Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Wood Fired

A friend, a Lassie from Nebraska, has a wood fired oven in her backyard and knows how to use it. For Memorial Day Sweetie and I were invited over for pizza,so I was able to see how it is done in that oven. BTW, it's been two months since Sweetie sliced his fingers and he is doing really well with the recovery. He can button his shirt cuff with the left hand again...a true milestone since it requires that he use his thumb where it was injured. Yay!

I know that I just posted about pizza, but wood fired pizza is even better! These were smaller pizzas, about 9 inches in diameter, but that was just big enough to cut into 6 pieces so we could each have some.

 First the Lassie from Nebraska cleaned it out since this is the first use of the season, then she built a fire on the oven floor, which is almost shoulder high. Once the fire was going well and had heated one part of the oven, she moved it around to other parts of the oven...the inner roof of the oven let her know when to move the fire to heat other parts. Eventually she moved the fire to the back corner and used a cool laser tool to measured how hot the floor was...800 degrees F!

By the time she had prepared the first pizza on a long-handled paddle, the oven had cooled enough to bake the pizza. She slid the pizza off the paddle (thanks to the corn meal which kept the dough from sticking to the paddle) onto the hot oven floor. She used a smaller long-handled paddle to turn the pizza half way through cooking, but the whole thing took about 3 minutes. It was outstanding! The crust was crisp and golden brown and the toppings heated through and the cheese melted.

Eventually I helped with making the pizzas so that she could do the baking (hot work)

and we could have to kinds ready almost at the same time. She had already portioned the dough (and it was a nice simple dough without any oil), so we sprinkled corn meal on the paddle,

let gravity help stretch the dough into a sort-of-circle, then did the final stretching on the paddle on top of the corn meal. Some of the pizzas were then brushed with olive oil before being topped.

She had prepared a lot of topping combinations. We started with classic Margherita pizza, with tomato, basil and mozzarella cheese. Simply wonderful!

Next up was Scottish smoked salmon, dill, and fresh cheese. That may have been my favorite, but then I do love salmon.

There was one with blue cheese, caramelized onions, fresh thyme - a perfect flavor combo. You can see that the blue cheese melts down so it is hard to tell it is there...until you bite into it and taste the blue cheese with the perfection of the cooked onions.

Another had yukon gold potatoes (tiny slices), asparagus, thyme and Fontina cheese - delicious!

How about pesto, tomato, brie and asparagus? - a winner.

The last one was a combo with bits and pieces of many of the forgoing ones, although we didn't mix in the smoked salmon...that would have been a waste of excellent salmon.

Although we had a relatively small piece of each pizza, it was filling after the 6th or 7th slice. The pizza was followed by a wonderful spinach salad.

For dessert we had a homemade creamy cheese pie with fresh blueberries and strawberries. Truly a memorable and delightful meal and the company was wonderful, too. Thanks Lass!

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Pizza Revisited

I've posted some pizza recipes in the past, including a nice sourdough one. A couple of nights ago I decided to take that dough and revisit it so that I could make it with dry yeast from a packet. My sourdough starter has been defunct since January, so I'm back to buying packets of dry yeast. I prefer the RapidRise yeast because it has more active yeast in it so I never worry about enough yeast action when I use it.

When I was back East, we ate out once...at a local brew pub. I shared a fantastic pizza with one of my sisters and a niece. This is my attempt to capture some of the flavors of that pizza. The base was ready-made pesto, then I added blue cheese crumbles and mozzarella cheese shreds, toasted walnuts, dried cherries, finely chopped fresh rosemary and some thinly sliced Italian sausage, plus some Parmesan cheese on top. The crust for this one was stretched nice and thin. This was a pizza with robust flavors and a nice crunch from the walnuts.

I also decided to make an almost-veggie pizza with the other half of the dough. It does have some ham and a bit of pepperoni, but it also has snow peas and sugar snap peas, carrots, celery, onions, and sun-dried tomatoes for the veggie part. The base was plain yogurt with a sprinkle of garlic salt, and there was mozzarella cheese, cheddar cheese and Parmesan. I couldn't seem to get the crust on this one as thin as the other, but with the heavier ingredients, maybe that was for the best. The flavors here were more mellow and dairy and veggie but with a bit of emphasis from the pepperoni.

