Posts Tagged ‘food’

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.

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


The Secret to Getting Nooks and Crannies in English Muffins

The nooks and crannies in my fork-split whole wheat english muffin

The nooks and crannies in my fork-split whole wheat english muffin

The first two times I made english muffins, I thought they were delicious but I missed the nooks and crannies that you get with fork-split muffins that toast up nice and crispy and catch lots of butter and jam.

I also missed the little crunch of cornmeal that most store-bought english muffins had, so I decided to modify the recipe a bit to get what I wanted. So instead of dusting with flour before the muffins rise between two baking sheets, I dusted with corn meal. That was easy enough.

And for the nooks and cranies, I decided to try fork splitting. After much Googling, it seemed that the way to do it was to just poke the english muffin all around with a fork as soon as it came off the stove. I tested it out — it wasn’t too hard since the muffins don’t get too hot and can be handled by hand right off the stove. It worked perfectly. They’re now easy to separate by hand, and they have a great texture from pulling them apart.

The fork split might not look quite as nice as leaving them whole, but it's worth it

The fork split might not look quite as nice as leaving them whole, but it's worth it

They didn’t look quite as pretty with the sides mangled from the fork, but I could have probably been gentler. I just wasn’t sure what sort of pressure I needed to make sure they split easily.

So that’s it! The secret of how to make nooks and crannies revealed!

Also, to make whole wheat english muffins, just use the same recipe for regular english muffins and use 2 cups of whole wheat flour and 2 cups of regular bread flour. Maybe next time I’ll try honey wheat ones…

Polenta Torta and More from The New Vegetarian Epicure

Polenta torta with roasted tomato sauce

Polenta torta with roasted tomato sauce

I don’t have many cookbooks, but the few I have are reliably wonderful. One of my favorites that I really should cook from more is The New Vegetarian Epicure by Anna Thomas. First, I love how the book is arranged — seasonally by meals. That means that I can find something that uses what’s fresh, and I can also plan out a whole menu without flipping between too many pages of the book. The recipes are also sophisticated and delicious, and though they’re often a bit more complex than ones in my other cookbooks, they’re definitely worth it — especially when we have company over.

Friday night our friends Annie and Devin were coming over, so I started searching through my cookbooks for inspiration. I knew I wanted to make focaccia bread again because I’d told them about making it and how delicious it was, so I figured I’d do something at least somewhat Italian. I thought about pasta or risotto, but then, searching through The New Vegetarian Epicure, I stumbled across “A Simple Autumn Dinner Party,” which involved focaccia (perfect!), Torta di Polenta with Three Cheeses, Roasted Tomato Sauce, and Parfaits of Fruit and Mascarpone. It also included a lima bean soup that sounded tasty, but it’s still pretty warm here in LA, so I decided to steal from a different menu in the book and make a roasted beet and asparagus salad.

There was a lot of preparation involved in this meal, from peeling and dicing about 18 tomatoes, chopping 4 onions and roasting and peeling 16 beets, to making sure everything was timed properly to be ready for dinner time. The good thing about this dinner, though, was that it was really easy to get everything out when it was hot and ready — and I didn’t have to spend much time in the kitchen while the company was over — because the salad and tomato sauce could be done ahead of time, the polenta torta got to stay in the fridge until I was ready to heat it up, and the dessert could be done after the meal.

That doesn’t mean I wasn’t rushing around the kitchen before they arrived, but it was nice not to have much to tend to other than serving the dishes when we had company. Somehow I mastered my time management and everything worked out really well.

I started with the beet salad and got the red and golden beets roasting right away because they were going to need to marinate in the dressing for a few hours. While they were roasting, I scalded and peeled the tomatoes for the sauce, chopped up the onions and got the asparagus ready. The asparagus and tomato sauce went in the oven at the same time — the sauce was going to take two and a half hours, so it needed to get going, no matter what the temperature was going to be.

I made the dough for the bread and set it aside to rise, then started the vinaigrette for the beet salad, which included olive oil, balsamic vinegar, a shallot, roasted garlic and some fresh squeezed orange juice. Then I peeled all the beets — a ridiculously messy job that makes me worry that my hands will remained stained red for the evening (though they won’t) — and chopped them up. I let the salad ingredients marinate in separate bowls, and I checked on the sauce and gave it a stir.

