Pizza Pie

My mother thinks the Pie should feature more in this little DIY show.  So here you go.

Chop up some toppings of your choice.

Pizza is one of Pie’s specialties, one he learned from my dad, the self-titled Pizza King.  It’s pretty easy, but the Pizza King will have you believe otherwise.  The other day was date night for us and we needed something that didn’t require a lot of effort and had us out of the house by 6:30.

You take your recipe for Mack Truck Bread and halve it.  When you are in the process of mixing the flour with the water/yeast mixture, add a tablespoon of olive oil.

Leave the dough to rise for an hour in a warm spot.

Preheat the oven to 425°F.

Spray a pizza pan and flatten your dough a little bit onto the pan.  Let it rise for another 20 minutes or so on the pan, then flatten it outwards so it fills the whole pan.

Sprinkle some herbs on the dough.  I like to put herbes du provence on the dough.  For some reason the lavender makes for a tasty pizza pie.

Open up a 7.5oz (213mL) can of pizza sauce and smear that baby all over your dough.

Arrange upon the pie the toppings of your choice.  Given that we just had Easter, we have a lot of leftover ham, so that’s what we used. We also used onions and mushrooms, a favourite combination according to the Pie.

Top that with some grated mozzarella cheese (in this case we used marble cheddar) and bake for 25 minutes.

Slice it up and serve it hot.  It’s good the next day as well.

That's a biga pizza pie

Roasted Red Fingerling Potatoes with Rosemary and Sea Salt

Easy peasy pudding and pie, this recipe is.  Roasted vegetables are one of life’s greatest pleasures, and the Pie and I take advantage of the ease of this particular dish and make it wayyy too often.

Preheat your oven to 350°F.

Take yourself some fingerling potatoes.  We prefer the red ones, but the yellow ones are also good.  You can also use new potatoes or mini potatoes or even regular potatoes if you cut them small enough.  Fingerlings are best, however.  I used a whole bag (about 3lbs) for this dish and it serves about 9 people.

Scrub your little potatoes until they shine and cut up the larger ones.  I like to slice some in half lengthwise, and some width-wise, because they all roast differently that way and I like the variety.

Plop the potatoes in a baking or roasting pan and drizzle with olive oil.  Sprinkle with a few pinches of sea salt and about 2 tbsp of fresh rosemary (or frozen, but dried rosemary won’t do this justice).  Toss with your hands until everything is coated with everything else.

Pop the potatoes in the oven and let roast 30 to 40 minutes, tossing/flipping them once, until the potatoes are crusty on the outside and tender on the inside.  Serve them up.  Also good cold the next day, if you’re into that kind of thing.

Basic Burgers

Today is the first day after the Pie and I finished our month-long vegetarian experiment.  Accordingly, we’re going to MEAT IT UP and have ourselves some burgers tonight.  So much for easing back into omnivorism.

There are two very important things to remember when making burgers by hand.  The first is to buy no leaner than a medium ground chuck.  You may think you’ve made a healthy choice with a leaner ground but your burger will not stick together and will crumble as it cooks.  The second is to touch the meat as little as possible, which is quite a feat considering you need to hand-form the patties.  But it is doable, and making your own burgers really isn’t that hard.

There is a third thing you should know about burgers: KEEP IT SIMPLE.  Remember that you are frying or grilling up some ground meat, which, as it cooks, will secrete slippery oil and will shrink into individual particles.  This means that cohesiveness is an issue when making burgers, which is why you don’t touch them too much or get too rough with them.  The more stuff you add to the chuck before forming it into the patty, the more you risk a crumbling burger.  If you’re going to add things to the meat, make sure they’re small things so they don’t mess with the burger’s internal structure.

Gonna get gooey.

So you take your meat.  We made some of these patties out of medium ground beef and others from ground chicken.  I like to leave it out of the fridge for a while because you are going to be working it in your hands and manipulating cold ground meat feels like sticking your hands in the northern Pacific in the winter (which I have done and don’t recommend).  The amount of meat you use depends on the number of burgers you want, obviously.  We find a kilo of ground makes about 9 3-inch patties.

