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I noticed recently that several of the people I “know” online are wearing sweaters and scarves in their avatars and photos.  I live in Los Angeles.  It was 97 degrees on Tuesday, October 28.  That’s three days before November.  Seeing people in photos all bundled up makes me think “how can they wear that in this heat?”

The lack of seasons here is disorienting.  I’m not ever really sure what time of year it is.  A friend yesterday said “I can’t believe you’re 40!” (and honestly, neither can I) and I said “I can’t believe you’re 40!” and she said (this is getting ridiculous) “I’m 41!”  And I had to think for a second and remembered, oh yes, it’s October, her birthday was a few months ago.

I think one of the reasons it is hard to believe that I’m 40 is that I’ve spent the last four years here.  I was 36 when I came here, still in my mid-30s.  Now I’m in my 40s, but the weather has made it seem like we’ve just been sort of living 2004 for…a very extended period of time.  Those moments I remember that four years have passed I find myself sort of surprised.

I’m not complaining, exactly.  It’s nice to have sandal weather when the rest of the Northern Hemisphere is covered in snow.  And being in Los Angeles has been incredibly productive for us.  But there is something kind of…stunting about eternal sunshine.  Something that kind of holds you in the same place, even as you move forward.  If the seasons never really change, how do you know that time is passing?

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Did someone say “pizza”…again?

I love pizza.  Who doesn’t?  Weird kids maybe.  Anyway, I love it because it’s really tasty and easy to make and cheap.  In fact, I love it so much that I already posted about it and not too long ago.  Which might make you think “well, I can skip this post” but you’d miss out because our illustrious host Rosa from Rosa’s Yummy Yums* gave us a dough recipe far superior to the one I posted previously.  And as we were required to make two pizzas for this challenge, the creativity of limitation pressed me to find possibly the cheapest ingredient ever to top a pizza.  Curious?  Read on…

The recipe for this pizza dough comes from The Bread Baker’s Apprentice by Peter Reinhart and is a bit more fussy than what I’d normally do – here at BLAN (wow, not the best acronym – should have been more thoughtful about the blog name) we’re all about simplicity, but will bend to fussiness when it serves the outcome.  This pizza is most definitely worth the extra bit of work that it requires.

Enough!  Let’s get to it.

I used plain old unbleached flour (I’ve never used high-gluten flour – I can’t even find it at our over-priced fancy-pants grocery Gelson’s) and it worked quite fantastically.  I also used dry-active yeast instead of instant (which I’ve also never used) and increased the amount by 25% (which seems to work every time).

Everyone into the pool!

Almost the ingredients went into a mixing bowl and got the paddle treatment.  You could also use an electric stand mixer for this – which would in some ways be easier (“easier = better,” one of the core BLAN mottoes).  But our apartment is small, and so am I; the stand mixer sits on top of the fridge and weighs at least five hundred pounds – without the husband here to take it down, it’s not likely to get used.

Since I was a lazy-ass and didn’t get the stand mixer down, I was also obliged to knead the dough for five hundred years (5-7 minutes).

Maybe the kneading will make me strong enough to handle the mixer.  At any rate, once that was done, jelly pans were lined with parchment paper, dough dividing happened, rolling piece into balls ensued and the end result

little balls of future pizza!  Gorgeous.

The balls were floured and misted with oil and wrapped in a ridiculous plastic wrap cocoon (note to self – don’t ever think it’s a good idea to buy the cheap plastic wrap).  The tray was then put into the fridge overnight.

Okay – a couple of things here.

1. Normally I would have a lot more pictures – almost too many.  But I got this idea in my head that this challenge would be a great opportunity for me to add some video to the blog (part of the challenge was to have a video or picture of yourself throwing the pizza, so it made sense, right?).  Oh how I underestimate the effort of things.  I am still planning on adding video to the blog, but when that does happen, it will be for a much less ambitious project and will be of something that I already forking know how to do!  Sometimes I just have no sense.  Anyway, the video took up so much time that I didn’t get very many photos.

2. As I just mentioned, there should be a video or photo of me tossing my pizzas.  And I tried.  I really did.  The pizzas turned out great but both of them immediately thinned out so much in the middle that tossing them was out of the question.  It was a miracle that they could be arranged on the peel at all and hold sauce.  But oh what a miracle they were…

The dough had a sleep overnight in the fridge.  It was removed two hours before baking and I set to work on the toppings.  For pizza one, red sauce, artichoke hearts and sun dried tomatoes with Parmesan cheese.

