Tag Archives: Cooking

Pizza Night!

KitchenSinkPizza

A savory tomato sauce based pizza

There’s a certain sense of accomplishment that comes with pulling a freshly baked homemade pizza out of the oven. Even though it may have taken much longer to put together and bake than it would to simply order a pizza from down the street, the satisfaction of creating yourself what you might pay twenty dollars (or more) for a pizza place to make for you is worth it. It’s just as much about the experience as it is about the pizza. And what better way to capture the homemade pizza feeling than with good friends. This is what’s known by some as the “pizza night”.

PestoPizza

Pesto – it’s green and awesome

To pull off a pizza night well, you need to have four foundational key ingredients: Good friends, an accommodating oven, beer, and – of course – pizza. If you feel like you’re up for the task of the advanced pizza night, you can add a playlist of your favorite music to augment the environment in whatever direction you choose – we chose to bring in a little bit of the 80’s. something about hair bands and pizza just feels right. If you want to go all the way and dial up your pizza night to eleven, you can do all the above while sporting an apron and toque.

BuffaloChickenPizza

Spicy Buffalo Chicken Pizza

But, as the point of a pizza night is ultimately the pie, let’s talk za. A good pizza starts with a good pizza dough. We made enough dough to create five pizzas (and by we, I mean my friend the baker). You can find all kinds of simple recipes online – like this one – but I’ve been told that the best pizza crust is made with a sourdough base, which is a bit more involved, from what I understand. After the crust, the rest is really open for interpretation. You could use all kinds of different sauces, such as pesto, Alfredo, garlic, sweet tomato, savory marinara, anything you can spread really. You could even use ketchup & mustard if you wanted, though I would urge you in the name foodies everywhere – please don’t. From this point forward, anything is fair game.  If you can eat it, you can put it on a pizza!

I’ll include ingredient lists for the five pizzas we created.  As always, if you’d like to join me and recreate the wonderment for yourself, you can find a recipe in the recipes section of the blog.

“Wise man say forgiveness is divine, but never pay full price for late pizza.”

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Turkey + Birthday Cake

Today is August 6th, and it is my birthday. It marks the beginning of my 4th decade. It was filled with well-wishing friends and Facebook messages from people I haven’t seen for years. I even got flowers from a friend. It can be argued that a friendship is resting on pretty solid ground when flowers can freely be exchanged. Anyway, there were many things about today that were really fantastic, but it is yesterday evening that will be the focus of this post.

On top of receiving a wonderful pre-birthday birthday cake filled with chocolate cake, ice cream, and love – upon which I will reflect a bit later – I also experimented with something I’ve never tried before … and it was a smashing success!

Yesterday was, of course, Monday. That meant I was hosting the weekly Monday night dinner group with a good friend. As I was thinking of what we could offer our attendees this week, I thought it to be a good idea to fire up the grill and make some cheeseburgers. However, having just recently finished an uber-healthy diet, I didn’t really want something terribly fatty and heavy like greasy, cheesy grilled beef, delicious though it is. What came next was the inspiration for a concoction not yet tried, or even dreamt of in my culinary repertoire. A fusion between grilled summery deliciousness, and lean, relatively healthy poultry; the turkey burger!

The idea was sound. I’d start with ground turkey, add some diced red bell pepper, minced onion and garlic, finely shredded zucchini and yellow squash, and fresh minced chili pepper, and season it with a little lemon-pepper and salt. TurkeyBurgers1This would make for a juicy and delicious – not to mention healthy – beef burger substitute.

There was, however, a hick up. After I’d added all these wonderful fiber-filled ingredients to the already goopy ground turkey, the mixture became somewhat … schmoopy. This stuff was just as likely to stick to my hands as it was to stick to itself, which made forming it into patties somewhat difficult. It also had a slightly runny quality to it, so it might likely run through the rack on the grill before it had time to set up over the heat of the flames, rendering it somewhat less than appetizing.

Upon seeing the state of our soon-to-be dinner,
TurkeyBurgers2
my friend, possessing an unparalleled brilliance, quickly suggested that we form the patties and give them a little more cohesion with a skillet on the stove before moving them to the grill. Like I said… Brilliant! So that’s what we did. In a magnificent display of teamwork, she formed and firmed the patties, and I grilled them up to perfection.  Add a little cheese, slap ’em on a wheat bun with some green leaf lettuce and fresh-from-the-garden sliced tomatoes (so good!), and what you’ve got is a juicy, tender, delicious, absolutely mouthwatering turkey burger! It doesn’t happen very often, but I was astounded at how wonderfully these little poultry patties turned out (if you’d like to try these turkey burgers for yourself, you can find the recipe over in the recipes section of the blog). TurkeyBurgers3Add a delicious garden salad, and a spectacular fruit salad – both provided by our guests – and these simple turkey burgers turned into a splendid meal.