Put your meat in a large bowl that you can easily get your hands into.  Remove your rings and roll up your sleeves.  This is going to get gooey.

Finely (and I’m talking FINE) dice a medium onion and chuck that in with the meat.  Add a few teaspoons of minced garlic from a jar, and a few sprinkles of dried oregano and basil (or any herb of your choice) and a pinch or two of sea salt and ground pepper.  If you’re feeling adventurous you can add a few splashes of Worcestershire sauce and/or Tabasco sauce.  Don’t go too crazy with your ingredients, because you need the meat to be able to stick to itself as it cooks.

If you have no confidence in your patty cohesiveness, or if you have ignored me and purchased lean ground beef, you can add an egg or two, but I think that’s cheating.  Eggs are useful in meatloaf, but they don’t really belong in burgers.  ON burgers, but not IN burgers.

Working quickly, mix the meat with your hands until all your ingredients are just combined.

Grab a handful of the mixture and pat it gently into a patty about the size of your palm.  Make a thumbprint indentation in the centre of the patty and set it aside.  The indentation will keep the patty from contracting too much as it cooks.  Repeat until all the meat is gone.

You can freeze your patties for use at a later date.  Simply separate the patties with wax paper and place them in a freezer bag, tightly sealed, with the air removed.

Heat a large skillet with a bit of olive oil (or a grill, or even a broiler) and get those patties on there.  Once the patties are on the hot surface, you leave them the hell alone.  You may flip the burgers, but you can only do it ONCE, usually about five to ten minutes into the cooking, depending on how well done you like your meat.  Safety-wise, your burger should be cooked to an internal temperature of 160°F.

If you like cheese on your burger, put a few slices on after you have flipped the patty and they will melt into the meat.

Serve on a bun of your choice with the toppings you like.  Very much a crowd-pleaser, and it covers four food groups.

Risotto Cakes with Roasted Vegetables in Rose Sauce

I went to lunch last Saturday with Kª (of KK fame, otherwise known as The Lady Downstairs) at The Rooms, St. John’s only museum/archives/art gallery/restaurant.

One of the few vegetarian options on the menu was risotto cakes with roasted vegetables in a rosé sauce, so I ordered it, and I enjoyed it thoroughly.

The Pie and I kind of have a policy where we won’t order it in a restaurant if we can make it ourselves, and I think this is one of those things that I could easily re-create.

I had to think about this for a bit, and do some research.  I haven’t made risotto in years and the last time I did so things ended badly.  Not only did this risotto have to be well-done, but I had to figure out how to bake it into wedges.

I also had to think about the sauce I was going to use.  I could just buy some rosé sauce in a jar from the store, but I figure if I was going to take the time and have the patience to make risotto that turned out right, then I was going to make the effort to create an original sauce to put it in.

Also, I was on a quest for the right kind of roasting vegetables.  The vegetables I had at the restaurant were red, yellow, and green peppers, with eggplant and I believe zucchini.  I was going to do it with red peppers only, onions, zucchini, and butternut squash because I couldn’t find any eggplant anywhere (you make do with what you have, right?).

The nice thing about this recipe, I think, is you can do all three parts separately and ahead of time, and then heat the whole thing up later on.

Toss in a bowl with pepper and salt.
Oiled up like a Turkish oil wrestler.

So let’s start with the vegetables.  Preheat your oven to 400°F. Cut one large onion into eighths and chuck in a large baking pan.  Chop 2 small zucchini into thick discs and add it to the pan, along with a red pepper, cut into long thick strips, and one butternut squash, seeds and stringy bits removed, cut into wedges.  Season with salt and pepper, and toss with olive oil until all the vegetables are coated.  It’s easiest to do the tossing in a bowl, actually.  Cover tightly with foil and bake until golden and aromatically soft, about 30 minutes or so.  I then uncovered them and baked them for a further 30 minutes so they crispened up a tad.  Use your judgment.  Leave the vegetables to cool for a bit while you do other things, but leave the oven on.

Roasty toasty.

While the vegetables are doing their thing you can start on your sauce.

