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.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Lemon basil bowtie pasta salad

I love this summer side dish. It's just right for a light lunch, or as an accompaniment to grilled chicken or fish.

Here's what you need:
1 box of bowtie pasta
1 bunch of baby asparagus
1 bag of frozen peas
@ a handful of sundried tomatoes (I used the ones NOT packed in oil)
@ a small handful of fresh basil, chopped
Juice of one large lemon or two small ones
@ two tablespoons of basil olive oil (if you can't find the infused oil, substitute plain olive oil)
salt/pepper to taste

Wash the asparagus and cut the ends; then grill until just tender. I did mine stovetop on the grill pan, drizzling with just a tiny bit of olive oil as they cooked.
Set aside to cool, then cut into inch long (or bite size) pieces.

You can either leave the peas to defrost on their own, or steam them quickly in the microwave. If you steam them, set them aside to cool. Chop the sundried tomatoes into bite size strips.

While you are preparing the vegetables, set a large pot of water to boil and cook the pasta according to package directions. When the pasta is ready, drain and drizzle with a bit of olive oil to prevent sticking.

Once all the ingredients have cooled to room temperature, toss the pasta and vegetables together in a large bowl. Add the lemon and basil oil, chopped fresh basil, salt and pepper to taste. A word on the lemon: be generous. If you feel like you can't taste the citrus, add more. It's the tang that gives this dish unique flavor.
Serve at room temperature, sprinkled with parmesan cheese.