Are you a frustrated pizza maker? I think all of us who love to cook have gone through a pizza-making phase, finally giving it up in frustration. We’ve lined ovens with tiles, spritzed with water, tried different flours, different methods of dough making. And then threw up our hands and went out to eat.

I think you should give it one more shot–based on an afternoon I spent with a young man from Milan, Andrea Burrone, who a year ago with two partners opened a delightful Italian pizza restaurant called Ambrogio15 in San Diego’s Pacific Beach. This sweet, charming, and very talented chef, who started out professionally working in banking, has clearly found his calling. And his calling is making pizza in San Diego using traditional Italian ingredients and techniques.

Now Burrone is working with something we don’t have: a ginormous Marana Forni oven imported from Italy that reaches temperatures of 700 degrees–something your clients’ home oven can’t even dream of. But are there any home cooks better than Italian home cooks? If they can do it in their ovens, so can we–if we know what we’re doing.

Burrone revamped the proprietary restaurant recipe to work for a home cook. For one thing, while he uses a biga–or starter–at the restaurant, the recipe we have here is for a direct dough, using active yeast, 0 flour, water, sugar, and salt.

The other thing we should do to make pizza successfully is to bake the crust first, then add the topping. This way the pizza crust gets nice and crunchy, not soggy (yeah, I’ve been there, too). And the dough should be baked first at the bottom of the oven sans toppings and then in the middle once it’s filled.

Burrone demonstrated dough making in a Kitchen Aid stand mixer, using the dough hook. First, he began by activating the yeast, mixing it with room temperature water and sugar, then letting it sit for about 15 minutes.

Once the yeast was bubbling, he placed 0 flour in the bowl of the mixer. He then added the yeast mixture, slowly blending it until incorporated. With that, Burrone added more water and brought up the speed, then olive oil, speeding it up again, then salt. Max out the speed and keep it going until the dough pulls away from the sides and forms a ball. Depending on the weather–both temperature and humidity–you may have to add more flour or more oil to get it to that point.

Stop the mixer, pull the bowl out, cover and let the dough rest until it doubles in size. Then comes the fun. Divide the dough into sections 100 grams each (yeah, you’ll need a kitchen scale to do all this). Each ball will make a 12-inch round paper thin Milano-style pizza.

Turn each piece into a ball by pulling the sides out and under until the ball is smooth. Then turn it over and pinch the underside to seal. Do this to each piece, cover, and let rest at least two hours until they’ve doubled in volume.


When you’re ready to make the pizzas, turn on the oven to 500˚F to preheat. Now you have a choice–you can either use a rolling pin to roll out the dough or use the tips of your fingers to gently press it out. Use flour or semolina to keep the surface from getting sticky when you shape the dough. And when you put the shaped dough on a pan, be sure to put oil topped by a sprinkling of semolina or cooking spray on the pan before placing the dough on it.

Now you’ll place the pan in the lowest part of the oven for 12 to 15 minutes. Remove it and add your topping–whether it’s the delightful Arugula Pistachio Pesto below or tomato sauce (be sure to use peeled San Marzano tomatoes with basil–in the yellow can–for what Burrone says is the most authentic margherita-style pizza), topped with cheese. Then put the pizza back in the oven, but on a rack in the middle of the oven. Bake it for another 4 to 5 minutes until the cheese is melted. That’s it!

Here’s another Burrone tip. If you’re using fresh mozzarella on your pizza, make sure that the night before you place it in a colander over a bowl so that it will release its water–and you again avoid a soggy pizza crust. And don’t, don’t, don’t use pre-shredded cheese. Just don’t.

Arugula Pistachio Pesto Pizza
from Andrea Burrone of Ambrogio15

Note: Most American home cooks are used to measuring by volume, not weight. Here, most of the amounts are indicated by weight using grams. If you have a kitchen scale, this should be no problem–and the measurements will be more accurate, creating a more successful outcome.

