Thursday, October 20, 2011

"Friday is Pizza Day, the best day of the week"

Avoid the Noid and make your own pizza.

One of my favorite cooking shows is Good Eats by Alton Brown. If you haven't seen the show, he chooses one food topic and talks about the science behind that particular food topic then shows how to make something. My Enginerd brain needs to know "why" something works so this show totally relates to me. I recently saw an episode on making your own pizza dough so I decided to give it a try.

Typically when you make any type of dough, the best way to do it is use one of those KitchenAid mixers. I don't like to bake and I don't make enough bread (yet) to justify buying one. Because of this, making any dough is a bit challenging.

I used the dough recipe that Alton Brown used on his show, which is a standard pizza dough recipe of:
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt
  • 1 tablespoon pure olive oil
  • 3/4 cup warm water
  • 2 cups bread flour (for bread machines)
  • 1 teaspoon instant yeast
  • 2 teaspoons olive oil
  • Olive oil, for the pizza crust
  • Flour, for dusting the pizza peel
If you have a fancy mixer, you mix everything together for 15 minutes using a flat mixing attachment. After that, put in the bread hood attachment and let it go for another 15 minutes. Since I don't have a mixer, I kneaded it by hand for ~40 minutes, which BLOWS. The recipe says put in the fridge over night to proof. I did this, and the dough did not proof. I set it out in a warm dark place for another day, then it finally proofed.

Forming it into a round shape was a challenge within itself. I didn't use a rolling pin because the recipe says to form it by hand. The bigger it got, the more it tore. It took a while to get it the the current size roughly 10"

Then I added the sauce. I was lazy and didn't make my own sauce, so I bought a pizza sauce from the store. I tasted it before I put it on and it was actually pretty good. You don't want to put a lot of sauce on it otherwise it will make the dough soggy.

The next item is herbs. I used dry basil, dry Italian seasoning, and fresh thyme. The reason you put this on before the cheese is so it doesn't burn in the oven.

Next, my favorite part, the cheese. I used 3 types, Mozzarella, Parmesan (not the stuff in the green can), and feta.

For toppings, I used my favorite toppings, which most places don't have on a standard pizza. Jalapenos and Pineapple. Mmmmmmm

I cranked up my oven to 500F and let it heat up to temperature. I put the pizza on a cookie sheet and let is bake for 8-10 minutes. You need to keep checking it to make sure it doesn't burn. You then have to let it cool for 5-10 minutes before cutting. If you don;t, everything will slide right off of the dough.

It actually came out really good. The dough itself had a great flavor and was a bit salty, which I like. If you add in the time to make the dough prep it and cook it, it took over an hour for one little pizza. This is mostly because I kneaded it by hand. I don't think this is a good recipe for guys poker night, but could be fun for smaller groups where you have all the dough pre-made and rolled out, then everyone just adds their own toppings. Possibly putting them on the grill if you can get it hot enough. Also I think this would be a fun activity if you have kids to get them involved and making their own pizza. Watch the pizza video on my video page. IT'S FRIDAY!

Monday, October 17, 2011

Chicken Noodle Soup

Between work, my band, bowling, and other random things going on in my life, I don’t get the opportunity to cook every night. I typically try to plan the upcoming week’s dinners on Sunday’s and then shop for it. Once in a while, I realize that the upcoming week is going to be too busy to cook every night or I will only be home for an hour or 2 so I need a quick fix idea. When this arises, I try to make a large item on Sunday that I can make into many dishes throughout the week. Some things I have done in the past is smoking a pork shoulder or crock potting a pork shoulder, a big pot of chili, or sometimes soups. These big pot dishes or smoked meat’s take a great deal of time to prepare on a Sunday, so if time doesn’t allow this, I go for a good cheap stand-by. The grocery Store Rotisserie Chicken. They are usually $5-$6 and this can be turned into many quick dishes throughout the week. Since I usually just cook for myself, I can get 3-4 meals out of one chicken. This blog is to explore one way to use the chicken and the carcass itself. This really isn’t one of the quick fix meals, but I will write about some of those ideas in a future blog. I made a really good chicken noodle soup with homemade chicken stock.

