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Mediterranean pizza from the grill

There will be two of us for our pizza party tonight. Happily, we each love the clean and fragrant flavors of the Mediterranean. So, for us, what we’ll put on our grill-fired pizzas is easy. Tonight, Greeks and Italians join hands and toss a mess of really good things on our pies!

the goodies:

  • grilled chicken, marinated Mediterranean-style (now this will not be the star of the show, because really, a wonderful pizza doesn’t need meat! – my prejudice coming out! That being said, it IS really tasty.)
  • roasted red peppers
  • roasted garlic
  • drizzles of basil-thick pesto
  • mozzarella 
  • toasted pine nuts
  • crumbled feta cheese
  • fresh herbs (mostly Greek oregano)

Simple, no? Absolutely!! So here’s how:

prepare:

(These preparations can all be done day-of, or day before. It’ll take you maybe forty-five minutes total prep time, depending on whether you’re working alone or with a buddy, and how many children or dogs you have chasing tails underfoot.)

Chicken – At least two hours before dinner, prepare the marinade for the chicken:

  • 4 boneless, skinless chicken thighs
  • 6 Tbl. olive oil
  • 4 Tbl. fresh-squeezed lemon juice
  • 3 whole garlic cloves, crushed with the back of a knife
  • 1 tsp. dried Oregano, crushed
  • 1/2 tsp. dried thyme, crushed
  • 1/2 tsp. lavender flowers (COMPLETELY optional! but fun)
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/4 tsp. pepper

Combine marinade ingredients in small bowl and put the chicken in to marinate for a couple of hours (if you have the time.) Turn occasionally.

The dough –  You’ve already got your pizza dough from yesterday, right? About two hours before dinner, remove the dough from the refrigerator, deflate it, and cut it into four pieces. Form each piece into a ball, cover with plastic.  Allow them to come up to room temperature.  Deflate again (because they will have been slowly rising on the counter) and form into four discs, 3 to 4 inches across. Cover and let sit for 15 minutes. Just before piling with sauce and goodies (see below), roll it out (1/4 to 1/3  inch approximately.)

NOTE: When it comes time, you’ll be taking it out to the grill to bake on one side, then bringing it back to the preparation table to top with the good stuff – and returning to the grill to finish cooking.

Cheese -grate or thinly slice the mozzarella. Crumble the feta – reserve the feta for when the pizza comes off the grill. Refrigerate both.

Roasted garlic – you can see how to roast garlic in my recipe on white bean purée dated May 9, 2011. (You can do this the same time you roast the red peppers. Temperatures vary, but you can compromise.)

Roasted red pepper – Either buy them in a jar, or — Cut a red pepper in half from top to bottom, removing the seeds. Place cut-side down on a baking sheet (or in the toaster oven, along with your garlic). Roast until the skin blisters and bubbles and begins to blacken. (This would take about 35 minutes in a 450° oven.) Remove from the oven with tongs and drop into a brown paper bag. Close the bag up and allow the peppers to steam in there for maybe ten minutes or so. The skin will peel right off. Slice the roasted peppers into long thin strips.

Pine nuts – In the same oven or toaster oven, set temperature to 300° or so. Roast your pine nuts, tossing a time or two, and watching carefully because they will go from just right to burnt in a flash.

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Pizza Dough – for the grill

Last weekend we had a large gathering for a grilled pizza party. It’s the first time we’ve ever done it quite like this. It was a great way to feed a crowd – meat-eaters and non- alike – it was relaxed, casual and such fun. Everyone got to put their own stylistic touches on their personal pizzas with sauces and toppings provided. Kids especially loved making their own! With just a little guidance, even the youngest can have a hand in making their own dinner. With the grill going, we had a steady line of pizzas making their way to the table.

I’ve discovered after years of trials that the very best pizza dough has come from allowing it to rise slowly over a couple day’s time in the fridge. It develops a wonderful flavor this way and even the texture improves. You can roll it out extra thin if you like it like that, or allow for a thicker-crusted, more rustic pizza. This dough also makes an excellent flat, crusty, herbed focaccia! (For that, just before baking, simply dimple the surface with your fingertips, drizzle with a couple tablespoons of olive oil and sprinkle salt, and dried or fresh herbs of your choice.) I’ll go into further explanations for pizza on the grill (or oven) in tomorrow’s post.

