Pizza Win!

I’ll admit, I’ve been slacking off the last few weeks. First Andy was out of town, and then we had out-of-town guests, then we took a mini-vacation, and then things got busy for me at work. All of that translates to almost no time to blog (although, thankfully, there has still been time to make dinner).

In the middle of that whirlwind, I was able to finally take a road trip with some girlfriends to the nearest Trader Joe’s. I figured it was time to see what all of the fuss was about. (It’s about a two-hour drive to get there from my house, and I know people who make the pilgrimage trek trip regularly. I needed to know why.) I have to say, I wasn’t blown away. I did pick up some orecchiette (since I have a hard time finding it for a reasonable price at my standard grocery store) and a couple other items (dried apricots and roasted red peppers), but overall, I was underwhelmed.

The real “win” of the Trader Joe’s trip (aside from the quality time with some of my all-time favorite people) was the asparagus. It was decently priced, and since I am SO ready for spring, I bought a bunch. And thanks to a fantastic pizza that we had in Bayfield (Brie, caramelized onions, roasted red peppers and chicken, anyone?), I couldn’t stop thinking about a pizza with caramelized onions. How about a shaved asparagus pizza with caramelized onions? With bacon too, because, well, it’s bacon. Who’s with me? 🙂

I’d made an asparagus pizza once before, with my usual hand-tossed style crust, and I felt like it was too much crust. So, this time around, I decided to try a thinner crust, and while I’m typically a more-bread-is-better girl, I felt like the thin crust was just what this pizza needed. (Does this mean there’s room in my life for more than one kind of pizza crust? What’s next? More than one chocolate chip cookie?)

I don’t know if it was the onions, the crust, the bacon or some magical quality in the Trader Joe’s asparagus, but the pizza was an all-out success. As in, the best thing we ate all week. Maybe I need another road trip. 😉

asparagus pizza

Shaved Asparagus Pizza with Bacon and Caramelized Onions

For the crust: 
1/2 cup warm water
1 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast
1 1/2 cups/190 grams all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
olive oil for the bowl and pizza pan
cornmeal for the pizza pan

For the toppings:
1 large yellow onion, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 tablespoon and 1 teaspoon olive oil, divided
pinch of salt
pinch of sugar
1/2 lb. fresh asparagus spears
4 slices of bacon, cooked until crisp and crumbled
4 ounces of mozzarella cheese, shredded
1/2 ounce shredded Parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 200 degrees, and then turn the oven off, keeping the door closed to retain the oven temperature.

Pour the warm water into the bowl of a stand mixer and sprinkle the yeast on top of the water. Let the mixture stand until the yeast is dissolved and foamy, about 10 minutes. Add the flour and the salt to the bowl and attach the bowl to the mixer. Using the dough hook, mix the dough on medium speed until it comes together in a large mass. Increase the speed to medium-low and knead until the dough is smooth and elastic, about 5 minutes. Take the dough out of the bowl and wipe out the mixing bowl. Brush some olive oil in the mixing bowl and return the dough to the bowl.

Cover the mixing bowl with plastic wrap and place in the warmed oven. Allow dough to rise until doubled, about 30 minutes.

While the crust is rising, prepare the toppings. Melt the butter and one teaspoon of olive oil in a large, heavy skillet. When the butter has melted, add the onion slices, salt and sugar.  Cook the onions over medium low until the onions are soft, golden brown and caramelized, only stirring occasionally.

Meanwhile, “shave” the asparagus. Hold the large end of the asparagus and run a vegetable peeler down the length of the stalk, creating thin ribbons. (Some of mine were thinner than others, and it all worked out OK.) Discard the tough, woody ends of the asparagus stalk.

When the dough has risen, remove it from the oven and preheat the oven to 425. Lightly oil a pizza pan with olive oil and sprinkle with cornmeal. Stretch the dough out into a 12″ round and brush the crust with about a tablespoon of olive oil. Spread the caramelized onions all over the crust. Pile the asparagus ribbons on top of the onions. Sprinkle with the crumbled bacon, and then cover the pizza with the mozzarella cheese. Top with the Parmesan cheese.

Bake until crust is golden and cheese is melted, bubbly and browned, about 15 minutes. Remove from oven, slice into wedges and serve immediately.

