Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Chicago Style Pizza

I'm not a big fan of run-of-the-mill pizza, and sadly, there's a lot of that to be had here in San Francisco. Bready crusts topped with heaps of pre-grated mozzarella cheese and flavorless vegetables, sauce so thin it soaks right into the already soggy crust- this is common fare here. Surprising, isn't it? With such a large Italian contingent in our famous North Beach neighborhood situated just miles from California's central valley farms and only blocks from local farmer's markets, you'd think we'd be brimming over with perfectly crisp discs topped with pungeant tomato sauce, handmade thick-sliced pepperoni, and full-flavored veggies covered with slices of melted Bufala mozzarella and a sprinkling of fresh basil and oregano. Tourists would clamour to taste the quintessential San Francisco pizza. Unfortunately, this is all a fantasy, for we are not known for our pizza. Yes there is California Pizza, but it is a Southern California creation. And eating pizza is not on an LA tourist's itinerary. Not like it is in New York or Chicago.

On my recent trip to the windy city, I had the pleasure of eating at Giordano's...twice. Owned by two Italian brothers and named for their mother whose recipe is the base for their famous pie, Giordano's is considered Chicago's best deep dish pizza.

Since moving away from the midwest, I'd avoided pizza altogether after being repeatedly disappointed and even grossed out by the greasey, heavy pizza found in and around San Francisco. That is, until some friends of ours brought Lou and me to Zachary's in Berkeley. I'd had forgotten about Chicago deep dish pizza and this was as good a copy of the real thing as any. I wondered why I had not just made my own deep dish pizza or any pizza for that matter, and so the trials began and here is my best Chicago style pizza recipe (so far)...

Chicago Style Pizza
Makes one 14 inch deep dish pizza
special equipment needed: 14 inch deep dish pizza pan

2 teaspoons active dry yeast
1 1/2 cups luke warm water
4 cups unbleached flour
1/8 teaspoon sugar
2 teaspoons salt
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 cup milk

1 1/2 pounds grated mozzarella
4 crimini mushrooms, sliced
1 pound Italian sausage, browned and drained
1/2 medium onion, chopped
1/2 green bell pepper, chopped

2 tablespoons olive oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 28 oz. can whole tomatoes
1 8 oz. can tomato sauce
1 1/2 teaspoons oregano
1 1/2 teaspoons basil
1/4 teaspoon black pepper

Parmesan for topping.

To make the crust, mix yeast with 1/2 cup warm water. When the yeast is dissolved, add 2 cups flour and combine. Then add 1/2 cup water, the sugar, salt, olive oil and milk. When smooth, add the rest of the water and flour. Then, either knead with the dough hook for 5 minutes or by hand for 10 minutes. Place in an oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap and let rise for 3 hours. If you would like to use the dough after work, make it the night before, then place the dough in the oiled bowl covered with plastic wrap in the refrigerator over night. In the morning or at lunch, remove the bowl from the refrigerator and allow it to rise. The dough will be ready to use when you get home from work.

To make the sauce, saute the minced garlic in the olive oil (do not brown) for about 30 seconds, then add the remaining ingredients for the sauce and simmer for 30 minutes or until thick and deep red in color.

Take 2/3 of the dough and roll it into a circle, then place it in the pizza pan with dough going up the sides and just over the edge of the pan. Fill the crust with 1/2 the grated cheese, then add the mushroon slices, Italian sausage, onions, and green peppers. Top with the remaining cheese. Roll out the remaining 1/3 of the dough and place it on top of the pizza stretchcing it to the edges and crimping the edges of the dough to seal the fillings in. Poke small slits in the top crust with a sharp knife to allow the steam to escape and prevent the top crust from inflating and bubbling up while baking. Then spread the tomato sauce over the top crust and sprinkle with fresh parmesan if you like. Bake the pie at 400 degrees for about 40 minutes.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Ham and Lentil Soup

Lou's parents bought a pig from one of their friends in California's central valley and gave us a cross-section piece of one of the hams. It was perfect for soup, so we boiled it on Monday evening and had slices of it with some scalloped potatoes. I refrigerated the stock and cut the ham into pieces in preparation to make Lentil soup the next day. Then on Tuesday, I skimmed the fat off the stock, added the cutup ham and:
1 pound of dried lentils
1 bay leaf
1 cinnamon stick
1 sprig fresh rosemary
1 teaspoon dried thyme
2 onions, diced
4 stalks of celery, diced
2 carrots, diced
4 garlic cloves, minced
2 potatoes, peeled and cubed

If you are brave enough to try this and you find you need additional liquid, add some vegetable stock or water. I added about 3 cups of vegetable stock. And, of course, if you are not fortunate enough to have in-laws with extra hams lying around, you could use a precooked one. Just cut it up and use half vegetable broth and water for the liquid or even just water would probably be pretty tasty.
It was really simple to make and ended up thick and hearty and full of flavor. Not bad for an off the cuff weeknight meal and the leftovers were a very satisfying lunch.

