Sunday, August 24, 2008

Homegrown Gourmet 10- Local Margherita Pizza

When the moon hits your eye, like a big pizza pie, that's... Homegrown Gourmet?! That's right- for the big 1-0 Homegrown Gourmet will be featuring local PIZZA recipes from all its participants!

Sound like fun, huh? I think so too! Elizabeth from Elizabeth's Cooking Experiments is hosting this round and came up with that delightful theme. Who doesn't love pizza? Warm, comforting, filling, versatile... it's so many great things at once!

So when I started to think about how to make pizza local to Maine or New England, well, I was a little shocked that I couldn't come up with a plethora of ideas! I considered a dessert pizza, but honestly I like my pies for dinner. A seafood pizza sounded gross (though I hope maybe another participant gave it a shot!) and there aren't really pizza traditions here in Maine beyond your standard fare.

I gave it some more thought and decided to look for inspiration at the Farmer's Market. Greater Portland has a number of farmers' market, including a large one that happens twice a week here in Portland proper. On Saturdays, the booths set up in a park downtown where cut flowers, fruits, veggies, herbs, cheeses, meats, potted plants, honey, and baked goods are for sale in the fresh air with musicians and artists providing the backdrop. Hubby and I have enjoyed this weekly feast for the senses for a few weeks now. On a recent trip I was rewarded with an idea for this HGG round based on the gorgeous produce available.

The inspiration came from a beautiful basket of multicolored cherry tomatoes. I remembered a pizza my husband used to love from a local southern New England chain called Bertuccis. (Man, I love Bertuccis- please come to Maine!) They had a traditional margherita pizza. It has no sauce, but rather fresh tomatoes, basil and mozzarella baked to perfection. After locating a bunch of beautiful basil and some amazing local goats' milk ricotta, I knew I had a twist on a Maine Margherita on my hands.

It aome out deliciously! The tomatoes and basil were so fresh and flavorful and the ricotta had a wonderful nuttiness to it that I'm not used to with commercial cows' milk ricotta. The lack of sauce was not a problem as we got plenty of moisture from the veggies. Super yum.

Thanks for hosting Elizabeth! Mangia!

Local Maine Margherita Pizza
  • 1 Ball of Portland Pie Company Pizza Dough
  • 1 1/2- 2 C. Multi-Colored Cherry Tomatoes
  • 1 Regular Tomato
  • 8-12 Long Slices of Mozzarella (I wish I had used local here too.)
  • 8 oz. Tourmaline Hill Farm Fresh Goat Cheese Ricotta
  • 1/2 C. Fresh Basil

  1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees as dough instructions indicate. Place pizza stone in the stove from the start to allow it to heat slowly with the oven.
  2. Slice the cherry and full tomatoes into slices. The large tomato I was able to cut thin, but in order to keep the shape of the cherries, I used between 1 and 3 cuts on each.
  3. Slice the basil leaves into long strips.
  4. Work the pizza dough into a large, flat circle- you know, pizza shaped!
  5. When the oven and stone are warmed, remove the stone from the stove and sprinkle with cornmeal to prevent sticking. Place the dough on the stone.
  6. Spread the large tomato slices on the dough in a single layer.
  7. Cover with a single layer of the mozzarella. It does not matter if not everything gets covered yet as there are more layers to come.
  8. Cover the mozzarella with the cherry tomato slices.
  9. Sprinkle the fresh ricotta over the entire pizza.
  10. Bake the pizza for 10-12 minutes until the crust just starts to brown.
  11. Pull the pizza out of the oven and then sprinkle the fresh basil over the entire surface of the pizza. Continue baking for another 2-4 minutes until the crust is golden and the cheese is melty. You will not want the basil to get crunchy, so keep an eye on it if your oven cooks fast.
  12. Remove, slice, and enjoy hot!

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Spicy Black Bean Cakes

I love reading other food blogs for a few reasons. One is that I'm nosey; I like to know what other people are doing and being voyeuristic. Another is that I get so many great recipes and inspiration from others. Sometimes I see something that reminds me of something I wanted to make or gets my mouth hungry for a certain culture's cuisine. Sometimes there is a recipe that looks delicious and interesting just the way it is.

These black bean cakes fall into that second category. Tara from Smells Like Home featured this Martha Stewart recipe and I was intrigued by the orange color (from sweet potatoes) and the healthy, vegetarian aspect.

