Monday, September 29, 2014

Pizza Dough Revelation

If you've hung around me or my blog much you are likely aware that I am a total pizza fascist. It isn't a trait that I wear proudly (Obviously I have some deep inner pie issues. Perhaps I suffered pizza trauma in my youth. Perhaps I'm just really bossy in the kitchen.)

Last week a good friend of mine, with full knowledge of my rigid pizza politics, had the audacity to serve grilled pizza at her dinner party. "I have this new recipe that I'd really like to try out on you," she told us.

When we arrived at the party the first thing that hit me was the intoxicating smell of yeast and olive oil: a combination that always brings me back to the best job I've ever had, making pizza back in college. My dough rarely smells so warm and inviting.

Our host instructed each of us to shape our own pizza, grill it, and top it. The dough was pliable and dense, easy to form, and cooked up as bubbly as the stuff served at my favorite local Neapolitan place. I could hardly wait to bite into my pizza as it finally came off the grill. The chew was amazing: a snappy crisp outside and soft airy interior. It was a pizza dough revelation! calls their recipe "The Best Pizza Dough for Grilling" and I will not argue with their claim. I adapted the recipe by swapping out a few cups of all-purpose flour for whole wheat, and I also added a bit of sugar to the yeast. Pizza perfection!

Pizza Dough for the Grill
8 servings

1 2/3 cup warm water
1 to 2 teaspoons yeast (1 if you are making the

dough a day ahead of time, 2 if you plan on using it the same day)
2 teaspoons sugar
1/4 cup olive oil
3 cups bread or all-purpose flour
2 cups whole wheat flour
2 teaspoons salt

Combine water, yeast, and sugar in small bowl and set aside until foamy; about 5 minutes.

In large bowl of stand-up mixer combine flours and salt. Add wet ingredients and knead the dough on low speed with a dough hook for 5 to 7 minutes, or knead by hand on the counter for 6 to 8 minutes. When kneaded, the dough should form a smooth ball, feel smooth to the touch, and spring slowly back when poked.

Cut the dough into 8 pieces and form into balls. Grease a baking pan lightly with olive oil or baking spray. Place the dough balls in the pan and turn them over so they are coated with oil. Cover the pan with plastic wrap.

To make pizza the same day: Let dough rise at room temp 1 to 2 hours or until doubled. Use immediately or refrigerate for later use. Dough can be refrigerated up to three days.

To make pizza the next day: Place covered pan immediately in refrigerator and let rise overnight or up to 24 hours. To use, remove dough and let sit at room temp for at least 1 hour.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Aebleskiver: lost in translation

Aebleskiver are pancake balls that are popular, especially during Christmas, as a snack or dessert in Denmark. Traditionally they are sweet, served with fruit preserves or filled with apples (the name is translated "apple slices"), although modern aebleskiver also skew savory. A well made aebleskiver is crisp on the outside and fluffy on the inside.

The good folks from Aunt Else's introduced many Twin Citians, including me, to aebleskiver when they sold the pancakes at Mill City Farmers Market in Minneapolis. After that delicious introduction I began collecting aebleskiver pans, but did not attempt to bake them until this past summer when an aebleskiver-making friend took pity on me. Afterwards I wrote about finally diving into the aebleskiver pool. Surprisingly, they are easy to master and quick to bake: IF you own an aebleskiver pan.

Processed convenience foods don't often make it into my shopping cart. However, in an effort to gauge the popularity of Nordic fare, sometimes I have to take it for the Scandi-team and make purchases that I otherwise might thumb my nose at. Thus, I present to you Trader Joe's Danish Pancakes, found in the freezer section at my local TJ's and acquired for a few dollars.

There are instructions on TJ's packaging for heating the pancakes using a microwave or a conventional oven. After a few minutes in the oven, the TJ aebleskiver came out crispy enough on the outside, but the interior was sort of mushy and odd. We didn't finish that first batch (served with a Maple-Caramel Sauce with Apples and Bacon recipe I was testing for Called to the Table) and I sent the uneaten portions to hide in the refrigerator. Reheated later, the aebeskiver interior was much improved.

Should you try TJ's Danish Pancakes? Meh. While I am thrilled that Nordic food is finally get the attention it deserves, with that attention comes all sorts of sometimes bastardized versions of those foods. Authenticity can get lost somewhere in translation, or in the frozen section.

