Honey! It's drizzling! Batten down the hatches! So, we've braved our way through another hurricane. Frankly, despite the nonstop "news" hyping this storm and scaring everyone to bits, I just couldn't get all worked up over Isabel. After having just one hurricane hit this area in my lifetime, I think we need to get over ourselves a bit--the Triangle is truly special, but not so sweet that every hurricane wants to meet us. So, the night before Isabel, we filled up a water jug and recharged a few batteries, and that was it.
Still, our confidence in inaction didn't stop that nagging thought in the back of my head: If we can see the white of its eye, will I have enough food?
Thus, I spent Thursday morning mentally inventorying my freezer. What would be powerful comfort for powerless times? I came up with tantalizing possibilities.
For starters, we still had the gas grill (and a gas stove). So the first thing to come to mind (it being a baker's mind) was grilled bread--specifically, pizza grilled alongside some tomatoes and smoked sausage for a topping. And griddle scones. And smooth, refreshing cold soups, since the day after a hurricane always seems almost irritatingly gorgeous--and hot.
In the end, we got lucky. We lost power for about four hours on Thursday; the lights came back just as it was getting too dark to see our supper (pasta, salad, and savory griddle scones). In a way, I was a little disappointed; I'd been looking forward to testing my old Girl Scout skills.
But it won't stop me from hitting the grill: Hurricane or no, we're finally in perfect grilling season. Summer foods may cry out for the grill, but even if it's preferable to heating up my kitchen, I don't much care for grilling in 95-degree heat and no A/C. Now, though, I'm ready to take the end-of-summer vegetables and fruits and play with fire.
I don't take a stand on gas vs. charcoal: I love them both, though it's hard to deny the temptation of anything that needs a quick flick to turn it on. In my pre-kid days, I spent happy hours coaxing my charcoal smoker to produce the perfect smoked chicken. Now, though, I'm pretty pleased with gas and a handful of wood chips--and a few handfuls of easy recipes.
Reading critically acclaimed grilling cookbooks gives me some pleasure. Cooking from them does not, as a rule: too many ingredients that I don't have on hand, in too many combinations that might taste fabulous to my husband and me, but not to young ones. When I grill, I want to keep it satisfyingly simple.
Which brings me back to grilled pizzas. Homemade pizza can be a tricky thing to make well; it sounds easy enough, but too often you end up with a gummy crust, or toppings that slip-slide right off the dough you're sliding into the oven. But pizza on the grill, in which you cook one side of the dough before adding the toppings, requires little more than a heavy hand when rolling out the dough, to be sure it's thin enough.
Don't be fooled by recipes that suggest there are other ways to do this. I recently tried one well-known chef's recipe that called for placing the dough rounds on parchment paper and chilling them. The chill, he insisted, would make it easy to then slide the (topped) pizzas off the paper and onto the grill. Mind you, I knew better. It couldn't be so simple. I knew that a thin dough weighed down by even a light layer of topping would outright refuse to shimmy gracefully onto the grill.
But I tried it anyway. One sorta-calzone later, the remaining pizzas went into the oven, parchment still attached.
Still, this same chef did give me inspiration for the fabulous chocolate pizzas that follow: I'm not using his recipe, but the concept of adding a little cocoa to a basic dough really works. Just to be safe, though, in the name of storm preparedness in these waning days of hurricane season, I think I'd best get out and test it a few more times.
Cook's notes: If you're serving the brownie tart later and need to chill it, it's easiest to store it in a plastic cake carrier with a lid. Lacking that, stick a few toothpicks in the tart and drape a piece of plastic wrap over them, to keep from marring the entire top. If you don't have instant espresso powder on hand, leave it out; consider adding a few drops of mint extract instead (don't be heavy-handed here). You may also leave out the cream cheese in the topping, although it adds body and tang. For the phyllo nests, you could substitute ice cream for the whipped cream. To gild the lily, heat a little cream and whisk in some chocolate chips until melted; drizzle this around the nests. For the truffle rounds, from my book Desserts From an Herb Garden, feel free to leave out the basil (not exactly a pantry ingredient); they're good straight, or substitute a little espresso powder or almond or mint extract. Or serve them with softly whipped cream beaten with a spoonful of whisked raspberry jam.
