Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Pea Pesto Crostini

Ground up peas on toast? Really?
Yes! Although I was skeptical about this crostini topping, it greatly exceeded my expectations. Serve as a light appetizer or bring to a potluck as an alternative to hummus and pita chips. Originally called pea pesto crostini, I kept the name but would personally describe it as a pea hummus because of the topping's texture and oomph.

Pea Pesto Crostini

16 ounce package frozen peas, defrosted
1-2 garlic cloves, peeled (to personal taste)
3/4 cup grated pecorino romano cheese
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt, plus extra for seasoning
1/2+ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus extra for seasoning
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil, plus more for crostini toasts
1 baguette, cut into 1/3 inch slices (day old bread toasts best)
cherry tomatoes (or, use thin slices of oven roasted tomatoes when cherry tomatoes aren't in season)

-Add peas, parmesan, garlic, salt, and pepper to a food processor work bowl and pulse until just combined. With machine running, slowly add a 1/2 cup of olive oil and continue to mix until well combined, but slightly textured. Season to taste. (note: you can start with whole romano cheese and 'grate' it in the food processor by adding it first in 1 inch chunks and processing until grated.)
-For the crostini toasts: heat a stove top griddle or grill pan over medium high heat. Brush 1/3 inch baguette slices with olive oil and grill until lightly brown on both sides.
-Top each crostini with about a tablespoon of the pea pesto and garnish with slices/wedges of cherry tomatoes.

Adapted from Giada at Home, Giada De Laurentiis 

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Butternut Squash and Goat Cheese Pizza

It only makes sense that you'd like to make a few different pizzas when you make four pizzas worth of dough. So, as I tested the frozen and refrigerated dough to see how it fared (see original pizza dough post for results) I also tried a new topping combinations. This recipe is best suite for the fall in winter months since it features butternut squash and, when seared, it makes a great pizza topping that will liven your spirit during the winter months. If you cannot find a small enough butternut squash don't worry, simply sear it all and use the rest in future dishes or eat it as a snack with a bit of left over goat cheese like I did.

Butternut Squash and Goat Cheese Pizza

1 small butternut squash- peeled, seeded, and cut into 1/4 inch cubes
4-6 tablespoons of goat cheese (a small package will be more than sufficient)
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
2 teaspoons brown sugar
1/2 cup (or less) of your favorite basic marinara or tomato sauce
1/2 cup of grated mozzarella cheese
1-2 teaspoons of fresh herbs, finely minced (I used rosemary and lemon thyme)
1 teaspoon lemon zest

-Prepare pizza dough.
-Set oven to 480° F. 
-While the dough is resting, heat olive oil or butter over medium-high to hight heat in a medium skillet. When the oil is hot (smells nutty but not smokey) add the squash and toss it briefly to coat with the oil. Season with salt and pepper and let the squash brown, only tossing occasionally to encourage browning on all sides. When the squash is fork tender, about 5-10 minutes, take the pan off the heat and add the brown sugar. Toss to incorporate using the residual heat and set aside.
-Top the pizza round with the tomato sauce, mozzarella cheese, squash, and small dollops of goat cheese.
-Bake the pizza for 8-12 minutes until the crust is crisp, golden brown, and puffy.
-Take the pizza out of the oven and transfer it to a cutting board. Top the pizza with your choice of fresh herbs, and lemon zest. Slice and serve.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Mocha Cream Cheese Frosting

Sweet, tart, creamy, chocolaty, velvety, and delicious. My go to frosting, it's very convenient that it freezes so beautifully. Try it on cupcakes, brownies, cakes, or as a cookie filling. I prefer my cream cheese frosting to not be overly sweet, so depending on your tastes you may want to add more powdered sugar than I listed below.

Mocha Cream Cheese Frosting
Makes about 2 cups

8 ounces cream cheese, chilled
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
2 teaspoons vanilla
~1 cup powdered sugar, sifted
5 ounces semisweet chocolate
3 tablespoons espresso

-Melt the chocolate in the microwave or a double boiler. When the chocolate has just melted, add the espresso and let the mixture cool to lukewarm, but do not allow the chocolate to harden.
-Blend the butter, cream cheese, and vanilla in a medium bowl. Add the powdered sugar a half cup at a time to taste and until the frosting is smooth. Blend in melted chocolate mixture. Do not over mix.
-Keeps refrigerated for ~1 week or freezes well for 3 months. Thaw completely and remix before using.

