Sunday, July 29, 2012

Under the Californian Sun Pizza

I have a confession to make. I have not finished Under the Tuscan Sun yet. In fact, I started it in the spring, and I ended up putting it aside to read Game of Thrones. But I vow to finish it! You know why? Because I love you and I owe it to you…

And also the movie is fantastic.

I know, I know! I'm not supposed to see a movie before I read a book. But maybe an opportunity presented itself in the form of iTunes rentals approximately four or five years ago, and I simply could not help myself.

Escape and healing and renewal and rebirth and laughter and tears and outrage and relief and awe are this movie. Of course it's beautiful and of course it's Italian and yes, it is more of a girl movie. But you know what? It's not about fluffy romance, it's about starting over and letting yourself make mistakes that turn out perfectly in the end. It's about friends who take care of you and friends that you take care of, because sometimes being there for someone is just as therapeutic as someone being there for you. It's about relationships as vague as a daily smile at a regular passerby or as complex as a pair of star-crossed lovers. It's about family and friends.

And so was this meal. After finding ourselves home unexpectedly early from a backpacking trip cut short in May, the Boyf's family and I decided to have a last-minute Memorial Day soiree. We called my mom (who had my little sister with her) and my brother and had them come over. Ambitious people that we are, we decided to make a pizza (I give full credit for this idea to Boyf's lovely sister) from scratch.

Now, I have never made a pizza from scratch before. But if you start calling yourself the Baketress, people tell you to take charge in the kitchen.


I am totally okay with that.

We laughed and we talked and we had a great time just being with each other. I think we know the moral of Under the Tuscan Sun without even needing to finish the book.

I based my dough recipe on Emeril's Basic Pizza Dough Recipe (one of half a dozen, anyway), but added a bit of my own touch because… well, yum.

Under the Californian Sun Pizza

1 c warm water (105 to 115°F)
1 (¼-ounce) envelope active dry yeast
1 t honey
1 T extra-virgin olive oil plus extra
2 ¾ c unbleached all-purpose flour
pinch of salt
½ c grated parmesan cheese
2 T italian seasoning

1 can tomato sauce
1 onion
⅓ c butter

Lots of mozzarella cheese
For the rest, you can pick whatever you want! But we did two pizzas.
1. Artichokes, tomatoes, and sweet red peppers
2. Sauteed mushrooms and sausage

1. In a large bowl, mix water, yeast, honey, and 1 T of olive oil until combined. Let your yeasties sit in their bath until the mixture is foamy (5 minutes or so).

2. Mix together the flour, parmesan cheese, salt, and Italian seasoning.

3. Add half of the flour mixture into the yeast mixture and mix until smooth (which is much easier if you're willing to get your hands dirty).

4. Continue adding the rest of the flour mixture a little bit at the time until it's all mixed but still somewhat sticky-- you might not need all of the flour mixture!!

5. Flour a surface (a cutting board or clean countertop) and knead the dough on it. You want smooth but tacky (2-5 minutes).

6. Grease a large mixing bowl with the rest of the olive oil. Put the dough in the bowl, making sure to turn it until its coated in oil. Cover with plastic wrap (I greased this as well) and set in a warm place until it has doubled in size (we left ours about an hour and twenty minutes).

7. After the dough has been sitting for about an hour, slice an onion into small pieces. You could also slice your topping vegetables/meats, depending on what you chose.

8. Saute the onion with oodles of butter until they're soft and almost sweet.

9. Open the tomato sauce and pour it into a sauce pan over low heat, mixing often. Add the onions.

10. Spread the dough onto a pan. You can use cornmeal or oil to keep it from sticking, and you probably want to make sure the outer edge is raised enough to keep the sauce in.

11. Pour on the sauce. You will probably need less than you think!

12. Spread the toppings however you'd like. Pile on the cheese!

13. Stick it in the oven. We set it at 425°F and kept checking until the cheese and sauce seemed on the verge of bubbles. I believe it was 10-15 minutes.

These pizzas are best enjoyed with (what else?!) Italian wine.

Monday, July 23, 2012

13 Little Brown Pretzel Rolls


So there we were (Boyf and I), walking through the fair. We had just learned that the glassblower wasn't going to be there this year, and were a bit bummed. We passed by a booth on the outskirts, out near the produce, and something caught our eyes.

