Wednesday, May 30, 2007

The Big Reveal

One of the great things about having little kids is that you are their hero and they think you can do anything. It's a precious small window of time when you're amazing and the things you do are cool, rather than lame and dorky, which is how they perceive you in about 5 years.

Many people don't know this about me, but my children can testify that I can make a penny (drumroll, please) disappear! It was a magic trick that they loved me to do over and over, whiling away the time in the doctor's waiting room or making bedtime stretch out. Obviously, I can't reveal how the trick is done, but I'll give you the set-up. The child places a penny in my cupped hands, closes them together, then taps three times on the hands, blows three times on the hands, then turns around three times with their eyes shut. Then my hands are opened and TA DA - the penny's gone! Then the fun starts- we look for the penny. In ears, in mouth, in hair, and generally find it in armpits or bellybuttons.

It's funny when they figure it out. I'm no longer as amazing, but they can't wait to go show the trick to their friends. Once the secret's revealed, they can't wait to be cool, too.

What does any of this have to do with food? Well, it has to do with a cookbook, Top Secret Recipes , which tells you how to recreate brand-name foods and restaurant recipes in your own home, and includes fun construction diagrams. Make your own restaurant favorite without having to pay restaurant prices? Yipee!

One of our favorites from this book is the California Pizza Kitchen Thai Chicken Pizza. Yummm. If you've ever tried it, you know what I mean. If you haven't tried it, be prepared to be amazed. It's like Phad Thai, except with pizza crust instead of noodles. When you serve it your family will think you're incredible and can do anything!

Thai Pizza Chicken
1 recipe of pizza dough from here or here

Peanut Sauce:

1/3 cup creamy peanut butter
1/4 cup teriyaki sauce (or marinade)
3 Tbsp hoisin
3 clove garlic, minced
3/4 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
1-1/2 Tbsp granulated sugar
1-1/2 Tbsp brown sugar
3 Tbsp water
1 Tbsp sesame oil
1-1/2 tsp soy sauce
2 tsp minced onion
1-1/2 tsp minced gingerroot

1 whole boneless, skinless chicken breast
2 tsp olive oil
2 cups grated mozzarella
2 green onions
3/4 cup bean sprouts
1 carrot, julienned or grated (1/2 cup)
3 tsp minced cilantro
2 Tbsp chopped peanuts

This pizza can be started the night before and then quickly assembled as soon as the dough is done. Most of the time involved is prep work, making the sauce, marinating, and chopping ingredients.

1 - Mix together the ingredients for the peanut sauce in a small bowl. Pour this into a food processor or blender and blend for about 15 seconds or until the garlic, onion, and ginger are reduced to small particles. Pour this mixture into a small pan over medium heat and bring it to a boil. Cook for 1 minute (not too long or the sauce will become lumpy). The sauce should be darker now.

2- Cut the chicken into bite-size chunks and put them in a quart zip-loc bag. Pour 1/3 of the sauce over the chicken, seal the bag and place in the refrigerator to marinate for at least 2 hours. I left it overnight and it was terrific.

3 - Heat 1 tsp of oil in a small pan over medium/high heat. Cook the marinated chicken for 3 to 4 minutes in the pan.

4 - Roll out the pizza dough and place on a pizza pan brushed with olive oil. Preheat the oven to 450 deg. F.

5- Spread a thin coating of the remaining peanut sauce (the stuff you didn't marinate the chicken in) on the pizza crust. You may have sauce left over.

6 - Sprinkle 1-1/2 cup of the grated mozzarella over the peanut sauce.

7 - Slice the green onions lengthwise into thin strips, then cut across the strips, slicing the onion into 2-inch matchstick strips. Spread the onions over the cheese.

8 - Arrange the chicken on the pizza. Next the sprouts and the carrots.

9 - Sprinkle the remaining mozzarella cheese just over the center of the pizza. Sprinkle the cilantro over the mozzarella, then the chopped nuts on top.

10- Bake the pizza for 18-20 minutes, or until the crust turns light brown. Remove pizza from the oven and slice to serve.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Chocolate 911

BEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEP. We interrupt the regularly scheduled pizza post to notify you of an emergency. A chocolate emergency, to be precise.

Lately I've not been busy in the kitchen as much as I'd like and I haven't been fulfilling my obligation to my family. I'm reminded of this every time I hear the lid on the cookie jar, taken off hopefully, then dolefully put back in place. Sad but true, the cookie jar is empty. And it's not just my family that's despondent, I'm going nuts! No cookies? No cookies????

So yesterday I reached a crisis point. I was reduced to eating chocolate chips for a sugar fix, something I normally do not do. I knew an intervention was needed. And I hit on it in the form of Outrageous Brownies from The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook. My husband caught me visually caressing the recipe and said, "I know that look. That look that says you want to bake brownies. I like that look." So, what can I say - I was forced to make them!

I have my favorite reliable brownie recipe and I haven't tried a new one in years. If it's not broke, why fix it? This recipe convinced me that variety is the spice of life. Change is good, and so are these brownies. They're dense, moist, just a step away from being fudge. And they have a generous amount of nuts, a must for brownies in my book, plus extra chocolate chips in the dough. Oh, heaven!

The recipe makes an enormous amount of brownies. I mistakenly started putting the batter into my 10 x 15 pan, realized it was about to overflow, double checked the recipe, and had to go run and get my 1/2 sheet cake pan to pour it into. The recipe suggests cutting the finished product into 20 squares. Well, maybe if you're feeding football players! I cut it into 40 pieces and as rich as these are, that's a generous size. Of course, if you want more, you can always come back for another piece. Or two.

