Perfection Pizza
Date: Jun 26th, 2006 7:23:55 pm - Subscribe


There are times in my food life that I think pizza is the ultimate in perfect food. You can make a whole meal on a pizza crust and eat it with your hands over a napkin, making dish duty irrelevant. I'm not sure about anyone else, but I think eating anything with your hands is quite wonderful, you get a sensory overload like nothing else. And licking your fingers saves paper in the trash, right? We're thinking economically here!

Pizza is one of the most popular foods in America. Recent findings believe that a typical American family consumes pizza at least twice a week. Given the astronomical amount of frozen pizzas available, I would think that the majority of them are coming straight out of the freezer. And takeout tops the list as well, but in my food world, the best pizza is made right in your own kitchen. When I have the time, foresight, and inclination I can make a really delicious pizza crust in the bread machine which yields two wonderfully chewy crusts. But given the fact that those three rarely align in an ideal world, the Boboli pizza crusts and sauce packets are a huge advantage for a time strapped meal. Plus, they are really darn good!! I tend to like a pizza sauce that isn't too sweet or too thick. A lot of pizza places will ladle it on so deep that the toppings get lost in the cloying, sticky mess. A thin veneer of sauce over a crust rubbed with cut garlic cloves makes for a divine flavor, and allows all the taste of the toppings to burst free in your mouth. The more I make pizza, the more I realize that less is best when it comes to toppings. Not only does the pizza get too heavy with a lot of topping, but often you bite into a slice and the toppings come off in a landslide of molten hot flow. Pain is not a good way to start a meal. And to hold on toppings, I have found that sandwiching them between layers of cheese provides a kind of 'pizza glue' mentality to the toppings. They tend to stay put. Place a small amount of cheese on top of the sauce, then your toppings and then more cheese. Oooooohhh.....cheeeeeeeeese!!!! Gotta have lots of cheeeeeeeese!!!! Whats pizza without that loooooooong string of hot mozzarella between the slice and your mouth???? It ain't really pizza!!! Of course you can't tell I like a cheesy pizza, can you?

I tend towards being a pizza purist when it comes to toppings. If I could, I would eat a sausage pizza with green pepper and black olives whenever I could and nothing tastes better than that. However, that tends to run under the 'bad food' category. So I have taken to making pizzas like that for G-man, and creating amazing gourmet pizzas for my sweetheart and I. He always prefers a meat-free pizza, so I oblige with combinations of whatever of the following I have on hand: roasted red peppers, sun dried tomato, pesto, fresh mozzarella, kalamata olives, sauteed zucchini, roma tomatoes, fresh basil leaves and roasted garlic. The more creative, the better. Our favorite pizza is listed earlier in this blog- the amazing, award winning, awe-inspiring Pesto Vegetable Pizza. Heaven on a crust! Food Utopia! The nice thing about the veggie pizzas is that they don't leave you feeling full and bloated.....well....unless you eat the whole thing, which we try really hard not to do. You also feel like you are doing something nice for your body. The first bite into that golden crisp crust unleashes a flood of flavors over your tongue. Crunchy, chewy and tangy, like a over-zealous tango on your tongue. Little hints of garlic explode over the juicy tomato slices and tiny hints of basil dart in and out of each bite. Peppers crunch, olives zing and the cheese forms around it all like a comforting blanket of flavor. Every bite seems different, yet it all melds together into a flavorful rhythm unique to the combinations on the crust. There are a few pizza places in theTwin Cities that I think serve amazing pizza, and I wouldn't hesitate to eat a delectable pie at any of them, but when I really want a pizza to make my mouth happy, I will unload my creative flair in my own kitchen much to the delight of the enamored men in my life. My homemade pizza came off the grill outside the last time I made it, adding yet another flavor component to an almost perfect pie- the smoky outdoor flavor of the grill. I didn't think it could get any better, but obviously I was mistaken. This took the pizza to new heights, and if I get any higher I might have to share some with God. Hmmmmm.....maybe I should make more!
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Grocery shopping as an art form
Date: Jun 26th, 2006 7:23:02 pm - Subscribe


I know it sounds crazy, but I honestly do think of it as an art form. Of course, it helps that I love to shop for groceries!! All that food just waiting to be turned into something wonderful, it's just more than I can stand sometimes!! Ok, ok.....I know that's weird. I'm ok with being weird about certain aspects of my food life.

