eating our way through philly

I gasped at my first glance of the Philadelphia skyline. Dare I say it’s more beautiful than my native New York City one? The next 18 hours proved to be just as incredible a discovery. It seems unthinkable to me that it took this long to uncover its not-so-hidden treasures.

My first, and only other visit, to the city took place in January of 1998. Back then I was only passing through, arriving in town on a Peter Pan bus from Port Authority in NYC. I was on my way to see my father for the first time in five years. So much has happened in the 16 years since then.

I lost a father.

I lost a husband.

But I didn’t lose my resolve to live each day to its fullest, no matter how hard that sometimes seems. And so, the girls and I took a mini road trip. Frankly, 18 hours doesn’t do Philadelphia justice, but it did us Perillo Girls a world of good for reasons I wrote about here. Alas, it’s all we could spare this trip, but we shall be back. Hopefully, very soon. Here’s a few highlights of the calories we consumed along the way.

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when i’m gone…

It’s been a while.

Over the last month, I’ve found myself starting a post, deleting, starting again, and then just moving onto something else. I feel a bit jumbled inside, and haven’t really been sure how to say what’s on my mind. Some days I’m not even sure I know what’s going on in that cavernous space; it’s such a swirl of activity. Recipes are overflowing, but the words…well, those seem to be in short supply.

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peanut butter & chocolate cinnamon buns

My relationship with peanut butter and chocolate desserts needs no explanation for long-time readers. One day I’ll tell the story of how the little peanut butter pie that could came to be. Today, though, I want to share a new peanut butter and chocolate recipe with all of you. It’s only recently that I could even fathom that flavor combination again. Cooking has the power to heal, but some recipes, some flavors, well, they’re too reminiscent of moments that I’ll never experience again.

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crispy oven fries

The kids are snuggled in their beds, fast asleep. Much as I should be in bed, too, I’m wide-eyed after a cat nap. It’s become part of Virginia’s bedtime routine. After we read books, I usually curl up with her, to help her fall into a peaceful slumber. This wasn’t always our pattern; certainly not when Michael was alive. Then again, I was always firm about bedtime, knowing that a cuddle on the couch was my reward after a long day. The daytime was all about the girls. Nighttime was a standing date with my guy to catch up on our day, relax, and enjoy curling up in the corner of our L-shaped sofa together.

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pizza, revisited

Just when I thought there was nothing more to write about pizza, it seems the story continues. Too often, food writers talk about cooking in definitives. The problem with that is life isn’t one-size-fits-all. Pizza is a perfect example. My approach has evolved significantly in the 20+ years that I’ve been making it. My first foray into making pizza from scratch was baking it in a round, metal pan. Then I branched out to a pizza stone, but would shape the dough on parchment paper and slide it into the oven off the metal sheet, removing the parchment after the crust had “set”. Embracing a pizza peel took a bit longer. Confidence trumps skills in this department. It takes  a quick flick of the wrist for it to slide effortlessly from the peel to the stone.

I took my time, and did it on my terms, never judging or comparing myself to how other people were doing it. This is pretty much how I’ve handled most situations in my life. The only rules I play by are the ones with which I feel comfortable. So, when it comes to cooking, don’t forget you’re the boss in your own kitchen.

To me, it makes more sense to first become comfortable with cooking from scratch, and find a good workflow or routine, before trying to up the ante. Once you have that confidence, you can stretch your wings a little more. My new approach to pizza is a good example. There’s nothing revolutionary about it. In all truth, the difference is subtle, yet sublime.

The idea to mix up my pizza routine came to me during my daily pita making sessions last week. I’ve yet to share that recipe. The base for the pita starts by making a sponge. This little extra step adds a lightness to the crust. I also tweaked my cooking method, which ensures a crisp crust, while maintaining a soft, chewy texture.

So, what is a sponge? When you set out to make the dough, you begin by mixing the yeast, sugar, water and some of the flour. It all gets stirred together in a bowl, then sits until it puffs up (think of how a dry sponge expands when it comes in contact with water). This extra step only adds 15 to 20 minutes of time, and not even active time at that. Once the sponge is ready, I proceed with my dough recipe as usual.

