Friday, October 31, 2008

Happy Halloween!

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I just got around to carving my pumpkin today. Mine's the "village" one with windowpanes, and the "Aku" one is Joe's.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Daring Bakers Challenge: Pizza!

Growing up in the Bensonhurst section of Brooklyn, N.Y., I was surrounded by Italians and, consequently, excellent pizza. Outside New York City, pizza wasn't always so good, but with this Daring Bakers challenge I've learned to make a darned good one in my oven! True, Joe the Residential Pizza Maker had made this exact one many times before, but I'd always been a spectator and consumer, never the maker. This time, I watched and learned and tossed dough.

When it comes to pizza, I'm a less-is-more gal. Friends who know me as a meat lover may find it strange that I don't like meat on my pizza, but chicken or beef weighs it down. And I sure don't want servings of baked ziti on top, and I prefer the traditional sauce-and-mozzarella version. I like a topping of tomato slices with fresh basil, or my other favorite, which I made here -- Roasted Eggplant & Caramelized Onions. You may say you don't like eggplant (eggplant parmigiana seems to be everyone's exception), and I used to say that, too. But try eggplant roasted, slightly caramelized and well done, and it's nothing like that spongy, underdone stuff that restaurants sometimes serve up.

I roast a skinny Chinese eggplant (peeled, sliced, and tossed with olive oil, salt, and pepper) in a 300-degree oven for 15 minutes. I also caramelize some onions in a saute pan with a bit of olive oil, salt, and pepper until they're translucent and slightly brown at the edges. Toss them on top of your pizza before it goes into the oven.

From Peter Reinhart's The Bread Baker’s Apprentice
Makes 6 pizza crusts (about 9-12 inches/23-30 cm in diameter)
4½ cups (20¼ ounces/607.5 g) unbleached high-gluten (14%) bread flour or all-purpose flour, chilled
1¾ tsp salt
1 tsp instant yeast
¼ cup (2 ounces/60g) olive oil (Optional, but it’s better with)
1¾ cups (14 ounces/420g or 420ml) water, ice cold (40° F/4.5° C)
1 tbs sugar
Semolina/durum flour or cornmeal for dusting
1. Mix together the flour, salt and instant yeast in a big bowl (or in the bowl of your stand mixer).
2. Add the oil, sugar, and cold water and mix well (with the help of a large wooden spoon or with the paddle attachment, on low speed) in order to form a sticky ball of dough. On a clean surface, knead for about 5-7 minutes, until the dough is smooth and the ingredients are homogeneously distributed. If it is too wet, add a little flour (not too much, though) and if it is too dry add 1 or 2 teaspoons extra water.
NOTE: If you are using an electric mixer, switch to the dough hook and mix on medium speed for the same amount of time.The dough should clear the sides of the bowl but stick to the bottom of the bowl. If the dough is too wet, sprinkle in a little more flour, so that it clears the sides. If, on the contrary, it clears the bottom of the bowl, dribble in a teaspoon or two of cold water.The finished dough should be springy, elastic, and sticky, not just tacky, and register 50°-55° F/10°-13° C.
3. Flour a work surface or counter. Line a jelly pan with baking paper/parchment. Lightly oil the paper.
4. With the help of a metal or plastic dough scraper, cut the dough into 6 equal pieces (or larger if you want to make larger pizzas).
NOTE: To avoid the dough from sticking to the scraper, dip the scraper into water between cuts.
5. Sprinkle some flour over the dough. Make sure your hands are dry and then flour them. Gently round each piece into a ball.
6. Transfer the dough balls to the lined jelly pan and mist them generously with spray oil. Slip the pan into plastic bag or enclose in plastic food wrap.
7. Put the pan into the refrigerator and let the dough rest overnight or for up to three days.
NOTE: You can store the dough balls in a zippered freezer bag if you want to save some of the dough for any future baking. In that case, pour some oil(a few tablespooons only) in a medium bowl and dip each dough ball into the oil, so that it is completely covered in oil. Then put each ball into a separate bag. Store the bags in the freezer for no longer than 3 months. The day before you plan to make pizza, remember to transfer the dough balls from the freezer to the refrigerator.
8. On the day you plan to eat pizza, exactly two hours before you make it, remove the desired number of dough balls from the refrigerator. Dust the counter with flour and spray lightly with oil. Place the dough balls on a floured surface and sprinkle them with flour. Dust your hands with flour and delicately press the dough into disks about ½ inch thick and 5 inches in diameter. Sprinkle with flour and mist with oil. Loosely cover the dough rounds with plastic wrap and then allow to rest for 2 hours.
9. At least 45 minutes before making the pizza, place a baking stone on the lower third of the oven. Preheat the oven as hot as possible (500° F).
10. Generously sprinkle the back of a jelly pan with semolina/durum flour or cornmeal. Flour your hands (palms, backs and knuckles). Take 1 piece of dough by lifting it with a pastry scraper. Lay the dough across your fists in a very delicate way and carefully stretch it by bouncing it in a circular motion on your hands, and by giving it a little stretch with each bounce. Once the dough has expanded outward, move to a full toss.
11. When the dough has the shape you want (about 9-12 inches/ in diameter for a 6 ounce piece of dough), place it on the back of the jelly pan, making sure there is enough semolina/durum flour or cornmeal to allow it to slide and not stick to the pan.
12. Lightly top it with sweet or savory toppings of your choice.
13. Slide the topped pizza onto the stone in the oven or bake directly on the jelly pan. Close the door and bake for 5-8 minutes.
14. Take the pizza out of the oven and transfer it to a cutting board or your plate. In order to allow the cheese to set a little, wait 3-5 minutes before slicing or serving.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

When It Gets Chilly, Make Chili

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I make and eat this year-round, but it's especially comforting in the cold months. I first found a recipe on Epicurious but have tweaked it a lot, cutting down the massive size of the recipe, cooking the bell pepper at the beginning instead of the end (too raw for me), and adjusting seasonings and ingredients. Instead of biscuits or cornbread, I spoon up the chili with tortilla chips. When I cook it for my sister, she asks me to make enough for leftovers.

