Date Night Mini Pizzas

Even though we are married and see each other every day, Will and I still try to have a date night at least once a week; we’re both pretty busy people and it’s nice to have some time that is dedicated for us to just relax together and really talk.

One of our favorite date night things to do is make mini-pizzas together. This is really fun because we each prepare our pizzas side by side, share toppings, fling sauce at each other, and comment on how we each choose to arrange our toppings.

Into the oven they go… Then we pull them out, swoon over how beautiful our pizzas are, and sit down together to eat. We are never disappointed, because the beauty of mini-pizzas is that we each get make our pizza exactly the way we like it!

As if having a fun and tasty activity with your S.O. wasn’t good enough, it gets better…the crust is FAST and EASY. And it’s got whole wheat flour in it. And delicious herbs. And even though it has yeast in it, it only needs to rise for 15-20 minutes, which I’ve found is just enough time to prepare the toppings.

Here’s another great thing about the dough recipe, you can easily double or triple it for a crowd. Or double it, portion it, and refrigerate or freeze whatever you don’t use. Just remember that if you are going to store it, you should coat the inside of a zip top bag with cooking spray or a thin coat of cooking oil to make dough retrieval a snap.

TIP: You don’t really need any special equipment for this recipe, but a pizza stone is really going to make a huge difference in the quality of your crust, especially if you like a crispy crust. I would definitely recommend using one if you can.

Toppings are limited only by your imagination. Mini-pizzas are a great way to use up little odds and ends of produce that may be accumulating in your fridge. 1/8 of an onion? Slice it up. One lonely jalapeño? Adds some zing.

Will tends to like tomato sauce, onions, bell peppers, jalapenos, and daiya cheese on his pizza; he is pretty consistent. I like to try different things, so this week’s pizza was topped with pesto, daiya cheese, sauteed onions and garlic, and veggie sausage crumbles; I also put a big handful of torn arugula on top when the pizza was hot out of the oven. YUM!

What kind of toppings do you like on your pizza?

Date Night Mini Pizza With Herbed Whole Wheat Crust

Ingredients

  • 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1 tsp instant yeast (about half a package)
  • 1/4 tsp sea or table salt
  • 2 tbsp fresh chopped herbs of your choice, OR a few pinches of dried herbs, crushed between your fingers (oregano, basil, thyme, whatever you have lying around)
  • 1/2 cup hot water (115º-125º F)
  • 2 tsp agave nectar

Method

Preheat oven to 425º F.

In your mixer’s bowl, combine AP flour, whole wheat flour, yeast, and salt and stir. Add water and agave nectar, and mix until smooth.

Switch to the dough hook and knead on low speed until smooth and elastic, about 3 minutes (–OR– knead by hand on a floured surface, 5minutes), adding whole wheat flour 1 tablespoon at a time if dough sticks.

Using a bench knife or sharp chef’s knife, cut the dough in half and shape it into smooth balls. Invert your mixing bowl over one, and place another deep bowl (or piece of lightly oiled plastic wrap) over the other and let rest 15 minutes.

Stretch or roll or toss each dough ball into desired shape and place on parchment paper (or a baking sheet, if you are not using a pizza stone). Turn over a small lip all around the edges and seal with your fingertip by pressing slightly. Have fun with toppings.

Cook in preheated oven for 12-15 minutes, or until dough is browned around edges and as crisp as you like it.

Yield: 2 mini pizza crusts

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Pomegranate Party Trick

pomegranate-091021-0001Autumn brings us so many tasty delights, I look forward to it every year. I think Autumn may be my favorite season. In addition to beautiful fall foliage, we get beautiful squashes and pumpkins, gorgeous greens, and of course…pomegranates! I always get so excited when I pick up my first pomegranate of the season, and this year is no exception.

pomegranate-091021-0003Pomegranate seeds are not just pretty to look at and tasty as all get-out, but they are packed with nutrition too. They are high in vitamin C, potassium, antioxidants, and fiber, and are low in calories.

I love to put pomegranate seeds on just about everything, and they work really well with both savory and sweet dishes. I will sprinkle them on salads, soups, ice cream, overtop of pumpkin bread…anywhere I can think of.

One of my favorite things to do with pomegranate seeds is to float them in a carbonated beverage. Yes, pomegranate seeds can float! So today instead of a recipe, I offer you this formula for an impressive party beverage:pomegranate-091021-0002

  • Carbonated Beverage
  • Slice of lime (optional)
  • Pomegranate seeds

I love to use sparkling water for this, it is an almost-no-calorie treat. The pomegranate seeds sink to the bottom of the glass at first, but then float up onto a wave of carbonation. For a more adult beverage, I like prosecco, or even champagne.

TIP: I promise this trick can make even cheap champagne more impressive!

What other carbonated beverages can you think of to try? (Please don’t say beer!)

