Cauliflower Crust Pizza

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This morning I was thinking about the home that I live in and all the hundreds of thousands of people involved in the production of this house and all the things I own.  There are walls and paint and furniture and appliances and clothes and books and lamps….and each of these things is composed of so many different materials from so many different places and factories.  In my ideal world, I would love to be able to answer the who, what, where, when and how of it all.  I would love to know all the workers who gave me what I have and know that they were treated justly and know their stories.  In today’s world, that is pretty much impossible.  All the same, I think these issues are particularly pertinent in regards to what we put into our bodies.  The who/how/what/where/when behind our own nourishment seems like something we should not have to work too hard to understand.

As a country, we’ve gotten so far past that point that it seems like people are really trying to swing the pendulum back to some semblance of normalcy.  There is more awareness about farmer’s markets and local organic farming.  There are more and more CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) programs springing up, and it seems people are becoming more aware of how food and health are intrinsically connected.  (Thank you Captain Obvious.) 

It is more time-consuming to live this way, but I would argue that it is entirely worth the time and energy.  Quality takes time, but the rewards far outweigh the costs.  This is a topic I could talk about for hours and days without growing weary of it…and if you happen to be a family member of mine, you know I can become annoyingly didactic on all matters food-related.  “Marie all I want is to enjoy my slice of pizza without you going all Sermon on the Mount on me!!”  Poor family.

So instead of bewailing the evils of processed foods (and its not like I’m a total food purist myself), I’ve been trying to focus on the joy of cooking instead.  Because it is a joy.  It’s a conversation with myself actually, in which I hear a whisper “Meet me in the kitchen.”  And then, “Try  a spicy stew of purple cabbage and hot sausage and sweet potatoes today…you’ll be surprised!”  And I mix and stir and inhale scents and flavors and I am surprised.

As I was by this delicious pizza.

Ingredients:

Crust

1 head cauliflower
1/3 cup goat cheese (If you don’t like the taste of goat cheese, you can use a cup of mozzarella instead)
1 free range egg
1 Tbsp dried oregano

Toppings:

Whatever you like!!

I used: homemade tomato sauce, spinach, eggplant, green pepper, onion, zucchini, and parmesan cheese.  I sauteed all the vegetables in olive oil except for the spinach. Afterwards, I threw on some leftover grilled chicken and it was a dreamboat of a meal.

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Preheat oven to 400° Place cauliflower florets in a food processor and pulse until it becomes grainy. Steam until the cauliflower is soft, and drain thoroughly using a dishcloth. (Or just microwave it for about 8 minutes). Let it cool a little, and while it’s still warm, stir in the egg, goat cheese and oregano. Place a sheet of parchment paper over a pizza pan, and spread the crust over it. Bake it for 40 minutes. Remove and coat with your toppings of choice, and then broil in the oven for 5 minutes. Enjoy!!

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Winter Ratatouille

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I say winter ratatouille because of one key distinction between this dish and the alternative I might make in the summer.  I used canned tomatoes instead of fresh tomatoes, and because of this, I also altered the technique for the layering of the vegetables.  If you know me well, you know that I love and respect tomatoes too much to disgrace their good name by buying a fresh tomato in the winter.  The winter offers tasteless mealy pale imitations that come from God knows where.  Don’t do it.

I began with Julia’s recipe from Mastering the Art of French Cooking simply because she throws each group of vegetables over some hot olive oil and sautes them slightly before putting them together in the stew, thereby calling forth the separate flavors of each before they are combined together.  I like that, and it certainly worked for me here. After that, I kind of did my own thing, not because I think I can do it better than Julia, but because my amateur self is still bad at following directions.

Disclaimer: I did not use parsley.  Can you call it ratatouille without the parsley? I’m not sure.  I didn’t have any, but to be fair I did use lots and lots of thyme in its place, and in my book you can never go wrong with thyme.  In fact, it might taste even better this way. I’ll try to remember to do a taste comparison at some point.

