Wednesday, August 26, 2015


Do I really need to explain why cheese-and-greens-stuffed dough is a good thing? I felt like putting a new spin on my pizza routine while A was out of town, and this recipe from Annie’s Eats seemed just the ticket. I’d made calzones filled with basic pizza toppings before and been underwhelmed, but I think leaving out the tomato sauce and using it as a dip instead might be the key to success, with less mess and risk of sogginess. Rolling out and folding each piece of dough is a little more work than making one big flat crust, but other than that, this is a cinch and makes a great dinner (and handy leftovers that I bet would also freeze well) year-round.

The original recipe made two calzones, but I liked the idea of four single-serving ones better, even if it means more futzing with dough. I also used a full pound of spinach, because that’s how big the bags are at Trader Joe’s; it makes the calzones a bit more filling-centric and, of course, greener, but I like them that way. Other than that, the only tweak I made was to use dried oregano because I had a lot of other fresh herbs on the shopping list already. Plus, I actually enjoy the taste of dried oregano—it’s the quintessential pizza flavor! The first time I made these I also threw in a little fresh basil, just because I had some that needed to be used up, and the second time I tried a little dried basil, which was good too. And while the vegetarian nature of these was part of the appeal for me, A has made it very clear that some pepperoni or sausage would not go amiss as far as he’s concerned, so that may be a future variation.

10-16 ounces frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
8 ounces (1 cup) whole-milk ricotta cheese
4 ounces mozzarella cheese, shredded
1 ounce Parmesan cheese, grated
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 large egg yolk
2 cloves garlic, minced
1½ teaspoons minced fresh oregano, or 1 teaspoon dried oregano
¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes
Salt and pepper to taste
1 pound pizza dough
1 large egg lightly beaten with 2 tablespoons water, for egg wash
Pizza sauce (this one is my current go-to), for serving
  1. Preheat the oven to 500 degrees.
  2. In a bowl, combine the spinach, ricotta, mozzarella, Parmesan, olive oil, egg yolk, garlic, oregano, and red pepper flakes. Stir well until evenly combined, and season with salt and pepper to taste.
  3. Place the dough on a lightly floured surface and divide it into quarters. Working with one piece of dough at a time, use a rolling pin to flatten the dough into a thin round, about 6 to 8 inches in diameter. Repeat with the other portions of dough.
  4. Spread a quarter of the spinach filling over half of each dough round, leaving a 1-inch border at the edge. Brush the edge with the egg wash. Fold the other half of the dough over the filling, leaving ½-inch border of the bottom edge uncovered. Press the edges of the dough together and crimp to seal.
  5. Carefully transfer the sealed calzones to a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Using a sharp knife, cut 5 steam vents in the top of the each calzone. Brush the tops with the remaining egg wash.
  6. Bake until golden brown, about 15 minutes, rotating the baking sheet halfway through. Transfer the calzones to a wire rack and let cool for 5 minutes. Serve warm with pizza sauce.
Serves: 4
Time: 1 hour
Leftover potential: Good. Calzones are best reheated in the oven at 350 degrees for 10 minutes or until warmed through.

Thursday, August 20, 2015


I have a bad habit of trying new vegetable side dishes and forgetting to note them here, either because I didn’t bother to snap a photo or because the recipe seemed so simple I doubted whether it was worth singling out for posterity. Then, of course, the next time I want a vegetable side dish I look at my archives and just see the same old handful of options, so I figure I’ll try something new and the whole cycle begins again.

This pattern is particularly prevalent with green beans, because I love green beans so much that I have a hard time resisting the allure of new variations. I have three perfectly good ones languishing in my “try again” file right now (and may as well link to them for the record, as I might never get around to them again). But now I’ve found one that I’m so excited about, I’m going to break with tradition and post it in a timely and enthusiastic fashion.

When I saw this recipe at Smitten Kitchen, it looked good enough to bookmark, but I’ll admit that I figured Deb’s rave reviews were partly due to her pregnancy cravings; how revolutionary can green beans with almonds really be? Then I tried it … and was blown away. There’s something about that almond pesto—The salty Parmesan? The garlic? The hint of thyme or bright pop of vinegar?—that makes it so much more than the sum of its already-plenty-delicious parts.

