Grilled Pizza

grilled-pizza-091002-0004My brother Dave came over to visit the other day, and–since it was around dinner time, and since he is the designated family grill meister–we made grilled pizza.grilled-pizza-091002-0001

If you’ve never had grilled pizza, you MUST try it. It’s easy to prepare, FUN to make, and very tasty to eat. This is a really great thing to do with guests too, because everything can be prepped in advance. AND everyone can have their own pizza JUST the way they like it.

For grilled pizza, I use an America’s Test Kitchen recipe for the crust, but I think any pizza dough recipe would work fine, as long as you rolled it out a little thicker than you normally would.

grilled-pizza-091002-0002 I love getting creative with our toppings, and this week I put out roasted red peppers, diced shallots, chopped jalapenos, sliced green olives, and tomato salad. But out of three of us I I was the only one who used ALL of those things on one pizza!

So the way this works is that you take the rolled-out dough to your hot grill and cook just one side. We have a Weber grill with burners that run the length of the grill from side to side, and I picked up a few tips from Dave this week on the best way to cook pizza on this type of grill: grilled-pizza-091002-0003

  • He got the grill roaring hot first with all burners on high, and cleaned the grate with a wire brush.
  • He turned off the burners and then cautiously sprayed it with non-stick cooking spray (you may still get a momentary flare up so be super careful).
  • He turned the grill back on, but set the middle burners as low as they would go.
  • The outer two burners were turned on to just a few ticks above medium.
  • He cooked our pizza in the middle of the grill via the indirect heat of the outer two burners.

Tip: If  you have a grill where the burners run front to back, these hints from Dave will still apply, but your primary heat sources will be the sides instead of the front and back.

grilled-pizza-091002-0005So once Dave had cooked all of our pizza dough rounds on one side, we brought them into the kitchen and arranged our sauce and toppings on the cooked side. (Did I forget to mention that we also had some of the amazing Daiya cheese? Cos we did.)

Then the pizzas went back out onto the grill to finish cooking. Dave left the grill lid closed pretty much the whole time to allow the cheese and toppings to cook, but he did check the underneath of our pizzas a few times to make sure they weren’t cooking too fast.

The result was AWESOME pizza with beautiful grill marks, a crispy crust, and excellent flavor. Each one was a work of art. They were almost too pretty to eat…ALMOST…. :)

Little Tomato, Garlic, and Basil Salad

tomato-091002-0001Tomato season is almost over! We might have one more good week left here on the mid-Atlantic east coast before it’s gone.

This makes me sad. But fortunately for me, it’s been a great season for tomatoes.

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And fortunately for me, I’ve been getting these lovely bags of tomatoes the past few weeks from my CSA. There have been abundant heirlooms, romas, beefsteaks, cherry, and pear tomatoes. They have all been amazing, but it’s these little bitty cherry and pear tomatoes that really inspire me.

They have been showing up in mouth-watering shades of red, yellow, orange, and tiger striped. They are intensely sweet and delicious; I’d have to say that on the Tomato Flavor Scale™ of one to ten, these go to eleven. I love to eat them plain, but mixing them with a few other ingredients out of my CSA delivery really brings up their flavor.

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When I make this little salad, I tend to just leave it out on the counter and snack on on it as the mood strikes. Taking a few minutes to treat your tomatoes this way also makes them great to use for pizza topping or in wraps.

Also, I think it pays to take the time to chop your garlic by hand for this one. The texture and appearance is better than pressing it. It won’t take too much time to do this, I promise…it’s just one clove!

Trust me, your taste buds will thank you…

Tip: If you weren’t already aware, you should store your tomatoes at room temperature whenever possible for best flavor and texture.


Little Tomato, Garlic, and Basil Salad

Ingredients

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  • 1 generous pint cherry, pear, or small roma tomaotes
  • 1 generous handful basil
  • 1 large clove of garlic
  • Red wine vinegar
  • Salt & pepper, to taste
  • Olive oil (optional)

Method

Quarter your little tomatoes and put them in a bowl (romas may need to be cut into smaller pieces). Sprinkle with a generous pinch of salt to start pulling out some of the juices.

