Sunday, January 23, 2011

Pizza, my love

Oh Pizza, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways. 
I love thee to the depth and height my soul can reach,
I need thee like a land-locked surfer needs the beach. 

And when I have a gnawing hunger to appease,
I crave thy sauce, thy dough… thy melty cheese.

I love thee freely as I breathe the air,
I love thee purely, and I refuse to share.

I love thee with a passion that never wavers,
I dream of thy thin crust and thy countless flavors.

Oh Pizza, you have the smiles and tears of all my lovin’,
I can hardly wait to pull you from the oven!

If I could, I would marry pizza and have a litter of thin-crust babies, then eat my family up with gusto.  Is that sick?
Pizza is one of the few foods that is quintessentially New York.  On nearly every corner, there’s a fresh slice of heaven just begging to be bitten into- and while you can try your hardest to get a decent pie elsewhere, it will never taste exactly right.  Some attribute it to old-school wood-burning ovens, others swear it’s in the water. 
Whatever theory you ascribe to, you have to admit that we’ve got it good with our abundance of truly delicious, cheesy thin-crust pies.  But sadly, with that bounty comes an unsettling pitfall: there are twice as many occurrences of really, really bad pizza.  There is nothing more tragic than bad pizza- with the gluey, rubbery cheese, the still-white, under-baked crust, and the tinny sauce that still tastes of the can… ugh.  And as much as I love pizza with all my heart, we all know it’s not the best way to keep one’s girlish figure.

So to save me the disappointment and the calories, I’ve been making my pizzas at home.  I love to add spices to the dough like garlic powder, crushed peppers and fresh or dried herbs.  Putting some whole wheat flour in the there also gives the crust a great flavor and crunch, not to mention adding nutritional value.  Usually I load up on the veggies and cut back on the cheese, and the results are satisfying and excellent.  And sure, it’s not the same as a steaming hot pie from Patsy’s, but at least I can still fit into my skinny jeans...

Whole-Wheat Pizza Dough
1 pkt.               yeast
1 tsp                 sugar
1 ¼ c               warm water
1 cup                all-purpose flour
1 cup                whole wheat Flour
1 ½ tsp           salt
½ tsp              ground pepper
1 tsp                garlic powder
1 T                   honey
1 T                   olive oil
AP flour and corn meal for dusting

1.  Proof the yeast: before you start the dough, you want to hydrate the yeast to make sure it is still active.  It may not look it, but yeast is alive!  That is why the temperature of your water is so vital, it should be slightly warm to your touch: too cold and the yeast will not bloom, too hot and it will die. 
Dissolve sugar in ¼ cup warm water, then sprinkle the yeast over the water and gently mix together.  Set aside.  After 5 minutes, the yeast granules will have broken down and the mixture should be bubbly.  If you don’t see any bubbles it means the yeast is no longer active, so start over with a new packet.

2.  While waiting for the yeast to proof, combine flours, salt, pepper and spices in a bowl.  When the yeast is ready, pour it into the dough along with the remaining water, olive oil and honey. 

Mix the dough by hand or use a stand mixer with a dough hook attachment. 

3.  Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and knead by hand for 8-10 minutes, until it looks smooth.  Use flour to keep it from sticking. 
 4.  In a lightly oiled bowl, allow the dough to double in size in a warm place for 1-2 hours- cover it loosely with plastic wrap.
5.  When the dough has doubled in size, divide into two pieces.  (If you are only going to make one pie, tightly wrap and freeze the other piece).  Knead the dough for another 5 minutes, then cover and allow it to rise for another 20-30 minutes.  The second rising will help further develop the flavor and color in the crust. 
6.  Unless you are using a pizza stone, place an inverted cookie sheet on the bottom rack of your oven and preheat the to 425° F. 
7.  Shape the dough into a flat round disc and place onto a tray lined with foil and dusted with cornmeal (you could use anything here: AP flour, semolina flour, sesame seeds, etc).  For a thicker crust, shape the dough by hand- for a thinner crust, use a rolling pin.


8.  Brush the crust with olive oil, then top with sauce, sliced veggies, meats, cheese, or whatever you like.  Get crazy!  Drizzle the finished pie with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper if needed.

Portabella Mushroom, Tomato, Mozzarella and Basil

Tomato, Sauteed Spinach and Onions, Brie

9.  Put your tray on the pre-heated cookie sheet or slide the pie onto the pizza stone and bake for 15-20 minutes, until the crust is brown on the bottom and the toppings are cooked.  Finish it under the broiler for a few minutes to crisp the cheese.



Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Stew me, baby


       If I wasn’t on (permanent) laundry duty, I can’t say I would have left the house at all today.  But since I found myself out in the freezing rain I figured a trip to the Associated across the street was my best option for stocking the empty fridge.  In the produce section the pickings were slimmer than ever, so I decided to make one of my winter favorites to warm me up from the inside out.
Beef stew made a rare appearance in our house growing up- we weren’t vegetarians but meat was more often a side-dish rather than the main event.  But when the plastic thermometer on the kitchen window dropped below 30° F, it was time for my mother to bust out the heavy Le Creuset and start stewing.  For my part I’ve never been a big meat eater and I could easily live as a vegetarian today, if not for my undying love of beef, of all things.  Blame it on centuries of repressed Hindu ancestors, but I could never give up my burgers, my meatballs, and most of all my delicious beef stew.  This recipe is super easy- you just throw it in the oven and it fills the apartment with the most amazing yummy aroma.  I'm drooling already...
            Beef Stew
            2 pounds                    beef chuck*, cubed  
½ cup                        flour for dredging
1-2                             onions
3 stalks                      celery
4 cloves                     garlic
1 handful                   baby carrots 
3 strips                      bacon, chopped
4 boiling potatoes     peeled and diced
2 cups                        mushrooms
1 cup                          blanched or frozen pearl onions
1 bottle                      dry red or white wine (or 2 cans stock)
¼ cup                        tomato paste
To taste                     Fresh parsley, oregano, thyme
2 T                              butter 
            1 T                              Dijon mustard
                                               Worcestershire sauce
                                               Olive oil, kosher salt, pepper
                       * For a leaner stew, I use cubed beef round; the meat doesn’t fall apart quite the same way, but you won’t have to skim an inch of fat off the top later

    Here's a secret about this recipe: there really is no recipe.  Above I have provided rough amounts of what I put into it today because that is what I had on hand.  As with any dish like this, you don’t have to measure exactly.  If you like more garlic, throw in more garlic.  Not a fan of carrots?  Leave them out!  You will always be fine as long as you can execute the basic technique, use salt, and always taste, taste, TASTE!

    I usually use a red wine for this stew, but today I rustled up a bottle of prosecco left over from the holidays.  The resulting stew had a delicate light flavor quite distinct from its deep tannic cousin.

1.  Preheat the oven to 300°F.  Pat the beef cubes dry with paper towels, sprinkle generously with kosher salt and ground pepper.  Coat the cubes in flour, dusting off the excess- I do this in a baggie in a few batches, shake-and-bake style. 
2.  In a heavy-bottomed pot or Dutch oven, fry bacon on medium-high heat in a splash of olive oil.  When the bacon bits are crisp, remove them from the pot.

3.  Brown your meat in batches, leaving room around each piece in the pot.  If the meat is overcrowded, it won’t brown and that is where all the yum comes from.  This part takes the longest, but it's worth it.

4.  Once the meat is browned, deglaze the pan with a splash of wine or stock, turn the flame to low and scrape the bits from the bottom of the pan.  Pour the liquid over the reserved meat, and return the pan to the flame.

5.  On low heat, add some butter and sweat the onions, carrots and celery for 10-15 minutes until they are soft.  Add garlic and tomato paste, saut√© on medium heat for another 5-10 minutes until the mixture has caramelized and your mouth is watering.  Turn the heat up to high and add the meat and juices back to the pan.  

6.  Now comes the fun part!  Stand back as you pour the wine over, being sure to cover the meat with liquid (use stock or water if you need it).  Bring to a simmer and add the herbs-you can keep them loose or tie them with kitchen string if you want to remove them later.  Cover with a tight lid and place in the bottom rack of the oven.  Cook for 2 hours, checking after an hour to make sure the stew is simmering.

7.  After 2 hours, add potatoes, mushrooms and blanched pearl onions, return to oven for another 40 minutes to 1 hour until the meat is tender and the liquid has reduced and started to thicken.  If necessary, skim the top to remove excess fat. 
8.  Check for salt and pepper, add mustard, Worcestershire sauce to taste. Serve with a dollop of horseradish sour cream and some fresh parsley.

