Monday, December 14, 2009

personal pizza

When its a cold day and you've seen just about enough pizza ads to almost make you pick up the phone and order take out, you can make your own pizza in just a few minutes...faster than the delivery guy...and healthier for you too.

The dough... since I make no-knead bread on a regular basis, I keep dough in the fridge. I just cut off a fist sized piece, roll it out and add my toppings. You may need to add a smidge more time to make some dough. So here it is.

Per pizza I start with 1 1/2 cup of flour ( bread, A.P. or a mix is fine. I use bread flour)

3/4 cup of water

1/2 tsp of salt

1 tsp of yeast (or 1/2 package if you get the envelopes from the store)

1-2 tbl of good olive oil

Mix the dry ingredients in a large bowl. I pour the water into the flour, yeast and salt mixture and just stir until its a really wet ball. Turn out onto a floured surface and knead until it gets firmer and springy. (you can omit the kneading if you use the no-knead method, substituting time for your effort).

Place back in the bowl and drizzle the oil over the ball and cover with plastic wrap (or just use a shower cap like I do).

Set in a warm place to rise. This takes an hour or so. You can also put it in the fridge for the next day. The time actually develops the structure of the dough, much as kneading would.

When you have a dough that is ready to use (by what ever method you choose), roll out onto a baking sheet and add your favorite, BBQ, olive oil, ranch dressing, marinara, the choices are endless.... and add cheese or cheeses and toppings.

For the pizza shown, I put BBQ sauce on the dough and added a blend of four italian cheeses from Kraft and topped it with a half boneless skinless chicken breast and a slice of red onion, chopped, which had been quickly stir fried with pinch of garlic salt and olive oil. I cut the leftover black olives from Thanksgiving in half and tossed those on there too. I also like to drizzle a bit of oil on the crust and sprinkle the crust with garlic salt before I bake it.

I popped it in a 400 degree oven for 20 minutes. Then because I like the bottom crust crisp, I slid it off the pan just onto the oven rack for another 5 minutes. YUM!!!

This is a perfect dish to use your leftover in. I don't know about you guys, but there is always a half of onion, red pepper or a few mushrooms in my fridge veggie drawer.

This makes a wonderful ham and cheese sandwich/pizza by laying a few thin slices of ham on the dough and topping with any cheese or cheese mix you like... Again, bake until the top is crispy and brown about 20-30 minutes.

The oven warms your kitchen and the pizza warms you inside. This dish is inexpensive to make and if you use your left overs, prevents waste. Of course, you can always make more and share a meal with a friend or neighbor.

Enjoy! Or should I say manga!!

Thursday, December 3, 2009

What I did over my Thanksgiving vacation or why I haven't been posting of late.

Yes I know it has been too long since I last posted. But I have a good excuse.
I was waylayed by the domino effect... you know, when one thing happens, that leads to another... and another... and another.

Now that I am nearing the end of the faucet, that turned into a project, that turned into a kitchen, I can smile and write the whole thing down.

I will post pictures one day soon.

The story began like this.... the kitchen faucet began to drip... such a little thing really.... not so much at first and I could always find a handle position that would make it stop.

Then one day, there was no handle position that would satisfy it and the dripping became worse. I was determined not to waste water, so soon it was filling my tea pot at an alarming rate.

Eventually, I could no longer drink that much tea.

Something had to be done.

I began to consider replacing the faucet. I couldn't really afford to do it, but couldn't afford to let it go.

I contacted the local plumber recommended by my contractor neighbor. The would change it for $75 an hour, plus all the stuff. Geez! That could really add up!

I am in the wrong business.

So, I went in search of stuff.

A long line of dominos began to assemble and tumble.

I looked on the internet and in the box stores. I realized that if I did the faucet (domino one), I would have to replace the sink (domino two) as well.

Heck, they had been installed when we moved in the house in 1954. Time to go.

I really like a single sink. I never understood the double bowl concept....and in my perfect world, a tall faucet with a coil or a sprayer in the handle is perfect.

