I am reasonably sure I’ll never find “the dough” for me. Of course, I used to say that about soul mates until The Bride came along, so I’ve learned never to say never, at least with much conviction. Hence, “reasonably sure” sounds more accurate.
More than once we’ve eaten our Friday night “make in” Pizza and The Bride’s spoken with a bite still in her mouth, her hand at her chin to catch stray cheese and her mouth in a bit of an Ah shape to guard against the heat all while saying, “This is Effin good.”
“Really?” I ask.
She’d swallow and say, “Yeah, this is the best you’ve made. Don’t change a thing.”
Then I go and change it. So instead of asking her now if she likes it, I say, “But is it as good as Tony’s?”
It never is. It’s almost an unfair question because I’m not sure anyone will ever be as good as Tony’s. Case in point:
This thing is SOO MUCH better than it looks. And when you write a beautiful, definitive, perhaps THE ONLY pizza cookbook a person needs like this:
…you got it going on. So it’s no shame not to be better than @tonyspizza415, and it gives me license to keep experimenting with doughs in search of ms. right.
All of which leads me to … my sourdough wheat pizza crust. In it, I used many of the tricks I have tried other times, including:
- working some seminola into the dough for that complex texture and durability it provides,
- using an egg (which I normally only use in pasta dough) because I’m told it adds a bit of bite to the crust along with some lightness to counteract the heaviness of the wheat,
- a sourdough starter I made from 50 percent whole white wheat and 50 percent bread flour,
- and my usual dashes of salt garlic and olive oil.
- After about five minutes of kneading the grittier dough started to mesh with the lighter ingredients to become a sturdy, yet silky ball in my hands. I felt a great deal of promise lay in the bowl as I oiled it and set it for a good few hours of rise.
Note: I normally don’t do a lot of kneading or excessive rising for my pizza doughs. The simplicity of it is part of the beauty. Pizza doughs are easy to make decent, yet crucially delicate and complex to get that perfect snap and al dente mix that makes a crust like Tony’s so… Tonyish. This one, because of the wheat and because of the egg I decided to both knead more and let more time to rise, yet another experiment.
Finally, I did add a teaspoon of yeast, which I really don’t think is necessary. The sourdough starter has plenty enough activity after nine days of feeding, stirring and living, but with the density of the wheat and the texture of seminola, I wanted some backup.
And the results?
The crust was a nice blend of rustic texture from the seminola and wheat but delicacy that made it better than a slice of cardboard. The sourdough gave it a complex flavor I really love. The lift was good too. One complaint was it was a tad crumbly. In short…
I love it, but …
it’s still not Tony’s.
Sourdough Wheat Pizza Crust
- 1 1/2 cup white wheat sourdough starter (here’s a good recipe, by Nourished Kitchen… mostly I stress a high quality starter and a good doughs to feed it. I got mine from Italy).
- 1 cup bread flour
- 1/2 cup white wheat, 1/2 cup seminola from Butte Creek Mill.
- 1 tbl olive oil
- 1 tbl honey
- 1 egg
- splashes of salt, crushed garlic or dry
- 1/4 cup luke warm water with 1 tsp of yeast
- Mix yeast and water and let stand.
- Sift doughs together and make a well. In the well crack the egg and pour in olive oil, garlic and salt. Stir with a fork outward until mostly blended.
- Add in sourdough starter and water and begin mixing with your hands. Add white wheat flour as needed until it’s not sticky.
- Knead for five minutes.
- Place in oiled bowl and cover for three hours. Punch down once or twice as needed.
- Roll out the crust into your best pizza shape and let stand for a few minutes (or more) covered with a towel (this really helps the slide-ability of the dough. If you want a crisp, extra thin crust skip this step because it does rise a bit).
- Sauce, cheese, toppings and slide into a 500-degree oven for 9-11 minutes.
- Top with dried red peppers, parmesan cheese. Let stand for five minutes, slice and serve.
I had a genuine farm to fork experience this weekend. Butchering among other things is called farm to fork, so I’m told, which is a pretty way to talk about some not-so-pretty things.
