Monday, July 19, 2010

Basic Pizza Dough and Two Pizza Sauces

At left: Pizza Margherita

First of all, I'm back from a very warranted vacation to Portland, and since I've finished with school, I've been cooking and baking up a storm. Life is just simply better when I have time to play in my kitchen, so in addition to the obligatory vacation eats post (coming soon), I'll be posting recipes and pictures from my forays into simple, tasty French bread and homemade ketchup.

That being said, my very favorite thing to do recently is to make pizza dough. I know most people find store-bought crusts most convenient, but there's nothing like making your own. Fresh and full of love, homemade crust is easy to make and isn't inconvenient if you're like me and plan out all your meals ahead of time. Just one hour guarantees enough rising time for your dough to morph into a fantastic thin crust (my favorite kind).

Pizza sauce is another one of those ingredients most people prefer to buy already made, but I like to make large batches myself and freeze in individual containers. It's economical and simple enough to make, and there is no greater time to start stocking up on freezer sauces than when the farmers markets are full of excellent produce.

My first love is tomato-based pizza sauce, although I've been known to blend in a bit of my second love, roasted red pepper pizza sauce. Brimming with fresh herbs from the farmers market, nothing beats a flavorful sauce on a homemade crust. It may sound daunting to do all of this in one day, so I would encourage doing it in steps (roast a head of garlic one day, blend with roasted red peppers the next day, etc.)

Basic Pizza Dough

1/2 tsp. yeast
1/4 cup warm water, plus more as needed
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp. salt
Handful of cornmeal

1. Dissolve yeast in 1/4 cup warm water and let sit for 5-10 minutes. Place flour and salt in food processor and pulse a couple of times. With processor running, add yeast and water mixture. Add more warm water, a tablespoon at a time, to dough until a ball forms in processor.

2. Turn dough onto floured surface and knead five times. Shape into a ball and place dough in a large bowl coated with olive oil or olive oil cooking spray. Let rise in a warm place for at least one hour.

3. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Once risen, turn dough out onto floured surface and roll out to an 8-inch crust. Place crust on a pizza pan sprinkled with cornmeal and brush with olive oil. Bake in preheated oven for 10-15 minutes.

4. Top crust with 2-3 tablespoons of tomato or red pepper pizza sauce, and add other toppings.* Bake in oven until cheese is melted and crust is lightly browned.

* I prefer Pizza Margherita with fresh mozzarella (rather than the dry, shredded kind) and a sprinkling of chiffonade cut basil once the pizza is removed from the oven. Chicken sausage is also a great addition, particularly if you are using roasted red pepper sauce.

Classic Tomato Herb Pizza Sauce

1 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
3 cloves garlic, finely minced
1 yellow onion, finely chopped
1 28 oz. can tomato sauce (preferably Muir Glen Organic)
1 15 oz. can tomato paste (again, preferably Muir Glen)
1 tsp. turbinado sugar
4 tbsp. mixed fresh herbs, such as basil, marjoram, oregano
Pinch of salt
Freshly ground black pepper to taste

1. Heat oil in a saucepan over medium high heat. Saute garlic and onions for 3-4 minutes, or until onions are soft and translucent. If using dried herbs, add to onion and garlic.

2. Pour in tomato sauce and tomato paste, stirring to combine. Once heated through, add sugar, turn heat down to low and cover. Simmer for 10-20 minutes.

3. Stir in fresh herbs, salt (you might not need salt if you are using non-organic sauce and paste--check the label), and black pepper to taste. Remove from heat, cool, and pour into serving sized ziplock bags. Label and freeze up to six months.

Roasted Red Pepper Pizza Sauce From Emeril's recipe on Planet Green

6 red bell peppers
½ cup plus 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, plus more for brushing
1 ½ teaspoons salt
1 head Roasted Garlic, recipe follows
1 cup chicken stock
1 tablespoon roughly chopped fresh oregano
1 tablespoon roughly chopped fresh basil
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Slice the sides of the bell peppers off and discard the stems and seeds. Cover a baking sheet with foil and lightly coat with cooking spray. Spread the bell pepper sections onto the baking sheet and brush both sides with extra virgin olive oil. Season both sides with 1 teaspoon of salt. Transfer to the oven and cook until tender and well caramelized, about 1 hour. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool.

Puree the bell peppers with the Roasted Garlic, chicken stock and extra virgin olive oil, in batches if necessary. Stir in the remaining ½ teaspoon salt, oregano, basil and vinegar. Use as a sauce for pizzas or pasta.

Roasted Red Pepper Sauce

Roasted Red Pepper Sauce with Chicken Sausage and Basil

Monday, July 5, 2010

Sausage and Beans over Polenta

This is my favorite dish to eat in the entire world. I'm really not kidding. When I'm stressed out or feeling under the weather, I immediately start craving cannellini beans and polenta, so over the years I've run to this staple that I've never written down before. For your sake, I took the time to actually record what's in this comfort food.

