Battle Pistachio: How to Finish First

I suppose all I needed was a good excuse to whip up an angel food cake, and then purchasing the specific cake pan would be an easily-made decision that in no way needed to be put off any longer.

Truth be told, I can’t seem to decide why I haven’t made an angel food cake before, but I’ve made it a habit of straying away from the recipes that say “fold the whipped egg whites into the batter”, because I’m definitely an overfolder, with the likely resulting flat cake – so maybe that’s why. You’ve never seen a souffle on here either, have you? And I have made one of those, but it sunk miserably into the ramekin, hiding like the head of a turtle in traffic.

It seemed like only yesterday when I was guzzling chorizo-infused margaritas, but apparently it’s been two months, which meant only one thing: Iron Chef time again! And as busy as we’ve been lately, I looked forward to a Saturday night of friends, food, and booze; I wasn’t disappointed.

After Brook realized that he wouldn’t be kept alive unless he sent the ingredient by noon on Wednesday (we have some fierce competitors, remember. He actually sent it closer to 12:30, so they only took an arm and pinky toe instead of his life.), we soon learned of pistachio as our ingredient. Only this time I didn’t research any options at all; I had this specific recipe sitting around and just needed that little nudge to make it. Iron Chef was it.

I’m certainly an avid fan of the pistachio – and unlike some of my buddies, I was able to procure them shelled so I didn’t spend the afternoon losing feeling in my fingertips. I also fancy citrus fruits, particularly lime, and the combo didn’t disappoint. Tangy, crunchy, and pillowy soft – this is a cake that has to be somewhat healthy, even though you might not notice if you’ve got about 13 other dishes to eat in the same night.

Battle Pistachio was chock-full of goodness: pastas, skewers, macarons (another egg white dish I’m afraid of), pork, and chocolate – variety was not absent in the slightest. But all those aside, it was the venison sliders that took the prize. My cyber-now-real-life-buddy Kenna and her husband came to their first IC with guns blazin’, and they took the prize with the sliders. And whether Michael was the source of the dish or not might be debatable, but one thing’s definitely not: he finished first, and in this scenario, that’s the goal!

The Top Three:

1. Michael’s Venison-Pistachio Sliders (top, second from left)
2. Vicki’s Pistachio Pinwheels (bottom, far left)
3. Rachel’s Pistachio Dark Chocolate Crisps (bottom, third from left)

Battle 15 – March 12th!

Lime Angel Food Cake w/ Pistachios
Adapted from Bon Appetit, April 2010; serves 12

time commitment:  1.5 hours plus cooling

printable version

ingredients
cake
1 c cake flour
1 1/2 c superfine sugar, divided
1/4 t salt
10 large egg whites, room temperature
2 t finely grated lime peel
1 t vanilla extract
1 t cream of tartar

lime syrup and lime glaze
1/2 c superfine or granulated sugar
4 T fresh lime juice, divided
1 c unsalted raw pistachios, finely chopped in processor
1/2 c powdered sugar

special equipment
10-inch-diameter angel food cake pan with 4-inch-high sides and removable bottom

instructions
cake
Position rack in center of oven and preheat to 350 F. Sift flour, 1/2 cup superfine sugar, and salt into medium bowl. Using electric mixer, beat egg whites, lime peel, and vanilla on medium speed in large bowl until frothy. Add cream of tartar; increase speed to high and beat until soft peaks form. Gradually add remaining 1 cup sugar, 2 tablespoons at a time, beating until stiff peaks form. Sprinkle 1/3 of flour mixture over whites and gently fold in until incorporated. Fold in remaining flour mixture in 2 more additions just until incorporated. Transfer to ungreased 10-inch angel food cake pan with 4-inch-high sides and removable bottom (do not use nonstick pan); smooth top.

Bake cake until pale golden and tester inserted near center comes out clean, about 38 minutes. Immediately invert cake onto work surface if pan has feet, or invert center tube of pan onto neck of bottle or metal funnel and cool cake completely.

Using long thin knife, cut around cake sides and center tube to loosen. Lift out center tube with cake still attached; run knife between cake and bottom of pan to loosen. Invert cake onto rack, then turn cake over, rounded side up.

