Homemade Yogurt – The Easy Way!!!

Yummy Homemade Yogurt

Yummy Homemade Yogurt

After my last post – Roasted Carrots – Shaking It Up A Little – I felt the need to redeem myself in your eyes – to prove to you I AM a frugal (cheap) and careful (paranoid – as in wondering, ‘Whose disease ridden hands have been touching my food?!’) cook. In that post I confessed to using bagged, ready-to-go carrots.  I’m planning on buying unbagged carrots next time I shop….unless, of course, the bagged are on sale – in which case all bets are off. Cheap trumps paranoid every time.

So, how about this:  I make my own yogurt!  And I don’t mean I buy the plain, then add in fruit. I actually grow my own. People are often astounded when I tell them that.  In truth, it’s the easiest thing in the world – once you learn the secret:  make it in a thermos.  Crazy? Crazy like a fox!

I remember my dad making yogurt, although we called it by the Armenian name – madzoon. I can still see him opening the oven door and removing a stockpot full of fresh yogurt.  We used to eat it with crushed strawberries. It was so good.  And healthy!  I firmly believe that’s why Armenians live to such a ripe old age even though they are often a smidge overweight (I’m trying to be tactful.  Holiday dinners were always in 2 parts:  Part 1 – the freshly made dinner.  Part 2 – everyone had recovered from Part 1, reheated the food, and eaten again.)

When I left home, I bought the container yogurts because that’s what everyone did.  You know those container brands:  you turned them over and the yogurt plopped out but kept the container shape.  My dad’s yogurt never did that.  Then I found Yoplait and it was more like the real thing.  But, it was expensive. Finally, I decided to make my own and save money (me?).  I found a recipe, mixed up my yogurt, and then put it in the oven to grow, the way my dad did.  Nothing happened.  I threw that batch out and tried again.  Again – nothing happened. I wondered if it was my oven – too hot?  not hot enough?  I gave up – I was throwing money down the drain, rather than saving it.

Then one day I was thumbing through a giant how-to book I’d borrowed from the library.  (I love how-to books!) And there it was:  make yogurt in a thermos. Now THAT sounded interesting. I tried it and – hurrah! – it worked.  When I thought it through, I realized that a thermos was the PERFECT venue to grow yogurt.  As Mr. Spock would say, ‘It’s only logical.’ In order for the yogurt culture to grow, you need a constant temperature and it needs to be left alone (like Greta Garbo). What could be better than a thermos?

I used to make my yogurt in a 32 oz mirrored-interior Aladdin thermos.  It worked great.  If you’d like to see my video for making yogurt, go to:  Yogurt Made In A Thermos.  Since then, however, I’ve bought a larger and wider mouthed thermos:  a 68 oz stainless steel Thermos Brand thermos that I got on Amazon.  (My family goes through a lot of yogurt.) With the wider mouth, it’s so much easier to remove the yogurt. Bonus!  And, for some reason, the yogurt is coming out creamier. Double Bonus! Finally, the interior will never shatter if you accidentally knock it over – (yeah- I’ve done that twice).  Triple Bonus!

Yogurt offers lots of health benefits: it has calcium (good for bones), bacteria (good for the gut), helps boost the immune system, and may reduce blood pressure – to name a few. Google ‘yogurt’ and read about it. It’s amazing!  I eat yogurt nearly everyday.  In fact, my brother lost 20 pounds and the only thing different in his life was he started eating yogurt every morning.  Maybe not scientific proof… but anecdotal.  And it couldn’t hurt.

Besides saving tons of money by making it yourself,  homemade yogurt has no additives or preservatives or thickeners or added sugars.  Take a look at the ingredients list on the side of a carton of store-bought yogurt – almost without exception, there will be things on that list that you’d be better off without.  All that should be in yogurt is milk and a bit of culture from your last batch.  (I’ve heard you can freeze that starter culture until you’re ready to use it – but I’ve never tried it.)

NOTE:  If you’ve never eaten homemade yogurt, it might take some getting used to. Commercial yogurt has sugar to sweeten it up.  The real thing is pretty tart.  Since I grew up eating it, it doesn’t bother me at all.  But you may need to add fruit (which is a great way to fulfill that pesky daily fruit requirement) and/or granola.  Just make sure you don’t add anything to the whole batch before setting aside enough to start your next batch.

