Saturday, 20 April 2013

Day 34: Vegan Artisan Pizza in 5 Minutes a Day - 3 Different Ways - April 20th, 2013

Pizza night is a popular escape from having to cook or clean up.  It's easy, you just pick up the phone and order, someone will deliver to you, and all you have to do is discard the box.  That's great for some nights, but not during Great Lent because, although you can order pizza without cheese, or even with soy cheese, you don't know exactly what ingredients go into the sauce, the dough, or even some of the toppings.

The other day, we made the bread dough from the book Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day by Jeff Hertzberg and Zoe Francois.  They gave us a nice base to use for a variety of products, including Pizza.  But what we learnt more than anything from these masters of dough is that by using pre-made dough  from the refrigerator is so much easier than any other method that we have tried.  And, we have tried the store bought, pre-baked shells, the bakery dough, the frozen doughs as well as making our own doughs.  The big difference is that this one does not need any more work beyond mixing it and allowing it to rise once.  So, we did that step.  We have the container in the refrigerator waiting to be used for something fantastic. Essentially, the premise of the Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day is that you make the (simple and fast to make) dough for multiple uses once and cut off what you need, when you need it from your refrigerator - a process which will take about 5 minutes on the day you will require the dough.

Today, we are making pizza that is completely vegan.  And, we know this because it is going to be homemade every step of the way.  First, we have our dough that was made from flour, salt, water, and yeast.  Then, we have our sauce, which we can use homemade tomato sauce, store bought tomato sauce (read the label), and we have any vegetable topping we like.  Before making our pizza we recognized that the texture of the pizza would be different than what we're used to when our pizza has cheese. But we were very optimistic about the end results.

Does pizza night get any easier?

So, for this recipe, you will need the following:

Tomato Sauce (or spaghetti sauce of your choice), vegetables that you like, corn meal, and a Pizza Stone

We chose to have, as pictured clockwise, Kale, Onion, Garlic, Hot Pepper Flakes, Sun Dried Tomatoes, Black Olives, Capers, Shallots, and Mushrooms.

The first step to make pizza is to get the pizza stone ready.  You have to preheat the oven with the stone inside; the authors of Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day recommend preheating the oven to the highest temperature your oven will heat at (e.g. 500º F).  This way, the hot pizza stone is the perfect baking surface to make the bottom of the crust golden brown and baked a little more firm than if you just baked on a cookie sheet.

Once the pizza stone is in the oven, get from the refrigerator the dough and cut a piece of dough that is about the size of an orange.  You could rip it or tear the dough off, but you don't want to interfere with the gluten strands that are built up in the dough.  Tearing the dough breaks the strands randomly, whereas cutting with a knife or scissors keeps the strands intact and is much nicer overall.

Now, let the dough relax while you continue to work preparing the toppings.  We chose the jar of spaghetti sauce as our base (our favourite sauce, by far, is Victoria brand, White Linen Marinara Sauce).  It is a nice flavour and some seasonings without being thick or overwhelming.  We cleaned the olives by removing the pits.  These are Kalamata olives, but there are plenty of types of olives available; you could even use the ones in cans, without pits, sliced, or what you like.  Then, we sliced the sun-dried tomatoes.  This, too, seemed easier with a pair of scissors because that gave us the thin strips that were perfect as a pizza topping.  We returned to using a knife to slice the mushrooms, slice the kale, and slice the shallots.  We did all the cutting and chopping while the dough relaxed.

Now, when it came to the onions, we both agreed that raw onions would be a little stronger in flavour than we really wanted, so we chose to slice the onion into thin slices and then saute them.  We softened the onions without caramelising them because the time in the oven will continue the cooking process for us.  We also cooked the kale and the mushrooms, separately, of course, to add another dimension of flavour to our final product.  These can all stay raw and uncooked, depending on your personal tastes.  It would also spare you from having to wash another pan!

Once you have the toppings the way you like them, and everything is ready, it is time to shape the pizza  dough.  We chose to make more individual pizzas, since each one of us wanted different toppings.  The three of us each took turns shaping dough.  We started with just stretching the dough with our hands.  We pulled, mostly from the edges to keep the centre of the circle solid and as thick as the rest of the circle.  It was a lot of fun to pretend being the pizza maker and throwing the dough in the air.  Yes, flour was everywhere as was the dough  But, we also tried using a rolling pin.  That was easier for us, although we needed more flour to keep the dough from sticking to the rolling pin.  For us, we would use the rolling pin for the uniformity that it gives us in the thickness of the dough.  Either way is acceptable, but don't expect a perfect circle from your dough -- we like to say that the shape "has character" and is as unique as the pizza maker.

