Pizza crust

We love pizza around here. I can remember several family gatherings when I was growing up where all of the adults would hang around the kitchen sipping wine which came from jugs pretending to have something to do with Burgundy. They would be discussing the day’s going-ons, spilling cornmeal, laughing, and assembling handmade pizzas. Those pizzas were the best! I always looked forward to pizza night (and taco night) when I was a kid.

I have made pizza a regular staple with my family and it’s always a hit… After a few tries, it’s easy to throw them together; even on work nights when you don’t really feel like putting in much effort. It’s an easy formula:  dough + sauce + toppings = YUM, or as some would say, “nom nom nom”.

Helpful equipment: Baker’s peel, baking stone

Method:

Preheat oven and baking stone to 425 degrees. Let it heat up for about 30 minutes. Spread about 1 tablespoon of cornmeal on the baker’s peel. Roll out and stretch dough to roughly the size of the baker’s peel and place the dough on the peel. At this point, there is judgement and taste involved, so adjust volumes according to taste. Add about 1 cup of sauce and spread evenly, being careful not to slop it onto the peel making it more difficult to slide the pizza off. Next, add slices of mozzarella to cover, then your onion and then your sausage. This is the tricky part… First, assuming that the oven and stone are hot, open the oven and carefully spread a tablespoon or 2 of cornmeal on the hot stone, then lift the pizza on the peel and give it a quick, but small, jolt to ensure that the pizza will slide a little. If it doesn’t, peak under the pizza and make sure you have adequate coverage with your cornmeal and try to unstick any wet and sticky dough from the peel. Next, with pizza/peel in hand, go over to the oven. Tilting the peel enough to get the pizza to slide off, but not enough to throw your toppings all over the hot oven, slide the pizza from the peel to the stone using a small and careful jolting motion. Once you can get a little of the pizza on the stone, it will usually continue to transfer easily. The pizza should cook for about 15-20 minutes.


Smoked salmon pizza with capers, red onion, and cream cheese

Start with the pizza crust recipe. For the smoked salmon pizza as an appetizer, I like to make the pizza a little smaller and thinner; therefore, one pizza crust recipe will make about 2 smaller pizzas. Incorporating some dill into the pizza crust goes particularly well with this one.


Lamb lollipops

My friend Holly makes the most delectable little lamb chops, or “lollipops”as we like to refer to them.  There’s something about this dish which brings memories of warm summer evenings with friends. A little time in the marinade  and a short stint on the grill and you have heaven on a stick. When choosing your rack of lamb, plan for at least a couple bones per person. Here’s how she does it:


Chipotle hummus

We used to make this one in the restaurant a lot. Easy, spicy, good! Serve with pita chips or other chips.


Roasted butternut squash soup

Unfortunately, there were no butternuts emerging from the garden during this growing season. With all the garden items, I just didn’t make room this year. However, this squash is plentiful and easy to grow. Thankfully, I have access to the farmers markets and a decent selection at the local grocery as well.  This recipe is easy enough to throw together, from scratch, even after work and the results speak for themselves. This easy soup is tasty, healthy, and inexpensive.

You want to end up with about 4 lbs of butternut squash flesh, so be sure to come up with a couple of smaller butternuts or one large one.

Serve with a nice chunk of crusty french bread.

 


Muffuletta

IMG_0062The muffuletta is the official New Orleans sandwich, at least it is in my opinion. Italian immigrants are rumored to have established the sandwich at the Central Grocery long ago, where it remains popular to this day. Sure, there are other ‘Nawlins sandwiches such as the “po’ boy”, which is a mighty fine sandwich in its own right, but I like the briny olivey goodness of the olive spread and the Italian cold cuts. This sandwich is reasonably easy to pull together with straightforward ingredients which are likely lurking about in your pantry and ice box. Also, the olive spread can be assembled well in advance and actually tastes better the longer it marinates about.

While the recipe below specifies certain cheeses and meats, you will soon see that the olive spread plays well with an assortment of your favorite meats and cheese available at your local deli. Also, the bread is traditionally a large (frisbee size) disk of medium density bread. This is not always available, so you may have to improvise with a nice french roll or loaf in lieu of the frisbee. Don’t worry, it will be delicious!


Salmon cakes

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I had a pound of salmon in the fridge I had purchased locally the day before. The salmon was wild caught Soho from up north and it was expensive. Of course I understand that a nice salmon filet can be incredible when prepared simply on the grill and some folks might consider it blasphemous to make it into patties since often canned salmon is used for this purpose but I don’t care. Salmon cakes sounded really good and I was confident that I had the necessary ingredients to make them good, really good. Here’s how it went down:


Cassoulet

Cassoulet

Cassoulet, that famous dish from the south of France. Not from the more familiar Provence, Marseille, Nimes part of the country, but more toward the Western portions of Southern France such as Carcassonne, Toulouse, and Narbonne. I am referring to the Languedoc area of France where once lived a peaceful religious order named the Cathars. The Cathars were all killed and they were ran out of their castles during the crusades of the 1200’s. All that remains are mountain top ruins, a few sad stories, and a delicious beany casserole dish.

Nobody knows when or where the Cassoulet tradition began, but the national bean dish of France is not considered fancy or “Haute” cuisine. No… it most certainly has more humble beginnings. Certainly, it existed prior to refrigeration, otherwise, I would have to say that it was born of bits of this and that which were becoming questionable in the ol’ ice box.

Of course, i wouldn’t bother with the long intro if it weren’t a dish worthy of a long and delicious pedigree. Jill and I were fortunate enough to travel to France and visit Carcassonne several years ago. At the time, I had heard of Cassoulet, but had never tried it. I found that in Carcassonne, it was available on every street corner and mobile stand as if it were fried twinkies at the state fair. Since I wanted to be sure to have the real thing, I asked around until someone recommended a respectable establishment with a good reputation for local, Carcassonne Cassoulet. I can’t recall the name of the small bistro we visited that evening, but the Cassoulet lived up to the hype.

It was rich, creamy, and extremely savory. Truly a dish deserving of it’s legendary status.

If you ever page through the French standard of cook books, “LaRousse Gastronomique”, you’ll learn that there are basically three types of regional Cassoulets in Southwest France, each is a slight variation on the other, but they all share some basic ingredients. There is tradition involved in making cassoulet as well. For example, it is well documented that you crack the cassoulet crust of a Carcassonne Cassoulet a specific number of times during the cooking of the Cassoulet and there are various other ‘cracking’ intervals dependent upon the region upon which the Cassoulet is being cooked.

Since I am hereby creating a new regional Cassoulet here in El Dorado County, I decree that while cooking a Cassoulet anywhere in El Dorado County, you shall crack the crust exactly 3 times during the cooking process if you wish to obtain optimal results (actually, just one time will do).

If you are to embark on this Cassoulet adventure, you should be in good health and free from any ailments which may prevent you from persevering through the lengthy process inherent in Cassoulet cookery. Cassoulet is typically at least a 3 day project. However, being that we live in America where fast food rules and convenience prevails, I have come up with a recipe which requires a mere two days to complete but still delivers authentic results.

Traditionally, Cassoulet is made in a cassole dish. The cassole dish is usually made of stoneware and it has a conical shape tapering from small at the bottom to large at the top, this way you have more surface area for the coveted crust on top of the cassoulet. A nice dutch oven will work well for our purposes.