Gingerbread To Knock Your Socks Off

•January 2, 2011 • 5 Comments

This holiday season, I embarked on a gingerbread quest.  I’m not talking about any old gingerbread.  I like my gingerbread dark and spicy.  In fact, I’d really like it to knock me on my butt.

For most people, gingerbread is a winter holiday dish.  But it will always remind me of my mother’s birthday, which happens to be in the spring.

Though dessert in its traditional form was not a frequent guest at our family dinner table, we each chose our favorite treat for our birthday celebration.  And my mom, with the exception of the year she was dieting and we all ate raw apples with candles in them (served to a soundtrack of indignant howls from my sister and me), always picked gingerbread.

I don’t know which recipe my mom used.  And I’m appalled at the realization that, to my recollection, my family selfishly allowed this amazing woman to bake her OWN birthday cake year after year.  But I do remember how much I loved gingerbread – the spiciness, the hint of molasses, and the way the whipped cream slid off the top when the cake was served warm from the oven.

Researching recipes over the last few years, I found myself disappointed by versions that were tasty but a bit lackluster.  Perhaps it’s okay for ginger CAKE to be subtly seasoned, but in my humble opinion, ginger BREAD needs to be something more.

So after I decided to take gingerbread to a pre-Christmas gathering, I started looking through recipes to figure out how to improve upon the standard.  As I wondered exactly how much ginger would be too much, the latest issue of Cook’s Illustrated arrived.

I love Cook’s Illustrated because they do all the work for me.  And they’re not pretentious about it.  They make 57 batches of gingerbread until they get exactly what they’re looking for.  And here, they were looking for something very spicy, almost primal.  As is sometimes the case, the recipe was a little bit scary.  (Black pepper? Really?) But the result was exactly what I wanted.  Beautifully dark, spicy, slightly sticky gingerbread where (get ready for it…) GINGER is the real hero.

In fact, I liked it so much I took the recipe home for Christmas, and my mom baked it for our holiday meal.  Maybe next year she’ll let me make it for her.

The Recipe: Classic Gingerbread Cake (adapted from Cook’s Illustrated magazine)

The original version calls for 3/4 cup stout, preferably Guinness.  This could be fabulous.  I wouldn’t know.  For some reason, I just didn’t want to use stout, so I substituted water.  I didn’t miss the stout, but feel free to try it.

The spice in this recipe comes from 2 TB ground ginger, 1 TB grated fresh ginger and 1/4 tsp ground black pepper.  It is quite spicy, so please  experiment.  I cut the pepper to 1/8 tsp the second time around, but I missed the extra spice.

I also used half regular and half blackstrap molasses.  I know blackstrap can be bitter, but in this cake, it seemed just the ticket.

Cooking It Up:

Preheat the oven to 350 with a rack in the middle position.  Bring 3/4 cup water (or stout) to a slow boil in a medium saucepan over medium heat.  Remove from heat and stir in 1/2 tsp baking soda.  (If you’re using stout, the mixture will foam.)  Stir in 1/3 cup regular molasses, 1/3 cup blackstrap molasses, 3/4 cup brown sugar, and 1/4 cup granulated sugar until dissolved.

In a large bowl, whisk together 1 1/2 cups unbleached flour, 2 TB ground ginger, 1/2 tsp baking powder, 1/2 tsp salt, 1/4 tsp ground cinnamon, and 1/4 tsp ground black pepper.

Place the water or stout mixture in another large bowl.  Whisk in 2 large eggs, 1/3 cup vegetable oil and 1 TB finely grated fresh ginger.  Whisk the wet mixture into the dry mixture in relatively equal thirds, whisking until completely smooth after each addition.

Transfer batter to a greased and floured 8-inch square baking pan.  Tap the filled pan against the counter a couple of times.  According to the recipe, this will remove any large air bubbles that may have formed during the whisking.  Bake for 35 to 45 minutes, until the top of the cake is firm to the touch, and a toothpick comes out clean.  Cool on a wire rack for 90 minutes.  Serve warm or at room temperature with whipped cream if you like.

Until next time,



Spinach-Cheese Burritos From the Collective

•December 19, 2010 • 3 Comments

Sometimes people wonder, since I so love to cook and am bold (or stupid) enough to write about it, if I ever (1) completely flub a meal, (2) pick a recipe that just plain sucks, or (3) simply do not feel like making dinner.

