On the grill: Wood-fired pizzas

In March, my dad ordered a new grill. Last week, the grill finally arrived.

You must understand, though, this isn’t just any grill. This is a wood burning grill that can burn as hot as around 1000 degrees Fahrenheit. This grill arrived on an 18-wheeler and weighs a little more than 450 pounds.

Connor

You might also think it is crazy that we ordered a grill in March and it arrived in August — but this grill was specially built for us after we ordered it. Of course, we were originally promised the grill at the end of June and we had to wait a bit longer to get it here, but the point is this: The grill has arrived!

Last week, my dad grilled hamburgers on the grill one night and chicken on the grill another night – just to get used to it and start seasoning the grate.

My dad has been grilling on a gas grill for years now and grilling on charcoal again is a little different.

But on Sunday night, he was ready to really show what the grill could do. We made wood-fired pizzas.

Pizza

And they were delicious.

We had made grilled pizzas before, I think in January. But we cooked them over fairly direct heat on a gas grill, which just isn’t what we did on Sunday.

FireboxThis new grill has a fire box on the side of it. You can burn charcoal or wood in the smoke box and it will heat the grill up completely without having any flames under what you’re cooking.

While dad worked on getting the grill ready, I was inside working on the edible parts.

I started my pizza dough on Saturday afternoon so that I could give it 24 hours to ferment before it was time to roll it out.

I also made a delicious bacon pizza sauce (for which I have included the recipe) and prepped all of the pizza toppings.

Once the grill’s thermometer was reading a steady 425 degrees, I started rolling out my pizza dough. The book that we have about grilling pizzas suggests that you roll them into an “organic” shape — so I did just that.

The family that had come to eat with us kept trying to figure out what they thought the dough was shaped as. To be honest, the shape was confined by the counter space that I was working on – and how often my rolling pin hit the microwave or the bag of pretzels.

Once the crusts were rolled, they went onto the grill. At this point the “top” (the side where we would put the pizza toppings) was facing down. That way, it could cook and get browned before we started layering the toppings on. They hung out on the grill for about 6 minutes before we took them off and started topping them.

I had a whole array of options for topping, but you could use anything that you like on a pizza. All the meats should be cooked before putting them on the pizza, as should any vegetables that you don’t want to eat raw. For example, I cooked up two kinds of sausage and I sautéed mushrooms before we started. The amount of time spent on the grill to finish them isn’t long enough to actually cook any of those items.

Crust, sauce, toppings, cheese — back onto the grill.

recipe

The second grilling took us about 9 minutes, and we rotated the pizzas once about halfway through. That way, there were grill marks on the crust. The second grilling time should be however long it takes for the cheese to melt on top of the pizzas. By then, the crust should be golden, crunchy and delicious.

If you want to try this at home, I highly suggest it. You can even take a few shortcuts by using a pre-made pizza dough (anything you find at the grocery store should work) and pre-made pizza sauce. However, I think the bacon pizza sauce is one of the things that truly makes these pizzas special.

(This article was originally published in the Daily Times Leader on Wednesday, August 21, 2013)

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Farmer’s Market Haul – Week Sixteen

I don’t want summer to end! All the pretty, fresh produce ends too :(

The market was getting pretty bare this week – vendors starting to pull out and fewer people coming out to buy.

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  • Squash – D&G Produce
  • Onions – Lancaster Farms
  • Cucumbers – Lancaster Farms
  • Eggplants – Lancaster Farms
  • Potatoes – Lancaster Farms
  • Okra – Lancaster Farms
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Family Tradition: Perfect Pecan Pie

Imagine a perfect pecan pie.

A thick layer of sweet, creamy filling topped with a crunch of pecan pieces on top, all sitting in a crunchy pie shell.

That is not my pecan pie.

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My perfect pecan pie is chocked full of pecans – 3 cups per pie!

My perfect pecan pie doesn’t have a layer of corn syrupy goodness hiding just underneath the layer of pecans.

My perfect pecan pie has these two elements completely combined throughout the pie, with absolutely no separation.

My dad has always loved pecan pie. He has childhood memories of going to Wesson, MS to visit his grandparents. Every time they would go visit, his grandmother (Maw Price) would have two pecan pies sitting on her freezer chest when they arrived.

In 2011, he charged me with replicating that pecan pie.

