Thursday, January 14, 2010

In between...

It might sound strange, but I quite enjoy menu planning every week. Perhaps a lack of social activity is to blame, but I think I genuinely enjoy the process. It can take me a good hour, as a lot of thought goes into variety, nutritional balance, budget and even color arrangement on the dinner plate. During my teens I spent a summer volunteering at a kids camp, in the kitchen of course, and I had the privilege of planning and executing the menu for about 200 kids. If a teenager gets kicks out of such an activity, it must be programmed into my existence. I purposely only plan for about 4, sometimes 5, dinner options per week. This gives me two or three days to use up leftovers, or create "in between" meals, which allow me to get inventive and create something out of pretty much nothing. This, again, is oddly exciting to me, probably because it's hugely satisfying when the meal is a thing of beauty and taste. These meals are usually very simple, for example this week I made a huge pot of cabbage soup, with cabbage that has been sitting in my crisper for a couple of weeks. There is just something so comforting about cabbage that has simmered away for a good hour. Last night I spoiled my girls with Apple Pizza, and let them think they were having dessert for dinner. I thought it was a good alternative to Breakfast for Dinner, something we like to do once in a while. It's all in the name of research, anyway: pizza dough research! I have covered three bases by now, first - dough made in the bread machine and used right away, second - a sponge dough which in a way has similarities to making a sourdough starter, and thirdly - preparing a basic dough and fermenting it in the fridge rather than room temperature, for at least 8 hours and up to 3 days. Personally I prefer the sponge dough, as the flavors of the yeast are developed nicely and the crumb is perfectly moistened. But I have to give credit to the fridge dough. Not only is it super convenient, as I can stock my fridge and even my freezer with dough for those in between days, and it does taste quite nice.

And it's so easy to do, even my 5 year old could make a batch before going to school. Think pizza, calzones, fritters, fried dough...

Basic Pizza Dough
makes (2) 10 inch pizzas

3 1/2 cups or 454 g bread flour, more as needed
2 tsp sugar
1 1/2 tsp table salt (or 2 1/2 kosher)
2 tsp active dry yeast
1 1/2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
11 fl. oz (1 1/4 cups) warm water

Dissolve the yeast in about 4 ounces of the water. (About 10 minutes.)
Meanwhile, put the flour in a large bowl, make a well in the center and add remaining ingredients, including the leftover 7 ounces of water.
When the yeast has foamed, add it to the dough, and mix by hand for about 8 minutes. Add more flour or water as needed to produce a ball that is smooth and tacky, but not sticky. It should not stick to the sides of the mixing bowl.
In a clean bowl, large enough for the dough to double in size, drizzle about one teaspoon of vegetable oil. Take your rounded dough and roll it in the oil to lightly coat.
Cover tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 8 hours and no more than 3 days.
If the plastic bulges, release the carbon dioxide by opening the plastic wrap for a few seconds. Reseal.
Use the dough or divide into 4 portions and wrap in freezer bags. The dough can be frozen for up to three months. To thaw, place it in the fridge overnight or at room temperature for 2 hours.
To use refrigerated dough, set at room temperature for 1 1/2 - 2 hours. This allows it to warm up and relax.

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