This page has moved to a new address.

La Petite Maison Verte

La Petite Maison Verte: June 2012

Monday, June 25, 2012

Roasted Eggplant Ratatouille and Some Life Lessons

I have learned a thing or two about being on my own.  With a husband in the military and family far, far away, this has a tendency to happen.  Before I was married, I lived alone too.  I had an apartment in downtown Baltimore while I was in grad school, and while I was close enough to see my parents regularly, I had to learn to be self-sufficient, a skill I have found to be invaluable many times in the years since.

Here are a few life lessons I have learned so far, the 'you' obviously refers to me, these were all learned from experience...

Life lessons for Ladies Living Alone:

You can make a meal out of watermelon and popcorn.

Not all of the boring envelopes that come in the mail are solicitous, some are bills, and you should probably open them all just to check.

Frozen naan bread makes a very good pizza crust for one.

There are a few upsides to the solitude:  you can spend as many hours on Pinterest, Glitter Guide, reading magazines and at the gym as you please.  You can watch My Big Fat American Gypsy Wedding and nobody is going to say a peep about it.

Your car will most likely have some sort of major maintenance issue that you should probably are going to have to deal with asap.

Along those same lines, in all likelihood you will have to weather a tropical storm or hurricane, or some other natural disaster.  And you will make it through it just fine, even though you never thought you could.

You're going to have to put on some sneakers, grab an umbrella and take the dog out even in the rain.  The little guy (or gal) is depending on you.  Also, if you don't you're the one who'll be cleaning up the mess later.  Now there's some motivation.

You should have a ready supply of chocolate chips just in case the urge to bake cookies happens to strike.  And it will.

Replace the TP roll when you use the last piece in order to avoid being stranded on your next bathroom visit.

Be vigilant when you're out walking at night.  This should be common sense but it's worth saying anyway.  Also, mace is good to have handy, you know, for peace of mind.

It's probably you, not him, that makes the big mess in the kitchen.  This fact will be proven when you have the house to yourself.

It's usually a better idea to buy a pint of Ben & Jerry's than it is to buy a quart of something cheaper.  Portion control, people, portion control.  You're the only one around to eat it.

Friends are super important.  Don't forget that.  And get to know your neighbors too, they'll keep an eye on things for ya and you can return the favor.

Target sells wine in single-serving juice boxes.  No, it's not going to win any awards but the Cabernet/Shiraz blend isn't half bad and it'll do the trick when you just need a glass of red to go with your pizza for one.

When watermelon and popcorn aren't enough, you can and should cook for yourself.  Make something amazing.  Make exactly what you are craving.  Preferably try to include all major food groups since you've been living on bowls of cereal, peanut butter and banana toast, and salads for the last 2 days.

Roasted Eggplant Ratatouille is one of those dinners that I found myself craving when I had the house to myself.  I liked it so much that I'm sure I'll make it over and over again when Brian is home, as he enjoys vegetables as much as I do.  Of course, for him it will probably need to accompany some sort of meat but for me, a simple fried or poached egg on top did the trick.

This recipe comes from the book A Homemade Life that I read for my book club.  It's written by Molly  Wizenberg of Orangette, a blog which I have loved for some time now and which is one of those rare finds that combines really lovely photography, delicious recipes and beautifully written stories.  I love Molly's cooking (and eating style), it's a lot like mine in that she enjoys simple, classic foods, prepared at home with the best quality ingredients you can find.  She spent a lot of time in Paris and so the French style is often reflected in the dishes she makes.

I took Molly's advice when she recommended serving this ratatouille with a piece of crusty bread to dunk into the liquid at the bottom of the bowl.  And I have to agree that this would definitely be the way to go.  Also, she's right when she said that it gets better the next day after the flavors have a chance to marry in the refrigerator overnight.  So, even if you're the only one eating this, I recommend you make the full recipe so you can have leftovers for the next couple of days.  It's so delicious, you won't mind having to eat it a couple of days in a row, in fact you'll look forward to it.

