Sunday, February 25, 2007

Never Call Domino's Again

For a long time, I thought all pizza was supposed to taste like Domino's/Pizza Hut/etc. Oddly enough, I don't remember the first time I discovered differently. As best as I can figure, it was sometime before I lived in Charlotte, but likely after I left Cleveland; that would put my pizza discovery squarely in Washington, DC - but damned if I know when, where, or what kind of pizza was involved.

Suffice to say, I have no shortage of "real" pizza these days and I'm real glad for that. If I don't make it myself, it's just a short walk to one of two shops or a simple phone call to another shop a half mile away.
There's a lot of pizza 'round these parts.

I have two favorite styles of pizza - one of which isn't even technically pizza.
New York style is how I prefer my pies; I love the thin crust and the monstrous slice size. Oh sure, Chicago deep dish pizza is good, don't get me wrong here, but I like the balance between bread and toppings in NY pizza.
My toppings of choice? Pepperoni, onion & black olives.

Second to NY pizza is something I didn't discover until I moved to Philly, and it can barely even be called a pizza.
Tomato pie is a regional thing found almost exclusively in the Northeast United States, most commonly in cities with a large Italian-American population. It's kinda-sorta like a pizza in that it uses pizza dough and tomato sauce, but it looks nothing like a pizza, nor does it taste a lot like one. In fact, tomato pies taste different from town to town, and even from shop to shop - much like there are different ragù recipes from family to family, there are different tomato pie recipes.

I first had tomato pie at a local pizza shop. It's not on the menu but, being regulars, we could special order it sometimes. It ain't cheap though.
What else to do but work up my own recipe for it?

The first thing one might notice about tomato pie is that it's not round. It's square or rectangular. The next thing you'll see is that this pizza-esque dish isn't dripping with cheese; depending on the version, you'll see anything from no cheese at all to a bare sprinkle of grated parm to a very thin layer of provolone or mozzarella. This "pizza" is about the tomatoes, not about the cheese.

Chellie's Tomato Pie
makes 1 large rectangular pie
special equipment: 1 large cookie sheet or half sheet pan

2 cups warm water
1 T + 1 t active dry yeast
1 t sugar or honey
5-6 cups hi-gluten flour, bread flour, or AP flour
4 T olive oil
2 t salt

Combine the warm water, yeast and sugar in a mixing bowl or in the bowl of your stand mixer. Let stand for 10 minutes, or until frothy.
Add the salt, olive oil, and 1 cup of flour. Mix until smooth.
Add the remaining flour, 1/2 cup at a time, until the dough comes together in a smooth, slightly sticky ball.
Knead for 5-10 minutes by hand or 5 minutes by mixer, until the dough is soft, supple and very springy.
Place the dough in a lightly greased bowl and let rise, covered, in a warm place until doubled - about 1 hour.
While the dough rises, make the sauce.

Over low heat, saute 1 T of crushed garlic in 1 T olive oil. When the garlic browns slightly, add 1 28oz can of crushed tomatoes, 1/2 cup water, and a healthy splash of balsamic vinegar.
Raise the heat to medium.
Season to taste with salt, pepper, oregano, and basil.
Let the sauce cook on medium heat, stirring frequently, until most of the liquid has evaporated - about 30 minutes.
Let cool to warm room temperature.

Preheat oven to 425*.

When the dough has risen, punch it down, knead it a couple times, and let rest for 5 minutes.
On a lightly floured surface, roll the dough into a rectangular shape. Transfer dough to a lightly greased or parchment paper lined cookie sheet or half sheet pan and stretch the dough to fit the bottom of the pan and slightly up the sides.
Let rest for 5 minutes.
With your fingertips, press indentations halfway into the slightly risen dough on the bottom of the pan. You should have a relatively flat rectangle of dough surrounded by a slightly raised crust along the edges.

