Perfect Pizza Makes Me Sing, That's Amore!

Our latest selection from Cook the Books Club has been Burnt Toast Makes You Sing Good, by Kathleen Flinn.  You have to love that title, which was actually an axiom direct from the author's grandmother; given to let the kids know they should not let a bit of burn stop them from eating their toast.  She was definitely a frugal woman.

The memoir was touching, often sad, occasionally humorous, a poignant remembrance of Flinn's childhood and some of her parents' and grandparents', with historical background, mostly taking place in Michigan, though with brief sojourns in California and Florida.  Totally making me happy to be in Hawaii.   Sorry, but to be impoverished would be bad enough without freezing weather to top it all off.

Too funny though, her account of deer hunting in Michigan (applicable to neighboring states as well, I'm sure):
"No one discussed the ethics, or debated gun ownership.  Sitting in the woods quietly freezing with a rifle in your hand was simply a rite of passage.....Even as a young child, I felt fortunate to be a girl."

 Angelo Pellegrini, our previous CTBC author, would be thrilled with all the canning, baking, gardening, hunting and foraging going on in this remembrance.  Most of which stopped however, when they moved from farm life to a city, and with full-time jobs.

Her parents always seemed quite spontaneous, picking up and moving spur of the moment, but of course circumstances played a major role in that freewheeling spirit.  Just to pack up and get the hell out of Dodge must have seemed a godsend.  At one point, a time of horrid weather, economic downturn and unemployment in Michigan, an uncle invited them out to San Francisco to work in his Pizzeria, and learn the restaurant business.   They probably shouted Hallelujah!  At that time pizza was a truly novel food for Mid-Westerners, and these people were not Italians or experienced pizza makers. Thus my food inspiration from the book came about.

After years of my own pizza experiments, I have found what some (not just me) consider to be the perfect formula.  Deb's (of Smitten Kitchen fame) dough recipe and method, with the added trick of baking it in a cast-iron skillet.  Trust me, this is unbeatable pizza and totally wipes anything eaten out or in.  Plus it is crazy easy.

You can make the quick version, finished in under an hour, including rising and baking, or the longer rise which is what I usually do.  I mix up the dough in the morning and stick it in the fridge for most of the day.  In order to eat at 7:00 pm., as we do, take it out about 3:30 pm to finish doubling in a warm place (my oven with just the pilot light works perfectly).  Until that is, you are ready to pre-heat the oven.:)  I have forgotten it in there to almost fatal results.  Put a red twist-tie reminder on your oven knob perhaps.

The dough for a 10" (or 12" thinner crust) cast-iron skillet:

1 1/2 cups (190 grams) flour (can replace up to half of this with whole wheat flour)
1 teaspoon (6 grams) table salt
1 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast for the quick version, and 3/8 teas. for longer rise in fridge
 2/3 cup (150 ml) lukewarm water 
2 tablespoons olive oil

Sprinkle yeast on the water in medium bowl (large enough to handle dough doubling with some space at top), and let stand for 5 minutes.  Add 1 cup flour and salt, mixing til a rough craggy mass forms, adding more flour as needed to hold together well.  Turn out and knead for 5 minutes or until you have a smooth, elastic dough.  Place in an oiled bowl, turn, cover with plastic wrap and let rise 30 minutes or until doubled, if you are doing the quick method.  For the slow rise, place in the refrigerator 6-8 hours or overnight.

Pre-heat oven to 450 - 500 F, high as your oven goes.  When the dough is doubled, add olive oil to your pan, fold over and push your pizza dough into the cast iron skillet, out to the edges. (See this video clip on cast-iron pizzas.)  You can throw a clean cloth over it until everything else is ready. 

Add your favorite toppings.  Mine starts with sliced, smoked mozzarella and grated Parmesan, then veggies tossed in some olive oil first, with salt, and perhaps a few herbs. Sprinkle on a bit of minced pepperoni if you like.  If you are are adding on basil and arugula, as in these photos, wait til after the pie is baked.  Restraint is supposed to be my watchword here.  In other words, less might just be better.  It's hard, but I try anyway, remembering pizza I had in Italy.

 I'm not much of a red sauce on pizza person, but do throw that on if you like.  In which case, you might pre-bake the crust first for 5 minutes, as in the video clip.  Bake your pie for 10-15 minutes.  Serve it up to rave reviews!  Cheers!  I'll also share this with Beth Fish Reads, and the folks over there for her Weekend Cooking.

