Grilled pizza

Did I miss the grilled pizza trend? Was it even a trend? I remember friends of Susan's family grilling pizza ten years ago or more, thinking that it was kind of interesting.... then forgot all about it.

I began making focaccia over the last year. An easy yeast bread, it is essentially the same recipe as pizza dough. One loaf equals two pizzas.

We have many beautiful tomatoes now, and a large crop of basil. I've also been making fresh cheese-- a batch I made with raw milk was delicious-- so putting 4 and 4 together, I decided to try my luck.

A little research indicated that yes, you can plop raw pizza dough directly down on the hot grates, and it will neither stick nor fall between the grates. I can confirm this. After the dough is cooked on the bottom, it is easily flipped with the help of a spatula: at this point, the toppings are added. The lid goes back down and as the bottom of the dough cooks, the toppings cook (or at least warm). My fresh cheese did not melt but maintained distinct curds.

Batch one had sliced tomatoes (which fresh cheese and basil). Susan deemed it "not oily enough," so I poured a little olive oil on and a sprinkling of crunchy sea salt, which perked things up immeasurably. I found that the tomatoe skins would detach from the pulp, however, and I found this distracting.

For batch two, I used some tomato confit. Earlier in the week I'd peeled and quatered tomatoes, and poached them gently in olive oil. Their flavor concentrates a little (though not as much as roasting them). You can then store them in their poaching liquid. They're very soft and, well, oily. In a good way.

This batch was much better.

The pizza smoky, crunchy but yeilding with a good chew, and rich from the oiled tomatoes.

It is definitely an experiment I would repeat.


Six Penn Kitchen Brunch

I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the outstanding brunch we enjoyed on Sunday at Six Penn Kitchen.

The menu offers an intriguing variety of items and is very reasonable. In fact it's downright inexpensive.

We four split some appetizers: biscuits with corned beef, biscuits with delicious ham, and tempura bacon-- battered, deep fried bacon.

Susan had an updated croque madame for her mains-- it was topped with a mornay sauce and a fried egg and came with a large portion of shoestring fried potatoes.

I had their version of eggs benedict: a poached egg on grilled asparagus, ham, and a crab cake, with hollondaise sauce.

As we were with friends, one of whom was a manager at Six Penn, the chef sent out an extra dish, a plate of steak tacos. The tortillas were deep-fried and delicious.

I also had a damn fine bloody mary, made with smoked tomatoes.

Blessed are the Cheesemakers

I made fresh cheese yesterday. I followed the instructions on Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything Vegetarian. It was easy and the results, paired with a sweet, robust, purple tomato from my friend Ron's garden, were quite tasty.

Essentially, one simmers a half gallon of milk, then, once it bubbles a little, adds a quart of buttermilk and a big pinch of salt. The milk solids quickly separate from the liquid whey to form curds. After a minute of stirring, the whole thing is poured through a cheesecloth-line sieve. You gather the corners of the cloth and start twisting the curds into something resembling a softball. You squeeze as much whey out of the ball as possible, then secure it with string and suspend it over a bowl for any remaining whey to find its "way" out. An hour later you have cheese.

(There's also lots of leftover whey. I'll use this for breakfast smoothies and to moisten my two dogs' dried food over the next few days.)

If the co-op sells raw milk I'd like to try it with this next.

The blog title comes from the Sermon on the Mount, as portrayed in the funniest movie ever.

Boxed Wine

A link to a popular essay on boxed wines in yesterday's NY Times:

I'm a big fan of Black Box wine. What you lose in romance you certainly gain back in taste, practicality, and certainly value. Twenty-three dollars per 3-litre box translates to roughly $6 per bottle. Not exactly European prices, but getting closer.

For whites I enjoy Black Box pinot grigio and chardonnay. For reds, I find their cabernet to be really very good. I do not like the shiraz, and I have not tried the merlot.

The article points out the environmental advantages of boxed wine. It costs (per carbon emmissions) half to ship the boxes. Four "bottles" in a box weigh half the equivolent in bottles. There's also less to discard when finished.

It was difficult to make the leap, but at the end of the day I gambled $23 and won.



