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Saturday, May 30, 2009

Cooking Tips: Grilled Pizza

NEW on my house menu this summer - Grilled Pizza's. I'm all about using my grill to cook outside as much as possible. I loathe turning on the stove or especially the oven to cook my meals once the weather even remotely warms in our South East Corner of the Philadelphia region. After years of failures and half-baked successes, I finally discovered how to make pizza on the grill with near perfect results. Aided with the help of a fool-proof and easy to use cookbook, Grilled Pizzas and Piandinas by Craig Priebe, and with the additional help of a rimless cookie sheet, cornmeal and a gentle push onto the grill, my pizza dough cooked to a crackling blistery finish in minutes. This past weekend's batch of pizzas was made with Trader Joe's Whole Wheat and Pesto Dough. I found the trick to making a store bought dough roll out easily was to cut it into 3 smaller portions and to use enough extra flour to make the dough not sticky. Other tips I learned from Mr. Priebe's insightful cookbook, you need to have a pizza peal in order to move the dough from surface to the grill, without it, you wind up with a soggy dough blanket that bunches and flops in all the wrong places.

This isn't a recipe post as much as a tricks of the trade post. Here are a few things I learned to making pizza on the grill work. Rather than purchase a pizza peal, an item that has only one use, I opted instead to buy a commercial grade rimless cookie sheet - something I'm sure I'll put to good use all year long. Without the edge, a pizza dough can be scooted right off the sheet tray and onto the grill with minimal effort. The main trick to doing this easily is to make sure you have cornmeal or flour on the cookie tray underneath the pizza dough, otherwise the sticky dough will adhere and tear as you attempt to slide it off the tray.

Tip #3 - (if you were counting, there was a tip before the pizza peal bit!) Pre-grilling the dough is the main trick to making a pizza on the grill. You grill one side first, for about 3 minutes on a well-oiled grill grate. This sets the dough and allows you to maneuver the pizza shell and/or to make enough shells in advance for a large crowd or for later usage. The grilled side becomes your topping side; the un-grilled side then becomes the bottom and goes back onto the grill for finishing.

Tip #4 - Don't over-load the pizza shell! Minimal toppings and sauce, just enough cheese to adhere it all to the pizza shell. An overly loaded pizza is top heavy and will get too soggy or be too difficult to slide back onto the grill.
Tip #5 - Pre-cook your ingredients. Meat and fish needs to be cooked. Rotisserie chicken should become your kitchen's best friend. Veggies - cook 'em on the grill for a that outdoor smokey taste and then top on the pizza. Pizza sauce made easy: Combine a large can of tomato puree or tomato sauce, a small can of tomato paste, 4 or 5 roasted and minced garlic cloves, 1 tablespoon of olive oil and 2 tablespoons of Italian Seasonings toasted in olive oil, a few grinds of freshly ground black pepper and a pinch of sea or kosher salt. This will keep in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks, or freeze in small batches and use as needed.
Tip #6 - Make extra dough and grill it all. It keeps better pre-grilled and you'll always have something on hand for a last minute meal.
Menu Ideas: Grilled or roasted chicken with garlic, lemon and rosemary on a pizza. Brush the shell with olive oil, top with chopped chicken and season with a bit of lemon zest, a few sprigs of rosemary and minced garlic. Top with Mozzarella cheese. Grilled vegetables - onions, roasted peppers and zucchini - either with or without pizza sauce. Top with a mixed shredded cheese. Pizza Margherita - brush the shell with olive oil, top with pizza sauce, mozzarella cheese and fresh basil. When I made the pizza's, I pre-cooked four doughs - two whole wheat and two basil/pesto doughs, cut into a total of 12 pieces. I had three shells left over that went into the freezer. After I cooked the pizza shells, I grilled a few zucchini; two red peppers; a large Spanish onion (I hate raw onions but love them cooked, sauted, or my favorite, caramelized); and three chicken breasts, sliced thin into cutlets. I had on hand pizza sauce that I made, fresh rosemary and basil and two packages of shredded cheese - low-fat mozzarella and a Colby/Jack/Cheddar mix. This gave me a variety of options and I made up each pizza as I went along. The idea is to have a different taste in each bite and to use what you have on hand.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Artist in the Square

