Sunday, February 3, 2013
This is a big weekend for food in my family. For many Americans this is Superbowl weekend. That calls for a feast loaded with things we shouldn’t normally be eating. In my family this weekend was also our annual paella celebration. While this is customarily a New Year’s Day feast, this year we have all been very busy so it got postponed. But my brother-in-law got engaged over New Year’s, so we had a great occasion to come together and celebrate New Year’s style, no relation to Gangnam by the way. And as I write this I am flying across the country to attend my grandmother’s funeral. In many families particular people and foods are forever linked, for better or worse. As I travel to what I foresee as a celebration of a life well-lived, I cannot help but dream of one dish I will set out to master that will always be associated with my grandmother.
So thanks for coming along while I reminisce. The whole point of this blog from the outset was to explore how food binds us together and helps form community, love and family. While the restaurant reviews are fun and describing a recipe seems to go hand in hand with this sort of writing, let’s get back to the point here for a few entries. First up…Superbowl Scrumptiousness.
I grew up believing that New Years Day and Superbowl Sundy were de facto national holidays. I may not have always known who was in the World Series, ignored the NBA championships unless the Celtics were involved, and thought the Stanley Cup was a small dog’s water bowl, I always knew who was playing in each college bowl game and studied pro football like some kids study science or Dungeons and Dragons. And for each of these days there were special foods. Superbowl Sunday had me looking forward to two specific treats…my mom’s pizza bread and her clam dip. In retrospect, this gives me a chuckle. The foodie in me as all sorts of problems with these. But the football fan and eater finds nothing but absolute delight in them.
My mom’s clam dip is as simple as it gets. Take a couple boxes of Kraft Philidelphia Cream Cheese and let them warm up a little in a large bowl. Open at least two cans of chopped clams and one of minced clams. Drain the liquid from two of these, but reserve. Now pour the contents of all three cans into the cream cheese. Mix together well. Grind in enough black pepper to speckle the blend. Now evaluate for firmness. If the mix is pretty firm, add some clam juice you reserved. You will want to achieve a texture that allows you to drag a chip through it with ease without breaking the chip. When you think you have the right texture, cover and chill for at least an hour. Serve it directly from the fridge with Ruffles potato chips. If you really had to you could dress this up with parsley or cilantro, crab meat, pickle juice, sea salt. For me…just make sure the game is on, the beer is poured (and root beer is quite perfect with this dip), and the couch is warm and comfy. Sit. Eat. Share if you must. Don’t speak…the game is on.
The second treat of Superbowl Sunday and New Year’s Day is Pizza Bread. Overnight allow one frozen brick of bread dough to thaw and rise. Be sure your bowl is large…it will expand a lot. On the day you will eat it, lightly flour your kitchen counter, dump the dough in top and roll it out into the biggest rectangle you reasonably can without being able to see through it. Once you have something about 18 to 24 inches across, about 18 inches wide spread a layer of thin-sliced deli ham in a line from one side to the other, leaving about 2 inches uncovered at either end. Then a layer of white American cheese on top of that. Now a layer of pepper salad with some of its juice. If you can’t find pepper salad in the pickle section of the grocery store, do what I do…one jar of gardiniera with cauliflower removed mixed with a jar of banana or sport peppers and one jar of roasted red bell peppers. Let all of this mix and blend over night and now you have a beautiful batch of pepper salad. So now you have your three layers sitting in the dough. Now carefully fold over the ends, then roll the dough, using form hands to keep the stuffing in place. You are creating a giant loaf of bread stuffed with the ham, cheese and pepper salad. Just when you fold over the last little bit, brush with an egg wash to “glue” it. Now brush the entire loaf and slice some small holes in the top. Put this on a cookie sheet in an oven preheated to about 350 degrees. Cook until the cheese and oil start to bubble out the ends or the top…I have never seen this cooked without a cheesy, oily bubbly mess on the cookie sheet. Once you think it is done, remove and let it cool for a bit…it’s gonna be HOT! Now, slice it and serve around the 5 minute mark of the second quarter.
The Pizza Bread can be dressed up a million ways too…salami, capicolla, coppa, prosciutto, all sorts of cheeses, whatever pickled or roasted veggies you like, olives…you name it. The bottom line is some cured meat, cheese and spicy veggies. And if you are bothered by it being called Pizza Bread and bearing no resemblance to pizza, alleviate your worries and make it with tomato sauce, pepperoni, and mozzarella. Practice…every dough is different, every cheese reacts in its own way and sometimes you will over stuff and sometimes you will want more. I always make two…one for the first half and one for the fourth quarter and post-game. Hey…it’s a long game.
Leftover note…Pizza bread is delicious leftover. And your surplus ingredients…oh my. A baguette with capicolla, cheese and pepper salad (be sure to get enough of the pepper salad juice to get the bread wet) is a true treat at work the next day…if you make it there.
On another note, since I am sitting on a plane…why, when peanut and tree nut allergies are increasingly prevalent and known to be deadly, do airlines continue to hand out peanuts? And why must airport food be so painfully boring, bland, and expensive?
Finally, I can’t really cheer for the 49ers. I grew up a Cowboys fan until Jerry Jones. I am by birth a Patriots fan, so certainly can’t cheer on the Ravens, though I like their style. But the Niner Defense is anchored by a couple former and fellow Mizzou alums, Justin Smith and Aldon Smith. So like a true Tiger, today I say…M-I-Z…Go Niners!