There are several methods I employ when shopping for groceries, and mind you, these are what I do and I certainly don't think anyone should be obsessive about shopping for food, but some habits can be modified to be simpler and more productive. I think grocery shopping is one of them. My biggest simplifier is lists. We all need lists to help us remember what our overworked brains tend to leave behind. I put a magnetized pad on the fridge, and when something runs out I quickly jot it down so I don't forget. I encourage the guys to do this too and they are really good at it. For one thing, when I make the master list, if it isn't on the 'quick list' and I don't notice it's out, it won't get purchased. It's a very simple concept. Then there can be no whining about it. I do a major shopping spree about once every three weeks, and do 'fill-in' visits in between. We budget a lot in our lives and make do without certain things to save money, but we never skimp on food. There is no point. When I am about to do a major trip, I will sit down with my recipe book and cooking magazines and make up dinner plans. I list all the items for meals on a list and take note of what ingredients I will need. This allows me to have ideas at the ready for meals, with ingredients on hand to make it work. If I don't do this, our meal times get really boring and repetitive, and then I see a lot of 'sad face' at the dinner table. Not fun. Once the dinner plan list is done, then I scour the pantry, fridge and freezer to see what needs replenishing. One thing I have learned about being able to cook a meal without too much fuss and planning ahead is to always, and I mean ALWAYS have a well stocked pantry. (this will be covered in another post)

So the scouring is done and I have a sheet of paper with lots of writing all over it, totally disorganized and messy because notes have come from everywhere. My last list is the working copy; I take that messy sheet and transfer items one by one onto a new list that is separated into categories and organized as to how the store is laid out. One column for dry goods, one column for produce, one for meats and one for dairy. Many many people enter the grocery store in the produce section and fill their carts there first, then walk the rest of the store to get everything else while their fresh stuff sits and languishes. I do the reverse. I enter the store at the opposite end and work towards the cold stuff so that it's still pretty cold by the time it gets home. It works for me. Each item is checked off my working list as it goes in the cart so I know that I have everything I need. I skip any aisles that have nothing in them I am looking for and a typical major shopping trip is done in about 45 minutes, including checking out. The organizational process may seem time consuming, but the amount of time I spend in making up the working list is well worth it because it makes for a much simpler meal time. I know what I have and know what I can make just by reading the meal list. I always have several quick, no-meat items on the list for those times when I don't think about dinner until late afternoon. And hardly anything I make takes more than an hour from start time to table, and often it takes less. And if there is ever a time when I've depleted the items from the meal list, I can turn to the well stocked pantry or some quick veggie burgers from the freezer and find something to throw together. Life is complicated enough without meal times being a huge headache. Yes, forethought to this process may seem daunting, but once you get the routine down it becomes a habit you won't be willing to compromise on again.
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Just a poem.....not about food
Date: Jun 23rd, 2006 3:57:28 pm - Subscribe


July

I stagger through an immense summer morning
only after a shower leaves its bouquet here
smelling as secret lace and wild blossom

this shimmering day has burned my skin
dry like a slender page
I crack with sound, like red dirt in the wind
trails of sweat like hopeful rivers
making crooked paths in the dust

swimming in the heated afternoon
my head swirled with humid tendrils
I sit, urging the sun to move
gulping waves of sultry air, drowning in lemonade

my garden twists in agony
attempting to escape the brutal sun
tomatoes gently boil on the vine
green beans giggle in the solace of leafy canopy
carrots snuggle deep in the cool earth
sighing contentedly, waiting for Fall

even my shadow has left to look for shade cool.gif
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Men, boys, cats and food
Date: Jun 23rd, 2006 12:22:46 pm - Subscribe


My life is filled with males of two different species. I live with my husband, Mike, my son Griffin who is 12 and two male felines, Bustopher Jones and Harmon El Gato. There is a lot of male-ness in my home what with a budding child in the throes of puberty and my wonderful and handsome husband. I am just the maker of all food, maybe slightly resembling a goddess when everyone is hungry and mewling about, but normally, I am Mom, wife and Cat Mama.

