Goat Cheese Pizzas

Thanks to a block of goat cheese and CookingLight.com, I was inspired to make a few variations on the theme of pizza this week. The first pie featured a fruit not usually associated with pizza toppings -- strawberries. Though the dish involves cheese and the ingredients are placed atop an open crust, it is not your typical pizza. You would hardly find strawberries, watercress, goat cheese and shaved Spanish mahon adorning a Papa John's deep dish. However, label aside, the ingredients harmonized magically and it was just as enjoyable to eat in wedge slices as its distant pepperoni & cheese cousin.

The second pizza I made is more aligned with traditional pizza toppings -- it stays true to classic margarita ingredients, but departs slightly with the addition of tangy goat cheese.
Both pizzas are light and summery meals that can be made in minutes (especially when using refrigerated pizza dough or whole wheat pitas for the crust, as I did) and can be easily tweaked according to palate preferences (but these combinations are pretty darn good).


1 whole wheat pita (or pre-made pizza crust)
1/3 cup crumbled goat cheese
1 cup sliced strawberries
1 cup trimmed watercress
2 Tbsp roasted sunflower seeds
1/2 tsp extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 tsp fresh lemon juice
Dash of salt
Dash of freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup shaved fresh Spanish Mahon cheese

1. Place pita in toaster oven and bake at 425° for 8 minutes, until browned. Remove from oven; arrange goat cheese evenly over crust.
3. Combine strawberries, watercress, sunflower seeds, olive oil, juice, salt, and black pepper; toss gently to coat. Arrange strawberry mixture evenly over goat cheese. Sprinkle pizza with Spanish mahon. Cut into wedges and serve immediately.



1 whole wheat pita (or refrigerated pizza crust dough)
Cooking spray
1 garlic clove, halved
1 plum tomato, largely diced
1/2 cup fresh mozzarella cheese, thinly sliced
1/2 cup crumbled herbed goat cheese
sliced cremini mushrooms
Fresh basil, for garnish

1. Place pita in toaster oven and bake at 425° for 5 minutes, until slightly browned.
2. Remove pita from oven and rub one side with garlic. Top with two cheeses, tomato and mushrooms. Return to oven and cook an additional 3-5 minutes until pita is crisp (but not burned!)
3. Sprinkle with fresh basil and serve.

Note: The original recipe calls for grilling refrigerated pizza dough for the crust: Grilled Heirloom Tomato and Goat Cheese Pizza. Unfortunately my current apartment living situation limits my access to a grill, so I will have to wait to prepare it this way. But here are the directions for the over-fire method:
1. Prepare grill to medium heat.
2. Unroll dough onto a large baking sheet coated with cooking spray; pat dough into a 12 x 9-inch rectangle. Lightly coat dough with cooking spray.
3. Place dough on grill rack coated with cooking spray; grill 1 minute or until lightly browned. Turn crust over. Rub with garlic; sprinkle with tomato and cheeses. Close grill lid; grill 3 minutes. Serve immediately.


The Sunshine of Citrus and Fennel

Though orange and fennel salad is typically a Sicilian winter dish, this is the closest thing to summer that I've tasted all year. I added cucumber and shrimp to the mix, heightening its crunch and freshness.



1 naval orange, peeled and cut into chunks
1/2 large red grapefruit, peeled and cut into chunks
1/2 fennel bulb, sliced thinly
1/2 large cucumber, grated
olive oil
lemon juice
fresh cilantro

Approx. 20 large shrimp
olive oil
1 garlic clove, minced
lemon juice
1 Tbsp fresh cilantro

1. Peel and cut orange and grapefruit into large chunks.
2. Thinly slice 1/2 large fennel bulb.
3. Coursely grate 1/2 cucumber, unpeeled.
4. Combine citrus, fennel and cucumber in a medium bowl. Drizzle with olive oil and lemon juice to taste. Sprinkle with cilantro and set aside.
5. In a medium skillet, heat olive oil over medium-high heat. Add shrimp and garlic and a few squirts of lemon juice. Cook for 3-5 minutes until shrimp is cooked through. Add about a Tbsp of cilantro; stir to combine.
6. Plate the salad and top with cooked shrimp.

