“Marry Me” Homemade Pizza Neapolitana

pizzaneapolitanIn the past, I have mentioned that were it not for a certain muffin recipe, my husband might have overlooked my talents and spent the rest of his days wondering where he went wrong, empty bellied and forlorn. That is a bit of a tall tale, but to hear him tell it, it bears the truth of the ages. Then again, was it the muffins or the cheesecake? I ask with a crooked eyebrow… Who can say, he mutters with an unconcerned smile as he reaches for another.

This story is not, in fact about bride-price muffins, or a cheesecake dowry, but it is rather about a different sort of food laced emotion, a “foomotion”, if you will, and an experience so good I was finally able to say back to him, yes, for this I would marry you again. For many years, my husbands mother made pizza on Thursday evenings for him and his brother and sisters, as a treat to signify the end of another long week and the promise of a few days of freedom before the grind of school and assignments caught up with them again. Rumor has it that the pizza was good, but by the time I met the clan, this particular family ritual had fallen into disrepair, as compelling work and a multitude of grandchildren robbed her of her interest in the glorious secrets and fruits of the kitchen. For a time, my husband despaired, but eventually he decided to take matters into his own hands, and this, my friends, is where  our story truly begins.

His first few attempts at making his own pizza were, like all early tries at something new, hopelessly fraught with disastrous results. To his credit, he did try. He bought all the gadgets and accessories, a pizza cutter, a pizza peel and stone set (the stone broke flying home from where we bought it after customs rifled through our things and repacked in the most half-assed way imaginable, with the stone facing out). Sadly, try as he might, the crust was too thick, too doughy, raw, too soggy, the toppings were uncooked or too heavy, the sauce was icky… the list goes on. After his first few tries I urged him to leave it to the true masters, the Italians, whom I happily claim kinship to through a grandmother whose people are from the southern isle of Capri (near Naples), any time the subject of pasta, parmesan, tomato sauce, marinara, pizza, ricotta, mozzarella, or cannoli comes up. The problem was, I had no pizza making skills either, never having seen such a thing made at home, as we had a multitude of authentic pizzerias and trattorias within a stones throw of my birthplace. (WHAT UP NY!!!) So, the issue hung over us in the air as beautiful pizzas were smugly flashed at us from some of the better cooking/baking blogs out there,  and as we went about the business of sorting out our life as a newly married couple, the idea never quite dead but never a true possibility either. When the cravings for a really good pizza took hold of one of us, we would fight it for as long as we could, then bite the bullet and order awful delivery pizza, mourning our fate to live in a country that has no concept of such a thing as real Italian-American food. For those of you that know my husband, you can probably guess where this is all headed, and sure enough, a few days ago, he decided once and for all that he was going to make as many pizzas as he had to, until he got the damned thing right. At this I sighed, and decided to get on board, but I also smiled, because when we went through the same process with learning how to make the best NY cheesecake, the results were beyond our wildest dreams. So too with this.

He bought some pizza flour, and found a pizza dough recipe by Jamie Oliver, one of my favorite chefs. This is altered from the one on his site, but we couldn’t have done it without his recipe as a jumping off point. His recipes are so good, and I love him for his cheeky fresh take on food and life. We cut the recipe by 2/3 since it was for 6 pizzas, because while we could have finished them all off in a few days, we didn’t want to eat until we hated ourselves… not really.

I made as good a pizza sauce as I could conjure, and then looked around until I found this page, which gave us some great tips on handling the dough, making a crust, and keeping it crispy, for which I will be eternally grateful. Finally, we selected some of our favorite toppings, including fresh basil from my window,basillaid under a mix of 2 local cheeses, and thinly slices onions, mushrooms, peppers, and tomatoes. We baked it all in a super hot oven on foil on an overturned cookie sheet, and viola, the best pizza I had ever had.  It is crispy, chewy, garlicky, saucy, cheesy, light and filling, all at once, and beyond yummy, Just like how I picture the fabled Neapolitan pizzas from the “Eat” section of “Eat, Pray, Love”. Teamwork really does yield the sweetest fruits!

pizza1

Ingredients: (For 2 medium pizzas, serves 2-4)

For The Dough:

  • 2 1/3 Cups Pizza Flour, or any high protein flour (plus a bit extra).
  • 1 Teaspoon Sea Salt
  • 1 Teaspoon Active Dried Yeast (make sure it’s not expired/dead)
  • 1 Teaspoon Sugar
  • 1 Tablespoon Olive Oil
  • 1/2 cup Warm Water (not too hot or you will kill the yeast)

For The Chunky Tomato Sauce: (you  may have leftovers) 20 minutes cook time*

  • 3-5 Cloves Garlic, smashed and minced
  • 3 Tablespoons Olive Oil
  • 1 Can Crushed Tomatoes
  • 1 Tablespoon Balsamic Vinegar
  • 1/2 Teaspoon Oregano
  • 1 small can or package tomato paste
  • 1 Teaspoon Salt
  • 1/4 Teaspoon pepper

*ALTERNATELY: You can make a super easy and delicious marinara/pizza sauce in 3-5 minutes: For 4 medium pizzas, open 2 8oz cans of tomato paste into a sauce pan, mix in 3/4 cup water, 4 tablespoons olive oil, 1 and 1/2 teaspoons salt, and 1/2 teaspoon of granulated garlic or garlic powder. Stir and simmer 3 minutes to blend flavors.

Toppings: All optional

  • Thinly Sliced Mushrooms
  • Cubed Feta cheese
  • Black or Green Olives
  • Thinly Sliced Red Pepper
  • Thinly Sliced Small Onion (Red or White)
  • Thinly Sliced Tomatoes
  • 10-12 Fresh Basil Leaves, washed
  • 3 Cups Shredded Fresh Mozzarella, (I used 1 and 1/2 Cups shredded Tal Haemek, and 1 and 1/2 Cups shredded Na’am Cheese. These local cheeses were an amazing surprise, and were a nice change, I would recommend using them if you can find them, otherwise, mozzarella is just fine).
  • Olive Oil for brushing the dough before adding toppings
  • Cornmeal  to sprinkle for texture (optional)

Method:

  • Add water, yeast, sugar, and olive oil to a cup, set aside for 2-4 minutes.
  • In a separate bowl, mix together flour and salt, and when the yeast is fizzing happily, add to flour mixture and slowly incorporate. When it all comes together, knead until you have a nice smooth dough that is not sticky to the touch. It will probably look too dry at first, don’t be alarmed. Just keep kneading. Maybe sing a little song… Just keep kneading, just keep kneading… After about 2 minutes of this you should have a perfectly smooth elastic dough that isn’t sticky and that has no dry bits. If not, add either a TINY bit more water or a tiny bit more flour as it needs.
  • Put the dough in a large flour-dusted bowl and flour the top of it. Cover the bowl with a damp cloth and place in a warm room for about 1 hour until the dough has doubled in size. (I cheat by warming my toaster oven for a few minutes then popping the whole thing in there for about 30 minutes, once the heat is off, cuts the rising time in half!)
  • Now make the sauce. (See above for easier faster option) Saute the garlic in 3 tablespoons olive oil on a medium flame, being VERY careful not to over-brown it. If it turns dark brown and bitter, you killed, it, start again. I can’t tell you how many times in my life I looked away for that crucial 10 seconds and had to chuck my garlic and start over. If it smells sweet, you are good, if it smells bitter, start again.
  • When it is all just very light brown, add the can of tomato paste. Saute and stir for about 1-2 minutes, caramelizing the sugars inside the tomato paste. Then add can of crushed tomatoes. Stir to make sure that no garlic/sauce bits are stuck to the bottom, then add the balsamic vinegar, oregano, salt, and pepper. It will smell amazing by now, but it’s not ready yet! The flavors need to melt together, and for this, you need a little time.
  • Stir again, then cover tightly, and cook for 20-25 minutes, keeping it on a medium heat. You want to check it and stir every 5 minutes or so. (Watch out, the splatters are HOT!) After 20 minutes, remove the cover and allow it to cook down for another 5-10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Once the sauce is thick with very little liquid you can turn off the heat, and let it sit to cool, uncovered.
  • Once the dough has risen, take it out and punch it down… don’t be afraid to over-knead, as this is one of the few times working with dough that you actually want to develop a lot of gluten, so have at it! It should be smooth, and elastic, and not sticky, but not dry either.
  • Once it is all kneaded, separate into two halves, and roll into balls. These will be your pizza crusts. You can either use them now, or wrap in plastic and put in the fridge for tomorrow. (A very good plan if you are super busy and just making the dough took up your free time for the evening).
  • 30 minutes to an hour before you are ready to bake your pizzas, turn over a deep cookie sheet on the floor of the oven, so your pizzas will sit about 2 inches off the hot floor of the oven, or use a pizza stone, if you have one.  Preheat the oven. I turned mine up to max, which is around 250 degrees Celsius, or 482 degrees Fahrenheit.  Roll out the dough for each pizza with a rolling pin, and then place on an oiled sheet of tinfoil. You can sprinkle a bit of cornmeal over the oiled foil before placing the rolled out dough on it if you like, I enjoy the added flavor and texture this provides, but you don’t have to, and sometimes it’s nicer without it, totally up to you.
  • Now prepare your toppings, if you haven’t already. (Shred cheese, slice veggies etc.).
  • Doing one at a time, roll out your dough to the size and shape you want (about 1/8 to 1/4 inch thick and about 12-14 inches across) and then roll and pinch the edges to form a crust.
  • Brush the surface of the dough with olive oil, this will keep your pizza from getting soggy
  • Then, add a ladleful of thick garlicky sauce to the middle and spread all around evenly, but not too thickly! Lay down a few evenly spaced basil leaves, no more than 5-6. cover with a mix of your cheeses (about 1 and 1/2 cups per pizza), then arrange the toppings you want. If you want, sprinkle cornmeal around the crust and with your pizza peel, slide your pizza with the foil directly onto the cookie sheet, and close the oven quickly.
  • Bake for 6 minutes, or until cheese is bubbling and crust is crispy on the bottom. Set a timer, one extra minute could burn up all your hard work!!! Now make second pizza the same way (olive oil, sauce, basil, cheese, toppings, cornmeal on crust).
  • When timer sounds, remove first pizza with pizza peel and let cool for at least 3 minutes, before slicing and enjoying with a tall glass of ice cold beer.

