Monthly Archives: August 2011

Bonfire Dinner Party

I have to first say that there is nothing I like better than making dinner for my family and friends. You name the day and I am willing to cook! That said, there is also something so freeing about being invited to dinner. Being a guest instead of the host is really fun, especially if you have a friend who asks you to dinner for the sole purpose of having a massive bonfire!

My contribution to dinner - beautiful heirloom tomatoes.

My friend Tom loves a good blaze. He also loves to cook, so, how could I turn down a mid-week dinner invitation,  (even though it was a school night!). It was a get-together with loads of themes; going back to school party, meeting another of Tom’s daughters party, old friends back in town party, as well as, bonfire party. 

A giant table ornament

I looked forward to the evening all day long. I wondered what Tom was going to cook and I couldn’t wait to sit by the kitchen counter with a glass of wine. The first thing that struck me as I entered the kitchen area was the enormous vase of sunflowers sitting on the dining room table. Where do you get a vase that big??? They were sunny and breathtaking, and filled the room with a party atmosphere.

The Spread

I couldn’t believe it, but dinner was actually ready! One whole end of the table was covered with all sorts of delectable dishes.

smokey ribs with barbecue sauce

Tom told me he had just found a smoker at a flea market (or maybe a garage sale – don’t remember?), and he wanted to try it out. I couldn’t just buy a smoker and start using it immediately. I would stare at it for weeks or months before finally having the courage to put something into it.

Salmon from the smoker

Not Tom, he smoked as much of the food he possibly could; the salmon, ribs and venison.

Venison from Tom's neighbour

Plates were piled with every combination of food possible, and we got down to the business of eating.

Crunchy green bean and potato salad

The salmon was my favorite thing, with the green bean-potato salad a close second.

gorgeous roasted red peppers

I also had a love affair with the tomatoes I brought. A little salt and a grind of pepper was all they needed to make them sing in my mouth. In the depths of winter I will dream about these tasty morsels.

Packed plate ready to be devoured

After dinner we gingerly made our way down some steps and through the back garden to the bonfire site in the dark. It was indeed something to behold. Imagining a nice neat pile of sticks happily burning would be an error. It looked like some mad man had decided to burn the contents of his house. In other words;  a spectacular torrent of a fire. We had to sit a safe distance away for fear of flying shimmering embers and a snow storm of sparks.

time for a fire!

We settled in after initial misgivings, and fearful for the safety of our children (I tend to worry!) and had the best camp blaze ever. The night was clear and every star was shining just for us. I’ll be back.

A Small Rijsttafel Dinner At Home (serves 6) In Other Words: Rice with Curry Sauce and Various Accompaniments

I wanted to make curry, and this was indeed a more creative way to do it! I came across this way of serving curry in a 1952 cookbook called Shrimp Cookery by Helen Worth. this book has intrigued me since I sort of stole/borrowed it from my friend Tom’s enormous library of cookbooks. It is a slim volume, unadorned by any pictures whatsoever. The cover is a plain green, and the name of the book only appears on the spine (the dust jacket is missing so it probably had the name on the front also). Over the past 60 years cookbooks are being marketed in a whole different way, and, unless it was jazzed up significantly with pictures, and the writer was manufactured into a celebrity of sorts, I’m afraid this little book wouldn’t make the cut. Such a shame, as it is filled with all sorts of great recipes, tons of information about shrimp that I never knew, and all written in a cleverly humorous hand.

Plain little cookbook with wonderful recipes and insights

I had been leafing through it for months and only yesterday came across the dish Rijsttafel. The fact that I couldn’t pronounce the word piqued my curiosity. I found out it was a traditional dish of colonial Indonesia adapted by the Dutch. It literally means Rice Table and consists of a whole array of little dishes to accompany rice and curry sauce. The more accompaniments, the grander the feast.

The whole thing intrigued me so much that I decided to cook my own version of Rice Table from what I could scrounge up from my kitchen. It turns out, it is a wonderful way to use up the tail-end of foods and, is a great way to satisfy every palate around the same table!

I had a whole chicken so I started by cooking it, and then taking all the meat off the bone. I cooked the last of my eggs, green peppers, shrimp and chopped a couple of really hot peppers from my garden for the brave ones in the family.

