February 20, 2011

More Cold Weather Comfort

Leaning tower of pizza
Just look at that snow! See it? It's that white stuff on the roof of the pool house, the benches along the deck and all over the ground.

OK, I know. It's not as much as you got. I'm good with that. At least our snow is all melted now.

Today the temperature is a balmy 70 degrees, quite a change from a couple of weeks ago when we dipped down into the single digits ... and the snow drifted in ... again! We've had the white stuff several times this winter, more than enough to remind us emphatically of our four season climate.

OK, we get it. Next season, please!

When it is so cold outside though, I do like to peer through my window ... my oven window. And that's just what I did during the last snow. I made up a big batch of dough and pre-baked the leaning tower of pizza crusts. Sixteen to be exact!

Nothing says lovin' like a pizza in the oven, and a stash of homemade crusts in the freezer means pizza is just a 500 degree pre-heated oven away - anytime.

I'm keeping doubly warm this winter, thank you, because I've got another stash going too. :D

Inspiration at a moment's notice

So now I can knit all day and still have dinner ready in no time. No going out in the cold and no big tips for the poor guy who braves the elements to deliver pizza to me before the cheese seizes from the cold.

Instead, I grab a crust from the freezer, crank up the oven to 500 degrees and cruise the fridge for something good to go on top of that ready-made crust. Presto! Homemade hot, crispy, gooey goodness ready in a flash.

And should I need to venture outside when the cold weather returns, I'll be wrapped up all snuggly warm in one of my many hand knit scarves.

Two stashes are way better than one!

And, yes, I do believe the cold weather will be back before this winter is over. This is just the hope of spring, not the real thing.

I don't care what that furry rodent, Phil, says. It is not spring yet!

But by the time Phil is finished resting on his laurels and finally drags his furry butt out of hibernation, I'll be using a crust from my stash for pizza on the grill ... with a light and airy hand knit scarf thrown around my shoulders. Something in a nice light blue, perhaps.

Stashing all the way ...


CORA'S THIN AND CRISPY PIZZA DOUGH
1 tsp. yeast
1/2 c. + 1 tbsp. warm water
2 tsp. sugar
1 1/2 c. all-purpose flour
1 tsp. salt
1 tbsp. olive oil
1 tsp. olive oil for coating
cornmeal or flour for coating pizza peel

Sprinkle yeast in mixing bowl. Add water and sugar and stir. Let it sit for a couple of minutes. Add flour, salt and olive oil (1tbsp.) mix with rubber spatula until dough hold together. Dough will be very wobbly. With remaining oil (1 tsp.) coat the inside of a glass bowl or casserole dish and place the dough ball inside and roll to coat in oil. Cover with a cloth dish towel, or plastic wrap, and let sit in a warm place for 1 hour. Place dough on a flour covered surface and dust top with flour. Rub flour on rolling pin and roll dough out until very thin - should make one 12-inch crust. Gently fold crust into quarters and lay on a cornmeal covered pizza peel and roll with spiked wheel to make holes. Transfer dough to pizza stone in a preheated 500 degree oven and pre-bake just until edges begin to brown. Remove and cool on a wire rack. Place cooled crusts in ziploc bags in the freezer. No need to thaw before making pizzas.
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February 13, 2011

Roasted Vegetables - Cauliflower with Cumin



Mid-February marks the time of year when I begin to notice signs that spring will come again. A warmer day here and there. Some sunlight. Days are noticeably longer than the last time I thought about it.

And it is also time for a slight adjustment in my taste for foods. Though the season has not really changed, I find that I still want comfort foods, maybe with just a simpler, cleaner preparation. Just don't load it up with cheese or creamy sauces. I want pure, simple vegetables with a little crunch and the merest hint of a flavor accent.

Like, say .... roasted vegetables with a hint of seasoning. Cauliflower, perhaps. With olive oil, salt, pepper and cumin. Maybe a little squeeze of lime, or lemon, if that's what you have on hand. Cumin seed, if you want a little more crunch, but ground cumin is just perfect too.

