Friday, April 29, 2011

Food Fight: Pizza Showdown

It started with some trash-talking…as all good dinner parties do. But this dinner party, my friends, wasn’t your average white linen and good manners type of dinner party. It was a showdown. Or a throwdown (minus Bobby Flay). It was the best kind of food fight. And the subject? Pizza!


V and her boyfriend Ben (our only friend with a house instead of an apartment, and a professional-style gas stove…swoon) invited us over for the Second Annual Pizza Showdown. Last year’s showdown started out as a friendly pizza collaboration, and ended in voting and bribing, with Adrienne being named the winner. I guess we’re a competitive bunch. This year, we skipped the niceties, and went straight for the jugular.

Ben: “I'm going to make a pizza that calls all your pizzas Susie.”
V: “Who wants to be on the "my pizza kills ben's pizza" team?”
Ben: “Make sure to bring name tags for your pizza—you can go ahead and write "Susie" on them in advance.”
Adrienne: “Just remember who won last year…”


With that kind of pressure, I decided I had bring out the big guns. Evan and I brainstormed for days, trying to come up with a winning pizza topping combination. We threw out ideas like Sriracha and chicken, or sundried tomatoes, arugula, and Salumi salami. He wanted big and meaty, I wanted fresh and full of veggies. Our team was breaking at the seams, before the competition even began. When the time came to get supplies, Evan was nowhere to be found…so I picked out the toppings I wanted, asparagus and arugula, and completely disregarded his meat-full wishes. No one said competition is pretty. It is, however, delicious.


We gathered in Ben’s big grown-up kitchen, threw out some fightin’ words, drank wine, danced and sang, and whipped out some amazing, delicious pizzas. And, low and behold, my last minute topping decision won the contest; with Adrienne coming in at a close second (that girl knows how to make a classic pizza).


The Pies:
Amber: The green pie—shaved asparagus with fontina, pine nuts, shaved parmesan, and fresh lemon-kissed arugula
Adrienne: The classic—mushrooms, pepperoni, and olives
V: The spicy Pie—tandoori chicken with fresh cilantro
Ben: The big and meaty—sausage, grilled onions, and pepperoncini
Tasha: The simple but always delicious margherita—tomatoes, basil, and mozzarella
Bree: Tropical with a Twist—pineapple, Canadian bacon, and smoked Gouda
Jim: The forager—a pizza overflowing with sautéed mushrooms
Evan, Bobby, and Ewan: an inappropriately shaped pizza that we will not name on this blog


Go ahead, Ben, just try to call this pizza Susie.

Shaved Asparagus Pizza
(The dough recipe below makes six 6-ounce pizza crusts—my toppings will cover two of them)

Your favorite pizza dough or “The Best Pizza Dough Ever” from 101 Cookbooks
1 bunch asparagus, shaved lengthwise with a vegetable peeler (try it, its fun!)
1 clove garlic, minced
Sea salt
Olive oil
Pine nuts
½ -2 cups grated fontina
¼ cup grated parmesan
Shaved parmesan
A large bowl full of fresh arugula tossed with fresh lemon juice, a drizzle of olive oil, a splash of vinegar, and salt and pepper—to taste

Prepare your dough according to directions, stretch it, and lay it on a pizza peel or pan coated with cornmeal. Bush a light amount of olive oil on the dough, sprinkle on garlic and sea salt. Top with grated fontina and parm, and a hearty amount of asparagus, you really want to mound the asparagus on, because it will baked down. Sprinkle on pinenuts. Bake pizza according to directions for the dough—the bottom should be slightly crispy and golden, and the asparagus should be just browning around the loose edges. Remove the pizza from the oven and transfer to a cutting board. Before serving, top with arugula and shaved parm, and another spritz of lemon if needed.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Wordless Wednesday: Easter Dinner









For Easter, Amanda and I made an amazingly delicious dinner inspired by some of our favorite recipes, food blogs, and food magazines. We gorged ourselves on shaved Brussels sprout salad with pineapple poppy seed vinaigrette, roasted radishes with lemon brown butter and fresh chopped radish tops, asparagus and cheeses tart with buttery homemade puff pastry, crispy pommes anna with herbes de provence, Amanda’s crazy-good brown sugar pulled ham, and individual pistachio meringues with vanilla whipped cream (using our vanilla beans from Moorea) and strawberries soaked in orange flower water.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Simple Saturday: Grilled Eggplant Tartine

Spring is in the air, so rain or shine, I’m firing up the grill. And, since I’m lovin’ Mediterranean flavors right now, I came up with this fairly quick and simple grilled eggplant recipe that you can serve as an open-faced sandwich (or tartine), or as crostinis for a delicious spring appetizer.


