Archive | March, 2012

Great for Guests: Make-Your-Own Pizza Party

29 Mar

Entertaining a crowd?  I love to cook, but I also love to talk and drink wine (and I don’t love spending a boatload of money on fancy ingredients).  When the mood strikes me to have guests over, or if I’m having an out-of-towner stay with me (which happens all the time when you live in sunny Southern California), I like to trot out the idea of the Make-Your-Own Pizza Party.  Because everything sounds more fun when you tack the word “Party” on the end of it.  And add wine (did I mention I love to drink wine?).

Luckily, T has both a classic dough recipe and a classic topping recipe in her book.  Let’s turn to page 200, shall we?

BASIC PIZZA DOUGH (enough for 16-inch pizza)
2 1/2C flour
1t salt
1 1/2t dry active yeast
3/4C plus 2T warm water
2T olive oil

Mix flour and salt on work surface.  Make a well in the center.  Sprinkle yeast into the well.  Add two tablespoons warm water, mixing with fingertips until yeast is dissolved.  Pour in remaining water with olive oil.  Starting from inside of circle, gradually brush flour into liquid with fingers.  Gather into a ball and knead until smooth and elastic for about 7 to 10 minutes.  If dough is sticky, knead in additional flour.  Form dough into a circle and place on a lightly-greased cookie sheet.  Cover with waxed paper and towel and set in warm place to rise until doubled in volume.  Place dough on pizza pan that has been sprinkled with cornmeal and stretch with hands until dough is 1/4-inch thick.  Top with your favorite topping and bake at 425 degrees for 15-20 minutes.

2T olive oil
1/2 onion, chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
1/2lb fresh mushrooms, cleaned and sliced
1 16oz. can whole tomatoes
1t sugar
Salt and pepper
1/4lb mozzarella cheese, shredded
1/4C grated Parmesan cheese

Saute onion, garlic and mushrooms in olive oil.  Drain tomatoes and squeeze dry.  Add to onion, garlic and mushroom mixture with sugar; add salt and pepper to taste.  Simmer together for about 5 minutes.  Cover pizza dough with tomato topping, sprinkle with cheeses.  Bake as directed.

Because this party was “Make-Your-Own,” we did!  I added pepperoni and ricotta, and my house guest went nuts– caramelized onions, fresh tomatoes, basil– you name it.  It was fun and delicious and the perfect way to cap off a super-joyful, super-busy weekend.  No stress, minor mess.  Mangia!

Happy Birthday, T!: Sicilian Slice Cookies

12 Mar

This week, a special guest post from T’s fourth-born and one of my very favorite people on the planet, Aunt Lisa!  She even baked, too!

On March 12th, my mother will turn 88.  These days, gifts are difficult to buy.  So, I’ll send her something I know she’ll enjoy– cookies.  I’ll use one of her favorite recipes and send a small box, packed for minimal breakage.  I’ll wrap each cookie individually just to make sure.  It’s the least I can do because for years that’s exactly what my mother did for me.  Holidays and birthdays found me running to the mailbox for her special treats.  I’d open the package, close my eyes, and inhale deeply.  With this, I could be with her in her kitchen, laughing, talking, and cooking.  I could be “home” even though I lived thousands of miles away.  Eating the cookies was almost as good.

Greece, 1977. Featuring Lisa, T and T's sunglasses

My mother used traditional flavors, which I seldom cook with now, like anise and coconut.  And nuts… she poured them in, measuring in pounds, not cups.  One Christmas when I was living overseas, I opened the box to find every cookie in crumbs.   I lied to my mother by phone saying they’d arrived in perfect condition.  Well, it wasn’t exactly a lie because they were perfect.  I ate every last cookie, with a spoon.

6 eggs, slightly beaten
1C sugar
1C vegetable oil
4 drops anise oil or a ½t of walnut oil
1 to 2C raisins or dried cranberries
1lb chopped walnuts
4C all-purpose flour

Combine all ingredients, adding flour last.  Mix to blend well.  Mixture should be stiff enough to hold shape; if not, add a little more flour.  Shape dough into two long loaves and place on a slightly grease cookie sheet.  Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes or until the loaves are slightly brown.  Remove from the oven, cool slightly, and cut into ½in. slices.  Return slices to the cookie sheet and toast on both sides, about 10 minutes.  Cool slightly and sprinkle with powdered sugar.

Happy Birthday, T!

This recipe is one of my mom’s favorites, and mine too.  These treats are perfect with a hot cup of tea or coffee.

The amount of cookies yielded depends only on how large or small you slice them.  Mangia!

Fantastic For Friends: Basic Risotto

5 Mar

I am very lucky in that I have friends who I love, who love to eat.  They are fun to cook for and even more fun to enjoy a meal with.  I’m also lucky (and flattered!) that they think I’m a good cook.  They’re actually impressed (trust me, few people are ever impressed with what I’m doing).  What’s important to note here is that there are a few recipes in my bag of tricks that I go back to again and again, so they’ve been perfected over the years.  And once you’ve mastered the basic to do’s, you can add delicious things like your favorite veggies or proteins.  I’ve made risotto easily a hundred times using T’s recipe, which is foolproof (so get cooking, fools!).

2T butter
1T olive oil
1/2 large white onion, diced (or a small yellow onion)
2 cloves garlic (more or less, depending on what you like)
1C arborio rice
1/4C dry white wine
5C (one box if store-bought) low-sodium chicken broth, heated to a simmer in a separate pot
1/2C grated Parmesan cheese

Heat one tablespoon butter and olive oil in saucepan over low heat and saute onion until soft and translucent, about five minutes.  Add rice and stir until it is well-coated with butter and oil and slightly toasted.  Add wine and cook until almost evaporated.

Add hot chicken broth in approximately three or four installments, only adding once the previous addition is absorbed.  Cook over medium heat, uncovered, and stir now and then.  The risotto is ready when the rice is creamy but firm.  Turn off heat, adding remaining one tablespoon of butter and grated cheese.  Serve immediately with extra cheese for grating on top.

NOTE: Even though it is NOT traditional to mix seafood and cheese, during the final stock addition, I add 1/2lb. sea scallops and 1/2lb. medium peeled shrimp (tails removed).  I also commit a culinary sin by not cooking the fish separately and adding it at the end when serving the rice.  Cook it all together!  It’s easier and only takes a few minutes (so as not to overcook the seafood).  It also involves less pans to clean, and tastes just fine.  I’ve never heard any complaints.  And the seafood makes you seem fancy to all of your guests.

This is probably too monochromatic-- if you're feeling really luxurious, add a little chopped flat-leaf parsley.








I can’t tell you the number of people I talk to who say risotto seems intimidating.  While it does take a time commitment (about an hour of active chopping, stirring and plating), it’s so relaxed and casual, it’s the perfect time to perch your pals on kitchen chairs and get the latest dirt over the wine you already had to open to cook the rice.  Just don’t be surprised after you make it the first time, you’ll get the request again and again.  Mangia!