Friday, August 21, 2009

Grilled Pizza

I've mentioned before that my boyfriend and his roommates are a captive audience when I feel like trying something new in the kitchen....Or if I just want a bunch of hungry mouths to feed.
Recently, they were gifted with a HUGE package of Omaha Steaks from some friends. It was thanks for a big favor, and although it was an unnecessary token (friends helping friends never need gifting) it was very well received.
In honor of the large gift, the fellas hosted a BBQ midweek to shake up the summer doldrums. I decided that this would be a great time to try my hand at a grilled pizza. I wanted to make something mostly vegetarian since we would be consuming hamburgers, hot dogs, and sausage (yes all at once).
On my way over to their place I picked up some essentials from Trader Joe's: Pizza dough - Normally I buy whole wheat, or just make my own...but time was at a premium, and I was making a veggie pizza for boys...might as well let them have their white crust; Onions/Garlic; Baby Arugula, and Gruyere cheese (yes, any excuse for Gruyere).
I read a few articles on technique and decided that it would be best to prep all my ingredients before the grill even got heated up. The grilled pizza cooks quickly, so a grillin' chef needs to work fast. I started with the onions and garlic -- 2 large onions, and 2 cloves of garlic. I caramelized the onions in a pan using JB's proven method (the bf's roommate/best buddy). This involved adding balsamic vinegar to sweeten the onions and help the caramelization. Coming from a person who used to burn onions rather than caramelize them, let me tell you this works like a charm!
Next I rolled out the dough - again utilizing the Charles Shaw bottle - a different, but no less helpful utensil. (the dough is folded over in the picture because I carried it outside on the cutting board and I didn't want it to stretch too much as I walked outside). I sliced up some Gruyere and washed some arugula, and I was outside just as the grill was reaching the perfect temperature.

The boys oiled the grill and as soon as the flames died down we tossed the dough on top. Oh boy - that cooked up quick - one side got slightly charred so we flipped the dough and started adding the toppings. (One of the fella's gf's - AK- was a HUGE help in this department. I'm pretty sure she helped man the grill that night too...Girl is a rock star.)

The caramelized onion mixture acted as a sauce - so that was spread on the dough first....Then the onions were topped with shaved slices of Gruyere cheese....then arugula. We had to work quickly so the cheese would melt before the dough burned....and we closed the top of the Weber-style charcoal grill for about a minute so the cheese would melt and the greens would just wilt slightly.
Please pardon the fuzzy pictures! We ate this as soon as it came off the grill - so it was tough to snap a picture before we dug in....and the steam coming off the pie kept getting condensation on the camera lens!
The pizza was really delicious. I loved the crispy char on the crust. I like a Neapolitan style pie so this was the closest I could get to brick oven pizza without an oven of my own! The flavor combo of the sweet onions, nutty cheese and bitter arugula were tasty too - so I would be willing to try it on a pizza stone for a dinner - or as an appetizer for a party.

I think I want to try other combinations too - maybe an onion and mushroom pie? I would also love to try something with green onions, cheese, bacon and potatoes....I know it sounds weird, but I've had something similar before and its to-die!

How about you? What non-traditional pizza toppings/combos are your favorite? Have you tried grilling pizza?

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Hits and Misses: Gougeres

They say you have to break a few eggs to bake a cake. I've found that you have to break a few more to make gougeres....or at least to get them right.
If you follow my twitter feed you saw that I was in NYC last weekend. While visiting friends we had a GREAT restaurant week dinner at Bar Artisanal in the Tribeca neighborhood. My meal was delicious....prawn appetizer, short rib entree, and lemony ricotta desert. Each restaurant meal also started with a hors d'oeuvres of gougeres.

Gougeres are savory little pastries. The base is a dough called a pat a choux. The dough is a base for a lot of french pastries like eclairs or profiteroles. In gougeres, cheese, bacon, or savory herbs can be added to the dough to give it a savory flavor. The gougeres at Bar Artisanal were perfect. They were absolutely delicious. The little puffs of cheese were so delicate and light and came to the table slightly warm, and faintly cheesy.

Upon returning from New York I received an invitation to a potluck dinner party, and decided that these would be a great thing to bring along as an alternative to bread. I researched different recipes online, and they were pretty much the same ingredients and technique, and used a lot of ingredients already in my kitchen. I only needed to pick up a little gruyere cheese and I would be on my way...

I like to try recipes out at home before I make them for a group or an audience. So I picked a Tuesday night to try and bake them, and if they came out incredible I would simply freeze them, then warm them up in the oven at my friend's house before dinner.
Again, I picked the warmest possible day to bake...90 degrees and humid. I cannot be stopped!