Or…you could just stand on the balcony devouring it straight off the flame, while your neighbors enviously take in the sights and scents of grilled eggplant and crusty charred bread with thyme, tangy feta cheese, sweet balsamic vinegar, and fresh herbs, mingling with the floral fragrance of the cherry blossoms blooming nearby.

If that doesn’t put a little spring in your step, I don’t know what will!

Grilled Eggplant and Feta Tartine

1-2 Japanese eggplants cut lengthwise into ¼ inch thin slices
Olive oil
Salt and pepper
Fresh thyme
4 baguette slices
Feta cheese
Balsamic vinegar
Fresh basil
Fresh mint

Preheat grill pan or grill over medium. Brush eggplant slices and baguette slices with olive oil, sprinkle with salt, pepper, and thyme. Grill eggplant until tender and golden with visible grill marks. Grill bread until toasted. Top baguette slices with eggplant, feta, a drizzle of good olive oil and balsamic, and a sprinkle of basil and mint leaves.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Heart’s Delight: Peking Pork Dumplings

I don’t know the actual, literal translation for dim sum, but colloquially it translates to “heart’s delight.” I see how it got that name…all those little shrimp and pork dumplings are certainly delightful and make my heart do a happy dance. Especially after they saved the day…the day of the great shrimp tragedy.


These pulled pork dumplings are inspired by Peking duck—flavored with hoisin sauce, green onions, and sesame seeds, and served with a tangy vinegar sauce that balances out the sweet filling. I had hoped to make crispy duck dumplings, but unbeknownst to me, it’s not easy to find fresh, non-frozen duck (except maybe in the I.D.). John had a good “I told you so” over that one.


So, instead of duck, I went with pork—a good duck standby, texturally, and always a winner when it comes to dumplings. Unlike most dumplings I used shredded pulled pork, instead of ground. I simply marinated the pork in soy sauce and garlic and roasted it until fork-tender and easy to shred. The meat itself is not much of a 'recipe' so I'll let you use your favorite roasted, shredded/pulled pork, or even leftover pork!


Peking Pork Dumplings
Makes 25..ish

1.5 pounds cooked pork-shredded
3 green onions-thinly sliced (reserve a pinch for the sauce)
1/2 cup hoisin sauce
splash soy sauce
splash sesame oil
white sesame seeds
25 won ton wrappers
equal parts soy sauce and red wine vinegar

Mix together pork, onions, hoisin, soy, a sprinkle of sesame seeds, and sesame oil. Mixture should be evenly coated and a little saucy. Taste, and adjust if necessary.

Place a small spoonful of filling in center of wonton wrapper, and bring edges up to make a purse--twist and seal with water.

Boil (or steam) 4-5 dumplings at a time, until wonton wrapper is tender.

For dipping sauce, mix together equal parts soy sauce and red wine vinegar, and add a sprinkle of sesame seeds and sliced green onion. Serve dumplings with dipping sauce and hot chili oil (if you like it spicy).

Thursday, April 7, 2011

The Great Shrimp Tragedy

Our story starts a few months ago, in Seattle’s Chinatown/International District (known as the “I.D.” in these parts). My office is mere steps away from this mecca of hanging roasted ducks, big bowls of noodle-filled pho, salmon teriyaki bento boxes, and, most important to this story—slippery, salty dim sum.


It was at one such establishment, a crowded, rushed dim sum joint, that I first tried honey walnut prawns. Hidden between bamboo steamers of dumplings and plates of meat-filled buns, we discovered a dish of crispy fried prawns and candied walnuts, coated with a sticky honey-mayonnaise sauce and sprinkled with nutty sesame seeds. In addition to the amazing, sigh-provoking crispy-top shrimp buns that were devoured that day, honey walnut prawns became an instant obsession.


The fixation finally got the best of me, and I did what I do best—I tried to recreate the delicious recipe at home. Instead of frying, I boiled the shrimp (swimsuit season is fast approaching, ya know). I made a sweet but tangy mayo-honey sauce, and candied a tray of walnuts, which I tossed with the shrimp. Then, in an act of ultimate perfection, I showered sesame seeds and sliced green onions over the top. It was beautiful, it was fabulous, it looked even better than the sticky-shrimp-of-heaven from the ID.


