Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Crockpot black-eyed pea soup for New Year's Day

For the past three New Year's Eves, I've had a pot of black-eyed peas soaking overnight.  Sometime on New Year's Day, between watching the Mummers Parade and football, I'll start making this soup. (It's a crockpot recipe - of course - so it's not like I'm slaving away in the kitchen.)

Eating black-eyed peas on New Year's Day is supposed to usher in good luck for the year ahead.  That's almost a bonus when it comes to this soup, which is one of my favorites.  It's filling and has a nice earthy taste.  I can't wait to make it this year.

Crockpot Black-Eyed Pea Soup
from Make It Fast, Cook It Slow, by Stephanie O'Dea (one of my can't-possibly-imagine-how-I-lived-without-it cookbooks)

1 pound dried black eyed peas

1 pound spicy sausage (Stephanie used Aidells chicken habanero and green chile; I use Morningstar's vegetarian sausage)

6 cups chicken broth

1 yellow onion, diced

1 cup diced carrots

1 cup diced celery (I leave this out because I don't like celery)

4 cloves garlic, diced

1/2 tsp Italian seasoning

1 tsp kosher salt

1/2 tsp black pepper

Tabasco sauce (to add at the end to taste)  (I skip this step)

Soak your beans overnight. Drain and pick out the undesirables (broken, discolored beans) in the morning.

Use a 5 to 6 quart crockpot. This will serve about 8 people. Dice the veggies, and dump them into your crockpot with the pre-soaked beans. Add sliced sausage. Pour in broth, and stir in Italian seasoning, salt, and pepper.

Cover and cook on low for 8 hours, or on high for about 6. Before serving, use a stick blender to smash up about 1 cup of beans. If you don't have a stick blender, scoop out 1 cup of beans, blend them in a traditional blender, and add back to the soup. Don't blend too much---just enough to get the broth thicker and creamy-looking.

Ladle into bowls, and add Tabasco sauce to taste.

Wish everyone at the table a Happy New Year before taking the first bite.  (OK, that's not in the recipe ... but it's what we always do.) 

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Pumpkin chocolate-chip muffins

I hadn't gone grocery shopping over the weekend and was in need of something muffin-like for the kids' breakfast on Monday morning.

I was paging through cookbooks and three-ring binders when I discovered a pumpkin muffin recipe that I had printed out somewhere circa the turn of the century when I was a member of several food listservs (Eat Low Fat, KitMailbox, and Fatfree, just to name a few). There were some pretty tasty recipes shared among the participants of those listservs. (Perhaps you were among us?)

Even 11 years later I still remembered how good these Publick House Pumpkin Muffins were, so I made them (with the addition of chocolate chips). 

1 cup Sugar
1/4 cup light vegetable oil
2 eggs
3/4 cup canned pumpkin
1.5 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon Nutmeg (I didn't have any nutmeg, so I omitted)
1/2 teaspoon salt (whoops! totally forgot this)
3/4 cup Raisins (omitted)
1/2 cup chopped walnuts; *opt'l (omitted)

(I added approximately 3/4 cups of chocolate chips)

Preheat oven to 400F. Generously grease a 12 cup muffin tin (even nonstick tins including the flat spaces between the muffins). Mix sugar, oil, eggs and pumpkin. Sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda and spices. Quickly stir together both mixtures. (Don't overmix.)

Fold in raisins and walnuts. (This is where I added the chocolate chips.) Fill prepared muffin cups two-thirds full and bake 18 to 20 minutes, until golden brown. If you prefer large, crusty muffin tops, fill the cups to the top. As they bake, the tops will run together. To test for doneness, use a sharp knife or broom straw. When the knife or straw comes out clean, muffins are done. Remove from oven and let them cool a few moments in the pan before removing. Serve warm with butter or honey butter.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Ethiopian cabbage and potatoes

Over the summer my husband and I received most of our produce from the local CSA we joined. It was an interesting experience, but the jury is still out on whether we'll join again next year or buy weekly from the Farmer's Market.

