Friday, March 29, 2013

A new trick

Learned a new trick for roast chicken this week.  I love when that happens.

While browsing through my cookbook collection on Eat Your Books, I noticed a couple of recipes calling for slices of bread to be roasted underneath the chicken - Dorie Greenspan calls it "Roast Chicken for Lazy People" (and SoupAddict writes about it here).

Since we always serve bread and Dijon mustard with our roasted chicken - it reminds me of Paris, where someone in the family ate an entire jar of Dijon in a week, hmm wonder who - Melissa Clark's recipe for Garlic and Thyme Roasted Chicken Parts with Mustardy Croutons seemed the one to go with.

Side note: big sigh for the lack of springlike weather.  Our supermarket radishes did not satisfy my longing for spicy, crunchy spring veggies.  (Trying to make up for it here by inserting pic of perfect ones from last year.)

Early spring chicken dinner

Spring radishes with salt and
Black table grapes for nibbling.

Herbed roasted chicken on Dijon-swiped sourdough.

Steamed broccoli with lemon pepper.

Green salad with country french vinaigrette.

White wine (me)
Killing the homebrew kegs of Irish Red and Dry Irish Stout (Kev & my brother).

Rye crumble bars with plum jam.

Procurement/prep notes:
- Thick slices of sourdough are smeared with good Dijon mustard, seasoned with salt and pepper, and drizzled with oil.  A few of these in the bottom of the cast-iron skillet are arranged with the seasoned chicken pieces (leg quarters, with the thigh attached, and a couple bone-in split breasts), toss in some whole garlic cloves with most of the papery stuff rubbed off, and season with some herbs d'Provence or whatever you like.  Drizzle the whole thing with oil and pop into a preheated oven for 50 minutes, till done.  The bread gets crusty and almost fried on the bottom in the chicken drippings.
- Recently discovered Penzey's Lemon Pepper seasoning in the back of the spice cabinet.
- Not-so-recently discovered Penzey's Country French Vinaigrette.  This stuff makes an excellent, lively dressing that's easy to mix up in a flash, but keeps well in the fridge if you make too much.
- Rye crumble bars from Kim Boyce's Good to the Grain.  Worked fine in a 10" tart pan for thin, chewy bars that are a great balance of salt and sweet.  Don't spread the jam all the way to the edge to avoid leaky, burned-jam edges.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

So many pizzas!

Pizza is more fun with lots of toppings.  More toppings mean more prep time.  More prep time equals less fun.

More *weeknight* pizza = more fun.

Weeknight pizza-making is totally doable, as we talked about in the last post.

It gets complicated when making lots of different kinds of pizzas, but if you're like us and get bored easily, different toppings and twists make those weekday leftover lunches way more enjoyable.

Below, find a master list for how to change up pizza infinitely.  It is best to stick to making pizzas with only 1 or 2 kinds of sauces at one time in order to remain efficient.  The toppings, though, can vary widely.  Unless the toppings are flat or thin like pepperoni or potato slices, make sure there is room between each element.  When using chunky toppings, think 2 or 3 chunks per slice of pizza.  This way you can still taste each element and the finished pizza isn't heavy or underdone.

So many options!
See my previous post for 2 super-easy pizza sauces.  In addition, try simply brushing pizzas with olive oil and sprinkling with some coarse salt before topping for a super-simple pizza that's great to have as an appetizer.  Or use your favorite barbecue sauce - or spreads like tapenade.

