Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Back on my head

This is what we always say in our household when it's time to get back to work "alright then, back on my head" - it's from a very bad joke - one that probably isn't appropriate on a blog that talks about food. Alright then...

I haven't blogged but I've been super busy.  And now that all of the busy-ness is over I am exhausted!  We saw one kid off to new adventures in far away lands (or Nebraska, same difference)

My best friend and I managed to pull off planning a successful 30th high school reunion - we had a great time and wondered where all the years have gone.  We have known each other since we were four years old.  This is us at 15:

And at...well, you can do the math:
 Then days after driving home from Oregon I turned around and drove down to LA to get the other kid settled into her new house at school.  We had a fun night before we left - we went to see Taylor Swift in concert.  A nice mommy-daughter night, though the shrieks of the young girls was truly deafening.  

And today is our 25th wedding anniversary (and last week was my birthday).  Do you see what I mean?  There has been a lot going on!  

So now it is back on my head.  

Saturday, August 06, 2011

No-yeast pizza crust - easy!

It was one of those nights.  I just really wanted pizza - not enough to go get one mind you.  And our options for delivery are a bit limited.  So I figured what the heck - I almost always have a package of mozzarella fresca on hand, there's basil in the garden, some tomatoes on the counter - I'll just make one.  I headed into the kitchen and soon realized I was out of the one thing I'd need to make pizza dough - yeast.  Sigh.  I often make pizzas using lavash bread but none of that in the house, no pita bread either.  I got online and searched for a no yeast pizza crust not sure what I would find.   Well I found a lot.  I just picked one and went with it and was very pleasantly surprised.  The result was a thin crust pizza that baked up crispy and brown - really just the way I like pizza.  I mean, I love a really good deep dish every now and then but my preference is an almost cracker thin crust.

This recipe made enough for two decent size pizzas.  One was topped with a simple tomato sauce (canned Italian tomatoes simmered with some garlic, salt, pepper and olive oil), fresh tomatoes, basil and mozzarella.  The other pizza was topped with garlicky sauteed beet greens, feta cheese and kalamata olives along with the mozzarella.  Yum.

No Yeast Pizza Dough
2 1/2 cups flour
2 3/4 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon olive oil
3/4 - 1 cup water

Mix dry ingredients.  Add 3/4 cup water and oil.  Stir until it forms a ball. If the dough is stiff add more water. The dough will be soft, not sticky.  Knead on a floured surface for 3-4 minutes.  I did all the mixing and kneading in my stand mixer and it worked great.
Bake at 450 degrees for 15-25 minutes.  

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Twice Roasted Beets with Buttermilk, Goat Cheese and Dill Dressing

As with many meals around here, this dish came about because I had something in the fridge that I needed to use up - in this case, buttermilk.  I was flipping through the Cafe Flora cookbook and came across a recipe for Buttermilk, Goat Cheese and Dill dressing which they mentioned was good on their roasted beets. 

We may be a weird household but we really love beets.  I love them hot, cold - even canned (on spinach salad).  I know it's one of those vegetables that a lot of people hate - or *think* they hate.  Because a lot of people when pressed will admit they've never actually tried them. I've posted before about my favorite recipe to convert beet haters and it's still a favorite.  But this one is definitely a close second.  It involves roasting the beets twice - once wrapped in foil to cook them through and then a second time cut into wedges and gently tossed with balsamic vinegar and olive oil.  The dressing goes together in a minute, super easy - but I'll admit that while the beets were in the oven for the second round of roasting I was thinking to myself  "I wonder if this is worth the effort" - after the first bite I can say yes, it most definitely is. This isn't something you can make at the last minute but for the most part it is largely unattended oven time so it isn't that much work - just time and planning ahead.  Both hubby and daughter commented that it looked like having dessert first - it looked very much like peaches with ice cream!

