How to Cook the Perfect Fried Egg (on Toast, with Coffee)

IMG_1117There are four essential elements to the perfect morning.  The first, obviously, is a cup of good coffee.

The second,  good music.

The third, a fried egg.

It also happens to be, I’ve decided, the best indication of one’s level of cookery.

Something so simply achieved, yet almost even more so easily butchered.  I cringe when I order a breakfast of fried eggs at a cafe, only to be presented with A) a couple of clear, shiny snot-like egg whites and cold liquid yolks or, worse, B) a matte-colored egg white mass surrounding two firm and lifeless powdery yellow globs.  I can only hope that maybe, possibly, an order of “over-medium” will imply that I am hoping for something in between slimy mucus and a yellow brick.  But due to the fact that my egg ordering experiences at various brunch spots has proved to be both inconsistent and unreliable, I’ve taken it upon myself to ensure that when I’m the one cooking, I know how to do it right.

This is something that has taken me quite a long time to master.  My whole life, in fact.

But I do believe I recently broke the code, and like The Sound of Music I want to sing it from the mountain tops with such joy for the world to hear!

There are certain aspects to my surefire recipe for success that are absolutely essential in cooking a fried egg, and these will be noted in bold.  That which isn’t bolded are simply a few personal preferences, little suggestions to kick it up a notch or ten.

You will need:

  • Eggs (2) of very good quality.  Preferably farm eggs, but as always local, organic and cage-free will suffice.  
  • Butter (about one tsp.)
  • A small or medium sauce pan
  • A lid or something that can act as a lid (this can be in the form of a  plate even, anything that will seal the heat into the pan space)
  • Salt, pepper and various other seasonings of your choosing (preferably sea salt, though).  I use fresh cracked pepper, garlic powder and chia seeds.
  • Any other add-ons your would like to include, although absolutely not necessary.  Previously used examples: sliced avocado, sliced tomato, chopped fresh garlic, sauteed onion, sauteed kale, sliced ham, bacon(!)
  • Cheese, again, optional
  • Sliced bread
  • Coffee grinds, preferably of good quality
  • Water
  • A french press
  • Spatula

1.  Turn the oven on to anywhere between 300-350 degrees and place the allotted amount of toast onto the racks (this is, of course, if you don’t have a toaster like myself).

2. Turn the heat of one burner onto a low-medium flame and place the saucepan on top, allowing it to warm up for about 30 seconds.

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3.  Turn another burner onto medium and place a full kettle of water on top, allowing the water to heat while you cook eggs.

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4.  If using a french press, add coffee grinds to your press.

5.  Place butter in the pan and allow it to spread evenly over the pan as it melts.  Note: I use only real, unsalted butter with my eggs, it seems to protect the egg from burring or overcooking on the bottom and it tastes wonderful.  I do not use olive oil (burning or cooking olive oil a)has a lower smoking point and b) denatures the amino acids in the olive oil, negating the nutritional value entirely)

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6.  Exactly at the point the butter has melted, crack two eggs into the pan. IMPORTANT: MAKE SURE THE YOLKS ARE RESTING ON THE PERIMETER OF THE PAN, NOT IN THE CENTER WHERE THE HEAT IS CONCENTRATED.  The whites should immediately start to solidify and whiten upon contact with the pan, but shouldn’t start to sizzle too loudly or bubble.  If the latter occurs, turn the heat down and remove the pan from the heat for about 10 seconds until the eggs calm down.

7.  Season your eggs, minus salt.

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8.  Cover the pan.   Allow to sit for at least one minute, no more than 2 minutes.  If the yolk starts to develop a white film on top, uncover immediately.

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9.  Check the toast.  If only slightly crispy, turn it over and continue cooking.

10.  If kettle water steaming at this point, add your water to the coffee grinds.  Allow to sit while you complete the preparation of your eggs and toast.

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11.  If you would like to add cheese to your egg, this is the time to do so.  Uncover, sprinkle or grate cheese on top, and then re-cover your eggs.  

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12.  Remove from heat but allow eggs to stay covered in the pan until either the yolks are still squishy but white or the cheese has melted.  If yolks are firming up, uncover the pan immediately.

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13. Remove toast from oven.  If toast consistency has reached desired state, remove from heat and onto a plate, spreading butter immediately on the toast.  Turn off your oven (I always seem to forget that part, and then remember after having left the house).

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14.  Using a spatula, carefully place fried eggs on top of toast (or on a plate). 

15.  Press your coffee, then pour into a mug.  Add milk, sugar, or in my case, a spoonful of Oregon Chai powder and stir.

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16.  Salt your eggs lightly.  

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17. Arrange various add-ons to your egg and toast at this time.

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18. Bask in the deliciousness of a firm (but not chewy) egg white and warm yet still runny yolk on a crunchy piece of toast.  

19.  Take a sip of coffee.

20.  Appreciate the moment. 

(And the fourth?  That one I’m still keeping a secret.)