Syrup & Glaze
Combine sugar and 3 tablespoons lime juice in small saucepan; stir over medium heat until sugar dissolves. Brush syrup all over top and sides of cake. Immediately press pistachios onto top and sides of cake, pressing to adhere.

Stir powdered sugar with remaining 1 tablespoon lime juice in small bowl until smooth. Drizzle glaze over top of cake. Let stand until glaze sets, about 10 minutes.

Cut into slices and serve. Cake can be made 1 day in advance and stored at room temperature.

Sadly, we forgot to take the group picture while we were all still there, so we held the plate of sliders up in honor of Michael & Kenna!


Balls to the Wall

You’ll note that this site is a little skimpy on the appetizers. Well, sorta. Here’s the deal: there’s a direct correlation between the length of the snack section and the number of dinner parties I either host or attend. Aside from Iron Chef, they’re sadly few and far between. As a result, the stack of ‘to make’ appetizer recipes is rather long, often from way-old magazine editions, and even those recipes often get tossed out before they get their chance to shine.

Every so often though, I hold onto one for dear life, desperately hoping for an excuse to try it out, and to share it with some well-deserving friends. Sometimes it just takes a while, but those recipes eventually surface, and then I wonder why I waited so long. I mean really, appetizers can be shared among two people, right?!

Sure they can, but sharing them is much better because that often means that you get to partake in some of their goodies, too. Even so, while toiling over what to make for a recent dinner party with a bit of an Italian theme, I still almost skipped over one of the oldest recipes in my stack – a classic Italian appetizer called arancini. Sure, it seemed perfectly appropriate, but I questioned the richness, the heaviness, and the carb load, not to mention whether or not I truly had the time to churn these puppies out. But in a fit of genius, I realized none of it mattered and they absolutely, positively had to be made.

It was one of my moments of superior thinking; those, my friends, don’t come along nearly as often as I’d like.

What are arancini? Let’s pare this down a bit: fried risotto balls, although that doesn’t really do this intensely awesome appetizer much justice, to be honest. You start out with a simple version of risotto, spiced with saffron, and you let it cool until you can play with it, er, divide it into 16 pieces and roll each into a ball. I made the risotto the night before and rolled them the following morning, since I was already pressed for time. That’s actually perfect; in fact, the Italians supposedly make arancini out of leftover risotto, since the quality of risotto diminishes so much when it’s no longer fresh.

Then you open ’em up and stuff ’em with cheese, or cheese and nuts, or in this case – cheese, nuts, and peas. You stitch them back together into their newly rotund selves, treat them to a bath of egg and breading, and await the heating of the oil – their final destination. Final, of course, until they get in your, er, you and your friends’, bellies.

Worth the work? Hands down, yes. Once fried, they are served warm (or rewarmed) – the outside crunches and sounds like a crisp bite into a potato chip, the smell makes you wonder if this is what paradise smells like and if so, why you haven’t been to Italy again in so long (or ever). And do I need to describe the taste of risotto? I hope not, but after the crunchy exterior comes that creamy ricey goodness and a string of mozzarella oozes out of the epicenter, which is dotted with the crunch of a pistachio. You practically kick yourself for waiting so long to make this, and then you seriously kick yourself again when you realize that, not only did you wait almost a year to make arancini, but now you have to share the damn things.

Sharing sucks, sometimes.

Pistachio-Cheese Arancini
Adapted from Food & Wine, December 2009; makes 16

time commitment: 2-2.5 hours, most active

printable version

ingredients
2 1/2 T unsalted butter
1 small onion, minced
1 1/2 c carnaroli rice (about 10 ounces; arborio works well, too)
1/2 c dry white wine
Pinch of saffron threads, crumbled
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 c chicken broth, warmed
3 T freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
1/2 T all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
1/4 c plus 2 T milk
Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
4 oz fresh mozzarella, finely diced
1/4 c plus 2 T chopped salted pistachios
2 T frozen baby peas, thawed
2 large eggs, beaten
1 1/2 c panko bread crumbs
canola oil, for frying

instructions
In a large saucepan, melt 2 T of the butter. Add the onion and cook over moderate heat, stirring, until lightly browned, 7 minutes. Add the rice and cook, stirring, until well coated with butter. Add the white wine and saffron, season with salt and black pepper and cook, stirring, until the wine is absorbed, 2 minutes. Add the warm chicken stock 1/2 cup at a time and cook, stirring constantly between additions, until it is absorbed. The risotto is done when the rice is al dente, 25 minutes total. Stir in the grated cheese, transfer to a bowl and let cool.

