Raspberry, Goat Cheese and Prosciutto Pizza

Pizza has always been one of my favorite foods.  I’ll take it in any form: delivery to homemade, burned to undercooked, thin crust to thick, I love pizza.  However, as with any other food, I have my preferences.  Pepperoni and fresh mozzarella, chicken and pineapple and my all-time favorite: goat cheese and prosciutto with some form of fruit.

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The tangy but sweet flavor of the fruit melts so deliciously into the tart goat cheese all topped off with crispy bits of salty, smoked ham in the form of prosciutto.  The pizza I happened to make this afternoon added arugula to the mix, something green to make me feel like I’m eating more than carbs on top of carbs.

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I started by pre-baking the crust so it held up to the rest of the toppings.  In this case I used store-bought, but there are plenty of homemade pizza dough recipes online that whip up in a jiff and are usually preferable to store-bought.  I slathered it with a little olive oil and salt and pepper to give it a good base, then popped it in the oven.

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Once puffed and starting to get stiff I pulled it out, and, using a spoon, I smooshed the interior circle down to form a sort of crater (smoosh being the technical term, here).  This creates a crust around the edge that crisps up nicely while holding the toppings in place in the middle.

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Soft goat cheese is spread inside the crater, fresh arugula is sprinkled on top followed by ripped up pieces of prosciutto then dotted with raspberries and a final sprinkling of salt and pepper.

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It all goes back in the oven for fifteen minutes, or until the edges are a slightly darker brown.

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This pizza is tart, so be prepared, but once you’ve tried it I promise you’ll never go back to the standard pepperoni again.  Or at least not until it calls your name from the online delivery form.

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A couple of notes: I only used half of the pizza dough I bought from the store, so if you’re using the whole dough I’d recommend doubling the ingredients.  Also, if your dough has been sitting in the fridge make sure you leave it sitting out for about 20 minutes before trying to stretch it out, or you’ll end up with holes, both in the dough and on your head from pulling out your hair in frustration trying to roll out stiff, cold dough.

Raspberry, Goat Cheese and Prosciutto Pizza

1/2 ball of Pizza Dough, either store-bought or homemade
1 T Olive Oil
2 oz Goat Cheese
1 cup Arugula
2 slices Prosciutto (about one ounce)
1/2 cup Raspberries
salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to 400°.  Roll the dough out to your desired level of thickness, then smear the tablespoon of olive oil on top of the pizza and sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Bake for 10 minutes, less if your crust is thin.  Once the crust is puffed and starting to harden, take it out of the oven and, using a spoon, push down on the middle of the dough.  Venture out from the middle towards the edge, pushing down with the spoon to reduce the puffiness, but leave about a 1-inch border around the middle.  Spread the goat cheese on the middle of the dough, then sprinkle with the fresh arugula.  Tear the prosciutto into bite-sized pieces and add on top of the arugula.  Top with the raspberries then more salt and pepper.  Pop back into the oven for 10-15 minutes depending on how well-done you like your pizza.  With mine, the edges were just starting to brown and the raspberries were softened but not falling apart.  Let cool for as long as you can stand it then cut in your desired pizza shapes.  Serves 1-2 people if you’re normal, serves just one if you’re me.

Banana Bread and a Ponder

Lives. There are approximately 7.2 billion lives struggling through their daily routines right now across the earth.

Jacked Up Banana Bread (1)I say approximately because that number is constantly changing; people are continuously being born and dying all day every day, so it’s basically impossible to ever really know what the world’s population is at any given moment. However, Worldometers.info seems to be cool with the 7.2 number so let’s go with that. The part I want to focus on, that I want you to sit back and ponder for a moment, is the word ‘lives’.

Jacked Up Banana Bread (3)All across the world there are people exactly and nothing like you shaking hands, missing appointments, smiling, crying, who are terrified and exhilarated, expectant and somber.  Every time I start to mope about how the dishes still aren’t done or my hair is just not parting the right way or the drain is clogged in the bathtub from my ridiculously curly head of hair I force myself to sit back, close my eyes and meditate for a minute on how many people would kill to have my problems.

