I’ve got a new Facebook page–and I hope you’ll visit me there! I’m perpetually grateful to all of you who’ve “liked” my Diet, Dessert and Dogs page, but it’s time to move on. With a new cookbook on the horizon and lots of other cool sugar-free, anti-candida and allergy-friendly offerings in the works, I wanted a Facebook page that reflected all of that (along with DDD too, of course!). To keep it simple, this one is just called “Ricki Heller,” and I’ll be posting all the same things I now do on the DDD page (which will be shut down on August 31, 2013). So please hop over to the new page and “like” it so you won’t miss out when things switch over this summer!
Hard to believe, but today is the HH‘s and my 16th anniversary! (Wait, how is that possible? I still feel as if I AM sixteen–well, internally, anyway. Externally, it’s more like, “where did those 16 new wrinkles come from?” or “how did I suddenly acquire 16 new aches and pains in my knees?” or “sixteen new gray hairs?! Wahhhh!!!”. Okay, I guess that every kind of “sixteen” tends to creep up on you). Click here to read more about our relationship (and pizza). . .
When I was in grade school, there was exactly one boy (let’s call him Jerome) in our school who had a food allergy (to peanuts). Jerome was already a bit too large (he towered over the rest of us; even in grade three, he was already level with our teacher, Mrs. B’s shoulders); a bit too goofy (he had one of those snorty-hiccuping laughs, sounding slightly porcine and aquatic at the same time); and a bit too fleshy, with excess skin seeming to hang from his waistband and cheeks, his complexion as white and matte as newly painted classrooms after summer break.
I always felt sorry for him. Even though he sometimes played the class clown out in the school yard, I never saw him smiling around food. He carried his dietary restrictions around like a backpack full of rocks–at once too heavy, yet requiring great attention to avoid causing injury–while the rest of us flaunted our peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for lunch.
When I first began the Anti-Candida Diet (ACD) in earnest in March, 2009, I felt a long-lost connection to poor Jerome. After all, not only did I have to eschew peanuts, but also gluten, most sweeteners, yeasts, alcohol and all moldy foods as well. No, I won’t be eating any PB&J sandwiches in the foreseeable future. And yet, after three years on the diet, I no longer feel like I’m missing out on very much (the one exception is social occasions–when we’re invited to someone’s house for dinner, or to a major event like a wedding or bar mitzvah; the industrial kitchens seem to have a tough time producing something I can eat that also tastes good). I’ve more or less accepted that this will be my diet for the rest of my life, and I don’t mind cooking my own foods. I’ve discovered that, if you keep an open mind, there’s an infinite number of new food combinations and flavors to try, even on a restricted diet.
(“It’s true, Mum–we don’t think of our diet as restricted, either, even without chocolate! We happen to love the combination of apple, cauliflower and salmon blended together in the food processor.”)
In fact, for me it’s become a kind of game, a little personal challenge whenever I spy something that looks delicious but which I’m not supposed to eat: how can I recreate that dish in a way that’s ACD-friendly? When I saw Cara’s Caramelized Onion, Shaved Butternut and Goat Cheese Pizza over on the Clean Eating webiste, I knew immediately that I’d have to reproduce it–or, at least, an allergy-friendly, low glycemic, ACD-approved version of it. I saved the recipe on Pinterest (so much more fun than bookmarking!) and thought about what I’d change.
I ended up tweaking my own Grain-Free Pizza Crust to make it not only grain-free but also starch-free; used this goat “cheese” instead of the dairy-based one; and concocted an ACD-friendly version of the condensed balsamic that worked beautifully. The HH (who, by the way, has no food allergies and can eat whatever he wants in whatever quantities he wants–don’t you just hate him?) went bonkers over this pizza. I think he wants Cara to come live with us now.
The pizza features thinly sliced, deeply browned onions, slow-cooked until sweet and languorous. They’re topped with shaved squash that’s wilted and beginning to curl at the edges, accented with crisp, toasty pumpkinseeds and bitter greens, all accented with dollops of tart, creamy goat “cheese.”
Savoring a big slice of this pizza, I felt completely happy, sated and even somewhat spoiled by the perfect symphony of flavors, colors and textures on my plate. In other words, it was the very antithesis of a “restricted” meal. Now, if only I could invite Jerome to join us. I’m sure this pizza would make him smile aound his food, after all.
Cara’s Caramelized Onion, Shaved Butternut and “Goat Cheese” Pizza, Anti-Candida Friendly (grain-free, dairy-free, sugar-free, vegan); Suitable for ACD Stage 2 and beyond.
1 tsp (5 ml) dried basil, optional (omit if you’ll be topping with sweet ingredients)
For the Toppings:
1 Tbsp (15 ml) extra virgin olive oil, preferably organic
1 large yellow onion, thinly sliced
1/4-1/2 cup (60-120 ml) vegetable broth or stock
225 g (4 oz) peeled and shaved (with a vegetable peeler) butternut squash (about 1/4 of a sqash–I just did the thin neck part)
1/2 recipe this goat “cheese” (omit peppercorns; the remainder is great on muffins, toast, etc.)
2 cups (480 ml) thinly sliced chard or kale
2 Tbsp (30 ml) raw or lightly toasted pumpkin seeds
For the Balsamic Drizzle (ACD Stage 3 or beyond; for ACD Stage 2, see variation below):
1/4 cup (60 ml) balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup (60 ml) apple cider vinegar
5 drops plain stevia liquid
Make the crust: Preheat oven to 375F (190C). Line a large pizza pan with parchment, or spray with nonstick spray.
In the bowl of a food processor, process the beans and 1/4 cup (60 ml) oil until relatively smooth. Add the soymilk, stevia, vinegar, coconut flour, psyllium, garfava flour, buckwheat flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt and basil and process again until the mixture comes together in a ball. Do not overprocess!
Take the ball of dough and, using your hands, pull of chunks the size of baseballs and distribute them evenly over the pizza pan. Use the final 1 Tbsp (15 ml) of oil to grease your palms and fingertips; then press the dough evenly in the pan until all the chunks come together in a single crust. Keep greasing your hands as necessary to avoid sticking. If desired, make a slight rim all around the edge of the dough. (Instead of using the extra oil, you can also wet your palms to prevent sticking while you press out the dough, but if you apply a tomato-based sauce to the pizza, it’s more likely to remain moist in that case).
