Monday, January 31, 2011

Best Pizza To Date

This weekend I made the best homemade pizza (to date)...and by that I mean its the best pizza I've made thus far, although if asked nicely, I wouldn't hesitate to date this pizza. It was that good.

It seemed like it'd been forever since I made pizza at home - sure, I've been eating lots of pizza, but making it is half the fun. I didn't want to make just any old pizza...I wanted to try something new. So I came up with this concoction, and let me tell you, it was amazing!

I used pizza dough from Trader Joe's and layered the following:
  • slathered dough with Sweet Baby Ray's BBQ Sauce (original)
  • thin layer of light mozzarella cheese
  • pieces of grilled chicken (that had been cooked in BBQ sauce)
  • caramelized onions
  • chunks of fresh pineapple
  • layer of extra sharp cheddar cheese
  • fire roasted diced tomatoes

Being the control freak that I am (and in all fairness, when it comes to food, so is Pat) we each decorated our own half of the pizza to our exact specifications. Pat also added some bacon to his half. We cooked this on the new pizza stone Santa brought for Christmas (love this!) for about 17 minutes at 400 degrees.

Before cooking:

And after, Pat carefully taking this baby out of the oven:

I think there should be a Pizza Genius award, and I'd be the winner this week. All of these flavors were perfect together! The BBQ sauce was great with the extra sharp cheddar cheese, caramelized onions are always a great addition to any meal, and pineapple on pizza used to be my favorite as a kid, and was so great on this! The fire roasted diced tomatoes added a little spiciness, which I love. 

The pizza stone worked well - we were able to get a nice crispy crust and bottom of the pizza while cooking the toppings perfectly (otherwise I think the bottom would have been soggy from all of the toppings we added). With pizza stones you use corn meal instead of flour on the surfaces, which I think also contributed to the great texture.

On Saturday night we had plans to have dinner at my mom's house, and I'd offered to bring an appetizer. At about 3pm I realized that I hadn't planned anything to make and didn't have enough time to go to the store and cook something before leaving. So instead I turned to a well-known cooking genius, Miss Ina Garten herself! My mom gave me her Barefoot Contessa Back to Basics cookbook a few years ago for Christmas. After flipping through a few pages, I found a recipe that I had all of the ingredients for - the Cape Cod Chopped Salad.

I toasted some walnuts...

Zested and squeezed an orange...

Made some dressing...

And threw together the rest of the ingredients to make this salad:

Salad with dressing and extra add-ins:

Salad Recipe (original recipe by Ina Garten)
I made a few changes based on my own personal preferences...

  • 5 pieces center cut bacon, cooked and chopped
  • 12 ounces organic mixed greens
  • 1 large Gala apple, peeled and diced
  • 1/2 cup toasted walnut halves, coarsely chopped
  • 1/2 cup dried cranberries
  • 6 ounces extra sharp cheddar cheese, in small cubes
  • 3 tbsp apple cider vinegar
  • 1 tsp grated orange zest
  • 2 tbsp freshly squeezed orange juice
  • 2 1/2 tsp Dijon mustard
  • 2 tbsp maple syrup
  • 1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 2/3 cup olive oil
To toast the walnut halves - cook in a dry skillet on medium-low for about 10 minutes, stirring often, until slightly browned. 

I put all toppings for the salad in separate bags and assembled when I got to my mom's house.

For the dressing I simply put all ingredients together in a measuring cup, then transferred to a clean bottle for transport. When ready to serve the salad, I shook dressing until well combined.

*Note - this recipe makes a very generous serving size of the dressing. Between five of us we probably used less than half of the bottle.

This salad was very good - it combined many things that I love. The dressing was light and citrusy- would be perfect for a summer picnic (or when you want to be in denial about the 3 feet of snow outside).

Jim grilled dinner outside, despite the snow. I was hoping to catch some pictures of him in action (the snow was as high as the opening to the grill) but we got there too late. He made steak tips and tons of delicious roasted vegetables.

