Tag Archives: dinner

Kitchen Lab, Non-Blizzard Edition

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So it wasn’t the storm of the century that the news media [and Mayor DeBlasio] made it out to be, but Juno deposited a fair amount of snow on my town overnight. Thanks to the two-man team of Paul, my husband, armed with a shovel, and Nick, our neighbor, the proud owner of a brand new snowblower, our porch, front walk and driveway were clean and passable by mid-morning.

Nick and his wife, Wendy, are wonderful neighbors. Since we moved in last August they’ve been so helpful and—well, neighborly. I always thank them, but typically when I want to send a big thank you to someone who’s been extra-special wonderful, I say thanks with food. Usually, I’ll bake cookies. (My mother’s go-to-thank-you is lemon bread.)

Cookies usually do the job, unless you’re trying to thank a diabetic and his Weight Watchers-following wife. I refuse to bake with Splenda, so I had to think of something else. I had time, bread flour, and also needed to make dinner for Paul and myself this evening, so I decided to make pizza.

I’ve been conducting experiments making homemade pizza dough over the past few weeks. My first experiment was Whole Wheat Pizza Dough, which while much easier than I expected was a little too crisp and bland for my liking.

Today I made pizza dough using a recipe from Carol Field’s The Italian Baker. This is a great book for anyone who has moved beyond beginner-level cooking but still appreciates a simple, straightforward approach to baking both sweet and savory treats. Also, if you have a bunch of cooking toys like I do (such as a stand mixer and food processor), you’ll love how Ms. Field provides options for preparation. She tells you exactly how to mix and work with pizza dough by hand, with a mixer, and with a food processor. I’m a novice with dough, so I went with the easiest method: pizza dough by food processor.

I made one adjustment to Ms. Field’s pizza recipe and elected to use bread flour instead of all-purpose flour. I had a huge bag of bread flour in the house, so I figured I might as well give it a shot.

I chose wisely. The crust of this pizza baked up golden brown and crisp, with the kind of giant air bubbles you usually see on restaurant pizzas. So light and airy, but still with enough structure and strength to support sauce and cheese. Bonus: the recipe yields enough dough for two pizzas, potentially 3 depending on the size of the pan you use. I made a Margherita pizza for Nick and Wendy, one for Paul and I, and then I made third irregularly shaped pizza with leftover roasted fennel, Parmegiano Reggiano and mozzarella.

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Here’s a rundown of what I did to make Pizza Dough—

Ingredients:
1 envelope active dry yeast (OR instant/”rapid rise” yeast)
1/3 cup warm water
A pinch of sugar
1/4 cup olive oil, plus extra for the dough
1 cup cold water
3 and 3/4 cups bread flour
1 1/2 tsp. salt (NOTE: next time I will use 2 tsp as I think this recipe would benefit from a little more salt)
About a 1/2 cup of all purpose flour to have on hand

Tools:
Food Processor (12 c.) fitted with dough mixer attachment or large blade
Mixing bowls, plastic wrap, a large dish towel
Rolling Pin, preferably a French one
Pizza crisper pan, round

Time:
4 hours, largely inactive

Method:
Combine yeast, warm water and sugar in a measuring cup. Stir and set aside for 5 minutes, until a little foamy. Add flour and salt to processor mixer bowl, and pulse a few times to mix. Turn the processor on and pour in the following through the spout in this order: yeast/sugar/water mixture, olive oil, and cold water. Continue mixing until a mass of dough forms and starts pulling away from the edges. Turn the processor off and remove the dough.

Knead gently by hand until dough is soft and shiny. Then rub about a teaspoon of olive oil on your hands before gently rubbing the outside of the dough ball. Place the dough in a glass or aluminum mixing bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Cover with a dish towel and place the bowl in a warm, dry place. All of our radiators have covers (basically turning them into benches), so I placed the bowl on a radiator.

Then find something to do for the next hour (or two, in case you have to go run errands).

When you get back to the dough, it should be roughly twice the size of when you last saw it. Remove it from the bowl and place on a cutting board or marble slab. Now, if you want to refrigerate or freeze the dough, this is the time to divide, wrap and freeze (or refrigerate). If you intend to make pizza in the very immediate future, knead the dough gently for about a minute and then put it back in the bowl and cover as before. Back to the warm, dry resting place it goes—for another 30-45 minutes. By this point the dough will have grown to a lighter and somewhat puffier mass.