Bake in preheated oven 35-45 minutes, until the crust is dry and lightly browned on the edges and bottom (if you underbake at this stage, the inside of the dough will remain moist after the toppings have been added). Top with desired toppings, then return to the oven for another 25-35 minutes, until heated throughout and toppings are cooked. Slice and serve. Makes 4-6 servings. May be frozen. To freeze, wrap slices individually in plastic and freeze until solid, then store in a ziploc bag.
While the crust bakes, make the toppings: heat oil over medium-low heat and add the onion. Cook, stirring frequently, until onion is translucent, 5-7 minutes. Add 1/4 cup (60 ml) broth and cover the pan. Allow to cook another 20-25 minutes, stirring frequently, until the liquid has evaporated and the onions are soft and golden. If the onion sticks to the pan, add more broth as needed. Set aside.
Once the dough is ready, remove it from the oven and increase the heat to 450F ( C). Spread the onions evenly over the crust. Top with the greens, then the shaved squash. Scatter dollops of cheese over the top and sprinkle with the pumpkin seeds. Bake for 15-20 minutes, until the greens and squash are wilted and the cheese has begun to brown a bit.
While the pizza bakes, make the drizzle: Combine the balsamic vinegar, apple cider vinegar and stevia in a small pot and bring to the boil. Lower heat to medium-low and cook until reduced to about 1/4 cup (60 ml), about 5 minutes. Remove pizza from the oven and drizzle with the vinegar. Serve immediately. Makes 4-6 servings. May be frozen. To freeze, wrap slices individually in plastic and freeze until solid, then store in a ziploc bag.
For ACD Stage 2, use this vinegar drizzle instead: Replace the balsamic with unsweetened cranberry juice and increase the stevia to 10 drops instead of 5. Prepare as described above.
Although the anti-candida diet doesn’t require its victimssuckers followers to eat a grain-free diet, I’ve found more and more that I tend to find it easier to adhere to the tormentmisery regimen when I eat grain free.
But let’s face it: cutting out yeast, sugars, gluten, fermented foods, and basically all common allergens (the critria of the ACD) is hard enough; why would someone also want to cut out all grains as well? (For some insightful, inspiring musings on living a life with food restrictions–for whatever reasons–take a peek at Iris’s honest post about her own dietary parameters).
As it stands, my friends generally think of me as pretty wacky (oh, wait, they thought that even before the ACD) and it’s always a challenge to join in on “normal” social activities while on this diet. Even at home, it can feel like deprivation if the food you eat is markedly different from that of everyone else in the house, or excludes many of the ingredients you enjoy eating.
[A full meal: topped with pesto, zucchini, black olives, green pepper, jalapenos and seasoned tofu]
That’s why I vowed to make my ACD-friendly foods just as appetizing as “regular” food. And, for the most, part, I think I’ve succeeded (well, there was that one early experimental muffin that the HH spewed across the table when he taste-tested it, but we won’t revisit that unfortunate incident today). Today’s recipe for grain-free pizza is a great example of an alternative that works.
After no less than a dozen trials, I finally hit upon the magical combination of grain-free ingredients that (a) mimic the texture of a grain-based crust to a great degree (I won’t say it’s 100%, because let’s face it, the base is made mostly of puréed beans–but it’s damn close); (b) allows you to hold a whole piece in your hands and eat it without crumbling to dust–just like regular pizza!; and (c) contains no xanthan gum (which, while it remains an ingredient in many of my baked goods, is one I know many people dislike). With a wee bit of care in preparation, this crust has become my favorite pizza base and the one I use most often, even on days when I feel it’s okay to consume grains.
I first shared this recipe on Susan’s blog as part of her My Legume Love Affair celebrations over the summer (congrats again, Susan, on four years of a fabulous blogger event!). After I posted photos of last weekend’s apple-cinnamon breakfast pizza on Facebook, I received a few inquiries about it, so thought I’d share it here as well.
Yep, there’s nothing like a classic pizza for dinner. With or without grains!
“Mum, we don’t care if it has grains or not–we love pizza crust! And for some reason, our pals think our diet is wacky, too. Don’t all dogs eat grain-free pizza crust?”
1 tsp (5 ml) dried basil, optional (omit if you’ll be topping with sweet ingredients)
Preheat oven to 375F (190C). Line a large pizza pan with parchment, or spray with nonstick spray.
In the bowl of a food processor, process the beans and 1/4 cup (60 ml) oil until relatively smooth. Add the soymilk, stevia, vinegar, coconut flour, chia meal, potato starch, buckwheat flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt and basil and process again until the mixture comes together in a ball. Do not overprocess!
Take the ball of dough and, using your hands, pull of chunks the size of baseballs and distribute them evenly over the pizza pan. Use the final 1 Tbsp (15 ml) of oil to grease your palms and fingertips; then press the dough evenly in the pan until all the chunks come together in a single crust. Keep greasing your hands as necessary to avoid sticking. If desired, make a slight rim all around the edge of the dough.
Bake in preheated oven 35-45 minutes, until the crust is quite dry and lightly browned on the edges and bottom (if you underbake at this stage, the inside of the dough will remain moist after the toppings have been added). Top with desired toppings, then return to the oven for another 30-35 minutes, until heated throughout and toppings are cooked. Slice and serve. Makes 4-6 servings. May be frozen. To freeze, wrap slices individually in plastic and freeze until solid, then store in a ziploc bag.
[Note: a later version of this recipe exists, tweaked to switch the chia for psyllium and to remove the potato starch. See the other recipe here. ]
I heard there’s this thing calleed “Super Bowl Sunday” going on today. Personally, I’ve never really seen the point. I mean, seriously, what’s the big fuss? A bunch of slightly overweight guys gripping a ball, then running and throwing it and then all that tumbling on the ground. Gee, and all this time I thought bowling was already passé. Silly me!
Well, pizza is one of those comestibles that suits any occasion, sporty Sunday or otherwise. . . so here’s my contribution to all those super bowlers out there.
