Friday, July 31, 2015

Searching for The Best Grandma Ever: Pie #2, Two Boots

Friday Night Pizza Night, and the search for #thebestgrandmaever continues.

This time around, we ordered the "Grandma Bess' from our local Two Boots spot. Two Boots has always been a favorite of mine. Their pizzas are inventive and tasty, and the ingredients are top notch. Each pie is named after a celebrity or notable. Grandma Bess is named for the company's owner's grandmother. In the past, I've been partial to the "Earth Mother" a vegan pie named in honor of Bette Midler for her efforts to save the community gardens of NYC's Lower East Side back in the 70s.

The Grandma Bess arrived quickly and it was beautiful -- and for $25, it ought to be.

However, we were a little disappointed. The pizza was delicious, but its wet texture made it less enjoyable to eat. (Maybe because it was delivery and not fresh out of the oven when we ate it?) It had a lovely, fresh, homemade flavor and the light layer of San Marzano tomatoes, a tasty combination of Mozzarella and Parmigiano, and the garlicky thin Sicilian-style crust was fabulously elegant. I could imagine serving it happily at a dinner party with a bottle or two of rosé -- but we soon discovered that any crispness in the crust was becoming soggy by the minute. Wet pizza is no fun. The Grandma Bess is a very traditional Grandma pie -- it had a homemade, heftiness to it and the flavors were clean and bright. It's exactly what you'd think a Grandma Bess would make you for dinner. We were just sorry it was so soggy, and plan to get it to stay next time to see if we get better results. Live and learn, I guess.

Pizza #2: Two Boots
Sauce: A
Crust: C+
Presentation: A
Next Day/Cold Pizza test: C-

So, for Grandma Pie #2, we give Two Boots' Grandma Bess an overall B. 


Friday, July 24, 2015

Searching for The Best Grandma Ever: Pie #1, Krispy Pizza

There's nothing like a Grandma for dinner.

Chris and I remember our three dearly departed grandmothers and their delicious cookery fondly, and we both cherish our visits with his Italian grandmother who knows her way around a good antipasto plate and is as feisty as ever. But this post is not about that kind of Grandma. Though grandmothers are indeed as sweet as pie, I am talking about the Grandma of all Grandmas: The Grandma Pizza Pie.

As of this moment, Chris and I are embarking on a quest: We are in search of the best Grandma pies in our new neighborhood. We fell in love with Grandma-style pizza a couple of years ago and have been looking for the ultimate Grandma ever since. And since Friday at Chez Gourmess is Pizza Night, we will devote the next dozen Fridays or so to our search for the ultimate Grandma pizza. We're searching for #thebestgrandmaever.

If you're not familiar with a Grandma Pie, also known as Nonna Pizza, I'll describe it by saying that a Grandma slice is crispier and less heavy than a regular cheese slice, but thinner and less dense than a Sicilian-style pie. Although, like a Sicilian, a Grandma is usually square-shaped. The crust is unique in that it is crisped--almost fried--with olive oil. The dough has a low profile and the outer crust is nearly hollow and perfectly crunchy, like a puffed cracker. On top of the crispy bottom crust you have a layer of fresh mozzarella cheese, then a heavy layer of homemade tomato sauce (usually nothing more than crushed tomatoes), a sprinkling of fresh basil and usually a bit more cheese. Sauce and crust are king, er queen when it comes to a good Grandma slice, and they will either make or break the experience.

When we moved to Jersey City, NJ, a few months ago we were delighted to see that there were several pizza spots within walking and/or delivery distance, boasting Grandma pies on their menus. So, we've decided to try them all. We're beginning with the "Grandma Pizza" from Krispy Pizza, a nearby pizza joint whose motto: "If it's not Krispy it's not Pizza" seemed like a good sign of things to come.
We ordered online from and the delivery was quick and seamless. They will even send a text when your pizza is on its way. Also, as a marketer, I give them an A+ for branding. And the pizza? It was a winner. It had a tangy tomato sauce, super fresh basil and a light but crispy (krispy!) crust, plus a bonus sprinkle of grated Romano cheese on each slice. Delightful!
Pizza #1: Krispy Pizza
Sauce: A
Crust: A
Presentation: A+
Next Day/Cold Pizza test: A

So, for Grandma Pie #1, we give Krispy's Grandma Pizza an overall, solid A. Not a bad start to our quest. Hooray for Grandma!


