Thursday, July 29, 2010

Pizza with Sweet Potatoes, Leeks, and Blue Cheese

One of our favorite standby meals is baked sweet potatoes topped with leeks and blue cheese, from the Best Ever Three and Four Ingredient Cookbook.  On a whim, we decided to put those ingredients on a pizza and it was awesome.  We happened to buy the lighter fleshed sweet potatoes this time, but I bet it would look stunning with the orange ones.

Oh, and I'm so thankful that Joe likes to make pizza dough.  It's so good!  It does take a couple hours, but the majority of that time is spent letting the dough rise, so you can go play video games or do laundry or whatever during that time.  I included the dough recipe we used below, even though I had pretty much nothing to do with making it.  

Sweet Potato, Leek, and Blue Cheese Pizza
Pizza Dough recipe adapted from Mark Bittman - How to Cook Everything
Serves 2-4

For the dough:
3 cups all-purpose or bread flour, plus more as needed
2 teaspoons instant yeast
2 teaspoons coarse kosher or sea salt, plus extra for sprinkling
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

For the toppings:
1 medium sweet potato
1 large leek
1/2 cup crumbled Gorgonzola or blue cheese

To make the dough:
Combine the flour, yeast, and salt in the food processor.  Turn it on and add 1 cup water and the oil through the feed tube as it's running.  Process for about 30 seconds, while adding more water, a little at a time, until the mixture forms a ball.  It should be slightly sticky, so if it still feels dry, add another couple tablespoons of water and process for about 10 more seconds (on the other hand, if the mixture is TOO sticky, add a tablespoon or two of flour).

Sprinkle some flour over a clean counter top or other work surface and tip the dough out onto it.  Knead by hand for a few seconds to form a smooth, round ball.  Place the dough in a large bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and let it rise until it has doubled in size, about 1 to 2 hours (if you're in a hurry, you can cut this time short, or if you are making this ahead of time, you can let the dough rise in the fridge for up to 6-8 hours).  If you are going to freeze the dough, wrap tightly in plastic wrap or a ziplock bag and freeze for up to a month (to defrost, either leave in plastic bag or place in covered bowl and let thaw in the fridge or at room temperature.  Bring to room temperature before shaping.).  Otherwise, proceed with the recipe.

When the dough is ready, shape it into a ball and divide it into two or more pieces (one piece for each pizza, depending on how large of pizzas you want to make).  Shape each piece into a round ball.  Place each ball on your lightly floured work surface, sprinkle with flour, cover with plastic wrap or towel, and let them rest for 20 minutes.

To make the pizza toppings:
Wash and scrub the sweet potato.  Peel it, then chop it into one inch pieces.  Drizzle some oil onto a baking sheet and add the potatoes.  Toss them in the oil to coat.  Roast at 350-400 F until tender and nicely browned, turning every 10 minutes or so.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.

To wash the leek, cut off the dark green leaves and discard them, then thinly slice the white part into rings.  Pull the rings apart with your fingers and place them in a bowl of cold water.  Rub them with your fingers to remove any dirt (the dirt will sink to the bottom), then remove the leeks with your hands or a slotted spoon and pat dry.  Heat a tablespoon of oil in a skillet over medium heat.  When hot, add the leeks and sauté until tender and just starting to brown.  

To make the pizza:
Put a baking stone on the lower rack if using and heat the oven to at least 500 F (yes, I said 'at least', so if your oven goes higher, feel free!).  Roll or lightly press the dough into a flat roundish shape, lightly flouring the work surface and the dough as needed (use only as much flour as you need to).  Let the round sit for a few minutes to relax the dough and make it easier to roll out.  Get your pizza paddle, if you have one, and lay a piece of parchment paper over it.  Place the round on the parchment paper and roll or press the dough out as thinly as you like, turning occasionally and sprinkling with flour as necessary.  If using baking sheets, oil them first, then press each dough ball into a flat round directly on the sheets.

Sprinkle the top with some salt and drizzle with olive oil.  Evenly distribute the sweet potato, leeks, and cheese over the top.

