Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Homemade Pizza

Pizza...you are a cook's canvas.  A space for me to get creative.  A place to try out unusual flavor combinations on unsuspecting guests, and get away with it.  Pizza...you are a medium for experimentation and a place for all my favorite flavors to converge.  Pizza...you are the perfect food in every way.  I love you.

Not even kidding.  I will write a love letter to pizza any day.  I think pizza gets a bad rap for being junk food, but I will step in here and bash that idea on the head.  Pizza does not have to be a junk food.  Yup, it's bad if you load it up with a triple cheese, five meat, stuffed crust, quadruple bi-pass disaster.  But, if you pick your toppings wisely, you will end up with something that's OMG tasty and whole lot healthier.  Pizza does NOT have to be smothered in cheese and fatty meats in order to be good.  Don't believe me?  Read on my friends...

I love experimenting with new pizza flavors.  Where else can you have goat cheese, arugula, walnuts, honey and bread all wrapped into one little bite?  Or,  mozzarella, pesto, olives, roasted red peppers and spinach?  The possibilities really are endless, and you have all the power to make it as healthy (or unhealthy) as you choose.  I have discovered that I prefer pizzas that aren't smothered in gobs of greasy cheese.  Cheese is a lovely accent and definitely doesn't need to be a show stealer.  Sprinkling goat cheese, feta or fontina on the end gives pizza a boost without inundating the tastebuds and allowing all the other toppings to shine.  Keep the cheese to a minimum, experiment with new flavor combinations, and you are going to dig into a pizza that is not only healthier, but more delicious than you could have ever imagined.

Toppings are an absolutely critical piece of the pizza puzzle.  But, the crust...oh the crust.  This can make or break a pizza.  I have a crust recipe for you.  It is adapted from Cooks Illustrated and it is heaven sent...or at least Christopher Kimball sent, but you get the drift.  Its good.  It's better than any pizzeria crust I've had, with the exception of a genuine brick fire oven crust.  This recipe mimics a brick fire oven in your own oven, and the results are as close as you'll ever get to this at home (unless of course you have a brick fire oven pizza at home.  Duh).

Homemade pizza is the perfect meal for entertaining.  Whip the dough out before your guests arrive and have everyone join in the fun of decorating the pizzas.  Or give everyone a dough ball to create their own mini-pizza.

And, of course, no pizza party is complete without a cold local brew.  This is a particular favorite of mine from a local German brewery, Bayern.  It is a Doppelweizen, combination Heffeweizen and Doppelbock.  It is 7.5% alcohol...hence the name Face Plant (that and our little town's skiing problem obsession).

I'll share some of our favorite pizza toppings, but get creative!  Have a favorite flavor combo?  Add it to your pizza, you won't be disappointed.

-Pesto sauce, kalamata olives, roasted red peppers, chicken and a smattering of fresh mozzarella on top.  After the pizza cooks, add fresh spinach to the top and let sit for five minutes before cutting.  The spinach will wilt ever so slightly and your pizza will not be watery, which cooking spinach on pizza tends to do.

-Olive oil & garlic sauce, thinly sliced pears, chopped walnuts and a sprinkle of goat cheese.  After the pizza is cooked, add fresh arugula to the top and let sit for five minutes.  Drizzle with honey and then cut and serve.


**A note about this dough: it needs to sit in the fridge for a full 24 hours before using, so you'll need to think ahead and make this the day before.  Its worth the wait.**

"Brick Fire" Oven Pizza Dough

Makes 2 12-inch pizza crusts

3 cups bread or all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons sugar
1/2 teaspon rapid rise yeast
1 1/3 cups ice water (ice water must be used to prevent overheating in the food processor)
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 teaspoons kosher salt

In a food processor fitted with the chopping blade, add flour, sugar and yeast and process to combine; about 3 pulses.  With the processor on, slowly add water through the feed tube and process until just combined and there is no dry flour remaining.  Let dough sit in processor for 10 minutes.