One of my favorite things about living in Philadelphia and working in and around Rittenhouse Square is that I find, see and meet the most things and people. Today while walking through the Square during my lunch hour, I spied a man painting scenes in the square in oils on small canvas and scraps of plastic, framed with found wood pieces from Key West or Dade County, Florida. Most scenes were Key West beach and surf style images, palm trees, wind surf boats, sunsets. His work was very good and modest. The artist was working on a Rittenhouse Square scene and at the same time was laughing and talking with a local resident; the two of them were having a merry time, their good moods were infectious. Among his paintings was a very small and quick study painting of a rooster, very French in style and bright without being too garish or over-done. The painting was garnering a lot of attention but no one else seemed interested in its purchase. Lucky for me! I stopped to chat with the creator and inquire about the paintings price. Cheap as Chips it was and too good to pass up. The artist's name is Robert Suret, and I could easily tell he wasn't from around here. Whether I guessed correctly or he was pulling my leg, but I asked if he was here in Philadelphia from Key West. "Yes, a Cajun by way of Nova Scotia, on my way back to Nova Scotia." Mr. Suret is driving, painting, hanging out and biking along the way, enjoying life and making merry everywhere he goes. A truer joie de vivre I have not found in some time.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Italian Style Grilled Pork Loin with Rosemary

Having a gas grill means never having to say you are sorry you can't grill tonight. I know there are the hardwood charcoal purists out there who feel grilling isn't grilling without a hot coal fire under your primal cuts of meat. The smokey aroma, the char, the higher heat all adding to the deep outdoorsy taste. Believe me, I love real grilling over good charcoal, but I hate the time it takes for the coals to get to the perfect amber glow. Even when I have used a chimney starter, it just takes too darn long and I feel like there is so much waste of good fire. When I want to grill, I don't want to have to plan and wait almost an hour before I can get my food on the grates. If there's rain, and I have planned to cook outdoors, with propane, I can. My trick to getting a deep smokey taste is to use cedar planks, or a smoker box with some apple wood or hickory chips, or even to use whole woody herbs like rosemary to create the smoke and fire without the hassle of waiting for the coals to do their thing.

Tonight's dinner was ready in a snap. I had a third of a boneless pork loin (it was so big I cut it into three pieces and froze the other pieces another use later), which I butterflied open so I could stuff it full of garlic, rosemary, parsley, lemon zest and salt and pepper. I closed it back and trussed it shut with a couple of toothpicks. Seasoned the outside with salt, pepper and olive oil and grilled it on the outside to give the pork loin some colour and the look of being on the grill. Then I finished cooking it on a cedar plank. In half an hour it was done.
For a side dish, I made "Cowboy-style" fingerling potatoes with garlic, onions and rosemary, salt, pepper and olive oil, cooked in a foil packet on the grill. The potato packet went on the grill while it preheated and was done at the same time as the pork loin. My dinner waited for no one!

Italian Style Grilled Pork Loin Ingredients:
  • 1 Small Boneless Pork loin (about 1 1/2 pounds) - trimmed of excess fat and silver skin
  • 4 Garlic Cloves - minced
  • 1/2 Cup Fresh Parsley - minced
  • 1 Whole Rosemary Stem - leaves picked off woody stem and minced
  • Zest and Juice of 1 Lemon
  • 2 Teaspoons Salt - plus more to taste
  • 1 Teaspoon Freshly Ground Pepper - plus more to taste
  • 2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
  • Cedar Grilling Plank - soaked for 15 minutes in water

1. Preheat your grill; while your grill or coals are preheating, butterfly open the pork loin and sprinkle with salt and freshly ground pepper. Spread a layer of finely chopped fresh parsley, rosemary, minced garlic and the zest of a lemon. Squeeze half of the lemon's juice over the stuffing and drizzle with olive oil.

2. Close or fold the pork loin back together and truss/seal with several toothpicks or bamboo skewers. Season the outside of the pork loin with additional salt, pepper, olive oil and the rest of the lemon juice.

3. Reduce the grill heat to medium. Place the pork loin on the grill and sear on the top and bottom, cooking it on each side long enough to create grill marks and to be able to move the loin easily without tearing it or having it stick to the grill - about 8 minutes on the first side, 5 on the next.

4. Once the loin has been seared, place it on a prepared and soaked cedar grilling plank. Place the cedar plank on the grill, raising the heat to medium-high. Close the lid and allow the grill plank to char and smoke. Occasionally check on the plank to make sure it is not burning. Douse with water from a squirt bottle if necessary. Cook until the internal temperature of the pork loin reaches 145 degrees, or the when the inner layers are no longer pink, the juices run clear - about 20 to 25 minutes.

