March 30, 2012

spring pizza with lemon cream sauce, shrimp, radishes and chives

As I walked into the small store, they were sitting on the farmstand checkout counter, nestled in a simple still-life setting of freshly-picked produce. Framed in a wooden box among green onions, spinach, and garlic chives, the small bunch of bright red radishes sat glistening and waiting, ready for their close-up. Radishes are one of those vegetables that I haven't typically purchased in the past, but the alluring color intrigued me, and so I bought the radishes, along with a thick bundle of garlic chives, milk and eggs, and headed home.

March 23, 2012

triple sec ricotta cheesecake

On a recent night after dinner out, my husband and I were looking for a little dessert before seeing a movie. We ended up getting a cheesecake to go from a restaurant nearby, and wow, was that cheesecake sweet. For most of the movie I felt like I was fighting to stay awake from the overdose of sugar. A couple nights later we had dinner at a friend's house, and one of the desserts served was a cheesecake made from tofu and Neufchatel cheese. This cheesecake had the perfect amount of sweetness, unlike the restaurant version we'd had, and the texture reminded me of a classic Italian cheesecake that uses ricotta cheese instead of cream cheese for the filling.

As far as cheesecakes go, I really prefer the ricotta cheese version-it's lighter but still creamy, and if you make it at home, you can adjust the sweetness to your liking. Since I've made homemade ricotta cheese before with this easy and sublime recipe, I thought I'd take a go at making my own ricotta cheesecake. As a starting point for flavoring, I decided to incorporate a little bit of the homemade triple sec I had into the filling. If you don't want to make your own, which of course would delay making the cheesecake a bit, a store-bought triple sec works really well too. For the crust I made breadcrumbs from the leftover end pieces of this whole wheat cast iron bread. I think the lighter white whole wheat crumbs worked really well; if you don't have those, then use a lighter whole wheat bread, one that's a mix of white and whole wheat, to make the bread crumbs. To complement the triple sec flavor in the filling, I used the zest from one lime in the crust, and used the juice from the lime to mix into the yogurt topping.

March 16, 2012

whole wheat pizza crust

Behold, the ubiquitous pizza crust dough. In our house, at least, it is ever-present, because I am ever making it. Over time, I've been slowly adjusting the way I make my pizza crusts, trying to simplify the process as much as possible and still have a great crust. Pizza by pizza, I've refined my routine, and have arrived at reliable formula that's had a bit of input from everything I've read up to this point. I hope these tips enrich your dough-making experience, too.

For starters, I've switched from using active dry yeast to instant dry yeast which eliminates the step of having to mix the yeast separately with warm water. I used to add oil to the dough, but I found when I left it out it wasn't missed. Instead of measuring by volume, I measure by weight, which means I can measure everything in one container by using the zero or tare feature on my digital scale as I add each ingredient. The same container the dough has been mixed in also serves as the proofing container. To develop the gluten a little more quickly during the proofing stage, I use a stretch and fold technique that helps give the dough an airier structure, also done right in the container without needing to remove the dough. For easier pizza topping assembly, I like to pre-bake the crust for a few minutes, too. Pre-baking keeps the finished pizza crust from getting soggy, and also lets me store it for later use if I want. I've also discovered I can re-use parchment paper several times before it begins to crumble, helping cut down on waste and saving money. Lastly, letting the dough rest before shaping allows the gluten to relax so it stretches easily and quickly.

March 9, 2012

spinach blueberry almond butter smoothie

Green is good. You've heard it here before. It's a food mantra for me, and on my blog this year I'm trying to share at least one recipe a month with lots of greens in it. Although there is no shortage of different opinions on what really is healthy to eat, most everyone agrees that getting some form of greens in your daily diet is good.

So how about greens for breakfast? You may have mixed your greens into an omelette, or sautéed them with a sunny-side-up egg on the side. The prep for either takes a little bit of time and effort, and it's easier done on a weekend when you have more time. For weekdays, though, you need something fast, and here's where the breakfast smoothie can come to the rescue. All you need is a little organization of ingredients and a sturdy blender, and then it's easy to get your greens in a meal-in-one glass.

My basic weekday smoothie goes something like this: milk, nut or seed butter, frozen fruit, and greens. I almost always add a banana which helps add the right amount of sweetness, a nice texture, and balances the flavor of the greens. For milk I use raw goat's milk fresh from my local farm. As an alternative to dairy, there are nut milks like almond and cashew or coconut, which you can easily make at home ahead of time so they're ready to go. A good amount of protein and healthy fat is also really helpful for satiety and steady blood sugar; I like mine in the form of nut or seed butters. For a variety I make cashew butter, almond butter, and sunflower seed butter. To get the most nutrition from the nut butters, I go through a process to prep the nuts and seeds so they're more digestible, just as I do when I make nut milks.

For the greens I've used either baby spinach and mixed baby greens, but other options I'll be experimenting with are chard, kale, beet greens, lettuce, and parsley. Depending on the combination of ingredients you use, sometimes a little extra sweetness is needed; medjool dates or a small amount of honey work great.

My favorite special treat meal when I was a kid was a hamburger, fries, and a chocolate shake enjoyed car-side at Sandy's Burgers. In college it evolved into a burrito and a chocolate shake (Naugles). I like to think I've learned a bit since then about what's good for me, but one thing that's always necessary is that it tastes really good. I think this smoothie hits both those targets. For the body, it provides good fuel. For the kid in you, it's pretty much like having a milkshake any day you want.

March 2, 2012

my kitchen apothecarium

front row, left to right: golden flax seed, dried oregano leaves, shea butter; middle row, left to right: dried rosemary leaves, dried lavender buds, coconut oil; back row: extra-virgin olive oil

Olive oil, coconut oil, flax seed, lavender, rosemary, oregano. They're all things we usually have on hand in our pantry and often use to make our food. But since I decided to try making our own body care products, those pantry staples have become a way to live simply and frugally and cleanly, both for ourselves and for the environment. Along with all that, I get to make stuff.

With these very simple ingredients I've been able to replace several expensive products. For a replenishing facial cleanser I use a simple mix of olive oil, lavender Castile soap, vegetable glycerin and water. As a basic facial scrub I use flax seeds that I grind in a spice/coffee grinder. I store the ground seeds in a spice container that has a sifter cap with large holes. To add a little extra exfoliating effect to my facial routine, I mix a few shakes of the ground seeds with a little of the facial cleanser when I wash my face. As a toner I use a simple infusion of lavender flowers and distilled water. For a soothing face and body moisturizer, I make a creamy emulsion of olive oil, coconut oil, shea butter, beeswax, lavender essential oil and distilled water using my immersion blender.