20 February, 2013

Pizza, Pizza

Homemade pizza!

(shh the crust is store-bought!)
I'm sharing with you a method for cooking your store bought crust.
And a recipe for quick homemade tomato sauce.

You can top it with whatever you'd like!
I topped this with sweet sausage, caramelized onions, and mozzarella.  

After it was done baking, I garnished it with shaved Pecorino cheese, and arugula and parsley drizzled with a bit of olive oil and red wine vinegar. 
But I had leftover pizza crust! 
 Oh no, what to do?!
 This one I used the same tomato sauce and sweet sausage, added red pepper and diced asparagus, and topped with chimichurri sauce!

I love chimichurri sauce!
I'll share my recipe soon.

 Pizza, pizza.

1 package refrigerated pizza crust
(I used Pillsbury Artisan Whole Grain Pizza Crust, rolled out and cut into a circle, worked lovely!)

Tomato Sauce recipe follows.

  1. Preheat oven to 500 degrees. Brush a cast iron skillet with a tsp of olive oil. 
  2. Press the pizza dough into the skillet, so it comes up the edges just about 1/2 inch.  
  3. Disperse the tomato sauce on the pie (you may not need entire tomato sauce recipe, I had about 1/4 cup leftover)
  4. Heat the cast iron skillet over medium high heat. Cook about 5 minutes.  Peek at the bottom of the crust, when it's beginning to turn a light golden color remove from heat. Don't wait until it's completely golden brown or it will burn in the oven.
  5. Top the pizza with whatever you desire.  I topped mine with sweet italian sausage, caramelized onion, and mozzarella.
  6. Bake about 6-8 minutes, until crust is golden brown and cheese is melted.
  7. Remove from oven and top with any garnishes desired (I topped it with shaved Pecorino, arugula, parsley). Enjoy!

Quick Tomato Sauce
3 tomatoes (can use canned crushed tomatoes if desired)
1 tbsp tomato paste
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 tsp to 1/2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes, depending how spicy you like

Use a vegetable peeler to peel the tomatoes. Cut out white core, cut into quarters, and place in large bowl.  Crush the tomatoes using a potato masher (or your hands if you're really into it).  Pour the crushed tomatoes in a strainer, use a spoon to smash them down and drain them of as much liquid as possible. Once drained, mix the crushed tomatoes with all other ingredients. That's it!

18 February, 2013

Persian Turkey Kofte Kebabs with Shirazi Salad

I love Middle Eastern flavors.  The spices, the flavor, the simplicity of the preparation.  This is one of my favorite meals, and it also happens to be a healthy, gluten free, paleo, low fat recipe. 

Popular in Iran, Turkey, Armenia, and other Middle Eastern countries, kofte kebabs are typically made with ground lamb meat and herbs like parsley and mint. These ground meat 'meatballs' are skewered and grilled.  There are endless amounts of variations in meats and herbs, and lentil and potato kofte can be made with no meat at all.
These kebabs are traditionally heavily seasoned with spices like coriander, cinnamon, turmeric, and allspice.  I used ground turkey to make them healthier, and spiced them up to disguise that they are not lamb or beef.  

I served these with my favorite Persian Shirazi Salad, which sounds fancy but is really a simple salad of tomatoes, cucumber, red onion, and mint. The cold shirazi salad is a perfect cooling complement to the spiced kebabs. 
Add plain rice and some grilled (or in my case broiled) green peppers, and you've got an exotic, healthy meal. 

Persian Turkey Kofte Kebabs with Shirazi Salad

1 lb ground turkey
4 cloves garlic, peeled, mashed with the flat side of knife, and minced
1 tsp kosher salt
3 tbsp grated onion
3 tbsp chopped fresh parsley
1 1/2 tsp Worcestershire 
1 1/2 tbsp ground coriander
3/4 tsp ground cinnamon
3/4 tsp turmeric
1/2 tsp allspice
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
fresh ground black pepper
Olive Oil
skewers - if using wood skewers, soak first. 
1 Green Pepper, seeds removed and cut into 6 large pieces

Shirazi Salad recipe follows.

Place everything except olive oil and green pepper (and skewers obviously) in a bowl and mix together. Let meat marinate in the fridge for an hour or all day if you have time. 