Chop your basil and mince your garlic, and add it to the bowl. Give the whole thing a splash of red wine vinegar, a splash of olive oil (if using), and a grind of pepper. Toss to combine, taste for seasoning and add a little more salt if necessary.

Let the mixture sit in its own juices on the counter for about 30 minutes, if you can wait that long. (I often cannot!)

When ready to use, strain out the juices and set aside. Enjoy your tomatoes at room temperature.

tomato-091002-0001-2Tip: You can also add a few other things to play with the flavors here. I’ve tried this with different combinations of herbs, including parsley and mint. I’ve also tossed in some diced roasted red pepper when I’ve had it on hand, and a little diced jalapeno for some kick.

BONUS TIP: Don’t throw away that liquid once you’ve strained your tomatoes! Everything that has been sitting in the bowl and marinating has given some flavor to that juice. You can use the liquid to replace some or all of the cooking liquid in your pizza dough or a savory bread. Use it to make a light salad dressing. Or add it to your next batch of soup or stock. If you don’t think you’ll use it right away, freeze it and it will be ready when you are.

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Beans

beans-091002-0002Let’s talk beans.

I am a super cheapskate when it comes to some things. For example, I absolutely hate buying bread because basically all it consists of is flour, water, yeast, a tiny amount of sugar and salt, and those things are so cheap to buy! I’d rather make my own for various reasons, but the major problem I run into constantly is that bread takes a lot of time and attention, so sometimes when I am really busy I have to suck it up and just go buy a loaf.

Beans are another category of food where I am super cheap. Canned beans are expensive, tend to be high in sodium, and they are also super heavy to carry home; however, dried beans are $cheap$ and easy to use, take up less room in the cupboard, require less packaging, and buying them in quantity generally doesn’t make your arms feel like they are going to fall off when you are trying to only make just one trip from the car to the front door after grocery shopping. Again, they take time, but unlike bread, they do not have to be watched or pampered.

Cooking Beans

Using dried beans does require a certain amount of calculation though, to make sure that you end up with the amount that you need once they are soaked and cooked. Dried beans tend to plump up by a factor of 3, so as a basic rule of thumb, if you need 3 cups of cooked beans for a recipe, then you need to start with one cup of dried.

I have found that with smaller beans (like navy beans), they cook up to slightly less than 3 times their original size, so I usually add a few extra dry beans to account for that.

Some useful numbers, pulled from http://www.centralbean.com:

  • One 15-ounce can of beans = one and one-half cups cooked beans, drained
  • One pound dry beans = six cups cooked beans, drained.
  • One pound dry beans = two cups dry beans.
  • One cup dry beans = three cups cooked beans, drained.
  • Use 3 cups of water per cup of dry beans for soaking.

YOU MUST SOAK YOUR BEANS BEFORE COOKING!

The longer you soak, the less cooking time they will need, and the less potentially gassy you will be upon eating them. Soaking overnight generally means about an hour of cooking time.

You can also do the quicker method, which is to boil the beans for one minute, soak for one hour, then cook for an hour.

Always discard the soaking water, rinse the beans, and cook with fresh water.

When cooking beans, do not leave the water at a rolling boil or your beans will bash into each other in the pot, their skins will come off, and they will not look as pretty. The way to do it is to initially bring the water to a boil, then turn the heat down to a simmer.

Add about a teaspoon or more of salt to the cooking water, and also a tiny bit of oil. You can also tuck a bay leaf or two into the water.

beans-091002-0001Useful Tools

A pressure cooker is a great tool to have if you cook a lot of beans. I use mine almost exclusively for beans because it is so quick. Once the pot comes up to pressure, I can cook a load of pre-soaked garbonzo beans in about 10-13 minutes; smaller beans can take as short as 7 minutes. If you have a pressure cooker, check your manual for instructions.

A slow cooker is also really great and produces beans with superior flavor and almost zero fuss. Slow cookers vary widely so definitely read your manual.

