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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Jumping on the Crispy Kale Bandwagon

Over the last few months I’ve seen quite a few mentions for crispy kale chips on my favorite foodie blogs so we finally decided to give them a try. They’re so easy to make and pretty tasty. Better than you’d expect from a bowl full of kale and much more healthful than a bag of  potato chips or cheese doodles. You’ll be surprised at how light and delicate they are. The whole family agreed that they are snack-able enough to make the cut for movie night and even Luca, who views green food with more than a dose of suspicion, gave this the thumbs up and suggested that we might some for snack day at preschool. High praise indeed.

All you need for this recipe is a bunch of kale, olive oil and salt. You could certainly add a little pinch of spice (I know Simran would be all over that) or maybe even a bit of garlic or onion powder. In addition to their snack-ability, I’m thinking these could be a fun garnish to play around with… perhaps crumbling them over rice with some toasted sesame seeds like furikake or using them to fancy-up a simple pureed vegetable soup. The possibilities are inspiring us to try our hand at growing kale in our garden this year.

Crispy Kale Chips

  1. Trim the kale leaves from their stems. Tear the leaves into slightly larger than potato chip-sized pieces. Keep in mind that they will shrink significantly.
  2. Wash and get the kale as dry as you can (I used a salad spinner and then patted them thoroughly with kitchen towels to get them extra dry)
  3. Toss the dry kale lightly with olive oil and spread on a single layer on a cookie sheet (do not add salt yet or they will sog up in the oven).
  4. Bake at 350 degrees for approximately 10-15 minutes. Check them frequently from about 10 minutes on. When done, they will be bright green, totally dry and very crisp to the touch. You do not want them to brown.
  5. Sprinkle with salt and any other seasonings of your choice. Toss well and enjoy!

These poor kale chips didn’t stand a chance!

Pomegranate Ice is Nice!

The rain has lifted (at least temporarily) and the glorious sunshine this week has got us thinking about cool, refreshing desserts.

Granita(or Italian ice) fits the bill perfectly. It’s incredibly light and refreshing and doesn’t require any special equipment like an ice cream maker or popsicle molds. Once you make it, it can hang around in your freezer indefinitely, and requires no cooking or particular skill to make. We’ve tried countless varieties from espresso to meyer lemon to cardamon-plum. While pink grapefruit is still my personal reigning favorite, pomegranate  (or “purple ice cream” as Luca calls it) might just be the current runner up. The color is absolutely gorgeous and the flavor is super delish — like a grape snow cone, but way, WAY better — and not an artificial color or flavor in sight. This is so easy that even a preschooler like Luca can do most of the work and making it gives him the chance to get his hands on the citrus squeezer and the whisk, his two very favorite kitchen tools.

Give it a try and experiment with you favorite flavors!

Pomegranate Granita

  • 2 cups pomegranate juice (fresh if you’re ambitious or bottled. If juicing the fruit yourself, you will need to let it settle so you can strain off the sediment that accumulates)
  • Juice of 1 large orange
  • Juice of half a lemon
  • 1/2 cup sugar (or to taste)
  1. Mix all of these ingredients well in a plastic container that has a lid (wide and shallow is better, but you can get by with a 32 oz. yogurt container). Taste and adjust the flavorings to suit your taste.
  2. Put the lid on and pop it in the freezer.
  3. Mix the granita with a spoon every half hour until it is slushy and semi-frozen (3-4 times). Keep covered until ready to serve.
  4. To serve, scrape the fully frozen granita with the tines of a fork and serve in pretty little glasses or espresso cups.

Rainy Day Craft: Paper Towel Roll and Foil Rocket

Luca brought this rocket home from school this week. You know something makes the cut when it shows up at the breakfast table, rides along in the car and sleeps on the pillow at night.He has not stopped playing with this since he brought it home.

I thought I’d share it since it’s an easy craft that you can make with items around your kitchen: a paper towel roll and a sheet of aluminum foil. A good activity to keep little hands busy on a rainy day.

Maybe we’ll take a trip to Jupiter to try some of their famous orange twiglets.

Here’s How To Make It:

  • Notch one end of the paper towel roll and shape it into a cone and secure it with tape. I like to use gummed paper tape since it’s sticks well to paper surfaces and you can draw, paint and glue on top of it. It’s a great addition to your craft supplies.
  • Paint on some school glue and then cover the whole thing with foil.
  • Add some stickers, paint or other decorations and you’re ready to blast off!

Rice Cooker Mac ‘n Cheese

Homemade mac ‘n cheese in your rice cooker? That’s right people!

When I saw this on the blog Weelicious a while back, I knew it was something I had to try. I’m a total sucker for the rice cooker, especially when it involves cooking things other than rice. While the final dish is certainly not as rich, smooth and creamy as a macaroni and cheese made with a béchamel sauce, it’s an acceptable approximation and oh so easy peasy on a busy night. In fact this recipe is so quick and easy that most kids could probably handle cooking it themselves with just a little supervision. Try it out and see what you think!

Speaking of rice cookers…. I’m about to officially retire my Chime-O-Matic, the rice cooker that my dad bought for me as a going off to college gift. In thinking back on it, I’m pretty sure this was my very first piece of cooking equipment. These days I have to prop it up on a jar lid because it’s missing a leg and it’s so generally raggedy that I have been on the verge of tossing it many times. Only sentimentality has stopped me from pitching it. At long last, I find I can’t resist the new generation of rice cookers with their cool features (a porridge setting for making jook!) and I’m excited to enter a whole new world of rice cooker cookery. So with this batch of mac and cheese as its swan song, I bid a fond adieu to my Chime-O-Matic!

