppercorn:

This was followed by a poached egg yolk on a bed of creme fraiche and chive, topped with California sturgeon caviar, which was accompanied by the first wine pairing of the evening, a 2004 Gonet-Medeville brut from Champagne. I was a little slow to snap a photo of this, obviously:

Next up was oyster with meyer lemon, radish and green apple, paired with a 2011 Lucien Crochet Sancerre from the Loire Valley:

The oysters, radishes and apple were set atop a gel of, presumably, meyer lemon, but its flavor reminded me of something entirely different that I still can't quite put my finger on; passion fruit is the closest I've been able to come up with... Anyway, this was followed by a dinner roll accompanied by an excellent house-made cultured butter with maldon salt:

The next course was an inverted tart with goat cheese and beet:

I don't like beets, never have. I've often wondered if I just hadn't had them prepared in the right way. Well, I had Patterson's preparation of beets, and I didn't like that, so I must really not like beets. After this came a dungeness crab and beef tendon soup with asian pear, finger lime and cilantro. I have no idea what a finger lime is, but this was quite tasty. It was paired with a 2011 Rafael Palacios Louro do Bolo Godello from Valdeorras, Spain:

Next up was probably my favorite course of the evening, a "dumpling" of steamed sunchoke enrobed in black trumpet mushroom atop braised lettuce and a combination of brown butter and mushroom dashi which was nothing short of otherworldly. I was practically licking the plate. Well, okay, I might have *actually* licked the plate a little... It was paired with a 2011 Hirsch Chardonnay from Sonoma:

This was followed by a variety of brassicas, including broccolini and cauliflower, set on a puree of potato and dandelion with new olive oil and charred onion broth:

Next up was aged duck grilled over charcoal with cracked bulgar, young turnip and eucalyptus. This was paired with a 2004 La Rioja Alta Viña Ardanza Reserva from Rioja, Spain:

The next course, unfortunately, I failed to get a picture of. It was a transitional course between the dinner courses and the three (yes, three) dessert courses, and was a sort of taco of kiwi and shiso in a coconut mochi "tortilla". The first of the dessert courses was grapefruit and tarragon on a ginger and black pepper mousse. This was paired with a 2009 Domaine Huet Vouvray Le Haut-Lieu Moelleux from the Loire Valley:

After this came a vanilla cake with rhubarb and hibiscus:

The final course I also failed to get a photo of (by this time I was starting to feel the effects of all that wine). It was a yuzu infused frozen marshmallow covered in dark chocolate. Like everything else (except for the beets), it was excellent.

Also excellent was the service, which was of a level we're generally neither accustomed to, nor do we expect (nor care about, really, barbarians that we are), here in Portland. My friends and I had no fewer than five waiters, all of whom were swift, professional, informative and mostly unobtrusive. They, along with Patterson and his back of house staff, made for a very memorable evening.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Food Cart Project Part II: Let's Rip the Roof Off This Place!

And for that matter, the walls...

...and the window! And the framing!

I'll be able to reuse much of this lumber, if not the the plywood, and I'm actually getting a handful of pretty nice decking screws out of it as well. The rest of this shouldn't take all that much longer. Might even have it down to the frame by the end of the day!

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Food Cart Project Part I: The Cow's Last Stand

This is the Cow:

I don't know why it's called the Cow. Maybe because it's large and unwieldy, maybe just because it's ugly? Either way, that's what it's called. The Cow. Here's what it looks like from the side:

And here's what it looks like inside:

Or looked like, that is, until I cleaned it out this afternoon. The Cow belonged to my landlords until just recently, and dutifully served as a makeshift camping trailer for many years. The accommodations were spartan, to be sure, but it was weathertight and provided cheap and reliable shelter on many a trip into the mountains and the backwoods.

But that's all over. The Cow is mine now, and it's soon to be stripped down to its frame and transformed into something entirely different. The Cow is about to embark on a path to a new life; an urban life; a culinary life...

Monday, December 16, 2013

Roasted Chicken and Toast á la Limoges

I've been thinking about roasting a chicken lately, after stumbling across Thomas Keller's roasted chicken recipe on the interwebs about a week back. As providence would have it, I ran "afowl" (heh, heh) of an interesting idea this weekend at my neighbors' holiday gift exchange party, which kicked this project into gear.

Said neighbors are a couple who live just down the hall in my apartment building, and one half of the couple, Nicolas, is from Limoges, in the Limousin region of France (the other half is Jessica, who hails from Tacoma). Nic mentioned that in Limoges, when they roast a chicken, they put a slice of bread underneath it in the roasting pan to soak up the juices. Which sounded pretty damn good to me...

The recipe for the chicken itself, as noted above, is Keller's, and it's a remarkably simple recipe, with only three ingredients. I will, of course, be sharing it below, but you can find my source material here

First, you'll start with a chicken. I went with a free range fryer (if you go with a roaster, which is a larger, older and tougher bird, you'll probably want to cook it a bit longer than I cooked my fryer) from New Seasons:

For the toast, I went with a baguette, also from New Seasons, and sliced it on the bias. I also dried the slices out in my toaster oven. I should note here that I did not *toast* them, I only dried them out. The reason for this, and also the reason for the dearth of ingredients in Keller's recipe (i.e. no onions, garlic, apple, lemon, etc. stuffed inside the chicken cavity) is to minimize any steam in the oven once the roasting process is underway.

Lay your sliced bread in the roasting pan, underneath the rack:

Now you'll want to get to work on the chicken. Take it out of the fridge well ahead of time to bring it to room temperature, and make sure it's completely dry, both inside and out. Coat the cavity liberally with kosher salt and fresh ground pepper. Then do the same to both sides of the outside:

Now you'll truss the chicken with some kitchen twine, which is actually pretty easy (refer to link above for instructions):

Preheat your oven to 450 F, place the chicken on the rack in the roasting pan, and once the oven's up to temperature, place the whole thing in and leave it be. After 50 minutes, take it out and check the temperature, in the space between the breast and thigh. If it's 165F, it's done. If not, put it back in until it is. Once it's done, let it sit for at least fifteen minutes before carving. This is what it'll look like:

And here's what the toast itself will look like:

The middle slices were pretty much perfect, and just as Nic described them: At once crispy and moist, and imbued with essence of chicken. The outer slices, however, were a bit dry and didn't soak up much of the chicken drippings. Next time, I'll probably pack them a little closer so that they're all directly underneath the chicken. The bird itself was spot on. The skin was crispy, none of the meat was dry, and the salt and pepper infused into the meat and gave it just enough seasoning.

So, there you have it: Roasted Chicken and Toast á la Limoges. Give it a try! And enjoy...