After dough has sat 10 minutes, add oil and salt.  Process until the dough forms a ball that is satiny, sticky, and clears the sides of the processor bowl.  Remove the dough from the work bowl and knead on an oiled counter for one minute.  Form dough into a small ball and place in an oiled bowl.  Cover bowl with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator for 24 hours and up to three days.

One hour before baking, remove the dough from the fridge and cut in half.  Form each half into a ball and place on a floured counter.  Cover with plastic wrap covered in cooking spray or a damp towel.

One hour before baking, place oven rack at second highest position, about 5" from the top heating element.  Put pizza stone (you can also use a regular baking sheet, but a pizza stone will give you better results) on the rack and preheat oven to 500F. 

After one hour, take one dough ball and lay on a floured surface.  Begin rolling out using a rolling pin to shape the pizza and then continue by stretching the pizza with your fingers until it is approximately 12".  Transfer to a well floured pizza peel or overturned baking sheet lined with parchment paper.  Re-shape and stretch dough approximately one more inch.

Add your sauce and then your toppings to the dough just before baking.

Now, the tricky part...transferring the pizza to the stone.  I have found that removing the stone from the oven and then sliding the pizza on works best.  If you are using a heavily floured pizza peel, just slide the pizza from peel to stone.  If you are using an overturned baking sheet lined with parchment paper, slide the paper and pizza directly onto the stone.  Baking the pizza with the parchment paper will not alter the baking process.

Bake for 10-12 minutes, or until crust is lightly browned.  Remove from the oven and allow to sit for 5 minutes before cutting and then...


Monday, February 20, 2012

Brown Butter Lemon Bars

If you know anything about my culinary passions, you know:

1. That I believe a little brown butter can make anything taste better.
2. Lemon desserts do not pass these lips. 
3. Ever.
4. Never Ever.
5. Unless...(see #1 above).

I heard your collective gasp, and I understand your confusion.  But let me help you understand, its pretty easy.  A little brown butter can make anything taste better.  Or even good.

I don't know what it is about me and lemons, but we just don't dig each other when it comes to desserts.  I 'll add lemon to risottos, pastas, roasted vegetables and dips.  But please, keep that fruit away from my sweets.  Except for this one time.

Here's the deal, I am not going to say I love these lemon bars and they are my new favorite dessert.  But, they were pretty good.  I ate a whole bar and I didn't even cry when I remembered I wasn't going to hit any chocolate. 

So, why, you ask, would I choose to make something I am so obviously at odds with in the first place?  I made them for this lady.  My mama. 

She and my dad were here visiting this past weekend and since her birthday was just a few days prior I had to make her something extra special.  Lemon bars were that thing.  More on that awesome visit to come, but now, without further ado...I present to you:



Brown Butter Lemon Bars
Adapted from Baking by James Peterson

16 servings

2/3 cup (94 grams) all-purpose flour
2/3 cup (94 grams) cake or pastry flour
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 cup cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2" cubes
1 egg

1/2 cup unsalted butter
3 large eggs
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon lemon zest
3/4 cup fresh lemon juice (about 6 lemons)

Make the dough: combine the flours, powdered sugar and salt in a food processor and pulse until combined, about 5 pulses.  Add the butter and egg and process for 20-30 seconds or until the mixture just comes together.  Flatten into a disk shape, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 15 minutes.

In a medium saucepan, melt the butter on medium heat until light brown and the butter has a nutty fragrance.  Watch the butter carefully and remove from the heat as soon as it browns to avoid burning.  Set aside to cool for 10 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 450F. 

Make the lemon curd: Bring a saucepan of shallow water to a simmer.  In a heatproof bowl that will fit over the saucepan, add eggs and sugar and whisk for 2 minutes until the mixture is pale yellow.  Whisk in lemon zest, juice and brown butter and then set the bowl over the simmering water.  Whisk constantly for 8-10 minutes until the mixture starts to thicken.  Remove from the heat and cover with plastic wrap.  Press the plastic wrap onto the surface of the curd to avoid forming a skin.  Set the lemon curd aside.