What we had for our Rijsttafel or Rice Table Dinner

It really did turn into a feast and I loved the taste of all the individually cooked ingredients. There was also something so freeing about making a simple curry sauce that one could simple spoon over everything. I made my own sauce by sautéing onions, and just following the rules (more or less) for a white sauce, except that I added some stock from the cooked chicken and a hefty spoon of vindaloo curry powder. Ms. worth made her sauce using milk combined with coconut milk, which is probably more traditional, but I didn’t have any on hand, and went ahead with just milk. It was still fabulous.

I think it would make a great Christmas Eve Feast or Birthday Dinner.  It would also be fun to invite friends for a big party and tell them they had to bring 1 intense accompaniment for rice, and see what you end up with! I am in love with Rijsttafel!

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For this dish you will need to cook up a big pot of rice (enough for 6 people is 3 1/3 cups raw using stove-top method, and 4 cups using rice-cooker measure and rice cooker).

The only other thing that is required is to make the Curry Sauce.

You will need: 1 medium sweet onion, small dice, 3 tbs unsalted butter, 1 tbs strong aromatic curry powder, (of course you can use a mild powder for a gentler flavor), 3 tbs all-purpose flour, 2 cups chicken stock, 2 cups milk (any %), OR 1 cup coconut milk, 1 cup milk, sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste.

1 – Melt 2 tbs of the butter on medium heat and add the diced onions. Cook for 5 minutes, stirring often. Turn heat down to low, cover and cook for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.

saute onions for curry sauce

2 –  Take lid off and add the last tablespoon of butter. When it has melted, add the curry powder and sir until incorporated. Add the flour and repeat process. Turn heat up to medium. Next add the liquids 1 cup at a time while mixing with a whisk.

make curry sauce

3 – Cook sauce (stirring all the while) until thickened and flour and spices have cooked into the liquid, (about 10 minutes or so). Taste and adjust for salt and pepper according to your likeness. Cover and set aside.

*If you feel your sauce could be thinner, add more stock or milk until the desired consistency is reached.

After that, cook as many accompaniments as you like. The following are the foods that I cooked to put on our rice. I placed everything in bowls and plates and everyone got to custom-make their own dish. Feel free to make an array of food that you know everyone will like at least 5 of. 

To cook the chicken: Preheat oven to 350*. Put 2 cups water in pot along with fresh herbs (I used sage & 6 sprigs of thyme), a sliced garlic clove, and 1 diced onion.

put seasonings and stock in pot

Put chicken on top and drizzle with extra-virgin olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Cover with heavy lid, and cook in oven for 1 1/2 hours. When chicken cools, take meat off of the bone and keep warm. Pour the stock through a strainer and discard the seasonings. Reserve the stock and reserve for curry sauce or another use.

* You can use leftover chicken or indeed buy a cooked chicken if you are in a hurry

When chicken has cooled, take meat off the bone.

For the peppers: chop whatever peppers you like (or have) into large dice, slices or stripes and saute on medium heat. Keep warm

saute peppers

For the Shrimp: Shell and de-vein  1 lb shrimp and season with salt and pepper. Fry on high heat in 2 tbs of extra-virgin olive oil or combination of oil and butter. Cook for 4 minutes. Keep warm.

saute shrimp

For the Eggs: Put as many eggs as you want to use in a pot and cover with cold water. When it come to a boil, time for 5 minutes. turn heat off and let eggs sit in water for 5 more minutes. Remove from water and let them cool before shelling and slicing.

boil eggs

For the hot peppers: Simply slice peppers very thinly. I used hot cayenne peppers and sprinkled them on top of my dish.

Raw cayenne peppers.

To serve: Arrange all your various components in serving dishes and let everyone help themselves.

Put rice in bottom of bowl and top with your chosen accompaniments

Pork tenderloin with Mashed Potatoes and Sauteed Spinach, serves 4 (and, a story about a great house, a great garden and a memorable lunch)

The other day I was expecting a package, and, when I went to the front door to see if it had arrived, I almost tripped over a hefty bag of potatoes and tomatoes! This was a much better surprise. From the note inside I discovered they had been generously given to me by my friends Eileen and Jim. The tomatoes and lovely potatoes came from the vines and dirt of their garden. 

deliciously simple dinner

I didn’t set out looking for friends who love to cook and enjoy food the way I do, but these are the friends I have ended up with. When we get together, it is understood that what we eat will be an important part of the event, sometimes, the most important. My theory is that if people love food, and I mean good food, they have the same slant on the world that I do. I think to enjoy food is a true act of living in the moment. Yes, this sounds a little mushy, but truthfully, it is the only time I am really focused on one thing. It is when all my senses are so busy I have no time to worry, or plan, or be consumed by all the other petty nonsense that enters my head on a daily basis.

