Monday, August 11, 2014

Pizza in Punxsutawney...a little Bit of Paradise

Behold. The Pizza Oven...
There is something to be said for a place where you can have plenty of land. You know. Land where you can build a pizza oven.
You know what else you get with a lot of space? An  Aga. Just saying. I love Punxsutawney.

Friends F and S indulged me in inviting myself to their home in Punxsy to make pizza in the oven. F built the oven, the stone walls, the stone house..but it was that pizza oven I was after.

F built a fire early in the day so by the time we arrived, the coals were glowing hot. I brought the dough and a few toppings. They had some great mozzarella cheese, homemade sausage, basil from the garden.

Take some basil. And green beans. And oregano. And...and...and...

And that oven.

I practiced on a little foccacia.

It seemed easy enough. But as I made bigger pizzas, it was tougher to get them off the peel and onto the floor of the oven. I lost some toppings into the oven. Oops.

But with practice? I got this.

I use Carol Field's pizza dough. I cannot get it thin enough--or could not last night...I plan on learning to toss pizza dough, so I think I can conquer that problem. How hard can it be, right?

Here are two winning combos and my secret ingredient for really great pizza:

Stretch your dough. Brush the dough with EVOO mixed with anchovy past, just a touch. No one will know but you, and it makes it awesome.

I like to sprinkle just a little parmesan cheese on next in case toppings are wet-ish.

Great topping number 1:
Fresh marinated mozzarella (oil drained--we used mozzarella bocconcini from Costco), homemade sopresata, and drained and chopped artichoke hearts. I chopped the artichokes and drained them on paper towels while we waited to make the pizzas. I tore the mozzarella as I put it on so it was not too big.

Great topping number 2:
Red onion, thinly sliced and sauteed. Red bell pepper, thinly sliced and sauteed. Smoked gouda.
Prep the dough the same way (anchovy olive oil, sprinkle of parm) and top.

I think we cooked a little too late--my host thought the oven should have been hotter, and for the very last pizza, he raked the coals (I should have paid more attention) and the pizza cooked a lot more quickly...I liked turning the pizza in the oven with the peel--once it was in, if I waited about a minute, it was easy to lift and turn the pizza to take advantage of the coals.

Awesome night--thanks, my friends!!
Until we cook again...

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Thursday's Thoughts

Goat cheese, olives, lemon, herbs, black pepper, olive oil. Done.
During June, Thursday became my essay day, so I'm going to keep it going--even if I HAVE missed nine days of blogging since the blogathon.

I think often about simplicity in the kitchen. The days of me cooking for days have passed. The kids are almost all out of the house, our circle of friends seems smaller (so many were soccer and gym parents--those things ended and so little replaced it). Our family almost is never all together.

But that is all okay, because into the space left by big gatherings is a sense of simplicity. My new, go-to app of goat cheese, olives, lemon zest and olive oil, with plenty of herbs (this is from Leite's, and they use thyme; I use whatever I have on hand) and black pepper. My favorite breakfast is unflavored greek yogurt with my own granola, a drizzle of honey and frozen blueberries. Lunches are leftovers. Dinners? Well, either I am testing a recipe, but when I'm not, I want easy. Easy includes grilled lamb sticks (ground, seasoned lamb pressed onto skewers--we get it at the supermarket and it's an "easy" dinner), chicken teriyaki in the crock pot, Marcella Hazan's lemon chicken. Caprese salad, especially in the summer. Chicken marinated with lemon, garlic, rosemary and olive oil.

See? So simple nothing needs a recipe, really, just some instructions.

But really it's about that simplicity--even if I need to think ahead. To me, even homemade pizza (dough and all) is simple as long as I've remembered to start the dough in the afternoon.

I still love having people over and hosting family and friends for special occasions. It just doesn't seem to happen often enough.

In the meantime, I'll do my best to keep it simple, but keep it special.

My Special Variation of Marcella Hazan's Lemon Chicken:

It's easy and a variation of her full-chicken-cut-
up approach (plus I leave some stock in skillet because it makes such an awesome sauce): brown a finely diced onion in butter in a large cast-iron skillet. Add boneless skinless thighs. Brown well. Add 1 cup BEEF stock, cover and simmer at the lowest of simmers 45 minutes, with lid slightly popped so stock is evaporating...turn thighs a couple of times while simmering. When there is just a bit of stock covering the bottom of the skillet, stir in a combo of 2 yolks and 1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice...OFF the heat, that is...stir stir stir til it thickens...DONE. A one dish meal.)

