Posts filed under ‘Methods’

Perfect New York Style Pizza

A while back my brother-in-law posted a link on my Facebook wall with the comment, “Obsessive immersion in a hobby at its best.” It was a link to Jeff Varasano’s New York Pizza Recipe. Now, those of you who know me are aware that I occasionally nerd out about cooking. I’m as enthralled by understanding and perfecting the chemistry of it as I am by eating my creations. I figured, “Cool, someone else who nerds out about cooking,” and clicked on the link.

Ok. This guy takes it to a whole new level. He is quite literrally obsessed with creating perfect, authentic, New York style pizza. For example, most home ovens go up to about 500°F, but New York style pizza cooked in brick ovens usually run at 700-900°F. So what did he do? Well, he cut the lock on his oven, rewired it to override the safety setting, and sets his oven to the clean cycle in order get the temperature inside up to 900°F and cook his pizza. Just for the heck of it, I clicked print preview to see how long the page would be if printed out: 94.

Also included are:

  • a thorough comparison of the protein and gluten percentages of various types of flour, how these will affect the outcome of your pizza, and his recommendation on which flour is best
  • a detailed explanation of how to mix and knead the dough—using a technique that I was not familiar with that purportedly yields significantly better results
  • a discussion on the various types of mozzarella, how they react differently when cooked, and a caveat about the importance of using the freshest cheese available
  • instructions on how to leaven the dough, a process that can take anywhere from three to six days
  • a review of pizza restaurants from around the world and a list of his top picks
Perhaps the biggest surprise to me was that authentic New York style pizza isn’t leavened with just yeast. It’s usually leavened using a sourdough culture. Sourdough—while usually associated with bread from San Fransisco—is actually just a mixture of wild yeast and bacteria. Apparently, you want the bacteria go to work on the dough for up to a week before letting the yeast go to work.
He’s obsessed, as I said. But after reading it, somewhere deep inside me I heard a still, small voice whispering to me, “Cut the lock on your oven.”
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July 4, 2011 at 12:03 pm Leave a comment

Baked Avocados with Bleu Cheese, Pancetta, Sun-Dried Tomatoes & Capers

Let me say it again. Baked Avocados with Bleu Cheese, Pancetta, Sun-Dried Tomatoes & Capers. There. Now I have your mouth lusting like a middle-school boy.

This recipe came from Cafe Girafa, a little cafe in Suchdol, Prague, Czech Republic. It’s a five minute walk from my parents’ house, and serves the best savory crepes I’ve ever had. This recipe isn’t theirs verbatim, but it’s a close reinterpretation. (I think they use bacon instead of pancetta, and gorgonzola instead of bleu cheese). However, judging by the ingredient list, there’s really no way to screw this up. Put all of the yummiest things you can think of together and eat them. That’s basically what we’re doing here.

Ingredients:

2 avocados
1/8lb pancetta, sliced
1/8lb bleu cheese
6 sun-dried tomatoes
30ish capers
Olive oil

Instructions:

Preheat the oven to 375. In a skillet, cook the pancetta briefly. Go for about the doneness of undercooked, wobbly bacon (ewww). Remove from heat. Chop up the sun-dried tomatoes into approximately 1/4″ x 1″ slivers. Halve the avocados & remove the pits. (See below for the proper way to open an avocado). Plop a good hunk of cheese in the avocado pit. Sprinkle the sun-dried tomatoes and capers on and around the cheese. Add more of everything until it’s mounded. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle pancetta over the top. (This is not meant to be a precise recipe. Adjust ingredients to taste. If you really like bleu cheese, put more cheese on. If you hate capers, skip ’em!) Bake 15-20 minutes until the cheese is melted, the pancetta looks crispy, or you just absolutely cannot wait another second. If you want, broil the top for the final 2-3 minutes to make sure the pancetta is good and crispy.

How to open an avocado:

Use a large, sharp knife. Cut straight into like you are going to halve it lengthwise until you hit the pit. Rotate the avocado until you’ve sliced all the way around the pit, and the meat and skin are cleanly in two halves (still attached to the pit). Grab each half in either hand and rotate the halves in opposite directions (left half clockwise, right half counter-clockwise). One half should separate from the pit. Take the knife and (carefully!) whack the pit so that the knife sticks into it. (Do not whack yourself, anyone or anything else with the knife. Avocado pits can be slippery, so be sure to aim correctly). Grab the half in one hand and the knife in the other. Twist again in alternating directions. The pit should pop right out.

