Going Home

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Sometimes it takes a long road trip to realize how nice it feels to come home. Coming and going, beginnings and endings all have a purpose, I suppose. As long as we remain constant and true, the ebb and flow of life will gently move us along. Let’s all try to enjoy the trip.

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Pizza on the Grill

Thanks to Angie, I’ve been making pizza for years. It was her dough recipe and guidance that got me started. It felt good to make the kids a healthy homemade treat, even if I had to use pepperoni every time. My dough recipe has evolved from the original one Angie gave me and I think it’s because subconsciously I like my finished dough round and fluffy as opposed to thin and crispy. You might say we look like our dough, similar to how people resemble their dogs (or visa versa).

Anyway, Angie’s a traditionalist and when I mentioned that I recently began grilling my pizza, she looked surprised and said “why”? Well, in one word, the dough. Thanks to perforated grilling pans, the heat of the grill cooks the bottom of the crust to the perfect crispness while the top portion remains tender and soft. Granted, the corners do resemble an inflated airbag, but who says food always has to look perfect.

As for the sauce, well, you can imagine that Angie cooks hers over a low flame and adds the requisite garlic and herbs. I, on the other hand, usually dig around in the fridge until I find an opened jar of marinara or leftover tomato paste from an earlier recipe. If there’s nothing growing on the rim, then it will work.

I probably make pizza more often now that I’m grilling it. No more rolling pin and flour all over the counter. No more cooking them one at a time with my only pizza pan.

And, tonight’s sauce? Last week’s opened jar of Vodka sauce.

I’m not advising anyone to go to such extremes. Go all out and make a sauce from scratch. Simmer away. But, if you don’t have the time and tend not to use up all of your jarred sauce, try polishing it off on pizza. You could even pair your pizza toppings with appropriate sauces. For instance, spicy arrabbiata sauce would work great with salame and mushrooms; olive- and caper-filled puttanesca sauce would pair nicely with anchovies, goat cheese, and roasted red peppers; and even alfredo sauce would make a delicious white pizza with shaved truffles and pre-grilled radicchio.

I recently convinced Angie to buy a grill pan for her pizza. Who wants to bet she’ll be returning it.

Pizza Dough Recipe

This recipe is adapted from an old clipping I had for calzone dough. Based on the font and feel of the paper, I think it’s from Better Homes and Garden and was reproduced from a Donna Hay cookbook. This recipe makes enough dough for two large pizzas. Use your imagination with toppings.

1 Tbsp. active dry yeast (one package)

1 tsp. sugar

2 cups warm water (105° or so)

5 cups all-purpose flour

1 Tbsp. olive oil

2 tsp. salt

1. In a standing mixer bowl, add yeast and sugar. Pour water over, stir, and allow to sit for 3 minutes, or until yeast is frothy and sugar is dissolved. Add flour, olive oil, and salt and connect bowl to mixer. Attach hook attachment and mix on low for about 4 to 5 minutes. If needed, add more flour, 1 tsp. at a time. Dough should be a little tacky. Remove hook, cover with plastic wrap and a dish towel, and allow to double in size, about 2 hours, in a warm place.

2. Punch down dough and remove from bowl and turn onto a floured surface. Lightly knead for a couple of minutes. Shape into a large round and cut in half. Shape each round and allow to rest for 20 minutes.

3. Hand stretch each dough to fit shape of pan. Make sure dough is no more than 1/2″ thick, though the ends can be thicker.

4. Proceed with sauce, cheese, toppings. Grill on low setting (375°), covered, for about 15 minutes. Check dough by pulling back a bit of the toppings in the center of the pizza.


Quick Fig-Caramel Sauce

Turkish Smyrna Figs

Turkish Smyrna Figs

Frozen fruit always gets touted as being a great go-to item for last minute desserts. I enjoy using frozen fruit from time to time, but don’t normally have a supply of frozen berries, peaches, and cranberries on hand. I do, though, always have dried fruit on hand and turn to this form of preservation when needing a last-minute idea.

I like the idea of reconstituting an item in water or liqueur and bringing it back to life, so to speak. When fruit is dried, its sugars are concentrated, making them seem sweeter than before. This can also be a benefit to the baker, adding a layer of flavor to a recipe. Even the health-conscious cook can find a benefit to cooking with the world’s most natural sweetener instead of processed or refined sugars.

Figs in their dried state are a great ingredient to incorporate into recipes. First off, they are available year round. Second, they contain more fiber than any other fruit. Third, they are so sweet that a little goes a long way in recipes.