That's right, a basket of tamarinds. It turns out that there is an exotic fruit growers club around here. I want to join it! I really, truly do. I just don't have a yard. But someday, I will! And when I do, I shall become a member!

I squeezed in to get a better view of the tamarinds and take a picture, and a man working at the booth turned to me.

"Do you need me to move?" he asked.

"No, you're fine. I just wanted to take a picture of the tamarinds, because I have a blog, and the title is 'Only Strangers Eat Tamarinds', and I think it's really cool that-"

"Have you ever tried one?"

"No, actually, I-"

And he handed me one. Just reached into the basket and handed me one, making sure to warn me of the big black seeds.

So Boyf and I cracked it open and he documented me tasting it.

IT WAS SO GOOD (sorry for all the caps in this post. I am excited). It was bright and tangy, and sour enough to almost coat my tongue in that cottony sort of way. There wasn't nearly enough edible fruit on those giant seeds, and it was difficult to share-- but don't worry, I did. And we saved the seeds.

We spent a while talking with a man at that booth, and got to try a passionfruit as well. It was delicious! Slimy and tropical sweet with edible seeds that seemed to pop more than crunch (And here's a special hello to the mysterious J who overheard me mention my blog at the fair and sent me a book suggestion. Welcome to my blog! I can't wait to read that book.).

In keeping with the summery theme, this week's book is 13 Little Blue Envelopes by Maureen Johnson. This book is a light, fun, laying-by-the-pool sort of book…until the end. The end is frustrating and drove me crazy for years (literally!). I even reread the book (which I do love, by the way-- it captures a willing loneliness, a coming-of-age, and a whirling, traveling summer all while remaining at an unchallenging reading level, which is a nice break) and found myself once again upset by the twist it contains. ARGH.

Finally, I found relief. This past year, my friend (another afflicted with TLBE frustration) told me she had a book for me to borrow. Lo and behold, a SEQUEL. HOORAY! Questions were answered! Riddles were solved! Ends that were loose now are tied tightly in a beautiful little bow!

And I had another summery book to add to a list that I hope grows forever.

When Ginny (the story's main character) is in Denmark, someone refers to her as the "pretty girl with pretzel hair" because it's in two braids, which leads to the nickname "Pretzels" (which I can relate to! Everyone at work calls me Scones. No, seriously. I love it.).

Now let's stretch this connection out a bit to bring you some delicious pretzel bread! Yum! In fact, I think I'll go make some more right now, when my roommate isn't home to eat three in thirty seconds.

12 Little Brown Pretzel Rolls

2 c milk (at or approximately 110°F or 43 C. I put it in the microwave for about 45 seconds. Don't go too hot! You'll hurt your yeasties.)
1½ T active dry yeast
3/8 c (6 T) brown sugar
¼ c melted butter (again, I usually use unsalted)
3 c all-purpose flour
1½ c whole wheat flour (you can change the proportions of flour so long as you end up with 4½ cups total)
2 t salt

and also...
Bowl of warm water
Baking soda
Coarse salt
Melted (salted!) butter

1. Stir the yeast into the warm milk and let sit for about 3 minutes. Your new yeasty friends will start to party because you're feeding them.
2. Add the butter and the sugar to the yeast/milk and mix well. They'll be even happier!
3. Mix in all the flour, just a little at a time. I usually break it into thirds.
4. Mix in the salt.
5. Knead for 10 minutes. It's moments like these that I'm very, very glad for my beautiful KitchenAid stand mixer because I can throw on the bread hook, put it on the lowest setting, and do something else for 10 minutes. Thank you, Nani!!

6. Meanwhile, grease a big bowl and some plastic wrap. When the bread is kneaded, put  it in the bowl and lay the plastic wrap on top. Let sit until it doubles in size (Mine usually takes just under an hour).
7. Preheat oven to 375°F (190.6 C) and prepare a cookie sheet.

The rolls are camouflaged! Your genius Baketress put them on a matching cutting board.

