Monday, August 18, 2014

The Ultimate Grilled Pizza:

Part 2: The Crust and Pizza


The next most important part of the pizza is the crust. For me the perfect pizza crust has those big air bubbles in it that are slightly blackened / burned. Yet the inside is still a bit chewy. That comes from cooking the pizza fast and at the highest heat you can reasonably achieve. And no, I don't mean throw it into a campfire. I'm talking about grilling them.





Next comes the toppings. If you take my advise on anything in this post, listen to this little tidbit of knowledge: When it comes to toppings, you MUST exercise restraint. Restraint is one of the hardest lessons I've ever learned in my years as a cook both at home and professionally. One of the biggest mistakes new chefs / cooks make is this: "Well if a little is good, a lot simply has to be better". Nope. Nope. Nope. I over did it with salt, with garlic, chile peppers, you name it. And I over did it with toppings. The first several times I made pizza, I piled everything on it. I mean these things were a solid 2-3 inches thick. A little cheese is awesome. But a ton of it is gonna blow my mind, Right?......(again) Nope. It won't. You'll end up with something that can't be described as anything other than a hot mess. A hot, soggy, raw in many parts, overcooked in others, inedible mess. 





The issue here was touched on in my last post. It boils down to heat. If you have a commercial pizza oven at home, you might able to pull off a thick pizza like in my early attempts. But if you're like me and you just have a gas grill, keep it simple. Don't expect the world from equipment that can't provide it. My rule of thumb is to keep it to three or four toppings. Of course, this is not including cheese or sauce. And again, exercise restraint in the amount of those ingredients. If you do, you will be rewarded with a simple and very delicious pie. 

Now I'm a traditionalist when it comes to pizza. At my house, we keep it old school. My favorite combo: Bell peppers, red onion, mushrooms, and sliced black olives. My wife? Pineapple. That's it. This is where the crust and the sauce shine. You can put whatever you want on yours. That's the beauty of it all. It's yours and only yours. Just keep it as I described above and you'll emerge victorious. 






As far as I'm concerned, the only way to cook a pizza at home is on a grill. As such, it's the medium of choice for this post. Can you make pizza one in your oven? Sure you can. And they come pretty good too. But I've always gotten much better results from the grill versus the oven. The reason is because I can get my grill much hotter than I can get my oven in the house which only reaches 500º F. I can get my gas grill between 600º and 650º F, which for me, is the perfect cooking temperature. 

For the actual grilling of the pizza, obviously you can't put your pizza directly on the grill. You'll need a pizza stone. I definitely recommend getting one made for grilling. Personally, I use the cast iron stone made by Lodge. It holds heat very well an will last a lifetime if you take care of it. I've used the ceramic ones in the past. Busted three of them on the grill so far. They snapped right in half. I just don't think the ceramic can handle the heat the grill puts out. And at $25 bucks a pop, it's just not worth it. So I invested a tad bit more, around $38.00, on the cast iron one and have not been happier. In fact, I think I'm gonna get another one so I can grill two pizzas at once. My wife's birthday is coming up in a few months......hmmmmmm. Two birds, one stone. Get it? As in one pizza stone. Ha! I'm funny. But I'd be willing to bet she won't think so. 





I feel I need to address the challenge of transferring the pizza from the peel to the stone. If not done correctly, your pizza will stick to the peel and good luck getting it to slide onto the stone. There are two ways of resolving this issue. The first way is to avoid the peel altogether. That would mean you'd want to heat the grill and stone as hot as you can get it, about 600 to 650º F. Then, once the grill and stone are up to temp, you would open the lid and build your pizza directly onto the stone. If you choose to do this, keep in mind you'll lose a substantial amount of grill heat and you likely won't achieve that balance of crisp crust and just melted cheese / just cooked toppings. 

I prefer the peel. For those not familiar with the term, it's that giant spatula looking thing that's they use to slide the pizza on the cooking surface and to subsequently remove it. The way to succeed in the transfer is done by doing two things. Thing number one is the ensure the stretched dough is not still sticky. Simply dust it with a light coating of flour so that it won't absorb the dusting on your peel. 

The next thing is the peel. It needs to be dusted to stop your pizza from sticking to it when you are trying to slide the pizza from the peel onto the stone. You can use flour or you can use corn meal. 





