Pursuing the unparalled joy that is food

When in doubt…make pizza

Ah yes…it’s that time of year again, when DU students are out for their 6-week winter break, and none of their friends are around. I was supposed to be volunteering 5 days a week at my church, but that fell through, and well…what’s a girl to do? Sure, I could work on that abroad application…I really should be catching up on my reading list. Oh wait. I AM doing those things. Alas, it is not enough to occupy this vast void I suddenly find in my life! This, my friends, is where we turn to that fulfiller of dreams, that filler of tummies, that bandager of hearts…PIZZA.

Making pizza at home is always a blast. Admittedly, I’ve never made dough from scratch before (because TJ’s makes pretty bomb pizza dough). But spreading the sauce, sprinkling the cheese, choosing your toppings…something about this simple project feels at once like an elementary school craft and the making of a Van Gogh. It is hard to make pizza and not make a MASTERPIECE (masterpizza?), and yet it is so comfortingly easy, and creative, like fingerpainting, or drawing with chalk in the driveway. Thus: pizza, healer of all wounds.

It's so versatile, what's not to like?

It’s so versatile, what’s not to like?

This pizza may gross some of you out. A crust made out of cauliflower? Ew. Ok, but I was excited when I heard about this. I freakin love vegetables. I also love cheese, and darn it, this pizza is basically made OUT of cheese. It’s a score in my book.

And let me defend cauliflower for a moment. To me, cauliflower is like the blank canvas on which you may paint your flavors as you like (here with the artistry again). It really has very little taste. And, might I add, going great with cheese. Have you ever had cauliflower mac ‘n’ cheese? In this pizza, though, the cauliflower falls even more quietly into the background. It is literally ground to a pulp and mixed with a host of yummy other things. Think of it like the flour in this recipe. The cauliflour. (Wow, I’m on fire…or should I say, caulifire OOOOOOOOOHHHHHH).

Ahh...it's tomato-y and melty-cheesy...as it should be.

Ahh…it’s tomato-y and melty-cheesy…as it should be.

Anyway, my cousin’s wife first made this recipe (I have heard of other variations of it, too, so she easily may have been inspired by them; for all I know she got this whole thing online!), and my aunt shared it with me. I simply copied the recipe, and my comments are in italics.

Cauliflower Pizza

Ingredients

  • 1 head Cauliflower
  • ¼ cups Parmesan Cheese
  • ¼ cups Mozzarella Cheese
  • ¼ teaspoons Kosher Salt
  • ½ teaspoons Dried Basil
  • ½ teaspoons Dried Oregano
  • ½ teaspoons Garlic Powder
  • 1 egg white

Instructions

Place a pizza stone in the oven, or baking sheet if you don’t have a pizza stone. Preheat oven to 450ºF. On a cutting board, place a large piece of parchment paper and spray it with nonstick cooking oil.

Wash and thoroughly dry a small head of cauliflower. Don’t get one the size of your head unless you are planning on making 2 pizzas. Cut off the florets—you don’t need much stem, just stick with the florets. Pulse in your food processor for about 30 seconds until you get powdery snow-like cauliflower. You should end up with 2 to 3 cups cauliflower “snow”. Place the cauliflower in a microwave safe bowl and cover. Cook for 4 minutes. Dump cooked cauliflower onto a clean tea towel and allow it to cool for a bit before attempting the next step.

Once cauliflower is cool enough to handle, wrap it up in the dish towel and wring the heck out of it. You want to squeeze out as much water as possible. This will ensure you get a chewy pizza like crust instead of a crumbly mess.

Dumped squeezed cauliflower into a bowl. Now add Parmesan cheese, mozzarella cheese, kosher salt, dried basil (crush up the leaves even more between your fingers before adding), dried oregano (crush up the leaves even more between your fingers before adding), garlic powder (not garlic salt), and a dash of red pepper if you want. I also added 1 tablespoon almond meal because my cauliflower yielded closer to 2 cups of cauliflower snow; this is optional and I would not add the almond meal if you have closer to 3 cups of cauliflower snow. Now add the egg and mix away. Hands tend to work best.

Once mixed together, use your hands to form the dough into a crust on your oiled parchment paper. Pat it down thoroughly; you want it nice and tightly formed together. Don’t make it too thick or thin either.

Using a cutting board, slide the parchment paper onto your hot pizza stone or baking sheet in the oven. Bake for 8-11 minutes, until it starts to turn golden brown. Remove from oven. I cooked my pizza for about 13 minutes, since it was large, but I really should have cooked it longer to make it crispier.

