Rustica.

I’m going to make this one short and sweet, unlike the recipe below, but I’m all about irony and opposites, so who cares.

I’m going to guess that this is going to be my last post for a while. We are headed to Greece (GREECE!!!!!) on Saturday, and you best believe, I won’t be bloggin’ over there. Plus, I swear I haven’t cooked much of anything lately, and I had to dig into a rough draft of this recipe from like, I dunno, a couple of months ago, to have something to share with you today.

Don’t get me wrong – I’ve made some stuff – but typically it’s a piece of toasted bread, a fried egg, some cheese, and a couple of slices of avocado (you don’t need a recipe and pictures for that, right?!) or maybe a throw-together version of the best thing in my life food-wise, chilaquiles.

We even went to Portland the other week, and camping/backpacking again (first time since the Lost Coast!) this past weekend, and I could probably share some pictures with you, but I didn’t take that many.

Man, I’m slack.

But if I had a little time on my hands, a little snippet of a morning where I could plan a little, I’d totally make this pie again. If I had any veggies in my fridge, it would totally be the way to use them all up, but I doubt a bunch of celery would be all that good by itself…

I’m hoping you do have a little more time at home this week to make this, because I promise it’s totally worth a little bit of preparation. When I made this thing ages ago (or at least it seems like ages), I made the dough the day before, and when it came time to roll that stuff out and stuff the pie, I added every little piece of veggie that I had left into that thing. Lots of cheese, too. It was marvelous, and we ate it for three days straight, which might be boring to some of you, but to me, it was just delightful each and every time.

And with that, adio! I promise to take pictures in Greece, and maybe make some baklava again, or in the least, something with a good Greek olive oil ;).

Pizza Rustica
adapted from Cooking Light, April 2012; serves 8

time commitment:  2 hours, 30 minutes (about 1 hour active time, includes refrigeration of dough and baking time)

printable version

ingredients
crust
7 3/4 oz all-purpose flour (about 1 3/4 cups), divided
1/2 t salt
1/2 t baking powder
1/3 c extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 c water

torta
2 medium red bell peppers
2 T extra-virgin olive oil, divided
1 lb kale, trimmed and thinly sliced
2 T chopped shallots
2 t minced garlic
2 (8-ounce) packages cremini mushrooms, sliced
8 oz part-skim ricotta cheese
2 oz fontina cheese, shredded (about 1/2 cup)
1 oz Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, grated (about 1/4 cup)
1 T chopped fresh thyme
1/2 t kosher salt
1/4 t freshly ground black pepper
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 large egg white
Cooking spray
1 T fat-free milk

instructions
To prepare crust, weigh or lightly spoon 7.25 ounces flour (about 1 2/3 cups) into dry measuring cups; level with a knife. Combine 7.25 ounces flour, 1/2 t salt, and baking powder in a food processor; pulse 2 times to combine. Combine 1/3 cup olive oil and 1/4 cup water in a small bowl. With processor on, slowly add oil mixture through food chute, and process just until dough begins to form a ball (dough will be crumbly). Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Knead 3 minutes; add enough of the remaining 2 tablespoons flour to prevent dough from sticking to hands. Divide dough into 2 equal portions. Press each portion into a 5-inch circle on plastic wrap. Cover with additional plastic wrap. Chill at least 30 minutes.
To prepare torta, preheat broiler to high. Cut bell peppers in half lengthwise; discard seeds and membranes. Place pepper halves, skin sides up, on a foil-lined baking sheet; flatten with hand. Broil 10 minutes or until blackened. Place in a ziploc bag and seal. Let stand 10 minutes. Peel and coarsely chop.
Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add 1 tablespoon oil; swirl to coat. Add kale to pan; cook 1 minute or until greens begin to wilt. Place kale and bell peppers in a large bowl. Return pan to medium heat. Add remaining 1 tablespoon oil to pan; swirl to coat. Add shallots and garlic to pan; cook for 1 minute. Add mushrooms; cook 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Place mushroom mixture and kale mixture in a fine sieve; let drain 5 minutes. Place vegetable mixture in a large bowl. Add ricotta and next 7 ingredients (through egg white) to vegetable mixture, stirring to combine.
Preheat oven to 375 F.
Slightly overlap 2 sheets of plastic wrap on a slightly damp surface. Unwrap one dough portion, and place on plastic wrap. Cover dough with 2 additional sheets of overlapping plastic wrap. Roll dough, still covered, into an 11-inch circle. Place the dough in freezer for 5 minutes or until plastic wrap can be easily removed. Remove top sheets of plastic wrap; fit dough, plastic wrap side up, into a 9-inch pie plate coated with cooking spray. Remove remaining plastic wrap. Spoon vegetable mixture into prepared pie plate.
Repeat with remaining dough and then place over vegetable mixture. Remove remaining plastic wrap. Press the edges of dough together. Fold edges under, and flute. Brush top of dough with milk. Cut several slits in top of dough to allow steam to escape.
Bake at 375° for 45 minutes or until crust is golden brown. Cool 30 minutes. Cut into 8 wedges.

