For Christmas, my best friend bought me a wonderful pizza stone and peel that I'd been eyeing up for a while. For so many years, I eschewed the pizza stone because of lack of storage space. And, also because I tend to like tools and equipment that I use very frequently rather than silly or single use tools.
Let's just say, I'm really thrilled that she bought me the stone and peel and even though I won't use it every week, the results are so spectacular that it's absolutely worth the extra space and storage creativity I need because of it. I wrote a post over on one of the other blogs I write for, The Cook's Kitchen, and there you can read all about the stone itself and how much it's seduced me. In a word, the difference? Crust. It's crispy, fully baked and delectable.
I didn't make the pizza dough myself this time around, I must confess I was feeling lazy and getting too many weekend chores done to spend the whole afternoon in the kitchen. So, I walked around the corner to the local pizza shop, we have one on every corner in New York, and bought the dough from one of the cheery neighborhood pie makers.
We had half veggie pizza and half with prosciutto and cheese and both kinds were just wonderful. The stone bakes the crust so evenly from the bottom, while the sides and toppings are also cooking and bubbling away. Here's the basic recipe:
1 small pizza dough
2 cups homemade tomato sauce
1 can artichoke hearts, chopped
6 cremini mushrooms, sliced
12 kalamata olives, pitted and halved
3 oz. fresh proscuitto
1/2 lb. grated fresh mozzarella cheese
3 T. chopped basil
1. Place the pizza stone on the middle rack of the oven while the oven is cold and then turn on the oven to preheat to 500˚F.
2. Roll out the dough on a flat countertop space using a little extra flour and heavy rolling pin. Make sure to get the dough even. Dust your peel with a little cornmeal and place the dough on top of the peel. Crimp the edges of the pizza upward to try and contain some of the sauce and toppings.
3. Layer your toppings as desired, in our case we used tomato sauce on the whole pizza, then a handful of mozzarella cheese. Then, we layered the veggie side with mushrooms, olives, artichoke hearts and more cheese and the meat side with mushrooms, prosciutto and more cheese. Sprinkle the top with fresh basil.
4. When oven is fully preheated, open the door and slide the pizza onto the stone by sliding the peel forward to cover the stone and then quickly jerking the peel backward toward your body, leaving the pizza on the stone. If it doesn't fit properly, try to adjust the pizza to be centered on the stone.
5. Close the oven door and let the pizza bake about 20-25 minutes or until the pizza is bubbling and the crust is a light golden brown. The last 10 minutes, reduce the oven temperature to 475˚F.
6. Lay out a cooling rack on the countertop and remove the stone with the pizza on top and place on top of the cooling rack. I chose to leave the pizza on the stone so that second and third serving pieces were still hot. If you do this, however, you should not use a pizza cutter directly on the stone. Instead, use a pair of sharp kitchen shears to cut the pieces after the pizza has cooled slightly. If you want to use a pizza cutter to make uniform slices, then use the peel to slide under the pizza and remove it from the oven, placing on a cutting board. Make sure to let the stone cool gradually at room temperature.
7. Cut, serve and enjoy this delicate and crispy yet airy crust!
The only thing about the pizza stone that isn't optimal is that it's nearly impossible to keep it 100% clean. Even from the first use, it's normal for the stone to get stained. Clean it with water and a scouring pad and a little baking soda, to remove all the food itself. But, it's pretty certain you'll not get any tomato or cheesy oil stains out of the stone completely. That's okay, it's worth it!
Santa was very generous this year and brought me a stunning KitchenAid Professional Stand Mixer.
have always wanted one and am giddy at the new addition. Santa's helper was also very well-coordinated and encouraged the addition of the pasta roller attachment set for the KitchenAid. I am absolutely thrilled with these new tools, they're so beautiful and feel like such a luxury. Today, I gave them their maiden voyage and decided it was time to try my hand at making fresh pasta. I had never done it before today.
