Aug 31, 2009

homemade pizza dough

Earlier this summer, while visiting my aunt and uncle in Utah, my aunt mentioned how delicious the homemade pizzas I featured here looked. Living in Utah (and I know lots of other places) that don't have Trader Joe's, she was at a loss to try it without a good pizza dough recipe. I knew there was an easy remedy to this set back. In fact, prior to finding the dough at Trader Joe's I made my own pizza dough quite often.

So I recently pulled out that recipe to try it again. Though it does take a tad bit longer than the quick and easy pre-made dough, it was so good that I might be converted back to doing in the old-fashioned way from now on. I find it so interesting as I've starting making more and more from scratch this summer how good food tastes when its homemade.

Like I said, this pizza dough takes a some time. Probably 15 minutes or so to make and then it needs to rest and rise for a couple hours, so plan ahead if you make it. Well worth the time though as it tastes like pizza dough should in my book, light and chewy.

homemade pizza dough
adapted from ROME

1 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups semolina flour, plus extra as needed
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

In a small bowl stir the yeast into 2 tablespoons lukewarm water. Let stand until creamy, about 3 minutes.

On a large work surface, sift together the flours and salt into a mound, then make a well in the center. Pour the yeast mixture, olive oil, and 1/4 cup lukewarm water into the well. Using your fingers, swirl the liquid in a circular motion, gradually incorporating flour from the sides (just and FYI - this can get messy, but once all the liquid is incorporated it will form the dough easily). Slowly add 1 cup lukewarm water to the well at the same time, until the ingredients are well combined and a rough dough has formed. Knead vigorously, stretching and pressing the dough against the work surface until it is soft and smooth and comes away cleanly from your hands, about 10 minutes. To check if the dough is sufficiently kneaded, cut off a piece: the cut surface should be pocked with small air holes.

Cover the dough with a damp kitchen towel and let rest for 5 minutes. Then divide the dough into 4 balls, cover again, and let rise at room temperature until doubled in volume, about 2 hours.

Once the dough has risen and is ready to be rolled place a pizza stone or unglazed tiles on the bottom rack of the oven and preheat to 500 degrees F. Lightly flour the work surface. Place 1 of the dough balls on the work surface, leaving the others under the damp towel. Punch down and flatten into a disk. Turn the disk over, sprinkle with additional flour, and using a rolling pin or your hands, roll or stretch out the dough into a 12 inch round, turning it over and dusting it regularly as you work.

Sprinkle a rimless baking sheet with semolina flour. Gently lay the dough round on top and cover evenly with your chosen toppings. Slide the pizza onto your baking stone or tiles and bake until the crust begins to brown and crisp, about 8-10 minutes.

alison's notes:
This would look a lot better if I rolled it out, but I was at a friends house and still haven't quite figured out how to throw dough into a round pizza shape.

(photography by: alison clayshulte)

Aug 26, 2009

garden risotto with pesto

Risotto is a healthy version of comfort food for me. With no butter, and little oil or fatty ingredients it is light enough to enjoy as often as wanted. Yet, it takes long enough to prepare that I don't have it very often. I love that, like pasta, it is so versatile - with seafood, vegetable, or meat versions, there are so many possibilities to try.

This risotto I made last week was a big hit. I used a simple mix of veggies, including summer squash, carrots and a few sugar snap peas. Once the risotto was done I topped it with a light basil-walnut pesto,whipped up quickly using basil from the garden and some extra walnuts and garlic I had on hand. This pesto is mild and added a little crunch and additional flavor to the already hearty risotto dish.

garden risotto with pesto
loosely adapted from The Gardener's Community Cookbook

for the risotto:

3 medium carrots, cut into small rounds
4 medium summer squash, diced
3/4 cup summer peas, halved
4 cups chicken broth
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium leek, trimmed, washed and finely chopped
1 heaping cup Arborio rice
2 cups finely shredded kale (or spinach), washed and drained
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese (optional)

Bring a medium pot of water to a boil. Drop in the carrots and cook over high head until almost soft, about 3 minutes. Add the squash and peas. Bring to a boil again and cook until blanched, about 1 minute more. Drain in a colander, rinse under cool water, and set aside to drip dry.

