February 27, 2012

Homemade Pizza II

Grace and I made pizza this weekend and it reminded me that since I last posted about pizza, we've found a new favorite pizza crust recipe.  I still like the old one too, but we eat pizza enough to have two favorites.  I found this new recipe on Annie's Eats.  It originally comes from Baking Illustrated.  Quite frankly my attention span is so short that I don't think I ever read through Annie's entire recipe procedure, a mere three steps; I can't imagine what the original recipe entails.   Don't get me wrong, I thoroughly reading through Cooks Illustrated's lengthy recipes, just not while I'm trying to actually make dinner.  But maybe if I did read it, I'd understand why the dough is so easy to work with or why I always seem to have to add at least a cup more flour than it calls for.  Or why Annie's version says it makes enough dough for 2 pizzas, and my batch always ends up being plenty of dough for four (relatively thin-crust) pizzas.  I assume the actual procedure might be a little more involved than just combining the ingredients in my KitchenAid mixer and letting the thing knead it for a few minutes, adding flour or semolina until it looks like pizza dough, but hey, whatever.  This is how I make it and it works for me.  If you're new to pizza-making, be sure to read Annie's post about this crust (linked below).  She has some worthwhile tips and illustrative photos.

This dough has a clean flavor, is freezable and very easy to shape if you coat your hands with olive oil before touching it.  Because it's so simple to roll out, I am in the habit of rolling it out wider than I normal would.  Then after topping with sauce and cheese, I fold the crust over an inch or so creating something like a stuffed crust, or, if I remember correctly, the crust on Woodstock's pizzas.  This way my kids, who won't eat the hard, naked crusts of other pizzas, will eat their whole slice, not just the topped portion. Less waste.

Pizza Crust
Adapted from Baking Illustarted via Annie's Eats
Makes enough dough for four 12" thin crust pizzas.  

1/2 cup warm water
2 teaspoons active dry or instant yeast
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
5-6 cups bread flour, or a mixture of all-purpose flour and semolina flour
1 1/4 cups room-temperature water
2 tablespoons olive oil, plus a little extra for handling
semolina flour and parchment paper

In the bowl of an electric mixer, dissolve yeast in warm water.  Then add salt, 4 cups flour, water and olive oil. Stir with dough hook or paddle attachment.  Once the mixture is fully incorporated, more flour.   I generally use a total of 3 1/2 cups flour and 2 cups semolina. Knead with dough hook for about four minutes.  Dough should be too moist to form a ball.  Rub a medium mixing bowl with olive oil and coat your hand with oil.  Transfer dough to mixing bowl.  Cover with a cloth or plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place until doubled in volume, approximately 2 hours.

With oiled hands divide dough into two pieces.  At this point I wrap one piece in plastic wrap and store it in the freezer in a ziplock bag for later use. (Just defrost in the fridge overnight before rolling it out and making pizza.)

Preheat oven and pizza stone* to 500 degrees F.  Divide the remaining dough ball in half and roll each half out into a 14" circle on parchment paper that has been dusted with semolina.  If dough is difficult to work with, let it rest for 10 minutes.  Once dough is rolled out, let it rest while you prepare the toppings.  Top as desired and bake 8-10 minutes until crust is golden, cheese is bubbly all over and burnished in places.  Bake one pizza at a time.  Let pizza rest at least 3 minutes before slicing with a pizza cutter.

*If you don't have a pizza stone, use a large uninsulated baking sheet and check the bottom of the crust halfway through baking time.  If it is not crisping up, carefully pull out the baking sheet and parchment , so that the pizza sits directly on the oven rack for the remaining cooking time.

For more notes on topping a pizza, check out this post from the Upstate Cali Kitchen Adventure archives.

February 17, 2012

What to do with Spinach

In the last week I've had a mean peanut butter-banana smoothie craving.  Readers of this blog know that we make it a practice to buy all of our produce from the farmers market (or grow it in our garden), which certainly means no bananas.  This craving was so strong though, I went to Trader Joe's and bought a bunch of bananas.

Actually, back up.

First I made myself a smoothie.  Just the standard: some juice, yogurt and fruit, plus a shot of hemp oil for an Omega-3 boost.  It was alright.  Gracie didn't like it, probably due to the flavor of the hemp oil, but I liked it.  A few hours later at lunchtime, that craving was still hanging on, so I went to Jamba Juice and got a Peanut Butter Moo'ed.  It was pretty good, but it gave me that "rot gut" feeling that milkshakes always do (except, interestingly, milk shakes made with raw milk).  I assumed that the the 24 ounces of deliciousness--and if not that, the accompanying tummy ache--would quell the peanut butter-banana smoothie craving, but the next day the craving was at least as strong as before, so then I bought the bananas.