Ingredients:

1 large eggplant
2 large zucchinis
1 orange bell pepper (any bell pepper works; I chose orange for aesthetic purposes)
1 yellow onion
2 tbsp dried basil
2 tbsp dried oregano
1 head garlic (you can douse it with olive oil, slice off the rough end of the head, and stick it in the oven at 400° for 10 minutes and then the cloves will slip right out of their casings)
7 tbsp olive oil
1 can crushed tomatoes
1 handful fresh thyme
1 tbsp salt

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(^^Hannah helped slice even with her Hulk arm. What a trooper.^^)

Preheat oven to 350.° Slice the vegetables into thin circles and separate them. Toss them with a light sprinkling of salt, basil and oregano. Heat up 2 tbsp of olive oil on a stovetop. Taking one bowl at a time, lay the vegetables over the hot oil and brown them slightly on both sides. Add more oil to the pan as needed, and heat before sauteing. Use a deep baking dish (its actually a casserole dish but I hate the word “casserole”) and layer the vegetables into it, starting with the eggplant, the zucchini, the tomatoes, the peppers and then the onions. After the first layer, top with whole roasted garlic cloves. Slice them once or twice if they are very large. Remove the thyme leaves from half of the sprigs of thyme and sprinkle over the top. Repeat the entire process. Cover the dish and set in the oven for 40 minutes. Enjoy!
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(^^Before it’s been cooked^^)
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(^^Also good over salad^^)

Strawberry Bean Quesadillas

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Yesterday I stopped in at Scotti’s record store where I had not been in ages.  My sister Celine wanted to buy a gift there for a friend.  Coincidentally, I had just finished listening to the All Songs Considered podcast about favorite albums during college.  All day I’d been trying to figure out which artist or song or album had the single greatest impact on me in my college years.  I couldn’t nail it down.  That’s really hard.  I’d love to say that I nursed an obsession with a single band, but there was such a conglomerate of groups that I went to for all different reasons…some to serenade me while I studied, some to blast in the car, some to be my personal soundtrack when I felt invincible, and some to serve as the backdrop when I was feeling low and needed to stew in my own funk juices for awhile.

Recently a friend asked me what music I listen to while I cook.  Also tricky.  If I am preparing something grandiose and need to channel my inner Jacques Cousteau, I will usually have either opera, Charles Aznavour or Edith Piaf playing.  If I am cooking as a means of self-therapy, it could be anything from Paul Simon to the Avett Brothers or Arcade Fire or Jeff Buckley or The Staves or Brand New or Cat Stevens or Talking Heads or Sigur Ros or Fall Out Boy or xxx or or or…..it all depends.  If I am surrounded by my family, Glenn Miller and Louis Armstrong will always do the trick.

In any case. my trip to Scotti’s and subsequent purchase (just could not refrain) reminded me of all the times when I’d just brought home a new album or mix and couldn’t wait to get in the car and drive with it and use up half my gas tank just to let the music elevate me and remind me what a good thing it can be to be alive, as myself, in this world.  And then I’d look forward to listening to it again and again and again until every lyric was engrained and every octave switch was anticipated in my bones.

Also, as I drove with my new purchase last night, I remembered that caution is required  to avoid potholes and too-bumpy roads so as not to scratch the disk.  I happened to choose particularly bad roads, but with fingers crossed, we made it out unscathed.  That is one of the downsides about having a cd as opposed to simply downloading new music, but there is just something so much more exciting about holding a new album in your hands and sticking it in the player.  Anyways….

Yesterday I made this refreshing dish while Shakira sang.  Not the new, commercialized Shakira, but the very young old school artist with the awesome lyrics and carefree attitude that exuded from her first album: Pies Descalsos.

I have to say that, delicious as these quesadillas may be, they still fit more into a summer food category than a winter one.  All the same, they are super refreshing and enjoyable any day of the year.

Ingredients

(Inspired by Sprouted Kitchen)

8 corn tortillas
1 cup fresh spinach
1/2 cup plain whole milk yogurt
1 avocado
1 lime
1 handful fresh cilantro
8 strawberries
2/3 cup black beans, cooked and blended
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
1/2 cup goat cheese
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Stir together the beans and yogurt. Spread over a tortilla and then layer the spinach, slivers of avocado, two sliced strawberries, and a few sprigs of cilantro. Squeeze lime juice over it, and then give it a drizzle of balsamic vinegar. Top with a smattering of crumbled goat cheese and a second tortilla, and heat on a pan over the stovetop on high heat until the outer side of the tortilla is slightly browned. Flip and repeat. Slice into quarters and serve warm. Enjoy!