Potatoes from my friends Jim & Eileen's Garden!

Similarly, when I am cooking by myself, or with friends, the rituals of chopping and measuring and mixing brings a sort of peaceful hum to the air. There is a respect for the food, and your actions have to be filled with love (even if you are in a hurry sometimes!) because, your intention is to present this plate or bowl of food to someone who will enjoy each mouthful. All of my most memorable moments with family and friends have centered around food; nightly dinners, birthday and anniversary celebrations, Christmas Eve feasts and ordinary days changed into something much grander because a beautiful meal was involved.

Thyme from my garden.

This reminds me of one such memorable day last year. I would not remember the day so clearly or with such fondness if it weren’t for the meal we ate. I was in Ireland with my man Dave and the kids and we had planned to have lunch at the house where my brother-in-law grew up. It was a big ivy-covered farm-house set back from the road and surrounded by fertile vivid-green pasture land.

Simon's House

We had been invited to lunch by Simon’s mother and we were all very excited and hungry when we arrived. Mildred does all of her cooking on a solid-fuel cooker (stove), which was also responsible for heating the whole house. Cooking with one of these things can be tricky, as you have to get an expert feel for temperatures, especially if you are going to bake a cake or loaf of bread.

A view of the house from Mildred's garden

Unless you came through the front door, the way to the formal dining room was through the kitchen, and through another little room. It opened up to the main hall with the stairs, and a room on each side of the front door; the sitting room and the dining room. The house was sturdy with big windows with lots of panes of glass looking out onto one of the most spectacular gardens I had ever seen.  Turns out Mildred was also quite the gardener!

some of what was spectacular about the garden

The dining room was sunny and cheerful that afternoon, and was set with china place settings. I sat down thinking about all the great meals that had been eaten in this room and how I was going to become part of all that. I prayed my children would behave like angels and that I wouldn’t spill red wine on her lovely crisp white linen tablecloth!

another view

We dined on roast beef, gravy, yorkshire pudding, two kinds of potatoes, and vegetables. I was completely and utterly lost in the moment. I had wine with lunch, and every sip I took with my food is a taste I will never forget. We ended the meal with cake served with fresh cream and warm brandy butter. Everyone at the table appeared to be in the same state of revery, at least speaking for my kids and husband. Looking back, I recognize that what we were feeling was enormous appreciation for the room, the table, the food and the woman who went to the trouble to cook for us.

Walking the land after lunch (click on any picture to get a closer look!)

After lunch we walked the land, had a visit from some cows and horses along the way, and ended it all with a tour of the garden by Mildred.

The cows

The horses

When we came back inside it had begun to rain and we were all a little chilled. We were greeted in the warm kitchen by tea, and a beautiful chocolate sponge cake. I left the place wishing we could do it all again tomorrow.

The grand tour with Mildred

So, I cooked Jim and Eileen’s potatoes thinking about the generosity of friends, and how food has a powerful place in my life.

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You will need: 1 pork tenderloin (about 1 lb or so), sliced a little bigger than 1/4″), 3 tbs extra-virgin olive oil, 1 medium sweet onion, diced, 1 large garlic clove, finely chopped, 6 sprigs fresh thyme, 1/4 cup white wine, 1 cup chicken broth, sea-salt, freshly ground black pepper, 8-10 cups fresh spinach leaves, 1 tbs unsalted butter, soft, 1 tbs all-purpose flour, 8 -10 medium potatoes (any color), peeled & quartered, 1 tbs cold unsalted butter, 1/4 cup heavy cream or whole milk, 1 tsp sea-salt, 1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper.

1 – Prep all ingredients as instructed above

2 – Put saute pan on medium heat and add 2 tbs of oil. Add the onions and garlic and cook for 5 or 6 minutes until beginning to soften. Add thyme sprigs and cook for another minute.

saute onions

2 – Lay the pork on top (in a single lay with a little over-lapping if necessary) and season with a sprinkle of salt and pepper. Cook for 3 or 4 minutes. Turn, season, and cook for same length of time. Turn up heat and add the wine. Let it simmer for 2 minutes before adding the stock. Bring to a simmer.

Add the pork and season with sea-salt and pepper.

4 – Cover with heavy lid and simmer gently on low heat for about 15 to 20 minutes, or, until pork is soft.

