Sunday, October 31, 2010

Pizza Pizza!

Homemade pizza is one of those flexible favorites; it's great for an appetizer party if there aren't too many people around - each little pie is enough for a person, but it's great fun to make them sequentially with different toppings and everybody trying a slice each time.

This dough recipe is straight from Mark Bittman's recipe for "Pan-Fried Pizza" feature, with only a couple of caveats:

1. You can also bake this in the oven. Crank up the heat (pretty much as high as it can go), and if put whatever you're baking it on in the oven for a good ten minutes or more first. You want it going onto a hot surface as well as in a hot oven. Also, par-baking it a little first (so it's a little bit cooked on top) will help the crust hold up to the tomato sauce and not get too soggy.

2. The rising times here are approximate, and more pretty much never hurts. You can always make pizza dough ahead by a day, and let it rise in the refrigerator overnight - the longer and cooler the rise the denser and chewier the dough.

Other than that - go to town! Everybody knows already how they like their pizza best.


2 cups all-purpose or bread flour, more as needed
1/2 c. + warm water
3/4 teaspoon instant yeast
1 teaspoon coarse salt
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, more for cooking

The dough
Bittman suggests a food processor for this; I suggest your hands. Combine the first 4 ingredients plus 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large bowl and work it together with your hands. Kneading for three or four minutes at this stage is a good idea, working it around in the bottom of the bowl and adding more water if necessary so that the dough is only slightly sticky to the touch; the kneading will make it more springy. Coat the dough ball very lightly in olive oil and cover the bowl with plastic wrap - now you can either let it rise for a couple hours on the countertop or for longer in the fridge.

About the water
Getting the water temperature right when working with yeast is pretty important; I'm no expert but the target temperature for instant yeast is somewhere around 100 or 105 degrees. The easiest way to measure this is to stick your finger in it; if the water feels just barely warm, you're in the right range (because your body temperature is about 98.6 degrees). Lips or the inside of your wrist would also be good thermometer-zones (as they are for baby bottles). You can also use an actual thermometer, of course.

After the (first) rise
Divide the (now hopefully larger) dough ball into four pieces; make them into balls by sort of tucking the bottom under and pinching. Dust these with flour and let them rise again for another 1/2 hour or so under a damp towel (or even return to the fridge). The point is, they need to be room temperature when you go to pull them.

Dealing with dough
Stretching the dough can be a bit tricky; it also has a tendency to spring back, so I use a two-round approach. The first time, squash the ball and then flatten into a disk with your fingertips and by pulling slightly (holding the dough in the air). Then you can put it back on the counter and plant the heel of one hand on the disk while massaging the other side outward with your fingertips, rotating the dough a little at a time. You don't generally want to roll it, but you can if you get frustrated. It takes practice.

Usually after the first round of stretching, I kind of stick the dough to the counter and let it rest for another few minutes under a damp towel, then stretch it out again - the interim "rise" makes it spring back much less.

Pizza please!
If you're pan-frying, preheat your skillet to medium heat and put a very little bit of oil in it; you don't want really greasy pizza. Cook the dough for four or five minutes until it's reached your preferred doneness, then flip, add your toppings, and cover the pan (so the toppings warm and melt). That's it! For the oven it's much the same, but you'll want to par-bake the dough a little longer. Naturally - top as you please!

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Summer's Pseudo "Spinach and Artichoke" Dip

Ok, there's actually no spinach or artichoke in this dip, but it's a great summer alternative to the hearty flavors of that wintertime favorite, and would be perfect with its usual toasted-pita companion. The other sneaky trick is that it's almost ridiculously good for you, because (surprise!) it's made with kale and Greek yogurt. Don't worry, it's been road-tested. Another way to get your head around it is think of this is as tsatsiki with kale instead of cucumber.

One thing about kale is that it cooks down incredibly. I made this recipe with and entire bunch of kale and a medium-sized container of Greek yogurt and liked the balance, but you can add a more yogurt depending on the density of greens you like.

1 bunch kale
1 7 oz. container Greek yogurt (I prefer 2% or regular)
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 tblsp. olive oil
1 lemon

Prep the kale by rinsing in a bowl of cold water, then removing the tough parts of the stems. Stack several leaves and roll into a cylinder, then slice the roll into 1/4 inch sections; cross-chop into medium-small pieces.

In a medium saute pan, heat oil over medium-high heat. Add the garlic and cook for 1-2 minutes, until fragrant. Add kale and saute 4-6 minutes, until tender. Season with a few grinds of salt and pepper and remove from heat.

