Monthly Archives: October 2010

Pizza Party with Peter Reinhart

Early in the summer boyfriend and I started stocking our freezer with pizza dough from Wholefoods and throwing together little pizza parties for ourselves. After a long week, I’m not good for much on a Friday night, so tossing dough and throwing back a glass or two of wine together was my idea of a perfect night. Mid-summer nights had other plans for us, though, with its heat waves driving us out of the kitchen and into air-conditioned pizza parlors for the remainder of the season. Oh, the tragedy. Granted, the pizza is tastier at our favorites like Vezzo and Luzzo’s, but it wasn’t quite as fun. I missed floured noses and on-a-whim pizza concotions.

Now that it’s cooler and my oven can be cranked up to 500 degrees (how i wish it would rise higher for the sake of a crispier crust and moister toppings) the pizza parties can resume. And that dough from Wholefoods? Well, it occurred to me that if they can make it and freeze it for a rainy day, why can’t I? An internet search led me to Peter Reinhart’s pizza dough recipe. He’s not too shabby in the baking department, what with his James Beard Award and all– a little something otherwise known as the Oscars of the food world. If he makes award-winning bread, I figure he must make a decent pizza dough. He didn’t disappoint. Previously, when I tried to toss dough, I would end up with a sticky blob riddled with holes. This dough, however, is wonderfully elastic and supple and easy to handle, nothing like what I’m used to getting from the supermarket. The art of throwing dough makes so much more sense to me now.

After thinking long and hard on the toppings, I decided on a traditional pizza margherita which was classicaly delicious, but also tried something new and savory to jive with the season. I had some butternut squash on hand, destined for a different fate as a creamy soup. I opted to roast it with onions, instead, with lots of rosemary and sea salt, cracked pepper and olive. While that hissed and sizzled in the oven, I broke out some fresh whole milk ricotta cheese and whipped in some chopped rosemary and lemon zest. When the chunked butternut squash turned soft with crackly browned edges, the onions had caramelized, and my whole apartment smelled of rosemary, I spread the mixture onto a rectangle of dough, adding dollops of the herbed cheese, and let it bake for just 10 minutes more. Delicious.

The best part? One batch of dough makes enough for three meals for two people (or two meals for two people, if you’re really hungry, which *we* usually are). The remainder can be frozen for the next night you need a snappy meal that’s still homemade.

Butternut Squash and Caramelized Onion Pizza

For the dough: Peter Reinhart’s Thin Crust Pizza dough can be found in his book, The Bread Baker’s Apprentice. His recipe there includes exhaustive tips and tricks for the best outcome. Lucky for me, you can find the recipe on this blog, and I have been saved from typing it out, nuggets of wisdom and all.
*Please take note that this recipe calles for instant yeast which is NOT the same as active dry yeast. I learned this the hard way. Although my first batch of dough tasted good, it crisped like a cracker and lacked a good dough-y chew that even a thin-crust dough should have.*

1 whole butternut squash, peeled and cubed
1 large onion, cut into rings
2-3 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp grated parmesan cheese
1/2 cup fresh whole milk ricotta cheese
1 sprig fresh rosemary
8-10 fresh sage leaves
zest of 1 lemon
cracked pepper and sea salt, to taste

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Remove rosemary from stem and chop the leaves. Toss butternut squash and onion in a bowl with olive oil, rosemary, sea salt and pepper until evenly coated. Place on a foil-lined baking sheet and bake for 25 minutes or until butternut squash is browned and onions have caramelized.

Add the lemon zest to the ricotta cheese and whip with a fork until combined and light and fluffy. Increase the oven temperature to 500 degrees, or as high as your oven allows. Keep in mind that a typical pizza oven heats up to about 800 degrees.

Stretch out dough and place on a baking stone or parchment lined baking sheet. If using a pizza stone, a sprinkling of cornmeal on the stone will keep the dough from sticking. Spread the cooked butternut squash mixture evenly over the dough and add spoonfuls of the cheese mixture. Add a sage leaf on each dollop of cheese. Sprinkle the whole pie, especially the crust, with parmesan cheese. Bake for 10 minutes at 500 degrees or less at a higher temperature. Look for a browned crust to decipher doneness.

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Potatoes, apples & Hamm

In cold weather, potatoes are a Godsend. Baking them at high heat right on the racks slathered in olive oil and flaky sea salt not only makes for a tasty, crackly-skinned side, but fills my poorly heated apartment with radiating warmth. The act of mashing a big pot of them with a stream of buttermilk helps to maintain my illusion that this strenuous workout will combat the calories loaded in the extra helping I will inevitably devour (or at least keep my arms toned??). And crafting a casserole of potatoes au gratin, well, do I need a another reason to love this comfort food–browned and bubbly on top, warm and buttery beneath? I didn’t think so.

