Monday, August 31, 2009

Barefoot Bloggers - White Pizza with Arugula

My first taste of arugula was unforgettable. I pulled a sprig out of a bag and popped it in my mouth thinking it was baby spinach(s) (albeit expensive and high-end) cousin.
My nasal glands and throat never forgave me, it was like I set my mouth on fire, but in an odd wasabi-like way - I never knew how deceptively peppery and strong arugula was. And I never bothered with it again. EVER.
So when the August Barefoot Bloggers recipes were announced, and arugula showed up, I was strongly put off. I even went to the extent of preparing a second topping of braised spinach and caramelized onions using the chilli garlic oil called for in the recipe - get this - in ANTICIPATION of a let-down.
Well, never judge a book by its cover. The pizza crust in this recipe reminded me of one the best margherita pizzas I've had, hands down - in a tiny restaurant in Knightsbridge, London - run by two Spanish brothers.....LOL.They were playing Volare in the background and I almost danced on the table..

1. I now have a brand new to-die-for pizza crust recipe - Thank you INA! Chewy, soft, easy, quick.
2. INA is never wrong.
3. I discovered the Holy Grail of cheese pizzas - goat cheese, fontina and mozzarella. Mamma Mia!
4. INA is never wrong.
5. The lemon vinaigrette tamed ol' shrew Arugula, and it was pure magic - having a cool and crisp, green salad on your cheesy hot pizza.
Thank you Andrea of Nummy Kitchen for selecting this recipe. It is such a keeper.
The Barefoot Bloggers are an [extra]ordinary group of cookers and bakers with a love of all things Ina. We'll be testing (and retesting) Ina Garten's (The Barefoot Contessa) recipes as a group and blogging about them on the 2nd and 4th Thursday of every month.
Recipe - (Ina Garten - Barefoot Contessa Back to Basics)

For the dough:
1 1/4 cups warm (100 to 110) water
2 packages dry yeast
1 tablespoon honey
Good olive oil
4 cups all-purpose flour, plus extra for kneading
Kosher salt
4 cloves garlic, sliced
5 sprigs fresh thyme
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

For the topping:
3 cups grated Italian fontina cheese (8 ounces)
1 1/2 cups grated fresh mozzarella cheese (7 ounces)
11 ounces creamy goat cheese, such as montrachet, crumbled

For the vinaigrette:
1/2 cup good olive oil
1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
Freshly ground black pepper
8 ounces baby arugula
1 lemon, sliced

Mix the dough.
Combine the water, yeast, honey and 3 tablespoons of olive oil in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a dough hook.
When the yeast is dissolved, add 3 cups of flour, then 2 teaspoons salt, and mix on medium-low speed.
While mixing, add up to 1 more cup of flour, or just enough to make a soft dough.
Knead the dough for about 10 minutes until smooth, sprinkling it with the flour as necessary to keep it from sticking to the bowl.

Knead by hand.
When the dough is ready, turn it out onto a floured board and knead it by hand a dozen times.
It should be smooth and elastic.

Let it rise.
Place the dough in a well-oiled bowl and turn it to cover it lightly with oil.
Cover the bowl with a kitchen towel and allow the dough to rise at room temperature for 30 minutes.

Make garlic oil.
Place 1/2 cup of olive oil, the garlic, thyme and red pepper flakes in a small saucepan and bring to a simmer over low heat.
Cook for 10 minutes, making sure the garlic doesn't burn. Set aside.

Preheat the oven to 500 degrees. (Be sure your oven is clean!)

Portion the dough.
Dump the dough onto a board and divide it into 6 equal pieces.
Place the doughs on sheet pans lined with parchment paper and cover them with a damp towel. Allow the dough to rest for 10 minutes.
Use immediately, or refrigerate for up to 4 hours.

Stretch the dough.
Press and stretch each ball into an 8-inch circle and place 2 circles on each sheet pan lined with parchment paper.
(If you've chilled the dough, take it out of the refrigerator approximately 30 minutes ahead to let it come to room temperature.)

Top the dough.
Brush the pizzas with the garlic oil, and sprinkle each one liberally with salt and pepper.
Sprinkle the pizzas evenly with fontina, mozzarella and goat cheese.
Drizzle each pizza with 1 tablespoon more of the garlic oil and bake for 10 to 15 minutes, until the crusts are crisp and the cheeses begin to brown.

Make the vinaigrette.
Meanwhile, whisk together 1/2 cup of olive oil, the lemon juice, 1 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper.
Add the greens.

When the pizzas are done, place the arugula in a large bowl and toss with just enough lemon vinaigrette to moisten.
Place a large bunch of arugula on each pizza and a slice of lemon and serve immediately.

