Dough.

I have had some major snafus with pizza dough in the last couple of years. I’m not quite sure what the problem has been, but I remember days when pizza-making was super easy. I could just whip up some dough, let it rise, and easily roll it out, slathering on the toppings with a really, really happy face. The last couple of times have been angry face extravaganzas. Rolling, watching the dough jump, no, leap! back into place, waiting for a few minutes (like they always say! be patient!) and then rolling again. During those few minutes, a lot of words like this – #&%*$^%^ – were said.

Of course, eventually I’d get something resembling a pizza, nevermind the wayward shape. And then it would come time to bake it, and I’d run into more problems. Dough sticking to the wrong surface, despite the hefty slathering of cornmeal on the surface. Toppings falling off. My pizza stone being a thorn in my side (I have never successfully used one, but maybe mine is just sucky.) – the problems are ongoing. I do end up with a pizza – I haven’t resorted to rolling them over and making calzones (though I should, actually), and I haven’t quite ruined dinner because of it. But still….it could definitely be better.

That explains why you haven’t seen a pizza recipe over here since May of 2010 (I still remember that pizza, too. Some kinda tasty). Damn, that’s over 2 years! Without pizza! How in the world have we gotten by without pizza?! I actually have no idea.

But that changes as of today. How fitting for November 1st, no?

By now, I’m sure we’ve all heard of Jim Lahey’s no-knead dough, right? He makes bread in Dutch ovens, for crying out loud. P.S, why have I not tried this??!! I have seen his pizza recipe all over the Internets, for months. I get a slice (pun intended) of hope, then I remember how my past adventures in pizza dough turned out, and I close the page. A few months ago, I even clipped a recipe from Bon Appetit, and every time I see it in my stack, I have skipped by it.

But then a couple of weeks ago, I happened to have bacon and corn in the fridge, and I happened to remember a recipe from Joy the Baker that I pinned a few weeks ago, and I decided that this was the moment.


(LOOK HOW PRETTY!!!!!!)

And now, there is no turning back, folks. The pizza dough was easy-peasy to make, it rose nicely, though it was dry as all get-out, and my smoke detector didn’t even go off when the oven hit 500 F. It was meant to be. Meanwhile, I have a few extra doses of homemade pizza sauce and another pizza’s worth of dough in the freezer, and I swear it’s asking me to put more bacon and this time, some brussels sprouts on top.

Watch out!

pps: thanks for all the lovely comments on the last post. I’m glad I’m here, too. But more importantly, I’m glad YOU are. xo – hw

Corn, Bacon, and Arugula Pizza
Adapted from Joy the Baker, dough makes 2 pizzas

time commitment: 3 hours (2 hours of rising dough, inactive)

printable version (with pizza dough recipe)

ingredients
1/2 recipe of Jim Lahey’s no-knead dough (recipe below)
3/4 c pizza sauce (store-bought or homemade. I used a wayward variation of this recipe)
1 1/4 c shredded mozzarella cheese
2 slices cooked bacon, chopped
1 c cooked/roasted corn
1/2 red onion, sliced thinly
arugula and red pepper flakes for topping

instructions
Follow recipe for pizza dough below. Meanwhile, place a rack in the upper third of the oven and preheat oven to 500 degrees F right before you start pressing your dough into the pan.

Top pizza with sauce (all the way to the edges) cheese, and toppings.

Bake for 18 to 20 minutes until the edges are charred and bubbling.  Remove from the oven.  Allow to cool for a few moments then slice and top with crushed red pepper flakes and fresh arugula.  Serve immediately.

 

 

Jim Lahey’s No-Knead Pizza Dough
Adapted from Joy the Baker & Bon Appetit, March 2012; makes dough for 2 pizzas

time commitment: 2 hours, 15 minutes (2 hours rising dough, inactive)

printable version (pizza dough only)

ingredients
3 c bread flour
3/4 c spelt flour
2 1/2 t (1 packet) active dry yeast
3/4 t salt
3/4 t honey
1 1/2 c warm water
extra virgin olive oil for the pan

instructions
In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, yeast, salt, and honey.  Add warm water all at once.  Work the mixture together until all is incorporated, using either a wooden spoon or your hands.  The dough will be slightly shaggy and much drier than what you’re used to with pizza dough.

Cover the dough with plastic wrap and a clean kitchen towel.  Let rise at room temperature for 2 hours.