I changed the recipe around a little, adding summer squash, as I had some on hand.  A Homemade Life is full of wonderful recipes and memories, worded so perfectly that you really get to know Molly.  It's an easy read and one that will have you heading straight for your kitchen, inspired by her simple and beautiful cuisine.

Roasted Eggplant Ratatouille
serves 4
adapted from A Homemade Life

1 pound eggplant, sliced crosswise into 1-inch thick rounds (this is approximately 1 medium-large eggplant)
olive oil
1 pound zucchini + summer squash (or any combination of the two) trimmed, halved lengthwise and sliced into 1/2 inch thick half-moons (this is approximately two large squash)
1 medium yellow onion, thinly sliced
1 large red bell pepper, cored, seeded and chopped
4 large cloves garlic, thinly sliced
5 Roma tomatoes, seeded and chopped
3/4 teaspoon salt
3 sprigs fresh thyme - the leaves only, stripped from the stems (stems discarded)
1 bay leaf
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh basil

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F with a rack in the middle.

Lay the sliced eggplant on an oiled baking sheet and drizzle on about 2 tablespoons olive oil, rubbing the oil onto the eggplant slices, making sure both sides are coated.  Bake for 30 minutes, flipping the slices after 15 minutes, until they are lightly browned on both sides.  Remove from the oven and cool slightly, then chop into 1-inch pieces.  Set aside while you prepare the rest of the ratatouille.

Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large, deep skillet or dutch oven over medium-high heat.  Add the zucchini and cook 10-12 minutes, stirring occasionally until just beginning to soften and turn golden.  Remove from the pan and set aside with the cooked eggplant.

Add a little more oil to the pan, just enough so the bottom is lightly coated, then add the onion and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally for about 5 minutes.  Add the red bell pepper and garlic and cook just until tender for another 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Add the chopped tomatoes, salt, thyme leaves and bay leaf.  Stir, reduce heat to low and cover the pan with the lid.  Cook 5 minutes, then add the eggplant and zucchini back to the pan, stir and re-cover with the lid.  Cook 15-20 minutes or until everything is tender.  Adjust seasoning with salt and black pepper, as necessary to taste.  Stir in the basil and remove from heat.

Serve ratatouille hot or warm in a bowl with crusty bread for dipping and with a poached or fried egg on top, if desired.


Labels: , , , , , ,

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Fig and Prosciutto Pizza with Arugula

After last week's Bruschetta Pizza you would think my pizza craving would have been satisfied.

Well, if that's what you thought, you clearly don't know me so well.

Pizza Every Day would probably be my platform if I were running for president.  I am a pro at justifying pizza as a healthy meal (it hits 3 food important food groups!)  It's one of the great comfort foods of our time.  Yeah, I pretty much love the stuff.

This version is similar to a flatbread (obviously just another, fancier, name for pizza) we had at Cru Cellars, our local wine bar just down the street (within stumbling distance, I like to say).  Theirs had bleu cheese where this one uses mozzarella and parmesan.  Theirs was a rectangle, this a circle.  To-may-to, to-mah-to.  And this is a Pioneer Woman recipe, so you know it's going to be good.

The original recipe makes one large pizza but I roughly halved it to use the remainder of the Trader Joe's pizza dough I had in the refrigerator and made two small pizzas out of it.  The recipe can be doubled for a full 1 pound ball of pizza dough if serving more than 4.






I also think this would make a nice appetizer if you formed it in the shape of a long, thin rectangle and sliced it crosswise into strips, squares or triangles.

Fig and Prosciutto Pizza with Arugula
serves 3-4
adapted from The Pioneer Woman

1/2 of a 1 lb ball of prepared pizza dough
2-3 Tablespoons fig butter (I used Trader Joe's, or fig jam, or fig spread)
1/2 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
kosher salt and fresh ground black pepper
1/4 lb shaved or thinly sliced Prosciutto
2 large handfulls arugula, washed and dried
2 Tablespoons shredded parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 450 degrees for at least 20-30 minutes.

