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Yesterday on a long drive from Baltimore, I listened to scientist and baker Shirley Corriher explain the chemistry of baking on NRP.   Several things she said piqued my interest, but I raised the volume when she explained how chocolate chip cookies sometimes flatten and spread, making that unwanted crepe-like cookie.  She said to do two things to keep those cookies thick like one sees in bakeries.

  1. Use bread or unbleached flour since they have a higher protein content.
  2. Make the dough and refrigerate overnight to let it hydrate for a longer period.  The longer the moisture can combine, the better for more gluten strands and breaking down starches and sugars.

I decided to make a test batch using both techniques (I used unbleached bread flour to hedge my bets).  I used the classic Toll House recipe (I usually do) with Ghiardelli semisweet chip and walnuts.  The results?  Absolutely no spread whatsoever.  I’m not sure if it was the bread flour or the refrigeration, but these cookies were the perfect thickness.  Try one or both of these easy steps to ensure perfect chocolate chip cookies the next time you bake a batch.

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It was been raining steadily all day and I’ve been in the mood for risotto.  Done properly, risotto can be stick-to-your-ribs good and perfect for a dreary day like today.  I came across this recipe in the RSVP restaurant recipe section of the November 2008 Bon Appétit (one of my favorite features in the magazine).  The recipe calls for fairly basic ingredients, all of which make for a classic risotto.  I liked the idea of pairing it with fish since fish always seems like a good idea to me. 

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I used oyster and shiitake mushrooms for this recipe.

Striped Bass with Mushroom Risotto (adapted from San Diego’s Quarter Kitchen’s recipe in Bon Appétit)
yields 4

Mushroom Risotto
6 C. low salt chicken broth
1/2 C. (1 stick) butter, divided in half
3 + 3 Tbs. shallots
1 clove garlic, minced
12 oz. assorted wild mushrooms (chanterelle, crimini, or shiitake)
1 3/4 C. arborio rice
1 C. dry white wine
1/3 C. chopped Italian parsley
1/3 C. Parmesan cheese (plus more to taste)

Fish
3 Tbs. olive oil
4 5 oz. striped bass fillets

Simmer broth in medium saucepan and keep warm.  Melt 1/4 C. (1/2 stick) of butter in large skillet over medium-high heat.  Add 3 Tbs. shallots, garlic, and the mushrooms.  Sauté until mushrooms are soft (about 10 minutes).  Season with salt and pepper.

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Melt 1/4 C. (1/2 stick) in another heavy large saucepan over medium-high heat.  Add 3 Tbs. shallots, sauté until soft, about 2 minutes.  Add rice and stir for 1 minute. 

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Add wine and stir until almost dry, about 4 minutes.  Add 1 C. warm broth and simmer for 2 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Add 2 C. broth and simmer 4 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Add 2 C. broth, mushroom mixture, parsley, and 1/3 C. cheese.  Simmer until creamy and rice is tender, but still firm to bite, about 8 minutes.  Season with salt and pepper.

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Meanwhile, set oven on broil.  Add oil to ovenproof skillet on high heat.  Sprinkle fish with salt and pepper and cook, skin side down until skin is crisp (about 4 mintues). 

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Transfer skillet to oven and broil about 6 inches from heat for about 4-6 minutes until fish is cooked through.

Serve risotto with more parmesan cheese to taste and top with fish.  I drizzled with risotto with a truffle olive oil – mmmm.

This month’s Daring Bakers Challenge was a pleasure to complete and eat – pizza is always welcome in our house.  Having to complete two kinds of pizza, I decided to make a family favorite, pesto and shrimp, and something new for me, a gorgonzola and grape pizza.  As I have mentioned before, I have been intensely involved in a political campaign, so time has been a very precious commodity.  Homemade pizza, while seemingly daunting, is actually a wonderful option for busy cooks since total prep and cooking time is about a half hour.