8. Divide the dough up into 12 or 16 little balls (split it into two, then those into two each, then each of those into two or three). If you want, you can even divide it up into 13 little brown pretzel rolls! But that would be obnoxious. Sixteen is actually the easiest.
9. Mix up some warm water and baking soda. The ratio I used is about half a cup of baking soda to 3 cups of water, but the baking soda didn't all dissolve so I ended up mixing it multiple times.
10. Dunk the rolls into the baking soda and put onto the cookie sheet.
11. Use a serrated knife to slit the top of each roll.
12. Sprinkle each roll with some coarse salt. Brush them with butter if you'd like (but there will be more to come later).
13. Bake for 9-15 minutes.
14. Dunk in melted butter! Maybe some cinnamon or ginger sugar as well? Either way, they are stellar. Enjoy them thoroughly, because they are filling and soft and just the right amount of wholesome with that wheat flour.

These pretzel rolls are best enjoyed with a glass stein of beer from Copenhagen, the "Disneyland of beer".

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Like Whipped Cream for Hot Chocolate Cookies

There are some books that fill me up so much that when I finish them, I feel drained. I feel like flipping back to page 1 and beginning again, to try and recapture all the emotions I felt while reading it the first time.

Like Water for Chocolate is absolutely one of those books. It may have just earned itself a spot on my list of all-time favorites (hmm, maybe I should actually write that down).

For a few weeks now, people have been telling me I should read this book (friends, family members, even customers at my job), and I kept saying, "Okay, I'll get to it," with nothing more than vague curiosity.

But when my new stepmom asked if I wanted anything from a trip to the bookstore, the title popped into my head, and I asked if she could pick me up a copy if she found it. It was a closing store sale (and that fact makes my heart hurt), and she managed to find the book for a mere $6, in hardcover!

So I started reading. And I couldn't stop. I stayed up too late and got up too early, just to read more of this book. I read and reread passages that I loved, and I laughed and I cried and I swooned and I hurt.

This beautiful book is filled with so much passion-- passion for food and cooking and family and tradition and love and individuality and newness and more more more. It starts each chapter with a recipe, and ends each chapter with emotion-- raw, red anger or falling, gaping pain or soaring love.

Which brings us to these beauties. I love spicy things, but I'm the first person to pour a glass of milk to drink with my curry or salsa or bowl of chili. It's not because I'm a wimp about spice (I am not), but because the combination of hot and cold just works so well.

I'd made spicy chocolate cookies before, but never this delicious, and never with whipped cream this thick (thanks to my lovely mother, who bought me this amazing contraption). But let me warn you-- this is not for the weak of tongue. I got more than one comment that these were a tad too spicy, to which I say lame!! you may take out some of the spices if you'd like. I used heaping teaspoons.

Don't judge.

I hope Tita would be proud of these. If these cookies had the power that Tita's food had, I think they'd make you go reread your favorite book.

Hot Chocolate Cookies with Whipped Cream

Hot Chocolate Cookies

2 c flour
⅔ c unsweetened cocoa powder
½ t cinnamon
½ t cayenne pepper
½ t ancho chile pepper
½ t salt
1 c unsalted butter (softened)
½ c plus 2 T sugar (and extra for dusting the cookies)
2 t vanilla extract

1. Sift the flour, cocoa, cinnamon, peppers, and salt together in one bowl; set aside.

2. Cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, or at least as un-grainy as you can get it.

3. Add in the vanilla.

4. Add in the flour mixture, just a bit at a time. At this point, I started using my hands to knead it a bit as well.

5. Once it's all mixed, you have two options. You could roll out the dough evenly onto a prepared cookie sheet, or you can roll balls of dough and space them out very far from one another on the prepared cookie sheet. If you choose the latter (I did), then you want to press the cookie-balls down until they're flat and cookie-like, then sprinkle them with sugar. I wish I'd taken a picture of my method; I dipped the bottom of my mom's French press glass in a bowl of sugar and used that to press them into these little beauties.

6. Put in the fridge and let chill for 30 minutes. Fun fact: my friend and I made these while helping my mom move. The dough was made while the cars were loaded up, and while on our lunch run, we stopped by the old house, threw the cookies in the oven, ordered lunch, took the cookies out, and took them with us to the new house.

7. Preheat the oven to 275°F (135 C).

8. Bake for 30-45 minutes in the middle of the oven. After 15-20 minutes, rotate the pans.

9. Put on a cooling rack. Do as I say and not as I do-- which was to immediately dump the cookies into a paper bag and rush out of the house.

Whipped Cream

1 c heavy (whipping) cream
½-1 T vanilla (or any flavor you feel like) extract
½-2 T sugar (to taste)

1. Combine all ingredients in a bowl and beat with an electric mixer until it is the consistency you want. It's important to taste along the way! Or buy the awesome whipped cream maker and create billowy clouds of glory.