* While pork is cooking boil your potatoes. When they are soft, drain and return to pot. Add the cold butter, milk or cream, salt and pepper, and mash until very smooth. Cover with a tea towel to keep warm.

add liquids and simmer for 20 minutes.

5 – Remove pork from liquid and transfer to a plate. Cover to keep warm. Put pot on medium heat. Mix the 1 tbs of softened butter and flour in a small bowl and whisk into sauce to thicken and flavor.

mix roux for pan sauce

6 – Cook for about 2 minutes or so. Taste and adjust seasoning according to taste. Place meat back into pot, turn of heat and cover to keep warm until ready to serve.

add the roux to the liquid

7 – Just before serving put a big saute pan on medium/high heat and add a tablespoon or 2 of extra-virgin olive oil. When pan is hot, add the spinach with a sprinkle of salt and pepper (and some cayenne pepper flakes if you like – I like!). cook for about 3 minutes (until spinach has wilted). Turn off heat.

Pork Tenderloin with mashed potatoes and sautéed spinach

Serve with mashed potatoes and sautéed spinach and a generous spoon or two of sauce.

One last look...

Chicken with Rosmary, Fries, Spinach and Eggs (serves 4)

 I make this kind of dinner when my brain is not working. I think of all the things I crave, and put them on 1 plate. It works no matter what oddball ingredients I throw together. This dinner always includes fries, and after that, it depends on what I have on hand. This could just as easily have been; fries with bacon, peas and onions!

A Real homey dinner of Chicken with rosemary, Fries, spinach and Eggs

My aim is to have everything I decide to cook, ready, by the time the fries come out of the oven. if I can cook something with the fries; even better! This time I threw the chicken in to roast at the same time. I have also cooked fish, sausages and chops when making this kind of slap-dash meal. 

I dressed up each piece of chicken with a sprig of rosemary from the garden, and it really improved the flavor of the breast meat (which, in my opinion, can be a little boring-tasting if you don’t season it with something or other).

My supply of rosemary is a backdoor step away!

So, if you had a bit of this and that, and you can’t decide what to make for dinner, do what I did, and use it all!

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You will need: 3 very large yellow potatoes (or 4 or 5 lesser in size), washed & dried, 4 chicken breasts, 4 sprigs fresh rosemary, 10 cups spinach leaves (or 1 big bunch), washed, 4+ large eggs (more, if needed), 1 or 2 Haas avocados, quartered & sliced (only if you have them on hand, don’t spend the money if they are crazy expensive, or make a special trip to the shop if you have everything else!), 5 or 6 tbs olive oil, sea-salt & freshly ground black pepper.

Preheat oven 425*

1 – First prepare the potatoes like the photo below. Cut into 1/2″ slices and then cut into fries. Put into a big bowl and add about 3 tbs of olive oil. Mix it to coat (I use my hands). Add lots of salt and pepper.

from potato, to slices, to fries!

2 – Wash and dry chicken breasts and place on a board. Cut a deep slit in the middle, making sure not to go all the way through and insert a rosemary sprig in each slit. Sprinkle about 2 tbs of olive oil over then and rub it all over. Season with some salt and pepper.

prep chicken with rosemary

3 – sprinkle about 2 tbs olive oil on a baking sheet and place in the preheating oven. Take it out when it is hot and starting to smoke (about 4 or so minutes). Add the fries and chicken to the pan in an even layer, (they will sizzle!). It will be tight, but try to avoid having chicken on top of fries, with everything having contact with the bottom of the pan.

roast fries and chicken together

4 – Place in oven and time for 25 minutes. Take out and remove chicken to a plate and tent with foil. Turn the fries and spread evenly. Place in oven for another 12 to 15 minutes. Check them once before time is up. If they start to look brown, test one by tasting. You will know when they are done (crunch on the outside, completely soft on the inside).

5 – While fries are in the last stages of cooking, put a pan on with a little extra-vrigin olive oil and saute the spinach for 2 minutes until wilted. Set aside. Slice the avocado, and fry the eggs.

This is a great buffet on a plate!

Place all components on a warmed plate. You can serve it with fried eggs, or without (see two photo at beginning and end of blog)

Whole Chicken in a Pot (serves 4-6)

This dinner was all about the pot I cooked the chicken in!

The pot behind last night's dinner.

