Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Apple Strudel Pizza

The last time I said "dessert pizza" I was quickly chastised by my wife. "That's not a dessert pizza, it's just a rustic tart/pie. We'll make a REAL dessert pizza, then you'll see."

And so we did! Though it is sometimes uneven (I think the topping quantities are for 20" pies so I adjust down accordingly) the Pizza book has a chapter on dessert pizzas. These real pies start with an almost-normal dough recipe (honey, cinnamon and nutmeg are the only variations), the dough can be tossed (though the book categorically recommends rolling out all dough with a pin. I disagree wholeheartedly and ignore the book completely), it's topped with cheese (I did a cheddar/mozzerella blend)

and gets lovely bubbles in the crust like a normal pizza.

Apples, raisins, brown sugar and toasted walnuts complete the picture

And the result can be topped with ice cream or powdered sugar

(note: after the sorry pic on the left I decided to use a sifter for the powdered sugar. That slice looked much better!)

Now the book is not perfect; they had a weird scheme where you first cook it (dough with just cheese) on a perforated pizza screen, THEN transfer it to the pizza stone, THEN add the topping and cook some more. This was not only fussy it was over kill and lead to some charring of the crust on the edges. Now on a normal pizza charring on the crust is excellent. For dessert? Not so much. But this (along with the rolling vs. tossing issue and the toppings quantity issue mentioned before ) is really a minor quibble. The recipes here have some good 'bones'- you need to flesh them out with your own style and verve.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Oh the horror... the horror!

It's taken a week to post this only because it was too difficult to face. (actually, I was a bit busy with a 5k for brain cancer research)

Above you'll find the crime scene photo. And this was not the result of long term neglect; this was the result of a single locally raised chicken roasted to a smokey end in about an hour.

While it was absolutely delicious, the smoke alarm went off no less than five times. The recipe (from Cooks Illustrated) had you roasting upside down at 450 for 25 min, flipping the bird over and roasting another 15-20 minutes, then pumping the heat up to 500 and finishing off. The high heat makes for a crisp skin but as the fat dripped from the bird it spattered from the pan and all over the oven.

But I think it was fortuitous that this blog post was delayed (procrastination: what can't it do?!). As I relayed this tale of horror to a friend of the family (Hi, Vivian!) she said "Have you heard of Barbara Kafka? It sounds like you really need to."

Apparently my enormous 16-inch roasting pan is absolute overkill for a small chicken. An overly large roasting pan was the culprit. Apparently IKEA has a small roasting pan that's perfect for the job, although perhaps just an appropriately sized cake pan could do the work, as well. Since there won't be a rack to fit just pad the bottom with potatoes and onions (etc) to elevate the bird.

In the meantime I'm relegated to the grill for bird-work, but with another five birds coming in the weekend from Fox Hollow farm I'm sure I'll have plenty of opportunities to test this out.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Yes, Baldrick, a round of Geralds

What's better than Brats and Käse Spätzle with a slice of sourdough bread?

Brats and Käse Spätzle in a sandwich of sourdough bread!

Feeling Autumnal we decided on a classic and hearty pairing. The brats had the traditional treatment of a quick sear on the grill followed by a beer steam bath, and the käse spätzle came from Cookin' with Cyndi. FULL DISCLOSURE: sourdough was store bought and so were the spätzle egg noodles. It is okay to think less of me now.

But the meal was just... okay. Even with mustard the brats were drowing in the sourdough breads dryness, and the spätzle, despite/because of being packed with emmentaler cheese was a bit greasy but didn't have enough flavor pop. Perhaps the onions weren't carmelized enough? (they weren't, but sometimes they provide a textural foil that way) Perhaps we needed a cheese mix? More salt? Pepper?

Days later while deciding what to have for dinner my wife instinctively says "Panini*." And then due to divine inspiration says "Brat and spätzle panini!" The idea was just crazy enough to work!

