Monday, November 16, 2009

Twice As Nice: Meat and Potatoes

Trevor was in the mood for splurging last week and bought a beautiful roast from Highland Oak Farm, our favorite purveyor of grass-fed beef at the Portland Farmers’ Market. But it actually turned into several meals, so it wasn’t really a splurge after all.

I followed the Joy of Cooking guidelines for roast beef, but studded the roast with cloves of garlic and dusted it with kosher salt and pepper. Our meat thermometer kept saying it wasn’t to temperature, so we kept cooking it. It ended up a little more well done than we desired, but that didn’t stop us from devouring it. I made mashed potatoes and Brussels sprouts sautéed in butter and thyme to go with the roast beef. And gravy with the pan juices and some concentrated beef stock from Trader Joe’s. As much as I like to make stock, beef stock is little beyond me.

Two nights later I used the leftovers in recipe that I’d wanted to try. I love to watch PBS cooking shows. I’ve been a fan Ciao Italia for some time, but had never tried one of the recipes. After seeing a show on potato casseroles, I knew which recipe to try first: Piedmont Potato Casserole. It’s basically leftover roast sandwiched between layers of cheesy mashed potatoes. How could it not be good?! I wasn’t disappointed once it came out of the oven and served it alongside crispy kale. Although, the next time I make it, I’ll add some sautéed kale or spinach to the meat layer so it can truly be a one-dish meal. And maybe some chives or green onion to the potatoes for an extra punch of flavor.

This roast also provided a delicious lunch. I warmed up leftover roast with leftover gravy and poured it onto a toasted hoagie roll dabbed with mayo. I topped it with lettuce and tomato. It was reminiscent of a mouth-watering roast beef po’ boy I’d had at Bunk sandwiches in SE Portland. It would have been perfect if I’d remembered to add sliced pickles to the sandwich. It needed that extra salty element.

For all these meals, we used garlic, potatoes, Brussels sprouts, kale and lettuce that Trevor brought home after working at the Persephone Farm’s stand at the Saturday Farmers’ Market at PSU. And I realized spending a little extra proved to be worth it with the creative use of leftovers.


Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Slow Cooker Goodness

When I was packing up for our move to a new house, I made sure I clearly marked the box that held our Crock Pot. I planned to make some no-fuss food after we moved in. With the kitchen in boxes, we’d been fast-food slumming and were ready for something tasty and healthy.

I can’t expound enough on the merits of the slow cooker. It was so easy to chop up some veggies, pour in stock and voilà a few hours later you have rich soup. No standing over a stove, no stirring. Perfect when you need your hands free to unpack the mountain of boxes still in your kitchen!

The day after we moved I got out my trusty Crock Pot. I chopped up red onion and garlic from Persephone Farm and tossed them in the slow cooker. I added ground beef, 2 cans each of tomatoes and red kidney beans, 2 bay leaves, salt, pepper, chili powder, cumin, paprika and a little cayenne pepper. (I usually add a little red wine to my chili, but we didn’t have any.) I set it for 6 hours and by dinnertime, we had a hearty chili. We toasted a bake-at-home baguette and had a home-cooked meal that only took about 20 minutes of hands-on prep time. There was plenty left over for lunches and topping a baked potato later on in the week.

The next day I made chicken soup in the slow cooker. You can use whatever vegetables you prefer. I threw in Persephone onions, garlic, celery, kale and potato. I also added carrots, frozen peas and corn. I used the frozen vegetable stock I had on hand and added water, too. For seasoning I added 2 bay leaves, thyme and a pinch of sage, and salt and pepper. I browned the chicken before adding it to the cooker, but you don’t have to. Then I deglazed the pan I cooked the chicken in with water and added that to the pot as well.

And as added bonus, the Crock Pot filled the entire house with the smell of home cooking, all with minimal effort on my part.

P.S. Check out this article in the Oregonian about another Persephone stand employee, Paul Hudak. He's doing great things at Terra Nova High School!

Monday, November 9, 2009

Moving On Up

Getting the keys to your first home is something to celebrate. With Champagne. And since most of our kitchen was packed into boxes, pizza was an easy prep meal. Not your run-of-the-mill pepperoni, but a Special Occasion pizza. Caramelized Onion and Fig Pizza with Havarti.

On a trip to San Francisco a couple of years ago I had the gustatory pleasure of being treated to meal at Greens in Fort Mason. I had a fresh, tasty sampler platter, but Trevor ordered the most delicious pizza with caramelized onions and fresh figs. As I tasted it I knew I’d have to try to recreate it at home.

Caramelizing onions is easy, if a little time consuming. But the result is so delicious. The onions cease to be oniony and take on a sweet flavor that's completely alien to raw onion flavor.

I usually make my own pizza dough in a bread machine, but my 12-year-old bread machine died when I got it out to make the dough. It served me well and couldn’t have gone at a better time. (I didn’t have to lug it to our new place only to have it die on me there.) RIP Oster bread machine. I ended up making pizza dough in my food processor and it worked OK, but I prefer the ease of putting all the ingredients into a bread machine and forgetting about it until I hear a triple beep.

Below are my recipes for pizza dough and our fig pizza. For this meal we used Persephone Farm onions. And we got our wonderful Havarti from another PSU Farmers’ Market vendor, the Willamette Valley Cheese Co.

And coming soon … your absolute best friend in a move: the slow cooker.

Pizza Dough
Makes 2 large thin-crust pizzas or 4 small thin-crust pizzas.

1 cup warm water
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 ½ cups stone-ground all-purpose flour, such as Bob’s Red Mill
½ cup stone-ground whole-wheat flour, such as Bob’s Red Mill
2 teaspoons (or 1 packet) quick-acting yeast
¾ teaspoons salt

Add all ingredients to the bowl of a bread machine following your manufacturer’s instructions. Select and start dough cycle. Rough is ready when cycle is complete.

Caramelized Onion and Fig Pizza with Havarti
Makes 1 14 ½-inch diameter thin-crust pizza. I used Mission figs for this recipe, but any kind will work.

½ pizza dough recipe listed above
1 tablespoon butter
1 ½ to 2 large onions, sliced
1 ¼ cups dried figs
2 cups Havarti or Fontina cheese, grated (or as much as desired)
¾ cup Mozzarella cheese, grated (or as much as desired)
all-purpose flour for rolling
nonstick cooking spray, such as Pam
cornmeal for dusting pizza pan

Place figs in a bowl of warm water and let soften up while you are cooking onions.

Heat butter in a large skillet over medium heat. When butter is melted add onions. Cook for about 10 minutes until onions are soft and wilted. Turn heat to low and slowly cook the onions stirring occasionally for 30 to 40 minutes. Don’t rush the onions. As they cook they will turn a caramel brown and become sweet. Set aside when done and allow to cool.

Heat oven to 475˚ F. Drain figs and pat dry. Slice into ½-inch thick slices. Set aside.

Dust work surface with flour and roll out pizza dough to fit a large, round pizza pan. Alternately, you can use two cookie sheets and make 2 smaller, rectangle-shaped pizzas. Spray pizza pan with coking spray and dust with cornmeal. Place dough on pan. Top with onions and figs then cheeses.
Bake for 10 to 12 minutes until crust is golden brown and cheese is melted. Enjoy!