Caprese Pizza

Margarita PizzaThis recipe is a family favorite around here. The pizza crust is incredibly versatile – you can top it with just about anything your heart desires. I’ve been serving the Caprese Pizza lately because it’s meatless so it’s a perfect Friday night dinner solution during Lent. I know some people practice ‘Meatless Mondays’ – this recipe would fit in nicely with that program too.

Crust:

  • 1-1/2 cups King Arthur Italian Flour
  • 1-1/2 cups all- purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons yeast
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 tablespoon King Arthur pizza dough flavor (you can sub 1 T grated Parmesan mixed with Italian seasoning)
  • 1 tablespoon dry milk
  • 3/4 cup + 2 tablespoons lukewarm water
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil (you may want to add more, but start with 2 tablespoons)

Combine all ingredients in bowl of mixer, starting with dry ingredients. You can use 3 cups all purpose flour if you don’t have the Italian flour available. Mix with dough hook attachment for 5- 10 minutes until dough is slightly sticky to the touch and just a little bit shiny. It should be stickier than bread dough.  Cover and let rise for about 1 hour. Coat hands with olive oil and pull out half of the dough. On greased aluminum foil gently stretch dough into approx 12 x 12 square. Do the same with the other half of pizza dough. Cover with white kitchen towel for 25 minutes. Pre-heat oven to 450 Fahrenheit with 2 pizza pans in oven.

After 25 minutes, remove pizza pans and transfer crusts, foil and all, onto pans. Bake in oven for 6 minutes.

While crusts are baking, assemble toppings:

  • 20 ounces fresh mozzarella, sliced thin
  • 1/4 cup olive oil (I add a dash of garlic oil for a little extra flavor)
  • 1 tablespoon shredded Parmesan
  • 4 sliced tomatoes
  • fresh basil
  • salt & pepper to taste

After removing half baked crusts from the oven, use basting brush to spread the olive oil and parmesan mix evenly between the two crusts. Then add the mozzarella followed by tomatoes. Top with fresh basil. Add a little salt and pepper before placing back in the oven to bake for 8-10 minutes.

Remove the delicious pizzas from oven and let them sit for about 3 minutes. Then slice them up, drizzle with a little balsamic vinegar and serve. This is so easy, fairly inexpensive and completely delicious. The crust can be used for almost any kind of pizza. I like to top it with a little BBQ sauce, shredded chicken, bacon, jalapenos and mozzarella cheese too. You can’t go wrong with just a regular old pepperoni with red sauce.

Try it – you’ll like it!

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Chocolate-Marshmallow Filled Cake

Chocolate Marshmallow CakeJ’adore chocolat! Do you feel the same? Chances are you love chocolate too. Let me start by warning you that this recipe is not healthy. It is not gluten-free or dairy-free, low-cal or high fiber. This is just pure yummy goodness in comfort food form that feels as good as a hug. Make it, share it and allow yourself to have at least one small piece. Valentine’s Day is a perfect time to make this cake for your sweetheart, yourself, or to bring to the office in hopes that your boss will finally give you that well-deserved raise.

The cake

  • 2 c sugar – I use raw organic
  • 1-3/4 c all-purpose flour, King Arthur brand
  • 3/4 c Bensdorp dutch process cocoa
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 tablespoon espresso powder for baking (instant coffee would work too)
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 c coconut milk
  • 1/2 c olive oil
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 1 c boiling water

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.  Grease two 9″ cake pans with butter then coat with flour or use one of my favorite short cuts – ‘Pam Baking Spray with Flour’. Seriously, it’s so easy you’ll love it.

In medium bowl combine all dry ingredients from sugar through salt; mix. In separate medium bowl combine wet ingredients from eggs through vanilla extract and mix gently.

Pour 1/2 of dry mix then 1/2 of wet mix into large mixing bowl and blend well. I use my standing mixer, but a hand mixer will work just fine here. Now pour the other 1/2 of dry mix into large bowl and combine well before adding the remainder of wet mix. Now add the cup of boiling water and mix well. Pour half of the very runny batter into each pan and bake on middle rack for about 32-35 minutes.

Let cake cool for approx 10 minutes before inverting onto cooling rack. Let cool completely before moving on to next step.

Marshmallow Filling

  • 1/2 c butter, room temperature
  • 2 c marshmallow fluff
  • 1/4 c powdered sugar

Whip the butter and fluff together, then add the powdered sugar slowly. I think the fluff is already pretty darn sweet, so add more or less sugar to taste.