2 teaspoons instant yeast
2 cups all-purpose flour (preferably unbleached)
1 teaspoon coarse (kosher) salt
2/3 cup warm water
4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
Toppings of choice, such as 1-1/2 cups tomato sauce, 2 cups grated cheese (mozzarella is fine, but I love a combination of jack and parmesan), 1-1/2 to 2 cups grilled vegetables or grilled sausage slices, tomato slices, pesto, and chopped herbs
In a medium bowl (or, preferably, in the bowl of a stand mixer), whisk together yeast, flour and salt. Stir in water and 2 tablespoons olive oil until well-blended. By hand, transfer to a lightly floured surface and knead until dough is smooth and elastic, about 8 minutes; return to bowl. With a stand mixer, mix on speed 3 with the dough hook for 4 minutes, or until smooth and elastic. (Add flour a tablespoon at a time if dough seems too wet.) Brush top of dough with a little of the remaining oil and press a large sheet of plastic wrap onto it. Leave to rise in a warm place until doubled, about 1 hour (when doubled, dough will not spring back when a finger is lightly pressed into it).
Prepare grill for a medium fire. Gently press dough down and place on lightly floured surface; cut into quarters. Roll each quarter into an 8-inch circle (if dough won't roll easily, cover and let it rest for 5 minutes before trying again). Brush both sides of each circle with olive oil and place on upside-down baking sheets.
Slide crusts onto grill (or flip them quickly with your hands). Grill for about 2 minutes, until grill marks show on bottom. Flip crusts, quickly spread with toppings (use a thin layer of tomato sauce), and cook, with grill closed, for about 5 minutes, until bottoms are crisp. Serve immediately.
2 pizzas, serving 8 to 10
1 1/4 teaspoons instant yeast
2 cups all-purpose flour (preferably unbleached)
1 teaspoon coarse (kosher) salt
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons warm water
3 tablespoons vegetable oil, divided
Toppings of choice (see below)
In a medium bowl (or, preferably, in the bowl of a stand mixer), whisk together yeast, flour, salt, sugar and cocoa powder. Stir in water and 2 tablespoons oil until well-blended. By hand, transfer to a lightly floured surface and knead until dough is smooth and elastic, about 8 minutes; return to bowl. With a stand mixer, mix on speed 3 with the dough hook for 4 minutes, or until smooth and elastic. (Add flour a tablespoon at a time if dough seems too wet.) Brush top of dough with a little of the remaining oil and press a large sheet of plastic wrap onto it. Leave to rise in a warm place until doubled, about 1 1/2 hours (when doubled, dough will not spring back when a finger is lightly pressed into it).
Prepare grill for a medium fire (if needed, brush grill thoroughly to remove residue from earlier grilling). Gently press dough down and place on lightly floured surface; cut in half. Roll each half into a 10-inch circle (if dough won't roll easily, cover and let it rest for 5 minutes before trying again). Brush both sides of each circle with oil and place on upside-down baking sheets.
Slide crusts onto grill (or flip them quickly with your hands). With grill closed, cook for 2 minutes. Flip crusts and grill for about 4 minutes. Quickly add toppings and grill about 1 minute more, until bottoms are crisp. Serve immediately.
Toppings: Almost anything goes here, but to get you started, try a thin (about 3 tablespoons) layer of jam (whisk it first to make it quick and easy to spread), topped with a soft fruit (such as strawberries, plums, or raspberries). If you like, sprinkle that with chocolate chips or grated chocolate (milk or dark), or drizzle with chocolate sauce. Peaches, pears, pineapples and apples all grill beautifully and would complement the crust better than raw fruit. Or try a sweet cheese, such as whipped cream cheese or mascarpone, whipped with a little confectioner's sugar and/or jam. I prefer to put this topping on just in the last 30 seconds, so it doesn't melt completely and make a drippy mess. Or consider beating a little cream cheese with some peanut butter to spread on the crust; top with bananas that have been halved and grilled about 5 minutes.