I've had a note to pair cauliflower with cumin floating around in my "must try" file for quite some time. I like cauliflower, but it is not one of the vegetables I think of first, maybe because it is all too often served mushy or soft and drowning in cheese sauce. It's OK like that once in a while, but there are so many better ways to enjoy the sweet crunchy flavor  that cauliflower has.

When I was a kid, we used to eat raw cauliflower, broken into flowerets and dipped in mayonnaise mixed with curry powder. It was great that way -- crunchy with a creamy curry punch. Even at the time, it seemed to me an unlikely palate pleaser for kids, but we loved it. So when I considered cauliflower with cumin -- one of my very favorite spices -- I guess it isn't so very different than the curry flavor I remember.

In case you just dropped in from another planet, roasting vegetables is about the easiest way to prepare them and the flavors are greatly enhanced in the process, so here's how to roast cauliflower with a little cumin. Fast, easy, healthy, seasonal -- what's not to love?


ROASTED CAULIFLOWER WITH CUMIN
1 head fresh cauliflower
olive oil
fresh lime or lemon juice - optional
salt and pepper
ground cumin or cumin seeds

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Remove the green leaves from the cauliflower and rinse it. Break and/or cut the cauliflower into flowerets, trimming the stems to desired length. In a plastic bag or bowl, toss cauliflower with a couple of tablespoons of olive oil mixed with lime or lemon juice. Spread cauliflower on a baking sheet and sprinkle with salt, pepper and cumin - I like about a teaspoon of ground cumin per large head of cauliflower. Use as much or as little as you want. Place baking sheet in oven and cook for about 20 minutes. Check cauliflower to make sure it is not completely brown and continue to roast until you see lots of nice brown caramelizing on all the pieces. Remove from oven and serve hot or room temperature. Leftovers, if there are any, can be chopped to use in other dishes, such as soups, stews, omelets, quiche or on cold or warm salads.
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February 12, 2011

The ABC’s of Vitamin D for a Bright and Happy Winter

SEASON TO TASTE
(this is my monthly food column for Heartland Women)
February 2011

Last winter was brutal, which makes it not unlike this winter. Gloomy gray and blah brown are not happy colors, even when iced with a thick layer of fluffy white frosting. It’s not so much the cold and snow, but more like the complete and total lack of sunshine that takes its toll on me. Winter has been one of the biggest adjustments for me, since returning to the Heartland, after more than thirty sunny and mild Southern winters.

Last winter I slept - a lot. At night, I would crawl into bed and fall into a coma. In the morning, I would stumble to the couch and spend the day fighting to escape from sleep just long enough to get something to eat – and then sleep some more. Had I been able to collect my thoughts, I would have reasoned that this was not normal, and sought medical help. Pain ran rampant through my muscles and joints. Dishes sat dirty in the sink and piles of laundry sprawled out across the floor like a small mountain range. I was certain my picture had been added to every book or Internet site listing the characteristics of sloth. But I was far too fatigued to find out for sure.

This year, I vowed to redouble my efforts to take care of myself and maintain a respectable level of productivity. Acupuncture has worked on the pain in my muscles and joints and given me a new lease on life. And just last week I celebrated my two-year anniversary of regular workouts. I am a stronger person than I used to be, just two years ago. And, somewhere along the way this past year, I’ve lost 15 lbs. – but trust me, I’m not lifting a finger to go look for them. I am getting along just fine without them, thank you! This year, I was certain I would be ready to take on chronic fatigue, aches and pains and lack of mental focus.

Still, as the days grew shorter and the sun’s rays faded behind cold gray clouds, I dreaded another winter like the last one. Fortunately, a timely routine appointment with my new doctor just after the holidays changed all that. He suggested the possibility of an underlying cause for my doldrums and blood tests were ordered. I was skeptical, but longed to know that I would be able avoid the hibernating bear syndrome that gripped me last year.

Well, guess what? Ding – ding – ding! We have a winner!