The other adjustment I’ve made is with the placement of the stone in the oven. Rather than bake my pizza on the center rack, I remove all but the bottom rack. The stone gets hotter this way, and manages to crisp the crust evenly from the edge to the center.

One thing I should mention, though, and hopefully this will encourage more of you to finally see the light in the volume vs. weight debate for measuring ingredients. My recipe below is written in metric measurements primarily. This is how I cook normally at home, when I’m not in recipe development mode. It is so freeing to not fret with cups and spoons. If you don’t believe me in this, then listen to veteran baker Alice Medrich.

Oh, and one more thing I’ve been meaning to share. Guess what this month signals? Homemade with Love turns one! I’ve had the great privilege to be a part of your homes since its release. Seeing photos of my recipes come to life in your kitchens this past year has been a joy. I’d love to know how Homemade with Love has changed your relationship to cooking.

Has it made it less intimidating for you? Has it sparked an interest in cooking with your kids? Are there recipes that have become an absolute must-make in your family? I want to invite you all to share photos of what you’ve cooked from the book on Pinterest and Instagram for a chance to win a few fun giveaways. I’ve got some goodies I’ve brought back from my trips to Paris (Fleur de sel, Belgian chocolates), a few of my favorite cooking tools (chef’s tweezers, the best paring knife ever), and a Sur La Table gift card. The giveaway winners will be chosen at random beginning March 24th, so you have time to think about what you’d like to cook. Just be sure to tag me in your photos (@jenniferperillo) and include #injennieskitchen too, so I can find them easily.

Hope you all enjoy this new foray into pizza making. I’m looking forward to seeing what everyone cooks up, too.

For more ideas and recipes on homemade pizza, take a look at what my fellow Comfort Food Feast friends are sharing this week on the FN Dish Blog.
The Heritage Cook: Gluten-Free Pizza Crust and Homemade Pizza Sauce

Jeanette’s Healthy Living: Easy Turkey Taco Pizza

Devour: Top 5 Pizzas Without Sauce

Elephants and the Coconut Trees: Pepperoni Pizza Puffs

Weelicious: Pizza Balls

Dishin & Dishes: Iron Skillet Chicken Pesto Pizza

Napa Farmhouse 1885: Pizza with Sun-Dried Tomato, Red Pepper and Corn

Red or Green: Pizza with Green Chile, Chicken and Cheese (Gluten-Free)

Virtually Homemade: Individual Cheese Quesadilla Pizzas

Domesticate Me: Grilled Pita Pizza with Prosciutto, Chanterelles, Arugula and a Fried Egg

Food for 7 Stages of Life: No Yeast Pizza Dough
The Blue Apron Blog: Our Favorite Pizza Toppings

The Sensitive Epicure: Mini Deep Dish Polenta Pizzas (Gluten-Free)

FN Dish: Homemade Pizza Comfort by the Slice

Jennie's Pizza Dough

6 grams active dry yeast

5 grams granulated natural cane sugar

360 grams Antimo Caputo “00″ Pizzeria Flour, or bread flour, plus more for shaping

1 cup (237 ml) warm water

6 grams fine sea salt

1 tablespoon (30 ml) extra virgin olive oil

Add the yeast, sugar, and 70 grams of flour to a deep bowl. Pour in the water, and whisk well to combine. Set the bowl, uncovered, in a warm spot until the water absorbs the flour and the mixture puffs up, 15 to 20 minutes.

Add 220 grams of flour to the bowl, along with the salt and oil. Using a wooden spoon, stir until the flour is mixed in completely. The dough will be rather wet and sticky. Sprinkle a little bit of the remaining flour onto a board or countertop. Scrape the dough onto the board. Sprinkle a little bit more flour on top. Gently knead the dough until it’s smooth, and no longer sticky, adding more flour, a bit at a time, as needed (you may not need all of the remaining flour).