The not-so-pretty part is what I signed on for. I felt I owed it to the animals I choose to consume each week. I got plenty of not-so-pretty. I also got a lot more.
Last weekend we arranged to kill and butcher two hogs that had been raised as a 4-H project. The young man had invested a year of his life in raising two animals from the time they were piglets. It had become a family affair, with his stepdad bringing scraps from his restaurant home each night and his mom having to help corral them when the broke out of the pen. When we arrived they admitted it was time to evict the noisy, stinky guys. For us it was time to fill the freezer.
My daughter’s boyfriend is a hunter. He fishes and crabs regularly. He is comfortable with skinning animals and values the meat such efforts provide. But he still takes no joy in the work of killing.
I don’t hunt. About the worst of anything I’ve killed are my brain cells from 20 years of drinking. We divided labor. He’d do the killing and skinning. I’d focus on the butchering. I helped him with the skinning. He helped me with the butchering. We both spent back breaking hours at the tasks at hand.
We had one goal. To kill the animals as efficiently and quickly as possible. We watched plenty of youtube videos and did everything we could to prepare. I read and read and tried to get myself ready for each step. We knew they would squeal and their bodies would react violently to the violence being done to them. We knew cutting a jugular is simply not an easy thing to do.
In all of the above we were right. There isn’t a single thing I’d call good about the process of taking another sentient being. I’m glad I didn’t have to do it. I gladly walked away and could care less about turning in my man card at the door.
That’s the real unpleasant bit about our weekend. The necessary part if, like us, we aren’t going to be vegetarians. It may be small consolation but if I can make a small stand and not eat meat I know where it comes from and had a small hand in its procurement, I feel more responsible and ethical than grabbing a slab of meat in Safeway that comes from an industrialized animal killing machine.
It’s also stressful. We both lost sleep that weekend, worrying about the logistics and the meat and the tasks at hand and wanting to do it well to produce the desired result: Consumable, healthy food. The worst would be to take the pigs lives and see the meat spoil.
Along with that unpleasantness came a lot of pleasant benefits. The young man earned money for his labor and developed a healthy respect for the animals he raises and the eventual lifestyle he wants to have. I learned how to break down a pig, to cut and wrap and use as much of the animal as I can in productive ways. My daughters have freezers of meat at a great cost savings. We have a Thanksgiving smoking party planned for all the bacon I have curing my refrigerator:
Simply put, I like doing what I can rather than relying on experts to do it. It’s a sentiment wonderfully expressed in Michael Pollan’s Cooked. It is what drove me to sign on for the not-so-pleasant part.
When we made a batch of carnitas to share among family at the end of the long day of butchering, I was surprised how much I enjoyed the time. My butchering partner said it best when he said we made some family memories that weekend. Both pleasant and unpleasant memories oddly mixed in a satisfying whole.
The sheer effort involved in protecting the meat, preserving it properly, cutting it for use, freezing makes it far more valuable, and in a strange way, something I want to enjoy more, which for me means eat less. Because I don’t want to kill a pig every day of the week, I want this meat to last. It has more value to me now.
And the work continues. We have some curing experiments on tap to make bacon and hams and even a prosciutto, things I’ve wanted to do forever and yet seemed far beyond my ability to do. I’ve closed the gap on what’s involved to make the food I eat, just as I did with bread and chocolate and pasta and a host of other things I used to buy but now make.
Health is a spiritual exercise. Slowing down to do the work of eating brings balance to my life that leads to spiritual comfort. I can’t explain it or even rationalize. I have no need to promote it or evangelize it. I just do it and in the doing I feel righter.
I think of those pigs from time to time and what I feel is clearly remorse. I wish I didn’t have to have played a part in their demise, yet knowing I play a part when I make a purchase at Safeway, this remorse is a livable one.
A weekend of butchering is exhausting hard, emotional work. Perhaps God knew what she was doing when she said, “on the seventh day you shall rest.”