Wow, is it true that you learn from mistakes! It's been such a long time since I was trying something completely unchartered, that I felt uncertain as I progressed. I also have some very important things to convey to anyone else who may be toying with making fresh pasta for the first time. Of course, I based my recipe on Mario Batali again, but had to improvise a little due to inexperience...
First, it takes time and is hard work! I expected two hours which was about right. But, I completely ruined my first attempt, so altogether it took me about four hours because I had to do it twice. (sheepish grin)
The next thing I'll say is that my first attempt failed for two reasons. Firstly, my dough was too dry and even though I suspected it, I continued on anyway and persevered, figuring it would work itself out. Secondly, I followed the booklet with the pasta attachments and actually used the mixer itself to work the dough the first 3 minutes. I think that was a critical mistake and I could never get the dough right after that. So, while I love, love LOVE my mixer I will boldly recommend this: don't use it to actually mix pasta dough, unless you've done it so much you know how to get it perfect. Even though I was wary of working the dough too much, I think there was just no way to avoid it. I used the paddle hook beater for the first 30 seconds of mixing the eggs and flour and then switched to the dough hook and mixed for 3 minutes. I then pulled it out and started kneading by hand. I kneaded that dough for almost 15 minutes and it was still the consistency of old Play-Doh no matter what I did. So, I chucked that batch in the trash and started over. By hand. Using the old-fashioned well method, much like I did recently for the gnocchi. By the way, gnocchi dough is MUCH easier. The pasta dough seems more temperamental and is also very intense work in the hands, wrists and forearms. I feel like I developed carpal tunnel syndrome in just one afternoon! Also, I am about 5'5" tall and when I got tired, on my second batch the last 5 minutes of kneading, I actually pulled out a step-stool to get some leverage and body weight into the kneading of the dough. Whew!
Chef Batali details his recipe in Molto Italiano, with a decent overview. However, I found that if I literally interpreted his recipe, my dough still had problems. So, I adjusted the recipe by including an additional egg and I added a little fresh black pepper for more flavor. When it came to rolling out the dough, I followed his basic advice but again, developed my own rhythm and repetitions for sending the dough through the rollers. Regardless, if you make fresh pasta for the first time prepare yourself for a learning experience and that you'll probably waste a lot of dough. As you know I completely tossed out my first batch. On my second batch, I probably only got good fettuccine out of half the dough and the other half either tore, wrinkled, ripped apart or had some other handling or thiness/rolling issue. But, the next time I make it, I will definitely know what I'm doing!
So, in the successful method I did it all by hand up until rolling the dough and then, I used the stand mixer and pasta attachments. The attachments are FANTASTIC, by the way.
Here was my recipe, adapted from Mario Batali. Be aware that humidity, your flour and the size and quality of your eggs will really affect the dough. You may use anywhere from 4-6 eggs for this, if you find the dough is still crumbling apart when you try to begin kneading with your hands, form the well again and add another egg.
Makes about 1 1/4 pounds of pasta
3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus extra for kneading
6 eggs (the recipe recommended 5, but my dough wouldn't hold together until I added a sixth egg)
2 T. freshly ground black pepper
1. Mound the flour in the center of a large wooden board or non-stick countertop. Make a well in the center and crack the eggs into the well. Beat the eggs together with a fork. Add the black pepper to the eggs and beat with the fork again. Now, begin to incorporate the flour, starting with the inner rim of the well. As you pull more flour into the center well, keep pushing the flour up around the outside to retail the well shape. Think of it as making a fortress and you're building from the inside. When half the dough is incorporated the dough will begin to come together. Start kneading the dough, using primarily the palms of your hands. If the dough keeps breaking apart or flaking apart, you may need to add another egg. If you do that, make a well again! Beat the egg with a fork again, like the first time. The well method is crucial to getting a little bit of the egg into the flour or dough at a time. Thus, the reason I don't think a mixer can do it as good as the ol' hands. Once the dough is a cohesive mass, set the dough aside and scrape up and discard any dried bits of dough.
