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On the Menu This Week

Photo by Jonny Valiant/Real Simple

I thought it might be fun to put our weekly menus up on the blog. Maybe it will give you some ideas for your own meal planning, or maybe you’ll just pester me for pictures and then I’ll actually remember to take them. [For example, on Friday night, I made this Balsamic-glazed Lamb Meatloaf with Cannelini Bean Salad, but since we didn’t get around to dinner until 10pm, by which time we were starving, no photo was taken. And last night I made Chili-Glazed Pork with Sweet Potato Hash, but I was home alone and remembered my camera after I was halfway done eating, which is not so pretty… so I swiped these pictures from the internet, and I am happy to report that both our meals looked and tasted as good as them.]

Photo by Con Poulos/Real Simple

In any case, here’s what we’re planning to eat in the near future. As I mentioned (I think?), we try to eat vegetarian at least 3 nights a week. To fill out the week, we do 2 fish meals (usually salmon and basa fillets), 1 poultry night (chicken, unless there’s a holiday), and 1 meat (lamb, pork, or beef). Rather than breaking this down by day, I’ll divide by type of meal. Recipes are linked where possible. (You’ll notice a lot of them come from Real Simple. They have great, interesting, easy recipes which include side dishes, so we look there a lot.)

Vegetarian
Three-Bean Chili with Spring Pesto
Southwestern Sweet Potato & Quinoa Salad
Chickpeas with Chard and Pan-Roasted Tomatoes

Fish
Salmon with Lemon-Cilantro Vinaigrette (a favorite that takes less than 20 minutes!)
Crispy Fish with Tomato & Leek Saute; Mixed Greens

Poultry/Meat
Lasagna or Tacos, depending on what I’m in the mood for
Cayenne Chicken with Avocado Salsa; Mashed Plantains with Leeks & Fresh Herbs

A little meal-planning analysis: chickpeas, leeks, tomatoes, avocados, and cilantro are all used in more than one recipe. I always try to use cilantro in more than one thing because the bunches at our grocery stores are HUGE. See my post from the other day here.

What are you cooking up this week?

The Secret’s in the Sauce

Actually, that’s a lie. The secret is high-quality, fresh ingredients. (Like the Papa John’s commercials say, “Better Ingredients. Better Pizza.” And, well, they are better than some. But still not especially great.) I like to keep my pizzas simple and fresh, which means I don’t put too many different things on and I try to get the best ingredients I can. Because I know you want these pizzas at your house, today I’m sharing recipes.

A disclaimer: I was in a terribly, crabby-ass mood yesterday, and pretty mad that I had to make dinner at all, let alone think about taking any pictures of it. So. I didn’t. And it doesn’t look great cold in the refrigerated foil packs I stored it in. So you will have to use your imaginations to picture what the Mediterranean & French (see my favorite toppings, below) pizzas I made last night looked like…

So, let’s start with the DOUGH. Here’s what you’ll need:
(this recipe taken from America’s Test Kitchen book Baking Illustrated, which everyone should own. It’s full of delicious science.)

1/2 cup warm water (about 110 degrees)*
1 packet or 2 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast
1 1/4 cups water at room temperature
2 tablespoons olive oil
4 cups flour (bread flour is better if you have it, but I never do, and it’s always fine)
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
Extra olive oil for coating the bowl
Extra flour for kneading

*If you don’t have a thermometer or you’re too lazy to use one (but, really, you’re making pizza from scratch so, come on, you are not too lazy…) you can stick your finger in to test it. It should be pretty warm but not scalding. Warmer than a baby’s bath, but not quite as warm as your shower. Hot enough to wash dishes in but not as hot as your tap will go.

1. Sprinkle yeast into the warm water. Do it slowly so each little bit has a chance to get wet. Stir gently if you must to do so. Let sit for 5 minutes while you gather the rest of the ingredients and get your mixer out.

2. Using paddle attachment on the lowest speed setting, combine salt and flour in the bowl of your standing mixer.

3. Once yeast is starting to bubble and smell yeasty, add room temperature water and olive oil to it and stir.

4. Again with mixer on the lowest speed, slowly pour yeast/water/oil mixture into the dry ingredients. When it starts to form a cohesive mass, switch to the dough hook. Let the mixer do all the work, and in about 5 more minutes the dough will be smooth and elastic.

5. Brush the inside of a large bowl with olive oil. Form dough into a ball and put it in the bowl, turning it over once to cover it in oil. Cover the bowl with a damp tea towel and set in a warmish place (65-70 degrees). Let rise until doubled in size, 1 1/2 to 2 hours.

