Current Food Obsession: Zucchini-Herb Flatbread

Homemade pizza — It’s my cheap, fun and easy go-to meal when we have friends over and it’s becoming somewhat of a Friday night family dinner tradition, too. My husband is always so impressed that I make my own dough but in truth, it’s really simple and takes only about 10 minutes to put together.  To me, that always seems a lot quicker and easier than running to the store (finding a parking space and shuttling 2 kids) to pick some up, so I guess it’s all in how you look at it. I think I’ll let him continue to be impressed.

Lately I’ve been kind of obsessed with this very simple zucchini flatbread version. It’s the same old pizza dough, rolled as thinly as possible and topped with paper thin slices of zucchini, a scattering of whatever herbs I have in my garden (I like rosemary, oregano, parsley and thyme), a grating of parmegiano reggiano, a drizzle of good olive oil and seasoned with sea salt and black pepper. The version above included some caramelized shallots too. I have learned through experience to make one corner a little less herb-y for Luca and you might try that if you’re making it for a little one. It’s perhaps not substantial enough to make a full meal, but it’s a fantastic appetizer, lunch or snack. For dinner, we’ve been serving it up along with a simple pureed vegetable soup and an antipasto platter for a mostly vegetarian meal.

I’ve become so obsessed with this flatbread that whenever I make pizza I save a little extra dough (and make sure to buy a zucchini) so I can make this the next day… I’m particularly loving this zucchini-herb combination at the moment, but the possibilities are truly endless. You could absolutely trick this one out, but this no-frills version has reminded me that simplicity has its place too.

Luca loves to help me with any dough project and this is no exception. At the mere sight of the stand mixer he runs to pull up a chair. In addition to helping me measure and supervise the mixer, I save a glob of dough for him play with which is another good reason to make a little extra.

Thin Crust Pizza: The Roman Way

(Adapted from Marco Flavio Marinucci from the Cook Here and Now blog. Here’s his original post that includes his recipe and lots of other great pizza info.) Makes 2 large pizzas.

  • 1.5 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup “00 Pizza Flour” (available in bulk at Rainbow Grocery), or substitute Pastry Flour
  • 1/8 cup semolina flour
  • 1/2 tsp dry active yeast
  • 3/4 teaspoons sea salt
  • 3/4 cups of lukewarm water (more if needed)
  1. Mix yeast and lukewarm water in your mixing bowl (the water should be about the temperature of a baby bottle). Let sit five minutes to foam and activate while you set up the rest of your ingredients.
  2. Add flours, salt and semolina to the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook and mix just until a ball forms. Stop the mixer and scrape down the sides a few times. Adjust the flour and/or water as needed, a little bit at a time. [If you don’t have a stand mixer, you can use the “well method”. Mix the dry ingredients in mound and make a crater in the center for the wet ingredients.]
  3. Let rest 5 minutes.
  4. Knead for 2-3 minutes by machine (or 4-5 minutes by hand) — don’t over knead. Marco says the dough should be tacky like used tape.
  5. Shape the dough into a ball and drizzle and coat with olive oil. Place in a bowl and cover bowl with plastic wrap. Let it sit at room temperature for a half hour, then refrigerate it overnight. You can also make it a few hours before and leave it at room temperature.

Baking your pizza:

  1. Let the dough come to room temperature. Place a pizza stone in your oven and heat at 500 degrees for about 30 minutes to get it nice and hot. [A pizza stone is a must for any pizza lover.]
  2. Divide the room temperature dough into two pieces (or more pieces if you want small, individual/kid-sized pizzas).
  3. On top of a piece of parchment paper or aluminum foil, roll the pizzas 1/16” thick or as thin as you can.  Using the parchment or foil will help you transport the pizza from your counter to the oven.
  4. Lightly spread with toppings. If using sauce it should almost be transparent since the crust is so thin. If using fresh mozzarella, Marco suggests cutting the cheese into small dice so you get nice pools of cheese.
  5. Use the parchment or foil to lift your pizza into the oven. Cook 5-7 minutes until golden and bubbly. You can slide the parchment/foil out from underneath halfway through so that the bottom of the pizza can cook directly on the pizza stone, the parchment/foil should slide right out. Take the pizza out using a peel, a rimless baking sheet or a couple of large spatulas.
  6. Top finished pizza with a drizzle of good olive oil and some fresh herbs.
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Smørrebrød

