Friday, April 16, 2010

New York. That's it. Period.

The thing about pizza is, everybody likes it.  We all have our preferences about styles (obviously NYC pizza being the absolute best - end of discussion!!), but unless you have celiac or one of those limp-wristed cheese issues, you can't really fuss too much when a home-made pie is on the menu.  I like delivery for sick days/lazy days/hungover days, but when the crowd is coming over and a crowd-pleaser is required, said crowd's ravenous snarls are quickly quelled by some hot 'za.  Harmony reigns.  Until the no-meat people throw their usual spanner in the sausage works.  At any rate, home-made pizza is a standby when my brother's band rages through town, eating wildly and leaving mixtapes in their wake.  I have never had any problem with normal pizza dough recipes, basic yeast-risen dough - and I still don't.  Once you have a good recipe and a very hot oven it's hard to screw up.  I mean, you can cover most anything from baloney to vinyl tiling in cheese and someone will be high enough to enjoy it.  The other day, however, sitting round the table and musing about food as it is our wont, the light-bulb hanging around over my father's head went on.  "Naan!" he exclaimed.  He has this new recipe for naan (he's been on an Indian kick), and it is particularly luscious, due to the unusual inclusion of milk and a little sugar in the dough.  It's tender, unobtrusively doughy, with a rich sweet flavor that delicately avoids greasiness or flakiness.  In short, Pop pointed out, ideal for pizza crust.
Another useful facet of homemade pizza is its ability to absorb Stuff In The Fridge.  That little bit of pesto? Trowel it on. Those left-over brussel sprouts? Roast 'em for a few minutes with garlic.  Chard stems? Mince and fry with more garlic.  Leftover cheese cubes and blue cheese crumbles from that catering tray at work you couldn't bear to waste?  Half a can of black olives from last week's caponata?  Limp scallions? Toss 'em all on!  It's economical and clears out precious fridge space.  Toppings for pizza are fairly obvious; I have used all those mentioned above, but I also enjoy:
Roasted garlic cloves
Pre-cooked (as in, before you put it on the pizza) crumbled sausage
Pre-cooked bacon
Peppers, mushrooms, basil leaves, pineapple, onions, jalapenos
Oh for Pete's sake you know what you like on pizza.  In Scotland they like tuna and sweet corn, go figure.  Italians like an egg baked in the center.  My pop likes a blop of pungent soft cheese in the center.  
I make my own pizza sauce while the dough is rising.  Unlike bolognaise, on pizza the sauce is but one component, so you don't need to simmer for hours to get a profound flavour.  That being said homemade is as usual better than Store Crap.
Here's how I make my sauce.  It makes about 2 and a half cups of sauce.  If you need more, add another can of tomatoes.  Freeze what's left for spaghetti and meatballs.
1 yellow onion, finely chopped
as much garlic as you can be bothered to peel, put through press - at least 5 cloves
1 28 oz can crushed tomatoes, NOT drained (I like Muir Glen - don't get the kind with basil or other doodads added)
1 sm can tomato paste
1 teaspoon salt (taste at the end, I usually add more)
1 teaspoon sugar
2 teaspoons dried oregano
2 tsp. balsamic vinegar
if you have it around, a bay leaf or/and a teaspoon dried basil
1 cup chicken or veg stock
Water as needed
In a heavy medium-size pan that's not too shallow, heat up a quarter cup fat (bacon grease, olive oil) over med. heat.  Add onions, still continuously for five minutes to slightly caramelize.  Add garlic and stir for a minute, until the garlic doesn't smell so sharp.  Add all other ingredients, bring to a simmer and lower heat slightly. Simmer for at least 45 minutes, stirring every few minutes.  You can also turn it down really low and ignore it for 20 minutes at a stretch but it takes hours to cook down. If it gets too thick, add a little water.  It's done when it looks like tomato sauce.  Taste and adjust seasoning. At the risk of being obtuse, take out the bay leaf.
