Sunday, September 25, 2011

Eat: Fig and Pear Pizza

When it comes to this week’s recipe, I really have to pat myself on the back. My husband described this pear and fig pizza as one of the best dishes I have ever made. I did not come by it easily, though. The pizza features homemade dough and fancy ingredients that were a challenge to find. Were it not for Trader Joe’s, this venture would have been a failure before I ever set foot in the kitchen. Such efforts coupled with two hours of labor were handsomely rewarded in the end. The subtle but sweet flavors of pear, fig, and caramelized onion are balanced by sharp Gorgonzola cheese and crème fraiche. If the following recipe sounds delicious but you aren’t interested in investing so much of your time, you need only to visit Eleven Eleven Mississippi. This dish is readily available on their lunch and dinner menus. It actually presented itself to me in a weekly e-newsletter from Sauce Magazine. It was just too intriguing to not try.

Please note before you begin this recipe that the onions can be prepared up to two days in advance. I recommend doing this to break up such a lengthy preparation time.

TIME: 2 hours (including prep and cooking)
YIELDS: 10-12 servings

3.5 cups flour
1 cup warm water (100-110°F)
2 tablespoons yeast
2 tablespoons honey
1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons butter
1 sweet onion, thinly sliced
1/2 cup and 1 teaspoon sugar, divided
1 pear, peeled and sliced
1.5 cups red wine
1-2 teaspoons vanilla extract (or 1 vanilla bean)
1/8 teaspoon cinnamon
3 tablespoons crème fraiche (sub: sour cream)
1/2 cup of thinly sliced dried black mission figs
1/2 cup crumbled Gorgonzola cheese

Begin by preheating the oven to 425 degrees.

To prepare the dough, add the yeast to warm water and allow to dissolve.
In a large mixer (preferably with a dough hook) combine the yeast/water blend, flour, honey, olive oil, and 1/2 teaspoon of salt. Run the mixer for 5 minutes (or knead with your hands) until a smooth ball of dough is formed.

Set the dough aside in its bowl, covering the top with a dish towel. If possible, set it somewhere warm. I put the bowl on top of my oven while preheating.

While dough is rising, melt butter in a medium-sized pan. Add the onion slices and 1 teaspoon of sugar. Saute over medium-low heat for roughly 20 minutes, stirring frequently. Once soft and brown, let the slices cool to room temperature.

In a medium-sized sauce pan (or a large skillet), combine the pear, red wine, vanilla, 1/2 cup of sugar, and cinnamon. Bring to a boil and then simmer approximately 20-30 minutes until the pear slices are tender and a bright red-purple color (they will absorb the poaching liquid).

Spread the dough over a pizza pan or cookie sheet. Cover the dough with a thin layer of crème fraiche. Evenly distribute the onion slices, pear slices, and figs across the pizza. Sprinkle with cheese.

Bake for 10-12 minutes and get ready to impress yourself!

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Eat: The Tasty Challenge of Pumpkin Ravioli

For this week’s dish I wanted to up the ante. I began looking for a seriously challenging recipe and boy did I find it! My first impression of this recipe for pumpkin ravioli was that it must be a sweet twist on traditionally savory ravlioi. This was due to all of my previous interactions with pumpkin dishes: pumpkin pie, pumpkin bread, even pumpkin cookies. However, I quickly learned that pumpkin in its purest form is not even remotely sweet. In fact, as far as I could tell (or rather, taste) it does not taste like much of anything by itself.

An interesting aspect of this recipe is the use of wonton wrappers in place of pasta. The upside to this is the drastically shortened preparation time. Wonton wrappers function like ready-made pasta without any cooking. The downside to this trick is that after putting so much effort into making perfect little pockets of cheese, many of them opened up while boiling. So if you give this dish a try, be emotionally prepared to watch some of the fruits of your labor burst open. Otherwise, it was a fun challenge with tasty results! I particularly enjoyed the tomato and ginger sauce, which would also pair well with traditional pasta.

