Saturday, January 31, 2009

Pizza, a follow up

The family is out of town, and I have a day off. You know what that means: test kitchen. I was looking at JW's pizza recipe, and even though I've heard this time and time again, I'm a slow learner. It starts and ends with the dough. You'll either have a pleasant experience, or it will be misery and toppings will burn in the bottom of your oven. This is not a post to say that the previous one is at all incorrect, quite the opposite. But it does require some trial and error.
Think about what all of the ingredients in the dough actually contribute.

Flour, oil, and water: the basis of the dough. This can be 5/1 bread flour to corn meal or semolina (Jamie Oliver), or all purpose with wheat flour and semolina (JW). Or any combination. Again, trial and error.
Yeast: fluffy dough, elasticity. The more elastic, the MORE DIFFICULT it is to make it thin. About 3 cups flour per packet of yeast, or 1 packet per 4 individual pizzas. Think "Feed the Bitch!" from Bourdain's Kitchen Confidential. If you haven't read it, don't wait.
Sugar: fuel for the yeast. This can be done with white wine (Mario Batali), honey (JW), sugar, etc. Or, you can leave this out. It depends on how long you plan to let the yeast rise and how dense/thin you want the crust.
Salt: flavor. Everything is better with salt.
Rising time: fluffier, but more elastic dough. Fine for focaccia (pretty much the same recipe), some advocate the double rise which works well.
Kneading: activates gluten which I think makes the dough less dense, and more fluffy. That's why the recipe before says leave it in the mixer for the prescribed time, even if it looks like it's done. Too much kneading: light and fluffy, more resilient. Too little kneading: thinner, but can stretch out wider and thinner. The only problem is that it will have a dense cracker consistency that can be a little tough. Consider that Batali's (and probably anyone else's) homemade pasta recipe calls for kneading the dough at least 5 minutes or so. Even though there's no yeast, it still makes the pasta lighter and silkier.

So you have to find the right balance of your ingredients. And that all comes with what your particular taste, expertise, patience, ingredients, etc. It also makes a difference what type of toppings your considering. If you want pizza Margherita with fresh tomato, that's going to be wet and it's going to be hard to get it off the peel. Your dough and your cooking technique have to match to provide a nice, dense crust that will stand up to the soggy ingredients.

Consider how baguette or tuscan country bread is made. Can be a super hot oven, but it has to be dead even heat above and below to cook from all sides. In the case of the baguette, it's partly the steam from the water that they throw on there, and it's also the oven. In the case of country style bread, it's the brick oven.

I have trouble with a combination of wet and dry ingredients, and I can't get the pizza off the peel onto the oven or grill stone without slinging all of my toppings into the bottom of the oven and having the whole house smell like burned cheese or chicken. You could put parchment paper down on the peel and then put the dough on that, putting both your pizza and the parchment paper in the oven on the stone. I suppose there's no reason you couldn't also use foil. Dough isn't done but the toppings are almost burned? This one, confuses me. I know that you can turn the temp down and balance that, but how then, do the Italians and various restaurants cook it in a scorching hot brick oven? It's because they do it in a brick oven that provides perfectly even heat on all sides. One side being done before the other is a case of uneven heat.

The key is to experiment, and I think JW is right: with several trials and errors, umcompromising quality of ingredients, and a tenacity to learn how to do it, you can probably make pizza at least as well as anywhere you can go buy it. Trial and error is the substitute for learning it from your Nonna....and you can learn to do it many different ways.

Final note: really want to cheat? Pepin describes using flour tortilla to make pizza. Haven't tried that one yet, but it just might work! Although, I don't think you'd call it pizza.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Pizza, the real stuff

I love thin crust pizza and am continually looking for a dough recipe that can be easily replicated to produce a cracker thin crust. It's really all about the crust. You have to be very careful with the toppings else you'll have a soggy, floppy pie. This recipe produces a very elastic dough that doesn't have too much recoil, in other words you can stretch paper thin until almost see-through. This is NY style pizza, not the heavy, bloated Chicago, Pizza Hut crap. I have devoted quite a bit of time to this lately and I think I finally have a winner.

