Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Volver Summer School: Paella

It's been a while since I've had time to post so apologies for that in case anyone has been looking.

So... last week we went to one of Chef Jose Garces' Summer School classes; this one on making paella. As you might expect from the signage above, the class was held at Volvér, his restaurant in the Kimmel Center. Like the classes at Vetri it was limited to 12 participants.

It was led by Volvér's Chef de Cuisine David Conn assisted by Chef Steve Kim of Amada. Chef Conn has been with the Garces Group from the start and during the class discussed how their approach to paella had evolved over the years.

Bocadillos - Part 1

Traditionally, a bocadillo is a sandwich served on a bread cut lengthwise rather than sliced. More recently the term has come to mean pretty much anything delivered on bread, much like the Italian crostini. At Volvér we attendees made the ingredients two: Tomato Bocadillos and Tuna Tartare Bocadillos.

Working in four teams we put together the various pieces:

  • Saffron Aioli
  • Chorizo Aioli
  • Goat Cheese Mousse
  • Guindilla Escabeche

Beth and I did the Chorizo Aioli:

Lemon Juice, Roasted Garlic, Smoked Paprika, Espelette Pepper, & Chorizo Oil

Six egg yolks whisked, and whisked, and whisked with the other ingredients. Then more whisking as we drizzled in that whole container of Chorizo Oil. The folks down at the far end making the goat cheese mousse had it easy - dump everything in the food processor and push the button!

The Paella
Preparing the Paella

Once we had the bocadillos ingredients ready Chef Conn ran down the paella process. At Amada they simplify making paella by preparing everything in advance except the rice (in the beginning they tried par-cooked rice but quickly abandoned the idea as the quality of the paella suffered). For home cooks there's probably a good couple hours of prep:
  • Make Saffron Chicken Stock
  • Poach Chicken Thighs for the Chicken Ropa
  • Prepare the Chicken Ropa Sauce
  • Finish the Ropa
  • Grill the Chorizo
  • Prepare the other Paella Ingredients

Meanwhile Chef Kim was sauteing onions and chorizo in the paella pans and quickly toasting the rice.

Wet ingredients added, he covered the pans with foils and popped 'em into the oven for about 20 minutes...

Bocadillos - Part 2

While the paella cooked we went back to assembling the bocadillos.

On the left are the cherry tomatoes with goat cheese mousse; they're topped off with a picnch of chopped, toasted Marcona almonds. On the right is the tuna tartare in Guandilla Escabeche. Those should have been topped with the Chorizo Aioli, but after the first one, I decided it was too spicy for me. Turns out I didn't have to worry about getting enough - they provided 2 or 3 times as much as was strictly needed. But you know what mom always said: "Don't fill up on bread!"

By the time we got through the bocadillos and a couple glasses of wine the paella was ready:

The finished paella included roast chicken breast, bread (or toast) slathered with that Saffron Aioli and a simple herb salad to cut the richness of the paella. We finally sat down to drink some more wine and devour the paella. Even with 12 hungry paella fans there was enough for seconds if you wanted them.

We've been going to these cooking classes for a couple years now (you can check out my review of the Vetri Pizza class back on the old blog). They're always interesting and fun and the always-late SEPTA night trains help metabolize the free-flowing wine.

This was a terrific class on an intimidating topic. We're both looking forward to next year's series.

Monday, May 9, 2016

Retirement, Day #1: Cherry Jam

So it may seem late in the season, but cherries were on sale at Acme this week. So I bought a couple bags because we love cherries. The first thing I made used about 600 grams of washed, stemmed and pitted cherries: Cherry Clafoutis, one of our all time favorite desserts. Thing #2 was Cherry Jam.

Jam is incredibly easy to make. Just weigh your cleaned fruit, add 75% of that weight in sugar, some lemon zest & juice, and boil until it reaches 105° C. That's the easy part.

First you wash, stem, and pit the fruit. In this case cherries. It took me about half an hour to prepare 1.1 kilos of cherries.

Weigh the fruit! The Number One Cause of recipe failure in the United States is the stupid habit of providing measurements by volume instead of weight. To this batch I added 825 grams of sugar. (Jam is not a perfect science.)

It will look way too dry at first. Don't worry. As it warms up the sugar will suck the juice out of the cherries and it will turn into cherry soup.

Now patience comes into play. You want this stuff to come to a boil... But you don't want it to boil over. Time for a new pot...

Cherries are small and annoying to chop. So I waited until they were almost done and hit 'em with my immersion blender. At this point the only thing to do is to skim the froth and watch the temperature until it hits 105° C.

Once it does, it's off the heat and into prepared jars. You can hot pack this kind of jam since it's three quarters sugar. I'm a little paranoid so I used the boiling water process to seal 'em up. We'll probably eat it all long before it's sell by date - 1.1 kilos of cherries produces exactly 2 pints of jam.

