Saturday, August 5, 2017

| behold: i finally made pizza |

As a pretty confident home cook, I've been discouraged for a long time by my inability to make really good pizza. My whole family LOVES pizza and, in particular, I really adore all kinds - Chewy, multigrain crust? Yes. deep dish? Yes. Chicago style deep dish? Oh, my, yes. NY style? Yes. Greasy? Yes. Crispy? Yes. Wood-fired? Yes.

I really can't think of a style of pizza that I don't love.

Since having kids, I've REALLY wished I could perfect a home recipe because it's the kind of thing that's so perfect for a quick meal that is a crowd-pleaser. If you make the dough ahead of time, it takes less than 30 minutes start-to-finish to make several pizzas and everyone can pick the toppings they want. Plus, depending on how you make it, it's pretty healthy and very cheap. And it's a complete meal....protein, veggies, carbs. It's all there in one delicious slice.

And it goes well with beer.

So I've been trying to find the best crust recipe and technique for years. I've asked friends for recipes. I've scoured the internet. But my homemade pizzas always come out so-so. Usually, too puffy and doughy. Blargh.

But today. TODAY I FOUND MY RECIPE AND TECHNIQUE. And I'm writing it down before I forget or try to experiment. (Note to future me: do not alter this. It is perfection as is.)

I started with this classic Neapolitan Pizza Dough recipe from Peter Reinhart. I found his blog through a google search and the dude clearly knows his pizza. I was a little shocked to discover two things about this recipe: 1) so few ingredients (he says true Neapolitan dough only has four - flour, yeast, water, salt) and 2) the cold water. What the heck? I am pretty comfortable working with yeast but rarely do this cold-start thing. But, again, dude seems to know what he's talking about, so I decide to give it a go.

NEAPOLITAN PIZZA DOUGH (adapted from Mr. Reinhart's recipe)
500 g AP flour
138 g bread flour (cause I already have five types of flour in my home and wasn't about to go on a quest for this special -00- flour he speaks of, thought it sounds pretty cool)
2 t kosher salt
1 t active yeast (I didn't have instant, so I just went with what I had)
1 3/4 c + 2 T cold water (Reinhart said "cool" but when I actually measured 65 degrees it felt pretty darn cold to me. I even had to use a couple of ice cubes)

1) Put all the ingredients in a stand mixer. Mix with a paddle (not dough hook) for 1 minute. Let rest for 5 minutes.
2) Switch to the dough hook. Mix for 2-4 minutes, until it's smooth. Should be slightly tacky but not sticky. Add a little flour or water as needed to achieve consistency.
3) Transfer to a lightly oiled work surface and hand-knead for another minute or so.
4) Move to an oiled bowl and let rise for 30-45 minutes. Punch down. Put in fridge overnight or up to three days.
5) 2-3 hours before you're ready to bake, remove the big ol' dough ball from the fridge and divide into sections. I was able to make six 10-12 inch pizzas. I used a little flour on a clean surface to make the six dough-balls. Then I put them on slightly-oiled baking sheet and covered with Saran Wrap (sprayed lightly with olive oil). Let rest for 2-3 hours until you're ready to go.