Both for the nutritional value and the flavor, I like to add some whole grain flour to this recipe.

Pizza Dough or Herbed Focaccia

1.  Stir together in the bowl of your mixer

  • 2 tsp. dry yeast
  • 1/2 cup lukewarm water (don’t allow water to exceed 115°F)

2.  Add to this and mix well:

  • 1/4 cup unbleached white flour
  • 1/4 cup rye flour

Allow this mixture to sit until it begins to get bubbly.

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speaking love

I have a question. My husband loves me very well and usually his gifts are just incredibly thoughtful. Recently I had a birthday though and the gift he bought me has raised a tiny disagreement between us and I’d like to know what you think. He bought me a stand-mixer. This much is indisputable: It’s got a lot of power under the hood. With a heavy-duty crank, the large stainless steel bowl lifts to meet the beaters. It can make enough whole-grain bread dough to feed the multitudes. With attachments it could make pasta and probably even sausages (if I ate sausages.) It’s even got the word “professional” emblazoned on the front!

It’s powerful and great engineering and all…but what I want to know is: would that speak romance to you?

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Rubbed Grilled Salmon

Once salmon season has finally arrived, this is one of our very favorite ways of enjoying it! It’s anything but ordinary, it’s easy, it’s memorable and it’s positively delicious. It all starts with the rub, a collection of whole spices dry-roasted, then ground. I know the list of ingredients may give the appearance of complicated and time-consuming – but the rub will take you about 15 minutes to prepare, and likely last you all summer and maybe months beyond. The rest of the dish is a snap!  You like salmon? You will love this! (You might want to keep the recipe handy – you’ll likely be getting plenty of requests for it.)

The Rub:

In a heavy hot skillet, toast the following ingredients for approximately 4 minutes. You want them to brown slightly and begin to release their aromas. But stop short of smoking!

  • 3 Tbl. coriander seeds
  • 3 Tbl. mustard seeds
  • 3 Tbl. cumin seeds
  • 3 Tbl. dry dill seeds
  • 6 Tbl. fennel seeds

Remove the seeds from the hot pan and allow to cool slightly. Grind in a spice grinder or using a mortar and pestle. My preference is to have a few whole seeds remaining, but you can grind them as finely as you like. Then add:

  • 6 Tbl. sugar
  • 3 Tbl. kosher salt or coarse sea salt
  • 1-1/2 tsp. finely ground pepper

Mix well. Stored in an air-tight jar, it will keep for months.

The Fish:

  • Enough salmon fillets to feed your crowd – steelhead fillets are a good substitute

Sprinkle a generous amount of spice rub over the flesh of the salmon and then pat it in place.  If you’re going to be using an oven, preheat it to 400°F. If using an outdoor gas grill, bring it up to the same temperature.

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a morning like this

Ever have a morning like this?  You wake in a panic thirty minutes after your alarm was set to go off; the shirt you had your heart set on wearing sits crumpled in a tall heap still to be ironed; your child remembers today’s field trip but can’t find the permission slip; you realize too late that the strange low growl you hear is the cat throwing up a fur-ball the size of a mouse on your favorite chair; you can’t find your keys (again!); and the milk carton sits in the fridge with 1 tablespoon of milk in it.  I know the first thing that occurs to you under such circumstances is not what you’ll eat – but you can’t leave the house on a day like this with an empty stomach! Quick! Grab this!