After resting, dump the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface.  Divide in half.  [Note: If you’re only going to make one pizza, wrap the second piece of dough in plastic wrap, place in a ziplock bag, and place in the freezer.  Defrost dough in the fridge overnight and allow to come to room temperature before pressing out into the pizza crust.]

Working with one dough at a time, liberally oil a 13×18-inch rimmed baking sheet with olive oil.  Place the rounded dough on the pan and stretch and press the dough out into a flat rectangle.  If the dough springs bag as you’re pressing it out, simply wait five minutes to allow the dough to rest and then try again.  The dough should be very thin and may tear in places are you are spreading it, but don’t worry – just patch it up.

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Survival of the Fittest

The day I was born, my dad near about had a heart attack, or at least that’s the story. My parents are both fair-skinned and light-haired. Although technically, my mom truly does have dark roots but you don’t really notice them because she still gets her hair “frosted”. Last time I checked, that’s a pretty common ‘do for her age group. Anyway, I came into the world writhing and crying, full of life and all that good stuff. But I also came out with something that really threw my dad for a loop – I had a head FULL of nearly black hair. WTF?

I would have been confused too.

Anyway, clearly there are no paternity issues. Just like most of us, I recognize that I have some traits from my mom, and some traits from my dad. Some are good, like my big brains, blue eyes, and relatively normally shaped symmetrical head, and some are downright nasty, like my cankles, my big knees, and über mushy upper arms. I mean seriously – you’d think there would have been a selective advantage against such atrocities, but as it turns out cankles and big knees are all kinds of sturdy, so I guess that’s a good thing. The fat arms? Well, I suppose in the event that I’m stranded in Antarctica, it would take me a little bit longer to use up my own mush before I start gnawing on the arms of my friends.

Aside from all that loveliness, I try not to complain too much. Sure, I have a hard time finding boots that zip up over my cankles and ginormous calves (that I’m pretending are all muscle; laugh it up, Simpson!), but all in all I’d say things could be much worse. Yeah, I am as close to legally blind as you can get (dramatic, much?), but that’s nothing a pair of contacts and ultra thick glasses can’t fix.

Then you get the traits that are sorta ‘give or take’. I don’t mind having thinnish hair because it dries quicker. I don’t mind being short because I can make people do stuff for me with a quickness, and it’s always easier to take in length on pants than to let it out. I don’t mind having boobs because at least I didn’t have to stuff my bra when I was 14. Plus, boys generally like boobs. So I guess that’s good.

And then there’s the butt. Hoo boy. Again, there definitely is no denying my true lineage, but I swear there has to be some African American ancestry somewhere in one of my family trees. I guess it’s not impossible, being Southern and all… Because this is the truth: I have a little bit more rhythm than a lot of white folk (and I mean a little bit more…. I am no Beyonce for sure). I have slightly fuller lips (at least the bottom one) than a lot of white folk. Last but certainly not least, I have a ginormous ass for a white chick. It’s not proportional. It’s not right, and I have no idea where it comes from. It’s just not natural.

Here’s where the story gets funny. Because of said unnaturally large ass, I seemed to get harassed by the vast majority of black boys in my school. Maybe it was stylish for a regular looking white girl to wear such an unusually large backside, or maybe there’s some other reason why black boys (and a handful of white boys) like girls with junk in the trunk. Who knows. Either way, I remember one specific group of guys in high school who taunted me almost daily. How rude, right?! But I remembered it, not because of the fact that it was nearly daily, but because of what they said to me every. single. time.

“Girl, you be eatin’ all your cornbread!”

And with that, friends, I have embarrassed myself in front of the whole internets (but only slightly), and! I have given you a great recipe for cornbread. I won’t lie – I do fancy a piece of cornmeal-laden bread every now and then, but it’s not like I ate it all the time as a kid. I’m gonna chalk it up to science, and swear there’s some genetic influence quite a few generations back. Selective advantage? I won’t even try to answer that…

