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Friday, April 17, 2009

make your own pizza night

My mother had some true strokes of genius. Case in point: when she noticed that my three little brothers and I were sharing-impaired, she created Make-Your-Own-Pizza Night. Make a little extra dough, and everyone is happy.

The tradition endures to this day. Kaytie first met my brothers on a Make-Your-Own-Pizza Night. Everything was going swimmingly until she pilfered a pepperoni from someone else's pizza, which, of course, violated the entire premise of Make-Your-Own-Pizza Night. (We brothers still aren't very good at sharing.) Tyler has since forgiven her, which is a testament to how much a part of the family Kaytie has become.

I'm just going to give you a recipe for the pizza dough, because I think that pizza toppings are a deeply personal choice. I believe that anything and everything (especially bacon) should be thrown on top of a pizza, creating a pizza slice that sags under the toppings' weight, making a fork necessary. Kaytie, on the other hand, combines toppings deliberately and comes up with much more refined pizzas.

Often what we put on our pizza is simply a function of what we have in the kitchen. (Pizza's flexibility is one of the reasons I like it so much.) While developing this dough recipe, we've tried several combinations of toppings.

Pepperoni, bacon, green & black olives, sauteed onion, feta, and mozzarella with a red pizza sauce.

Bacon, sauteed onion, black olives, roasted garlic, sauteed spinach, pine nuts, and mozzarella with alfredo sauce.

Basil, green & black olives, and sauteed onions with an alfredo sauce.

Pizza Crust
(makes enough for 2 12-inch pizzas)

1 cup warm water (about 110 degrees)
1 (1/4-oz) package active dry yeast
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp garlic salt
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp dried basil
4 Tbs olive oil (plus a little more)

Stir the yeast into the warm water. Let it sit for about 5 minutes.

Whisk together the flour, sugar, salt, and other spices together in a mixing bowl. Pour in the yeast-water and stir with a wooden spoon. Just when the dough pulls away from the bowl and forms a ball, stop stirring.

Dump 4 Tbs olive oil in a large mixing bowl. Use your fingers to spread the oil all over the sides of the bowl. Use your oiled fingers to move the dough to the oiled bowl, and roll the dough around so it is completely coated by the oil.

Cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap. Let it sit at room temperature for an hour.

Move the bowl to the fridge for 5 or 6 hours.

Thirty minutes before you want to make the pizza, get the dough out of the fridge.

Put a baking stone (or upside-down iron skillet or cookie sheet) on the bottom shelf of the oven. Preheat the oven to 475.

Pour about 1 Tbs olive oil onto each of two 12-inch pizza pans and spread it around. Divide the dough in half. Shape each half into a smooth round in the center of a pizza pan. Let the dough sit for 10-15 minutes.

Spread the dough to the edge of the pan, rotating the pan to spread evenly.

Apply toppings.

Cover the pizza loosely with aluminum foil. Place the pan on the baking stone, and cook for 6 minutes.

Remove the foil and bake for 6-8 minutes more. The edge of the pizza crust should be crispy, and you can use a fork to lift the edge to see that the bottom of the crust is lightly browned.

We prefer to eat pizza sprinkled with salt and Louisiana hot sauce, but you don't have to.

P.S. This dough can be frozen after it has risen in the fridge. Wrap it tightly in plastic wrap, and put it in a plastic container. To thaw, remove the plastic wrap and place the dough-sicle in a bowl covered with plastic wrap. Let it sit at room temperature for 3-4 hours until it is completely thawed. After freezing, the crust won't be quite as fluffy, but it's still good.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

fancy cookies

Well, I think this is the last installment in the make-up-a-cookie-recipe saga. (Now that Lent is over, I can eat sweets made by anybody.)

I don't have much interesting to say, so I'm not going to waste your time. Because people think of Bananas Foster as a fancy dessert, they will think these cookies are fancy, too.