This pizza dough recipe I found in Bon Appétit magazine. It's an 18 hour dough that is "no knead". It's super simple to make. The only real thought behind it is the timing, which doesn't have to that precise, just a ballpark timing. There was no knead to change it (ha!, I'm on a roll). It's a fantastic recipe that I could not approve upon so I didn't bother to try. 






Tip: Start with a clean grill. Because you are heating your grill to high temps, you don't want to end up with a grease fire from residual grease or food drippings from previous uses. 


Tip: The biggest challenge I find is transferring my pizza from the peel to the stone. The best way to make sure your pizza doesn't stick to the peel is the make sure your dough is dusted with flour, making sure there are no sticky parts on the dough. Next, dust your peel with a little corn meal. I use corn masa like you'd use to make corn tortillas and it works very well too.

Tip: This dough can be made up to three days ahead. If you do, wrap each portioned dough ball in plastic wrap and refrigerate. When you're ready to use the dough, unwrap each portion and let them rest on a floured work surface or cookie sheet, covered with plastic wrap for 2-3 hours. 

Tip: When my pizzas are done, I pull them from the grill and slide them onto a kitchen towel. I then drag  the towel out from under the pizza, using the towel to rub the bottom of the pizza as much as possible. Why would I do such a silly thing? I find the cornmeal gives the under part of the dough a cornmeal flavor that I don't prefer on my pizza. Using my patented "towel slide" technique, this removes the corm meal so you don't get that flavor. Don't check with the US Patent Office. I didn't really patent that. 

Tip: Relax. You first few pizzas might be a bust. That's okay. I ruined a few too. My only real challenge was the peel-to-stone transfer. But once you get the hang of it. you're good to go. Enjoy. 

Pizza Dough


Ingredients:

  • 7 1/2 (1000 grams) cups all-purpose flour + more for shaping. If you can weigh out the grams, do it. You'll get a better measure
  • 4 tsp fine sea salt
  • 1/2 tsp active dry yeast
  • 3 cups water


Preparation: 

1. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, salt and yeast. 

2. Using a wooden spoon, gradually stir in the water until it mostly mixed. Gently finish off with your hands to bring the mixture together into a rough ball. 

3. Place the dough ball into a large clean bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Let dough rise at room temperature (about 72ºF) in a draft free area until tiny air bubbles cover the surface and the dough doubles in size. This should take about 18 hours. This time may vary depending on the temperature of the room.

4. Once risen, transfer your dough to a floured work surface and gently shape into a rough rectangle. Divide the dough into 6 even portions. Working with each portion, gently fold the side under to form a nice round ball. Dust the ball with flour and set onto a baking sheet or floured work surface. 

5. Cover the dough with plastic wrap and let rest for one hour until the dough is soft and pliable.


To Make The Pizzas:


Ingredients:


  • 3-4 cups of shredded mozzarella
  • toppings of choice: we use mushrooms, bell peppers, red onions, sliced black olives, basil leaves, pineapple. But this is just our preference. Use whatever you like. 
  • pizza sauce (use this recipe)


1. Prep your toppings. Shred your cheese. Get your sauce ready to be spooned onto the dough. Make sure they are all ready to go so that when you start to make your pizzas, you don't have to stop to prep anything. Once you start making your pizzas, you want the assembly to go quickly. 

2.  Place your pizza stone on the grill and heat your grill on high with the lid down until your temperature gauge reads at least 550ºF but no more than 650ºF. Chances are, your grill won't really go much higher than that anyway so you don't have to worry too much about over heating. I usually throw my pizzas on at 600ºF. If you don't have a gauge, turn your grill on high with the lid down for about 20 minutes.  

3. Prepare your pizza peel. Make sure the peel is clean and dry. Dust the peel generously with the corn meal, corn flour, or corn masa, which ever you prefer. Set aside.

4. On a floured work surface, shape your pizza dough into a round making sure the dough is dusted enough so that there are no sticky parts of the dough. Now place the shaped dough gently onto the peel. Quickly spread your sauce on the dough, then toppings and cheese. 

