Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Peperonata Pizza

I've not written for almost a week, and I find that I missed doing this! We went away for a few days, then my birthday and other social-type things to do, then getting Jack ready for a business trip (no, there is no food in southern Virginia... so I baked all day on Sunday), all added up to little time for posting.

Sunday was, as always, Pizza Sunday.

The last time that I made pizza dough was using Beth’s recipe from the website, A Year In Bread. It was a really good crust, but I had felt that perhaps making this crust in the morning to bake later that day didn’t give the dough enough time to properly develop its flavors. So this week I put together the dough on a Thursday night and allowed it almost a full 3 days to rise in the refrigerator. That seemed to make a huge difference in the pizza crust. It was still a crisp crust with a nice texture, but the flavor was much improved.

I also cut out a step in that mixing-of-the-dough process which Beth describes. I realize that there must have been a reason that, after the initial blending of the ice water, flour, and yeast, the mixture is placed in the refrigerator for ten minutes before adding olive oil and salt. But I didn’t have the time, so I mixed the salt with the flour, and the olive oil with the water, and I used the paddle attachment of my Kitchen Aid to mix/ knead it for 2 minutes. After that, the dough was placed in the refrigerator for a total of 68 hours (about 2 ¾ days).

Still bubbly and active after almost 3 days of refrigeration.

Another addition to the recipe was taking this dough out of the fridge for an hour before I divided and shaped it. I find that almost-room temperature dough is much easier to work with than a cold dough.

Well, after those changes, this week’s pizza was incredible. Crisp crust, wonderful flavor. I topped it with reduced-fat mozzarella, peperonata, Boca Italian "Sausage", and asiago. Jack and I have different "favorite" parts of pizza. His are the toppings with the thin, crisp crust underneath. I could just eat around the perimeter of the pizza-- I love bread! That bubble o' crust in the photo below was my favorite part of the pizza. I adore the "puffy crust". :)

I made peperonata for the first time many years ago, probably 20 or so, when I had a very bountiful garden full of tomatoes and bell peppers. As I recall, I had probably canned close to a hundred quarts of tomato sauce and tried my hand at making ketchup, all to reduce the amount of tomatoes in the garden. As for the peppers, I had far less of those, but still enough to prepare and freeze an awful lot for use over the winter. I made several batches of this recipe and froze it in serving-sized portions. That was the same year my grandmother gave me her big ol’ Montgomery Ward upright freezer, which is still humming away behind me as I write this. Knock on wood—I often wish for a new freezer, this one needs to be defrosted every fall and it’s a day-long chore, but as long as it continues to do its job I will keep it.

I found the original peperonata in a book called Northern Italian Cooking by Biba Caggiano and over the years have adapted it to our tastes. It is great over a thick, shaped pasta such as rigatoni as well as an accompaniment to roasted chicken and, of course, topping a pizza!

* Exported from MasterCook *


Recipe By: Vicci

Servings: 2

Amount Measure Ingredient -- Preparation Method

--------- ---------- ---------------------------------------

1 tablespoon olive oil

5 ounces bell pepper -- cut into 1/4" strips (about 1 2/3 cups)

4 ounces sweet onion -- cut into strips (about 1 1/4 cups)

1 tablespoon minced garlic

14 ounces canned diced tomatoes -- not drained (or ¾ pound diced fresh tomatoes)

2 tablespoons red wine vinegar

Heat oil in a medium sized, covered skillet over medium/low heat. Add bell peppers and onion and cook at a nice, slow sauté until the vegetables are soft but not browned, 8-10 minutes; stir frequently. Add garlic and stir for another minute.

Stir in canned tomatoes, turn up the heat a little until the mixture begins to simmer, then cover and turn the heat to low. Cook for 10 minutes, stirring often.

Add the red wine vinegar (essential, do not substitute any other type), stir to combine, and simmer, uncovered, for another 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste.


"1 3/4 cups"

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Per serving: 136 Calories (kcal); 7g Total Fat; (41% calories from fat); 3g Protein; 19g Carbohydrate; 0mg Cholesterol; 627mg Sodium

Food Exchanges: 0 Grain(Starch); 0 Lean Meat; 1 1/2 Vegetable; 0 Fruit; 1 1/2 Fat; 0 Other Carbohydrates

This is enough peperonata to top one 14” pizza or about 6 ounces cooked pasta. Add crumbled dried or chopped fresh basil, if desired. Also hot pepper flakes are a good way to spice things up!

