Friday, April 8, 2011
In the Foodie household, we are big pizza people. By which I mean not that we are large people who like to eat pizza; rather, we enjoy pizza on a fairly regular basis. In fact, for as long as I can remember, Friday night has been designated as Pizza Night.
That designation was developed, at least in part, to assure Mr. Picky that he’d get to eat pizza in the not-too-distant future–and to give us a way to regulate his pizza consumption. (On Tuesday: “No, we’re not having pizza for dinner. We’ll have pizza Friday night.” On Thursday: “Okay, if you want to have pizza tonight, we can. But then tomorrow night won’t be Pizza Night.”) Left to his own devices, I’m pretty sure The Boy would eat All Pizza, All The Time. Which, I suppose, is par for the teenage boy course.
But that’s another reason why I like to make pizza from scratch: so I can regulate the nutrition he’s consuming by the slice. Truth be told, Mr. Picky prefers a greasy Tony’s Pizza from the freezer case to just about any alternative. But he’s hard-pressed to turn down any kind of pizza. Even the kind that’s home made and, therefore, at least somewhat healthy.
This pizza crust recipe came to me many years ago, courtesy of a lovely woman named Luella Harlan. When we lived in Iowa City, Lu worked with The Hubs at the university’s Student Health Center. She kept us stocked in produce from her garden each summer, and she contributed this recipe to our friends and family cookbook. Later, after we’d moved away from Iowa and expanded our family, she made a tooth fairy pillow for The Girl and a blanket that The Boy slept with until he was far too old to admit that he snuggled up with a blanket at night. I still consider her part of the extended Foodie family.
This recipe produces enough dough for two pizzas–you can use half and freeze half for a future pizza fiesta, or you can feed a small crowd. My favorite pizza is this crust topped with a thickish version of white Florentine sauce, some shredded mozzarella, and a few whole basil leaves. Mr. Picky is a traditionalist, of course: tomato sauce with some oregano, a good sprinkling of shredded mozzarella, and nothing else. But even that version is pretty good when you start with this crust as a base.
Lu's Perfect Pizza Crust
1 package dry yeast
1 cup warm water (warm enough to be slightly uncomfortable when you touch it, but not boiling hot)
3 1/2 cups flour
1 T. canola oil
1 tsp. salt
Sprinkle the yeast over the water and stir to dissolve. Wait until small bubbles appear on the edge of the mixing bowl, then stir in 1 1/2 cups of the flour. Mix until all the dry flour has been incorporated. Add the oil and salt; keep stirring until they're incorporated. Add the rest of the flour in 1/2 cup increments, mixing thoroughly between additions. You should end up with a dough that holds together and pulls away from the sides of the bowl.
Once all the flour has been added, sprinkle a small amount of flour on your counter. Knead the dough for about 10 minutes, until it's smooth and elastic. Let the dough rest while you rinse out your mixing bowl; when it's clean, spray the inside of the bowl lightly with cooking spray. Place the dough in the bowl, then flip it over, oiled side up.
Cover the bowl with a kitchen towel and place the dough in a warm place to rise for about 2 hours (more or less--once the dough is twice its original size, you're good to go.) Punch down the dough to release the air and divide it in half. At this point, you can freeze half the dough for later use if you like; just wrap it in plastic, then place the wrapped dough ball in a freezer bag.
Use a rolling pin to shape the dough into a circle or rectangle, depending on the shape of your baking pan and your preference in pizza shapes. Prick the crust all over with a fork, then pre-bake the plain crust for 10 minutes at 425 degrees. Top the partially baked crust with your favorite sauce and pizza regalia. Bake the finished pizza for 10 to 15 minutes more, until the crust has browned and the cheese is melted.
(But Foodie, you will ask--is it really necessary to pre-bake? Can't I just plow straight ahead to baking? Pre-baking gives the pizza crust a slightly dry surface, which means it will stay a little crisp beneath the sauce and cheese. If you like your pizza soft and doughy, you might actually prefer to skip this step.)
Sunday, April 3, 2011
Sometimes, the best things are a combination of the simplest things. Peanut butter and jelly. Macaroni and cheese. Gin and tonic. You get the idea.
This Chickpea Salad recipe requires only a handful of ingredients, all of them easy to find at your local grocery store, but they come together to make something pretty special. The key to its success is giving it time to chill, so the flavors can blend. I’d recommend at least two or three hours, but letting it chill overnight would be a great option if you’re thinking of packing this for lunch. It’s full of fiber and protein, which makes it a great meatless option.
This recipe will no doubt win the award for Least Precise Recipe of All Time, but use your own tastes as a guide. If you like lemon, use a little more zest. If you don’t, use less. I would have added a handful of chopped cilantro today, if I’d had it in the crisper–cilantro has a lemony flavor that goes well with these ingredients–but plain old parsley would make a colorful addition as well. I used dry parsley this afternoon because that’s all I had on hand. Just be careful not to add anything (like garlic or onions) that will overpower the mild, earthy flavor of the chickpeas.