Crust from the Smitten Kitchen Cookbook, toppings inspired by the Smitten Kitchen Cookbook and Maggie’s in Bayfield, Wis.

Click here for a printable version.

Our Favorite Chicken Soup

I was going to talk about dessert. Sorbet, to be precise. After all, that’s a relatively “healthy” dessert for January, right? But then things got cold. Not just “grab a hat and gloves” cold, but ridiculously cold. I’d almost call it “not fit for human life” cold, except that I know there were parts of the country that had it worse. My thermostat may have read -17, but I talked to people who saw -27. And that was before the wind. Like I said. Ridiculous.

So yeah. No sorbet today. Even though the temps are practically balmy by comparison (31 degrees, anyone?), I’m not really feeling a frozen dessert. Let’s talk about soup instead, OK?

Everyone needs a favorite chicken soup, right? It’s the perfect winter pick-me-up. It’s good for whatever ails you. And if you’re lucky, it won’t require massive amounts of planning ahead or hours of simmering for the flavors to meld. In fact, I can run errands after work and still come home with enough time to make this for dinner. How’s that for efficiency?

What sets this soup apart from other chicken noodle soups is the lemon flavor. With both fresh lemon juice and zest, it has a bright, fresh taste that most other chicken soups don’t. I have noticed, however, that the orzo acts like a million tiny sponges in the broth, which means that more often than not, we have leftover lemon-chicken-orzo casserole, rather than soup. It works out OK though – Andy likes the casserole consistency of the leftovers, and I just add a little extra water to my share before microwaving it.

Take that, polar vortex. 🙂


Lemon Chicken Orzo Soup

2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 onion, diced
3 garlic cloves, minced
4 medium carrots, sliced into 1/4″ circles
2 celery stalks, thinly sliced
1 chicken breast, diced (or two cups of cooked, shredded chicken) 
10 cups of chicken broth
zest of 2 lemons
juice of 1-2 lemons (about 1/3 cup)
1 bay leaf
1 1/2 cups orzo pasta
1 cup frozen peas
large handful chopped fresh parsley (feel free to substitute dried if necessary)
salt and pepper to taste

Heat a large stockpot over medium heat and pour 1 tablespoon of olive oil into the pot. Place the chopped chicken into the pan and season with salt and pepper. Saute until chicken is cooked through, about 5-10 minutes, depending on the size of the chicken chunks. (Skip this step if you’re using already cooked chicken, obviously.) Remove chicken from pan and reserve for later.

Pour remaining olive oil into the hot pan. Saute the onion, carrots, garlic and celery in the oil until the vegetables are tender, about 5-7 minutes.

Pour the broth and lemon juice into the stockpot. Add the lemon zest and bay leaf and bring the mixture to a boil. When the mixture reaches a boil, add the orzo and simmer until the pasta is nearly done, about 8 minutes.*

Stir into the cooked chicken, and then add the peas and parsley. Taste and adjust seasonings with salt and pepper if needed. Remove the bay leaf before ladling into bowls.

Serve warm.

*Side note: In my attempts to avoid lemon-chicken-orzo casserole, I’ve cooked the pasta separately and then stirred it into the individual soup bowls. As far as I can tell, this works, but it’s an extra step, and like I said before, I’m all about efficiency. 😀 

Adapted from Two Peas & Their Pod

Click here for a printable version.


Back in the Swing of Things

I’ll be the first to admit that I couldn’t wait to get back into my kitchen after vacation. Having all of my knives, my oven AND running water was like a dream come true after two weeks of boiling water over a camp stove before washing the dishes.

This chowder was the first new dish I made after we got back. I’d had it on my “to try” list for quite a while, but somehow, I never got around to actually making it. (Probably because we devour our sweet corn before it has a chance to become an ingredient.) And since we came home to some very fall-like weather, soup seemed like the perfect way to get back into the kitchen. Let’s do a quick recap of what this recipe has going for it:

  1. It uses up stray CSA ingredients. (We only had three ears of sweet corn… this kept us from fighting over who would get the third ear.) 
  2. It’s quick and easy.
  3. It’s filling, without being too heavy of a soup. I only made half a batch (which is what I’m sharing below), and we got two days’ worth of lunches out of the deal!
  4. It knocks one more recipe off my ever-growing “things to try” list.
  5. BACON. Enough said. 😀


