Arugula Pizza

Arugula Pizza

In an future/possible/alternate life, I get to make dinner at home. I would get to spend an hour or so every evening making food for people I love. I want to make it clear that I love what I do, but my schedule is a casualty of my job. One of my favorite parts of the day when I was teaching preschool was getting home and turning on the oven. I’d play music, chop vegetables, and drink a glass of wine. When I started to plan my dinners when I was supposed to be planning lessons I had a feeling I was working in the wrong field.

But back to this in this daydream life where I get to make dinner. In this imagined utopia I have a schedule. It’s not too strict, but it includes pizza every Friday. Some weeks that might be pizza ordered in with a glass of red wine on the side. Other weeks we’ll host friends over, and everyone can top their own pizza. We’ll have bottles of red those nights. But most Friday’s I would make the dough, throw on some toppings, and after fifteen minutes in the oven would have something wonderful and bubbling. It would be the most wonderful cheap and romantic date night. We could drink bubbly and watch a foreign film while eating a homemade pizza.

That fantasy’s not likely to happen any time soon. But I can adapt. Because I can’t cook dinner, I make lunches. And pizza lunches are just as delicious as pizza dinners, and even a bit more special.

This is one of my absolute favorite pizzas to make. Aaron stole this idea from a restaurant he used to bartend at. The restaurant was a good Italian place in an area that had a shortage of good restaurants. It was always busy, loud, and boisterous. The pastas were tasty, but the pizzas were delicious. There were some revolving seasonal pizzas, and a handful of standbys. And Aaron’s favorite was the arugula and mozzarella. He left that place years ago, and we still make it whenever we can find arugula. Over the years we’ve added feta to the pizza, and shallots to the arugula and way upped the amount of arugula topping the thing. It’s creamy and salty and fresh. It’s a pizza that you feel okay about eating that forth piece, because there’s so many vegetables to eat. It’s a pizza that adults who claim to despise vegetables still devour. It’s a fantastic pizza, equally suited to date nights, pizza parties, and sit down lunches.

Arugula Pizza

I haven’t included very particular measurements for this pizza, because I rarely measure carefully when making pizza. The measurements below are approximations-  use your best judgement to make a pizza that you’ll love. For this pizza, you could use your favorite pizza dough. For an easy homemade crust I’m partial to Jamie Oliver’s, and I’ve included my version of it below.

1 ball pizza dough
one 28-ounce can whole tomatoes, drained and rinsed
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 ounces mozzarella (about half of a lage ball), shredded
4 ounces feta (two handfuls), crumbled
2 ounces (4 cups) baby arugula
1 small shallot, sliced
olive oil
juice of one lemon
salt
pepper

Preheat the oven to 500. Drizzle a pizza pan with olive oil. Gently stretch the pizza dough into a circle and place onto the prepared pizza pan. Let sit for 15 minutes.

In the meantime, blend the tomatoes with the half teaspoon of salt. Taste, and adjust seasonings as necessary.

To prepare the pizza, top with sauce. You won’t need even close to all of the sauce- a quarter cup is the perfect amount for me. Top with your desired amount and spread to the edges. The rest of the sauce will freeze well.

Top with the mozzarella and feta. Drizzle with a bit of olive oil. If you’re so inclined, sprinkle with flaked salt. Bake for 15 minutes, checking at the 10 minute mark. The cheese should have golden patches and the crust should be slightly darker than golden.

While the pizza bakes, toss the arugula, shallots, lemon juice, 1 tablespoon olive oil, salt and pepper together in a medium bowl. Taste to check for seasonings, and adjust as necessary.

When the pizza is finished baking top with the arugula mixture.

Pizza Crust

adapted from Jamie Oliver

1 pound (about 3 1/2 cups) all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cup warm water
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast
1/2 teaspoon sugar

In a large bowl whisk together the flour and salt. Make a well in the center.

In a small bowl combine the warm water, olive oil, yeast, and sugar. Set aside for a few minutes until it begins to froth.

Pour the water-yeast mixture into the center of the flour mixture. Use your hands to mix the water into the flour, pulling the flour into the center of the water. Keep going until you have a damp, shaggy dough.