You'll need:
Stand mixer with paddle attachment
Pizza stone
Pizza peel
Oven or BGE

For dough:
Semolina or cornmeal for dusting
2 c. AP flour
1/2 c. Whole wheat flour
1 T. Yeast
1 1/4 c. Water
1/4 c. Olive Oil
~ 1 T. Honey
2 t. Salt

Combine warm water ~ 110 F with yeast and honey and set aside to bloom for 10 minutes. Meanwhile measure the flour(s) and salt and combine in the bowl of your stand mixer. After 10 minutes, add Olive Oil to yeast mixture and pour into the dry ingredients. Mix on low until dough pulls away from side of bowl (atleast 5 minutes). After 5 minutes if this hasn't occurred, add about a teaspoon of flour every 15 to 20 seconds until this does happen. Remove from bowl, portion into 4 balls of dough and rest on a baking sheet dusted with semolina and covered with plastic wrap for about an hour.

Preheat oven with stone for as high as it goes, atleast an hour beforehand.

Remember this makes a very thin dough. When you have everything ready, work expediently. Form dough as desired and place on a WELL-DUSTED peel. Spoon 1-2 T of sauce on the pie, sprinkle with toppings and a minimal amount of mozzarella. Bake for about 10 minutes or until the exposed areas of the crust begin to blacken slightly. Serve immediately, and as the chef, eat a slice or two while you prepare you're next pie!

My favorite quick sauce recipe:
14 ounce can of fire-roasted, diced tomatoes
1 T olive oil
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp red wine vinegar
Salt and pepper

Simply puree in blender until well combined. Does need any cooking and gives pizza a very fresh taste.

My favorite pizza toppings
The classic: fresh buffalo mozz and basil with red sauce
Proscuitto and sauteed shitake or button mushrooms
Hot sausage and black olives

Jen's favorite
Anchovies, capers, mushrooms

Let me know how this turns out for takes very little time and is a helluva lot better than anything I can get in Augusta.


Best cooking show I've seen in a while

I was trolling through the cable guy trying to findI was scrolling through the cable guide trying to find something new to watch. I stumble across Jacques Pepin Fast Food My Way on one of the PBS channels. I don't know how they were able to squeeze anything in but the continual Obama lovefest on TV, but here it was, a new show. If you've never seen or heard of him, he's pretty low key. He had a show with Julia Childs, was the personal chef of Charles DeGaulle (French Prime Minister), and his most famous book is La Technique. What I love about the show is that it stresses crisp fundamentals, and showcases his incredible skill. I've never seen anyone faster with a knife than this guy. Think Mario Batali if he weren't an annoying New York showoff. I have no doubt that he would kill any of the clowns on Top Chef at every challenge.
The best news is that you can watch all the episodes online on YouTube if you click on the above link. Just watch it, you'll be amazed at the beautiful simplicity!

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Martinez to Miami?

Answer to the prayers of the Bulldawg nation? Rumors abound that Miami wants to hire Willie Martinez to replace defensive coordinator. Martinez is a native of Coral-Gables and played on the 1983 National Championship team at the "U". That move would cause double-elation for me as I enjoy the Miami collapse even more than the 3 loss seasons we will continue to endure with Martinez as D-co

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Fun with Mickey Mouse: the good, the great, and the not so good

Just got back today from a trip to Orlando, we took the kids and I had a work meeting. Don't worry, we had plenty of time to get after it. Honestly, I was a little bit concerned about how it would be. All things considered, I was pleasantly surprised. By resort standards, the Disney conglomerate doesn't gouge you quite to the extent that several others do. here's what we found:

Babysitters are essentially guaranteed can make a hundred bucks every time you call them. If your kids are under the age of four, forget about the kids club.
Eating out is expensive, but you really don't have any choices if you are staying in a Disney resort. Bad food was remarkably expensiFor asleepve, and good food was almost staggering even by New York and San Francisco standards.
Standard amenities in the gift shops was actually cheaper than what I found it other resort hotels. It's hard to get a 20 ounce bottle of Diet Coke at a four-star resort for less than like for five dollars. Mickey charged me two bucks.
The other huge positive about every one of the restaurants that we went to was that they cateredvery much towards kids. Even restaurants with $40 entrees still had Mickey Mouse pasta with butter, and they acted like they couldn't care less if the kids slung pasta all over the whole restaurant. Kids screaming and unhappy? Don't worry about it, it's par for the course. This aspect might make the childless think twice about it. For us, it was perfect.

Big River. I assumed that this might be similar to the one in Chattanooga. It's not. The food here really wasn't very good. They did have their own brewed beer which was fine. I got a chicken breast penne pasta with a red sauce that was terrible. $16.

