sweet & savory summer pizza

after months of living in europe, it’s surprisingly refreshing to be back in boston.

(my dog agrees.)

i admit, while i was so excited to be back home, the first few weeks have been weird. reverse culture shock is such a bizarre feeling – it’s so strange to be weirded out by everyone around you actually speaking your language, or to be completely overwhelmed by the sheer amount of choices in the supermarket.

but now that we’ve been back for a month, i’m finding myself delighted to be back in boston, exploring the city with fresh eyes. boston isn’t a very big city, but by american standards, it’s an old one, and has a lot of character. and having lived here for almost ten years now, it feels like home in a way that even vermont, where i went to high school and parents live, doesn’t quite anymore. after all, massachusetts is the place where i attended undergrad, lived alone for the first time, got my masters degree, got married…in many ways, it’s where i’ve lived for my entire “adult” life. i doubt that steve and i will live here forever, or even for the next ten years, but boston will always have a soft spot in my heart.

don’t get me wrong, sometimes this city drives me bonkers. but when it’s this gorgeous in april and may, when the farmer’s markets are opening for the season, when all the college students go home and the city feels so much more peaceful – in many ways, this is when boston is at its best.

before i start carrying on about how much i love summer (but how my true love is really autumn), allow me to present this pizza that i’ve been obsessing over for the past week. like always, i’m trying to lose weight in time for wedding season, but endless salads and veggies start to get old. and i really love eating veggies, so you know i’m not messing around with this. but while assembling some of my favorite ingredients for a salad the other day, i couldn’t help but fantasize about these yummy things on top of a thin, crispy pizza crust. tangy goat cheese, peppery arugula, crunchy nuts, some sort of balsamic reduction for moisture…and fresh blueberries. maybe even some sauteed chicken for my ironman-training husband. surely this could work, even be potentially delicious. and after an hour of drooling on myself, i decided to go for it and let the recipe-testing commence.

and boy, am i glad i tried this out. because it is seriously yummy, a great way to use those blueberries that’ll start showing up in your csa boxes, and doesn’t include as much of the fat-and-calorie guilt as other pizzas can. i kept the arugula whole because i like the way it looks, but feel free to give this a rough chop for easier eating.

go ahead and use your favorite pizza dough for this – homemade, store-bought, or even those plain crusts ready for topping and baking (i won’t tell) – but i relied on my old standby, a simple dough from charles van over’s the best bread ever that was introduced to me in baking class last summer. it’s got a fantastic texture, great flavor, and takes mere moments to make. and i know this will be delicious on crispy flatbreads – i’m planning on trying this combination next.

(a little disclaimer – all of the following ingredient amounts are approximate. measuring pizza toppings always seems a little too anal-retentive for me…pizza is such a personal thing. it’s a delightful, homey dish, and everybody has their own preferences. use your own judgment and apply ingredients accordingly – you can’t mess this up. the photos show plainly that we like (love!) goat cheese in this house, so i used it liberally. do what you like and enjoy. in addition, everyone has a method for crust. i don’t have a peel or a very large baking stone, so i like to crank my oven up to 500 degrees, build my pizza on unbaked dough, and put the whole thing in the oven for a few minutes so that i have a thin, crispy crust. the following instructions will give you that result, but feel free to do what you like for your preferred crust.)

sweet & savory summer pizza

1 recipe of your favorite pizza dough
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
2 tbsp honey
2/3 cup arugula
1/3 cup toasted, chopped pecans
1/3 cup blueberries
1/3 cup crumbled goat cheese 

preheat oven to 500 degrees. in a small saucepan, combine balsamic vinegar and honey over medium heat. keep a close eye on this and allow to reduce for several minutes until a thick syrup is created. 

on a large, floured cookie sheet, use your fingers to evenly spread room temperature pizza dough until it covers the sheet. use a flat spoon to lightly drizzle balsamic honey reduction onto dough. top with arugula, pecans, blueberries, and goat cheese. drizzle more of the reduction over the top. bake pizza for 12 minutes, or until dough is cooked through and crispy.

delicious with a crisp white wine or a summery pale ale.

end of summer sadness

 