Born on a Bayou

It isn’t too terribly often (or ever) that Chris gets so excited about something  in the kitchen that he whips out his iPhone, snaps a quick photo, and Facebooks it. But when he does, I know it’s going to be an extra-special meal.

These are the meals that can’t go long without a mention here, for fear that I’m leaving you out of something really awesome. I’d feel really bad if I did, you see.

My somewhat long commute has led me to develop a cooking tradition, of sorts. Weeknights are now reserved for meals that take less than 1 hour to make, from start to finish. I used to tackle arduous meals on any day, be it Friday with a nice glass of wine at my side, or Tuesday with silence in the house, other than the sounds of my knife tapping the board, piles of vegetables slain and piled high as mountains, and an oven heating up to 350.

Things are different now. Driving 2 hours each day is enough to make you ten times more tired when you get home, no matter how stressful or boring your actual day in the office was. I have to fit in exercise too, (who am I kidding; this is once-a-week endeavor at best right now) writing here, and last but certainly not least, finishing the last season of Castle on Netflix.

This leaves the weekends for the hefty meals, the labors of love, the ones your gramma used to make every day like it was her job. Probably because it was her job, at least it was in my family. This is one of those meals: two hours from start to finish, and every minute is well worth it. And one more thing: the cost of groceries is, too.

This here, my friends, is a gigantic pot of goodness that will feed your whole block, or building, or the two of you for at least a week. And that’s the beauty – all that time is a bargain, when you sit right down and do the calculations. Check it out: 2 hours of work + 10 servings of the most amazing jambalaya on the west coast = 12 minutes per serving. If you roll like I do, and choose to use this dish for another dinner and a couple of lunches, you’ve also cut some kitchen time outta the work week too, which some would consider a bonus.

Now let me tell you about this slice of heaven before you. For starters, there is so much meat in this recipe that you won’t be able to take a bite without it, even if you tried. It is so spicy, in a good way, that you want to pack your bags, hop on a plane, and fly straight to New Orleans to eat everything Creole in sight because you just can’t get enough. It’s more than plenty to feed a crowd, if you want to share, but the leftovers heat perfectly, and I can attest to that wholeheartedly, as evidenced by the bowl I just emptied 4 nights later.

And probably (probably) most importantly – it will make you the most wonderful mammal in your house for at least a couple of hours afterwards. That is, until you start nagging about the dishes…

Chicken & Sausage Jambalaya
Adapted from Bon Appetit, March 2011; serves at least 10

time commitment: 2 hours, half of which is active

printable version

ingredients
12 oz applewood-smoked bacon, diced
1 1/2 lbs linguiça (or other smoked, cooked sausage), halved lengthwise, cut crosswise into 1/2-inch-thick semi-circles
1 lb andouille sausages, quartered lengthwise, cut crosswise into 1/2-inch cubes
1/2 lb smoked ham, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1 1/2 lbs onions, chopped (4 to 5 cups)
2 large celery stalks, chopped
1 red bell pepper, coarsely chopped
1 green bell pepper, coarsely chopped
1 lb skinless boneless chicken thighs, cut into 1- to 1 1/2-inch pieces
2 T paprika
1 T chopped fresh thyme
1 1/2 T chili powder
1/2 t cayenne pepper
1 28-oz can fire-roasted diced tomaties
1 small can diced green chiles
2 1/2 c beef broth
3 c (19 to 20 ounces) Basmati rice, uncooked
8 green onions, chopped (about 2 cups)
salt and pepper
Chopped fresh Italian parsley

instructions
Position rack in bottom third of oven and preheat to 350 F. Cook bacon in very large pot over medium-high heat until brown but not yet crisp, stirring often, 8 to 10 minutes. Add smoked sausage, andouille, and ham. Sauté until meats start to brown in spots, about 10 minutes. Add onions, celery, and bell peppers. Cook until vegetables begin to soften, stirring occasionally, 10 to 12 minutes. Mix in chicken. Cook until outside of chicken turns white, stirring often, 5 to 6 minutes. Mix in paprika, thyme, chili powder, and 1/4 teaspoon cayenne. Cook 1 minute. Add diced tomatoes, chiles, and broth; stir to blend well. Add more cayenne, if desired. Mix in rice.