Szechuan Greens

turnip greens-091017-0003One of my husband’s friends gave us some Szechuan peppercorns a while ago as a gift. I was pretty stoked to get them, but didn’t have any immediate plans for them so I stuck them in a cupboard and kind of forgot they were there for a while.

turnip greens-091017-0002I don’t know why I remembered them all of a sudden on the weekend, but I decided to pair them up with some turnip greens that I had left over after making my slaw. Maybe I wanted to go Szechuan because I find turnip greens to be pleasantly bitter and a little bit spicy on their own, or maybe it was because I had just made another asian-inspired dish, I don’t know. But the results were delicious! And the good news is that I think this recipe would work with any kind of greens, not just turnip.

The Szechuan peppercorns really brought a nice flowery note to the dish. They don’t actually have a lot of heat themselves like black or white peppercorns do. If you’re not sure, try eating one whole, I think you will be surprised.

But back to the star of the show: Turnip greens.

One of the nice things about turnip greens is that you don’t have to remove all the stems, like you do with greens like chard and collards and kale; however I do trim away the larger stems closer to the root end if they seem tough. The parts of the stem that are still attached to the leaves are typically nice and tender. You can cook them at the same rate as the leaves, and they add a pleasant crunch to the dish.

Another nice thing about turnip greens is nutrition. Like most greens, they are low in calories, fat-free, cholesterol-free, high in fiber, and a great source of vitamins A, C, E, folate, calcium, B6, trace minerals, and chlorophyl, to name a few.

Can you believe that some people throw these delicious and nutritious beautiful babies away?

I like to use a wok for cooking greens, but use any large pot or pan that has a lid. This recipe makes enough for two large servings, or maybe 4 smaller side servings.

Szechuan Greens

Ingredients

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  • 1 tsp Szechuan peppercorns
  • 1 tsp chili oil or toasted sesame oil
  • pinch of salt
  • pinch of cayenne pepper (optional)
  • 1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 2 tsp canola oil
  • 1 tsp crushed chile flakes (optional)
  • 2 bunches turnip greens, trimmed and chopped
  • 1 tablespoon sesame seeds

Method

Toast szechuan peppercorns in a dry wok until just fragrant. Transfer to a spice grinder or mortar & pestle and grind.

To make the dressing, whisk together the ground peppercorns, chili or sesame oil, salt, cayenne (if using), rice wine vinegar, and sugar. Set aside.

Heat the canola oil in the wok until it is shimmering, and add the crushed chile flakes if using. Cook the chili flakes for about a minute. Add the turnip greens and toss to coat with the oil. Cook until they are wilted but still bright green, continuing to stir and toss them frequently. Put the lid on the pot when not stirring.

When the greens are tender and emerald colored, remove from the heat, and pour the dressing over top. Add the sesame seeds, and toss to coat. Serve hot, garnished with some extra sesame seeds if desired. Leftovers will last in the fridge for 2-3 days, and they taste good cold too.

Baked Flour Tortilla Chips

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My husband and I used to eat at a local restaurant where they’d always present a lovely bread basket at dinner time. It featured some kind of crusty white bread, some corn bread, and some delightfully crispy and spicy baked tortillas. For me, it was the tortillas that always stole the show, and so I decided to figure out how to make them.tortilla chips-091010-0001

I was happy to find that they are deceptively easy. The texture is so light and crispy, and you can really dial them in by playing with the spices any way you like. These are great for rounding out a bread basket, dipping into hummus or guacamole, or as an impressive garnish for a hearty soup or stew.

They are also great for straight-up snacking, and beat the pants off store-bought flour chips!

Have I mentioned they are EASY??

Baked Flour Tortilla Chips

Ingredients

  • 1 package fresh flour tortillas (white, whole wheat, or whatever you like)
  • 1 tablespoons olive oil
  • Spice blend from my pumpkin seed recipe, OR chili powder and a little salt

Method

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.tortilla chips-091011-0003

Use a pastry brush to lightly brush just the top side of each of the tortillas with olive oil, and then dust liberally with several dashes of spice blend or chili powder and salt. Place the tortillas in a stack as you go. When you are done, move the bottom tortilla to the top of the stack (this puts the bottom of that tortilla in contact with the oil and spice from the tortilla below it).

Cut the stack in half, then in half again, and then again to make wedges (a bread knife works best for this, cut gently). Arrange wedges in a single layer on cookie sheets.

Bake for 8-12 minutes, rotating the pans half way through baking time. When I rotate the pans, I also like to move the chips that are on the outside to the center of the pan for even baking.

These are done when they are lightly puffed and crispy (if they start to turn a little brown, they have gone too far so try to pull them out before that happens). Let them cool on a wire rack, and store in a large glass or plastic container.

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Sketti-O’s

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Did you eat Spaghetti-O’s as a kid?

I am not ashamed to admit that I grew up eating Spaghetti-O’s, and I absolutely adored them. I loved them so much that I continued to eat them in college and into my early adulthood.spaghettios

But then I went vegan, and took a closer look at the Spaghetti-O’s label. Of course they are NOT vegan. And I was also kind of horrified to find that they are full of preservatives and chemicals that I’d rather not put into my body. So just like that, they were out of my life…

…until recently. A few months back, I was randomly thinking fondly back on my Spaghetti-O’s days, and I thought, “hang on, why not make my own healthy vegan version?”

And so this recipe was born.

