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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Sievers and the City

New York City in the Spring is a wonderful thing.  The first flowers are blooming, the first leaves are starting to appear, and everyone seems to have a spring in their step as they walk down the street.  We were lucky enough to experience a few of these amazing springtime days with our friends from Colorado.

The trip turned out to be an epicurean feast and we hit the following restaurants and bars:

Q2 Thai – A great little Thai restaurant in Hell’s Kitchen.
Basilica – A tiny Italian restaurant in Hell’s Kitchen.
Valhalla – My favorite beer bar in the city!
Hummus Kitchen – Hell’s Kitchen Israeli restaurant.
Sushi of Gari 46 – Our favorite sushi restaurant.
La Sirene – An amazing BYOB French restaurant in SoHo.
McSorley’s Ale House – The city’s oldest bar.
Caracas Arepa Bar – An awesome Venezuelan restaurant in the East Village.
And of course, don’t forget a delicious Halal Cart meal on the day of their departure!

We also hit various places around the city such as Wall Street, Battery Park, 5th Avenue, Central Park, Times Square, and more!  While the girls were out shopping at H&M and Zara, we were riding bicycles around the full loop in Central Park.  It was simply a beautiful day to be outside and moving.

Another highlight of the trip was when we all went to see West Side Story on Broadway.

Here are some photo highlights:

The Dudes @ Valhalla:

The Ladies:

The Happy Couple in Times Square:

All of us in Times Square:

West Side Story:

And finally… the morning wake up call at our house is when the dog comes in and starts licking your head:

Clam Soup – Zuppa di Vongole

One of the best things about living near the ocean is the availability of fresh seafood.  While in Whole Foods I noticed how nice the littleneck clams looked, so I immediately decided that clam soup would be on the night’s menu.  On the way back to the apartment I stopped in at Kashkaval and picked up a baguette and a few mini boreks.  Using a recipe from a family favorite, “Every Night Italian“, I made Zuppa di Vongole (before and after photos below).  With this we had some Vinho Verde from Portugal.  Another great night!

A Weekend in the Poconos – 03/26/10: Asiago Chicken with Pancetta; Homemade Pizza

This trip to the Poconos was centered around the kitchen and the amazing meals we had planned.  Due to the rain and temperatures hovering in the 30’s we decided to cook entrees that would warm us from the inside out.  On Friday night I decided to cook Asiago Chicken with a side of Chive Polenta, Mushrooms and Onions with Gorgonzola, and Green Beans.

Here are the recipes:

Asiago Chicken

4 boneless, skinless, chicken breasts
4 slices Asiago cheese (1/8″ thick)
Flour
1/2 c. dry white wine
4 slices pancetta
olive oil
salt and pepper
fresh thyme or fresh oregano

Mix some salt and pepper (1/4 tsp salt, 1/2 tsp pepper) along with about 1/2 c. of flour in a shallow bowl or plate.  Dredge chicken breasts, shaking off any excess flour.  Place chicken in a hot oven-proof skillet with ~ 1-2 Tbsp olive oil (as needed).  Turn on broiler and move rack to the top shelf.  Cook the chicken until golden brown (3-4 minutes), flip and cook additional 3-4 minutes.  Place 1 slice of cheese followed by 1 slice of pancetta on each chicken breast.  Place in broiler and cook until chicken reaches 160F (~4-5 minutes) and pancetta “crisps”.  Remove chicken from pan and cover with foil.  Add 1/2 of wine and finely chopped herbs to pan, deglaze, and reduce until thickened.  Pour sauce over chicken and serve.

On Saturday night we had some delicious homemade, thin-crust pizzas that Brie made.

The one on the left was a spinach (sautéed with garlic, onion, salt, pepper, and olive oil), oyster mushroom, and gorgonzola pizza.   The gorgonzola melted perfectly and the spinach blend had a lovely taste and texture.  The oyster mushrooms really held up well and were still firm, without a touch of the slipperiness that button mushrooms can have.  The crust had good flavor, and was made with a touch of red wine (thank you Mr. Batali).

The second pizza (on the right) featured roasted red peppers, hot italian sausage (crumbled and cooked beforehand), oyster mushrooms, fresh mozzarella, and a homemade red-sauce base. 

