Posts in the ‘Cooking’ Category

Spinach, Green Onion and Mushroom Pie – With Homemade Ricotta

spinach, green onion, and mushroom pie

This past weekend, we went to the Clinton Foundation’s Decade of Difference concert at the Hollywood Bowl. It was my very first time going to the bowl, and also my first time at a concert with such huge names. Lady Gaga, Usher, Bono, Stevie Wonder, Juanes… it was incredible.

And in true Hollywood Bowl form, we decided to do a picnic dinner, which sent me into full-on food mode. In August, I made a great picnic dinner that we took to LACMA on a Friday night, and it was basically a modification of this same recipe with a few vegetable swaps and mozzarella cheese instead of ricotta.

This time, armed with my new cheese-making abilities and a better stocked fridge, I stuck closer to the recipe from The Vegetarian Epicure, and what I ended up with was a beautiful, tasty pie that traveled well – and was big enough to feed 15 or so!

We finished less than half before the concert, but I just wrapped it back up, stuck it in a bag under my seat, and it looked and tasted just as good at the afterparty.

Perfect use for fresh cheese: Saag Paneer

Saag paneer and freshly baked naan

Saag paneer and freshly baked naan

During our cheese class last weekend, we learned that the queso blanco we made is essentially the same recipe as Indian paneer, the main difference being we used lemon juice instead of vinegar to curdle the milk. Evan and I both love Indian food, so I was really excited to try out this new cheese recipe in a dish I’d never thought I could make at home: saag paneer.

I went to see if my new World Vegetarian cookbook by Madhur Jaffrey had a saag paneer recipe – and as expected, it did. It also had a tamatir paneer recipe – basically a quick tomato and onion curry. I also tried this one since I had an abundance of tomatoes left over after pizza night and it turned out incredibly well — flavorful, beautifully rich in color, and a great highlight for the fresh cheese. I didn’t take any pictures, unfortunately, and Evan was working late so he didn’t even get to have any.

After successfully making the tamatir paneer, I knew the saag paneer wouldn’t be far behind. So I made sure to order spinach in my veggie box this week. The day after it arrived I got to work.

I made a fresh batch of paneer (there’s a recipe in the World Vegetarian book, but I used the very similar queso blanco recipe from my class), and got to work cooking down more than a pound of greens – I didn’t have enough spinach so I also used kale and beet greens since I had them on hand (about 6oz of each of the greens – I imagine you can sub in other greens just as easily as needed).

Once the greens were soft and mashed up to a texture that seemed about right, I added in just a tiny bit of cornmeal (possibly to absorb some of the water?). I cooked up some chopped tomatoes, onion and ginger, added them to the spinach and added some spices (cumin, cinnamon, cayenne, salt). I cooked it all just a few minutes longer and then added the paneer. Five more minutes of gentle cooking, and we were ready to eat.

I also made some fresh naan from a Peter Reinhart recipe. Thankfully I had made a batch a few weeks ago and saved 4 portions in the freezer, so I just had to thaw them out, shape them and cook them quickly in the oven. Sidenote: I love that dough freezes well.

All in all, the dinner took just a little over an hour to make, including making the cheese, and it probably could have even gone a little faster had I been more prepared. We’ll definitely be making this one again.

Learning to Make Cheese

Hello, friends! It’s been a while, I know. But this past weekend, I took a cheese and dairy class at Chefs Inc in West LA, and I just had to share some of my cheese making success.

The class itself was a lot of fun. Evan and I went together, and we learned all about making fresh cheeses, including mozzarella, ricotta, queso blanco and mascarpone. We also made creme fraiche and butter. The chef teaching the course was pretty hilarious, and kept us entertained through the demonstrations and all the hands-on cooking. We also had a great lunch of all the items we’d made plus fresh bread, berries and tomatoes.

The only thing that was a bit strange about the class is that we didn’t get to bring anything home. We made pretty decent quantities of cheese and butter, and though we ate a good deal at lunch, I expected to be taking something home – especially some of the mozzarella that we pulled and formed into little balls ourselves.

In any case, not bringing cheese home gave us the opportunity to start making our own right away. Sunday we went out and bought some cheese cloth, organic milk (not ultra-pasteurized), and buttermilk. That evening, we made ricotta and queso blanco – both quick, fresh, and delicious. Even though they’re not melting cheeses, I used them on two pizzas, which turned out great.

The next night, I used the queso fresco in tamatir paneer – an Indian dish with tomatoes, onions, lots of spices and fresh cheese all cooked together – as queso fresco is essentially the same recipe as Indian paneer, it turned out perfectly.

Now we have ordered some additional supplies, like vegetarian rennet, so we can start trying out other cheese recipes soon. We’ll definitely be making more of these.