Bananas Foster Cookies
(makes about 68 cookies)

1 stick butter
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup white sugar
1/4 cup molasses
1 egg
1/2 tsp vanilla
1/2 cup mashed banana
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
2 tsp baking soda
2 1/2 cups flour
1/2 cup walnut pieces

Preheat the oven to 375. Line your cookie sheets with parchment paper. (Or grease them.)

Mix the wet ingredients (butter, sugars, molasses, egg, vanilla, & banana) together until smooth. Add the cinnamon, nutmeg, and baking soda. Mix well. Add the flour and mix again. Fold in the walnuts.

Drop heaping teaspoonfuls of dough into a bowl of white sugar. Roll them around, forming 1-inch diameter balls and coating them with sugar. Place them on the cookie sheets, leaving a couple inches between them.

Bake for 8 minutes.

Let the cookies cool for a minute or two on the pan, and them transfer them to a cooling rack. Let them cool completely before icing them.

Rum Icing

1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
2 1/2 Tbs milk
1 Tbs melted butter
1/2 Tbs dark rum

Sift the powdered sugar into a bowl. Add the wet ingredients. Use a whisk to stir everything together until smooth.

Hold the cookies upside down, and dip the tops in the icing.

Let the icing dry. (It won't be too hard, I promise.) Ta da!

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

quack, quack

You know what my favorite kind of meat is? Free meat. It's so nice when someone calls and says, "I just killed a whole bunch of (deer, rabbit, elk, duck). Want some?" The answer is always a resounding "Yes!"

And so, a few Sundays ago, we cooked some of my favorite kind of meat--in this case, free duck killed by my sister's boyfriend Caleb. One of the downsides of free meat, however, is that you don't get to request in what form the meat is given to you. In this case, the breasts had been carefully butchered (for which we were thankful), but the skin and fat had been removed. Not that I blame Caleb: the alternative would be to have left the skin on but to have plucked all the feathers. I've never plucked a duck (say that three times fast!), but I can't imagine that it's a pleasant experience.

The duck breasts, then, looked nothing like the ones you see in a restaurant. My concerns were twofold: first, I couldn't find any recipes for duck breasts without skin, and second, I was worried that they'd be dry and tough. But hey, who's going to let such trivial matters stand in the way of cooking free meat? Certainly not me.

I soaked the breasts in milk for a day (this takes the gaminess out), then I rinsed them and marinated them for half a day. Then Drew grilled them medium-rare, and they turned out lovely. Perhaps a little tougher than restaurant duck breasts, but they had a good flavor. I served them with a sauce made of melted pepper jelly, butter, orange rind, worchestshire sauce, and onion powder.

A word on marinades. I love making marinades because they allow for endless experimentation and creativity. My basic formula is this: 3/4L + 1/4O + H = goodness. L = any type of flavored liquid, including but not limited to fruit juice, vinegar, or booze. O = any type of oil. H = fresh or dried herbs. My marinade for the duck was cranberry-pomegranate juice, olive oil, and rosemary. I used fruit juice in this one because I love duck served with a berry sauce. The best duck dish I've ever had was at the Maple Street Cafe in New Orleans, where I had duck breast in a blueberry-cognac sauce. Scrumptious.

Anyway, I've yet to really give you a recipe, have I? Here's one for the rice that we served with the duck. Arthur called it Persian; I call it good.

Persian Rice
(serves 4-6)

2 cups white rice
4 cups chicken stock
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1/4 cup minced green onions
1/4 cup dried currants
1/4 cup toasted pine nuts
1 tablespoon butter
1 clove of garlic, minced
1 tablespoon kosher salt

Melt butter in a medium sauce pan and saute garlic over medium heat. Add rice. Add chicken stock, kosher salt, and lemon juice. Cover. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Once rice absorbs all of the liquid, add the other ingredients. Let sit 5-10 minutes before serving.