Outrageous Brownies

1 lb. unsalted butter
1 lb. plus 12 oz.. semisweet chocolate chips
6 oz. unsweetened chocolate
6 extra-large eggs
3 Tbsp instant coffee granules
2 Tbsp pure vanilla extract
2-1/4 cups sugar
1-1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 Tbsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
3 cups chopped walnuts

Preheat the oven to 350 deg. F.

Butter and flour a 12 x 18 x 1-inch baking sheet.

Melt together the butter, 1 lb. of chocolate chips, and the unsweetened chocolate in a medium bowl over simmering water. Allow to cool slightly. In a large bowl, stir (do not beat) together the eggs, coffee granules, vanilla, and sugar. Stir the warm chocolate mixture into the egg mixture and allow to cool to room temperature.

In a medium bowl, sift together 1 cup of flour, the baking powder, and salt. Add to the cooled chocolate mixture. Toss the walnuts and 12 oz. of chocolate chips in a medium bowl with 1/4 cup of flour, then add them to the chocolate batter. Pour into the baking sheet.

Bake for 20 minutes, then rap the baking sheet against the oven shelf to force the air to escape from between the pan and the brownie dough. Bake for about 15 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean. Do not overbake! Allow to cool thoroughly, refrigerate, and cut into 20 large squares (or 40 if you don't play football).

Friday, May 25, 2007

Beulah, Make Me A Pizza!

Several years ago I was in a women's Bible study group and we were studying The Worth of a Woman. One particular day we were discussing the Proverbs 31 woman - she can do anything!(she's kind of like a biblical Martha Stewart, except she's nicer, doesn't go to prison, and actually likes kids.) As our discussion wound around what an amazing woman she was and how impossible it was to be like her, I made the comment that she could do all of that because she had servant girls. If I had servants, sure, I could be wonder woman, too!

One of the older, wiser women in the group turned to me and explained to me that I do have servants. I have servants who wash my clothes, wash my dishes, beat the dirt from my carpet, chop the wood and stoke the stove, haul in the ice to chill the food, and bring in fresh water from the well. I was well and soundly put in my place. I hadn't considered how much easier my appliances made my daily chores, especially when compared to the way my grandmother or great-grandmother had to keep house.

That image has stuck with me through the years and often when I'm loading up the washing machine or the dishwasher I'll remind myself that I'm setting my servant girls to their tasks. Although I'm a fan of doing things by hand, I'm also a fan of my servant girls and I've recently discovered a new talent for one of my girls, Beulah. Beulah Breadmaker, to be precise.

I inherited a breadmaker from my mother-in-law. She passed it along to me with some boxed mixes and some bread machine cookbooks. I made the mixes (didn't want them to go to waste) and then it sat idle. The truth of the matter was that I was a bread snob. I didn't like the weird square loaves the machine made and I was proud of my lovely, if infrequently made, hand-kneaded loaves.

Then one day I happened to mention to my sister, the excellent baker, that I now had a bread machine squatting in the corner of the kitchen. She enthused about her bread machine and how great it was. Then she told me the secret - she never bakes in it. She just lets it handle the dough and then she shapes and bakes it in the oven. Aha! I now saw that I had another servant girl who'd been sitting idle. I put her to work. And one of the ways she most earns her keep is with pizza dough.

Although I love the hand-made pizza dough, I've come to really enjoy the dough that I make in the bread machine. It's quick, easy, and lets me still make home-made pizza, even on a busy day. Plus, because bread flour is used, the crust is more tender, and if I let it sit for a while, it gets quite light and puffy.

So today is a two-fer. You get the bread machine recipe (which you may or may not be able to use, depending if you have one of those servants) and the recipe for the incredible West Coast White Pizza. It uses ranch dressing for a sauce and it's a totally different pizza experience. Three different cheese melt together, giving a succulent balance to the tangy ranch dressing. Pour yourself a glass of milk or chardonnay, put on the Beatles' White Album and savor the flavor of white! For dessert, perhaps, you could try this or this or this.

Bread Machine Pizza Dough
from Best Bread Machine Recipes(makes large thick-crust pizza)

Into the bread machine place:
1-1/3 cups water
2 Tbsp olive oil
4 cups bread flour
1 tsp salt
1-1/4 tsp active dry yeast

Select the dough cycle. When cycle is done, remove dough, punch it down, and place on a lightly floured surface. Cover and let rest 10 minutes. Roll to fit your greased pizza pan, transfer to pan, pinch the dough up around the edges to form the crust.

West Coast White Pizza
adapted from Pizza

2 cups shredded sauteed or roast chicken breast
1/4 cup plus 1/2 cup of your favorite bottled ranch dressing (more or less to taste)
1-1/2 Tbsp minced garlic
1/2 cup coarsley shredded provolone cheese (I had sliced, so I just cut it into bits)
2 cups shredded mozarella cheese
1/2 cup whole-milk ricotta cheese
1/2 tsp dried thyme
1 large roma tomato, thinly sliced

1- Preheat the oven to 450 deg. F. Put the rack in the middle of the oven. Toss the shredded chicken with the 1/4 cup ranch dressing. Set aside.

2- Spread the remaining 1/2 cup ranch dressing over the dough, leaving a 1-inch border. Arrange the chicken evenly over the sauce. Evenly distribute the garlic over the chicken. Scatter the provolone and mozzarella cheeses over the top. Distribute little blops of ricotta over the other cheese. Crush the thyme between your finger and sprinkle it evenly over the cheeses.

3- Place the pizza in the preheated oven and bake for 20 minutes, or until the crust is golden brown and the cheese begins to brown a bit on top.

4- Remove from the oven. Top with the tomato slices and cut the pizza into wedges, then serve immediately.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Pesto Pizza

My husband loves me. I know this. So, too, I know it was not selfish self-interest that inspired him to buy me the cookbook, Pizza, for Christmas, although it has worked out well for him. We've used several of the recipes to make mouth-watering, delicious pizzas that have stretched our pizza repertoire.