One of the vegetables we received in abundant supply was cabbage. Oh, the cabbage. Now, I like cabbage, I do, but 3-4 meals worth per week for 3-4 weeks - well, that was a LOT of cabbage.

Luckily, my favorite recipe website (besides this one of course) came through with this recipe for me. And it is awesome. Positively my favorite way to eat cabbage now.

However, I must warn you, this does not fall in the category of Quick & Easy. Not at all. The dish itself is not difficult to make but it is time consuming. It's worth it though because the taste is unparalleled in the world of cabbage recipes.

If you have a Cuisinart, you'll definitely want to use it.

Here's what you'll need:

1/4 cup olive oil
4 carrots, thinly sliced
1 onion, thinly sliced
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
1/2 head of cabbage, shredded
5 potatoes peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes
(note: it is important to cut the potatoes small; if they are too big they'll take too long to cook)

Heat the olive oil in a skillet over medium heat.

Cook the carrots and onion in the hot oil about 5 minutes.

Stir in the salt, pepper, cumin, turmeric, and cabbage and cook another 15 to 20 minutes.

Add the potatoes; cover. Reduce heat to medium-low and cook until potatoes are soft, 20 to 30 minutes. (I usually add a little bit of water to the pan to help the potatoes cook faster.)

This makes an excellent side dish or, as was often the case here, a delicious meal all by itself.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Sweet potato and black bean burritos

I have been eyeballing this recipe on allrecipes for awhile but could never quite muster up the courage to give it a try. I don't know why - with over a thousand reviews and 4.5 stars, it had to be good.

This weekend, with a handful of leftover sweet potatoes in the house and a love for anything made with black beans, I finally tried it.

Boy am I glad I did. Yes, sweet potatoes and black beans seem like an odd combination, but it works. It really does.

(The original recipe calls for kidney beans, but many commenters used black beans and raved, so that's what I did. Remember, I love black beans.)

With sweet potatoes being one of those super foods, it's always nice to have a new way to enjoy their awesomeness. This is a vegetarian dish that can be made vegan by leaving out the cheese, which is what we did. Although I can see how shredded cheese would have have been an excellent and yummy addition.

This recipe made a HUGE amount. Next time I make it, and there WILL be a next time, I intend to halve the recipe.

1 tbsp vegetable or canola oil
1 onion, chopped (or less - I never use as much onion as a recipe calls for)
4 cloves garlic, minced (I did use all the garlic)
6 cups canned black beans, rinsed and drained
2 cups water (approximately - you may use less)
3 tbsp chili powder
2 tsp ground cumin
4 tsp prepared mustard
pinch of cayenne pepper (or more, whatever you like)
3 tbsp soy sauce

4 cups mashed sweet potatoes

Flour tortillas
Shredded cheddar cheese

In a medium skillet saute onion and garlic in oil until soft.

Add the black beans and mash (I ordered a potato masher after making this - would have been much easier). I didn't mash mine completely smooth.

Gradually stir in the water. I used the full 2 cups but next time might use less. Judge based on how runny you'd like your bean mixture. Stir until warm.

Remove from heat and stir in cumin, chili powder, mustard, cayenne and soy sauce.

Spread sweet potatoes and bean mixture down the middle of warmed flour tortilla. Fold like a burrito. (Top with cheddar cheese if you desire.) Makes approximately 12 burritos.

Bake in oven for 12 minutes and serve.

I have never made burritos before so mine weren't the prettiest. Next time (that would be tonight as we have more sweet potatoes and black beans) I will do better.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Creamed spinach in the crockpot

Truth be told, I'm usually more fond of the Thanksgiving side dishes than the actual bird itself.  I am all about the stuffing, the mashed potatoes, the vegetables. 

Yesterday, my mom made an incredible creamed spinach dish that I just had to share, especially since I've been woefully delinquent on posting any recipes here.   (I don't have a photo of it, unfortunately.  It disappeared too fast, and my family doesn't understand the rationale or importance of photographing one's food.)