And, as an ending note, last week I was in a panic state because Spooky had to get his teeth cleaned. I won't go into ALL of the reasons, but they were valid ones (I think so, anyway) and I was incredibly relieved when it was over with no extractions, no dire results from the pre-anesthesia bloodwork. A couple of days later, I was walking past the rhododendrons when I saw a black "stick" on the ground underneath. Upon closer observation, it turned out to be a Spooky Paw. I got the camera, called his name, and woke him up:

This was one of those warm spring days where I would have loved to nestle in the cool rhododendrons and nap, but there's always so darn much for humans to do!

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Cool rainy weather makes me want to turn on the oven, so instead of more baked goods (please, make them stop-- I have no willpower!) I thought I would make something for dinner that needed to be roasted. I had recently placed a recipe for Cod, Fennel, and Potato Casserole in my “to try” file and, before it sunk to the bottom never-neverland, I rescued it. For some reason, while grocery shopping, I had bought a large bulb of fennel. It probably reminded me of spring, but I really had no idea why I placed it in my basket. This recipe, posted by Jean on the Cuisine at Home bulletin board, seemed the perfect way to use the it.

I thin-sliced the potatoes and fennel with my 2mm slicing disc in the Cuisinart.
These were tossed with olive oil, garlic, salt, and pepper and baked for a half hour. Then the cod is seasoned, placed on top of the potato-fennel mixture and baked for another 15 minutes. Very easy. My cod shrunk a bit... ;) Roasting the fennel gave it a very nutty, sweet flavor which paired well with the roasted potatoes. Now I know why to buy fennel!

To accompany, I steamed broccoli, which I squeezed fresh lemon over, and tossed halved Roma tomatoes with olive oil, fresh lemon juice, chopped garlic, and s&p and roasted these in the oven with the main dish.

Cod, Potato, & Fennel Casserole

I almost decided against this dish 'cause it just sounded too blah...but, I'm so glad I didn't bypass it - it's simple and it's just delicious!!

I made the whole recipe, but just put two smallish cod fillets on top. Now, I have this wonderful potato mixture to play with for brunch this morning. The thickness of my filets took an extra 4-5 min. to get it to 140 F. and it was just perfect!


Active time: 15 min Start to finish: 1 hr

2 medium fennel bulbs (sometimes called anise; 1 1/2 lb total), stalks cut off and discarded, and fronds reserved for garnish if desired
1 1/2 lb large boiling potatoes
3 large garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 lb skinless cod fillet (1 inch thick), cut into 6 portions
Garnish: chopped fennel fronds or fresh flat-leaf parsley
Accompaniment: lemon wedges
Special equipment: a Japanese Benriner* or other adjustable-blade slicer; a 3-quart shallow baking dish (2 inches deep)

Preheat oven to 400°F.

Cut fennel bulbs crosswise into 1/16-inch-thick slices with slicer. Peel potatoes and cut crosswise into 1/16-inch-thick slices with slicer.

Transfer fennel and potatoes to baking dish and toss with garlic, salt, pepper, and 4 tablespoons oil. Spread vegetables evenly in dish and bake, covered with foil, in middle of oven until just tender, 25 to 30 minutes.

Season fish with salt and pepper and arrange on top of vegetables. Drizzle with remaining 2 tablespoons oil and bake, uncovered, until fish is just cooked through, 12 to 15 minutes.

Make 6 servings.

December 2002

Friday, April 13, 2007

Southwestern Vegetable Soup

It was a crisp, blustery fall day today. Uh, I mean spring day! We were teased with a week of early-summer two weeks ago, slammed with winter for the past week, and now-- cool temps, rain, wind, and the threat of snow tomorrow. Yippee.

I just couldn't get warm today and decided to remedy that with a hot soup for lunch. I originally wanted to make an Italian-style soup but had no canned cannellini beans. Surprisingly, I only had one can of beans in the pantry, pinto. So a southwestern-style soup for lunch was concocted.

This was a mildly-spicy broth with chewy brown rice and vegetables finished with a swirl of sour cream, shredded cheddar, and a sprinkling of cilantro.

Because Jack prefers thick soups I use a "slurry", a water and flour mixture, to thicken the broth. If your taste is for the thinner broth, simply leave out step 2. Also, I puree the beans both to thicken the soup and to avoid the "you're putting beans in our food again?!?!" comment. ;) They can be added to the soup, whole, during the last 10 minutes of cooking, if desired.

