May 26, 2010

Belated Birthdays and Home-made Pizzas Galore!

May has always been one of the busiest months for my family. There are myriad excuses reasons for all the flurries. To cut the story short, besides celebrating my mom’s birthday, which often coincides with Mother’s Day, my youngest brother’s birthday also falls in May.

Being the youngest in the family, DS has been showered with lots of TLC since his first day on earth. Of course, I don’t deny the fact that as the eldest sibling, I often bullied him too. But that was those good old days when I’d still put on school uniform. Hahaha! Now, how bad does that sound? *Eyes rolling*

When I left for the States in January 2007, DS was shorter that he’d still have to look up to me as we stood side by side. The then-13-year-old still possessed that innocent child-like look and qualities in him. He just entered high school. He was just about to embrace adolescence and those spurts of growth.

But in August last year, when I saw DS again in nearly 3 years, my jaw dropped. I couldn’t convince myself of what was before me. There stood a 16-year-old young lad who is now a little taller than me; who now has an Adam’s apple, with a deep manly voice; who now has a pair of fuzzy legs. That’s my baby brother, who’s outgrown that 13-year-old – who’s now growing to be a man.

May 19th, was DS’s 17th birthday. But in our household, we don’t quite celebrate commemorate the days we arrived on planet Earth. For us, birthdays are just any-other-ordinary days. My dad always tells me, “Birthdays aren’t necessary so long as we’re one family.” I couldn’t help but to nod my head in agreement. “As long as we live in peace and harmony, we should feel thankful and blessed.”

Anyway, none of us were in the mood for a birthday cake for myriad factors. Plus, I believe birthdays don’t necessarily spell “c-a-k-e-s.” But as the eldest, I wanted to do at least something for my darling brother. So, I asked DS what he’d like for his Big Day. “Tiramisu,” he said. Not quite a cake. But pretty close. Alas, that pick-me-up never gets delivered to my brother’s doorstep. Blame myself for not planning time properly. (Dammit!) While cramming for imminent exams, he empathized with my horrible time management and second-guessed, “Hey, I could use some pizzas!”

Pizza. I’d not made pizza since December last year. (In fact, I haven’t even blogged about them! This is how efficient I can get. Hahaha! Shall do so in the near future.) His wishes are my commands. So, I turned my family’s kitchen into a pizzeria, by churning out two mini and two large trays of pizzas last Sunday.

I love making pizzas, from scratch. The nice things about home-made, from-scratch pizzas are that you get to decide your own blend of topping; that you get to decide how lean and flavorful your pizza crust ought to be; and that you get to decide how cheesy your pizzas ought to be. (I get to knead bread dough, too! So therapeutic.) Ever since I ventured into pizza making in April 2008, I’ve never looked back.

The Slow Route to Homemade Pizza,” a well-written article from The New York Times, caught my attention. Highly informative I’d say. If you’re interested in the art and science of bread making, do hop over to read it. The principles mentioned therein apply to not just pizza but also bread making in general. Pizza making is in the air. I may try a thin-crust. I may try sourdough starter in my pizzas for that sourish bite. I may just take a basic pizza dough (made via the direct method) and let the yeasts do the magic, at low temperature. Oh, how I miss those days when I had my own fridge to do as I pleased! I’m dreaming about that complex and yet nuanced, aged flavors of good bread!

Getting back to the “birthday pizzas.” They received thumbs up from the Birthday Star, my co-workers (and myself)! My brother even went for seconds and thirds. *Grinning* The crust and Pei-Lin’s special blend of toppings complemented each other! Glad that insanity struck me just before I plunged myself in the whirlwind of flours that very Sunday morning. Glad that my experiments worked out. The crust was made via a recipe I adapted from one of my collectibles (cookbooks). I blended hard and (unbleached) soft flours:
“… Blending the flours doesn’t mean they cancel each other out. ‘It’s like mixing vinegar and olive oil,’ said Edoardo Mantelli, the pizzaiolo of Saraghina. ‘Together they create a different flavor’” (Strand, 2010).
The statement above holds true. The crust, when served hot and fresh, had a slight crisp on the outside while being fluffy on the inside – with a subtle chew to it. Very savory. A perfect match for my choice of toppings. I made two variations. Instead of the usual tomato base, I spread on my par-baked pizza crusts a layer of home-made pesto. And these are generally how I constructed the toppings for my pizzas, from bottom up:

Variation A: home-made pesto --> sautéed chopped leek and flaked canned tuna --> mozzarella, cheddar and parmesan cheese

Variation B: home-made pesto --> sautéed onions, ground beef and diced capsicums --> mozzarella, cheddar and parmesan cheese

Need I say more? Toothsome combos, aren’t they?

I made the pesto with a basic recipe taken off The New York Times. Now that I’m addicted to pesto. Thanks to Mark Bittman, The Minimalist whom I enjoy watching a lot. (His sense of humor, cooking skills, simple and yet yummy dishes never cease to enthrall me.) Pesto is damn good! I blamed myself for not making pesto earlier! It’s extremely easy and quick to whip up, requiring minimal preparation and just a push on the “Start” button of your food processor. Last but not least, taste a fingertip of this flavorful paste to adjust to taste. It looks green and not “children-friendly.” But, heck! It’s healthy and yummy. So, who cares?

Basic home-made pesto, to be served with my "accidental" whole-wheat flatbread. (Well, I shall leave that story till next time. *Sigh*)

Here, I’ll include the recipes for the pesto and pizza crust, along with some brief description on how I prepared my toppings. (I don’t quite have a recipe for the toppings – in fact, any toppings. Just be imaginative and eyeball as you go along.) I know many of you either have found THE perfect recipe or are still in the midst of settling down on one. I’m sharing these anyhow, for my own record and all you pizza lovers who’d like to try making pizzas from scratch.

Before I stop jabbering, here’s to send belated birthday wishes to my baby brother DS and my good friend Swee San, who just celebrated hers last Saturday. We got to chill out together with another good friend Tracie. We enjoyed each other’s company and immersed in long hours of good chat, some shopping and eating! Thanks, gals! (Oh, also thanks for transforming me into a Daiso addict! I spent some dough on a cookbook, too. Whoa! Talking about shopaholics, here’s one …)

And just a note: pardon me for my absence lately. Been VERY busy and down, partly due to job (and some other unnecessary troubles issues). Simply burned out, mentally and physically. Can’t believe I finally said this to the world! I hope I can keep up with the battles; I want to keep marching on. Till then, even if you haven’t opted for the recipe below, or haven’t tried how great home-made pizzas taste like, I sincerely hope you can get around doing so. Take my words on this, you’ll never regret. The slow route to home-made pizza? Most definitely – and with satisfaction guaranteed.

Basic Pizza Crust -- Made Via the Direct Method (For Busy People Who're Pressing for Time)
Adapted from "Delicious Savoury Bakes," by Wendy Woo   摘自《西式鹹點》。胡惠君 編著

* I multiplied the following recipe by 1.5, which was enough for two mini and two large trays of pizzas. *

12 g instant (dry) yeast
250 mL water -- at 43°C

250 g bread flour (I'm determined to get unbleached bread flour soon though it's pricey! Definitely worth the money spent.)
250 g cake/pastry flour (I used unbleached cake four. Love it! It's more flavorful and deeper in color.)
8 g salt

