Thursday, September 22, 2016

St. Louis Style Pizza (The Debate)

Many locales across the country have their unique style of pizza, from the Brooklyn style on one coast to the California and Hawaiian styles on the other. A pizza fiend such as myself can always find something new, some unique combination of ingredients or crust or tradition. That's one of the things that makes pizza fun and has earned it a spot as one of the most popular food in the United States.

For just a regular consumer who is just as likely to eat a frozen pizza from the store or buy one from a local pizzeria or chain like I did for years, the world of pizza is just that. Pizza is pretty much pizza --- easy to make and delicious to eat. End of story.

People are generally aware of their local pizza style along with a few others, but don't really give it much thought beyond that. In my region it was St Louis style pizza. And while I actually grew up a few hours east of St. Louis, I was well aware of the style and ate it nearly all the time. In fact, the first and third pizzeria I worked at served St. Louis style pizza even though they didn't call it that.

I wouldn't call it my favorite style of pizza because I have so many I love, but I would definitely say it's my preferred and "Go-To" style.

So imagine my surprise when reading "Pizza: A Slice of American History" by Liz Barrett when the author referred to St. Louis style pizza as a subcategory of "Bar/Tavern/Party-Cut" style and lumped it in with many other style of pizzas that come from the midwest. I'm sure I wasn't the only one put off by this slight. She even included the Chicago (non-deep dish) style in this category. Her basic argument was that if it is cut into squares, came from the midwest, and originated sometime during the 1950s, then it was "bar" pizza.

Of course my first thought was "New York Snob." You can find this sort of snobbery in many aspects of society, from the arts to clothing. Basically, if it's not from New York or California, then it's automatically inferior. Now, keep in mind, that was my gut reaction from previous experiences, so that may not be the case here and I'm just defensively jumping to conclusions.

Yes, she's more of a pizza expert than I am currently am, but there are plenty of other pizza experts who do consider St. Louis style a style of its own and do not relegate it to a subcategory of bar owners who wanted to sell cheap pizzas to drunk guys playing pool. 

What makes St. Louis style unique begins with the crust. Not only is it cracker thin, it contains baking powder instead of yeast. It is also topped with Provel cheese, which is a combination of up to three different types of cheese, and does not include mozzarella. From there, it's pretty standard compared to other pizzas, but it is cut into squares both for stylistic and practical purposes since the wedge shape on such a thin crust doesn't bode well for holding a lot of weight in cases of multiple toppings.     

If you've never had this style of pie, you should give it a try just to put that notch on your pizza belt. But do be cautious: Never tell a St. Louisan that St. Louis style pizza is just "bar pizza" and not worthy of its own category. (wink)

Until Next Time...
Here's a video of a home cook explaining how to make a St. Louis style pizza. She clearly isn't from St Louis since she sometimes says "St. Louie" and the phrase she quotes at the end is actually a commercial jingle for local chain "Imo's" and is not anything anyone in St Louis actually says. But if you want to know how to do it, this is worth the seven minutes.

Squarely Yours,
Michael

Monday, September 12, 2016

Football Snacks - First Tackle Baked Potato Skins

I should know by now, the first time I make something it rarely turns out as pretty as I picture it in my head. Sometimes I'm pleasantly surprised, but most of the time I'm slightly disappointed in the dish's appearance. That's why I continue to "practice," and each subsequent attempt turns out better and better.

The first new item I decided to tackle for Opening Day of the NFL Season (Broncos v Panthers) is the traditional Baked Potato Skins. An appetizer staple in many restaurants, both small and franchised, this simple little item is fun and quite tasty.

I began by frying the bacon the night before. This had the benefit of saving me time during the game, and had the added benefit of filling the house with the smell of bacon and driving The Boss The Boss crazy because I wouldn't let her have a strip.

The next evening, prior to the game we had T-bone steaks and fresh green beans. Once that meal had settled a little and I finished my beer, I headed back to the kitchen and prepped the potatoes in time with the opening kickoff.

Unintentionally, I kind of did them backwards. Many people put the bacon in first and then the cheese on top. It allows for monitoring how much the cheese melts and determining when to pull them out of the oven. What I did, though, was to put the cheese into the skins first and then sprinkled the top with the bacon. As the cheese melted, the bacon sank, and made it hard to judge the state of the cheese, and also made these less visually appealing than most renditions of the recipe.  So while they may not have been the prettiest thing to come out of my oven, they were tasty enough that The Boss and I ate way more than we should have.

