The Pizza Bible – A Review

I admit, I got The Pizza Bible by Tony Gemignani from Blogging For Books ages ago. I like cooking and we both love pizza, so it seemed perfect. Unfortunately, it arrived at an awkward time for us and got shelved for far too long. Recently, I was going through books that never made it on to our somewhat limited book shelf real estate and decided to take the plunge.

First of all, this book is not for casual pizza fans who want a new way to top a pizza. It really is a masterclass in the art of pizza making. The downside to that is that the recipes can call for some specialized ingredients that may not be available locally for many people. We absolutely could not find diastatic malt powder anywhere locally, even in Asheville. They also call for specialized equipment specifically for pizza making. For instance, Gemignani recommends using two pizzas stones in the same oven with one on the top rack and the other on the bottom to ensure the best cook for your crust. For those of us with limited kitchen space who don’t make pizza more than once a month at best, this can seem like a bit much.

The upside is that most of the specialized ingredients and equipment can be skipped if you don’t have them on hand and the recipes will still turn out great (though perhaps not quite as great as they would have with, for instance, two pizza stones and diastatic malt powder).

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Our first attempt was a classic Sicillian-style pizza with the classic Sicillian sauce from the book and our own goat mozzarella. The dough was definitely not something you want to try right off the bat if you aren’t already familiar with bread making. It also wasn’t a quick weeknight sort of dish. In fact, I started it on Monday and we didn’t make the pizza until Wednesday since the dough had to, not only rise, but also chill in the fridge for 24-48 hours.

The outcome was quite good, despite not having all of the materials called for by the book. I do think that the quality of the crust would have benefited a lot from the additions, but we still got a delicious pizza!

The recipes are clear and easy to follow. The beginning of the book also starts with a masterclass section that teaches you essential techniques. Even if you are completely irresponsible and just skip to the particular pizza you would like to make (*ahem*), the recipes refer back to those techniques along the way with page references, so it’s easy to look back to get a better idea of what you need to be doing.

Overall, I would definitely recommend this for anyone who is serious about pizza!

Easy Savory Turkey Brine Recipe

Easy Turkey Brining Recipe

We made a turkey last night and had a few people over. A lot of people complimented our turkey, so I thought I’d share my brine recipe. I apologize for not taking pictures last night – you’re stuck with the terrible photo of our turkey from last year instead.

Brining a turkey isn’t difficult, but it does add time and a few extra steps to the process. However, the juicy, tender results are more than worth the extra effort. You’ll need a container large enough to hold two gallons of liquid plus the turkey. We use a food-grade 5-gallon bucket like this one. You can buy one online or at most major hardware store. Just make sure that your bucket is labelled food-grade to prevent any contaminates from entering your delicious meal. You can use a large stock pot, but keep in mind that a 15 pound bird will displace a lot of liquid, so make sure you have plenty of room for everything.

You will also need a cool location to store your bucket after you put your turkey in the brine. Ideally, you should store it in a cold fridge, however not everyone has the luxury of that much fridge space. If you cannot fit the bucket in your fridge and live in a relatively cool place, you can store it in a location such as your garage or basement, so long as the temperature stays below 40 degrees. Remember, this is raw poultry, so please keep safe food-handling in mind.

Many brines use sugars, which are supposed to help brown the skin. Keeping the bird savory was our priority, so we left out any sugar and just coated it in olive oil before putting it in the oven to crisp up the skin. Here are the ingredients we used.

  • 1 gallon vegetable stock
  • 1 cup finely ground salt
  • 2 tbsp dried rosemary
  • 2 tbsp dried thyme
  • 1 tbsp dried sage
  • 1 tbsp dried savory
  • 6 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 gallon ice water

Throw the vegetable stock and all of the spices in a stock pot and bring to a rolling boil. Once you have a good boil going, remove it from the heat and let it cool to about room temperature. Once it’s cool, put it in your bucket (or brining apparatus of choice) and add the ice water. Now, submerge the bird with the breast cavity down (drumsticks pointing up) and make sure the cavity gets filled. If the ends of your legs are above the liquid, that’s fine. However, if you have a very large bird, you may need to add more stock or salt water to cover the meat.

Put the bucket in your fridge or a comparably cool location for 18-24 hours. Remove your turkey from the brine. Don’t worry – it will look bloated and not terribly appetizing at this point, but it will cook beautifully. Some people recommend rinsing the turkey before cooking it, however we’ve found that it isn’t necessary and the remaining herbs and brine just add flavor.

Place your turkey on your roasting pan, season as desired, and cook with your preferred method. In seasoning the turkey, adding salt generally isn’t necessary with a brine. We simply coated ours in olive oil and gave it a few turns of our pepper mill.