Stack of the Day

This recipe is inspired by an Editors' Pick from the "Your Best Mushrooms" contest at Food52.com -- Warm Mushroom Salad with Crispy Polenta. I edited the list of ingredients based on what I had available, substituting humble toast in place of polenta, spinach for arugula, Spanish mahon for parmesan, cilantro for thyme and ricotta for creme fraiche. (So in fact I didn't follow the recipe at all, but nevertheless it was my culinary inspiration so I must give due credit). In my opinion there is almost nothing as delicious as sauteed mushrooms, which are the star in this meaty-yet-meatless open-faced sandwich:



2 teaspoons olive oil
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon dijon mustard
2 cups loosely packed spinach
1/4 cup grated Spanish mahon cheese
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 clove garlic, chopped
8 oz package cremini mushrooms, roughy sliced (plus 1/4 cup oyster mushrooms that I had leftover -- any combination of 'shrooms will work)
2 Tbsp cilantro
1 dollop ricotta cheese, for garnish

1. In a medium bowl, whisk together the olive oil, lemon juice and mustard. Toss the spinach and Spanish mahon with the dressing and set aside.
2. In a medium skillet heat 1 Tbsp olive oil over medium heat. Add the mushrooms, garlic, and cilantro.
3. Cook until the mushrooms have started to brown and the excess water has evaporated (about 10 minutes).
4. Top a piece of toast with the spinach salad mixture. Put the mushrooms over the spinach and garnish with a dollop of ricotta and cilantro.

Iron Chef Quesadillas

Leave it to Bobby Flay to come up with the most creatively delicious quesadilla. A meal at Mesa Grill--the renowned Southwestern hotspot of the Iron Chef--a few weeks ago inspired me to try his unique take on those "cheesy little things." When I saw the appetizer on the menu--Cremini Mushroom Quesadilla--I was sold before I read the rest of the description (anything with mushrooms stops me in my tracks). After reading what accompanied the 'shrooms--fontina, ricotta, fried egg and salsa verde--I was completely bent on trying it, intrigued by how that combination would dance on my tastebuds. As I anticipated, the appetizer was a gem and a prime example of Bobby's skill at creatively combining only the most essential ingredients to arrive at bold, complex flavors. The relatively short ingredient list, paired with the fact that I have never eaten a quesadilla with a fried egg on top of it, spurred me to mimic Flay's recipe so I could have it again at home...(later that night...) With the taste of the original still lingering in my mouth, I did my best to re-create the palatal magic of:


2 whole wheat tortillas
Approx. 1/4 cup fontina cheese, shredded
baby bella (cremini) mushrooms
ricotta cheese
1 egg

olive oil
lime juice
*Note: I don't know exactly how Bobby made his salsa verde, but I remember tasting a lot of cilantro so I made it the base for my sauce. Also, this was an experimental dish and the measurements are not precise. Adjust to taste and preference. Makes one serving.

1. In a food processor combine about 1/2 cup cilantro, 1/8-1/4 cup olive oil, 1/8 cup lime juice and 1/2 tsp cumin. Adjust to taste. Set aside.
2. Grate 1/4 cup fontina cheese and set aside.
3. Saute 1/2 cup baby bella mushrooms in a small pan until browned.
4. In a larger skillet heat one tortilla; sprinkle cheese and mushrooms evenly. Place second tortilla on top and press with another heavy skillet. Cook for a few minutes on one side, flip and cook an additional several minutes until each side of the tortilla is browned and the cheese is melted.
5. Meanwhile, crack one egg into the original small pan and let it cook until set.
6. Spread ricotta evenly over the quesedilla and top with the fried egg. Drizzle with the cilantro sauce. Thank Bobby for his genius.


A Trio of Pastas

Pasta dominated my time in the kitchen this week. I began the kick when I stumbled across a black squid ink linguine at the market. Having never tasted the bold-colored pasta before, I felt compelled to build some dishes around it. Inspired by the sea, I adapted a shrimp pasta recipe that I had made from CookingLight--Warm Pasta Salad with Shrimp. Swapping the squid ink linguine for the farfalle that the original calls for, I arrived at a flavorful and visually interesting creation with shrimp floating amongst a sea of black noodles:



3 cups uncooked squid ink linguine
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
1 1/2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon minced fresh garlic
1/4 cup olive oil
Cooking spray
12 ounces medium shrimp, pre-cooked
2 cups chopped fresh spinach
1 cup canned cannellini beans, rinsed and drained
1/4 cup minced red onion

1. Cook pasta according to package directions; drain.
2. Combine juice, mustard, and garlic in a small bowl, stirring well with a whisk. Gradually add oil, stirring constantly with a whisk.
3. Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Coat pan with cooking spray. Add shrimp to pan; cook for 2 minutes or until browned and heated through. Stir in spinach, cannellini beans, red onion; toss to combine over heat. Add the pasta and juice mixture to shrimp mixture; toss. Serve warm or cold.


