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Peach Balsamic Pizza

June 19, 2012

I don’t usually do seasonal food.

I wish I did…

I think it could be because I usually walk into the grocery store with $6 and desperate eyes. (I have five packs of soda now because it was buy two get three free. 1. How is that possible? and 2. How am I the sucker who was converted to hoarding by Safeway?)

This could be because I like ice cream in December, and I like to slow cook in July.

It could be because the temperature of my apartment, office and car typically suggest the opposite season of that of the outside world. I’m sitting at my desk with a blanket and space heater as I type.

But I think I finally get what constitutes a summer pizza.

This pizza is simple but fancy. It will make your mama proud and make your guests think you know what you’re doing. I mean, except that you really do… obviously…

Peach Pizza with a Balsamic Glaze (Adapted from Alexandra Cooks)

1/2 c. Balsamic Vinegar
1-2 peaches, washed and thinly sliced
Basil
Pizza dough (There is a recipe at Alexandra Cooks.  I will post my own favorite soon because I think I’ve finally found one!)
Mozzarella
Olive oil

Preheat oven to 350 if you want a softer, chewier crust. Crank it up to 450 if you want something thin and crispy.

Roll out your dough according to your preference.  Cover the top of the dough with a thin layer of olive oil. A tablespoon or two should suffice.

Add a thin layer of mozzarella. Probably 1/3 of a cup of shredded mozzarella would do.

Spread your thinly sliced peaches across the top.  Garnish with another third of a cup of mozzarella.

Bake.

While you are baking, bring your balsamic vinegar to a boil over medium heat. Let it reduce.  But watch the sucker like a hawk.  You want the vinegar to boil until it turns into a syrup. Don’t cover and keep an eye on it.  The best way for me to tell (because balsamic vapor is rather… bracing… when you stick your face near the pan) is to run your wooden spoon through the pan, paying attention to how long you can see the pan through the balsamic. The longer you see the pan (before the liquid overcomes it) the more syrupy it is.  It’s simple but helped me quickly check. After about fifteen minutes, I could see a line across the whole pan for a quick second. Mine was done at this point. Don’t burn it though, so err on the side of less syrupy. Balsamic in all its forms is delicious.  But if you can get it good and syrupy, you will know immediately that it’s worth it. I saved the remaining glaze and used it with bread, on salads, and on chicken later in the week. This glaze is my new life blood.

Remove the pizza from the oven. Top with basil leaves and Parmesan, to taste. Drizzle balsamic over top. You can draw pictures with it. Or not.

Enjoy!

Peanut Butter Cheesecake with a Pretzel Crust

June 1, 2012

I am not the easiest person to live with. I chew too much gum.  I always buy mustard when I see it at the store. I hate changing to a new roll of toilet paper. (Yep, Dad, it’s still true.) I am fairly comfortable with a thin layer of flour covering every surface of my apartment.

You know who sees these endearing habits the most?

That girl.

Erin, my lovely roommate, has learned to calmly look away when yet another splenda packet falls onto the floor from my purse. (I like to be prepared.)  She lets me have a full shelf on the refrigerator door for my mustard. And she almost always changes the toilet paper.

So for her birthday, I wanted to give her a big thank you.

That big.

So I combo’d up many of her favorite things: cute teddy grahams, peanut butter and pretzels. (I couldn’t figure out how to add Bailey’s. Sorry.) And so, I present on the fifth anniversary of Erin’s 21’s birthday and the fourth anniversary of our cohabitation: Peanut Butter Cheesecake with a Pretzel Crust

Peanut Butter Cheesecake (Adapted from here)

5 packages (8 ounces each) cream cheese, softened
1-1/2 cups brown sugar
3/4 cup creamy peanut butter
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3 eggs, lightly beaten
1 cup Reese’s minis, cut into pieces
1 cup Chocolate chips

Pretzel Crust (Adapted from Coffee and Cannolis)

1 cup crushed teddy grahams
1 cup crushed salted pretzels
6 Tablespoons butter, melted and cooled
1 Tablespoon brown sugar
2 Tablespoons flour

So let’s begin.