Add however much sauce, cheese, and toppings you want. I used tomato paste, and mushrooms and bell peppers sauteed in butter, garlic, lemon juice, pepper, and balsamic vinegar. Slide parchment with topped pizza back in the hot oven and cook for another 5 to 7 minutes until the cheese is melted, bubbly, and slightly golden.

Test your patience and allow it to cool for a minute or two -.probably closer to two. Then using a pizza cutter and a spatula, serve up your delicious grain-free cauliflower crust pizza!

Don't you just want it IN YOUR MOUTH. I do.

Don’t you just want it IN YOUR MOUTH. I do.

Peas and Lavacados

Being home for the end of my summer break and having been cooking up some quite wonderful things in my kitchen and those of my friends, I thought it would be fun to come back to this lovely blog and share with you some of my recent culinary adventures. My meals of the last week or so have been highlighted by: avocado mac ‘n’ cheese and a fruit and honey roasted pecan salad with Michelle, and spaghetti squash and black bean tacos and a nectarine and blackberry pie with Audrey. Oh, you WISH I were posting those recipes here!

Alas, no. When cooking with friends I prefer not to go out of my way to take nice pictures of food, and instead enjoy their company and the delectable things we cook up. Instead, today I’ll be sharing two simple, irreplaceable staples in my diet: guacamole and hummus.

Now, I decided to become vegetarian in March. This came as a result of me having too much free time over spring break and practically OD’ing on documentaries about vegetarianism and veganism (go look on Netflix if you’re curious – they can explain the reasoning for it much better than I!). I ate some meat while I was away in Spain, but always felt better on those days when I went veg. I really enjoy being vegetarian, and I love, love, love the food I feel justified gorging myself on without consequence. Guacamole and hummus happen to be two of those. I could eat both of them by the bowlful. I don’t usually…because, of course, everything in moderation, kids. Even vegetables.

Hummus and veggies

Eat your veg-edibles.

Also, this coming school year, I’ll be living in a suite with a kitchen. I’m so stoked to be able to cook, so I figure I’ve got to learn how to make my favorite things. After travelling through Spain for two months, the idea of having OPTIONS for what I eat is exhilarating, and darn it, I’m taking advantage.

Ok. Srsly tho. Enough about me. Let’s talk about the reasons we’re all here: guacamole and hummus.

guacamole

Guacamole grilled cheese…is it real?

Guacamole is oh-so-simple. So is hummus, That’s half the beauty of it.

Guacamole

2 ripe avocados, pitted and peeled
1 roma tomato, diced
1 small onion, or quarter of a large one, diced
two cloves garlic, pressed or diced
tablespoon lime juice
teaspoon salt

Instructions
Mash the avocados to desired mash-ness (go chunky! It’s the best!) with a potato masher or fork. Mix in everything else! The great thing is, you can totally fudge the amounts of your ingredients til you find the ratios you like. Honestly, why did I even give you a recipe? I mean, please.
It’s best, though, if you leave it in the fridge for an hour to meld all the flavors together.
And now, how I had my guac (but there are oh-so many ways to have it!): In a grilled cheese sandwich. There are few things I love better than melted cheese, but guac has to be one of them. And together? The dream team. Guys. Try this magnificence, I kid you not. Cheddar cheese and good wheat bread gets you places.

Hummus

2 cans garbanzo beans (aka chickpeas)
1 clove garlic
2 tablespoons olive oil
a little less than 1/4 cup water
about a tablespoon lime juice
1/2 teaspoon salt
dash ground black pepper
dash dried red pepper
1/2 teaspoon sweet paprika (or more…what the heck)
1/4 teaspoon cumin

Instructions
The hard part about this puppy is that you have to peel the garbanzo beans, which takes days. Unless you have a super amazing food processor, this is key to getting a smooth hummus. But heck, if you’re lazy, or a college student (both?), than you can probably forgo this step. Just be warned that your hummus will not be texturally optimal.
Anyway, toss all those ingredients in a blender or food processor until smooth. Add more spices if you so desire (like guac, hummus has a thousand tasty variations). Then eat. Like cereal, if you like (guilty). I thought mine would be nicely supplemented by fresh veggies and toasted blue corn tortillas (which, by the way, I substituted for the pita bread I didn’t have, and it turned out to be BETTER – try it).

hummus

Yummmmus

Peas, lavacados, and happy cooking!

