Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Yummy, Yummy Anchovy-Mushroom Pizza

The Background
I'll tell you what: If you don't like pizza, there is something wrong with you. I state that unequivocally, without fear of contradiction. It would not surprise me to learn that neither George Bush nor this man likes pizza.

I do understand why many people would not like anchovy pizza. I happen to love anchovy pizza, but can't usually make it for myself because I typically share my pizza with my little boy who wants only cheese. If I do a half-and-half thing, he sees the anchovies on top of mine, and thinks they have somehow contaminated the whole thing. Plus, it can be unpleasant to end up getting a large piece of anchovy in a smallish bite. So, last night, I set out to find a way to have my anchovy pizza and still share with my little boy.

The Recipe
This is not so much an actual recipe as it is a method. Or a series of suggestions, if you like. Quantities are based on taste, and many substitutions could be made. For example, any pizza dough would work, and you could substitute a different type of mushroom if shitakes aren't available. In any case, these are the ingredients I used:

1 package Trader Joe's pizza dough

olive oil

shredded mozzarella cheese

8 ounces shiitake mushrooms, thinly sliced

approximately 1 1/2 cups simple marinara sauce leftover from last time I made pasta

1 clove fresh garlic, minced

3 anchovy filets, chopped

2 or 3 sprigs fresh thyme, leaves stripped off woody stems

Preheat your oven to 425 degrees. (Note: This is for the Trader Joe's crust. Use whatever temperature settings work best for the crust you are using.)

Heat about two tablespoons olive oil in a saute pan and toss in the mushrooms. Do not add salt. Saute, stirring occasionally, until mushroom water has evaporated and mushrooms are caramelized. This can take awhile. Last night, it took about thirty minutes. Add a pinch of salt and a few grinds of pepper toward the end of the process. Remove the mushrooms from the pan and set aside.

Roll out or stretch the pizza dough to fit your taste and your pan. In this case, I decided to make a thickish crust on a round pizza pan. Brush or spray the crust with olive oil, and then sprinkle with about 1/4 cup of shredded mozzarella. The cheese should just dot the crust, not form a layer. (This is a tasty way to weight the dough so it doesn't puff too much when you par-bake it.) Bake the pizza crust in the oven for ten to twelve minutes, until golden brown.

While the crust is baking, heat a couple teaspoons of olive oil in the pan you used for the mushrooms. Add the anchovies and cook until they "melt" into the oil. Add the minced garlic, marinara sauce, and thyme and stir until anchovies and garlic are well incorporated into the sauce.

Remove the crust from the oven and spread with the sauce. Sprinkle caramelized mushrooms over the sauce. Top with shredded mozzarella to taste. Pop the pizza back into the oven for about ten more minutes, or until mozzarella is bubbling and browned in places.

Slice pizza into a manageable number of pieces and eat! Well, you might want to wait for it to cool first. Or you could put it on a plate with a sprig of thyme if you're into presentation. Some people would probably take a picture before they take a bite!

The Result
Yummmm! Well, that's just me. The anchovies lent a savory depth to the sauce, and the mushrooms were almost smoky and . . . well, they tasted brown. In a good way. The thyme brightened everything up a bit, whilst the tomato sauce provided a touch of sweetness.

I would love to tell you my little boy ate it up and loved it, but after I spent a good hour working on that pizza, he told me he'd rather have the Kid Cuisine my mom had gotten at the supermarket. Damn you, Kid Cuisine, with your whimsical characters and included crappy desserts!

The Future
Next time I make this, I will make the crust thinner. To be honest, I was just a little lazy about it last night. Depending on who you're serving, just about any vegetables could probably be added. I think it would be especially good with some thinly sliced eggplant, but I'm an eggplant whore. In general, I really liked this savory, salty pizza. As with so many sauces that include anchovies, the taste was not the strong, fishy one many people expect, but the anchovies' presence was noticeable and tasty!

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Miss Mouse

You, Miss Mouse, are the young woman who refused to let me in on the jammed freeway entrance with four converging lanes yesterday morning, even though my car was half a length ahead of yours, and you risked scraping the sides of our cars together in your desire to win your car-length of advantage over me in traffic that was not moving.

I will confess to some momentary pettiness on my part. It's true that I had the "courtesy" right-of-way and that I would have had to do a bit of maneuvering to avoid sideswiping the car on my right to let you in safely, but I could have managed it, I'm sure. But your insistent creeping on my left opened up a little hidden pocket of road rage left over from my younger days, abruptly ending my iPod-induced chair dance.

When the car ahead of me moved, I crept up into the space it left. Of course, you did too. I wondered whether I would finally find out what happens if neither driver gives an inch. If we collided, no matter whose fault the crash turned out to be, I would have to talk to you. The prospect was not appealing. Once you pulled up even with me, I looked at you, thinking to confront my nemesis eye-to-eye.

That's when I noticed you are a mouse. Not just because of your mousy hair or nose. Your entire demeanor mewls, "mouse." You felt me looking at you, so you looked down and away to avoid the terrifying gaze of a complete stranger in another car on the freeway. What could I have done to you? Given you a disgusted look? Flipped you the bird? Shaken my fist? I suppose it's possible you believed I was a gun-toting freeway psycho, but that would have meant your insistence on displacing me was suicidal, not just stupid. I rejected the idea.