Of course, this is a pie that I had never tasted, so replicating it would certainly not be easy.

The journey started with a phone call to my great-aunt Nancy. My paternal grandmother had five sisters, one of which was Nancy. And to our knowledge, she was the only person who ever still made pecan pie like her mother.

She gave me the recipe and I was ready to start my journey.

Luckily for me, there are several prolific pecan trees on my family’s property. If I had needed to buy pecans for these pies, I certainly would have gone completely broke.

Step one was determining what type of pecan I would use for my perfect pecan pies. Maw Price had a pecan tree in her yard and the nuts for her pie came from that tree. The pecans were very small and very oily. I trekked out to the freezer to find pecans. Lo and behold, some of the pecans that we had were the same small, oily pecans that my dad remembered.

grindThe next step was to grind the pecans as finely as possible. My great-aunt Nancy actually uses pecan meal in her pies instead of grinding the pecans herself. So I also ordered some pecan meal to try in one pie. A second pie was made made with my pecans, ground as finely as possible in a small food processor.

The result of the pecan tests proved that the size of the pecans (before grinding) didn’t have much affect of the pie, but whether or not the pecans were local did. The pecan meal that I had ordered came from somewhere far north (possibly Ohio, but I don’t remember) and the quality of the nuts wasn’t nearly as good as the ones that had been picked in our yard.

The same seems to be true with grocery store pecans. If my options are grocery store pecans or not having pecan pie, I won’t have pecan pie.

The next challenge was to get the insides perfectly set without overcooking the pie shell or the nuts on top. Challenge number two was the time and temperature challenge.

My dad remembered Maw Price’s oven door actually being open while she cooked her pecan pies. None of us actually know why she did this, but there are theories:

  • Her oven didn’t regulate temperature very well and she had to keep it open.
  • She needed to temperature to be lower than her oven would go.
  • Pecan pies were typically a winter pie and it was cold and she didn’t have heating like we do today and it seemed like a waste of money to not heat the house if the oven was on.

My money is on the last theory.

I tried cooking the pies at several different temperatures before settling on the one that I thought did the best job of cooking the pies. I even, at one point, put a pecan pie in the smoker to truly get a “low and slow” cook on it.

I do find that I need silicone pie rings (or aluminum foil) around the edges of the pie or the crust will get too brown.

The result of the time and temperature tests showed that 300 degrees for about 90 minutes would cook the pies through without letting any part of them get too brown.

It’s also important to let them completely cool off before cutting into them. That usually means making the pies a day early and letting them sit (without cutting them!) for 24 hours.

This weekend, I got to make my pie for my Great-Aunt Nancy and Great-Aunt Bert for the first time. They are the only two sisters still living to tell me if the pie tastes like their mother’s or not.

The occasion was Homecoming at Pleasant Valley United Methodist Church is Wesson/ Hazlehurst, Mississippi.

Even though I was told not to worry about bringing anything for dinner on the grounds that would follow the services, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to have the sisters try my pie.

But when I went to the freezer in search of pecans, there were none. I had used all of my pecans. I knew that I could not serve them pie made with grocery store pecans, so I had to put my thinking cap on. It didn’t take me too long to remember that Starkville has a pecan farm that would hopefully still have pecans for sale.

And luckily, they not only had pecans for sale, they had the small oily pecans like the ones from my tree at home.

I made two pies on Saturday morning and planned to let them rest until lunch on Sunday. But they looked delicious and my dad was ready for a slice on Saturday afternoon. So I reluctantly let him have a small slice from one of them.

It got two thumbs up.

We packed them up on Saturday night and made the nearly three-hour journey on Sunday morning to make it to Wesson before church.

Nancy and Bert were both so excited when I showed up with my pecan pies.

I fidgeted all through the service because I was anxious to see what they thought – were my pies right? Had I replicated their mother’s pie?

recipeThey gave me some new advice that I hadn’t heard yet while we ate lunch. As it turns out, Maw Price actually used an old fashioned meat grinder to grind her pecans. Seeing as I have an old fashioned meat grinder, I will definitely try grinding them with that (instead of my small food processor) next time I make the pies.

Finally, it was time for dessert.

They both took their first bite of my pie and I thought my heart was going to stop while I watched them chew.

Smiles came across their faces.