2. Lightly flour your work surface and continue kneading for at least 10 minutes, dusting the surface with a little bit of flour as necessary. The dough should be pretty firm and elastic most of the time. When you finally have it in one nice ball that is quite elastic, wrap the dough in plastic wrap and allow it to rest for 30 minutes at room temperature. This resting is critical, when you unwrap it the dough will have softened and that is what you want. Do not knead it back into tension before rolling out. You need it somewhat soft. If after 30 minutes, it still feels very tight, cover again and wait another 15-20 minutes.
4. Set the flat pasta roller attachment to the widest setting and dust rollers with a little flour to make sure the dough won't stick. Do not use more flour as you go along unless you dough does stick. If you use too much flour, the pasta will become too dry. Fire up the mixer and get the rollers cranking and begin feeding the dough into the slot between the rollers. For me, it worked best to feed in the top with my left hand and catch the dough from the underside of the rollers in the palm my right hand. Make sure you don't tear it and don't pull the dough through. You also may have to pinch it at the top to get it thin enough to continue through the rollers. Too thick and it'll go nowhere.
Fold the dough in thirds, flatten it with your palms and roll it out again. Repeat this process 5 times, then set the rollers to the next-thinnest setting and repeat about 6 times again on that setting. Here's another place I diverged from the recipe. It encourages the folding between each repetition. I found that my dough was destroyed by the time I got through to the thinnest settings if I folded so much. So, after getting the hang of it, I settled on folding just the first couple times through and then every other time, it fit perfectly in the rollers and I just shipped it through each time. You will have to experiment with your own rhythm and reps. Also, as I fed the dough in the top once it started going I folded it over the backside of the attachment as you see in the photos. This helped keep it aligned and "between the rails" if you will. Otherwise, it would get crooked and then wrinkle and tear.
5. After the first two settings, switch to the third setting and roll the dough through three times, since it's getting more delicate. If the pasta sheet becomes too long to work with easily, cut it in half width-wise and continue rolling the pieces. They will still work out to 10-12 inches long if your dough is right. Roll the dough out through the progressively thinner settings without folding, until you have reached the thinnest or next-to-thinnest setting. Support the sheets from underneath and let them lay along your forearm from elbow to wrist. (This was my own discovery and worked like a charm, especially for those of us with small hands and arms. I am no Mario Batali!!!)
6. Trim the dough sheets to have even, uniform edges and let them dry on cooling racks or over the back of chairs, aerating the sheets as they dry. Continue the steps above for the remaining three quadrants of dough that you originally divided.
7. When the dough is all rolled and dried, attach the fettuccine cutter attachment to your mixer and send each sheet through the cutter, catching it delicately with one hand as you feed it through with the other. Again, let the uncut portion lie over the back of the attachment for alignment and less pressure on the dough. If you don't have the cutter attachment, you can brush your sheets of pasta lightly with flour, roll them up and use a sharp knife to cut them into 1/4 inch wide strips.
8. After all the pasta has been cut, spread it out on the racks to dry a little more and gently bend them into a u-shape so that when you cook them, they don't snap in half.
It a was tiring and fascinating experience, I haven't learned so much from trial and error in the kitchen in a very long time. But, ultimately, it was so much fun! Sitting here tonight, however, my forearms and wrists are positively aching. No wonder those Italian women have such thick and strong forearms!
Next post, I'll show you how I cooked the pasta...it was worth ALL the work and turned out exquisitely.
A while ago I was perusing one of my favorite blogs, Creampuffs in Venice, and saw that I missed a terrific blogger event thrown by Ivonne, Mary, Peabody and Kate. While I was too late to participate, I desperately wished I had joined in. Then I remembered it was impossible because I didn't own a food processor and the cheesecake and crust wouldn't work without one. In this season of holidays, gift-giving and fantastic baking and cooking, I thought, "WHAT?! Am I crazy? How could I NOT purchase one? Really, I have the space, I finally have the storage, I have the will, I have the inspiration." The next day, I bought my first-ever Cuisinart. It has changed my life. In less than a week. It arrived two days before Thanksgiving. I've been going to town ever since. Tears of joy speckled this creation, my decadent and very scrumptious variation on their theme from Tish Boyle's The Cake Book.