Then I saw how much these choices would cost. Yikes!!

As things often happen, I ended up at Lowes, on a whim, brain numbed by whirling dollar signs, and was standing in front of the sinks when the new display sinks arrived and the old ones just had to a fraction of the price.

My dream sink was to be had for $75, instead of the $400 it sold for yesterday. Only one left. I'll take it.

I couldnt afford it, but what the heck, I couldn't afford not to.

I picked out a slight compromise on faucet. Ok, a huge compromise, but it fit the one hole in the sink and had most of my function criteria. It looked nice too at a lower price point.

I did splurge on the stainless finish though. So off I went with parts one and two, but the story only takes off here.

The counter was next (domino three). Well, the counter was the original formica, cracked when they installed the now nearly finishless cast iron sink.

It also had a cute little burn hole near the stove, which my mom made and ever since kept a salt shaker over it, so no one would know.

It really had to go.

My dream kitchen has soapstone counters. I visited a local tile shop on an exploration excursion and found some charcoal porcelain tile with a flat finish, sorta like soapstone. I could do the whole top for under a hundred bucks. Sold!

I planned on tiling right over the old formica and plywood top... mistake or not.

I also picked out a backsplash tile, stone really and it was a bit more pricey, but would really upgrade the space.

Heck, I'm in it this far, what's more money?! I showed the tile to mom and she approved heartily.

In my dream, I would have picked a cobalt blue subway tile, but I realized the more neutral stone would not become as tired as quickly or dated and the resale value would hold better. Sigh. Stone it is.

My friend Gail came to visit with the loan of a tile saw. I had to get the counter done, so the sink could go in before the Thanksgiving holiday dinner with 12 folks coming the next week.

Nothing like a good deadline to spur some action.

I dont know how we decided to remove the formica from the counter. Oh, yes I do! The stainless trim was buried under the formica edge and in order to remove that, we had to pry up the formica. It came up in shards. That's the only way to put it.

We chipped and pried and tugged and chiseled until it was all off. Then I repaired the now shredded top and secured the formica backsplash with roofing nails. I'm leaving that beast in place.

No telling what could possibly be behind that. I knew part of the wall was cement and part plaster and lath from 1935. The wall was so shallow, the electrical boxes were half depth and molded into the cement. Oy.

All the pipes and braided wires and such ran in this wall. I'm not opening that can of worms. Not me.

I did buy a silicone adhesive to attach the 2x4 running bond stone sheets to the wall with. (That only took three trips to the box store.) This way, if I ever needed to remove and reinstall them, I could, well, maybe I could....I hope I can. Yes, I could!

Understand, all this is happening, with products arriving, not arriving, coming damaged, backordered, at the tile place.

Not all things can be had from one supplier either, so grout comes from one store, adhesive from another. This industry is ripe for a takeover.

This is all happening with my aforementioned self-imposed deadline and my constant attempts to make a living... such as it is.

By the end of the weekend with Gail, she had her paper written and I had my counter top mostly tiled. I was short 5 tiles til the next Friday. I arranged for my folks to pick them up while I was out of town on business. They, of course, forgot the tile trip, but managed the rendezvous the following day.

My dear retired neighbor Larry, who does some of all things handyman-like called to say he could put in the sink. In the process, we found out the drain pipes had been cracked all the way into the basement. This was a disaster waiting to happen. Crisis averted.

We replumbed back to the cast iron stack below. The real job was getting the old sink out. Larry couldnt wait for me to get boards in place fast enough and when he moved it it fell into the opening and crashed through the cabinet doors, all zillion pounds of cast iron and gravity. He jumped out of the way and no one was too damaged. I fixed the cupboard later. The new sink and faucet installation took time but had no drama attached. Whew.

Gosh it looked good. I couldnt wait for it all to be done. Still waiting for tiles though.

The plan was when I got home, I could alternate working on client files with setting backsplash tiles...those I did have. While one dried or clicked or whirred, I could attend to the other. I kinda got a rhythm going there.

