Week 40: Steakhouse – Prime New York Strip, Portobello Mushroom & Blue Cheese Scalloped Potato Pizza

Having honed my steak making techniques for years, this week’s “Steakhouse” challenge was a chance to apply my accumulate knowledge to a pizza, a more recent DIY fascination. The main challenge: all toppings need to be able to be torn apart sans knife, a steakhouse necessity. For steak, a quick sous-vide bath was worth exploring as a potential solution as it would soften the tissue without overcooking the meat, allowing for additional heat both in forming the crust stovetop and in the oven playing nice with other toppings. The same potential solution was applied to the preparation of scalloped potatoes, which would normally require lengthy cooking time in a casserole dish.

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A single ugly duckling russet potato was sliced thin using a mandoline and placed in a vacuum-sealed bag for a 30 minutes sous-vide swim. Truffle oil, salt and pepper were added in before sealing.

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A simple blue cheese sauce was made with shallots, butter and cream. Saint Agur undeniably superior to all others in its category, thus

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The cream sauce was applied below and above the layering of potatoes. The potato pie was cooked on its own awaiting the remaining toppings that joined in for the last 2-3 minutes in the oven. The majority of their preparation took place beforehand.

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To make up for any loss in quality by cooking at home, the finest cut of meat is the only option to meet basic steakhouse standards. When the occasion arises to throw down the money and stomach space for a steakhouse experience, what comes better surpass the prime cuts that are very simply prepared in my cast iron. With this prime New York cut, a one hour bath at 53°C kept the meat rare and ready for more heat.

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The steak was finished in a cast iron to achieve a crust and sliced after a bit of rest.

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A portobello was given some time on the cast iron followed by a final roasting in the oven.

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The plain potato pizza was pulled from the oven just minutes before it finished cooking and the portobello and steak slices were applied for the final stretch in the oven.

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Now this is a steakhouse meal in pizza form. Not meant for the everyday, but certainly worth honoring with a bit of a splurge in wine as well.

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Two Hands Shiraz out of Barossa Valley is a style with some definite umfph. It has spice and power and a surprising balance that makes it so enjoyable on its own. Here with the steak it meets the earthy, meaty flavors with its own savory components but counterbalances with boldness in fruit. While Australian Shiraz doesn’t see the same attention it did a decade ago, there are still great examples of it being made, this being one of them.

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Week 39: West African – Tatale, Yam Fufu & Peanut Sauce Pizza

This week’s theme, West African, gifted me the opportunity to work with plantain and yam, two semi-standard produce items I tend to ignore.

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As ugly as this once-green plantain now is, it’s still kicking inside. I’d like to applaud myself for spending weeks with this blackening fruit and not turning it into some kind of pseudo-banana bread.

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Peanut is a common feature in West Africa sauces and stews. Here, it made the base of the pizza using the broad stroke flavors of this recipe’s sauce to create my own.

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Unlike a well-ripened banana, plantains seem to keep their structure even in their old age. It took more effort than expected to mash in shallots and cayenne for a tatale recipe.

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The plantain cakes caramelized in the pan, some more than other, which gave it a candied sweetness. Cornmeal can be mixed in to the batter to create a more stable texture.

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Meanwhile, yam was cut up, boiled and mashed for an addition of fufu to the pizza, an admittedly silly topping when considering fufu’s role as a starchy vessel to assist in eating other dishes.

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Peanuts are crushed to finish the pizza.

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The peanut sauce is liberally applied and the plantains divvied up to see at least one piece per slice. Fufu and peanut crumbles finish the pie.

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And without the use of cheese, this pizza turned out accidentally vegan.

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Pretty damn tasty vegan pizza. And the wine pairing only improved the situation.

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The sweeter flavors of plantain and yam needs a style with more luscious fruit to offer. Jaffurs’ Santa Barbara Viognier of Bien Nacido Vineyard offers pineapples and peaches with a rounded texture that dances quite nicely alongside our pie. The two complement each other without either pizza or wine taking over the experience.