5. Slide your pizza from the peel onto the stone and close the grill lid. If your grill is at 600ºF, you pizza should be done in about 9 minutes. Don't be a looky-loo. Keep your lid shut or you'll lose your heat. If you must look, lift the lid just enough to peek in make sure all is well, but don't do it unless you must. 

6. Remove pizza from grill, slice and serve. 


Makes 6 personal sized pizzas.  

Monday, August 4, 2014



The Ultimate Grilled Pizza:

Part 1: The Sauce


One of my fondest memories comes from eating one of the worst pizzas ever made. I remember as a child, my parents use to take me the drive-in movies. I'd get my blanket, my pillow, put on my jammies and off we'd go. I guess the idea was that, since it was going to be a late night, I could just crash in the back seat whenever I got tired. But it never worked out that way. I was always wide awake through both movies. In between movies, we'd play on the swings and the monkey bars. Then we'd run to the snack bar and get sodas and a pizza. Paper thin, greasy, floppy, cardboard tasting pizza. It was exquisite. This was back before those little plastic three pronged things were invented (patented in 1985, in case you were wondering) that they now put in the center of the pizza to keep the cardboard lid from sagging into the pizza cheese, thereby lifting half the cheese off the pizza when you opened the box. 





Pizza in my house is a two day project. Let me tell you, I take this stuff very seriously. A pizza pie is very simple in nature, but man, it's easy to crap it up. And, dammit, I don't do crappy.....well at least I try not to. So if it's gonna take two days, so be it. I usually make my sauce and get the dough started on day one. Then, on day two, it's just a matter prepping the toppings and baking it. And really, I make it sound like a huge endeavor but it isn't.   

We usually make pizzas when we have people over for an actual pizza party, so I like to get as much done the day before so I'm not spending too much time in the kitchen when everyone shows up. The dough recipe (next week's post) will make six personal sized pizzas, about 10" in diameter. But that's just a guess-timation because ours never turn out round. They're usually oblong, kidney shaped, or triangular and that's okay though because I think those odd shapes give the pizza character. And when it's time to start making the pizzas, I can get the guests involved in the process. Everyone has a different idea of their perfect pizza and this way they can pick exactly what they want on it. 




This sauce is a bit on the thicker side. It's not too thick but it's not runny either. I like it better that way because it doesn't run on your pizza and it helps to keep your crust crispy. You have to keep in mind that homemade pizzas don't cook quite the same way as pizzeria pizzas for the simple fact that your oven or grill can't really achieve the high temperature it takes to properly cook the pizza. But fret not, we're gonna get as close as we can with what we have. In the next post, we'll make the crust dough and finish the pizzas off. 



This recipe was inspired by this here

Pizza Sauce


Ingredients:

  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 cup white onion, 1/4 inch dice
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 15 oz. cans tomato sauce
  • 1 6 oz can tomato paste
  • 2 Tbsp parmesan cheese, grated
  • 2 tsp dried basil
  • 2 tsp dried oregano
  • 2 tsp fennel seeds
  • 1 tsp celery salt
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 1/2 tsp ground black pepper
  • 2 bay leaves


Preparation: 

1. Heat the oil in a skillet over a medium high heat. Once shimmering, add the onion and saute for about two minutes. Now add the garlic and continue to saute for about 1 more minute until the onions are translucent and the garlic just begins to brown. Remove from heat 

2. In a medium sauce pan add the remaining ingredients. Place over a medium heat and add the onion and garlic mixture

3. Bring the sauce to a simmer and lower the heat to low. Cover and continue to simmer for about 20 minutes. Stir every few minutes or so make sure the sauce doesn't scorch at the bottom.


Serves 6-8

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Chickpea Salad:

This Is A Mock-Free Zone




My wife was looking for a new recipe to try a few weeks back. She told me she missed tuna salad sandwiches so she did a search for "vegetarian tuna salad". After a little looking around online, she came up with a few recipes for "mock" tuna salad using chickpeas. Most of the recipes she found are very similar to tuna salad recipes. So, at first, we just made them the way we did in the past. Only now, we used chickpeas instead of tuna. It wasn't quite right at first and need just a little tweaking to get the flavor profile and the texture right but eventually we nailed it.   