I've made these twice now and the hubs and I just love them! I never would have thought that you can take raw, grated sweet potato and prepare them like this to end up with such a flavorful addition to dinner. These have always been the star of the show. And don't tell, but they are super simply and quick to make! Bonus!!!

Spicy Black Bean Cakes
From Martha Stewart by way of Smells Like Home

  • 2 Green Onions, chopped
  • 2 Tbsp. Sliced Jalapenos, chopped
  • 2 Cloves of Garlic, chopped
  • 1 Tbsp. Cumin
  • 1 Can of Black Beans, drained
  • 1 Sweet Potato, peeled and grated
  • 1 Egg
  • 1/2 C. Bread Crumbs

  1. In a small saute pan, cook the onions, jalapenos, garlic, and cumin with a little olive oil on medium heat. The onions will be translucent when done.
  2. In a large bowl, pour in the drained black beans. Add in the mixture from the pan and mash everything using a fork. You will want the beans to be smashed, but it's perfectly ok to have some that are still whole. Don't go nuts about it!
  3. Fold in the rest of the ingredients until they are well mixed.
  4. Form small cakes, about 3" across and around 1/2" to 1" high.
  5. Place on a cookie sheet or flat pan. Broil on high for 10 minutes. Be sure they don't start to burn- if so, turn the broiler down to low.
  6. Flip the cakes after the initial 10 minutes and then return to broil for another 2 minutes.
  7. Serve warm. These are excellent with sour cream or a little lime juice.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Classic Potato Salad

We had a low key 4th of July this year. Many years we'd go to my parents' place to hang by the pool and eat cookout food. Recently we've been doing casual neighborhood get togethers where we eat cookout food. This year we kept it a private day with just the two of us... eating cookout. Are you seeing a trend?

My neighbor Cathy makes a kick-ass potato salad, but I didn't want to call her for the recipe this year just out of the blue. The biggest thing I always love about her recipe is that it has tons of hard boiled eggs. Yum! This recipe that I used was based off a number of recipes and was really tasty. We kept picking at it for days afterwards and it will come back for the next cookout we have- with or without others!

Red Potato Salad
Based off recipes from

  • 6 Red Potatoes, scrubbed and cubed
  • 5 Eggs, hard-boiled
  • 3/4 C. Low Fat Mayonnaise
  • 1/4 C. Sour Cream
  • 1 1/2 Tbsp. Chives, chopped
  • 1 1/2 Tbsp. Dijon Mustard
  • 1/4 tsp. Dried Dill
  • 1/4 tsp. Paprika
  • 1 Tbsp. White Vinegar
  • 1 Tbsp. Pickle Juice

  1. In a large pot, bring water to a boil and cook the cubed potatoes, with skins on, until they are just tender. It should be around 15 minutes, but do check them by piercing with a fork because mushy potatoes are no good.
  2. Drain the cooked potatoes and cool. Add to a large bowl.
  3. Slice the hard boiled eggs. Add to potatoes.
  4. In a small bowl, mix the remaining ingredients to make the dressing.
  5. Pour the dressing onto to the eggs and potatoes and stir to coat. Cover and let sit for an hour or two to let the flavor meld together. Serve chilled with a good burger and local microbrew.

Strawberry Ice Cream

Summer is all about fresh berries and cool treats. And last time I checked, strawberry ice cream meets both of those requirements. I made this some time ago, but we really enjoyed it. It was creamy and fresh and perfect with the hot fudge I drizzled all over mine!

Strawberry Ice Cream
Based from Food Network

  • 1+ C. Fresh Strawberries, washed and sliced
  • 2 Tbsp. Sugar
  • 1/2 C. Sugar
  • 2 C. Heavy Cream
  • 1/2 Vanilla Bean
  • 3 Egg Yolks

  1. In a small bowl, mash the fresh strawberries with the 2 Tbsp. of sugar. Set aside.
  2. In a medium saucepan, heat the cream and 2 C. of sugar over medium heat to a low simmer. Slice the vanilla bean in half and scrape out the seeds into the mixture. Let the bean pod boil with the cream and sugar for extra flavoring.
  3. In a separate bowl, whisk the egg yolks. Add in a small amount of the cream mixture and whisk. Pour the egg mixture back into the saucepan.
  4. Let the mixture simmer for about 10 minutes. stirring regularly, until it coats the back of a wooden spoon.
  5. Remove from the heat. Pour in the fresh strawberries and allow the mixture to cool in a bowl for an hour or two in the fridge. You want the mixture cold when processing for the best creaminess.
  6. When the custard is cooled, process in your ice cream maker according to manufacturer's instructions. Let the completed ice cream solidify in the freezer for at least 30 minutes before serving.