Remove from the bowl and divide the dough into two halves. Sprinkle flour on your cutting board. Shape the first half into a ball and then flatten with your hand into a disk onto the board, then sprinkle the top with flour. Get your trusty rolling pin and, rolling out from the center, roll the dough into a flat circle about 1/4 of an inch thick. You’ll see air bubbles, and using the rolling pin will help to eliminate the excess air. Carefully peel the dough off the board and lay it on your crisper pan with a 2-inch overhang, so you can crimp the edges. Cover the dough with plastic wrap and set aside.

Pre-heat your oven to 400 degrees. After the dough has rested 15 minutes, and the oven has reached temperature, apply your toppings. Go light – more toppings means more weight, which means a pizza devoid of structural integrity. You don’t want that. I used a 14oz can of Hunt’s Fire Roasted Tomatoes (enough to spread on 2 pizzas) and seasoned with generously sprinkles of oregano, garlic powder, red pepper, black pepper and kosher salt. I put the pizza in the oven and set the timer for 14 minutes.

Wait a minute, you’re thinking. You put the pizza in the oven without cheese? Whaa?

Yes. This is critical. If you want melted soft bubbly cheese—not dry, brown, leathery cheese—you have to put it on near the end of baking. So when the 14 minutes are up, take the pizza out of the oven, admire how beautiful and airy and golden your crust is, and apply thinly sliced cheese, which will start melting immediately. Put the pizza right back in the oven and set the timer for 5 minutes. When the timer goes off, remove the pizza and add some chopped fresh basil. Let it rest 3-5 minutes, then cut and serve. Repeat with the other half of the dough.

As I mentioned, I had enough extra dough to make a third, albeit irregularly shaped pizza. Having run out of tomatoes and basil, I improvised and topped this one with roasted fennel, mozzarella and grated Parmegiano Reggiano. Dee-licious!

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In my next round of experiments, I’ll be using only all-purpose flour to make the dough. I’ll let you know how it turns out. For the moment, a couple key tips:

Working with room temperature dough makes for easier kneading, shaping and rolling. Cold dough isn’t very pliable.

Patience is key.

Happy mixing!

J.

Make a steak on the austerity plan? Don’t mind if I do.

I make healthy look good.

I make healthy look good.

Hot diggity damn—I made a five ingredient dinner!

Behold, a roasted cauliflower steak dressed with a sauce of olive oil, butter, red pepper flakes and chopped Manzanilla olives. Spicy, healthy and actually really cheap to make.

Set a jelly roll or sheet pan inside your oven, and pre-heat it to 450 degrees. While the oven heats, cut two one & a half inch “steaks” from the center of the cauliflower; save what’s left for another use (like steaming and throwing into your lunch salad tomorrow).  Brush olive oil on one side of the steak and generously sprinkle with Old Bay. When the oven is ready, carefully set the slices on the pan, oiled side down, and repeat the oil brushing and Old Bay sprinkling on the top of each slice. Place the pan in the oven and bake for 14 minutes.

Once your timer goes off, use a spatula to gently flip the cauliflower steaks, then continue baking for another 14 minutes. In the meantime, grab a small pan (not nonstick) and set over medium-low heat. Add about 2 teaspoons olive oil, 2 teaspoons butter, and a generous shake of red pepper flakes to the pan. As the butter melts, give 1/4 cup of small Manzanilla olives a rough chop, then add to pan. Give it a gentle shake, reduce heat, and continue cooking on low for another 3-4 minutes.

The steaks are ready when they are easily pierced with the point of a knife. Remove each steak from the pan gently [again], and dress with the sauce. Ta-daa.

Note: this recipe is vegetarian, but could easily be made vegan by eliminating the butter and just using more olive oil in its place.

Note Part Deux: One large cauliflower will yield two steaks.

 

 

 

A Week of Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner & Dessert—In One Day

It’s been a very successful afternoon.

Keep reading...

Keep reading…

After a delightful & filling brunch with my friend Jessica, I shivered all the way home to plot out my Sunday afternoon cooking. There are usually two goals of my Sunday cooking: make a knockout dinner for me & the bf (his name is Paul. Have I mentioned that?), and make a variety of healthy hot lunches for the week ahead. Today, I added a third goal: make a special treat for my coworker & friend John, who is celebrating his birthday tomorrow.