Even better, this creamed spinach is a side dish that can be made in the crockpot, making it an easy addition to your holiday table.  And even though Thanksgiving has come and gone, there's still post-Thanksgiving meals and Christmas for those who celebrate such, and New Years festivities.  This side dish would be a great addition to any of these holidays or your regular everyday meals.

Mom says she got it from one of her friends in the active-adult community in which she lives, so I apologize for not being able to give any more attribution than that.

2 packages of 10 oz. frozen chopped spinach, thawed, drained and squeezed dry
2 cups of cream style cottage cheese (Mom used small curd)
1/2 cup of butter, cut up
1 1/2 cup of American cheese, cubed (Mom used only approximately a cup)
3 eggs, beaten
1/4 cup flour (Mom used slightly less)
1 tsp. salt

Grease crock pot and combine all ingredients.  Cook on low 4-5 hrs. Stir occasionally, put in attractive bowl and serve warn.

Mom says she added a little whole milk and a little piece (about a quarter) of onion, and removed the onion before serving.

There were 6 adults and 3 children at our table and this was enough for all.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Cheese enchiladas

I've made this twice in the last two weeks, both times to rave reviews. Believe it or not, my nine year old even asked to try it and declared that it was delicious. "Maybe I can order this in a Mexican restaurant," he said. And while it's great to find something new that everyone in the family can enjoy, it's even better when it's a make-ahead sort of meal that requires less than 30 minutes to put together.

Here's what you need:

24 Corn tortillas
2-3 packages of shredded cheese (I used the Mexican mix, but any combination of Monterey Jack, cheddar, and/or Colby will work)
2 cans of enchilada sauce (I used mild green chili, but there are many varieties)
Diced green onions and diced black olives

In a large bowl, mix the cheese, olives and green onions together and set aside. Then coat the bottom of a baking dish with some enchilada sauce (I used two 9 x 13—give or take an inch or two—pans for two dozen enchiladas). Make sure to spread the sauce around, generously covering the bottom.
Next, heat about a tablespoon of corn oil in a nonstick skillet, and quickly fry the tortillas. I did this in batches of three, a fast in-and-out of the hot oil, then drain on a paper towel. I wasn't convinced this step was necessary, but trust me, if you don't fry the tortillas, they split and break apart when you try to roll them. This is the way my grandmother and mother made enchiladas, but not all recipes include this step. I tried to make a couple without it, but it was a mess.
Place a small handful of the cheese mixture in the center of each tortilla, roll, then place seam side down in the baking dish. You want to make sure the enchiladas are packed tight, sides touching, in the pan.
When the pan is filled, drizzle more sauce on top, and...
then cover with more cheese—a lot, a little, it's up to you. At this point, you can cover the pan with foil and refrigerate for up to 24 hours, or freeze. Or you can put it right into a hot oven.
Bake covered with foil at 350 degrees for about 30 minutes or until the cheese is melted and bubbling. I removed the foil during the last five minutes of baking. Garnish with chopped green onions and sliced olives.

This same basic recipe can be adapted to make meat or chicken enchiladas. I would simple add shredded beef or chicken to the filling, and cut back on the amount of cheese. I served this with a side salad and yellow rice. And seriously? Yum.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Southwestern baked dip

Fall doesn't officially start until tomorrow, but let's kick off autumn a day early, shall we?

This is my favorite season of the year, for so many reasons.  I love how the temperature outside becomes cooler, I love the colors that I often take for granted as a lifelong resident of the Mid-Atlantic states, and I love the soups and casseroles and pot pies (and the baked goods) that this season has in abundance.

When I think of fall recipes, I almost always think of this warm southwestern baked dip.  It has been a favorite of ours since one of my husband's co-workers gave me the recipe in 1991. "For Melissa's Recipe Collection" the co-worker had written. It's a great warm dip to indulge in while watching football or getting together with friends.  I've served this as an appetizer for parties I've hosted and it always gets rave reviews.

The only downside? It's not exactly low-fat. I suppose you could tweak it to be such, just as you could alter the heat of it.