BAKING TECHNIQUE
(I didn't get this from the blog above. I made it up based on my previous knowledge.)
1. Arrange your racks on the two lowest rungs. Preheat oven as high as it will go. For me, that was 550 degrees. Place a large, flat baking stone on the top rack. Place a very heat-resistant small crock on the lower rack (you'll use this later to generate steam).
2. Get your toppings and work space ready. Dust a pizza peel with cornmeal.
3. Once the oven is pre-heated, work with one pizza at time. Turn it out onto a floured surface. Shape it into whatever shape you want with whatever technique you like to use (rolling pin, pulling, tossing, pressing, etc.)
4. Put your shaped pizza dough onto the peel and add your toppings.
5. Check with a spatula to make sure it's loose enough to slide right off. It it's not, peel it back and add a little more cornmeal underneath.
6. Open up that hot, hot oven door. Slide the pizza onto the stone and drop 2-3 ice cubes into the crock on the lower rack. You may be wondering, why not just water? You can. I just find the ice cubes are easier than trying to pour water into a very hot oven. You may be wondering, do I really need to do this at all? No. But it does make the crust chewier, which is one of my very favorite pizza properties, so I do it.
7. Once it's in there and you've shut the door, don't go too far away. This baby will be done in 4-5 minutes. I usually check after about 3 and then move it around a bit with my peel to get an even browning.
8. When it looks done enough for your tastes, take it out using the peel and put it on a big cutting board.
9. Start over again at step #3 with the next dough-ball.
10. Side note: if you want to make fewer pizzas at once, you can put the dough balls into the freezer. Wrap in Saran Wrap and then put in a heavy zip bag. Take them out at least 24 hours before you want to use them in the future.





Friday, July 28, 2017

| summer recipe roundup |

I can hardly believe summer is almost gone. Before it ends, I wanted to be sure and write down some of my favorite recipe discoveries of 2017 so I can dust them off next year!

Turkey Burger Recipe
My SIL got me hooked on turkey burgers last summer (okay, not ME because I'm a vegetarian, but the rest of my family loves them). I had been buying those super-convenient frozen, pre-made patties but one week they were out at I had already promised burgers. So I bought ground turkey and looked up recipes for seasoning. This one from the NYT was a major winner. After trying it once, I bought 3 pounds of ground turkey on sale (I like to get the 85% lean kind for some extra moisture) and make up a whole tray of patties. Froze them on wax paper and then put them in a big ziploc bag. Now I have my own frozen, pre-made patties for a lot less money and just a little more work.

For each pound of ground turkey, add the following.
1/2 onion, finely minced (dried works, too)
1 T Worcestershire sauce
2 T ketchup
Salt and pepper to taste
I also like to add some bread crumbs for a little bulk.
Mix well with your hands and form into patties.

Spring Rolls with Peanut Sauce
Why have I never made spring rolls at home before??? It's so easy. I just cut up bunches of stuff and put them in little bowls. Then everyone made their own at the dinner table. I took the leftover stuff and made a few for lunch the next day (wrap in a damp paper towel before storing in a container in the fridge).

You can, of course, put whatever you want into them. All you really HAVE to have are rice paper rolls. You soak each one in warm water for 5-10 seconds and then spread it on a plate. Fill it with goodness and roll tightly like a burrito. I had the following on our table for fillings: small cubes of tofu, peanuts, cilantro, cooked rice noodles, cabbage, shredded carrots, a salad mix that was shredded cabbage, carrots, kale, and broccoli. I bought a rotisserie chicken and they kids also experimented by putting the chicken and some fresh mango in theirs.

I made a simple peanut sauce to go with mine. Didn't really write down the proportions but I think it was something like this:
1/2 c peanut butter (chunky if you like!)
1-2 T soy sauce
1 T minced ginger (we always keep some in a tube in the fridge)
1 t sesame oil
1 t sweet chili sauce
1 T brown sugar
Water to thin

Greek Dressing
Speaking of sauce, that peanut sauce also goes great on warm rice dishes, noodles, etc. Another stellar summer sauce that can go on hot or cold foods is this Greek dressing I cobbled together. I like to eat it on salad with kalamata olives, artichoke hearts, roasted red peppers or on a pasta salad (cheese tortellini, please) with tomatoes, cukes, olives, etc.

1/4 c olive oil
1/4 c vegetable oil (or more olive oil)
1/3 c rice wine vinegar
2 t sugar
1 T Dijon mustard
1-2 T lemon juice
1 t each of dried basil, thyme, oregano, garlic powder (unsalted!)
Black pepper to taste
Shake in a jar and enjoy. This makes a lot!