What was your first piece of cooking gear?

Rice Cooker Mac ‘n Cheese (adapted from Weelicious. Here’s the original recipe)

Serves 4

  1. To your rice cooker, add 2 cups of macaroni (we like mini penne), 1.5 cups chicken stock and 1 tsp salt. Stir and cover. Let it cook for 15 minutes.
  2. After 15 minutes add 1 cup milk and 1 1/2 cups shredded cheese. I ended up using a heaping cup of grated cheddar, 1/2 cup or so of nonfat cottage cheese and about 1/3 cup of grated parmegiano reggiano. Stir well and let it cook another 15 minutes.
  3. Since my family loves spinach, I topped each bowl with some finely chopped ribbons of fresh spinach. A sprinkling of homemade breadcrumbs seasoned with garlic powder and toasted on the stove with some olive oil would be a yummy addition as well.

Sunday Stew: Jamie Oliver’s Braised Pork and Pepper Goulash

Feeding our new bambino late one night gave me a chance to catch up on a few cooking shows. This goulash recipe from Jamie Oliver at Home (the “Peppers” episode) “had me at hello”. Slow-braised pork shoulder and peppers? Sign me up! While it takes a few hours to cook, the hands on time is pretty minimal. I wasn’t sure if Luca was going to go for the whole peppers thing so I told him it was carnitas and he ate it right up. This is a great one for a lazy sunday dinner with family and friends since you can feed a crowd with very little effort on an inexpensive cut of meat. Leftovers would make a fantastic sauce for pasta and, of course, we couldn’t resist some “goulash/carnitas” tacos for lunch the next day.

Jamie Oliver’s Spicy Pork Goulash (my cliff notes version below, get the original recipe from Jamie’s site here.)

I knew Simran and I were kindred spirits — when I told her that I was making this, she said she had been salivating over this recipe for quite some time.  Since not everyone in her family eats pork, I think you could substitute chicken pieces (reducing the simmer time from 3 hours to 1) with similarly delicious results. Despite the word “spicy” being in the title, if you like the heat like Simran you’ll want to add some chili flakes.

  • Boneless Pork Shoulder
  • 2-3 Red Yellow or Orange Peppers
  • 1 Onion
  • Jarred Marinated Sweet Peppers
  • Can of Tomatoes (diced or squish up whole tomatoes)
  • Paprika
  • Caraway Seeds
  • Sour Cream
  • Lemon
  • Parsley
  1. Season a piece of bonelss pork shoulder with salt and pepper and sear well on all sides in a very hot pan (start with the fat side). Set the meat aside and drain off the rendered fat.
  2. Add 1 finely diced onion, the leaves from a sprig or oregano or marjoram, two heaping Tablespoons of paprika, and a teaspoon of caraway seeds crushed in a mortar and pestle. Let the onion soften for a few minutes.
  3. Add 2 or 3 thinly sliced red, orange or yellow bell peppers (no green ones!);  a cup or more of jarred, marinated sweet peppers; a couple of Tablespoons of red wine vinegar; and a can of tomatoes.
  4. Add the meat back into the pot and add water as needed to nearly cover the meat. Cover and place in a 350 degree oven for three hours. The meat will be fork tender when it’s done.
  5. Remove the meat from the pot, skim off any fat that has risen to the top and taste the sauce for seasoning. Serve everything together with a dallop of sour cream flavored with lemon zest and parsley.

This one is seriously good —  awesome recipe, Jamie!

Family Crafts: Fortune Cookies for the Lunar New Year (or Valentine’s Day)

Gung Hay Fat Choy and Happy Valentine’s Day!

Wanted to get a jump start on a Valentine’s Day craft that Luca could bring to his friends at school. We spotted this cute felt fortune cookie craft over on good old Martha Stewart’s website. Bingo! You could fill these with a couple pieces of candy, write up funny fortunes, or just tuck in some stickers or doo-dads from the dime store. A cute one for the Lunar New Year or Valentine’s Day, but a quick and fun craft project or party favor for anytime of the year, too!

Felt Fortune Cookie Craft (adapted from Martha Stewart)

Materials: felt, floral wire, sewing machine and thread (or hot glue).

  1. Cut some felt circles 4.5″ in diameter.
  2. With your leftover felt scraps, cut some pieces less than 4.5″ long (We did ours about 3.5 inches, you don’t have to be exact) and about 1/2″ wide.
  3. Cut some thin wire (floral wire will do) in pieces 6-7″ long (about twice as long as your felt scraps), bend them in half and twist the ends to secure. You can use some pliers to crimp pointy ends so they don’e poke through the felt.
  4. Place your wire across the center of your felt circle and place your felt scrap on top to cover the wire. We tacked ours down using a large zig zag stitch on the sewing machine, but you could use hot glue. If you use a sewing machine, it’s a good idea to back stitch both ends fairly well.
  5. Bend the circle into a fortune cookie shape. First, bend in half like a taco with the wire on the inside along the bottom edge. Then, bend the two wired ends towards each other and shape the felt until you like the shape.
  6. Tuck in your surprises and give to someone special.

 

Speaking of fortune cookies….. “Sparkletack”, a great podcast for anyone interested in San Francisco history, has an interesting episode on the disputed origins of the Fortune Cookie. Check it out!