Friday, January 30, 2009

Making Pizza Margherita in the Home Kitchen

I love pizza. Love it. So when I resolved to cut the saturated fat in our diet pizza was something that had to be reworked. I take back what I said about the potatoes au gratin. I hate those stupid potatoes in comparison to how much I love this pizza. Made with about 2 ounces (per pizza) of a low-fat mozzarella, it delivers every good thing that the fat-laden pizzas do, without destroying your body.

A traditional Neopolitan Pizza Margherita is made with whole basil leaves, uncooked tomato puree and fresh Buffalo mozzarella, the wondermous, soft, round soaked-in-brine cheese. My version is slightly different. In addition to the cheese alteration (shredded low fat instead of sliced soft cheese), I use chiffonade Basil - very thinly sliced leaves - and bury them beneath the cheese layer. Uncooked puree is a must. I run whole peeled tomatoes (the Muir Glen variety is my fave) thru a food mill - and voila! - pizza sauce!

Regarding the pizza stone - I do use one, but you certainly can make pizza without it. I have a double electric oven in my current kitchen (not recommending this setup, though it's been serving me just fine) and the stone resides pretty much permanently in the lower oven. I don't bake cookies on it, but roasting meats and veggies seem to benefit from the stone, especially in the electric oven. Electric is a drier heat than gas, and the stone, which retains some moisture, balances the dryness.

One more note - I really only make these for my family. They're time consuming to produce and like waffles, where you're cooking one at a time, don't easily allow the cook to sit down to dinner with everyone else. They make a great weekend dinner - and pretty good leftovers too. To reheat pizza, bake in 500° oven for about three minutes.

Pizza Margerita
Print recipe only here

Makes three pizzas, serving about four people

For the pizza dough
Combine in the bowl of a mixer equipped with a dough hook:

* 1 cup milk
* 1 cup hot water
* 2 T dry yeast
* 2 t sugar or honey
* 1 T olive oil

Add to the liquid ingredients:

* 4 cups flour (I use a combination of white all-purpose and whole wheat)
* ¾ t kosher salt

Using a dough hook mix until the dough comes together, adding more flour as necessary. Once it comes together, dump it out onto a floured workspace and knead by hand until smooth.

Rub surface with olive oil, place in an oiled bowl and cover well with plastic wrap. Let sit about an hour until doubled.

Punch downm, knead briefly, and let it rise a second time until doubled.

Knead again and divide into 3 equal sized portions. Knead each ball until smooth, cover with a cloth or plastic wrap, and let sit at least five minutes before rolling out.

Preparing the pizzas

* Preheat oven to 500°, putting your pizza stone in first if you’re using one.
* Sprinkle a baking sheet with a thin layer of semolina
* Roll out one of the dough balls as thin as you like it (use a rolling pin to get it pretty thin, then you can stretch it with your fists. When you’ve got it as thin as you can get it, place on the prepared pan.
* Baste the dough with the olive oil/garlic (see MISE EN PLACE on the recipe page)
* Ladle about ¼- ½ cup of the pureed tomatoes onto the dough and spread out evenly using the back of the ladle
* Sprinkle with kosher salt, chiffonade basil and chili flakes (crush them between your fingers as you sprinkle them on the dough)
* Top with as much mozzarella as you like, usually between ¼ and ½ pound per pizza. The low fat version of 2-3 ounces low fat mozzarella also tastes great. Slide the whole thing in the oven for five and a half minutes or until the crust is slightly browned and the cheese is a little browned. If you're not using a stone the baking time will likely be a bit longer - just keep an eye on it.
* Cool slightly, slice, and serve.

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Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Pinched Potatoes au Gratin

Pinching unhealthy fats out of foods is one of my favorite things do to in the kitchen - just as long as the dish comes out well. Potatoes au Gratin might be the effort I'm most proud of. I give all the credit to the Gruyère; this cheese certainly stands alone. Gruyère is so flavorful that not much is needed. Couple that with the use of nonfat milk and the fat content is significantly lower than the cream-and-gobs-of-cheese version.

