Sunday, June 27, 2010

Pizza - 4: Jess - 0

I love pizza. I really do. But lately I feel like pizza doesn't love me back. You see, the last few times I made homemade pizza have been pretty...difficult to say the least. Some minor roadbumps but others were just full-fledged disasters.

A couple of months ago I discovered the skillet method. It was genius, really. A perfect way to get that charred, crispy bottom without a) having to preheat the oven for an hour and b) a pizza stone. It worked pretty well for me the first few times. Then, one night I removed the skillet from the oven and unfortunately slammed the pizza down on the stove (hey, cast iron is heavy!). This resulted in an oil dripper falling off the ledge of the oven (why did I have an oil dripper up there to begin with? I'm an idiot, that's why) and shattering ALL OVER my pizza. I was so upset I tried to eat a slice anyway and almost ate a shard of glass. I actually did have enough ingredients to make another pizza, but by this point I was so distraught that my second pizza ended up coming off the cutting board and into the hot skillet as a big glob (this is generally the trickiest part of the skillet method), which led to an uneven and doughy mess of a pizza that I ended up taking about three bites of before throwing out. I haven't gone back to the skillet method since.

Then there was that time in Collingwood where we didn't have any cornmeal or flour (I was trying Reinhart's dough recipe as shown below and brought up the extremely wet pre-made dough) and pretty much had to chisel a few pizzas off the pan until we discovered a box of pancake mix in the cupboard (for the record, it works perfectly fine as a flour substitute to dust a pan with!)

And then a couple of weekends ago, I was at my mom's making pizza and while transferring a hot, fresh-out-of-the-oven pizza to the cutting board dropped the entire thing facedown on the floor. Three second rule you say? I wish. When I attempted to pick it up, everything but the crust remained on the floor. Sob. We made some again the next night with the remaining dough which went fairly smoothly, but not completely disaster-free either. I proceeded to knock the bowl of grated mozzerella out of Adam's hands as he walked into our tiny kitchen. Luckily we salvaged enough of it to make our pizzas later.

Reading this post over to myself is making me wonder why I still bother making pizza at home. Is it even worth the mess, stress and wasted food? And the answer? YES. Because it's that good. Because, even with all the accidents I managed to scrape out some pretty delicious pizzas on the majority of these occasions (the skillet night being a huge exception - that was just a big fat FAIL). Because I love pizza. A lot. A lot a lot.

Peter Reinhart's Pizza Dough and Sauce
Adapted from The Fresh Loaf

Makes 4 10-inch pizzas

5 cups all purpose flour
1 tbsp sugar or honey
2 tsp salt (or 3 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt)
1 tsp instant yeast
2 tbsp olive oil
2 cups room-temperature water

1. Combine all of the ingredients in a large mixing bowl and stir vigorously with a wooden spoon or mix in an electric mixer. After you've combined all of the ingredients, set the dough aside to rest for 5 minutes. Stir again for 3 to 5 minutes, adding more water or flour if necessary. You want the dough to be pretty wet here. I usually end up add a bit more should be dry enough that it holds together and pulls away from the side of the bowl when you mix it, but not dry enough to knead by hand.

2. Divide the dough into 4 pieces. Place each one into an oiled freezer bag. I just drizzle some olive oil into the bag and rub around. You can also apparently brush the outside of the dough with olive oil and then place it into the bag...weirdly enough, I just read this part of the instruction and had a bit of an "aha!" moment.

3. If you aren't going to bake your pizzas that day, you can throw the bags into the freezer. They'll stay good in there for at least a month. The evening before you intend to bake them, move the frozen dough balls to the refrigerator to thaw.

If you are baking later the same day, put the bagged dough balls in the fridge until about an hour or two before you want to make your pizza. At that point, remove and let the dough warm up to room temperature.

If you need to have your pizza as soon as humanly possible (which is usually the case with me), leave the bags out at room temperature and let rise for about an hour. This will result in a less flavourful, but still tasty dough.

Also, turn your oven on to the highest setting about an hour before baking. This isn't exactly an efficient use of heat but will make your pizza better. If you have a pizza stone, throw it in while the oven is heating up. If you don't, place a cookie sheet in there instead. Make sure it's on the lowest (or second lowest) rack in your oven.

4. You won't be able to roll this dough out. Take a ball out of the bag, and using your hands shape into a small circle. Take the edge and rotate so that the weight of the ball stretches your circle. Keep doing this until your dough is large/thin enough to your liking. This may take a few tries to get. If you're using parchment paper (which I strongly advise) you can also stretch it out a bit once its laid out since the dough will stick to the paper.

5. Top with sauce, cheese and whatever toppings you want. The pizza above had roast pork tossed with barbeque sauce, red onion, red pepper and pineapple. Place the pizza (still on parchment) on your pan/stone and let bake for probably about 10-15 minutes, depending on how hot your oven is, until the cheese is bubbly and the crust is browned. Enjoy!