It was Saturday, and I also bought a bag of spinach at the farmers market.  I haven't purchased spinach for while, primarily because I'm the only one in my family who likes it, and a whole bag is quite a lot of spinach to go use up before it gets slimy. 

Historically, my favorite way to eat spinach is with bow tie pasta or spaghetti, garlicky chickpeas, plenty of black pepper and freshly grated Parmesan cheese, but I haven't found pasta very appealing lately.  And whenever I served that dish the rest of the family expressed frustration that spaghetti was being served with anything other than marinara sauce and meatballs.

So, Sunday, inspired by my dear friend Jenny who hosts the most entertaining blog in my feed reader and openly despises green vegetables, but enjoys green smoothies, I concocted a chocolate-peanut butter-banana smoothie with yogurt, raw milk and a big handful of spinach.  Tuesday I made another one subbing small spoonfuls of honey and coconut oil for the chocolate syrup and adding half of a Pink Lady apple.  Wednesday and Thursday I did similar things.  Today I did not make a smoothie.  I'm saving my frozen bananas for next week and the last two handfuls of spinach for tonight's dinner, Homemade Mongolian BBQ.

The Saturday Chico Farmers Market is tomorrow.  Among other things, I'll be buying spinach, almond butter and honey for next week's smoothies.

Peanut Butter-Banana Green Smoothie
Makes approximately 16 fluid ounces.  Serves 1.
Whole foods, "good" fats, sweet fruit and a shot of greens.  Sounds like a great breakfast to me.  

1/2 cup whole raw milk
1/2 cup plain yogurt
1/2 of a Pink Lady apple, sliced
1 teaspoon each honey and unrefined organic coconut oil
1 tablespoon creamy peanut butter
1 banana, sliced and frozen
2 handfuls spinach, large stems removed

Add ingredients to blender in order listed.  If, like me, you have a regular ol' blender, you may find her more cooperative if you blend the smoothie before adding the banana and again before adding the spinach.

Need more smoothie inspiration?  Check out this fun Smoothie Flowchart from Eating Rules.

February 9, 2012

A Morroccan-ish Green Salad with Roasted Chicken

I mentioned in my last post that the difficult thing about planning meals ahead when you buy all your produce at the farmers market is that sometimes the market doesn't have what you've planned for them to have.

The other problem, and this one certainly applies no matter where you buy your produce, is what to do when you've planned a warm meal suitable for winter's chill, and it's suddenly 70 degrees outside.  Wouldn't a salad be nice?

So that chicken, which I purchased to make "Chicken Curry with Potatoes, Carrots and Peas," which I won't make because there weren't any potatoes and I didn't buy enough sunchokes (and I didn't buy frozen peas either), has been roasted (with lemon, garlic, thyme, lots of salt and pepper).  Tonight it will be served on a bed of mixed greens, which I have plenty of--those $2 bags they sell at the market contain enough lettuces and baby greens for at least three nights of dinner salad in our house.  This salad will be tossed with cumin-roasted diced carrots, garlicky chickpeas, and croutons made of pita bread--all of which I prepared last night after the kids went to bed (Whew!).  We'll garnish it with crumbled Cojita cheese (yes, feta might be more appropriate, but I prefer Cojita, so that's what I have on hand) and dress it with a yogurt-dill dressing inspired by Vanessa Barrington in DIY Delicious  (dill, parsley and thyme from our garden whisked together with yogurt, mustard and honey). 


It still seems counter-intuitive to me to prep our dinners the evening (or morning) before.  Quite often it results in more dishes to be washed.  But I must say, I enjoy cooking so much more when I am not 1.) starving, and therefore stuffing Juanita's tortilla chips into my mouth, and 2.) being whined at by kids who assume they are going to hate dinner, or who are just looking for some quality time with Mom.  Also, I think the meals tend to taste better, because they are cooked with more focus (maybe a little more love), less fatigue and impatience.  I think the extra dishes are worth it.

