Tuesday, January 26, 2010

The simple things

This is what I had for dinner on Saturday night. Well, this times three. I had put some milk up for yogurt in the morning, and when dinner time came around, it was freshly fermented and still warm. With some chopped pistachios and a drizzle of honey, it was breathtaking.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Lemon-ricotta-chard pizza

This post has been featured in the 38th Grow Your Own roundup! Thanks, Nate and Annie, for hosting! There's a lot of delicious and impressive stuff over there.

I made a big batch of ricotta last weekend because I had wanted to try several ricotta recipes. I made some ricotta gnocchi and some cute lemon-ricotta pancakes.
Both were nice but not anything really special, but this pizza was amazing. I knew that I wanted a ricotta-based pizza topping and that I didn't want it to be too complicated. My aunt gave me a bunch of home-grown Meyer lemons, which are big and sweet and juicy, and in a brilliant stroke of inspiration, I decided that they would be the perfect accompaniment to the ricotta on the pizza. Fiesta had some gorgeous bunches of Swiss chard, so I added that too. It worked nearly perfectly. Cooking sweetened the lemons even more, and the greens got a little crispy without burning. Next time I will peel the lemons because the white pith is a little too bitter. That change is reflected in the recipe.

Lemon-ricotta-chard pizza
Vegetable oil for sauteeing chard
Lemon zest, optional
1 bunch Swiss chard, stems removed for another use (if you're into that kind of thing), leaves cleaned well and coarsely torn
1/2 recipe pizza dough made with whole wheat in place of half the white flour
Olive oil for brushing
1/2 cup ricotta cheese
1/2 Meyer lemon, sliced into thin rounds, peel and pith removed
Coarse salt for sprinkling

Preheat oven to 400 F with pizza stone in it.
Heat oil in saute pan over medium heat. Grate a little lemon zest into the oil if you want. When the oil is hot, add the chard leaves and saute until wilted. You might cover them briefly to get some nice steaming action going. Remove from heat and set aside.
Roll pizza dough out into 12-inch round. Brush with olive oil. Top with ricotta, chard, and lemon slices. I added the ricotta in little spoonfuls, but you could also spread it thinly over the whole pie. Sprinkle with coarse salt. Carefully transfer to pizza stone and bake for 12-14 minutes or until the crust is done.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Mustard that means it

Sorry, no picture. But it just looks like grainy mustard, so you're not missing much. I've been meaning to try making my own mustard for a while, and last week I finally got around to it. I got this method from Bittman's How to Cook Everything Vegetarian. This mustard is very potent. It will put hair on your chest and back while simultaneously clearing out your sinuses. I plan on experimenting in the future with trying to tame it. I might try adding some honey or sugar to it, or I might just try decreasing the amount of mustard seeds while leaving the wet ingredients the same. Or maybe replacing some of the vinegar with water. I'll keep you updated. This is good mustard, mind you. It's just that sometimes you don't really want a kick in the throat with your veggie burger. It made a very exciting celery remoulade, and it was great stirred into a potato-kale skillet. It's also an excellent topping for homemade veggie burgers. Once I perfect my mustard technique, I think it would be a nice gift for people. I might experiment with replacing some of the beer with whiskey or another spirit for even more character. Then there are all the add-ins you can do: garlic, caramelized onion, cranberry, etc. I'm looking forward to it. The only thing is that this makes more mustard than I usually go through in a year, so I'll have to make smaller recipes and/or figure out a way to work more mustard into my diet. (Or give samples to my friends.)

Makes about 1 1/2 cups.
1/4 cup whole yellow mustard seeds
1/4 cup whole black mustard seeds
1/2 cup St. Arnold's Christmas Ale or other good beer
1/2 cup malt vinegar
Pinch of salt (I might increase to 1/4 or 1/2 tsp next time)

Combine all ingredients in a glass jar and seal tightly for two days. Puree in blender until desired consistency is reached. (You won't be able to get smooth mustard this way, but you can control how grainy it is.)

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Caramelized onion, pear, and blue cheese pizza

I think I got the inspiration for this flavor combination from California Pizza Kitchen years ago. The onions and the pears are both sweet, but the tangy blue cheese balances it out. I served this pizza with a truly extraordinary salad. In addition to the normal lettuce, tomato, pepper, and cucumber, I added dill, sorrel, kale, and carrot tops from the garden and pear slices that didn't make it onto the pizza. Jon is the onion caramelizer in the household, so I can't give you guidelines on that. Low and slow is my best guess. I'm sure the internet knows how to do it, though, if you need a recipe. In addition to this pizza, we use caramelized onions in wraps with black bean dip and as a topping for veggie burgers. (We made veggie burgers from scratch for the first time a few days ago.) I plan on using the onion-pear-blue cheese trifecta in galettes later this week as well.