I'll admit, I was pretty skeptical about this one at first but the more I imagined it my mind, the more it seemed to make sense. So I figured I'd give it a shot. She made me a sandwich and I'll be darned if it wasn't pretty tasty. It's easy to make, it goes together quickly, and it's somewhat versatile. You can eat it all on it's own. Or maybe on a bed of crisp lettuce and topped with some diced tomatoes. You can put a spoonful on a cracker or on a crostini. You can fill a pita pocket with it along with some sprouts, a few tomato slices and few cucumber slices or you can put it between two slices of bread. You could even make a "melt" with it. More about that later.




Although this recipe was found originally by searching for "vegetarian tuna sandwich". It's really not that at all. It's a proper chickpea salad. And it should be regarded as such. So no "mock" salad here. This is chickpea territory. 

Tip: To make the melt, heat a skillet over a medium heat. Butter two slices of bread on one side only. Place a slice of cheese (I recommend provolone) on one side of the bread making sure the butter side is down so it's the side touching the skillet when you cook it. Then spread a layer of the chickpea salad on top on the cheese. If you like a lot of cheese, put another layer of cheese over the chickpea layer then top with the other slice of buttered bread, again butter side out. Place in the skillet and let it cook until the bottom slice is golden and the cheese begins to melt, about 3 minutes. Then flip the sandwich over and allow the other side to get golden and to allow the cheese to fully melt. 




Chickpea Salad


Ingredients: 

  • 1 15 oz can of chickpeas, drained
  • 3 Tbsp celery, chopped fine
  • 2 scallions, chopped fine
  • 2 tsp capers minced + 1 tsp of the caper brine
  • 2 tsp Dijon mustard
  • 2 tsp vegetarian Worcestershire sauce (in a pinch, use soy sauce - but use the Worcestershire if possible)
  • black pepper, to taste
  • 1/4 to 1/2 cup mayonnaise, depending on your preference

For Sandwiches:


  • 6 slice bread
  • leaves of crispy lettuce (I prefer romaine or iceberg lettuce)
  • tomato slices

Preparation:

1. Place the chickpeas into a food processor. Using the metal blade, pulse until the chickpeas are finely chopped but not pureed. It's up to you how chunky you want your salad. I like the chickpeas to be similar in size to rice.   
  
2. Remove the chopped chickpeas to a medium bowl. Add the remaining ingredients and mix with a spoon until fully incorporated. 

3. You take this recipe from here. Make sandwiches, make a melt, do with it what you will.  


Serves: 3 (if making sandwiches)

  

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Aloo Gobi Burritos:

Indian Grub, food Truck Style


My company recently did an event on Treasure Island in San Francisco. We were a vendor amongst many other vendors out to promote our company and meet potential customers. It makes for a pretty long weekend standing on the asphalt for two days straight in the sun and talking to hundreds of people. That feeling of being "on" for several hours at a time can wear a guy down. But it's business and we do what we gotta do. Besides that, it actually was pretty fun and interesting. We met some really cool people from all over, we learned a lot about the island, and we ate some pretty awesome food.





I'm kind of a down-home, back road, greasy spoon, mom and pop type of dude. So when the food truck craze started a few years back, I took to it like baby duck hitting the pond for the first time. I was ready. I was pre-conditioned. It was pure instinct. Luckily, I have one those stomachs that isn't adverse to a little food borne bacteria. The fact of the matter is that I've eaten some pretty rank shit out of some very questionable food trucks in my day and came out smiling and looking for more. I've paid my dues.  

I come from the era where if you ate a taco off of one of these rolling cesspools, you'd better plan on an afternoon on the porcelain throne doing a lot of paperwork. But there were always the diehards. The dudes that loved those tacos so much that they sacrificed their very own health just for that flavor. An assumed risk, as it were. They pressed on in the face of adversity. There are those that have survived Everest. And there are those who have survived, at the time, largely unregulated food truck cuisine. I was one of those dudes. That's where I developed my roach coach chops. It was like a boot camp for my immune system. It has helped mold me into the man I am today. 




Oh, but times have changed. Now food trucks are a dime a dozen. And because of the fierce competition, their street cred is everything. I'll say it again...everything. Your food better be top notch (especially at $9 a burrito, you treacherous bastards) and you better not have your customers doing too much paperwork. Nobody likes paperwork. Prime example: there was a buzz going around the event to stay away from a particular truck, who shall remain nameless, because the last time, several people got sick and had to go to the hospital. It had even found it's way into the Yelp reviews. Done. Street cred set back to zero.