Jacked Up Banana Bread (4)It doesn’t always work.  Sometimes I just want to throw a fit about how he’s still not ready to go, how the dog is once again whining to go outside or how the cats have chewed up my latest craft, but those few times when I can really visualize it I’m always taken aback by the vastness of it all, by the insignificance of myself, and by the amazing powers of baked goods.

Jacked Up Banana Bread (5)So today I want you to try this with me.  I want you to put down the scrubby brush, close the door to the kids room and set your lover up in front of the tv and just sit back in a comfy chair with a warm blanket in your lap (preferably made even warmer by a purring kitty) and wonder with me about the happenings of an entire planet.  Then I want you to make some banana bread and remember that your life is beautiful and you really are lucky to be living it.

Jacked Up Banana Bread (6)This recipe is one I found on Smitten Kitchen.  Deb Perelman is one of my biggest inspirations; her recipes are always easy-to-follow and delicious, her photographs simplistic but helpful, and her writing style contains something you just don’t often find on cooking blogs: a big dose of reality.

Jacked Up Banana Bread

Adapted from Smitten Kitchen

3 to 4 Ripe Bananas, smashed (depending on the size of your bananas and your preference for the level of banana flavor in the bread)
75 g (1/3 Cup) Salted Butter, melted (if you don’t have salted just add a heavier pinch of salt)
190 g (1 Cup) Brown Sugar
1 Egg, beaten
1 tsp Vanilla
1 Tbsp Bourbon (optional, a little more vanilla extract is a good substitute)
1 tsp Baking Soda
Pinch of Salt
1 tsp Cinnamon
Up to 1/2 tsp Freshly Ground Nutmeg
Pinch of Ground Cloves
190 g (1 1/2 Cup) Flour

Preheat the oven to 350°F. With a wooden spoon in a large mixing bowl, mash the butter into the bananas. Once ‘goopy’ with a few banana chunks mix in the sugar, egg, vanilla and bourbon, then the spices. Sprinkle the baking soda and salt over the mixture and stir in. Add the flour last, stirring just until blended. Pour mixture into a buttered 4×8 inch loaf pan. Bake for 50 minutes to one hour, or until a tester comes out clean. Cool on a rack. Remove from pan and slice to serve, preferably with a mug of hot milky tea (or apparently, if you’re like me, skip the tea and drink the milk).

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Cherry Brown Butter Bars

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Ah, just look at that beautiful bowl of perfectly pitted cherries.  So fresh you can practically feel the need to wash off your apron from having just returned from picking them in a field behind your house (instead of just the need to wash your hands from a recent trip to the market).  I have a deep love for cherries that stems from when I was a kid and my grandmother every holiday would take the time to specially bake a cherry pie because she knew it was my favorite.  I’d sneak pieces of that pie throughout the whole day, much to the chagrin of everyone else because by the time I got done there was nothing left for dessert.  However, the way my grandmother would make cherry pie is by picking up one of those cans of cherry pie fillings, you know?  Not by pitting fresh ones or even using the frozen.  Long story short, I, my entire life, never fully grasped how frustrating and MESSY pitting cherries can be.  I even bought one of those cherry pitters that are literally only made for pitting cherries, and I hate having one-use-items in my kitchen.  And, even with the pitter, you stil have a gigantic mess!!  Just look at this mess:

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 That, all of that, is from pitting 12 ounces of cherries.  Now I get why she used the cherry pie filling in a can; it means you don’t have to switch from tired arm to tired arm trying to scrub the stains from the countertops, bowls, cabinets, walls (yes walls) and fingers.

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All of that being said, my dislike for the mess that inevitably follows using fresh cherries for your baking desires, it’s totally worth every single pink stain.  You just can’t beat the taste of a freshly pitted cherry: sweet, a little tangy, juicy and firm all at the same time just bursting inside your mouth as you sink your teeth into its tender flesh.  That’s the flavor you’re going for here with these bars, that and the wonderful, almost shortbread, nutty flavor of the buttery crust.