With cooler weather also comes prime apple-picking time and I always find myself with copious amounts of the crunchy fruit piled on my counter, overflowing from my cripser drawer. So as I sliced potatoes for a cheesy gratin last week, with a hunk of Gruyère and a block of Vermont cheddar waiting on the counter, I felt that bowlful of tart apples eyeing me reproachfully, chastising me for never getting around to that apple pie I wanted to bake. It occured to me then that the best attributes of apple pie, the sweet and slumpy fruit, would be exceptional tucked into cheesy herbed potatoes. And so it was settled. When I finished slicing the potatoes, I peeled and cored the apples and cut them to the same thickness (about 1/8 of an inch). A mandoline is ideal for this job; if you only have a very sharp knife and a steady hand, that works just fine. I made overlaping layers of the potatoes and apples in a shallow casserole dish, seasoning each layer with salt and cracked pepper, and then set my sights to the stove for the cheese sauce.

You can certainly use a number of different cheeses for this, but I like to use a mix of Gruyère and cheddar: Gruyère for that assertive, somewhat funky Swiss cheese flavor that settles in nicely with the earthiness of potatoes, and cheddar for its meltiness factor (technical term) and in this case, its perfect pairing with apples. I infused the milk with a sprig of rosemary and few sage leaves before adding the cheeses to melt. I would like to say at this point that I poured a perfect velvety cheese sauce over the potatoes and apples, slipped the casserole into the oven and calmly finished cooking the rest of my dinner while delicious aromas escaped from the oven. I repeat. I would like to say that is what happened. Reality isn’t always so kind, however. I won’t go into the nitty gritty awfulness of what ensued, but I will tell you that it started with a momentary distraction and ended with burn cream, a sink slick with oil and a strainer full of chunky cheese blobs. Thank you, Jon Hamm, for breaking my sauce.

I pride myself on being rather resourseful, so I did eventually remedy the mess I created. And the final product was most definitely worth all that effort. But word to the wise while making the sauce: maintain a gently simmering milk (don’t boil!) and, most importantly, do not let handsome comic actors steal your attention. Not even for a second. If you follow these simple rules, you will be pouring a perfect velvety cheese sauce over the potatoes and apples, slipping the casserole into the oven and calmly cooking the rest of your dinner while delicious aromas escape from your oven.

Apple Potato Gratin

2 Russet potatoes
2-3 of your favorite baking apples
1/2 small onion
1 c Gruyère cheese, grated
1 c white cheddar cheese, grated
1 c flour
1 1/2 c whole milk
1/2 tsp nutmeg (freshly grated, if you can)
1 sprig rosemary
2 sage leaves
salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Peel and core the apples. Cut into 1/8 inch slices. Cut potatoes (I like to leave skin on, your choice) into 1/8 inch rounds. Alternating, lay the apples and potato slices in overlapping rings in a buttered (or Pam-ed) casserole dish. Salt and pepper each layer. Toss cheese with flour and set aside.

Place milk, rosemary, sage and nutmeg into a saucepan over medium heat. Grate the onion directly into the pan using the finest grater you have. You only want the flavor of the onion, not the texture. Let the sauce to come to a gentle simmer, (again, do not let it boil) and allow to simmer for about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and discard rosemary and sage. Add half the cheese and stir until it begins to melt. Add the remainder and stir until all the cheese has melted.

Pour cheese sauce over the potatoes. Cover with aluminum foil and bake until potatoes are tender, about 50 minutes. Remove the foil and allow to cook for another 10-15 minutes or until the top has browned.

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What Sundays taste like

Friday morning. We’re in the weekend homestretch–so close I can taste it. What exactly does it taste like? Freedom? A boozy Saturday brunch? Warm potato and kale soup with grilled cheese, perhaps? That’s what last weekend tasted like, anyway.

Not every weekend can be completely free and easy. Inevitibly, there will be mountains of laundry to wash, places to run to, toilets to clean, but some days are just meant for dawdling, taking a long walk with no destination, celebrating the ordinary. Last Sunday was one of those days and was punctuated by waves of warm sun and crisp breezes. The perfect kind of day for foraging at a flea market,

for recognizing the accidental art of sunlight and shadows

for appreciating beautiful craftmanship

for counting one’s blessings

and for revisiting childhood comfort with an old favorite made new.

This scrumptious Sunday supper may have been simple but certainly not ordinary. Alongside a glass of hibiscus tea lemonade, this cheddar and pear chutney grilled cheese with potato kale soup was eaten at the appropriately named Green Table in the Chelsea Market (green both for its organic, seasonal menu and also for its, well, green tables).