I halved the recipe, more or less (a little more cheese, garlic, and thyme never hurt anyone). My tiny food processor tried to balk when it came to breaking down whole almonds, so I gave it a hand by chopping them first. Still, I wouldn’t switch to sliced or slivered ones; there’s something about the nubbly, clumpy texture of the finished pesto I really enjoy. It doesn’t always cling that well to the beans (don’t skip the extra drizzle of oil—it really helps) and you’ll end up scraping a bunch out of the bottom of your bowl afterward, but that’s fine with me because I can happily eat that stuff with a spoon. This is one new side dish that’s going to make it into heavy rotation.

1 pound green beans, trimmed, cut in half if really long
½ cup (2½ ounces) whole almonds, toasted, cooled, and roughly chopped
¼ cup (3/4 ounce) grated Parmesan or aged Pecorino cheese
1 small garlic clove, peeled and crushed
Leaves from a sprig or two of thyme
Pinches of red pepper flakes, to taste
¼ teaspoon coarse sea or kosher salt
2 teaspoons white wine vinegar
3 tablespoons olive oil, plus extra for drizzling
  1. Bring a large pot of salted water to boil. Add beans and cook until crisp-tender, about 3 to 4 minutes. Plunge into an ice-water bath to fully cool. Drain and pat dry.
  2. In a food processor, grind almonds, cheese, garlic, thyme, red pepper, and salt to a coarse paste. Add vinegar and pulse again. Stir in oil and adjust seasonings to taste (I add more salt at this point).
  3. Toss cooled green beans with almond pesto and drizzle with extra olive oil.
Serves: 4
Time: 20 minutes
Leftover potential: Good; my leftover servings stayed just fine in the fridge for a few days, and the original recipe mentions that you can keep the almond pesto on its own, refrigerated, for up to a week.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015


I tend to operate under the guideline that I can eat as much dessert if I want, as long as I make it myself. My laziness usually balances out my gluttony enough to maintain a healthy moderation, but this doesn’t work as well in the summer, when it takes only a few minutes to transform ripe fruit into a delicious treat. (And when you can fool yourself into believing that it’s perfectly good for you because it has fruit in it.) Thanks to recipes like this one, I’ve now had to switch to my other rule, which dictates skipping dessert on weekdays unless it’s a special occasion.

I did a lot of cooking experimentation while A was in Indiana on his annual July 4 visit. While he’s usually supportive of my incessant recipe testing, but it still feels extra freeing when there’s no one around to witness any potential food flops. This clever one-serving shortcut peach crisp recipe from Joy the Baker seemed like perfect single-lady fare, and indeed I ended up repeating it at least three times in the course of a couple of weeks (single ladies find themselves with a lot of extra ripe peaches sitting around).

I couldn’t manage to heap all of the topping on the two halves of a single peach without half of it sliding off, so in my view this can easily make two servings—bake both at once if you want to share with a friend, or store half of the topping mixture in the fridge overnight and bake yourself a second peach the next day. But if you were to go ahead and pile it high enough to eat it all in one sitting, no one would blame you. The fruit softens in the oven, the buttery oat-almond-coconut topping crisps and caramelizes, and just like that, you’ve treated yourself to a nice warm dessert.

This would be downright fantastic with vanilla ice cream on top, but I poured a little cold heavy cream over mine and that was lovely, too.

1 ripe peach (or 2 if you’re nice enough to share)
¼ cup all-purpose flour
¼ cup packed light brown sugar
3 tablespoons old-fashioned oats
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
Pinch of salt
1 tablespoon shredded coconut
1 tablespoon sliced almonds
2 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cubed
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Slice peach(es) in half and remove the pit. With a small spoon, scoop out the dark red pit center, creating just a bit more room for the crumble topping. (You can skip the scooping if you’re really lazy, or if you’re making two peaches.)
  3. In a small bowl, whisk together flour, brown sugar, oats, cinnamon, salt, coconut, and almonds. Add butter and, with your fingers, work it into the dry ingredients, quickly breaking it up until it is well combined. Some of the butter bits will be the size of oat flakes; others will be the size of small peas.
  4. Place peach halves, cut side up, in a small, oven-safe dish. Top each peach half with a generous portion of topping.
  5. Bake for 20 minutes, until topping is golden brown.
  6. Remove from the oven and serve warm with vanilla ice cream or a drizzle of heavy cream.
Serves: 1-2
Time: 30 minutes
Leftover potential: The peaches are best eaten warm from the oven; however, if you make one peach and have enough topping left over to make another one tomorrow, you can store the crisp topping overnight in a sealed container in the fridge.

