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Sunday, January 17, 2021

Pizza Re-Run: Two Crucial Secrets

pizza dough on the rise

It’s worth doing. If yours is a small household, bake only one pizza at a time from the dough recipe. Shape and pre-bake the second to go in the freezer.  

Whether freezing or serving the same day, you always want to partially prebake your pizza crust. That’s the first tip. This second time around I brushed the crust with olive oil before adding toppings, and that worked well, but whether you do that each time or not is up to you. You might want to try both ways and see which works better.

 

Secondly, add all toppings except cheese for about 2/3 of remaining baking time. Add cheese only for the last 3-5 minutes. This prevents a layer of melting cheese from sealing in moisture to make a soggy crust. 


Partially bake at this stage before adding cheeses


These two crucial tips will give you a satisfyingly crunchy crust, rather than a limp, bready carrier for toppings.

 

My toppings for pizza #1 from this latest dough session made for an okay but not exciting pizza. For pizza #2, I started once again with homemade sauce, and between sauce and cheese (grated mozzarella and Parmesan) came (as pictured in today's second photo) bacon, artichoke hearts, and kalamata olives. It was fantastic! 


Final fantastic result!


Friday, January 1, 2021

A Successful Year-End Experiment

 


Rather than saving the end result for the finale, I’m revealing it here right up front. This was my version of savory clafoutis featuring ham and leeks. 

 

The classic clafoutis comes from the Limousin region of France and features unpitted fresh black sweet cherries. I hadn’t realized there were so many variations, but then, it’s possible that Christophe Felder, the well-known French pâtissier, invented the many versions in his book, Clafoutis de Christophe. At any rate, the two major divisions are sweet clafoutis (sucrés) and savory (salés), the latter particularly intriguing to both human members of our household and a completely new idea to me.




With so many mouth-watering variations offered, it was hard to choose which to try first. I leaned toward ham and leeks, since we like both. I also liked the attractive bundles of slivered leeks wrapped in slices of ham but thought the ham was not quite in scale (it looked somewhat gross and heavy, even in the beautiful color photograph) and that prosciutto would be better – thin slices of meat, slender slivers of leak. But my quarantine kitchen partner vetoed prosciutto (“too fatty,” he says), so I compromised by cubing the ham and slicing the leeks into rounds, more in the style of the Clafoutis poireaux et lardons.






Using this cookbook presented multiple challenges. (1) To begin with, every word is in French, and there were words whose meaning I had to seek in a dictionary, e.g., chapelure. Would you have known that one? (2) Second necessity was that of converting metric measurements to American. Twenty-five centileters = 1 cup; 150 grams = 2/3 cup; etc. (3-4) Then there was oven temperature, which I had to convert from Celsius to Fahrenheit and adjust the Fahrenheit temperature for high altitude – and I cannot tell you how many times I calculated and checked and re-checked the oven temperature for my clafoutis until finally, after a careful search through many recipes in the book, I realized that the savory recipes required baking at about 100ºF higher than the sweet recipes. 




I guess there was a small fifth challenge, as French crème fraîche is not readily available in the U.S. While it is possible to make a substitute, using sour cream or buttermilk or yogurt, I was happy to find crema Mexicana locally, which fit the bill to a T. One cup of crema, one cup of milk (I used evaporated milk straight from the can), two whole eggs, and two egg yokes, beaten together with slightly less than 2-1/2 teaspoons (10 grams) cornstarch, and this, with the addition of salt and pepper, is poured over the ham and leaks in a baking dish that has been buttered and dusted with fine crumbs. The next time I try a savory clafoutis I’ll add grated Parmesan to the fine crumbs, because that crispy crust could only be improved by cheese flavor. 







Freshly grated nutmeg was my idea, and that was, if I may be so immodest as to say so, an addition of genius. 



After thirty to forty minutes in a hot oven (425ºF here in the mountains), the dish puffs beautifully. It has the lightness of a souffle and yet the smooth texture and richness of a baked custard – which is what made the nutmeg dusted on top even more appropriate than I imagined when the idea came to me.


Remember that fresh, uncooked, spicy cranberry-walnut relish from Christmas dinner? Cold and crisp, it was an ideal complement to the hot savory custardy main dish.





I feel so much like Julia Child (a rare feeling for me) in offering this recipe to you (well, it is actually Christophe Felder’s offering, not mine, but I, like Julia, have made it available to American cooks) that I can only close today by echoing Julia: “Bon appétit!”









Monday, December 28, 2020

Christmas Dinner Leftovers, Day 2

 


Leftover Dinner Day 1 was shredded pork tossed with a mix that one would use as a rub before roasting if making the pulled pork completely from scratch. We had the pork roast for Christmas dinner. The next day I shredded a small pile of the leftover meat and tossed it with brown sugar, ground coffee beans, salt and pepper, paprika, cumin, coriander, and ground cloves, then put it in a casserole dish with a small amount of water and let it all "get good together" (as my grandmother used to say) in a slow oven for about three hours. Served on tortillas, it received added oomph from one of our Christmas gifts, pepper and onion relish. 

Day 2 was simpler and faster and really needs no  explanation, as the pictures here tell it all.








Saturday, December 26, 2020

Twists on Tradition


On the eve of Thanksgiving or Christmas, I like a simple supper like oyster stew or clam chowder – not a fast, certainly, but a meatless restraint that will be thrown to the winds on the following day.  And then there are the cranberries: my husband likes them raw and chopped up with oranges, orange juice, and orange peel, while I confess I love a sweet, cooked, jellied sauce. We did not exactly break with our traditions this year, but I did put a few twists on them, and we were both pleased with the results. 