New York City – President’s Day Weekend with Friends

The President’s Day three-day weekend is a much-needed reprieve in the middle of February.  My friends, Ian and Mike, came out to NYC for a few days to blow off some steam and enjoy the offerings of the city.  As always, by the time they left I thought my liver was going to explode and my lack of sleep was catching up with me.  Here are the highlights:

Thursday:

Friday:

Saturday:

  • A walking exploration of Chinatown.
  • Had some tea at Mr. Tea, a small little tea and snack shop on a side street in Chinatown.
  • Basilica – a great little Italian place in Hell’s Kitchen.  I had the squid ink pasta with shrimp and a side of garlic toast.  Brie and I split a bottle of Montepulciano.

Sunday:

  • Coney Island The classic getaway for New Yorker’s.  Everything from the boardwalk and the beach to Nathan’s Famous Hot Dogs and the Cyclone.
  • NYC Aquarium A decent aquarium, but I would have expected more for a city such as NYC.
  • Nathan’s Famous Hot Dogs.  There’s something awesome about a classic hot dog that snaps when you bite into it.  NOTE: Try and not pay attention to the calorie postings.
  • A return trip to Valhalla with some Sacco Pizza.  The beauty of this bar (in addition to the beer selection) is the fact you can bring in your own food.

Monday:

  • Metropolitan Museum of Art (The Met)
  • Halal Cart – Street vendors that sell things such as Falafel and Gyro sandwiches.  Our delicious Gyro sandwiches (half lamb, half chicken) were smothered in white sauce and hot sauce.

In addition to the major events listed above, we watched the opening ceremony for the Vancouver Winter Olympics and played drinking games while watching Three Sheets.  As always, it was a great time and we made the most out of the short time and bad weather.  Until next time!

I am also including some of the pieces that struck a chord with me while at the MoMA and Met.

Monet, Hopper, Warhol, Braque, Picasso, Miro, Klee


Pizza al Taglio – Pizza Rustica / 2005 Chateau Moulin de Tricot

With the bounty of vegetables in the refrigerator calling our name, Brie decided that a pizza would be a delicious way of reducing the supply. 

The whole wheat crust was made from scratch and the toppings included garlic, marinated diced tomatoes, olive oil, chopped mushrooms, roasted eggplant, thinly sliced yellow onions, thinly sliced italian salami (on my half), fresh basil, a dash of fennel, a dash of oregano, and finished with some mozzarella.  It was then put into a HOT oven until browned and bubbling.

I think one of my favorite things about pizza is the texture difference between the different toppings.  The chewiness of the crust, the softness of the cook vegetables, the crisp edges of cheese.

I think I’m going to have to go eat some leftovers now, I’m making myself hungry.

With the pizza we split a bottle of 2005 Chateau Moulin de Tricot.  It was a very smooth Bordeaux that is drinking well right now, but would probably be even better after a few more years of aging..  However, since we have no wine cellar or wine refrigerator, these bottles need to be consumed sooner than later.

01/29/10 – Recent Wine and Champagne Experiences

Astor Wines and Spirits is an oasis in a city filled with overpriced alcohol.  Not only is their selection unrivaled, but their prices simply can’t be beat.  The also tend to purchase wine from a great number of small importers.  This allows us to experience some very small vintners that you can get nowhere else in the U.S.  And finally, the icing on the cake:  Top 10 under $10.  They choose 10 different bottles (a mix of white and red), of which 2 are doubled, for a unique case of 12 wines that always comes in at around $80 a month.  It simply cannot be beat for the wine drinker who is searching for incredible value at a great price.  Now that I am done with my unpaid testimonial for Astor W&S, I will move on to some of the recent wine and champagne we have had over the past week or two.

This Sangiovese Toscana from Le Chiantigiane came in at a whopping $5.99 and tasted like it cost much more than that.  I love Sangiovese.  In fact, it is probably my favorite varietal from Italy.  This bottle, although incredibly cheap, was delicious!  The tasting notes from Astor mentioned “soft cherries”, which couldn’t be more accurate.   This Sangiovese went down very easily and had the qualities I like in an every day drinking wine (cheap, delicious, and not over the top with tannins).

