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!

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.

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.

 

 

Slow Cooker Shredded Beef Tacos

I interrupt this study schedule to bring you this breaking news – I have discovered an incredibly easy, yet amazingly simple recipe for shredded beef tacos.

Slow Cooker Shredded Beef Tacos

Actually, credit for this bit of genius belongs to my brilliant husband who refuses to let me publish the adorable picture I took of him looking pissed that I was taking a picture of him while making these.

[Photo of John looking pissed, yet adorable holding plate of taco meat]

We’ve been looking for ways to make healthier food with less red meat, so I was combing Pinterest for ideas. I came across this recipe for slow cooker chicken tacos that piqued my interest. We actually made them for enchiladas over the weekend, and I’ll probably post that recipe too at some point. But then, my absolutely amazing husband said, “We both love beef. Why don’t we try it with beef instead?” And this deliciousness was born.

Slow Cooker Shredded Beef Tacos

Shredded Beef Tacos

  • 2-2 1/2 lbs chuck roast (other relatively fatty cuts of pot roast beef can be used as well)
  • 16 oz. salsa
  • 1 package of taco seasoning
  • 1 package flour or corn tortilla shells
  • Preferred taco condiments
  1. First of all, mix together the salsa and taco seasoning in your slow cooker. If you prefer spicier food, go for the spicy options, but which ones you choose are really up to personal preference.taco 7
  2. Cut your chuck roast into slightly smaller chunks. While this step isn’t completely necessary, we feel that it helps get maximum flavor from the sauce. Keep in mind that the more beef you use, the less saucy the end result will be.Slow Cooker Shredded Beef Tacos
  3. Add the beef to the sauce and make sure it’s covered. Cook on high for 4-6 hours or low for 6-8 hours.
  4. Once the beef is falling apart, take each piece out of the slow cooker for shredding. Take two forks and use them to pull the beef apart. taco 3
  5. Put the shredded beef back into the slow cooker and cook on low for another 30 minutes to an hour. Slow Cooker Shredded Beef Tacos
  6. Your beef should have the consistency of really good barbeque. We used 2 lbs of meat for this culinary experiment – if you prefer less saucy tacos, use a bit more beef.
  7. Put the beef on your tortilla shells, slap on your favorite condiments, and dig in!

This meal was absolutely delicious, super easy, and quite economical. We got two nights of dinner and one lunch for two people out of it, despite the fact that we both kinda hurt ourselves the first night since it was so tasty. After that, all we had left was this:

 

  1. taco plate

(P)interesting Passover Recipes

Passover started last night, so today was the first full day, and I’m already sick of matzah. For those of you who don’t know, Passover is the Jewish holiday that celebrates when we left Egypt. According to the Torah, the Jews left in such a hurry that they didn’t have time to let the bread rise. Today, we remember this event by not eating any leavened bread for eight days. Sounds pretty easy, right? Only it’s not just leavened bread. You see, the ancient rabbis got a little paranoid about certain things, like flour possibly rising if left in water for over 18 minutes without being baked. So now, pretty much anything with flour in it is a no-go for passover. The exception of course is matzah (or matzo if you prefer).

Manischewitz not only has sickeningly sweet wine, they also make some of the finest cardboard-like products as well as

Yes, these dry, tasteless cracker boards will be the bane of every semi-religious Jew’s existence for the next seven days. Matzah is okay because it was carefully supervised and they made sure that they got that matzah in the oven before the magic 18 minutes had elapsed.

I generally subsist on matzah, cottage cheese, and, of course, matzah ball soup for Passover, but this year I think it’s time to make some changes. Today I got on Pinterest and found some yummy looking recipes to make Passover a little less bland. I’m going to give you direct links to the recipes, because nothing sucks more than finding something really awesome on Pinterest but not being able to find the original source. Well, maybe eating matzah for eight days straight sucks more.

Vegetable Matzo Pie

I definitely want to try this vegetable matzo pie from The Shiksa in the Kitchen. I love artichoke hearts and asparagus, and this recipe has them both in abundance. The recipe is a little more involved than I’d like, but then again, I’m a huge fan of throwing a frozen meal in the microwave and hitting start. The recipe seems to make a lot though, so we can probably just eat on the leftovers for lunch for a few days afterward.

Matza Pizza with Eggs

For a much simpler meal, Martha Stewart provided the recipe for this matzah pizza with fried eggs on top. You probably don’t really need the recipe for this one, but I like the addition of the egg to the matzah pizza. It makes it a little more interesting and you could easily eat this instead of the ever-present matzah brie for breakfast.

Smoked Salmon Hash with Lemon-Parsley Vinaigrette

For a breakfast option that even those of you who aren’t forced to eat matzah will enjoy, try this smoked salmon hash with lemon-parsley vinaigrette from chow.com. It looks delicious, but it will probably be more effort than I’m up for early in the morning (and certainly more than my fiance will want to do that early), so I think we’re going to make this as a side one evening and eat the leftovers in the morning.

Braised Brisket

Our friend Martha also brings us this recipe for braised brisket, which is a bit more involved than the matzah pizza. It still seems quite easy, though it has to cook for about 3 hours. Unlike some of the other brisket recipes I found, this one calls for about 3.5 lbs of beef instead of 8-10 lbs of it, so it’s probably not a bad recipe for two people. We may have leftovers, but I’m a huge fan of leftovers.

Walnut Cake with Chocolate Whipped Cream

For dessert you can go with the macaroons or you can make this delicious-looking walnut cake with chocolate whipped cream from none other than Etsy. The ingredients are simple and it doesn’t call for any flour substitute, so you don’t have to go out and buy matzah meal or potato flour.

Do you have any favorite Passover recipes?