Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Oregano Focaccia with Tomato and Caramelized Onions

When Jeff picked out this focaccia recipe to make this week, I was only mildly enthusiastic. I usually prefer thin crust pizzas (and this is essentially a pizza - same dough, different cooking method). I also wasn't convinced that the dough would cook properly this way. I envisioned a crisp, overcooked crust and a soggy top with limp veggies. I did not get any of that.

The crust was perfectly done, slightly crispy around the edges but tender and firm. The tomatoes dehydrated slightly, packing a huge flavor punch. Add to that the gorgeous caramelized sweet onions - how they managed to stay moist without making the crust soggy is beyond me, but I'm glad it worked! The sprinkling of salsa jack cheese added a nice pizza-y touch. Super yummy.

I kicked the original recipe up a notch or two by making my own pizza dough. Replacing half the flour with whole wheat added some healthy fiber, and a pile of dried oregano in the dough pumped up the flavor. Oregano is the bomb. What made it even better was that it was dried Greek oregano from my own garden. I can't wait to try this again with my own tomatoes! And maybe some fresh basil? I'm looking forward to summer already!

Oregano Focaccia with Tomato and Caramelized Onions
Adapted from For the Love of Cooking.

1 c whole wheat flour
1 c bread flour
2 tbsp dried oregano
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp sugar (I used my unrefined sugar again - because it is a powder rather than crystals, I think it works really nicely in dough)
1/4 oz instant yeast (1 package)
3/4 c water(115-120°F)
3 tbsp olive oil, divided
1/2 red onion
1 sweet yellow onion
2 plum tomatoes
1/2 c shredded cheese (I used salsa jack, but Asiago or mozzarella would work well too)
salt and pepper to taste

Combine the flours, oregano, salt, sugar and yeast in a large bowl. Add the water and 1 tbsp olive oil and stir until the dough comes together. Turn out on a lightly floured counter and knead for about 7-9 minutes, until smooth and elastic.

Place the dough in an oiled bowl, cover with a damp kitchen towel and let rise in a warm place for about an hour.

Meanwhile, slice the onions thickly and the tomatoes thinly. Shred the cheese, if it isn't already. Preheat oven to 400°F. Coat a 8 x 12" glass baking dish with baking spray.

In a large skilled, heat 1 1/2 tbsp of olive oil over medium heat. Add the onions and slowly cook until caramelized, about 20 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Take the risen dough and gently spread it into a rectangle the size of the baking dish. Press it gently down into the dish. Drizzle 1/2 tbsp of olive oil over the dough. Spread the caramelized onions over the top. Sprinkle cheese over onions and place slices of tomatoes on top. Salt and pepper to taste. 

Bake until the bread is puffy and golden around the edges. Serve while still warm!

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Carne, Vale! (and Chicken with Brussels Sprouts and Mustard Sauce)

Carne, vale! (For those of you who are rusty on the Latin, that means "goodbye, meat!")

Yes, once again, Jeff and I are going vegetarian for Lent. We tried this last year and it was very successful, so we're giving it another go. Unlike last year, when I was a bit skeptical of our ability to cook so many meatless meals (I remember compiling recipes in advance to see if we could make it), this year I've been looking forward to it. This past week I planned more meat-based meals than we'd had in months, to send it out in style, but the fact is that it doesn't appeal to me as much anymore. Besides having the confidence that we can cook delicious vegetarian meals for forty days, my priorities have shifted. Last year, I was primarily motivated by environmental concerns, as well as a vague sense that this would be a healthier choice. This year, health has become a primary factor. Meat made me sick four times between mid-October and New Years Eve, and now that I have to lower my cholesterol, I've been leaning away from it even more. A vegetarian diet is really best for me - lessening my impact on the environment is now just a bonus. I'm really looking forward to the next several weeks of plant-based eating.

That being said, we made a pretty delicious chicken dish yesterday - a great way to send meat out of our diets in style. This tender chicken is slathered in a cidery-mustard reduction, paired with luciously soft Brussels sprouts. I've always thought Brussels sprouts had a bit of a mustardy kick on their own, so they pair beautifully with the Dijon. I felt like a bit more of a kick would have really put this sauce over the top - next time we might throw in some red pepper flakes for a bit of heat, or perhaps cider vinegar for an acidic bite. But even without that extra something, I all but licked my plate clean.