 

i really love summer. i love the sunshine, the long days, the breezy nights, the clear blue skies, the singing birds, the endless barbecues, the crowded farmer’s markets. i know, you’re gagging a bit, but summer really agrees with me. you can just smell it – clean air, green grass, warm rain, people just loving life. even in boston, where folks are about as rude as they come and it’s hard to drive anywhere without wanting to take a baseball bat to some hipster’s bicycle (yeah yeah, i have road rage, what do you want), you can still manage to enjoy the season.

summer’s got all the best foods, for real – berries, tomatoes, cherries, figs, corn, watermelon, fresh herbs. i really need to move back to california soon so i can grow my own citrus, avocados, artichokes…i can still buy them here, but it’s not the same. i live for the day that i can have my very own lemon tree.

the thing is, autumn is actually my favorite season. and this time of year, right now – the end of august, the beginning of school, just when the nights are thinking about getting cooler and you can see the trees wondering when their leaves will start to turn – i think it’s the most beautiful time of the year. the days are still long and lazy, but things are getting just a bit cooler, the humidity starts to fade and you can smell autumn just around the corner.

but. with the approach of autumn, i can’t ever separate my glory in the season from the coming dread of winter. i just hate the cold, the snow, the dreary grey skies, the layer and layers of sweaters, the dry skin, the cabin fever. i do not belong here in boston, where everybody manages to get even crankier and my latent anger issues and general bitchiness come out in full force. i don’t want to shovel snow, or fall down the icy stairs, or constantly be sick. i don’t want to buy mealy grocery store tomatoes from chile or make soup over and over. i see the leaves begin to change and i can’t help but get a little depressed, knowing that even the smell of autumn (the best smell ever, forever) won’t cheer me up.

but you know what does cheer me up? super buttery, flaky, cheesy buttermilk biscuits. and you know what makes them even better? rolling them out into a pie crust, then topping them with fresh tomatoes, basil, and tons of cheese. and baking it. and eating it with a fork out of the pan because it’s too delicious to plate.

i made these biscuits for my final project for my baking class, and i don’t want to brag, but people could not stop eating them. they’re super tender, flaky, and have millions and millions of calories – but don’t let that stop you. just don’t eat for a few days afterwards and you’ll be fine. few things will really make these biscuits better – except, of course, making them into an end-of-summer cure-for-the-blues tomato, cheddar and basil pie. enjoy with an ice cold beer, plenty of friends, and a healthy dose of summer sunshine.

tomato, cheddar and basil summer pie

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tbsp baking powder
1 1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 sticks cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1/2 cup buttermilk
1 egg
1 cup grated cheddar cheese
2 lbs assorted tomatoes, cored and sliced
2 1/2 cups grated cheddar cheese
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
1 scallion, trimmed and diced
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 tsp salt
1 tsp ground black pepper
2 tbsp fresh basil, cut into chiffonade

begin by making the crust: in the bowl of a mixer, combine flour, baking powder and salt. keeping the mixer on low, gradually add chopped butter until butter is the size of peas. whisk the buttermilk and egg together, then dump in quickly to flour and butter mixture, stirring on low until just combined. add grated cheese until combined, then remove onto a floured surface. knead several times until smooth, then roll out with floured rolling pin to an 11-12 inch round. fold into quarters and transfer into 9 inch glass pie pan, then gently unfold crust, press into bottom of dish and cover with a dry cloth until ready to fill.

for the filling, lay tomato slices out onto a baking sheet lined with paper towels. lay additional paper towels over the top, allowing the tomatoes to drain for about 30 minutes. preheat oven to 425 degrees. combine cheeses into small bowl, then remove 1/4 cup and reserve for topping. in another small bowl, combine scallion, olive oil, balsamic vinegar, salt, and pepper.

sprinkle a small handful of cheese onto the bottom of the crust, then top with a layer of tomatoes. add about half of the oil mixture, then top with half of the cheese. add another layer of tomatoes and the rest of the oil. sprinkle a bit of the basil on top. add any remaining tomatoes (i still had a few leftover after the pan was filled, so save your prettiest slices for this last layer), then top with the reserved 1/4 cup of cheese and the remainder of the basil. fold overhanging crust onto the top layer of filling – i created a rustic hexagon shape, but you can do whatever you like the look of best.