February 7, 2012

Parsnips, Sunchokes and Super Sweet Carrots

Until recently, except for an occasional breakfast sausage to balance the carb overload of a plate of pancakes, I did not enjoy sausage.  In the last few years I've been buying sausage at Chico Meat Locker (& Sausage Company) and my attitude has changed.  What a simple base for quick meals!  I'm sure that if my raw-milk-drinking, homestead-blog reading side ever takes over, I'll renounce my love for them and start making my own sausage with local pork and chicken, but for the time being, as a busy mom who cooks dinner nightly, I appreciate a shortcut every so often.  I've already told you about one of Gracie's favorites, Bratwurst with Cabbage.  And I've mentioned my love for their Sante Fe Chicken Sausages both as a taco filling and in this easy meal.  This weekend we had a soup made with a Chicken Sausage that contained artichoke hearts and feta cheese, but any of their sausages would work beautifully.  The sausage provides the flavor and the soup is rounded out with super sweet farmer's market carrots, kale and sunchokes. 

If you've been around the market much, you're probably aware that Pyramid Farms sells the sweetest carrots at the market.  Well, there's another vendor who is selling the same variety now.  And, while I don't make a practice of recommending one vendor's goods over another vendors, I must recommend that you buy the Super Sweet Carrots over the other varieties of carrots.  The Super Sweet variety is not only sweeter, but more crisp.  They are consistently stout carrots, and not usually gnarled or forked.  Gnarled carrots are fun to look at, but not-so-fun to clean.  Pyramid Farms sells their organic Super Sweet carrots for $2.50 per 1 pound bag.  The other vendor sells Super Sweet carrots for $1.50 for a bundle or bag (approximately one pound).

Parsnips are the root vegetable that I look forward to most.  They are sweet and earthy, just a little more starchy than a carrot.  I like them roasted with plenty of oil olive and salt or mashed like potatoes.  (When mashing parsnips, I add one potato to give a better texture to the final product.)  This year, so far, I've only seen one vendor selling parsnips: Grub Chico.  Their produce is not certified organic, but they use organic methods.  Their parsnips are beautiful.  Rob's Organic Produce (Durham) has carried parsnips the last couple years, but they chose not the grow them this year, because customer demand was low.  (C'mon people, buy some parsnips!)  Grub is selling their delicious parsnips for $2.50 per pound.

Sunchokes are a knobby little root vegetable approximately the color of a russet potato.  I don't see many people buying them, but when I last counted there were four vendors selling them.  I bought some this Saturday to go in our Sausage soup.  Sunchokes have a bland flavor, making them a suitable substitute for potatoes in soups and stews, where the vegetable takes on the flavor of the broth.  (Trying something new, I decided to plan all of our dinners for February at the beginning of the month.  Three of this week's meals include potatoes, but no one was selling potatoes this week at the market, so the potatoes in the soup became sunchokes, and the "Chicken Curry with Potatoes, Carrots and (Frozen) Peas over Jasmine Rice" is still sitting on the back shelf of my mind.  Maybe I'll use the chicken I bought for a soup...)  Rob's Organic Produce sells organic sunchokes for $2 per pound.

Chicken Sausage and Kale Soup

1 1/4 pounds chicken sausage, any variety, casing removed
1/2 an onion, diced
3 cloves of garlic, minced
3/4 pound sunchokes, diced
3/4 carrots or parsnips, diced or sliced into coins
6 cups chicken stock or water
1 bunch kale, any variety, cut into bite-size pieces

Cook sausage and onion in a little olive oil or butter over medium heat.  When the sausage is cooked through, add the garlic, sunchokes, carrots and chicken stock and a pinch of salt.  Bring to a simmer.  Cover and let simmer 15-20 minutes, until sunchokes and carrots and tender.  Add kale, replace lid, and cook 5 more minutes. 

February 3, 2012

Raw Milk: Two (and a half) Months In

First off, three gallons of milk in 1/2 gallon jars crammed into a Coleman cooler are really heavy.  I haven't weighed the cooler when it is full of milk, mostly because I'm a little scared to find out how much it weighs.  That and, once I get it home, I just want to get it unloaded and not think about having to carry it again for another week.  The last time I was picking up my cooler, another raw milk drinker was there emptying her cooler into canvas grocery bags.  Maybe I'll try that, but something tells me I'm a little too impatient on a Monday after work to take more than one trip to the car.  It's a bit ironic that the pick up point for this raw milk is chiropractic office, don't ya think?

As a family we are consistently using three gallons of milk weekly; this is at least 50% more than when we drank grocery store milk. Mostly, we drink it straight or in coffee.  (We don't use half-n-half any more.)  We use a small portion in cooking (the usual stuff: pancakes, waffles, casseroles, clam chowder and ice cream).  We've been eating less cold cereal lately; we eat more yogurt and oatmeal.