Finely chop about 6 or 7 regular-sized mushrooms.  Sauté them in a large pan with a bit of butter and a bit of olive oil (the oil keeps the butter from burning) until brown and tender.   Add 3 or 4 teaspoons of minced garlic (from a jar, because that’s how I roll) and reduce the heat.

Sautee with butter.
Spice it up.
Add cream and stir carefully.

Add a 28oz can (about 800mL) of crushed tomatoes to the pan.  Add a 5oz (150mL) can of tomato paste and mix evenly over medium heat.  Sprinkle in generous amounts of dried parsley, dried basil, and dried oregano.  Let this simmer for about 15 minutes, then add 1/4 to 1/2 cup heavy cream (whipping cream).  Alternately, you can use plain yogurt or coconut milk.  Stir carefully until fully integrated, then reduce heat to low and leave it like that, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking.

Now we can work on that risotto of ours.  In a medium saucepan, melt some butter with some olive oil (again, to prevent the butter from burning), and chuck in one whole onion, diced.  Sauté that sucker for a little while until translucent.

Saute until translucent

Add in one cup arborio rice (that’s right, it’s not actually called risotto — risotto is what you make out of it), one cup of dry white wine, and a heaping tablespoon of powdered vegetable broth.  Stir at high heat and allow the liquid to evaporate.

Add wine and rice.

Add one cup boiling (or very hot) water to rice and stir occasionally to release the stuff that sticks to the bottom.  After about 3 or 4 minutes, the water will have been absorbed by the rice.  Repeat this step twice more, so the total amount of liquid you will have added will be 3 cups of water and one cup of wine.  It will take about 20 minutes for the risotto to achieve its signature creamy consistency.  While it’s doing that, carefully butter a springform pan and set it aside.

Creamy risotto

Add 2 tablespoons butter to the rice as well as 3 tablespoons grated romano cheese.  Remove from heat and beat in 2 eggs.

Quickly stir in the eggs.
Level the top.
Bake until set and golden.

Pour the risotto mixture into the buttered springform pan and level the top.  Pop the pan in the oven and bake for 30 to 35 minutes, until the ‘cake’ is firm and golden.  Allow to cool for about 15 minutes.

Run a soft spatula around the edges of the ‘cake’ and pop it from the springform pan.  Allow to cool a bit more, then cut into wedges.

Cool and cut into wedges.

While the risotto cake is cooling, go back to your vegetables.  Peel the skin from the roasted squash and roughly cut the vegetables into bite-sized pieces.

Add the vegetables to the rose sauce and heat the whole thing up until it starts to bubble a bit.

Heat up the vegetables and sauce.

Arrange one or two wedges in a bowl and surround with vegetables and sauce.  Sprinkle with more grated romano cheese.  Serves 4-6.

I hope you're hungry.

Roasted Garlic

Grab yourself some garlic.

Seriously, is there anything better than roasted garlic?  I’m not sure there is.  I got this idea from Martha Stewart, of course.

Preheat your oven to 400°F.

Take some garlic, still in its head (I used five, because that’s what came in the package), and carefully slice off the top quarter of the head.  Make sure the garlic sits flat and arrange the heads, cut-side-up in a baking dish.

Cut off the top quarter or so.

Season the garlic heads with salt and pepper, and sprinkle with some fresh thyme (or frozen, if you have some on hand).

Sprinkle with salt, pepper, and thyme.

Slowly drizzle olive oil over each head, letting the oil soak into and around the cloves.  My heads were small, and I used about a tablespoon of oil for each head.

Drizzle the oil so it soaks in.

Cover the dish tightly with tin foil and roast until the cloves are golden, very soft, and starting to stick out of the head a bit, about an hour.  Let them cool until you can hold them comfortably in your hand.

Starting from the bottom, squeeze each head to push out the cloves and peel the skin from any cloves still enclosed.  At least, that’s what Martha told me to do.  I found it was easier to peel the outside layer of skin away and pop out the roasted clove.

Pop out the roasted cloves.

Transfer the garlic and the cooking oil to a jar or other airtight container and keep in the fridge for up to two weeks.