Here is my own "Kabocha Squash Cheesecake with Pecan-Ginger Crust."
And, yes, I made my own squash purée instead of using canned pumpkin purée Why go for that tinny and metallic undertone when you can have moist, flavorful and fresh purée right out of your favorite new kitchen appliance? The other ladies went a lot further than I in their adornments and finishings, mine was no pastry art. But it was delicious and and exhibited such a creamy, light and moist texture as a result of applying the proper machinery to the task!
For my purée, I started out by cutting a large kabocha squash in half, scooping out the seeds and putting a tablespoon of butter in each half and a little pinch of turbinado sugar. I had preheated my oven to 350˚ Farenheit. I then wrapped the cut side of each half of squash in aluminum foil and baked them on a half-sheet pan for about an hour. When they were tender, I removed them and let them cool enough to touch and peeled them with my very favorite knife. After peeling, I cut each half into rough hunks and tossed them into the food processor, ready to test my new machinery. It astounded me. Very quiet, rock solid (it didn't move on the countertop at all) and it made very quick work of the squash. I pureed each half in one round, surprised that it didn't take more batches. Ah, the beauty of 11-cup capacity!! Next, I strained a cup of the purée using a simple mesh strainer and kitchen spatula. I realized after doing this that straining was a residual effect of all my years of manual work with immersion blenders and drink blenders. Their shoddy results never left me a choice. The behavior was just ingrained in my technique. Truthfully, my food processor did such an amazing job on the squash, that I really didn't see a difference before and after sending it through the strainer. As you can see, very little pulp or fiber was left behind. The squash basically went straight through the strainer. My mind, only afterward, grasped with glee the fact that I may never have to do that sloppy technique again! Oh, Let's Give Thanks to Modern Kitchen Technology this year! And, my spacious pantry which enables its storage!
Here's the rest of how the cheesecake came together, represented by my adaption of Tish Boyle's recipe.
1 c. all-purpose unbleached flour
1/4 c. firmly packed light brown sugar
1/8 tsp. salt
1/3 c. pecans
1/4 c. chopped crystallized ginger
1/2 c. cold unsalted butter, diced
1 T cold water
1 c. kabocha squash puree (original recipe calls for pumpkin)
1/2 c. heavy cream
2 tsp. vanilla extract
1 ½ tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp. ground ginger
1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg
1/8 tsp. ground cloves
1/4 tsp. salt
1 1/4 lbs (567g) cream cheese, softened
1/2 c. granulated sugar
1/2 c. firmly packed light brown sugar
1 T. cornstarch
4 large eggs
Toasted and Spiced Pumpkin Seeds:
1/4 c. raw pumpkin seeds, preferably hulled
½ tsp. olive oil
1 T. Turbinado sugar
pinch of ground cloves
For the crust:
Position oven rack in the center and preheat oven to 350˚F. Lightly grease the bottom and sides of a 9x3-inch springform pan. Wrap the outside of the pan in heavy-duty aluminum foil to protect against leakage in the waterbath.
Finely grind pecans and crystallized ginger in food processor. If you have a large processor, add flour, sugar and salt and process until combined; add the butter and pulse until the mixture forms coarse crumbs. Add the cold water slowly until the dough just comes together. Stop right away, don’t continue to process or you’ll overwork the dough. It should come out very soft, smooth, almost velvety. Use a spatula to scrape the dough into your prepared pan. Smooth and press the dough in an even layer in the bottom of pan. Bake for 25-30 minutes until the crust just starts to brown. Cool completely on a wire rack. Wash the bowl of the food processor for re-use.