Yes, yes and yes.  I am somewhat of an impulsive cook.  That means all three of these things happen with some frequency.  Curse #3 usually leads to #1 or #2, or just ordering out for pizza

My response to these occurrences generally resides somewhere between “oh well, better luck next time” and “I have now dissolved into a sobbing puddle on the kitchen floor”.

Curse #2 came to town last week (followed by a few nights of #3), and oddly enough, the recipe was from one of my recent favorite cookbooks.  The Green and White Bean Gratin from Moosewood Restaurant Simple Suppers simply wasn’t our cup of tea.  It was a texture thing, mostly.  While the flavor was inoffensive, the combination of crispy green beans and mushy white beans just didn’t do it for us.  But I had been looking forward to writing about this book, so I decided to break my own rules and make something else from it before moving on.

Reeling a bit from my lack of judgment, I asked Chris to pick the recipe.  This usually means that he opens the book to a random page, checks to see if it looks good to him, and says, “Ok, make this”.

Luckily he landed on a dish I wanted to try anyway, the Spinach Cheese Burritos.

The Cookbook:  Moosewood Restaurant Simple Suppers

For those of you who aren’t familiar with Moosewood – it’s a collectively owned and operated business in Ithaca, NY.  It started 35 years ago as a small restaurant with a hearty focus on healthy eating.  The restaurant still stands, but has now expanded into a diverse business with more than 10 cookbooks, a consulting firm and a recently developed food manufacturing division.  Bon Appetit magazine named Moosewood one of the top 13 most influential restaurants of the 20th century.

I’ve never been to the restaurant, but would love to make a pilgrimage someday.  Click here to learn more.

This particular cookbook is fabulous because it targets those of us who don’t have all day to work on one of the (delicious but time consuming) recipes from some previous books.  Most of the recipes can be made in less time than it typically takes to order delivery.  They don’t require fancy equipment, and the majority of the ingredients are readily available.

The Recipe:  Spinach Cheese Burritos with Blender Tomato Hot Sauce

Other Menu Items:  Crispy Sautéed Potatoes, Chips & Salsa

Cooking It Up:

Tortillas, and the various meals associated with them, are well loved in our household.  They’re cheap, easy and they last a long time in the fridge (despite my new bad habit of melting some cheese in them and calling it breakfast).  And really, any recipe combining tortillas, spinach, a bit of strategic seasoning and lots of cheese is ok by me.

This dish came together quickly and smelled fantastic.  Though it involves a brief stint on the stovetop, it also bakes for a little while, which means some great hands-off time to wash up the prep dishes (or have a nip of holiday brandy).  The tomato sauce can be made ahead.  The burritos would be excellent with rice and/or beans, but I was trying to use up some potatoes, so there you have it.

Spinach Cheese Burritos (adapted from Moosewood Restaurant Simple Suppers; makes about 6 burritos, depending on how much filling you stuff into each one!)

Preheat oven to 375.  Chop 1 bunch scallions and mince 3 garlic cloves.  Heat 1 TB vegetable oil in a large skillet over medium heat.  Add the scallions and cook for about 3 minutes.  Add the minced garlic and cook 1 to 2 minutes more.  Add 10 oz fresh baby spinach.  Cook until the leaves are wilted.  Turn heat up slightly to allow most of the water to evaporate.  Stir in 1 tsp ground coriander, a pinch of nutmeg, 3 oz cream cheese (which does not need to be softened first) and 2 cups grated Cheddar or Monterey Jack cheese.  Remove from heat and stir until cheeses are mostly melted and mixture is combined.  Add salt and black pepper to taste, if desired.

Meanwhile, lay six flour tortillas on a baking sheet (it is fine if they overlap) and heat them in the oven for a minute or two.  This will soften the tortillas so they don’t crack when you fold them.

Place about 1/2 cup of filling on the lower half of a warm tortilla.  Fold the bottom edge up and the side edges in; then roll to enclose the filling.  Place the burritos seam side down in a lightly greased 9 x 13 baking dish.  Brush tops lightly with oil.

Cover dish with foil and bake covered about 20 minutes.  Remove foil and bake an additional 10 minutes to let the tops crisp up slightly.

Serve with salsa or Blender Tomato Hot Sauce (recipe follows).

