Pithy Pizza

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I still had an aubergine ripe and ready for use yesterday, and my pizza senses tingled (a rare occurrence), so I decided to have my friend over for my healthier twist on the college pizza dinner.

I didn’t have time to make a crust from scratch but I also didn’t want to buy some flatly flavoured, frozen, ready-made base. Instead, I went with the Mediterranean theme of the aubergine, and went out to buy some whole grain pitas which would substitute the base. To that, I added a small container of fresh olives, fresh basil leaves, and Parmesan. I had everything else at home.

I started preparing for the pizzas about 45 minutes before my friend was due to arrive. The first thing I had to do – what I learned from watching my babushka – was drain the aubergine of its bitter water. So I cut the whole thing in disks, placed in a colander and sprinkled with salt. I left this in the sink while I turned on the top burner of the oven and prepared the rest, quartering up a few handfuls of grape tomatoes and adding to plenty of chopped basil, mint, and garlic in a sieve. While the tomato toppings also drained in the sieve, I sliced a few green and black olives and did a check on the aubergine slices, turning them around in the colander.

After 25 or 30 minutes, I got some paper towel and began to pat the aubergine disks dry individually, making sure to get as much water out. Then I lay them out on a baking tin and put on a high rack in the oven. I turned them around once and took them out when they were beginning to get golden about 7 or 8 minutes later. By this time my friend had called to say he was close, so I hurried to assemble the pizzas.

I put 4 pitas down on a bigger baking tray, brushed them with olive oil, and layered the aubergine, cut in half-moon size, at the base, filled with tomato and herbs, and scattered with olives, and shredded the cheese over the top. With a final sprinkle of black pepper, I put the pizzas in the middle of the oven. My friend arrived just in time to see me put the pizzas in the oven, and about 15 minutes later…:

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This took me as much time to make as a delivery or pizza run would have taken, and was much healthier!

Plus I had one left which I happily devoured, cold out of the fridge, this morning after a night of heavy drinking – just like first year of undergrad, really…

Blue-schetta

Still so much Saint Agur left, what to do?

That’s easy, make blue-schetta!

Shops were open again today so after some wandering around in soho (standard), I stopped by Le Pain Quotidian and picked up a a fresh loaf of sliced multigrain seeded sourdough.

At home, I brushed a couple slices with olive oil and a bit of chopped garlic and put on a baking tray. I used the top burner in the oven and placed the bread on a high rack so that it would get nice and crisp. I left it in the oven for a few minutes while I diced and then pan-fried some onion, mushrooms, tomatoes, garlic, and herbs (rosemary, thyme, sage, black pepper and a bit of chili flakes for spice) for a few minutes until they were all just softened.

Then I took the bread out, scooped the mixture from the pan on top of it, and placed the bread back in the top rack of the oven. After a few more minutes, I could see the tomato skins were just beginning to brown and dehydrate (because the tray was so close to the top burner), and that’s when I knew to take it out; I wanted the bruschetta mixture to have a slight sun-dried taste.

I then put a few pieces of the pungent blue cheese on top of the bread, remembering not to overdo it because of the strength of the cheese. Inadvertently, this could be seen as a low-fat alternative to other bruschetta which might use tons of cheese.

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The biggest challenge with this quick dinner fix? Figuring out how to eat it. I always have this problem with bruschettas, tartines and open sandwiches. Do you cut it with a knife? Difficult when the bread crust is crispy or the toppings are high. Do you pick it up? Messy.

I think I alternated, but after a few bites I admittedly was only thinking of how good it was and forgot the frustrations of eating it.

What do you do?

Cure the leftover blues

I still had my salmon fillet and some wild rice left over from yesterday’s dinner and no one around to feed it to and as much as I hate leftovers, I hate wasting food more. So I decided to make a leftover remix.

Going on my recent theme of stuffed vegetables, I decided I would stuff a long red pepper I had with a mix of the salmon, rice, and some other items (leftover courgette bobs, onion, garlic and spices all pan fried before adding to the rice mix). After baking the pepper in halves for about ten minutes, I scooped in the stuffing mixture and put back in the oven for another ten or so.