For the filling:
Reduce oven temperature to 325˚F. In a medium bowl, whisk together squash puree, heavy cream, vanilla, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, cloves, and salt. Set aside.
Add the softened cream cheese to your food processor and pulse very gently 5 or 6 times with the dough attachment to cream it together. If you don’t have at least an 11-cup or 14-cup processor, you’d be better off using a stand mixer or hand mixer here because it nearly filled my bowl to capacity. Gradually add the sugars, scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary, and pulse gently until well combined. Blend in the squash mixture; add the cornstarch and pulse just until blended. Add the eggs, one at a time, pulsing after each addition, scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary.
Pour the filling into the cooled crust. Place the foiled springform pan in a large roasting pan or baking pan; carefully pour enough hot water into the large pan to come 1 inch up the sides. Bake for 70 to 80 minutes until the center is set but still a bit wobbly (the cake will set completely when chilled).
Remove cheesecake from water bath to a cooling rack. Carefully remove the foil and run a thin knife tip around the edge of the cake to prevent cracking. Cool completely at room temperature. Refrigerate for at least 4 hours before serving.
For the Toasted and Spiced Pumpkin Seeds:
Set a small skillet on medium heat on the stovetop and wait for it to get hot. Add the raw pumpkin seeds and the olive oil. Toast the seeds, tossing frequently, until you see them go from their dark green raw hue (if hulled) to a light golden brown hue. Sprinkle the seeds with the turbinado sugar and cloves. Toss completely and remove from heat.
Remove the cheesecake from the refrigerator no more than one hour before serving, and release and remove the springform pan. When the cheesecake is just shy of room temperature, slide it onto your serving platter and slice. Garnish with the toasted pumpkin seeds. Apparently the original recipe also calls for whipped cream or any other artistic flourish. Enjoy this absolutely warm, delicious, creamy, light and spicy treat.
I've recently purchased the most incredible steamer basket and pot from a fabulous Thai grocery store in Chinatown, shown in the photo above. I have used it to make sticky rice, and the texture, form and moisture is unbelievable. Steaming in bamboo also creates a gorgeous taste that is so authentic and mixes nicely with whatever you do to liven in up. I won't share my favorite recipe with you now because it's not my own. I am a tester for the James Beard 2006 award winner for Internet Website for Food, Leite's Culinaria, and I tested it for them. I won't share it until well after they've published it. But, when they have I will point you to it because it is divine!
As you know by now, I am truly thrilled by the process and results of cooking with professional appliances at home for the first time. One of the joys in my life is the additional storage of my new kitchen, including a fantastic pantry installed by my dear husband in one of our "spare" closets. For all you New Yorkers, yes, that's how unique our new apartment is. <HUGE GRIN ON MY FACE>There is so much closet space we have turned one into a pantry.</HUGE GRIN ON MY FACE>.
Check it out right after he built it, when we moved in.
And, here's what it looks like now, after getting settled and cooking all the time. Yes, it's partially a garage too, we didn't buy a HOUSE, afterall.
I was thinking about this today after learning about a great blog called The Perfect Pantry (check it out if you haven't yet) and how my first-ever wonderful pantry has already begun obliterating previous boundaries I had. As a New Yorker with no space whatsoever in a closet-sized kitchen, my previous pantry was a just a cupboard shelf. With this gargantuan closet-sized PANTRY, I finally have the luxury of space. To me, that means I also finally have the luxury for certain tools, equipment, small appliances that I've never had before. (Watch out, I'm getting a mixer next...)
The fantastic steamer helps me create beautiful sticky rice and I have the steamer because of my gorgeously spacious pantry! It's all so completely exciting, I feel like a little kid who finally got a pony at Christmas after years of getting only sweaters. I used to have the three-tiered bamboo steamer for vegetables and dim sum but I find this Thai variation is perfect for the rice, specifically. So-- how many of you already know and love bamboo steamers and have you used this particular Thai variation?