These cookies are best enjoyed with a tall glass of water (you've already got your chocolate and your dairy covered, after all) and a good book.

Monday, July 9, 2012

If You Give a Baketress a Cookie

My dad got married this weekend! Congratulations! Hip hip hooray! I'm so happy for my dad and new stepmom, and so excited about my oodles of new family members. It was a fantastic weekend of meeting and seeing people. (And selfishly… it was really fun to get all made up on someone else's dime (I had never had a gel manicure or gotten my makeup done before! Snazzy!)).

Today, we're going back to basics. I would love to tell you that this is in part to honor a man who helped instill in me a love of reading (he read to me when I was little, and I'll never forget it) and loves chocolate more than anything (except his children and new wife), but really it's because I had a simple craving this week for chocolate chip cookies, and an intense desire to perfect my method.

Do any of you watch Food Network? I love it, but I am irresponsible with that channel. In the days before I could (would?) cook and bake, I would watch and immediately develop a craving for whatever I was seeing. It didn't matter who was making it or if I even knew what half those words meant (mascarpone? quinoa? gratin? What are those?), I just wanted to eat whatever they were making, right that second.

Recently, I've gotten better. Sadly, only half of that is because I now know my way around a kitchen, while the other half is simply my lack of cable. Sigh. Maybe someday.

But back to the point I was slowly making my way to. If you watch Food Network, I hope you watch Alton Brown, especially on Good Eats. That man is a genius, and I'm almost certain I would be friends with him if given the opportunity.

This man enjoys science, puns, sci-fi, food, and travel. And those are only the things I can come up with without ending up on his Wikipedia page… again. Basically, he's absolutely and completely my favorite person on that heavenly channel.

A while back, he did an episode on the science of chocolate chip cookies. Do you like yours puffy, thin, or chewy? He explains what causes each of these variations (with science!), and so my recipe is based on my favorite of the three- the chewy cookie.

To me, a perfect chocolate chip cookie has a just-barely-crisp outer edge, a chewy middle, and is a satisfying balance of salty and sweet. Too much salt and you've ruined it, too little and the cookie is too sweet to devour more than one or two, and lacks substance. Just enough, and you may find yourself and your roommate with spoons, cleaning out the bowl of cookie dough.

With a recipe as basic and filled with happy childhood memories as this, what better book to choose than If You Give a Mouse a Cookie? It's simple. genius, and whimsical, just like Alton Brown is and how I aspire to be.

Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies

1 c butter (I definitely prefer to use unsalted, but I've also accidentally made these with salted butter and they were still good. As long as you have a love of salt and a full glass of liquid, salted is fine.)
1½ c flour
1 t salt (I actually used a heaping teaspoon, to get that extra savoriness I crave)
1 t baking soda
¼ c white sugar
1 c brown sugar (this is part of what makes it chewy!)
1 egg
2 T heavy cream (or 1 T milk and 1 egg yolk)
1½ t vanilla extract
1½ c chocolate chips (I used semi-sweet, and I didn't actually measure them. This amount is actually up to you.)

1. Melt the butter. This is the other part of what makes these cookies so meltingly chewy.

2. Sift the flour, salt, and baking soda. If you don't have a sifter, just mix it up with a fork or whisk to get some air into it. A sieve works just as well as a sifter, by the way.

3. Beat the sugars and the melted butter for about two minutes.

4. Slowly beat in the egg, the cream (or milk and yolk), and the extract. My grandma bought me this beautiful, thick vanilla bean paste that I've been using lately in place of extract. It's magical, and it leaves the beautiful little vanilla beans behind.

5. Beat for another 30 seconds or so.

6. Slowly add the flour mixture (just a bit at the time) and beat until thoroughly mixed.

7. Stir in the chocolate chips. This is also where you can add other ingredients! Walnuts, pecans, macadamia nuts, etc etc etc…

8. Let chill for at least half an hour, preferably an hour or more.

9. Prepare your cookie sheet. I tried parchment paper for the first time this week! I loved it. I should buy some. It was glorious.