Blender Tomato Hot Sauce (also adapted from Moosewood Simple Suppers; makes about 2 cups, which is way more than enough for this dish, but seems like it could be easily frozen)

In a large skillet, heat 1 TB olive oil until very hot.  Stir in 1 coarsely chopped onion, and 1 chopped red bell pepper.  Sprinkle with salt.  Cook about 4 minutes on high heat until the peppers are beginning to brown.  Stir in 1 tsp ground cumin, 1 tsp ground coriander, 1 tsp smoked paprika and ¼ tsp either cayenne or chipotle chili powder (or more to taste).

In a blender combine the pepper mixture with 1 15-oz can of tomatoes (undrained).  Puree until smooth.  Transfer sauce back to the skillet.  Add salt to taste.  If you’re a cilantro kind of person, stir in ¼ cup chopped cilantro.  Simmer for about 10 minutes, stirring frequently.  Keeps in the fridge for at least 2 weeks.

The results: Easy, yummy, cheesy vegetarian burritos on the cheap, with a slightly smoky warm tomato sauce that was also delicious on the potatoes.

Until next time,


Cookbook Giveaway – Seriously!

•December 14, 2010 • 2 Comments

This is my first cookbook giveaway.  Although it might seem unbelievable to you, I have not been given a corporate sponsorship.  No, I just happen to have two Martha Stewart cookbooks, in very good condition I might add, that need a new home.

I don’t like Martha Stewart.  That is, in fact, an understatement.  I loathe the woman.

This may seem unfair for a couple of reasons.  (1) I’ve never actually met her, and (2) I can normally get along with just about anyone.  But I firmly believe that Ms. Stewart is a snob, a fake and a mean person.  And those are three things I just can’t stand.  (I refrained from using the possibly more appropriate b-word in case my mom is reading this.)

In addition, she makes me feel, well, LESS.  Less than perfect.  Less than calm, cool and collected.  And I already feel that way plenty in my life without her help.  (Please note – I recognize that this is probably my issue, not Martha’s!)

But for some reason, I own these two Martha Stewart cookbooks (The Martha Stewart Cookbook and Martha Stewart’s Hors D’oeuvres Handbook).  I don’t know exactly why.  I think I got them cheap from a cookbook club when I first moved to Chicago and was starting to build my collection.  I just didn’t know any better.

That said, I know Martha has many fans.  And I promise not to make fun of you for liking her.  It really seems a shame for me to hoard these books when someone out there might want them.

So…all you have to do comment in response to this post and let me know you’d like to have them.  If you’re the first person to comment, I will give you the books.  I will ship them to you anywhere in the continental United States.  Seriously.  As soon as this weather lifts and I actually feel like walking to the post office.

Until next time,


I Am Officially Addicted To This Dip

•December 13, 2010 • 4 Comments

I am officially addicted to this new-found spinach dip recipe.

For me, the season really kicks off with Halloween (my favorite holiday).  We had a few people over for a low-key trick or treat night, and I made this dip.  Those few people devoured it over a relatively short period of time, which is always a good sign.  I’ve prepared it for two more parties since, and always get rave reviews.

Aside from the cheesy goodness, I like the flexibility.  The dip can be made a day or two in advance and refrigerated.  Really, any round loaf of bread will do.  You can bake the extra dip separately – or it is good uncooked as well.  It is easy to pop in the oven an hour before your guests arrive, and because it’s baked in foil, it stays nice and toasty if you’re traveling to someone else’s party.  Also, as it cools on a holiday table, it still tastes good, unlike the cheesy dips that turn into coagulated yuckiness after half an hour or so.

And the sky is really the limit as far as what you can serve with it.  Veggies are always nice.  I am particularly fond of red, yellow and orange bell peppers.  Tortilla chips are another good choice, and the blue corn variety is especially pretty.  Pita chips, pretzels, toasted bread cubes – whatever strikes your fancy.  I made breakfast on the fly by wrapping some dip in a flour tortilla and heating it briefly in the microwave.

CALORIE DISCLAIMER: This is not a low-fat dish.  The inspiration recipe specifically says NOT to use fat free cream cheese or mayonnaise, though I do plan to experiment with low-fat versions in the future.  I personally dislike things that shouldn’t be fat free but somehow are.  I sometimes buy Neufchatel cheese, which has 1/3 less fat than regular cream cheese.  I see no reason why it wouldn’t work in this recipe.

