Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Weekend vs. Weeknight Meals. The Long and the Short of It.

Two years ago the only homemade meal I had really "mastered" was making fresh pizza dough. Among our wedding gifts was an air bake pizza pan. I learned how to properly knead dough, what active yeast was, how warm the water should be, how to keep the dough warm to allow it to rise and how to roll out dough in a semi-perfect circle. This was my gift to my newlywed husband. Now that I've been tinkering with other recipes, that pizza pan hasn't seen the light of day since we've been in our new house. I've put it off for too long...so I dusted off the pan and decided to do it all. Dough, sauce, toppings. All homemade (except the cheese, of course.)

Yes, I'm crazy. Here we go with the "Long of it":

Pizza dough:

2 teaspoons honey
1 package active dry yeast (about 2 1/4 teaspoons)
3/4 cup warm water (100° to 110°)
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour (about 10 ounces), divided
1/2 teaspoon salt

Dissolve the honey and yeast in 3/4 cup warm water in a large bowl. Let stand 5 minutes or until bubbly. Lightly spoon flour into dry measuring cups; level with a knife. Add 2 cups flour and salt to yeast mixture; stir until a soft dough forms. Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Knead until smooth and elastic (about 6 minutes); add enough of the remaining flour, 1 tablespoon at a time, to prevent dough from sticking to hands (dough will feel slightly sticky).
Place dough in a large bowl coated with cooking spray, turning to coat top. Cover and let rise in a warm place (85°), free from drafts, 30 minutes or until doubled in size. (Gently press two fingers into dough. If the indentation remains, the dough has risen enough.)

Roll dough into a 12-inch circle (about 1/4 inch thick) on a lightly floured surface. Place dough on a rimless baking sheet sprinkled with cornmeal. Crimp edges of dough with fingers to form a rim. Cover with plastic wrap. Place the dough in refrigerator for up to 30 minutes. Bake according to recipe directions.

  • It's important to get the water temp just right so the yeast can do it's job. Basically I ran hot water from tap and then turned the faucet a bit to the warmer and less scorching side. That seemed to the trick.
  • Here's "how to knead": make sure the dough has enough flour on it so it doesn't stick to your hands. Then, fold it with your hands and press it with your palms. Turn it one quarter of the way clockwise toward you and press again. Keep turning and pressing until the dough is slightly sticky. I did this for two whole rotations.
  • Now you've got to keep this dough ball warm so it will double in size. I put it in a glass bowl, away from the fridge, on a counter near a window. I put three kitchen towels over the bowl to try to create an environment that would make the dough aspire to new heights. Let it sit while you start to make the sauce. The sauce takes about 25 minutes to make around the same time it takes the dough to rise.
  • By the way, I didn't add the cornmeal to the pain. The airholes on the bottom of the pan wasn't condusive to this step.

The sauce:

Cooking spray

1/4 cup finely chopped onion

1 garlic clove, minced

1/4 cup white wine

2 tablespoons tomato paste

1 teaspoon dried oregano

1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 (14.5-ounce) can crushed tomatoes, undrained

1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil

1/2 teaspoon balsamic vinegar

Heat a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Coat pan with cooking spray. Add onion to pan; sauté 3 minutes or until tender. Add garlic to pan; sauté 30 seconds. Stir in wine; cook 30 seconds. Add tomato paste, oregano, pepper, and tomatoes. Reduce heat, and simmer for 20 minutes or until thick. Remove from heat; stir in basil and vinegar. Cool.

The sauce was pretty straightforward. No problems. I let it simmer and went on to pulling together the toppings. I cut one sweet onion into long slivers and put them in a small skillet with 1 T of extra virgin olive oil. It took about 10 minutes for them to get nice and brown and soft. Then, I took out a bottle of sundried tomatoes and drained the oil from it. I chopped up about 1/4 cup of them into small pieces.

