porcini & parmesan cauliflower crust pizza

fresh porcini mushrooms
fresh porcini mushrooms

it’s an exciting time of year when fresh porcini mushrooms come into season. this year, they’re a bit pricey, so while i’m not exactly buying them as the main ingredient for anything, i am enjoying giving them the spotlight on this new pizza crust i’ve been playing with.

in an effort to skew my diet more in the paleo direction without completely giving up on pizza, i went searching for alternative crusts, and found this one that completely busts out of the common gluten-free pitfall of substituting a million different flours for a dough that just isn’t all that great.

aside from being healthy, i think the thing i like best about this pizza is that it tastes pretty darn good, and can be made in minutes. if you rice an entire cauliflower head, it keeps well in the fridge whenever you want to whip up a pizza. no dough kneading or rising, the only thing you’ll be waiting for is your oven to preheat.

porcini & parmesan cauliflower crust pizza
porcini & parmesan cauliflower crust pizza

porcini & parmesan cauliflower crust pizza

2 cups riced cauliflower [first chop it, then rice it in a food processor]
3 eggs
1/4 cup almond meal
1/4 cup coconut flour
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 tsp salt
olive oil, for drizzling

2 small porcini mushrooms, sliced thin
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
1/2 cup mozzarella [optional]
pesto [or your preferred condiment, optional]

preheat oven to 450º. place riced cauliflower in a mixing bowl with eggs, garlic and salt, and mix with a fork to break egg yolks and incorporate to a fairly uniform mixture. add almond meal, mix to incorporate, then coconut flour, mix to incorporate completely. you’ll have a fairly wet “dough” compared to any typical pizza crust, but this is normal for this type of crust. you will have enough dough to make 2 pizzas of about 8″ diameter.

place a piece of parchment over a cookie sheet or pizza pan at least 10″ wide. you may be tempted to use foil if you don’t have parchment, but don’t do this—this crust will lift effortlessly off parchment, but cook down and stick to foil. place half your cauliflower dough in the middle of the parchment and push and mold it with your hands into a pancake about 1/4″ thick and 8″ diameter. the dough moves and shapes easily, just keep pressing it out and shaping it until you like it. drizzle olive oil [or flavored oil] over the top, and spread with a brush or your fingertips. bake at 450º for 10 minutes to set the egg.

unlike traditional pizzas, this pizza has 2 baking phases: one to set the crust, above, and one to melt any cheeses or heat toppings through. once your first 15 minutes is done, remove the crust from the oven and spread half the parmesan cheese over the surface in a thin, even layer. this acts as a nice barrier for any wet ingredients, but you may add more for the love of cheese, if you like. then, layer half of the sliced porcini over the surface. finally, sprinkle half the mozzarella, if using, over the top. return the pizza to the oven for 10 more minutes, to melt and lightly cook the toppings.

once your cheeses are melted, finish the pizza any way you like. if you’re using condiments that don’t need oven baking, like pesto, soffrito or the like, add them at this phase. add any finishing salts or pepper here too.

repeat this process with the remaining half of your ingredients, or adjust the recipe so you can try 2 different toppings on each pizza. enjoy!

lemon verbena oil

lemon verbena shrub 2012
lemon verbena shrub 2012

it’s the time of year for lemon verbena again. i have my own potted plant, but it’s nothing compared to my mom’s perennial, which has come back in fuller force every year. this year, i’ve trimmed off a goodly amount, merely sculpting the shrub into a small tree, but hardly making a dent.

since my diet is decidedly off added sugar, the typical simple syrup is out of the question, but perhaps an oil to add a twist to my vinaigrette dressings is in order. i tried it two ways, by heating and steeping, and then by blending and straining. the fresher of the two is definitely blending and straining. since this preparation macerates much of the leaf, you’ll want to store it in the fridge if you don’t use it immediately.

lemon verbena oil
lemon verbena oil

lemon verbena oil
1 cup lemon verbena leaves
1/2 cup canola oil

blend leaves and oil in the blender, stopping periodically to scrape down sides and incorporate into a pulp. pour out and let the mixture sit in a jar for up to 3 hours. strain out the oil into a storage jar and store in the refrigerator.

epazote, mint & ginger tea

epazote mint & ginger tea
epazote mint & ginger tea

i found myself wondering if i was running out of new things to write about for seasonal eats, but my guy at the highland park farmer’s market came through with yet another green i haven’t tried: epazote. i’ve heard of it forever, but never really encountered it for purchase before. i asked him about it, and he listed off many favorite mexican dishes its commonly used in, so i thought it’s time to try it out.