But, to me, the holidays aren’t really about reducing calories in the sense of low-fat or fat-free cooking.  They’re about moderation, not deprivation.  This recipe does have a nice helping of spinach in it, so you can pat yourself on the back for eating your veggies.

So go ahead.  Try the dip.  Just don’t devour the entire bread bowl.

Spinach Dip (adapted from Taste of Home Best Holiday Recipes 2008)

Bring 16 oz cream cheese to room temperature.  Thaw and squeeze dry a package of frozen chopped spinach (between 10 and 14 ounces).

In a large bowl, blend the softened cream cheese with 1 cup of mayonnaise.  An electric hand mixer makes quick work of this, if you have one.  Stir in the spinach, 1 cup shredded cheddar cheese, 1/2 cup chopped onion, 1 to 2 cloves minced garlic, 1 TB dill weed and 1 can water chestnuts, coarsely chopped.

Slice off the top of a round loaf (about 1 pound) of sourdough or Italian bread.  Set the lid aside.  Hollow out the bottom with a small sharp knife, leaving a shell of about ½ inch.

If you’d like, and if you were careful enough while hollowing out the bread bowl, you can cube the removed bread and broil on a baking sheet for a couple of minutes until golden brown.  The cubes can then be used as dippers.  If you’re not so careful, like me, you can save the removed bread to make your own breadcrumbs.

Fill the bread shell with the spinach dip.  Put the top back on the bread bowl.  Wrap the bread tightly and completely in foil and place on a baking sheet.  Bake for 1 hour at 350 until the dip is heated through and bubbly.

Additional dip can be baked, covered, in a lightly greased casserole dish for about 45 minutes.

Enjoy!  Also…check out an upcoming post for my first cookbook giveaway!

Until next time,


Football and French Onion Soup

•December 12, 2010 • Leave a Comment

I think I’m beginning to like Sundays.

This is new for me.  Sundays always float in like some insidious wraith, bringing the demise of the weekend.  Even when I love my job, I dread Sundays.

Perhaps my fresh relationship with Sundays is a direct result of unemployment.  I don’t have to contemplate getting up and going back to work Monday morning.  But maybe, just maybe, it’s the combination of football and food that really has me rethinking the Sunday Blues.

This past Sunday, while participating in yet another round of “Will The Browns Blow It In The Last Second” (which eventually may cause me to require blood pressure medication), I made a batch of French Onion Soup.  I also made (and very nearly destroyed) the French bread that would be used as the croutons for said soup.

Let me tell you.  This was my first French Onion Soup attempt.  And I think it might emit the most glorious smell in the world on a cold, snowy day.  Savory, homey, deep and rich.  It is very difficult to feel distraught while onions, olive oil and butter are bubbling away on the stove top.

The French bread was a slightly different matter.  Armed with fully active yeast (as opposed to my last attempt), I was proud when the dough actually began to rise.  I formed it into somewhat symmetrical loaves, and popped them into the oven, anticipating a near-perfect batch.

The end result was slightly less exhilarating.  I had misguidedly placed the loaves on a shelf in the lower half of the oven, and wound up with slightly scorched bottoms.  Eventually I’ll get it right.  Like I’ve said before, I’m really not a baker.  And I refuse to post the French Bread recipe until I achieve success.  But I’m trying.

Not what I hoped for, but better than the last attempt.

Those who know me also know that I don’t deal well with my own failures.  Luckily the wafting aroma of caramelizing onions was enough to soothe the potentially savage beast.  I vowed to slice off the bread bottoms, pat myself on the back for baking rather than buying the baguette, and venture on into the land of French Onion Soup.

The Cookbook:   Julia and Jacques Cooking At Home

This book follows Julia Child and Jacques Pepin through the PBS TV series of the same name.  The two chefs offer their esteemed, and sometimes varying, opinions on how to cook basic French dishes.  To me, the best thing about the book is that it shows us there really isn’t ONE way to cook.

The Recipe:  French Onion Soup (with homemade French bread)

Other Menu Items:  Green Salad with Vinaigrette 

Cooking It Up:

You could approach this soup in a couple of different ways.  You could make your own French bread, if you’re better at it than I am.  You can buy a baguette (the recipe actually doesn’t specify).  You can bake the soup in 11 or 12-oz ramekins for individual servings complete with cheese and bread.  Or, if you don’t have ramekins, you can pour the soup into a larger baking dish.  It’s actually quite flexible. 