5. Allow the meat to rest, covered loosely with aluminum foil, for 10 to 15 minutes before slicing. Remove the toothpicks then slice into quarter-inch thick slices. This size pork loin, which was about a pound serves two. With ample sides, and not a ravenous appetite, I was able to get 3 servings - about 9 slices altogether, 3 per serving.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Morning Stroll and Ride

Went riding this morning around the Schuylkill River along Kelly and West River Drives. It was not my first morning ride of the season, but today was the first group ride with my gang of biker chicks, several of the Sue's. I've ridden at least two or three times this spring in the early morning, though today we did do a "double loop" adding on some extra miles to make it worth getting up at 5:45 am. There was a real snap and bite in the morning air. In my eagerness to get out and ride, I went without a jacket or long sleeves. Stupid thing to do, I was so cold that my arms, hands and toes were numb for the first 20 miles. The morning light was gorgeous and the air was mostly clear and calm. Along certain bends on the trail, I would catch a pleasant whiff of the river. The smell of the river, before the heat and humidity take over and bring in the funk, reminds me of summer camp. There's an earthy muck and mud smell that takes me back to my childhood skipping rocks into the creek; "fishing" for salamanders under rocks; digging for clay along the banks of a stream. That good deep smell of composting leaves, twigs and branches and cool damp forest air. The light this time of year is also magically golden and hazy. The pollen thankfully doesn't affect me, so I can "appreciate" the haze it lends to a cool spring morning, creating sunbeams and a fuzzy effect on the water's calm surface.

Today we saw scads of baby Canadian Geese. It must have been a fantastic mating season; I've never seen so many baby goslings over the course of a ride. We saw about 6 different family groups, each with at least a half dozen downy babies in tow. Some of the goslings were having a set in the grass, minding themselves while others were out grubbing, fattening themselves along with their relatives. These were the biggest crowds on our early morning weekday ride. Unlike the roller bladers, joggers and casual cyclists who crowd the trail on the weekend and make it difficult to pass or ride efficiently is that are the droppings these trail blazers leave along the path. What's a little guano on my tires? Gives my dog, Hamlet, something to sniff when I get home!

Sunday, May 10, 2009

An Anti-Ode to Dear Old Mom

A riff and an anti-ode on the word: MOTHER**

M is for the many moods of my mother. Her temperamental moods are like an ever changing current pounding upon the shoreline of my psyche, pulling me into the undertow and attempting to drown me in her deep sea of discontent. From my mother I get my moodiness, charisma, nice teeth and angry nature that I try to diffuse with the sense of humor she also gave me. 3 out of 5 isn't too bad.

O is for the outrageous things she has said to me over my 48 years of life. In response to my recent telling her that we are trying to make plans to build our family, her response was, "Better you than me. Raising kids is a big responsibility. Well, that's, well, Whatever... Better you than me." Nice. Since she shirked her responsibility and I raised myself, I think I may do a fine job when my chance comes along in the future.

T is for the tragedy and the tears. My life story is the kind of tale, that "You couldn't make up..." a friend often says to me. My mother/daughter complex issues might make an excellent sitcom, all that's needed is a laugh track, a wacky, boozy side kick, the nosey neighbor from down the street and the fabulous & gorgeous gay guy best friend. Oh, wait, these characters really did exist in my childhood life story. Motherhood and the maternal instinct gene are not present in her DNA. Joan Crawford and Euripides's, Medea, were better parents. Good thing I choose to find the humor in my upbringing, otherwise, I'd have jumped off the South Street Bridge years ago.

H is for the hives I get, the hell I feel I'm in and for the horrible things I think after I hang up the phone after I talk to her. Is it too late for me to be adopted or fostered?

E is for the egregious lack of respect my mother bestows upon me. She is still in denial that she has a daughter who is over 40. My mother believes that she herself is still in her late 30's. That would make me not even born yet. Forget about the gleam in my father's eye, he and it died over 35 years ago.

R is for the role reversal story I have lived through. I raised myself and became self reliant at an early age. At the age of eight, I was left alone for an extended period of time while my mother vacationed outside of the continental USA. She frolicked on some distant pink sanded beach and I became adept at subterfuge and fibbing. I used to pretend to call home to "ask permission" to stay over at a friends house for dinner or for a sleep-over. All I wanted was a normal life, a decent packed lunch box and a snack waiting for me when I got home from school. I think I watched too many reruns of The Brady Bunch and Leave it to Beaver.