epazote has a pungency that almost seems un-food-like, with a petroleum-ish aroma not unlike tea tree, and an antiseptic oil released upon chewing that seems to bloom in the mouth—a similar feeling to chewing mint leaves, but a different flavor. i’m definitely going to try it in food, but since i’m no expert in traditional mexican cooking, the herb’s medicinal properties caught my attention first [i’m going back to highland park to have it served up by the pros]. here’s a tea of 3 digestive aids that will sooth your system after a meal or anytime you like.

epazote: acts as a carminative preventing intestinal gas, and has antihelminthic properties. its limonene content can relieve gastrointestinal reflux disease and heartburn.

mint: aside from the delicious flavor that goes well with epazote, mint’s essential oil is menthol, which stimulates the flow of bile to the stomach promoting digestion. menthol is also an antispasmodic, calming the muscle action in the digestive system.

ginger: soothes indigestion and acts as a carminative. it’s a mild stimulant, promoting circulation and motility in the gastro-intestinal tract. the volatile oils found in ginger also have analgesic, sedative, antipyretic and antibacterial properties, and testing suggests that gingerol may kill some cancer cells. ginger has also been found to treat nausea associated with pregnancy, motion sickness and chemotherapy.

epazote, mint & ginger tea
1 5″ sprig of fresh epazote
2 5″ sprigs of peppermint
1 long piece of ginger root, .5″ wide cut into matchsticks for maximum surface area
20 oz boiling water

take the epazote and mint sprigs and twist them between 2 fists to help release essential oils. place the sprigs and ginger sticks in a large glass and pour boiling water over. let steep 5 minutes and either sweeten to your preference or take it straight. optional: flavor with lemon juice.

sorrel walnut pesto

sorrel walnut pesto
sorrel walnut pesto

my mom has been growing sorrel for the last few years, and last time i stopped by, she encouraged me to take a bunch. i don’t have experience with sorrel other than hearing about french sorrel soup, so i figured it was a good time to do some research. after reading the basics, i took a bite of one of the leaves, and though the texture is like spinach, the flavor is pure lemon, becoming progressively sour as you chew it. i could see it mixed into a salad for zing, or softened up with potatoes or cream. but mostly, i wanted to add more lemon and garlic to it, and let it sing! i’m riding out my obsession with roasted walnut oil here, but you can substitute olive or garlic confit oil and pine nuts if you like.

sorrel walnut pesto
1 packed up of chopped fresh sorrel leaves
1/2 cup packed chopped fresh basil leaves
1/3 cup walnut pieces
1/4 cup roasted walnut oil
6 roasted garlic cloves
zest and juice of 1/2 lemon
1/8 tsp salt
pepper to taste

notes from caveland

so, i’ve been following a modified paleo diet lately, just stripping down to the basics to reset my system, and at about 2 weeks in, i feel like i’ve settled into a stride. it’s a bit weird not to have some of the comfort go-to’s, but a little sleuthing and experimenting has led me to some pretty good finds. here are some little pick-me-ups for anyone kicking the sugar habit, off gluten & grains, or avoiding dairy [for the record, i’m also off legumes, which includes peanuts & soy].

rose water and orange blossom water
rose water and orange blossom water

fruit salad dressed with rose water – your sweetest dessert treat is fruit on the paleo plan, but that doesn’t mean some nice cave-person from one cave over wasn’t, uh, distilling rose water for you to dress it with. ahem. while distilleries aren’t exactly ancient technology, rose water has no added sugar and imparts a deliciously fragrant perfume to your fruit salads.

soda with lemon & orange blossom water – sure, soda with lemon is a go-to [and very easy if you have a soda stream], but dress it up & live a little! orange blossom water is a sweetener-free addition to soda and tea [and cocktails for when you return to the future].

homemade aioli
homemade aioli

homemade aioli – if you’re pro-mayo and trying to eat paleo, it’s a great opportunity to try your hand at homemade mayo. i like thomas keller’s whole-egg aioli recipe, which is easy to whip up in a blender. awhile back i made a huge batch of sugar-free smoked chili pepper sauce, but you can easily use what you find at the store to spice it up into chipotle aioli or dijon or whatever you like.