One of my favorite food moments was in Kauai when the personal chef for Ben Stiller came to our rented house to cook a dinner for us. My only condition was that he couldn’t serve us. He had to teach me. I became his sous chef for the night, still one of the best culinary experiences of my life.
He told me “food is love.”
He also said, there were no bad foods. Nobody should dislike any foods. It’s all about the way the food is prepared and with what combination. Find something to celebrate the food, he said, rather than dismiss it.
I took it to heart. I still cook to say “I love you.” And I still vow to like every food I try, which simply wants to please me and say “I love you back.”
Which leads me to Rhubarb. It was stubbornly on the “dislike” side of the ledger. I couldn’t really find a way to use the stringy, weird tasting stalks in a way I liked. Chunks of rhubarb in pie didn’t appeal to me either. There was no love lost here.
But the color appealed to me. I was determined to find a use. I simply pulverized it. Using a juicer I extracted the flavor with none of the stubborn stringiness. Then I used a remaining stalk for a stir stick. It turned out great. Love flowed.
I am reminded of this challenge whenever I start to dismiss a food. I give it a second chance now. I try to find new combinations to extract its creative beauty. Maybe it’s not a solo act, but can it blend in four-part harmony? Often it takes a different type of preparation to truly embrace the distinctive flavor.
Cinnamon is one such example. I’ve liked it just fine, but never used it beyond a combination with sugar, mostly on pumpkin-type recipes. But it’s health benefits as a true super food appealed to me. I played with it. I discovered what Latinos have known for ages: it goes perfect with chili powder in savory dishes to give a robust flavor that is anything but sweet. Now I LOVE cinnamon. It’s a go-to-spice.
The obvious comparison here is to how we experience people. Those first experiences often set a course of judgement. That one bad taste, one bad circumstance can spoil the flavor of the friendship forever. We move it to from the “love” column to the “hate” with no room for a middle, evolving, creative view.
There are no “bad” foods. What, just what if, there were no “bad” people either?
Find something to celebrate the person, I say to myself, rather than dismiss it.
I’ve put off doing my own sourdough starter because frankly the science of it all scared me to death. I just seemed so hard.
I say seemed, because I never really took the time to research it. I first wrapped my brain around the idea that sourdough had to actually sour from a friend who owned a restaurant that made sourdough pizzas. As he explained the process of “feeding” the dough perpetually, I couldn’t really grasp it. He made it sound like The Giving Tree, a perpetual, evolving thing that just keeps growing and providing… manna like, I assumed.
Years went by and I liked the idea of making sourdough bread and pizza dough and what not. But the science of it held me back. I harked back to freshman science when I was about to fail the “sludge” experiment so I just ate it and wrote down what I tasted well enough to get a C and pass the class.
But in the past year as my dough projects in the Test Kitchen grew increasingly complex, I knew I wanted to do sourdough most of all. Still, for some reason the block in my brain stopped me from actually learning how to make it.
On impulse I bought a couple of cultures off Amazon. When they arrived, I glanced over the five pages of instructions, full of complex terms and regressed back to high school. I set the packets aside.
Weeks passed. Stupidly.
Until finally I just got fed up, dumped the culture in a bowl and read the first page of instructions to get the (dough) ball rolling. I figured I’d adopt the ole AA mantra: One day at a time. Besides there were two culture packets. I could screw one up I reasoned.
As it turns out there was no reason to feel intimidated. I finally went Internet surfing and read through the relatively simple process of starting dough and turning it sour. My culture gave me a leg up and a good taste.
I had my doubts the whole time it sat there, with me “feeding” it (which means dumping in flour and water, really… that’s it). I ignored the ideas of making my own proofing box and carefully watching temperatures and just left the thing on my ledge very much like when I am told every kid does at some time when she sticks toothpicks into an avocado pit and watches it sprout over time.
Eventually the thing took on a life of its own and soon bubbled happily over the rim of the jar. I found an easy “starter” sourdough recipe for those using a start the first time and soon was making bread.
