Sunday, February 28, 2010

60.  Cheese Pizza, pg. 142

A tip of the chef's hat to Dean Martin, singing, 'When the moon hits your eye like a big pizza pie, that's amore.'

I almost feel like writing an ode to pizza right now, thinking how delightful most of my experiences with the food have been.  But I'm going to assume that you're here not to read my bad poetry, and would rather be inspired just to make food yourself (or live/eat vicariously through me.)

The idea of making pizza turned into a nearly all-day venture.  We went shopping at Central Market in the morning, getting a few needed veggies and cheeses.  Mid-afternoon, we started the dough, chopped and sauteed some onions and mushrooms, and made our way into sauce making.

We used 1 c. of whole wheat flour, and then ended up adding less regular white flour than it called for -- when the dough is smooth and elastic, and it's not needing much flour to knead, you can stop adding flour.  I think we shorted the dough about 1/2 c. flour total.  I also used 2 t. agave instead of sugar, which kept the dough lightly sweet.  We kept our crusts pretty thin, and they did bake to a chewy crunch.

Toppings-wise?  We went kind of crazy.  Onions, mushrooms, garlic, artichoke hearts, and then for cheese, we used fresh mozzarella (one ball was plenty for one recipe, unless you're going all-cheese) and garlic chevre.  Trust your inspiration, follow your heart, etc.  You know what you like:  do it.

Sauce.  After draining most of the liquid from a quart jar of canned tomatoes, I dumped the remaining tomatoes into the sauce pan with a small chopped onion, garlic, spices, and salt.  After letting it boil for awhile, I felt it was going to be too thin, so we added about 2 T. tomato paste and left the pan cooking uncovered until we were ready to put it on the crust.  This made a pretty sweet sauce, so adjust to your likes.

Baking.  If you're using a pizza stone, let the oven pre-heat for about 30 minutes so that the stone is good and hot when you put your pie in.  Our first pizza (half the dough) took only about 13 minutes -- cut in half by the pizza stone.  We split the remaining dough into two "personal sized" pizzas, and they took only about 8 minutes each.

We really enjoyed this pizza, and therefore ate a lot of it (and nothing else).  We had about 1/4 of the recipe left over.  I've used this recipe for calzones before, and makes a nice 4 servings.  But as pizza (with hungry eaters), consider this one to be 3 servings.  Three lovely, steamy servings. :)

Overall: 4.6 out of 5  My only complaint would be the too-sweet sauce.  We'll work on it. :)

Thursday, February 25, 2010

As The Man and I have been working on remodeling our kitchen, I have been more and more amazed at how little things can so dramatically change the feel of the whole room.  I'm no interior designer (and neither is Hubby) but our kitchen is slowly becoming both functional and attractive.  The new look and workability of the space also increases my interest in making more of a production out of meal...i.e. spending time in a space which keeps us sated.  The people who lived here before us (for over 40 years) had about 3 feet of counterspace...which was about enough for a stack of dirty dishes and a drying rack.  For the first year that we were here, the washing machine ended up being where I usually kept my cutting board.  It worked fine, of course, but the new workspace just feels so much more inviting! :)  All this to say that an adequate kitchen can help a chef cook better.  (And what would the analogy be for an outrageous kitchen?  Perhaps the owner is trying to make up for their lack of culinary skills?  I don't know. :P)

59. Lentil-Barley Stew, pg. 107

(First off, apologies on the low-quality pictures.  My camera is old and the lighting in our kitchen is fairly awful.  We'll work on it.)

I'm starting to feel a bit souped out.  Yes, the stuff is typically good, filling, and warm, but it is such a symbol of winter that it can be depressing when one eats it too often. 

That said, let's look at this recipe.  It's very easy with things you likely have on hand, if you're reading this blog. :)  I, like usual, skimped on the celery but added garlic to the sauté.  Used a brown/wild rice mix, and left out the garlic salt.  We didn't have carrots on hand, and I didn't have time to go get any, so we just put some cheese on top for looks.  The flavor of the soup is subtle and earthy, and went nicely with oatmeal-craisin-cinnamon muffins.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

57.  Cornmeal Yeast Bread, pg. 61

I was looking for a bread recipe to accompany chili, but didn't want to make a standard cornbread.  (What can I say?  I like to live on the wild side... :))  So, here I ended up, keeping the corny component, but marrying it with our lovely friend, yeast.

I made several changes to this recipe, all being positive.  I used brown sugar instead of white, and would even take a step to make it healthier next time by using 1/3 c. honey or agave instead of sugar at all.  I also used unsweetened soy milk (for the lactose-sensitive among us).  Finally, I replaced the 1 c. white flour with whole wheat, and as usual, added about 2 T. of vital wheat gluten.