TIP Make sure the bowl is warm before you put the water and yeast in; the water must be warm for the yeast to develop.
TIP Salt inhibits the growth of yeast; add half the flour, then the salt, and then the rest of the flour.
To make sure yeast is still "alive," or active, put it in water and allow it to sit for a few minutes. If it becomes creamy or foamy, it's active.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Barefoot Bloggers - Mango Banana Daiquiri

We're an [extra]ordinary group of cookers and we love all things Ina. We'll be testing (and retesting) Ina Garten's (The Barefoot Contessa) recipes as a group and blogging about them on the 2nd and 4th Thursday of every month

This months recipe was chosen by Veronica of Supermarket Serenades and she selected a nice tropical drink to round out the summer. Of course I'm late posting this - quel surprise - but I did do both recipes *brownie points*.

I was a little nervous about the banana requirement, I'm not a fan of banana flavoured drinks or their consistency. The drink was OK, nice punch of mango, but as I suspected - it was THICK - even though I halved the amount of banana called for. I might try this again with a substitute of pineapples. All in all, a quick and tropical treat. Thanks Veronica!

Mango Banana Daiquiris
serves 4

2 cups chopped ripe mango (1 to 2 mangos, peeled and seeded)
1 ripe banana, chopped
1/2 cup fresh squeezed lime juice (4 limes)
1/4 cup sugar syrup*
1 1/4 cups dark rum, such as Mount Gay

Mango slices, for serving

Place the mango, banana, lime juice, sugar syrup, and rum in a blender and process until smooth. Add 2 cups of ice and process again until smooth and thick. Serve ice-cold in highball glasses with the mango slices.

*To make simple syrup, heat 1 cup sugar and 1 cup water in a small saucepan until the sugar dissolves. Chill.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Grilled Aubergine, Green Pepper and Chicken Pizza


Life Lessons Learnt.
If Deb of
Smitten Kitchen tells you that it is OK to use grilled aubergine (eggplant) on a pizza, then you do just that.
Ria tells you she made a chilli chicken pizza, then you follow suit too.

A year ago, I would have shuddered and ran away in horror instead of trying such new toppings, but this whole pushing-the-envelope-when-it-comes-to-cooking for me (and the whole reason for this blog) has worked wonders with my past inhibitions.
OK, we still haven't overcome shellfish - thats for another day, or possibly lifetime.

So I decided to follow the aforementioned gals lead, and I took my
pizza crust, slathered on my tomato sauce, and decided to layer it with grilled eggplant and bell peppers, some leftover chicken from the previous nights dinner, black olives and liberally threw in with mozzarella cheese.
Oh my.........
Someone, please snap me back from my glorious state of food-induced nirvana. Eggplants - Aubergines!!! Where have you been all these years? Why did I forsake you....


1 thin
crust pizza dough
1 qty
pizza tomato sauce
1 medium size aubergine/eggplant - sliced
1 medium size green bell pepper - sliced
1 small tin sliced black olives
1 cup cooked chicken (leftover from previous night dinner, deboned and sliced into bite size pieces)
1/2 cup grated mozzarella cheese
1 Tbsp olive oil for grilling eggplant

1.Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Prepare pizza crust as
directed. Roll out to fit on a lightly oiled pizza stone. Pinch the edges to form a rim.
2. Spread tomato sauce over pizza crust to form a layer.
3. Bake pizza crust in oven for 20 minutes.
4. In the meantime, sprinkle salt on the eggplant slices, leave in a colander to "sweat". After about 20 minutes,pat dry with paper towels. Grill both sides of the eggplant on a grill pan after sprinkling with olive oil and salt and pepper to taste. When both sides of the eggplant slices are browned and cooked, remove from heat.
5. Grill the green pepper lightly in the same grill pan, this should not take too much time, as pepper grills quickly.
6. Assemble toppings on the pizza crust - grilled eggplant slices, grilled pepper slices, chicken, olives and top with mozzarella cheese.
7. Return to oven and bake till cheese melts and toppings are heated through.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Pizza Tomato Sauce

Informal poll:
Do you like your pizza with a base of deliciously tart Roma tomatoes with a hint of garlic and a touch of caramelized onions, cooked to a simmer with piquant herbs like oregano and basil....
Do you smear your pizza crust with cheery red (labeled Food Coloring #X8755764RTG) glop from a tin.....

The choice is yours. =)

This recipe came hand-in-hand with the pizza dough recipe that I blogged about earlier. If you were going to do a homemade pizza crust, you must certainly have homemade tomato sauce to go with it, right? Could you really have Mork without Mindy? Or Starsky without Hutch? OK, you get the point.

