Pizza at Home – My Two Cents

Pizza dough is remarkably simple to make yet “perfect” dough can be elusive due to the lack of technique and improper tools.  So here are my two cents…

1.  Equipment

  • Buy a Baking Stone that is at least an inch thick and large enough to accomodate pizza and bread.  I always recommend going a bit larger than you would think for a few reasons:  a large stone retains heat and provides a bigger target for you to place your pizza/bread upon.
  •  Invest in a pizza peel.  I personally favor the stainless steel version.  It’s strong, thin, and easy to store next to the refrigerator.
  • Parchment Paper is the best “cheat” I’ve ever used.

2.  Technique

  • Proper hydration of the dough is crucial, so follow the recipe exactly unless you are a master breadmaker.
  • I use two recipes:  Jim Lahey’s No Knead or the one from FornoBravo.com
  • Learn how to stretch/toss the dough.  It may look a little hard at first, but it’s quite easy and makes for a wonderfully thin crust.  Mind the ceiling fan!  Here’s a great video of the technique: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HWL__9yDu8I
  • HOT Oven.  Crank it up as hot as it goes.  500 to 550 depending on the make and model.  After preheated give your stone at least 30 minutes to get up to temperature.
  • CHEAT: Place parchment paper on your peel.  Place the dough on the parchment paper and assemble your pizza.  Place in the hot oven and after a minute or two of cooking you can quickly reach in and pull out the parchment paper while using the peel to lift up the pizza about an inch.  **NOTE** Make sure you remove it after a few minutes otherwise it will brown and possibly ignite.  Kitchen fires = Lame!

3.  Quality Ingredients

  • The Dough.  I find that using the extra fine 00 flour makes all the difference in the world.  If you like thin dough with a wonderful texture I have had great success with Farino di Grano Tenero Tipo 00.
  • Don’t use canned sauce.  Build your own!  It’s cheap and quick and you can tailor the flavor to your own preferences.  My personal recipe is something like this:
    – 1 Can or Tetra Pak of quality tomatoes.  I like Pomi Chopped Tomatoes.
    – 3 cloves of garlic, smashed
    – 2 TBSP Olive Oil
    – Pinch of red pepper flakes
    – Oregano, Fennel Seed, Salt & Pepper
    Saute the garlic in the olive oil until fragrant (a minute or two).  Add the tomato, S&P, red pepper flakes and herbs.  Simmer until flavors meld ~15 minutes.  Cool and use!
  • The Cheese – Mozzarella.  Fresh if possible, as it melts so much better and has a lovely texture and flavor.
  • Fresh Vegetables!  Be creative, but don’t use anything canned!!
  • Flavorful meat with a focus on quality over quantity.
  • Fresh Basil – for garnish

Pizza is a wonderful invention and there’s no reason you can’t make a wonderful version at home.

Cheers!

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Pan Grilled Strip Steak with Spicy Dandelion Greens and Quinoa

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We don’t eat beef very often but every now and then I crave steak.  This NY strip steak in particular weighed in at over a pound and was nearly 2 inches thick.  A quick rub with garlic, rosemary, salt, pepper and olive oil and it was ready to go.

Method:  Oven heated to 450 degrees along with our Le Creuset grill pan Le Creuset Square Skillet Grill Pan.  Once hot, the steak was placed on the hot pan and cooked, flipping and rotating every 5-6 minutes to get the grill marks.  Cook until internal temperature reaches 135F or more (I like medium rare).  Rest for 5 minutes and slice/cut as needed.

I served this on top of a bed of spiced dandelion greens made with onions, garlic, and red pepper flake.  At the very end I tossed in a few golden grape tomatoes and a few drops of 14 year old balsamic vinegar for brightness.

The quinoa was made with chicken stock and topped with a blend of oregano, basil, and pepper.

Eatwell Farm CSA Box: 04/11/2013

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This weeks box is fantastic!  The quality of produce that is coming from Eatwell Farm is making me extremely happy.  Here’s a list of this week’s awesomeness:

  • Green Garlic
  • Red Cabbage
  • Snap Peas
  • Polar Spinach
  • Baby Lettuce
  • Dandelion Greens
  • Scallions
  • Lemons
  • Navel Oranges
  • Tokyo Turnips
  • Chard
  • Red Ace Beets
  • Half Dozen Farm Fresh Eggs (these are AMAZING)

Giada + Bacon: Fettuccine with Arugula Pesto

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http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/giada-de-laurentiis/linguine-with-avocado-and-arugula-pesto-recipe/index.html

I’ve never been a fan of arugula by itself due to the fact that the smell always reminded me of a skunk.  When I saw this recipe where it was blended with avocado, lime juice and basil to form a pesto, I was intrigued.    The recipe is above and I followed it exactly until the final step.  In addition to the cheese I added some fried bits of bacon (really, bacon does make things better!) and omitted the almonds.  I love almonds, but I scorched them.  Last but not least I added some freshly chopped heirloom tomato for color contrast.  This recipe is a keeper and was wonderful again the next day for lunch.

The side dish is an old stand by:  2 cups chopped carrots boiled until just starting to get tender.  Drain the water, put the carrots back in the pot, add 1 Tbsp butter, 1 Tbsp vinegar (your choice – I used balsamic last night) and an aromatic herb (I used Fines Herbes).  Toss to coat and serve immediately.

Cheers!