We don’t know a whole lot about Danish cuisine but these little open faced sandwiches make me want to learn more.  Sabrina Gabel of Seesaw has these on the menu at her cafe cum play-space in Hayes Valley.  Seesaw is fast becoming a favorite of ours.  A neat little oasis for a play date or even a “business” meeting for parents with kids.  Stacie and I recently met up with Rosie from 18 Reasons at Seesaw to discuss our upcoming parent-kids/family cooking classes that we will be co-hosting at 18 Reasons. The kids kept themselves engaged with the toys in the play room and did not bother us at all.  Ria even made a new little friend.

Sabrina is quite the foodie and is developing a unique menu for Seesaw.  When I saw these smørrebrød (Danish for butter and bread) on Seesaw’s Facebook page, I knew I had to make them for Ria (and me).  They make the perfect after-school snack or a unique lunchbox item (trick is getting an open-faced sandwich to school).  We just like saying “smørrebrød”!  Smørrebrød usually consists of buttered, dense, dark brown rye bread available at specialty grocery stores (Cost Plus World Market, Rainbow Grocery) and pretty much your topping of choice.  A filling and fun snack that the little ones will enjoy making with you.  Wonder how this bread would taste with peanut butter and grape jelly? The possibilities are endless.

Smørrebrød

Photo from Seesaw

Danish rye bread (Rugbrød)

Salami and Cheese with butter or cream cheese

Butter or cucumber, boursin (goat cheese) + fried onions

Smoked salmon with cream cheese with chives

Scrambled eggs with butter

Smoked salmon with scrambled eggs

Hard boiled eggs slices with mayo and mustard

Do share your ideas…..

Jamie Oliver’s Mini “Egg Cupcakes”

Making things mini often makes them more appealing to kids.  Making things in the shape of mini-cupcakes also makes them an easier sell to the munchkins.  We call these egg cupcakes around here and that gets Ria all excited about them and she gobbles these up.

She also loves them because this recipe is by her favorite “cooker” Jamie Oliver.  She once said to me, “Jamie Oliver – he’s the greatest cooker.  I want him to come to our house.  We have an extra room for him.”  Maybe I should stop watching the Food Network with her.  I should at least tell her that he is a celebrity and just because we watch  his show regularly, it does not make him our personal friend.  I think she fancies him also because on his Jamie at Home show he has a vast vegetable garden that she has often expressed a desire to own herself.  I have to admit, she does have good taste – Jamie is one of my favorite “cookers” too.

These cupcakes are fun and easy to make with the little ones.  They work great for brunch, picnics, school lunches and a post-school snack.  You can fancy them up with any fillings you and your kids like (ham, cheese, spinach, asparagus etc.).  It’s always helpful to have a small stash of these in the fridge for when hunger strikes.

Jamie Oliver’s Mini Frittatas

Makes 12

Ingredients

6 eggs

2 tbsp milk or heavy cream

Preferred filing – we used cheese and diced ham

salt and pepper to taste

Method

  1. Grease a cupcake tin and preheat over to 350F
  2. In a measuring cup, beat the eggs and milk or cream
  3. Divide the egg mixture equally between the holes.
  4. Add your preferred filling
  5. Bake for 12-15 minutes, until crisp and golden
  6. Leave to cool slightly before removing from tray

Eggplant-Sourdough Polpette

I first got inspired to make these after enjoying the excellent eggplant polpette at Bar Bambino in San Francisco’s Mission District. I wasn’t able to find a recipe, so I just made up my own. This is one of my very favorite “go-to” recipes for parties and potlucks.


