Monday, November 29, 2010

Pizza at home! Conquering the 'yeastophobia'!

Does anyone remember (or have you been a part ) of the time when 'Pizza' was a very rare (if at all) treat? It was, when I was in my tweens.  We rarely ate pizza and never made at home, that is if you do not count buying Monginis base.
I would look at the small  ready to eat pizzas at the bakery and wonder why a sandwich, a round one at that, was left open and would *anyone* - *ever* want to buy something that looked so cold and (pardon me for saying this) ugly.
I don't remember the first time I ate pizza, but I do remember that I loved it! And then I was addicted, I could have eaten pizza everyday for every meal.
Pizza at home was a big affair, believe me, when I say this, not because of the effort involved- which was minimal, but because we were 'making pizza at home' the very idea and  a snack so 'foreign' in our totally Indian kitchen with it's usual, pohe, upma, idli-dosa and the likes.
We did not, for many years, have an oven ( does anyone remember these?) at home and  baking was out of the question, it was best left to Monginis and the like.
So, when we did make pizza, we hopped out to the nearest  Monginis or the grocery store and bought ready made pizza base the sauce and the cheese ( sometimes just cheese cubes, we did not really bother about mozzarella or cheddar or any type, indeed , I hardly knew about the different types! ) and used the good old 'tawa' to make and bake the pizza.
I used to help my Mother with the prep work and assembly and watch keenly, every nerve tingling in anticipation of the feast. I would gingerly lift the pizza  corner with a wooden spatula to check how evenly brown the base was getting and  wonder at the melting cheese. So different from what it is today, where one can walk into a pizza parlor and buy an entire pie or slice and not think twice or wonder and anticipate and enjoy every bite .
But over the years, I have grown weary of store bought pizza and have always wanted to re-create the magic at home, to once again feel the thrill I used to as a child. I wondered if I was capable of such enthusiasm now.
 For all those who have lately started reading this blog, I want to admit, I was afraid, *very* afraid of yeast and making breads. In my opinion, there was nothing as daunting as baking breads, for all the simple list of ingredients, I shied away from making pizza base at home, I would willingly walk a mile in tight shoes, but not bake. Yes, that about sums up my phobia! 
Then one day, the blogger in me reared  her head and demanded that I drop my cowardly attitude and swap it for the yeast packet and APF (all purpose flour) and use them up. What, if at worst can happen? a disaster, pshaw! so what, there is a large trash bin, dump it and move on....  Made sense. 
I popped in at the library and after a lot of pondering ( and finally using the 'in-pin-safety-pin' method) settled for this book on 'How To Bake'.
Leafing through the book I realized, I had picked the best book, for a person like me, who had limited knowledge and a lot of fear to deal with. The book outlines simple steps for making basic pizza dough and clear instructions. 
I bookmarked this dough and basic White Bread ( recipe to follow) as my favorites.
The Pizza base was *awesome*! It worked, I watched the flour yield to the kneading, I watched it rise, reducing my nails to shreds and listening to a drumming in my ear (which in a calmer moment I  realized was my heart) . I put it in the oven and watched it bake, yes, I did, I placed a small step stool in front of the oven and parked myself in front watching like a hawk. And boy! was I rewarded!  I sliced it up and gave M the first slice.... the  drumming was louder now, as he took his first bite and then the next and the next and gave me the thumbs up sign! I DID IT!  I MADE PIZZA AT HOME! I felt a rush of the thrill I had felt long ago. I was happy and this was a feast.