Did I mention I'm retired?

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

New Equipment Day: Breville JE98XL Juice Fountain Plus!

I've been working my way through Dominique Crenn's marvelous cookbook Atelier Crenn: Metamorphosis of Taste. Many of the recipes there (not to mention elBulli 2005-2011) call for a juicer to reduce ingredients to juice and a fine pulp. So I looked around at options and settled on a sort of middle of the road Breville model, the JE98XL Juice Fountain Plus

My first project was to create carrot pulp for one of the parts of Crenn's Carrot Jerky. Not surprisingly, this resulted in the pulp (which was then dehydrated) and also about a cup of carrot juice. I certainly wasn't going to dump it, but plain carrot juice didn't sound especially tasty. A quick Google came up with a couple reasonable looking carrot juice drinks from which I adapted this version: 



  • 225 grams Carrot
  • 325 grams Apple
  • 10 grams Ginger
Cooking Directions

  1. Wash the carrots and apple.
  2. Trim the carrot ends.
  3. Quarter the apple.
  4. Process on high speed.
Super simple, and pretty tasty. Depending on how much water is in your vegetables you'll see about a pint of very tasty juice.

While using the byproduct from a complex recipe is a good thing, that doesn't get a lot of action from a rather expensive gadget. After some more Googling I found the "Reboot With Joe" website. Regardless of what one may think of the claims on his site, Joe Cross does have a huge number of really tasty looking recipes. His "Mean Green" juice is something of a classic that I've adapted here:

Joe's Green Juice


  • 200 grams Kale leaves
  • 170 grams Cucumber
  • 200 grams Celery Stalks
  • 650 grams Apples
  • 30 grams Lemon
  • 20 grams Ginger
Cooking Directions
  1. Carefully wash all ingredients. Quarter the apples.
  2. Process Kale, cucumber, and lemon on low speed.
  3. Process remaining ingredients on high speed.
Note: Weights are based on the produce I used and should be considered a guideline only. To adapt, treat the weight of the apple as 100% and work proportionally for the other ingredients.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016


Last fall Philadelphia's first and only authentic English Pie shop, Stargazy, opened on East Passyunk. It's been a tremendous hit and not too surprisingly I've become rather fond of the various pies Chef Sam Jacobson turns out. The problem is, I still live in the suburbs so it can be a little difficult to satisfy the urge for pie. So why not make my own?

This turns out to be both amazingly easy and kind of tricky at the same time. The first tricky part was finding the neat rectangular pie tins. None of my regular restaurant supply dealers carried them, which isn't all that surprising. Chef Jacobson evidently had to source his tins from England - not especially practical for me since I only needed a few. Eventually I located Falcon Enamelware who make the exact thing:

Falcon Pie Dishes
Pie Dishes

I bought my set of four from Amara where you can also get the full line of Falcon enamelware.

Pie Pastry

The next step is pastry. Chef Jacobson makes a very flaky dough, something like rough puff paste dough. That, it turns out isn't tricky at all. It's equal parts flour and cold butter by weight, 1% salt, and cold water, i.e.

50 grams flour
50 grams cold, unsalted butter, cut into chunks
1 gram salt
Ice water

Here I'm working with 200 grams each of flour and butter plus 4 grams of salt:

Everything goes into the food processor. Add ice water very slowly while pulsing until it comes together. This batch took about 100 grams of water.

Dump it out and form it into a rectangular blob. Notice the bits of butter. Wrap it up and put it into the refrigerator for half an hour to hydrate and rest.

Now the fun begins! Roll out the block of dough into a rectangle about 3 times as long as it is wide, fold the top third down to the center, then the bottom third up over the top, sort of like a letter.

Wrap it up, put in the refrigerator for a half an hour, the repeat twice. Keep the dough in the refrigerator until you've made a cooled the filling.

The Filling: Braised Short Ribs

Roughly equal amount of chopped mushrooms and onions. Saute 'em until lightly caramelized.

This is 72 hour 62° C short rib. Remove any blobs of excess fat while breaking it up. Dump it in the pan and mix well until everything's heated through.

You can add anything to it at this point I was sure I had some frozen peas, but they were nowhere to be found.You'll want to toss in some herbs - I used thyme and a couple bay leaves. Then just sprinkle on about a tablespoon of flour and mix it in, dump on a can of beef broth (about 2 cups) and a tablespoon of Worcestershire and simmer, stirring, until it thickens. Taste for seasoning and set aside, covered to cool.

When the filling has cooled completely, it's time to roll out the pastry. We worked with about half the pastry at a time. You want the bottom crusts to be pretty thin - less than 1/8 of an inch:

Line the tins, fill 'em with meaty goodness, and add the top crust:

Poke a couple holes in the tops, glaze 'em with egg wash and into a 400° F oven for 45 minutes.