Roll the dough out into a 9" x 9" square and then press the dough into an 8"x8" baking dish.  Press the extra inch of dough up the sides and then trim any excess dough to form an even crust all the way around.  Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until the crust is light golden brown.  Let the crust cool for 15 minutes on a wire baking rack.

Spread the warm lemon curd over the warm pastry and let cool for 30 minutes at room temperature.  Cover and refrigerate for at least two hours and up to one week, before serving.

Cut into squares and...

Eat it!!

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

This Guy...

Anyone out there think they have the best husband in the whole wide world?

Ah, sorry ladies and gentlemen.  You're wrong!  I snagged him up before any of you could.  Ha ha! Lucky me!  He's mine, all mine.

He's this guy...

He's also this guy...

And this guy...

He's also the guy that shovels the snow, mows the lawn, eats all the cookies (true story) and does ALL the driving (even that 18 hour road trip from Montana to Minnesota.  All.)  He goes to grad school full time, serves as a 2nd Lieutenant with the National Guard, hangs with Anna during the day while I work, often has dinner cooking when I get home and still manages to find time to snuggle up with me and have a glass of wine at the end of the day.

He's sweet, he's funny, he is compassionate, handsome, adorable, clever, hardworking and laughs so infectiously that it would make Oscar the Grouch smile.

He is the most amazing dad to Anna.  Man, those two are a pair.  My heart aches with joy and pride when I watch them together.  He is impossibly patient with her.  He teaches, he guides, he keeps her safe, keeps her smiling.

He is my best friend in the whole wide world.  I still get butterflies in my stomach when he calls me.  I cannot wait to get home at the end of the day and wrap myself up in his arms.  I know how lucky I am...I do.

So, even though we've never been big Valentine's Day celebrants, this is my love letter to you, today and everyday.  You are an amazing man Mace and I am honored to be married to you. Thank you for picking me.

As a tribute to my darlin' and Valentine's Day, I present to you these awesome heart healthy cookies.  I found these on Amy's blog over at Gastronome Tart and fell in love.  Still love you more Mace, but these are pretty darn good.

Oatmeal Quinoa (Heart) Cookie
Adapted from Gastronome Tart

Makes one giant heart cookie (or 12 regular cookies)

1/2 cup pecans
1 1/2 cups rolled oats
1/2 cup quinoa, cooked
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1 tsp vanilla
1/4 cup honey
2 egg whites
1/4 tsp kosher salt

Preheat oven to 350F.  Toast pecans for 4-5 minutes or until lightly brown and fragrant.  Cool slightly then roughly chop.

Add pecans, oats, quinoa, cranberries, vanilla and honey in a large bowl, stirring to combine.  Whisk the egg whites and salt in a small bowl until foamy and then pour over oat mixture, stirring to thoroughly combine.

Scoop entire mixture onto a parchment lined baking sheet and shape into a large heart. Alternatively, scoop handfuls out and form into large balls and place on cookie sheet.

Bake for 18-20 minutes or until golden brown.  Cut into pieces and...

Eat it!!

Friday, February 10, 2012

Roasted Beet & Brown Butter Pasta

I originally found this recipe when I was conjuring up new ideas for the plethora of beets we got in our CSA.  CSAs are awesome, but at certain times throughout the season they inundate participants with more of one vegetable than any family could possibly eat.  Beets were one of these things.

This meal has quickly become a favorite in our household.  I've even seen self-proclaimed beet haters take a liking to this pasta.  It says a lot about this dish.  Although, as we all know , a little brown butter makes everything taste better (and we all know this, right? If you don't, you should hop up on my little bandwagon).  Once the beets are roasted, this dish is very quick to put together.  Seconds.  Okay, I lie.  Naughty!  But it doesn't take long. 

This dish is beautiful...brilliantly red from the beets and topped with crumbled goat cheese.  Its a Valentine on a plate.  Can't you just see the look on your sweetie's face when they walk in the door on Valentine's Day and see this for dinner?  Pure love.


