Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Homemade pizza dough

I grew up on homemade pizza, my mother was an expert. I am not quite sure where she learned how, probably from one of her Italian friends but I do know that she and my Uncle Jerome had a competition of sorts about who made the best homemade pizza. lol In my opinion, who cares, both of them were great. 

Making homemade pizza dough is so easy, you are going to be asking yourself why you haven’t tried this before. This is a very easy dough recipe that requires absolutely no skill to make. The proof is that I can do it at a moment’s notice.
  • 5 cups of white flour, it does not need to be sifted
  • 3 teaspoons salt
  • 2 cups warm water
  • 2 packs of dry yeast
  • 2 tablespoons of sugar
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil or melted Crisco
Measure the flour and the salt and add them to a large mixing bowl. Put this to the side.
In a two cup measuring cup add the warm water, it should feel warm, not hot when you test it on your wrist. Measure the sugar and add to the water. The yeast goes in last and just stir lightly. When it has dissolved completely add slowly to the flour mixture and blend, I use a large wooden spoon. The oil goes in last and this is a good time to get your hands into the mix.

Turn the dough out onto a floured board and start to knead. You will want to work this dough with your hands until it has developed elasticity. There is an art to kneading, press down on the dough with the palm of your then pull the dough over the indentation you made with your palm. Keep rotating the dough until it is well mixed. This will take between five and ten minutes. Think of it as culinary therapy. I love kneading dough; it allows me to work out a lot of frustration. Add more flour as needed to keep the dough from sticking to the board.

If it is a cool day, set your oven to 250 degrees long enough to get warm then shut it off. You want your dough to have a nice warm spot in which to rise. Pour a little olive oil into the bowl and coat the bowl well. Put the dough back into the bowl and rub the top of the dough with a little additional olive oil. Cover the dough with a clean dishtowel. It should be kept out of drafts. which is why I like a just slightly warm over.

Let it rise for an hour or two, then check on it. When it has doubled in size punch it back down and let it rise again.

When it has risen a second time it is ready to start making your pizza.

Split the dough in half, put one piece aside, take the other piece and roll it out on a floured surface. I use my wooden cutting board but any clean, floured surface will do. Your crust should be about an inch and a half bigger then you pan on all sides. If you are using a pizza pan, lightly cover it with olive oil. If you use a pizza stone, this step isn’t necessary. Roll the edge of the crust back to make a higher edge, this gives the crust it nice high rim.

I make a very simple sauce for my pizza:
  • One large can of tomato puree
  • 2 teaspoons dried oregano
  • 1-teaspoon garlic powder
  • A splash of olive oil
Spread a thin coat over the pizza with a large spoon. Add thinly sliced onion and green peppers, arrange ground beef or Italian sausage on top and cover with handfuls of mozzarella and cheddar cheese grated and mixed. I worked at a pizza parlor as a teen and this is the cheese combination they used. Add a little olive oil over the top and you are ready for the oven.

Repeat with the second piece of dough.

Bake your pizza in a 400-degree oven for twenty to twenty-five minutes or until your crust is golden brown.

This recipe makes two good size pizzas.

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees

This same dough can be used to make schiacciata. When my children were young this was one of their favorite meals.
  • 1 pound sweet Italian sausage
  • 1 can sliced potatoes
  • 1 can stewed Italian style tomatoes
  • 1 cup fresh grated mozzarella cheese
Squeeze the sausage out of the casing and into a lightly greased frying pan and saute until brown. Open the cans of potatoes and tomatoes. Drain both of them, really squeeze as much water out of the tomatoes as possible. Drain the sausage and mix it with the potatoes and tomatoes.

Roll out half of the pizza dough. Place on a greased pizza stone or pan. Spoon the mixture onto half of the dough cover with the cheese. Flip the other half over the mixture and seal the edge.

Cook in the oven for 30 minutes.

Take it out of the oven, cut into slices and serve it to your adoring family. They will be hard pressed to believe that you made this all by yourself from scratch. Only you will know how very easy it was.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Creating a sourdough starter

A good sourdough starter is a thing of beauty, and creating a sourdough starter has almost reached mythical proportions. There was a time when it was a popular thing to have one whose name was Herman growing in your kitchen. Herman was the base for a variety of delicious cakes and bread.