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BASIC PIZZA DOUGH
Original recipe taken from “The Bread Baker’s Apprentice” by Peter Reinhart.

yield 3 large pizzas

Ingredients:
4 1/2 Cups Unbleached high-gluten (%14) bread flour or all purpose flour, chilled
1 3/4 Tsp Salt
1 Tsp Instant yeast
1/4 Cup (Olive oil or vegetable oil
1 3/4 Cups  Water, ice cold
1 Tb sugar
Semolina/durum flour or cornmeal for dusting

DAY ONE

Method:
1. Mix together the flour, salt and instant yeast in a big bowl (or in the bowl of your stand mixer).

2. Add the oil, sugar and cold water and mix well (with the help of a large wooden spoon or with the paddle attachment, on low speed) in order to form a sticky ball of dough. On a clean surface, knead for about 5-7 minutes, until the dough is smooth and the ingredients are homogeneously distributed. If it is too wet, add a little flour (not too much, though) and if it is too dry add 1 or 2 teaspoons extra water.

3. Flour a work surface or counter.

4. With the help of a metal or plastic dough scraper, cut the dough into 3 equal pieces

5. Sprinkle some flour over the dough. Make sure your hands are dry and then flour them.  Gently round each piece into a ball.

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6. Transfer the dough balls to the lined jelly pan and mist them generously with spray oil. Slip the pan into plastic bag or enclose in plastic food wrap.

7. Put the pan into the refrigerator and let the dough rest overnight or for up to thee days.

DAY TWO

8. On the day you plan to eat pizza, exactly 2 hours before you make it, remove the desired number of dough balls from the refrigerator. Dust the counter with flour and spray lightly with oil. Place the dough balls on a floured surface and sprinkle them with flour. Dust your hands with flour and delicately press the dough into disks about 1/2 inch/1.3 cm thick and 5 inches/12.7 cm in diameter. Sprinkle with flour and mist with oil. Loosely cover the dough rounds with plastic wrap and then allow to rest for 2 hours.

9. At least 45 minutes before making the pizza, place a baking stone on the lower third of the oven.  Preheat the oven as hot as possible (500° F).

10. Generously sprinkle a pizza peel with semolina or durum flour.   Flour your hands (palms, backs and knuckles). Take 1 piece of dough by lifting it with a pastry scraper. Lay the dough across your fists in a very delicate way and carefully stretch it by bouncing it in a circular motion on your hands, and by giving it a little stretch with each bounce. Once the dough has expanded outward, move to a full toss.

       

Sadly, the evidence of my fabulous tossing was mostly cut off.  The resulting stretched out dough, however, is caught on film.

11. When the dough has the shape you want, place it on a floured pizza peel, making sure there is enough semolina/durum flour or cornmeal to allow it to slide and not stick to the peel.

12. Lightly top it with sweet or savory toppings of your choice.

13. Slide the garnished pizza onto the stone in the oven.  Close the door and bake for about 5 minutes.

14. Take the pizza out of the oven and transfer it to a cutting board or your plate. In order to allow the cheese to set a little, wait 3-5 minutes before slicing or serving.

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I chose to make this grape pizza since it’s very similar to a favorite hors d’oeuvre I make often for parties (roquefort grapes).  This recipe is more an appetizer than a main course, but very delicious.  I love the combination of the strong salty gorgonzola combined with the carmelized sweetness of the grapes.  The pizza dough recipe is a definite keeper – crispy yet soft and chewy.  Perfection!

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Gorgonzola and Grape Pizza (from Epicurious)

Pizza dough

1/3 cup Vin Santo
1 tablespoon sugar
1 1/2 cups red seedless grapes (9 oz), halved lengthwise
5 oz Italian Fontina, rind discarded and cheese cut into 1/4-inch dice (1 cup)
2 oz Gorgonzola dolce, crumbled
1/2 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper

Bring Vin Santo with sugar to a boil in a small heavy saucepan over moderate heat, stirring until sugar is dissolved, then boil, uncovered, until reduced to about 1 tablespoon, about 5 minutes. Add grapes to saucepan and stir gently to coat with syrup, then transfer to a bowl. Add cheeses and pepper to bowl, then stir to combine.  Spread on pizza dough and bake for about 5 minutes.
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The second pizza was a pesto, mozzarella and grilled shrimp pizza that lasted about 3 minutes before my children inhaled it.  Pesto is staple in our house and I make variations of pesto pizza regularly.