10. Preheat oven to 375°F (190.6 C).

10. Scoop evenly sized chunks of dough onto the sheet and make sure they're spaced out! I used a normal dinner spoon for this. I often have cookies stuck together, but then it's easier to convince yourself you're only eating one cookie, and not two. That's why I haven't fixed that yet.

11. Put the cookies near the bottom third of the oven and bake for 7-15 minutes. If your oven is unreliable, rotate the pan after about five minutes.

These cookies are best enjoyed with a glass of milk. And a straw. And a napkin. And a mirror (to check for milk mustaches!).

Monday, July 2, 2012

A Shortcut to (Stuffed) Mushrooms

So how are you liking the blog so far? I’m really enjoying it, but I’d love to hear what you all think. And yes, that is a blatant attempt at getting you all to test out the commenting and the Contact Me page.

And hey, this will be another big day in the world of my lovely blog! This is the first time that I'll be sharing a recipe that isn't baking.


I know, right? It's amazing. Now I can trick you all in to thinking that I don't just sit around eating cupcakes and cookies all day in between copious amounts of caffeination.

The first time I made these stuffed mushrooms was with an old friend, on a day when we were bored, hungry, and blessed with three boxes of manager's special Farmer Maggot's white mushrooms. He had also purchased a container of some sort of southwestern dip, and suddenly got the genius idea to fill the mushrooms with it.

While he performed some strange kitchen dance with a knife, a spoon, and some sorta-in-the-process-of-being-stuffed mushrooms, I grabbed a plastic bag and some cream cheese.

"What are you doing?" he asked, while struggling with the messy but delicious filling he was using.

"Just trust me," I told him, while I dumped a few more things into the bag-- garlic powder, pepper, salt…

By this point, he had messily filled about a quarter of the mushrooms. So I squished the bag around and clipped off a corner. I started piping the mixture into the mushrooms and…

…finished filling my half of the mushrooms before he did.

And so we popped them into the oven, baked them until they looked done, and pulled them out.

Now I wish I could tell you we piled them high onto a lovely plate and presented them to our friends to enjoy and share, like we were celebrating someone's birthday.

But no. We ate them. All of them. About half of them as we transferred them from cookie sheet to plate.


So which one of us is Merry, and which is Pippin?

(Have you ever watched the extended editions of all three Lord of the Rings movies in a row? Are you excited for the Hobbit movies? Do you think it's a good idea or bad that it's being split into two movies? Would you rather I had made lembas bread for my Lord of the Rings post? Should I try it?)

Stuffed Mushrooms

4 oz cream cheese (slightly softened)
1 clove garlic (chopped up into bitty pieces)
1 t paprika (or more!)
1 t celery salt (or more!)
½ t pepper (or more!)
½ t nutmeg
2 boxes white mushrooms (wash them, please!)

1. Preheat oven to 375°F (190.6 C).

2. Pull the stems out of all the mushrooms. Make sure they haven't bloomed too much, because then they're bad and spore-y (this is a lesson I learned from Boyf while we made these).

3. Remember the frosting trick? Do that again, and this time, put the cream cheese into the baggie (after you've folded down the edges! I got mine all goopy by accident).

4. Toss in the garlic and all those herbs and spices! Add more or less or different herbs if you want, or leave things out that you don't like. I love paprika and pepper, and I bet a bit of cayenne or basil or seasoning salt would be great in this as well. Be careful with the salts, though.

5. Squish the bag around until it's well-mixed, but be careful! You do not want delicious cream cheese mix on your hands, you want it in the mushrooms.

6. Taste your concoction! Add more things, if you think it needs them. Sadly, unless you are very patient, you cannot take them out. You can, however, add more cream cheese to soften too-intense flavor.

7. Put the mushrooms on a cookie sheet lined with greased aluminum foil, or a silicone baking pad, or parchment paper. Whatever floats your boat.

8. Pipe the tasty delicious cream cheese mix into the glorious mushrooms. You will be shocked at how easy and fast this is.

9. Put the mushrooms in the oven for 10-20 minutes, checking every five minutes. I took mine out after 14, when most of the little filled mushrooms had nice brown caps on them.

10. Sprinkle some paprika on top. Enjoy for elevenses or with your luncheon.

And guys? I sautéed the leftover mushroom stems. With lots of butter! And salt! And garlic! To your left, you may witness the consumption of said stems straight from the pan. Classy.

These stuffed mushrooms are best enjoyed in your bare feet, with a pint and a good book.