Monday, February 22, 2010

Baking Bread - Pita (and Homemade Hummus)

Have I raved yet about the most excellent book, Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day? (Check out their blog site here.) I have used it for so many breads already, since receiving it as a Christmas gift. They make baking bread so easy, it's almost insane!

This is one of our new favorites to make at home, Pita bread and Hummus.

There is a post about their pita bread at their site, with great pictures and instructions, although the recipe for the dough is left out. That is probably because you can use any number of base doughs to make the pita bread. I used the main Boule dough recipe.

In their post about their pita bread, they call it the "fastest bread in the land", and they are NOT kidding. Five to ten minutes rolling it out, about five to seven minutes in a 500 degree oven, and we were eating. The hummus took longer! The pita bread not only is super easy, but it is delicious, too. Eaten by itself or topped with hummus, it was yummy!

Now, for the hummus. Simple ingredients combine for big flavor. I love garbanzo beans, or chickpeas, whatever you call them. I love them in salad, roasted with red pepper flakes, as hummus. If it's made with garbanzo beans, I'll probably love it, whatever it is. Here is our recipe.

1 cup of garbanzo beans, canned or reconstituted if dried
(We used dried beans, not canned, and keep in mind, they double in size after being boiled and soaked in water)
2 -4 cloves of garlic, roughly chopped, depending on your liking
1/4 cup lemon juice
up to 1/2 cup of water
up to 1/2 cup olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup tahini, if desired

In a food processor, combine the garbanzo beans, garlic and lemon juice. Process and add water and olive oil until your desired consistency is reached. (That's why I say "up to" - I've had hummus that was really thin, or very chunky. We like ours a little thick, but smooth.)

Add the salt and tahini. Note the tahini will make the mixture thicker.

We had a hard time mixing everything when we added the tahini at the beginning, it was just so thick. That's why I add it now at the end, and it works much better. Everything mixes and gets pureed nicely, then I can add the tahini. Personally, I don't know that the tahini necessarily adds much to hummus, but it's an ingredient I found in all the hummus recipes I looked through. It probably makes it "authentic hummus" if it has tahini! :-)

I made the hummus and then put it aside to let the flavors meld together. Then, I worked on the pita bread. I really enjoyed this, and coupled with a nice spinach and tomato salad, it would make an awesome dinner for Meat Free Monday!

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Happy Birthday, Mom!

For you, my mom, here is a picture of pretty flowers being visited by pretty butterflies. It's not a bouquet of flowers, but it's the thought that counts, right? And, here is a poem for you that I thought was fitting. Love you, Mom!

As I Look Back
Author Unknown

As I look back on my life
I find myself wondering.....
Did I remember to thank you
for all that you have done for me?
For all of the times you were by my side
to help me celebrate my successes
and accept my defeats?

Or for teaching me the value of hard work,
good judgement, courage, and honesty?

I wonder if I've ever thanked you for the simple things...
The laughter, smiles, and quiet times we've shared?

If I have forgotten to express my gratitude
For any of these things,
I am thanking you now....
and I am hoping that you've known all along,
how very much you are loved and appreciated.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Lemon Meringue Pie #2

Hey, it looks like a pie! Yeah!

I am putting this one in the Success column for me for sure! It was not perfect (note the droplets on the top and the cracked crust) but it was leaps and bounds better than my first one. We could actually eat it with a fork, haha.

So, fellow foodies and far-more-experienced-bakers, help me out with this one, pretty please. Why do I get the droplets on the meringue? I used a stainless steel bowl this time which I thought would be an improvement over the plastic one I used last time. But, I still got the dreaded droplets. Any suggestions and recommendations would be appreciated.

My second problem with this pie was a lot of liquid. After we enjoyed the first slices, I stored it in the fridge. The next day I pulled it out to have some for dessert and there was a lot of liquid in my pie plate. Is that the water from the filling? Why would it do that? My aunt suggested I did not boil it long enough the second time. Would you agree?

Well, here is the recipe, altered from the Better Homes and Gardens recipe.

