Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Cracker-Crust Pizza

I love chewy, crispy, yeasted pizza crust (obviously). But it is really hard to accomplish at home (especially on short notice). While I work on perfecting my chewy pizza dough recipe, our go-to for homemade pizza is a St. Louis-style cracker crust

It takes about a minute to measure out the dough ingredients and stir together, and then I divide the dough and let it rest while I grate cheese and chiffonade basil.  If you don't have a batch of pizza sauce handy, it's probably easier to start that first (as a New England girl raised on delicious Greek pizza, I prefer a sweet, thick, and heavily-herbed pizza sauce, but your mileage may vary). I don't do the authentic Missourian smoky Provel toppings with my St. Louis crust--it can support pretty much any toppings in the right amounts.

While most of the recipes I've seen for this kind of crust yield two pizzas from two cups of flour, I like to get three or four (it makes it easier to roll the dough as thin as you can). And if you roll the dough out on the parchment paper you're going to bake it on, you don't have to worry about transferring paper-thin dough to a new surface. 

Sidenote: When shopping for mozzarella for caprese, I've always passed by Trader Joe's standard mozzarella  with my nose up (assuming the flavor would be better for pizza and other melted applications). I discovered with this pizza that it is actually moist and sweet, perfect for eating cold, but not flavorful enough when melted to be great on pizza. Next time I'll try one of the harder cheeses with my cracker crust. 

This pizza is quick and delicious with traditional toppings, and I've also made a Thai version with peanut sauce and a flatbread-style application with fig jam and arugula. The bottom line is crispy homemade pizza crust from empty mixing bowl to table in around 30 minutes!

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Sectioning Oranges

I was a really, really picky eater for a while there as a kid. As an adult I'll try almost anything once, but I still have strong opinions about flavor and texture.

Over the past few years I've come to really appreciate the bold, clean flavors of winter citrus--who doesn't? Beautiful pink grapefruits, comically oversized pummelos, delicate Cara Cara oranges... they are what I crave in January. The problem is that I hate the taste of bitter citrus pith (even though my mom always said that was the nutritious part) and I really can't handle the texture of a citrus segment with the membrane still on. Enter sectioning!

I can't remember where I first learned how easy sectioning is, but I know it was only a few years ago. I don't really drink anything besides water, so I think of my sectioned citrus and its juice as a special treat.

You basically just peel your citrus with a sharp knife like you'd peel an apple. The challenge is to get all of the pith off without taking too much flesh (the flesh left on the peels you can scrape off with your teeth). Then you hold the fruit over a bowl and cut along both sides of each membrane line, popping out perfect little wedges of flavor. Squeeze the messy leftover membranes over the bowl (a hand juicer comes in handy) and discard.

Enjoy your bowl of perfect, flavorful, juicy fruit!

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Bread Baking for a Cold Weekend

Sometimes you just have to ignore the piles of laundry, pine needles all over the floor, and hours of work demanding attention and make some crusty bread on a cold Saturday afternoon (last week, of course; this weekend it's 50 degrees in Boston). 

My first yeast bread escapades were back in Portland in Aught Six, when Jim Lahey and Mark Bittman brought no-knead bread into vogue. My roommate had a heart-shaped Le Creuset pot with lid that was perfect for Co.-style loaves. Over the last couple of years I've had pizza stones but no dutch oven, so I've come to like the Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day method.

Where the Lahey method involves dumping the dough into a preheated dutch oven, the ABFMD method uses a bread stone. The catch is that to create the steam environment required for a good crust (which the preheated pot does beautifully), you're supposed to dump a cup of hot water into a metal pan on the floor of the oven. I've never been able to add the water without a) most of it spattering into the heating element or b) droplets hitting my pizza stone and [ahem] violently turning it into multiple jagged stones. 

My two-part solution is to completely line the rack my stone rests on with tinfoil, and to just place a metal pan full of water on the bottom of the oven when I start preheating--the crust is nice and thick and the steam lasts longer. Next time I'm going to try brushing the formed dough with water just before putting it in the oven.

Remember to slash the tops of your loaves before baking. In the picture at the top you can see on the left what happens when you forget--the loaf picks a weak point and splits by itself. It was still pretty tasty!

Monday, January 7, 2013

Happy New Year!

After a lovely Christmas season, the new year is hitting hard at work and I feel like I'm playing catch up a million times over. Luckily, I have a year of wedding planning ahead to keep me on task :)

My aunt made this adorable potholder to commemorate our engagement weekend!