Bring jambalaya to boil. Cover pot. Place in oven and bake until rice is tender and liquids are absorbed, 45 minutes. Uncover pot. Mix chopped green onions into jambalaya and season with salt and pepper to taste; sprinkle jambalaya with chopped parsley and serve.

No Expiration

I am really bad about making phone calls, and living 2 and 3 hours away from most of our friends and all of our family doesn’t help. I blame my career – talking to patients and co-workers all day results in me being less likely to pick up the phone and dial up a friend just to chat.

That said, I appreciate that most of my friends are just like me in that respect. Because of that mutual bad (or good, depending on how you look at it) habit, we also tend to have plenty to catch up on when we do chat, and there’s no blaming one another for not calling sooner. It’s sort of awesome.

Cheryl is definitely one of my favorite friends of all time. She’s the one with the boat and the ex-boyfriend who just happened to be Indian (who made killer chai mixes), and the one with the current boyfriend with the camera, who also just happens to be awesome. Cheryl’s a person who I know, without a doubt, will always keep up her end of the deal, which is why we’ll be together at Thanksgiving for years and years to come and I know we’ll always keep in touch, even if we only talk to each other every few months.

We had the chance to catch up last week, and as is usually the case, we had quite a bit to talk about.

For starters, she has a fancy new job. It seems as if we’re all moving around these days, and while she’ll continue to live in Minnesota, she gets to shake it up a bit with some new surroundings. It’s very exciting, and I can’t wait to hear more once she gets settled in a little bit. I also can’t wait to hear how she’s faring with dressing like an adult, since she’s had it easy in her low-key lab set-up, right Cheryl?!

Secondly, she and Luke are making wine! How awesome is that?! It seems that homebrews are all the rage these days, and we never seem to land in a city that allows us to have things like basements and storage space, so we never get around to doing such things. The good part is that we get to partake in others’ brews, so we’re hoping that come Thanksgiving, there are a few bottles of wine coming our way :).

Finally, we had a random conversation about moving, and about accumulating loads of, well, crap. Generally, moving is a good excuse to rid yourselves of all of that crap, but this time we didn’t do the packing, so we didn’t do as much ‘cleaning’ as we would have liked. That said, we had a few boxes with questionable material inside. One box was full of bags, since I used to save practically every handled bag I got from shopping; clearly I did not need to store such things. Another box was extra-creepy: it seemed to be full of a smelly powdery substance that looked like pollen; perhaps something disintegrated over the course of two months? Who knows! Anyway, it was interesting nonetheless.

Most of my pantry items came through the move with flying colors, some that maybe should have been inspected with a bit more precision than others, though. But as it turns out, it was all for good. I drove home the other day (exactly one day after Cheryl and I had this random coversation about weird items found when moving), excited to make this Mexican casserole, a dish that would feed us for days – days! I got home, started pulling out my ingredients, and I realized I was missing two items: enchilada sauce AND canned green chiles. In a desperate move to avoid having to call Chris yet again with an on-the-way-home-from-your-already-long-commute-grocery-list, I panned the pantry frantically. Lo and behold, both, yes both, items were there. The only “issue” was the expiration date, a “best by 1/2009” stamp slapped across the bottom of both of them led me to hesitate for a few minutes a split second. I forged ahead, and things turned out just fine. So sometimes, all those weird, extra items come in handy – and as I found out, some things never seem to expire!