pizzamushroom1

Coconut Curry Quinoa with Creamy Sauteed Garlic, Broccoli and Artichoke Hearts

coconutquinoaOK, you guys are going to love this one. It’s something we make all the time, and just forgot to put it up before because it’s such a frequent meal in our house that I just assumed I had posted it already. My sister assured me I hadn’t. Now, I’m trying to go more veggie and more healthy in general, and this is the most fantastic core basic thing that you can serve with just about anything. It also makes many dishes that you already make about 100x better so here goes.

The secret is in the coconut milk. Instead of the basic quinoa to water 1:2 ratio, I do quinoa to coconut milk to water 1:1:1. It comes out super fluffy and delicious, and much more hydrated than regular quinoa, for a much tastier and more satisfying texture. It’s almost like a non-dairy version (just the quinoa) of the difference between rice and risotto, but far healthier. You can make this vegan by leaving out the cream in the veggies.

Variations include adding 1-2 shakes of curry powder and instead of mixing in veggies at the end, serving it with glazed soy ginger baked salmon, or any main protein that you want. The coconut is super mild, as is the curry powder, so you get a really lovely side dish (I say side but this ends up being the main event more often than not, it’s that good) without anything being too overpowering. Just make sure your guests aren’t allergic to coconut before serving this, because it’s really undetectable other than the subtle things it does for the texture and flavor!

Ingredients: (serves 4 as a light but wonderful dinner)

For quinoa:

  • 1 and 2/3 cup white quinoa
  • 1 and 2/3 cup coconut milk, this works out to exactly a can for me. (coconut water, coconut liquid, and coconut cream all work, (unsweetened) look for the one that says 17% fat)
  • 1 and 2/3 cup water
  • salt and pepper to taste (usually when i say this it works out to be about 1/2 teaspoon of salt, and 1/4 teaspoon of pepper)
  • 1 Tablespoon olive oil
  • 1-2 shakes yellow madras Curry powder (very tasty but OPTIONAL) to be added with salt and pepper

For veggie saute: (you can double this if you want lots more veg to quinoa ratio or if you have more people coming over)

  • 2 cups fresh or frozen broccoli, (I use frozen) cut into bite sized pieces (run under cold water to ease cutting)
  • 1 cup cubed fresh, frozen or canned artichoke hearts (I use frozen or canned). (about 1cm cubes)
  • 3-4 smashed and minced cloves of fresh garlic
  • 1 Tablespoon olive oil for sauteing
  • splash of white wine (optional, I think it doesn’t need it)
  • 1/4 to 1/2 cup of cream, depends on how creamy you want it (15% for pastas)
  • 1/2 teaspoon of garlic powder or to taste.
  • salt and pepper to taste (1/4 tsp salt, 1/8 tsp pepper usually works)

Method:

1) Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a medium sized saucepan that has a cover.

2) Pick a glass that is around 1 and 2/3 cups. Fill it up to the very top with quinoa. Add quinoa to the pot, and mix it around, coating in the hot oil.

3) Cook for about 1 minute, toasting the little quinoa seeds. Then, using the same cup you use to measure the quinoa, add water and coconut milk. basically, 1:1:1 quinoa to water to coconut milk. You can do this with white, red or brown rice and the results will be the same, the only thing that varies is the cooking time (35-40 minutes for red or brown rice or red quinoa).

4) Add salt and pepper, don’t worry, you can correct this later if you don’t use enough. If you are adding curry powder, add it now, and mix it all up and cover.

5) Cook covered on a low flame for 20 minutes exactly. I use a kitchen timer. Do not stir. After 20 minutes, turn off the heat and let it sit for five minutes undisturbed. Uncover and fluff the quinoa.

While the quinoa is cooking, make the veggie saute.

1) Heat olive oil in a large frying pan or wok. Add minced garlic when oil is hot enough to make garlic sizzle, saute gently on medium heat.

2) Chop broccoli and artichoke hearts, add now if both are frozen, otherwise, add fresh first, then frozen 3 minutes later, then canned 2 minutes later. Cover, and saute 3-4 minutes.

3) Saute until all veggies are mostly cooked through (broccoli should still be bright green!), then add splash of white wine if you are using it.

4) cook off alcohol for about 2 minutes, then add cream, garlic powder, salt, and pepper, and stir gently for the next 2 minutes.

By now, the quinoa should be done, if not, turn off heat and cover veggies. Serve veggies over a warm bed of quinoa, and… Oh boy, my tummy is just rumbling away right now, I think I’ll go make some. Oh yeah, we added a cup of chopped fresh mushrooms and sauteed them with the other veggies once and it was delicious then too, so don’t be afraid to experiment with other options. All the best till next time, I love you guys!

Crispy Skin Salmon with Super Sexy White Wine, Lemon, and Butter Sauce with Herbs, Shallots, and Heirloom Tomatoes

supersexysalmonsauce1

I should start by saying that this recipe is really about the sauce, not the fish (or chicken, steak, seafood or pasta) you pour it over, though anything you serve it with will be massively enhanced. This may seem weird since we live in a culture where figuring out what’s for dinner involves choosing your protein as the main event of almost every meal and choosing the spicing and sauce is really just about picking what flavors you feel like that day. So this easy and addictive recipe kind of turns that way of thinking on its head.

supersexysalmonsauce

You may be wondering,  how can a recipe be all (mostly) about a sauce? What is so special about this sauce that she is going on about it like it’s the best thing since she discovered crème brûlée?  And finally, why is the sauce super sexy? Well, I’ll tell you. For one thing, I can’t think of any other recipe that I have made which literally gets my dog drooling (not to mention anyone else in the house) within 15 minutes of starting, EVERY SINGLE TIME. Like, to where it’s icky and she embarrasses herself.

bells

But enough about Bella. I want to say first of all that this is based on something I had in a lovely posh restaurant in Tel Aviv (Bertie), and it was literally the best fish I had ever had. This was shocking for a few reasons. 1) It was just some basic St Denise fillets that were served with the skins seared crispy, then presented skin side up in a hot cast iron pan of something very much like this sauce, that is to say, as close as I can guess it without having asked the chef. 2) I am VERY hard to please when dining out.

After much research, and a wonderful tutorial I found here I recreated the seared skin effect with some salmon fillets, which we would then eat with mayo and mustard on the side. It was good, and I got the technique down, but I was still deeply unsatisfied, mostly because I am very sensitive to flavors and smells, and I can’t have my fish even the slightest bit fishy. Not having access to super fresh fish as often as I would prefer (like, still alive in the store), I must be satisfied with frozen fillets, and pray each time I buy that the fillets were as fresh as possible when flash frozen. I waited about 6 months before attempting to recreate the sauce, mostly because I thought it would be impossible, but also because I didn’t want to insult the memory of that perfect dish. Luckily for me, I was haunted by the wonderful balance of flavors, the harmony of which was what foodies such as myself might call “transcendent” , so I finally rolled up my sleeves and took a crack at it, and I’m so very glad I did, because now I get to share it with all of you. My sister, the Chef has been quoted as calling it “one of the two best fish recipes I have ever tasted”, so I’m pretty sure I nailed it.

*First descale fillets, if they are not already descaled. I do this while they are frozen, under cold running water, with a small serrated knife with a rounded edge, for best results. If you can get descaled fillets, check them anyway, often some scales are left behind and even one scale can ruin my meal. This is a good time to look for bones they may have overlooked as well. When finished, put aside in a bowl to defrost. Once defrosted, press fillets between 2 clean kitchen towels or several paper towels to remove as much liquid as possible, so that they will sear properly and not splatter hot oil all over you. Finally run your finger over the skin to smooth the skin back in place, in the direction the scales used to point, and set aside, until you are ready to sear.