A couple of notes – don’t stuff a brined turkey. Well, you can if you want, but expect a salty stuffing. There are other good reasons to cook your stuffing separately (at which point it technically is dressing), but if you’re dying for a stuffed turkey, wet brining might not be the way to go. Also, if you’re making gravy from your pan drippings, take into account the amount of salt already in the dripping from the brine. We failed to mention that to my wonderful aunt who made gravy at our get-together. The gravy was good, but a bit on the salty side.

Savory Turkey Brine

  • 1 gallon vegetable stock
  • 1 cup finely ground salt
  • 2 tbsp dried rosemary
  • 2 tbsp dried thyme
  • 1 tbsp dried sage
  • 1 tbsp dried savory
  • 6 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 gallon ice water

1. Pour your vegetable stock into a stock pot. Add all spices and bring to a boil.

2. After reaching a rolling boil, remove from heat. Let stock mixture cool to room temperature.

3. Once cool, combine stock mixture and ice water in food grade bucket.

4. Submerge turkey, breast cavity down, in bucket, ensuring that the brine fills the body cavity.

5. Place in refrigerator or comparably cool location for 18-24 hours.

6. Remove from brine. Season and cook as desired.

Sugar Rush: A Must for Bakers!

Sugar Rush Baking Cookbook Review

I love baking, and I tend to do a lot of it around the holidays. This year, I picked up a cookbook called Sugar Rush before the baking madness began, courtesy of Blogging for Books. Unfortunately, I got sick during prime baking time, so I didn’t get to make nearly as many goodies as I intended to. However, Sugar Rush is a gem of a book for bakers or anyone who wants to learn more about the art of baking, and I know I’ll put it to good use next year. The book covers the basics of baking (spoon flour into your measuring cup and level it off to measure) to more advanced types of baking (inverted puff pastry, anyone?). The recipes also run from simple cookies to complex pastries. Whether you’re looking for a recipe for Killer Chocolate Chip Cookies or Earl Grey Creme Caramel, you’ll find it in this book. The best thing about Sugar Rush is that, unlike many cook books, it doesn’t just tell you how to do something, it shows you with tons of great photos throughout the book. I highly recommend this book to anyone who wants to take their baking to the next level or just learn some great new recipes.

Ariella’s Walnut Biscotti Recipe

Ariella's Walnut Biscotti Recipe

A few years ago, I lost my sweet tooth. Don’t ask me what happened or what I did; I just stopped craving sweets. Granted, I still have plenty of culinary vices left (did someone say cheese?), but sweets are no longer among them. I’ll still have the occasional slice of pie at holidays and such, but I no longer seek out the sugary stuff. However, I do still adore baking. The holidays are one of my favorite times of the year, partially because I can go all out of the baking and there will be plenty of people to partake. I’ve been making this Walnut Biscotti recipe since grade school, and it’s still one of my all-time favorites. Not only is it a crowd pleaser, but it’s also one of the few sweet treats I make that I enjoy eating myself. It’s sweet but not overpoweringly so, and it pairs wonderfully with a cup of hot tea or coffee in the morning.

Ariella's Walnut Biscotti Recipe

I have no idea where this recipe originally came from, since all I have is a handwritten piece of paper that’s now so worn it’s actually soft. I’ve had numerous requests for this one over the years, so I thought that I should go ahead and put it here, since I know I won’t be able to hang on to that piece of paper forever. A concise, printable recipe is at the bottom of the post.

While this recipe is a bit more involved than, say, your average drop cookie recipe, it’s really not difficult at all. It also doesn’t require many ingredients that you likely don’t have in your pantry anyway. Generally, the only thing I have to go out to buy for this is walnuts. Here are the ingredients.

  • 1 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 3/4 cup rolled oats, uncooked
  • 2 tbsp yellow cornmeal
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/8 tsp salt
  • 2 large eggs, beaten
  • 1/4 cup butter, melted
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 3/4 cup walnuts, chopped

First of all, mix all of the dry ingredients except for the walnuts. Next, you just stir in the wet ingredients. Finally, add the walnuts. You can get pre-chopped walnuts, but I prefer my walnuts to be a bit more finely chopped than those generally are. If you use pre-chopped walnuts as is, just keep in mind that you’ll have to be a bit more carefully when you slice the biscotti to prevent breaking and crumbling.

One you have everything mix up, you’ll need to divide the dough in half. Have a floured surface ready to roll on. I also recommend flouring your hands prior to handling the dough as it’s quite sticky. Take each half of the dough and roll it out into logs about 12″ long and 1 1/2 – 2 inches in diameter. It’s not an exact science by any means, but try to get them to about the same diameter so they cook evenly. This recipe can easily be doubled, however, I recommend dividing the dough into quarters and making 4 logs if you double it, so that you don’t have to adjust the baking time or temperature.