Mexican Chicken Casserole
adapted from Cooking Light, January 2011; serves 8

time commitment: 1 hour, 15 minutes (45 minutes active)

a couple of quick notes on this recipe: I’m not convinced that making my own roasted tomato salsa added much to the recipe. Not that it’s hard to make, but if you’d like to keep the food processor on the shelf and shave off a little time, you could probably get away with skipping the salsa part and buying a jar of roasted tomato salsa. i left it in the recipe so you can decide for yourself. also, the chicken. I figure most of us don’t have shredded chicken sitting in the fridge, so I added this step into the time commitment above. i bought a pre-cooked rotisserie chicken and shredded it the night before. my shredded chicken was about 5 cups, so you can save the remaining 2 cups for a mexican chicken salad or panzanella salad, or whatever else you fancy.

printable version

ingredients
Salsa
8 plum tomatoes, halved and seeded
3 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
1 small onion, peeled and chopped
1 jalapeño pepper, quartered
olive oil
1/3 c chopped fresh cilantro
3 T fresh lime juice
1/8 t black pepper

Casserole
3 c cooked chicken breasts &/or thighs
1 c chopped onion
1 c fresh or frozen corn kernels
1 c diced zucchini
1 c chopped red bell pepper
1 T minced garlic
2 t chili powder
1 t ground cumin
1 (10-ounce) can enchilada sauce
1 (4-ounce) can chopped green chiles
12 (6-inch) corn tortillas
1 c (4 ounces) shredded Monterey Jack cheese
1 c (4 ounces) crumbled cotija or feta cheese

instructions
Preheat broiler.

To prepare salsa, combine first 4 ingredients on a baking sheet and drizzle with olive oil. Broil 20 minutes or until charred, stirring once. Remove from oven; cool slightly. Place tomato mixture in a food processor; add cilantro, lime juice, and pepper. Process until smooth. Set aside.

Preheat oven to 350 F. Shred chicken meat and measure out three cups.

To prepare casserole, heat a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Lightly coat pan with cooking spray. Add onion, corn, zucchini, and bell pepper; sauté 6 minutes or until tender. Add chicken and next 5 ingredients (through green chiles); sauté 2 minutes or until thoroughly heated. Remove from heat.

Spread 1/2 cup salsa over the bottom of a 13 x 9-inch baking dish. Arrange half of tortillas over salsa (they will obviously overlap quite a bit). Spoon 2 cups chicken mixture evenly over tortillas. Top with 3/4 cup salsa. Sprinkle with 1/2 cup of each cheese. Repeat layers, starting with remaining tortillas and ending with remaining cheeses. Bake at 350 for 25 minutes until bubbly.

Love is…

… belting out the words to “I’ll be there for you” at the Bon Jovi concert, and meanwhile your Hubs is pretending your butt is a 6-string guitar.

… texting at 1 am because you “let him loose” for one night, and he’s managed to misplace his keys, his overnight bag, and possibly his dignity, and for some reason he thinks you can help him when you’re a 3-hour drive away.

… buying clothes at Anthropologie without being asked how much you spent. In other words, understanding that every now and then a girl has to have a cute top. Or three.

… knowing our wedding picture is still on his desk at work, even if it hides behind Star Wars figurines or a Geddy Lee bobblehead.

… giving me a high-five when the guy beside me at the Gaslight Anthem concert gives me a free beer. Score!

… keeping secrets together, but not from one another.

… cooking together, even if it means you have to wash most of the dishes.

… letting him taste your BBQ sauce to make sure it’s just right.

… sometimes really simple, and really easy. And sometimes it’s a little bit tricky.

But when the result of your teamwork is one of the best steaks you’ve ever eaten, it is priceless.

Porterhouse Steak w/ Fra Diavolo BBQ Sauce & Pepper-Tomato Salad
Adapted from Bobby Flay via Food Network.com; serves 4

as is typical, Hubs always goes to Bobby Flay, Tyler Florence, or his Grill Book when he’s donning an apron. Fra diavolo is a tomato-based sauce generally spiced with chili peppers, and it adds a wonderful flavor to a grilled steak. we only grilled one steak, but kept the sauce & salad amounts the same. the sauce freezes nicely (and will be great on burgers, I’m sure), and we used the rest of the salad later in the week, with snap peas.

printable version

ingredients
3 T evoo
1 Spanish onion, medium dice
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 T red pepper flakes
1 28-oz can diced tomatoes, with juice
2 T tomato paste
1 c brown sugar
1 T blackstrap molasses
2 T honey
1 T chopped fresh oregano leaves
2 T chopped fresh parsley leaves
2 T chopped fresh basil leaves
salt and pepper
2 grass-fed porterhouse steaks, about 1 1/2-inches thick

Pepper-Tomato Salad
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
salt and pepper
1/4 cup evoo
1 10-oz jar of spicy calabrian peppers in oil (Isola brand)
1 red bell pepper
1 pint cherry tomatoes, sliced in 1/2
1/4 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley

instructions
BBQ sauce
Heat oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add onions and cook until soft, about 4 to 5 minutes. Add garlic and red pepper flakes and cook for 1 minute. Add remaining ingredients (through basil), reduce heat to medium-low and cook until thickened, about 35 to 40 minutes. Run an immersion blender through the sauce for a bit to blend ingredients together.

