Wednesday, March 12, 2008

White Pita Pizza

Yeah, I know, it's not really a pizza, but the store was out of good bread and the pitas looked pretty sexy so I gave in. Isn't it sort of rediculous that I can buy pig feet, jarred roasted peppers, wood ear mushrooms, rediculously over-priced imported yogurt, naan bread, but I can't find any manner of pizza crust in the god damn grocery store? Hell I couldn't even find Boboli stuff in that dump, maybe I just live near a really crap grocery store. I should have gone to work early so I could make it to the Italian market before it closed, but I drag my ass into the office at the last possible second unless there is a damn good reason to wake up early, usually related to alcohol or sex.
I gotta say the pita worked out nicely, it came out crisp and slightly chewy, just the way I like my pizza crust. Pitas have a somewhat dry quality, quite different from most pizza crusts, but if you like thin and crispy this might be for you. Plus pitas are pretty good for you so feel free to load on the toppings and still avoid most of the inevitable guilt. Fatty.
One note, be sure to buy pocketless pitas for this application. You could use the pocketed variety, but they are likely to be drier and flimsier.
White Pita Pizza
2 large sweet onions cut however you like them on your pie
2 tbsn butter
2 tbsn oil or bacon fat (yum)
salt and pepper to taste
couple sprigs of thyme (optional)
splash of beer (optional)

White Sauce:

2 tbsn butter
2 tbsn flour
1 cup milk
2 tbsn parmesan
3 cloves garlic chopped or pressed
salt and pepper to taste
dash red pepper flake (optional)

Mozzarella or fontina cheese to top.

To caramelize onions cook in the butter and oil on medium low heat for about 45 minutes. DO NOT ADD SUGAR. Honestly I don't know why people feel the need to do that. Add the salt and pepper in the beginning, the thyme sprigs about half way through, and splash of beer toward the end to deglaze. Keep an eye on these as you don't want them to crisp and brown, you want them to get very soft and very sweet. Stir often, like every five minutes or so, until they taste sweet and melt in your mouth, they will take on an overall light brown color. Pick out the thyme stems and set aside when done.

White Sauce:

Melt the butter on low heat in a small sauce pan, add the garlic and saute for a minute until it is soft and fragrant. Add the flour and whisk vigorously until it forms an even paste. Microwave milk until hot (1-2 minutes) and add to the pan slowly while whisking to avoid lumps. Keep heat low and whisk until sauce thickens, should only take a minute or two, then add parmesan and salt and pepper. This will be quite thick, about the consistancy of mayonaise. Set aside.


Put your pita on a metal rack set on top of a cookie sheet. Brush lightly with olive oil. Spread your desired amount of sauce evenly over the surface. Top with onions, don't put too much or it will be hard to eat, unless you plan on knife and forking it, and in that case PILE IT ON. Top the onions with a thin layer of mozzarella or whatever you are using. Some shredded chicken would be great on this too.
Bake on middle rack in 450F oven until cheese is fully melted and golden brown at the edges.
You could definitely make this into little appetizers by cutting the pitas into little triangles or whatever shape gets you going and then topping and baking.

I ate this with a salad topped with honey mustard dressing and felt really proud of my gourmet-ness. It's so damn simple, but really good!

Honey Mustard Dressing

1 part mustard
1 part honey
2 parts oil (I prefer olive)
salt and pepper to taste

Combine all ingredients except oil until smooth, then add oil while stirring. Season and pour over greens. Now you don't have an excuse to not buy nasty mass produced salad dressing ever again. Just remember this: high fructose corn syrup has no business on a salad.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008


Cinnamon. In my tomato sauce. There, I said it, and you can all just eat my ass ok? I mean, why do people get so offended by this combination? You put cinnamon in all sorts of sweet stuff to deepen the taste, why not savory? People in the U.S. have this hangup that cinnamon really only belongs in a dessert or sweet breakfast item, or their lattes. It's a shame, because this spice really comes through very well in savory settings, especially related to beef or lamb.