*This was a herb and chili powder wheat sourdough:
Now I’ve got about three jars ready to go for future sourdough inventions (the seven-grain lemon pepper sourdough was delightful) and my “starter” chilling in the fridge until the next time I need to zap her back to life.
I’m still not sure how it all works, and I know I could probably do it better. The kneading process was pretty much the same, but sure smelled rich and flavorful and yes, sour.
With a little thought it could become more science and less magic, but for now, I’m happy with the magic. I don’t understand what’s going on in there, but I like eating it, which come to think of it, isn’t too far off from freshman science class after all.
I invited my mom for dinner the other day. A simple dinner. Pasta, bread. Italian food. No biggie.
Until I started cooking.
I decided to make the pasta.
Soon I was kneading a silky yellow 00 flour with Seminola pasta, flecked with fresh basil into beautiful dough balls. I felt inspired and turned to making bread. I went to my go-to bread, a multi-grain Sicilian bread that is hearty and full flavored.
Then I decided I wanted some dessert so made a Ghiradelli double chocolate chip concoction that demanded ice-cream. Out came the ice-cream maker.
The whole plan started with a single eggplant, because I thought fried eggplant with my sauce would be a good mix.
So the process of frying the slices joined the baking bread the churning ice-cream maker and the rising pasta in a flour-dusted cacophony that filled my kitchen with life even though I was home alone awaiting my mother and step-father’s arrival.
I hadn’t intended to cook all afternoon. I hadn’t intended a lot of things. But I loved the result, which filled our table with incredible homemade delights. Everything could have been bought at a store and made in about 30 minutes.
No thanks. The four hours were well spent and the food was much, much better.
Besides, isn’t Mom worth it?
Two things have surfaced in this blog of late:
- The bride’s awareness of the medicinal/health value of herbs
- My own creativity in loading more and more life-saving produce into my cooking.
Both came into play for dinner last night with vegetarian lasagna.
The whole idea is something of an abberation for me. Lasagna is really my first recipe. I didn’t make Nonie’s. I crafted my own and let it evolve. For more than two decades it has been the go-to-meal for company when I want to impress without the in-the-moment fuss. Plus, I’ve seen the reaction of maybe 100 people who have tried it. Unless some were great actors, I can say 100 out of 100 love it. It’s became a not-so-secret pride. A lot of people tout their lasagna. I smirk. I secretly wish things like a Lasagna cook-off at the county fair existed knowing I’d take the blue ribbon every time.
If our kids have a “family” meal, they’d likely all say lasagna.
So I don’t like to mess with it.
But in the spirit of the aforementioned two areas of focus and the prompting of the bride to mix it up for her class, I relented. I changed my lasagna to a vegetarian lasagna for a one-night, impromptu test kitchen.
I was flying without net, and it didn’t suck.
Who doesn’t love the sight of a big pile of coarse-chopped basil?
If you’re trying to work more produce in your meals, use this recipe. If you want the medicinal value of excellent herbs like garlic and basil, then you get a double bonus with this one.
If you simply want to eat some great food with not too much hassle, well, it’s a grand slam. Enjoy.
Roasted Vegetarian Lasagna
- 16 oz. Ricotta cheese
- 1 Eggplant, sliced into 1/4″ rounds
- 1 red pepper sliced long
- 1 green pepper sliced long
- about 6 cloves of garlic, roasted
- About half a bundle of basil – coarse chop
- 10-12 sage leaves – fine chop
- chopped Italian parsley – coarse chop
- half a block of cream cheese – softened
- 1/2 a cup of bread crumbs
- 1 cup of grated asiago cheese
- grated Parmesan cheese
- Effin Artist marinara sauce (or recipe of your choice)
- Coat all the vegetables with olive oil, salt, pepper, garlic powder and chili powder (optional).
- Grill the eggplants and peppers until slightly blackened and roasted (or roast on a cookie sheet for 20 minutes). Onions optional (I love them, the Bride doesn’t, hence no onions).
- Remove and dice the peppers.
- Mix the ricotta and the cream cheese with the sage leaves, diced roasted garlic and the bread crumbs — smoosh with your hands until combined.
