Pizza La La

Remember when you were in school and the best two words that could be spoken or heard were, “pizza party”?

Yeah, it didn’t move me. The trouble is that red sauce. 

I was raised on it.  My mom was famous for her all-day, slow-cooked spaghettie sauce.  When my friends ate dinner with us and spaghetti was on the menu, they were lost.  They spent the rest of their lives chasing that red, garlic-scented dragon. 

For me though, after seventeen or eighteen gallons of it, the bloom was definitely off the pasta rose.  I’m just not a fan.

But, as you may know, Gentle Reader, I am first in line for bread.  And made well, pizza crust is a glorious celebration of yeast and gluten.  I make foccacia with my sourdough starter and use it as pizza crust.  My toppings of choice are marsalla onion jam, shatteringly crispy shards of bacon, and fresh mozzerella or goat cheese—no red sauce.

Nope.

Turns out my pizza dressing is a very close cousin to the French pissaladière, except I use bacon instead of anchovies (Bacon rather than little smelly fish? Duh.).

This focaccia is a yeast, rather than sourdough version that The Kid makes all the time.  It’s an adaptaion from a recipe that comes from the website, Serious Eats.

Thanks for your time.

Contact debbie at dm@bullcity.mom.

Cast Iron Pissaladière-ish

Ingredients

3 & ¼ cups all-purpose or bread flour

1 tablespoon kosher salt

1 teaspoon instant yeast

1 tablespoon sugar

1 ½ cups minus 1 tablespoon water

¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil, divided

5 slices bacon, cooked crisp and broken into large shards

¼ cup deeply caramelized onions

1/3 cup crumbled goat cheese

Coarse sea salt freshly cracked pepper

Combine flour, salt, sugar, yeast, and water in large bowl. Mix with hands or wooden spoon until no dry flour remains. The bowl should be 4 to 6 times the volume of dough for rising.

Cover bowl tightly with plastic wrap, making sure edges are well-sealed, then let rest on countertop for 8-24 hours. Dough should rise dramatically and fill bowl.

Sprinkle top of dough lightly with flour, then transfer to lightly-floured work surface. Form into ball by holding it with well-floured hands and tucking dough underneath itself, rotating until it forms tight ball.

Pour half of oil in bottom of large cast iron skillet. Transfer dough to pan, turn to coat in oil, and position seam-side-down. Using flat palm, press dough around skillet, flattening it slightly and spreading oil around entire bottom and edges of pan. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and let dough stand at room temperature 2 hours. After first hour, preheat oven to 550°F.

After 2 hours, dough should mostly fill skillet up to edge. Use fingertips to press it around until it fills every corner, popping any large bubbles that appear. Lift up one edge of the dough to let air bubbles underneath escape and repeat, moving around the dough until there are no air bubbles left underneath and it’s evenly spread around skillet. Spread onions and bacon over surface of dough, dot with cheese, and press down with fingertips to embed slightly. Drizzle with remaining olive oil. Sprinkle with coarse salt.

Transfer skillet to oven and bake until top’s golden brown and bubbly and bottom’s golden brown and crisp when you lift with spatula, 16-24 minutes. Using a thin spatula, loosen focaccia and peek underneath. If bottom is not as crisp as desired, place pan on burner and cook over medium heat, moving pan around to cook evenly until crisp, 1 to 3 minutes. Transfer to cutting board, allow to cool slightly, slice, and serve. Leftovers can be reheated on rack at 300°.

The big bad wolf called…he wants to come for dinner

Alright you guys, today I’m bringing you all along for culinary jalopy ride/scientific experiment.

Here at Chez Matthews, we love smothered pork chops.  But there’s a major fly in the ointment when using modern grocery store pork.

Today’s modern mass-produced pork has very little fat.  Many pork chops, either bone-in or boneless are from the very leanest part, the loin.  This makes for a tender and juicy chop when cooked just to 143 degrees.  But when cooked low and slow this quality translates to dry and stringy.

I’ve been thinking about doing a slow-cooked smothered pork dish that would only get better by a long sojourn in a low oven.

A North Carolina gold mine.

A pork butt (or shoulder), the cut used to make NC barbecue and carnitas, is full of fat and connective tissue that when cooked slowly becomes tender and unctuous.  But, they’re huge hunks of meat.

There is though, a compromise cut.

It’s something called boneless country ribs.  They aren’t actually ribs, but cut either from the blade end of the loin near the shoulder, or the shoulder itself.  The leaner loin-cut rib works here, but the best cut for this dish is the butt.

Happily, it’s also a buck or two cheaper than its leaner neighbor.

Slow-cooked smothered country ribs

Rub:

dry rub

1 tablespoon salt

1 teaspoon pepper

1/2 teaspoon porcini powder

1/2 teaspoon caraway powder

1 teaspoon za’atar

1 teaspoon sugar

1/2 teaspoon onion powder

1/2 teaspoon thyme

Pinch of fresh nutmeg

Mix together and rub all over 2 pounds boneless country pork ribs.  Cover, refrigerate, and let sit 24 hours.

Caramelized onion:

car onions

2 yellow onions, chopped

1 tablespoon oil

1 teaspoon dry thyme

1 teaspoon za’atar

I large bay leaf

Salt and pepper

Put oil in pot on medium low.  Add onions, thyme, za’atar, bay leaf, salt and pepper.