My very own garlic in a jar!

Tabouleh tabouleh tabouleh

I really like the word tabouleh.  I remember eating it often as a kid.  It’s a good quick salad and it works well in a pita sandwich.

We made this recipe with couscous, but you can substitute it for quinoa or bulgur or other grains.

Stir the couscous and oil into the water and allow to expand for 2 minutes.

To prepare the couscous, bring a cup of salted water to a boil in a small pot.  Remove from the heat and pour in a cup of couscous.  Add in 1 tablespoon of olive oil, stir, and allow the pasta to expand for two minutes.

Return the couscous to a low heat on the stove.  Drop in 2 to 3 teaspoons of butter and stir until well-blended.  Allow to cool.

Add butter to couscous and stir on low heat until melted.

We got this tabouleh recipe from the Joy of Cooking (2006 edition) by Rombauer & Becker, and we replaced the bulgur with couscous, of course, and  we weren’t all that good at measuring, either, so we fiddled with the amounts.

Finely chop 2 to 3 tomatoes, 2 cups of fresh parsley, 1 cup of fresh mint, and 1 bunch of scallions or green onions. See my tips and tricks entry on how to finely chop herbs.

In a small bowl or measuring cup, emulsify 1/3 cup olive oil with 1/3 cup lemon juice.  To do this, I took a very small whisk and rubbed it between my palms until the liquid was creamy and custard coloured.

Use a small whisk to emulsify the ingredients.
Rub the whisk briskly between your palms until the liquid is custardy.

In a large bowl, mix the couscous, tomatoes, onions, and herbs together thoroughly.  Toss with the olive oil/lemon juice emulsion and serve.

Serve as a salad or in a sandwich.

We spooned the tabouleh into open pita pockets lined with baby spinach and home-made hummus and ate them with Garbage Soup.

Pita pockets with hummus, tabouleh, and baby spinach.

Roasted Spaghetti Squash with Herbs

me: have you ever made anything with spaghetti squash before?

Cait: since i don’t know what you’re talking about, no

Cait: i think it looks so much like spaghetti that i’d be disappointed when it didn’t taste like spaghetti

me: it tastes like squash

Cait: of course it tastes like squash it’s a freaking squash

The card from my magic book.

The mysterious and elusive spaghetti squash.

I have always been intrigued about the physical properties of spaghetti squash, although until the other day I had never tried it.  We found a squash sale at Sobeys and decided to give it a whirl.  I wrangled up a recipe I had been keeping for yonks out of my magic book of recipes, and I went at it.

The recipe called for 4lbs of spaghetti squash.  My scale only goes up to 500g so I had to give it my best estimate.  It was supposed to serve 4, so I did some mental math and came up with two squash about the size of my feet (while this may not be a standard measurement for you, it works pretty well for me).

I may need a bigger scale.

Cut the squash in half lengthwise.  The recipe said nothing to me about removing the seeds and stringy bits so I left them in and I regretted it later.  I would recommend digging those suckers out with a grapefruit spoon or serrated knife.

Cut side up.

Brush the open squash halves with olive oil, then sprinkle with brown sugar, coarse salt, and ground pepper.

Cut side down. Don't worry about spraying the pan - the oil on the squash is enough.

Flip the squash halves face down on a rimmed baking sheet and chuck them in the oven at 400°F for 45 minutes.  Cool them, in the pan and on a rack, for 10 minutes after that.

Using a table fork, dig out the contents of the squash in stringy little bits – it really is amazing how much this resembles spaghetti – and put the contents in a large bowl.  Drizzle with olive oil, then add 1/4 to 1/2 cup of roasted chopped hazelnuts (fun fact: also known as filberts), 1/4 to 1/2 cup of grated parmesan cheese, and 1/4 to 1/2 cup of chopped herbs (the recipe called for fresh cilantro, but I only had a tiny bit of frozen stuff, so I mixed it with some frozen pesto I had made and that was that).  I can assume that you would use any herb you had on hand, really.

Hazelnuts, Pesto, and Parmesan Cheese - my three favourite things.
The leftover squash shells.
Fork the crap out of that thing.