It seems that a daily dose of Vitamin D is like a ray of sunshine on a cloudy day and that’s what I was missing. There are three good sources of vitamin D – a few foods, like salmon and shrimp, a vitamin supplement and best of all, sunlight. But, as we know, the sun goes south for the winter and, at our distance from the equator, cold cloudy winter days run together into months of dreary darkness. That lack of sunlight in our lives and, more specifically, on our skin, can lead to a serious lack of vitamin D -- and that can lead to aches, pains, mental fog and extreme fatigue. Now that I have added a regular supplement of vitamin D to my daily regimen, I am, once again, the productive and happy-go-lucky person I used to be. And I’m guessing my obsessive avoidance of the sun’s rays on my pale skin even during the summer means I should supplement some dose of vitamin D all year long. I'm going to check with my doctor and I would encourage anyone who feels less more sluggish in the winter than the summer to see her doctor. It may just be as easy as A-B-C to find out you need vitamin D too.

Oh, yeah! There’s more good news under the sun. I’ve also joined the ranks of the venerable Midwestern snowbird and flown south for a bit of nature's cure for winter blahs -- some sunlight and warmth. And that’s where I am right now – in Florida! – thanks to the generous hospitality of my dear friend, Wendy. I’ve been having a glorious week soaking in the winter sunshine of southwest Florida. It is just what the doctor ordered!

I’ve also taken up knitting, with Wendy’s help, and we have whiled away the hours talking and laughing, as we recalled funny stories from our childhoods, as well as, a few about raising our own kids. You know the kind I mean -- stories that weren’t so funny when they happened, but now they are priceless treasures you will remember to tell your grandchildren at the most opportune moment.

Even though our paths have not crossed much during the years since high school, Wendy and I have discovered we share lots of similar experiences and truly enjoyed resuming the conversation we began so long ago. Among Wendy’s many, many talents, she is an accomplished cook. My visit began with a simple dinner of huge stone crab claws and big, beautiful shrimp. As the week went on, I was impressed by her effortless ability to prepare meals that were fast, easy and oh-so-delicious – and healthy too! I’ve taken a few of her recipes for my own files and thought you might enjoy their light, bright flavors too – especially if you winter in Southern Illinois. The salmon recipe is an excellent food source for vitamin D. Other sources are shrimp, eggs, fortified milk and fortified orange juice.




SALSA SALMON WITH SPINACH AND RICE
1 ½ lbs. wild salmon fillet or 4 individual pieces
salt and pepper
1 can Rotel tomatoes with cilantro and lime
½ cup light mayonnaise
2 tbsp. butter
1 bag baby spinach
2 pkgs. frozen brown rice
¼ cup shredded Parmesan cheese

Cut the salmon fillet into 4 servings or use individual pieces; salt and pepper both sides. Drain the Rotel tomatoes. In a small bowl, mix the tomatoes and mayonnaise. Spread the tomato-mayo mixture on both sides of the salmon pieces. Place the salmon in a non-stick skillet; pour any remaining tomato-mayo mixture over the fish. Place a lid to cover the skillet and cook over medium heat for 7-10 minutes, or about 5 minutes per side. While fish cooks, place 2 tbsp. butter in a microwave-safe bowl and add the cleaned and trimmed spinach. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and microwave for 2-3 minutes to wilt spinach. Remove bowl of spinach and add rice; continue to microwave for 7 minutes. Remove spinach-rice mixture from microwave and toss lightly with ¼ cup Parmesan cheese. Serve the salmon along side the spinach-rice mixture and spoon remaining tomato mixture over the top. Serves 4.
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TURKEY BURGERS
1 ½ lbs. ground turkey
½ c. grated Parmesan cheese
4 green onions, sliced
¼ c. breadcrumbs
¼ c. Dijon mustard
1 clove garlic, minced
Kosher salt and freshly
ground pepper, to taste
4 English muffins or pita pockets
mayonnaise
mustard
lettuce leaves
sliced tomatoes
sliced avocado
bread and butter pickles
chutney