Kaytie wanted something special for dessert on Sunday. Not just anything special for dessert -- something in particular. Puddin'.

We found a recipe on, and I followed it as closely as possible, though I may have cooked the sugar a touch longer than recommended. This resulted in a nice, thick butterscotch pudding with a hint of caramel flavor. I also just realized that I used half the amount of milk. (I doubled the rest of the recipe.) No wonder it was so thick and rich!

Butterscotch Pudding

1/2 cup sugar
2 Tbs cold water
3 large egg yolks
3 Tbs cornstarch
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1 Tbs molasses
2 1/2 cups whole milk
1 tsp vanilla
1 1/2 tsp dark rum
6 Tbs cold butter, cut into large chunks

Things happen quickly here, so read the whole recipe and prepare your mise-en-place.

Put a mesh strainer over a heatproof bowl next to the stove. Set it aside.

In another bowl, whisk together the cornstarch and yolks until smooth. Whisk in the molasses and salt. Slowly whisk in 1/2 cup of the milk until the mixture is smooth. Set the bowl aside.

Heat the rest of the milk in the microwave for about two and a half minutes. Get it hot but not boiling, and set it aside.

Dump the sugar in a sauce pan and spread it evenly over the bottom. Sprinkle the water over the sugar so that all of the sugar is moistened. Heat over medium high heat. After a while, the sugar will begin to brown. Once that happens, stir the mixture gently with a wooden spoon until it turns an even, red-amber color.

Slowly pour in about half of the warm milk. (Be careful -- the mixture will bubble like crazy and splatter a little.) Stir vigorously until the sugar is all dissolved. Add the remaining milk, stir, and remove from heat.

Slowly whisk about half of the sugar mixture into the yolk mixture. Pour the sugar-yolk mixture back into the pot with the rest of the sugar mixture, and stir.

Over medium heat, cook the mixture for about 6 minutes while stirring constantly. The foam will calm down, and the mixture will thicken.

Take the pan off the heat, stir in the vanilla and liquor. Immediately pour the puddin' through the strainer. Let the puddin' sit for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally while it cools.

Put the puddin' in a food processor or blender. Turn on the machine, and add the butter chunks, one at a time. Blend until everything is incorporated.

Pour into ramekins and leave in the fridge until completely cool.

We served these topped with Cool Whip in a can. (Don't knock Cool Whip. I love it.)

Sunday, April 5, 2009

martini chicken--sauteed, not stirred

I love to look through old cookbooks, but most of the recipes use the same tried-and-true flavor combinations. Lemon and dill? Check. Tomatoes and basil? Check. Cilantro and lime? Check. And while I'm sure that the recipes are delicious, I'm not often intrigued enough to try them.

But every now and then, I find one that sounds so bizarre, so outlandish, so...well...gross, that I just have to try it.

So it was with Martini Chicken. I discovered the recipe in Paula Peck's Art of Good Cooking (where she calls it Vermouth Chicken). I was lucky enough to discover this awesome cookbook when the Lanier High School library gave away all of its Home Ec collection. I was teaching Art at Lanier at the time, and I greedily grabbed all of the cookbooks I could find. The Art of Good Cooking was the one gem of the bunch. I tried several of Ms. Peck's recipes (and had great success) before I finally decided to (gulp) give the Martini Chicken a try.

The recipe calls for green olives, cinnamon, allspice, vermouth, and cream. Can you see why I my curiosity was piqued?

Well, weird as it may sound, this recipe is to die for. I have made it time and time again, and everyone always loves it. Even people who hate green olives (Doug, Jim) and people who hate cinnamon (Tott) and people who hate chicken (Tott again) love this dish. It was the perfect dish for Sunday Night Supper tonight--slightly unusual but ultimately rich, delicious, and comforting. It's different enough to be a company meal but easy and cheap enough to do on weeknights (or Sunday nights when I'm feeling lazy, natch).

Without further ado...

