Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Pita Pizza

So I have this mini obsession with Mellow Mushroom pizza. It's a chain of restaurants and we had one in Auburn which my friends and I frequented during college. However, my obsession did not begin until I moved to NYC and realized it is only a Southern thing! I guess there are a million amazing pizza places here, but I still hold a special place in my heart for Mellow. I rekindled my love for their Kosmic Karma pie on a recent trip home to Huntsville, Alabama. It's my favorite variety, and I was determined to recreate it in Brooklyn.

I'm not quite ready to make my own pizza dough or even use the pre-made stuff I've seen at Trader Joe's. I went with the equivalent of dipping my big toe in this culinary pool. Making pita pizzas seemed like the perfect opportunity to test out the toppings before getting into all that dough mess. Quick. Easy. Painless. My kind of cooking.

The result it pretty good. Definitely not up to Mellow standards but a good first attempt. I think there is a lot to be said for using good pesto. I would also go for a more crumbly feta next time. Mellow Mushroom definitely has a good dough recipe (I think they incorporate wheat flour in there too). The middle of the pizza is pretty thin while the crust is thick and fluffy. My pita got nice and crispy in the oven but it's just not the same. I look forward to trying again!

Kosmic Karma Pita Pizza
8" pita bread
Pizza sauce (I used a jar from TJ's, but I'm sure you could make your own. Good luck!)
Pesto sauce (ditto)
Mozzarella cheese, shredded
Feta cheese crumbles (feta in a block is a bit too dense)
Sun-dried tomatoes
Cherry tomatoes, sliced

Heat your oven to 425° F. Put pita on an ungreased cookie sheet, fluffy side up. Spread a spoonful of pizza sauce on top and do the same with the pesto. Sprinkle with an ample amount of mozzarella cheese and arrange the other toppings to your liking. Bake in the oven about 10-12 minutes until cheese is melted. Enjoy!

Monday, November 29, 2010

Caramel Sea Salt Brownies

In addition to the salad combination I luckily stumbled upon, I also brought some brownies to the Thanksgiving feast at my boyfriend's apartment this year. I am more confident with sweets and baking then other types of cooking but will admit I've made good friends with Betty Crocker over the years. I never had a problem cutting corners and using a mix. "Made from scratch" never brought me the same satisfaction as I think other people feel. I'm not in this for pride. I'm here for tasty treats! 

I had a bit of a roadblock this Thanksgiving though. My boyfriend and his family revel in doing things the hard way. "Made from scratch" is Kurt's middle name. Practically everything on the table was grown in his parent's garden in Ohio or from nearby. The turkey was raised by a local kid. They would probably grind their own flour before stooping to the level of using a boxed mix of some sort.

So while my Thanksgivings growing up consisted of Stove Top stuffing, cranberry sauce in the shape of a can, and Stauffer's macaroni and cheese, I needed to step up my game, roll up my sleeves, and give this made from scratch thing a try. I had been eying this brownie recipe from a blog I typically read and thought I would give it a try.

The ingredients were pretty basic. However, I would not wait until the Tuesday before Thanksgiving to get your supplies at Whole Foods. It's a madhouse! 

Olivia does a pretty good job of walking you through the recipe and adding some hints. Here are a few of mine:
-I found it helpful to measure out the flour and sugar into small bowls (Martha Stewart style) before starting to cook. Some of the steps move quickly and I didn't want to be fumbling with measuring cups while burning things.
-I let my caramel thicken too long and probably cooked the whole thing in the oven too long. This combined with refrigerating overnight turned my brownie into a brick. It softened a little in the microwave, but I would be mindful of those things and maybe even slice into portions as soon as it comes out of the oven because it will be difficult to cut later.
-In that same vein, wash your caramel saucepan immediately. Otherwise the caramel will harden and be a beast to clean out!
-There isn't any egg in the brownie mixture, so it has a tendency to be crumbly. It is great served warm over some vanilla ice cream. The sea salt is a great complement to the rich and sweet brownie!