Lemon Meringue Pie Filling
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/3 cup cornstarch
3 eggs
2 tablespoons margarine or butter
1 to 2 teaspoons finely shredded lemon peel
1/3 cup lemon juice

Baked Pastry Shell (I used a store-bought pie shell - I'm not that advanced yet)

Meringue for Pie
3 egg whites
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
6 tablespoons sugar

Bake your pastry shell/pie crust per the instructions.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

For the filling: combine the 1 1/2 cups sugar and 1/3 cup cornstarch in a medium saucepan. Slowly stir in 1 1/2 cups water, while heating over a medium-high heat. Cook and stir until thickened and bubbly. Reduce the heat and cook and continue to stir for 2 minutes. Remove from the heat.

Separate the egg yolks and whites, setting the whites aside for the meringue. Beat the egg yolks slightly to combine them, then, gradually stir 1 cup of the hot filling mix into the egg yolks (called tempering, right?). Then, return everything back to the saucepan and bring it to a gentle boil. Once it is gently boiling, cook and continue to stir for 2 minutes. Remove it from the heat and add the margarine or butter and lemon peel. Stir to combine. Add lemon juice gradually, stirring to mix well. Pour the hot filling into the baked pastry shell/pie crust and top with the meringue, sealing the meringue to the edge of the crust. Bake for 15 minutes then cool on a wire rack.

For the meringue: Bring egg whites to room temperature. Beat the egg whites, vanilla and cream of tartar with an electric mixer on medium speed until soft peaks form (when the tips curl). Add the sugar one tablespoon at a time, until the sugar dissolves, and the mixture is glossy and forms stiff peaks (tips don't curl). Immediately spread the meringue over pie, sealing to the edge of the pie crust, and bake as directed in the filling portion.

Again, any advice, suggestions, recommendations would be fabulous! This is my father's and my husband's favorite pie, and I'd really like to know how to make it well. Thanks so much!!

Lemon Meringue Pie on FoodistaLemon Meringue Pie

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Organic Chocolate!

This was my Valentine's Day gift from my hubby. Two bars of chocolate that we can both feel good about! Both are made by Alter Eco (their website, is in French for those who would like to test their French, but they have a link to their North American website,, which is in English). The bars have information on their packaging about the chocolate, where it comes from and how purchasing their product helps farmers.

The cocoa is from the El Ceibo cooperative in Bolivia, and benefits 800 families/small-scale farmers and promotes sustainable agriculture and improved living standards, while protecting their environment. Interesting, funny tidbit - the cocoa is from Bolivia, the chocolate was made in Switzerland, and it was distributed by Alter Eco Americas out of San Francisco. It's a world-wide production!

The packaging also contains information about the ingredients. I loved reading the ingredient list: four ingredients in the Dark Chocolate Almond, and five ingredients in the Dark Chocolate Velvet - and I could pronounce them all without a degree in science. Isn't that refreshing? No preservatives, no -oses, no -ates, no -ides, no partially hydrogenated ANYTHING! Just cocoa mass, unrefined or raw cane sugar, cocoa butter, almond, whole milk powder and melted butter. And, all ingredients (except the melted butter) were Organic, with most of them also being Fair Trade Certified. The Almond was also labeled as Vegan and GMO Free, while the Velvet was labeled Gluten, Soy and GMO Free. I can feel pretty good about that!

Oh Yeah! The taste! It tastes wonderful! My husband is not a fan of dark chocolate, and I myself would probably choose it last if given a choice of the 3 chocolates (milk, white or dark). I think that might be a result of the bitter taste I've experienced in the past (which may - for all I know - come from the processing with chemicals or from preservatives) AND how I tended to eat chocolate as a youngster. By the handfuls! Oh, come on, we all ate chocolate that way. They don't sell bite-sized, individually wrapped chocolates in a huge bag for no reason! And, I cannot eat just one. In my younger days, a whole bar of chocolate would be devoured in one sitting. Now that I am older, I savor my chocolate like a good wine paired with the right meal.

This dark chocolate was really good, though. The bittersweet-ness was there, but it was much more subtle and just at the beginning. As the chocolate melted in my mouth, the creaminess became more apparent, and the chocolate flavor was sweet but not too sweet. I was so happy to receive this as a gift, and it was so special to me that we have shared one square each for the past two nights, just to make it last longer. And, you know what? That one square of lovely chocolate is almost enough to satisfy my sweet tooth. Then, I open the other package, take a square from it and then I'm good! :-)

So, in summary, it is delicious, and simply made with no preservatives, 100% natural, and organic and helps small-scale farmers protect their environment and practice sustainable agriculture. What's not to love?

