22 August 2010

What does Will.i.am have to do with Geography?!?!

School begins again tomorrow.

A fresh start. 

Yet another opportunity to share my passion for Geography with others.   

To steal a phrase from a woman I greatly admire (and try daily to emulate): I'm in the business of creating Culturally Literate Global Citizens.

Geography is the 'glue' that holds all of the other Social Studies strands together. 

It's "The Why of Where".  

One of my greatest hopes each year is that all of my students finish the course realizing that Geography is more than just maps, landmarks and physical features. 

Here are two fun ways I try to counter those stereotypes and get them to think about it a little differently...

Photo: Jeffrey Mayer/WireImage.com
1) I Gotta Feeling you're gonna love this article by Will.i.am, member of the Black Eyed Peas, on what being "American" means to him.

2) Although the show isn't on the air anymore, this clip from The West Wing is timeless, hilarious and eye-opening.  

16 August 2010

Grilled Pizza

 Who doesn't love pizza?!?!  And being able to toast it to perfection without heating up the kitchen is a bonus. 

I try to always have a few balls of PW's Pizza Dough on hand in my freezer.  They thaw in 15 - 20 minutes and are delicious. 

My take on PW's Pizza Dough (makes 2 large or 4 individual pizzas):

• 1 teaspoon Active Dry Or Instant Yeast
• 2 1/2 cups All-purpose Flour
• 1 1/2 cups Whole Wheat Flour
• 1 teaspoon Kosher Salt
• ⅓ cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Sprinkle yeast over 1 1/2 cups warm (not lukewarm) water.

In a mixer, combine flour and salt. With the mixer running on low speed (with paddle attachment), drizzle in olive oil until combined with flour. Next, pour in yeast/water mixture and mix until just combined.

Coat a separate mixing bowl with a light drizzle of olive oil, and form the dough into a ball. Toss to coat dough in olive oil, then cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap and store in the fridge (or freezer) until you need it.
It’s best to make the dough at least 24 hours in advance, and 3 or 4 days is even better.

The Hubs rolled out the dough for us.  We decided that since our tastes differ wildly, two personal pizzas would be better than sharing one large pizza.  (Oh, and this would be a good time to pre-heat the grill; medium to med-high is best)

Here is where you get clean out your fridge and use those leftovers hiding way in the back.  Dig around a little bit... the deli and veggie drawers will be key! 

And who says you have to use red sauce for a pizza?  Although it's the Hubs' favorite, I never use it. 
Pesto is my favorite.

Be creative.  Each pizza should be a reflection of its maker...
R's Unbaked Pizza

My Unbaked Pizza
You can either cook them on the cookie sheets or directly on the grill, both methods work really well.  After the first 7 or so minutes, rotate the pizzas 180 degrees and cook about 5 more minutes.  Your nose will know when the pizzas are ready, and also when you put the spatula under the pizza it will feel crispy, even in the middle.
R's Grilled Pizza

My Grilled Pizza
After taking them off the grill, let them sit 3 - 5 minutes before enjoying!

14 August 2010

Summer Challenge

Well, it finally got hot here.  It's as if as soon as August hit, so did the heat.  Summer has been bearable up to this point, but I feel I have sweated more in the last two weeks than I have in the last 2 months!

We live in a house that is a little older and doesn't have the most energy efficient A/C unit, windows, doors or insulation.  To keep from adding unnecessary heat to the already warm kitchen/great room area of the house I issued myself a personal challenge this week:

Cook a week's worth of dinners using only my outdoor grill; no microwave, stove top or oven. 

Oh, and just to be clear I don't have a 'tricked out' outdoor kitchen with a mega-grill, fridge and sink.  I have a basic gas grill with one side burner. 

I knew this would take some forethought and that I couldn't just wing it every night if I was going to be successful. 

Here are a few pictures and highlights from the week:

*Grilled Shrimp with Mango Sauce - too much vinegar in recipe, even using just ¼ cup; also ended up  tripling sugar. Forgot the red pepper flakes. It lacked the intense balance it needed. An okay first try, but not sure there will be a second...


*Cilantro Citrus Chicken and Mango Black Bean Salsa

*Mixed Berry and Red Wine Sorbet
Divine. Paired beautifully with the peach gelato we still had.  I didn't have raspberries, so I just used some frozen mixed berries.  Once again, David Lebovitz came through. 

Wednesday: (Dinner Divas)
G hosted and made us the most fabulous lo-cal bellinis that I cannot wait to share with everyone.

Thursday: (my favorite grilled meal of the week, even though I have NO PICTURES!  I guess that's what happens when you wait until 8 pm to prepare dinner outside on one burner)

Grilled steelhead trout – not dried out at all; S&P, lemon juice from ½ lemon, a teaspoon olive oil; grilled over med-low heat, flipping twice.

Quinoa Pilaf – used garlic and walnuts, no parsley, raisins or cilantro. LOVED it!!! First quinoa experience and I'm hooked!

Grilled Artichokes with lemon garlic sauce – LOTS of work both in the prep and in eating them. Liked the dipping sauce a lot, very similar to zucchini salad dressing from cooking class. Used immersion blender and it made all of the difference.  Ended up breaking down leftover grilled artichokes and using the hearts on a Mediterranean style pizza. 