- In an 8×8 pan coat the bottom with sauce. Layer eggplants as the base. Spread the cheese mixture on top of the eggplant. Sprinkle the peppers. Add a layer of the coarse basil and parsley.
- Repeat the above if your pan isn’t close to full, but one layer is usually enough.
- Cover with sauce, top thickly with asiago and sprinkle over that with parm. *(tip: I’d dust in some more bread crumbs to soak up the moisture from the ricotta and vegetables).
- Bake at 350 degrees for 35 minutes. Let stand for 10 minutes and serve with Effin Artist Garlic Bread and hot-pan, quick sauteed green beans.
We mess around with a lot of different things in the test kitchen. We can be so all over the map that it’s hard to remember this whole thing started with the idea of experimenting with chocolate. We launched the test kitchen to simply experiment with the artistic expression of chocolate– art you can eat, we called it, because we don’t like the clutter of most types of artistic expression.
The idea for all things Effin Artist came to me in rehab. Needless to say, the food sucked. Hell, everything sucked. But my daughter sent me books on artisan chocolate. I had mentioned in passing the idea — virtually clueless that the trend was long established — and she sent me the books to encourage me. I’d lay there and look at the incredible pictures of different chocolates with exotic flavors and beautiful expression and I simply wanted to make those things. Losing wine and cocktails and happy hours I was desperate for something I could call mine. Chocolate — the idea of it anyway — became “mine.”
Now nearly five years into sobriety my life is rich, full and expressive, in direct contrast to the narrowed, limited and depraved life that came at the end of my two-decade long dance with the bottle.
Here I sit on the other side of those perilous mountains of recovery that I simply couldn’t imagine crossing and life is good. EffinArtist is more than I ever dreamed it would be. Life is too. Health is great. Creativity is the key to sobriety. Blessed, I think daily. Blessed.
But those original pictures of chocolate art remain beyond reality and it’s time to change all that, I think.
As the test kitchen evolved, we went where our interest took us and so far, most of our chocolate remains entirely experimental and not very artistic at all.
This summer we resolve to return to the original mission for a basic reason: A piece or two of beautiful, hand-crafted chocolates satisfies on so many levels: artistic expression, sweet tooth cravings, but also maintaining a healthy approach to food. And because it’s not easy, we have the blessing of Jimmy Dugan, and the interest to see it through.
The schedule didn’t have another week of dough on it for the test kitchen. But the schedule ended up crumpled into a ball once we went to visit our latest WeBromance, The Butte Creek Mill. With all that flour we had to get into the test kitchen and have some fun.
I love the experimentation of dough, which is why I return to it often. The dough itself is alive and changing each time, with so many types of flour combinations to be explored. Beyond that are the expressions: pizza dough, pasta, tortillas, pastries, croissants, buns, rolls and of course, my favorite: breads. Then finally there’s the flavor combinations in an inexhaustible arsenal of options. We’ve made some great breads, but haven’t scratched the surface of what we can do with dough.
This week we’ll push forward even further into the unknown. We started with the end in mind however. Unlike past test kitchen’s where we decide who will get a surprise package of what we make in the mail through the online debate, this time we awarded the winner from the start.
The Bride and I have a penpal named Sue. I know it sounds old fashioned, but I didn’t know Sue when she decided to write me a letter while I was in rehab. She knew of me and simply felt a spiritual prodding to encourage me. Her letter arrived at a time of deep spiritual challenge for me — my “dark night of the soul.” We started exchanging letters. When The Bride decided to get sober, I recommended she meet Sue. They got together and well, we’ve all been friends ever since. Except to this day, I still haven’t met Sue. Our penpal relationship has extended from pen and paper to emails, but it remains and important, distant friendship.
After one of our posts on facebook, Sue responded that she simply couldn’t wait for the day she could try my bread, and well… that’s all it took. She’s this week’s Test Kitchen winner and this first bread of the week, was created in her honor. I just hope it doesn’t suck.