Now, back to that tomato sauce thing. The Greek version of the Italian lasagna is called pasticcio, and there are as many ways to make it as there are ways to spell it. At it's most basic it is a layered casserole of spiced beef, noodles, and a white custard sauce. Add a layer of eggplant and it becomes mousakka, add portabella mushrooms and YiaYia's will yell at you for "messing with tradition" and then gobble it up when you're in the bathroom crying, wondering where you hid that emergency bump.

To make the spiced meat layer, you basically create a quick tomato sauce with onions and garlic, add cinnamon, and let the meat soak it up on a low simmer. It's delicious and red and comforting. As for the whole eggplant thing, I have to tell you a secret...I hate globe eggplant. The texture, the taste or lack thereof, the smell, it just doesn't do it for me. However, Japanese eggplant is a gift from the foodie gods, a concentration of all the good qualities of the globe variety and just overall a winner. The next time I attempt this recipe I will use the foreign variety and report the inevitable success.

This recipe is based on my great-grandmother's version.


2 lbs lean ground beef or lamb, or mix of both
16 oz skinned crushed tomatos
2 med onions chopped fine
3 cloves garlic
3 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp each salt and pepper
1 lb smooth cut ziti noodles
1/2 cup parmesan cheese
6 tbsp butter
6 tbsp flour
3 cups milk
3 eggs room temperature
1/2 tsp salt
1/8 tsp white pepper
1/8 tsp nutmeg

Saute onions in olive oil in a large skillet until soft, about 5 minutes do not brown. Add beef and cook until brown and crumbly, drain off excess grease. Add garlic and cook briefly, then add tomatos, salt, pepper and cinnamon. Simmer 30 minutes, meat should look very wet, sort of like sloppy joe consistancy.

Cook ziti until softened, but still underdone, usually 3 minutes less than al dente time on the box. Drain and rinse with cold water, set aside.

Melt butter in medium sauce pan and whisk in flour to form a loose paste. Cook over med-low heat for 5 minutes, whisking constantly. Add milk slowly and whisk vigorously to undo any lumps that form. Continue whisking until sauce thickens (usually 10 minutes), do not raise heat. Remove from heat and add salt, pepper and nutmeg, stir well.

Whisk eggs in a seperate bowl, add a few spoons of the hot sauce slowly, whisking constantly, don't curdle the eggs! Add the egg mixture into the rest of the sauce slowly, whisking constantly until thoroughly combined. Make sure you have no lumps of egg in there.

Scatter half of the pasta on the bottom of a greased 9x13x3 pan. Spread all of the meat mixture on top of this, then top that with the remaining pasta. Sprinkle with half of the parmesan, then pour the custard sauce over everything.
Sprinkle the rest of the cheese on top, dust with a little nutmeg if you want, and put into a 350F oven for 45 min to an hour until the sauce in set and nothing jiggles too much.

Let it cool for at least 1/2 hour before attempting to cut and serve, you could do it sooner of course, but it will fall apart and look rather similar to what you threw up last weekend after that cheeseburger and beer binge. Serve with a nice healthy salad to offset the guilt you will feel while gobbling this down.

Note: this freezes very well, you could make it in those disposable aluminum pans and let it cool completely, wrap the hell out of it with tin foil, and freeze up to 6 months. Or you could refrigerate it overnight and cut into pieces, put onto cookie sheet, freeze, then wrap each piece individually with plastic wrap and tin foil, then put in freezer bag.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Soy Braised Chicken Update

I made a second batch of this and stumbled on a discovery borne of shear desperation. Yeah it really wasn't all that dramatic or life-altering but whatevs. I forgot that I had left my bottle of soy sauce at work, and all I had was some crappy stir-fry sauce and fish sauce. So I replaced the full amount called for of soy with the fish sauce and put in a couple tablespoons of the stir fry sauce (mostly soy sauce and cornstarch) for a little soy depth. To be honest, this shit rocked my world all over again. Fish sauce is just magic, and I will continue to sing it's praises to anyone who will overlook the smell.

I used 2 onions this time since onions turn magical when braised in soy sauce and chicken fat. Also should mention, I picked a few leaves off my spindly Thai basil plant and ate them with the chicken. Insane. Highly recommend.

In conclusion, both ways are delicious, but I think I prefer the fish sauce method with a couple tablespoons of soy sauce. Next time I will try half and half. Stay tuned.