Friday, July 17, 2015

Tofu Curry with Chickpeas and Kale

As some of you know, I have been dealing with the personal challenges of being the GourMESS and having a kitchen with polished white marble countertops. However, I've realized over these past several weeks that though they are beautiful, the countertops were not flawless when we moved in, and no matter how careful we are or how many coasters, placemats or felt pads we use, they won't be perfect when we move out. But in the meantime, I'm going to use them. Because it's a kitchen and that's where I belong. So, I decided to embrace the fear and the mess with my first curry in this kitchen. Gulp.

This quick-cooking curry is delicious and you can easily adapt the recipe -- don't like tofu? Use chicken or beef. Don't like coconut? Use half and half or heavy cream. You should be able to find the garam masala spice blend at your grocery store, and it's worth the search.

Just be sure to wipe up any splatters ASAP. (Wink.)

Tofu Curry with Chickpeas and Kale
2 TBS vegetable oil
1 14 oz package of extra firm tofu, drained and cut into 1-inch dice
2 TBS minced ginger
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 small onion, diced
1 heaping TBS red or yellow curry paste (optional)
1 heaping TBS garam masala
1 tsp curry powder
1/2 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp smoked paprika
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
1 cup or 8.oz can pureed or crushed tomatoes
1 15 oz can chickpeas, rinsed and drained
3 cups chopped kale
Kosher salt
Black pepper
1 14 oz can unsweetened coconut milk
Brown rice

Minimal MESS/ingredients/clean-up: Category 1

To Do:
  • Heat the oil in a large pan or dutch oven over medium-high heat, then add the tofu and cook until lightly browned on all sides.
  • Remove the tofu from the pan and set aside. Add in a bit more oil if needed, then sauté the ginger, garlic, and onion until fragrant. 
  • Stir in the curry paste if using, along with the garam masala, curry powder, coriander, paprika and chili flakes, and heat through.
  • Add the tomatoes, chickpeas and kale and return the tofu to the pan.
  • Lower the heat to medium-low and let the mixture cook about 10 minutes, stirring often.
  • Season with salt/pepper to taste.
  • Add the coconut milk, stir and simmer about 5 minutes more on low heat.
  • Adjust seasonings, then serve over brown rice.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Baked Eggplant Sliders with Smoked Ricotta and Honey

I've started eating burgers again.

In the past few years, I enjoyed a delightful hamburger maybe once a month, now I'm up to twice a month.  Who can resist a juicy, medium-cooked burger with aged cheddar cheese, smoky bacon and tangy BBQ sauce? Not this girl. And, we recently found a terrific restaurant near our new apartment that has a special burger menu  -- so of course we have to try them all! So far, I've had four of the twelve options. Yum!

But, to keep my new burger obsession from spiraling out of control, I've also been making meat-free versions at home in the form of crispy tofu burgers with sriracha mayo and eggplant sliders with smoky ricotta and either a drizzle of honey or a bit of tangy tomato sauce.

The eggplant sliders are especially tasty now that eggplants are in season. Here's a quick recipe for the sliders, but you could make regular-sized eggplant burgers, too -- just use larger eggplants or pile the slices on to fit a burger bun. Enjoy!

