Sunday, July 27, 2008

Charlottesville, VA

Charlottesville is one of my favorite places. It's a small university town, full of history, small restaurants, and wineries among other things. I first visited Charlottesville in 2001 and had an amazing time. We drove to Charlottesville last weekend again to visit a couple of wineries. We stayed at the Boar's Head Inn for a couple of days while re-visiting my favorite spots in and around Charlottesville. The weather didn't help much, it was so hot and humid it felt like a sauna everywhere, but we had a great time. We arrived on Saturday around lunchtime and went to Monticello - The home of Thomas Jefferson. The image of the west front of Monticello is featured on the United States five-cent coin. The house is beautiful, so well maintained by people who truly love its history. The tours have a big focus on food. There are smokehouses, wine and beer cellars, kitchens, even a pond they used to keep their catch fresh until it was time to go on the table. My favorite by far is the Fruitery - Monticello's eight-acre Fruit Garden, which includes a 400-tree orchard; two small vineyards; gooseberries and raspberries; a nursery where Jefferson propagated fruit trees and special garden plants, and "submural beds" where figs and strawberries were grown to take advantage of the warming microclimate created by the stone wall. The visitor center has a nursery where you can purchase cuttings of ornamental and edible plants. They are a little bit more expensive then the average nursery but I couldn't resist. I bought a Brunswick Fig Tree. It's so exciting to have a little piece of Monticello growing in my backyard. Hopefully it will bear fruits next year.

Downtown Charlottesville

Kluge Winery

Kluge Vineyards

Jefferson Vineyards

Monticello - Vegetable Garden

Five (or Six) Layer Mexican Dip

I love Mexican Food in the Summer. I made two batches of this recipe side by side because I modified one of them for my taste. The original recipe has only 5 layers (without the sour cream). I added some more spices and salt as well. The original recipe was good, the modified recipe was even better. Here is the modified recipe.

Five (Six) Layer Mexican Dip (adapted from Ellie Krieger)

2 teaspoons olive oil
1 medium onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 (15.5-ounce) can black beans, preferably low-sodium, drained and rinsed
2 tablespoon minced chipotle pepper in adobo
4 tablespoons lime juice
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon water
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups corn kernels (10-ounce box frozen corn)
1/4 cup chopped cilantro leaves
2 ripe avocados
4 medium tomatoes, seeded and diced (about 2 cups)
1/4 cup thinly sliced scallion
1 tablespoon finely diced jalapeno pepper
1 cup shredded extra-sharp Cheddar

Low-fat Sour Cream

Heat the oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Add onions and cook until they soften, about 3 minutes. Stir in the garlic and cook for 2 minutes more.
Put half of the onion mixture into a food processor with the black beans, chipotle pepper, 2 tablespoons of the lime juice, cumin, water and salt. Puree until smooth. Set aside.
Add the corn to the skillet with the remaining onion mixture and cook for about 3 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the cilantro leaves.
In a small bowl mash the avocado with the remaining lime juice. In a medium bowl toss together the tomatoes, scallion and jalapeno. Season tomato mixture with salt and pepper, to taste.
Spread the black bean dip into the bottom of an 8 by 8 glass baking or serving dish. Top with the corn mixture, spreading it out to form a single layer over the beans, repeat with the avocado, then the tomatoes. Top with Sour Cream and cover with cheese. Serve with baked chips.

The Perfect Chocolate Chip Cookie

I have baked a lot of chocolate chip cookies - soft, thick, chewy, thin... I reached a point that I didn't want "just a cookie", I wanted "the cookie". Then a few weeks ago someone brought cookies to the office. I absolutely loved them. They had a salty bite and melted in my mouth. I got the recipe and modified a little. This is my favorite cookie ever.

The Puffy (adapted from Alton Brown - Good Eats)

1 cup butter
3/4 cup sugar
1 cup brown sugar
2 1/4 cups cake flour
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
2 eggs
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups semisweet chocolate chips

Ice cream scooper (#20 disher, to be exact)
Parchment paper
Baking sheets

Heat oven to 375 degrees F. Combine the shortening, sugar, and brown sugar in the mixer's work bowl, and cream until light and fluffy. In the meantime, sift together the cake flour, salt, and baking powder and set aside.