Yogurt is a tricky thing.  I've made yogurt successfully twice (using Vanessa Barrington's method which involves cooking the milk at 185 degrees F for five minutes), but whenever I make a quart of yogurt we feel like we have to ration the milk on Sunday and Monday.  The farm is currently not selling any more herdshares, but if they were we would probably buy another, so that we could have a gallon to make yogurt with.  (Who am I kidding?  We'd probably buy two more and try making our own cheese as well.)  Since another gallon isn't an option right now, Jason and I decided to go back to buying Mountain High Plain yogurt or buying organic milk from the grocery store and making our own.

Speaking broadly, there are two features of pastured, raw milk that commercially (or commercial-organically) produced pasteurized milk lack: 1.)  It is believed that there are good enzymes and bacteria in raw milk.  These are said to aid with digestion, reduce allergies, boost the immune system and generally aid good health. 2.) Pastured milk is thought to have more nutrients and a more healthful fat ratio, due to the natural diet of a variety of grasses, than milk from cows fed "feed" (which may include alfalfa, but tends to include corn and soybeans, things that cow stomachs aren't designed to process). The cooking involved in yogurt-making certainly would kill all of the beneficial enzymes in raw milk, but some enzymes and beneficial bacteria are introduced when culturing the milk to make yogurt.  Unfortunately, there is no similar way to make up for the lost nutrients and inferior fat ratio of a commercial cow's grain-based diet.

We had no trouble meeting our normal food budget in January.  The issues we had in November and December may have been due to holiday cooking.  Some of our other food choices (such as using more old-fashioned oats, fewer boxes of cereal and planning more meals ahead of time) may also contribute to the balance.

It's too soon to be too confident, but Grace, my eczema-and nasal-allergy-prone kid, seems much less itchy on days when she drinks at least two full cups of raw milk.

One other indirect result of our raw milk drinking is that my research about raw milk has encouraged me to prepare and serve more fermented foods. My favorite is the curtido that I told you about earlier this week.  Gracie prefers carrots sticks prepared similarly to these (shredded) Ginger Carrots.


I've updated my Homemade Ice Cream Page to include two new flavors: Coconut Chocolate Chip and Caramel Brownie Sundae.

February 6, 2012 UPDATE:  (Three days later) It's milk delivery day again and there's a whole gallon of milk left in the fridge! I started a half-gallon batch of yogurt this morning.  It's inoculating in the Crock-Pot now.

February 1, 2012

"Mongolian BBQ" At Home

Do you ever come up with a meal that is such an instant hit with your family that you feel you must share it with the world?  And then when you do (via your blog, of course), do your readers think, "Um, duh.  There's no creativity in that.  Why would you waste your time telling us about it.  What are you gonna post tomorrow, a recipe for a grilled cheese sandwich?!"

I'm afraid this is one of those posts.  I have figured out something that I think is absolutely great, but it's so simple, I'm afraid some of you do this without thinking about it.

Here it is: Make Your Own Stirfry Night. (pause) 

Are you excited yet?

No?  Well, maybe it needs a new name, because it is exciting... and filling and one of those meals the kids can't complain about because they get to choose their own ingredients.  It is Mongolian BBQ at home.  I used to love going to Hula's Mongolian BBQ with my mom when I was a kid, but it was a place that we only went to rarely, because, wisely, my mother thought that it was difficult to get your money's worth at an all-you-can-eat place.

These days when I'm craving Mongolian BBQ, or when it's Friday night and there are lots of vegetable odds-and-ends in the crisper, or when--like this week--I've planned ahead sliced up extra vegetables throughout the week, I set up a Make Your Own Stirfry Bar.

Now I've going to use lots of words to explain it, and it will probably sound much more involved than it is.  So, quickly, here are the basics:  I set out stir-fry ingredients individually on the kitchen counter.  Raw meats each go in their own bowl.  Sliced veggies, garlic and ginger are arranged in neat little piles on a big cutting board.  A colander of cooked Chinese noodles, a few bottles of Oriental-style sauces and a stack of clean bowls finish off the buffet.  Each family member assembles their own choice of meats, noodles, veggies and sauce, while I heat some cooking oil in a frying pan.  When the oil is hot, I stir-fry the first person's ingredients until the meat and veggies are done.  Usually this takes about 3 minutes per bowl. I scrape the delicious stir-fry out of the frying pan, add a little more oil and go on to the next person's meal.

See? Super simple.

But I'm feeling kind of wordy, so I'll share some details below.