While switching to a plant-based diet from a more omnivorous one can be traumatic for some, for me, meat was never much of an issue (I explain more about my relationship with meat on myAbout page). Instead, what I missed–and still miss, dearly–is my first love, milk chocolate. Why does something sadly so devoid of nutritional value have to taste so darned good? I also miss whipped cream (so I made my own version), soft-serve ice cream (hard to find a suitable substitute here) and the occasional marshmallow (though come to think of it, all of those others have more to do with sugar content than dairy or eggs).
But meat? Naw.
One exception, though, is pepperoni on pizza. Why the yearning for the greasy, paper-thin, spicy rounds of flesh and nitrates? I can’t be sure, but I think it may have something to do with Sundays during my childhood.
When I was a kid, my dad worked 6 days a week in his butcher shop, leaving our house before we children even emerged, creases still on our faces and with bed-head coiffures, for breakfast; he returned long after our dinner had left the table. But on Sundays, presumably, he rested. And what did he do instead every sabbath? He packed up the wife and kids into the family station wagon and drove back to that selfsame butcher shop so my mom could do her weekly “grocery” shopping from the store! (Sure, she had to go to the regular supermarket for other staples like lettuce, canned soup, canned tuna, etc., but meats, eggs, dairy and a dizzying array of imported crackers and cookies could be got at Dad’s shop).
We’d pile into the car-cum-delivery truck, make the trek across the city through scenic TMR over to Jean Talon Boulevard and into the vacant store. It was then the negotiations began.
“I want a Fruitella!” the CFO would cry; I’d chime in, “No! how about some SweeTarts?” The Nurse (if she graced us with her teenaged presence at all) would reach for the box of boozy European filled chocolates on the countertop.
“Just one each,” our father would admonish, but if we were really lucky (or sneaky), we’d each make off with another prize as well, my favorite: the Icy Square. Then we’d savor our sweets as my mother browsed the glass counters and chose her food for the week.
Behind the butcher block, suspended like offerings from the hand of some robotic deity, were huge salamis hanging on thick steel hooks. They dried in the open air, exuding droplets of fat as if sweating from the exertion of their acrobatic feat of hanging upside down. There were the thinner pepperoni sticks as well, and one in particular that my dad called “karnatzl“ (you can see what they look like here–scroll about halfway down the page). I never knew it at the time, but karnatzl is a Romanian word for the garlicky sausage–basially, thin pepperoni. And they were my very favorite Sunday snack.
My father would snap off a length of the solid, dehydrated sausage for us to gnaw on as we roamed about the store while my mother completed her “shopping.” The CFO and I would relish the crunchy, spicy meat that oozed with bits of gooey tallow in each bite. The concept of biting into animal fat now makes me shudder both physically and emotionally, but back then I was a carefree eight year-old happy to munch on a stick of beef parts.
My love of pepperoni endured until my first year or so with the HH, when we enjoyed All-Dressed Pizza Night on a regular basis. (I learned quickly when I moved to Toronto from Montreal that pizza is yet another way the two cities differ; in Toronto, you order by ingredient: “Gimme a medium thin-crust with double cheese, mushrooms, peppers and tomato”; in Montreal, in contrast, pizza is distinguished by title: “I’ll take a small Pepperoni” or “I’ll have a medium All-Dressed.”). When I was growing up, all-dressed pizza meant sauce, cheese, green pepper, mushrooms–and lots of pepperoni.
I decided I wanted a pepperoni pizza. No small feat, considering I don’t eat meat. Or gluten. Or cheese.
During my recent love affair with beets, I had a revelation: don’t those beet slices look sorta like slices of salami? Hmm. . . I just had to try it.
The result is this faux pepperoni, perfect on pizza or anywhere else you’d use a spicy, smoky slice of meat (I had the leftovers in a sandwich with tomato, lettuce and onion–superb!). The flavor is lovely, with only a hint of sweetness surviving the smoky, spicy marinade and baking time. The key here is to slice the pieces thinly enough to bake up soft and then slightly crispy on the edges (as you’ll see from my photo, this batch is a little thick. Must. Get. Mandoline.) Too thick, and they still have the subtle earthy flavor of, well, beets.
I will warn you, to create the entire pizza from scratch takes time. Next time, I’ll prep the cheese and pepperoni a day in advance, then cook up the crust and top it when I want to eat it for dinner. But if you’re craving an All Dressed Pepperoni Pizza, this makes a great stand-in, without any wheat, heavy processing, sugar, fillers, or isolated soy protein.
And speaking of televised events. . . for those of you in the Toronto area, I’ll be appearing on Rogers TV daytime show on Thursday, February 11th live at 10:00 AM (repeat at 5:00 PM) on cable channels 10 and 63 to discuss healthy chocolate Valentine’s Day treats. Tune in and let me know what you think!
All Dressed Pizza with Pepperoni Slices (ACD-Friendly–Phase II)
It’s a classic. . . all-dressed pizza. Great for family dinners, Super Bowl Sundays, or whatever occasion you please.
For the pizza:
1 recipe of your favorite pizza crust–I used this one
1 recipe of your favorite “cheese” (or use a premade one like daiya)–I adapted this one (my version below)
3/4-1 cup (180-240 ml) of your favorite pizza sauce (I made my own from canned tomatoes, basil, oregano and garlic powder, but this one sounds good)
toppings of choice: chopped green pepper, chopped red onion, black olives, mushrooms (if you can have ‘em) and PEPPERONI!
For the pepperoni:
3-4 very small fresh beets, peeled and sliced extremely thin (if you have a mandoline, go for it)
1 Tbsp (15 ml) extra virgin olive oil, preferably organic
2 Tbsp (30 ml) Bragg’s liquid aminos OR tamari OR soy sauce
1/2 cup (120 ml) vegetable broth
1/4-1/2 tsp (1-2.5 ml) liquid smoke, to your taste*
Place everything except the beets in the bottom of a 9-inch (22.5 cm) square glass pan or a casserole dish and combine well. Add the beet slices and toss to coat them all; spread them out as well as you can (overlapping slices is okay).
