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Wednesday, April 06, 2005

At last, Spring is Here

After a brutal Michigan winter, it finally feels like spring today. It's in the mid seventies, and the sun is shining, you can see the grass getting greener over the course of a few hours! After a winter that was like a frame from a dreary black & white movie, we here in Michigan are rolling out the red carpet for the sun! I spent most of the day getting my herb garden ready, clearing out the bed, tilling, adding soil and fertilizer. It felt great to have the sun on my face, and my hands in the cool soil. I feel like I just stumbled out of hibernation, rubbing the sleep from my eyes with a smile. I keep a great kitchen herb garden next to the house with: Rosemary, Thyme, Mint, Sage, Basil, Oregano, Marjoram, Italian Parsley, Garlic Chives, and Cilantro. I'll have to wait until next month for the fragile herbs. The herbs love the heat from the brick with the morning to midday sun. I really miss my herb garden in the winter. I miss the sun too. I had a terrific lunch as well, my soul food: Oldani Salami, Provolone, with tomatoes marinated in Basil, Fresh Garlic and Crushed Red Pepper, all on a chewy blistered Italian loaf. Red Wine (Cypress Merlot) to drink and chunks of Fontinella on the side. Spring feels good today. So do I.

Monday, April 04, 2005

Perfect Sushi Rice

I love sushi, sometimes I get on a real kick! It is so different than most of the cooking that I do, which is why I like it. This recipe for Sushi Rice, is by far the best I've made, and better than most that I've had. Any sushi lover knows that no matter how great your fish is, if your rice is not good, forget it! This is adapted from The Nobu Cookbook, which I just love! Most people use a rice cooker to make sushi rice, and they make damned good rice. When fellow cooks ask if I have a Rice Cooker, I respond, "You're lookin' at 'em!"

Sushi Rice

2 1/4 Cups Good Quality Short Grain Rice
2 1/4 Cups Water
1/2 Cup Rice Wine Vinegar (Nobu uses Red Vinegar, which is sweeter, I'm still looking for it)
1 Tbsp + 1 tsp Salt
1/2 Tbsp Mirin
5 Tbsp Granulated Sugar
1 Small Piece of Konbu (Dried Kelp) Make a few cuts in it

Wash the rice until the water is clear, about 3-4 times. Drain in a colander over a bowl for 1 hour.
For the Dressing:
Combine the salt, 1/2 of the vinegar, Sugar, and Mirin. Heat until the salt and sugar are dissolved. Remove from the heat and add the knobu. When this mixture cools, add the remaining vinegar.
For the Rice:
Add the rice and water to a 2 quart saucepan with a tight fitting lid.
*Bring to a boil over high heat. Boil 1 minute.
*Turn the heat to low for 5 minutes.
*Turn heat to high for 10 seconds.
*Remove from the heat. Let stand, covered, for 15 minutes.

Season the rice with 3 oz. of the dressing, cutting it in with a flat rubber spatula to break the clumps. Let cool, I put mine under a ceiling fan. You want to cool it as soon as possible without refrigerating it. Cover with damp paper towels, moistened with the remaining dressing. Keep at room temperature until ready to use. Never refrigerate sushi rice.

Makes about 7 cups

Sunday, April 03, 2005

Char-Grilled Pizza

If you haven't experienced Grilled Pizza, you are truly missing out! Yesterday's was the best Pizza I have ever eaten! It was so good I almost cried...OK, I did a little, sue me, I was touched. If you've never thrown a pizza on a grill, it sounds like it could be a disaster. This couldn't be further from the truth. It cooks in only a few minutes, and the dough is crisp and blistered with fantastic grill marks. There isn't a special dough recipe, mine is below, which is adapted from The Joy of Cooking, which in my opinion, is an indispensable resource. The thing that really makes this pizza special is a light smoky flavor. I use a gas grill with a wood chip tray; apple wood chips. My sauce is a must for this, and it also must have smoke. Yesterday my toppings were Grilled Chicken (marinated just as the Romas), thinly julienned Red Onion, and Bell Pepper. This pizza is also great with just cheese. Here is how I make it:

Basic Pizza Dough

1 Package Active Dry Yeast (2 1/4 tsp.)
1 1/3 Cups Water (105 d-115d F)
1 Tbsp Honey
3 1/2 - 3 3/4 Cups A.P. Flour
2 Tbsp. Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 Tbsp Sea Salt

Combine the Yeast, Water, and Honey and let stand about 5 minutes, or until the yeast starts to bloom. I use a kitchen aid with a dough hook, gradually start adding your flour with the motor on low speed. After 1 Cup is added, add the salt. Continue adding the flour until you add about 3 1/4 cups. At this point I always turn my dough on to a lightly floured bench, bread dough is a touch thing for me. Knead the dough, adding more flour if necessary, until smooth and elastic.
Let rise in a warm place until doubled in bulk.

Smoky Roma Tomato Sauce

1 lb. Nicely Ripe Roma Tomatoes, cored and halved
3 Cloves Fresh garlic, put through a press
1/4 Cup Chopped Fresh Basil
10 Turns of Black Pepper
1 tsp. Crushed Red Pepper

Toss these ingredients together (no salt yet please, you don't want all of the liquid escaping), let stand for 1 hour. Heat a Gas Grill with some wood chips. Once the grill is hot and the chips are smoldering, put the tomatoes on the grill (save the bowl), round side down. Grill them until soft, about 10 minutes. Put them back in the bowl, which probably has some basil and garlic in the bottom. I use an immersion blender to puree this, leaving it just a little chunky. Add a little honey, about 2 Tbsp Chopped Basil, and salt to taste.

Grilling the Pizza

Punch your dough down and divide into balls, about the size of a racquet ball. Put these onto a baking sheet with about 1/2 cup of olive oil (you want quite a bit). When your grill is hot and smoky, flatten out a ball in the oil, very thin, don't sweat a few little holes. In my opinion, the more oddly shaped each pizza is the better. Throw this on the grill without letting the dough bunch up. When you check underneath, and there are nice grill marks, flip it over. Add a thin layer of sauce, Cheese (I used a mixture of Fontina, Asiago, Parmesan, and Mozzarella), and any additional toppings you like. When the dough is cooked, transfer the pizza to the top rack, this allows time for crisping, melting, and absorption of smoke. If you don't have a top rack, keep one side of the grill on low. Top with chopped Basil.