Once the kale has cooled completely, combine with the yogurt, juice of 1/2 lemon, and 1/4 tsp. kosher salt. Season to taste with additional lemon juice (and/or zest), salt, and pepper.

As with most dips, flavors will blend and improve with time. Serve with toasted-pita points or other flatbread.

Tuna and White Bean Salad with Chard

Buying a farm share, joining a CSA, or even just going to the farmer's market is a great way to get the best vegetables in season, but particularly with the former, you can end up with a lot of dark, leafy greens over the course of a season. Kale, chard, dandelion greens - they're wonderful for you but it's easy to get stymied trying to figure out what to do with them.

Most of my preparations for the dark greens that are too stiff or bitter to eat raw begin with the step: "Chop and saute with olive oil, garlic, and salt." Many of them will taste just fine that way, but a pile of fried greens may be a tough sell to some eaters and it's not that visually appealing, let's be honest. So I've tried to develop a few ways to integrate them into more versatile offerings. Below, red chard tints the salad a unique (though I don't think unappetizing) pink. It's also a great protein source for a midsummer-twist on the Nicoise salad, and does well when composed with the green beans, beets and tomatoes available at the same time.

The base recipe augmented here is Sauteed Swiss Chard with Onions.


For chard:
2 large bunches chard
2 tblsp. olive oil
2 tblsp. unsalted butter
2 medium red onions, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced

For beans:
1 c. dried white kidney beans, soaked overnight, then boiled until tender (do not salt)
2 cans white kidney beans, drained and rinsed

1 6 oz. can tuna fish (packed in oil or water)
1 lemon

Prep the chard by rinsing in a large bowl of cold water and then removing the ribs (you will use both): cut off the very ends of the stems, but leave an inch or two at the base. Holding the stem between thumb and forefinger, loosely close your other hand just above the base of the leaf and then pull down - you want to separate the leaf from the stem. Alternatively, fold the leaves in half, and cut just alongside the rib with a large knife to separate. Chop the stems into 1-inch pieces. Chiffonade the leaves by stacking several, then rolling up into a cylinder and slicing thinly. If the ribbons are very long, you can cross-chop with one or two strokes.

Heat the oil and butter in a heavy pan over medium heat until butter foam subsides. Add the garlic and onion along with 1/2 tsp. salt and a few grinds of black pepper. Cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until onions soften - about 6 or 7 minutes. Add stems and continue cooking until tender, about another 10 minutes. Finally, add chard leaves in batches, adding each as soon as the previous wilts (you may cover briefly to speed the wilting), and saute until leaves are tender, about 6-8 more minutes.

Remove the chard from the heat and combine with beans and tuna in a large bowl. Squeeze the lemon over the mixture while still warm and season (aka salt and pepper) to taste.

As with many cold salads, the flavors will blend and improve in the fridge.

Great Granola

This has become a tried-and-true favorite: when offered around it somehow disappears faster than microwave popcorn, and is great with milk, yogurt, or on its own. It is also almost impossibly easy to make, with about 2 minutes (I'm not kidding) of active prep, with the whole shebang basically ready inside of an hour. To boot: it's cheaper and healthier than store-bought granola, which somehow can cost $6 or $8 per pound.

This recipe evolved from Alton Brown's Granola Bars recipe.

2 c. old-fashioned rolled oats
1/2 c. shelled sunflower seeds
1 c. sliced almonds
1/2 c. wheat germ

1/2 c. honey
1/4 c. maple syrup
2 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
1 tblsp. (unsalted) butter, plus more for pan

1 - 1 1/2 c. dried cranberries and/or other dried fruit

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Toss the dry ingredients together a cookie sheet with a half-inch lip, and toast for 15 minutes (you will just be able to smell it). Remove from the oven and reduce the heat to 300 degrees.

In a medium saucepan combine honey, maple syrup, vanilla, salt, and 1 tablespoon butter over medium-high heat, stirring until butter is incorporated. Remove from heat and add oat mixture and dried fruit to taste, stirring to coat. Quickly butter the cookie sheet, and, using a rubber spatula, turn the oats-and-honey mixture back onto the pan and spread into a roughly even layer. Return cookie sheet to oven and bake for 25 minutes.

Let the granola cool for about 10 minutes. It will still bend and stick together - use a spatula to lift it off the pan and transfer to a sturdy ziploc or large tupperware. Then, just shake it around until you have the size of granola-gravel you prefer!