Also, you don’t have to use the bread and cheese at all.  The soup is delicious on its own, and omitting the baking step would definitely render it weeknight-safe.  You could actually pass the cheese at the table and serve bread on the side.  So there you go.  And here’s the recipe:

Jacques’s Onion Soup Gratinée

Makes about 6 cups

Melt together 1 TB butter and 2 TB oil in a heavy-bottomed 4-qt saucepan over medium low heat.  Add about 5 cups peeled and thinly sliced onions, 1/2 tsp dried thyme and 1/2 tsp salt.  Mix well.  Cover and cook for about 10 minutes, or until onions are tender, stirring occasionally.

Once the onions are very tender, remove the lid and increase the heat level slightly.  Cook for another 20 to 25 minutes, stirring often, until the onions are dark brown and have caramelized.  If the onions are in danger of burning, lower the heat slightly.

(Note – my onions, for some reason, never really turned dark brown.  But they cooked down quite a bit, and smelled amazing.  Julia suggests sprinkling just a bit of sugar over the onions to deepen the color, but you really have to stir at this point so the sugar doesn’t burn.)

Meanwhile, heat 5 cups of stock (recipe calls for chicken, I used vegetable) to a simmer in a medium saucepan.  Stir the hot stock into the onion mixture, scraping the browned bits from the bottom of the pan.  Adjust seasonings, adding 1/4 tsp black pepper and salt as needed.  This will depend largely on how salty your stock was to begin with.  Stir in 1/4 cup red or white wine.  (The wine is optional – but I used a cabernet, and highly recommend it.)  Cover and simmer for 10 minutes more.

If you’re serving plain – you’re done.  If you’re interested in the cheesy goodness of the gratinée, read on.  I recommend only making enough gratinée for that evening – refrigerate any leftover soup and repeat process the night you intend to serve the leftovers. 

You’ll need a baguette (French, Italian or any other crusty long loaf) and several cups of grated Gruyère or Swiss cheese.

To make croutons:  toast 8 to 10 baguette slices (depending on the size of your loaf) on a baking sheet at 400 until crisp, about 10 minutes.

Arrange individual oven-safe bowls on a baking sheet.  Put the croutons into the bottom of each bowl.  They can be whole or broken into large pieces.  Sprinkle about 2 TB grated cheese on top of the croutons.  Add soup to about 1/4 inch below the edge of the bowl.  Add a large mound of grated cheese on the surface of the soup.

Place baking sheet in the oven and bake for 30 to 40 minutes.  The cheese will form a nice crust over the soup and will be dark golden brown.  Serve hot bowls carefully.

I think I needed even more cheese!

It is almost exactly one week from the time I made this dish.  I’ve been delayed for any number of reasons, mostly relating to the job search and the holidays. 

I told myself I couldn’t make any food today until I got the post completed.  So now it’s time to watch the rest of the Browns game, bake cheese bread and try my hand at Broccoli Soup.  Enjoy!

Until next time,


Pitas a la Julia

•December 8, 2010 • Leave a Comment

It was a productive weekend.

Saturday afternoon, despite some residual grogginess from “Martini Friday” (which has a tendency in our household to turn into an all-night, vinyl-spinning extravaganza), I made pita bread.  From scratch.

Let me just say, I am no baker.  As you’ll see in my next post, I’ve recently succeeded in the basic destruction of French bread.  Twice.  But something about warm fresh pita beckoned to me, and said “you can do this”.

I will note that I first learned to make pita bread when I was part of the amazing Casa Nueva restaurant cooperative.  But it’s one thing to arrive at a professional kitchen where someone else has been kind enough to leave you the fresh dough, and where a rolling machine and commercial grade ovens are available.  It’s quite another to do it in your own home, with a rolling pin, a small oven, and a bit of a headache.

But do it I did, and I have a picture below to prove it.

Dough is very sensual.  I don’t mean in a sexy way necessarily…more like a “remember how fun it was to make mud pies before we didn’t like to get dirty any more” kind of way.  Pita dough, in particular, is quite sticky.  My hands, coated with several layers of floury goodness, were transformed into large mittens remeniscent of paper mache models.  But I trudged on through the process.  And what do you know.  Pitas, honest to goodness pitas!

