November 21, 2009

Pizza with Pulled Pork and Banana Peppers

We can't get enough of banana peppers! We are big-time container gardeners (being confined to a Chicago condo with no yard to speak of), and we had two giant pots going this summer. And we got totally spoiled with having fresh banana peppers to put on everything--from tuna sandwiches to pizza. We went through them so fast, I didn't even have any left over for canning for the winter (plus I haven't quite wrapped my brain around pickling yet, so oh well...).

Yesterday, I discovered a giant jar of pickled ones at our local grocery store for all of $3.99. We think it might help us get by for a bit, and along with a shredded pork roast from Tuesday night, we turned it into pizza! It was simply fantabulous! Keep in mind that I am a made-from-scratch snob, so if you don't want to go whole hog with homemade pizza dough, that's totally fine. Boboli crusts are plenty sufficient, as is Trader Joe's unbaked pizza dough, available in the refrigerated section. But here's the whole shabang, should you seriously want to treat yourself one fine Friday night at home.

Pizza with Pulled Pork and Banana Peppers

Dough (makes enough for two pizzas)
1 1/2 cups lukewarm water
2 1/4 tsp active dry yeast (not rapid-rise)
2 tbsp olive oil plus more for bowl
1 1/2 c whole-wheat flour
2 1/2 c unbleached all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp salt
1 tbsp Italian seasoning
1/2 tsp crushed red pepper (optional)

Toppings (range is for one to two pizzas)
1-2 cups favorite barbeque sauce
2-3 tbsp tomato paste
1-2 cups shredded pork roast
3-4 banana peppers, seeded and sliced
2-4 cups shredded Monterey Jack cheese
1/4 cup cilantro leaves, coarsely chopped

Pour water into bowl of stand mixer fitted with dough hook and sprinkle yeast on top. Allow to foam 5 minutes. When foamed, add olive oil. In a separate bowl, sift together flours, salt, seasoning, and pepper (if using). Add flour to mixer and beat on Stir or Level 2 with dough hook for 4-6 minutes or until smooth and elastic. (If dough is sticky, add up to 1/4 cup of either flour. You can also knead by hand for 6-8 minutes.) Oil a stainless steel or ceramic mixing bowl and turn dough ball once to coat. Cover loosely with towel and allow to rise in a warm place until double, or about 1 hour (on top of fridge is a good place!).

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Place pizza stone or crisper in oven. Punch dough down and divide into two equal-sized balls. (If not using both, wrap second ball tightly in plastic wrap, place in freezer-grade Ziploc bag, and freeze for up to 3 months.) Roll out dough on floured surface to 1/4-inch thickness. Slide onto sheet of parchment paper or cornmeal-dusted edge-less cookie sheet (serves as a pizza peel!). Mix sauce and tomato paste in small bowl until combined. Spread half the sauce (about 1 cup) onto the pizza, top with pork and peppers, sprinkle with cheese and cilantro leaves. (Use reserved sauce for other pizza or store in airtight container in fridge for up to 10 days.) Slide pizza onto heated stone or crisper in oven and bake for 20-22 minutes or until edges are puffed and golden brown. Allow to cool 5-10 minutes before serving. Complete recipe makes two pizzas and serves 4-6.

November 16, 2009

Cooking School: Fridge and Freezer: Friends or Foes?

A friend who's really getting into baking lately with her little girl asked me a fantastic question over the weekend about pie dough and the fridge vs. freezer. I thought this might be a good time to address the whole baked-goods-and-refrigeration confusion in pastry.

Generally, anything pre-baked can last 24-36 hours in your fridge without drying out. If it's going to take you longer than that to get to it, wrap it really well in double plastic wrap and a freezer-grade Ziploc and store it in your freezer until use (make sure you label and date it with a Sharpie!). As Chef Jacquy at the French Pastry School would often say to us in class, "The freezer is your friend." Just move it to your counter if you plan to work with it within an hour or so. If you did leave something like pie dough or cookie dough in your fridge longer than you should have, rework it using bits of shortening (pie dough) or tablespoons of milk (cookie dough) until it's pliable and workable again. You can also store unused cake batter for up to 48 hours. Unlike pie or cookie dough though, cake batter needs to come all the way back to room temperature and given a good stir before using.

With anything already baked, alas, refrigeration for extended periods is the enemy. It's fine to store frosted cupcakes or a cake in the fridge for a day before serving, but typically, cake, bread, cookies, muffins, and other high-ratio-flour already-baked goods will dry up like cilantro in Chicago (we can't grow it here), so don't go there. I will often freeze a half loaf of bread if we won't get to it 'til the next week or bake only half a batch of cookies and freeze the rest of the dough until next time. Again, the freezer is your friend, folks! Not that today's design and engineering is though. According to a recent article in Bon Appetit, side-by-side refrigerators came about in an era when we didn't cook. The appliance industry fashioned them to accommodate our TV-dinner lifestyle in the 70s and 80s. Now that we're cooking and entertaining at home more, at least they've come up with the French-door refrigerator, which enables getting party trays of food or a sheet cake in and out of the fridge at eye level much easier. But from the point of view of bakers everywhere, the bottom-mount drawer freezer is a logistics nightmare. Digging around in the depths of a drawer for frozen pre-baked goods is like the hunt for Red October when on a delivery deadline. And freezing trays of pastry shells or other items that keep shape in the oven better after a 20-minute freezer shock treatment (you'll see a lot of pie, tart, and party finger-food recipes this holiday season that perform better with a pre-freeze) is next to impossible. Goodness knows I miss the old-fashioned top-mount freezer. Oh, to be able to turn the guest bath into a walk-in fridge/freezer!