What makes this a great go-to recipe is that, while it does take a bit of time, there seems to be a lot of down time. Jeff and I were in the kitchen together and there were several lulls where neither of us had anything to do. That leaves plenty of time to prepare another veggie side dish (or some flaky biscuits, if you're not watching your cholesterol!). Even though I won't be eating any meat for awhile, I plan on doing it again as soon as I can! There are still Brussels sprouts in April, right?

Chicken with Brussels Sprouts and Mustard Sauce (for two!)
From Cooking Light December 2011.

1 1/2 tbsp olive oil, divided
2 6 oz boneless chicken breasts
1/2 c chicken broth, divided
1/8 c unfiltered apple cider (we used cider from Terhune Orchards, which is a staple in our fridge)
1 tbsp Dijon mustard
1 tbsp butter, divided
1/2 tbsp dried parsley
8 oz Brussels sprouts, halved

 Preheat oven to 450°F.

Heat a cast-iron (or other ovenproof) skillet over high heat. Add 1/2 tbsp oil. Sprinkle chicken with salt and pepper, to taste, and place in the pan. Cook about 3 minutes until browned. Turn the chicken over. and then place the pan in the preheated oven for about 9 minutes, or until cooked through. Remove the chicken to a plate and cover with foil (or a pot lid) to keep warm.

Return the pan to the stove over medium-high heat. Add 1/4 c broth and cider and bring to a boil. Scrape the pan to loosen any browned bits. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer about 4 minutes, until thickened. Add mustard, 1/2 tbsp butter and parsley and whisk to blend well.

Meanwhile, heat a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add 1 tbsp oil and 1/2 tbsp butter to the pan. Add the Brussels sprouts and saute 2-3 minutes, until they begin to brown.

Salt the Brussels sprouts and add 1/2 c chicken broth to the pan. Then cover it and cook another 4 minutes, until tender. While the sprouts are finishing, return the chicken to the pan and coat it with the sauce. Serve the remaining sauce over the sprouts.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Whole Wheat English Muffins

I am an old lady at 29. I got up this morning to sharp pains and a little swelling on the left side of my rib cage. Since I've been having abdominal issues as it is, I decided to go to the doctor. The verdict? A pulled muscle. After a day of almost complete inactivity, I woke up with a pulled muscle and freaked out. When he told me what it was, the old athlete-Kristin shook her head at the new old-lady-Kristin and called her a wuss. I still have no idea how or when this could have happened (while working at my computer? while I took a bubble bath? at book club?). I'm a bit ashamed of myself, both for my weakness (for hurting myself doing nothing) and my wussiness. Since I'm not allowed to stress-eat anymore, I figured some stress-cooking was in order to vent my frustrations.

I made a batch of these English muffins last month and wanted to blog about them, but I wasn't totally happy with the result. Today I tried a whole wheat version with several tweaks and liked them much better. The first time I felt the muffins were a bit doughy, so I divided the dough into more pieces and made them into thinner patties. The problem was mostly solved - they're still a little tacky when you split them, but after toasting they're just right. The original recipe also needed more salt (Jeff and I actually salted our muffins to compensate the first time around - and I'm not a big salt person).

I'm finding that I really enjoy breads that are cooked on the stove. Putting a loaf in the oven and hoping it comes out right by the end is very different from watching the magic happen in a pan. The sides of each dough-patty begin to bubble and the bottom is browned and crispy when it's flipped. As soon as you flip them, they look like real English muffins. I love that sense of accomplishment when I make something new - the feeling that I actually made something that looks the way it should (especially with yeast - I have some confidence issues in that department).

Next time maybe I'll try making bagels!

Whole Wheat English Muffins
Adapted from Can It, Bottle It, Smoke It

1 packet active dry yeast (about 2 1/4 tsp)
10 oz whole wheat flour
10 oz bread flour 
1 tbsp sugar (I used the sugar and yeast I got from the gift box I got back in November)
1 1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp white vinegar
3/4 c milk
1 tbsp butter, softened
3/4 c water

In a food processor fitted with the dough blade, combine the yeast, flours, sugar and salt. Combine the vinegar and milk and slowly pour into the food processor as it runs. Drop in the butter, then slowly pour the water in. Let the machine knead the dough for 5 minutes or so, until it pulls away from the sides of the bowl. Transfer to a lightly floured counter and knead a few times until it forms a smooth ball. Place in a lightly oiled bowl covered with a damp kitchen towel and let rise in a warm place (I use the proofing function of my oven) for about 1 hour, until doubled.

