Posts made in April, 2013

Caramelized Onion, Apple, Gorgonzola Pizza

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I love making pizza. Summer is my favorite time to make it, when the tomatoes and herbs are fresh, but that doesn’t stop me from making it during the cold months, too. This was, by far, my favorite pizza that I made this past winter. Warning: it’s not your typical pizza.

Begin by caramelizing onions. This is a slow process that takes time. Heat olive oil over medium low heat and slowly sauté one large yellow onion, sliced (for a small pizza) or two large yellow onions, sliced (for a large pizza or multiple pizzas). You don’t want the onions to brown, so keep the heat low. After about 45 minutes to an hour, they should be soft and have a nice caramel color.

Meanwhile, roast some garlic. To do this, break off the cloves (the entire head) but keep the peels on. Place the cloves in foil, drizzle with oil, and fold the foil over the garlic to form a sack. Stick it in a 375 degree oven for at least 30 minutes. Keep checking them, because the time will vary depending on how big the cloves are. Once they’re nice and soft, remove the peels and place the garlic in a food processor and pulse while adding some olive oil. Add just enough olive oil so that you can easily spread the garlic “sauce” over the dough.

Turn the oven up to 475 degrees.

Once the onions are done, it’s time to build the pizza. The layers:

  • Spread the roasted garlic/olive oil mixture over the dough. 
  • Top with the caramelized onions.
  • Next add sliced apples. I used Gold Rush, for they are in abundance in Ohio during the winter. Any winter apple will do.
  • Top with small chunks of gorgonzola cheese. Remember that it’s a strong cheese and that when it melts, it spreads, so you really don’t need that much.
  • Drizzle the top with balsamic vinegar. I used a special Vanilla Fig Balsamic Vinegar that I had one hand. If you can find it, use it!

Put the pizza in the oven, turn the heat down to 460 degrees and bake for about 10-12 minutes (or however long it takes for the dough to brown).

Enjoy!

 

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Rethinking Your Pantry

In order to live a whole foods based lifestyle, you need to rethink your pantry. That means throwing away all of the addictive processed food and replacing it with ingredients that you can use to create meals. Let me phrase that another way. A meal shouldn’t come in a box or a can but rather a meal should be produced, in part, from things found in your pantry. And any thing in your pantry that you can sit down and eat mindlessly in front of the TV (chips, cookies, etc) needs to go.

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So what’s in my pantry? (Excuse the horrible glare in the above photo. And no, I’m not showing the entire pantry. It is my family’s pantry, so it’s a bit more crowded than most.) I buy bulk grains and beans whenever possible and store them in jars.   Here’s a list of ingredients I try to always have on hand.

  1. Rice. Rice can go a long way and create a variety of meals. It is a staple food in most cultures. I prefer long grain brown rice for general use, but also often have arborio rice on hand for risottos and sometime even wild rice or basmati for variety. 
  2. Dried Beans. I prefer the taste and texture of dried vs canned beans. Plus with dried beans, I don’t have to worry about how long the beans have been sitting in a potentially toxic can. Dried beans are simple to cook but do take planning ahead. My favorite: Great Northern beans, black beans, kidney beans, chickpeas and lentils.
  3. Canned Beans. I know I just said I prefer dried beans, but I think every pantry should also have at least one can of beans on hand at all times for last minute week day meals or sick days. Just be sure to buy a BPA free can that is also low in sodium.
  4. Whole Grains. In addition to rice, I always have oats on hand (and extra in my freezer). Also good to have on hand: faro, barley, cornmeal, couscous, bulgar wheat.
  5. Pasta. I’m part Italian, so of course I always have pasta on hand. I recommend always having at least one short pasta and one long pasta. I prefer whole wheat for most things, but also often have a good old fashioned white pasta on hand. Eggs noodles (especially Amish) are nice during the winter, as well.
  6. Boxed Stock. I’d much rather use homemade stock than boxed and always try to have some homemade in the refrigerator or freezer, but this doesn’t always happen. Boxed stock comes in handy for last minute meals and sick days. Just make sure to buy a low sodium brand that has good ingredients.
  7. Canned Tomatoes. This is one of the only canned products I always have on hand (except for during peak tomato season). If you have canned tomatoes, you can make pasta sauces, add it to soups and stews, or use it in rice dishes. Just beware: because tomatoes are so acidic, it is very important to buy BPA free canned tomatoes. I also recommend organic.
  8. Tomato Paste. You can’t make a good marina sauce without it. Plus it’s nice to add to soups and stews.
  9. Kosher and Sea Salt. Always have extra on hand, because there’s nothing worse than the moment when you go to add salt to your pasta water and realize you’re out.
  10. General Baking Ingredients. Baking powder. Baking soda. Flours. Sugars.
  11. Nuts and Dried Fruit. Use it to make trail mix and granola/energy bars. Add it to salads. Nuts are also wonderful in pestos. Just don’t snack on large amounts.
  12. Dark Chocolate. This is a personal one, but I’m sure there are others out there who crave the occasional chocolate. Whenever I’m craving chocolate, one square of dark chocolate (around 70%) is all I need to satisfy the craving. Though I prefer the taste of milk chocolate, since it’s sweeter, it makes me crave more and eat more. Dark chocolate also has those wonderful antioxidants that are lost in milk chocolate.

