Pizza Margherita

A pizza margherita with a slice taken out

Today’s Musings:
When you press the “start” button, you expect electronics to…start.  So, when something doesn’t, like your computer, it can be unsettling.  At first, you don’t panic. You check the cords and the outlet. You remove the battery, wait ten seconds, replace it, press the “start” button again and nothing happens – at all.  Frustrated at this point, you try pressing the “on” button multiple times (although this tactic never works) then try holding the button down, yet you are still met with a black screen – not a blue screen of death, not a beep, not a whir. Nothing.  Now, you are frightened.

You know you should backup your files on a regular basis.  You know your laptop has been unreliable in recent months, and yet you just assume it’ll turn on nightly, as needed.  You’ve been contemplating buying a new one (an expense you don’t really need right now), and rue the realization that you should have spent the dough (cost be damned!).  You envision the hundreds of food photos saved only there and the photos of you with family and friends, long dead.  You recall your resume and the retirement documents you worked on diligently and saved nowhere else.  You are acutely aware of the hours your fingers have massaged the keyboard this past month –  first finishing a 60-page memoir on love that hadn’t been touched in 11 years and, more recently, the beginnings of a book and the 16,000 words you have typed already – and you thank providence that you at least backed up both on a jump drive last week – only some of the work will be lost.  You think about the list of book club selections for 2021 only saved on the desktop and multiple half-finished blog posts and recipes that are irretrievable.  You feel sick.

You hope it’s merely the AC adaptor, order a new one, and deflate when you see it’s not scheduled to arrive for 12 days.  Can you wait 12 days?  If not the adaptor, the next step is the computer hospital, but they weren’t much help on the last visit, just a few weeks ago.  You had plans to write this weekend.  It’s rainy, it’s cold, and your plans for the day included a log in the fireplace, candles scattered on your desk, a sleeping kitty on your lap and words, words, word.  You try to remain calm; you adjust your weekend plans for more time in the kitchen.  If not writing memoirs, then perfecting recipes it is.

You promise yourself that if you can, just one last time, retrieve your files, you’ll buy that new laptop immediately.  You write all these thoughts out longhand – your hopes, your frustrations, your disappointments, your fears, and realize you just need to put your panic aside and move forward.  12 days cannot come soon enough.

(Update:  The AC adaptor did the trick – sort of – it still took me five tries to boot up.  I need a new laptop – and a backup drive – today. )

Today’s Recipe:
With unexpected kitchen time on my hands, and a 25-lbs. bag of “OO” flour reaching its expiration date, I decided to try my hand at a simple Pizza Margherita.  Many of you probably have a pizza stone – I don’t buy a lot of kitchen gadgets, including a pizza stone, so I don’t mention one here, but if you have one, please feel free to use it – it’s only going to help.


PIZZA MARGHERITA

  • Servings: One 14” Pizza
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The perfect pizza margherita is crisp along the outside and, when you cut a slice, the tip just slightly dips down.


Ingredients

  • ¾ cup water, 105⁰ – 110⁰
  • 2 ¼ teaspoons (1 package) active dry yeast
  • 1 ¾ cups “OO” flour, divided
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons olive oil
  • 2 large garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 1 14-oz. can whole San Marzano tomatoes in juice, chopped*
  • 1 Tablespoon tomato paste
  • 6 oz. fresh mozzarella, cut into ¼” slices
  • 6-10 fresh basil leaves, torn if large

