Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Iced Tea Sangria

Boy, it is hot here in Topeka!

Yes, I'm familiar with the cartoon that says the same thing, but I’m not trying to be funny here. It really is hot and headed to 100-plus degrees today. (BTW, I love that cartoon, but The Picky Eater, who was a Topeka native, didn't care for it at all.) 

It's the perfect weather for this Iced Tea Sangria.

I love this recipe because it pairs two of my favorite beverages—iced tea and wine. I saw a recipe for it floating around Facebook, but of course I had to play with it a bit.

Use whatever fruit you like. I went with oranges, since I like them in my iced tea, and summer fruits like peaches, strawberries, blueberries and raspberries. You can use fresh fruit, but honestly I used frozen and the drink turned out great.

My wine choice was an un-oaked chardonnay I had in the fridge, but use whatever white wine you like. A rosé or red wine would work, too, but I picked white so I could also taste the tea.

Add sugar depending on how sweet you like your drink. Since I prefer unsweetened iced tea and dry wines, I only added a tablespoon of sugar. Add more if you like sweeter beverages, or just make a sweet tea to add to the recipe.


Iced Tea Sangria

4 cups brewed iced tea (I used a black tea.)
2 cups white wine
1 tablespoon sugar, or to taste
Fresh or frozen fruit of choice

In a large container, add the tea and wine. Add the sugar and stir until dissolved, and then add the fruit. Refrigerate for at least 4 hours. Overnight is even better. Serve over ice.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Margherita Pizza

When it comes to favorite foods, pizza is at the top of my list. It is also one of my favorite things to make at home. Seriously, homemade pizza is so easy, even if you make your own crust. Plus, it’s easy on the budget.

I get my love of pizza from Mom. She is a bigger pizza fiend than me. Frozen, homemade, or restaurant…the variety doesn't matter. Whenever we’re together, I know if I suggest getting pizza, she will agree almost before I finish speaking.

However, The Picky Eater was a different matter. He only liked certain pizzas from specific restaurants and was never one to experiment with something new. Frozen pizza could only be Red Baron supreme, and no matter how many times I tried, I could never get him to like homemade pizza. I think I was doomed from the beginning. The first time I made pizza for us, I goofed on the sauce by adding too much salt. From then on, it was a loosing battle. 

I've shared my favorite pizza sauce recipe before, but this pizza came about because I had a large tomato from the farmer’s market that was getting ripe fast and I didn't want it to go to waste. So instead of using sauce, I went for a Margherita-style pizza with sliced tomatoes and basil. (The name comes from Queen Margherita of Italy, who was said to like this style of pizza best on a visit to Naples in 1889.) The flavors are clean and simple…perfect for summer.

Margherita Pizza

1 cup warm water (about 110 degrees, or just warm to the touch)
1 packet rapid rise yeast
2 1/2 to 4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons olive oil

2 tablespoon olive oil
1 clove garlic, finely minced
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
12 to 14 fresh basil, thinly sliced and divided
1 large tomato, thinly sliced

To make the crust: Warm the bowl to your stand mixer by filling it with hot water and letting it set for about a minute. Pour the water out and dry.

Place the bowl onto the mixer stand. Add the warm water, and then sprinkle the yeast over the top. Next add 2 1/2 cups of flour, salt and olive oil. Mix with the dough hook for 2 minutes. If the dough is too dry (not coming together in a ball), add a few drops of water at a time until it clings to the hook and cleans the sides of the bowl. If it’s too wet (sticking to the bowl), add more all-purpose flour, 1/2 cup at a time, until it reaches the right consistency.

Once the dough has come together, continue to knead with the dough-hook for 2 more minutes. (Or you can knead by hand if you wish.)

Smear the bottom of a large bowl with olive oil. Remove the dough from the mixer and shape into a ball. Place the dough into the greased bowl, turning it over to oil the top. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap.