Top the dough with the tomato sauce in a thick layer.
Bake at 425* for 17-22 minutes, or until the crust is golden brown.
Remove from the oven and, if desired, top with a bit of shredded parmesan, provolone, or mozzarella cheese. Remember this pie is about the tomato sauce, so don't douse it in cheese.

Let the pie cool almost to room temperature.
Slice into squares and serve.


The dough recipe can be divided in half and used to make a standard 16" round pizza.

The dough recipe can also be used in the same proportions or halved to make focaccia - after the dough has risen once and been punched down, shape as desired. Let rise a second time, covered, for 30 minutes.
When the dough has risen a 2nd time, again use your fingertips to press indentations all over the surface of the dough. Drizzle liberally with olive oil and season with salt and the herbs of your choice. Bake at 425* for 20-30 minutes, or until golden brown and crisp on the outside.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Oh, how I miss my kitchen...

Ever have one of "those" weeks? You know the sort - you're so busy during the day that the best you can manage is 5 minutes to grab some takeout for lunch, and when you're done at night you barely have the energy to lift the TV remote, let alone actually cook something.

Yeah, I'm having one of those weeks. It's nearly 8pm and I'm just taking a break from working. I hope to be finished by 10 tonight.
Fortunately I love my job. Seriously, I do.

Of course, working doesn't preclude me from thinking about food, and this week I've had a couple things on my mind.

First, cake. Not just any cake, though.
I'm in charge of the cake for Munchkin's upcoming 7th birthday party, and I've been tossing some decorating ideas around in my head. The birthday girl loves white cake with vanilla buttercream best, so we're gonna go with that. As for decorations, I saw this cake on one of my favorite food blogs and got inspired. I love the idea of 3-D decorating, and this is kinda like two treats in one. We'll see how well I can execute something similar, but at the very least I'll have fun.

Second to cake, I've been thinking about Mardi Gras. This insanity at work kept me from making jambalaya or beignets to laissez les bon temps roule; thus I've been thinking about New Orleans and food almost non-stop for two days now. And I'm dying for muffaletta.
If you've been paying attention, you know that I'm surrounded by olive-haters here, and a muffaletta without olive salad is just a sandwich. If I ever make it to the grocery store, I'm totally making myself the biggest, most olive-laden muffaletta this world has ever known. Kevin can fend for himself, I want me some big, drippy, messy sammich!

Bread. I desperately need to make bread.
Maybe tomorrow...

Monday, February 19, 2007

Crunchy Marshmallow Yum

Rice Krispies were on sale at the grocery this weekend. So were marshmallows.

What might one do with an abundance of these two tasty ingredients?

Okay, here's the secret about Rice Krispy Treats: only use that recipe on the side of the box as a rough guide.

A couple years back, a friend and I were lamenting how Rice Krispy Treats tasted so much better when we were kids. At first we thought maybe our memories were tainted; this was twenty years and several concussions after the fact, y'know? But the more we talked about it, the more we just knew things had once been different.

So, armed with boxes of puffed rice cereal and many, many marshmallows, I got to trying out some different things. We distinctly remembered a richer, gooier treat than the current recipe turned out - so the obvious thing to do was to add more butter and marshmallows.

Well, it took several batches while I gradually scaled the amounts up, and at least one where things were just way too greasy, before the experimenting could stop. Looking back, I'm surprised we even wanted any more Rice Krispy Treats after all the failed - but still tasty - attempts we ate. But, at long last, I'd found a combination that made something pretty much identical to what we both remembered.

So it was good, and this weekend (with the sale and all) I decided to make these gooey squares of crunchy goodness once again. Believe it or not, Munchkin couldn't remember ever having them before. As much as she loves marshmallows, I figured we were good to go.

Real Rice Krispy Treats
makes 24 squares

6 cups of Rice Krispies, or other puffed rice cereal
1 stick of butter
16oz bag of miniature marshmallows

Start by buttering the bottom and sides of a 13"x9" pan.

Put the cereal in a really big bowl and set aside.

