Saturday, August 31, 2013

Mushroom Summer Squash Pizza with Italian Seasoning

I haven’t been able to find a "healthy enough" store bought pizza, so I’ve tried numerous times, amidst spectacular failure, to make my own. How hard can it be, you ask? Well, my goal of a whole wheat crust has been difficult to come by, and healthy toppings just aren’t as fun as pepperoni! Success, at last, I give you:

I mentioned in a previous post a visit to the King Arthur Flour store in Vermont, and realized I should have added that nobody is paying me anything to reference their products on this blog. I have tried many purchased and home-made pizza crusts, and haven’t been crazy about any of them, until getting the whole wheat mix from KAF. Finally, decent nutritional stats along with good taste. Of course, I forgot to take pictures of the unexciting crust making process. Just follow the directions on the box.

I love mushrooms- have you noticed? I used an entire container from the grocery store because fresh mushrooms shrink in the pan…ditto with summer squash. I used several shakes of Italian spices- just keep adding to your taste! In the past, I had attempted to use chopped tomatoes for the pizza sauce, but I couldn’t “dry them out” enough to prevent them from leaving the crust soggy. I finally gave in and used some spaghetti sauce, and that made all the difference. Reduced fat shredded cheese made it complete, and I’ll be making this again!

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Ecuador Part 2

We flew into and out of Quito, and stayed overnight there at the beginning and end of the trip. The Galapagos Islands were definitely the highlight of our trip, and while I’m glad that we explored the area around Quito, there were a few challenges and a few blessings. After researching and considering the advice of others, we decided to not rent a car, so we used a combination of taxis, private hires, and transportation arranged by our lodging. 
Puerto Ayora (Galapagos)
The best experience was Termas Pappallacta, which is an area of hot springs with restaurant, hotel, and spa. The day itself was relaxing, but I find it less than thrilling to schedule a pick up time and then set the alarm clock on vacation. I guess cruises or week long land resort locations are for no alarm clocks, but by not renting a car, we had to pre-arrange excursions with drivers.
The pollution in Quito was fierce, and different transportation options will shut it out to varying levels. For example, an older taxi must leave windows open if the air conditioning doesn’t work, whereas a more expensive private hire vehicle can have the windows closed and block out the noxious exhaust fumes. One taxi driver argued with us about the fare upon arriving at the destination, despite having agreed on an amount before the ride. But all in all, there were more positive experiences than stressful ones.

The food was great, the crafts at the market in Otavolo were affordable (bargain hard), and the locally made chocolate is delicious. We’d recommend Ecuador, and if you prefer nature to a city vacation experience, allocate the majority of your time in the Galapagos Islands or in other parts of the country.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Peach Bread Pudding

Uh Oh, I still have a bunch of peaches from last week’s farm share, and will be getting more in tomorrow’s share! Gotta use ‘em up now. How about some peach salsa? Nah, not today. What else? Look up what other bloggers have done with peaches? Ding! This peach bread pudding has made the rounds, and sounded like a great idea…bake tonight, have at work tomorrow and the day after…never mind about the new peaches coming in!

I modified the recipe a great deal, some intentionally, some by accident. It’s been a long time since I’ve run out of vanilla, but I did just now. Hmmm, how about that chocolate extract that I got last year and haven’t figured out how to use? Does liquid chocolate flavor have fewer calories than actual chocolate? Most likely, yes!

I wanted the peaches to be the star of the show, rather than the bread, so I changed the proportion of the two. I also sprinkled the top of the dish with about 1/4 teaspoon ginger, for no reason at all! Next time I'd measure out 1/2 teaspoon because I like the flavor but it wasn't very strong this time. The ingredients and instructions are grouped together here: Blend 2 Tablespoons melted butter, 3 eggs, 1 ½ cups milk, and 2 Tablespoons vanilla
Add ½ cup sugar and blend in. Stir in 8 ounces of ripped up bread, and 3 cups of cut up peaches. Pour into a greased baking dish (I used a pie plate, but a square 8” or 9” pan would work great. Sprinkle with ½ cup chopped nuts. Bake for 30 -45 minutes at 350 degrees until center is set.

It tasted great, and even kind of healthy because I used whole grain bread. I suspect it would taste much richer if I had used cream and the additional sugar originally called for. I did not make rum sauce since I was planning on having it at work for a snack. Next time I would add even more peaches for that amount of bread, and more vanilla or chocolate extract. Now I just need to figure out what to make with all the tomatoes from last week and this week- salads are great, but enough already- let’s get creative! Does anyone have a favorite tomato pie recipe?