When the dough has risen, preheat a cast iron skillet over medium heat. Transfer the dough back to the lightly floured counter. Poke a hole in the middle of the dough ball with one finger and stretch until you have a long loop, about 2" thick. Return it to the counter and, using a dough scraper or knife, cut into sixteen even pieces. Roll each one into a small ball and place under a damp kitchen towel.

When the pan is hot, form 3-4 dough balls into 1/2" thick patties (the thinner the better, I think, to ensure they cook through).

Place the patties in the pan and cook 3 minutes per side until golden brown and no longer squishy in the middle.

Remove to a cooling rack and repeat with other batches. Let the muffins rest about 15 minutes to achieve the proper texture. Serve hot, or split with a fork and freeze until needed. Frozen muffins just need a few minutes in the toaster to be perfect!

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Pork Stir Fry with Peppers and Snow Peas

Stir fries are great. They're quick, flavorful and generally healthy. This one certainly has all those characteristics, and manages to meet all my new dietary requirements.

I found out recently that I have high cholesterol - scary, considering the considerable family history of heart issues that has popped up in the past year. I knew I needed to lose weight, and have been working on it gradually for a year or so, but now I've had to step things up a bit. To be honest, my diet hasn't changed very drastically. The first week after the doctor gave me this weight-loss ultimatum, all of the meals I had planned were suitable for my new low-fat, low-cholesterol program. The snacks and desserts are killing me, though. While I had been steadily improving my eating habits for quite some time, I was still eating a lot of baked goods, and chocolate was a common snack. I've had to cut that out almost entirely, since I can't really eat butter (and refuse to use something as engineered as margarine). It's been painful. If I'm really, really good during the day, I can have a controlled slice of cake or a cookie. I will definitely have to cut back on all the baking I love so much. 

With this diet in place, I was a bit leery of trying a pork recipe - the first "red" meat I've had in weeks - but Jeff really wanted it so I succumbed. It turns out that a nice, trimmed pork tenderloin is pretty lean. Since the rest of the recipe is packed with veggies, it's a rather healthy main dish. Half the recipe with 3/4 c rice is just about 500 calories (I only needed a third of the recipe, so I had some calories to spare for dessert!). Low in saturated fat and high in protein, fiber and vitamin C, this is definitely a keeper. That it takes less than half an hour is a great bonus!

Pork Stir Fry with Peppers and Snow Peas
Slightly adapted from Bride and Groom: First and Forever cookbook.

1 c basmati rice
1 1/2 c water
1/2 c light coconut milk

1 tbsp olive oil
1 small onion, chopped into half-moons
1 small red bell pepper, cut into strips
8 oz pork tenderloin, sliced into thin rounds
1.5" piece of ginger, finely chopped
1/4 c sherry vinegar
1/4 c hoisin sauce
1/8 c water
1 c snow peas
1/4 c green onions, sliced (for garnish)

In a medium saucepan, heat the water and coconut milk until it comes to a boil (watch closely so it doesn't boil over!). Add rice, cover and cook 12-15 minutes, until liquid is gone and rice is tender.

Meanwhile, heat olive oil in a large wok over high heat. Add onions and pepper and cook until softened.

Season pork with salt and pepper, then add to the pan. Add ginger. Cook 1-2 minutes, until pork is no longer pink. Add vinegar, hoisin sauce, and water to the pan. Simmer 1-2 minutes.

Add snow peas. Cook another 1-2 minutes until everything is cooked through and sauce is thick. Garnish with green onions and serve over rice.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Spaghetti Squash Saute with Goat Cheese

Photogenic? Perhaps not. But delicious nonetheless.

I love spaghetti squash, but what is there to do with it apart from pretending it's spaghetti and dousing it in tomato sauce? I was quite pleased when I stumbled upon this recipe in a new cookbook, which gave me another option. This recipe is creamy and cheesy and squashy all at once, with little shallot, parsley and red pepper flake surprises scattered throughout.

The result is warm and yummy and filling, though fairly low cal. I'm looking forward to another steaming bowl for lunch!

Spaghetti Squash Saute with Goat Cheese
Adapted from The Locavore's Kitchen.

