Thursday, January 31, 2013

Easier, Thinner, and Tastier Than Ever

No, I'm not talking about myself.  Stop that.  

Today I tried a new pizza dough recipe, and readers, I am hooked.  It's another recipe from My Berlin Kitchen by Luisa Weiss, (with the technique modified by me to make it even more simple, using a stand mixer). In her book Luisa prefaces this recipe with a sweet story about falling in love (with her now-husband); my story is simply that I love pizza, I love making pizza, and now, I have newfound love for this pizza dough.

I was experimenting with this dough as a trial run for a pizza lesson tomorrow, so I hadn't given any thought to toppings.  But once you've made pizza dough from scratch and stretched it out you can't just leave it there.  That would be you, and to the pizza.  The recipe makes enough dough for 2 sheet pan-sized pizzas, so I had room to play.  Improvising, I topped the first with a handful of baby spinach, some sliced kalamata olives, roasted onions, and freshly grated Parmesan cheese (because I am that person that has all of those things on hand...).  I also wanted to see how this dough would stand up to a more traditional, saucy pizza, so for the second I pilfered some marinara sauce, green bell peppers, and shredded cheese from the dining hall.*  With such a thin crust a little goes a long way--I used less than a cup of sauce spread sparingly over the pizza, distributed half a cup of green pepper slices over it, and covered with about a cup of shredded cheese (I supplemented the pilfered mozzarella with some grated cheddar that I had leftover from chili).  

Monday, January 21, 2013

Apple Tart, Pure & Simple

I've started giving cooking & food blogging lessons to a great girl named Molly.  (Check out her blog, After the Bell Cooking).  For our first lesson Molly wanted to make the apple tart recipe in the food memoir My Berlin Kitchen by Luisa Weiss.  (Luisa also writes the blog The Wednesday Chef.)  The tart was a great success, and it smelled so delicious when we were baking it that I decided to try it for myself the following week.  

The recipe couldn't be more simple nor the results more delicious.  The dough is a basic pastry crust that comes together in the food processor in minutes.  The filling is simply apples sprinkled with sugar before baking.  While it bakes you cook the apple peels and cores with water and sugar to make an intensely sweet and apple-y glaze that gets brushed over the whole thing out of the oven.  I thought that a homemade salted caramel ice cream would be the perfect accompaniment to this dessert, but alas I didn't think of it in time to make any--next time.  Vanilla ice cream or whipped cream would also be great, although we enjoyed this just fine with no frills at all.  

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Resolution Keeping Cookies

I want to tell you about some cookies I made the other day.  Essentially heartier, ostensibly healthier jam thumbprint cookies, they're a little weird, but oddly delicious as well, and I feel like I need to share them and get some feedback to wrap my mind around them.

A year ago or so I checked out Gwenyth Paltrow's cookbook:

It was a bit of a whim; I think it was propped up by the checkout section--the library equivalent of impulse-buying People magazine at the grocery store.

Like most cookbooks I check out, it sat on my desk for a month and then I realized it was overdue, so I quickly scanned through it, copied a few recipes, filed them away and didn't think about it again. 

But then 2 things happened.  The first, which I already blogged about, was the great recipe reorganization.  The second was that the other day my sweet tooth was out of control.  I really wanted a cookie, and I had nothing.  Nothing!  (For the record, that rarely happens.) 

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Warm to the Bone Lentil Soup

After a relatively warm early December, winter has finally hit Cambridge, and nothing says "winter" like a big pot of soup.  (Although, as I write this, a mild warm front is moving in, but I'm not complaining about that.)  

Multiple Christmas parties left me with three ham hocks, which got me thinking about lentil soup.  I bookmarked the Barefoot Contessa's recipe a while back, and as a fan of all things Ina, I was eager to try it (especially after an unsolicited ringing endorsement from a friend).  It becomes a vegetarian recipe if you swap out chicken broth for vegetable stock, has a classic vegetable backbone, and uses French green lentils, which I had in my pantry and wanted to use up.  But since I had so much ham and even more lentils in my pantry--red ones--I turned to Google for further inspiration.  This led me to a blogger's Red Lentil and Ham Soup with an Indian spice flavor profile.  Realizing I had all the necessary spices in my ridiculously stocked pantry I ambitiously, and perhaps foolishly, decided to do both.  (Honestly, how much soup can a single girl eat?)

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Fresh Starts in 2013!

Happy New Year, Readers!  Thanks for checking in!  