The Bride tells me often to keep it simple. I’m often mixing flavors in ways that challenge her less than exuberant desire to try new things. “Can’t you just make wheat bread,” she asked me a couple of weeks ago (which I did, just to show I’m not obtuse).
But for this week, it’s a back to the wild west of combinations. I call this one Floral Seven Grain Bread, because it has so many wonderful scents it’s like a flower garden.
I combined rosemary, roasted garlic, parsley and blackberries with seven grain flour to make this bread.
The dough has a pretty purple hue with flecks of fragrant spices.
And I created a couple of different styles of expression, including a boule’ and a pan with braided top. One I drizzled with blackberries for extra flavor and the other I dusted with flour.
The key is to allow subtle flavors to merge. If anyone overpowers, I’ll have missed my mark. But as the bread hits the oven, even as I write this, I am cautiously optimistic. Either way, Sue will have to be the final judge.
I just hope its as delightful as Sue’s friendship has been for The Bride and I.
As has been documented on this site before, I am not the one slaving away in our family’s kitchen.
But all the fun my husband has in there with his test kitchen’s I decided to have one of my own. Well, truth be told, I didn’t decide, my new instructor in school decided for me, assigning us to make our herbal tea for the first homework module.
First I must state that I am not a tea drinker. I have never quite acquired the taste for teas. I have been a die-hard coffee drinker, and drink two cups a day (well maybe three). A few weeks ago I tried several ways to hide the flavor of green tea because — the latest fads again — everyone was raving about how great they were.
Still not a fan.
But this is for my class and it’s for real and I had to take it seriously.
I decided to make a herbal tea and an Infusion using Dandelion Root and Sage.
I decided to try this mixture because they both seemed to aid digestion. Sage is a digestant and Dandelion Root is a diuretic.
Right from the start I struggled. First, I was not familiar with “Press-N-Brew” Tea Bags. Not being a refined tea aficionado, my tea knowledge starts and stops with “Lipton.” So, I want to thank my fellow classmates for their patience in reading my recent posting on the discussion board aptly labeled “Sealing Tea Bag.” I managed to mangle about three of these bags when I finally discovered that after separating each one from the perforations that low and behold, each one was it’s own tea bag conveniently sealed on three sides.
As Adam Sandler said in “The Wedding Singer,” that would’ve been useful YESTERDAY!”
After mixing my herbs (1 t.), I placed them inside the tea bag, and sealed the open side with a straightening iron turned onto the low setting. It did turn out to be that easy!
I let the tea steep for 10 minutes before drinking it.
At first smell, it was the Sage “Salvia officinalis” that I noticed. The Dandelion Root “Taraxacum” was smothered by the smell of the Sage.
I handed a cup of it to my husband.
“Wow, that’s not bad,” he said. “What did you think?”
“Uh, I haven’t tried it yet,” I said.
He looked at me like King who may have just been poisoned. To ease the discomfort I gave it a try.
Most exciting and surprising to me was the taste of this tea. I thought it was very tasty. There was no aftertaste at all. The first sip I took without any flavor doctoring, and determined that I could easily drink this again. For experimental purposes I decided to doctor it up a little bit by adding a lemon slice. The lemon seemed to accent the flavors a little bit without leaving an extended lemony taste behind.
I handed another cup, this time with the lemon, to my husband.
“This is fucking delightful,” he said.
And I felt thrilled.
“Make that Effin delightful,” he said. I thought the first review was better, spontaneous as it was.
The herbal infusion seeped for a total of 3.5 hours. I noticed in the notes included in the Herbal Preparation Guide that accompanied the kit the infusion can be stored for a maximum of 24 hours, though it is intended for immediate use.
With the infusion I did note that the scent was stronger than the tea. However, the flavor was similar.
In the future I would use less of the Sage and more Dandelion Root. I would hope making this modification would bring out the Dandelion’s taste a little more.
Based on this experiment, I can say that I am now a tea drinker, and in fact, I replaced my afternoon cup of coffee this afternoon with a cup of tea. I added that lemon slice. A little doctoring never hurt anyways.