Here's how I made the Home Style  Pizza Dough: (Makes 1 - 101/2 x 15 1/2 inch Pizza)

2 1/2 Cups Unbleached All Purpose Flour ( APF)
1tsp. Salt
1 Cup Warm tap Water
21/2 tsp. or 1 envelope Active Dry Yeast
3 Tbsp. Olive Oil

Stir the flour and salt in a 2 quart mixing bowl to combine and make a well in the center

Measure the water and pour onto a small bowl, whisk in the  yeast and 2 T Olive Oil

Pour the liquid mixture into the well  in the flour and stir with a rubber spatula, until a soft sticky dough forms
Beat the dough for a minute until it looks  smoother, cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap  and allow the dough to rise doubled in bulk (about 1 hour)

Grease the jelly-roll pan  with the remaining  Tbsp. of Oil. Without stirring or folding the dough, use the rubber spatula to scrape it from the bowl into the oiled pan. Oil your hands and press, pull and pat the dough into the pan. If it resists, let it rest for 5 mins. and then continue. Let the dough  rise for 30 mins or until it puffs slightly

Prepare topping of choice ( I used a ready made sauce from Trader Joe's, red and green bell pepper and red onions and mozzarella cheese)

Set rack at the lowest and highest level of the oven and preheat at 450 F

Bake the pizza  on the bottom rack for 25-30 minutes 

(After about 10 minutes, lift the end with a spatula and check that the bottom is not burning, if it is  coloring too quickly, slide a pan under the first one.)

Remove the pizza, slice and enjoy! 

* Notes: 
I used a fork to poke small holes ( do not stab at the dough)  in the pizza dough, this is not a part of the chef's recipe, it is my own
I baked the pizza on a pizza stone. I ensured that the stone was heated through and this takes a great deal longer than the normal pre- heating, I'd say about 25 minutes or more. The end result is a crisp and amazing base! 
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Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Kuch khatta, kuch meetha- Anaras Ambol

I am back after what seems to me, a very long break and more importantly a self imposed break. I have been busy, packing. yes, yes, packing once again, only this time it was on a larger scale, we were moving out of California. It was a sudden decision, well almost. I could not bear the thought of M traveling through the harsh winter or getting stuck  in IL, unable to travel home for weeks, months ( ok, I am going overboard here) or worse, driving to  the airport thru snow at breakneck speed so as not to miss his Los Angeles flight.  these horrid thoughts kept haunting me  and so finally we decided that we had to move. Barring a small hitch because of the office policy things went smoothly in the small time we had, 2 weeks. We donated some stuff, packed and shipped some, discarded a lot and moved, bag, baggage and baccha ( meaning- child) to Illinois. 
It was a  sentimental moment for us to leave the city  that was home for well over 4 years, a city where we first came to in the USA and had come to love , a city where our son was born.  All I can say now is, Thank God, we had very little time to  move, kept me so busy that I had very little time to get sentimental.
At times like these friends are invaluable! Mrudul and Binaifer, Thank you with all my heart, for all the support and help you guys gave me! For leaving behind all your chores to help me pack, Mrudul, for  doctoring my sprained back ( oh yes! I did that! sprained my back and still suffering), taking care of S (feeding him lunch, making laddus for him!) ,waking up at dawn to make me a cup of tea and  breakfast. Bini, for walking all the way to my home, for taking care of S when I was busy with  all that I had to do, helping me pack and putting them in my car, you guys are the best! 

Prajakta, you and your energy are inspiring! Thank you for coming in  on the eve of our departure and helping me sort, pack and trash all that was needed! 

This sweet and sour ambol is for you all, for being the sweet part of my life!

Source: 660 curries
Serves 8

2 Tbs Canola Oil
1 tsp. Mustard Seeds
2 cups Fresh cubed Pineapple
1/2 cup Golden Raisins
6-8 Dry Red Chiles
1/2 cup crumbled Jaggery or firmly packed brown sugar
1/4 tsp Sea Salt

Heat oil over medium high
Add Mustard seeds, after they pop add pineapple chunks, raisins and red chiles
Reduce heat to medium and cook uncovered, stirring occasionally until raisins are plump and the pineapple is lightly browned, 5-8 mins.
Add jaggery and cook. Stir so it melts, 2-4 mins.
Pour 1 cup water and sprinkle salt 
Cook uncovered, stirring occasionally until sauce turns syrupy thick, 10-15 mins
Serve ASAP or cover and refrigerate for 1 week, re-heat to warm before serving.

*M and I enjoyed this ambol with almost everything, plain daal- rice, yogurt - rice, dosas. Pin It


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