Saturday, February 13, 2010

La Piazza Al Forno

Located in Downtown Historic Glendale, Arizona, La Piazza Al Forno is an Italian restaurant that specializes in wood-fired pizzas. It was featured on Guy Fieri's Food Network show, Diners, Drive-ins and Dives.

We ate there before going to the Glendale Chocolate Affaire (read that post here). It was located right across from the park, and there was an outdoor seating area that would be a wonderful place to people-watch and enjoy the awesome winter weather. It was a small, simple place, and had the brick oven right in the middle of the room.

(As an example of how small the place is - we were seated at a two-person table against the wall, opposite the brick oven. It was previously set up as a four-person table, but they split the two, by moving one table away, to make 2, two-person tables. We were seated and our server came over to get our drink orders. The space was so tight, there was literally just enough room for her to fit between the two tables. Then, another couple was seated at the table next to us. They got comfortable and proceeded to move their table about a foot closer to us, saying they just wanted to get out of the aisle. Well, that prevented our server from having enough room to get to us. So, for the rest of the dinner, we handed her our glasses for drink refills, and she handed them back, and she handed us our food instead of placing it on the table. It was different, and I certainly did not mind. I understood. But, I felt bad for our server. She did the best she could without making the couple move their table back. I guess the point of that story - besides trying to illustrate how small the place is - is don't move your table. It is there for a reason. If you don't like it, perhaps you should politely request another table and be seated somewhere else.)

Anyway, back to the food. On the DDD show, they featured a dish called "Baked Spaghetti Pie", and Guy raved about it, if I recall correctly. So, we ordered that dish to split between us, along with a calamari appetizer. Now, I enjoy Diners, Drive-ins and Dives. Guy Fieri cracks me up! I wonder if we have very different tastes though, because I did not think the baked spaghetti pie was anything to feature. It was not very crunchy or crusty, like I think most baked things would be. It was not gooey with cheese. There was a very gooey glob of cheese right on top, but that was it. And, at one point, the sauce reminded me of the canned Chef Boyardee I used to have as a kid. I know! It doesn't sound so great. It really was just spaghetti, formed into a square. Pretty plain and nothing special. We added some black pepper, red pepper flakes and parmesan cheese, and it was better. My expectations may have been too high, since it was featured on the DDD show, and he thought it was great. Guy and I will have to disagree on this one.

The calamari wasn't bad, but I thought the breading was kinda bland. But, the calamari was prepared well and the dipping sauce was tasty.

When - and if - we go back to La Piazza Al Forno, I think we'll order a pizza. That is what they specialize in and that is what they have received awards and recognition for, so it is probably what they do best. You can check their reviews from their website, by clicking here.

(I give it 2 smiles out of 5.)

Friday, February 12, 2010

Glendale Chocolate Affaire

The Glendale Chocolate Affaire (Festival) took place last weekend, February 5th through the 7th, at Historic Downtown Glendale. I thought it would be fun to go and try to find purveyors of raw chocolate or organic chocolate. Plus, I thought we would be able to sample chocolate - yummy! Who can resist that?

It worked out wonderfully. The weather was absolutely gorgeous, and Downtown Glendale has quite a few restaurants right around the park area, so we had dinner first (that post coming later), and then walked around the festival and had dessert. (When we had finished dinner, our server asked if we would like any dessert. I quickly responded, "No, thank you." My husband looked at me with surprise, almost asking if I was okay, how could I not even ponder the idea of having dessert? I ALWAYS have dessert. I smiled and told him I planned on getting some chocolate at the festival, and he laughed, saying, "I thought you said no really quick!" He didn't realize I already had a plan!)

I know I'm posting about this a little late (since it's over), but I highly recommend going next year. They have two stages for live bands to perform, vendors who sell stuff besides chocolate, and of course, food vendors - of chocolate and other yummy stuff. They also had tours of Cerreta's Candy Company all weekend.