Slide the pizza (still on the parchment paper) onto the pizza stone, or slide the baking sheets into the oven.  Bake 6-12 minutes, depending on how hot the oven is, until nicely browned.  Serve immediately.        

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Tofu Scramble

I'm always looking for new ways to enjoy tofu, so I was very excited when I was served a tofu scramble at the Corvallis "Buy Local First" breakfast I went to back in June.  It was so delicious!  There was a table with stacks of recipe cards you could pick up for all the food they made for the breakfast, so of course I took this recipe home with me.  I was surprised that there were no eggs in it; I guess I just assumed there would be since the word "scramble" was in the title.  Crumbled tofu just looks a lot like scrambled eggs I guess.

This was the perfect easy, relaxing meal to make after a long, busy day.  Just breaking up the tofu with my hands was soothing for some reason.  I just found out today I am anemic, which explains why I've been so tired lately (on a scale of 10-100, I was 4.2 - not sure of the units, but that's pretty low).  The tofu and spinach I ate tonight are a good start, and iron supplements will follow as soon as I get around to going to the store.  

Buy Local First Tofu Scramble
adapted from the First Alternative Natural Co-Op
serves 4-6

Note: The original recipe calls for a specific brand of salt: Earth & Sea Salt.  It's a Corvallis-based company and they produce different sea salt blends for cooking.  The Southwestern blend was used on the scramble I tried at the breakfast, and it was really good!  It's a blend of sea salt, garlic, cumin, cilantro, oregano, and lime juice.  I haven't bought it myself yet, so I added a clove of garlic and a little more oregano and cumin to make up for it.

Also, as I was typing this up I noticed that the recipe calls for cumin seed.  I used ground cumin.  Oops, but still good!

2 blocks firm tofu (approximately 14-16 ounces each)
1 heaping tablespoon dried oregano
1 heaping teaspoon cumin seed
1 small/medium onion (spring, walla walla, whatever you have)
1 bunch spinach (about 3-4 cups once it's chopped, more or less)
1 bunch basil (about 1 cup chopped, more or less)
2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste (I had to use quite a bit, since tofu is a pretty blank canvas as far as flavor goes, so just keep salting and tasting until you like it)

Drain the tofu, then crumble it into a large bowl.  Toss with the oregano and cumin.  Chop the onion into medium/small pieces (I like my onions small in scrambles).  

Heat one tablespoon of the oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat.  When hot, add the onion and seasoned tofu.  Saute for about 5 minutes.  Meanwhile, chop the spinach and basil.  

Add the spinach, basil, and the remaining tablespoon of olive oil to the skillet.  Continue cooking until the onion looks transparent stirring occasionally, (for me, that was about 10 more minutes).

Taste and season with salt and pepper until it has the flavor you want.  

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Risotto with Spring Vegetables and Smoked Ham

It seems like we barely had a spring this year.  The weather was so cold and rainy for so many months.  Then all of a sudden there was a heat wave and we were thrown headfirst into summer.  Or so it felt like to me.  

Anyway, I guess I'm just looking for something to blame, because I nearly missed my chance to make this recipe.  The weather seems like an appropriate scapegoat.  I was waiting for fava beans in the CSA, then I was waiting to harvest my peas, then the weeks got away from me and I almost missed my chance to buy asparagus.  Luckily everything came together for me last week and I was able to cook this fabulous risotto.  

I don't know why I was being so picky, you can make risotto with just about any mix of vegetables.  It calls for ham too, but only 3 ounces worth, and since you can't buy ham in that amount at the store (at least I couldn't), I honestly wouldn't bother unless you have plans for using the rest of what you'll ultimately buy for other meals.  It was good with ham, don't get me wrong, but that creamy blend of rice, broth, and heavy cream would be good with just about anything.  By the way, this is a recipe where you definitely want the heavy cream; it's only 1/4 cup for the whole recipe, and it really adds so much to the dish.  

Note: Fava beans require a little work.  First, you have to remove them from the pod.  Then you have to boil them for one minute, then plunge into ice water.  Once cooled, you have to use your fingernail and peel off the outer skin to finally reveal the bright green bean.  From this point they only have to be lightly cooked before you are ready to enjoy their buttery texture and nutty flavor.  

