Monday, February 23, 2009

Pizza My Heart

If you know us at all, you probably know that we have plans on Friday nights. And even though we are flexible and willing to break our plans, our friends usually don't ask us to do things on Friday nights. So it's either because people don't actually like us very much (always a possibility), or they know that we are looking forward to sitting at home in our jammies, curled up on the couch with a Lifetime movie, a bottle of wine, and pizza.

We love our Friday nights. We look forward to them all week long. There's no better way to unwind after a long week than with wine, a bad movie, and a delicious pizza. And for our pizza to be truly delicious, it has to start at home. We used to be more open to ordering pizza back when we lived in the U.S., because sometimes after a particularly long week, even pizza is to tiring to think about. But here, well, Ben works fewer hours, I don't work, and delivery pizza just isn't the same. The Dutch just don't have Papa John's. Or good local places (in our area, anyway). It's just not the same.

So of course we make our own! Would you expect anything less?

We start with a whole wheat pizza crust, which we have adapted from a recipe on epicurious, and which Ben has perfected. I may often be the kitchen genius around here, but Ben, he is the pizza dough master. It's light and puffy and slightly chewy, but it's not too much. It's just substantial enough to hold up whatever toppings we pile on.

Sometimes we follow a recipe if we're feeling adventurous and want a new flavor, but often we just go with some of our standard toppings including, but not limited to: canned diced tomatoes with basil, garlic and oregano; fresh tomatoes slow roasted with garlic when they're in season; spinach; caramelized shallots or grilled cipollini onions; shredded mozzarella, provolone, feta, parmesan; fresh basil. We also have guest appearances by ingredients such as portabello mushrooms, chicken, sun dried tomatoes, roasted garlic, steak, peppers, artichoke hearts... Whatever sounds good. That's the joy of making our own pizza.

The other joy is sitting on the floor in pajamas and watching the pizza cook.


And voilĂ ! Pizza!

Since we don't follow a recipe most of the time, I can't give you directions for our particular brand of pizza. You'll have to find your own signature flavors. But we can give you a good starting place, our pizza dough recipe (from epicurious, as adapted by Ben)

Pizza Dough


1 (1/4-ounce) package active dry yeast (2 1/4 teaspoons)
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1 1/2 to 2 cups bread flour plus additional for kneading and dredging
1 cup warm water (105 - 115°F)
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons italian seasoning (or grated parmesan, or whatever sounds good to you)


Make dough:
Whisk together yeast, 1 tablespoon flour, and 1/4 cup warm water in a measuring cup and let stand until mixture develops a creamy foam, about 10 minutes. (If mixture doesn't foam, discard and start over with new yeast.)

Stir together salt and 1 cup bread flour and 1/2 cup whole wheat flour and seasoning in a large bowl. Add yeast mixture and remaining 3/4 cup warm water and stir until smooth, then stir in another 1/2 cup bread flour. If dough sticks to your fingers, stir in just enough flour (up to 3/4 cup), a little at a time, to make dough just come away from side of bowl. (This dough may be wetter than other pizza doughs you have made.)

Knead dough on a lightly floured surface with floured hands, lightly reflouring work surface and your hands when dough becomes too sticky, until dough is smooth, soft, and elastic, about 10 minutes.

Or, if you have a mixer with a dough hook, mix on low until the dough comes together and then on high until it's nice and smooth. Then knead it by hand for a minute or so and form into a ball.

Place the dough in an oiled bowl, cover, and let rise in a warm place until doubled in bulk, about an hour. Divide into two balls. If you only want to use one, the extra dough keeps well in the freezer. We just put in a ziploc freezer bag and then bring it out several hours before we need it and set it on the counter to let it come to room temperature.

To bake the pizza, preheat the oven and pizza stone (or cookie sheet) at the highest temperature possible for an hour or so. A very hot oven and pizza stone makes the crust nice and crispy on the bottom. Roll dough into a circle with a rolling pin or work it into a circle with your hands and place it on the pizza stone. Top the pizza with whatever you want and bake for about 12-15 minutes, or until cheese is turning golden brown at the edges.

Turn on your Lifetime movie, open your wine, enjoy!

Friday, February 20, 2009

This is how I roll

Today I offer a little insight into what goes on inside my mind and inside my kitchen when I'm left unsupervised.

I spend a lot of time thinking about food. When I'm not browsing food blogs, I'm playing games with myself, thinking up new flavors of ice cream, cupcakes, whatever. Recently, I was brainstorming cupcake ideas with Ben and he was thinking raspberry, I was thinking something with a caramel filling. And, oooh, raspberry caramel would be good. Taking stock of my kitchen, I decided to attempt a raspberry flavored dulce de leche.