Toppings with no prep:
- Cheeses of all kinds: an easy way to make 2 or 3 different-tasting pizzas with no other toppings is to make simple cheese pizzas and add a different strong-tasting cheese to each
- Pepperoni (of course)
- Salami from the deli, or sliced from the roll (try sopressatta or capicola)
- Pickled jarred peppers like banana peppers or jalapenos
- Marinated jarred or canned artichoke hearts, patted dry
- Olives
- Halved cherry tomatoes
- Jarred roasted red peppers, patted dry
- An egg: yes, really, just crack it on halfway through cooking (better yet, crack it into a bowl and salt & pepper it first).  Best on lightly-topped pizzas.
- Halved red or black seedless grapes: try it with a sauceless pizza with Italian sausage and sautéed onions

Toppings with quick prep:
- Mushrooms: drizzled with garlic-infused or olive oil, sprinkled with salt/pepper/maybe thyme, popped in the preheating oven on a foil-lined pan until they are juicy-looking and smell good, about 10-15 minutes.  Or sautéed in a pan with the same seasonings to the same doneness.
- Sliced sautéed onions or bell peppers, or zucchini, summer squash or eggplant: use a bit of olive oil and sauté until softened but still moist.  You could also roast any of these in the oven.
- Home-roasted peppers or green chiles: before preheating the oven, turn the broiler on and put the washed peppers on a foil-lined pan under the broiler, until black, turning to blacken all sides, then wrap them tightly in the foil and leave for about 10 minutes while you turn the oven to preheat.  Then remove the flesh from the seeds, stem, and blackened skin and cut into strips.
- Italian sausage:  heat a skillet to medium-high, add a drop of olive or other oil.  Break up bulk sweet or hot sausage (or a link, casing removed) into Swedish meatball-sized clumps and add to the pan with space in between each, in batches if necessary, until just browned on either side.  The middle or sides can be left raw; it will finish on the pizza.  Remove to paper towels to drain.
- Ground beef: cheeseburger or taco pizza, anyone?  Cook, with or without seasonings, similar to the Italian sausage method.  Drain on paper towels.
- Potatoes: Yukon golds or other thin-skinned potatoes don't even need to be peeled.  Scrub them, cut a tiny slice off the bottom so it will sit flat (easier to slice) and cut about 1/4" at the thickest, thinner if you can.  Cover with cold water for a bit (removes some starch), then drain them, toss with some salt, and microwave, covered with plastic wrap with a couple holes poked in it, for 3 minutes on high.  They won't be fully cooked, but much more flexible.  Take off the plastic wrap and and put a towel over the bowl until you're ready to use them.
- Fried bologna: we've put it in the microwave since I was a kid for 30 seconds to a minute.  It will turn into a flying saucer shape when its done.  Try it on a potato pizza or one you'll crack an egg onto.

Toppings from leftovers:
- Pulled pork with either barbecue sauce or its own juice (great with smoked cheddar or pepper jack cheese on a southwestern or bbq pizza)
- Leftover chicken (awesome on pesto pizza or sauced with bbq sauce or Frank's Red Hot and paired with cheddar, jack, or blue cheese)
- Leftover grilled or roasted vegetables like eggplant, peppers, or onions
- Bacon strips or crumbles
- Stew or even chili: drain off any watery or brothy liquid after warming it just a bit.  The saucy part is your pizza sauce, the chunks your topping.  Choose a cheese: crumbled blue with beef stew? Cheddar with chili?
- Beans: dips like hummus or leftover whole beans, slightly mashed.  These dry out so incorporate some oil with them, and keep them on the bottom of the pizza for protection.  If you top with veggies make sure they're nice and moist.  Nice with an egg on top.
- Meatballs or meatloaf, cut in chunks

Toppings put on when the pizza is done:
- Thinly sliced proscuitto or fancy ham
- Arugula, spinach, or other leafy salad green, lightly dressed with balsamic or wine vinegar, almost no oil is necessary)
- Hot sauce like Cholula, Sriracha, or hot red pepper flakes
- Fresh herbs like oregano, chopped parsley, chives, or cilantro, or whole basil leaves
- Pickled red onions or jarred pickled peppers (peppers taste totally different when put on after cooking)
- Toasted pine nuts (try it on pesto pizza with artichoke hearts)
- Salsa or pico de gallo
- Sliced or diced avocado
- Finely chopped white or green onion


Perhaps a giant master list looks too Rachel Ray (I said it!) for you.  Let me enter a disclaimer: there are many, many of the above ideas that would be vile in combination.  The purpose of this exercise was to organize topping idea by time/availability, and provide some ideas for changing up the classics.  Speaking of classics, many ideas above that will likely horrify pizza purists.  I deal with those friends by just calling it flatbread.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Pizza Plenty

Nothing like warming up the house with the oven cranked to top temp, slowly chopping and sautéing, and sipping on wine all the while (especially good while cutting pieces of cheese).  And cleanup is a snap... just a bit of clean-as-you-go means the only dish in the sink during dinner is the pizza cutter and the spatula.  Why save it for a weekend night?