Zucchini Cornbread
adapted from Bon Appetit, July 2011; makes 1 loaf 

this is a really good cornbread recipe, so let’s start with that. it’s not moist, so don’t expect a texture like banana and pumpkin breads. it’s drier, but it’s buttery (with browned butter – yum!) and has just enough sugar to provide a little sweetness, too. You don’t notice the zucchini much, but at least you’re getting veggies, if only a little dab! and to be honest, this is NOT the way Southern cornbread tastes. Southern cornbread is not as sweet, and maybe even a little more dry, a bit heftier. either way, it’s a great side item to a stew, or perhaps Thanksgiving? I ate it as a late-night snack this week, but that could lead to ill effects, as we’ve already discussed…

time commitment: 3 hours (includes cooking + cooling time; only about 30 minutes active)

printable version

ingredients
1/2 c (1 stick) unsalted butter
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 c skim milk
1 large zucchini (about 10 ounces)
1 c spelt flour
1/2 c whole wheat flour
1/2 c sugar
1 t baking powder
3/4 t kosher salt
1/2 t baking soda
3/4 c medium-grind cornmeal

instructions
Position a rack in the middle of oven and preheat to 350 F. Spray or butter a bread pan.

Melt butter in a small saucepan over medium-high heat. Continue cooking until butter solids at bottom of pan turn golden brown, about 3 minutes. Scrape butter into a medium bowl. Set aside and let cool. Whisk in eggs and milk.

Peel and coarsely grate zucchini. Add to bowl with butter mixture and stir until well blended.

Whisk together both flours, sugar, baking powder, salt, and baking soda into a large bowl. Whisk in cornmeal. Add zucchini mixture; fold just to blend (mixture will be very thick). Transfer batter to prepared pan and smooth top.

Bake bread until golden and a tester inserted into center comes out clean, 55 minutes. Let cool in pan 10 minutes. Remove from pan; let cool completely on a wire rack. For best flavor, make a day in advance.

Enough To Make You Nuts

Since the grocery store trips were off-limits this week, the cooking has been a bit scarce. Last night, I had a bowl of cereal for dinner. The night before, Judy and I attended a GrubWithUs dinner at a weird restaurant. Tonight, I’m polishing off a hearty TV dinner, and I might dig into a couple of bites of that ice cream from way back when. Yeah, I know, I can’t believe it’s still there either – let’s just say I’m making each and every bite count. (Update – yeah, that happened. And now the ice cream is kaput.)

But when a coworker brought in a bag of zucchini, despite the scarcity of food that caused me to resort to the microwave, I had dessert on the brain instead.

It’s normal to think of dessert when you have zucchini in your hands, isn’t it? Sure, zucchini fries are great, too, and so is plain ol’ raw zucchini with cheese, but let’s be honest – dessert is never a bad idea (except with okra, as evidenced by the Iron Chef America I just watched). My buddy Jennifer makes a killer gluten-free zucchini bread, and since we’re over half a country away from her now, I don’t get to partake in it. Quite honestly, it’s almost enough to make us move back – but not quite. I’m afraid I’ve already gotten too accustomed to the warmish weather and would freak in five minutes of Chicago summer humidity, and one minute on a February day (plus, we’re seeing them again in 14 days!).

When I volunteered to take a couple of green tubers (are zucchini tubers?!) from work earlier this week, I had two potential recipes in my mind. One is a zucchini cornbread I’ve had stashed away in a pile of recipe clippings for a while now, and while I do love my cornbread (there’s a story behind that), I didn’t see the sense in making it to eat with cereal. I prefer cornbread alongside fried chicken, or something that I can dip it in, and milk just doesn’t appeal. The other recipe was a breakfast/dessert quick bread thing – what you see here. I saw it on Tara’s site a couple of weeks ago (the same site that reminded me of the chocolate ice cream – a theme, perhaps?), and that, I thought, was perfect for two reasons. One, I could take a loaf to work the next day as a payback for free zucchini, and two, it made two loaves (quick bread recipes always do, don’t they?!) which meant the other got frozen, with the thought that it’ll come in handy next weekend when our guests are in town.

The downside to making rich, chocolatey zucchini bread at 10 PM? It keeps you up at night – you smell it cooking for the almost-hour, and when it comes out, you still can’t eat it because it has to cool. And by that point, it’s bedtime and your teeth are brushed (although that usually doesn’t stop me…). Of course, there’s also the ‘I already mentioned I was making this yesterday so I can’t eat it because I’ll feel guilty at work all day’ thing too. Then, the fact that you’ve filled up your tiny house with the smell of the stuff, so much so that it wafts into your room and into your face, even when it’s buried underneath the covers and your cat is sitting on your head, is enough to make you nuts.

