Pizza Night in Petaluma

We planned our Friday night meal around our four teenagers. For those of you with teens you know that things can change in the blink of an eye. Of the four we managed to corral one.

Grateful for Mark!

Grateful for Mark!

Kelly’s 17 year old, Mark was gracious enough to hang with the “parents” on Pizza Night, and the rest seemingly had better offers. We were very grateful for Mark; he’s quite the entertainer and had us all in stitches as we cooked. Laughter is definitely the most important ingredient in all of our cooking. Everything is better with laughter. I’ve been known to say the same thing about butter, bacon and Kelly.

The Secret is in The Sauce

The Secret is in The Sauce

Tomato Sauce

I’ve (Berkley) been making the same sauce for the last couple of years. I don’t do anything unusual or extraordinary in making my tomato sauce but I always get great reviews. The secret to the sauce, as I once heard Alice Waters say, is in the tomatoes. I remember she liked the Shady Lady. I like the Heirloom. We got some beautiful Heirloom’s from Tolay Valley Farms in our weekly CSA pickup down at Ernie’s Tin Bar and added some organic Shady Ladies. I preheated the oven to 350 and cored eight tomatoes then tossed them in a mixture of olive oil and sea salt before placing them on a baking sheet. I threw them in the oven for 45 minutes and meanwhile diced half of an enormous sweet yellow onion along with five cloves of garlic. Once the maters were out and had cooled a bit I took the skins off half of them with my fingers. To make the sauce, I heated some olive oil in a sauce pan, added a dash of salt and a few quick turns with the pepper grinder then tossed in the garlic and onions. I sautéed until the onions softened then tossed in the tomatoes whole. I mashed the tomatoes with a potato masher (a trick that just came to me Friday) and mixed it all together.

Testing The Sauce

Testing The Sauce

I simmered the sauce for 30 minutes, stirring frequently, adding only salt and pepper to taste. I’ve frozen and canned this before.  It’s a great staple to have around the house – on pasta after a busy day or on toast for bruschetta to feed the unannounced but always welcome guest.

The Cheese

Searching for new employment in today’s changing economy has caused me (Kelly) to search within myself. Sometimes, this is a painful process.  Actually, it is a “yucky” process, but nevertheless it is necessary. To counteract the yuckiness, I find myself needing comfort food, and pizza is one of my favorite comfort foods. I like to bake, so I made the pizza dough while Berkley made his amazing sauce. This week’s story, however, is about the cheese because it is the cheese that makes pizza a comfort food.

We discovered a delicious, local source for cheese in Petaluma. We were introduced to the fabulous cheeses from the Spring Hill Cheese Company through a good friend, Ellen Beeler, who made pizza to remember one night. On Western Avenue (next to their creamery), patrons can enjoy cheese tasting in Spring Hill’s store. We’ve become big fans of their organic, absolutely yummy garlic curd, firehouse Cheddar and pesto Jack cheeses.

Although Spring Hill Cheese Company was started in 1998, it follows a long tradition of dairying in the area. Spring Hill’s ranch raises a herd of 400 Jersey cows because they produce milk with high butter fat. Jersey cows were among the early breeds raised by dairymen and women in the late 1800’s when immigrant families from Italy, Portugal, and other countries made Marin and Sonoma counties active in butter and cheese making. The lush grasses along the coast stay greener longer due to the cool ocean breezes and fog, providing a natural resource that has been perfect for dairy cows for over 150 years. Other breeds, like the black and white Holsteins, later replaced the Jerseys in the dairy industry because they produce more milk. Jersey cows produce less milk, but it is the richness that owner Larry Peter needs to produce Spring Hill’s wide variety of cheeses.

The Pizza Dough

Cormeal Crust with yogurt, YUMM!

Cormeal Crust with yogurt, YUMM!

Berkley researched pizza dough recipes online for me and came up with one I really like because it bakes into a light, crunchy cornmeal crust. The key to our pizza is the cheese; the key to this pizza dough  is the yogurt. Although I was a little intimidated at first, the pizza dough was easy to make. I doubled the recipe so that we could make two 16 inch pizzas, mixing organic whole wheat flour (1 1/2 C) and white flour (1 C), with cornmeal (1 C), baking soda (1 tsp), baking powder (2 tsp), salt (1 tsp), and dry basil (1 tsp) in a large bowl. Then in a separate bowl I stirred together Straus Family whole milk plain yogurt (1 1/2 C) and olive oil (4 T). Gently combining, I poured the yogurt mixture into the flour mix and stirred until it came together. The dough only needs to be kneaded (pun intended) for a minute or two – I just placed the mound of dough onto a piece of well floured parchment paper and used the heel of my hand (also floured) to work the dough into a ball, sprinkling a little flour as I worked it so that the dough would no longer stick to my hand. I wrapped the dough ball in the parchment paper and let it “rest” in the refrigerator for a bit. Rolling it out was easy. I cut the ball of dough in two with a knife, pressed each half of the dough with my fingers to start, and used a rolling pin to properly finish rolling each crust to 1/4″ thick. To transfer the dough to a baking sheet I lightly folded it in half to make it easier, then unfolded it onto the baking sheets.  To complete the crust, I made a 1/2″ folded edge, pressing with my fingers. We partly baked the pizza crust for 10 minutes at 400.