Heat the broth in a saucepan without letting it boil. Set off the heat on the back of the stovetop to keep warm.

Heat the oil in a large, nonreactive pot. Add the leek and saute over low heat until it is beginning to turn golden brown. Add the rice and stir to mix and coat with the oil. Raise the heat to medium, add 1/2 cup of the warm broth, and stir until the broth is absorbed but the rice is still moist.

Add anther 1/2 cup of the broth and continue stirring until most of the liquid is absorbed. Repeat the process, stirring gently but constantly and adjusting the heat to maintain a low simmer, until the broth is used up and the rice is tender and creamy but still al dente. The process takes about 30 minutes.

Prepare the pesto and set aside.

Add the kale and salt to the risotto and stir until wilted, about 1 more minute. Stir in the other vegetables and top with the pesto. Serve right away, accompanied by the Parmesan if using.

Serves 4 as a main dish with the pesto topping.

for the pesto:

1 cup walnut halves or pieces
2 small cloves garlic
2 cups fresh basil leaves
1/2 cup grated Parmesan or Asiago cheese
1/2 cup olive oil
1/4 teaspoon salt (optional)

In a food processor or blender pulse the walnuts and garlic together until fully mashed. Add the remaining ingredients and process into a smooth paste. Use right away or store in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. May be frozen for longer storage.

local ingredients:
Summer squash and garlic from the farm. Kale and basil from our garden. Carrots, summer squash, peas, leeks, kale, spinach, garlic, and basil are all in season right now and can be found at the farmer's market. I love the end of summer bounty!

alison's notes:
I definitely adjusted the vegetables originally called for in this recipe using what I had on hand or what looked fresh from the farmer's market. If you don't have the same vegetables I recommend using what's in season in your neck of the woods. This would be delicious with any combination of vegetables except tomatoes.

(photography by: alison clayshulte)

Aug 23, 2009

cantaloupe lime salad

I saw several varieties of melons at the farmer's market this weekend, including cantaloupe, honeydew, and watermelon. For some reason melons are one of those fruits that I love to buy, but sometimes have a hard time cutting open to enjoy. However, when I finally breakdown and do it, I'm usually pleasantly surprised at the juicy flavors that tickle my tongue.

This cantaloupe salad was a bit surprising in its flavor combinations, but so refreshing and lovely that I would definitely make it again. Also it worked quite well as left over's the next day, the melon simply soaked up more of the lime juice and had a bit more kick!

cantaloupe lime salad
adapted from Bon Appetit

1 cantaloupe, halved, seeded, and peeled
3 tablespoons fresh lime juice
3 tablespoons chopped fresh mint
2-3 teaspoons grated lime peel
1 tablespoon sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger
2 tablespoons honey

Cut cantaloupe into 1 inch cubes and place in a large bowl. Add lime juice, mint, and lime peel; toss to blend. Mix in sugar, ginger, and honey. Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve.

Serves 4 as a side salad.

local ingredients:
Melon from the farm. Fresh mint from our garden.

(photography by: alison clayshulte)

Aug 21, 2009

sour lemon pear scones

In my book good scones are something to be cherished. They are hearty yet full of flavor, and moist with a tender crumb. However, far to often when I purchase a scone I walk away with something dry and crumbly and sometimes tasting a bit like cardboard topped with sugar. Why is that?

After several such occasions I tried making them just to see what might happen (if you've read some of my recent posts you know I tend to do that). I must say that it took a bit of time, but was well worth the effort. I have yet to have a bad batch and I keep experimenting with different recipes and varieties of fruit, both fresh and dried. These scones were born last weekend when I was starring at a box of pears from my recent trip to the farm.

