My new favorite food

As I’ve mentioned recently, we’re having a real summer here in SE Alaska! This was from last week, but today’s weather looked just like this. (On my phone, anyway…it was a little less sunny in reality. But no rain!)  If you know the Pacific Northwest, and SE Alaska, Summertime!you know how rare it is to have a week of sunshine in the forecast. Even more rare to have multiple weeks like that. And while we’ve had a few rainy days here and there, this is a summer to celebrate!

With summer comes grilling, and we’ve done a lot of that this month. I’ve been trying new recipes and decided to experiment with pizza on the grill. I’ve read about it, thought about it, and now, I’ve tried it. Let me tell you, it’s my new favorite thing. Worth doing, and so easy I wonder why I haven’t tried it before.

So here’s the way to do it:

There are lots of recipes to choose from. Here’s one I like:

Ingredients:

2 teaspoons instant yeast
2 teaspoons sugar
1 1/4 teaspoons salt
3 cups (11 ounces) all-purpose flour*
3/4 cup (6 ounces) lukewarm water
2 tablespoons (7/8 ounce) olive oil

*Substitute Whole Wheat flour for half of the all-purpose flour, if desired.

Method:

Mix all of the ingredients to make a soft, supple dough. Knead for 5 minutes, divide the dough in half, cover with lightly greased plastic wrap, and let rest and relax for 15 minutes (or for up to an hour or so; work it into your schedule as you see fit).

Grease two 12″ squares of parchment paper. Use your greased fingers to press each piece of dough on the parchment into an 11″ to 12″ circle about 1/8″ thick. Brush or spray the crusts with olive oil, and let them rest for about 30 minutes, while you pre-heat your grill.

To make grilled pizza: Be prepared to grill your pizza within 15 minutes of shaping it; you don’t want it to rise too much. So, make sure your barbecue grill is heated (or cooled) to medium-hot by the time the dough is ready to grill.

Set the rack 3″ to 4″ above the fire. Take one circle of dough, on its parchment, and swiftly but carefully turn it (dough down, parchment on top) onto the grill. Peel off the parchment.

After 1 minute, turn it over; it should be stiff enough to turn quite easily (if not, your grill isn’t hot enough). Layer with toppings. This is not the time to pile on the meat, cheese, veggies, etc. Since the pizza will be cooking very briefly, it’s better to top with just a minimal amount of stuff: thinly sliced veggies, a thin layer of cheese, etc.

Bake an additional 5 minutes or so, with the cover on (if your grill has a cover), or until the filling is hot and the cheese is melting. Adjust the temperature of the grill if the bottom is browning too quickly. And, move the pizza around on the grill if one side or the other starts to get too brown on the bottom. Repeat the grilling process with the other pizza.

We like veggie pizza. Marinated artichoke hearts, fresh sliced tomatoes, basil, mushrooms, peppers, red onion, salt and pepper over all, and top with a blend of shredded mozzarella and shaved parmesan…perfection! The pizza dough “bakes” up so light and airy on the grill it’s like eating something from a gourmet wood-fired pizzeria. The veggies get just slightly cooked so they taste incredibly fresh and keep a little of their crunchiness. The whole thing is warm and satisfying to eat, and so fast. I’m seriously thinking of making this again for the third time this week. Haven’t had my fill yet!

Perfect Biscuits; or, how to follow directions

Southern Living Buttermilk Biscuits

I grew up in the South. I had grandmothers who cooked; a mom, aunts, cousins, a mother-in-law who are all stars in the kitchen. And I don’t do too badly myself, in some areas. But I’ve always been defeated by biscuits. I know, they’re such a Southern staple…tragic that I couldn’t produce a successful version of that breakfast icon.

Over the years I’ve collected a variety of recipes, each promising to be the best, the fluffiest, the epitome of biscuitness. And every time I’ve tried a new recipe, I’ve had another disappointment.

Last weekend I was doing a little internet surfing and stumbled across a classic Southern Living recipe for buttermilk biscuits. The photos looked so amazing, I decided to give it one more try. And I produced perfection! I’ve probably even made this recipe, or something very similar, before. So what was the variable this time? Well, for the first time ever, I baked the biscuits at the temperature the recipe specified! I know right now you’re thinking, why would you not bake at the temperature the recipe gives?

I like lightly browned breads, nothing too crisp or crusty. So I’ve always baked at a lower temperature, thinking that would keep my biscuits from browning too much. But when I actually baked them at 450 degrees, they puffed up to an amazing height. To my surprise, they were lightly browned on the exterior and were the perfect pillowy texture on the inside.

There are times that it is good to think outside the box. There are times when it is good to make your own rules, to do what works for you. But there are also times when following the rules pays off. You don’t need to reinvent the wheel for some things. Biscuit recipes work as they’re written. Math works according to known formulas. Sometimes the best course is to see what has worked for others and to copy what has been successful. That doesn’t mean you don’t have creativity or ability to be original. It may mean that you are smart enough and humble enough to recognize that others may know a thing or two. That you may not always have the best answer, the best idea.

The trick is to know what strategy to use for the given situation. From now on, if I’m making biscuits, I’m going to trust the recipe and “bake as directed.” How many times I’ve read that instruction, and how frequently I have not baked as directed! And what else have I mis-managed because I didn’t follow the directions? On the other hand, there are situations in life that demand that I listen to my heart, that I follow my instincts.

Maybe that’s the challenge for each of us…when to conform and when to stand up and follow our on path. I don’t have all the answers. A lot of the big questions of life are complex, and there may not even be one “right” answer for some things. But I’ve learned that’s not the case for baking biscuits. It’s good to follow the recipe. It’s good to follow directions.

Perfect Southern Living Biscuits

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup cold butter
  • 2 1/4 cups self-rising soft-wheat flour
  • 1 1/4 cups buttermilk
  • Self-rising soft-wheat flour
  • 2 tablespoons melted butter

Preparation

  • 1. Cut butter with a sharp knife or pastry blender into 1/4-inch-thick slices. Sprinkle butter slices over flour in a large bowl. Toss butter with flour. Cut butter into flour with a pastry blender until crumbly and mixture resembles small peas. Cover and chill 10 minutes. Add buttermilk, stirring just until dry ingredients are moistened.
  • 2. Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface; knead 3 or 4 times, gradually adding additional flour as needed. With floured hands, press or pat dough into a 3/4-inch-thick rectangle (about 9 x 5 inches). Sprinkle top of dough with additional flour. Fold dough over onto itself in 3 sections, starting with 1 short end. (Fold dough rectangle as if folding a letter-size piece of paper.) Repeat entire process 2 more times, beginning with pressing into a 3/4-inch-thick dough rectangle (about 9 x 5 inches).
  • 3. Press or pat dough to 1/2-inch thickness on a lightly floured surface; cut with a 2-inch round cutter, and place, side by side, on a parchment paper-lined or lightly greased jelly-roll pan. (Dough rounds should touch.)
  • 4. Bake at 450° for 13 to 15 minutes or until lightly browned. Remove from oven; brush with 2 Tbsp. melted butter.

Enjoy! And don’t under-bake!