Although the two pizzas had very different flavor profiles, they went well together and made for a delicious meal. Best of all they allowed me to test-drive my new 13" x 15" pizza stone. Awesome crust! I guess the stone, especially since I preheated it, really makes a difference in creating a crust that is browned top and bottom. It also allowed me to only make two large pizzas instead of the four smaller ones I usually make with my small round pizza stone.

I'm sending this over to Yeastspotting, Susan of Wild Yeast's every changing and inspiring weekly round up of yeast-based recipes. Check it out!

Simple Pizza Dough and Fun Toppings

1 packet rapid rise yeast and 1.5 cups water
½ teaspoon sugar
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
2 – 2 ½ cups all-purpose flour (or adjust if using the rapid rise yeast)

In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine the yeast and the barely warm water. Let this mixture sit at room temperature for two hours. If you will be making the rest of the dough another day, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate this starter mix.

When you are ready to make the dough and make pizza, put the starter mix into a stand mixer bowl and stir the sugar, olive oil and salt into the starter mix. Using the dough hook, gradually add the flour until a dough forms. Knead with the mixer for 4-5 minutes, adding more flour a tablespoon at a time as needed.

Once dough is smooth and elastic, turn it out onto a lightly floured surface and knead by hand for another minute, adding flour if necessary to fully blend the dough.

Form dough into a ball. Place in a lightly oiled bowl or other container good for dough to rise in. Cover with oiled plastic wrap and a tea towel and let rise in a warm place until doubled in bulk, about 1 hour.

When it is about 45 minutes before you plan to bake the pizza, preheat the oven to 500 degrees F and if you have one place a baking stone in the oven to preheat, too.

On a lightly floured surface place 1/2 of the dough. Using floured hands, stretch the dough into a rough circle or rectangle, keeping a rim of thicker dough around the edges. Some people like to toss the dough to do this, but mine always ends up on the floor if I do, so I just push the dough or hold it by the edge and work my way around. Place the stretched dough (about 9-11 inches in diameter) on a piece of baking parchment.

Top the dough as desired. I used pesto as the base for one pizza, then added some crumbled blue cheese, topped with shredded mozzarella cheese, finely chopped dried Michigan cherries, toasted walnuts, chopped, finely chopped fresh rosemary and thin slices of cooked Italian turkey sausages, topped with some Parmesan cheese. The second pizza using the other half of the dough had plain yogurt on the bottom, a dusting of garlic salt, both shredded thinly sliced ham and thin rounds of pepperoni, some raw, chopped snow peas and sugar snap peas, some mirepoix, finely chopped sun-dried tomato and three kinds of cheese: mozzarella, cheddar, and Parmesan.

Feel free to combine your own toppings to suit your tastes.

To bake, slide the parchment paper holding the pizza onto the preheated baking stone. If no stone is available, turn a jelly roll pan upside down on an oven rack in the preheated oven and immediately slide on the parchment paper holding the pizza.

Bake about 5 minutes, then turn the pizza around 180 degrees for even baking. Bake until golden brown. Remove from oven to cutting board, cut and serve. If you are making more than one pizza (recipe makes 2 large or 4 small crusts) prepare it on another piece of parchment and once you remove one pizza, put the next one in the oven.

Serve at once.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Timeless Goodness

One of the nice things about going back East to visit at my Mom's is that I often get to talk cooking with family members who are equally passionate about food. In some cases I'm pretty sure they are more passionate than I am.

One of these is NoHandle and he offered to do another of his wonderful guest posts. Read on and find out what he has put together because I think you will find this the perfect thing to bring on picnics, as we did.

NoHandle writes:
It all started as I was reading “The Minstrel Boy” a sequel to “Blue Bells of Scotland” by Laura Vosika. The tale is about medieval Scotland, at least in part, and they talked about a portable meal called a Bridie, which seemed to be the Scottish version of the Pastie, but without potatoes or other root vegetables. The author of Peter Pan, J. M. Barrie, hails from the place in Scotland where these are famous. One suggestion for the origin of the name is that these were popular finger food at wedding celebrations.

I was casting about for something to blog about, and I had an up-coming pot-luck party to provision, so this looked like a great opportunity. I also had some leftover puff pastry sheets, called for in one of the recipes, so using them was another plus. If you are unfamiliar with Bridies or Pasties (I was) I will tell you that it is a light dough surrounding a seasoned ground meat center. It takes a bit over an hour to prepare, with most of the time devoted to baking the finished product. I should also warn you that sampling the meat before adding it to the pastry can be addictive. It is an experience much like tasting raw cookie dough, if you swing that way, but meat-based and cooked. You have been warned.

