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A Homemade Pizza Recipe with Store Bought Dough- Plain and White with Spinach

June 22, 2009   

plain-pizzaPizza is a staple in our house. I remember when my daughter, Sia was about two years and change- she was quite picky. She had no problem eating mushy food and didn’t want any texture at all. I slowly got her into the habit of eating adult food- pizza played a big roll in the process. We ran into our neighbors with their daughters around that time at a local pizzeria. Sia saw them eating pizza with olives- and that is what started her love of pizza- with olives! She must have eaten cups and cups of olives in the last four years. The people working at the place knew as soon as we walked in- a slice of olive pizza for Sia with a cup of olives on the side. I even looked up the nutritional value for olives- not too much. Since then, she has graduated to mushroom pizza. She loves it! She is very particular about the mushrooms though- turns out some places use canned mushrooms and they taste very different than the fresh ones. Well, she only likes the fresh ones- so we stick to our favorite pizzeria, Arturos.

I am always trying to make things she likes at home healthier so I don’t feel guilty about giving them to her more often. We have tried many different ways of making pizza at home over the years but nothing has been very delicious and authentic. What I like about making pizza at home is that I can control all the ingredients. I use my basic marinara sauce for the pizza sauce. I usually buy low-fat mozzarella cheese- although in this case I couldn’t find any so I used full fat- but I didn’t use too much of it.

I was making two pizzas that day- a plain one for the kids and a white one with spinach for the adults. I made the marinara sauce the morning of and kept it aside. I bought shredded low moisture mozzarella cheese to make my life easier. The plain one was quite simple to put together. I did add some olive oil to the crust before cooking it on the grill. The oil gives the dough a nice sheen and a crusty top. For the white one I mixed ricotta cheese with Parmesan and mozzarella cheese. I added garlic powder and salt to season the cheese sauce. I sautéed frozen, chopped spinach with fresh garlic for extra flavor. Both adults and kids enjoyed the pizzas. I made a nectarine salad for the adults- the recipe will be up tomorrow. I served the apricot kuchen as dessert and of course some wine- we ended up opening two bottles! 

To read more about pizza making at home, please read my post in New York Times blog, The Local. It will be out Wednesday, June 24th.

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Apricot Kuchen- Gesa’s German Cake Recipe

June 21, 2009   

apricot-kuchen My favorite breakfast would be a big-huge cup of perfectly brewed coffee with a huge slice of toasted pound cake!- oh and a big chunk of salty cheese as well. I don’t think I have indulged in just cake and cheese for any meal in a long time. Pound cake has a special place in my heart. I remember eating lots of it in India growing up. My Mom would make it at home but the one I remember fondly is from Standard Bakery. They made their pound cakes in round molds. It was small in diameter but baked really high. It used to be wrapped with a brown parchment paper, which I remember peeling off and devouring a big slice of cake as soon as it came home. I do try to eat that particular one whenever I go back. 

I ate an apricot cake a few years ago at a friend’s baby shower. Her Austrian friend had made her Mom’s recipe. It was delicious! It reminded me of the pound cake I used to eat years ago. It was not too sweet but had the pound cake texture. The apricots on top were a great accompaniment- sweet and tangy. The cake was served with sweetened whipped cream- again, my favorite. I could have eaten that whole thing by myself.

Recently my friend made her aunt Gesa’s  apple kuchen (word for ‘cake’ in German). I ate some and it reminded me of the apricot cake I had at her shower. I took the recipe, tweaked it a bit and added apricots instead of apples. It was delicious. It is not as rich as a pound cake but has a similar feel. It is not too sweet so it can be eaten for breakfast and tea. Most importantly, it tastes delicious with ice cream or whipped cream. I served it with a mixture of creme fraiche and ricotta cheese. I decided to use creme fraiche because its thick and creamy. I added ricotta cheese for it’s great texture. Both mixed together made a really yummy accompaniment to the cake. I sweetened the whole thing with a bit of vanilla sugar. 

Vanilla sugar can be bought but it is quite easy to make. Every time a recipe calls for a vanilla bean, I scrape the seeds out and save the rest. I add the emptied pods to a jar of sugar. After a week or so, the entire jar of sugar is flavored with the yummy vanilla taste. I always have some on hand – it’s a great way to flavor anything. Every morning my daughter, Sia get a bowl of berries topped with a bit of vanilla sugar- she loves it!

