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Posts from the ‘recipes’ Category

pizza night

Sundays are a downer.  If Friday is anticipation, and Saturday, fulfillment, Sunday is…inertia.  The shadow of Monday looms over Sunday and makes the entire day a bit melancholy.  So in my house, Sunday is the perfect day of the week to turn into a standing pizza night.

No matter what day of the week it may be, I like the idea of having a regular pizza night.  Rituals are calming, and I appreciate that having one night devoted to pizza gives me one less dinner to have to get creative about.  Also, homemade pizza can be pretty healthy, as it tends to be lighter on cheese and heavier on fresh ingredients.  Best of all, kids enjoy making pizza, so you get a time-killing activity on top of the actual dinner.  Divide the dough into mini-pizzas, so each kid can customize their pizza to their exact specifications.  If a booger should fall into the cheese, so be it–you’re not going to be the one eating it.

photo by suzanne hallerman

Pizza night is perfect for low-key entertaining.  Just pick up enough dough for everyone, mine your fridge and pantry for toppings, and open a bottle of wine.  Your guests can bring a salad or dessert, and you’re set.

If you’ve tried pizza at home and were underwhelmed, a few tips.  Get that oven preheated early, and make it screaming hot (425-450 degrees, depending on the oven).  Make sure your dough has a chance to rest outside the fridge, for 20 minutes, to get it pliant and workable.  Don’t overload your pizza with too many toppings, or it will get water-logged.  And break out that Silpat you thought was only good for cookies.  My pizza was sometimes prone to burning on the outside and under-cooking on the inside, until my friend Suzanne suggested I stretch my dough on my Silpat mat.  The crust turned out golden brown, crisp, and amazing.

One last tip: I like to get the kids’ pizzas in the oven first.  The grownups can chat and assemble their pizzas while the kids are eating theirs.  Then the kids can play or watch a movie while the adults socialize over wine and their pies.  Doing the pizzas in batches also alleviates any oven space issues.

Below, my recipe for my favorite grown-up pizza.

finn's a sauce guy...his buddy alonzo digs on cheese

Pizza With Clams, Red Onion, and Arugula

One large disc of fresh pizza dough (store bought or homemade)

4-6 oz. fresh mozzarella, sliced 1/4 inch thick

1/2 red onion, sliced into thin rings

3 6.5 oz. cans chopped (not minced) clams (I prefer Snow’s), drained

4 cups arugula (loosely packed)

6-8 cloves garlic, minced

crushed red pepper

kosher salt and black pepper, to taste

olive oil

1. If your dough is refrigerated, pull it out of the fridge 20 minutes before you’re ready to start.

2. Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

3. Sprinkle some cornmeal or flour on your pizza pan, cookie sheet, or jelly roll pan, and stretch your dough evenly on it.  I use a 13 X 17 jelly roll pan with a Silpat mat.  If you are using a Silpat, you can skip the flour or cornmeal, because the pizza will slide right off the Silpat after baking.

4. Drizzle olive oil over the dough, and spread it with your hands until the dough is evenly coated, but without pools of olive oil.  Start with a tablespoon and go from there.

5. Sprinkle the minced garlic evenly over the dough.

6. Evenly distribute the mozzarella on the pizza.  Don’t place the cheese too close to the edge, as it will spread quite a bit.

7. Spread the red onion evenly over the pizza, and then the clams.

8. Sprinkle pizza liberally with crushed red pepper and black pepper, according to your preference.  Sprinkle with some kosher salt.

9. Bake somewhere in the top half of the oven.  Start checking it at about 12 minutes.  The baking time will vary depending on the oven.  You’ll know it’s done when the cheese is melted, bubbly, and beginning to brown.  The crust should be golden brown, as in the picture below.

10. While the pizza is baking, toss the arugula with a bit of olive oil, salt, and pepper–just enough to moisten the leaves.