That being said, the modern day street grub is much safer than it was back when I was eating mystery meat burritos off the plain white truck in the middle of a, shall we say, less than desirable neighborhood.  And on this particular occasion, I had the pleasure of having a aloo gobi burrito. I was instantly aflutter. You might even say giddy. I giggled like a school girl until I realized I was in close proximity to other people at which point I fake coughed and pretended I had something in my throat. I knew I had to do it myself. And so I did. Please enjoy.... 

Tip: Practice "mise en place" with this recipe as the first part goes quickly. Having all your ingredients prepped and ready to go prior to cooking will save you from the possibility of burning you ingredients/spices.  

Tip: This dish isn't traditionally served as a burrito. So don't feel obligated to put it in a tortilla. It's just as good by itself. 

Tip: This one has a little bit of a kick. If you don't like too much heat, cut back on the serranos and cayenne.  


Aloo Gobi Burritos


Ingredients: 

  • 4 garlic cloves, finely minced
  • 1 inch of ginger, finely minced or grated
  • 2 Tbsp coriander powder
  • 1/2 tsp turmeric
  • 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1/3 cup water
  • 6 Tbsps peanut oil
  • 1 tsp cumin seeds
  • 1/4 tsp hing (Asafoetida)
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 4 small serrano peppers (chopped)
  • 1/2 large or 1 small cauliflower, cut into small florets
  • 4 medium potatoes, diced
  • 1 Tbsp salt (or to taste)
  • 2 tsp mango powder (amchoor)
  • 1/4 cup chopped cilantro leaves (from about 6 sprigs)
  • 5 large burrito sized tortillas


Preparation:

1. Combine the garlic, ginger, coriander, turmeric, cayenne pepper and water in a small bowl and stir to combine. Set aside. 
  
2. Heat the oil in a dutch oven over a medium high heat until the oil is shimmering. Toss a cumin seed in. If is sizzles, it's hot enough. Then add the cumin seeds and hing. Stir for a minute until the seeds begin to slightly darken. 

3. Now add the bay leaves and the peppers. Stir for a minute and then add the spice/water mixture. Continue to stir until the oil and spice begin to separate, about one minute. 

3. Add in the cauliflower, potatoes, salt and a 1/4 cup of water. Stir to coat the cauliflower and potatoes. 

4. Lower the heat to medium and cover the pot. Let it cook for 15-20 minutes making sure to stir every 3-4 minutes.  If it gets too dry, just add water to prevent burning. Keep in mind this isn't a "saucy" recipe. It's supposed to be moist but not in a sauce.   

4. Finally, add the amchoor powder and the cilantro and stir to combine. Let stand for a few minutes for the amchoor to combine.

5. Heat a tortilla until it's nice and warm and pliable. Fill with 1/4 of the aloo gobi and wrap like a burrito. Repeat to make all 4 burritos.


Serves: 5 

  

Sunday, May 18, 2014


Vegetarian Chili:

You Don't Need Meat To Have A Good Time (That's What She Said)


I'm sorry about that title.


Chili is one of those American staples that seems to make it's way into every nook and cranny of this country. I counted the recipes online and there are 86.3 trillion of them, all different. FYI: I'm just kidding, I didn't really do that. Let's say there's a butt-load of them.




Growing up, I always loved chili day. I especially loved chili day with cornbread. I think it's the sweetness of the cornbread in contrast to the heat of the chili that appeals to my culinary sense of satiety. As an adult, I have made chili an uncountable amount of times. Every time I made it, it was pretty similar to last time I made it yet it was always completely different, if that makes sense. It's one of those dishes that I never really sat down and hammered out a recipe. Then, when I went veg, I just quit making it. Not for any reason other than the fact that I was making so many other things, it never popped onto my "must-make" list until just recently. 

Now that it's made the list, there is an elephant in the room when it comes to vegetarian chili that must be dealt with. Shall we talk about it? Majority vote (me) says yes. I don't quite understand where it was written that once you remove the meat, you had to add corn, zucchini, five different types of beans including garbanzos, etc, etc,   etc. Where in the hell did that translation come from?