Turn out onto a well-floured surface. Knead for 5 or so minutes, adding more flour as necessary, until you have a smooth, elastic dough. To knead dough I push it away from me with the palms of my hand, fold the dough over on itself, and give it a quarter turn. I then keep repeating, adding flour as necessary, until the dough is smooth and not sticky.

Transfer the dough to an oiled bowl. Cover with plastic wrap or a towel. Let it sit until it’s doubled in size, which will take about an hour. Turn out onto a floured surface and push the air out a bit. Divide into two balls. The dough can be used now, refrigerated, or frozen. If you do refrigerate (or freeze)  it, make sure the dough comes back up to room temperature before using.

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Spelt Blueberry Scones

Scones

I know. It’s the last work day for many before Memorial Day. What I should be posting is something grilled, something smokey, something messy. Memorial Day is for drinking cans of beer around the grill. It’s for the first picnic and the first mosquito bites of the year. It’s for paper plates and for smelling like campfire. And instead I’m posting some very staid, very proper, very British scones.

To be fair, I’ve never really felt the need for Memorial Day recipes. I leave the grilling to someone else, and generally bring a salad and/or dessert. Maybe you’re the same. But I am always here for scones.

The summer before we left for England Aaron came over to my parent’s house and we made scones together. I’ve since lost the recipe, but it was in metric measurement and I had badly translated it to imperial measurements. It was hot in the kitchen and the butter was not cold. We (mostly me) made a terrific mess. The scones turned out crumbly and lumpy but somehow still tasty.

In England we ate scones mostly in tea rooms. Most of them were cramped, old-fashioned places where we would duck into for a pick me up while traveling. They were uniformly good- a pot of milky tea and a cream scone is an excellent fortifier for the broke and slightly lost traveler. The china inevitably was flowered and the tables tended to be draped in pink and there would be a clatter of accents filling the air. They were relaxing places where despite our massive backpacks we would not feel like tourists for a little bit.

When I miss England I sometimes bake scones. These scones wouldn’t be found in tea rooms. They’re a bit more modern than that, a bit brighter. They have spelt flour for a bit of heft, crystalized ginger for a treat, lemon zest for brightness, and blueberries for a summery celebration of my homeland. You could happily drink them with a pot of milky tea, but they also paired fantastically with my green tea this morning. It’s been wet and rainy here recently, which is surely why England’s on my mind. I’d advise you to make these soon, before it becomes too hot to turn on the oven, and thoughts of England have turned to Pim’s cups.

Spelt- Blueberry Scones

adapted from Smitten Kitchen

If you wanted a more traditional blueberry scone it would be easy to use 2 cups of all-purpose flour and omit the crystalized ginger. If you do go that route, I would start checking the scones at 12 minutes.

1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup spelt flour
1/4 cup diced crystalized ginger.
3 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
zest of 1 lemon
5 tablespoons butter, frozen
1 cup heavy cream
1 cup blueberries

Preheat the oven to 425.

In a large bowl whisk together the flours, crystalized ginger, sugar, baking powder, salt, and lemon zest. Use your fingers to break make sure the ginger and lemon zest are well-distributed and not sticking together. Using a cheese grater, grate the frozen butter directly into the flour mixture. Mix well. Pour over the cream and add in the blueberries. Using a rubber spatula stir until the cream is evenly distributed.

Turn out onto a clean surface. Pat the dough into an even circle. Slice the circle half, then quarters, and then into eight even pieces. Place on an ungreased cookie sheet.

Bake the scones until they are firm to the touch and the edges are starting to get a bit of color, 15-17 minutes. Cool and serve.

 

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Radishes on Toast, Three Ways

Radishes

I forget where I first heard of radishes on toast. It may have come from a children’s book, the old fashioned kind where heroic children who say things like “golly” and “shant” cheerfully play in gardens and never miss tea. It may have been from the cookbooks that I rented from the library on a weekly basis, before I ever considered cooking would be a good way to eat all this delicious food. It may have been later, on the internet, where I was exposed for the first time to food writing that treated food as more than a list of components, but a language that we speak. What I do know is that I was in my 20s the first time I ate a radish. And the first time I ate it was on toast.