I had to let the bread rise a little longer than called for — maybe 30 or 40 minutes more — because the oven wasn’t going to be free of the the sauce for a while, but bread can be pretty forgiving when it’s rising, and it didn’t seem to have any negative effect at all. I kneaded it a second time, rolled it out to let it proof, then started working on the polenta.

I chopped and lightly sauteed a leek, half a red onion and some garlic, and brought 4 cups of vegetable stock to a simmer. I whisked in one cup of yellow corn meal — just the regular kind you get in a box at the store — and had to stir it continuously for 10-15 minutes, which got quite tiring. I’d never made polenta before, and it was a bit surprising. I didn’t realize you needed to little corn meal for so much liquid, and I didn’t realize how thick it would get so quickly.

After the 15 minutes of stirring, I added the onion and leek, and also added some goat cheese, gouda and parmesan, then poured the mixture into a cake pan and put it into the fridge to set up.

Once the roasted tomato sauce was done, I took it out of the oven and put the focaccia in — I put rosemary and sea salt on the top again — and then I was just about done.

The bread came out of the oven just a few minutes after Annie and Devin arrived, and when we were ready to sit down, I put the salads together — I couldn’t put them together earlier because the beets would have turned everything red. I put the polenta torta onto a baking sheet and into the oven for 15 minutes along with the tomato sauce in a covered bowl so everything could heat up.

The focaccia was a little lighter in color than last time, but tasted just as delicious. We finished off even more of it, and I think it was a bit lighter on the inside because of the extra rising time. All that olive oil and salt, and the fluffy warm bread… it’s just incredible.

The salad was delicious and full of flavor, and pretty with its red-yell0w-green combo. The golden beets were hard to find and pretty pricey — there were only three bunches of baby golden beets at the fancy new Pavilions, which were about the size of radishes — but they did add a really nice touch.

The polenta looked and tasted great with the tomato sauce and an extra sprinkling of parmesan and basil. It was light and fluffy and had a delicate cheesy flavor. It was very easy to serve cut up into wedges.

Annie helped me mix up the mascarpone with some cream, sugar and lemon zest while I hulled the sweet strawberries and added a bit of sugar and lemon juice. It was a tasty way to end the meal and wonderfully simple to make.

We also had a bottle of Gabbiano Chianti Classico, which we enjoyed. I went to the new Pavilions at Santa Monica and Robertson, and their sommelier suggested it. She also suggested an Ecco Pinot Grigio that we didn’t drink. That’s quite a fancy grocery store — and all the employees were really helpful.

This was definitely one of my better dinners so far. I’m excited to try other polenta variations — it’s so simple to make and very delicious!

Making Whole Wheat Pita Bread

Whole wheat pita bread fresh out of the oven

Whole wheat pita bread fresh out of the oven

This week, I decided to make pita bread from a recipe in Paul Gayler’s Burgers cookbook. I used to buy it a lot, but haven’t had it in a while, and I had some halloumi and other ingredients that seemed like they would work well in a pita sandwich. I decided to make them with half white and half whole wheat flour to make them a bit healthier.

Pitas rolled out and ready to go into the oven

Pitas rolled out and ready to go into the oven

The dough was very simple — just flour, water, salt and yeast. The recipe made 8-12 pitas — I decided to make 12. After letting the dough rise, dividing it into 12 pieces and letting those pieces proof, I took a rolling pin to them to make the pita rounds. Then I put them on a hot baking sheet into the oven, which was set at the highest setting.

The first batch of pitas

The first batch of pitas

The first batch puffed up a bit, but the second batch was the best — enormous pillows of puffy bread. The third batch was the least puffy — I’m not sure why.

They tasted pretty good — pretty much the same as store-bought wheat pitas. They probably would have tasted better if I did them with all white flour and didn’t roll them quite as thin. They weren’t as soft as I would have liked, and they were a bit dry. I’ll probably make some baked garlic pita chips in a few days with whatever I have left.

And just for laughs, check out this little illustration I did back when I was living in London about how in the UK pita is pitta.

