July 26, 2009


Lousy lighting aside, isn't it beautiful? That's my pizza dough, about halfway through kneading it. After making pizza from scratch, I'm ruined for the takeout variety. Try it at home; you'll be hooked.

I based the pizza dough on two recipes from the New York Times Bitten blog, one from Mark Bittman and another from Emily Weinstein.   

Basic Pizza Dough
Yield: 1 thick crust (or 2 thin crust) half sheet-pan sized pizza

1 to 1 1/4 cups warm water
1 teaspoon honey
1/2 packet active dry yeast
3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour (plus additional couple of tablespoons for work surface)
2 teaspoons medium-grain sea salt or kosher salt 
1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil (separated)

Activating the yeast:
  • Stir together 1/2 cup of the warm water, honey, and yeast. Let sit in a warm place until the mixture is bubbly.
Forming the dough:
  • In a large bowl stir together the yeast mixture, flour, salt, and olive oil. Add another 1/2 cup warm water. When the dough begins to form a ball, it's a good time to start folding with your hands (much easier than using a spoon). Add additional warm water in very small amounts (up to 1/4 cup total) if needed to get the dough to form a ball. The texture should be slightly sticky, but workable.
Developing the gluten for a nice, chewy crust (aka kneading):
  • Transfer the dough to a clean, lightly floured work surface (I did this on the counter). Knead for 5 to 10 minutes. Add a little more flour to the surface if the dough starts to stick.
Letting it rise:
  • Place the dough in a lightly oiled bowl and cover with a damp towel (or plastic wrap). Set the bowl in a warm place to rise (I kept the bowl on the stovetop, with the oven set to 200 F to provide some warmth). Allow dough to rise until it has doubled in size (about 1 to 2 hours).
  • While the dough rises, prepare your pizza toppings (see below).
Shaping, assembly, and baking:
  • When you are ready to assemble and bake the pizza, preheat oven to 450 degrees.
  • Move dough to a lightly floured surface and punch it down. Divide into portions and roll each portion into a ball.
  • Transfer a portion of dough to a lightly oiled baking sheet, and shape the dough with your hands into desired shape. Brush crust with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and black pepper. Add toppings and bake for 20-25 minutes (for thick crust like we made below) or 10-15 minutes for thin crust.
Mise en place: toppings and dough, ready for assembly

  • Fresh mozzarella, thinly sliced
  • Oil-cured black olives, chopped
  • Hot Italian sausage, crumbled and browned in a bit of olive oil
  • Grape tomatoes, halved, tossed with olive oil, salt and pepper, and roasted at 400 F for 15 minutes
  • Fresh grape tomatoes, halved
  • Marinated artichoke hearts, chopped
  • Sauteed broccoli rabe (not pictured)
We made 2 square crusts side by side on a half sheet pan. Putting on the toppings:
Veg pie: mozzarella, roasted and fresh grape tomatoes, broccoli rabe, and olives.Meaty pie: mozzarella, spicy sausage, artichoke hearts, olives, grape tomatoes.

July 21, 2009

Sustainable Seafood Guide

Check out this post from Tara Parker-Pope of the New York Times Well blog on sustainable seafood options. The article also includes a link to a great resource from California's Monterey Bay Aquarium: a seafood watch pocket guide. The guide categorizes varieties of fish, shellfish, and mollusks as:
  • Best choices: those that are abundant, well managed, and caught or farmed in environmentally friendly ways
  • Good alternatives: these are an option, although concerns exist regarding how the seafood is caught or farmed or the health of their habitat due to other human impacts
  • Avoid: seafood caught or farmed in ways that harm other marine life or the environment

Click on the your state for a customized, up-to-date guide for your region. I just printed out the Northeast version to have on hand at the seafood counter and in restaurants.

July 18, 2009

The Ashrams Are Packed

Interesting article from the New York Times this week. 
I'd go if I could get guaranteed kitchen duty. The idea of cleaning ashram toilets scares me.

