Thursday, July 30, 2009

Pizza alla Napoletana

When my husband and I went to Naples this year, one thing we were determined not to miss was pizza. After all, Napoli is the birthplace of pizza, and we weren't disappointed. We managed to snag two seats at L'Antica Pizzeria Da Michele, which overflows with locals picking up pizza for takeout and tourists jockeying for tables. A pizzeria for purists, da Michele has been around since 1870 with only two choices -- margherita and marinara. We got one of each, and I've been trying to replicate their savory, crispy perfection ever since. The margherita was milder, and had tomato and mozzarella, while the marinara was topped with nothing but tomato sauce, garlic and oregano. Something so simple should be possible to replicate, right? I wish.

Here's a recipe from The Silver Spoon, marketed as Italy's bestselling cookbook, for Pizza alla Napoletana. You can see the difference a brick oven makes with the crust -- the top photo is of a margherita pizza from da Michele (courtesy of keepwaddling1 on Flickr). The bottom photo is a margherita pizza from L'Nuova Pizzeria da Meghan.

Pizza dough
1 1/4 c all-purpose flour, preferably Italian type 00, plus extra for dusting
3/4 t salt
1/2 oz fresh yeast
1/2 c lukewarm water
olive oil, for brushing (optional)

Sift the flour and salt into a mound on a counter and make a well in the center. Mash the yeast in the water with a fork until very smooth and pour into the well. Incorporate the flour iwth your finger to make a soft dough. Knead well, pulling and stretching until it becomes smooth and elastic. Shape into a ball, cut a cross in the top, place in a bowl and cover. Let rise in a warm place for about 3 hours until almost doubled in size. Flatten the dough with the palm of your hand and roll out on a lightly floured surface to a round about 1/4 inch thick. Brush a cookie sheet with oil or line it with baking parchment. Put the dough round on it and press out until it covers the area. Make sure the rim is thicker than the center.

Pizza alla Napoletana
olive oil, for brushing and drizzling
1 quantity pizza dough (see above)
all-purpose flour, for dusting
5-6 tomatoes, peeled and chopped
1 mozzarella cheese, sliced
pinch of dried oregano
8 canned anchovy fillets, drained (I didn't include these, since they're not part of the da Michele pizzas)

Preheat the oven to 425. Sprinkle the tomato flesh evenly on top and drizzle with oil poured around, once, in a circle. Bake for about 18 minutes. Add the mozzarella, oregano and anchovies, season with salt and drizzle with oil if necessary. Bake for a further 7-8 minutes until crisp.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Magnetic bookmarks

Inspired by this post at Craft Chi, I made these little magnetic bookmarks from a few of the pieces from an old magnetic poetry kit I had lying around. The magnets keep the bookmarks from falling out, so they're great for travel. I use one in my purse book -- the book I always have with me in case of long lines at the grocery or post office. One's covered in paper and the other's scrap fabric I embroidered before gluing it on. They're a really quick, fun project, and all you need is one of those advertising magnets, decorative paper or fabric and some glue (I used Elmer's white glue).

Friday, July 24, 2009

There's a law in Texas about barbecue that the quality of the barbecue is inversely proportional to the quality of the establishment. The best barbecue is usually found in a shack in the woods, or a hole in the wall under the train tracks. My favorite is a place called Pat's Barbecue, just off Hwy 31 between Tyler and Kilgore. It's been there forever, and it never changes. The chopped beef is perfectly seasoned, the sauce tangy and darkly sweet. The owners, the Gee family, are always friendly and warm. A trip home to my parents' always includes a trip to Pat's, with its open screened windows and rickety fans in the summer and blazing pot-bellied stove in the winter. A smoke-stained calendar curls on the wall, and you get your Cokes from an old refrigerator in the corner.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Banana bread

I love bananas, but only when they're perfectly yellow, with only a tinge of green at the stem and no brown spots at all. I can't ever get through a whole bunch before they start to ripen too much, so consequently I have a freezer full of dark brown bananas. I tell myself I'll make banana bread with them, but that happens rarely. When I do make banana bread, I always use this recipe from an old cookbook of my grandmother's. It's perfectly chewy, not too sweet and has a wonderfully gooey brown crust.