King Salmon with Green Garlic and Fava Beans

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King Salmon is a wonderful fish that I rarely saw while living on the East Coast.  Now that we’ve moved to the Bay Area we were very happy to see it available at most fish markets.  I ended up using a very interesting recipe (follows below) that combined a unique cooking technique along with some lovely spring vegetables.

I’d like to thank the Chicago Tribune for posting this recipe.

For the side dish I made a batch of wild rice (1 cup).  While the rice was cooking I took 2 shallots (finely chopped) and 2 cloves of garlic (minced) and briefly cooked them in a tablespoon of olive oil for a minute or two (until very fragrant, but not browned).  I added a bunch of spinach and mixed it together until wilted.  Salt and pepper to taste.  Once the rice is completely cooked stir in the spinach mixture and voila… a healthy side dish!

Salad – The Perfect Lunch

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What’s the easiest way to plow through a ton of vegetables?  Build a salad.  This version features baby lettuce, carrots, and radishes from this week’s CSA box.  In addition I’ve added heirloom tomatoes, thinly sliced yellow onion, half an avocado, and some Habanero Jack cheese from Safeway.

Southwest Salad Dressing:

Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Lemon Juice
Pepper
Salt
Dash of White Wine Vinegar
Herb Blend (Ancho chili, garlic, onion, cumin, cayenne, oregano, cilantro, chives, bay, and chipotle pepper)

I was out of beans, but this would be a perfect place to add some black or kidney beans for extra protein.

Homemade Smoked Salmon

I really dislike smoked salmon.  However, my wife loves it nearly as much as she loves me (quite a bit… I don’t want to give the wrong impression!).  Now that we have a smoker I decided to see if I could recreate her favorite “Salmon Candy” that she used to get at Whole Foods in NYC.  After doing some research online, I decided to dive in and give it a try.  The end result was impressive and she absolutely loved it.  Hooray for the good husband!

Step 1:  Brine the fish.

I looked around the web for a brine recipe that would recreate the flavor of Salmon Candy, and couldn’t find anything.  I put together the following for 1.5 pounds of salmon:

5 cloves of garlic, crushed
2 Qt. COLD water
2 oz Kosher salt
2/3 c. brown sugar
1/2 onion, thinly sliced
3-4 Tbsp Tamari

Once the salt and sugar were dissolved, I dropped in the fish and covered the whole container.

Step 2:  Let sit overnight.  For a saltier fish, brine for 24 hours, but LESS THAN 48!!

Step 3:  Air dry the fish on a rack in an area below 70F.  I put it in front of the air conditioner vent to ensure this was the case.  Dry for two hours so the pellicle forms.  Due to the brine, the fish will be OK at this temperature.

Step 4:  About an hour before the fish is done drying, start soaking the wood.  In this case I used Alder wood.

Step 5:  About 20 minutes before the fish is dry, start the smoker, load the box, and get the heat up to about 200F.

Step 6:  After 2 hours (don’t go past 2 hours), place the fish in the smoker and smoke the fish at the lowest temperature possible.  Ideally 160F, but I can’t get mine to go lower than 180F.  At the higher temperatures the fish “sweats”, which is what you DON’T want.  Be sure to sop up any “sweat” (aka, fat) with a paper towel every 10 minutes or so.  Once the fish reaches an internal temperature of 145F I turn off the smoker and moved them to a rack to cool, and then covered and refrigerated.

The New Smoker: Smoked Babyback Ribs

Now that I am enjoying the country life (temporarily) I decided to embrace the moment and buy a smoker.  I’ve always loved true BBQ, and if you factor in my wife’s lust for smoked salmon, a smoker is a wise investment.  For $130 I ended up getting the smoker.  The initial assembly of the Smoker was relatively painless and within 30 minutes it was ready to go.  From that point all I had to do was connect the propane tank, load the smoker box with wood chips, start the fire, and let the “seasoning” process begin.

Now that the smoker is properly seasoned, it’s time to kick off some real smoking.  The first recipe?  How about babyback ribs for the 4th of July.

Step 1:  Prepare the Rub

In this instance I used the following (all measuring is APPROXIMATE):
4 Tbsp Sweet Paprika
2 Tbsp Chili Powder
1 Tbsp Garlic Powder
1 Tbsp Onion Powder
1 Tbsp Dry Mustard
1/2 tsp Cayenne pepper
1 tsp Kosher salt
2 tsp ground black pepper

Mix all together and apply to the ribs.

Step 2:  Apply the rub.

Step 3:  Load the smoker box with wood chips (soaked for at least 20 minutes), fill the water tray, and start the burner.  Allow the smoker to warm up and begin smoking.

Step 4:  Place the meat on the racks, spacing evenly.

Step 5:  Keep heat as low as possible.  I cooked at about 200-225F for about 5 hours.

Step 6:  Once meat is at least 160F, remove from smoker and grill.

And the final product on the grill:

An Epic Scotch: Gordon & MacPhail Macallan 37 Yr. – 1970

Every once in a while a great Scotch will cross my path and I consider myself a lucky person to have had the opportunity to taste it, let alone own an entire bottle.  My father and I decided to put our money together and buy a bottle of the Gordon & MacPhail Macallan 1970 when it was on sale for $199.99 (currently on sale for $299.99) back in December with the idea of having a dram on special occasions.

It is incredible.  Earthy, a bit of smoke, some caramel, and some salt.  We opened it with a few drops of water.  The high alcohol content (53.3) leaves a nice warm feeling in your mouth and the texture is like silk.  Overall, I am completely happy with this purchase and I think it was worth every penny.