Monday, April 26, 2010

Potato Garlic Pizza

A few weeks ago I decided to try my hand at a potato pizza. It was not terribly successful, but it had enough possibility for me to try again. Armed with the experience of what had not worked before, I was more successful the next time.

I did not use any sauce on the first try. Instead, I used a generous amount of extra virgin olive oil. I did not want to use a tomato sauce or a white sauce, and I thought (hoped) that the olive oil would be enough to make the pizza moist and succulent. Alas, it was not.

Also a few weeks ago, I bought a container of sour cream for some vague purpose about which I completely forget. And there it sat, alone and unoccupied, patiently waiting for me to notice that it was ready and available to be put to use. And ticking, every now and then, with the impending expiration date.

My pizza dough makes two pizzas. This last time I only had enough tomato sauce and mozzarella for one. What to do with that second round of dough? Was there anything I could do with the sour cream? I have been craving potato salad the past few weeks - maybe I could do something with potatoes and the sour cream.

I also had some huge purple-skinned heads of garlic I found at Whole Foods, and of which I had bought copious amounts. A good Swiss Gruyere and fresh dill would round it out perfectly.

And it did. I stretched out the dough and smoothed a thin layer of sour cream over it, then I seasoned it with salt and pepper. I sliced a Yukon gold potato as thin as I could without a mandoline (wish list for sure) and spread them over the sour cream in an even layer. I was going to overlap them a little for the visual effect, but I was worried they might not cook if I did that. I think I was right, so if you are going to try this I would not overlap the potato slices.

I sliced the garlic and sprinkled those over the potatoes, and then some finely-grated Gruyere, and then finally I sprinkled fresh dill over the whole thing. I cooked it in my usual 450 deg. F. oven for about 18 minutes.

Right off the bat it looked it much better than my first attempt at a potato pizza. It was still a little dry, though, so I put a dollop of sour cream on each slice and spread it out before I ate it. That did the trick, but I still need to find a way to make the pizza itself more moist. I don't know why I am shying away from a white sauce, but for whatever reason, I just don't want to use one.

I was a little leery of using too much sauce because I like my crust to be crispy, but I think I could maybe have used a little more. Next time I think I will spread another layer of sour cream over the potatoes before I add the cheese, garlic and dill.

Yes, I think that will do it. In the meantime, however, I will be thoroughly enjoying this potato garlic pizza.

And thinking about what other pizza varieties might be worth a try.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

DIY Condiments #1: Worcestershire Sauce

Sometimes it pays to eavesdrop at the grocery store. Yesterday at Treasure Island as I was heading into the produce department I heard one of the produce ladies tell a customer, "Oh yes, honey, that pineapple is super sweet - I just cut that today and it is fabulous." (Ok, she may not have actually used the word "fabulous," but you get the idea.) They also happened to be on sale so I added one to my basket and chopped it up this morning. I just finished a bowl full of the freshest, sweetest pineapple I have tasted in a long time. Yes, it was fabulous.

Misreall and I have been having the hardest time finding a date that we can get together to sample and compare our Worcestershire sauces. I have been waiting to write about it so I could report on the comparisons, but I have decided to go ahead and post the process, before I forget what I did.

If you have ever thought about making your own Worcestershire sauce, I say go for it. If you haven't ever thought about making your own Worcestershire sauce, I still say GO FOR IT! This is the freshest, most flavorful, spiciest (without heat), magical elixir of flavor I have come across in a long, long time. And it's not hard to make.

It does, however, use a lot of ingredients. To my delight, I already had most of them in my pantry, but I did have to make a special trip for a few of these goodies. I have several varieties of dried peppers, but I did not have chilies de arbol. I also needed anchovies, molasses, green cardamom pods, fresh ginger, and star anise.