YOGURT IN A THERMOS – makes 32 oz of yogurt (recipe can be doubled – use a bigger themos)

  • 3¾ cups milk (I use organic nonfat)
  • ¼ cup PLAIN yogurt (if you don’t have some from your last batch, buy plain yogurt)
  • Optional:  1 cup powdered milk (I use this to thicken up my yogurt since I used nonfat milk)

Over a medium-low flame, heat the milk and powdered milk (if using) to 180º F – stirring often. Remove from heat and let cool to 112º F.  While it’s cooling, prime your thermos by filling it with hot water – by doing this the warm milk won’t lose heat when it’s poured in. When the milk has reached 112ºF, gently stir in the yogurt starter.  Empty the water from the thermos and pour in the milk mixture.  I STRONGLY suggest you use a funnel when pouring so you get the milk IN the thermos instead of ON your counter.  (I learned THAT the hard way!) Then, set the filled thermos aside where it won’t be disturbed.

The yogurt needs 8-12 hours to grow – the longer it grows, the tarter it gets.  There’s no right or wrong – it’s all a matter of preference.  I like mine to grow 12 hours or a little less. When time is up, empty the yogurt out of the thermos and into a container.  Store in the fridge.  If your thermos has a narrow mouth, you’re going to need to be a little creative because the yogurt won’t pour out.  I’ve taped a narrow spatula to a long wooden spoon and, also, used the stick end of a really long wooden spoon.

For those of you Greek yogurt fans out there, all you have to do is drain the whey from your homemade yogurt.  Let the newly made yogurt cool in the fridge first, then line a large sieve or colander with a tea towel or coffee liners and pour in the yogurt.  Make sure you have a container to catch the whey – it starts dripping out immediately.  And save the whey for future use (google it) – it can be frozen.  You know me – I hate waste!

NOTE:  Make sure you have a thermometer that registers as low as 112º F.  I used to use a glass candy thermometer, but after breaking two of them, I finally bought a metal digital.  I love it!!!

You may have already worked out the math, but if you haven’t, let me warn you:  DON’T START MAKING YOUR YOGURT AT A TIME WHEN THE YOGURT WILL BE DONE WHEN YOU’RE ASLEEP OR NOT HOME!  It takes about an hour to heat and cool the milk, then the growing time is 8-12 hours.  So add up the hours before starting.  Yogurt doesn’t shut off when it’s done – you have to remove it from the thermos and cool it in the refrigerator to stop the process.

Roasted Carrots – Shaking It Up A Little

ROASTED CARROTS

ROASTED CARROTS

I’ve been feeding my dog the exact same food everyday since the day we adopted her over 10 years ago.  And I don’t mean just the same brand – I mean the exact same flavor of canned and dry. Don’t feel bad for her.  Every now and then I’ve given her something new – just to mix things up.  She won’t eat it.  And she’s a gal who loves to eat.  So I gave up.  I’ve decided that unless she comes to me and complains, she will continue to get the same old, same old.

One day my husband was watching me dish out my dog’s food and, with pity in his voice, remarked how boring it must be for her to eat the same thing everyday. I couldn’t believe my ears. This from the man who’s been eating Quaker Instant Raisins and Spice Oatmeal EVERY MORNING for as long as I can remember. Our cupboards are filled with boxes of it so we don’t (God forbid) run out – even though I go to the market several times a week. (And don’t get me started about how much money we could save if he’d just buy the big canisters of plain oatmeal and add in his own raisins and spices.)  Of course, I pointed out the irony of his concern.

You may be wondering what my dog’s and my husband’s meal proclivities have to do with a vegetarian cooking blog. I’m glad you asked. Almost without fail, my family has broccoli with our dinner. We all love it (except for my youngest son, who hates pretty much all vegetables), it’s healthy, and steaming it is a snap.  My husband sometimes even has it at lunch, too.  What can I say – he’s a man who knows what he likes.  (Thank goodness I’m on that list.)  I suppose people are creatures of habit, but we were in very deep rut.

Back in my carnivorous days, I used to make roasts surrounded by carrots and potatoes. The fat from the roast, combined with the long roasting period, would caramelize the surrounding veggies.  They were SO good!  But once I stopped roasting meat, I stopped roasting veggies.  I do have a delicious recipe for carrots with pistachio nuts in a Cointreau/butter sauce – but that’s too much work for an everyday dinner.  So it was steamed broccoli,  with asparagus or cauliflower – when I thought about it – for variety.