sweet potato and golden beet chips
sweet potato and yellow beet chips

baked root vegetable chips – one of the great ironies of this diet is that you can eat guacamole, but not most conventional chips. i decided to try my hand at baking chips from sweet potatoes and beets, and found they’re easy and satisfying to make! they come out like terra chips [most of which also have no added sugar], and the fun part is you can season them any way you like. try soaking in lemon, lime or vinegar and then sprinkling on a mix of spices and salt. use a dehydrator, or bake in a low oven, turning often as they dry and curl. the chips will shrink in size, so cut the roots diagonally if you like larger chips. beets shrink up quite a bit, and are best for snacking on a satisfying crunch, but sweet potatoes are large and sturdy enough for salsa and guacamole.

sesame flax crackers
sesame flax crackers

flax seed crackers – i’ve experimented with these in the past with mixed results, but after a spin through the raw section at whole foods, i was inspired to revisit my efforts. i came up with a combination i really like, using flax seeds, shredded coconut, almond meal, sesame seeds and crumbled hijiki seaweed soaked in a mixture of coconut aminos, sesame oil, ginger juice and water, seasoned with salt and cayenne pepper. spread it to .25″ thick on oiled aluminum foil and bake on low heat to dehydrate. i baked mine above 105º so it’s not a raw food, but it’s light and crunchy with a cayenne kick.

rutabaga carrot & apple salad

rutabaga carrot apple salad
rutabaga carrot apple salad

i was wandering around the farmer’s market last week, thinking about how i’d written about so many different foods that what else could i experiment, and then i saw some rutabagas and realized i’ve never even had one. from what i’ve read, these weren’t the finest examples [the best advice is to pick smooth, unblemished roots, and the ones i found had cracked ridges around the tops], but i thought i’d take them home and do a little experimenting.

i can see why they’re only preferred in desperate, world war famine times. they’re sort of neither here nor there, and often served in a group with a selection of other root vegetables. one reason may be its natural bitterness which comes out with cooking. i decided to try my hand at baking my own root vegetable chips, and while sweet potatoes and beets turned out nicely, rutabagas are not a good choice for this.

this brought me back around to eating them raw, which is quite nice. they’re crunchy, lightly sweet, full of fiber, and taste fine on their own or with your favorite dressing or dip. since i love shredded salads, i thought the taste would work well with some carrots and apples, and a light vinaigrette.

rutabaga, carrot & apple salad

1 rutabaga
1 large carrot
1 fuji apple
1 tb roasted walnut oil vinaigrette dressing

break out your julienne mandoline [or super chef knife skills] and shred up the rutabaga, carrot and apple into a mixing bowl. prepare your favorite vinaigrette, or use the one i suggested [i’m way into this roasted walnut oil lately] and drizzle it over the top. mix well to coat, season with salt & pepper and enjoy!

spring garden 2012

garden spring 2012
garden spring 2012

i think it’s my 4th season with my little terraced garden that i built into our back wall & fence. in past years, i’d cram as much as i could into this space, hoping for the best, but i’ve had to learn [through repeated broken delusions] that this spot gets only 3-4 hours of full sun as it passes overhead to shine between our building and back fence. this means that, no matter what i do, i’ll only get about 5 tomatoes in this space, and if i plant zucchini, it will shade everything in the same terrace. the lower containers often have dappled shade from a nearby avocado tree, and are best for greens. i think i’ve finally accepted this and chosen a realistic selection of veggies for the space i have.

flowering arugala
flowering arugala

for one thing, this probably means that any fall gardens i plant are for winter greens only. some of the lettuces come up, but many don’t until early spring, which was the case with this arugula i forgot about. time to harvest that for salad and start over. the lemon balm i planted to confuse pests was not only easy to grow, it spreads easily too! i left babies in each location, but harvested the bulk and made a large quantity of tea.

upper garden, spring 2012
upper garden, spring 2012

leaving the compost to really break down all winter worked well. i turned it over and dug out the black gold to incorporate into each garden bed and container. i also let some of the garden stay wild. tomatoes from last year are flowering early this year and even have a few fruits, so i’m leaving them to see how they do. there’s also some spreading greek oregano that’s so soft and succulent, i left it as another pest deterrent even though it’s more than i’ll ever need. last thing i did is add potted mint to move around as needed. since pests are looking for their preferred plant’s attributes, scented herbs and bulbs [like onions & garlic] tend to confuse them, protecting the plants organically. this year i might try some bird feeders as well, see if i can get birds to eat some of the unwanted bugs.

what i planted this spring:

apache peppers – i hadn’t heard of these before, but since they came in a 6-pack and do well in containers, i bought them. they can get up to 80,000 scoville units in heat.