Super Sexy Salmon Sauce: (Make once fish is prepped)

These measurements are PER FILLET (per serving basically), so if you are making 3 salmon (or any other fish) fillets, multiply all ingredients by 3.

  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter (if you only have salted, leave out salt from recipe or add later to taste)
  • 2 large thinly sliced shallots (1/4 of a medium sized red onion if you don’t have shallots)
  • 1 large smashed and minced garlic clove
  • 4 thin slices of Jalapeno (or  few dashes of Tabasco if you are in a pinch)
  • 3 small tri-color (1 red, 1 yellow, and 1 purply red/green heirloom cherry, or grape tomatoes, sliced lengthwise in halves.
  • the leaves from 1 sprig of fresh thyme. (see notes on using and storing fresh herbs here)
  • 1/4 cup white wine
  • Fresh juice of 1/2 a large lemon
  • 1/8 cup water (more as needed to cook down sauce)
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1/8 tsp each salt and pepper (or to taste)

method: That’s right, that’s all there is to it.

  1. Melt butter in a deep frying pan that has a matching cover, on MEDIUM, not high heat. When melted add sliced shallots, minced garlic, jalapeno, thyme, bay leaf, and tomatoes in that order, and saute covered for about 5-10 minutes. This will vary based on how hot your stoves burners are. The shallots and garlic should slowly sizzle and become translucent, not brown. If they sizzle too much when you add them, turn down the heat.
  2. The smell should already be making you light headed.supersexysauce
  3. Once cooked through, uncover pan, add white wine, and cook off alcohol, uncovered, about 3-5 more minutes.
  4. Add lemon juice, water, salt and pepper and stir, then re-cover, turn flame down to LOW, and simmer for about 5-7 more minutes, then turn off heat and leave it to rest. Alternately, you can use a cast iron pan, and keep the sauce hot in the oven while you sear your salmon fillets.
  5. Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil per fillet in a frying pan on medium/high until it is ready to sear. Pat dry fillets then lay them SKIN SIDE DOWN in a regular (not non-stick) pan. Immediately turn down the heat to medium, and gently hold down with metal spatula to prevent warping  for first two minutes. This will sear the skin, but cook the fish evenly without burning. See the full tutorial here, it’s not so complicated and really comes out perfect if you follow his directions. [However. If you really want to cheat, just use a non-stick pan with no oil or butter. Cook skin side down first for about 6 minutes covered on a medium high heat, (heat the pan before placing the fish in, but not too much, because you don’t want to burn the Teflon) and when the top turns opaque, tun it over, and cook the other side uncovered for about 4 minutes. This is super easy, and will turn out beautiful fillets, though not as crispy as doing the the more scientific way, you save yourself the embarrassment of messed up skin] until Once fish is mostly cooked through (5-6 minutes) gently nudge it from the sides with the spatula too see if it will come loose. Don’t force it, it will release when it is ready. Once the skin releases and the fish is mostly cooked through, turn it over and cook just for 10 more seconds, to sear closed the top layer and finish cooking.
  6. Remove fillets to wide shallow bowls, and let rest, skin side up.
  7. Turn on sauce again and heat up uncovered, 3-4 minutes, stirring once or twice.
  8. Pour sauce around but not over each fillet, and serve with a cold crisp white chardonnay and some fresh bread and butter for wiping up the sauce, if there is any left. This will possibly spare you the potential embarrassment of licking the plates in front of your family, friends, or guests… which I should warn you, you will end up doing anyway.

Easy Cheesy Comte and Basil Gouda Buttermilk Biscuits (can be made vegan!)

biscuitblog1So, I have been a very bad girl. No, not in the biblical sense as some of you may be thinking, but rather in terms of my promise to you, to bring you wonderful recipes each week. I do of course have some lovely excuses and stories… you know I would have to. For example, the birthday visit of my super sweet sister for 3 weeks, and the fan-freaking-tastic good time we had traveling all over the place hiking, biking, beaching, eating and wine tasting.

Or, perhaps I’ll tell you the one about how after she left, I went on another hike with G and our dog Bella in a very remote, rocky area, and at the very very end of the trail, deep in the park, I fell and twisted my ankle. I actually was sure it was broken it hurt so much, but then as I was crawling to a big rock to sit on away from all the crawlies in the stream bed, it sort of cracked back into place, and I could actually wiggle it. Whew. OK, so at least it wasn’t broken. It gets better. Our parks don’t really have rangers on duty so G had to call an ambulance, problem was, no one could get to us where we were. To make things worse, I had left my phone behind, and G had about 17% left on his that was rapidly draining as he tried to explain where we were so they could get a GPS lock on us. We saw an ATV trail nearby that might have some traffic, and decided to get there the only way we could, with me riding piggy back as G carried me, army style, over hill and dale. Still no one could reach us and I started to despair, sure I would have to stay the night, knowing that I would freeze my ass off and all manner of creepy creatures would come out as soon as it got dark. Or, even better, the army would have to helicopter me out of there for a mere sprained ankle, and I would spend the rest of my days paying off a massive debt for an embarrassing and unplanned helicopter ride. Please god no I thought, just let me die here instead.

Luckily, just as I was at the peak of my panic attack, a one handed old man with a geriatric poodle in a sweater happened by in his jeep, on his daily trip through the park. G flagged him down and after explaining what happened, the guy, who I later found out was named Eli, and Sally, his deaf, blind and epileptic dog, offered to 4WD me out of there. And so I was saved by a most unlikely duo. The ambulance was waiting at the exit to the park when we finally emerged, 30 minutes later, and after a short exam, they sent me off to get x-rayed and hooked up with crutches, bound for bed for the next few days.

That would be the end of my tale, but then we had the holiday, a weekend away camping at the beach, and finally, I was hit with a most common cold. So here I sit, with a list 5 miles long of things I cooked or baked in the last month and want to share with you, and yet, I’m fighting just to be able to type straight in the clutches of this crappy little head cold. So. Knowing that I had to do something to get back in the saddle, and having no bread or anything else ready made in the house to snack on, I went online looking for the easiest biscuit recipe I could find. I of course modified it, because it was just a bit, well, boring, if you must know the truth.

I hope you enjoy, because I sure did…

Ingredients: (makes 12)

2 cups flour
3 teaspoons baking powder
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup vegetable (canola) oil
*1/3 cup buttermilk (I used 1/3 cup 1% milk and a 1/2 teaspoon of vinegar)
*1/3 cup heavy whipping cream
*1/2 cup shredded Basil Gouda cheese
*1/4 cup shredded Comte cheese
*For vegan biscuits, substitute 1/3 cup coconut cream for heavy cream, and 1/3 cup coconut cream plus 1/2 a teaspoon of white vinegar for the buttermilk, and leave out the cheese.
Method: (takes 8 minutes prep time maximum).
1) Preheat oven to 475F.
2) Set up either an ungreased cookie sheet or large cupcake sleeves.
3) Mix all dry ingredients and cheeses together in a large bowl.
4) Add wet ingredients, and mix until just combined, no more.
5) Gather dough together into a ball, kneading for just a minute until no pieces fall off.  It will be very crumbly, don’t worry, that’s good, it means they will be light and fluffy.
6) Either break apart into 12 equal pieces and place in cups, or roll out gently to 1/2 inch thick and cut out twelve 2 inch circles and arrange on tray.
7) Bake for 10-12 minutes at 475F or until tops begin to brown.
8) Enjoy with butter and pepper for a savory treat, or with raspberry jam for a much sweeter twist.
Please let me know what you think, and I promise more good stuff is on the way!

Asparagus, Feta, Manchego and Japanese Shimeji Mushroom White Wine and Butter Scrambled Eggs with Sea Salt and Cracked Pepper

Best eggs ever

Not your grandmothers scrambled eggs

These don’t look like much from the outside, but trust me when I tell you that they were the best eggs I have ever had, and I have something of a reputation for fantasamagorical eggy creations. In fact, at this point, I am not even sure you could call them just plain old eggs. It was more like a gourmet saute with savory cheeses that just so happened to have eggs as the main ingredient. It was alternately savory, salty, cheesy, and fluffy with a slight crunch every now and then. Divine.

The most important thing I think you have to remember when cooking eggs is not to overcook them, after all, there are few things less appetizing than rubbery eggs. With recipes like this, I think your ingredients make the difference between an average dish and a mind blowing one, so that is what this post is going to focus on.