Bake the slices, uncovered, for about 20 minutes, then remove from the oven and flip them over and around to re-coat them with marinade and switch the bottom slices to the top and top to the bottom as much as possible. Continue to bake and stir them up every 10-15 minutes until they have absorbed most of the marinade, are very soft, and begin to curl and crisp at the edges. Remove from oven and set aside until you need them for the pizza.
* If you can’t use liquid smoke because of candida issues, double up the smoked paprika.
1/4 cup (60 ml) melted coconut oil, preferably organic
1/2-1 tsp (2.5 -5 ml) fine sea salt, to your taste
2 more cloves garlic, minced
1/2 tsp (2.5 ml) yellow mustard powder
1 Tbsp (15 ml) freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/4 tsp (1 ml) ground black pepper
pinch cayenne pepper
1/4 tsp (1 ml) paprika
In a medium saucepan, combine the broth, onion, cut garlic cloves, carrots and potato and bring to a boil. Lower heat to simmer, cover and cook for about 15 mintutes, until the vegetables are soft. Drain, reserving the cooking liquid. Set aside.
In the meantime, place the remaining ingredients in a blender and whir briefly to combine. Add 1/2 cup (120 ml) of the vegetable liquid and the drained vegetables to the blender and blend to create a fairly thick, smooth sauce. You will need to scrape down the sides several times and then blend again to ensure that everything is well incorporated (if you need a teeny touch more liquid, go ahead and add it–but don’t make the sauce too thin, or it will soak your pizza crust!). Use to top your pizza. Makes about 2 cups–too much for one pizza; I used leftovers on pasta the next day.
Assemble the pizza:
Preheat oven to 400F (200C).
Spread tomato sauce on the prepared crust and top with a healthy drizzle of the cheese sauce. Sprinkle with your toppings of choice. Bake in preheated oven for about 15 minutes or until the pizza is warmed through. Then top with the beet pepperoni slices as desired and bake another 10-15 minutes until piping hot. Makes one large pizza (feeds 2 in our house).
Before I get to today’s recipe, I’d like to mention two gifts: one for you, and one for me.
The first is the Simply Bar giveaway prize you can win by going here. The giveaway is on until September 7th, so you’ve still got time to enter!
The second is a gift I received in the mail this week, from the amazing and incredibly thoughtful Johanna of Green Gourmet Giraffe. Johanna is a new mum who manages to cook several fantastic dishes a week and still finds time to blog about them, take care of her darling baby girl, maintain a household and (from the sounds of it on her blog) an active social life as well. I’m incapable of accomplishing even half of that in a day–without any children! (Well, some people say that having a dog is like having a three year-old, one who never grows up. Still, I was never that productive, even before The Girls!). I was so thrilled with my present that I could barely wait until I got the package inside the house to rip it open.
Here are the authentic Aussie goodies that I found inside:
[Left to right: Promite (or vegemite), similar to Marmite, something I've been dying to try out for ages; Tasmania Mountain spices; Oz Tukka spices (including wattleseed, which I cannot WAIT to use in some brownies or truffles!), Lemon Myrtle soap (smells absolutely heavenly), an incredibly clever Melbourne snow-dome (they don't really get snow in Melbourne, do they?), and, in the back, a lovely bag from the botanical gardens and an Australian linen tea towel embellished with adorable koala bears.]
Such a generous and thoughtful gift–thank you so much, Johanna! It made my day–nay, my week!
Until I can begin to cook with my native Aussie ingredients, I have a few Canadian-made recipes to blog about. Such as this tomato tart, which began its short life as a pizza–sort of.
All around me these days, I see gardens flourishing in the heart of tomato season. Heirloom varieties and beefsteak and plums and cherry tomatoes are all ripening on vines. Our neighbours to the north have tomato plants that look like something out of Little Shop of Horrors, with vines that threaten to climb over the six-foot fence separating our properties and encroach on our yard, halted only by the profusion of ponderous red fruit dangling from their branches, keeping them weighted toward the ground.
In my own garden, sadly, there is no similar abundance of these fruit-cum-vegetables. Is it because I didn’t use chemical fertilizers? Is it because I didn’t pull the weeds thoroughly enough? Is it because the HH refuses to start a compost bin and I couldn’t properly feed the soil (shameful, I know)? Or is it because I simply suck at gardening?
Whatever the reason, plants that should at this very moment be yielding dozens of plump, juicy tomatoes are instead tentatively offering me only four (four!) squat, pebble-like, green fruit. I can only hope that the sunshine we experienced today continues for at least a month so that my poor tomatoes can reach full maturity before they are plucked from their stalks to sacrifice their lives in service to my plate (and my palate).
Yearning fresh tomatoes, I decided to do what any reasonable person would do instead: purchase them. Our local market was showcasing Ontario tomatoes in varying autumnal shades from deep crimson to rust to mustard yellow. I decided to buy a few of each and create the quintessential late-summer dish: a tomato tart.
Actually, a tart wasn’t my first choice; I had originally intended to create a pizza. A couple of weeks ago, I attempted my first gluten-free pizza crust, mostly to see if I could (and I figured my own creation couldn’t possibly be worse than the stiff, glossy, linoleum-hard crust I’d been ordering at Il Fornello whenever we eat there lately).
After combining elements of several recipes I found on the web, I mixed my ingredients and patted the dough into the pan. I pre-baked it to avoid the soggy center syndrome, then topped with pesto, veggies, and some ground pine nuts. And while the pie was actually quite tasty, it couldn’t qualify as pizza. With its crisp, slightly flaky crust and tender crumb, it was just too much like a biscuit to work as a pizza dough.
Well, have you ever read Real Simplemagazine? (it’s one of my summer-vacation indulgences, along with People). The magazine devotes an entire column each month to “new uses for old things,” or ways you can employ items in a completely different context from their original, intended, use. For instance, old cardboard rolls from paper towels can be used to separate and organize your computer cables (just string the cables through them one at a time). Rubber bands can be used to open jar lids. Post-It Notes can be used to clean your computer keyboard. Empty water bottles can be used as throw toys for Chaser, who will retrieve them indefinitely, or until she collapses on her pillow, whichever comes first. And so on.