To me, chili is going to be simple. Primarily beans, meat, or a combo of the two. Simple. All that extra stuff simply isn't necessary. Prior to going vegetarian, I was always a beans/meat combo fan. Obviously this recipe will have no meat so it's gonna be....umm....beancentric. However, I'm going to add finely chopped mushrooms here to give it that hearty flavor that a good chili needs. I know you don't typically see mushrooms in a chili but if you're gonna take the meat out, you kinda gotta replace it with a little sumpin' sumpin' to help fill in that gap. I'm not ashamed to say, I've become a bit of a mushroom whore over the last few years (please pardon my French). They have managed to take a stronghold in my kitchen. And they reign supreme with the exception their one and only arch-enemy, my wife. 





I know I'm reaching off topic here, but as I write this post, I am reminded of this weird little chick who peddles organic mushrooms at the local farmers markets. I say she's weird because she really is. I calls 'em as I sees 'em. She won't make eye contact with you but she will rattle on, all the while looking at your feet, about how the mushrooms are grown, spewing little factoids about mushrooms that the lay person would not even know about or even care about, for that matter. I think she's the 'Shroom Whisperer. It amazes me how engrossed I am by this person who won't look at me. I reckon it's because I have a strong sense of her passion. She is truly in love with her mushrooms and I can't do anything but admire that. Let it be known, I'm her fan and I'll buy her mushrooms any day of the week. If you can find someone who has such passion about mushrooms, my advice would be to keep them as near to you as you possibly can.  


Vegetarian Chili


Ingredients: 

  • 4 Tbsp oil, divided (I used peanut oil)
  • 4 oz. mushrooms, finely diced (I used Portobellos but you can use cremini or baby bellas)
  • 1/2 cup celery, finely diced
  • 1/2 cup green bell pepper, finely diced
  • 1/2 cup white or yellow onion, finely diced
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 (15 oz) can of tomato sauce
  • 2 cups vegetable broth (you can also use 2 cups water with one Knorr vegetable bouillon cube)
  • 2 Tbsp chili powder
  • 2 tsp ground cumin
  • 2 tsps salt (or to taste)
  • 1 tsp ground black pepper
  • 1 tsp dried Mexican oregano
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1-2 jalapenos, finely diced (optional)
  • 3 (15 oz) cans kidney beans, drained and rinsed
  • chopped onion (for garnish)
  • chopped cilantro (for garnish)


Preparation:

1. Heat 2 Tbsp of the oil in a large pot over a medium high heat. Add the mushrooms and saute until they begin to brown, approximately 4 minutes. Remove mushrooms to a bowl and set aside. 

2. Add remaining 2 Tbsp to the same pot over a medium high heat and add the celery, bell pepper and onion. Saute for about 4 minutes until they are soft. Then add the garlic and saute for another 1-2 minutes until veggies begin to brown. 

3. Add the mushrooms back to the pot. Then add the next 10 ingredients up to and including the beans. Bring to a boil then reduce heat to a simmer.  

4. Simmer, stirring occasionally for 30 - 40 minutes to allow the sauce to thicken. If it gets to thick, just add water to your desired consistency.

5. Serve with onion and cilantro sprinkled on top. Preferably with a nice corn bread on the side. 


Serves: 4 (at my house, it serves 3)

  

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Chinese Orange Tofu:

Orange You Glad I Didn't Say Chicken?



I guess there's some unwritten but well understood law which dictates that one cannot eat the same type of food two meals or even two days in a row. That's a rule I don't understand. Somehow I just missed the boat on that one. For example, if I go to a Mexican restaurant for lunch and get some tacos, I'll eat them and move on. Then, when dinner rolls around, I'll have no problem making enchiladas. My wife, on the other hand is a staunch champion of the unwritten law. She'll say, "Enchiladas?!! We just had Mexican for lunch!" I'll reply, "And your point is?" To which she'll respond, "You CAN'T have Mexican for lunch AND dinner!" I'll volley back with a "why not?" And her answer is always the same: "Because you just can't, that's why." 




I rarely feel that way. Especially about Chinese food. I could have it two or three days in a row and never think twice about. Well, not until I'm reminded of the law anyway. "Because you just can't. That's why." How can I argue with that?  