Ingredients: (serves 2)

  • 4 Large Eggs. eggs
  • Fresh Baby Asparagus, cut into 1 cm slices. Otherwise known as young asparagus. You should be able to eat it raw (uncooked), and it will taste sweet and fresh, with a slight bitterness at the tips with no woody bits that need to be discarded. The cut ends should still be mostly green, not white and dried out. Look in the specialty/gourmet veggies section. The bottom ends should be no thicker than 1 cm across in diameter.baby asparagus
  • 10-15 Japanese Shimeji mushrooms all sizes, leave the small ones whole, and slice the bigger ones the long way down the middle with just the ends trimmed off and discarded. Otherwise know as Chinese mushrooms, brown beech mushrooms, or brown clamshell mushrooms. (Shimeji should always be cooked: it is not a good mushroom to serve raw due to a somewhat bitter taste, but the bitterness disappears completely upon cooking. Wiki.)Fresh_Japanese_Mushrooms_2
  • A small handfull (1/4 cup to 1/3 cup) of  sheep’s milk Feta cheese, crumbled. Get the one that is in a cube in water, not the dry one that is already crumbled for you, it’s fresher. Bulgarian feta cheese
  • 1/8 of a cup (splash) of a nice white wine that you wouldn’t mind drinking, not some icky cooking wine. Yes, it matters. We used a mild semi-dry Emerald Riesling. You could also use a nice Pinot Grigio, Sauvignon Blanc, or Chardonnay, doesn’t really matter as long as you like it.white-wine
  • Shredded Manchego cheese, (or parmesan) to sprinkle all over the top of the eggs while they are cooking. About 1/8 cup.manchego
  • Sea Salt and Fresh Cracked Pepper to taste, about 1/8 teaspoon Sea salt and 1/4 teaspoon Cracked Pepper freshly ground. saltandpepper
  • 1 teaspoon Salted Butter for sauteing.butter

Method:

1) Saute Shimeji mushrooms in 1 tsp butter for 5 minutes, in a covered 12 inch diameter saute pan over medium heat. Don’t crowd the mushrooms.

2) When they are cooked through but not wilted, add asparagus, and cook for another 2 minutes covered.

3) Add white wine to hot pan, let alcohol cook off uncovered, about 2 minutes.

4) Mix up eggs in  a bowl with a fork, add sea salt and pepper, then add to pan with mushrooms and asparagus spreading out over the whole pan evenly, as if you were making an omelet.

5) Cook for about 3-5 minutes covered. When egg is mostly cooked on bottom but is still wet on top, sprinkle Manchego and Feta over the whole surface, then break up the eggs as if you were scrambling them, but gently, minding the asparagus and mushrooms. Cover, and cook for 1 additional minute.

6) Turn off heat, but LEAVE covered for 2 additional minutes. This will finish cooking the eggs through, but will not overcook them.

7) Serve immediately, with toast and butter or jam.

*All Ingredients Photos: credit Google images.

Crispy Chicken Tenders From the Great Beyond

chicken nugget bites

I’ve made fried chicken before a few times, always with a breadcrumb and flour coating, and always gotten rave reviews. Now I love the idea of fried chicken. But what I don’t love is long frying (and then baking) times, wasting huge amounts of oil, unevenly cooked chicken pieces, and bits of fat, bone, and gristle getting in the way of my fried chicken experience. I mean come on people, this is serious stuff we are talking about here. So I wondered what would happen if I made my own full white-meat fried chicken tenders. Crispy spicy batter, juicy white meat chicken tenders… you know, they are called chicken “tenders” for a reason. They wouldn’t call them tenders if they were some chewy nasty tough-ass bits of shoe leather tasting “chicken product” like the stuff you get in the freezer section, am I right? Yeah, you know I am.

So there I was, searching the web for the ultimate fried chicken recipe with which to make my dreamed up nuggets, and I’ll be honest with you now… lean in… there are hundreds, if not thousands, all claiming to be the best. But you see, I had a second critical criteria. There couldn’t be milk in the batter. Turns out that almost every fried chicken recipe under the sun calls for milk or buttermilk, AND milk is the one thing in a batter that will make it burn before the chicken is crispily (yes I made that word up) cooked through to perfection. Fascinating right?

Unfortunately, or so I thought, Googling “fried chicken no milk” brings up far fewer recipes to choose from, so at first I was worried. then my eye fell on this link, from Mark of the excellent blog “2010, my year with Chris Kimball” featuring  “Batter-Fried Chicken“. (Yes, I am now a fan. He includes the relative cost of each meal. Brilliant!) I clicked on it, read through the page, and my heart leaped… I could see that this might really be something special. For those of you who didn’t know, Chris Kimball is one of the chefs behind “Cooks Illustrated Magazine”, and “Americas Test Kitchen”. The fact that Mark was inspired to write his blog after watching the movie “Julie and Julia” just made it that much better. If you haven’t seen it, go watch it. Now.

julie-julia-movieStanley Tucci Went to My College!

After making these yummy guys, (and they were AWESOME, juicy, and delicious) I emailed with Mark about how to make them less salty. He tried them that night, and pointed out that the brining time should be cut (at least) in half for nuggets vs. whole pieces of chicken on the bone, and that they would be better cut to about 2x bigger than the size I made them. This makes sense for a few reasons, and while I love bite sized food that you can just pop into your mouth,  these really would be better if you make them a bit bigger. The batter is intense, but wonderful. He got about 30 pieces to my 50 if I understood him correctly) Also, if you have leftovers, which you wont unless you are cooking for 2 and don’t halve the recipe, they can be reheated without drying out. yes, I always make too much. No, I don’t sweat it because I live with a very hungry man.

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So I am going to give you the recipe Mark provided from Cooks Illustrated Magazine, along with my variations, and his suggestions for the best “fried chicken nuggets” ever. These are a great appetizer/snack for Superbowl Sunday, and will make any day that much better!

Ingredients: (For 3-4 hungry people for dinner, or as snacks for 5-7)

Brine:
1 quart cold water
1/4 cup salt
1/4 cup sugar
4 chicken breast pieces (the tops of 2 whole chickens, or 4 chicken cutlets)

Batter:
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup cornstarch (cornflour, NOT cornmeal)
5 teaspoons pepper (Yes, that’s right, FIVE)
1 teaspoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper (used pepper flakes as I had no cayenne)
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1-3/4 cups cold water
1 liter vegetable oil ( I cut it from the original recipe by 2/3 and it made about 4-5 batches no problem)

Method:

1) I started with the full white meat breasts of 2 chickens. (4 pieces total). After cleaning and cutting up the pieces, (I had around 50 nugget sized pieces of chicken. Go for 30 pieces (15 pieces from 2 chicken cutlets) like Mark did unless you want them bite sized and plan to eat them all in one sitting. I brined them for an hour (too long for nuggets!), as the recipe called for.

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2) Mix up brine, then brine for 30 minutes in refrigerator. Set a timer, and drain right away. Pat dry.

3) Mix up batter by combining flour, cornstarch, pepper, paprika, cayenne, baking powder, salt, and water. Whisk until all lumps have gone. Add chicken pieces to batter and mix them around, coating each piece completely.

Fry Batter

4) Heat oil until the end of a toothpick bubbles happily.

5) When oil is hot, using a fork, add pieces one at a time, first allowing excess batter to drip off each piece. Do not overcrowd! I fit about 10 per batch for the smaller ones, I’d say 6-7 per batch of the bigger ones.

6) Set a timer for 6 minutes for each batch of smaller ones, 8 minutes each batch for the bigger ones. After about 3 minutes in the oil, break them up, make sure they aren’t sticking to the bottom or each other.

7) When they are a  deep golden brown, take them out and lay them on paper towels to crisp up and dry off.

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8) Keep warm in preheated oven while you make the next few batches.

Nuggets

9) I served with mayo and ketchup because they has so much flavor on their own they really didn’t need much, but you can serve with whatever dipping sauces you like best, be it BBQ, honey mustard, spicy mayo, the possibilities are endless.

Insane Veggie Lasagna, For Two. Who Knew?

best lasagnaOK, it’s really for 3-6 servings, but that was too cute a title to pass up. I swear I didn’t plan for this to be in the blog, in fact I didn’t plan for it at all, but then it got me a 10, so I had to. 10 what you may ask? Well, read on, and you will understand. Apologies in advance for no “in process” photos. Last night I didn’t want to do anything remotely food related, but I had been snacking all day on unsatisfying empty calories and I was just fed up. I decided I’d make a pasta or something else equally boring, when at the last minute my sister sent me to a site I’d never heard of before, bakedbree.com to look at Bree’s margarita pie. The back story is that I’ve been bugging her to make me a key lime pie for ages, (“but Martin; She makes Pie!!!”) and I am absolutely gaga for margaritas on the rocks. So after drooling over the pie and discussing what we would change and why, I started looking around a bit. When I saw her recipe for veggie lasagna and that it included peppers, which happened to be the only thing alive in my fridge at the time, I thought it must be fate. Now, my recipe is completely my own, but I just wanted to thank Bree for the inspiration! Sometimes all we need is a kick in the pants, in the right direction 🙂

Before yesterday I was not a fan of no-bake lasagna leaves by any stretch of the imagination, but up here I usually can’t find the nice long ones (with the frilly edges in the blue box that you parboil before layering them into your pasta masterpiece), and that’s what I had in the house, so that was two for two. The clincher was the small container of ricotta cheese in the fridge, which I have been buying religiously when I can find it now that every other recipe I am lusting over happens to feature it in one way or another. (Cannoli, here we come!)

Lasagna is already a production when you can get all this stuff easily at your local grocer, so the fact that the stars aligned just sort of pushed me to the point where I sighed, rolled up my sleeves, and got to work. I had this great new blue casserole dish from Ikea that we bought so that we could make smaller portions, this one could actually feed 4, but in my house, well, you know. Everything is relative.