11. When the pizza is done baking, pull out of the oven, and spread the arugula over the pizza.

12. Slice into wedges or rectangles, and serve with additional crushed red pepper alongside!  Pizza will serve 3-4, depending on appetite.

*Notes: Stores these days sell some great fresh pizza dough (I especially like Trader Joe’s), but if you have a bread machine, try using it to make your own.  Homemade dough is beautiful stuff–stretchy, yeasty, and pillowy.  I like Beth Hensperger’s recipes for cornmeal pizza dough and whole wheat pizza dough (shown above) in “The Bread Lover’s Bread Machine Cookbook.”  If you’re making the dough by hand, you can Google any number of recipes.

If, like Rush Limbaugh and my husband, you don’t like arugula, try a cup of chopped flat leaf parsley instead.  You can cook the parsley right on the pizza, or sprinkle it on when you pull the pizza out, if you want to keep that vibrant green color.  

super crunch

I grew up taught that teachers are to be revered, and heavily gifted at appropriate times during the year.  My kids, however, go to a Montessori school where students are highly encouraged to make, not buy, any holiday gifts for the teachers.  I appreciate the idea that making their own gift teaches my kids both self-sufficiency and the satisfaction that comes from making something with your own hands, your own eyes, and your own heart.

That said, it goes against the very fiber of my being to believe that anyone would actually desire goods made by the nasty hands of a five or two year old.  My kids came out of my body and it’s still hard for me to eat something that has come from one of their hands.  Finn has had the same stamp on the back of his left hand (faintly visible in photo below) for approximately 9 days, which indicates both the relative infrequency and lack of vigor of his hand-washing.  As for Tate, if you ask him where his nose is, he will demonstrate, by pushing the index and middle fingers of his right hand up both nostrils.  I don’t know where he learned that, but it has proven powerfully difficult to un-learn him.

What to gift, that you can make with the kids in your life, and that others might actually enjoy receiving as a gift?  Granola.  Everyone loves granola.  Even if you don’t love granola, chances are you’ll still eat a bowl or two if it’s put in front of you.  People regularly eat bad granola, and hardly seem to notice.  But I’ve been making my own for a few months now, and the difference between homemade and store-bought–even the fancy organic type–is truly eye-opening.  You can tweak granola to suit your own preferences; for example, my friend Monica has a killer recipe for raw granola.  The best part is, granola is truly easy and fun to make with children.  There’s a lot of scooping and mixing, and if you throw in too much of an ingredient or too little, no one’s going to notice.

The recipe below is based on Ina Garten’s recipe from the first Barefoot Contessa cookbook.  After at least a dozen batches, I think I’ve come up with a pretty addictive mix.  Certainly good enough to gift, or so I’ve been promised by friends who have asked for seconds.  I’ve adjusted the proportions and added candied ginger, because my husband loves a gingery granola.  I hope you’ll use this as a starting point to come up with your own favorite mix.  And I’d love to hear about your favorite granola ingredients.

Granola with Candied Ginger

Adapted from The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook


4 cups rolled oats

2 cups sweetened, shredded coconut

2 cups slivered almonds

1 cup dried cranberries (or dried blueberries, or dried sour cherries, chopped)

2 cups dried apricots, chopped or slivered

1 cup candied ginger, chopped

1 cup roasted pumpkin seeds

1/2 cup vegetable oil

1/3-1/2 cup honey

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Set rack in middle of oven.

2. Toss the oats, coconut, almonds, and pumpkin seeds together in a large bowl.

3. Whisk together the oil and honey in separate bowl.  Pour mixture over the oat mixture and stir with wooden spoon to coat evenly.

4. Spread onto 13 x 18 inch baking pan with shallow lip (like a jelly roll pan or cookie sheet with sides).

5. Bake for approximately 30 minutes, checking at the following intervals, to stir occasionally and check browning: 10 minutes, 10 minutes, 6 minutes, 4 minutes.

