A Recipe for New York Style Pizza and a Taste of Mystic, CT for Hannah McKinnon’s Novel MYSTIC SUMMER

Uncategorized | September 21, 2016 | By

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I was thrilled to open my mailbox and find that Mystic Summer, Hannah McKinnon’s newest novel, had been sent to me from the publisher at Simon & Schuster, Inc. to review. My husband and I spent our first year of marriage living about ten minutes from the picturesque whaling seaport of Mystic, CT and had recently returned to give our sons a tour, showing them our old stomping grounds.

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By the time we reached Mystic, our family was wrapping up ten days of sampling different pies throughout New York and New England, starting with a floppy, soppy, just-the-way-I-like-it, thin crust on our way to the seaport states, through New York. We liked Brother Bruno’s in Middletown, NY so much that we stopped in for another dose on a following trip to New England.

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When I was growing up in Florida, our family friends were Italians from New York who owned several restaurants, over the years, in my home town. Because my parents gave the kids in their family a ride to school every morning, my sister and I were lucky enough to catch the ride home with theirs, which meant frequent stops at their pizzeria on the way home when business needed tending. These stops invariably meant tall glasses of soda circled around what remains the best cheese pizza I’ve ever tasted, the kind that just hangs straight down, dripping cheese and sauce when you pick it up. Kinda like the ones we find at Brother Bruno’s.

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We found other noteworthy pizza parlors on our last two trips to New England– in St. Johnsville, NY, at Lombardo’s, at Bella Piazza Cafe and Pizzeria in Plymouth, MA, and at Portland Pie Co. in Manchester, NH.

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Of course, we also made sure we took the kids to Mystic Pizza in Mystic, CT, the place made famous by the Julia Roberts movie of the same name.

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My little guy decided that the “secret ingredient” in “Leona’s” pizza is paprika. I think I might agree.

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Mystic is a picture perfect town. I’ve always thought so. From the bascule bridge that plays an important role in McKinnon’s book, bringing main character Maggie Griffin a little closer to the love of her life, to the quaint main street with its little shops and nearby waterway, also integral to the story.

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I had just had to stop in the town’s crowded little sweet shop on our last trip to see if I could find some saltwater taffy to take home.

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Mission accomplished.

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The “tour” of Mystic McKinnon gives readers with her detailed and frequent descriptions would have brought the town to life in my mind if I hadn’t already had my own fond memories of the character of the seaport and “honeymooning” there with the love my life for an entire year, before we moved on and started “real life” together; sunny morning walks through town and across the bridge that ended with pastries and coffee at a local bakery and misty evening strolls that led to hand dipped ice cream, when the weather permitted.

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Here is my own tried and true pizza dough recipe that I’ve used for years as a base for any number of topping combinations. Clay pizza and baking “stones”, preheated in a very hot oven, 400 to 450 degrees F, make pizzas reminiscent of the wood fired brick oven baked ones I helped roll out in an Italian restaurant in Honolulu, decades ago. The only thing missing with these clay baked pies is the dusting of wood ash from the floor of a brick oven which, in my opinion, gives the real deal its flavor. A wood pizza peel can be tricky to use, but is key to getting a pizza on and off the hot baking stones in the oven. It doesn’t take long to master the flick of the wrist technique needed to get the job done, though I do prefer a thin metal peel to a wooden one for efficiency. Anyone wanting to make great “pizzeria style” pizzas at home should invest in a couple of clay pans and a peel and practice using them…with copious amounts of flour to prevent sticking. It’s definitely worth the effort. And, while you wait for your dough to rise, let the Mystic Pizza jaunts in Hannah McKinnon’s Mystic Summer inspire you. I guarantee they’ll have your mouth watering for fresh, hot pizza and interesting topping combinations.

Basic Pizza Dough

Ingredients:

6 cups all purpose flour + more for flouring the work area and peel

1 T yeast

1 tsp. sugar

1 T extra virgin olive oil + more for oiling the proofing bowl

1 1/2 tsp. salt

4 c. warm water (around 108 degrees F)

Method:

Sift together the flour, sugar, yeast, and salt.

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Make a well in the center. Add the tablespoon of olive oil to the warm water. Stir the water and oil into the flour mixture.