I don’t buy pre-made sauce, mostly because I can’t get a good one here, so I had to make my own, which turned out spectacular, and I would really suggest doing this if you have time.

I’m just going to tell you how to make this stream of consciousness-like, and I hope it all makes sense. Also, I didn’t have Mozzarella, so I had to use a local melty cheese called gush chalav, but if you can get Mozzarella, use it.

Ingredients: (for 3-6 servings)

No boil lasagna leaves (or the other kind, follow directions for cooking)

Olive oil

1 head fresh garlic

1/2 large onion

1 yellow pepper

Tomato paste

Crushed tomatoes

Splash (1 tablespoon) balsamic vinegar

1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

2/3 cup cream

Parsley, fresh or dried

Oregano, fresh or dried

1 cup spinach, fresh or frozen

Ground nutmeg

12 oz ricotta cheese (24 oz if making 2 layers)

2 cups Shredded Mozzarella cheese (fresh or packaged, if you use fresh, add some more salt to compensate), enough for 3 thin layers.

1 cup Shredded Parmesan

salt

pepper

filtered water

DirectionsForMakingLasagna

Method:

Preheat oven to 350F, and make tomato sauce.

For Sauce: Saute 2 tablespoons chopped garlic in 3 tablespoons olive oil. when it’s going clear but long before it goes brown, add 1/2 a chopped white onion and a chopped yellow pepper. Saute for about 10 minutes. Add a few tablespoons water if it looks like it could be drying out or cooking too fast. Once the pepper is getting soft and the onions are going clear, add 200g tomato paste. Use an online converter if you don’t know grams, its about an 8oz can of hunts tomato paste. continue cooking and stirring, while the tomato paste caramelizes. look for bubbles that are dark red, getting darker as the sugars caramelize. After about 5 minutes of this, add a can of crushed tomatoes, you know, the big ones, that weigh 800g and are good for sauce for one family meal.

Now for the vaulted Italian family secrets.

Add 2 tablespoons of shredded Parmesan, a splash of balsamic vinegar (1 tablespoon), 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon (TRUST ME), 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon pepper, 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder, 1 tablespoon dried or fresh parsley, and one tablespoon dried oregano, stir it all together, and add about 1/4 cup filtered water, now cook it down for about 20-30 minutes uncovered on a low heat. This is important, so that the flavors can all meld together. If using fresh herbs, add closer to the end.

Now you make the Spinach Cream Sauce:

In a small saucepan, saute 1 teaspoon chopped garlic in 1 tablespoon olive oil. When the garlic is clear, add  1 cup defrosted frozen spinach (kudos if you have fresh). Mix it all together, and add 2/3 cup 15% cream, 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder, and a pinch of ground nutmeg. cook on low heat for 3-4 minutes or until cream starts to bubble, then turn off heat.

In a small bowl, combine 12 oz  ricotta, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon pepper, and 1 tablespoon chopped or dried parsley, depending on what you have.

In your baking dish, spread a layer of sauce. Now layer on the lasagna leaves. Next spread out all of the ricotta mixture, sprinkle all over with Parmesan, then layer on a thin layer of shredded Mozzarella cheese. Now another layer of sauce, a second layer of lasagna leaves, and now the spinach cream sauce. next do another layer of Mozzarella,  a layer of sauce, a sprinkle of Parmesan, then add the last layer of lasagna leaves. Top it off with the last layer of sauce,  and top that with shredded Mozzarella and a sprinkling of Parmesan.

Bake for 50 minutes covered, then another 15 minutes uncovered. Remove CAREFULLY from oven, and allow to cool for 15 minutes if you can help yourself so that it can set and thicken up, and not burn out every last one of your taste buds when you take the first bite, effectively ruining your entire nights work. I knew better 🙂

Serve with buttered bread if you want, and a glass of red or white wine, we had it with a nice mellow red, and skipped the bread. Alternately, you can double the ricotta mixture, and sub that for the spinach cream sauce layer, and pour the warm spinach garlic nutmeg cream sauce over each piece when you serve it, which was my plan, but G couldn’t find me more ricotta at the store on his way home, so I had to improvise. Still, it was phenomenal, and so worth the time and effort.

2013-01-27 22.23.40Melt in your mouth Veggie Lasagna

Now, I’m a psycho, and am constantly asking G to “rate my food”. It works something like this; on a scale of 1-10, with 1 being edible but only just, and 10 being marriage proposal material… rate this dish. It’s a sickness, I know, but I can’t help it, so don’t judge me. I usually average out around a 7-8 which drives me crazy and keeps me up at night wondering how I can improve on my recipes. It’s worst when I put hours of effort into something and bomb out because I was trying too hard or not paying attention and over corrected or just lost the plot. Think Asian style noodles with chicken and veg but WAY too much soy, garlic, ginger, marin. Ugh. Kitchen horror show. Anyway. I am happy to report that this recipe got me a 10. My second ever. Guess which was the first?… last weeks’ Jalapeno Poppers! I’m sensing a trend here…

🙂 🙂 🙂

Homemade Jalapeno Poppers, The Last Bastion of The “Restaurants Do it Better” Misconception

Best Superbowl Appetizer

I remember the first time I ever had a Jalapeno popper. I was 16, cutting study-hall (read: we don’t know what to do with you kids so sit here and do your homework) so that I could hang out with the seniors down the street at what was one of the best deli’s in West Hampton Beach. I had never heard of such a thing before, and that first bite revealing the creamy melty interior was otherworldly. I could see the layers of orange cheddar, white cream cheese, and green jalapeno, and was just blown away by how well it all worked together. It was hot and cheesy, with just a mild spice and the perfect creamy crunch. I was in love.

Game Day Jalapeno Poppers

I have always craved brilliantly conceived and executed appetizers because they were delicious, (think Fridays’ stuffed potato skins, Friendlys’ Mozzarella sticks, and Outback Steakhouses’ 3 cheese fries with that insane dipping sauce…) but even more so because it just didn’t seem like the kind of thing people could do at home. No one I knew had a deep fryer yet, (this was in the 90’s before the food culture revolution when the only place you could buy such a thing was on the late night TV insomniacs shopping channels) so it just seemed like a non-starter. A moo point.

moo pointThank You Joey Tribbiani.

Later on, these things started becoming available to the mainstream, and I’m going to upset a lot of food supply marketing people when I say this… you don’t even need one. All you do need is a medium sized pot at least 4 inches deep and some frying oil, vegetable works just fine. You can even go out and buy a frying thermometer, which I recommend if you are going to be making doughnuts or other temperature sensitive fried foods, but really, all you need to know is this. Get your oil hot enough so that after you put the food in, it rises to the surface after about 30 seconds. If it sinks and stays down, the oil is too cold. If it never sinks, the oil is too hot. That’s it, that’s all you need to know. You see, easy.

I had been dreaming about these little monsters for ages, and literally couldn’t remember the last time I had a good popper other than that first time, when I started going off about them to my husband. He was unconvinced of their goodness and you just can’t find anyone out here who has even heard of them, so I promptly went online to see if it was possible to do at home. Guess what?!@! IT IS! I found this recipe at blogchef.net and modified it because the crust didn’t seem substantial enough, but you are free to try it his way. I also made a bigger batch since we bought too many Jalapenos and also, we just can’t ever get enough of a good thing.

hot peppers!

Ingredients: (serves 4-8 depending how many everyone wants)

  • A big bag of Jalapenos, we used about 7-10 that were each about 8-10 inches in length. I think it would be cool to use the smaller ones and much prettier, but this was what we had.
  • 16 oz plain cream cheese
  • A nice big block of either good quality shredded sharp yellow or white cheddar (I recommend Cabot), or shredded manchego cheese, which was what I used since I can’t get the former here. Anywhere from 1 cup to 1 and 1/2 cups should be enough.
  • A large container of seasoned bread crumbs, working with about a cup at a time.
  • Plain white flour (at least 1-2 cups, working with about a cup at a time).
  • Whole Milk (2% or 3% is also fine (at least 1-2 cups) working with about a cup at a time.
  • Salt and pepper to taste.

Kitchen Tools:

  • A large metal slotted spoon for removing poppers from oil
  • Paper towels
  • 2 pairs of Latex gloves for working with!!! Those oils can BURN your face and eyes… but that story for another time (remind me to tell you sometime about the great chili fiasco of 08′).

safe hands1

Method: (prep time 45 minutes)

  • Wearing latex or rubber gloves, use a knife to carefully slice off the stems, cut the Jalapenos in halves, and cut out the pith (white parts) and all the seeds.
  • Cut Jalapenos to the sizes you want, we experimented with longer ones, and more bite sized ones, as you will see in the photos. Both were great, depends on your personal preference.
  • Once that is all done, carefully discard gloves.
  • In a bowl, mix up cream cheese, salt, pepper, and 1 tablespoon milk if your cream cheese is too firm. Ours comes fresh from the dairy so it’s already very creamy and easy to mix. (Alternately, you can layer the melty cheese on top of the cream cheese stuffed peppers, you will see why this might be a better idea in a minute).