You might notice I'm using first person, plural here. Perhaps you think I've gotten full of myself and have taken to using the royal "we". Not so. Today marks the first appearance of a guest blogger. My wonderful and talented daughter who takes my photos and makes my food look good also is quite handy in the kitchen. Sarah will be sharing her contribution to today's pizza following the main recipe.

I was skeptical about a pesto pizza, but Sarah loves pesto and was exuberantly excited to try this one. We used the recipe from the Pizza book as a guide, but used our own crust recipe and used amounts of the ingredients that looked good. And I have to say, this pizza was A-ma-zing. The fresh mozzarella wasn't as salty-tasting and melted better than our regular Costco mozzarella, and the pesto made the whole pizza zing with bright flavors. I am now a convert and will be happy to make this pizza anytime Sarah's up for making the pesto.

Pesto Pizza

1 recipe pizza dough (previous post)
6-8 oz fresh whole-milk mozzarella, thinly sliced and blotted with paper towels to remove excess moisture
1/2 cup (or so) halved and pitted canned ripe black olives
1 ripe tomato, cored and thinly sliced
1 recipe for pesto (following)

1- Preheat oven to 450 deg. F. Grease pizza pan with olive oil.

2- Roll out dough and transfer to pizza pan. Form a rim around the edge.

3- Spread the pesto evenly over the dough, leaving a 1/4 inch border. Lay the mozzarella slices evenly over the top. Place an olive half, cut side down, in the center of each cheese slice and then scatter the rest evenly over the top. Arrange the tomato slices on the top.

4- Bake for about 20 minutes, until the crust is golden brown and the cheese is deliciously melty and oozy.

Hey all! Sarah here. I know what you are thinking, "this is a FOOD blog, not a stupid photography blog *psh*!". Have no fear guys, after growing up in this house, I do know my way around the kitchen fairly well (my Fiancé is very thankful for this, too). I'm the queen of pesto in my house, and I'm here to share with you all my knowledge on the subject (which shouldn't take up too much of your time because I'm no expert.)

My love for pesto started in high school. Every Tuesday and Thursday after second period, I would go to the student store and buy a pesto bagel for 25 cents. That was my first ever intro to pesto, funny enough. My mother (bless her picky little soul) told me she didn't like pesto because it's "too oily", so I grew up with an idea that pesto was something gross like brussel sprouts (no, I've never tried them, but if you heard my mother talk about them, neither would you). I wanted to learn pesto but I was a little daunted because my mom is my source of all good cooking knowledge, and when she doesn't know something, it means trouble for me.

I went to searching on the internet. There are like four hundred million pesto recipes! Holy cow, guys. And they all have the same BASIC stuff in them, just in different combinations. I've made it a bunch of times now, and have got the basics down. What I have written below is pesto for a pizza. If you are making pesto for noodles or something, I encourage you to chop things by hand. This is the traditional way and it makes each of the flavors come out a little better. When you are making pizza though, have no fear of mushing everything together since it's just going to be a pizza base.

(remember, you can modify this to your own taste)

8-10 cloves Garlic (I'm not shy in my love for garlic. It's not good unless you breathe fire!)
2 Teaspoon Kosher Salt (the kosher salt is way better in it than normal salt)
4 Cups lightly packed FRESH basil
4 Tablespoons toasted Pine nuts
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese (don't be afraid to add more cheese... I always add way more for pizza)
1/2 cup grated Asiago (or Pecorino Cheese... pretty much any hard cheese with a smooth flavor is good)
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 1/2 teaspoon thyme
~1/2 cup olive oil (go light here guys!)

In a food processor fitted with the metal blade, process the garlic and salt until minced. Add the basil, pine nuts and the olive oil (Go slowly here and if it's looking runny stop adding) until smooth. Pulse in the oregano, thyme, and lastly cheeses. Don't obliterate the cheese. Make sure you can still see chunks of it. You want to pulse just until combined. Now you have a GOOD pesto. Taste it, and make sure it's to your satisfaction. Scoop it out in a bowl and add a layer of oil to the top of it if you are going to store for any extended period of time (this helps keep it fresh). When you remove the bowl from the fridge for your pizza, drain this extra oil off (it tastes good as a dipping oil for bread so it can be saved). It's important to keep the oil light for pizza. We've found that after the pizza is baked, you can end up with a big oil slick because the oil separates out. Make sure the oil in the pesto is half a cup or less. If you are using pesto for pasta it doesn't matter nearly as much, it's only pizza you need to keep this in mind (or when giving it to my mother).

Making Memories

Early in my marriage I got a wonderful book, Let's Make A Memory by Shirley Dobson and Gloria Gather. It was full of suggestions on how to turn everyday humdrum activities into special memories for your family. Something as simple as turning off the lights and putting candles on the table for dinner, giving someone the "special" plate to acknowledge an accomplishment or occasion, or taking dinner to the park, the beach, or the backyard for a quickie picnic. All ways to make an ordinary meal a wonderful memory.

One of my favorite childhood memories was going out for pizza. Not something we did often, it was a much anticipated event. We had two choices of where to go. One was in a large, open, dark room with wood tables and wood benches. We always got a pepperoni pizza and a green salad and a pitcher of root beer. We had to eat our salad before we could have pizza. I wasn't big on the salad, quickly finding and eating the black olives, then poking the greens around in the bowl. Then came the skinny strips of pizza with mozarella cheese pulling into long strands as the pieces were handed out. Gooey, spicy goodness. I was a small child, but I did a credible job of putting away pizza!

