Reflections on pizza dough and the evolution of a cook

There’s nothing quite so rewarding as cooking a recipe that you haven’t cooked in a year, and realizing that your entire thought process in cooking has changed and evolved since then.

Last year, Charlie gave me a pizza stone for Christmas, and from there I made several pizzas. Then as the weather warmed up, we put the pizza stone away for one reason or another. And if I’m being honest, I think part of it is because I had two pizza dough balls in the freezer, ready to thaw and come back to life, and they got wrapped around one of the shelves in the freezer, and they’re literally still there. It seemed wasteful to make more when they were just… there. Isn’t it weird the things we humans let hold us back? From making more homemade pizza, to boot!

I digress, I do. I was also gifted a kitchen scale around that time, which opened up new horizons in cooking and baking recipes. I remember diligently weighing the size of each dough ball to match what was indicated in the recipe. Last year, I always had one that was way bigger, because I matched up the weights until the last dough ball was leftover, and I somehow always had more dough than the recipe seemed to indicate that I should have. I didn’t yet know some things.

Now, I weigh the entire weight of the dough and divide by how many pieces I want (duh, right?) — this idea hadn’t made its way into my cooking experience arsenal or else I hadn’t yet experienced enough recipes to know to do this. I also added more salt than the recipe called for, because I know I like salt, and that mine is very coarse, so the measurements aren’t always exactly equal in recipes. Something else I’ve learned through my time cooking. I waited until the dry yeast was activated too, to make sure the packet wasn’t inactive. Another trick I’ve learned!

And it wasn’t only these things, it was the overall vibe that it’s so much more fun to cook and bake than it used to be when I was worried about making a mistake or not doing something exactly right. There’s no right way to cook, and mistakes often create unexpected results — hello, chocolate chips cookies!

I was listening to David Chang’s podcast this morning, The Dave Chang Show, and he and Angela Duckworth were discussing grit and what makes a cook great, and what holds a cook back. And one of the ideas is that people are so afraid to make a mistake or of failing that it holds them back from ever attempting something. It’s a sad idea that we aren’t cooking due to the fear of failure or because we are too concerned about perfectionism, especially when every great cook has failed. Many times. The failure is what drives change and it’s vital to how we learn.

This is all to say, no one is great without practice. I’m not great! And I don’t claim to be. But I do know that I like to feed my body with fresh, whole, local, & seasonal ingredients as much as possible, and this is made easiest by cooking for myself instead of looking to restaurants to take on this responsibility (which is another interesting conversation). Home cooking is also a way to share these ideals with my friends and family.

So go forth, make a homemade pizza dough and then the pizza, and reflect on everything that went into this process, mental and physical! If your dough is not perfect to you, then hopefully you’ve learned something new! And I’ll bet you that it’s still going to be pretty damn good regardless.

xoxo

The dough that inspired this post. What a rock star.

Dutch Baby

Hi all!

This recipe is based on the NYT Cooking recipe for a Dutch Baby. Dutch babies are 100% my favorite omelet and pancake hybrid ever, though I do like crèpes a lot too. This is basically a puffy crèpe, and I’m here for it. The ingredients are all typically items sitting around in my pantry and fridge too, so it’s an easy and impressive go-to breakfast.

Ingredients

  • 3 eggs
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 1/2 cup milk (i used almond milk)
  • 1 tbsp. sugar
  • 1/4 tsp. nutmeg
  • 1/4 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 4 tbsp. butter
  • Powdered sugar and jam, for topping

Directions

  1. Bring eggs, milk, and butter to room temperature
  2. Heat oven to 425 degrees with a 10-inch cast-iron skillet inside
  3. Combine eggs, flour, milk, sugar, nutmeg, and vanilla extract to a food processor and mix until just combined
  4. Once oven is heated, remove skillet and add the butter to coat the pan
  5. Once coated, add egg mixture to skillet
  6. Place skillet back in oven for 20 minutes, until puffy and beginning to turn golden brown
  7. Lower oven temperature to 300 degrees, and bake for about 5 minutes
  8. Remove and serve with powdered sugar and your favorite jam

I cut the dutch baby into fours for serving. I nearly ate it all myself, which is a bit excessive when you consider the ingredients involved. There was a good bit of butter left on the dutch baby, but as it cooled, the dutch baby soaked it right up and it was delicious.

NOTE: Bringing the ingredients to room temperature is important for the dutch baby to fluff up!

Have you ever had a dutch baby? If so, what flavor? If not, are you ready to rumble?

