Sunday, June 29, 2008

Noodle Love VIII: Lasagna

Although now I, happily, spend much of my time cooking for a man, I did, in my more youthful and culinarily inexperienced years, enjoy having a man cook for me. My junior year in college, I lived in a single-person dorm that was the size of a walk-in closet, and, with no kitchen of my own, my meals usually consisted of ice-cream scoop-mounded piles of the cafeteria's mystery meat du jour. But sometimes I'd pack a bag and leave campus for a weekend and be served food—delicious food—that was made just for me by a man who enjoyed indulging my every request. There were dishes I asked for over and over again, pepperoni bread and crab-stuffed chicken breast being the most frequent two. But sometimes he'd plan the meals and I'd sit at the kitchen table, greedily sipping glass after glass of wine, waiting impatiently for whatever was being prepared for me.

He liked to use onions, an ingredient which, at the time, I insisted I didn't care for. He used so many that the smell would permeate the air of his small apartment and I'd rub my watering eyes and complain that I didn't know why he had to use so many onions. He'd refill my glass and chop another onion.

The particular meal I'm thinking of now was lasagna. The man may have turned out to be a dud, but the lasagna was not. It was delicious, and I still remember it as the best lasagna I've ever had. I don't know how he made it—at the time I was interested in eating, not cooking—but, besides the onions, I remember that the sauce was heavy on red wine. When the weekend was over, I returned to my dorm, lasagna-filled Tupperware in tow, and stored the leftovers in my mini-fridge. In the following days I ate the leftovers cold from the fridge for breakfast—then, breakfast was around 11:00 am—and it was as good cold as it had been warm.

These days, I'm with a man who is wonderful but whose overly picky tastes threaten to cramp my budding culinary repertoire. He's not impressed in the least with Italian food, he insists that all pasta is the same, and he hates tomatoes and ricotta cheese. What is a lasagna-loving girl to do?

Well, I make it anyway, that's what I do. But only rarely, and only when I find a recipe that seems especially tasty. I thought maybe Martha Stewart’s Lasagna Primavera would get by Adam. There are no tomatoes in it, after all, and it’s filled with veggies, so I thought I could pass it off as health food. But he didn't like the ricotta or the frozen spinach, which is the latest addition to his growing list of dislikes. He ate one piece of the lasagna, and only after he'd doused it in Red Hot.

I hope that, in telling you this, I'm not doing this lasagna a disservice. Adam is strange and peculiar and you can't go by his tastes. But you can certainly trust me, and I'm telling you that this lasagna is wonderful. It's so good that I had to spend the next week finishing the leftovers myself, and I didn't mind a bit.

If I had to make one complaint, though, I'd say that I wish the noodles themselves had stayed a bit firmer. The recipe calls for the lasagna to be cooked for 65 minutes--is it possible for noodles not to turn soft after that long? I don't know. I used oven-ready noodles, as the recipe advised, but, if I ever dare to make lasagna again, I might try using regular noodles, soaked very briefly in hot water, and see how that works out.

I had planned to serve the lasagna with garlic knots, but making the lasagna was not a speedy process, and I didn’t have it in me to bake anything else. I found, though, that the lasagna goes really well served with a very simple side of vine-ripened, lightly salted tomatoes. Enjoy!

Vegetable Lasagna
Adapted from Freeze-Ahead Lasagna Primavera

1/4 cup olive oil, plus more for foil
1 medium onion, diced
4 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
6 cups whole milk
2 packages (10 ounces each) frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed dry*
1 package (10 ounces) frozen peas
1 cup finely shredded broccoli florets**
1/2 pound carrots (4 to 5), halved lengthwise and thinly sliced
Coarse salt and ground pepper
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg***
1 container (15 ounces) part-skim ricotta (about 2 cups)
1 large egg
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
1 package (9 ounces) no-boil lasagna noodles (12 noodles)
1 pound part-skim mozzarella, shredded
1 cup grated Parmesan

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. In a large saucepan, heat oil over medium heat; add onion and garlic and cook until onion begins to soften, about 5 minutes. Add flour and cook, stirring constantly, 2 to 3 minutes (do not let flour mixture darken); whisk in milk. Bring to a boil, whisking frequently; reduce to a simmer, and cook, whisking occasionally, until thickened, 3 to 5 minutes. Add spinach, peas, broccoli, and carrots; season with salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Set sauce aside.