Monday, June 30, 2014

The End!

I think this is the first photo I ever loaded to Babette Feasts..
Here are things I have loved about this month.

Everything was a potential topic. Recipes, essays, photos, my art. I thought about it often.

I made notes to myself while I was out and about about ideas for the blog.

I got to read a lot of other fabulous blogs.

I woke up and had a plan for the blog.

I got it done.

I love blogathon. If I take anything away from this month, it will be to schedule posts for the next few months.
...Otherwise, Babette Feasts languishes.

What have you loved?

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Wordle Sunday

I especially like the spot that says "always push great food."

Saturday, June 28, 2014

5 Things About Summer

Summer Bounty

. It's hot. The oven shuts down, the grill goes on. And I buy a toaster oven, because let's face it. Sometimes you still have to brown things. I just don't want to brown them in that huge heat box.

2. I keep trying to cook from the market. Lots of good stuff in the markets now. Peaches. Lettuces. More peaches. One of my favorite memories is being at a market around closing time and landing a case of peaches for not much money. I made peach jam...I sure could use a case of peaches now.

3. Drink real lemonade. Please do one thing this summer: make real lemonade with REAL lemons, real sugar. There is nothing like it.

4. Eating outside may not be for summer--for us, at least. I think spring and fall are great for eating out on our porch, but the afternoon sun starts beating down on our porch around 4 p.m. and the heat doesn't quit until the sun dips below the horizon. It's too hot to eat out there. Not too hot for my morning cup of coffee, though! (I am researching shade options! Maybe we'll get to eat outside again if we have more shade.

5. Grills can have very long lives. I bought our grill used for about $50. It gave us two full years of service, even when I asked it to fire up in the winter. The bar where the gas comes out--the piece with tiny holes in it--the burner?--finally just rusted through. Huge flames were licking up at the food, burning everything...we were reduced to cooking around the edges...but then I saw a replacement burner, bought it, installed it in about five minutes (okay: maybe 10!) and voila: We've still got this grill running. Maybe next year it'll get new grill grids. The ignition never worked, so I'm not worked up about it...The year after that? New bricks to spread the heat...And maybe by the year after that I'll have to replace the burner again. Repair before replacing, right?

Friday, June 27, 2014

Places I've Seen...

This week, Susan introduced me to the fabulous Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows, where the writer makes up words to suit certain situations, feelings, etc., where no word yet exists...I love each word I read more than the one before it...from the blog:


n. the desire to care less about things—to loosen your grip on your life, to stop glancing behind you every few steps, afraid that someone will snatch it from you before you reach the end zone—rather to hold your life loosely and playfully, like a volleyball, keeping it in the air, with only quick fleeting interventions, bouncing freely in the hands of trusted friends, always in play.

Kelly Kautz shared thoughts on a food photography class hosted live by Todd Porter and Diane Cu. I can't believe I missed the free class, but I will be keeping my eyes open for the next free event hosted by this pair.

I still cannot resist kitchen hack lists. This week's has a new one for me: freezing chopped herbs in olive it.

Gorgeous photos from a surfer. I was stunned by these.

For Harry potter fans, Snape's Instagram.

Wise words for young women graduating (mostly) but for young people in general, as well: Letter to a Young Dumbass.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

My Little Black (Cook) Books

I thumb through a stack of old recipe books--but these aren't cookbooks at all. These are the little notebooks every great line cook keeps in his or her jacket pocket to make notes.

I learned about keeping the books at my first job, working for Peter Hoffman at Stringfellow's, a UK nightclub that wanted to conquer the NYC scene in the mid 80s. The nightclub was flashy, and the menu was awesome. Peter had spent a lot of time in Japan and was using Japanese techniques, French flair, local ingredients and a heaping dose of respect for the food in his kitchen. (I should add he had a heaping dose of respect for his crew, too. I was the only woman in the kitchen, and it was an awesome experience, even when I was closing up and walking out at 2 a.m. after gutting salmon and removing gills--or something.) I never worked so hard or laughed so hard or loved a job so much as I did in kitchens.

