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Monthly Archives: March 2012

Pizza! Pizza!

On my trip to Italy in November, I found this cute pizza cookbook at the Colosseum gift shop. The book was round and each page contained either a recipe for a pizza or showed the pizza you were making. Lots of amazing images and delicious sounding pizzas. It was also in American measurements, so I picked up a copy (and two more for Christmas presents). There was also one showing tarts which looked amazing, but unfortunately, it was only in Italian, so wasn’t possible to pick up.

After Christmas I finally got the chance to try my hand at these delicious pizzas. There are four different pizza dough recipes, one thin, one thick, one whole wheat, and one gluten free. I’ve tried all but the gluten free at this point. All I can say is that making it at home is much more fun and tasty than most takeaways and restaurants in London. I’ve yet to find a great pizza place in London. The best pizza I’ve had to date is the one we had in Naples. Supposedly it’s the birthplace of the pizza, and some people claim it’s the water that makes the dough there taste so good.

Pizzas are great because while there are recipes, you can modify them, or even just do whatever you like. The pizzas I’ve tried from the cookbook so far are leek and pancetta; apple, onion and walnut; potato and mushroom; ground beef and onion; salami, mushrooms and fennel; tomato, garlic and sausage; and onion, cheese, and walnuts. (With leek and pancetta twice, because it’s awesome). I’m not going to include any recipes to make the actual pizza, but I will provide the thin crust pizza dough recipe. Interestingly, the dough makes two 12-inch pizzas. I think Little Caesar’s probably had it right with its PIzza! Pizza! promotions.

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  • 1/2 ounce or 1 1/2 teaspoon active dry yeast
  • About 1 cup warm water
  • 2 cups bread flour and extra for hands and surface
  • 1/3 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil (optional)
  1. Put fresh or active dry yeast in small bowl and add about 1/2 cup water (if you use rapid-rise yeast, it doesn’t need proofing, in fact I use active dry yeast and it still doesn’t need proofing)
  2. Stir gently until the yeast has dissolved and set aside until frothy about 10 minutes. (again skip this if you don’t need to proof the yeast)
  3. Combine flour and salt (and unproofed yeast if you don’t need proofing) to a medium bowl. Pour in the yeast mixture (or water), oil and enough of the rest of the water to obtain a sticky dough
  4. Dust a clean work surface with extra flour. Scrape the dough onto the work surface and form into a ball.
  5. Kneed the dough for about 8-10 minutes. When it is firm and no longer sticks life it up and bang it down a few times to develop the gluten.
  6. Place in a large, oiled bowl, and cover it with a cloth. Set aside for 1 hour.
  7. Stretch out the dough to fit the two 12-inch pans
  8. Add your toppings and bake at 500 degrees F for about 10-15 minutes
  9. Enjoy your delicious pizza!
 
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Posted by on March 30, 2012 in Pizza

 

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I saw that Pavlova on TV!

Living in the UK, I get exposed to a variety of new television shows. One show is Come Dine With Me where four or five everyday people get thrown together to cook a three-course (and sometimes more) dinner for each other, and to get judged. Ultimately, the best cook/party host of the week wins £1000. A few months ago, I thought about auditioning for the show, not to win the money, just because it looks like it could be a lot of fun. However, the more recent shows seem to be less focused on cooking and more about what sort of crazy people can they put in a room (who usually can’t cook) to see what sort of drama ensues. I’m pretty sure that is not necessarily something that I’d be down for.

However, one of the popular desserts I see being made on this show is Pavlova. It originates from New Zealand (which makes it an interesting choice for UK cooks), although that is highly contested by their neighbors in Australia. Needless to say, a Pavlova is just a meringue. It seems that there is claim that there is a difference between the two, but I’m not sure I necessarily agree, as the big difference seems to be the addition of corn flour/starch which is supposed to make the outside crisp and the inside marshmallowy. However, as the pavlova recipe I follow doesn’t call for corn starch (or powdered sugar), and it has those delicious Pavlova attributes that one would look for. It’s more likely that the cooking style is really what makes the difference as meringues can be completely crisp throughout or they could be soft and delicate depending on the process used to make it. Italian and Swiss meringues are a lot softer than the traditional French style.