The Toppings

Mark putting on some finishing touches

Mark putting on some finishing touches

For the toppings, Berkley sliced green bell pepper and Italian sausage (Aidell’s) and Mark thinly sliced mushrooms and grated mounds of cheese. We chose three kinds of Spring Hill cheese for our pizzas:  Fresh Curds (crumbled on top, these become creamy when melted), Garlic Cheddar and Pesto Jack. Berkley spread his roasted tomato sauce over both pizza crusts. Mark topped his pizza with all of the above ingredients, and I made mine with the same, minus the bell pepper and plus oregano sprinkled around. These took about 20 minutes in the oven at 400.

Beets, Cucumbers n' Greens

Beets, Cucumbers n' Greens

While the pizzas baked, I put together a simple salad of diced roasted beets, red lettuce, and sliced cucumber with a creamy blue cheese dressing.

The Comfort

This pizza both crumbled and melted in our mouths as we ate outside on the patio.  We laughed some more as we heard about life through the eyes of a teenager. The pizza was just as comforting for breakfast the following morning and for lunch two days later on a hike.

Berkelly's Pizza fresh from the oven.

Berkelly's Pizza fresh from the oven.

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Asian Fusion

A unique local stop in our town, Petaluma, has more to it than meets the eye — Ernie’s Tin Bar.  Family operated since 1923, this little bar caught Berkley’s eye because he enjoys connecting to local people and to local places that aren’t in the mainstream. Mostly, though, Berkley knows how much I enjoy a good story and you can’t leave Ernie’s without hearing one, sharing one, or creating one of your own.

Ernie now represents the fourth generation of barkeeps in the family.  Contemporary in his social awareness, you will find Ernie behind the bar with his iPhone sharing photos of his family, and young daughter.  Use your cellphone to talk, however, and you will be buying a round — a rule we all enjoy and honor.  Ernie’s Tin Bar is not listed in the phone book, but you will find them on Yelp and in a few articles about good beer, served locally. That’s about it — except for this:  Ernie grows delicious organic fruits and vegetables that he provides to subscribers in his local CSA.  What is a CSA? It stands for Community Supported Agriculture.  For $17 a week, each Tuesday we have the privilege of stopping by Ernie’s Tin Bar for a beer and a bag of groceries filled to the brim with produce Ernie grows on his small farm.

Ernie's Produce on the chopping block

Ernie's Produce on the chopping block

This week, our overflowing bag of goodies included sweet cantaloupe, tangy raspberries, sumptuous beets, golden carrots, roasting potatoes, crisp cucumber, lemon cucumbers, crookneck squash, crunchy cabbage, and heirloom tomatoes.  For our first entry, we planned a comforting veggie meal with savory Asian flavors and invited a special guest to share it with. What follows are the recipes using these wonderful gifts from Ernie’s garden.

Half of the fun is planning the meal – talking about it and researching recipes from old books and favorite online gourmets.  I (Berkley) went to my favorite website, Recipezaar.com, looking for an Asian dish that would utilize cabbage and Udon noodles. After sifting through 145 recipes, I found one that spoke to me, Sesame Noodles With Napa Cabbage.  Our goal for this recipe, and all others, is to use at least two local foods, regular pantry staples, and for it to be yummy. 

Since we were entertaining we wanted it to be simple to prepare, so we could enjoy our company while sipping some local sparkling wine from Mumm Napa  I created an easy sauce, whisking together some organic crunchy peanut butter, soy sauce, sesame oil, white wine vinegar (in place of rice vinegar), white wine (in place of sherry), organic sugar and red pepper flakes.  (Kelly loved this sauce and her only request is to double it next time.)  Meanwhile, Kelly sliced the cabbage into long crunchy strips and chopped cilantro from the Petaluma Farmer’s Market grown by Taylor at Petaluma Bounty.  She then added her idea of julienned carrots to top the dish.  I simmered the sauce and prepared the Udon noodles.  One of the neat tricks to learning this recipe was using the boiled water from the Udon noodles to blanche both the cabbage and the carrots. Using two strainers (one smaller for the carrots), I poured the hot water from the noodles over the vegetables.  I mixed the sauce with the noodles in the noodle pot, and mixed in the cabbage.  After plating the dish, I topped each plate with the carrots and cilantro.

Sesame Udon Noodles with Cabbage

Sesame Udon Noodles with Cabbage

Adding to the delicious, peanutbuttery noodle dish of Berkley’s, I (Kelly) made a salad with sliced roasted beets, cucumber, and tomatoes with an Asian ginger dressing.  To top the evening’s meal, I served fresh raspberries with diced cantaloupe, topped with Straus Family Vanilla Whole Milk Yogurt (talk about yumminess, this is the best yogurt EVER.)  I love a good story and if you do too, listen to an oral history interview with Albert Straus about his experience as a dairy farmer.  This interview was done for a project I took part in with Dominican University as curator for the Marin History Museum’s current exhibit,  Growing The Future:  Farming Families of Marin. 

Enjoying our meal with a special friend makes it taste even better.

Enjoying our meal with a special friend makes it taste even better.