Adapted from the Joy of Cooking, Irma S. Rombauer

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Chocolate Zucchini Cupcakes

I posted this recipe in anticipation of zucchini season. Otherwise known as, "what on earth am I going to do with all this zucchini season?", this recipe is a great way to enjoy a bountiful zucchini harvest. The coconut oil adds additional richness to the cupcakes, but if you aren't a huge coconut fan I suggest you use only vegetable oil instead.

I found this recipe on one of my favorite food blogs, 101 Cookbooks. I haven't changed the recipe much, but do be careful about cupcake baking time. The zucchini makes these cupcakes moist and fluffy, but over baking leads to a drier result. I found that I could make 24 cupcakes from one batch (instead of 20 listed in the recipe) but that also meant that I pulled cupcakes much sooner than listed (20 minutes instead of 35). Keep in mind that you should try to slightly under bake these cupcakes as they will continue to cook when you pull them from the oven.

Chocolate Zucchini Cupcakes
Makes about 24 cupcakes

1 1/2 cups brown sugar
1/4 cup melted butter
3/4 cup vegetable oil (I used 1/4 cup vegetable oil and 1/2 cup coconut oil)
3 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 cup buttermilk
2 cups grated zucchini (after grating I squeeze some of the excess moisture out of the zucchini with my hands)
1 cup chocolate chips
2 cups unbleached flour
1 cup cocoa, sifted
1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp allspice
1 1/2 tsp cinnamon

-Preheat oven to 350° Fahrenheit. Lightly grease large muffin pans and line with muffin cups. (I've also baked these without muffin cups).

-Mix sugar, butter, and oil in a medium bowl. Beat in eggs, one at a time until well incorporated. Stir in vanilla, buttermilk, zucchini, and chocolate chips.

-In a large bowl, mix dry ingredients together in a separate bowl. Add the liquid ingredients to the dry ingredients and mix until well combined. Spoon batter into muffin pans. Bake about 18-25 minutes (depending on cupcake size). Check cupcakes with a toothpick and pull them from the oven just before they're finished so they don't over bake.

-Can be served with or without frosting. I used Mocha Cream Cheese Frosting.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Upside Down Baked Challah French Toast

Challah french toast bakes above a caramelized brown sugar sauce with pecans, cranberries, and apples which, once the entire dish is inverted, becomes a sinfully delicious french toast topping.  No, this recipe isn't healthy, but, I would view it as a special brunch treat to serve for a special occasion or celebration. One benefit to this recipe is that it finishes in the oven which allows you to finish prepping and cooking before your brunch guests arrive. I have to warn you, flipping the baking dish over before serving can be a bit messy. After a few trials I found that the faster you can flip it, the better. Also, letting the dish rest a few minutes out of the oven beforehand is also useful.

Upside Down Baked Challah French Toast
Serves 6

6 eggs
1 1/2 cups whole milk
1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 loaf challah bread cut into 1 inch-thick slices
1/2 stick unsalted butter
1 cup light brown sugar
3 Granny Smith apples peeled, cored, quartered and sliced into 1/4 inch thick slices
1/4 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup pecans
1/2 cup dried cranberries

-Preheat oven to 350° F.

-In a flat dish, whisk eggs and add milk, vanilla extract and cinnamon until well combined. Lay challah slices in mixture to coat and absorb it all, turning occasionally. (You may have to do this in sets, depending on the dish you use).

-Set a 10-inch skillet over medium heat. (Note: if the skillet it oven safe there is no need to use a 9x13 dish later in the recipe, simply bake the french toast in the skillet). Add the butter and brown sugar and cook, stirring constantly, until the sugar melts and caramelizes, about 10 minutes.

-Remove from heat and gently whisk in the heavy cream. (Note: Do not the sugar mixture cool.) Transfer the caramelized sugar to a preheated 9x13 pyrex baking dish. Sprinkle in the pecans, dried cranberries and evenly line the pan with the apple slices. Lay soaked slices of challah over the top so it is completely covered - you should be able to arrange the large slices and small slices so there are no gaps. Sprinkle the top with some brown sugar and place into the oven. Bake in the middle of the oven for 40 to 45 minutes until the top is golden and puffy. When done, allow to cool for 2 to 3 minutes then invert onto a large plate or cutting board with a drip ring.

Adapted from Tyler Florence's Upside-Down Apple French Toast with Cranberries and Pecans 2008

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Baby Shiitake Mushroom and Arugula Pizza

This is the first pizza I made using my last blog post's pizza dough recipe. Not only were the baby shiitake mushrooms locally grown and cheaper than the large ones, they didn't need to be sliced. To preserve its flavor, I added the arugula when the pizza was almost finished baking. Warmed by the piping hot pizza, adding fresh herbs and lemon zest immediately after the pizza comes out of the oven releases their flavors.

