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Archive for June, 2009


A world outside of mozzarella & pepperoni

A simple google search for kid-friendly recipes is scary. What shows up, in fact, is a harrowing slew of butter-saturated, sugar-filled recipes written with a complete disregard for health. I discovered this last week because I was looking for just that – simple recipes that I can make with kids.

My friend Beth invited me to cook in front of a class of kindergarten students. Her son is in the class and they were looking for someone to do a cooking demo for the kids’ end of the year party – I was flattered that they thought of me and happily accepted.

I took this as my tiny opportunity to make a difference in the way these kids looked at food. While this was not the time to introduce them to the delicate flavors of perfectly-seared scallops or steak tartare, I wanted to cook with them something they’re familiar with, but probably never had before. I decided to let them make their own pizzas. Instead of just mozzarella and pepperoni though, I brought with me a ton of different vegetables and all sorts of sauces for them to experiment with. Well-aware of the fact that the kids will have a short attention span that rivals mine, I also brought with me my pizza paddle and pizza stone so they could take turns sliding their pizzas into the oven.

flying food is always fun for kids

One of my favorite pizza combinations we made with the kids was a lemon-infused, goat ricotta, white pizza topped with thinly sliced zucchini. The flavors are light, refreshing, and clean — perfect for the hot summer days ahead.

mise en place

Count them – four ingredients; five if you include the extra virgin olive oil. This means no skimping on ingredients! I tried this same pizza with regular ricotta and it doesn’t work. The wow factor just wasn’t there. If you absolutely cannot find goat-milk ricotta, however, not to worry. Mix a semi-firm chevre (like Spanish Capricho de Cabra) with some good quality, fresh ricotta and you’ll get a similar result. Like I said, it won’t be spot-on, but it will get you pretty close.

lemon zest makes me happy

The lemon zest in the ricotta serves two purposes. Not only does it heighten the flavors of the goat cheese, but it also gives the pizza a clean, crisp flavor. I recommend using organic citrus whenever a dish calls for using the zest or rind.

almost paper thin, almost

Zucchini has lots of moisture and moisture is the kryptonite, so to speak, of pizza. To remove some of this excess moisture you’ll want to thinly slice the zucchini (preferably with a mandoline) and fan the slices out on a plate so they’re not on top of each other. Then season the slices with salt and pepper and the salt will start to break down the cell walls of the zucchini, and thus allowing it to give up some of that moisture. Soak it up with a paper towel and your ready to roll.

extra virgin olive oil

The kids were shocked when I hinted at the idea of a pizza without tomato sauce. Their facial expressions were absolutely priceless. And although not many chose to forgo the traditional red sauce, I feel like those that did may have a bright culinary future ahead of them!

Lemon-Infused Goat Ricotta White Pizza With Sliced Zucchini

Lemon, Goat Ricotta & Zucchini Pizza

makes 1 large pizza

Components

  • 24 oz. pizza dough
  • 2-3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 lb goat milk ricotta
  • zest of 1-2 lemons
  • 1 zucchini, thinly sliced
  • salt and pepper, to taste

Putting them all together

  1. Zest the lemon(s) and stir the zest into the goat ricotta
  2. Thinly slice the zucchini (preferably with a mandoline), fan out on a plate, season with salt and pepper, and cover with a paper towel to soak up some of the moisture.
  3. Stretch pizza dough to approx 1/8″ thickness – this pizza is better thin than thick – and brush a thin coat of olive oil over the top.
  4. Spread the goat cheese mixture over the top and top with the thin slices of zucchini.
  5. Preferably bake on a hot (550 degrees F) pizza stone for 5-7 minutes or until the crust gets golden brown.

