Week 17: Medieval – Spiced Almond & Pomegranate Cornish Hen Pizza

To kick off Season 6 of Game of Thrones, Reddit’s r/52weeksofcooking has called for a medieval style dish to sustain us through the first episode airing tonight. The pizza constructed to fulfill this requirement began with a 16th century sauce recipe designed to go with partridge or hen. The spice-heavy sauce calls for flavors of cinnamon, ginger, pomegranate and white almonds.

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The ingredients are pummeled into a mildly gritty texture to recall the days without blenders.

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A cornish hen takes the leading role of this pizza. Before roasting, a savory mixture of spices featuring cumin, allspice, paprika and cinnamon is rubbed over the skin for extra flavor. During the cooking and resting period, the crust is prepared.

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While the sauce does not win any pretty awards, it tastes like wintertime. A flurry of ricotta and mozzarella, both fair game cheeses according to White Oak Historical Society, are added for a bit of extra heartiness.

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When the hen is done resting, the thighs are sliced and added to the pizza with their crispy skin accompanying. With the meat cooked, the crust is crisped up in an oven of 550°F.

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The legs are set aside for presentation purposes. This pizza is ready to be spanked on the bottom and sent out to the hungry masses for devouring.

 

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To step these slices up from peasant food to slices fit for noblemen, a quick sprinkle of sliced almonds and pomegranate seeds really jazzes up the presentation.

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There is no better way to wash down a medieval experience, especially one gushing with cinnamon and spice, than a dainty chalice of cider (Eric Bordelet, Normandy, France), which also happens to make a great drinking game accompaniment at 4% abv.

And since nobody ever seems to find the gifs tucked away in each post:

game of thrones

Week 15: Brazilian – Cast Iron Chicken, Requeijão & Heart of Palm pizza

To knock out a killer Brazilian-themed dish the week of my wedding, I decided to make a quickie cast-iron pizza using ingredients sourced from a gem of a shop selling all things Brazilian cuisine. Using shredded roasted chicken, requeijão and heart of palm, I constructed a delicious tortilla pizza, which was then paired with Provençal rosé that was to be served at my wedding two days later. The picture parade to follow will have just a brief overview the details of each step involved.

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Requeijāo cheese is a gooey, mild cheese adored in Brazil with many uses. Heart of Palm seem to have a fanciness to them I don’t yet quite understand. Working with both is a treat since I really don’t know what I’m doing even a little bit.

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The heart of palm seems to break apart in a rather satisfying way. The goal here is to blend it alongside the pulled chicken for a streamless sense of texture.

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With chicken and heart of palm combined, a little cheese is added and the whole is mixed for consistency.

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The tortilla is placed over a well-warmed skillet and topped immediately: first with a coating of requeijāo cheese, then the bulk of the payload, then a sprinkle of cheddar.

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Once dressed, the skillet is taken off the heat and placed in a pre-warmed toaster oven of 400 degrees F.

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For funsies (and tasty green notes), fresh chives are chopped for the final plating.

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Meanwhile, rosé is popped to accompany such a quick, light meal.

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Mmmm.

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There’s no other way to be.

Week 11: Malaysian – Chicken Curry Roti Canai pizza

To slam dunk this week’s challenge, I took on two Malaysian standards that are often served together and used kitchen wizardry to morph the duo into a pizza. Roti canai, a ghee-heavy flatbread designed to trap pockets of air between thin layers of dough, is an ideal base for a pizza. Its usual partner, chicken curry, makes for a topping worth exploration. To begin, I slathered myself with ghee and dove into making roti canai from this very detailed recipe.

Roti Canai

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The formation of the dough is rather straightforward, requiring much kneading to acquire an incredibly smooth texture and a minimum 6 hours of resting time before the shaping begins.

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Each batch produces many sets of roti canai, which are divided evenly before the dough is allowed to settle.

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Each of these puppies has the ability to stretch out mega thin. Malaysian vendors keep some pretty dope moves to slap the dough into shape. Incapable of such performance, I managed to coax out a set of comparably paper-thin dough sheets with some delicate moves.

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Once stretched out, the paper dough is folded over itself to create air pockets and then swirled into a disc. This little creation sees a brief resting period while a pan gets hot on the stovetop.

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These wound-up formations offer some resistance to stretching despite their original malleability. Stretching the dough by hand offers a small amount of give but the final shaping is best accomplished immediately after the dough is placed in the pan. With a ghee-greased spatula, the roti canai is untraditionally smashed and flattened into the sturdy, circular shape that is required of a pizza crust.