There is a Chinese food joint up the street from my house that my wife and I frequented for several years. The food was always amazing but the service was always horrid. It was pretty common for us to get our plates several minutes apart from each other and the only time our drinks were refilled was when we flagged down the waitress. Then one day, it happened. The quality of the food took a nosedive. It became consistently mediocre. It seems the cook that had made that wonderful food for so long was gone. On what great new adventure he had embarked upon was never learned by us. Oh well, I suppose all great things must come to and end.




However, back in it's heyday, when the food was still awesome and the service still sucked, we would often talk to the gals serving the food and try to get hints on what was in it (besides the obvoius, of course). We were always told that the chefs were very secretive of their recipes and techniques. When the wait staff would inquire about the ingredients, the chefs would clam up and would actually put their bodies in between the wait staff and the food so nobody could see what they were doing. They told us that the cooks had come here from China and had been trained in Chinese cooking for many years prior to their arrival. They claimed that the techniques were highly secretive and that nobody in the restaurant knew the "secrets" except the chefs. I always thought that was kind of cool but now that I think about it, maybe they were just messing with me. Hmmmm. 




We've since found another Chinese place a little further out but just as good. One of our favorite dishes there is Chinese Orange Tofu. It's basically crispy fried tofu tossed with broccoli in a somewhat spicy orange sauce. We get it every single time we go there. We can be creatures of habit when we find something we really like. But that's ok because every time I eat it, I'm just in Heaven. 




As many times as we've ordered it, I figured it was about time to figure out how I could make it myself. I'm sure there are some secrets from somewhere deep in China that I'll never be privy to, but that's ok, it'll be close if not better. Take that, super secret chef from China!

The crispy tofu portion of this recipe I found here at Serious Eats. Great site to peruse. 


Chinese Orange Tofu


Ingredients:


  • 1 Tbsp salt
  • 1 tub extra firm tofu
  • 1 1/2 cups freshly squeezed orange juice
  • 1/2 cup vegetable broth
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 2 Tbsp rice vinegar
  • 2 Tbsp Chinese rice wine
  • 2 Tbsp soy sauce
  • 1 Tbsp fresh ginger, finely minced
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely minced
  • 3 Tbsp orange zest
  • 2 tsp sesame oil
  • 1/4 tsp white pepper
  • 5 dried red peppers (think chiles de arbol or cayenne pepper), halved, seeded, stem removed
  • 6 Tbsp cornstarch, divided
  • 1 quart peanut oil (or other frying oil)
  • 2 cups broccoli, cut into bite sized florets

Accompaniment: 

  • white rice

Preparation:


1. In a medium saucepan, add the salt and about 6 cups of water and bring to a boil.  

2. Meanwhile, drain your tofu and cut widthwise into 3/4 inch thick slices. 

3. Place the tofu slices in a large bowl and cover with the boiling water. Let stand 30 seconds, then drain off the boiling water being careful not to break your tofu slices. 

4. Place tofu slices, side by side, on a towel or a few paper towels and cover with another towel or paper towels. If possible, place a cookie sheet on top of the layers and place a weight (maybe just a few pounds) on top of the cookie sheet. Let stand for 15 minutes. Tip: The idea here is to squeeze out any excess moisture in the towels. Tip: Be careful not to make the weight so heavy as to crush the tofu.  

5. In a medium sauce pan, add the next twelve ingredients up to and including the dried red peppers and stir to combine. 

6. Make a slurry with 3 Tbsp of the cornstarch and 2-3 Tbsp of cold water. Stir cornstarch slurry into the sauce mixture. 

7. Over a medium high heat, bring sauce mixture to a simmer, stirring frequently. Turn heat to low and continue to simmer until sauce has thickened, about 5 minutes. Pour the sauce into a bowl and set aside.  

7. Clean and dry the saucepan and add the peanut oil. Bring your oil to 350° F. Tip: Be careful not to go much higher, you don't want to burn your oil. 

8. While the oil is heating, cut your tofu slices into 3/4 inch cubes. Place tofu in a bowl and toss with the remaining cornstarch. 

9. Deep fry the tofu in two batches for approximately 4 minutes per batch and drain on paper towels to absorb excess oil. 

