A Pizza to Keep You Warm On a Cold Winter's Eve

Hau'oli Makahiki Hou, or Happy New Year!

When I married a man who didn't like olives and didn't do much cooking, I had no idea that LB would become the Bread Man of the house (and lo and behold, he also quickly fell in love with olives - after only gentle prompting to try the ones that didn't come from a can). These days, he can whip together a mean batch of pizza dough, some amazingly fluffy pull-apart clover rolls, or toweringly high biscuits (that put my hockey-pucks to shame) in merely the blink of an eye. But pizza dough is his favorite. He's always coming up with new toppings for his pizzas too, like roasted cauliflower or his "buffalo chicken wing" pizza. Nearly all of them have been extremely tasty. We especially like to have pizza topping cook-offs, where he'll make up a batch of crust for at least two pizzas, he'll make one and I'll make the other, and we'll see which one we like best (I don't have to tell you that oftentimes we pick our own and there is almost always a tie).

You can really put almost anything on a pizza and finding a winning combination is part of the fun. One of the pleasant surprises about living in Hawaii has been finding fruits and vegetables that I thought I knew well, that for whatever reason (the planets align properly to make some perfect? the electromagnetic properties of the island?) taste especially sweet and delicious here. These include pineapples, mangoes, and papayas - which I wasn't too surprised about - but also persimmons and kabocha squash.

Kabocha is a Japanese winter squash (or pumpkin) that is rich in beta carotene, iron, vitamin C, potassium, and even some small amounts of calcium, folic acid, and B vitamins. Interestingly, kabocha continues to grow after it's been harvested. It's picked when it is fully mature (ie. flavorful), then ripened in a warm place (77°F) for up to 13 days to help its starch begin to convert to carbohydrate content. Following this, it's transferred to cooler temperatures and stored for about a month, continuing the starch transformation. When kabocha is picked, it's dry and bland, but after this transformation it's flesh becomes a reddish-yellow color and is smooth and sweet. Apparently, kabocha reaches the peak of ripeness about 1.5~3 months after it's harvested (Wikipedia).

I've always liked kabocha, but here in Hawaii it tastes like it's taken a luxurious soak in the perfect amount of brown sugar solution, and to top it off, it's texture is unbelievably silky and smooth. It needs no adornment - no butter, no maple syrup, no sugar, no anything - just cut it up (or not), roast it at 400F for half an hour to 40 minutes and that's it. It certainly puts its cousin, the butternut squash, to shame. Here, every kabocha I have tried has been fabulous, and every butternut squash has been stringy and tasteless. So I'm now a kabocha lover and convert and I use it in almost everything I can, from salads to side dishes to soups, and of course, as a pizza topping.

This was the latest venture in our pizza topping quest and the combination was splendid. It felt like a big hearty hug in the middle of winter - the delicately sweet flesh of the kabocha went wonderfully with the hearty, savory scent of the sage. Add a little cheese, some other winter vegetables and a few spices, and you're good to go.

Kabocha Squash Pizza with Kale and Fresh Sage, makes one large pizza

1 large pizza crust (see below)
1 small kabocha squash, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
2 tbsp. olive oil, divided
pinch of salt
1/2 large sweet onion, diced
2 cups chopped kale, thinly sliced
1/2 pint of mushrooms (I used local Hamakua oyster mushrooms)
1 tsp. red pepper flakes
1/2 tsp. dried oregano
2 cloves of garlic, minced
a small handful of fresh sage, minced
goat cheese or feta cheese (I actually used goat feta from Surfing Goat Dairy on Maui)
Parmesan and red pepper flakes, for garnish (optional)

Buy or make your own pizza crust - if you've never made it before, try! It's easy, and the results will be worth it. We use one from the Joy of Cooking, but there are lots of crust recipes out there.

Preheat your oven to 425F and toss the squash pieces in 1 tbsp. olive oil and salt. Roast on a sheet pan in the oven for 35-40 minutes until soft and tender but not mushy. (I did this the day before and kept it in the fridge until I needed it...something I often to when roasting veggies is roast extra for a second meal later on in the week).

Saute the onions in a medium pan until translucent. Add kale, mushrooms, red pepper flakes and dried oregano and cook until the mushrooms give up their water and the kale has cooked down quite a bit. Add the garlic the last few minutes of cooking and cook for about 30 seconds. Remove the pan from the heat.