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Put them onto your cookie sheets. I always use Reynolds Wrap Non-Stick Foil  on top just because nothing sticks to it and it makes clean-up a breeze (and no, this isn’t a paid advertisement; I just love the stuff). However, if you use foil or dark cookie sheets, keep and eye on the bottoms to make sure they don’t get too brown. Bake in a 350° oven for about 25 minutes, checking occasionally (preferably via the oven windown instead of opening the oven door) to make sure they’re cooking evenly and aren’t getting too brown on the bottom. If your oven cooks unevenly, like ours, I recommend turning the cookie sheets at the 15 minute mark to ensure more even cooking.

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Once they’ve reach a light golden brown, take them out and cool them for about 10-15 minutes on wire racks (or dish racks that have been cleaned, dried, and turned upside down). Don’t turn off the oven yet! The loaves will be fairly soft at this point, so be careful transferring them to the rack. Don’t worry – they will get harder as they cool, plus they still have one more phase of baking to go through.

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Once your loaves are cool, break out your cutting board and best serrated knife. If your “best serrated knife” is obnoxiously dull, you can try a very sharp non-serrated blade, but expect more crumbling. Cutting the biscotti is, in my opinion, by far the most difficult part of the process. Take your knife and cut the pieces diagonally across the loaf in about 1/2 inch slices. Between the walnuts and the oats, the recipe can get a bit crumbly at this phase. Unless you have a very steady hand and extremely sharp serrated knife, expect to lose a few pieces to breakage. Don’t despair, though! Biscotti crumbles are every bit as delicious as the whole pieces (plus you can always tell yourself those little calories don’t count).

Ariella's Walnut Biscotti Recipe

Take your slices and crumbles and place them back on the cookie sheet with the cut side down. Put them back into the oven for 6-8 minutes per side. Once they start crisping up, you can take them out. Don’t expect them to have the crunchy biscotti texture at this point – they’ll get that once they cool. One of the best things about this recipe is that you can keep the biscotti for a few weeks and it just gets crispier, which, for biscotti, is a good thing. Now all you have to do is sit back, grab a nice cup of hot tea or coffee, and enjoy your delicious Walnut Biscotti. Oh, and try to keep everyone else from eating all of it.

Ariella's Walnut Biscotti Recipe

 

Ariella's Walnut Biscotti

  • Servings: about 3 dozen
  • Time: 1 hour 30 minutes
  • Print

  • 1 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 3/4 cup rolled oats, uncooked
  • 2 tbsp yellow cornmeal
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/8 tsp salt
  • 2 large eggs, beaten
  • 1/4 cup butter, melted
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 3/4 cup walnuts, chopped

1. Preheat over to 350°.

2. Combine flour, sugar, oats, cornmeal, baking powder, cinnamon, and salt in large bowl.

3. Stir in eggs, butter, and vanilla. Stir in nuts.

4. Divide dough in half. On floured surface, roll each half into approximately 12-inch long logs, about 1 1/2 inches in diameter.

5. Bake on cookie sheet for 25 minutes or until light golden brown.

6. Cool on wire rack for 10-15 minutes. Leave oven on.

7. Cut logs diagonally with serrated knife into 1/2 inch slices.

8. Arrange cut side down on cookie sheet. Bake 6-8 minutes per side until crisp.

Tacolicious Cookbook Review

Tacolicious Mexican Food Cookbook and Recipes Review

Almost two months ago, I received a copy of Tacolicious from Blogging for Books. A cookbook devoted to Mexican food, particularly tacos, seemed right up our alley as both John and I love Mexican food and make it on a regular basis. The book itself has tons of gorgeous, mouth-watering photos, which is always a plus in a cookbook. I felt that I would have preferred more recipes for tacos or other entrees and fewer cocktail and snack recipes, however we quickly found several recipes we thought we’d definitely try for dinner. Unfortunately, over the course of these two months, we have yet to try a single one. We have the cookbook sitting on the kitchen counter with those promising recipes marked, however, for some reason, we just haven’t gone for it. Why? Perhaps it’s partially the changing season. With colder weather, we’re more inclined to make a hearty chili or slow-cooker Mexican-style beef than tacos. Also, the recipes that immediately seem to be quick, easy, weeknight recipes are mostly ones that either don’t really require much of a recipe or ones that we already have a good recipe for. I make my own taco seasoning for quick ground beef tacos, so I don’t really want to make up a batch of the more basic taco seasoning in the book to try their version of the same thing.