I had a crush on radishes on toast for a long time before I ever tried one. It seemed intensely elegant, a fancy way that I could eat two of my favorite things, bread and butter, to my heart’s content. It helped that I couldn’t identify exactly what a radish was, besides that it was a vegetable. There are sillier things to crush on, an unknown vegetable on bread, but not many.

When I did try this radish on toast I was a college senior, living with friends in off-campus housing. I had started shopping at our local co-op, and one day picked up radishes, and then a baguette. At home I tore a corner off the baguette, slathered it with butter, and topped with sliced radishes. I soon learned to sprinkle flakey salt on top, and have been eating radishes on toast whenever I can find good baguettes ever since.

Earlier this week Aaron and I went to an excellent local bakery and I picked up a baguette on a whim. I had never had theirs before, but once we were home and had torn off a corner I was smitten. I knew it was time to slice radishes and swipe butter. And so today in celebration of good bread and lovely weather, I offer three variations of radishes on toast- traditional, tweaked, and twisted. They’re all delicious, and all perfectly suited for spring cocktails and starting dinner outside.

Happy Friday.

Radishes on Toast, Three Ways

The quantity of components depend on how many pieces of toast you’d like, how comfortable you are with fat, and how heavily you add your radishes. The process is the same for each toast- Slice the baguette. Slather on the spread. Top with radishes and a flaked salt, like Maldon.

Traditional

Traditional

A tradition for a reason. It’s creamy and smooth, with just the right amount of crunch. The peppery bite of the radishes come through most here, making it the ideal radish toast for the radish lover.

baguette
butter, unsalted and room temperature
radishes
salt, flaked

Tweaked

Tweaked

Elegant and playful, the radish greens give a vegetal edge to the the creamy butter, while the shallots accentuate the bite of the radish.

baguette
butter, compound of radish leaves and shallots (recipe below)
radishes
salt, flaked

Twisted

Twisted

The pickled radishes here have that tart, puckering taste of all good pickles, an edge that is tamed by the smooth, nutty-sweet avocado.

baguette
avocado, smashed
radishes, pickled (recipe below)
salt, flaked

Radish Leaf and Shallot Compound Butter

The process is quite easy for this. Feel free to adjust proportions as you like- the more things stuffed into the butter, the more intense the flavor, the less things, the smoother the texture.

4 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1 handful clean radish leaves, finely chopped
1/2 shallot, minced

In a small bowl mix the butter with the radish leaves and shallot until well combined. Wrap in plastic and roll into a log, and refrigerate or freeze until you are ready to use. Be sure to bring to room temperature before trying to spread.

Pickled Radishes

I chose to make a small amount of pickled radishes because pickled radishes, unlike many other quick pickles, have a very short shelf life. The great advantage to pickled radishes is because they’re so thin they pickle very quickly.

4 radishes, cleaned and thinly sliced
1 cup white vinegar
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon whole fennel seeds
1/4 teaspoon mustard seeds
1/4 teaspoon whole black peppercorns

Place the radishes into a clean jar. Boil together the vinegar, salt, sugar, and spices. Pour the vinegar mixture over the radishes and let cool. The pickles can be eaten after hanging out in vinegar for an hour, and will keep in the refrigerator for about 5 days.

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Eggnog French Toast


There was a ritual around the Christmas tree. We would drive the hour a Saturday morning shortly after Thanksgiving to the same tree farm every year. As we drove the towns became smaller and further from each other. There was more farms and more tackle shops and far fewer strip malls. The bars looked friendlier than the adult-only ones my parents visited and advertised Coors on tap.

Once we got to the farm a worker in a bright orange vest would greet us, and offer a saw to borrow. Dad always brought his own, so instead the worker would tell us where we could and could not cut. Then we would drive our minivan, since we always seemed to have a minivan no matter if the memory is from age 5 or age 15, deep into the trees.