Brush the pizza crust with olive oil, then layer on the kabocha squash and onion mixture. Sprinkle the sage over the top and then dot the cheese across the whole pizza. Cook the pizza until the crust is firm and the cheese is slightly browned or melted (feta doesn't melt much...). Garnish with freshly grated Parmesan and more red pepper flakes.

Other Pizza Posts:
There's Always Time for Pie : Blue cheese, red onion and pine nut pizza; Caramelized onion and balsamic vegetable pizza
A Perfect Fall Meal: Mushroom and Pancetta Pizzas
The Pizza Research Institute, Eugene, OR: Apple, gouda and walnut pizza


HotM 22: Heart Healthy Decadence (Round-up)

This month's theme for Heart of the Matter focused on decadent treats that were heart healthy. Unfortunately, we didn't get very many entries this month, and so I waited a few extra days, hoping that we might get a late entry or two because December is such a busy month anyhow - and it seems to have worked, because we did! Thanks to the wonderful bloggers who participated this month, even in the midst of all the holiday hustle and bustle!

Our first entry comes from Ricki, who authors the blog Diet, Desserts and Dogs. She reminds us in her post that real women bake cookies too (I love this!) and offered her recipe for Tutti Fruiti Christmas Cookies. Since we're already after Christmas now, these pretty little treats would still make lovely hostess gifts or anytime cookies.

Labelga, a regular participant of HotM and the author of Leafy Cooking went with some premium ingredients and made a Bisque d'homard (or, Lobster Bisque) - she served it fresh and hot and it didn't even need the cream the recipe called for, making it really healthy but still full of flavor. This truly shows that heart-heathy treats can be delicious and decadent!

Ilva, my co-host at Lucullian Delights, has posted a beautiful Apricot Almond Cake with Oats and Coconut for her decadent treat. This would make a very lovely holiday breakfast or a delicious treat any time of the year!

Lastly, my own entry was for Caramel Macadamia Nut Sticky Buns - these little treats were an early holiday breakfast for us and are perfect if you're having guests this holiday season.

Thanks again to the participants this month and I hope you all are having a wonderful holiday!


Mele Kalikimaka!

If you're celebrating with us today
in your own corner of the world,
we wish you a Merry Christmas
from Hawaii!


A Healthier Christmas Morning

Every Christmas morning for as long as I remember, my mother would wake up early, head down the stairs and into the kitchen to start a pot of coffee. My siblings and I would line up at the top of the stairs in our pajamas, youngest to oldest (later line-ups would include various significant others, husbands and wives), sleepy-eyed and hair astray, and wait impatiently until she gave the signal letting us know it was okay to tromp the rest of the way downstairs and gather around the Christmas tree. While we’re all a little too old now to still believe in Santa Claus, our stockings – hung by the fire, of course – were always filled with a few extra trinkets from ole’ Saint Nick. After presents were opened, coffee enjoyed (now often spiked with Kahlua or whiskey) and the requisite (bad/terrible) Christmas morning photos were taken, mom would bring out whatever special Christmas breakfast she had planned that year. Sometimes these were rich egg casseroles, decadent French toast, Christmas breads and fruit or something unique she had attempted from a recent magazine…all of them delicious.

This month for Heart of the Matter (HotM), we asked for decadent, yet heart-healthy recipes from you. My contribution is a slight adaptation of a Cooking Light recipe I posted here some time ago: Caramel Pecan Sticky Buns. While it’s not our Christmas morning breakfast this year (I’m planning on a grits, cheese and egg casserole instead), these buns would make an excellent holiday breakfast, tasty enough to please any palette and nice enough even for guests (or, ahem, breakfast in bed)…just make sure you start them early or even the day before, as they take a long time since they have two rises. But the effort is well worth it. The dough is soft and sweet, the caramel sweet but not cloyingly so, and the nuts add a perfect contrast in texture. There is butter in them, but each roll has a relatively small amount, and they’re fairly low in fat (only ~5 grams of fat, with only 1.9 of it saturated). I also used brown rice syrup in place of corn syrup, since this natural sweetener is proving to be a better bet for healthy eating in recent research studies. One roll is perfect with a big, steaming mug of coffee and some seasonal fruit on the side (though if it is for the holidays, maybe two wouldn’t be awful…). I had to throw a Hawaiian twist in them of course, and ended up with Caramel Macadamia Nut Sticky Buns.

