Saturday, April 28, 2018

Ambassador Tostada Pizza

The tostada pizza at the Ambassador in Houghton is a favorite Michigan Tech memory for many alumni, along with the fishbowls, of course.   While I prefer the subs at the Ambassador over the pizza there,  the tostada pizza is also quite good.   It's got taco seasoned meat, and it is topped with lettuce and cheese and tomatoes.   I often get asked for this recipe, so I set out to try to make it myself.      A few years ago, MLive went around the state of Michigan searching for the best pizza and wrote up an article about it.    In the article, they offered me a few clues:

"The Ambassador serves pizza in the a Chicago thin crust. The trademarks of the style are the thickness of the crust, that it needs to be cooked on a stone slate, not a wood fire. The third trademark is that its cut in squares. The dough is made the day before it is used. It includes flour, salt and sugar, which more or less feeds the yeast. They also use a little bit of dry milk and uses cake yeast.  They cook the pizzas at 475 to 500 degrees on a gas-fired oven for 12 to 14 minutes, depending on the ingredients. For the sauce, they start with a tomato paste from Stanislaus and adds water, salt, oregano and cayenne pepper and parmesan cheese. The cheese is a Wisconsin White Colby, which is a high percentage, high moisture cheese with a little bit of mozzarella in it mix." 

I decided to decode the crust first, since I haven't ever tried perfecting a thin style pizza crust.    Despite the article's reference to cake yeast and a slow rise, I decided to skip that and look online to find a good thin crust pizza recipe that didn't require several days to make.  Googling around, I found some recipes that suggested not letting the dough rise at all for a thin crust pizza.   That sounded interesting to me, and sure enough, it did work well.   The article references a pizza stone, but I have found I much prefer my Lodge Cast Iron Pizza Pan to my pizza stones, which are easy to break and take forever to season.  J. Kenji Lopez-Alt at Serious Eats turned me on to making pizza on metal.....I will never go back to stone again.

cast iron pizza pan

Like a pizza stone, you will want to preheat your cast iron pizza pan in the oven first.   Preheat your oven to the highest temperature it will go (mine is 550 F) with the pan in it.   It will take a long time, so start the oven first thing.  I put it on a rack in the bottom third of the oven.   Heat it for 45 minutes.  Meanwhile, make the dough:

Thin Crust No Rise Pizza Dough

3/4 cup lukewarm water
1 teaspoon active-dry yeast
2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
3/4 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons olive oil, divided

Pour the water into a medium bowl. Sprinkle the yeast over the water, and let stand until the yeast has dissolved, 3 to 5 minutes.  Add the flour and salt. Mix with a wooden spoon until floury, shaggy dough forms. Turn the dough out onto the counter, and knead the dough until it forms a smooth, slightly tacky ball that springs back when you poke it, 5 to 8 minutes. If the dough sticks to your hands, add a tablespoon of flour at a time until it’s easier to work with; avoid adding too much flour if possible.  Cover the dough with a kitchen towel and let sit while you prepare the pizza toppings,

Now, I had to consider the toppings for the pizza.   One of the trademark tastes of the Ambassador tostada pizza is the slightly sweet sauce.  The article mentioned "tomato paste from Stanislaus", and down the rabbit hole I went!   There are a lot of pizza nerds out there....and after much online research, I found the sauce that was referenced..... it can be purchased at Gordon's Food Service.

I compared the taste of it with regular tomato paste you can get at the grocery store, because I realize not everyone will want to buy a giant restaurant sized can of pizza sauce (I now have enough pizza sauce in my freezer to last me the rest of my life).  It does taste different...the Stanislaus brand is more sweet and fresh tasting.   The people at Stanislaus recommend thinning it a little to apply to your pizza and not precooking it before adding it.  To be honest, once the pizza is cooked, you can hardly tell the difference of the tomato paste brand, so I'd recommend just sticking with storebought brands.

Pizza Sauce

1 6 oz. can Contadina tomato paste
1/4 c. water
1/2 t. oregano
1/4 t. salt
1/4 t cayenne pepper
2 T. parmesan cheese

In a small bowl, mix together.   Do not precook sauce.

Now, on to the taco meat.    I tried making taco meat using my every day taco seasoning from Penzeys, and it was not right.    Too spicy!  So I put it out to my MTU Alumni fb group, and sure enough, a fellow alum (who will remain nameless) provided me with the recipe for the spice mix they use at the Ambassador, with the admonishment to say that "I didn't get it from him".    So there you go!  I didn't get it from him.  In fact, after downscaling his provided recipe, I tweaked it a bit to get it to be more to my liking anyway.   Here is what I came up with:

Taco Meat

1 lb hambuger
1 T. onion powder
1 t. kosher salt
1/2 t. garlic powder
1/2 t. ground black pepper
1/2 t. cumin
1/2 T. chili powder
1/2 t. crushed red pepper

In a skillet, brown hamburger.   Add spices and stir until cooked through.   Remove from heat and add  about half the pizza sauce to it.  Do not cook any further

For the rest of the toppings:

8 oz. bag shredded Colby Monterey Jack Cheese
8 oz. bag shredded iceburg lettuce
1 roma tomato, diced
1 small bottle mild taco sauce

Returning to the dough, put a piece of parchment paper on the counter top and stretch or roll dough into a thin, 20 inch round on it. Form from the middle of the dough outwards, using the heel of your hand to gently press and stretch the dough until it's about a 1/4-inch thick or less.  Roll it with a rolling pin if you have to do so. If the dough starts to shrink back, let it rest for 5 minutes and then try rolling again.    Brush the dough with 1 teaspoon of the olive oil. Spread  remaining pizza sauce into a thin layer onto dough, leaving a 1/2-inch border.  Turn oven down to 450F and place the parchment paper with pizza on pizza pan and cook for 5 minutes. 