In a medium bowl, combine ricotta, egg, parsley, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper.

In the bottom of a 9-by-13-inch baking dish, spread a thin layer of vegetable sauce. Layer 3 noodles, half the remaining vegetable sauce, another 3 noodles, half the ricotta mixture, half the mozzarella, and half the Parmesan; repeat.

Cover dish with lightly oiled aluminum foil, and place on a large rimmed baking sheet. Bake 45 minutes, uncover, and bake until bubbling and browned, about 20 minutes more. Let cool 10 to 15 minutes before serving.

* I used my salad spinner to get the water out of the frozen spinach. It takes a while, but remove as much liquid as you can, or else your sauce will be watery.
** I added the broccoli because I had some to use up, but it’s optional. If you choose to add it, just shred it as finely as you can with a sharp knife until it looks like it does in the picture above.
*** The nutmeg is optional, too, but I really like the flavor. Nutmeg is often paired with both cream sauces and dark greens.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Chinese Chicken Salad

You know, sometimes I just don’t have a story to go along with a recipe. I made this Chinese Chicken Salad last week and haven’t posted about it until now because I couldn’t think of what I should write. But you know what? I think this one mostly speaks for itself. It’s easy. It’s healthy. It’s colorful. It’s delicious. Nuff said.

I’m including the original recipe below, but this dish is easily adaptable. Use whatever nuts you like. I used walnuts, but I think cashews also would have been good. I used regular old green cabbage in place of napa because, for some reason, the former is half the price of the latter. I also served mine in (washed) cabbage leaves, just because it seemed like a good use for those outer leaves that I usually don't use. All the ingredients work wonderfully together, and the chicken, which is flavored very simply with a few brushes of soy sauce and sesame oil, is moist and tasty. The whole dish is fabulous, especially for summer.

OK, that’s it. Enjoy!

Chinese Chicken Salad
From Ellie Krieger

4 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce, divided
2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil, divided
1 pound skinless, boneless chicken breasts
1/2 head napa cabbage, thinly shredded (about 6 cups)
1/4 head red cabbage, shredded (about 2 cups)
1 large carrot, shredded (about 2 cups)
3 scallions, trimmed and thinly sliced, greens included, about 1/2 cup
1 (8-ounce) can sliced water chestnuts

1 (11-ounce) can Mandarin oranges in water or juice (not syrup), drained
1/3 cup rice wine vinegar
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1 teaspoon minced ginger
2 tablespoons canola oil
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons chili-garlic sauce or chili sauce
1/4 cup sliced almonds, toasted

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Combine 1 tablespoon soy sauce and 1/2 teaspoon sesame oil and brush onto chicken breasts.

Arrange in a baking dish and bake until juices run clear, about 15 to 20 minutes, or until thermometer inserted in thickest part of the meat reads 160 degrees F. Remove from oven, allow to cool completely, and then cut into bite-size chunks.

In a large bowl, combine napa cabbage, red cabbage, carrot, scallions, water chestnuts, Mandarin oranges, and sliced chicken. In a separate bowl, whisk together 3 tablespoons soy sauce, vinegar, garlic, ginger, oil, 1 1/2 teaspoons sesame oil, brown sugar, and chili sauce.* Pour dressing over salad and toss to combine. Divide among bowls and top each serving with 2 teaspoons toasted almonds.

*The dressing is good, but Adam and I both wished there was more. Consider doubling it.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Noodle Love VII: Whole Wheat Spaghetti

It’s not often that I make a pasta dish that contains neither cream nor cheese, but I’m trying to get better. I recently found an Ellie Krieger recipe for Aromatic Noodles with Lime-Peanut Sauce, and, in the interest of trying to eat better, I decided to give it a try.

This recipe had two strikes against it from the start: 1) I’m not the hugest peanut fan and 2) I have a personal bias against anything “whole wheat,” and the recipe called for whole wheat spaghetti. I didn’t always have this bias, but we recently tried the new Papa John’s whole wheat pizza crust, and I was not a fan. Adam liked it though, so maybe it’s just me.

Anyway, the point is that I wasn’t sure how this recipe would turn out. But you know what? It was delicious! I was actually surprised how much I liked it. I really liked the flavor of both the noodles and the sauce. And it’s so healthy! Whole wheat pasta, lots of veggies, and a tasty peanut-butter-based sauce that I’m sure is better for me than the cream-based sauces I usually make.