Form into 6 inch 'sausages.' If using metal skewers, coat in the skewers in olive oil so meat doesn't stick. Thread two sausages to a skewer through the two sausage ends.  You may need to adjust the sizes of your sausages according to the size of your skewers,  Keep them all the same size though. Throw the green pepper on the same pan if there's room, or a separate pan will do.

Broil on Hi for about 15-20 minutes, turning skewers and green peppers occasionally.  They are done when juices run clear, there is no pink, and outsides are evenly charred.

Shirazi Salad:
2 English Cucumbers
4 round tomatoes
1 medium red onion
1 tbsp dry mint or parsley (try to use mint if you have it)
1/2 cup fresh lime juice
1 tsp olive oil

Dice tomatoes, cucumbers, and red onions in a uniform small cube size.

Mix olive oil, lime juice, and dried mint (or parsley) in a bowl.
Pour over the vegetables.  Can be consumed immediately, but best if refrigerated for at least 2 hours and up to 2 days.

Serve with plain rice.  You can cook the plain rice in chicken or vegetable stock instead of water for extra flavor.  

My Burn Story and How to Avoid One Of Your Own

     It's no secret that I'm a spaz in the kitchen.  (Okay.. maybe not just in the kitchen...)  When I'm cooking, it's a tornado of swirls and spins and spills. When I picture myself in the kitchen, I'd equate my cooking style more to a ballet than a tornado. Perfectly choreographed with elegant twirls from whisking to stirring to kneading.  Perfectly poised,  it's an elegant affair.

     The Boyfriend sees it (and it really happens) more like an actual tornado.  Yesterday he compared my cooking style to a heavy metal song, going on to say that I cook like Sesame Street's Animal plays the drums- eyes crazed, relentlessly banging pots on counters, throwing sauce at walls, rubbing bechamel in my hair, laughing maniacally and destroying everything in my path.

     And in the end, with an extra large smile to compensate, I delusionally act like nothing happened and everything is great, and here is your meal!  Yay! It's delish! All worth it, right?!?!

     So it's not really a surprise when I dumped a pot of 400 degree boiling oil in my lap on Superbowl Sunday.  But it sure as hell was a shock.  I was making hush puppies and hit the handle of the pot after frying the last one. The pot goes down, hot oil spilling directly on both legs, and I'm instantly screaming. Ever been burned by oil splatters when cooking bacon?  Imagine dropping a WHOLE POT on your lap.  Immediately peeling off my jeans, socks, clothes, I'm running to the shower, screaming at The Boyfriend to Google what to do when you spill hot oil on your legs.  I'm insisting I don't need an ambulance- so strong and mighty am I- I can get through it.  I tell him to bring me a shot of vodka- I'll be fine.  I down the shot, try to stand, and realize my legs feel like they are ON FIRE.

     Now I've heard people say they felt like they were on fire from burns.  I have myself- from sunburn and minor burns in the kitchen.  And yes, they are no doubt painful.  But you don't understand the pain.. I learned later that the difference between burns from boiling water and hot water is this: water, while it burns your skin, rolls off your body. Oil doesn't roll off, it just continues burning layers of your skin, deeper and deeper.

     So as my legs are on fire, the Boyfriend realizes I'm both hysterical and crazy, and he calls an ambulance (thank God!)  It seems like they arrived in 5 seconds flat.  At this point, I am not questioning the need for an ambulance, I am begging for drugs to relieve some of the pain.  They bring up a full stretcher and so strong and mighty am I, I'm insisting I can walk, that this is all silly.  As I'm begging for drugs, cringing in excruciating pain.  What the heck is wrong with me?  I let them tie me up on the stretcher and they drive me to the University of Colorado hospital- which luckily happens to have one of the best burn clinics in the country.  Insert montage of doctors and drugs and hospital lights here.

     One couch bound week later here I am.  I have second degree burns on both legs and third degree burns on my right leg.  It's undecided whether I'll need surgeries or grafting, but I am optimistic my body will heal on its own.  I am so grateful the oil only hit my legs.  It could have been my face, my whole body.  And I am so unbelievably grateful that The Boyfriend was not in the kitchen with me, and I don't even want to consider what would have happened if a cat or dog was milling around underneath me, as they often are.