This one is a bit of a cheat, since we’ve done it before and knew it would be delicious.  But with the untested dough, I wanted to be sure we could rely on at least one of the pizzas to be edible (a girl does have to eat).

For pizza two…well, I was at a bit of a loss.  We’re pretty cheap around here and I’m a bit lazy, so I didn’t want to go to the store again and spend more money.  Besides, we had a half bag of potatoes threatening to go off so…

Heck yeah I did!  I made potato pizza – and it was amazing.  I mean really amazing.  The potatoes need to be sliced super duper thin (I used a mandoline and you could see through the slices).  The upside is that the whole pizza only required one small potato (although I have no idea what I’m going to do with the rest of them) and a small amount of salt, chopped rosemary and a bit of olive oil.  That’s cheap!

This challenge was so much fun.  This dough recipe will be our new staple for pizza – the crust was so thin it was unbelievable, and that’s how we like it.  I’ll be playing with it in the coming weeks (we eat pizza at least every other week) and doing what damage I can by adding wild yeast.  Heck, I might even go out and get some high gluten flour…if I ever run out of potatoes.

For more info on The Daring Bakers, visit www.thedaringbakers.com.

Basic Pizza Dough

Original recipe taken from The Bread Baker’s Apprentice by Peter Reinhart.

Makes 6 pizza crust (about 9-12 inches/23-30 cm in diameter)

Ingredients:
4 1/2 Cups (20 1/4 ounces/607.5 g) Unbleached high-gluten (14%) bread flour or all purpose flour, chilled
1 3/4 Tsp Salt
1 Tsp Instant Yeast
1/4 Cup (2 ounces/420g or 420 ml) Olive oil or Vegetable Oil (optional but better with!)
1 3/4 Cups (14ounces/420 g or 420 ml) Water, ice cold (40F/4.5C)
1 Tb sugar
Semolina/durum flour or cornmeal for dusting

DAY ONE

Method:
1. Mix together the flour, salt and instant yeast in a big bowl (or in the bowl of your stand mixer).

2. Add the oil, sugar and cold water and mix well (with the help of a large wooden spoon or with the paddle attachment on low speed) in order to form a sticky ball of dough.  On a clean surface, knead for about 5-7 minutes, until the dough is smooth and the ingredients are homogeneously distributed.  If it is too wet, add a little flour (not too much!) and if it is too dry, add 1 or 2 teaspoons extra water.  NOTE: If you are using an electric mixer, switch to the dough hook and mix on medium speed for the same amount of time.The dough should clear the sides of the bowl but stick to the bottom of the bowl. If the dough is too wet, sprinkle in a little more flour, so that it clears the sides. If, on the contrary, it clears the bottom of the bowl, dribble in a teaspoon or two of cold water. The finished dough should be springy, elastic, and sticky, not just tacky, and register 50-55F/10-13C.

3. Flour a work surface or counter.  Line a jelly pan with baking/parchment paper.  Lightly oil the paper.

4. With the help of a metal or plastic dough scraper, cut the dough into 6 equal pieces (or larger if you want to make larger pizzas).

5. Sprinkle some flour over the dough.  Make sure your hands are dry and then flour them.  Gently round each piece into a ball.  NOTE: If the dough sticks to your hands, then dip your hands into the flour again.

6. Transfer the dough balls to the lined jelly pan and mist them generously with spray oil.  Slip the pan into plastic bag or enclose in plastic food wrap.

7. Put the pan into the refrigerator and let the dough rest overnight or for up to three days.  NOTE: You can store the dough balls in a zippered freezer bag if you want to save some of the dough for future baking.  In that case, pour some oil (a few tablespoons only) in a medium bowl and dip each dough ball into the oil, so that it is completly covered in oil.  Then put each ball into a separate bag.  Store the bags in the freezer for no longer than 3 months.  The day before you plan to make pizza, remember to transfer the dough balls from the freezer to the refrigerator.

8. On the day you plan to eat the pizza, exactly 2 hours before you make it, remove the desired number of dough balls from the refrigerator.  Dust the counter with flour and spray lightly with oil.  Place the dough balls on floured surface and sprinkle them with flour.  Dust your hands with flour and delicately press the dough into disks about 1/2 inch/1.3 cm thick and 5 inches/12.7 cm in diameter.  Sprinkle with flour and mist with oil.  Loosely cover the dough rounds with plastic wrap and then allow to rest fr 2 hours.