But, did it have to be so? I asked myself.  (I have a tendency to talk to myself – I pretend it’s to my pets, but I’m not fooling anyone.)  What if I coat carrots with vegetable oil and bake them, as I would with the roast.  Hmmmm!  I wondered.  The skies cleared!  The angels sang!  It was a joyous moment when I took that first bite.  Yes!  They were sweet; they were tender; they were pretty.  And thus began a new go-to side dish in our home: roasted carrots.

Roasted carrots are super fast to put together and take 20-30 minutes to bake, depending on the oven temperature.  If I want them as fast as possible, I bake them at 400ºF, maybe even 425ºF.  But if I’m baking a main dish at a lower temperature, I’ll put the carrots along side it in the oven, and just roast them longer.  I haven’t noticed a different in taste between roasting fast at a higher temperature, or slower at a lower one.  They’re always good.

ROASTED CARROTS

  • carrots cut into 2″ pieces (I buy the bags of cut carrots)
  • oil (I use canola)

Use a baking pan with sides (such as a jelly roll pan or a broiler pan) so the carrots don’t roll off over the side when you stir.  Pour a little puddle of oil in the middle of the pan – I don’t measure, but for 2 people I use approximately 1 T oil.  Then pour the carrots onto the pan and roll them in the oil, so they’re completely coated.  Roll the carrots around on the pan to grease the bottom, then spread them out so they don’t touch.  Bake at 350ºF – 425ºF, depending on how fast you need them and/or whether you’re baking something else at the same time.  Stir the carrots every 10 minutes, until they’re DARK brown on the parts that touch the pan bottom. Best served right away.

NOTE:  As you know, I’m a fan of making things from scratch, and avoiding pre-made items. That being said, I do buy the bags of pre-cut carrots.  I’m not recommending this, though. It’s just that it’s so darned fast to open the bag and pour the already prepared carrots onto the jelly roll pan.  But SOMEDAY – I swear – I’m going to start buying whole carrots and clean and cut them myself.  I will!  But for now, at least I’ve expanded our side dish repertoire.  Baby steps.

Real Men Love My ‘BACON’-ONION-CHEESE QUICHE

'BACON'-ONION-CHEESE QUICHE

‘BACON’-ONION-CHEESE QUICHE

Thank goodness my onion hating brother doesn’t read my blog.  He’s had an aversion to onions since….well, forever.  I did, too – when I was a kid.  But I grew out of it; my brother didn’t.  My sister-in-law and I just roll our eyes at this because he actually DOES like onions – he just doesn’t know it.  If he sees them in food, he won’t eat it.  But if he doesn’t know they’re there, he gobbles down the dish.  (Of course, I don’t mean an actual DISH.)

So my brother and his wife came to dinner the other night and I planned on making dolma for him, since it’s his favorite.  I decided to make my ‘Bacon’-Onion-Cheese Quiche for the rest of us.  There were plenty of sides dishes, as well:  mushy peas (see my post – Mushy Peas: A Super-Food Disguised As A Side Dish), steamed broccoli, seasoned roasted potatoes, and a green salad.  Two desserts were upcoming, as well.  (Two desserts for 4 people?  Oh, yeah – cause that’s how I roll!) There was no dearth of food.

I never actually named the type of quiche – I wasn’t hiding anything…I was just busy.  Food was being passed and consumed, compliments were forthcoming (if I do say so myself), and at least two conversations were going on at once.  This was a family dinner, after all.  Then I hear my brother say, ‘This is really good quiche.’  If you know me at all by now, you’ll know I’m rarely at a loss for words.  But I was then because I censored myself in the nick of time from saying, ‘It’s an ONION quiche.  It’s full of ONIONS! Why are you eating that? I made dolma just for you!’  I stared at him for several seconds as I was deleting those words, before filling in said deletion with a brief, ‘Thanks’ and changed the subject quickly before anyone could ask what was in it.  Knowledge may be power, but in this case ignorance was bliss.  If my brother found out about the onions, he would have re-thought his compliment and stopped eating the quiche.  Not to mention that the bacon topping was fake bacon. Vegetarian food is of no interest to him.

You may or may not know, but I have an online video cooking show called, VEGETARIAN COOKING FOR CARNIVORES. Yes, it’s the same name as this blog – but if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. (Or maybe I’m just too lazy to come up with another name.)  I actually have an instructional video about making ‘Bacon’-Onion-Cheese Quiche which you can view at: ‘Bacon’-Onion’Cheese Quiche.  I even show you how to make the pie crust.  To see the entire list of my videos, complete with links,  go to my website at VegCookingForCarnivores.com and click on the Episode Guide in the toolbar.

