Thursday, January 31, 2008

Puzzled No More

My devoted readers (all three of you!) may remember my post about Thanksgiving and pumpkin pie and a reference to a puzzle that my boyfriend and I have been working on at his sister's house.

A 3,000-piece puzzle that we've been working on for over a year.

While I spent countless hours hovered over the puzzle, I probably placed less than 100 pieces. It was incredibly difficult as many of the pieces not only looked the same, but some had the same shapes. In fact the last two pieces didn't fit because the two right pieces were in the wrong place! Luckily my boyfriend's sister was a whiz at finding the wrong pieces.

Anyways, we finally finished it the other night.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Starch City

I love french fries. Nothing says brunch more than an omelet with some hash browns. I'll eat potatoes mashed, sweet, roasted, or baked. Au gratin, boiled, seasoned, or in chips. You name it.

But I am maxed out. Despite weeks of making them, my cupboard overfloweth with potatoes.

On Thursday, I received my third and final winter share. It came with tons of potatoes: Austrian crescent fingerling potatoes, red and yellow flesh potatoes, and a mixed fingerling potato medley (which included Austrian crescent, baby blue, red thumb, AND Russian banana fingerling potatoes).

That's in addition to the potatoes that I still have left over from last month (sweet potatoes, and more red, white, and purple ones).

Potatoes are highly nutritious and tasty, but that doesn't mean I want to eat them every day. But I think I will have to if I hope to clear out my pantry by summer.

So if you have any good potato recipes, please, please, please send them my way.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Dueling Pizzas

My boss gave me a recipe for pizza dough, so I thought I'd try it out.

In anticipation I invited a friend over for dinner.

Since the dough takes several hours to rise, chill, and then thaw, I wanted to do part of this ahead of time. My first attempt failed miserably. The dough never rose.

After consulting with my boss and my mom (who makes bread all the time), they advised me to put the dough in a warmer place. The next night I mixed everything up and put the batch on top of my radiator for a few hours. It seemed to do the trick, but unsure of how it should look and might taste, I asked my friend to buy some back up dough at the store.

When she arrived, we decided to make both pizzas because we were hungry and we wanted to see how they would compare to each other.

As we heated up her pizza stone in the oven, we sauted sweet potatoes and onions, spread them over the homemade crust, and covered with rosemary, sage, garlic, crushed red pepper, and mozzarella and parmesan cheese.

Since the stone was so hot, it only took about 12 minutes before it was done. Here's how it turned out. Free to sing along or hit mute.

As the homemade crust cooked, we prepared the store bought dough with the same ingredients, plus a few heads of broccoli left over from some pre-dinner snacking.

Oddly it took on the shape of the state of Massachusetts (without Cape Cod).

Ten minutes later, we were ready for the taste test.

The homemade pizza looked the part. Imperfectly round, the pizza looked straight out of a wood-burning oven set in snow covered mountains.

The pizza had lots of flavor, especially garlic and cheese. In fact, I think we over-cheesed. Which isn't necessarily a bad thing. The crust, made with whole wheat flour, was chewy with a hint of honey. The taste was natural and unprocessed.

Aside from its likeness to the Commonwealth, the store bought pizza had a more polished, professional look. The dough was like a fluffy pillow with a sweet taste.

The flavor in the rest of the pizza was more subtle. The ingredients seemed more evenly distributed with fewer concentrations of garlic and crushed red pepper flakes.

To sum up, they were both winners.

And so were we, since we got to eat them.

Pizza Dough [from my boss]

Put 1/2 cup warm water, 1 tablespoon honey, and 1 teaspoon yeast into a small bowl or cup and mix. Let sit for approximately 10 minutes.

In a separate bigger bowl, add:
1 1/2 cups flour
1 1/2 teaspoon coarse (kosher) salt
1 1/2 tablespoon olive oil

Pour yeasty water into mix, knead with hands or mixer, cover, and let rise for 1/2 hour or longer. Refrigerate dough, still covered, for about 2 hours

An hour before you're ready to eat, remove dough and let stand in room temp for about 1 hour
It is ready to be flattened, topped, cooked (at 450-degree oven) and eaten.

*Potato, Sage, and Rosemary Pizza [from]

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
12 ounces unpeeled small Yukon Gold potatoes, sliced into very thin rounds
1 (13.8-ounce) tube refrigerated pizza dough (or homemade)
2 teaspoons chopped fresh rosemary
2 teaspoons chopped fresh sage
2 garlic cloves, chopped
1/4 teaspoon dried crushed red pepper
1 cup (packed) grated whole-milk mozzarella cheese (about 4 ounces)
1/2 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 400°F. Heat oil in heavy large skillet over medium heat. Add potato slices in single layer. Sauté until just tender, about 5 minutes. Cool briefly. Unroll dough on rimmed baking sheet. Scatter potato slices over dough, leaving 3/4-inch plain border. Sprinkle with rosemary, sage, garlic, and crushed red pepper. Sprinkle with cheeses to cover. Bake pizza until crust is crisp and cheeses melt, about 20 minutes. Using metal spatula, loosen crust from sheet. Slide out onto platter or board and serve.

*Variations: We preheated oven to 450 degrees for almost an hour with the pizza stone inside. It was so hot the pizzas cooked in 10-12 minutes. We also subbed sweet potatoes for the Yukons and added onions and broccoli.

Monday, January 14, 2008

The Price of Sugar

The other night I saw a disturbing documentary called The Price of Sugar.

