Friday, June 26, 2009

Grilled Pizza

Yesterday it didn't rain. The sun was actually out. I heard on the news that it has rained something like 19 days of the last 23 in NYC. And on the days it hasn't rained, it's been gray and dreary and cool. I really haven't minded the weather at all. I'm at home most of the time so going out in the rain isn't an issue for me. What I have missed thanks to all this rain is the grilling.

We had a get together at the beginning on the month and that was also the start of the establishment of NYC as the east coast Seattle. During our grilling get together, it rained. It wasn't a bad rain and we were able to get the cooking done before it started. We and our guests squeezed together under our massive outdoor umbrella and kept eating and talking while the gentle rain came down. It was actually really quite nice. One of our guests said, "I bet everyone who can see us is jealous." (There is a high rise condo building across the street and almost all those tenants could see us on our roof.) Despite the rain and slight chill in the air, we really did have a nice time. It felt so relaxed.

But yesterday, when the rain stopped and the sun was actually shining throwing sunbeams into the apartment (the cats were confused by it's sudden reappearance. I think they had forgotten it even existed), I knew we were going to grill for dinner.

I've been wanting to try pizza on the grill and it sounded like the perfect thing to do. I made the dough late in the afternoon as it needs some time to rise. A couple days ago I started prepping for the possibility of pizza for dinner cooked either on the grill or in the oven, so I went over to the butcher on Court Street to pick up some Italian sausage. What a great butcher! We have two butcher shops close to us. One on Smith Street, which I've been to several times, and one on Court, which I hadn't been to yet. The Court St. shop is more upscale and carries only prime cuts of meat. There is an homage to the old-time butcher shops with a sprinkling of sawdust on the floor just inside the front door. I don't think any of the beef cuts they have are under $10 a pound, and apparently, they were having a sale yesterday. Beautiful meat. There is also a small selection of cheeses, olives, and pantry items. But it was what was in the back corner of the shop that caught my eye. A beautiful Himalayan cat sat tucked into a corned silently and patiently watching the shop. I kiss-kissed to her and she came trotting right over to me. All cats respond to the kiss-kiss. I gave her some rubs and she gave some back and then decided it was enough that she greeted me and I acknowledged her, and she went right back to her corner. Then I bought my $3.98 worth of house-made (I assume) Italian sausage and continued on my errands.

The next shop on my list was the Smith & Vine wine stop for some Prosecco. Picked up that and another bottle of a summer white, and went across the street to the cheese shop, Stinky Bklyn. I was on the hunt for some fresh buffalo mozz for the pizza. Eight dollars later, I was in possession of a beautiful, grapefruit-sized ball of house-made buffalo mozzarella. Yum.

So after I got my dough rising, I went to work on prepping the toppings. I removed the sausages from their casings, crumbled and browned them. Sausage was excellent - very little fat and extremely flavorful. Sliced the cheese and sampled a bit as I went. Delicious. Made garlic oil and plucked leaves from our basil growing in a glass of water on the windowsill.

Then started work on the drink. Bon Appetit had a recipe for a "Strawberry Muddle" that I wanted to try. I hulled and chopped the strawberries, sliced the lemon, muddled all of it with simple syrup, and put the glasses in the fridge to complete when we were ready.

Steve came home and julienned a green pepper and I got our salad ready. He left to get the grill going and I rolled out the dough. A while ago, I bought a special pan with a long handle that is for grilling pizza. I know it's cheating to use a pan rather than putting the dough directly on the grill, but I wanted to give this a try. The pan worked beautifully! We cooked the dough in two steps. First, we grilled one side until it got color on it but before it burned. It cooks pretty fast over the high heat fire. Then we carefully flipped the dough and added the sauce and toppings. Then we put it back on the fire and grilled until the crust was colored on the bottom and the toppings were hot. We covered the grill while it was cooking but checked on it frequently to avoid burning. The fire Steve had going last night was very hot - which is good for pizza - and I was worried about it burning the crust before the toppings were done. As a first attempt goes, everything worked out pretty darn well. The crust was crispy but certainly not burned, and it was cooked all the way through. Our toppings were hot and the cheese got oozy. I would have liked to add a little bit of onion or some olives, but there is always next time. Here is the pizza cooking on the grill. It's not quite done yet. The dots along the crust are the pattern the bottom of the pan makes.