Feel free to post your response to the book with an inspired recipe by the 31st of May at Cook the Books Club or if you miss out on this round and like books, food, and foodie books, consider joining us for the June/July edition, when I will be hosting with my pick, Scarlett Feather, the only slightly foodie, but engrossing novel by Maeve Binchy.   Hope you'll join us!  And be sure to check out all the reviews and tasty food inspiration from this last read when the round-up is posted by Deb shortly after the 31st.


Smoked Salmon Omelet with Feta and Beet Relish

This scrumptious little number is a brunch, breakfast, or in my case actually, a dinner recipe, for Sunny Side Up! our IHCC week's theme, taken from Curtis Stone's cookbook,  Good Food, Good Life.  And it is.  Good  food that is.  Bob is usually only around for breakfast on Sundays, a bit late for this posting, so rather than do it all up just for myself, it was a lovely dinner for two.

I cut the recipe in half for us, amazingly my only change and made one omelet, serving a larger portion to the big guy.  We had slices of my fresh baked bread on the side.  It's fun to have breakfast for dinner sometimes.

The beet relish with its chives and dill made a splendid color and taste contrast to all the unctuousness of smoked salmon, butter and cheese.  A perfect combination, especially with a nice glass of  New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc.  And especially cool is the remaining pickle, which will be a good side for all sorts of things coming up.

Be sure to visit the IHCC (I Heart Cooking Clubs) site for lots of terrific breakfast/brunch ideas.  Also linking this with Beth Fish Reads for her Weekend Cooking.  Check it out!


Salad of Figs, with Basil, Amish Blue and Pomegranate Vinaigrette


Well, as nearly always happens, the recipe will sound terrific, but there is a distinct lack of certain items.  In this case, a recipe by Yotam Ottolenghi, current featured chef at IHCC (I Heart Cooking Clubs), calling for  fresh figs and goat cheese.  Okaaaay, we had dried ones, and for feta, we had a lovely, creamy Amish Blue, which I had spontaneously bought and wanted to try.

Another of his recipes in the same book Plenty, a few pages on, had dates and Turkish sheep's cheese with almonds.  I borrowed the almonds from that one, and added them in, to good effect I must say.

The salad has:
:mixed purple and green basil leaves, arugula, figs and the cheese.  I added mixed salad greens and almonds.

The vinaigrette has:
1 shallot, minced
1/2 tsp. Dijon mustard
2 tsp. pomegranate molasses
salt and pepper
3 tbsp. olive oil (I used macadamia nut oil)

Place the shallot, mustard and pomegranate molasses in a bowl, add in salt and pepper and whisk vigorously while slowly pouring in the oil, until it is homogeneous.

Lightly toast 1 1/2 tbsp. whole almonds, skins on.  Let cool.  Toss the greens with dressing.  Arrange the figs onto leaves with the cheese and cooled nuts.  Scatter top with some reserved leaves, drizzle on extra oil, salt and pepper.  Loved that dressing.

A very satisfying salad, which I served with little tenderloins and some pasta tossed in the pan drippings with wine and cream.


Absolute Best Jalapeño Cheddar Corn Muffins, Ever

I may as well admit right here to an addiction for real fluff, as far as some (not all :)) of my reading goes.  What the hey, it's also called light entertainment.  Or the written version of daytime soaps I suppose.  Along those lines are some that feature food.  Such as Christine Wenger's Comfort Food Mysteries, of which my latest read was Diners, Drive-ins and Death.

Our plucky heroine owns, runs and cooks the graveyard shift at the Silver Bullet Diner, as well as renting out 11 vacation cottages by the lake, and investigating various murders in her spare time.  She's also in denial about her love for the local sheriff in his white Stetson and cowboy boots.  Trixie serves up Diner style, basic comfort food, and the books include some recipes at the end.

Mostly not my sort of recipes, but substitutions can always be made.  For instance the Potato-Cheese Soup sounded pretty good, in which I'm sure Velveeta cheese is not absolutely necessary.   Indeed,  I almost subbed out the creamed corn in these comfort food muffins.  But the can's ingredient list seemed okay, and I went with the flow.

And just saying, these muffins cannot be beat, or raved on enough.  Tender, moist and so flavorful.  We get a twice monthly little coupon book with recipes included, from a local supermarket, and I was snagged by their Jalapeño White Cheddar Cornbread in the latest edition.  They looked like they might be good, though should have been called muffins, being that they're baked in a muffin tin.


Mango-Lime Margarita - Happy Cinco de Mayo!!

This was meant to be a Curtis Stone Pineapple-Lime Margarita, for the IHCC Wet your Whistle theme, but all our pineapples are half-size at the moment and totally unripe.  However, and that's a ginormous however, I had one perfectly ripe and delicious mango.