Caramel Macadamia Nut Sticky Buns, makes 16 buns
Adapted slightly from Cooking Light

* 1/3 cup dark brown sugar, packed
* 3 tbls butter
* 3 tsp brown rice syrup
* Cooking spray
* 3 tbls toasted macadamia nuts, chopped
* 1 package dry yeast
* 1 2/3 cups warm water (100° to 110°)
* 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
* 5 1/4 cups all-purpose flour, divided (about 23 1/2 ounces)
* 1/3 cup granulated sugar
* 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
* 2 tablespoons butter, softened

For the caramel, combine brown sugar, butter and brown rice syrup in a saucepan over medium heat; stirring frequently until the butter melts. Continue cooking until mixture thickens and becomes smooth, stirring constantly. Remove from heat; pour into the center of a 10-inch round cake pan. Quickly spread caramel onto pan bottom. Sprinkle with macadamia nuts and cool to room temperature. Lightly coat sides of the pan with cooking spray.

To prepare dough, dissolve yeast in warm water in a large bowl; let stand 5 minutes. Stir in salt. Add 5 cups flour to yeast mixture; stir until a soft dough forms. Turn dough out onto a floured surface. Knead until smooth and elastic (about 8 minutes); adding enough of remaining flour only to keep the dough from sticking to your hands as you knead. Place dough in a large bowl coated with cooking spray, turning to coat the top. Cover and let rise in a warm place 1 hour or until doubled in size. (If you can press two fingers into dough and the indentation remains, then the dough has risen enough.) Punch the dough down; cover and let rest 5 minutes.

Combine granulated sugar and cinnamon in a small bowl; set aside. Roll dough into a 16 x 12-inch rectangle on a lightly floured surface; spread 2 tablespoons of softened butter over dough. Sprinkle with cinnamon-sugar mixture, leaving a 1/2-inch border. Roll up rectangle tightly, starting with long edge, pressing firmly to eliminate air pockets; pinch seam to seal (do not seal ends). Cut into 16 (1-inch-wide) slices. Place slices, cut sides up, in prepared pan (rolls will be crowded). Cover and let rise 30 minutes or until doubled in size.

Preheat oven to 375° and bake for 20 minutes or until the rolls are a light golden brown. Cool in the pan 5 minutes on a rack, then place a serving platter upside down on top of pan and invert onto the platter. Serve warm and sticky, with coffee and love.


Christmas Came a Little Early This Year

I recently joined up to participate in a Foodbuzz Featured Publisher perk called the Tastemaker Program. In essence, they send you samples of specially selected goodies, you taste and honestly evaluate them, then post about the product on your site…sounded like a pretty good deal to me! Not long after signing up, I received the first product, truffles from Cowgirl Chocolates. These little chocolate treats arrived in a festive red box, gussied up with a black ribbon and adorned with a delightfully tiny pair of silver cowboy boots.

According to their website, Cowgirl Chocolates is the brainchild of a ceramic artist named Marilyn Lysohir (“May-Lillie”), who wanted to combine her love of both art and chocolate. Founded in 1997 in Moscow, Idaho, the company touts their goods as “gourmet chocolate for adventurous chocolate lovers,” and since I would consider myself among that group, I was thrilled to be able to try them. Most of the recent press they have received has been about their Copper Kettle Brittle (which I may just have to try next), so I was curious how the truffles would measure up. I grabbed LB (always good to have a second opinion), and over the next few days, we tasted our way through the box.

Browsing their flavor guide, which accompanies the brightly wrapped chocolates, I saw they separated the truffles into “mild” and “spicy” categories. I wasn’t sure that most of the flavors lived up to the “adventurous” title, but the Raspberry Lemonade Dark Chocolate, the Spicy Cappuccino, and the Buckin’ Hot HabaƱero Caramel certainly had my curiosity piqued. First, let me say that these are not the kind of chocolate truffles that you might expect from say, Vosges – there are no crisp chocolate exteriors or luxuriously silky ganache inside, but I don’t think that’s exactly what this company is going for anyway. The packaging and the over-all feel and look of the chocolates, as well as the website, suggest more charming farm girl than elite fashionista, and they certainly blow Russell Stover out of the water and off the ranch.