Roll out the dough into the shape you want.  Our traditional choice was a circular shape.  But, we have seen that some like a longer, more narrow oblong shape.  Either way, once you roll out the dough, you want to get ready a transfer sheet.  The transfer sheet is a piece of parchment paper with corn meal sprinkled on it.  You want some corn meal on the paper so that the crust with toppings will slide right onto the hot pizza stone.  You also want to put some on the pizza stone itself.  If you are not using a pizza stone, then you can leave the pizza on the parchment, provided that it is able to withstand the temperature of 450º F without burning.  So, use some cornmeal on the parchment paper to create a small space for air and heat circulation to bake the bottom crust. Then, set the rolled out dough onto the parchment paper.  And, get ready to dress the pizza!

You can add the toppings as you like.  You can put them in any order, really.  Of the three of us making pizza, we chose to do different things with our individual pizzas.  One person chose traditional sauce and toppings, one person chose sauce, toppings, and more sauce, and the third one of us chose no sauce -- just toppings.  We are putting the pictures of assembling pizza in the traditional order, which may offer some ideas about assembling your own pizza.   Remember, the idea with making Artisan Pizza is being the artisan - have some fun with it.

When you get everything on there that you want, then put the pizza on to the hot pizza stone.  Once again, if you are not using a stone, then pick up the parchment paper and get it onto the oven rack.  We also tried to transfer the pizza using a cookie sheet , which helped us to lift and give some support to the weighted paper.  The pizza dough slides off the paper because of the corn meal we had put down.    Then, bake the pizza at 450º F for 12-18 minutes (every oven is different).

Check the bottom of the crust, in the middle, to make sure that it is baking and changing colour.  You want a crispy outside of crust, and it will turn the golden tan hue that the bottom of a bread loaf turns.  If you have not achieved that colour, then leave the pizza in the oven for a few more minutes.

When the pizza is done baking, remove the entire pizza stone from the oven.  If you are baking more than one pizza, pull out the pizza stone, remove the baked pizza by sliding the pizza onto a cutting board, large plate, or another surface to allow it to cool momentarily.  Then, while the pizza stone is out of the oven, put the next pizza on there.  The stone will maintain its temperature for a minute or two, and you can make it easy for yourself to make the transfer while the stone is closer than in the oven.  So, once the pizza comes out of the oven, let it rest for a moment before cutting and serving.  We slid our pizza onto a large wooden cutting board.  Then, cut the pizza as you like, and enjoy.

We chose to cut the pizzas and share with each other.  We had a nice variety of toppings and tastes.  One pizza was very traditional, although it had no cheese.  We all agreed that the cheese was unnecessary over the flavours of the vegetables.  The one that had no sauce was a completely different style and was more subtle and mild than we thought it would be.  The third one with double the sauce was messy and wonderful.  It was not like pizza necessarily, it was more like a calzone because of the drippy sauce and abundant vegetables.  All three were very good.  And, all three were very different.  There is a continuing theme here, though, which is that this all depends on what you like.

The Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day dough was really easy to use.  It made a chewy, yet crunchy pizza crust that provided the perfect vehicle to deliver our vegetables.  The taste of the dough did not interfere with the flavour of the pizza at all.  There was just a nice combination of crunch and chew, and we know that in the future, we are going to use this dough over any other.  And, the fact that we can have the dough in the refrigerator for up to two weeks, then, we now have options to have pizza night every week instead of every month!

"He who dishonors the poor, sins, but he who has mercy on the poor is very blessed."

Book of Proverbs: 14:21

Friday, 19 April 2013

Day 33: Artisan Bread Dough in 5 Minutes - Our Way (Part 1)-- April 19, 2013

Bread is something that we have with almost every meal.  Many Greek families make their own bread and have fresh loaves every few days.  Well, we wanted to make our own bread, but the time involved seemed a little overwhelming right now.  We wanted something faster.  But, we also wanted something versatile that would keep for a few days so that we, too, can have fresh bread on a regular basis without taking hours each day.  Some days, all we have is five or ten minutes, maybe 30 minutes to get dinner made and on the table.

This inspired us to find an easy way to have our bread and eat it too; to have fresh, homemade dough that we could make different shapes, sizes, and styles of bread without too much fuss and clean up.  Originally, we assumed that it would take us a day to make the dough, let it rise, punch it down, then divide it and let it rise again...  it's exhausting even writing the steps!  But, we have seen the light!  We found the simple way to have our bread any night and any time we want -- in 5 minutes a day.

If you are unfamiliar with our references, we are talking about Artisan Pizza and Flatbread in Five Minutes a Day,  by Jeff Hertzberg and Zoe Francois.  These two authors have mastered the art of having ready doughs in the refrigerator that can sit for up to two weeks, and give the family the ability to get pizza dough, pretzels, dinner rolls or loaves into the oven in about 5 minutes.  Then, you allow the 15-20 minute baking time and you have a 30 minute meal!  This seemed unimaginable to us to have freshly baked bread or fresh pizza  with freshly made crust in 30 minutes.  We knew that the pizza delivery companies could do it, but now we learnt that we, too, can do it.