bake until crust is golden and cheese is a light golden brown, about 35-40 minutes. check halfway through baking to make sure the crust isn’t getting too dark – top with loose foil if necessary to keep crust a lighter color. allow the pie to rest for at least an hour before serving, up to 3 hours if needed.

lemon and basil ricotta cookies

now that my culinary class is over, it’s a bit weird to be cooking back in my own kitchen, without ten other people there tasting my food. wonderful, but weird. and now that i’ve had a few days to recover, i think i’ve almost caught up on my sleep, and am happy to cook again. of course, steve is working super long hours on his latest project, so i’ve been trying not to go too overboard with my cooking now that i’ve got a little break from school.

of course, i’m trying to incorporate some of my newfound culinary training into my regular routine. and with all the cold rainy weather the last few days, i bought a big tub of ricotta and whipped up some lasagna with fresh pasta sauce, and my first ever attempt at foccacia bread. it needs a little perfecting, and then i’ll post a more successful recipe. but i wanted to use the leftover ricotta for something new, something lemony and summery, something fantastic.

i played around with one of giada’s recipes, and voila: lemon and basil ricotta cookies. these little guys rule – super moist from the ricotta, tart and lemon from zest and juice, and a little bit savory from the basil. they have a fluffy, cake-like texture, rather than a crispy cookie, and are light, tender, and incredibly addictive. i want to try these out as a cake, too, and if it works i’ll let you know.

just be more careful when you take the baking sheets out of the oven than i was – i burned my thumb pretty badly this time around, and instead of immediately enjoying my cookies, had to keep ice on my thumb for three hours. i hate baking with parchment paper.

lemon and basil ricotta cookies

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 1/2 tsp salt
1 stick unsalted, softened butter
2 cups sugar
2 eggs
15 ounces ricotta cheese
4 tbsp lemon juice
the zest of 2 lemons
2 tbsp finely chopped basil
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
3 tbsp lemon juice

preheat oven to 375 degrees. combine flour, baking powder and salt in a medium bowl. in a mixer, cream sugar and butter until smooth, 2-3 minutes. with the mixer on low, add the eggs one at a time, beating until completely incorporated. then add ricotta cheese, lemon zest, lemon juice, and basil and stir until combined.

put parchment paper on two baking sheets, then use teaspoons or a cookie scoop to drop cookies onto sheet. i made my cookies a bit small, about a tablespoon and a half of batter, but make them as big as you want. bake for about 15 minutes, until just golden brown and springy to the touch. while cooling, combine the powdered sugar and lemon juice (use more if you need to) to create a glaze. stir until completely smooth, then drizzle over the cookies. allow glaze to harden for several hours (i know, i know, but it’s really good if you wait. eat a few when they’re warm if you just can’t stand it.)

super fresh ceviche

one of the coolest things that we get to do in our culinary classes is having guest lecturers in to talk about various world cuisines. helen chen, daughter of joyce chen, came in to talk about chinese food, and we cooked everything you can think of in a completely delicious whirlwind – stir fried vermicelli with chicken and veggies, steamed salmon with black beans, cucumber salad, pork fried wontons, yang-zhou slippery shrimp…amazing. we’ve got italian with lisa falso, japanese with sam huang, and indian with robyn deluca coming up…but my favorite was (and probably will remain) cooking mexican food with leo romero of casa romero in the back bay.

i love mexican food. my mother grew up just a few miles from the mexican border in arizona, and i was born in southern california – i grew up eating delicious mexican food, and i can’t seem to ever get enough. if you’ve never been to casa romero, get over there as soon as you can. i’ve been lucky enough to eat there once before, and i plan to take my parents the next time they’re down here, because i know they’ll love it.

my husband and i have taken to spending saturday mornings at the farmer’s market in union square, where pick up fresh produce seafood to cook that night. after my awesome mexican cooking class, i knew i had to recreate one of the better dishes of the evening – ceviche, acapulco style. i also made mussels a la mariniere, which were (of course) delicious.

ceviche is a refreshing, light, addictive combination of fresh seafood, marinated in citrus juices until it’s “cooked.” it’s super easy to make, but never fails to impress, and makes for a delightful summer meal. it makes a great appetizer, but also works really well as a main course. this is the original recipe provided by leo romero, though i substituted haddock for pollock – this recipe will work with any firm, inexpensive white fish.