Our other pizza tavern choice was my favorite. We didn't go there as often. It was farther away and I suspect a bit pricier. It was more of a sit-down restaurant and in the waiting area were two things which fascinated me. One was the paintings on the wall depicting a bachanalian scene, with one boy holding a bunch of grapes up, about to bite one off. When I tired of looking at the paintings I could go to the counter where they had a step to stand on and a glass pane separating me from the artist making my pizza. In hindsight I know they were probably just high school kids working a part-time job, but to me they were pizza wizards, tossing the dough up in the air, whirling it around, deftly ladling sauce, sprinkling just the right amount of cheese, and flicking toppings on in rapid fire.

When I started thinking about creating memories for my own children, pizza was a natural starting point. I went on quite a long hunt for a dough recipe. I wasn't comfortable working with yeast yet, so that was something of an adventure. But I finally found a recipe that has become my old reliable. I have made it so often I don't even need the cookbook, Good Housekeeping Illustrated, anymore. I experimented with various sauces and found that for speed and convenience I like Prego sauce. I'm sure it's much tastier with fresh sauce made with fresh ingredients, but most of the time I don't have the time for that because I make pizza every week.

We started pizza night every Saturday night. We would watch Star Trek, The Next Generation and have pizza and root beer. It was a fun, family time to look forward to all week. With my little kids we still do the Saturday night pizza tradition, only now we watch the Lois & Clark- The New Adventures of Superman. And just ask any of my kids what you eat on Saturday and I'm sure they'll tell you pizza.

Since I've made so many pizzas over the years, I've tried lots of variations and I'm going to blog about some of our favorites this week. Today, though, is just a basic pizza, starting with the dough. Once you've got the dough down, you can decide what you like best in the way of sauce and toppings, but the dough is essential!

Basic Pizza

1 pkg active dry yeast
about 4-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
Kosher Salt
1-1/2 cups water
Olive oil
Prego spaghetti sauce
Italian herb seasoning
Garlic or garlic powder
about 1 lb. grated mozarella cheese
Toppings (whatever you like)

1- In a large bowl (I use my KitchenAid mixer), combine yeast, 2 cups flour and 1 tsp salt. For a stiffer dough, at this point you can swap one cup of all-purpose flour for 1 cup whole wheat flour. Either in a saucepan or microwave, heat water until very warm (120 to 130 deg. F). I am blessed with an Insta-hot so I just add hot and cold water into my liquid measure until it's the right temp.

2- With mixer at low speed, just blend water into dry ingredients. At medium speed, beat 2 minutes, occasionally scraping bowl with rubber spatula. Beat in 1/2 cup flour to make a thick batter; beat 2 minutes more. Stir in about 1-1/2 cups flour to make a soft dough.

3- At this point either switch to the dough hook on the KitchenAid or put the dough on a floured surface to knead. Knead, adding flour as necessary, about 8 minutes. I like to let the KitchenAid do the work for a while and then finish the kneading by hand. That way I can tell by feel when the dough is ready. It should feel smooth, not sticky. If it's sticky, just keep dusting it with flour and kneading till it feels smooth like a baby's bottom.

4- Shape the dough into a ball: place in a large, greased bowl (I give the bowl a hit of cooking spray. I don't want it super oily, just enough so that the dough doesn't stick to the sides. Then I turn the dough so that the top is now light greased so it can expand.) Cover with a towel and let rise until doubled, about 1 hour.

5- While the dough is rising, make sure you have all our toppings ready to go. Chop olives, tomatoes, onions, mushrooms, or whatever you want to put on your masterpiece. Cook sausage, if you're using it, and press out excess grease.

6- Punch down dough. I love this part. My kids clamor to be the one to punch a fist into the soft mound of dough and watch it collapse. Turn the dough onto a lightly floured surface. Cover for 15 minutes. Preheat oven to 450 deg. F. and grease your pizza pan with olive oil. I have an Airbake pizza pan that I love. Actually, I own two. It's large, about 14" in diameter, and has holes in the bottom. This allows the crust to crisp up on the bottom. I've tried using a stone and unless you have a pizza peel, a stone is not my recommendation. You need to have the stone preheated in the oven and then use the peel to slide your pizza onto the stone. If you try to build your pizza on the cold stone and then put that into the oven, the stone will take a long time to heat up and the crust will be soggy on the bottom.

7- With a rolling pin, roll out the dough into a circle slightly larger than your pan. If you have a small pan, you might consider cutting the dough in half for two pizzas or freeze half for a later pizza. Otherwise you'll end up with a very thick crust.

8 - Transfer the dough to the pizza pan. I like to drape it over the rolling pin to move it. Fit the dough to the pan and pinch up the edges to form a rim.Pour on the pizza sauce of your choice.Again, for taste and convenience, I like Prego, but I add herbs to punch up the flavor a bit.

You can press fresh garlic over the sauce or dust it with garlic powder, sprinkle Italian seasoning over it. Fresh oregano and thyme taste amazing here. Make sure the sauce completely obscures the dough beneath it. Too little sauce and you see the dough, too much and you have a swimming pool of sauce and your toppings will slide off when you try to eat it.

9 - Sprinkle the cheese evenly over the sauce. I use 1 lb. as a starting point, but you can use more or less, depending on your preference. Good quality mozarella makes a difference, too. Usually I just use the Costco pre-grated mozarella, but for a special pizza I'll buy fresh mozarella.

10- Spread your toppings. Remember that whatever is the topmost layer will receive the most heat, so items that are prone to scorching, such as pepperoni, I'll put on first. Items that are particularly juicy, like fresh tomatoes, I'll put on last so that some of the juice will cook off.