The Fava Bean: deconstructed:

Risotto with Spring Vegetables and Smoked Ham
adapted from Cooking Light - April 2008
serves 6 (serving size = 1 cup)

3/4 cup shelled fava beans (about 1 1/2 pounds unshelled)  
2 cups water
2 cups (1-inch slices) asparagus (about 1/2 pound)
4 cups fat-free, less sodium chicken or vegetable broth
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 cup finely chopped onion (about 1 small)
1/2 cup finely chopped smoked ham (about 3 ounces)
1 1/2 cups Arborio rice or other medium-grain rice
1 cup dry white wine
1 cup shelled green peas (about 1 pound unshelled)
3/4 cup (3 ounces) grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, divided
1/4 whipping (heavy) cream
1 tablespoon butter
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Cook fava beans in boiling water for one minute.  Drain, then plunge into a bowl of ice water, then drain again.  Remove the tough outer skins to reveal the bright green beans, and set aside.  Discard skins.

Bring the water to a boil in a medium saucepan.  Add asparagus.  Cook for about 4 minutes of until crisp-tender.  Remove asparagus with a slotted spoon; do not discard the water.  Rinse asparagus in a colander under cold water; set aside.  Add the broth to the water and reduce heat.  Keep warm over low heat.  Reserve 3/4 cup of this broth mixture in a small saucepan, and keep this warm also.   

In a large saucepan, heat the olive oil over medium heat.  When hot, add the onion and ham to the pan and cook for about 10 minutes, or until the onion is tender, stirring occasionally.  Add rice and cook for 2 minutes, stirring constantly.  Turn up the heat to medium-high.  Stir in the wine and cook for another 2 minutes or until all the liquid has nearly absorbed into the rice, still stirring constantly.  

Basically from here on out you are stirring constantly until told otherwise.

Add the remaining broth mixture slowly, just 1/2 cup at a time, each time stirring until the liquid has absorbed before adding more.  This will take about 25 minutes.  Have a glass of wine handy and some good music on and the time will fly by.  

Stir in the peas, beans, and asparagus.  Add that reserved 3/4 cup broth mixture, stirring for about 4 minutes or until the liquid has absorbed.  

Now you can be done stirring constantly.  Remove pan from heat.  Stir in about 1/2 cup of the cheese, along with the cream, butter, salt, and pepper.  

To serve, spoon about 1 cup risotto into a shallow bowl and sprinkle with 2 teaspoons of the remaining cheese.  

Monday, July 19, 2010

Roasted Potatoes and Broccoli with Mornay (Cheese) Sauce

I have been house/pet-sitting for a friend a couple times a year for a number of years now.  During the week or so that she's gone, I stay at her house and usually just eat whatever I can find in her fridge or pantry, or order pizza.  

This past week I stayed there again, pet-sitting her new 8-month old Golden Retriever and the (now much older) cat.  I immediately noticed how my eating habits have changed.  I no longer reached for the boxed mac and cheese or ordered take-out.  I did not pig out (as much) on the mini York Peppermint patties she always keeps in the fridge.  This time was different.  I did not turn on the TV at all (except for So You Think You Can Dance, the only show I watch), because I know that if I plant myself in front the TV I'll find a Top Model marathon or some other trashy mindless show that will suck me in while I suck down the calories.  

This time, I brought some food from home (veggies from the CSA and my garden) and cooked my meals from scratch.  I sat down at the table and ate in silence, savoring the food I was eating and noting my hunger level as I ate.  It felt pretty good.  

One of the things I made was a healthy remake of a microwave dinner that I used to eat a lot when I was in high school.  I don't remember the brand, but it was just potato wedges and broccoli, covered with a cheese sauce.  It was sort of a comfort food for me I guess, and I always crave food like that when I'm staying at her house.

I don't know why I've never made my own cheese sauce before.  It's so quick and easy!  I bet you already have everything in your kitchen right now.  Flour, milk, butter, salt, pepper, and any kind of cheese.  Add a pinch of nutmeg and it's perfect!  No need for those packets of neon orange liquid or powder with all those additives and artificial flavors.  Just a rich, delicious cheese sauce that you can feel good about.  I even used non-fat milk and it was still super creamy.  