Did I mention that Adam has been nagging me to lay off the heavy cream? Yeah, he has. It’s going to be rough, but this pasta dish is a good start.

I’m submitting this dish to next week’s Presto Pasta Nights, which will be hosted by Hillary of Chew on That. Be sure to stop by for the roundup on June 27, and visit Ruth of Once Upon a Feast for past roundups.

Aromatic Noodles with Lime-Peanut Sauce
From Ellie Krieger

3/4 pound whole-wheat spaghetti
2 cups (about 9 ounces) broccoli florets
2 cups (about 6 ounces) snow peas, trimmed
2 cups (about 6 ounces) sugar snap peas, trimmed
1/2 cup natural creamy peanut butter
1/4 cup low-sodium soy sauce
1/4 cup water
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1 scallion, cut into pieces
3/4 inch fresh ginger, finely grated
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/2 cup shelled unsalted peanuts

Cook the pasta in a large pot of water according to the directions on the package. Drain and rinse with cold water. While the pasta is cooking, put the broccoli in a steamer basket over a large pot of boiling water and steam it for 3 minutes. Add the snow peas and sugar snap peas and steam for 2 minutes more.

Toast the peanuts in a dry pan over a medium heat until they become fragrant, about 3 minutes. Set them aside to cool. Make the sauce by pureeing the peanut butter, soy sauce, water, vinegar, lime juice, scallion, ginger, sugar, and red pepper flakes in a food processor or blender until smooth.

Right before serving, toss the pasta with 3/4 cup of the peanut sauce. Divide into 6 serving bowls and top each serving with the vegetables. Drizzle the remaining sauce over the vegetables. Coarsely chop the peanuts, sprinkle them on top, and serve.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Honey-Glazed Pork with Asian Vegetables

I have issues with meat doneness. Before I got my cooking thermometer, I was a total mess. Now I’m just somewhat of a mess. I’m trying to get better about predicting doneness without my thermometer, but it’s not something that comes easily to me. Some things, I have down. I know I can sauté a chicken breast half in 7-8 minutes. I also know I can do a burger, 1/3 of a pound, to well done in 8-9 minutes. Beyond that, it’s a guessing game for me. So I usually stick with my thermometer. If I have meat cooking in the oven, you can bet it’s been spiked with a metal probe.

When I came across a recipe for broiled pork tenderloin that claimed the pork would be ready in 12-16 minutes, I was skeptical. In fact, I almost didn’t try the recipe. I’ve been in that situation where the meat isn’t done when you think it should be and you have to keep putting it back in the oven and checking it and waiting for it to finish while all your sides are either getting cold or are still over the heat and turning to mush. I can’t be bothered with that—I’ll find a recipe whose cooking times seem reasonable, thankyouverymuch. But I just couldn’t toss aside this recipe. It seemed so delicious and easy. And it was from Everyday Food, so I thought the cooking times were probably accurate, and I didn’t even use my thermometer. This recipe calls for turning the meat, which can be made a bit complicated when there’s a thermometer sticking out of it that’s attached to a cord that’s attached to a digital unit on top of your stove. I didn’t want to have any complications that close to the broiler (I’m also prone to burning myself), so I left the thermometer out.

Which was, of course, stupid of me. It wouldn’t have been that hard to use it, and I should have, because when I took the meat out after 16 minutes and checked it with my instant-read thermometer, it was only at about 130, 15 degrees off from where it should have been.

Have I mentioned yet that this pork was on a sheet tray along with some delicate vegetables, like snow peas and scallions? Well, it was. So there I was with a pan of charred vegetables and undercooked pork. I tossed the vegetables around, tried to shelter the already-charred ones beneath the not-yet-charred ones, and put the meat back in for a few minutes. I’ll spare you the entire saga, but I will tell you that I had to do that two more times before the pork was done, and the final time my instant-read hit the 155-degree mark and just kept on going, so in the end the pork was overcooked. So, yeah, remember how I started out saying that I have issues with meat doneness? This is what I meant.