Banana nut bread
from A Taste of Texas
Mrs. C.A. Johnson; Ardmore, Oklahoma

1/2 c butter or shortening
1 c sugar
1 t vanilla
3 ripe bananas
2 eggs, well-beaten
2 c sifted all-purpose flour
2 t baking powder
1/2 t soda
1 t salt
1 c chopped nut meats (optional)
3 T buttermilk

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Cream butter; gradually add sugar and cream until fluffy. Add vanilla; mix.

Mash bananas*; add to creamed mixture. Gradually add eggs.

Sift dry ingredients together. Add nuts; mix.

Add buttermilk to creamed mixture**; do not stir. Add dry ingredients; stir just enough to moisten well. Bake in loaf pan lined with buttered paper. Cool 10 minutes in pans; turn out on wire rack.

*If you freeze bananas, all you have to do to mash them is let them stand in warm water for about 30 minutes, then just cut the stems off and squeeze the thawed banana mush out.

**You can use 1 T plain yogurt, thinned with 2 T milk if you don't keep buttermilk around. My mom also uses a powdered buttermilk.

Monday, July 20, 2009

New fabric

I just got this great fabric in the mail from a great shop called Over the Rainbow. The shop's on Camano Island in Washington state, and do most of their business mail order on the internet, but they do open by appointment. I was really happy with their personal service, and while I don't buy quilting fabric often, they're definitely a great source for when I do.

The top one's Urban Farm by In the Beginning by Keri Beyer, and the bottom's Feathered Friends, also an In the Beginning print, by Wendy Slotboom. I haven't finished any of the projects I posted about last week, but I've made a lot of progress, and I hope to post about the plans I have for this fabric this week.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Menu planner

I love cooking, but menu planning is my stumbling block. I've seen several cute menu planning notepads, and this weekend I drew my own. I've slipped it into a clear sheet protector so I can write on it using dry erase marker. If I did it over again, I think I'd use plain white paper and just draw a decorative border to set it off from the white fridge, though, instead of drawing on yellow paper. Urban Fonts was a great resource for inspiration.

My husband drew this little guy on our message board one day, and I love it:

Sunday, July 12, 2009

How to: Homemade Yogurt

I love yogurt, especially mixed with uncooked oatmeal and jam or honey for breakfast. But I get tired of the empty quart yogurt tubs stacking up, and feel guilty just pitching them in the recycling bin at a rate of 1 or 2 per week. Knowing how much I love yogurt, my mom gave me a yogurt maker last year and now I make most of my own yogurt. I use a Salton yogurt maker, but I don't think they manufacture them anymore. I can't find them for sale online, anyway. Most electric yogurt makers are less than $50, and come with either one quart- or 2-quart-sized jar or several small jars.

adapted from French Women don't Get Fat by Mireille Guiliano

1 quart milk
about 1/2 c powdered milk
1/2 plain yogurt, or one packet yogurt starter*

1. Wash your saucepan and utensils with hot water and soap, and dry with a clean towel. Pour the milk into the saucepan and add a small handful of powdered milk. This is important if you use skim or lowfat milk -- it ensures your yogurt is thick and creamy. Experiment with the amount of powdered milk until your yogurt is the consistency you like. You can use anywhere from 1/4 to 1/2 cup.

2. Heat the milk over medium-low heat, stirring often, until it reaches about 170-180 degrees Fahrenheit, or until bubbles form at the edges and steam rises.

3. While the milk is heating, fill the sink with 2-3 inches cold water and about a cup of ice. When the milk is hot, remove the saucepan from the stove and place it in the water bath. This will help cool the milk faster than just leaving it on the counter. Stir frequently to ensure it cools evenly.

4. When the milk cools to 110 degrees Fahrenheit, gently stir in 1/2 c plain yogurt (with active cultures) or the packet of yogurt starter, and pour into your yogurt maker. Leave the yogurt undisturbed for 6-8 hours, until it's your preferred consistency. The longer you leave it, the thicker and tarter it gets.