In a large saucepan, melt the stick of butter over low heat. Stir frequently and let it cook until it begins to turn a very light brown.

Immediately add the marshmallows and stir until completely melted.

Pour the marshmallow goo over the cereal and keep stirring until mixed well. Work quickly before the marshmallows set!

Pour into prepared pan.

Rub some more butter on your hands and pat the sticky crispy mass into a nice, flat rectangle, making sure to get into the corners of the pan.

Resist the temptation to eat them immediately. Let set for 30 minutes or so.

And there we were with a big ol' pan of Rice Krispy Treats - not just any Rice Krispy Treats, but good Rice Krispy Treats. After dinner, Munchkin and I got ready to have dessert.

She took a small bite and decided that she didn't like them.


Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Valentine's Day: Dessert

To top everything off tonight...


What's more simple than cheesecake? And what's more perfect? I love chocolate as much as the next girl, but I really, really love cheesecake.

For Valentine's dessert, I wanted something rich but relatively light; something simple but decadent.

To me, that called for a crustless cheesecake with some fruit to evoke warmer weather. We got snow and ice from that blasted winter storm, so I didn't need a reminder as to how cold it is outside.

I made a coulis of frozen raspberries and another coulis of poached fresh peaches. I tried my hand at some fancy plating (not my forté, if you couldn't tell!) and proudly called Kevin in for dessert.

My only complaint is with the peach coulis; the peaches were fragrant and delicious out of hand, but I lost some of the flavor along the way from fruit to sauce. Though the coulis has a lovely yellow-orange color, it's far too mild for our taste. I think next time I'll reduce the sauce once I've strained it...


Overall today was an amazingly good food day. I don't know if the cheesecake met the heights of our main course, but we were both happy to be eating it. And we both unabashedly licked our plates clean.

Valentine's Day: Main Course

Ahhhh dinner!!! It was even better than I expected!

After being restricted to the bedroom while everything cooked, seared, and simmered
(save for the 2 times I snuck into the hallway and hollered for some more gougéres)
I was called to dinner to find:

Coconut seared scallops with chocolate sauce
NY Strip steak with a roasted red pepper beurre blanc
Wilted spinach with garlic
Potato gratin
And a couple extra gougéres on the side

*falls over dead from the sheer bliss of things*

There's no way I can choose a favorite item here, because it was all so good. The scallops were cooked just perfectly; their chocolate sauce, while unconventional, was spot on for the coconut crust and for the whole Valentine's Day thing; the steak was seasoned simply so the strong flavor of the beurre blanc came through; the gratin was the perfect mild complement to the flavors of everything else. Pure heaven.

We're going to have the dessert I made soon now and I'm not feeling very confident that it'll stand up to dinner... ;)

Valentine's Day: First Course

I've been ejected from the kitchen for the time being while Kevin makes the important part of our Valentine's Day dinner. I'm not entirely sure what we're having; I had to come in and help unearth the mandoline and while I was there I saw some potatoes.

So, potatoes, scallops, and steak are involved. Otherwise I have no clue.

We must have something to snack on though, right? I didn't have time last night, so after work today I threw together something quick...

makes about 30 puffs
recipe adapted from Food & Wine

1/2 cup water
1/2 cup milk
1 stick butter, cut into tablespoons
1/4 t salt
1 cup AP flour
4 large eggs
3 1/2oz shredded cheese
1 t Dijon mustard
Fresh ground pepper & nutmeg

Preheat oven to 400*. Line two baking sheets with silicone mats or parchment paper.

In a medium saucepan, combine water, milk, butter and salt. Bring to a boil.
Add the flour all at once and reduce heat to low. With a wooden spoon, vigorously stir the mixture until it comes together in a ball.
Continue stirring for 2 minutes.
Remove from heat and let the dough cool for 2 minutes.
Add the eggs one at a time, incorporating each egg completely before adding the next. The dough will separate into clumps when you add the eggs and look ruined, but keep beating the dough hard with the wooden spoon and it will come back together.
Add the mustard and a pinch each of pepper and nutmeg and mix.
Fold in the cheese.