Super simple, ridiculously good taste, and takes on an elegance if you give it a whiz with an immersion blender.

Pizza Tomato Sauce (again from years ago from my friend P and her super-talented mom's recipe trove)
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
1 large garlic clove, grated
3 large Roma tomatoes (chopped) - or 1 x 14 oz can tomatoes
1 tsp sugar
1 Tbsp tomato paste
large pinch of dried herbs (I used a mix of oregano, basil, thyme and sage)
salt and freshly ground pepper - to taste
Optional - 1/2 cup chopped green bell pepper or jalapeno for heat
1. Heat oil in saucepan, add garlic and onion and saute.
2. When onions have softened and are starting to turn golden, stir in remaining ingredients, add salt and pepper to taste,and simmer over medium heat, stirring occasionally till sauce is thick. Do not let the sauce dry out completely.
3. Adjust seasoning and use as required when preparing pizza.
4. Remove from heat. When cooled, slightly mash any tomato pieces in saucepan with immersion blender or hand held masher.
Use as topping on pizza crusts.

Thin Crust Yeast Pizza Dough


Back in the day, my friend P introduced our gaggle of friends to the wonders of her mother's homemade pizza. The recipe was dutifully photocopied (Yes - I said it - PHOTOCOPIED), passed around, smeared with tomato sauce and became its own legend. It became a staple at all our get-togethers, study breaks, birthday parties and we started to get bold and brazen in our choice of toppings as well. Anchovies and pineapple, anyone, anyone?

Soon, the recipe was indirectly handed over to our moms, who then started making it at their card parties and get-togethers and so on.

But life happened, takeout was discovered, and the little Pizza-Recipe-That-Was gradually fell to the side. I dug out that old tattered photocopied recipe recently after reading several homemade pizza posts on the internet and was thrilled at how wholesome it was to once again bite into a freshly made, piping hot pizza straight out of the oven and chock full off toppings of my OWN choice.
Without having to deal with a 16 year old on the phone - "You said you wanted half cheese on that? Which side?"

Cooks Note : This recipe renders enough dough for 1 medium thin crust pizza. In most cases, the pizza dough can be baked "blind" at 350 degrees F for approx 20 minutes. Then add toppings of choice and cheese and bake again till toppings are heated through and cheese melts.

Basic Yeast Pizza Dough - Thin Crust (Source - Years ago, source unknown - all due credit goes to my buddy P and her super-cook Mom)

2 cups All Purpose or wholewheat flour
1 tsp salt
1/2 package instant dry yeast
1/4 tsp sugar
2/3 cup lukewarm water
2 Tbsp softened butter or olive oil

1.Mix flour and salt in a bowl.
2.Dissolve sugar in the water, add yeast and leave in a warm place to become frothy (about 10 min)
3.Stir yeast liquid into flour and mix into a soft dough with butter or oil.
4.Cover the bowl and leave in a warm place for dough to rise (about 45 min).
5.Punch down the dough, then roll out to fit onto a pizza stone/circular pizza baking pan. The dough is quite elastic so I had to use a lot of pulling, patting, coaxing and stretching to get it to conform to a circle =). Hence the lumpy texture in the pic above....

Use as directed in any recipe requiring pizza dough.

Friday, August 21, 2009

The Blog World Has Been Good to Me.....*Le Sigh*...

It's not nice to toot your own horn, Ms.Prudie would say.

But I HAVE to. =)

Because the Two-Pronged God of Internet Giveaways exists. Yes - SHE does. ;-) And she struck me TWICE in the same week. This I can't believe. I've NEVER won anything before. NEVER.
When the co-workers do Lotto pools or World Cup Finals bets (oops, did I just say that in public) - they AVOID me at all costs.
Not any more, suckers.
First - Maria's Menu
- who I've blogged about before because she has a TREASURE trove of recipes and a loyal following - was hosting an Amazon Gift Certificate giveaway to celebrate her third year of blogging. That prize landed in the lap of Yours Truly, and swiftly went towards the purchase of an EatSmart Digital Kitchen Scale from Amazon. I chose this scale based on the user reviews and also mainly because I am tired of baking-by-calculator. Yes, it's that bad chez moi.

Thank you Maria and many more happy blogging years to you!!!

And then, non-food related, but I'm giddy about this, the lovely Dithi - who is a self-taught artist specializing in Indian Folk Art- at Deezden was holding a giveaway to commemorate having 100 followers at the same time. And look what landed on my doorstep last week- a lovely cheery signed copy of her renditon of an Indian Parakeet. Thanks Dithi!! Check out her Etsy store for more colorful renditions of Indian religious figures and folk art.