Tuesday, August 04, 2015


You’d think I would have tried every possible variety of pasta recipe by now, but no—in fact, despite having 73 already logged here, my eye has been roving lately. I’ve stumbled across several new additions to my collection, and this concoction from Smitten Kitchen is the best of them. It may sound crazy to consider making baked pasta in the summer, and sure, I wouldn’t tackle this in the midst of a heat wave, but when the first zucchini start to appear in the spring or you’re still trying to use up the last of your bumper crop in September (or if you’re lucky enough to have air conditioning in the dog days), this is just the thing to satisfy a craving for warm, chewy cheesiness while still keeping things on the lighter, brighter, fresher side with a two-to-one ratio of squash to pasta and a lemony, herb-speckled béchamel. I was surprised how big the flavors were (zucchini and pasta in white sauce might easily add up to bland + bland + bland), and how much I was reminded of mac and cheese—but peppier.

The recipe involves a bit of prep work but not as much as I feared, especially if you have a skillet that can go right from stovetop to oven (I used my enameled cast-iron workhorse). I’d be tempted to double it next time, especially since the recipe notes that it freezes well. I had a bunch of basil to use up, so I sprinkled some over the top before serving, and was definitely not sorry. I made this while A was out of town, scarfed down all four servings during the course of a week, and missed it when it was gone. As soon as the heat dies down, I’ll fire up my oven and make it again…and maybe share it this time, although the chef retains the prerogative to scrape all the crusty toasted cheesy bits from the bottom of the baking pan directly into her mouth.

8 ounces pasta (rotini or other small, curly shape)
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 pound mixed summer squash, halved lengthwise and sliced thin
1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
Juice of half a lemon
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 cloves garlic, minced
3 large or 5 skinny scallions, sliced thin, white/pale green parts and dark green tops in separate piles
Pinches of red pepper flakes, to taste
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1½ cups milk
¼ cup chopped flat-leaf parsley, divided
1 tablespoon finely chopped mixed herbs of your choice (I used thyme and basil)
Salt and more pepper to taste
¾ cup finely grated Parmesan or Pecorino Romano cheese, divided
4 ounces mozzarella, cut into small cubes
  1. Bring a medium-large pot of well-salted water to a boil. Add pasta and cook until just al dente. Drain and set aside.
  2. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
  3. Heat a large skillet (oven-safe if you have it) over medium-high heat. Add olive oil, and let it heat until almost smoking. Add sliced squash, season with salt and red pepper flakes, and let it sear underneath, unmoved, until golden brown. Continue to sauté until browned and somewhat wilted, about 10 minutes, trying to get some color on each layer before moving it around. Transfer to a bowl and squeeze lemon juice over it. Add more salt or pepper if needed.
  4. Reheat the same skillet over medium heat and melt the butter in it. Add the scallion white and pale green parts and garlic and sauté for 1 to 2 minutes. Add flour and stir until it all has been dampened and absorbed. Add milk, a very small splash at a time, stirring constantly with a spoon. Make sure each splash has been fully incorporated into the mixture, scraping from the bottom of the pan and all around, before adding the next splash. Repeat until all milk has been added, then add lemon zest, salt and pepper to taste. Let mixture simmer for 2 minutes, stirring frequently; the sauce will thicken. Remove pan from heat and stir in half of chopped parsley, all of mixed herbs and reserved scallion greens. Adjust seasoning to taste.
  5. Off the heat, add drained pasta, summer squash, ½ cup grated Parmesan and all of the mozzarella to the pot, stirring to combine. If your skillet is not oven-safe, transfer mixture to a 2- to 3-quart baking dish. Sprinkle with remaining ¼ cup Parmesan.
  6. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until edges of pasta are golden brown. Sprinkle with reserved parsley (I also added some fresh basil) and serve hot. Reheat as needed.
Serves: 4
Time: 1 hour 15 minutes
Leftover potential: Good. To freeze, let dish fully cool to room temperature, then transfer, wrapped well, to the freezer. Let defrost in fridge for a day before rewarming in oven to rewarm at 300 to 325 degrees with the foil on, then finish it for the last 10 minutes or so at a higher heat without the foil.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015