Ingredients

Pizza dough
Yield, 5 to 6, 12-inch pizzas

25 grams fresh dry yeast
30 grams water, room temperature
5 grams sugar
575 grams 0 flour (If you can’t find it locally at places like Whole Foods or Mona Lisa it’s available on Amazon.com)
300 grams water
30 grams extra virgin olive oil
12 grams salt

Arugula Pistachio Pesto
Yield: 4 cups

3 cloves garlic
100 grams pistachio nuts, raw and unsalated
150 grams parmesan cheese
15 grams salt
300 grams fresh arugula
450 grams extra virgin olive oil

1 ball of fresh mozzarella, drained overnight
5 or 6 slices mortadella (optional)
6 cherry tomatoes, sliced in half (optional)

Directions
1. Combine yeast, water, and sugar. Let sit 15 minutes. It should be bubbling.
2. Insert dough hook in stand mixer. Place flour in the mixer’s bowl. Add yeast mixer and start blending at the 3 speed until incorporated. Slowly add water and bring up speed to blend. Slow it down and add the olive oil and speed it up again. Slow it down to add salt (and, if it’s too thin, more flour). Bring the mixer to maximum speed (6 to 8) and mix until the dough pulls away from the sides and forms a ball.
3. Remove bowl from mixer, cover, and let the dough rest for 30 minutes until doubled in size.
4. Divide the dough into 5 to 6 pieces, each weighing 100 grams for a 12-inch pizza. Form balls with each by pulling the sides out and under while turning until the surface is smooth. Pinch the underside to seal. Sprinkle some semolina or flour on the counter or a tray and place the balls on them. Cover and let rest for at least 2 hours until the balls double in volume.
5. To make the pest, place all the ingredients except the oil in the bowl of a food processor or blender. Blend them together, then slowly add the oil. If it’s too thick, add a little water. Taste and adjust seasonings. Set aside.
6. To cook the pizza, preheat the oven to 500˚F. Roll out the dough by hand, pressing and shaping it in a 12-inch circle with your fingertips, or use a rolling pin. Spread a little oil on the pan and then sprinkle it lightly with semolina or use a baking spray like Pam. Place the pizza dough on the pan and place on the lowest rack in the oven. Bake for 12 to 15 minutes.
7. Remove pizza crust from oven. Spread about 2 tablespoons of pesto on the crust and top with pieces of mozzarella.
8. Place pizza back in the oven, but on the middle rack. Bake another 4 to 5 minutes. Remove and top with folded slices of mortadella and fresh cherry tomatoes.

Do you make pizza for clients or for your family? What’s your technique? 

Not an APPCA member? Now’s the perfect time to join! Go to personalchef.com to learn about all the benefits that come with membership.

And if you are a member and have a special talent to share on this blog, let us know so we can feature you!

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Cooking with the Seasons: Cherry Berry Salsa

Filed under: Recipes , Tags: , — Author: Caron Golden , August 21, 2017

Hey, chefs, for those of you who emphasize cooking with the seasons, I hope you’ve put cherries to good use in both sweet and savory dishes.

Because cherry season is short and I adore them, I feel an intense obligation to figure out how to make the most of them when they’re at that fabulous sweet/tart height of harvest. And that would be now.

Sure you can snack on them but I got to thinking about how well they go with savory foods like pork and poultry. Four years ago I made a salsa from stone fruit that included cherries, along with peaches. But I got to wondering how a salsa that really focused on cherries would work.

I had just bought about a pound of cherries and decided to put together a salsa that didn’t rely on some lovely balsamic vinegar, but traditional lime juice. Not basil, but cilantro. Since I also had a large container of blueberries I thought they’d add both an intriguing texture and flavor–not to mention stunning color–to the salsa.

In came red onion, the one and only serrano chile in my garden, and the lime’s zest. I didn’t think garlic would be a happy combination so I left it out. I tasted the mixture and it was fine but lacking something, so in went honey–not much, but enough to heighten the sweetness. Another taste and something was still needed.

Then I hit on it. Tajin seasoning! Those of us who live in regions with good-sized Hispanic populations have this terrific seasoning at hand. Tajin is a mild, slightly sour mixture of chile peppers, salt, and dehydrated lime juice (It turns ripe tomato slices into bites of heaven and is also terrific when making micheladas.) I had considered then discarded the idea of adding salt but the Tajin added just enough to bring out the other flavors, just a bit more acid/tartness from lime, and a different kind of heat. It proved to be exactly the right finish to create three-dimensional flavor.

While the salsa stewed in its juices in the fridge, I pulled out a pair of pork chops I had been brining since late morning. Despite the heat of the early evening, I put a cast-iron pan in the oven and let both pre-heat until the temperature reached 400˚. I pulled out the seasoned, lightly oiled chops (adding more Tajin) and pan seared them (be sure to use oven mitts while handling the pan.