After building the roti canai, I turned to a BBC curry recipe for the majority of my cooking guidance.

Chicken Curry

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The process begins with making a curry paste made up of a good majority of the stronger aromatics that will be experienced such as turmeric, ginger, lemongrass and red peppers.

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For those enamored with tradition, a mortar and pestle can do the work of a food processor with the addition of a few extra minutes and intensive upper body labor. I opted for the wine-sipping version of this pummeling session.

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The bulk of the curry consists of chicken thigh, onion & potatoes.

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These additions will be the main pizza toppings and act as a curry delivery system as they will be slathered in it.

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The onions are allowed to soften and become fleshy before adding in the chicken, potatoes and the remaining pieces of the curry, which include coconut milk, chicken stock, soy sauce and final spicing agents. Cinnamon sticks and star anise offer surprisingly subtle but necessary aromatics. To make up for a lack of kaffir lime leaves, bay leaves and lime zest were used after finding this helpful substitution guide in a sea of unhelpful websites insistent that there is no worthwhile alternative to the real thing.

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To keep the curry sauce tight, I reduced this batch down a good amount so that the pizza would not be dripping over the sides when applied.

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The pizza formation was pretty straightforward once the cooking was completed. With every element made fresh, no time in the oven was needed and the dish was served hot.

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The experience of eating this pizza was more satisfying than anticipated, especially in terms of texture and integration of flavors. The dough was so thrillingly soft and chewy while the chicken and potatoes were tender but able to add character. The heat didn’t jump out but rather mingled with the rest of the components, and the sauce was boldly savory without any one aromatic dominating. I devoured two sets of pizza in one sitting, but not without wine.

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To pair with the curry pizzas, Vols – “Vols II,” Riesling, Spätlese, Wiltinger Braunfels, Mosel 2014 had just the right touch of sweetness to combat the heat while its searing acidity cut through the richness of the coconut curry. The nose is flooded with petrol and lime zest while tart pineapple and brilliant slate minerality make up the palate. This is a beautiful wine all on its own but can really complete an experience, as it did here.

It’s successes like this that make me bananas for a group like r/52weeksofcooking.

kevin running wild

 

 

 

Week 10: Braised – Beet, Fennel & Goat Cheese Pizza

This week’s braising challenge is a considerably useful method of cooking that has only come up in our kitchen when brussel sprouts or potstickers are involved. In the case of the former, brussel sprouts had long baffled us as to how to best cook them without a long roasting process. Braising allowed for a quick sear to create the tasty bonus flavors offered by the Maillard reaction while accomplishing the tenderness sought out at a fraction of the time it would take in the oven.

For this pizza, I chose to discover the braising potential of fennel, a hardy root vegetable that can charm or dissuade any indulgers with its vibrant anise aromatics. Having only recently succumbed to fennel’s appeal, I am still in a rather obsessive phase that peaked this time last year with my addiction to fennel & grapefruit soup. Here, the flavors of fennel and some of its dear friends will come out and frolic.

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Sharing the spotlight on this pizza is fennel’s root vegetable buddy, beets. Even in the grocery store, they are already rather neighborly.

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With the help of a mandoline, roasted beets were thinly sliced and prepped for a marinade.

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Before juicing the grapefruits for the marinade, I included the grapefruit zest to allow the tart flavors to pop. A splash of red wine vinegar helped bolster the marinade.

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When it comes time to braise the fennel, only the bulbous base was used while some of the fronds were reserved for the final plating.

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Using a knife this time, I sliced the fennel carefully so as to best preserve the architecture within. During cooking, each portion was flipped methodically with tongs to keep the structure in tact for the final presentation.

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The pizza was built using a somewhat puffier crust that had boiled potato shavings folded in for a fluffier texture. The final toppings included the grapefruit-marinated beets, fennel, goat cheese and a sprinkle of mozzarella. Shaved almonds and fennel fronds dressed the pizza upon its completion.

 

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While keeping an array of fun flavors, this pizza lacked a sense of moisture as its creator didn’t think to incorporate some semblance of a sauce. Taking a cue from the clam pizza from last week’s challenge, a quick spritz of the beet marinade may have saved this pizza from its shortcomings. Beyond this, the flavors meshed well enough to be completely devoured, but there was a certain integration lacking. The wine, in this case, helped bridge some missing links in the dish.