ceviche of pollock, acapulco style – from leo romero

1 pound fresh pollock filets, cut into bite-size pieces
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 cup chopped fresh tomato
2 jalapeno peppers, seeds and stem removed, finely chopped
2 lemons and 2 limes, juiced
1 tablespoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons chopped cilantro
1 avocado, peeled and sliced into wedges

place the fish and onions into a non-metallic bowl. add citrus juice, salt and pepper, toss well, cover and allow to marinate in refrigerator for two or three hours. when ready to serve, strain the fish and onions through a sieve and discard liquid. combine with tomato, jalapenos, olive oil, cilantro, and additional salt and pepper if necessary. serve in individual bowls and top with avocado wedges as garnish.

serves 4 to 6. pair with your favorite mexican beer or a crisp white wine.

csa yumminess

i love my csa box. i’m not really sure why it’s taken me this long to sign up for one, but it’s one of the best things about my summer. granted, my summer is basically filled with classes, and i haven’t been to the beach at all yet, and i barely see my super busy workaholic husband, and i haven’t slept in about a week. but still – my csa box is totally rockin’.

this week, i got carrots, beets, potatoes, summer squash, raspberries, parsley, wax beans, romano beans, sugar snap peas, and garlic. so many great, basic ingredients that i can do so many things with – i could hardly wait to get into the kitchen and start cooking.

of course, i’m completely exhausted. don’t get me wrong, my cooking and baking classes are absolutely worth the exhaustion that they create – i’m learning every single day, and my confidence in the kitchen is blowing up. but all this work has the unfortunate effect of making me a bit lazy in my own home kitchen, looking for quick and easy recipes that aren’t too complicated, that i can make with a glass of wine or while i’m still half asleep.

so…potato and summer squash gratin, thanks to a simple online recipe that i adapted slightly with my own ingredients – namely, regular potatoes, skim milk, and a rather obscene amount of grated parmesan cheese.

there’s not much need for a recipe. basically, chop up a few potatoes and a couple summer squashes (squashi? what is the plural of squash?), then layer them in a olive oil coated baking dish with handfuls of your favorite cheese and some salt and pepper. top with a bit of milk and some extra cheese. bake covered at 400 degrees for 30 minutes, then remove cover and bake for 15 more minutes until the top is golden brown. top with fresh herbs and serve.

it rules. and tomorrow, i’m gonna whip up some parsley and walnut pesto with some of my other goodies. yum.

summer gazpacho

i love to cook, but when it’s hot out i like to just keep things simple. pour a big glass of iced tea, put my feet up, and relax with something cool and refreshing to eat. enter: gazpacho. crisp, flavorful and delicious, gazpacho is ridiculously easy to prepare, and can be made with just about anything.

we made the simple chilled soup in my very first culinary class last week, following a basic recipe and throwing it together in no time. i really enjoyed what we created – the recipe included tomatoes, onions, cucumbers, peppers, scallions, garlic, and bread crumbs, plus a splash of red wine vinegar and some olive oil. but i wanted to try something that was just…more. more flavors, more textures, more contrast. gazpacho is supposed to be smooth and almost creamy, with a rich texture and smooth mouthfeel. i browsed through tons of recipes and finally found one that i liked (though of course, i messed with it a bit), that included some extra garnishes to give more contrast in texture. i especially love the cool creaminess of the goat cheese and the smooth coolness of diced avocado.

of course, gazpacho by nature is super easy to customize. basically anything that sounds good can get thrown into the mix. the basic recipe: breadcrumbs and oil for texture, plus whatever sounds delicious or you have on hand at the time. try fruits, seafood, bacon, or even roasted vegetables from your garden.

plus, isn’t everything better with goat cheese?

summer gazpacho with goat cheese

4 medium tomatoes, roughly chopped
1 large cucumber, peeled and chopped
1/2 red onion, roughly chopped
3 tbsp breadcrumbs
1 cup v8 or tomato juice
1/4 cup olive oil
2 tbsp lemon juice
6 tbsp chopped fresh basil
3 tbsp chopped fresh mint
6 ounces plain goat cheese
1 tbsp lemon juice
salt and pepper to taste
12 sugar snap peas
1/2 avocado, diced

in a large bowl, combine tomatoes, cucumber, onion, breadcrumbs, v8 juice, olive oil, lemon juice, 4 tablespoons of the chopped basil and all of the chopped mint. puree mixture in food processor, working in batches if necessary, until all ingredients are smooth and creamy. keep in refrigerator until chilled.