Pepper-Tomato salad
Meanwhile, make pepper-tomato salad. Whisk together vinegar, garlic and a pinch of salt and pepper in a medium bowl. Slowly whisk in the olive oil. Add the peppers, tomatoes and parsley and stir to combine. Adjust seasoning and let sit 30 minutes at room temperature before serving.

Heat grill to high. Season steaks on both sides with salt and pepper. Grill, on 1 side, until crusty and slightly charred, about 4 to 5 minutes. Turn steaks over, close the hood and continue grilling for 6 to 8 minutes for medium-rare doneness. Baste with the sauce during the last few minutes. Remove from the grill and brush with more of the sauce. Let meat rest for 5 minutes, then each steak in two (or into slices) and top with the salad.

An Uncanny Hankering

I am a big fan of the burger. One of the very first eateries we encountered here in Chicago was a lovely bar, right around the corner from where I now work, called O’Neil’s (sadly, it’s gone now and replaced by a lame clothing store).  They had big, fat, juicy burgers, great fries, and of course, the much-needed brewsky to wash it all down. The outdoor seating, fairly new to us Southern transplants, was icing on the cake, so to speak.

Midway through grad school, a few of us discovered the Chili’s build your own burger special (how we found it is beyond me, as we certainly weren’t watching a lot of TV those days), and many dinners (and of course, brewskys) were consumed there – my “southwestern-style” burger and Cheryl’s  mushroom/swiss burger – the cessation of that special was more hurtful than having my fingernails yanked out. Well, close, at least. Very close.

While I do love a good burger, I certainly don’t eat them nearly as much as I used to, but now that M Burger is open on the north side of my building, I smell those damn burgers all the time – there isn’t much better than the smell of a grill, especially on a warm summer day, of which we’ve had quite a few lately. And while their standard burgers are extra-tasty, simple, and eerily reminiscent of McDonalds’ burgers (but much, much better, and fresher, and if possible to use this word in the same paragraph as burger, likely healthier), their vegetarian burger is out of this world. Sans patty, the filling is simply a large, thick, juicy beefsteak tomato, finished off with the basics and M Burger’s ‘special sauce’, which again, is probably a riff off the Golden Arches burger.

It’s safe to say that, during this month of vegetarianism, I have wanted nothing more than a juicy, all-beef burger. With bacon. Why, I’ve caught myself drooling at least twice in the middle of restaurants, the juice from the burgers dripping all over the diner’s hands, running down their arms. I wanted to bathe in it. But I used what class I have, which isn’t too much, and I continued to munch on my wheat berries, washing them down vigorously with a hefty glass of Malbec.

So unfortunately, we’re still not in the clear here (4 days left!), and for the time being, I’m going to give props to this black bean burger recipe I snagged from The Kitchen Sink. It’s the second black bean burger I’ve made this month (yes, I was trying desperately to satisfy a burger craving, and failing miserably), but only the first one I’ve liked. It’s loaded with enough fixin’s to make you forget, momentarily, that there’s no meat. Does it replace a ‘real’ burger? H, E, double hockey sticks, NO.

But it’ll work for this week….and in June, I’m going here and here. And for lunch Tuesday, you can bet your bottom dollar I’m heading straight to M Burger.

Black Bean Burgers
Adapted from The Kitchen Sink, who adapted from Gourmet; serves 4

ingredients
2 (14-ounce) cans organic black beans, rinsed and drained, divided
3 T 2% Greek yogurt
1/3 c plain dry bread crumbs
1 T g flax seeds (optional)
1 t g cumin
1 t dried oregano
1/2 t cayenne pepper
1/2 t chipotle chili powder
1/4 t kosher salt
1/4 c cilantro, chopped
juice of 1 lime
3 T canola oil
4 whole-wheat hamburger buns

Fixin’s: sliced avocado, spinach, red bell pepper slices, goat cheese, red onion

instructions
Pulse 1 can beans in a food processor with yogurt, bread crumbs, cumin, oregano, cayenne, chipotle chili powder, and salt until a mixture is coarsely chopped (will look light greyish and pasty). Transfer to a bowl and stir in cilantro and remaining can beans.  Add juice of lime (if mixture comes together well, use less than one lime; my lime was small).  Form mixture into 4 patties.