Twice Roasted Beets with Buttermilk, Goat Cheese and Dill Dressing
For the beets:
6-8 beets of roughly equal size
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
2 teaspoons olive oil

For the dressing:
1 4oz log goat cheese at room temperature 
1/4 cup buttermilk
1 tablespoon minced onion or shallot
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
3 tablespoons finely chopped fresh dill 
salt and freshly ground black pepper

To make the dressing combine all of the ingredients except salt and pepper in a small bowl.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.*

Heat oven to 400.  Trim the greens off the beets, leaving about an inch.  Wrap each beet tightly in foil and place in a baking dish.  Roast in the oven for an hour and up to 1 hour and 15 minutes until a knife goes easily through the beet.  Reduce oven to 350.  Let beets cool until you can handle them but you'll want them to still be warm.  Remove the foil and slip the skin off, trimming off the root and stem ends.  Cut each beet in half and then each half into wedges (4 or 5 wedges per half).  Place them in a bowl and drizzle with the balsamic vinegar and olive oil, sprinkle with salt.  Place the wedges on a baking sheet and roast again for 30 minutes.  Let cool a bit then plate them and top with the dressing.

*Note - I used a 3.5 oz round of garlic and herb goat cheese because that's what I had, I omitted the lemon zest because I had some recently squeezed lemon juice in the fridge and I used dried dill, just used less.  This makes a very thick dressing that would also work well as a dip with veggies.

Monday, August 01, 2011

Macaroni and Cheese

I think macaroni and cheese is the ultimate comfort food.  I'm seeing it on the menu in more restaurants and often they have a variety of macs - like the local Jack's Restaurant and Bar, which has a choice of six different "Jack's Macs."  Over the years I've tried many recipes.  It's not a complicated concept - a roux, some cheese, some pasta. One of my favorites was a macaroni and cheese I made while on vacation.  We'd rented an apartment for a week and every morning we'd stroll to get a cappuccino, baguette and cheese.  By the end of the week we had a lot of bits and pieces of cheese so I used them all in a hodge podge mixture that was the best!  Since then I've been on the lookout for that one recipe - my go to recipe - and I think I have finally found it.  I've made this many times now and it is the dish that is requested when the college kid is coming home for some home cooked meals, it's the perfect drop off dinner for a friend, it freezes well, tastes good leftover and it's easy.  Can't ask for more.  The original recipe is here at epicurious.com - the recipe as I make it is below.  I use a bit less butter, fat free milk instead of whole milk and a little more pasta. A really strong, sharp Cheddar is the key.  This recipe makes a lot - perfect for sharing and or freezing.  I usually get two 9 x 12 pans out of this.  It's not something we have very often because let's face it - it's not exactly health food.  But it is the perfect thing when you just need a little comfort...

Macaroni and Cheese
For the topping:
2 tablespoons butter
2 cups panko bread crumbs
3 ounces coarsely grated extra-sharp Cheddar
1/2 cup grated parmesan

For macaroni and sauce:
1 stick butter
6 tablespoons all purpose flour
5 cups fat free milk
16 ounces coarsely grated extra-sharp Cheddar
1/2 cup grated parmesan
19 ounces elbow macaroni

Preheat oven to 400 degrees with rack in the middle

For the topping, melt the 2 tablespoons of butter, Combine the panko and cheese until combined well, mix in melted butter.  Set aside.

Get the macaroni going in a big pot of boiling water.  You will want to cook it al dente and be sure to reserve one cup of the pasta water.  While that cooks melt the 1 stick of butter in a medium saucepan over medium low heat and then stir in flour.  Cook roux, stirring, three minutes and then whisk in milk.  Bring sauce to a boil, whisking constantly, then simmer, whisking occasionally. 3 minutes.  Stir in the cheeses, 2 teaspoons salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper until smooth.  Remove from heat.  

When the pasta is done, drain it (don't forget to reserve one cup of the cooking water) and return it to the pot.  Stir in the cheese sauce and the cup of water.  Mix well and then put in your baking dishes (I sprayed the baking dishes lightly with olive oil).  It is a very soupy mixture (but don't worry, it bakes up perfectly) - you may want to ladle it into the baking dishes.  Spread the topping evenly on the macaroni  and bake until golden and bubbling, 20-25 minutes.

The original calls for putting it in two 2 qt baking dishes but I prefer to use a shallower pan so I can spread out more of that topping!  You can make one large dish and then a couple of smaller ones to freeze.  It's pretty flexible. 