While that baked, I did some research and found out that almost every culture has a variation of stuffed peppers. Aside from the European or middle eastern varieties which I’m used to, Indian, Mexican, Scandinavian, Romanian, Balkan, Baltic, and Eastern European cuisines have their own versions of the dish. The difference is in the type of stuffing they use. In India, for instance, Bharvan Mirch, as they’re called, are stuffed with potatoes and onions and seasoned with chili, turmeric, coriander and other spices. This would result in a very different dish than, say, the rice- and herb- stuffed Greek dolma, or the ground beef, egg, rice, and cheese inside of American stuffed bell peppers.

One thing that seemed similar to all the varieties was that they generally stuffed bell peppers, and did not use fish on the inside. Well, mine ended up to be a little twist on that, but variation calls when leftovers beckon.

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The result: no hint this hid yesterday’s dinner. Mmm, mmm good.

How do you spice up your leftovers?

Pear-ing

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My grocery shopping method is already generally to yield to what my eyes like in the moment. It works for me, I will undoubtedly veer off any list I try to make. I see something delicious and think of interesting things I can make with it and what other ingredients work with it. On yesterday’s trip, the first thing I noticed was dill. Half an hour later I came out with the herb, an amalgam of mediterranean vegetables, wild caught salmon, Saint Agur cheese, pears, and a few other items.

The challenge with this method is to cook something coherent with those ingredients once I get home. There have been too many times when I’ve let my hedonistic hunger win over my still admittedly adolescent sense of taste. The result has been a messy meal with a hodgepodge of flavours, a sickening after-effect (I can remember one incident of oyster mushroom overload, which still makes me look at them with suspicion) and, if you ask an expert, probably a waste of good ingredients.

The point is, I guess flavour-paring comes with practice. I This day, I felt like making stuffed vegetables, hence my purchase of courgette, aubergine, and peppers.

I decided I wanted to make a little appetizer mid-day and stuff the remainder of my courgette with something. What to pick? I ran through ingredient catalogues in my mind, focused intently on what could go well together. I decided that I would stuff the courgette with mushrooms and onions first, and then walnuts came into the mix, and some kind of cheese on top.

For a while, I stood in the kitchen smelling different ingredients in rapid succession. At this point a brilliant idea popped into vision. A pear! Why not have that little sweet addition, a surprise, complimentary to the nuts and mushrooms in a way. With yesterday’s dessert in mind, and because the only other cheese I had was sliced cheddar, I decided the Saint Agur blue cheese, in a very small quantity, would work with the whole thing.

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I warmed up the oven, pan fried the onions and mushrooms for a few minutes, and chopped up walnuts, half a pear and some remaining dill. I cut the courgette in rounds and scooped out the middles with a little spoon, putting them in a bowl to use for something else later. When the mushrooms were soft, I turned the stovetop off and added black pepper, the walnuts, pear and dill to the mix. So far, so good – it smelled delicious.

I put the courgette rounds on a baking tray and stuffed them half-way with the mushroom mix. Then I put a little layer of cheese on the stuffing, and put the rest of the mix on top. I slid the tray into the oven and eagerly took it out after about 15 minutes. Transferring the rounds onto a plate, I added another little piece of cheese on top and then dug in.

My first bite was confusing. The courgette was just a little bit hard and the whole thing sort of fell apart. I couldn’t tell which flavour I was tasting when. First the cheese stood out, then the courgette, and i couldn’t taste the pear as i wanted to. Oops. I realised I made a mistake somewhere.

The cheese and the courgette didn’t work, maybe because they were conflicting flavours, or maybe because the vegetable was still a bit hard (I had focused so much on the pairing that I didn’t really think of the way I should have prepared the courgette). And the idea I had about the pear was informed by yesterday’s dessert. I realised that it’s flavour was completely masked by the other, stronger ones. All in all, it didn’t taste bad, but it was definitely conflicting and had something missing for the sake of the courgette. Next time, I’ll remember to think of the courgette at the base, because it seemed my mind ran off from it again.