9. At least 45 minutes before making the pizza, place a baking stone on the lower third of the oven.  Preheat the oven as hot as possible (500F/260C).  NOTE: If you do not have a baking stone, use the back of a jelly pan.  Do not preheat the pan.

10. Generously sprinkle the back of a jelly pan (or your pizza peel) with semolina/durum flour or cornmeal.  Flour your hands (palms, backs and knuckles).  Take one piece of dough by lifting it with a pastry scraper.  Lay the dough across your fists in a very delicate way and carefully stretch it by bouncing it in a circular motion on your hands and by giving it a little stretch with each bounce.  Once the dough has expanded outward, move to a full toss.  NOTE: Make only one pizza at a time.  During the tossing process, if the dough tends to stick to your hands, lay it down on the floured counter and reflour your hands, then continue tossing and shaping.  If tossing is impossible, you can let it relax for 5-20 minutes.  You can also use a rolling pin but it is not as effective (or as fun!) as tossing.

11. When the dough has the shape you want (about 9-12 inches/23-30 in diameter for a 6 ounce/180 g piece of dough) place it on the back of the jelly pan (or peel), making sure there is enough semolina/durum flour or cornmeal to allow it to slide and not stick to the pan.

12. Lightly top it with the sweet or savory toppings of your choice.  NOTE: Remember that the best pizzas are topped not too generously.  No more than 3 or 4 toppings (including sauce and cheese) are sufficient.

13. Slide the topped pizza onto the stone in the oven or bake directly on the jelly pan.  Close the door and bake for about 5-8 minutes.  NOTE: After 2 minutes baking, take a peek.  For even baking, rotate 180 degrees.  If the top gets done before the bottom, you will need to move the stone or jelly pan to a lower shelf before the next round.  If the bottom crisps before the cheese caramelizes you will need to raise the stone or jelly.

14. Take the pizza out of the oven and transfer it to a cutting board or your plate.  In order to allow the cheese to set a little, wait 3-5 minutes before slicing or serving.

NOTE ON SAUCE: Your sauce should not be too thick as it will thicken in the hot oven.  Less is more but make the less truly more by using quality ingredients.

Cheers.

*Rosa’s co-hosts for this challenge were to have been Sherry Cermak from What Did You Eat? and Glenna Muse at A Fridge Full Of Food.  Sadly, Sher (as she was fondly known) passed away suddenly a few of months ago.  I never knew her but have been fortunate enough to visit her blog and she was clearly loved and clearly is missed.  Rosa’s other partner in hosting, Glenna, has decided to bow out of DB for now.  I wanted to mention that Rosa did an amazing job of hosting unexpectedly by herself and love the fact that she decided to honor Sher by keeping the original challenge they had discussed.  Many thanks Rosa – well done!

I just got back from my walk about and stopped at the fridge (after plowing down an ample helping of last night’s leftovers standing right there in the middle of the kitchen) and noticed this list on an envelope, magneted (is that a word?) to the fridge door:

This is what it says:

Oil
3-4 sliced garlic

Zest on lemon
med heat
Pasta
1/2 cup water fr/noodles
squeeze lemon completely
reduce

fresh Parmesan

I looked at it for a few seconds and thought “that sounds great – we should try that!” and then realized that not everyone would know that the list is really a recipe (cook the sliced garlic in oil, cook pasta in salted water, drain, reserve 1/2 cup of the pasta water, add to the oil and garlic, add the juice of one lemon and the zest, reduce sauce, toss with pasta and serve with grated Parmesan cheese).

All that to say, every once in a while I’m reminded that as much as I don’t know what I’m doing (which is what makes cooking a fun adventure), I also do know what I’m doing.

Have faith in your ability.  You know more than you know.

Last night’s dinner

This is one of my all-time favorite things to make.  It’s also one the husband’s all-time favorite things to eat.  When you add in the fact that this tart really isn’t that expensive (and if it’s done in steps, it’s not too fussy either), there’s a win-win…win, I guess.

You’re going to have to make puff pastry to make this tart.  Please don’t be afraid.  It’s not that hard.  The recipe included here isn’t even “real” puff pastry.  The main thing to remember is that all pastry likes to be cold.  The goal is to make lots of really thin layers of flour and butter by rolling the pastry out and then folding it on itself, and then rolling it out again.  The reason the fat (butter) needs to be cold is so it will keep together as a layer of fat, rather than just mixing into the flour (which is what it will do when it’s soft).  When you think about it, it makes perfect sense – if you have cold butter, it’s a mailable solid that you can flatten.  If you have warm butter, then it’s time for lobster and artichokes or maybe some nice toast.