These make a terrific wintertime side dish. Just beware that they need to be baked for about an hour and plan accordingly. They're great leftover, too. I warm them up in my toaster oven.

Pinched Potatoes au Gratin
Print recipe only here

Serves 4

4 medium Russet potatoes, peeled
1/2 cup nonfat milk
2 ounces Gruyère, grated
2 garlic cloves, smashed a bit
pinch nutmeg
salt and fresh ground pepper
kitchen slicer or Mandoline to cut the potatoes paper-thin
8-inch skillet

Preheat oven to 350° or 300° convection.

In a small saucepan, bring the milk, garlic, nutmeg and a few turns of black pepper to a simmer. Reduce heat to lowest setting - or turn it off completely - and allow to steep for 5 minutes.

Using slicer or Mandoline, cut one of the potatoes. Line the bottom of the skillet with a single layer of potatoes, overlapping them slightly. You won't use the entire potato in one layer; just save what's left for the next layer. Pour about a tablespoon of the steeped milk over the layer of potatoes, sprinkle a bit of salt and some fresh ground pepper on top. Top with a scant 1-2 t grated Gruyère. Repeat until you have used all four potatoes. Save the most generous sprinkling of cheese for the top layer.

Cover the skillet with foil and place in the preheated oven for about 45 minutes. Remove cover and bake another 10-15 minutes, or until the top is golden. Allow to cool about 5 minutes before serving.

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Friday, January 16, 2009

Curry Lessons: Making Madhur Jaffrey's Thai green curry

I wish I had my camera with me when I was at Lea's for curry lessons. She had a gorgeous array of bird's eye chillies, lemongrass, limes, cilantro (which Lea calls coriander, as she's a proper Englishwoman), garlic, shallots, ginger, curry leaves, and a variety of spices.

We made two curries that day, a Thai green and a red, both out of the book shown here. Madhur Jaffrey's Ultimate Curry Bible is found on many a shelf in the UK (according to the small sample size of approximately (ok, exactly) two other Londoners I questioned). I highly recommend this book. Americans: don't bother looking for it in your neighborhood bookstore. I got mine thru Amazon.

Both curries were extraordinary, and right up the Pinch alley for being healthy (I just altered the amount of coconut milk and used a lite version), quick and delicious. Even better, we made a big batch of the Thai green, freezing off portions for future use. It froze really well - there was no difference in taste between the fresh and frozen portions. It's been such a treat to have on hand. Now that we've eaten it all I need to make another batch.

Learning how to deal with lemongrass was a great lesson - I had no idea how to handle it. Lea taught me to remove the tail end and then whack the base of the stalk to release the oils and aroma. Whacking was done with a rolling pin, the kind without handles, and yeah, it was totally fun.

The ingredient list calls for some specialty things. Lea procured everything up on Devon Ave in Chicago. Check your local Whole Foods; they will sometimes have lemongrass and the bird's eye chillies.

Madhur Jaffrey's Thai Green Curry, Pinched
Print recipe only here

Makes four batches

28 bird'e eye chillies, chopped
10 cloves garlic, chopped
10 oz shallots, chopped
6 slices fresh ginger
2 T fresh lemongrass, thinly sliced
zest of one lime
16 cilantro stems (just remove the leaves and use the stalky part)
4 anchovies
1 t cumin
1 t ground coriander
fresh ground white pepper

Remove stems of chillies and chop. Add to Cuisinart along with all the other ingredients. Add about 1/2 cup (4 ounces) of water and pulse to blend. Divide into four portions and refrigerate or freeze until ready to use.

For two people

Heat 1 T canola oil in a large skillet.