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This is why everyone should invest in a pizza stone:

perfectly crispy crust

No such thing as ‘just coffee’

Last month, if you recall, was essentially dedicated to moving to my new place. I was also finishing up school, going to work and trying to keep up with my blog, with an emphasis on the word trying. My friend Marianna, however, made things slightly easier for me because she, her husband and adorable baby girl recently moved a new house and didn’t need their old moving boxes anymore.
On a Tuesday afternoon, after work and without notice, I gave Marianna a call to see if I could swing her place by for the boxes. She responded with a quick “of course – اهلا و سهلا” and then asked how far away I was. I should mention that Marianna is a true Lebanese and could not possibly live with herself if I didn’t walk out of her home weighing 5 lbs heavier – so, I lied about the fact that I was right around the corner, and told her not to go through any trouble, that just coffee would be fine. My request, of course, made no difference.

mise en place

By the time I got there, Marianna had already prepped the tomatoes, mint and cucumber for fattoush (فتوش), was defrosting pita bread for some manaqish (مناقيس), had ground beef and minced onions cooking on the burner, all while in high heels and keeping an eye on her daughter playing with her toys on the counter. As soon as I walked through the door she kissed me three times on alternating cheeks, asked me if I wanted anything to drink and instructed me to make myself at home – so I followed her to the kitchen and watched her as she prepared the fateh (فتة).

toasted pita, garlic, hummus water & lemon juice

Fateh is a traditional, layered Middle Eastern dish that can be done a variety of ways: with chicken, cow’s tongue, or how we were having it, with ground beef. The layering starts off with a thin coating of traditional hummus on the bottom of a casserole dish. The second layer is a mix of toasted pita bread, minced garlic, a splash of lemon juice and a drizzle of some of the hot water leftover from boiling the chickpeas. The point of this step is to give the toasted pita some flavor and make the traditionally stale bread slightly soft, but not soggy.

hands are the best tools for this

Once the bread is fully coated I give it another toss with the cooked chickpeas. You could do it all in one step, but I don’t like how the shells come off the chickpeas when you toss them too much. This way the chickpeas get coated, but also preserve their shape at the same time.

fateh (فتة)

The third layer is the ground beef cooked with the onions, allspice and a pinch of cinnamon. Finally, you’ll want to top everything with a healthy spread of plain, whole milk yogurt and garnish the dish with toasted pine nuts and usually minced parsley – but I didn’t have the latter.

Fateh

approx 4-6 servings

Components

  • 1 lb ground beef
  • 1 cup hummus, classic
  • 1 cup chickpeas, cooked
  • 2 yellow onions, diced
  • 1 tsp allspice, ground
  • a dash of cinnamon, ground
  • 2 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1-2 tbsp, lemon juice
  • 2 cups pita breads, cut into small triangles
  • a splash of hot water (preferably from boiling chickpeas)
  • 3 cups plain yogurt, whole milk
  • 1/4 cup pine nuts, toasted
  • 3 tbsp flat leaf parsley, minced for garnish
  • salt, to taste
  • extra virgin olive oil, to taste

Putting them all together

  1. Start by cooking the ground beef over medium heat with some olive oil, minced onions, allspice and salt Cook for at least 15-20 minutes.
  2. If you’re using canned chickpeas, rinse them and boil them for 5-10 minutes to heat them up and also remove the canned taste they sometimes have.
  3. Reserve some of the chickpea water and drain the rest (regular hot water, or hot stock also works if you accidentally drain out all the chickpea water).
  4. Toast pita bread with some olive oil and salt in a 400 degree oven for 5-7 minutes or until golden brown.
  5. As soon as they’re toasted, toss the bread with the garlic, lemon juice and splash of the hummus water until well-coated and soft (but not soggy). Gently mix in the hot chickpeas at the end to preserve their shape.
  6. Layer the hummus, bread mixture, ground beef, yogurt and garnish with toasted pine nuts and minced parsley.

notes: Make sure no layer has excess water so that the casserole doesn’t get overly soggy. You’ll want to cook the meat and onions for at least 15-20 minutes for that reason – so that the liquid from the onion evaporates.

