Farmer's Market Pizza

Friday, August 29, 2014

I love pizza. It is, along with the sandwich, one of the most versatile and perfect foods ever created. You can eat it three meals a day and your choice of toppings is nearly endless. I'm always in the mood for pizza. I've made pizza at home before, but always wussed out and picked a pre-made dough. I finally worked up the nerve to try fresh dough myself. I figured that even if the dough was a flop, I still had a bunch of fabulous toppings (most of which I picked up at the Farmers' Market) to rescue the dish.

I made Country Cleaver's pizza dough from this recipe (also, how freakin' BOMB do those toppings look!? Note for next time...). It is the only pizza dough I ever want to eat again in my life. I didn't use the flavored olive oil and I swapped a teaspoon of garlic powder instead of a fresh clove, but otherwise followed the recipe to the letter. It was my first adventure with yeast and I was terrified I'd do something entirely wrong - I even got out my meat thermometer to test the water temperature. Yes, I am scared of roller coasters, ax-wielding intruders, and killing yeast with too-hot water.

I started with the rest of the tomato jam - the flavors only intensified in outrageous deliciousness as they hung out in the refrigerator. I sauteed down some small white onions with dried oregano and, once cooled, add those on top. I sliced the kernels off of the third ear of grilled corn (also from the tomato jam post) and some slices of raw zucchini. I smothered the healthy parts with proscuitto (thank you, CC, for this inspiration) and slices of provolone. I also picked up four gorgeous squash blossoms at the market and I had grand plans to ricotta-stuff and pan-fry them. Those flew out the window when I found this pizza dough recipe. I knew then that the flowers would simply be a crowning topping to the pile of Farmers' Market bounty.

The masterpiezza (go with it) went into a 450 degree oven for about 11 minutes.

And holy hell. It was SO good.

The vegetables all skewed sweet - tomatoes, onions, corn, zucchini - so a few shakes of crushed red pepper were required and delicious. The salty proscuitto and the pops of fresh sweet vegetables was beautifully balanced and supremely delicious.

And the dough - ohhhhhhmygosh this dough. Absolutely foolproof. I do not know what took me so long to make my own (kidding, see above re: fear of burning yeast) but I love it. It had that ideal crunch on the bottom but chewiness throughout. I cannot wait to make another at-home pizza with this dough. It's 100% a winner.

We had two of our close friends over and the four of us devoured this thing. There were only a few small pieces leftover which was such a joy. One of my favorite ways to use leftovers? Throw an egg on top and call it breakfast.

A perfect sunny side up, freshly cracked black pepper, and a drizzle of sriracha. Is there a more perfect way to start your morning?

Wine Wednesday: Girard 2012 Napa Valley Petite Sirah

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Of the many incredible wines J and I tasted on our honeymoon in Napa, we fell in love with wines by Girard Winery. Our experience at their tasting room was sublime and we ended up joining their club. Four times a year, we receive four bottles of wine. Every time a shipment arrives, we're just instantly taken back to our wonderful vacation and get to try new, usually not-widely-distributed wines.

The nose of this wine was surprising to me. I smelled a lot of blackberry initially, but then could only come up with "earth, like rich soil" to describe the secondary note. The back of the bottle noted "coffee", so I guess that's what my nose was searching for. Once sipped, it has a rich, velvety mouthfeel. We enjoyed with an herb-crusted steak and a version of the grilled peach salad. The price is listed at $30 on their website's product page, but I believe we have a slightly discounted price as club members.

We both enjoy Napa-area wines already, but I'm making a concerted effort to buy more of them after the terrible earthquake that impacted the area recently. I know that in the grand scheme of terrible things that are happening around the world, broken bottles of wine and olive oil doesn't stack up to war or poverty, but it's still a devastating event for people, businesses, and a community. So, even though it probably doesn't make any impact at all, at least my Napa wine purchases make me feel like I'm helping, or at least being mindful of bad things while I am lucky to sit down and enjoy a delicious glass of wine.

Enough deep thoughts - what is your favorite Napa-area wine?

Tomato & Shallot Jam on Salmon

Monday, August 25, 2014

We've been back from the beach for over two weeks, but - cue the Kylie - I cannot get this tomato jam out of my head. I dreamed it up toward the end of vacation and cooked it one of our first days back in New York. And now that it's gone, all I want to do is make more and more and more and more of it and eat it every day.