Trim 2-3 skinless, boneless chicken breasts (or other protein of choice, such as shrimp, pork, beef or fish) into bite sized pieces. Cook in the skillet until browned all over. Transfer to a plate or bowl and reserve.

Add another tablespoon of canola oil to the pan if necessary. Add one portion of the prepared green curry sauce and saute for 2-3 minutes. Add 2-3 ounces light coconut milk (see explanation in recipe sidebar) and cook another minute. Add reserved chicken and cook 3-5 minutes or until cooked through. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Serve with basmati or jasmine rice.

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Monday, January 12, 2009

10 Ways to Start Eating Along Practical Guidelines

I’ve been looking at the Pinch tag line over the last few posts as a means of explaining further what is advocated on the site and to refocus the blog on its core values. After a holiday season filled with sweets and other indulgences it’s a good time to get back to the basics of sustainable eating.

This is the final installment in the series. Today I’m looking at the final part, “…eating along practical, healthy guidelines.”

What does this mean to you? For me, it’s not about weight loss or even weight management, though overall health is usually better when bodyweight is appropriate. Here’s what it means to me:

1. Eat breakfast. And lunch. And dinner. And a snack or two in between (see #4).
2. Create a healthy balance of protein, fat, carbohydrate for your body and keep every meal balanced accordingly. Popular diets advocate different ratios - Atkins and South Beach are high protein and fat, low in carb (SB sensibly argues dieters minimize saturated fat). Ornish and Pritikin are very low fat, high carbohydrate. The Zone Diet is high protein and low carb, but more lenient on carbs advocating a 40:30:30 ratio of carbohydrates, fat and protein at every meal.
3. Eat a variety of foods - fish, veggies and whole grains should probably be increased in everyone's diet.
4. Make snacks meaningful - no empty calories! 100 calorie packs of Pringles are neither nourishing nor satisfying - they’ll only make you reach for another 100-calorie pack of Pringles.
5. Consider the mini-meal, smaller meals throughout the day.
6. Eat close to the vine. Choose fresh foods, not processed.
7. Cook your own food. One way our weekly diet becomes less healthy is by eating out. Restaurants will either overload you on fat or calories, neither of which should be consumed in excess.
8. Eat like people are watching. Slow down - it will help you to appreciate your body’s cues that you’ve had enough.
9. Keep sweets to a minimum. Following the TCBY-binge of the early 1990s we all learned that hard way that low fat is not low calorie and that excess carbs become fat quicker than you can say “small fat-free vanilla-chocolate swirl.”
10. Make sure your protein is lean protein.

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Saturday, January 10, 2009

On Shopping Responsibly

The New Year demanded a State of the Blog address. A week ago I posted thoughts on the first part of the Pinch tag line (the entirety of which reads, "Sophisticated home cooking that supports shopping responsibly and eating along practical, healthy guidelines.") In three installments I'm explaining what Pinch holds dear. This is the second installment.

The middle part of the Pinch tag line concerns itself with shopping. Some of you love it, some hate it. Some of you leave it to Peapod, some share the responsibility with spouses and some of you wouldn't dream of letting someone else pick your avocados. I'm in the latter camp, though am lucky to be married to a gem of a man who picks a fine avocado when called upon to do so.

What does it mean to shop responsibly? Why is it important?

Shopping responsibly means being thoughtful about what you buy, how much you buy (or how much is wasted), who you buy it from, and how much time and money you spend buying it. We can live more responsibly by minimizing waste (food waste, money waste, environmental waste (in the form of gas and packaging) and exposure to needless chemicals or prices.

What you buy
Food you buy should be nourishing, healthy and leave the smallest footprint possible.

For help finding or improving the balance in what you eat, the revised food pyramid (I like the new one from Harvard School of Public Health) is a good place to start. Figuring out the protein-fat-carbohydrate ratio that works best for your body will get you eating healthier more balanced meals. Weekly menu planning helps a lot in this area. If you want to make sure you eat fish once a week, or increase protein in your diet, the way to do it is to shop accordingly. If your cupboards are full of pasta or rice and beans, that’s what you’ll be cooking that week.