My delicious dinner:

My mom made apple crisp and pumpkin pie for dessert. I just realized that I don't have a picture of these, but I had some of both, and they were fantastic. The apple crisp had a great topping that was the perfect crispness (many I've had have been soggy, but this was anything but). 
Sunday morning was my long run of the weekend - I planned to run twelve miles. The funny thing about running is that no matter how much or how often you run, you're always going to have your off days. Sometimes a two mile run seems like torture and the next day you can run ten miles easily. Well, yesterday I wasn't really feeling the run. I'd say that part of it was due to the fact that I was on the treadmill for yet another long run, which isn't very exciting - and its a lot easier to quit running on a treadmill in the gym with your car parked outside than it is when you're out on the road and have no other choice but to keep running. After mile four I was dying - I just didn't have my head in the right place. I wanted to quit, but knew that I'd be so mad at myself if I did. I remembered an article my mom printed for me from The New York Times over a year ago, and a training article I read in Runner's World Magazine several months ago - there was an idea about walking 1 minute for every mile you run. I never tried this method - to be honest, I felt like it was cheating in some way. But when I couldn't muster up the miles yesterday, I tried it out. And guess what? It worked. After running the first four miles, I started running a mile and then walking a minute, and kept repeating. With this method I was able to run ten miles - it wasn't the twelve I'd planned on, but it was much better than the four I almost quit after. I'm really happy I tried this and was able to get out another six miles- I know I would have been really beating myself up over it if I'd quit at four. It also made my chocolate milk, apple, and leftover pizza that much more satisfying when I finished!

Friday, January 28, 2011

Big Night

At about noon yesterday I realized something quite exciting...that night was the first night I didn't have plans, have to study or work on essays in weeks! I had absolutely nothing to do! Sometimes when you feel like you're constantly running from one thing to another (I feel this way often) it is so nice to have a night with absolutely nothing planned. But of course, being the type-A that I am, I immediately started planning my night. Pat would be gone until late evening because he had several meetings, I was out of work at 3:30 because I'd gotten in so early, so that left hours of time to myself. How will I entertain myself? A couple years ago the answer to that question would have been Thirsty Thursday! But now, all I wanted to do was cook! I had my appetizer, entree and dessert planned by the time I left work. I made it back to Nashua in record time, stopped at Trader Joe's to stock up on some ingredients, and then hit the gym for a six mile run. 

I got home at 6:45 energized, starving, and sweaty. After showering, I got to work in the kitchen.

Tonight's Menu:
Appetizer: Broccoli Hummus with Baked Pita Chips and Carrots
Entree: Tofu and Mushroom Marsala
Dessert: Salted Oatmeal Walnut Chocolate Chip Cookies

Yes, that's a lot of food to make for myself and eat myself, but I'd managed to work up quite the appetite on the ride home and treadmill.

Broccoli Hummus

I've been meaning to make hummus for a while now that I have a food processor, but hadn't gotten around to it. For this I used all of the typical ingredients of hummus, but added broccoli, halved the oil, and didn't use tahini (Trader's didn't have any and I didn't feel like going on a quest for it). Pat and I are a little bit obsessed with broccoli and have it almost every night with dinner. I thought that adding broccoli to my hummus would be a fun new way to incorporate it into a meal.

This is so easy to make - just throw all of your ingredients into the food processor and continue to process until it reaches the desired consistency (several minutes).

  • 2 cups raw broccoli
  • 15 ounce can garbanzo beans (chick peas)
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • juice of 1/2 lemon
  • salt and pepper to taste (I didn't use any, didn't think it needed it)
I also made some whole wheat pita chips to have with the hummus.  This came out to be so delicious! The garlic and lemon add a lot to the taste of this dip - it was a wonderful snack to have as I made dinner, and good for you, too! I can't wait to use this in a sandwich this weekend.

Tofu and Mushroom Marsala

I've never made Marsala before, but Pat has made me chicken Marsala several times and I've always loved it. When I saw a recipe for tofu Marsala I couldn't wait to try it! This meal came together very quickly but tasted as though someone had spent hours in the kitchen (well I did, but this dish only took about 30 minutes from start to finish!).