Week 37: Mystery Ingredients – White Peach, Sweet Corn, Basil & Mascarpone Pizza with a Blackberry Gastrique

For this week’s challenge, I failed to internalize the instructions properly. Having never seen the two shows cited as examples, Chopped and Master Chef, my mind went to the one “mystery ingredient” show I was familiar with: Iron Chef. Thus, I told my chooser to pick just one ingredient for me to build my flavor profile from. He chose white peaches.

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When asked why he chose white peaches when I had taken him to a grocery store cherished for their diverse produce section, he responded, “Dragon fruit? Too showy. Star fruit? What the fuck is that anyway? There is no season for love, Victoria, but there is for peaches.” How could I argue with that? Peaches it is.

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To complement the summery sentiment established in the choice of mystery ingredient, I decided to make a blackberry gastrique, a trick I picked up in a previous challenge pizza, and charred sweet corn.

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The white corn was a delightfully subtle addition.

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The whole of the ingredients included a shredded mozzarella base with a couple additions of mascarpone.

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The pie was finished with chiffonade basil leaves and almond slivers.

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The choice of wine was not showcasing the same level of sweet summer flavors as the pizza but still offered some refreshing qualities to the experience. Overall, a moderately sweeter style of Chenin Blanc would have been preferred but this pairing wasn’t a complete failure as the whole of the evening was quite enjoyable with many thanks to the tasty components involved.

Week 19: Mother Sauces – Cheddar Stuffed-Crust Pretzel Pizza

I got a little ambitious for this week’s Mother Sauces challenge (which I’m just now putting together is themed so for Mother’s Day). Making, documenting and incorporating the tomato sauce I regularly make, a batch of which I completed last night for restocking purposes, would be a pretty big yawnfest. Instead, I chose to take the béchamel route and build a pizza around the cheddar sauce so introduced by the designated wikipedia page. What followed was a plot to not only create a pretzel crust to enhance the tasty mustard and cheddar elements, but also to stuff said crust with cheddar. It went pretty alright.

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I began with the sauce, first whipping up a basic béchamel sauce to work from.

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Then dry mustard, cheddar and worcestershire sauce was adding according to whimsy.

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The dough was rolled out and thin slabs of cheddar were wrapped into the crust. Transferring the dough into a pre-heated cast-iron pan without incident proved to be difficult but manageable with the help of a large, flat spatula.

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The cheddar sauce was applied liberally as the base with mozzarella and pepperoni to follow on top.

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A baking soda-boiling water concoction was dabbed onto the crust to earn that familiar pretzel browning from some oven time. Pretzel salt was specifically sourced for this project and the remaining half gallon requires a commitment to future pretzel projects, which I’m okay with.

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All this cheesy business requires a wine that can withstand a salty punch to the face. When a dish veers to an extreme savory note, a push towards fruity expression in wine can offer some balance to the palate.

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Torres Alegre – 2005 “Cru Garage” Zinfandel (Valle de Guadalupe, Mexico) is a sun-pampered, incredibly fruit-driven style expressing dried dark berries and overripe plums with hedonistic intensity. Alone, this wine can sit heavy, especially with a lackluster acidity that would normally be a deal-breaker for me personally. Alongside a plate of salty flavors, all is forgiven as the fruit brightens and sings. The same concept can be applied with most any fruit-forward wine and should be.

Pauly’s slices with Old & New World wines

Pauly’s Pizza Joint is a quiet strip mall on the long, sunny stretch of Miramar Road churning out thin-crust pies and lots of personality. After much deliberation over the killer selection of by-the-slice, a slice of Buffalo Chicken Pizza and the House Pie (aka Christmas Pie) are squirreled back to the wine-pairing lair for intense observation.

pauly's pizza joint collage

The Buffalo Chicken slice is made up simply of chicken, ranch and Frank’s RedHot hot sauce, the latter acting as sauce and dominating visual effect of the pie. With each bite, the creaminess of ranch hits first moving swiftly into the nostalgic spice of Frank’s RedHot that speaks to a long history of chicken wing indulgence. Chunks of chewy meat are scattered about while a blanket of chicken lurks below in sneaky ninja ways, emerging from the crust in places that seem populated by sauce alone. The resulting effect of this chewy, savory infusion is both delightful and addicting.