MEANWHILE: you have been making LA DOUGH! Actually the dough takes 4 to 6 hours to rise so you should do it earlier.  That leaves you time to excavate the fridge for toppings.
This recipe is has been altered by Mr. Darius Brotman. It appears in it's faulty original form in The Dance of the Spices by Laxmi Hiremath.
4 cups unbleached flour
2 t. baking powder
1 t. salt.
1 t. active dry yeast
1/2 cup plain yogurt
1 large beaten egg
3 T. vegetable oil
1/2 cup warm milk
Cornmeal for the peel or baking sheet
1. In a food processor or with elbow grease, lightly mix the flour, b. powder, sugar, salt and yeast.  Add the egg, yogurt and milk and pulse until crumbly.  With the machine running or arm flailing, gradually add the milk in a steady stream until the dough comes together in a a ball.  if you must add a little more liquid, add a tablespoon or two of warm water.  Avoid overprocessing.
2.  Place the dough on a work surface; oil your hands and knead for 7 minutes.  Dough should be soft, not sticky or stiff.  Form into a smooth ball. put in bowl, cover bowl loosely with a rag, and put it on top of the fridge for 4-6 hrs.
If you are making naan you are supposed to divide it into 12 bits, flatten 'em and let them rise again.  But we won't do that for pizza.  We can't spend ALL day on this.
So now we have dough and sauce. Before I mention cheese, let me say - PIZZA NEEDS A VERY HOT OVEN.  A pizza stone, or terra cotta tiles on a cooking sheet even, are best for cooking on, but a cookie sheet will do (the crust won't be as crispy). Place stone or tiles in the oven to preheat.  Turn your oven up to 500, and preheat it at least 40 minutes, 30 if you are using a cookie sheet.
Sprinkle your peel (that's the handled wooden flat thing pizza gets put in an oven with - if you don't have one use a thin cutting board?) liberally with cornmeal so it will slide off easily.  On your work surface, roll out half your dough to 1/4 thick. Place on peel.  Shape however you like, maintaining even thickness. Add a 1/2 cup sauce or so and spread it 1/2 in. from the dough's edge.
Now cheese.  Don't give into your squalling internal miser and buy solely cheap-o bulk mozzarella.  I like 'quattro formaggio' ; a strong cheese in the pizza's center, encircled by 3 circles of different cheeses of decreasing strength.  An example: from the center out, brie, Gruyere, Gouda, fresh mozzarella.  Or chevre, aged cheddar, fontina, mozzarella.  Blops of ricotta on the top are always frosting on the cake.  But whatever you choose use in greater part milder cheeses that melts well, like mozzerella, fresh mozzerella, gouda, or fontina.  Stronger cheeses tend to melt less well and the choosy consumer demands ooze.  
I like to finish the cheese layer with a handful of slivered raw garlic, and proceed to toppings of choice.  Dot at will.
If you have a well-cornmealed peel it should be easy to quickly and gently slide the pizza onto the hot stone/baking sheet with a few gentle jerks.  Give it a jiggle before you try, to ensure it isn't sticking. Try to hold the peel as horizontal as possible; you are sliding it off, not sliding it down.  If a swodge of onion falls off, ignore it; the important thing is to get the oven closed and save the precious heat.
Cook 10 minutest.  You can assemble the second one while it's baking. Cool for 5 minutes on a rack for crispiest crust before eating or you'll regret it.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Bryan and I were at Redd's the other night, and we got into an interesting conversation with Eric the Plug-Eared Bartender. He told us, in between puffs n chugs, about what I think sounds like an interesting way to make chile. Rather than soaking the beans overnight, Eric's venerable ol' southern granpappy put the beans into a pot with some vegetables - one would presume, onions, peppers, garlic, mayhaps carrot and/or tomato - brings the mess to a boil, simmers for a few and puts it in the fridge to THEN soak overnight. The next day he proceeds with the usual day-long cooking. A subtle difference but one I appreciate. Akin to undercooking pasta and finishing it in the sauce. One can imagine small but relevant gains in flavor.
I made a tasty Provencal pepper today. Well, over a week.