Corn & Shrimp Chowder with Bacon

3 ears of sweet corn, husked
4 slices of bacon (OK, so I used the full amount of bacon. That just ensures that there will be 2 slices to actually go in the soup, since it’s inevitable that some will mysteriously disappear before the soup is done.) 
4 scallions, thinly sliced, green and white parts separated
2 medium red potatoes, cut into 1/2″ chunks
2 tablespoons flour
1 1/2 cups milk
1/2 teaspoon Old Bay
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 pound large uncooked shrimped, peeled and deveined
salt and pepper, to taste

Stand an ear of corn up in a large, wide bowl. Using a paring knife, cut the kernels off the cob. When the kernels have all been sliced off, take a spoon and scrape the pulp into the bowl. Repeat with the remaining ears of corn.

In a large saucepan or stock pot, cook the bacon slices until crisp. Remove from the pan and allow to drain on a paper towel. Crumble slices into bite-sized pieces.

Drain off some of the bacon grease, leaving about two tablespoons in the bottom of the pan. Add the white parts of the scallions and the chopped potatoes to the pan with the bacon grease and cook over medium high heat. Cook until potatoes begin to soften, about 3-4 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the flour and cook, stirring constantly, for 2-3 minutes, or until it begins to brown (but not burn).

Pour the milk into the saucepan, whisking constantly. Stir in 1 cup of water, the Old Bay and thyme. Bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Simmer until potatoes are cooked, about 10 minutes.

Add the corn, shrimp and scallion greens to the pot. Cook until shrimp are opaque and cooked through, about 3 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Remove pan from heat. Ladle soup into bowls and serve garnished with bacon pieces.

From Everyday Food, July 2009

Click here for a printable version.

The One That Just Came Together

Some nights, we have dinners that are elaborate, well-planned and impressive. Some nights we eat grilled cheese. And some evenings, I just throw random ingredients together. This dish came out of one of those evenings. I had fresh peas to use from our CSA, a little bit of feta cheese (left over from our favorite breakfast), chickpeas in the freezer and stray scallion in the crisper drawer.

I threw it all together with some herbs from our garden, some garlic and a lemon, and we had a surprisingly tasty dinner. Even a blind squirrel finds a nut once in a while, right? 😉 The leftovers made a great lunch for the next couple of days as well!

Chickpea CousCous

Lemon Herb Couscous with Chickpeas, Peas and Feta

3/4 cup couscous
1 1/2 cups chicken or vegetable stock
1 cup fresh peas
3 cups cooked chickpeas
1 garlic clove, minced
1 ounce feta cheese, crumbled
1 scallion, finely chopped
zest and juice of one lemon
2-3 tablespoons fresh herbs, minced (I used a combination of oregano, basil, parsley and thyme. Fee free to choose your favorites!)
Olive oil
Salt and pepper, to taste

In a medium saucepan, heat a tablespoon (or so) of olive oil over medium heat. Add the chickpeas and garlic to the pan and cook until just heated through. Remove from heat, cover and keep warm.

Meanwhile, cook the peas until crisp-tender. (I took the easy way out and microwaved them for a minute or two.) Drain the peas and set them aside as well.

Pour the couscous in to a large, heat-proof bowl. (I used my Pyrex mixing bowl.) Bring the stock to a boil in a small saucepan set over medium high heat. When the stock comes to a boil, pour it over the couscous and cover with plastic wrap. Let stand for five minutes.

Uncover the couscous and fluff with a fork. Zest the lemon into the pasta, then stir in the peas, chickpeas and garlic. Toss the peas, scallion and herbs into the couscous mixture, and then add the lemon juice. Stir to combine. Finally, mix in the feta cheese. Taste, and season with additional salt, pepper or olive oil as needed. Serve warm or at room temperature.

A Beth’s Blue Plate Special Original

Click here for printable version.

Mac & Cheese, Upgraded

Apparently, I can’t leave well enough alone. (See also: grilled cheese.) I mean, did macaroni and cheese really need changing? It’s carbs (yum) with cheese (double yum). But when you have extra bacon in the fridge and broccoli in the freezer, why not take things up a notch? 😀

I have several mac and cheese recipes saved in my Google reader, but this one from Confections of a Foodie Bride really caught my attention, mostly because it didn’t start with a flour/butter roux. As much as I love a standard “white sauce,” eliminating a step sounded like a good idea for a weeknight meal. I didn’t have plain yogurt on hand, so I ended up substituting sour cream. (I was a little unsure of that step, since Andy is NOT a fan of creamy white “sauces,” but after it cooked together, he had no idea it was in there.) 