I have so many dynamite pieces of cookware, mostly procured by my industrious husband, who finds the majority of them at garage sales, flea markets, antique malls, and, in people’s bins and dumpsters! The pot I used last night however has it’s own special story.

Many years ago now (I’m guessing about 11 or so) I was talking to my mother on the phone. She was planning a visit with my father for Christmas, and was asking me what I would like. She was generous to a fault and wanted so much to get me the perfect present. I could never think of anything, but this time I wracked my brain and remembered that I had been longing for a nice, heavy casserole pot for slow-cooked dishes. After that, I got several phone calls from my mother who was in a particular shop or other, standing in front of a row of casserole dishes. She would describe each one in great detail, and ask me if “this is what I was talking about?”  She even put me on to one of the shop assistants to clarify! 

The day came to pick them up from the airport, and I got stuck in terrible traffic. They did not have a cell phone so were left waiting, not knowing where I was for over 2 hours! When I finally raced into the terminal, I spotted my father sitting very calmly in a chair, with suitcases all around his feet. I ran to him and kept saying “sorry” He just laughed at how frustrated I was and told me that my mother was off in some shop or other and that I had better go find her.

I remember the bags being heavy and I worried that my father should not be lifting them. When we got to my house, my mother, who couldn’t wait for anything, immediately started rummaging through her cases to give me little treats. I always got tea and chocolate from home, which I instantly opened! Then, she pulled out a big green casserole dish. I couldn’t believe she had packed this heavy thing, and dragged it 4,000 miles just for me. When I took the lid off, it was full to the brim with my father’s socks. I will never forget it.

This pot reminds me of them, and when I want to feel the love, or when I ache for them, I cook something great in this pot. Last night, I cooked a whole chicken in it, surrounding by herbs from my garden, slathered in butter, and buried in wine. I told my daughter the story of the heavy green casserole pot, and when she grows up she can make this chicken dish too.

 This simple chicken dish was splendid in every way. The pot sealed in the flavor, and not an ounce of it escaped until it reached our mouths. It really was a blissful evening.

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You will need: 1 4lb chicken (a little under or over is fine), 2 tbs unsalted butter, 1 cold and 1 softened,  2 celery ribs, including leaves, diced, 1 medium onion, cut in half and then sliced, 1 large garlic clove, sliced, 8 sprigs fresh thyme, 10 sage leaves, 2 sprigs fresh rosemary, 1 cup white wine, 1/2 chicken broth (or, 1/2 veggie or chicken bouillon cube & 1/2 cup of water), sea salt, freshly ground black pepper, 4 tbs finely chopped flat-leaf parsley leaves.

Preheat oven 350*

1 – Prep all veggies as instructed, and lay them in the bottom of the pot, (except the parsley leaves).  Add the wine and broth (or bouillon and water)

lay veggies in bottom of casserole.

2 – Put the cold tablespoon of butter under the skin (in slices) of the chicken, and rub the soft butter over the outside, with your hands.season skin with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper.

Place chicken on top.

3 – Put chicken into pot on top of the vegetables. Cover with heavy, tight-fitting lid. Place in preheated oven for 1 1/2 hours. Take out of oven and do not remove lid for 15 minutes. This allows meat to rest and everything to settle and infuse.

* If you are going to serve this with rice, pasta or potatoes, time to be ready when chicken comes out of oven.

Whole Chicken in a Pot

Serve with rice, pasta, potatoes, fresh crusty bread or greens.

I served this with jasmine rice and garnished with fresh Italian parsley.

Make sure to give everyone a generous helping of pan juices and veggies.

Pan Cooked Shrimp with Penne & Peppers in Delicate Cream Sauce (serves 4-6)

Last night I knew I would not be able to start dinner until 6.30pm., so earlier that morning I stuck some frozen shrimp in the fridge to defrost. If I have no time to dilly-dally over food, I usually cook some kind of fish or sea food. It is lightning fast without compromising the tiniest bit on flavor. If I had the money, I would eat fish most nights, but being 3 and 4 times the price per serving of most cuts of meat it is not a luxury I can afford. I often have these romantic notions of living by a good clean river and heading out with my fishing rod each evening to catch my supper!

All locally grown veggies for dinner!