But here’s the written recipe, for those of you who prefer to read it:

‘BACON’-ONION-CHEESE QUICHE

  • 1¼ cups flour (I used organic all-purpose)
  • 1/8 tsp salt
  • ½ cup shortening (I used Crisco)
  • 4 T ice water
  • 2 yellow onions, chopped
  • 3 T butter
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp dried dill
  • ¼ tsp ground pepper
  • 5 strips fake bacon (I used Morningstar brand)
  • 1 cup plain yogurt, drained
  • 4 eggs
  • 2/3 cup milk (I used nonfat – use what you have)
  • 1 cup Swiss cheese, shredded

While you can’t assemble this quiche ahead of time, you can do many of the steps early (even the day before) and assemble it when you’re ready to bake it.  I love recipes like that. Dinner time always seems to catch me by surprise.  Then I’m like a mad woman – flying around the kitchen.  Don’t even think about getting in my way!

It’s really best to make the pie crust early – that way it’s nice and cold when you roll it out. ‘Roll out the crust?’ you say. ‘ Can’t I just buy pre-made?’  Yes.  Yes, you can.  But compare the cost of pre-made to the meager ingredients in making your own.  AND, look at the ingredients list on the pre-made. I suspect there are words you don’t understand and can’t pronounce.  (If you get nervous, watch my video.)

Into a medium sized bowl put the flour and salt – briefly mix these with a pastry cutter (or fork).  Add in the shortening and, using your pastry cutter, mix everything together until the consistency of the dough becomes like little peas.  Sprinkle in the ice water.  Then using a fork, gently blend the water into the dough.  DON’T OVER MIX!  And DON’T USE YOUR FOOD PROCESSOR!  Over working dough leads to a tough crust.  Been there, done that!  Gather the dough into a tight ball, lay it back in the bowl, and refrigerate.

Drain the yogurt in a sieve lined with a coffee filter.  It takes at least an hour.  BTW, save the drained whey – that’s the liquid – to use in place of water in various recipes.  Google it! Remember, I hate waste. (Cheap!)

Fry the onions in butter until they’re golden brown.  Caramelizing onions (that’s what you’re doing) makes them sweet and SOOOO good! Stir often, especially once they start to brown. (A flat headed wooden stirrer works really well for this.)  Stir in the salt, pepper, and dill. Let sit until room temperature.

Bake the ‘bacon’.  Follow package directions.  For Morningstar, bake at 375ºF for a total of 15 minutes, turning once.  Let cool completely so the ‘bacon’ gets nice and crispy.

All of those steps can be done ahead of time, if you want.

To assemble the quiche, first roll out the pie crust.  On a well floured FLAT surface (I use Tupperware’s pastry sheet), and with well floured hands, take your chilled dough ball and start to flatten it with the palm of one hand, while pushing in the raggedy edges with the other.  You want a smooth perimeter.  Now take your well floured rolling pin and start rolling back and forth one way, then 90º the other way.  Push in the edges again, as needed. Continue to flour the rolling pin, and roll in all directions to keep the circle round.  Once it’s big enough to line the bottom and sides of your 10″ quiche pan (with a little extra for crimping), fold the dough circle in half. CAREFULLY, lift up the dough and let it dangle over one hand. With the other hand brush off the excess flour.  Set the folded edge along the center of the quiche pan.  Unfold the dough.  Go around and crimp the edges by rolling it towards the center and pinching it. Crimping give the crust a finished touch.

Preheat the oven to 375ºF.  Do this now – the oven will be ready when you’ve assembled the quiche.

In a medium bowl beat the eggs with a fork.  Beat in the milk and yogurt.

Layer the onions on the crust, then sprinkle on the cheese, pour on the egg mixture, and crumble on the ‘bacon’.  It’s going to look like you don’t have enough egg mixture, but don’t worry – it puffs up while baking.  Bake for 45-50 minutes – until the top is golden brown. Remove carefully from the oven (don’t jiggle it) and let set for at least 15 minutes before slicing. It will be a mushy mess if you try to cut it sooner – it needs time to firm up.

You can bet I’ll be serving this quiche to my brother again.  However, I’m going to have to come up with another name for it so he doesn’t know what’s in it.  Any ideas? I’d love to hear them!

