August 8, 2012

Celebratory Pizza Sauce

Pizza is weirdly important to me. I know, I know, you like pizza, too. But this is my blog, so save it for the comments. So let’s get back to me:

For starters, I appreciate things that are shaped like other things.

Every year for as long as I remember, I’ve eaten Larosa’s pizza with my mom, brother and twin on my (fine, our) birthday. It’s a whole thing. There are candles involved that drip all over the middle of the pizza, and I blow mine out five minutes before Annie gets to blow out hers. On our birth minutes. Which I know is weird, but it’s weird to me that you, as a non-twin, probably don’t even know when your birth minute is. I bet your mother remembers that minute; have you even called her today? You should thank her for what she went through in that minute.

But this year, for the first time in twenty-six years, my birth minute (1:44 p.m., by the way) passed unannounced. It was my first ever mom-less, twin-less, Larosa-less birthday. But it was not a pizza-less birthday. We filled the house with friends and filled the table with ooey, gooey, fresh-from-the-oven pizzas. It's a good way to turn 26. 

Pizza nights make for ideal dinners with friends. You can either make the dough yourself or pick it up for a few bucks at places like Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s. Everybody loves rolling out pizza dough, and you can be topping one pie while another is in the oven. You should also have wine on hand, especially if I'm invited.

And while tomatoes are fresh and flavorful at the markets, now is the perfect time to make your own sauce. It gets messy for a minute (you have to peel a few tomatoes), but it’s a cinch to bring together and totally, 100% worth a few hand washings. Your kitchen will smell amazing, your guests (or family, or just your damn self) will be impressed, and your pizza will taste like summer. And if you add about a teaspoon of extra sugar, it will taste like my birthday.

Pizza Sauce
Confession: I had to make this an extra time to get the measurements written down. The first time around, I just started with tomatoes and added things until it tasted like pizza. This recipe is delicious, but if you’re feeling adventurous, I wholeheartedly support your own pizza-inventing adventures. Just be sure to let me know how it goes!

6 medium tomatoes, peeled* and roughly chopped
4-6 cloves roasted garlic**
4 tablespoons tomato paste
2 tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon dried basil
salt and pepper, to taste

In a large stockpot, cook tomatoes over medium-low heat until they start to break down, about 10 minutes. Add next 5 ingredients and puree with immersion blender (alternatively, you can use a conventional blender or mash  with a potato masher for a slightly chunkier sauce that will still be delicious).

Mixture will be quite liquid-y at this point. Continue to simmer over medium-low heat until it reduces into pizza sauce, about 20-30 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste (note: since there is no salt in any of the ingredients, don't be afraid to salt liberally).

* To peel tomatoes: Bring a few inches of water to a low boil. Using the tip of a sharp knife, cut a shallow X in the bottom of each tomato's skin. Drop tomatoes in the boiling water for about 30 seconds, making sure that they are fully submerged (if the water isn't deep enough, just slowly roll them around). Remove from water and the skin should peel away easily.

** To roast garlic: Set oven to 350. Slice the top off of a head of garlic until most cloves are just exposed. Drizzle with olive oil, making sure that head is well-coated, and wrap in aluminum foil. Roast in oven until cloves are very soft, about 30-40 minutes. When it's cool enough to handle, you should be able to easily squeeze cloves from their skin.

You can use roasted garlic in just about everything, so you might as well throw a few extra heads in there. I have a tendency to just eat any extra cloves plain, but they also keep well in the fridge.

May 24, 2012

Green Monsters

As much as I love cookouts and playing outside, I don’t handle heat especially well. In elementary school, I had a tendency to throw up on the back of people’s heads under the stage lights during chorus concerts. I only had to mow the lawn once as a child, because Dad found me lying pathetically in the shade of a tree, valiantly trying to muster the strength to go on. And I've recently discovered that I’m willing to abandon entire relationships to temporarily escape NOLA’s intense heat. Under pressure, air conditioning means more to me than love or friendship. I’m not proud of that, but it’s my personal truth.

I’ve developed coping mechanisms since moving South, some of which have the neighbors questioning my sanity.  I’ve been known to freshen up in sprinklers on private property, for example. My eating habits also change. Fresh fruits and crisp, crunchy veggies rule the day. I’m still a sucker for a sandwich or a big bowl of cereal, but what I really want all day long is green monsters!

No, I’m not eating the tiny lizards that live on my porch (and sometimes die in my house. Sorry, lizards!). I mean smoothies! Creamy, light, refreshing smoothies. A big handful of spinach turns the whole situation an exciting green and adds a wollop of nutrition without changing the flavor. I can't think of a better way to start the day. Or finish the day. Or, y'know, be part of the day. The boy thinks I have a smoothie problem, but how can something so full of goodness ever be a problem?

