Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Pizza for grown ups

I love pizza - and as a kid there was nothing I enjoyed more than a pizza party with my friends.  And when I say kid, I mean well into my adulthood...

However at one point or another you might find yourself in a situation where it's not appropriate to have boxes from the local delivery joint piled up in the kitchen (it'll likely be just about the time when you realized you need to pour that beer into a GLASS on this particular occasion...)

So I came up with a grown up version of my favorite treat that's easy to pull together for any occasion.

Oven to 405 degrees.

Stuff you'll need (in no particular quantity or order):
1 container of pre-made pizza dough - I used Pillsbury - one can of dough makes two pizzas for me as I cut the dough in half the long way to make two long skinny slabs
Everything else is optional and entirely up to your taste here are a couple recommendations

BLT pizza;

  • Double smoked bacon - I buy slabs to keep around for just such an occasion - diced and browned
  • cherry tomatoes halved
  • Fresh arugula (I add mine after baking for color and taste)
  • Shredded mozzarella cheese

Fig and Goat Cheese

  • Fresh black figs if you can - dried figs soaked in wine if you can't
  • Goat cheese (or Gorgonzola)
  • Pine nuts

Caramelized onion and mushroom with Gorgonzola

  • Caramelized onions (check the link on how to do this)
  • Mushrooms - sauteed with dried herbs
  • Gorgonzola crumbles (or goat cheese, Brie, Parmesan etc.)

Ham and Cheese

  • Diced ham
  • Grated Cheddar 
  • Grated Jack (or pepper jack) cheese
  • Red onion (raw) rings
  • (add pineapple for Hawaiian pizza!)

Sausage and mushroom

  • Chicken apple sausage
  • Diced sauteed mushrooms
  • Caramelized onion
  • Mozzarella cheese

Open the pizza dough, and turn it out onto a floured surface.  Stretch the dough out to make an even sized rectangle pinching any holes in the dough together while you go.  Using a pizza cutter, cut the dough in half the long way.

Top with whatever mix of toppings you like -one of the suggestions above perhaps? Or pepperoni and cheese?  It's up to you!  I recommend pre-cooked toppings as this will make this dish so much easier on you...

Place the pizza on a baking sheet (I use a silpat under mine to prevent sticking, parchment is another option) and place in the oven for about 12 min or until the cheese melts and the crust begins to brown.

Slice into finger food portions and serve warm - presto! Instant appetizers!


Saturday, December 11, 2010


They look pink in the photo but they really aren't...

I'm not sure when or why I got it in my head to make marshmallows.  I've wondered from time to time what they're made of, but I'm not even entirely sure I like them, and I would usually rather have a bag of sunflower seeds rather than something sweet, but this seemed like it would be fun so - here here we go!

Being winter I'm def. thinking more 'top-some-hot-cocoa' rather than 'make-a-S'more,' so I'm starting with this batch in mint (they didn't have peppermint extract at the market, just mint so I've got a spearmint/peppermint mix in this batch) although you could easily substitute other flavors - vanilla, orange - whatever flavor extract you'd like.  (Based mostly on Martha Stewart's recipe)

Stuff you'll need:
  • Non-stick cooking spray (like Pam)
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1 tablespoon light corn syrup
  • 4 packages (1/4 ounce each) unflavored gelatin
  • 3/4 teaspoon peppermint extract (or any other flavor really, I think I'm going to make vanilla next)
  • 2 large egg whites
  • Couple of drops of red food coloring (for marbling if you feel compelled)
  • 1 1/2 cups of water
  • Powdered sugar for dusting
You'll need several bowls for this, including one very large one - if you have a big one, and you think it's big enough, find a larger one.  The marshmallow fluff reaches pretty impressive volume - even the largest bowl I have could have had higher sides for less collateral splatter.  Also, Martha's version requires a stand mixer which I don't have so I used an electric hand mixer for the mixing which I think impacted my whipping time. 

You'll also need a pan for molding the marshmallows.  I used a glass 8x8 pan for this, found it made for easy clean up.  If you're creative you could probably use different shapes, or no pan at all for marshmallow 'chunks'!

Spray your pan with the cooking spray, then line the bottom with parchment - I used a strip of parchment that covered the bottom and folded out over the edges of the pan.  With the parchment in the dish, spray again - this stuff sticks like fluffy glue.  The spraying part - crucial although you could skip the parchment (makes it a hell of a lot easier to get it out of the pan)

To start, pour 3/4 of a cup of water into a heat proof bowl (or double boiler with a handle -you'll thank me later).  sprinkle gelatin over the water and set aside for a couple min. to soften.  meanwhile boil a bit of water on the stove for your double boiler.

In a separate sauce pot, combine 3/4 cup of water, with the sugar, and corn syrup.  Over medium heat, simmer until the sugar is melted into a simple syrup.  Turn the heat up a bit and using a candy thermometer, simmer until the syrup reaches 260 degrees.

Put your gelatin mix in the bowl over a bit of hot water, and whisk until the gelatin is fully dissolved, add your flavors here - my most recent batch had orange blossom water in it - then set it aside.   