I did learn a bit from these those, including how essential it is to drizzle the potato skins with olive oil prior to adding the ingredients and sticking them back in the oven. If you skip the olive oil, the skins don't crisp up.

Directions:
  1. Bake approximately six potatoes (feel free to use a microwave if you want)
  2. Cut the potatoes in half, remove most of the pulp
  3. Drizzle in olive oil.
  4. Add your chosen ingredients, for instance, cheddar cheese, bacon, chives/green onions, 
  5. Put dressed potatoes in oven pre-heated at 400 degrees or more
  6. Remove once cheese is melted and skins look crisp. Can be 7 - 15 minutes depending on your oven. 
  7. Add sour cream or yogurt if you desire.
Easy enough? Of course. And you can have fun by experimenting each Sunday with new ingredients. Which has me thinking - The Boss and I both like anchoivies. I wonder how those would be.....?

Until Next Time,
Here's how a professional makes this same appetizer.

Potatolly Yours,
Michael
 

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Football Party Snacks Traditional and Healthful

I'm always emotionally torn this time of year. I love Summer and nearly everything about it. But I like Fall as well. Fall, though, has an additional advantage that Summer lacks - Football!

Yes, it's that time of year again when The Boss losses me every Sunday until February. From years of experience she's learned that if she wants anything out of me, she better ask for it on Saturday.

This year will be only slightly different. Oh, I still won't be doing any major projects on Sunday, but as far as dinner and cooking, that will be taken to a whole new level and realms unexplored.

In the old house, Sunday dinners were quite an ordeal as I ran back and forth between the kitchen and television, eventually leaving us with a subpar meal or one that was prepared so late it was nearly time for bed. But now, with the new house, I have a clear view of the large screen television from the kitchen,  and as an added bonus, I have DirecTV NFL Sunday ticket. I won't miss a single Seattle Seahawks game while I party in the kitchen.  Can you say "awe inspiring"?

The temptation to cook more and more elaborate snacks and appetizers will only increase with each week of the season as I try to add variety and originality from the previous weeks. It will be Football Food Heaven - all varieties of chicken wings, imaginative pizza combinations that will spin your head, and chips with salsa, cheese, and chili that'll leave ya bloated until next week.

But when I think past these immediate exalted images and sensations, I realize that this approach may not necessarily be a healthy one - afterall it was over ten years ago when I quit smoking and spent entire Sundays at a local sports bar, watching football and drowning myself in hot wings and beer, eventually earning an additional 60 pounds of bulk to carry around by the time Spring hit.

So with that in mind, I've decided that each Sunday of this coming season I'll have one of the traditional, often high calorie, snacks paired with at least one healthful alternative. And I'm talking more than just your average veggie tray (which for many football fanatics is usually nothing more than scooping large amounts of Ranch dressing with a celery or carrot stick).

A quick search of the internet has landed two new appetizers already. The first snack comes courtesy of Old El Paso and is simply called Taco Humus (let that idea roll around in your head a moment). I figure I can pair this with the traditional Loaded Nachos, and have a Mexican theme snack day.

The second snack is Zucchini Parmesian Crisps directly stolen from The Food Network website. Since it's zucchini and parmesian, I'm guessing this might go well with my personal favorite - Pizza. The Italian spices on the pizza will be a good compliment with the sprinkled parmesian baked on the zucchini.




If you can't wait to see how they turn out for me, follow each of the links I provided above to find the recipes and discover for yourself.

In the next few weeks, I'm going to continue to comb the internet and pull all the cook books off the shelves in my search for inspiring healthful alternative. I'll share each one here, as well as post pics on my Instagram account. So bookmark this blog, follow me on Twitter and Instagram, and I'll see you on the field....er.... I mean, the kitchen.

Until Next Time...
Here are two videos (Video #1 and Video #2) that tackle the theme of gastronomically entertaining football parties.

Scoringly Yours,
Michael     



Monday, August 8, 2016

Garlic Butter Festival

The other night, The Boss and I had a Garlic Butter Festival. Most people call it Surf and Turf, but considering how much butter and garlic I melted, and how much we love our garlic butter (on Shrimp Scampi as well), I thought it might be appropriate to temporarily rename the dish.

It started out as something simple - I had purchased some unfavorable steaks from a national warehouse retailer and needed something to help out and prevent them from ruining a weekend meal. My initial thought was salmon. It's a fish that's easy to grill and pretty hard to screw up. But a few days previously I had watched a few some videos, including a couple that showed how easy it was to grill lobster tail.