Put them all together and they spell - THERAPY! Thank god for being able to pay for my way to a happier tomorrow.

**My apologies to the creator of the original, M is for the many things she gave me song from 1915.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Simply Smashing

Smashing- (verb): to break up into small pieces; to mash, crush, pummel or puree coarsely; i.e. as in is throwing and breaking pumpkins, or to cook and tamp down potatoes into a soft, yielding comfort food; (gerund) to gayly describe one's appearance in a feigned mock amusing tone adopted in a Noel Coward or Truman Capote mannerism - "Dahling, you look simply Smashing in that frock!"
Smashing is for inanimate objects or to describe one of the women from the Real Housewives of NYC. It is not suitable to do to one's boobs. I had my annual mammogram today, leaving me feeling a smashed and vulnerable; it's how I referred to how my body felt on my Facia Libra status page, smashed like a potato instead of feeling simply smashing. I must have mashed potatoes on the brain because this reminded me of the delicious mashed potatoes I made for dinner last night - a combination of sweet and Idaho potatoes, garlic, low-fat cream cheese, light, Land O'Lakes Canola Butter and skim milk. Decadent enough to satisfy the comfort food cravings but slimmed down enough to justify eating more than a mouthful.

I am not a morning person so I'm not sure what possessed me to take a 7:45 am scheduled "annual lay myself down and get pounded on my chest by an automatic garage door" appointment also known as a mammogram. It's hard enough for me to wake up to do things I like such as swimming or biking before work. This morning was dark and bone chillingly damp. Having an appointment to stand naked before a stranger while she fondled and arranged my deflated water balloons (without the benefit of being taken to breakfast or dinner for this displeasure), was more for making it a morning to stay in bed with the dog, duvet pulled over our heads. The only good thing about having an early morning doctor's appointment is that there aren't a lot of other women waiting for their voluntary trip to second base with photos taken by a stranger. More often than not, I'll schedule my doctor's visits early to get me in and out of their office without interfering with the rest of my morning. I get to work earlier too. Too bad I don't have the same motivation every day. Then again, I wouldn't work as late if I came to work early. The trade off works for me.

Today's appointment was not painless but it was necessary. A few years ago I had a minor scare that turned out to be nothing. I'm one of the many well-endowed (more so before the weight loss) women for whom the "girls" need a few extra look-see's. I tend to be prone to extra fat and lumps in all the wrong places. Each of the exams I've had in the past two years required additional pokes, prods and pictures taken during each exam. This morning between the first imaging round and the waiting period while the nurse and doctors eyed my results, I experience the usual mild anxiety about the results of the readings. I thought I felt a lump in my chest today where there had not previously been one. Sure enough, I was called for round two. Ding! Into the ring again, dropping my hospital gown and stepping up to the box to place my right breast for another bashing. Just as I suspected, there was a question about that right side. Anxiety building, I left the room and headed to the waiting area for another judgement call. It was this moment when I felt most vulnerable. Not when I was topless before the nurse, not when I had two tons of pressure coming down on my breasts while being photographed by a radioactive camera. I felt scared and alone with my crazy thoughts about the what-ifs and oh-no's. The best thing about having scheduled this appointment so early, the doctor wasn't backed up and could review the results quickly. Before I could even allow my screwy mind to launch another thought rocket into Plan Nine from Outer Space, the doctor called me and said, "Everything is fine. We'll see you next year." Whew.

Pre-WW (Weight Watchers) I did not feel the machine pressure as much, I had needless weight cushioning my body and absorbing the squeezing and twisting of Pennsylvania Hospital's state of the art imaging system. Post WW, I can flex my biceps and fore arms to grip the side of the machine and stand closer to the imaging area, but I felt a pain in my chest as the machine smashed down on my boobs. It hurt a lot harder on my 42 year old sagging sacks than it did two years and 70 pounds ago. I never thought I'd be the kind of woman to say this, but I'd love to have my breasts re-done. I want them up where they belong. I want perky, round, C or D Cups, that don't need to be hauled up with leverage, spandex and an assortment of strong industrial hooks. Unless I find that missing lottery ticket worth ten million dollars, I don't think Liz, Santa, or any other benevolent patron exists who might be willing to help me sculpt a Victoria's Secret Chest with a dash of a Hooter's babe thrown in for good measure. Oh well, I've got my good breast health and that's worth a lot more than any chance to win millions or to smuggle raisins without wearing a bra. Alleluia to saving the ta-tas!