basil – there’s never enough basil, which is why i started with 2 plants, italian basil and lemon basil, and figured on planting seeds for a subsequent crop later in the summer.

bush beans – i’ve never really tried these and don’t exactly have high hopes based on my pea-failures, but i have the seeds and the trellises…

chamomile – i have never been successful with chamomile from seed, so i bought a plant. it likes full or partial sun, so it’s going in the partial container.

chives – if you think you can’t keep any plant alive, please try chives. i put them in a sunny container, ignore them, and they reseed themselves every year. i think my current batch has finally exhausted itself, so i decided to start over.

lacinato kale – if you like kale, you can’t really go wrong with a 6-pack of tuscan kale. they grow all year in southern california, and if you pick it fresh, it’s so tender you can enjoy it raw in a way you can’t with even farm-fresh kale that’s traveled.

leaf lettuce – i’m going to see how many crops of leaf lettuce varieties i can go through in the partial-sun containers.

lemon thyme – just as it sounds, lemon thyme has a lemony flavor and scent. i can’t think of a time that i’d object to this, so i skipped regular thyme and went straight for lemon [i’ll plant thyme seeds instead].

mexican zucchini – the description of these is that the skins are a variegated lighter green, which i’ve seen at the farmer’s market. i think they’ll be pretty, so i got 2 for good pollination.

micro-greens – though you don’t have to buy a pack of seeds called “micro greens” to do this, i did, and i think they’ll work out perfectly in my partial sun containers.

pea greens – my sunlight doesn’t do so well with full peas, but i’ve since learned that they’re fine to grow in containers just for the shoots & tendrils, so i’m aiming for those this year.

purslane – i harvested seeds all last summer & fall from the wild purslane that sprung up around my property, so this year i’m planting up the hanging full-sun containers on the front porch to take advantage of this amazing superfood.

scallions – what i wrote about chives goes the same for scallions. it’s so nice to grab some green onions from the front porch.

glazed purple sprouting broccoli

purple sprouting broccoli
purple sprouting broccoli

i’ve been seeing the rapini in the farmer’s market lately and wanted to get my hands on some to work with it more, but then i saw this nice table of mixed young green and purple broccoli sprouts and and had to have it for the color alone. this isn’t actually rapini, but purple sprouting broccoli, which is a variety of broccoli that comes in with purple buds and lots of smaller stems. they’re very cute and do well lightly cooked to retain their crunch.

i also recently got some toasted walnut oil after tasting some and loving it. the bottle has this vinaigrette recipe on it, which i made for topping this dish, and it’s really delicious.

glazed sprouting broccoli & caramelized red onions
glazed sprouting broccoli & caramelized red onions

glazed purple sprouting broccoli & caramelized red onions

1 red onion, sliced thin and cut once crosswise
1 lb purple sprouting broccoli
1 tb butter or ghee [i used ghee]
1 tb white wine vinegar

place half the tablespoon butter or ghee in a frying pan and melt over medium heat. add the sliced onions and tablespoon of vinegar, sauteeing until browned on edges and soft in texture. remove from the pan and set aside.

layer the broccoli in the same pan, place the remaining tablespoon butter or ghee over the top, and add about a quarter inch of water to the bottom of the pan. cover and steam on low heat about 8 minutes or until al dente.

arrange broccoli and onions on a plate and serve. optionally, drizzle with your favorite vinaigrette [mine was toasted walnut oil, balsamic vinegar and dijon].

pea shoot, radish & apple salad

pea shoot salad
pea shoot, radish & apple salad

i’ve been trying to work pea shoots into my life ever since i tried this kohlrabi slivers and pea shoots with sesame dressing. though you can cook them, i’m not all that into the wilty texture in comparison to the fresh crunch of the raw shoots. i thought i’d whip up another shredded salad today and i like this one just the same. i guess it’s time to plant a container of them outside to eat every day!

pea shoot, radish & apple salad

1 large handful of pea shoots
4 large radishes, julienned
1 granny smith apple, julienned
1 tb sesame oil
1 tb rice or white wine vinegar
1 tsp sesame seeds [i used black and toasted]
1 tb toasted pepitas

use a mandoline/julienne slicer or your expert chef knife skills to cut the apple and radishes into matchstick slices. roughly chop the handful of pea shoots into 1″ pieces. toss everything in a salad bowl, adding the oil, vinegar, sesame seeds and pepitas. toss to mix and coat through.