In a large pan heated on medium, saute minced garlic in olive oil until fragrant.
Add bell pepper, oregano and salt. Saute for about 5 minutes.
Turn the heat to high and add Marsala and tofu, cook for 4 minutes (I wanted the wine to reduce more so it would be less liquidy, so I cooked about 5-6 minutes).
Turn heat to medium-high and add mushrooms and tomatoes. Cook 5 minutes.
Turn off the heat and stir in basil.
Serve in bowls with freshly grated Parmesan on top, and crusty bread on the side (I bought Ciabbata rolls from Trader Joe's that were perfect for this).
This was so good - definitely one of the best tofu dishes I've made. I love the basil and Parmesan cheese with the tofu, and all of the flavors blended really well together. As I said, I wouldn't have thought to make tofu in a Marsala dish, but it worked so well!

This is from Serious Eats - their recipe serves 4 but I cut mine down to serve 2.

  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 red bell pepper, chopped
  • 1/4 tsp oregano
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 cup Marsala cooking wine
  • 1/2 package firm light tofu, pressed and cut into strips
  • (1/2) 15 ounce can diced tomatoes (I used Trader Joe's fire roasted tomatoes for some spice)
  • 5 ounces button mushrooms, sliced
  • 1/4 cup chopped basil
  • Parmesan cheese (to grate on top)
  • Crusty bread or pasta to serve with
  1. In a large pan, heat oil over medium heat. Add garlic and saute until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add bell pepper, oregano, and salt. Saute 5 minutes.
  2. Turn heat up to high. Add Marsala and tofu and cook 4 minutes, so wine reduces a little (I cooked 5-6 minutes so it reduced more).
  3. Turn heat to medium-high. Add mushrooms and tomatoes. Cook 5 minutes. Turn off heat and stir in basil. Serve in bowls with crusty bread or pasta.

Salted Oatmeal Walnut Chocolate Chip Cookies

I love anything that combines salty and sweet, so I had a good feeling about these cookies. They did not disappoint! Though they look more like little dough balls than cookies, the taste is outstanding...and its impossible to eat just one. I also love that this recipe uses whole wheat flour instead of white...and that there's oats in them!

In a medium bowl, mix oats, flour, and baking powder.
In a smaller bowl, mix butter, brown sugar, and syrup.
Add egg and vanilla - mix thoroughly.
Combine dry and wet ingredients.
Roll dough into balls. Place on baking sheet covered in parchment paper and sprinkle with sea salt (don't be shy about the salt!). Bake at 350 degrees for about 12 minutes.
I wish I'd flattened these a bit before cooking because they maintained their ball shape. I'd forgotten the difference between brown and white sugar - the white sugar allows the cookies to spread, whereas brown sugar usually maintains the original shape. So though the shape isn't perfect, the taste was!! These go so well with a cold glass of milk. For you nut lovers out there - definitely include nuts if you have them. The added crunch is great!

  • 1 cup rolled oats
  • 3/4 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1/4 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup dark brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup maple syrup
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/4 tsp baking powder
  • 1 egg
  • 3/4 cup chocolate chips
  • 1/4-1/2 cup chopped walnuts (I used 1/4 cup because I only added to half the batter, use 1/2 a cup if adding to all of batter)
  • sea salt
  1. In a medium bowl, mix oats, flour, and baking powder. 
  2. In a smaller bowl, mix butter, brown sugar, and syrup. Add egg and vanilla - mix thoroughly.
  3. Combine wet and dry ingredients.
  4. Fold in chocolate chips and nuts.
  5. Roll dough into balls. Place on baking sheet covered in parchment paper and sprinkle with sea salt. Bake at 350 degrees for about 12 minutes.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Stress Eating

Monday was kind of a mess. Work was crazy and stressful, and I had a million things to do on Monday night. I packed my gym bag so I could go straight to the gym from work, but instead of running off my stress and anxiety, I went a different route. I stopped at the grocery store and bought a giant bag of chips. I went home and started working on the three essays I needed to get done, all the while chomping on handfuls of greasy chips. I didn't stop there. In between mouthfuls of chips I'd throw in a Lindt truffle or two. You know, to get all the sweet and salty calories I could. Then I heard footsteps coming up the back stairs and a key in the lock...Pat was home. Embarrassed and ashamed, I shoved my bag of chips in the cabinet behind me and  tried to look buys by staring intently at the few meager sentences I'd typed in between mouthfuls. I'm a psycho. Most of the time when stressed or upset, a good run will make me feel a hundred times better. Sometimes I choose a different route (i.e. chips and chocolates).  I think Pat had an inkling of the stress eating* that had taken place - I saw him eye the pile of chocolate wrappers I'd left by my laptop. That was a bad idea. Not only is it hard to type with greasy fingertips, but it also made me feel way worse than I did before. Luckily Pat saved me from myself and I was able to get down to business on my essays.
*It seems like people are either one way or another - when they're stressed/anxious/upset they either eat everything in sight or they can't even think about food. Obviously, I'm a stress eater (terrible!) and am jealous of people who can't even stand the thought of food in times of stress, like Patrick. Which way are you?