It was good, definitely tasty. A nice combination of the sweet caramel creaminess and the slight tartness of the raspberries. It was lovely. But I didn't want to use it in my cupcakes. It just wasn't right.

So then I had a container of raspberry caramel sitting in my fridge. Taunting me. Every so often I would go back to it and take a little spoonful and ponder its fate. Cupcakes? Still no. Filling for sandwich cookies? Maybe. But I don't know what kind of cookies to make. Use it in/on ice cream? Nah. Toss it and call it a day?

I was actually about to just get rid of it because I didn't know what I wanted to do and I'm a little obsessive (who me?) about having a neat and tidy refrigerator, free of rogue leftovers and random items. But then Ben got around to finally tasting it and said, "Oh, that's nice".

"Oh, well, I was about to throw it away. It's been sitting there and I don't know what to do with it."

"Well, it's good. Don't throw it out just yet."


"Give it until the end of this weekend. Maybe I'll just eat it."


So the raspberry dulce de leche got a stay of execution. And Ben's admiration of it inspired me to get cracking and just try something with it.

This is what I came up with.

Raspberry Dulce de Leche Balls

1/3 seedless raspberry preserves*
1 14 ounce can sweetened condensed milk
8 oounces dark chocolate
Fancy colored sugar (optional)

*I only found raspberry jam with seeds, so I heated it a little to make it liquidy, and then strained it. Easy peasy.

Pour the sweetened condensed milk into top of double-boiler pan and stir in raspberry Usually when making dulce de leche, I know it's done because it gets a lovely golden caramel brown color, but with the raspberries it will be harder to judge. Because it's pink. I would err on the side of a few more minutes if you're not sure.

Remove from heat and whisk until smooth. Put in the refrigerator to chill. Once the dulce de leche is nice and cold and firmed up a bit, scoop spoonfuls and then roll into balls. It'll be sticky, so I found it's easiest to roll with slightly damp hands.

Put the balls of caramel on a parchment lined cookie sheet and place in the freezer.

Chop the chocolate and place in the top of a double-boiler, or a bowl set over a simmering pan of water. Melt the chocolate, stirring occasionally and then remove from heat.

Working quickly, take each cold caramel ball and drop into the chocolate using two forks to turn, coat, and remove from chocolate. Tap off any excess and place the caramel on a silpat or piece of parchment paper. Sprinkle with fancy pretty sugar, if desired, and let set. Eat. Admire the pretty chocolates. Eat another.

And they're pretty good. A sweet, fruity, soft caramel that melts in your mouth after your teeth crack the bittersweet chocolate shell. And pink sugar sprinkles! Just for fun! Something pretty for me to make, and a more dignified way for Ben to eat a bowl of caramel. Everybody wins!

Except for Wesley.

We keep telling him he at least needs to grow some teeth first. Man, he's gonna be disappointed when he gets teeth and I still don't give him candy.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Sweets for the sweet

What better way to say Happy Valentine's Day than with some sweet chocolate treats with a pretty, fluffy pink frosting?

I haven't baked many good treats recently and I have been missing them. I've been more on a bread kick lately, and while bred is nice and tasty and good, it's just not very pretty or fun. So I thought that I should bake something a little more decadent to send to work with Ben this week in honor of Valentine's Day.

Now, I know to some Valentine's Day is nothing but a Hallmark holiday, consumerism at it's finest, unrealistic expectations of fairytale romance that are doomed to failure in the cold, harsh reality of the world. And there are also those who say, indignantly, "Why should we have to confine romance to one day? The Man is just trying to get us to spend money on commercial junk! I'm perfectly capapble of showing my love every day of the year!" But to those people, I have to ask... Do you really buy your sweetheart a big bouquet of flowers on a random Tuesday? A box of chocolates to celebrate a long and dreary work week? Do you bake them little chocolate cupcakes with fluffy pink frosting just for the heck of it? If so, then go ahead with your romantic self.

If not, however, I suggest you make these for your favorite person. They might just agree to be your Valentine.