I love this technique because you put the chops on the pan and immediately they sizzle and start browning. Once they were golden brown, I placed them in the pan into that still 400˚ oven to cook until they reached an internal temp of 145˚. While they rested on a plate under a foil tent, I tasted the salsa again. It was delightful.

The pork chop was a success–made summery with my cherry berry salsa. Don’t love blueberries? Add raspberries or strawberries–or both! You’ll have a colorful sweet and savory fresh sauce that will be equally terrific on a pulled pork taco, on a quesadilla, roasted chicken or duck, or a pork tenderloin.

Cherry Berry Salsa
Yield: 2 cups

Ingredients
1 cup cherries
1 large lime
1/1 cup blueberries
1/2 cup red onion, diced
1/2 cup cilantro, minced
1 serrano chile, seeded and diced
2 teaspoons honey
1/2 teaspoon Tajin seasoning

Directions
1. Pit the cherries, then quarter them. Set aside.
2. Zest the lime, then cut in half and juice both halves.
3. Combine all the ingredients in a bowl. Mix well and let sit in the refrigerator at least one hour. Taste and adjust seasonings.

What special seasonal dishes are you making now to take advantage of height of summer fruits and vegetables?

Not an APPCA member? Now’s the perfect time to join! Go to personalchef.com to learn about all the benefits that come with membership.

And if you are a member and have a special talent to share on this blog, let us know so we can feature you!

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Last week, Christine Robinson wrote about creating a dish for a themed party. Well, we’re on a roll with this topic because I recently got an email newsletter from APPCA member Nancy Cordi of Mediterrania Personal Chef Services showing off her “Sandals & Sangria”party that she organized for the VeriDiva Business Group. The newsletter so intrigued me, with it’s beautiful food photos and interesting description that I asked Nancy if she could explain to members how to create these kinds of themed parties for clients. Here’s what she created for us. I hope it inspires you!

So it wasn’t long ago that I recently joined a local women’s club, Veridiva, a networking group in support of female entrepreneurs, in the Temecula area.  I was chosen as a member as well as their personal chef to represent the group. Rather than just showing up and being one’s personal chef, I decided to get even more creative and create themed parties and to really enjoy building fun and exciting menus around each theme.
Recently I hosted a “Sandals and Sangria” party which was the theme chosen to showcase one of our newest member’s products that she sells. At this party, it was very tropical and beachy so I decorated in bright floral prints using fabric I purchased on sale and used this material as my tablecloth, used real coconuts and pineapple for table décor, and broke out my tropical straws with various fruit on top which decorated each wine glass that would soon be filled with my homemade sangria. With great excitement, I created a tapas menu which consisted of bright, fresh flavors both savory and sweet, using fresh herbs mixed with fresh fruit topped on my open-faced empanadas with crab and chicken, cauliflower pancakes with fresh mint topped with a Saffron cream sauce and sweet and chewy Mejdool dates stuffed with Stilton blue cheese wrapped in smoked bacon.
And to swish all of this authentic Spanish food all down, I made a juicy fruity sangria which consisted of rose wines, Prosecco, peach brandy and a little bit of Grand Marnier that marinated overnight with chunky pieces of pineapple, strawberries, slices of orange and lime. Adding to that, I made beautiful mango and fresh raspberry purée ice cubes that beautifully enhanced and complimented my sangria in both flavor and presentation. And what ends a nice evening of savory tapas and juicy sangria? My creamy coconut flan topped with buttery caramelized pineapple.
Prior to this themed party, another that recently comes to mind is “Cocktails at Tiffany’s.” For this party, I also did finger foods which consisted of mint chicken and curry satay with a thai peanut sauce, garden fresh tomato, avocado and basil bruschetta on garlic crostini but the big hit of the party were my white and dark chocolate mousse and vanilla cake Tiffany cocktail desserts, each layer representing the classic Tiffany colors of black, Tiffany blue and white with edible silver pearls, and a black fondant bow on top.
And one of my MOST exciting events was my “A Journey to the Mediterranean.” This was my grand showcasing at my first themed part as a Veridiva member. I walked my guests through a culinary journey beginning with palate cleanser of a Moroccan black tea spritzed with orange blossom water. The guests then feasts on various dips, starting with Lebneh, a creamy, soft cheese made my draining the water from Greek yogurt over night, topped with excellent olive oil and fresh herbs, as well as made-from-scratch classic hummus with toasted pine nuts and roasted red pepper hummus. Then, they moved along the journey reaching for fragrant basmati rice made with cumin and cinnamon and fresh herbs which will soon be topped with braised beef and apricots, a succulent lamb meatball slider topped with a creamy whipped feta spread on a toasted brioche bun and a nice cooling side of fresh, citrusy taboulleh.