I've never cooked lobster tail before, mostly because of the expense in relation to the size of the cut - seems like a lot of money for something that, at least locally, is usually available in sizes about the same as crawfish. This time, though, since I've been making an effort to expand my cooking abilities, I decided to purchase some bigger lobster tails I had seen and surprise the woman of the household with her favorite shellfish. So I bit the bullet on expense and laid out the extra cash.

Once home, which just that unique touch of trepidation that comes with stretching your comfort zone, I fired up the grill and followed the steps I had spent thirty minutes on YouTube researching.

The aluminum-wrapped corn on the cob went on the grill first for a few minutes, followed by the steaks, and just moments later, I gently placed the lobster tail on the hot metal with a small prayer to the cooking gods ("Please don't let me royally screw these up.")

I kept a careful eye on the timer while I minced the garlic and melted the butter (an entire stick of butter and three garlic gloves). I pulled everything off the heat exactly when I was supposed to, and in the end, we had a meal that was absolutely worth every penny and the small effort to make. maybe the lobster could have remained on another minute, maybe two, but the meal was absolutely wonderful and well worth the money and effort. Later, when I did the math, I calculated I had spent on the entire meal for two people what I would have spent on one meal at Joe's Crab Shack or Red Lobster. (Note: the lobster could have arguably stayed on for one more minute, seems The Boss's piece was still just a hair rubbery in one small part, but I'll need to further research if the cause is due to the length of time on the grill, or placement, etc.)

I don't see myself cooking lobster anytime in the immediate future, but I'm definitely over any confidence issues I had, and assuredly will be making lobster again (and again).

Until Next Time...
Here's a video from Lighthouse Seafood and Deli on the simplicity of grilling lobster tail.
Butterly Yours,
Michael  

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Margarita Redux on National Tequila Day

Well, when I wrote earlier this week about Margaritas, I had no idea National Tequila Day was this weekend, and since I wrote about it, I thought I'd make a Margarita pizza for fun and post the pics.
No secret recipe and I gave you the ingredients last post.
 Before


Marinating in olive oil and garlic

Fighting with the box of gluten-free flour



 In the oven

 Sous Chef Zeus decides to take a nap while the pizza cooks.


Slice it up, time to eat.

Until Next Time...
No video today, I'm too busy pouring a shot of tequila. Speaking of...
Tequilaly Yours,
Michael

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Margarita vs. Margarita

Let's have a Margarita!!

But wait, what am I talking about? Am I saying, "Let's have a drink" or "Let's eat a pizza" or maybe both? Maybe I'm saying, "Let's drink margaritas while eating a margarita pizza!"

Beginning on the most basic level, a margarita drink is a mixture of tequila, triple sec, and lime or lemon juice, often served with salt on the rim of the glass. You can have crushed ice, cubed ice, or some places will make it like a slushy. You can buy margarita mixes at the store if you don't feel like squeezing fresh, but to my tastes those pre-made mixtures are always too sweet.

Now that we have our drink, what about the pizza? The margarita pizza (sometimes spelled margherita) is a subclass of the Neopolitan pizza and in it's basic form it's made with tomato, sliced mozzarella (not shredded), basil, and extra virgin olive oil.

So why the similar names on two very different items? They share no ingredients. They don't have a similar food theme. One was not created to compliment the other.

It's no surprise that the answer lies in their origins.

The drink was born south of the US-Mexican border. At least five different areas claim it as their invention, and more than a few entertaining anecdotes are used as "proof" to back-up their claim, none seem any more credible than another. Experts though all tend to agree that the drink was probably invented sometime between 1900 and 1930.

The pizza can trace its origins back to Italy where its age is indeterminable but definitely older than the drink. The margarita pizza was the basis on which all other pizzas were based. For the true pizza scholar, this is the pizza you must try if you wish to call yourself a pizza connoisseur.

As I searched for anything else that might explain why these two completely separate items might share the same name, I could only think of one thing - I associate both of them with a beautiful day spent outdoors, relaxing and just enjoying the sun.

Think I can talk The Boss into joining me? Yeah, I think so too.

Until Next Time...
I leave you with two videos - a video on how to make a Margarita pizza (this man makes a beautiful pizza!!), and while that cooks mix yourself a tasty Margarita drink to pass the time.

Margaritaly Yours,
Michael