Pizzas I Have Made

2010/06/17

I have had strange pizza cravings lately. They started before our recent trip to American Flatbread, but might have inspired the visit. However, the pizzas I wanted weren’t the kind you can find in restaurants, at least not around here. The cravings actually began around the time late spring vegetables began appearing at the market in all their abundant glory, which, coincidentally was about the same time I reached the section on Wolfgang Puck and Spago in the book The United States of Arugula.

The first, and by far my favorite pizza I have made so far, was a roasted beet pizza. To make it, I roasted some beets with onions, thyme, basil, and marjoram.

I spread out the pizza dough (from Trader Joe’s) dusted it with cornmeal and brushed it with olive oil. Then I arranged the beets, beet greens, and onions on the dough, and topped it with a generous helping of goat cheese, mozzarella, and Parmesan.

The oven had been preheated to 500 F for 10 minutes, and it only took about 7 minutes to cook.

This second pizza I made the same night as the beet pizza, because we had company over. I spread out the same Trader Joe’s dough (they say rolling pins are bad for the structure), dusted it with cornmeal, and brushed it with basil pesto. Then I topped it with caramelized onions, mozzarella, and Parmesan cheese.

I baked it just like the beet pizza, but right when it came out of the oven I placed slices of proscuitto on top.

Dinner started with garlic bread and a simple salad of mixed lettuces, Parmesan, toasted pine nuts, and balsamic vinaigrette.

Dessert was ice cream with caramel sauce. There were no complaints.
More recently I made a roasted cauliflower pizza, which is something I have had before, with my CSA bounty. For this one, I roasted the cauliflower with olive oil, salt and pepper. I made the dough myself this time, which was insanely easy in my bread machine. Again, I dusted it with cornmeal and brushed it with truffle oil, then arranged the cauliflower (more on my side, less on Ian’s) with some purple basil and fresh dill, and topped it with mozzarella and Parmesan.

*

This pizza was good, but a little bland. Both the dough and the toppings needed more salt. With added salt and crushed red pepper on top, though, it was pretty tasty. *Sorry, I forgot to take a picture of the final product, so you are going to have to imagine this with gooey brown cheese on top.


Fiddlehead Fern Risotto

2010/05/13

Fiddlehead ferns are one of nature’s little gifts. They are only around for a brief moment every spring, and they don’t preserve very well (although I did see a recipe for fiddlehead fern pickles). If they were around year round, these curly-cues that taste vaguely like asparagus would probably be relegated to the pile of vegetables that people consider boring (Ian didn’t think there was anything special about them), but their scarcity, and the fact that most grocery stores don’t carry them so you usually have to get them from a farmers’ market, make them something to be cherished.

My fiddlehead ferns went through a lot to make it to my risotto tonight. I saw them at Wegman’s grocery store and had to buy them. Wegman’s grocery store is another story in itself. It was my first time there, and I must say I was a bit overwhelmed. Many people love this store, but it was just too big for me. Some of the things looked really good, but it was just too big, with too many things. Also, while the seasonal produce was great, I really don’t it when summer lasts all year long. I don’t want tomatoes and eggplant and peppers in May, I want the Spring bounty of greens and asparagus and radishes. Save the rest for August, when delicate lettuces can’t take the heat.

But enough ranting, I want to talk about risotto. This risotto was a little different from others I have made. The risotto I made according to the package directions, which is very simple. However, I usually make it with vegetable broth, and this time I used mushroom broth, and it changed the taste a little. I don’t think Ian was as enamoured with it as usual, although he did have a big bowl of seconds. I blanched the fiddlehead ferns first, since when raw they contain a toxin that can upset the stomach. After the risotto was finished, i mixed the fiddles and a generous amount of parmesan into the risotto. Voila! Spring in a bowl.


A Four Course French-ish Spring-ish Dinner

2010/05/06

Most people I know had been surprised to find out that I had not seen the movie Julie & Julia. Since it is about food and blogging, I can see how it would be easy to assume that I would have been first in line to see it. Well it is no longer true, last weekend we rented the movie and I finally saw it. It was pretty good, too. I actually found it inspirational, particularly during the beginning of Julie’s challenge, when she makes artichokes with hollandaise sauce.

So tonight I decided to make a four course dinner with a spring theme and a French influence. Don’t ask me why I decided on four courses on a Thursday night, but I did. It took a while, but it was totally worth it.

Course 1: Appetizers

The first course was inspired by the farmers’ market this weekend. The restaurant Willow has a booth there in the “summer” months, and they served up this tasty bite. It was a green onion pancake topped with marscapone cheese and a saute of more scallions, shallots, and radishes. I didn’t follow the recipe they handed out exactly, because their pancake used a rolled out dough, and I didn’t want to deal with that, so I made the same pancake batter I use for my Americanized okonomiyaki.