With some squid ink pasta left over, I whipped up another simple meal the following night with grilled chicken and artichokes:



8 oz grilled lemon chicken
1 can of artichokes; drained, rinsed and quartered
White wine
Chicken broth
1/4 cup fresh parsley, chopped
olive oil

1. Cook pasta according to directions; drain. (In this case, the pasta was already cooked).
2. Slice grilled chicken into bite-size pieces.
3. Drain and rinse artichokes; cut into quarters.
4. Add oil to a pan on medium-high heat and add artichokes and chicken; saute, adding some white wine and chicken broth during the cooking process. Cook until artichokes are browned and most of the moisture is boiled down.
5. Stir in linguine and parsley.


My second interesting pasta discovery at the market this week was a pre-made pumpkin gnocchi. I've had success with the packaged varieties of this pasta, though I had never seen one that integrated pumpkin with the potato base. I found that while the pumpkin flavor was subtle, it added a complexity that the plain version lacks. I wasn't sure what type of sauce would work best for the flavor of this gnocchi, so I took a gamble on a chunky tomato sauce that employs ample amounts of onion, garlic and paprika and it turned out to be a winner.



1 package pumpkin gnocchi
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 can diced tomatoes, drained
2 tomatoes, cut into large chunks
1 red onion, roughly chopped
2-3 tsp Hungarian paprika
6 cloves of garlic, minced
3 whole cloves of garlic
white wine
1/4 cup fresh parsley, chopped
black pepper

1. Heat oil in medium pan. Add onions; when cooked halfway, add the garlic and continue cooking until garlic is fragrant.
2. Add tomatoes, a splash of white wine, paprika, parsley and black pepper. Adjust to taste.
3. Simmer until desired consistency.
4. Cook gnocchi in medium pot of boiling water according to package directions (about 2-3 minutes or until gnocchi floats to surface)
5. Combine gnocchi into tomato sauce. Garnish with remaining fresh parsley.


Exciting media coverage of the Food Styling & Photography Workshop at ICE: "The Art of Food Photography," ABC Eyewitness News, April 6, 2011.


The Space Between

Between two pieces of bread the possibilities are endless and it is in this space that my creativity thrives. Yet, when it comes to sandwiches, I am a notorious "over-stuffer." I want to have it all in one bite, but after a few too many jaw-popping incidents, I am convinced that I need to become more selective in my fillings. Sure, cramming turkey, spinach, tomato, cucumber, avocado, apple slices, sprouts and mushrooms on a crusty ciabatta would be nutritious and delicious, but chances are I wouldn't be able to open my mouth wide enough to enjoy all of the ingredients. Picking just three or four of the most essential items will increase the creative combinations and allow each ingredient to play a key role instead of becoming lost in the layers. The challenge to find which pairings are most satisfying together is something that now possesses me. And it seems as though I am surrounded by this sandwich craze--

Exhibit A: The April issue of Martha Stewart's Whole Living magazine features "Build a Better Sandwich" , providing 30 combinations that elevate the humble sandwich into a platform for a unique and well-balanced meal (and inspiring visuals of each creation).

Exhibit B: Saveur Magazine's latest = the sandwich issue

Exhibit C: In one of their recent daily e-mails, Tasting Table highlighted Scanwiches -- a blog featuring scans of every sandwich that graphic designer Jon Chonko has ever eaten.

The sandwich is no longer just a boring lunchtime staple; it has been reborn and is being celebrated for its versatility. And I for one am joining the crusade to push the boundaries of what the sandwich can be to expose its full potential.
Layers in my creation above (top to bottom):

multigrain flax bread
sliced tomato
green tuna salad {avocado+arugula+spinach+drizzle lemon juice+drizzle olive oil (blended in food processor) + 1 can of chunk tuna + crushed walnuts}
thinly sliced gala apple
multigrain flax bread

[heat sandwich in panini press]