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fateh (فتة)

Mejillones in my new Kitchen

If you knew the kind of things I’ve been eating the past ten days, you’d be appalled. After I made the Moroccan chicken and olives dish a couple weeks ago, I carefully set aside some left overs and packed up my entire life into a 14-foot U-Haul. After that, my will to cook was nowhere to be found. I’m sure it was hidden somewhere behind the fortress of boxes that consumed my new apartment, but, for the time being, I was happy with my daily bowls of cereal and occasional sandwiches. A diet devoid of fruits and vegetables – like I said, appalled.

The unpacking process was just as painful because the towering boxes were the first things to greet me as I walked through the door after a long day at work. Slowly though, everything started finding it’s place. Since I do most of my blogging from my kitchen, I thought I’d show you my new digs; nothing fancy, but I made sure to find something spacious. My eat-in kitchen was transformed into an extension of the kitchen, where I created an additional 8 feet of counter space by simply propping a dining room table on top of bed stands.

my homemade countertop

Since the weather has been beautiful the past few days, my will to cook was still nowhere to be found – even though my apartment is now fully unpacked. On my first run to the grocery store, I saw some mussels out of the corner of my eyes that I knew I couldn’t pass up. 

mise en place

In Spain there’s a popular tapas called Mejillones a la vinagreta, or simply Mussels in a vinaigrette; and that is what I set out to make. It’s a dish that can be eaten cold and is extremely refreshing and simple to make. The base ingredients for la vinagreta are tomatoes, onions a splash of vinegar and maybe a squeeze of lemon juice, but none of this is set in stone. I’ve seen some people add hard boiled eggs, others add long green peppers, you get the picture.

wash & scrub each one

To avoid getting sick you’ll want to carefully wash your fresh mussels in cold water, remove their beard and toss out the ones that are open or chipped before cooking. They should also smell like the sea and not fishy. Once their cooked most of them will open up, but if you have a couple stubborn ones in the bunch, simply pry those open and enjoy. (Updated: 06/12)

don’t forget the bay leaves (like I almost did)

Once you’ve got all your mussels prepped, the cooking part is simple. You throw them in a large skillet with a glass of white wine you’ll be drinking that evening and a couple of bay leaves, cover them and let them steam in the wine for a 3-4 minutes, or until they all open up. Once they cook, I like to serve this dish cold, so I throw them in the fridge while I whip up la vinagreta.

bright summer flavors

In the end, after changing my mind a couple times of what should go in my vinagreta (after I took the mise en place photo), I decided to throw in some Italian parsley and garlic.

mejillones a la vinagreta

This month we’re in Spain for A Taste of the Mediterranean, being hosted by the beautiful Núria from Spanish Recipes. The theme this month is to make tapas – any tapas. I’ve neglected the contest a bit with my moving, but Núria has gone all out and prepared a post full of Spanish inspiration. Check out her blog, get inspired by how beautiful, simple and delicious Spanish tapas are and then venture to make your own. iGourmet is sponsoring this contest and is giving away a $50 gift certificate to the winning tapas post.

Mejillones a la Vinagreta

serves 6-7 appetizer portions

Components

  •  2 lbs fresh mussels
  • 1 glass of pinot grigio
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 3 tomatoes, finely diced
  • 1 red onion, finely diced
  • 1/3 cup Italian parsley, finely diced
  • 1 roasted pepper, finely diced
  • 1-2 garlic cloves, minced
  • juice of 1 lemon and 1 lime
  • 1 teaspoon of white wine vinegar
  • salt and pepper, to taste

Putting them all together

  1. Clean mussels in cold water by removing their beard and make sure to toss any that are open before cooking.
  2. Add the cleaned mussels to a large skillet with the white wine and bay leaves, cover and cook for 3-4 minutes or until they’re all open.
  3. Toss any mussels that didn’t open and cool the rest in the fridge.
  4. Make the vinaigrette by tossing all the remaining ingredients in a bowl, cover and refrigerate until ready to serve.
  5. To serve, remove half the shell from each mussel and top each one with a tablespoon of the vinaigrette.

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signs of a good time