Baby Shiitake Mushroom and Arugula Pizza
-makes two 12 inch pizzas

2-3 cups of baby shiitake mushrooms
1 tablespoon butter or olive oil
1 garlic clove, pressed
1/2 cup of grated mozzarella cheese
1/2 cup (or less) of your favorite basic marinara or tomato sauce
1 cup of baby arugula leaves
2 teaspoons fresh herbs, chopped (lemon thyme, italian parsley, or basil)
1 teaspoon lemon zest
1 tablespoon of finely grated pecorino romano cheese

-Prepare pizza dough.
-Set oven to 480° F. 
-While the dough is resting, heat olive oil or butter over medium-high heat in a medium skillet. Add mushrooms and sautée until mushrooms soften and begin to brown, about 5-7 minutes. At about 3 minutes, add the minced garlic and toss to combine. Remove the mushrooms from the heat.
-Top the pizza round with the tomato sauce, mozzarella cheese, and mushrooms.
-Bake for 6-10 minutes until the crust begins to brown. Take the pizza out of the oven, add the arugula, and return it to the oven until the crust is golden brown, about 2 minutes.
-Take the pizza out of the oven and transfer it to a cutting board. Top the pizza with your choice of fresh herbs, lemon zest, and pecorino romano cheese. Slice and serve.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Pizza Dough

Ordering pizza is easy, but so is making it. With the 'Best Recipe' in hand from America's Test Kitchen, I ventured into homemade pizza. One thing I admire about their recipe is their flexibility in wait times. Want to make the dough in the morning? Choose the eight hour recipe. Want to make the pizza dough a day in advance? Let the dough rise in the refrigerator overnight and finish it at room temperature.
I have to admit I was disappointed in their absence of information about pizza dough storage. Their recipe makes four twelve inch pizzas which is more than I need in one evening. Can I freeze or refrigerate the dough and use it later?
Since their literature didn't divulge these secrets, I decided to run a small experiment of my own. I prepared one full recipe and cooked two pizzas straight away and placed the remaining two dough balls in olive oil lined plastic bags, much like the pizza dough you can buy commercially. One pizza dough ball went in the refrigerator and one was placed in the freezer. I'll post the results of the dough storage test when they're available:

Refrigerated Dough- Pull out of the fridge and let it rest 40 minutes before you attempt to shape it. Dough is a little fragile and more likely to tear but completely workable and bakes up well.

Frozen Dough- Put in fridge to thaw (I did this overnight) and follow the refrigerated dough instructions.

-Both freezing and refrigerating the dough produces manageable and delicious pizza crust when you follow the listed tips.

Pizza Dough (8 hour wait)*
1/2 cup warm water
1/2 teaspoon active dry yeast
1 1/4 cups room temperature water
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra for oiling bowl
4 cups bread flour, plus extra for dusting hands and work surfaces
1 1/2 teaspoons salt

- Measure warm water in a 2-cup measuring cup. Add yeast and let it stand until the yeast dissolves and swells, about 5 minutes. Add the room temperature water and oil; stir to combine.
-Pulse flour and salt in a large food processor with fitted with the steel blade. While pulsing, slowly add the yeast mixture (holding back a few tablespoons) to the work bowl until the dough starts to form into a ball. This may happen before you add all of the yeast mixture. Once the ball has formed process the dough for another 30 seconds.
-Turn the dough onto a lightly floured work surface and knead a few times to form a smooth round ball. Put dough in a deep bowl that is lightly oiled and cover with plastic wrap. Let rise at a cool room temperature (about 68 degrees F) until it has doubled in size, about 8 hours.
-Punch dough down with your fist and turn it out onto your floured work surface. Divide the dough into equal portions (2, 4, or 8 pieces) and shape each into a smooth, round ball and cover it with a damp cloth. Let the dough relax for at least 5 minutes but no more than 30 minutes.
-Working with one ball of dough at a time and keeping the others covered, flatten the dough ball into a disk using the palms of your hands. Using your fingers, start at the center of the disk and press the dough outwards until it is about 1/2 inch thick.
-Set oven to 480° F.
-Hold the center of the dough in place and stretch the dough outward. Rotate the dough a quarter turn and repeat. When the dough will not stretch any further let it rest for five minutes and try again until the dough reaches the correct diameter. I found I could stretch the dough for a 12 inch pizza to 10 inches before it needed a rest.
-Carefully transfer the dough to a transfer peel or cookie sheet (if you don't have a pizza stone) that is dusted with flour or cornmeal. Brush the dough with olive oil and add the toppings. For a 12 inch pizza I found only a few big spoonfuls of sauce were necessary, otherwise the pizza will be soggy. Likewise, use less mozzarella cheese than you think you need, about 1/2 cup per 12 inch pizza.
-Bake pizza 8-15 minutes until the crust is golden brown.