Of course, most of us aren’t that dramatic, are we?

ps – we’re off to Sedona for a few days. I’ll be taking a tiny blog break, and when I’m back, I’m planning to cut back to weekly posts. We’ll see how it goes, but this twice-a-week thing is getting hard. BUT! I think it’s time for a meat-heavy recipe, so I’ll work on that over the next little while too. Sound good? Thanks. Now, go eat some zucchini ;). 

 

Chocolate Olive Oil Zucchini Bread
Adapted, barely, from Seven Spoons; makes 2 loaves

time commitment: 1 hour, 15 minutes (25 minutes active, 50 minutes baking time)

this is a relatively straightforward quick bread, which means you essentially mix the wet ingredients in one bowl and the dry in another, then you combine. you don’t need a mixer or anything fancy, either. i’m guessing these would make great muffins as well, just that they’d obviously cook a lot less. as for the zucchini, since it’s a rather wet veggie, it’s not a bad idea to squeeze a little of the moisture into a towel, once shredded – don’t wring it out or anything crazy, but just a gentle squeeze or two will do ya fine.

printable version

ingredients
Softened butter or cooking spray, for pans
1 1/2 c whole wheat flour
1 1/2 c white spelt flour (or all-purpose flour)
1/2 c cocoa powder (not Dutch process)
1 t baking powder
1 t baking soda
1 1/2 t salt
1 c chopped walnuts, toasted
8 oz semisweet chocolate chips (it’s ok if you eat a few…)
1/2 c olive oil
1 c well-shaken buttermilk
2 eggs
1 1/2 c turbinado sugar
2 t vanilla extract
4 c shredded zucchini (2 regular zucchini measure about 3.5 c, which is what I used)

instructions
Preheat oven to 350 F. Lubricate two 9-by-5-by-3-inch loaf pans with softened butter or spray. Use a length of parchment to line the bottom and long sides of the pan, forming a sling, and lightly butter/spray the parchment as well. Set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flours, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Stir in the chopped walnuts and chocolate. Set aside.

In another bowl, whisk together the olive oil and buttermilk. Add the eggs, sugar and vanilla, and beat until smooth. Stir in the zucchini.

Pour the wet ingredients into the dry, stir until combined, taking care not over mix (you want to mix until the flour dissolves into the wet dough, but no further). Divide the batter evenly between the two prepared pans and bake, rotating once, until a cake tester inserted into the loaf comes out almost clean, which should be around 45-50 minutes. Cool loaves in their pans on a rack for 20 minutes, then grasp the edges of the parchment to ease the bread out.

Cobbled Together

In an effort to avoid the grocery store this weekend, I raided the heck out of our pantry to see what we could eat to get through the week. You see, I already have an issue with letting good food go to waste, and this is only intensified when I’m forced to let things go to waste as a result of being away for a few days. These are the times when I might cobble together a recipe with a ton of random ingredients (panzanella salads are great when there’s lots of produce involved, and this Moroccan shepherd’s pie was a great way to use up mashed ‘taters) or conversely, I might make something uber simple using some standby grains or pasta.

In general, they aren’t meals that really make one salivate, but they get the job done, more or less.

Of course, there are always the exceptions – the dishes you toss together, pulling stray carrots and a forgotten bunch of scallions from the crisper to add up to enough stuff to make a meal come together – that somehow end up tasting like you’d planned it that way all along. It helps when you have a few fresh ingredients hanging around (thanks, Joanne, for the tomatoes!), because those are the ones that provide the inspiration, the kick-start to power you through to the end of the recipe, if you even have a recipe in the first place.

(The fresh ingredients are also the ones that make me feel a little less guilty about tossing leftover bagged shredded cheese into a perfect biscuit dough, knowing full-well that a freshly-grated cup of cheddar would have been tons better, not only in terms of taste, but also quality and texture.)

So, here we are, at the moment where I did something like that and actually get to tell you about it, because I truly feel that this new-found recipe is something you just might want to make yourself. I take that back – it’s something you should make yourself. Rarely is there a time in the year where the produce is this perfect, this satisfying, and this accessible than now – when you get to eat fresh corn and! fresh tomatoes ’til your heart’s content. And I’m telling you this: if you do have access to both ingredients, straight from the market or the store, please do purchase them. I think I already mentioned my stubborn desire to avoid those places this week, and as a result my trusty freezer bag o’ corn came in handy here. And while it was fine, mighty fine indeed, I know it could be that. much. better. with just-shucked morsels of yellow goodness.