Fresh Ricotta

Fresh Ricotta

Queso Fresco

Queso FrescoTomato, basil and fresh cheese pizzaPlum and fresh cheese pizza with balsamic and basil

tomato pizza

Tomato, basil and fresh cheese pizza

plum pizza

Plum and fresh cheese pizza with balsamic and basil


An Award-Winning Sauce

Sauce Party Trophy

Evan and I recently went to a “Sauce Soiree” where everyone came bearing a homemade sauce and competed for prizes. A lot of people brought barbecue-type sauces, since it was sort of a barbecue, but I made a peanut sauce that a make pretty frequently. After much deliberation on the 12 or so sauces, mine won in the Most Creative Sauce category — and got a giant trophy! With a pig on top!

Since this sauce is one I make frequently, I don’t tend to use any exact recipe, I just scoop and pour and adjust things to taste. I’ve tried to approximate the amounts of each ingredient below so if you’d like to try this you can at least get started and then play around until it tastes good.

Peanut Sauce

Ingredients (approximate amounts)

  • Unsalted natural peanut butter (.25 to .5 cup)
  • Rice wine vinegar (2-3 tsp)
  • Soy sauce (2-3 tsp)
  • Sesame oil (1-2 tsp)
  • Lime (1 small fruit)
  • Fresh cilantro (1-2 tbsp)
  • Fresh basil (1 tbsp)
  • Thai chili sauce or Sriracha (to taste)
  • Water to thin the sauce (.5 to 1 cup or more)

Heat peanut butter, vinegar, soy sauce, sesame oil and water in a small saucepan. Add the lime, herbs, and chili sauce or Sriracha toward the end, and add additional water to get the sauce to the desired thickness/thinness.

I typically eat this sauce on a tofu and veggie stir fry over rice.

Rustic Bread Revelations With ‘Crust and Crumb’

Sweet Rustic Bread

Sweet Rustic Bread from the 'Crust and Crumb' recipe

For my birthday, my sister Suzie bought me Crust and Crumb by Peter Reinhart, and I was excited to get started on the delicious sounding recipes. However, the book takes bread making very seriously and has some required reading before starting baking. So I got going on my homework, diligently reading the introduction and first two chapters on ingredients, tools, baking methods and preparation.

I learned about how to check for proper gluten development when kneading, how to determine the right time to put the bread in the oven, how to generate the right amount of steam in a home oven for proper crust development and how to form different types of loaves.

Then I started looking at the recipes to determine where I should start. Since most of the recipes require preferments and multi-day rising and rest times, this involved a bit more planning than I usually put into bread. I decided to start with two types of preferments — a biga and a poolish, and then see what I could do with those.

With the biga, after an overnight refrigeration, I made a simple rustic bread. This bread rose like no other I’d ever seen — an hour after mixing the biga and the rest of the ingredients, it was spilling over the edges of the mixing bowl, so I decided not to let it go for its 4-hour rise time and separated the bread into 3 pieces after less than 2 hours.

The 3 pieces again doubled in size in the next hour or so, and then after I gently shaped the oblong loaves, those rose even more before I put them in the oven.

Though the baking turned out a little uneven since I used two racks, all the loaves were quite good, with the two loaves on the upper rack having a much better crust than the considerably paler and softer loaf that was on the bottom rack for most of the baking time. I thought the air holes inside would be a bit bigger, but there were at least quite a few. I might have needed to be more gentle while forming the loaves. Overall, though, quite a success.

Simple Rustic Bread

Simple Rustic Bread

With the poolish preferment I decided to try a sweet rustic loaf. Peter wrote about having this loaf as a healthier replacement to croissants and other breakfast breads, so how could I really resist. I mixed together the dough, which was very soft, let it rise, and then cut it into wedges. The wedges were so soft that they pretty much became mostly round puddles of dough, so I was worried something went wrong. After a night (or three — I baked 2 batches) in the fridge, my eight little loaves looked even more pathetic, sitting slack on their parchment paper, but I decided to push forward anyway. And am I glad I did!

My rustic sweet breads puffed up immensely in the oven, forming beautiful, browned, crispy loaves with an incredibly open and shiny crumb. The bit of powdered sugar dusted on after baking also added an incredible last bit of sweetness to this only slightly sweetened loaf. The breads looked incredible and tasted at least as good.

Sweet Rustic Bread

Sweet Rustic Bread

I didn’t take a kitchen shot of the beautiful crumb, so here’s one I took at the party I brought them to with my iPhone.

The amazing inside of the sweet rustic bread

The amazing inside of the sweet rustic bread

I also tried one of the pizza dough recipes from the book. Since the recipe for the poolish preferment ends up making a ton of the gooey mixture, I wanted to see how much I could make in the few days that it would be good. The pizzas turned out very well, with a chewy, New York-style crust that browned nicely, stretched extremely thin when shaping, and supported the pizzas well. Unfortunatley, I didn’t take any photos — we were so hungry we gobbled the pizza right up! And Evan and I both agreed that while it was a good pizza, it just wasn’t as light and fluffy and flavorful as the pizza dough recipe I’ve been using from The New Vegetarian Epicure.