Golden Flaxseed, Bran & Gingered Muffin

  • 1-1/2 cups whole-wheat pastry flour (or all-purpose flour)
  • 1/2 cup wheat bran
  • 1/2 cup flaxseed meal (ground flaxseeds)
  • 1/3 cup brown sugar
  • 1/4 t. salt
  • 2-1/2 tsp. baking powder
  • 2/3 cup dried fruit cut in little pieces (see NOTE)
  • 2 T. candied ginger, minced (or slightly less, if you prefer. I’ve used up to 4 Tbl. and not found it to be too much – especially in winter)
  • 1 cup buttermilk (or low-fat milk if you positively can’t get buttermilk)
  • 1 large egg
  • 2 T. maple syrup or molasses
  • 2 T. canola oil

NOTE: My preference is 1/3 cup Choice dried apricots from Trader Joe’s – if you can get them, they’re the absolute best – and 1/3 cup golden raisins. But other options: dried apples and raisins or cranberries.

Preheat your oven to 350°F. Grease your muffin tin (or use silicone muffin “tin” that requires no preparation!)

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garden-spree

I’ve relished the recent gathering of loud and crowding family in the kitchen; little ones running off once again to play “Mary, Joseph and the camel”; the scattering of Azalea petals on the path as little girls usher in some imagined procession of royals; the little boy Luke, turned two, who pats my head and calls me honey, over and over calls me my honey! How many times can a heart break wide open? And how much love can that heart then hold? We all know the truth of it: no such limits!

This past week, the work and play of the kitchen has had a different tempo about it. I think maybe it’s a jig I’ve been dancing! I’ve loved every breathless minute! And now, once again, quiet has descended, and with it, the rain.

I’d promised my mom a day in her garden today, so I woke early, baked golden bran and flaxseed muffins – (you know me so well – yes, the recipe will follow) – and headed to my mom’s. THIS was definitely a day for rain boots and hat, and waterproof jacket. As layered as I was, I still shivered a bit as I worked; and my overalls were drenched and covered with mud when I climbed back into my car to race towards a long soak in a hot tub.  I haven’t quite made it there yet. I’m going to brew a pot of tea and have myself another muffin. I’ll work on heating this body up from the inside out! And then, a good soak will take care of the rest.

Tomorrow I’ll have some muffins for you. And for the weekend, things for the grill! Rain or shine!

 

Flourless Chocolate Lime Cake – with margarita cream

Chocolate and orange (I’m repeating myself) is one of my favorite flavor combinations. But chocolate and lime? When I saw this recipe in Nigella’s Kitchen, frankly, it was a bit hard to imagine. Spree will sometimes take something “hard to imagine” as a bit of a challenge or a little invitation. In this case, she accepted and was very glad she did. A happy crowd at the table was delighted she did too! Happy birthday, Luke! Happy birthday, Spree!

Flourless Chocolate Lime Cake

with Margarita Cream

(In this recipe, the best quality chocolate makes all the difference!)

  • 6 ounces bittersweet chocolate chopped (3/4 cup chocolate chips)
  • 1-1/4 sticks of soft unsalted butter, plus some for greasing
  • 6 eggs
  • 1-1/4 cups superfine sugar
  • 1 cup almond meal/flour
  • 4 tsp. best-quality unsweetened cocoa powder, sifted
  • zest and juice of 1 lime
  • confectioner’s sugar, to dust
  • 1 x 9-inch springform pan

Preheat the oven to 350°. Butter your springform pan and line the bottom with parchment paper. In a double boiler, or in a bowl sitting over (but not in) boiling water, melt together the chocolate and butter. Once melted, set them aside to cool slightly.

Beat the eggs and sugar together until they have tripled in volume.

In a separate bowl, mix together the almond flour and the sifted  cocoa powder and then fold this gently into the egg and sugar mixture. Then gently fold in the melted chocolate and butter mixture. Finally, fold in the lime juice and zest.

Pour this mixture into your prepared springform pan and bake for 40 to 45 minutes, though start to check it at 35. The cake will be just barely firm on top, but still have a bit of jiggle underneath. (Can’t you just taste that jiggle!?)

