Friday, August 30, 2013

A Drawing??!! With a Prize??!!! How Cool Is That!
What’s cooking? Breakfast sandwiches and more

Yes, it’s Spoon & Ink’s first ever drawing, with a really nifty prize. We – that would be me and my friends at Hamilton Beach – are giving away a Breakfast Sandwich Maker as part of their promotional efforts for the Back to School season. It’s not a contest – all you have to do is leave me a comment (be sure to sign it!) here or on my new Spoon & Ink Facebook page and you’ll be entered to win. I’ll be drawing the name of the winner on Wednesday, September 4.

The Kitchen Goddess has never been one of those cooks who feels the need for all the latest appliances to work her magic. I’ve never owned a crock pot or a toaster oven, and I long ago tossed out my electric skillet. Most recently, I traded in my coffee maker for a French press.

But I attended a food blogger conference this summer, and at one of the display booths, the Hamilton Beach folks were making breakfast sandwiches with this nifty little gizmo. I watched them make one after another for the conference attendees, adding ham or sausage or cheese or tomato slices, and I was hooked before I bit into mine. You don’t even have to include an egg – or you can use egg whites if you’re watching your cholesterol. Check this out...

The Hamilton Beach people developed the Breakfast Sandwich Maker as an aid to those school mornings when everyone is racing around like their hair is on fire, trying to get out the door in time for the bus or the carpool. I remember those days. Especially the ones when my older son was on the hockey team and practice ran 6-7 a.m. On my way to pick him up, I’d stop at the local diner for an egg sandwich that he would inhale on the way home so that he could shower and change in time for school. What I would have given for a Breakfast Sandwich Maker then.

I think he could use one even now, as his morning routine includes breakfast with his 20-month-old daughter. And my younger son – the med student – surely would be happy with one as he scrambles to get to the hospital for early rounds. So if you don’t want the prize for yourself, I’ll bet it would make a neat gift for someone you know.

They sent me one to play with, so I’ve been experimenting with various ingredients, from the traditional egg sandwich to my favorite breakfast sandwich: peanut butter and bacon. You have to cook the bacon before you assemble the sandwich, but a minute in the microwave will handle that, and the peanut butter comes out wonderfully gooey. What really amazes me is that the sandwiches remain hot for a long time. Wrap one of those suckers up in foil, and it’ll be good and warm until the last bite.

The chefs at Hamilton Beach have come up with a nice long list of ideas to use with the BSM, from a cheddar, apple, bacon and egg croissant to a pancake and sausage sandwich to a pepperoni and veggie mini-pizza. Use your imagination. In a bit of a wild moment last night, I made... (drum roll, please) S’mores. A little messy, and I’m still working on the technique, but with the non-stick surfaces on the machine, clean-up is easy – the ring assembly even lifts out and can go in the dishwasher.

So leave a comment here – and sign it! – or go to the Spoon & Ink Facebook page (which I must admit is still in the tweaking stage), and you’ll be included in the drawing on Wednesday.

And have a great Labor Day weekend!

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Still Trying to Cool Off
What’s cooking? White Sangria

I’ve mentioned before the delightful group of food bloggers I’ve become acquainted with since moving to Austin. They’ve been open and generous with me in response to my questions about technology or social media or food photography, or just offering their friendship. So when one of them requested guest posts for her blog, I decided to give back. Her name is Lauren, and the blog is Gourmet Veggie Mama, which I think pretty completely describes her theme. I’m not vegetarian, but many of the recipes look very tasty, so I encourage you to check it out.

My guest post was back in June, but I figure summer is still upon us, and as pears are just starting to show up at the farmers’ market, this seemed like a good time to re-post what I gave her.

In the heat of the summer, nothing is quite so refreshing as sangria. But as much as I enjoy the traditional stuff, it can sometimes feel a little heavy for daytime drinking. (We all enjoy a little daytime drinking, don’t we?) So this recipe for white sangria is the perfect solution: cool, crisp, and light.

I love serving this to a brunch or a ladies’ lunch. It adds just the right touch of sophistication. And we recently served up gallons of it at a neighborhood cocktail party, where it was a huge hit. Kitchen Goddess note: If you’re serving a large crowd, it’s sometimes easier to make batches of the wine and fruit – which you can do a day ahead – then add ¼ cup (2 ounces) of sparkling water directly to each glass. That way, the carbonation doesn’t disappear before you serve it.