 In your biggest bowl, whisk your egg whites using your electric hand mixer (or standing mixer if you have one) until you have stiff (but not dry) peaks. Set it aside for a moment.
Slowly whisk the gelatin and sugar mixture together (pour gelatin over sugar while whisking).  The hot sugar is going to react rather violently bubbling up and trying to spill over the edge of the pot, so go slowly especially for the first couple of drops.  (Sort of like tempering an egg mixture)

With the mixer on, pour the gelatin and sugar mix into the eggs.  Now this is the part that's going to take some work - you need to whisk the combined mix on high speed until it thickens significantly.  It took me just under 10 minutes with my electric hand mixer - but most instructions I found online specify somewhere from 12 to 15.   Honestly at 10 min the mixture got so thick it started bending the tines on my whisk so I had to stop.  Essentially you want to stop when the mixture starts to get kind of stiff - when the bubbles hold for a while or don't pop at all.  If you keep whipping, you'll find the mixture difficult to work with which is fine, it makes neat shapes, but if you're going to add marbling or want to shoot for somewhat evenly shaped final marshmallows, stop while there's still some fluidity :)

Scrape the mixture into your prepared pan, on top of the parchment and spread it out evenly (or try to).  You could probably use a second piece of greased parchment to help flatten it out - I didn't bother, I kind of like that remedial home made look.   If you want to this is where you want to drip a bit of red food coloring onto the surface, then using a chopstick or toothpick, swirl it around a bit to make designs.  Mine looked a little more Halloween Massacre than wish-you-a-merry-Christmas at this stage, but don't worry when you cut the marshmallows they look very festive!

Let the whole pan set for a minimum of three hours at room temp, uncovered (or lightly covered overnight) to set and dry.  Cut (scissors work well for here rather than a knife) and dust with powdered sugar to serve or store.

Here they are in 'Red Velvet' flavor.  Substitute chocolate extract for mint, and add red food coloring (a ton of it!) I would recommend using gel food color to minimize impact of the color on the consistency of the marshmallows. 

I dusted these with white powdered sugar (to represent the cream cheese frosting) and they'll be going on a stick with a chunk of chocolate fudge for hot cocoa on a stick! 


Saturday, December 4, 2010


I've had it in my head for a while now that I was going to take a shot at this - although I'm not that big a fan of beets, I'm utterly enthralled by the color of this hearty soup so I had to give it a shot.

Though it's going to be a while before I manage to match the borscht at Veselka here in NY's East Village (that's what set me off on this mission in the first place), this version I cobbled together is still pretty damn good.

It seems to be that the key here is to sort out a hearty, flavorful, savory broth base on which to build.  Ready?  OK!

Stuff you'll need

  • Beef broth (I used a whole 32oz container)
  • 4 or 5 medium sized beets, whole - don't peel them yet. (you could use canned beets{3 cans}, but at the moment they're in season so why would you?)
  • Cooking liquid from the beets (or liquid from the canned beets)
  • 3-4 stalks of celery chopped
  • two medium sized carrots chopped (or not - personally I forgot the carrots and it was still good)
  • Small to medium sized head of cabbage, shredded
  • 2-3 tablespoons white vinegar
  • 2 bay leaves
  • couple sprigs of fresh thyme
  • 1 teaspoon(+) of 5 spice powder (most recipes I saw called for a teaspoon of allspice berries, but I didn't have any so I substituted 5 spice powder)
  • 2 medium sized potatoes diced
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 1-2 lbs pork shoulder
  • 3 - 4 good sized soup bones (I like the ones with a healthy chunk of marrow - good snacking!)
  • Salt (kosher works better) to taste
  • Pepper to taste

You're going to need a couple of huge pots for this.  Start with the beets - boil them with the skin on until tender.  Save the cooking water (which should be an eye watering shade of pink now) and peel and dice the beets. Set aside both the beets and the liquid.

Now the broth - cook the pork shoulder, in beef broth, with bay leaf, 5 spice powder/allspice berries, beef soup bones and salt and pepper to taste - be careful with the salt, it's possible the broth is already well salted. If you're able to find a boneless pork shoulder, cut the meat into chunks to facilitate cooking.  The first time I did it, I cooked it for about 30 min stove top, cut it up and added it to the broth to finish, the second time I cooked the pork in the beef broth in a slow cooker for about 2 hours.  Personally I liked the slow cooked results better, the broth was heartier and richer, the marrows dissolved almost completely into the broth (denying me of my snack but wow was it worth it).  I'd recommend slow cooking if you have the time (plan ahead it's worth it!)
In another large pot, pour a generous splash of oil - I used olive, but vegetable oil would be good here too - something flavor neutral.  Add garlic and onions, and sweat them till they start to become translucent.

Turn down the heat and add the potatoes, cooking them till they start to soften, add carrots, celery, and cabbage, and sweat the whole mix, letting the vegetables cook through without browning.  A tip for the order to add veggies - add the hardest ones first, like the carrots -  let them cook a bit then add the softer ones it'll help even out the texture and assists with timing.

Once the meat is cooked through, pour the entire pot of meat broth off into this pot with the veggies - this is going to create the base of the borscht. Add a splash of white vinegar (or apple cider vinegar if you prefer) - add vinegar sparingly, you can always add more but you can't fish it out..

If you've already diced up the meat, add that now, otherwise dice up the pork shoulder to spoon friendly pieces.  Let this simmer for a couple minutes to blend the flavors (like +/-10min).  You're looking for an intensely savory soup with a slight vinegar flavor. If it seems a little bit sour or salty, it's OK the beet liquid is sweet and it'll temper the salt and vinegar.

Now the fun part - add the cooking liquid from the beets, along with the diced beets to the  mix - adding it last ensures the color remains vibrant - over cooking at this point will change the color from vivid magenta to tomato red.  Warm the entire pot through and simmer it for a couple or 5 minutes and you're done!

I'm imagining this with a thick slice of toasted sour dough....