First up: breakfast. It’s much easier to face a cold & cloudy day when I start it off with a belly-warmer of a breakfast. I like oatmeal, and I REALLY like steel-cut oats. They have a chewy texture similar to barley and farro, but more tender, and you can cook one big pot on Sunday and make enough for 5 breakfasts. It keeps really well in the fridge, and I’ve read that you can freeze it, too (though I have never tried). IMG_6329

Today, I made my oatmeal a little differently. I call this MRS Oatmeal, as the recipe comes courtesy of the great Martha Rose Shulman. She cooks the oats in a mixture of water and 1% milk, and then adds sweetener (I used brown sugar), dried fruit and butter during cooking. I tweaked the recipe slightly and added cinnamon. The results: hearty, creamy, loads of flavor, and each portion can be reheated in the microwave in 1-2 minutes. Easy mornings await.

Next: Lunch, and an experimental one at that— I wanted to make something hot, filling, and light, so I could actually get up out of my chair and walk around comfortably post lunch. I looked in my pantry and fridge and began to strategize. IMG_6325White beans—healthy, protein-rich, good with tomatoes. Well, lookie here! A can of fire-roasted tomatoes. Here’s a zucchini. I can chop that up. Onion and garlic will be necessary. Olive oil, of course. I did a lot of eyeballing and not a lot of measuring, so once i make this again I will take careful notes and repeat the recipe.

Before I got cracking on dinner, I set about the business of making John’s birthday treat. My inspiration was Paul’s father, Bob—an excellent baker—who made these crazy addictive peanut butter & chocolate chip bars a few weeks ago. I don’t think Paul thought they were addictive, probably because I didn’t leave him any. They were that good. Sadly, Bob couldn’t remember where he found the recipe, but a few minutes of skimming The Google’s search results led me here.

IMG_6307The ingredients are all or mostly pantry staples—peanut butter, butter, white and brown sugar, eggs, vanilla and flour. I subbed 1/2 cup whole wheat wheat flour for a half cup of the AP flour that was called for. I didn’t have chocolate chunks, but I did have mini-morsels, though less than the amount listed. There were still plenty. The bars themselves are chewy-crumbly, and very intensely peanut-buttery. Like, if you turned Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups into cookie bars. That’s what you get.IMG_6373

Finally, I moved onto dinner. I’ve been trying to clear our freezer, and I did a good job of it tonight. I defrosted about 4 cups of cauliflower and a whole lot of skirt steak. I marinated the steak in a mixture of soy sauce (1/2 cup), sriracha (1 tsp), brown sugar (1 tbsp), pinches of garlic & onion powders and a little hit of sesame oil (1 tsp). Five steaks with marinade in a Ziploc for 2 hours, then grilled in a pan, 3-4 minutes each side for medium rare. Ta-daa.

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As for the cauliflower, I really wasn’t sure what to do until I looked over at my credenza and saw two small Yukon Gold potatoes sitting in a basket. I decided to make a mash, though I never had combined cauliflower and potatoes. I figured it couldn’t be that hard, and both vegetables go so well with cheese. CHEESE. There was leftover muenster in the fridge (2 thin slices), and some grated parmesan (1/4 cup). Some milk (1/3 cup), some butter (2 tbsp), some pureeing… bam! A mash. But I went a step further and put it all in a casserole dish, then baked for 20 minutes at 425 degrees until it developed a light crust. IMG_6358

I will totally make this again. It paired really well with the steak, and the glass of Malbec didn’t hurt, either.

It has been a great day for cooking, and for eating. Depending on the outcome of the Saints game, it may not be a great day for football. Carolina is kicking my team’s collective butt. Sad face.

In this week’s Dining & Wine section…

I came upon this treasure from the always helpful Melissa Clark in The New York Times.  Like she says, if you’ve got a can of chickpeas in your pantry, you can put together a hearty meal in no time.

Check out the recipe for this Chickpea Stew with Orzo and Mustard Greens. I can’t wait to make this one, and I’m sure there are endless variations.

Happy cooking.

PS – The latest from Bittman—PANCAKES!

Post-Thanksgiving Reboot, Day 1: Soup’s On!

I nearly burst out of a very pretty orange dress after heavily indulging and imbibing on Thanksgiving. Truth be told, I’d been preparing myself for the Eating Olympics in the weeks before the holiday, helping myself to seconds during family dinners, giving into cravings for afternoon chocolate-chip cookies and cheese in the evenings, and rationalizing the addition of dessert after nearly every meal I ate.

