Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Pasta Caprese


Because it’s still summer…

Because tomatoes and basil can be found in abundance at the farmers’ market…

Because the temperatures this week are flirting with the 100 degree mark…

Just because…

I present my favorite summer supper—Pasta Caprese.

This dish is both easy to make and delicious to eat on a hot summer evening.

Pasta Caprese
Adapted from The Complete America’s Test Kitchen TV Show Cookbook 2001-2014.

The key to this recipe is using the freshest ingredients available—good extra-virgin olive oil and tomatoes
ripe from the vine (or farmers’ market.) I use fresh mozzarella (the kind packed in water) but the regular supermarket kind also works. Just freeze the cubes for 10 minutes before you add it to the hot pasta to keep the cheese from becoming a rubbery mess. This dish is served warm or at room temperature, not hot—perfect for summer.

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 to 4 teaspoons fresh lemon juice, to taste
1 garlic clove, finely minced
1 small shallot, finely minced
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 1/2 pounds ripe cherry tomatoes or large tomatoes cut into 1/2 inch dice
12 ounces fresh mozzarella, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1 pound penne pasta
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
1 teaspoon sugar, to taste

In a large bowl, whisk together the olive oil, 2 teaspoons lemon juice, garlic, shallot, salt and pepper. Gently fold in the tomatoes and mozzarella cubes. Set aside for no longer than 45 minutes.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add enough salt to make the water taste like the ocean (a bit salty), and then add the pasta. Cook to al dente and drain.

Gently toss the warm pasta with the tomato mixture and let stand for 5 minutes. Add the basil and any additional salt, pepper, lemon juice and sugar, to taste. Serve.



Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Mystery Cuisine: Garden Veggie White Pizza


In the past, I've written about how much I enjoy reading cozy mysteries with recipes. In fact, I have so many favorite authors that I have a list of them on my computer to keep track of what I've read and what is next. Since The Picky Eater’s passing, I've filled my spare time escaping into these lovely stories, visiting characters and places that are now familiar and vivid in my imagination. This also means I've added to my list of Mystery Cuisine recipes to try.

Lately I've enjoyed the Domestic Diva mystery series by Krista Davis. Her main character, Sophie Winston, is a party planner and writes a domestic how-to column for the local paper. While her style is simple, straight forward, creative, and full of common sense, her life-long nemesis, Natasha, gives true meaning to the term domestic diva, complete with her own television show. The two are constantly in competition with each other, often at Natasha’s doing. In fact, Natasha is in a relationship with Sophie’s ex-husband, Mars, who sometimes shows signs of regretting the switch from one domestic diva to the other. No matter, because there are plenty of other men interested in Sophie, including a handsome police detective named Wolf.

I want to be like Sophie. No, I don’t want to keep finding dead bodies lying about. What I like about her is how she always seems to have food on hand to feed people when they show up at her home, invited or not. Unexpected friend stops by to talk about clues to the latest murder? No problem! There is always something in the freezer/fridge/pantry to whip up into a meal or snack. My paternal grandma was that way, and I loved that she was always ready to feed you when you came over to her house.

Recently I just finished The Diva Digs up the Dirt, which included this wonderful recipe for Garden Veggie White Pizza. Like Sophie in the story, I used a ready-made pizza crust that just slips out of the package, but you could always mix up some pizza dough instead. The original recipe called for eggplant, but since I’m not a fan of that vegetable, I decided to go with zucchini and summer squash instead. I also threw in some mushrooms and changed the red pepper for a green one since I like the bite of a green pepper better than the sweeter red.

The pizza was delicious! This recipe is a keeper and I can’t wait to try it with other veggies as they come into season.

Garden Veggie White Pizza
Makes on large pizza

1 pizza crust of your choice
1 medium onion, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 green pepper, sliced
1 small zucchini, sliced
1 small summer squash, sliced
1/2 to 1 cup sliced mushrooms, to taste
1 to 2 cloves garlic, minced, to taste
Salt and pepper, to taste
Pinch of red pepper flakes (optional)
1/4 cup pesto
1 cup grated mozzarella cheese
1/2 cup grated sharp white cheddar cheese

Preheat your oven according to your pizza crust instructions.

In a large non-stick skillet over medium heat, saute the onions in the olive oil until they start to turn translucent. Add the rest of the veggies and saute until they start to soften, but not too much!

Meanwhile, spread the pesto over the pizza crust. Scatter the veggies over the top of the pizza, and then cover with the cheeses. Bake in the oven according to the pizza crust instructions, or until the crust is brown and the cheese is melted with hints of brown.