6. Remove the granola from the oven when golden brown, and allow to cool, stirring occasionally.

7. Add the remaining ingredients, combine so ingredients are distributed evenly.

8. Store the cooled granola in an airtight container.

*Notes: this is generally a low-maintenance recipe.  The only high-maintenance part is the baking, because granola browns very quickly, especially towards the end.  Ina Garten’s original recipe called for 45 minutes of baking, but in my oven, 28 minutes is about perfect.  The original recipe also calls for more oil, but I think it’s unnecessary, and will make the granola brown even faster.  If you are not a fan of ginger, this recipe is still scrumptious without.  For gifting, I put granola in canning jars and finish with ribbon and a fun gift tag, like these from Jigsaw Graphics

chicken soup for lazy people

sorry, not even the lazy can avoid the mirepoix

It’s November.  It’s cold.  Chances are, you or someone in your family has hand, foot, and mouth disease.  Times like these call for chicken soup.

I’m not a big soup person.  I grew up on yummy Korean soups made by my mom or dad, but Koreans generally eat their soup alongside their main meal, or with a bowl of rice and lots of banchan (side dishes).  Thus, the concept of soup as a meal is totally foreign to me, and smells a lot like deprivation.  Whenever I try soup for dinner, it usually backfires, and I end up inhaling two half-frozen Hot Pockets and four squares of baking chocolate at 9:30 PM.

But when it’s cold, and I’m sick, I do predictably get a craving for homemade chicken soup.  The problem is, when it’s cold and I’m sick, the last thing I want to do is make a bouquet garni and boil a chicken for two hours to make stock.  I want the payoff without the hassle.  The recipe below perfectly suits these requirements.  It starts with a pre-cooked rotisserie chicken, and ends with a couple handfuls of fresh dill and parsley, because I love the vibrant green and I like my fresh herbs in non-ornamental quantities.  The rotisserie chicken is the cheat here–it gives you some of that “I cooked this for hours, now how about a back rub” depth of flavor, without the actual labor.

The recipe is also easy to modify to suit your preferences.  Don’t like noodles?  Leave ’em out.  Prefer a less predictable chicken soup?  Throw in a parsnip in lieu of a carrot, or a knob of fresh ginger.  If you want a creamy chicken soup, finish the whole thing by swirling in a cup of whole milk or cashew cream.  Or stick with the basic recipe and improve your chances that your kids might actually eat some too.  By that, I do not mean to suggest that my kids will eat this, because they are ungrateful wretches, and won’t.

The best part of the recipe is that you might already have most of the ingredients in your kitchen.  I love it when recipes say that, in reference to ingredients that only reside in your pantry if you are, say, Thomas Keller.  Like pine nuts.  If you have pine nuts in your pantry, you probably also haven’t made it this far in my post, because you are busy chasing down the chicken in your backyard or tying a love knot on that bouquet garni.  For the rest of us, be assured that besides the rotisserie bird, you probably either have these ingredients, or can get them on the way home from work, for relatively cheap.

Rotisserie Chicken Noodle Soup

2 T olive oil

1 pre-cooked rotisserie chicken, torn into large shreds, skin and bones removed

3 medium carrots, diced

1 large onion, or 2 medium, diced

4 stalks celery, diced

8 cups chicken broth or stock

1-2 cups dried egg noodles

1 cup fresh chopped dill, flat-leaf parsley, or combination

Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

1. Heat a large soup pot, casserole, or dutch oven over medium-high heat.  Saute the carrots, onion, and celery in the olive oil until reasonably soft, about 5-7 minutes.