First off for the Chicken Stock. You are getting down to the last serving of chicken from your purchase. You have a hidden treat, the chicken carcass. Do not throw this away! I’ve always seen on the Food Network that homemade stock is way better than the store bought stuff. After making stock for my first time a year ago, I completely agree. Having this carcass is the best time to make stock and it’s real simple. First off, when you purchase the chicken and start eating it, don’t throw any of the bones away. Keep them in a zip top bag and store it in your fridge until the chicken is all eaten. I wouldn’t keep it for longer than a week though. Once you are down to the last portion, remove all of the remaining chicken. You probably need about a cup of shredded chicken for the soup, so keep that in mind. Once you have as much of the meat removed, try to remove and fatty parts and throw it away. You can skip this step, but your stock will come out with a layer of fat on it, which you can remove once it’s cooled. Throw the bones into a stock pot. Next is time to add some flavor. I usually use the standard mirepoix, which is the basic of French cooking. A mirepoix is simply carrots, onions, and celery. I rough chop them into roughly 1” pieces. Add that to the pot. I then throw in Fresh Thyme, Fresh Rosemary (or any other fresh herb you have around) then add a few bay leafs, garlic powder, salt and pepper. Fill the pot with cold water up to just covering everything in the pot. It may seem like a lot, but you will lose more than half of the water during the cooking process. Put it on the stove on high heat and bring it to a boil. Once boiling, reduce it to medium heat and walk away. I check on it every 30 minutes or so and season as needed with salt and pepper. I continue this for roughly 3 hours or until the liquid has reduced in half and the stock has tons of flavor. Depending on the size and quantity of bone you have, will depend on actual cooking time.

Once you are done, remove it from the heat and let it cool a bit. Don’t let it cool too much (I’ll explain why in a bit) but cool enough where it won’t burn you if some splashes on you. Next I use a colander to strain out the liquid from the bones and mirepoix. I then strain it through an actual strainer to remove any small items. When doing this, I would strain it into a smaller container and not back into the pot. Once you do, let it sit for a few hours. You will see the fat start floating to the top. Once it is completely cooled, you can easily remove all the excess fat from the top with a spoon. At his point, you will notice that your stock has solidified and is Jello like. This is what you want to see. That means you pulled out all the cartilage from the bones. A store bought stock doesn’t do this because they put additives in it. Because of this solidification is the reason why you don’t want the stock to cool down completely prior to straining. At this point, you are done. You can freeze it or use it right away in soups, like I did. Don’t worry about the Jello texture of it. Once you reheat it, it will turn back to liquid.

Now onto the soup which is really simple. I already had 2 cups of stock I made a few weeks ago in the freezer, so I thawed that and added in the stock I just finished making into a stock pot. Let that heat up to a simmer. For veig’s, I use a mirepoix for the soup as well, but I small dice everything. Add that to the stock. Now for the chicken. The chicken that you removed from the bones, either shred it by hand or cut it into small pieces. You don’t have to be too accurate on the size of the chicken pieces as they will fall apart when it simmers in the soup. Add the chicken to the pot. Let everything simmer together until the chicken starts to fall apart and the carrots a fork tender. Now add in egg noodles. (as much noodles as you like). Let the soup continue to simmer until the noodles are cooked to your liking. At that point you are done! Oh and make sure you are seasoning with salt and pepper when you add each ingredient. I let everything simmer a bit too long and a good amount of the stock evaporated. I would only let it simmer for a total of 30-40 mins.

This soup is great on a cold day! At that point, I usually just have the soup for dinner. Some of my friends tell me that soup is not a full meal, but I disagree. I will usually then have the soup for lunch the next day and then the soup and salad for dinner the next time. If I still have soup leftover and am tired of it, go ahead and throw it in the freezer.

You can use store bought stock in place of fresh stock, but your outcome will not be the same quality in my opinion. Oh also, when using the fresh stock in the soup, your soup will solidify also, just as the stock did. Don’t be afraid of this, just heat it and its perfect. This is a great tasting and actually really cheap meal that can feed ~4 people. The chicken cost is ~$2 assuming you used ¼ of the chicken for the soup. The vegi’s used to make the stock and the soup is ~$2. Depending on how many noodles you use, it’s roughly $1 for a total of ~$5. Making the stock does take some time, but for a few hours and a few bucks, you can make a great chicken noodle soup.

Let me know what you think. If you have any other variations or different ingredients for chicken noodle soup, please share!

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Pickling Sunday

My friend Jadd and I are having a pickled egg contest in November. I haven't made pickled eggs in a few years, so I thought I'd get some practice runs in and actually write down what I did. I am trying out 2 different recipe's. One being a standard spicy pickled egg brine and then a garlic-curry pickled egg. When I was looking up recipes online, I kept running into pickled sausage recipes as well, so I made that too.

First off, hard boil a dozen eggs or so. I did 1.5 dozen since I had some sitting in my fridge. Add the eggs to cold water and bring to a boil to avoid the eggs from cracking. I read a tip online that said if you add a few drops of vinegar to the water, if an egg happens to crack before it is hard boiled, the vinegar helps seal the egg so you dont get runny egg whites coming out of the crack. I tried this, but none of my eggs cracked so I'm not sure if it really works. Also another tip is when you go to peel the eggs, put them in a bowl of cold water and peel them under water. Makes egg peeling real easy.

