Friday, October 31, 2008

Happy Halloween!

No cooking tonight, but I did grow the pumpkins in our garden. Remember the mystery plants that grew out of the compost we spread? We got two pumpkins big enough to carve!

The kids are finally old enough to do their own pumpkins. Julie and her boyfriend carved the ghost and Tommy did the KISS pumpkin.

They didn't even need help with costumes, so no more lost weekends (and weeks!) spent sewing elaborate costumes for me. I did it for four kids for enough years that we now have two giant boxes of custume props they can raid and mix and match. Julie did Tommy's makeup. Do you see a theme going on here? Yep, KISS is his favorite band. How funny is that?

I thought he should be the KISS member with the star around his eye because that one seemed easier to do, but Tommy explained, "Nobody wants to be Paul Stanley, Mom. Gene Simmons is way cooler."

And my litle princess came to Nani and Papi's neighborhood to go trick or treating.

She made out great. That's way more candy than any three and a half year old needs.

Hope your Halloween was as much fun as ours!

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Baking Squash Bread

It’s that time of the month again – the deadline for the Royal Foodie Joust. The Joust was created by Jenn The Leftover Queen, founder of The Foodie Blogroll.

Last month Susan at Sticky, Gooey, Creamy, Chewy (don’t you love that name?!!!) won the Joust with her Creamy Gorgonzola, Fennel and Pear Tart. It was truly beautiful and I'll bet it tasted as good as it looked.

As the winner, Susan had the honor of choosing this month’s ingredients. Her choices: acorn squash, orange, and sage. Great ingredients, huh? I’ve been playing around with them in my head and in my kitchen for a few weeks and came up with two that the family really loved.

The first is a Squash, Orange and Sage Quick Bread. I started with a recipe for pumpkin bread and then altered the ingredients to include the Joust ones and a few of my own like Craisins.

First I cut the acorn squash in half, scooped out the seeds and put it cut side down in a baking dish with about a half an inch of water. I covered it with foil and baked it at 350 degrees for about 45 minutes. Then I scooped out the cooked squash and I was ready to begin my experiment.

The bread was moist and delicious! It didn’t even last 24 hours before it was all gobbled up. And best of all, I found a way to get the Boy to eat squash! Even after he discovered the secret ingredient, he couldn’t resist the bread.

But the recipe seemed a little too simple for the Joust. I considered it a happy accident warm up to what I really wanted to make – squash rolls. The first time I had squash rolls was at Fancy’s Farm Market in East Orleans (now East Orleans Village Marketplace) when I first moved to the Cape 23 years ago.

They are a moist flavorful yeast dinner roll that I fell in love with, but actually never made myself. This was the perfect time. Usually squash rolls are made with butternut squash but I discovered acorn squash works just fine too. The addition of orange and sage added a subtle sweet and savory flavor that gave them more nuance.

Totally yummy and a nice presentation too. This was the one! I’m not even going to ask you to wish me luck, because I know those other Jousters are beyond awesome in their creativity. I don’t even look at what the others make each month until I finish my own recipe because if I did, I’m afraid it would psych me out and made me chicken out.

Now I can’t wait to post my recipe so I can go see what kind of wonders everyone else has made…

The Recipes:

Orange Squash Loaf

1 cup cooked acorn squash
1 large orange
1/3 cup butter, softened
1 1/3 cup sugar
2 eggs
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon chopped fresh sage
1 tablespoon grated orange rind
1/2 cup Craisins

Cut a large acorn squash in half, scoop out the seeds and put it cut side down in a baking dish with about a half an inch of water. Cover pan with foil and baked it at 350 degrees for about 45 minutes. Scoop out the cooked squash. (You only need half of the squash for the recipe, but I cooked both halves and then served the other with butter and maple syrup for dinner.)

With a paring knife, peel the orange making sure to remove all white pith. Slice orange and remove as much of the membranes as possible as well as all seeds. Put oranges into mini food processor and blend until pulverized into a pulp.

In a large bowl cream butter and sugar until smooth. Beat in the eggs, one at a time. Add the squash and orange and mix again.

In a separate bowl mix flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Stir into batter and mix until just moistened. Add the sage and Craisins and stir gently to disperse. Pour batter into a greased 9x5 inch loaf pan and bake at 350 degrees for one hour or until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Let stand for 10 minutes then remove and cool on a wire rack.

Click here for a printable recipe

Orange Sage Squash Rolls

1 cup cooked acorn squash
1/2 cup scalded milk
1 tablespoon active dry yeast
1/4 cup warm water (110 – 115 degrees)
3 1/2 cups flour
1/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon grated orange rind
1 tablespoon fresh sage, finely chopped
1/4 cup butter flavored Crisco

Cut an acorn squash in half, scoop out the seeds and put it cut side down in a baking dish with about a half an inch of water. Cover pan with foil and baked it at 350 degrees for about 45 minutes. Scoop out the cooked squash. (You only need half of the squash for the recipe, but I cooked both halves and then served the other with butter and maple syrup for dinner.)