The idea was that Herman grew and then you shared Herman with your friends. At one point in the 70s there were no more friends to share Herman with and he died out, at least in this writer’s neighborhood. It seems that Herman is still alive and well and helping cooks create delicious baked goods.

To welcome Herman to your home you have two choices, you can receive Herman from a friend or even order him on the Internet or you can create your own Herman. To make your own Herman you don’t need very much. Herman has a simple base of 1 cup of flour, one cup of milk and ½ cup sugar. The milk needs to be warmed to at least 110 degrees and then combined with the other two ingredients. Choose a bowl that you are not going to miss and make sure it is a lot bigger than the original ingredients.

Once the ingredients are all combined mix them together until the mixture is smooth. Place a clean dish towel over the bowl and set it in a warm location, at least 70 degrees is up to 80 is ideal. It is now a game of watch the mixture ferment. Don’t leave the mixture alone, it will enjoy your company, stir it often. What is happening is that yeast will begin to develop and this is where the fun starts. It is also possible to start Herman with yeast which gets the process going faster.

It can take two to three days for the process to get to the point where you need to start feeding Herman. On day four give Herman a cup each of flour, milk, and sugar. Stir for the next four days and then on day 10, feed Herman again. It is now time to start to bake with Herman and at this point, you may also want to start giving away some of the sourdough starter to some of your friends.There are many things that you can bake with sourdough starter, bread, cake, muffins, and bars.

A favorite recipe is called the Friendship Cake and the recipe is usually given with Herman when he is shared with friends. If you end up with more starter than you can easily use, you can freeze the starter and it will become dormant. The 10-day process for Herman continues for as long as he is alive and well on your counter so he will grow at quite an alarming rate. It is a good idea to really enjoy baking or to have a very large circle of friends when you decide to have your own sourdough starter.


Additional reading:

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Oven roasted beef brisket

Brisket is one of the toughest and most flavorful cuts of beef. It lends itself well to corning, which we all know, and goes great with cabbage. In order to make an oven cooked beef brisket, it should be cooked slowly to allow the connective tissues in the meat to break down. 

This cut should have plenty of fat to baste the roast as it is cooking so choose your piece of meat accordingly.

4 pounds of brisket
1/4 cup olive oil
1 onion sliced thin
2 bay leaves
2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons ground black pepper
2 cups beef stock
2 cloves of garlic whole
5 red potatoes cut into 4 pieces
4 large carrots cut into 4 pieces each
2 small purple turnips cut into chunks
2 parsnips cut into chunks
1 sweet potato cut into pieces


Place the roasting pan on the stove burner at medium heat. Add the olive oil and meat and brown the brisket on both sides. Browning adds a lot of flavor to the meat and makes it a more attractive color as well. Add the next five ingredients into the pan and cover tightly with aluminum foil. Place in a 325-degree oven for 2 hours.

Raise the temperature of the oven to 400 degrees, place the vegetables in the pan and replace the aluminum foil back on tight. Cook for an additional half hour and then remove the foil. Cook for an additional 30 minutes. This is important to give some color to the vegetables. Remove the pan from the oven and let the meat rest for five to ten minutes.

Take the brisket out and slice at an angle. 

Put the meat on a large platter and arrange the vegetables around the meat. Pour any juice that is left over top and serve. You can deglaze the pan with red wine if you enjoy that in your sauce. If you want your sauce to be a gravy you have two options. First, you can flour the brisket before you brown it or you can add flour to the sauce to thicken it. Either works, it is simply a matter of personal taste.

With long slow cooking, the beef brisket should be literally falling apart. This is a meal that is perfect for a fall or winter dinner with it long-cooked flavor and all the nutrients supplied by the vegetables. It is as comforting as it is delicious. It is also economical and can feed a large family.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Gourmet food gifts that are sure to please

Food and gourmet gifts are always popular and even more than at the holidays when there are many people who may not be able to afford to purchase these items for themselves. There are some food gifts that are practical, some that are great for families and some that are just indulgences. 

