Friday, August 27, 2010

A Fig Tree Grows In Astoria

It’s been a while since I have been able to post. From visiting family around the eastern seaboard to attending bachelor and WAG parties, Joe and I have had a very busy schedule. But this does not mean that I wasn’t cooking anything. In fact we did quite a bit of cooking, but after my third cousin asked me why I was taking pictures of food, did I realize, maybe I should just enjoy and not try to document everything I was doing.

I was going to share with you a ‘Winning Cousins Competition Cake’ but a vanilla cake, with vanilla frosting, on a white plate, sitting on top of a white counter, somehow didn’t look as great as I thought it would. Or the giant greek style feast that a four year old helped me prepare could have played a role on this blog. But every time the four year old asked to help, she followed up with “Can I just eat that?”, and when a child asks to eat melon, cucumber, prosciutto, cheese, mushrooms, and peppers - you just don’t say no.  Even if it means sacrificing pictures.
And then last weekend in New York City, I managed to make a baked Challah French Toast for Joe’s birthday, but again when some hungry guests are clamoring for bacon, and you are using your gracious host’s every last plate and platter, you can’t really delay eating with trying to produce the perfect picture. But as our summer travels wind down, I did manage get into the kitchen and prepare something worthy of sharing.
Our hosts in New York have a gigantic fig tree growing in their back yard. Yes that sentence is full of combinations that don’t seem to go together – grow, New York, backyard etc. But they really all do. And when someone insists that you take fresh figs home, you just can’t say no. Plus I like to count that as the “urban foraging” I am so fond of. 
In Maine, it can be hard to find fresh figs. They are either very expensive, or very over ripe and squishy (or sometimes moldy). So I jumped at the chance to take home a container of fresh figs, and try to incorporate them into every meal. In the past, I have broiled figs, and then spread them on toast, or just eaten them raw. But these NYC figs called for something a bit more sophisticated – a pizza.
Now, I’m not claiming to have made this recipe up by any means, but I also did not follow any set guide on making this pizza. So I advise that you do the same to this, follow what you like but disregard anything you do not.
Fig, Prosciutto, and Blue Cheese Pizza

You can use just about anything as the pizza crust. If you have a favorite recipe for homemade dough, or a refrigerated dough you are familiar with. You can even use some premade flatbread tossed on the grill if you are really pressed for time. I used a refrigerated dough, this time, but if you would like my pizza dough recipe – just let me know!

1 lb pizza dough
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
8 oz. soft blue cheese (like a gorgonzola dolce)
½ lb thinly sliced prosciutto, cut into strips
10 fresh figs, sliced and/or quartered
Olive oil
Arugula, rinsed and tossed with olive oil, salt and pepper (optional)

Preheat the oven to a hot 450°F.

Roll out the pizza dough to stretch fairly thin, I have a giant rectangle baking sheet and use that as my form. If you use a pizza stone, try to get two pizzas out of the dough. Drizzle olive oil over the dough and sprinkle evenly with chopped garlic.

Then, finely crumble the blue cheese as you sprinkle it over the dough. Add the prosciutto and figs to the pizza dough. Bake pizza in the oven for about 10 minutes. If using the arugula, pull the pizza out midway through cooking, and add arugula on top. Return it to the oven and finish cooking, the arugula will melt on top.

Pull pizza from the oven and let rest a few minutes before cutting and eating.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Step 4 - Have Heart Attack

Don’t worry I am not actually going to instruct or even encourage you to have a heart attack. It’s just a warning that this indulgent recipe should not necessarily be had every weekend. And the title of this post may clue you in to the fact that we are talking bacon here. I know I have a couple of other recipes that call for cooking bacon, and then cooking onions in the remaining fat – but this one is a little different.