*yes that is a panini maker... feel free to think even less of me now but I really like it. I used to 'ruin' grilled cheese and this not only cures that but also makes them much faster (no flipping) and even does a solid job of grilling small amounts of delicate things (thin eggplant grilled on this never comes out oily because I don't have to worry about it sticking to the grates so I only use the slightest touch of olive oil). Sure, it *is* a hassle to clean but I'm fine with scrubbing each individual ridge with a paper towel for cleaning. If you are okay with that detailed work, a panini press might be a good choice for you. If not... skip it.

The end product, despite having exactly the same ingredients in a slightly different (and reheated) configuration was PURE GOLD. The theory is maybe the flavors melded in the fridge, the extra oil from the käse in the spätzle gets absorbed by the bread. And the onion, while still not carmelized, was shining through and bringing flavor in a big-way.

This wasn't dry, this was perfection.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Pizza For Dessert

You know you've got a pizza addiction when just seeing the recipe title alone gives you shivers. But so what?! Know your demons and learn to roll with them.

Autumn is going in full swing (just ignore those San Marzano tomatoes still ripening on the vine!) and the air is getting cooler. The perfect time to sit back with a hard cider and a slice of cinnamon-apple pizza.

This is the second time we've made this particular recipe; we reduce the apples to only using three granny-smiths and halving the topping (or making all the topping and saving it in the fridge for a week or two); so you aren't chained to the sink peeling apples all day.

The biggest challenge is working with the crust. Like the comment on the website says this is only marginally less effort than a pie. However what this has over a pie is it's relative flatness, it's not a gooey and, as such, makes a GREAT treat to get packed into a lunch.

A technique of old (from Cooking Light) was to completely cover the dough with plastic wrap before rolling out. A layer underneath and a layer above. What my wife has been experimenting with is half that idea; flour on the bottom of the pastry board and just a layer of plastic wrap on top during rolling. The loosening the crust from the patry board with a long offset spatula, folding the four 'corners' of the pizza in, transferring to pizza sheet, unfolding and rejoining the dough along the cracks where the folds were. No apple 'goodness' dripped through the dough onto a safety jelly roll pan below so the crust was no worse for wear.

Cool, and serve with a dollop of ice cream or whipped cream.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Specialty Knives

You can't have food without proper tools for preparation. Well, that's a lie. You certainly can. But ever since the first cro-magnon man picked up a stick to use as a crude implement (i.e. to poke his friend Oog in the stomach while out of immediate hitting distance) humanity has embraced tools for their ability to impress our friends while breaking as little sweat as possible.

Today, we've got a two-for. We not only look at the single-purpose tomato knife but we also extrapolate this experience to understand ceramic knives and their place in your kitchen.

The warning about ceramic knives is that much care must be taken to ensure you don't chip the blade. This includes not only careful handling and storage but also limits your applications of the blade to only vertical cuts. That nifty trick where you smash a clove of garlic with the fat part of a chefs knife? NOT ON YOUR LIFE with a ceramic knife! That bend you put in a blade while filleting fish or carving a bird? Not unless you want to stress-fracture your blade.

Right off the bat we've ruled out a large portion of a cooks arsenal. But what about a super-sharp paring/small slicing knife? Again, this won't fit the bill for many strenuous paring tasks but a dedicated small, precise slicer is something that everyone could use. Thus, the decision was made: ceramic tomato knife.

I've heard admonitions before about caring for specialty cookware. I've seen an entire set of Calphalon non-stick cookware go to the dogs; some before it's time, some due to natural wear and tare. So from the start I knew exactly how to handle this blade. It had it's own place in the knife block; there is a knife block portion of the drying rack. And I wasn't going to ask it to do any slicing that would jeopardize the blade. This was always going to be treated as a precision tool.

Hopefully you can tell from the above picture, but after three or so years the knife has noticeable nicks in the blade, despite my careful handling. Given that, ceramic knives get a vote of No Confidence; they are too delicate for a kitchen environment.

Onward to the tomato portion!

So how do they rate as a tomato knife?

On one side is a thin slice from my normal chefs knife. On the other the results of the tomato knife. I actually don't remember which cut was which; I just know that both slices were darn precise and almost indistinguishable. (things aren't looking too good for the tomato knife!)

