Friday, 24 February 2012

Give Pizza a Chance

           One of the first things I can remember really wanting to learn how to cook from scratch was pizza. As a fat teenager I lived off the greasy, delivered to your door variety of the stuff. I could easily take down a large or more in a single sitting so suffice to say that I am a huge fan. Maybe it is the tie in to special occasions in my household growing up. Birthday parties, visits from long lost relatives seemed to always be commemorated with a phone call and a thirty minute wait. I must also say thank you to pizza for introducing me to one of my favourite foods in life, pineapple. Yep the Hawaiian special, now that I think about it, seems fairly pedestrian now but as a little kid I think it communicated to me that you could play with your food. I mean fruit on a savoury dish? This was new territory in my pot roast and roasted root vegetables for dinner world. The other thing that I love about pizza is the passion it stirs in seemingly everyone. Everyone has an opinion about what makes great pizza. Thick vs. thin crust, the number of toppings that should go on top, what those toppings are and even the amount of sauce used will spark furious debate amongst foodies and those who eat for sustenance alike. So here we go, let’s give pizza a go.

            The first thing we have to deal with is the crust. I favour a thin and crispy crust when I make this at home but roll it out to your liking. Here is a fairly quick and easy pizza dough recipe that has never steered me wrong.

Pizza Dough

1 envelope of yeast
1 tsp sugar
1 cup warm water
1 tsp salt
1 tbsp olive oil
2 cups, give or take, flour

-mix 4 tbsp of water, the yeast and the sugar in a bowl and set aside in a warm place for about 15 minutes or until it starts to foam up.

-mix the salt and the flour in a bowl and make a well in the center. Add in the oil and the yeast goo. Slowly add in the rest of the flour and mix until the dough forms. Turn the dough out onto a clean floured work surface and knead until the dough becomes smooth, about 4-5 minutes.

-stick the dough into a bowl, cover, and let it rise until it is doubled in size. About 30 minutes

-turn the dough out again and knead for another 2 minutes or so and then stretch it and roll it out to you desired thickness. It will rise in the oven so there is your warning.

You can freeze what you don’t need to use at a later date. If you don’t want to make the dough from scratch you can always just buy it. I do recommend that you aim for a joint that makes the dough fresh every day. Delis and bakeries that sell pizza as part of their menus will generally be willing to sell you a hunk of raw dough but you may need to ask.

You know have the base for your pizza the toppings are up to you. Here are a couple of my favourites. The first was inspired by a joint that served tapas and is sort of a take on a Waldorf salad. I served it at a tapas night that I hosted and it seemed to be a hit. This is for all of your veggie friends. The second is something that I made for my mom and she fell in love with it.

The Waldorf Pizza to the tune of Babylon by David Gray

2 Green apples sliced
½ cup walnuts
1 tbsp ish honey
 2-3 oz of goat cheese
1 cup grated mozzarella cheese
¼ cup of cheese sauce you can grab my recipe for this from the Mac and Cheese post
1 ball of pizza dough
-in a frying pan dry toast your walnuts, add your honey and let the little devils candy up. Let them cool completely.

-Roll out your dough and then top with the sauce, then the apples, then the cheeses then the candied walnuts.

-Bake in a 400 degree oven until cheese is melty and the crust is crisp. And you’re done.

Mom’s Chicken Margarita Pizza, like the drink, to the tune of Dreamboat Annie by Heart, one of my Mom’s favourite tunes.

1 tbsp olive oil
2 boneless chicken thighs cubed
4 oz decent tequila
Juice of 3 limes
1 small onion thinly sliced
1 red bell pepper thinly sliced
¼ cup tomato sauce
 1 ball of pizza dough
1 cup of grated mozzarella cheese

-In a frying pan heat oil and add your chicken. Sauté until the chicken is browned and close to cooked through. Add your tequila and lime juice to the pan and reduce until your chicken is coated with a nice syrupy sauce.

-Build your pizza, dough, sauce, onions, chicken, peppers, and cheese.

-Bake in a 400 degree oven until cheese is melty and the crust is crisp.

            Play around with what you want to use for toppings and I am sure that you find something different and awesome. Feel free to share any of those awesome discoveries. A special thanks to my friend Amanda "The Hamster" Strand for taking and sharing the pics. Have fun and be brave.