How to use leftover meat from stock

IMG_7867

Hi, everyone! I recently read (and cooked) a recipe  that used lots of chicken thighs to make chicken stock. I then discarded the chicken. Even the recipe creator said, I haven’t found a good use for this chicken. The issue is that when you boil the chicken, the meat loses all of its flavor (that’s basically how you know the stock is done). It’s a beautiful thing. But, I’m not one to promote food waste, and I wasted a LOT of chicken meat that was simply flavorless.

Then, I was re-reading Tamar Adler’s book on cooking, “An Everlasting Meal,” and I happened upon a little tidbit on how to save some of the meat used from stock. Now, I am not saying you need to save ALL of it. I had a lot. But when I made stock again, I did save some of the meat from it. I gave (1) some to my dog, and then (2) I made toast topped with it, as you see above.

The key is mixing it with mayonnaise, herbs, and something acidic — this helps to give back flavor that it lost. I personally think it worked in a synergistic fashion, and I craved this for approximately 3 meals/snacks, and then I ran out.

Here I mixed it with *good* mayonnaise. Homemade if you have it, but I never do. Then I added thinly cut cornichons and sprigs of dill. It is so simple, yet elegant, because it is truly a recipe for those who seek to limit their waste. I also would recommend using fresh bread. I buy a loaf of Acme Sweet Batard nearly every week, slice it, and then freeze it. I hope this helps you in any effort to create a working kitchen.

Roasted Sourdough with Smoked Salmon and Vegetables

IMG-6018

This isn’t a “recipe” so much as it is a way to combine ingredients on top of bread so that it’s a full-on meal with minimal effort.

I had all of this stuff on hand, some ingredients thanks to meal prep (quick pickled bell peppers), and some ingredients courtesy of my local farmer’s market (smoked salmon goat cheese, heirloom tomatoes, & roasted garlic sourdough bread).

I am not going to write a traditional recipe for most of this, because it doesn’t really need one. I started out by roasting the roasted garlic sourdough bread drizzled with olive oil in the oven on 400 for about 6 minutes. Note: Fresh bread can be sliced and then stored in the freezer. I store each slice in individual plastic bags and date and label them. Then I take them out and pop them in the oven with some olive oil whenever I’m ready to eat them.

Now you have roasted bread (any kind of bread’ll do). Next up, I have spread a harissa, cumin, and and chili goat milk cheese on the bread. Honestly, I almost just stopped here. Good cheese on good bread with good olive is all you really need. Alas, I then added a couple of slices of an heirloom tomato (I saved the rest of the tomato and threw it in a beef bolognese I made later that day). Then I added some greens — I used sweet mixed greens, but you can use anything. I have made this before with romaine and the additional crunch is very nice. Arugula would work great too. Use whatever you have on hand. Then I topped this with smoked salmon. I am lucky to have a wonderful vendor at my farmer’s market, and I definitely splurge on smoked salmon. I would recommend you do the same — sub-par smoked salmon isn’t very tasty and it could ruin your dish! (Okay, so just make sure that you like it first.)

The only part of this recipe that I made prior to assembling were the quick pickled sweet bell peppers. I recommend making this at the beginning of the week, and storing in its brine all week in the refrigerator. I top a lot of food with these guys, they add a nice sweet crunch that many dishes deserve in order to feel complete. I will post the recipe in just a moment.

On top of everything, add chopped dill (parsley or cilantro would be lovely additions as well), and add kosher sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper. Now you are ready for a delicious lunch, breakfast, dinner, or snack!

Quick Pickled Sweet Bell Peppers

Depending on how many bell peppers you have, you may need to adjust the amount of brine you are making. I typically use two rather large bell peppers, and I make sure that the bell peppers are completely covered by the liquid in the container I store it in.

Ingredients:

  • 2 large bell peppers (I like to use two different colors like yellow and red)
  • 1 cup distilled white vinegar
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 tsp kosher sea salt

Directions:

  1. Deseed and remove the stems from the peppers.
  2. Slice lengthwise into about 1/4 of an inch.
  3. Add peppers to a glass container with a tight lid.
  4. Add vinegar, sugar, and salt to a saucepan and bring to a boil while stirring with a wooden spoon.
  5. Let cool completely.
  6. Add mixture to the glass container once cooled and toss to combine.
  7. Make sure peppers are completely covered and this should store in the refrigerator for 1-2 weeks.

 

Baguette Crisps

IMG-5850 (2)

This is a very simple recipe, but an important one if you buy fresh baguettes (or other fresh breads) — it helps preserve the deliciousness inherent within, that sometimes just gets tossed instead of made into its own wonderfulness.