There are several different varieties of dried figs available today. According to the California Fig Growers Association, all of the dried figs produced in the United States come from California’s Central Valley. Black Mission figs are probably the most popular here in California and are delicious in their dried form. Most Middle Eastern markets carry dried Brown Smyrna figs, often packaged pressed next to each other to form a circular disc. The Conadria fig is a popular backyard fig tree, and it too is available dried, though I think it is preferred as a fresh fruit. I like to see my dried figs before I buy them so I tend to steer clear of those tightly packaged imported figs. For this recipe I used dried Turkish Smyrna figs purchased at Trader Joe’s. As you can see in the photo above, they look nothing like other imported Turkish figs.

Fig-Caramel Sauce
This delicious sauce takes minutes to prepare and is amazing on top of vanilla bean ice cream. I imagine it would be equally decadent on dark chocolate ice cream too.

1 cup water
1 1/2 cups dried Turkish Smyrna figs, stemmed and quartered
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup agave syrup
5 Tbsp. butter
1/2 cup heavy cream

1. Place water and figs in a medium-size saucepan over medium-high heat and bring to a boil; reduce heat and simmer until most or all water is reduced and figs are soft. Remove from heat and place figs into a bowl; set aside.

2. In same saucepan add sugar, agave syrup, and butter and heat on high, stir to dissolve sugar, and cook until butter is melted and mixture comes to a boil. Reduce heat to medium and cook mixture, without stirring, until it reaches soft-ball stage, around 230°. Remove pan from heat, add cream, and stir. Add figs and serve immediately or refrigerate.

Pasta in the Bedroom

Greek Hilopites

Greek Hilopites

My grandmother Maggie was a multi-faceted woman. Growing up in rural Greece during the early 20th century meant that she had her work cut out for her. Being the oldest of seven siblings meant that she carried the additional burden of tending to them as well as the rest of her domestic duties. Some fifty years later when I was finally old enough to retain a vivid memory of her, it was her form that stuck first. A barrel-chested woman, teetering on spindly yet strong legs, she looked the part of someone who had spent her share of time in the fields, in the factories, and in the home behind a well-worn apron.

Making our twice-yearly pilgrimage to the holy land that was West Jordan, Utah, I used the barren landscape of central Nevada as a blank canvas for my daydreams. I would imagine Maggie’s house, its worn green chenille furniture, and the meal that was cooking on the stove. Sometimes it was memorable, but sometimes it was just odd. You see Maggie was the typical depression-era girl. A person who would hoard her money in a coffee tin and then spend an hour standing in line to collect her free 10 lb. block of processed cheese.

She was an enterprising cook. Someone who would attempt to make the best of stale bread and milk. When we would arrive from our 12-hour drive, we never knew what food would be waiting for us or where it would be. The spare bedroom with the sun-filled window facing the garden was the perfect spot to dry pasta. She always had it arranged in several areas throughout the room. Lengths of pinkie-wide egg noodles draped on backs of towel-covered chairs, nests of coiled noodles mounded on dented sheet pans, and pie tins of finely cut squares, Hilopites in Greek, awaiting a simmering broth on the stove.

Maggie’s food wasn’t fussy, just like her. It was practical and sturdy, yet it enveloped me in her strong arms and fed me with love. I can feel her hugging me now.

Strawberry Jam Biscuits

Strawberry Jam Biscuits

Strawberry Jam Biscuits

For a couple of summers when I was little, my family and I stayed in a college town so my father could pursue an advanced degree in library science. We stayed in a very retro apartment building, and yes it was the early 70s, with a pool steps from our sliding door. That pool was the center of my world. You could see it from the couch, dinette, and every other corner of the living room. It was classic kidney-shaped with just enough cement between it and the other apartments’ sliding doors. An Australian colleague of my father’s was also staying with his family in the same building. Instantly we had more than libraries in common—we had the pool. All of the day’s activities seemed to center around its edges, beckoning us kids to take the plunge, life vests and all, and paddle until our limbs grew tired and the skin on our fingertips shriveled, accentuating the one thing that makes us unique.

Our families picked up on each other’s traditions, so often we would have Greek night or afternoon tea. I think the tea idea was just an excuse for the moms to get us out of the water and indoors for a bit. Tea didn’t quite get me excited, but the biscuits that were served with it sure did. Achingly sweet strawberry jam and freshly whipped cream filled these flaky pillows. We ate so many of these teatime treats that we were banned from the pool for the requisite “30-minute-rule of no swimming after eating”.

I tried to search for a reference to this Australian treat, but came up with only a recipe for Pikelet, which is more like a pancake with strawberry jam and whipped cream. Though, it is served for afternoon tea, so maybe our friends just improvised with the biscuits.

It’s not quite summer and I no longer have a pool outside my sliding door. But I do love a cup of tea in the middle of the afternoon and nothing could be better with it than strawberry jam biscuits and the memories that those special summers gave me.