If you are crazy and rebellious and don’t mind hovering around your broiler and would like to prove to me that my cooking skills, not the recipe, are what’s at fault here, please do so and report back with the results. It’s entirely possible I screwed up, although I don’t really see how. I will admit, though, that there are three reviews of this recipe online, one of which reports an experience even worse than mine, and two of which were a success. And, here’s the kicker: I actually still like this recipe—the sauce was yummy, the ingredients worked well together, it’s simple in concept—and I’ll probably try this again. I will not, however, ever attempt this again without using my thermometer right from the start. If you try this recipe and have an oven-safe cooking thermometer (as opposed to instant-read), please use it. I suggest putting the meat and veggies under the broiler, cooking for 8 minutes, tossing the vegetables well and flipping the meat, then placing them back under your broiler until the meat reaches the desired temperature. According to the recipe, that temperature is 145, although that seems a bit low to me. Other sources I’ve seen say pork should be cooked to 160. It’s true the meat will continue cooking a bit as it’s resting, but will it really go up 15 degrees? I have no idea. I mean, I don’t actually know how to cook. You knew that, right? I think I’ve made it pretty obvious here.

Honey-Glazed Pork with Asian Vegetables
From Broiled Soy-Glazed Pork with Rice and Asian Vegetables

1 1/2 cups long-grain white rice
8 ounces snow peas, trimmed
2 medium carrots, thinly sliced on the diagonal
2 red bell peppers (ribs and seeds removed), thinly sliced
1 bunch scallions, ends trimmed, cut crosswise into 3-inch lengths
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1/4 cup reduced-sodium soy sauce
Coarse salt and ground pepper
1 pork tenderloin (1 to 1 1/4 pounds), halved crosswise
1/4 cup honey

Cook rice according to package instructions; cover, and set aside. Meanwhile, heat broiler with rack set 4 inches from heat. On a large rimmed baking sheet (cover with nonstick foil, if you have it), toss snow peas, carrots, bell peppers, and scallions with oil and 2 tablespoons soy sauce; season with salt and pepper.

Place pork on top of vegetables, and season with salt, pepper, and 1 tablespoon honey. If you have an oven-safe thermometer, insert it into the thickest part of the meat and set it for 145 degrees. Broil until pork and vegetables begin to char, 8 minutes. Toss vegetables and turn pork; drizzle pork with 1 tablespoon honey.

Continue to broil until alert sounds or until an instant-read thermometer inserted in thickest part of pork registers 145 degrees and vegetables are charred in spots, at least 6 to 8 minutes, tossing vegetables once more. Remove from broiler. Cover with aluminum foil, and let rest for 10 minutes.

In a small bowl, make sauce: Stir together remaining 2 tablespoons soy sauce and honey. Thinly slice pork and serve with vegetables, rice, and sauce.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Mini Strawberry Loaves with Walnuts and Pecans

So I’m still working on getting through my strawberries. I have a pound or so still left in the fridge that I spared from the freezer. Today I made strawberry bread for breakfast. I’ve almost used up all the (unfrozen) berries now, and I plan on using the remainder to make strawberry lemonade tomorrow.

Making this recipe reminded me a lot of the lemon-blueberry loaves I made previously. Both recipes are from Joy of Baking, and both were made in my new mini loaf pans. There are some key differences though. The lemon-blueberry loaves seemed more cakey to me, and the strawberry bread was more like actual bread. The strawberry bread wasn’t as moist as the lemon-blueberry loaves—the former, after all, wasn’t doused with a sugar syrup at the end of baking—so it’s best served with a bit of butter, fresh and warm from the oven.

Besides adjusting the cooking time and temperature to accommodate four dark-metal mini loaf pans (decrease temperature by 25 degrees for dark metal and cooking time by 25% for mini pans), I mostly stuck to the recipe. The only additional modifications I made were using both walnuts and pecans, instead of one or the other, and adding a few gratings of fresh nutmeg. The original recipe calls for cinnamon, and for some reason when I see cinnamon in baked goods I always have to add some nutmeg. I just think they go so well together.

I’m submitting this recipe to Nutriferia’s Berrylicious roundup. Be sure to visit them soon for some great berry recipes!

Nutriferia badge

Mini Strawberry Loaves with Walnuts and Pecans
Adapted from Strawberry Bread

1/2 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
3/4 cup granulated white sugar
3 large eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
1/2 cup sour cream
1/2 cup toasted walnuts or pecans, or a mix of both, coarsely chopped
1 1/2 cups chopped fresh strawberries

Preheat oven to 350 degrees (or, for dark-metal pans, 325 degrees) and place the oven rack in the middle position. Butter and flour (or spray with a non-stick vegetable/flour spray) the bottoms and sides of 4 mini loaf pans (5.75"x3.25"x2.25"). Set aside.

