Cheesy Pesto Bread


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This blog post is brought to you by Pinterest and my love for almost anything involving pesto.  To me, pesto is a quintessential summer flavor, but transcends seasonality at the same time.  It's great with a bowl of tomato soup on a cold winter's night or spread over spring and summertime vegetables.  Those Italians really know what they're doing.

While playing around on Pinterest one day, I found this recipe and almost ruined my keyboard drooling over it.  Just kidding, but I knew I had to make it, and soon.  I had some pesto I had made several weeks ago, just sitting in the fridge, waiting for this recipe.  I also had leftover grated mozzarella and parmesan cheese from where I made the pizzas

I served this with parmesan crusted chicken breast (highly recommended) and warmed up some marinara sauce for dipping.  Drew and I ate practically the whole loaf by ourselves.  In our defense, it was a smaller loaf than originally called for, and that counts, right?

This recipe, since it involves bread that is already baked, is quick and easy, and I have a feeling that if you made this with guests around, they'd think you had Giada de Laurentis in your kitchen. 

Cheesy Pesto Bread
inspired by this pin

1 boule (round loaf) of bread
1/4-1/2 cup pesto (varies based on loaf size and your own love of pesto)
1/2 cup shredded mozzarella or italian blend cheese (or more, depending on loaf size and your own love of cheese)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. 

Using a serrated or bread knife, cut your bread into one inch cubes, stopping about 1/4" short of slicing all the way through the bread.  In other words, you want to almost cut all the way through it but you want it to still stay together.

Spread the pesto in beween the slices/cubes and then sprinkle the cheese between the cubes and on the top of the bread.

Wrap in aluminum foil and bake 10-12 minutes, or until crust is nicely browned and cheese is melted and bubbly. 

Serve while still warm, plain or with heated marinara sauce for dipping. 

Peter Reinhart's Neo Neapolitan Pizza Dough


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This is the crust recipe I used for my most recent homemade pizza venture.  Besides the cheesesteak pizza, we made a marinara sauce based pizza with cheese, zucchini, sliced roast beef, peppers, and onions.  It, too, was quite yummy! 

I usually use Emeril's recipe for dough, and it serves me well, but I have wanted to try an overnight- rise dough for a while now.  I have two, so I chose to try Peter Reinhart's Neo Neapolitan Pizza Dough from his book, Artisan Breads Everyday.  I hate to say it, but as far as taste and texture are concerned, I didn't really notice much difference between Emeril's and Peter Reinhart's.  One thing I do like about this particular dough recipe is that it makes enough dough for five pizzas.  Last week we made three pizzas and I was able to store two dough balls in the freezer for later use, which is kinda nice. 

If you are newer to making your own doughs, this one is not hard to start out with, but in comparison to other doughs I've made, this dough was a lot wetter and more slack (as in, didn't keep its shape), and so I am left feeling like maybe I've done something wrong.  If you know, please post in comments or contact me!  Either way, the end result was pleasant, so I'm not complaining.  I'd definitely use this recipe again.

Neo Neapolitan Pizza Dough
from Peter Reinhart's Artisan Breads Everyday

5 1/4 cups (24 ounces by weight) unbleached bread flour
2 teaspoons (0.5 oz.) kosher salt
1 1/4 teaspoons (0.14 oz.) instant yeast (or 1 1/2 teaspoons active dry yeast dissolved in the water)
2 tablespoons (1 oz.) olive oil (optional)
1 tablespoons (1/2 oz.) sugar or honey (optional)
2 1/4 cups (18 oz.) room temperature water (less if using honey or oil)

You can mix this by hand with a big spoon or in an electric mixer using the paddle (not the dough hook).

Combine all the ingredients in the bowl and mix for one minute, to form a coarse, sticky dough ball.  Let the dough rest for five minutes, then mix again for one minute to make a smooth, very tacky ball of dough.

Transfer the dough to a lightly oiled work surface, rub a little oil on your hands, and fold the dough into a smooth ball. Let it rest on the work surface for 5 minutes and then stretch and fold the dough into a tight ball. Repeat this again, two more times, at 5 minute intervals. Place the dough in a lightly oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and immediately place in the refrigerator. The dough can be used anywhere from 6 hours to three days after it goes in the fridge.