After they were done feasting on the savory food, I ended their journey with two authentic and decadent desserts, one from Italy, one from Greece and the Middle East. I wowed the guests with my lemon panna cota topped with chopped pistachios and pistachio oil and layers-deep of buttery baklava drizzled with chocolate ganache. I complimented these desserts with a strong Middle Eastern espresso with freshly grated cinnamon on top and even a hit of freshly grated black pepper.  This culinary journey through the Mediterranean was filled with many tantalizing surprises.

Doing themed parties is very exciting and it takes being a personal chef to a whole new level. It is so much fun to create a menu around a themed party as it is based on your inspiration and allows you to be as creative as you want with both food and decorations. It’s more than just showing-up and cooking. You get to experience the fun that you give your guests as well. I would suggest encouraging your client to do a themed party for the person they are celebrating or as a group to make the time and the culinary experience that much more memorable. You can increase your cost per person when doing this as you will provide fun, beautiful table décor and many other creative surprises, which you can provide at a very low cost to you.  Many of the items you can use for themed parties can be purchased at a grocery, fabric, thrift, or hobby store. Gather these party decorations and keep them to use over and over again for similar-themed parties.

When promoting these themed parties, aside from the promotion that comes from my women’s group, I also do email blasts through my website builder such as godaddy.com as well as share the events and details of each event via Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. I take many photos of each event, including the people enjoying themselves, décor, and especially the food, and promote them across as many social media outlets as possible. The response to these themed parties is so positive and people just love the experiences they see that I am providing my clients and want to know more about what I can do for them!

My Delicious Juicy Sangria
Serves 12-15
from Nancy Cordi
(please use quality wines)
2 bottles of good rose wine
1 bottle Dolce Vita Prosecco
1 750ml bottle of Christian Brothers peach brandy
1/2 cup of Grand Marnier
2 cups cubed fresh pineapple
1 cup sliced fresh strawberries
2 limes cut into thin slices
2 oranges cut into thin slices
Add all ingredients to large container or glass pitchers with lids and let sit overnight (at least 12 hours).  Serve with mango and raspberry ice cubes.
Mango and Raspberry Puree Ice Cubes
from Nancy Cordi
1 cup of fresh raspberries
1 cup of cubed mangos
1/2 cup of blackberries
3 cups water
1 cup of cane sugar
1 tspn of lemon zest
1 tspn of lime zest
4 silicone ice cube trays
2 baking/cookie sheets
In two sauce pots, separate the mangos and raspberries.  In the pot with the mangos, add lemon zest and the pot with the raspberries, add the lime zest.  Now add 1 1/2 cups of water and 1/2 cup sugar to each pot.  Stir separately on medium heat for about 10 minutes until mangos become soft and water turns yellow and until raspberries break apart and sauce becomes thick and red. Remove from heat and let cool.  Once cooled, for the raspberries, pour through strainer and press puree through with a spatula into another pot, removing all seeds. Now, add blackberries and stir.  In separate silicone ice cube trays placed on baking sheets, pour the mango and raspberry puree into each tray almost to the top of each block.  Carefully slide baking sheets into freezer and allow the puree to freeze for at least 6 hours.  Once cubes are frozen, twist ice cube trays and place in stainless steel ice cube bucket and serve with sangria!

Have you had requests from clients to create a themed party? How did you go about it?

Not an APPCA member? Now’s the perfect time to join! Go to personalchef.com to learn about all the benefits that come with membership.

And if you are a member and have a special talent to share on this blog, let us know so we can feature you!

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We hope you enjoy and are inspired by this post by APPCA member Christine Robinson of A Fresh Endeavor in Boston, Massachusetts. Christine, who owns the business with partner Dennis Nosko, posted a picture of the cake on Facebook so I had to ask her for the recipe and the backstory. She, of course, provided both.

Nothing sets the tone of a theme party more than an original creation made for a specific crowd…Designing a dessert just for your client is appreciated and remembered.

Cocktail theme-based desserts allow you flavor layers and combinations you may not have thought about. Dissect the components and you can come up with a unique ice cream, cake, mousse, or sauce.