2. Add broth, bring to a boil.  Reduce heat and simmer for 15 minutes.

3. Add noodles and chicken, cook for another 5-7 minutes, or until noodles are cooked to your liking.

4. Taste, and add salt and pepper to your liking.

5. Take off heat, stir in the herbs.  Enjoy!

Notes:  This is a very forgiving recipe.  I realize my ingredient quantities are not very specific, but I’ve made this with whatever I have on hand, and it works, so don’t sweat it if you are a carrot short.  For the chicken, depending on your affinity for dark meat and your bone-picking abilities, you should yield anywhere from 2-4 cups of chicken.  I like plenty of chicken in my soup, but if you don’t, reserve what you don’t use for any number of uses.  For the broth, I prefer Swanson Natural Goodness chicken broth, which has less sodium.  I have tried many organic brands and don’t like them, because, ironically, they taste too much like chicken.  If you have leftovers, you may need to top them off with a little more broth or water when reheating, because the noodles will suck up broth in the fridge.  Enjoy!

sweet thing

When I crave sweets, I don’t crave the inconsequential stuff.  I envy people who are satisfied by fat-free licorice, or God forbid, fruit.  No, when my sweet tooth starts throbbing, it throbs for layer cakes with moist crumb and stiff icing, half-baked brownies, and my friend April’s decadent shortbread.  Mostly, though, I crave Russian teacakes.

You might know the cookie by some other name–Mexican wedding cookies, or perhaps, snowballs.  My Chez Panisse Desserts cookbook calls them walnut drops.  Whatever you call it, it’s a simple cookie to get together, requiring little more than flour, powdered sugar, ground walnuts, and a Paula Deen-worthy quantity of butter.

Since I became a mom, I’ve justified baking sweets by incorporating whole grains into recipes.  I’ve dutifully reduced the sugar in my cookies and quickbreads and mixed in flaxseed and wheat germ arbitrarily where it seemed to make sense, but as any baker knows, even a small tweak of this type can result in disaster.  Then, recently, deliverance: I found the King Arthur Flour Whole Grain Baking cookbook, and now my whole grain baking is making all sorts of sense.

The Russian teacakes shown here have no white flour in them.  Instead, they are made with butter, walnuts, oats, and barley flour, plus a little lemon zest to balance the richness of the nuts.  Barley flour is higher in protein and fiber than regular flour, and contains very little gluten.  It has a mild, nutty taste that works beautifully in baked goods.  Even better for moms and dads, most of the sugar in this cookie is in the coating, which you can easily adjust to your liking.  The recipe below produces a cookie that is dense, crumbly, lemony, and perfect with a cup of peppermint tea.

In short, crave-worthy.

Russian Teacakes

Recipe adapted from the King Arthur Flour Whole Grain Baking Cookbook

1 1/3 cups rolled oats

1 cup whole barley flour

2/3 cup chopped walnuts

10 T unsalted butter

1/2 cup confectioners’ (or powdered) sugar

1/2 t salt

1 T vanilla extract

1 t almond extract

Grated zest of 1 lemon

1 cup confectioners’ (or powdered) sugar for coating

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.  Line two baking sheets with parchment, or use them without, ungreased.  Grind oats, barley flour, and walnuts in a food processor for 30 seconds, or until finely ground.

Beat the softened butter, sugar, and salt in a medium bowl until smooth.  You can do this by hand.  Beat in the extracts and the zest, then the oat mixture.  Roll the dough quickly in your hands into teaspoon-size balls.  Place on the cookie sheets, leaving about 1.5 inches space between cookies.

Bake the cookies for 15 minutes.  They will only have begun to brown on the bottoms.  While the cookies are baking, place the cup of sugar in a plastic bag (a clean used plastic bag is fine for this).  Allow cookies to cool for 5 minutes, then toss in batches in the bag of sugar to coat.  Cool completely on wire rack.

Yield: 40 cookies

Note: the King Arthur cookbook suggests tossing the cookies in the sugar a second time, once cooled, for an all-white appearance.  I find that the one coat of sugar is the perfect amount of sweetness for me, but if you want a cookie that is sweeter and looks like a white snowball (or if you need a pure white cookie for a holiday cookie tray), toss away!