Meanwhile, let refrigerated pizza dough sit out at room temperature for 20 minutes.  Then, roll the dough out into a thin circle about 1/4-1/3" thick on a floured surface, or alternately make two "personal size" pizzas.  Transfer the pizza dough onto a lightly oiled, rimless baking sheet.

Spread the fig butter across the pizza dough in a thin, even layer.  Then, evenly distribute the mozzarella cheese over the fig butter and sprinkle on a pinch of kosher salt and black pepper.  Transfer the baking sheet into the preheated oven and bake 10-15 minutes (or up to 20 minutes, depending on thickness of your pizza crust) until the cheese is bubbling and the crust is golden brown.

Remove the pizza from the oven and immediately top the hot pizza with the slices of Prosciutto.  Before serving, top the pizza with the arugula and the shredded parmesan cheese.  Cut into wedges, slices or squares and serve warm.

For 1/2 pound of pizza dough, this should make 1 medium pizza or two "personal" pizzas.  This will serve 2 very hungry individuals or 3-4 normal people.

What are your favorite pizza toppings?  What was the best pizza pie you ever had?  

I generally go for the veggie pizza - loaded up with onions, bell peppers, olives, mushrooms but I wouldn't turn down a slice with some italian sausage thrown on there too.

The best pizza I ever had was on my honeymoon in Napa at a place called Azzurro.  I had the Salciccia  which was a thin, crisp, ever-so-slightly-charred crust with fennel sausage, onion, mozzarella cheese and tomato sauce.  Perfecto!


Labels: , ,

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Grilled Corn, Barley and White Bean Salad

Grain salads are some of my very favorite foods year round but especially when summer's bounty brings sweet corn, ripe tomatoes and abundant basil to the farmer's markets.  

Photo from this June's monthly Hyde Park Village Fresh Market
I find these salads so satisfying, filling and fresh, and the possibilities for variation are endless.  You can use different grains - quinoa, rice, barley, couscous, farro or wheat berries.  Use whatever fresh veggies are in season - summer squash, zucchini, cucumber, corn, tomato, asparagus...  Pick herbs from your own pots.  For dressing, a simple homemade vinaigrette is perfect, or if you're in a hurry try your favorite bottle of store-bought vinaigrette.  See what I mean, endless possibilities.

Here are a few of the other grain salads I have made and shared:

This particular salad was filled with some of my favorite summer flavors - sweet corn, tomatoes and basil.  I used cooked pearled barley because I like the size of the grains and the satisfying chew but you could always  try some wild rice or cooked quinoa in its place - really, whatever you have on hand.

My favorite way to eat this salad is on top of a bed of baby mixed greens, arugula or spinach for lunch.  The addition of the white beans makes this a bit sturdier than most pasta or grain salads, and with the filling fiber and protein in the beans, it is perfect for a light lunch.    Or alternatively, omit the leafy greens and serve it as a side-dish with grilled or roasted chicken, barbecue pulled pork, or a piece of pan-sauteed flaky white fish for dinner.  I like to think of grain salads as a healthier version of cold pasta salads, so they are perfect at tailgates, barbecues, potlucks or just a good old summer cookout.

Grilled Corn, Barley and White Bean Salad
serves 2-3, generously (this recipe can easily be doubled or tripled)

2 ears corn
juice from 1/2 a lemon (or up to 1 lemon, juiced)
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil (or up to 3 tablespoons)
salt and pepper, to taste (I used a scant 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt and scant 1/4 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper)
1 cup cooked barley
2/3 cup canned white beans, drained and rinsed
3 green onions, the white and green parts, thinly sliced
2 ounces fresh mozzarella cheese, chopped into small bite-size pieces
2 tomatoes, partially de-seeded and diced
generous handful arugula leaves (about 1 cup loosely packed)
1/4 cup (loosely packed) chopped fresh basil

On an outdoor grill over medium heat, grill the shucked and rinsed corn for about 10-15 minutes, turning every few minutes, until the corn has light char-grill marks on all sides.  Once cooked, strip the kernels off the cobs using a knife and allow to cool to room temperature.