Let the dough rise in a warm place for 45 minutes to 1 hour, or until doubled in bulk. (I place my dough in my oven that I preheated at 450 degrees for 1 minute, and then turned off.) When the dough has risen, punch it down and then shape into the pizza form on a well-greased baking sheet or on top of a piece of parchment paper.

To top the pizza: In a small dish, stir together the olive oil, garlic, and salt. Set aside for 5 to 10 minutes, and then brush the mixture onto the pizza dough. (You may not need all of it. I just used the oil, which had picked up the garlic flavor. If you like a stronger garlic taste, make sure some of the minced garlic is spread on the crust.) Sprinkle half of the basil over the pizza, and then top with both cheeses. Lay the tomatoes on top of the cheese and sprinkle just a bit of salt over each slice.

Bake at 450 degrees for 15 to 20 minutes. (I often remove my pizza from the pan directly onto the oven rack after 10 minutes of baking so the bottom crust gets nice and brown.) Take out of the oven and sprinkle with the remaining basil. Cut and serve.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Minestrone to Sooth the Soul

I've never been one to stop eating when I’m under stress. In fact, I’m just the opposite. The more stress I feel, the more I want to eat. The only time I loose my appetite is when I’m sick, and I make up for the food I missed once it all starts to taste “right” again.

Then my husband died.

For the first time in my life, I didn't feel hunger. Didn't feel it at all! The only clue I had that I might be hungry was when Mom would say, “Linda, you need to eat something,” and when I did, I felt a bit better. I remember thinking, “Hum, I must have been hungry.”

Normally I decide what to eat by asking myself, “What are you hungry for today?” In those early days after The Picky Eater was gone, the answer was, “Nothing.” Actually, I didn't even ask the question. The only thing I remember eating that tasted somewhat enjoyable was Chinese food with Mom at a restaurant one evening, plus a donut from the box my neighbor, Jan, brought me. That was it. I know I ate more, but I don't remember what.

After about a week passed, I was looking through my freezer and saw a bag of diced zucchini from last
summer. That was when I experienced my first craving—for minestrone soup. In spite of it being summertime, minestrone fits the season for me since I like it made with lots of zucchini and summer squash.

I mixed up a big batch of the soup in the slow cooker and ate it every day for a week—sometimes twice a day. Each bowl, with Parmigiano Reggiano grated liberally over the top, not only gave me the nutrition I needed, but it also brought me a sense of comfort as I began my new “normal” life. It is soup to sooth the soul.

Minestrone Soup

Makes a lot! I ate a bowl or two every day for a week and still had enough for two containers in the freezer.

1 medium onion
2 ribs of celery, diced
1 large clove of garlic, minced
2 carrots, diced
1 summer squash, cut in large dice
2 zucchinis, cut in large dice
2 cup shredded kale
1 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes
2 15-ounce cans dark red kidney beans, drained and rinsed
2 15-ounce cans great northern beans, drained and rinsed
1 quart low-sodium chicken broth
2 bay leaves
1 teaspoon Italian Seasoning (I use McCormick.)
Salt and pepper, to taste
1 cup uncooked ditalini pasta
Grated Parmigiano Reggiano, for garnish

In a skillet over medium heat, saute the onion and celery until the onion is translucent. Add the minced garlic and cook until the garlic becomes fragrant, about 30 seconds. Remove from the heat and transfer the onion/celery/garlic mixture into a slow cooker.

Add the remaining ingredients, except for the ditalini and Parmigiano Reggiano. Cover and cook on low for 3 1/2 to 4 hours, or until the carrots and other vegetables become just soft. The kale will always be a bit chewy. If you don’t like this, just omit it or choose a different greens variety, such as Swiss chard. If the tomatoes and broth don’t give you enough liquid in the pot, just add more broth or water.

Towards the end of the cooking time, heat a large saucepan filled with water to a boil. Add salt to the water, and then boil the ditalini until it is just al dente. Drain the pasta and add it to the soup in the slow cooker. Let the soup continue to cook for another 30 minutes.

To serve, ladle the soup into bowls and liberally grate Parmigiano Reggiano over the top.