Scald milk and set aside to cool. In a measuring cup add the yeast to the warm water. In a large bowl, combine 2 1/2 cups of the flour, sugar and salt. Stir in the yeast mixture, shortening, squash, milk, orange rind, and sage. Mix well.

Stir in another 3/4 cup of flour and beat well. When dough pulls together, turn it out on a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth, about 8 minutes, adding the remaining flour as needed.

Lightly oil a large bowl and place dough in bowl, turning it once to coat dough. Cover with plastic wrap and place in a warm, draft free place until doubled in volume, about one hour.

Divide dough into 9 equally sized pieces and place in a greased 8x8 inch baking pan. Cover with a clean dish towel and let rise until double in volume, about 30 minutes. Bake at 400 degrees for 10 – 15 minutes or until golden brown.

Click here for a printable recipe

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Pizza Revisited

Almost as soon as I posted about homemade pizza, I began to regret my laziness in using a cookie sheet rather than the pizza stone. Which of course made me curious which was really better, leading to a taste test.

There is no doubt about it – if you like a thin crispy crust, the pizza stone is the way to go. And even though it takes two of us to ease the pizzas from the pizza peel onto the stone, it really wasn’t as hard as I remembered. The trick is to liberally dust the pizza peel with corn meal so the raw pizza slides off easier.

I also tried a new crust recipe that I love! I found it in a little booklet called Parties for Every Season that Bon Appetit sent me for re-subscribing. It’s a larger recipe than my other favorite dough, which means I can make four round pizza stone pizzas or three pizzas and a calzone for the Boy or one cookie sheet pizza (kid favorite) and two pizza stone pizzas (adult favorite). The possibilities are endless.

But best of all this crust really holds up under even a heavy load of toppings.

And it also rises nicely for those who like a thicker crust.

There are oh so many toppings to experiment with! Things I’d never even considered. This week we made a pizza with red sauce and mozzarella topped with crumbled hot Italian turkey sausage, broccoli rabe and peperoncini. Total YUM! Then we made a white pizza inspired by a delicious one we had at the Tavern at the Dan’l Webster Inn in Sandwich on our way home from the airport last week.

It had the sublime combination of roasted sweet potatoes, bacon and gorgonzola with a drizzle balsamic vinegar after it came out of the oven. I put a very light layer of grated mozzarella on the crust before adding the toppings. It’s my new favorite for sure.

In the past pizza night for our family has always been on Friday, but lately it has turned into a Saturday night event. On Saturday I have (slightly) more time to think ahead and make the dough in the afternoon and it seems lately Friday nights have been really busy.

Last Friday we served clam chowder and lobster rolls to close to 70 people at our church.

The event was billed as an “Adult Movie Night.” Is it just me, or would you have done a double take to see the words “Adult Movie” in your church bulletin?

It seems it was just meant to be a way to distinguish it from the frequent family movie nights, but that one really made me chuckle. Their movie choice: Fiddler on the Roof.

It was the first of a pretty busy schedule of cooking for a crowd for our church, but the Hubby and I really love that kind of thing. It’s an adrenaline rush to cook for and serve such a big crowd, harkening back to my long ago waitress days. But it has an added bonus. This crowd is like family and they are so appreciative…

The Recipe:

Bon Appetit’s Pizza Crust for a Party

(They made the dough in a food processor, but mine burned out quickly - as in totally quit - so I mix it by hand and altered the recipe to indicate that)

1 1/2 cups warm water (110 – 115 degrees)
1 1/2 tablespoons sugar
3 teaspoons active dry yeast
4 1/2 cups all purpose flour
4 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
2 1/4 teaspoons salt
Cornmeal (for dusting)

Mix warm water and sugar. Sprinkle yeast over; stir to dissolve. Let stand until mixture bubbles, about 10 minutes. Add flour, olive oil, and salt. Mix until dough comes together. Turn out onto floured surface and knead until smooth, about five minutes. Place in oiled bowl, turn dough over to cover with oil. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and let dough rise in warm, draft-free area until doubled in volume, about one hour.

Divide dough into number of pizzas you want to make. If using cookie sheets, grease two large ones and dust with cornmeal. Place divided dough in cookie sheets and pat to edges with fingers. Add your favorite topping and bake at 400 degrees for about 10 minutes.