There was a wonderful variety of trees available. There were three foot trees for the couple just starting out. There were twenty foot trees for the family who had everything. Evergreens, as far as the eye could see. It reminded me of the historical novels I loved to read, about girls a hundred years ago walking in winter forests.

Dad was the one who chopped the tree but Mom was the one who decided. She had specific criteria. She didn’t want it to be too tall, because she didn’t want to pay for a height we’d have to cut off at home. Round needles, because they shed less than flat needles. It had to be full, although she also had a deep love for the Charlie Brown trees. And it had to have a true point, so we could top it with the angel. It took forever.

And then after we found one, we had to pose for a Christmas picture.

When Dad finally cut the tree he would remove one glove, and hold the tree in his ungloved hand while furiously sawing with the other. Mom’s job was to tilt the tree in the ever-changing direction Dad indicated. Our job as kids was to stay out of the way. We were not very good at this job.

After we had loaded the tree onto our car, and then had it bailed and paid for and trussed on top, we stopped for lunch at The Polka Dot Diner, which was filled with 1950s kitsch. The women’s bathroom was filled with pictures of Elvis smoldering at the inhabitants. It made me feel uncomfortable. I tried to avoid using the bathroom when I could. But I still loved it there, with the grilled cheese and hot chocolate I always ordered that tasted so much better than at home.

Back at home Dad always had to cut down the tree, and Mom followed the progression of the tree into the house with the vacuum cleaner. Then The Music of a Victorian Christmas CD was put on, and Mom pulled out the ornaments from storage, and I helped Dad tighten the Christmas tree into the base. The handmade ornaments always went up first- Abby’s angel made from a spoon, my triangular 1st grade picture frame, Mitch’s handprint Rudolph. Then the gift ornaments, then the baubles, then the 1970s Christmas light. The angel was always last. By now the music had switched to Nat King Cole and Dad was building a fire. We had popcorn and hot chocolate as we put up the nativity and the nutcrackers and stockings.

There were other Christmas rituals. Moving the wise men closer to the manger every day and lighting Advent candles. Chinese food and a Christmas Story on Christmas Eve, followed by midnight Mass. Cinnamon rolls, always from Cinnabon, for breakfast on Christmas morning while Mom and Dad took their coffee with Bailey’s. We’d open gifts in the morning and linger in our pajamas until it came time to shower and visit family.

The sad and beautiful thing about rituals is that they evolve. My parents no longer go out and hunt for a tree every year, having switched to plastic three years ago. There’s no more scent of pine perfuming the house and no more quite-possibly-toxic 1970s Christmas lights. The Cinnabon closest to my parents closed and they serve strata for breakfast instead. And the Polka Dot Diner closed, replaced with a space themed restaurant serving the exact same menu.

But when I go back to my parents I know there will still be fires, and Nat King Cole, and ornaments made from our elementary school pictures. I’ll likely make these cinnamon rolls for Christmas breakfast and my parents and Aaron will drink their coffee with Bailey’s.

But for the next week we’re making our own traditions. And this year that involves Hipster Holidays on Pandora, collecting ornaments for our non-existent tree, and eggnog french toast.

Eggnog french toast is the perfect breakfast when you want something celebratory but not too decadent or sweet. It feels special- thick slices of bread are soaked in eggnog and eggs, then fried so they’re crispy on the outside and custardy on the inside. I added vanilla to my batter, but if you want to move into the truly decadent category you could add whisky, brandy, or rum. It’s sweet, but not tooth-aching. It suggest holidays and celebration, but doesn’t demand it. It would be perfect for a lazy, weekend brunch, or a breakfast with friends. And it’s simple, although you’d ever know it- perfect for slowing down during a whirlwind Christmas season.

Eggnog French Toast

inspired by Burg’s French Toast from A Homemade Life by Molly Wizenburg

In order to get the crispy on the outside, soft on the inside, make sure to use a loaf of bread that’s got a bit of crust, but isn’t too dense. I used a batard that I got from my local grocery store, but you could even use one of those thick breads labeled as “Italian bread” that hangs out near the produce department. Additionally, make sure you fry the bread in enough oil. If there’s too little oil, you won’t get the nice sear on your bread.