If the mixture of tomatoes and corn isn’t enough to get you in a tizzy, have you noticed the biscuits on top? Need I say more?! Even though I’ve moved away, I still read the blogs of many Chicagoans, and I tell ya – Midwesterners get some kinda excited about summer produce. Tim over at Lottie + Doof posted a tomato cobbler recipe from Martha Stewart a couple of weeks ago, and it sounded like the kind of food they’d have in Paradise. I figured I could make it work, or something like it, even if I didn’t have but approximately half as many tomatoes, no regular onions, heavy cream, or Gruyere on hand, not to mention a penchant for never adhering to the regular ol’ all-purpose flour suggested in most recipes.

So yeah, you could say this recipe is a pretty far leap from the original, but that’s what happens from time to time. You may not have scallions on hand, and maybe you have a different cheese, or no cheese at all, and maybe you have neither pancetta nor bacon for the smoky twist I was craving. Maybe the carrots aren’t doing it for you, and understandably so, maybe you don’t have 10 types of flour in your pantry (15-20 if you count the ones used almost solely for gluten-free cooking). You might even be one of those people who are afraid of a little shortening in your life, for reasons I just can’t figure out. I promise you – it’s okay, and ultimately, it might even be better to use this as your inspiration, and run with it (after, or course, you put down your knife…).

I’m sure Martha would understand.

Tomato & Corn Cobbler
Inspired by Lottie + Doof; serves 4-6 as a meal

time commitment: 2 hours (~40 minutes active)

printable version

ingredients
filling
2 T evoo
2 oz finely chopped pancetta or bacon (optional)
6 scallions, chopped
2 carrots, medium dice
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 c fresh or frozen corn (2-3 ears if fresh; thawed and drained if frozen)
~1 lb cherry tomatoes
~1 lb heirloom tomatoes, medium dice
1 t crushed red pepper flakes
3 T white spelt flour (or all-purpose)
Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper

biscuit topping
1 c white spelt flour
1 c whole wheat flour (or use 2 cups all-purpose flour to replace both)
2 t baking powder
1 t kosher salt
4 T cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
2 T shortening, cut into small pieces
1 c grated cheddar cheese, plus 1 T, for sprinkling atop biscuits
1 1/2 c buttermilk, plus ~2 T more for brushing

instructions
Make the filling. Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add pancetta, if using, and cook for 2 minutes, then add onions and carrots, stirring occasionally, about 20 minutes. Add garlic, and cook until fragrant, about 3 minutes. Toss in corn and remove from heat; let cool.

Preheat oven to 375 F. Toss onion/corn mixture, tomatoes, red-pepper flakes and flour with 1 1/2 t salt and some pepper.

Make the biscuit topping. Whisk together flours, baking powder, and 1 t salt in a bowl. Cut in butter and shortening with a pastry cutter or rub in with your fingers until small clumps form. Stir in cheese, then add buttermilk, stirring with a fork to combine until dough forms.

Transfer tomato mixture to a 2-quart baking dish. Spoon large clumps of biscuit dough (about 1/3 c each) over top in a circle, leaving center open. Bake 30 minutes. Remove, and brush dough with buttermilk, and sprinkle with remaining T cheese. Bake until tomatoes are bubbling in the center and biscuits are golden brown, another 30 minutes or so. Transfer to a wire rack. Let cool for 20 minutes.

For the un-holidays

I’ve never aspired to be one of those bloggers who preps you for the upcoming holiday by testing recipes in advance and posting them all during the month. I started this blog as a way to share things that I make because I want to make them, and as much as I love turkey and stuffing, I only want to make it once in the month of November.

However, I do appreciate the bloggers who operate in the way that I don’t; while our Thanksgiving menu is usually pretty set, I do occasionally draw inspiration from a few of you holiday bloggers. So, thank you, Pioneer Woman, and thank you The Bitten Word.

As such, it shouldn’t surprise you that we’re talking about a quiche today. Sure, you could plop a quiche down on that Thanksgiving table. Scoot that gourd over, or move that big honkin’ centerpiece, or the candles you put on the table because you really don’t need them anyway. And toss this quiche into the mix. You’d get a few stares, I bet.

My guess is that this quiche might be more appropriate for say, breakfast, or any day other than Thanksgiving; the un-holiday days. You could even use leftover turkey and make a turkey quiche, if it suits you.

