A few weeks ago, I tried making homemade pizza--dough, sauces, toppings--and was generally pleased with the results. Yes, the dough took 24 hours to rise and came out a little thick and chewy and yes the sauce was sort of uninspired and rather dull, but for a first attempt, things could have certainly gone worse. Still, generally pleased is not good enough for me, especially when it comes to pizza. I wanted better--crispier, sweeter, more thickly cheesy. I had to try again. I knew exactly what I wanted: thin crust with a sweeter-than-usual tomato sauce. I already had the perfect toppings in mind (more on that later), and it wouldn't hurt either if I didn't have to prepare everything a day earlier. Hopeful and hungry, I started my search.
First, the sauce. To me, the sauce on a pizza is one of the most crucially important factors. The toppings get all the attention and the crust is what defines the pizza, but the sauce is so individual and unique and defines the flavor in an important way (don't believe me? Try eating pizza in any elementary school cafeteria. Most places get the crust and cheese fine, but sandwich between them brown, crusty, dried-out tomato sauce. Oh yum.). While I'm sure it's all about preference, my favorite pizza sauce (other than the kind we make our pizzas with at home) is thin but not watery and sweet in a fresh, not cloying, way. It should be fragrant and complex without overpowering any of the other parts of the pizza, and finally, it should cook well, remaining fresh, red, and moist despite a jaunt in a 500-degree oven.
With a little Google-searching, I found the perfect recipe: Iron Mike's Sweet Tomato Pizza Sauce. Mike, who based his own recipe after a much-beloved sauce at a much-beloved Cincinnati restaurant, used honey and brown sugar to sweeten up this basic sauce (this time I had honey but no brown sugar. I substituted raw cane sugar), and the results were great. Maybe not as jaw-droppingly vibrant as my favorites (even Mike admits his disappointment when he compares it to the pizza place's), but certainly sweet, certainly easy, and--with 2-3 pizzas' worth of leftovers sitting in my fridge--certainly making a comeback to my dinner table in the future.
Next step was the crust, and here I really lucked out. I am a fan of super-thin, super-crispy pizza crust (not quite cracker texture, but close). My last dough was chewy and thick, not terrible once I addressed the chewy part but still, you know, not what I wanted. I stumbled across Robbie's Recipes, which featured various pizza-Italian food doughs (also had calzone dough, which I found intriguing). A glance at the thin-crust recipe had me skeptical--there was absolutely no rising time for the dough. Not even a "let it sit for 10 minutes." Nothing. Never, in my year of baking breads and doughs and pastas, have I ever come across a dough that needed no rising. In fact, everything I've read has been in favor of more rising, a process that allows the glutens in the bread to relax and soften and reveals more of the bread's flavors. Robbie answered that question in a footnote: baking the dough immediately makes it thin crust, letting it rise will make it thicker. I love the idea of making pizza and eating it less than an hour later. I had to try. And good thing I did--it was so amazingly good. It cooked up perfectly, smooth and crisp and golden brown and oh oh oh so delicious. I will only ever use this recipe (add me to Robbie's long list of admirers).
Finally, the toppings. Ages ago I fell in love with a pizza topped with a fried egg. It was so fantastically good and I loved it so much that one time, in the midst of a blizzard, I was struck with such a crazing for it that I walked 40 minutes there and back, in the snow and sleet, to get a pie (even the guys working there were like "That's commitment." They even gave me a free Coke because they felt bad they weren't delivering!). Since I always wanted to try it at home, and I had some leftover bacon, I concocted a breakfast pizza: diced egg-white omelet with fried bacon, topped with mozzarella and parmesan. I was nervous, especially when my roommate accepted my offer of a slice (I don't generally like to try out my weird experiments on unsuspecting innocents, but she was eating her own dinner so I figured couldn't be terrible if she had to throw it away). Surprisingly, it turned out great! The sulphurous taste of the eggs was nicely complimented by the cheese, and the sweetness of the sauce turned out to balance the bacon quite well.