Chop up the teddy grahams finely in a food processor.  Then chop up the pretzels. Try to leave some chunks of pretzel.

Combine the crushed graham crackers and pretzels with butter, sugar and flour.  Press the crumbs into the bottom of your springform pan.  (Use a spring form pan. Really.  It’s worth it.)

Bake at 350 for 5-10 minutes.  Then remove and let it cool while you whip up the cheesecake.

For the cheesecake, start by beating cream cheese and sugar until smooth. Add peanut butter and vanilla; mix well. Add eggs; beat on low just until combined.  Fold in the chips and Reese’s bits. Pour onto your cooled crust.

Bake at 350° for 50-55 minutes or until center is almost set. Remove from the oven; let stand for 15 minutes (leave oven on).

Refrigerate overnight for best results.

Garnish with either melted chocolate chips, drizzled across the top, or with some extra Reese’s bits, chopped up. Or, maybe both. You look adventurous.

Be prepared.  This cake will be demolished.

Beet Tzatziki

May 24, 2012
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For Christmas last year, my lovely parents got me The Essential New York Times Cookbook.  And it is fantastic.  Amanda Hesser curated, tasted, and altered some of the best and most iconic of The New York Times’ recipes from across the last century.  The only problem is that I never think to use it. I usually search for recipes online, gleaning them from Pinterest or blogs I follow. So it’s only occasionally that I think to sit down and use this compendium of food knowledge.

But last week, faced with beets and no idea what to do with them, I turned to Hesser. And she got me through.  Right there under the beet heading of the index, I found my solution: beet tzatziki.

This is so good.  It has the cool and crispness of normal cucumber tzatziki with a little more tang. And it’s pink. Really pink. Win win, right?

So let’s resume with your cooked, cooled, and peeled beets. Over a bowl, grate the beets.  You can leave some chunks; they add some great textural variety.

Then add:

2 garlic cloves
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
2 cups yogurt (I used plain yogurt. Greek would be wonderful as well)
1 tablespoon finely chopped dill (If you use dried dill, add another teaspoon or two.)
Black pepper to taste

(These amounts correspond to about a pound of cooked beets.)

Stir well.  Exclaim with glee over how pink it is.

If you have the time, let this sit in the fridge until it’s cool. Then dip away.

Adapted from a very similar version of this recipe, found here.

I promise this is worth it.

What do I do with you?: “Beets-Me” Edition

May 23, 2012

I usually cook by necessity. I make buttermilk pancakes when I have half a carton to use, anana bread when I have browning bananas, and french toast when I have stale bread.

(Please note that I do not live in a den of decaying half-used food. Most of the time.)

So in an ambitious and perhaps foolhardy move, I ordered a brimming box of fresh fruits and veggies.  (If you are in DC and are interested, check out Washington’s Green Grocer.)

So on Friday, I got a whole box of things. Things, it turns out, I don’t know how to cook.  And now, as they glare at me unused in my shelf, I decided to learn something. So you get to learn it too.

Wooot!

So, beets.  There are two ways to prep beets for anything you want to do with them. You can roast them whole in foil with a bit of olive oil or you can boil them. I went the boiling route.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. You start by trimming the greens.

Don’t throw them away!  Here are just a few of the many things you can do with these lovely fellows.

If your beets has a dirty little beard like mine did, trim it too.

Then boil it for about 25 minutes. The water will turn awesomely purple.

After twenty minutes, remove your beet and run it under some cool water so you can handle it.

Then you peel of the outer layer.  This can be done easily with a paper towel.  (Yes, my paper towels have a beach theme. Don’t pretend you aren’t jealous.) Just give the beets a rub.

See the lovely smooth skin revealed underneath?

Eventually you’ll have a clean beet. In the middle of a crime scene.