‘Tis No Blarney – Vegetarian Corned ‘Beef’

Toasted Corned 'Beef' Sandwich with Swiss & sauerkraut

Toasted Corned ‘Beef’ Sandwich with Swiss & sauerkraut

My mouth still waters at the memory of the mile high corned beef sandwiches my parents would buy from our favorite deli when I was a kid.  My poor mother had to brave the disapproving glare from the server because I insisted on ordering mine on white bread. Somewhere in my late teens, I finally made the transfer to rye.  Everyone breathed a sigh of relief.

The victory was short lived, however, because I became a vegetarian soon thereafter.  Ah, well!  It was nice while it lasted.  Goodbye corned beef, hello….corn.

But, never fear.  This story has a happy ending.  Over the last several years, more and better tasting imitation meats have hit the markets.  Including corned ‘beef’.  (When I use quotes around a meat, I’m talking about faux – aka, fake – meats).  I’ve mentioned before, and will continue to do so – there are all kinds of imitation products out there.  Some inedible, some excellent.  And taste is subjective – what I like, you may hate.  So experiment with the various products and decide for yourself.  Experimenting is important in vegetarian cooking.

The thing about most fake meats is they work best when they’re the base for other ingredients (such spaghetti sauce, or a casserole).  On their own….well, no meat-lover will be satisfied.  So boiled corned beef, cabbage, and potatoes is out of the question.  But a toasted corned ‘beef’ on rye with melted Swiss, sauerkraut, and mustard….now you’re talking!  The marriage between the corned beef essence of the fake stuff, and the flavors of the rye, sauerkraut, Swiss, and mustard are enough to pull off this sandwich.  Now, I’m not gonna lie – it’s not exactly the same as the real thing.  But, for me, it’s enough to talk me off the ledge when I’m tempted to sneak the real thing. Add to that some Mushy Peas (see post: Mushy Peas:  A Super-Food Disguised As A Side Dish), roasted carrots , and a green salad, and my Irish half is quite content.

CORNED ‘BEEF’ SANDWICH

  • Imitation corned beef (I used Cedar Lake brand, but I’ve tried others I liked, too)
  • rye bread
  • sauerkraut
  • Swiss cheese
  • yellow mustard

Drain the sauerkraut in a sieve.  Fold several slices of fake corned ‘beef’ in half and lay them on one slice of rye bread.  Lay Swiss cheese on another slice of rye.  Put them in the toaster oven (or big oven if you don’t have one) and toast on high setting (I used the highest setting).  Once toasted, pile the sauerkraut on the corned ‘beef’ half, squeeze on the mustard, then top with the cheese half.  And, VOILÀ – a vegetarian corned ‘beef’ sandwich.

Butternut Pesto Pizza: Mamma Mia, Thatsa Pizza Pie!

SQUASH PIZZA

You know what the problem with butternut squash is?  It’s so darned big!  Several days ago I made Squash Stew (check out my post:  Squash Stew: Or, How I Learned The Importance Of Carefully Reading A Recipe).  I only needed 1½  cups of cubed butternut squash.  Now, I’m no squash expert.  In fact, before making this stew, I’d only given the various winter squashes a fleeting, curious glance as I wheeled my shopping cart past them on the way to the potatoes.  So I don’t know if these 10″ winter squash wonders are typically sized butternut squash, or if my market just has a penchant for purchasing mega produce. (How’s THAT for alliteration?)  I used the ‘neck’ of the squash for my stew (I read it was the sweeter part), which yielded the needed 1½ cups.  I was then left with the bulbous ‘head’. What to do with it? (Neck?  Head?  This vegetable is taking on a decided carnivorous undertone. Isn’t this supposed to be a vegetarian cooking blog?)

As you may have gleaned by now, I HATE waste.  Okay, I’m cheap!  But, honestly, it really does wound me to throw out food.  Surely, there must be another tasty vegetarian recipe out there in which I could use the leftover squash.  So I googled ‘butternut squash recipes’ and scanned through the various choices.  EUREKA!  There it was:  pizza topped with pesto and grilled butternut squash. Perfect!  I realized the leftover feta and mozzarella cheeses I had, plus some kalamata olives would would go nicely with the pesto – although, I wasn’t sure if it would work with the squash.  I also decided to add some mashed squash to the pizza dough.  What the heck – in for a penny, in for a pound!

The result:  Mmmmwwwwwaaaaa! (the Italian fingertips to lips thing)  Fabulous!!!!