Directions

  1. In a liquid measuring cup, sprinkle the yeast over the warm water and set aside for about 5 minutes.
  2. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a dough hook, combine yeast mixture, 1¼ cups flour, salt, and olive oil. Mix ingredients on low until fully combined. Add additional flour until dough pulls away from the side of the bowl. On medium-low, knead the dough until smooth, soft and elastic, about 8-10 minutes. Form into a ball, place into an oiled bowl and cover with plastic wrap in a warm draft-free area until doubled in size, about 1 hour.
  3. Meanwhile, in a medium saucepan, cook garlic in a little oil until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add tomatoes with juice and tomato paste. Simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until thickened and reduced, about 30 minutes. Season with salt and chill in the refrigerator until ready to use.
  4. Place a baking sheet on the bottom rack of the oven and preheat to 500⁰ F. Scrape dough onto a large piece of lightly-floured parchment. Pat, stretch, or roll dough into a 14” circle on parchment.
  5. Spread sauce over dough, leaving a 1” border. Arrange cheese on top, leaving a 2” border (cheese bubbles and spreads). Slide pizza on parchment onto preheated baking sheet. Bake until pizza is crisp and golden and cheese is bubbling and browning in spots, about 15 minutes. With a spatula, look underneath the pizza to ensure it is well browned. Transfer pizza to cutting board, cool 5 minutes, sprinkle with basil leaves, slice and serve.

* You may be tempted to pick up a can of diced tomatoes to save yourself the work.  I don’t recommend it. Diced tomatoes contain calcium chloride, which means they won’t break down like regular tomatoes.  They’ll retain their bite and shape even when cooked and we are not looking for a chunky tomato sauce.

Tarte Flambée (Flammekueche)

Today’s Musings:
During my semi-regular pilgrimage to the Mecca known as Trader Joe’s, I follow a specific ritual.  After anointing my red shopping cart handle with sanitizer, I weave my way through each aisle, starting at the first station, flowers and fresh vegetables, and completing my procession at wine and cheese, before ultimately paying my tithe to the cashier.  In the frozen food aisle, alongside the frozen pizzas, without fail, I slightly genuflect, reaching into the freezer to pull out one, if not two, Tarte Flambée. 

I discovered Tarte Flambée in 2006 while visiting my grandfather’s hometown of Strasbourg, FR.  Strasbourg and the surrounding Alsace Lorraine region is unlike any other in France.  Situated along Germany’s border, Strasbourg has, at certain points in history, been annexed to both France and Germany, a result of various wars.  In fact, my grandfather considered himself German, while his sister, Lucette, was decidedly French. Oui?  The official language is French, but the indigenous language spoken is Alsatian, which is its own beast – a southern German dialect influenced over time by French. So, although part of France, they don’t really speak French, the city doesn’t look French, and their food in undeniably heartier than most French fare. 

On arriving in Strasbourg, our hotel proprietor recommended we dine at a local neighborhood winstub.  Winstubs, as you can probably guess by now, are distinctly Alsatian – and unlike any French bistro I’ve frequented.  These charming little wine bars are snuggled within old, half-timbered buildings, and chocked full of Alsatian charm – rustic tables, low ceilings, wood-burning stoves, and comfortable, cozy nooks where you can relax, sip a local wine and order something to nosh. 

This particular winstub was brimming with locals; we being the only foreigners.  The limited menu catered to our adventuresome palates.  I recall braised rabbit, choucroute, foie gras, and something called Tarte Flambée.  Neither my tablemates nor I were familiar with Tarte Flambée and asked our server to explain – of course, we don’t speak Alsatian (or German or French), and she didn’t speak English, but from what we could gather through hand gestures and vigorous head-nodding (and after a trip to the kitchen to show us the ambiguous “herb” she managed to translate),  we discovered Tarte Flambée is similar to a crispy thin-crust pizza (although any Alsatian would slap me for even mentioning pizza) with a creamy sauce of crème fraîche and fromage blanc (a fresh cow’s milk cheese), sparingly sprinkled with lardons (thin slices of slab bacon), and onion,  grilled hot and fast for a crispy, cracker-like crust, and sometimes garnished with “herbs” (typically parsley or chives).  Oh heaven!  We devoured our first Flambée in minutes and then proceeded in the next week to make our way through Alsace Lorraine ordering Tarte Flambée whenever we had a chance, usually for lunch with a salad or pâté.  During our travels, we happened upon a few variations which included adding a sprinkle of local Munster cheese (la gratinée), or thinly sliced mushrooms (la forestière), although I prefer the simpler version. 

