Eric’s Pesto Pizza

Though it took a few tries to perfect, this turned out to be an pretty straightforward recipe with a big flavor payoff. We’ve perfected the thin, crispy crust, and the addition of homegrown jalapeños and a dusting of fresh herbs really makes this pizza fresh and interesting.

Get thee a pizza stone and get to work!

Eric’s Easy Pizza Dough
3 cups bread or all-purpose flour
1 cup of lukewarm water
1 Tbsp of salt
Drizzle of olive oil
1 packet of instant yeast (~ 1 tsp)

1. Mix all the ingredients in a bowl. Cover, and let it sit as long as you want (the longer it sits, the more sourdough flavor it will have).

2. About an hour before baking, remove the dough from the bowl and place in a foil “tent” (get a couple of large pieces of foil and wrap your dough up in them, with enough extra space for the dough to rise further – they tent does not need to be completely sealed).

3. Before preparing pizza base, flour your hands and work surface to avoid sticking. Fold the dough over a couple of times with your hands, and then make a medium-sized dough ball – this will become your pizza crust. The size of the dough ball will depend upon the size of the pizza you plan to make and the diameter of your pizza stone, so results here will vary.

Eric’s Pesto Pizza
Dough (as prepared ahead, above)
1/2 cup homemade pesto*
2 jalapeños, sliced**
sliced black olives, to taste
1 tsp fresh Mexican mint, finely chopped**
1 tsp fresh oregano, finely chopped**
1/2 tsp dried sage
1/2 green bell pepper, roughly chopped
1 cup grated mozzarella
1/3 cup grated parmesan
2 Tbsp olive oil, halved***

1. Preheat oven to 300°. Meanwhile, drizzle one half of the olive oil on the pizza stone and spread with your fingertips.

2. Next, take the ball of pre-made dough in your hands, and spread it out on the stone so that it covers the whole thing thinly and evenly, curling up at the edges. You can make the crust as thin or as thick as you like, but for this recipe (and according to my personal taste), you will want to spread it comparatively thin.

3. Once dough is evenly spread on the stone, bake it in the pre-heated oven for 10 minutes.

4. Then remove the stone from the oven and turn up the heat to 400°. Meanwhile, spread the remaining olive oil, along with the pesto, evenly over the dough using a spoon. Sprinkle mozzarella over the pesto. Bake for 10-15 minutes.

7. Remove the stone from the oven; add olives, jalapeños, parmesan, and green peppers, then scatter the herbs over the pie.

8. Return entire pizza to oven and bake at 400° until brown and crispy, with the crust bubbling around the edges.

9. Carefully remove the pizza from the oven, wait a few minutes, then cut with a pizza cutter or wheel. Serve and enjoy!

Use any leftover dough to make bread!

*In this case, we used homegrown basil, olive oil, grated parmesan, some cashews, and some local pecans – a basic recipe can be found here.

**All homegrown!

***Infused with homegrown jalapeños and oregano – regular extra virgin will work fine, though.


Ruffled Milk Pie

This recipe was the first thing I got excited about when flipping through Vefa’s Kitchen. I mean, look at it.

I finally got around to making it late last night, and it was so easy! I’d never used phyllo dough before, but I will definitely be making more pastries and pies now. The recipe called for six eggs, but I only used four. I’d hate to think how high it would’ve risen with the full six; as it was, it had risen to a huge globe of dough and custard by the time I removed it from the oven.

This is the first thing I’ve made from Vefa’s cookbook that turned out looking exactly like the glossy cookbook photograph, so I was very pleased. It also has an appealing flavor, as it includes not only pastry dough but also sugar, butter, milk, eggs, and vanilla – it smelled heavenly baking. But I think my favorite part is the texture. It’s both rich and creamy, due to the custard component, and warm and crispy because of the baked dough. I thought this might be the perfect dessert when I saw it in the book, but I might’ve been wrong – it’s the perfect breakfast! It was great last night with a glass of cold milk, and it was still pretty good this morning with a cup of coffee and cream. Note that it will be best fresh out of the oven, however; reheated pie won’t be as crispy!

Martha Stewart has posted the recipe here (be sure to check out the video of Vefa and Martha making the pie on the left-hand side of the page!).

Vefa’s Meat-Stuffed Apples

These meat-stuffed apples (μηλα γεμισ με κιμα) were really rather a lot of trouble, but the result was unusual, filling, and quite tasty. In addition to the beef recipe used in the book, I made an altered, vegetarian version using just rice, currants, pine nuts, and herbs (plus added feta) as the filling for my partner.