(Now is a good time to go make your sauce and prep all your toppings. You’ll also want to put a baking stone in your oven, if you have one, and preheat to 500 or as hot as it goes. The secret to awesome pizza is a really hot oven, so do this sooner rather than later. I preheat my oven for a full hour.)

6. Get two pieces of parchment paper just larger than pizza size ready. We’ll use those to keep the pizza from sticking to the baking stone and for ease of getting it in and out of the oven. Divide the dough into two pieces. Roll each into a ball. Now, you’re going to shape this into a proper pizza crust. I like to make flatten the ball into a disc first. Then I make fists with both hands and put the dough on top of them. Then kinda punch in the general direction of the ceiling as you rotate the dough in a circle. It will thin and spread out. Keep going until it’s just about pizza-sized. If your ambitious, you can actually toss it in the air. It’s not that hard – really – and it’s super fun. Plus, you know, it helps the dough spread out. Then put it down on the parchment paper and press it the rest of the way into a circle. About 1″ from the edge, go ahead and press extra deep so that the edge rolls up and forms that rounded crust you’re looking for. (I realize now that this step really, really wants pictures. Next time. Promise.)

7. Almost done! Brush the crust with a little bit of olive oil, then use a fork to poke lots of holes all over the middle part. (Don’t put any holes in the outer crust edge.) Spread a thin layer of sauce (or not, if you like more) and then add your toppings. I recommend putting non-cheese toppings on first, and then covering them with the cheese. You can do it how you like, but note that putting any fresh herbs and greens (spinach, etc.) under the cheese will keep them from wilting and drying out as it bakes.

8. Using a pizza peel (ha! right, like you have one. I don’t.) or a rimless baking sheet (that’s more like it), transfer the pizza on its parchment paper to the baking stone. Parchment paper is oven-safe; it will turn brown while it cooks. DO NOT USE WAX PAPER. It will melt. If you don’t have parchment, sprinkle your prep surface and the baking stone with a thin layer of cornmeal to prevent sticking.

9. Bake until cheese is browned, about 10 minutes. Yep, that’s all it takes when your oven is good and hot. Using the baking sheet or pizza peel, transfer pizza and parchment to a cutting board.

10. Slice and serve with a big glass of wine!

Onto the SAUCE!
Admittedly, I cheated last night because I was grumpy, and I used a jar of tomato-basil marinara instead of whipping up my own. And seeing how long this post is already, I think I’ll save homemade sauce for another day.
Moving on…

Some of my favorite pizza TOPPINGS are:

Mediterranean
Lamb – ground, pre-cook until it’s about halfway done; I like to shape it into tiny balls
Feta – fresh from the deli is the way to go
Red Onion
Oregano

French
Ham – I get deli ham and ask for one or two super-thick slices, and then I cube it
Gruyère – shred directly onto pizza
Shallots – yum! I love shallots on lots of things, and pizza is no exception
Thyme

Traditional Margherita
Tomato (sliced) – I prefer Roma, but if you have access to garden fresh tomatoes of any kind, definitely use those!
Basil – fresh, whole leaf, not the stuff you sprinkle from a jar. It makes a HUGE difference!
Mozzarella – best fresh from the deli, still in the liquid, rather than the little ‘gourmet’ packaged kind

Veggie Lovers – you can use any veggies you like; here are some suggestions
Spinach – I like baby spinach for this
Artichoke Hearts
Tomatoes
Arugula – sounds weird, tastes good
Bell peppers
Mushrooms – I hate mushrooms and I pick them off, but other people seem to enjoy them.
Fresh Herbs – whatever you have on hand; oregano, basil, thyme, and parsley are all good

Hawaiian
Ham – I like Canadian bacon style or deli ham
Pineapple – I like the rings as opposed to chunks, you can make a pretty pattern with them on your pie

Week in Review: Lots of food, not a lot of pictures.

So. We were pretty good about planning our menu and sticking to it. However, we didn’t do so well with remembering to take pictures. Here’s a little summary of how the week turned out, food-wise.

Thursday: The Zucchini Tagliatelle was a tasty, light, crisp salad.

Zucchini Tagliatelle with Mint, Cucumber, and Lemon (click for recipe)

Fresh, well-seasoned, and a perfect thing to eat on a hot summer night, especially as it requires no hot oven. A little bit more time-consuming than we had anticipated, but worth it.

Friday: We were going to make a Roasted Shrimp and Peach salad, but I ended up having to work until about 8:30pm, so I ordered some Thai food and Julia ate pasta. Not a day for culinary masterpieces, at least in our house.