We were lucky enough to get a request from a woman wanting to celebrate her husband and his 30th birthday with an “End Of The 20’s,” party, with theme dress and décor. Her husband’s family happens to own a vacation home in a town on the North Shore of Massachusetts, chock full of period furniture, antique Spode china, etched crystal goblets, sterling service, and flutes that go back several generations. The hosts and guests showed up in tuxedos and evening gowns. They sipped cocktails and champagne and listened to music from the Gilded Age.

After I got her email requesting the theme, I had to plunge into Google searches for food of the Roaring Twenties and what was popular. There were a few references to The Great Gatsby so I narrowed the search and two themes came up:

Lemon Poundcake/Tea Cakes

Mint Juleps

In Fitzgerald’s classic, Nick Carraway had hosted a tea for Gatsby and Daisy, for which he served 12 lemon cakes. Daisy Buchanan, being from Louisville, loved a mint julep. How to tie the two together?

The dessert we created was a lemon zest and buttermilk pound cake, served with lemon curd mascarpone cream, a mint julep and honey syrup with Knob Creek bourbon, and fresh whipped cream, topped with candied lemon peel.

I started with a classic lemon pound cake recipe from Martha Stewart and tweaked it slightly to add more lemon and more salt, with salted butter.

We call this Jay’s Gatsby….
Lemon Pound Cake
Yield: Each cake serves six

Ingredients
1 cup (2 sticks) salted butter, softened, plus more for pan
3 cups all-purpose flour (spooned and leveled), plus more for pan
3/4 cup low-fat buttermilk
Zest of 3 lemons, finely grated
1/3 cup fresh lemon juice (about 2 lemons)
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
2 cups sugar
5 large eggs

Directions

    1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees, with rack in lowest position. Butter and flour three 4 1/2-by-8-inch (6-cup) loaf pans.
    2. In a small bowl (or liquid measuring cup), combine buttermilk with lemon zest and juice. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, salt, baking powder, and baking soda.
    3. With an electric mixer, cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition.
    4. With mixer on low, add flour mixture in three parts alternately with the buttermilk mixture in two, beginning and ending with flour; beat just until smooth
    5. Divide batter evenly between pans; smooth tops. Bake until a toothpick inserted in centers comes out clean, 50 to 60 minutes (tent with foil if browning too quickly). Cool 15 minutes in pan. Turn out cakes onto a rack; cool completely.

Note: The cakes can be frozen to serve later.

Lemon Curd Mascarpone Cream

1 cup fresh lemon curd
1 cup mascarpone cheese
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

Blend well with a hand mixer until fully incorporated and chill until dessert assembly.

Mint Julep Syrup With Lemon & Knob Creek

2 cups water
1 cup bourbon (we used Knob Creek)
½ cup unbleached cane sugar
½ cup dark raw honey
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
Handful of mint leaves, lightly crushed
2 tablespoons whole butter
1 large bunch of mint leaves, finely chopped

  1. In a large sauce pan, add the first 6 ingredients over medium heat and reduce to half. Strain out mint leaves and return to low burner. Add more lemon or honey to taste.
  2. Whisk in the butter and chopped mint into the sauce. Keep warm, not hot.

Assembly:

  1. Cut the cake with a serrated knife into slices about ¾-1 inch thick.
  2. On a dessert plate, fill the recessed area with mint julep syrup. The cake will absorb most of the liquid.
  3. Place the cake one side down in the syrup.
  4. Top the cake with 2 T of the lemon curd mascarpone, spreading it evenly.
  5. Add syrup to the bottom of the plate.
  6. Top with fresh whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.
  7. Garnish with fresh mint and/or candied lemon peel.

P.S. In case you’re wondering, the dinner we served included Baby Crab Cakes with Cajun Remoulade and a Small Cheese Plate to start. We made a Chilled Fresh Pea Soup with Rosemary Cream, followed by Swordfish with Fresh Herbs, Lemon, and Garlic accompanied by Roast Baby Potatoes and Sautéed Spinach with Fresh Tomatoes and Roasted Corn.

Have you had to create a theme-based menu for catering a client party? How did you go about it?

Not an APPCA member? Now’s the perfect time to join! Go to personalchef.com to learn about all the benefits that come with membership.

And if you are a member and have a special talent to share on this blog, let us know so we can feature you!

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