Apparently, I bought an inordinate amount of Mexican chorizo last weekend, but I suppose I couldn’t resist when the tienda sells it for $1.99 a pound. Some of it found a crevice in the freezer (which, by the way, is l.o.a.d.e.d. with meat, even a ginormous turkey from our CSA that we didn’t realize we were getting until after we’d already placed our order for the fancy heritage turkey. I sense a lot of turkey pot pie in our future.), but a portion of it got an egg bath.

And so, even though it’s almost Thanksgiving, and even though some of you might be searching for the perfect cranberry sauce or green bean casserole, or the absolute best way to cook a turkey (which would be a simple brine, and a roast), I bring you custard in a shell instead.

But I bring it to you hoping you’ll find inspiration, hoping you’ll take a crust – be it spelt flour, regular flour, or even store-bought – some milk and eggs, and of course, some cheese, and make whatever kinda quiche you damn well please.

You can be thankful for all the extra food you’ve got in your fridge that allows you to make a quiche to call your very own. How’s that for appropriate?!

Mexican Chorizo Quiche
chiknpastry recipe; serves 4-6

quiches are a good way to get rid of anything in your fridge. for us, that meant leftover chorizo (although some got frozen, too). you can use any crust you want, but i liked the heartiness of the spelt dough, plus i already had it in the freezer :).

printable version

ingredients
crust (the other half of this; recipe below makes enough for 2)
1 1/4 c all purpose flour
1 1/4 c whole-grain spelt flour
1 T sugar
3/4 t salt
1 stick (8 T or 1/2 c) chilled unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
4 T (1/4 c) chilled vegetable shortening, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
up to 1/2 c ice water

filling
8oz Mexican chorizo
¼ c onion, chopped
1 anaheim pepper, chopped
1 jalapeno pepper, minced
1 ½ c sharp cheddar cheese
2 T canned green chiles, minced
2 T cilantro, chopped
4 eggs
1 c milk
½ t cumin
½ t chipotle chili powder
1 t salt
2 t pepper

instructions
crust
pulse flours, sugar, and salt in a food processor to blend. Add butter and shortening and pulse repeatedly until small pea-size clumps form. Add 1/2 of ice water and pulse until dough holds together when small pieces are pressed between fingertips, adding more water by teaspoonfuls if dough is dry. (alternatively, this can be done by hand or using a pastry blender, but it’s gonna take longer!) Gather dough together; divide into 2 pieces. Form each piece into ball, then flatten into disk and wrap in plastic. Refrigerate at least 30 minutes or until needed. (You can keep it in the fridge for 2 days, or even freeze it and let thaw overnight. But, let it sit out for a few minutes to soften before you are ready to roll it out.)

putting it together
Preheat oven to 350 F. Roll out pie crust and place in greased pie plate. With tines of a fork, poke a few holes in the crust and bake for about 10 minutes. Remove and set aside.

Meanwhile, heat skillet over med-hi heat; saute chorizo for ~2 minutes. Add onion, anaheim pepper, and jalapeno; cook until vegetables are soft and chorizo is cooked through. Drain well using paper towels. Place cheese in crust then add onion, pepper, chorizo, green chilies and cilantro.

Beat eggs and milk together until slightly foamy then add cumin, chili powder, salt and pepper. Pour into pie shell until not quite full (you may have some extra – discard).  Bake at 350 until brown and domed, ~50 minutes. Remove from oven and cool on wire rack.

No Place Like Home

Visits to North Carolina are quick and to the point, event-driven, and filled with obligation (not that we mind, of course). So much so that we often times forget that NC was at one time home to us, and not just our parents and friends.

A couple of weekends ago, we remembered.


Even though home for now is in Chicago, North Carolina was where I learned to ride a bike, where my feet trudged through the sand and shells every summer of my childhood while looking for sand dollars and conchs, where I fell in and out of love with boys, and where I learned that life is what you make it, wherever you make it. It’s who we make it with that counts.

You reach a point where you think all of your friends are married, and then you reach a point where they all start their own families. We keep realizing that it isn’t as uniform as it seems – they’re still getting married (hence this past trip), they’re still having or not having kids, and sadly some are parting ways – for better or worse isn’t always as easy as it seems, it appears.


Sometimes we realize that we’ve grown apart – perhaps it’s the distance, or the difference in career choices (or lack thereof), or maybe we just mature at different rates (some of us, ahem, more slowly than others). Either way, we’re still friends, and that’s what counts.