Yes, I do believe they're lopsided, but not too bad for a first try!

In this post, you actually get a “twofer” – the recipe for pita bread, plus how to turn several of your raw pitas into pizzas at the end of the baking process.  They were fabulous…so fabulous, in fact, that we devoured all the pizzas with no pictures.  Next time, I promise!

The Cookbook:  Julia Child & Company, by Julia Child.  Alfred A. Knopf, 1978.

This cookbook includes the dishes Julia used to prepare on her television series.  It is a bit intimidating, as only Julia can be. 

Case in point – a recipe called “Chicken Melon”.  This is, much to my amazement, “a boned and stuffed chicken formed, in its own skin, into a pâté the shape of a melon”.   

Oh Julia, really?

This doesn’t really tantalize my tastebuds.  But in my braver moments, I do fantasize about making it.  Just so I can tell the story.

But, then, there’s the pita bread recipe.  And also one for English muffins, which I’ll be trying as soon as I have enough empty tuna cans to substitute for the English Muffin tins.

The Recipe:  Pita Bread, and Pita Pizzas

Additional Menu Items:  Kitchen Sink Salad – Antipasto Version (hearts of romaine, cherry tomatoes, pepperincini rings, black olives, mini sweet peppers, vinaigrette)

Cooking It Up:

This is definitely a weekend recipe.  It entails 3 1/2 hours of rising time, plus however long it takes you to mix up the dough, knead it, form the pitas, etc.  Then they rest for 20 minutes.  Luckily, the baking process doesn’t take long at all – only 2 minutes per batch!

Pita Bread (makes 12 6-inch pitas):

Dissolve 1 TB yeast in 1/2 cup of warm water in a large mixing bowl.  Once yeast is completely dissolved, mix in 2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour and 3/4 cup plain bleached cake flour, 2 tsp salt, and 1 TB olive or  canola oil.  Knead in UP TO 1 cup warm water – enough to make a relatively firm dough. 

(A couple of notes on the process above:  I did not have cake flour, so I used all-purpose only.  I also accidentally dumped the entire cup of warm water into my flour mixture, which made it VERY sticky.  Start with 1/2 cup and go from there.)

When the mixture is well blended, let it rest for 2 minutes.  Then knead it rapidly until the dough is smooth and elastic.  This should take about 5 minutes. 

Place dough ball in another large bowl, cover, and let rise until it doubles in bulk.  This will take about 2 hours.

Deflate the dough, cover, and let it rise again until it’s slightly more than double in bulk.  This should take about 1 1/2 hours.

To form the pitas:  Lightly flour a work surface.  Roll the dough with your hands into a sausage shape about 16 inches long.  Cut into 12 equal pieces.  Roll each piece into a ball and set aside, covered with clean towels.

Heavily flour your work surface.  Roll each ball into a disk that’s 1/4 inch thick and about 6 inches in diameter.  Don’t make them too thin, or they won’t puff in the oven to form the pocket (though they will still taste good). 

You’ll need a bit of space to spread out all your rolled pitas.  Again, cover them with clean towels so the top layer of dough won’t harden.  Let the pitas rest for 20 minutes.  Meanwhile, place a pizza stone (or just a baking sheet) in the lower middle section of the oven and preheat to 550.

If you have a sliding board, which I do not, you would then place three of your pitas on the board, and slide them onto the hot baking surface.  Without a sliding board, I had to rely on my catlike grace to ensure that I didn’t burn the you-know-what out of my hands during the transfer process.

The pitas only cook for 2 minutes per batch.  I strongly encourage watching this process through the oven door, as it’s truly fascinating! 

After the first minute, the pitas will start to form large bubbles on the top surface.  They will then puff up like pillows.  The pitas should not darken or harden.  In fact, they won’t really look like they’re done.  But don’t be tempted to add another minute, like I did.  My pitas were just a little too chewy, and I think that’s why.

After 2 minutes, remove pitas with a spatula and place on a cooling rack.  Repeat cooking process with remaining batches.  The puffed-up pitas will gradually collapse as they cool.  You can then place them in a stack and bag them up.  They can be refrigerated for several days, or frozen for future use.

Pita Pizzas:

I’m really excited about the pizzas.  I know, it’s just a pita pizza – everyone’s made one, right –  but maybe you just have to try it to understand.  These pizzas are made with raw pita dough, so it’s very easy to tack on to the tail end of the pita project. 