The vehicle for my cheese sauce was roasted red potato wedges and steamed broccoli.  If I'd had fresh broccoli I would have roasted it with the potatoes, but all I had was frozen (because my darn broccoli plants bolted before they ever became anything resembling broccoli, but that's another story), so after steaming it in the microwave I tossed it together with the potatoes, and drizzled some cheese sauce over the top.  It was so. much. better. than those frozen meals I used to eat.  But that probably goes without saying.

Mornay (Cheese) Sauce
adapted from Mark Bittman - How to Cook Everything
makes about 1 1/2 cups

2 tablespoons butter or extra-virgin olive oil 
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 to 1 1/2 cups milk
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 to 1 cup grated Swiss, Gruyere, or other good cheese (she had Colby Jack so that's what I used)
Pinch of nutmeg (optional, my addition)

Melt the butter or heat the oil in a small saucepan over medium-low heat.  Whisk in the flour.  Turn the heat down to low and continue whisking constantly for about 3 minutes, or until the mixture thickens and has turned a tan color.

Slowly stir in the milk, still whisking constantly.  After you've added about half of the milk, the mixture will be pretty thick.  Continue to slowly stir in milk until the sauce is just a little thinner than you want it.  Cook, over low heat, until the mixture thickens up again.  Stir in the cheese.  Add a pinch of nutmeg if desired.

Season with salt and pepper.  Serve immediately or keep warm until ready to serve.  Bittman says to keep it warm over gently simmering water or a double boiler.  I'm lazy so I just turned the heat down to low.  The top forms a thin skin after sitting like that, but it's easy enough to just stir it up again.    

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Beer Brats with Kohlrabi-Carrot Slaw

I've gotten a little out of order here. I was just so excited to share the white gazpacho I made last week that I skipped ahead. Anyway, rewind back to the the 4th of July, the quintessential day to grill. I'm not a huge fan of fireworks, so instead I focus my attention on the food. We made delicious beer brats using a recipe from Cooks Country. I like that they extensively test their methods and recipes so you can feel confident that they will work really well when you try them.

To go with the brats, I made a super easy and tasty kohlrabi and carrot slaw that my friend Amy told me about. If you've not had kohlrabi before, it's a purple or green alien-looking bulb that tastes like raw broccoli.  First, peel the carrots and kohlrabi, then slice into thin matchsticks (I used 3 medium carrots and half a large kohlrabi, because that's what I had). Then you heat up about 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a small skillet, then add 1 teaspoon or two of ground cumin and heat until fragrant. Pour this over the carrots and kohlrabi and toss to combine. Drizzle with fresh lemon juice, to taste. That's it!

Grilled Beer Brats
adapted from Cooks
serves 5

Notes: Use a light bodied lager for this recipe (like Keystone or Coors, aka, a cheap beer). Where it calls for Dijon, we used a whole grain Dijon, which I thought looked more visually appealing, but I'm sure it will taste the same either way.

2 onions, sliced into ½ inch rounds
1 ½ tablespoons vegetable oil
Fresh ground black pepper, to taste
1-12 ounce beer
1/3 cup Dijon mustard
½ teaspoon sugar
½ teaspoon caraway seeds
5 bratwurst sausages
5 6-inch sub rolls (we used whole grain hot dog buns)

If using a propane grill, turn all the burners to medium-high and heat, covered, for 15 minutes. For a charcoal grill (what we used) set up a hot, even layer of coals (I'm sure everyone with a charcoal grill has their own way of doing it, we like to use a chimney starter). Scrape and oil cooking grate.

Brush the onions with oil and season with salt and pepper. In a 13x9 inch disposable aluminum pan, whisk together the beer, mustard, sugar, caraway seeds, and ½ teaspoon pepper.