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Raw Kale Salad

I've been seeing more and more recipes for raw kale salads. I typically only use kale in soups and stews so honestly I was a little leery of eating it raw.  But when I saw a recipe over at 101 Cookbooks I knew I'd found a great one to try.  I've never been steered wrong by her recipes.  Ever.  We've had this two Saturdays in a row for lunch and I am in love. Heidi's recipe called for Tuscan kale but without driving all over town what I found was red kale so that's what I went with.  I look forward to trying it with the Tuscan kale but we really loved this version as well.  I found a fantastic pecorino - Pecorino Toscano Riserva il Forteto - I upped the amounts of the cheese a bit using close to an ounce in the dressing and another ounce on the salad.  And I cheated a bit on the bread crumbs and bought crostini that I crushed with a rolling pin.  And finally, I used the best kitchen tool I have - clean hands (remember to take off your jewelry!) and really tossed the salad well with the dressing, kneading it as you would bread dough.  I was worried the red kale might be a little tougher than the Tuscan so I want to break it down a little.   As I said, I am in love.

Raw Kale Salad 

1 bunch red kale
2 ounces crostini
1 small garlic clove
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt, plus a pinch
1 1/2 - 2 ounces grated pecorino cheese, divided
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
freshly squeezed lemon juice - 1/4 cup
1/8 teaspoon red pepper flakes
freshly ground black pepper to taste

Trim the bottom few inches off the kale stems and discard.  Slice the kale into thin ribbons and wash well, spin dry.  You should have 4 to 5 cups.  Place the kale in a large bowl.

Crush the crostini with a rolling pin to make coarse bread crumbs

Using a mortar and pestle or a knife, pound or mince the garlic and 1/4 teaspoon salt into a paste.  Transfer the  garlic to a small bowl.  Add half the cheese, 3 tablespoons oil, lemon juice, pinch of salt, pepper flakes and black pepper and whisk to combine.  Pour the dressing over the kale and toss very well - I used my hands to work the dressing into the kale.  Let the salad sit for 5 minutes.  Toss with the bread crumbs and additional cheese and serve.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Lavosh Crackers

If I were to admit to a food weakness it would be cheese (or dip) and crackers.  I could eat crackers with some kind of topping every day - I don't, but I could.  I remember as a kid eating that pimento cheese out of a jar on top of triscuits (and of course that jar then became our juice glass - old school recycling).  And many a sleepover was spent with a box of wheat thins and ranch dip (and Tiger Beat magazine with Leif Garrett on the cover).  Even my favorite sweet treat as a kid was graham crackers with peanut butter on it.

These days there are so many more choices for crackers.  But the fancier the cracker the higher the price tag.  I see those flatbread crackers and they are charging four or five dollars for a tiny package of what is, essentially, dried bread.  So this isn't a recipe as much as a tip for easy to make crackers using lavosh from the grocery store.  The lavosh I used was from Whole Foods but Trader Joe's sells it as well - what I like about the lavosh from these stores is that it comes in nice even rectangles.  The lavosh at the Middle East market, while more authentic, comes in very large, oddly shaped sheets and tends to be a little thinner and not as durable for a cracker.  You can bake these in one large sheet and then break them in to rustic, free form shapes or you can embrace your inner Virgo and cut them into a more uniform size.  For my book club the other night I cut them using a patterned craft scissor to create a scalloped edge  (I keep all kinds of non-kitchen items in my kitchen)
Next I lay them out on a baking sheet and spray each side lightly with olive oil using a mister like this.  Then it's a matter of adding whatever seasoning you like - I did one batch of sea salt and cracked pepper, one with gomasio (sea salt and sesame seeds) and one with Greek seasoning.  Bake at 400 degrees for 7-8 minutes (but watch your first batch carefully just in case to figure out what is right for your oven and baking sheet).  Then cool on a rack.
These make light, crispy crackers that are still (in the words of the architect husband) "structurally sound."

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Lima Bean Skordalia

I don't think the lima bean gets a lot of love.  I can't recall eating them as a kid or maybe I've blocked it out? Even now I mostly use them as an easy stand in for fresh fava beans when I make the Persian dish Baghali Polo - though I should probably explore these more as we love beans.

There is one recipe I frequently make using lima beans and that is Lima Bean Skordalia.  Skordalia is a Greek dish typically made with garlic and potatoes (or stale bread) and served alongside meat or as a spread on bread.  The Pasta Shop at Market Hall in Rockridge sells a lima bean skordalia that is really good as a dip and their recipe can easily be found online.  However it uses a lot of olive oil - and while it's a healthy fat it makes this dip deceptively high in fat and calories.  I make it instead with one third of the oil and increase the lemon juice and while mine is much thicker than their version the taste is very bright and well...lemony.