Brie-ly Excited to Cook Again

It’s certainly been a while since I’ve done anything on here, but watch out! I have great excuses. First of all, I went to college and pursued other adventures. Second and most importantly, I have no access to a kitchen at college. My greatest culinary endeavors involved microwaving cookie dough in a mug to make single-serving nutella or chocolate chip cookies; while successful, I never took good pictures of them, and food blogging is just so much darn work! Although, of course, great fun.

At school, I recently started working in the kitchen of the hospitality building. So far, I have learned that I know nothing about cooking, and that being a professional chef is actually not that great. It’s much better to keep these things casual in one’s home.

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4923957487234734967439x better than cafeteria food.

And who is home for spring break right now? THIS KID. I have free time on my hands, warm weather that feels like summer (my prime cooking season), a million Pinterest recipes to try, and…no food in the house. Thus, culinary escapades await. I am back in my element, and if I do say so myself, my comeback cooking was pretty kick-butt.

For a super-late lunch, I made myself baked zucchini fries and a brie and apple grilled cheese. Major, major noms. The zucchini fries are easy, healthy, and addicting. And the grilled cheese…how can I describe it? I was transported to my own little world of crunchy sweet and gooey savory paradise, a magical land in which there were no exams, 8ams, negative temperatures, or drunk noisy neighbors at 2am…only awesome food in my mouth. This was my kind of meal. Simple. Fun and quick. Freaking delicious-amazing.

Apple and Brie Grilled Cheese

Ingredients
2 slices whole wheat French bread
a lot of brie (seriously, pile it on)
thin apple slices
butter

Instructions
Butter one side of each piece of bread, and place one piece butter-side down on a skillet on medium heat. Top with brie, apple slices, and more brie, then finish with the second slice of bread, butter-side up. Let it grill for about a minute, then flip it and grill the other side so a nice golden-brown. Just make sure the bread is golden and crunchy and the cheese is melty and gooey. (But really, did I have to tell you how to make a grilled cheese?? Come on, you know what to do.)

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Mmm, kill me. (Not a bad way to go.)

This recipe was inspire by this awesome article, which I have bookmarked for eternity.

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I think I actually like them better than most French fries🙂

Baked Zucchini Fries

Ingredients
2-3 small zucchinis, cut into French fry-size pieces
¼ cup flour
¼ teaspoon garlic powder
¼ teaspoon salt
½ cup milk
½ cup bread crumbs

Instructions
Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Place cooling racks on top of a baking tray and set aside (this makes the fries bake evenly all around and not burn). Mix the flour, garlic, and salt in a bowl. Set out an assembly line of 3 bowls, one with the flour mixture, one with milk, and one with the bread crumbs. Dip each zucchini slice into the flour, then milk, then bread crumbs, and place on the cooling rack. Bake 18-20 minutes, or until “desired crispness is reached”.

The original recipe can be found at Chocolate-Covered Katie, which is an AWESOME healthy food blog site. This girl turns your favorite comfort foods into just-as-delicious healthy and natural alternatives! Check her out.

Viva Comida!

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My plate from our Brazilian festa!

I am back after spending two and a half weeks in Brazil! Of course, I can’t come back from an epic international adventure like World Youth Day and not be culinarily inspired. To show my family what a traditional Brazilian meal would be, I decided to cook them the most common Brazilian dish, feijoada, for dinner the other day. Feijoada is a black bean soup with sausage and bacon, always served with rice and often with collared greens and a grain dish called farofa. If fact, this is the exact meal we had at a party at my host family’s house!

The beans and rice are so simple, but magically delicious, and the farofa was probably the most interesting and tasty things I ate on my whole trip. It is usually made from yucca flour, cooked with onions, bacon, and eggs, and it tastes like couscous with a finer texture. It absorbs moisture and seems to melt in your mouth! I love it. Unfortunately, I can’t same the same for collared greens, to I omitted them from my meal, and made a kind of salsa/salad that I found online instead.  

I have to give pretty much all the credit for these recipes to The Daring Kitchen. I changed a few things (I didn’t use any meat that had to soak overnight, and I didn’t cook the beans quite as long because they were already soft and we were hungry, although the flavor also ended up being weaker), but since I had no experience with cooking this food I relied almost entirely on these instructions. Therefore, I won’t bother to retype everything, since that would clearly be redundant…

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You may know that I don’t like bacon too much. But this bacon….THIS bacon was amazing.

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Cooking farofa was really fun, fast, and easy. I would definitely make it again!