Actually, I didn't need the star anise, but that's another story. I was also looking at ketchup recipes, some of which do call for star anise, so I got it in my head that I needed some. Turns out I didn't, but I am now prepared for the ketchup phase of this project. Unfortunately, I didn't realize I didn't need it until after I took this photo, so there the star anise will sit through eternity, hopelessly aware that it does not belong, trying desperately to be as invisible as the jar in which it comes, thinking "please don't look at me. Look at the molasses - yeah! - and the onion - see how beautifully round it is! Just pretend like I'm not here, ok?" What you don't see here is the sugar, which for some reason I forgot to bring out until I needed it. Hmmm, and now that I am looking more closely, I see that I left out the garlic as well.

Ok, so it's not perfect. But you get the idea - lots of ingredients, some everyday, some a little more exotic. But nothing I could not find with relative ease.

Most of the ingredients go right into the pot. Be sure to use a pot with a heavy bottom. I used my go-to 3-quart reinforced bottom saucepan, and it worked just fine.

At this point, it's just a mishmash of ingredients and doesn't look like much. It smells mostly of the vinegar, too, which is not the most pleasant smell in the world.

After it has been simmering for a few minutes, however, the ingredients begin to come together and the most heavenly, sharp-sweet-tart-sour aroma slowly wafts out of the saucepan.

Before long, the smell has taken over your kitchen. It was about this time that I started having these vague thoughts of steak.

I am glad that I had already experimented with caramel sauce not too long ago, so I was not as intimidated as I might have been at the thought of melting the sugar. I am still just a little bit skeptical when I start with that pot of sugar that it is really going to melt.

You also want to use a heavy-bottomed pan to melt the sugar. If it is too thin, it is more likely that you will burn the sugar. It's one of those things that goes from golden brown to burnt beyond recognition quickly.

You can see here that the sugar has started to clump together in places. These lumps get hard and it doesn't look like they are going to melt, but if you are patient and just keep stirring everything around gently, they will. At this point, you will also start to see a little bit of liquid below all that sugar. Those hard lumps will slowly melt into that liquid as you stir it all together.

At this time, you want to be especially vigilant, because this is where it can go from done to burned in a heartbeat.

This is what it should look like when it's ready. The sugar has melted into a pool of amber. You want to remove it from the heat before that amber turns too dark.

Next you pour the sugar into the saucepan where all of the other ingredients are simmering.

The recipe should really come with a warning at this point. That sugar is so hot that it will make the rest of the ingredients start to boil as soon as the liquid sugar hits it. It will bubble up and make a fierce noise, so don't be startled. Just hang on and in a minute or two it will have subsided back into a nice simmer.

By this time, all of the ingredients have come together and the sugar fuses them into one big giant spectacular splendiferous aroma that fills all of your senses. If you are anything like me, you will be craving a steak by this time. Too bad you won't be tasting the sauce for a few weeks.

Here is the sauce fresh out of the saucepan and ready to go into the refrigerator for three weeks.

Another warning that I think should be included in this recipe is that you need a fairly large jar for the sauce with all of the ingredients still in it. I had two false starts before I finally found enough room in my old dill pickle jar. I wish I could remember exactly how big it is, but I do know it's bigger than a quart - maybe one-and-a-half quarts. There's a lot of stuff in there that has to be strained out before you reach the 2 cups, so I recommend you start with the biggest jar you have.

I put the jar all the way in the back of the bottom shelf of the refrigerator and let it stay there for the required three weeks. It was a long three weeks, that I can tell you.

Finally, the three weeks had passed and it was time to strain the sauce and taste it. Even though I hadn't disturbed the jar at all, the seal was hard to break, and for a little while I actually had some concern that I would not be able to get the jar open. But with a little pushing and straining, and tapping the lid against the floor, I finally got the lid released and the jar opened.

Here all of those lovely spices and chilies and mustard seeds and onion and garlic and anchovy and general Worcestershire-y goodness. Oh, and that's the sauce down there in the bottom of the pan. True to the recipe's word, I ended up with about 2 cups worth.