While the corn cools, make the vinaigrette:  in a small bowl whisk together the lemon juice, extra virgin olive oil, salt and pepper.  Set aside.

In a large bowl, add the cooked, cooled corn kernels, cooked barley, beans, green onions, cheese, tomatoes, arugula and basil.  Pour the prepared vinaigrette over and toss gently using 2 large spoons.  Taste and add additional lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper if necessary.  Add the chopped basil and toss once more, gently.  Serve at room temperature or better yet, chilled in the refrigerator for 2-3 hours or prepare up to 2-3 days ahead of time.  (If preparing the salad more than 2-3 hours ahead of time, hold off on adding the chopped basil and the arugula until ready to serve, as these are prone to wilt if stored for more than a few hours time).

Also - for those of you hoping to make homemade popsicles this summer, I spotted these star-shaped popsicle moulds at Target today in the dollar section at the front of the store for $2.50!   Hurry and get them before they're sold out!  Might I suggest you try my Mango-Yogurt popsicle recipe?

What is your favorite dish to bring to summer cook-outs and barbecues?  I always like bringing a dessert because it gives me the chance to try a new recipe!  Some past hits have been Dulce de Leche Cheesecake Bars and Chocolate Whoopie Pies.


Labels: , , , , , , , , ,

Monday, June 11, 2012

Tagalong Cupcakes and How to Celebrate Your Dog's Birthday

I think that has to be my most random blog post title yet, don't you think?

That's OK, I think you'll get over it when you see where I'm going with this.

My sweet pup, Hudson, celebrated his 3rd birthday last week.  Three years old!

Just the most ADORABLE puppy that has ever LIVED.

I remember when he was just a puppy, I knew I loved him the first moment I saw him.  The soft coat and pliable skin with lots of room to grow into.  Those sharp little daggers for teeth....  As much as I loved him on that first day, I love him even more today and every day that passes by.

It's no secret that I love my dog, and although he adores (and more importantly, respects) Brian, he's definitely my baby.  

Hudson, I love that you let me mug the crap out of you and lay in my lap for hours.

To celebrate Hudson's birthday, I made Vanilla 'Pup-Cakes' with Peanut Butter Frosting.  Oh, and then I dipped them in chocolate for the humans.  As we all know, chocolate is a total NO-NO for dogs, so please, for goodness' sake - leave the chocolate off the dog's cupcakes!

Pupcake for Hudson on the left, Cupcake for Mama on the right

I'm calling these "Tagalong Cupcakes", yep, like the Girl Scout Cookie.  Although, a Google-Search just informed me that they are now called Peanut Butter Patties - WHAAAT?!!  It's a vanilla cupcake with Peanut Butter Buttercream, dipped in Chocolate Ganache.  Just like the cookie, only a cupcake.  Can-you-handle-that?!?

I used the same vanilla cupcake batter and peanut butter frosting for the Pupcakes, I just made them in a mini cupcake pan because even though it's his birthday, I doubt a 16 pound dog needs a regular size cupcake.  Mini dog = mini cupcake.  He didn't care one way or the other.  Hudson made quick work of his in, oh, about 0.267 seconds....and it didn't take the humans much longer than that to finish theirs ;-)

the birthday boy eating his pupcake

Some tips for celebrating your dog's birthday:

  • Make sure to invite friends.  Lots of friends.  Your friends, his/her're going to have a lot of cupcakes and you don't need to eat them all.
  • Have your camera ready when you put the cupcake down in front of him/her.  Dogs aren't great at waiting, especially when it's their birthday and they know it.
  • Don't serve your dog's cupcake in the wrapper.  He/she will eat it.  
  • Make sure he or she has a special birthday bow-tie (or just a bow, for girls!).  I made Hudson's in about 20 minutes using some blue plaid ribbon, a little thread and a spare button.  Leave me a comment and let me know if you want me to post a DIY, it was quite easy!
  • Do it and don't feel silly about it!  This is your best friend, your fur-baby, the one who waits loyally for you to come home, licks your wounds (literally and figuratively), and lays with you when you're sick.  I think it's time to celebrate them for the important family-member that they are.