Food and gourmet gifts are as much fun to give as they are to receive. These gifts are also wonderfully easy to give, a few clicks of your mouse will have all your gift orders scheduled for holiday delivery. Imagine the look of joy on the face of the recipients when these gourmet delights arrive.

Practical Food Gifts

If you are looking for a food gift for your meat-loving friends, a package of great steaks from Omaha Steaks will be well received. You can also go with Kansas City Steaks or Corky's Ribs.

If you are looking for a little more healthy option, Harry and David offers fruit baskets for families and singles in a variety of sizes. You can choose to order just one box or a year full of delicious fruit. These are not just your average fruits either; they sell  perfect examples.

For the gourmet chef, why not choose a selection of spices in a pretty gift box from the Spice House This is a gift that will keep on giving all year long. How about a delicious selection of jams and jellies or chutneys from Stonewall Kitchen. These will certainly be very welcome gifts. If you are sending your gift early they even offer a gingerbread house kit that will be a wonderful gift for your favorite family. 

Families

A great food gift for a family is a bag or basket from Wolferman's.  This can include their signature English muffins, breads, desserts, jams, and jellies. They have little muffins, standard size, and giant and they come in a wide variety of flavors.

A coffee basket from  Green Mountain Coffee can come with Ghirardelli Hot Chocolate and they also offer tea choices. The Popcorn Factory has gift ideas set and ready to go for the holidays. What a great family gift along with a movie.

Indulgence

When it comes to indulgences, brownies rank right up there. The Food Network has named  Sugardaddys the best of the best after they won a throwdown against Bobby Flay. These luscious beauties will impress anyone. You can go brunette or Blondie, nutty, minty or spicy, they have it all. This is a totally indulgent gift for someone who will appreciate a "couture" brownie.

When you think gourmet chocolate the Belgian chocolate, Godiva comes to mind. They have expanded beyond just their signature truffles and filled chocolates to include cakes, cupcakes, brownies, and cookies. Deliveries can be scheduled to arrive just in time for the holidays.

Want to send a gift of gourmet cheese, truffles or caviar? You can find it all at this one-stop gourmet food store.  

The Gourmet Food Store has cheeses from around the world and will make up baskets with whatever you choose.

Fortnum and Mason, the London cornerstone, has been offering wonderful food hampers for all occasions for as long as anyone can remember. You can have a gourmet picnic basket packed with every indulgence you want to include.

Food and gourmet gifts are one of the most popular gifts to give and to receive, Christmas is no exception. If you prefer to pack your own gifts you can order pieces from most of these retailers or just use their packages as a template for making your own.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Confessions of a habitual cookbook collector

At some point, the exact year escapes me, I joined a cookbook club and suddenly I had four new cookbooks, which soon multiplied to eight and twelve since I was terrible at returning the cards on time. What I realized somewhere along the way was that I enjoy reading cookbooks. This began my next phase of collecting. I enjoyed reading about Southern cooking, Shaker cooking and cooking at The White House.

Celebrity recipe favorites soon joined my collection. Everywhere I went I looked for a new book to add to my collection. In 1995 we had a catastrophic house fire and I lost most of my cookbooks, I was devastated, years of collecting went down the tubes. At some point, I realized that by haunting antique stores and flea markets, I could replace many if not all of my cookbooks. One that I have never replaced is my 1890′s White House Cookbook.

In the past nineteen years, I have gone on to a whole new phase of cookbook collecting as we changed our eating habits. During the Atkins years, it was all about meat and Barbara Kafka’s Roasting Cookbook offered me many ways to make my meat taste really good. All my baking cookbooks became strictly reading material, and I added several slow cooker books to my hoard.

The Atkins years are over and I revel in my collection of cookie, cake and bread books. I love reading Jim Fobel's "Old Fashioned Baking Book" and "Just Like Grandma used to Make" by Lois Wyse. Natalie Dupre sold me on Southern Cooking long before Paula Dean made it a household word. Every vacation was an opportunity to pick up a new cookbook.

A trip to Vienna gave me "Imperial Austrian Cuisine" by Renata Wagner Wittula. Our cruise to Bermuda added "The Royal Caribbean International Cookbook". My all-time favorite cookbooks for actually cooking are "50 Ways to Cook Anything" and Good Housekeeping’s paperback "Cooking with Susan". I still love to read "Cooking for Madam" by Marta Sgubin about her years cooking for Jackie O.