Southwestern Baked Dip

1/4 cup hot or mild salsa
1/2 cup sour cream
1.5 cups shredded cheddar cheese
1 pkg. 8 oz. softened cream cheese

Mix salsa, sour cream, and cream cheese with beater and fold in cheddar cheese. Pour in casserole with top or foil and bake covered for 1 hour at 350 degrees. Serve warm with white corn chips. Serves 4-6. (I've doubled and tripled this, with lovely results).

Enjoy ... and happy fall!

Monday, September 20, 2010

Barbequed baby back ribs

Admittedly, we've fallen behind here at (Never) Too Many Cooks. Summer, vacations, back-to-school—I know I speak for all of our contributors when I say that life seems to get in the way a lot these days. I, for one, have fallen back on a lot of family favorite recipes in recent weeks, many of which you can find in this blog's archives.

That said, we had an amazing dinner with friends Friday night. None of which I actually cooked. But because my friends are so cool and because they love this blog, because it really takes little more than a camera and a recipe to create a post... we have baby back ribs. Awesomely delicious and easy to prepare baby back ribs.

Here's what you need:

A rack of ribs (my friend regularly purchases hers at Costco, though it's likely any grocery store or butcher shop can fill your order)
Barbeque sauce (you can make your own, or use a store-bought brand)
Using a sharp meat knife, cut the rack into smaller sections of about 3-4 ribs each, season with salt and pepper, brush with a generous amount of barbeque sauce and wrap in tin foil. Repeat until all the ribs are seasoned and wrapped. Place the foil packets in a large roasting pan and cook at 250 degrees for 3 hours.
Remove the ribs from the oven, and unwrap the foil packets. Discard the drippings and any sauce left in the foil.
At this stage, the ribs are basically cooked, but it's important to finish the process on the grill. You need to give them just enough time to heat through and carmelize on the outside. Be sure to slather on more barbeque sauce (feel free to be generous here), then cook for 15 minutes over a hot fire, turning frequently.
I'm not kidding. It's really that easy. Not only were these ribs tender and flavorful, but because they were pre-cooked in the oven, all the grease and fat was left behind in the foil packets.
I'm going to go out on a limb and say these ribs are kid-friendly. We had three boys at the table under 10 years old and two of them were literally covered in sauce. My son, unfortunately, was the lone holdout. Though he was reluctant to try, he did, declaring after two bites that it wasn't for him.

Maybe next time. But really, who cares? More for the rest of us.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Farewell to summer dinner (with grilled veggie kebobs and garlic bread with fresh tomato and mozzarella)

My in-laws visited us this weekend and I wanted to make a "farewell to summer" dinner using some local produce.  So on Saturday, Betty and I took my mother-in-law to a nearby farm where I bought corn on the cob, zucchini, yellow squash, an onion, mushrooms, red potatoes, tomatoes, and fresh mozzarella.  All would find their way into that evening's dinner.

I wanted to make veggie kebobs on the grill and submitting this recipe seems like cheating here because my friend and fellow cook Kristen already posted a similar dish back in May.  (See her post Grilled chicken shish kebob.)

Grilled Vegetable Kebobs

I didn't really measure anything with this one.  Basically, I used two zucchini and two yellow squash, approximately a pound of small red potatoes, half of an Empire sweet onion, and approximately a dozen (maybe less) white mushrooms. 

I boiled the potatoes for 10 minutes while cutting the onion, squash, zucchini and mushrooms into chunks and marinating it for about 20 minutes with Italian dressing.  (I threw the potatoes - some of which I kept whole, others which I halved or quartered - in during the last 10 minutes of marination.)

I didn't measure the amount of dressing either, but if I had to do this again, which is very possible, I would cut down the amount of dressing I used. (Nobody said anything, but I thought the kebobs were slighty too tangy.)

Then I threaded the vegetables onto metal skewers.  (Even when I soak the bamboo skewers, they tend to catch on fire.  I spent most of my summer looking for metal skewers and finally found them at a different farm, also nearby.)

The Husband grilled the kebobs for about 10 minutes, turning once.  This made 8 kebobs.