Because I often don’t have a lot of time to cook in one sitting, I purge/ roast the eggplant one day and assemble and bake the polpette on another day. These freeze well, so I always make a big batch so that I have some to stash away in the freezer for a quick meal or snack at the ready. I’ve found that kids (well mine at least) will generally eat anything in the shape of a meatball.

Ingredients (makes about 3 dozen small polpette)

  • 3 Medium Italian Eggplant
  • 1/2 Loaf of Good Sourdough Bread (or your favorite rustic loaf)
  • 2 Cups Milk
  • 1 Carrot, 1 Zucchini — grated finely and squeezed dry
  • 1 Egg
  • 1/2 Cup Grated Parmegiano Reggiano
  • 1/2 Cup Finely Chopped Parsley
  • 1 Cup Bread Crumbs*
  • Olive Oil, Kosher Salt, Pepper

Click on the picture above for more detailed instructions, but here is the method in a nutshell.

  1. Slice and purge the eggplant by sprinkling the cut sides with kosher salt and letting the juices drain out.
  2. Pat dry and roast the eggplant slices on a lightly oiled cookie sheet until tender. Chop and set aside.
  3. Trim the crust from the bread, slice and soak in milk. Squeeze out & discard the liquid and crumble into a bowl. Add the chopped eggplant, egg, carrot, zucchini, parmegiano reggiano, parsley, and a dash of salt and peper. Mix well.
  4. Form into balls. Roll each ball in breadcrumbs. Bake on a lightly oiled cookie sheet at 375 until crispy and golden.

Serve as is, simmered in tomato sauce, on a sandwich — or any other way you like to eat meatballs!

—–

* Homemade Bread Crumbs *

It’s easy to make your own bread crumbs and they are soooooooo much better than store bought. Just toss your stale bread, crusts in a freezer-safe container. When you have saved up a bunch, lay your bread trimmings on an ungreased cookie sheet. Toast at 350 until dry and crisped (15-20 minutes). You can flavor them up if you like with herb and spices of your choice. I often add a handful of sesame seeds or golden flax seed. Process everything in a food processor until you have the texture of coarse sand. If you find your bread crumbs are not dry and sandy, return them to the baking sheet and toast them a bit more. Store in an airtight container in the freezer.

Guest Post: Farmhouse Cheddar Muffins

I love the guest post below for a number of reasons.  It’s from someone who reads our blog (yay!) and she is a fellow “uber-foodie”, hence a kindred spirit.  Anya cooks with her son regularly and actually made the recipe below with her children.  She also took pity on me and sent me a delicious apple recipe to utilize all the apples we picked on our Sebastopol Adventure . Most of all, I am a sentimental fool and I love that she used to make these muffins with her mother and now she is the mother who makes them with her kids.  Family food traditions are priceless!  Thank you Anya for sharing one of yours.  🙂

Farmhouse Cheddar Muffins by Anya Soltero
The Yummy Apple Muffins recipe reminded me of the Farmhouse Cheddar Muffins I used to make with my mom in our Richmond District kitchen when I was a kid. I made them as a young adult in my own Haight St. rentals and – inspired by the post – I brought out the well-used cookbook to bake them with my son Caleb, 4, as Sadie, 1, looked on from her high chair.
These muffins are perfect to make on a crisp fall morning. It’s a simple recipe that is not too sweet and can be enjoyed at the breakfast table. I love the apple-cheddar combination, along with the spices and cider, which really bring me into this season. I just wish I had some extra warm apple cider laying around to enjoy with the muffins. The recipe reminds me of a time when my mom was alive and well, and when being under her wing in the kitchen was the closest place to heaven for me. My weekly practice of baking something with Caleb in the kitchen will hopefully pack him full of wonderful memories too, recipes to take through life, and a passion for food and cooking that my mom shared with me. Enjoy!
Farmhouse Cheddar Muffins (Cookbook: From a Baker’s Kitchen, Gail Sher)
Bits of apple, chopped walnuts, and cider make this muffin mildly sweet. Chunks of sharp Farmhouse Cheddar add a surprising contrast.