Of course there are other things that I sometimes have on hand, such as tortilla chips for salsa and guacamole or crackers for hummus, but for things such as this, I follow two general rules. 1) They must be made of pure, simple ingredients and 2) If it’s the type of thing that makes you want to sit down and eat an entire bag/box in one sitting, don’t buy it.

Other useful things:

  1. Coconut milk
  2. Curry paste
  3. Extra soy sauce
  4. Popcorn kernels (Not the microwave kind. That has toxins in it.)

 

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Homemade Asian Pork Dumplings

Finally, nearly a week later and after working several days, I have time to post about my first adventure making homemade dumplings.

Though I’ve been making Asian dumplings for several years now, I had always just used packaged wonton wrappers. They were thin but otherwise fine. This time, however, I decided to take the next step and make my own dough. I can’t believe I waited so long to do it, for it was surprisingly easy and the dumplings tasted so much better. Unlike the thin store bought wrappers, this dough made a slightly chewy and light dumpling. The only downside is that it takes time. One batch of dough made about 15-17 dumplings. To feed my family, I had to make 3 batches. Of course, I made two kinds of dumplings. Pork (which I will share here) and vegetarian and served both as the main, and only, course. If you were serving them as an appetizer or side, one batch, I suppose could be enough (though I challenge anyone to make these and not eat more than just a few dumplings. It’s not possible).

A fair warning before I begin: I have not yet perfected the art of making dumplings. I needed a lot of help from other blogs and cookbooks. I will describe what I did and include the blog and cookbook that helped me the most. It is my goal to perfect the art of Asian dumplings, so expect more blog posts throughout the year.

The Pork Filling

I first learned how to make dumplings, several years ago, from following Tyler Florence’s method in his cookbook Real Kitchen. I have since then adapted his recipe and developed my own method, which I’ve done with both ground pork and ground chicken. I still often refer back to his original recipe, though, for inspiration.

Begin by placing the following ingredients in a food processor:

1/4 pound of shiitake mushrooms, roughly chopped and stems removed

5 green onions, chopped

2 cloves of garlic, chopped

1/2 tablespoon of ginger, grated with a microplane (eyeball it)

a large handful of fresh cilantro

Process all of the above ingredients until they are finely chopped.

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In a large bowl, place:

1 pound of ground pork (I used pork from Oink Moo Cluck.)

Add the above ingredients, along with:

1 egg white

2 teaspoons of cornstarch

1 tablespoon of tamari or other good quality soy sauce

2 teaspoons of dry sherry

a pinch of salt and a few grinds of pepper

Using your hands, work all of the ingredients into the pork. Don’t over work the pork. Mix just enough for all of the ingredients to be incorporated. Set aside

The Dough

The instructions below are for one batch of dough. The pork recipe above would require two batches. I recommend making each batch one at a time, for a double batch would be hard to work with.

Begin by putting 2 cups of flour in a food processor. While you pulse the flour, add 1/2 – 3/4 cup of boiling water. (The original recipe I used called for 1/2 cup, but I found that I needed more water). Keep pulsing until the water is incorporated. The flour should be moist enough to form a ball when you press it together. If it is too dry, add more boiling water. Once the flour is moist enough, dump the flour onto the counter, knead it for a couple minutes, and form it into a ball. Keep it under a damp cloth until ready to use.