11- Bake for 20 minutes or until the crust is golden and the cheese if bubbly. Take out of the oven and let rest for a few minutes if the center seems jiggly. Then using a pizza cutter, cut into slices, serve, and enjoy the thrill of fresh, homemade pizza! Oh, and have some root beer, too. Lois and Clark is entirely optional.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Meet Me At The Malt Shoppe

To know me is to know I love chocolate. In any cookbook I turn to the dessert section first, honing in like a heat-seeking missile to anything with chocolate in it. I loved making the fodder for the previous two posts, but strangely hadn't yet made anything chocolate. So when I browsed my newest library find,The All-American Dessert Book, of course I immediately picked up on the Chocolate Double-Malted Milk Ice Cream. It had two things going for it. It was chocolate and it featured my husband's favorite candy, Whoppers, so I could plausibly say I was making it just for him. Um, yeah, right.

I might have made it just for him but he certainly didn't have to wade through a whole quart of it by himself. We all happily yummed it up. It was smooth, creamy, and gently chocolatey, with the extra interesting texture from the malted milk ball pieces. Because of the gelatin it was really easy to put together and since it had such a long chill time I just left it in the refrigerator overnight and then froze it just before dinner. Easy dessert!

Chocolate Double-Malted Milk Ice Cream

1 tsp unflavored gelatin
2 Tbsp cold water
Scant 2/3 cup sugar
3 Tbsp unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder
Pinch of salt
1-1/2 cups heavy (whipping) cream
1 cup plain malted milk powder (not chocolate flavored)
1-1/2 cups half-and-half
2 tsp vanilla extract
1/2-3/4 cup chopped malted milk balls, frozen

In a small bowl, stir the gelatin into the water. Let stand, stirring once or twice, until the gelatin softens, about 5 minutes. In a heavy 2-quart saucepan, thoroughly stir together the sugar, cocoa, and salt until well blended. Slowly whisk in the heavy cream and the gelatin mixture until well blended. Heat the mixture over medium-high heat, whisking until the gelatin dissolves. Remove from the heat.

In a medium bowl, whisk the malted milk powder into the half-and-half until the mixture is completely smooth. Stir the half-and -half mixture and vanilla into the cocoa mixture until smooth. Return the saucepan to the heat and cook over medium-high heat, stirring constantly, until hot. Remove from the heat and let cool slightly. Cover and refrigerate until very cold, at least 4-1/2 hours and up to 24 hours.

Pour the chilled mixture into an ice cream maker and proceed according to the manufacturer's directions. When the ice cream is finished processing, fold in the chopped malted milk balls until evenly incorporated. Turn out the ice cream into a chilled plastic storage container. Let firm up for at least 1 hour in the freezer before serving. Tightly covered, the ice cream will keep in the freezer for up to 2 weeks.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Love is in the air

There's a certain something in the air these days. A throbbing sound? No, that's the band next door practicing. Perfume? Could be, but it's not me. Ah, I know what it is - ice cream! Yes, ever since a certain someone released a certain book it seems that people everywhere, not just food bloggers, are going bananas (and strawberries, and caramel, and chocolate) for frozen desserts.

I had just finished making the divine Salted Butter Caramel Ice Cream when a tub of fresh strawberries came into my house. Hmmm, what to do? Shortcake, nah, been there, done that. A pie or a trifle? Too time consuming. Or maybe the heavenly Strawberry Frozen Yogurt on David Lebovitz's site would do. It did. Perfectly.

The Frozen Yogurt perfectly captured the fresh strawberry taste with a wonderful texture, not too granular, not too heavy. My family loved it and it didn't take long for us to enjoy the whole quart. Piggies? Perhaps, but happy, contented piggies with delightful ruby-lipped smiles.

I am finding how easy it is to make ice cream when I keep the Donvier tub in the freezer. I whip the ingredients together, chill, if called for, and then pop into the ice cream freezer, giving it a couple of turns every 3 to 5 minutes and in less than 1/2 an hour it's done. And it's so easy my kids beg to take turns. Plus, no mess or hassle with ice and salt, which is how we used to hand crank our ice cream. For some reason, that only happened once a year at most. Now with easy ice cream within my grasp the only worries are the grocery bill and how much of it I'll eat. Oh, and how soon my copy of The Perfect Scoop will come!

Strawberry Frozen Yogurt by David Lebovitz

About 1 quart (1 liter)

French yogurt is astoundingly good and I suggest you use a good-quality, locally-produced yogurt for similar results.

1 pound (450 g) strawberries, rinsed and hulled
2/3 cup (130 g) sugar
optional: 2 teaspoons vodka or kirsch
1 cup (240 g) plain, whole milk yogurt
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice

Slice the strawberries into small pieces. Toss in a bowl with the sugar and vodka or kirsch (if using) until the sugar begins to dissolve. Cover with plastic wrap and let stand at room temperature for 2 hours, stirring every so often.

Transfer the strawberries and their juice to a blender or food processor. Add the yogurt and fresh lemon juice. Pulse the machine until the mixture is almost smooth. If you wish, press mixture through a mesh strainer to remove any seeds.

Chill for 1 hour, then freeze in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer's instructions.

Monday, May 14, 2007

I Scream, You Scream...

As thrifty parents of three, living on a teacher's salary, my parents were always careful about how they spent their money. So treats were few, far between, and more special for it being that way.

A favorite treat outing all the family loved was going to Ferndale's, the ice cream shop. We would hover over the display case, noses pressed against the glass, trying to decide between the rich, tantalizing flavors and whether to have the regular cone or a sugar cone. After the crucial decisions were reached we were handed our single scoop cones and walked out of the store, happily licking. Once, as my father was unlocking the car, I gave such a happy lick that my scoop rolled right off the cone and landed, plop, on the sidewalk. Too bad that cameras weren't there to capture the dramatic performance that I gave; I would have been a shoo-in for an Oscar. As it was, I was awarded an extra scoop, the clerk saying it was her fault for not properly smooshing the ice cream down into the cone.