Place the disposable pan on one side of the grill and the onions on the other. Grill the onions until lightly charred, about 6-10 minutes. Transfer the onions to the pan with the now simmering beer mixture and put the sausages in their place on the grill. Grills those until browned, another 6-10 minutes. Transfer the sausages to the pan, cover grill, and cook until the sausages are cooked through, about 15 minutes. Return the sausages to the grill for about 4 minutes to let them get nice and charred. Transfer the sausages to a plate and tent with foil.

Let the beer mixture simmer on the grill, uncovered, for about 5 more minutes. When the onions are tender and the sauce has thickened slightly, it's done.

To serve, place bratwurst in rolls and spoon the sauce and onions over the top.     

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

White Gazpacho with Grapes and Toasted Almonds

What can you make with cucumbers and green grapes when you don't want to cook because it's like a million degrees outside?  White gazpacho, that's what!  

This soup was so good!  I love how it packs a punch of garlic but is immediately mellowed by the cool cucumber and grapes.  I watched a clip of Ellie Krieger making this soup and she served it in martini glasses for a dinner party.  So cute and pretentious - I decided to pretend I was fancy and serve mine that way too (I put Joe's his Chimay chalice so it was more manly).  

White Gazpacho with Grapes and Toasted Almonds
adapted from Ellie Krieger - The Food You Crave
Makes 4 one cup servings

1/4 cup plus 4 teaspoons slivered almonds
2 large English cucumbers or 3 large regular cucumbers, peeled, seeded, and roughly chopped
3 slices white bread, crusts removed
1/2 cup warm water
3 cloves garlic, peeled (I used just one big clove, and I thought it was pretty strong)
6 scallions, white parts only, thinly sliced (about 1/2 cup)
1/4 cup white wine vinegar or sherry vinegar, plus more to taste
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice, plus more to taste.  
1/2 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 cup green grapes, cut in half

Toast the almonds in a small dry skillet over medium-high heat, stirring frequently, until fragrant, 3-5 minutes.  Set aside.

Soak the bread in the water until soft, about 2 minutes.  Reserve one cup of the cucumber for the garnish.  Place the soaked bread, the rest of the cucumber, the garlic, half the scallions whites, the vinegar, lemon juice, 1/4 cup of the almonds, the salt, and the oil into a food processor.  Process for about 1-2 minutes, or until the cucumbers are thoroughly blended and the almonds are almost invisible.  Taste and season with more salt, vinegar, and/or lemon juice, if desired.  

To serve, ladle 1 cup gazpacho into each serving bowl.  Pile the remaining cucumber, scallion whites, grapes, and almonds on the center of each bowl and serve.    

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Arugula, Grape, and Sunflower Seed Salad

I was so excited to make this salad .  I had cut it out awhile ago but never seemed to get around to making it.  Well, last week the stars were aligned, because we got a beautiful bunch of arugula in the CSA and the Co-op was selling the most delicious red grapes.

Besides the greens and fruit, another great thing about this salad is the toasted sunflower seeds that go on top!  I'm always amazed at how something as simple as toasting seems to completely transform seeds and nuts.  You don't even need to buy the salted variety, just buy them raw in the bulk section and toast them up yourself.

According to the CSA newsletter, arugula will last several days if you trim the ends and put it in a vase of water on your kitchen counter, just like a bouquet of flowers.  I liked this tip a lot, because as soon as I put that vase of greens up on the windowsill it really brightened up the kitchen!  I did this with the cilantro we got last week too.  

We had this as a big dinner salad, but you could also serve it as a smaller side salad. 

Arugula, Grape, and Sunflower Seed Salad
adapted from Cooking Light - May 2008
makes 6 one cup servings

3 tablespoons red wine vinegar (I didn't have any so I used dry sherry)
1 teaspoon honey
1 teaspoon maple syrup
1/2 teaspoon stone ground mustard
2 teaspoons grapeseed oil
7 cups loosely packed baby arugula
2 cups red grapes, halved
2 tablespoons toasted sunflower seed kernels
1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

To make the dressing, combine the vinegar, honey, syrup, and mustard in a small bowl.  Gradually whisk in the oil. 

In a large bowl, combine the arugula, grapes, seeds, and thyme.  Drizzle the dressing over the arugula.  Sprinkle with salt and pepper and toss gently to coat.   
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