Melt the remaining 1/2 T of butter in a small saucepan. Add the 1/2 T of flour and whisk constantly over moderate heat for 1 minute. Add the milk and cook, whisking, until thickened. Season with the nutmeg, salt and black pepper and transfer to a bowl to cool completely. Stir in the mozzarella, pistachios and peas.

Line a large baking sheet with wax paper. Put the eggs, panko and flour for dusting in 3 shallow bowls. Using lightly moistened hands, shape the rice mixture into 16 equal balls. Working with one ball at a time, make an indentation in the center with your finger and press the sides to make the hollow larger. Spoon a T of the pistachio filling into the hollow and press the risotto around the filling to enclose it. Transfer the ball to the baking sheet. Repeat with the remaining risotto and filling. Dust the arancini with flour, tapping off the excess. Coat them with the egg and roll in the panko.

In a large, deep skillet, heat 1 inch of vegetable oil to 350 F. Fry the arancini over moderate heat, turning occasionally, until golden and heated through, 8 minutes. Drain the arancini on paper towels and serve hot. If prepared in advance, reheat arancini in a 350 F oven for about 10-15 minutes.

Whine & Brine

I’m sure we all have a list of pet peeves, correct? I mean let’s get real here, people, it’s not a crime to be annoyed by things, so let’s not waste time pretending we’re one of those “shiny happy people” 24/7, ok?

Raise your hand if you can think of at least 5 pet peeves. If you can’t, I’ll give you a dollar. I’m gonna share 5 of mine, but believe-you-me, I have more.

First and foremost: too, many, commas. I’m not an English major by any account, and I hated learning about dangling modifiers and how to diagram sentences (The former still makes me chuckle, as does anything involving the word ‘dangling’. I’m so mature.). It seemed pointless at the time, but thinking back I’ve realized how crucial those grueling days in Mrs. McCutcheon’s class were. When I read something, I can’t seem to read it for content alone; I am constantly editing, pausing when I come upon a comma, adding an oomph to a word that’s bolded or italicized, and lingering over any mis-spelled wurd. It’s a problem, and I can’t help but think I missed my calling – is it too late to make a career as an editor?!

The comma issue is my greatest source of annoyance though, and I can’t stand it when someone overuses the comma. Like I said, when I see a comma I pause, because that’s what commas are for. Sometimes the pause is mid-sentence, or mid-thought (when a pause isn’t usually needed), and it drives me batshit. Yes, I really am a tad nutty, I know.

Number two? Also, I should say here that these are not in order of importance, and if they were I wouldn’t tell you anyway. I don’t know if you’d call this a pet peeve, but I type the word “breast” so often at work that I accidentally type it all. the. time. If I’m talking about bread, I always type “breast” first (ha – yeasted breast, and Do you like butter on your breast? Or maybe just a little jam?), then I have to delete the ‘-st’ and type the ‘d’. If I’m saying something is great, I instinctively type ‘greast’ instead because my fingers naturally gravitate towards ‘st’ after any word with ‘ea’ in it. Oh, boy – someone is bound to think I have deeply-rooted issues with my boobs when they read this. I don’t, and truth be told, I like them just fine. And jam, please.

Three. Those of you who know me well know that I have a huge “social pet peeve”: rejecting commitments. I get way bent out of shape if someone bails outta something they’ve previously committed to, especially at the last minute. I try to be better about that and realize that just because it’s one of my no-no’s it doesn’t mean it has to be someone else’s and that if someone wants to be rude and inconsiderate, why not leave them be? And I don’t mean to say that if you are in the ER with kidney stones that you’re still expected to show up at my barbeque, but you get the point here, right?