These make 4 quesadillas, but the recipe can be easily multiplied.
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Maple Crisp Apple Pots

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They say that smelling is half of tasting, but that can’t be true because three other senses are also involved in the all-inclusive sensory experience of eating.  Enter your imagination and try to recall your favorite food memories.  Taste and smell are crucial components, but sight and touch and sound are essential as well.

For example, some of my favorite food memories don’t involve taste or smell at all.  I used to watch my dad eat breakfast in the morning.  He would have toast with butter or apple butter, and would sit at the table with a mug of hot coffee and his newspaper.  There was something about the way he would take a bite from a buttery slice of toast that invariably drooped down in the center, fold over a page of the newspaper and then take a long audible sip of coffee.  It looked like the best meal in the world.  I fully enjoyed the experience without tasting a morsel myself.

I have many voyeuristic food memories like that including watching: the way Denzel Washington chews his gum in Remember the Titans, or death discovering peanut butter, or Babette preparing her feast…and who knew that even this grotesque concoction could seem enticing?  And food in literature opens up a whole other world of sensual experience that I’ll need to devote many posts to in the future.

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Or sometimes it’s the texture of the food that gives it its charm.  My grandma used to make a quick breakfast for me when I went to her house that she must have learned during wartime or the great depression or some such period when creativity was a necessary aid for scrimping on ingredients to make something out of nothing.  She’d combine together one poached egg with some butter and a hunk of bread in a pan and then put everything into a mug and hand it over with a fork.  To me it seemed like quite a decadent little feast, and I think most of the appeal came from the combination of textures: fluffy eggs, toasty bread, and hints of butter.  The same can be said about my childhood obsession with the tapioca pudding my mom used to bring home, where half the pleasure consisted in savoring the slippery feel of the little tapioca pearls before swallowing them down with their surrounding clouds of creamy pudding.

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So what does all this have to do with today’s treat? Well nothing much except that the wonderful potency of the fragrant cinnamony apples brings back memories of Thanksgiving mornings when we used to borrow the oven of our neighbors who were away in order to accommodate all the cooking required to host a Thanksgiving army of people.  Our house smelled like roasting turkey and sounded like chaos and March of the Wooden Soldiers (which plays each Thanksgiving at 9am), while the neighbors’ house was empty and quiet and smelled like apple pie.  It was fun running back and forth with my mom to check on the cooking process, and escape and re-enter the mayhem of home.

So there’s nothing more to say about these baked apples except to note that they hit up all five senses.  They smell like all the best apple baking aroma memories.  Each bite holds a treasure trove of texture varieties.  They taste like comfort and home.  They look like the best of autumn, and they give a pleasing little crunchy chew.

Ingredients:

4 apples of your choice
1/3 cup gluten-free rolled oats
1/4 cup pure maple syrup
1/4 cup crushed walnuts
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp ginger
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
2 tbsp butter (if you want to make these vegan, just leave out the butter)

Preheat the oven to 375° Core and hollow out the apples while leaving their exteriors in tact. Dice the interior of the apples and mix with all the ingredients except the butter. Stuff each apple. Cover the bottom of a baking dish with water and place them upright inside the dish. Top each one with a pat of butter and bake for 35 minutes. Serve warm. Enjoy!

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PS> A bonus treat for making it through the post. Watch this video of a Norwegian guy finding the caches of food that he hid for himself after days of arctic hiking.

A Celebration of: New Jersey

When I arrived back from Lebanon, New Jersey seemed to be bathed in a transcendent haze of utopian light that I didn’t think could possibly fade.

Perhaps that’s because I arrived smack in the interim when summer begins to defer to fall, which is Jersey’s best look:

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Being home felt like the top of the world. Lots of joy all around.

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It lasted for around four months (which is about how long my culture shock high lasted when I first arrived in Beirut and Lebs seemed like the best country in the world in every possible way…but even after the initial high evaporated, Lebanon still gets a top ranking in Marie’s Index of Awesomest Countries…but we’re talking about Jersey right now ).