I was so relieved. I always expect brutal honesty when it comes to cooking. Because if I don’t know what I did wrong, I can’t fix it.

They loved my pie and I could finally enjoy a piece for myself.

(This article was originally published in the Daily Times Leader on Wednesday, August 14, 2013)

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Farmer’s Market Haul – Week Fifteen

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  • Sunflowers – Bountiful Harvest
  • Red Potatoes – Mayhew Tomato Farm
  • Okra – Mayhew Tomato Farm
  • Onions – Lancaster Farms
  • Cucumbers – Lancaster Farms
  • Tomatoes – Lancaster Farms
  • Squash – Lancaster Farms
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Family Favorite: Chocolate Chip Cookies

This weekend, I had family in town from Missouri. When I asked them what they wanted me to have at the house for them to snack on, the answer I got was cookies.

cookies

I did not take this to mean that I could just go to the grocery store and buy a pack of cookies and call it a day. When my grandmother was alive, she made wonderful chocolate chip cookies. And I knew that that’s what they really wanted.

doughThe recipe that I use to replicate my grandmother’s cookies is similar to the one on the back of the Nestle Chocolate Chip bag, but with a few changes.

I use butter flavored shortening instead of butter, and the amount of shortening, white and brown sugar is different than what the recipe calls for.

This time when I made them, I realized that they were much darker than my grandmother’s cookies, but that was easy to figure out. I always use dark brown sugar, but she probably used light brown sugar.

And other than the difference in color (and the simple fact that I am not my grandmother and my cookies, therefore, will never be quite the same) everyone agreed that I did a pretty good job of replicating them.

recipe

On Thursday when I was making the cookies, I knew I wanted to make a lot. And I ended up with over 8 pounds of cookie dough. And it was delicious cookie dough.

My chocolate chip cookies are soft and have the perfect amount of chew to them. They have a nice butter flavor to the cookie, as well. I actually like the cookie itself so much that sometimes, I don’t even add the chocolate chips!

If your chocolate chip cookie recipe needs updating or you’re just ready to try something new, try this recipe. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed!

(This article was originally published in the Daily Times Leader on Wednesday, August 7, 2013)

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Farmer’s Market Haul – Week Fourteen

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  • Sunflowers – Bountiful Harvest Farm
  • Peaches – Prospect Farms
  • Bell Peppers – Lancaster Farms
  • Cucumbers – Lancaster Farms
  • Red Onions – Lancaster Farms
  • White Onions – Lancaster Farms
  • Jalapeños – Lancaster Farms
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Dinner Tonight: Enchilada Pie

Some several months ago, I came across a recipe for Enchilada Pie on Pinterest. Being as I love Mexican food and it claimed to be healthy, I made it for dinner one night and my boyfriend raved. It was one of his new favorite foods.

Enchilada Pie

I have cooked it several more times since I first tried it and it has never been as good as it was the first time. So this week, I threw out the recipe, kept the idea and decided I’d make it my way.

Granted, “my way” isn’t as healthy as it was originally because my boyfriend likes all things cheesy. But it was incredibly delicious.

I used 96% lean ground beef and browned it in a pan with 1/2 an onion and about a tablespoon of minced garlic. I also added some taco seasoning to the meat.

While my meat was browning, I got the rest of my ingredients together.

Four tortillas, a bag of Mexican cheese, a can of corn, a can of diced green chilies, a can of enchilada sauce, and some cilantro.

Once the meat was browned, I added most of the enchilada sauce (I reserved about 1/2 cup), the corn (drained) and the chilies to the meat. I stirred that up and let it simmer for a few minutes.

Meanwhile, I got out a pie plate, sprayed it with cooking spray, and plopped a tortilla in the bottom.

I stirred  the cilantro into the meat mixture and was ready to assemble my pie.

recipeI spooned on some of the meat, sprinkled a handful of cheese, then topped it with another tortilla. Do the tortilla – meat – cheese stacking 3 times, using all of the meat and all but a handful of the cheese. Then, put your last tortilla on top and pour the reserved enchilada sauce on top. Sprinkle the last handful of cheese and a little cilantro on top if you have any left on the cutting board.

Bake the pie in a 350 degree oven for about 30 minutes, until all of the cheese is melted and it looks delicious.

Let it cool for a few minutes before cutting into it.