If using a pizza stone, place pizza stone into 400 degree oven for at least ten minutes. Meanwhile, divide dough into four pieces. Roll out each piece with a rolling pin and lay on pizza peel that has been liberally dusted with corn meal. Add toppings and slide pizza onto hot stone. Bake at 400 degrees for about ten minutes.

Click here for a printable recipe

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Home Again, Home Again, Jiggety Jig

A few weeks ago we found an eight pound boneless pork loin on sale at Shaw’s supermarket for only $17. Picture a piece of pork as long as the average human arm, like, say mine. This isn’t the kind of thing I would usually buy simply because the size is so intimidating, and there’s no way around how embarrassing it is to plop that huge appendage on the conveyer belt at the checkout.

The clerk didn’t even blink, so he must be used to customers making massive meat purchases. When we got home, we cut it into three meal size pieces and threw them in the freezer. Our first pork dinner was a traditional pork roast, seasoned with rosemary and garlic and baked in the oven, because sometimes a no brainer dinner is just what I need.

I imagine it’s a little like a favorite yoga or exercise routine for those who actually have the energy and time for that kind of fun – easy, satisfying but not terribly exciting. (Note: you will see no yoga, exercise or even pork roast photos here, so substitute your own.)

Even though the 175th anniversary of Oktoberfest has come and gone (September 20 – October 5 this year), we decided to have a mini Oktoberfest celebration of our own. We used the second pork roast to make pork weiner schnitzel like the yummy dish I tried at the Aqua Grille in Sandwich, where they are actually celebrated their own Oktoberfest from October 13 – 24 with a special all German menu.

Aqua Grille is fun, affordable, and has great food. And the view is simply gorgeous if you time dinner right to catch the sunset over the Cape Cod Canal.

The Hubby took over this meal (my job was the kid friendly humble sides of maple butternut squash and apple cranberry sauce). His weiner schnitzel was absolutely awesome. There wasn’t a single tidbit of it leftover and the braised cabbage bowl was scraped clean too. The Boy who hates everything actually ate four, yes four!, pieces of the pork and the next night asked when we can have it again.

So I guess I know what we will be doing with that last pork roast…

Pork Weiner Schnitzel
Serves 6

3 pound pork loin roast
2 eggs, beaten
1 cup crushed corn flakes
3 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

Cut fat off pork loin and cut into 3/4 inch think slices. Cover each slice with a gallon freezer bag and pound with a mallet until thin. Dip each slice in egg, then corn flakes. Fry in small batches in olive oil until lightly brown, about three minutes per side. Place cooked slices on cookie sheet. When all the pork is cooked, put cookie sheet in 350 degree oven for about 5 minutes to heat through.

Braised Red Cabbage:
Serves 4

1/2 head red cabbage
1 medium onion, chopped
1 tablespoon bacon fat
1/2 cup apple cider
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper

Slice cabbage crosswise in thin sheets and then halve each sheet. Melt bacon fat in a large skillet. Add cabbage and onion and sauté over medium heat until they begin to look translucent, about 5 – 7 minutes. Add apple cider, salt and pepper and simmer for 30 minutes. Add vinegar and stir well.

Click here for a printable recipe

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Lemon Chicken with Artichokes and Shittake Mushrooms

Five days was just too short of a visit to Charleston. Actually it would be incorrect to say I went to Charleston, because I never left Mount Pleasant, where my daughter lives. This trip (my third) we didn’t take in any of the sites or even visit downtown. Instead we fixed up Melissa’s new apartment to make it more homey, enjoyed good meals, and talked and talked and talked. Sometimes until 3 in the morning.

We spent one full day at the beach on Sullivan's Island, which was like re-capturing summer for me. It was about 75 degrees with a light breeze. My Southern Girl thought it was freezing and spent most of the day curled up on the beach with a beach towel wrapped around her legs and a cabled hoodie sweater (with the hood up!).

Meanwhile I relaxed in just my bathing suit and read the entire O, The Oprah Magazine, cover to cover. Then while Melissa napped, I went swimming in water that was warmer in October than the water on Cape is in August and took a long walk on the beach. Here are the treasures I found:

Flowers that looked like morning glories were growing in the dunes. They were so pretty.

That night I cooked a replica of the lemon chicken with artichokes and shitake mushroons the Hubby made a few weeks ago that was simply awesome. It was one of those meals that you think about again and again, so I couldn’t wait for my daughter to try it. I had to make a few changes to the Kitchen Genius’s recipe. The original meal had fresh baby artichokes from Trader Joe’s, which I couldn’t find at the Bi-Low supermarket so I had to substitute canned.