Really the biggest value in having a tomato knife is that after a long day of cutting and chopping your chefs knife will lose some of its edge. Instead of stopping and re-honing/sharpening, you can grab another knife from the block for some quick delicate work.

All in all, it's not a necessary tool even if you have a constant supply of tomatoes in the back yard (there are still two good ones on the vine as I type this).

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Do not go gentle into that good night

Just like summer, bacon ends. (*sniff*)

What started earlier in the year as a cornucopia of bacon and pork products in general,

I'm now down to my last pork chops (1/2 inch cuts; very thin but perfect amount of meat for one person each) and last pound of Italian sausage (which was really great, but next 1/2 a pig I will just get ground pork and add my own seasonings and make my own sausage. I've heard on Ruhlman's blog that the Kitchen Aid pasta/meat grinder attachment isn't so good at grinding meat but should be perfect for stuffing sausages from pre-ground meat. Though I'm not sure exactly where I'll get casings from. My... this has turned into quite a digression! Back to the bacon!)

So there it is; the last piece. It's exit from the kitchen should be the stuff of legend.

And with that in mind it formed the basis of a classic "home to leftovers" recipe, chilaquiles!
The bacon was chopped small and rendered over medium heat, chopped white onions added for a few minutes, also some chopped home-grown green peppers. Then 2 or 3 chopped home-grown tomatoes were reduced until most of the moisture had gone, at which point scrambled eggs (from Fox Hollow Farm) and just-fried tortilla chips (I love my deep fryer!) were added and stirred.

The final touches that really perfect the dish are the addition of green onions on top (providing a cool crisp texture difference to the 'egg mash') and crisp tortilla chips on the side, also for texture difference.

My wife gushed, learned that this was the last of the bacon, nearly cried, but found consolation.
Just as Spring breathes new life and brightens us, so will that half of a Berkshire/Kurubota pig from Wagon Wheel Ranch I just put money down on...

/In addition to foraged acorns, the pigs are also being fed whey from goat cheese and will be finished on peanuts like the Smithfield hams of old. I'm quite excitied!

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Dear Dad,

Hey pops. It was great to see you again at the wedding.

You and moms haven't lost it on the dancefloor; once I figure out how to upload my video to YouTube the entire world will see how you can still do the Twist!

I think the new place is coming along and we have our work cutout for us.

But the real reason I'm writing? ANCHOVIES. Since we're the only two people in the world who seem to actually like these little guys I figured I'd write just to you about it. I've seen how the rest of the family turns up their noses at us; so we have to band together and share our secrets.

And what a secret I've found. I want to say one word to you. Just one word. Are you listening? POLAR.

Most people object to the overly fishy taste of anchovies. Some cooks grudgingly accept that they are a vital component to a Caesars salad dressing, but they bury them behind the parmesan. However the normal rules for buying fish should also apply to canned fish; if it smells or tastes fishy, it's not good. Period. Now look at these two cans of alici in oil side by side. Which would you prefer to eat? Lumpy gray? Or a stunningly bright red fillet? And the taste difference is beyond compare. The Polar anchovies downright sparkle with flavor.

Next time we get together we'll crack open a can with some freshly baked bread and some tomatoes and mozzerella. The rest of the family just won't know what they're missing!

With love,

Friday, August 28, 2009

Oh no! Not again! (zucchini)

The first time it happens, it can be attributed to naivete and excused. But the second time it happens the only conclusion can be 'you are a fool.' And so it is; this fool once again ended up with a gigantic zucchini (this time weighing in at a whopping 4.5+ lbs!).

Sleeves were rolled up, brows were furrowed, and squash was shredded; we had a long day of cooking ahead of us.

You may remember the whole wheat chocolate cake from last time... it was so stunning it made a delicious comeback.

French-inspired vegetable tarts were constructed (using up an eggplant from our CSA haul)

A multitude of tomatoes were cooked down with onions and zucchini and made into breakfast tortilla scrambles

and a lovely whole-wheat bread (that kind of looks like a pushing in face!) was baked.