Using either a piping bag fitted with a large round tip or a tea spoon, portion the dough into approximate teaspoon sized mounds on the baking sheets. Keep 1" between each puff to allow for expansion.

Bake at 400* for 20-22 minutes, or until puffed and golden brown.

Serve immediately.

These can be frozen for up to 2 weeks or held in the refrigerator for 2-3 days. If frozen, let thaw at room temperature. Reheat in a 350* oven until heated through.

This is a basic choux with savory ingredients mixed in to make bite-sized appetizers. The same base dough can be used to make cream puffs, éclairs, and churros.
It can be intimidating to work with at first, mostly because it requires an impressive amount of elbow grease to get those eggs mixed in, but the end results are so worth it. In addition, panade - the dough itself - is the only pastry dough to be cooked before baking. Serve these at a party and impress your guests with a little trivia along with the yummy bites!

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Ah, candlelight.

Dear dear blog...I'm so sorry for neglecting you. I meant to update you this weekend, I really did, but you know how it is. I made some food and I was too hungry to wait to take pictures of it. Well, that happens sometimes, and I was all set to do some mad typing on Sunday, when I had some quiet time.

Wouldn't you know it - our power went out. No, there was no storm or wind or errant truck hitting a power pole; it just broke.

Funny story about that power outage. I left to take Munchkin home Sunday evening and we stopped at the restaurant to say goodbye to Kevin. The waitresses cooed over Munchkin and I asked Kevin if he wanted me to bring him a burger on my way back. See, he cooks all this fancy food, but he perks right up at the prospect of a Wendy's bacon cheeseburger.
So with Munchkin in tow, we walked across the street to the car and about 5 seconds later discovered that all the streetlights were out. Turns out the power died over like 3 blocks right after we walked out of the restaurant.


I headed back, Wendy's bags in hand, and saw that the streetlights - and, ergo, the power - were still out. Kevin wasn't home, so I discreetly slipped in the back door of the restaurant to see what was up.

Kevin and Chef C. were in the kitchen, cooking by candlelight for a dining room full of customers. Let me repeat that - they were cooking by candlelight for a full house, every table lit only by a couple candles. There were candles on the pass, candles on the stations, candles everywhere, and they were cranking the food out like nothing was amiss.

I shook my head and dropped off the burger and fries, only having time to mutter "What the hell, dude?" and for him to shrug in response.

Well, what could I do but head home and light some candles of my own? I huddled under a blanket and got through a couple chapters of The New Professional Chef by candlelight until PECO got the lights back on. Some nice, light reading for sure, right?

So we both survived the terrifying multi-hour blackout of 2007. I think Kevin made out better than I did, though; he came home after the night was over and said a diner had sent a bottle of wine back to the kitchen. Apparently he was quite impressed that dinner went so smoothly considering, y'know, no one could really see anything. Being that Kevin's not much of a wine drinker, I excitedly looked around for his share of the wine I was sure he'd brought home for me, but alas...he just shook his head and told me he & Chef C. had killed it.
I suppose they deserved it.

This weekend's kitchen adventures were fairly tame, I do believe.

Munchkin and I made a giant pizza - dough from scratch, sauce from scratch, and just a bit of provolone cheese on top. I like square pizza, so we made a double batch of dough and used a half sheet pan to bake it. Mmmm square pizza.

Then for our sweet treat, we made mini churros. They had to be mini, as I did not have as much vegetable oil as I thought I did. They were very cute and very tasty, which is where there are no photos of the mini churros.

Next up: Valentine's Day!! Wonder of wonders, Kevin somehow managed to score the evening off. He's offered to make us a fancy dinner - steak and scallops are involved! - and I'm taking charge of dessert. And maybe some snacky foods if time permits tomorrow.

But it's a secret what I'm making so you'll just have to wait to hear about it.
I'll try my very hardest to get some pictures this time...