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  • Put on your second pair of gloves, and stuff peppers with cheese mixture. If you are layering on melty cheese, do that now as well.

2013-01-20 20.42.51As you can see, we mixed it all together, which made them explode a little in the oil, so next time I’m going to try it with the layering. I think its also better for the textural experience, I like to see those threads of melty cheese stretching on for days when I bite in to something cheesy.

  • This part is important, dip each popper in milk, then roll in flour, and let it REST for 10 minutes.

2013-01-20 20.52.00Fun Fact: That’s G’s hand doing the dirty work!

  • Now, you are going to set up 3 bowls, one with milk, one with flour, and one with breadcrumbs, and prepare a surface to lay the poppers while you are working.

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  • After they have sat for 10 minutes, dip each one again in milk, then roll in flour, then back in milk, then roll in breadcrumbs. It will get messy, but doing the flour twice gives it a real nice crunchy coating.

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  • Once you have breaded the very last one, it’s time to FRY!!!!!!
  • Pour oil into pot until it comes up about 2-3 inches from the bottom.
  • Heat oil over high flame until a toothpick tip held in the oil bubbles happily.
  • Now you can gently add your first popper to the oil. If it sinks and then comes up to the surface after about 30 seconds, you can add more poppers until there is no room left. I had to do 3 batches. 1 dinner plate full of poppers per batch, or about 10 poppers per batch.

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  • Fry each batch for 3 minutes, or until they are golden brown. Remove one at a time with a metal slotted spoon, and place directly onto paper towels to dry and crisp up.

See how they exploded a bit? I think that’s because the Manchego was mixed in, rather than layered on top of the cream cheese. But boy did they taste AMAZING!!!

  • Remove any stray bits from the oil, repeat temperature test, and fry the second batch. I use my digital oven timer and they come out perfect in 3 minutes and evenly cooked every time.

I promise, if you are faced with the option to do these yourself or buy the processed frozen ones, TRUST me, do it yourself. Homemade  is almost always better. I left a plateful uncooked to freeze so that I can wow my chef sister with them the next time she comes to visit, the great thing about these is you can do all the work one day, then freeze them until you are ready to serve for a dinner party or Superbowl Sunday, and then just fry them right up on the spot! YUM! They were delish, with a mild heat, that you only really noticed when they started to cool down, but by then, well, they were all gone. 🙂

*Update: My cheffy sister came to visit for the weekend and sample some of the recent goings on in our kitchen (saved in the freezer for her imminent arrival). This meant sampling Asian chicken dumplings with their insane garlic scallion sweet and spicy dipping sauce, chocolate cream cheese glazed cinnamon buns, my husbands first amazing attempt at a classic new york cheesecake with a cookie crust and a creamsicle twist, herbed squash on toast with ricotta and onion marmalade, and of course, our beautiful Jalapeno poppers experiment. The poppers went into the oil frozen this time, and by 3 minutes the outsides were a gorgeous brown, but the insides were still a bit cold, so I would recommend frying for a full 5 minutes with the timer set. We just popped them into the toaster oven to finish warming the insides, on the highest heat for about 5 minutes, which did the job splendidly. Make sure that the oil is HOT when they go in, and resist the temptation to remove them until they bob up to the top and have been floating on the surface for about a minute. Salt generously when they come out of the fryer, (5 or 6 shakes over the whole thing) and serve. Watch out. they are hot inside!!! I went to bed with the smell of cheesy jalapeno in the air and dreamed of poppers dancing, dipping and swirling through the ether.

Popperjoy

Asian Chicken Dumplings

DSCN8042

I think that, like me, most people have an unusually deep and abiding love for foods that are bite sized. This could mean a few little bites if you are dainty and delicate like my fashion designer sister, or eaten whole, “Homer Simpson” style  if you are like my husband and just want to get it in there already. kungfupanda2_clipdumplingwarrior_sml

I fall somewhere in between so can luckily maintain some small shred of decorum assuming I’m not eating because I’m unhappy because I eat. Eating should make us happy, and bring us to places we have never been before, and these wonderful little guys really do that for me.

The really cool thing about them is that you can get the whole family in on the action, and trust me you are going to want to because these things take teamwork.  That isn’t to say that you can’t make them on your own, but honestly, if you grind the meat, make the sauce, and make the dough all by yourself, why should you share? I should warn you now that these dumplings are so good that I have been held at chopstick-point over the last one. The good news is, this recipe makes so many of these little guys that it wont even come to that. That is if there’s only 2 of you. Otherwise, good luck.

war

Ya see? 🙂 6 each, and fight to the death over the last one.

Just kidding, the recipe actually makes 36 so you can serve 6 people, but this is a good way to fake out the family. We were cooking for two people, so we actually ended up freezing almost half of these for next time, which is awesome, because you don’t want to have to put in this much effort every single time you want a dumpling… am I right? I find that 7 just about makes a meal for me, with G leaning more towards the 10-12 mark. I’d say they keep in the freezer for up to 3 months if you pack them properly, between sheets of baking paper, evenly spaced, and over a thick dusting of flour.

Now, I like to steam mine, and G got me this fantastic steamer from my favorite store in Jerusalem. If you don’t have a steamer, you can pan sear then boil them, or fry them, as you like, there is almost no wrong way to cook a dumpling.  My advice, if you plan to do this as often as we do, get a steamer. It’s really worth it.

Traditionally these little guys are made with pork, but I make them with chicken and they are really quite wonderful. You should use ground chicken from the store, but I’m super forgetful and always just buy the breasts so I had to chop my own meat the last few times I made these. Talk about a labor of LOVE. I don’t suggest you do the same, unless you have someone who will really appreciate the effort when all is said and done.

So here they are; I wish you luck my fellow food warriors, I hope you enjoy these as much as we do 🙂

dumplings2

Ingredients: for 4-6 servings

For Filling: (modified from “Asian”, 2003 Barnes and Noble books)

  • 1 1/4 pound ground chicken breast
  • 2 cups chopped cabbage, bok choy, or bean sprouts
  • 1/4 cup chopped scallions
  • 1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh ginger (don’t go overboard)
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 teaspoon light brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons light soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons sesame oil

For Dough: (makes 36 dumplings)

  • 2 1/4 cups plain flour
  • 1 cup slightly warm water (1/3 cup boiling water + 2/3 cup room temperature water)
  • 1 teaspoon vegetable oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

For Dipping Sauce:

  • 1/4 cup soy sauce
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1 tablespoon sesame oil
  • 1 tablespoon sweet chili sauce (or hot chili sauce and 1 teaspoon light brown sugar)
  • 1 large chopped garlic clove
  • 4 chopped scallions
  • 1 teaspoon chopped fresh ginger
  • 1 teaspoon rice wine vinegar or mirin

Method:

1) Make dough: I got the dough recipe here.  Add salt and oil to the warm water. Stir till the salt has dissolved completely. In a deep bowl, pour in plain flour. Add the warm water mixture slowly and stir. Add a little water at a time so that you can judge how wet or dry the dough is. Stop when it looks slightly sticky. Just continue stirring (or using your hands when it gets too sticky) till the dough comes together in a large, clumpy ball. As long as most of the dough clumps together, it’s time to stop. Don’t worry that it looks lumpy and dry. Seal the bowl with cling wrap and allow to relax for about 10 – 15 minutes.

(You can mix together the filling ingredients now, just blanch the bok choy in boiling water for 10 seconds and drain before adding to the rest)

2) Now, start kneading. You will notice that the dough no longer looks as lumpy and dry. As you knead, it will become elastic and shiny. If you find that it’s too dry, add a little more warm water; if it’s too wet, add a little more flour. Throw the dough onto your work surface in between kneads to improve the structure. Really slam it down, and enjoy the satisfying THWACK noise that it makes as you smack it silly.  Those of you who have made breads by hand will be familiar with this routine.

3) The dough is ready to be rolled into wrappers as soon as it is smooth and pliable.

making the wrappers

4) This is the tricky part. Pinch off 36 little dough balls, about the size of a Godiva truffle, no bigger. Make sure they are all even. Now, smoosh them down until they are about the size of a silver dollar. G did this part, then handed them off to me and I went around the edges flattening them out more. You want them to be thinner on the edges where the dough will all come together, and thicker in the middle where the filling will sit. Once the edges are all flattened out, have your assistant spoon  1 1/2 tablespoons into each wrapper as you hold it out like a square.

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Don’t let the filling touch the sides, if it gets wet it won’t stick to itself so you have to be really careful here. Have the person in the house with the most nimble fingers do this part.  Now carefully bring together 2 opposite diagonal corners and seal them, then bring together the other two. you should end up with a cute little ball/purse looking shape. if there are openings, pinch them shut and bring them up to the top with the other corners.

Breathe, wipe your brow, and repeat 35 more times, spacing them a few inches apart. 🙂 TEAMWORK!

dumplings spaced

It’s a really good idea to flour a piece of baking paper to lay them on while you work, otherwise they might stick to the surface and then they will rip when you pick them up.