Happy 3rd Birthday, Hudson Sterling.

Vanilla Cupcakes (or Pupcakes) with Peanut Butter Buttercream and Chocolate Ganache (for the humans)
makes 12 regular cupcakes or at least 24 mini cupcakes
adapted from The Hummingbird Bakery Cookbook, via Joy the Baker

1 cup All-Purpose flour
scant 3/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
pinch of salt
3 Tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup milk
1 large egg, at room temperature
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Prepare cupcake pan with paper liners or spray with non-stick baking spray.

Combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer and mix on slow speed until everything is combined.  It will be a sandy texture at this point.  Gradually add half the milk and mix just until incorporated.

In a separate bowl, whisk the egg, vanilla and remaining milk together for a few seconds.  Then pour into the flour mixture and mix just until incorporated, scraping the sides with a rubber spatula.  Mix a few more seconds, just so everything is combined.  Don't overmix.

Divide the batter evenly among the 12 cupcake tins (or mini cupcake pan, or a combination of the two).  Each cup should only be about 2/3 full, as these will rise significantly during baking.  Bake at 350 degrees for 18-23 minutes (or about 12-15 minutes for the mini cupcakes) until lightly golden, the top springs back when lightly touched and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.  Let the cupcakes cool slightly in the pan for a few minutes, then turn them out onto a wire rack and allow to cool fully before frosting.

Peanut Butter Buttercream
makes enough for 12 regular cupcakes

2/3 cup natural creamy peanut butter (unsweetened)
1 stick unsalted butter, softened at room temperature
1 1/4 cup
pinch salt

Cream peanut butter and unsalted butter in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment  at high speed until well incorporated, scraping down the sides occasionally.  Reduce the speed to low and gradually add the powdered sugar until combined, then increase the speed to high and beat until fluffy and smooth.  Add salt, to taste, if desired.  Frost cupcakes using a pastry bag fitted with your desired tip.

Note:  If proceeding to coat the cupcakes with ganache, place the frosted cupcakes in the refrigerator for 1 hour to allow the buttercream to firm up before coating with the chocolate.

Chocolate Ganache Coating (For Humans only.  No dogs allowed.)
makes more than you will need for 12 cupcakes, but enough so that you can easily dip the cupcakes into it (you can refrigerate or freeze the leftover ganache in an air-tight plastic or glass container)

8 oz semi-sweet chocolate, finely chopped (I do not recommend using chocolate chips as they do not melt as well as a chocolate bar)
1 1/2 Tablespoons coconut oil (or vegetable oil would also work)

Once the cupcakes have been frosted and chilled in the refrigerator for one hour, it is time to make the chocolate ganache.

Place chocolate and coconut oil into a 2-cup glass pyrex measuring cup or microwave-safe bowl and microwave on 50% power for 2-3 minutes, stopping every 30 seconds to stir and check to avoid burning the chocolate.

Holding the cupcake by the bottom, dip into the melted chocolate so fully submerge the frosting.  Pull up and allow the excess ganache to drip off for a few seconds, then flip the cupcake back over and allow to set fully for 20-30 minutes before serving.

Note:  if preparing the cupcakes 1 day ahead of time, store the frosted and dipped cupcakes in the refrigerator in an air-tight container.  Before serving, remove the cupcakes from the fridge and allow to come to room temperature for at least 1-2 hours.  These cupcakes do not taste very good cold but they taste amazing at room temperature!

 And, just because I can't get enough of this dog.  Here are some more photos:

Such strange and wonderful expressions you make, Hudson.

Hudson, you love food.  I mean really, really love it.  You're just like your momma.

My awkward but beautiful little baby.

Such a sneaky little hider.