 

Stir in an additional cup of flour. Turn onto a floured surface and knead until the dough forms into a nice, smooth ball. Coat a large bowl with olive oil. Turn the dough in the oil to coat. Cover with a towel and leave in a warm place to allow the dough to rise, from one hour to overnight.

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Turn the dough onto a floured surface and knead a few times before smoothing into a ball. Portion the dough for the size and number of pizzas that will be made. When I made pizzas to go with this book, I used some of my dough to make garlic knots and even a little cinnamon log that I baked into cinnamon rolls, since I had plenty of nice, soft dough on hand.

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To bake your pizzas, you can either grease pans and smooth your dough into them, heat clay stones in a 400 degree oven ahead of time and make your pizzas on a well floured peel, or make your pizzas on a floured surface and flip them onto the peel before placing them on the hot stones.

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Add any toppings you want and bake until the cheese is melted into the puffed and bubbly crust. For the New York style cheese pizza, I used mozzarella and provolone slices.

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And when it was baked and served, I did the sloppy, floppy cheese pizza test.

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It passed with flying colors!!

Short and sweet, like the year spent in our little apartment outside Mystic, Mystic Summer gave me everything I wanted in a fun and touching summer read, with the added bonus of a stroll down memory lane. The homemade pizzas the book inspired me to make were a nice finish to my nostalgic journey.

Last Minute Low Carb Gumbo

Uncategorized | August 24, 2016 | By

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With dinner fast approaching, one hot summer day spent in the dairy farm garden, I needed to think fast to have an evening meal ready for my family. I could sensibly do what most other busy mom do, throw something in a slow cooker in the morning so dinner will be ready at the end of a busy day, which I understand that those who work outside of their homes must do to get their families fed, but I have liked very little that I’ve ever tasted that has come out of a slow cooker that has been sitting for hours “cooking”. This is also why you won’t find a microwave in my kitchen these days. I’d rather rush around trying to get something tasty and fresh made for my family than to just let everything melt together in a Crock Pot or kill it in a microwave.

I found Andouille sausage in the freezer, which I thought should lead to a big pot of something cajun or “low country”, so I was relieved to see, after an inspection of the rest of my freezer and refrigerator, that it was possible that I could actually make that happen, which was shocking since I couldn’t remember the last time I’d done a “real” grocery shopping trip, with frequent trips between the farms that we occupy. I pulled out everything I would need to throw a low carb pot of gumbo/rice-less jambalaya together, which included leftover roast pork and grilled chicken from other meals I’d cooked earlier in the week, and onions and shallots from the garden.

We were sitting down to spicy bowls of steaming gumbo within the hour and no one even suspected that our dinner, which certainly didn’t taste like it, had been rushed and literally thrown together at the last minute. But thank goodness for those leftover meats and cooked up ahead chicken broth or I’d never have been able to pull it off! Shh….don’t tell anyone…like my sweet husband doesn’t faithfully read every single recipe I post and won’t find out what a slacker I am as soon as I click “publish”. ūüėČ

Ingredients:

3 T extra virgin olive oil

3 cloves garlic, minced

1/4 c. shallots, minced

3/4 c. onions with green tops, small dice

1 whole red bell pepper (about a cup), medium dice

1/2 c. fresh Italian parsley, chopped

3 T almond flour

3 c. chicken broth

4 links (12 oz. total) cooked andouille sausage, sliced into thick rounds

4 oz. cooked pork loin roast, cubed

3 grilled chicken breasts

1 c. grape tomatoes, halved

1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper

Pinch red pepper flakes

2 tsp. paprika

1/2 tsp. cumin

Salt and pepper to taste.

Method:

Heat the oil in a large small stock pot. Add the garlic and sweat.

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Toss in the shallots and onions, peppers and parsley. Sauté.

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Sprinkle in the almond flour and cook, stirring, for one minute, to make a low carb variation of a roux.

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Gradually add in the chicken broth, while stirring, and bring to a simmer to thicken.

Add the spices, tomato halves, sausage, chicken, and pork.

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Simmer for for 45 minutes.

Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Serve.