I knew something seemed weird after I added the first egg. The dough is supposed to absorb the eggs but instead, it became fairly soupy. I kept going anyway...and baked them off...I figured if they had gruyere in them, they couldn't be horrible.
As you can see, they don't have the same puff as the picture above...
They never got as airy and light as the gougeres at the restaurant. And they were sort of greasy. I ate a bunch of them anyway - they did taste like gruyere cheese after all.

They were actually very tasty, but they certainly were not true gougeres. They never puffed up like the real thing. I went back to reread the recipe - but I did everything correctly. I'm chalking it up to the humidity in the air.
I plan on trying these again before the dinner party. I am determined to get this right! I will keep you updated. Let me know about this post - I thought it would be good to show failures as well as successes in the kitchen - and show how I chose to overcome my kitchen mistakes.
How about you? Have you ever had a recipe not come out quite right? What did you make? Did you try the recipe again?

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Peach Pie

Do you ever find a recipe that makes you throw away all your preconceived ideas about what is difficult, what is worth your time, and what you like to cook?

Do you ever think to yourself, gee, its 95 degrees out, but I REALLY want to make the pie in this month's gourmet magazine?? Do you ever do this when you've never actually baked a pie from scratch?

No? Then, dear reader, you and I have little in common.
I kid, but honestly, I have an absolute knack for biting off a little more than I can chew in the kitchen...then somehow pulling it all together. I usually have a meltdown in the process, but it all turns out fine.

It all started at 9am when I woke, excited that today was the day that I was going to bake my first pie - this one. I was the first person awake in my boyfriends apartment (this was the only place I could bake the pie since his apartment has huge counter tops and a full oven/range).

I started with the dough, since I knew it needed to rest in the fridge for a while. It was a basic pastry dough with lots and lots of butter (sorry David!). I got it all mixed, combined and wrapped in saran wrap while covering a good portion of bf's kitchen in flour. I cleaned up and started on the next piece of the recipe.

I should have known that I was going to have an issue when I walked to the grocery store at 10am and broke into a sweat going 5 blocks for 3 pounds of peaches. But I decided to soldier on. After breakfast, and the dear bf setting up some music for me to bake to I was off. I first needed to blanch the peaches...boiling water and ice bath set up. I dunked peach after peach and counted to 30 (15 seconds more than the recipe instructed). Then I peeled the peaches. This whole part of the recipe took me about an hour (I cannot lie, this part was excruciating).

The funniest part was that the bf had set up some Eric Clapton for me to listen to, and in the midst of my peeling debacle, a song "EASY AS PIE" came on the IPOD. I started cursing that this was some cruel joke. **I honestly think the peaches weren't quite ripe enough, which is why it took so long to peel. Next time I will either blanch them a little longer, or try to start with riper fruit.

Once the peaches were all peeled and sliced into wedges, I added the cinnamon, cornstarch, sugar, etc....I then got to work on the honey-caramel. Sugar and caramel into a pot, brought to a bubble, then taken off heat and butter added. This was SO fun. I hadn't made caramel with honey before, and the flavor was just delicious. This was added to the bowl of peaches.

After the peeling of peaches, the most difficult thing about pie making was the crust. I was in an apartment inhabited by 20-something males. In all honesty, the cupboards aren't as barren as one might think for 3 guys living together. My bf is a decent cook, and his roommates' gf (AK) is very comfortable in the kitchen (and shares my love of Ina Garten and the Food Network) so between the 3 of us the place is stocked with most spices and ingredients.

Although they have most ingredients, they don't have all the tools that can help things along...and what they do have (roasting pan, crock pot) is actually mine that I've left there. In short, they did not have a rolling pin for the dough - so I rolled it out with an unopened bottle of Charles Shaw. I floured the wine bottle and the countertop. My pie pan was one inch larger than the recipe called for, so I think I just didn't have enough dough. It kind of fell apart into a couple pieces as I lifted it into the pan...but I seamed it together. Same for the top piece.

I was a little disappointed as it went into the oven. It looked terrible. I was sad, but the bf assured me that the best pies don't look perfect, they look homemade. I didn't believe him, so I choked back my disappointment and settled in to watch some TV.

OK, so it came out of the oven and it still wasn't the most beautiful pie ever...but let me tell you, it was DELICIOUS. I split one slice with the bf the first night - then declared that it was too delicious to keep in the house. We went to visit my best friend the next day and brought 1/4 of the pie along with us.

Her son (my godson) and her husband gobbled it up. It was a lot of work but definitely delicious. This will not be my last pie, but I think next time I might use a recipe or a fruit that requires a little bit less prep work (and I'll use a food processor and an actual rolling pin for the crust....)

1,000 Visitors

I'm so excited, I just passed the 1,000 visits mark! Thank you to everyone who reads regularly and helped me get here! When I started this blog, I figured that my mom and a couple friends might check it out from time to time, but I never thought that other bloggers would link to me, or I would make (and re-find) friends. Thanks to all who read! I'll have a food post shortly!