They are quite moist and have a subtle lemon flavor with yummy chunks of pear mixed in. They are a little messy to make, but the results are well worth extra clean up at the end. I've enjoyed these all week for breakfast with my tea by simply warming them up for a few minutes in oven.

sour lemon pear scones
adapted from Baked

4 cups all-purpose flour*
1/2 cup natural cane sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon ginger
1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter, cubed and cold
1 large egg
1 cup buttermilk
1/4 cup grated lemon zest (about 3 lemons)
4 cups chopped pears (4-5 pears)
1 tablespoon brown sugar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper.

Cut the pears into 1 inch cubes. Lay out all four cups onto a small baking sheet and place in the freezer to harden while preparing the scones.

In a large bowl, combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and ginger. Whisk until combined. Add the butter and using a pastry knife or two knives cut the butter into the flour until the butter is pea-sized.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the egg, 3/4 cup of the buttermilk, and the lemon zest. Slowly pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients, and then gently knead the dough with your hands until the dough starts to come together. Move the dough to a lightly floured surface and add the frozen chopped pears. Mix briefly to combine and then quickly shape the dough into a disc (about 1.5 inches in height). Be careful to not overwork the dough.

Cut the disc into wedges based on the preferred size of your scone (keeping the sizes as uniform as possible so that they cook for about the same amount of time). Place the wedges onto the prepared baking sheet. Brush each scone with the remaining buttermilk and sprinkle with brown sugar. Bake in the center of the oven for about 25 minutes (rotating the baking sheet halfway through) or until the scones are golden brown.

Transfer the scones to a cooling rack; they can be served warm or once cooled. Store in an air-tight container. To re-heat, set the oven at 300 degrees F for a few minutes an then place the scone directly on the oven rack for about 5 minutes. The fresh "re" toasting is well worth the extra time to get that nice toasty flavor.

Makes approximately 14 - 16 medium size scones.

alison's notes:
*I used an organic all-purpose flour that I found in the bulk section at Berkeley Bowl last week. I was so excited to find an organic flour in bulk. The search continues for a local organic flour.

The dough for these scones is very wet, especially with the pears. I recommend working quickly when shaping, cutting, and placing them on the pan.

(photography by: alison clayshulte)

Aug 13, 2009

tomato gratin

Returning with so many tomatoes from our recent farm trip has left me in a bit of a daze. I canned 9 quarts of them (notice my canning jars are getting bigger), and have several bags in the freezer, but there are ever more to be devoured. I can't complain, eating fresh homegrown tomatoes morning, noon and night is definitely a luxury that won't last long. But with so many I do find myself trying to go beyond the typical salads, pasta's and pizzas that I usually make.

Scanning through recipes for a different take on tomatoes I found this lovely tomato based gratin. It doesn't use a ton of tomatoes, actually only 3, which makes it easy for most people who don't just happen to have 10 pounds of tomatoes sitting on their kitchen counter. And it was super fast to whip up as a side dish to some fabulous fresh sausage that I recently picked up from the butcher.

tomato gratin
from The Savory Way by Deborah Madison

3 medium-sized ripe tomatoes (or 1 one huge one)
4 tablespoons cream
a handful of basil leaves, chopped
salt and freshly ground pepper
3 slices of wheat bread
freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. Slice the tomatoes into rounds about 1/4 inch thick. Overlap them in an 8 x 8 sized baking dish so that they aren't too crowded. Pour over the cream, sprinkle the basil over the top and lightly season with salt and pepper. Bake for about 15 minutes or until the cream has boiled up around the edges. While the tomatoes are baking toast the bread and cut it into 2 inch strips. Distribute the strips over 2 serving dishes, serve the tomatoes with their sauce over the toast, and garnish with Parmesan cheese.