Ingredients:
1/4 cup, unsalted butter, melted
1/2 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 egg, room temp
3/4 cup apple cider (save some for sipping)
1-1/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
3/4 cup rolled oats
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1 large pippin (or any) apple, peeled, cored, coarsely chopped
3/4 cup diced farmhouse cheddar (I use sharp Tillamook, or medium when I have it around)
1/2 cup coarsely chopped walnuts
Method:
In a small bowl, combine the butter, brown sugar, vanilla, egg, and cider. In a larger bowl, stir together the flour, oats, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Add the apple, cheese, and walnuts. Pour in the liquid mixture and stir only until the dry ingredients are moistened.
Spoon the batter into well-buttered or paper-lined muffin cups. Bake the muffins at 375F for about 25 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of a muffin comes out clean.

Snack Attack (or Anytime) Granola

The three members of my family fall into different camps when it comes food —  sauciness, spiciness, saltiness — but a real point of solidarity in our family eating is our shared love for granola, especially with greek yogurt, fresh fruit and a good drizzle of honey. Needless to say, granola gets made and eaten often around here.

There’s not much prep time difference whether you make a little or a lot, so granola is a great recipe to scale up. It keeps well in the freezer, so make some to eat right away and stash some so you’ll always have something tasty and nutritious at the ready. We’ve happily eaten granola for dinner when we just couldn’t get it together to make anything else.

Since all that’s required is a little measuring and mixing and throwing it all on a baking sheet, it’s a great cooking project to do with kids. It makes for a fun playdate, too. Divvy up the ingredient list and invite some of friends around to make a mega batch that everyone can share. After putting together the granola base you can have some fun mixing in all sorts of goodies. You can also make loose granola or bars. The variations are endless.

Basic Granola Mix

1. Combine dry ingredients – 5 cups total assorted oats, seeds, nuts, grains (some ideas below). For a classic granola, we prefer at least half of the mixture to be oats.

2. Combine wet ingredients in a sauce pan over the stove, until sugar is fully dissolved and the mixture is syrupy.

  • 3/4 cup apple sauce
  • 2 TBL butter or vegetable oil
  • 1/3 cup brown rice syrup (or corn syrup)
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • Spices (a basic mix would be: 2 tsp cinnamon, 2 tsp ground ginger)

3. Mix the wet and dry ingredients together, making sure dry ingredients are well coated.

4. Spread into a thin layer (no more than about 1/2″) on cookie sheets. I line my cookie sheets with silicon baking mats which makes the clean up super easy. Alternatively you can spray your cookie sheets with a little cooking spray just to make sure nothing sticks. Bake at 375 degrees until the mix starts to turn golden (about 30 minutes), tossing with a wooden spoon and turning your pan once or twice to ensure even baking.

5. When the granola is approaching your desired golden-ness, turn the heat down to 200 degrees and continue drying out the granola so that it will be nice and crispy without too much more browning. I usually give it another 20-25 minutes, checking and tossing every 10 minutes or so. Granola will crisp as it cools, so at this point you’re just gauging moistness. You want it to be reasonably dry to the touch. Luckily if you take it out too early and you find it’s not as crisp as you like, you can always throw it back into a low oven to continue to dry and crisp.

6. When your granola is golden and crisp to your liking add your final mix-ins including chopped dried fruit, coconut or chocolate chips. When cool, store in an air tight container or freeze granola you wont be eating right away.

Mix-Ins, a few of our favorites:

  • Nuts: Sliced Almonds; Chopped Pistachios, Hazelnuts, Pecans or Walnuts
  • Dried Fruit: Raisins, Cranberries, Blueberries, Dates, Flaked Coconut, Apricots, Mangoes, Apples, Cherries, Banana Chips
  • Seeds/Grains: Oats, Sesame Seeds, Golden Flax Seed, Sunflower Seeds, Amaranth, Wheat Germ, Oat Bran
  • Spices: Cinnamon, Nutmeg, Ginger
  • Other stuff:  chocolate chips!