The end result was a sweet bread with lovely crunch from the cornmeal.  For less crunch, use finely ground cornmeal.  If you're making these into rolls, bake for only 20-25 minutes.  Will make 14 large rolls in two 8" cake pans.

Overall:  4 out of 5  Will do quite nicely with soups, and will probably fare better eaten as rolls rather than sandwich bread (but I may be proven wrong.)

58.  Minestrone Soup, pg. 210

Often, with an ingredient list this long, I overlook recipes because they seem overwhelming.  Not only that, but this one takes some serious planning, with cooking beans and then a long overall cooking time.

But, a healthy soup was called for, and time miraculously allowed.  And so it came to pass (in those days), that this soup was made.  And fear ye not, vegetarians/vegans/pork haters:  this recipe is and can be for you, too.

I had looked at this recipe before starting, and saw a few places where I was going to do my own thing to accommodate what I had on hand (I must have some disease that doesn't allow me to follow a recipe.)  Subbed cannellini beans for navy (not a huge deal -- just a slightly longer cooking time), dropped the pork completely, and jumped in straight to the veggies.  Double that onion, consider doubling the garlic as well, especially if you're not using meat.  The more flavor, the merrier!  I used only 4 cups of water (and had about 4 cups of bean juice), mainly because the pan I was using wouldn't have held any more.  Because I didn't use pork, I did still use 4 bouillon cubes, even though I added less water.  Instead of cabbage, I tossed in 2 c. of shredded zucchini from the freezer, which made the soup really pretty.  Lastly, I used a pint of stewed tomatoes (another reason to use less water).

Regardless of the fact that it says to simmer soup for 1 1/2 hours, just check it periodically until the carrots are mostly done.  (I can't imagine what simmering it for that long would do...would there be anything left to chew?)  Didn't add the peas or green beans at the end, and threw in a whole cup of whole wheat macaroni.  Again, you've got to be crazy to let macaroni cook for 20 minutes ... I let mine go for about 8 minutes before turning off the fire, because I knew the pasta would continue to cook.  I don't like obliterated pasta, and you shouldn't either. :)  In case you're wondering when to put the beans back in (because the recipe doesn't state it), I added mine just as the macaroni was reaching the perfect "al dente" state.  Because we weren't eating the soup immediately, we tried to cool it down a bit faster by sitting it outside in the cool.  This still gave the macaroni more time to cook, and so we did end up with nearly lifeless pasta, but I can't imagine how bad it could have been had we let it cook for 20 minutes (really! who cooks macaroni for 20 minutes?????)

Overall: 3.5 out of 5  Fairly colorful, fairly flavorful, and makes a ton.

Friday, February 19, 2010

A virtual trio of Menno cooks...

Emily Welty -- Extending the Table blog
Wendy Hammond - Simply in Season

We Cook.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

'Tis yet another snowy day here in Lancaster County, and I think I've finally resigned myself to my current, tragic fate of living in a land with (what I consider to be) harsh winters.

And, while you may think that since we've been pounded with snow here in the last week and a half, I should have been posting like a madwoman, alas, some of our lives must go on...The bakery at which I occasionally help out at (Wendy Jo's Homemade) participated in a fundraiser for the organization called Love146, and I helped pull together over 370 dozen heart shaped-sugar cookies with each one being iced and then having "LOVE146" written on them.  It was a painstaking, three-day process, and as my dearest Husband would attest to the fact that I was exhausted and not in the greatest of spirits when I got home each night.

But, here I am again, and with a whopping four recipes to report on.

53.  French-style Lettuce Salad, pg. 248

I will admit that I laughed this recipe in the face when I first saw it.  "French-Style"?  I didn't realise the French held the trademark for a very simple oil and vinegar dressing...And, hey, they already have a dressing named after them!  Tell me -- when will the U.S. get a dressing named after them? :)

No, I am appreciative of French foods and have enjoyed my fair share of crepes with Nutella and other Frenchie delicacies ... but ... dressing?  Really.

I will give them the rub-your-bowl-with-garlic.  Sure.  That's fine.  The rest of it is a fairly Western/Universal attempt at making greens a bit more palatable.  We used olive oil, a mix of red and balsamic vinegars, and nixed the parsley.  Simple but delightful.

Overall:  4.5 out of 5 C'est trés bien, et je pense que vous l'aimerez. Bon appetit!

54.  Spicy Split Pea Soup, pg. 213

Be forewarned that this soup takes awhile to make -- so if you've got a day at home, this recipe will probably fit well into a dinner menu.  It doesn't take much attention, though, so needing to come and go isn't a problem.