Remove pan from oven and top with taco meat and half of the cheese and return to the oven for another 5 minutes or so, until the cheese is melted and crust is brown.   Remove pizza from oven and top with remaining cheese, lettuce and diced tomato and taco sauce swirl.   Traditionally, Ambasador pizza is cut into squares, not wedges.

Enjoy with your favorite fishbowl!

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Stir Fry Beef and Spinach with Noodles

Many years ago, in 1994,  I was a finalist in the National Beef Cookoff, sponsored by the Cattleman's Association...I will forever think of this time in my life whenever I hear this song

I didn't win, but I got an all expenses paid trip to Little Rock, Arkansas (visit summary: a lot of Bill and Hillary Clinton and TCBY Yogurt, which was founded there.  Not much else)  But I also got to know what I affectionately called "the beef people" pretty well.   I  did a lot of press with them,  because even though I didn't win, a hugely pregnant woman engineer fit right into their marketing plan and that is how I learned about this recipe.   The beauty of this recipe is that is as simple as spaghetti sauce from a jar, but yet it is not.   If you don't have sirloin tip steak available, just make it with hamburger.    It is really, really good.   And it can be "what's for dinner" on a Tuesday night, in 30 minutes. 

Alpha Delta Alpha Cookbook

In 2005, my sorority published a cookbook in honor of the 25th anniversary of it's founding at Michigan Tech.   I didn't know it had even existed until recently, and one of my sorority sisters mailed it to me so I could scan it in and share it.   So here it is!  Enjoy!

Sunday, April 08, 2018

Coconut Cream Pie

Last Sunday was Easter, and it sure doesn't feel like Easter around here.  The weather is still very much winter.   It's 18 degrees out this morning, for example.   It's been snowing the past few days.  My daughter had to work, so she wasn't able to come for Easter dinner, and my son is at college, and my family was out of town, so I invited some friends over instead.    I have always loved coconut cream pie, but I realized I had never made one before in my life.   I recently picked up Zingerman's Bakehouse Cookbook and it's described as one of the first pies for spring. 

First of all, I tried their pastry crust recipe, which is an all butter affair.   I wasn't overly impressed,   it came out tougher than my typical shortening based crust, but I did learn a great tip in their  directions.   They suggest that when the crust is crumbly, stop adding water and turn the mixture onto the counter and push out sections of dough with the heal of your hand once....they call it "schmearing, and then fold it back on itself with a bench scraper.  Sure enough, this technique made the crust hold together! 

Otherwise, I did love how this pie came out. It's got both coconut milk and toasted coconut in it.   Here's my take on their recipe....

Coconut Cream Pie

1 9" single pie crust, blind baked
1 1/4 c. unsweetened flaked coconut  (had to buy at People's Food Coop, check health food stores)
3/4 c. granulated sugar (their recipe included an addition 2 T., don't bother.  Must have been a remainder from an industrial sized recipe)
1/4 c. corn starch (ditto,  theirs had an additional 1.5 t, not needed)
1/2 t. kosher salt  (their recipe called for sea salt)
1 1/2 c. whole milk
1 can coconut milk (the kind you use for Thai recipes, not pina coladas.  Their recipe called for 1 1/2 cups and since the can I had was slightly less than that, I wasn't willing to open another for a little bit more)
3 egg yolks
1 1/2 t. vanilla
1 T. butter (I used salted, don't keep unsalted around)

For Whipped Cream Topping
1/2  pt. heavy cream  (original recipe called for 12 oz.....that would be way too much!)
2 t. vanilla (original recipe called for 1/2 vanilla bean seeds, I didn't bother)
2 T. granulated sugar

Preheat oven to 300 F.  Spread coconut onto a cookie sheet.   Toast in the oven for about 5-10 minutes, stirring a couple times, until golden brown.   In a medium saucepan, stir sugar, starch and salt.  Add the milks and the egg yolks, whisk to combine.  Cook the filling until it thickens and comes to a boil.   Continue to cook for 1 minute while stirring.    I was a little nervous because there was no temperature called out and I like to use a thermometer for this, but it was just fine. Reserve 1/4 c. coconut for topping.  Remove from heat and add remaining coconut, vanilla add butter and stir. Pour filling in a bowl and cover with plastic wrap to prevent a skin from forming, and let it cool for 30 minutes at room temperature

Stir mixture again and pour into cooled pie crust.   Cover with plastic wrap again and press into filling, refrigerate for 2 hours.  To make whipped cream, put ingredients in bowl of a stand mixer and using whisk attachment, beat on high until firm peaks form.   Top pie with whipped cream and sprinkle with toasted coconut.   Enjoy!