12 slices (total weighing about a pound) of thick cut white bread
1 1/2 cups eggnog
1/2 cup milk
3 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

enough canola oil to cover the pan

In a shallow pan, such as a cake pan, whisk together the eggnog, milk, eggs, and vanilla until well combined. Place the bread slices in the egg mixture. The longer the bread soaks, the more custard-y the texture and eggnog-y the taste will be. I recommend soaking for 5-10 minutes and turning the bread once.

Place a large pan over medium heat and cover the bottom with canola oil.

Add the bread to the pan and let sit until golden brown, about three minutes. Turn the bread and let the other side cook, another two minutes or so. Repeat with remaining bread.

Serve with butter and maple syrup.

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Mom-inspired Zucchini Bread

Zucchini bread

My mom had two cookbooks, a handful of food magazines, and a white plastic file box crammed with recipe cutting that she kept in the cabinet next to the stove. From this store she made dinner for three kids and my dad every night of the week while working full-time. She’d often do it while working more than full-time.

I learned to cook from watching her. She saw that I was interested and able, and started putting me in charge of preheating the oven for chicken or shredding beef for tacos when I was about 13. Our meals were rarely glamorous, but they were tasty, nutritional, and quick. We sat around the table talking about our days while we ate, and could only be excused when we had eaten enough.

Once in a while, when she had time and a willing audience, she’d experiment. In the summers we’d make pizza dough and grill pizzas, every person choosing their own toppings. (I always chose every possible vegetable and bacon.) I still make her corn and black bean salsa for potlucks. It was never that she didn’t like cooking, but that it was often the last thing on the list after a busy day. She took care of us in so many ways, and cooking was only one of them.

I have, at last count, thirty cookbooks. I make money by cooking for people. I’m not scared to spend an hour or more making dinner. Cooking is something I love, a way that I share myself with people. I know that a lot of people who love to cook feel the same way. But there are also days when I do not have the energy to devote lots of time and effort to making sure I get fed. And then I look back at my mom’s example, and take inspiration from her- fajitas, chili, mac and cheese. My mom knew a good thing when she found it.

And every summer, when she had more time, she would make zucchini bread. It was lightly sweetened, filled with nuts, and a treat that we could all agree upon. We kids liked it because it was sweet and tasted like cake. She liked it because it was low in sugar and we were eating vegetables for a snack. She made it from one of the recipes that she had shoved in her recipe box, and although years ago I copied many recipes down from there, her zucchini bread was not one of them. Instead, when I got a craving, I had to scour my cookbook selection to find a zucchini bread recipe. And what a find I got.

And so in late summer, I used the zucchini my garden is still producing to make zucchini bread. The taste is buttery and tender, despite their being no butter in the dough. The spice is warming and comforting, and the bread has just enough firmness to create a delicious contrast between the crust and the center. It’s excellent as breakfast, a snack, or dessert, and may remind you of getting a treat some lucky summer afternoon from your overworked and underappreciated mom.

Spiced Zucchini Bread

lightly adapted from The Northern Heartland Kitchen by Beth Dooley

The adaptions I made were minor- I substituted vegetable oil for coconut oil and allspice for nutmeg. If you wanted to gild the lily, you could toast the walnuts, but I think they’re delicious ungilded.

Makes 2 loaves

3 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons ground ginger
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
3 eggs
1 cup coconut oil
2 cups cane sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 cups grated zucchini (about 1 large)

Preheat the oven to 325. Grease and flour two loaf pans. Set aside.

In a large bowl whisk together the flour, spices, baking soda, baking powder, salt and nuts.

In a medium bowl whisk together the eggs, oil, sugar, and vanilla until the sugar is dissolved. Stir in the zucchini. Turn the wet mixture into the dry mixture and mix until everything is just combined. Divide the batter between the two prepared pans.

Bake the bread until it is firm, golden, and a toothpick comes out clean, about 60-70 minutes. Cool the bread loafs in their pan on a cooling rack for about 10 minutes, then invert the pans and remove the bread. Continue to cool with the bread right side up.

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