Cowboy Burgers (from HEB) - I had a coupon and we always love 'em!  Chock full of bacon, cheese and herbs.  1/2 pound each!!!

Garlic Dill Pickles (homemade) - I will add extra mustard seed next time and maybe even make my own pickling spice so I can omit the cloves.

After the week was over I decided I had had so much fun and loved not heating my entire house that I just kept on going...

My Italian take on Shrimp and Grits...
Marinate the shrimp in cayenne, smoked paprika and salt for about 5 minutes then skewer them.
Slice a tube of prepared polenta (any flavor) in to 12 discs, brush both sided with some olive oil then sprinkle them with salt and pepper. 
Toss the broccoli florets with garlic slices, olive oil and S&P.

Grill all 3 at the same time over low to medium heat. 

I love this one because it's ready in 20 minutes and tastes delicious.
 Next time... a favorite and fun grilled meal of ours: Grilled Pizza.

13 August 2010

Goodbye, Summer

Today is our last day of summer.  *sigh*

Although the students do not come back until the 23rd, teachers officially go back the 16th.  While I am excited for the new school year and ready to attack all of the challenges I know I will face this year, I am really going to miss my peaceful mornings. 

That's my Smudge in the background. 
A typical morning at our house includes a few cups of coffee, leisurely reading the newspaper, and taking our little kitties outside for a little exercise... many times these occur simultaneously!

The Hubs' Ajax loves the grill for some reason.

He also loves to watch little bugs, but not ever catch them. 
He's our pacifist, while Smudge is the aggressive one. 
I've been a little sad all day long about saying goodbye to my quiet mornings, so when I saw this random item on my home this afternoon, it provided me with a much needed chuckle.   

Yes, that is a life-sized replica of an elephant... hanging out in a junk yard.  You can't look at him and not at least crack a smile. 

Hope he brightens your day, too!

05 August 2010

My Kitchen

The kitchen is my favorite room of our house.  I probably spend more of my awake hours here than any other room.  Now don't get me wrong, my kitchen is not fancy or expansive by any means, but I love it!

It's where I physically work out my frustrations, think through major life decisions and satisfy my need to create. 

I use my kitchen to show love to those around me in a very tangible way.

It is full of things that represent who I am.  Not lots of fancy tools or machines, but practical things that make me smile every time I use them. 

02 August 2010

The Perfect Summer Dessert

My Aunt Dorothy is one of the most interesting women I know.  Really, she is.  She had (and continues to have) a fabulous career in advertising, travels the world and is a phenomenal cook.  Actually, both she and Ed are fabulous cooks.  I love hearing about their latest culinary adventures - both domestic and abroad.  So the other day when she emailed me a recipe for Apricot Gelato (or Gelato di Albicocche) that she had tweaked a bit, I knew I just had to try it. 

Dorothy's Texas-twist on an Italian treat ... using Fredericksburg peaches in place of the apricots.  Brilliant! And incredibly convenient for me considering Mom just brought me half a bushel of those juicy gems.  It's as if the planets aligned and the heavens are willing me to make this gelato.  Who am I to resist Fate?

In the process of making this gelato I learned the coolest trick for removing the skins of peaches. I've always just blanched and shocked the peaches and then peeled the skins off in frustratingly little pieces. Turns out there is a much simpler way to do it. Cut the peaches in half, remove the pits, place them cut-side down on a pan and broil them for about 12 minutes. After they cool a few minutes the skins come right off in huge sheets! (Thanks, Aunt Dorothy, for that tip)

Although there were several steps involved, none of them were particularly difficult and there is a lot of hands-off time in this recipe while you wait for things to cool or freeze.  The only special piece of equipment I needed for this recipe was an ice cream maker.  Everytime the Hubs and I want to make ice cream at home we have to borrow my parents' 25 year old machine, purchase lots of ice and rock salt and babysit the machine outside for the 30+ minutes it takes to freeze the mixtures.  While it makes delicious ice cream it is inconvenient, loud and tough to clean.  This gelato recipe provided me with the perfect excuse to purchase my own quiet, easy to use and easy to clean Cuisinart Ice Cream Maker!  I see many more frozen treats on our future menus.

A quick run-down of Dorothy's procedure:
After broiling and peeling the peaches, chop them in to tiny pieces and let them hang out with some sugar for half an hour. 

When time's up add in some peach preserves, some milk, some cream and a pinch of salt (I forgot that part!) and bring the mixture to a boil. 

Strain it.  Dorothy put her mixture through a food mill, but I just ran mine through a fine mesh sieve.

Be patient, this process takes a little while!  Cool completely.  Overnight is best.  That gives the ice cream maker's bowl a chance to freeze completely, too. 

It made so much gelato mix that I had to freeze it in two batches, but then again, my ice cream maker is only 1 1/2 quarts.  It only took 20 minutes to freeze each batch in the machine and then I let it firm up a little more in my freezer before serving it. 

To say this gelato was delicious is a major understatement.  I'm already making plans to try the recipe again, but with other fruits.  One lady tried it with mulberries and said it was phenomenal. 

You have to check out Silvestro's site, and not just for this recipe, but for others too.  He seems like such a cool guy - cook, sommelier, teacher and photographer!  He also runs the Awaiting Table cooking school in Lecce, Italy... anyone up for a road airplane trip next summer?!?!