Actually, Malcolm Gladwell talks about this same phenomenon in his latest book, Outliers. He cites a test of creativity in which people are asked to provide as many uses as they can for common items such as a brick. Aside from the obvious (“to build walls”), the most creative people came up with uses such as “To break windows for robbery. . . to use as ammunition, as pendulum, to practice carving. . . as a hammer, keep door open, footwiper, use as rubble for path filling. . . to prop up wobbly table, paperweight. . . to block up rabbit hole.”
Then there are the people who move to new and useful occupations after spending time in a previous incarnation: Julia Child, who became a chef and cookbook author after spending years supporting her husband in his diplomatic endeavors; John Grisham, who turned to writing best-selling suspense novels after a career as a lawyer; or Joaquin Pheonix, who made the transition from acting to singing rap last year (oh, wait, I said “useful,” didn’t I? Strike that last one).
Heck, “I can be creative!” I thought. “I can turn that pizza crust into a brick!” I decided to re-purpose the pizza crust as a savory rustic tart crust instead–one that requires neither rolling nor cutting, but only strong fingertips to pinch the edges high enough to enclose the filling.
(“Mum, that’s a great new idea for the pizza crust. But you could have just re-purposed it as dog treats, you know.”)
I covered the crust with thick slices of my tri-color tomatoes and hefty blobs of cashew goat cheese, which I’ve been eating lately by the boatload, it seems. (It’s piquant, creamy, and incredibly versatile in a variety of dishes, such as these daringly hot appetizers). Scattered with thin shreds of fresh, brilliantly green basil from our garden (at least something is growing as it should) and then drizzled with a tad more olive oil, this tart provided a flavorful, filling and aesthetically pleasing supper.
And so, what started life as a merely adequate pizza crust found its true fulfillment at last. Gladwell would be proud.
Freeform Tomato Tart with “Goat Cheese” and Fresh Basil
A lovely, easy weekday dinner, as long as you’ve got the cheese already on hand. This tart is also a perfect contribution to a brunch table, as it tastes just as good at room temperature.
1/3-1/2 cups ( g) brown rice flour
1/4 c (60 ml) whole bean flour
1/4 c (60 ml) chickpea flour
1/4 tsp (1 ml) xanthan gum (probably not necessary, but I had a bag in the freezer)
1/4 c (60 ml) finely ground flax
1-1/2 tsp (7.5 ml) baking powder
1/4 tsp (1 ml) baking soda
1/4 tsp (1 ml) fine sea salt
2 Tbsp (30 ml) natural smooth almond butter
1 Tbsp (15 ml) extra virgin olive oil, preferably organic
1/2 c (120 ml) unsweetened soy or almond milk, or vegetable bouillon
Cashew “goat cheese” (I used this recipe without the pepper crust; or use another recipe of your choice)
4 medium ripe but firm tomatoes, cut about 1/4″ (.5 cm) thick
2 Tbsp (30 ml) extra virgin olive oil, preferably organic
3-4 fresh basil leaves, sliced into very thin strips
more extra virgin olive oil, for drizzling
Preheat oven to 400F (200C). Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper.
In a large bowl, sift the brown rice flour, whole bean flour, chickpea flour and xanthan gum, if using. Add the flax seeds, baking powder, baking soda and sea salt and whisk to blend. Set aside.
In a small bowl, whisk together the almond butter and olive oil. Slowly add the soymilk and blend well. Pour the wet mixture over the dry and stir to blend. The dough will be very soft, but still hold together.
Using wet fingers, press the dough into a rectangle about 12′” x 7″ (30.5 cm x 18 cm), with a 1/2″ (1.25 cm) ridge along the edges. Bake 10-15 minutesin preheated oven, until the top is dry and the crust puffs just a bit.
Arrange the tomatoes evenly over the top and bake another 35-40 minutes, until crust is crispy and dry on bottom (cover the edges with foil if they begin to brown too much). Add the cheese during the last 15 minutes of baking time, and continue to cook until cheese is beginning to brown. Sprinkle with basil and drizzle with a little more olive oil just before serving. Makes 8 servings.
* The HH loved this so much, he thought it needed a more jazzy name. So he came up with ”Pesto Fiesta Pizza.” Olé!
One of the things I decided to do this summer was grow a garden, for the very first time. Maybe it was the influence of the previous tenants, who had one of the most beautiful back yard gardens I’ve ever seen (shame they uprooted everything and took it with them to their new abode when they left!). Maybe it was the billowing mint going forth and multiplying (seemingly by the hour) at the side of our house; maybe it was the current food prices, rising rapidly and steadily like water round a sinking ship. Whatever the reason, I felt inspired to grow my own produce this year.
During one of my weekly shopping trips to the local organic market last May, I bought–ta da!–TWO seedlings: one tomato, and one jalapeno pepper. I felt a little frisson of pride as I hugged the green plastic pots and carried then back to the car. I couldn’t help but smile as I dug little holes in the clay that is our back yard, popped in the root balls I’d loosened from the pots, and propped up the little sprouts of life with even more dirt. And then, I waited.
Miraculously, nature (most notably the superabunance of rain we had this season) took over. It was like one of those segments on National Geographic TV filmed with time-lapse photography: in what seemed like hours, the plants slithered and twisted and grew like crazy, overtaking the small boxed-in area in which they’d been planted. The formerly wee tomato plant with its half dozen yellow blossoms expanded in all directions and ended up yielding something like 41 fruits. The jalapeno plant, too, proliferated, creeping both sideways and skyward and sweeping the earth below it, little white flowers dotting the branches before they sprouted miniature green peppers. The peppers themselves, however, continued to stretch lengthwise and formed long, apple-green veggies that resembled nothing like the jalapenos I’ve ever seen. And THEN, they turned a brilliant, stop-sign red. Are these actually jalapenos? Perhaps the orignal seedling was mislabeled. Anyone out there have any idea what I actually grew? Here’s a photo:
Anyway, the first time I tried to cook with these mysterious darlings, I plucked a couple of green ones and chopped ‘em up the way I would regular jalapenos. WHOOOO–Big mistake. WHOAH, AGGHHH, WHOOSH, PANT, PANT, DROOL, TINGLE. . . SWEAT BREAKING OUT ON MY BROW—Whoah, Mama, those babies were HOT. And, as someone who loves spicy foods (I generally can eat raw slices of jalapeno without a problem), let me tell you, these are no ordinary peppers. Yowsah!!