Caramelized onion, pear, and blue cheese pizza

1/2 recipe pizza dough made with whole wheat flour in place of half of the white flour
Extra- virgin olive oil for brushing
Caramelized onions
1 pear, thinly sliced
Crumbled blue cheese (we used a mix of Maytag and a local generic blue cheese)
2 tbsp pine nuts
Coarse salt, optional

Preheat oven to 425 with a pizza stone in it. On a floured surface, roll the pizza dough out to a large circle. Brush with olive oil. Arrange caramelized onions, pear slices, blue cheese, and pine nuts on dough. Carefully transfer to hot pizza stone. Bake for 12 minutes or until crust is done. Sprinkle with salt at the table if desired.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Better than Bouillion

Since we have been making a lot of soup, we've been using a lot of vegetable broth. I've never had success making it from scratch, and we have enough freezer space problems as it is, so we use Better than Bouillion jarred broth concentrate and love it. The recommended reconstitution rate is 1 tsp in 8 oz of water, but we usually make it half-strength so we can control the saltiness of our dishes more easily. The six-ounce jar usually lasts us for six or more months. In addition to the standard vegetable base, they have a really excellent mushroom base for making mushroom risotto or other mushroom dishes, and they even have vegetarian beef- and chicken-flavored bases. We've tried them and really didn't think there was a point to stocking all the different flavors, but if you're really craving the chicken or beef broth flavor, you could try those. They have regular meat-based ones, as well. I feel like an ad, but it is a pretty good product and much better than keeping a bunch of canned broth around or realizing you don't have any when you want to make a soup. Water-based soups can be good, too, but lots of soups really benefit from a nice broth. What do you do for broth?

Lentil soup

It's been a really cold winter here, at least by Houston standards, so we've been making a lot of soup. This is a simple but delicious soup I got out of the Zuni Cafe Cookbook by Judy Rogers. You want to use the small black or dark green lentils. They might be called French, dePuy, or Beluga lentils at the store. I don't think the texture of the regular brown ones would be ideal. I've changed it a little, but not much.

Lentil soup
The cumin seeds are key here, and I sometimes add some extra or 1/4 tsp ground cumin to boost the cuminy-ness.

3 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 cup diced red bell pepper
1/4 tsp whole cumin seeds
Black pepper
1/4 cup diced celery
1/4 cup sliced carrots
1/4 cup diced onion
1 garlic clove, minced
1 bay leaf
1 cup lentils
1 quart vegetable broth

Warm the olive oil over medium-low heat. Add the red peppers and cook, stirring occasionally, until they are getting brownish and smell great. Add the cumin seeds and a generous grinding of black pepper and stir to combine. Add the celery, carrots, onion, and garlic and cook until onion is translucent. Stir in the bay leaf, lentils, and vegetable broth. Bring to a boil and then lower heat to a simmer. Cover and cook until lentils are tender, 15-25 minutes depending on your preferences.

Easy bean and egg breakfast

I made this for dinner one night when we had just gotten back from a trip and had very little in the house. It was a very dump-and-stir dish, and it was even better for breakfast the next day. I usually don't use canned beans in my cooking, but when I find some dented cans for cheap in the clearance bin at the grocery store, I buy them for occasions like this when I want something fast and easy. Most of my tomatoes are also dented discount bin specials, but I recently had one of those cans explode in my pantry, so now I'm a little concerned about botulism. I know the bulging ones are bad, but are dented ones also suspect? I would feel a little silly if I got food poisoning because I wanted to save 40 cents on tomatoes.

Beany breakfast
I used tomatoes with chilies in them. If you have regular canned tomatoes, try using chili powder in place of the cumin and oregano or adding some canned or fresh chilies. There will be some leftover bean-and-tomato sauce here. It will keep in the fridge for a while.

1 tsp vegetable oil
1/2 medium onion, chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
1 1/2 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp dry oregano
1 14-oz can pinto beans, drained
1 14-oz can diced tomatoes with green chilies

2 eggs plus a little butter for frying
2 tortillas (corn would be better, but we had flour tortillas in the fridge)
A few thin slices of cheddar cheese

Saute the onion and garlic in the vegetable oil over medium heat until the onion is soft. Add the cumin and oregano and cook for about 30 seconds. Add the beans and tomatoes and cook uncovered until most of the liquid has evaporated.
In the meantime, fry two eggs in butter. After you've removed them from the pan, throw the tortillas on the pan to get a little warm and buttery. Place tortillas on a plate, top with some cheddar, and add one egg and a nice scoop of tomato-bean mixture to each.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Italian soup

Houston has been having quite the cold snap lately. Motivated by this I threw together a soup.

1/2 onion (diced)
1 celery stalk (diced)
1 clove garlic (minced)

1/2 tsp dried oregano
1/2 tsp dried rosemary
1/2 tsp thyme
1/8 tsp paprika
pepper (to taste)

1/4 cup white wine (something a little sweet and fruity is what I used)
2 Quarts chickpea cooking water
1 1/2 tsp salt

5 oz pasta
3 stalks worth kale (chopped)
2 cups white beans (cooked)
1 0z grated romano (parmesan or asiago are fine)

Heat oil in pot over medium heat. Add onion and saute until soft and translucent. Add celery and sweat about 2 minutes. Add garlic and saute until it begins to smell strongly then add seasoning and stir for about 1 minute. Cut temperature and add wine cooking until the alcohol burns off. Add chickpea broth and salt. Raise heat until the soup reaches a boil and add pasta. Cook until about 3 minutes from done and add kale. When done cooking turn off heat and add beans and cheese.

Note: The pasta may well get very soft (read mushy) so you may want to cook the past separately and add it to the soup just before serving. This has the drawback that the pasta won't have the rich soup flavor all through it.