Monday, November 28, 2011

Pesto Pizza: The Date Night Superfood

Here are just a few of the perks of making pizza at home: 
1. You can add hundreds of toppings without a $3.00 charge per item. 
2. It's a fun date idea, and only one/neither of you really needs to know how to cook.
3. You and your date both end up with an equal amount of green stuff in your teeth.
4. Eating fresh pesto, that you just made, on delicious crust, is one of the more satisfying experiences in life.

Defining the word 'pizza' is no simple feat. In order to be inclusive, one would have to say pizza is 'a flatbread with toppings, baked'... only sometimes the bread isn't even flat. Or baked. Normally there are tomatoes and cheese involved, but not if it's a white pizza, pesto pizza, or cheese-less pizza. In Amuricuh, we like our pizza thick, cheesy, oily and topped with pepperoni (and sometimes, we stuff our thick crust with more cheese... mmmm, tastes like diabetes). In Russia, red herring is a popular choice. Green peas top Brazilian pizza, and Mayo Jaga (potato, bacon, and mayonnaise) adorns Japanese pizza. Unless, of course, it's eel or squid gracing the surface of a Japanese pizza, which are also favorites. Popular options in India include mutton, pickled ginger, or paneer cheese. Basically, pizza can be just about anything and maintain its status as a tasty, popular item... but can it be vegan? Challenge accepted.

Vegan? As in tofu and leaf pizza? Nope! The goal here was still a decadent, cheesy, melty, flavorful mess... it just won't make you feel terrible after eating half of it. In fact, you'll feel great. I'm not preaching from the standpoint of someone who hasn't had "real" pizza in years; I've had every variety of pizza available in the continental U.S. (and a few other continents), and quite frankly, this is really delicious. Daiya is more flavorful than mozzarella, so you don't need as much (hundreds of empty calories, eliminated!), but, it's still as rich and silky in texture as cow's milk cheese. If you've never had it, I recommend buying some immediately. And if you're not in the mood for pizza, this pesto recipe is the best I've ever tried, and would likely taste equally amazing on pasta, in a scramble, or over seafood. You'll have a bit leftover even if you do make the pizza, so get creative. 

Aside from the taste factor, this pesto is also incredibly good for you. Walnuts are amazing... you can read a rant about them here. Garlic, basil, and arugula will give you a heavy dose of vitamin B6, K, C, A, manganese, and a handful of other nutrients that people pay lots of money to take in pill-form. Nutritional yeast is high in fiber, thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, vitamin B6, B12, folate and zinc. What does that mean? It's a conveniently available, cheese-y tasting powder that contains all the things meatless diets are supposedly lacking. Eat your words (and some yeast), carnivores! To those unfamiliar with nutritional yeast, it's tasty and easy to throw in just about anything, especially sauces. It does, however, lack Omega-3 and Omega-6... but fear not! Olive oil is full of both of these healthy, polyunsaturated fats. Basically, this green spread contains everything that people think is only available in meat. Eat pizza, get healthy.

Vegan Pesto Pizza:
1/3 cup roasted walnuts
3 garlic cloves
3 cups coarsely chopped arugula
1/3 cup coarsely chopped fresh basil
3 tbsp nutritional yeast flakes
Salt and pepper, to taste
1-2 tbsp olive oil
8 ounces prepared pizza dough*
1/4 C Daiya mozzarella shreds 
- Flour, for rolling
- Toppings: I used slices of Trader Joe's vegan sausage, fresh arugula, thinly sliced onion, tomato, and mushrooms 

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. To make the pesto, combine all pesto ingredients in a food processor, then blend while gradually pouring in the olive oil. On a floured work surface, stretch out pizza dough to desired thickness- about 12 inches in diameter. Spread the pesto over the dough, leaving 1-inch ring around the edges uncovered. You won't use all of the pesto, so save the extra in the frige for the next day. Top the pesto with onions, tomatoes, sausage, etc., then sprinkle with mozzarella. Transfer to a baking sheet and bake for 15 minutes, until edges are golden and cheese is melted, or until the kitchen smells too awesome for you to hold out any longer.