And so, I am now cooking with these fiery rascals, using them much as I would jalapenos (though adjusting for the extreme heat). I actively sought out any and all recipes that call for hot peppers, as the count is up to about four dozen of the little monsters, and more are clearly on the way. I’ve been cooking everything I can think of, from curries to chocolate cookies to candied varieties (thanks, Diann!), and now–pesto.
This pizza was enormously successful and beyond delicious. It left a pleasant, buzzing tingle on the tongue without chafing. It’s also bursting with protein (beware: not a low-fat meal!) and is probably satisfying for that very reason; the HH remarked, “This doesn’t even NEED cheese.” In tossing the pesto together, I took my cue from Nava Atlas’s Very Green Veggie Pesto mixture, then ad-libbed elements of 2 other jalapeno pesto recipes I found on the web, to create this final version. In the end, it seems, the sum is much greater than its peppers.
It may appear as if there’s too much pesto for a single (12 inch) pizza; this is as it should be. I used the entire mixture on one pizza, creating a soft, cushy mattress of green on which I lay the additional accoutrements (in the way of sundried tomato, fresh tomato–from my garden!!, broccoli, red onion, and chopped garlic). If you prefer a thinner base and heavier toppings, then use about 2/3 of the pesto and save the rest to toss over pasta or even steamed cauliflower, as I did. The HH and I decided, in fact, that this pizza would still be superb with nothing other than the pesto and a few stray shards of sliced sundried tomato. I used my standby thin-crust spelt recipe, but use whatever crust you fancy.
“Mum, you know we can’t eat jalapenos, but how about some of those crust edges? After all, we need more food if we’re going to proliferate, too.”
A perfect combination of smooth, spice, and protein-rich seeds and beans. A great way to incorporate some extra minerals and protein in your pizza topping!
1 recipe thin pizza crust (or use your favorite)
2 jalapeno peppers (or other hot peppers), roughly chopped, with seeds (or remove seeds for less heat)
1/2 cup cooked edamame
1/2 cup pumpkin seeds
1/4 cup pine nuts or walnuts
2 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
1/2 cup cilantro
2 leaves kale (stems removed), roughly chopped
1 Tbsp. light miso
1 Tbsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
sea salt to taste
up to 2 Tbsp. water, if necessary
Toppings of choice (we used red onion, sundried tomato, broccoli, chopped garlic, and fresh tomato slices)
Preheat oven to 400F ( C). Prepare pizza dough and either press or roll out to fit into pan. Dock the crust by pricking with the tines of a fork over the bottom.
Bake for 15 minutes, until it begins to puff up a bit and the top is dry.
Meanwhile, prepare the pesto: In the bowl of a food processor, whir together the jalapenos, edamame, pumpkin seeds, pinenuts, and garlic until almost smooth. Add the remaining ingredients except for toppings and process until you have a relatively smooth paste (though there should still be some grainy texture to it). Taste and adjust the seasoning. The pesto should be fairly thick.
Spread the pesto over the partially baked pizza crust in the pan, and cover with your choice of toppings. Return pizza to the oven and bake an additional 25-35 minutes, until the edges are golden and the garlic and onions in the topping are beginning to brown. Cut into 8 slices and eat immediately. Serves 4.
As you may know, I was a startled and very delighted recipient of Nava Atlas’s latest cookbook, Vegan Express, as a result of Susan’s contest a while back on Fat-Free Vegan Kitchen.A couple of weeks ago, I was thrilled to receive the book in the mail, and set about making a whack of recipes from it.I thought I’d write a bona fide book review so you can all get your own taste of express cooking, vegan style!
Vegan Express by Nava Atlas
Vegan Express is the most recent addition to the long line of popular publications by veteran cookbook author Nava Atlas, already well known for her previous classics such as Vegetariana or The Vegetarian Family Cookbook and website, In A Vegetarian Kitchen.A vegan herself, in this book Atlas addresses one of the foremost hurdles for vegan eaters, both established and newly inclined: prepping veggies can take up lots of time!
Vegan Express provides an antidote for the kitchen weary by proving the truism untrue after all: turns out you can prepare fresh, healthy, vegetable-rich dishes in less time than it takes to watch the evening newscast!Every recipe in the book, from appetizer to dessert, takes between 30 and 45 minutes from assembling the ingredients to digging your fork into that first steaming mouthful (and many take even less time).
In order to write an objective assessment of the book, I decided it would only be fair to test as broad a range of recipes as I could manage in a week. As a result, I prepared seven of the book’s recipes, attempting to sample dishes from many different courses (though, given my natural inclination, I did lean rather heavily on the desserts).
The book begins with Atlas’s own story of how she converted from vegetarianism to a vegan diet. She actually found the transition fairly easy, as nowadays, substitutions for eggs, cheese, and milk abound, even outside the larger cities.
The book also discusses vegans’ nutritional needs and how to achieve them, debunking some common myths about acquiring sufficient protein or vitamin B12. And while Atlas does include some convenience foods (this is a book about cooking shortcuts, after all!), I had no problem using the recipes even though I don’t consume products such as soy cheeses or meat alternatives (as you’ll see when I discuss the pizza, below).
The book also contains a variety of ease-of-use features to help home cooks prepare their meals in a flash. For instance, following each recipe is a “Menu Selections” sidebar that provides possible partners for the dish or other ways to serve it. Many recipes include variations for flexibility and to accommodate different tastes. There is also a fair number of “recipe-free” quick options, as well as further suggestions for some basic ingredients (such as “Speedy Ways to Prepare Tofu”).
The book’s design is aesthetically pleasing, with clean, simple lines and two-color print (and how could we miss those luscious, color-suffused photos by Susan Voisin of Fat-Free Vegan Kitchen?).Many of her readers may not be aware that Atlas herself is an artist with several solo and group exhibitions to her credit. Her cheery line drawings adorn the pages as backdrops that highlight individual dishes and ingredients.
