VDP: Pizza – Caramelized Onions, Mushrooms and an Egg

Friday, November 28, 2008


It’s been a while since I’ve added some updates to this particular journal. It’s not much due to laziness as much as redundancy. I’ve been trying to cook my vegetarian meals, but over the last month or so, I’ve not made many interesting or new dishes worth posting about. Also this was Turkey month, so veggie meals were not top on my list. So, after this long hiatus, why pizza? I’ve posted at least twice about pizza already, here and here. Well because it’s pizza! I’ve made it so many times and it never gets old or tiring. The act of making the dough early on, maybe the day before, picking the right sauce (cooked tomato, raw, just use a white cheese based sauce,..), picking the simple toppings to go on the delectable pie and of course shaping and baking the pizza on a hot oven stone. It is a relaxing and delicious family tradition.

This time I also decided, the last minute, to add an egg to my pizza. I’ve done this before, I even sometimes add an egg inside calzone, but I have never posted about it here and this is something worth recording. Trust me, it is. The idea is very simple, after making the pie and adding the toppings, make a “well” of sorts in the middle. My pizza this time, included a bit of cooked tomato sauce, caramelized onions, mushrooms, and a couple of types of mozzarella cheese. In the mushroom onion “well” I cracked a fresh free range egg and slid the pizza onto my very hot pizza stone. Barring any mishaps or leaks (never happened so far, fingers crossed) you should end up with a perfectly baked pizza and a lovely over-easy egg in the middle. Just slice  the pie or use a knife and fork and use the runny yolk as the most perfect sauce. Now I am craving pizza again.

VDP: Black Bean and Pumpkin Burgers

Sunday, October 20, 2008

My feelings about veggie burgers is similar to those about vegetarian chilli. I regard them as completely different dishes than their meat-centric counterparts. Veggie burgers are by no means a substitute for the real thing, but if you perceive them as nothing more than flavorful bean and vegetable patties, they work very well. Of course, they also cannot be those frozen processed hockey pucks they sell at the frozen food section.

Making vegetarian burgers at home is very simple, much easier than I expected. Armed with a basic recipe from Bittman’s Vegetarian book and several of his variations I made these patties in no time at all. The basic recipe for veggie burgers includes mostly cooked beans of any kind, some old fashioned oatmeal and an egg. Within moderation, all kinds of stuff can be added. Here I added onions, garlic, smoked paprika and roasted pumpkin. The patties are cooked in an oiled cast iron skillet until crispy on the outside and fluffy soft on the inside.

I served them on home-baked buns with Dijon mustard, lettuce and a persimmon relish. A few words about the persimmon relish here. We actually went persimmon picking this past weekend at a local farm outside of Houston. It was a fun day with the kids and we ended up with a few pounds of wonderful sweet and tasty fruit. To make the relish I chopped the persimmon and mixed it with olive oil, lemon juice, basil and mint. Interestingly enough the sandwich as a whole with the crunchy soft patty and the herbs in the relish reminded me a lot of Lebanese falafel. That’s it! Falafel is probably the best and oldest version of a veggie burger.

VDP: Arish

Monday, October 3, 2008

Looks a lot like ricotta, but it’s not. It’s Arish or Arishah. It is a Lebanese staple and is ridiculously easy to make and versatile. I made this batch because I found myself with about a half-gallon of homemade yogurt that was starting to turn too sour. In case you are wondering, I made a whole gallon about a week ago and figured we’ll eat what we can and make Arish with the rest. So, keep this in mind if for some reason you are an overzealous yogurt purchaser.

The list of ingredients to make this delectable product includes: yogurt. That’s it. Just yogurt. Plonk it in a pot and heat it slowly until it curdles and separates. It should take maybe 20 minutes, depending how fast you are heating it. Let it cool slightly then dump it in a cheese cloth lined colander. Once it drains for a few hours or overnight, you’ll end up with something the texture of soft cream cheese, but a bit grainier. It will taste a bit similar to ricotta, but not exactly, it is definitely tangier and creamier.

It is delicious to eat as any other fresh cheese. Here, for dinner, I topped burger buns with some of it with salt, pepper, olive oil and a handful of arugula.

What else can we use Arish for? On toast, with sugar or honey, in small turnovers that can be fried or baked, crumbled on salads, or in the form of Shanklish. What’s that? It’s a topic for another post.

VDP: Saj (Mountain) Bread with Labneh and Greens

Saturday, July 6, 2008

I’ve written before about Saj bread (or Lebanese Mountain bread) in more detail in my post about Labib, the wonderful little pie shop in Beirut. So, I am not going to repeat the same info again. Suffice it to say that I got a major craving for this delicious bread and I had a good bit of homemade Labneh on hand, the thick drained yogurt.

I still had some of the Pain al ‘ancienne in the fridge and I could not have asked for a better dough fit for this preparation. I have an old wok that I use as a make-shift (a bit ghetto, I know, but it works) saj. I invert it on top of my largest stove burner and voila! A mini saj. I make a quick rough dough circle of the dough, ‘rough’ is the key word here, and place it on the hot upside down wok. A minute later I flip it over and cook it for another 20 seconds. That’s it.