Thursday, January 31, 2008

Soy Braised Chicken (See Yow Kai)

I am all over this like me on a brownie. It's easy, cheap and damn good, but there are some wierd ingredients you need to have on hand. I used bacon fat because I had it around but any cooking oil will work. Cool thing about this is you can keep the seasoning ratios and add another cup of water or stock to accomodate more chicken. In the end you are just going to reduce and thicken it anyway so you will cook the extra water out.

Soy Braised Chicken

2 lbs chicken thighs, drumsticks or wings skin-on
2 tbsp duck or bacon fat, or cooking oil
1/2 inch slice ginger, bruised (hint-keep a big piece in your freezer)
8 oz baby portabella mushrooms sliced in half (or button, whatever)
1 large sweet onion sliced into thick half circles
2 cups water
1/3 cup dark soy sauce
3 tbsp brown sugar
2 tbsp rice wine vinegar
2 tbsp chili paste or 2 fresh thai bird chiles (I used the garlic kind)
1/2 tsp chinese 5 spice powder
sea salt to taste
sesame oil if desired

In a large deep covered dutch oven or something similar saute the onion and mushrooms in 1 tbsp of the fat/oil and a small hit of salt until soft and nicely browned. *Note, this is optional, you could skip this step and just brown the chicken.
Set aside and add the other tbsp of fat and brown the chicken, skin side down first.
Set chicken aside and drain off excess fat, leaving about 1 tbsp.
Throw in the ginger piece and fry for a couple seconds, then add the mix of soy sauce, sugar, chile, 5 spice powder and water and deglaze the pan, scrape all the good stuff off the bottom!
Add the chicken, shrooms and onions back to the pot, the water should come up about half the sides of the meat pieces.
Bring to a boil then turn to low heat and simmer for 30 minutes turning halfway through. Meat should be very tender and cooked through.
When meat is done, remove to a platter and turn the heat up on the liquid. (*Note: if you want you can use half the pan liquid for sauce and freeze the other half to use as a starter braise liquid for next time, just add more water!)
Reduce liquid by half and add in a tsp cornstarch dissolved in a little water if you like a thick sauce. Drizzle in some sesame oil if desired and pour over chicken. Serve with white rice and something green with some of the sauce on the side.

Vegetation suggestion: saute on very high heat 1 bag frozen beans or sugar snap peas in a little fat with a tablespoon or two of chile garlic paste and a small hit of salt until crisp and warmed through. Delicious and simple!

Best Ever Banana Bread Part Deux

I wanted to make the original last night to use up some bananas, but I wanted a little more umph and a little less guilt. So I turned to my healthy oat banana muffin recipe, but then remembered how dry and 'healthy' tasting they come out. So what to do when you want both moist and healthy? It's stuffing and combining time...

Best Ever Banana Bread II...Stuffed

2 cups quick or instant oats plus a 1/4 cup more
2 cups chopped walnuts
1.5 cups whole wheat flour
1.5 cups all purpose flour
1 tbsp baking soda
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt

4 large bananas smashed (2 cups)
1/4 cup soft butter
1/4 cup vegetable oil (or your favorite kind)
8 oz reduced or non-fat sour cream
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup honey
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
1 tsp cinnamon
2 tbsp milk

Preheat oven to 350F for muffins (or 300F for loaves) and grease and flour pans.
Mix the oats, flours, nuts, baking soda and powder, and salt in a bowl.
In another large bowl beat the butter and sugar until light and fluffy.
Beat in the honey, sour cream, eggs, vanilla and cinnamon until smooth then beat in bananas.
Add the dry ingredients to the wet in 5 steps, stirring minimally each time to just combine.
Should be a thick batter, but use the tablespoons of milk to loosen if too stiff, probably won't have this issue if using oil.

Pour batter into muffin pans to 3/4 full to get a nice top. Pour to 1/2 full in loaf pans. If you want to be cute sprinkle the 1/4 cup extra oats on top.
Bake muffins at 350F for 15-20 minutes, tester should come out with moist crumbs and tops should spring back slightly when touched.
Bake loafs at 300F for 1 hour until tester comes out with moist crumbs.
Either way let the bread cool in the pans for 10 minutes in the freezer and then turn out onto cooling racks.