After you’ve rolled out all your pitas, using the process above, decide how many of them you want to turn into pizzas.   As you cook the batches, you can prep or arrange your toppings.

I spread about 3 TB pizza sauce, 1 TB chopped fresh basil, plenty of shredded mozzarella and some dried oregano on each of 4 raw pitas. 

Then, you bake them just like you would the plain pitas, except cook them for 5 minutes until the edge of the crust is slightly golden and the cheese is melted and bubbly.

Truly – YUM!

Not bad for a lazy Saturday. 

Until next time,


My Favorite Recent Dinner…Wheat Germ Vegetarian Torte

•December 3, 2010 • 1 Comment

I’m having trouble deciding on a name for this post.  I’m not feeling very witty.  My cat Tommy, however, is not suffering from writer’s block.  I just came back from the kitchen, coffee in hand, and found that Tommy had decided “ergbt55555555555555-” would be the perfect title.  Fortunately he couldn’t find the “Publish” button.

Sorry Tommy – I’m just not feeling it.  But thanks for your input.

This is Tommy, age 9, one of our 5 cats. He's a very serious fellow, and an unabashed mama's boy.

The Cookbook: Best Recipes from the backs of Boxes, Bottles, Cans and Jars by Ceil Dyer, Galahad Books, 1993

This book, picked up like many of my treasures at a used bookstore somewhere long since forgotten, has always served as more of a novelty than a cookbook.

I guess that’s primarily because the main categories represented are “Meat” and “Dessert”.  But I think, in retrospect, that I’ve been a little bit snobbish about this cookbook.  The concept that drew me to it in the first place (a collection of recipes from the test kitchens of various food manufacturers) also gave me pause when it actually came time to do the weekly menu planning.

In this post, I actually planned to ridicule some of the other recipes in the cookbook.  But I’m sitting at my desk, flipping through the pages, and somehow I’m not finding anything all that amusing.  Gourmet cooking – not usually.  But generally good basic recipes, if you can get past the name brands featured in each one.

I wasn’t looking for meat, and I wasn’t looking for dessert.  I wanted a main dish that didn’t call for rump roast, a cut up chicken, or cream of mushroom soup.

And then I found it – the wheat germ torte, from the label on a jar of Kretschmer Wheat Germ (which I could not find in my local grocery store).

The Recipe: Wheat Germ Vegetarian Torte

Chris and I both grew up eating wheat germ on our cereal, but for some reason it hasn’t become a pantry staple for us as adults. 

Really, that should change.  Wheat germ is cheap, and is a good source of folic acid, iron, magnesium, niacin, phosphorus, potassium, thiamin, vitamin E and zinc.  It can be used in baking, and is especially good in any recipes calling for nuts.  And, as we learned, it makes a fabulous base for this vegetarian torte.

Other Menu Items: Brussels Sprout Slaw

If you think you don’t like Brussels Sprouts, bear with me here.  They were on my official list of hated foods (which is, by the way, VERY short) until about 2003 when I came across a recipe for roasting them with a little olive oil, kosher salt and pepper.  It absolutely blew my socks off. 

To roast them – just trim off the ends as well as any yellow leaves, cut large sprouts in half if you’d like, toss with oil and seasonings, and bake at 425 until the sprouts are tender to your liking.  I can never remember the exact cooking time, so I just check them periodically.  Some of the outer leaves will fall off and get brown and crispy – this is not only desirable but delicious!

During a recent Trader Joe’s excursion, I heard one of the employees say, “Oh good, the Brussels Sprout stalks are back”.  Of course, this made my ears perk up, and I turned around to see THIS…

Alien plant?

I knew they grew this way, but I had never seen one in person.  Or even in a picture.  I had to bring it home with me.  It was gorgeous.  In fact, I actually wanted to WEAR it, or use it as a decoration, as much as I wanted to cook it.  Inspiration for next year’s Halloween costume?

I couldn’t roast the sprouts for this particular meal, since the torte would be baking in the oven, so once again, I had to get a little bit creative.  Read on for the Brussels Sprout Slaw recipe.

Cooking It Up:

The wheat germ pie was good.  Really, really good.  Like “I want to make it again next week” good.  I’m glad we have leftovers!

