Tuesday, September 29, 2009

It's Pizza Time

Margherita Pizza

Red Onion and Prosciutto Pizza

It’s safe to say I am a food snob.

Resulting from this characteristic is the need to make my own pizza, since takeout is not welcome here.

Honest to God, in the almost six years of marriage to Mark we have probably ordered pizza no more than five times. And that’s high-balling it.

Yeah. I know I live in the American town with the highest percentage of Italians, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. And, there is an award-winning pizzeria called Bruni’s like five minutes from my house, in addition to about 10 more pizza shops.

But making it is so much fun. And when it’s pizza time, it’s usually party time.

Such was the case recently for my mother-in-law’s b’day.

We made four pizzas, and my amazing nephews – Paul and Dan – helped make the pies.

I know most people freak about making dough. But have no worries, you can just buy your dough from a bakery or a grocery store or a pizzeria. I bought mine from a bakery in my town.

The biggest challenge is rolling out/stretching the dough. You do need patience and a light touch as well as a well-floured surface. You’ll notice that my pizzas are in the shape of rectangles. That’s because I bake them on your basic cookie sheet. This is how my Mommom does it so, enough said. She also gave me another handy tip: Once the dough is fitted onto your cookie sheet, poke it all over with the tines of a fork. This prevents the dough from getting air and puffing up. Cover your stretched dough with a clean kitchen towel until you’re ready to make the pizza. I usually stretch the dough in the morning and let it rest covered until I make it for dinner.

I made homemade pizza sauce. Recipe is below. I topped two pizzas with the sauce. One was plain (for the kiddies) and one was pepperoni (the fav of the kiddies’ Dad, A.K.A. Randy.)

I also made two white pizzas: One a traditional margherita (the fav of my husband, AKA Mark.) and one experimental, which had sautéed red onions, fresh mozzarella, prosciutto and arugula going on. It was fab. My father-in-law Paul loved it!

My rule about pizza night is to have fun and patience. I made four pizzas, so it took about 45 minutes to get it all done. I served a Caesar salad as well.

There is work and planning involved, but it's so much better than calling for takeout. So give it a try!

Pizza Sauce
1 can Cento crushed tomatoes
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp. dried oregano
½ tsp.- ¾. tsp. crushed red pepper flakes (This is optional. I left them out this go-around because little children were eating the pizza)
15-20 fresh basil leaves chopped
Salt and pepper to taste

Heat oil in a large pot or Dutch oven. Saute garlic over medium heat for about 3 minutes. Add crushed red pepper, if using. Saute another minute. Add crushed tomatoes, oregano, salt and pepper. Simmer partially covered for 20 to 30 minutes. Add basil the last five minutes.

Note: Sauce may be made ahead. Be sure sauce is warm before topping pizza.

To make pizza using pizza sauce:
Stretch your dough and fit onto a lightly oiled cookie sheet. Poke holes throughout the dough and cover with a kitchen towel until you are ready to use. This can be done up to 8 hours in advance.

When you are ready to make the pizza:

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Remove kitchen towel. Place tray with pizza dough in oven and bake for 6 to 10 minutes to lightly brown the bottom of the crust. (You can check to see if the bottom browned by gently lifting with a spatula). Remove browned crust from oven. Top with sauce, cheese or any topping you desire. Bake for another 12 to 14 minutes until crust is golden brown and crispy. Let the pizza sit for about 5 minutes before cutting it.

Here are the recipes for my famous no-sauce pizzas:

Margherita Pizza
Pizza dough
Fresh tomatoes, regular or plum, sliced
Fresh mozzarella, not in water, sliced
10 or more cloves of garlic, minced
12 to 20 basil leaves
Salt and pepper to taste
Olive oil

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Remove kitchen towel. Place tray with pizza dough in oven and bake for 6 to 10 minutes to lightly brown the bottom of the crust. (You can check to see if the bottom browned by gently lifting with a spatula). Remove browned crust from oven.

Scatter chopped garlic all over the crust. On top of the garlic, alternate tomatoes and mozzarella. (IMPORTANT: Do not overlap tomatoes and mozzarella. This will lead to soggy pizza). Be sure the tomatoes and mozzarella are side-by-side, not on top of one another.

Drizzle with olive oil. Season with salt and pepper. Bake for about 12 to 14 minutes, until crust is golden brown. Remove pan from oven and top pizza with whole basil leaves. After about five minutes, cut and serve.