My Own Italian Rum Birthday Cake

Yesterday was my birthday! I spent the morning at the doctors- a convenient way to justify a birthday sick day- then lunch with a former coworker and then the evening baking and being lazy. It was delightful!

The baking I was doing was for a birthday cake for me. Now, before you scold me or my husband for making my own celebratory pastry, have no fear- I wanted to do it! It is rare I can justify making an extravagant dessert that is both involved and fattening. So it was truly a joy to try my hand at a new dish.

I chose to make an Italian Rum Cake. My grandmother regularly would buy an Italian rum cake for my mother's birthday from La Cascia Bakery in Massachusetts. Their cake was always rich and fancy and as a kid I mostly wanted to eat the buttercream roses.

This was a 2-day process. Yesterday I made the sponge cake and the pasticciera custard. I let the rum soak in last night while the custard cooled in the fridge. Today was assembly and the frosting. In the criticism department, I didn't cook my custard long enough, so it was a little runny, and my buttercream frosting was a little soft since I used more butter than shortening. In the complement department, oooooh-weeee, it's good! So many great flavors all tied in together and it really did look quite fancy.

Happy 30th birthday to me!

Italian Rum Cake
Based from
Sponge Cake

  • 5 Egg Yolks
  • 1 Tbsp. Lemon Juice
  • 1 tsp. Vanilla Extract
  • 1 1/2 C. White Sugar, divided
  • 5 Egg Whites
  • 1 1/4 C. Flour, sifted

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
  2. In a large bowl, whisk together the egg yolks, lemon juice, vanilla, and 1 C. of sugar until a light lemony color.
  3. In a stand mixer (or another bowl using a hand mixer), whip the egg whites until soft peaks start to form.
  4. Blend in the remaining sugar to the egg whites and whip again until stiff.
  5. Gently fold about 1/2 cup of the egg white mixture into the egg yolks. Layer the remaining egg whites on top of the yolks. Sift the flour on top of everything else.
  6. Fold in the flour until the batter is smooth and no veins of flour remain. During the mixing process you want to keep the eggs light and fluffy- this is what keeps the sponge cake airy.
  7. Pour into 9" round cake pan. I greased and floured mine and it was a bear to remove, so I can't offer much in the way of advice in that regard!
  8. Bake for 15-30 minutes until golden brown on top and a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.
  9. Remove from oven and cool completely on a baking rack.

Pasticciera Cream (vanilla and chocolate)
  • 3 Tbsp. Sugar
  • 3 Tbsp. Flour
  • 3 Egg Yolks
  • 1/2 tsp. Vanilla Extract
  • 2 C. Milk
  • 1 Tbsp. Butter
  • 2 Heaping Tbsp. Cocoa Powder

  1. In a medium bowl, mix sugar, flour, eggs, and vanilla together until smooth.
  2. In a small saucepan, scald the milk. I think this means to take the milk until almost boiling... that's what I did right or not!
  3. Slowly pour the hot milk into the egg mixture, stirring constantly. When all combined, transfer back into the saucepan and cook over low-medium heat.
  4. At this point, you need to cook the custard over the right heat so that it stays nice and hot and steamy, but not boiling. You will want to cook it until the mixture coats the back of a wooden spoon. Your custard will need to be fairly stiff, but it won't cook down all the way- it will do its final thickening while cooling. This is where I didn't cook my vanilla enough. I went for about 15-20 minutes and probably should have done 30.
  5. When you are satisfied with the consistency, melt the butter into the mix and then remove half of the vanilla to a bowl. It will be about 1 1/2 - 2 C. worth. Cover this portion with plastic wrap right up against the surface (to prevent a skin from forming) and let cool on counter.
  6. Back in the pot, whisk in the chocolate. When smooth, pour into a another medium bowl and cover with wrap and cool.
  7. When the bowls are not too hot, finish cooling the custards in the fridge. They will need at least 3-4 hours, but I recommend just going overnight.

