Sunday, October 17, 2010

PFB Challenge #5: She Put A Reuben On It

All she could hear was the rubbery “squeak” of her knife sawing its way down the face of the cabbage. The house was perfectly quiet, as each of her three children were napping, and she was seizing this time to bring to life her newest inspired idea. Her thoughts ranged from I should write my next post in third person, to I'm nervous about this hair-brained idea. It was a momentary worry; her thoughts soon drifted back to the sheer delight of a quiet house and her knife back to the cabbage, shaving angel-hair thin strips.

Mid-way through slicing, her hand started to cramp. She laid down her less-than-sharp knife and firmly rubbed the inside of her thumb. She stretched out her long fingers, trying to find some relief. For a moment, she realized how much her hands had aged and then shrugged it off. She quickly moved on to photographing the cabbage on the cutting board. She left it just as it was. No fussing, she whispered and pulled her hands back from the haystack of feathery cabbage. It didn’t need a bit of direction.

Stray shreds of the freshly-cut cabbage were haphazardly strewn across the kitchen floor. She never claimed to be tidy cook, as she felt cleaning-up as she went, broke the creative flow of her culinary process- she simply had no time for it. As she carried handfuls of ingredients back and forth between the counters, the orphaned cabbage threads stuck to the heels of her feet, causing her to stop and shake her foot. It irritated her immensely but not enough to cause her to stop what she was doing.

She measured out the vinegar, sugar, salt and pepper for the cabbage brine. She poured the ingredients into the glass Pyrex measurer and heated it for almost three minutes. She lunged at the microwave just before it started beeping and opened the door quickly. She wanted the house to stay quiet. She did not want to disturb the sleeping babes.

Immediately the vapors of the hot vinegar hit her nostrils and she started to cough and swat at the air. When would she ever learn? She stirred the steamy liquid –face turned away- until all the sugar was dissolved.

She scooped up all the cabbage threads and plunged them down into the slightly-cooled brine. She was quickly reminded that she had a paper cut on her right ring finger. She squealed and yanked her hand out quickly. She continued working the cabbage down into the brine with her left hand, while sucking the vinegary mixture off of her injured ring finger. The brine was perfectly tangy, sweet and salty.

She referred to her idea journal momentarily to reconnect with her inspiration. It was a simple, not overly-complicated idea. She wanted to keep the flavors clean and familiar while transporting it to the mouth via the mandated vehicle of the challenge- pizza. Her idea to forgo the classic sauerkraut that she loved and adored and replace it with a brighter, what she felt, more updated version was making her nervous. But what continually brought her back to trust in her inspiration was the contrast of the cold pickled cabbage atop the hot, salty, cheesy toppings of the Reuben pizza. She was deeply hoping it would work.

She liked to sketch out her ideas in scrawly drawings and scribbled words. She cherished each and every idea, regardless of whether it ever came into being. Cooking, to her, was just as artful as her paintings or collages. Its conception on paper was chiefly important, for she knew, if she did not write or draw her idea down, it would be lost forever in the scattered, cranial filing cabinets of her mommy-brain. The drawings helped her to remember the inspiration clearly and not miss a detail- for she loved details.

She stepped outside to retrieve the bowl containing the pizza dough she crafted earlier. It was a perfect 80 degrees outside and a gentle breeze played with the stray hairs around her face. She brushed them away with the back of her forearm and picked up the bowl from its warm place on the porch. She cradled it in her arms as she walked back inside. As she lifted the towel to behold the magic of yeast, flour, salt and water; she once again found herself amazed. She never tired of being surprised by what laid under that towel. There before her was the once tiny dough ball, peppered with anise seeds, now doubled in-size and pungently fragrant. She sighed with content and then happily punched down the dough. This was her favorite part of bread making. The dough collapsed all around her fist. It was, as they say, as soft as a baby’s bottom, which she- as an experienced mom- knew the feeling of, all too well.

She let the dough rest. Meanwhile she photographed ingredients, over and over in different light and different configurations. She was enjoying the moody lighting of the afternoon sun lazily drifting through the dining room windows. It was doing the job of conveying the autumnal feelings that she had as she made the pizza- the knowing that darker evenings and cooler weather was soon to be upon her.

She came back and lightly floured the countertop and spread it around leaving swirling marks with her fingertips. She cut the dough in four equal pieces and took one portion. She laid it down on the cold granite and started rolling it out. It occurred to her that keeping it a long oblong shape would be appealing and different. Why must a pizza be round? She thought.

Her oven was blasted hot and prepared with two inexpensive terra cotta tiles on the bottom rack of her oven. She was very proud of her $1.98 purchase from the local home improvement store. They worked like a dream making every pizza she made crispy and evenly baked.

On her pizza peel she scattered a bit more flour to ease the un-baked pizza into the oven. She started the process of building the pizza. On top of the thinly-rolled pizza dough went her homemade Thousand Island dressing. She liberally smeared it on with the back of a spoon and retrieving spillage with her forefinger. She tasted it. It was creamy, sweet and tangy. A piece of pickle relish crunched between her back molars.