Red Onion and Prosciutto Pizza
(This was an experiment that was a success and a keeper! Woo-hoo!)

Pizza dough
1 medium red onion sliced
Olive oil
Thinly cut prosciutto
2 cups fresh arugula
Juice of 1 lemon
Fresh mozzarella, not in water, sliced
Salt and pepper to taste

In a medium pan, heat 1 Tbsp. olive oil and sauté red onion until fragrant. About 10 minutes. Note: You can do this step ahead.

When you are ready to make the pizza:

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Remove kitchen towel. Place tray with pizza dough in oven and bake for 6 to 10 minutes to lightly brown the bottom of the crust. (You can check to see if the bottom browned by gently lifting with a spatula).

Meanwhile, rinse and thoroughly dry arugula. Season with salt and pepper. Dress with lemon juice. Toss.

Remove browned crust from oven. Scatter sautéed red onion all over the crust. Top with fresh mozzarella. Season with salt and pepper and drizzle olive oil on top of mozzarella. Bake for 12-14 minutes until crust is golden brown.

Remove pizza from oven. Top with prosciutto slices. Then top the prosciutto layer with dressed arugula. After about five minutes, cut and serve.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

A Taste of Asia

Asian food rocks.

Unfortunately, God gave me a very inconvenient allergy to peanuts, nuts and various other goodies such as avocados, all of which are frequent members of the Asian Ingredient Club. Boo! Hiss!

But I will not retreat. I will have and love my Asian food, damn it.

First of all, I can’t image life without sushi. I think it has magic powers. My husband and friends are shocked at the amount of sushi my 5-foot, 2-inch self can consume in one sitting. It’s like crack wrapped up in seaweed on a bed of a rice.

We live about a 40-minute drive from a sushi mecca called Sagami in Collingswood, N.J. It’s won all kinds of awards, and people from Philadelphia actually leave Philadelphia to get sushi there. It’s that good. OMG. They also have the best green tea ice cream ever.

Often, even when you make a reservation your bootie is waiting in the 2-by-2 waiting area or standing outside, again just waiting. But it’s truly worth these conditions and your patience. Just a little tidbit for you: It’s great to go to Sagami for lunch (no wait) or in the summer, when all South Jerseyians and Philadelphians are down the Shore. (My husband is probably going to scold me for giving you one of our dining-out secrets.)

While I love going out to restaurants for various cuisines, I often try to cook it myself. It’s less stressful since I don’t have to play the 100-question game with the server. “Are there nuts in this?” “Are you SURE there are no nuts in this?”

Anyway, I recently whipped up the Barefoot Contessa’s Asian Grilled Salmon (love) and Nigella Lawson’s super delish Soba Noodles with Sesame (really, really love). I also bought fresh ginger for the first time ever and made a ginger salad dressing that I poured over crunchy romaine.

Dinner was very delish.

Here’s the salmon recipe. I cut the recipe in half. There’s no way me and my husband are eating three pounds of salmon for dinner. The salmon I bought weighed about 1.2 pounds. We had four filets. One was left over for lunch the next day. Also, I cooked this on a grill pan on my stove. The husband needs to buy a new grill, but I have a sneaky suspicion that our funding for that has gone the way of Phillies playoff tickets, so grill pan it is.

As a side note, the soba noodles I use are from Sur la Table. They are made of awesome. The second-to-last time I stopped by Sur la Table in Marlton they were (gasp) sold out. I went back last week and bought two packages. They are $4 a pop; but they are really, really good. If you are fortunate enough to have an Asian grocery store in your neck of the woods, I’m sure you can find much more affordable noodles. I also bought my sesame oil from Sur la Table. All other Asian-type ingredients used in these recipes are from my local SuperFresh. Sesame seeds, rice vinegar and soy sauce really aren’t tough to find, even in my hometown of Italians and meatballs and hoagies and not much else.

Below are the salad and noodle recipes. The salmon, as I noted above is available on the Food Network Web site.

Romaine with ginger dressing
¼ cup rice vinegar
¼ extra virgin olive oil
½ tsp. honey
½ tsp. Dijon mustard
1 clove garlic minced
1 tsp. soy sauce
½ tsp. to 1 tsp. fresh grated ginger, depending on taste
Black pepper, to taste
Romaine hearts, washed and chopped

Combine all the ingredients except for romaine in a bowl. Whisk together.

