Monday, December 27, 2010

Pesto Pizza with Balsamic Caramelized Onions

Basil Pesto Pizza with Balsamic Caramelized Onions
Trader Joe’s premade Garlic & Herb pizza dough
[1] cup homemade pesto
[2] balls fresh mozzarella, sliced to 1/8 inch
[1/2] cup fresh grated Pecorino Romano
[3] small yellow onions, thinly sliced
[1/3] cup balsamic vinegar
whole wheat flour
Olive oil
fresh cracked black pepper

Preheat oven to 450 or to pizza dough package directions. 

Thinly slice onions and saute in olive oil on low heat for about 15 minutes. Add the balsamic and continue to saute for another 15-20 minutes until the onions are caramelized. 

Roll out the pizza dough using wheat flour to prevent sticking. Shape it depending on the size of the pan you use. Before transferring the dough to the pan, grease the pan lightly with olive oil. (I think you get the best results when you pre-bake the dough for about 10 minutes.)

Top the dough with the pesto, sliced mozzarella, caramelized onions, and pecorino cheese. Add a couple cracks of black pepper and bake until the cheese is melted and the crust is golden brown (about 15 minutes). 

When the pizza is done, top with fresh herbs and a little more pecorino. 

Confession: I also had this the next day for breakfast. 
(And don't pretend like leftover pizza for breakfast isn't like, the best thing ever.)

The great debate remains, however... do you eat the leftovers hot or cold?

Friday, December 24, 2010

Five Star Breakfast

So, I was sitting this morning with my huge Starbucks mug filled with freshly brewed coffee and that Coffeemate French Vanilla creamer that I love so much. And I was content.

That is, until my dad asked if I wanted an omelette with smoked salmon and caviar...

Coffee? Or a gourmet breakfast? Hmmm, tough choice.

I decided to take matters into my own hands and, instead of my dad's omelette, made a poached egg. I remembered the L'aneth et citron vert dijon mustard that I brought back from France, which I bought specifically for smoked salmon (dill and lime flavored). I hadn't used it yet and I honestly couldn't wait any longer. Plus, I bought it with Dad in mind and I knew that he'd like it, too.

Poaching eggs is one of those scary, let's-just-not-go-there techniques that I've always avoided. The few times I did go there, I ended up with a boiled yolk and a hand full of stringy, nasty egg whites. I really never thought it was worth it... until today.

I'd heard that vinegar helps keep the egg together, and read that the water should be just simmering. So with those techniques in mind, I made my first perfect poached egg! It's healthier, prettier, and just as easy as frying. And it made me feel kind of fancy.

Five Star Breakfast
[1] slice hearty whole wheat bread (I used When Pigs Fly 100% Whole Wheat)
[1] tbsp cream cheese
[1] tsp flavored Dijon (optional)
[2-3] slices smoked salmon
[1] egg
[2] tbsp white vinegar
[1] tsp black lumpfish caviar
chives for garnish

Fill a saucepan with about 2 inches of water and bring it to a simmer (just before the boiling point). Add 2 tbsp of vinegar and carefully drop in 1 egg-- I cracked it into a small bowl first. Let it cook for about 4 minutes, using a metal slotted spoon to collect the stray egg whites. After about 4 minutes the yolk will be runny and... perfect!

Meanwhile toast the bread and spread on the cream cheese and mustard. Layer the smoked salmon, then the egg. Top with caviar and a couple springs of chive.

It's such an easy and impressive breakfast that really feels gourmet.


Thursday, December 23, 2010

Citrus Spiced Pumpkin Hummus

For me, using a recipe is sort of like using a cheat sheet on a test. If everyone had one, then anyone could do it. (The only exception is baking, where not using a recipe is just silly... unless, of course, you're the thrill seeker type and don't mind the occasional chocolate chip paper weight). But cooking should be about creating, and sometimes that means failing too.

That said, I came across a recipe for Pumpkin Hummus on La Fuji Mama's blog, and thought it sounded so different and (most importantly), delicious. I really want to put my own twist on it, so I kind of just used the unique idea as my starting point and crossed my fingers that I could figure it out sans recipe. After a lot of taste testing, critiques (good AND bad) from my sisters, and a couple of tweaks, I think I came up with a really great recipe. It's a perfect holiday dip that gets an unexpected twist from the pumpkin and orange.

Citrus Spiced Pumpkin Hummus
[1] can garbanzo beans
[1] can pumpkin puree
[½] cup sesame tahini
[½] cup orange juice
Juice ½ lemon
[1] tbsp lemon zest
[1] tbsp orange zest
 [½] tsp allspice
[½] tsp fresh ground nutmeg
[1] tsp cinnamon
[1] garlic clove, minced

Making hummus is just about as easy as it gets. You literally just put everything into a food processor and blend until it becomes a lovely, creamy, and delicious dip. 

I was worried at first the pumpkin would be overpowering so I only added half at first, but it really does need the whole can. You can really taste the orange flavor, too, and the sweetness of the orange juice works perfectly with the spices and the sesame tahini. It's a savory/sweet dip that I plated with pita crackers, cheddar cheese, and baby carrots. 

Monday, December 20, 2010

Holiday Haddock and Pesto Potatoes

Tonight, I was really inspired to use up some of the fresh herbs that had been patiently waiting in our refrigerator. More specifically, I wanted to put a dent in our ridiculous quantity of basil (my favorite herb of all time) before all the leaves started to wilt. If I learned something from my French host mother, it was to use up fresh ingredients as. soon. as. possible. So, what do you do when you have a humongous box of basil that's practically on a countdown to expiration? Make pesto, of course!

