Monday, October 26, 2009

Pizza, Pizza!

There are few things in life better than great friends and fabulous food; in fact, as I try to come up with some, they all have to do with food. This past weekend the husband and I spent the night over on the other side of the Bay with our friends Scott and Elizabeth. The night began with debauchery, as all fabulous nights do, at the Redneck Riviera party in downtown Fairhope. There is a reason those photographs will not grace the pages of this blog: to protect the guilty in their redneck-iest getups. We drank beer and wine, and ate BBQ, in mullet wigs, cowboy boots, flannel shirts, and NASCAR t's.  It was a grand old time. After we determined the barbeque was just a snack, we ventured to an exquisite sushi restaurant, Master Joe's, and gorged on a variety of amazing rolls and gyoza. If I didn't love Fairhope before, I certainly did then.

After returning home to S&E's lovely house on the Bay, we continued our party on their pier while watching shooting stars and enjoying the cool fall weather. When we awoke the next morning, hazy from our fun the night before, nothing sounded better than grilling pizza.

There are a million reasons to make homemade pizza, including knowing it will be a thousand times better than anything you can carry out of a store. Grilling pizza is just turning it up a thousand more notches. True pizza, of the Napoli ilk, is thin and crisp, charred on the bottom and bubbled on top. It is covered in fresh, high quality ingredients like artichoke hearts, wild mushrooms, and folds of prosciutto, or mild italian sausage, pepperoni, roasted red peppers, and onions.

Pizza sauce

1 28-ounce can San Marzano whole tomatoes
16 leaves fresh basil
2 cloves garlic
2 tsp tomato paste
salt and pepper to taste

Puree all ingredients in a food processor.
Pizza Dough

3/4 cup warm water
1 envelope active dry yeast
1/4 cup whole wheat flour

1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon sugar
3/4 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons olive oil

Combine the water, sugar and yeast in a cup and let proof for 5 minutes. We used a KitchenAid mixer, so in the mixing bowl, combine the flour and the salt. Add the yeast mixture and, using dough hook, mix until a soft dough forms. Knead on speed 2 for 2 minutes, adding more flour if necessary to form a smooth dough. Place in greased bowl, turning to grease top. Cover, let rise in warm place until doubled in bulk (about 1 hour). Punch dough down. Divide in half and roll each half out with a rolling pin. Grill one side until the dough is bubbling and browned, then flip, top with sauce and desired goodies, and grill until cheese is melted and sauce is bubbling.

The Oinker

3/4 cup mini pepperoni
1 roasted* red pepper, chopped
2 mild sausage link, grilled and sliced
1/2 cup pineapple chunks, cut into small pieces
4 slices onion, roasted with peppers
4 ounces fresh mozzarella, sliced
1/2 cup shredded fontina cheese
1/2 cup shredded mozzarella

*We roasted the red pepper and onions on a baking sheet at 450 degrees until the pepper was charred. Then we placed it in a bag and steamed it until the skin fell off.
Adulterated Veggie

1 can artichoke hearts
1 roasted yellow pepper, chopped
2 slices proscuitto, sliced into thin strips
1 8-ounce package of assorted wild mushrooms, sauteed in olive oil
4 ounces fresh mozzarella, sliced
1/2 cup shredded fontina
1/2 cup shredded mozzarella

Monday, October 19, 2009

Short and Sweet

When I first cracked the pages of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, I fell in love with the concept of butterbeer. Butterbeer is a slightly intoxicating libation which J.K Rowling deliciously describes in the third book of the series. I love anything having to do with caramel or butterscotch, so this liquid goodness seemed to be the stuff of my dreams. I have absolutely no clue why it took me this long to try to "brew" it at home.

Wintry weather descended upon Alabama this weekend, and I thought it would be the perfect time to try my hand at this concoction. My neighbor, husband and I went to the beach house, and on the way I picked up a bottle of butterscotch schnapps in preparation for my experiment. I thoroughly researched recipes on the internet; I was comforted to find others as obsessed as I am about butterbeer. I found hot and cold versions. I found recipes with melted butter, and others with spices like nutmeg and cinnamon. (I even found a recipe for pumpkin juice, which I will try closer to Halloween).  One ingredient almost every recipe had in common was cream soda, probably for the carbonation requirement. I used the diet version, in an attempt to decrease the excessive sugar in the recipe.  After throwing out the first batch due to a cream-curdling incident, we managed to concoct what I believe is authentic butterbeer. Only Madam Rosmerta can say for sure, though.

As for the taste, it's like liquid gold sliding down your throat and puddling in a buttery pool at your feet.
Serves 4

4 cups cream soda
1 tablespoon butter
2 tablespoons brown sugar
4 shots butterscotch schnapps

Place cream soda in a medium saucepan and heat to a light boil. Meanwhile, microwave butter and brown sugar in a bowl until melted, stirring frequently. Pour butter and sugar mixture in the saucepan and stir until it is dissolved. Pour into 4 cups and top with a shot of schnapps. Stir and serve.  

Diet Butterbeer
Serves 4

4 cups diet cream soda
4 shots butterscotch schnapps

Place cream soda in a medium saucepan and heat to a light boil. Pour into 4 cups and top with a shot of schnapps. Stir and serve.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Roast, Pot Style

Pot roast has always been high on my list of top comfort foods, but before last night I had never actually prepared it myself. I didn't even know what cut of meat to use; that's how carnivorously uninformed I am. I grew up in a chicken family, and married a pork man. Luckily, the people at the meat farm did the work for me and plastered a large sticker proclaiming "POT ROAST" across the 2.5 pound hunk of boneless chuck. I love it when that happens.
I researched countless methods and recipes, from slow cookers to oven roasting to braising on the stove. When in doubt, braise. It is the best cooking method for tough cuts of meat. Plus, you can add all sorts of delicious things to the braising liquid, from red wine to fresh herbs to garlic and beyond. I prefer a combination of wine and broth, with lots of fresh thyme and garlic.
Before braising, it's best to lightly sear the meat to seal in juices and provide a little golden brown color. Parsnips, along with the carrots, provide a lightly sweet flavor to counteract the meatiness of the roast. For the mashed potatoes, use your favorite recipe. I mashed six or seven boiled fingerling potatoes with a fork, moistened them with a little butter and sour cream, and seasoned them with salt and pepper.

Pot Roast

Serves 8-10
2 tablespoons oil, divided
2-3 pound boneless chuck roast
1 onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, chopped
1 cup red wine
3 cups beef broth
4 sprigs of thyme, or assorted herbs such as rosemary or sage
1 14.5 oz can diced tomatoes with juice
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
salt and pepper to taste
4 carrots, peeled and cut into inch-long pieces
2 parsnips, peeled and cut into inch-long pieces
Chopped parsley for garnish
Mashed potatoes to accompany

Heat 1 tablespoon of oil in a large Dutch oven. Add the beef and brown on all sides and set aside. Heat the remaining oil in the same pan. Add the onions and saute until tender, about 5-7 minutes.Add the garlic and saute until fragrant, about a minute. Add the red wine and deglaze the pan (scraping all the browned bits and reducing slightly). Add the beef broth, thyme, tomatoes, Dijon mustard, salt and pepper and bring to a boil. Add the roast, cover and cook in a preheated 325F oven until fork tender, about 3 hours. Add the carrots and parsnips during the last 20 minutes of cooking. Shred or slice meat and serve on top of mashed potatoes with the carrots and parsnips alongside.