As for the wine to use, I prefer either a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc or a Pinot Grigio, both of which have nice fruity notes that go well with the pears, kiwis, and grapes.

White Sangria

Adapted from The Silver Palate

1 bottle dry white wine
2 tablespoons superfine sugar
2 tablespoons Calvados
3 tablespoons Cointreau or other orange-based liqueur (Triple Sec, Grand Marnier or my new favorite, Paula’s Texas Orange Liqueur)
2 kiwis, peeled and sliced thin
1 large pear, preferably green D’Anjou or Bartlett, sliced thin
1 cup seedless green grapes, halved

12 ounces sparkling water (not club soda)
sprigs of mint for garnish

In a large glass pitcher, combine the wine, sugar, Calvados and Cointreau. Stir until the sugar is dissolved. Add the fruit, and allow to macerate in the refrigerator (covered) 4-5 hours or overnight.

To serve, stir well, then add the sparkling water and pour over ice in either a tall highball or Collins glass or a globe wine glass. Garnish with a sprig of mint.

Serves 6.

Friday, August 16, 2013

The Most Fun You Can Have with a Chicken
What’s cooking? Beer-Butt Chicken

The thing I miss most about spending the summer in New Jersey is outdoor cooking. Condo/apartment living means no grilling. And since I usually hand off that job to my husband, it also means I do all the cooking. Not so terrible, really, but I do miss that grilled flavor. So periodically, I persuade my son and daughter-in-law to let us come out and grill at their house.

The last time I did that, I’d had a hankering for beer-butt chicken. If you don’t already know about beer-butt chicken, LISTEN UP. Because it’s the best way I know of to get a moist, flavorful grilled chicken with almost no work. You hear that, folks? Almost no work. The vertical roasting position gives you an even covering of crispy skin, while the beer bastes the meat from the inside to infuse the entire bird with flavor. And the Kitchen Goddess has outdone herself on the spice rub.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

It’s a Cherry Jubilee
What’s cooking? Sour Cherry Frozen Yogurt and Cherry Sorbet

No, no, not Cherries Jubilee – that’s the hot dessert. This is about cold dessert – two of them – and both with cherries.

As you may have guessed based on recent posts, I’m pretty obsessed with frozen desserts this summer. First came the Minted Honeydew Sorbet in June, then the Peach Frozen Yogurt and the Apricot Sorbet in July. Now it’s August, and cherries are everywhere.

Frankly, there’s nothing more fun to do with fresh, juicy fruit before it disappears from the market. I know, you can preserve it – and I will – but sorbets and frozen yogurts and ice creams present the fruit with much less sugar and offer a taste that’s much closer to the fruit itself. Whether or not you are entertaining, these are great, light desserts. But if you are entertaining, they have a number of excellent points in their favor:

■ They can be made ahead of time.

■ They add great color to the table.

■ With the addition of nuts or chocolates or cookies or brownies to the plate, you have a dessert that appears complex – multiple textures and flavors – with little effort.

■ On a relative basis with other desserts, they’re low fat and low cal.

In addition to the frozen dessert thing, I’ve been struck this season with a mania for cherries. I’ve discovered sour cherries at the farmers’ market, and Bing cherries and Ranier cherries at most grocery stores right now. I had to make two batches of the Sour Cherry Frozen Yogurt, as my husband inhaled the first batch before I remembered to get a photo of it. And, by the way, you can make the frozen yogurt with Bing cherries if you can’t find the sour ones.

Kitchen Goddess note: For either of these recipes, you will want a cherry pitter. Even with this little instrument, pitting cherries is a bit tedious. But if you catch your husband (or a friend or son/daughter) in a weak moment, with the promise of a delicious frozen treat to come, you may be able to avoid the pitting yourself. It turns out that pitting cherries is an activity that can be done while watching golf on television.

Sour Cherry Frozen Yogurt

Makes about 3 cups.

1 pound fresh sour cherries, pitted (measured unpitted)
¾ cup sugar
1 piece fresh ginger, peeled, about 2 inches long
1 cup plain Greek yogurt (your choice: fat-free, 2%, or whole milk)

In a non-reactive saucepan, stir together the pitted cherries, the sugar, and the ginger. Cover and bring the mixture to a boil. Lower the heat and let the mixture simmer for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally to encourage the juices to flow. Remove from heat and let the cherries cool to room temperature.