Serves 2 as a side dish (2 of us ate almost all of it so I would recommend doubling the recipe and using a larger baking dish if you want to serve more).

local ingredients:
It is tomato season so you should be able to find some yummy heirloom varieties at any farmer's market. I got the tomatoes and the basil from the farm, and I used Horizon Organic Heavy Whipping Cream.

(photography by: alison clayshulte)

Aug 12, 2009

flank steak salad with chimichurri sauce

I've grown fond of fresh parsley this summer. Until recently I had always used dried parsley from the herb rack when cooking. I might throw it in a soup or toss it on fresh pasta now and again, but honestly I didn't really know the use for it.

All that changed in May during a cooking class I took at La Cocina called Stocks, Soups, and Sauces. In the last part of the class, where we learned about sauces, a group of us made a salsa verde with fresh Italian parsley. A rustic sauce full of flavor, it was quickly chopped and mixed to use on top of grilled steaks. I couldn't believe I had never made or even heard of salsa verde. Which is why I love taking cooking classes, they help me get out of my cooking comfort zone so I can learn to make and subsequently taste new amazing food.

Since that night I've learned more about salsa verde, or green sauce as it is also called. Interestingly the sauce can be found in all parts of the world by a different name and with slight variations in the ingredients. There are the Italian, French, and German variations, the Argentinian chimichurri, and the Mexican tomatillo version, all of which (besides the Mexican recipe) are based around a mixture of fresh herbs, a bit of oil, vinegar, salt and pepper.

This recipe highlights the Argentinian version, a chimichurri sauce made with the basic ingredients and blended in a food processor until smooth. It provides an excellent seasoning for the steak and mixed in with the greens is a nice light dressing for the entire dish. If you don't eat meat (or even if you do) I also recommend trying this version of salsa verde from Orangette, a very flavorful way to dress up roasted potatoes.

flank steak salad with chimichurri sauce
adapted from Bon Appetit

1/2 large bunch fresh Italian parsley
1 tablespoon fresh oregano leaves, tightly packed (about 3 sprigs)
3 garlic cloves, peeled
1/4 cup olive oil
1/8 cup red wine vinegar
1/2 teaspoon chipotle hot pepper sauce
salt and pepper to taste
1 1/2-pound flank steak
1 onion, roasted and chopped
8 ounces mixed baby greens
1 cucumber, chopped
1 red bell pepper, chopped

Prepare grill to cook steak. Sprinkle steak on both sides with salt and pepper; work them in with your hands; tenderize the meat. (I tenderized the meat using a meat tenderizer mallet, if you don't have one I recommend following the directions at the above link). Set meat aside until the grill is ready.

Combine parsley (with stems), oregano and garlic in a food processor. Blend until just mixed. Add olive oil, vinegar, and chipotle pepper sauce to processor and blend until smooth. Season dressing with salt and pepper. Wash and dry the salad greens.

Brush grill rack with vegetable oil to prevent the meat from sticking. Grill steak to desired doneness, about 5 minutes per side for medium-rare. At the same time roast the sliced onion on the grill. Once the onion is beginning to soften transfer to work surface and chop. Once the steak is done transfer to work surface; let it rest for 5 minutes.

Lay the greens out on a platter and top with chopped cucumber, pepper, and roasted onion. Thinly slice steak across the grain on a diagonal. Arrange steak atop salad mixture. Drizzle with dressing and serve.

This serves 4-6 as a main dish. I served it with a side of chipotle cheddar biscuits for a little more kick (recipe to come).

local ingredients:
Italian parsley, oregano, garlic, onion, cucumber, and bell pepper can be purchased fresh at the farmer's market, or at the grocery. I'm using a variety of greens from the garden, however if you are purchasing them look for organic greens and get a couple different varieties. I used Eel River Organic and Grass fed flank steak from Berkeley Bowl in Berkeley. It looks like they ship as well as service a growing number of grocery stores in the Bay Area. This meat was incredibly tasty and very lean.

alison's notes:
After reading the reviews online I decided to half this dressing (which are the instructions I've included above, along with my own other adjustments). If you decide to cook more steak, or like a lot of dressing, you can easily double the dressing.