The film examined human rights violations of Haitian immigrants at a sugar cane plantation in the Dominican Republic and followed a Catholic priest's quest to improve their lives. It described how sugar companies smuggle Haitians across the border, strip them of identification papers, and essentially turn them into slaves. Literally they live in deplorable conditions under armed guard and barbed wire. With no papers, they can't leave without facing arrest. Without proper food and healthcare, many live, work, and die on the plantations.

In addition to addressing several issues related to immigration and Dominican nationalism, the movie points out, without going into enough detail, that the United States has lucrative trade agreements with the sugar companies.

Since I joined a CSA, I've been thinking about food differently. For the most part I am more conscious of where the food comes from and how far it travels to get to me. I'm trying to buy and eat more food that was grown in an environmentally friendly way.

But there are only so many kinds of crops grown in the midwest or in this country, for that matter. This film reminds us that some of our favorite foods, like sugar and coffee, are grown elsewhere in the world and often have a human cost.

One way for American consumers can strike back at these sugar companies is to buy fair trade items. I admit that I have never felt that compelled to do so. It always seemed like this abstract concept. But after seeing this movie the last thing I want is for these sugar companies to profit off of me.

I won't pretend to cut sugar from my diet. I love ice cream too much. But greater awareness can go a long way at the grocery store when I am making decisions about what to buy.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

All I need is patience

Risotto takes patience.

You need to add broth, let the rice absorb the liquid, and repeat several times until the rice is tender. This requires much standing by the stove and vigilant stirring (note cool action shot below!).

We made pumpkin walnut risotto last night while listening to the New Hampshire primary coverage on the radio, with frequent runs into another room to check the online results.

After we combined ingredients and began to stir, it became increasingly clear that the candidate we both support was not going to win, despite several polls which had predicted the contrary (hint: his initials are B.O.).

We both thought his nomination was inevitable, but now we have a race that may not be decided for weeks.

On one hand, this is good because it gives more voters the chance to have a say. On the other hand, this makes me anxious. Like many Americans (and most of us who live on this planet) I am hopeful and excited that we're about to replace a terrible president, but I also worry about the potential outcomes of this election.

Like in cooking, where the slightest recipe variation can affect the taste of the entire dish, the vaguest shift of perception can change minds and votes (okay, that's not the greatest analogy but work with me, people). Sometimes the resulting flavor is a happy surprise. But sometimes you wish you never substituted this ingredient for that one. You wish you could take it back.

I just hope our country doesn't feel that way when the campaign is over.

I can't wait to find out.

Pumpkin Walnut Risotto [from the 12/19 issue of the Chicago Sun-Times]

(Speaking of recipe variations, I should note that we didn't make the walnut paste, but instead added those ingredients after sauteing the onions and pumpkin. We also added a 15-ounce can of tomatoes instead of a 10-ounce can. My boyfriend thought the risotto tasted like spagettios. That may have been why.)

½ cup walnuts
1/3 cup packed fresh parsley, chopped
2 cloves garlic
7 tablespoons olive oil, divided
Pinch salt
1 cup onions, chopped
½ cup canned pumpkin or 1 cup pumpkin flesh, chopped
1 (10-ounce) can peeled plum tomatoes, chopped
Salt and pepper, to taste
1½ cups long grain rice
4½ cups hot chicken broth
freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Process walnuts, parsley and garlic to a paste. Add 4 tablespoons olive oil, a tablespoon at a time. Add a pinch of salt; reserve.

Heat remaining olive oil in a large heavy pan; fry onion until lightly colored. Add pumpkin; continue to saute about 4 minutes. Mix in walnut paste. Add tomatoes; mix well and simmer until thickened. Season with salt and pepper. Add rice; stir-fry for a few minutes. Add hot broth in stages, stirring to use up all the broth. Allow rice to almost dry out before each addition.
Risotto is ready when it is no longer watery and rice is tender while retaining a very slight firmness in the center of each grain. It takes 20 to 30 minutes. Mix in half the Parmesan; sprinkle the remaining half on top.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Smells like...

I wasn't sure what to expect when parsnips showed up in my December delivery. Honestly I couldn't recall ever eating one.

But they looked like white carrots, so how bad could they be?

I diligently searched for recipes and found an interesting one called Parsnip Potato Curry. But it called for lots of spices that I don't have, and while this would have been a good excuse to round out my spice rack, I've been less than motivated to make potatoes lately.

So with those parsnips guilt tripping me everytime I opened my refrigerator, I finally did something about them tonight.

I found an easy recipe called Parsnip Puree that called for parsnips (check), butter (check), chicken broth (check), and sea salt and pepper (check and check).

I peeled and cut them into 1/2 inch pieces.

That's when I first noticed the smell. It was hard to place, so I proceeded to boil them for about 35 minutes until tender.

Then I scooped about half the parsnips into the blender, added some butter and chicken stock, and pressed the puree button.

The stuff on the bottom moved but the 'nips on top hadn't budged. I opened the blender to mix them up a bit.

That's when the smell of vomit hit me.

But something about the butter and chicken stock neutralized the odor enough for me to press on. I also opened a window and turned on the fan.

By the time I finished, I had a mashed potato-like mixture that actually looked like vomit.

While it still kinda smells, I am taking little bites as I write this post and wishing I tried that other recipe instead. But alas, I used them all up tonight.

I don't want to be a hater, but I hope no parsnips show up in my January delivery.


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