There’s not a distinct difference in texture between the exterior chocolate coating of most of the truffles and the ganache inside – the mark of an exquisite truffle, in my humble opinion is a thin, crisp coating surrounding a silk interior – but the over-all texture of these truffles is still pleasing. The flavors, however, is where this company earned big bonus points. A few of flavors are not very well balanced – namely the HabaƱero truffle and the caramel, which consist of a very spicy and slightly unexpected (because it is delayed) kick in the mouth…which made me a little sad because I love the combo of hot spices and chocolate. Other flavors, however, perfectly offset the richness of the chocolate, like the Raspberry Dark Chocolate and the delicious Spicy Cappuccino, with its crunchy “biscuit bits” added for texture. Our favorite truffles were the Spicy Double Dark Chocolate, the Raspberry Dark Chocolate, the Spicy Cappuccino and the very interesting and complex Raspberry Lemonade Dark Chocolate. But you should try them and decide for yourself.

So, if you’re looking for a very last minute stocking stuffer, or even a perfect hostess gift for all those new years parties to come, Cowgirl Chocolates would make anyone on your list a happy camper – be they a cowgirl, a cowboy or a city-dweller. Even better, they offer customized flavor assortments – the mark of a company that cares about their consumers. They also have brittles, hot chocolate and truffle bars – all of which I’m sure are excellent. I’m all for supporting the little business with the good-will story and a little rustic charm thrown in (I’ve never been much of a fashionista anyhow – I grew up on a farm and shh…even had my own pair of cowboy boots at one point), so I’ll definitely be ordering from them in the near future (especially some of that brittle…). A big thanks to Foodbuzz and to Cowgirl Chocolates for the samples and this opportunity!


A December Full of Heart-Healthy Decadence (HotM 22)

December is a month full of festivities: holiday parties to attend and coordinate, visitors to entertain, baked goods to create, presents to make or buy, occasions to celebrate with friends and family, cards to write and good cheer to spread. For many of us, it's the busiest time of the year, but also a time of year when we get to let our kitchen prowess shine - or at least get in there and try a few new things!

For me, December means breaking out the Alabama Christmas CD for a few renditions of "Thistlehair the Christmas Bear," scouring books and magazines for new cookie recipes to share with friends, family and cookie swaps; finding new side dishes to accompany the dusty and required recipes for artichoke dip, prime rib and chicken noodle soup that make up Christmas eve and Christmas day fare; and choosing to attempt one of those "traditional" holiday treats that simply are aren't around the other 11 months of the year: yule logs with chocolate bark and marzipan mushrooms, soft and sweet panettone, fruitcake studded with jewel-like candied fruits, elaborate gingerbread houses, rum-spiked eggnog...you know the stuff. Every year, I dream of making such decadent treats, but December comes and goes too quickly, and I find myself left with only the vision of sugarplums dancing in my head and no yule log to speak of. This year, I'm determined to make those sugarplums materialize and sink my teeth in to them.

For over a year, participants of the monthly Heart of the Matter (HotM) event been helping Ilva, Joanna and I show that food that's good for you doesn't have to be boring or bland. We've already done baked goods and holiday food as themes before, so now we're stepping it up a notch. The holiday season is a time of celebration, abundance, and culinary wanderlust - so for HotM this month, we're asking you to share your recipes for the most decadent, delicious treatsyou can think of - with a heart-healthy twist. What sort of mouth-watering, scrumptious recipes do you dust off from your kitchen repertoire this time of year? Do you have a something you've always wanted to try, that always seemed too over-the-top to make any other time of the year? Will you take the challenge to make those indulgent foods saved for once-a-year into heart-healthy holiday treats?

The usual rules: If you’ve participated before, you already know the basics. If you haven’t, check here, here and here for ideas on what “heart-healthy” means, and we hope that you’ll join us! Again, we ask that this please be a single event entry(please don’t use your post for other events – that way we can keep things centred on healthy heart awareness). Just send your entry to phillipslayden AT gmail DOT com (please use the title HotM, so they don't get lost) by midnight on Thursday, December 25, linking to my site, The Accidental Scientist (and to the HotM blog if you’d like). Please note that this is only a few short weeks away! Since it's so soon, and I want people to be able to gain inspiration and be able to enjoy the recipes all month long but have them before the holiday actually arrives, I'll be doing the round-up differently this month and posting the recipes that have come in at the end of each week. If you've never participated before, please join us! We'd love to have some new "faces" and recipes to share!