Unfortunately, my apples exploded in the oven. Don’t worry – that might be a bit of an overstatement – I did not have to clean apple mush from the sides of my oven; but the final product was, sadly, not as photogenic as Ms. Alexiadou’s, which looked more like this. However, the taste was the same (I assume): basically, herb-infused beef with applesauce. I think next time I would just slice the apples and place them in the bottom of the pan, then pour the beef and rice mixture over the top and bake. It would be considerably easier. I would also double the herb and spice quantities called for; despite the inclusion of beef broth, onions, and nutmeg, the meat turned out a little bland for my tastes. However, I was able to repurpose the huge quantity of leftover, spiced beef (the recipe only calls for about 8 ounces, and I had a whole two pounds!); I’ll be posting my impromptu Mediterreanean Beef Casserole soon!

Homemade Bread

A homemade boule!

We’ve been experimenting with homemade bread at my house, working from the Rocket Bread and New York Times recipes that have gotten so much attention in the food blogosphere. These simple recipes require at least 24 hours of waiting time, but only about 10 minutes of working time and a total of 45 minutes to an hour of actual baking. And, though of course the results are delicious (especially fresh out of the oven, with a little drizzle of extra virgin olive oil), the best part is really the smell that wafts through your house while the bread is in the oven! It’s also pretty easy to make a loaf or two per week, and drastically cuts down on the cost of bread. Plus, you can experiment with a variety of different herbs, nuts, fruits, wheat and white breads, and flour-to-cornmeal ratios.

Homemade bread with Broccoli Pine Nut Soup.

This week, Eric made use of our first little “crop” of oregano, along with some rosemary kindly given to me by one of my favorite emeriti, and created a richly fragrant herbal bread. He either didn’t include enough yeast, or our yeast is a little old, though, because the loaf didn’t rise spectacularly from my new, rectangular metal pan as expected. However, it was eminently edible, and I had a slice this morning, toasted with butter.

Eric’s Rosemary and Oregano Bread

We also tend to like sourdough best, so we let our bread rise for at least 24 hours, often longer. So, this activity is really perfect for lazy procrastinators who happen to like fresh, homemade food. It’s like the anti-croissant. I must mention here, of course, that the very best sourdough toast I have ever eaten is served at the Buena Vista Cafe in San Francisco!

Butter, y’all!

After I made my first boule (pictured at top), I was sold. I vowed never to buy bread again. I couldn’t believe it was so easy. Like it’s cousin, beer (or, as my partner calls it, “liquid bread”), bread is often a bit intimidating to the home cook; it’s so fundamental and, like other forms of baking, seems to require more magic than just following the steps in a recipe. And this is true. Baking bread involves science: chemical reactions, timing, experimentation. But since all cooking is, after all, a form of art, it makes sense that baking bread is not simply a matter of mechanically following instructions; it is also alchemy.

Rosemary Garlic Bread

Yorkshire Pudding

Recipe from my ex-future-mother-in-law’s actual Yorkshire kitchen. It works in Texas, too! This is one of my favorite treats – cheap, easy, and oh so delicious with some warm brown gravy!

Needless to say, these are not what we Americans would refer to as “pudding” (which is usually cold, smooth, sweet, and eaten for dessert). Yorkshire puddings, which are essentially baked batter (like a Yankee “popover”), were originally a first course – they were meant to fill you up before the meat arrived. They’ve morphed into a British tradition and are served alongside a traditional Sunday roast, with lashings of beef gravy (preferably made from drippings from the same roasting joint). Sometimes, you will see giant Yorkshire puddings with the meat, vegetables, and gravy poured inside, like a big, edible plate!

They’re a bit tricky to get just right, but here’s my very best recipe (adjust for your altitude if necessary).

1 cup white flour
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup whole milk
3 eggs
1/2 cup lard or bacon fat

1. Stir the flour and salt together in a medium-sized bowl. In a separate bowl, thoroughly beat the eggs for about one minmute; add milk and stir lightly. Slowly pour the eggs and milk into the flour mixture, folding together as you go. Stir vigorously with a large fork until the ingredients are evenly mixed but no longer. Cover and set aside at room temperature for up to two hours.

2. About 20 minutes before your dinner is ready to serve, preheat your oven to 450°F. Spoon a half-thimble-sized bit of lard into each cup in a regular old muffin tin. Place the tin in the oven and allow the lard to melt (about five minutes) – it should be nearly smoking hot.

3. Carefully remove the tin from the oven and place on the stove top or other stable, heat-proof surface. Pour the batter into each cup, filling about halfway. This should fill up all 12 cups in the tin. Do not overfill.

4. Place the tin back in the oven and bake for approximately 15-20 minutes. Do not open the door for at least the first 15 minutes, or you will cause your puddings to deflate. If you have a window on your oven, you can watch their progress. After about 15 minutes, you can take a peek to see how fast they’re browning. You want them to be fairly browned, and a light, glistening yellow in the centers. They should rise into a classic mushroom shape, fluffy with a hollow center.

5. Once browned, remove the puddings from the oven and allow to sit for a couple of minutes. You can then pop them right out of the tin with your fingertips, or guide them with a fork or spatula. Serve immediately alongside roast meat and vegetables, topped with a generous helping of a nice brown gravy (preferably beef!).

Makes 12 medium sized puddings.