I used to live by a river when I was studying to be a silversmith in Ireland. It was a beautiful little stone house that stood on the perimeter of an idyllic village. There was a path on one side of the road with a high stone wall, and on the other side of the street ran the river the town was built on. The road and river were separated by another wall, but this one was waist-high, and good for leaning and sitting on.  I took up fishing, and did manage to catch my dinner pretty regularly. It was mostly trout, but sometimes, when I was lucky enough to go fishing with friends with more experience than I, there were a few salmon dinners aswell. Those were the days…

Pan Cooked Shrimp with Penne & Peppers in Delicate Cream Sauce, tossed with ripe raw heirloom tomatoes.

Last night I consoled myself with the fact that even though my shrimp were not caught by me, all of my vegetables came from either my garden, or from my CSA, Good Work Farm (read more top right of my blog). It was a sumptuous feast and was way too easy to eat! The last-minute addition of fresh heirloom tomatoes was the clincher. It would have been a sin to cook them, so I didn’t, and just threw them into my bowl right before I was ready to eat. This dinner was ready in 25 minutes, so get crackin’!

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You will need: 1 lb shrimp, shelled & deveined (use the 31-40 count size per lb), 2 tbs unsalted butter, 3 tbs extra-virgin olive oil, 2 medium carrots, thinly sliced, 2 green peppers, small dice (if your peppers are large, use 1 not 2), 3 long skinny red peppers, sliced (or 1 red pepper, small dice), 1 medium onion, small dice, 1 large clove garlic, finely chopped, 1/2 cup chicken broth, 1/3 cup heavy cream, 1 cup cooked pasta water, (you will have this ingredient after you cook your penne), 2 very good quality seasonal red tomatoes, diced (optional, and, only if they are great tasting), sea-salt, freshly ground black pepper, 1 lb penne pasta (I used the mini ridged penne by Barilla)

1 – Prep all veggies and shrimp.

2 – Season the shrimp with sea-salt and freshly ground black pepper. Put big saute pan on medium to high heat and add oil and 1 tbs of butter. When the oil is hot and butter melts, add the shrimp (make sure they are dry) and cook, tossing frequently for about 3 or 4 minutes. Remove to a bowl and turn heat down to medium.

First, cook the shrimp

2 – Put all the prepped vegetables into the pan and cook for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, (you may need to add more oil). Put lid on pan and continue to cook for another 12 to 15 minutes, stirring every 5 minutes or so., (also, adjust pan heat if necessary).

Next, saute the peppers & rest of veggies

3 – Take lid off and add the broth and cream. Let it get warm and then add 1 tablespoon of butter. Mix gently until it is completely incorporated. Turn off heat.

add stock, cream & butter

4 – While vegetables are cooking, boil pasta according to instructions. Right before draining, remove 1 cup of cooked pasta water and reserve. Drain pasta and toss directly into pan sauce. Add the shrimp and reserved pasta water, and stir. Taste for addition of sea-salt and pepper and adjust accordingly.

add cooked penne, shrimp & pasta water

Divide between warm shallow bowls to serve.

Serve as is

You can also add some freshly chopped raw tomatoes to the finished dish. It was an amazing garnish, giving the dish a sweet and tangy burst.

or, top with ripe, raw tomatoes

As well as the fresh tomatoes, I also gilded the lily with a good grating of Parm cheese.

or be extravagant like me and serve with ripe raw tomatoes and freshly grating Parmigiano Reggiano cheese.

Pizza; Kathleen Style!

Another great Pizza Party!

Pizza; Kathleen Style

I am finally getting a chance to talk about another kind of pizza that I like, and think is a handy, clever, and a delicious way to make home-made pizza in less than half the normal time. Why is home-made pizza disappointing sometimes (speaking for several of my failed attempts anyway)? Well, I have tasted so many great pizzas from places that could toss the dough in the air in their sleep, resulting in wonderful dough. Not to mention, great ovens in which to cook them. Simply put, it is hard to replicate what professionals in good kitchens can do.

Kathleen's lovely, squeezed-in garden, with massive vine of tomatoes.

After years of experimenting with different flours, and various yeast concoctions, not to mention pizza stone versus no pizza stone, I have still not found a dough that fits me and my oven perfectly. It is also a fiddley thing to make. You have to chop no end of toppings, grate lots of cheese and make a pizza sauce. Then, you have to heat up your kitchen to a sweltering 500 degrees, and hover by the oven to check and recheck cooking progress. Did I mention getting the dough from the paddle to the pizza stone without losing half of the toppings to the oven floor? Why bother, why go to all this trouble when a phone call can deliver a perfectly good pizza to your door in a half hour or less? The fact is, I love making pizza, even if it does not measure up sometimes. I love watching the dough rise, and the smell of the bubbly yeast. I love trying my hand at stretching the dough over my knuckles, and tossing it in the air in the hopes of catching it, and, I love it when I do!  What makes it taste good to me and my family, and anyone else who has tried my pizza is the effort that goes into it. This is something you make for people you love, and for people who, upon seeing that you have actually made them pizza, know you love them. This is the only reasonable explanation to go to all that trouble in my book.