After the initial boil, I let the split peas sit for several hours before moving on to the next steps.  The peas are forgiving and don't mind being left on the stove until closer to dinner time.

In the sauté mixture, I added an extra clove of garlic (we thought it could have even had a third), extra onion (maybe another 1/4 c.), and subbed 1/4 t. cayenne for the red peppers.  You do not want the onions and garlic to be browned -- sauté them only until they start to turn translucent.  When it came time to blend the soup, I probably only blended about half of the pot, which made a thick but semi-chewable stew.  Go for blending all of it, if you're wanting to stretch it by putting it on rice.  I think that the milk is semi-optional (sour cream could be put on the table), so this soup is easily dairy-free.

Overall:  4 out of 5  Great flavor, stretched to probably 8 servings.

55.  Pumpkin Custard, pg. 267

Nixing the labor of making a pie crust, this pumpkin custard is simple and can slide in the oven with just 10 minutes of prep and mixing.  It does taste very much like pumpkin pie filling (you could definitely use this recipe if you're making a pumpkin pie), though this one is just a hair less sweet.  (Is there a word that is the opposite of sweeter?  Sweetless? No...)

I used a pie dish, as it seemed like too much liquid to be baked in a deeper pot, and it baked out beautifully.  You can create a dark, attractive top by sprinkling the nutmeg on top (much like a standard custard pie) before baking.

Overall: 3.5 out of 5  Good. Standard.

56.  Vietnam Fried Rice, pg. 130

If you've been looking for a recipe which emulates the super-tasty, MSG-laden fried rice of yesteryear's (and/or today's) Chinese restaurants, look no further.  While starkly MSG-less, this recipe is a doll.  Especially during winter, I get cravings for fatty foods, and while take-out can be just downright greasy at times, this little gem probably won't cause you great digestive distress.  Probably.

Lacking leftover veggies, I just tossed about 4 oz. baby bella mushrooms, halved, and 2 small carrots, sliced, in with the onions and garlic.  Again, I added more garlic than it called for and this made for much happiness in the land.  Use what you've got, though, and don't hold back that adventourous spirit.

I didn't add any additional salt, nor did I add sugar.  Serve with soy sauce for those who want it to be saltier.  I used white sticky rice, but would like to use good ole brown rice in a future trial.

One helpful hint for the eggy time -- make a well in the rice and let the eggs cook in the center of the pan.  Otherwise, you may end up with soggy rice which never seems to "set". 

Overall:  5 out of 5  Leave the greasy Chinese food in the soggy (though waxed) leftover containers, and come home to this delectable treat.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

The days fly by and all of the sudden it's been a week since I last put up a recipe.  Winter should be the time when I'm really cranking out all the slave-over-a-hot-stove kind of recipes (cuts down on the heating bill, for one!), but with the oft-waning energy, I'd sometimes rather not worry with cooking.

But times are looking up -- I made a very rudimentary cold frame this morning with some of the scrap wood from our old kitchen cabinets.  And, with seeds being sent through the mail to us, I am eagerly awaiting signs of new life!

For now, sit down with a cup o' joe or tea for ...

52.  Wheat Germ Balls, pg. 291

Hailing from a home about 5 miles down the road from where we live, these little dough balls are a surprise hit.  My personal philosophy often seems to believe that a cookie could never be "healthy" and still satisfy my very demanding sweet tooth.  But, my friends, a venture into More-with-Less may slowly be changing my beliefs ... though I wouldn't wonder so far as to say "revolutionizing" ... :)

Accustomed to making cookies using the creaming method (butter & sugar, then add eggs, then flour, etc.), I decided to mix these my way, versus mixing everything together at once, as stated.  It might be an interesting trial to make them again, mixing everything at once, and then compare the two.  (I'll let you know if I do this and they turn out differently.)  Instead of wheat germ, I only had wheat bran on hand, so I toasted the 1 c. in the oven at 350 for about 6 minutes, tossing it gently in the middle of that time.  If I would have thought through it more, I would have also added the wheat bran/germ that the dough balls are rolled into.

These little guys do not spread much during baking, so you can put them close together on the baking sheet.  It was a bit difficult to know when they were done baking, but at 15 minutes, mine were crispy on the outside and still soft on the inside.  They go really well with tea or coffee, or with applesauce or other fruit.  Don't expect them to be a huge conversation piece, but they do pack a lovely sweet punch.  An idea for a future batch would be to use lemon zest instead of orange -- and more than just a teaspoon.

Overall:  3.5 out of 5  Simple but substantial, sweet but healthier than your average cookie.