You can add fruit and flavorings after cooking it, or you can eat it plain. I like it with a spoonful of jam or honey stirred in.

If you don't have a yogurt maker, you can cover the yogurt and leave it in a warm place for 6-10 hours. The advantage of a yogurt maker is it maintains a steady temperature so you can be sure your batch will incubate -- the yogurt needs to stay around 108-112 degrees. This site has some different methods for incubating.

*I like Stonyfield Farms yogurt for a starter. You can save about 1/2 c of yogurt from your batch to use as a starter for next time, but it loses potency after 3 or 4 batches and you'll need a fresh starter.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Caramelized Mangos

Their sweet, summery flavor makes mangoes a perfect dessert fruit. Here, they're caramelized and served over vanilla ice cream. I've seen recipes for mango ice cream, but if I had an ice cream maker I'd weigh 900 pounds, so I just use store-bought Blue Bell (and really, how can you go wrong with Blue Bell ice cream?).

Caramelized Mangoes

2/3 cup sugar
2 mangoes

To dice a mango, stand it on its end with the stem pointing up. Take a sharp paring knife and place the blade close to the stem. Slice down, as close to the seed as possible, making sure you're cutting the "face" off the mango, not the edge. Slice the other side off. Slice off the edges. Score the mango halves in a checkerboard pattern, then press gently on the skin side to turn them inside out. Slice off the dice pieces. (This is a terrible explanation. Check here for one with photos.) Set the diced mango aside.

Heat the sugar in a skillet or saucepan, stirring to keep it from sticking or burning. Keep an eye on it as it melts, and add the mangoes when the sugar is liquid but still mostly clear. If you add it after the sugar has thickened and turned tan (become caramel), the cool mango will make the caramel clump up and it's difficult to work with. It still tastes great, though.

Cook the caramel and mango until the sauce is dark brown, but not burnt. When it reaches the color of peanut butter it's perfect. Serve over ice cream. You don't need to serve immediately -- it'll stay soft and warm for a couple of hours.

P.S. Those are grilled mangoes in the background of the photo. They were good, but not what I expected. I was hoping for something slightly sugary-caramely on the outside, from the sugars in the fruit being seared on the grill, but they were more like warm mango halves. Tasty, but not stunning.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

WIP Wednesday

It's hot outside, and I have the day off work. There are two loads of laundry drying on the line, I went for a run for the first time in weeks, and I have several projects to tackle and tie down. I decided to start Work-in-Progress Wednesday after doing nothing in May but working on languishing projects. It was such a good feeling to get my work baskets cleared out a little bit. Anyway, here's what I have going on right now:

Skull Isle hat and mitten set for my brother from Son of Stitch 'n Bitch by Debbie Stoller. I've changed it from black and red to black and gray, and I'm going to attempt to do gloves instead of mittens -- we'll see. It's my first stranded knitting project, and I was pleasantly surprised at how not hard it was. Yay!

The long-languishing embroidered towel set wedding gift. I want to keep the patterns secret for now, but I'll post the whole set when they're finished and in the mail.

Finally, a shirt recon. I'm adding darts to the front, deepening the darts at the back and adding a tab to keep the sleeves rolled up to take it from this:

to this:

I've been using Hiveminder to keep track of my projects. I like being able to use labels, and the web interface is very simple. My favorite bit is the option to add a task within a task -- when you add a task, there's a space to add a "but first ..." task. They also have a nice little iPhone app. It's helping me keep things organized, and it also keeps pointing out that I have 3 projects due at the end of the month that I haven't started yet ...

Sunday, July 5, 2009

New suit

Here it is, finally. It took several weeks to get the trousers just right, but the vest was pretty easy and only took a couple of days. Patterns were McCalls 5186 for the vest and Simplicity 2562 for trousers.

Friday, July 3, 2009


Many people take stock of their lives and make resolutions in January, but this summer has felt much more like a new year for me than January did. June (my favorite month) is over, it's our 5th wedding anniversary (whoa ...), the one-year deployment is over, my 28th birthday was at the end of June -- lots of reasons for me to have spent the last week or so thinking about my life and how I've changed over the past year. Making lists is one of my favorite things to do, and this is a nice one to make when you're feeling down or overwhelmed or at the beginning of a new chapter.