There are truly gifted and generous souls out there - this is a thanks to all the bloggers out there who work so hard and share so much with the rest of us, I have so much to learn and I'm looking forward to it!!

Monday, August 17, 2009

Sweet Plantain Fritters

OK, this snack of deep fried batter dipped-plantains may be a no-brainer for many of you out there - it is such a staple in Indian, Caribbean, Far East and South American homes or anywhere else tropical that plantains can be found.
But whilst I was an expert at EATING them, I actually didn't know how to MAKE them until I started trying it out myself. And since everyone and their mother-in-law from the aforementioned countries and continents had their own way of making the requisite batter, I had to play around a bit before I got it just right.
For me.

I remember my mom mixing rice flour into the batter back in the day. I'm not sure why but I'm guessing the rice flour gives the batter an extra thick quality to allow the plantain slices to be coated evenly.
Ahhhh...the gloppy factor.

Similarly, recently when I visited a neighbor, I caught their nanny sprinkling sesame seeds into the mix as well.
Hmmm - never seen that before, but could be the crunchy factor.

And this is why I will land that high paying job as a Food Editor at a posh magazine and be a celebrity judge at the Aspen Food and Wine event - because I use words like gloppy.

So here is my take on plantain fritters and enjoy these juicy sweet fried morsels for your late afternoon snack, right after siesta =)!

In Kerala, India - these fritters are known as "ethakka boli" or "ethakka appam" - What do you call this snack item?

Sweet Plantain Fritters
3 ripe plantains (look for fairly firm plantains, you don't want them too mushy or over-ripe)
1/2 cup All Purpose flour
2 heaped Tbsp rice flour
1 tsp sesame seeds
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp sugar - Optional (I usually omit the sugar if I find the plantains sweet enough)
Water - to form batter (approx 1/2 cup)
Oil for frying

1. Peel plantains and discard skin, slice the flesh in half lengthwise. Then slice each half into quarters.
2.Mix the AP flour, rice flour, sesame seeds and salt in a bowl.
3. Slowly add water to the dry ingredients , mix to dissolve all lumps and add enough water to form a batter with pouring consistency. The batter should be thick enough to coat the back of the spoon and should not be too runny.
4. Heat oil in a frying pan.
5. When oil is hot, dip plantain slices in the batter, make sure each slice is coated and deep-fry to a light golden color.
6. Drain on paper towels.
7. Serve warm.

Friday, August 14, 2009

The Goddess is Back.....and She is Green....

Green Goddess, that is. A '70's staple salad dressing has voiced a comeback, and reincarnates itself here as a dip. The tartness of parsley is evident throughout, and may be a little uncomfortable for parsley haters (the ilk of which I find in increasing numbers), so proceed with caution when serving this up with crudites.
I loved this silky, smooth dip, and it's a welcome change from the usual Ranch dressing (that gets pulled into double duty) whenever a vegetable tray pops into a buffet table or crudites get passed around as an appetiser.
I found this recipe in our local daily, shared by Lari Robling who authored the cookbook "Endangered Recipes: Too Good to be Forgotten" (Stewart, Tabori & Chang). I haven't bought this cookbook, but in it, the author appears to revive old classics from decades past. Pass the aspic, please....
Green Goddess Dressing (adapted from Cookbook cited above, and Flavor section of the Houston Chronicle -August)
1 cup parsley - washed, dried, stems removed and chopped
2 cloves garlic - grated
1 scallion - chopped
2 Tbsp white wine vinegar (author recommends tarragon vinegar)
2 tsp anchovy paste (or to taste)
1 cup mayonnaise
1 cup sour cream
Optional - 1 tsp Dijon Mustard (I omitted)

1.Blend parsley, scallion, garlic, vinegar and anchovy paste in a blender until vegetables are fairly minced and ingredients are mixed together. (Chopping the parsley beforehand helps otherwise I found it tough to mince).
2.Add mayonnaise and sour cream and blend.
3. Refrigerate overnight or for at least a few hours to help the dressing "set" and the flavors to mingle.
4. Serve as a dressing or as a dip with brightly colored vegetable crudites like julienned bell pepper, cherry tomatoes etc.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Nectarine Clafoutis