TIME: 1.5 hours
YEILDS: 6-8 servings
MY SOUNDTRACK: She & Him, Mates of State


1 teaspoon oil
4 oz. onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
15 oz. pumpkin puree (NOT pumpkin pie filling)
15 oz. ricotta cheese
2 egg (1 will act as "glue" for ravioli)
1/2 teaspoon salt
freshly ground pepper, to taste
12 oz. (approximately 50) wonton wrappers
cornstarch for dusting pan

Begin by heating oil in a small skillet. Sauté the onion and garlic for a few minutes until softened.

In a large bowl, beat one of the eggs with salt and pepper. Stir in the pumpkin and ricotta cheese. Add the onion and garlic mixture. Blend thoroughly, scrapping the sides and bottom of the bowl.

To make the ravioli: Prepare two baking sheets by dusting them with the cornstarch. Put one teaspoon of filling in the middle of a wonton wrapper (which is fairly delicate, so handle gently gentle). Dip your index fingers into a beaten egg and line the edges of the wrapper. Fold diagonally into a triangle and press the edges firmly to seal the pocket. Place on baking sheet. Repeat for each wonton wrapper.

To cook: Bring a large port of water to a boil. Add a few teaspoons of water to prevent the ravioli from sticking together. Gently add each ravioli to the pot and bring the water back to a boil for a few minutes.

To serve: This is where things can get a little dicey. If some of the ravioli have opened while cooking, I would not recommend draining the water. All of the filling will escape into the sink leaving you with a pile of plain cooked pasta. Instead, remove the ravioli from the pot using a slatted spoon. You can then spoon out any of the filling in the pot and add it to your plated pasta. Top with tomato ginger sauce (see recipe below).

Tomato Ginger Sauce...

1 tablespoon oil
6 oz. onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon of fresh ginger or 1-2 teaspoons of dried
½ teaspoon salt
Freshly ground pepper, to taste
28 oz. can of diced tomatoes, with juice (do not drain!)

In a medium saucepan or skillet, heat oil. Cook the onion and garlic until tender. Add the ginger and tomatoes. Bring to a boil briefly and simmer for 10-15 minutes. If it is too thick, you can add a pinch of water. For a smoother texture, puree the sauce.

This week's recipe came from my husband's own collection. Unfortunately, he cannot recall where he originally found it.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Eat: Yummy Stuffed Tomatoes!

Wow. That is the best word to describe this recipe for veggie-stuffed tomatoes. At first blush, it may present as too labor intensive, but it was actually quite fun! In fact, I managed to throw this dish together at the end of a busy and tiring day. I was faced with the usual quandary of what to make for dinner and resolved to find something to do with two ripe tomatoes that my father-in-law had recently given us. After a series of online searches for "recipe, two tomatoes", I stumbled upon this gem. The recipe blends a plethora of healthy ingredients into a savory and delicious meal. What's more, it presents beautifully on top of a plate of pasta. My husband was very impressed and we both loved it. This dish combines interesting textures and offers a unique alternative to traditional pasta sauce. I definitely plan to make it again soon!

TIME: 40 minutes (prep and cooking)
YIELDS: 2 servings

2 medium tomatoes
3-4 baby carrots, coarsely chopped (or 1/2 small carrot)
1-2 scallions, chopped
1/2 small onion, peeled
1 small garlic clove
1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
2 teaspoons olive oil
1 tablespoon white wine or broth
1/3 cup dry bread crumbs
2 tablespoons grated Parmesan
3-4 fresh basil leaves, sliced

Optional: a few handfuls of pasta, oil, and additional Parmesan.

Begin by thinly cutting off the top of each tomato (approximately 1/2" slices). Scrape out the interior, leaving a 1/4 to 1/2" thick shell. Set aside the pulp for later.

If either tomato won't stand upright, slice off a very thin layer from the bottom. Sit the newly carved tomatoes upside down on a paper towel to drain any excess fluid.