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Chosen to pair with this pizza, Domaine Eric Louis – Sancerre, Loire Valley, France 2014 keeps a fresh and lively style of Sauvignon Blanc behind its cutesy Little Prince-esque label. Its natural affinity for goat cheese is aligned with a geographic history within the Loire Valley. The region’s Sauvignon Blanc has been enjoyed with the local and abundant goat cheese for so long it seems almost too perfect, and yet it is one of the few true classic pairings that is cherished for its simple dance of tangy, refreshing flavors. The aromatics of the Sancerre pile onto the flavors of grapefruit and herbaceousness in the pizza with a similar roar but the bitterness found in lingering after each bite admittedly might be better managed by the roundness of a slightly off-dry Riesling.

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Even still, neither pizza nor wine made it through the night.

Week 4 – Brunch: hash brown breakfast pizza

At the dawn of this week’s challenge, it was clear a simple breakfast pizza, softball it may be, would be all too straightforward. With three-pounds of homemade hash browns squirreled away in the freezer for any and all breakfast burrito needs, I knew I could tap this stockpile for the base of this next project. This particular batch of hash browns was made with particular care in an effort to perfect this brunch-time afterthought. I did okay. The thawed hash browns were still soggy with moisture I had failed to wring out of them. Luckily, it wasn’t too late to correct this problem with a minor squeeze session over the sink. When it came time to cook, I could only hope my efforts would provide a crispy enough base that could be spread thin while also supporting the extra weight of toppings.

Hash Brown Breakfast Pizza

To begin, preheat the oven to 350°F and toss in a couple pieces of bacon until crispy (approximately 12-15 minutes). Oven-cooked bacon is one of the many life hacks that has so many benefits it should have its own brochure. Not only does it provides complete control for even cooking, it also frees up the stovetop, makes clean up easy and keeps those damned grease pops safely tucked away.

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Meanwhile, the bacon fat rendered can be used in cooking the goodies up top.

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Just as with latkes and fritters, a binding agent is needed for the hash browns to hold its shape, which in this case is the shape of pizza dough. One medium egg is scrambled and tossed with the potatoes, plus some chopped yellow onions and chives for some pizzazz.

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The mixture is spread into an oiled steel crepe pan over medium heat, evenly spread out and smushed into the natural circular shape of the pan. Once set in place, the potatoes are not to be fussed over until the bottom begins to crisp up (approximately 3-4 minutes).

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The trouble now is the flip, which is why the crepe pan is preferred for its mildly-sloped edges. Using a spatula, loosen the hash browns from the pan all around so that it can easily slide off onto a cutting board, cooked side down. Having very lightly coated the pan in oil again, flip the pan upside-down over the potato disc and then quickly flip the cutting board over to place the potatoes cooked-side up in the pan. Cook over medium heat while placing on toppings of cheese and bacon.

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Place the crepe pan, again crucial for its metalware, into the oven to melt the cheese fully. To secure this pizza in the breakfast realm, an egg can be cracked over top and cooked until soft at this time. After pulling the pizza from the oven, the spatula is once more utilized to carefully move the pizza onto a cutting board. More toppings of tomato and finely chopped chives are added just before serving to keep their delicate textures intact.

 

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The pizza is pretty outstanding. The mix of cheeses (cheddar, monterey jack, mozzarella and cottage cheese) provides a medley of textures ranging from chewy to creamy. The gently-cooked onions offer a layer of extra flavor in each bite, the tomatoes pop with a subtle juiciness and the bountiful heaps of bacon on top and bacon fat throughout do not go unappreciated.

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As for wine, what better way to preserve the traditions of brunch than to pair this pizza with Champagne. All the grease and cream and fat of brunch dishes can easily be whisked away by refreshing bubbles and crisp acidity while more delicate mainstays like eggs are heightened by an equally light wine.

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Gosset – “Excellence,” Brut, Champagne, NV, the entry-level offering of the house, is the most complexity needed when brunching. There are hints of limestone and toasty brioche in the glass, and while there is a muskiness in the wine that mirrors the earthy elements in the pizza, the aromas do not inspire much reflection. It’s thoroughly enjoyable without the pressure of having to talk tablemates out of adding a splash of orange juice.

