Local business, a consumer's perspective. (Columbus, OH edn)

When I visit the Starbucks on N Broadway and N High I sit at the bar and study the line that builds between 7 and 8. This line is profoundly different than any line at a McDonald's where customers stare at their phones while ordering rarely acknowledging the unfortunate soul behind the counter. Customers at Starbucks holster their devices 3 places out waiting for their turn to engage with their barrista with anticipation rivaled only by a meeting with the kid at the Genius bar.

My favorite employee, Jen, works mornings, the spirited and giggly Cia works nights, Shawn is friendly and polite, his father loves gadgets, the unshaven guy sometimes at the register got his skateboard backpack at a thrift store and a newly-mustachioed Jason plays at Wild Goose once in a while with his band. One young lady is delightfully pleasant and talkative when business is quiet. Annie is a little standoffish toward me, but I know she's a psych major who decided grad school just didn't do it for her, she enjoys her work. Kelly is diligent, damned efficient and knows how to run a shift. They all know things about me.

At a popular Short North cafe, I recently had a pourover that was lukewarm because the young lady, managing at least another customer or two, didn't care. I've been about four times: two visits were bad and two were mediocre. It's not where I'll go to consume my ration of caffeine or spend my limited funds. Oh, their coffee's outstanding and local and all that.

Something about the too oft-maligned Starbucks' employees is magic. They are the soul of the successful franchise because their coffee is insipid; I wish I had the nerve to bring my own and offer them a sitting fee. Yet, I go, I sip, I enjoy, religiously. I yearn for a social connection with my consumption - especially when I'm slapping down cash for food. Don't hate successful businesses, study them.

Dave is a frustrated amateur food scientist and former chemist who blogs about food at weber_cam and occasionally blathers at Dave's Beer. Today he provides unsolicited advice to local business owners.


Bread for the teachers (again)

The other morning, I made bread for the teachers at Frankie's school. It's a fun morning of baking which I've done once before where I make about 40 pieces of bread for our hardworking public teachers as a small tribute to their dedication.  This run was a little different than in the past and I learned a lot.

Testing yeast and flour on smaller scale is helpful, but nothing is like the real run. I used to cook on perforated thin sheets of stainless steel for convenience and other reasons but have turned back to clay tiles. The most significant factor in baking crusty loaves at home, I believe, is humidity in the oven. Anyone can humidify an oven with any "trick" they think works but I also believe most crust faults result from too much humidity. Anything else I say is without substance because measuring relative humidity in an oven at 400-450F requires a really expensive probe. Until I do some measurements, feel free to read Julia Child's famous recipe on how to make crusty baguettes. Her too many ways to humidify the oven convinced me none of them are very effective.

In this run, I tested no steam and relied on a pretty full oven full of bread to provide the initial moist environment. I cooked about 2 lbs of dough at a time in 75 g rolls using 450F and convection on preheated tile. The convection was a further attempt to dehumidify the oven in late stages of baking. 

Dough prep: I went with a basic lean bread dough: water 360 g, Fleischmann's fast yeast 1 pkt (7 g), olive oil 10 g, salt 10 g, unbleached white flour (Montana Sapphire) 600 g, and kneaded in a bread machine. I did this 4 times and set the blobs in a 15 qt stainless pot on my ca. 40F deck for the day. 7 hours before baking, I pulled in the pot to let warm up, when I woke up, it was 60F. The dough was portioned in 75 g balls (about 65 g after baking), rounded, let rest and shaped them into minis. I cooked 12 at a time for about 20 mins each. The total baking session was about 2.5 hours. The crusts were slightly crackled on the surface and the crust may have been the best I ever achieved. This is a sloppy post, I just needed to document it. Here's some action shots:

I made the dough about 24 hours before and left it outside at about 40F the entire day.

I took the pot in 7 hours before baking to warm up in a 60F house.


Merguez: three painful hours

The last time I endured 3 hours of French-related agony was in grad school when, in an attempt to convince my girlfriend I was all that, I sat through Germinal.  It was the longest, darkest movie I never understood.

Lucky enough to still have that woman in my life, I tried to make something she and I would enjoy to relive a past adventure to Paris.  I tried my hand at merguez.  A spicy, really red, greasy link sausage most perfectly served with couscous.  Despite SaucissonMAC's expertise and directed readings, I was overwhelmed  trying to find a recipe.  Having had it in Paris once long ago, I believed I could recall enough to alter a recipe that would reproduce what we ate so long ago.  I'm recording this less than successful episode because I'd like to try again.

Here's some details:

  • Lamb, 2000 g, from a 9 lb halal shoulder from Mediterranean Food Imports, cut by the butcher into pieces, ground twice using a small die (yield about 3 kg, kept some for later)
  • Pork fat, 250 g, (so much for the halal thing)
  • Salt, 30 g (only 6 g/lb, but I was relying on getting some additional  salt from the harissa)
  • Garlic, 25 g finely minced
  • Paprika, Spanish sweet, 2T
  • Paprika, spicy, 2T
  • Cumin, 2T ground
  • Coriander, 2T ground
  • Cinnamon, 1t
  • harissa, 60 g, a commercial preparation from the same market (this is where SaucissonMAC may yell at me), this was the brand I used.
  • water, 60 g

See a few pics below of the process.  Should've been more images, but my hands were busy trying to muffle the f-bomb attack.

After mixing until slightly sticky, I fried a sample patty.  With $45 dollars of lamb on the line, I feared too much salt or too much hot (harissa) and I fell content too quickly.  The salt was perfect but (in hindsight) it lacked heat and it wasn't red enough.  I really, really wanted the blazing red color.  I now realize the signature of this sausage is harissa and I should've made my own, but the stuff I bought tasted good and  was smokin' hot; I think I was simply too light on it.

To this point, the prep was a delightful walk through the kitchen.  Then came stuffing into the sheep casings and I was immediately transported to the mines with Depardieu choking with black lung.  The casings were tough to thread on the stuffing funnel, they tore, etc.  I forged ahead for a few hours. I manged about 3 lbs of links and saved the rest as bulk.

While not a total flop, it's a darn good lamb sausage, but definitely room for improvement.