The morals of the story? First, if you're grieving, don't hold it in. Second, be nice to children because they don't forget. And third, ice cream is worth crying about.

So, you can see how it is with ice cream and me. We have history. So it wasn't just a passing glance that I gave to David Lebovitz's post about Salted Butter Caramel Ice Cream. Now the name alone is quite a mouthful, but it was the pictures that drew me back again and again. My daughter would walk by me drooling over the pictures and say, "You're looking at that again? When are you going to make it?" Well, with arm-twisting like that, how could I refuse?

I had never made salter butter caramels before and was a bit intimidated, especially the part about not stopping even to wipe your nose. I was really pleased with how well the caramel part turned out but I was unsure about the ice cream part of it. I think I didn't cook the custard long enough. How thick is thickened? The ice cream never really hardened. I was unsure if this was because of the Donvier ice cream freezer that I used or a cooking error on my part. Even after being stored in the freezer it had the consistency of soft-serve ice cream. But that's OK by me. What counts is the taste and the taste is amazing! It is smooth, thick, rich and utterly delicious! No need to add any extra topping or sauces - the flavor shines all by itself.

I'm not going to bother putting the recipe here because you can get it from David Lebovitz's post, plus then you can drool over his other excellent recipes, be educated by his erudite posts about everything from salt to horse milk, and laugh out loud at least once a page.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Pie Part II

"What's inside?" That is an apt question and I realized when the lovely and talented Anuhea (check out her blog to see the meal of a lifetime!) asked this question that I probably should have included the recipe for what I put inside my pie crust. It's a recipe that I cut out of a magazine so it's shaped like a mirror image of Idaho and it's alternately stored in a drawer or a folder. (Do you ever cut out magazine recipes and have great plans for transferring them to the computer or printing them out and putting them into a 3 ring binder? I have those same plans. If you're someone who actually does it, I don't need to hear about it.)

The recipe is for Make-Ahead Fruit Pie Filling. Last year there was a bumper crop of beautiful peaches and I wanted to be able to savor the flavor in the winter so I made one pie to eat and one pie filling to freeze. It works quite well, but it's a little puzzling to see a UFO made out of aluminum foil in the freezer. Every time I'd open the freezer I'd have to go through the same mental routine - "What's that? Oh, it's the pie filling. I really should learn to make crust so I can bake that into a delicious peach pie." The Abbot and Costello of the kitchen I am not.

Also, you need to extend the cooking time to make sure the filling gets cooked all the way and you don't end up with limp crust. A wonderful baker told me that she likes to use glass pie plates so she can see how the pie is doing on the bottom as it bakes. A sound idea but I happen to love my pottery ones and I don't currently have x-ray vision, so it's a bit of trial and error for me.

Make-Ahead Fruit Pie Filling for one 9-inch pie

3 pounds firm-ripe apriccots, peaches or plums
About 1/2 cup sugar
About 1/4 cup al-purpose flour
1 Tbsp lemon juice
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon or mace
1/4 tsp salt

1. Cut each of the apricots lengthwise into quarters (sixths if they're very large), discarding pits. (If using peaches, peel them and cut into thin wedges. If using plums, cut fruit into 1/2-inch slices.) You should have about 8 cups fruit total. If you don't have that much of any one fruit I think a mixture of them would be delightful.

2. In a large bowl, gently mix fruit, 1/2 cup sugar, 1/4 cup flour (see notes), lemon juice, cinnamon, and salt. Taste fruit and add more sugar if desired (up to 3/4 cup total.)

3. Line a 9-inch pie pan with a 20-inch long sheet of foil )there should be about 5 inches of overhang on each side of the pan). Line the foil with a 20-inch-long piece of plastic wrap. Pour fruit into plastic wrap; pull edges together and fold over to seal, then repeat to seal foil over plastic. Freeze up to 3 months (although mine was probably more like 5 or 6 months), removing from pie pan, if desired, after filling is hard, in about 8 hours.

To bake the pie, unwrap frozen filling and place in a 9-inch pie pan lined with an unbaked crust; cover with top crust, crimp edges to seal, and cut small slits in top to vent. Place on a foil-lined baking sheet. Bake pie in a 375 deg. regular or convection oven until top crust is browned and filling is bubbling in the center, 1-1/4 to 1-1/2 hours. (If crust gets too brown before filling is bubbling, cover eges loosely with foil.)

If baking a fresh pie, after mixing filling in step 2, pour directly into unbaked pastry, cover, crimp, and slit. Bake for about 1 hour.

*Notes* To thicken this fhe filling, use a basic ratio of 1 Tbsp of flour for every 2 cups of apricots. Peaches and plums may be juicier; for very juicy fruit, increase flour to up to 1 Tbsp per cup of fruit.

Saturday, May 5, 2007

Of All The Crust!

Spring, when the fruit trees blossom, always sets the refrain from an old song singing in my head, "I looked out the window and what did I see? Popcorn's popping on the apricot tree." When I was growing up we had an aged but prolific apricot tree in our backyard. Each spring it would explode with a profusion of delicate white blossoms and then in the summer, if there was no late frost, we'd be up to our ankles in apricots. Fresh apricots, apricot jam, apricot leather, and my favorite, apricot pies. My mother was a whiz at making pies and she'd bake fresh pies and stock the freezer with pies to try to use up the fruit inundation.

Somehow I assumed I'd be able to make pies by some sort of genetic alchemy. My mother could, so naturally I'd be able to. Right? But what actually happened was that I mangled the dough, undercooked the pie, or burnt it so that I was severely demotivated to make pies. I tried crust recipe after crust recipe, adding egg, vinegar, butter, shortening, all of the above, none of the above. Pretty much all with discouraging results.