I last made sausage and beans over polenta during the hurried last stages of writing, when it was still cold out and the puppy was overly rambunctious. These days he's quite the gentleman, even riding in the car. Oh hell, here's a gratuitous shot of Otis looking cute. Recipe follows.

Sausage and Beans over Polenta

4 Italian sausages, casings removed
1 small yellow onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1-14.5 oz. can diced tomatoes, drained with juices reserved
1-14.5 oz. can cannellini beans (may substitute Great Northern Beans)
3-4 tbsp. Italian parsley, chopped
Fresh ground black pepper
1 recipe polenta

1. Cook sausage in deep skillet over medium high heat until cooked through. Set sausage aside and keep warm. Pour all but 1-2 tbsp. drippings from pan and reserve heat to medium.

2. Add onion and garlic to skillet and saute until onions are translucent. Pour in tomatoes and cannellini beans. Add a few tablespoons of the reserved tomato juices; stir to combine.

3. Return sausage to pan and add black pepper and parsley. To serve, ladle beans and sausage over polenta.

Note: I sometimes top with freshly grated parmigiano-reggiano if I'm feeling particularly blue. It will make your soul sing.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Polenta, Beans, and Scrambled Eggs or, Everything but the Kitchen Sink

I'm in the midst of a love affair with polenta, and this has to be one of my favorite ways to eat it. Tired of Italian sausage over polenta (post coming soon), I decided to clean out my pantry and fridge for this dish. I wouldn't recommend this if you're on a diet....which I am not. Ever. I like food. Sue me.

Polenta, Beans, and Scrambled Eggs

3 cups water
1 cup polenta
1-14.5 oz. can S&W Pinquitos, drained with liquid reserved
2 green onions, chopped
1/2 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
4 eggs, beaten
1 avocado, diced

1. Bring 3 cups water to a boil; pour polenta slowly into water, stirring constantly. Continue stirring for 20-25 minutes, or until mixture is thickened and is easily pulled from the side of the pan. Let sit.*

2. Pour pinquitos into saucepan over medium heat; add green onions and enough reserved liquid that the mixture isn't soupy but is lightly sauced. Heat through and add cherry tomatoes.

3. Scramble eggs in a separate pan. To assemble dish, scoop a generous amount of polenta onto plate, cover with a layer of bean mixture and half of the eggs. Place avocado pieces on top.

4. Eat, and then jump on a treadmill.

*Note: polenta has a tendency to spatter if stirring isn't rigorously maintained. I sometimes use a splatter screen or soup pot lid to shield myself and the dogs at my feet from molten polenta lava.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Kielbasa and Kale Soup

Now I know that this particular soup is more suited to starving winter palates, but I'm in the Pacific Northwest, and therefore summer is rather a relative term. Some days it's summer-ish, others you're freezing your bullocks off and wondering if it is in fact October. Seriously, I wore a warm coat through much of June.

I'm always looking for ways to get Ian to eat kale since I can't get enough of the green leafy stuff, but he wrinkles his nose at the mere mention of kale. Luckily, he'll try anything, so even if something has kale in it, his adventurous side allows him to at least give it a shot. This soup turned out fabulous, and Ian likes it so much I've now made it a handful of times. Sometimes I'll use chicken kielbasa but more often than not turkey kielbasa is what's on sale, and I have a fondness for turkey.

Kielbasa and Kale Soup
Adapted from Life's Ambrosia

1 tbsp. olive oil
3/4 cup onion
2-3 cloves garlic, chopped
3-4 small red potatoes, diced
1 turkey kielbasa (I use Jennie-O)
1/4 cup dry white wine
3 1/2 cups chicken stock
1 large cluster of kale, torn into pieces
3/4 cup half and half
Cayenne pepper

1. Heat olive oil over medium heat; add onion and saute until translucent. Add garlic when onions are almost cooked through. Add potatoes and saute about 3-4 minutes; add kielbasa and saute 3-4 minutes more.

2. Add white wine to pot along with chicken stock. Simmer on medium low heat 15 minutes; add kale and simmer 15 minutes longer.

3. Once potatoes are tender, reduce heat to low and add half and half. Stir in a pinch of cayenne pepper and freshly ground black pepper to taste.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Scallops and Bacon over Gnocchi

I spied a cheap package of gnocchi at the Moscow Food Co-Op, and since I never find gnocchi around here save for the ultra-expensive frozen kind, and since I simply never have time to make it by hand anymore, I snatched it up and immediately eyed the Beeler's Natural Bacon I placed in the cart a few minutes before. It was settled: I must combine these two loves of my life with my true soulmate, scallops. Of course, bacon and scallops is a pretty usual combination, but I loved the gnocchi in this dish. I added spinach to make up for the naughty bacon and to give it a little splash of color.