So, the second time around, my pizza-making skillz have vastly improved (that or my Google-searching skillz)! Still must work on flipping the dough into the air...
SWEET TOMATO SAUCE
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 (28 ounce) can tomato puree
1/2 teaspoon dried basil
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/4 teaspoon dried parsley
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 cloves fresh minced garlic
1 1/2 tablespoons honey
2 tablespoons brown sugar
fresh ground pepper, to taste
In a large pot, heat oil over medium heat
Carefully add the Tomato Puree--it will splatter
Add everything else and simmer uncovered on low, stirring frequently, for 30-60 minutes, until desired consistency
check out the THIN CRUST PIZZA DOUGH recipe at Robbie's website!
Happy Moanday: I Viajar to Espana!
Well, the countdown has finally begun in earnest! In less than a week, I will be wandering around sunny Barcelona with my puppy, looking terribly American and forgetting my 8 years of Spanish classes (lo siento, Hermana Josefine!). It is exciting and wonderful and I am so thrilled that I'm half-worried I'll be completely worn out by Sunday, like a little kid who stays awake the week before her birthday and ends up sleeping through the whole thing. Dave has been happily tromping along on the Camino, not getting trampled by bulls in Pamplona, and product-testing my blog with European browsers (hi kiddo!).
Our plan is a few days in Barcelona and San Sebastien and a few days in the mountains, in a tiny 300-person village. Since I am a bit anxious about what we're going to be eating, I've starting reading Penelope Casa's The Foods and Wines of Spain, which presents a whole number of Spanish recipes, from tapas to sopas to carne (appetizers, soups, meats). My plan is to also find a Spanish grandma and ask her what we should eat (taking copious notes/pictures, of course), and with any luck be adopted and stuffed fully.
What I think is a little strange is how excited I am to eat. This is incredible to me, since a lot of my trips to foreign countries have been filled with anxiety over not having access to Cheerios or Mac n Cheese. While there are still some places on the planet where I think I would get skinny quick (ever tried 100-year-old egg?), I'm finally shaking free of my picky eating habits and feeling more willing to embrace the unusual (of course, I'm also traveling to a country where bacon is an art form, cheese is a part of every meal, and veggies are almost unheard of). I'm excited to go shopping and hopefully learn culinary skills from the people we meet and sample regional fare. My dream: fresh paella when we visit Tarragona on the Mediterranean, goat cheese from the goats wandering in the mountains, olive oil from the arid eastern coast... How much of this can I fit in my suitcase?
So while I dream of delicious food and steadily check off everything I need, I still need to feed myself! I'm not traveling this weekend (unless, you know, you count going to Spain), so I should be busily cooking. I may test out some of my Spanish recipes, but I'm thinking I might hold off until I can get my hands on the real thing. My throat has been bothering me for a few days, so I may put together my Boo-Hoo Flu Soup, or something equally soothing. My mom told me about a recipe that sounds lovely and delicious--a mousse made with Cool Whip and strawberry yogurt--and so I might also keep this week to simple and delicious. Of course, I looooved my pizza from last week (it gets a post soon!), and if my brother stops by this weekend, I may make it for us.
The blog will likely be on hiatus until I return in August, as presumably I will be spending Internet cafe time telling friends and family I am alive and well, rather than updating Res-o-puh-leese. So, dear readers, enjoy this week and I will Happy Moanday up a storm in a few weeks! Read more!
Real Green Shoots: A Disappointing Bounty
*When I planted my little garden, lo those many weeks ago, I had visions of overflowing baskets full of leafy basil, hearty thyme, and delicate rosemary, the theme song to Green Acres playing full blast in my head.
And yet, after the wettest June in a century, interspersed with hot, dry weekends when I was far from my little garden, my plants remain sunburnt and stringy, and the theme song is less Green Acres than the Opening Song to The Secret Garden musical (you know, where all the characters get cholera and die). It doesn't help, of course, that I also came across Martha Martha Martha (perfection thy name is Stewart) glowing over the Edible Herb Garden she developed for the New York Botanical Garden (it is full of baby bunnies and "many fragrant herbs and plants." Le sigh).