As we were getting closer to retirement I began trying to downsize. I can’t stop collecting cookbooks but I have made a deal with myself. If one comes in, one must go out. It makes me think really hard about adding a new book, which old book will I part with. Luckily I have several by authors who will remain unnamed that I am happy to see go. I have fallen victim to impulse buying and realized after the fact that these books add nothing to my collection.

How many cookbooks do I have? Several hundred I am sure and while I don’t expect the collection to grow I know it will evolve. The wonderful thing about cookbook collecting is that it is a reflection of our own personality. It is also very affordable, you don’t have to be wealthy to have a fantastic cookbook collection as a matter of fact if you buy second hand or from discount shelves, it can be very inexpensive.

Collecting cookbooks doesn’t take any special knowledge, you don’t have to spend a lot of money and you can start slow and add on as you find your favorite author or type. Maybe you like baking cookbooks, there certainly are plenty to choose from. You might want to start with A Passion for Baking by Marcy Goodman. The sky is the limit. If you want older books you can search second-hand bookstores or antique stores. For new books, Amazon has an amazing variety as does Barnes and Noble.

No two people will ever have duplicate collections. Let friends and family know you enjoy cookbooks and they will turn up among your Christmas and birthday gifts. Becoming a cookbook collector can become an obsession, a delicious one. All you need is the space to store your collection.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Jam n Eggs Glens Falls New York

Jam n Eggs in Glen Falls New York offers breakfast and lunch daily. We stopped in on a Tuesday morning in late August and it was quiet at 9:30 a.m. What attracted me to this restaurant was the fact that they offer Eggs Benedict and reviews of the restaurant claim that it is the best that diners have ever tasted. Who could resist that? Not me.


I did order the eggs Benedict and while the hollandaise sauce may not be quite as good as the one at Max Amore, which I personally think is the best in the world, it was a very good benny. What I did like was that they serve it with ham as opposed to Canadian bacon and it was much more flavorful than the Canadian bacon. The poached egg was cooked perfectly and the yoke added the lusciousness that one expects from a benny. The homes fries were very good as well.

Al ordered the regular stack of blueberry pancakes. These three behemoths were double the amount that he could eat. They were well loaded with blueberries and had some serious depth to them. Favor was excellent and he took the leftovers with him to eat the next day.


Joe had fried eggs and toast and the eggs were perfectly cooked. With our coffee, juice and hot chocolate, we had plenty of food to fuel our morning of travel. A very good breakfast for sure. 

Friday, October 6, 2017

Bravo an American Bistro Providence RI

I have been eating at Bravo for years. It was for many years, my go-to restaurant whenever I was in Providence. Then, as often happens, I stopped hanging out in Providence. There is really no reason for it, things just happen. Now, the only reason I go to Providence is to attend the NERGC or a performance at the Providence Performing Arts Center. 

On September 24th Kasey and I went to attend a Sunday matinee performance of Les Miz. We wanted to grab lunch before the shoe and I remembered Bravo. It is only 4 or 5 blocks from the theater and if we were lucky enough to find on-street parking, we would save the $20 it costs to park near the performing arts center. We found a spot right across the street from Bravo. 

I should have made reservations but I didn't. It was very busy and without reservations, we had a choice of at the bar or a high-top table in the bar, we chose the high top. Our waitress showed up relatively quickly but as I said, it was very busy. 

On Sunday brunch is served and usually, I have breakfast here but today I decided to have a turkey club sandwich. Kasey had a chicken sandwich. I went with the homemade fries which are wonderful and Kasey opted for the greens which she also loved. 

My sandwich had carved turkey, cranberry mayo, bacon, melted Havarti cheese, and lettuce. It was delicious and I ate every bite. Kasey also cleaned her plate. She had a glass of Pino which she said was excellent. We were both delighted with our food and the general atmosphere. I have never been disappointed with my food here and we will be returning the next time we are in town for a show. 

The next time you are in Providence I highly recommend giving Bravo a try.