NOTE:  Next time I think I’ll use a little more mashed squash in the dough –  I couldn’t really taste it that much.

If you’re short on time (or desire), you can use pre-made pizza dough that you buy.  But, honestly, making dough is a snap.   The cost of making dough is almost nothing, and the labor is minimal. Just pull out that food processor you have stored in the back of the cupboard, and start using it.  If you don’t have one, I strongly suggest you to buy one – I use mine constantly!  And don’t be afraid of using yeast – there’s nothing to it.

BUTTERNUT PESTO PIZZA – makes 3 personal pizzas (about 7″ in diameter)

  • 3 cups flour (I used organic all-purpose)
  • 1 cup + 2 T water
  • 3 T olive oil
  • 1½ T milk
  • ¾ tsp salt
  • 1 T active dry yeast
  • ¾ cup pesto (see recipe in post ‘Homemade Pasta:  Crazy Obsessive?  Or Just Crazy?’)
  • ½ a butternut squash
  • 2/3 cup kalamata olives
  • 3 oz mozzarella cheese
  • 3 oz feta cheese
  • a couple T additional olive oil for brushing

Peel the squash. I used leftover butternut squash, so I’d already softened the squash before.  But if you’re using an unused squash, you’re going to want to soften it before peeling.  The easiest way to do this is to first wash and dry the squash (so you don’t contaminate the inner part with the dirty skin when you slice it), then pop it in the microwave for 1½ minutes on high, flip it and nuke it again for another 1½ minutes.  Then off with her head!  (Remove the head from the neck).  You’ll only need half the squash for this recipe – you choose which half.  To remove the skin, simply take a sharp knife and slice off the skin –  easy as pie.  Cut off about ½ cup’s worth and cut it into ¾” cubes.  This will be used IN the dough.  Steam the cubes in a steamer basket until they pierce easily with a fork (about 15 minutes).

Deep breath.  Now you’re going to make the pizza dough.  Heat the water to 104º F and stir in the yeast.  It’s going to begin to get kind of frothy – that’s what it’s supposed to do.  While that’s happening, put the flour, oil, milk, salt, and steamed squash cubes in the work bowl of your food processor.  Turn it on and as it’s whirling around, CAREFULLY and SLOWLY pour the yeast water in from the port on top.  You may need to stop the machine if the flour around the perimeter doesn’t start to blend in.  If that happens (and it always does for me), just remove the lid and run a dull knife along the edge to loosen the flour.  Then start the machine again.  A dough ball will form after about 45 seconds.  That’s what you want.  If the dough is still all over the place, you need more flour.  Add about a tablespoon more.  Turn on the machine and see what happens.  Once the ball forms, continue running the processor for another 15 seconds.  Whew!  Now that wasn’t so hard, was it?  You’ve just kneaded dough – the easy way!  Lightly oil a bowl with olive oil and press the dough ball into it.  Then flip the ball and set it back down – now the dough is coated with oil and won’t dry out.  Cover with a tea towel and let rise for 1 hour.

Sometime during the hour that the dough is rising, get your toppings ready.  Shred the mozzarella, break up the feta, dish out the olives, and fry the squash.  To do this, cut the remainder of the squash half you’re using into 1/3″ slices. Fry both sides in oil (I used canola) until they’re well browned. Drain on a paper towel and cut into smaller pieces.

Punch the dough with your fist.  Your goal is to deflate it.  Try NOT to imagine the guy who wouldn’t let you merge in front of him yesterday when they were doing road mending (he obviously couldn’t spare that half second he would have been delayed) – you don’t want to send the bowl sailing!  Take a dull knife, slice the dough in thirds.  With floured hands, grab one of the thirds and form it into a ball.  Preheat the oven now to 500º F, moving the rack to 4″ below the heating element.  Place pizza tiles in the oven to heat.  I’ve never made pizza without them, so if you don’t have the tiles I guess you’ll have to use a cookie sheet. But it has to be sturdy so it doesn’t warp under the high heat.  The tiles have to be HOT when you slide the uncooked pizza onto them.