I have blended this recipe (“Forfar Bridies”) from two sources, both claiming a measure of authenticity. The differences are minor, and reader comments were incorporated too.

The first thing you should do is defrost the pastry sheets. This is said to take about 40 minutes, but may be 10 minutes less. Once that is started, I saute the onions in a cast iron skillet, although the original recipes called for cooking the meat first. I also chose ground beef for the first try, mostly because I'm the only one in the household who likes lamb. I'm going to try a blend next time, with other consumers. Once the onions are soft, add the ground meat and seasonings. When the meat is browned, drain most of the fats and juices (it's mostly fat) and add the flour, stirring it around to form a roue. Then add the beef stock and simmer for 20 minutes. Check the taste, adding salt and pepper if needed (I go light on the salt and heavier on the pepper, but that's just me). This would be a good time to pre-heat the oven to 375. Remove the skillet from the heat and let the meat mixture cool while you prepare the pastry sheet(s).

The recipe calls for ½ cup of the meat mixture for each Bridie, and thinks you can get six from a frozen pastry sheet. I couldn't; I may have used a few more ounces of beef, but the pastry was a problem. I was able to build four full size Bridies and one demi-Bridie from the scraps. This is where indulging in tasting may pay off, you don't need as much filling. On my second attempt, I managed five full-sized ones.

The other issue is fitting ½ cup of filling in a six-inch round of pastry dough. I had to stretch the dough some to even partially seal the product, and even then it was, shall we say, rustic. This is not a bad thing, as the filling must be vented anyway and this just adds to the venting opportunities to the two or so holes where you pierce the dough. If Peter Pan walked up to a passel of Bridies, he would recognize the ones with two vents as containing onions, and those with a single vent as being “plain”.

You can be creative here so people can distinguish different fillings, if you choose to make more than one kind, like one vent for beef and two for lamb. If you want to make the entire thing from scratch (of course you do), a flaky pie crust is said to work well, and will provide plenty of pastry. Another option is to make more smaller ones; I suspect that three-inch circles would take a tablespoon or so of filling, perhaps two. This size would be better as cocktail snacks as a full Bridie would be enough for a lunch for many. Let me know if you find a size and proportion that works better for you.

Once the pastries are sealed (using the usual water method) apply an egg white wash, and bake for about 35 minutes. Remove when “golden brown and delicious.” Serve as quickly as you can, especially at altitude. They are best piping hot. If there are leftovers, you can freeze them in individual plastic bags and reheat in the microwave. About two minutes should do it. Leave them right-side up when reheating or the pastry will get flattened and a bit soggy; they will still taste great.

The Bridie was the Hot Pocket® of it's day, and can be eaten that way today. Enjoy!

The Bridie
makes about 5-6 lunch sized Bridies

• 1 tablespoon of butter
• 1 medium onion, chopped
• 12 ounces ground lamb (or beef, or a combination)
• 1½ tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons beef broth
• 2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
• ½ tablespoon dry mustard
• 1/4 teaspoon salt, or to taste
• 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper, or to taste
• 1 package or frozen puff pastry or 1 recipe flaky pastry for double-crust pie
• 1 egg white, lightly beaten

In a large heavy skillet (I prefer cast iron) over medium heat, saute the onion. Add and cook lamb (or beef) until evenly brown; drain excess fat. Add the flour and stir for a minute or two. Remove from heat, and stir in beef broth, mustard, and Worcestershire sauce. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C). Allow the meat mixture to cool for about 20 minutes.

On a lightly floured surface, roll pastry out to 1/8 inch thickness (or unfold thawed puff pastry sheet). Cut into 6 inch rounds. Place approximately 1/2 cup filling on each. Stretch and fold the pastry over the filling, and crimp edges to seal. Brush lightly with beaten egg white, and cut two or three slits in the top to allow steam to escape. Place on a lightly-greased (baking spray will do) baking sheet.

Bake in preheated oven for 35 to 40 minutes, or until golden brown.

To take on a picnic, bring in an insulated bag, or put into a casserole, wrap that in newspapers and put into a cardboard box lined with crumpled newspaper, or into a cooler and fill in with crumpled newspaper.