Friday, July 15, 2005

The Lessons of Travel

It's amazing how much travel can teach you, a week or two in another country can bring more knowledge, experience, and true understanding of how another culture lives than a semester of classes. This has become evident to me in the weeks following my trip to China as I walk through China Town here in San Francisco. I see this district and the people who inhabit it in a whole new light. Before my trip, I was very familiar with the specific stores, knowing where to get what, dealing with the lack of personal space and the Chinese ladies butting in line, all to get the Chinese goods. Today, as I walk down Stockton Street, I look past the dead barbecued birds hanging in the windows and notice all the small dim sum restaurants and noodle places. I sometimes crave broth and noodles in the morning because I now know this is breakfast food and rice is for dinner unless it's boiled for an eternity until it breaks up and becomes congee. I don't mind the pushing in line, and even find myself joining in. After all when you live in such a congested area, you're going to have to push a little to get anywhere. I don't think that dried fish and scallops are wierd anymore and I realize it's normal to slurp your food and spit on the ground. Ah, the wonders of China.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Root Beer Floats and Chocolate Shakes

When I was a kid, I think we must have eaten ice cream almost daily in the hot sticky Wisconsin summers. My mom bought it in 5 quart buckets and we often had three or more flavors on hand. With 7 kids and a dad who worked long days milking cows and bailing hay, we had the apppetites to consume every scoop. We didn't eat plain ice cream all the time either, oh no, we created many different concoctions in which ice cream played a role: banana splits, root beer floats, hot fudge sundays, cake and ice cream, or pie a la mode, you name it, we ate it.

Some of my favorite days ended with Uncle Bud and Aunt Margaret driving up in the evening just as Dad was finishing up in the barn. Uncle Bud would keep my dad company as he wrapped up the milking and Aunt Margaret would go up to the house with an eight pack of glass-bottled A&W root beer in tow. We all knew that meant root beer floats were on the menu for that night's treat! I know most of you know the ingredients for a root beer float, but one tip for you from a girl who used to work at a root beer stand: the root beer goes in the glass first, then float the ice cream on top, hence root beer FLOAT.

These days I appreciate a good vanilla ice cream, but as a kid, I only ate vanilla smothered in chocolate sauce or floating on root beer. When the bucket of chocolate was scraped clean, and vanilla was the only remaining flavor, I often opted for a chocolate shake. A great core-cooling concoction for a hot summer's night.
Tonight is unusally warm for San Francisco, reminiscent of summers at home, and the old chocolate shake recipe came to mind. We just happened to have some vanilla ice cream in the freezer so I scooped some into the blender, added a few spoonfuls of Nestle Quick and poured milk over the mound of ice cream, about 2/3 of the way up (more or less depending on how thick you like it). I flipped the switch and seconds later we had ourselves a Wisconsin summer heat-beating chocolate shake.

Saturday, July 09, 2005

Back to the Cutting Board

We have had quite a busy travel schedule in the month of June. Two weeks after returning from China, we went to Chicago for a wedding and spent 12 days in the midwest, returning on the evening of July 4th, just in time to see the fireworks in San Francisco on an unusually clear San Francisco Summer night.
I always miss cooking when we travel, so much that I often find a cooking class to attend while away. In Hong Kong, we went to the Culinary Academy and learned how to make rice dumplings, glutinous rice wrapped up in bamboo leaves. It's a seasonal dish usually only available during the dragon boat festival. The legend says that the people threw the dumplings into the sea to keep the fish from eating some hero's body.
This is a picture of me forming the bamboo leaf packet which we filled with glutinous rice and then tied with twine.

In Chicago, I didn't have a chance to go to cooking class, but did spend a little time at the Taste. Unfortunately, it wasn't as "tasty" as I had hoped or remembered. (the last time I had been to the Taste of Chicago, I was in college) I tried some bland gumbo and drank lots of beer. There was a "gourmet" tent where you could eat a full dinner prepared by local chefs, but instead we decided to go straight to the restaurants. We did get a chance to peek in at the "cooking corner" and watched Carlos Garcia of La Strada Ristorante prepare Dover Sole Munier.

While in Chicago, we experienced Avec with Lou's aunt and uncle from Ohio and thier kids. This is a cool new restaurant that has a phenomenal PR person who's gotten the place mentioned in numerous food publications. So much so I found myself "having" to go there. The golden wood and glowing hearth exuded a warmness that contrasted with stainless countertops. It was comfortable for out of towners from San Francisco as well as for an Ohio corn farmer and his family. We sat at communal tables and shared small plates of chorizo stuffed dates and chicken with raisins and a sauce filled with moroccan spice. The slow roasted pork shoulder was our finale and a grand one it was. Washed down with a few bottles of wine, these small plates were a big hit for our varied tastes.

Today was my first day at the Ferry Plaza Farmer's Market in quite a while. I picked up some of the amazing Shogun Salmon, lots of cheese and some fresh cherry tomatoes. They are so fresh and sweet, I think I can taste the warmth of the sun in them. I'm looking forward to cooking with them in the comforts of my own home now that I'm back to the cutting board.