(photography by: alison clayshulte)

Aug 11, 2009

life on the farm

I live in the city, and have for quite some time. Though I love it, lately I find myself really looking forward to getting away and taking a break from busy city life. Needless to say, when my brother, Jon, and I found a weekend that worked for both of us for a visit to the farm where he lives and works, I was thrilled. So early Saturday morning Matt and I packed up the car and headed southeast to Firebaugh, CA, a little town about an hour from Fresno in the Central Valley. As part of the new generation of young farmers, Jon has been interning on an organic vegetable and goat farm since March, learning from seasoned farmer John Teixeira.

We had a blast visiting with the goats and learning how the milking works. Soon after we got there Jon showed me how to make blue cheese with fresh milk from the morning milking. A definite highlight of the trip, I am now the proud owner of a round of blue that has started its aging process. I'm excited to try it...but now must wait two months for it to be ready.

(ready for milking)

(checking out the camera)

(making cheese: 1. fresh milk; 2. stove top; 3. fresh curds; 4. molded with salt)

There was also an abundance of vegetables and fruit to try, namely tomatoes. We probably tasted at least 20 different kinds of heriloom tomatoes that were growing on the farm. Words don't even begin to describe the flavors, some like candy so sweet and tangy, others more tart or spicy, and the list goes on and on. Walking through the tomato field, we'd call each other over for a tasting when we found an especially good variety.

The honey dew and cantaloupe were tangy and filled our mouths with their sweet juices. The nectarines were divine, the garlic and onions burst with flavor, and the beautiful red pears just ready to be picked filled a box that we brought home to eventually enjoy.

(heirloom tomatoes)

(black corn)

(Jon with his tomato patch)

(headed home)

I was reminded this weekend that life on the farm is not busy in the way city life is, but it is quite busy in other ways. Working with the goats, moving the water, tending to the vegetables, picking ripe fruit, and figuring out how to eat the abundance of produce now and how to save it for the winter. I know that I just got a glimpse at this life, and a very easy one at that, but by the end of the weekend I was exhausted and elated. Each time I visit a farm my appreciation for where our food comes from grows. Overall it was a fabulous trip, and I can't wait for my next farm visit.

I'll be back tomorrow with a yummy steak salad recipe that is dressed with fresh herbs and lots of greens.

(photography by: alison clayshulte)

Aug 5, 2009

homemade granola

It was about a year ago that the idea to make homemade granola started to form. At that time a typical breakfast included a couple scoops of granola, fresh fruit, and yogurt - either plain with honey or vanilla. After a few months the store bought granola's just weren't cutting it any more. This was partly due to the fact that I began to get picky about the flavor, some were too sweet, and other's kind of bland. But it was also due to me taking the time to look closer at the ingredient list. Some granola's were fine with nothing extra added that I didn't recognize and not too much sugar, however other's were a bit scary.

As I searched out new granola possibilities I tried higher quality "fresh" granola from local bakeries, my favorite local co-op, and even hit up the Whole Foods Market down the street. Don't get me wrong, I found some good stuff. I think eventually I just wanted to see how hard it was to make it on my own, and was excited about being able to tailor the flavors and sweetness level exactly to my taste.

So over the winter I began experimenting with my own granola. I tried a couple recipes, and I gave some as gifts. And after a month or two I established a recipe I love. What's nice is that it only takes about an hour (or less, once you've done it a couple times), and not only do I know exactly what goes in it, but I can make adjustments as needed.

Right now I'm making this granola (or a version of it) about twice a month in order to keep up with the demand at my house. Almost daily I find myself reaching for the granola jar for a couple scoops to top off my breakfast or snack on mid-afternoon.

homemade granola

4 cups rolled oats
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup flax seeds (optional)
1/4 cup + 2 tablespoons coconut oil
1/2 cup honey
1/2 cup cane sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup whole raw almonds
3/4 cup walnuts, chopped or baking size
1/2 cup golden raisins
1/2 cup dried cherries

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper.