Thursday, May 09, 2013

Heading for the Humid

It's been rainy in Northern Virginia this week, so I know things will be very green and smell wonderful and walking outside may be a bit like taking a shower with your clothes on...the wonders of the DC area humidity. Still, it is for a good party that I'm headed that way, so I won't complain. With luck Mark the Man will be dispensing adult beverages with lots of ice that will make the humidity seem unimportant.

While I'm off partying, be sure to check out the Bread Baking Babes on the 16th (in a week) for a new and wonderful bread.

If you've planted a garden like I have, give those new starts plenty of water (unless you, too, have been having rainy weather). Sweetie is going to water my seedlings and flowers. Pi is going to chase the wild turkeys away so they don't eat the plants. By the time I'm back we may have young, tender zucchini to eat!

So, why am I leaving in May when the garden calls my name? Because it is a special birthday for a super special woman...my Mom. Happy Birthday Mom!!

Tuesday, May 07, 2013

Date Bread from the Clipping File

We all have them if we like to browse recipes...the stack, pile, file full of things we keep meaning to make. Looking over a few file folders chock full of recipes that I found yesterday while cleaning up in the studio, I sighed over some of the 'death by chocolate' ones that I probably shouldn't make considering my complete lack of willpower when it comes to chocolate, wondered that I would save a recipe on how to hull strawberries, and found my mouth watering over and over again as I read lots of good ones.

Out of the file I pulled one for a date quick bread from our local paper written in January of 1994. It was in an article all about recapturing frugal ingredients and rich flavors from the war years...as in World War II. It uses boiling water to soften the dates, melt the butter, and give the base for a moist, tender sweet bread, perfect for an afternoon snack.

The only changes I made to the ingredients was to use egg substitute instead of the two eggs called for, and to add some chopped walnuts. As for the method, I added the vanilla to the wet ingredients and added the nuts to the dry ingredients before I stirred them into the wet ones. Those changes were mostly to keep me from forgetting to add the vanilla and nuts.

The resulting bread was delightful!

One Bowl Date Quick Bread
by Flo Braker, cookbook author

1 1/4 cups boiling water
8 oz. (1 3/4 cups) pitted dates, chopped
4 oz. unsalted butter (1 stick) cut into small pieces
1 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 cup whole-wheat flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt1/2 cup walnuts, chopped1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
1 cup light brown sugar
2 eggs, lightly beaten (or equivalent egg substitute)

Combine the boiling water, dates and butter in a large bowl. Stir until the butter melts. Set aside to cool.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease and flour a 9 x 5-inch loaf pan.

Sift together the all-purpose flour, whole-wheat flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Stir in the chopped walnuts. Set aside.

Stir the vanilla into the cooled date mixture. Add the light brown sugar and the eggs. Stir to combine.

Add the flour mixture and stir just until combined. Don't over mix. Mixture may be a little thin. Pour into prepared pan.

Bake for 50 - 60 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Cool 10-15 minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack, turn right side up and let cool completely on the rack.

To serve, cut into 1/4 inch thick slices. Makes about 24 slices.

Sunday, May 05, 2013

Hearts for Mom

Mothers Day is coming and you may be wondering if there is something special that you can make for Mom. I have just the thing...a tender chocolate shortbread cookie that you can cut in heart shapes. You could package some of the cookies up with a pretty teacup and saucer and her favorite kind of tea (or coffee if she is really more of a coffee girl). Tell her it's a tea party in a basket (or box or gift bag...however you choose to package the set) and be prepared for a smile.

If you have kids, they can help cut out the hearts. The dough is easy to work with. Then let them poke the top with the tines of a fork before they are baked. Even if the indents don't make a pretty pattern, it is sure to charm Mom.

Since I'll be away on Mothers Day, I had breakfast with my wonderful daughter today and she gave me a lovely blue glass vase. It made the perfect container for an arrangement of mock orange flowers.

Chocolate Shortbread Hearts

2 cups sifted all-purpose flour
1/2 cup strained unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
A) On a sheet of waxed paper, mix these 3 ingredients together until well mixed.

Then collect these ingredients:
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened
1 cup confectioners sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon coffee extract or 1 tablespoon espresso powder (optional)

B) Preheat oven to 300 degrees F. Adjust two racks to divide oven into thirds.

