Monday, July 2, 2012

Cooking With Kids: Flatbread and Tzatziki Sauce

My older daughter is 5 1/2 years old and has always been a pretty decent eater, but there are lots of ways I think she could broaden her horizons (kids can always eat more vegetables).  One of the methods I'm employing to help open her little mind is getting her into the kitchen with me.  Since I cook every day, teaching opportunities are plenty, but as every busy mother knows, it's often easier to send the kids out of the kitchen so you can just get shit done.  There are times that I question my sanity in having asked her to help me cook.  There's more mess, and I usually have to make up tasks to keep her occupied.

But it's definitely worth the effort in those few times when she gets to really help, and she shows pride in her work by gleefully consuming whatever we've made together.

In my endeavor to plan a fun summer before she starts kindergarten, I decided to have some cooking days together where we make things she'd like.  Yesterday was one of those days.  The girl can eat her weight in bread, and I think all kids like dipping stuff, so I settled on flatbread with hummus.  Sadly, I was out of chickpeas, so I had to modify my plans.  In comes easy peasy tzatziki sauce, that quintessential Greek/middle Eastern condiment made from cucumbers and yogurt. We have some lovely cucumbers going gangbusters in our garden right now, so this was a perfect substitute for hummus.

The flatbread recipe is one I've made before, and it was actually better this time around because the dough was gently hand-kneaded by a 5 year old instead of being over-kneaded in my KitchenAid.

My kiddo proclaimed the tzatziki good, but when she got her plate of bread and dip, she pretty much just ate the bread.  It's a start.

Adding flour and kneading the dough.  She did it all herself!

Risen dough ball.

Cooking the flatbreads on our griddle.  The lack of oven usage makes this recipe perfect for summer.

The four finished flatbreads.  These taste awesome as-is, but they're even more divine with a brushing of olive oil and a sprinkle of kosher salt.

Tzatziki Sauce
Makes about a cup and a half

1 medium cucumber, peeled, seeded, and diced small
1 clove garlic, minced
1 Tbsp. minced onion
2 tsp. chopped fresh parsley or mint
1/2 cup plain Greek yogurt (you can use regular yogurt, but I like the thick consistency of Greek)
a squeeze of lemon juice
salt and pepper

Mix all ingredients in a small bowl, season to taste, and chill before serving.  This makes a refreshing dip for pita wedges, carrot sticks, or other veggies.  It's also great on grilled chicken kebabs or gyros.

Pan-Grilled Flatbread
Makes eight 6-7" breads
Adapted from Cook's Illustrated

1 pkg. dry active yeast (2 1/4 tsp.)
1 cup warm water (110-115 degrees)
1 Tbsp. olive oil, plus extra for brushing
2 tsp. sugar
1/4 cup plain yogurt
1 1/2 tsp. table salt, plus extra for sprinkling
1/2 cup whole wheat flour, sieved before measuring to remove coarse flakes of bran  (NOTE: I omitted this step and just increased the amount of regular flour by 1/2 cup)
2 cups bread flour, plus additional as needed

In a medium bowl, sprinkle the yeast over the warm water.  Stir in olive oil, sugar, and yogurt until well combined.  Add salt and flour and stir with a wooden spoon until the flour is incorporated, about 3 minutes.  Turn dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and knead by hand until smooth and elastic, about 12 minutes.  (NOTE: This is a great task for kids!)

Place dough in an oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and place in a warm spot until dough doubles in size, about 45 minutes.  Turn dough out onto floured work surface, divide in half with a knife, and cut each half into 4 pieces.  Using your fingers or a rolling pin, flatten each piece of dough into a circle about 6 to 7 inches across.

Heat an electric griddle over medium-high heat.  Mine has a temperature dial, so I use the 350 degree setting.  Gently place 2-3 dough circles in the griddle when hot.  Cook until small bubbles appear on the surface of the dough, about 30 seconds.  Flip with tongs and cook until the bottom is speckled brown, about 2 minutes.  Flip again and cook until the bottom is speckled as well, 1-2 minutes longer.

Transfer to a rack to cool.  These are tasty brushed with olive oil and sprinkled with salt, and eaten hot.  If they last that long, you can wrap them tightly in foil and store them at room temperature for up to 2 days.  Reheat in a 300 degree oven until warm, about 15 minutes.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Shrimp and Angel Hair Alfredo

Alfredo sauce- oh, how I love thee.  And with responsibly sourced, high quality shrimp, properly cooked pasta, and a smattering of fresh snipped chives, it becomes positively divine.  Believe it or not, it's a quick and easy dish. 