The stuffing with the cheese actually tasted great on its own (without the courgette) and would be a great topping for something else – maybe a bruschetta with a twist (toast bread, top with the mix using a little more pear, and add a smidgeon of cheese). So all was not to waste, but my paring practice continues.

For Dessert

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Kinda looks like a chicken leg, but it’s dessert. I had bought some Saint Agur blue cheese and pears that I wanted to put together, so I put pear quarters on an oven tray, sprinkled with a bit of cinnamon, and let sit in the oven for a few minutes while went to load an episode of Modern Family. Before I left the kitchen though, I noticed I had a pack of walnuts on my shelf so I threw a pair of those on the fruit, for good measure.

When I came back I remembered that I still had a pack of shortbread-like biscuits (see below), which I had brought back with me from a recent trip to Spain, and thought that their cakey sweetness would go well with the fruit, nut and cheese combo. I laid one out under the pear, put a thin piece of cheese in the curve of the pear (the cheese is strong so you don’t need to load on a lot to taste the flavour), topped it with a roasted walnut, and voila! Deeelicious.

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I added a picture of the Spanish biscuit package if you’re curious about what it is. It’s called Torta de Povloron, or ‘powder cake’, and is a type of ‘montecado’ cookie which are sadly only made and sold over Christmas. Tastes like a very crumbly cookie, and made of very finely-ground almonds, flour, sugar and butter. Still if you’re ever in Seville, go to the above bakery (Los Angeles Bakery) – it has all the traditional Andalusian goods, and was packed with locals every day, especially around lunch time.

Hangover Cure

This may be a funny way to begin this blog, but I have to say that sometimes you just want to cross your arms and blink twice and have the food appear in front of your. This was one of those days. Weekend afternoon. I had gone out the night before so I was feeling the fatigue (aka, hangover) all day but I braved the cold and my degenerated body to run over to Sainsbury’s an hour before it closed and came out in a bit of a hunger-daze.

At home, I set the groceries on the counter and stared hungrily at the orange bags. “Why didn’t you get take out?,” A little voice in my gut moaned. My eyes went to the bread and can of tuna on my shelf. “So convenient… And accessible…,” it moaned again. Shut up, voice.

I wrestled with my purchases to decide what I could put together. “Save the sweet potato for tomorrow, you will pass out by the time it finishes cooking,” the voice squeaked. Truth. Okay, then, i grabbed the first item from the top of the bag. It was dill, so I began.

Another half hour later, I was taking a foiled fish (wild caught Alaskan red salmon, chopped dill, fresh chives, black pepper, and, for a twist, I added grated grapefruit and lemon zest) out of the oven to put atop a mountain of vegetables (courgettes, long red peppers, red onion, chestnut mushrooms, garlic, all chopped and pan-fried with virgin olive oil and spinach, fresh chives, black pepper, and a bit of rosemary, and few small pieces of Stilton cheese on top) and wild grain rice.

As I happily dug in to my very late and welcome dinner, I thought how glad I was that I didn’t go for the sandwich fix. My little culinary push awoke me from the post-booze haze, refreshed my body, and gave me something fun to do. Not bad for a hangover meal.

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(note: my first time using my iPad for the picture and it didn’t turn out the best, still learning. Better next time.)

Hai

I’m sort of what you call a foodie, the friend who flips straight to the ‘restaurants’ section of Time Out and makes travel itineraries based on culinary exploration before sights. But as I settle into my ‘adult’ life in London, I’m starting to realise I love cooking even more.

You know that thing you do to decompress, unwind, pass the time? Some people draw, or drink, or do chin ups. I scour the grocery isle for Padron peppers on a wiki whim and flick on the burner.

For friends or for just for one, I cant help but get creative for every meal I make, even if my methods and ingredients are less than pro. My roommates think I’m crazy or have way too much time, so I turn to you to decide.

Here I’ll document my creations; gourmet, my way.