This was no Kraft-singles-on-Wonderbread-toddler-playdate grilled cheese (though even that has its time and place). This was fancy date-night grilled cheese dressed up with tangy raw milk cheddar from Neihborly Farms of Vermont and confident with the sturdy chew from Amy’s sourdough bread. Gingered pear chutney leant a bit mystery and intrigue to each bite but spoonfuls of kale and potato soup rounded everything out and brought it back down to earth. A satisfying Sunday supper, indeed.

I like to make a grown-up grilled cheese, myself. Maybe this Sunday will taste like melted brie and raspberry preserves or white cheddar and apples if boyfriend has anything to do with it. Yum.

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Brown butter and cinnamon

When you’ve been housebound for several days courtesy of consecutive mini monsoons and a nasty, lingering cold, when you’ve been ingesting little else besides watered down juices, cough syrup and chicken soup for said days, there’s not much that can quell cabin fever or whet the appetite. Not much except for brown butter and cinnamon, as it turns out.

In an attempt to return to The Land of the Living this week, I broke out my rain boots, and cocooned myself in a comfy sweater and the warmest “fashion” scarf I could find (all of my functional cold- weather gear is still folded and stacked in a Rubbermaid container that is conveniently out of my reach, even when standing on a chair, in heels, on tiptoe). Armed with tissues, cough drops and a bottle of Gatorade, I set out to run some Errands. They were ordinary, inane tasks, but the sense of accomplishment that welled up inside of me when I triumphantly returned from the mailbox, wearing clothes that didn’t necessitate a drawstring, hauling milk, flour and a can of pumpkin from the closest grocery store…well, I think you would have been proud of me, too.

When it’s cold and rainy, I like a warm oven to putter around and fuss over and so armed with the spoils from my victorious outing, I went to work on an autumn sweet. I settled on a pumpkin cupcake recipe from the Hummingbird Bakery Cookbook despite the fact that it seemed rather ordinary: a basic cupcake batter swirled with canned pumpkin, just a bit of cinnamon to spice it and plain cream cheese frosting to top it off. This is when I decided that more cinnamon and brown butter was in order. Have you ever simmered brown butter for a cake? It’s lovely, providing an element of je ne sais quoi to a moist crumb, a rich and nutty flavor that people can’t quite put their finger on. These little cakes are moist and springy and barely sweet. Topped with sweet cream cheese frosting, which I peppered with cinnamon and candied ginger, they provide just the right warmth and spiciness that Autumn needs.

And the aroma of browning butter on a stove followed by warm cinnamon baking in the oven? Well, it was enough to snap me out of my funk and spark my hunger for life and good food again.

Pumpkin Brown Butter Cupcakes
with Cinnamon Cream Cheese Frosting

Adapted from the Hummingbird Bakery Cookbook

For the cupcakes

1 cup all-purpose flour
a scant 3/4 cup sugar
1 tbsp baking powder
2 tsp ground cinnamon
a pinch of fresh ground nutmeg
a pinch of salt
3 tbsp unsalted butter, browned*
1/2 cup whole milk
2 eggs
6 1/2 oz canned pumpkin

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

Put flour, sugar, baking powder, cinnamon, nutmeg, salt and butter in a freestanding mixer with paddle attachment (or use handheld mixer) and beat on slow speed until you get a sandy consistency and everything is combined. Gradually pour in the milk and beat until well mixed.

Add the eggs to the mix and beat well, scraping any unmixed ingredients from the side of the bowl with a spatula. Stir in the pumpkin puree by hand until evenly dispersed.

Spoon batter into paper cases until two-thirds full and bake in pre-heated oven for 15-20 minutes, until light golden and the cake bounces back when touched. Let the cupcakes cool slightly in the pan before turning out onto a wire rack to cool completely.

*For the small amount of butter that this recipe calls for, 3 tablespoons, the process of browning it won’t take long so it is essential to man your saucepan diligently. Place the butter into a small saucepan over medium heat. As the butter melts and begins to foam, swirl the pan over the burner, continuously. You will notice the butter solids separate from the liquid butter and settle at the bottom of the pan. Continue swirling until the solids begin to brown. Remove from heat and pour into a heat-safe container. Cover and set aside to cool at room temperature.

For the Frosting
2 1/2 cups confectioner’s sugar, sifted
2 tsp cinnamon
3 tbsp unsalted butter at room temperature
4 oz. cream cheese, cold
2 large pieces of candied ginger, cut in small strips

Beat the sugar, cinnamon and butter together in a freestanding electric mixer with paddle attachment on medium-slow speed until the mixture comes together and is well mixed. Add the cream cheese in one go and beat until it is completely incorporated. Turn the mixer up to medium-high speed. Continue beating until the frosting is light and fluffy, at least 5 minutes. Do not overbeat, as it can quickly become runny.