* Exported from MasterCook *

Southwestern Vegetable Soup

Recipe By: Vicci
Servings: 6

Amount Measure Ingredient -- Preparation Method
-------- ------------ --------------------------------
2 teaspoons olive oil
2 1/2 ounces chopped onion -- 1 medium onion
2 large garlic clove -- minced
6 cups vegetable broth
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
9 ounces pinto beans, cooked -- one 15-ounce can, drained and rinsed
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon oregano -- crumbled
1 teaspoon chili powder
1/2 teaspoon ground chipotle chili powder -- optional
salt and pepper to taste
2/3 cup brown rice -- uncooked
14 ounces canned diced tomatoes, undrained
5 ounces carrot -- about 1 cup; 1/4" dice
3 ounces bell pepper -- colored peppers preferred; about 1/2 cup; 1/4" dice
4 ounces zucchini -- about 1 cup; 1/4" dice
1/2 cup frozen corn kernels -- thawed
1/4 cup light sour cream
2 tablespoons skim milk
1/2 cup shredded lowfat cheddar cheese
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro

1. In a 4-quart dutch oven over medium-low heat, saute the onion in the oil until softened, stirring often. Do not allow to brown. Stir in the minced garlic and cook for another minute. Add 3 cups of the broth, turn the heat to medium, and bring to a boil.

2. In a small bowl, stir flour into 1/2 cup cool water until there are no lumps. Slowly add to the boiling broth, stirring with a whisk to keep mixture smooth. Turn down the heat a bit and boil for 2 minutes, stirring frequently.

3. In a blender, puree the beans with 3/4 cup of the broth until smooth. Add the bean puree to the soup and stir. Add the next 7 ingredients (cumin through canned tomatoes) and the remaining broth, and stir. Turn the heat to medium-low and cook this mixture for 30 minutes, stirring often, partially covered. Add salt and pepper as needed.

4. Add carrot and bell pepper and cook for 10 more minutes. Add zucchini and corn and cook for 5 minutes, or until the rice is tender. Stir often to prevent rice from sticking to the bottom of the pot.

5. In a small bowl, mix sour cream and milk until smooth.

6. Ladle soup into bowls and garnish with drizzles of sour cream, shredded cheese, and cilantro.

"approximately 9 cups "

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Per serving: 234 Calories (kcal); 3g Total Fat; (12% calories from fat); 9g Protein; 43g Carbohydrate; 2mg Cholesterol; 517mg Sodium
Food Exchanges: 4 Grain(Starch); 1/2 Lean Meat; 1 Vegetable; 0 Fruit; 1 1/2 Fat; 0 Other Carbohydrates

NOTES : Serve with baked tortilla chips or warmed corn tortillas
Diced avocado and fresh diced tomato are nice garnishes, too.

Also, if you refrigerate this soup, the rice absorbs a good deal of the broth so you will need to add anywhere from 1/2 to 3/4 cup additional broth while reheating.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Dry-Rubbed Salmon Tacos with Tomatillo-Avocado Slaw

A few years ago, I heard mention of fish tacos and was thoroughly unimpressed. Ick. Fish tacos? Bleh.

I grew up in a small town where the most exotic food was… embarrassingly… Italian. Seriously. I never tasted Chinese food until I was in college (again, small town) and this was some sort of chow mein which my roommates heated from a can; the real Chinese food finally came after I graduated from college, working in NYC. A Mexican restaurant did open during my last year of college and that was a fun discovery. My other must-eat cuisines, Indian, Thai, Greek, & Caribbean, weren’t discovered until years later. How deprived I was!!! :)

Tacos. They were supposed to be made of ground beef (or, in recent years, ground turkey) in soft corn tortillas, smothered in taco sauce, piled with shredded cheddar, chopped tomatoes, shredded iceberg lettuce, and sour cream. My idea of comfort food! But fish? Uh-huh. Until a couple of years ago when I belonged to a cooking group and our Cinco de Mayo menu included fish tacos. Tilapia fillets were dredged in a flour, salt, and ground cumin mixture then sautéed. A fillet was then placed in a warm corn tortilla, covered with a piquant roasted tomatillo salsa, sprinkled with finely chopped sweet onion and chopped avocado, then rolled. Heaven! I went home that night and told Jack that I just had to make him that fish taco recipe. He wrinkled his nose. No thanks, he said. Well, in our house I cook and Jack eats. He doesn’t really have a say in what I make. I have to admit that he is a relatively adventurous eater, much more so than some of my friend’s husbands, and there have only been a half-dozen times in the past 24 years where he admitted that he would really appreciate it if I could refrain from making _________ in the future.

So I made the fish tacos anyway. And it was good. So good that this became one of our rare “repeater” recipes, prepared a couple of times a month during warmer weather.

I was flipping through April’s Food & Wine one recent afternoon and found a recipe for Salmon Tacos. This recipe didn’t appeal to me immediately since I think of salmon as having such a strong flavor that it wouldn’t work well with other traditional taco ingredients. But I was wrong. I just happened to have almost every ingredient on hand, and it was a warm spring day which meant that I wanted to grill dinner. Then “Dry-Rubbed Salmon Tacos with Tomatillo-Avocado Slaw”, it was!

