Sunday, May 3, 2009

Back to Blogging....

by Xani

It's been a while since I've blogged. After my little accident, I had to put cooking and blogging pretty much on hold. Cooking was almost impossible (I almost cried when I realized I was unable to grind pepper one-handed) and maybe even dangerous (left-handed knife skills? Not so much), and typing one-handed was so frustrating, I pretty much gave it up except for when I absolutely HAD to, for work. It was a sad month. But now my splint has been removed, my bone is all healed, and it's been so exciting to be able to cook (and blog) again! Here are a few dishes I whipped up soon after getting my hand back-- and just as fresh, local produce begins to emerge!

Dish Number 1: Bastardized Panzanella

A simple dinner thrown together on a weeknight. Some pieces of roughly torn Italian bread, drizzled with olive, salt and pepper and toasted in the oven until they emerged as golden croutons. Meanwhile, tossed a small salad of parsley, and little grape tomatoes, minced or grated garlic, vinegar, olive oil and salt and pepper. When the croutons were done, I added them, as well as some adorable fresh mozzarella pearls to the salad, tossed gently, plated, and topped the whole thing with some fresh shaved Parmesan and a bit more olive oil. Light, easy, and tasty. Mine had a bit too much garlic, and as summer approaches with delicious heirloom tomatoes and basil bursting from gardens, I would certainly adjust the recipe to include these.

Dish Number 2: Soft-boiled Eggs with Asparagus

This dish seems almost British to me-- why is that? Did I see Nigella Lawson make it long ago on the Style Network? Perhaps. Anyway, it seemed a perfect vehicle for the first local asparagus of the season, which EP and I picked up at our beloved Emily's Produce stand (which reopened for the season just the day before!), on our way home from a brief visit to Blackacre. Hungry for brunch the next morning, I brought some salted water to a simmer, and in went the asparagus and eggs. Four minutes later, the spears were crisp tender and the eggs were perfectly soft-boiled (although at this point I realized I don't have any egg cups or other dishes that effectively hold an egg- add those to my wish list!). I served the eggs and asparagus alongside some toasted thick bread to soak up the yolks, and lots of coarse salt.

Dish Number 3: Calzones from Scratch, Two Fillings

After spending a few nights in Philadelphia for work (and getting a killer migraine that ruined my dinner at Cuba Libre and left me incapacitated for 18 hours) I arrived home to a fridge full of veggies needing prompt attention, and a package of pre-made pizza dough I picked up at the grocery store. My grill is currently being taken over by ivy (seriously, my backyard is like a JUNGLE, and while some think it looks "magical", I bet my neighbors don't. My "I only have one hand" excuse is no good anymore, so I guess it's pure laziness at this point-- it's on the To Do list, for sure), so grilled pizzas were off the table. But calzones seemed like the perfect solution. I invited EP over for a study break, and got started on making the fillings.

Kale-ricotta filling (a twist on traditional spinach ricotta): I didn't have any spinach, but I did have kale, which I blanched in boiling salted water, shocked, drained and chopped. Then mixed with some sauteed onion and garlic, ricotta, one egg, Parmesan, fresh mozzarella, and salt and pepper.

Veggie tomato filling: Another twist on a classic, I omitted the sausage from a traditional sausage, pepper and onion filling and added mushrooms and asparagus to the sauteed onion, garlic, and red, yellow and orange mini-peppers. Once all the veggies were nice and tender, I added about half a can of (GASP) prepared tomato sauce, along with red pepper flakes, oregano, and salt and pepper, and let the whole thing cook together for about half an hour until it had formed a nice, thick sauce-- almost like a ragout.

Once the fillings were done, I started trying to stretch out the prepared pizza dough-- emphasis on the word "trying." I guess it had been sitting in my fridge for too long, because this stuff was a MESS. Unbelievably sticky no matter how much flour I added, wouldn't hold shape, etc. But I already had the fillings all made-- I was screwed!! Or was I...?

Behold: my latest purchase/obsession. Ratio, by Michael Ruhlman, is a fantastic book about how many of the basics of cooking can be reduced to simple ratios. Bread dough (including pizza dough), for example, is 5:3, flour to water. The book stresses how simple it is to make great bread with just a few ingredients (flour, yeast, salt), and I thought this was a perfect opportunity to try out the technique... what else was I going to do with all that filling!?

My other new favorite toy-- digital food scale!

In retrospect I didn't time things quite right-- the dough should have rested a lot longer between initial kneading and stretching into the calzones... lesson learned for next time. The dough wasn't really very elastic and hadn't developed the gluten in a way that gives pizza dough it crispy, chewy texture. But hey, I made dough, and formed it into calzones, and they didn't fall apart or explode or taste half-bad. In fact, they were pretty damn good! EP and I ate well that night. The kale had a really interesting flavor, and the veggie ragout was delicious with the melted mozzarella and Parmesan. All in all, a BIG success.

I'm so glad to be two-handed again. I promise to do lots more cooking (especially with the farmers' market open again as of this morning-- EP and I almost drowned getting there in the today's monsoon, but it was so worth it) and blogging. I've got a few in the pipeline that I'm sure you'll all enjoy. Until then...

Happy eating (and cooking, and blogging),


  1. Glad you're back in the kitchen lady! I can't wait to use the not-so-cruel pork products we bought today!

  2. Yay xani! So glad you are able to cook again.

  3. So happy to have you back. We missed you! All of those things look delicious. Especially the asparagus and eggs. Which is weird cause I don't like eggs.

  4. Welcome back. Everything looked scrumptious. Kale has such a different texture, I was wondering how it would turn out.

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