Sunday, January 12, 2014

Our Favorite Tomato Sauce

Oh, I'd say I've made this tomato sauce every week for the last few months.  It's simple and, in fact, our favorite tomato sauce.  I use it for pasta dishes and pizzas alike.  We never tire of this simple sauce.   With this recipe, I either have the sauce in my refrigerator or tomatoes on my counter waiting to be made into sauce.  I'm smartening up today and making a double recipe.

The proportions on this does not need to be perfectly exact.  I eyeball it and adjust according to taste.  Since we're dealing with fresh tomatoes, sugar content varies somewhat.  In the summer, when tomatoes are in season here, the tomatoes are much more sweet and flavorful than they are during the off season.  When buying the tomatoes this time of year, they are rarely ripe enough in the store to make a really good sauce.  Therefore, I am buying the tomatoes at least a few days or a week ahead to allow them to get really ripe before using.  We all know tomatoes in the summer here are best.  Ripening on the vine produces more natural sweetness and flavor in the tomatoes.  But this time of year, thinking a little ahead of time, helps produce a better sauce.

20 Fresh Roma tomatoes, about 4 ½ to 5 pounds
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
3 garlic cloves
1 to 2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon salt
¼ cup fresh basil leaves, chopped
freshly ground pepper

Cut tomatoes in half and squeeze out the seeds.  Then cut into large pieces and purée with a food processor.
In  large pot, heat olive oil and garlic over low heat until the garlic starts to sizzle.

Add the puréed tomatoes, stir together with the olive oil.  Turn heat up to medium-high, and bring tomatoes to a boil.
Add the sugar and salt and stir to combine.  Stirring occasionally, let sauce boil rapidly until thickened. 
It should be reduced to about ½ of its original volume and be quite thick.
Stir in the basil leaves, add several turns of the pepper mill, and you're ready to go.
Use as is for a pizza sauce, in a lasagna, on eggplant parmesan, so many possibilities.  Or add a little cream and sausage for a pasta sauce with some homemade pasta.  Outstanding.
This will keep in the refrigerator for up to a week or in the freezer for months.  

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Pho and a Playoff Game

Recipe updated 10/17/14:

We have some new hardware in our house, and it was put to good use.  Our game day lunch was a big bowl of pho.  We have pho almost every weekend.  It's a household favorite, but I rarely make it myself.  It's a lot of work for a bowl.  In the past I've had to split it up into two pots to make as I did not have a pot large enough to make enough broth to make the work worth while.  Armed with my new pot, I'm good to go.  In the spans of preparing lunch, it rained, poured, hailed, thundered, poured and now it's sunny.  Maybe a preamble to how the game will transpire?   

For the broth:
4 lbs beef bones, best when they are marrow bones
2 lbs oxtail
2-3 lb beef shank meat, or other inexpensive meat in one whole piece
4-5 small yellow onions, peeled and halved
4 - 2" pieces ginger, peeled and smashed
8 star anise
12 whole cloves
3 cinnamon sticks
½  tbsp fennel seeds
1 ½ tbsp coriander seeds
⅓ cup fish sauce
¼ cup thin soy sauce
½ cup rice wine
2 ounces rock sugar
10 quarts water
You will need a large stewing or soup pot.

Place onions and ginger in a shallow baking pan, drizzle with a little oil, and broil in the oven for about 8-10 minutes flipping everything once until slightly charred.  Add in the star anise, cloves, cinnamon, fennel and coriander and broil for 1 minute more.  
Sprinkle all bones, oxtail, shank with salt and pepper.  Heat a large pan over medium high heat.  Add 2 tablespoons oil.  Brown the bones, oxtail, shank on all sides.  Do this in batches so not to overcrowd the pan.  Once you're finished, deglaze the pan with 2 cups of the water.
In a separate large pot, bring to boil the 9 ½ quarts of remaining water while you are browning the bones and meat.  Add the browned bones, oxtail, shank to the boiling water, along with the onions, spices, fish sauce, thin soy sauce, wine and rock sugar.  Turn heat to high and bring back to a boil.  Once boiling, turn heat down to low, cover pot, and simmer broth covered for 7 hours. 

For easier handling, let broth cool a bit and then remove all the bones, oxtail, meat, etc.  You can do this by removing the large meat and bones first and then use a fine mesh sieve to strain the soup to remove the rest of the solids.  You can either discard all the meat, or find a second use.  I've got a four legged family member who I know would love the shank meat.  

I separated the broth to freeze some for future meals.  Store in the refrigerator overnight.  Or, if you are making this for the same day just reheat the broth to a boil when you are ready to serve.  I like the make it a day ahead method as it allows you to easily remove the fat that solidifies on top and I think chilling and reheating intensifies the flavors.  Before serving the broth, test for seasoning, adding more salt as needed.  Remember, once the noodles and beef combine with the broth, it will become less salty.  