You can do a million things with this peeled beet. You could chop it and throw it in a salad. Slice it and serve it with goat cheese. Cut it up and roast it.

And, tomorrow I’ll show you what I did with it.  (It’s like a cliff hanger. But with calories.)

Graduation and Greek Couscous Salad

May 16, 2012

This weekend, while standing in a Coral Gables parking lot, I found myself in the middle of a memory montage.  Standing there, while in real life my brother looked like this:

All I could see in front of me was this:

This is the kid I taught the laws of gravity by throwing his toys in the air. The kid who I read all of James and the Giant Peach to, out loud.  The kid who still turns purple when I ask who he’s dating.  (By the way, Mike, I forgot to ask…) I spent the whole weekend trying to strangle-hug him like he was still three… it is more difficult now that he has a good 6 inches on me.

When I arrived home on Sunday, emotionally drained and travel weary, my growling belly was my first concern. So the first thing I did, before unpacking, before showering, before even changing out of my travel clothes (which may have involved a bathing suit), I decided to take care of myself with food.

This Greek couscous salad (so called because there is something green in there. Hush, that counts.) is the kind of dinner that just makes you feel like you are feeding yourself well without too much time or effort. It was just the meal I needed.

 

Greek Couscous Salad 

Box of Couscous
Dill
Lemon
Lemon Juice
Vinegar
Cucumber
Greek yogurt
Feta
Olive oil/Salt/Pepper/Garlic

1. Prepare your couscous as directed.
2. Chop 3-5 cucumbers in slices, then quarters.  Add to a bowl. Sprinkle liberally with dill, lemon juice (either from lemon or from concentrate), and olive oil and white wine vinegar. Add a pinch of salt and pepper. Toss. (How much of these things, you ask? Its up to you! You are dressing the cucumbers, so play this by ear and by taste. You’ll do great.)
3.Take 3-4 tablespoons of greek yogurt, add two tablespoons of feta, one tablespoon of olive oil, one teaspoon of garlic, one tablespoon of lemon juice.  Mix well.
4. Once the couscous is done, add the above mixture to the couscous and stir. The couscous should clump a bit. This is great. Stir well. Add more olive oil/yogurt for the consistency you want.
5. Add a little more feta, crumbled, so you have chunks in the couscous.  Add lemon juice, dill, salt and pepper (to taste.)
6. Add your seasoned cucumbers.  Stir gently.
7. If you have a second, let it all sit. Even fridge it for a bit; this is best served cold.

This recipe is really something you can customize with what you have.  Have some scallions? Toss them in. Chickpeas? They’d be great.  If you don’t have greek yogurt, you could try sour cream with the feta. Think of your favorite Greek salad or food and use that as your ingredient list for further customization.

But take ten minutes and treat yourself.  Look at that fork-ful… you deserve it.

 

Balsamic Brussels Sprouts

May 4, 2012

I think that brussels sprouts are adorable.  There is just something about these mini-lettuce balls that makes me want to talk to them in baby talk and play peekaboo.

Completely-imagined-conversation-that-I-did-not-have-on-Tuesday-with-my-brussels-sproats:

Me (in baby voice): You cutey-wooty. What are we gonna make you up in to tonight?

Brussels Sprouts: …

Me: I thinky you would be yummy-licious with some balsamic and honey… Wouldn’t you just be yummy-licious…wouldn’t you, oh, wouldn’t you…

Brussels Sprouts: …

Me: You’ll be so tasty-rific, yes you will! Yes you will, oh, yes you …

Roommate: Sarah, are you talking to the brussels sprouts again?

 

Well, uh, enough about me. Let’s talk about the brussels sprouts.

Grab 6 or 7 sprouts. (This is good for a single large serving or a couple of servings as a side)

Remove the very end of the core, right at the bottom.  Then chop thinly; the finished product should be more or less shredded.

In a pan on your stove, heat up two or three tablespoons of olive oil. Add your brussels sproats.  If you have a sweet onion on hand, chop up some of that and throw it in the mix.