Preheat oven to 300 F. While burgers are cooking, slightly toast buns (optional).

Heat canola oil in a large skillet over med-hi until it shimmers. Cook burgers until outsides are crisp and lightly browned, turning once, about 5 minutes total. Serve on buns, along with the fixin’s.

Wild Things

My loving, darling husband has a stupid-crazy-job these days. He works harder than anyone I know (certainly harder than me), and he’s in school two nights a week to get yet another degree so he can work even harder (but hopefully bring in more cash for that B&B he’s gonna buy for me in Napa one day…). I miss him a whole bunch, and those nights we get to watch TV together are extra special lately since there’s not an abundance of them.

This week, we ate veggie pizza together and watched a movie. It was nice.

We watched Where the Wild Things Are, a movie I’ve been wanting to sit through for a while now. It’s relatively short, in movie terms, and perfect for a weeknight. It made me a little weepy, but those movies are the best – the ones that touch you, make you think, and make you relish the good moments. It makes you remember how hard growing up can be, and how in our adult lives we take so many things for granted. I think that little guy took things for granted too, and eventually realized he had to “go home”. His friend, who I assume was an alternative version of him, experiences a similar realization, and the unity at the end of the film was really something. Like I said, weep-worthy.

It didn’t hurt that I got to hear the voice of Sopranos star (the best series ever) James Gandolfini throughout, and it made me chuckle to myself every time I pictured him in strip clubs, NJ gangster-style but then saw him on screen as a frumpy, troubled creature trying to find his way in the world while throwing sticks and pouting cliffside.

For dinner, I made pizza. Veggie pizza. Grilled veggie pizza. Grilled veggie pizza with ramp pesto. That’s more like it, right? You see, I’ve been waiting patiently for ramps since I first used them last year. Wild things in their own right, they are so pungent, so fragrant that, even a year later, I still remember the taste of ramps in the way that I remember the taste of my gramma’s lemon pound cake – it’s always there, though the frequency of consuming it isn’t, and that’s a sad fact.

I whipped up a batch of pesto with my first supply of ramps (ask Jennifer about my excitement when I saw them in the store; I think I embarrassed her), and used some of it to toss with some potatoes earlier in the week. I used a little more on this here pizza, and thank goodness, there’s still plenty left and with that, I made this egg omelet sandwich and still have more. You’d think it was regenerating or something, but it’s not; I’m just really making it last. Plus, ramps aren’t something you need to eat in large amounts, unless you’re hoping the resulting bad breath might keep your landlord or your in-laws, or perhaps even your spouse, away. I don’t have a landlord, I love my in-laws, and as for my spouse, I like to keep him as close by as possible.

Of course, that’s another story when he tries to steal my pizza. Which he did. Try, that is; I tend to have ninja-like reflexes when it comes to my food. Steal it from me, and you’re liable to wind up with a black eye, or maybe a missing finger if my fancy Japanese knife is nearby. Just don’t try it, for your sake and mine. I try to stay out of jail these days.

Although, with pizza that tastes as good as this one, a black eye or missing digit might be worth it. Just maybe.

Got any fancy pizza plans coming up? Share your favorites with us – don’t be shy :).

Grilled Veggie Pizza with Ramp Pesto
Loosely adapted from Cooking Light; serves 4

yes, there are multiple steps in this pizza-making process. but let me tell you a few things: it’s all easy, and three of the four “components” can be made in advance, and in large quantities. the pesto? you just read all the things I’ve done with it already. you can also freeze it in little ice cube trays for later. the pizza sauce? you can buy it, or make a batch that’ll last through 3-4 pizzas. the dough? double the recipe and freeze one for next time – I should have, because I have another pizza recipe up my sleeve for ‘vegetarian month’. once these are made, the pizza comes together in 30 minutes – perfect weeknight fare!

