If you’ve ever been to White Chocolate Grill and had their Couscous salad, you have probably been looking for the recipe ever since. The closest you will find is this teaser of a recipe from the WCGCooks.com blog. It’s not quite the one you want, but it’s a good start. I used that recipe as a base, tried to remember what all was in the deliciousness of what I had at the restaurant, and came up with my own. It’s probably not exactly like the one they serve, but it’s pretty yummy, and you can always play around with ingredients to see what you like the best. Here is the base recipe (from WCGCooks.com): Lemon Apricot Couscous with Toasted Almonds Yield 1 Quart
2 cups Water
2 Tbs Honey
1 Tbs Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 Tbs Fresh Lemon Juice
¼ tsp Kosher Salt
1 cup Instant Moroccan Couscous
½ cup Minced Dried Apricots
½ cup Toasted Almond Slivers
1 Tbsp Chopped Parsley
Method: 1.Bring the water, honey, olive oil and salt to a rolling boil. 2.Take off the heat and stir in the couscous and apricots, cover and allow to stand for approx. 5 minutes until the seasoned water has absorbed into the couscous. 3.Fluff with a fork before serving. 4.Place warm couscous on a platter and top with the toasted slivered almonds and chopped parsley. I change this up depending on what I have on hand. This time, I made the couscous, and added (about a handful of each, chopped):
Grape Tomatoes (not pictured – I forgot, and added them later!)
and Feta Cheese
Instead of serving the couscous warm, I rinsed it with cool water, dressed it with olive oil, & lemon juice & a little bit of honey. A splash of balsamic vinegar, and Kosher salt to taste. It’s sooo good, and a perfect lighter side dish, goes great with grilled salmon, burgers, or all by itself. And if you are looking for a great recipe for Grilled Salmon, here is my favorite. I comes out great, every time! (Just make sure your grill is well oiled.) From Taku Glacier Lodge in Alaska: Taku Lodge Basted Grilled Salmon (From myrecipes.com)
1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1/2 cup dry white wine
1/4 cup lemon juice
About 1/2 teaspoon salt
About 1/4 teaspoon pepper
8 pieces (about 6 oz. each; max. 1 1/4 in. thick) boned, skinned wild salmon fillet
1/4 cup (1/8 lb.) butter
Preparation 1. In a large, wide bowl or 9- by 13-inch baking dish, stir brown sugar, wine, lemon juice, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper until sugar is dissolved. 2. Rinse fish and pat dry. Add to marinade and turn to coat. Cover and chill for 1 to 2 hours. 3. Lift salmon from marinade and transfer to a 12- by 17-inch baking pan. Pour marinade into a 1 1/2- to 2-quart pan over medium-high heat; add butter and stir until butter is melted and mixture is simmering, 4 to 5 minutes. 4. Lay salmon, skinned side down, on a generously oiled grill over a solid bed of medium-hot coals or medium-high heat on a gas grill (you can hold your hand at grill level only 3 to 4 seconds). Brush fish generously with the baste; close lid if using a gas grill. Cook until salmon pieces are well browned on the bottom, 3 1/2 to 4 minutes (keep a spray bottle filled with clean water on hand to spritz any flare-ups). With a wide spatula, carefully turn pieces; brush tops with baste and continue to cook, basting often, until the salmon is just opaque but still moist-looking in the center of the thickest part (cut to test), about 5 to 6 minutes longer. Discard any remaining baste. 5. Transfer salmon to a warm platter or plates and garnish with lemon wedges. Add more salt and pepper to taste. I always use wild caught salmon, and just do a whole fillet at once. (pictured with a wasabi-crusted tuna steak). Enjoy!
This is my Grandma G, circa 1970-something. You can tell it was 1970-something because of the way she’s rocking that paisley dress, and by my Uncle Tom’s sideburns in the background. Check out his sweater vest.
My cousins and my kids call her Nonna, her name is Lena (short for Angelena), but my brother and I have always known her as Grandma G. She was born in Chicago to immigrant parents, and didn’t speak a word of English when she got to school. She said all the kids made fun of her and called her stupid and dirty and that’s why, when my dad, aunt & uncle were little, she only allowed them to speak English. And that’s why I don’t know Italian. So don’t make fun of people just because they don’t speak the same language as you. It’s mean and ignorant.
Now, anyone who knows my grandma also knows that she used to make the best pizza on the planet. It’s a fact. It’s also a fact that no one is able to duplicate it. She has taught me so much about cooking over the years, and has even tried to teach me how to make pizza. And I tried. I really did. But I have come to this place in my life where I am accepting my limitations, one of them being I will never be able to make Grandma G’s pizza. At least not like she does.