Saute until the onion becomes translucent.

Then add:

1. One tablespoon of honey
2. Three tablespoons of balsamic vinegar
3. One clove of chopped garlic
4. Salt and pepper, to taste

You can make this dish carnivorous by adding some sweet Italian sausage. (See below!) Just add it while you are sauteing the onion and sprouts. Add more oil/balsamic/honey as necessary to accommodate.

You can make this dish carb-a-licious (I promise no made up words next post) by adding it to pasta.

My orecchiette!

Happy weekend, friends.  And remember, talking to your food helps it to grow.

Homemade Orecchiette

May 3, 2012
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Have you ever sat down at your computer to look up something wonderfully quick and mundane, like your parents’ new mailing address or the directions to your dentist…

And then you remember you wanted to check out the Anthropologie sale section…

And then you pin something and realize you haven’t checked Pinterest in at least an hour, so you should probably give it a glance…

And then suddenly three hours have passed, the sun has set, you haven’t had dinner, and you are five minutes into a twenty minute Youtube video of an older Italian woman making orecchiette

No?

Well, that is a normal weeknight for me. I think I need to get out more.

Nonetheless, waking up from an internet-induced coma to the lovely Italian murmurings of a grandmother and the swift, delicate motions of pasta by hand was inspiring. Really.

So I decided to give it a try.

This pasta is so much better than any other homemade pasta I have tried.  Why?  Because I used semolina flour. I’m starting to realize the value of using quality ingredients. Semolina flour is what says to the world, “this pasta is serious business.” And it is.  You can find it at Whole Foods.  I found mine at Safeway.  It’s only a few bucks and can be used to make a lot of pasta.  So splurge.

There are THREE ingredients. (The secret fourth ingredient is time.)

You start by mixing your flours. See the semolina?  It’s the yellow-ish flour on top.

Then, in your mixing bowl, make a bowl of your flours and add the water.

When you turn on your mixer, it will naturally incorporate the water as it should, slowly adding flour to the water well. (Did I mention my roommate got a Kitchenaid? And that it’s the best ever?)

Once the dough has more or less come together in the mixer, pull it out. Then knead it for about ten minutes, until the flours are fully incorporated, and the dough is nice and smooth. See?

Then give it about ten minutes to chill out. Dough does NOT like to be rushed.

Next, you split up the dough into eight-or-so parts. This is intended to keep the dough from drying out while you prepare it, but it is also a great way to make this a recipe for just one or two.  I only used one of the dough balls and it made enough orecchiette for a meal for me. Then I used the rest of the dough for different pasta dished throughout the week.

Then you take one of the balls of dough, and you roll it out into a log or a worm or [insert your helpful mental image here].  This part is great; it’s like playing with play dough. Except more productive.

I wasn’t getting enough resistance to roll my dough well on my (plastic) countertop, so I rolled the dough on a towel covered with flour.  You will roll and pull and roll and pull. It takes a few minutes.  At the end you want the dough to be between a half and three-quarters of an inch in diameter.

Now, I will direct you back to the video. Cutting the orecchiette takes some practice, but one you get it, it’s simple.  The basic idea is this:

1. You slice about a quarter inch of dough.

2. You pull across the dough with your knife like you are flattening/pulling it out. (This is where you create the awesome texture you see in orecchiette.) The dough will curve around your knife as you do this.

3. You remove the dough from your knife and “pop” it so that the textured side is up.  (I thought of these a lot while I was doing this. The orecchiette do not behave in that manner.)

Then repeat.

Yes, this is time consuming. But I found it really relaxing. It was a great way to feel like the hour watching Real Housewives of Atlanta was not wasted. (Which is was. Except for the delicious dinner it resulted in.)

Then you boil them up just like normal pasta. It take about 7 minutes.

Add some veggies or sauce.  (You’ll see the veggies I added in a post later this week.)

And suddenly:

Amazing! Your Italian grandmother will be so proud.

The pasta recipe came from the Food Network; you can find it here.