Oh man, these were good. But not without mistakes. So next time:
  • Make More Pastry. The tops were really thin and didn't get as flaky as I'd have liked.
  • Make more filling. We only had enough for 3 pies, which was good because we didn't have enough pastry either.
  • Add more stuff to the filling - double the mushrooms and onions, and add diced carrots, peas, etc.
These were a great result for not very much effort. I'm thinking Pie 2.0 will probably use Shepherd's Pie filling as the base, with diced potatoes added to bulk it up. Seafood is a possibility too, maybe something like a New England chowder...

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Moving Along!

Since I'm getting frighteningly close to actual retirement this blog is going to become much more wide-ranging. Basically, I'll be including posts that would have previously gone into El Bulli At Home or Sapere Aude Incipe! Why? This is the retirement blog, I'll be retired, and pretty much everything I do will be viewed through that lens.

You may have noticed that I've also stopped posting my IRA activities. Those can now be found on Seeking Alpha, a crowd sourced financial website that's I've found of great value in focusing my investment activities.

Some of the regular writers I've especially helpful include:

Richard Berger, who uses the same option techniques I do to enhance income.

Chuck Carnevale who writes insightful articles about locating value in the stock market

Brad Thomas, who writes extensively on REITs.

Chris DeMuth Jr., a very knowledgable writer whose opinion is always worth reading

David Fish, who maintains lists of the top dividend paying stocks that are absolutely indispensable

You can read can even read my articles if you want to!

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Financial Planning Wekend Update: December 12, 2015

Monday December 7, 2015

Nothing happened in the account last week, hence the two week gap.

I opened a new position in Altria (MO) with the following Buy/Write:

Commission and fees came to $13.61 so I have a cost basis of $57.7226. There are only two weeks left in the calls and I expect to be able to write at least twice a month against this underlying. At this point I have approximately half of my retirement funds in this IRA and the rest will stay in my 401(k) until retirement.

The market gave up a good chunk of Friday's gains so volatility is jacking up option premiums. It's looking like I will have to roll out my MRK position on Thursday but that should be the only other activity this week.

Tuesday December 8, 2015

The S&P closed down another 10 points. Maybe I won't have to roll MRK.

Wednesday December 9, 2015

Altria (MO)  declared the expected $0.565 dividend payable January 11 to shareholders of record December 24. My current position expires on the 18th so I'll be writing new calls on the 18th if I have to roll out or the 21st if they expire so I probably won't have to worry about early assignment due to the dividend as there will be plenty of time left in the contract.

Thursday December 10, 2015

I rolled out my MRK position to the February $52.50 for a net credit of $764.16. The full story of this roll out was posted as Avoiding Early Exercise of Covered Calls over at Seeking Alpha.

Friday December 11, 2015

That wraps up a nasty week in the markets with a nearly 2% drop in the S&P 500. Most of my positions expire next week and the best that can be said at least they're out of the money. As of today they look like this:

Only HCP is in the money but with the Fed Reality Day set for Wednesday I will not be at all surprised to see it drift under my strike.

Next week should be interesting and I hope not too painful. Friday is a "triple witching" expiration so there could be some additional volatility at roll out time.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

An Answer to "Retire Where?"

Chris DeMuth Jr. recent published an article in Seeking Alpha titled “RetireWhere?” in which he suggested three fairly typical locations for retirement: Wyoming, Puerto Rico, and Dominica. He justified those choices largely in economic terms. Unfortunately he completely ignores the vast array of "soft" quality of life factors as well as a number of very real issues that older persons, retired or not, must must deal with.

East Passyunk, Philadelphia, PA

What? Inner city Philadelphia? You bet. We’re fairly young (about to be) retirees.  East Passyunk and the Passyunk Square area are the closest things this side of Paris to pure bliss for us. Why? Let me enumerate the ways:


Living in a city comes with absolutely free walkability. There’s no need to own a car, pay for gas, insurance, maintenance, and so forth. This alone is an enormous financial advantage. If a place is too far to walk, Philadelphia has a very good public transit system. In the rare instance we happen to need larger or more flexible transport we can use ZipCar or a similar service.


We’re both avid “foodies” and East Passyunk is a nationally recognized hotbed of high quality eats. Some of our favorites in the area include Le Virtu and Brigantessa, Laurel, P’unk Burger, and Stargazy a recently opened authentic English pie shop (complete with eels). Bing Bin Dim Sum is a high concept “dim sum” joint serving innovative dishes you’ll never see in an actual Chinese restaurant. You can read more about the area restaurants in this recent article:

If we’re willing to walk a little further we come to Philadelphia’s Italian Market and the really wonderful Monzu cooking up great Sicilian style food. A few blocks away is Pho 75, a great Vietnamese joint. A short bus ride brings us east to City Tavern, Zahav, the original Han Dynasty location, Morimoto’s first restaurant, and many more.