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Arugula Basil Pesto

As much as I enjoyed learning about cooking and baking with dried spices last year, it’s also fun to use fresh herbs and vegetables. I’ve been making this recipe from Whole Foods for years, and will share my modifications. The end result is thicker than a traditional pesto, but uses less than half of the oil called for. I always have cream cheese on hand, but rarely have ricotta cheese in the fridge, so I use the former here…any kind you have is fine!

I’ve been admiring the way Pioneer Woman shows all ingredients at the beginning of each recipe, so I thought I’d give it a try. I need way more small bowls, hence the use of a glass for the oil. Throughout the year, I make this recipe with arugula and spinach, but today’s farm stand had glorious basil, so that was "it" for this version.

The following quantities are small dinner portions for two people. I wrote a note to myself that if I was going to reheat leftovers at the office the next day, I should use only one clove of garlic. The next project is to roast a head of garlic and mellow the flavor of the garlic before adding it here.

Assemble in a blender: 1 cup arugula, 1 cup basil or spinach, 1 clove garlic, ¼ cup nuts (toasted for a maximum of 3 minutes), 2 tablespoons oil, 3 tablespoons milk (I used skim), 2 tablespoons cream cheese, 2 tablespoons grated parmesan cheese. Blend until desired consistency is reached. I add the pesto to just boiled and drained pasta, and warm it briefly. You could heat it separately on the stove or in the microwave.

The original recipe calls for shrimp, and I have served this pasta with everything from scallops to smoked salmon when I'm in a rush. Last year we grew our own arugula, and the young sprouts were a gentler flavor than the full sized bunches available now.

I used pine nuts in this iteration, but have used walnuts, cashews, and possibly hazelnuts in the past. My baking drawer in the fridge is well stocked! The original recipe calls for salt and pepper, but I’ve never added them to this pesto. Do you have a favorite healthy-er pesto recipe? Any tips to share?

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Pineapple Whole Wheat Carrot Muffins

My aunt gave me the King Arthur Flour Whole Grain Baking cookbook for Christmas, and I’ve already tried a number of recipes with great success. A trip to their flour store in Norwich, VT was fun! Last week’s farm share included a pound of carrots, and today’s had another pound, so it’s a good thing I have a super duper food chopper blender that made the work easy for this recipe. I did make modifications, so the entire recipe is listed here.

You’ll need: 4 large eggs, ¾ cup vegetable oil and ¾ cup applesauce, 2 tsp. vanilla extract, just under 1 ¼ cups sugar, ½ cup brown sugar (I didn’t pack it as called for in the recipe), 2 cups whole wheat flour, 2 tsp. baking soda, 1 ½ tsp. baking powder, 1 tsp. salt, 1 T cinnamon, ½ tsp. nutmeg. Mix all of these ingredients, starting with the eggs, adding the oil, adding remaining ingredients. I didn’t combine the dry ingredients together first (before adding them in, as I “should have”).

After these are blended, add 2 ½ cups grated carrots, 1 cup chopped walnuts or any other type of nuts, 1 cup unsweetened coconut, 1 cup crushed pineapple (8 oz. can, drained, or other type of pineapple run through the blender).

This recipe made enough for 12 muffins and a 9 x 13 pan with a thin-to-medium layer. It can be used to make 3 round 8-inch pans. Be sure to grease and flour the pans or use muffin tin liners or parchment paper. I set the timer for 15 minutes, checked them, and set it for another 15 minutes at 350 degrees. The muffins were done after 25 minutes, but the large pan needed 30 minutes. I had used a 1/3 cup measuring cup to put the batter into the muffin papers.

Frosting: I started off by modifying the quantity listed for the sugar, and decided to add more if needed. Here’s what went in: 6 T (3/4 stick) butter, 1 package (8 oz.) cream cheese- both at room temperature, 1 tsp. vanilla extract, 3 cups confectioners’ sugar (I didn’t sift as instructed). I did not add more sugar and didn’t use the 2 T milk listed “as needed” to make the frosting more pliable. I used nut pieces to decorate the tops of the frosted muffins, so I did not add chopped nuts to the frosting as suggested.
The first muffin, warm from the oven, was soft and rich. The sweetness was just right for me, after lowering the amount of white and brown sugars called for just slightly, and using unsweetened coconut. These are not the sticky sweet confections from bakeries, so if that’s what you want, be sure to up all the sugar counts. But they were a nice treat for me, knowing that they were more healthy than usual!