Before we put the pizza on the grill to cook, I also finished the drinks by adding the ice and Prosecco. At first, we really didn't taste much of the strawberry or lemon. I think I used glasses that were too big and diluted the fruit flavor. But by the time we got to the bottom of the glass, the flavors were great - sweet, lemon-y, and the strawberries were fizzy. We didn't finish the Prosecco last night so Steve said when he gets home today (half-day Fridays!) he's having another one.

It's raining again today.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

The weekend was full of food

Father's Day weekend here was a non-affair. As neither of us were able to travel to visit dad's, we took ourselves out for Father's Day brunch. We have a favorite coffee shop over on Court Street that makes quite excellent pancakes, with or without blueberries. It's called Cobble Hill Coffee Shop. That's kinda a no-brainer name, I know, but it suits it just fine.

The coffee shop decorates for the holidays and seasons. This past Sunday, they added blue banners hanging up on the walls proclaiming Happy Father's Day to all the dads who came in. The banners were up next to their spring "decor" of hanging paper/plastic flowers.

It's a real local joint. It's small and run, and I suspect owned, by two neighborhood guys named Frank and Nick. I have no idea which old guy is Frank and which is Nick, and I don't know their last names. The business card by the old fashioned, non-digital cash register simply has their first names. I think they are Greek as they and many of the older, life-time waiters have accents. Cobble Hill/Carroll Gardens has been a traditionally Italian neighborhood, but I don't think these guys are Italian. The place is always busy and full of all kinds of people - oldsters, young families, singles at the counter, and everyone in between. So far, we've only been there for breakfast on the weekends. They have a machine that squeezes oranges for fresh squeezed oj, a tiny griddle area, hand written tickets, large menu, and freezing cold air conditioning.

It's not a fancy place by any means and it doesn't try to be something it's not. I like it because it's a real neighborhood coffee shop that makes good comfort food, has a friendly staff (they don't recognize us yet even though we have been there three Sundays in a row), and isn't too expensive. In fact, if you get there before 11AM, there are really good prices on breakfast specials which include coffee and a small juice. No mimosas here!

The man who greets customers I assume is Frank/Nick. We had to wait a few minutes for a table twice now, and he keeps track in his head who is next and how many people in the party. There is no room to wait inside, so everyone just stays outside on the sidewalk. Besides, Frank/Nick won't let you wait inside. He will bring out chairs so people can sit. People leave their expensive Bugaboo and Maclaren strollers outside, too. (Side note: you know how in LA BMWs and Mercedes are everywhere? Yeah, that's what Bugaboos and Maclarens are like in my neighborhood. I have yet to see another brand of stroller.) He pokes his head out to give updates on tables and to call people in to sit. It's a system that he's probably been doing for a long time.

So that's what we did Sunday morning. We left the diner and went straight to Trader Joe's because we've figured out that before noon on Sunday, it's actually pretty decent in there. The shelves are stocked and it's not busy yet with the check out line wrapping along the back of the store from dairy to produce. We did run into one snag - their meat case was out of order so there was no sausage, beef, or pork available. I asked the cashier what was going on and she said it wasn't keeping things cold at the proper temp so it was being fixed. The repair guys were there and we saw them doing repair guys things to the huge meat case. If you were looking for chicken you were in luck as that case is separate and was operating just fine.

After that, we did some produce shopping across the street at Pacific Green. Picked up fresh tarragon, apples for Steve, garlic, onions, strawberries, and Camembert for a recipe later this week.

Last week, I sat down with back issues of Bon Appetit and marked recipes that sound good but we haven't tried yet. This week's dinner menu is going to be entirely from Bon Appetit issues. Except for the grilled pizza night, which should be Friday. That pizza will be my own creation, but I am borrowing the excellent pizza dough recipe found in a previous issue of, you guessed it, Bon Appetit.

Monday night, I made a pasta with goat cheese, asparagus, tarragon, and lemon. It was so easy, light, tasty, and easily adaptable. If you make it, be sure to add salt and pepper because for some reason, this recipe doesn't include them. And it needs both salt and pepper.