Scallops and Bacon over Gnocchi

Four sea scallops, rinsed and patted dry
2 slices natural uncured bacon
2 cloves garlic, minced
8 oz. gnocchi, cooked according to directions
2 cups baby spinach

1. Heat a skillet and cook bacon until done. Drain all but 2-3 tbsp. bacon grease and increase heat to medium high. Salt and pepper scallops, then add scallops to the pan and cook 2-3 minutes on one side, or until the bottom is browned. Turn over and cook another 1-2 minutes, making sure not to overcook (rubbery scallops are the worst). Remove scallops to a plate and keep warm. Chop bacon into pieces.

2. Decrease heat to medium-low and add spinach and garlic. Toss for 1-2 minutes and add cooked gnocchi to pan, along with bacon. Serve plated with 2 sea scallops on each plate.

Post-defense gluttony at The Black Cypress

Last Monday, at approximately 1:45 PM, I officially satisfied all academic requirements for my PhD, and after successfully defending my dissertation, Ian and I decided to go out for dinner. The original plan was to stay in and order pizza, but as soon as I finished, six long years of fire and hoops begged me to celebrate their departure.

The Black Cypress is owned and operated by someone I was in graduate school with for a time, and boy am I glad he's taken up culinary residence in Pullman. This little pocket of area in the Pacific Northwest really doesn't offer much in the way of food, and anyone who knows me well is aware of my hatred for tasteless Palouse food. Most of the restaurants people like around here make this Chicagoan cringe, but the Black Cypress is one restaurant I always enjoy.

On Monday, appetizers are half-price (except for the specials), and being the ravenous, bubbling with excitement type, we went for the specials, which were both awesome.

First up was the scallop salad, comprised of thinly sliced tart apple, perfectly cooked scallops, finely shredded cabbage, assorted (very) local herbs, and a lemon oil drizzle. I loved the combination of the crisp apple with the soft scallop, and the fresh herbs and cabbage tasted like they just came out of a garden.

We were really naughty and ordered a second appetizer of roasted asparagus on a bed of crunchy toast, topped with a creamy local egg and shaved parm. For Ian and I both this was a sublime comfort food that was just what the doctor ordered (hehehehehe, you know you laughed). Ian wants to recreate this at home since he'll plop an over easy egg on anything, and he's pretty comfortable grilling asparagus.

Ian ordered the kima pasta, which is a Greek meat sauce flavored with hints of cinnamon and topped with shaved myzithra cheese. The last time he ordered it, the pasta was spaghetti, so the orecchiette was a welcome variation, and the creamy kima sauce together with the pasta made it reminiscent of a grown-up version of mac and cheese.

I ordered the beef shish kebab, served with an almond mint Israeli couscous. Each bite of beef was perfectly medium, just the way I like it, and the veggies were the perfect balance of crunch and tenderness.

The whole meal was the perfect cap to an exciting day, and I'll be going back Saturday night. If you're anywhere near the Pullman area, I definitely recommend trying the Black Cypress at least once, if not as many times as you can to erase the memory of generic store bought potstickers and wilted greens found at most establishments around here.


Previously, I blogged at, but apparently remembering emails and passwords is much too difficult a task for someone with a newly minted PhD. While many might be devastated by their lack of memory, I preferred to make lemon drop martinis out of the lemons thrown my way, and I've started a new blog where I can start anew. After all, new existence post-grad school means I am in a completely different place mentally, and a new blog is the perfect new beginning.

Let me begin with a little sadness and a little joy. Zander, my favorite dog in the whole world, my fluffy beast, my canine son, is no longer with us. He left behind the love of his life, the lovely pitbull Zelda, and after months of watching her appetite diminish to the point of starvation and watching her deteriorate to a pile of dog on the couch with no interest in anything or anyone, we decided to get a Golden Retriever puppy.

Ladies and gentlemen, this is Otis Redding Jr.-Jr. at four and a half months:

Of course, training was exhausting at first, and trying to catch puppies who have to go to the bathroom *before* they go in the house is virtually impossible, but he has grown and is well-behaved compared to when we brought him home at 8 weeks. Here's how tiny he was at 8 weeks:

From the moment we brought him home, Zelda Fitzgerald was no longer singing the blues, and she took on the mommy role with diligence and fortitude. As I feverishly finished writing my dissertation and commenced preparing for my final doctoral exam, Zelda dutifully babysat, even telling on him when he did something naughty.

Now they are the best of friends, and as they cuddle constantly, I have more time to cook...and blog. More cuteness below, but a word of warning, these photos may not be suitable for the cooing aloud type.