I served these babies topped with the drained yogurt, olive oil, salt, arugula and olives. For me, it can hardly  get any better than this.

VDP: Focaccia

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Focaccia is easier and less forgiving that pizza to make at home and could be just as satisfying. I do not like it when bakers attempt to turn focaccia into pizza by piling a crap load of toppings on it. It should be a simple flat bread, flavored with olive oil and some herbs as it’s base. I like to use some mashed garlic and mix it in the olive oil and maybe include some sliced tomato as an extra garnish.

The dough can be very flexible as well. Use a dough that is not too stiff and can be easily coaxed into all corners of your baking dish. The dough I used here is again Pain al ‘ancienne from Peter Reinhart’s book, “The Bread Baker’s Apprentice“. The same one used for the dandelion pizza. To prepare the pan, I oil it generously with olive oil and then plop the dough in there and start stretching it all over. It is much easier than it sounds. I then drizzle with garlic-olive oil, salt, pepper, some crushed oregano and the tomato slices which I embed in the dough.

After it is baked you can eat it as is, but to make a meal out of it, the options are endless. Serve it with cheese, olives, some greens or like we had this one for dinner with an arugula, red onion and feta salad.

VDP: Vegetarian Grilling

Sunday, June 15, 2008

I love a good steak or pork chop (or chicken or ribs for that matter) cooked over natural wood charcoal as much as the next guy. Let’s face it, the reason we light up our grills is to cook meat. It is the ultimate pleasure that hot charcoal can provide. However, with some creativity and little effort one can make a very tasty vegetarian meal on the grill.

This Sunday, in addition to putting a few chicken legs on the grill for the kids, I prepared a few dishes for Diana and I with no meat. From Mario Batali’s “Italian Grill” I made the marinated zucchini with homemade ricotta. The vegetable is sliced thin on a mandolin and marinated it with some herbs, oil and vinegar. After grilling, some more marinade is poured on top, in addition to chopped mint leaves. It is served with ricotta mixed with olive oil and with slices of grilled rustic bread. This a delicious mix of flavors and textures.

Another dish was something improvised, a sort of potato and green bean salad. I ‘steamed’ the green beans in aluminum foil with lemon slices and a bit of white wine. The packet was placed right on the grill. I grilled the potatoes directly on the grill and I also wrapped a few garlic cloves in foil and put them straight on the coals to roast. I made a dressing using those garlic cloves after mashing them. I mixed them with olive oil and lemon juice. I sliced the potatoes and tossed everything together. Not bad at all.

Last but not least was a cherry tomato and basil salad. Nothing more than tasty tomatoes, olive oil, torn basil, salt and pepper.

VDP: Pizza Night

Sunday, June 08, 2008

For quiet some time now, my oven has been heating very badly. It took forever to reach the set temperature, if it did, and it never maintained it. So, finally a few weeks ago I had it looked at and it needed a new ignition thingy (forgot what it was called). It’s a small electrical piece that generates the heat to ignite the gas. To top it all off I finally broke down and bought a proper oven baking stone. I’ve used many things over the years as ‘baking stones’ but they were either bad conductors of heat, heated unevenly or cracked too fast. Those that worked were a bit too damn heavy. I figured I’ve wasted more than $50 on those already, and after research, I decided to go with the FibraMent-D stone.

To inaugurate the newly super-performing oven and my baking stone I baked these wonderful breads from a post or two back. The true test for capabilities of both though was pizza night! A hot oven, very hot oven and a good stone are essential to a thin crust (Neapolitan/NY-style) pizza. So, I blasted the oven to 550F and started baking awesome pizza. The crust was crisp and cooked to perfection with some areas that seem almost burned, but are not. The cheese melted and cooked correctly at the same time as the crust. No soggy crust, no burned cheese.

My go-to pizza dough for this style has been for a while now the recipe from Jeffrey Steingarten’s second book, “It must’ve been something I ate“. It’s a very wet, slow fermenting dough that is retarded in the fridge for 8-24 hours before baking. It makes a wonderful pizza, but needs to be handled quickly and with some care because like I said, it is wet. This is not a dough you can do that flying-pizza trick with. Lots of flour does help with gently stretching it on the peel. For a bit of variety, I added a small amount of whole wheat to the dough this time around.

I hesitated to post this under the VDP because one of those pies is obviously not vegetarian, but the other 3 are so I figured what the heck, just ignore the delicious non-veggie one.

The kids favorite, a three cheese pizza (Parmigiano Reggiano, fresh mozzarella, provolone)

Diana’s favorite, a classic Margarita

One of my special pizzas. I like to think of it as my version of a Pizza Bianca. It is topped with a mix of cream cheese, sour cream and mozzarella. I then top it with home-cured Pancetta bake it. After baking it is sprinkled with toasted fennel seeds, chilli flakes and some fresh basil. Decadent and fantastic.

This is another improvisation of sorts. I had some of the cream cheese mixture left, so I dolloped that on top of the tomato sauce, added the last of the fresh mozzarella and some thinly sliced onions.

One more for good measure. To cap of the meal, I macerated some fresh berries with vanilla sugar and served them with vanilla ice cream and a drizzle of balsamic vinegar. Life is good.