My basic smoothie is super simple, just four ingredients including the ice. Slightly sweet and very mild, it's perfect for an exhaustingly hot day. But if you want a bigger/ more flavorful/ more substantial smoothie, it’s simple: Just add more stuff!

Don't knock ANY of this until you've tried it!
Lots more stuff if you want, but I suggest only one or two extras at a time. So below, you have my crazy easy basic recipe, followed by a list of my favorite additions. But don't let me hold you back, follow the blender in your heart!

Green Monster

I know what you're thinking, because I thought it once, too. But a smoothie's not a big commitment, so why not try it?

1 very ripe banana
Splash of milk (I use almond milk, which is slightly sweetened)
6 ice cubes 
A BIG handful of spinach

Blend and enjoy!

Optional Additions
Almond or peanut butter
Carrot (they're very sweet; just trust me on this one!)
Coconut (shredded OR milk)
Fresh mint
Honey (especially if your banana isn't very ripe)
Orange slices or juice
Big scoop of Ovaltine
Protein powder (this will thicken your smoothie like crazy)
Any mild lettuce (in place of spinach)

June 25, 2011

Summery, Minted Fruit Salad

There are a lot of things that I love about summer. For example: watermelon stomachaches, of which I have had a least half a dozen since I've been back in Cincinnati. Any day that I have the opportunity to eat enough watermelon to cause me physical pain is a good day.

Also: not wearing pants. I don't have anything against pants, specifically (except when I have watermelon gut and they don't fit). But it's pretty fantastic to go from running shorts to skirts and back again, over and over again. From June through August, the only purpose my jeans serve is to be tried on occasionally so I can make sure that they'll still fit come cooler weather.

But summer has an ugly side, too. Namely: bug bites. After a day of adventuring in the woods, the boy and I stopped to compare the damage. I had at least 17 bug bites. His final count? Zero. Not fair.

Luckily, I have a loving mother who consulted the Interwebs for the latest and greatest bug bite home remedies. They included (and I'm not embarrassed to admit that I tried most of them, desperate times and all): a dab of toothpaste, rubbing alcohol, egg membrane, the inside of a banana peel, and (I'm not joking) circling the bites with a ballpoint pen. Shockingly, even the ballpoint pen failed to work (to be fair, that was listed as a mosquito bite remedy, and mine are almost certainly chigger bites. That was probably the problem.).

Fortunately, I have wonderfully colorful and delicious summer produce to console me in the rough times. I am 100% supportive of just chopping up whatever looks good and serving it plain for fruit salad, but this guy is for when you have just a few extra minutes (or need something just a tad more fancy). It's the absolute best of summer flavors: whatever fruit strikes your fancy, fresh mint, crisp white wine, and a touch of sweet agave. Light and bursting with the bright flavors of the season, it's perfect for any summer occasion, or for no occasion at all.

June 13, 2011

Chocolate Meringues

There have been an unsettling number of dessert recipes coming out of my kitchen these past couple months, I know. But sometimes the sweeter things in life are unavoidable, and these latest little guys are the least likely to send you out shopping for bigger pants. With only six ingredients, they're also unlikely to send you to the grocery.

I've done meringues twice in the past week; they're that dead simple and delicious. Light and airy in a way that crunches and then immediately melts in your mouth, I'm convinced they're the perfect summer dessert. The first meringue adventure came in the form of a cupcake topping. Moist vanilla cupcakes topped with a light lemony fluff, it was delightful. But the second time around I did chocolate. I love fruity, summery desserts as much as the next guy, but chocolate will always have a special place in my heart, so that's the recipe you're getting today.

My new most favorite thing about being an adult?
No one can make you scrape the beater before you lick it.

Just a couple things to know about meringues:
1. They're super simple. As in, about ten minutes of prep followed by a couple completely unsupervised hours in the oven.
2. I've heard that they'll keep for a few days under the right circumstances, but I have yet to experience it myself. It probably has to do with the Cincinnati humidity, but mine were totally soft and sad the second day. Still delicious, though.
3. You'll be separating egg whites for these guys. You may want to involve multiple bowls in the process, because if you get just the teeniest bit of yolk mixed in, you're going to be starting over.

May 31, 2011

Orange-Scented Creme Brulee

The problem with blogging about things made for dinner parties is that there is limited time for taking lovely photos. I realized halfway through dessert that I had zero pictures of my finished creme brulee. So let me tell you about it: it was delightful, delicately flavored with both orange and vanilla. The custard was dense and perfectly smooth. The sugar layer didn't quite crackle and harden under my broiler (my rack was definitely too far down), but it melted enough for a satisfying crack through the top layer. And the whole thing was actually quite simple. Best of all, you can make it the night before and just stick it in the fridge until you're ready to pop it under the broiler for the crispy top sugar layer.