Once they are all done, you can cook them, 14 at a time. I lined my steamer with cabbage leaves so that they wouldn’t stick…

2013-01-17 21.47.24Getting ready to steam their little butts off

you can also use lettuce but I like how the cabbage holds its form and doesn’t bleed flavor or color onto the dumplings. The steamer goes over a wok or pan of boiling water, like so:

steamer

Again, you can pan sear them for that lovely brown color for 2-3 minutes then boil or steam for 5-7 minutes, or just deep fry them, but I really like this method where you just steam them, and it’s a bit healthier. Steaming for 8-10 minutes is more than enough, make the dipping sauce while they cook, then its time to EAT!

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Herbed Butternut Squash with Onion Marmalade and Ricotta on Olive Oil Toast, and A Few Words About Staying Fit While Writing A Food Blog

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I am one of those people who just LOVES food. So you can imagine how stinky things get when I decide its time to go on a diet and start getting fit again. It doesn’t help that my husband (the sandwich king) also loves food and can eat whatever he wants in huge quantities without ever gaining an ounce. I love him, but seriously-not cool.

Don’t get me wrong. I love my body, as each and every one of you should love yours. Beautiful women come in all shapes and sizes. It’s just that winter brings with it a certain sense of couch surfing complacency and most of us don’t instinctively jump on the “lets get toned for summer” bandwagon until it’s WAY too late. By then, we just sort of give up and hide beneath a beach dress hoping that our skinny friends wont try to be “cute” and drag us into the sea, ocean, pool, or whatever. Thus, the soft body phenomenon perpetuates itself, year in and year out. Lets be honest, exercise takes WORK, and most of the time we just don’t feel like it.

Just trying to limit myself to small portions becomes a chore when I know I need to make twice the amount normal “healthy people” (read: skinny with motivation)  eat in an attempt to satiate my husbands’ appetite- and when it’s all pretty yummy, you try eating just a little bit.  Go on. I double dog dare you.

No? I thought so.

As I’m sure you will all agree, when we get to this place, we are literally ready to consider almost any method to get skinny quick. (Tapeworm, anyone???)

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I’m sure you’ve all been there, when you are single or dating and it’s just so easy to limit what you are eating because there is no one else to cook for; eating ramen noodles (GACK) out of a cup for a few meals a week and skipping others because it’s just not fun to cook while you are alone, let alone do the dishes afterwords (ack, dishes! my arch nemesis!!!!!!!)- the weight just seems to fly off. Oh how I miss those effortless skinny days.

So with all of this in mind and no taste for “fad diets” I finally broke down (read: manned up) and started using the treadmill that has been sitting sad and neglected in the corner gathering dust for the last few months. An hour and a half a day (walking fast, not running, I don’t run) really gets my blood flowing, burns a ton of calories, and as an added bonus, get me warm without having to spend a fortune on heating. SCORE. It’s slow going, but it’s healthy and sustainable. Also, with the advice of a dear friend, I started planning my meals ahead, having the same things each day for breakfast and lunch, and varying my snacks a bit, so that I can actually have a wonderful dinner with G where I eat what I want within reason and don’t feel like a hungry puppy trying not to drool as he cooks and consumes something simple while trying to fend for himself. He actually is a pretty good cook but just like I described before, when you are just cooking for yourself the motivation to WOW just flies out the window and hides under a bridge. With the trolls.

trolls

If you want the details, it’s pretty bland, but it’s working, and I appreciate dinner that much more, so here it is. Breakfast: SMALL bowl of oatmeal with cinnamon and a coffee or any green tea. I like Lemongrass with Ginger. Lunch: SMALL bowl of quinoa. Snacks: Two 12 Minute boiled egg-whites with pepper ( I give the yolks to the Dog and she adores me for it) and the occasional ginger snap cookie or two spread with ricotta or some other tasty thing. I use a small amount of salt and pepper in the oatmeal and quinoa and use coconut milk for half the water I would normally put in the quinoa, which makes it creamy and delicious. The idea is to eradicate most, but not all salt and fat because then I would just fail. Any veggies I can slip in there are also great, but this is a good basis that gives me protein and healthy carbs without feeling like I’m starving. Then comes DINNER when I can have any delicious thing I have been obsessing about, and take a smaller portion than I would if I just had it all in front of me and just kept eating. And eating.

This is actually easier if:

1) I make my own plate and don’t let him make it for me,

and

2) I consciously think about how much I want to consume over the next 30 minutes and STOP WHEN I’m FULL. Easier said than done right? Well, I’m learning.

Doing it this way, dinner always feels like a treat and I work harder to make it awesome because I know it’s where I’m going to get all of my happy food chemicals for the day. It’s interesting how much more seriously I take these meals knowing I will have to wait until the next night to try again if it doesn’t work out.

OK, reality check- I miss being slim but I LOVE being able to whip up and eat super yummies in the kitchen without too much fuss, which is why you will love this recipe from our dinner last night, for squash with onion marmalade on toast from chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten of ABC kitchen in Manhattan. I stumbled across it a week ago while surfing Mark Bittman’s NY Times dining section videos and spent 30 minutes or more trying not to lick my computer screen. The fact that I couldn’t find ricotta for weeks for a different recipe I’ve been wanting to try didn’t help much either, the stores kept selling out before I got there. I guess the early bird really does get the worm, er, cheese.

 

So here it is, with my variations. Sorry for the less than awesome shots, our lighting is all yellow and I haven’t figured out yet how to do that sexy food photography where everything comes out looking huge and amazing without looking flat or wet. Trust me that this was stellar despite my poor photography, and think of the photos more as visual aids than actual representations of this fantastic dish. If you need more convincing, use the video in the link above. 🙂

Herbed Butternut Squash with Onion Marmalade and Ricotta on Olive Oil Toast

Ingredients: (for 2 for dinner, or for 4 for appetizers)

1 ripe medium or large sized squash, peeled sliced, and de-seeded. I used butternut

butternut squash

but you can use others. Use a bigger squash if you want to make it for more people, I had leftover onion marmalade and cheese mixture, so this recipe can easily be expanded.

16oz good 9% fat ricotta cheese, fresh if possible. you may have leftovers, no tragedy there 🙂

A loaf of Really good fresh rustic bread, something towards the baguette or nutty sourdough flavors, NOT SWEET.

Olive oil

Chili Pepper flakes

1 very large onion

1 cup apple cider vinegar

1/2 cup pure maple syrup

Small handful fresh parsley

Pinch of *fresh thyme (my own addition)

Pinch of *fresh rosemary (my own addition)

Fresh mint for garnishing ( I didn’t have any, but I highly recommend using it)

Sea salt

Black pepper

*For those of you who don’t use fresh herbs that often (and why you wouldn’t is beyond me) and who don’t want to spend the money to buy a whole bunch of fresh herbs just for this one dish, There is an answer. I didn’t know this until last year, but herbs keep amazingly well in the freezer for ages, I’d say up to a year. This means that you can use what you need and save the rest, and just take a bit when you need it. So much better than using the dead dry stuff or buying a whole bunch of fresh and then throwing it out when it rots a week or two later in the fridge. Cool huh?

Method:

1) Preheat oven to 400-450F

2) Peel squash, de-seed, and slice into 1/4 inch slices. Arrange on a baking tray over baking paper for easy clean up. (Did I mention how much I HATE dishes)… Chop rosemary (ours grows outside and is HUGE, you may not have to) and sprinkle it, thyme, sea salt, pepper, and chili flakes over squash. Drizzle olive oil generously over the whole baking tray, and pop into preheated oven for 30 minutes.

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3) While squash is baking beautifully, slice onions into thin spears, and saute in olive oil, salt and pepper on medium high heat. Once they are browning, add 1 cup cider vinegar and 1/2 cup maple syrup to deglaze the pan. cook down until you have a sticky sauce and the onions are really soft, about 25-30 minutes. Add some water if you feel like the onions need more time and there isn’t enough liquid, but not too much. I’m sorry that I don’t have a photo of the onions alone, because they were really beautiful, but G had come home and was bouncing around the kitchen helping me prepare the cheese mixture and I just forgot. Make them and you will see for yourself 🙂 They will be a sort of brown sweet and sour caramelized delicious mixture that fills the whole house with a pungent and intoxicating heady aroma.

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4) When that is done, and if you didn’t have help, mix the ricotta with salt, pepper, and a small handful of chopped parsley. The squash should be done by now, so take it out of the oven and mash it up. It will smell heavenly.

See the bits of chili, rosemary, and thyme?! YUM!!!

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4) In a pan, pour out a bit of olive oil, heat the pan, and toast your crusty bread slices on both sides, or just one if you are impatient like we were to get it into our mouths already. WATCH them so they don’t burn! They should be golden brown, less dark than my photo below. This is where I got sad because I didn’t have any really amazing bread in the house so I first tried it with a challah roll, which I toasted a bit too much 😦 and was too sweet for this dish, and then I tried it with a nice sandwich baguette which turned out to be far superior. I’m still going to do it again when I get some real artisanal bread….FOOD ZEN. Spread the ricotta on the toast, then add some or all of the onions to the squash – You should have a ratio of (2:1) squash to onions. mix them up gently, and add a layer to the cheesy toast. See how nicely the onions swirl in with the squash? They should be just combined, not mixed completely, so that you get the different flavors and textures.

voila!