1 can (15 ounces) chickpeas, drained and rinsed
Juice of 1/2 a small lemon
Zest of 1/2 a small lemon
Olive oil (drizzle the chickpeas lightly)
Parmesan cheese, shredded or grated
Freshly cracked black pepper
Put the rinsed chickpeas in a medium bowl. Squeeze the lemon over them, then zest the lemon and add it to the bowl. Drizzle the olive oil over everything. Toss to coat the chickpeas.
Sprinkle Parmesan cheese over the top of the chickpeas. (I sprinkle until everything is lightly dusted--maybe 2 tablespoons of cheese.) Grated black pepper over the cheese, depending on your taste. Toss to distribute the cheese throughout the chickpeas.
Cover the salad with plastic wrap and chill for several hours.
Tuesday, March 29, 2011
I know so many people who absolutely hate grocery shopping. They put it off until they can’t put it off any longer–until they’re down to ketchup and moldy cheese in the refrigerator, or until the cupboard is quite literally bare. Some of those people don’t cook at home very much, but others are foodies like me.
That’s right, there are foodies among us who hate grocery shopping–and I have to say, it doesn’t make sense. Grocery stores are where they keep the food, after all. I look forward to my Friday shopping trip all week because the grocery store is my fantasy world of food: it’s the place where all meals are possible. At certain times of year (say, the week before Thanksgiving), it’s true that I enjoy grocery shopping a little less, mostly due to the sheer volume of people trying to wedge themselves into the aisles. But on a weekly basis? That grocery shopping experience is definitely a high point.
I started thinking about grocery shopping today after reading this post at She Wears Many Hats. I haven’t always been as happy with my grocery store as I am right now–before we move to San Antonio, we lived in a small college town where the only grocery store convenient to my house was ridiculously overpriced. While it was a pleasant place to do the shopping, I had to cut corners to keep us all fed. The only alternative was a trip to the Evil Empire (a.k.a Wal-Mart), and even the opportunity to save money couldn’t compel me to sacrifice my soul very often.
Here are the things I love about my local grocery store:
1. The music: If you’re my Facebook friend, you’ve seen my posts praising the musical selections that provide the soundtrack for my shopping trips. Not all stores are as cool as mine, but whoever chooses the music for my HEB seems to know exactly what mix of 80′s music motivates its shoppers to keep coming back. Talking Heads, The Flirts, Echo and the Bunnymen–it’s all there.
2. The selection: I think I’ve come up empty-handed precisely two times at my local store, and on both occasions I was looking for something slightly off the beaten track: tapioca flour and hot chili oil. And I found the tapioca flour on my second try, at a larger HEB store a little farther from home.
3. The aisles: Every aisle in my grocery store is wide enough for at least two carts, and many are wide enough for three, allowing a third shopper to pass through when two people are surveying the shelves on either side.
4. The shopping bags: The photo above is a close-up of my favorite reusable shopping bag–it features the Alamo, the Tower of the Americas, the Arneson River Theater, and other San Antonio landmarks. Plus, it’s colorful and cute. All the HEB shopping bags I’ve purchased over the years have long, sturdy straps and plenty of room for my purchases.
5. No cards! There’s a CVS store quite close to my house, but I rarely shop there because you need a “customer care” card in order to get sale prices. I think we all know “customer care” is a euphemism for “consumer stalking.” No thanks.
There’s always room for improvement, of course, and I love Amy‘s idea for an electronic shopping cart–especially the GPS function for finding items that don’t appear regularly on your shopping list. (How handy would that be?) I’d love for the organic produce to be positioned next to the “regular” produce–in other words, organic apples next to the “regular” ones, rather than in a section of their own–so I could price my options all at one time. And I’d really like for locally-produced food to be labeled in a way that makes this obvious. I’d choose local food every single time. In fact, I would love for my store to include a locavore section highlighting food items sourced from within a 100-mile radius
What would you like to see at your local grocery store? And what would you like to see disappear?
Friday, March 25, 2011
The family has been fighting off contagion this week. First to go was The Hubs–he’s been coughing and generally listless all week. Yesterday, Mr. Picky woke up with a fever and sore throat. He stayed home from school in the hope that he’d improve over the course of the day, but no such luck. He stayed home for a second day today, and this time The Girl joined him. She was feeling generally crummy, and she had nothing big going on at school–so, rather than leave my boy alone for a second day, I left him in his sister’s company.
The Girl, in typical Foodie Family fashion, was bored out of her mind by noon, when I received this text: Can I bake something?