Four & five: food-conscious.

Food-wise, there’s more than just these two, but I’ll start here. One is a restaurant thing – when they lie about the dish, claiming it contains a certain ingredient it does not. I can recall two specific times when that’s happened (one very recently), and I’m sure there are more. The problem is, restaurants know that most people can’t tell the difference between ice cream and gelato, queso fresco and feta. It seems obvious at first, but you trust the ingredient is what it claims to be, and you move on. I have yet to really call someone out on it, but my opinion of the place certainly changes. You falsely advertise to the wrong person, and it’s gonna getcha. Luckily for them, I only complain to you guys.

Lastly, for today at least, is the ever-annoying brick of meat, the cooked-so-much-you-could-break-a-tooth-off-by-chewing-so-hard pork chop, or the we-definitely-won’t-give-you-salmonella-because-we-cooked-our-chicken-to-180 degrees chicken. Sure, salmonella’s scary, and I for one wouldn’t want to take it home after dinner, but that doesn’t mean I don’t want good chicken. Often times folks forget about carryover cooking and even though chicken is generally cooked in smaller batches than roasts, it still continues to cook a bit, nonetheless.

Enter brining – a soaking process, similar to marinating, that I’m convinced makes it almost impossible to overcook anything, especially your money-well-spent pastured, organic chicken from your local farm. I’d never planned far enough in advance to brine, but thanks to Art Smith, I’m converted, and the amount of effort is so minimal I can’t believe I never tried it before. You start the night before you want to cook your chicken, heat up the brining liquid, and cover the meat in it, with water, overnight.

The result? Like, OMG, it is totally rad. Silky smooth, ultra-moist, and just plain heavenly. Of course, this particular recipe was a gold mine anyway, and thanks to the Food Photo contest I have a whole book of Art’s recipes to try, but I’m having a hard time imagining any of them stacking up to this one. I may just have to cancel all my plans for the next week to work my through a few of them :).

So now it’s your turn: what are your pet peeves? Play nicely by sharing in the comments section, and I may just come up with a ’round 2′ post. Fun times, right?

Pistachio-Crusted Chicken w/ Coconut-Chili-Ginger Sauce
Adapted from Back to the Family, 6-8

this recipe is adapted rather heavily, but the overall idea is the same. I used different quantities of herbs, and the recipe appeared to make more ‘crust’ than was needed for the amount of chicken, so the quantities are all scaled back a bit. i also tweaked the sauce some, using a couple of different ingredients and less butter to make it a little healthier. believe me, it’s still rich and as Art said in the book’s commentary, you could totally drink it…

a couple of quick notes: please don’t skip the brining. did you not read the paragraph at the end of this post?! brining = genius. also, i thought this went nicely with a serving of millet, but couscous or rice would work too, with a little lime zest, coconut, and lime juice tossed in. enjoy!

printable version (with brine recipe)

ingredients
pistachio-crusted chicken
4 brined*, boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1/2 quart buttermilk
1 1/2 c shelled pistachios
1 c grated Parmesan cheese
2 T fresh thyme, chopped
2 T fresh rosemary, chopped
2 T fresh parsley, chopped
2 c all purpose flour
sunflower oil, to taste

coconut-chili-ginger sauce
5 T butter, divided
2 shallots, minced
2 blades lemongrass, chopped
3 1/2″ pieces of fresh ginger, sliced thinly
1 c sweet white wine (I used Muscato)
2 c chicken broth
2 T Thai red curry paste
1 T tamarind concentrate
1 T sweet red chile sauce
1 8-oz can light coconut milk
salt and pepper

instructions
remove chicken from brine and cut breasts in half. with a meat mallet, pound until 1/4″ thick and place in nonreactive bowl. cover with buttermilk and cover. refrigerate for 1 hour.

place pistachios in food processor and pulse until finely chopped.  place in bowl. add Parmesan cheese and herbs and pulse; add to bowl of pistachios.