Baked Polenta with Wild Mushrooms and Sundried Tomatoes

Last night was one of those nights - it seemed there was nothing in the fridge that could be turned into a reasonably interesting dinner. As I had no desire to go grocery shopping, ordering in started to appear inevitable. But then I started exploring the pantry and found that a homemade dinner might just be possible.

Discovery #1: a bag of Trader Joe's dried wild mushrooms, which my mom forced on me last time I was at my parents' house. Discovery #2: polenta. And discovery #3: sundried tomatoes. There it was, staring right at me -- baked polenta with wild mushrooms and sundried tomatoes! In the fridge I found fresh rosemary and two kinds of cheese (an Amish raw milk Colby and parmesan). Things were definitely looking up.

I poured boiling water over the mushrooms (a mixture of porcini, shiitake, black, and oyster) and sundried tomatoes and allowed them to steep for about 15 minutes. I soaked the mushrooms and tomatoes separately, even though they were going into the same dish, because the mushroom soaking liquid is very flavorful and I was thinking of making a sauce with it. (To me, the sundried tomato soaking liquid is eh, although I'm sure there is a use for it.)

While the mushrooms and tomatoes were soaking, I made the polenta: 1 cup of polenta whisked into 3 cups of boiling water to which 1/2 teaspoon of sea salt had been added. The photo below is from about halfway through the polenta cooking process; when it's done it is much thicker and starts to pull away from the sides of the pot -- and it requires more muscle to stir. It took about 15 minutes to cook (for a detailed polenta cooking description, read this.)

When the mushrooms and tomatoes were well hydrated and pliable, I squeezed them gently to remove excess liquid and then chopped them. I added the mushrooms and tomatoes to the pot with the cooked polenta, along with:
  • 1 tablespoon of XVOO
  • 2 tablespoons of the strained mushroom soaking liquid
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons of minced fresh rosemary
  • 1/2 teaspoon of dried red pepper flakes
  • pinches of sea salt and black pepper
Then I transferred the polenta mixture to an 8x8-inch baking dish and topped it with shredded Colby and parmesan.

(Here's where I covered the pan with aluminum foil and went for a nice evening bike ride in Central Park!)

When I returned, I heated the oven to 400F and baked the polenta, uncovered, for about 25 minutes, until the cheese on top was bubbly and browned.

The mushroom soaking liquid tasted fabulous, so I reduced it on the stovetop in a small saucepan. When it had reduced to about 1/4 of the original volume, I removed it from the heat, whisked in a few lumps of cold butter (beurre monte: "mounted with butter"), and seasoned it with salt and pepper. It was the essence of mushroom! The sauce was delicious drizzled over the baked polenta. (I think it would be even better tossed with pasta - an idea for next time!).

With the polenta I made a frisee and green leaf salad dressed with a fennel seed vinaigrette:
  • Lightly toast fennel seeds in a small pan, crush them with mortar and pestle
  • Whisk together with 1 T red wine vinegar, 3 to 4 T XVOO, pinches of salt and black pepper
I sprinkled the salad with finely chopped candied ginger (my mom adds this to salad sometimes and I love it). Not bad for a pantry raid!

July 15, 2009

Fresh Herb Infusions

Homemade herb-infused oils, vinegars, and honey are versatile pantry items that add beautiful color and flavor to all sorts of dishes. They are also a great way to extend the flavors of summer's herbal bounty.
Herb-infused oils are perfect for finishing pasta, grilled vegetables, fish, and poultry; infused vinegars punch up the flavor in dressings; and infused honeys add subtle flavor to tea, hot cereal, yogurt, and desserts. This week I've experimented with infused honey and olive oil; I also plan to make some herb-infused vinegars soon.

Lemon Balm Honey
(above photo, left)

I got the idea for this honey here.

Wash, dry, and roughly chop lemon balm leaves. In a clean mason jar, place a layer of lemon balm, followed by a layer of honey. Repeat until jar is full, finishing with a layer of honey. Close the jar tightly. If you use a pourable honey, like I did, the lemon balm will rise to the top. I've been inverting the jar each day to ensure it all stays mixed together.