May 28, 2011 at 9:47 am 2 comments

Thin, Crispy Pizza Done Right

About once a week we make homemade pizza from a batch of homemade whole wheat pizza dough recipe. After much experimentation, I think I’m pretty sure I’ve figured out the perfect way to do thin-crust pizza. Here’s a hint: high heat is the key. (Note: if you like deep-dish, high heat is probably a horrible idea. Nothing like uncooked dough and soggy pizza).

Yes. High heat is all you need, but I’ll break my technique down a little further. First, defrost the dough if it was in the freezer. (When I make a batch of dough, I usually double the recipe and divide it into 4 portions. Eating pizza once a week, a batch lasts us a month). Next, let it rest somewhere warm and dark for at least 30 minutes. This helps the glutens relax and makes it easier to roll out. It will rise a bit during this time. Begin rolling out the dough. When I roll mine to about the edges of our pizza pan, it ends up being about 1/4″ thick or less. If you like bubbly pizza, let the dough rest again for another 30 minutes or so. Doing this allows the yeast to keep eat, and as they do so, the release carbon dioxide.

Preheat the oven to 350. Stick the dough in for 5-10 min. so that it cooks slightly, just until the outside looks dry instead of doughy. (You make skip this step if you want. However, I’ve had a couple pizzas turn out doughy. Since I started pre-cooking the crust, I’ve never had it burn, so I don’t think there’s any risk with this method). Meanwhile, start preparing the trimmings. Chop and cook anything that needs chopped or cooked before it goes on the pizza (like onions usually do, in my experience).

Once the dough has cooked for a few minutes, remove it from the oven and crank up the heat to the highest your oven will go. I mean that. Get it as hot as possible. Mine goes up to 550. I’ve heard that in Italy, some restaurants crank the heat up to 700. (If you’re really hardcore, get a couple dozen unglazed quarry tiles from the hardware store. Stick them in the oven and bake them at your highest heat for 15-20 minutes. They’ll absorb it, and allow you to get much higher temperatures out of your oven.)

While you’re waiting for things to heat up, top your pizza with whatever ingredients you decided on. I can’t say enough about adding minced garlic and rosemary to the sauce. It’s really the best thing that’s ever happened to my pizza. If you’re using fresh basil, remember to put it on right after the sauce, under the cheese and other toppings. Otherwise, it will come as nothing more than like crispy, black flakes. Once the oven is hot, put it in and bake until it’s done. When is it done? Up to you but I have three criteria. 1) A good portion of the cheese is a warm, golden brown on top. 2) The ends/edges of any toppings sticking up too far out of the cheese are shriveled and burnt. 3) The crust is a nice, medium-heading-towards-dark, toasty brown color.

Experiment all you want with this method, but it’s been consistently turning out quality results for us.

April 30, 2011 at 9:22 am Leave a comment

Wild Mushroom Soup Recipe

After getting some chanterelle mushrooms and Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Julia Child for my birthday, I decided to try out Julia’s mushroom soup recipe. I didn’t follow her recipe exactly, but the basic premise is there. We used chanterelle–which give off a feint aroma of apricots–shiitake, oyster, crimini (a.k.a. baby portobella, baby bella, brown) and white mushrooms for this. It turned out excellently for what it was. However, upon eating it wifey and I realized a fatal mistake we made.

A thick slice of crusty artisan bread with a slice of swiss cheese toasted under a broiler is absolutely essential to this recipe. DO NOT MAKE IT WITHOUT IT!!!