Trader’s offers a pretty damn good frozen facsimile in a pinch and I enjoy one almost weekly.  Eschewing the directions on the box, I bake the frozen (and therefore stiff) version directly on the oven rack (no sheet pan) and tend to cook it in a bit longer than recommended (I’m aiming for a crisp crust from edges to middle).  The serving suggestion of 2-4 people makes me giggle – serving for one is more like it. 

Today’s Recipe:
When I have more time – or I don’t want to trek to Trader’s, I use the following recipe.  The trick to an authentic Tarte Flambée is “restraint” which, for anyone who follows this blog, knows isn’t a strength of mine.  However, if you pile on the bacon and onions and add tons of cheese, you’ll never get the crisp crust holy grail you are looking for.  Also, I’ve simplified the recipe a bit – substituting the fromage blanc for 100% crème fraîche.  Finally, unlike pizza, this crust doesn’t require yeast, making it quicker to throw together.


Tarte Flambée

  • Servings: One 12” tarte
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Tarte Flambée is similar to a crispy thin-crust pizza with a creamy sauce, sprinkled with bacon and onion, and then grilled hot and fast for a crispy cracker-like crust.


Ingredients

  • 2 strips thick-cut bacon, chopped
  • ⅓ cup onion, thinly sliced and then chopped
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour, plus more for rolling
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 4 teaspoons canola oil
  • ¼ cup water, plus more if needed
  • ¼ cup crème fraîche
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • ⅛ teaspoon freshly-ground pepper
  • ⅛ teaspoon nutmeg
  • parsley or chives (optional)

Directions

  1. In a small pan, partially cook bacon until fat renders, but not until bacon is crispy. Remove bacon and drain on a paper towel. Partially cook onion in bacon fat until soft, but not brown. Add to bacon.
  2. In a medium size bowl, combine flour and salt. Make a well in the center and add oil and ¼ cup water. Slowly combine using your fingers until it becomes a shaggy dough. If the dough is too dry, add additional water 1 teaspoon at a time. Knead dough 2-3 times and shape into a ball. Wrap dough in plastic wrap and let rest for 10 minutes.
  3. Meanwhile, preheat a baking pan on the lowest rack of a 550⁰ F. oven.
  4. While the dough is resting and the oven is preheating, combine crème fraîche, salt, pepper and nutmeg in a small bowl and set aside.
  5. Dust dough with flour and roll into a 12” circle between 2 pieces of parchment. Remove top layer of parchment and spread crème fraîche mixture over dough leaving a ½” border. Dot with bacon and onions and decoratively pinch border of dough.
  6. Using lower parchment sheet, transfer Tarte Flambée to preheated baking sheet. Bake for 10-12 minutes. Do not be alarmed if edges of parchment darken in the very hot oven. Remove from oven, let cool for 1-2 minutes, sprinkle with parsley or chives (if using) and cut into wedges. Enjoy immediately.

Favorite Banana Bread

Years ago, I stopped searching for a better banana bread.  This recipe ticks all the boxes: easy, packed with bananas, and exceptionally moist.

Sliced Banana Bread with melting butter

It’s no secret I’m an Anglophile, especially in my choice of TV programmes (I couldn’t resist). My current favorite, to no one’s surprise, is the Great British Baking Show. Saturday mornings, before getting my own bake on, I treat myself to an hour of Mary Berry, Paul Hollywood, a tent-full of amateur bakers and those classic only-in-Britain colloquialisms, such as “scrummy” and “oh my giddy aunt,” that I’m dying to introduce into the common American lexicon.

Before bed, when I’m brain-dead and in need of mindless comfort, nothing beats Escape to the Country; Brits house-hunting for their perfect “chocolate box” countryside cottage. I’ve picked up a few British idioms during my viewing of this show as well – like the aforementioned “chocolate box” as well as “homely.” “Homely” to the Brits doesn’t mean the same as “homely” in the states. It’s their term for homey, comforting, cozy. “The snug with wood-burner is quite homely.”

Combining the two shows leads me to this recipe, which can only be described as “homely baking” – I can almost imagine pulling freshly- baked tins of quick bread from my “range cooker” in my exposed-beamed Yorkshire kitchen, thatching optional.