Lemon Balm-Infused Olive Oil
(above photo, right)

Wash, dry, and roughly chop lemon balm leaves. Place in a clean mason jar and cover completely with extra-virgin olive oil. Stir to combine, cover tightly, and let sit at room temperature for about 1 week before using. Shake jar each day.

Rosemary Olive Oil

Wash and dry rosemary sprigs (I used both leaves and stems) and place in a jar (tear the sprigs into smaller pieces, if needed, so they fit into the jar and will stay submerged in the oil). Pour in enough olive oil to completely cover the rosemary, stir, and cover tightly. After infusing for 3 to 4 days, the oil will be ready to use; longer infusion will continue to intensify the flavor. Shake the jar each day.
For a vibrant green oil that can be used right away, whirl the rosemary leaves (no stems) with olive oil and parsley leaves in a blender. Since rosemary has such an assertive flavor, you won't be able to taste the parsley but it will lend its bright color to the oil. This can be used right away as a beautiful finishing oil.

July 9, 2009

Calming Holy Basil and Lemon Balm Infusion

I've been having trouble sleeping lately. This is likely related to an existential crisis with hints of angst and boredom. Who knows, maybe you can relate (if not - congratulations!). And it happens that I've also been reading a lot about the medicinal uses of herbs. Two very informative herbalist blogs to check out: The Herbwife's Kitchen and Methow Valley Herbs. This is "backyard herbalism," using local, indigenous plants, rather than exotic or mysterious ingredients, to support health and well-being. A good book to learn about herbalism is The Book of Herbal Wisdom, by Matthew Wood.

Holy basil (aka tulsi) and lemon balm have calming, comforting qualities, and can help improve sleep. So for the last few days I've been drinking a cup of Tulsi Tea each day at work (it comes in tea bags, so it's easy to transport), and every evening I've been making a small pot of holy basil and lemon balm tea using organically grown, loose, dried herbs (I bought them at a local shop). Which reminds me, my mom has some lemon balm growing in her garden...I might just have to pick some when I'm home this weekend and dry it myself.

Back to the tea - I use 1 heaping teaspoon each of holy basil and lemon balm leaf, pour about 10-12 ounces boiling water over the leaves, and allow to steep for 15-20 minutes. This longer steeping creates an infusion (or medicinal tea) rather than a regular tea. And you know, I've been sleeping like a baby.

Thank you, mother nature. 

A very greenmarket dinner

There were lovely asparagus and eggs at the Greenmarket today, so it seemed a good night to make an asparagus frittata. A frittata is basically an Italian open-faced omelette, started on the stovetop and finished under the broiler.
  • Asparagus (about 3/4 pound)
  • 6 large eggs
  • Splash of whole milk (about 2T)
  • XVOO
  • S&P
  • Pinch of freshly ground nutmeg
I washed, dried, and chopped up the asparagus, and heated about 2T XVOO in a skillet (ideally cast iron, but I don't have one, so I used stainless steel. I need to get to Zabar's second floor for a cast iron skillet very soon...). Sauteed the asparagus till crisp-tender and bright green.

While the asparagus was cooking, I whisked together the eggs with a splash of milk, a pinch of sea salt, pepper, and nutmeg. I poured the egg mixture over the asparagus and stirred everything together. Kept stirring for about 3 minutes till the eggs were starting to set but still wet on top. Then I put the pan under the oven broiler for about 3 minutes till the top of the frittata was golden brown and puffed up a bit.

There were so many gorgeous greens at the farmers market today, I had trouble choosing which ones to buy. After much deliberation I selected Lolla Rossa lettuce (mild with tender, burgundy-colored leaves) and frisee (slightly bitter, with long spindly whitish green leaves).