Smoky Baked Eggplant Sliders
4 small eggplants
Kosher salt
2 cups heavy cream or half and half
1/4 cup white flour
2 1/2 cups cornmeal
Freshly ground black pepper
2 TBS Italian herb mix
1 tsp garlic powder
Pinch or three of red chili flakes
Olive oil
Smoked sea salt, or plain Kosher salt
1 12-pack Kings Hawaiian dinner rolls
8 oz smoked or plain, full-fat ricotta 
1/4 cup honey
1/4 cup tomato sauce

Minimal MESS/ingredients/clean-up: Category 1

To Do:
  • Preheat oven to 425 F.
  • Remove stem and bottom end from eggplants, then slice into somewhere between 1/4 - 1/2 inch rounds, depending on whether you want one or two per slider. Place the slices in a colander, then sprinkle generously with salt, and cover with a pot lid or plate. Let the excess liquid drain from the eggplant for about 15-20 minutes, then wipe off excess salt, pat dry and set aside.
  • Add the cream or half and half to a shallow dish/pie pan.
  • In another shallow dish/pie-pan, mix together the flour, cornmeal, a few grinds of pepper, the dried herbs, garlic powder and chili flakes with a fork.
  • Dip each eggplant slice in the cream until coated, then place in the pan with the flour mixture and cover all sides, then place on a lightly greased baking sheet. Continue until all of your slices are coated. Discard any extra cream/flour mixture unless you have more vegetables you can coat and bake.
  • Drizzle the slices with olive oil and sprinkle with the smoked sea salt. (Kosher salt is fine, too.)
  • Bake in the oven about 10-15 minutes until browned, then flip once and bake until that side is browned, too.
  • Remove browned slices from the oven and let cool.
  • While they are cooling, assemble your sliders: Slice your rolls in half, then coat one side with the ricotta and the other with either a drizzle of honey or a dollop of your favorite tomato sauce. I like to do a mix of six sliders with ricotta and honey, and six with ricotta and tomato sauce. 
  • Place an eggplant round (or two if you sliced them thin) on the bottom half of the roll then top with the ricotta lid.
  • Serve with a green salad, grilled veggies, chips and hummus, or fries.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Summer Strawberry Shortcake

Chris has a summer birthday, and as long as I've known them, his family has always celebrated his day with strawberry shortcake instead of birthday cake. Which is fantastic, if you think about it. Who needs boring old icing and cake when you can pile summer's best strawberries and fresh whipped cream over a sweet, crumbly shortcake?

This year we were actually at home on his birthday, so I made him a lovely strawberry shortcake for his birthday breakfast. Served with espresso and some blueberry champagne we had leftover from celebrating the Fourth, it was a pretty fabulous way to start a special day.
Note: Some folks prefer to pour milk over their shortcake instead of whipped cream. At Chez Gourmess, I like to make a tasty homemade whipped cream with a bit of chilled heavy whipping cream, a drop or two of vanilla and a couple TBS of confectioners sugar. But, you can't go wrong with either option, so do what you like. As for the shortcakes, I've discovered that they are even more delightful with a bit of strawberry Greek yogurt mixed in. Here's my recipe:

Strawberry Shortcake  
1 5-6 oz container of 2% strawberry Greek yogurt
2 TBS milk
2 TBS white sugar
1/4 cup melted butter (4 TBS)
4+ cups sliced fresh strawberries
Extra-fine sugar
Whipped cream
Minimal MESS/ingredients/clean-up: Category 1

To Do:
  • Preheat oven to 425 F. 
  • Stir baking mix, yogurt, milk, sugar and the melted butter until a soft dough forms, then drop by spoonfuls onto a lightly greased baking sheet. You should have enough dough to make about 6 shortcakes. 
  • Sprinkle with sugar, then bake 10 minutes or until golden brown. 
  • While the shortcakes bake, mix together the strawberries and enough extra-fine sugar to coat them in a medium-sized bowl. After about 10 minutes, remove 1/4 of the strawberries and mash them, then return to the bowl.
  • When ready to serve, halve and warm the shortcakes.
  • Scoop a bit of strawberries into the bottom of each serving bowl. 
  • Add one half of the shortcake to the bowl, then top with whipped cream and a big scoop of strawberries.
  • Top the other shortcake half with whipped cream then add to the bowl. Finish with more whipped cream and a strawberry or two for garnish. 
  • Bring the remaining strawberries to the table so guests can add more to their bowls as needed.
  • Yum!