It’s a one-pot recipe that’s really easy to make. The hardest part of this recipe is probably finding the pasta rings. There is only store that carries them in my area, but I think alphabet pasta would be a really fun substitute, and easier to find.

I always added hot sauce to my Spaghetti-Os, and so this recipe is a little bit spicy; but feel free to leave out the heat if that’s your preference.

This makes about 12 one-cup servings, or 6 to 8 larger servings. It will keep really well in the fridge for up to a week, so don’t worry about making such a big batch. You’ll gobble it up pretty quickly anyways.

Home Made Sketti-O’s

Ingredients

  • 4 cups spaghetti sauce, preferably home made
  • 5 cups of water
  • 9 oz. (can and a half) tomato paste
  • 1.5 tablespoon onion powder
  • 1.5 tablespoon garlic powder
  • 1 – 2 tsp. cayenne pepper and/or hot sauce (optional, only add if you want a little kick)
  • 1 – 2 tsp salt, or to taste
  • black pepper
  • 12 oz ring or alphabet pasta
  • 1/2 cup nutritional yeast (optional)

Method

In your blender, combine the spaghetti sauce, tomato paste, spices, salt, and pepper, and as much water as you can fit without overwhelming your blender. Blend until the mixture is entirely smooth, and put it in a big pot. Put the remaining water into the blender and swirl it around to get all the good stuff off the sides, and then pour it into the pan. Stir to combine. The sauce will look very watery.

Heat the sauce over high heat until it comes to a rolling boil. Add the pasta rings and lower the heat to medium. Cook until the pasta rings are soft and the sauce has thickened, about 20-25 minutes. Stir frequently to keep the pasta from sticking to the bottom of the pot. When pasta is fully cooked, stir in the nutritional yeast, if using. Put the lid back on the pot and let it sit for 10 minutes before serving. Adjust seasoning to taste. If the sauce is too thick, add more water until it is the consistency you like.

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Spicy Roasted Pumpkin Seeds

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It’s that time of year…everyone I know is cracking open pumpkins and carving them into spooky visages. This was a favorite ritual of mine as a kid, and one of the best parts about carving a pumpkin is the gorgeous seeds that are harvested from the innards. I remember trying to roast the seeds once or twice as a kid; I didn’t really know the best way to go about it and I ended up with burned, salty, unpleasantly chewy bits. But I didn’t know better so I ate them anyways.pumpkin-seeds-091010-0002

I forgot all about roasted pumpkin seeds until last year when I went to make a vegan pumpkin pie. I got a fresh pie pumpkin from the farmers market, and pulled out the seeds. I hate to throw anything away, so I did a little research on the best way to roast the seeds. Of course I had to give it my own twist and up the ante with a little kick.

These are the perfect pumpkin seeds. They are crisp and crunchy, and the spices really make them something special. My husband actually thinks they taste a little like bacon bits, but neither of us has had bacon in years, so I think he is saying that because of the combination of salt and crunch.

One of my favorite things about this recipe is listening to the crackling of the pumpkin seeds as they’re cooling; for some reason it is a very satisfying sound.

TIP: If you don’t have fresh pumpkin on hand, you can always buy your pumpkin seeds online.

Spicy Roasted Pumpkin Seeds

Ingredients

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  • 4 cups pumpkin seeds, washed and squeaky clean
  • 4 tablespoons salt
  • 2 tablespoons olive or canola oil
  • cooking spray
  • spice mixture (see below)

Method

Preheat your oven to 400°F, and adjust your oven racks to accommodate 2 cookie sheets.

Put a large pot of water on to boil (around 4 quarts water). Put the salt into the water.

When the water is at a rolling boil, add pumpkin seeds and boil for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Meanwhile, brush a tablespoon of oil onto each of your cookie sheets.

When time is up, drain pumpkin seeds and transfer to your lubed cookie sheets. Give them a stir to coat them with some of the oil, then spread them out into a single layer on each sheet. Pop the cookie sheets into your hot oven for 20 minutes. When time is up, pull the cookie sheets out one at a time, stir the seeds, and redistribute into a single layer. Rotate cookie sheets, and cook for another 20 minutes. The seeds will start to crack and pop and jump in the oven. Enjoy the show.

When time is up, remove cookie sheets from oven, turn off the oven heat, but close the door to keep as much heat in the oven as possible. Working quickly, spray each sheet with cooking spray, and then dust generously with the spice mixture. Stir the seeds, repeat one more time with cooking spray and seasoning, and then spread them back out into a single layer on each sheet. Return to the hot oven for 5 minutes. Remove the pans from the oven and let cool completely before eating.

Note: If the oven is still roaring hot, the spices that are left on the pan may produce a little smoke; but if so, don’t worry about it, that will actually add to the flavor.

Spice Mixture

  • 1 teaspoon chili powder
  • 1 tablespoon paprika
  • 1 tablespoon ground cumin
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 teaspoon fine sea salt (or table salt)

Combine all ingredients in a small jar, an empty spice jar would be ideal. Shake to combine.

Here is where you can really get creative with this. Add some turmeric, play around with the heat by adjusting the cayenne, reduce the cumin, or add some crushed thyme or oregano. It’s up to you! Make it the way you like it.

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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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