Along with this, we grilled hot dogs (for the kids and in-laws) and veggie burgers for us. I also boiled corn on the cob. Finally, I changed my mind from preparing a caprese salad and instead enhanced some store-bought garlic bread by adding slices of fresh mozzarella and fresh tomato.

I left one side of the garlic bread plain because several folks at our table aren't fans of tomatoes.  Cooked it in the oven for 7 minutes and then let it cool, cutting each of the sides into smaller pieces and arranging on a serving platter.  (No pictures of that ... they disappeared too quickly.)

Dessert was a selection of homemade ice creams from another nearby farm - vanilla, chocolate, peach, and coffee. 

All in all, a delicious ending to a wonderful summer.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Blackberry pie

Two years ago, my then 6 year old daughter and I went to a then-nearby farm where we walked up and down row after row of blackberries.

We each had our own basket and we had a friendly competition to see who would get the most blackberries.

Of course, she won.

As I said, that was two years ago.  She still talks about picking blackberries, how stained our shirts and shorts were, how we licked the blackberry juice off our fingers, and how we snuck one or two right from the vines into our mouths.  And whenever she does bring this up, she always mentions the blackberry pie we made with our loot.

Having never made a blackberry pie before and not having a family recipe of sorts, I turned to my online recipe book,, where I found this recipe for Blackberry Pie I.   It's incredibly easy and amazingly delicious.  The Husband isn't a big fan of blackberries  - he doesn't like the seeds, and I could do without them as well, but I'm willing to do a little extra brushing and flossing of my teeth (which I should be doing anyway) in exchange.


4 cups fresh blackberries
1/2 cup white sugar
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 recipe pastry for a 9 inch double crust pie
2 tablespoons milk
1/4 cup white sugar


1. Combine 3 1/2 cups berries with the sugar and flour. Spoon the mixture into an unbaked pie shell. Spread the remaining 1/2 cup berries on top of the sweetened berries, and cover with the top crust. Seal and crimp the edges. Brush the top crust with milk, and sprinkle with 1/4 cup sugar.

2. Bake at 425 degree F (220 degrees C) for 15 minutes. Reduce the temperature of the oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C), and bake for an additional 20 to 25 minutes.

Serve with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream. 

And savor the goodness.

Zucchini and egg scramble

I'm almost embarrassed to post this. It's so simple, some would argue that it's not even a recipe. But when I made this dish for my family Sunday morning, I realized that it has value. It's seasonal. It's healthy. It's kid-friendly. What's not to like?

Here's what you need:

zucchini, diced or grated
salt and pepper

To give you an idea on quantities, I typically use the equivalent of 1 small zucchini per dozen eggs.

In a medium size bowl, crack and scramble the eggs. Add salt and pepper. Set aside.

In a nonstick pan, melt about two tablespoons of butter (yes, butter—it tastes good) and saute the zucchini. I like to let it get a little caramelized on the outside.

When the zucchini is cooked, add the eggs and gently scramble the mixture until it is cooked through.

That's pretty much it. My family loves this. The zucchini adds a subtle sweetness to the eggs. You can jazz it up with herbs or grated cheese, but honestly, it's quite perfect as is.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Late summer chicken and rice bake

I was inspired by grey skies, rain and a cool late summer breeze. A craving for something warm and hearty, but not too heavy. And since chicken and rice are pretty much "pantry" staples in my kitchen, I figured I could throw something together for dinner that was loosely based on this delicious chicken with rice dish. It was a somewhat risky move to make at 5 p.m., an experiment that my husband and son could easily balk at. But I've been away from this blog and from trying new recipes for so long, that I figured it was worth a try.

Here's what you need (you'll have to read through to the end for the thumbs up or thumbs down):

4 boneless, skinless breasts
@ a cup and a half of rice
a handful of vermicelli
1 can of artichoke hearts, quartered
1 can of petite diced tomatoes
chicken broth
butter, olive oil, fresh lemon, salt, pepper, thyme, paprika---for seasoning

Rub the chicken breasts with a bit of olive oil and fresh lemon juice. Season with salt, pepper, thyme and paprika. Set aside.

