Friday, August 8, 2014
I've taken a break from the food cart project in recent weeks (okay, months), in the interim having prepared for, taken, and recovered from a greatly anticipated and well deserved vacation in Northern Michigan. But I've now returned, and have thrown myself back into the fray. The latest phase of the project involves what ought to have been the first phase of the project, i.e. the Multnomah County Plan Review. This is basically the procedure by which you pitch your idea to the authorities and they give it their yay or nay. It's a pretty big step, and one that requires no small amount of preparation. And preparation is what I've been busying myself with this week. A big part of the plan review process involves scaled drawings of the cart itself, construction plans, and lists of equipment, ingredients, etc. I figured that you, my faithful readers, deserved a sneak peek before I send these off to the county officials, so I present to you my framing schematics, interior layout and exterior drawings. These represent the "bones" of the cart, as well as a general idea of what it will look like once said bones are fleshed out. To wit, my illustrations...
Sunday, June 29, 2014
I've run into a bit of a lull in construction as I've begun seriously assessing the weight capacity of the trailer I'm building the cart on. A little research on trailers of similar size and purpose - the original purpose of mine being hauling ATVs - suggests that my trailer is rated around 2000 lbs, which is about half the weight of what the cart will be once built (a good resource for determining this, via axle size, can be found here). So I've made an appointment for tomorrow with a local shop called Oregon Auto Spring, which specializes in building and modifying suspensions for pretty much any sort of vehicle, right up to heavy duty trucks and RVs, to have them look at it and give me an estimate for swapping out the axle and springs for a beefier set-up. In the meantime, I've continued to experiment with new recipes, some of which might make it onto the menu as specials. This weekend's experiment was a chopped beef salad. This is a specialty of Kachin state, in the far north of Burma along the border with China, and was loosely adapted from Naomi Duguid's Burma: Rivers of Flavor. The salad starts with beef, as you might have guessed. I went with a pound of stew meat:
I tossed the beef with some minced shallot, garlic, galangal, birds eye chiles and ground sichuan peppercorns. The cuisine of Kachin state, being adjacent to China, is heavily influenced by that country's flavors, hence the sichuan peppercorns.
I then vacuum sealed this in a bag to marinate overnight.
Here's what that looks like:
I cooked the seasoned beef in the immersion circulator. While there are plenty of guidelines for cooking times for beef, I couldn't find one specifically for stew meat. It's a tough cut with a lot of connective tissue, and intended for use in stews of course, so it generally cooks for a few hours at a simmer, somewhere around 180 or 190F. I wanted to stick more to a low and slow method, given that I was taking advantage of the circulator, so I set the temperature at 143 and let it go for twelve hours.
The result was pretty good, though in the future I may set it at a slightly lower temperature, somewhere between 135 and 140, and let it go a little longer, closer to 16 hours, perhaps. Here's what it looked like after I took it out of the circulator:
After cooling to room temperature in an ice bath, I pulsed this in the food processor until it came to a nice fine chop. In keeping with the Chinese-influenced flavor profile of Kachin cuisine, I then tossed it with some five spice powder, sugar, salt, soy sauce and toasted sesame oil. I also incorporated some chopped mint and added a little bit of lime juice to nudge it back toward Southeast Asia. Here it is next to some Indian beer, along with a grated carrot salad (a specialty of Mandalay) and some turmeric rice:
Friday, May 30, 2014
Last weekend, I had a meeting with a chap called Steven Shomler, who recently wrote an excellent book about the Portland food cart scene. Steven also runs a website called Portland Food Cart Adventures. He has a very generous policy of allowing anybody seriously thinking about opening a food cart to bend his ear for a little while, provided they're willing to buy him a cup of coffee or a pint of beer. So, I was able to get a lot of questions answered and take in some great advice. One point he stressed was the importance of getting the brand and social media presence in place, earlier rather than later. I'd already done a fair amount of the branding (having a background in graphic design really helps here), but I hadn't intended on getting the concept out to the public so soon, so that's what I worked on through the rest of the weekend and since. I now have the Twitter:
And the Facebook:
I also set up an Instagram account, as well as the website, which I put together through Squarespace. I don't have a link for that yet, as I seem to be having some trouble getting the domain to populate over from GoDaddy, but here's a shot of the home page:
So, most of that is in place. And obviously, the concept is now public. Burmese food, doing Burmese food (or a somewhat Westernized, PDX take on it, at any rate; I'm not making any claims at authenticity). This weekend, I gave a couple pieces of equipment I'll be using a test run. Chicken, meet my new convection oven. You two are gonna have so much fun together...
Very, very important. I'm not sure what this thing could be immersed in, aside from a bathtub or a swimming pool, but very, very important nevertheless:
Trust me, they said. Then they trussed me:
The chicken fits in the oven very nicely. Shouldn't be too much trouble cooking two at a time:
And, here's the finished product. I brined the chicken overnight, but apart from that I didn't really season it at all. Just dried it off a bit, and threw it right in. And it was fantastic.
