Sunday, August 28, 2011

Pizza to weather the storm

If you have not heard, there is a hurricane with my name on it, ravaging through the North East.  With nothing else to do, I finally spent the whole day exactly how I wanted, cooking.  I figured that taking another shot at making perfect pizza would probably not be a waste of time, as I had plenty of it.  I also had plenty of King Athur’s pizza flour, which I so optimistically bought in the beginning of the summer.  Actually, I bought enough to make pizza every day for 2 months, but somehow did not get around to it.  Perfect pizza scares me; I am very particular about the kind of pizza I like.  It has to be thin, crispy and not just on the edges.  It has to have the perfect balance of tomatoes to cheese and it has to be made with fresh tomatoes, mozzarella and basil.   Over the years I made plenty of attempts at the perfect pizza, having a husband who can toss the perfect crust, seemed encouraging, but the problems persisted.  Our biggest problem was the sogginess… Even when we did not overload the pie, the pizza never got crispy in the middle, the liquid from the tomatoes and the mozzarella prevented that.  The perfect crust was elusive at best.  All the recipes I ever tried, had always yielded either to soft or too tight of the dough, but I knew what the perfect dough was supposed to feel like.  I do buy pizza dough from a local pizzeria that mastered the perfect crust.  So on this rainy and miserable pre-hurricane morning, I thought about the problems I have been having… it seems that thinking before doing is not such a bad idea after all.  The result was perfect, tips and tricks are below.
Oh,  and major brownie points to my husband who tosses the perfect pie, with the pizzazz and flare, singing Mezza Luna… and, yes, he washes the dishes too!   

Perfect Pizza crust.
Makes three 12” pizzas or two 14” ones
3 ¼ cup of King Arthur Pizza flour ( if using bread flour, start with 3 cups)
1 ½ cups of warm water
2 tsp instant yeast
1 ½ tsp salt
2 tbs olive oil
Mix the four, yeast, salt and olive oil.  Add water a little bit at the time, kneading the dough with the dough hook of the standing mixer.  If kneading by hand, add most of the water all at once, reserving a bit to add when the dough already came together.  Knead the dough until it becomes smooth and stretchy, about 5 minutes ( of done with the mixer, 12 -15 min by hand).  Divide the dough into pie portions ( 2 or 3.  Resist the urge to make “super pizza pie” with all the dough at once).  Knead each portion of the dough individually for another 5 minutes, than form into a balls, cover and let rise at room temperature for about 1.5 hrs or until doubled in size.

After the initial rise, re-knead each dough portion, form into a ball, flour generously and wrap in plastic.  Let rest in the fridge overnight or at least for a few hours before baking.  The dough can also be frozen at this point.
For the perfect pizza.
6 – 8 Roma or plum tomatoes slowly roasted (recipe follows)
2 cloves of roasted Garlic
1 lb of fresh mozzarella drained (draining instructions below)
1 cup freshly shredded parmesan cheese or combination of parmesan and pecorino.
2 tbs of olive oil
Fresh basil
Spicy dry Italian sausage or pepperoni (optional)

Roma or plum tomatoes are a perfect choice here, they are meaty, but when fresh lack that great tomato taste.  Once you slow roast them, the flavor concentrates and they become the most beloved condiment in your fridge.  Roast a whole bunch and store in a tight container.  I put them on everything, from pizza, pasta, omelets to salads.  

Seed the tomatoes, than cut them into thick rounds.  Drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle of sugar, salt and pepper and roast at 250F – 265F oven for 2 – 2.5 hrs until they gave off most of their juice.  Toss a few garlic cloves coated well with olive oil and you have roasted garlic as well.

Here is what they look like out of the oven

Most fresh mozzarella comes in various states of dryness, most, even if looking fairly dry are not.  So before you decide to make pizza, cut up your mozzarella into slices, wrap in generous amount of paper towels and put something heavy on top like a pot full with water or a large heavy skillet.  Let the paper towels absorb the moisture, than change them a few times until no significant amount is absorbed any more.

Ok, back to pizza.  Preheat the stove to the highest temperature available (mine is 550F -  I wish it went higher).  Place your quarry tiles or a baking stone on the lowest rack and make sure that the tiles are fully pre-heated, that means at least 2 min should pass from the time the oven came to full temperature.

