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Awake at the Whisk: June 2009

Tuesday, June 30, 2009


Mexican Pizza with Summer's First Veggies

It’s official: Summer is here! On the first day of the season, I was greeted by two ripe zucchini and a yellow squash in my garden.

When the garden is in full swing, my recipes fluctuate according to two important criteria: 1) What am I hungry for? 2) What’s ripe? Sometimes an occasional third criteria must be met: 3) What needs to be eaten up?

Last night I had a Trader Joe’s whole wheat pizza crust just waiting to be put to use. I was in the mood for beans and cheese. My squash looked up at me lovingly from the cutting board. That’s how this recipe was born. I don’t think I’ve ever made a better Mexican pizza. Delish!

Mexican Pizza with Summer’s First Veggies

1 whole wheat pizza crust
1 teaspoon olive oil
1 Tablespoon cornmeal
1 can tomato sauce
½ lime, juiced
1 Tablespoon chili powder
1 tsp cumin powder
1 tsp paprika
1 tsp onion powder
1 tsp hottest red pepper powder (cayenne or other)
1 can refried pinto beans
4 oz grated cheese combo (I like cheddar, jack, and mozzarella for this pizza)
½ zucchini sliced into ¼-inch thick circular slices
½ yellow squash cut into ¼-inch thick circular slices
1 large yellow onion cut horizontally into circular slices
1/3 cup fresh corn
¼ cup black olives, sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
¼ tsp garlic savory salt (such as Mrs. Dash)

Preheat oven to 500 degrees.

Grease a thick pizza pan with olive oil and sprinkle with cornmeal. Roll out the whole wheat pizza dough and line the pizza pan with the dough. Using a fork, poke holes in the dough so air bubbles won’t rise during baking. Bake in oven for 8 to 9 minutes, or just until lightly golden brown.

Meanwhile, combine the tomato sauce, lime juice, and next five spices in a small bowl. Set aside.

When pizza crust is finished, remove from oven and immediately spread the refried pinto beans over the crust. Next, spoon about ½ the tomato sauce mixture over the bean mixture to create a pizza sauce covering the beans completely in a thin layer. (Save the rest of the sauce for another use.) Sprinkle the cheese evenly over the sauce and beans. Next, use the cut veggies as pizza toppings. Sprinkle the garlic, pepper and salt evenly over entire pizza. Bake for 8 to 9 minutes, or until cheese is bubbly. Allow to cool on a wire rack for at least 10 minutes before cutting and serving. ENJOY!

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Wednesday, June 17, 2009


Livin’ Locavore in Illinois

I grew up in the rural Midwest. Back there, eating food grown in your garden isn’t a movement. It’s just what people do.

In fact, until I left home and was thrust into a world of readily-available fast food, I totally took this lifestyle for granted.

On a recent visit home, I got to relive those glory days: breakfasts of locally grown poached eggs that my dad got from a farmer friend. Plus, wild morel mushrooms sautéed in butter—mushrooms hunted from our own back yard and supplemented by another farmer friend. Plus, (yes, there’s more!) warm rhubarb muffins made with rhubarb picked from the giant patch in the yard.

Other local fare included fresh farm curd cheese from a local dairy where Mom and I got to pet the baby Jersey calves that had just been born. After purchasing more local cheese right on the farm, we drove to the local microbrewery for some handcrafted beers served with an order of fried curd cheese from the same local dairy we just visited.

I was in hog heaven! We even made an attempt to visit a nearby winery, but alas, they were closed by the time we arrived.

Remember: all this fabulous wine and cheese tasting was not taking place in Napa. It was taking place in the heart of Illinois.

Yet, visiting a local dairy and buying their cheese on-site wasn’t always possible. The Ropp family’s store hasn’t been open long. In fact, when they first approached the County to propose their business plan, they were voted down 9 to 0! The good folks on the County Board said they didn’t want every farmer to start doing what the Ropps were suggesting: selling their food right at their farm. Preposterous!

Thankfully, the Ropps wouldn’t take no for an answer. They continued to petition until they were successfully able to open their farm-based cheese shop under a new, “agri-tourism” code. Yet, the privilege comes with a caveat: they may sell any items grown on a local farm, but they may not sell “groceries.”

Funny, but the way I was raised, “groceries” were the same as the food growing on farms.

Sadly, that is not the case anymore. The majority of the items found in a grocery store really aren’t food at all. Mostly, they’re chemicals.

But I digress. My story is about eating locally in Illinois. The Ropp family is now welcome to sell farm items at their lovely farm shop. Their store carries candles made from goat milk, lip balm made from bee wax, and this summer, they’ll have fresh produce from area farmers.

I can’t wait to go back to Illinois again next year! Who says the Midwest isn’t paradise?!

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