Chef Greg Alauzen, who formerly helmed Steelhead Grill and Eleven, is back at Cioppino, near the new Cork Factory Lofts at 23rd and Railroad in the Strip District. We were invited to their soft opening on Wednesday, joined by Diane (girlfriend of the GM, Bob) and our friend Keri. It opens to the public tonight.
GM Bob Flood greets Susan

The restaurant features two bars. Their "cigar bar," a ridiculously out-of-fashion concept, cleverly gives cigarette smokers a place other than outside to go to light up. The cigar bar has a few tables (though why one would like to eat in a smoke-filled room eludes me) and a couple of leather couches, and a small bar for perhaps 6 or 8.

The main bar seats a couple of dozen . Behind a half-wall a long banquette and tables seat perhaps 3 dozen more. There appears to space for a small outdoor patio, but it was bereft of tables and chairs.

The main dining room apears to host about 80. A smaller dining room can be closed off for private parties or pharmaceutical rep dinners, with flat screens on the walls for presentations to wealthy doctors and/or their staffs on the benefits of the latest seratonin blockers.

The design is staid and a little clubby. It is not over-the-top ambitious, like Eleven, and the food overall reflects this. The food is very good, carefully assembled, though (with a couple of exceptions) not earth-shattering. However, the whole place seems to have been constructed in order not to challenge tastebuds, and certainly not to offend. It is comfortable, and I predict it will be embraced.

Susan's signature cioppino featured two large prawns, clams and mussels, a scallop, two pieces of firm white fish, and a langoustine tail. A whiff of the grill rose from the toasted bread, and the rich, fennel-infused soup-- clearly the result of much cooking down of fish bits and aromatics, in the manner of bouillabaise (rather than a standard catch-as-catch-can traditional cioppino)-- was poured tableside over the fish (martinis and mocktinis were also poured tableside from small glass pitchers, which added nothing to the drink-- in fact, this contributes to their warming). I predict tableside pouring will go the way of the Dodo soon.

After a week of vegetables, I opted for the restaurant's other claim: steak. I had a large porterhouse, grilled perfectly mid-rare. It was very good, all agreed, probably prime (I should have asked), and Susan loved the sandwich it made the next day. Diane's grilled salmon came with a fresh corn and tomato broth, and Keri's grilled rare tuna was, refreshinly, in one piece instead of being sliced and fanned out across something.

Starters were hit and miss. The winner was the sliced fluke, raw with EVO and lemon (though it could have used more acid). I was happy to see frisee on the menu with bacon and goat cheese dressing. I wonder if he'd do one for me with a poached egg instead of the cheese? Anyway, it was strong and salty and I loved it. Pepper was not offered, which was fine; the salads were well-seasoned.

Desserts were a reasonable size, and perhaps the weak point of the meal (though in their defense I don't have a particularly sweet tooth, unless there are Florentines or good ice cream involved).

The service erred on the side of trying to be helpful. A drink order, despite being written down, was mixed up, but my Peroni, instead of my negroni, was fine. Susan was salivating at the thought of the lamb chops, though it wasn't until we ordered them that we were told that they were off the menu that night-- a rather large oversight. We enjoyed a bottle of Ponzi pinot noir, which was quite round and balanced. I was surprised when we got our bill to see my glass of Remy XO cost $35. I mean, it's only $110 a bottle.... bit of gouging there, I think.

I think next time I go I'll sit in the bar and try some more appetizers, or perhaps, as at Eleven, they'll have a "tavern" menu for the bar.

Cioppino offers a pleasant view of downtown-- from the ground up, like at another good steakhouse, Pittsburgh Rare. With Greg involved, they're certain to tighten up and cross all t's and dot all i's. If they'd introduce a couple of more unique dishes, I'd appreciate it, but even so it's a good, clean crisp restaurant with really nothing at all to complain about (unless it's $35 for a glass of cognac).

Veggie options

Lots of cilantro, basil, corn, zucchini, chard, carrots, and tomatoes around lately. I’ve been enjoying putting them together in various ways. I have made gazpacho twice, and both times it has turned out well. On Saturday last I made a (for me) fairly ambitious vegetarian meal, culled from the pages of Mark Bitman’s “How to Cook Everything Vegetarian.” Flush with corn, we had Thai Corn Pancakes; pan-grilled corn kernels with chopped jalapeno; a couple of “sauces”—a cilantro-mint chutney, similar to one often dispensed at Indian restaurants, and a coconut-ginger raita, a yogurt-based condiment; and gazpacho.