Meanwhile, the dough had doubled in size. It took no time at all to roll it and put it into the pizza pan. Then I brushed on 1 T of extra virgin olive oil all over the dough. The oven was already preheated at 500 F and I placed the pan on the lowest rack. It took 8 minutes to brown and get crispy. I took it out and lowered to temp. to 450 F.

Now the fun part, I ladeled the sauce onto the pizza - adjust to your liking. My husband likes a lot of sauce. Then I sprinkled only a 1/4 cup of skim shredded mozzerella. I don't like a lot of cheese, and I was adding goat cheese crumbles as a topping anyway. Then for half the pizza, I added carmelized onions and the other half was the sundried tomatoes. Finally, I sprinkled goat cheese crumbles over the whole pie. I put the whole thing back in the oven and I watched carefully. You don't want the crust to burn, but everything needs to heat up, get soft and become a pizza. It took about 10 minutes. Maybe less depending on your oven.

I smiled when I took it out. It smelled awesome. It looked like a thing of beauty. It took me an hour and a half from start to finish. Was it worth it? IT WAS. The crust was thin and crispy thanks to the pan. The sauce was popping with flavor. And those toppings were out of this world.

My husband? Very, very happy. The pizza? Gone.

Okay, now to the "Short of It". Last night, I made a very quick and healthy meal. The menu? Roasted Cauliflower with Lemon, Sauteed Sweet Pototoes and Apple w/cinnamon and Baked Turbot.

What the heck is a turbot (pronounced tur-bough) do you ask?? Until two days ago, I didn't know either. The fishmonger at Whole Foods saw me eyeing the Chilean Sea Bass. At $23 a pound, it was more than I wanted to spend and I whined about it a bit. So the fishmonger quietly told me that a turbot fillet (at $9 a pound) was what restaurants sometimes trade for sea bass. Unfortunately without the customers knowing. He told me they tasted exactly the same. Did I want to know this jaded piece of information? No, I prefer a state of ignorant bliss. But I thought as long as I was upfront with the hubby, then no harm no foul.

If you haven't seen my recipe for Roasted Cauliflower, you can find it under the December 2007 recipes under the post title, "Something old and something new." It's quick, easy and it's becoming a fast favorite in this household. Between the two of us, we gobble up a head of cauliflower and never have leftovers.

Just for your time management benefit, I preheated the oven at 375 F while I let the cauliflower sit in cold water (it gives it the extra moisture it needs before roasting it) for 25 minutes.

While the cauliflower sat, I sliced one sweet potato very thinly. I used a sharp knife but you could also use a mandolin if you have one. I didn't peel the skin off, because it's good for you, too. I used a fuji apple, which I think is tastiest. I kept the skin on it, as well. I coated a large skillet with cooking spray and added both the potatoes and the apple slices and sprinkled generously with cinnamon. It took about 15 minutes for the mixture to get soft and cook throughout. In hindsight, I would put the sweet potatoes in first for an extra 7 minutes.

When I finished following my cauliflower recipe (see other post for this), I prepared the turbot fillet. I lined a 9 X 12 pan with foil and placed in the 1 1/2 pound turbots fillets (after washing them). I used kosher salt and fresh ground black pepper to season both sides of the fillets. Then, I added 2 T of extra virgin olive oil on the fillets and massaged it in. Yes, I massage fish. I'm not proud of it. Back in the oven at 375 F, it took 12 minutes total to turn an opaque white and become flakey (test with a fork. Flakey = good. Slimey = bad).

I cut up a lemon for the table and squeezed it over the cauliflower and the cooked fish. The only thing I wish I did was whip up couscous or quinoa to fill the empty space on my plate where the grains would sit. Oh well.

Everything turned out really well. A nice light dinner for two. The burning question is, did the turbot taste the same as the sea bass. No. It didn't. But it was good and I would buy it again for dinner for us. I'll save the sea bass for a small dinner party.

Now you have it. The long and the short of it. I've got to go. I've got a pile of dishes to do!!

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