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Crepes

When I was a newly-married, very young and inexperienced cook, I decided to make crêpes for my mother’s birthday. Bold move!  I’m not sure if I’d ever even eaten a crêpe before, but I’d surely seen them, and knew I’d adore them if given the chance. So I turned to Julia Childs (one of only three cookbooks I had at the time.) Her fully-detailed recipe and the accompanying illustrations gave me all the assurance I needed. The next day, voila! savory chicken crêpes for dinner! And they were a huge hit, talked about for years in our family! I’m thinking that the memory of those crêpes far exceeded their deliciousness, but that’s what happens when the telling of anything gets all wrapped up with love.

There was nothing wrong with that crêpe recipe, in fact it was good, but I’ve found one better.  Chef Alice Waters, after spending years in Paris, once thought of opening her own crêperie. Friends prevailed on her though and eventually she opened Chez Panisse, the now-famous restaurant in Berkeley, instead. Still, her long-time love of crêpes is evident in every tender bite of these delicate little pancakes.  You’ll taste it, I promise.

Here I’ve filled them with whole-milk yogurt (or substitute sour cream) and ladled on strawberries, sweetened and bathed in Grand Marnier. We have a couple family birthdays this weekend and this will be a treat worthy of the occasion. Breakfast or dessert? Must we choose?

(The batter is best made a day in advance. Julia advised the same.)

Buckwheat Crêpes

(makes about 4 cups of batter, enough for 30 crêpes)

In a small saucepan, warm the following:

  • 2 cups milk
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 tsp. sugar
  • 4 Tbl. (half stick) butter

Once the butter has melted, remove the pan from the heat and cool.

In a bowl, measure and stir together:

  • 1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup buckwheat

Make a well in the flour and with a wooden spoon, stir in

  • 1 Tbl. vegetable oil
  • 3 eggs

Stir until the batter is smooth and free of all lumps. Then, beginning with just a spoonful at a time, add the milk and butter mixture, incorporating fully with each additional spoonful. About half way through the process, you’ll be able to add the remainder all at once; whisk to blend thoroughly. (If you have any lumps remaining, put the batter through a strainer.) Finally, whisk in:

  • 1/2 cup beer

Cover the bowl with plastic and refrigerate overnight. Remove from the refrigerator one hour before frying.

With a moistened cloth or paper towel dipped in vegetable oil, lightly grease a 6- to 8-inch fry pan (with shallow, sloping sides). Put the pan over medium heat. Using a small ladle or large spoon, pour in about 2 tablespoons of batter. Tilt and rotate the pan quickly,  spreading the batter out to cover the bottom of the pan evenly. Cook until brown, just a minute or two. Lifting one corner of the crêpe with a very thin spatula or a butter knife, pick the crêpe up with your fingers and flip it over. Cook briefly on the other side, no more than a minute. (As with other pancakes, you can consider your first two or three to be trials. I should add that the buckwheat will continually drift to the bottom of your bowl, so give the batter a stir each time you ladle new batter out.) You can stack the crêpes on a plate as you go, covering with a tea towel. Just before serving, spoon in the desired filling, fold crêpes in fourths like little handkerchiefs, and put them in a hot oven for just a few minutes. Then spoon on the topping of your choice and dust with a sprinkling of sugar.

These are also tasty with good jam or marmalade folded inside, topped with either  sour cream (that’s been thinned with a bit with cream), or crème frâiche, then dusted with confectioners’ sugar.

For Savory crêpes: These crêpes are equally delicious as a main course when filled with a savory filling. (Think mushrooms, crab, chicken, vegetables, cheese, etc etc etc.! If I get any specific requests, I’ll be happy to share!)

(The crêpe recipe alone comes from Alice Waters’ The Art of Simple Food)

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Strawberry & Rhubarb Galette

I had a bunch of fresh strawberries sitting on an old plate in a north window this morning as the sun came up. Dawnberries, I thought. And of course I had to bring my camera to where they sat. I can rarely leave anything this beautiful alone. The joy for me in cooking starts here, with beautiful fruit and vegetable shapes and colors. How shadows accentuate their plumpness. How water  makes their washed surfaces glisten.  How creases and dimples and stems and seeds tell the story of how they grew. What beauty crosses our paths in the ordinary, everyday act of putting a meal on the table!