1 large onion, chopped
3 tbs vegetable oil
2 carrots, sliced thin
1 tbs minced garlic
1 green bell pepper, chopped
About 1½ lbs lean ground beef
1½ tsp cayenne pepper (more to taste)
1½ tsp ground cumin
1½ tsp dried oregano
1 tbs paprika
1½ tsp red pepper flakes
8 oz can chopped tomatoes, drained
3 tbs tomato paste
6 oz beef or chicken broth
14 oz can red kidney beans
1 bag tortilla chips, preferable in the "scoops" shape

In a large pot or dutch oven, saute the onion and green bell pepper in the oil until the onion is translucent, then add carrots and garlic. Cook and stir for 1 minute. Add the beef, breaking it up and cooking until browned.

Add the cayenne, cumin, oregano, paprika, and red pepper flakes and stir. Add the tomatoes, tomato paste, and broth. Bring to a simmer and cover, cooking for 1 hour. Add the beans and cook 15 minutes more. Taste and add more cayenne if desired.

Friday, October 24, 2008

The Best Pumpkin Tart/Pie

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This pumpkin pie is different. It's smoother and mellower than your usual pumpkin pie, and has the versatility of being dressed up as a fancy tart. I love it chilled, but some want it warm. I also make mine more festive with a few cutouts from leftover pie dough. Top it off with a dollop of freshly whipped cream, and it feels like the holidays!

Dorie Greenspan's Sour Cream Pumpkin Pie (or Tart)
9-inch single crust, partially baked and cooled *recipe below*
2 cups canned unsweetened pumpkin puree
3 large eggs, at room temperature
1 cup (packed) light brown sugar
2 tbs unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1½ cups heavy cream
⅓ cup sour cream
1½ tsp ground cinnamon
1½ tsp ground ginger
Pinch of ground cloves (I omitted)
Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
Pinch of salt
3 tbs dark rum (I also omitted)
2 tsp pure vanilla extract

Center a rack in the oven and preheat it to 450°. Line a baking sheet with parchment or a silicone mat and put the pie plate (or tart pan) on it.
Mix together all the filling ingredients, then pour into the crust. Bake for 10 minutes, then reduce the temperature to 300° and continue to bake for 35 to 45 minutes longer (20 to 25 minutes for a tart), or until a knife inserted close to the center comes out clean. Cool to room temperature.
You'll have filling left over if you make a tart, but use it to make mini-tarts or possibly another tart.
I used Martha Stewart's pate brisee because I know it like the back of my hand, but here's Dorie's pie dough recipe.

3 cups all-purpose flour
¼ cup sugar
1½ tsp salt
2½ sticks cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces
⅓ cup cold vegetable shortening, cut into pieces
About ½ cup ice water

Pulse the flour, sugar, and salt in a food processor fitted with a metal blade. Drop in the butter and shortening and pulse only until the fats are cut into the flour. Pulsing on and off, gradually add 3 tbs water, then use a few long pulses to get the water into the flour. Pulse in as much of the remaining water as necessary to get a dough that will stick together when pinched. Lightly knead the dough into a disk and wrap in plastic. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour before rolling.
To partially bake the crust, preheat the oven to 400°. Butter one side of a sheet of aluminum foil and place that down on the crust. Fill the foil with dried beans or rice or pie weights. Put the pie plate on a baking sheet and bake for 25 minutes. Carefully remove the foil and weights, and if the crust has puffed, press it down gently with the back of a spoon. Return the pie plate to the oven and bake for 8 minutes more, or until the crust is very lightly colored. (I skipped the 8 minutes when making the tart.) Cool to room temperature before filling.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Moosewood's Cheesy Potato Soup

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My friend Jill made this soup for my birthday last year, and I had to ask for the recipe. It's hearty and just what you want as the weather gets chilly. I like to puree a little over half of the soup, so you get that creamy texture but still have some good chunks. It's easy to make, and can come together in under half an hour.

Moosewood's Cheesy Potato Soup
3 tbs butter
2 cups chopped onions
1 garlic clove, minced
2 large potatoes, peeled in large dice
1 large carrot, peeled and chopped into chunks
3 cups vegetable stock or water
2 tbs fresh dill
4 oz. cream cheese
1½ cups milk
1 cup grated cheddar (3 oz.)
Salt and pepper to taste

In a large pot, saute the garlic and onions in the butter until translucent. Add potatoes and carrots and saute 5 minutes longer. Add the stock and dill and simmer until vegetables are tender (expect 15 to 20 minutes). Stir in the cream cheese and milk. Season with salt and pepper. Stir in the cheddar and cook until just melted.

I throw chunks of cheddar in the food processor to shred, and then ladle about half of the soup in to puree.

Then return the velvety mixture to the pot, stir to combine, and add the cream cheese and milk.