When ready to make the pizzas, pull the dough from the refrigerator two hours prior to when you plan to bake. Divide the dough into five 8-ounce pieces (if there is any extra dough divide it evenly among the dough balls). With either oil or flour on your hands, form each piece into a tight dough ball and place on a lightly oiled pan. Mist the dough balls with spray oil and cover loosely with plastic wrap or place the pan inside a large plastic bag. Give the dough at least 90 minutes before making the pizzas. If you don’t plan to use them all, place the extra dough balls inside of an oiled freezer bag and keep in the refrigerator (for up to three days) or in the freezer (for up to three months).

If using a pizza stone in your home oven, preheat the oven to the highest setting
one hour before you plan to make the pizzas. If using a wood-fired oven, you know what to do for your particular oven. If you do not have a baking stone you can bake the pizzas on a sheet pan.

Top with your favorite toppings--this dough can be stretched thin (12-13 inches) for Roman-style pizzas, or 10-11-inches for Naples-style.

Bake at the highest setting your oven will allow for 10-15 minutes until your pizza crust is golden brown and your toppings are nicely cooked.

Cheesesteak Pizza


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If you are a pizza purist, I am sorry.  You can quit reading now.  Wait for Thursday's post, which will be on the homemade crust.  If, however, you're a little more relaxed on your pizza philosophy, keep reading, because I think you'll like what I have to share. 

Drew and I like to support area restaurants, and one of the two we visit most in town is Papa's Pizza to Go.  Yes, it's a chain, but this particular franchise might as well be its own business, with the personability of the owner and staff.  Anyway, one of our favorite pizzas there is the philly cheesesteak pizza, which expectedly has either roast beef or thinly sliced steak, onion, and mushroom.  All is topped by mozzarella cheese and is based by a thin crust and white sauce.  We wanted to replicate it at home. 

As a side note, making pizzas is a great way to make this junk food just a little less junky, and it's really fun for kids to get involved- they love being able to top their own pizzas!  Fun fact- kids who cook or help their parents in the kitchen tend to have a more expanded palate and eat healthier than those who don't. 

I made up the sauce for this pizza and the "ratios," so here goes!

Philly Cheesesteak Pizza
1-12 inch pizza crust (size may vary)
3/4 cup shredded cheese- Italian blend suggested, containing provolone, mozzarella
1/2 cup white sauce, store bought or see recipe below
1-2 medium cut slices roast beef, cut into 2 inch ribbons
1/3 cup sliced onion
1/3 cup sliced bell pepper
1/3 cup sliced mushrooms

If you are using raw dough, top the raw dough with all ingredients.  If using a prepared crust, follow package directions.  Top the dough/crust with the sauce, then half the cheese.  Add all other toppings and top with remaining cheese.  Bake in a 400-500 degree oven for 10-15 minutes or until cheese is bubbling and crust is a golden-brown color. 

White Sauce
1 Tb. butter
1 Tb. flour
1/2 cup milk
1/3 cup mayonnaise
1/3 cup grated parmesan cheese
Salt and Pepper, to taste

In a small saucepot over medium heat, melt butter.  Add the flour and stir, cooking for about a minute.  Slowly add in the milk and mayo and stir together.  Add in the grated cheese and stir.  Allow to thicken to a thicker sauce.  Add salt and pepper to taste.

*  Note- you may need to increase other ingredients to taste/thicken.  All amounts are approximations.

  • While I am personally anal and use homemade crust/sauce, I am not the food police.  I don't care what you do- feel free to use store bought crust or alfredo sauce. 
  • Good pizza in the home oven (especially my home oven) is tough.  For best results, preheat your oven a long time and use a pre-heated pizza stone. 

Sweet Potato and Quinoa Salad


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I found Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything Vegetarian at Ollie's a while back and thought, "why not?"  I don't pretend to be a vegetarian or even super health conscious, but it's a good book to have for knowing about all meatless food categories and various food preparations.  A few weeks ago I made the salad I'm posting today as a lunch for Drew and me, and it is a hit.  I have a similar quinoa salad that I occasionally make that contains black beans, avocado, tomato, etc- a real Southwestern flavored dish, but I had never considered sweet potatoes, and they are wonderful here! 