And the recipes?They do, indeed, deliver as promised! All the dishes I attempted were quick to prepare, with straightforward, easy directions. Atlas also includes some nifty tips with certain recipes (such as cutting your pizza into slices before adding the toppings, as it’s so much easier that way).
Finally, here’s what was cooking in the DDD kitchen last week:
Soup and Entrees:
Nearly Instant Thai Coconut Corn Soup
This is listed as one of Atlas’s favorite recipes, and a “must-try” for those who buy the book. As its title suggests, the soup cooks up in no time, and was truly delicious–light yet creamy, with a subtle spiciness interspersed with sweet, chewy corn kernels.Fast, simple, easy…perfect.
I’ve was a huge fan of Singapore noodles in restaurants back in the day, but could never figure out how to make them. Who knew it could be so simple? The HH and I both love spicy foods, so if I had any suggestions for this one, it would be to add more of the spice mixture (I used the maximum amount suggested and would have liked still more kick in this dish). The original recipe called for peas, but since we didn’t have any, I subbed edamame.Still worked beautifully.
Rich Peanut Sauce
This sauce, suggested as an accompaniment to Golden Tofu Triangles, was ready in a snap.Still in a noodle frame of mind, I poured it over some cooked kamut-soba noodles, tossed in an assortment of chopped and sliced veggies, and enjoyed a terrific cold noodle salad. Great the next day, too!
Very Green Veggie Pesto Pizza
This dish was by far the biggest hit of the savories–the HH ate half the pizza all by himself, and I must admit it was my own favorite as well.My photo doesn’t do it justice, as the subtle variance in shades of green comes across here as rather monochromatic, but this combination of pesto underlying oven-roasted veggies is a perfect melding of flavors and textures.
One change I made, however, was to omit the “cheese” originally called for (to be melted over the pesto, and under the veggies).Since I avoid processed soy, I simply omitted that ingredient and sprinkled a little nutritional yeast over the top instead. Both the HH and I agreed that the pizza didn’t even need the cheese, which, I think, would have actually detracted from the disarming flavors of the pesto and veggies.For the crust, I used my own trusty spelt pizza crust recipe, and baked it about 15 minutes at 425F before adding the remaining ingredients.
While Atlas’s recipes are already healthy, I did make some minor adjustments to accommodate my own dietary restrictions. In general, I used spelt flour instead of wheat, and Sucanat for sugar.It didn’t seem to matter—everything still came out terrific.
Dense and Fruity Banana Bread
This is a moist, not-too-sweet loaf with chopped dates and walnuts nestled in a banana-cocoa base.As you can see from the photo, I was so anxious to try this one that I sliced it while still a bit too warm.When I first tasted the bread, the cocoa was extremely understated. By the next day, however, the flavors had matured, yielding a lovely balance between the chocolate and fruit.I thoroughly enjoyed this with some almond butter.
Chocolate Chip Peanut Butter Cake
This cake reminded me of treats my mother used to make when my sisters and I were kids.Baked in a 9” square pan and cut into squares, this is the perfect after-school snack (lucky for me, I’m still in school!).Peanut butter whispers its presence rather than bellows in this surprisingly light and tender cake.As you can see, I cut this one while still warm, too, when the chips were still melty. Cut your slices small, because you’ll want more than one.
Butterscotch Mousse Pie
I had really, really wanted to try out the Caramel Pudding, but since I couldn’t find vegan caramel syrup and didn’t think my homemade caramel would work, I made this pie instead.I’m so glad I did!Although I’m not usually a “pie person,” this was truly delicious.In fact, I’m going to post an entire entry about this one (including the recipe!!) in the next day or two—so stay tuned.
I had enormous fun trying out the recipes from this useful and enjoyable book, and definitely look forward to sampling more. Thanks again, Nava and Susan, for this wonderful opportunity–and for adding another treasure to my cookbook collection.
Those of you who live in the GTA will be familiar with Il Fornello: the hip, alt-chic series of restaurants that seem to be able to satisfy all palates. Besides fabulous pizza baked in wood-burning ovens, this contemporary Italian resto also provides a wide variety of dishes for those of us sensitive to wheat, gluten, or dairy. In other words, it’s the perfect weekday dinner out for me and my HH: he gets to have the Chicken Asiago (chicken breast stuffed with spinach/asiago mix), while I get to have my alternative pizza. We eat, we enjoy, we laugh about how my dinner costs $6.85 and his is $42.50 (okay, well, I laugh).
For years, my favorite pizza at Il Fornello was the “make your own”: start with a crust of your choice (in my case, spelt, of course), then add your pick of toppings from their list. Despite my best intentions to break free of old habits, I inevitably choose the same old, same old, consisting of roasted garlic, hot peppers, kalamata olives, tomatoes, and either spinach or roasted eggplant. If I’m really hungry, I’ll add some sliced onion or capers to the mix.
Finally, after staring at the list of crust ingredients just about every time I ate there for a few years, at least, I thought, “why don’t I just try to do this at home?” It seemed eminently achievable, given that (a) it was spelt, my flour of choice; (b) there was no dreaded yeast in the crust; (c) it was thin-crust, my preference; and (d) sometimes, you just want to have pizza at home.
So I took the basic list of ingredients from the restaurant menu, omitted a couple (such as the millet, which just didn’t seem necessary), changed another (subbed agave for honey), then played with the proportions. What I came up with was the following crust, ridiculously easy, totally yummy, and great for a pizza night when you’re snowed in at home. Because I’m basically a lazy cook (I may have mentioned that before), there’s no rolling or throwing into the air required. Oh, and it’s also great for breakfast the next day.
Spelt Pizza with Caramelized Onion, Artichokes and Chard
This pizza is quick and easy, and can be infinitely adapted to include any of your favorite ingredients.If using a tomato-based pizza sauce, spread it over the crust just before adding the other ingredients, after pre-baking the crust.