Ingredients:

1 1/2 -2 lbs mushrooms, stems removed but reserved and chopped roughly
1/4 c finely chopped onions
2 T butter
6-8 T flour
8 c veggie broth (I used mushroom bullion)
1/4 c cream (I used milk)
2 egg yolks
1 bay leaf, pepper, chopped parsley

Instructions:

Melt the butter in a soup pot. When foaming, add the onions for 6-8 minutes until tender but not browning. Mix in the flour until it forms a paste. Slowly add broth to make a roux. (See directions below if you don’t know how to make a roux). Keep adding broth until it’s all added, then toss in the mushroom stems, bay leaf, pepper and parsley. Let the stems simmer for 20-30 min. If you have dried mushrooms, place them in a bowl, pour boiling water over them, and let soak for 20-30 minutes. Do not discard of the liquid! Meanwhile, finely chop the mushrooms tops. You can saute them before adding them to the soup if you want. I sauted everything but the oyster mushrooms. (I’m not a big fan of crimini unless they’re sauted. Too slippery. Yech!)

Once they’re done simmering, remove the mushroom stems, squeeze the juice out of them, and throw them away. Put all but 1/4 c of the mushroom tops in a food processor, add a little liquid from the soup, and mince–not puree. Add all of the mushrooms to the soup, and let them simmer for another 15 min. Reduce the heat to low. Take two egg yolks, and beat them in a bowl for a minute. Add the cream and beat for another couple minutes. Scoop a cup of soup, and beat it very slowly to the egg mixture. Don’t add it too fast, or you’ll curdle the yolk. Once the entire cup has been added, stir the egg mixture back into the soup. Cook for a 5 more minutes to thicken slightly, being careful not to let it come up to a simmer.

Serve with broiled artisan bread with swiss. Garnish with a little chopped parsley.

How to make a roux:

Add a couple tablespoons of broth, stirring vigorously. Once the broth is absorbed by flour/butter mixture, add a little more. Keep adding more liquid once the previous addition has been absorbed until you’ve added all of the liquid. You will be able to add liquid more quickly towards the end. Do this too quickly, the flour won’t absorb the liquid, and you’ll end up with clumps and lumps that are nearly impossible to dissolve. I don’t think it’s possible to add liquid too slowly, but you don’t to add 8 cups of broth 2 T at a time!

March 18, 2011 at 8:48 pm Leave a comment

Pressure Cooker Revolution

It may sound dramatic, but my pressure cooker changed my life.

I self-identify as a “reduced meat consumer.” For ethical reasons I have chosen not to buy meat. (Ok, I cheat from time to time. We’ll buy fish on occasion). I never reject food that someone else has prepared for me, especially in cross-cultural situations. However, when I’m cooking in my home, the food is almost exclusively vegetarian. Nuts and beans are the primary source of protein in our household.

For years, we’ve had bags of dry beans in the pantry. I can remember my though process at the grocery store when I bought them. “I hate having to buy so many cans of beans. Dry beans are cheaper to buy, and it cuts down considerably on waste. They don’t have all the added sodium either. I should cook dry beans more often! In fact, I’m going to start right now.”

I resolutely grab a bag or two off the shelf. I bring them home and put them in the pantry along with all of my great ambitions. Ambitions must be like a wine that gets better with age, because the beans usually sat unopened in the pantry for months upon months.

The problem with dried beans is that cooking them requires an inordinate amount of foresight. Ideally, they soak  overnight, then simmer for 2 hours until tender. It’s entirely impractical. I can cook, eat and do the dishes in 2 hours. I don’t have that kind of patience. Furthermore, I inevitably forget to soak them the night before. Sure, some legumes cook quicker than others. Lentils used to be a staple for this reason, but after a while I got tired of lentils. Lentils also don’t substitute for black beans or chick peas well at all.

Alas, I resigned myself to buying canned beans.

Until my wife met a family from the Middle East. They cooked beans all the time in a pressure cooker. “And it only takes like 15 minutes!” wifey exclaimed. (An exaggeration perhaps, but not an egregious one). So we asked for a pressure cooker for Christmas.

It revolutionized my world.

Skip the 12 hours of soaking and 2 hours of simmering. My pressure cooker cooks beans in 30 minutes. Even gigantic fava beans only take about 45 minutes. Brown rice cooks in 20.

Now those abandoned bags in the back of the cupboard are getting consumed in a timely fashion. We even started buying beans in bulk (15 lbs., last time).

The pressure cooker should be a vital part of the vegetarian’s kitchen. If you don’t have one, get one asap.

May 20, 2010 at 8:50 pm Leave a comment


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