In a large bowl toss the oats, cinnamon, salt, and flax seeds (if using).

In a small saucepan heat the coconut oil, honey, sugar, and vanilla extract until combined and the sugar has dissolved. Pour the wet mixture over the oat mixture and mix well with a wooden spoon.

Pour the mix onto the prepared baking sheet. Spread it out evenly using the back of the spoon. It is usually a little clumpy and that's good, the clumps will transform into little nuggets of granola.

Bake for 10 minutes, then remove from the oven and use a metal spatula to flip the granola. Sprinkle the almonds over the granola and cook for another 5 minutes.

Remove from the oven and using a metal spatula flip the granola again. Sprinkle the walnuts over the granola and bake for another 5-8 minutes. Watch it carefully at this point as you don't want it to burn. Remove from the oven and let it cool completely.

Sprinkle the raisins and cherries over the granola. Using a spoon break the granola up into manageable pieces and scoop into an air tight container (I use old canning jars). The granola will keep for up to two weeks.

Lately, with the warm weather, I've been storing mine in the fridge to keep it as fresh as possible. However, I've also let it sit on the counter for a couple weeks and it is fine, just not as crunchy as I prefer.

local ingredients:
I don't use any specific local ingredients for this recipe. I do use organic products for everything but the nuts, and if I can find local dried fruit that isn't raisins or cherries I will use that as a substitute for the standby dried fruits listed above.

alison's notes:
*This makes about 6-8 cups cooked granola. The recipe can easily be cut in half.
**I have also experimented with using seeds such as sunflower or sesame. These versions also come out nicely, and I might use a few less nuts to balance out the ratio of oats to extra goodies.

(photography by: alison clayshulte)

Aug 3, 2009

Summer Ratatouille

If your looking for something tasty to do with all of those summer vegetables try this easy Summer Ratatouille. I don't know how many of you were intrigued by this dish after the movie, Ratatouille came out several years ago, but I sure was. Since then I've experimented with a few different recipes for this popular French dish. I like this version for it's simplicity and the roasted flavors that emerge after the vegetables are cooked.

Summer Ratatouille
Adapted from Donna Hay

2 red bell peppers, quartered and seeded
2 yellow bell peppers, quartered and seeded
2 green bell peppers, quartered and seeded
2 eggplants, cut into medium-sized wedges*
4 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
3 zucchini, chopped
6 roma tomatoes, chopped
1 red onion, cut into wedges
1 tablespoon oregano leaves
3 tablespoons olive oil
sea salt and freshly ground pepper
1/4 cup basil leaves (cut in half if large)
pine nuts (optional)

Place the bell peppers on a large cookie sheet or broiler pan and broil for 5 minutes until the skins are charred around the edges.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Cover the bottom of a frying pan with 1 tablespoon of the olive oil. Over medium-high heat, cook the eggplant wedges in the olive oil, being sure to flip at least once to cook both sides. Cook until each side is golden, several minutes per side.

In a large baking dish place the roasted peppers, cooked eggplant, garlic, zucchini, tomato, onion and oregano. Toss to combine. Pour the remaining two tablespoons of olive oil over the vegetables, and sprinkle with salt and pepper.

Cover with foil and bake for 40 minutes, or until soft. Just before serving toss through the basil leaves. If adding the pine nuts, sprinkle as desired over each serving.

Serves 6 as a side dish.

Local Ingredients:
All vegetables picked up from the Farmer's Market. Herbs pulled from backyard garden.

Alison's Notes:
*I cut my eggplants into small slices and it didn't quite work, they were good on the first night but became kind of chewy when I had this for leftovers. I think they would last longer and probably be less chewy overall if the wedges were medium size.

(photography by: alison clayshulte)