Pear Salad

(similar to my salad, a little prettier, courtesy of Food Network)

I spent Thanksgiving with my boyfriend's family this year. We had seven people in total and most were contributing dishes. I don't have anything that is really my "specialty" so I was flexible to fill in gaps where items were needed. It was requested that I bring something "light" to offset all the heaviness of fried turkey, potatoes in several forms, and decadent desserts. "Light" sounded a little boring and contradictory to all the things Thanksgiving food stands for, but I was able to come up with this salad and it was a huge hit! We made it three nights in a row! 

My jumping off point was this recipe from Rachael Ray, but I made several tweaks to meet my tastes. It ended up being super easy and quick. There was no measuring involved (unless you count handfuls as units of measure) and only minimal chopping.

Pear Salad
Salad greens (I used baby spinach and a Mediterranean mix but Arugula complements the citrus well too)
Pear(s) (I used Anjou but pick your favorite), cored and chopped into approx. 1" pieces
Dried cranberries
Chopped walnuts
Crumbled feta cheese
Olive Oil
Salt and Pepper

Squeeze the lemon into a small bowl and pick out all the seeds. Pour about an equal amount of olive oil into the lemon juice. Season with salt and pepper. Toss with all the other ingredients in a larger bowl until well coated. Enjoy!

*I'm convinced the dressing is still a little too tart, so I am searching for a way to tone it down. Suggestions welcome!

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Thanksgiving Treats

First off, full disclosure: I did not make either of these tasty treats, but I want to.  I will, they are too good not to make myself.

For the past three years I have made the long trek up to New Haven, CT to enjoy  Thanksgiving with my friend's family.  They are a highly entertaining bunch, great to hang out with and they have been kind enough to invite me back each year.  My favorite part of any holiday is the desserts and this year there were 11 desserts for 19 people.  The best is the anginetti cookies that my friend's mom makes.
mmm good
They are delicious soft bite sized cookies with an anise (licorice) frosting on top.  Normally I am not a fan of anise at all, but I cannot get enough of these little guys.  I asked for the recipe, but, unknown to even my friend, the recipe is apparently on lock down and has not been shared with anyone.  Her fear is that I would take it and make them better.  Let's face it, I am not that kind of baker.  I explained this to her and explained that perfection cannot be made better, but nothing worked.  Even my friend and her brother were helping my cause.  How would their aunts find out if she gave me the recipe?  They wouldn't.  I promise.

Alas, I have arrived back in New York empty handed.  My last plea included a threat to find a recipe and spend the 15 days I will have at home over the holidays in South Dakota finding a better recipe.  I really don't want to, but I guess I have no choice now.  If I get to go back next Thanksgiving, I have to have something in hand, but I doubt it will be as good as her cookies, maybe then she'll be ready to share the secret.
 The second holiday treat sounds terrible, but is absolutely wonderful and pure alcohol was a  Pumpkin Martini.  Delicious and so smooth with Carmel Irish Cream, Vanilla Vodka, and pumpkin liquor.  I am very excited to make them myself and a little scared to drink to much of them.  I may have to make my parents have the ingredients ready for when I get home at Christmas.  It's not to late for pumpkin at that point right?

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Peanut battered mushrooms

Thanksgiving was a welcomed day for me, since it was the first day I truly was able to settle into my new place in St Louis. Adam and I drove 800 miles over two days in snow, rain, and wind to get here, and spending the day indoors was the best idea we had.

Instead of the usual turkey + mashed potatoes and gravy, we did things a little different. He made pork tenderloin, crusted with salt and pepper because that was all the seasonings I had; and I made the salad. Along with these, though, we tried something we've never done before: peanut flour battered mushrooms.

It's hard to describe how I feel about battered mushrooms. I used to hate mushrooms. Since going gluten free, I find that I eat them more and more, and I actually quite like them now. But the battered-bowling alley-style mushrooms have never really been a big hit in my book. I was curious how the peanut-battered ones would turn out.

We used crimini mushrooms, because their size is perfect for battering, and their flavor is pretty good. The batter was 1 cup peanut flour (from Trader Joe's), 1 egg, and Tuscan vinegarette dressing and olive oil to wet the batter; plus a dash of salt and pepper. It was super easy, and I fried them in a saucepan with about 1.5inches-deep pool of olive oil. They were cooked until they turned dark brown.

