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Posts Tagged ‘pizza’

I’ve eaten many pizzas in my quarter century on this planet. I know most people have eaten plenty of pizza, I wouldn’t claim to be unique in that. But I’ve eaten a lot of pizza. When I was a kid, there was almost nothing better than plopping down in front of the TV for Saturday morning cartoons and a Red Baron breakfast pizza (now sadly discontinued). In elementary school, I would long for pizza day in the cafeteria, despite being subject to the rectangular, near-crustless grease bombs. High school got a little better in that regard, upgrading closer to a New York style, complete with optional red pepper flakes and Parmesan. College brought be within spitting distance of NYC,  where I could gorge myself on Ray’s while wandering the unfamiliar terrain. I’ve even spent some time in Italy, sampling the classical Neapolitan style from traditional brick ovens (I will throw it out there the the best pizza I had was at a small shop in the town square of Siena, and came topped with hot dogs and French fries).

Growing up on the east coast, you pretty much get whatever is frozen at the grocery store, or a version similar to New York-style. While delicious in it’s own right, I’m of the opinion that Deep Dish and Chicago styles are casserole and not pizza, so we won’t touch on that. Since moving last fall, I’ve been making a lot of pizza at home. This largely, if not entirely, due to the local grocery store carrying Everything Bagel pizza dough from Portland Pie Co. They have garlic dough, basil dough, Shipyard Ale dough, but Everything Bagel is the one that really grabbed me. It was months later that I discovered I had been playing in the sandbox that is California-style pizza.

California cuisine came into it’s own in the late 1970’s and early 80’s, and California-style pizza follow shortly after. Popularized by Wolfgang Puck, the style builds from a personal-sized crust with similar structure  to Neapolitan. From there, we throw out the rule book; Any combination of complimentary flavors spanning world cuisines, utilizing farm fresh vegetables and local cheeses, and generally a wide variety of vegetarian and vegan options. When I started making pizzas, my only real goal was to move away from traditional red-sauce-based pies, and I was also trying to work on more vegetarian dishes to save a bit of money on meat; Pretty much falling perfectly into the California style without ever really meaning to.

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Mascarpone, Cured Salmon, Red Onion, Capers, Dill (I dream about bagels and lox)

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Peanut Sauce, Stir-Fry Vegetables, Mozzarella, Scallion, Radish Sprouts

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Curry, Cauliflower, Mango Chutney, Cashews, Cilantro

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Olive Oil, Potato, Tomato, Mint, Ras al Hanout

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Butternut Squash, Chickpeas, Broccoli Rabe, Red Onion, Parmesan

17333207_394041167635812_3185024146144755712_nHoisin, Marinated Tofu, Mixed Pickles, Serrano, Fresh Herbs (A Banh Mi-zza, if you will)

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White Sauce, Chickpeas, Frank’s Red Hot, Celery, Gorgonzola, Ranch

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Cheez, Mushrooms, Peppers, Onions, Provolone

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Kansas City-style Barbecue, Eggplant, Smoked Gouda, Red Onion, Cilantro

IMG_5730Ricotta & Chevre, Sweet Corn, Maple Bacon, Arugula, Parmesan

Pizza is such a fun concept to play around with and I don’t plan on stopping any time soon. Apparently I’m bad with segues, so here’s 9-year-old Olsen twins rapping about pizza.

Neapolitan Pizza Dough from Modernist Cuisine
Life-Changing Pizza Dough from ChefSteps

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It can easily be argued that food, and cooking in general, can be viewed as an art form. And in a way, it can certainly be thought of on the same level of art as music, film, literature, or traditional media (painting, sculpture, etc); Practitioners of their discipline spend years, if not their whole lives, developing their style and honing their craft, often to little praise or recognition, simply for the love of doing it. But food is very, very different from other art forms. You can look at a painting, for example, and it will make your brain work in a certain way. You  can listen to a song, and your brain may work in different way. Through sight, sound, and in certain cases, touch, you can start to understand what the artist was trying to convey. But with food, you also have to eat it, and that creates another layer of meaning. What I mean, is that you don’t have to taste a book to “get it”, you know? Taste and flavor creates another means of conveying a message or an idea. And I think by adding that extra layer, the sensory experience is brought to completion.

With food being *so* dependent on the sensory aspects, what happens when you intentionally distort those aspects? The theme for week 14 of Reddit’s 52 Weeks of Cooking Challenge is “Food in Disguise”, focusing on altering our visual perception of a dish. As anyone familiar with Food Network could tell you, there’s a whole world of bakeries that specialize in making cakes that look like other things. While that’s all well and good, and certainly requires immense artistic skill, from what I’ve heard these types of products don’t taste as good as they look. And with taste being one of the defining aspects of the experience, it’s paramount to maintain an appropriate composition of flavors. I think the best way to do this is to work with established pairings. Simply swapping sweet and savory preparations can easily accomplish some visual trickery that maintains its integrity as good tasting food.  Meatloaf Cupcakes, anyone?