Makes 24 muffins or 2 medium loaves.
Note: I might make this again with some unsweetened applesauce subbed in for the butter. You want it moist AND healthy remember?

Monday, January 28, 2008

Black and White Brownies

This is the same basic recipe as the "Special Brownies" from the previous post. However, I was craving marble brownies like mom used to make, so in went the cream cheese! Also, I used half Hershey's special dark and half Hershey's regular unsweetened cocoa and I think they taste much better than the original batch, or that could just be the cream cheese talking...

Black and White Brownies

Black part:
8 oz (2 sticks) unsalted butter
2 1/4 cups granulated sugar
1 1/4 cups cocoa (half dark half regular)
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
4 large eggs
1 1/2 cup unbleached all purpose flour
1 cup dark chocolate chips
1 cup chopped walnuts

White part:
8oz cream cheese (very soft)
1/3 cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1 egg

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Lightly grease a 13×9 inch pan.

For the black part:
In a medium sauce pan melt the butter on medium-low. When butter is melted, stir in the sugar and heat until mixture is very hot but not bubbling (1 minute). Stir well to help dissolve some of the sugar – mixture should appear shiny.
Transfer sugar and butter mix to a mixing bowl and beat in the salt and vanilla.
Add the eggs 1 at a time, beating till smooth.
Stir in the flour, cocoa, baking powder, chips, and nuts, (previously sifted) stirring until combined.

For white part:
Combine all ingredients in small mixing bowl and beat until very smooth.

Spoon about 3/4 black mix into the pan and spread evenly.
Pour white part on top and spread evenly.
Add remaining black mix and spread gently, then run knife across surface several times to create a marble effect.

Bake for 35-40 minutes until toothpick has very moist crumbs sticking to it, outer edges of white part should be very lightly golden in spots. Let cool in pan at least 15 minutes, run knife around edge and invert onto cutting board. Makes 12 large or 24 small brownies.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Special Brownies

...ehem, not THOSE special brownies, but still pretty special. I found this recipe and made them for a birthday party, about half actually made it to said party.
They are very good, moist but not super chewy, with a heavy chocolate flavor. The edges were pleasantly crisp but not super hard and dried out (a brownie killer in my book).
I didn't use the espresso powder (didn't have, couldn't buy) so I substituted cinnamon and a little cayenne hoping for a little extra punch. Maybe I should have used more because I couldn't taste it, or maybe I just didn't notice because I didn't make non-spiced brownies for comparison. So if you are a timid spicer, don't worry about this amount, it's pretty tame.
Also of note: I only had 5 eggs for the double batch I made, so I substituted meringue powder and water (as directed on container) for the remaining three and they still turned out great!

Spiced Brownies
Adapted from: King Arthur Flour Recipes
Makes 24 2" brownies

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter
2 1/4 cups sugar
1 1/4 cups Dutch-process cocoa (I used mix of Hershey's Special Dark and Droste)
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
4 large eggs
1 1/2 cups King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
1 teaspoon espresso powder (optional)
1 tsp cinnamon (or 2 if you like)
dash cayenne powder
1 cup chopped walnuts or pecans (optional but in my book totally necessary)

Preheat oven to 350F and grease a 9x13" pan.
In a small saucepan melt the butter over low heat. Stir in the sugar off the hat to melt as much as possible. Return to low heat and stir often until shiny but NOT bubbling.
Transfer to large mixing bowl and mix in vanilla, espresso powder, spices, cocoa, salt and baking powder with electric mixer. Beat in eggs one at a time until well combined, then stir in flour and nuts until just combined.
Pour batter into pan, spread into corners and smooth out top, put pan in oven, lick spoon/spatula/bowl clean. Seriously the best brownie batter I've ever put in my mouth...did I just say that out loud?
Bake 28-30 min until toothpick comes out with a few moist crumbs. Let pan cool before cutting.

Tips for cutting pretty brownies: just wipe your knife clean with a damp paper towel after every cut, and cut in a downward motion instead of just dragging the knife through. Another way to do it would involve flipping the pan onto a cutting board, hoping the brownies fall out in one piece, then use a pizza cutter. I'll try that next time.