Julie and Julia. Julia and Julie.
The movie has quietly taken everyone by storm. Food bloggers are skipping down the streets due to the fact that one of their own got a book deal/movie deal, and OH MY LORD - Meryl Streep even acts in it. Food editors can't stop writing about it and there has been a general resurgence in interest in all things Ms.Childs.
Which is when I step in and finally give Clafoutis a try. KLAH-FOO-TEE.
So I scour the Internet for a recipe, find a gazillion different versions. Get intimidated. Finally settle on Kevin's version. Decide to be indulgent and substitute full cream for some of the milk. We're bloggers! We can do anything!
Then discover that I actually have no cherries on hand.
OK, substitute something else. Ahhhh....a bag of nectarines sits ready for the picking and voila - Nectarine Clafoutis is born.
Now, this is purely me, I guess I was expecting a more cake-like dessert - which this is not, it is more of a baked custard texture. It's still good enough for the spouse to scrape all of it to the bottom of the dish, but I shall hold out a little more and try it with cherries a la Julia Childs or pears a la Barefoot Contessa before I join the All Things Bright and Clafoutis Choir. In the meantime, just take a look at what Meeta of Whats for Lunch, Honey drummed up in her raspberry and nectarine version!
Nectarine Clafoutis (slightly adapted from Closet Cooking - Cherry Clafoutis)

1/4 cup all purpose flour
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 tsp salt
3 eggs
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup cream
1 tsp vanilla extract
4 large nectarines, pitted, thinly sliced

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Mix flour, sugar and salt in a bowl.
2. Beat eggs into flour mix, one at a time.
3. Whisk in milk, cream and vanilla extract.
4. Arrange nectarine slices in concentric circles in a greased pie dish.
5. Slowly pour the batter into the pie dish taking care not to displace the fruit.
6. Bake in preheated oven for 40-45 minutes or till center is set and edges are golden brown. (Note - the clafoutis will balloon up and be puffy while baking, but will immediately reduce in size when removed from the oven.)

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Armenian Beef Kebabs

OK, I know, kebabs aren't the most "pretty" foods in town, they don't photograph well, and my blog is starting to feature more and more recipes for clumps of meat. However, summer is upon us, and boy are kebabs a quick treat to whip up for dinner when you can't bear to slave over a cook top. Just marinate some protein (most of the time, you don't even have to wait for the marinade to absorb), throw it on the grill, whip up a cool side and you're done in 15 minutes!
Except in our case, where it has been so unbearably hot outside, that you have to practically wait for nightfall before you can fire up the grill outdoors. So, in this case, I made these in the oven on broil.

Lesson #1 - I have just now realised that my broiler has two heat settings - Zero and Gates of Hell. So I ended up overcooking these kebabs a tad. Keep an eye on them, and occasionally turn them over to get all sides evenly cooked.

This recipe came from Woman's Day magazine, and I served the kebabs with a side of curried couscous, which ended up (ironically) being the star of the evening, and a nice dollop of tzatziki. More on that recipe later...;-)

Armenian Beef Kebabs (adapted from Woman's Day Magazine)

1lb ground beef
1/2 cup finely chopped onion
a handful of fresh mint leaves - finely chopped
1 1/2 tsp cumin powder
1/2 tsp salt (or to taste)
1/2 tsp pepper (or to taste)
1 tsp paprika
1 tsp grated garlic

1. If using bamboo skewers, soak in water for a few hours before use in grill or broiler.
2. Mix ALL the ingredients until just combined (Cooks note - over mixing causes the kebabs to become tough).
3. Form patties or long cylindrical kebabs, skewer and place on grill or Broil on a foil lined baking tray.
3. Cook for about 7 -10 minutes, turning the kebabs over occasionally .

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Spicy Southwest Cucumber Salad

Here is a peppy little salad to counter the sweltering heat we have been enduring for a while. Not only that, with such a myriad of colors and vegetables, it's GOT to be good for you!
I reserved the dressing until it was time to serve the salad, the dressing is slightly acidic and so might make the veggies wilt if added way too long beforehand. This salad was crisp and delicious and served chilled it was a lovely little treat alongside BBQ.

Spicy Summery Southwest Cucumber Salad
(reproduced almost entirely from Houston Chronicle - FLAVOR supplement July 2009)
1 large cucumber - diced (leave skin on)
2 Roma tomatoes - diced
1/2 cup green onions - chopped (green and white parts)
1 medium jalapeno pepper - deseeded and diced
1 (15 oz) can black beans - rinsed and drained
1 (11 oz) can Mexicorn - found in grocery store - mix of corn and bell pepper

Optional - 1 avocado - peeled, pitted and diced (I omitted, avocado becomes mushy and I wanted CRISP ;-))

3 Tbsp cider vinegar (I used apple cider vinegar)
juice of 1 lime
1 clove garlic grated
1 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp paprika
1 Tbsp olive oil

1. Combine all vegetables for the salad and toss to combine. If using avocado, add last.Chill.
2. Whisk together ingredients for dressing. Pour over vegetables before serving and toss to combine.