That may not sound so horrible, but I have invested a LOT of effort in revamping and improving my eating habits, as well as my physique, in the past 8 months. I’m 15 pounds lighter than I was back in April, and almost 2 sizes smaller. I credit a lot of that progress to Weight Watchers and my trainer, and to the self-discipline that I sometimes struggled to maintain. I have lost weight before, but what’s worked for me this go-round is balance: I am a good girl most days, and I treat myself on special occasions… or I just forgive myself when I slip up and get back on the wagon the next day.

This whole week is about getting back on the wagon. Because if I’m going to survive the three holiday parties and four family dinners I have between now and Christmas, I need to be good in between. And if I’m going to maintain the strength to just eat two pieces of cheese instead of losing count, then I need to cook and eat food I’m going to feel good about so I can stay motivated.

Easier said than done, but I’m off to a good start: Check out this soup I made:IMG_6295I’m a big fan of Martha Rose Shulman, who writes the Recipes for Health column in The New York Times each week. I find her recipes to be very balanced—yes, they’re healthy and mostly plant-based, but Martha doesn’t used any artificial ingredients, and she doesn’t take shortcuts. She gets a lot of flavor out of just a few ingredients.

I got the recipe for this amazing Barley Soup with Mushrooms and Kale from Martha’s book, The Very Best of Recipes for Health. Luckily, it’s also online. The star ingredient is dried porcini mushrooms, and while they can be pricey, they’re worth it—the stock produced from soaking the mushrooms in hot water is rich, dark, pleasantly earthy and ridiculously fragrant. This soup comes together in under two hours and yields 6 servings, so you can feed a crowd or feed yourself for days. The bf and I will be packing this one for lunch.

Bonus: it’s a full meal in a bowl, and it kept me full for several hours after lunch today. And for the other weight watchers in the crowd, total points plus value per serving is 4. A true bargain, indeed.

Double Bonus, PS, etc: I really want to make this too. How good does that look?

Sunchokes: A Culinary Wrong, Righted

While I am rather behind in my writing, I did eventually get around to make the $8/pound sunchokes, and I learned a valuable lesson in doing so:

Don’t leave a vegetable you’ve never cooked before unattended in the oven while you’ve got four burners going on the stove.

And add to that:

One of the down sides of disconnecting your ultra-sensitive smoke alarm is that you can’t tell how much you’ve burned something until you pull the pan out of the oven and get suffocated by the smoke.

So, the sunchokes were a disaster. I couldn’t even eat around the burned bits, because they tasted so…burned.

The next day, I went to see my friend Jessica, who moved from bustling Park Slope to a lovely neighborhood called Ditmas Park. When I got off the train, I felt like I was in another country. Tall trees, lovingly restored Victorian mansions with driveways. Parking spaces on the street. Well-manicured front lawns. Drivers who obeyed traffic laws (which is what kept it from feeling like New Jersey). Jessica gave me a tour, which included stops at a co-op grocery store, and the local green market.

And there, I found a crate teeming with sunchokes. Cost: $4/pound. I loaded up with the enthusiasm of a child set loose in a candy shop. I would right my culinary wrong, and  prepare crispy, golden brown roasted sunchokes.

For round 2, I changed methods, switching from oven roasting to pan roasting. Prep work was pretty minimal: rinse, scrub, chop into 1″ chunks. Heat skillet, add oil, then garlic, and allow some time for sizzling. Add chokes, salt and pepper. Allow a good 5 minutes for loud sizzling and a few pops. Shake pan, being careful not to let any sizzling hot pieces take flight. Stir periodically and cook another 8-10 minutes, making sure there’s a good sear (but not a char) on the chokes, and use a wooden spoon to scrape brown bits on the bottom of the pan.

Transfer chokes to a bowl, return pan to the flame, increase heat, and add a generous pour of wine. Stand back from initial burst of smoke, then scrape the browned bits on the bottom of the pan and stir into the liquid.

Deglazing. Best technique for making a pan sauce.

Once the liquid has reduced by half (it should also be a bit thicker), return sunchokes to pan and toss in the sauce. Side note: while sunchokes have a nuttier flavor than potatoes, they’re pretty mild, so season as you go, and test frequently.

Serving suggestion:
Co-starring sauteed chicken with shallots and steamed broccoli

Co-starring sauteed chicken with shallots and steamed broccoli