How did it come to this? Can my garden be salvaged? Should I dig everything up, plant some pumpkins, and never look back? Come, dear readers, on a photographic tour of my little slice of paradise.
My depressingly stringy thyme.
Let us remember that the thyme was planted April 29,
more than 10 weeks ago (average planting-to-harvest time? 6 weeks)
I think this is something that someone who doesn't know
much about plants would say is sage.
Again, that's just a guess.
which is fantastic because there's nothing like cosmo salad Marigolds, I think.
Really everything just looks sort of green and stubby
Except for these zinnias, which are brown and stubby.
I'm curious to see what happens to these sweet peas.
The package said they are "prolific growers."
I think mine have achievement anxiety.
This planter makes me sad.
It was full of cheerfully-growing herbs before 40 days of rain washed them out.
By the time I got back after a particularly rainy weekend,
My little plants looked like kelp, gently swaying in the waves.
Only the cosmos (I planted them twice) survived. Troopers.
These lush beauties are truly the only thing to thrive.
About two weeks ago they were covered in gorgeous purple flowers,
and the little buds already growing promise more.
No one planted them. My former roommates left the planter on the balcony two years ago
and haven't watered or tended to it in a year.
*More than two posts in one week?! Quell surprise.
I have to say, I don't really cook chicken too often. Other than the white sauce-covered bbq chicken or panko-crusted chicken fingers, chicken isn't usually something I think of with much interest. Part of that is, I think, because chicken is not usually very aspirational. My first tentative forays into cooking started with chicken, from the butter-drenched fried chicken I'd make for my family in high school, to the burnt-to-a-crisp, heavily seasoned chicken Dave and I made together when experiencing cooking for ourselves for the first time. It's not like there's anything wrong with chicken, but it can get boring, and, to me, falls in the same category as potatoes as something without very strong flavor that can be a vehicle for whatever spices or sauces you throw on it.
So when I do happen to stumble across a new pan-fried chicken recipe, I generally email it to myself and then promptly forget it, until it's 5:30 and I'm starving and bored and still need to go shopping and hel-lo chicken! Like last night!
I found this lemon-saffron-green bean salad-chicken recipe online at the Food Network, and the different mix of spices (as well as the quick prep and easy clean up) made it a good candidate for a late Monday night dinner. Because I am me, I swapped out the green bean salad part (I had some half-hearted idea to eat an actual salad, but lost interest in the face of battle), and my lack of honey and mint meant it had a little less flavor than I would have liked. But, it was moist, interesting, and had a nice mix of spices (mellow yellow from the saffron, lemon). A keeper, in my opinion.
This was one of the easiest (cheapest) grocery trips; all I needed was a lemon and some chicken, since I had all the other ingredients at home (except I forgot the honey, which I could have sworn I had a lot of...). Things started out simply enough: I boiled a lightly-pierced lemon (smelled wooonderful) and marinated my chicken. With 50 minutes until the lemon would be ready, I showered, cleaned my room, and watched some Family Guy, pleased, as I always am when this happens, that I wasn't being lazy--I was cooking!
Next, I pan-fried the chicken, during which GIANT FLAMES shot out of the pan. This was my very first grease fire, and I did ok! No burnt chicken, I just plopped the lid on top of the pan, turned on the oven, and hoped my roommate didn't notice. I de-pulped the lemon and diced the lemon peel, then put the chicken on a plate and coated with lemon juice. I sprinkled on the diced peel, a little sugar (to substitute the honey), and some salt, then settled in to eat.
It wasn't bad! The lemon peel, which I was a little weirded out to eat at first, was actually pretty good--light and springy (best to dice as small as possible, around the size of red pepper flakes). The sugar didn't add much, mostly I think because I was afraid to add too much, but I bet the honey would taste fantastic. All in all, it was cheap, easy, reasonably good for you, and still pretty tasty.