My mom and I shopped for the beach house in the suburbs. If everything is faster in New York City, everything is so much freaking BIGGER in the suburbs! (And cheaper. Oh, bless you Burbs. So. Much. Cheaper.) I purchased a 2-pound box of sweet grape tomatoes knowing that it is one of four vegetable options the girls would eat (the other three being "corn", "carrots", and "nothing"). Lo and behold, "nothing" ended up being a very popular choice and I returned home with almost the entire box untouched.

My ingredients:
- just shy of (they did eat SOME) 2 lb grape tomatoes
- 6 medium - large shallots (3/4 lb weighed at the store), chopped
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/3 cup granulated sugar
- juice of 1 lemon
- 1 teaspoon harissa (optional)

I started off melting the butter over low heat and cooking the shallots for about 6 - 8 minutes until they started to soften. I also added an extremely kind and generous dose of salt - likely came out to a teaspoon, maybe a bit more. If anything I've learned from my new-ish foray into baking it's that salt helps sweet flavors shine.

Then I added the tomatoes.

I stirred to incorporate them with the shallots and cooked for about 3 minutes. Then, I added in the lemon juice and sugar. Increase the heat to high and bring to a boil.

It was at this point that I decided I wanted a wee bit of heat. I went with harissa because it's made of red peppers which bring their own natural sweetness to the mix. I hoped I didn't ruin the whole dish with spiciness and forged onward.

Once the mixture reached a boil, I reduced the heat to low and simmered it uncovered for about an hour. I stirred it occasionally and slowly but surely, some of the tomatoes began to burst. My heart leapt a little bit each time I'd hear a cherry tomato explode - granted, it was more of a 'pop', but it still foretold deliciousness that was brewing.

To be fair, an hour is a long time so I must tell you this - I was doing some other kitchen tasks simultaneously or I would have been extremely bored. Not even creamy, blessed risotto takes an hour of constant watching and stirring.

Boredom, or at least impatience, did actually kick shortly after the hour mark, so I started popping the remaining whole tomatoes with the back of my stirrer. Once every single tomato had been squished, I gave it all one last final stir and turned off the heat.

I wanted to eat it directly off the stove. The natural sweetness of the tomatoes and the shallots was enhanced with the sugar, but wasn't cloying. Cooking it slow and low resulted in really rich, deep flavors. The harissa added another layer of sweetness from the red pepper and the smallest hint of heat at the back of your mouth. It was savory and sweet, not spicy, but that little zing was really delicious. I forced myself to not eat all of it with a spoon and rather let it cool on the stove before transferring to the fridge overnight.

The next day, I slathered it all over a beautiful piece of salmon.

As pictured, I lined the dish with parchment paper first. It somehow feels and looks fancier than tin foil. And it worked.

This is a thing of pure and absolute beauty. There was still plenty of the jam left having completely smothered the fish in it, so I begrudgingly put it back into the fridge instead of devouring it with a spoon and put the salmon in the oven for about 15 - 20 minutes at 350°.

On to the sides! I'd purchased 3 ears of corn and 2 small zucchinis at the farmers market for sides. Once shucked, I discovered that I got a bonus ear for free.

The corn I simply grilled up on our grill pan. We each ate one and saved the third for another use later in the week.

The zucchinis became a salad I've wanted to try from The Newlywed Cookbook. I worship at the altar of ricotta cheese so this was right up my alley.

The ingredients are:

1 large or 2 small zucchini(s)
Juice of 1/2 lemon
3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
Salt & pepper
1/4 cup fresh ricotta
1/2 cup toasted walnuts, broken in pieces (I omitted these)

Peel zucchini lengthwise with a vegetable peeler into thin strips. Toss with the lemon juice, olive oil, and salt and pepper to taste. I personally went heavy on the fresh pepper because I live for it. Administer a healthy dose of ricotta (and nuts, if you use them) to the top. I tossed the zucchini and ricotta together just before serving.

Then it was time for dinner.

I'm not the biggest fan of summer - humidity and my hair haven't been on speaking terms for years - but this dish made me wish I had fresh summer produce 12 months of the year. Grilled corn is exquisite - if you haven't done it, please do it. If you haven't tried eating zucchini raw before (and I hadn't!), please do it. It's light, it's crunchy, and paired perfectly with the zing of lemon juice and the fluffy ricotta.

And let's take a look at this stunning zucchini side, shall we?

Beautiful and delicious. I wish that I'd made this salad in May so that I could continue making it all summer - it is glorious.

They were fantastic sides, yes, but I have to gush about this fish. THIS FISH YOU GUYS HOLY DELICIOUSNESS.