Well, all the best this holiday pie-baking season! And while we're at it, I highly recommend trying this one for next Thursday. We've made this several times this fall season already, since pears came into their own this year. D'Anjou or Bartletts work best, and I highly recommend it with some butter pecan ice cream. For me, a la mode is the only way to go with a pie!

Pear Butterscotch Pie from Gourmet Magazine (R.I.P.) September 2008

November 11, 2009

Bread Shoes

I'm not sure who comes up with this stuff or why, but I do think these bread shoes would be a hilarious idea for a party bread bowl. Just make sure the dip you make doesn't smell like feet!

You can actually make these yourself. Use a firm baguette or french bread roll from your favorite grocery or bakery, and follow this picture to cut. Use a sharp serrated knife, and try and save some of the bread for cubing and dipping.

If you'd like to go whole hog and make your own bread, this is an excellent and tasty party bread recipe from Cooking Light. Shape your baguettes smaller than stated in this recipe, and keep an eye on the baking time since your bread mass is smaller and may not need to bake as long.

And I thought the kitty litter cake was enough of an alarming household-good-gone-insane-food idea. (I refuse to put a picture here; you'll have to go to the link and get grossed out on your own.)

November 9, 2009

If You See One Show in New York This Year, Make It This One...

OK, so this has nothing to do with spoons, tomfoolery, or food at all, but I just had to do this plug. I just saw Fela!, a new musical on Broadway playing at the Eugene O'Neill Theater in New York, and WOW just doesn't do it justice. YOWZA! is more like it. I do have a personal connection to this show, as our Best Man in our recent wedding, Jordan McLean, co-wrote and directed the musical portion of this amazing theatrical event. Two other members of the sextet that played with Jordan at our wedding, Stuart Bogie and Dylan Fusillo, are also part of the complete music ensemble for this show, and I have literally become these dudes' biggest fan (well, next to their respective significant others, of course).

This show is really like no other you'll ever see, and I'm not just saying that because of my close ties to the music. It's about Fela Kuti, the Nigerian jazz god responsible for bringing the jazz club scene to Nigeria in the late 70s and for pioneering the whole Afrobeat sound. From the get-go, you are made to feel like you're in Fela's club; the whole theater is outfitted to look just like it, and extended-circle cast members are littered about, down aisles, along the stage, and in the box seats, in character and bringing you into their fold. The dancers combine native Nigerian rhythms with jazz club sex appeal, and hoo wee! Are they a bunch of hot chicas! Tony Award Winner Bill T. Scott choreographs, and well, you take one look at the guy at age 57 and you know you'll be feelin' the steam all night!

It's been a very, very long time since I've seen a Broadway show, and as a former theater student in high school, I've seen a lot of them. But you ain't seen nothin' yet, folks! If you find yourself in NYC this holiday season and are looking for a crazy fun time, go check this one out. You'll laugh, you'll cry, and then you'll wish you could go and feel that energy every night of your life!

November 1, 2009

Cooking School: Defining Jam, Jelly, Marmalade, Preserves, Fruit Butters, etc.

The Flaky Pastry was posed an interesting question by two very good friends the other day: What's the difference between jam, jelly, marmalade, preserves, fruit butters, conserve, salsa, chutney, and all the various fruit and vegetable condiment forms out there? An excellent question that definitely deserved pondering. Here is a little Guide to Spreadables, if you will...

Jam and Conserves: Made from whole, chopped, or crushed seeded or seedless fruits and sugar boiled together; jam often comes together without sugar, but what makes it a conserve is that sugar is definitely an ingredient.
Preserves: Jam or conserves with seeds.
Jelly: Made from fruit juice only, no fruit or fruit bit content.
Fruit butter: Seedless fruit cooked to spreadable consistency, containing no pectin or other gel-activating agent; normally made from pitted stone fruits (mango, plum, apricot), pumpkin, apples, or pears.
Curds: As in lemon, lime, or orange... Contain sugar and eggs with the rind and juice of a fruit and cooked slowly over a bain marie until thick and creamy.
Marmalade: A citrus-based preserve, often containing the rind; caramelized onion marmalade is a common find these days, but to be totally honest, I'm not sure why it's particularly called marmalade and not chutney. I do think it's the only vegetable spread that is qualified as a marmalade.
Salsa and Chutney: Combinations of chopped vegetables and spices or fruits served together either raw (salsa) or cooked (chutney).

If I left any out that you're wondering about, drop me a line and I'll do more digging. You can also peruse a fine array of homemade, all-natural jams, fruit butters, and preserves here.