Let's just start off by saying that I am terrible at writing recipes.  I make certain things really well off the cuff, and when I need to share what I did, I have to guess.  Please don't hate me if this doesn't come out amazing when you make it.  Let me know if something's completely off and I'll make it right.

Second, my Alfredo sauce is done differently than traditional recipes.  I use a roux, a sauce-thickening mixture of cooked butter and flour, to give it body, instead of the 42 pounds of cream and cheese other recipes call for.  It's still not a light-on-the-waistline recipe, but it's a helluva lot better in the fat and calorie counts.  You get the taste of the cheese without the thunder thighs to match.

Anyway.  It's effing delicious and you should add it to your repertoire.

Shrimp and Angel Hair Alfredo
Serves 4

1 lb. large raw shrimp, peeled and deveined (I cut them into 3 pieces- these were big'uns.)
1 Tbsp. olive oil
3/4 lb. angel hair pasta (also called capellini; you may also use spaghetti, fettuccine, linguine, or bucatini)
1/2 cup grated high quality Parmesan cheese, plus more for garnishing

(NOTE: If your budget doesn't allow for Parmigiano Reggiano, at least buy a block of good stuff from Wisconsin and hand-shred that bad boy.  Please DO NOT use that nasty shit in the green can.  It should not even really be called cheese, and if I were Italian, I'd be personally offended at its impersonation of real formaggi di Parma.)

2 Tbsp. unsalted butter
2 Tbsp. all-purpose flour
2 cups milk
3 cloves garlic, peeled and minced or put through a garlic press, separated (One for the shrimp, two for the sauce)
1-2 Tbsp. fresh chives, minced
Kosher salt, fresh black pepper, crushed red pepper flakes

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and cook the pasta according to package directions.  I cooked the angel hair for about 4 minutes.  You don't want it mushy, so don't overdo it.  Before draining the cooked pasta, reserve about a half cup of the cooking water.  Drain the rest, drizzle on a bit of olive oil, clamp the lid on, and set aside.

In a small saucepan, melt the butter and whisk in the flour.  Whisk and cook until fragrant, about a minute or two.  Add two minced cloves of garlic, stir briefly, and then slowly whisk in the milk.  Add the grated cheese and whisk well to combine.  Bring to a simmer and stir frequently until thickened.  Season to taste with salt and black pepper.

Heat olive oil in a 12" skillet over medium heat.  Saute' the shrimp with a sprinkling of salt and black pepper.  When they are nearly pink all the way through, toss in one of the minced garlic cloves.  Take off the heat before the shrimp are done all the way- you don't want to overcook them, either!

Toss the cooked pasta with the sauce, thinning with reserved pasta water if needed.  Pile some on a plate and top with shrimp, a generous sprinkling of chives, a bit of red pepper flake, and more Parmesan.



Monday, June 18, 2012

Salisbury Steak

On deck tonight was a recipe I hadn't tried before- Salisbury steak by the good folks over at America's Test Kitchen.  If you don't subscribe to their site, never fear.  They have a second site called the Feed that is completely free, and chock full of good tips and recipes.  Tonight's dinner comes from the Feed.

One of the things I love about ATK's recipes is that they determine the problems, fix them, and give full explanations of *why* a particular ingredient or technique works or doesn't. Thin, tasteless sauce present in many versions of this dish posed its own set of hurdles.

An item they added to their rendition of this TV dinner classic was Port, which is a fortified wine, often sweet, and usually made in Portugal.  We keep a bottle on hand for the occasional sip.  If you've never tried it, you should, especially if you like red wine or whiskey but want something sweeter.  I also use Port to soak raisins when making oatmeal cookies...yum!

The bottle I have on hand right now is Fonseca Tawny Porto.  The "tawny" distinction means it has a darker color and a richer taste.  Other ports may be called "ruby."  The "Porto" distinction means the stuff was made in Portugal.  Those not made there will generally just say "port," just like the bubbly stuff made in France can call itself "Champagne" and the others are just sparkling wine.

Anyway- back to the Salisbury steak.  Click here for the recipe- it's easy peasy and delicious.  We thought it could use a little something extra for more flavor- garlic was notably missing from the ingredients, and I will likely add it next time.  Aside from that, however, it was really good!  On the side, I made some mashed potatoes (more than merely a vehicle for gravy, mine are damn good by themselves) and fresh green beans.

Eat your heart out, Hungry Man!

Testing the port for consistency and flavor.  *hic*

My sous chef prepares the haricots verts.  Also known as, my child snaps green beans.

The basics.

A must for your refrigerator.  Very convenient and lasts forever.