Next she layered on the Baby Swiss cheese. It was already getting oily and wilted from the heat radiating from the oven. It draped itself onto the bed of dressing like a satin sheet. Atop the cheese she artfully arranged, pieces of corned beef, which were cut into ½” strips. They reminded her of ribbons at Christmastime.

She popped it into the oven, more with awkward movements and biting of her lip than quick finesse. She didn’t really care how it got in there, just as long as it did and without major damage. She shut the door and breathed relief.

She turned the oven light on because, like a kid, she would press her face up to the glass and watch the cheese bubble and spit as it got closer and closer to being done. The edges on the corned beef started to crisp and curl. This excited her greatly.

Ten minutes went by and she announced it was officially done- to nobody. The crispy bottom of the crust slid onto the peel with the help of a fork. She quickly ran it over to the dining room table for its photography session. It was beautiful. She grabbed some of the pickled cabbage, remembering to use her left hand, and squeezed it well. Switching hands, she sprinkled with her right hand and pressed the button on her camera with the left. She loved capturing the action of a meal being composed.

As she photographed the slices on a plate, she grabbed a beer. A few sips of beer with un-dainty bites of the freshly-baked pizza was her version of afternoon delight. She continually had to remind herself that this was time to get great shots, not a grazing session. She did both.

The pizza far exceeded her expectations. It was as she hoped it would be, but so much more satisfying. The crispness of the crust supported the soft cheese and dressing as it enveloped the saltiness of the corned beef. The crescendo at the end of every bite was the pickled cabbage that crunched and popped with vinegar-y vigor. She was pleased that her vision of two childhood favorites merging to create a new adulthood favorite had come into fruition...that and she got to drink a beer at three o'clock in the afternoon, for photography purposes only. ("she" winks)

Reuben Pizza

makes 4 personal size pizzas

3/4 lb. corned beef, sliced very thinly and then into 1/2" strips
1/2 lb. baby Swiss cheese, sliced very thinly
2 tbsp. chopped fresh parsley (for garnish)
1 recipe homemade Thousand Island dressing (see below)
1 recipe pizza dough (see below)
1 recipe quick pickled cabbage (see below)

Place unglazed terra cotta tiles (or pizza stone) in a cold oven. Preheat to 500 degrees. Cut dough into fourths and roll out one at a time. Sprinkle pizza peel with flour and place thinly rolled dough on top. Layer dressing, cheese then corned beef. Bake for 10 minutes until edges are brown and cheese is bubbly and hot. Remove and have a handful of squeezed pickled cabbage ready to top the pizza. Cut and enjoy! Preferably with an ice cold beer.

Homemade Thousand Island Dressing

1 cup mayo
1 cup pickle relish
1/2 cup ketchup

Mix and set aside.

Pizza Dough
(Click HERE for my how-to video)
Prep time: 10 minutes plus 45 minutes to rise, plus 15 minutes to rest

2 c. flour
2 tsp. sugar
1 tsp. salt
3 tbs. olive oil
2 tsp. instant yeast
1/2 c. warm water (110 degrees)
(only for the Reuben Pizza: add 1 1/2 tsp. anise, fennel or caraway seeds that have been dry-roasted in a pan until fragrant)

Dump all ingredients into your stand mixer with dough hook attachment, turn to medium speed. If the dough looks a little dry, add a tsp. water. If it looks wet, add a bit of flour.

When it pulls together in a ball, that is when you start the timer for the 5 minutes of kneading. Just let the mixer do the job for you. You can also do this by hand.

After the five minutes, you should have a soft, elastic dough and in most cases the bowl will be "clean" as in all the dough pulled away from the sides.

Pour in a tsp. of olive oil into your bowl. Coat the dough ball in the oil, this prevents it from drying out.

Cover the bowl with a dish towel and set in a warm place to rise until doubled in size, about 45 minutes.

Quick Pickled Cabbage

2 cups white vinegar
1 cup sugar
2 tbsp. salt
2 tsp. fresh cracked pepper
2 cups cool water
1 cup ice cubes
1 small head of cabbage, very thinly sliced

Heat vinegar, sugar, salt and pepper in a glass bowl, in the microwave for 3 minutes. Stir to dissolve all the sugar. Add the shredded cabbage and water. Massage the cabbage into the brine. Add ice cubes and let stand for at least an hour.

This was my version of a twist on the recipe for pizza, which all the contestants for Project Food Blog were required to do for this Challenge #5. Pizza is one of my top favorite foods, and it's made weekly in our house. The Reuben is a sandwich that I loved as a child, which my mom would make on Sunday afternoons after church, usually in the fall. It's the marriage of two classic comfort foods into one thoughtfully planned and crafted new creation. I mean it when I say, I wish you could taste the photos.

I seriously hope you can feel how grateful I am to have made it to this round! I would be lying if I didn't say I was shaking in my boots on Friday to find out if I made it. It's been sheer delight, with a few minor moments of pure frustration, and tons of learning! So thank you again and again and again!

Voting begins 6AM Pacific Time October 18th and goes through 6PM Pacific Time October 21st. Don't worry, you know I will remind you.

Love ya, Foodies!
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