Going back one more night to Sunday, I made Moroccan chicken which had ingredients of green olives, lemons, paprika, cumin, cinnamon, ginger, caramelized onions, and garlic. I used just chicken breasts instead of butchering a whole chicken. Quite good, especially the bites with the olives. I wrote on the recipe to add more olives next time.

Tonight, I think dinner will be steak sandwiches, salad, and pineapple. (The Camembert I got will go on these sandwiches.)

If you haven't seen Laura's, of Pinot and Prose, new blog for Edible Queens, be sure it check it out. She's writing a blog for EQ exclusively covering her experiences during culinary school at the Institute for Culinary Education (ICE). She just started the program, so if you start reading the blog, you don't have to go back too far to get caught up.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Fresh mint chocolate chip ice cream, redux

A couple days ago, I made my second attempt for the perfect fresh mint chocolate chip ice cream. My first attempt wasn't bad, mind you, but it was lacking a balance of flavor between the mint and chocolate, and it wasn't quite creamy enough. It was intensely minty, but the chocolate got lost. My first batch also turned out green tea green rather than a nice pretty light green. Here's a picture of it in my grandpa's Blue Bell Ice Cream bowl.

For my second batch, I upped the cream quotient and used a darker chocolate (72%). This definitely improved it, but it's still not quite what I want. The color was much improved, so I at least figured that out. Not sure how to get white fresh mint ice cream like Chestnut's . . . seems like the chlorophyll will ooze out and color the cream no matter what as the heat breaks down the cell walls. Ah, science!

In this second attempt, I thought the chocolate was the right one to use, but I thought the mint needed increased. Unfortunately, I couldn't make this batch with the full two packed cups I used in the first because I just a little short on mint. Two full packed cups of mint leaves seems to be the right amount. The second batch ice cream tended more towards the sweet-mint area and not the refreshingly bright fresh mint intensity that I want.

The second batch was also far creamier thanks to the two cups of heavy cream, but now I think it's too creamy. You know that sort of filmy, slimy, yucky mouth feel you get after eating whipped cream? Yeah, this is what happened after eating this ice cream. So I'm going to lower the amount of heavy cream and substitute half and half or light cream.

All of this means I have to make this yet AGAIN, oh bummer, to get everything just right. Steve, by the way, thought this batch was just perfect.

When I get figure out the amounts and ratios, I'll post the finished recipe. I already have the ice cream bowl freezing, but we have to polish off this batch before I'll make the other. Any excuse to eat ice cream faster is fine with me!

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Mac n' cheese, take two

A while back, I made a decadent macaroni and cheese recipe. It turned out really yummy, but I'm always looking out for new versions to try. I want a mac n' cheese that has cheese flavor, richness, and a creamy sauce.

Last night, I tried a new recipe. This one is included in the Cook's Country Best Grilling Recipes cookbook. Steve won a free copy of this book for guessing how much money is in America's Test Kitchen's annual recipe testing budget. Christopher Kimball himself wrote Steve to say he won and sent the signed note with the prize. He got second place and only missed first place by a couple thousand dollars. (The first place prize was free lifetime subscription to Cook's Illustrated.)

The cookbook is pretty good. It has color photographs of almost every recipe, and in addition to grilling techniques, tips, tools, and meats, it has a good amount of side dish recipes.

I changed the recipe just a little bit - I added bacon. Yeah, I didn't really need to but I had four lonely little slices in the fridge just begging to be used. This dish certainly didn't need the bacon, but it did add another flavor.

This recipe also differed from others I've tried as there was no cream. Butter yes, four kinds of cheese yes, but no cream. It did however call for three cans of evaporated milk. I used the 2% variety and I don't think it harmed the overall richness and creaminess at all. Actually, I wonder if it would be so rich it would be almost inedible if full fat evaporated milk was used . . .

The sauce turned out thick and coated everything. The cheeses blended and melted in a gooey yummy mess. And I could actually taste the cheese. Sometimes, I think mac & cheese recipes sacrifice cheesy flavor for creaminess. This recipe was creamy and cheesy. So good. Next time I'll also try using at least one low fat cheese to combat the fat in the other cheeses. In any form, mac and cheese is a once-in-a-while dish, not a weekly or even monthly dish.