But because my husband likes pies and I really like my husband, I was willing to persevere. And at long last, I think I've got it. A pie crust that bakes up tender, flakey, and tasty. Yahoo! The tenacious, tasting technicians who wrote The Best Recipe tested variations on all the elements of pie crusts and came up with the very best ingredients and proportions. The other thing that I liked about this recipe is that it makes a generous amount of dough so that I don't have to overwork or stretch the dough to get it to fit my deep pie pans. This eliminates the shrinkage and tearing that I've gotten in the past. The bonus for my kids is that I have scraps that I sprinkle with cinnamon sugar and bake for them.

I made this pie with a peach filling that I had in the freezer from last summer (I'm still trying to work my way through the freezer contents.) The filling was so-so, a bit glutinous, but I was quite impressed with the crust. Now I can hardly wait for the summer berry bounty to come so I can whip up lots of lovely pies. And my husband will be so pleased!

The Best Pie Dough for Fruit Pies

2-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp salt
2 Tbsp sugar
12 tbsp unsalted butter, chilled, cut into 1/4 inch pieces
8 Tbsp all-vegetable shortening, chilled
6-8 Tbsp ice water

1- Mix flour, flour, and salt and sugar in food processor fitted with steel blade. Scatter butter pieces over flour mixture, tossing to coat butter with a little of the flour. Cut butter into flour with five 1-second pulses. Add shortening and continue cutting in until flour is pale yellow and resembles coarse cornmeal, with butter bits no larger than small peas, about four more 1-second pulses. Turn mixture into medium bowl.

2- Sprinkle 6 Tbsp ice water over mixture. With blade of rubber spatula, use folding motion to mix. Press down on dough with broad side of spatula until dough sticks together, adding up to 2 Tbsp more ice water if it will not come together. Divide doug into two balls and flatten each into 4-inch-wide disk. Dust disks lightly with flour, wrap each in plastic, and refrigerate at least 30 minutes, or up to 2 days, before rolling.

Friday, May 4, 2007

Fabulously Awesomely Terrific Bars

You know that wonderful feeling of putting on a coat for the first time in the fall and finding $5 in the pocket? As a child I used to hide money in odd places, just so I could have the serendipitous thrill of later finding it when I was dusting or looking for something else. Yes, even then my memory was sharp as a tack.

It's a funny, fizzy thrill to find what you need, even when it's not what you were looking for.

A picture in Baking by the fabulous Dorie Greenspan has been calling to me for weeks. She describes her Snickery Squares as a slimmer, sleeker version of Snickers, my favorite candy bar. And the picture is totally droolworthy. I set my heart on making these and then read the ingredients. Dulce de leche? I don't have that. So I went to the store. They didn't have it. They said they'd order it. Which left me pining for the snickery squares, baking lust unrequited.

Then I read a post by the amazing David Lebovitz in which he tells how to make dulce de leche. So, problem solved. But as I was ruminating about the making of process, I thought how much his picture looked like the caramel sauce I had sitting in my refrigerator.

When I made the Turtle Cheesecake I had leftover caramel, about a cupful. In the saucepan in which I'd made the caramel I put about 1-3/4 cups of cream and brought it to a boil. Then I added the caramel, stirring it in with a spatula and let it boil for about 3 minutes. I put the sauce into a pint canning jar with a lid and put it in the refrigerator.

Well, I thought, if the dulce de leche is basically sweetened, carmelized milk, I could probably use the caramel sauce in it's place. If not the authentic Snickery Squares, I'd get something pretty toothable. And it worked! The squares are incredibly tasty. I didn't go to the trouble to candy the peanuts, since I wasn't following the recipe to the letter, and they taste just fine. A satisfying salty crunch to contrast with the gooey sweet caramel, the dense, bittersweet chocolate, and the crispy shortbread crust.

Since they're not Snickery squares, my daughter named them Fabulously Awesomely Terrific Bars (F.A.T. bars for short).

Fabulously Awesomely Terrific Bars

1 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup sugar
2 Tbsp powdered sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1 stick unsalted butter, cut into small pieces and chilled
1 large egg yolk, lightly beaten

Caramel sauce as described above. Or a store-bought jar. Or about 1-1/2 cups dulce de leche (and good luck finding it)
1 cup salted peanuts


7 oz. bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
1/2 stick unsalted butter, cut into 8 pieces, at room temperature.
1/4 cup chopped peanuts

1- Center a rack in the oven and preheat to 350 degrees. Butter an 8-inch pan.

2 - Put the flour, sugar, powdered sugar and salt into a food processor and pulse a few times to combine. Toss in the pieces of cold butter and pulse about 12 times, until the mixture looks like coarse meal. Pour the beaten egg yold over the ingredients and pulse until the dough forms clumps and curds - stop before the dough comes together in a ball.

3- Turn the dough into the buttered pan and gently press it evenly across the bottom of the pan. Prick the dough all over with a fork and slide the sheet into the oven.

4- Bake the crust for 15-20 minutes, or until it takes on just a little color around the edges. Remove the pan to a cooling rack and cool to room temperature.

5- Once the crust is cooled, scatter the cup of peanuts over the crust. Since my caramel sauce came out of the refrigerator I warmed it briefly in the microwave (about 10 seconds) and stirred it before pouring it over the crust. Spread it and smooth it with a spatula.

6 - Put the chopped chocolate in a microwave-safe bowl. I like to use my pottery bowl because it retains heat and helps the chocolate to gently melt. Melt in 30 second bursts, stirring after each burst, heating only until chocolate becomes glossy and begins to lose its shape. Stir in the butter until it if fully blended into the chocolate.