We can take the Broad Street Line a couple stops north for Vetri, Jose Garces’ Volver and many more. Two more stops north and we’re in Chinatown. Another stop brings us to Spring Garden and the excellent restaurants in that area including  Osteria, Alla Spina, and many more.

And heck, let’s not forget Pat’s and Geno’s, the great Cheese Steak emporiums facing each other across E. Passyunk Ave.  I’m pretty sure you can’t get a real cheese steak in Puerto Rico.

The Arts

At this point it should come as no surprise that we also happen to enjoy the arts. Nearly everyone has heard of the Philadelphia Museum of Art (if only from Rocky). Then there’s the Rodin Museum, The Barnes Foundation, The University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology are the most well known. On Bloomsday (or any other day) we can wander over to the Rosenbach Museum and Library to O.D. on everything Joyce. All are a short bus or subway ride from East Passyunk.

What’s that? You’re interested in music? Well, there’s the Kimmel Center, home of the Philadelphia Orchestra, The Curtis Institute, The Wilma Theater. and The Academy of Music all within about 3 blocks on Broad Street. Over on Chestnut there’s the Prince Music Theater and on Walnut Forrest Theater and Walnut Street Theater, the oldest playhouse in America. For those interested in something louder, The Trocadero and the Electric Factory present wildly varied acts.  And those are just the big names!

Movies? Yes, we have movie theaters here in Philadelphia. We like to go to the Cinemark theaters near the Penn campus because there are also a bunch of good restaurants in the area including another Han Dynasty. 


Philadelphia is located in the middle of Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor so we have frequent and reasonably fast train access to Washington DC, Baltimore, New York, Providence and Boston. We can take a SEPTA train to PHL for direct flights to places we like to visit like Paris, Rome, and Las Vegas.

If you live in Wyoming and want to visit Paris, well, first you have to drive to CPR, then fly to DEN, then to a real airport like ORD, EWR, or IAD and finally to CDG – 16+ grueling hours. Me? I can hop the train to PHL for the 7h 25m flight to CDG.


For groceries we’ve got Chinatown, Reading Terminal Market, Italian Market, several chain grocery stores, and a number of seasonal farmer’s markets within walking distance or a short transit ride. Then there are the specialty shops like Czerw’s for all kinds of Polish sausages, several traditional bakers, local cheese makers and so forth. Craft Beer? We got it all over the place. And we also happen to have Philadelphia Distilling, makers of Bluecoat Gin, arguably the best made in the US. (Plus you get a $3 credit when you bring back your empty bottle.)

Of course we’re living in a major city, so we’ve got department stores like Macy’s and all the national chains. Wherever we happen to shop we’ll be a few steps from great dining.

Health Care

Philadelphia is a regional hub for health care. We’ve got the University of Pennsylvania medical complex, Thomas Jefferson University Hospital, Hahnemann University Hospital, Temple University Hospital… all minutes away. In Dominica you’ll have to make your way to Princess Margaret Hospital in Goodwill, Roseau at the south west side of the island.

OK. So what’s It Cost?

The houses we’re looking at are in the area of 1,100-1,300 sq. feet with prices for a fully renovated home in the $250,000 to $300,000 range. Many have roof decks with great views of the city skyline. We’ll have about $100,000 in equity from our current house (in the first ring suburb made famous by Kobe Bryant) so we’ll be financing a relatively small amount. We expect to have monthly PITI payments in the $1300-$1500 range. This number isn’t random; if we have no other income than our two social security checks and small annuity Mrs. C. is vested in, we’ll still be able to live comfortably (though international travel will require considerable planning).

As for utilities mid-block row houses are extremely inexpensive to operate with combined gas and electric bills in the $125/month range (less than half what we’re paying now) and water/sewer about $40.

Maintenance consists principally of keeping an eye on your roof every 20 years and occasionally shoveling a little snow off your 15 feet of sidewalk. East Passyunk has several very active civic associations that sponsor recycling clean outs, home tours, community gardens, zoning hearings and so forth.

Where does Pennsylvania actually end up on the retiree tax chart? Quite high. According to this infographic from Kiplinger's Pennsylvania is number 11 on the list of "15 Most Tax Friendly States For Retirees":

My Conclusion

There’s simply no way we could even consider living someplace like Wyoming. Puerto Rico and Dominica are probably great places to visit, but live there? Not a chance. We want to have all the cultural offerings of a major city steps from our front door, friendly neighbors who are active in the community, and easy access to the rest of the world. If (when) we become ill, we want to get to the hospital quickly and get world-class care once we arrive.