pauly's riesling and buffalo

Built from the American bar food classic of buffalo wings, this pizza swings well into the non-traditional realm of pies. Its personality could not extend much further from its pairing, a mineral-driven, off-dry German Riesling (Willi Schaefer, Mosel, Graacher Domprobst, Spätlese, 2013). Aroma of crushed slate, pears and apple blossom offer contrasting flavors to the pie while generous acidity and residual sugar counterbalance the lingering spice and twangy vinegar of Frank’s RedHot. Every bite has you chasing the heat-relieving sip of sweetness that in itself is never overly cloying thanks to the one-two acidic punch that comes with a cool climate and varietal typicity.

pauly's nebbiolo & house pie

The House Pie comes topped with bacon, pepperoni, spinach, garlic and feta, earning its second title, “Christmas pie,” due to reports of it being Santa’s favorite off-season snack. Fresh out of the oven, the slice is immediately alluring with sizzling pork products forming seductive wafts that almost make you forget about wine. Almost. Such a hedonistic pizza requires an equally hedonistic wine: Palmina Nebbiolo (Santa Barbara County, 2008).

Free from strict, tradition-driven rules that make up the viticultural framework of most Old World regions, the United States is constantly tinkering with different varietals, ranging from successful grapes of other established regions to the under-appreciated and unknown. Nebbiolo stems from the first category, already secured in its reputation as it makes up 100% of Barolo and Barbaresco, some of Italy’s finest quality wines. Palmina Nebbiolo wine expresses its Italian roots with intense red berries, violets and a gritty tannic structure. While dry, the fruit is as expressive as gummy bears, giving into its New World upbringing. The wine is so tantalizingly vigorous that even the occasional zing of pepperoni spice barks but never bites at the luscious fruit bouquet. Meanwhile, the comparatively quieter spinach cuts through all the greasy meat providing a welcomed vegetal contrast while the candied garlic mirrors the sweet oak present in the wine, which lends nutmeg and vanilla bean to the finish.

Pizzeria Luigi & Temecula Zinfandel

Let’s begin the great 2015 San Diego pizza adventure with the basics: pepperoni pizza from Pizzeria Luigi, a no-fuss pizzeria often listed by locals as a favorite, paired with 2009 Reserve Primitivo from Wiens Cellars of nearby Temecula Valley. The bottle was a gift from a fellow sommelier with the sole stipulation that it could only be opened with pizza by its side. So be it.

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Though its origins have been genetically tracked back to Croatia, Primitivo is the Italian name for the varietal we know better as Zinfandel. With this nominal borrowing, it’s not surprising to find some stylistic leanings towards the more acid-driven wines of Italy. Acid in wine is a great accompaniment to most food, especially foods high in acid themselves like tomato-based cuisine. The acidity in this Primitivo is balanced enough to stand up to hearty pizza sauce while the tannins, textured and dusty, are a perfect complement to rich cheese. Though somewhat leaner than the ass-kicking abv levels of 16% found elsewhere in California, this Zinfandel is thoroughly New World in style, driven by ripe fruit aromas and a full body. The generous heaps of dark raspberry and blackberry fruit provide a lovely, uncomplicated counterpart to every saucy bite of pizza.

It’s easy to get smitten over an abundance of sauce on a pizza, especially thin-crust, since it’s so rare to find naturally in the wild. The chewy crust holds up well under the weight of the bright, herbaceous tomato sauce so generously spread on while the pepperoni slices supply a faint but distinct spiciness. Any lengthy focus on minute details beyond this would only take away from the experience. Like the wine, this pie isn’t built for complexity. Pizzeria Luigi supplies straightforward New York style pizza relying on classic flavors without being overly complicated, which is perfect for an indulgent night of Parks & Rec in sweatpants.