But most importantly the original recipe used Trader Joe’s Lemon Pepper Pappardelle Pasta (which might be the BEST pasta in the whole world!). Unfortunately the Southern Girl doesn’t eat pasta. Ever, if she can help it. Since she loves squash of any kind I substituted spaghetti squash for her benefit, which was good, but really you must try the Trader Joe’s pasta if you want this recipe to be so good you’ll dream about it. Here's the spagetti squash version:

I can’t be the only person who dreams about food. What meal have you made lately that you actually think about and can’t wait to taste again?

The Recipe:

Lemon Chicken with Artichokes and Shittake Mushrooms
Serves 4

2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into two inch pieces
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup flour
1 teaspoon Kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
3 shallots, chopped
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 package raw baby artichokes (about 15)
1/2 pound shitake mushrooms
1/2 cup white wine
1 cup chicken stock
1 teaspoon fresh sage, finely chopped
Juice from 1/2 lemon
2 tablespoons butter
Trader Joe’s Lemon Pepper Pappardelle Pasta, cooked according to package directions

Peel all of the outer leaves from artichokes until just the yellow center remains. Cut green tops and stems off and cut in half. Keep in a bowl of water with 3 tablespoons lemon juice until ready to use to keep from browning.

Put flour, salt and pepper on a plate and mix lightly. Wash chicken and pat dry. Heat olive oil and butter in skillet with metal handle over medium high heat. Dredge each piece of chicken in flour and put in hot skillet in small batches. If you overcrowd the chicken it won’t brown properly so be patient.

Cook chicken until brown, about four minutes on each side. The chicken will not be fully cooked. Place cooked chicken on a plate. Turn heat down to medium and cook artichokes in skillet for about 7 minutes or until tender. Add a little more olive oil and add shallots, garlic and shitake mushrooms to skillet. Cook for about four minutes.

Add wine and whisk skillet to deglaze it. Add chicken stock and sage and bring to a simmer. Add the chicken, artichokes, lemon juice and butter and stir. Put skillet in 350 degree oven while pasta cooks (or simmer on stove top).

Serve over pasta. Top with fresh grated Romano cheese if desired.

Click here for a printable recipe

Monday, October 20, 2008

Whole Flounder Presents Challenge

The very first thing I did when I got to Charleston was head to the grocery store because when I opened my daughter’s refrigerator the only thing in there was CONDIMENTS. There wasn’t a single food item in her fridge, her freezer or her cupboards.

I promise that situation has been corrected and her larder is now full so she can continue to cook herself dinner after I leave. On my first night I cooked our family’s version of comfort food – a nice seafood stew. After the grocery store, we went straight to the Shem Creek Seafood Market, where seafood was noticeably more expensive than it is on Cape Cod.

The clams were fairly affordable so I bought two dozen of them before a whole flounder caught my eye. Even though the filets were ridiculously pricey, the whole fish was only $6.99 a pound. I can filet a bass without blinking, but the flounder was more intimidating because of its weird flat shape. The fish guy offered to clean it for me, and that sealed the deal.

For some reason I thought he was actually going to filet the fish, but nope. He just chopped off the head and took out the guts. I could have done that! So here’s what I ended up with:

And I had no idea what to do with it. Worried about creating a bony mess, I decided to poach the flounder separately in the oven with some white wine and Italian herbs and then add it to my fish stew later. This was definitely the way to go.

I sautéed some Andouille sausage, onions, garlic and peppers, added white wine and a can of tomatoes and then the clams. The Kid was very happy with her first home cooked meal in months.

I don’t know if anyone noticed that I have now added a new feature to print just my recipes, but a great big thank you goes to Stephanie at for teaching me how to do this. It has always bothered me that if anyone actually wanted to print a recipe they would have to either print the whole page and all my ramblings or write it out by hand. So if anyone wants to know the trick, I’d be happy to pass it on just like Steph did. Just send me an email.

And if you get a minute, check out her wonderful blog. She’s cooking up some really yummy food and her sassy, fun loving attitude is as earthy and sweet as the Apple Thyme martinis she recently made that I can’t wait to try.

The recipe:

Poached Flounder:

One small whole flounder
1/4 cup white wine
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon fresh ground Italian spices
1/2 lemon

Cut head off flounder and remove guts. Place in baking dish and add white wine. Season fish with salt, pepper, Italian spices. Squeeze lemon juice on top. Bake at 350 degrees for 15 to 20 minutes until fish flakes easily.

To serve, scrape off skin and gently lift filet from top side of flounder. Remove bony skeleton and lift bottom filet. Serve with more fresh lemon for a simple, yet tasty main course or add to a clam or fish stew.