Pioneer Woman Ranch Dressing
But that's not even my favorite dressing. My favorite dressing comes from the land of Oklahoma where Pioneer Woman really knows what's up. She has a delightful explanation on her blog about how to make this and tailor it for your own tastebuds. A word of warning: this recipe will likely turn you into a total ranch dressing snob and you may never want to eat bottled ranch again. I suppose this isn't necessarily a bad thing. It's certainly cut down on my overall ranch consumption.

What I usually do ends up looking something like this, depending on what I have on hand:
Stir together 1 c full fat mayonnaise with 1/2 sour cream. Add buttermilk to desired consistency (you know you can make buttermilk by adding 1 T lemon juice or vinegar to regular milk and letting sit a few minutes, right? Right.)
Add the following and shake:
1-2 cloves finely minced garlic (see note below)
1/4 c minced fresh parsley
2 T chives (see note)
1-2 T fresh dill (see note)
1-2 t dried oregano
1 T Worcestershire
Notes on the garlic and herbs: The garlic, if you use raw, is going to get REALLY potent once it rests overnight, so use caution. Or roast your garlic first (see below). Ree Drummond suggests using fresh everything for the herbs but, to be honest, if I don't have them growing in my yard, I don't feel like paying $12 for a bunch of herbs at the store. That's some mighty-expensive ranch. I usually go with fresh parsley and dried for the rest (reduce quantities a bit if you're using dried). In a pinch, I have even used dried parsley and as long as it rested overnight in the fridge, it was just fine.

Roasted Garlic
I don't turn my oven on much in the summer, but when I do, I always put a few heads of garlic in alongside whatever else is cooking. This stuff is so good. I like to eat it plain, on bread, on salad, or mixed into anything that calls for garlic. It's heaven.

Preheat oven to 350.
Tear off one square of aluminum foil for each head you plan to roast.
Cut the top off the garlic so you can see down into all the individual cloves.
Put the head of garlic in the middle of the foil and start to pull up the edges like you're making a little bowl around the garlic.
Pour 1-2 T olive oil right into the garlic cloves it'll drip down the sides, too)
Pull the rest of the foil up like a little packet and twist at the top.
Place directly on your oven rack or on a sheet and roast for 30 minutes.
Let cool.
Squeeze out of the skins and eat. If you have any left over, it can go in a little olive oil in your fridge. I don't know how long it will last because mine is always gone in 48 hours.

Easy Creamy Dressing
So sometimes I haven't made a big batch of ranch but then I'm craving it (see above problem with no longer liking bottled ranch). This simpler recipe doesn't have to be made ahead of time and is awesome. The original recipe from The Kitchn says this makes enough for two side salads but, um, this is a single serving for my lunch.

1 teaspoon Dijon mustard, or other grainy mustard
1 1/2 tablespoons mayonnaise or full fat yogurt
Pinch salt
Pinch sugar
Fresh pepper, to taste
1 tablespoon Champagne vinegar (despite having at least 5 kinds of vinegar in my cupboard, this is not one of them....so I usually just use red wine or apple cider or rice vinegar)

Kale Salad
When I don't feel like making any kind of dressing at all, I make a massaged kale salad. This is particularly good in my lunches when I just need some veggies on the side. Basically, you make sure all the stems are trimmed off your kale and chop it up small. Then you massage the kale with olive oil and lemon juice. Once it starts to soften up, add your toppings. It's really pretty and yummy. I usually throw on whatever random leftovers I can find in the fridge or cupboard, which often includes many of these things:
Seeds: chia, flax, pepita, sunflower
Slivered almonds
Dried cranberries, raisins, or cherries
Jarred roasted red peppers, olives, small pickles, or artichoke hearts
Any number of fresh veggies, including leftover cooked ones like corn, peas, Brussels sprouts, asparagus
And I usually top with a hard boiled egg.

Deviled Eggs
Speaking of eggs, I'm obsessed with deviled eggs and frequently whip up a couple for lunch. If you don't yet have a foolproof method for hard-boiled eggs, I recommend this.