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Porky Piña Cole-Slaw-Da Slidas’

It’s not easy moving to a new city.  I knew this before moving to Portland, but I didn’t really think about it all too much before our arrival.  That is, until we pulled into the driveway with a car full o’ crap, a puppy and merely the clothes on our backs.  Now luckily we had a place to call home for a couple of weeks in a small trailer on a chestnut farm just outside of Portland, which we had arranged through WWOOF.  

But other than that, there was no plan laid out ahead.  No house to call our own, no jobs lined up, no family to greet us with love and hugs.  As exciting as it may have been, to say that the uncertainty wasn’t overwhelming would be a lie.

It’s certainly a comfort to know of a few people in the big bad city, to know that if you absolutely need somebody to call, there are people out there.  Aquaintences, facebook friends maybe who you rarely, if ever, talk to.  But it’s absolutely a great feeling when someone reaches out a hand to make you feel especially welcomed.  I have Alice to thank for that (yes, the same Alice who I took a cheese making class with a while ago).

Alice is an old friend who I met back in my days at Vassar, once upon a time when I played soccer competitively.  Through a series of events I found myself, for the first time in my life, not only living in a new city but one that was entirely across the country from everything and everyone that I ever knew.  I wouldn’t call Alice my first friend or even my closest friend during my freshmen year, but she was always the nicest and friendliest of teammates despite the seemingly inherent senior-freshmen discrepancy.  Before I knew it, I was a sophomore and she a graduate moving on to continue her chem studies at UC Berkeley.  There, she played soccer on the same adult league team as my sister (who lives in San Francisco) as well as myself for the season that I spent in San Francisco.  And then, I left for Aspen.

Somehow the stars aligned once again, and fast forward two years later we have found ourselves both living in Portland.  It was about a week after moving into our new place that she invited us to her upcoming get together. In this Iron Chef-style competition, attendees bring dishes or drinks highlighting one key not-so-secret ingredient.  The first one I was able to attend was an avocado theme, and with little preparation time I whipped up a porcini mushroom and avocado salad with a lemon parsley vinaigrette, Lucia’s recipe.  It was good, but most other dishes were better. 

A few months later, Iron Chef: Cilantro was underway.  I stepped up my game with Tequila Lime Cilantricles, boozy popsicles tasting somewhat of a jalapeno cilantro-spiced margarita similar to the ones described in an earlier post.  I was in the running, but was eventually beat out by my more savory-minded counterparts.

And this past weekend, I competed in my third event, Iron Chef: Coconut.  For this one, I decided to take a bit of a different approach.  Instead of featuring the themed ingredient, I decided to use it as more of a backdrop, incorporating coconut into my dish in many different, yet subtle, ways.  I wanted to use an ingredient that paired well with coconut, so naturally I went in the direction of pineapple.  But I didn’t want to make a sweet dish, and I also wanted to use meat as a challenge to myself more than anything.  I’m fairly sure I’ve heard of others using pineapple juice in a marinade for pork, so that’s when the idea of a pulled pork slider came into play.  Pulled pork and coleslaw, naturally.   After a few days, I settled on my plan.  Pineapple pulled pork slider with coconut cole slaw.  Frankly, my idea was pretty awesome if I do say so myself!

After an hour of pacing back and forth through the aisles of New Seasons checking off my grocery list and doubting that I had everything I needed, I went home to begin prep.  Six hours of slow cooking the meat, reducing a sauce, and chopping veggies went by and before I knew it I was out the door and on my way to Alice’s house with about ten different tupper-wared components in tow.

These Iron Chef parties are, I’ve learned, not to be taken lightly.  There is extensive planning, countless shit-talking emails, graphic designing, outfit wearing, and libation-consuming to be had before the entries even get plated, and it’s exhausting!  But moreso awesome, because as soon as the party starts chaos ensues in the kitchen, with everyone putting last minute touches on their dishes, starting with drinks and appetizers and continuing to main dishes and then desserts.

At the end of the event, after everyone’s bellies are stuffed and we are no longer capable of taking another bite, we all roll ourselves into the living room and the votes are tallied, with each person getting a total of 6 points awarded to their top three votes (three for first, two for second, one for third).   The winner is awarded the coveted Golden Frying Pan for the duration of their reign, bragging rights and the choice of the next theme ingredient.  Unfortunately for me, my “Porky Piña Cole-slaw-da Slidas'” were beat out in the final ballot by a point, putting me at a tie for second with Alice’s coco-licious cheesecake.  The bar was set high for this battle, and I’m comforted by the moment of silence that overswept the room as they bit into my sliders.  A moment of tasty bliss, I’d like to believe.

It is a victory I can and will still look forward to.  Someday, perhaps.

Alas, here is the somewhat informal recipe of my sliders, dedicated to my friend Alice (and her fiance Mike as well as many of their lovely friends).  Thanks for making me feel so welcomed in this little big town called Portlandia.

Porky Piña Cole-Slaw-da Slidas

Apologies but no measurements here- I don’t generally use measurements but more so just go by sight and taste.

