Sunday, February 20, 2011

In the mood for Pizza

I have a hard time finding good pizza for take out.  For the last 2 years I have been mostly eating frozen pizza's from Trader Joe's (which, by the way, are really good for frozen grocery pizza).  But seeing as there is no Trader Joe's nearby anymore (very sad), I decided this was the night to make my own.  It's been some time since I ventured into pizza dough, sauces and toppings on my own, but it's quite an easy task if you have a little time.  To me there is nothing more satisfying than making your own dough; the smell of the yeast marrying itself into the water and flour; the excitement of seeing the dough rise after an hour of two of anxiously waiting, trying not to peak; and the smell of freshly baked bread emanating through the house. 

So on to the pizza - there are all kinds of recipes out there for pizza dough.  I like the following recipe as it has a little diversity with the wheat and flax added in.  Try it out and see what you think.. or substitute for all bread flour if you're not feeling too adventurous.

Note on cookware:  I highly recommend investing in a good quality pizza stone if you don't have one - it offers a nice crispy crust, and the stone should last a lifetime.  I also like the circular steel pans with the holes in them - i have one passed down from my grandma that works great - just give it a little oil rub before putting the dough down.

Dough:  Yields one pizza (~12" round - fairly thin crust)
  • 1 1/3 cup bread flour
  • 1/3 cup wheat germ
  • 1/3 cup flax meal
  • 1/2 Tbls. yeast
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 2 Tbls. olive oil
  • 1/2 cup lukewarm water
Mix together the flour, wheat germ, flax meal, salt, and yeast in a large bowl.  Make a well in the center of the mix, and add the oil and water, gradually working into a soft dough.  After the dough is mixed to a fairly pliable and smooth texture, transfer it onto a floured surface (a clean counter top works well) and knead for about 8 minutes until it is elastic and smooth.
Rub some oil over the surface of the dough and return to the bowl.  Cover with a clean cloth or plastic wrap, place in a warm area (I find a kitchen cupboard works well), and leave to rise for about 1-2 hours.  The dough should be doubled in size.
Remove the dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead for 1-2 minutes, knocking out the excess air.  Roll the dough out (using a rolling pin works best, but also stretching a bit with your hands too) into the desired shape of your pan. 
On to the sauce... I usually like to make a big batch of sauce and freeze some.  But tonight I had few ingredients and little time so here is a quick and easy sauce.
  • 1 14oz can of good quality chopped tomatoes (muir glen is a good option)
  • 1 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 1 Tbls olive oil
  • 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • few sprigs of fresh herbs (thyme, parsley, oregano)- if you don't have on hand, try some dried herbs
  • 1/2 Tbls balsamic vinegar
Saute the garlic for a few minutes until soft.  Add the remaining ingredients together (chop the herbs if you want them to remain in the sauce - otherwise remove after cooking).  Bring to a boil and then simmer for about 30minutes until it has thickened and reduced.  Taste and adjust for seasoning with salt and pepper.

Toppings :  your choice of course.  Diced jalapenos, sun dried tomatoes (thinly sliced), andouille sausage, fresh mozzarella and cheddar where my choices of the night.

Top your pizza dough with the sauce, toppings and cheese.  Bake in a pre-heated 400F oven for about 20 minutes, or until the cheese is golden and bubbly.  Remove the pizza and let it rest for a few minutes.  Bon app!

Monday, February 7, 2011

New dining experience - The Bread Company

After a long week we decided to go out for dinner last night.  Being in a new city for over a month now, I decided it was time to check out the dining scene in Champaign.  After several failed attempts (who knew they close restaurants for the Superbowl) we found an open spot - The Bread Company.  This restaurant praises itself to be an authentic swiss bakery.  Well, having lived in Switzerland, I think not.  Their menu is not very typical Swiss - okay there are a few items such as fondue, raclette, and some pâté (which they list as mousse) which are traditional Swiss dishes, however, the majority of the menu is fairly standard American fare.  I'm also very fond of Swiss breads - yeasty, semi-soft in the center with a hard shell.  Oh how I miss the pain noir (my absolute favorite brown bread that I cannot find anywhere else except for the little boulangerie, Jacquet). 
Perhaps it was an off night, or perhaps the bread is just not up to par, whichever the case, a plate of sliced white bread arrived which was stale, and similar to a brittle piece of cardboard which had been sitting in the sun for too long.  With that we tried to keep an open mind, and decided to go with a starter to share and an entrée each.  Our starter, braised leeks wrapped in mozzeralla and prosciutto (pictured above), arrived cold, limp and oily.  A half of one leek leaf that seemed to have been cooked hours in advance, lay wrapped in a small piece of mozzeralla and soggy prociutto.  Needless to say I was not a fan.  Moving on to the entrees, we each ordered a special: Shrimp and scallop fettucine and pear/gorgonzola/mozzeralla/walnut pizza.  At first glance, the pizza looked fairly good except for the fact that they neglected to top the outer third of the dough.  The first bite offered a punch of blue cheese and a large crunch of walnut (I forgot to mention that the walnuts were left whole and slightly scorched).  As I continued into the next few mouthfuls, there was no balance to carry the sting of the gorgonzola.  The pears were skeletal in comparison to the other ingredients, and the mozzeralla was lost in the mix.  Hungery for something mouth-watering, I swirled some fettucine onto my fork along with a sun-dried tomatoe and slice of scallop.  This did not help my cause; the scallops were overcooked, and the sauce was runny and bland. Memories of Olive Garden began to flood in, and I returned for one more attempt at the pizza. 
Well, my second dining experience here was not so great, but hope it can only get better.  In the meantime, I think I'll be back in my own kitchen this week.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Seasonal Notes and Stout Braised Short Ribs

What’s in season? Well, not too much right now seeing as the ground is covered in snow (unless you are lucky enough to be living in the tropics or some warm weather area of the world). But for the rest of us, it’s easy to be tempted by the spring and summer fruits and veggies at the grocery. But do you really want those tasteless, juiceless, dull colored tomatoes?