Flying Fish. One of the highlights of the trip. Also, one of the more expensive ventures. They had a great wine list, and a very well and thoughtfully prepared assortment of seafood. We started with yellowfin tartare which was about average. I'm not really that convinced that the tuna was sashimi grade. They did put it together very nicely. I had tilefish which was cooked to near perfection, had a great sauce with it, I loved it. The wife had perfectly cooked scallops on a wonderful risotto. We had a bottle that at this point I can't remember what it was except it was too chocolatey and didn't go very well with our meal.

Artists Pointe. This one was really good, and they had their sauces down cold. But what really failed us was their wine list. Maybe it's because I don't know that much about Oregon and Washington state lines, other than to know that they make good Pinot Noir and that occasionally hit on a good Cabernet Sauvignon, particularly in the form of a blend which you can get at a good value. They really need a sommelier to help bring you what you want. Our waiter failed us. I asked for a not terribly fruity blend of something, and wound up with 65% Merlot that was very fruit forward. Think Hawaiian Punch. The second bottle we went with was a Hogue 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon which was awesome. As far as food went, they had wonderful food. For some dumb reason I ordered vension spring rolls, I don't know what I was expecting but I didn't get it. They had a great mushroom soup that I'm going to try and think about reproducing. Think portobello mushrooms smoked and grilled, puréed in a thick vegetable stock probably augmented with cream, finished off with bacon and creme fraiche. the signature dish there was pacific salmon cooked on cedar planks on a brown butter sauce with honey and white truffle, served with brussels sprouts. It was really great, one of the best dishes I had the whole week.

Portabello (no longer the yacht club). Italian themed at downtown Disney. They had a wonderful selection of antipasti and some of the tastiest calamari that I have had in a while. It was fried in a really nice light batter, and perfectly seasoned. We had a nice bottle of wine (Ruffino Chianti Ducale), and then everything fell apart. Every entree that came out after that was so overly salted that it was almost inedible. The desserts were OK. The espresso was solid, the grappa was better. If they thought that level of saltiness was appropriate, they're mistaken. Maybe it was someone new in the kitchen, and I'd be willing to go back.

All in all, Disney was a success. We did the Magic Kingdom, and the kids and Mama went to Disney studios. We had a lot of fun, and can't wait to go back!!

Friday, January 16, 2009

Call for new blog title!

As you may or may not know, the title of the blog was something I didn't really think about too much, and it was intended to reflect my move from the corner (Southwest Georgia) to the middle (St. Louis, MO) of the country. We're moving out of the midwest back to the South (Nashville), and I think the blog deserves a new name. I'm sorry the posting has been so slow, but I think it will pick up a lot here in the next few weeks. So I'm happy to take all suggestions. The theme of this was intended to be a place to rant and rave about sports (particularly UGA), discuss technique and menu ideas since a lot of us got into cooking in big way, document wine/spirits discoveries so I wouldn't lose them if I found a bottle of something I really liked, and share travel ideas particularly as they relate to food and wine. Where I live is really irrelevant, and now in the context of my move and in the spirit of new participation (which is great and only in its infancy) we need a new name!
Just a few to consider

Let the big 'Dawg eat and drink!
'Dawg food
To hell and back.... (so we didn't really like Missouri, wasn't it obvious?)
Leroy Brown's Epicuriosity Killed the Cat
Northerner's wish, Southerner's dream
Pressure without the blitz
Just Money

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Try this and tell me I'm not crazy!

OK. I know I haven't posted anything of significance lately, but please try this and let me know what you think. I am always looking for interesting flavor combinations and I hit on this the other night...simple, but a party in your mouth. Try Biscoff cookies (the ones you get on Delta flights) with a Red Zin or Cab. I nearly got cootered eating cookies and drinking wine because I just couldn't stop myself.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

State of the U(GA)nion

Just a few comments, to put something on here because there has not been a post in almost a month. I've been working every day since that last post, and I know we've been tied up with family and holidays. So I haven't paid much attention to bowl games other than the Capitol One Bowl, and the Chik-fil-a Bowl. Up yours, tech!
But now that all we have to look forward to is a dismal winter and a national championship game where we have to root for Oklahoma. I mean, really, what good could possibly come from rooting for Florida. On the one hand we would like the SEC to look superior, but the fact the UF's back in the title game 2 years after winning it should be proof enough that cheering for them does nothing for us. Because if they win, how is that beneficial to UGA? It's not, and it could widen the gap even further between us and our competition.