10. In a wok, heat a tablespoon of oil over a high heat until just smoking. Add the broccoli and stir fry until broccoli is just beginning to brown but still green and slightly crunchy, approximately 2-3 minutes. Now add the tofu and the sauce to the wok. Toss with the sauce to coat the tofu and broccoli, about 1 minute. Serve immediately.  

Servings: 4

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Spaghetti Sauce:

Not Sketti Sauce



A good while back I watched an episode of Honey Boo Boo (don't judge) where the family made a rather interesting version of spaghetti sauce, affectionately referred to as "sketti". Based on what I was able to gather, the sauce is roughly 50% margarine and 50% ketchup. Any seasonings? Nope. Margarine and ketchup, only. Was it at least slowly simmered over a low heat to somehow hopefully and magically deepen or develop the flavors of the ketchup and margarine? Nope. Microwaved.   

(I'm not going to show you good people how to make sketti. So don't fret and stick with me here.)




Out of purely morbid curiosity, I made it. I know, I know, it's gross but I just had to find out. I knew it would be awful....but sometimes in life you just gotta make that call for yourself. It's like when your wife pulls some unidentified Tupperware container from the way, way back of the fridge with some leftover whatever, hailing from days of yore, and smells it. She recoils in disgust and says: "Ew!!! Gross!!! Here, smell this!!!". And you do. You know it's bad but you still smell it anyway. Why didn't you just learn vicariously from her obviously bad experience? After all, you did just witness her recoiling in disgust. Wasn't that enough? Apparently not.




So I made the sketti. Surprisingly, it wasn't what I was expecting at all, really. In fact, I was actually somewhat familiar with it. And it was exactly as it should be. It was surprisingly, yet logically, sweet and tangy. The richness of the margarine tones down the tang of ketchup and adds a certain undeniable balance that.......oh shut up, Justin! Nutshell? It reminds me of SpaghettiO's. Does it taste exactly like SpaghettiO's? No, but the first thought that came to my mind when I tasted it was that of those beloved little round O's from my childhood. I guess you could say it was "SpaghettiO-esque". That being said, there's a reason why I don't eat O's anymore: they taste like sketti. Learn vicariously my friends, don't try this at home.




What I have for you today is my own version of spaghetti sauce. Or pasta sauce, if you will. I know that's kind of a generic term that can mean a million things. But for me, growing up, spaghetti sauce was always synonymous with marinara. It was something that was always in the "mix" for an easy weekly dinner. And this goes back to before I can remember. For me, it's one of those comfort-type foods that is easy to make and it will usually please pretty much anyone.




I prefer my sauce kinda chunky. So I leave the veggies a little bit larger so they provide something to bite into when you get a taste. Not huge chunks but significant enough to create an identifiable bite. I love to bite down on that odd piece of bell pepper mixed in the sauce and think to myself: Damn! That bell pepper is amazing.

Hint: We put this over stuffed cheese manicotti tonight and it rocked.    


Vegetarian Spaghetti Sauce


Ingredients:


  • 3 15 oz. cans tomato sauce
  • 1 15 oz. can diced tomatoes, drained 
  • 2/3 small can of tomato paste
  • 1/4 cup red wine
  • 1 Tbsp soy sauce
  • 1 tsp dried basil leaves
  • 1/2 tsp dried oregano
  • 1/2 tsp dried rosemary
  • 1/2 tsp fennel seeds
  • 1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 2 bay leaves
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1/2 large bell pepper, diced
  • 1/3 large onion, diced
  • 4 garlic cloves

Preparation:


1. In a large dutch oven or pot, over a medium high heat, combine the first 10 ingredients (up to and including the bay leaves). Bring ingredients to a simmer, then reduce heat to low to maintain simmer. Season with salt and pepper to taste. 

2. In a medium skillet, heat the olive oil over a medium high heat. Add in the bell peppers and saute for 2-3 minutes. Then add the shallots and continue to saute for about 2 more minutes. Finally, add the garlic and saute for another 2 minutes. 

3. Now add your sauteed veggies to the pot with the sauce. At this point taste and adjust your salt and pepper if necessary.  Let simmer for an additional 15-20 minutes, stirring occasionally. 

4. Serve over pasta of your choice.

Servings: 6