Take some small sweet green or red peppers, make an incision in the side and deseed. Soak in white vinegar for a week.
Finely chop a yellow onion with a 2 handfuls black olives, 3 anchovy fillets and a half handful of capers. Stuff peppers. Place in jar and cover with olive oil. Cover. Marinate overnight.
Yum city! serve with bread and a soft cheese, not too rich. My boss told me about it and it's delish, quite pungent and salty.

Also, I made artichokes this way.
Place artichokes upright in a deep cast-iron pot. Fill with olive oil half-way up 'chokes, then fill to cover with water. Turn heat on high and bring to a rapid boil, cover and boil at only slightly lowered heat for twenty minutes. You hear lots of sputtering as the 'chokes suffer. Finally, all the water evaporates, and the oil is left, so the sputtering stops. Serve with salt and lemon juice and a dish of the cooking oil.
The leaves get crisped on the edges, it's delicious! V. luxurious.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Whole raw goat milk

I know it has been absolutely ages, and that reason is that I simply have done very little cooking as my new job is extremely time-consuming. Hence I though maybe I'd reflect instead on the ingredient I am most involved with, for 12 hours a day, 6 days a week; namely cheese.
I am totally agog over this rad cheese, La Lingot de Quercy. It's this lil French made of raw goats' milk, shaped like an amusing moldy rectangular prism of butter. When you pick it up the outside is faintly springy and elastic, kind of like a mold-sack, and the sensation as you lightly squeeze is like it's sacky walls house an interior of weight and liquid. When you cut off an end, the inside is of course white, and all around the interior, there is a surrounding quarter inch of a slightly less opaque white with a decidedly oozey character, as opposed to the majority of the interior, which, while far from crumbly, is of a firmer attitude. The taste is goatey but blessedly un-barnyard-ish, with a lovely aged pungency that makes seventeen-year-olds gag and reach for the Mountain Dew. It's quite buttery, not as firm as butter or a cheese like La Tur which feels almost exactly in the mouth like butter - it leaves a more melty, coagulated sensation. It's very rich, very creamy, and very good.
Now - the really interesting thing about this cheese, is that the longer you leave it kicking around - go ahead, let it mold, even GREEN mold - the more it develops. A lot of cheeses are rendered inedible by actually molding - well, rotting, really, as opposed to molding - but this cheese just gets harder, drier and more complex. After 2 weeks, it's as firm as, say, a very creamy feta, but the flavor, and in particular the flavor on the back of the tongue as you swallow, is HOT. As in peppery hot. Isn't that wierd? It's very exciting to eat. Apparently in another two weeks it is hard enough to microplane onto salads or toast, like a proper hard cheese, at which point I can only imagine it must be like a sort of goat wasabi. I was sneezing at the bite of the two week old stuff. The thing is, it tastes GOOD, I mean, it's peppery yes but so goshdarn flavorful and complex you just want to take the whole little log and hide it from your co-workers so you can gorge alone when they all go out on a smoke break. And then demurely blink and deny all knowledge of said cheese.
It's affordable too, relatively, I really think you should try it. Try a little bit every two days and engage with it's maturation. It's like having a kitten!

Monday, June 2, 2008

darn ham!

It has been a while, I got a fascinating new job as a fromagiere, or 'cheez girl', that has been extremely consuming.
I had these scallops, see? And some pancetta left over from Max cutting it too thin that was going begging. I was browsing online for suitable recipies and was, like, totally stymied. Why is everyone - well, all those middlin' cooks who post stuff online, ahem - so obsessed with wrapping stuff in things? Scallops wrapped in pancetta seems a) cliche b) fiddly and c) a bad idea to execute in reality as those two things have different cooking times.
So here is what I made:
Scallops with fried pancetta, tarragon and orange
Dry scallops. Salt and pepper both sides.
Take maybe 12 slices very thinly sliced pancetta, like proscuttio thin. Fry it up, mostly done, and finish till crispy-edged with a tablespoon minced fresh tarragon, minced zest one orange, ten halved green grapes, one clove garlic put through press (why can't there be a verb for that? 'Machined'?)- only brief cooking, a minute. Remove pancetta mixture. Keep pan hot, flame at med high. Gently place scallops not touching each other in pan. Wait, without messing with them, for two minutes. Gently spatula one up and peek. Does it look nice and carmelized, with crispy edges? If not wait another minute. When yummy edges are right, flip each scallop with tongs and do the same to the other side. Remove scallops and put on plate. Deglaze pan with 2 teaspoons bals. vin. unless you're getting tired of it, or maybe sherry, then turn heat to high and toss pancetta with a handful pomegranite seeds for a minutes till all tangly and hot. Pour and arrange over scallops. Chopped parsley on top.
It's good. Also, finally now you have a way to get rid of that pesky extra pancetta that's always around the house!

Friday, May 23, 2008

stock and wings

In response to the lovely Charley's comment, I think I'll take a second to discuss the mindblowing ease of making stock. It's really easy. Mindblowingly so.
I start all stocks, veg. or other, the same way. Fry as much chopped garlic as you can be bothered to peel. At least 2 cloves, you lazy sod! In a little olive oil.
For veg. stock - then add some veg. Cleaned and peeled. Carrots, onion, clean potato peel. Add very sparingly celery, pepper. Like, half a stalk celery or a quarter of a pepper. Their flavor is too bossy. Leeks are nice. Don't use leafy greens, cruciferous veg, or mushrooms. Just don't. Corn cobs work. Fry away. Cover completely with water. Add a bay leaf. Simmer for 25 min. Strain. Salt. Add seasonings during soup making. This is nice and basic.
For meat - Actually I lied above, for meat - which is usually chicken, you can use the cheapest parts, wing tips, etc. - add garlic AFTER you've put the meat in as it burns before the skin browns. Bash meat a lot, you want to crack the bones, that's where the flavor is. Remove excess fat but LEAVE ON SKIN for the love of god. Put in the hot oily pan. Med. heat. Let sit, stop fussing with it! Let it brown for 2 minutes then throw in garlic. 2 more min. No stirring! Then throw in a hunk of onion and a carrot if it's around. A bay leaf. Cover with agua, stir, and bring to a boil. Immediately turn down flame so it's a bare simmer. Cover. Simmer for at least an hour, preferably 2. Even 3, esp. if you're using a meat other than chicken. Cool. Strain. Refridge. Peel off fat layer if you are that type of person. Put it in a big washed yogurt container and write the date and meat type on top. Freeze if you are the type that has cleverly thought ahead and hence is not wasting all the tips you have after preparing all those wings for your large male friends because they were on sale and people mistakenly are impressed by a yummy wing which is actually the easiest thing to make delicious. Fools!
Pa's Highclass Wings (m'dad's recipe, only slightly altered to my taste)
1.5 lbs chicken wings (trim tips for stock. Just cut 'em off, it's easy).
3 lg. cloves garlic
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
2 tablespoons salt
2 teaspoons paprika
pinch cayenne
1 teaspoon tabasco
1 tablespoon brown sugar
preheat oven to 400. Toast cumin seeds in a dry pan for a minute till they smell toasty. Only takes a sec, don't burn them! Or if you are lazy just buy cumin powdered. Mash to a paste with garlic and salt. If you don't have a mortar and pestle (loser) you can put the garlic through a press and mush stuff together with a fork, but use powdered cumin then. Then mush in other sauce crap. Dump over wings in a big bowl, and toss delightedly. Spread on a cooking sheet, roast for 15 minutes, then turn em over with tongs and cook another 10. Or until they look crispy and yummy. Eat with snarling abandon.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Damn you!