My family really liked the meal, especially the farofa, which had always been my favorite as well. There are a few other Brazilian foods I really want to try: pão de queijo (cheese bread), paçoca (a crumbly sweet that tastes like peanut butter), and some of the many salgados (savory stuffed buns) that we bought on the street. I miss Brazil a lot, but cooking their food is one way to not miss it quite so much.

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The finished farofa…yummmm.

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Beanzzzzzzz

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The salsa really helps to lighten up what would otherwise be a really heavy meal.

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The finished product…considering it was my first time, I was pretty proud.

Bex and the Pursuit of the Perfect Granola Bar: Part Two

After several batches of experimentation, I can proudly say that I’ve developed a satisfactory recipe for granola bars, in three different flavors. The difficulty is in getting the texture right – they need to be crunchy and stick together, not crumbly, dry, or burnt. But the great thing about making granola bars is that you can pretty much make any flavor you want, depending on the “tasty additives” you put in. The way I made my flavors was by going through my kitchen, seeing what dry tasties we had, and deciding which ones would go well together. You can of course do the same!

By the way, these are all really good if you keep them in the fridge, or even the freezer. It makes them crunchier, neater (like, no melted chocolate), and cool for a hot summer day. Careful, though, cuz it also makes them more brittle…but, a broken bar tastes the same as a whole bar, so no worries.

For all bars:
2 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1/3 cup honey

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Mix the oats with the oil, spread out on a cookie tray, and toast in the oven for 6 minutes. Stir up the oats again, and toast for another 6 minutes. They should come out a dark golden-brown. Reduce the oven’s temperature to 300 degrees.
Let the oats cool, then mix them with the honey and the additives of your choice. The mixture should be very thick and sticky. Spread it out on the cookie tray, and press it down very firmly, from the corners out. Make sure there are no big gaps, and it’s best if you can make the edge as straight as possible for more normal-shaped bars (the mixture will only cover about 2/3 of the tray, or less).
Bake the bars in the oven for 15 minutes. Take them out, score them along the lines you will cut them (a serrated knife works well), then let them cool completely. Once they’re cool, cut them up, and enjoy!

Peanut Butter Pretzel Bars
2-3 oz semi-sweet chocolate (either chips, or cut into chunks) 
2 large handfuls of pretzels, coarsely chopped
1/3 cup peanut butter
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Chocolate Banana Almond Bars
~1 cup banana chips, coarsely chopped
1/2 cup whole almonds, coarsely chopped
1/3 cup Nutella
(These are probably my favorite, because of their consistent success in crunchy texture.)
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White Chocolate Fruit Bars
1 cup white chocolate chips
1/2 cup dried blueberries (or any dried fruit of your choice, preferably pea-sized or smaller)
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla
additional 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
I would bake these for an extra 2 minutes, after the first 15 from the base recipe.

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The bars in this picture also had dates in them…but I decided to leave them out, because all the dried fruit made it too sweet.

This will be my last post for a while, as I leave on Monday for World Youth Day in Brazil! Hopefully I will come back inspired by some Latin American cuisine…(in addition, of course, to all the spiritual rejuvenation).

Happy cooking!

Bex and the Pursuit of the Perfect Granola Bar: Part One

Nutella Nirvana

There are some pairings in this world that were simply meant to be. Blankets and hot cocoa. Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy. Pools and barbecues. Call it destiny, call it providence, call it what you like, but these complimentary items (or people) are like puzzle pieces, that, while pretty and interesting apart, make so much more sense and are so much more beautiful when joined. And today I indulged in what I believe is possibly the most divine pairing in the culinary world – peanut butter and Nutella. If you have never experienced this heavenly match, I question your zeal for life. (Just kidding…kinda.)

But anyway. I felt like making ice cream because two of my friends, independent of one another, had been talking about ice cream with me on the 4th. And of course, talking about food makes me want to make it. Thus, I found an easy recipe for Nutella ice cream for which I had all the ingredients, and set to work. Michelle and I had been wanting to make cookie cups for ice cream for a while as well, and I figured, heck, today is the day. Instead of the chocolate chip cookie cups we had thought of, though, I made peanut butter cookie cups. Because, well…match made in heaven.

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Like Elizabeth Bennet, I too have found true love.