Clam Stew

2 dozen clams
1/2 pound Andouille sausage (or cherizo)
1/2 yellow pepper, sliced and cut in half
1/2 orange pepper, sliced and cut in half
1 medium onion, sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup white wine
1 14.5 can diced tomatoes with oregano and basil
1 teaspoon fresh basil, chopped

Heat olive oil in sauté pan. Add sausage, peppers, onions and garlic and sauté for five minutes. Add white wine, tomatoes and basil. Bring to boiling point and turn heat down to medium low. Add clams and cover pan. Cook for five to seven minutes until clams open. Serve with crusty bread for dipping.

Click here for a printable recipe

Friday, October 17, 2008

Baked Squash Soup Satisfies the Senses

I’ve been missing my blog world (both posting and visiting others), but sometimes life just gets in the way. I decided to make a quick trip down to Charleston to visit my daughter who just moved into her own apartment and was feeling kind of lonely and down. That meant I had to spend every minute before I left writing for my paying job and the blog got neglected.

I arrived in sunny and hot (90 degrees!) Charleston yesterday and hope to find time on my mini vacation to catch you all up on at least a couple of the yummy recipes I’ve been cooking this week, starting with this one.

The last Orleans Farmer’s Market was last Saturday. I was sad to say goodbye for the year to my farmer friends, although I do hope to track some of them down this fall as they’ve promised they will still have veggies at their farms for a little longer.

I bought this gorgeous kabocha squash and decided to make squash soup.

This was the perfect local autumn meal. First I sautéed local apples and onions with some sage from my garden. Meanwhile I cut the top off the squash, jack-o-lantern style and took out all the seeds.

After filling the squash with the apple mixture, I baked it for about an hour. It made our house smell so good that even the Boy who would never eat anything with even a hint of squash commented hopefully that dinner smelled great. Of course he didn't even taste the dinner, but I still took it as a compliment that he thought it smelled great. (You've gotta start somewhere...)

After the squash was tender, I scooped out the stuffing and the cooked squash and blended it up with my handy dandy immersion blender, adding some chicken broth to thin the soup. You could add a bit of cream if you want for a rich, creamy flavor, but I like it best just the way it is.

The squash shell held its shape beautifully even after close to an hour in the oven. If I had company I would have put the soup back in the shell and served it that way. But my family was starving and their hungry bellies weren’t really keen on waiting for me to fill the squash just to take a photo for the blog. Presentation is a little lost on them.

This recipe would work really well with pumpkins too and I’ve made a version with butternut squash where I just cut up the squash, apples and onions and tossed them with olive oil and sage and roasted them in the oven and then proceeded to make the soup. It’s really the perfect fall recipe.

The Recipe:

Baked Squash Soup

1 large kabocha squash (or any other hard skinned winter squash)
2 tablespoons butter
3 apples, peeled, cored and sliced
1 large onion
2 teaspoons chopped fresh sage leaves
2 pints chicken stock

Cut top off squash, scoop out seeds. Melt butter in large frying pan and sauté apples and onions until light brown and tender. Add sage and fill squash with the mixture. Put top back on squash and place in baking pan with 1/2 inch of water. Bake 45 minutes to an hour at 350 degrees until squash is tender.

Take apples and onions out of squash and place in a large saucepan. Using a spoon, scrape the squash flesh out of the shell, preserving the shell if you want to use it as a serving bowl. Add chicken stock and mix with an immersion blender until smooth. Cook on low heat for ten minutes until heated through.

Click here for printable recipe

Friday, October 10, 2008

Homemade Pizza is Budget Friendly

Is it just me, or has anyone else noticed that takeout pizza has become very expensive?

All last winter I made homemade pizza almost every Friday night, but the summer time crazies found me back to takeout.

I was shocked to discover that what used to be a $20 a week item in our budget, which had crept up closer to $30 when we stopped regularly ordering it, has now climbed to over $40 – even at Papa Gino’s.

Part of this is our fault. We’ve gotten spoiled by the fact that with homemade pizza, each family member can have their own favorite toppings in a personal sized pizza. This is a pricy proposition when you don’t make it at home.

The credit for our switch to homemade pizza goes to our son Tommy. Every year for New Year’s Eve, we have a tradition of making gourmet homemade pizza and playing games in front of a fire. A couple of years ago, Tommy, said, “This pizza is better than takeout. We should make it every week.”

I had to agree the crust was better and homemade pizza isn’t nearly as greasy as takeout. Plus it’s a great way to use up leftovers like meatballs and Italian sausage and things like a half opened can of roasted red peppers or artichokes that are inevitably in the fridge.

So I bought a pizza stone that included a really great little recipe book titled, International Cooking of Italy. I’ve experimented with all kinds of crust recipes from various sources, but my favorite is the “Chicago-Style Cornmeal Crust” from that little booklet. It is rich and crispy thanks to 1/2 cup of cornmeal.