Pour over romaine and serve.

Note: Makes enough dressing for a salad for two.

Soba Noodles with Sesame Seeds
From “Forever Summer,” by Nigella Lawson (my idol). Great cookbook, by the way.

1/3 cup sesame seeds
Salt (if noodle package says they can be cooked without salt, you can omit this. I did not use salt)
8 ounces soba noodles
2 tsp. rice vinegar
5 tsp. soy sauce
2 tsp. honey
2 tsp. sesame oil
5 scallions, cleaned and sliced

Toast the sesame seeds in a dry pan over medium heat.

Meanwhile, bring a pot of water to a boil and cook the noodles. When finished, Nigella says to put the noodles in a bowl full of ice water. I just run really cold water over the noodles as they drain in a colander. (Less stuff to wash.)

In your serving bowl, mix the vinegar, soy sauce, honey and oil. Toss your noodles and scallions with the sauce. Add sesame seeds. Toss again.

Let the dish sit for a half-hour or so (if you can contain yourself.)

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Memories....In the Corners of My Mind

Banana bread totally brings me back to my childhood.

And it’s not because I have memories of Mom making it on cold rainy days. It’s because I have memories of ME making it on cold rainy days.

I’m not knocking my mom at all. In fact, it’s because of her that I absolutely, totally love baking and cooking and getting all crazy in the kitchen.

My mom always put me to work come dinner time. Fixing up the salad, peeling carrots and potatoes, setting the table. At some point, she figured it was A.O.K. that her hyper and curious daughter could assist with making our fab meals and baking our homemade treats. In no time at all, I was waking up before the rest of the family so that I could give cinnamon rolls a whirl or my famous French toast. The thrill of success. The defeat of failure. It was awesome.

And then of course, I would come up with my own crazy culinary concoctions while home alone. This probably didn’t please my parents too much.

At some point, my Mom was pretty confidant that I could handle the major baking by my lonesome. Christmas cookies. Birthday cakes. Three-layer chocolate strawberry shortcake. Done, done and done.

My mom’s major concerns of her chef-in-training were my knife skills and messiness.

Today, I can confidently say that I’m great with a knife and I compulsively clean, so – no more worries, Mom.

If you ever have bananas ripening away with no one eating them, this recipe will work for you. And for all of you who fear and loathe baking, this will help you get over it. It’s pretty much the easiest baking recipe ever.

And it’s way delish. And it has bananas in it, so it’s good for you, right? Right?

I just made this on Saturday. For all you South Jerseyians, you may recall that as Day 2 of the Weekend It Never Stopped Raining. I then brought some to my awesome grandparents, because grandparents love baked goods. They don’t lecture you about nutrition and the evils of good food and getting a fat bootie. They just eat it all and say, “Thank you.”

Love grandparents.

So here’s the recipe. Enjoy:

Mini Chocolate Chip Banana Bread

2 cups flour
1 cup sugar
1 tsp. baking powder
½. tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
3 really ripe bananas
2 extra large eggs, at room temp.
1 cup mini chocolate chips

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease the sides and bottom of a bread pan with some butter.

In a large bowl combine all of the ingredients EXCEPT the chocolate chips. Mix on medium speed until the mixture is smooth. Fold in chocolate chips. Pour batter into pan. Bake between 60 and 65 minutes. Cool for about a half hour on a wire rack. Remove from pan. You can let it cool some more or eat it straight away while it’s warm.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Getting Down with the South

Hey, y’all.

Oh Lord. Who am I kidding? I am so not a Southerner. But Southern food is delish, so I thought I’d give it a whirl.

According to the husband, the outcome was a success.

On the menu last night was: smothered pork chops, skillet corn bread, sautéed spinach and a salad.

I know, I know. Collard greens are way more appropriate, but I was trying two new recipes and didn’t want to stress out over a third, especially since my cookery was part of a photo shoot for all y’all.

The pork chops are courtesy of Tyler Florence. Love him. Seriously. I don’t think I’ve ever made a bad Tyler Florence recipe. He is so underrated on the Food Network. Tyler is a genius. Plus, his kitchen is fab and he rocks crazy copper pots, which I envy from a distance. Copper pots cost so much and are so pretty, I would be scared to use them. But, they are the mac daddy of pots. Maybe I need to get over this.