Trader Joe's aebleskiver with Maple-Caramel Sauce

Homemade aebleskiver with sour cherry preserves

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Cat Blogging: summer success for our biggest loser

As the pounds melted off our beloved Orson, we retired his doggy-sized harness for a more reasonably sized (in fact, two sizes smaller) one made especially for cats. Yesterday we leashed him up in his fancy new collar and brought him to the vet. In the waiting room Orson sat with T on a bench, and I stood in line behind a friendly couple who were picking up prescription dog food. "Wow, that is a really big cat," exclaimed the dog food couple. "I bet if you give him a bath he looks half that size."

"Well, he is pretty big even without all that fur," I said. As if to apologize for Orson's girth I added, "He is on a diet. He has lost three and a half pounds!"

The woman approached the bench to pet him and Orson gave a rare hiss. The woman backed away in alarm.

"He is really gentle, just nervous," I tried to explain. Hang out with this guy for awhile and you forget how imposing he looks. If a twenty-plus pound cat hissed at me, I might run from the building.

The man wasn't deterred. He presented his hand to Orson's nose, like you might introduce yourself to a dog. Orson, hoping for a treat, sniffed at the outstretched fingers and jumped down to the floor so he could roll on his back and present his tummy to the stranger for a thorough scratching.

Our boy is impressive in size and personality.

It's been a tough summer of dieting and exercise, and Orson's lifestyle changes resulted in amazing new leaping abilities. We now separate all three cats during meals to keep Orson from jumping to his siblings' dishes, nosing them away, and taking hefty gulps of stolen goodies. While T believed Orson would be down at least another pound and I was sure he was up a pound, neither of us was prepared for yesterday's weigh-in. Orson is now a svelte 20 pounds, having lost five pounds in as many months. He may need a new harness soon.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Is it the weekend yet?

I don't know about the rest of you, but this week Friday did not come soon enough and I am ready for the weekend. The best weekends begin with happy hour. Over at Called to the Table is an ode to dirty drinks and happy hours.

Dirty Martini a la Love Tree Farmstead
2 servings

For the olives:

4 to 6 large green olives, cured and pitted
3 to 4 tablespoons juice from olives
1/4 cup gin
2 tablespoons
Love Tree Farmstead juniper-flavored cheese (or a peppered chèvre)

In small container cover olives with olive juice and gin and marinate at least 4 hours. Drain and pat dry with paper towel, then fill the middle of each olive with the cheese. 

For the martinis:
5 ounces gin
1 ounce dry vermouth
1 ounce olive juice-gin from marinated olives

Shake gin, vermouth, and olive juice-gin with ice and strain into martini glasses; garnish with olives.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Stories to tell

There is a great mystery and powerful music playing that we don't 
hear and stories full of magic, so many stories that life isn't 
long enough to tell them all.   --Garrison Keillor

Yesterday was one of those days that everywhere I went I met cool people who told me their stories. Two characteristics they had in common: passion in the way they live their lives and a willingness to talk about it.

A young man who has been urban farming since he was 12 years old is now an enthusiastic youth educator, teaching kids about gardening and healthy foods.

A woman who lived her entire life in Madison, Wisconsin recently moved to the Twin Cities. She was tentative about whether she'd eventually adjust to our way of life but she knew she made the right decision. The cultural divide between Wisconsin and Minnesota isn't always easy to maneuver.

A cashier-by-day, burlesque-performer-by-night told me how excited he was to head to the fabric store after work so he and his friends could start creating new costumes for his performances. He is a self-taught dancer and acrobat, and I hope to schedule some time to go watch his show.

And all of this was before lunch! After work I took the train into downtown and at the ticket station I met a woman who wanted advice about which ticket to purchase and which train she should be on. Turns out she was in town from Seattle to interview for a position with pulmonary surgery, and was spending her final evening in Minneapolis exploring the lakes and maybe taking a walk across the Stone Arch Bridge.

I spent the evening at my favorite stomping ground, American Swedish Institute, mingling with fellow bloggers and food lovers who are party of Fortify (formerly MN Food Bloggers)

Before the event began I ran into an elderly Swedish friend of mine who tells the most amazing stories. Last night was no exception and I was treated to the tale of the missing Dala horse. Back in the 1960s my friend along with his son and wife made a pair of six-foot tall Dala horses. One still stands at the Gammelgården Museum in Scandia, Minnesota. But one of the horses stood outside of a relative's coffee shop, and when a thief took the horse the story was featured on KSTP news. A viewer in St. Paul contacted my friend saying he found the stolen horse. The horse was returned and it stood at ASI for a few years before it disappeared again. Some horses are always looking for greener pastures.

