Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Green Bean Salad with Pictures!

A long time ago, when I was an overzealous culinary whirlwind, I once worked at both a Patisserie and an Italian Bistro. My thought was that I wanted experience on both the sweet and savory sides of things, and so completely emerging myself in this work seemed to be a great idea. Honestly, I don't know what I was thinking, or how I came to have such a crazy drive for both food and working, but I did and still do. The difference is that now I just accept, embrace, and just go with it. I am thankful that I logged  many hours with so many talented people, working grueling shifts, and learning about food. I also have a slew of hilarious stories to tell, even though at the time of the happenings of said stories, I probably wasn't laughing in a hilarious way,  but more of a nervous laugh sort of way.

At the time of juggling Patisserie, Italian Bistro, and also my life, I met Tina. Tina was a talented pastry chef and had worked at both the Patisserie and the Italian Bistro, although not at the same time. She had the same thought patterns when it came to food, so we were always challenging each other with flavor combinations and new ideas. Tina was married to Ed, and sometimes when we weren't working, we would go out. This meant that we usually went to a bowling alley to bowl and drink beer or to an Irish Pub to, er, show our support for JFK.  It was a fantastic era of my life. In that era I had also matted my hair into dreadlocks. Probably because I didn't have time for grooming. Together we would talk about food, which would then lead to talking about work.  The owner of the Italian Bistro was very Italian and there was always an Italian relative within arms reach, (and usually wearing a baby blue colored suit and sunglasses). I didn't ask questions. I just made sure that the pasta was al dente. Tina and I thought this was awesome! Tina and I swapped a lot of recipes. One recipe that I am very grateful for is her green bean salad. Fresh green beans, toasted nuts, some variety of salty cheese, and a simple lemon vinaigrette. Although Tina and Ed now live on the west coast, and I now live on the north shore, I still have our great memories.

I wanted to keep this recipe simple, and just really feature the ingredients. A Meyer lemon vinaigrette paired with toasted pine nuts and Manchego cheese turned out to be a great combination. As you may have noticed, there are some fantastic photos of this salad with Lake Superior lounging in the backdrop. These are thanks to Stephan Hoglund and his amazing photography skills. During this photo shoot, I ended up altering the salad a bit and adding fresh chiffinade of basil and heirloom cherry tomatoes. These ingredients were great additions to the salad. To be honest though, I would've liked to add more seasonal ingredients such as delicate pea shoots or shaved radishes. These seasonal items weren't available so I improvised with great results. If you live somewhere near a metro area or a farmer's market, any seasonal produce shine.

Green Bean Salad-

1 lb fresh green beans, trimmed
1/3 cup pine nuts, toasted
1 Tbls basil, chiffinade
1 cup heirloom cherry tomatoes, halved
Manchego cheese, shaved

Blanch the green beans in salted, boiling water. I cooked them for about 5 minutes, and then immediately submerged them in ice water. This makes the beans vibrant green in color, but more importantly they remain crisp and firm, which is how I prefer them.

Toss the green beans, toasted pine nuts, basil, tomatoes, and Manchego together in a large bowl. In a separate bowl whisk together the vinaigrette. Dress the green bean salad to your liking with the vinaigrette. I used about 1/4 cup of the vinaigrette.

Meyer Lemon Vinaigrette-

1 Meyer lemon, zested and juiced
1 Shallot, minced (about 1 Tbls)
1/3 cup Olive oil
1/4-1/2 tsp Sea salt
1/4 tsp Black pepper

Whisk above ingredients together until emulsified. This amount of vinaigrette makes enough to dress the salad, with a bit left over to dress future salads. Belly up!!

Monday, March 5, 2012

blizzard pizza

the top three activities that i love to partake in during and after a blizzard are sledding, making homemade pizza, and cross country skiing, in that order. luckily, i have been partaking in those three activities a lot lately! few things compare to the adrenalin rush of barreling down a snow and ice covered incline, at very high speeds, in a cheap and rickety plastic sled! the outcome is always unpredictable. at my daughter's forth birthday party yesterday i watched several young children throw themselves, confidently and not so confidently, down the local sledding hill. it was the most fantastic time ever! no casualties either! this is the top benefit of a blizzard.

making homemade pizza is equally important to the sledding benefits of a blizzard, although this activity happens while the blizzard is in full swing. when the wind is blowing at 30 mph, the snow is blowing sideways in a blinding whirlwind, this is when i start the dough. an unbeatable crust is the utmost important part of the pizza for me. i love crust! i have spent a lot of time fiddling with recipes, to create a crust to my liking. the dough recipe that i have finalized is simple to throw together, and is flavored with fresh herbs and olive oil. you don't have to wait for a blizzard to make pizza. with a little forethought, you can whip this dough up in the morning, and it will be ready and waiting for you after your workday. 

Pizza dough:

1/2 cup warm water
2 1/4 tsp yeast
combine the two together and let stand for about 5 minutes

for the rest of the dough, combine in a food processor:
2 cups whole wheat flour
2 cups gluten flour
1 1/2 tsp salt
2 Tbls olive oil
1 tsp fresh chopped rosemary
1 tsp fresh chopped oregano

Add the above ingredients, the water and yeast mixture and 1 cup of room temperature water to the food processor. Process until the mixture forms a ball. Process an additional 30 seconds. Roll the dough out onto a table, and knead by hand a few turns. Place the dough in an olive oil greased bowl. Cover and let double in size.

Once the dough has doubled in size, it's ready to use. You can also cover it and put it in the fridge to use the next day. Because of the gluten flour, this dough is marvelously elastic, and you'll be able to practice your pizza throwing skills right at home. If your not comfortable with airborne dough in your home, roll the dough out on a lightly floured surface. I love a thin and crisp crust, so I go as thin as possible without ripping the dough. You can also go with a thicker crust or something in between. Once the dough is rolled, top with you favorite toppings*, and place in a 450 degree oven until the cheese is melted and the top is starting to brown. I want to emphasize the easiness of this pizza. It has almost become a Friday ritual with my four year old daughter, and when her friends are joining us for dinner, they get in on the experience as well. Hope you enjoy!! Belly up!

* our favorite toppings are very simple. try roasted tomatoes, spinach sauteed with garlic, and feta cheese. another favorite is spicy sausage with roasted mushrooms. we went out on a limb with caramelized onions, mushrooms, chevre, and plenty of fresh herbs- which had great results. addie, my daughter, is a huge fan of multiple cheeses!