For the spicy egg brine, I used a combination of white and apple cider vinegar to give it that extra little tang. I also added in a bit of water as most recipes I saw said use a 3:1 vinegar to water ratio. I can never find pickling seasonings in the store, so I just make up my own. I added in spices like salt, sugar, all-spice, cloves, peppercorns and so on. Put everything in a sauce pan and bring it up to a boil to get all the dry ingredients to dissolve. Remove from the heat and let it cool.

I then cut 1/4 of an onion, 2 jalapeno's, 2 habanero peppers, and 5 cloves of garlic. I layered the eggs and onions & peppers in one of my vacuum sealed containers. Pour the brine into the container and vacuum seal it up.

For the Garlic-Curry brine, I used white vinegar and water, salt, sugar, red pepper flakes and tumeric. The recipe called out for curry powder but I didn't have any so this is the closest thing I had. I added onion slices and 10 cloves of garlic diced to another vacuum sealed canister with the eggs. Pour the brine into the container and vacuum seal it up.

For the pickled sausage, you have to use pre-cooked sausage or cook it yourself before canning. I Chose Hillshire Farm smoked sausage. I cut it into 1/2" strips. I also cut up a jalapeno and onion. For the brine, I used a similar brine as in the spicy eggs, but less all-spice and cloves.

Now time for storage. I keep them in my wine cellar in my basement due to the fact the temperature does not change that much in there. I'll probably let them for for at least 2 weeks before I try them. At that point, decide if they need more time or not. I will have a follow-up blog on the outcome. Enjoy!

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Family Dinner

My entire family was in town last weekend. Since I am taking cooking classes, they wanted me to cook dinner for them one night, so I agreed. I had to make sure I cook something traditional that my grandma’s would like. After talking it over with my parents, I came up with the following menu:

Pinwheel Pork Tenderloin

Mashed Potatoes

Roasted Carrots

Sautéed Green Beans

For the “pinwheel” pork tenderloin, I bought a 4 lbs tenderloin and filet it open so that it went from a roll to a flat piece so I can stuff it, but not with a bread stuffing. I seasoned it with salt and pepper and let it sit for a few hours in the fridge. For the stuffing, I sautéed mushrooms, onions, garlic and spinach. I let it cool down a bit. While the filling was cooling, I seared the pork in a mix of bacon fat and canola oil. I learned that bacon has a low smoke point so you have to add a higher smoke point oil like canola or grape seed. Once the pork was seared and cool enough to handle, I added the mushroom, onion, & spinach mixture to the seared pork. I also added a layer of feta cheese. One all evenly spread, I rolled the pork back into its original shape and tied it up with butcher twine. I put it in a pre-heated oven at 375 F until the internal temperature of the pork was around 180F. That took almost an hour. Once cooled, I cut it and with the way it is stuffed and rolled, it looks like a pinwheel, hence the name.

Now on to the mashed potatoes. When the pork was cooking, I pealed and large diced 4 medium sized Russet potatoes and boiled them like you would to make mashed potatoes. One trick that I read is that you need to start with cold water and put in the potatoes before you put them on the stove, then bring the water up to a boil. If you wait for the water to boil, then add the potatoes, the outsides will cook but the middles will be rock hard. This might seem obvious to some, but this is something I wasn’t aware of until a few years ago. While they were boiling, I put a few cloves of garlic in the oven to roast them for the potatoes. Once the potatoes were cooked and garlic roasted, I mashed them together, added whole milk, butter, sour cream and salt and pepper. Potatoes are now done.

Now for the vegi’s. For the carrots, I quartered them into roughly 3” long strips. The key is to get them all about the same size so they cook evenly. I added some diced onions, and fresh rosemary and thyme from my garden. I put them in a pyrex dish with salt, pepper and olive oil and roasted them for about 40 mins.

For the Green beans, I trimmed off the stems, then blanched them in boiling water for about 2 minutes then immediately put them in ice water to stop the cooking. Then I diced up 4 pieces of hickory smoked pepper bacon and cooked it until the bacon was crispy and there was a nice coating of bacon fat in the pan. I then added the green beans and sautéed them until they were hot, roughly 5 minutes. Once done, I added a little butter and coated them.

I was able to time out everything almost perfectly so that everything was done at the same time. This can be the most difficult part of planning a larger meal like this not only from a timing standpoint, but also a burner/oven capacity standpoint. Everything turned out great and the grandma’s enjoyed it very much. I only had enough leftovers for 1 serving of everything so I planned out the volume almost spot on. The one thing I would do differently is the gravy for the potatoes, which I did not talk about it. I totally forgot about gravy so at the last minute when shopping, I just bought a pre-made can of turkey gravy. It was kind of slimy and not that great. I will never do that again. I’ve never made gravy from scratch before so since I didn’t test it out before, I went for the can. If you have a good gravy recipe, please share.

Please feel free to add any comments, tips, criticism, your mom’s phone #, or whatever you feel like.