 

The first twist was the Christmas Eve soup. Rather than any kind of New England seafood meal, I went out on a cultural limb to make Spiced Chickpea Stew with Coconut and Turmeric, as featured in the New York Times on November 28, 2018. The recipe was one I’d found appealing enough to save for over two years before trying it. Chickpeas are crisped in a pan that holds garlic, onions, and ginger already cooked in olive oil until translucent and enhanced with turmeric, red pepper flakes, salt, and pepper. 



To the chickpeas is added coconut milk and vegetable or chicken stock (in my kitchen on Thursday, the latter was the chicken Better Than Bouillon) and then begins a long, slow simmer, with greens added late in the game. My last-minute inspiration was to add cubed tofu, also. It worked! A good cheese and some hearty crackers are all that’s needed to make this rich, creamy, mouth-watering soup a satisfying and yet modest Christmas Eve supper, and that was good because I had other things to do on Christmas Eve. I’d been hampered by migraine the whole day before, unable to get an earlier start, and didn’t feel quite out of the woods yet, so I was working slowly, with frequent stops for rest.




The cranberries! Again, it was a recipe published years before, this one in the Thanksgiving issue of Bon Appétit, November 2017. The cranberries in this recipe were raw (a nod to husband’s preference), but no fruit was involved. Instead of oranges, walnuts were the complement, and the remaining ingredients were mustard seeds, shallot, chile (omitted), dried currants (raisins substituted), maple syrup, sherry or red wine vinegar (Balsamic vinegar substituted), allspice, and salt. Fresh parsley was to be added for serving, but He-Who-Prefers-Cranberries-Raw is not a big parsley fan, so that was left out, too. What would the single important reviewer say to the result? I got the cranberry-walnut relish done the night before our holiday dinner.




Christmas morning, after a big holiday breakfast was out of the way, there were two major kitchen jobs to be undertaken: homemade noodles and an experimental pear chutney. I’ve made noodles many times before but would be winging it this time around with the chutney. Fortunately, after looking at several recipes involving much more fruit than I had on hand (or even would have wanted at the time), I managed to reduce the various recipes to a simple formula 3:1:1. That is fruit:vinegar:sugar. My fruit was cubed fresh pears and a much smaller amount of raisins. Apple cider vinegar and a mix of granulated and brown sugar then completed the formula, with only spices left to add. A real chef, I’m sure, would not have used allspice and red pepper flakes in two recipes for the same meal, but I did, and I also repeated chopping shallots to simmer with the fruit. 





The rule for a chutney is that it’s done when you can drag a spoon through it and have a path remaining.


Choosing a pork roast instead of beef or turkey was another twist on tradition but one I knew would meet with approval in our household.


The menu, then, for Christmas dinner was as follows:

 

Pork roast

Pear chutney

Homemade noodles with mushroom gravy

Brussels sprouts with sauteed, sliced almonds

Cranberry-walnut relish

 

I’m happy to report that the dinner was a complete success, although it’s good we were alone, because the roast took much more than the 2 hours, 40 minutes I’d worked out from The Joy of Cooking. Advice to cook: Even without a meat thermometer, you don’t even have to stab the roast to see if the juices are still running red or pink if no drippings have yet run into the pan beneath the rack. No drippings means you’ve got a long way to go. So take that pasta water off the boil, and hold off on cooking your vegetable. It will be worth the wait.




Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Start with a Mistake

 


--But that can't be an instruction, can it? I mean, if you do it intentionally, it isn't a mistake. My mistake was at the store, when I bought the can of crushed tomatoes rather than diced or whole for homemade chili. But they worked out okay, maybe especially with the pinto beans I use now (instead of kidney beans) for their creamy texture. Still, the chili only needed half the can. 


So a couple nights later I fried up half a dozen strips of bacon, drained and broke them into pieces. Sautéed onion and mushrooms. Added the cooked bacon...



...crushed tomatoes, salt, oregano, herbes de Provence, and simmered for a long time. That is the not-so-secret secret: long, slow simmering.

Served over tortellini with grated Parmesan cheese, the resulting dish was perfection. And perfection being the moving target that it is, it's pleasing to hit it once in a while.




Tuesday, September 15, 2020

One Day, Three Projects

The freezer compartment of the refrigerator was filling up. Rhubarb had gone in first, followed by strawberries, both of those in June. Later months brought an abundance of black raspberries. (Black raspberries + strawberries = PJ’s blackstraw jam.) And while fruits were still awaiting disposition into jars, along came sweet corn season. The time had arrived! What better day than Labor Day to do the work?

Tuesday, September 1, 2020

This Salad Needs No Clothes


"Did you take a picture of it?" No! I was too hungry! And we didn't leave much in the big bowl, either. But here are the ingredients:

Fresh corn, steamed on cob and then cut off and chilled
Fresh heirloom tomato, your favorite, cut in bite-size pieces
Sliced black olives
Thinly sliced fresh radishes
Sliced fresh pepper, your favorite kind
Chopped fresh chives

I don't think I've left anything out, but you can add or subtract as you wish. My main point is that this salad needs no dressing. You may add dressing, if you like, and freshly ground pepper is always good, but it is deliciously irresistible just as it is.

The joys of late summer!