I opted to make the Southwestern variation of this recipe because everything is better with avocado, right?  The salad takes less than an hour total time- maybe 30 minutes or less if you're efficient in the kitchen, and it can be made ahead of time and refrigerated.  If you have leftover sweet potato or quinoa, then it's a good fridge cleaner recipe.  Even if you don't, this is an affordable, healthy meal full of delicious goodness!

I am posting the recipe as I made it below, which is the Southwestern variation.  You can find the original recipe online or in the How to Cook Everything Vegetarian book by Mark Bittman. 

Sweet Potato and Quinoa Salad
from Mark Bittman

1 cup dry quinoa, or 2 1/2 cups cooked
1 lg or 2 med sweet potatoes, about 1 lb. total
1 red bell pepper, core, ribs and seeds removed and diced
1/4 cup minced shallot or red onion
1 avocado, diced
Salt and pepper
1/4 c. extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup toasted pumpkin seeds (pepitas)
Juice of 1 lime
Chili Powder- 1/4 tsp

If using dry quinoa, cook according to package directions. 

Meanwhile, peel the sweet potato and dice it into 1/2-inch or smaller pieces. Cook it in boiling salted water to cover until tender, about 15 minutes; drain well.

Toss together the potato, quinoa, bell pepper, avocado, pumpkin seeds, and onion; sprinkle with chili powder, salt and pepper. Whisk the oil and lime juice together and toss the salad with about half of this mixture; add all or some of the rest to taste. Taste and adjust the seasoning.

Cocoa- Nana Bread


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Do you ever have the bananas that are a little too ripe, and you want something new to do with them?  While you may have several tricks up your sleeve for old bananas, here's one that's a twist on an old classic- cocoa-nana bread.  The recipe comes from Dorie Greenspan and her amazing book, Baking: From My Home to Yours.  I found myself in that spot- just not sure what to do with the bananas, despite having several past ideas, from frozen banana slices to banana pudding to banana bread.  This particular recipe also utilized ingredients that I already had on hand.

As far as a review for this bread- it comes together easily, but actually starts out sort of like a cake rather than a quick bread because you cream the butter and sugars together as the first step.  I may have done something wrong, but this bread came out tasting just a little dry.  The combination of banana and chocolate is a nice one, and I was glad to use up old ingredients.  Others who tried this bread liked it OK but no raves.  I suppose it's up to you as to whether or not you want to try this bread.  I can't honestly give it a glowing review, but I'm not saying it's not worth a try in your kitchen.

Cocoa Nana Bread
from Dorie Greenspan

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup semisweet cocoa powder
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp baking soda
1 stick unsalted butter at room temp
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
2 large eggs
2 ripe bananas, mashed
3/4 cup buttermilk
3 ounces bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped, or 1/2 cup store-bought chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350. Butter a 9 x 5 inch loaf pan and place it on an insulated baking sheet or on two regular baking sheets stacked on top of the other. (This extra insulation will keep the bottom of the bread from over baking.)

Sift together the flour, cocoa, baking powder, salt and baking soda.

Working with a stand mixer, preferably fitted with a paddle attachment, or with a hand mixer in a large bowl, beat the butter at medium speed for about a minute, until softened. Add the sugars and beat for 2 minutes more. Add the eggs one at a time, beating for a minute after each addition. At this point, the batter may look a little curdled -- it's okay. Reduce the mixer speed to low and mix in the mashed bananas. Add the dry ingredients in 3 additions, mixing only until they disappear into the batter. Still on low speed, add the buttermilk, mixing until it is incorporated. Stir in the chopped chocolate. Scrape the batter into the pan.

Bake for 30 minutes. Cover the bread loosely with a foil tent to keep the top from getting too dark, and continue to bake for another 40 to 45 minutes (total baking time is between 70 to 75 minutes) or until a thin knife inserted into the center comes out clean. Transfer the pan to a rack and cool for at least 20 minutes before running a knife around the edges of the bread and unmolding. Invert and cool to room temp right side up.