in a small bowl, combine goat cheese, lemon juice, salt and pepper. pop in refrigerator until you’re ready to serve.

grab a saucepan and put several cups of water on to boil. throw in peas and cook until tender, about a minute or two. remove with a slotted spoon and allow to cool completely, then slice diagonally in half.

when everything is chilled, serve with garnishes – chopped avocado, goat cheese mixture, and several sugar snap peas.

first csa box

i finally got my hands on my csa box from ward’s berry farm on thursday. i was so excited to pick up all the fresh produce, and the combination of goodies was awesome – arugula, beeets, garlic scapes, collard greens, dill, strawberries, and spring onions. i brought them home, and didn’t have any time to use my beautiful veggies. i finally saw my husband, who’d been working very long hours, and we spent as much of the weekend outside as possible.

i made a few different types of bread this weekend, my favorite utilizing some of the garlic scapes in my csa box.

i chopped up a few of the scapes and put them into a pompe à l’huile, a sweet olive oil bread. the recipe is from saveur, and came out really well – moist, sweet, doughy and delicious.

but today…i just wanted to cook. Continue reading

lemon blueberry happiness

after a week of dismal rain and overcast skies, i woke up this morning to sunlight streaming through my window. it’s the first sunny morning i can remember in awhile, and it’s also the first morning i’ve woken up without being in immediate pain from my fall last week.

i was going through the automatic motions of making coffee, trying to figure out what i was craving. sunshine can have that effect on me – one minute i’m happily eating chili in june, the next i need something fresh and light, something that speaks of hot weather and sunny skies. i’m not much of an optimist, but i really love the summer. i think if you were born in a sunny state, even if you didn’t strictly grow up there, it never really leaves you – and i was born in southern california.

what did i want? pancakes with honey? a peppery, cheesy omelette? croissants?

for me, the ultimate summer combination is lemon and blueberries. i know, it’s not that unique – but it’s so delicious. i love lemons to a ridiculous degree, and try to sneak lemon juice or zest into anything i can think of. but when i can make it the star of the show, especially with fresh blueberries, i’m a happy girl.

if you’re reading this, and you find yourself suddenly craving these muffins, don’t worry – it takes about 35 minutes from conception to eating. 10 to make, 20 to bake, 5 to cool, and you’ve got breakfast/lunch/snacks/your meals for the next 2 days (that’s me). Continue reading

gotta love fish tacos

have you ever had fish tacos?

they’re perfect. crispy, flaky fish, crunchy cabbage, the zip of fresh lime juice and a drizzle of smooth sour cream sauce combine to make an irresistibly simple dish. quick to create and easy to personalize, this southwestern street food has swarms of devoted followers that swear by the humble ingredients, all wrapped up in a simple corn tortilla. i was lucky enough to live in san diego for 8 months when i was in college, and i fell in love with the tangy, crunchy snack.

last night we had our friend oliver over for dinner, who thankfully has tried the real thing in california before – my husband was experiencing the fish taco for the first time. since its creation in the 1960s, the fish taco’s basic recipe has remained unchanged. white fish is lightly battered and deep fried, then enveloped in a corn tortilla with shredded cabbage, a mexican sour cream-type sauce called crema, a bit of salsa, and a healthy squeeze of fresh lime juice. this combination of flavors and textures is undeniably delicious – tangy, crunchy, sweet, salty, and highly addictive. from this modest base, hundreds of variations have evolved, toying with everything from the fish’s preparation to the fish itself (lobster, crab, tuna, and shrimp are popular alternatives) and adding extra toppings like pico de gallo, avocado, jalepenos, cucumbers, beans, or fresh fruits. newcomers may be overwhelmed by the possibilities, but connoisseurs tend to stick with the classic recipe, turning up their nose at the more complex imitations.

i like mine relatively simple, adapting a recipe from average betty. the beer batter is crunchy and gives the fish a delicious bite, the white sauce is tangy and creamy, and the avocado relish gives the perfect zip. i served this with chips, guacamole, mango salsa, and sauteed black beans and corn.

Continue reading