Actually, had to stop myself from eating the entire thing whilst slicing it into the blender.  First of the season and sooooo good.  I love mangoes.  Plus which, with the lime and natural acidity of a pineapple, just my personal opinion, mango is much better in this drink. A really delicious concoction, garnished with kaffir lime leaves and nasturtium flower.  Only one other slight change to the recipe - no straining.  The little bits of fruit were a plus here.  Really.  It's not pure laziness, as this was not a fibrous fruit.

I enjoyed mine while trying to find a Mexican recipe that would use ingredients we have on hand.  Not always an easy thing.  Do visit I Heart Cooking Clubs and see all the lovely drinks being served up this week from Curtis Stone, our current chef in residence.


Mulligatawny Soup at the Palace

 Author, Rhys Bowen's Royal Spyness Mystery series, is unfailingly engaging, and this latest, Malice at the Palace is no exception.  I so look forward to each new book.  Set in 1930's England, they feature a young woman, 35th in line to the throne, with unfortunately, no money to go along with her title, who manages to survive, one way or another, often helping out the Queen with a problem.

In the course of her newest adventure, Lady Georgiana finds herself having supper with the aunts, which the Prince of Wales calls "the Aunt Heap", at Kensington Palace.  And, sure as shootin', the mere mention of their supper, consisting of Mulligatawny Soup, roast pheasant and apple dumplings, was all I needed.  I'm not a masochist though; and not having a sous chef, a normal supper, around here doesn't usually include pheasants, or fancy dessert either.  That soup was in however, simply spiffing, as Georgie would say.

As per Wikipedia, Mulligatawny Soup:
 "is an English soup after an Indian recipe. The name originates from the Tamil words mullaga/milagu and thanni and can be translated as "pepper-water".  The original version of this soup consisted of a broth from lentils, fried onions and curry powder. Today it normally designates a thickened soup that is strongly spiced with curry powder and nutmeg. Often, strips of vegetables, nuts and rice are added." 
 Anglo-Indian food then, and appropriate for English royalty.


Saffron Tagliatelle with Ratatouille Reprise

I'm the sort of weird individual who has fun making something like noodles.  Truthfully, I found myself humming a tune and saying under my breath, this is FUN!  Really.  And it was. Especially hanging them up on coat-hangers from a cupboard hinge.

Again with a recipe by Yotam Ottolenghi, from Plenty.  My choice for this week's potluck chef theme at IHCC, but of course.  Have I mentioned already how absolutely inspiring that man is? He served it up (in the book) with spiced butter, however having stated earlier that Ratatouille is lovely the next day, I thought, how perfect to toss with the tagliatelle.  I was going to call this post "Pricey Pasta" as the recipe calls for an entire  2 teaspoons of saffron, though I did cut the whole thing in half for the two of us.  Less to roll out, even more enjoyable.  You can find the recipe here also.


Fresh Corn Polenta Rocks with Ratatouille

 Yikes! This polenta is so darn yummy.  A very comforting, smooth, slightly sweet and savory porridge.

Occasionally I will make polenta as a backdrop for my Ratatouille, which in itself is pretty fabulous, but when I came across Ottolenghi's Sweet Corn Polenta in Plenty, I knew we were going there.  And, no sooner was that thought in mind, than there was fresh corn in the market begging me not to pass on by.

I should have totally dished up for both of us, but just scooped Bob's polenta into his bowl and left it for him to add on the Ratatouille.  So, of course he just tucked into that corn porridge like there was no end in sight,  saying it was too good and wanted it all by itself.  Only with seconds did he condescend to top with the "main dish".

What can you do?  At least I had my bowl for a photo. This fresh corn polenta will be a regular item on our menus in future, especially as it turned out to be very easy and much quicker to make than the usual sort, something else in its favor.


Thai Red Curry with Chicken and Eggplant

 This is not only my first time with I Heart Cooking Clubs, (IHCC) but a first with this week's featured chef, Madhur Jaffrey.   I don't have any of her cookbooks as yet, though Indian cooking is a longtime favorite of mine, so this Chicken Thai Red Curry was sourced from the BBC Recipes pages.  Not strictly Indian, but a Thai version of curry.  Just as a side note: do you think it at all apropos that my current read happens to be The Case of the Deadly Butter Chicken by Tarquin Hall??  Well, I thought it was funny.

I substituted eggplant for the canned bamboo shoots (sorry just hate those), and took the easy course, by not making my own red curry paste, as we have a very good brand available here, and using my left-over teriyaki chicken.