Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Red wine reduction & caramelized onion (pizza) sauce

As you may have noticed while reading this blog, there are quite a few pizza experiments in my recipes. Nine years ago I began making homemade pizza. That came in handy as my food additive allergies got worse, and we had to give up pre-processed food and eating out. Fortunately we enjoy homemade, and once I figured out that I could make homemade pepperoni, we had it made. Then I started to think about sweet potato pizza crust, and new sauces. I know traditionally pizza has tomato sauce, but other pureés can be a great way to change things up. In talking to different people I have found that some people don't like tomato sauce and will order pizza without sauce or with very little sauce, some people love to try anything new, while still others say if it doesn't have tomato sauce it isn't a pizza. We love to try new things.

The other night I wanted to make pizza, but we were out of tomato sauce, fresh tomatoes or sweet potatoes. I had a large onion, and I had been mulling over an idea for an onion pureé for a pizza sauce. As I slowly caramelized the chopped onion in a small amount of bacon browning and just enough bacon grease to coat the pan, I got an new idea that excited me and elevated this simple sauce. I happened to have a bottle of red wine in the house that had been a gift. I don't drink much red wine, since I prefer a sweeter white wine. I may not drink much red wine, but I have a feeling I will be cooking much more with it in the future.

By the way, I think this thick sauce would be amazing on a sandwich. I will experiment with different amounts/kinds of wine in the future.

I finally took a photo of a batch that I made for my own version
of a Reuben: homemade rye bread, a thick batch of this sauce, my
own corned beef (oven slow-roasted), beer-simmered sauerkraut,
and a local artisan Swiss cheese. It was a total hit! 

1 large onion (chopped fairly small)
olive oil or bacon grease (just enough to coat the pan)
¾ cup red wine (in this case a Zinfandel)
thyme, basil & oregano (generous tsp at least of each)
pinch of rosemary (grind fine)
1 Tbsp of butter (approximately)
pinch of salt

On low/med heat slowly caramelize the onions, stirring often.
When the onions are a beautiful brown, remove from the pan and set aside to cool.
Pour the wine into the same pan, add herbs, butter and salt.
Using a wooden spoon, deglaze the pan and frequently stir the wine.
When the wine has reduced, pour it into a measuring cup to check how much it has reduced- mine had gone from ¾ to ¼ of a cup.
Pureé the onions and add the reduced wine, this will make a thick paste.
Spread this sauce evenly on a rolled out pizza crust, top with mozzarella, bacon or ham, slices of onions, etc.
Bake and enjoy!

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Challenges and rewards

The other day I was quietly informed that not everyone approves of our lifestyle. I was a bit puzzled at first what was meant by this statement, but all was soon made clear. I was shocked to find that some people don't approve of the way we choose to eat. Bear in mind that at least part of the choice was made for me when I started to have severe allergic reactions to food additives. The people that have seen one of my reactions don't question the need to avoid these ingredients, but this is not a demonstration that I feel comfortable performing. For me a severe reaction usually includes hives, extreme difficulty breathing and feeling lousy for days afterwards. Also, each reaction seems to get progressively more severe, so common sense would seem to encourage that I avoid triggers.

While I talk about our food journey, I don't try to push anyone to follow the same plan. Truth being told, as passionate as I am about food, as much as I enjoy learning to make foods from scratch, this is not an easy way of life. Sometimes I miss going through the grocery store and tossing things in the cart without reading the ingredients and trying to determine where and how it was sourced. There are also times that I miss having food that is ready to eat with little or no work, especially when I am under the weather. I also know that it is difficult for some of our friends and family to understand why we can't eat out with them at a restaurant. Travel and visiting family is much more of a challenge, and often leaves me feeling guilty and uncomfortable because I feel like so much focus has to go into what I can or cannot eat. 