I actually thought these were pretty darn tasty. The first batch was a little bland, so I added more salt and pepper to the batter and the flavor improved. We also put chevre (garlic and herb) cheese on these and it melted a little to stick to the mushrooms. I'd like to think these were healthier, since they were cooked in olive oil and peanut flour, but I am probably delusional.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Experimenting with Eggplant

Since moving out of my parents house, my real meal (all food groups accounted for) intake has decreased.  Mostly because I was a stressed out architecture student with no time or money and a bowl of pasta with a bit of salt is fast and cheap.  I was a bit better about making (having) complete meals and mixing it up when I had someone making them for me.  I was being kinda lazy about it again once I moved to New York, especially with all the take out so close by.  I moved a bit farther south and my favorite take out spots are no longer call-when-you-get-off-the-subway-and-pick-up-on-the-way-to-the-apartment, therefore forcing some needed diversity in my cooking again.  That said, I still like my quick, one pan meals.
from http://notahippie.wordpress.com/
This one skillet meal was appealing because it was fast, easy, and it had eggplant. This was my first cooking experience with eggplant.  Since moving to New York I have had eggplant in pastas and on pizzas and enjoyed it.  I started collecting recipes with it, but have been too scared to try cooking with one.  Not sure why, but I was, it's an intimidating vegetable.  I found this recipe for Tortellini with Eggplant and Peppers  and finally decided to give it a try.
I am normally a follow-the-recipe type of girl, but I could only find 10 or 14 oz bags of tortellini and had used a bit of my peppers earlier in the week, and my bullion cubes make 2 cups each. So I added a bit of vidalia onion, extra cup of vegetable broth, and 24 oz of tortellini.  Since I like my spices I also added a tiny bit of my brother dried chili mix. It turned out really well. I was afraid I would have a issue with the vegetable cause they would be soft, but it's still really great. The only problem was that the broth didn't soak in as well as I think I should have, which was a bit of a surprise since I added more pasta that broth proportionally.  I thought the broth would be soaked up quicker.

From Real Simple (my picture didn't look as yummy)
The decision to make it again will all hinge on how it does as a leftover for lunch tomorrow. I am afraid the texture of the veggies is gonna gross me out, but I am going to try not to think about it.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Santa Fe Soup

I'll admit it, I'm not much of a cook. I like to cook but sometimes just can't be bothered to go to the trouble. I live in Brooklyn and have a tiny kitchen which I share with two other people. It makes it difficult to really spread out and enjoy the process of making a meal. Plus, I generally just cook for myself, which isn't all that fun to begin with. Well, then there's just laziness. My boyfriend, tired of all my cooking related excuses, recently bought me a crock pot. I like the idea of throwing a bunch of ingredients together and leaving it to cook on its own. There are limited dishes created and it doesn't require a lot of attention. Brilliant! 

What I love even more is opening a bunch of cans, dumping them in the slow cooker, and letting it all go to town while I enjoyed one of the last football Saturdays of the season! This soup is very much like a chili and is the perfect compliment to the increasingly chilly November weekends. I must give credit for the recipe to the lovely Hale Family. I lived with twins Jen and Sarah my last year at Auburn University and it was the center of many communal dinners at our house. Thanks, ladies!

Onions make me tear up terribly, so my boyfriend, Kurt, was kind enough to chop it for me. I will take credit for the rest of the grueling can and packaging opening though. Phew! Exhausting!

Isn't it beautiful?! My first real appliance! Thanks, Kurt!

The finished result. Pretty delicious if I do say so myself. It ended up a little spicier than I planned (I think due to a tangy can of tomatoes), so I garnished with lots of sour cream.

Santa Fe Soup Slow Cook Version
2 lb ground turkey or beef (I use turkey)
1 onion, chopped 
1 package Ranch dressing mix*
1 package taco seasoning mix
1 can black beans
1 can kidney beans
1 can pinto beans
1 can diced tomatoes with chilies (Rotel works well)
1 can tomato wedges
2 cans white corn (I used 1 bag of frozen corn)
some crushed garlic, to taste, very scientific

Add meat and onions to large crock pot. Sprinkle on the ranch dressing and taco seasoning so it coats the meat. Dump in all the remaining ingredients with juices from all. Add one extra can of water. Set the crock pot on high and let cook for 4 or 5 hours until meat is cooked through. Garnish with shredded cheese, sour cream, and green onions. Enjoy!