Place the walnuts and/or pecans on a baking sheet and bake for about 8 minutes or until brown and fragrant. Remove from oven and let cool completely. Set aside.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, or with a hand mixer, beat the butter until softened (about 1 minute). Add the sugar and continue to beat until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in the vanilla extract. In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, ground cinnamon, and nutmeg. With the mixer on low, add the flour mixture (in three additions) and sour cream (in two additions) alternately, starting and ending with the flour. Mix only until combined. Gently fold in the chopped strawberries and nuts.

Scrape the batter into the prepared pans and bake for about 45 minutes or until the bread is golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Place on a wire rack to cool and then remove the loaves from the pans. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Makes 4 mini loaves.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Cheesy Tortilla and Black Bean Pie

I don’t have much specialized cooking gear. I don’t have a Dutch oven or a stand mixer. I have a food processor, but it’s a mini, and so it can’t do most of the things I wish it could do, like make pie dough. There’s lots of stuff I wish I had, and one of the things that’s been on my wish list the longest is a springform pan. I used to eye photos of cheesecakes jealously, fantasizing about the ones I’d make if only I had the proper equipment. Well, I finally got a springform pan, and I have yet to make a cheesecake. I have, however, made a Tortilla and Black-Bean Pie.

I found this recipe on, and when I saw it I knew it’d be perfect for breaking in my pan. I loved the thought of being able to use my new toy for something besides sweet dishes. And I mean, come on, tortilla and black bean pie? That’s my kind of recipe.

This recipe is tasty and easy to throw together, and it’s great served with some chips and salsa or guacamole. The recipe calls for you to alternate layers of tortillas with a bean mixture, which consists of garlic, onion, jalapeno, corn, and, of course, beans. I started out trying to be pretty careful and consistent with my layering, but at some point I stopped paying attention and just began making layers until I reached the top of my pan. It’s really easy: tortilla, beans, cheese. Repeat. Make sure to save some cheese for the top, as well as some bean mixture if you like. Bake for about 20 minutes, until the cheese is melted and the pie is warmed through, then sprinkle with chopped scallions.

I’m including the full recipe below, but feel free to use it just as a guide. This recipe is simple to make and easy to adjust to your own tastes. Mix it up however you like. Enjoy!

Cheesy Black-Bean Tortilla Pie
From Everyday Food

4 flour tortillas (10-inch)*
1 tablespoon canola oil
1 large onion, diced
1 jalapeno chile, minced (remove seeds and ribs for less heat)
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
Coarse salt and ground pepper
2 cans (15 ounces each) black beans, drained and rinsed
12 ounces beer or 1 1/2 cups water
1 package (10 ounces) frozen corn
4 scallions, thinly sliced, plus more for garnish
2 1/2 cups shredded cheddar cheese (8 ounces)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Using a paring knife, trim tortillas to fit a 9-inch springform pan, using the bottom of the pan as a guide. Set aside.

Heat oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add onion, jalapeño, garlic, and cumin; season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until onion is softened, 5 to 7 minutes.

Add beans and beer to skillet, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium; simmer until liquid has almost evaporated, 8 to 10 minutes. Stir in corn and scallions, and remove from heat. Season with salt and pepper.

Fit a trimmed tortilla in bottom of springform pan; layer with 1/4 of the beans and 1/2 cup cheese. Repeat three times, using 1 cup cheese on top layer. Bake until hot and cheese is melted, 20 to 25 minutes. Unmold pie; sprinkle with scallions. To serve, slice into wedges.

*I actually had some tortillas that were just under 9 inches (Piñata brand), and if you can find these they’re great. No trimming required! Also, I made an extra layer and used 5 tortillas.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Fresh Pickin's

I'm not usually one for getting up early on a Saturday. In fact, I'm often not one for leaving the apartment on Saturday. I prefer to stay in my PJs all day and putter around the house, cooking a little, maybe tidying up a little, and generally enjoying a slow and relaxing day. Add 98-degree weather to the mix, and you'd be out of your mind to expect me to step beyond my front door.

So what was I doing getting up and dressed at 6:30 a.m. this past hot and steamy Saturday? I was preparing to go strawberry picking. Crawling around a field is another thing you typically won't find me doing, but there I was, dirty and sticky, greedily scavenging all the ripe berries I could get my hands on at Butler's Orchard. Sixteen pounds of strawberries and two dirty knees later, I was on my way home with my goods.