Friday, August 8, 2014

Cherry Chip Cookies in the Friday Cookie Jar


I had one problem with developing this recipe. 

I couldn't decide what to call it.

Like The Pioneer Woman, Ree Drummond, recently wrote about on her blog, I too have a pet peeve about recipes with long names. These cookies are filled with dried cherries, white chocolate chips, and oatmeal. As much as I wanted to say all of that in the name, I thought Dried Cherry White Chocolate Chip Oatmeal Cookies was a little over the top. So I settled for Cherry Chip Cookies instead, hoping the recipe would explain the rest.

The inspiration for these cookies came from a recent trip I took with Mom to the Dutch Bakery and Bulk Food Store in Tipton, Missouri. The place is filled with bulk food items all bagged and ready for purchase. On one aisle, I was attracted to a little bag filled with deep-red dried cherries, and when I saw a bag of mini white chocolate chips on the next aisle, I knew exactly what recipe I wanted to make.
 
These cookies are a lovely bedtime snack, along with an ice-cold glass of milk and a good book. Or perhaps you would like them for breakfast (after all, there is oatmeal in the recipe), with an afternoon cup of tea or coffee, or as an after-dinner dessert. (I’d choose all of the above!)

This morning I put a plate full of cookies out on the little table by the elevators down the hall from my apartment. By noontime, the cookies were all gone.

Yep, these cookies are good!

I created the Friday Cookie Jar as inspiration to spend time in the kitchen with family and friends (especially children, since they love to make cookies), or to make something to share with others. Cherry Chip Cookies are great for doing both.
 
Cherry Chip Cookies

Makes about 48 cookies

1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 1/2 cups packed light brown sugar
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 cup chopped dried cherries
1 cup mini white chocolate chips
3 1/2 cups old-fashioned oatmeal

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg. Set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer with a paddle attachment, cream together the butter and sugars until smooth. With the mixer on low, add the eggs one at a time until blended. Mix in the vanilla. Then slowly stir in the flour mixture until it is just combined. Add the cherries, chips and oatmeal, and mix to combine.

Roll spoonfuls of the dough into 1 1/2-inch balls and place them on the baking sheets about 2 inches apart. Slightly flatten the balls with your hands to 1/2-inch thick cookie rounds. Bake for 12 to 14 minutes, or until the cookies are golden brown, rotating the pans halfway through the baking time.


Remove the baking sheet from the oven and allow it to stand for 2 minutes. Then remove the cookies to a rack to finish cooling. Store in an airtight container. 
     

Friday, August 1, 2014

Parmesan and Herb Crackers for Ina Friday


I have always been a fan of the ploughman’s lunch, which is a plate of cheese, bread, and various other simple goodies served at many British pubs. I enjoyed it on my first trip to the United Kingdom and have made my own version at home in the years that followed. It is a basic but delicious way to enjoy a meal.

Ever since The Picky Eater passed away, I've found myself eating ploughman’s style for supper. Often I meet a friend or family member for lunch at a restaurant, so this light supper is perfect for a summer evening. I try out different cheese from the lovely cheese counter at my favorite grocery store, and I add veggies and bread from the farmer’s market. If I don’t have a nice bread on hand, I’ll use crackers.

When I saw this cracker recipe while looking for an Ina Garten appetizer for Ina Friday, I knew it would be perfect for my new way of eating. I’d never made crackers before and had to stop myself from comparing the dough to cookies since, even though this recipe is reminiscent of shortbread cookies, the dough is a bit dryer and wants to crumble.

Ina grates her Parmesan cheese by putting small chunks into a food processor with a steel blade and whizzing until it is finely ground. For her, the 4 ounces necessary for this dish made about 1 cup. I grated the cheese by hand, and got about 2 1/4 cups out of my 4 ounces. So I strongly recommend you measure the cheese with a food scale instead of by cup measurements. Ina also uses only fresh thyme in the recipe, but I decided to add some rosemary as well. I used dried herbs since that is what I typically have on hand.

These crackers are delicious served by themselves. They would make a great snack to share with friends enjoying a glass of wine or a cup of tea. The crackers also taste wonderful with veggies and cheese for a simple meal. (Olives would go well with them, too.)

Parmesan and Herb Crackers

Adapted from Barefoot Contessa Back to Basics by Ina Garten

1 stick unsalted butter, softened
4 ounces grated Parmigiano Reggiano Parmesan cheese
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
1/8 teaspoon dried ground rosemary
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 to 1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour

In the bowl of a stand mixer with a paddle attachment, beat the softened butter until creamy, about 1 minute. Turn the mixer to low, and then add the cheese, thyme, rosemary, salt, and pepper. Mix to combine. Keeping the mixer on low, add the flour until the mixture becomes crumbly. To check the consistency, stop the mixer, take a handful of the mix and squeeze. If it holds together without being too crumbly, great! If not, add a teaspoon of water and try again.