Ingredients:

Pulled Pork:

  • Humanely-raised pork shoulder (I asked for about two lbs. from the butcher)
  • Pineapple juice
  • Whole grain dijon mustard
  • soy sauce
  • Coconut juice (or water, with pulp if possible)
  • Sweet Baby Ray’s BBQ Sauce
  • Apple cider vinegar, splash
  • Salt/Pepper

Cole Slaw:

  • Napa cabbage
  • Red cabbage
  • Carrot, 1 or 2 grated
  • Pineapple chunks, minced
  • Dried coconut flakes, toasted lightly
  • Vegannaise (can also use regular mayo or other mayo substitute)
  • Coconut Milk
  • Whole-grain dijon mustard
  • Apple cider vinegar, a splash
  • Small jalapeno pepper (optional), finely chopped
  • Chives, minced for garnish
  • One loaf of challah bread, sliced evenly

Glaze:

  • Pineapple Juice
  • Coconut juice (or water)
  • Maple syrup

Begin by placing the pork in a slow cooker and turn the timer onto 6 (or more, if you have the time) hours.  In a small bowl, combine 4 parts pineapple juice, 1 part dijon,  1 part soy sauce, 2 parts coconut juice, 1 part SBR’s BBQ sauce, and a splash of apple cider vinegar.  Season with salt and pepper to taste, then add to the slow cooker with the pork and leave it be.

You can wait a few hours before preparing the rest of the components.

In a small saucepan, combine 2 parts pineapple juice, one part coconut juice and 1/2 part maple syrup.  Stir on low to medium heat for at least fifteen minutes, until the water has evaporated and the syrup will coat the back of a spoon.  Remove from heat and allow to cool.

Begin your coleslaw by finely chopping your cabbages either by hand with a knife or with a mandolin, and collect into a large bowl.  Add grated carrots, minced pineapple chunks (if the chopping of the pineapple creates residual juice, add that to the mix as well), chopped jalapeno and a handful of toasted coconut flakes.  In a small bowl, combine equal parts Vegannaise and coconut milk, a small spoon of dijon and a splash of AC vinegar.  Combine well and then fold into the cabbage and carrot mix.  Season with salt and pepper as needed, then keep in the fridge until service.

At this point you can toast the challah slices at about 250 degrees on each side until golden brown, should take no more than 15 minutes in the oven.

One the meat is fully cooked and tender enough to break apart with a fork, turn off the heat and remove any super fatty pieces.  To assemble sliders,  put a heaping spoonful of pulled pork on a slice of toasted challah, drizzle lightly with pineapple glaze, top with an equal portion of coleslaw to pork and top with a light sprinkle of toasted coconut and minced chives.  Top the slider with another slice of challah,  and stick a large toothpick through to keep it in place.

For the next battle, Iron Chef: Persimmon…Allez Cuisine!

Garden Greens with Grilled Peaches and Figs

The other day on my way to the dog park, I saw a sign for an estate sale in bright orange paint on a bright yellow poster.  Now, seeing as every four houses on a saturday in Portland is either having a garage sale or an estate sale, I normally wouldn’t detour too far out of my way for one unless I was truly on the hunt.  But this sign, for some reason, called to me.  I turned a sharp right on the next street, found a parking spot and went inside.  Among piles and piles of needless stuff,  I almost immediately spotted and couldn’t take my eyes off of a cast iron grill pan that was sitting quietly in the corner of the kitchen.  I couldn’t leave without it, and I knew I had to have it.  Instantly we were bonded.  It may sound silly, but it almost felt to me as if it had spent its entire existence at this house so that it would be sold, for eight dollars, to me.

Serendipity.  It’s not just a horribly cheesy movie.  It’s also pretty much how I try to live my life.  Opportunities present themselves, sometimes in the form of a job or experience opportunity, sometimes in new and old friends and acquaintances, and sometimes in bright yellow signs with orange paint.  I make an effort to leave space and time in my life for spontaneity, and for the most part I am rewarded.  I’ve also learned to let the things go which do not bring positivity into my life without necessarily being prepared to replace it.  Usually, in this case I am rewarded too.

It’s not easy moving to a new place without having any sort of concrete plans or a solid friend base.  I have my boyfriend, who’s not only a boyfriend but a true friend above all else.  We have an amazing puppy.  We both have at least one job that fulfills us, that makes us happy and has rewarded us in some way.  We are meeting some great people.  We’ve already encountered bumps in the road, impediments that force us to make difficult decisions and sometimes ones with unforeseeable outcomes.  But in making time for the good stuff, and in weeding out the bad, we are making it happen.  Slowly, things are coming together.

I received some great news today, and consequently spent the morning tearfully overjoyed and hugging my puppy.  Yes, good things are brewing on the home front.  Sorry to leave you in suspense, but it’s too early to divulge…and no, I’m not pregnant.  Just wanted to clear that one up.