Notes:

  • Mix in chocolate chips, flaked coconut and dried fruit after baking. [If you like toasted coconut like me, I think it’s easier to control the brown-ness by toasting it separately in a pan vs baking it along with the base.]
  • If you want to keep the base nut free, toast the nuts separately over the stove and mix in after baking.

Granola Bar Variation

With our new lunchbox routine we decided to try a more portable granola. To make bars, reduce the dry ingredients by about a cup, so that the wet ingredients coat everything a bit more.

  1. Toast the dry ingredients (350 for 30 minutes or until lightly golden) before mixing with the wet ingredients.
  2. Combine wet ingredients in a pan over the stove until the sugar is dissolved and mixture is syrupy.
  3. Combine the pre-toasted dry ingredients with the wet ingredients. Add mix-ins including dried fruit, coconut or chocolate chips.
  4. Spread on cookie sheet and press lightly to compact the granola mixture. Make sure you have a nice even layer. Bake at 350 for 20 minutes.
  5. Turn down the oven to 200 degrees and let crisp for another 25-30 minutes. When cool cut into bars. If bars aren’t crisp when you start cutting them, you can return them to a low oven for a another 10-15 minutes.

The Yummiest Raw Apple Muffins

It’s been an eventful week for us. My little one started preschool which — beyond the obvious “heartstrings” aspect of it all — means thinking about packing a lunchbox on a regular basis. So begins a new chapter in food for our family.

As I was packing up my first lunch, I got to thinking about what would put a smile on my son’s face when he opened up his brand spanking new lunchbox. Something super yummy. A muffin perhaps? Problem was, we were just back from vacation and our refrigerator was really, really bare. Luckily we happened to have a few apples, so I decided to take that as my starting point.

I reached for my “go to” kitchen reference the Gourmet Cookbook and it came through once again with the recipe for “Marion Cunningham’s Raw Apple Muffins” (originally published in Marion Cunningham’s “Breakfast Book“). This is a simple recipe, which requires just a few ingredients and turns out not-to-sweet and very moist muffins. It’s timely, too, with apple season upon us.

[Here’s my little tip: coring, peeling and dicing the apples is the only time consuming step of this recipe. We happen to have one of those apple peeling/coring/slicing contraptions — my husband likes to make pie and this is a fantastic tool for prepping a big pile of apples. I was able to break down my apples into a perfect little dice in no time with very little knife work. Yippee for that.]

Raw Apple Muffins

(adapted from the recipe for “Marion Cunningham’s Raw Apple Muffins” in the Gourmet Cookbook. This recipe was originally published in Marion Cunningham’s “Breakfast Book”)

  • 2 apples (peeled, cored and diced — 1/4″ dice is ideal)
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 cup oil (I substituted my apple-pear butter, you could also use apple sauce)
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 cup all purpose flour
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon (I omitted this since my apple butter already has spices in it)
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • muffin tin liners
  1. Toss the diced apples and sugar in a bowl and set aside.
  2. Mix egg, vanilla and oil (or apple butter) in a bowl set aside.
  3. Combine the dry ingredients in a bowl (flour, salt, spices, baking soda)
  4. Add the egg mixture to the apples and mix well. Add the flour mixture and stir until just combined.
  5. Fill each muffin cup about 2/3 full and bake at 350 degrees. Start checking for done-ness at 25 minutes. A toothpick inserted into the center of the muffin should come out clean. Makes about 10 muffins.

I think next time I might experiment with substituting a third of the flour with whole wheat flour and stirring in a couple of tablespoons of oats and a couple teaspoons of flax seed just to add a little extra nutritional punch. After making these muffins, I think I’m definitely going to have to check out the “Breakfast Book”!