This week was all about the cheap wine.  Usually when you get to the under $7 mark, your options become extremely limited.  What a surprise then when I find this Colli Vincentini Cabernet Sauvignon for a whole $3.99 a bottle.  That’s entering Mad Dog 20/20 territory, people!  The best thing about a $3.99 bottle of wine is if it is absolutely rank, you can pour it down the drain without much guilt.  We were so happy when it turned out to be a completely drinkable bottle of red wine.  Like the Sangiovese above, it was very mellow/soft, making it a perfect wine to have without food.  I also used a bottle of this to make the Beef Burgundy last week (scroll down for details).

What can I say about the widow Clicquot?  She’s a foxy ol’ girl, but how I love her.  Veuve Clicquot is one of the premier Champagne producers in France and the orange-yellow labeled bottle is probably one of the most easily recognized labels on the market.  Usually a bottle runs around $40-$50, but when I lived in Colorado they were on sale for $24.99 so I had to buy a case.

Beef Burgundy – Slow Cooker Style

I’ve never owned a slow cooker in my 33 years until approximately one week ago.  I usually find meals that come from ‘slow cooking’ to have a monotonous flavor, be overly herbed, and lack any real texture (unless you calll “mushy” a texture).  On a recent trip to my parent’s house they served an Irish stew from a cookbook called ‘The Gourmet Slow Cooker‘.  It was surprisingly delicious (surprising due to the fact it was slow cooked, not the fact that my parents made something delicious).  A few days later I ordered a 6 quart slow cooker with my Visa Rewards points in hopes of making some similar stews and soups when there wasn’t enough time for active cooking.

This leads to the first recipe that I made: Beef Burgundy/Bœuf Bourguignon

I had to tinker with the recipe, of course, but am very satisfied with the results.  Granted, whenever you stew anything in wine it will almost certainly be delicious.  In this instance I used a bottle of 2008 Colli Vicentini Cabernet, a table wine from Italia.

Recipe:

1.5 lbs bottom round roast, trimmed.  Cut into 1-2 inch pieces.
1 bottle dry red wine
4 carrots – chopped into large pieces
1 lb crimini mushrooms – cut in quarters
1 lb boiler onions
3 cloves garlic, minced
Olive Oil
Thyme (Fresh)
Bay Leaf
Salt
Pepper
Flour

Dredge the meat with a mix of flour, salt and pepper.  Shake off excess flour.  Cook the meat over medium-high heat until browned on all sides in a large pan with a touch of olive oil.  At the same time, sauté the minced garlic with a bit of olive oil in a small pan until fragrant, about 60 seconds, and remove from heat.  Remove the browned meat from the pan and drain on a paper towel.  Deglaze the pan with 3/4 bottle of red wine, scraping up the delicious browned bits.  Feel free to drink the remaining quarter bottle at this time.  Add the garlic from the other pan to the wine mixture.  Cook for a few minutes over medium-high heat to thicken and reduce.  Place the meat along the bottom of the slow cooker and then pour the wine mixture over the top.  Salt and Pepper to taste.  Set to low and begin cooking for 6-8 hours (until the meat is tender).  About an hour before it is done peel the boiler onions and quickly sauté in a pan until browned.  Add these to the pot along with the carrots (if you like your carrots more on the mushy side, add them an hour earlier).  About 15 minutes before the meal is complete, add the quartered mushrooms.  Finally, remove the thyme and bay leaf and serve.

DISCLAIMER:  By no means does this post imply that I am now a slow-cooker fanatic.  I added the slow cooker to the arsenal so it can be used when there is not enough time for active cooking or I am feeling lazy.

2006 – Barbera D’Alba Sori’ Del Drago

This wine is an amazing find.  It had some lovely full-fruit flavor (I was getting cherry) and had a great texture and smell.  Very drinkable!  I always like it when I get to the end of the bottle and find some unexpected sediment.  It’s like my own little bonus!

The worst part??  I can’t even buy the 2006 anymore.  The 2007 is the now the only one available.  Sigh.