Change has a funny way of snowballing. I had to read labels to check for MSG in any of the many forms (read here for a list of names that this additive is listed under) and I also had to be on watch for artificial sweetener, as I have had chronic migraines for most of my adult life. Along the way,  I began to notice more and more what was in the products that we were buying. The more that I researched, the longer the list grew of things that I didn't want to bring home. In the midst of all of this, I began to find out more about the ethics of food. If you have watched "Food, Inc." or "The Future of Food", or read any of the many books and articles out there, you know what I mean. I had always believed food was simple, but then I found out about how the American public had to protest to demand that organic food could not be irradiated, GMO, or exposed to sewage runoff. I also found out that the image of animals in idyllic pastures was, more often than not, far from reality. This meant that on top of what I did NOT want, there were now criteria that I did want. The result was a decision to begin to phase in as much organic as possible, and to buy meat that is humanely raised and not fed antibiotics, hormones, etc. As if that isn't complicated enough, we became very aware of packaging, both in terms of chemicals that can leach into food, and in terms of how much can be recycled or avoided in an attempt to reduce how much we send to the landfill.

I know that this all sounds complicated, and it certainly is not a cakewalk. Still, I was surprised to have someone tell me that they did not approve of what we are doing. We aren't hurting anyone, and we are gaining numerous benefits that do help to offset the effort that we put in. For one thing, my husband has severe gout, which we manage exclusively with diet. Almost nine years ago, he was on crutches and medication because of severe flare-ups, and now he avoids certain things, eats a heathier diet, drinks a lot of water,  and he rarely has even a light attack. Around that same time, I had chronic migraines, meaning that I had between three and five debilitating headaches each week, each lasting between one and two days. I had to use injections of harsh medication, and even so, I seemed to always have intolerable headaches. Now I have a few severe headaches in a year, and those are rarely as bad as the skull-splitters that I used to experience. We are also both gradually losing weight, without depriving ourselves or going hungry. We are still making changes, but we are seeing results.

I am still not entirely sure what the individual disapproves of, but after much examination I have decided that it is their issue and not mine. I can talk to them about other topics, and accept them as they are, and hope that they, and others, will find a way to accept me as I am.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

3 Cup Carrot Cake

I hope that Christmas was merry and bright for you all, and I apologize to all my readers for not writing more in December. This season was especially stressful, yet still left us with much to appreciate. I intended to bake for Christmas, but I came down with a nasty upper-respiratory infection that seemed determined to turn into bronchitis, or worse. The good news was that I was able to avoid a doctor's visit.

Now that I am finally more mobile and functional, I needed something sweet to usher in this new chapter. I debated on what to make, and I decided that a good, hearty carrot cake would just about fill the bill. You don't need a huge piece, because this sticks to your ribs. We found that as much as we wanted to eat more, we were pleasantly full after one slice.

2 cups sugar
1 cup butter
4 large eggs
2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour (substitute ½ cup whole wheat)
1 tsp baking powder
½ tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1/8 tsp ginger
¼ tsp cardamom
¼ tsp cinnamon
¼ tsp cloves
¼ tsp nutmeg
3 generous cups grated carrots
*optional 1 cup raisins or chopped walnuts

Preheat oven to 350° (app. 175°C*)
Butter two 9" round cake pans and line the bottoms with parchment circles.
Cream butter and sugar, add eggs one at a time.
Combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and spices together.
Add flour mixture, carrots (and raisins or nuts if you choose to add them) to the sugar, butter and egg mixture, and mix well (so that all flour is wet and ingredients are evenly disbursed throughout the batter.)
Pour the batter equally into the pans and bake for approximately 30 min. (check at 20 min), cake is done when a toothpick stuck in the center of each cake comes out clean.
Turn cakes out of pans onto cooling racks.
While cakes are cooling you can make the cream cheese icing. Here is the recipe that I use and love.

½ cup butter cut into pats
8 oz cream cheese at room temperature
3 cups confectioners sugar
1 tsp vanilla

Beat cream cheese, butter, confectioners sugar and vanilla into a soft cream. When cakes are cooled, place one round onto a plate and apply a generous amount to the top of that round. Place second round on top, frost the top and sides until entire cake is covered. Store in the refrigerator. Cake will taste good the first day, but improves over the next day or so.

*I use an online conversion chart and round up or down, as seems appropriate. Please adjust according to your judgement, and send me a message if you find an error. Thank you.