I also made a Swish Chard Tarte: short crust, layered with tomato sauce, sautéed onions, grated swiss cheese, and sautéed chard, finished with more cheese and baked. It ate almost like a pizza, but resembled a quiche, and was very good.

Finally I also recently made a Vietnamese chicken salad, Goi An. Traditionally the base is chopped cabbage; I had none, so substituted blanched, crispy green beans from my CSA. The rest was shredded chicken (one leg and thigh, leftover from the previous week’s roast), julienned carrots, lots of cilantro and mint from our garden, and a dressing made from fish sauce, lime juice, sugar, ginger, garlic and shallot. It’s finished with finely chopped unsalted dry-roasted peanuts—and it was pretty yummy. We got cabbage in this week's CSA delivery, so after I grill our final local free-range chicken, I'll make this again the "proper" way.


Oh what a gluttonous weekend...

Quite a gluttonous weekend. Not that I’m complaining.

We hosted friends for dinner on Friday. Great Nate is in the process of beating cancer into submission. As he’d been receiving treatment in New York for six months, it had been some time since we’d seen him. While he was not permitted a glass of his beloved bourbon (but that time will come), I was happy to serve him a largely local organic dinner.

Our backyard is splashed with color from Black-Eyed Susans, lilies, Columbine, and the odd rose and daisy. We sat there for our antipasti of roasted beets, sautéed zucchini, goat cheese with olive oil, and prosciutto (both from trusty Trader Joe’s).

We moved inside for gazpacho, which was very cold, crunchy and refreshing. I made it with tomatoes from the local farmers market (not organic, but big and flavorful) and cucumbers and onion from our weekly CSA delivery. I used just the “meat” portion of the fruit; to the juice that was a byproduct of my butchering I added some sugar, salt, lemon and gelatin to this and made tomato jelly. I poured it into little cups, and when it was set I placed the wobbly gel in the base of each chilled soup bowl, and ladled the gazpacho around it. All but Laura's then got a sprinkle of cilantro from our garden. Laura won't eat it because it smells like soap.

Dinner was roasted organic chicken (delivered via our CSA) and CSA green beans, which I parboiled, then sautéed in EVO with some lemon rind and juice. By then we were fairly full and had small portions. It was a big bird, but the four of us managed only one breast side. Of course I gnawed the wings and “oysters” when I was cleaning up, my favorite parts. Lots of leftover meat for sandwiches and soups.

Saturday, Keri and David hosted us and friends Jeff and Rebecca in their beautiful, historic North Side home. The house is turreted, and the living room has a curved wall and windows. Lots of wainscoting reminds you of the details that went into building back in the day.

Keri made a salad of sliced watermelon on which she shaved cheese and added chopped olives, a refreshing and delicious combination. Dinner was pasta with lemon and fresh herbs, and a big-ass bowl of barbecued shrimp (some of which made their way into leftover gazpacho for lunch the next day). Again, first rate— as was the syllabub served dramatically in black cocktail glasses for dessert, with crunchy amaretti cookie crumbs providing contrast and support.

It doesn’t end. Rod and Donna, two gourmands if I ever met any, hosted us and a dozen or so others for a late afternoon dinner on Sunday, created by another friend who just happens to be a truly great professional chef, Derek Stevens of Eleven. We were greeted with Wellfleet oysters and Negronis. The main courses were ambitious. He’d smoked pork butt and ribs in his garden a few days previously and turned them into unctuous pulled pork and barbecued ribs. The pork went into corn tortillas, the ribs were gnawed to the bone. They were the best ribs I’ve ever eaten.

There were large prawns, served scampi style, too, and steamed clams with ground pork, which was Portuguese in origin, I think. The kicker were little hamburger "sliders," each topped off with a little sautéed foie gras.

It was an honor to assist Derek a little, grilling the burger buns and heating the tortillas and so on.

But it was way, way better to eat his food, in the garden, during the tail end of a perfectly blue summer day.

Don’t get old. You forget things—like bringing your digital camera.