Hours later I was (mostly) done with my essays and it was time to make some 7 Layer Bars for Chrissy. Chrissy has helped me out with some stuff recently, so I wanted to make these for her in time for when I saw her on Tuesday night. I'd never made these before, but I know they're a favorite of Chrissy's. I found a recipe here and used their servings calculator to adjust the recipe to make 12 squares instead of 36. Then I swapped a few ingredients and adjusted the amounts as I thought sounded good.
Turn oven on to 350 degrees and put butter in your pan, and pan in the oven.
While the butter melted in the oven, I prepared all of my layers:
Pat made a good point - there are 5 layers here, so why are these called 7 layer bars? Do the butter and sweetened condensed milk count as layers? I really don't think that should count!

After melting the butter in the oven I second-guessed myself, and decided to use a larger pan. In hindsight, these would be better if they were thicker, so use a smaller dish if you  have one! Pat did the dirty work for me.
After coating the bottom and sides of the pan, spread the crumbs evenly on the bottom.
Layer chocolate chips:
Layer butterscotch chips:
Layer chopped peanuts:
Pour condensed milk to cover all layers:
Cover in coconut!
(I left a little corner uncovered so Pat could try these. He doesn't like coconut! Can you imagine?!)

Bake until edges are golden brown. I baked these for 15 minutes, but if you're making thicker bars you'll want to bake longer.
Now resist temptation to dig in...these will be impossible to cut until they're completely cool.

Go ahead and let your helper play with the remaining ingredients. Haha that stuff is sticky!
Because these are thin, the finished product looked more like a 7 Layer Mountain than 7 Layer Bars.

But that didn't hurt the taste! Chrissy said that the flavor is amazing and she loves them! She has requested time I will use a smaller pan so they are easier to cut and eat!

Makes 12 bars

  • 2 tbsp and 2 tsp butter
  • 1/2 cup graham cracker crumbs
  • 1 tbsp brown sugar
  • 1/3 cup chocolate chips
  • 1/3 cup butterscotch chips
  • 1/2 cup roasted and salted peanuts, chopped
  • 1/2 cup low fat sweetened condensed milk
  • 1/3 cup shredded coconut
  1. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Put butter in loaf pan and put pan in oven to melt. Once melted, swirl to coat bottom and sides.
  2. Toss graham cracker crumbs with brown sugar. Spread crumbs evenly on bottom of pan. Layer chocolate chips, butterscotch chips, and peanuts. Pour sweetened condensed milk evenly over nuts. Sprinkle coconut on top.
  3. Bake until edges are golden brown. If using a loaf pan - about 25 minutes. If using a 9x9 pan - about 15 minutes.
Last night Chrissy and I met up at You're Fired - a paint your own pottery place. I'd been wanting to go (because I'm a dork) and it was nice to do something other than drinking and eating...although we also did that because Tuesday and Thursday nights are Ladies Night - which means females only (no dudes and no kids) and you can bring food and drinks to have as you paint! Such a cool idea! We didn't really plan ahead, so we stopped at the store to pick up some brie, crackers, beer, wine, and candy. I didn't remember to bring a glass for my wine, so I bought a little 4-pack of mini bottles and drank my wine straight from the bottle. So classy.

Chrissy painted a scene from Harold and the Purple Crayon on her mug, which came out great!

Chrissy took some pictures using a cool new app on her iPhone...

This morning I got up super early to get in a speed training run before work. I alternated 2 minutes of running as fast as I could with 3 minutes of running at 10mph for 55 minutes. Then Pat met me for some back and bis work and I threw in some squats for good measure.

Happy Wednesday! Everyone keep your fingers crossed that the big storm tonight blows over. I'm ready for spring!