Saturday: We were back in the game with another favorite recipe from Real Simple, Lemon-Oregano Lamb Chops with Orzo. This is an easy recipe to make, but tastes very indulgent – I think because lamb kinda always tastes indulgent, doesn’t it?


Lemon-Oregano Lamb Chops with Orzo (click for recipe)

The orzo and tomato is a really nice complement to the lamb. Also – this was the first time we made it with fresh (rather than dried) oregano, and it was really, really good.

Sunday: I hit the farmers’ market early in the morning hoping to score some fresh strawberries and basil for my first ice cream experiment, and hopefully something for dinner. I came out with some red rubin basil and a pint of cherry tomatoes, but no strawberries were there to be had. So I picked some up from the grocery store and headed home.

We made a Greek Salad with Orzo and Black-Eyed Peas, from this recipe. I cheated a little bit and used the leftover orzo from the lamb chops in this salad, since both recipes had it paired with tomatoes, lemon juice, and pepper. It turned out really well. One thing about this recipe is that we had to hit up a chain store (Jewel/Dominicks) to get the canned (i.e. already cooked) black-eyed peas, as our favorite neighborhood markets only carried the bags of beans that need overnight soaking and cooking and we are far too lazy for that. I personally thought this salad was delicious – another easy, light summer meal. We ate it for lunch and then again for dinner. Julia was not too keen on the black-eyed peas, so we may use a different kind of bean if we make it again, but I personally loved them. I think it was the first time for both of us tasting black-eyed peas.

Enough about healthy food though – we need to talk about ice cream. On Friday, the ice cream maker attachment for my beloved Kitchen Aid mixer arrived, and we used this recipe from Scott over at The Improvised Chef [which if you aren’t reading and you enjoy food, you should be. go on, I’ll wait.] It was easy to do, and I’d bet even if you never made ice cream before you’d have no trouble churning this out.

Very, very yummy finished product:

Which brings us to Monday. Now if you’ll remember on Friday we didn’t make the shrimp. So we had that, and some leftover orzo. (Seriously, one pound is a *lot* of orzo. This is, in fact the *third* meal we’ve used that one batch in.) We also had some Belgian endives that we bought for a recipe which looked like it would be yummy but probably not enough food for a whole dinner. Which led to Julia making up this delightful dish, which paired the shrimp, endives, and orzo with pine nuts, dijon mustard, and a little bit of red wine vinegar.

And that wraps up the week.

here come the brides


First, we got married. In Chicago. [July 5, 2010]

And held our simple, but lovely reception at RoPa Restaurant, where they served our guests a 3-course family-style meal, with plenty of wine to share…

Fried Calamari, RoPa Salad, Chicken “Chops” with roasted potatoes, Baked Tilapia with roasted tomatoes and seasonal vegetables, Penne with artichokes, olives, and feta in a creamy tomato sauce

…and where we also ate this magnificent cake (made and accidentally squished by Cindy)

Top tier: vanilla almond cake with fresh summer berries and pastry cream
Middle tier: devil’s food cake with dark chocolate-espresso whipped cream
Bottom tier: pumpkin cake with ginger buttercream


Then we got married again. Legally. In Boston. [July 19, 2010]

Naturally, we ate again!

This time, we chose to splurge on a little French restaurant, Bistro du Midi, where for the first time we ate somewhere where professional chefs and true “foodies” would love the food just as much as we did.  We started out with a bottle of champagne (compliments of the restaurant – we did just get married, after all!), then had some appetizers of mussels, foie gras, and salad.  After much deliberation on the choice of wine, we were finally on to our main courses…


Seared Duck Breast, Swiss Chard, Gnocchi, Black Olives


Grilled Rack of Lamb, Panisse Croquette, Green Olives and Fava Beans


And our friend Rosita had a Ribeye special with Cremini, Chantarelle, and Portobello Mushrooms

…and also some desserts, which we scarfed down so fast we completely failed to photograph them. Cindy had Rhubarb Rose Crumble with Vanilla Bean Ice Cream, and Julia had a Lemon Tart with Fresh Berries and Basil Ice Cream. Both were amazing. (Hence, the lack of pictures due to complete focus on eating.)

But this blog is just as much about our cooking adventures as our eating-out adventures.  In fact, so far this year we have eaten out more rarely than ever before, since our tastes have made us much more discriminating.  Plus, we love to cook, and have become pretty good at it, too.

So now that our wedding and mini-honeymoon are over, there are daily occasions to cook and eat great food.

And so begins our journey.