But of course, as the evening progressed, the splendidness increased all the more as I was informed that there was still dessert to be had in the form of an ice cream cake. Being the sharp individual that I am, I quickly deduced that this must be a birthday cake. My birthday cake. An unexpected, but not unwelcome surprise!

It was delicious. Not too much cake, not too much ice cream, but a perfect balance between the two, with a creamy chocolate sauce spread lightly beneath a thin crispy chocolate shell.  All the textures and tastes blended seamlessly to make one of the best ice cream cakes I’d even had.

Reflecting on this and looking back on my 29 previous celebrations, of all the birthday shenanigans and all the parties thrown on my behalf, I think this one was, quite decidedly, the best. It wasn’t top on the list because of an eloquent speech, a grandiose gesture, or even a generous gift. The reason for this one taking the cake, as it were, is simply the fact that it was simple. It was just a cake and a song. That’s it.

I am, by nature, an introvert, and being such, I naturally tend to draw back from being the center of attention. Birthday parties, where the soul purpose of the gathering is to focus all attention on me, have always made me a bit uncomfortable. I’m a listener, an observer. When everyone is listening to and observing me, I feel somehow forced to be someone that I’m not, expected to entertain or become the life of the party. But this birthday celebration, a simple ice cream cake, was perfect.

All of us were there, not to celebrate my birthday, but simply to be together for dinner and some friendly discussion. My becoming a year older was brought up, acknowledged and celebrated, and then we moved on. That’s really all I need, to be acknowledged, to be seen. Anything more is getting into territory that, for me, is reserved for my more intimate and close relationships.

Although the cake and the song may have felt to some like an insufficient tribute to the occasion, rest assured and be encouraged, it was exactly what I wanted. And I am deeply grateful. Thank you.

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The Art of Concocting

It’s one thing to be able to cook a great meal from a recipe on the side of a box, or even out of a cookbook, but it’s another thing entirely to whip up something delicious from the things you might have lying around your kitchen. In my opinion, if you desire to become a great cook, being good at the latter is a must. Becoming great in the kitchen requires a level competence in the fine art of concocting.

There are several different areas to pay attention to when learning how to concoct. The first, and most obvious aspect of concocting is paying attention to flavors – which flavors will play well or compliment others and which flavors won’t. But there’s more to it than that, as anyone who’s ever eaten a soggy pizza knows.

An often overlooked aspect of concocting is the issue of texture. Paying attention to the textures of different foods and what they’ll feel like together can sometimes separate a good dish from a great dish. If a concoction has great flavor, but has a boring texture, it loses something.  On the other hand, even a dish with a mediocre flavor  but a really interesting texture, can be a marvelous concoction!

And lastly there is the detail of visual presentation. Paying attention to color and shape – how your creation looks – can help your concoction be mouthwatering even before it meets any tastebuds. If something looks like mud, it’s less likely to be enjoyed to the fullness it may deserve. Even if something has dull flavor and a mediocre texture, if it’s presented well, the anticipation of the one to whom it’s served will play a part how the dished is ultimately perceived. Presentation is often viewed as an unnecessary detail, but it can greatly enhance the experience of any meal.

Nailing any one of these three parts of concoction-design can make for good food, but when all three are working well together, you have the makings of a fantastic meal!

That being said, when concocting, it’s important to realize going into it that what you create might not be your greatest creation ever. In fact, some of your first concoctions may likely be some of the worst things you’ve ever tasted. It’s ok. You’ve just learned what not to do.  Thomas Edison famously said that he never failed to make a working light bulb, he simply first had to figure out all the ways to not make a light bulb. Failing is how we learn.  Don’t get discouraged.  Believe me, I’ve definitely made some meals fit for the garbage can.

ConcoctionThis dish is my latest concoction. It has three distinct components and combines a total of 7 ingredients plus seasonings. I call it, … um … dinner! Ha!

What you’re looking at is sauteed yellow squash with black beans set on a base of coarsely mashed potatoes with sauteed onions, topped with a fresh marinara made from Roma tomatoes, mushrooms, and jalapeno. It’s not the most beautiful (I didn’t have anything to garnish it with), but it is very flavorful. The savory body of the potatoes & onions mixed with the slightly crisp texture of the yellow squash, flavored by the deliciously spicy goodness of the marinara will make your mouth dance for joy! If you’d like to know more about what it is, and even taste it for yourself, you can find the recipe over in the recipes section under Dinner Concoction #1.

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By the way, if you’re unsure of your concocting abilities, stick to recipes for a while. Using recipes is a great way to learn how different foods behave on the stove and in the oven, and how different flavors mix with each other. If you pay attention to details such as these, you’ll be concocting in no time at all!

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