meanwhile, prepare the sauce. in a medium saucepan over med-hi heat, combine 1 T butter through wine and reduce by half. add broth, curry paste, tamarind, and sweet chili sauce and reduce by half. then add coconut and reduce by half. remove from heat and whisk in remaining 4 T butter until incorporated. season with salt and pepper. keep warm. (optional – take an emulsion blender to it to smooth it out, or toss it into the blender for a couple of pulses.)

preheat oven to 250 F.

place flour in a bowl separate from pistachio mixture and season with salt and pepper. remove chicken from fridge. remove one piece at a time, shake off excess buttermilk, and coat each side with flour. dip one side of the breast into the pistachio mixture and press pistachios onto that side. repeat with all chicken.

preheat a large nonstick pan over medium with a thin coating of sunflower oil. when ready, place chicken (in batches) in pan, pistachio side down, and cook 2-3 minutes. turn and cook other side the same. place chicken on a sheet pan and finish cooking in the oven for 8-10 minutes. removed, let rest for 5 minutes, and serve with warm coconut-chili-ginger sauce.

*Chicken Brine
from Back to the Family; makes 1 1/4 c

printable version (brine only)

ingredients
1 c kosher salt
1/4 c sugar
5 cloves garlic
2 bay leaves
1 T black peppercorns
chicken being brined

instructions
place all ingredients and 2 c water in a saucepan over med-hi heat. stir until sugar and salt dissolve. remove from heat and let cool.

place chicken in a large nonreactive pot and cover with water. use a plate to weigh down chicken. pour brine over, cover, and let sit in brine at least 2 hours, preferably overnight.

Battle Ginger: Luck of the Draw

In Iron Chef land, winning is everything. Well, winning and spending time with friends, is everything. A win is a true testament to your culinary skills, your creativity, and in some cases, your hard work. And if that wasn’t enough, winning entitles you, as Iron Chef, to select the theme ingredient the next time around. It is a daunting, but coveted, task. When that task is yours, you take advantage and choose wisely, not knowing when, or even if, you’ll ever get that chance again.

Unless that is, you are as busy as Emily, our past reigning Iron Chef and one of our founding competitors. Up to her eyelids in work events and such obligations, she was forced to surrender her title prior to battle, unable to even select the ingredient, let alone defend her throne. Bummer, huh?

As a result, our ensuing party was ingredient-less, and we were in need of a quick fix given our decision to forge ahead, otherwise put off IC for another two months. So, someone was about to get lucky; we decided to draw a name and that person would choose, and that person was Rachel. To my excitement, she chose well, and in no time, Battle Ginger was upon us.

Ten Iron Chefs in, I’ve learned to choose a dish quickly, unwaveringly, and with confidence. I was ready on Wednesday, knowing sushi would be made, along with a strange dessert I’d never heard of, ‘oeufs à la niege’ which for those who either aren’t French or haven’t taken a couple of semesters of it in college, means ‘eggs in the snow’.

You start out by separating a few eggs, and with the egg whites you whip them with sugar and ginger into a smooth silken bowl of firm, shiny peaks. And instead of slathering the meringue onto the base of a key lime pie and then breaking out your blow torch, you poach said meringues, dollop by dollop, in milk that’s flavored with cardamom and a generous amount of ginger – or if you have a crowd of lactose-challenged people, you use almond milk instead, which works perfectly.

After the little meringues are poached and literally resembling hard-boiled and peeled eggs, you turn that almond milk into custard using the remaining milk and egg. Sure, you could use that custard to spin up some ice cream, but then these little eggies would be snow-less, and that’d be a sad state of affairs.

Especially if those eggs-in-custard win you back your Iron Chef title :). Just sayin’.


Left to right: vegan ginger chocolate cupcakes with ‘cream cheese’ icing, ginger chocolate cookies, ginger ale & vodka, ginger-garlic shrimp and asparagus with ginger rice, ginger rogers cocktail, crunchy shrimp sushi roll with ginger-soy sauce and pickled ginger, ginger and pecan stuffed apples, vegan butternut squash and ginger chili, ginger crab cakes with tomato-ginger jam.