The pavlova is finished by adding whipped or chantilly cream (sweetened whipped cream) to the top and adding fresh fruit. It’s an ideal summer dessert (even if mine were made in the winter). I’ve made two Pavlovas in the previous few months. The most recent was completely traditional: meringue, chantilly cream, strawberry and kiwi. The first one I tried to be a bit more elaborate and add some lemon curd as well as the cream and fruit, but it was a bit too sickly sweet, so I can’t really recommend it. Or perhaps just use less lemon curd. For both of them, I used Delia’s Pavlova recipe which calls for two simple ingredients to make the meringue: egg whites and castor sugar. There’s a bit of a timing issue as you don’t want to add the sugar until the egg whites are perfect, but if you time it correctly, you end up with a beautiful (and tasty) dessert.

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Posted by on March 21, 2012 in Fruit

 

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Valentine’s Day treat (and the search for ingredients)

It’s been ages since I’ve posted anything, as I’ve been trying to direct my writing to getting work-related writing done instead of food-related writing. But since the drafts are almost done, and I’m waiting for some feedback, I’ve decided to start catching up on some baking posts!

Well, first off I decided to make a Valentine’s Day treat for my partner and me. It started out with smoked salmon and caviar blinis, followed by a delicious cheese fondue. For dessert, I decided to make a pistachio and chocolate semifreddo. Doesn’t that sound delicious? Semifreddo is Italian for semi-frozen and it’s practically like a partially frozen mousse. I did my research, found two different places to get the key ingredient (pistachio paste), and trekked into London to pick it up. Unfortunately it turns out that it was a common ingredient for Valentine’s Day as everyone seemed to run out of it right before the big holidays. Frustrated, I bought some almond cream instead, and I decided that I would make almond and chocolate semifreddo instead.

I also decided to use my new cube-shaped silicon molds. I bought them for a pasta experiment gone wrong, but I still had them, and I decided to put them to good use. So I layered the almond semifreddo at the bottom of the molds and put the chocolate on top. A few cacao nibs from my cacao nib adventures, and I had a delicious dessert. However, I thought that maybe that wouldn’t be quite enough, so I decided to put them on a brownie base. I went to Smitten Kitchen to find a delicious brownie recipe (although I do have several at home, so I’m not exactly sure why I did this, except her recipes are usually amazing), and I opted to go for an easy brownie using cocoa powder instead of melted chocolate, just for ease of making during the week. I also added toasted almond flakes to tie it in to the almond semifreddo.

Was it delicious? Yes it was. We ate it during the entire week (as there were eight cubes of semifreddo). Surprisingly, the semifreddo was quite hard as I made it in advance (which made it really easy to pull out of the molds and plate up), but when I left it out for half an hour, it was soft and delicate. Well at least the almond was, the chocolate was a bit denser then I would have liked, meaning I probably added too much cream or something, but the flavor was really nice. Overall, I would definitely do a semifreddo again as it was incredibly easy to do up in advance and molds quite well to a shape, but yet is soft and delicate when allowed to defrost a bit.

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Oh I almost forgot. When I served it on Valentine’s Day I didn’t have any sort of sauce or anything. Not that it needed sauce, but you feel like some sort of sauce could just liven things up a bit. Well, when I was on my failed pistachio paste search, I did run across the Italian ingredient saba. Basically it’s the must of grape juice that is kind of a precursor in wine making. It’s boiled down until it’s very thick, almost as thick as a balsamic glaze. Some sources say it’s also was used similarly to balsamic vinegar before there was such a thing. Mine was labeled as being quince must, and it turns out that some brands of saba are fortified with quince as well. Anyway, it tastes heavenly. It made quite a nice addiction to the chocolate flavors of the dish. (As a side note, I also mixed some of the saba with some fig vinegar and smoked paprika as a sauce for some pan fried duck breast I made for dinner, and it was amazing. The bottle says it can be used with meats as well, and it sure can!) If you can pick up this ingredient, I highly recommend it, and I plan on finding out new uses for it as time goes on. One advantage about living overseas is the ability to find these specialty ingredients that you’ve never heard of before, even if it can be very impossible to find the ones I’m used to!

 
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Posted by on March 15, 2012 in Frozen desserts

 

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