      I'm sharing my experience so you can learn from my mistake.  The same mistake I always make in the kitchen that finally caught up with me- moving with speed, not purpose.  If I had just taken a breath, instead of twirling around like a tornado (ballerina!).  You know that moment when something is burning and you run like hell to save it?  Two more seconds isn't going to do that much to your burned item, but it could save you a lot of pain.  Two seconds, where you breathe, form a plan.  Two seconds.

     In light of this event, I plan on being safer and more composed in the kitchen (I can already hear The Boyfriend chuckling in the background).  I'm going to share with you tips on keeping yourself and your loved ones safe in the kitchen.  These tips will focus on how to avoid injuring yourself while preparing meals. I won't be going into food safety.  To learn about proper cooking temperatures and general food safety, go to FoodSafety.gov

     I'm also going to share with you what to do if you do get burned, so you don't have to yell at your loved ones to Google it.  Keep in mind I am no expert in either field, I am sharing with you what I have learned in my own kitchen.  For more thorough medical information, visit The Mayo Clinic. For information on how to deal with cuts in the kitchen (or anywhere, really), visit WebMD.

10 Basic Kitchen Safety Tips
Alternate headline:
Things I Have Done That You Should Not Do

  1. Handles of pots on the stove should never be sticking straight out- it's too easy to hit the handle and knock the pot over (especially if you have kids running around).  Keep the handle tucked back safely over the counter.
  2. Keep oven mitts and towels away from the stove.  A good rule of thumb- never place a oven mitt or towel (or any paper product like paper towels) on top of the stove. Ever.  There's a counter right next to it. Place it there.  I think we've all placed something on top of a burner we forgot was hot.  I once tucked a towel hanging on the stove handle into the stove by mistake, which obviously caught on fire.  I've also placed an oven mitt too close to a hot skillet and it caught fire.  
  3. Set up everything you need beforehand.  Making a gourmet meal? Take out all the skillets and pots you need.  Having everything available eliminates that rush to find something in the heat of the moment.  That 'heat of the moment' moment is solely responsible for probably 90% of my kitchen accidents. 
  4. Plan where you will place hot things.  If you are baking cookies, or have a roast in the oven, it's going to need to go somewhere when it comes out. And if you're like me and the counter is full of other ingredients and things, you understand where I'm coming from.  In the past I've often taken a baking sheet out of the oven, juggling it in one hand, rearranging the counter with the other, as the heat of the baking sheet begins burning through the potholder.  This is just stupid.  And dangerous.  Designate a spot beforehand.  
  5. Never open a covered pot or the stove and immediately stick your face in there to check on your food.  Open, let some steam/heat out, and then check on it.  Water vapor (steam) burns more than boiling water because it is at a higher temperature.  Don't let your face find that out on it's own.
  6. Know your equipment.  Know how to use and clean your appliances.  Always unplug before disassembling or touching sharp or hot parts. Always know where your sharp parts are.  I leave everything assembled until I am ready to wash it- this means no blades from food processors or blenders hanging around my counter tops.  Don't use items with frayed cords, or extension cords.  
  7. Use appropriate sized pots and pans. Don't overcrowd or overfill a roasting pan you won't be able to lift out of the oven.  This goes for pots on the stove top too.  When stirring, stir away from your body.  You don't want to splatter your face with boiling pasta sauce. If you're scraping the bottom of the pan, scrap towards the back of the stove, not towards your body.
  8. Clean up spills promptly.  They might not seem like a big deal, but even a small spill on a counter can cause another slip or spill.  With hot items and knives around, we don't want that. 
  9. You should wear shoes. They will protect your feet.  I am guilty of not wearing shoes in the kitchen, as most of us are.  But you should know your feet will be safer from spills and falling knives. You should also pull back your hair so it doesn't catch on fire (or fall in food).
  10. Knives: 
    1. Always cut away from you (how silly would you feel in ER saying you stabbed yourself in the stomach). 
    2. Always use a cutting board.  To prevent a cutting board from slipping on your counter, get a rag wet, ring it out, and lay it flat on the counter.  Lay the cutting board on top.  This method is used in restaurant kitchens to prevent slips and cuts. NEVER continue trying to cut something on a slipping cutting board.
    3. Use sharp knifes. The duller the blade, the more force you must use to cut, the more danger you are in.  
    4. Don't try to catch a falling knife.  Let it fall.  Do try to move your feet out of the way.
    5. Don't store dirty knives in the sink or let them soak in a pot.  You may forget they are in there, or someone else may not know.  Not to mention soaking knives dulls the blade. Wash them immediately or leave them in a safe spot on your counter, blade faced away, until you are ready to wash.
    6. When interrupted, stop cutting and put the knife down.  Don't talk with it in your hand, using it to make gestures. Never place knives near the edge of the counter top.
    7. Watch how to safely handle knives here

How to Respond to Burns in the Kitchen
I am not a medical professional. 
Information obtained from the Mayo Clinic and WebMD
If you have been injured, consult a medical professional. 