1 lemon, preferably unwaxed
1 1/4 teaspoons salt, plus more to taste, divided
2 tablespoons finely chopped mint leaves
1 clove garlic, minced
3 tablespoons lemon juice
1/4 cup olive oil
1 1/4 pound skinless boneless chicken breast, pounded to 1/2-inch thick
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh thyme leaves
1 tablespoon honey
Freshly ground black pepper
Prick the lemon in 3 or 4 places with a fork and place in a small pot with 1 teaspoon of salt and cover with water.
Bring to a boil, cover and simmer for about 50 minutes or until the lemon is very tender.
In the meantime, mix the saffron, mint, garlic, 1 tablespoon of lemon juice, 1 tablespoon of olive oil and 1/4 teaspoon of salt in a small bowl.
Pour the marinade into a sealable plastic bag, add the chicken and let it marinate while you prepare the other ingredients.
Preheat a large skillet or grill pan, coated with olive oil.
Cook the chicken for 3 to 4 minutes on each side, or until cooked through.
Cut into bite-sized chunks.
Slice the ends off of the lemon and slice it in half lengthwise.
Scoop out the pulp.
Dice the peel into very small pieces.
In a large bowl, combine the chicken, lemon, and thyme.
In a small bowl combine the rest of the lemon juice and the honey, whisk in the remainder of the olive oil, and season with salt and pepper, to taste.
Pour the dressing over the chicken and serve.
Happy Moanday: Bon Voyage, Puppy
Well, Dave is currently slipping into extra-large hiking boots and starting two weeks of blisters and sunburn as he treks the Camino in Spain. I am bummed to go two weeks without chats (literal, electronic), but excited for the next part of his Spain trip, in which he rides a bus to Barcelona and picks me up at the airport (!!!). But, more on that later.
I am sleepy as usual from a busy weekend as usual. We spent the Fourth of July weekend in Philly (eating the most amazing tapas with Steve and Jenna) and at the shore, where Dave's mom made the chicken in white sauce that I blogged about a few days ago. No Fourth of July-themed food, I am both saddened (I love those little red-white-blue cupcakes) and pleased (red-white-blue veggie plate gets an eyeroll) to say. Some day, oh some day I will have a nice, big, light-filled kitchen and a beautiful top-o-the-line grill and then, dear readers, I will bbq up a storm...
This week I am hoping to finally get back on a normal (this is a relative term) schedule. With no boyfriend to distract me with heart-aching hour-long phone calls (or YouTube videos of Neil Patrick Harris singing "Les Mis") and coworkers back from vacation, I am hoping to have some time for cooking good summer food. On Friday I head out again (shocking, I know. My roommates are like, "Who are you again?"), this time to my cousin's baby shower in Maryland (or Virginia. Or D.C.? Whatevs, I'm not driving). My mom and aunt are making the dessert, which is something like strawberry mousse with mint, so pictures and recipes and mousse-smeared keyboards look likely to be in my future.
As for groceries this week, I still need to check what I got goin' on in the fridge. I seem to remember, last week, splurging on lots of food that I didn't really need and just assuming I'd deal with it later. It being later, it's probably time to take a look at things. I'm thinking homemade pizza (I may make the dough or go cheapie and buy--I mean test--a premade one). I'm also continually thinking about one of the tapas dishes we had--baked goat cheese with honey and toasted pine nuts--and it seems not unreasonable to assume I'll try my hand at whipping it up.
Also, for the first time eva, I'm getting the strong desire to try out some cookbooks. On the list, Mark Bittman's classic How to Cook Everything and a good, lightweight Spanish foods cookbook to take to Spain (Dave and I will be sequestered in a tiny cabin in a remote mountain town, so I am anxious/curious/excited to see what we'll be eating). Also catching my eye is The Polymer Clay Cookbook, which features tiny food-themed jewelry made from clay. Me and Sculpey go way way back, and I bet this book is cute and jealousy/hunger-inducing. Read more!