To Form the Dumplings

This next part I still need to perfect. It’s difficult to describe, and I recommend checking out this blog to see step by step photos on how to cut and fold the dumplings: http://userealbutter.com/2007/10/04/chinese-dumplings-and-potstickers-recipe/ 

Here is my attempt to describe the process. Perhaps in future posts, once I master the art, I will provide step by step photos as well.

Sprinkle flour on the counter. Cut the dough into four slices. Roll each slice into a cylinder and then cut the cylinder into discs about 1 inch thick. The size of each disc determines how large the dumpling will be. My boyfriend and I had to try several different sizes until we got it right. Flatten each disc with your fingers and palm of your hand or a rolling pin to form the dumpling skin. Fill each skin with some of the pork mixture. Allow 1/2 inch margin around the pork. To fold, bring two opposing ends of the dough together (like a taco). Fold one side of the dough towards the center and then pinch it with the other side of dough to form a pleat. Repeat this folding and pinching motion until one half of the dumpling is sealed and has pleats. Repeat with the other side of the dumpling.

Make sense? No, probably not, but I will explain more in future posts. For now, some photos:

(Don’t make the mistake I made in the below photo! Flour the counter before you put the dough down.)

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My boyfriend was particularly proud of the pleats on this one. I was impressed:

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How to Cook the Dumplings

My boyfriend and I tried two methods. Some we pan fried and some we steamed. Though the steamed dumplings were good, we both loved the texture and crunch of the seared dumplings. I will explain both methods.

To Steam:

Place the dumplings in a bamboo steamer lined with cabbage leaves. Fill a large pot or wok with just enough water to cover the bottom inch of the steamer. Bring the water to a boil and place the steamer in the water. Let the dumplings steam for about 6-7 minutes.

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To Pan Fry:

Place a couple of tablespoons of vegetable or safflower oil in a large flat bottomed pan over medium high heat. Once hot, add the dumplings. Sear until the bottoms began to turn brown. Then add 1/2 cup of water. Brace yourself and have a lid ready. The oil will splatter, so be sure to quickly place the lid on the pan as soon as you add the water. Let the dumplings steam until all of the water has cooked down. To serve, place the dumplings on a plate and then place another plate, upside down, on top of the dumplings. Flip the plates so that the dumplings are seared side up. Enjoy. Savor and serve with your favorite Asian dipping sauces (and try not to eat them all at once!).

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The Joy of Cooking by Irma S. Rombauer

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This classic cookbook has been in my family for years. Though my family has a couple copies, this particular one (which I believe is a 1940s edition) belonged to my grandmother and is falling apart and missing the back cover, yet it is still the edition we all use the most. This is one of those cookbooks that you simply must refer to when making any sort of old-fashioned recipe. I’ve used it for many different things, but I religiously refer to it every single year for two recipes: apple sauce in the fall and yorkshire pudding on Christmas Eve. It is a must-have for any serious cook.

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Pasta with Cauliflower and Mascarpone Cheese

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This is my go-to pasta when I want something creamy, but I don’t want a heavy cream sauce. It’s versatile and can be done with numerous pasta shapes (I usually use whole wheat) and many different types of veggies. There are two things that make this pasta special: 1) mascarpone cheese and 2) pasta water. Yes, pasta water. You know, the leftover water after you cook your pasta. Most people dump this. Don’t! It’s salty and starchy and helps your sauce adhere to the pasta.

The method:

Heat olive oil in a large saute pan over medium heat. Add 1/2 an onion, finely chopped.

Next add 4 small carrots, chopped and half a head of cauliflower, chopped. (Mix it up. Use whichever veggies you have on hand!)

Season with salt and pepper.

Add 2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped or grated.

In the meantime, cook the pasta according to the package. Keep it al dante. Don’t dump the pasta water when the pasta is done!

Once the veggies are tender, remove the pan from the heat and add one small container of mascarpone cheese and one small ladle of the hot pasta water.  Stir until the mascarpone has melted down.

Add about 1/2 cup of parmesan cheese.

Add the cooked pasta and stir to combine. Add more pasta water if necessary.

Transfer it to a large pasta bowl, top with fresh parsley, a little more parmesan cheese, and enjoy!

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