So, in order to make your own dough, you will need about 10 minutes to put together the ingredients, and then, maybe a couple hours to allow the dough to rise.  But, it rises only one time, and, after that, the dough will stay in the refrigerator until you are ready to use it.  So, before we get into how to make the dough, make sure you have a container large enough to hold the dough (tightly covered bowl, bucket with lid, plastic storage container, or comparable) and have a space in the refrigerator.

Start by making the dough.  It is something that you can do by hand, in a mixer, a food processor, or even a blender.  We are still traditionalists and prefer making doughs by hand so we can feel the texture, if we need to add flour, and as we knead, we feel the gluten build.

For this recipe, you will need the following:

7 1/2  cups All-Purpose Flour
1 to 1 1/2 TBSP Salt
2 TBSP Fresh Yeast (1 TBSP granulated dry yeast)
3 1/2 cups Warm water

The most important thing in this recipe is to make sure that your water is warm.  Ideally, you want the water to be between 100 and 105°F.  Any hotter than that will kill the yeast and ruin the effects of the yeast.   Remember, yeast is a living organism and needs water to live and "work" in recipes.  We used a meat thermometer to check the temperature of the water, but some people will choose to feel the water as "slightly above body temperature" when they make bread.  It should feel barely tepid on your skin.

Now, here is the next note... we chose to use fresh yeast over the packets of dry yeast.   You can use the dry yeast with no real problem.  We have found that the dried yeast packets are many times slow to rise and sometimes the packets are expired or out of date.  Buying fresh yeast lets us know that we have a fresh, living product that will likely work the way we want it to.  Fresh yeast is available at many bakeries.

Pour the warm water into the bowl with the yeast and mix it well.  The mixture will look creamy and you may see some yeast floating at the top of the water.

Once the yeast is fully dissolved, add the salt and the flour to the bowl.  Make sure that the measurements are rather accurate by using the technique that many of us were taught in Home Economics years ago -- scoop and drag.  Scoop up a cup full of flour (works with salt, sugar, breadcrumbs ... any dry product) and drag a flat surface (knife, spatula, chopstick) across the top of the measured product.  This will make sure that the product fills the measuring cup or spoon and gets into all the curves.  And, with the dragging method, you obtain a level amount that is equal in height to the top of the measuring tool.  Measure over an empty bowl or the container where you get the flour (or whatever).  Then, the excess falls into an empty bowl or back into the container -- not the mix!  We scooped and dragged every spoon full of salt and every cup full of flour.

Now it is time to mix the ingredients.  Some people will choose to use a spoon or a rubber spatula, but we preferred our hands.  We were able to feel where the flour did not get mixed in properly, and we were able to continue to wipe the flour off the sides of the bowl so there would be no lumps and no real sticking.  Mix well until all the ingredients come together completely and start to look like dough.

The dough starts to come off your hands as you mix.  It may leave a few sticky pieces,  but when the dough does not stick to you at all, then you are done mixing.  You should be able to pull most of the dough off of your hands, without having much difficulty.  You don't have to knead the dough very long, either, because you are kneading as you mix.  

Once it is mixed and you have made sure that everything is very well combined with a little kneading, then cover the bowl with some plastic wrap and let it sit.  Allow the dough to rise in a warm place until the dough doubles in size.  This will take about two hours to get it at full height, but it is worth the wait.

The nice part about this dough is that it is now ready to use.  However, this is also a bread dough that can be used for so many things and multiple dishes and you want it to stay in the refrigerator for the week, so you can have fresh breads every day!  This recipe allows you the freedom to spend five minutes shaping the bread that you want and baking it, without the need to make it rise again.  Now that the dough Is risen (a little humour for Pascha), set it into your airtight container and put it in the fridge.  That's it.  Put the dough away until you are ready to make something.  It will stay in the refrigerator for two weeks, and will make about 10 small loaves of bread for 2 people, or 8 pizza shells for two.

"...And give us this bread, our daily bread..."

from The Lord's Prayer

Thursday, 18 April 2013

Day 32: Greek Mushroom Pilafi (with Lobster Broth)-- April 18, 2013

Greek Mushroom Pilafi sounds like it should be good, since we love mushrooms and we love pilafi. We were looking online for some information about mushrooms, and came across where there is a variety of Lenten dishes and recipes. We, as well as many thousands of people the world over, are big fans of this Greek American culinary icon whose roots hail from the unique Greek island of Icaria, an island dear to our hearts.

Although this is inspired by one of Diane Kochilas's recipes, we made a little adjustment in the herbs.

Mushrooms are not the first thought when considering Greek food. However, this simple dish really does make the mushroom shine with its earthy flavour. And, we have to remember that Greece is a mountainous country with a variety of mushrooms that grow all over. Why not highlight them in this easy recipe?