Spread filling on one of the 9″ chocolate cakes, then top with the other half. Use the fluff to fill and smooth joint after putting them together. As you can tell in the picture above, I did not use toothpicks to hold the two cake halves in place. If you use a few toothpicks the cake and filling won’t slide around like they did for me. Just remember to count the toothpicks when you put them in and count them when you cut the cake!!! Usually 3 will do the trick.

Ganache

  • 1 c milk chocolate chips (Semi-sweet will work too, use whatever you have on hand).
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1/2 c heavy cream

Get out your trusty old double boiler or, if you don’t have one, a small pot. Heat the butter and chocolate over very low heat. Slowly stir in cream being careful not to let it boil. If it boils, you’re done for. Dump out the bad mix and begin again. Once you have a creamy, molten chocolate mixture let it cool slightly before carefully pouring over the top of your assembled cake. Remember: this is NOT frosting so it should be a runny consistency more like chocolate syrup than buttercream. It will not cover the whole cake, but make sure to let it run over the sides of your cake. Let the ganache cool and set up before digging in. Be warned – once you serve this cake you will be asked to bring it to picnics, dinner parties, girl’s night get-togethers, etc.

Now a little about my choice of ingredients. I have been using King Arthur Flour products almost exclusively since last June when I signed up for the ‘Baker’s Reward Plus’ program. It costs $40 for a 1 year membership and you get free shipping on any order over $25 plus extra coupons etc. I purchase just about all of my baking supplies exclusively from them. If you really enjoy baking, try their products and see if you can taste the difference – I know that I can! (KAF doesn’t pay me to promote their products, by the way). I really love that their ingredients are high-quality. The flour is all unbleached and unbromated. It’s made from non-gmo crops as well which is very important to me. Research it for yourself – let me know what you find. Here’s a link you may find useful. http://www.kingarthurflour.com/professional/bromate.html

If you are a casual baker or not willing to spend the extra money on higher quality ingredients, rest assured that your chocolate cake will still taste delicious! I’ve never met a chocolate cake I didn’t like.Chocolate marshmallow cake 2

Happy baking!

Hard Boiled Eggs Made Easy

hard boiled eggI love hard-boiled eggs as part of a healthy lunch, breakfast, or snack. They are full of healthy goodness and I love to feed them to my family. I prefer to purchase organic, free-range, vegetarian fed eggs only. I learned that cage-free and free-range are not the same thing.  Cage-free can still mean the chickens are confined to a barn but not necessarily a cage. Free-range chickens are allowed to go outside and do whatever happy chickens like to do in the sunshine. If you are not purchasing vegetarian fed chicken eggs it is possible and even likely that the chickens are fed meat by-products (yuck) which you are then eating when you consume the egg. I’m no egg-spert on raising chickens, so look it up for yourself and decide which type of egg works best for you. The organic, free-range, vegetarian-fed, hormone free chicken eggs from chickens fed only feed without pesticides, herbicides and chemicals will cost more. I buy mine at Costco. It’s around $7 for 2 dozen. Not a bad price to pay for a good egg, eh?

Okay, enough chicken egg facts for today – let’s talk about hard boiling the perfect egg!

I have tried for upwards of 10 years to boil an egg that is both cooked through in the center and not green around the yoke. It is so frustrating that one cannot check the center of an egg to see if it is finished cooking. You can stick a toothpick in a brownie or cut into a steak to take a peak (yes, I do this), but there is no good way to get into the center of an egg still in the shell. So try this.

1. Set your eggs in a bowl for several hours and bring them to room temperature.

2. Place eggs in pot in which they can be submerged and covered by 1″ of water.

3. Fill pot with luke warm water.

4. Add 1 tsp kosher salt

5. Add 1 tsp baking soda

6. Place on stove, turn heat to medium and slowly bring to a rolling boil. Let eggs boil for about 30 seconds, then cover and remove from heat. Let covered eggs sit for 11 minutes on the egg timer.

7. Place eggs immediately into ice bath and let them sit until chilled – at least 10 minutes. Then do as you wish!

The baking soda supposedly helps the shells come off from the eggs more easily.  It’s no miracle solution, but I have found that it really does help the peeling process. I’d say they are 75% easier to peel with baking soda than without.