The best place to prepare the pizza is on a well floured pizza peel.  If you don’t have one you’ll have to use a wooden cutting board or a really REALLY well floured cookie sheet.  The idea is to slide the pizza easily into the oven.  Take the dough ball and flatten it with your palm.  So I don’t have to keep repeating myself – everything that comes in contact with the dough needs to be WELL FLOURED.  Pick it up and start stretching it a bit.  Lay it over the back of your fists and then start tossing and spinning it several times- this is to get it bigger and thinner.  Now, unless you’re a trained professional, DON’T get crazy with the tossing and spinning.  You eventually want the dough on your dinner plate, not the floor (or ceiling). Lay the dough on the peel, stretching out thicker parts, if needed.

With a pastry brush, paint the border of the dough with olive oil – about 1″ wide.  Spread 1/3 of the pesto to about ¾” from the edge.  Sprinkle on cheeses, place the squash, then fill in with the kalamata olives.  By now the oven should be heated.  With a wide spatula, gently guide the pizza into the oven.  Set the timer for 5 minutes.  Turn the pizza 180º and continue baking until browned – about another 3 minutes.

While one pizza is in the oven baking, prepare the next.  My family starts eating when the first one comes out of the oven – that’s when it’s at its best.  Sometimes I just wait for the last one – otherwise I’m up and down.  I like to relax and enjoyed the fruits (or should I say ‘pizza’) of my labor.

As long as you have the right tools (food processor, pizza peel, pizza tiles), making pizza is easy! And by making it yourself, you control the amount of grease.  So, go ahead – give Butternut Pesto Pizza a try.  You’ll be glad you did.  Now, go scrape that dough off the ceiling – I warned you!

Eggplant Parmesan – The Easy Way?

Eggplant Parmesan Dinner

Eggplant Parmesan Dinner

I actually got one thing in my life organized:  I finally compiled a list of meal ideas.  Every time I make a new dish that warrants repeating, on the list it goes.  So whenever I can’t figure out what to make for dinner, or  just want to remind myself of past successes, I pull out my handy dandy list.  I even organized it by categories (i.e., main dishes, soups, etc.). How’s THAT for  a shocker – my list is even organized.

So I was having one of those days when nothing sounded good.  I pulled out my List (capitalizing the ‘L’ makes it official), and there was EGGPLANT PARMESAN.  I’d forgotten all about that tasty dish.  It wouldn’t even be too time consuming, especially if I had some frozen leftover marinara sauce.  Hoping against hope, I checked my freezer.  Rats!  My hopes were dashed.  Oh, well – I decided to make extra this time and save myself a little work in the future.  The rest of the meal was easy:  broccoli, cauliflower, and mushy peas. Mushy Peas, you say?  What the heck are they?  Check my post from March 5, 2014:  Mushy Peas: A Super-Food Disguised As A Side Dish!

Not to burst your bubble about my culinary skills, but I take shortcuts when I can.  I realize there are master chefs the world over who take hours to concoct their marinara sauces and will be revolted by my recipe, but….whatever!  I’m busy, this recipe tastes good enough, and – to be honest – I really don’t want to spend all day making a sauce for a dish where the eggplant and the mozzarella are the stars.  I, at least, make the sauce before doing anything else so it cooks for a little bit of time.

This marinara sauce recipe makes enough for 2 eggplant parmesan dinners.  Remember, freeze the unused sauce for future use.  I recommend you double this recipe so you have even more sauce to freeze.  As long as you’re cooking, you may as well do a little extra chopping and measuring – the payoff comes when you only have to wash the dishes once, PLUS you have sauce on those days when you’re short on time….like, everyday, right?

NOTE:  When I make EGGPLANT PARMESAN this is one of the rare times when I don’t actually measure anything – I just kind of eyeball everything.  I gave you measurements here just to use as a guideline.

SHORTCUT MARINARA SAUCE

  • 1 28 oz can whole peeled tomatoes, chopped
  • 1 6 oz can tomato paste
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • 1 tsp dried basil
  • ½ tsp dried Italian Seasoning
  • 1 T dried minced onions
  • ½ tsp garlic powder
  • ½ tsp salt
  • ¼ cup red wine

Throw everything in a saucepan and bring to a boil.  Then turn down flame and simmer while you get the rest of the meal prepared.

NOTE:  When I use canned tomatoes, I buy the whole tomatoes and dice them myself (either by hand or in the food processor).  That way I can slice off the tough stem end, AND cut away any flaws.  I often find black spots in even the expensive brands of canned tomatoes. Call me paranoid, but you know when you buy the cans that are already diced, the company didn’t inspect the tomatoes nearly as carefully.