A little shake of salt and pepper to top it off, aaaand FRESS!!!!!!

Again, here it should be garnished with fresh chopped mint, and I highly recommend it, it would be a good contrast to the sweetness of the squash and the sweet and sour onions. SO effing GOOD. Sigh. Can’t wait until tonight!!! OK, I’m going to go slave away on the beloved/dreaded treadmill for a while before I eat my keyboard, quick word of advice, find some walking/running music with a good fast beat that you can match while speed walking, it really helps get your head into the right mindset.

The next day:

As a quick update, just wanted to let you all know how well the leftovers held up from the squash on toast extravaganza. If you have any, which you probably wont. No photo, so sorry, I hadn’t thought to include it in the blog, but it was too good not to!

Ingredients:

Tortillas

Ricotta with parsley, salt and pepper

Onion marmalade

Spinach, fresh or frozen

Parmesan

Melty cheese

1 egg per tortilla

Preheat toaster oven. 350-400 (low broil)

I wanted to do something with spinach so I defrosted a bit of frozen spinach, squeezed all the water out, and added salt and pepper. Then I took the leftover ricotta mix and slathered some over a couple of uncooked tortillas, about 2 tablespoons more or less per tortilla. I dotted the cheese with spinach, not much, about the same as the cheese, maybe less. Then I took a forkful of the onion marmalade (see recipe above) and spread that across the spinach and cheese.

Next I shredded a tiny bit of best ever Parmesan, (see the importance of being cheesy blog post) not much, and a bit more melty cheese, you can use mozzarella or cheddar, I used something local called tal haemek. Lastly, I fried up a couple of perfect over easy fried eggs with whites set but the yolks still runny, this was essential. Be careful not to break the yolks.  Place them over the rest and wrap them up GENTLY.

I arranged them on foil over the rack from the toaster oven, and then popped it in for about 4-5 minutes. Set a timer so they don’t burn! They will come out hot and crispy, and all delicious inside from the runny egg yolk and the warm cheeses, and have that delicious sweet and sour bite from the onions. Slice on  an angle, serve immediately alone or with salad, and drink a beer with your dinner and all will be well 🙂

The Importance of Being Cheesy

basherjerusalem
Photo from http://www.Basher.co.il

Do you ever feel like you want more from the cheeses in your life-but then you look at the absolutely sprawling selection in the grocery store and just feel intimidated? I used to feel that way back in the states, when I almost always just gave up and went for a nice sharp cheddar.

I mean hey. Cheddar is reliable, he’s a safe bet, he’s easy to find, and the most you have to invest into the thinking process is mild or sharp? (sharp, always sharp).

After moving to Israel I had a different problem. There was practically no cheddar anywhere, and when I did find it, it was an expensive slab of waxy food misery that had me weeping into my pillow for the sharp Vermont cheddars of yore. Fast forward through a year or two of feeling sorry for myself (there are basically one or two dairy mass producers in the whole country and they are all for the most part flavorless and BORING wastes of calories) to the day I found *Basher, Fromagerie Fantastique! in Jerusalem’s famous Machaneh Yehuda market where, as you can see, I was in for a very different kind of ride…

basher4Photo from http://www.Basher.co.il

Not only do they know more than you can imagine about the cheeses featured here, they offer you tastings left and right until you literally have tried 5-15 cheeses you have never had before. I could never leave the store without spending $50.00 – $100.00 or so, but Oh My God was it worth it! I learned more about cheese than I had ever thought I could know, tasting real creamy Parmesans, mustard seed studded Goudas, black truffle sandwiched between truffle infused layers of Camemberts? (I think it was), huge rolls of goat cheeses, creamy aromatic sheep’s milk cheeses that literally melt in your mouth…

SexiestCheese

I’m salivating like a wolf so I’ll stop here, but the list goes on. and on. and on. Oh, and for my old and uninitiated self, they had a crumbly white cheddar veined with salty crystals seen in a massive block in the top photo that will literally make you want to forget you ever ate anything else that ever carried the name. A happy girl was I.

About a year and a half ago we moved up north, away from the cheese mecca that is Basher, and this as I’m sure you can all imagine, made me very sad indeed.

I randomly saw Eli Basher (owner featured in the photo at the top) at a conference for prospective small business owners last week, and was able to hear how he got things going 15 years ago when the entire country knew locally made Kashkavalo (meh) as the most exotic cheese around. Sadly I didn’t have time to swing by the shop that day. Lucky for me my husband was down state this week and brought home some long lusted after PRESENTS!!!!!!!!!!!!
Presents!!!

And opened 3.2 seconds later…

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What you see here is the best Parmesan you ever had, (eva eva), the aforementioned white cheddar of lore, and of course, my personal favorite. The Lou Perac is a creamy sheeps milk cheese (not for the faint hearted) that is so yummy and smooth, spicy, salty, and sharp in all the right ways, that if you handed me some slathered on a hunk of crusty baguette with a glass of a good semi-dry chilled white wine, there is little in the world that I wouldn’t do for you. Seriously. My advice? Next time you are faced with a wall of cheeses and absolutely no guidance whatsoever, be bold, and try a new cheese. It just might change your life. 🙂

Also on the menu for the weekend was a visit from my sweet sister the chef, who brought joy and happiness in her own way, in the form of Italian organic wild blueberry jam (my favorite ever since I moved to a place where a 1/4 pound of berries costs more than a gallon of gas) and the biggest bottle of real vanilla extract that I have seen in AGES and that dwarfed the now almost empty one in my fridge that she brought me last time. It’s freaking impossible to find the real deal, like no one up here ever considered that buying the fake stuff might seem like an affront to our very being. Well, it is.

WildBlueBerryVanillaMonster

Soon after she arrived, we celebrated with a Parmesan and sauteed onion herbed omelet with sour cream and buttered toast with blueberry jam, and suddenly, almost all at once, everything was right in the universe. Even my plate was happy, talk about heavy subliminal messages! 🙂

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*Quick note, these are all things I love, none of the companies you see above paid to be here, I just want to share some really great stuff with you guys.

Baked Manchego Mac and Cheese With Parsley, Mustard, Nutmeg, and Red Pepper Flakes… OMG!

manchego

So Yeah. You might say that I was having a hard day when I decided to make this deeeeeeelicios dish. All depends on your perspective really. It became a much better day when I realized I had some Manchego in the fridge that was just begging to be eaten. After looking around a bit I found this Manchego Mac and Cheese for a February Storm at citylifeeats.com which was inspired by Kim O Donnel’s recipe here. Since G had never had baked mac and cheese before and certainly never with Manchego cheese, I thought it was about damned time I did something about that. I mostly followed the recipe except for a few things. 1) I just HAD to add a huge handful of fresh chopped vibrant green parsley to the mix right before baking, I think it takes any pasta dish to the next “super special” bonus level. 2) I doubled her recipe… but I’ll just post what I did below, and you can see the other changes for yourself.

Ingredients ( I made about 6 servings, which in my house is more like 3)

1/2 a bag of twisty “spirali” pasta, but you can use whatever you like. I really love those little mini shells, but didn’t have any so, oh well.

4 tablespoons unsalted butter, plus a little extra for greasing the pyrex.

4 tablespoons all-purpose flour

1 1/2 cups milk

1 1/2 cups cream (not whipping, the one you use for pasta cream sauces 15% fat for us)

2 teaspoons of a good thick french Dijon mustard (you can go heavy here, trust me)

2 teaspoons salt

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

1/2 teaspoon grated nutmeg

1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes

2 cups grated Manchego cheese

1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese

1 big handful fresh chopped parsley

Method

Preheat oven to 350F. Grease the sides of a glass or ceramic baking dish with butter. Cook pasta in salted boiling water until almost cooked through, about 5 minutes. Drain pasta and transfer to buttered dish.

In a medium saucepan, add butter and allow to melt over low-medium heat. Add flour, and with a wooden spoon, stir quickly to combine and form a roux. Continue to stir, and cook for about 1 minute, making sure flour lumps disappear. Roux will be a golden yellow color.

Add milk, mustard, salt, pepper, nutmeg and red pepper flakes and stir to combine. Cook on medium-low heat, stirring regularly to make sure milk does not scald, until mixture is thickened. The mixture is ready when a streak on the back of your wooden spoon is prominent. Add cheese and stir or whisk constantly until mixture is smooth and free of lumps.

Pour cheese sauce over pasta to cover evenly. Place dish in oven and bake for about 30 minutes, until cheese begins to bubble. Remove from oven and allow to cool slightly. Makes about 3-4 big or 5-6 normal sized lightly spicy superbly flavorful servings. He loved the mild heat of the dish, and ate 2 huge helpings before I reminded him that it wasn’t going anywhere. Heart attack, here we come. I’d serve it with something green on the side if you are having guilty feelings about all the dairy involved. (But really, it wasn’t terribly unhealthy and was a wonderful way to beat the stuffing out of an otherwise crankypants kind of day).