Friday, May 16, 2008

A Piece A Pizza

Every newlywed, every new cook, really should have a copy of the America's Test Kitchen Family Cookbook, for many reasons, but mostly for the best everyday pizza recipe I've ever found. From the sturdy yet tender crust to the perfectly seasoned sauce, the instructions are clear and the results are always excellent. My kids and husband love this pizza, but the best compliment came from my Chicago friends, who said they really knew their pizza and my pizza with Italian sausage was the best they've ever had. (By the way, I used Aidell's sun-dried tomato sausage on that pizza).

I usually make the dough in the morning or right after lunch for dinner that night. I'll make the sauce at the same time. I always have sauce leftover and I just put it in a freezer container and save it for the next time.

Pizza Dough

4 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 envelope (2 1/4 tsp) instant yeast
1 1/2 tsp salt
2 tbsp. olive oil
1 3/4 cups water, warm

You may use a food processor (my preferred way) or standing mixer.

1. Pulse 4 cups of the flour, yeast and salt in processor bowl to combine. With the machine running, pour the oil, then the water through the feed tube and process until a rough ball forms, 30 to 40 seconds. Let the dough rest for 2 minutes, then process for 30 seconds longer.

2. Turn the dough out onto a floured counter and knead by hand to form a smooth, round ball, about 5 minutes (I don't do this - I let it go in the processor about another 2 minutes). Add the remaining 1/4 cup flour as needed to prevent the dough from sticking to the counter. Transfer to a lightly oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and let rise in a warm place until doubled in size, 1 to 1 1/2 hours.

Yield: 2 lbs. dough, enough for 3 (12-inch) pizzas

Pizza Sauce

2 tbsp. olive oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 (28 oz.) can crushed tomatoes
salt and pepper to taste

Heat the oil and garlic in a medium saucepan over medium heat until the garlic is sizzling, about 1 1/2 minutes. (I don't do this because inevitably, I burn the garlic. I just heat the oil, add the garlic and then the tomatoes.) Stir in the tomatoes and simmer until the sauce is thick, about 15 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Yield: 3 cups, enough for 3 pizzas

Classic Cheese Pizza
1 recipe pizza dough
1 recipe pizza sauce
12 oz. mozzarella, shredded (3 cups)
3 tbsp. grated Parmesan cheese
olive oil
6 tbsp. torn fresh basil

1. Adjust an oven rack to the lower-middle position, place a baking stone on the rack and heat the oven to 500 degrees (this is too high for my oven, I heat my oven to 450). Let the baking stone heat for at least 30 minutes. Dust the baking stone with cornmeal.

2. Meanwhile, turn the dough out onto a lightly floured counter, cut it into three even pieces, and cover with plastic wrap. Working with one piece of dough at a time, shape into a smooth, round ball, cover again with the plastic wrap and let rest 20 to 30 minutes.

3. Uncover one ball of dough and stretch and shape the dough into a 12 inch round on a piece of parchment paper (make sure the parchment can handle the high heat of the oven or do without - I do without the parchment). Spread 1 cup of the pizza sauce over the dough, leaving a 1/2 inch edge of dough uncovered. Sprinkle with 4 oz. (1 cup) of the mozzarella and 1 tbsp. of the Parmesan. Lightly brush the edge of the dough with oil.

4. Slide the parchment and pizza onto a rimless (or inverted) baking sheet, then slide it onto the hot baking stone. Bake until the crust edges brown and the cheese is golden in spots, 8 to 13 minutes. (Prepare the second pizza while the first bakes.)

5. Transfer the pizza to a cutting board, discarding the parchment. Sprinkle with 2 tbsp. basil and cut the pizza into 6 wedges before serving. Let the stone reheat for 5 minutes before baking the next pizza.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Almost as Good as...the Japanese Steakhouse

My family loves Japanese Steakhouse food, and whenever we're in the mood for live fire at the table and real fried rice, we head to one of the three local restaurants. I'm not sure how authentically Japanese these types of places are, but they can be relied on for a refreshing salad with ginger dressing, tasty fried rice, flash-cooked meats and the ubiquitous orange sherbet for dessert.
In past attempts to replicate this meal at home, I've stumbled on the fried rice. My version always comes out watery or mushy, with nubbits of cooked gray egg. I wanted fluffy, separate grains of rice, sesasoned with salty soy and dotted with bright green peas and diced carrots and just tiniest bit of yellow scrambled egg. From my cookbooks and online research, I learned that the rice must be cooked in advanced and cooled. This was fortunate, because I had cooked too much white rice for a meal earlier in the week. I pulled it out of the fridge early in the afternoon and spread it out onto a paper towel-lined cookie sheet and topped with more paper towels. When I was ready to cook, the rice was dry and separate, enough to please even Uncle Ben.
Thursday's Menu
Edamame in the Pod
Green Salad with Ginger Vinaigrette
Fried Rice with Teriyaki Glazed Chicken
Sliced Oranges

Ginger Vinaigrette

In measuring cup, combine 1/4 cup rice wine vinegar, 2 teaspoons sugar, 2 tablespoons soy sauce and 2 teaspoons dark sesame oil; set aside. In food processor, with blade running, drop in 2 peeled garlic cloves, a 2-inch piece of peeled ginger, 1 bunch of green onions, cleaned and trimmed, all of the whites and two inches of the greens. Follow with vinegar mixture and then slowly pour in 1/3 cup safflower oil.