By using this method I have lovely yellow yokes everytime. If you have any tips or tricks, please share! I’m always looking for new things to try in my kitchen. I hope this ‘eggs’ you on to get boiling and eat more yummy hard boiled eggs.

 

New Discovery: The Sad Bachelor Aisle

gummy bearsMy lil’ brother Sammy and I went grocery shopping a few weeks ago on a Sunday afternoon to purchase food for a football Sunday smorgasbord feast. We do this a few times a year when we are hungry but don’t know exactly what for. We put an assortment of things into the shopping cart such as (but not limited to) hummus, tzaziki sauce, various cold cuts, salmon spread, weird snack crackers, frozen pizza, curious Indian foods, strange deli salads, donuts, fruit, cucumbers, veggie trays, soft pretzels, ice cream with marshmallows, and always some new, strange kind of cookie. We spend a lot of time in the ethnic foods section. I discovered a great falafel mix this way. There is almost always some new and delicious item discovered as well as something totally disgusting and revolting. It’s so much fun.

So I was following Sam around and he showed me an entire section of Cub Foods which I had never noticed before. It’s tucked back near the meat section, a place I rarely shop at Cub because I find their meats to be sub-par. There is a magical bulk candy section hidden in plain sight behind the bacon and next to the loose spices. Gummy bears, Jordan almonds, off-brand knock-offs of peppermint patties, bit-o-honey’s, sesame sticks all by themselves, you name it!

Sam began selecting his candy easily, I suspect because he’s visited this section numerous times before. He knew just how much to measure into a bag to equal about a pound without even weighing it. I imagine this is a talent gleaned from years of bulk candy buying. I can’t even buy  grapes without the scale, so this talent is impressive to me. I selected the little raspberry gummies. I wanted to try other things but I was too daunted by the unexpected choices that I had to step away. Then I noticed the case of freezers beside the bulk candy. They are filled with what I call ‘sad bachelor food’. Things like single serving chicken cordon bleu or just 6 frozen fish sticks. Single wrapped burgers, steaks, mini pizzas, breakfast sandwiches that are already put together and frozen alongside chicken nuggets and breaded popcorn shrimp. I look around me after spotting these items and noticed that only men were in this aisle. Men with baskets, not shopping carts, and no wedding rings -not even tan lines where a wedding ring used to be were keeping to themselves while shoving a variety of pre-cooked frozen burritos into their baskets which already contained Hungry Man frozen meals and Little Debbie snack cakes. Foods that only men with no wife to look after them would eat. Not even their mothers would allow them to eat like this! Then it hit me – the sad bachelor aisle is where the single, available men who don’t live with their mothers shop. No need for match.com when you can hang out near the bulk candy and meet the man of your dreams, ladies! The real bonus here is that the men found in this aisle are obviously not into cooking for themselves so the old adage that states ‘the best way to a man’s heart is through his stomach’ will definitely apply here. I should set up a little kiosk at Cub and help people meet and exchange telephone numbers.

Maybe a few happy couples would even chose to get married at the grocery store where they first met…It could be the new Paris of the Minneapolis suburbs.

Pineapple Corer; A Miracle Tool

Pineapple CorerMy mother-in-law loves kitchen gadgets, fabulous kitchen towels, and cooking. This is lucky for me because I also love all of those things! A few years ago she gave me a pineapple corer which has revolutionized my family’s fresh pineapple consumption. I have always loved pineapple but I hated, HATED to cut off the icky skin. Sidenote: is it skin? Maybe it’s a rind or a shell or some sort of exoskeleton. We may never know what the outside part of a pineapple is called. I just Googled it and I can’t find a definitive answer, so I can only assume that no one remembers any longer and that the truth has been lost in antiquity.

Okay, so if you also despise the long and laborious process of hand carving a pineapple, check out this product. There are three easy steps involved in preparing the pineapple for consumption.

Pineapple Corer 3

  • cut the top off of the pineapple
  • twist the pineapple corer into the pineapple and pull out the edible part. It pops out wine-cork style.
  • cut pineapple into whatever shape and size you prefer for serving

That’s it. Seriously. Clean up is incredibly easy as the pineapple corer can be put in the dishwasher. It’s the greatest thing man has created since moveable type. Try it – you’ll love it. They are available at http://www.overstock.com/ or at your local grocer for approximately $15. Pineapple Corer 4

 

Rice With Turmeric

The health benefits of turmeric are a-mazing. Just Google it and I guarantee you’ll be astounded at what you find. I first became attracted to this spice because of it’s brilliant yellow color. It adds a deep yellow-golden hew to sauces, rice, potatoes, chicken, soup, stew – you name it while adding very little flavor to a dish. Just a tiny pinch will add a burst of color to your dish which helps make a plate look truly palatable.