Pour the dough onto the counter and form into a 9-inch log. Wrap in plastic and chill in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes or up to 4 days. (The log may also be frozen for up to 6 months to use at a later date. Just thaw in the refrigerator before baking.)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Take the log from the refrigerator and cut into 24 slices approximately 1/4-inch thick. Place the slices on the baking sheet. (They can be close together since the crackers will not spread out while baking.) Bake for 22 minutes, turning the baking sheet halfway through, until the crackers are lightly golden brown. Serve at room temperature and store in an air-tight container.  

Here are a few of my fellow bloggers who participate in Ina Friday. Some do not post every month, but their
blogs are worth checking out none the less!

Ansh @  Spice Roots    
Barbara @ Moveable Feasts  
Chaya @  Bizzy Bakes
Linda,  @ Tumbleweed Contessa
MaryThe Egg Farm
MinnieThe Lady 8 Home
PattiComfy Cuisine
Rocky Mountain WomanRocky Mountain Woman
Veronica @ My Catholic Kitchen  



Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Iced Tea Sangria


Boy, it is hot here in Topeka!

Yes, I'm familiar with the cartoon that says the same thing, but I’m not trying to be funny here. It really is hot and headed to 100-plus degrees today. (BTW, I love that cartoon, but The Picky Eater, who was a Topeka native, didn't care for it at all.) 

It's the perfect weather for this Iced Tea Sangria.

I love this recipe because it pairs two of my favorite beverages—iced tea and wine. I saw a recipe for it floating around Facebook, but of course I had to play with it a bit.

Use whatever fruit you like. I went with oranges, since I like them in my iced tea, and summer fruits like peaches, strawberries, blueberries and raspberries. You can use fresh fruit, but honestly I used frozen and the drink turned out great.

My wine choice was an un-oaked chardonnay I had in the fridge, but use whatever white wine you like. A rosé or red wine would work, too, but I picked white so I could also taste the tea.

Add sugar depending on how sweet you like your drink. Since I prefer unsweetened iced tea and dry wines, I only added a tablespoon of sugar. Add more if you like sweeter beverages, or just make a sweet tea to add to the recipe.

Cheers!

Iced Tea Sangria

4 cups brewed iced tea (I used a black tea.)
2 cups white wine
1 tablespoon sugar, or to taste
Fresh or frozen fruit of choice

In a large container, add the tea and wine. Add the sugar and stir until dissolved, and then add the fruit. Refrigerate for at least 4 hours. Overnight is even better. Serve over ice.


Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Margherita Pizza


When it comes to favorite foods, pizza is at the top of my list. It is also one of my favorite things to make at home. Seriously, homemade pizza is so easy, even if you make your own crust. Plus, it’s easy on the budget.

I get my love of pizza from Mom. She is a bigger pizza fiend than me. Frozen, homemade, or restaurant…the variety doesn't matter. Whenever we’re together, I know if I suggest getting pizza, she will agree almost before I finish speaking.

However, The Picky Eater was a different matter. He only liked certain pizzas from specific restaurants and was never one to experiment with something new. Frozen pizza could only be Red Baron supreme, and no matter how many times I tried, I could never get him to like homemade pizza. I think I was doomed from the beginning. The first time I made pizza for us, I goofed on the sauce by adding too much salt. From then on, it was a loosing battle. 

I've shared my favorite pizza sauce recipe before, but this pizza came about because I had a large tomato from the farmer’s market that was getting ripe fast and I didn't want it to go to waste. So instead of using sauce, I went for a Margherita-style pizza with sliced tomatoes and basil. (The name comes from Queen Margherita of Italy, who was said to like this style of pizza best on a visit to Naples in 1889.) The flavors are clean and simple…perfect for summer.

Margherita Pizza

Crust:
1 cup warm water (about 110 degrees, or just warm to the touch)
1 packet rapid rise yeast
2 1/2 to 4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons olive oil

Topping:
2 tablespoon olive oil
1 clove garlic, finely minced
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
12 to 14 fresh basil, thinly sliced and divided
1 large tomato, thinly sliced

To make the crust: Warm the bowl to your stand mixer by filling it with hot water and letting it set for about a minute. Pour the water out and dry.