This slightly out-of-focus photo does not do these tacos justice. I could have sat in my chair and happily eaten them all night long. The salmon was tender and sweet with a spicy crust, the slaw crunchy and tangy; there couldn’t be a more sublime pairing. I served the tacos with grilled roma tomatoes (sprinkled with the same spice mixture that was rubbed on the salmon and a little olive oil and chopped garlic) and a crisp Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand. Excellent, excellent, excellent dinner! I didn't have red cabbage for the slaw, so I used all Savoy, but other than adding some color, it's not really necessary.

Saturday, April 7, 2007

Hot Cross Buns for Good Friday

I couldn't believe it. Winter arrived on Thursday morning. My bleeding hearts are bowed over, as are the clematis and peonies. The hyacinth leaves are darkened and shriveled to the ground. Isn't it supposed to be spring? At least I have the masses of flowers I picked on Wednesday to keep me happy...

And baking! Baking makes me happy, especially holiday baking. Hot Cross Buns for Good Friday, lemon ricotta pie and pizelles for Easter. My holidays all seem to revolve around food!

Again referring to A Year In Bread, the recipe for Kevin's Hot Cross Buns called to me. I make these every Good Friday and was interested in Kevin's recipe because it was a slow-refrigerator-rising recipe. I was able to make them on Thursday afternoon, pop the formed dough in the fridge until the next morning, take them out and set the pan on the table to warm up for a few hours, then bake them as a mid-morning treat. The changes I made were to reduce the allspice to 1/4 teaspoon, add 1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg, sub chopped dried cranberries for the currants, and I added some toasted sliced almonds as well. These were quite delicious! I inadvertently left them in the oven for about 4 minutes too long (I ran outside fill the birdfeeder and it took longer than I anticipated. Multitasking rarely works for me...) but a little bit of dryness to the bread was the only negative (and that was entirely my fault). The buns had a good crumb and the spices combined with the almonds and cranberries were yummy.

Well, we have had a guest for the past day and now he and Jack are at a hockey game, giving me a few hours to get ready for tomorrow. Go Pens!
and, to everyone,


Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Pizza-- again!

For the past several years, Sunday night has been Pizza Night at our house. For most of these years I have used the same pizza crust recipe and we liked it enough that I didn't feel the need to mess around with finding a new recipe. Well, until this past Sunday!

I joined a group called "A Year In Bread", where founding-member Beth posted her pizza crust recipe. It's an unorthodox recipe, the ingredients are mixed while ice-cold and the dough rises slowly in the refrigerator for many hours. As an end result, I'm tossing the old recipe! This made a wonderful pizza dough. It was easy to work with (remember to bring it to room temperature, there's nothing more frustrating than fighting cold dough) and the flavor was excellent.

I made this one with my red pizza sauce, light mozzarella, sweet onions, spinach, roasted red pepper, grilled chicken breast, and grated Parmesan.

The pizza sauce recipe:

* Exported from MasterCook *

Pizza Sauce

Recipe By: Vicci

Servings : 8

Amount Measure Ingredient -- Preparation Method

-------- ------------ --------------------------------

2 teaspoons olive oil
3 large garlic cloves -- minced

1/4 cup finely chopped onion

1 teaspoon dried oregano -- crumbled

1 teaspoon dried basil -- crumbled

1/4 teaspoon hot pepper flakes

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 cup tomato sauce

1 tablespoon tomato paste -- if needed

In olive oil, saute garlic and onion over low-medium heat until tender. Add dried oregano through black pepper and stir for another minute. Add tomato sauce and tomato paste, if the sauce is too thin. Mix w
ell, and cook at a simmer, stirring often, for 10 minutes. Cool before using.

"1 cup"
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Per serving: 26 Calories (kcal); 1g Total Fat; (38% calories from fat); 1g Protein; 4g Carbohydrate; 0mg Cholesterol; 269mg Sodium
Food Exchanges: 0 Grain(Starch); 0 Lean Meat; 1/2 Vegetable; 0 Fruit; 0 Fat; 0 Other Carbohydrates

How quickly weather changes here in early spring! I took this photo yesterday, and it was around 80F. Same time today, 35 degrees cooler. Ick. And , since the lows are to be in the low 20's (wind chill in the teens), I picked all of my hyacinths and daffodils. And several branches of forsythia, as well. If it's going to be Christmas outside, I'm gonna darn well have Easter inside! :) It's nice-- my house smells like a florist shop!