If you're asking yourself, dear god, what is going on in that picture, you're not alone.  That was my floor a few days ago, and every time I walked into my room I had a similar reaction.  To answer your question, what is going on was the great recipe binder reorganization project of 2012/13.

Right after I graduated from college and was new to the world of fending for oneself without the aid of a dining hall and a comprehensive meal plan (a world from which I have since regressed in my current job) I barely owned any cookbooks, nor did I subscribe to any cooking magazines.  (True story: The first recipe book I was given was Cooking for Kids when I was about 8.  The second one was Cooking for Dummies when I was 17.  Ahhh, the irony.  I only keep that one because there's a recipe for Cranberry Orange Quick Bread that I like...but I digress.)  So back when I was 22 and started cooking for real, recipes seemed like a somewhat rare and novel thing, and I collected them indiscriminately from a variety of sources.  As I started collecting more and more, and I went from keeping them in stacks to manila folders, and finally to an accordion folder that I separated into sections by meal and by main ingredient.  I was probably 23 or so when I made this folder, and the sections represent the way I ate back then--three sections for breakfast foods, sections for every type of protein, including ones I don't even eat, and three different sections for desserts.  When I started eating primarily vegetarian cuisine circa 2009 or so I actually had to change the "Eggs" section to "Eggs, Veggies, and Vegetarian Entrees."  That section, along with "Salads," are by far the fastest growing sections--it seems nearly impossible to believe that I didn't give Veggies their own section the first time around!  Now the folder is so bulging that it is football-shaped in profile, and it's so overwhelming to sort through that recipes are ending up in stacks again because I can't be bothered to file them.  So I knew it was time to reassess the recipe folder situation.  

When I started reorganizing I had three main objectives.  The first was to separate out the recipes that I had already tried and liked, and store them in a new folder.  That way they'd be easier to find, and there would be fewer recipes in Exploding Folder #1.  The second objective was to discard any recipes that I didn't think I'd ever try.  A testament to how my eating habits have evolved is the fact that I threw out several recipes, including one for a chicken casserole that called for several different cans of creamed vegetables.  So far as I know I have never bought nor cooked with a creamed vegetable product.  I suspect I clipped that recipe when I was 22 and had had so few opinions on food that anything seemed like fair game.  I also discarded recipes for "roasted veggies," because honestly, I no longer need a recipe to roast veggies anymore.  The third goal, only cosmetic, was to trim the edges of any raggedy or unevenly cut recipes, because I'm compulsive like that.  I had so many skinny strips of paper floating around my room, it looked like a ticker tape parade had come barging through.  

As I was undertaking this project I noticed a few trends:  First, I barely ever cook from this folder; relatively few recipes made the jump into the new "Tried and True" folder.  The online food world has exploded since I started collecting recipes, so I'm never more than a quick Google search away from the specific recipe I want, and the tremendous growth of my online recipe folders illustrates my reliance on the internet for recipe searches.  Plus the advantage of these resources is there is often helpful reader feedback, whereas it's not always easy to tell from a list of ingredients if this chocolate cookie is better than that chocolate cookie or arugula salad or whatever it is.  Although sometimes it is, such as when you discover that in your youthful naivete you tore out a recipe for Chicken Satay and Peanut Sauce, and there are only four ingredients.  At that point it's pretty easy to know it's not a keeper, or even a try-er...into the recycle bin that one goes.  But, I also noticed that there were a ton of recipes that still look appealing and I do want to try (including no fewer than 20 variations on Quinoa Salad).  To that end, I am going to make a point of cooking from it more often, and when the recipes are successful, I will blog about them.  Having promised a friend some baked treats, I started out by trying two new cookie recipes, instead of my go-tos, World Peace and Mexican Wedding Cookies.  I think I was having an off-day, because in addition to those cookies I made my high school's signature Lemon Poppy Seed Cake (the recipe for which is bestowed upon students on graduation day).  I have made it many times in the past 10 years, always to rave reviews, and this time it turned out gummy and stuck to the pan, which never happens!  In any case, the cookies were fine, but not as good as others in my arsenal.  Two more recipes into the recycle bin!  Live and learn.  (PS, they were still well received by my gracious friends, but I know I can do better.)

Do you, dear readers, have similar recipe-collecting conundrums?  If so, I hope this has inspired you to reevaluate or reorganize in the new year (I'm all about fresh starts), or, if you have any tips that you think can help me, please share!