Roasted Beet & Brown Butter Pasta
Adapted from Epicurious

Makes 4 generous servings

1 pound red beets, scrubbed and greens removed
1 pound fresh fettuccine (I made my own from this recipe, but store-bought would work too)
6 Tbsp unsalted butter
1 Tbsp poppy seeds, heaping
1 tsp kosher salt
1/4 cup reserved pasta water
4 oz goat cheese

Preheat oven to 400F.  Wrap the beets in tin foil and place on a baking sheet.  Bake for 1 hour 15 minutes, or until the beets are tender when pierced with a fork.  Set aside to cool.

Once the beets have cooled, rub the skin off and roughly chop.  Place beets in a food processor and pulse until very finely chopped. 

Fill a large pot with water and bring to a boil for the pasta.  When the water boils, add the pasta and cook for 3-5 minutes or until cooked through.  Drain the pasta reserving 1/4 cup of the pasta water for the sauce.

Meanwhile, add butter to a large skillet on medium-high heat.  When the butter has melted and is starting to brown add the poppy seeds.  Continue cooking until the butter is a deep golden brown color.  Once this happens, quickly add the pureed beets, reserved pasta water and salt, stirring to combine.  Add the cooked pasta to the skillet and cook until heated through and the sauce covers the pasta uniformly.

Serve topped with crumbled goat cheese and then...


Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Kitchie Tip: Flour Duster

This lil guy?  He rocks my world.  He used to be an empty container with a sifter lid that I picked up at our local health food store.  He cost a whopping 99 cents.  I picked him up in the bulk spice aisle, so he was most certainly destined to be filled with something exotic like garam masala.  But I altered his destiny...I filled him flour and I use him lovingly almost every day.  How many spice jars can compete with that?

I was tired of the constant mess I dealt with because of dusting the counters when working with dough.  So, when I saw something similar to this somewhere on-line, I knew I had to make my own.  Its a game changer.

I always keep this on my counter so I can quickly grab it and dust flour to and fro! It sprinkles a light dusting of flour evenly and quickly.  It's always within arm's reach.  It means no more plunging my sticky, doughy hands into a bowl of flour and then having to throw the leftover flour out.  It is so purposeful.

I use it to dust the counter when laying out pasta, to dust the top of my pie crusts as I roll them out, and I even use it when I'm kneading bread.

You know you want one.  You know you deserve it.  So now, go out and get yourself a cute little spice jar with a sifter top and dust away!  It'll be the best 99 cents you've ever spent.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Deep Dish Corn Bread

Corn bread has always been a very ho-hum kind of side to me.  Usually I'll skip it to save the calories for a more delectable treat, like say, cookies or chips or anything else.  More often than not it is dry and crumbly and lacking in the flavor department.  Bo-ring!

We had some friends over for chili a few weeks ago and I decided it was time to find a winner corn bread recipe.  You know, so they didn't stare at me with that blank look in their eyes when I said "there's no corn bread."  I've gotten this look before, and I don't like it.  Regardless of how I feel about corn bread, it appears that most people think that having corn bread is non-negotiable when it comes to chili.  Fine, I'll play that game.  Bring it.

Mace bought me the Tassajara Bread Book for Christmas this year and if you've never checked this one out, I highly recommend it.  The recipes are easy to follow and unbelievably good.  The cornbread recipe I found in this book was moist, it wasn't overly sweet and it was all gone by the end of the night.  An entire 9" spring form pan worth, between 4 people.  I'd say this one's a winner.

Deep Dish Cornbread
Adapted from Tassajara Bread Book

8 servings (or 4 very large servings)
1 cup coarse-ground cornmeal
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 wheat germ
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp kosher salt
2 eggs
1/4 cup honey
1/4 cup melted butter
3 cups low-fat buttermilk
Honey, for serving

Preheat oven to 350F.  Grease a 9" springform pan and set aside.

Combine cornmeal, flours, wheat germ, baking powder and salt in a medium bowl.  In a separate bowl, combine eggs, honey, butter and buttermilk.  Mix the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients.  The batter will be very liquidy.