Related to footprint, consumers sometimes struggle between buying local or organic. Personally, when forced to pick between the two, I go with local.

Who you buy it from
Where you choose to spend your grocery dollar determines your part in the food economy. I don’t like spending all my money at the farmer’s market but if we want to have smaller farms we need to out our money where our mouth is. It’s important to appreciate the true cost of our food, whether it’s paying $0.89/pound for chicken thighs at Safeway or $1.99 for an avocado at Whole Foods that was grown in South America. In both cases the consumer is footing the bill for more than cheap chicken or avocado airfare. In Slate, Sara Dickerman summed it up nicely,

“…Most of us followers of the food revolution believe that industrially produced cheap food is not actually cheap. It might not cost much at the checkout line, but it hides a raft of government food subsidies and externalities like pesticide and methane pollution, not to mention the inhumane mass production of animals. So it can be hard to get to the bottom of the bottom dollar.”

How much to buy
Shopping precedes cooking and menu planning precedes (or should precede) shopping. When a weekly eating plan or menu is written, it enables the family cook to shop once and cook meals all week long. When I know we’re eating beans, broccoli, artichokes and salad during a given week it’s easy to only buy what we’ll consume that week. This saves time and money.

How much time/money to spend shopping
Over the years I've streamlined the process to make my grocery shopping more efficient. I've significantly reduced the number of weekly grocery runs. Many weeks I've only had to go grocery shopping once (disclosure: I hit 2-3 different stores to get everything on my list).

Before I had children I was a daily market shopper. Granted, we lived down the street from the Pike Place Market in Seattle where it was easy to walk out of my restaurant job, pass thru the market and round up ingredients for dinner for two. It may be inefficient in terms of time, but it did enable us to eat well, seasonally, and left a small footprint.

Spending is entirely personal. My grocery budget is probably on the high side since cooking is a passion of mine. Do vote in the poll this week!

Next up: the final installment in the series will look at how to eat along practical, healthy guidelines.

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Thursday, January 8, 2009

Coconut Macaroon Intermezzo

This is a brain cleanser for me. It's taking me FOREVER to address the middle part of the Pinch tag line. Meanwhile, chew on these. They are so yummy. Doesn't the new woodpecker make them look so nice?!?

They are gluten free and unleavened, the latter being the reason they pop up in markets at Passover. But are they ever sweet! Almost too much for me. Unsweetened coconut isn't widely available, but if you can get your hands on it I recommend cutting the sweetened coconut with some unsweetened.

Coconut Macaroons
Print recipe only here

Makes 2-3 dozen cookies

2/3 cup sweetened condensed milk
1 egg white
1 1/2 t vanilla extract
pinch salt
3 1/2 cups sweetened shredded coconut. Use one part unsweetened flaked coconut if you can find it.

Combine all ingredients, mixing well by hand.

Refrigerate, covered, for 2-3 hours.

Preheat oven to 325.

Drop measured spoonfuls of mixture onto a parchment-lined baking sheet.

Bake for about 15 minutes or until nicely browned. Cool and serve or store.

These keep well for several days in an airtight container at room temperature.

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Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Epiphany! Galette des Rois

This recipe was shared with me by the generous Nathalie P. The French parents at my children's culturally diverse public school make galettes each year around January 6, the Epiphany. For ye not versed in Christian history, Epiphany is the 12th day of Christmas and commemorates the arrival of the wise men in Bethlehem to meet the newborn Jesus.

I'm not sure how the galette came to be served on this occasion. Can anyone answer? The custom is to hide a fève, fava bean, in the cake before it is baked. At service, the youngest child goes beneath the table and decides who gets each piece of cake. The person who finds the fève in his piece of cake is crowned King or Queen.