I have already talked at length about how my child eats (see 'Children don't come with feeding instructions') and to talk about the cats eating habits, well that's no big deal; they eat their dry stuff when they want, and after our dinner they start urging me to get out their once-a-night treat of yummy Fancy Feast mixed with their vitamins. Those plates are wolfed down in about a minute flat, I would never call them finicky. I could fill the plates with anything, and as long as it smells good they will eat it. Harmon is overweight and Bustopher is not. Harmon eats like a normal cat, Bustopher rubs his paw over the dry food in the bowl and licks the dust off. It's a wonder he gains any weight at all. Harmon has lived with me all his life and Bustopher was a stray that lived in a shelter for 1 1/2 years before I took him home. He has huge separation issues, is really really needy, must have play time and interaction with you every day and does whatever it takes to get your attention. Harmon knows everything will be fine, that the bowl will always be full and if he falls over on his back in front of you that you will stop whatever you are doing and rub his belly until he is nearly catatonic with bliss. They are night and day and I adore them.

Mike has been in my life 5 years and is the husband that I used to dream about as a little girl. He is kind, considerate, outrageously funny, extraneously helpful and a great dad to Griffin. He is my biggest fan, my most vocal cheerleader and the one I go to when I can't figure anything out. He treats me like a queen and I love him more than I ever thought possible. He is not a meat and potatoes guy, in fact, dislikes beef, will only eat boneless, skinless chicken and thinks vegetables are to be worshipped. I'm all for this except when I want a big juicy porterhouse, which thankfully isn't often anymore. I trust that when I make something new that two things will happen: #1- he will eat it, even if he doesn't like it. And #2- he will honestly tell me what he thinks of it even if he doesn't like it. I can usually tell what he thinks when he is eating something new, and when I am not sure, it becomes clear to me if he never touches the leftovers that he wasn't overly fond of the meal. Not long ago, I came to discover that one dish I make quite often was not something he liked to eat. I wasn't aware of it and was rather cheesed off that I didn't know. His explanation made sense to me, and I have been more relaxed about what I cook ever since. He told me that although food has to be good, sometimes to him it's about sustenance and that there are days when he eats, his main goal is only to fill the hunger. It doesn't have to be wonderful, to die for food on those days. It just has to be edible. The dish in question is edible, but not a favorite, therefore becomes something that is sustenance, not a dish to adore. It was kind of hard to accept that at first, since everything I eat has to be something I adore and want to eat. I don't think you should eat food that you don't like. Mike hates eggs, hates the smell and even the thought of them. I won't ever make them for him due to this fact. There are very few foods he actually hates, and he will eat many, many things that aren't his favorite. It's sustenance, that's all. I can ask him for input when I am trying to decide on a week or two worth of meal plans and he just smiles and tells me whatever I make will be fine with him. It's a different mindset than me, and is fine. It makes for more harmonious meals since I already have one person who tends towards moaning and teeth gnashing when there is something on the stove that he doesn't like. But he's 12, and has to be difficult, it's part of being his age. Mike's role in the kitchen, outside of being my critical palate, is the chief bottle washer. I can make a colossal mess while cooking, and without a word after dinner he will set forth cleaning it up. Most of the time I clean as I go, but some meals sneak up on me like a power boat wide open and you have no time to quickly wash the flotsam left behind. Mike speeds through dish duty as if I cranked up the controls to hyperspeed. He hates a mess more than he hates doing dishes. I love that he works with me that way. When he takes over the kitchen on the rare nights that I am simply not willing or able to be creative, I reciprocate by cleaning up his mess. Food is not an issue in our relationship. I never have to worry about him bringing home Burger King meals, buying too much junk food or snacking on potato chips in bed. (remember the ending in the movie 'Fargo'?) However, if there is ice cream in the house, watch out. Willpower is not his strongest asset. Thankfully, the convenience store close by installed a soft serve machine, and for a couple of bucks we can get a big dish of deliciously flavorful soft ice cream. But Mike likes to say "I don't need anymore belly" and instead urges us all on our bikes for a long evening ride. One more thing to love about him- how he encourages me.
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Conversations with the invisible food and wine snob
Date: Jun 23rd, 2006 12:20:53 pm - Subscribe


*DISCLAIMER* I am not a food or wine snob!