Anchovies are not everyone’s thing.  We love them.  If you don’t, that’s ok.  Make this anyway.  Skip the anchovies (it’ll be cheaper).  Or just use a couple.  It doesn’t matter.  The main reason to eat this tart is the onions and the pastry.

To encourage the pastry-timid, here are some photos of the tart.

Side note: If someone would please write a nice letter to Santa and put in a good word about me and mention that I need a decent SLR camera, that would be really grand.

tart before baking

tart before baking

lone last piece

lone last piece*

And now, the recipes…

Fakeout Puff Pastry

1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 stick (1/2 cup) plus 5 tablespoons unsalted butter, frozen
5 to 6 tablespoons ice water

Sift together flour and salt into a chilled large metal bowl (or a plastic one if you don’t have a metal one – it’s not that big of a deal). Set a grater in flour mixture and coarsely grate frozen butter into flour, gently lifting flour and tossing to coat butter (grate all the butter into the bowl, then toss it together).

Drizzle 5 tablespoons ice water evenly over flour mixture and gently stir with a fork until it’s mixed in.

Test the dough by gently squeezing a small handful – it should hold together without crumbling apart. If necessary, add another tablespoon water, stirring until just incorporated and testing again. (If you overwork mixture or add too much water, pastry will be tough.)

Put the dough on a cutting board (or your counter if it’s smooth and clean) and smoosh and pat it together to form a 5-inch square (roughly, no rulers!), then pull some plastic wrap around it tightly (to help it hold together) and chill, about 30 minutes. The dough will be lumpy and streaky and won’t really hold together all that well.

Roll out dough on a floured surface with a floured rolling pin into a 15- by- 8-inch rectangle (roughly).  This is not going to look pretty and it’s totally ok to need to push some of the little lumpy bits back into the pastry.  I have a pastry scraper and during the first two rollouts, I use it a lot to sweep everything that tries to escape and push it into the side of the dough.  You can also use a scraper (or heck, you could use a ruler I suppose, so maybe nix the no ruler rule) to help shore everything up and make it into a pretty rectangle because, let’s face it, those years in therapy didn’t help you get over your ridiculous need to be perfect. Arrange dough with a short side nearest you, then fold dough into thirds like a letter: bottom third up and top third down over dough. Rewrap dough and chill until firm, about 30 minutes.  It’s still going to be pretty lumpy and streaky.

Arrange dough with a short side nearest you on a floured surface and repeat rolling out, folding, and chilling 2 more times. You need to let the dough chill at least 30 minutes each time!  If you don’t, you will end up with a lot of roux, which is good stuff, but much better for white sauce.  Brush off any excess flour, then wrap dough in plastic wrap and chill at least 1 hour.  Now the dough should be fairly smooth and uniform, not lumpy and streaky.

At this point you can either use the pastry within three days (if you don’t, you will have gray pastry, which is probably still delicious but looks disgusting) or you can store in the freezer, probably indefinitely, as long as you put it in a freezer bag.  If you do decide to freeze it, take it out of the freezer about an hour before you want to make whatever and let it start thawing.  When it gets soft enough to unfold the flaps (it will still be quite frozen and you’ll need to wedge something like a dinner knife between the flaps to get them apart), do that and let it get get more thawed out (this will speed thawing).  Once it’s soft enough to roll (but still very very cold), fold it back up and roll it out once more, to the thickness you want (usually about 1/4 inch).  No matter what you do, DO NOT LET IT GET TO BE ROOM TEMPERATURE OR YOU WILL CRY WHEN IT’S BAKED AND THERE’S NO CRYING IN BAKING!

Onion and Anchovy Tart So Good The Husband Ate Three Pieces

This is also more or less, Julia Child’s recipe from “The Way To Cook,” page 393**

Are you ready for this?

