Sunday, April 25, 2010

Out of the frying pan

I had been thinking for some time about trying my hand at pizza. I wanted to make my own dough, and Antonia had talked about cooking it on the grill, so I decided to give it a shot.

Because I can't seem to approach any cooking task with simplicity in mind, I elected to make a dough with herbs in it. The recipe I found called for herbes de Provence. I had no idea what they were, so I did some quick research and started to mix up a batch from what I could find in the spice cabinet. Then I noticed that Darien already had a jar of the herbs she had bought at the market. Oh. Next step, mince some garlic, saute it with the herbs, and prepare to add to the dough.

The dough turned out to be an issue. It called for bread flour (which I had to purchase) and cornmeal, and for mixing in a food processor. The sugar and yeast mixture seemed to work well, but in mixing everything together, the dough seemed too sticky and glutinous. I ended up adding more flour than I think I should have, which ended up being a theme for the evening. Just as the dough was forming into a ball like it was supposed to, the Cuisinart froze. This was going to be an expensive pizza.

I kneaded the dough ball a bit and left to rise. Meanwhile, I started on the toppings. I didn't find exactly what I was looking for, so I put together my own, basing it around roasted tomatoes brushed with oil and herbs, a fennel/garlic/onion saute, and barbecued shrimp, planning to top everything with goat cheese. What I neglected was to adjust the size of the recipes appropriately, so I ended up with several times as much as was sufficient. Antonia helped out by consuming vast quantities of the shrimp before dinner.

I made a Dijon based dressing (red wine vinegar, shallots, garlic, thyme, olive oil), while Antonia put together the romaine salad with roasted red peppers, artichoke hearts, and salami, proudly cut matchstick style.

The dough rose nicely and I began rolling out the pies. I had to use a lot of flour to keep things from sticking, and I think I could have rolled them all thinner. I stacked them up as I finished, just as the recipe called for, but this proved to be a problem later. When I was grilling one set of pies, the others that were sitting began to stick together. I had to do emergency surgery with a bag of flour while standing at the grill, trying not to let the others burn. It was not a pretty sight.

I put everything together and popped the pies in the oven to melt the cheese. In spite of the stress, and the rather dilapidated look of the pizza, it actually didn't taste all that bad. And it didn't end up costing all that much either -- I just found out that the food processor was not permanently damaged. Whew.


Sunday, April 11, 2010

A simple meal

With Peter coming home for Easter last weekend, we decided to celebrate Darien's birthday a week early. We asked her what she wanted for her meal, and she told  us "to keep it as simple as possible."

Right. Like that was going to happen.

Antonia did some initial scouting around, and we decided that a French dinner would be appropriate, given that we will be going to France this summer. We smiled and told Darien we were following her dinner suggestions exactly as she wished.

I went shopping on Saturday and picked up most of what we needed. Since we would be slicing so many vegetables, and some needed to be julienned, Antonia decided that a mandoline slicer would make an excellent present from the boys. She purchased one and I picked it up from her cabin and secreted it away. So far, so good.

While Antonia and Darien were singing in church on Sunday, I got busy. After some fumbling around, I was able to julienne the carrots, celery, leeks, and other toppings for the sole. Since we were doing French, of course the whole pile was sauteed in a mound of butter. I added sliced mushrooms at the very end, and set everything aside in the refrigerator for later use. I then got to work on the crust for the tarte. This was the part that made me nervous, but it was surprisingly easy -- mix the dry ingredients, then add a slightly beaten egg and softened butter in a little crater and mash the whole thing together. I rolled it all into a ball and set it in the refrigerator to chill.

When Antonia arrived, we switched it into high gear. We gave Darien firm instructions not to enter the kitchen after she exclaimed how nice the salmon looked.

I started chopping and Antonia worked on the fish -- sole, not salmon -- preparing it in a baking dish for poaching. I put the mandoline to good use, slicing a the potatoes to a nice thinness, followed by the zucchini. I sliced the apples razor thin with the mandoline and Antonia placed them artistically on the pie dough that she had formed into a rough approximation of a circle. She then heaped a mound of sugar on top. It was so much sugar she didn't have the heart to use all the recipe called for, especially after she dribbled the honey on it. Maybe that is what made it taste so good.

This was a good dinner. I would never have been able to pull everything together without A., so props to her.