Thanks to our host Rosa for an excellent challenge. It was wonderful to take time to refocus on food and cooking after a couple of months of focusing on everything but.

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I’ve mentioned my personal fruit farm next door (my kind-hearted neighbors) in past entries and I have been waiting all summer for their figs to come in season in late August.  The sweet black skinned fruit is simply delicious eaten fresh off the bush, and we all get a little bellyache from eating so many that way.  I also love to make various desserts with figs, and I will be presenting three different fig dishes in the next week. 

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Fig Galette

Pâte Brisée recipe (see below)
4 C. fresh figs, stemmed and quartered
1 1/2 Tbs. sugar
1 tsp. lemon zest
1 egg, lightly beaten

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Preheat oven to 400º F.  Roll out chilled pate brisee into a large circle 1/4″ thick.  Place on a parchment lined baking sheet.  Refrigerate for 10 minutes. In a medium bowl, lightly toss figs, sugar and zest with your fingers.  Place figs in concentric circles, leaving a 1 1/2″ edge.  Fold over the edge, crimping when necessary.  Brush top crust with egg wash.  Bake for 25 minutes or until golden brown.

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Pâte Brisée

2 1/2 C. all-purpose flour
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. sugar
1 C (2 sticks) unsalted butter, chilled and cut into small pieces
1/4 to 1/2 cup ice water

In the bowl of a food processor, combine flour, salt, and sugar. Add butter, and process until the mixture resembles coarse meal, 8 to 10 seconds. With machine running, add ice water in a slow, steady stream through feed tube. Pulse until dough holds together without being wet or sticky; be careful not to process more than 30 seconds. To test, squeeze a small amount together: If it is crumbly, add more ice water, 1 tablespoon at a time.  Flatten  into a disc and wrap in plastic. Transfer to the refrigerator and chill at least 1 hour.

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I’ll admit it – I grew up eating spaghetti sauce from a jar.  This is to be expected from a first generation immigrant like my mother who thought Ragu was how spaghetti was supposed to be prepared (well, that along with kimchi.  Can I get a witness from my Korean-American peeps?)  I was set straight by my husband, who grew up eating macaroni and gravy prepared by his Italian family from the Bronx (that would be pasta and marinara sauce).

I’ve been making turkey meatballs even since I my son was born, trying to shed those baby pounds.  While low-cal substitutions usually mean a less tasty result, I truly feel these meatballs are just as tasty as ground beef meatballs.

Turkey Meatballs
(yields about 18 1½” meatballs)

1 1/3 lb. ground turkey
1 small onion
2 cloves garlic
1/2 C. breadcrumbs
1/4 C. grated parmesan cheese
1 egg
1 tsp. salt (or more to taste)
fresh ground pepper

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Puree onion and garlic in a mini-chopper or food processor.  Combine pureed onion, garlic, ground turkey, breadcrumbs, parmesan cheese, egg, salt and pepper in a medium bowl until well combined. 

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Roll mixture into 1½” balls.  Heat mium skillet on medium high and brown meatballs on all sides, about 3 minutes per side. 

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Add to pot of hot marinara sauce (see below) and cook on medium low for 15-20 minutes.  Serve with pasta of your choice with grated parmesan cheese.

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Marinara Sauce

28 oz. can of crushed tomatoes
2-3 cloves of garlic, minced
2 Tbs. extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp. sugar
2-3 tsp. dried basil

Heat olive oil in a medium saucepan on medium high.  Add minced garlic and saute until golden.  Add can of crushed tomatoes, sugar and basil.  Mix and cook on medium low for 15-20 minutes. 

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