EGGPLANT PARMESAN

  • 1 eggplant
  • ¾ cup seasoned bread crumbs
  • ¾ cup Romano cheese, finely shredded
  • 1 egg
  • olive oil for frying
  • 1 ½ cups marinara sauce (any kind you like – I use the recipe above)
  • 8 oz sliced mozzarella cheese

Beat the egg in a bowl, then pour it onto a plate.  On a different, dinner sized plate combine the bread crumbs and Romano cheese.  Now slice up the eggplant into ½” circles.  You don’t want to cut up the eggplant too early – they start to brown.  Heat olive oil in a large skillet. Don’t skimp on the oil – you don’t want the eggplant to stick.

As the oil is heating dip both sides of each eggplant slice into the egg, then the bread crumbs – really scrunching it around so there are no bare spots.  Once the oil is hot, cook the slices until both sides are browned and crusty.  Lay them on a paper towel to absorb the extra oil.

Cover the bottom of a casserole dish with a little marinara sauce – just so the eggplant doesn’t stick to the dish.  Lay down the eggplant slices.  Spoon marinara sauce on each slice, then top with mozzarella.  Use as much or little marinara and mozzarella as you like.

Cover the casserole dish and bake at 350º Fahrenheit for 30 minutes.

Looking At Oatmeal/Chips Cookies In A Whole New Light! Or Not.

photo (31)

Oatmeal is known for its cholesterol lowering properties.  So can we go one step further and assume oatmeal cookies are good for you?  Hmmmm?  Well, I think you know the answer to that.  I AM the queen of rationalization but even I can’t make that leap.  That being said, a tasty dessert – in moderation – can be good for your mental well-being.

My philosophy is that if I’m going to indulge, the food better be worth it.  That’s why I cook from scratch – I tailor food to suit my family’s taste AND I know what goes in it.  No additives or cheap low-grade ingredients.  Baking from scratch is really not difficult nor is it as time consuming as you might think.  And, like anything, the more you do it, the faster it gets.  So pour that glass of milk and set it in the refrigerator, ready to go for when these OATMEAL/CHIPS COOKIES come out of the oven!

OATMEAL/CHIPS COOKIES – makes 2 dozen

  • ½ cup walnuts, chopped
  • 1 ¼ cups uncooked oatmeal
  • ¾ cup flour (I used organic all-purpose)
  • ½ tsp baking soda (make sure you use soda, NOT powder – they’re not the same)
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • ¼ tsp cinnamon
  • 1 egg
  • ¼ cup shortening
  • ¼ cup butter, softened
  • ½ cup dark brown sugar, packed
  • ¼ cup granulated sugar
  • ½ tsp vanilla extract
  • ¾ – 1 cup chips (I used half chocolate chips and half butterscotch chips)

Toast the walnuts until they just start to darken and you can smell them.  Toasting nuts and seeds enhances their flavor and makes them crispier.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, cream the shortening, butter, brown sugar, and granulated sugar until everything is well blended.  If you don’t have an electric mixer (yet another kitchen item you really should have!), you’ll have to mix the cookies by hand – not too difficult with this recipe.  Beat in the egg and vanilla.  Add the oatmeal, flour, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon to the bowl.  Before turning on the mixer again, use your spatula to mix the dry ingredients together.  (You could mix the dry ingredients together in a separate bowl, but I do it this way to save dirtying an extra bowl.)  Then turn on the mixer and blend until the dry ingredients are ALMOST fully incorporated.  Finally, add in the walnuts and chips, and blend either by hand or on a low speed of your mixer – just until the chips are evenly dispersed throughout the dough.

Preheat your oven to 375º Fahrenheit.  Spoon the dough onto  nonstick or greased cookie sheets.  I prefer using a dark, nonstick cookie sheet – the cookies don’t spread as much so they’re thicker, and they bake quicker.  Bake for 10-12 minutes, until golden brown.  Set hot sheet on stove for 3 minutes, then remove cookies to a wire rack to completely cool.  Letting the hot cookies set for 3 minutes allows them to set – they’re still molten when you take them from the oven, and trying to remove them from the cookie sheet immediately will lead to a real mess – and probably a lot of bad language.

NOTE:  If you’re in the market for cookie sheets, don’t waste your money on those sheets that have 2 layers with air in between.  I’ve never found them to be as good as the inexpensive dark, non-stick kind.  Just my opinion.

Enjoy your cookies with a nice glass of ice cold milk, and hope that someday they’ll discover that oatmeal in cookies is still good for you.  I’d be glad to help with the research!