Once the mixture has cooled, throw away the ginger. Purée the cherries and juices in a blender until smooth (2-3 minutes). Chill the purée well, then process according to your ice cream machine instructions.

Kitchen Goddess note: Sour cherries have a refreshingly tart taste that balances well with creamy yogurt. I’ve made it with 2% yogurt and with fat-free yogurt; the tastes and textures are the same, but the fat-free yogurt gets frozen a bit more solidly, and so can be difficult to scoop. However, if you simply leave it out for 10-12 minutes, it will soften enough to serve.

* * *

I’ve not tried this sorbet with Ranier cherries, which are slightly sweeter and have a more delicate flavor than the Bings. But the color is so luscious with the Bing cherries, I may not bother with trying.

Cherry Sorbet

Makes about 1 quart.

2 pounds Bing cherries
1 cup water
¾ cup sugar
1 teaspoon lemon juice (fresh!)
1 large strip lemon zest (½ inch by 2 inches)
1 tablespoon Domaine de Canton ginger liqueur (other options: 1 tablespoon kirsch or ⅛ teaspoon almond extract)

Place pitted cherries, water, sugar, lemon juice, and lemon zest into a non-reactive saucepan over medium heat and stir until the sugar is dissolved. Cook at low simmer 10-15 minutes, until the cherries are very soft. Remove from heat and let the cherries cool to room temperature.

Once the mixture has cooled, throw away the zest strip and add the ginger liqueur (or whatever other flavoring you want). Purée the cherries and juices in a blender until smooth (2-3 minutes). Chill the purée well, then process according to your ice cream machine instructions.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Stepping Out of My Comfort Zone
What’s cooking? Pizza!

Pizzaiolo Neil (center), with helpers Mike (L) and Max (R)

I once read that if you want to share a great experience with your child, you should make it be one in which neither of you is an expert. That way, you are on equal footing and can enjoy the learning process together. Which is the argument I used to convince my husband to take a pizza-making class with me.

I can’t remember how I found the class. Must have been some late-night web-wandering. And while I will confess to a tiny case of nerves, I figured I probably wouldn’t do worse than my hubby. Or would I?

We walked into Pizza a Casa at 11:45 on Saturday. It’s a tiny shop, holding sinks and shelves stacked with containers of olive oil and canned tomatoes and various spices on one wall, and photos of satisfied customers on the other. Definitely a New York pizza shop vibe. But instead of a walk-up counter and a handful of small formica-topped tables, down the center of the room sat a wide table with a raised shelf in the middle and six stations with stools along each side. Our classroom.

Ever the Teacher’s Pet personality, I gravitated to a station near the ovens, where the teacher would stand. “Always sit at the front of the room,” I used to tell my children. “It never hurts for the teacher to know you were in class.” Of course, we weren’t getting graded, but some habits die hard. And these days, my brain needs not to miss what’s said, or be distracted by the other students. It was also the best way to get good photos.

As I surveyed my station, I noticed with dismay the small packet of Fleishmann’s yeast. The dreaded yeast. Regular readers of this blog will already know of my yeast phobia, which has much to do with my training as a mathematician.

Math is precise. There’s always one right answer. The area of a triangle is always ½ bh (base times height). Parallel lines never intersect. But a blob of dough should rise “until it has doubled in size.” With no way to measure the blob, that instruction has always confounded me.

Pizza a Casa has now saved me. We started by mixing the yeast with warm water and sugar, both of which would speed the proofing process. At the same time, our teacher, Pizzaiolo Neil, explained that we’d be making a blob of dough that would weigh about 32 ounces (2 pounds). We’d cut the blob into quarters (8 ounces each), which, by chance, are about the size of an 8-ounce cup. In that case, if we put each quarter into a 16-ounce plastic covered container, the dough will have doubled in size once it fills the container. A miracle! How simple and precise is that? I could breathe deeply, relax my shoulders, and smile.

Step 1: Mix the dough into a large ball and knead it.
Mixing the dough was easy, especially when we used a metric scale to weigh the ingredients exactly. Oh, how I was loving this process. Then came the kneading part – not as exact, and not a skill I’ve ever worked on. I noticed that the love of my life was struggling a bit to get the dough off his fingers, so I reached over to help. He glared at me. I had to remind myself that I was not the Kitchen Goddess here, so back off. While we waited for our balls of dough to rise – about 45 minutes in the heat of the shop – Pizzaiolo Neil walked us through the rest of the process and fed us yummy samples of pizza possibilities.