I was a little worried, I have to admit.  I actually said to myself, out loud in the kitchen, “Why do I always pick recipes that make me a little worried?” 

What if the crust falls apart?  What if the zucchini gets slimy?  What if it’s more “eggy” than I want it to be?  What if it falls apart when I try to slice it?  What if it’s just plain weird?  And then, to top it all off, I’m creating a Brussels Sprout Slaw at the same time, based only on a vague recollection of scanning some recipes someplace?  Am I completely insane?  (Don’t answer that, folks.  Really.  Don’t.)

But, as is frequently the case, I needn’t have worried.  Even if any of those things had come to pass, it’s not like I’m saving babies here.  But they didn’t, and it was delicious.  Here’s how to make it:

Wheat Germ Vegetarian Torte:  adapted slightly from the cookbook listed above

Grate 1 cup Monterey Jack cheese and 1/2 cup Parmesan, and set aside.  They can be mixed or not – doesn’t really matter.

Place about 26 saltine crackers in a sealable plastic bag and crush to a relatively fine crumb with a rolling pin.  Combine the cracker crumbs (which should equal about 1 cup), 1/4 cup wheat germ and 6 TB melted butter in a bowl.  Mix very well so all the dry ingredients are moistened. 

If you have a 9-inch springform pan, it would probably work beautifully here.  I do not, so I used a 9-inch glass pie plate.  Press the crumb mixture on the bottom and sides of the plate (if you’re using a springform pan, only go 1 inch up the sides).  Bake the crust at 400 for 8 to 10 minutes.  It will be very lightly browned and smell really nice.

In the meantime, melt an additional 2 TB butter in a large skillet over medium heat.  Add 1 medium onion, sliced.  Saute until tender but still slightly crisp.  Add 2 medium zucchini, sliced.  I recommend not slicing the zucchini TOO thinly, or else it might get soggy (see “slimy zucchini” note above).  Saute until zucchini is crisp-tender.  Add 1 tsp dried marjoram, 1/2 tsp salt, 1/4 tsp pepper and 1/4 tsp dried tarragon.  Stir well and saute for another minute or so.

Put half the vegetable mixture in the pie crust.  Sprinkle with 3 TB wheat germ.  Add 1/2 the Monterey Jack cheese and 1/2 the Parmesan cheese.  Layer in the remaining vegetables, and another 3 TB wheat germ.

Beat together 2 large eggs and 1/3 cup milk.  Pour it into the center of the vegetable mixture.  Slice 1 medium tomato and layer the slices on top of the vegetables.  Sprinkle with remaining Monterey Jack and Parmesan, and 2 TB wheat germ.

Bake in a 325 oven until the filling is hot and bubbly, about 45 minutes.  Cut into wedges and serve hot.

Note:  It really looked like the first wedge would fall apart upon removal from the pie plate…oddly enough, it didn’t.  I am not sure why, but I guess I shouldn’t question.

Brussels Sprout Slaw:

Thinly slice about 1 pound of Brussels Sprouts.  (I know I’ve seen recipes that say you should grate the sprouts, but I didn’t feel like dirtying any more dishes.  Slicing worked just fine.)  Heat 1 1/2 TB olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat.  Add the sprouts, with kosher salt and black pepper to taste. Saute, flipping every couple of minutes with a spatula, until the sprouts are beginning to brown.  Reduce heat slightly if needed.  Stir in 1/4 cup dried cranberries and 1/4 chopped toasted nuts of your choice.  (Note – I did not have any nuts, so I used sesame seeds, but we thought walnuts, pecans or slivered almonds would have been especially nice.)

Continue to saute until sprouts are nicely browned and crisp-tender to your liking.  This whole process took somewhere in the neighborhood of 20 minutes, so it was a snap to make while the torte was in the oven.  I served the slaw hot, but I think room temp or even cold would be fine too.

I’m looking forward to experimenting with variations on this theme – grated carrots & onion, or a slosh of balsamic vinegar (sorry Roberta!), or crumbled goat cheese, different kinds of nuts, lemon zest, etc.  The possibilities seem endless!

With this post, I’ve officially worked my way through the first shelf of cookbooks.  Only 4 more shelves to go before I have to start over! 

The next shelf starts out with two more Julia Child cookbooks.  But thanks to crepes and pie crust from MTAOFC, I am no longer afraid.

Until next time,