In my attempts to eliminate steps (and dishes!), I cooked the broccoli with the pasta. While it seemed like a good idea at the time, I don’t think I’ll go that route again. Each little broccoli floret became a cheese magnet, grabbing the shreds of cheese and refusing to let go. While it wasn’t the end of the world, it made the sauce a little thinner. So, learn from my mistakes and stir the cooked broccoli in AFTER the cheese.


Broccoli & Bacon Mac & Cheese

4 slices of bacon, cooked and crumbled*
8 ounces of short pasta
12 ounces frozen broccoli
1 small onion, thinly sliced
1/2 cup sour cream
4 ounces freshly shredded cheddar cheese
4 ounces freshly shredded fontina cheese
salt & pepper to taste
olive oil

In a small skillet, heat a splash of olive oil over medium heat. Saute the sliced onions until they are soft, golden and fragrant.

Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook the pasta according to the package directions.Drain the pasta, reserving about a cup of the pasta water, and return the pasta to the pot.

In a separate pan (or in a bowl in the microwave), steam the broccoli until it is crisp-tender. Drain and set aside.

Stir the sour cream and cheese into the pot with the pasta. Mix together until a smooth, creamy sauce forms. If necessary, thin the sauce with the reserved pasta water, adding about 1/4 cup at a time, until the sauce reaches the desired consistency.

Mix the onions, bacon and broccoli into the pasta. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve immediately.

Adapted from Confections of a Foodie Bride

*My friend Bethany turned me on to the idea of cooking bacon in the oven. I line a baking sheet with foil and bake the strips at 375. It takes about 20 minutes in my oven for the bacon to reach our desired level of “crispiness.” There’s no splatter, no mess, and I don’t burn the bacon anymore! I do turn the slices about halfway through baking, but other than that, it’s completely hands-off. Consider me converted. I’m never pan-frying it again. 

Click here for a printable version.

Updating a Classic

I feel as though I should start with a disclosure statement. Call it a public service announcement, if you’d like. Just know that once you dress up your grilled cheese sandwiches, there is no going back. You’ll never be satisfied with the same old American cheese between two slices of bread again.

Consider yourself warned.

Grilled cheese is one of those basic meals that I learned to make as a kid. Back then, it was slices of Velveeta (yes, yes, I know… but it melts so well…) between whatever bread was in the cupboard. I’ve since graduated to cheddar cheese, but I hadn’t made any other changes. I mean, there’s a reason the classics ARE the classics, right?

Until this past week. For some reason, I was looking for something a little different in our Sunday lunch. Something that would make it more than just a quick meal after church. Something… amazing, I guess. Andy’s first suggestion was bacon, which would have been amazing, but I’d used the last of our bacon in a bacon-broccoli mac-and-cheese earlier in the week. Instead of bacon, I caramelized some onions, chopped up some spinach and got out the white cheddar. Let’s just say that grilled cheese in our house will never be the same again.


Grilled Cheese with Caramelized Onions and Spinach

2 large yellow onions, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon butter, plus extra for buttering bread
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 teaspoon sugar
pinch of salt
3 1/2 ounces sharp white cheddar cheese, thinly sliced
1 cup baby spinach leaves, chopped
4 slices of your favorite sandwich bread (sourdough would be great here, I think) 

In a large, heavy-bottomed skillet (I used my cast iron one again.), melt a tablespoon of butter with the olive oil. Add the onions to the pan and sprinkle with sugar and the pinch of salt. Cook over medium-low heat until the onions are soft and caramelized, about 20 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside.

Butter one side of each slice of bread, and place two slices, butter side down, on a griddle. Divide the cheese in half (one pile for each sandwich), and then place half of that on each piece of bread. Spread the onions on top of the cheese, then top the onions with the chopped spinach. Place the rest of the cheese on top of the spinach and then top with the remaining slices of bread, butter side out. Cook over medium heat, flipping once, until cheese is melted and the bread is golden brown. Serve immediately.

a Beth’s Blue Plate Special Original!

Click here for a printable version!