FullSizeRender

I think the biggest challenge for this week was to start with a base idea, then make something that looks the part while still holding it’s own as an independent dish. I’ve made dessert pizzas before, but generally they’ve included a thick, cream cheese or buttercream type frosting, fruits cut and arranged to show off their natural beauty, and sometimes chocolate or another sauce drizzled over the top. Visually speaking, fruit pizzas are very dessert-y. But with a little ingenuity, a margherita-style or Neapolitan-style pizza is well within the realm of possibilities. In Naples, thin crispy crust reigns supreme, so rather than puff pastry or pie dough (which is pretty common for dessert pizzas), I went with a sugar cookie base. The sauce was actually really interesting to work on: Modernist Cuisine at Home has a really cool recipe for a strawberry marinara. Theirs is a savory sauce, made with onions, garlic, basil, and around 25% tomatoes. At first, I wanted to make that recipe straight-up, but that would probably compromise the flavor of the dish, so that was a no-go. But using their recipe as a base, I made a sweeter, slightly more jammy strawberry sauce. For cheese, mascarpone stands in for the traditional buffalo mozzarella. And no margherita pizza would be complete without some fresh herbs, so I added a healthy sprinkling of tarragon, giving a bright anise flavor to contrast the deep red sauce.

With this dish, I definitely accomplished the taste and flavor of it, but I was really surprised how strongly the visual aspect affected the experience. While we were putting the pizza together, my ladyfriend blurted out that she really wasn’t in the mood for a heavier, tomato-sauce-kind of pizza, even though she knew it wasn’t. And while we were eating it, it felt like eating a pizza. Just the act of cutting it into slices and picking it up the way you would a slice of regular pizza made me expect a certain flavor and texture. Even though I made the entire thing from start to finish myself, and knew that it wasn’t a savory pizza, it’s hard to overcome the patterns that you’ve learned over a lifetime. So when all’s said and done, I think I succeeded in both of the major aspects of this week’s challenge.

Pizza Margherita (Dessert Style)

makes 1 pizza

  • Prepared Sugar Cookie Dough, 1 package
  • Strawberry “Marinara”, as needed (recipe follows)
  • Mascarpone cheese, about 4 ounces
  • Fresh Tarragon, about 1/4 cup

Preheat oven to 350F. Lightly flour a large pizza pan. Roll out sugar cookie on pizza pan to 1/4 inch thickness, flouring dough lightly as needed. Bake cookie dough at 350F for 8-10 minute, or until nearly set in the middle and edges start to brown. Remove from oven,and turn broiler to high. Spread cookie crust with strawberry sauce and add dollops of mascarpone across the whole pizza. Cook under the broiler until cheese is melted, about 2-3 minutes, being careful not to scorch the crust. Remove from oven and allow to cool completely. Cut into slices and top with fresh tarragon.

Strawberry “Marinara”, adapted from Modernist Cuisine at Home*

makes about 2 cups

  • Slivered Almonds, 50g
  • Strawberries, 500g, pureed
  • Strawberries, thinly sliced, 250g
  • Raspberries, 170g
  • Sweet White Wine, 100g
  • Brown Sugar, 105g

Toast almonds in a sauce pot over medium heat until fragrant and lightly browned, about 3 minutes. Add remaining ingredients, mixing to combine thoroughly. Continue cooking over medium heat until thick and reduced, about 30 minutes**. Remove from heat and allow to cool completely before use.

*Modernist Cuisine generally gives all their recipes measured by weight, and I have a scale that will measure grams, so I went for it. I suggest buying a good kitchen scale for lots of reasons, but if you don’t have one just eyeball the ratios.

**I actually fell asleep at this point, but I’m guessing it was around 30 minutes.

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BACON

Smoking has been used for centuries as a way of preserving meats for longer storage. Smoking imparts to foods a flavor that is really unlike anything else. Woody, deep, rich… smokey. There’s really no other way to describe it. If you’ve never had smoked meat or fish before, you are truly missing out. Smoking the best way to make perfect ribs and pulled pork, as well as classic deli pastrami. Smoking is the theme for week 27 of Reddit’s 52 Weeks of Cooking Challenge, and I decided to make the one thing that the internet loves more than anything (well, except cats). BACON.