But this isn't just about my work in the kitchens. It's about the books. These little books take me through those years. I absolutely loved cooking in restaurant kitchens. I never had any "Kitchen Confidential"-like experiences--never, not once. I worked for Peter, then for Danny Meyer at Union Square Cafe, then I catered in Philadelphia and worked for Jack McDavid there (and worked alongside Bobby Flay before he was a huge name--he introduced his first (I think) book to The Book and The Cook crowd and cooked his dinner at Jack's Firehouse. I made him laugh and made Jack angry at me for muttering under my breath...)

The books have neatly printed pages, where I obviously had some time to actually write. These are far from recipes--lists of ingredients followed by the word: Combine.

The Grill set-up at Stringfellows. It was a big deal for me to move from cold station to grill, but I had to on nights when the rest of the crew left early (always one person stayed behind to cook for the late revelers).

There's a list of sweet desserts for the week I subbed for the pastry chef while he was on vacation. I wasn't great at it, but I tried.

My first little black book
One post-it note in Peter's handwriting. Robert's revised recipe for Garam masala and the beef marinade.

My best friend Michael's notes for tempura batter. I lost him to the AIDS epidemic just a few years later. It was Michael who placed the sticker from the case of Wensleydale cheese onto the front of this book, where it still clings to this day...

The pear pickle I still make at times. Long list of ingredients followed by the commands: Combine. Boil. Simmer 5".

There's a break in the book when I moved to Union Square Cafe--that was push push push from the minute I stepped into the kitchen. The writing is sloppy. I shadowed a youngster, Pete, on day one, and from there on out, I was on my own. Some of the staff resented me, smirking as I tackled about 15 lobsters for the lobster with lemon mayonnaise dish they served back then. The smirks changed when I didn't complain and got everything ready in time for service, then, day by day,  earlier and earlier until I reached a point where I was ready long before service and jumping in to help anyone else. I worked my way through every station in that kitchen, finally expediting (I was good at that) and then, finally, into the office to be steward after I decided to take a break from the kitchen when I was about six months pregnant.

I remember Lars because we made his recipe for gravlax, and I have that recipe, with his  name alongside it

There is Martha's tiramisu, Marcie's truffles and her sour cream coffee cake. Corbin's crepes. (By this time, I had moved on to working in Jack's Firehouse.) A series of vegetarian recipes when Jack tasked me with coming up with some good veggie entrees.

The back of the book is stained but filled with a long list of Family Meal ideas, another job I had at Union Square. We fed the staff well--I didn't want it to be an afterthought, but it always had to be frugal. The lunch shift would sit down late in the day for lunch at 3 or 4 and eat with a glass of wine. The dinner shift would overlap, enjoying the same meal, fortifying themselves for the night ahead.

There's a little diagram of a kitchen setup for a catering event. A list of things that went wrong and ideas for how I could do better next time.

Then, finally, a page introducing my last real line job, at Cobblefish in Manayunk (in Philadelphia). Corbin was chef, the book was a gift from him. There are a few recipes, desserts...I was a help in a small kitchen then, working three and a half days over weekends. By then I had two kids under four. I still loved working but it was tough to be a mom, losing sleep and then pulling shifts, standing for about 10 hours until Midnight and still commuting home. You leave tired but awake. You want a drink and camaraderie. Everyone at home is already asleep after all.

Then we moved. We left the east coast for Kentucky. I loved Kentucky and had big plans to work there, too. The food scene in Louisville is great. But after talking to a few people, I got only offers of starting at the cold station.


I couldn't face that. I took one job, an 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. shift at a local, upscale hotel. I made desserts and breads (all I could think of was if I was the best person for desserts they could find...hmmm.). I was three months pregnant with my third child. I wasn't getting any of what I loved from kitchens to start with--the intense friendships and working relationships that a lunch or dinner shift gave me. I was alone. Quiet. Tired. Lonely. That was when I left the kitchen and started writing about food (and more).

That book has a few half-hearted entries under the hotel name, which I neatly entered after the Cobblefish entries. They look like ideas I had that I wanted to explore. Then I never wrote in that book again.

But I still cherish the books and use the recipes, the lists and notes only I can understand. And I savor the memories, remembering the people I knew and loved and laughed with.