In a heavy saucepan, melt two tablespoons of butter and brown the vermicelli. Add the rice and mix well. Place the rice mixture in a buttered casserole dish. Add the tomatoes and artichoke hearts, including the liquid from both cans. Pour in about 1 cup of chicken broth. Layer the chicken on top, sprinkle in more seasoning to taste, and cover the dish tightly with foil.

Bake at 375 degrees for about 1 hour, or until the liquid is absorbed, the rice tender and the chicken cooked through.

The verdict: Thumbs up! All three of us loved it. The chicken was tender, the rice flavorful—I would definitely make this again.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

One thing you can do

A friend and neighbor, mother to three young, energetic boys and about to welcome a girl, recently confided in me that she would like to change her family's eating and buying habits. She wanted to eat more seasonally available, locally produced foods. "But I don't know where to start!" She said this as we watched her kids and mine graze on the last of the broccoli, picking it right from the stem, then hunting for more. I knew very well how she was feeling because I could easily recall having the very same conversation with another neighbor a few years before -- but then I was the one trying to glean as much information as I possibly could. Having been a grocery store girl from childhood, and not deviating much as an adult, I had very little knowledge of what was harvested when. And planning a meal around that? Forget it! It was too complicated! And you know what? I still find it challenging. But little by little I'm learning by doing and each year it has gotten progressively easier.

So, I told my friend that there was one very easy thing that she could do right now that would get her started. There is one thing that will make an impact on her winter eating habits and make her excited for Spring to arrive in next year so she can continue a rich family tradition that she can start right now.

I told my friend to make a habit of going to the weekly Farmer's Market. I told her where she could also find the best farm stands. Make it a regular family outing, I recommended. Go a few times a week if you are able. Try and guess with the kids what you might find for sale today. Because if it is for sale at the farm stand then it is in season. Then, when the beans or the corn or the blackberries or whatever are in season -- buy as much of it as you are able, take it home and freeze it. I brought home 12 dozen ears of corn last week for $32. We made a party of shucking corn in the back yard and now I have a stock of organic corn in my freezer and I supported the local farmer who grew it. What a deal!

It helps to have a spare freezer, but if you have the room you can pick one up for around $200. After a year of buying, freezing and eating locally produced, organic foods, you will wonder how you ever lived without it. Otherwise, just start smaller. Stash away a bag or two of corn and green beans in the back of your freezer. You won't believe how good it tastes when you cook it up next November or December. Make room for a bag of blueberries, blackberries or peaches and add them little by little to your Sunday morning pancakes.  Trust me, it will leave you wanting more.

But beyond just healthy eating and supporting local farmers (which is so important, by the way!), there is another very important reason why you should do this one thing if you are able. Your kids. Watching all that oil spill out into the gulf made me acutely aware of the fact that our individual choices and actions matter. If we teach our kids when they are still young how to responsibly consume food then when they are adults they won't be buying processed foods because they lack the knowledge they need to make other choices. It won't take them 40 years and a lifetime of bad habits to figure it all out.

So what are you waiting for? Go forth and buy locally. You will not regret it!

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Refrigerator dough pizza

Am I the last person on the Internet to discover refrigerator dough? Because this super easy bread dough has rocked my world since my neighbor introduced me to it a few weeks ago. It is called refrigerator dough because you can make it and keep it at the ready in the fridge for up to two weeks. Or so they tell me. It hasn't lasted more than a few days at my house and I've been making it pretty regularly. The dough itself takes just a few minutes to make and requires no kneading. If you have a mixer with a dough hook it is even easier.

I'm not entirely sold on this dough for a loaf of bread, it does make a nice crusty loaf but there are other simple recipes that yield a better crumb. Still, I'm here to tell you that this dough makes absolutely incredible pizza. And if you make a practice out of keeping a supply in the refrigerator you can have a gorgeous, homemade pizza ready for the table in about thirty minutes. On those nights when you just don't know what to cook it is a real lifesaver.