Storing Cooked Beans

If you are going to go to the trouble to soak and cook beans, why not make a big batch and stash some away for future use? If you know you are going to use your beans in about a week or so, you can store them right in the fridge. But for longer-term storage, cover them with water and freeze them in small batches so that you can pull out and thaw just the right amount when you are ready to use them.

Nutrition

Beans are high in protein and fiber, have zero cholesterol, and provide essential vitamins and minerals. They are also relatively low in fat and calories.

Really, when you think about it…beans are great! And there are so many varieties to choose from. What’s not to love!

Happy Road Fudge

lemon-091004-0003Fudge. Vegan fudge. Vegan fudge that I fed to mixed company today, and which made everyone squeal with chocolatey delight. No one said, “I can’t believe this is vegan!” They just smiled happily as they tucked away piece after piece. Except for Michelle, who called my fudge stupid because she couldn’t stop eating it, despite her diet.

This recipe is modified from an America’s Test Kitchen recipe. Theirs is called Rocky Road. Mine is called Happy Road.

It keeps well in the fridge for up to a week, although you will probably notice that by the end of the week, the texture changes somewhat. It becomes a little denser and the marshmallows are a little less springy. But who am I kidding…it is so good that you won’t have any left by the end of the week anyways! So it is kind of a moot point.
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Happy Road Fudge

Ingredients

  • vegan shortening (or margarine), for greasing
  • 2 tablespoon non-dairy milk
  • 1 tablespoon arrowroot powder
  • 1 1/4 cup non-dairy creamer (I like MimicCream for this but have used others as well)
  • 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoon corn syrup (or agave nectar or simple syrup)
  • 16 ounces dairy-free semisweet chocolate , chopped fine
  • 2 ounces unsweetened chocolate , chopped fine
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/8 teaspoon table salt
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon chocolate extract (optional)
  • 1 cup vegan marshmallows, chopped into small pieces (I like Sweet and Sara)
  • extra powdered sugar (optional, for working with vegan marshmallows which can be sticky business)
  • 1 cup chopped salted peanuts
  • 1/2 cup dairy-free semisweet chocolate chips

Put a pot of water on to simmer with 1-2 cups water.

Line an 8 inch square baking dish with foil, and use vegan shortening to generously grease the sides.

Whisk arrowroot powder into soy milk thoroughly, and set aside.

Toss chocolates, baking soda, and salt in medium heatproof bowl until baking soda is evenly distributed.

In a small saucepan, heat soy creamer and corn syrup until it just begins to boil. Remove from the heat and whisk in the arrowroot/soy milk slurry. The mixture will thicken a touch. Pour over chocolate.

Whisk soy milk/creamer mixture, vanilla, and chocolate extract (if using) into chocolate, and set bowl over the saucepan containing simmering water. Stir with rubber spatula until chocolate is almost fully melted and few small pieces remain, 2 to 4 minutes.

Remove bowl from heat and continue to stir until chocolate is fully melted and mixture is smooth, about 2 minutes. Fold in marshmallows, peanuts, and chocolate chips. Transfer fudge to prepared pan and spread in even layer with spatula. Refrigerate until set, about 2 hours. Remove fudge from pan and remove foil. Cut into squares. To cut nice neat squares, keep a clean damp dishtowel or paper towel handy and clean the knife before each cut.

Anything that doesn’t get eaten right away can be stored in the refrigerator. Use wax paper between layers to keep the fudge from sticking to itself, and enjoy within one week.

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Lemon Ginger Tea

lemon-090930-0002Lemons are really wonderful. No one would ever sit down and eat a lemon or drink a glass of straight lemon juice unless it was for a dare. But added to food and drinks, lemon brings an amazing brightness and pleasant acidity to many foods, both savory and sweet.

But when using lemon, there is a dark side of which we must be careful. It is….BOTTLED LEMON JUICE.amcor_cliffstar_lemon_juice

Oof, I shiver just to look at it.

Let’s consider bottled lemon juice for a moment…have you ever tasted the stuff straight out of the bottle? And then tasted a real lemon? They don’t taste remotely alike. It’s like bottled met fresh at a party once, and that’s all they have in common. Bottled just tastes kinda dead, and it certainly isn’t doing your food any favors either.