The slow-simmered, caramelized shallots and tomatoes on top of a flaky and hearty piece of salmon? I truly have dreamed of this dish since making it. It is my new gold standard in Summer Fish Toppers. In fact, this whole plate was just chock full of summer sweetness. And I'm telling you - make this jam. Tomatoes are a summer thing, but I know this would be a perfect condiment all year round, at all three meals.

I used it the next day at breakfast, in fact! I smeared some ricotta cheese onto whole grain toast and topped it with some of the tomato jam. Absolute perfection. I used more of it for another recipe which is on it's way this week!

Meatballs with Fava & Lemon + Shiso Pesto Japanese Eggplant

Friday, August 22, 2014

Today’s post is long, but it’s worth it. I make pesto with a mysterious herb! I grill skinny eggplants! I make scrumptious, juicy meatballs and cook them in a light lemony sauce! I reference Silence Of The Lambs!

Seriously, this food is yummy. Please read on. To entice you, I’m posting a picture of my final plate.

Taking a full week off between jobs in the middle of August meant a mid-morning trip to Union Square to stock up on farmers' market goodies. I bought a TON of stuff - most of it was very carefully planned, but a few were pure impulse buys after browsing and squeezing and smelling. One such impulse buy was shiso.

The signage at the particular vendor said that shiso has a cinnamon/clove smell and a basil flavor with spicy cumin aspects. The smell was definitely spicy/sweet, but still very herbal. I took the advice of the woman who rang me up and made a basil-shiso pesto.

My friend Timothy spent almost a year in Japan teaching and 99% of his emails that year ended with, 'There is still no cheese here'. The 1% of emails included, 'I found cheese - it's over $20.' As a tribute to his dairy-less experience, I kept this pesto cheese-free as well.

I included:

- 2 packed cups red shiso
- 1 packed cup basil
- 4 cloves garlic
- 1/3 cup hazelnuts (you could use any mild, creamy nut that you’d like, but I had hazelnuts in the pantry)
- 1/4 teaspoon fish sauce
- 1 teaspoon rice vinegar
- 1/2 cup vegetable oil
- sesame oil is included in the picture, but I decided not to use it, worrying the flavor would be too aggressive

Why fish sauce? I wanted something that would replace the salty bite of cheese in standard pesto. A little goes a long way with the stuff, but 1/4 teaspoon worked perfectly. I zapped everything together in a food processor. And then took a picture of the final product in my dining room because I had natural light available.

I live for pesto, particularly non-traditional pesto flavors, and this one is really unique. The shiso really brings a spicy flavor - it’s more zing than hot heat, but it is very bold. I liked the saltiness from the fish sauce, the brightness of the rice vinegar, and the mild crunch of the hazelnuts. I only allowed myself a few sample tastes before popping this in the fridge.

A second market impulse buy led to the other half of this meal - fava beans. Silence Of The Lambs is one of my all-time favorite movies but I've never eaten favas in my entire life. I saw them and grabbed a handful. On the subway ride back uptown, I recalled a recipe from Jerusalem for a meatballs and fava beans dish. I Googled it on my way to the store and grabbed what I could - you’ll see that I left a handful of things out (mostly herbs and spices).

Behold: these are fava beans.

You start out by blanching them and removing skins? There's a very complicated paragraph in the recipe about this. No skins came off of mine. So basically, I took the beans out of the shells and I quickly blanched them and added them into the sauce later on down the line. I simplified. A lot.

As I've mentioned before, I love all of the recipes I've made from Jerusalem, but they without fail take a long time and are usually made from tons of different ingredients. This dish was no different. I'll post a full list of the official recipe’s requested ingredients at the end of the post, but here is what I used:

For the meatballs:
- 1/2 lb ground sirloin
- 1/2 lb ground lamb
- 1 small onion
- 1 tablespoon chives, finely chopped
- 1 tablespoon mint, finely chopped
- 2 cloves garlic, chopped
- lots of fresh black pepper
- 2 teaspoon cumin
- 1/8 teaspoon ground coriander
- 2 shakes cloves (very technical, I know)
- 1 teaspoon chopped capers
- 1 egg, beaten
- breadcrumbs added until desired consistency (so exact)

I mixed up the meatball ingredients by hand and rolled them into ping pong-sized balls. I seared them in oil on two sides.

For the sauce:
- fava beans, removed from shell and quickly blanched
- 2 thyme cubes
- juice of 2 lemons
- 1/2 cup chicken stock
- 1 1/2 cups sauvignon blanc (because what else do you do with wine received as a gift that you don't like to drink? also I ran out of stock)
- more chives, with a rougher chop

I melted the thyme cubes, then added the stock only to the pan. I also noticed at this point that the recipe called for green onions/scallions, audibly cursed, and threw in the rest of the chives I’d purchased. They’re in the onion family.