For the noodles you will need:
Very thinly sliced beef (we used beef eye of round) but you can buy any type of thinly sliced beef at your local Asian market
Dried thin rice sticks, some Asian market will have fresh, which is even better
Thinly sliced green onions
Chopped cilantro
Basil, Thai preferably, but regular basil, as I used today, is fine
Bean Sprouts
Lime wedges
Thinly sliced onionsSriracha hot sauce, if you like

Cook noodles according to package instructions.  This will vary depending on fresh, dried and thickness.  Place the noodles in a large bowl and ladle broth over top.  Sprinkle with green onions and cilantro.  If you choose a lean, thinly sliced meat, place the raw meet on top of the noodles before you ladle the broth on top.  With the boiling broth, it will instantly cook the beef.  For our short ribs, I dipped them for a few seconds into the same boiling water as the noodles before placing them into the bowl.
Serve with a dish of basil, bean sprouts, sliced onions, lime wedges and some slices of jalapeno if you like. 

Go Hawks!  It's almost game time.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Welcome 2014! Still Loving Pizza. A Go-To Dough

Well, another new year has arrived.  It came quickly and as I get older, the years seem to pass faster.  With the passing of this holiday, I'm feeling more and more the truth that our time with our babes, living in our nest, is finite.  We have a new driver in the house and with that further step in independence, Chris and I have lost a step in opportunities to talk, hash out, confide in, investigate, coach, counsel and share with Maggie.  The dinner table has always been our gathering place and we really make it a priority to get there together as often as possible.  With each year, dinner has become all the more important in our day.  Yes, it's obvious we love to eat, so if I can use food to lure everyone to come to the huddle, I have won a little.  There's a little football analogy for you as part of my current obsession with the Seahawks.  

I've pinned down a favorite go-to pizza dough recipe.  It's a slight variation on one I've posted before and have used consistently for months now.  It has never failed.  It's a good combination of texture, flavor and importantly, ease.  So, with this year's first post, I go back to an old favorite.. pizza.

3 1/4 cups bread flour or "00" flour 
2 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons active dry yeast
1 tablespoon sugar
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 1/4 cup warm water

As for the flour, I've used both bread flour and 00 flour.  The 00 flour will give you a slightly lighter dough, but bread flour works just fine.
Place the dry ingredients in a bowl of a standing mixer.  Using the hook attachment, turn the mixer on medium to mix the ingredients.  Combine the olive oil and water and slowly pour into the flour mixture with the mixer on the number 2 setting.  Add a little more water if necessary if the dough does not come together.  Once the dough comes together turn the mixer up another notch and knead the dough for about 6 minutes.  
Lightly coat a large bowl with olive oil.  Place the dough in the bowl and cover with plastic wrap.  
Let sit for at least 3 hours and up to 6.  It should have risen to about 3 times its original size.
About an hour ahead of cooking, turn the dough out onto a well floured surface.  Separate the dough into 4 equal sized balls.  Cover the dough with a clean kitchen towel and then with plastic wrap and let rise again for about 30 minutes.  

It being January and raining here, we are not pulling out our fabulous Weber kettle pizza setup to cook the pizzas.  Instead the oven will have to do.
Set your oven to 500f.  Place the rack on its lowest position.  Put a pizza stone onto the rack and let it heat up for at least 30 minutes before cooking.
On a well floured surface, use your hands to pull and work the dough into approximately 12 inch rounds.  Use as much flour as you need to easily work with the dough.
For the quickest turn on the cooking process, I prepare all the pizzas so they are ready to go in the oven and cook them one at a time and serve them as they come out.
To do this, I use 4 cutting boards or flat wood boards.  Sprinkle each board liberally with a cornmeal and flour mixture to keep the dough from sticking to the board and so that you can easily slide the pizza off onto the stone.
Before you slide the pizza off, loosen the edges by peeling it back a little. Test and see if the pizza will slide a bit before you open the oven door to put the pizza in.  
Slide the pizza onto the stone and bake for 5-10 minutes.  You'll have to just keep an eye on it gauge when you think the dough is cooked.

The toppings are all up to you!  The Emerton favorite is homemade tomato sauce, fresh mozzarella and basil.  But tonight I'm trying a couple new toppings as well.  

Radicchio, pine nuts, guanciale and Emmental
Slice radicchio into 1/2" thick slices.  Toss with a little olive oil, salt and pepper.  Roast in oven at 375f for 12 minutes. Top pizza with shredded Emmental, then the radicchio, pine nuts and guanciale.

Portobello, pancetta and Comté
Slice portobello mushroom into 1/8" thick slices.  Top pizza with shredded Comté, the portobello and then the pancetta.

All is well with pizza night.