In all, though, an awesomely successful week in bread making for me. I learned a lot about making bread in the process, too, and even the Montreal Bagels I made last weekend, which I’ve been making for nearly a year now, were better because of my new knowledge.

Thanks for the gift, Suzie!

A Trio of Pizzas

Last night Evan and I had a few friends over for dinner and I made pizzas — three of them. I’ve been working on perfecting my pizza recipes, and we have some clear favorites so far.

Bell Pepper Pizza

Bell Pepper and Onion Pizza

This has been one of our favorite pizzas pretty much since the first time I made pizza from scratch. We love it so much we make it every single time we have pizza and we haven’t gotten bored of it yet. The secret is that the peppers and onions are marinated in a little bit of red wine vinegar, garlic and olive oil. I make a fresh pizza sauce, use mozzarella cheese and finish it off with some fresh basil. It’s a modification from the Chez Panisse Vegetables cookbook. Simple and delicious!

Pear and Caramelized Onion Pizza

Pear and Caramelized Onion Pizza

I made this pizza for the first time yesterday, and I was thrilled with how it turned out. It’s a pear, caramelized onion and pine nut pizza with provolone and parmesan cheese. I cooked the onions for close to an hour and added some balsamic vinegar at the end, and then sauteed the pears briefly in that same pan and with a little bit of rosemary. I also brushed the crust with garlic and olive oil before I put the cheese on.

Mushroom and Zucchini Pizza

Mushroom and Zucchini Pizza with Goat Cheese

I’ve made variations on this pizza a couple of times. It has mushrooms and zucchini sauteed in olive oil, garlic and oregano, mozzarella and fontina cheese, and a little goat cheese added after baking. It also has the same tomato sauce I made for the pepper and onion pizza.

Since I first started making pizza, I’ve also found a new dough recipe that I like a lot. It’s from The New Vegetarian Epicure and I’ve made it three times now — it always turns out light and fluffy, and I’ve started folding over the edges to make a nice rim around the pizza. I also use the sauce recipe from The Vegetarian Epicure, which has lots of fresh tomatoes and herbs cooked down into a very flavorful sauce.

OK, now I want to make more pizza…

Rescuing a Bread Disaster

Whole wheat bread

Monday night I decided to make a loaf of no-knead bread. I’ve made this simple and delicious bread many times and for some reason it always turns out differently — I don’t know if I’m just not consistent with how I’m making it, or switching up the flours as I sometimes do has more of an effect than I thought it would, but this bread looks and cooks differently each time, though it always ends up tasting good.

Well, Monday I really messed up. I was mixing the dough together from memory and doing it quickly, and I forgot — wait for it — the yeast. This bread only has four ingredients — flour, water, salt and yeast — and I managed to forget one!

Worst of all, I didn’t even realize until the morning, so after sitting out all night on my counter, my dough was just a gluey, saggy and wet lump. I wondered if I could just add some yeast in after the fact and tried to mix in the quarter-teaspoon the recipe calls for. After letting it sit awhile, it seemed that the yeast had just settled into one area of the dough and was just creating bubbles in a small area, not throughout.

Still, the dough had an interesting consistency, and I thought that it could possibly be saved, so I decided to look up recipes that use a preferment mixed in with more flour, yeast and water to create a richly flavored bread, and I came upon a rustic bread recipe that used similar proportions of ingredients for its preferment.

So with my unintentional preferment of 2 cups bread flour, 1 cup wheat flour, 1 teaspoon of salt, 1 tablespoon of flaxseed meal, 1 5/8 cups water and 1/8 teaspoon of yeast added after the fact, I added 2 cups bread flour, 2 cups wheat flour, 1/2 teaspoon of yeast, 1/2 teaspoon of salt, and 1 1/2 cups water and mixed it all together.

I ended up with a huge amount of dough, and I had trouble working with it on my small counter, but after a good amount of kneading and some extra flour (the preferment was much wetter than it should have been), I had a nicely textured and very elastic dough.

I let it rise for about two and a half hours, folding it twice during that time, then split it in half and formed two loaves, which I let rise for another hour and a bit.

I was encouraged by how much the bread was rising and I felt like it would turn out pretty well once I baked it. When I put it in the oven at 450 degrees on a baking sheet dusted with cornmeal, I didn’t expect the loaves to continue to grow quite as much as they did. I ended up with two giant loaves that fused together a bit. I took them out after 35 minutes, when they looked nicely browned and the crust had a nice thump to it.

The bread softened a bit when it started to cool, so maybe I should have cooked it another few minutes, but the loaves looked great and when we cut into them they had a decent texture — a few large air bubbles, a thin and crispy crust, and a pretty robust wheaty flavor.

Bread cross section

The air pockets seemed to congregate near the top of the bread

I’m glad what looked like a bread disaster turned out to be a big bread success. It was one of my prettiest and most delicious simple loaves. I’ll definitely be trying something similar again. And with a proper preferment, I’m sure I’ll get much better air bubbles throughout the loaves.

wheat bread