Last night was book club night and we had decided on doing appetizers - it worked out perfectly as everyone provided something different.  It was a beautiful warm night full of lively discussion and good food.  We had a minor hiccup when three of us who had carpooled together went to the wrong house - we all stood on the front porch with our food in hand while a surprised young father stood at the door wondering who the hell we were.  Awkward.

Lima Bean Skordalia

1lb bag frozen lima beans
4 cloves garlic
1/3 cup fresh lemon juice
1/4 cup olive oil
salt and pepper

Bring a pot of water to boil.  Add lima beans and cook according to package directions.  Drain and cool.  

In your food processor, place garlic cloves and pulse until finely chopped.  Next add lima beans and lemon juice.  Run the processor, scraping down the bowl as necessary until smooth.  With processor running slowly add olive oil and blend.  I also add about 1/4 cup water to help the blending.  Add salt and pepper to taste - even more lemon juice.  I like to serve it with a drizzle of olive oil and some hot paprika on top.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Mini Berry Cheesecakes

Over the weekend I had the privilege of cooking dinner for a friend of mine who is recovering from surgery.  A privilege because this family is a joy to cook for - they love everything!  And as the cook, an appreciative audience is so nice.  I must say that my own family is always appreciative - don't want to imply otherwise!

Which means that I have several things to blog but I'll start with dessert today.  Last year I posted about the buttermilk cheesecake tarts I made for my daughter's birthday.  Along with cooking for my friend this weekend, we were also invited somewhere for dinner.  With this recipe in mind,  I offered to bring dessert.  Last year when I made the tarts I had extra batter so I made mini cheesecakes by dropping a gingersnap cookie in the bottom of a cupcake liner and then putting in the batter.  I didn't pay close attention when I was baking and they definitely cracked and sunk but they tasted great.  I wanted to try those again so I put in a tiny bit more effort and was so happy with the results (in fact I was wishing I'd made all mini cheesecakes instead of the tarts).   I used regular size cupcake pans and liners and put a generous spoonful of the crumb mixture into the bottom and used my mojito muddler to tamp the crumbs down.

The only changes I made to the previously posted recipe is that I increased the amount of graham cracker crumbs (I used two of the three packages in the box)- I did not increase the amount of  butter for the crust.  So the crust was a little more crumbly but if I handled them carefully it wasn't a problem - even with the larger tarts.  They are a perfect size for when you just want a little something and would be great for a party - they are really quite simple!

Mini Berry Cheesecakes

1 cup butter, room temperature
2 packages graham crackers (about 3 cups crumbs)
1 cup sugar
3 8oz packages Neufchatel cream cheese
3/4 cup buttermilk
1 teaspoon vanilla
4 eggs
berries for garnish

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Melt 1/2 cup butter.  Add cracker crumbs, mix thoroughly.  Place cupcake liners in cupcake pan.  Spoon crumb mixture into bottom of each liner -a heaping tablespoon full.  Tamp down with the bottom of a skinny glass (I used a muddler)  Bake for 5 minutes, remove from oven and set aside.

Cream remaining butter and 1 cup sugar with cream cheese until smooth.  Add buttermilk and vanilla and beat until well mixed.  Add eggs and beat slowly until combined.  Do not overbeat.

Spoon batter into muffin liners - about ¼ cup of batter for each mini cheesecake.

Bake for 24 minutes.  Cool in the refrigerator until cool enough to handle and slightly firm then carefully remove the paper liners and chill until completely firm.  Top with berries that have been split in half - split side down.