Years ago, I stopped searching for a better banana bread. This recipe from Saveur ticks all the boxes – easy, packed with bananas, and exceptionally moist.


Favorite Banana Bread

  • Servings: One 9” x 5” loaf pan
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This moist banana bread is quick to make, packed with flavor and my go-to recipe when overripe bananas are on hand.


Ingredients

  • Butter for greasing pan
  • ⅓ cup milk
  • 2 teaspoons white vinegar
  • 1 cup flour, plus more for pan
  • ¾ teaspoon baking soda
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup sugar
  • ½ cup canola oil
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 large egg plus 1 egg yolk
  • ⅔ cup chopped pecans or walnuts
  • 3 very ripe bananas, mashed

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a 9” x 5” loaf pan with butter and dust with flour; set aside. In a small bowl, combine milk and white vinegar and set aside
  2. In a large bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda and salt.
  3. In a medium bowl, whisk together sugar, oil, curdled milk, vanilla, egg and egg yolk. Pour wet ingredients over dry and whisk until just combined. Fold in nuts and mashed bananas.
  4. Pour batter into prepared pan and bake until dark golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the loaf comes out clean, about 60 minutes. Let cool for 30 minutes before slicing and serving.

Best Compost Cookies

Everything Cookies

Last week, a male reader questioned a slang word in one of my posts – “mansplaining.” He hadn’t heard the term.  Merriam-Webster describes mansplaining as, “what occurs when a man talks condescendingly to someone (especially a woman) about something he has incomplete knowledge of, with the mistaken assumption that he knows more about it than the person he’s talking to does.”

Some men consider the term to be a sexist Feminist word describing a non-existent phenomenon.  I am here to assure my male readers that mansplaining exists.  I’m not asserting that women don’t do something similar to men or that men and women don’t do it to each other – but mansplaining is a specific type of behavior perpetrated by men that, at one time or another, most women have experienced.

The larger category of behavior would be categorized (for men and women) as “talking out of your ass.” Example:  A childless woman, who has changed exactly 3 diapers in her life, telling a parent of 5 children the best way to change a diaper = talking out of her ass.  Within the larger “talking out of your ass” category is the subset “Mansplaining.”  It’s real, it happens…trust me on this.  My ultimate mansplaining story:

A male friend tried to “educate” me on what it’s like to have a menstrual cycle. Yep – I. Swear. To. God.  Kudos to him for reading one article about the female body.  High five for learning words like “follicular phase” and “luteal phase,”  however,  knowing the words doesn’t mean he will ever understand what it’s actually like to have a cycle until he’s experienced – oh, I dunno, 12 a year for 30+ years.

I’d never be so bold as to tell him what it’s like to have an erection – no matter how many articles I’ve read or how close I’ve…ehem… been to the experience.

Not all men mansplain.  How do you know if you’re a mansplainer? If a woman responds to your explanation with, “You DO realized I have a degree in (fill in subject here)” [and you don’t] or “Were you aware (fill in subject here) has been my CAREER for the past 10 years” [and it’s not your career] or even a “I’m familiar with (fill in subject here) since I’ve been doing it since I was 12.” [and you’ve only read about doing it], then…you are a mansplainer.  But there’s hope – the first step is admitting it.

This recipe is an ode to non- or recovering mansplainers in my life.  You deserve a cookie – a rock-star of a cookie like these compost cookies, inspired by Momofuku’s Compost Cookies.

Best Compost Cookies

  • Servings: 18 – 20 Cookies
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All my favorite cookie flavors – plus some surprises – packed into this version of Momofuku’s famous cookie.