We’ve also experimented with sauces. On the weeks I plan ahead, I use leftover homemade tomato sauce. Other weeks I use Ragu Robusto Parmesan and Romano (the ONLY jar sauce I will ever eat because I’m a sauce snob and this one tastes the most like my own).

A few weeks ago when I was overrun with the tomatoes from my garden, I tried using fresh sliced tomatoes. The pizza was good, but the fresh tomatoes made it a little too juicy, even though I put a layer of cheese on the crust first.

The next week I tried roasting the tomatoes in the oven first and this was the best pizza I ever made. Those sweetly carmelized roasted tomatoes added such incredible flavor, I am practically drooling just thinking about it. Too bad tomato season couldn’t last forever…we just ate our last two tomatoes tonight :(

For the record, fresh grated mozzarella is far superior to the bags of store bought pre-grated cheese, but it is more expensive. It makes a really nice splurge, though, and Trader Joe's has great prices on cheese, taking some of the guilt away.

It didn’t take long for me to abandon the pizza stone. I really loved the way the pizza tasted but the weekly acrobatics as I tried to maneuver the prepared pizza from my wooden pizza peel to that (REALLY) hot stone stressed me out. So eventually I returned to my handy dandy cookie sheets, but I might get brave again this winter. It really is better on the pizza stone.

The best thing about making homemade pizza is it has become a family event. When our granddaughter, Skylar, spent the night recently, she got right into it too. That sweet child loves to cook as much as her Nani and Papi! Look at what a great kneader she is!

Even though homemade pizza is a great budget conscious choice, it can also be a fantastic gourmet treat. My favorite toppings were one of our New Year's choices: a white pizza with lobster, shiitake mushrooms and Gruyere cheese. What's the best pizza you ever had?

The recipe:

Chicago-Style CornMeal Crust

1 package active dry yeast
1 cup warm water (110 – 115 degrees)
2 1/2 cups unbleached white flour
1/2 cup yellow corn meal
1 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons olive oil

Mix the yeast and the warm water and let dissolve. Combine all ingredients in a large bowl, adding the flour a little at a time. Mix well until the dough comes away from the sides of the bowl.

Turn dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and knead the dough until it is no longer sticky, about 10 – 15 minutes.

Put dough in an oiled bowl, turning to coat well with oil. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise one hour or until double in size. Tip for rising dough: Put a cup of water in microwave and heat for one minute. Take it out and the microwave is now warm and humid – the perfect place to let dough rise out of a draft.
Punch down dough (kids love this job).

To make pizzas, divide dough in two (if using 2 small cookie sheets or 2 - 12 inch round pizza pans) or three (if using pizza stone.) Grease cookie sheets and sprinkle lightly with corn meal. Spread dough to fit cookie sheet. Top with sauce, cheese and your favorite toppings.

Bake at 425 degrees for 10 – 12 minutes. Check crust and cook longer if necessary to obtain a crisp light brown crust. Let rest for five minutes before cutting into slices.

Click Here for Printable Recipe

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Braised Short Ribs Ward Off The Chill

With the endless cold and rainy weather on Cape Cod last week, our thoughts turned to comfort food and the Hubby dug out the Crockpot. He’s been wanting to make a recipe for braised short ribs he found in the October issue of Bon Appetit, and the weekend was the only time he had to fool around with a recipe that cooks all day.

It was a rainy Sunday and we were dualing cooks, with me making our dinner for that night (Apple Squash soup - stayed tuned) and him making dinner for the next night. Working side by side and singing along to the radio, it was the most relaxing time we've had in weeks.

He followed the recipe ingredients fairly closely, but once the ingredients were in the pot, that recipe was all his in the finishing touches. I’ve read many places that pot roast is much better if you let it rest for a day, but we’re not usually that kind of plan-a-headers when it comes to meals.

Then last winter I had a pot roast I had to cook because its date was up, but we had other plans for dinner. It was the least thought out, quickest pot roast I ever made. And one of the best.

I couldn’t believe the difference a day could make. When the meat rests in the sauce overnight it soaks up so much flavor! It’s totally worth waiting for – not that I’m always going to have time for that. It takes true dedication to an excellent pot roast to cook two dinners in one night, even if it does save time the next night.

Lately we’ve have a new fan of our cooking. Our teenage daughter’s boyfriend has become a fixture at our table – every night. It’s like we’ve gained a new child to replace the two who have grown and gone. Just to mess with him we require formal wear every night.

Just kidding. I’m so busy taking photos of food I forget to take any of people these days. The photo is from prom last May before I became so food obsessed.

Gary comes over after work and hangs out with Julie in the kid’s den, helping her with her homework and playing games. Their favorite is Scrabble. (YES!) Then he eats dinner with us and the Hubby kicks him out at 8:30 on weeknights and 10:30 on weekends. (We still can’t figure out why teenagers are so oblivious to the time that we must actually remind them – every night.)