There were walks, blustery trips down the shore, night outings with my sisters right before Sandy hit, candlelight dinners for weeks after Sandy, my brother’s championship soccer game, and many trips to the local bar that I had really missed while I was gone.
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Then reality settled in right alongside familiarity, and I seem to be getting restless once more.  I have a feeling I’ll be moving out of Jersey again soon and that I’ll miss all the glorious mundaneness of everyday life here.  For this reason, it’s important to give New Jersey the ode it so deserves.

New Jersey you are:

1. The armpit of New York?  Perhaps, but if so, I’ll nestle into you any day.  You have suburbs and cities and history and rural areas, enough ghetto to keep us grounded, and the infamous shore boasting some pretty great waves. You are close enough to NYC that the Big Apple is at once homey  and familiar and still very exciting for those who don’t have to make the daily commute (and I’m sure even commuting has its charms).

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2. The best bagel-maker of all 50 states. You are the expert bar-none with the kind of doughy delights that are hard on the outside and have the perfect combination of soft and chewy interiors. Delicious with taylor ham, egg and cheese. Delicious with a generous slathering of cream cheese. Or warm and buttery and sinfully unctuous.

3. Persevering against the flow in the gas station department. You realize that sometimes gas station attendants have the best stories and are some of the most interesting people and also, who wants to pump their own gas mid-winter?

4. A faithful provider of diners to crash at late at night for milkshakes and fries or perhaps a post-midnight order off the breakfast menu.

5. Fully aware that we need a good dose of all four seasons. Even though winter is a little longer than many would like, it could be much worse, and we do have St Paddy’s Day to distract us with enough beer, tender-salty corned beef, and Irish soda bread to carry us right into spring.  You give us crocuses and tulips for a joyful spring, the beach and the sweaty humidity of a good hot summer, enough trees for a breathtaking fall, and hills for sledding in a cold white winter that’s usually broken up with intervals of temperature highs.

But most of all, New Jersey, you were my personal incubator for the entirety of my childhood.  You hold some of my best memories and you will always feel like home.  So if I do take off anytime soon, don’t forget that you’re still my favorite –even if I love the whole world–and I’ll never be gone for too long.

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Chocolate Quinoa Porridge

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Well we’re living in a time where pretty much everything goes, right? And wasn’t it Marie Antoinette who said “Let them eat cake…for breakfast”? And had she known about combining somewhat unlikely ingredients (although it depends what you consider ‘unlikely’), would she not instead have said “Let them eat chocolate quinoa porridge”? I think so.

Ingredients

1/3 cup quinoa
1 1/3 cup almond milk
1 tbsp Dutch cocoa powder
1 1/2 tsp agave nectar

Optional:
1 oz chocolate of choice
a few strawberries

Let the quinoa soak in the almond milk overnight. Transfer it to a pot, add the cocoa powder, and bring to a boil. Reduce to low heat until the quinoa has absorbed the milk. Stir in the agave nectar or brown sugar or whatever you prefer. Let the chocolate melt over it and add the strawberries if you like.  It’s an energy booster that’ll satisfy that one desire and give you two dancing feet. Enjoy!
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Valentine’s Day and Salmon

Valentine’s Day is pretty much all we have to hold us over until St Patrick’s Day, which can get us through till spring, so it needs to be the gift that keeps on giving.
That said, hopefully everyone got their fair share of flowers and oysters and wine and love this week. My Valentine’s Day included salmon, chocolate and dancing.  Salmon is wonderful because its oemga-3 fatty acids and rich mineral content make it a very good meal to eat during the winter, and yet for me it is associated with summer and the ocean.

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(^^Notice how even my attire is salmon-colored^^)

So not only is salmon is breath of summer during the cold months, but it also happens to be an apt Valentine’s Day meal.  Its blushing color, soft meat and inviting taste make it a love of a fish. Plus it is very versatile. It is delicious with the simplest of ingredients; a squeeze of lemon and some pepper over a stove top are enough to turn it into a proper meal, and if yet you play around with spices and cooking methods you can easily render it a whole new dish. I like to simply pepper the salmon, poach it in lemon juice and top it with lots of fresh cilantro and garlic. My mom uses it to make fish tacos alongside a black bean and salsa blend. This week we were out of lemons, so my dad prepared a filet of salmon with butter, oregano and the citric juices of an orange. The orange added a pleasant zest to the meal. We ate it with some roasted asparagus. Don’t even get me started on asparagus….it was one of my first vegetable loves along with the tomato and I remain smitten to this day.