  • Cooled Cake
  • 1/4 C. Dark Rum
  • Vanilla Custard
  • Chocolate Custard
  • Light Buttercream or Whipped Cream Frosting (I used this reduced 4 servings with more cream and 2/3 butter, 1/3 shortening.)
  • Toasted Sliced Almonds
  • Strawberries or Cherries (optional)

  1. Using a long, serrated blade, slice the sponge cake into 3 layers. (That's 2 cuts for those like me who have to think hard about simple math!)
  2. On the cut sides of cake, brush on the rum, allowing it to soak in.
  3. On the bottom layer, spread the chocolate custard evenly.
  4. Place the middle layer on top of the chocolate custard.
  5. On the middle layer, spread the vanilla custard evenly. If desired, layer on any berries if desired. I like the sliced strawberries from the frozen section in the grocery stores.
  6. Put on the top layer of the cake.
  7. Frost the edges of the cake. Press the toasted almond slices into the sides. I kind of lightly threw them on with a cupped hand because my custard was oozing out and I couldn't roll the edges on wax paper with almonds.
  8. Frost the top of the cake. If you have extra frosting and are feeling ambitious, pipe on a border. This helped my rounded edges gain some height.
  9. I then made a Nutella glaze (Nutella, cream, hot water) to drizzle on top with a few strawberries for punch. More almonds or pretty flowers would also be lovely.
  10. Let sit for a little bit to let the rum soak in and the flavors meld. Be sure to keep refrigerated when not serving or else the frosting and custard will run.

Fresh Thai Shrimp Spring Rolls

I am once again playing catch-up on my little blog! This dish was made- I'm sad to say- on June 29th. It's not that these dishes aren't good or that I'm not into telling you, lovely readers, about them. It's just, well, I'm busy and I get sleepy after making dinner, which is usually around 8 PM.

Ok, no more excuses- on to the food!

So these spring rolls are so filling and light and perfect for a summer evening. The ingredients are focused on good simple flavors and can be modified to your taste. I've made them vegetarian style or with chicken before as well with equally good results. The two challenges? First, finding the weird rice paper wrapper things. I always have to go to my local asian market to find them. Second issue is then using the wrappers. They are finicky- kind of slimy, kind of flimsy, kind of, well weird. But truly, they make the meal and hold the fillings quite well once you get the hang of it.

Whip up a nice spicy peanut dipping sauce and you're good to go!

Shrimp Spring Rolls

  • 5-10 Raw Shrimp
  • 1 Garlic Clove, minced
  • 1-2 Tbsp. Lime Juice
  • Rice Paper Wrappers
  • 1 Carrot, peeled and sliced in thin ribbons
  • 1 C. Lettuce, sliced in ribbons
  • 2 Green Onions, sliced in long ribbons
  • Wide Rice Noodles, cooked, drained and cooled
  • Mint Leaves

  1. Remove any tails and shells from shrimp, and cut lengthwise/ butterfly if desired. I like to cut it down the length so that it leaves smaller pieces for the rolls.
  2. In a small saute pan, heat some olive oil over medium heat. Cook the garlic until softened.
  3. Add in the cut shrimp and lime juice. I always try to flatten the shrimp and attempt to keep them from curling. Cook through until pink.
  4. Remove from pan and allow to cool. When cool, cut into small bite-sized pieces.
  5. In a cookie sheet or other shallow large container, prepare the "water bath" for the stiff wrappers. This means filling with warm water until about 1/2 inch deep. The container must be large enough to fit the wrapper circle in so that it can be submerged.
  6. With the wrapper submergerd, gently rub the surface until the wrapper softens and becomes pliable and rollable. Be sure to rub all the surfaces so that the edges get soft too. No one wants crunchy edges!
  7. On a clean surface, spread the wrapper. In the center, being sure not to overfill as I usually do, layer the shrimp, carrots, lettuce, green onions, rice noodles, and mint leaves. Other fillings could be basil, cabbage, soy bean threads, or ginger.
  8. Gently wrap up the edge, tucking in the ends for a tight roll.
  9. Cut on the diagonal to showcase the lovely fillings. Serve with warm peanut sauce.