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It just crosses the line of making all of that tiring scrubbing worth the trouble.

Cherry Brown Butter Bars
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen

 

Crust
98 g (7 Tbsp) Unsalted Butter, Melted
67 g (1/3 Cup) Sugar
1/4 tsp Vanilla Extract
136 g (1 Cup + Tbsp) All-Purpose Flour
Pinch of Salt

Filling
100 g (1/2 Cup) Sugar
2 Large Eggs
Pinch of Salt
32 g (1/4 Cup) All-Purpose Flour
1 tsp Vanilla Extract
112 g (1 stick) unsalted butter, diced
1 Lb sweet cherries, or about 12 oz when pitted (you can substitute any fruit you desire here)

Prep your Pan: 
Preheat oven to 375°F.  Create a makeshift tart pan by cutting two 12 x 8 inch lengths of parchment paper, then crisscrossing them in the bottom of a square baking pan.

Make the Crust:
Using a rubber spatula, mix the melted butter, sugar and vanilla in a medium bowl.  Add flour and salt until combined then transfer the dough to the “tart” pan, using your fingertips to push the dough evenly across the bottom of the pan, being careful to not let it bunch around the edges.  Pop the pan in the oven and bake for about 18 minutes, or until the crust has a light golden color and has puffed a little.  Remove from the oven but leave the oven on and let the crust cool on the counter while you make the filling.

Make the filling:
Melt butter in a medium saucepan over medium brown heat until it has darken in color and has a delightful nutty smell, about 6 minutes.  Be careful not to let it burn (like I did) or the flavor won’t be just right.  Immediately move to a glass dish to cool.  Whisk sugar, vanilla, eggs and salt in a medium bowl then add flour, whisking until smooth.  Gradually whisk in the browned butter until well blended.

Combine the Two:
Arrange the pitted cherries, or whatever fruit you ended up choosing, on top of the cooled crust.  Pour the sugar mixture evenly over the berries, being careful not to nudge them out of place.  Bake for about 40 minutes or until the filling is puffed and golden and a tester inserted into the middle comes out clean.  Let cool completely before using the parchment to remove the bars from the pan and, using a sharp knife, cutting them into squares.
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Creamy Tomato Pasta and Fall in September

The high for today is 67 degrees, and it’s September in Texas.
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This is one of those blissfully received cold fronts that blows in for just long enough to make you appreciate the sun when it comes back full force.  The sky is gray and the wind is blowing and every window in my apartment is open.  Gio and Ezio, my two cats, are perched permanently in front of a window on a pillow swishing their tails back and forth at the birds fluttering in the trees just outside.  Poor things.  I think if they were ever given the opportunity to catch a bird they wouldn’t even know what to do with it.
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I remember once Chris and I had just moved into a new apartment and hadn’t unpacked anything but some plates and pillows.  We ordered out and had steaks on the floor in front of the gas fireplace.  Ezio happened to sneak up behind me and when I wasn’t looking ran up to my plate in order to steal the food from it.  Upon realizing how big his prey was and that there was no way for him to sink his teeth in and make a clean getaway he shook his head and ran into the bedroom.  Chris and I laughed and finished our suppers.  I’ll never be able to enjoy a steak again without remembering the look on that poor little cats face.  I doubt he’d react much differently to a steak with wings and a beak.
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This pasta is adapted from Manger, an incredibly beautiful and elegant cooking and lifestyle blog written by a woman who basically lives in my idea of paradise: a small village in the wilds of the French countryside surrounded by her family and lots of adorable pups.  This pasta was posted by her husband, and I’ve made a few adjustments, but it’s one of those dishes you simply have to taste and adjust to suit your tastes as you go along.
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Creamy Tomato Pasta