Recipe:

  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • milk or cream as necessary (I usually use milk but I had cream on hand for another recipe)
  • 1/4 cup green onions
  • oil for frying
  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 1/4 cup green onions
  • 6 radishes, sliced.
  • 1 tablespoon shallots, minced
  1. Mix eggs, flour, and salt together. Add milk or cream until the batter reaches a desired consistency. Stir in the green onions.
  2. Heat the frying pan over medium heat, and add canola or vegetable oil. Spoon the batter into the oil and fry on both sides until golden brown.
  3. In a saucepan melt the butter. Let it cook a few minutes. Add the radishes, green onions, and shallots. Cook until the butter starts to brown.
  4. Assemble each pancake with a teaspoon of marscapone cheese and a teaspoon of the radish/onion mixture.

Course 2: Main Course

For the main course, I wanted things to be simple, so I just made the artichokes with hollandaise. They take a long time to eat and are sufficiently filling that I didn’t think I really needed anything else. Note: I did buy a baguette, and forgot to serve it, but no one missed it.

The artichokes were simple to cook. I just cut of the tops and bottoms with a serrated knife treated with lemon juice, then trimmed the thorny tips off the leaves with scissors, then rubbed the whole thing down with a lemon. Then I boiled the suckers until they were tender, which took about half an hour, but for a while my water was simmering, not boiling.

For the hollandaise, I adjusted Julia Child’s blender recipe, which I found here, to use a bowl and electric mixer because I didn’t want to get the blender out and potentially make a mess, and I already had the electric mixer out for dessert. It worked really well. Note: this recipe makes a decent amount of sauce, which was good because I dropped the bowl and half of it ended up on the floor. The sauce that stayed in the bowl (and subsequently got spooned into these little dipping bowls and topped with chives) was quite good: very buttery and a bit lemony, but not at all eggy.

Course 3: Cheese and Course

I made a small cheese and salad plate to break up dinner and dessert, which I think it accomplished, because it was half sweet and half savory. The salad was a mixture of shaved asparagus, and arugula and spinach from my garden dressed with a grapefruit infused oil that I bought a couple of weeks ago.

I had three cheeses on the plate. Camenbert on a “biscuit for cheese” made with hazelnuts and figs (it is like a cross between a cracker and a biscotti) that I bought at Whole Paycheck (a rare splurge). Mimolette Francaise with Green Tomato Chutney, and a baguette round with French blue cheese and local Blue Aster honey.

Course 4: Dessert

For dessert I wanted to use up the leftover egg whites from the hollandaise, and I was tickled pink when I found this Mousse au Chocolat from Pierre Herme. Most mousses use egg yolks, too, but this was super easy; just folding a meringue into a ganache. It took less than 10 minutes. The mousse was super rich but also light. It really is a great dessert. Note: Measuring ingredients on a scale in grams is awesome, because when you want to scale a recipe to 3 egg whites instead of 5, the math in metric is so much easier than trying to work out fractions to 4/9ths.

So in all, this was a great dinner. I’m back baby!


Buckwheat Pilaf with Asparagus and Kale

2010/04/01

During the winter, we ate a lot of starchy vegetables because they were in season, so I didn’t have to cook a lot other starches. Now that we are transitioning to spring vegetables, which include more greens and stalks and less roots, I have once again started cooking the interesting grains that have been put on the back burner, so to speak. Tonight I made a pilaf out of buckwheat groats, asparagus, and kale, that was really quite tasty and the epitome of comfort food in my book.

Buckwheat Pilaf with Asparagus and Kale (adapted from the back of the box of buckwheat)

  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 1/4 cup chopped onion
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 6 stalks of asparagus, chopped into 1/4 inch pieces
  • 1 cup kale, with the ribs removed
  • 2 cups broth (or water with a bouillon cube)
  • 1 cup buckwheat groats
  • 1 egg
  1. Melt the butter in a large skillet. Add the onions, garlic, and asparagus, and sautee for about 5 minutes, then add the kale and cook until it wilts, about 2 minutes.
  2. Lightly beat the egg in a mixing bowl. Add the buckwheat and coat it with the egg. Then you want to dry out the groats in another skillet over high heat. This will take 2 to 3 minutes.
  3. Meanwhile bring the broth of bouillon to a boil.
  4. Add the groats to the vegetable mixture, then add the liquid, cover, and simmer until everything is absorbed, about 10 minutes.

I topped this with shredded Gruyere, and a fried egg for me (unfortunately the yolk broke).

Ian also got Gruyere, but he had Italian Sausages instead of the egg.

Both of us really liked it (I think). I thought it was good comfort food, but not too heavy, and very different from what we have been eating all winter.


Jerusalem Artichokes for Passover

2010/03/30

As many people know, last night was the first night of Passover. I had completely forgotten, so we didn’t do anything special. However, tonight I remembered that I had bought some Jerusalem Artichokes last Saturday at the farmers’ market, and I thought they would be fitting to cook for dinner. Jerusalem Artichokes, also called Sunchokes, look like potatoes, but have a slight artichoke flavor. Last year, I had bookmarked this recipe for a Jerusalem Artichoke and Parmesan Tart from Whole Foods, but couldn’t find any, so I never made it. As written, the tart looked a little heavy (and I didn’t have all the ingredients for the crust or even the filling on hand), so I made a few modifications.