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Easy Summer Dessert Recipe: Raspberry Cake

June 18, 2009   

raspberry-pudding-cake I have been making this cake for a few years now. I like it because it is quite easy to make and a little different- the berries are cooked into a thick sauce by adding cornstarch and then poured over the cake batter. I love how the berries sink into the cake and spread through out, resulting in a very appealing looking dessert. The initial recipe called for blueberries, which are delicious in the cake. I used raspberries this time, I love the tang and the color they impart. I also switched the regular flour with white whole wheat flour and regular sugar with evaporated cane sugar. It makes me feel good to be able to use healthier ingredients and still make a delicious dessert!
I made this dessert for a barbecue this past weekend. It worked really well- we sat outside and enjoyed the food and drinks. I didn’t think the kids would want the cake, but they all enjoyed it with their vanilla ice cream.

Speaking of ice cream- I was planning to buy some creme fraiche or whipping cream to serve with the cake- but then I saw a television show about fromage blanc. It’s a french style cheese made out of non-fat milk. It is usually mixed with honey since it has an edge to it- like goat cheese. It is then served with fresh fruit. Until recently it was hard to find fromage blanc around here, but now it is available at some stores- I found it at Whole Foods. I bought a small tub and added a bit of honey and lemon zest. The honey gave it a subtle sweetness and the lemon zest off set the tanginess of the cheese really well.
I loved the idea of serving the non-fat cheese with the raspberry cake. The flavors went really well. Although the cake is healthy, it does have a stick of butter- so, I felt a lot better serving fromage blanc- it has the creaminess of whipping cream without the calories but most importantly it has a different flavor- which I love- it’s nice to experiment a little and surprise your guests.

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A Southwestern Side Dish Recipe & Tips for a Stress Free Party: Roasted Poblano Pepper and Corn Salad

June 17, 2009   

roasted-poblano-peppers-and-corn-saladThis is a very simple side dish to serve at  summer barbecues. I made it with the chorizo burgers and chose the poblano peppers for their smoky flavor. The peppers are not very spicy, and once they are roasted and peeled- they are delicious! 

I used fresh corn but frozen can be used as well- although in the summer, I would recommend fresh corn! The sour cream adds a nice creaminess to the salad without overpowering it- the subtle sourness goes very well with the sweet corn and the smoky pepper.  The salad is extremely healthy- a bit of olive oil and low fat sour cream.  I made a lot of it so I could have a little bit of the burger and the oven fries and fill up on the salad. 

I like making simple and fast sides that can be done ahead of time. This one can be served room temperature- so it’s perfect. I made it in the afternoon for an evening barbecue. The key to having a successful barbecue or any other get together is getting everything done in advance. In this case I had the burgers ready in the fridge. All the sides were done and placed in a serving platter. I had  all the plates, cups, napkins set outside in the afternoon- so I didn’t have to worry about anything once the guests arrived. The dessert was in the fridge and the plate of tortilla chips and guacamole was out. Another important thing to have out is a garbage can on the deck so people don’t have to go inside if they don’t want to. The one thing I do before my guests come- is- make sure my dishwasher is completely empty. It makes a big difference- I don’t have to do any extra hand washing and have plenty of space in the dishwasher. I am a lot more relaxed when my guests come and clean up is a cinch. The last and most important thing- have a few sips of wine before everyone comes- you relax and start having fun before they arrive!

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A Father’s Day Gift: Chorizo and Ground Beef Burger with Guacamole and Oven Fries

June 16, 2009   

ground-beef-and-choriz-burger-1

This recipe is a keeper. The burger is extremely flavorful- I mixed some fresh chorizo to it. Chorizo is one of my all time favorite ingredients to use- it is pork sausage mixed with garlic, paprika and lots of other yummy things- depending on where you buy it.  Adding chorizo is a great way to make a ordinary burger extremely special- you don’t have to do anything else except shape them up and throw them on the grill. My husband loves southwestern flavors- we had people coming over for a barbeque and he requested the meal to echo those flavors.. I immediately thought of guacamole and monterey jack cheese. I thought both things will be great as toppings for the burgers. I bought pepper jack cheese for the adults and the regular one for the kids. My daughter, of course, being the odd one out- doesn’t eat sandwiches- so she ate the burger on it’s own. I cooked corn on the cob for the kids since the corn salad had a bite to it. I had to make my favorite and staple, oven fries- they are always a hit. I love potatoes and love to cook them in a healthy way so I can eat lots of them! All the kids loved them- guess who doesn’t eat potatoes- yup, you guessed it- Sia!