So instead, I’ll just leave you with this recipe for garden greens with grilled peaches and figs.  There’s really nothing serendipitous about it, except for the fact that I used my amazing new-ish cast iron grill pan and it met- nay surpassed- my expectations.

Garden Greens with Grilled Peaches and Figs

Ingredients:

  • Juicy peaches
  • figs
  • An assortment of garden greens.  Mostly arugula and spinach.
  • Mint
  • Pistachios
  • Some kind of crumbly cheese.  I used homemade farmer’s cheese from my Portland Culinary Workshop class)
  • Olive oil
  • Salt and pepper
  • Juice of half a lemon

Start by gathering your greens.  Farmer’s Market, Trader Joe’s, New Seasons, your neighbor’s garden.  Don’t matta.  Just pick up a bunch and make sure they’re organic and healthy looking.  None of that supermarket iceburg crap.

For this salad, I mooched some spicy arugula, refreshing spinach, and cooling mint leaves from my neighbor’s backyard.  Rinsed, chopped, thrown into a bowl.

Chop the peaches into slices, half the figs and place on a sizzling hot griddle pan with maybe a drizzle of olive oil.  Allow to grill for a few minutes on each side, using tongs to flip, until the fruit is softened and has some grill marks on both sides.

Meanwhile, shell some pistachios.  Use a knife to smush and crack them into smaller pieces (as you would a garlic clove to remove the peel) and throw them in a small pan on low to medium heat for a few minutes to bring out a roasted nutty flavor. Watch carefully so as not to burn, as nuts can and will burn quickly if you don’t keep an eye on them.    Remove from heat, allow to cool.

When your fruit is sufficiently grilled, turn off the heat and remove from the grillpan (or grill).  Allow to cool then cut into chunks.

Assemble the salad.  Throw the greens into a bowl, sprinkle the pistachio, grilled fruit, and some goat cheese, farmer’s cheese, or feta.  Or maybe even blue cheese if you have that on hand instead.  Drizzle generously with a mix of olive oil, salt, pepper, and the juice of half a lemon.  Take a moment to appreciate the simple beauty of the dish.

And then devour.

Lentil Cakes with Cucumber Dill Raita

There are a few reasons why I chose to make this recipe.

1.  Frankly, I’m sick of making popsicles.

2.  I had a whole bunch of plain yogurt in my fridge that needed to get used up.  I bought the dill specifically for this reason: I have been wanting to make raita/something to dip my baby carrots in on a hot day for a while now, so with some leftover raita this recipe is a two-fer.  Two birds, one stone.

3.  I also had this huge bag of lentils from when we first moved in that we haven’t used and was starting to feel guilty about it, oddly enough.  Is there such a thing as chef’s guilt?  For not using what you’ve got before it starts to go bad (like the chard and beets sitting in my veggie drawer as I type)?  Even with non-perishables?  Because if so, I have it.

4. For the first time in almost two months of living in my new spot, it was the first night that I had the entire place to myself.  The boyfriend, roommate and puppy went camping for Ryan’s birthday, and since I had a Plate & Pitchfork event the next day, I couldn’t go.  I enjoy cooking no matter who’s home, but the fact that I had the place to myself that night meant that I could go on a cooking spree uninhibited and uninterrupted.  What’s further, I could cook whatever I wanted because I would be the only one eating it.  I’d be surprised to find myself in the majority opinion of the household when it comes to lentils normally, but this night was different.

5.  Look at the size of these spinach leaves from our neighbor’s veggie garden! How could I not include these in the recipe?!  They are so awesome.

Lentil Cakes with Cucumber Dill Raita 

Yields: 8-10 small to medium sized lentil cakes

Ingredients

Raita:

  • 1-2 cups of yogurt, must be PLAIN
  • 2 Tbsp. Vegannaise, or plain mayo (I prefer the taste of Vegannaise and it’s much healthier)
  • Half a cucumber, skin-on and thinly sliced and julienned (with a mandolin if you have one.  If not, try to mince the cucumber as thinly as possible)
  • 4 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1/4 cup of fresh dill, chopped
  • a handful of capers, chopped
  • juice from 1/2 a lemon
  • Optional: a few splashes of hot sauce of your choosing (I added Secret Aardvark Habanero hot sauce and it worked perfectly to add a hint of residual spiciness)
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Lentil Cakes:

  • 1 cup organic lentils
  • 1 cup brown rice
  • Half an onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 cup fresh spinach, chopped
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tbsp curry powder
  • a nice sprinkle of chili flakes
  • 1 cap-full of apple cider vinegar, for lentils
  • olive oil for sauteing
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • Oil for cooking, preferably a higher smoking point oil.  I used a few tablespoons of pork lard that I rendered in a slow-cooker a while back and have kept stored in the freezer.  It works amazingly well for cooking pancakes, grilled cheeses, and in baking for pie crusts, etc.  It makes it much easier to avoid burning what you’re cooking, and as an added bonus you add a very slight bacon-y flavor to whatever you’re cooking.  I don’t expect you to have lard on hand, however I do recommend looking into it for future recipes)
  • optional: a handful of golden raisins or dried apricots, chopped.  (I actually used about a tablespoon of homemade apricot preserves I had made a few weeks ago that worked very well in this recipe)