Flourless Chocolate Cupcakes (from Cupcake Project) with Raspberry Cream Cheese Frosting (from me)

Makes about 18 cupcakes or a bajillion mini cupcakes

1/2 cup water
1/4 tsp salt
18 oz bittersweet chocolate chopped into small pieces
1 C unsalted butter (room temperature)
3 eggs
3 egg whites

Combine the water, salt, and sugar in a small saucepan over medium heat. Stir until completely dissolved and set aside.
In the top half of a double boiler, melt the bittersweet chocolate, then pour the melted chocolate into the bowl of an electric mixer.
Cut the butter into pieces and beat the butter into the chocolate, one piece at a time.
Beat in the hot sugar-water. Next, slowly beat in the eggs and the egg whites one at a time.
Pour the batter 3/4 to the top of lined cupcake tins. These don't rise so you can go higher if you'd like. Have pans larger than the cupcake tins ready. Put each cupcake tin in a larger pan and fill the pan with boiling water halfway up the sides of the cake pan. (Don't be like me and accidentally overfill the water. You may have to eat any flooded cupcake casualties.)
Bake cupcakes in the water bath at 300 degrees F (150 degrees C) for 30 minutes. The center will still look wet.
Do not take the cupcakes out of the tin until they are completely cooled! Once the tins are cool enough to handle with your bare hands, put the entire cupcake tin in the fridge until it is cool. Then remove the cupcakes from the tin and frost. If you take the cupcakes out of the tin while they are still warm, they will lose their shape.

Raspberry Cream Cheese Frosting

4 oz cream cheese
4 oz butter
1/4 cup raspberry jam
3 1/2 cups powdered sugar

Beat cream cheese and butter together until creamy and fluffy. Add raspberry jam and beat well. Add powdered sugar and beat for a long time until frosting in smooth, light, and fluffy. When in doubt, just keep beating the icing. I tend to just turn my mixer on and let it go for a little while. Otherwise I get too impatient standing around and I want to use the frosting before it's reached its true fluffiness potential.

I also added about two drops of red food coloring to make it just a little bit prettier, but the frosting had a nice pink color already, so that is completely optional.

Makes about 4 cups.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Corn fritters, that's where is started. This week while idly gawking at all the food pictures on foodgawker, my heart stopped. Corn fritters! I love corn! Fritters! I've had them before, but it had been a while and I couldn't for the life of me understand why I have not been making them all this time. So I bookmarked the blog that had these little bites of corn wonder and decided that we should have corn fritters for dinner one night.

Ben was not as enthusiastic. So I proposed corn fritters and a really nice salad. "Okay...", he said. I sensed that he did not feel the same joy at the idea of corn fritters as I did. Hmph.

The corn fritters stayed on my mind. Then... ding! (That's the sound of my mental light bulb) I could make the corn fritters, but just serve them as a small side to a spinach salad topped with pan seared scallops. Oooh, that could be good. Scallops make everything better! I proposed this to Ben and his eyes lit up, "Scallops! I love scallops!" Excellent.

And it was excellent until I went to cut the corn of the cob.

Why am I lying on the floor of the bathroom?

And what is Ben doing with that first aid kit?

That's right, folks, Ellen has still not mastered the art of sharp objects. I'm lying on the floor because while Ben was trying to bandage me, I got a little woozy. It was no good. Luckily no corn was injured. Just my finger. Sigh.

Back in the kitchen, Ben took over the chopping and I got to crack the egg and put everything in the bowl.

And against our better judgment, I went on to actually cook the fritters. In oil, no less! And I am pleased to report there were no more injuries, to myself or the food.

For me, the corn was the main focus, but I know I'm probably alone in that, so for the rest of our meal I put together a salad of spinach, arugula (Ben's suggested addition, caramelized shallots, and roasted red peppers (from a jar! The shame!). I then seared a few scallops and added them on top. The corn fritters went around the edge of the plate with some chili sour cream.

Ben loved the scallops, and surprisingly enjoyed the corn fritters immensely too. He gave them a big thumbs up, so we'll have them again. Maybe next time I can convince him to just have a big plate of fritters for dinner. Or maybe not.

Corn Fritters from I Found Happy

(I made half the recipe and we had a few extra to snack on while assembling dinner)

Corn Fritters (adapted from the Joy of Cooking)
Makes 24 fritters
16 oz. frozen corn, thawed and drained (I used corn on the cob. It's what I had. I learned my lesson. Frozen corn requires no knives.)
2 egg yolks
2 tbsp flour
1 tbsp sugar
1/4 cup chopped chives or green onions
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp garlic powder
1/8 tsp ground black pepper
2 egg whites
2 tbsp oil


Combine first 8 ingredients in large mixing bowl and mix well. Gently mash corn a little with a fork until it's a little pulpy. In a separate bowl, beat egg whites until peaks form. Gently fold into corn mixture and be careful not to over mix it.

Heat oil in large skillet over med-high heat and drop in corn mixture by the heaping tablespoon. Cook 2 minutes on the first side or until nice and golden brown, then flip and cook until browned on the other side.