Place the bowl onto the mixer stand. Add the warm water, and then sprinkle the yeast over the top. Next add 2 1/2 cups of flour, salt and olive oil. Mix with the dough hook for 2 minutes. If the dough is too dry (not coming together in a ball), add a few drops of water at a time until it clings to the hook and cleans the sides of the bowl. If it’s too wet (sticking to the bowl), add more all-purpose flour, 1/2 cup at a time, until it reaches the right consistency.

Once the dough has come together, continue to knead with the dough-hook for 2 more minutes. (Or you can knead by hand if you wish.)

Smear the bottom of a large bowl with olive oil. Remove the dough from the mixer and shape into a ball. Place the dough into the greased bowl, turning it over to oil the top. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap.

Let the dough rise in a warm place for 45 minutes to 1 hour, or until doubled in bulk. (I place my dough in my oven that I preheated at 450 degrees for 1 minute, and then turned off.) When the dough has risen, punch it down and then shape into the pizza form on a well-greased baking sheet or on top of a piece of parchment paper.

To top the pizza: In a small dish, stir together the olive oil, garlic, and salt. Set aside for 5 to 10 minutes, and then brush the mixture onto the pizza dough. (You may not need all of it. I just used the oil, which had picked up the garlic flavor. If you like a stronger garlic taste, make sure some of the minced garlic is spread on the crust.) Sprinkle half of the basil over the pizza, and then top with both cheeses. Lay the tomatoes on top of the cheese and sprinkle just a bit of salt over each slice.

Bake at 450 degrees for 15 to 20 minutes. (I often remove my pizza from the pan directly onto the oven rack after 10 minutes of baking so the bottom crust gets nice and brown.) Take out of the oven and sprinkle with the remaining basil. Cut and serve.


Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Minestrone to Sooth the Soul


I've never been one to stop eating when I’m under stress. In fact, I’m just the opposite. The more stress I feel, the more I want to eat. The only time I loose my appetite is when I’m sick, and I make up for the food I missed once it all starts to taste “right” again.

Then my husband died.

For the first time in my life, I didn't feel hunger. Didn't feel it at all! The only clue I had that I might be hungry was when Mom would say, “Linda, you need to eat something,” and when I did, I felt a bit better. I remember thinking, “Hum, I must have been hungry.”

Normally I decide what to eat by asking myself, “What are you hungry for today?” In those early days after The Picky Eater was gone, the answer was, “Nothing.” Actually, I didn't even ask the question. The only thing I remember eating that tasted somewhat enjoyable was Chinese food with Mom at a restaurant one evening, plus a donut from the box my neighbor, Jan, brought me. That was it. I know I ate more, but I don't remember what.

After about a week passed, I was looking through my freezer and saw a bag of diced zucchini from last
summer. That was when I experienced my first craving—for minestrone soup. In spite of it being summertime, minestrone fits the season for me since I like it made with lots of zucchini and summer squash.

I mixed up a big batch of the soup in the slow cooker and ate it every day for a week—sometimes twice a day. Each bowl, with Parmigiano Reggiano grated liberally over the top, not only gave me the nutrition I needed, but it also brought me a sense of comfort as I began my new “normal” life. It is soup to sooth the soul.

Minestrone Soup

Makes a lot! I ate a bowl or two every day for a week and still had enough for two containers in the freezer.

1 medium onion
2 ribs of celery, diced
1 large clove of garlic, minced
2 carrots, diced
1 summer squash, cut in large dice
2 zucchinis, cut in large dice
2 cup shredded kale
1 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes
2 15-ounce cans dark red kidney beans, drained and rinsed
2 15-ounce cans great northern beans, drained and rinsed
1 quart low-sodium chicken broth
2 bay leaves
1 teaspoon Italian Seasoning (I use McCormick.)
Salt and pepper, to taste
1 cup uncooked ditalini pasta
Grated Parmigiano Reggiano, for garnish

In a skillet over medium heat, saute the onion and celery until the onion is translucent. Add the minced garlic and cook until the garlic becomes fragrant, about 30 seconds. Remove from the heat and transfer the onion/celery/garlic mixture into a slow cooker.

Add the remaining ingredients, except for the ditalini and Parmigiano Reggiano. Cover and cook on low for 3 1/2 to 4 hours, or until the carrots and other vegetables become just soft. The kale will always be a bit chewy. If you don’t like this, just omit it or choose a different greens variety, such as Swiss chard. If the tomatoes and broth don’t give you enough liquid in the pot, just add more broth or water.

Towards the end of the cooking time, heat a large saucepan filled with water to a boil. Add salt to the water, and then boil the ditalini until it is just al dente. Drain the pasta and add it to the soup in the slow cooker. Let the soup continue to cook for another 30 minutes.

To serve, ladle the soup into bowls and liberally grate Parmigiano Reggiano over the top.