You will need:
1 1/2 Tablespoons Active Dry Yeast
1 12 Tablespoons Kosher salt
3  Cups Water
4 1/2 Cups Unbleached All Purpose Flour
2 Cups Whole Wheat Flour

Dissolve the yeast and salt in 3 cups of lukewarm water (about 100 degrees).  Add the flour and stir or mix thoroughly with dough hook. Do not knead the dough, which will be very wet. Cover loosely in a 5 quart bowl and let sit at room temperature for about 2 hours. After that time, move the dough to the refrigerator. If you intend to use the dough on the same day you make it, make sure that you plan ahead so that the dough can chill for a few more hours to make it easier to work with. And as I said: the dough will keep in the fridge for up to two weeks. 

When you take it out of the fridge it will look like this:

To make your pizza, remove the amount of dough that you will need for the number and size pizzas you will be preparing. One batch of dough normally yields about five medium-sized, thick-crusted pizzas for our family. Then, pre-heat your oven (and baking stones if you are using them) to 400 degrees. Next, lightly flour your work space and loosely shape the pizzas. The dough won't be very elastic when you first remove it from the refrigerator so you will need to shape it once more before assembly. Now, prepare the toppings for your pizzas. I'll confess that I have not once made a traditional pizza with this dough. Since it is the height of summer here in Virginia and my garden is in full swing I usually just forage for toppings -- or send the kids out and see what they come back with!! Fresh ingredients make all the difference.

Once the oven has reached cooking temperature, move your dough to whatever cooking surface you will be using. Make sure to lightly cover it with corn flour first and don't forget to shape the dough one final time now that it is softer and more elastic. Then simply add your ingredients, maybe drizzle with a little olive oil and a sprinkle of Kosher salt, a bit of Parmesan cheese, and then place it on the center rack of the oven. The pizza will be ready when the cheese is slightly brown and bubbly.

For this blog post I prepared two small pizzas, one with thinly sliced salami, finely chopped, fresh basil, lemon thyme, Monterey pepper jack, mozzarella and Parmesan cheese. The other pizza was a simple tomato, basil and the same combination of cheese. Both were yummy!

If you try this pizza dough, I hope you get as much enjoyment out of it as my family has!

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Ratatouille (in the crockpot)

I had a bit of an eggplant dilemma over the weekend.  You see, I have a bit of a habit of buying unknown-to-me-produce at the farmer's market.  The cuter the name and the cuter the item, the chances are great that it is coming home with me, even if I have no idea what I am going to make with it. 

That was the situation last weekend, when I purchased these at the farm:

The purple and white globe is apparently a Graffiti Eggplant, the long and narrow ones are Green Goddesses, and the short round ones are the adorably named Kermits. 

(C'mon, would you have been able to leave a Kermit at the farm?  Especially with the meat case just a few dangerous feet away?)

So they came home with me and there they sat, awaiting some decision from me as to what I would make. 

Over the weekend, I had ratatouille on my mind so I turned to Not Your Mother's Slow Cooker Cookbook  by Beth Hensperger and Julie Kaufmann. Sure enough, on pages 133-134, there's a slow cooker recipe for ratatouille, described as a regional vegetable stew from Provence.

1 large eggplant, 1.5 lbs., peeled and cut into 1" cubes (I used the graffiti eggplant, one Kermit, and one Green Goddess because the graffiti wasn't what I would have considered large)

1 medium sized yellow onion, coarsely chopped
2 medium-size or large bell peppers (green, red, orange, or yellow), seeded and cut into big squares
10 plum tomatoes, peeled and chopped, or one 14.5 oz. can diced plum tomatoes, drained
2-3 cloves garlic, to your taste, minced
1/2 cup olive oil
5 zucchini or summer squash , ends trimmed and cut into thick rounds
1-2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil, to your taste
freshly ground black pepper, to taste

1. Put the cubed eggplant in a colander and sprinkle with salt.  Let stand 1 hour to drain.  Press out the excess moisture with the back of a spatula and pat dry with paper towels.