Morning Glory


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Fun fact- Morning Glory Muffins get their name, not from any ingredients or hippie roots, but from the Morning Glory Inn, where the inn's proprietor served them to her guests.  The first editor in chief of Gourmet Magazine stayed there and liked them so much that he published the recipe in Gourmet. 

Does that fun fact make you enjoy these more?  Maybe or maybe not, but these dense, moist muffins are great for this time of year, when pumpkin spice everything is running rampant and there's a slight chill in the air. 

I had written earlier about Dorie Greenspan's version of these muffins, and, while I love Dorie Greenspan and most of her recipes absolutely hit the spot, I felt they were lacking when compared to my mom's recipe.  After about a year of asking for the recipe, I finally got it and now they're made.

These muffins are among the more involved because they require grated carrots and grated apple.  You can't just buy the shredded carrots in the store either.  They're too thick.  A food processor's grating disk comes in handy here, or you can use the good ol' handheld.  I used the food processor.  I'm not that dedicated.  The recipe comes together pretty much like any other muffin, so no need to explain there.  I'll post the recipe below as it is written and post my changes in the notes section.

**Oh, and hey, guess what?!  We have a "pin it" button- click on the blog post title to be taken to the individual post page.  The pin it button is at the bottom of the page!

Morning Glory Muffins
from the Willow Creek Lutheran Church Cookbook, Dell Rapids, SD

1/2 cup raisins
2 cups flour
2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1 cup sugar
2 tsp. cinnamon
1 large tart apple, peeled and grated
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
1/2 cup coconut
2 cups grated carrots
3 eggs
2/3 cup canola oil
2 tsp. vanilla

Soak raisins in hot water for 15-20 minutes.  Drain the water off.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and grease or line two- 12 cup muffin tins.  In a large bowl, combine flour, baking soda, salt, sugar, and cinnamon.  Stir in drained raisins, apple, walnuts, coconut, and carrots.  Beat together eggs, oil, and vanilla.  Stir in the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients.  Fill muffin cups and bake 18-20 minutes.  Makes 24 muffins. 

  • I used slightly less sugar (maybe 7/8 cup)
  • I cut the cinnamon in half but in hindsight it'd be fine to add the full amt or even sub in pumpkin or apple pie spice
  • I omitted coconut entirely
  • I slighly reduced the oil (between 1/2 and 2/3 cup)
  • I filled the muffin cups about 3/4 full and got about 18 muffins.

Baked Sweet Potato Chips


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I have a few recipes in the queue to share with you, but today calls for a short and sweet post.  I don't mean to sound dramatic, but I feel like my snack food making has been revolutionized.  First came the kale chips and I loved the thought of making something kind of weird but more like a packaged snack food, like chips.  Then I saw these sweet potato chips on Pinterest and decided to make them this weekend.  They were half eaten before I could even take proper pictures!  These tasted like commercial sweet potato chips I've had and they were baked, so I at least believe that they're healthier. 


So, here we have it.  The recipe came from the blog, busy at home via Pinterest.  I do recommend using a mandoline or v-slicer for the chips.  Uniformly cut, very thin slices are what you're after.  You can purchase these at most any store that sells household kitchen equipment. 

Baked Sweet Potato Chips
from "Busy at Home"

1 large sweet potato, washed and any strings removed.  Peel optional
2-4 Tb. olive oil
Salt, to taste

Preheat your oven to 250.  Using a mandoline or v-slicer on the thinnest setting, slice your sweet potato into thin rounds and place into a large bowl.  Add olive oil (a little at a time is good) and toss to coat.  Arrange chips in a single layer on anywhere from 2-4 baking sheets that have been prepped with either cooking spray or parchment paper.  Sprinkle with salt and any other flavoring you'd like (I used chili powder on one sheet).  Bake in oven for 25-35 minutes until crispy and lightly browned.  Store in an airtight container, if they last long enough for you to not eat them as they're coming out of the oven.