     To determine the course of action, you must first figure out the extent you have been burned.  However one general rule of thumb: Never, EVER rub butter, egg whites, or any other substance on your burns.  You will run the risk of infecting it and making it worse.  Never use ice to cool down a burn either, it can cause additional damage to burned tissue, can shock your system,  and in the case of severe burns, cause a drop in body temperature resulting in hypothermia. 

     The three types of burns and steps for treatment are below.  Keep in mind that many factors weigh in on how a burn will affect you, such as the size of the burn, the area burned, the depth, the cause, and your age and general health.  When in doubt it never hurts to see a medical professional.
  1. First Degree Burn: The outer layer of the skin is burned and is red.  Some pain will accompany the burn. Sunburn is usually a first degree burn
    1. Treat as a minor burn. Run under cool running water.  Do not use ice. Rub soothing lotions on unbroken skin like aloe vera. 
    2. If the first degree burn covers a significant portion of your hands, feel, groin, buttocks, or joints, you may need immediate medical attention. Again, run under cool water.  If seeing a medical professional, do not rub ANYTHING on your burn- no creams, lotions, butter.  
  2. Second Degree Burn: This burn involves the top and second layer of your skin.  The skin will be red and blotchy, severe pain will be present, blisters will develop and swelling will occur. skin will blanch (turn white) when pressed down with a finger.  Never, ever break or drain a blister.  Increased chance of infection will occur.  
    1. If the area is smaller than 3 inches, it may be treated as a minor burn.  
      1. Run under cool water for 10 to 15 minutes. 
      2. Cover the burn with a sterile gauze pad to reduce chance of infection. Reminder: no ice, no butter, no egg whites.  Immediately using ointments and petroleum jelly may trap the heat and cause your skin to burn further. 
      3. Take over-the-counter pain medication if necessary, such as aspirin or Ibuprofen.  Drink extra water to help your burn heal. Not smoking or drinking alcohol is another way to help your burn heal faster. Especially not smoking. 
      4. Keep an eye on your second degree burn- if you see increased redness or pain, fever, swelling, or oozing it may be a sign of infection. Consult a medical professional. 
    2. If the area is larger than 3 inches, or covers a significant portion of your hands, feel, groin, buttocks, or joints, treat as a major burn and get medical help immediately. 
  3. Third Degree Burn: These are the worst burns.  They involve tissue damage and can even involve damaged fat, muscle, and bone. A third degree burn WILL need immediate medical attention. The area may look charred black or bone white.  You may see breakage in your skin (as if you've had large blisters that have broken). Third degree burns involve severe pain, redness and swelling, and will not blanch (turn white) when pressed.  Again, immediate medical attention will be necessary.
    1. Call 911.  While waiting for medical attention, do not remove burned clothing, but do remove the person from smoldering materials or heat.  For example clothing from a hot spill or smoldering clothes should be removed (anything that continues to burn skin).  If your clothes caught fire and are extinguished  do not attempt to peel your clothes off of the burn.  Allow a medical professional to safely do so. 
    2. If you have a large severe burn, do not immerse it in cold water. Doing so can result in hypothermia and/or shock.  You may cover the burn with a cool (but not cold!) clean cloth or sterile bandage.
    3. Check for circulation and breathing.  If there is none, begin CPR. 
    4. Elevate the burned part above heart when possible.
    5. Wait for medical attention. 

13 February, 2013

Red Chili Honey Butter Shrimp on Crispy Polenta Cakes

Red. Chili. Honey. Butter. Shrimp. 


This recipe was created very much by ingredients I happened to have on hand, which is the case of most of my recipes.  
The Boyfriend rated this meal 'pretty good,' which may not sound like a compliment but is actually the highest ranking on his scale, depending on the tone of his voice and facial expressions when he says it.  