250 mL olive oil

Enough string (mozzarella) cheese -- for stuffed-crust pizza
* Well, you can in fact cut out enough cheese for that from the large block of mozzarella you bought -- if that's what you're planning to use. *
  1. Dissolve (A) together real well, then set aside for 5~10 minutes -- the mixture should look foamy by then as the yeasts have been activated in 5~10 minutes
  2. Combine (B) together, then gradually stir in the yeast mixture -- mix the two mixtures together as you do that, till a "crumbly" dough forms. Now, gradually mix in the olive oil to incorporate well
  3. Turn the dough out on the counter and knead till you get one elastic, non-sticky and rough dough. No worries, you need not dust the counter, your hands and anything that will come into contact with the dough throughout the kneading process.
    Now, round the dough up and place it in an oiled bowl; cover with a sheet of cling wrap and set aside to proof till the dough has gotten doubled in size. (Because I was having other foods cooking up at the same time, I let mine proof for 3 hours.)
  4. Deflate the dough. Depending on your situation e.g. how many and how deep, what size and shape of baking pans/trays/sheets you're planning to use, divide the dough up accordingly. Next, cover the dough with sheet(s) of cling wrap and let rest for 20 minutes.
  5. After the resting time to relax the gluten within the dough, roll each portion out into desired thickness with help from a lightly floured rolling pin -- here, you'll have to picture how thick the dough will eventually get upon the second round of proofing and baking.
    Transfer the rolled-out dough into an oiled baking pan/tray/sheet; around the edge, roll some dough over to create taller, thicker rim -- be sure to pinch to seal the dough real well. For stuffed crust, you may roll in the string cheese now. Repeat the same to the remaining dough. Now, cover them with cling wrap and let proof till the dough looks almost doubled in size.
  6. Right before baking, perforate the dough, save for its rim, with a fork. This will help prevent the dough from "swelling" by too much that it looks like it's grown a "hump." Now, for large pizzas, blind bake the dough, without any topping on, for 10 minutes at 200°C; if smaller, adjust the time accordingly. When it's done, it should have lost its raw look.
  7. Remove the par-baked pizza crust(s) from the oven and set aside to cool for 5 minutes.
  8. Now, top the par-baked pizza crust(s) with your desired blend of topping. For me, it's always, from bottom up: sauce(s) --> main ingredients --> cheeses. Of course, you can reverse the layering order. It'd be fun to experiment with something different each time.
  9. Bake the topped pizza crust(s) at 210°C for 10 minutes or till the topping looks golden brown and cheese is bubbly.
Bow-tie pasta, served with pesto and more parmesan cheese

Basic Pesto (Yields 2 Cups)
Adapted from the recipe by Florence Fabricant, as featured in The New York Times

2 cups fresh sweet basil leaves -- no stem; rinsed and drained well
2 Tbsp chopped pine nuts/walnuts -- toasted and cooled (I used walnuts)
2 large cloves garlic

118 mL olive oil
1/2 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese (I used powdered parmesan)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  1. Process (A) together in a blender or food processor till they look "puréed."
  2. With the machine still running, slowly dribble the olive oil into the basil mixture to combine well.
  3. Stir in the cheese and process briefly -- long enough to just combine. The cheese should have thickened up the pesto for quite a fair bit. Season with salt and pepper to taste -- process real briefly to combine the mixture very well after adding the salt and pepper.
  4. Serve or store the pesto in a covered container in the fridge. You may freeze it, too. Before use, just thaw the pesto in the fridge overnight.
    * The oil within the pesto will separate from the rest after sitting for a while. So, be sure to stir the pesto up very well before each use. *
My pesto, beef and capsicum pizza

Pesto, Beef and Capsicum Topping for Pizza

You'll need:

Ground beef -- marinated in a bit sugar, salt, Worcestershire sauce, freshly ground black pepper, cornstarch and a little bit of olive oil for 30 minutes
Onions -- roughly chopped
Capsicums -- roughly diced up
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Pesto -- for the base
Mozzarella cheese -- sliced up (I bought a whole block of it and sliced it up. Instead of the shredded one, I prefer it this way.)
Shredded cheddar cheese
Powdered/Freshly grated parmesan cheese
* The ratio I prefer for my cheese topping is 3:2:1 for mozzarella : cheddar : parmesan *