Adapted from Manger

2 Tbsp Olive Oil
2 Healthy Teaspoons Minced Garlic
1 Pound Can of Good Quality, Whole, Peeled Tomatoes
6 Ounces (or one really big glass) Red Wine
1 tsp Red Pepper Flakes
1/2 tsp Onion Powder
1/2 tsp Dried Oregano
2 tsp Granulated Sugar
Couple Pinches of Cayenne Pepper
Salt and Pepper
12 Ounces Farfalle (Bow Tie) Pasta
91 g (6 1/2 Tbls) Unsalted Butter
1/4 Cup Fresh Basil, lightly shredded

100 g Shredded Parmesan Cheese

Heat the olive oil and minced garlic in a large pan over medium heat.  Once heated add the tomatoes and crush them with a large spoon. Add the wine, red pepper flakes, onion powder, dried oregano, sugar and cayenne pepper. Season with salt and pepper. Cover the saucepan, lower the heat and let it simmer for 30-40 minutes.

Once the sauce has been cooking for about 20 minutes start cooking the pasta.  Heat a large pot of water until boiling, generously salt the boiling water then add the pasta.  Stir the pasta vigorously when initially dumped into the pot, being careful not to splash the water, to ensure it doesn’t stick together, then let it cook to an al dente texture, stirring occasionally.  Once the pasta is finished cooking, drain almost all of the water and mix the pasta in with the sauce.  Add the butter, Parmesan cheese and basil, stirring gently until just combined.  Serve immediately with extra Parmesan and basil on the side.

Peach Crumble Pie

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One thing Chris and I miss the most when we travel around the United States for work is the food.  I’m not even just talking about Tex-Mex, Fried Chicken, Whataburger and BlueBell ice cream; I’m talking about the produce.
Fresh Peaches
Sure places like Ohio and Pennsylvania have some of the freshest homegrown produce you could ask for; in fact we could barely eat all of the free cucumbers and squash the locals would bring to our office to share, but when it came to grocery-bought produce the small towns we find ourselves in are sorely lacking in terms of some of the staples of home cooking: fresh peppers, both spicy and bell, watermelon, pitted and seedless, nice juicy oranges and, most importantly, freestone peaches.
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I’m telling you, nowhere in our trek across America could we find peaches that weren’t a complete nightmare to cut open and ‘de-pit.’  Many a fingernail was lost (and found, just to be clear, we never ate fingernails) to a stubborn clingstone peach pit.  So, being back in Texas during a wonderfully hot summer for a while, I’m taking advantage and baking all the peach pies, cobblers and crumbles I (and everyone in my family) can possibly stomach.

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This crumble I found online at MarthaStewart.com, but the crust I used is my favorite recipe; check out my tutorial on crust-creating here. You can also use a store-bought pie dough, but I just know you have a beautiful ready-to-bake homemade pie dough sitting right in your freezer.  Oh wait, that’s just me who always has pie dough in her freezer?  I kind of have a thing for pie dough.  And free-stone peaches.  I’m trying to get help.
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Peach Crumble Pie
Adapted from MarthaStewart.com

One Frozen Pie Crust, Thawed (either store-bought or homemade
Filling:
 – 3 Pounds Peaches, halved, pitted and cut into thin slices (about 8 cups once sliced)
 – 2 Tablespoons Brown Sugar
 – 2 Tablespoons All-Purpose Flour
Crumble Topping:
 – 1/3 Cup Packed Brown Sugar
 – 1/3 Cup All-Purpose Flour
 – 1/3 Cup Old-Fashioned Rolled Oats
 – 6 Tablespoons (3/4 Stick) Cold Unsalted Butter, cut into small pieces