Make Your Own Stirfry Bar
aka: "Mongolian BBQ" at Home 

The quantities list below are sufficient to serve 4-6 people.  Really, you shouldn't feel required to measure anything, just use the amounts that you have. 

1/2-1 lb thinly sliced beef, chicken, pork or lamb, or small deveined shrimp, or a combination of proteins
8 -12 ounces dry Chinese noodles
2 tablespoons each minced garlic and grated ginger
one onion, sliced into wedges or half a bunch of green onions sliced into one inch pieces
6 cups thinly sliced assorted vegetables in individual piles
1/2 cup heat-tolerant cooking oil
soy sauce and at least two other cooking liquids

Meats: Meats should be sliced at thinly as possible.  If you're planning ahead, the evening before you plan to stir fry, marinate each meat separately in whatever marinade you like.  We like to marinate beef in teriyaki sauce and chicken in a combination of soy sauce and rice vinegar with garlic, ginger and orange peel.  Let marinate, refrigerated, overnight.  Meats can also be marinated ahead of time and frozen until ready to use.  Sometimes (when I'll feeling like Suzie Homemaker) I'll buy a package of chicken thighs or a cut of beef, slice it up, package approximately 3/4 of a pound into multiple quart-size freezer bags, pour in some marinade, squeeze the bag to distribute the marinade, then flatten it and freeze it. (And when I'm really feeling like Suzy Homemaker, I even label the bags!)  The night before you plan to stirfry, simply move a frozen package of meat to the fridge.

Chinese noodles:  A variety of Chinese noodles are available in the ethnic foods section of most supermarkets, but if you're feeling adventurous, why not visit an Asian grocer?  The noodles I like to use for this are a yellow color, though Japanese buckwheat soba or thick udon should work as well.  Cook Chinese noodles according to directions on package.  If your package doesn't have directions in English, cook them in salted water as you would spaghetti, but check them for doneness after as few as four minutes of cooking.  When noodles are al dente, pour noodles into a collander to drain.  Rinse with cool water to stop the cooking, then toss with a tablespoon of cooking oil to prevent clumping.  Noodles can generally be cooked ahead of time and frozen until ready to use.  Thaw before using.

Veggies: On a large cutting board or in multiple bowls, set out multiple vegetables, sliced appropriately for a stir-fry.  If I'm planning ahead, during the week as I prepare other meals, I'll slice up extra veggies and set them aside.  Good stir-fry vegetables include carrots or radishes sliced diagonally, one-inch pieces of green onion, wedges of onion, sliced green cabbage, greens (chop larger leaves into smaller pieces), frozen peas, bell pepper strips, sliced Japanese eggplant, broccoli florets, green beans, snap peas, sliced mushrooms, baby corn (canned or fresh), canned sliced water chestnuts, etc.

Sauces:  If you're like me, the door of your refrigerator is at times cluttered with all kinds of Oriental condiments, and other times it's too cluttered with jams and mustards to have room left for anything beyond some soy sauce and hot sauce.  No matter.  Set out whatever you have: soy sauce, teriyaki, mirin or cooking wine, rice vinegar, hot sauce, hoisin, peanut dressing, vermouth...

The pan:  Use whatever pan you typically stirfry in.  I use a 10 inch cast iron skillet.  Don't be tempted to use something smaller, even though you will only be cooking one serving at a time.  You want these individual stir-fries to cook fast and hot, and you want plenty of room in the pan to move the ingredients around.  Preheat your pan and oil to somewhere between medium and medium-high heat.  Sorry I can't give a more accurate temperature.  It will depend on the finish of the pan and the type of oil that you use.

Cooking oil:  Use something that's heat-tolerant.  The amount you'll need will depend on how "non-stick" your pan is.  Start with 1-2 tablespoons for each bowl of stirfry.  If noodles start to stick, you can always add a splash of water to steam them off of the bottom of the pan.

Tips to ensure that everyone likes their stir fry:
If there are members of your family who prefer their stir-fry spicier than others, be sure to cook their portion last.  Strong flavors, and spice in particular, will remain in the skillet and transfer to the following stir-fries.  Unless you want to cool and wash your skillet between portions, be sure to have those family members who want their stir-fry mild have theirs cooked before those who prefer their stir-fry spicy. (Or, request that peple add their hot condiments after cooking.)

If people include raw meats in their assembled bowls, you'll need to use clean bowls for the cooked food. To avoid the extra dishes, I usually have each family member fill their bowl with noodles, sauce and veggies, then tell me which meat(s) they want when I start cooking their portion.