The result is a meaty, cheesy, delicious Mexican pie that everyone in your family will enjoy!

(This article was originally published in the Daily Times Leader on Wednesday, July 31, 2013)

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Farmer’s Market Haul – Week Thirteen

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  • Zinnias – Double D Farms
  • Squash – Lancaster Farms
  • Okra – Prospect Produce
  • Habanero Peppers – Double D Farms
  • Eggs – Beaverdam Farms
  • Bell Peppers – Lancaster Farms
  • Tomatoes – Lancaster Farms
  • White Onions – Lancaster Farms
  • White Cucumbers – Double D Farms
  • Red Onions – Lancaster Farms
  • Green Cucumbers – Lancaster Farms
  • Honey – Prospect Produce
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Morning Treat: Banana Nut Bread

“I don’t understand bananas.”

When my boyfriend said this to me, I had no idea where the conversation was going.

“They’re green when you buy them, then they’re yellow for like one day, then they’re brown.”

I’ve never really liked bananas and I don’t keep bananas in our apartment, so I still had no idea where the conversation was going.

“Marley” (our neighbor) “has three rotten bananas. Do you want them?”

Now I understood. And I was excited.

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Three brown bananas is the ingredient that I never have on hand. Three brown bananas is what my recipe for banana nut bread calls for.

When I want to make banana bread, I usually don’t want to wait a week for the bananas to get brown. And since I don’t keep bananas in my apartment, they are never there getting brown on their own.

I checked my kitchen, and having all the other ingredients that I needed, I walked across the street in search of three brown bananas.

I came home, peeled those three brown bananas and put them in a bowl. To that bowl, I added the rest of my ingredients: sugar, shortening, eggs, baking soda, baking powder, flour, vanilla, salt, and chopped pecans.

Banana bread gets really dense if you over mix the batter, so this was not a recipe for my stand mixer. I pulled out my hand mixer and went to work.

I mixed only until everything was incorporated and not a minute more. If there are still some little chunks of banana, that’s okay. It just means that when you find a piece with a banana chunk, you’ll have that perfect little surprise.

I like making banana nut muffins more than I like making banana nut bread. It is so convenient to just grab a couple mini muffins on my way out of the door in the mornings. But since I was sharing with my neighbors who gave me their bananas, I made a loaf for them and mini muffins for myself.

I greased the bottoms and sides of my mini muffin tin and a small loaf pan (5.5″ x 3″ x 2.5″) and filled them with my batter. My recipe makes the perfect amount of batter to fill one small loaf pan and 24 mini muffins.

The mini muffins took 20 minutes to cook in a 300 degree oven. The small loaf took quite a bit longer at close to an hour. I think the loaf could have even gone a bit longer as it fell as it sat on the counter.

recipeSince all ovens run a little bit differently, I highly suggest setting your timer for a little short of these times and watching the color on the top and sides of your finished product. When they are done, they will be a nice brown color.

Banana nut bread is definitely one of my favorite things. My boyfriend and I have almost eaten all of the mini muffins that I made less than 18 hours ago!

I have trouble thinking of anything more satisfying that biting into a banana nut muffin that is warm out of the oven. As you bite through the soft, sweet bread, you are surprised by the crunch of the finely chopped pecans. The banana flavor is there, subtle enough not to turn off people like me that don’t like bananas, but strong enough that it is a definite flavor. The only thing better would be to wash it down with a tall, cool glass of milk.

(This article was originally published in the Daily Times Leader on Wednesday, July 24, 2013)

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Farmer’s Market Haul – Week Twelve

SAMSUNGI had a garage sale on Saturday morning, so I didn’t make it to the market. My mom went for me, though, and picked up all the fresh, beautiful ingredients that I needed to make a new recipe I had been wanting to try. I think the recipe needs a few tweaks before I post it, but I promise it is coming soon!

  • Squash – Prospect Produce Farm
  • Okra #1 – Prospect Produce Farm
  • Tomatoes – Lancaster Farms
  • Bell Peppers – Lancaster Farms
  • Jalapeno Peppers – Lancaster Farms
  • Habanero Peppers – Lancaster Farms
  • Onions – Lancaster Farms
  • Cucumbers – Lancaster Farms
  • Cherry Tomatoes – Lancaster Farms
  • Okra #2 – Lancaster Farms
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