Start by soaking the lentils on very low heat in salted water for an hour or two.  During this time you can prepare the Raita.  Combine all ingredients in a large bowl, stir well to combine and throw back in the refrigerator.  Drain the lentils, add fresh (salt added) water and cook according to package directions.  At the same time, cook rice according to package directions on a separate burner.  When the lentils are firm and starting to “pop”, remove from heat, add a splash of apple cider vinegar and stir to incorporate fully (don’t add too much, just maybe a cap-full, because any more than that is overpowering).  Allow the lentils and rice to cool down while you saute the sliced onion in olive oil, and when translucent add the chopped fresh spinach, curry powder, salt and pepper and stir until well incorporated and nicely wilted.  

In a large bowl, combine the lentils, brown rice, onion/spinach mix (and raisins, dried apricots, or apricot preserves if you’d like).  Add the eggs as well (it would have been smarter of me to combine the eggs in a small bowl and whip before adding them to the mix beforehand) and stir to incorporate fully.

In a saute pan, heat the oil or lard until sizzling hot (my trick is to soak my hand with water from the sink and “throw” the residual water into the pan to see if it sizzles.  If not, be patient for a few minutes then try again, and if so then it’s ready to go).  Add the lentil “batter” to the pan, forming small palm-sized circular patties.  It’s important to keep in mind that they are fragile and prone to break or split easily.  Do not to mess with them too early or else they will break, but also keep a patient yet diligent eye on them so as to prevent burning.  This can be tricky, but I suggest letting them sit on each side for 4-5 minutes and then flipping them very carefully in between.  As with pancakes, once each batch is finished, place them carefully on a plate and keep them in a warmed oven until completely finished.

Place 2 to 3 on a each plate, and top with the chilled Raita.  Serve with a lemon wedge and maybe some extra fresh dill if you have left over, which you should.

What I love about this recipe is that there’s so much room for playfulness here.  You can add almost anything you’d like to the cakes, whether it’s broccoli, kale, cilantro, zucchini, chopped apples, flax seeds, nutritional yeast, etc.  Its a great canvas for exploration, and I suggest, if you are interested in making a similar recipe, that you do add your own twist to it.  I’d love to hear your ideas or suggestions.

Bacon Wrapped Asparagus with a Duck’s Egg

Ever since I have discovered a few markets where I can easily find organic produce and quality meat, dairy and grain products (namely, Vitamin Cottage in Glenwood Springs and The Aspen Emporium & Flying Circus) in and around the relatively isolated Aspen/Snowmass area, I have had this new obsession with creating simple recipes with quality ingredients and only a few easy steps.  The great thing about cooking simply, or cooking in general for that matter, is that ingredients used in the recipes can be substituted to suit your tastes.  Despite the simplicity, I still want to post my recipes in hopes that you might find some inspiration to create your own.  Please feel free to use my posts as models, rather than recipes, in order to cook a dish that suites your taste.

Bacon Wrapped Asparagus with a Duck’s Egg

wrap a small bundle of organic (smaller and thinner than non-organic) asparagus in two to three pieces of bacon (I used all-natural uncured which gave it an amazing flavor)

I will use my sister Kyle as an example.  With this recipeI know how much she despises asparagus so if I were to cook it for her I would substitute, say, brussel sprouts or something of the like.

pan saute the bacon-wrapped bundle on medium heat until it is cooked thoroughly by rotating ninety degrees every minute or so (the thin asparagus needs hardly any cooking at all to achieve a soft yet crispy texture, so focus here on the doneness of the bacon, which should be crispy and caramelized all around rather than chewy)

Brussel sprouts, however, don’t have a shape that is conducive to wrapping whole slices of bacon around it.  Therefore, I suggest chopping the bacon into small pieces and pan saute it with the brussel sprout halves so that they cook in the yummy bacon grease to get that great flavor and caramelized color.

on a non-stick pre-heated pan, fry a duck's egg over easy by cooking it sunny side up until most of the white is cooked, then flip over for a quick sear on the other side and remove from heat. Serve on top of the asparagus with a runny yolk, and alongside a small salad or any other side of your choosing.

Once the brussel sprout/bacon mixture is done, remove from the pan and cook the duck’s egg in the same pan (that is still hopefully coated in bacon grease) for two reasons: the grease helps to ensure the egg does not stick to the pan, and also to get that great bacon flavor into the egg.

As a substitute for bacon, you could use prosciutto or turkey bacon.  For the duck’s egg, any type of egg is fine but it’s best to use free-range organic eggs as always.