Then I had my revelation: That car-length advantage was all you have! Not just over me, but at all. If you can't face the driver you're trying to squeeze in front of, whom can you face? What possible challenge could you surmount? Your hunched posture, your nondescript ponytail, and your misunderstanding of the place of denim jackets in a stylish wardrobe conveyed to me everything you don't have. And with that realization, I began to catalogue everything I do have:

  • Confidence
  • An impact in this world
  • A great family
  • Many wonderful friends
  • An ability to use makeup stylishly and with a sense of whimsy, rather than as obvious compensation for overplucked brows
  • Respect
  • Good hair
  • Nice manners on the freeway (usually)
  • An excellent bra
  • Talent for developing consistent bulleted lists
  • A creative streak that allows me to turn a minor freeway annoyance into a blog entry

So, I stopped. I held up the people behind me. I let the drivers on my right confusedly push past. And finally, you looked at me long enough to see me wave you in. Quickly, you looked back down, pathetically shaking your head as though to indicate you think I'm pathetic. But I basked in my benevolence, knowing I had given Miss Mouse her one opportunity to be a big shot -- by overtaking a stranger's car in stop-and-go traffic.

Five minutes later, when I passed you further up the freeway, I barely noticed because I was so busy chair dancing.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Lentil and Sausage Soup. If you call it "stoup," I will cut you.

The Reasoning
As the millions of you who have faithfully followed my meandering mutterings have likely deduced, I have no clear idea what to do with my blog. Until the light bulb comes on, I will take the common road of bloggers throughout time and post whichever of my thoughts I believe the world cannot do without. Also, I plan to steal ideas from others. In this post, I take a leaf from my friend
Gumbeauxgal's blog, and post a recipe I puttered with that came out pretty darn good.

The Background
It all started sometime last week, when my mom wanted to make black bean soup. She got the idea too late in the day to soak the beans, so we talked about other options, like using canned beans (ick). I said she could always have used lentils, which don't need to be soaked before cooking. She hasn't cooked much with lentils, but then reminisced about a soup she used to get at a great no-longer-existent restaurant called Cane's (owned by
these people). The soup she remembered had red lentils and some kind of sausage. I had black lentils in the pantry and a curiosity about andouille. So, I decided I would make lentil and andouille soup on Sunday.

The Recipe
Because I spent the last half of the eighties and all of the nineties as a vegetarian, I haven’t cooked much with meat, especially “exotic” meats and sausages that weren’t available in San Diego until the last decade or so. So, though I know how to make a vegetarian lentil soup, I did some research on the web to figure out how long I was going to have to cook the sausage. I came up with
this recipe. Based on the reviews, I knew right off I was going to make the following changes:

  • I increased the amount of the veggies to one-half cup (more or less) each.
  • I omitted the first half hour of cooking the lentils in the broth by themselves.
  • I made my own creole seasoning rather than using a commercial product. This is the recipe I used.
  • I used twelve ounces of sausage.
  • I used fresh thyme.

Then I had to make some further modifications due to personal limitations:

  • I could not get hold of my aforementioned friend Gumbeauxgal to find out whether good andouille is available in a San Diego market. Rather than risk disaster, I instead opted to use Trader Joe’s smoked chicken-turkey-garlic sausage.
  • My mom hates, hates, hates the texture of large pieces of cooked onions, celery, peppers, and probably some other vegetables. For my mom, large is defined as detectable. Therefore, instead of dicing or even mincing the vegetables, I essentially turned them into pulp in the food processor. I drained off some of the water that pooled in the bottom of the processor, and then sweated them with a bit of salt for five or ten minutes.
  • I couldn’t find beef broth, so I used all low-sodium, organic chicken broth and reduced the amount of broth from nine cups to eight.
  • Finally, to make extra super sure that my mom would not notice any sort of vegetation, after cooking, I stuck the ol’ stick blender in there (being sure not to “catch” any of the sausage) and whirred it around for awhile. It seems to have worked!

The Result
After about an hour of making my house smell like smoky sausage heaven, the soup came out pretty darn good. My mom loved it, which means I successfully hid all the veggies from her (and makes me think those books that tell you how to sneak veggies into your kids by pureeing them must have some merit). Though smoky, the sausages weren’t overly salty, so, with the couple big pinches of kosher salt I added during the cooking process, the soup was perfectly seasoned. There was a bit of a kick from the cayenne in the creole seasoning, but not too much, so this soup would be good for kids. Sourdough rolls dipped in were divine. And in the end, it’s healthy!

The Future
As good as it was, I will continue to refine this soup. For me, it was a little thin, so I will definitely increase the amount of lentils the next time I make it. I also felt it was a bit celery-riffic, so I would change the vegetable proportions to those used in mirepoix. Here are some of the other tweaks I will try:

  • Create a vegetarian version using vegetarian sausage and/or liquid smoke and vegetable broth.
  • Increase the cayenne, if not serving kids.
  • Find out how to get andouille and use it. I’m still dying to know what it tastes like!
  • Experiment with different varieties of lentils.
  • Add rice.
  • When using the chicken sausage or other lower salt sausage, render pancetta or bacon for the fat in which to start sautéing the mirepoix.
  • When using the stick blender in the future, I will cook the sausages whole so I can remove them easily, blend, and then cut them up and put them back in.
The End
While I was shopping at Trader Joe’s for the remaining ingredients I wanted for the soup, I remember standing in front of the Greek yogurt section wondering if I ought to get some for the week. I couldn’t think of anything I would use it for, so I didn’t get any. It would have been absolutely perfect dolloped on top of a nice hot bowl of this soup. I can’t believe I didn’t think of that! Let that be a lesson to you all. Always get the Greek yogurt.