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May this year be full of lots of fiery loving.

Smoked Salmon on a Sunday Morning

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There are some days when you get extra doses of Inspiration and you sit down and write 50 blog posts and have to save them all in your drafts lest you frighten the world with an overabundance of zeal, which to the blog-reading public might come across as “too much free time.”

On other days, the creative juices decide they’ve been flowing too freely and they’re just going to take a break and dry up for a few days. During this period, it’s really impossible to post anything, and even if you look back at the plethora of filed drafts, they all seem stale and lifeless.
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Then, on a Sunday morning, you wake up and the sun is very bright and the fact that breakfast is your very favorite meal is enough to remind you that it will be a beautiful day. And just like that, Inspiration returns …in the form of smoked salmon.

It doesn’t matter that there’s no smoked salmon in the house because today is Sunday and there’s nothing keeping you from bundling up, stepping into the cold sunshine, and walking to the store to buy some. Then you remember that Inspiration is relentless when she strikes. She doesn’t care where you are or what you’re doing, so you have to run back inside to get your journal.

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At this point, you’re walking and writing at the same time and simultaneously trying to lift your face to the sun to catch its rays and absorb a winter’s portion of Vitamin D. This is obviously too much activity at once, especially for someone entirely inept at multi-tasking, which is why you trip into a car that’s pulled over alongside the road. It’s embarrassing until you realize that its just your brother sitting there with the coffee and newspaper that he’s just picked up from the local deli. He is clearly amused and offers you a ride, but you decline because “A ride? O please, can’t you see I’m enjoying my walk?”

When you reach the store it takes concentrated effort to ignore the bounties of food that A) you don’t need, B) you didn’t come for, and C) you can’t afford. Eyes on the prize, Marie.

The guy at the fish counter sees you eyeing the oysters that you really should have enjoyed on Valentine’s Day this week if you were not single. He sweetly asks if he can help you find something, and for a moment, the way he is positioned there in front of all those gorgeous seafood varieties makes him look like an ideal catch himself until reality hits in the form of your rumbling stomach and you quickly grab the smoked salmon and scurry to the checkout line.

There, a light of divine intuition strikes and you call home to ask that someone preheat the oven to 425.° And thus begins the preparation for the simplest, most perfect little Sunday meal.
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Rub some asparagus in olive oil and minced garlic and throw it into the oven to roast. On second thought, add some brussels sprouts along with it. On the stovetop, combine a little vinegar with some boiling water and poach an egg or two. Lay the roasted asparagus on your plate, top it with some slices of smoked salmon and lay the egg(s) on top. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and enjoy!!

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(^^Cora misses her Sunday afternoon football^^)

Red Lentil Soup

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To all those practicing Catholics out there, welcome to lent.  To everyone else, today is the annual “Find People With Black Spots On Their Foreheads Day.”  Happy hunting!

While I am not of the opinion that lentils should be reserved for the lenten period, I do believe that lent is a great excuse to make absolutely delicious heartwarming bowls of steaming goodness. When my iron levels dropped dangerously low in Lebanon, my adopted Lebanese family made sure I ate lots and lots of lentils. It wasn’t hard to do, because Lebanon is a genius in the lentil department, and I was soon introduced to many different dishes. Lentils have lots of iron as well as high levels of fiber, folate, and magnesium. They also contain potassium and calcium and are generally great all around.  This red lentil soup is so comforting and tasty that you should try it even if you aren’t a big fan of the more traditional hearty lentil soups.

Ingredients

2 cups red lentils
6 1/2 cups water
1 large yellow onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic
1 1/2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2 tsp kosher salt (or more if you prefer)
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp turmeric
1 tsp dried thyme
1 tsp cayenne pepper
1/2 tsp white pepper

*The measurements for the spices are not very exact. I added a lot of cumin, turmeric, salt and cayenne pepper. You can adjust according to your taste.
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Pour the olive oil into a pot and add the onion. Stir over medium heat until the onion is almost translucent. Mince the garlic cloves and add them along with the spices. Add the water and lentils and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low, cover and cook for about half an hour. Use an immersion blender to bring the pot to a smooth, creamy texture. Serve hot.

Serves 4 generously