printable version

ingredients
pesto
2 small bunches of ramps, leaves separated from stems/bulbs
1 c grated Parmesan cheese (or other hard cheese)
1/3 c Marcona almonds (or other nut)
1/2 c walnut oil (or sunflower or olive oil)
salt and pepper

pizza dough
2 to 2 1/2 c all purpose flour
1 c warm water, divided
1 packet of active, dry yeast
2 T evoo
1 t sugar
3/4 t salt
cornmeal, for dusting the bottom

pizza sauce
1 T evoo
3 T minced garlic
28-oz can of organic diced tomatoes
1 t fresh cracked pepper
1/2 t salt
1/2-1 t Italian seasoning or other dried spice (parsley, oregano, basil)

pizza toppings
1 baby zucchini, quartered
1 baby eggplant, quartered
1 red bell pepper, quartered
salt and pepper
1 c fontina cheese, shredded

instructions
make pesto.
heat olive oil in large saute pan over med-hi heat. chop ramp bulbs and stems and saute in pan for about 5 minutes to soften. add sauteed ramps, raw ramp leaves, cheese, almonds and a pinch of salt and pepper to food processor and blend. through the top with processor running, slowly drizzle in 1/2 c of oil. will make 1 1/4 cups of pesto. adjust seasoning and sit aside. [can refrigerate or freeze.]

make pizza dough.
Combine water & yeast; let sit for about 5 minutes. By hand or w/ stand mixer (dough hook attachment), combine flour, sugar, salt. Add yeast mixture and oil. Mix until sticky ball forms. Transfer to floured counter and knead until smooth (will probably add more flour as you go because the counter gets sticky and the dough is sticky; add by tablespoons). Total kneading time is 1-2 minutes (you can also do this in the mixer). Put in large bowl that is oiled or sprayed and turn down over to cover with oil/spray. Cover w/ plastic and let rise in warm place (I preheat oven to lowest possible temp, like 100, and then open door to let heat out before putting in; best is about 80 degrees) for an hour, or until about doubled in size. Take dough out, back on floured surface and deflate dough. Roll out to desired shape and dust one side with cornmeal. [alternatively, you can refrigerate dough overnight to let flavor develop. then take out 1 hour before using to let come to room temp, punch down dough, and roll out onto floured surface.]

pizza sauce.
heat olive oil in saucepan over medium heat. add garlic and saute for 1-2 minutes. add tomatoes and their juices, salt, pepper, and spice. bring to boil. reduce to low and simmer for 25 minutes. if you like your pizza sauce clumpy, leave it as is. if you like it smooth (I do, for pizza), blend it in a food processor or break out that handy dandy immersion blender. [refrigerate if making in advance, and if you make a lot, you can can it or freeze it.]

make pizza!
preheat grill (outdoor or indoor). grill eggplant, zucchini, and red pepper chunks until a good char forms. cut eggplant and zucchini into small pieces. place red pepper in ziploc bag for 10 minutes; peel and cut. mix all together in a bowl. plop pizza down onto grill (cornmeal side up) and grill for about 3 minutes; flip and grill 4 minutes. remove from grill.

spread pizza sauce over top of pizza. spread random dollops of ramp pesto around (use ~1/3 c). add mixed veggies, sprinkle with salt and pepper and add cheese. grill for another 4-5 minutes or until cheese melts (if grilling inside, it might help to place under broiler for a couple of minutes unless you like a dark pizza crust). slice into 8 pieces and enjoy!

Combating the Jean-Tightening Genes w/ Alfredo

Lite Pasta Alfredo


I remember back in the day when I was young I’m not a kid anymore, but some days I sit and wish I was a kid again (Ahmad, circa 1994). But really – I remember back in the day when eating anything you wanted didn’t cause a cottage cheese-like effect on your thighs and booty. And mushy arms. And maybe the worst part – growing out of your favorite Martin & Osa jeans or trying on your favorite tank top from last summer, the one you looked oh so cute in, and realizing that your “flat tire” has miraculously been replaced by a spare.


I’m not sayin’ I was ever petite – with my Hall knees and cornbread-induced voluptuous backside. You were lucky to see me in shorts even as a kid; I prefer clamdiggers any day. My dad surely gave me some IQ points, love for NC State, & blue eyes, but he also gave me big knees, a head of cowlicks, and horrible [practically legally blind] vision. My mom – she gave me boobs, good teeth, and the confidence to speak my mind even when I shouldn’t, but she also gave me my love for sweets and slow metabolism. That damn metabolism!


The days of eating Big Macs, chimichangas, ranch dressing (loaded over some cheesy gooey french fries with bacon), and definitely alfredo sauce are long gone, or at least few and far between. Everything in moderation, right people?!