I really need to read recipes start to finish before I start. Or, maybe, before I go shop for ingredients.

Anyway, cover and cook for 10 minutes. Then, add in the meatballs, the lemon juice and wine, cover again and simmer. The recipe says to cook for 25 minutes - they also made twice as much meat as I did. Around 15 minutes, I took a temperature reading and the meatballs were perfect.

While the meatballs simmered, I brought the shiso pesto back out from the fridge. I know, remember the pesto I made? This is a long freaking post so if you’ve made it this far, (A) thank you (B) feel free to take a stretch break. I tried to stay within the same Japanese theme as the pesto and put it on top of grilled Japanese eggplant. The skin on Japanese eggplant is much thinner than ‘regular’ eggplant so these cook a lot quicker. I bought two at the market, halved them, scored them, and heavily salted them for about 20 minutes or so.

I took zero photos of this on the grill. You understand what grill pans look like, yes? One grilled, I spooned some of the shiso pesto all over the top.

And I plated (bowled?) up the meatballs, fava beans, and delicious, lemony, herby sauce.

And then, actually using plates, plated up dinner.

Yum, yum, yum. This was rich but light at the same time. It was just the perfect bite. Juicy meatball, tender eggplant, and the bright flavors from the lemon sauce and shiso pesto. This was a Happy Tummy meal for me.

And yes, Mom, you can see in the blurry background of this picture - I did serve fava beans with a nice chianti.

The actual full list of ingredients from Jerusalem:

Wine Wednesday: 2012 Francis Coppola Chardonnay Diamond Collection Gold Label

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Growing up, my mom went all out for three holidays: Christmas, Thanksgiving, and The Academy Awards. I remember listening through my bedroom wall to her gabbing on the phone with her best friend late into the night as they squealed along with the sartorial parade and pompous acceptance speeches. This phone call expanded to actual celebrations as years passed - the main requirements were wine, chick food, and yoga pants (back when they were just called "sweats").

One of the best celebrations happened the night of the 75th Oscars. Mom rented out the Home Alone suite at the Plaza and invited all of the women in our extended family to celebrate. Ever adherent to a theme, she served foods by Oscar winners - Paul Newman salsa and Francis Ford Coppola wines.

My then 18-year-old taste buds weren't too discerning when it came to wine - yes, I was allowed a glass (and maybe snuck another) - but the general consensus placed that Coppola vintage somewhere between "okay" and "sucked". The wines have seemed to get better as time's gone on and I really enjoyed this 2012 chardonnay.

On the nose, this gave me green - a lot of grass and herbs came through strongly. It was extremely smooth once sipped and I tasted a lot of pineapple and pear. I picked this up for $12.99 at my regular wine store and would definitely grab it again!

Tilapia with Sweet & Sour Mediterranean-Style Tomato Sauce from RINO'S KITCHEN

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

One of my all-time favorite things is snail mail. Receiving it is marvelous, but I love sending people surprise treats. I'll pop a fun card in the mail, or send some kitschy cocktail napkins to a friend. It's one of those small things that brings me great pleasure. Earlier this summer, my sweet friend Katie turned the tables on me and blew me away with a brand new cookbook.

It's easy for friends to send an email, a tweet, a text. She took the time to purchase a book - one written by the chef who catered her wedding- that she wanted to share, write a note, pack everything up, and ship it internationally from Canada to me. Every single time I see it on my cookbook shelf, every single time I flip through the pages looking for (and finding!) inspiration, I have been and will continue to be humbled and happied by this gift. In a small way, it's giving me great ideas of things to cook. In a big way, it reminds me that I cook to share love with those I feed, and I post those foods here on The Chardonnay Kitchen to make connections and share beyond my table.

So, now that we've concluded the Super Sappy portion of today's post, let's get on to the sweet and sour sauce portion. This fish dish is layer upon layer of flavor and is going to blow you away. I'd argue that "sour" isn't totally accurate - it's much more a sweet and acidic sauce. The tomatoes, balsamic vinegar, and olives all bring both a sweetness and a "sourness" to the dish. Let's just get to it -- this isn't complicated, but does take a few steps of adding all the flavors to the pan.