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For a more authentic gumbo than my low carb version, use all-purpose flour in place of the almond flour and add in fresh okra and rice at the same time the meat and tomatoes and spices are added to the liquid. You can also throw in fresh shrimp about five minutes before the pot of gumbo is finished simmering.

Yield: 8 servings

 

 

 

 

KopyKat Orange Kit Kat ~ Dark Chocolate Orange Brittle for Lisa Jewell’s THE GIRLS IN THE GARDEN

Uncategorized | August 8, 2016 | By

 

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The last Lisa Jewell book I read, The House We Grew Up In, had me squirming in my seat as I turned the pages, so I wasn’t surprised when The Girls in the Garden did, also, right from the start. It’s dark and uncomfortable to read, even while warm and comforting scenes of family life and the most sincere mothering are woven throughout the intense plot that centers around summer in a community park in the midst of a circle of homes and apartments in the U.K.

I was able to relate to the character Adele because I am a homeschool mom and have always fed my children home-cooked, natural and organic meals, as she did. But I had a hard time imagining myself in the shoes of either Clare, the mother of the preteen daughters the book revolves around, or Adele, with a rabble of mostly teen daughters between them. I’m sure I would have been an even bigger basket case worrying over girls than I was worrying over raising two boys to adulthood, safely and with a certain degree of morals. The Girls in the Garden certainly made me feel even more angst at the idea of bringing up females in the wild world we live in and had me thanking my lucky stars that I will never have to experience that for myself. 

When I was trying to decide what recipe to create to go along with this book, I was inspired by the contents of the shopping cart that belonged to Clare when she ran into the husband of the seemingly perfect Adele, homeschool mom extraordinaire. His cart, Clare was embarrassed to see, was filled with only healthful contents, things Adele would use to make nutritious meals for her family, while Clare’s only contained convenience foods and a package of sugary orange Kit Kat bars. I had never heard of an orange Kit Kat, had never seen a package of them in an American grocery store. Intrigued, I did a little research and learned that there are at least three kinds of orange Kit Kat bars, one made with a blood orange flavor and dark chocolate, another made with an orange coating and chocolate filling, and one made the usual way, with milk chocolate, but with orange flavor added.

I decided to make a copycat version of the dark chocolate orange Kit Kat using high quality chocolates and the homemade orange extract that I bottled last fall.

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I happened to have Lindt and Taza chocolate in my pantry, but I’m sure dark chocolate baking morsels would have worked just fine.

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Crispy rice cereal was the obvious ingredient to give my “brittle” its crunch. The only problem is, since I’ve never had an orange Kit Kat, and am not able to run to the corner store to buy one to sample, I have no idea if my sweet treat tasted anything like the original. I did, however, think the flavor and texture were reminiscent of a regular milk chocolate Kit Kat, but with a dark chocolate orange twist, so I can imagine that I came pretty close. Make a batch of them to nibble while you read The Girls in the Garden and see if you agree.

Ingredients:

3 c. crispy rice cereal

6 squares of Lindt 90% cacao dark chocolate

1.3 ounces Dark Vanilla Taza chocolate

1.3 ounces 70% Dark Taza Chocolate

Pinch pink Himalayan salt

1 T. turbinado sugar

1 tsp. orange extract

Method:

Cover a 9X9 inch baking pan in foil or waxed paper.

Spread the cereal over the lined pan.

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Melt the chocolate.

QUICK CHOCOLATE MELTING TIP: For small recipes, place chocolate squares or morsels in a small baking ramekin. Turn on your coffee maker to allow the warming pad to heat up. Place the ramekin of chocolate on the burner and let it gently melt the chocolate, stirring occasionally for larger batches. It only takes a few minutes, and I’ve yet to scorch a batch of chocolate this way. And I DO NOT miss heating up a double boiler and stirring and stirring to melt my chocolate any time I need melted chocolate. IMG_4217

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Stir together the sugar, salt, and orange extract until the sugar dissolves.

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When the chocolate is melted, stir in the sugar mixture.

Drizzle over the cereal.

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Using a non-stick rubber or silicone spatula, combine and spread the mixture into the bottom of the pan, working quickly before the chocolate hardens.

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Chill.

Break apart like you would cooled peanut brittle.

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Serve.

Yield: 8 to 10 servings