Start by rolling your pie dough out on a lightly floured surface.  To make sure you roll it out to the correct size simply take your pie pan, turn it upside-down and hover it over your pie dough.  Once you’ve rolled it out to the point where you can see crust peeking out from under all the way around the pan you’re good to go.  Fold your dough in half then in quarters then move the dough to the pan and unfold, making sure you tuck the dough into the various edges of the bottom of the pan.  Fold the excess dough under at the ledges and pinch the dough to create a decorated edge.  Stab the bottom of the dough with a fork to make sure there’s no awkward puffing, then put the pan back in the refrigerator until you’re ready to fill it with pie.
To make the filling begin by preheating your oven to 375°F then simply toss carefully, with either your hands or a spatula, the peach slices, flour and brown sugar. To make the crumble topping mix the brown sugar, flour and oats together with your hands then work the cold butter pieces into the mixture until the pieces resemble small peas at the largest.  If you feel yourself getting frustrated with the mixture clumping too much or just not getting any smaller stick the whole bowl in the freezer and relax for fifteen minutes or so.  When you come back to the kitchen the butter will have chilled once more and the mixture will be much easier to crumble.  Now take the dough back out of the fridge, scoop your peaches into the pan (or you can carefully arrange them in a neat circular pattern) then sprinkle the crumble over the peaches evenly.  Place the pie in the oven and bake until the crumbles are golden brown and the peaches are bubbling, about an hour to an hour and fifteen minutes.  Remove pie from oven and let cool for a couple of hours before diving in.
Quintessential Pie on the Window Sill

Flaky Pie Dough

 

 

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First steps first, the number one rule when you make a good pie dough is to keep it cold, keep it cold, keep it cold.  The longer you can have your dough in a cool place (up to a point, of course) the better.  This is a big reason I constantly have pie dough in my freezer, that and the fact that I just really love pie.  So, keeping that in mind, cut your butter into little squares then put the squares in the freezer while you mix your dry ingredients. I, personally, like to put the squares into a mug.

Pie Dough
 Since the mug is tall it more evenly distributes the butter and lets it cool more quickly.  This particular mug was a Christmas present from my mom to my fiancé Chris.  I tell you this so you don’t think I just have initial mugs hanging around our apartment; I’m just not that kind of girl.  While your butter freezes for a while, mix the dry ingredients in a large, preferably metal, bowl.  The metal keeps everything a mite cooler than, say, a plastic or wooden bowl.  Again with the freezing, I know, but really guys, it makes for good pie dough.  Check your butter when the dry stuff is mixed; if it’s still not hard enough stick your dry bowl in there with it and let it all sit for a few minutes.  Once the butter is just about rock hard pull it and the bowl out of the freezer, put the butter in with the dry ingredients, then using either your hands or a pastry blender, cut the butter into the dough until it resembles coarse meal with the largest butter chunks resembling small peas.
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Once you have something that resembles the above, add a 1/2 cup of the ice water and using a rubber spatula blend it all together.  Try to make sure you get every part wet so it sticks together more easily.
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 If it still seems too dry add more water in tablespoon increments until it all seems just wet enough to hold together.  At this point dump the whole mess out on a floured counter to softly clump the dough together with your hands in two equally-sized sections.  This is the hardest part for me, it never seems to stick totally together, but try your hardest to not overwork the dough or it will be tough and no longer flaky when cooked.  If at any point in the mixing, dumping process you feel the butter start to melt or the dough getting too hot stick it back in the freezer for a few minutes.  Once you have two coherent balls of dough wrap them individually in plastic wrap and try to flatten them into even squares.
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The flattening makes it easier to thaw if you have them in the freezer for a while.  Refrigerate at least 30 minutes to an hour before using; you can refrigerate up to 3 days or freeze up to a month.

 

Flaky Pie Dough 
Adapted from  Deb’s All Butter, Really Flaky Pie Dough

227 Grams (2 Sticks or 1 Cup) Unsalted Butter
325 Grams (2 1/2 Cups) Flour
13 Grams (1 Tbsp) Granulated Sugar
7 Grams (1 tsp) Table Salt
1 1/2 Cup of Water with Ice

Mix the dry ingredients together then add your butter and cut it into the dry mixture using either your hands or a pastry blender until it resembles coarse meal, with the largest chunks about the size of small peas.  Add 1/2 cup of the ice water and mix together using a rubber spatula, adding more water a tablespoon at a time until the dough comes together.  Dump it all onto a floured counter and gently smush into two flat, evenly-sized clumps.  Cover completely with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 30 minutes to an hour before using, or refrigerate up to 3 days, freeze up to 30 days.