I'm not exaggerating when I say my trusty greens spinner (below) has changed my life. Since I have very limited kitchen space, and I'm usually cooking for 1 or 2 people, I got an herb spinner, which is smaller than a salad spinner and works perfectly well for smaller amounts of greens. I used to wash the greens and spread them on a towel to dry; but they always retained a lot of water and the dressing didn't adhere to them very well. With the spinner you get out so much more water, so you don't dilute your dressing! You can wash the greens in the bowl part of the spinner, drain them using the colander (2-3 changes of water depending on how much dirt is on the greens), and then spin them dry. Genius.

I made a simple garlic vinaigrette based on Sally Fallon's recipe in Nourishing Traditions. I minced a clove of garlic, and using a fork whisked it together with about 1 tsp of stoneground mustard, 1 T raw red wine vinegar, a pinch of Celtic sea salt, and a pinch of black pepper in a small glass. Then I added about 4 T XVOO, whisking with the fork, and stirred in a bit of flax oil (about a teaspoon).

The greens were tossed with some dressing, and voila - asparagus frittata and Lolla Rossa-frisee salad with garlic vinaigrette. Oh, and blueberries for dessert. A perfect summer dinner.

July 8, 2009


I neglected to include a photo of kohlrabi in my last post, so here it is. Kohl is German for cabbage, and it turns out that kohlrabi (Brassica oleracea gongylodes) is in the cruciferous family. It is related to cabbage, broccoli, and cauliflower. 
The kohlrabi bulb grows above ground; it can have green or purple skin (both varieties look identical on the inside). The interior is white, very crisp, almost like a dense apple, and with a sweet, refreshing flavor. If they're very young the bulbs don't need to be peeled; these were older I think (the skin was a little tough) so I peeled them. Absolutely delicious raw (simply sprinkled with sea salt, or to scoop up garlic scape hummus), sauteed, or braised. 
Several stems and leaves emerge from each bulb (I'd already cut the leaves off when I took this photo). Young kohlrabi leaves can be steamed or sauteed; the flavor is similar to collard greens (I did a saute/quick braise of the greens from these kohlrabi -- the flavor was good but they were a little tough. A longer braise might have done the trick, but I was impatient for dinner.) 
A terrific book for learning everything you ever wanted to know about vegetables (and fruits, grains, seeds, beans, etc.) and their health-supportive properties is The New Whole Foods Encyclopedia, by Rebecca Wood. It's great to have on hand when dealing with new ingredients, and it's just fun to read in general. 

July 4, 2009

Wild Salmon with Coconut Green Curry, Kohlrabi, and Baby Bok Choy

A local Thai restaurant makes a terrific salmon with green curry. I've been craving salmon for a couple of days -- so I thought why not recreate the dish myself? Garden of Eden, on Broadway between 107th and 108th, has a very good fish counter, and yesterday they had beautiful wild sockeye salmon fillet. So that's what I decided to go with for this dish.

You can use any veggies you like; I included kohlrabi and baby bok choy. Red onion, garlic, and jalapeno are must-haves for Thai curries -- I would have added fresh ginger, too, but when I started cooking realized I was out of it. The fish sauce doesn't give the curry a fishy taste, it just adds umami. One of these days I will get around to making my own Thai chili paste. But I can't seem to find good-looking fresh lemongrass (or galangal) at the markets near me. Luckily, Thai Kitchen makes great red and green chili pastes.