In case you live under a rock and don’t know what bacon is, it is pork belly that has been cured, either with a dry salt cure or a brine, then smoked. Thinly sliced and cooked until crispy, bacon has a signature flavor that is loved throughout the world. Typically, bacon is made from pork belly, but using the same method, other cuts can be used to yield equally delicious results.  You can buy some pretty great bacon in the store, but nothing can hold a candle to homemade bacon. It’s pretty time consuming, but the end result is more than worth the effort.

Pork Belly

The raw belly. As you can see, it already kind of looks like bacon which is about as good as any food can look. I brined the belly for 3 days in a solution of sugar, salt, water, apple cider, and molasses.

Cured and Dried

After curing, I let the belly dry in front of a fan for two and a half hours. This forms what’s called a pellicle, a sticky layer on the outside of the meat that lets the smoked stick to it better.

Smoking

I smoked the pork for 45 minutes at about 150 degrees. A lot of people are very specific about the type of wood that they use for smoking, but I’ve never noticed too much of a difference in various varieties. For mine, I used mesquite lump charcoal and a combination of apple and maple wood chips.

Smoked

Definitely starting to look more like bacon. There are various ways that you can finish your bacon. You want to get the belly to an internal temperature of 150 degrees. Traditionally it’s just smoked all the way, about 4-6 hours.  You can also cook it in the oven for about the same amount of time. I chose to sous vide mine at 150 for 6 hours.

Sous Vide

After circulating the belly, the let it cool with weights on it overnight. At the end, the bacon with super tender and easy to slice. It had a nice even texture and color all the way through and.. well.. looked like bacon. Mission accomplished?

fryingedit

Of course, it all comes down to taste. As I said before, nothing can hold a candle to homemade bacon and this proves it. There’s no real way to describe it, since bacon is delicious 90% of the time anyway, but this was some of the best bacon I’ve had.

While bacon is all well and good, the best quality of  bacon is it’s ability to make other foods amazing. Pretty much any food you can think of, bacon will make it better. This has kind of gotten out of hand in recent years, but with a subtle hand, bacon can add a delicious, smokey, meaty flavor and any dish.

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When I think bacon, I think breakfast. Bacon and eggs is a classic breakfast combination, and I knew that would be a great way to showcase my bacon. Rather than just a plate of eggs and bacon, I made a delicious breakfast pizza topped with ricotta, mozzarella, a few eggs and crispy chunks of bacon. Without even trying to, this ended up just like the mini breakfast pizzas I used to have as a kid; a welcome surprise.

While the whole process of making the bacon was a little time intensive, everything came out way better than I expected. Once I find a good place to get pork belly, this may become a regular for me.

Bacon, adapted  from Good Eats Season 5 Episode 5: Scrap Iron Chef

  • Pork Belly, 4 lbs
  • Water, 1/2 gallon, divided in half
  • Apple Cider, 1/2 gallon
  • Sugar, 1 cup
  • Kosher Salt, 1 cup
  • Molasses, 8 fluid ounces
  • Cracked Black Pepper, as needed

In a large stock pot, add half the water and bring to a boil. Add sugar, salt, and molasses, stirring to dissolve. Combine salt mixture with remaining water and cider. Coat pork belly with black pepper, rubbing it into the meat. Place pork belly into brine and allow to sit for 3 days. Remove from brine and pat dry to remove excess moisture. Allow to sit, uncovered in the fridge overnight, or in front of a fan for 2 and a half hours. When belly is dry and surface is sticky, allow to come to room temperature. Heat a charcoal smoker to about 150 degrees. Add two handfuls of soaked woodchips to hot coals. Place the pork belly on the grate of the smoker, cover, and let smoke 45 minutes. Remove from smoker and allow to cool. Vacuum seal and circulate in a 150 degree water bath for 6 hours. Remove from water bath and shock in ice water for 5 minutes. Allow bacon to cool overnight, pressing with weights. Slice thinly or dice, and cook until crispy.

Breakfast Pizza

  • Pizza dough, 1 each
  • Ricotta, about 1 cup
  • Bacon, diced, crispy, about 1 cup
  • Mozzarella, about 1.5 cups
  • Eggs, whole, 6 each

Preheat oven to 500 degrees with a pizza stone*. On a lightly floured surface or pizza pan, roll out pizza dough to desired size. Lightly brush dough with oil. Top with ricotta, bacon, and mozzarella. Remove heated pizza stone from oven and transfer dough to stone. Crack eggs onto dough, evenly dispersed. Bake at 500 for 15-17 minutes or until crust is brown, cheese is melted and eggs are cooked.

