Cauliflower Stuffed Peppers

Cauliflower Stuffed Peppers | FoodLovesWriting.com

Like businesses, music, vacations and books, most meals begin as ideas—but as ideas that come more quickly down the mental conveyor belt than sonatas or summer getaway plans. A conversation at the office jogs a memory of Grandma’s butter cookies, and the kitchen finds you rolling dough; a blog post inspires dessert and you’re beelining for the pantry; or, unexpectedly on a weekday afternoon, a hunt through the refrigerator, opening drawers and crispers, fills your hands with bright red peppers and cauliflower and recalls a possibility you’d almost forgotten—and then, that quick, momentary thought, incubated right away in discussion and action, becomes a recipe you test twice in one week with your husband, the two of you lost together in discovery, in watching the abstract become something you hold in your hands and eat.

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Parsley Pesto Pizza + Squash Apple Pizza with Einkorn Crusts

birthday weekend pizza | foodloveswriting.com

There are people who don’t believe in making a big deal about birthdays, but I’m not one of them—and I have my brother to thank.

Adam in Nashville | FoodLovesWriting.com

My brother, Adam, who is two years and two months younger than I am (but if you heard us together, you’d swear he were the one who’s older), came here to see us last week, arriving around 2 p.m. on his birthday Wednesday and staying through Saturday night. The thing you have to understand about my brother and birthdays is he is kind of the king of celebrating them.

When I turned 21, he took me to a Coach store and told me to pick out one thing I wanted, any one thing, and he would buy it for me—choosing a purse in a store so far outside my price range made me feel like the richest person in the world, and that’s a feeling you never forget. Another year, he surprised me with a party at Ravinia, this outdoor park near Chicago where Tony Bennett was playing for the night. Since then, there have been trips to Maine and, when I was dating Tim, a trip to Nashville, and every year, the building anticipation that my birthday would mean something special and something fun.

It’s his influence that has turned my mom’s February birthday into a family holiday in which we all take off work to do whatever she wants to do, which, last year, meant all three of my family members flying down here to visit together for the first time. It’s his influence that makes me vote for spending Thanksgiving (and my dad’s corresponding birthday) in Chicago every year so I can sit by my dad and tell him why he’s cool. And it’s his influence that makes me want to celebrate anyone I love’s birthday the same way, by saying, Name what you want to do and we’ll do it! I just think it’s such a great gesture, submitting your preferences to someone else’s as a way of celebrating, as a way of showing them love.

So that said, you can understand why, when my brother comes to visit us for his birthday, we want to pull out all the stops.

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The Perfect Crustless Quiche

crustless quiche slice

February 17 was a big day for my family this year. Not only was it my mom’s birthday, but it also was the first time they came to visit Nashville. Ever! And while I’ve been wanting my parents to visit ever since I first moved last February, I’ll be the first to admit that in the valley of a few weeks ago, it felt a little impossible. So I’m thankful to say that in fact, we had a busy four days, filled with many moments where I’d look at Tim and say, I’m not in pain!, amidst marathons of Downton Abbey, antiquing in Franklin, a visit to the gym and grabbing them Olive & Sinclair chocolate-dipped popsicles at Hot and Cold. It all started when they arrived early Friday morning, having braved a 6 AM flight to get here, and so we had a birthday breakfast waiting—and the star of that show was this quiche.

quiche for brunch

Here are the reasons I like this quiche: 1) You don’t have to make a pie crust. It’s not that I have anything against pie crust (especially not this foolproof one!); it’s just that sometimes, say the weekend where you’re already making two other pies, one pumpkin and one lemon meringue, you don’t feel like another. And even sans crust, I love how this quiche holds together beautifully, firm and solid, like an egg bake.

2) It’s a meal in itself. It’s true this quiche was our breakfast, alongside sprouted cinnamon raisin English muffins and fruit, but it could just as easily be lunch or dinner, maybe with greens on the side.

mid-brunch

3. It is the perfect blend of flavors. I hesitate to use the word perfect here, mostly because it feels a little pushy amidst a sea of competing opinions for the best this or the most delicious that, but I’m doing it anyway because, objectively, this quiche was so good, everyone had seconds, and the one small piece that was leftover after the five of us ate it was gone the next morning. And also, you know how sometimes you cook a new recipe and all you think is how it’s missing something? This quiche was the exact opposite: it was precisely as it should be, from the dispersion of spinach and chard to the blend of three different cheeses.