I just had some leftovers for lunch - Steve and I will probably be eating this for lunch until Sunday - and even reheated it was just as good as it was last night.

Here's the recipe. This makes enough to feed 8-10 people, or lunch for two for a week.

Potluck Macaroni and Cheese

From Cook's Country Best Grilling Recipes

8 tablespoons unsalted butter
3-4 slices white sandwich bread, torn into large pieces
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 pound elbow macaroni
5 tablespoons all-purpose flour
3 (12-ounce) cans evaporated milk
2 teaspoons hot sauce
1 teaspoon dry mustard
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
2 cups shredded extra-sharp cheddar cheese
1 1/4 cups shredded American cheese (buy a 5 oz. block from the deli counter)
3/4 cup shredded Monterey Jack cheese
4-5 slices of bacon (my addition)

1. Adjust an over rack to the middle position and heat oven to 350 degrees. Melt 4 tablespoons of the butter. Pulse the bread, melted butter, and Parmesan in a food processor to coarse crumbs, about 6 pulses. Transfer to a bowl. (or just leave it in the processor like I did so I didn't have to dirty another bowl.)

2. Bring 4 quarts of water to a boil in a large pot. Add 1 tablespoon salt and the macaroni and cook until almost tender. Reserve 1/2 cup of the pasta cooking water. Drain the pasta and rinse with cold water until cool, then drain well.

3. If using bacon - in the same large pot used to cook the pasta, cook the bacon. Remove bacon when crispy to paper towels to cool. Crumble when cool.

4. Melt the remaining 4 tablespoons (or 2-3 if you used the rendered bacon fat) butter in the pot. Add the flour and cook over medium-high heat, stirring constantly, until light brown, about 1 minute. Slowly whisk in the evaporated milk, hot sauce, mustard, nutmeg, and 2 teaspoons salt and cook until slightly thickened, about 4 minutes.

5. Off the heat, whisk in the reserved pasta cooking water and cheeses (and bacon if using) until melted. Stir in the macaroni and transfer to a 13x9-inch baking dish. Top evenly with the bread-crumb mixture and bake until the cheese is bubbling around the edges and the top is golden brown, 20-25 minutes. Let sit for 5-10 minutes and serve.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

It's ice cream season

And baseball season. The two things to so well together. Summer is hands down my least favorite season, but that's mostly due to the obnoxious weather. I like other things about summer - baseball and ice cream being two of those things. Hot dogs and other meats cooked over the grill also can't be beat when served with cold beers or slushy margaritas. Sangria, Mexican Coca-Cola in a glass bottle*, peach sun tea, lemonade, limeade, anything-ade, are also great quenchers during the heat. I'll be able to make sun tea up on the roof this summer.

We've been grilling various things trying to get good at it. Everything so far has been good, but we are aiming for REALLY good. We've done onions, peppers, flank steak, hot dogs, rib eyes, burgers (Jucy Lucys, to be exact), and tonight Steve attempts a whole chicken. He picked out some sort of Italian-style chicken. He'll have to cut out the spine and then flatten out the chicken in order to grill it. Normally, grilled chicken is not something my taste buds clamor for, but I'm willing to give this a try. I also want to try a pizza on the grill.

To go with Steve's I-talian chicken, I'll serve up our leftover warm herbed olives with crusty bread and goat cheese, arugula salad, and we'll finish with homemade strawberry ice cream. Every night we have grilled we've eaten outside on the roof. We got furniture and enjoy sitting out there. But today has been rainy, so we'll probably only do the cooking outside.

I received the Kitchen Aid ice cream attachment kit for Christmas, and I've only used it three times. I didn't much feel like making ice cream during the dead of winter, but now that the weather is turning warmer, I'm enjoying the thought of trying out different flavors and combinations. So far, I've stuck to pretty simple flavors - vanilla bean, lemon, and strawberry. I made lemon a couple weeks ago to take to Reka's for her Memorial Day get-together. Lemon ice cream is her favorite, so I decided upon the flavor in honor of our hostess. (Thanks for the party and good food, Reka!)