Another feature of the festival is the Romance Writer Workshops, sponsored by the Valley of the Sun Romance Writers. Romance authors from all over the country put on workshops for aspiring novelists, autograph their novels and have their novels available for purchase. Some of the workshops would have been awesome to attend. Some workshop titles were "How to start a book and get it finished", "Five keys to unforgettable dialogue" and "Promotion 101". All were presented by a published, successful author or authors. Unfortunately for me, the workshops were only on Saturday and Sunday, and we were there Friday night, with plans for the weekend. So, I'll have to attend the workshops - which were free! - next year.

The festival also had things for the kiddies, like horse and carriage rides and a kids zone.

But, I was there for the chocolate!! We cased the whole joint, seeing who had what, and then, while I decided what chocolate I wanted for dessert, we listened to the live music. The band performing at the time was Peppermint James. They were really good!

I finally decided to have two of my favorite indulgences AT THE SAME TIME, and bought a chocolate covered cheesecake, dipped in nuts. The vendor was the San Francisco Chocolate Company. Here is a picture of my yummy treat. (Again, I just started diggin' in before I remembered to take a picture!)

They can put anything on a stick!

Doesn't that just look sinfully delicious?! It was so yummy. I enjoyed it, and I even shared it with my hubby.

The other reason we were there, besides eating yummy chocolate, was to find vendors of raw and/or organic chocolate. I didn't find any raw chocolate, but we did find organic chocolate. Wei of Chocolate sells dark chocolate that is USDA organic and fair trade certified organic, and vegan, in flavors with names that evoke calming and holistic images - Daily Gratitude, Inner Peace, and Inner Delight, just to name a few. Check out their website by clicking here, or check out their blog by clicking here. We tried samples of their Chai, Chili and Fruit flavored dark chocolate, and both liked the Chai best - but we are Chai tea drinkers, so that was probably going to happen.

I will definitely want to go back to the Glendale Chocolate Affaire next year, for the writers workshops, the live music and above all - the CHOCOLATE!

Friday, February 5, 2010

Meat Free Mondays!

I subscribe to Gwyneth Paltrow's GOOP newsletter. Don't really know why . . . maybe to know all the cool places to go for when I am rollin' in the dough (ha - because I like to bake - just kidding - ooh, lame, lame joke for a Friday morning).

Anyway, the latest newsletter spreads the word about Paul, Stella and Mary McCartney's effort at helping the environment. SIR Paul McCartney, that is. Check out their website by clicking this link: SupportMFM Home.

The information on the site is interesting and intriguing, and has spurred me on to continue our plan to eat less meat, incorporating less meat in our meals. We have done pretty well this year so far, and hope to continue the good trend.

There is also another meat free monday effort, called Meatless Mondays, which has a site - click here to check them out, too.

Both sites offer recipes for meatless meals. I have yet to check them out, but I am happy to support the cause to save the environment! If everyone could do a small thing, it could add up to a big thing!

"We can do no great things; only small things with great love." -- Mother Teresa

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Baking Bread - Bialys

What is a Bialy? The definition in the Merriam-Webster online dictionary states a bialy is "a flat breakfast roll that has a depressed center and is usually covered with onion flakes", and originated in Bialystok, a city in Poland, in 1965. (For interesting info on Bialystok, Poland, click here. No mention of the origin of Bialys though. Perhaps it is not a claim to fame?)

The first time I heard of bialys was at Einstein's, on those runs to pick up bagels and coffee for the people in the office. I don't recall them being topped with only onions, I seem to recall they had all kinds of flavors! Curiously, I don't see bialys on the Einstein's menu anymore. Anyway, I remember asking my boss what a bialy was. His response? "They're just bagels without the hole."

I suppose for the most part, he was right. I found a recipe in Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day for bialys that uses the bagel dough. (Click here for a picture of bialys from their site - to see what they are supposed to look like! - along with a cute story.) So, after my struggle with the bagels, I decided to try bialys. I still had plenty of bagel dough left, but I was NOT going to attempt them again. Like I said, I'll leave bagels to the experts, thank you!

The recipe for bialys is much simpler. There is no broiling and no boiling. Since we are not onion fans, I decided to skip that whole part, so my bialys were just plain. It was a lot like baking bread rolls, really. So, here they are - a picture for you to see my finished product.