Add the eggs 1 at a time to the creamed mixture. Then add vanilla. Increase the speed until thoroughly incorporated.

With the mixer set to low, slowly add the dry ingredients to the shortening and combine well. Stir in the chocolate chips. Chill the dough. Scoop onto parchment-lined baking sheets, 6 per sheet. Bake for 12 minutes or until golden brown and puffy, checking the cookies after 5 minutes. Rotate the baking sheet for even browning. Cool and store in an airtight-container.

Saturday, July 05, 2008

Grilled Pizza

I am using my grill more often that I thought. Summer days are long and beautiful. I spend as much time as I can outside - until the mosquitoes win the scratch and bite fight. I read something about Grilled Pizza and it sounded perfect. Pizza is always good, better yet made from scratch. The original recipe below calls for sausage but I made grilled zucchini instead (zucchini slices, brushed olive oil, sprinkled with coarse salt, crushed red pepper and black pepper).

Pizza on the Grill with Sausage and Mozzarella (by Tyler Florence)

Pizza Dough:
1 package active dry yeast
1 teaspoon sugar
1 cup warm water
1 tablespoon kosher salt
Extra-virgin olive oil
3 cups 00 flour, plus more for dusting

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 bunch fresh basil leaves
2 (28-ounce) cans whole peeled tomatoes, drained and hand crushed
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 sweet Italian sausages
1 (8-ounce) ball fresh buffalo mozzarella, water drained
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan

For the dough: In the bowl of a standing electric mixer fitted with a dough hook, combine the yeast, sugar, and warm water; stir gently to dissolve. Let the mixture stand until the yeast comes alive and starts to foam, about 5 to 10 minutes. Turn the mixer on low and add the salt and 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Add the flour, a little at a time, mixing at the lowest speed until all the flour has been incorporated. When the dough starts to come together, increase the speed to medium; stop the machine periodically to scrape the dough off the hook. Get a feel for the dough by squeezing a small amount together: if it's crumbly, add more water; if it's sticky, add more flour - 1 tablespoon at a time. Mix until the dough gathers into a ball, this should take about 5 minutes.
Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and fold it over itself a few times; kneading until it's smooth and elastic. Form the dough into a round and place in a lightly oiled bowl, turning it over to coat. Cover with plastic wrap or a damp towel and let it rise in a warm spot (i.e. over a gas pilot light) until doubled in size, about 1 hour.

Once the dough is domed and spongy, turn it out onto a lightly floured counter. Roll and stretch the dough into a cylinder and divide into 3 equal pieces. Cover and let rest for 15 minutes so it will be easier to roll out. In the meantime, make the pizza topping.
For the topping: Coat a saute pan with the olive oil and place over medium heat. When the oil gets hazy, add the onion and garlic, cook and stir for 5 minutes to soften. Stir in 1/2 bunch torn basil leaves. Carefully add the tomatoes (nothing splashes like tomatoes), cook and stir until the liquid is cooked down and the sauce is thick, about 10 minutes; season with salt and pepper and then take it off the stove.

Preheat an outdoor gas or charcoal barbecue and get it very hot. Brush the grates with oil to keep the sausages from sticking. Grill the sausages until cooked through, turning with tongs. Set aside. Keep the grill hot to make the pizza.

Roll or pat out a piece of dough into a rustic, oblong shape, about 1/4-inch thick – do this directly on a lightly floured pizza paddle for ease. Brush the crust with a thin layer of olive oil, and lay oil-side down onto the hot grill. Once the dough looks set, in about 2 minutes, turn the crust over. Spread the tomato sauce evenly on the crust with a ladle. Rip the mozzarella into pieces with your hands and distribute them on top; crumble the grilled sausage all over the pizza. Close the grill cover and cook until the cheese is melted and bubbling and the crust is golden and crisp, about 5 minutes. Remove the pizza from grill and sprinkle with some fresh basil leaves and a good dusting of Parmesan. Repeat with the remaining dough.