Bacon was a special treat in my house growing up. We might have BLT’s for lunch, and maybe only rarely did we have bacon for a Saturday morning breakfast. Now of course, living with Joe, breakfast meats are a staple on weekends. And if I do not have a breakfast meat available, we trek to a local diner to be sure and fill our quota for the week.
But when I have overnight guests, I do like to wow them with breakfast. And let me tell you, breakfast is not my strong suit. I fill the house with smoke (it doesn’t help that we don’t have an exhaust fan over the stove), I make misshapen and overly brown pancakes and French toast, I get frustrated and give up crying at poached eggs. But all this doesn’t mean that I don’t try.

Thankfully, when some friends from home came to visit last year around Easter, I managed to pull off a pretty decent breakfast. It was so impressive in fact that I actually had a request for the recipe I am about to share. First, however, let me give you a little background.
I used to work at a bar and carry-out restaurant in Washington DC. The carry-out was open for breakfast each morning, and I could entice Joe to drive me to work with the promise of some of Big Daddy’s pancakes. Big Daddy was the grill cook for the breakfast and lunch shifts 6 days a week. I’m not kidding, his name was Big Daddy. Well, not really, but that is how he introduced himself to me when I first started and that is what everyone always called him. Big Daddy’s pancakes were some of the greatest pancakes ever made. When I asked Big Daddy one day what his secret was, he only shared with me a little bit of his magic – bacon. The key he said was to cook the pancakes in the same spot that he cooked bacon on the flat-top gill. It helped that we went through tons of bacon, so there was always plenty to cook the pancakes with.
So on that morning last year, I took out my griddle pan, and laid some bacon down. Once they were finished I cooked some pancakes in the remaining bacon grease and then when the griddle was looking a bit dry, added more bacon and repeated to process. Some of my friends who claim to not really like pancakes went a little crazy for them (as I said, I got a request for this recipe). I was joking that the recipe would be: Step 1 - Cook Bacon, Step 2 – Cook Pancakes in Bacon grease, Step 3 – Have friends ooh and ahh over pancakes. And then a friend commented; Step 4 – Have heart attack. So there we have it, step-4 have heart attack.

But I won’t let you go away with just those steps, I’ll share with you my pancake recipe. This is the one I have been using for years now, and I seem to mess this one up less than any other versions I have tried. Although if you have a favorite pancake recipe, I highly recommend cooking them in bacon fat.

Cheater Buttermilk Pancakes
I never have buttermilk on hand, and if I do buy it, I can never seem to use it all before it spoils. So I cheat and make my own by adding lemon juice to whole milk or half and half. You can do it to skim milk, but it’s not creamy in the end, and don’t use only heavy cream because your end result will be too stiff.

1 c. cheater buttermilk (1 c whole milk or half and half with 1 Tb of lemon juice)
1 Tb vegetable oil
1 egg
1 c. all-purpose flour (I use white whole wheat, and again you might have to add a little more liquid because the whole wheat flour tends to make the batter thicker)
2 Tb sugar
2 Tb baking powder
1 tsp salt

To make the buttermilk, combine lemon juice and milk and let rest for 15 minutes. (I usually begin cooking the bacon, and get everything else ready during the curdling process.) Don’t stir it, just add your lemon juice and let it sit.

Combine all of the dry ingredients for the pancakes together, and after your milk has curdled, combine it to the beaten egg and vegetable oil. Make a well in the dry ingredients and add the wet, stirring until just combined.

Cook the bacon on the same pan that you will cook your pancakes, a flat large griddle works well for this. Start with a few pieces of bacon spread out on the pan, as they cook and shrink you can begin to pour the pancake batter on the pan. Be sure to adjust the temperature of the burner to combat any burnt or smoking bits.

After a few pancakes, the pan will be dry of bacon grease so you can either cook bacon and pancakes simultaneously at this point, or alternate bacon and pancakes in the pan. I like the simultaneous method if you are cooking for a slow to awaken crowd – this way everyone can have warm, fresh from the griddle, bacon and pancakes.

If you need to keep the pancakes or bacon warm, place them on an oven-proof platter and keep in a warm oven until ready to serve.

Or to summarize:
Step 1 – Cook Bacon
Step 2 – Cook pancakes in bacon grease
Step 3 – Have friends oooh and ahhh over pancakes cooked in bacon
Step 4 – Have heart attack