When the cupcakes are cool, spoon frosting on top and garnish with candied ginger.

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My favorite cold medicine

Hi there, I’m back. I feel like I need a sick note signed by my Dad for last week’s absence, so here is my best effort…

I woke up with a scratchy throat one day last week. Attributing it to my air conditioner, I drank a large cup of hot tea and went on my way. I then walked twenty blocks for a lunch date and showed up overheated and tired. I attributed that to the fickle weather, a day that felt more swampy and sticky than crisp and cool like a fall day should, and proceeded to down a large glass of water and two large glasses of iced tea over lunch. After barely touching my Gruyere tartine with cornichons and feeling hot, clammy and feverish once I schlepped home, I curled up on my couch and decided I should probably make some homemade chicken soup to battle this impending bug. But then I passed out for 5 days.

Everyone has their go-to comfort food to cure their cold-weather ailments. In the old days (aka my childhood), there was, of course, my Mom’s chicken soup or pastina to nurse me back to health. Although I no longer have the novelty of my Mom in the kitchen, I do have a sweet boyfriend who brings me a smorgasbord of hydration and sick-person sustenance like orange Gatorade, apple juice, mashed potatoes and udon noodle soup. I was entirely grateful for all of those things, but sometimes you really just need a remedy straight from your childhood to snap you back to wellness. So when my head stopped throbbing and I no longer felt like I wanted to die, I stumbled into the kitchen to scope out the goods.

There was no pastina. There were no vegetables for soup. There was–nothing really. There were a few eggs and some grated cheese, typical staples in my apartment, and that’s when I had the bright idea to make an old family favorite, scapel soup (scah-pell). For the longest time, I thought this was something that my family had made up along the way. No one else I talked to with Italian heritage had ever heard of “scapel soup,” although there was a “scrapel soup” which got me thinking. After scouring every online Italian resource I could find, I came upon the obvious, but overlooked, Crespelle, the Italian word for crepe. Oh, how old-world words have been tweaked and reconstructed to create a new little language (Itanglish, anyone?). This soup, whatever you want to call it, is something special. Paper thin crepes stuffed with bits of romano cheese and fresh cracked pepper are submerged in homemade chicken broth. It sounds simple enough, but it’s soul satisfying and delicious and just what I needed to kick my cold’s bum.

The recipe for my Nana’s scapels is much simpler than traditional crespelle recipes. No milk, no oil: just water, flour, eggs and salt. Thicker than milk, thinner than cream, I can still picture the batter poured from my Nana’s ladle into a hot pan greased with a little olive oil. She would tilt and roll the pan until a thin translucent layer of batter evenly coated the bottom. When the edges turned opaque and peeled away from the sizzling pan, she flipped it over for two more minutes. And that’s it–the scapel was ready with crispy golden edges, a soft, pliable center and browned bubbly pockets all over. I would eat them up, right out of the pan, drizzled with syrup or rolled up with jam. But this soup is by far my favorite way to eat them and comes in handy when cold weather and the sniffles abound.


“Scapel” Soup

The batter is very tweak-able. I usually don’t measure, I just add flour or water until it’s the consistency I remember. Use this as a base and remember, thicker than milk, thinner than cream.

For the scapel (That’s what Nana called it and I’m sticking to it)

2 eggs
3/4 cup flour
1 1/2 cup water
pinch of salt

Whisk together eggs and water. Add flour and salt and whisk to combine.

Heat a 10-inch pan over medium heat and using a paper towel, lightly grease with olive oil. Pour a small ladle of batter (about 1/4- 1/3 cup) into the pan, tilting until the bottom is completely coated. Cook 2-3 minutes or until the sides begin pulling away from the pan and the bottom is browned. Turn over. Cook for another 2 minutes until golden brown.

Grease pan as needed, and continue with the rest of the batter. Pile scapels on top of each other on a plate near the stove. They should keep warm this way. You should get about 10 scapels from this batter.

For the soup

grated Romano cheese
cracked black pepper
chicken broth/stock (preferably homemade)

Starting with the top scapel on the pile, sprinkle it with about 1 tbsp of grated cheese and 3 turns of black pepper. Starting at the edge, begin rolling the scapel like a cigar as tightly as you can. Set aside, seam side down. Continue with remaining scapels.

Using large shallow soup bowls, lay 2-3 scapels, seam side down, in each bowl. Ladel chicken broth over scapels to fill. Garnish with parsley, if you wish.

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