His and Her Homemade Pizzas

There are approximately two things that Tim and I have in common when it comes to food.  The first thing is that we both like to eat it.  The second: we both agree that pizza is awesome.  But that’s just about where this agreement comes to an end, you see, because our preferences for toppings could not be more polar opposite.  I would prefer not to have pepperoni, sausage or lots of meat of any kind on my pizza. And especially when different types of meats are mixed; in any type of food, mixing meats just weirds me out.  I’d much rather devour a veggie slice, or dig into a pineapple jalapeno.  I also really like weird pizzas with interesting flavor combinations.  Tim, on the other hand, is pretty simple when it comes to pizza: he likes lots of cheese, and lots of meat.

The other day I read a post on this cute little blog I found online, Love and Olive Oil, that described making his and her’s frozen pizzas.  What I liked so much about this idea is that the compromise is that there is no compromise, really.  Instead of combining fav ingredients into a then mediocre pizza or one person having to bend to the other’s preference, in this situation both people get to be selfish!  Each person gets to pick their own toppings and yet the whole cooking part is still an activity that the two people can do together.  Genius!

I’ve made a few pizzas here and there, but I’ve always just used the pre-made pizza dough you can get from Trader Joe’s or most specialty food stores.  Tonight was the first time I can recall ever making pizza dough from scratch, and one reliable recipe to stick to is nearly impossible because it seems like everyone has their own specifications.  For instance, some people insist on refrigerating the dough overnight before preparing the pizza, while others necessitate using an electric mixer that I do not yet own.  The truth is, however, that there really is no one uniform dough and crust consistency preference.  What I learned tonight is that making pizza dough really isn’t all that complicated if you aren’t too picky about how your crust comes out.  Good thing Tim and I can also agree on that.

For my pizza dough recipe, I referred roughly to the ratio of ingredients in the Love and Olive Oil recipe mentioned above.

Homemade Pizza Dough

Ingredients:

  • 2 1/4 cup of flour (plus more for de-stickifying)
  • 3/4 tbsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp instant yeast
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 7 oz cold water
  • cornmeal for dusting

First, I mixed the dry ingredients together (flour, salt, yeast), then added the olive oil and water in small increments, first whisking the ingredients together and then getting down and dirty with my hands.  The mixture was at first incredibly sticky, so I had to periodically coat the gooey mess in flour for it to eventually form a ball.   Other recipes will tell you to allow the yeast dissolve in warm water for 15 minutes to activate it or whatever, but this is my blog so I will tell you how I made the dough and you can decide for yourself whether or not to go by my word.

After kneeding the dough for a few minutes and then letting it sit, we split the dough in half and each got into flattening it out separately.  I personally don’t think you should worry about getting your dough completely circular, as homemade pizzas are all unique and an asymmetrical shape only adds to the rustic appeal in my opinion.  Once the desired shape and thickness was achieved we coated our baking pans in olive oil and then sprinkled a healthy amount of cornmeal onto the baking sheet and placed our pizzas down on top of the cornmeal.  Once this was all taken care of, we could now focus our efforts on the fun stuff: the toppings.

Hers: Pear, Prosciutto and Fig Pizza

This is a recipe that takes me back to the good ol’ days when I was just a wee one attending Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, NY.  One of my best friends Taylor and I had lunch at a restaurant where we shared a delicious pizza with similar ingredients that inspired me to attempt to recreate it once back at school, another time when I was home visiting my parents, and again tonight.  It’s got the whole sweet/salty combination going on and thus far the flavors have never disappointed.

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 a ripe pear, chopped
  • 1/4 of an onion, chopped
  • A few slices of prosciutto
  • Goat cheese
  • Arugula
  • Olive oil
  • Salt and pepper, to taste

Before

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.  On the stovetop, heat a small pan with olive oil and saute the thinly chopped onions until caramelized and translucent, about 8 minutes.  Turn off heat and allow to cool.  Meanwhile, spread the fig spread very thinly on the unbaked dough, leaving about 1/2 perimeter uncovered for the crust.  Thinly slice the pear down the middle vertically, and then chop the half to create many thin slices and disperse evenly around the pizza.  They should not be entirely covering the pizza, just enough to get a piece every other bite or so.  Shred the slices of prosciutto into small pieces, spacing them evenly throughout the dough and in between the pear slices.  Sprinkle the caramelized onions around the pizza.  Lastly, with your hands break apart the goat cheese into small pieces scattered evenly as well.  Your pizza should look roughly like the above picture before it goes into the oven.

After

Bake for 10-15 minutes, keeping a close eye on it so as to ensure it doesn’t burn.  In the meantime, coat some arugula with olive oil, salt, pepper and a tiny squeeze of lemon juice.   When the crust starts to brown, remove pizza from oven and allow to cool.  Scatter the arugula on top of the pizza before eating and enjoy.

His: BBQ Chicken Pizza

Ingredients:

  • BBQ sauce of your favorite variety
  • Ground chicken
  • Bacon
  • Sauteed onions
  • Mozzarella cheese
  • Pepper jack cheese

Before

The basics to this recipe are quite similar to mine.  Cook the ground chicken and bacon before assembling them evenly onto the pizza.  Spread the BBQ sauce around the pizza evenly, then add bacon bits, chicken chunks and sauteed onion.  Top with a generous coating of cheeses.  Bake at 450 for 10-15, checking frequently.