The Top Three:

  1. Ginger-Cardamom Oeufs à la Niege (dairy & gluten-free)
  2. Butternut Squash & Ginger Chili (vegan & gluten-free)
  3. Ginger Crab Cakes w/ Ginger-Tomato Jam

 

In Chi-town and wanna join? Holler! Next IC: 7/10/10.

Ginger Cardamom Oeufs à la Niege
Adapted from Gourmet, September 2008; makes 8

i’m so not kidding here – this is an easy dessert that can be made well in advance, and the recipe is easily adaptable to other flavor variations. i picture a chocolate-basil version, and now i’m drooling. and if you’re not lactose-intolerant, feel free to use whole milk instead of almond milk. to halve the recipe, use 3 eggs (2 whites and 2 yolks + 1 whole), a little less sugar, and half the milk.

printable version

ingredients
4 eggs
3/4 c sugar, divided
1  t ground ginger, divided
4 c almond milk
1 chunk of fresh peeled ginger (size of your thumb)
1/4 t ground cardamom
1/2 t cornstarch
1/8 t salt
1/2 t vanilla extract
1/4 c shelled pistachios, chopped

instructions
Line bottom of a small sheet pan with parchment paper.

Separate 3 eggs; put yolks in a large bowl and whites in another. Add remaining whole egg to yolks.

Beat whites with a pinch of salt using an electric mixer until they hold soft peaks. Add 1/2 c + 1 T sugar and 1/2 t ground ginger in a slow stream, beating at medium-high speed until whites hold stiff, glossy peaks.

Meanwhile, bring almond milk to a bare simmer with remaining ground ginger, fresh ginger, and cardamom in a wide 4-quart heavy pot over medium heat.

Drop 8 large dollops (or 16 small, depending on what they’re being served in; if large bowl use large dollops) of beaten whites into milk and poach at a bare simmer, turning once, 4 minutes. Transfer with a slotted spoon to lined pan (reserve milk). Refrigerate until ready to serve.

Whisk remaining 3 T sugar, cornstarch, and salt into yolk mixture. Add hot almond milk in a slow stream, whisking until incorporated, then return to pot. Cook, stirring often, until thickened and an instant-read thermometer registers 170 F. Strain through a fine-mesh sieve into a clean bowl. Stir in vanilla. Drop ginger back into mixture and allow it to continue to steep in hot custard until ready to serve.

Quick-chill custard by setting bowl in an ice bath and stirring occasionally, about 20 minutes or refrigerate until ready to use. Remove ginger chunk and ladle chilled custard into 8 bowls (or cups) and put a meringue in each. Sprinkle with nuts.

Battle Strawberry: Life is Delicious

Strawberry Shortcake


What comes to mind when you hear the word childhood? Thanks be to that wee ol’ hippocampus (or maybe photography), a number of distinct memories comes to my mind. A favorite: riding shotgun with my daddy to the beach, top down in the Triumph, blonde hair blowing carelessly in the salty wind. Let’s not forget organizing the treehouse-building club (which now, knowing a treehouse was never built, I realize this was my parents’ way of “keeping us busy and outta their hair”), or making a music video with my bro using our first family camcorder (in the dinosaur 80’s when they weighed 50 lbs) that was an adaptation of “These Boots are Made for Walkin’” with a pair of boots moving, step by endless step, across the green shaggy carpet of our living room.


Last night was the third installment of the Iron Chef pot-luck party, and the reigning IC, Terri, had chosen ‘strawberries’ as the theme ingredient. Having quite an affinity to the juicy red ‘berry’, I considered it an excellent choice. And while thinking of things to make, a number of other childhood memories came into mind. In addition to my Strawberry Shortcake sheet set, complete with Custard, I also remembered those damned strawberry fields my parents made us visit every summer, and countless times. You see, strawberry pickin’ was a family event – the five of us would head over to the Cottle Farms location on Airport Road for a sweat-inducing, dirt-in-all-crevices-producing, hour of loading up those wooden gallon-sized baskets with tasty juicy, fresh-off-the-vine strawberries. They made their way into our fridge, our freezer, and of course, our bellies. And boy were they good. My favorite version of strawberries is simple – macerated in sugar, eaten plain or perhaps on top of vanilla ice cream or on those cake things you buy in packs of 6, topped with strawberries & whipped cream. We always had sugar-soaked strawberries in our fridge – and if we didn’t, gramma did. And hers were great on gramma’s pound cake.