I can’t say if we’ll ever live in NC again. Shoot, I can’t even say where we’ll be in two or five or ten years, for that matter. But what I can say is that, while home is wherever we choose to settle down for the time being, North Carolina will always be home-home. It will always be special for that reason and so many more, and we will always look forward to the visits back – even those visits when we say goodbye to someone we love – because it’s those visits that count.

This recent weekend was one of those trips – another wedding, another visit with our respective families, and another drive or two between Raleigh and Greensboro. This time, we stayed until Monday, catching an early flight home just in time for the work week. It’s something I think we’ll make a new tradition, as we found ourselves with an extra day – a “freebie” of sorts.

We finally got to eat at The Pit, a lauded spot for eastern-NC BBQ, and for the first time in 8 years, we wandered through our old campus, reminiscing on things that were the same, all the while remarking about all those that were different. We met up with more of the fam and people-watched at the State Fair while eating fried cookie dough and the best ice cream around – from our alma mater itself. We spent time with some of the kids, who seem to grow in feet rather than inches. I had dinner with friends. We drove past our old apartments, old dormitories, old hang-outs.


We saw Autumn in the South – leaves falling, crackling beneath our feet, reminding us once again, that this – North Carolina – is home-home. There’s no place quite like it, and that’s what counts.

Apple Hand-Pies
chiknpastry recipe, makes 6 pies

time commitment: ~2 hours (most of which is inactive time)
other: dough freezes easily. to use frozen dough, let sit in fridge overnight to thaw.

don’t get me wrong – I love fried treats from the fair, but one can only eat so much in one month, right?! these hand pies are baked instead, but they’re just as charming. the dough makes enough for two pie crusts, so you can save 1/2 of it, or double the filling for double the hand pies. i like the idea of getting another pie dough out of my efforts, so I freeze the other half for later.

the crust is very similar to other crusts I’ve used before, but I swapped out half of the AP flour for spelt flour for a whole grain twist and a nuttier flavor. the shortening has also been reduced a tad.

printable version

ingredients
crust
1 1/4 c all purpose flour
1 1/4 c spelt flour
1 T sugar
3/4 t salt
1 stick (8 T or 1/2 c) chilled unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
4 T (1/4 c) chilled vegetable shortening, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
up to 1/2 c ice water

filling
1 large granny smith apple, peeled and chopped into small cubes
3 T agave nectar
1/4 t cinnamon
pinch of nutmeg
pinch of salt
1 t lemon juice
1 egg, lightly beaten
turbinado, or “raw” sugar, optional

instructions
crust
pulse flours, sugar, and salt in a food processor to blend. Add butter and shortening and pulse repeatedly until small pea-size clumps form. Add 1/2 of ice water and pulse until dough holds together when small pieces are pressed between fingertips, adding more water by teaspoonfuls if dough is dry. (alternatively, this can be done by hand or using a pastry blender, but it’s gonna take longer!) Gather dough together; divide into 2 pieces. Form each piece into ball, then flatten into disk and wrap in plastic. Refrigerate at least 30 minutes or until needed. (You can keep it in the fridge for 2 days, or even freeze it and let thaw overnight. But, let it sit out for a few minutes to soften before you are ready to roll it out.)

filling
combine all ingredients (apple through lemon juice) for filling. cook over med-hi heat in a small saucepan until some of the liquid dissolves and the apples cook but remain crunchy. remove from heat and cool completely.

assembly
roll out 1 dough disk on floured surface to 12-inch round (as i said above, i freeze the other round for later). using a 4 7/16″ pastry cutter (or whatever size you want, really; can also use a plate if you don’t have a pastry cutter), cut as many disks as possible, then repeat the process by rolling out unused dough until you have 6. you may need to chill the dough again if it gets too warm.

position rack in lower third of oven. measure out a heaping tablespoon onto one side of each round (total amount is somewhere between 1-1.5 T). brush entire edge of each round with beaten egg, fold half of dough over to make a half-moon shape, and press edges together. seal edges using the back of a fork. move to baking sheet and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

preheat oven to 400. brush entire top of each pie with egg, and sprinkle with raw sugar, if using. bake @400 for 20-25 minutes. remove from oven and let sit for a few minutes before digging in!

this is not The Publican

it is not Big Star, or Avec, or even Blackbird.

But it is Paul Kahan. And possibly, in a way you’ve never before seen him.