I’ve had my old reliable bread-and-tomato salad recipe for more than a decade now, but there’s always room for innovation. I usually serve my panzanella alongside grilled chicken, so when I saw a Serious Eats recipe that just put the chicken right into the salad, it seemed like the logical next step. I do so love a one-dish meal.

Through three rounds of trial and (not very much) error, I’ve evolved the perfect hybrid between old and new. From my previous version, I kept the herb mixture (cilantro and dill as well as basil) and the trick of adding a couple of tablespoons of water to extend the dressing without making it too oily. I also swiped a simple grilled-chicken marinade from other recipes in my arsenal, and used my usual stovetop method of toasting the croutons. The new recipe not only adds the chicken, but also crisp cucumbers and a sweet hit of balsamic in the red-wine vinaigrette. The result might be one of my favorite summer salads, colorful, juicy, deeply flavorful and perfectly filling.

2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 large garlic cloves, smashed, plus 1 small garlic clove, minced
12 tablespoons olive oil, divided
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 to 1½ pounds boneless, skinless, chicken breasts (about 2 large), halved lengthwise
4 cups 1-inch cubed French bread
3 to 4 large ripe tomatoes, cored and cut into 1-inch cubes
2 large Persian cucumbers, halved and cut into ½-inch-thick half-moons
½ small red onion, sliced thinly
½ cup chopped basil
¼ cup chopped cilantro
2-3 tablespoons chopped fresh dill
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  1. In a large zip-top bag or a large glass bowl with a lid, mix together the lemon juice, 2 smashed cloves garlic, ¼ cup olive oil, 1 teaspoon salt, and pepper to taste. Add the chicken breasts, make sure they get thoroughly coated with the marinade, and let them marinate at least one hour.
  2. Meanwhile, heat 2 tablespoons oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add bread cubes, toss well, and sauté until lightly toasted, stirring occasionally. Season with salt and pepper, and let cool to room temperature.
  3. Grill the chicken until cooked through, let cool to room temperature, and cut into 1-inch cubes.
  4. Place tomatoes, cucumbers, onion, herbs, and chicken in a large bowl.
  5. Whisk remaining 6 tablespoons oil, red wine vinegar, balsamic vinegar, 1 small clove minced garlic, 2-3 tablespoons water, 1 teaspoon salt, and pepper to taste in a medium bowl until combined.
  6. Pour about ¾ of the dressing over the salad and toss thoroughly to moisten. Add bread cubes, toss well, add remaining dressing if needed, season to taste with salt and pepper, and let sit for about 15 minutes before eating.
Serves: 4 to 6
Time: 1½ hours
Leftover potential: Good, but store bread cubes separately, adding to the leftover portions about 15 minutes before you eat them.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015


 Or, My First Pie, Part II.

Blueberry is not my favorite pie flavor; that honor goes to strawberry, followed by lemon meringue. As a child, I also favored banana and coconut cream, and of course French silk; now I lean more toward peach and apple. But since I didn’t start really liking blueberry baked goods until 2008 or so, blueberry pie has never really been on my radar. It is, however, A’s favorite pie. And more pressingly, we had 10 pounds of blueberries in the fridge, because I happened to have some very helpful out-of-town guests on hand when berry-picking day rolled around, and it turns out that when conditions are favorable, five adults can gather a heck of a lot of blueberries in a very short time. So, blueberry cake, jam, crisp, salad, crumble, oatmeal, and then pie.

