Monday, March 30, 2009

Confetti Pizza... The Magic of Color

Color can heighten your enjoyment of a dish. There's a reason lots of restaurants finish off dishes with a sprig or sprinkle of vividly green parsley. Now, this pizza would have been just as tasty if we'd only had red tomatoes, yellowish cheese and a deeply colored meat, but the contrast of what we did use was so fantastic that we honestly marveled at every bite. Our pleasure went beyond the anticipated flavor from visual cues ["That looks like it's going to taste good"] and beyond the (excellent) flavor of the pizza itself. It was pleasing on a purely aesthetic level, and that is immensely satisfying for the mind as well as the belly.
The components aren't revolutionary: a crust* topped with garlicky olive oil, tomatoes, arugula, mozzarella, Canadian bacon, and a few more tomatoes [maybe arugula is revolutionary for some, but I'd seen it done before I attempted it myself the first time].... but it was the colors that wowed us. The tomatoes happened to be orange and yellow greenhouse tomatoes JG picked up on sale. I'd thrown the pulp of the tomatoes into the garlic oil, which happened to turn the crust a nice golden color. The dark green arugula happened to be getting unruly in the garden. We happened to pick up ultra white fresh moz instead of a yellowish fontina. We happened to choose a bright pink Canadian bacon from the freezer instead of a maroon prosciutto... and the cumulative effect happened to be stunning.
I'm a fan of serendipity, but after this experience I'm re-committing myself to making whatever humble food I make as visually stimulating as possible.

*I used the water to flour ratios from my normal crust recipe, but I also happened to be totally out of wheat flour and ap flour, so I used bread flour and oat flour in a roughly 60/40 split.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Whole Grain Burger Buns

...or dinner rolls.
I've been putting off my grand treatise on bread for a while now. Bread isn't hard to do once you get the hang of it -- little kids made bread back in the day -- but it can be a little daunting when things don't come out quite right and you don't know what you're doing wrong. [On the plus side, croutons are best made from dense-ish bread and dried bread crumbs don't care who their parents were.]

This is a good recipe to start off with and perfect for grilling weather... and since the highlight of the burger is usually the meat/bean patty/portabella inside and not the shape or texture of the bun surrounding it, many bread sins can be overlooked. The dough is slightly sweet and tender; usually the more ingredients, the more forgiving the dough is. Once you pare it down [flour water yeast and salt], everything you do matters a lot more... but that's another post.

As a bonus, forming the balls give you 8 (or 16) times more dough shaping practice than forming a single loaf.

This recipe looks rather long, but it contains a lot of troubleshooting asides. You may want to paste the text into an editor and cut out the info you don't need. I'll also try to troubleshoot in the comments section if you need help.
(This is a home-ground pork burger with fennel pollen. If anyone has their own meat grinder and wants the recipe, I'll happily supply it.)

Recipe: Whole Grain Burger Buns
You can omit the oat flour and increase either the whole-wheat or AP flour by 1/2 cup. You can use all AP flour. You can use all whole-wheat flour, but they won't rise quite as well. You can use whole milk and water in equal parts. You can use only water. Any changes will change the final texture and flavor a bit, but they'll all work as long as you keep the liquid:flour ratio the same. You can use "active dry" yeast, but you should add it to the liquids and wait 10 minutes or so for it to foam before adding the dry ingredients. You can also easily halve the recipe and whisk one egg up and divide it roughly in two, saving part for the egg wash.

Makes 8 good-sized buns or 16 dinner rolls
Takes 2.5 to 3 hours, mostly inactive.

1 cup [skim] milk
1/3 cup [olive] oil
2 eggs [divided use]
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 package "rapid-rise" or "highly active" dry yeast [~2 tsp]
1/2 cup oat flour
1 cup whole-wheat flour
1 1/4 to 1 3/4 cups AP flour
1 tsp salt

Additional flour for dusting
Sesame seeds for garnish

Combine milk, oil, 1 egg and sugar in a standing mixer bowl and stir briefly to break up the egg dissolve the sugar a bit. Add oat flour, wheat flour, and 1 1/4 cup AP flour, stirring after each addition until the flours are loosely incorporated (no dry patches remain, but it's a pretty shaggy mess). Cover with a pot lid or plastic wrap and let rest 17 minutes. [This is when the gluten forms, you can go over 17, but don't go under.]