I love to put the following in my deviled eggs. And, if I do say so myself, they are really top-notch.
I use about half-mayo and half-plain Greek yogurt (full fat)
Mash that with the yolks and then add a little olive oil and whip really fast with a fork to get a creamy consistency.
Then I add a dash of vinegar, whole grain mustard (or Dijon), and a dash of curry powder. Stir to incorporate.

By the way, if you're making a big batch to take to a party or potluck, there's a really easy way to travel with them. Peel and halve your eggs and them put them in a platter. Cover TIGHTLY with Saran Wrap so they don't slide around. Put your yolks and other ingredients into a bit ziplock bag and mash. Bring a long a pair of scissors and when you're ready to eat just snip the corner of the ziploc bag and pipe in the filling like you're decorating a cake. Voila! This is my go-to summer potluck dish.




Thursday, June 1, 2017

| perfect boiled eggs |

I adore hard-boiled eggs. I've been a quest to develop a foolproof method for years now. I hate when they won't peel. These suckers peel in one solid piece every single time. The peel just slips right off. It's amazing. I learned my method from this awesome article. It may contain waaaaay more information that you really want, though, so feel free to read and use my TL;DR version below.

1) Start with older eggs - not brand new, fresh ones.
2) Bring a large pot of water to boil.
3) Once it's at a rolling boil, carefully lower your eggs in. I use a spider to avoid splashing and cracking, but a large spoon or ladle would also work.
4) Let the water return to a LOW boil (rolling will crack your eggs) and watch them for 1-2 minutes.
5) Turn the water OFF and cover. Let it rest for 10-12 minutes, depending on how hard you want your eggs to be set.
6) When they are almost done, fill a sink or large pot with lots of ice and water. Enough to cover the eggs.
7) When your timer goes off, carefully move the eggs directly into the ice bath (again, this is where the spider is handy).
8) Let them rest in the ice bath for 15 minutes to overnight (if they're in a pot).

Enjoy!


Wednesday, January 18, 2017

| hearty spiced lentil and spinach soup |

Started to make one of my favorite soup recipes tonight and then experimented and ended up with something else entirely. This turned out to be one of my favorite soup creations ever, so I'm going to write down the recipe for once.

HEARTY SPICED LENTIL AND SPINACH SOUP
2 T butter (oil, if you'd prefer)
1 diced onion
1 clove of garlic, finely minced
1/4 c dry lentils (I prefer French)
3/4 rice (I used a mixture of wild rice and white cause that's what I had on hand)
2 t smoked paprika
1 T curry
6 c vegetable broth
2 T tomato paste
1 can of coconut milk
10 oz frozen spinach
Salt and pepper to taste.

1) Sauté the onion in the melted butter or oil. When the onions are soft, add the garlic, lentils, rice and cook over medium heat for 2-3 minutes until fragrant.
2) Add spices, broth, tomato paste, and coconut milk.
3) Add spinach and bring back up to a simmer. Cover and stir occasionally until rice and lentils are cooked (about 30-45 minutes)
4) Salt and pepper to taste.



Wednesday, November 30, 2016

| vegetarian mushroom stroganoff |

I was craving comfort food and sour cream, so this seemed perfect on a chilly fall night. I looked around at several recipes online and then made it up as I went. It turned out SO good.....and the whole thing came together in less than 30 minutes. Enjoy!

MUSHROOM STROGANOFF
3 T butter
1 large onion, diced
3-4 cloves garlic, minced
1 T smoked paprika
Salt and pepper
16 oz sliced mushrooms
2-3 T flour
4 oz red wine
2 T ketchup
Dash vegetarian Worcestershire
4 oz sour cream
½-¾ c chopped fresh parsley
Noodles or rice for serving


  1. Melt butter in large skillet or sauce pan. Start boiling your water for noodles or rice in another pot. 
  2. Once butter is melted, add onions and sauté over medium heat until they start to soften. Add garlic (MEDIUM heat so it doesn’t burn). Cook 1-2 minutes. Add smoked paprika, salt, pepper. 
  3. Add mushrooms. Stir often while they cook down. Once they are about ½ the size of when they were raw and you have a fair amount of liquid they are swimming in, add your flour and whisk.
  4. Add the wine and turn up the heat. Allow to cook, stirring frequently, for 2-3 minutes. 
  5. Turn back down to medium heat. Add the ketchup, Worcestershire, sour cream. Cook until warmed through. 
  6. Add parsley. Stir. 
  7. Serve over rice or noodles. I also added some crispy chickpeas for protein. 