And, believe me, it’s not because she had some recipe hold-out. You know these cooks. There are some who will simply not share a recipe, or, if they do they leave out some secret ingredient or step, so that no one will be able to make whatever-it-is as good as they can. Grandma isn’t like that, and neither am I. We like to share. We’re nice people that way.
Grandma G’s pizza is made in a pan. You spread olive oil in the pan, stretch the dough out and add your ingredients—in a decorative and properly spaced fashion, so that each bite will get you something yummy. Here is a pretty good attempt, but still not quite the same:
My grandma used to do this thing where, when the pizza was almost done, she would slide the whole thing out of the pan, right onto the oven rack, to make the crust crispy. I tried to do that once. It was a disaster. Don’t ask.
I think part of the problem, and this was Grandma’s idea, is that the water here in the desert is different than it is in the Midwest. That and the whole humidity thing. Back in Chicago, you can make your dough early, let it rise, punch it down and let it rise again, form it into whatever bread or pizza you are making and then let it rise AGAIN before baking. Here, the triple-rise kills the dough. Or at least it does when I do it. I’m not a professional by any means, but I’ve been playing around with this whole dough situation for going on 20 years now.
So I kind of gave up on trying to make Grandma’s pizza, and went about how to make Heidi pizza. My inspiration came from the 2nd-best pizza on the planet: Red’s Tavern in Harvard, Illinois. Bonnie (Red’s wife) makes her pizza sooooo thin, it’s like a crispy cracker. And its just soooooo yummy. I tried many, many times to make a crispy-cracker-thin pizza that was still yummy, and…I failed, many times. Until…
UNTIL…I found this magazine:
Forget the pie. If you find this issue in a yard sale or library bin, GRAB IT! It has the best pizza recipe EVER, and it’s EASY! Better yet, here’s the link: Fine Cooking Create Your Own Pizza Oh my gosh, you are going to love it, you are going to Thank me, so I will just say you’re welcome now: You’re Welcome.
Their recipe is a “Create Your Own.” They give you options, based on your personal tastes, and you make the pizza however you want. Here’s the skinny on the crispy-thin crust, from my experience.
1 ¾ Cup warm, not hot water (100℉)
1 Tbsp. Olive Oil (yes, EXTRA VIRGIN*) he he that olive oil is inexperienced.
2 tsp. kosher salt
1 ½ tsp. yeast (I just use a whole packet, which is 2 tsp., works fine.)
1 ½ tsp. sugar
4 ½ C. all-purpose flour (OK, here’s where the dry air makes a diff. I had to cut this down to 4 cups)
Stir the salt, sugar and olive oil into the water, then sprinkle in the yeast, then—and this is the fun part—you can just dump all the flour in at once, and stir it up with a wooden spoon. Look gooey? Good. It’s supposed to. Now cover loosely with plastic wrap (you can spray it with non-stick stuff so it doesn’t stick to the dough later but no biggie). Let rise for 2 hours. OMG are you in a hurry? yeah, no sweat, this will work even if it doesn’t rise that long. I’ve even made it right before I started cooking and it was fine. Doesn’t get as bubbly and stuff, but it’s still pizza. Get over it.
The dough will rise and fall on its own, no need to punch it down. Then you can refrigerate before using, but again, you don’t have to. (Do you get the feeling that I’m a make-it-at-the-last-minute kind of gal?) The dough keeps well in the fridge and, truth be told, it’s even a little better after a day or two.
1 28 oz. can of peeled tomatoes in juice (San Marzano style if you can get ’em, if not, just get the store brand)
Pulse tomatoes in a food processor—or right in the can, using a stick blender—and the dump in a saucepan and bring to a simmer. Reduce heat and maintain simmer, stirring occasionally for about 40 minutes til tomatoes are reduced, and super yummy. You can use the tomatoes that have the basil with them, it comes out pretty yummy.
“But Heidi, why do I have to use whole tomatoes and then dirty up my food processor? Can’t I just buy puréed tomatoes and call it a day?”
Yeah, if you’re a total wuss, and you don’t like good pizza. I mean, why do you have a food processor to begin with? To make f*cking better food, that’s why. Just man up and do it the right way.
You can put Whatever You Wanton your pizza!! YAY!!
Really, you can put whatever you want on your pizza. I like good ol’ cheese and sausage, some onions, maybe mushrooms. Just remember, with a thin crust you can’t load it up too heavy or the dough will get weighed down, and won’t slide off your pizza peel. Which leads me to…
pizza peel (the wooden paddle)
First, place your pizza stone in the oven and heat to 450°. You don’t need an expensive stone. I got mine at Big Lots for 10 bucks. First time you use it, you have to heat it gradually—start the oven at 350, then work in increments until you can heat it to 450° for half an hour or so, the hotter the better. (Read the directions that come with your stone.)