Before digging in and savoring my masterpiece, I had to take some glamour shots. That’s where the pictures came from. All was going well—pictures were taken, the table was set, and I was seconds from serving the dish I had been dreaming of for months—honey walnut prawns. Then, as I carried the serving bowl from kitchen to dining room, everything went wrong. In one tragic moment, the serving bowl slipped from my eager hands, and, along with all that tangy, sweet, sticky, saucy coated shrimp, it went crashing to the floor. The bowl shattered in a million pieces, coating my beautiful, beautiful shrimp in shiny black speckles of glass. The entire kitchen—cupboard doors, floor, fridge, and oven—was covered with shrimp, sauce, and glass. Lots of glass.

It was…over. All my hard work, my anticipation, my black bowl—gone. Luckily, I had also made pork dumplings. This, my friends, is where our tragedy becomes a success.


To be continued...

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Perfect Picnic Sandwich: Pan Bagnat

Spring is in the air—sort of. We had one amazingly sunny, warm, no-coat or umbrella week. The birds were chirping, the trees were blooming (my allergies were going wild), and the city swelled with people coming out to enjoy the sun. Then, before we even had time to dig out the flip flops, we were reminded that April showers (hopefully) bring May flowers, and April Fool’s day was the rainiest, stormiest, wettest day we’ve had in weeks.


As it gradually gets warmer outside, and Evan and I are making that slow journey from heavy, hearty, sauce-laden meals to light, fresh, picnic-worthy fare—like this sandwich: Pan Bagnat. Move over pickles and mayo, a new tuna sandwich is in town, and just in time for spring!


Tuna can be a weird thing. I, for one, am very particular about who prepares my tuna sandwiches. I’ve seen too many soggy, mushy tuna ‘spreads’ out there to trust my canned-fish in the hands of just anyone. In other words, I pretty much only eat tuna sandwiches made by Amanda, Mel, or myself. If I saw this tuna sandwich on a menu, however, I might change my tune.


Pan Bagnat, or ‘wet bread,’ is a basically a Niçoise salad in a French loaf. Big, flakey chunks of tuna are tossed with olive oil and red wine vinegar, sweet cherry tomatoes, and briny olives and capers, then stuffed into a chewy French loaf layered with fresh basil and creamy hardboiled eggs (another thing I only eat from a select few kitchens). The sandwich is then pressed, so that the flavors meld even more, and the bread begins to soak up the tangy juices, hence the name.


I know it may seem like just another spin on a tuna sandwich, but trust me people, this sandwich is amazing. It’s super fresh and light, tangy, and just plain delicious. And, unlike many tuna sammies out there, the fish in this sandwich gets to keep its integrity, and isn’t creamed into oblivion with heaps of mayonnaise. Just another reason I would maybe consider ordering this off of a menu, or letting you make it for me.


Whether you’re making this for yourself, or letting someone else make it for you; waiting for your first spring picnic, or encouraging the sun to come a little quicker by picnicking on your living room floor; this sandwich is a must have in your picnic basket.

Pan Bagnat
Inspired by Sarah at 20Something Cupcakes

Serves 2 ravenously hungry people, or—with a salad or side dish—4 moderately hungry people.

2 cans of albacore tuna, drained (many recipes call for tuna packed in oil, and suggest using that oil in the sandwich filling, but I prefer tuna in water, drained, and a separate fruity olive oil for a fresher, less fishy-canned flavor)
A hearty handful of Niçoise olives (cured in brine and packed in olive oil)—roughly chopped
An even heartier handful of cherry tomatoes—halved or quartered
2 big spoonfuls of capers
Couple splashes of red wine vinegar
Squeeze of a lemon
Healthy pour or 2 (or 3 or 4) of good olive oil
Salt (preferably flakey maldon sea salt)
Fresh ground black pepper
1 bunch fresh basil
2-3 harboiled eggs—thinly sliced
1 chewy French loaf- halved and hollowed
Under broiler, toast insides of bread halves until lightly browned and slightly crispy. Remove, cool for a second, and layer both halves with basil leaves—get a lot in there and get it fully covered.

Mix together tuna through black pepper—taste, and add more of anything if needed. You’ll want a pretty good amount of oil and vinegar so that the mixture is coated and moist, without being overly soggy. Pile mixture into bottom bread half, and cover with a single layer of sliced eggs. Top with second basil-lined bread half, and wrap sandwich with plastic wrap.

Weight down with a heavy brick for 10-20 minutes (depending on how hungry/impatient you are) to press. Unwrap, slice, and serve!