C) Cream the butter in a large mixer bowl. Add the confectioners sugar, vanilla, and coffee flavor or espresso powder and beat to mix. On low speed add the flour and cocoa mixture, scraping the bowl and beating only until the mixture holds together. If the dough is not smooth, place it on a board or smooth work surface and knead it briefly with the heel of your hand. Form the dough into a ball and flatten it slightly.

D) Flour a pastry cloth or board and rolling pin. Place the dough on the floured surface and turn to flour both sides. Roll the dough until it is 1/4 inch thick, or slightly thicker, with the same thickness all over. Re-flour rolling pin as needed while rolling out dough.

E) Dip a 1 1/2 inch or 2 inch heart shaped cookie cutter in flour, tap off excess. Cut the cookies as close to each other as possible. Place the cookies 1 inch apart on unbuttered cookie sheets. Gather scraps of dough together, knead once or twice, and re-roll, then cut more cookies. With skewer or tines of a fork, pierce cookies in a pattern. Bake 20 to 25 minutes until cookies are firm to the touch. Check often. These burn easily. Transfer to racks to cool. Makes about 3 dozen.

Thursday, May 02, 2013

A Potluck Dish I Love

In just a little over a week I'll be off to my Mom's on the East Coast to help celebrate a significant birthday of hers. It's very exciting because all of my siblings will be there as well as some of the spouses and kids and grandkids. I'm really looking forward to seeing them all, and to seeing Mom's sisters and their extended families. I think the last time we had so many of us together was ten years ago for another birthday. Since we are scattered all over the country, it might be years before we gather again.

One of the things planned is a potluck picnic by the Potomac river on Sunday. I'll be making a wild rice/brown rice and baby carrots casserole with herbs to bring. I made it many years ago for one of the Derby Day pot lucks and tried it out for dinner last week. It went really quickly at the Derby Day potluck and Charlie gave it his stamp of approval, too, last week. It’s easy to fix, delicious, and vegan if made with vegetable broth, but mostly I’m making it because I like to eat it.

I'm starting with a rice mixture sold in a box because it is designed to have the different rices cooked together. I'll skip the seasoning packet (with usually has way too much sodium) and instead add some onion and celery, Italian parsley and thyme, a touch of orange juice, plus a bit of salt and lots of pepper. I looked at some recipes online, but didn't find anything where the rice and carrots cook at the same time. I know when I made it years ago I cooked the wild rice separately and then mixed it in once the other rice was cooked, but the packaged mixture didn't need that. It's pretty simple actually: Onions sautéed in a little olive oil, rice mixture stirred in, carrots cut into chunks stirred in, herbs and orange juice stirred in, S&P over all, then the broth. I brought it all to a boil, reduced the heat to simmer, then covered it and let it cook until the rice was cooked. By that time the carrots were perfectly cooked, too with just a bit of bite still to them. I like it warm, but it would probably taste fine cold. It was even delicious a day later, maybe even better. Dishes with cooked onions often taste better then next day.

May is usually filled with lots of occasions for gathering together of family and friends, so you may want to bookmark this for a quick dish to bring or serve at your party.

Wild and Brown Rice with Carrots and Herbs

1/2 medium to large onion, chopped
1 stalk celery, chopped
1 tablespoon olive oil or grapeseed oil
1 package wild and brown rice mix (discard the seasoning packet)
1 1/2 cups baby carrots or larger carrots cut into approximately 1 1/2-inch chunks
2 tablespoons finely chopped Italian (flat leaf) parsley
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
the juice of 1/2 a medium orange
salt and pepper to taste
1 can broth, either chicken or vegetable

In a wide, flat skillet or pan with a lid, sauté the onion and celery in the olive oil until onion is translucent, about 5 minutes.

Stir in the wild and brown rice, the carrots, the parsley, the thyme and the orange juice. Add salt and pepper to taste. Pour over the mixture the broth.

Bring the mixture to a boil, reduce heat to a simmer, then cover and let cook until rice is cooked and most of liquid is evaporated, about 25 - 30 minutes. If desired you can remove the lid, increase the heat, and let more of the liquid evaporate for another 5 minutes, stirring occasionally to keep the rice mixture from scorching.

Serve warm or at room temperature. If made with chicken broth, keep chilled once mixture has cooled.

Serves 6-8 as a side dish.

Wednesday, May 01, 2013

Happy May Day!

Heres some flowers for you to welcome in the Merry Month of May!