One night he raved so much about our homemade pickles that we sent him home with a jar. The next day he brought back the empty jar. He ate the whole jar. In one day. It’s hard not to love a kid who loves your food that much.

The Recipe:

Braised Short Ribs

4 1/2 pounds 3 inch long beef short ribs
Coarse kosher salt
2 cups red wine
1 14.5 ounce can of diced tomatoes in juice
1 medium onion finely chopped
6 cloves garlic, peeled
6 fresh Italian parsley sprigs
2 bay leaves
1 six ounce package button mushrooms, quartered

Sprinkle ribs with coarse salt and pepper. Place in an even layer in slow-cooker. Add all ingredients except for mushrooms, cover, and cook on low heat until meat is tender, about 8 hours.

If possible store in refrigerator overnight. The next day, remove meat from sauce and place on a plate. Skim fat off top of sauce. Heat the sauce on top of the stove and then blend it with immersion blender. Add ribs to sauce. Saute mushrooms in 1 tablespoon of butter until lightly browned. Add to sauce.

Melt 1 tablespoon of butter in microwave. Add 1 tablespoon of flour and mix. Cook in microwave for about one minute or until roux bubbles. Whisk roux into sauce. Simmer for a half an hour and serve with nice crusty bread.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

An Award Offers Opportunity to Say Thank You

A big thank you to The Mediocre Cook in Ontario for giving me this award! His humble moniker belies the incredible things he is doing on his blog as he works his way through The New Best Recipe cookbook to learn how to cook for his family. Like me, he enjoys cooking with his spouse and he is totally honest when things don't work out as planned. His attempts both awe me and crack me up and I guarantee you too will learn something from his cooking experience, so go check him out.

This award is a pass it on kind of recognition that gives me the chance to thank all the bloggers who inspire me on a regular basis. There are so many wonderful blogs out there, but I'm choosing the ones who have so warmly invited me into their kitchens and who come visit mine.

Michele at Life, Lightly Salted is witty, wonderful, and a fabulous writer - not to mention a great cook and true foodie. Visiting her blog is like checking in with a friend. She offers me tips and encouragement, loves to read!, and does a weekly highlight (just like this) of the fabulous food blogs that inspire her as much as she inspires me.

Foodycat simply rocks. She's an incredible and eclectic cook, has a generous spirit, and encourages me along this blogging path. Her blog is a must view for foodies with questions. She's also a research queen and has a button that allows readers to ask their cooking questions. Her answers are honest and fun.

Meg at Megan's Munchies has elevated pumpkin to a whole new food group. She is a passionate baker (and cook) with a great big heart. Her experiments inspire me to new levels and her comments cheer me on.

Deb in Hawaii at Kahakai Kitchen is another inspiring cook who lives in paradise! She has recently started a new book club called Cook The Books, for literary food bloggers. The group reads a book based on food and uses it as inspiration for a wonderful dish to post on their blog. I'm so in on that kind of action. First book: La Cucina: A Novel of Rapture by Lily Prior.

Candy at Candy on the Cape is not a food blogger (despite that tasty name), but a dear friend. Her blog about pop culture and life makes me laugh and allows me pretend to be cooler than I actually am. Just knowing her has raised my "cool status" with my teenagers by many points. She offers ginger ale and homemade chicken soup when I'm sick, picks my kids up at the bus stop on rainy days when I'm away, and allows me to whine when neccessary.

Thank you to all.

And here's the fine print and why I haven't actually posted any food posts lately. Along with the honor comes the rules:

Please find at least 10 more blogs of any kind which you deem to be excellent; but hey if you only come up with 3 or 5, I don’t mind.
Post about the blogs you picked, linking back to me and to them.
Once you’ve posted, return here to let me know your post is up, and of course let your 10 award winners know too.

I did not come up with those rules and they totally intimidated me at first. But then I relaxed and came up with my favorite blogs. If I've mentioned you above, please be reassured, I'm just happy to pass it on to you. What you do with it is entirely up to you.

So there will be no recipe for this post because I've just given you a whole bunch of really awesome blogs where great recipes abound. Please go have a look. I promise you won't be sorry. Or go hungry.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Cooking Under Deadline

After my ravioli disappointment, I still had one more day to create a dish for the Royal Foodie Joust at the Foodie Blogroll. It was back to the drawing board, only this time I decided to keep it simple and stick to my original idea of roasting turnips and fennel together to make a kind of vegetarian hash.

By this time my whole family had clued into the effort I was putting into the Joust. “What do you win?” my son asked.

“I don’t know, bragging rights. Maybe a cute button for my blog.”