Step 2: Cut the large ball into 4 small balls.

Step 3: Let the dough rise.
 It turns out that kneading is pretty simple compared to stretching the dough. (Once again, I thought it looked like my darling husband needed a bit more flour on his dough... oops! You know, for a moment there, I thought he was going to slap my hand.)

Step 4: Stretch the dough and add toppings. Here, pears and gorgonzola, to be followed with balsamic vinegar. Yum!

We learned several techniques helpful in turning the dough from a blob into a nice, flat 12-inch circle, starting with “soft bongo” pats to reach a 6-8-inch mound, then the “gravity drop” for stretching the dough, and finally the “DJ” stretch, to extend the shape to a circle or what passes for a circle in pizza class. (Neil was adamant that circle-ness is less important than not overhandling the dough.)

Swoon time: This one is thinly sliced potato (steeped in olive oil and herbs), pecorino, rosemary, and olive oil.
Bottom line? It was the most fun I’ve had in ages. Even my hubby said he enjoyed himself – in a masochistic sort of way. And it turns out that after you’ve made four of those pizzas, you really do feel like a bit of a pro.

The folks at Pizza a Casa were kind enough to allow me to include their recipe for dough here. But if you’re ever in Manhattan on a Saturday or Sunday with time on your hands – it’s a 4-hour class – get thee to the lower East Side and learn to make pizza. (You’ll actually need to reserve a spot, which is easy at their website, Or you can get their iPad app, DIYPizzaPie, which apparently covers most of what goes on in the class – except, of course, for the tastings. But for all these techniques – the mixing, the kneading, the stretching, and that ever-important move where you slip it into the oven – there’s really nothing like watching it happen to help you make a great pizza. Mangia!

Salad pizza: mozzarella, ricotta (with added butter), pignoli nuts, and arugula (added after baking).
Pizza a Casa’s Best Pizza Dough

Makes enough for four 12-inch pies.

20 ounces (3½ cups) unbleached all-purpose flour (plus more for dusting/stretching)
12 ounces water, warm (110º) – not hot
1 packet active dry yeast (or 2¼ teaspoons, if from a jar)
⅛ teaspoon sugar
1 tablespoon salt (fine grind, as in finishing salt)
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil (cooking oil quality – not the expensive stuff)
semolina flour (not corn meal)

Preheat oven to its maximum setting (usually 500-550º). Preheat for 1 hour if you’ll be using a baking stone, 30 minutes if you’re using a pizza screen, pizza pan, or baking sheet.

Stir the yeast into the warm water along with the sugar. Set aside. (Yeast should “proof” for 10-15 minutes.)

In the meantime, in a large mixing bowl, stir together the flour, salt and oil. Add the proofed yeast and stir until the dough is “shaggy,” which means well mixed and not overly sticky.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface, sprinkle a bit of flour on top, and knead 4-5 minutes, until the dough is smooth and elastic. Kitchen Goddess note: Kneading, pizza-style, means lean into the dough with your palm, press it down, press it forward, fold it over, and repeat. Or you can use a mixer with a dough hook, also for 4-5 minutes. When you’re done, the dough should be just slightly tacky – if its still sticky, dust it with flour and knead that in.

Divide your dough into four smooth balls, pinching together and smoothing any gaps in the surface. Set the dough aside in your 16-ounce containers and let it rest at least 45 minutes in an area whose temperature is 75-80º. (Or you can do a “cold rise” in the fridge for 1-2 days.)

To stretch the dough, lay it out on a surface dusted with flour, and begin by patting the dough – like playing bongos, moving from the center out – until it’s at least 8 inches wide. At that point,
you can pick it up by the edge (about the last two inches) and rotate the disk while letting the weight of the dough help to stretch itself. Don’t panic if your dough develops a hole – just pinch it together and flatten the spot.

Before adding toppings, move your crust to a pizza peel (that thin paddle used by pizzaiolos everywhere to slip the pie onto the stone) that’s been dusted with semolina. Add toppings and cook 6-10 minutes (depending on your oven), but you should begin checking after 5 minutes. We were cautioned not to overload our pizzas, as having too many ingredients – wet ones, especially – will change the way the crust bakes.

Amazing dessert pizza:  sliced banana, chopped peanuts, and Nutella (applied after the baking).
Kitchen Goddess note: It will not surprise you to learn that, in your quest to make perfect pizza, you can buy any of the equipment you might need at either the Pizza a Casa store or online.