Because I made some of this into tarts (six) and some into mini cheescakes (21) I’m not sure exactly how many minis this would make - probably close to three dozen.  It’s flexible - if you want to fill them a little more just bake them a bit longer.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Raspberry Lemonade (and the little tree that could)

Several years ago we had our neighbors over for dinner.  We had been gradually tearing things out of our backyard so the conversation that night turned to gardening and landscaping.  Our neighbors lamented the few citrus trees they had planted that were suffering from too little sunlight.  He asked if we might be interested in a tree or two - sure, why not?  I didn't give it a lot of further thought until the next day he showed up with the most scraggly looking tree ever.  It didn't even have a root ball per se, but rather some dangling little roots.  And the soil where we live is solid clay - very difficult to dig.  Oh, and it was around 100 degrees that day.  And one more thing, I'm not really much of a gardener.  The perfect storm for failure - it seemed like it might be more efficient to throw it straight into the compost bin.  But I dug the best hole I could and plopped that baby in there.  He showed up a few minutes later with another tree and we did the same thing.  He didn't even know if they were lemon, lime, etc. I wish I'd gotten pictures of when they arrived - this picture of the lemon tree was probably taken year later:

It took a few years before they blossomed and we learned what we had.  The tree on the right is lemon and on the left, orange.  I always say that a plant has to have a strong will to live in our yard.  In this case, the lemon was very determined!

Since then we've added two more oranges, another lemon, lime, mandarin and grapefruit.  The orange tree in the front yard is amazing - still small but prolific.  And there is nothing like the smell of citrus blossoms as you pull in the driveway.

Recently my husband and daughter went out to pick the last of the lemons for the season - we figured there might be a few.  There were 64!

They juiced them all and we've been enjoying a lot of homemade lemonade. Yesterday I decided to make raspberry lemonade for a friend recuperating from surgery.  Lemonade is so simple but some like it sweeter, some prefer it very tart.  And the type of juice (Meyer, Eureka) will affect the flavor as well. This recipe is fairly sweet with the raspberries so you may want to adjust accordingly.

Raspberry Lemonade 

1 cup raspberries (frozen are fine but let them thaw first)
2 cups lemon juice
2 cups sugar 
10 cups water

In a blender, combine raspberries with lemon juice and blend until smooth.   In a large pot combine two cups water with two cups sugar and bring to a boil.  Simmer and stir until all the sugar is dissolved.  Let cool.  Add the raspberry lemon mixture and the additional water (you may want to add about seven cups and then add additional to taste).  I suppose you could strain this but I didn't find the raspberry seeds or pulp to be bothersome.  I always save the glass bottles from store bought lemonade and use them over and over!

Quinoa, Garbanzo and Spinach Salad with Smoked Paprika Dressing

I'm just going to slip back in here...long time no see!

I went looking for some ideas for spinach salad the other night . We eat a LOT of spinach and I have many favorite combinations that we have over and over.  But I was kind of hoping for something a little different so I looked on epicurious and found this recipe.  As luck would have it I had pretty much everything it called for on hand (except cucumbers and it was just fine without them).

I'll admit I was a little hesitant once I made the dressing because that smoked paprika flavor was really strong and I just wasn't sure how that would blend with everything.  But it was delicious (and really, I don't think it would be worth making the dressing without the smoked paprika - regular paprika just wouldn't do the trick). We typically dress our salads with just balsamic vinegar and a spritz of oil so I don't like a lot of oil in my dressing. I ended up using a 50/50 mix instead of the 2:1 ratio the original recipe called for. We really loved this salad - I was getting thumbs up while we all ate.  In fact liked it so much it got me back on here to blog it!

Quinoa, Garbanzo and Spinach Salad with Smoked Paprika Dressing 

3/4 cup quinoa, rinsed, drained
10 oz. baby spinach leaves
1 15- to 16-ounce can garbanzo beans (chickpeas), rinsed, drained
¾ pint container small cherry tomatoes, halved
½ cup (packed) fresh mint leaves. cut into thin ribbons
3 oz coarsely crumbled feta cheese , divided
1/4 cup Sherry wine vinegar
1 ¼ teaspoons smoked paprika
1/4 cup olive oil

Place quinoa in large saucepan; add 1 ½ cups water. Bring to boil. Reduce heat to medium-low; cover and simmer until quinoa is tender, 15 to 16 minutes. Drain. Chill until cool.

Meanwhile, combine spinach leaves, garbanzos, halved tomatoes, mint leaves, and half of feta cheese in extra-large bowl. Add cooled quinoa and toss gently to blend.

Whisk vinegar and smoked paprika in small bowl. Gradually whisk in oil. Season dressing with salt and pepper. Pour dressing over salad; toss to coat. Season generously with salt and pepper. Sprinkle remaining feta over.

adapted from epicurious.com - Bon Appetit July 2010