But beyond that, perhaps the most convincing argument, if you want to know the truth, is that my mom, the birthday girl herself, has asked me for this quiche recipe three times, and something like that hasn’t happened since the Great Pot Roast of 2010. After that kind of ringing endorsement, I don’t know what else to say but that here, I bring you, Mom and everyone:

our new favorite crustless quiche!

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thin, chewy pizza crust

thin and chewy pizza crust

You remember what it was like when you were a kid and you hated to go to bed? You could have just had the best day in your life—a birthday party, playing with friends, swimming, riding bikes, building pretend houses, eating fresh-baked chocolate chip cookies, whatever—but when the sun went down, you knew what was coming. No matter how great the last few hours had been, no matter how much joy you’d been offered—and especially no matter what anyone else had told you about thankfulness—there was only one thing on your mind when your mom said to put your pajamas on, and it was a disheartening thing indeed: all this fun had to end.

That’s a little how I feel this morning.

adding mushrooms to pizza

It’s funny to think about, really. I mean, we all look at a child throwing a tantrum before bed and see precisely what he doesn’t, the very factors that would take his fear away: Morning will come, we want to say to him. There’s more fun to be had. And besides, you have to rest; you need it. We know he doesn’t see these things yet, that to him, today feels like eternity, Right Now feels like all that matters. And we know too that he’s greedy, the way we all are, the way I am about many things. Give me a good, long weekend like this last one, for example, filled with pure enjoyment every step of the way, and come Monday morning, Right Now is all I see. It’s not gratitude I’m filled with; though some gratitude is there. What I most fight and what I most feel is the same thing a child deals with who keeps hopping out of bed: wishing I had more.

I also get greedy about food—certain types more than others. Like when I bake a fresh batch of cookies, it doesn’t matter if I’m full, it doesn’t matter if it’s 11 PM; I eat at least four. Really. Or garden vegetables: offer me something from your garden, anytime, and I will take it, gladly, arms wide open, whether or not I know what to do with it, whether or not my fridge is full.

neapolitan-style pizza

But mostly, there is pizza. Is it terrible to admit, in this world of gourmet recipes and expensive ingredients, that it’s still my favorite meal? I won’t eat just any kind anymore, but I’ll eat the kind I like every day of the week. I promise if you give me a slice from Spacca Napoli, I’ll want more. That’s just how me and pizza work.

In my opinion, the key to the right pizza is the crust: it should be thin and chewy, slightly charred around the edges, with dough so translucent you almost see through it and moist enough to fold in half like they do in New York. Toppings are flexible. There’s the classic: tomatoes with basil and mozzarella, also known as Margherita. Or you can go cutting edge with potatoes! or arugula! or a white bean pesto like I had at this restaurant Friday night. Yesterday, after making our crust with white spelt flour (why? results identical to all-purpose but better for you) and in a free-form shape (why? because why not!), we topped it with diced green peppers, thin wisps of onion and sauteed mushrooms, with large rounds of mozzarella throughout.

The idea came from a post at The Kitchen Sink Recipes, which I’d read last April (!) and not forgotten about, and Kristin draws her crust from The Fresh Loaf, where the instructions are so thorough, I really have to point you over there directly.

slices of homemade pizza

We set the oven to 500F, then 525F, then eventually to 540F (who knew my oven went that high?) for our second pizza. Don’t be afraid to do the same: high temperatures are key to getting that blistered, still chewy crust. Other keys I picked up from Kristin: paint the sauce on very thinly, use parchment paper beneath the pizza for an easy lift out, keep your eye on it after five minutes (our first one took 10 minutes at 500 degrees) to watch for golden cheese and browned bread.

I’d also add that vegetables work beautifully as toppings in this style of pizza because the high temperature essentially roasts them, right on the crust, and you know how much I love roasted vegetables.

And anyway, this Monday, while I work on remembering the things that children can’t (I am thankful for the weekend I had, other good weekends will come, today is also a gift and I probably need it just as much as children need sleep), I will do it with at least one reminder of what we just had: a few more slices of this pizza.

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