After

And guess the best part?  Not only did I really enjoy the boy’s BBQ pizza, but he actually and without hesitation liked the taste of my pizza as well.  I leave the kitchen tonight feeling increasingly more hopeful about this severe taste bud discrepancy.

WIN WIN WIN.

Golden Beet, Fennel and Chickpeas Over Quinoa

I’ve known that there are a ton of fellow amateur food bloggers just like me all over the web, but actually getting out there and finding the ones that really appeal to me has always seemed like such a daunting task.  That is, up until a few days ago when I came across the website thekitchn.com where upon a little browsing I found a list of the nominees for Best Recipe Blogs of 2012.  Holy hell I am obsessed.  I literally cannot stop looking at all the other food blogs on this list.  It seems like every two seconds I find a new way of using an ingredient that I never thought of, or a technique or type of dish that makes me want to try my own spin on.

There are a few key themes running through many of these the blogs that appeal to me.  For example, pickling.  There are also some ingredients that keep popping up all over the place.  For instance, fennel.  Similarly, it seems like one of the most commonly utilized vegetables these days is the beet.  Just today at Gwyn’s High Alpine (the restaurant I work at) the special appetizer was a Roasted Tomato and Beet Napoleon with Basil Goat Cheese, an Avocado Vinaigrette and  Balsamic Drizzle.  Yum.

What I love about the beet is it’s versatility as well as the fact that you can cook with the greens as well.  Beet adds a sweet component to any dish without overpowering the other ingredients.

Golden Beet, Fennel and Chickpeas over Quinoa

Ingredients:

  • Half an onion, coarsely chopped
  • A few cloves of garlic, minced
  • 3 or 4 golden beets (regular red beets can be used as well), chopped in one inch cubes and roughly de-skinned
  • Greens of 3 or 4 beets, stems removed and coarsely chopped
  • Half a bulb of fennel, coarsely chopped
  • One can of chickpeas (garbanzo beans), rinsed
  • Half a jalapeno, seeds removed, minced
  • Zest of half a lemon
  • Juice of half a lemon
  • Teaspoon ground cumin
  • Half teaspoon turmeric
  • Half cup of quinoa
  • One cup water
  • Drizzle of olive oil, for sauteing
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Bring a medium pot of water to a boil and add beets.  Boil for 15-20 minutes, just until beets are tender then strain.  Meanwhile, heat olive oil in a saute pan on medium-high.  Add onions and fennel, stirring frequently.  Add water to prevent burning.  Saute until onions start to become translucent, five or ten minutes, then add garlic, beets, beet greens, and jalapeno.  Saute for ten or more minutes until the fennel is cooked through and the beet greens are wilted.

At this point in a separate pot you will add the quinoa to one cup of water and heat to a boil.  Reduce heat to low and simmer, covered, for fifteen minutes.  Simultaneously you will add chickpeas, lemon zest, lemon juice, cumin and turmeric to the beet mix.  Feel free to add a bit of water periodically to prevent burning, and also to get desired consistency for saute.  Season with salt and pepper.  Serve sauteed veggies on top of the quinoa.

See those crunchy looking garnishes up there?  Those are actually beet chips.  Pretty basic, really.  I just reserved one of the four beets and sliced it very thinly horizontally.  This is where a mandolin would have come in handy tonight.  Regardless, I have a great knife that can do a fine job slicing thinly.  I then coated the slices in olive oil, salt and pepper and baked for about 15-20 minutes while I was sauteing the rest of the veggies.  I recommend baking them at a lower temperature, about 350 or so, for longer so as to prevent burning.  The chips crisp up as they cool down.  They were awesome as a garnish, but I’d guess they’d be a perfect snack food as well.

My inspiration for this meal: The Kitchn, Couscous with Chickpeas, Fennel and Citrus

Lastly, I reserved half a bulb of fennel to try out this awesome looking pickling recipe I found on another food blog, Food in Jars.

Quick Pickled Fennel with Orange

Ingredients:

  • Fennel, thinly sliced (preferably with a mandolin but if you don’t have one then as thinly as possible)
  • Orange wedges
  • Sea salt and pepper
  • Apple cider vinegar

Coat thinly sliced fennel pieces in sea salt and allow to sit for an hour.  Drain the liquid that is extracted from the fennel and combine fennel pieces with coarsely ground pepper and the orange wedges.  If there is extra juice from the orange that can be combined with the fennel mix as well.  Place orange fennel mix in jar, fill with the vinegar, seal and refrigerate.   It is best after 24 hours.