Uncover and sprinkle salt over dough. Using the dough hook on the mixer, knead bread 7 minutes on the medium low [10-12 by hand on a floured surface]. After 4 minutes, the dough should be wrapped around the hook so that it only touches the bowl in the middle. If it's still sticking on the sides, add more AP flour a couple spoonfuls at a time -- knead ~30 seconds after each addition -- until it does. [Make a note of how much you used, though it can vary every time!] Recover dough with lid or plastic wrap and leave to rise in a warmish spot until doubled in size 45 -60 minutes.

Scrape dough onto a well floured countertop and pat into a rough circle of even height. Divide dough in quarters, then each quarter in half. Let them sit a minute so the top of the bread is just a tiny bit dry. To form the ball, pick it up and stretch the top, pulling it underneath on all sides and pinching it together at the bottom. Place each bun on a parchment-lined or lightly oiled cookie sheet.

If your ball tears along the top, you're pulling too hard. If you're super gentle with the next one and it still tears, your dough may be too dry. If it's too sticky to form and won't come off your fingers, your bread's too soft and you should dust it with a little extra flour. None of these things will ruin your bun; they'll just make them less pretty.

Dust the tops with additional flour then drape with plastic wrap near the oven but not directly in the path of its vent. Turn on the oven to 400F. The oven will be up to temp by the time the buns are fully risen, ~20-30 minutes.

Give your buns a poke. If they spring back or quickly fill in the indentation, they're not quite ready. If they completely deflate, they've over-risen. [All is not lost. Press them flat, give them another dusting of flour and pull them back into buns to rise again. They may be a little more dense. Compensate by making the best burger ever.]

Once your buns are ready, whisk the remaining egg with 1 Tbs water and brush over the tops with a pastry brush or smear on with your fingers. Sprinkle with sesame seeds.

Slide the cookie sheet into the oven and turn temp down to 350F. Bake until top develops a nice sheen ~25 minutes. Allow to cool 30 minutes before slicing.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Pan-Seared Scallop Salad with Crispy Tomato

This was a thrown together lunch that turned out way better than expected. JG and I seared bay scallops -- the small ones about the size of a thumb joint -- and dropped them on a a handful of greens with a little vinaigrette with crispy tomatoes in lieu of bacon. The tomato bits were actually a really disappointing tomato we diced for dinner the night before but it was too mealy so we threw it in the toaster oven. There's a post coming on that, but we didn't measure anything, so we've got to recreate it to figure out the ratios.
Recipe: Pan-Seared Scallop Salad with Crispy Tomatoes
I used arugula and sorrel from my garden [which are spicy and tart, respectively], but spring mix would work just fine. Either have one person do the salad while another cooks the scallops or do the salad first, because you want to throw the scallops on the greens as soon as they're done.
Serves 4

2 Tbs white basalmic or white wine vinegar
pinch salt
pinch fresh ground black pepper
2 Tbs extra virgin olive oil
1/4 lb or four heaping handfuls of mixed greens (see header)

1 Tbs olive oil
1/2 lb bay scallops or 2 diver scallops, each cut into eighths
salt and pepper

2 tsp crispy tomatoes

Whisk vinegar, salt and pepper until salt dissolves. Whisk in olive oil and toss with salad greens, then divide greens evenly among four plates or bowls.
In cast iron or non-stick skillet, heat an additional tablespoon olive oil over medium-high heat. Add bay scallops or diced diver scallops, sprinkle with a little salt and pepper, and sear until nutty brown ~1.5 minutes. Turn over with spatula or tongs and sear [an]other side ~1.5 minutes more.* Divide evenly among plates and sprinkle with tomato crispies.

Tomato Crispies
Set oven (or toaster oven) to 200F. Seed and dice one tomato. Drizzle with olive oil and toss to coat (or spray with cooking spray). Spread in a single even layer on a foil-lined pan and bake 6-8 hours or until crispy.
These taste fantastic and keep indefinitely in the fridge, but one tomato only yields 2 tsp, so I highly recommend doing a lot more than one at a time. Plus, it's a great use for lackluster toms.

* I highly recommend deglazing the stuck bits with a splash of white wine and saving the remaining sauce. It's a little strong for a salad, but it'll taste great on a poached egg.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Ghost Millipede

I found an albino millipede when I was watering my orchids. I wouldn't have guessed I had millipedes in my house and the orchids have been around for years, so I don't think it came with the plant... although they do have a surprisingly long life span [up to 10 years in the case of giant millipedes] so maybe it just finally got big enough for me to notice.
I took a couple pictures, went to find a jar... and then it vanished. I watered the plant again to see if I could flood it out but it didn't work, so now I'm trying to lure it out with compost scraps. We'll see. I love millipedes. Centipedes creep me out because they're fast and bite, but millipedes are always chill.

As an aside, isn't this a lovely paphiopedilum?