Saturday, March 17, 2012

pizza pizza

Lesson 1 from the pizza-baking adventure earlier this week: after a pizza comes out of a 500 degree oven, even after it has sat for a bit and in spite of the fact that you really want to experience it's deliciousness, be cautious. And watch out for a tomato that is out to get you, like the incredibly hot one that slipped from the crust when I took my first bite and decided to attach itself to my chin. Ouch. 

Lesson 2: prebake the crust.

It was a certain someone's birthday earlier this week. I can't recall a time we've gone into a kitchen store together when he hasn't admired a pizza stone or peel, so those had been on my list for him for a while now. Pizza tools plus an evening baking pizzas together sounded like a fun way to celebrate the special day.

I made the dough in late afternoon (using a flour blend that claimed to be the perfect mixture for fabulous pizza crust - it seemed to work fine) and let it rise until we were ready to bake. Neither of us were clear on whether we should pre-bake the crusts or not (due to recipes with conflicting guidance), so we decided to try both ways. After all, we had enough dough for 4 pizzas...might as well experiment, right?

We also experimented with toppings. We started with the standard margarita pictured at the beginning of this post: homemade tomato sauce plus fresh mozzarella, tomatoes, and basil. Pizza number two is shown below (recipe follows). Pizzas three and four were combinations of the toppings on the first two. My favorite was definitely pizza number two. In one word: delicious. And it didn't contain a single attacking tomato.

Pizza with Caramelized Onions, Gorgonzola and Other Great Things
homemade or store-bought pizza dough, ready to be topped (see lesson 2)
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 large yellow onion, thinly sliced
a handful of crimini mushrooms, sliced
2-3 oz. gorgonzola cheese, crumbled
prosciutto, thinly sliced
a handful or two of arugula

Heat oil in a large pan over medium heat. Cook onion until caramel brown, about 10 minutes. Spread onions evenly over pizza dough. Top with mushroom slices and gorgonzola. Bake until crust is golden*. Remove from oven. Top individual slices with prosciutto and arugula. Drizzle with olive oil.
*With a hot pizza stone in a 500-degree oven and pretty thin pre-baked crust, this took about 11 minutes for us, but cooking time will vary as all of these inputs do.

Monday, March 12, 2012

the secret to great french toast

I love weekends, primarily for two routines that have been recently reintroduced to my life: 1) coffee in the sunshine - made possible due to my frequent trips to LA; and 2) making breakfast - the pleasure of doing this for and with the man in my life (who is the reason for my frequent trips to LA).

It was coincidental that the second part of my weekend love led me to discover the secret to great french toast. It can be boiled down to two words: challah bread. I wanted to make french toast, but there was no bread in the house. So I set out on foot to see what I could find. Noah's Bagels had the answer. Two glorious mornings of coffee and sunshine and french toast have me convinced that challah bread is a new must-have component of this weekend morning ritual.

Saturday morning was the inception of the version pictured. On Sunday, I opted for a baked version, topped with homemade blueberry syrup and candied walnuts. One caveat: I didn't write down notes as I was cooking as I normally do, so the recipes that follow are based on memory, but should get you well on your way to some amazing french toast.

Challah French Toast (variation 1: standard)
Serves 2

4-5 1" slices of fresh challah
3 eggs
a generous splash of milk (about 1/4 cup)
about 1 tsp of pure vanilla extract
about 1 tsp of cinnamon

Heat skillet over medium heat (melt a tablespoon of butter in it if you want). Whisk together eggs, milk, vanilla, and cinnamon in a large bowl. Dredge challah slices one by one in egg mixture (both sides) then put directly into hot pan. While the first side is cooking, you can sprinkle some more cinnamon on the exposed side if you want. Once the first side is golden, flip each slice. Cook on second side until golden. Serve hot with your favorite french toast toppings (we enjoyed ours with a little more butter, pure maple syrup, and toasted walnuts).

Challah French Toast (variation 2: baked)
Serves 2

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Add another egg (to total 4) and an additional 1/4 cup milk (to total 1/2 cup) to the mixture described in variation 1. Whisk well. Butter a glass baking dish and arrange challah slices in the dish. Pour egg mixture evenly over bread. Bake for 40 minutes.

If you're feeling fancy, chop up some walnuts (1/4 cup) and mix with 2 Tbsp. melted butter and 2 Tbsp. brown sugar. Top your baking french toast with this halfway through the baking time. 

For easy blueberry syrup, put 2 handfuls of blueberries, 1/4 cup water and 1/4 cup maple syrup in a pot over medium high heat and cook until you have a beautiful dark violet syrup (let some of the blueberries retain their shape).

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