There are a lot of blueberry pie recipes in the world, and not being a connoisseur, I wasn’t sure what to look for in a good one, but I trust Annie’s Eats and this one looked solid. I love lemon with blueberries, and cinnamon seemed like a good idea (I of course added a pinch of cardamom as well). It came out well—a bit on the juicy side, but not too runny. And it turns out I like blueberry pie quite a lot, especially when it’s my own handiwork.

2 rolled-out rounds pie dough
4 cups blueberries (If fresh blueberries are unavailable, you can use frozen blueberries without thawing, increasing the baking time by 10-15 minutes.)
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
¾ cup sugar
3 tablespoons cornstarch
½ teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon cinnamon
1 tablespoon cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1 egg
1 tablespoon water
  1. Line the bottom of a 9-inch pie pan with one of the rolled-out dough rounds. Refrigerate pan until ready to fill.
  2. Place the blueberries in a large bowl, sprinkle with the lemon juice and toss to coat evenly. In a small bowl, stir together the sugar, cornstarch, lemon zest, salt and cinnamon. Sprinkle the sugar mixture over the berries and toss to distribute evenly.
  3. Immediately transfer filling to the dough-lined pan. Dot with butter pieces. Place the remaining dough round on top of the pie and and crimp the dough rounds together to seal the edges. Be sure to cut vents in the top crust to allow steam to escape during baking. Refrigerate the pie until the dough is firm, 20 to 30 minutes.
  4. Position a rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat to 375 degrees. In a small bowl, beat the egg and water with a fork to make an egg wash. Brush onto the top crust just before baking.
  5. Bake the pie until the crust is golden and the filling is thick and bubbling, 50 to 60 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack and let cool completely to set, 1 to 2 hours. Serve at room temperature or rewarm in a 350-degree oven for 10 to 15 minutes just before serving.
Serves: 8
Time: 1 hour 45 minutes, plus cooling time
Leftover potential: OK; keeps for a few days in a sealed container at room temperature or in the fridge, although it will get a bit soggier over time.

Sunday, July 19, 2015


I’m baaaack! I’ll skip the boring excuses because I have a huge backlog of recipes to record—starting with pie! I don’t usually post photos of myself here, but this picture is the best way to sum up how excited I was last month when I finally overcame my lifelong fear of making pie crust. It was an irrational fear, I’ll admit, born mostly of the difficulties my mother had with pie-baking when I was a child. Luckily, her mother was a pie master, so whenever she came to visit, Grandma would spend a day mass-producing dough for us to stockpile in the freezer. This was always hotly anticipated by me, because she’d make cinnamon-sugar-sprinkled cookies out of the dough scraps and I’d get to scarf them down straight out of the oven. (To this day, those cookies remain one of my most vivid and nostalgic food memories.) But from all this rigmarole, I got the idea that piecrust was tricky, even though dozens of people have since sworn to me that it’s not so hard.

Guess what? It’s easy. Granted, I may have overprepared, studying dozens of recipes and tutorials before following one solid authority (the always-reliable Smitten Kitchen) with military precision; I was so ready for frustrating disaster that surpassing my low expectations was probably inevitable. There are a host of pie-crust tips and tricks out there—use oil or shortening, freeze and grate your butter, add vodka or vinegar, mix in a food processor—but I’m pleased with this simple and sensible route. The recipe itself is just flour, sugar, salt, butter and water; the technique basically hinges on keeping everything cold, cold, cold. Stay calm and believe it will all work out. (Perhaps pie dough can smell fear?) I’ve rolled out three pie crusts now with no tearing or cracking, so I’m tempted to dub this method foolproof.

And of course I made pie crust cookies, and they tasted just like I remembered. My mother later told me Grandma always used lard in her dough, so it’s not an exact replica, but still enough to inspire a Proustian reverie.

Pictured is a blueberry pie; I’ll post the filling recipe separately, because this list of instructions is long enough. The level of detail will make you doubt my claims of simplicity, but it was helpful to me as a pie newbie. The one place where I fell down was sealing the two crusts together, and you can see there was some leakage as a result. The Smitten Kitchen instructions were sadly silent on how to add the top crust, and I foolishly tried to punt. Google would have set me straight, but instead I tried to fold the bottom crust over the top instead of vice versa, and didn’t think to use water to adhere them. I’ve clarified these fine points below to save you (and future me) from my mistakes. Fortunately, a leaky pie is still a plenty delicious one.