I think this would be a great menu for fathers day. I will be posting a corn salad recipe tomorrow to round off the menu. I served a trifle for dessert and my husband made a sangria to go with the food. My husband loved it and I am thinking of making the meal again for him this coming Sunday- although knowing myself, I will tweak the recipes somehow so I can blog about them in the future. You can’t give a loved one a better gift than cooking them a delicious meal- I don’t like going out for such occasions- the restaurants are a zoo and serve subpar food. So, stay home, save money and cook a fabulous meal for your loved one.

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A Great Idea For Leftovers: Wonton Soup and Sauteed Dumplings

June 15, 2009   

wonton-soup2

My daughter loves dumplings! She really didn’t start eating them until I practically forced her to try them at several different occasions. Now, she wants to go eat dim sum every weekend. We go to a local Chinese restaurant to have the delicious dumplings. We sit down and the dumplings start coming our way immediately- we are literally done in 15 minutes- no joke! Sia covets everything stuffed with shrimp. My favorite is a chive dumpling- it is absolutely delicious. It is shaped like a fat disk and I can’t get enough of them. 

Packing lunch for Sia has always been a challenge. She does not like/eat sandwiches. She likes proper food- that’s what I get for not giving her a sandwich when she was really young. Anyway, I am always struggling to come up with different ideas. Once she started eating dumplings- I began buying them from Trader Joes and Whole Foods. They come in all different varieties- some that include veggies in them as well. I cook a few for her and put them in her thermos- she loves it!

Sia has been asking me how they make the dumplings at the restaurant. I usually explain the procedure to her, but, I am not sure if it actually registers- the glazed look on her face is usually not a good sign. She kept wondering why we haven’t made them at home yet- I really didn’t have an answer for her- there really was no reason we couldn’t. Especially since I have watched many people use them to make dumplings on television as well as fresh raviolis!  So, when I saw the wonton skins at the store the other day, I grabbed them. I decided to use all the leftover proteins I had in the fridge and make a wonton soup- which she loves; as well as the classic sauteed dumplings. Well, she was thrilled to be able to watch me put the dumplings together and most importantly, she loved the way they tasted-mission accomplished. I can’t wait to make my own raviolis now!

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Rosemary Roasted Chicken on top of Ciabatta Bread served with a Warm Chickpea and Spinach Salad

June 14, 2009   

baked-chicken-on-bread

Once again, I got my inspiration from my favorite good looking chef, Jamie Oliver. I was watching his show about salads and he made a fabulous caesar salad with homemade roasted chicken and croutons. The chicken legs attached to thighs were roasted with rosemary, olive oil, salt and pepper. He tore a baguette into pieces and added them with the chicken and roasted the whole thing. His idea was to flavor the bread pieces with the chicken juices and use them as croutons in the salad- how brilliant it that? I decided to make a similar dish but used a ciabatta bread- sliced it and placed it at the bottom of the roast pan. I then placed the chicken pieces and rubbed a mixture of rosemary, salt, olive oil and pepper. I wanted to serve the chicken and bread as the main dish. I loved the idea of using full chicken legs- they are so much more flavorful than chicken breast; they are more forgiving in terms of cooking time; and most of all, they are a lot more reasonable than chicken breast. I am a big fan of dark meat chicken- my husband on the other hand, is a big skeptic. He enjoyed this dish but I could tell, he would have preferred white meat chicken. If you feel the same, go ahead and switch it for the breast pieces- I would get the bone-in pieces and would keep a good eye on the oven careful not to over cook. The roasted chicken pieces were juicy, flavorful and tender. The bread was amazingly delicious. We spread the sweet, soft, gooey roasted garlic cloves on top of the bread slices- it was out of this world. It had absorbed all the chicken goodness. We ate it with a warm chickpea salad and yes- my favorite- Malbec Rose.

I was itching to use anchovies in something. My husband thinks he doesn’t like them, but like a lot of people, he doesn’t realize that anchovies take on a very nutty and salty flavor when used in either a salad or a sauce. It adds an underlying flavor to the dish that is quite complex and hard to decipher. I decided to make a chickpea salad. I had a bag of baby spinach sitting in my fridge screaming to be used, so I paired it with the chickpeas. I sliced some shallots and melted 2 anchovy fillets with olive oil. I then added the canned chickpeas and baby spinach. Somehow using raw cumin didn’t seem right- I used roasted cumin instead. I always have it in my spice cabinet. It’s as simple as roasting nuts- either in a heavy frying pan or in the oven, till it is aromatic and dark brown. The roasted cumin has a very aromatic flavor- milder than raw cumin- almost more sophisticated. Well, all the flavors went really well together- it was a successful try and I will definitely make it again!

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