Ok, so you have your gooey dough. Grab a handful, about the size of a peach. Place it on your floured counter, and you will probably have to pat it down into a little circle, just like when you were a kid and played with your play-doh. Sprinkle more flour as needed, then roll out the dough with your rolling pin. Keep rolling and flipping your dough over, until it is super thin. You want to make sure to flip it over and move it around, adding flour as needed or it will stick to the counter.
When your dough is about ⅛ inch thick or less, transfer it to your pizza peel which you have GENEROUSLY dusted with cornmeal. The cornmeal acts as a slider for the dough so it won’t stick to the peel. Then you put your toppings on. Sauce, cheese, and whatever else. Don’t put your toppings on before you have your crust on the peel!! You will have to just throw it all in the garbage.
This is what happens when you don’t have enough cornmeal, or part of the peel gets a little olive oil on it:
But we cooked it anyway, and even though it looked goofy, it still tasted good!
The pizza will take about 12-15 minutes to get nice & crispy. I will say, it’s still not as thin and cracker-y as Bonnie’s, or my brother’s favorite (and possibly a contender for best pizza ever): Pizza Bella in Palatine, Il., but, for a home cook who’s still trying to figure things out, it’s pretty damn good. And you know what? We never have leftovers.
I’ll be going to visit Grandma G. next week. She just turned 92! Here is a picture of her in her wedding dress:
And me in the same dress, 50 years later:
She’s an awesome lady. If you have access to a grandma, I highly recommend giving her a hug and thanking her for everything she did. Because I’m sure you don’t even know the half of it.
If I get my act together and can do it on a day when I don’t look like shit, I will have my kids video me making this so you can see the whole process. Until then, if you have any questions, leave them in the comments and I will be happy to be your pizza Dear Abby.
Here’s some more pizzas. I hope your turns out good! Hint: Open a bottle of red wine when you start cooking. Have a glass or two. Practice. By your third or fourth pizza, everything will all be just fine.
*about olive oil: don’t call it E.V.O.O. Rachael Ray has some good recipes, and seems like a cool person but she bugs the shit out of me. And if you ever say YUMMO around me, I will slap you.
This weekend one of my projects, besides the continent of laundry that has piled up, is assembling a new portable, adjustable-height basketball hoop. As I unpacked the box and saw all of the little parts, big parts, and list of tools I would need, I thought of my dad.
Now, a do-it-yourself type of task around the house, i.e., replacing a kitchen faucet, hooking up the stereo or any kind of “adult assembly required” product which looks so good in the store displayed (fully assembled) under bright lights with a sale sticker, comes packaged in a very large box, its many components neatly styro-foamed, twist-tied and plastic-baggied; well, these projects — as anyone with a practical, do-it-yourselfer, Italian-American father knows — require A LOT OF SWEARING. The kind of swearing you usually have to pray about in church the next day.
This basketball hoop was going to need some swearing before it got done. And it’s more fun when you have someone to help you swear about it. You know, one of you reads the 300 pages of poorly written instructions, the other one misinterprets what you say, you argue about which thingamajiggy goes where, swear some more, at some point the manual gets thrown across the room, that little vein pops out in your dad’s forehead (this also applies to Irish fathers), and three hours later you have something which almost resembles the picture on the box, shrug your shoulders, say, “Well, at least it’s done,” and go have a beer.
And in this time your mom/stepmom got all the laundry done, made a whole batch of cookies and cleaned up the kitchen. She’s just thankful you kept him out of her hair for the day.
Unfortunately, my dad lives a thousand miles away. So in this case, I call him, tell him I need him to help me with the tools and the swearing, and we have a good laugh. Then comes the inevitable question:
“What’re you having for dinner?”
There’s something about moving away from home. Yeah, you miss your family, friends and different places. You talk about the weather. But it always comes back to food.
I said, “That’s the other reason I was calling about.” Midwesterners tend to end sentences with prepositions. We know it’s wrong. We’re rebels without causes.
“I’ve got two pounds of ground beef thawed out, and I have no idea what to make,”
I mentioned that I was thinking of meatballs, but not spaghetti-and-meatballs, something different. My stepmom suggested Swedish meatballs, and proceeded to read me the recipe from the Better Homes and Gardens New Cookbook. Meatballs fried in butter with a cream gravy. What’s not to like?
I looked up the recipe in my Better Homes and Gardens New Cookbook, which just happens to be my Grandma’s copy, from the late ’50’s. Funny how they stick that “New” title on every year. So you’ll see a twenty year old version at a garage sale, and somehow think it’s New? But my “New” cookbook didn’t have the same version as my stepmom’s “New” cookbook, so I did the next best thing: Google.
Thank you, Alton Brown. The meatballs were delicious!