Anyway, here’s the pork chop recipe on the FN Web site. And as you’ll see from the reviews, my husband and I are not the only people lovin’ on Tyler’s pork chops.

To go with the pork chops, I made some crazy corn bread. I have to admit, I was mentally prepared for failure, letdown or disaster. But I totally succeeded.

Take that, corn bread.

Isn't it pretty?

So, in order to make my fabalicious golden, crusty, moist corn bread, I rocked out with my gorgeous le Creuset cast iron skillet. I received this marvelous pan courtesy of my amazingly awesome mother-in-law. She knows I have a major addiction to le Creuset and cookbooks and shoes and J. Crew and Sudoko, so she usually helps me out by keeping those addictions alive and well during Christmas and my birthday.

Maybe the next time she eats at my house for dinner, I'll serve her some fab corn bread. Of course, the true test would be serving it to my brother-in-law Jason, a.k.a. The Rebel. He comes from Confederate territory and knows his down home eats.

This recipe is based on the Moist Cornbread recipe from "The Cast Iron Skillet Cookbook," by Sharon Kramis and Julie Kramis Hearne. My mother-in-law bought the cookbook for me from Crate and Barrel. The recipe does not call for cheese, but I added 3/4 cup of grated cheddar. The recipe in the book does call for 2 Tbsp. sugar, which I did not add.

Here's how I did it:


1 cup finely ground yellow cornmeal
1 cup flour
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp chili powder
2 extra large eggs
1/2 cup sour cream
1 cup half and half
4 Tbsp. and 2 Tbsp. butter, melted separately and cooled a little.
2/3 cup fresh corn. You can use frozen instead.
3/4 cup grated cheddar cheese

Place an oven rack in the middle of the oven. Preheat to 400 degrees.

Butter the bottom and sides of your 8- or 10-inch cast iron skillet.

In a large bowl, combine all the dry ingredients: cornmeal, four,baking powder, baking soda, salt and chili powder. Whisk together.

In a medium bowl, whisk together eggs, sour cream, half and half, 4 Tbsp. melted butter. Add corn and cheese. Mix a little.

Combine the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients. Fold gently. Don't overmix or beat. That will lead to tough and dry and yucky cornbread.

Heat your skillet over medium heat for about 5 minutes. Pour the batter into the pan, and smooth out so that it's even.

Place pan in oven for 10 minutes. Remove skillet from oven and brush the remaining melted butter on the top of the corn bread with a pastry brush. Bake for another 10 minutes.

Let the cornbread cool, and serve straight from the pan.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Stuffed Pepper Awesomeness

So, I love stuffed peppers. They remind me of my childhood. My mom made stuffed peppers all the time.

My recipe is inspired by my mom, but I’ve added my own touches – and measurements. Mom just eyeballs everything.

The dish does require quite a few pots and pans. So having dishwash-ing help is always a plus. Unfortunately, my husband is working uber late tonight. Normally, when he’s home and I’m not teaching we stand side-by-side doing cleanup duty. He washes; I dry. Tonight, I did both, but I imagined his happiness when digging into my magical stuffed peppers.

They really are thing of beauty.

So have at it.

Stuffed Peppers – Suzie Style

6 green bell peppers, tops cut off, seeded and cleaned
Marinara sauce, warmed – enough to coat the bottom of a roasting pan and to top each stuffed pepper

1 cup your favorite rice, cooked
1 lb. ground beef
½ white onion
2-3 cloves garlic
¼ cup Italian style bread crumbs
½ cup grated parmesan cheese
1 Tbsp. fresh parsley, chopped
Salt and pepper to taste
1 Tbsp. olive oil

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a large pan, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add ground beef and break up with a flat-edged wooden spoon. Season with salt and pepper. Cook until browned.

Push ground beef to one side of pan. Add garlic and onion. Saute for a few minutes and mix well with ground beef. Remove pan from heat.

Add bread crumbs, parmesan cheese, parsley and cooked rice to the beef mixture. Mix well. Taste for seasonings. Re-season with salt and pepper, if you desire.

Coat the bottom of a roasting pan with a thin layer of marinara sauce. Stuff each pepper with filling and line up in roasting pan. Once each pepper is filled, top with marinara sauce. Cover and bake for 45 minutes.