(In the preceding post you’ll see how I came to choose this particular dish to share.)

Strawberry & Rhubarb Galette

For the dough, enough to make two 8-inch galettes:

(using a food processor)

  • 3 T. sour cream (or yogurt or buttermilk)
  • 1/3 cup (approximately) ice water
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup yellow cornmeal
  • 1 tsp. sugar
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 7 T. cold unsalted butter, cut into 6 to 8 pieces

Stir the sour cream and 1/3 cup ice water together in a small bowl. Put the flour, cornmeal, sugar and salt into the bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade. Pulse to blend. Drop the butter pieces into the processor bowl and pulse 8 to 10 times, or until you have a consistency ranging from bread crumbs to pea-size pieces. With the machine running, pour the sour cream and water mixture through the feed tube and combine until the dough forms soft curds. (This will take just a short moment. You don’t want to over-mix, but you probably already knew that.)

Remove the dough from the processor and, separating it into two pieces, quickly shape each into a ball and then flatten to a disc. Wrap each separately in plastic and chill for at least 2 hours. (Alternately, put in the freezer for about 15 minutes.)

Remove from the refrigerator and with a light dusting of flour on your work surface, roll the disc into an 11-inch circle. (You may need to lift and add several light dustings of flour since the dough is very soft, and will roll out very thin.)

Storage of galette dough:  If you decide to only make one galette at a time, the remaining dough can stay in the refrigerator for a couple days; or, with parchment paper between them and wrapped air-tight, they can stay in the freezer for up to a month.

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Humble Pie

Most mornings I’ll wake at first light and sit in my corner chair with coffee and journal. The words that find their way to paper flow like ribbons from a spool. I don’t make these words, I barely write them. They unwind and flow of their own volition it seems, perhaps falling from the last pages of my dreams. Sometimes they inform, other times amuse, and sometimes I have no earthly explanation for what they mean or how they came to be upon my page. Yesterday was such a morning. I’d been writing for maybe fifteen minutes, when out of the blue, Humble pie appeared. I asked (amused, as you can imagine), Really?!  Humble pie? And Yes, was all it said. And so I laughed out loud. What would you have done? It seemed like such a reasonable response! I know, I know, but after years of companionable times with my journal, I’ve learned to listen. Writing in the mornings has uncovered much for me. When my thoughts and feelings are a jumbled mess, writing helps me sort them. It can help set me straight, show me where I’ve erred.  It shines a light when I’m standing in the dark. SO even when something as silly as humble pie shows up, I say OK. Tell me more.

In this case, I took it both figuratively and literally. I suspect you’re more interested in the literal interpretation, which brings me to today’s offering: Strawberry and Rhubarb Galette.

Have you ever had a completely irrational, seemingly baseless fear? We all have, right? Well, mine has been pie. OK, absurd, I know, but I prefaced this by saying irrational. My Mom always made beautiful pies. Her crusts were never tough or soggy, but always buttery and flaky and just plain pretty. At some point, probably very early on, I told myself I could never make a pie like my Mom. And you know how it oftentimes is when you tell yourself a “lie,” you believe it instantly and go on repeating it for (oh, I hope it’s not so!) the rest of your life. SO, a couple years ago, being buoyed by little successes in unrelated areas, I vowed I would tackle the pie! I came upon a recipe for Galette, this free-form, rather rustic and charming little fruit-filled pastry. It seemed goof-proof. And I believed instantly, I can do that!  And I did! And it was good! Have I conquered my fear? Not entirely, but I’m working with it. And maybe that’s all we’re called to do. Was it Maya Angelou who said, “Feel the fear, but do it anyway.” If it wasn’t she, it was someone else quite brilliant.

So this is me, being humble before you: I still have a little fear of pie.  But I’m not willing to give up. Two reasons: 1) because who ever heard of being afraid of pie? and 2) berry pie is possibly my very favorite dessert and I’m a grown woman and I can’t expect my Mom to make them all for me! This humble little pie-like thing was my first attempt. Is it just possible that eating a little humble pie may be good for the soul? I think maybe so.