Source: Food In Jars 

Grammy Pat’s Homestyle Mac ‘N Cheese (Remix)

Wait, I’m confused.  Real mac and cheese is not healthy, you say?  I don’t quite understand.  Maybe you think that all that butter, flour, milk, and cheese, mixed with more flour and egg pasta is high in calories.  Right?  Or maybe it’s all those carbs?  Oh I get it, it’s a lot of dairy, and dairy you’ve been told makes you fat.  It’s a simple recipe with a few real ingredients, though, so how can it be any less healthy than, say, low-fat Kraft Macaroni and Cheese or a McDonald’s crispy chicken sandwich?

Oh, I’m starting to understand now.  I think you and I may have different definitions of the word healthy.  You see, I don’t associate this sacred term with the phrases “low-calorie”, “fat free” or “low carb”.  You say Splenda is healthy, I say raw organic sugar or unprocessed honey.  You say Smart Balance, I would challenge you to the idea that real butter is far healthier than any of those “buttery spreads”.  Diet soda?  Sure, it’s got zero calories but just imagine all the chemicals they use to make that stuff!  Yikes.

Now let’s get something straight.  When I talk about eating healthy on this blog, it has nothing to do with counting calories, losing weight, using low-fat or non-fat ingredients, or any of the above.  To me, it’s all about the enjoyment of eating fresh, wholesome food, and nutritious food, plain and simple.  To me it’s unprocessed ingredients that create the most delicious dishes, and we can all agree here that yummy food makes us happy.  And sure, sometimes these ingredients are high in calories or carbs, but boy do they taste good, and guess what?  They’re unprocessed.  Making it easier for your body to digest and allowing your body to get the nutrients it needs to maintain an active lifestyle.  Rejoice!

Now I want to talk to you about something called balance.  A balanced diet is very important to me, and I think that it should be for you too.  For instance, if I gorge my face on Christmas dinner, I will then take some time to get lots of veggies and salads in the day or so following.  A #4 specialty bagel from Fuel for breakfast usually means I’m on my way out to rip around the mountain, and by the time I’m done my body will be craving some of that veggie lovin’ around dinner time.  And if my little Aussie roommate of the past two months Sharna wants to eat homemade mac n cheese for her last dinner before she leaves Snowmass for good, by god I will make it for her and we will eat it and it will be awesome!  Just make a yummy salad to go along with it.  That, to me my friend, is balance, and that is eating healthy.  Because by my definition, you can’t technically eat healthy if you’re not enjoying it.

So without further ado, this is my recipe for my lovely Grammie Pat’s Homestyle Mac ‘N Cheese (Remix)

Ingredients:

  • Milk
  • Butter
  • Flour
  • Onion
  • Cloves
  • Bay Leaf
  • Jalapeno
  • Nutmeg
  • Real Cheddar Cheese, not the processed crap
  • Macaroni Noodles
  • Sea salt and black pepper

The first step to this recipe involves making a traditional Bechamel Sauce.  There are many ways to make this sauce, but mine comes straight out of the Joy of Cooking,  a gift from my totally rad sister Kyle.  It is important to note that some sauces and baking recipes do require the use of exact ingredients and measurements for success.  I wasn’t sure in the case of Bechamel sauce for the desired consistency so here I will give exact measurements from my guide just in case.

In a saucepan, add one bay leaf and one thick slice of onion pricked with two whole cloves to two cups of milk and heat on medium heat until simmering (I added half a jalapeno, seeds removed and sliced into stalks to give it a bit of heat).  Meanwhile in a separate saucepan, heat four tablespoons of real butter and when melted, add four tablespoons of flour and stir until well mixed.  When the milk is heated, remove all solid ingredients and slowly add milk to butter mixture, stirring constantly until thick.  Add a generous grating of fresh nutmeg and cracked black pepper.

At this time you may preheat the oven to 325 degrees (this is what my Aunt Jane, who gave me this recipe, tells me is called a traditional “slow oven”).  Meanwhile, you will want to have some salted water boiling because this is when you should boil the pasta.  There are no exact measurements in this step, as the pasta/cheese/sauce ratio is really up to your liking (although you will want to make sure to have enough Bechamel sauce to cover your pasta thoroughly).  Speaking of the sauce, during the boiling time is when you add a huge handful of freshly grated cheddar cheese to your Bechamel sauce and mix in.  I also minced up the other half of the jalapeno (seeds removed) and stirred it into the sauce as well for a bit more heat.

Leave about half to a quarter of the grated cheese to the side to put on top of the pasta dish in order to form a crust.  When the pasta is cooked al dente (very slightly undercooked so that there’s still a bite to it), strain it and stir it into the sauce.  Place in a casserole dish (preferably clear Pyrex glass) and set aside.

For topping, melt a tablespoon of butter and add a generous amount of breadcrumbs (okay, I didn’t make these from scratch, sue me).  Saute on low until golden brown and crunchy, then remove from heat.  Sprinkle the rest of the grated cheddar cheese over the top and then add the breadcrumbs.  Place the in the slow oven and cook for over an hour, until the top is looking golden brown and the macaroni mixture is nicely bubbling.

Now go stuff your face.