This is a truly marvelous sauce, and it really does not take that long to make at all. And once you buy the ingredients for the first batch, you have most of what you need on hand for the next batch as well, and the one after that. And you will be making more batches, of that I can assure you. It is spicy and fresh and adds a burst of flavor to everything it touches, from soups to stews to sauces, salad dressing, eggs, pimento cheese, you name it.

I used the recipe I found in Saveur Magazine #117. I don't believe I would change a thing. You can find the recipe here. Go make yourself some. You won't be sorry.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Cooking on a Budget: Tunisian Soup with Chard and Egg Noodles

Even though I am now working full time, I am still on a budget and trying to be as frugal as possible in the kitchen. And while I have been managing to stay within my budget reasonably well, I haven't been breaking down many recipes in terms of cost. I thought it might be time to rectify the situation.

I happened to have some Swiss chard in the refrigerator when I came across this recipe I had pulled out of Gourmet early last year. I also had pretty much all of the rest of the ingredients as well, so I decided to make it.

I did make a few changes. I had already prepped the Swiss chard, for a reason I can now no longer remember, and discarded the stems and ribs, so I simply left them out. I did not have any harissa, and from all of the reviews I read when I looked up the recipe online, it's best home made, so I decided to use the Tabasco sauce I have on hand to make Ten Minute Black Beans.

And finally, I forgot to get the thin noodles when I was at the grocery store, but I did have half a package of Bechtel's broad noodles in the pantry. I put some in a plastic bag and gave it some whacks with the rolling pin to break them up. I didn't exactly get thin noodles, but they did the trick.

This soup may not look like much, but it has a surprising clarity of flavor. The chard gives the soup a sweetness that is countered by the lemon juice. The online reviews all agreed that without the harissa, the soup was tasteless. I don't know that I would agree, but the Tabasco sauce did elevate it to a whole new level. I think I would like to make some harissa and see how that would be.

One thing I would strongly recommend is that you do toast the whole cumin seeds and then grind them yourself, and do not use store-bought ground cumin. The soup definitely benefits from the toasted flavor. The smokiness of the store-bought ground would overpower the other flavors rather than enhance them.

This soup is light and fresh, and full of flavor. It is delicate enough to serve as a meal starter, but sturdy enough to hold up as the main course all on its own. And at $1.65 a serving, it's a delicious bargain.

TOTAL COST: $ 9.89
Cost per Serving: $ 1.65
Home Cookin Chapter: Soups and Stews

6 servings

1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 pound Swiss chard, stems and center ribs chopped and leaves coarsely chopped (stems and leaves divided)
1 medium red onion, chopped
2 large garlic cloves, minced
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons tomato paste
2 quarts chicken or vegetable broth
2 tsp harissa or other hot sauce, or to taste
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 15-ounce can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
4 ounces fine egg noodles (about 1-1/2 cups)
Salt and pepper to taste

Toast the cumin in a small cast iron skillet over medium heat until it is dark brown and aromatic. Stir it frequently and watch carefully so you don't burn it. Remove from the heat, let the seeds cool, and then using a spice grinder or the back of a spoon, grind the seeds.

Heat oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add chard stems, onion, garlic, cumin, salt and pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, until they start to brown, about 10 minutes. Add the tomato paste and cook, stirring frequently, for about 2 more minutes.

Add the broth, hot sauce, and lemon juice. Reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer for 30 minutes.

Add the chard leaves, chickpeas, and noodles. Adjust seasonings to taste. Cover and let simmer until tender, about 7 minutes.

adapted from Gourmet Magazine, February 2009

Exported from Home Cookin 6.45 (

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Happy Tax Day

Ugggh. Why do I always wait until the last possible moment to do my taxes? It isn't even like they're hard or anything, I just can't seem to do them until the night before they're due. Along with the rest of the state of Illinois, apparently. It only took me about fifteen minutes to file, but three hours to get into the site.

I got an early start on my federal taxes, though. I did those the night before.

I expect to be back to my regular food post schedule next week.