Do you ever feel that 'blenderized' soups are somewhat of a cheat? I mean, you can basically just boil pretty much anything to death, add some spices if you like, maybe some cream, and blend it. One could even use a handheld blender and do it right in the pot. Bam. Is it irrational to feel that this is in some way cheating? No! No, I say to you, reader, it is not irrational! When making a soup, one important consideration is cooking all the ingredients to the correct degree of doneness; namely, not overcooked. In a soup this is challenging if you are making a soup with multiple ingredients. Potatoes and spinach have different simmering times. But if you are assuming a final BLEND, then it really doesn't matter, does it? Go ahead, overcook that squash! irregularly mince that garlic! Who's gonna know?? And if it doesn't taste perfect at the end, hey, add a little cream, a little parmesan, swirl some creme fraiche in the serving bowl. Go nuts and throw in some croutons!
Ok, maybe I am getting curmudgeonly with the croutons. But you see where I'm coming from? The 'blenderizing' is essentially another Rachel-Ray-school-of-shortcuts, and I am having none of it!
Although I suppose there is a culinary tradition, particularly in French cooking, of smooth pureed soups. Why does a food mill seem so much more dignified? Somehow, a labor-intensive metal device seems to imply that no shortcuts have been taken here, that this soup, were you to have tasted it in its lumpen unmilled state, would be accurately cooked. A food mill pays homage to it's passengers, if that's the word I want. It isn't. But you know what I mean.
A Nice Healthy Soup
Fry a whole head of chopped garlic in some olive oil. Add 5 cups water and 4 cups chicken stock (which had BETTER be homemade). Add a head of chopped washed chard, another of spinach, a bunch of sorrel, and 4 chopped yukon gold potatoes. Salt, pepper, simmer for 25 minutes. Add a half cup of cream. Blend in small batches till smooth. Return to pot. Add 6 cubed yukon gold potatoes. Simmer for ten minutes. Add a large handful of ribboned spinach, juice of 1 lemon, and a splash of sherry if it's handy. Simmer five minutes and eat, yo!

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

the mighty have fallen

In my new state of horrifying, dizzying penury, I have been investigating all the possible dishes one can make with canned food. This is a nice one, it's very quick and great on a hot morning.

One can beets, rinsed OR even cheaper! boil or roast your own, peeled, with a little oil and salt.
One can chickpeas, rinsed. I guess it'd be cheaper to cook your own but jesus christ how far do you expect me to go??
Mix. Douse in olive oil, lemon juice, salt, pepper, a pinch of cumin, and whatever greens you can salvage from your new thrifty Chia Pet Herb Garden - parsley is best.

I realize this recipe is a trifle idiotic in its' simplicity, but it is preferable to other vegetable salads out of cans because:
1. Chickpeas and beets are almost the only vegetables that taste almost as good out of the can.
2. They take FOREVER to cook by hand so you feel smug saving time.
3. You rarely, if ever, taste them together, so its' a refreshingly new taste.
4. Substantial-er than most veg. salads. So you stave off hunger to live another day.
5. V., v., very nutricious.
Also cheap and good as breakfast is washed, sliced, salted radishes, alongside washed, sliced apples, dried dates, and a little honey. Radishes are so great for eating out of hand when it's hot, why are they so neglected?? So crispy, so vividly hued! And of course with cold butter and salt on good bread they are absolutely superb. In Romania they eat big spring onions with cheese and salami for breakfast but that's going a little far. Pungent vegetables in the morning-wise.