Let's start with the ingredients. I'll write up the Rino's Kitchen list and indicate my substitutions:

2 tsp olive oil
4 pickerel fillets (I used two large tilapia fillets - Bortolin notes in the book that any white fish will work beautifully)
1/4 cup flour for dusting
salt & pepper to taste
1 large onion diced
1 diced green pepper
1/4 cup pitted black olives (I used pitted kalamata)
1 tsp chopped garlic
1 tbsp chopped parsley (omitted because I didn't have it)
1 tsp oregano
1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
2 cups tomato sauce (Bortolin directs you to his sauce recipe; I used a plain old 14 ounce can of crushed tomatoes and it worked just fine)

You start off by dipping the fish in flour with salt and pepper, then cooking it in heated olive oil. I did 3 -5 minutes per side, heeding the cookbook instruction to remove the fish from the pan before it is fully cooked. I placed the removed fish on paper towels on a plate to soak up any excess oil.

Then add the onions, olives, and pepper into the pan.

Cook over medium heat until the onions start to brown and become tender. Stir in garlic and season with oregano, salt and pepper.

Once the garlic becomes fragrant, pour in the balsamic vinegar and toss together. Allow the balsamic to reduce slightly.

Add in the tomato sauce (or plain Jane tomatoes) and stir. Reduce heat and simmer for 5 - 6 minutes.

At this point, your kitchen is going to smell outrageous. Your mouth will be watering and you will feel compelled to start eating this sauce by the spoonful, burning the roof of your mouth and ignoring the hereto un-sauced tilapia.

And then you add the tilapia. And you upgrade from "mouth watering" to "full on drool".

Let the simmering sauce finish cooking the fish, another 4 - 5 minutes. Tell your salivary glands to friggin cool it because you are soooooclose to digging in.

Plate up the fish and smother it in this magical sauce.

You can barely see the fish because I wanted to eat ALL of the sauce. It's heaven. This dish is hearty because there is just so much to it, but it still feels and tastes very light because, at the end of the day, this is nothing more than fish and vegetables. It's fancy and complex enough for a special occasion, but you can pull it together in under an hour. And at least for me - sappy alert - it tasted that much better because of the generosity that brought the recipe to my table.

Get out there today and do something nice for someone. Whether big or little, the ripple effect of simply being kind reaches farther than you might ever be able to see. And, if you're down, make this fish. It is sweet and sour perfection.

Slow Cooker Rainbow Quinoa

Monday, August 18, 2014

Happy Monday! It's Day 1 at my new job and, even though I schedule my posts, I can guarantee you I'm a jittery blend of nervous and excited at the same time. I have my outfit picked out and a positive attitude - it's a pretty winning combination, in my book.

Budget-wise, J and I are tightening the belt a bit through the end of the year to save for some bigger, 'funner' things down the line. I'm giving myself a mulligan during this First Week, but packing lunches will be the name of my game going forward. I'm a big fan of making one large lunch meal on Sunday and packing it up for each day of the week. One of my last weeks at my former job, I whipped up a rainbow veggie quinoa in the slow cooker.

I started with some farmers' market bounty: a beautiful red onion, two baby eggplant, yellow squash, and zucchini. I also used some starting-to-wilt celery from the bowels of my fridge and a yellorange (seriously, which color is it?!) pepper. I diced everything up into nice solid bite-sized chunks.

I also threw in about a tablespoon of crushed red pepper and two large garlic cloves, smashed.

Into the slow cooker, I poured one cup of rinsed quinoa. I covered the quinoa with the vegetables and poured two cups of home-made chicken stock over the whole mix.

I also threw in a Parmesan rind. I save these for slow cooker creations or for fancy tomato sauces. They add another layer of flavor and a bit of creaminess, too.

I set this to cook for 3 hours on high. I actually made this on a Sunday night AFTER I cooked dinner. It was ready just before I went to bed, so I packed everything up in Tupperwares for the week and then hit the hay.

This was exactly what I wanted. High protein, high veggie content (and prettiness!), slightly rich and creamy from the stock and Parmesan rind, with a punch of heat from the peppers. I had five solid servings come out of this and, thanks to a well-stocked fridge and pantry at my last job, was able to slightly tweak the flavors each day. One day, I drizzled some balsamic vinegar on top. Another day, some sesame Asian-style dressing. Sriracha also made an appearance. The Friday of that week? I simply doused the entire thing in grated cheese. Being able to customize the exact same lunch every day saved me from palate boredom, but bringing lunch saved me from shelling out $50+ in lunches. Ah, New York City. Your prices slay me constantly.

Once I get fully up to speed with my new role, I will endeavor to show off more of my Packed Lunch creations. If you have any suggestions or go-tos that you would like to share, I would love the recommendations!!!
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