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Six Onion Pizza

Where would we be in the kitchen without the onion? Onions are one of the most important ingredients in French cuisine, which itself has influenced countless cuisines and cultures across the globe. This is one food that I feel like there is a long list of things to talk about, but the question is truly “where to start?” The earliest evidence for cultivation and consumption of onions dates to the Bronze Age where traces of onions were found alongside the remains of dates and figs. Onions were worshiped by the ancient Egyptians, Greek athletes used them to balance the blood and firm muscles, and in the Middle Ages, onions were used as everything from currency to cure-all’s. And to add to all that, the Allium family also includes a wide variety of plants that I’ve decided to showcase for the 20th week of Reddit’s 52 Weeks of Cooking Challenge!

6 onion

I was inspired for this after look at an old issue of Saveur that had a similar recipe. Their recipe called for a base of onion puree with cooked onions as the topping, garnished with scallions and chives. While the idea intrigued me, the recipe didn’t seem as impressive. One of the chefs at work suggested a soubise sauce, a classic preparation from Escoffier’s Le Guide Culinaire. And when I say suggested, I mean that he asked me if I knew what it was, then made fun of me for not knowing, but that’s beside the point. Soubise is basically a bechamel with the addition of  white onion puree, and worked perfectly as the base of the pizza.. Rather than the mixture of sweated onions that the magazine called for, I opted for an Italian sweet and sour preparation known as confiturra. I cooked down leeks, shallots, and red onion with wine, vinegar, honey, and gratuitous amounts of rosemary until it got a nice, jam-like consistency. The scallions and chives stayed, however. I always like something nice and green with heavier flavors. All that was left was a nice crust and some cheese to complete the package. Overall, it didn’t come out as onion-y as I expected, but not in a bad way. The confiturra tasted more like rosemary than onion, but it definitely still had that characteristic flavor. The scallion and chives on top gave a nice fresh contrast to the richer flavor of the cooked onions.

Six Onion Pizza

Soubise:

  • White Onion, diced, 1 each
  • Butter, 2 tablespoons
  • Thyme, 2 sprigs
  • Milk, 2 cups
  • Flour, 3 tablespoons

Cook onion in 2 tablespoons butter and thyme until very tender, but not colored. Puree until smooth, adding a small amount of milk as necessary. Strain onion puree to remove liquid. In a small sauce pot, melt butter and combine with flour. Combine strained onion liquid with remaining milk. Slowly add milk to roux, whisking to combine. Cook until thickened. Stir in onion puree until combined. Keep warm, or cool and store in an airtight container until ready to use.

Onion Confiturra

  • Olive Oil, 2 tablespoons
  • Leeks, 2 each
  • Red Onion, sliced, 1 each
  • Shallots, sliced, 2 each
  • Rosemary, 6 sprigs
  • Bay leaves, 3 each
  • Balsamic Vinegar, 1/2 cup
  • Sherry Vinegar, 1/4 cup
  • White Wine, 1/4 cup
  • Honey, 1/4 cup
  • Sugar, 1/4 cup
  • Salt, as needed
  • Black Pepper, as needed

Remove dark greens from leeks. Cut in half lengthwise, remove root end and slice thinly. Soak in a large bowl of water to remove any dirt. Drain from water and pat dry. In a large sauce pot over medium heat, cook leeks, onion and shallot until they start to become tender. Add rosemary and bay leaves and continue cooking until onions are completely tender. Combine vinegars, wine, honey, and suigar. Add to onions and continue cooking until liquid is reduced and thickened, about 15 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Allow to cool and store in an airtight container until ready for use.

Pizza Dough

  • Beer, 1 cup
  • Honey, 1 teaspoon
  • Dry Yeast, 1/4 oz
  • Olive Oil, 2 tablespoons
  • All-Purpose Flour, 3 cups
  • Salt, 1 teaspoon

Heat 1/4 cup of beer to 115 degrees. Combine honey and yeast with warm beer and allow to proof for 10 minutes. Combine yeast mixture with remaining beer and oil, mixing to combine. Add flour 1 cup at a time until dough forms. Place into a greased bowl, cover, and allow to rise until doubled in size, about 2 hours. Press to release gas and divide into 2 even pieces. Cover and allow to rise again, about 1 and a half hours.

Pizza Assembly

  • Pizza Dough
  • Soubise
  • Confiturra
  • Pecorino cheese, as needed
  • Scallion, thinly sliced, as needed
  • Chives, thinly sliced, as needed

Preheat a pizza stone in an oven at 500 degrees. Roll out dough to about 12 inches. Top with sauce, confiturra and cheese. Transfer to pizza stone and bake until crisp and browned, about 15 minutes. Remove from oven and top with scallions and chives.

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