Martini Chicken (adapted from The Art of Good Cooking)
(serves 6)

1/4 cup butter (half a stick)
2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon allspice
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
6 boneless skinless chicken breasts
2 bunches green onions, minced
1/2 cup dry vermouth
2/3 cup heavy cream
3/4 cup sliced green olives
1/4 cup finely chopped parsley

Preheat oven to 300. Put a casserole dish in the oven and let it get hot. Just leave it in there for now--you'll use it later.

Sprinkle the chicken breasts with the salt, allspice, and cinnamon. Melt the butter in a large saucepan over medium high heat. Saute the chicken breasts one minute on each side. Take out of the saucepan and stick in the hot casserole dish. Cover and cook at 300 for 8-10 minutes. (Because the heat is so low, these are pretty forgiving...I must admit that I've left mine in there for 15 minutes before and they've been fine.)

While the chicken is in the oven, add the green onions to the saucepan that has the butter and chicken drippings in it. Yum. Saute for two to three minutes on medium high. Then add the vermouth and cream. Cook on high, stirring frequently (and watching with an eagle eye to be sure this doesn't boil over). Let cook until reduced by about half.

Take chicken out, put each breast on a bed of rice, and pour the sauce generously all over. Top with green olives and parsley.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

thank you, orange peel

Every first Thursday of every month, the shops down the street from us stay open late for Fondren After Five. Galleries and stores serve wine and snacks, bands play, and the police block off traffic for a few hours.

Kaytie had a great idea. To promote the blog and get more readers, we should serve food at one of these stores. I talked to Kristin at The Orange Peel, and she was enthustiastic. We picked The Orange Peel because it's a great consignment shop -- great deals on vintage clothing and such. Kaytie loves it.

We had a great time. The food was a hit, and we met lots of interesting people. One lady even asked for our autographs! Does that make us famous?

People loved the food, but they were befuddled as to why exactly we were there. "So, y'all are opening a restaurant?" No.

"You cater?" No. (Well, occasionally. For friends.)

"So, you're not doing this for money?" No.

"Why are you serving food at The Orange Peel?" Because we want you to read our blog. And we want to eventually publish a cookbook.

Okay, time for the food. Follow the links for the recipes...

We made tiny biscuits (of course) with ham and pepper honey, which were a big hit. I had to make carrot cookies because they're awesome. We also made black-eyed pea fritters topped with roasted red pepper coulis, cilantro sour cream, and black olives. I've used this black-eyed pea fritter recipe for my black-eyed benedict, but we changed it slightly for this evening.

Black-Eyed Pea Fritters

2 slices of bacon
1/3 of a red onion, diced small
1/2 cup of green onion, sliced thin
1/2 cup of red bell pepper, diced small
1 jalapeno, seeded and diced fine
2 cloves of garlic, minced
2 tsp cumin
1/4 tsp Tony Chachere's creole seasoning
3 cups cooked and drained black-eyed peas
3/4 cup of bread crumbs
2 eggs

Cook the bacon, and set it aside. Use the bacon grease to saute the onion, peppers, and garlic for 4-5 minutes. Remove from heat. Puree (until smooth) 2 cups of black-eyed peas with the eggs in a food processor.

Combine 1 cup whole peas, pureed peas, vegetables, seasonings, crumbled bacon, and bread crumbs in a mixing bowl. Shape into balls that are about the size of a ping pong ball, and flatten them into patties.

Preheat the oven to 300.

I deep-fried my fritters (about 4 minutes at 375 degrees), but you could pan fry them. Heat a couple tablespoons of olive oil in a saute pan. Brown the ckaes on each side for a couple minutes and put them back on the lightly greased baking sheet.

Bake the fritters for 10 minutes.

Top them with cilantro sour cream (1 bunch cilantro, chopped fine, mixed with 2 cups sour cream), red pepper coulis, and a couple of sliced olives. We served them at room temperature, and they were great!