Cook on medium-low until golden amber in a large heavy pot with lid. Remove from pot.

Heat the same pot on medium-high.  Brown meat on all sides in 2 tablespoons vegetable oil.  Remove from pot and set aside.

Mushroom gravy:

shroom gravy

2 pounds mushrooms, cleaned and sliced

1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary

2 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme, divided

2 tablespoons sassafras jelly or 1 tablespoon apple jelly and ¼ cup root beer

1 tablespoon tomato paste

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce

1 cup white wine

2 cups chicken stock

2 cups beef stock

1 cup skim milk

1/3 cup heavy cream

Salt and pepper

Roux:

roux ing

3/4 cup butter

3/4 cup flour

Melt butter in a small saucepan on medium-low.  Whisk in flour and cook until the color of peanut butter.  Set aside.

Directions:

Preheat oven to 250.  Heat pot on medium-high.  Add mushrooms, rosemary, and 1 tablespoon thyme to pot along with ½ teaspoon salt and ¼ teaspoon pepper.  Cook until liquid has released from the mushrooms and cooked off.  Add cooked onion.  When mushrooms begin to brown, add jelly and tomato paste.  Cook until jelly dissolves and tomato paste has begun to darken (about 3 minutes). 

Pour in wine and cook until pan is dry again.  Add stock, stir in mustard, Worcestershire, and dairy.  Heat until boiling.  Whisk in roux until gravy thickness.  Check for seasoning.  Add in meat and cover.  Place in oven and cook three hours.  When done, skim off any fat from the surface.

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Serve over rice.  Makes 5-6 servings.

Well, it turned out delicious.  The meat was literally falling-apart tender.  The connective tissue had completely broken down and gave it that rib-like mouth feel.

And Petey, who I sometimes think likes pork more than he likes me, loved it.  He claimed the leftover pork and rice for lunch tomorrow.  I also had two deli containers of gravy left.  One portion will be used for baked meatballs in a day or so.  The other’s in the freezer for a future project to be named later.

So, my experiment was successful.  But really, how bad can pork and gravy ever be?  It’s not like my kitchen fiddling was going to create a monstrous porcine/human hybrid.   But just think; if it did we could have had a huge pig pickin’ that could baste itself and make the sides.

Don’t worry, this is actually a still from a Doctor Who episode.

Thanks for your time.

 

Don’t let the cheese stand alone

Petey likes it simple; very basic, with no fanciness.  He’d be quietly satisfied if it was the same way every single time.

Sometimes simple is ok, but I really like to mix things up; today one way, tomorrow, another.  With me, variety is the spice of life.

I’m just talking grilled cheese here, folks.

An episode of “Chopped” on Food Network got me to thinking about grilled cheese.  A contestant decided to make a chicken pot pie grilled cheese sandwich.

Then she commenced to making a giant, gloppy mess of the whole thing.

She made chicken pot pie filling.  Then she cut some slices of brioche bread.  She filled it with pot pie stuff, slapped on a slice of cheese, and threw it, unbuttered, onto a ridged grill pan.

It didn’t brown, got stuck to the grill, and leaked all over.  She ended up shoveling it into a bowl and serving it to the judges like that,

Shockingly, she was chopped.

If she had really wanted to make a chicken pot pie grilled cheese, there were actually two ways that probably would’ve worked.  She should have made a very thick filling.  Then assembled it by using one slice of cheese on each slice of bread, spreading a layer of filling between them, and browning and crisping it in a non-stick pan.

Or alternatively, made two thin-ish grilled cheese sandwiches, cutting each in the shape of a gratin dish, and using them as the top and bottom crust of a traditional pot pie.

She would not have gotten chopped.

Even though a grilled cheese seems like the epitome of simple, it’s also simple to make a bad one.  You can burn it, over or under melt the cheese, or make it into an oil slick.  But with a few tips, a delicious, well-made sandwich is mere minutes away.

Break out your well-seasoned cast iron frying pan (or a heavy non-stick skillet), and set it on the burner at about medium-low.  Smear a very thin layer of mayo on one slice of bread.  The egg in the mayo will give the bread an almost French toast-like surface.  Place the bread mayo side down onto the heated skillet.  Layer on the cheese and any other fillings, starting and finishing with the cheese so it will act as a glue.

Put another thin layer of mayo on the other slice of bread and place on top, mayo side up.  Put a lid on the pan and cook for about 4-5 minutes.  Uncover pan, check and flip if the bottom slice of bread is browned and the cheese has started to melt.  Flip and cook until the other side is browned and crispy.

Remove and let sit for a couple minutes then slice and serve.

If you’re Petey, you pick Velveeta on Wonder Bread.

But…

Here are a few ideas if you’d like to shake things up:

The Kid likes fried green tomatoes, bacon and pimento cheese on a hearty homemade white made with a touch of cornmeal.  Or crazy sharp cheddar on chewy, mouth-puckering sourdough.

I like caramelized onion and goat cheese on French baguette. And also sautéed mushrooms, short ribs and Laughing Cow on Hawaiian bread.

So here’s my advice: go to the fancy cheese store, and buy some new interesting types.  Then go to a good bakery and get a couple loaves of funky breads.  Visit the produce department, and pick up some guest stars.

Then go into your kitchen and have a grilled cheese party.  No RSVP required.

Thanks for your time.