By Thanksgiving when the family arrived, I had most of the counter done and the bulk of the backsplash as well.

Thanksgiving was a whirl.

I shopped, cleaned and cooked like a mad woman. I even took pictures of some of it.....but not the dinner on the table as I had planned. Sorry.

The whole clan descended, ate, and as soon as I was done with the dishes, they ate dessert, I finished those dishes and they all bolted.

I didnt even get a chance to play with the baby. Dang!!

My sister-in-law has announced she will make the Christmas eve dinner this year. Works for me.

It will probably be easier, with the new baby and all. And the bulk of the family is theirs.

Still, I really liked cooking etc... and I confess, being the hub at those events.

I guess I figure, we all get a chance, and I also figure, she will tire of it and hand it back really soon.

I loved my new kitchen, even if it was only halfway done. The family was impressed too... at least they said so.

Larry came back and we tackled the lighting and electrical outlets. In a very long day, we installed new under cabinet and over sink lights and put in all new GFI's and switches in the kitchen.

Wow, light! What a difference it makes.

Next domino was the wall color. The celery green of old didn't go with the new counter and stone. I agonized over color and found myself revisiting dark neutral browns over and over.

I chose two and a possible glaze and took the time to tape and paint multiple coats. It looks amazing!!! I hope the muscle spasms in my neck and shoulders go away soon.

Of course, the eating room needed paint too...and the half bath...and the entry hall.

I did it all.

Finally, I am down to a small list of to-dos. The trim needs retouching, as the painter's tape pulled some paint off or allowed leakage under edges. Part of the process.

Today I intend to attach the chair rail tile I bought for my counter edging. I wanted this to be last so it wouldnt get bumped before it had time to really set.... and 'cause I am scared to screw it up. These tiles were the most expensive of all.

Then I need to grout the backsplash and I will be done...done...done....until I see something else.

So that is what I have been doing. Glad to have a kitchen again, especially my new improved one, I'm restacking the dominos for the next go around.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

potato leek soup with no knead whole wheat bread

Today's recipe is really a twofer. Soup and bread. Now who can eat soup without a slab of crusty bread alongside it?? Not me.

For the past two years, I have started making Jim Lahey's no knead bread. I consider it one of those "work smarter, not harder" things. I first saw it in Mark Bittman's column and have been experimenting with variations ever since. Especially now that I am limiting myself to Michigan grown produce and grains, it really fits right in. About the time I first saw this recipe, I also purchased a grain mill for my Kitchen Aid mixer. Now, I must confess, I am not as religious about grinding my own since I found a local couple who not only grow, but grind as well.

And yes, this recipe is found everywhere these days, but I will include it for those of you who haven't stumbled across it yet. I often, do not preheat the oven, just plop the dough in the cast iron casserole and put it in the oven cold, turn on the heat and after the 30 minutes, remove the cover for the remaining 20 minutes my loaves seem to require. Easy peasy.

no knead bread.....

3 cups all-purpose or bread flour, more for dusting (if making whole wheat , use half whole wheat and half white)

¼ teaspoon instant yeast

¼teaspoon instant yeast

1¼ teaspoons salt
Cornmeal or wheat bran as needed.

1. In a large bowl combine flour, yeast and salt. Add 1 5/8 cups water, and stir until blended; dough will be shaggy and sticky. Cover bowl with plastic wrap. Let dough rest at least 12 hours, preferably about 18, at warm room temperature, about 70 degrees.

2. Dough is ready when its surface is dotted with bubbles. Lightly flour a work surface and place dough on it; sprinkle it with a little more flour and fold it over on itself once or twice. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rest about 15 minutes.

3. Using just enough flour to keep dough from sticking to work surface or to your fingers, gently and quickly shape dough into a ball. Generously coat a cotton towel (not terry cloth) with flour, wheat bran or cornmeal; put dough seam side down on towel and dust with more flour, bran or cornmeal. Cover with another cotton towel and let rise for about 2 hours. When it is ready, dough will be more than double in size and will not readily spring back when poked with a finger.