Pour the batter into the prepared springform pan and bake for 45 minutes, or until the top springs back when lightly touched.

Allow to cool on a wire rack.  Remove the ring from the pan and cut into wedges.  Serve with butter and a drizzle of honey and then...

Eat it!!

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Potato Soup in a Bread Bowl

Let's have a conversation about comfort food.  You know, the food you go to when its cold and blustery and the winter blues have settled themselves firmly on your mood for a good long visit. Oh, those blues have set in here, and with it, a whopping two feet of snow.  And a hankering for some good old comfort food.

I have lots of comfort foods, but I think I can easily say that cheese, bread and potatoes are always at the center of my cravings.  I'll be honest, potatoes are at the heart of every craving I have.  But, if you add bread and cheese to the mix I will whoop and holler and whatever drove me to needing that comfort food in the first place will be fast forgotten.

So, when the snow set in that closed schools in Montana for two days, I turned to the kitchen. Where else would I turn when its a billion degrees below zero and driving anywhere would be certain death?  Okay okay, maybe I am being dramatic.  The snow was cozy, but it was also the perfect excuse to get my comfort food groove on.   That brings me to this: cheesy rosemary potato soup. In bread bowls.  Mmm hmm....

**Even though I swore this wouldn't happen, I almost always mix and knead my bread dough in my KitchenAid mixer (unless I'm angry and need to knead out some anger).  Any of my bread recipes can just as easily be kneaded by hand without a stand mixer**


Bread Bowls
Adapted from Mel's Kitchen Cafe

1 1/2 Tbsp active dry yeast
1/2 tsp sugar
2 1/2 cups warm water (105-110 degrees)
2 teaspoons kosher salt
2 Tbsp canola oil
7 cups all-purpose flour

Dissolve yeast & sugar in warm water in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook. Allow to sit 10 minutes or until bubbly.  Add salt, oil and 4 cups of flour.  Knead on medium speed, adding the 3 remaining cups of flour as necessary, until a smooth elastic dough has formed.

Put the dough in a well-oiled bowl and lightly coat the top of the dough with oil.  Cover with plastic wrap and allow to rise in a warm place for 45 minutes, or until doubled in size.

Preheat oven to 400F.  Punch down dough.  Cut dough into 8 equal portions and shape into balls. Place on a parchment lined baking sheet, cover with plastic wrap, and allow to rise for 30 minutes or until doubled in size.  Bake for 15-18 minutes or until browned on the top.  Move to a wire cooking rack and allow to cool completely.

To make bowls, just before serving, using a serrated knife cut inward at an angle around the top of the bread.  Pull the top off and then scoop the middle of the bread out (go ahead and eat this bread, you don't need it for the bowls).  Ladle soup into bowls and...Eat it!!

Rosemary Potato Soup
Adapted from Two Peas and Their Pod

1 Tbsp olive oil
1 cup onion, chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 pounds russet potatoes
4 cups vegetable broth
3 Tbsp unsalted butter
3 Tbsp flour
1 1/2 cups whole milk
6 oz feta cheese, crumbled, plus extra for garnish
1 tbsp chopped fresh rosemary, plus extra for garnish
Salt and pepper to taste

Heat olive oil in a large stockpot over medium heat.  Add onion and garlic and saute for 5 minutes, or until onion is tender.  Add potatoes and broth and bring to a boil.  Simmer for 20 minutes or until potatoes are tender when pierced with a fork.  Remove 2 cups of the potatoes from the pot (using a slotted spoon or small mesh strainer) and set aside.  Puree the remaining potato mixture with an immersion blender or food processor. 

In a small sauce pan, melt butter over medium heat and then add flour.  Cook for 3-4 minutes or until browned.  Add milk to flour mixture, whisking constantly, and heat until thick and just boiling. 

Slowly add the milk to the potato mixture and bring to a boil.  Add reserved potatoes and then remove from heat.  Stir in feta, rosemary, salt and pepper.

Ladle soup into bread bowls, top with feta and rosemary and...

Eat it!!