Sunday, June 26, 2016

| cucumber time |

Whenever I have produce and I'm not sure what to do with it, Farmer John comes to the rescue. I bought this cookbook a few years ago. It's organized by fruit/vegetable, so you can just bring in whatever you have from the garden and find a good recipe that features it. Our cucumbers are just starting to come in and I needed a quick and easy way to use up three fresh ones yesterday. I was delighted to find this simple recipe. The end result is very similar to bread-and-butter pickles. Yum.



MARINATED CUCUMBER SALAD WITH DILL
Serves 6-8

3 large cucumbers (about 2 pounds), peeled, very thinly sliced
1 T coarse seat salt or kosher salt
2/3 c white or apple cider vinegar
1/2 c water
1/2 c sugar
1/4 t salt (note: I didn't add this, as I felt they were already salty enough)
1/4 t pepper
2 T finely chopped fresh dill or 1 T dried dill

1) In a large bowl, use your hands to thoroughly but gently mix the cucumber and salt.
2) Place a plate on top of the cucumbers, then place a 2-3 pound weight (like a large can of vegetables) on the plate to weigh it down (this helps release the salt). Set the cucumbers aside to marinate at room temperature for several hours or in the refrigerator overnight.
3) Drain the cucumbers thoroughly in a colander and pat them dry on a clean dish towel. Rinse and dry the bowl, then return the cucumbers to the bowl. (Note: I tasted my cukes here and they were waaaaay too salty. So I rinsed them thoroughly.)
4) Mix the vinegar, water, sugar, salt, and pepper in a small pot over medium heat and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer, stirring often, until the sugar is dissolved, about 3 minutes. Remove from heat.
5) Pour the hot vinegar mixture over the cucumber slices. Sprinkle with the dill and mix to combine.
6) Chill for at least 3 hours. Drain and serve.

Ideas: I think these would also be good with some garlic and/or crushed red pepper added to the vinegar mixture. The recipe also suggests replacing the dill with the feathery leaves from a head of fennel. Yum.

Friday, January 1, 2016

| the best chocolate chip cookies I've ever made |

For Christmas, one of my co-workers gave me a jar of cookie mix. You know the stuff. I was amazed, when I made them, to discover they were the BEST chocolate chip cookies I've ever made. Ever. They were crispy on the outside and gooey-chewy on the inside. Perfection.

The ingredients are nothing special, so I think it must have been the odd technique I used to make them. Read on for details....

COOKIES IN A JAR
Layer in a wide-mouth pint jar, pressing each layer firmly before adding next ingredient.
1/4 c white sugar
1/2 c chocolate chips
1/2 c firmly packed brown sugar
1 1/4 c flour, mixed with 1/2 t. baking soda, 1/8 t. salt

Instructions on the gift:
1) Empty cookie mix into a large mixing bowl. Use your hands to thoroughly mix it all together.
2) Add: 6 T butter VERY soft, 1 small egg, 1/2 t. vanilla.
3) Mix until completely blended. You can use a pastry cutter or fork to help you mix in the butter. You will need to finish mixing with your hands. Squish, squish.
4) Shape into balls the size of walnuts and place 2'' apart on a baking sheet with parchment paper.
5) Bake at 350 for 10-12 minutes. Cool 10 minutes on baking sheet, then move to rack.
Makes about 18 cookies

That's it. It's almost like making biscuits, the way I cut the butter in. I'm never getting out the stand mixer again.