Ingredients

  • crumbs from 4 graham crackers
  • 2 Tablespoons melted butter
  • 1 ⅓ cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • ½ teaspoon baking powder
  • ¼ teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 sticks unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • ⅔ cup packed light brown sugar
  • 1 Tablespoon light corn syrup
  • 1 egg
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
  • ½ cup mini chocolate chips
  • ½ cup toffee bits
  • ½ cup sliced almonds
  • ½ cup shredded coconut
  • ⅓ cup old-fashioned rolled oats
  • 2 ½ teaspoons ground coffee (not instant)
  • 2 cups kettle potato chips
  • 1 cup pretzel thins, roughly broken or mini pretzels

Directions

  1. In a small bowl, combine graham cracker crumbs and melted butter. Set aside. In a medium bowl, combine the flour, salt, baking powder and baking soda. Set aside.
  2. Combine the 2 sticks unsalted butter, sugars and corn syrup in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and cream together on medium-high for 2 to 3 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, add the egg and vanilla, and beat for 7 to 8 minutes.
  3. Adjust the speed to low and add the flour mixture. Mix just until the dough comes together, no longer than 1 minute. Scrape down the sides of the bowl with a spatula.
  4. Add the chocolate chips, toffee bits, sliced almonds, shredded coconut, graham crust, oats and coffee, and mix just until incorporated, about 30 seconds. Fold in the potato chips and pretzels. Don’t overmix – try to keep the potato chips in large chunks.
  5. Using a ¼ cup measuring cup, portion out the dough onto a parchment-lined sheet pan. Slightly flatten the tops of the cookie dough domes. Wrap the sheet pan tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 8 hours, or up to 1 week. Do not bake your cookies from room temperature—they will not bake properly.
  6. Heat the oven to 375°. Arrange the chilled dough a minimum of 4 inches apart on parchment- or Silpat-lined sheet pans. Bake for 18 minutes. The cookies will puff, crackle and spread. After 18 minutes, they should be very faintly browned on the edges yet still bright yellow in the center. Give them an extra minute or so if that’s not the case. Cool the cookies completely on the sheet pans before transferring to a plate or an airtight container for storage.

Compost Cookies

Homemade Energy Bars – Blueberry Muffin

Homemade Blueberry Muffin Larabar
When I started back to work in late February, I’d awake at 6:00 a.m., make myself a frothy cappuccino, warm a homemade muffin and spend the next 45 minutes leisurely reading the news while curled up on the couch, sipping coffee and nibbling baked goods.

Alas, that morning tranquility didn’t last.

These days, you’ll find me dragging myself from bed closer to 6:45 a.m., gulping down an espresso with a splash of milk, racing to work, and grabbing a prepackaged Lärabar for breakfast.

Lärabars are my energy bars of choice because they’re made with real, simple, non GMO ingredients. Sure, they may have a few more calories that some “thin” bars and less protein than others with 20 grams of whey, but they’re real food – made with a handful of familiar ingredients.

This weekend, I realized that real ingredients meant I could make them myself – and choose my own flavors, my own handful of ingredients; make my own breakfast again – even if it isn’t a warm, baked muffin.

Commercial Blueberry Muffin Lärabars aren’t made with lemon zest or cinnamon – those are my addition, just like my real blueberry muffin recipe.

Homemade Energy Bars– Blueberry Muffin

Homemade energy bars packed full of flavors and simple, healthy ingredients.


Ingredients

  • 2 cups raw cashews
  • 1 cup packed dried blueberries
  • 1 cup packed dried apples
  • ½ cup packed pitted whole dates
  • ½ teaspoon lemon zest
  • ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla extract

Directions

  1. Line an 8×8” cake pan with wax paper including an overhang. Place the cashews in a food processor and pulse until finely chopped and resembling breadcrumbs. Add blueberries, apples, dates, zest, cinnamon and vanilla extract. Process until the fruit is finely chopped and the mixture begins to clump together. This will take a few minutes and the mixture will get warm in the processor.
  2. Transfer the mixture to the prepared pan. Place additional wax paper atop the mixture and use it to flatten evenly in the pan and blot away any extra cashew oil on top. Leave the wax paper in place and refrigerate for 30 minutes to firm up.
  3. Flip the pan over onto a cutting board, remove the pan and the wax paper. Cut into eight 4”x2” bars. Tightly wrap each bar in plastic wrap. The bars will keep at room temperature for up to 3 days or in the refrigerator for up to 3 weeks.