From-scratch weeknight pizza (not an oxymoron!)

Pepperoni pizza with smoked Cheddar & fresh mozzarella
Classic Italian sausage pizza
Pesto & potato pizza with sautéed onion.

Fennel & radish salad with walnut-lemon vinaigrette.

White wine while prepping, red while eating,
Or homebrew on draft.


We've been making homemade pizza together about once a week for years.  It takes us about an hour from beginning to end.  We usually make about 3 oval, 8-cut pizzas that end up feeding us for a couple of work lunches and a dinner of leftovers - that's 4 meals for two in just an hour.  The cost is minuscule compared to eating out, delivery, or even buying frozen, and the pizza is fresher, tastier, and better for you.  Here's my tips for making it happen.

Keys to homemade, cheap, weeknight pizza:
- No-knead pizza dough - from Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day (free recipe at the link!) - or a pizza dough from any of their 3 - life changing - books.  Lasts for 2 weeks in the fridge once mixed.
- Two pizza sauces - No-cook tomato pizza sauce: it takes seconds.  28-oz can crushed tomatoes + 6-oz can tomato paste.  If you want to add herbs, fresh minced garlic or garlic powder, red pepper flakes etc, go ahead.  I portion this into 2 or 3 sandwich baggies and freeze.  Each baggie sauces 2 pizzas generously or 3 sparingly.  Defrost while the oven's heating in hot water, or in the microwave.  Simple pesto - summer (or storebought) basil leaves with enough extra virgin olive oil to get the blender spinning.  No cheese, no nuts.  Frozen flat in a sandwich baggie, I can break off chunks to defrost quickly - pesto stretches farther than tomato sauce, each baggie makes about 3 or 4 pizzas.
- Oven to 550 - turn the oven on First Thing.  At least a 30 minute preheat will make your baking time 8 minutes per pizza - this is the perfect amount of time to press out the next dough & top it.
- Pizza stone - the thickest one you can afford will last the longest.  Keep it in the oven all the time.  This is the secret to almost no cleanup.  No cookie sheets with baked-on-mess!
- Silicone mats, parchment paper, or even foil - press out your dough right on one of these surfaces, top your pizza, then slide the whole thing on the pizza stone.  The silicone mats are washed up in a snap (nothing sticks to them), or the parchment/foil are tossed in the garbage.  No cookie sheets to scrape, and no floured pizza peel or smoky, floury pizza stone.
- Blocks of cheese, no shredding - forget expensive, preshredded cheese, you'll use too much and get poor results.  An 8-oz block of mozzarella cheese will last weeks in the fridge and take seconds to cut into slices with a knife, then into 1-inch chunks for scattering over your pizza (we only use a few slices on each pizza, so a block makes at least 6 pizzas).  Don't top your whole pie with shreds of cheese or you'll have a greasy pizza with the toppings sliding off the crust.  Space in between cheese chunks allows the sauce to cook down so it's less wet and more flavorful, and looks prettier too.

Later this week:  more weeknight pizza tips, including tips for toppings.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Fridays in Lent = Carbs + Cheese

Pub dinner at home

Cheddar, Beer and Mustard Pull-Apart Rye Bread made with homebrewed Irish Red and wholegrain flour (impressive, indulgent, and addicting).
Big salad with vinaigrette.
Variety of homebrews: Irish Red on draft, year-old Bock in bottles, just-carbed Mexican lager.

For dessert, a few yogurt-covered raisins with dry Irish Stout on draft.