To be fair, there is one thing that bottled juice is good for, and that is canning tomatoes and tomato products (which I will discuss in another post). But if you don’t can, then you don’t need it.

Juicing lemons takes hardly any time at all, and it will really elevate the flavor of your food if you’re not already using fresh juice; this is a case where the effort is more than worth the return.

No special equipment is needed, you can juice lemons with a fork over a bowl if you want to. But if you’re going to take the plunge, I recommend splurging on a reamer that sits above a measuring cup (such as this one from oxo), which is actually really handy for juicing any citrus fruits.

You will notice that in all my recipes, I stress that you must use fresh lemon juice. Now you know why. There are certain foods that I make and take to parties with me that always have people asking me “what’s the secret?” Now you know the secret.

So let’s jump in and make something that really showcases fresh lemon juice: my favorite tea.

Technically, this is an “infusion” and not tea. It is inspired by a drink I used to order in the Bookworm Cafe on Lamma Island when I lived in Hong Kong. It is really versatile and the quantities can be liberally adjusted to suite your taste.

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Lemon Ginger Tea

Ingredients

  • a 3″ piece of ginger root
  • 2-3 lemons, juiced
  • 1 quart boiling water
  • 2 tablespoons agave nectar

Method

Give the ginger a good scrub under running water (I don’t usually even bother to peel it). Slice it into thin coins, and place into a tea pot or pitcher. Add lemon juice, boiling water, and agave nectar. Stir to combine, and let steep.

The amount of time you let the tea steep will affect how spicy it gets from the ginger…longer time means spicier. I really like the kick of ginger so I tend to let it sit for quite a while before drinking.

Taste the tea and adjust the sweetness and acidity as desired but playing with the agave and lemon juice.

Serve hot OR over ice. It’s delicious both ways.

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TIP: If you’re really feeling saucy, how about adding some fresh mint as well?

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Simple Savory Avocado

food-090930-0003Avocados were not a food that I grew up eating. In fact, I don’t think that I even tasted an avocado until well into my 20s. I wish I could remember the first time my face encountered a perfectly ripe avocado’s rich, velvety smoothness and clean taste, which has now become something I absolutely adore.

While guacamole is a pretty well-known and DELICIOUS way to serve avocados, I also like them more simply done up: they really come into their own when roughly chopped and sprinkled over a hot bowl of chili, sliced thin and laid out over a veggie pizza in lieu of cheese, or mashed into some crusty grilled bread with just a pinch of coarse sea salt.

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One of my favorite ways to serve avocados is this easy dish. It takes just a few minutes to prepare (you could probably even get to sub-minute times if you really practiced) and the dressing can be made days in advance.

You can make your own variation by subbing in ginger, or another kind of vinegar, or some hot sauce. No matter how you go about it, this is a really impressive way to showcase any creamy ripe avocados you can get your mitts on. I like to make up the dressing and keep it in the fridge, so that I can pull it out and splash it over avocado halves as the mood strikes. You really couldn’t ask for a quicker, more elegant, or more satisfying small dish.

TIP: If your avocados are hard when you buy them, leave them on the counter for a day or two until they yield slightly to gentle pressure. They should retain some firmness and NOT feel squishy. As soon as you think you’ve got one at the height of its ripeness, you can toss it into the fridge for a few days to halt the process so that it will stay perfect until you need it. I actually prefer to buy my avocados on the hard side so that I can control how soft they get before they make it onto my plate.

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Simple Savory Avocado

Ingredients

  • Juice of one lemon (you MUST use fresh)
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce or tamari
  • 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
  • 1 garlic clove, pressed or minced
  • Ripe avocados

Method

Prepare the dressing first. Combine the lemon juice, soy sauce, vinegar, and garlic in a small jar (or bowl). Shake (or whisk) to combine. Use immediately or cover and refrigerate for up to a week.

When ready to serve, halve, pit, and peel your avocados. Place in a bowl or on a platter, drizzle with the dressing, and garnish as desired (chopped parsley or a sprig dill are nice). Enjoy right away!

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