1 medium-large spaghetti squash
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp butter
2 large shallots, chopped
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
1/4 c fresh parsley, chopped
1/3 c toasted pine nuts
1/3 c crumbled goat cheese
salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 450°F. Cut the spaghetti squash in half and scrape out the seeds (mine has an extra cut in it because my first attempt at "half" was a failure). Drizzle the cut side with olive oil and place on a foil-lined baking sheet. Roast 45 minutes, until the flesh is soft.

Cool squash about 5 minutes, then scrape the strands out of the shell with a fork or spoon. Discard the shell.

Toast the pine nuts in a small skillet over medium-low heat. Shake the pan every once in awhile to stir them. Keep an eye on them while you prepare the rest of the recipe - they can burn quickly!

In a high-sided skillet, melt the butter. Add the shallots and saute about 5 minutes until soft. Add the red pepper flakes and saute an additional minute.

Add the parsley and squash to the pan and cook about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, to heat and combine (I also tried to cook off a bit of the squash's moisture, since mine was rather wet). Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Transfer to a large bowl. Add the goat cheese and pine nuts and stir to combine (the goat cheese will melt and make the mixture creamy). Serve immediately!

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Fresh Breadsticks

I'm a bread person. The kind of bread person who goes to a restaurant and fills up on fresh, warm rolls before the appetizer has arrived. Some days, I just crave a little fresh-from-the-oven goodness. These bread sticks are for those days.

Fresh bread sticks in around two hours? Yes, please. One reason I like this recipe is the minimal pre-planning that's required. I can have that afternoon bread craving as late as 4:30 and still be able to bang these out and have them on the table for dinner. That's pretty much the scenario that led me to make them the first time. They totally delivered.

Now, I wouldn't say that this is the best bread I've ever eaten, and for good reason. Really excellent bread requires time to develop its flavor. That's why finicky bread recipes have you prepare your starter the night before and let the yeast slowly swell in the fridge for twelve hours. That method makes some great bread. But some of us don't have the foresight to prepare that starter the night before our bread cravings. This is a damn good alternative for those days.

I think, the next time I make these, I will halve the recipe. Two trays of bread sticks are a bit much for two people. However, we did learn how to effectively reheat them afterward. Stored in a tupperware and eaten at room temperature the next day, they're spongy and bland. But brushed with melted butter or olive oil and popped in the toaster, they regain their former magic. (Props to Jeff for going the extra mile to figure that out.)

Bread Sticks
From For the Love of Cooking.

1 1/2 c warm water (105-115°F)
1 tbsp sugar
1 tbsp active dry yeast
1/2 tsp salt
3-4 c flour (all-purpose worked fine)

Combine water, sugar and yeast in a bowl and let stand 10 min. (I prefer a measuring cup for this, since I use it to measure the water anyway. I don't know how most people gauge the 105-115°F; I certainly don't bother taking the temperature of my water. Since I know from my home inspection two years ago that the hot water from my sink runs at 120°, I let it heat up for a minute, then collect 1 1/2 c in my measuring cup. Since the glass is room temperature, by the time I set it down and measure out the yeast and sugar, it's probably in the right range for yeast activation. As you can see from the picture below, it works pretty well.)

Add 1 1/2 c flour to another bowl. Once the yeast mixture has rested, add the salt to it and stir to combine. Then pour the yeast mixture over the flour and stir well. Gradually work in more flour (switching from stirring to kneading when necessary - or following Grandma's advice to use your hands from the beginning) until the dough begins to pull away from the bowl and barely sticks to your finger.

Place the dough in an oiled bowl covered with a damp kitchen towel and proof until doubled, about 45 minutes (I do this in my oven, using its proofing function. If I didn't have that, I would once again follow Grandma's advice and have preheated my oven on its lowest setting for a few minutes, turned it off, and then set my dough there to rise).

Once the dough has risen, roll it out into a rectangle (or a large rectangley blob - whatever you can manage) and cut into strips with a pizza cutter.

Twist each strip and place on a baking sheet, leaving a bit of room between each one. Cover and let rise for another 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 425°F. Brush each bread stick with olive oil and add toppings as desired (I made my bread sticks an assortment of flavors using a variety of dried herbs, garlic powder and Parmesan cheese. Don't forget the salt, either!) Bake 9-10 minutes, until golden brown. Enjoy piping hot from the oven or toasted the next day!