(stores in an airtight container for a week or so)

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Cold Sesame - Noodles

I started making this in college, but it has all the pluses needed to keep it in regular rotation: it's cheap, nutritious, vegan(!), and carries well because it's best at room temperature. I'm not vegan or vegetarian myself, but I try eat somewhat sustainably: hence, lower on the food chain and, as the blog title suggests, seasonably and locally where possible. Added bonus: eating is cheaper, tastier, and better for you. Pretty good list of positives there.

This recipe is adapted from Martha Stewart's Everyday Food magazine's Cold Sesame Noodle recipe, tweaked according to taste. Almost all the sauce ingredients come from the pantry, and you can augment the dish with pretty much whatever vegetables you have on hand.

Makes 6 servings.

1 pound very thin whole wheat spaghetti
1 red pepper
1 head broccoli
1/2 c. smooth peanut butter
1/4 c. soy sauce
1/4 c. rice vinegar
2 tblsp. sesame oil
3 cloves garlic, finely minced
3 or 4 slices jarred jalapeno peppers, finely minced
1 1-inch piece fresh ginger, finely grated

Bring a large pot of well-salted water to a boil (a chef-trained friend says: "It should taste like the ocean."). Cut the broccoli florets into bite-sized pieces; you can also peel the stem - this is the "heart" and is very tender. Cut the red pepper into thin strips (halved lengthwise) and set aside. When the water has reached a rolling boil drop in the broccoli for about 4 minutes - it should just turn bright green and still have some body when you bite into it. As soon as it's done, fish it out with a slotted spoon and drop the broccoli into a strainer or, better yet, a bowl of ice water. Return the water to a boil and cook the pasta according to the package directions.

The sauce is complicated: mix everything else together and set aside.

Reserving about 1/4 c. in a separate container, gently toss the pasta with tongs to distribute the sauce. Use the reserved sauce to dress the vegetables and combine to serve.

Note: If not serving immediately, you may need to loosen the reserved sauce with a teaspoon or so of water before adding to the vegetables. Allow to come to room temperature before serving.

Simple Roast Chicken

Since the first time I made this recipe, I have been in love with roasted chicken. It's simple, delicious and quick. Oh, and delicious. The below is after the recipe from Thomas Keller's introduction to his Bouchon cookbook, which is beautiful and has great classic bistro recipes.

The most important thing is trussing the chicken: my theory is that the reason this recipe keeps the chicken so juicy is that closing off the cavity by trussing and salting the heck out of the skin essentially traps all the juices in the chicken, so it sort of steams itself from the inside out.

1 3-4 pound chicken
kosher salt
fresh herbs (if desired)

cotton string (yarn is fine, or kitchen twine)
a high-walled ceramic or glass dish (3 inches or so - I think mine is technically a casserole)

Preheat the oven to 425.

Rinse the chicken and dry it thoroughly with paper towels both inside and out, then season the cavity with salt & pepper. If using herbs, place them in the cavity. Don't stuff with chicken with anything too bulky (read: onions, lemons - though peel might be ok), or this will alter the cooking.

Truss the chicken: put it on a board or in the roasting dish with the cavity facing you. Stretch out & cut a piece of cotton string as long as your arms held out to either side. Find the center of the string and put it just behind and slightly under the butt of the chicken. On each side, bring the string down between the wings and the body and then back under the wings so both ends are coming out behind. Make a half knot and give a pull. Bringing both ends forward again, this time between the legs and the body, make a half knot just under the end of the breast bone at the top of the cavity. Give a pull here - the breasts should sort of puff up as it gets squeezed together. Now bring the drumstick ends one over the other just under the end of the breastbone too, with the ends of the string under them - bring the strings up around the drumstick ankles and tie them in place with a regular knot. Cut off the ends of the string and adjust the bird as necessary - the idea is to close off the cavity as much as possible, so you can even nudge up the bottom of the cavity opening a little if that works. Tuck the wing ends behind and under the bird.

Rain kosher salt over the top of the bird; you want a reasonably even, visible coating. Put the chicken in the middle of the oven and bake for 50-55 minutes (or until juices run clear, but they will).

Remove the chicken from the oven and allow to rest for at for 15 minutes before carving and serving. This is important!! Resting helps the chicken gather up all juices from cooking - if you cut it right away it will be dry.

To hold: If you're not ready to serve, take the chicken out and reset the oven temperature to 200 (it's important to let the oven cool before putting the chicken back). Put the chicken (on a plate or in the roasting dish) back in the oven for up to 1 hour. I tried this randomly once and the chicken was still super juicy, and the skin didn't wilt.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Chicken Stock

This is an adaptation of the chicken stock recipe from Thomas Keller's beautiful cookbook Bouchon.
(correction: I thought it was an adaption; it's not really. But the book is lovely anyway.)