Many other cultures relish their stale bread. They can be made into soups, croutons, bread crumbs, and the list goes on-and-on — or they can be made into crisps. These crisps taste a lot like a substitute for chips or bagel crisps that you buy in the store, except these are essentially FREE since you are just using leftovers that you already have. You can top them with anything you like! I topped mine with a little bit of butter and an olive-capers-anchovy tapenade with a little boiled chard on top, so you can do you and get a little crazy with these. Or you can just eat them as-is.

Ingredients:

  • Leftover stale baguette, cut into 1/4 inch thick slices
  • Good olive oil

Directions:

  • Preheat oven to 400 °.
  • Cut baguette into 1/4 inch slices if you have not already — the thinner, the better
  • Lay pieces on a baking sheet and leave space between each one. If you are overcrowding the baking sheet, use two.
  • Cook in oven for 6 minutes, then flip. Cook for 4-6 more minutes, until crisps are golden brown.
  • Enjoy by themselves, topped with your favorite ingredients, with butter, as a side for soups, etc.

 

 

Refried Bean Quesadillas

IMG-5692

This is probably the most basic recipe — to the point that I feel sheepish even calling it a recipe. It’s more of a life hack that has fed me many times when I thought I could not go on (without some food). If I don’t have any fresh produce or I am in dire need groceries, I whip these up. I always try to keep tortillas and a can of refried beans on hand just for this refried bean quesadilla occasion. You never know when the time may strike, so you gotta be prepared. The modifications are endless, and you’ll likely have at least one of the optional items in your refrigerator or pantry to spice things up (or not; they’re good as-is).

I add everything from sautéed onions, bell peppers, and mushrooms to hot sauce to shredded cheese on top, and sometimes when my goods are plentiful… all of them! I also think it is key to cook the quesadilla in butter, but this is not necessary. I’ve lately taken to serving an herb vinaigrette on the side as a dipping sauce. So. So. Good! Okay, here’s the base recipe:

Ingredients (1 serving):

  • 6 – 8 in. tortilla (really whatever size you want)
  • 1/2 can of refried beans (really as much as you want)
  • Butter

Directions:

  1. Lay tortilla flat and spread a layer of refried beans on it.
  2. Lay the other tortilla on top of the refried beans (add any of the other optional toppings below), and pinch around the sides so as to enclose the beans.
  3. Heat a large skillet on medium high heat. Once it is heated throughout, spread a layer of butter (or olive oil, or any other fat) to coat the skillet and then heat the butter (this prevents sticking).
  4. Once the butter is heated, add the quesadilla to the skillet, and cook until browned (about 2-3 minutes). Flip the quesadilla, and cook until the other side is browned (about 1-2 minutes).
  5. Add any optional toppings to the top of it all or find a dipping sauce that you like to serve on the side. And we’re done!

Optional:

  • Fresh herbs, chopped (cilantro is great)
  • Shredded cheese
  • Cooked rice
  • Sautéed vegetables
  • Salsa
  • Guacamole
  • Sour Cream
  • Greek yogurt with lemon
  • Herb vinaigrette (olive oil, lemon juice, lemon zest, fresh parsley, fresh cilantro, any other fresh herbs)
  • Hot sauce
  • You do you — get crazy!

Lemony Herbed Breakfast Salad

I went on a two-mile walk this morning around Lake Merritt, and when I returned home, I felt the need to treat myself (healthy style). The fresh herbs and fresh lemon juice and zest truly make this salad feel decadent, yet also very light. A perfect way to start the new week.

Pretty much everything can be subbed for something different, or omitted if you don’t have it. If you don’t have a lemon, sub balsamic or champagne vinegar. If you don’t have feta cheese, substitute another fat — toasted walnuts or crumbled goat cheese would be great. For the fresh herbs, use as many as you have on hand. You get the point… all we are doing is adding a protein, fat, herbs, and greens together with a citrus and an oil, topped with sea salt and ground pepper. Okay, now for the ingredients.

IMG-5653

Ingredients (one serving)

  • Egg, fried (yolk still runny, but white part solid)
  • 1-2 sprigs each of dill, parsley, & cilantro (stems removed, chopped)
  • 1 tbsp. feta cheese
  • Mixed sweet greens (or green of your choice)

Dressing

  • Lemon juice from 1/2 lemon
  • Lemon zest (about 1/4 tsp.)
  • Splash of olive oil
  • Sea salt and pepper

Directions

  1. Assemble the salad: lay the mixed greens and top with the egg. Then sprinkle the chopped fresh herbs and feta cheese on the salad.
  2. Whisk together the dressing ingredients and drizzle on top of the assembled salad.
  3. Top with sea salt and ground pepper. I also added red pepper flakes for some spice, but that is completely optional.