7 - Pour the chocolate over the caramel, smoothing it with a spatula, then sprinkle the chopped peanuts on top. Put the pan into the refrigerator to set the bars for about 20 minutes. Cut into 16 bars.

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Toto, we're not in Kansas anymore

I grew up in a small city that was so homogenous it was like swimming in a vat of whole milk. White as far as the eye could see. Minorities were not merely a little different, they were akin to space aliens. Thus when I moved away to college (as fast as I could, I might add), it was somewhat startling to be in one of the most culturally diverse areas of the country. In my little suburban neighborhood we've had neighbors from Holland, Fiji, New Zealand, Germany, Canada, Japan, Russia and Bulgaria, though no space aliens.

Escaping from Wonderbreadland not only opened my eyes to the bigger world, ethnically speaking, it did so gastronomically as well. At home we had a variety of "ethnic" meals. Italian was spaghetti or pizza (which my father tried making from a Chef Boyardee boxed mix. It had a Biscuick crust. Never, ever make that!) Chinese was stir fry, if you use that term for pushing strips of beef and vegetables with no seasonings around in an electric skillet with a spatula. Pretty narrow horizons.

So when I moved to this port city teeming with Asian influence my taste buds got a wake up call and I became enamored with the different tastes and flavors of Szechuan, Hunan, and Mandarin food. I think my tongue is still healing from my first taste of Vietnamese food. Wow! When I got married and as my kitchen skills improved I embarked on a quest to move beyond the meat, potatoes, and jello of my youth and recreate some of the foods I'd come to love.

One of the most elusive was Hum Bow because I didn't own a steamer for my wok. I'd tried using a plate set on canning jar lids and it just didn't do the job. So this Christmas when my sweetie gave me a steamer I set to work finding a good recipe for Hum Bow. I have no idea how "authentic" this recipe is. I got it off the internet. I just know it tastes pretty yummy! I love the sweetness of the filling and the warm, soft texture of the steamed buns.

One note - while shaping and steaming the hum bow I was watching Arrested Development with my daughter and got distracted. I didn't check the water level in the bottom of the wok. Yes, I burned my new steamer. Sadness. But, it did add an interesting and unexpected smokey note to the buns. So, watch the water level!

Don't plan on eating this the day you start. You need time to marinate your pork. I bought a large portion of pork so I doubled the marinade and put half of the pork in a zip-loc bag with 1/2 the marinade then put it in the freezer. Then when next I want to make humbow I'll pull it out of the freezer and it will marinate as it thaws. Genius, no?

Also, it only occurred to me after the buns were all done that they didn't have the familiar puckered appearance on top. They're folded over like little packets of pork, rather than purses of pork. If you prefer the purse, just pull the sides up and pinch together, like the pursed lips of a disapproving old lady. Since none of my packets leaked, I don't think the purses would either.

Barbeque Pork Buns (Char Siu Bow) or (Hum Bow)

2 Tbs. Hoisin sauce
1 1/2 Tbs. Oyster sauce
1 1/2 Tbs. Soy sauce
1/2 tsp. Sesame oil
8 oz Barbecued Pork (recipe follows)
4 Green onions
2 Tbs. Vegetable oil
2 tsp. Grated fresh ginger
1 Clove garlic, crushed
1 1/4 c Water
1 Tbs. Cornstarch
3 c. All-purpose flour
1 Tbs. Baking powder
1/2 tsp. Salt
1/4 c. Vegetable Shortening
1 tsp. White vinegar

1. Combine Hoisin sauce, oyster sauce, soy sauce and sesame oil. Chop pork and onions finely.

2. Heat vegetable oil in wok or fry pan over high heat. Stir-fry ginger and garlic in the oil 1 minute. Stir in hoi sin mixture. Cook and stir two minutes. Combine 1/2 cup of the water and the cornstarch. Blend into hoi sin mixture. Cook and stir until liquid boils. Reduce heat to medium and simmer 2 minutes. Stir in pork and onions. Remove from heat. Cool completely.

3. Combine flour, baking powder and salt in large bowl. Cut or rub in shortening until mixture resembles bread crumbs. Combine remaining 3/4 cup of the water and the vinegar. Mix water-vinegar into flour until dough sticks together. Shape dough into ball. Knead on lightly floured surface 6 or 8 times. Cover with plastic wrap and let stand 20 minutes. Uncover and knead 4 or 5 more times. Divide dough into 12 equal portions. Shape each portions into a smooth ball.

4. Roll each ball of dough on lightly floured surface
into a circle 5 to 6 inches in diameter. Brush around edges lightly with water. Spoon a heaping tablespoon of pork mixture onto center of each circle. Carefully pinch edges together to seal dough around filling. Bring the two ends of dough over the seam and pinch together.

5. Cut waxed paper into twelve 5-inch squares. Brush one side of paper lightly with oil. Place a bun, seam side down, on each square.

6. Place buns with paper in single layer on steamer rack over boiling water. Cover and steam buns until done about 20 minutes. Yield: 1 dozen


2 Whole pork tenderloins, about 12 ounces
1/4 c Soy sauce
2 Tbs. Dry red wine
1 Tbs. Brown sugar
1 Tbs. Honey
2 tsp. Red food coloring
1/2 tsp. Ground cinnamon
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 Green onion

1. Remove and discard fat from meat.

2. Combine soy sauce, wine, sugar, honey, food coloring, cinnamon, garlic and onion in large bowl. Add pork, turning tenderloins to coat completely. Cover and let stand at room temperature 1 hour or refrigerate overnight, turning occasionally.

3. Drain pork, reserve marinade. Place pork on wire rack over baking pan.

4. Bake in preheated 350 degree F. oven until done, about 45 minutes.
Turn and baste frequently during baking.

5. Remove pork from oven. Cool. Cut into diagonal slices.