Today I’m going to share with you my turmeric rice recipe – it’s so easy, but looks so impressive your dinner guests will think you are a master chef.

  • 1 c Jasmine or Basmati rice
  • 2 c water
  • 1 t turmeric
  • 1/2 t salt
  • parsley garnish, if desired

Start by combining rice, water, turmeric and salt. Bring to a boil, then cover and simmer on low for about 20 minutes. Remove from heat, let rest for approx 5 minutes. Serve, garnish with parsley or green onions if desired and depending on what the main course may be.

This simple spice really adds a whole new dimension to boring old rice. It’s important to use jasmine or basmati rice because they are more aromatic and flavorful. They also remain slightly more firm than your average ‘minute rice’. I understand that a busy parent cook has to take shortcuts sometimes, so substitute minute rice if absolutely necessary.

Spice on!

Sourdough Starter

IMG_0314 I have been reading about sourdough and it’s various health benefits lately, so I decided to go ahead and procure a starter. I ordered a crock and starter set from King Arthur Flour. I LOVE the crock, but what I didn’t know at the time of my order is that it isn’t necessary to order the starter – you can make it yourself! It’s super easy and it’s very exciting to watch and smell your own homemade starter as it does what it’s supposed to do.

Sourdough is different from other breads in that it uses wild yeast from the air rather than store bought yeast which is ready to go in an instant. The fermentation process that we use now is very much like the process that has been used for thousands of years. Some articles I’ve read speculate that ancient Egyptians used this method to make their bread, which I think is pretty fabulous. Different flours will effect the flavor of the finished product. I have only experimented with standard all-purpose flour and whole wheat flour. I prefer the all-purpose, but try a few different flours for yourself and let me know what you like.

I ALWAYS use King Arthur brand flours because they are non-GMO and never bleached or bromated. I am a member of theirflour-ap baking club, so any order I place over $25 dollars I receive free shipping. I am not paid to promote their products, by the way.

Ok, to get started here’s what you need:

  • Crock or ceramic or glass container with loose fitting lid (I’ve used a kitchen towel as a lid; it works just great)
  • Kitchen scale (this is ideal but if you don’t have one, we can still make it work)
  • Several days in a row during which you can take 5 mins and care for your starter
  • Flour
  • Non-chlorinated water – This is important because chlorine will kill the yeast.

Day 1: Place a small bowl on the scale, then tare.  Use a scoop to measure 4 oz of flour into bowl. Pour flour into crock. Now weigh 4 oz of water and pour into crock. Mix together, loosely cover and set aside.

Day 2: Scoop out 4 oz of your mix and discard. Repeat process from day 1 – measure out 4 oz of flour and water and combine with day old mix in crock.

Day 3: Repeat process

Day 4: Repeat process

By day 5 your starter should smell somewhat sour and fermented and be bubbly like my picture above. You may now use the starter to make a loaf of delicious, yummy bread. You can refrigerate starter, covered for up to a week between feedings. To feed, simply repeat the process as on day 2, but instead of throwing out 4 oz of your starter use it to bake or give that 4 oz portion to a friend with instructions on how to maintain the starter.

*If you don’t own a kitchen scale, loosely scoop flour into a 1/4 c measuring cup. Do the same with water. I use a kitchen scale for so many things that I wonder how I ever got by without one! Check out amazon.com – I found a great scale for about $15.

If your starter has a little water standing on top, this is okay. If the water is red or there is a red mold like covering, discard immediately and sanitize the container. This has never happened to me, and from what I understand it is quite rare but it can happen if the wrong kind of bacteria is attracted to your mix.

I use my starter in all sorts of things including muffins, cakes, breads, english muffins…the list goes on and on. Don’t be afraid to experiment a little yourself. Creativity in the kitchen is fun! If you are too busy to bake often or keep the starter going, don’t feel bad. Give it a try, make a loaf or two of bread and just enjoy the satisfaction of trying something new. It’s really kind of gratifying to me to think I’m feeding my family in a way similar to what my ancestors probably did centuries ago. What a great way to connect the past to the present.

Bake on!