Broiled Wild Salmon with Coconut Green Curry, Kohlrabi, and Baby Bok Choy

2 T sesame oil plus 2 teaspoons, separated (NOT toasted)
1 red onion, halved and cut into thin saute slices (sliced "with the grain," parallel to root)
1 large clove garlic, finely chopped
1 small to medium size kohlrabi, peeled and cut into batons (1/4" by 1/4" by 1-1/2" pieces; about 1/2 cup)
1 jalapeno, stem and seeds removed, cut lengthwise into julienne
1 baby bok choy, leaves and stems cut into bite-size pieces and rinsed well (about 2 cups)
1 can coconut milk
2-3 T green (or red) Thai chili paste, to taste
1/4 teaspoon fish sauce
2/3 to 3/4 pound wild Alaskan salmon fillet, cut crosswise into 3rds
Sea salt (medium-grained)
Freshly ground black pepper
1 scallion, thinly sliced
  • Heat 2T sesame oil in a medium saute pan.
  • Saute onion with a pinch of salt for about 5 minutes, until softened and starting to turn golden.
  • Add garlic and stir for 1 minute.
  • Add kohlrabi and jalapeno and saute 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  • Add bok choy to the pan and cook an additional 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  • Add coconut milk, then fill can 1/4 way with water and add that to the pan too. Stir in chili paste (to taste). Season with salt. Cover and simmer until vegetables are tender, about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  • Preheat broiler. Sprinkle salmon with salt and black pepper, and drizzle with 2 teaspoons sesame oil. Broil skin-side down on a parchment-lined baking sheet for 5-8 minutes, to desired doneness. Transfer to a plate and let sit 5 minutes before serving. Remove skin before serving (if desired).
  • Serve salmon over curry and vegetables, garnished with scallions.

July 3, 2009

Quinoa Two Ways

Quinoa is such a cool little seed. The Incas believed it made warriors strong; they called it the "mother seed" and regarded it as a sacred food. Quinoa is a "pseudocereal," not a grain, because the plant it comes from (Chenopodium quinoa, related to beets, chard, and spinach) is not a true grass. Technicalities aside, quinoa is quick-cooking and delicious, with a delicate nutty flavor and chewy texture. It is also high in protein and contains all 9 of the essential amino acids, meaning it provides a complete protein. This can't be said for grains such as wheat and rice. For more technical info about quinoa, check out this and this.

Quinoa seeds are coated with bitter, soap-like substances called saponins, which require soaking and thorough rinsing to remove. Usually this has been done before you buy it, so it just requires a quick rinse before cooking to ensure no saponins remain. However, like most whole grains, quinoa can still benefit from soaking before it's cooked -- this makes it easier to digest and increases nutrient availability. To soak, take 1 cup quinoa, and add 2 cups water and a splash of raw apple cider vinegar. Let sit covered at room temperature for 8-12 hours, then cook (you can use the soaking water to cook the quinoa, unlike bean soaking water, which should be discarded).

Cooking quinoa:
  • Bring quinoa and water (1:2 ratio of quinoa to water; or drain soaked quinoa and cook in stock or broth) to a boil, add a pinch of salt, stir, and reduce heat to low.
  • Cover and simmer for 12-15 minutes (different brands require slightly different cooking times), until the outer germ layer separates from the seed and the seed is somewhat translucent. I like my quinoa al dente -- tender but with a little bite to it.
I make a pot of quinoa once or twice a week, and then use it in a variety of dishes over the days that follow: in salads, in place of rice in pilafs and with stir-fries and curries, and warmed up for breakfast with fruit or eggs on top.

Quinoa Tabouleh
Quinoa makes a great substitute for bulgur wheat in a light, summery salad with lots of parsley

1 1/2 cups cooked quinoa
1 tomato, core and seeds removed, diced small
1/2 cup finely diced cucumber (I use English cucumber, which has a thin, tender skin and smaller seeds; it doesn't need to be peeled or seeded)
1/4 cup finely diced radishes
1/2 cup finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
2-3 T lemon juice (to taste)
1/4 cup XVOO
Salt and black pepper, to taste
  • Combine all ingredients in a bowl, seasoning to taste with lemon juice and salt and black pepper. Keeps a couple of days in the fridge.

Quinoa and Berry Breakfast Porridge
A delicious, nourishing, and quick to prepare way to start the day, and a great use for leftover quinoa

1 cup cooked quinoa
1/2 cup coconut milk plus 1-2 T, separated (unsweetened)
1/2 cup berries (blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, strawberries, etc)
1/2 teaspoon raw honey (optional)
  • Combine quinoa and 1/2 cup coconut milk in a small saucepan with a lid.
  • Simmer, covered, for 5-8 minutes, until mixture has thickened and has a porridge-like consistency.
  • Before serving, top with 1-2 T coconut milk and berries, and drizzle with honey (if desired)