Most of the farmers markets are closed for the winter; however, there are a few here and there in the larger metro areas so go check them out. They are probably always selling smoked meats and cheeses as well as late-harvest fall fruits and veggies. Otherwise, check out your local Co-op (in Champaign-Urbana region – check out: Common Ground Food Co-Op )

Some great winter options include: Carrots, turnips, parsnips, rutabaga (swede), celeriac, fennel, sunchokes, leeks, beets, sweet potatoes, turnips, winter squash (acorn, butternut, etc.), collards, kale, brussel sprouts (try to buy on the stalk as they keep fresh longer), belgian endive, persimmons, pomegranates , Clementine’s, dates , and pears.

Stout Braised Short Ribs

When it’s snowing and frigid cold out, braising is the way to go. I love the technique of braising; the crisp, dark sear on the meat followed by a savory liquid to come in and eat up all the little bits of goodness stuck to the bottom of the pan. Then a long, slow simmer to harmoniously blend it all together. YUM!

Back in Maryland, I was a member of Polyface Farms buying club. If are so fortunate to live in the DC/MD/VA region and don’t know about the club – please, please, please check it out Polyface Yum.
And if you don’t know about Polyface, it’s a top non-industrial American farm run by Joel Salatin and family in Swoope, VA. The farm is self-sustaining, and is home to chickens, cattle, pigs, turkeys, and a few other creatures. All their products are fantastic – I’ve tried quite a few. In this recipe, I’m using the pork short ribs – nice distribution of fat and meat to give a succulent taste.

This recipe is adapted from Epicurous and makes for about 2 really hungry hippos as D. and I were this night.
Total time – about 5 hours including prep and cooking –this is a great recipe to make ahead as the dish develops a better depth of flavor overnight.

Spiced rub ribs


1 tablespoon paprika
1 tablespoon curry powder
2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 teaspoons black pepper
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon mustard seeds
3 lb beef short ribs, cut into 4-inch pieces
1 cup of roughly chopped onion or leek – or both
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 medium carrots, rough chop
2-3 cups of rough chop root veggies (potatoes, parsnips, turnips, rutabaga, sweet potatoes, squash etc)
2 celery ribs, rough chop
1 bay leaf
5 cloves garlic (I leave whole- or you can slice)
1 cup of beef or chicken broth
1 12-oz bottle of Guinness

Put oven rack in lower third of oven and preheat oven to 375°F.
Stir together paprika, curry powder, cumin, pepper, salt, and mustard seeds in a small bowl until combined.
Rinse the ribs and pat dry with paper towels. Place them in a baking dish or just on a plate, and coat them all over (both sides) with the spice mixture. You will probably have some spice mix left over. You can use this later if you desire a lot of seasoning, or save for another day.
Let the ribs marry with the spice for about an hour – you can leave at room temperature.

Heat oil in dutch oven or large pot over high heat, and quickly sear the ribs on both sides (about 1-2 minutes per side). Remove ribs and set aside. Add the onion (leeks), carrots, celery, and any other root veggies you are using, along with the bay leaf and garlic to the pot and cook over moderately low heat, stirring occasionally, until vegetables begin to soften, about 3 minutes.
Add the broth, beer, and tomatoes, bring to a boil, and then reduce to simmer. Add the ribs back to the pot, cover, and braise over low heat on stove-top or preferably put into the oven for about 2 ½ hours.
Skim off any fat that has developed on the top and remove the bay leaf. Ready to serve with some crusty bread. (Note: if making ahead, cool completely at RT and then refrigerate. To reheat, place the pot in a 350°F oven for about one hour.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

To Start....

Hi – Where to start – okay- I’m currently living in Urbana, IL.  Just transplanted here after almost 3 years in the DC region and it’s quite a change.  Nothing too drastic though, since I grew up in the Midwest(NW IN). I spent my college years and a few thereafter in Ohio, then moving on to Athens, GA which offered me a clear vision of the south and a totally new perspective on southern food.  I also met my partner, Dietrich, while living the southern life, as well as attending Le Cordon Bleu in Atlanta. 
After a few years we moved to Switzerland (french part) which really opened up my palate, and gave me a better standpoint on seasonal eating (we lived in a farming village)! Of course there are lots of stories here but I’ll get into that later I hope.  After too many months of struggling to get a work permit, I moved back to the US and landed a job in Maryland. I really enjoyed the booming culinary scene in DC, as well as all the foodie events in the area.  There are a tremendous amount of great meat purveyors and wineries in Virginia – some that I was lucky enough to sample- others I sadly missed the take.
Now Dietrich, I and the peanut gallery (Madi and Allie) are newbies to the Chambana (Champaign-Urbana) region in the prairie lands of Illinois. I have just started working part-time as a personal cook. Now that I have some spare time I’ve decided to take the plunge into the Food Blog world. 
My intentions for this space are to discuss fresh, fair, seasonal, sustainable and all around good food and drink.  Hopefully I can stay true and on tract with this; we shall see.  I know, I know, everyone is talking about healthy eating and organics and the likes there of.  But I know there are some really fantastic artisans of all crafts out here (and there- where you are too!), and some great food and drink can be made of such.