The lemon was delicious. I loved it. It turned out nice and creamy but light. The lemon was just the right amount of sweet and tart. It's a keeper of a recipe. Might add some ginger next time . . .

The best part about making ice cream is that it's very simple. All the recipes are about the same and the flavorings make up the only difference. The three flavors I've made so far have all been French-style - meaning they have eggs in them. I'd like to do some ice cream without eggs.

Last night, I happened to catch a rerun of Alton Brown's Good Eats. He was making ice cream and other frozen desserts. What perfect timing! He explained that the majority of ice creams available today contain eggs. He called these ice creams "New York Style." He said the small amount of ice creams made without eggs are called "Philadelphia Style." He offered no explanation of why with eggs is NY and without is Philly. It seems like things that are the most decadent and indulgent of their kind are often called NY style. Except for the Philly cheese steak or Philly cream cheese, I guess. Ironic that NY style cheesecakes are made with Philly cream cheese. (Although, I prefer a ricotta cheesecake rather than a cream cheese one.)

Okay, I digress. Back to ice cream. Alton's ice cream recipe without eggs is pretty similar to what I've been doing with eggs. His liquid to sugar ratio is about the same, and he offered the suggestion of substituting any part of the sugar with the same amount of preserves. Interesting. That would certainly add more flavor. For example, I could have used half a cup of sugar and half a cup of strawberry preserves in my strawberry ice cream. He made a simple vanilla bean ice cream and substituted in three tablespoons of peach preserves.

I think the next flavor I'll make is mint chocolate chip. Ever since we had that mint chocolate chip ice cream at Chestnut this winter, I've been wanting to try to replicate it myself. I'll use fresh mint, which will steep in the dairy as I heat it. Oooh, I'm looking forward to it!

I'd also like to try mixing and matching dairy products to get a lower fat content ice cream. Alton said that to be called ice cream by FDA standards, the product has to be at least 10% fat. Half and half is 10% fat, which I knew thanks to my handy bare-bones ice cream booklet that came with the Kitchen Aid. Light cream has 18%, whipping cream 30%, and heavy cream 36%. I might try using 2 parts half and half and one part whole milk next time, or two parts whole milk to one part light cream. Basically, I can use any dairy just as long as the total is what the recipe calls for. This is a good thing to know when faced with a recipe calling for three cups of heavy cream and six eggs. As we all know though, the more fat, the creamier, richer, and tastier the ice cream.

Click here for the lemon ice cream recipe. I used this recipe again for the strawberry ice cream, but added a few extra steps.

Strawberry ice cream
1 1/2 cups sugar, divided
3 large eggs
2 cups half-and-half
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
One pint of strawberries
lemon juice

After rinsing the strawberries, remove tops, and cut into pieces. Put these pieces along with 3 tablespoons to 1/2 cup of sugar into a small food processor or blender. Add a couple splashes of lemon juice. Process until it is smooth. Strain puree through a fine mesh strainer, if desired, to remove seeds. Cover and chill puree.

Whisk together 1 cup sugar, eggs, vanilla, and 1 cup of half-and-half in medium saucepan. Continue to whisk over medium-low heat until almost simmering. Do not boil. Remove from heat, cover, and chill at least one hour, preferably overnight. (I move the mix to an extra-large Pyrex bowl with a spout because the spout comes in handy later.)

After chilling, whisk in the remaining 1 cup of half-and-half and strawberry puree. Freeze the mixture in an ice cream maker according to manufacturer's instructions. I also move the ice cream, which has a soft-serve consistency at this point, into reusable Chinese/Thai take out soup containers, and then pop those into the freezer. They work perfectly! Makes about one quart.

*Mexican Coca-Cola is excellent. I am not a regular soda drinker, and I rarely ever want a Coke, but Mexican Coke in a tall, ice cold glass bottle is hard to resist. Mexican Coke is made with pure can sugar which makes it light years better than American Coke, which is made with cheaper corn syrup. For more about the cult of Mexican Coke, read this. Try one next time you see it and tell me I'm wrong. New Yorkers can try Mexican Coke at Hill Country, Might be available other places, but I've had it here. Hill Country also has Blue Bell Ice Cream, imported from Texas. Try the Homemade Vanilla. It's the best around.