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Sweet Memories and Gnocchi

            Like everyone else I have my food memories. A lot of them stem from my family’s cooking but every once and a while one comes from a meal that I ate out. This is certainly the case for the subject of this little blurb. On very special occasions we would go out for what we called a fancy meal, a sit down dinner with many forks and if it was a really special night a couple of bottles of wine off of a list not off of the rack. One of these meals took place on what I remember as being my Grand’s birthday at a little Italian place called Ricardo’s outside of my home town. We sat, we ate, and I fell head over heels in love with gnocchi. This was not something that we sat down to on a regular basis coming from a German, English and Irish background. I was delivered a cross between a bowl and a plate that was emitting one of the most glorious smells I have ever encountered. I was enamoured by these little pillow like things that were covered in a Gorgonzola cheese sauce, sort of an Italian classic or so I have learned. My mom made a face when I ordered; she is not a fan of that kind of cheese. I took my first bite and that was it... it was love. Everyone took a bite of my food. I was torn because I wanted my family to love this food too but I really didn’t want to share. The better part of my nature won out. It was after that I wanted; check that, I needed to know how to do it. How do you start off with potatoes, eggs and flour and end up with this glorious meal. I would find out how to do it. I researched every famous chef who cooked Italian food. I even checked out some non Italian chefs to see if they held the secret. Maybe it is an Italian grandmother thing but the best recipe and advice in making came from, surprise, an Italian grandmother. Her name is Lidia Matticchio Bastianich. She is kind of a big deal in the Italian food world. So here is my little twist on the Maestra’s recipe. It is the closest I have come to duplicating that meal and now I share it with you.

            Now just like the girl from Despicable Me, what we are aiming for is fluffy, yep so fluffy you’re gonna die. Now with Lidia’s sage words of wisdom, a couple of key things to ensure that your gnocchi is light and fluffy. The first thing is you are going to have to rice your potatoes. This can be accomplished a couple of ways, use a ricer or food mill. If you don’t have that, use your kitchen aid food grinder. If you don’t have that, force your cooked potatoes through the steamer part of a double boiler. The second thing is that your spuds need to be hot when you rice them. Then spread them out on a sheet pan to let them cool. This allows the moisture to escape and that is a good thing. It just works so just go with it. The last major thing you need to remember to do is as you are bringing your dough together don’t overwork it and use just as much flour as you need. The more you work the dough and the more flour you use the heavier your gnocchi will be. Keep all of these things in mind as we plunge forward.

            The other things that I must tell you are that you can top these little beauties with whatever you like, it doesn’t have to be the rich and wonderful gorgonzola sauce I have included. A nice tomato sauce works great or even just some butter and good parmesan cheese. They also freeze very well but you have to make sure that you freeze them spread out on a sheet pan before you package them into freezer bags. If you just toss them into a bag you will end up with a useless ball of potato dough. This is not what you want. Seeing as I am kind of doing a cover of Lidia I will suggest a cover for you to cook to, have fun with it.

Gnocchi in Gorgonzola Cheese Sauce to the tune of Love Song by Adele

The gnocchi part

5 large russet potatoes
2 eggs
2- 2 ½ cups of flour

-Boil your spuds until they give no resistance when poked with a fork. Pull them out of the water and peel. Use a kitchen towel to protect your finger because those little guys are hot. Rice them. Lay them out on a sheet pan and let them cool. You are looking at about 10-15 minutes.

-After they have cooled form a well and add your eggs and start to bring the dough together. Start adding your flour, a little at a time, and work the dough gently until it is no longer sticky and pasty. Do not over work the dough for the reasons I mentioned above.

-cut the dough into about six portions. Roll each portion into a rope about ½ an inch in diameter and then cut into bite sized portions. Using a fork press the dough over your thumb to create the ridge pattern that will hold on to the sauce.

-Boil them until they float. This should be really quick maybe 2 minutes or so. Add to your sauce; let it work for a couple of minutes and you are good to go.
The Saucy Part

¼ cup of butter
¼ cup of flour
1 cup of milk
Gorgonzola cheese, as much as you like really so that it fits your taste

-In a medium sauce pan melt your butter and then add your flour. Whisk until you have your roux. Add in your milk and whisk until smooth, no lumps. Add your cheese and whisk until it is fully incorporated. And that is the saucy part.

You can finish this dish with some chopped flat leaf parsley and you are good to go.