Hudson, my sweet, happy boy.


Labels: , , , , , ,

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Bruschetta Pizza

As a military wife there are plenty of times I find myself eating dinner solo.

Deployments, TAD's, TDY's (same thing?), FEX' get the point.  (If you have no idea what those acronyms mean, you must not be a military spouse).  There are seemingly endless reasons why I have gotten really good at cooking for one.

Dinners for one need to be simple.  On those nights when Brian is away, that's my chance to indulge in sappy Lifetime movies or Rom-Com's from Netflix (better yet, 1980's Rom-Com's from Netflix - Can't Buy Me Love, anyone?!).  I don't have time for braising meats, deglazing a pan or reducing a sauce.


Dinners for one need to be healthy.  Eating alone is no excuse for eating junk.  Never ever.

Dinners for one need to be delicious and fresh.  There is nothing more depressing than re-heating the same leftovers three nights in a row because you made way too much for one person.

I came up with this Bruschetta Pizza For One on one of those nights when I wanted something that fit all of those criteria.  Simple, healthy, delicious, fresh.  Check.

Pizza for one can be simple if you use pre-made pizza dough from the grocery store (I like Trader Joe's). Just rip off a small piece of dough (about 1/2 the size of your fist) from the 1-pound dough ball.  That should give you the perfect size portion for one.  (When working with prepared dough, always let it sit out at room temperature for 20-30 minutes before trying to work with it).  Then, just roll or press it out on a floured surface so it's thin.  I recommend baking the raw dough, brushed with garlic oil, on a pre-heated baking stone for 5 minutes before topping it.

Trader Joe's Garlic Naan makes a delicious pizza crust for one!  I also like Trader Joe's Balsamic Vinaigrette dressing.

If you prefer not to use pizza dough (or to save yourself one step in the recipe), try using a piece of garlic Naan bread, an Indian flatbread.  I've seen it by the deli at the grocery store or Trader Joe's sells it frozen in a resealable package.  Just pull a piece from the freezer, brush it with a little olive oil and you're set, no need to thaw it first.  Pita bread would also work, as a substitute.

I've made this pizza several times with both the Naan and the pizza dough.  I can't say I prefer one or the other - both are delicious, easy to work with and compliment this recipe beautifully.

Bruschetta toppings
Pesto + Balsamic Vinaigrette "pizza sauce"
Ready to bake

Bruschetta Pizza for One
serves 1
an original recipe

1 3-4 oz piece of pizza dough, rolled or pressed thin OR 1 slice of garlic Naan bread
extra virgin olive oil
1 heaping tablespoon prepared pesto
1 1/2 tablespoons balsamic vinaigrette salad dressing
3 tablespoons diced fresh tomato (about 3-4 diced cherry tomatoes, 1/3 of a medium tomato or about 1 Roma tomato)
2 tablespoons diced red onion
1 garlic clove, finely minced
2 tablespoons crumbled feta cheese
fresh basil, torn or thinly sliced (optional)

Preheat a baking stone in the middle of the oven to 400 degrees for 30 minutes while you prepare your pizza ingredients.

(Pick up with the next step if using frozen or fresh Naan bread).  If using raw pizza dough:  press the dough into a thin (1/4-1/2'' thick) circle on a well-floured surface.  Brush dough with 1 tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil.  Par bake the pizza dough on the pre-heated baking stone for 5 minutes, then remove from the oven.

In a small bowl, stir together the pesto and the balsamic vinaigrette.  Add the diced tomato, onion and minced garlic to the bowl and toss in the pesto-vinaigrette.

Transfer the entire contents of the bowl onto the par-cooked pizza dough or the Naan bread and spread it out to cover the surface of the bread.  Top the pizza with the crumbled feta.  Transfer the pizza onto the baking stone in the center of the oven and bake at 400 degrees for 10 minutes.

Remove from the oven when the crust is cooked, slightly brown on the bottom and the feta is just barely melting.  Top with the basil.


Labels: , , , , , ,