4 cups of thinly sliced onions
3 Tablespoons of oil (or use butter if you really feel like you need some more)
A bit of salt
A bit of white wine for deglazing
Gruyere (fancy pants, expensive but very yummy Swiss cheese) or Parmesan cheese – about 4 Tablespoons
A tin of anchovies

Cook the onions in the oil in a large frying pan with a lid over med-high heat until soft and sweet, about 25 minutes.  Stir them a every couple of minutes at first, then cover them almost all the way (leave a little gap for some of the steam to come out) and let them really cook.  When you have dark brown stuff on the bottom of the pan, you know you’re doing it right.  Every few minutes, scrape all that stuff into the onions.  Right before you’ve finished cooking them, pour some white wine (maybe a quarter cup) and use that to get up all the good brown stuff.  You’ll know the onions are done when they are caramel colored and kind of taste like candy (for onions – it’s not going to taste like an actual caramel).

Crap!  I forgot the salt.  I always do that.  Sprinkle the onions with salt at the beginning.

Let the onions cool before using in the tart (or you’ll melt the pastry and remember what we said about crying?).

To put the whole thing together:

Roll out the pastry to make a disk about 8 or 9 inches across (I take a dinner plate and turn it upside down on the pastry and then cut around with a small sharp knife).  At this point, it’s a good idea to put the disk back into the freezer for a few minutes, just to get the butter hard again.  Grate enough cheese to cover the disk (about 3 or 4 tablespoons – I just use a hand grater and do it until it’s covered), leaving maybe 1/4 inch around the edge (it doesn’t need to be perfect, so don’t fuss about it – you’ll see why you do this in a minute).  Cover the cheese with the onions.  Decoratively arrange the anchovies on top (spell out your sweet thang’s name if you want) – we are crazy for anchovies, so I use more or less a whole tin.  Use however many you want, or ditch them and don’t, or use something else.  The anchovies aren’t the point (unless you’re us).  Use a fork to crimp the edges up (see the photo above).  Basically, you sort of push the edge up and then smash the “bend” down with a fork to make the edge stay up.  Photo explains it.

Bake this thing at 425 for about 30 minutes in the middle of the oven.  If you have a pizza stone, bake directly on that.  If not, put the tart on a cookie sheet (heavy duty if you have one, if not, don’t worry about it).  Be careful and check on it – you don’t want to burn the onions.  Also, the last time I made this, it puffed up a lot in the middle, but it goes down once you take it out and it cools a bit.  If it doesn’t, just stab it – it’ll be fine.

Let cool to room temperature and cut it up!  We like to eat this with a green salad and a lot of red wine.

That’s it – it’s really not hard at all.  If you make the pastry disks in advance and freeze those (instead of the “letter” of pastry), you can have this thing done in no time and you can do it on auto-pilot while you’re doing other things, like enjoying the company of your favorite person in the world or listening to Wait Wait, Don’t Tell Me.  Or both at the same time.

Cheers.

*I managed to get this shot off just moments before the piece of tart was devoured.
**When you get all brave and comfy with pastry, you can try Julia’s recipe for the real deal, puff pastry.  It’s also not that hard, but a bit more finicky and time consuming.  But when you do make it, you’ll bake it and you will not believe that you made anything that can do what it does or taste like it does.  It’s extremely cool.

A fine chap named Chuck Westbrook has suggested an idea for increasing readership of under-read blogs that’s so genius, it kind of looks like a pyramid scheme…

Before you run in fear, check it and join in the fun.  Every two weeks, a new blog.  Broaden your horizons.  Do a good blog deed.

Cheers.

Gnocchi update

A few days ago, I made one of my kitchen arch-nemeses, gnocchi, with much success and froze a batch.  Making good on my promise to report back on the should-be-simple-and-cheat-yet-surprisingly-difficult-and-infuriating lumps of potato and flour, I’m happy to say we ate the frozen gnocchi last night and the “cooking first then freezing” technique worked extremely well!  If you use this technique for storing gnocchi, be sure to drain them well (which can be tricky since they want to all stick together once they dry out) and spread them on a cookie sheet without letting them touch each other and freeze completely before transferring into a freezer bag or other container.  When you’re ready to eat them, just heat some oil in a non-stick frying pan, and fry ’em up.  They’ll cook pretty quickly, so have your saucy-sauce ready to go.  It’s like having your own frozen food, only better!

Cheers.

It’s too hot to bake

That’s right.  I said it.  It’s too hot to bake.  It’s almost the end of October and the high today is 97.  That’s 3 short of 100.  In October.

I think there is a place on earth where it’s snowing right now, but I don’t know where that is.  If you live there, would you send me some snow?

If I were going to bake, I’d bake a fantastic onion and anchovy tart with puff pastry.  If you make one, let me know.

Cheers.