Place the dough in a lightly oiled bowl, cover tightly with plastic wrap, and set it in a warm spot until it has doubled in volume (about 1 1/2 hours).  Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface, and gently press it down to deflate. Divide the dough in half. Place each half in its own lightly oiled bowl. Cover with plastic wrap, and set aside until doubled in volume again. This second rise happens much faster, about 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, adjust the rack in your oven to its lowest position. Place the pizza stone on top, and turn the oven on to 500F (260C). Make sure to do this step as you start the second rise, so the oven has enough time to get nice and hot.

Take one ball of dough, and turn it out onto a lightly floured wooden or metal peel. Press or stretch the dough out into a 12-inch (22 cm) circle , whatever method you prefer (I start by pressing from the center, then switch to stretching).

Top with your desired ingredients (marinara sauce, mozzarella, ricotta, vegetables). Slide the pizza onto the stone, and bake for 8 to 10 minutes, until the cheese is melted and bubbly, if using, and the crust is very lightly golden. Repeat with the remaining ball of dough.

moroccan mint tea

I love everything about coffee; the ritual, the scent that fills the air as the oils release while the beans grind. The aroma that wafts up the stairs, as it brews on the stove top. The way the steam tickles my nose, as I bring the cup to my lips.

It happens every few months, though. I wake up, and no longer feel an affinity for my usual temptress.

For weeks, I’d been craving Moroccan mint tea. Mint usually a hardy herb, can’t survive this past winter unless taken indoors. Mine is a shriveled pot of twigs on the front stoop. I’m not particularly worried because I know it will come back. Past years have taught me that while winter batters it into submission, spring has a way of reviving it. That mint plant is quite special, too. It’s a holdover from my old apartment, and my old garden, the one I shared with Michael. Each leaf I pluck connects me to my past. It may be dormant now, but it will soon awaken to a new season.

The last two and a half years have felt a lot like the cycles of that mint. Grief is a never ending marathon, the emotional hurdles a bit further apart as time passes. The height of the hurdles, however, seems to get higher. The energy required to jump them, feeling almost insurmountable. Almost, but not completely.

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falafel success + a creamy tahini sauce recipe

I didn’t taste my first falafel until my mid-twenties. It seems unthinkable, especially living in New York City. My family wasn’t very adventurous in the food department, though, the most exotic cuisine being Chinese food (and mostly not very good, either). Any parent will tell you that eating habits, and palates, are created from an early age, as well as food phobias.

I often wonder what my relationship to food would be had I never met Michael. He gave my appetite, the same gift he gave my heart. Michael opened my eyes to trusting it was okay to try something I’d never experienced. The fear of the unknown is often more difficult to overcome than the unknown itself.

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creamy homemade hummus

By now, you’ve probably figured out I’m a bit obsessive about cooking from scratch. Michael used to tease me, and ask when I was going to start making my own water. There is a hazard to this, though, and in my case it started with a simple pot of beans. Most cooks will agree that there is no worse fate for a pot of beans than overcooking them. Beans should have a little bite to them; kind of like al dente pasta. You know their just right when you bite into them, and they give way ever so gently, but still require some chewing, and don’t just collapse in your mouth. They should hold their own, so to speak, when combined with other ingredients, as in the Chickpea, Parmesan and Fennel Salad in Homemade with Love.

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milk chocolate brownies

There’s no shortage of chocolate recipes floating around the internet, especially this week with it being Valentine’s Day and all. A more organized person who writes a food blog would’ve even planned such a thing out. I always chuckle when I get a PR pitch about my upcoming editorial calendar. This little space of the internet is about as organized as my daughters’ room. This is one place in my life where no plans are actually comforting. I can be who I want, when I want. It just so happens that my craving last week coincided with a holiday where chocolate plays so prominently. Why is that exactly?

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how to make biscuits from scratch {video}

Ever wonder how to make biscuits from scratch? Watch the video, then get my recipe for Two-Ingredient Biscuits here.

How to Make Two-Ingredient Biscuits from Jennifer Perillo on Vimeo.