 
The ice cream took a lot longer to harden than it should have, and truthfully, it didn’t harden fully until it was in the freezer for a few hours (after I had already eaten my soupy share). But boy, was it worth the wait. Imagine Nutella, turned blissfully smooth, soft, creamy and cool, not as rich and more mousse-like. Yes. That is what I indulged in for a few minutes in the afternoon heat. Then, of course, I got to eat the “bowl,” which just added pleasure on pleasure. It was delicious, of course, but to be honest, by then it was a bit much. I would rather skip the peanut butter bowl and eat two helpings of that ice cream. Or I might break the cookie into chunks and mix it in the ice cream, so I really get the two flavors at once, instead of one then the other. But really…find your own way to make this match come alive for you! And seriously, make this ice cream. You won’t regret it…unless its creamy goodness torments you in your dreams ‘til the day you die.

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Nutella Nirvana (yes that is correct)

Ingredients
1 cup nutella
1 can coconut milk
2 tablespoons maple syrup or honey

Instructions
Mix all the ingredients together until smooth, then put it in your ice cream maker and follow its instructions. It may need to churn for 30-40 minutes, and may still be soft. Put it in the freezer to harden more. 
I got this recipe from My Whole Food Life.

Use your favorite peanut butter cookie recipe for the cups. Turn a cupcake tin upside-down and spray the upside-down cups with cooking spray. Mold the dough around the cups, and make sure you check it frequently since the bake time may change. Let it cool, then de-mold and scoop your ice cream inside. Happy cooking!

Recipe For Success

Let me inform you of the perfect way to start the day (well, there are a few, but here is one): wake up and make a pastry with the ingredients you prepared the night before, take a shower while it cools down, and then take it out into your garden and happily munch on it for breakfast. This is precisely what I did yesterday, and it was indeed the kick-off to one of the best days I’ve had all summer. I spent the rest of the day with my best friends: playing ultimate Frisbee and soccer, going to In-n-Out for lunch, going swimming, playing cards, going to a great pasta restaurant downtown for dinner, and taking advantage of Monday night deals for both mini-golf and bowling. It was a little crazy how much we fit into a span of about 13 hours, and it was awesome. Certainly, I could not ask for better company.

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I originally found this recipe on Pinterest, and was delighted to find that I already had all the ingredients at my fingertips. Granted, the pastry was actually supposed to be a Danish, but I had puff pastry dough left over from the time I made the tomato tart for a picnic. I left out the sugar in the cream, and used sweet apples instead of tart ones, which I think led to the perfect balance of sweet and savory flavor. Truly, the tanginess of the cream cheese, the fresh crunch of the apples, the earthy chew of the walnuts, and the buttery, flakey crust harmonized into a most beautiful composition. It was like a celestial song in my mouth. I shared it with my parents and friends, and all of them said the same thing (although not necessarily in those words…)

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So, if you want to have the perfect day…why not start things off right with a little slice of heaven?

White Chocolate Cream Cheese Pastry

Ingredients
prepared puff pastry dough
8 ounces cream cheese
1 egg
3 ounces white chocolate (either chips, or you will need to chop it into small, even pieces)
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 apple
~1/3 cup crushed walnuts

Instructions
1. If you kept the puff pastry dough in the freezer, put it in the fridge to thaw overnight. When you’re ready to make the pastry, take it out of the fridge to soften a bit more. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees, dice the apple, and crush the walnuts if they have not been crushed already.
2. Soften the cream cheese by microwaving it for about 30 seconds. 
3. Melt the white chocolate either in a double boiler or by microwaving it for about 30 seconds at a time. Be very careful not to overdo it, as white chocolate is finicky and can seize up easily. Stir thoroughly after each interval, since it often retains its shape even when melted.
4. Beat the cream cheese, white chocolate, egg, and vanilla in a medium bowl until smooth.
5. Roll out the puff pastry dough into a large rectangle, about 12”x18”.
6. Before you put the filling on the dough, lay your dough on the cookie tray you will bake it on. Otherwise, transporting it is a struggle (trust me…).
7. Spread the cream filling down the center of the dough, length-wise, leaving about 4 inches on each side. Top with the diced apple and walnuts. Cut strips of dough about ½ inch wide down the sides. 
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8. “Braid” the dough over the filling by alternating the strips from the left or right.
9. Bake the pastry for 10 minutes, then rotate it and bake for about 15-20, until the top is a crispy golden-brown. There may be a lot of juice leaking out from the filling and the buttery dough, but it shouldn’t be an issue. Let it cool for at least 10 minutes before eating and experiencing heaven.

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The original recipe can be found here. Happy cooking!

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