He’s been hitting up the newsstands lately – in Chicago and beyond. We made our first visit to his West Town spot, The Publican, a month or so ago, and had a decent sampling of pork, among other things and we, along with Wilco’s bassist, frequent Big Star for the tasty bourbon and ginger drinks as well as the pork belly $3 tacos. Check out this link for reviews, if you’re interested.

Outside of Chi-town, he’s all over the foodiesphere elsewhere, and was recently featured in both Bon Appetit and Food & Wine magazines.

In F&W, he was given the challenge, along with some other well-known “hearty” chefs (like Iron Chef Michael Simon, one of my crushes; maybe because he’s bald?!) to create healthy meals that didn’t center on meat. You’d think it would be tricky for such a meatster, but I have a recipe of his to prove it wasn’t that you should most definitely give a try.

Foccacia, one of my favorite yeast breads to make (here’s a rosemary foccacia that’s outta this world), but made solely with spelt flour to make it more dense and hearty, as Kahan would prefer. And topped with winter’s finest: squash and kale. It’s enough to satisfy a light dinner for 4 (or in my world, 2 with lunch the next day) that will make you feel like you did something good for your body, you know, with the leafy greens and bright veggies and all.

Certainly you have some winter squash lying around just waiting to be used, right? And while you might not have kale or spelt flour (unless you made those heavenly banana muffins), they’re both relatively easy to procure.

I doubt you’ll see this little number on any of Kahan’s menus, but don’t let that fool ya – the man can cook.

Have you hit up any of Kahan’s associated spots (the Publican, Blackbird, Avec, Big Star)? Do tell!

Spelt Focaccia with Kale, Squash, & Pecorino
Adapted from Food & Wine, March 2010; serves 4

i thought the foccacia was nice the way it was (with spelt flour only), but some feel that spelt and wheat flour can be extra heavy, and with wheat flour i’d agree. if you’re one of those people, try a 1/2 and 1/2 combo for a lighter dough. you may ask yourself, “what’s the difference between foccacia and pizza?”. look above, and check out those air pockets, those bubbles, in the cooked dough – the finger-poking is the secret here, and don’t omit it.

printable version

ingredients
2 c spelt flour (or 1 c spelt, 1 c all purpose for a lighter focaccia)
One envelope dry active yeast
1 c warm water
1 T honey
2 T extra-virgin olive oil
Kosher salt
1 t chopped rosemary
Sea salt, for sprinkling (do NOT leave this out)
2 c finely shredded stemmed Tuscan kale
1 T fresh meyer lemon juice
1 t crushed red pepper
2 oz thinly sliced prosciutto (optional, I added b/c I had it)
8 oz acorn or delicata squash, halved lengthwise, seeded and sliced crosswise 1/2 inch thick
1 garlic clove, thinly sliced
1/2 c grated or shaved pecorino cheese

instructions
In a large bowl, combine the spelt flour with the yeast, water, honey, 1 T of the olive oil and 3/4 t of kosher salt and stir until a dough forms. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead just until smooth, no more than 1 minute. Oil the bowl and return the dough to it. Let the dough rise, covered, in a warm, draft-free place until doubled in bulk, about 1 hour. If you make this the day before, let the dough rise and then refrigerate, which will allow the flavor of the spelt flour to continue to build. Let it come to room temparature before working with it.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Punch down the dough, then transfer it to the baking sheet and press it into a 12-by-8-inch shape. Brush with 1 t of the olive oil. Press small indentations all over the dough and sprinkle with the rosemary and sea salt. Let the dough stand uncovered for 45 minutes, until slightly risen. Preheat the oven to 375 F. Bake the focaccia for about 30 minutes, until lightly browned all over.

Meanwhile, in a bowl, toss the kale with the lemon juice, crushed red pepper and 1 t of oil. Squeeze the kale gently to soften it, then let it stand for 20 minutes.

In a large nonstick skillet, heat the remaining 1 t of oil. If you’re using prosciutto, saute it for a few minutes to get it crispy and then remove and place on a plate with paper towel to drain. Add the squash, season with kosher salt and cook over moderately high heat until golden, 2 minutes. Turn the squash, add the garlic and cook over moderately low heat until the squash is tender, 5 minutes.

Top the focaccia with the kale and squash (prosciutto if using) and bake for 1 minute longer, to heat the vegetables. Scatter the pecorino on top, cut into wedges and serve.