Two pizza ready to be checked

Back to Kathleen and her valiant effort to show love for her guests. First off, I am struggling to decide whose kitchen is actually the Crappier of the two! It’s pretty close to call. We both work in cramped narrow hallways of kitchens, with not nearly enough cupboard or counter space, and no reprieve from hot ovens. I get more light which is a plus, but she has a table and chairs in the same space (albeit pushed up against the wall when not being used, so as people can get thought the door leading into the rest of the house!), which allows her to be cooking and chatting to family or guests while she goes about her business. I have zero room for such things, but I have insisted on having two tall stools jammed in there so as I don’t feel like an indentured cook. The problem is, when you open the oven door, whomever is sitting there has to rest the lagging door on their shins while I take stuff in and out! On that note, I’m giving myself the Crappiest Kitchen award, with Kathleen a pretty close runner-up (I know she will disagree!)

The deft hand of Stephen as he slices the meat pizza

This blog post is apparently all about love and pizza, so let me proceed. We have both been friends with the same family for a number of years and they are leaving us for bigger and better things. They sold their house and went through both the physically and mentally gruelling task of packing their entire lives into a truck (and all that it entailed) and today, as I write, are on their way to another country! For the past few weeks they have been demented crazy people, and, each time I talked to them about having one last get-together it was too much for them to think about. Kathleen to the rescue! She said everyone should come to her house for pizza, (everyone being 4 families in all or part, making a total of 13).

And, the chock-full of veggies pizza!

You might call this cheating, but I call it using a little ingenuity, when I tell you that in times like this Kathleen opts for loaves of frozen bread dough from the supermarket, rather than making her own (which she does too!) pizza crust. She discovered it while she was going through her trial-and-error-pizza-dough phase. I would simply never have thought of it since, in today’s supermarkets, you can buy actual frozen pizza dough. I first had it a few years earlier when I was invited to her back yard for drinks, chat and pizza. When I tasted it I was mad with jealously. She had successfully made a pizza whose crust was spot on. I was not disappointed when she told me what she had done, rather, I was impressed with her wherewithal!

Yes, these are the plates for the pizza during our Hot Summer Farewell Party ( Christmas in August!)

Last night she used the same technique, as in, she bought the dough, (which of course still had to be defrosted, left to rise and shape), but, she choose to use a whole wheat bread dough for the healthier option. The part that was valiant, and love-driven, was the fact that she had just had carpal tunnel surgery a few days earlier and was strictly instructed not to lift anything! Now, here she was, making 4 giant pizza, shaping and rolling dough, chopping veggies, grating cheese, all very wrist involved actions.

Kathleen caught using her recovering hand (again!)

At one point she asked me to help her bring some of the leftover pizza back into the house (we were in the garden). There she stood with two pizza trays in her hands standing by the door, and when I told her she probably shouldn’t be doing that, she quipped, “I know, so open the door!”

Yet another kind of pizza; White Pizza with Broccoli & Spinach

We spend the evening in her garden around a table with the only light coming from Tiki torches, which her son had to keep relighting. The pizzas came in so many varieties, I had to try them all. The peppers and fresh tomatoes came from her garden, and she used my oregano in my favorite one of the evening, the veggie pizza. I have to be honest and admit that I like the white bread dough version better as it has a more genuine pizza taste. I am very bad at choosing what is healthy over what I love.

The kids ate pizza and played madly before finally settling around a fire, roasting marshmallows (as well as stealing tomatoes to see if they would explode!). I went through moments of feeling very lucky to be sitting where I was, in a tiny backyard dubbed, “the Italian Garden” eating pizza, and drinking wine, to feeling sad about losing friends.

An impressive Fire Tower by David, who entertained the rest of the group all evening with his pyrotechnic antics (that was a mouthful!)

Well, that was last night, and today, I am looking forward to having a new place to visit, and long phone conversations.

I read somewhere recently that food tastes better with friends. I would like to add that food makes people better friends. It’s so obvious.