I also gave the pressure cooker its inaugural run. Stock takes about a quarter of the time in one of these.
I tossed in the bones from just the one chicken, six quarts of water, and some aromatic vegetables and herbs (in this case, I want a Southeast Asian flavor profile, so I went with a couple of shallots, along with some lemongrass, green onion, and parsley that I'd put in the freezer not long ago. If you make stock, or plan on starting, always remember to save those veggie scraps and put 'em in the freezer):
Of course, you'll want to strain that and get it into an ice bath once it's done:
The stock turned out really well. I was a little concerned that one chicken's worth of bones wouldn't be enough, but the nice thing about the pressure cooker is that it really extracts the flavor and collagen from the bones. The yield ended up being just a little over five and a half quarts. Not bad. Stay tuned!
Sunday, May 18, 2014
First, frame it out with 2x4s. You'll usually see floors built with 2x6s, which I don't think is necessary for this application, as the floor will sit on a fairly strong metal frame to begin with; also, weight's a consideration here. This was all put together with a compressed air powered framing nailer, which made for quick work (that being said, if the pressure in the compressor tank gets a bit low, you might have the odd nail that doesn't get sent in all the way; it's useful to have a hammer on hand in such a case, or a pry bar in case you have to re-do it). And remember, always measure twice, cut and nail once!
Once the framing's done, lay out the sheathing, in this case 3/4" subfloor OSB. Line it up with at least one corner and two sides, snap a chalk line where it needs to be trimmed, and move it a bit so you can get the saw through it. A good circular saw is the tool for this.
Once the subflooring's trimmed, evened up and in place, you'll want to do a couple more things before securing it to the 2x4s. First, make sure the framing is square by measuring both pairs of opposite corners. If the measurements aren't the same, you don't have a perfectly "square" rectangle. You can fix this by tapping the corners a bit with a mallet until the measurements even up and it comes into square. Then, you'll want to snap some more chalk lines, even with the joists, which serve as guides to where to put in your nails.
And voila, you have a floor! And, a shit ton of sawdust to clean up...
I leaned it up and out of the way to make room for the next phase of the project: the walls! I'll start on those once the windows I ordered arrive (as I think of it, I'm gonna need to pick up a door as well).
Burke's getting to spend a lot of time at Civilian as I work on all of this. Here you can see him getting used to the space:
All of this woodworking requires a wood shop, of course. My lease at Civilian includes the basic shop package, which gets me access to the table saw and the chop saw. There's also a router, jointer/planer and lathe, none of which I'm likely to need. Everything is hooked up to a dust collection system; it's a pretty slick operation.
Here's a nice shot of the Fremont Bridge, and one of the trains that regularly rumble on by (you gotta like trains to work in this place):
Friday, May 2, 2014
We've had a run of nice weather this week, so I used it as an opportunity to spend my afternoons before work removing surface rust from the trailer, as well as priming and painting. It's remarkable the difference a little primer makes. Here you can see the trailer about halfway through the priming process:
And here it is with a full coat of paint. By "full coat of paint," do I mean I managed to cover every square inch of the thing? Well, no. But I'd say I got it to somewhere around 95%. I'm happy with that.
This afternoon, I once again enlisted the help of my neighbor Nichol and her vintage Chevy pickup, and finally moved the trailer into its garage bay at Civilian Studios:
My lease at Civilian is active as of yesterday, which means that every minute of this project is now costing me money. So it's time to bust ass. Here's another shot of the former "Cow" in its bay:
Civilian is an interesting operation. It's in what used to be a wine distributor's warehouse, and the space has been built out into 40 or so individual studio spaces. It's owned and managed by the folks who live directly above me in my apartment building, a furniture maker and a jewelry maker. Here are a couple shots of the studios in the back section of the building:
That old Pepsi machine down there, btw... Yeah, there's kinda, like, beer in it. Y'know, this being Portland and all. $1.25 gets you a can of either PBR or Tecate. There's also a little patio area out back of that part of the building, which Nichol is in charge of. She's got some terraced gardening going on:
From the patio/garden, you can see the building that Broder Nord is in. It previously housed the Gotham Tavern. If you know anything about the spectacular collapse of the Gotham/Clarklewis/Ripe empire, you can probably imagine the drama that's taken place in that building. That grassy hill area on the left, btw, will eventually be terraced as well, and will need to be composted for three years for the sake of soil remediation before it can be planted.
There's also a hammock, as well as a basketball hoop, for games of Horse when folks need a break from their work. And the string of lights makes for a nice evening hangout.
I know now why the caged scooter sings...
So, the next step in this project is to order up some dimensional lumber, OSB and fiberglass reinforced plastic from the lumberyard, and start framing out the floor, walls and roof. Getting the trailer into the space today was a bit of a milestone, and I'm really looking forward to getting into what will undoubtedly be the most involved phase of this project thus far... Good stuff!
Monday, April 14, 2014
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
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!