And I dislike food and wine snobs because they act like they are so superior because of the food they eat. Some of the stuff in a gourmands diet makes me want to retch. Foie gras?? Yukkkkk......fatty duck livers, wow, i can't even believe that I don't LIKE that stuff!!! What is WRONG with me?!?!?! Morel mushrooms.....looks like shriveled brains and grows in the rot of the forest floor. I am not a fan of fungus, although cooked properly and mixed in with other things, I can enjoy mushrooms. I just won't pluck one off a plate and pop it in my mouth like a cheese curd. Pate (i guess i can't make the little accent above the 'e') looks like the cat food that makes my two irrepresible felines howl with delight each night. Tastes similar too! Hey!!! How do I know you didn't just open a can of Fancy Feast??!?! And wine.....well, it's fermented grape juice. It's not anything full of mystique and wonder, worthy of furtive glances and knowing nods, musty cellars and deep religious fawning. I love wine and love to try new wines and learn their individual nuances, flavor and taste profiles, but when it comes down to it, I can't tell you why a $50 bottle is any different than a $10 bottle. I'm sure you'll start in on the vintage of the vine, the terrior, the weather that year and whether or not the winemaker used new or old oak for seasoning and at what temperature the juice was fermented, but frankly I don't care. I like my wine red, dry and flavorful, and if I want to serve it with a fish dish and you don't like it, go home. It's called a contrasting wine match and it's perfectly fine.

Enough of that......food is food is food and it's all about your tastes. Wine is wine is wine, and if I want to drink a bottle of inexpensive Yellowtail Reserve Shiraz, I will. If I make you a dinner of my fabulous vegetable filled turkey burgers with blue cheese mashed potatoes and roasted yam sticks, and you make me a tuna steak with wasabi caviar, braised beet greens and carmelized new potatoes, I am sure we will each enjoy them and be satisfied when it's all over. No matter what we make and eat, no matter that you think your food is fit for a demi-god and mine would be fine in the dog dish, besides ALL of that and wherever your tastes may lie, in the end when it's all said and done, 24 hours later all the food we eat ends up the same place. It's just food, it's only fermented grape juice. A pricier label or name doesn't make it any better.

In my food world, the preparation is the key. A steak can be perfect with nothing but a crackling of sea salt on it and seared perfectly over a flame. Sure blue cheese crumbles are nice, and a cabernet compound butter adds a lot of flavor, but you put those on top of a poorly cooked steak, it's still a poorly cooked steak and nothing will make it taste any different. If you take impeccable field greens, the freshest vine ripe tomato and the crispest of red bell peppers to make a salad, you're going to ruin the flavor if you douse it with a cup of thick salad dressing. It's better if you squeeze some lime juice over it, grind some fresh black pepper on it, drizzle it with good quality olive oil and a dash of white wine vinegar and toss it all together. Now thats FLAVOR!!! A perfectly shaped and cooked hamburger outshines it's frozen pre-formed cousin by a million miles. Freshly grilled fish cooked to perfection with a sprinkle of dill and a quick squirt of lemon juice will simply melt in your mouth. There doesn't have to be all these bells and whistles, fancy names, wondrous techniques or beguiling ingredients. If it's prepared well it should speak for itself. There really isn't any more to it than that. I don't begrudge a foodie their inalienable rights to expound on the merits of their gourmet world, but it doesn't make for a better meal. It's just your own personal tastes. So don't let the food snobs and wine bores make you feel any less of a great cook. If you do it right and like it that way, then more power to you, and while you're at it, pick up a good inexpensive wine to go along with it.
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