"Hey, y'all! I'm Mark, and this is Mike and Willie..."

The ESPN deal gave all teams in the SEC a bunch of money, and boy are they spending it. It didn't seem like a big deal when you saw that on the back page, did it? It is.
Look at what UT is doing. Clearly, someone over there thinks they're the New York Yankees, because money has been no object for them. Lane Kiffin is the head coach (you know, the dude that got fired by Al Davis in Oakland), Ed Orgeron (former Ole Miss coach) as the recruiting coordinator and assistant head coach, Monte Kiffin (D coordiantor and dad, from the Tampa Bay Bucs) as the defensive coordinator, a guy named Chaney from the STL Rams as the O-coordinator, and they're now trying to swipe Rodney Garner away from UGA. For what, it's unclear, but losing him will not help our cause.
Meanwhile, Auburn, despite hiring Chizik (which is very likely related to some legal issues and who his agent was) has courted Stacy Searles (AU grad, current UGA O-line coach), hired Malzahn (the offensive coordinator from Tulsa), and to my knowledge is still looking for a defensive coordinator. Don't think they won't break the bank.
Alabama beat everyone to it when they hired away Nick Saban from the Miami Dolphins with a ton of money. Oh, and guess who their Assistant Head Coach and defensive secondary coach is? Ever heard of Kirby Smart? UGA 1999?
Meanwhile, LSU hired John Chavis from UT, arguably one of the best defensive coordinators in the SEC, year in and year out.
Arkansas hired pro coach Bobby Petrino, and they can have him.
Mississippi State's new head coach is Dan Mullen, O-coordinator from UF, going after the BCS championship game.
Ole Miss of course now has Houston Nutt, and they're loving life.
South Carolina hired Steve Spurrier away from the pros to be their HBC. And they still suck.

We hardly ever think much about UGA's coaching staff other than Richt, Bobo, Martinez and Searels (who we seem to love but don't know anything about since he won't do press interviews).

The defensive squad is CWM (fellow Miami alum as CMR '86 when CMR was '82, was the DB coach at Central Michigan when Van Gorder was there, and then joined him at UGA as the same here, promoted with BVG left), Rodney Garner (D-line coach and recruiting coordinator, came from UT in 98), John Fabris AKA Coach Fab (D-ends coach, came from everywhere including Notre Dame, South Carolina, and the Cleveland Browns, UGA since 2000), and John Jancek (LB came from Central Michigan in 2005, where he was D-line, then eventually D-coordinator).
The offense is Mike Bobo (the tunnel screen, torn ACL, and famous pass against GT), John Eason (WR, came from FSU and SCAR), Stacy Searels (O-line, AU grad who most recently came from LSU), Tony Ball (RB from Virginia Tech and Louisville).

The points are these: we've never really gone out and dropped a bunch of money on a big-time coordinator. We've had several that have turned out to be good, and others that turned to be so-so. We've only had an offensive coordinator for 2 years now, and it's Mike Bobo, who is not a proven offensive genius by any stretch of the imagination.
Meanwhile, when it comes to defense, it appears that "My baby, she's a Chippewa, she's a one of a kind," that being Central Michigan Chippewas, like the guy that Knowshon jumped over this year. Two of our 4 coaches came from there after being promoted up the ladder. None except for Fabris had any significant higher level experience, and his was just one year with the Browns.

UGA is at a dangerous time when it comes to coaching and recruiting. Like was said earlier, on the surface, there seems to be some money to play with. We'd better get with it if we're going to keep up. I'm not saying that the amount of money necessarily translates to wins, but the "aw shucks" attitude and low salaries for potentially underqualified coordinator/position coaches will cost us big time if we're not careful. Meanwhile, we play a one-dimensional team in MSU, the defense plays arguably one of their best games of the year, and CWM (deservedly or not) will almost assuredly keep his job. While Auburn and Tennessee court 2-3 of our assistant coaches. The scary thought is who would we replace them with if we lost them? The biggest potential loss is Garner who has been one of our main recruiters, as he is also creditted with recruiting many of the players that won the National Championship at UT in 98. They want him back. Pay attention to the upcoming news as Garner is in Knoxville this weekend interviewing for a position in the Kiffin spend-o-rama.

Meanwhile, we're in the minority of schools in the SEC in that we don't have a special teams coach. If we do, we don't list anyone as having that job.

I'm justifiably worried. Maybe it's just the Munson in me.