Friday, January 14, 2011

To Market, to Market


Um, yeah... that's real.
There are few things more depressing than January in the frozen heart of New York City (except maybe February).  These days- when our broad Avenues transform into vicious wind tunnels strong enough to take down a grown man and his steaming Halal cart, and you have to pull on thigh-high Wellies just to navigate through the trenches of grimy, sludgy snow” and frozen piles of garbage, and the cold is so intense that you’d swear your brain was turning into an icy granita between your ears- it’s hard to remember you ever strolled down your block in short-shorts and flip-flops.

But perhaps the harshest reality to face is the desolate NW corner of Union Square.  The Greenmarket, whittled down now to only the bravest and scrappiest, the ones with nothing to lose: breads and pickles and things in jars.  In just a few short months, the market will once again be bursting with ripe produce still warm from the sun, but right now am I really supposed to satisfy myself by poking through bins of wrinkled potatoes and soft onions?
I miss my fruit and veg!  So, to get us all through these barest of months, I’ve put together these glamor shots of nature's finest dirt candy.  Wherever I travel I seem to find myself in the local market, checking out the unwrapped foodstuffs.  Every culture has its way of displaying its wares to best advantage, and there is never a shortage of tasty bites.   

Paris, France
Two summers back, my (now) husband PJ and I took a last-minute trip to France to visit friends of ours, Liz and Max.  Max, who grew up in Paris, led us on a food-lovers walking tour starting with an amazing market near the Cemetery in Montparnasse.  The sun shone brash and full the way it only can be on a Paris morning in late June, and the produce was spectacular. 

Fruits Rouges

Haricots Verts

Chantrelles Jaunes

Mmmm... makes me want a fruit tart real bad.

Later, we went to a posh market that was tr√®s cher.  The
pyramids of shiny exotic fruits from all over the world looked so good they might have been props.

New Delhi, India
A few years back, PJ and I braved the 15 hour flight to India to visit my parents.  Of all the wondrous sights, smells and sounds we experienced there, the INA market where my mother does her weekly shopping was by far our favorite place to explore.  Apparently, they still ask for him there.

    We were there in January which is a great season for produce in Delhi.  Every afternoon

my grandmother made flaky paratas showcasing a different vegetable we'd found at the

market.  Served piping hot with a spoon of cool yogurt and some mango pickle, vegetarianism

was never so deliciously easy.

Yes, these carrots are red!


I spent a lot of time shelling fresh peas, though they were so sweet and tasty I can't say how many actually made it to the bowl. 


Sure, I could go to a grocery store today and pick up some long green pods that look a lot like those peas, but you and I both know they wouldnt taste anything like what peas could be, what they should be.  At home or abroad, there's nothing like perusing the local farm stands with the warm sun on my back, sorting through crates of juicy, ruby-red tomatoes just begging for me to take them home and turn them into a chunky gazpacho.

But alas, for now this little piggy will have to get by on roast beets.


Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Who the Heck Am I?

Above all things, I’m an eater. 
Mealtimes are the milestones of my day.  I’ll ogle a frosted cupcake in a shop window the way some girls will drool over a diamond solitaire.  I fall asleep with my mouth watering over visions of the morning’s fluffy mushroom omelet dancing in my head.  On more than one occasion I’ve blown the better part of an afternoon at Whole Foods, just looking.   
If you have found yourself in these or similar scenarios, then there’s a strong possibility you are thinking about a sandwich right now.  (Let’s be honest, who isn’t?)  There’s also a chance you might understand the lifetime love affair I have had with stuffing my face.  You might have an inkling about the thrill I get when I contemplate the wonderful diversity of, say… crust.  Like the flaky crust under a warm peach pie, soaked with syrupy juice, or the crispy crust on a thick rib-eye steak, seared hard on the griddle.  The charred, chewy crust around the edge of a brick-oven pizza- the crunchy, sugary crusty top on a chocolate chip muffin (you know the ones…)  

But wait, where was I?

Not only do I love to eat, I live to cook and bake- so much in fact that I made it my job, and I met and married a man who also made it his job.  I am a cake designer/ pastry chef here in NYC’s East Village and my husband puts in 80+ hours a week as a sous chef at Ai Fiori.  We work, dine and drink in the restaurants and bars of this great city- probably the most exciting place in the world to do those things- and our friends cook the food you eat for dinner.

          And why do I blog?
          To chronicle all the mouth-watering things I eat and create, the tantalizing people I meet, and the delicious places I go all over this world.  And to share it with you, because of my undying need to feed.  I 'll make you drool, make you smile, and hopefully keep you full and satisfied.

So put on your fat pants and enjoy!