4. At least a half-hour before dough is ready, heat oven to 450 degrees. Put a 6- to 8-quart heavy covered pot (cast iron, enamel, Pyrex or ceramic) in oven as it heats. When dough is ready, carefully remove pot from oven. Slide your hand under towel and turn dough over into pot, seam side up; it may look like a mess, but that is O.K. Shake pan once or twice if dough is unevenly distributed; it will straighten out as it bakes. Cover with lid and bake 30 minutes, then remove lid and bake another 15 to 30 minutes, until loaf is beautifully browned. Cool on a rack.

Makes one 1½-pound loaf. At $3.50 for a five pound bag of organic four, it still only costs $.70 a loaf. I like to make a batch and keep it in the fridge for the entire week, using it for bread, english muffins, and pizza dough as needed.

julia child's potato leek soup...

3-4 cups of diced peeled potatoes (1 lb.) I usually use two to three large baking potatoes.

3 cups thinly sliced leeks, including the tender greens. This usually takes two leeks of substantial size.
water to cover

1 Tablespoon salt

1-2 cloves of garlic (optional)
6 tablespoons heavy cream or 1/4 cup sour cream
3 tablespoons minced chives or parsley

Simmer vegetables, salt, garlic, and water together, partially covered for 40-50 minutes in a 3-4 quart saucepan. Mash the vegetables into the soup in a blender or food processor or pass through a food mill. Julia did not like the texture of soup pureed in a blender, your call. Adjust salt and pepper. You can stop at this point. When ready to serve, bring soup back to simmering. Then off the heat, stir in the cream or sour cream and top with chopped chives or parsley. It does not get much better than this! Good to freeze the rest for another day!

This soup costs about $3.00 for the entire pot. At the farmers market, leeks are two for a dollar and the potatoes are a dollar a pound or 15 pounds for five dollars.... heck, they keep forever, buy the big basket! Kosher salt is two dollars a box and sour cream and heavy cream each are just over two dollars per container. You will need less than a quarter of the container.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

cuban black beans with rice

This dish is quite hearty and as I used jasmine rice, quite a nice mixture of flavors. I paired it with a glass of fresh apple cider from the farmers market and a soft tortilla.

I keep hearing weather reports, and I swear, there is one more opinion than number of reports. Some say, winter will be harsh this year. One says it is an el nino year and it will be warm. And I bet the truth will be quite a distance from all the guesses and bygollys. What I do know is, it is very cold out this month and it doesn't appear to be warming at all. So hearty food is called for and hearty food it will be.... for now.


1 cup of dry black beans

2 cups water.. plus additional for soaking beans

1 cup tomatoes chopped, seeded, peeled or 1/2 can of diced tomatoes undrained

1/2 cup celery, diced

1 1/2 cup onion, diced

3-4 large cloves garlic, minced

1 cup red bell pepper, chopped

2 bay leaves

2 tablespoons olive oil

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon sugar

1 teaspoon cumin (optional)

Rice, white, cooked

garnish possibilities....all are optional according to your taste

cilantro, chopped

sour cream

tomatoes, chopped

thai chilies, jalapenos, any other hot peppers, sliced thin, per your liking for spice and heat

lime wedges

Cover the beans with cold water and soak overnight. Drain and discard water.

Combine beans, 2 c water, tomatoes, celery, 1/2 c onion, 1 clove garlic and bay leaves in crock pot or heavy pot on stovetop.

Cook slowly until beans are tender (anywhere from 4-6 hours) Remove bay leaves.

Add rest of ingredients and cook an additional hour.

Serve with rice and garnishes.