The base of the dish is a simple roasted red pepper puree, topped with a spinach and basil salad. Crispy polenta cakes are placed on top, still hot, warming the spinach salad below, and it's all topped off with shrimp drizzled with the red chili honey butter sauce.  
I tried to get a bit of each flavor in every bite.  It's one of those dishes where you're mixing a bite of polenta in the red pepper puree, grabbing a piece of spinach soaked in the slightly spicy butter sauce.  And the shrimp.  Don't forget the shrimp!

This recipe was easy to make, and pretty fast (if you don't count the refrigeration time needed for the polenta- if you're looking to make this tonight, read through whole recipe!)
It's something I sort of whipped together  and when finished and I saw it on a plate, I thought to myself that this dish is worthy of a special occasion dinner. I thought I'd hurry up and share it with you, with Valentine's Day being tomorrow!  If you don't have a dinner planned yet, and you'll be working and want something you don't have to slave over but is still impressive.. here you go.  This is it. 

The list of ingredients seems long, but it's really just redundant since I've split up the four components of the dish.  You'll probably find most of these ingredients in your house already (as I did!).  

Red Chili Honey Butter Shrimp on 
Crispy Polenta Cakes

For the Shrimp:
24 shrimp, peeled, deveined, and tails removed
6 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp honey
1 tsp red pepper flakes
1 tbsl chopped parsley
1/2 cup white wine
3 tbls unsalted butter
salt and pepper

For the Spinach Salad:
Fresh spinach, tough stems removed
Fresh basil, leaves only
1 piece of cooked thick sliced bacon, diced (or use pancetta or prosciutto)
1 tsp extra virgin olive oil
1/2 tsp red wine vinegar

For Basic Polenta:
2 cups water
3/4 cup polenta (yellow cornmeal) **Make sure it's gluten free if needed
3/4 tsp salt
1 tbsp butter

For the Roasted Red Pepper Puree:
1 Red pepper
extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper


Spinach Salad:
Rough chop the spinach and basil together.  Toss together and add bacon.  In a separate bowl, combine olive oil and red wine vinegar.  Pour over salad and toss when ready to serve. 

Roasted Red Pepper Puree:
Broil the red pepper until all sides are black and charred.  Let cool until easy to handle, and peel the black skin off the pepper.  Remove the seeds and stem, and place pepper in a blender or food processor.  Puree.  Gradually drizzle a but of olive oil in and puree again.  Continue until puree reaches your desired consistency. I usually keep mine pretty thick.  Salt and pepper to taste. 

In a saucepot, heat water until boiling.  Add the salt, and gradually the polenta. Reduce heat to low, whisking often, and cook until polenta is tender (about 15 minutes). Turn off heat, add butter, and stir until melted.  

Polenta is ready to eat!  To continue on for crispy polenta, spread the polenta flat in a small pan or tray.  For this amount of polenta, I spread mine into a loaf pan (about 4 x 12).  Refrigerate until firm.  Once firm, remove from fridge and cut out desired sized circles with a cookie cutter.

Heat oil in a saute pan, and sauce the polenta cakes until golden crispy on all sides. 

Toss the shrimp in a bit of salt and pepper.  Heat a few drizzles of olive oil in a large skillet over high heat.  Add the shrimp.  Saute for a minute and add 1 tbsp of the butter.  Saute for a few minutes longer until shrimp is golden on both sides.  Reduce heat to medium and add the red pepper flakes, parsley, and garlic. Stir to coat. Pour in the wine and allow to reduce by half.  Remove the shrimp to serving platter, leaving the sauce in pan. Add the remaining 2 tbsp butter to the pan and the honey.  Stir until butter is melted.  Pour sauce over shrimp, allowing it to drizzle a bit on the polenta and spinach. 

To Assemble:
Spread roasted red pepper puree on base of plate.  Place handfuls of spinach salad in the middle, allowing the puree to hold the spinach in place. Place polenta cakes directly on top of spinach, and top with shrimp and Red Chili Honey Butter Sauce.  Enjoy!

A couple other favorite recipes:
Chicken Salad with Pecans, Grape, and Green Pepper

Wensleydale Apple Cranberry Tartlets with Thyme Shortbread Crust and Bourbon Glaze