My automatic response (though not texted–congratulate me on my restraint, please) was No way. No oven while I’m at work. But then I considered the facts: The Girl is responsible, she’ll be old enough to have a driver’s license of her own within the next few months, and she’s nearly an adult by legal standards. So I texted back: Okay, as long as you stay in the kitchen while the oven’s on. She wrote back Okeydoke. And that was the last I heard from her.
When I got home from work this afternoon, I discovered that she’d made these Cheddar Cheese Puffs from Simply Recipes. That’s right: when my girl wants to bake, she doesn’t bake brownies from a box. She makes a pate a choux dough. And she makes it by herself. Just further evidence in support of my theory that if you can read, you can cook.
The Girl’s cheese puffs were excellent: crispy outside, chewy inside. When I asked her if she did anything other than what the recipe suggests, she said, “I baked them at 425 for 12 minutes and at 350 for 16 minutes. I tried what the recipe said, but the first batch was gooey. I tried keeping them longer at the high heat, so they’d be good and crsipy outside, then baked them at the lower temperature so the inside would firm up.”
None of us were terribly hungry this evening–contagion will do that, even to a foodie family like ours–so I had a few cheese puffs and a glass of wine as an evening snack. After I snapped these photos, I lamented the clutter of pens and homework on the table in the background of every shot, but The Girl reminded me that “We have two professors and two students in this family–pens and homework are always part of the picture.” Truer words were never spoken, and tastier cheese puffs never made.
Sunday, March 20, 2011
Hi, my name is The Family Foodie and I’m a comfort food addict.
It’s been at least five years since I’ve made my mother’s tuna-noodle casserole. But, I confess, that’s only because I know it’s not healthy to keep secrets, and I’ve learned that there are things you just shouldn’t tell people. Like the fact that you actually enjoy your mother’s tuna-noodle casserole. (Okay, I get that it’s not pretty, but it tastes good.) Or the fact that you occasionally, just once in awhile, like every five years or so, get a craving for aerosol cheese on a Ritz cracker.
I’m not saying that’s true of me. I’m not saying I would ever, ever eat something so disgusting. I’m just saying that, if it were true of me, I’d be smart enough not to tell anyone. I certainly wouldn’t blog about it.
But I’ve also learned that there are ways to get around people’s snobby attitudes about comfort food. You can, for instance, substitute chicken for the canned tuna in your mother’s tuna-noodle casserole. I don’t know why chicken is more socially acceptable than tuna, but think of the way people respond when you tell them you’re going to eat chicken noodle soup, or chicken and dumplings. Does anyone ever say “You are kidding me”? No. If they say anything at all, it’s something like “Mmmmmm.”
You can also eliminate the condensed soup that usually stands in for the sauce in tuna-noodle casserole and make your own–a little sour cream, some milk, some Parmesan cheese. That’s just about all it takes. You’d be surprised how quickly snobby attitudes about food disappear when that food is made from scratch. Even if it’s basically the same exact thing.
Lastly, you have to give the disguised favorite a new name–think of this as the equivalent of the Witness Protection Program for your favorite comfort casserole. My suggestion is to list several of the ingredients, preceded or followed by the method of preparation (roast, stir-fry, bake, etc.)
Hence, I give you
Sour Cream Chicken & Noodle Bake
8 oz. wide egg noodles
2 T. butter
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 cup light sour cream
1/2 cup evaporated milk (or regular milk–your sauce will just be a little thinner)
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 tsp. nutmeg
1 cup cooked chicken–diced, shredded, whatever you like
Panko bread crumbs, just enough to sprinkle on top
Additional Parmesan cheese for sprinkling on top
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Bring a large pot of water to a boil and let the egg noodles cook while you’re making the sauce. Melt the butter over medium heat in a large skillet, then add the minced garlic. Allow the garlic to simmer until it’s fragrant, 2 to 3 minutes. Lower the heat and add the sour cream, milk, Parmesan cheese and nutmeg. Stir until everything is combined. Let this mixture heat through, but don’t let it come to a boil.
After the noodles are done, drain and add them to the skillet with the sauce. Stir to coat the noodles. (If this mixture looks too dry for your taste, add a little more milk and stir again. I like them fairly dry at this point, which leads to noodles that stick together after baking. If you want them creamy, though, go ahead and add more milk now.)
Turn the coated noodles into a casserole dish that’s been sprayed lightly with cooking oil. Layer the cooked chicken on top of the noodles; sprinkle everything liberally with panko bread crumbs and Parmesan cheese. If you prefer, you can stir the chicken into the noodles–I like this layering of the noodles and chicken because the bread crumbs stick to the chicken during the baking process and give it a crispy coating. It makes for a nice textural contrast.
Bake the noodles and chicken for 20 to 30 minutes, until the topping starts to brown. I always serve this casserole with baby peas, which I like to put right on top of my noodles–the sweet, squishy peas add another textural element to the crunchy topping and chewy noodles.