Both the bones for making this stock and the finished stock can be frozen. I usually throw chicken bones in freezer bag when I roast a chicken, and then freeze finished stock in ice cube trays and then in plastic bags, which makes convenient units for defrosting.

It's important that the water you start with is cold. The rule is that if you want the ingredients to flavor the liquid, start the liquid cold; if you want the liquid to flavor the ingredients, start the liquid hot. Obviously, we're going for the former here.


2-3 chicken carcasses, including giblets
1 carrot
1 stalk celery
1 medium onion
2-3 pieces fresh thyme
1 bunch parsley stems
1 or 2 parsnips (optional)

Place the chicken parts in a very large stock pot & fill with cold water. Place over medium-high heat, uncovered, and raise to a boil. Reduce heat to simmer.

The key for good clear stock is to skim all the scuzz and foam off the top frequently (I usually wander into the kitchen and check every 5 or 10 minutes). Don't worry about losing a few tablespoons of broth at the same time; the trade-off is worth it.

Continue to simmer the broth until it remains clear after a few wander-in intervals (only very little foam appears around the edges of the pot). Cut the vegetables into chunks (leave the skin on the onion) and add to the pot along with the herbs. Simmer for another 30 minutes or so - at this point you can just start tasting the broth to see how it's coming along. It should be flavorful but not too dense. You'll also notice that there's no salt in this recipe; if you want more flavor feel free to cook it down more, but not adding salt means you won't risk altering the flavor of recipes in which you use it. And it tastes really delicious without it, anyway. One final word of advice: don't leave the carrots in too long. I did that once and my broth tasted like nothing but carrots.

When the broth tastes right, turn off the heat and remove the bulk of bones & vegetables with tongs, get the rest with a slotted spoon. Let the broth cool a bit.

Most recipes will tell you to strain broth through cheesecloth, but I don't know anyone who actually keeps cheesecloth around. I use a strainer over a bowl with a single sheet of paper towel in the bottom - it takes awhile for the broth to strain through, but you'll catch any little gritty pieces in the towel. Once strained, ladle into ice cube trays and freeze. Cubes can be stored in plastic bags in the freezer once solid.

Confetti Soup

A colorful mix of barley, meatball and veggies. Don't drain the tomatoes; the juice gives a nice body to the broth.

1/3 recipe of Meatballs with Parsley and Parmesan
1/2 lb barley
4-5 tbsp. chopped parsley
1 can (14.5 oz) diced tomatoes
3 c. chicken stock

Make the meatballs; this can be done anytime - they freeze very well and are great both in this soup and in tomato sauce for a quick hero or pasta dish. If you have the meatballs already frozen, you don't even need to defrost them for this.

Cook the barley with 1 tsp. salt and a 2-1 ratio of water (about 2 cups).

Combine all ingredients and simmer 20 minutes. Season to taste.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Bean and Brussel Sprout Mix

A mix of winter vegetables with beans for protein & bacon for flavor and texture.


Olive oil
2 pounds brussels sprouts, trimmed, cut in half lengthwise
6 garlic cloves, chopped
1 cup low-salt chicken broth
1/2 lb of dried white beans
1 medium eggplant (1 1/4 - 1 1/2 lbs)
1/2 - 1lb bacon

This dish is essentially an extension of the one found here: Brussel Sprouts with White Beans, with a few changes and additions.

I started with 1/2 lb of dried white beans, soaked overnight, then boiled until tender in plain water (about 40 min; if you salt the beans before boiling them, the skins will be tough).

Preheat oven to 450. Wash the eggplant and cut into 1/2 cubes. On a baking sheet, toss eggplant with 1-2 tsp. salt and 2-3 tbsp. olive oil. Roast in middle of oven until tender, 30-35 min.

Meanwhile, cut bacon into lardons (basically chop regular strips of bacon cross-wise into 3/8 inch strips; I find this easiest to do with a sharp knife with several strips at a time, sort of stuck together out of the package). Fry the lardons over medium-low heat until crisp, reserve 1-2 tbsp. of bacon fat in the pan; you will use this to saute the brussel sprouts.

While the bacon is cooking, wash & prep the sprouts; mince the garlic. Saute sprouts and garlic in reserved bacon fat as directed above, adding 1-2 tbsp. oil if necessary for second batch.

Combine all ingredients and season to taste.