Battle Strawberry Competitors

While I toyed with the idea of bringing a bowl of macerated strawberries to the Battle (I would have classed it up a bit with some Meyer lemon juice), I knew it wouldn’t win back the title of Reigning Iron Chef. Knowing that creativity was part of the scoring, I went for something out of the box completely and then went for another, more basic dish.


baked brie with strawberry preserves


This time we had a more intimate gathering, with 7 competitors and 14 dishes in the running. Just as before, each dish was awesome, and we had a balanced selection of savories vs sweets. My favorite this time was Lindsay’s baked brie w/ homemade strawberry preserves. mmmmmmm….. And my favorite for the theme was Terri’s strawberry soup. I tell ya, for a group of girls who (some) claimed intimidation in cooking with a chef-in-training, you’d never know it by the look and taste of everyones’ creations. I feel lucky to get to hang out with such a lovely group of girls, and the fact that they are all great cooks is just the icing on the cake!

mini strawberry shortcakes


Without further adieu, I’m proud to say I was able to win back my title as the Reigning Iron Chef, but Terri said the numbers were close! Everyone continues to bring their A-game, so the competition is definitely fierce! I already can’t wait for the next get-together – although having now been on both sides, I must say I enjoy the anticipation of finding out the theme ingredient more than doing the choosing. and so, the Countdown begins! (More photos)


strawberry mascarpone tart


The Top Three:
1st Place: Heather’s Strawberry Pizza w/ Goat Cheese, Watercress, & Pistachios
2nd Place: Heather’s Strawberry-Mascarpone Tart w/ Balsamic-Thyme Glaze
3rd Place: Rachel’s Mini Strawberry Shortcakes


strawberry pizza


The Winning Recipe:

Strawberry Pizza w/ Goat Cheese, Watercress, & Pistachios
adapted from Cooking Light magazine – measurements are definitely estimated, and although the original recipe called for store-bought pizza crust, I made my own and will include those instructions as well.


printable recipe

ingredients
One batch pizza dough (recipe below; can also used store-bought 12oz crust)
1/3 cup crumbled goat cheese
1 cup sliced strawberries
1 cup trimmed watercress
1/2 t EVOO
1 t lemon juice (I used Meyer, can use regular)
salt & pepper
1/4 cup shaved Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
3 T shelled, toasted pistachios, chopped


Basic pizza dough:
3/4 c warm water
1 envelope dry yeast
2 cups (or more) AP flour
1 t sugar
3/4 t salt
3 T olive oil


instructions
Basic pizza dough
Combine water & yeast; let sit for about 5 minutes.


By hand or w/ stand mixer (paddle attachment), combine flour, sugar, salt. Add yeast mixture and oil. Mix until sticky ball forms. Transfer to floured counter and knead until smooth (will probably add more flour as you go because the counter gets sticky and the dough is sticky; add by tablespoons). Total kneading time is 1-2 minutes. Put in large bowl that is oiled or sprayed and turn down over to cover with oil/spray. Cover w/ plastic and let rise in warm place (I preheat oven to lowest possible temp, like 100, and then open door to let heat out before putting in; best is about 80 degrees) for an hour, or until about doubled in size. Take dough out, back on floured surface and deflate dough. Roll out to desired shape.


pizza
Preheat oven to 425 F


Place crust on baking sheet or stone. Bake for ~8-12 minutes. Remove and sprinkle goat cheese on crust.


Mix strawberries through s&p in bowl and arrange over pizza. Top with nuts and shaved cheese. Top with additional fresh grated pepper if desired.


Notes: you can store dough after deflated in an airtight container to use later. You could even make extra and freeze it. Also, pizza dough is super glutenous and might be hard to work with at times. If so, let it sit and “rest” before rolling out.