Friday, January 27, 2012

Pizza, Pizza

If you've been following this blog for any length of time, you know that I am absolutely in love with the books Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day and Healthy Bread in Five Minutes a Day.  Both books make the process of having freshly baked bread easy.

The authors, Jeff Hertzberg and Zoe Francois, published Artisan Pizza and Flatbread in Five Minutes a Day back in October, and the book is every bit as good as the previous two. I am now keeping buckets of pizza dough in the refrigerator for those nights when I can't think of anything else to make. My son sometimes pulls the dough out to make lunch.

As in the previous books, the basic dough takes only minutes to make and goes through an initial two hour rise. Then, into the fridge for up to two weeks, while you pull off balls of dough to shape and bake.Here's a sequence of my son, Michael, making a pepperoni pizza.

Soon after my copy of the book arrived, I decided to let the Sunday Super Supper Squad have a hand at making their own pizzas (Jeff and Zoe have been encouraging pizza parties to promote the book.) I made up the buckets of dough, choosing the basic dough and what they called the "strong" dough which would be better for tossing. Then I divided out the half-pound balls for everyone. I had told folks that I would provide sauce and mozzarella cheese, but they would each have to contribute their own favorite toppings to decorate their own pies.

Our friend Bob Harris (of Jeopardy! fame) showed up ("What could be better than pizza and The Amazing Race?") and jumped right into the fun.
I love having a kitchen that is big enough to accommodate more than a dozen people trying to make pizza.

The evening was a huge hit. I have two baking stones and a double oven, so, while it might have been nicer to make more than two pizzas at a time, it was certainly faster than one pizza at a time.  Dinner was kind of a serial meal that night, but we had a large salad to carry folks through the stages of waiting and there was the viewing of The Amazing Race at the end.

I've found that using the parchment paper helps keep the baking stones a little cleaner and it is easier to get the pizzas on and off the stone.  What we sometimes do is remove the paper for the final few minutes of baking. Generally, it comes off pretty easily and the crust is a bit crisper for it. We also decided we liked the taste and texture of the basic mix better than the "strong" dough. None of us has much skill at tossing to stretch the pizza, so the strong dough isn't really necessary.

I am weighing my flour before mixing the dough. I think it is leading to more consistent results. I also weigh the dough before shaping and stretching it. A half-pound piece was used to make each of the pizzas in the photographs--the final diameter and thickness were all the result of the pizzaiolo's skills.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Summer Tastes

Here's a draft I started in early August, with a few choice updates:
Summer time means some traveling for us, particularly the five days we are gone every year for San Diego Comic-Con International.  As often happens, it fell on my birthday this year, so a party had to wait until the weekend after. The other person who got short-sheeted on a birthday party is my son, who turned 30 in August. Please tell me where the time goes.

I did plan a special excursion for Michael's birthday, which involved the L.A. subway system,  food, Little Tokyo, and a Dodgers' game. Michael loves all things Japanese, so lunch was a stop at a highly praised ramen shop for noodles.

The place also served some pretty good goyza, those lovely little Japanese dumplings.

We spent part of the afternoon at the Japanese-American Museum, visiting an exhibit of the work of Stan Sakai, an artist who is an old friend of my husband. He's the creator of Usagi Yojimbo, a samurai rabbit. The exhibit was to honor the Year of the Rabbit, which is my sign in the eastern zodiak.

The final event of the day was the trip to Dodger Stadium, where a special acknowledgement greeted Michael.

The food at Dodger Stadium left a lot to be desired. I don't eat hot dogs and everything else was pretty awful. But the Dodgers did win that night and we got lap blankets as a premium because we were there as part of a group from the college district.

My attempts at gardening last year were pretty feeble.  The herbs did o.k. in pots on the patio. The tomatoes didn't make it. Our adolescent dog Riley, is risked his life by digging them up. (Tomato plants can be toxic to dogs.) The plan for this year involves raised beds on a strip of the property the dogs can't get to. I'm a little worried about the amount of sun, but I'm willing to give it a try. Ideally, I'd like to cut the bamboo outside the kitchen windows and put the raised beds there (and add greenhouse windows to the kitchen), but I haven't been able to get the gardeners to do the work.

When we had my birthday party, the caterer could not get enough of my fresh thyme.  I have to remember to water it, because the summer heat can really dry the dirt out but the sage seems to do better with less water, and is happy in a pot with some rosemary.  One can never have too much rosemary, and there is a huge plant at the far side of the pool (I dream of having a topiary formed in the shape of Swamp Thing for it), but in a down-pour, I'd rather it was closer to the kitchen.  There is also never enough basil, but it bolts really easily in the summer around here. In the north-east, where I grew up, I can remember rows of the fragrant plant in Great-Aunt Rose's garden that lasted through the summer. 

When my party was over, I was left with a lot of heirloom tomatoes that never got incorporated into the salad the caterer planned. That meant it was time for a Tuscan Tomato Soup, which I've made before, as well as a "Deconstructed Eggplant Parmesan" recipe I found.  To balance things out, I also made a four-cheese mac'n'cheese (since Len won't eat eggplant and isn't supposed to eat tomatoes any more.)  It was meatless Monday for the Sunday Super Supper Squad that week.

I used Anne Burrell's Tuscan Tomato and Bread Soup recipe.  Her cookbook (Cook Like a Rock Star) came out in October and I made sure I preordered it.  I just love her show Secrets of a Restaurant Chef on Food Network. I'm pretty sure I've seen every episode and I'd buy the series if was offered on DVD. I always learn something new from her. I must admit, I'm looking forward to the third season of Worst Cook in America, because she is a great teacher.