With pesto as my inspiration, I created this recipe for potatoes with basil sauce and pan-seared haddock with a roasted tomato and pepper sauce. The red sauce is so flavorful and is absolutely delicious paired with the flaky haddock. The basil sauce adds the perfect compliment and is versatile enough to use in other recipes. Plus I love the red and green colors, making it perfect for a Christmas-time meal. 
Basil Sauce
[2] cups fresh basil
[1] lemon, (juice and zest of half)
[2] tbsp toasted pine nuts, plus [1] tbsp for garnish
[2] garlic cloves, chopped
olive oil

Start by toasting the pine nuts on low heat-- keep an eye on them because they burn so quickly! When you can smell them, they're done. Next, purée the garlic, lemon zest and lemon juice in a blender. Then add the pine nuts, basil, salt and pepper. Start blending and stream in the olive oil until the sauce is completely smooth. I served the sauce chilled on top of the warm potatoes, and sprinkled a couple toasted pine nuts and fresh chopped basil as a garnish.

Boil the potatoes in heavily salted water for about 15 minutes or until fork tender.

I think the fillets look like mittens.
For the haddock, marinate the fillets simply in olive, sea salt, and pepper for about 30 minutes...

When the sauces are finished, just pan fry the fish in olive oil for about 3-4 minutes per side or until the fish is firm to the touch.

Any sturdy white fish will do in this recipe. The sauce is light enough for delicately flavored fish like haddock, but also can stand up to strongly flavored fish. Use whatever looks the freshest. If it looks like it's been dead for a week, chances are it tastes like it, too.

For the red sauce, I knew I wanted to maximize the flavor of the tomatoes (since they're out of season), so I roasted them in the oven and added tons of flavor with roasted red peppers and red chiles. It's not spicy, but has an incredible depth of flavor. You can monitor the spice level by adding more or less red pepper flakes. I adore this sauce and can't wait to make it again. It's gets better the longer it simmers, and even tasted amazing after 1 or 2 days in the fridge. 

Roasted Tomato Pepper Sauce
[6-7] vine-ripened tomatoes
[3] dried New Mexican red chiles, rehydrated (water reserved)
[2] roasted red peppers (you can totally make your own, but I just used jarred)
[1] tsp red pepper flakes
[1] small yellow onion
[1] garlic clove
[2] tbsp worcestershire
[1/4] cups balsamic vinegar
olive oil

First, preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Cut the tomatoes in half and season with salt, pepper, and a healthy amount of olive oil. Roast for one hour until the tomatoes are caramelized and rich in flavor.

Meanwhile, rehydrate the chiles in hot water for 20 minutes. After the chiles are softened, take them out of the liquid, remove any seeds, and chop finely. Purée in the blender with about [1/3] cup of the reserved liquid until completely smooth.

Sauté the onion until tender, then add the garlic and about half of the red pepper flakes. Transfer to the food processor, add the puréed chiles, the rest of the red pepper flakes, roasted tomatoes, roasted red peppers, worcestershire, balsamic, salt and pepper. Pulse until the mixture is combined but still chunky. Taste and season with salt and pepper. I simmered the sauce while I cooked the haddock for about 10-15 minutes. 

Most people know that I looooooove on the salt, so I tend not to suggest quantities here. Season until you think it tastes good, adding more balsamic or maybe more red pepper flakes to make it spicier. I never follow recipes, so I won't feel bad if you don't either! 

The resulting flavor is so rich and works perfectly with the brightness of the basil sauce. The two huge haddock fillets made about 5 portions, but the sauces leave lots of leftovers. The basil sauce would work great as a marinade and the red sauce would be amazing on vegetarian tacos! 

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Heirloom Tomatoes and Easy Roquefort Dressing

I made this recipe for a potluck dinner in Paris and it ended up being a big hit, especially the homemade blue cheese dressing! It's healthy (if you don't over-do it on the cheese, but I won't judge if you do), super simple, and a perfect dish for sharing. 

Roquefort is a creamy blue cheese that is mild enough for most palettes. If you thought you weren't a fromage bleu fan, this is definitely the recipe to try. Not only are the flavors bright, but the colors are so enticing! Because we're using limited ingredients, make sure that they're all really fresh. Heirloom tomatoes have a full tomato flavor, plus a beautiful color and shape. 

Enjoy as an appetizer, and don't forget the wine.

Heirloom Tomatoes and Easy Roquefort Dressing
Serves 8-10 people

For the dressing:
[1] cup crème fraîche
[2] tbsp dijon mustard
[1/2] cup Roquefort blue cheese, crumbled
[1/2] tbsp lemon juice (I didn't have any, but it will liven up the dressing)
[2] tsp fresh chives, finely chopped
[1] tsp cracked black pepper
salt to taste

For the salad:
[4] large Heirloom tomatoes (plan for half a tomato per person)
[1/4] cup roughly chopped basil 
[2] tbsp chopped flat leaf parsley
[1/4] cup walnuts, toasted
[1] tsp cracked pepper
salt to taste
olive oil

Mix together all ingredients for the dressing in a small bowl and set aside in the fridge. 

Slice tomatoes into 1/4 inch slices and arrange nicely around the plate. Chop herbs and sprinkle over the top. 

In the meantime, toast walnuts for about 5-6 minutes on low heat. Roughly chop into smaller pieces and sprinkle over tomatoes. 

Drizzle the salad with a little olive oil, add the cracked pepper and a small pinch of salt, et voila