*I feel that powdered Ranch dressing is a suburban specialty because I can never find it in New York City. Instead, this time I used a powdered onion soup mix. It seemed to work fine but I think the Ranch gives it something extra special.


Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Zucchini: Not just for Baking Anymore

When I was growing up zucchini was explicitly used for brownies and bread.  In all honestly, I don't think I would have eaten a zucchini if mom had tried to feed us a dish like the one I describe below. Perhaps that is why I didn't know you could use zucchini for anything else or that you would want to pick them while they are small. We would grow these huge zucchinis in the garden that would be at least two feet long and several inches around. Around here you are lucky to get one that is more than two inches in diameter at its thickest, which doesn't leave much for shredding once you take out the seeds.

Due to this lack of baking sized zucchini, I started playing with dishes that use it as an actual vegetable, (interesting fact from Wikipedia: it is an immature fruit, being the swollen ovary of the female zucchini flower) and have found some really good recipes with pastas or sauteed with other veggies.  Needless to say, the zucchini has worked it's way into my normal dinner menu in many ways.  My favorite dish is something following a recipe I found, I think, from Great Food Fast that I have modified and just toss together what I have on hand but it is generally like this:

1 small zucchini cut into rounds
1 small yellow squash cut into rounds
1/2 green pepper and red pepper cut into 1/2" pieces
1/4 vidalia onion cut into 1/2" pieces
(basically equal pieces of each one cut up)
olive oil
Salt and Pepper
Over medium heat in a large skillet heat oil. Add the vegetables and sprinkle with salt and pepper to you liking. Cook, stirring frequently, until squashes are golden brown.
Depending on what I'm what else is for dinner, I also like to toss in some chicken that has been cubed. I really love this recipe especially since you can add other veggies to mix it up and it's really quick.

While I  was at the farmers market on Saturday in search of zucchini and a few other things, I was very excited to see large (for this area) ones that would be perfect for shredding and baking. I had these two large zucchinis sitting on the counter with the small ones waiting to be used, or until last nights terrible discovery. When I went to grab the smaller ones to mix up dinner, I moved a large one and realized that it was complete mush inside.  I was rather upset since I bought them three days before and they seemed fine. I set it a side while I inspected the small ones which were fine but the other large one had mold growing on half of the underside. Annoyed I chopped off the bad half and sent it all to the neighbors compost bin and tried to decide what I was now going to bake with only 1/4 of the zucchini I thought I had and that was semi quick since it was already 9 PM. I found the following recipe in 500 Cupcakes that used a small amount of zucchini, and I modified it a bit to the ingredients that I had on hand. Oddly, while it has Chocolate Chip in the title, the recipe did not have chocolate Chips in it...

Low Fat Chocolate Chip Zucchini Muffins
2 2/3 cups all-purpose flour (I ran out of all-purpose flour and had to use a tiny bit of wheat flour)
1 cup sugar
1 tbsp baking powder
2 tbsp cocoa powder
1 tsp fresh ground pepper
2 eggs lightly beaten
1/2 cup vegetable oil
3/4 cup milk
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 cup shredded zucchini

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
2. Mix the dry ingredients together. In a separate bowl mix the rest of the ingredients except the zucchini together with an electric mixer until combined.
3. Add the flour mixture to the milk mixture until just mixed. Add the zucchini.
4. Spoon batter into a greased muffin pan and bake for 20 minutes. (I had to bake them for about 25 minutes)

5. Remove and cool on a wire rack.

You can really taste the pepper in these and it is balanced well with zucchini and the tiny bit of chocolate. They are nice and soft on the inside and perfectly moist.  I think that they would be excellent if I had used half all-purpose and half wheat flour. A note for next time.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Winter warmth