2. Combine the eggplant, onion, bell peppers, tomatoes, and garlic in the slow cooker. Pour over the olive oil and toss to coat.  Cover and cook on HIGH for 1-1.5 hours or on LOW for 2-3 hours.

3. Stir in the zucchini.  Cover and continue to cook for HIGH for another 1.5 hrs. or on LOW for 2-2.5 hours. The last hour, add the basil and season with salt and black pepper.  The vegetables will be cooked but will still hold their shape.

Some serving ideas mentioned in the book include serving hot with crumbled goat cheese sprinkled on top (this is what I did, especially since I can't resist any opportunity for goat cheese), at room temperature with lemon wedges and freshly grated parmesan cheese, or cold drizzled with balsamic vinegar. Serves 4-6.

Monday, July 19, 2010

"Fried" chicken (in the crockpot)

Summer isn't usually synonymous with crockpot cooking, but there's no reason for your slow cooker to collect dust when the temperature soars past the edges of the thermometer.  (Here on the hot and humid East Coast, there have been some days when it's even too hot to consider firing up the grill.) 

That's when the crockpot can be pressed into service, even for traditional summertime food like fried chicken.

In her cookbook Make It Fast, Cook It Slow, Stephanie O'Dea has a great recipe for "fried chicken" (her quotes) made in the crockpot.  It's a great recipe for these summer months for when you don't want to turn on the oven and don't want to step outside. 

cooking spray
1 tbsp. seasoned salt
1 tbsp. Italian seasoning
2 tsps. onion powder
1 tsp. paprika
1/2 tsp. black pepper
1/4 c. flour (Stephanie used a gluten-free baking mix)
18 thawed drumsticks (or however many will fit into your slow cooker) *
4 tbsps. (1/2 stick) butter, melted

* When I made this, I was able to fit approximately 10-12 drumsticks in my crockpot. 

Use a 6-quart slow cooker.  Spray the stoneware with cooking spray.  Combine all the seasonings and flour in a ziplock freezer bag.

Add the chicken and tightly seal the bag.  Shake until the chicken is nicely coated.  Dump chicken into the stoneware. Add the melted butter.  Cover and cook on low for 8-10 hours or on high for about 6 hours.

In her notes, Stephanie mentions that she likes to munch on these cold.  So do I.  That's an extra added bonus of making extra - one less summertime meal to cook on a hot day!

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Savory green beans

Any idea what this young guy has in his mouth? If you guessed a green bean you would be right! Green beans are in season and we are eating our fair share. All of us, including the young 'uns love green beans. And what's not to love. You can eat them raw, fresh from the vine, and if you prefer yours cooked, there are endless ways to cook them.

I discovered this recipe earlier this summer when I flipped to the Summer section of my Simply in Season cookbook. This recipe is so delicious that I've made it about six times, with some minor adjustments, since our green beans have come in. If you like vinegary-tart, mildly sweet flavors then you will love this one.

You will need:

About 1lb of green beans, any variety
2 Tablespoons of sugar
4 Tablespoons of white vinegar (apple cider vinegar also works)
1 Red Onion
1/2 cup water (from cooking pot -- see below)
2 Teaspoons cornstarch
Lemon Thyme to taste

First, cook your beans in boiling water until desired tenderness. I like mine still quite crunchy. Meanwhile, thinly slice the onion and saute until soft with a very small amount of oil or butter. When the onion is fully soft, add the sugar and vinegar and cook until the sugar is completely dissolved. Add a generous portion of lemon thyme now if you desire. Then, take 1/2 cup of water used to cook the beans and add the cornstarch, mixing until dissolved. (Note: I'm a pinch and dash kind of a cook but cornstarch is one of those ingredients, I learned, that is best measured. Otherwise your family might suffer some seriously gooey, sticky beans!)  Add this mixture to the onions and cook while stirring until the whole deal thickens up. Finally, drain your beans and transfer them to the onion mixture and stir.

The original recipe calls for the beans to be tossed with crumbled bacon. I have made it with and without the bacon but usually end up omitting it in the interest of less time spent in front of a hot stove. But if you have it on hand and have an air-conditioned kitchen then definitely give it a try.