Combine the carrots, scallions, onion, garlic and reserved pulp in a food processor. Run the processor until all of the ingredients are chopped and well blended.

Pour the vegetable mixture (it will be somewhat soupy) into a large skillet with heated oil. After a few minutes, add the wine or broth and bring to a boil. Allow the mix to simmer (uncovered) for 2+ minutes until the liquid is reduced by half. If the blend still seems to have too much liquid, do not worry. The soon to be added cheese and breadcrumbs will take care of it.

Remove the skillet from heat and let it cool briefly. Stir in the parmesan cheese, breadcrumbs, oregano, and basil.

Now the fun part! Using a small spoon, fill each tomato with the veggie blend.

Place the tomatoes in a shallow baking dish (coated with butter or cooking spray). Bake for 20 minutes at 350°.

While the tomatoes are baking, you can cook as much pasta as you like. I used spaghetti but any type should work well enough. Toss the cooked pasta with some oil and a pinch of grated Parmesan cheese. Place each tomato on top of a stack of plated pasta.

Note: Removing the tomatoes from their baking dish may require some fancy maneuvering with a fork. The tomatoes may split open (as one of mine did) which will make the process a bit more delicate.


This week's recipe came courtesy of Taste of Home .

Sunday, September 04, 2011

Eat: Maiden Voyage with Tofu

Mexican Eggplant with Tofu. As soon as I spotted this recipe I knew my husband would love it. The name alone features three things that Matt adores. I also thought it presented a nice challenge since I had never before cooked with tofu.

This marked my second attempt at a Zorba Paster recipe. In case you are unfamiliar, Paster is a physician and the host of WPR’s Zorba Paster on Your Health. Quick synopsis: listeners call in to ask a plethora of questions which Zorba answers in humor-laced laymen terms. He also offers a healthy, unique recipe at the end of each show. For all of you St. Louisans, the show airs on Sundays at 1:00pm. I love public radio and take any opportunity I can to endorse it! This recipe and others like it can be found on Zorba Paster's website

But I digress. Here is the recipe:

TIME: 1 hour (including prep and baking)
YIELDS: 9 servings
MY SOUNDTRACK: Devendra Banhart, TRON movie soundtrack (this odd combination came courtesy of my husband)

1 large eggplant
1 carton of tofu*
12 oz. tomato sauce
1 can of green chilies (alternatives: fresh onion or serrano chilies)
¼ cup scallions, sliced
1 tsp garlic powder
1 ½ tsp cumin
2 tsp olive or vegetable oil
8 oz. cheddar cheese, shredded
Cooking spray (or butter)

Right off the bat, one thing struck me as problematic: How much tofu?! The original recipe simply says a "carton" which can come in every shape and size. Fotunately, the grocery store only offered one amount (14oz.). Unfortunately, upon entry to the organic food aisle I found myself staring a shelf of several different kinds of tofu. I was at a loss and spent several minutes hemming and hawing. In the end, my moderate roots won the day and I selected the carton marked "regular". I cannot say whether or not this was the best choice but I can tell you that it worked well enough.

Begin by slicing the tofu (it will be in a large block) into half-inch pieces or slabs. Place the slices in between a few sheets of paper towel on your countertop. In order to drain the excess fluid, put something large and heavy on top (such as a cutting board).

Slice the eggplant into half-inch rounds. Arrange slices on a coated cookie sheet and bake at 450° for 20 minutes (flipping pieces after 10 minutes).

While eggplant is baking, combine tomato sauce, scallions, green chilies, garlic powder, and cumin into a sauce pan. Simmer for 20 minutes.

To further strengthen your multi-tasking skills, saute the tofu in oiled skillet while the sauce is simmering.

Once everything is ready, coat a 9x13 inch baking dish with cooking spray or butter. Layer the eggplant, tofu, sauce and cheese. Repeat for a second layer.

Bake for 30 minutes at 350° and enjoy with a side of brown rice!

*As mentioned, I used one 14 oz. carton but I would recommend at least twice that amount.