Wrong answer! One of the reasons I started cooking so much in the first place was the ability to be more in control of what I ate. Yes, me, wanting more control. Who woulda thought?! It’s too easy to live in Chicago (or any other city with great food) and pack on the poundage. There are way too many Thai restaurants with wonderfully fried tofu pad thai and curries, Italian restaurants with “family style” servings of chicken alfredo & parmesan (not to mention a thousand types of bruschetta), and definitely too many neighborhood bakeries with the cutest little cupcakes that of course, have the creamiest icing on top. I agree with the everything in moderation motto, but for me, I can’t really moderate what I eat if it’s already in front of me :). So along with keeping portion control in check, I’ve tried to find and make recipes that are delectable but don’t (always) leave me wondering how many hours of exercise I owe myself.


[Of course, none of this counts while in culinary school. Have I said that before?]


Cajun-spiced chicken strips


The first foodie magazine I ever subscribed to was Cuisine at Home (thanks to my mom-in-law), and believe-you-me, they have some lovely food in there. The down side? Almost every recipe uses heavy cream, which translates to the previously mentioned cottage cheese effect and snug jeans, not to mention a frown on my face. I almost stopped subscribing this year, but they must have sensed it and started a healthy eating section. If you can believe it, I’ve found a recipe for a light version of alfredo sauce. I tried it out recently, and I think Chris said how good it was in between each & every mouthful. Which looking back, may not have been that many times since he literally scarfed it down. I liked it too, but tried to savor each bite a little more than he.


mushrooms and peppers


One of the great things about this recipe is that it’s loaded with veggies, unlike your typical alfredo dish with just fettucine, chicken, and gopping thick sauce. It’s colorful too, so very easy on the eyes. Oh, and instead of just chicken, there is also kielbasa, and the chicken has cajun seasoning to spice it up a bit. I think next time I’ll add even more. The sauce is creamy and yummy, but made with evaporated milk instead of cream & one egg yolk instead of butter. I am willing to bet that the use of the bowtie pasta wasn’t a random idea, as the folds and crinks encase some of the sauce, and that way it seems to last longer even if there is less of it.


Now, don’t go into making this thinking it’s just like the classic fettucine alfredo. The sauce won’t coat your lips, and there won’t be a puddle at the bottom of your plate after you finish eating. But a great stand-in and healthy alternative to the low-cost artery clogger? Totally.


So, if you’re like me and have chosen red sauces over the whites for as long as you can remember, consider a brief switcheroo. Pretty pretty please? Just this once. You won’t regret it. And if you don’t like it, just head on over to Bucktown and drop that dish off at my pad. I love leftovers 🙂


lite pasta alfredo


Lite Pasta Alfredo w/ Cajun Chicken & KielbasaAdapted from Cuisine at Home; serves 4

printable recipe

ingredients
4 oz uncooked farfalle (bowtie) pasta
1/2 cup evaporated 2% milk
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 egg yolk
salt & pepper
1/8 t nutmeg, freshly grated
8 oz boneless, skinless chicken breast, cut into strips
1 T Cajun seasoning (preferably no-salt version)
1 onion, chopped
1 red bell pepper, chopped
2 cups button mushrooms, sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
8 oz kielbasa, cut into half moon slices
1 cup peas, frozen
1 green onion, sliced thin, for garnish

instructions
Cook farfalle accoring to package directions. Drain and reserve 1/4 cup of pasta liquid. Set pasta aside.

Meanwhile, combine milk, cheese, & yolk. Add in salt, pepper, nutmeg. Set aside.

Sprinkle Cajun seasoning on chicken and toss to coat. Spray large skillet with cooking spray and heat over med-hi. Saute chicken ~4 mins on each side until fully cooked. Remove and set aside. Add onions, pepper, mushrooms, garlic, kielbasa to skillet and cook ~4 mins until kielbasa begins to brown. Add 1/4 cup of pasta water to deglaze; scrape up browned bits and let simmer until water has almost evaporated.

Add in chicken, pasta, & peas. Stir to heat all ingredients and to break up frozen peas. Pour in alfredo sauce and simmer until thickened. Divide among 4 plates (or if you’re like me, 2 plates and two tupperwares) and garnish with green onion and a little cheese.

*Side note: I made a quick salad to go with – baby arugula with cherry tomatoes & English cucumbers. Made a quick tomato vinaigrette (1/2 cup cherry tomatoes, 2 T red wine vinegar, 2 t EVOO, 1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard, salt, pepper mixed in processor). The salad was a great addition and went well with the pasta.