*If you don't have the time to make fresh pizza dough, frozen dough is easy to use. Just place frozen dough in the refrigerator the day before you plan to use it. Two hours before you want to make the pizza, place the dough in a covered, oiled bowl and let it rise at room temperature.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Lose Some Wisdom, Gain Some Wisdom.

After many attempts to rationalize not having my wisdom teeth extracted, I traded them in for a bucket of painkillers and a chipmunk face. The "suggested foods" list, so kindly presented to me by the dentist, was supposed to aid me over the next week in finding edible options. However, after eliminating the foods I don't eat, it looked something like this:
  • Macaroni and Cheese
  • Soup
  • Cottage Cheese
  • Poutry
  • Quiche
  • Ice Cream
  • Yogurt
  • Milkshakes
  • Small pieces of meat
  • Cool Whip
  • Pudding
  • Milk/Milk Products
  • Snapple
Soup...? Thrilling! I stayed true to the list (and the fall season) for about 48 hours, consuming only roasted corn soup, butternut squash soup, sweet potato soup, zucchini soup, and curry soup. By the 49th hour, I was yearning for anything with texture. Even packing peanuts looked appetizing. As someone who puts chips in their sandwiches, nuts on their chocolate-chunk ice cream, and toasts everything that will fit in a toaster prior to consumption, a texture-less diet had proved to be about as enticing as I had anticipated. If only there was a way to incorporate flavor that would compensate for the lack of crunch... Suddenly, the solution became obvious. If I could enjoy something with the greatest flavor known to humankind, it wouldn't matter if it wasn't chewy, crunchy, or smooth. Chocolate in any form would do.

After digging through old recipes, I uncovered a chocolate pie that I'd made for a dinner party almost a year ago. The flavor, however, was as easy to recall as if I'd had eaten it the day before - rich, thick, dark, and creamy. Though I was forced to sacrifice the graham cracker crust, it was really no loss. The filling is the star of the show, and by the show, I mean my breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

The versatility and simplicity of this dessert means that not only is it quick to prepare, but even someone on a plethora of painkillers can assemble it (tested and confirmed). If you don't like tofu - perfect, because this chocolate mousse/pie filling tastes nothing like tofu. Much like heavy cream, the tofu serves to create a fluffy, whipped texture, without contributing to the flavor. I'm still not an advocate of the stuff... I mean, tofu is about as processed as can be, but contains 1,000 less calories than heavy cream would in this recipe (and no lactose, obviously.) Whether you use chocolate chips or dark chocolate is up to you; chips yield a sweeter dessert, a chopped chocolate bar yields a richer one. The primary difference between baking with bars of chocolate and chocolate chips is that the bar usually contains a higher cocoa content and the chips usually contain more sugar. If you're a big fan of chocolate and liqueur, use up to 2/3 cup in this recipe, and feel free to substitute in your favorite kind.

While there's nothing enlightening about the aftermath of having one's third set of molars drilled into oblivion, I have learned that chilled chocolate mousse does wonders for a sore mouth. It also does wonders for the mind and body, satisfying chocolate cravings without a sugar crash afterwards and delivering a decadent texture with less than half the fat of classic chocolate mousse. Nothing like being free of wisdom teeth, free of guilt, slightly dazed, and full of chocolate.

Chocolate Silk Mousse or Pie Filling:
- 1 1/2 C chocolate chips or chopped dark chocolate
- 1/4 C sweet liqueur, such as Grand Marnier, Kahlua, or Bailey's
- 1/8 tsp salt
- 1 package (about 12 oz.) firm silken tofu
- 1 tsp vanilla 
      Melt chocolate and liqueur over a double broiler until smooth. Add all ingredients to the food processor and blend until smooth and silky, scraping down sides with a  rubber spatula. Pour into glass bowls or a cooled pie shell and chill for at least two hours (unless you want to eat it out of the food processor, which is perfectly fine). Serve with sliced bananas, over fresh fruits, topped with nuts or shredded coconut, etc. Serves 10 at 205 calories each, when using chocolate chips. Enjoy!