This dish keeps well and the leftover beans can be used to make black bean soup...which is an upcoming recipe.... imagine that!

food notions

In my personal quest to eat in a conscious way, that is healthy for me and the planet, I have slowly redesigned my relationship to food. Oh anyway, I'm trying. I try to eat less quantity, healthier, less refined foods, be more in control of what I eat and where it comes from. I try to eat seasonal food, local in origin, organic when possible, with a mind to the carbon footprint I leave in my wake. Yes, I still like to go out for chinese food, or a steak. I still use cinnamon and spices not grown around here. And yes, I don't go out to eat as often, and when I do, I really look at how my food is prepared and served. It is as much about a frame of reference than any one specific action. Small actions, big changes... I hope.

Maybe our current collective fiscal woes are a good thing. It may force us to move in a wiser and healthier direction. We need to get off of a diet based on oil and resolarize our agricultural system. Our poor ravaged planet can no longer sustain our greed, overuse and abuse of her fragile eco-system. By limiting our impact in small ways, we can keep our planet viable for our children and their children.

I am not by nature, or nurture, a vegetarian. But... I now limit my consumption of meats, thereby reducing my carbon footprint. I am making more dishes with legumes and grains. This isn't always easy, as I was raised on meat and vegetables at every meal.... and I really like that diet. Liking something doesn't make it the best course of action, so number of years ago, I set out to redesign my meals.

Today my meals have more carbohydrates than before, but whole grains and beans. I try and follow the seasons with my recipes, so that salads are summer fare and soups are on the table more often in winter. I even try to include more fruits (I like fruit, just can't seem to eat them much as I still react to them as sugar). I once heard that if we ate meat only four days a week it would save an immense amount of carbon from our atmosphere. So I try to aim for that, or eat less meat in my meals to spread that amount over more days.

I try and purchase only foods that are grown or produced within a 150 mile radius of my home here in west michigan... or simply grow them myself (or shop at the farmers market). That is relatively easy here in west michigan. We are lucky to live in an area of diverse crops and have an ever increasing number of artisan growers and producers in the area. Organics is on the rise and folks really support local farmers at the market and through CSA involvement programs. When I grew up here, this never would have happened. The change is fabulous!

I grow my foods intensively in small raised beds (each is 3'x3') and use no chemical insecticides or fertilizers on them. I started with four in ground and three rolling beds, when I moved back here, two years ago. This year the garden grew by the addition of 6 more beds on wheels in an upper cement patio area. The wheels lets me move them around as I need to and makes cleaning much easier. I just put them all to bed for the winter with a fresh layer of grass clippings and a heavy rubber cover on each to keep weeds and critters from taking up residence.

I don't have a very big yard, so I only grow those items that make fiscal and freshness sense to me...tomatoes, basil, onions, garlic, herbs, salad greens, chard, spinach, carrots, parsnip, fennel bulbs, various squash vines and a small amount of beans and peas. Still, I have an overabundance of food and try to share the larger percentage with friends and neighbors.

I do compost my food scraps and grass clippings and add that to the beds. It isn't really enough, so I will have to look into organic additions next year.

I often make my own bread, using a no knead method popularized by Jim Lahey from Sullivan Street Bakery in New York. It brings the cost of a fresh loaf of bread down to fifteen cents or so. Yes, I know, it all takes time. That's the genius of his is unattended time.... just a little planning is required. And the flavor is amazing! OK, I will include the recipe as I currently use it and also link to the New York Times who first brought it to my attention. For my loaves, I use store bought flour, but sometimes, I grind my own from wheat berries. It all depends on how busy my days are. Like I said, make small changes. You don't have to be a fanatic.

Pasta too is easy, and inexpensive, to make, in all its varying forms. I hope to include many dishes in the future. Food that is handmade shouldn't be considered inconvenient. It is just as easy to make good food as reach for a package. Remember to ask yourself, is it about "better" or just about "profit", when looking at a product. We are smart people and as we regain our instincts, we will do much better as a species and as ones who share the gift of this amazing planet.

This new style of eating doesn't make meals boring or less visually interesting. Quite the contrary. Throwing ourselves out of our old food ruts takes time and consciousness-raising. A new diet based on content not quantity can be freeing and extends the limits of our cuisine to the boundaries of imagination.