1-1/4 cups whole spelt flour
1/4 cup ground flax seeds
1/2 cup (or a bit more) water
2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp. agave nectar
2 large onions, sliced fine
3 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil, divided
1 cup chopped chard (leaves only)
1 whole bulb garlic, roasted (see below)
1 can artichoke hearts, drained (not the marinated kind)
1/4 cup kalamata olives, pitted and sliced
2 T. nutritional yeast or grated parmesan cheese
Prepare the garlic ahead of time:
Preheat oven to 375F. Cut the top off the whole head of garlic horizontally so that every clove is exposed at the top. Place on a square of aluminum foil or in a garlic baker and sprinkle with one tablespoon of the oil. Seal tightly and bake at 375F for 45 minutes to an hour, until the garlic is golden and very soft.Cool about 5 minutes, then pinch the cloves from the bottom up so that the soft garlic meat is squeezed out.Set aside the soft garlic in a small bowl.
For the topping, heat the 2 Tbsp. olive oil over medium-low heat in a frypan and add the onions.Sauté at until onions are very soft and golden brown, stirring occasionally, about 10-15 minutes.Add the chard and allow just to wilt.Turn off heat and cover.
While the topping cooks, prepare the crust:lightly spray a pizza pan with nonstick coating, or line with parchment paper.
Mix flour, flax, and salt in a large bowl and set aside.In a measuring cup, measure the 1/2 cup water.Then add the 2 Tbsp. oil, agave and salt, and mix well.
Pour the wet mixture over the dry and toss with a fork.Once it starts to come together, knead with your hands about 2 minutes.It should be a soft dough, a little bit sticky, but one that holds together.
Using firm pressure, press the dough with your floured knuckles or fingers evenly over the pizza pan.Let the dough extend a little onto the rim of the pan.Prick the surface with a fork and then bake for 10 minutes in the preheated oven, until the top is dry.
Assemble the pizza:
Increase oven temperature to 400F. Spread the roasted garlic evenly over the surface of the pre-baked pizza, then top with the caramelized onion mixture. Slice the artichoke hearts into quarters and toss evenly over the pizza along with the olives. (If using parmesan cheese, sprinkle it evenly over the top of the mixture).
Bake the pizza for about 20 minutes, until heated through and the edges of the crust are deep golden.Remove from the oven and sprinkle with the nutritional yeast.Slice and serve, perhaps while reading Holidailies.Makes 6-8 slices.
I must be on a “dinner-for-breakfast” kick. This morning, I scarfed up the last 2 pieces of pizza from last night’s cooking class. Normally, the class participants take all the leftovers home with them, but due to intermittent snow squalls throughout the GTA, two people cancelled at the last minute and left me with–yum!–breakfast.
I am feeling a bit downcast this morning, as last night’s was the final class, not just of 2007, but likely forever. After four years of offering alternative cooking classes in my home and finally reaching some sort of critical mass on the website, I decided with this recent move to stop teaching in the house.
First of all, my H.H. hated it (since he was relegated to the upstairs TV room for the entire evening), and even though The Girls loved it (“Yes, Mum, all those new people to sniff and free food dropping from the air all evening!”), I find this new place isn’t as well suited to having three cooking stations in the kitchen. Besides, it’s a new home; time for a fresh start. I’ve been feeling so overwhelmed with other projects and commitments lately that it was beginning to seem onerous every time I had to prep a class (a full-day venture, plus cleaning up until midnight most nights).
What I will miss is meeting an ongoing array of amazing women (sorry, Garry, you were the only man to register in the entire four years!) who have opened my mind to new experiences and taught me more about life than I could ever have taught them about cooking.
Believe me, as one who formerly suffered from anxiety attacks, I was the last person you’d expect to invite total strangers into my home. But after a giddy year as a nutrition student at CSNN, my desire to share what I’d learned and cook with the amazing selection of new and healthy foods I’d discovered overcame any doubts I may have had. (Besides, we all know that the last thing those health-foodie, crunchy granola types would ever do is steal or pillage).
So: to Giovanna, who burst onto the scene post-radiation with her smile still beaming, it was such a pleasure to meet you and observe as you entered this world of alternative medicine and organic eating. Your courage and determination have inspired me. And so cool to know that there are such incredibly gorgeous wigs out there (though I must say I prefer the natural grey on you).
To Sandra, with your naturally effervescent nature, thank you for winning the prize for “only student who attended all fourteen cooking classes in a single season.” I enjoyed hearing the plethora of stories about your kids and their pranks, and I wish you continued success as you introduce healthier options into your family’s menus.
To Barbara, with your peripatetic streak and calming smile, I so enjoyed hearing about your many travels and so many interesting customs from other countries. Thank you for your unbridled appreciation of the food and for being so affectionate with my dogs (“yes, thanks, Barbara!”). I know you will love your upcoming time in Cairo.
To Maria-Elena, you brought an informal approach and many guffaws to the class. Thank you for showing me that the Coconut Cream Pie could work when made in the blender, even though that wasn’t what the recipe called for. Who needs to measure, anyway?
To Michelle, I’m so glad you took that first chance and leapt in. I have so enjoyed our outings and discovering this new friendship. And thanks for all the great puppy pix and recipes to try out! You are a natural at it.
There are so many more, and every one has touched me in some indelible way. Still, I know this was the right move for me, one that will allow my concentration to move to more current interests (hmm, such as this blog!).
Yes, I will sorely miss the camaraderie and buzz in the kitchen. What I won’t miss is having to dash frantically around the house cleaning up the night before class (oh, wait, maybe I should miss that–this may mean our house is never clean again!). I won’t miss the last-minute forays to the corner store for overlooked okra or missing miso, or having to reprimand Chaser when the guests arrive because her exuberance overtakes her and she jumps up on people even though she’s been trained not to (“But Mum! They might have food!”).
Last evening’s theme was “Light and Easy Suppers,” healthy dishes that are mostly kid-friendly and can be cooked up in a fairly short span.
Sesame Sweet Potato Wedges with Thai Dipping Sauce
Spelt Thin-Crust Pizza with Artichokes, Caramelized Onion, and Chard (photo above)
Tofu Masala Curry with Brown Basmati
Moroccan Spiced Tomato Soup
Napa Cabbage Salad
Gluten-Free Pumpkinseed Shortbread Cookies.
I will post recipes for all of these over the next while. Now that there will BE no more cooking classes, this is my best place to share, though I don’t have all the photos yet (of course, given my shaky photography “skills,” that may not be a bad thing).
In the meantime, why not indulge in pizza for breakfast?