Potato-Stuffed Indian Flatbread with Parsley Tzatziki

A dozen potato-stuffed indian flatbreads

A dozen potato-stuffed indian flatbreads

Last week’s bread-making adventure was inspired by the abundance of potatoes I had. I got some in my first LOVE Delivery veggie box, and then I got more in the second, so I figured I needed to do something with them. Looking through How to Cook Everything, I came across this recipe for potato-stuffed Indian flatbread, which came directly from a famous Indian chef with just a minor change in spices. I was intrigued, so I gave it a try.

I boiled 4 potatoes. I created the very simple white and wheat dough that didn’t have any yeast in it, though was flavored with some cumin. Then I mashed up the potatoes with lemon, cayenne, salt and pepper. I created 12 little balls of dough, rolled them flat, then put about 2 tablespoons of the potato mixture in the center, folded the edges up, flatted them out and rolled them even flatter.

On some the potato started peaking out the sides, mostly because I mashed them with a fork so there were still some rather jagged pieces, but in all, them came together easily.

The first few flatbreads got a little dark, but still tasted good

The first few flatbreads got a little dark, but still tasted good

I then cooked them in a pan, 3-4 minutes on each side over medium heat, similar to how I did the English muffins. Some of them puffed up a lot while others didn’t really puff, though in the end they all tasted about the same. The first few, just like pancakes (and the English muffins, for that matter), got a little bit dark, but still tasted fine.

Since potatoes and bread are both pretty dry, I decided to make a sauce/dip to serve these with, so I made a modified tzatziki. I used Greek yogurt, a few tablespoons of chopped onion, chopped cucumber, parsley, lemon, salt and pepper. It was simple and delicious, and worked well on the potato-stuffed bread.

More Cooking Fun: Baguettes, Brownies and Homemade Pizza

I’ve still been on my cooking kick, baking bread and trying out new recipes. Last week, I decided to bake baguettes again, and this time they came out looking perfect, though slightly undercooked for my taste — they were cooked all the way through, but I would have liked a thicker crust.

4 perfect looking baguettes

4 perfect looking baguettes

As for dinner with the baguettes, I decided to try out some recipes from my new Chez Panisse Vegetables cookbook. I made a very tasty grapefruit, avocado and endive salad, as well as a summer squash and corn pasta, which tasted sweet and fresh (unfortunately I didn’t take photos). I really enjoyed both recipes and would make them both again. They were really simple but had a lot of flavor, and I love that the cookbook gives really free-form instructions in the recipes, which makes it hard to go wrong.

These are the brownies Maryn made, but mine looked pretty similar!

These are the brownies Maryn made, but mine looked pretty similar!

For dessert, I made the Tartine brownies that we first tried when Maryn and Brian came over for dinner. I found the recipe on the No Special Effects blog, and they turned out really tasty and rich, though somehow not exactly like the ones Maryn baked (maybe I baked them a little longer than I should?), though I don’t think anyone was complaining. They were really decadent and rich, and had a flaky top and moist, soft interior.

Putting the pizzas into the oven

Putting the pizzas into the oven

This week, I decided my dough of the week — I have been making some sort of bread at least once a week for a little while now — would be pizza dough, and I had a few people over for an impromptu pizza-making party. I found a recipe for whole wheat dough in The New Basics Cookbook (I would have likely referred to How to Cook Everything again, but I didn’t have it handy because we’re housesitting), and made up a batch with enough to make four individual-size pizzas. The dough was easy enough, and I just pressed it out by hand. I made a simple tomato sauce by doctoring up a canned sauce (also a recipe froms The New Basics Cookbook), shredded up some mozzarella cheese, and sliced mushrooms, tomatoes and red peppers. We also had garlic, olives, basil and carmelized onions to put on the pizzas. All the combinations were delicious — especially the ones with the caramelized onions. I only wish we had more leftovers… I’ll definitely be making pizzas again soon, and trying out some different crust recipes. The whole wheat crust was good, but it doesn’t have that classic pizza taste.

Our pizza leftovers -- boy were they delicious the next day

Our pizza leftovers -- caramelized onion and mushroom, and red pepper, tomato and basil -- boy were they delicious the next day

What should be on the menu for next week?