2½ cups (315 grams) flour, plus extra as needed
1 tablespoon (15 grams) sugar
1 teaspoon (5 grams) table salt
2 sticks (8 ounces or 225 grams) unsalted butter, very cold
  1. Fill a 1-cup liquid measuring cup with cold water and add a few ice cubes, or place in the freezer for 15-30 minutes.
  2. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar and salt. If your kitchen is warm, place the bowl of dry ingredients in the refrigerator for 15-30 minutes.
  3. Dice the butter into ½-inch pieces. If your kitchen is warm, rechill the butter cubes in the fridge or freezer.
  4. Sprinkle the cold butter cubes over the flour and begin working them in with a pastry blender, using it to scoop and redistribute the mixture as needed. When all of the butter pieces are the size of tiny peas, stop. (This won’t take long, and it’s OK if the mixture looks uneven.)
  5. Remove any ice cubes from the water and drizzle ½ cup over the butter and flour mixture. Using a rubber or silicon spatula, gather the dough together. Add more cold water a tablespoon at a time (you’ll probably need an additional ¼ cup or so) until the mixture comes together. Once you’re pulling large clumps with the spatula, use your hands to gather the clumps into one mound, kneading them gently together without overworking the dough.
  6. Divide the dough in half and wrap each piece in plastic wrap. Refrigerate the dough for at least two hours, preferably overnight, before rolling it out. (Dough will keep in the fridge for about a week, and in the freezer longer, well wrapped in additional plastic wrap or a freezer bag. To defrost dough, move it to the fridge for one day before using it.)
  7. When ready to roll out the dough, generously flour your work surface. Unwrap the chilled dough (if you’re making a double-crust pie, only take half the dough out of the fridge at a time). Put it in the middle of your work area and flour the top of it too.
  8. Start rolling out the dough by pressing down lightly with the rolling pin and moving it from the center out. (You’re not going to get it all flat in one roll, so be patient.) Roll it a few times in one direction, lift it up and rotate it a quarter-turn. Keep repeating this process, re-flouring the counter and the top of the dough as needed—you should be leaving no bits of dough on the counter or your pin. If the dough sticks to the work surface, run a bench scraper underneath the stuck part, peel it back, and flour that area before continuing.
  9. For a standard-size pie pan, trim your dough into a 12-inch circle with the tip of a knife.
  10. Transfer your crust to the pie pan. This should be no problem if you’ve worked briskly and your dough is still cool, but if you need help, you can roll it around your rolling pin and unroll it in the pan, or fold it very loosely into quarters and unfold it into the pan. Press the dough gently into the pan, making sure it is centered.
  11. For a single-crust pie: You should have a half-inch overhang; fold it under so that the dough becomes the size of the pan. Crimp the edge by forming a “V” with the tips of the thumb and index finger of one hand and pressing the dough into it with the index finger of your other hand, continuing around the edge of the whole pie. Return the pan to the fridge while you prepare your filling.
  12. For a double-crust pie: Place the pan with the bottom crust in the fridge while you repeat the rolling-out process with the other half of your dough. Before transferring the top crust to the pan, brush a little water around the edge of the bottom crust to help the two pieces seal. Gently tuck the top crust edge under the bottom crust edge, then crimp the two pieces together. Brush the top crust with an egg wash (1 egg beaten with a tablespoon or two of water), sprinkle with sugar if desired, and cut a few vents in it.
  13. Make pie-crust cookies with the excess dough: Gather the scraps into a ball, roll it out, cut it into circles using the top of a glass (or cookie cutters, if you’re fancy), continuing the gather the scraps, re-roll and cut it until you’ve used as much as you can. Sprinkle with cinnamon sugar, and bake at 350 degrees until crisp and lightly golden brown around the edges, about 8-12 minutes.
Makes enough dough for one double- or two single-crust pies.