Swanson's ain't got shit on this stuff right here.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

A Father's Day Feast

This was my husband's sixth Father's Day, but his first as a father of two.  It has been more difficult lately with a baby, obviously, to make the same in-depth meals that he had been used to for the past couple of years, but he works damn hard to make sure I can stay home with our babies, so I wanted to make today special. 

My husband plays in a recreational hockey league and had two games back-to-back this morning, so we agreed on two rich meals plus dessert instead of the standard three.

Here's what we ate today.  It was all delicious!

Brunch: Quiche with ham, green onions, mushrooms, spinach, and Irish cheddar; toast; OJ.

Dinner: New York strip steak (on the grill, natch), baked potatoes, Caesar salad.

Dessert: New York-style cheesecake with my home-canned blueberry-lemon jam as topping.

I've eaten quiche numerous times, but have only made it once or twice before.  We came up with the filling combo ourselves, so I didn't have an exact recipe to consult, but I knew I had several good ones in my arsenal to provide guidance.  I used the basic formula from Martha Stewart's Asparagus, Leek, and Gruyere Quiche, substituting in ham, spinach, green onions, mushrooms, and Kerrygold aged Irish cheddar. 

I sauteed the ham and mushrooms before adding the spinach and allowing it to wilt.  I stirred in the green onions and removed the skillet from the heat before adding the mixture on top of shredded cheddar in the unbaked pie crust.

Aside from the changes to the add-ins, I would recommend a longer cooking time than the 50-60 minutes the original recipe suggests.  My version needed about an hour and 15 minutes to really be set up in the center.

I used my go-to pie crust recipe from Alton Brown.  I skip the food processor and spray bottle, and just use a pastry blender and ice water in a measuring cup.  This pie crust works for savory applications like quiche as well as fruit and pumpkin pies.  It's flaky and fantastic!

For several years I've used a cheesecake recipe from Tyler Florence, and it has served me well and garnered numerous compliments.  But my husband and I both prefer a drier, fluffier version than the creamy, custard-like version offered up by Tyler.  Enter America's Test Kitchen.  They never fail me.  ATK's methodically tested recipes are available by subscription only, so unfortunately I can't share it here, but rest assured it's worth the price of admission to their website.

This morning's supplies, a small number of which are healthy.

Homemade pie crust. Totally worth it.

A must for my life- Dunkin' Donuts brand coffee with extra creamer and sugar, in my husband's favorite mug.

Sauteing the ham and mushrooms for quiche.

My audience, enjoying a slice of fresh peach in her new mesh feeder.

My helper.  She crushed graham crackers and helped empty the dishwasher so I could refill it.

Quiche with whole wheat toast, topped with homemade peach butter (left) and homemade blueberry jam (right).

Caesar salad- Romaine lettuce, toasted pine nuts, some shaved parmesan, and Brianna's Caesar dressing.

Baked potato with homegrown chives and New York strip steak

Lovely cheesecake.  I halved the recipe and used a 6" spring form pan.

Oh my.  Blueberry jam on top really made it.


Tuesday, June 5, 2012

What I've been doing lately

Blueberry-Lemon Jam with locally picked berries

Ensalata Caprese with homemade mozzarella

Wedding cake for my cousin

Big sister feeding baby sister some oatmeal

Mmm, nanas!  Baby-led weaning exercise.

Big sister feeding baby sister again.

Monday, June 4, 2012


So.  Yeah.  It's been over a year since my last post. I finally decided to bite the bullet and forgive myself for imperfection. Don't worry- this blog isn't gonna get all sappy and introspective on you. 

But a moment of truth, if I may.  I suffer from blog envy.  Bad.

I don't read very many blogs with regularity, but I do view posts on lots of different sites that always make me wish my blog was better.  You know the ones.  The people with a dedication to regular posting that I just can't muster.  The people who blog for a living.  The people with no kids.  The glossy photography.  The custom-designed layouts.  All the shit that I do not possess.

All of that, coupled with my self-induced shame over the fact that I A) don't know much about taking pictures, B) don't care to learn photography, and C) don't want to have to ask my husband to do all my food pics, caused me to pretty much shut down my interest in blogging about food.  The fact that I was pregnant last year didn't help- hormones, for one, and less time to pursue hobbies like this one.

So here goes.  A new template, a renewed sense of what this blog is for (my own enjoyment, dammit, so why am I so worried about pleasing other people?), a bestowing of grace upon myself that this little blog doesn't have to be perfect.  It only has to be fun. 

I love food.  I love feeding my family.  And sometimes, I like to write about it.

If you're here, then quite likely, you love food too.  Welcome, friend.