Pizza Sauce

1 28oz can crushed tomatoes
1 tsp olive oil
1 tsp dried basil
1 tsp dried oregano
1 bay leaf
4 or 5 cloves of crushed garlic
2 tbsp balsamic vinegar (or any other kind of vinegar/lemond juice)
Salt and pepper, to taste

Heat olive oil in a small pot and add garlic. Cook for a few minutes until garlic is soft but not browned. Add remaining ingredients and let simmer for awhile (maybe 20 minutes) until the flavours have mellowed a bit. Cool and use on pizza, and freeze the rest for later.

Sunday, June 13, 2010


Falafels in Toronto are sort of a holy grail for me. Nearly every one I've had has been a disappointment. Either the falafels are too dry, mushy or just not very good (which isn't exactly a surprise when almost all of them seem to start off as frozen patties). And then there's the filling - most have too much lettuce and not nearly enough vegetables, hummus or tzatziki which can result in an extremely dry sandwich. I know there must be good falafel places in the city but most of the better ones are further away than I'm generally willing to venture, especially if there's a chance it will disappoint.

My problem runs a little deeper here in that I have a "perfect" falafel in my memory...and it isn't from Toronto, or even Canada. Two summers ago I had the most mind-blowingly delicious falafel at L'As Du Falafel in Paris. Their falafels, freshly deep fried from due to the high volume of customers, were crispy but still amazingly moist and tender on the inside. The liberal amounts of tahini and tzatziki and the thinly sliced cucumber matchsticks kept the sandwich from being dry (in fact it was dripping). The saddest part of all this was the fact that I didn't even get my own falafel on this occasion. We had gone late at night after the bar and I wasn't very hungry so shared one with Rue. Big mistake. This falafel literally haunts my dreams.

Anyway, all this means that I'm going to be pretty hard-pressed to find a truly satisfactory falafel even with lowered expectations. I had been avoiding falafel recipes for months for this reason exactly, but recently I realized that I was more often disappointed in the filling options and hummus/tzatziki-to-pita ratio than the patties themselves. Which is actually quite easily remedied by an at-home falafel!

This recipe is a bit different from most homemade falafel recipes in that it a) uses canned vs. dried chickpeas and b) the falafels are baked. I'm planning to try using dried chickpeas next time but I actually thought that the texture from the canned version was more than satisfactory considering it doesn't require 24 hours of soaking. I also pan fried these for our meal but ended up baking the leftovers as I noticed that they weren't quite as crispy as I had hoped. I'm not sure if this means I wasn't pan frying at a high enough heat (I haven't figured out the science of pan-frying temperatures yet) or that the patties themselves had too much moisture but I thought that baking might help. The baked version were definitely more crispy but also drier on the inside. I think that ultimately I preferred the pan fried version but I might just need to experiment with the heat/oil levels next time. I can totally see why deep frying is the "preferred" method for falafel making - seems to be the only way to truly get the crispy, crunchy exterior with a moist and soft interior. Both the other methods were still delicious and an improvement over the lacklustre falafels I've had lately. They also freeze extremely well, though it wasn't necessary in my case - I ate them as leftovers for two days of lunches and for dinner again later in the week. These are going to be a regular addition to my dinner options for sure!

Homemade Falafel

Adapted from theKitchn and Chow Vegan
Makes about 22 balls

1 15 oz can garbanzo beans
About half a white onion, finely chopped (about 1 cup)
1 medium carrot, peeled and finely grated
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
3 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped
Juice of half a lemon
1 tsp olive oil
1 tsp coriander
1 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp dried red pepper flakes
Dash of chilli powder
1/2 cup of panko bread crumbs
1 tsp baking powder
Salt and pepper to taste

1. Drain and rinse the garbanzo beans. Put in a medium sized bowl and smash with a fork or potato masher. I actually slightly "pulsed" using my immersion blender as I wanted a bit of a finer mixture but don't have a food processor. Add the rest of the ingredients (but only 1/4 cup of the panko crumbs) and mix well.

2. Form into small balls, about 1 1/2″ in diameter and slightly flatten. Lightly bread patties in remaining panko crumbs, if desired. Press slightly into the crumbs so that they stick to the falafels.

To pan-fry:

3. Heat a large cast-iron skillet (or regular frying pan) on medium heat. Fry patties in canola or olive oil (I used a combination of the two) for about 5 minutes per side, until they are nicely browned. Drain on a paper towel lined plate.

To bake:

3. Preheat oven to 375 degrees Farenheit, 185 degrees Celsius. Place patties onto an oiled baking pan and bake for 15 minutes. After 15 minutes flip patties, add some more oil to the baking pan and give the pan a shake to re-coat. This will help the falafels brown nicely on the other side as well.

4. Eat in a pita pocket with hummus, tzatziki, tomatoes and cucumber. You can freeze your leftovers to have on another day if you're so fortunate as to have that many left over.