Galette des Rois
Print recipe only here


100g sugar
100g almond meal (or fine ground almonds)
1 egg
1 egg yolk
1 T rum
1 t almond extract
2 sheets puff pastry (enough for two 10-inch circles)


Cream butter until it softens a bit. Add sugar and cream until light and fluffy.

Add the egg (just the whole egg, the yolk comes later). Mix until incorporated.

Add the rum and almond extract.

Add the almond meal, mixing well until incorporated.

Assembling the Galette
Preheat oven to 375°

Unfold thawed puff pastries and using a pie pan as a template cut into two circles (if using homemade puff pastry, roll it out to a thickness of 3mm and about 10 inches in diameter). Make a few cuts in the middle of one of the circles to allow steam to escape while baking.

Lay one circle on parchment paper and spread frangipane in the middle – Leave one inch around the edges of the dough.

Place a dried fava bean or ceramic figure in the frangipane.

Using the egg yolk, brush the edges of the dough.

Place the other dough circle on top and seal the edges very tight

Make a quick egg wash with the remaining egg yolk and 2-3 T milk. Brush top with egg wash, being careful not to let egg wash run over the sides or it will disrupt the puff pastry from showcasing its trademark laminations.

Bake for about 30 min or until the top and edges are nicely browned

Allow to rest for at least 10 minutes before cutting into it.

Enjoy with champagne, sparkling apple cider or a sweet white wine.

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Sunday, January 4, 2009

Pinch on, Pinch (or Five Ways to More Sophisticated Home Cooking)

I borrowed the funny comma placement in the headline from Lynne Truss, the Eats, Shoots, and Leaves author. I was going to title the post "Pinch on Pinch" since it's going to be a State of the Blog sort of a post. But then the command to PINCH ON! sneaked into my brain.

Anyhoo, the New Year commands me to revisit the Pinch tag line to check that I'm on course. The tag reads: Sophisticated home cooking that supports shopping responsibly and eating along practical, healthy guidelines. Over this week I'll break that down into its three parts. For now, let's consider the first part, sophisticated home cooking.

What does sophisticated home cooking look like? It looks a lot like the menu at your favorite local café -the one where everything on the menu looks great, comes from not too far away, and was made by a person with care in about sixty minutes (beware of things called 30 minute meals - they usually amount to false promises). Sophisticated home cooking is safe (no organ meats or extreme beans) but allows eaters to stretch a bit and try new things.

To be sure, sophisticated home cooking is meant for everyone at the table. Three cheers for parents like my old friend Rachel who cannot bring themselves to serve chicken nuggets to their kids. I don't have a magic menu that everyone in your family will appreciate equally. But, as Frances said, "How do you know what I'll like if you won't even try me?" Coming up with more ideas about the family dinner is on the agenda for Pinch this year.

Back to the sophisticated cooking, how do we get this kind of food to the table?

1. Accumulate recipes – supplement the Pinch cookbook by looking in the right places. Cooks Illustrated, Gourmet, and Food and Wine are all great resources, especially when you use their handy healthy indexing resources. Look for recipes that you would be proud to serve to guests. And disregard recipes with convoluted or lengthy methods. Simple prep is the key to cooking more regularly for yourself or your family.

2. Share with your friends and pick over their recipe catalog for ideas. Everyone loves new recipes, especially ones that have been vetted by other busy families.

3. A well stocked bookshelf is a great resource. Check out my Shelfari bookshelf (below right) or the Pinch store for ideas if you need an infusion of cookbooks.

4. Read menus at your favorite restaurants and remember what sounded good. Do a food blog search back at home and try to replicate entrees at home. I can't tell you how many recipes I've created this way. Love Chicken Vesuvio or French Onion Soup? Both are easy enough to recreate at home. Google may be the best menu assistant around.

5. Practice, practice, practice! Lucky thing that you'll practice eating every day, usually more than once. And if you're the Designated Cook you'll practice your cookery skills every day.

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