Procurement/prep notes:
A valient attempt was made at improving the healthfulness of the pull-apart bread: 
 - The dough calls for mostly all-purpose white flour with a bit of rye.  I used about 1/3 of the total quantity rye flour, 1/3 white whole wheat flour, and 1/3 all-purpose white flour.   This made a slightly sturdier loaf with a nice texture, took just a bit longer to rise, but instead of easily shoving most of the loaf down our throats, we were full when the loaf was half gone (fiber makes you full quicker).  Will definitely do this again.
 - Cabot makes a lower-fat cheddar that works really well in mac & cheese and other ingredient-type applications.  Couldn't find the 50% lower-fat block I usually buy.  Settled for a highly suspect 75% lower-fat cheddar which was actually fairly good.  (I'd use the 50% block though, if I find it next time.)
 - I doubled the (Coleman's) mustard powder in the filling and used hot paprika instead of sweet.  Perfect amount of mustard zing and warm spice.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Bloody Thursday

Last night we caught up on some episodes of The Walking Dead.  It seemed appropriate to indulge in a rare hunk of meat.

(and good steaks were on sale for the first time in weeks -- which coincides with the length of time Kevin's been begging for steak)

Black 'nd Red Steak Dinner

Blackened rib steaks cooked rare
with chimichurri sauce and/or gorgonzola.

Hassleback Yukon golds.

Green salad with balsamic & oil.

Quartered radishes.

Homebrewed Mexican lager (Kev)
Red wine (me).

Split plain yogurt cake with (sad, barely berrylike) sugared strawberry slices and Cool Whip.

Procurement/prep notes:
- Rib steaks dredged with Sara Moulton's homemade Creole Seasoning.  Next time I'll sub out a third of the hot paprika for sweet - really got the nose running!
- 2 1/2 minutes each side on a screaming-hot cast-iron skillet was perfect for the steak.
- More on chimichurri:  Kind of a vinegary pesto with parsley/cilantro, not basil.  We first had it (over and over again, it was so good!) in Puerto Rico.  Popular in Argentina as well, but some differences there.   Mine is similar to this one, but I use equal parts parsley and cilantro, no oregano, and no jalapeno.  It rocks.
- On strawberries in March:  when will I learn that this is not California.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

A new direction

I am a dreamer, a planner, a researcher.  I collect recipes, cookbooks and ideas for meals fervently.  I am always stashing away a little gem of information for just the right time.

I am a bit of a perfectionist.  I have trouble creating a plan for tomorrow because I'm so busy trying to figure out how to make today perfect.

Menu planning is something I have trouble with.  I am usually satisfied when I get up from the table after a meal, but that satisfaction feels far away when I'm going over the menu in my head... especially when planning something for days away.

I'd like to keep a record of meals here; nothing formal, just a list really.  Something I can look back to when I'm trying to remember what tasted good this time last year.  We'll start with last night.

A Veg-Focused Burger Dinner
for a (cold but) sunny Wednesday in March

Griddled spicy black bean veggie burgers with smoked havarti
on sesame-seeded toasted egg buns
with shredded red leaf lettuce and sliced salted tomato,
topped with homemade avocado-ranch sauce.

Spiced sweet potato wedges.

Broccoli salad from the grocery deli - our favorite, with raisins, cashews, bacon bits.

Homebrewed Irish Red on draft.

Later, standing in the kitchen, a few spoonfuls from a pint of Mitchell's Edmund Fitzgerald porter chocolate chunk ice cream.  One of the greats in NE Ohio.


Procurement/prep notes:
- Veggie burgers from Heinen's frozen section, griddled on cast iron, flipped, coasted to done in the oven.
- Avocado ranch (aka goddess) sauce was the highlight - from the sweet potato recipe in The Sprouted Kitchen cookbook, meant as a dipping sauce for the potatoes.
- Used coconut oil on the sweet potatoes for the first time - smelled delish in the oven.  Annoying to melt it first though.  Spices on the s.p.f's were really nice - smoked paprika, garlic powder, chipotle, and pulverized rosemary.