And in the realm of 'normal' zucchini bread, this lovely tea cake was the natural result.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Pig Liver (not for faint of heart)

No witty headline here; this is pictorial of blood and guts. This was also my first foray, EVER, into the world of liver (and one from a pig, to boot!).

When you buy half a pig you get a lot of parts. Shoulders, Boston Butts* (actually, shoulders), Hams, loins, chops, sausage, bacon, and a hybrid-monster loin-roast-thingy. But you also get liver and trotters.

Cursory research on the interwebs yields that pig liver is stronger in flavor but very tender. However due to the assumed infrequency of consumption I couldn't find good or consistent information on prepping or preparing. So I made a complete leap of faith. I heard (somewhere) that the liver should be soaked in milk, and after reading a number of recipes online I decided to stick with something that was going to have a sauce to help this 'strong flavored' meat go down.

So I went with the Brits and went with this recipe from the good food channel, trusting my instincts that a fricassee with a beer reduction sauce was probably going to fit the bill.

After acquiring some quintessentially British ingredients (Colmans mustard powder and St Peters English Ale)

And after letting the chopped liver soak in milk for just over an hour (note the lovely pink hue from the blood!)

And after finding that my scale can handle metric (thank goodness!)

I was ready to move ahead.

Above is the dredged liver bits in the flour and a side of fresh mustard made from the Colmans powder; just in case I needed extra help in swallowing this down!

The liver was fried (note how dark it is; I think that from the butter browning... definitely a point for improvement in the future)

In goes the beer

And it's set on a plate with toast and mesclun salad. Now, for the first bite!

It's good! It's REALLY GOOD! It's beefy and tender and its...


Hmmmm, what's that after taste?

Ahhhhh yes. Blood. A rush of memories from my youth of bloody noses came flooding back to me.

This liver was tender. This preparation (*despite over-darkening the fricassee, perhaps due to the butter) was fantastic. This flavor was top notch. But... the blood.

So I hereby turn in my honorary vampire card (I could never stay up late enough for the parties, anyway) and am left to wonder how I could come so close to awesome yet be left with something that was eventually inedible. This is a situation where I really need to stand on the shoulders of giants to get a baby-step analysis of what I did wrong. Did I not prep the liver properly? Did I not soak the liver for long enough in the milk? I haven't given up pig liver forever but I will not attempt to prepare it again, all by my lonesome.

At least I had extra beer to "cleanse my palate", as it were!

Thursday, August 20, 2009

And for my last act...

My cheese excursions come to a close with my final shipment from Cowgirl Creamery.

This months box had Montgomery's Cheddar from Manor Farm - North Cadbury, Somerset, England. A rich and full flavored farmhouse cheddar that would work equally well on a cheese board or in the middle of a grilled cheese sandwich on home made bread.

Next comes a Comte Reserve des Granges from France. This is my first comte and it's quite something. It reminded me of a gruyere but with less bite and less 'stink' (for lack of a better term). This is a smooth and delicate cheese; I think I would eat it as-is or with apples (something that won't lose the delicate creaminess of the cheese).

And finally, Sierra Mountain Tomme from La Clarine Farm in CA. This one poses the biggest conundrum. Almost before biting into it, it comes on like a baby-swiss. Then you get a hint of goat, then you find a nice dryness on the palate. The very center pate almost tastes of pure, soft milk. The pate closer to the edges brings on a wonderful grass/herby flavor. There is a lot going on with this cheese an I'd love to treat it right! If I come up with any additional uses aside from slicing and savoring, you know I'll post about it here.

If you have any advice for Tomme or Comte uses beyond the cheese board... I'm all ears!

Also included is the latest swag from my CSA. Carrots, Zuchs, Cucumber, peppers, eggplant, tomatoes, leek. Not pictured: A purple cabbage and about a million ears of corn (read: 12. But that's a lot for two people). Last time was Silver Queen, this week it's Bi-Color (my favorite). For dinner last night we had corn and beer (we don't eat very heavy on the nights that we work out). The corn had a little home made roasted garlic butter. It's from the Weber Big Book of grilling and intended to adorn a steak. As such it has a lot of Worcestershire in it. But this allows you to just rub a little bit of butter on your grilled ear of corn and have flavor that doesn't over power or over butter.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

A funny thing happened on the way to the cheese recipe...