Yeah, the ones on the right are not exactly round per se, they are more . . . oblong. That is because I had trouble removing them from my board and staying in the same shape. I'm supposed to have a pizza peel and just slide these babies off the peel onto the hot baking stone in the oven. But, I have not yet invested in a pizza peel or a baking stone. You know, priorities and money. So, I used my largest baking sheet as a baking stone and used my medium sized baking sheet as a pizza peel. I thought it would be a great substitute, but, . . . well, obviously, it didn't turn out so pretty!

But, yet again, they may not be pretty, but they certainly were DELICIOUS! My husband says he doesn't care what it looks like, he just cares what it tastes like. (Isn't he sweet? Told ya he's awesome!) He certainly is enjoying my baking attempts. He is reaping the reward for such a cool Christmas present.

I will definitely bake these again. They were easy, and tasty. I'll have to work on my form, but that takes practice. (haha) But, I will get more creative with toppings. Some parmesan cheese, maybe some spinach, mmmm . . . mushrooms perhaps . . . . olives . . . oooh, so excited!

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Baking Bread - Bagels

Bagels were one of my four major food groups when I was in college: bagels, pizza, dessert and coffee. I ate bagels so often. Everyday, if I could. At every meal, even!

Then when Einstein Bros. opened up right next to Starbuck's, it was like a dream come true! I was working with several people that needed their daily caffeine fix, and were always hungry by 9am. Since I was low-man-on-the-totem-pole, I took everyone's orders and went to Einstein's and Starbuck's. I was in bagel heaven and thought, "This office is so cool!" That was almost a daily routine for the people in the office. It was great, my love for bagels was renewed.

After a while, and extra pounds (yikes!), I cut out trips to Starbuck's and Einstein's, and stopped eating bagels. But, I would buy them every once in a while as a treat, and still loved them.

Once I started looking through the Better Homes and Gardens cookbook at the bread recipes, I found bagels! Who knew you could make bagels yourself?! At home?! I had to try it. However, I was put off immediately upon reading the recipe for it. Did you know you have to broil them, then boil them, and then bake them? Really!! That sounded a little advanced for me right now. No wonder people don't give homemade bagels as gifts!

Then, I received the Artisan Bread in Five Minutes A Day book, and it has a recipe for bagels that omits the broiling step. I thought, I can handle that now - boiling and then baking. Sure, I'll give it a try! Here is a picture of my bagels after the boiling step.

I think my holes are a little big!

And, here is a picture of my bagels after baking them.

(Sorry it's a little blurry.)

They don't look anything like bagels! OK, except for being round and having a hole in the middle. I don't know what I did wrong, but they did not plump up like bagels should. They were so thin, there really was no point in cutting them in half.

But they were tasty! Yes, we ate them anyway. We just smeared cream cheese on top of them like they were crackers and ate them anyway. And, they were good!

I still think I'll leave this one to the experts, and keep bagels as a treat to have every once in a while. The bakeries know what they are doing with this one, and I obviously do not!

Monday, February 1, 2010

Been Busy! Lots of catching up to do . . .

It has been a while since I have posted anything, but not for a lack of good stuff, just for a lack of time. We actually had some business to take care of this past two weeks, so that takes priority over my little blog. And, well, to be honest, tennis apparently takes priority over it, too! The Australian Open was on for the past two weeks, and I was watching the nighttime broadcasts every night. It was live at that time, which is the most fun to watch. Seeing these dramatic matches and crazy shots all happening on the other side of the world, all as it is happening. Too cool! But I am not as crazy as my mother, who actually stayed up past midnight to watch the evening matches live. Crazy Nana! (Love you!)

And, now, the Aussie Open is over, Federer is on top again, and Serena broke her even-year jinx, and I await the French Open anxiously. So it is back to the blog and baking and cooking and drooling over everything my husband cooks. Seriously!

Upcoming posts will include a few restaurant reviews, homemade hummus (SO easy!), two soy desserts (Key Lime pie and a Lemon "Pudding" - although with what I am learning about soy, it may not be so rosy), and my effort at baking Pita bread, bialys and bagels - I love them so much, I thought I had to try them! However, I think I will leave bagels to the experts! HaHa! You'll see why later.

Oh yeah! I actually made another Lemon Meringue Pie, and it was much, much better. I'll have to post about that, too! Lots to write. . . better get crackin'. . .


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