I know.....I'm rambling....I plan to share my thoughts from time to time and include books I am reading.... and authors I respect, like Barbara Kingsolver, Sara Miles, Michael Pollen... so thanks for listening. Let me know what you think. I'd be interested to know.

Friday, October 9, 2009

chocolate-coconut-oat-nut- cookies

OK, even solo people need cookies too. In fact, it's a really great way to build community, by sharing the extra with neighbors and others. Every so often I get the craving and bake a batch of chocolaty sugary goodness. I like to make the cookies on the large side and use a scoop to dish the dough onto the cookie sheet in approximately equal amounts.

Yes, I admit that some of the dough never makes it to the oven. I just consider them pre-baked cookies. Yum!


1 cup butter, two sticks, softened

1 1/4 cup packed brown sugar

1/2 cup granulated sugar

2 eggs

2 tablespoons half and half (milk will do)

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 1/2 cup flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 1/2 c oatmeal, uncooked

2 cups of dark or semi-sweet chocolate chips (I like the big Ghiradelli ones)

1 cup walnut or pecan pieces

1/2 cup coconut (regular sweetened shreds in a bag)

Preheat oven to 375F

Beat the butter and sugars together until creamy

Add eggs, half and half, vanilla, mix well.

In a separate bowl mix flour, coconut, soda, salt, then add to butter mixture.

Lastly, stir in nuts and chocolate chips.

Bake spoon or scoopfuls on baking sheet for 10-15 minutes. I find they usually take about 13 minutes, but then I like them chewy in the center.

Remove from sheet to a rack to cool.

If you can keep yourself from eating them like a mad person, they keep quite well in a plastic bag. My best solution is to enjoy baking them, eat a few and bag up a half dozen per neighbor and spread the calories around. It takes temptation out of the house, and spreads goodwill. Win/win as they say.

If anyone else has their favorite cookie recipes or experiences to share.....please do. I hope to have a reader recipe column soon. Until then..the comment boxes work well.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

maple glazed roasted sweet potatoes with butterflied pork steak and polenta

I saw the sweet potatoes at the farmers market on Saturday. They were a dollar a pound and that means two or three per dollar. I cook one per that's what 30 cents? I thought they would make a nice fall dinner with all this rain and dampness in the air. The pork was on sale (about $1 per chop) and I always keep the corn grits in my years food storage locker. As always, I try to keep the entire meal under $3.00 per person.

for the sweet potatoes...


1/4 c real maple syrup

1/4 c olive oil

Combine maple syrup and oil and brush on sweet potatoes which have been quartered lengthwise and placed on a parchment lined baking pan..

Bake in a 400 degree oven for about 40 minutes until golden brown.

Baste them with a bit more of the syrup glaze once or twice while cooking.

Nice if served with sour cream and brown sugar topping.

for the pork steaks...

I butterflied a thicker chop. Oil and season both sides.

Heat a grill pan over high heat. Brush the pan with some olive oil to prevent sticking and put a few sage leaves in the oil if you like. It adds a nice savory complement to the maple syrup.

Place pork in pan and sear on each side for 2 minutes.

Brush on some of the maple glaze from the sweet potatoes and sear an additional 2 minutes on each side. You may want to change direction in the pan so that the grill marks are at 90 degrees to the first set.

for the polenta...

1 1/2 c water ( I tried this with broth but it was too too salty)

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup coarse corn grits (polenta)

1 tablespoon butter

2 tablespoons grated parmesan cheese for topping

Bring the water and salt to a boil in a sauce pan. Gradually stir in the corn grits. Reduce heat to a simmer and continue to cook for about 30 minutes. Stir occasionally. It will thicken as it cooks. If it gets too thick add a bit of water.

This is a very easy meal to prepare. Once you get the sweet potatoes in the oven, you can start the polenta and then the pork. When the timer goes's dinner!