Now that I'm done wrestling with my computer and camera we return to our regularly scheduled cheese-out.

The July shipment from Cowgirl Creamery was the "Red, White and Blue" collection.

The blue was Smokey Blue from Rogue Creamery. Cold-smoked over hazelnut shells, this blue cheese had the distinct taste of bacon. And that is just fantastic.

The white was Carmody from Bellwether Farms. This is a butter bonanza.

And for red? Why, Cowgirl Creamery's own RED HAWK. A washed rind soft ripened cheese that can stink with the power of a thousand suns.

To illustrate, a digression on how the cheeses are packaged and shipped to me.

They are placed in a thick, styrofoam box (with an ice pack to maintain freshness), which is taped shut; sealed all the way around the seam, then a cross of tape for good measure. That box is then placed in yet another box (also sealed) and shipped to me.
And you could smell the Red Hawk 'goodness' from the outer-most box. That, my friends, is power.

The odor is an indicator of quality; this cheese is absolutely delicious. Hands down, no question. Creamy center, supple pate near the rind, and a pungent rind. The whole effect has a wonderful egg-like taste to it. But even wrapped in paper and double zip-locked it threatens to take over your fridge.

So the *plan* was to do a gratin; cook four slices of bacon crisp, cook onion in the bacon, slice some yukon gold potatoes, slice the Red Hawk cheese (slice when cold, then allow to come up in temp), make two layers of all of the above, add a bit of cream and bake.

However I never actually quite made it to the execution stage. Didn't have potatoes at first, then no cream, then no bacon. So what happened to the Red Hawk?

I ate it. As pictured up top it was paired with a homemade bun (with a nice onion taste) and beer. Now if you do a cursory web search you'll see that some recommend pairing Red Hawk with champagne. Sounds like a good idea, but I think it shows a roadblock in most people's thinking. Wine and Cheese, wine and cheese, wine and cheese. In Laura Werlins book every chapter has a "wine and cheese" pairing section. However for the stronger cheeses and the lighter cheeses, she basically says "These don't pair very well. Use caution." Well, how about a crisp pilsner?

In the case of the Red Hawk it's an almost perfect match. Perhaps in the same way that the effervescence of the champagne helps the clean the palate the carbonation of the beer does the same (Insert "champagne of beers" joke, I can't bring myself to do it!). There is no competition of flavors here and if anything a cleansing sip of the pilsner prepares your mouth for the full joy of the next piece of cheese.

So maybe this is kind of a cheese recipe; good bread, good cheese, good beer.

/Side note: Presidente is hands down my favorite pilsner/"Lawnmower"-style beer (better than Heineken, Red Stripe, Pilsner Urquelle, etc. etc. etc.)

Wednesday, August 12, 2009


I was hoping to continue the "cooking with cheese" theme and include a gratin made with a pungent washed rind cheese, however I still haven't done it yet. :( Hopefully this weekend? I'll keep you posted (provided that the cheese keeps!).

So our talk turns seasonal, to that subject of tomatoes. As evidenced by Ruhlman's extension of the BLT challenge this has been a hard/late year for tomatoes. But I'm finally firing on all cylinders and the Baby Girls are producing in force (Why yes, I do have all hybrids planted).

This reminds me of a fantastic recipe that uses two pounds of cherry tomatoes to make an excellent roasted tomato sauce. Even if you don't have your own garden any one you know who does is probably getting swamped now; and an offer to take two pounds off their hands will be viewed as a blessing!

An important modification about this recipe: Cooks Illustrated has you making this in March with off-season tomatoes. And you are welcome to eat that way. But if you are going to use in-season, at their peak cherry tomatoes I suggest you absolutely lay off the sugar. You don't need it.

Eat 'em while they're fresh!