Thursday, April 08, 2010

Thai Roasted Red Pepper Stir-Fry

Things are a little off kilter right now and I haven't had time to work on the posts that are in the works and I don't want to rush them.

Instead of doing nothing, I thought I would re-post this recipe for Thai Roasted Red Pepper Stir-Fry that I wrote on this day three years ago. Yes, I have been blogging that long. Longer, actually.

Originally posted 4/8/2007

This weekend I went up to Bob's neighborhood for our Saturday morning walk. We started at the Morse Street El Stop, and after walking a block east for coffee at Ennui, we headed west so he could show me some of West Rogers Park. It's a beautiful neighborhood and they have a lovely park with its own zoo. Of course, none of the animals were out because it was so freakin' cold. It was about 22 degrees with a wind chill of 9. Happy spring, everyone.

But even in the cold it was a lovely walk because the neighborhood is so nice. I've never been further west of Clark street that far north. Nice big tree-lined streets, very quiet, gorgeous houses - a mix of bungalows, apartment buildings and older houses. I only saw one new development, compared to the one or two a week that seem to be popping up all over my neighborhood. I think Bob is trying to talk me into moving up there and I have to admit, it's an attractive prospect.

After breakfast at the Heartland, a restaurant that takes me back to Austin in the '70s with it's wide selection of political magazines, natural products, hand-crafted jewelry and Che t-shirts, we went to the Morse Fresh Market, a neighborhood grocery store that has a nice selection for a small store, especially the produce. The produce section easily took up a third of the store, with items I rarely see at my neighborhood Jewel. Yuca, papaya, jicama, epazote, and those teeny little eggplants in the picture above. I couldn't resist bringing some of those home with me. The orange pepper in the background should give you some idea of the scale. These are about the size of a plum they're so tiny.

They were called Indian eggplants and I toyed with the idea of cooking them up with some garam masala and Madras curry powder, but I opted to stir fry them instead. I've had the Thai Roasted Red Chili Paste since my birthday last year and have been wanting to use it, and it's been a while since I've had tofu.
I wasn't sure how spicy the Roasted Red Chili Paste would be, so I only used a teaspoon. It gave the sauce a little kick, but next time I will use more. I used soy sauce because I don't have fish sauce, but I think I will hunt that down for the next time. All in all, it was a satisfying meal for a colder than usual spring dinner.

Thai Roasted Red Pepper Stir-Fry

Serves 4

2 Tbsp peanut or canola oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 Tbsp ginger, minced
1/2 red onion, chopped
1/2 lb. asparagus, cut into 1" pieces
1 orange bell pepper, cut into 1" pieces
4-5 baby eggplants, sliced into fourths lengthwise
1/2 lb. extra-firm tofu, with the water pressed out*
1 Tbsp cornstarch
1 tsp sugar
1 Tbsp sherry
1 Tbsp fish sauce or soy sauce
1/2 cup chicken stock

Combine cornstarch, sugar, sherry, fish sauce and chicken and mix well. Set aside.

Heat oil in wok over high heat. Add garlic and ginger and cook for 30 seconds, then add eggplant and cook for 2-3 minutes, until beginning to look tender (it's important to make sure the eggplant is cooked enough before adding the other vegetables). Add onion, pepper, and asparagus and cook for another 2-3 minutes. Add tofu and cook until heated through.

Add cornstarch mixture and stir until sauce thickens. Remove from heat and serve immediately.

Adapted from a recipe for Asparagus, Red Pepper, and Curried Tofu in 12 Best Foods Cookbook, by Dana Jacobi (Rodale Press, 2005)

Monday, April 05, 2010

Semi-Homemade Post

Happy Monday. I just don't have time to write a post of my own, so I am making a semi-homemade post a la Sandra Lee (and featuring Sandra Lee, ironically enough).

James Brady Ryan at Nerve actually made an entire dinner using recipes from Sandra's shows, including the infamous Kwanzaa Cake. Need a reminder? Here you go:

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