Here's how I did:
  1. Heat a large skillet (I used a wok) over high heat, then pour in oil to heat it up; lower down the heat to medium. Sauté the onions till they start to give out aroma and become translucent.
  2. Add in the diced capsicums and cook till they've become half-cooked. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Push the onions and capsicum aside, or you may opt to dish them out for the time being.
    Now, add beef into the skillet and brown it -- of course, don't overbrown it. If necessary, season to taste with salt and pepper. Dish the beef out. Set everything aside to cool before use. As they cool, they will give out some liquid, which is OK. Just drain them well before using as pizza topping, you may reserve the "broth" for some other uses.
  3. To top the pizza, spread some pesto over the slightly cooled par-baked pizza crust except its rim. Now, evenly scatter the beef, capsicums and onions over the pesto-slathered crust -- save for the rim, then followed by the cheese. Bake as per the recipe's instructions.
My pesto, leek and tuna stuffed-crust pizza

Pesto, Leek and Tuna Topping for Pizza

You'll need:

Leek -- with the bottoms cut off; sliced into strips
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Canned tuna chunks (in oil, water or brine) -- drained and flaked
Pesto -- for the base
Mozzarella cheese -- sliced up (I bought a whole block of it and sliced it up. Instead of the shredded one, I prefer it this way.)
Shredded cheddar cheese
Powdered/Freshly grated parmesan cheese
* The ratio I prefer for my cheese topping is 3:2:1 for mozzarella : cheddar : parmesan *

Here's how I did:
  1. Heat a large skillet (I used a wok) over high heat, then pour in oil to heat it up; lower down the heat to medium. Sauté the leek till they start to give out aroma and become almost wilted. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Dish out and let cool slightly before using
  2. To top the pizza, spread some pesto over the slightly cooled par-baked pizza crust except its rim. Now, evenly strew the leek and tuna over the pesto-slathered crust -- save for the rim, then followed by the cheese. Bake as per the recipe's instructions.


Angie's Recipes said...

A crowd pleaser! I love pizza too, but seriously dare not to take too much these days, as it's so addictive! Pesto sauce looks nice too.

Swee San said...

Thanks Pei-Lin (and Tracie too), you guys didn't have to go thru the trouble of making me stuffs, it's good to just come out, have a drink or meal then chit chat and gossip too!

I've been influenced by u.. first bread, now pizza (I too wanna make some pizza!!)

Quinn said...

Awwwwww Pei-Lin, you made your own pizza and pesto! Just a hint, I like real thin crust pizza, hehe! Also, I've tried using roasted garlic puree for pesto and it tasted awesome compared to raw ones! Yummo! Your family members are so spoilt by you!

Kitchen Corner said...

Hello! I like your pizzas especially the crusty edges. You've shaped it nicely and with the big fat edges with the colorful fillings. It looks really delicious!

faithy, the baker said...

It's nearing lunch time and i'm reading everyone's blog post on my reader and yours with both pasta & fave!! I'm soo hungry now..and it's still like 10 mins more to lunch time. And your mouthwatering pizzas and pasta is not doing me any good...i want some like right now..!

Honey Bee Sweets said...

Wow, that is a whole lot of pesto on the pasta! Your pizza looks fantastic....mmm, can imagine the pesto over it, yummy! BTW, so happy that you 3 young ladies got to meet up and have some fun together *envy*! But all work and no play is no good, so hope you get to do more of this fun stuff. ;) Take good care!

Sonia (Nasi Lemak Lover) said...

I wish I can try out all these delicious pizza and pesto one day!

Jo said...

Pei-Lin, absolutely, absolutely yum! I'm drooling here and waiting for dinner time. I love home-made pizza because you can add the stuff you love and not stinch on it. Yours look like what I would order from a pizza parlour ... they look that good!

Ellie (Almost Bourdain) said...

Loving all the pizzas you made!

noobcook said...

Your pizza (crust and all) and basil looks amazing. And I would love to have pizza for my birthday too instead of the usual cake

tigerfish said...

How I wish I am not lazy to make pizza from scratch....

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