I have a tendency to underestimate amounts in almost all scenarios. I'll buy another 5-pound bag of potatoes when there's already one in the pantry, just in case. And then I'll use 6 of those potatoes to make mashed potatoes, even though there are only two of us eating, ignoring the fact that we can't eat 3 potatoes each. And, this Saturday, I bought 16 pounds of strawberries, even though I don't have nearly enough room in my fridge for that amount and, even if I did, couldn't possibly use them all before they started to go bad.

I ended up freezing most of them. The texture of a frozen strawberry, once it's thawed, is generally not very good, but I figured they'd be fine to use in things like strawberry lemonade and strawberry margaritas. I already made Strawberry Agua Fresca, which is a fabulously delicious summer drink, and I don't see why frozen berries wouldn't work fine in that, as well. To freeze strawberries, just rinse them clean and hull them, then arrange them in a single layer on a baking sheet and store them in the freezer for a few hours. Once they're frozen, you can transfer them to a plastic freezer bag. Freezing them on a baking sheet first ensures that they won't stick together and freeze in one massive brick of strawberry ice.

Saturday night, I made strawberry shortcake. I was very tempted to use the Bisquick recipe. I've made it before, and it's really good. And it's so easy! I'd already been standing in the kitchen for several hours, cleaning, hulling, and storing berries, and the thought of simply mixing up some biscuit dough in a bowl and dropping it in big, careless dollops on a sheet tray was very tempting. But in the end I decided to be a good blogger and make them from scratch. I used a recipe from Joy of Baking, which begins with the assertion that the only proper way to make strawberry shortcake is with a cream scone. So that's what I did.

The shortcakes were very good. No surprise there—I mean, it’s strawberry shortcake. Of course, my scones didn’t bake up as big and fluffy as the ones in the picture at Joy of Baking. That’s no surprise, either. My relationship with scones, much like my relationship with biscuits, is strained, at best. There’s plenty of room to grow there. But you know what I discovered? Anything can be made instantly better by smothering it in sweet berries and fresh cream. Especially a flat scone.

Strawberry Shortcakes
from Joy of Baking

2 cups (280 grams) all-purpose flour
1/4 cup (50 grams) granulated white sugar
2 teaspoons (10 grams) baking powder
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup (76 grams) cold unsalted butter
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup (120 ml) light whipping cream or half and half (12 - 18% butterfat)

Egg Wash:
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1 tablespoon cream

2 pounds (900 grams) fresh strawberries, hulled and sliced
1/4 cup - 1/3 cup (50 - 65 grams) granulated white sugar (or to taste)

1 cup (240 ml) heavy whipping cream
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 tablespoon (14 grams) granulated white sugar

Scones: Preheat oven to 400 degrees F (200 degrees C) and place rack in middle of oven. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. Cut the butter into small pieces and blend into the flour mixture with a pastry blender or two knives. The mixture should look like coarse crumbs. Whisk together the egg, cream and vanilla extract and add to the flour mixture, mixing just until the dough comes together. Do not over mix the dough.

Transfer to a lightly floured surface and knead dough gently four or five times and then pat or roll the dough into a circle that is about 7 inches (18 cm) round and about 1 inch (2.5 cm) thick. With a 3 inch (7 cm) round cookie cutter, cut out rounds and place the scones on the baking sheet. Make an egg wash of one well-beaten egg mixed with 1 tablespoon cream and brush the tops of the scones with this mixture.

Bake for about 15 - 20 minutes or until nicely browned and a toothpick inserted in the center of a scone comes out clean. Transfer to a wire rack.

Filling: Wash and slice the strawberries. Place about one third of the strawberries in a large bowl and crush them with a potato masher or fork. Add the remaining sliced strawberries, along with the sugar. (The amount of sugar used will depend on how sweet the berries are.) Set aside to macerate at room temperature for about 30 to 60 minutes.

For whipped cream: In a large mixing bowl place the whipping cream, vanilla extract, and sugar and stir to combine. Cover and chill the bowl and beaters in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes. When chilled, beat the mixture until stiff peaks form. The whipped cream will hold for several hours in the refrigerator.