For those who indulge in this brunchtime combo, consider keeping sour cream close by for a truly hedonistic experience.

favorites of lately: June

ahi poke5. ahi poke: A refreshing summer snack best featured at Chris’ Ono Grinds, though the ambiance at Common Theory is also worth the trek.
quince paste
4. quince paste: A magic cheese accompaniment making even the less-scrumptious styles a revived treat.
común
3. Común: Dishes here are electric with flavor, a notch below the extreme levels of cracked out cuisine as embraced by Puesto. Intensely delicious food without gambling with peoples’ insanity. The downtown J Street line-up is becoming an ever-more tempting crawl.
duck
2. duck: Indulged heavily in a cherished pastime of engulfing all manner of duck. Many personal favorites contributed to collection such as Bahn Thai’s #19 red curry duck and Jayne’s duck confit salad. Meanwhile, sous vide duck breast made its way into my repertoire as the next step in new culinary delights.
sous vide experiments
1. sous vide: A revival in experimentation has the majority of our meals revolving around what is essentially a fancy modern crockpot.
BONUS: pizza & wine of the month
davanti'spizza: Spicy sausage & rapini happy hour pizza from Davanti’s is a reliable Del Mar escape from traffic and other torments of the area
radikon
wine: Radikon – “S,” Pinot Grigio, Fruili-Guilia, Italy 2010 ($36) is a vibrant copper-colored Pinot Grigio that falls into small but polarizing category of orange wine, a style drawing deep color expression from the skins of white grapes. Each sip comes with a jolting acidity emphasized by a piercing minerality and tart cherries. It’s as good as it is geeky.

Napizza and uncommon Italian DOCGs

For a by-the-slice concept, Napizza is a pretty swanky spot holding down a coveted corner in Little Italy, the land of shiny new restaurants. With more than a handful of pizza options nearby, Napizza has established itself as a “healthy and organic” option, a modern trend that tends to litters walls and websites with a fatiguing number of buzzwords. With marketing so fiercely tuned in, it is best to hit mute and let the flavors speak for themselves.

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Behind the display window, each pizza offering sings its own siren song, drawing me in until I focus my hunger on the Truffle Porcini and Parmigiana, two slices destined for a set of Italian pairings.

napizza both pizzas

Built on a focaccia bread base, the medium-style pizza has a crisp olive oil crust that helps maintain the structure, allowing for weighty toppings such the mess of eggplant and chunky tomato on the slice of Parmigiana. A smothering of pesto with each bite offers a glitter of garlic spice and tangy green brightness. Meanwhile, the personality of the pizza stays true to the name, singing of simple Italian cuisine, hearty, earthy and satisfyingly cheesy.

napizza eggplant and cerasuolo

Azienda Agricola COS, Cerasuolo di Vittoria Classico DOCG, Sicilia, 2011 is produced from the first and only DOCG of Sicily. The ruby red wine is made predominately from the black grape Nero d’Avola, Frappato making up a 30-50% minority. In this bottling, the dominant varietal expresses itself with finely grained tannins found in the wine while the latter varietal can be seen through red berry aromas of dehydrated raspberry and cranberry, further emphasized by the savory pizza elements of eggplant and pesto. The refreshing acidity is quite appealing with such a rich style of pizza while a soft note of wood provides a plush finish as does a lingering note of tobacco and black tea. The pairing isn’t perfectly aligned, each element playing its own instrument and not quite harmonizing. It comes together like an awkward first date, whereas the next one is like a long-awaited, romantic night out.

napizza nebbiolo and mushroom

The Truffle Porcini slice hits the palate with a roar of mushrooms, herbs and truffle notes. Such an aggressive umami overload puts our first wine in an aromatic stranglehold, demanding a larger player. Travaglini, Gattinara DOCG, Piedmonte, 2008 is a playful companion to this slice, swinging at its oily center with all the elevated acidity that accompanies the varietal, Nebbiolo. Known locally as Spanna, Nebbiolo makes up 100% of the wine even though a minimum of 90% composition is required for Gattinara DOCG.

In the last pizza pairing, Nebbiolo was featured through Palmina’s New World interpretation whereas in Gattinara, Nebbiolo is in its homeland of Piedmont, where Barolo and Barbaresco represent the pinnacle of its expression. Even though Gattinara is a more approachable style, it still comes dressed up with purple flowers, violets and roses as well as fresh leather, orange peel and baked cherry pie. The tart red fruits are tangy with personality and a quick burst of tannins add fireworks to this hot little love fest.

postscript: the uniquely-shaped bottle was designed in 1958 to diminish the need for decanting by catching sediment naturally. For three years, I walked around thinking the misshapen bottle recovered from a vineyard fire as lore would have it. Oh, how humbling fact checking can be. Also, embarrassing.