*For 24 hour dough, let the dough rise in the refrigerator for up to 16 hours. Remove from refrigerator and finish rising at room temperature until doubled in size, about 8 hours.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Baked Salmon with Gremolata Crust

I replaced my Easter ham with this baked salmon recipe and I honestly don't feel that I missed out.  Minimal prep time that can be finished before your oven to reach 500° F, you could enjoy this meal as for a special occasion or on any weeknight. As you can see in the picture, I served the salmon with asparagus- one of my favorite springtime treats that I will post the recipe for soon. If asparagus isn't your thing, a green salad or another simply prepared green vegetable would also accompany this dish beautifully. Keep an eye on your salmon while it's cooking- filet thickness and width will greatly affect cooking time.


Baked Salmon with Gremolata Crust

2 large lemons, grated lemon zest
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 cup fresh flat-leaf parsley, chopped
3-4 large thyme sprigs, leaves chopped
3 tablespoons bread crumbs
handful of pine nuts, ground in a food processor
kosher salt and ground black pepper to taste

four 5-6 ounce salmon filets (preferably equal in thickness)
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
4 scallions, thinly sliced into round (including green parts)
1 pint cherry tomatoes
2 tablespoons dry white wine
kosher salt and ground black pepper to taste
small bunch of flat-leaf parsley leaves, chopped
1-2 thyme sprigs, leaves chopped

-Preheat oven to 500° F.
-In a small bowl, combine all the gremolata ingredients (first list). Mix well.
-Drizzle a bit of olive oil in a baking dish and place the salmon filets in the dish so they are evenly spaced and have room around them to cook evenly.
-Coat the tops of the salmon filets with the gremolata mixture. Press lightly.
-Bake until the fish is barely translucent in the center and flakes easily when twisted with a fork, about 10-15 minutes, depending on the filet size.
-When the salmon is in the oven, heat a medium skillet over high heat and add a tablespoon of olive oil to the pan. When the oil is almost smoking add the scallions and tomatoes and sear until the tomato skins begin to crack, about 5-7 minutes. Add the white wine and let it reduce briefly. Remove pan from the heat and season with salt and pepper.
- Add the parsley and thyme to the cooked tomatoes and serve alongside the salmon.

Adapted from: The Flavors of Southern Italy, Erica De Mane

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Roasted Vegetables with Couscous

Quick, healthy, and easy to adjust to suit the contents of your refrigerator and pantry, roasted vegetables are a great weeknight meal. The chopped chiles add a bit of spice to the dish but not enough to overpower the delicate flavors from the roasted vegetables whereas the sugar and salt amplify those flavors. I tend to prefer the larger Israeli couscous for this dish but I've also served it with quinoa and short pasta. The vegetables can be exchanged or added to but be sure to account for different roasting times. If you choose vegetables that require longer or shorter roasting times place these vegetables in their own roasting dish and add/remove it from the oven when necessary.

Roasted Vegetables with Couscous

2 medium eggplants, halved lengthwise and cut into 1 inch wedges
1 pint of cherry tomatoes
3 medium portobello mushrooms, halved and cut into 1/2 inch thick strips
2 bell peppers (not green), cut into similar size pieces as the mushroom
3 garlic cloves, pressed or finely chopped
2-3 red chiles, finely chopped
1/3 cup + 1 tablespoon olive oil
2 teaspoons sugar
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 1/2 cups couscous (I used Israeli couscous)
3 cups boiling chicken/vegetable stock
1/4 cup chopped parsley
plain yogurt

-Preheat oven to 400° F.
-Divide 1/3 cup of olive oil, chiles, garlic, sugar, and salt between two glass roasting dishes. (I used two 9x13 pyrex pans)
-Divide the vegetables between the pans and toss in the oil and seasonings thoroughly, using your hands. Bake for 40 minutes, turning vegetables occasionally, until the vegetables are tender and starting to brown.
-Meanwhile, mix the couscous with the remaining tablespoon of olive oil and add the boiling stock. Cover and let stand until stock is absorbed, about 15 minutes.
-Plate couscous, followed by the vegetables and garnish with the parsley and a dollop of yogurt.