Fried Rice

Slice one 1-lb. package of chicken cutlets into strips and marinate in 1/2 portion of Golden Teriyaki Glaze

4 cups cooked white rice, cooled and dried on paper towels
1/2 white onion, chopped
2 carrots, diced
1/2 cup frozen green peas
4 tablespoons canola oil, separated
2 eggs, stirred
soy sauce

1. Put diced carrots in microwave-safe bowl with a couple tablespoons water. Cover and microwave for one minute. Remove from microwave.

2. In large skillet or wok, heat two tablespoons oil until shimmery. Remove chicken strips from marinade and cook in batches, turning after two minutes, so that each side is cooked through. Discard marinade. Set aside cooked chicken.

3. Remove pan from heat and clean it thoroughly. Reheat pan and add remaining 2 tablespoons oil, heating until shimmery. Add onion, cooking until limp and transparent. Add carrots and frozen green peas, cooking just until peas thaw.

4. Pour eggs over veggies and scramble. Push egg mixture to side of pan and add rice, gradually incorporating all together. Add a healthy portion of soy sauce, using caution to avoid oversalting. Push rice to half of pan and add chicken, continuing to heat the chicken through. Mix all together. This is the time to add pepper, although, if you're serving young children, you may want to remove their portions before grinding in a good 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon of cracked black pepper.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Mother's Day 2008: 10 Years in the Business

For the first time, I invited my Mom over on Sunday evening. She usually cooks for the crowd on Mother's Day, but everyone else was working, including my dad, so I stepped in and made the meal. My dear husband grilled a pork tenderloin, which was flavorful and tender. I filled in with vegetables and the fabulous green salad with raspberry vinaigrette. Dessert was a choice of yellow layer cake with chocolate frosting or chocolate-dipped strawberries.

Green Salad with Grapes, Cheese, Walnuts and Raspberry Vinaigrette
Grilled Spice-Rubbed Pork Tenderloin
Southern Style Snap Beans
Mashed Potatoes with Homemade Gravy
Homemade Yellow Layer Cake with Rich & Buttery Chocolate Frosting
Chocolate-Dipped Strawberries
Mom and I caught up while we did dishes. I sent a care package home for Dad. It was just another Sunday, but it was a very good day because I have a Mom and I am a Mom.

Friday, May 9, 2008

More from Erma

For Mother's Day, I can think of no better gift than the book "Forever, Erma," a collection of Erma Bombeck's best columns. Here are two of my favorite quotes:

"When I was born, I was 40 years old with a cup of cold coffee in one hand, a sponge in the other hand, and the original Excedrin headache. My parents exclaimed, "Good grief! We've given birth to a 130-pound parent!" Or so it seemed."

"Had it not been for "As the World Turns" and pacifiers, I'd have slipped into humming and braiding my hair. Every day I'd put a pacifier into whatever part of his face was open, get a plate full of buttered noodles and sit in front of the TV set and watch someone who was worse off than I was."

Sunday, May 4, 2008

A Word from Erma

"In general, my children refused to eat anything that hadn't danced on TV."
-Erma Bombeck

Saturday, May 3, 2008

It Must Be That Orange Chiffon Glow

Mise en place

Mom glanced through my mail and came across the Harry & David catalog. She flipped past the gleaming pictures of perfectly ripe fruit to the luscious portrait of a cake, Orange Creme Dream Cake. $49.95 for an orange chiffon cake filled with orange-flecked whipped cream cheese and covered with buttercream. Now that's a job that I want, to make a cake and charge $49.95 for it. "Mom, really, if you want that cake, I'll make it for you," I said, knowing that her birthday was in a few days.

I checked out my favorite cookbooks and found orange chiffon cake, and I soon discovered that I didn't really need the buttercream frosting; a simple orange juice and sugar glaze would set off the cake nicely. Upon advice of a message board friend, I made Rose Levy Beranbaum's Orange Glow Chiffon Cake from the Cake Bible, with the gorgeous (unglazed) result above.

And now, I think it will be awhile before anyone gets a pound or butter cake from me -- I'm in love with chiffons. The texture, oh my goodness, just so light and tender. And it keeps for several days, just as fresh as when I made it.