To serve: Cut the scones in half and place the bottom half of the scone (soft side up) on a dessert plate. Top with some of the strawberries. Place the top half of the scone on the strawberries. Top with whipped cream and a few more strawberries. If there is any juice from the strawberries, drizzle a little over the top of the scone. Serve immediately.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Deep-Dish Sausage and Tomato Pizza

I’ve been trying to make the perfect pizza at home for a really long time. I know I’ll never make pizza the same as what you’d find in a pizza shop, and that’s fine, but I guess I just want to make the best at-home-pizza that I possibly can. It’s not an easy task when you don’t have a pizza stone. It’s easy to come up with delicious toppings, but when you can’t get that coveted crispy-yet-tender crust, well, it’s just not a perfect pizza.

I recently found a recipe from Sara Moulton that calls for making the pizza in a cast iron skillet, which is something I haven’t tried before. The recipe calls for cooking the dough in the bottom of the oven at a really high temperature, and I was optimistic about what this could do for my crust. Plus, the recipe reminds me of the sausage-and-tomato deep-dish pizza that I always get at Pizzeria Uno and that I absolutely love. I was really excited to try this.

I didn’t follow the recipe exactly though. I stuck to the concept, but I had my own sausage that I wanted to use. A while ago I made a batch of Cooking Light’s Atsa Spicy Pizza Sausage. It was really good, but it makes a ton, and I still had 2/3 of it left over in the freezer. So for my toppings I used this sausage and a can of Del Monte Diced Tomatoes with Basil, Garlic & Oregano. For me, it has to be these tomatoes. I really like the flavor of them and, for reasons that I haven’t quite figured out, they’re the only tomatoes I’ve ever been able to get Adam to eat. These tomatoes, therefore, must have special powers, and I’m sticking with them. But use whatever you like.

The pizza came out really well. The dough came together easily and it baked up big and tender and crisp around the outer edges. I will warn, though, that you need to thoroughly drain off any extra liquid from the sausage and tomatoes, because not doing so could cause your crust to get a bit soggy on the bottom. Other than that, though, there’s nothing else you need to really watch out for with this recipe. Except for maybe eating the entire thing yourself.

Deep-Dish Sausage and Tomato Pizza
Adapted from Cheesy Deep-Dish Sausage and Tomato Pizza

1/2 teaspoon sugar
1 cup warm water (110 to 115 degrees F)
1 (1/4-ounce) package active dry yeast (about 2 1/2 teaspoons)
2 1/4 to 2 1/2 cups all-purpose unbleached flour
1/2 cup yellow cornmeal
3/4 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for oiling bowl
1/3 recipe Atsa Spicy Pizza Sausage, recipe follows
1 (14 to 16-ounce) can diced tomatoes, well drained
1 cup grated whole milk mozzarella cheese (about 1/4 pound)
1 cup grated fontina cheese (about 1/4 pound)
2 tablespoons grated Parmesan
1/4 cup shredded fresh basil leaves, for garnish

In a large bowl, dissolve sugar in water. Sprinkle yeast over water and let stand until foamy, about 5 minutes. Stir in 2 1/4 cups flour, cornmeal, salt, and 2 tablespoons oil and blend until mixture forms a dough. Knead dough on a floured surface, incorporating as much of remaining 1/4 cup flour as necessary to prevent dough from sticking, until smooth and elastic, about 5 minutes.

Put dough in a deep oiled bowl and turn to coat with oil. Let dough rise, covered with plastic wrap, in a warm place until doubled in bulk, about 1 hour.

While the dough is rising, prepare sausage (see recipe below). Stir in tomatoes and transfer mixture to a strainer over a bowl to drain and cool.

Preheat oven to 500 degrees F.

Punch down dough and knead 4 times. In an oiled 10 1/2-inch cast-iron skillet, press dough with oiled finger until it comes 2 inches up the side and is an even thickness on bottom. Let dough rise, covered loosely with plastic wrap, in a warm place for 15 minutes.

Sprinkle dough with half of mozzarella and fontina and top with sausage-tomato mixture and remaining cheeses. Sprinkle the top with the Parmesan and bake the pizza in the lower third of an electric oven or on floor of a gas oven for 15 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 400 degrees and bake 5-10 minutes more, or until crust is golden brown.

Top with fresh basil, if desired, and serve immediately.

Atsa Spicy Pizza Sausage

1 pound ground turkey
1 pound ground pork
1/2 cup dry red wine
1/3 cup minced fresh parsley
2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
1 tablespoon fennel seeds
1 1/2 teaspoons crushed red pepper
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
4 garlic cloves, crushed

Combine all ingredients in a large bowl. Cook sausage in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat until browned, stirring to crumble. Drain.

The sausage can be frozen for up to 3 months.