Step 1) The Crust:

The cornmeal crust in the Whole Foods Recipe sounded good, but I did not have any polenta on hand. Instead I used this Olive Oil Tart Crust made with part whole wheat flour from Chocolate and Zucchini, that I have made before. I followed the recipe exactly, and it came out well. I really liked the flavor, but the edges were sloppy. I really need a tart pan.

Step 2) Preparing the Jerusalem Artichokes

The sunchokes I bought were particularly knobby, which made using a peeler impossible. Instead I had to slice them and then take the skin off with a knife. This took forever. Then I simmered them for quite a while (longer than in the recipe), while I got everything else ready.

Step 3) The Filling

I sauteed some onions in garlic in butter, and then put them on top of the sunchokes instead of mixing them into the custard like in the recipe.

For the custard, I mixed 2 eggs (beaten), just less than 1/3 cup sour cream, and 1/3 cup milk (2%), until it was an even constistancy, then I stirred in about a teaspoon each of dried thyme, grey sea salt, and black pepper, and about 1/8 teaspoon nutmeg. This was slightly lighter than the mixture in the recipe, which used an egg and 2 yolks and half and half with the sour cream. Then I grated some cave-aged Gruyere over the top. I baked it at 400 F until the custard was set (about 20 minutes).

I really liked this, and Ian seemed to like it okay, too. The Jerusalem Artichokes had a nice flavor, and the texture was nice, too.

With this tart, I served a really pleasant salad.

For the salad, I used a base of mixed lettuce. Then I added some Vidalia onion, shaved asparagus (made with the vegetable peeler like yesterday), and a slice of buffalo mozzarella (from Blue Ridge Dairy) seasoned with salt and pepper. I topped the salad with a lemon vinaigrette (dijon mustard, onion, grey sea salt, pepper, olive oil, lemon juice).

Dishes like these make me feel like Spring is really here. Apparently the weather this week won’t hurt, either.


A Quinoa Salad for Spring

2010/03/29

I almost followed a recipe today. It sounded so good, and I really wanted to try it as it was written. It was for a Quinoa Salad with Arugula, Asparagus, and Avocado, by Cooking with Amy. You can read it if you click on the first link there. Unfortunately, when I cut into my avocado, it was rotten, and Ian didn’t care to go out and get me another. So instead I just made a quinoa salad with arugula and asparagus. Other than the avocado, I followed the recipe quite closely, although I used bottled lemon juice because it is what I had on hand, omitted the optional dill, and finished it with a sprinkle of parmesan.

In case you didn’t click on the recipe, which you most certainly should do, the dish consists of  thinly shaved asparagus, arugula, (avocado), green onions, and quinoa (a South American fruit, technically, that resembles a grain) in a lemon-olive oil dressing. It tasted quite good, but it needed the avocado to cut the acidity. It also wasn’t very filling, which the avocado might also have fixed. Both Ian and I were still hungry, even though he also had a chicken breast.

I made Ian a pan-fried chicken breast seasoned with lemon (maybe a little too much) and black pepper. After defrosting the chicken, I dipped it in a mixture of lemon and melted butter, and then in a mixture of all-purpose flour, corn flour, garlic, salt, and pepper. I was afraid the lemon wouldn’t be enough, though, so I poured the lemon butter into the frying oil. This was a bad idea; it lowered the smoking point of the oil, so the fat began to burn before the chicken was done, and also the lemon flavor was a bit too much (how could I have known?). Also the batter crumbled and stuck to the pan, though I don’t know if that was the fault of the lemon butter, or the corn flour added to the mix, since I have had similar problems with fried green tomatoes made with the same corn flour. Oh well, I will know better next time.


Pasta Peperonata

2010/03/28

I hadn’t felt well earlier today, so I just wanted to make a simple dinner tonight. Earlier this week Ian had requested pasta and garlic bread, so I thought that sounded good. I had 3 bell pepper halves left over from the fajitas last week, so I decided to make pasta peperonata. This was actually the first meal I ate in Russia, because my first flatmate there was Italian, and she made it the night I arrived.

Pasta Peperonata:

  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1/2 of a sweet onion (Ian really likes onion so I used more like 3/4)
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1 1/2 bell peppers (I used 1/2 each of yellow, orange, and red)
  • 1 tsp dried basil
  • 2 tbsp balsamic vinegar (I used white balsamic vinegar)
  • salt and pepper
  1. Warm a large frying pan over medium heat, then add the olive oil. When it is warm, add the onions and garlic, and sweat them until the onions are translucent. Then add the peppers, and continue to cook until the peppers are soft. Add the basil, salt, and pepper. When the pan starts to get sticky, add the balsamic vinegar.
  2. Meanwhile, boil half of a box of penne pasta in salted water. When it is al dente, drain, but safe a few tablespoons of the pasta water to add to the peppers. Add the pasta to the skillet and stir to combine. Plate and top with parmesan cheese.

I served this with garlic bread (which probabaly could have used a few more minutes in the oven and a little more butter, but it was still good). It is really good comfort food that is also easy to make.