Usually, we read the entire recipe and the directions before making a dish, and when we read through the directions we realised these directions sounded very familiar to us. As we thought about the process, we knew that this dish was going to be like a Greek Risotto. How interesting! The same kind of directions that we follow for risotto, and similar ingredients. Nice! And, there is no cheese, and not too much stirring! That was particularly appealing! Especially since risotto is one of those filling dishes that can be used as an appetiser, entree, or side dish, and we love to eat it. We are using it as a side dish with the mushrooms, but have used it as an entree when we use shrimp or chicken in the mix.

One of the unusual choices for Greek food, and found in this recipe is the use of Arborio Rice. This is not typical Greek pilafi, so why the change? Well, as we mentioned, this dish is like a Greek Risotto. Arborio rice is the one used for risotto because it can absorb much more liquid than processed white or brown rices. And, since the rice releases starch as it cooks, whatever dish it is in ends up with a somewhat creamy texture without you having to do to much to get there. We have also seen Arborio rice used in Dolmades, but have not become accustomed to that, yet. So, we will use it for our pilafi and see what comes of it. We cut the recipe in half to serve two, but in full, this would serve four.

For this recipe, you will need the following:

4 TBSP oil
1 pound (500 grams) button or cremini mushrooms, trimmed, wiped or rinsed, and sliced thin
2 onions, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 cup Arborio, Carnaroli, or Greek “glasé” rice (available in Greek speciality shops)
½ cup dry white wine
3 cups broth (we used Superior Touch's Better than Bouillon Lobster Base)
3 sprigs fresh thyme, little leaves only
3 sprigs fresh oregano or marjoram, leaves only, finely chopped
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

 Before giving you the directions, we want to tell you that we used a bouillon to make our broth. All you have to do is dissolve the paste in the warm water, and you get bouillon (stock). We chose the lobster flavour because we ran out of the vegetable base, but any flavour bouillon will work here. Also, we did not use thyme in our dish. We didn't have any, so we stuck to oregano only.

To make the pilafi, you first want to cut up your ingredients. Chop the onion rather small. You don't want the onion to be the most noticeable vegetable in the dish. But, you do want to notice the mushrooms. Slice the mushrooms. We left ours whole because they looked so nice, but you could cut the mushroom in half and then slice it, that would work and still look attractive. Have everything else measured and ready to add to the pot. The cooking time will go much faster than you will expect, and you want to be ready to add something quickly when cooking this dish. The French term (culinary term) for having everything ready to go is "Mise en Place" (to put in place).

Now, we can start cooking! First, cook the mushrooms in a tablespoon of oil in one pan. You will need a second pan for everything else. Cook the mushrooms until they are soft but not mushy. The mushrooms start to change colour when they are cooked -- they turn from white to a wet looking brown; so when most of the mushrooms have turned brown, they are done. Set those aside for now.

In a second pan, cook the onions in the remaining oil. Cook them on medium high heat until the onions start to brown. You want to get some of that golden, carmelized colour to come through. That is where the flavour hides! So, brown the onions without burning them. Once you see that golden colour come over half of them or so, add the garlic.

Let that cook for several minutes to allow the garlic to pick up a little colour, too. Both the onions and garlic will become golden in colour after a couple of minutes.

Next, add the rice. Mix the rice very well in the onion and garlic so that all of the rice is coated with oil. You will see the brown bits come up off the bottom of the pan and mix into the rice. That is fine. Make sure that everything is well distributed in the rice.

Now, add 1 cup of the broth. You are going to let this cook until the rice has absorbed this broth. If you push aside some of the rice, you will see that there is no rice flowing back to that space, and that most of the liquid has been absorbed or evaporated. That is when it is time to add more liquid. So, add the wine. Let the wine cook in the rice until the liquid has been absorbed, just like the first addition of broth.

Once you see the wine has been mostly absorbed, add the remaining amount of the stock and the mushrooms. This will make the pan look like it has a soup cooking inside. At this point, you want to turn the heat to medium and let this cook until all the liquid is absorbed by the rice. On medium heat, this will take about 15 minutes. You can stir occasionally to make sure that the middle of the pan (typical hot spot) does not have any food sticking to it. You do not have to stir constantly, just enough to check the amount of stock left in the pan. As soon as the liquid is absorbed and cooked into the rice, serve the pilafi.

Again, you can serve this as a main dish if you like or serve it as a side dish with something else. It is a very flavourful dish that is so similar to risotto - just without the cheese and the extra stirring of the pan. Maybe we should have called this Greek Risotto, or Risotto-aki! Whatever you call it, it is delicious. But, more importantly, it is completely Lenten!

"But this I say: He who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully."

St. Paul: St. Book of the Corinthians: 9:6