Heat oven broiler. Combine turkey, Parmesan cheese, green onion, breadcrumbs, Dijon mustard and garlic in a bowl and mix gently with a fork. Lightly oil a broiler pan and place turkey patties on pan; broil to sear on each side for 1-2 minutes. For the remainder of the cooking time, move the turkey patties to a lower rack in the oven and continue to cook until internal temperature reaches 165 degrees - about 5-10 minutes on each side. Toast English muffins or pita pockets. Serve turkey burgers with your choice of toppings and condiments.
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CLASSIC KEY LIME PIE
1 prepared 9-inch graham cracker pie crust
1 can sweetened condensed milk
½ c. fresh Key Lime juice or bottled Nellie & Joe’s Famous Key Lime Juice
2 cups whipped cream

Combine sweetened condensed milk and lime juice and stir until smooth and well blended. Pour filling into pie crust and refrigerate for at least 2 hours before serving. Just before serving, top with whipped cream.
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February 2, 2011

Knit Two


Knitting project #2 is complete!  It really helps that the weather outside is frightful and knitting is the perfect way to pass the time while I stay warm inside.

An actual scarf that is long enough for a casual drape around my neck or to double up for a snuggly warm wrap. The yarn is Tokyo Filatura di Crosa 033. I used my favorite #17 needles to give it a loose and lacy confetti-like look. Love, love, love it!

So yesterday I wore it while I ran errands and my friends Mike and Mary Jo stopped me in the market to ask if I had made my scarf. Apparently they had just read about my first project!

I'd better get busy on project #3, which is about halfway finished. This is so much fun!

February 1, 2011

Simple Salsa Salmon with Spinach and Rice


Have you resolved to eat more healthy fish in the new year? And are you already bored by the same old thing -- a plain piece of bland fish? Well here is a sassy little salmon recipe sure to keep you on, the straight and narrow. Or put you back on track. Either way.

Salmon is always at the top of my list for dinner. I love it! But sometimes I want to jazz it up with a little extra something. Just one problem. I'm guilty of too much last-minute cooking, which usually limits my creativity to what I can find on hand and prepare in a flash. Perhaps my resolution should have been directed toward planning. Well, maybe next year.

While I was in Florida with my friend, Wendy, recently, she served this salmon dinner in a flash!  In fact, it took me longer to set the table and pour my very favorite Kim Crawford Sauvignon Blanc into some cute blue polka dot wine glasses. Well almost that fast. Fast enough that I've already added it to my list of fast and delicious pantry-to-table dinners.

I'm likely to have cooked rice tucked into the fridge, since I've started using the rice cooker a lot lately. Frozen bags of rice are handy though.  If there isn't a can of Rotel in your pantry, I'd suggest draining some salsa as an acceptable substitute. Use light or regular mayonnaise, but not fat-free -- what is that stuff anyway? And if you don't have fresh spinach, use frozen spinach. Heat it in the microwave and squeeze out most of the moisture, then chop and add to the rice.

There you have it! Just a little something Wendy whipped up -- thanks Wendy! 

Now how about another bottle of Kim Crawford Sauvignon Blanc and those too cute polka dot wine glasses!

SIMPLE SALSA SALMON WITH SPINACH AND RICE
1 ½ lbs. wild salmon fillet or 4 individual pieces
salt and pepper
1 can Rotel tomatoes with cilantro and lime
½ cup light or regular mayonnaise
2 tbsp. butter
1 bag baby spinach
2 pkgs. frozen brown rice
¼ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Cut the salmon fillet into 4 servings, or use individual pieces; salt and pepper both sides. Drain the Rotel tomatoes. In a small bowl, mix the tomatoes and mayonnaise. Spread the tomato-mayo mixture on both sides of the salmon pieces. Place the salmon in a non-stick skillet; pour any remaining tomato-mayo mixture over the fish. Place a lid to cover the skillet and cook over medium heat for 7-10 minutes, or about 3-5 minutes per side. While fish cooks, place 2 tbsp. butter in a microwave-safe bowl and add the cleaned and trimmed spinach. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and microwave for 2-3 minutes to wilt spinach. Remove bowl of spinach and use scissors or a knife to chop it up a little before adding the rice; continue to microwave for 7 minutes. Remove spinach-rice mixture from microwave and toss lightly with ¼ cup Parmesan cheese. Serve the salmon along side the spinach-rice mixture and spoon remaining tomato mixture over the top.
Serves 4.
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