I woke up yesterday and the morning light coming through my window seemed unusually bright. Looking outside, all I saw was white. I'm not sure what triggers this emotion, but I shouted a "woohoo!" and heard my boyfriend giggle downstairs.
I love snow. LOVE snow. It reminds me of so many of my favorite things. Skiing. The UP. Bozeman. Thanksgiving. And for some reason, zucchini bread. Maybe that's because my mom made it at the holidays from zucchini she had in her freezer. Or maybe it's because its so good when eaten straight out of the oven. Whatever the reason, it snowed, so I instinctively wanted to make zucchini bread.
I found a really delicious zucchini bread recipe in The Gluten-Free Gourmet Cooks Comfort Foods book. This one is a little less traditional than what I think of when I think zucchini bread, but I'm glad I tried it. I thought the pineapple might have given it a more summer-ish feel, but there's no way zucchini bread can ever be anything but a winter food.
Pineapple-Zucchini Bread with Teff Buckwheat
Slightly modified by substituting buckwheat flour for the teff flour, pecans for walnuts, and skipping the lemon peel and raisins:

Dry ingredients
  • 1 cup buckwheat flour
  • 2 cups featherlight mix
  • 3 teaspoons xantham gum
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 3/4 teaspoon cloves
Wet ingredients
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 1/3 cups sugar
  • 1 cup vegetable/olive oil blend or melted butter
  • 1 bag of frozen-then-thawed shredded zucchini (probably about 2 cups)
  • half a 20oz can of chunked pineapple
and... 1 cup-ish of chopped pecans
Preheat oven to 350F. Grease a large muffin pan with butter or oil.
Mix dry ingredients in a bowl, and set aside.
Using a mixer, beat eggs until frothy, then add sugar and oil. Beat for 2 minutes. Stir in zucchini and pineapple.
Spoon in flour mix and then add pecans.
Bake for 15-25 minutes or until fork comes out clean. Let the muffins sit in the pan for ~5 minutes before taking them out, and then pour the rest of the batter in to make the rest of the muffins.
Makes 12 large muffins.

Monday, November 15, 2010

One Potato, Two Potato

So two weekends ago I was going through my recipes and picked out Loaded Potato Soup as something to make that weekend, but I didn't get around to making it until this Saturday.  I haven't had potato soup since I was in middle school (maybe high school?) at my best friends house.  I remember it was delicious with carrots and celery and ever since then I have meant to make it again and probably have three or four recipes.

From MyRecipes.com
This version is a take on the Load Potato Skins, another one of my favorite ways to have potatoes. I may have been short a piece of bacon and had a shallot to use instead of an onion and of course I was using whole milk.  I think that have the extra bacon and onion would have made it a bit more flavorful, but it was still good and it will stay good in the fridge of a few days.

Since a whole week had passed, I was at the farmers market again and saw sweet potatoes, which have become a new favorite of mine. So yummy, so many things to do with them.  A few weeks ago I came across this recipe for Sweet Potato Fries and have been thinking about making them. So I bought a few and as the guys at Simply Recipes says "These. Are. So. Addictive."
From Simply Recipes

I used just paprika and salt for the seasoning and baked them for a lot longer cause I was trying to get them crispy, which I failed at but they were still very tasty and completed my very potato dinner.  Does anyone have any ideas how to get them crispy?

The Whole Reason for This Little Blog

So I love to cook and I especially love to bake.  And I love them both even more when I get to share whatever it is I've made with others.  I have binder of recipes, recipes in cards, cookbooks, as PDF's and in emails. I've even helped organize little cook offs between my local friends like The Great Pumpkin Off. The past through months I have been going through all these recipes and picking out several of them, hanging them on the fridge. I've attempt to make them over the course of the next couple of weeks in hopes of shaking up my typical menu and frozen Trader Joe pot stickers.

I have many great friends spread out over the country that, at one point in time or another, I use to cook and bake with, share recipes, or simply just bring them snacks.  With all these new recipes I have been trying, I have been thinking so and so would like this, or I should take some of this to that person.  I thought putting them up here would be a great way to keep sharing even though we might be a few thousand miles away. And I hope they will share some of their recipes too, a bit of a digital recipe box.