Rice Paper Wrappers

Peanut Dipping Sauce
  • 1/2 C. Peanut Butter
  • 3 Tbsp. Soy Sauce
  • 1 tsp. Ginger Powder
  • 1/2 tsp. Garlic Powder
  • 1/4-1/2 tsp. Red Pepper Flakes
  • Water to taste for thinning

  1. In a small saucepan, heat the peanut butter over low heat, melting.
  2. Stir in the soy sauce, ginger, garlic powder, and pepper flakes. Mix until smooth.
  3. Add in water as desired to thin the sauce.
  4. Serve warm.

Sing Me a Song

Twice in one month I was tagged! Am I lucky? Or is it a curse?! It's unfortunate that I'm so slow in posting that I haven't gotten around to finishing this post until now.

Truthfully, I like being tagged. As a Leo, one of my favorite subjects to discuss is myself. Call me blessed with ample self-confidence, call me egotistical- but either way I'm honest!

When my friend Elly from Elly Says Opa! tagged me, I was leery what the tag was. I mean, how many random factoids can I come up with before I start repeating myself. Much to my delight, her meme is a musical one. Hoorah! I love music! I love to sing, dance, and back in the day I played a pretty good piano. (Don't ask about my trumpet playing skills though....)

The rules:
List seven songs you are into right now. No matter what the genre, whether they have words, or even if they’re not any good, but they must be songs you’re really enjoying now, shaping your world. Post these instructions in your blog along with your 7 songs. Then tag 7 other people to see what they’re listening to.

  1. John Mayer, Belief - This is totally my favorite song of the moment- very poignant and relevant to the hysterics that seem to be affecting people and the media these days. Off of his Continuum album, the music has a great dark and catchy tune. The lyrics though are what stand out for me. Two lines that really sum is up: "Is there anyone who really recalls/ Ever braking rank at all/ For something someone yelled real loud one time?" and "What puts the folded flag inside his mother's hand?/ Belief can, belief can." Powerful stuff.
  2. Lily Allen, Knock 'Em Out - Oh little Lily from the UK! She's a smart-mouthed teenager with a delightful, dark wit and upbeat hooks. This song is about any person's experience trying to dodge creeps out at a bar/ club. The song has a great little spoken bit over the catchy rhythm- "You're just doing your own thing and someone comes out of the blue and is like 'Alright, whatdya say, can I take your digits?' And you're like no, not in a million years, you're nasty, please leave me alone." Classic.
  3. Bebel Gilberto, Simplesmente - Bebel is the daughter of Astrud and Joao Gilberto, both of Girl From Ipanema fame. Bebel keeps the bossa nova tradition going with lovely Brazilian music. I can't understand the Portuguese lyrics, but the relaxing songs keep me happy at work.
  4. U2, Electrical Storm - I'm big U2 fan, particularly since I met my husband in high school 14 years ago. They have evolved so much over time but always have a fantastic musical ability no matter their current style. We danced to All I Want Is You at our wedding and left the wedding chapel to Beautiful Day and ended the reception to their rendition of Everlasting Love. But I love Electrical Storm for the dark sound, building emotion, and poetic lyrics. "Car alarm won't let you back to sleep/ You're kept awake dreaming someone elses dream./ Coffee is cold but it'll get you through/ Compromise that's nothing new to you."
  5. Dropkick Murphy's, State of Massachusetts - Rock. Celtic music. Politics. What a great combo! The Dropkicks are a Boston staple and I love their weaving of good American guitars with classic Irish fiddles. It sounds best with the volume turned way up!
  6. The Offspring, Hammerhead - Like the DM's above, The Offspring are all about hard rock and a political edge. Hammerhead sings out about a soldiers' mentality in battle. I think it's against the war in Iraq, or maybe the point is I as the listener can think it's about whatever I want. Either way, it rocks.
  7. Madonna, 4 Minutes - And the cheeseball entry. The alternative rock station in my area plays a lot of loud, chauvinist, crap rock. So I listen to the top 40 station, which is only slightly better. But man, that Madonna and Justin song makes me want to get out on the dance floor! If you see a brunette in Portland car dancing with the radio blaring, it's probably me.

So now I'm supposed to tag a few folks to hear what they are listening to. Hm. This is often where I fail. And in the desire to actually get this posted, I'm going to accept failure and cheat by not passing this along!!!