Thursday, February 26, 2009

New Kitchen Toys and Pizza!!

I was the lucky recipient of several new kitchen toys for my birthday this year.
My parents got me a Tovolo Spatulart flexible spatula, which should be great for gently lifting bread out of bowls or folding it over while it rises. I have a stiff dough scraper that's incredibly handy, but this one can bend itself to the curve of a bowl. Super cool!

They also sent me a new oven thermometer that measures accurately in the 50-100 degree range, which I really needed for controlling bread rises etc.

And! the fun just doesn't stop, a new kitchen timer (because I'm awful at remembering to set the timer on the microwave).

Marge and Lauren were also super heroes and gave me a cast iron skillet and a pizza stone respectively. I'm thanking them by giving the pizza stone a whirl tonight and cooking up two (hopefully) super tasty pizzas.

Toppings for pizza 1: roasted garlic, olive oil, roasted red peppers, shallots, blue cheese

Toppings for pizza 2: red sauce (organic italian herb), kalamata olives, mushrooms, baby spinach (maybe?), and fresh mozzarella

I can't decide which pizza I want to put the spinach on... We'll see! Both pizzas are (of course) on sourdough crusts that are partially whole wheat. Pizza shells are by far my favorite way to utilize extra sourdough starter. I'll let everyone know how the kitchen gadgets and the pizza stone work out and maybe take some pictures of the pizzas.

Candace and Meg were also wonderful and (separately, because they both brilliantly knew I loved chocolate) gave me an amazing box of chocolates and a chocolate bar that I'll save for a separate post!


A bunch of folks came over for pizza one night so that I could try out my new pizza stone (thanks Lauren!!). I made the usual sourdough whole wheat crust (which always seems a little dense for me, but I haven’t yet played with the recipe).

We made two pizzas, each one with different toppings on each half. The first had a slightly spicy red sauce with mushrooms, olives, onions, spinach, and fresh mozzarella on one half and red sauce, onions, spinach, mozzarella and parmesan cheese on the other.The second had an olive oil and garlic “sauce”, shallots, mushrooms, roasted red peppers, garlic, parmesan and blue cheese on one half and the same on the other side with the addition of spinach and olives.

Both pizzas were delicious! But I discovered a little late in the process that I needed something to function as a pizza peel to get the pizzas in and out of the oven. I ended up using an upside down cutting board, which worked okay. My friend Candace (who is an amazing cook) has had success using just a piece of cardboard, so I may try that next time. The pizza stone definitely made the crusts crispier and kept the oven hotter. I’m excited about using it more in the future.

Monday, February 9, 2009


I really suck at updating this blog. I’d like to pretend that it’s because I’m too busy doing exciting things in real life, but that’s really not the case. I’m going to try to play catch up with a couple of posts here and then we’ll see if I can commit to updating once a week.

In January I was rifling through my spice cabinet and wondered if I was ever going to finish the giant bag of mustard seeds I bought for making Indian food. A couple of days later I was flipping through Savour magazine (my mom got me a subscription… but it’s unfortunately mostly geared toward meat eaters) and happened upon a recipe for Spicy Guinness Mustard. Convenient? I thought so. I didn’t actually have any Guinness, but we did have a keg of BBC Coffeehouse Porter in the fridge, so I thought I would just swap out the beer. Otherwise, I followed the recipe exactly. It was waaaay too spicy, both in terms of heat (and I like hot mustards) and in terms of the dominating flavor of the cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg and allspice. It also made a great deal more mustard than I had anticipated. So, I decided to experiment and add different things to the mustard to change the flavor, mostly just sweeteners. The results, according to my roommates and coworkers, were much improved. The mustard’s all gone now and they keep asking me to make more. I think I’m going to try champagne shallot mustard next. Anyway, here’s what I ended up with:

Spicy Guinness Mustard Take 2 (and 3 and 4)

12-oz. BBC Coffeehouse Porter
1 1⁄2 cups brown mustard seeds (10 oz.)
1 cup red wine vinegar
1 tbsp. kosher salt
1 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1⁄4 tsp. ground cinnamon
1⁄4 tsp. ground cloves
1⁄4 tsp. ground nutmeg
1⁄4 tsp. ground allspice

Divide 3 ways.

To the first batch I added 3 cloves of garlic (minced and blended with the rest of the mustard) and 1-2 T of really sweet balsamic vinegar (I don’t remember how much, I just did it to taste). This one was by far the favorite of the three.

To the second batch I added molasses (1-2 T), brown sugar (1 T) and some cinnamon

To the third I added honey (1-2 T) and apple cider vinegar (1-2 T). This was the second favorite I think.


The ingredients assembled. It was actually way easier than I thought it would be.

Mixing everything together.

How it looks from the side.

You can see how much of the liquid the mustard seeds absorbed. I unfortunately didn't take any pictures of the finished product.

The end!

Sunday, February 1, 2009


Perhaps surprisingly, I first had polenta in a college dining hall, which is definitely not the best place to try a new food. I might have eaten it when I was younger but I don’t really remember. Usually if we ate corn meal based things at home, my mom would slice the dough into rounds and fry it for breakfast, which made it much crispier than the polenta I later had in college. In the dining hall it was almost always topped with a black bean sauce and was actually one of the better things I’ve eaten at Smith. Prior to the consolidating dining/themed dining halls shift, vegetarian fare was often less than appealing. One of the few good things I can say about the many changes that have occurred at Smith in the past few years is that there is a great deal more vegetarian food available now than there was before.

Fast forward to now. I had a bunch of cornmeal sitting around the kitchen because I use it when I bake bread or make pizza, but that was about it. Then I was reading a food magazine and came across a recipe for creamy polenta. The creamy part didn’t appeal to me. I wanted something less like grits or cream of wheat and more like a patty, so I looked up some other recipes.

In the end I didn’t follow any one particular recipe, I just sort of put whatever I wanted in it, but it turned out well I think. All of the recipes called for what I thought was a huge amount of cornmeal (3+cups) and even after cutting back it still made more than I expected. I think I used a cup and a half of cornmeal, maybe 2 cups, not sure. I warmed a little bit of water in a pan on the stove and whisked the cornmeal into it. After it came to a simmer I stirred in some tomato sauce, garlic salt, and Italian seasoning. I brought it back to a simmer until the cornmeal was soft.

Next I spread it on a cookie sheet lined with wax paper. It was really thick and a little tricky to spread. Then it went into the fridge to solidify while I sautéed some garlic, onions, spinach, beans, and crushed tomatoes.

When the polenta had cooled I flipped it out onto a cutting board, sliced it up, and topped it with the veggie tomato sauté. I thought it was really delicious but my roommates weren’t so keen. It did look a little weird and to be honest the texture is kind of strange at first. It does well if you fry it after slicing it or bake it in the oven with a sauce on top. I ended up eating almost all of the polenta myself over the course of a week. I was a little tired of it at the end, but it wasn’t too bad. The polenta turned out to be incredibly versatile. I put an alfredo sauce on it once, more plain tomato sauce another time, and I tried my hand at a spicy black bean sauce that was reminiscent of (but hopefully much better than!) the one I first had at Smith.

All in all I think polenta’s definitely something I’ll try again but perhaps in a much smaller batch.