Toss and serve immediately.

I actually wasn’t too happy with this recipe.  The first negative was, of course, the left-in seeds, which, had they been properly roasted like pumpkin seeds, would have been awesome, but because they were still pretty raw, were actually kind of nasty.  I also didn’t feel that the hazelnuts added anything special to this recipe.  Next time, I would go with slivered almonds or pecan bits, for a milder, sweeter taste.  The pesto was excellent of course, but that’s because I have mad skills.  The leftovers were better the next day, but I think I will just chuck the remainder in some sort of minestrone and be done with it.  Recipe to follow, I guess.

Toss and serve.

Mack Truck Bread

My magic recipe book.

This recipe comes from a book called No Need to Knead by Susanne Dunway.  You can get it on Amazon for about 35 bucks.   I don’t remember the actual name of the recipe itself, but in my family we’ve always called it Mack Truck Bread.  At the beginning of the recipe, there’s a little story about the baker making a pile of these breads and taking them across the street.  One of them fell to the asphalt and was run over by a Mack truck.  The incredulous onlookers watched as the flattened bread miraculously returned to its original shape.  It’s a very durable baked good.

This recipe makes one 9-12″ round focaccia loaf or two 13″ baguettes.  Best served hot, though it’s good for toasting the next day if wrapped carefully.  After that it gets a little too stale.

In a medium-sized bowl, pour two cups of lukewarm water (in my house, which is very cold, I usually have the water temperature at warm, and it cools from there).

Sprinkle the yeast over the lukewarm water.
Stir the yeast until it dissolves.

Sprinkle two teaspoons active dry yeast into the water and stir until dissolved.

In a measuring cup, mix four cups of all-purpose flour with two teaspoons of salt.  Add the flour mixture, a little at a time, to the bowl of yeast water.  Mix with a spoon until combined.  The dough will be extremely sticky, and you may find, depending on the weather, that you won’t use all the flour you have at hand.

Pour in the flour and salt a little at a time, stirring all the while.
The dough will be very sticky.
A quick knead will get all the bits sticking together.

The recipe says that you don’t need to knead this bread, but I find mixing it a bit with my hands inside the bowl gets all the sticky clumps together and gives my dough a little bit of cohesiveness.  A minute of work should suffice.

Place the dough in another, oiled or greased bowl, cover with a towel, and leave in a warm place to rise for an hour or so, until the dough is about twice its original size.  Putting it next to a heater works, but make sure the heat isn’t too strong in any one area, because that will actually begin to cook the dough.

Make sure to grease or spray the bowl before you put in the dough.

Once the dough has risen, you will want to put it in the baking pan and leave it for another thirty minutes or so to rise again.

Cover the dough with a clean towel and leave it to rise in a warm place.

Brush the top of the dough with olive oil, then sprinkle with salt and some herbs and spices.  Play around with the toppings you put on the bread before baking.  We prefer the pre-mixed spices you can get in the grocery store, but anything that suits your fancy will work.  I have also tried incorporating extra ingredients into the bread, such as raisins or chopped olives.  Both work extremely well, and I bet you can make a half-decent garlic bread this way.

Allow the dough to rise to about twice its original size.

I cook this bread in one of two ways.  The first way is to plop the bowl of dough upside down in the centre of a large greased cast iron skillet.  The dough will expand to fill the shape of the skillet.  Bake this at 450°F for about 20-25 minutes.  Alternatively, cut the risen dough in half (not an easy or particularly scientific task) and stretch it along the lengths of two greased baguette pans.  Bake at 425°F for 20-25 minutes.  When the bread is done, it will be golden brown on top and the bottom will make a nice solid sound when you knock on it.  If you find the bottom is too soft after baking (for instance, the baguette pan I have doesn’t have little holes in the bottom of it), then put the loaf straight on the rack of the oven for another five or ten minutes to ‘crispen up’ as the Pie says.

Stretch the dough with your hands if you are making baguettes.
Sprinkle the bread with spices and let it rise some more.
The loaves should be crusty and golden when finished.