Roll out the crust on a pizza peel covered with coned meal.  Crush 2 roasted garlic cloves with 2 tbs of olive oil, mixing into an even paste.  Brush the olive oil, garlic paste onto the crust with a pastry brush, making sure to cover the edges well.  Place the roasted tomatoes evenly on the crust.  

Followed by mozzarella, sausage (if using) and basil.  Sprinkle with parmesan cheese. Do not overload the pizza or it will be soggy. 
Oh, and dont forget the glass of wine for the cook!
Working quickly transfer the pie from the peel to the baking surface.  Here you will find out how good of the job you did dusting the peel with cornmeal. 

Bake the pizza 10 -12 min, until the crust is well browned, and cheese is melted and bubbly.
Let cool 5 min before serving. 

With over a 100 bottles of wine in my basement and food like this, who cares about some stupid hurricane!

Friday, August 12, 2011

Summer in a Jar - Peach Jam

It has been a year since my first blog post… so Happy Birthday, InFoodITrust!!!  God knows, I learned a lot this year.  For example, I learned you can cook a great meal and not be able to post it because the pictures are terrible.  I learned that you actually have to remember or write down the recipes as you cook, otherwise you look really, really stupid when your recipes don’t work.    I learned that a large, elaborate cooking project like Thanksgiving or a big party is not the best material for the blog.  By the time you get around to plating and taking pictures, your kitchen is a mess and you are not quite sober, so all that hard work looks terrible on film.  I also learned that even if I try really, really hard, I will never post everything I cook and I will never cook everything I want to… so no pressure…
Now back to summer.  There comes a day in a life of every peach, when it will go from perfectly juicy and ripe, to spoiled.  You have to head off that moment and give that perfectly ripe peach the destiny it really deserves, which to become jam. 

This time of the year is peach time in my house.  We go peach picking and sort of loose ourselves in the orchard.  We get seduced by this sexy fruit, by its fragrance, fuzzy skin and sunset colors. 

We lose our heads and over pick.  By a lot.  

Way more than the four of us can ever eat, without ending up in the ER.  This means I will be stuck with 40 pounds of peaches, which will begin to spoil in a few days, I will have to get really creative.

So, this is how peach cheesecakes are born, along with various salads with peaches, and sauces with peaches( I have a great peach and chili sauce I will post one of these days), I tried to make peach bread once ( did not work out).  But honestly, all these creative ways do not consume the amount of fruit I need, I still have way too much, beginning to go dangerously soft.  So, jam it is.  I will be honest, I hate making jams.  I love eating them, cooking with them, even looking at the pretty colors in the jars, but I hate making them.  They take long time, require you to stand by the stove and babysit them so they do not over boil, and will still do so, the second you turn around.  They make a mess, no matter how cleanly you are working, every surface will be sticky and attract every ant in you state, no matter how many time you wash them.  You will spill hot jam somewhere on your body and you will always burn your fingers handling the jars, but it is all worth it in the end.  When you pop that can open later and spread a thin layer onto crusty buttered bread… well, let’s just say, a little suffering makes it so much better.
I had a ridiculous amount of fruit and ended up with way more jam than I need, running out of jars, but I am sure I can make a few folks happy by giving it away, on the condition of returned jars of course.
Peach Jam
*** This jam needs to be refrigerated.
6 cups of ripe peaches cut up as small or large as you like (I prefer a chunkier jam)
4 cups of sugar
Julice of 3 lemons
1 packet of original pectin ( optional, see Note)

Combine the peaches, sugar and lemon juice and bring to a rolling boil.  Turn down the heat and simmer.  Make sure the mixture does not over boil and skim the foam from the surface periodically or you will not end up with clear jam.   The mixture should be reduced until it begins to “Gel”, which is anywhere between 235F and 245F.  Don’t guess, use the thermometer.  When the temperature of 235F is reached you can begin testing by putting a few drops onto a frozen plate.  If the mixture looks like gel, and begins to wrinkle at the surface, you jam is ready.
Note:  If patience is not your virtue, you can add pectin powder to your jam any time after 220F mark.  Boil for a few minutes and you are ready to jar.
Run your jars either under boiling water or through the hottest cycle of your dishwasher.  Do not overfill the jars and seal them tightly.  Refrigerate the jam, it will keep for a few weeks at least, sometimes much longer.

Now if this is not summer in jar, I don’t know what is!