“That’s it?” He was mystified.

I think there might be an apron and some other prizes, but really this wasn’t even about winning for me. It was a challenge! And I loved the idea of creating an original recipe using ingredients some one else chose. It was more fun than pantry potluck and reminded me of the cooking challenges on the Food Network.

The three ingredients I had to use were fennel (in any form), dairy, and parsley. At the last minute I decided to top my hash with poached eggs, which added a sweet and subtle flavor that mellowed the turnip and turned a side dish into a main dish meal.

It was simple, but tasty and most of the ingredients were local. I bought the fennel and (famous) Eastham turnips at the Orleans Farmer’s Market, the parsley came from my herb garden and the eggs were from Wingscorton Farm in Sandwich.

Maybe not a contest winner, but a satisfying meal. Can't wait to see what next month's ingredients are!

The Recipe

Poached Eggs with Roasted Vegetable Hash
Serves 2

3 tablespoons butter, melted
1 large turnip
1 fennel bulb
2 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
4 eggs
1/2 teaspoon rice wine vinegar

Peel turnip and cut into cubes. Cut top and core off fennel and slice, then cut each slice into bite sized pieces the same size as the turnips. Place in 8 inch square baking pan and toss with melted butter, salt and pepper. Roast in 350 degree oven for one hour, stirring every 15 minutes.

Mix parsley into roasted vegetable hash and return to oven for five minutes. In the meantime bring 5 cups of water to a boil in a medium saucepan. Add vinegar to water to help eggs set faster. Carefully crack eggs into boiling water and poach for two minutes or until desired tenderness.

Divide roasted vegetable hash between two plates. Put two poached eggs on top of each mound of vegetables.

A Perfect Storm, Part 2

With my absolutely best fresh tomato sauce safely in the fridge, the Hubby and I headed to the Cape Land and Sea Harvest (CLASH) Farmer’s Market in Hyannis where we bought a whole bag of produce. The torrential downpour cut the Market short, so we headed to Trader Joe’s to continue our gathering food date.

We browsed through Trader Joe’s for about an hour and at some point as we wandered the aisles, seduced by exotic food, a plan was hatched to not just make homemade pasta, but to combine the Royal Foodie Joust with my pasta making experiment. I’m pretty sure this was the Hubby’s suggestion, but I jumped right on board and took over the engine of that train.

It seemed like a great idea. I would make homemade ravioli with parsley in the dough and fill it with sautéed fennel and leeks and ricotta and parmesan topped with my fresh tomato sauce. Doesn’t that sound great? Yeah, it did to me too.

I did a little research on how to make homemade pasta and most recipes seemed to call for about 1 egg for every cup of flour. I made my flour mound and made a little cavern in center, planning to take a photo once I broke my eggs into their little nest. Unfortunately my eggs overflowed and it was a sticky mess for a few minutes until I got the dough under control. I kneaded the dough for 15 minutes and let it rest while I mixed up my filling.

Rolling the dough was the most strenuous work I’ve done in the past month - or maybe year. Literally. The Hubby laughed as I sweated and swore. “Now you know why those old Italian women have such strong arms,” he said.

Filling them wasn’t very easy either. As I wet each edge and pinched the sides closed I was positive they were going to fall apart as they cooked, leaving me with a watery fennel and cheese mess.

By the time I was done forming the ravioli, I was so stressed out I needed a drink. I made myself a martini, using that delicious tomato nectar (thank God I saved it!)

Well, the ravioli held together - like glue. Even after I boiled them for 15 minutes. Even though they were only supposed to take about 3 minutes. Apparently I didn’t roll my dough thin enough. Now I understand why people use pasta machines.

But even 15 minutes didn’t make these babies tender. And the filling was surprisingly bland, despite the sautéed fennel bulb and ground fennel seeds. So I am not sharing that recipe here and I’m not entering that recipe in the Foodie Joust. It just isn’t good enough.

Luckily I served stuffed Italian peppers filled with hot Italian sausages with my ravioli and they were easy, inexpensive and quite yummy, so I do have a recipe for this post.

If anyone has any tips on how to make really good homemade pasta, I'd love to hear them...

Sausage Stuffed Italian Peppers

4 Italian horned shaped bell peppers
2 links of your favorite Italian sausage (we like them hot, but any sausage would be good)
1 jar Ragu spaghetti sauce

Cut tops off peppers and remove seeds being careful not to break peppers. Cut casings off sausage and place in a mixing bowl. Add 1/2 cup of spaghetti sauce and mix thoroughly with hands until well blended. Stuff equal portions of sausage into peppers and place in baking pan. Pour remaining sauce over peppers. Cover baking dish with foil and bake at 350 degrees for 1 hour.