Will we eventually try a recipe or two? I’m sure of it. The Tangy Achiote-Rubbed Grilled Chicken Taco looks delicious, but it will probably get made once we’re back in grilling mode again. However, I don’t think it’s ever going to be a go-to cookbook for us. If you’re the type of person who likes having parties, though, this book could be great. They do cover all of the bases for a great Mexican-themed get-together from hors d’oeuvres to cocktails. We keep thinking about having a small party over here, but then we look at the house and think, “Man, that’s a lot of cat hair to clean up.” Perhaps by Cinco de Mayo we’ll be motivated to both clean the house well enough for company and make some of the great-looking recipes in this book.

The Druknen Coobkook (The Drunken Cookbook)

I received another book for review from Blogging for Books. This time, it was The Druknen Coobkook (The Drunken Cookbook). I love the idea – recipes tailored to drunk people! Granted, John and I don’t exactly get blitzed on a regular basis, but we do enjoy having some wine and beer in the evening. I expected some good, quick, and easy recipes in the book. Admittedly, I was rather disappointed. Don’t get me wrong – it’s a fun book! It would be a great little gift for a 21-year-old or a foodie who really likes his wine, and with a $10 price tag it’s quite affordable. It’s an entertaining read, but I must admit that I haven’t made any recipes from it, nor do I think I will. The recipes don’t sound bad, but they many of them are a bit more involved than I expected (and would require a trip to the store). Most importantly though, this is not a book that was designed to be truly used in the kitchen. It’s a small novelty book with a hard binding, thus it doesn’t lay flat without some serious finagling. However, even if you overcome that obstacle, the print is entirely too small for a cookbook and the ingredient list is presented in a single paragraph of tiny, italicized font separated by tildes. So you end up with ingredient lists that read like this:

2 cloves garlic, crushed or finely chopped ~ 2 tbsp mayonnaise - 2 large, soft "sub" rolls or 1 French baguette - 2 tbsp olive oil....

It’s not exactly an easy read when you’re trying to cook at the same time. As a gift, this book would be a great laugh, but as an actual cookbook, you should probably pass.

 

The Chopped Cookbook Review

Chopped Cookbook Review

I’m a big fan of just about everything on Food Network, and, when we had cable, Chopped was a regular watch for us. If you aren’t familiar with the show, chefs are given baskets with specific (often weird) ingredients that the have to combine with items from the show’s pantry to create memorable dishes 30 minutes. It’s a fun show, and the chefs end up making some very creative – and occasionally downright bizarre – dishes. So, when Blogging for Books sent me a copy of the Chopped Cookbook to review, I was super excited.

The book aims to take out the sometimes strange ingredients given to chefs on the show and replace them with “ingredients that most Americans buy every week at the supermarket.” Great! A cookbook with fun, quick recipes that uses ingredients on hand – what could be better!

When the book arrived, I was thrilled to flip through the recipes. What struck me most, though, was the question, “What does this have to do with Chopped?” Even with the premise of using ingredients most people have, most of the recipes would require a trip to the store for us. I started at the beginning and read the tips about flavor combinations and substitutions, but I didn’t find it all that informative. The best tips are peppered throughout the book, and the recipe tables for simple pan sauces and dressings were one of the highlights.

We marked a number of recipes that we wanted to try out, but we’ve only tried two of them so far. I have to say, despite their promise, both recipes were misses for us. The first we tried was Shepherd’s Stew with Dumplings. We both love shepherd’s pie, so we were looking forward to trying a different take on it. The end result was closer to beef stroganoff than shepherd’s pin in the flavor profile and used entirely too much butter. I have no problem modifying recipes to suit our tastes, but that one was just a bit too far off to bother with again as it wasn’t particularly easy or quick, and it required a number of ingredients we just don’t keep on hand like gnocchi, ground beef, fresh herbs, and chicken broth. Maybe we’re bad people for not keeping a fully stocked pantry at all times, but anything that will go bad usually isn’t in our fridge and if we buy something like gnocchi, we usually know exactly what we’re doing with it.

The second recipe we tried was Turkish Chicken Tacos. We love tacos, so we were definitely drawn to some of the taco variations in The Chopped Cookbook. We decided to use pitas instead of flour tortillas, but otherwise we followed the recipe. The recipe was seasoned ground chicken topped with a marinated onion salad and a yogurt sauce. The meat needed more seasoning, but the flavors of the meat didn’t go with the onion and parsley salad particularly well. It wasn’t a bad dish, but it was rather unmemorable. Once again, while it wasn’t a difficult dish to make, it certainly wasn’t quick or simple enough to make me want to go back and tweak the seasoning. There are just too many other recipes out there to try for me to spend time and money trying to make a mediocre recipe good.

I’m not saying that The Chopped Cookbook is a bad cookbook, but it just doesn’t do it for me. The tips and simple recipes, like frittatas and dressings, are good. However, I felt that the more complex recipes fell short, and required more time and outside ingredients than I wanted. There are certainly some other recipes in the book that we might try in the future, but I think I’ll try out a few of my Pinterest saves before I go back to it.