At the Fortify event I met a few bloggers, had a delicious cocktail made from Gamle Ode Celebration Aquavit, and nibbled at lovely bites from Fika. Conversation with a married couple who have ties to the co-op community ended the evening perfectly. Again, passionate people with great stories to tell. (And they also told me where to score Red Wattle pork.) 

Back at home I told T about the people I met, and relayed the story about the missing Dala horse. His comment was, "Sounds like a good case for Guy Noir."

Sunday, September 14, 2014

From flub to fabulous: Zucchini-Parmesan Waffles

I've been writing a lot lately about my kitchen flubs. Somewhere in the mix was that rotten spiral veggie cutter that I just couldn't seem to master. But after a few trials and blunders, I have finally figured out how to whittle my squash into pretty ribbons.

Our Sunday brunch was inspired by my success with the Veggetti and by fellow food blogger Amanda Paa's "Smitten with Squash." Zucchini-Parmesan Waffles are a riff on Amanda's Summer Squash Pancakes. I'll be writing more about Paa's delightful new cookbook in a later posting. Until then, I'll be congratulating myself for mastering the fine art of zucchini spirals by griddling up another batch of these savory waffles.

Try these waffles warm with butter or honey-butter. Use leftover waffles to make grilled cheese sandwiches; great with Gruyere or mozzarella, tomato marmalade, and a bit of basil!

Zucchini-Parmesan Waffles
Makes 4 to 5 waffles

1 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 tablespoons sugar
1/4 teaspoon fresh gound nutmeg
pinch of salt
1 cup grated or skinny spirals of zucchini, squeezed in paper towel to remove extra moisture
1/2 cup buttermilk
1/3 cup shredded Parmesan or Asiago cheese
1/4 cup Greek-style yoghurt
1 large egg
1 tablespoons melted butter, unsalted

In large mixing bowl whisk together dry ingredients and set aside. In separate mixing bowl stir together zucchini, buttermilk, cheese, yoghurt, and egg. Add wet ingredients to dry and stir until just combined. Stir in butter.

Heat waffle iron and cook waffles according to manufacturer's instructions.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Single bars and single women

Before I was old enough to hang out in bars, before I was even allowed to date, I spent many a Saturday night plopped in front of the TV watching SNL. Every generation believes the Saturday Night Live of their tweendom was the funny period of the show and since that time, be it 30 or 20 or 10 years ago, it has really gone down hill. In funny and not-so-funny times we looked to SNL to define and explain pop and political culture, and to poke fun at those who take themselves to seriously.

So we expected a few laughs every Saturday, and I still catch my breath a little when I remember the night SNL delivered something quite different. The scene opened in a practically empty dim-lit bar. A bartender tended to his counter, a piano guy quietly tickled the keys, and a pretty blonde started to sing:

Single bars and single women
With a single thought in mind
Just to make it till the morning
Looking for what they can find
For a man you won't remember
For a night you can't forget

I did a double take at the TV. This wasn't funny. This was sad. This was poetry - the kind of poetry my relatively innocent unclaimed heart understood. I sat, mesmerized and baffled. Those heartbreaking words stayed with me into adulthood as I attempted to avoid the fate of the lonely singer.

These days I seek out bars with decent Happy Hours and screens that show Packer games when there is a conflict. Thankfully I've yet to be the lonely girl sitting with her cocktail singing about the futility of one night stands. Hearing that song all those years ago served as a good warning.

At Called to the Table today is a story about a different kind of bar, along with a confession: I cannot make bars. I just can't. I am terrible at mixing them, baking them, and chiseling them out of the pan. (My friend L still shakes her head when recalling my first attempt at baking brownies. The bars became little blocks of brown cement that stuck so completely to the pan that we had to throw it away even after soaking it in hot soapy water for days.) I found a recipe for a no-bake bar with all of my favorite ingredients: butter, pretzels, peanut butter, and chocolate. And, as you can see from the photo above, I still haven't perfected my bar making skills.