This past year, I've
  • learned new skills
  • read great books
  • read terrible books
  • lent a hand
  • needed a hand
  • watched too much television
  • pushed myself physically
  • seen old friends
  • made new friends
  • killed plants
  • gotten my dream job
  • explored style
  • learned a little bit about a lot
  • re-learned how to live alone but not lonely
  • gone to Italy
  • said goodbye and hello to my best friend
  • made lots of lists and lots of plans
  • found new heroes
What about you?

The photo is not of psychedlic hippie earrings, although they could be, but of a couple of makeup remover pads I made using worsted-weight cotton yarn (Peaches 'n' Cream Fiesta ombre, I think). I used a 4.25mm hook to make it thick and plushy. It has nothing to do with my list, but I liked the bright, summery colors.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Love your library!

"There is not such a cradle of democracy upon the earth as the Free Public Library, this republic of letters, where neither rank, office, nor wealth receives the slightest consideration." --Andrew Carnegie

Today's Writer's Almanac with Garrison Keillor noted today is the anniversary of the first circulating library in the United States -- Benjamin Franklin started the Library Company of Philadelphia on July 1, 1731. The library was a subscription library, and members paid an annual fee for borrowing privileges. Today, public libraries don't cost anything directly.

This week, love your library -- go visit and see what it has to offer. Libraries are free and offer so much, from a chance to check out craft and cookbooks before you buy to film series and concerts. They're universities for everyone. As science fiction legend Ray Bradbury said in the New York Times recently, “Libraries raised me. I don’t believe in colleges and universities. I believe in libraries because most students don’t have any money. When I graduated from high school, it was during the Depression and we had no money. I couldn’t go to college, so I went to the library three days a week for 10 years.”

Today, with the financial struggles much of America faces, support your local library and make sure it stays open to everyone.

Image of Pittsburgh Library taken from Takomabibelot on Flickr.

Marinated Roast Chicken with Garlic Dip

My husband and blog photographer came back from Afghanistan last weekend, and within two days I'd been knocked flat by the flu. I'm just now feeling up to (and safe) cooking again, and wanted to make something delicious and a little special for him that didn't require a lot of effort. This roast chicken, served with a huge Greek salad with homemade croutons is perfect. While it takes a few hours start-to-finish, it's not labor intensive (despite the length of this post) and most of the time is marinating and cooking time.

Vampires beware ... I'm not joking around about the garlic (the recipe uses almost a full head of the stuff). This would make a great fancy picnic dish, but probably not for a date picnic unless you're trying to impress your date with your self-confidence.

Marinated Roast Chicken with Garlic
I can't remember where it's from, but maybe the Dallas Morning News?
1 roasting chicken
2 T fresh lemon juice
1 T olive oil
1/2 t kosher salt
1/2 t ground allspice
1/4 t black pepper
1/8 t ground cinnamon
6 garlic cloves, crushed
dash ground red pepper

Remove giblets and neck from chicken. Rinse chicken with cold water and pat dry. Trim excess fat. Starting at neck cavity, loosen skin from breast and drumsticks by inserting fingers, gently pushing between the skin and meat.

Combine 2 T juice and remaining ingredients. Rub juice mixture under loosened skin and inside body cavity. Cover and marinate in refrigerator for at least one hour.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Place chicken, breast side up, on a broiler pan. Insert meat thermometer into meaty part of thigh (if using one), making sure not to touch bone. Bake at 350 for 1 hour and 10 minutes, or until thermometer registers 180 degrees. Cover chicken loosely with foil and let stand 10 minutes. Discard skin, carve, and serve with garlic dip.

While chicken is in the oven, make dip, salad and croutons.

Garlic Dip
1/2 c plain yogurt
1/4 t kosher salt
4 garlic cloves, crushed
1 T olive oil
1 T lemon juice

Line a strainer with a clean cotton towel and place over a bowl. Spoon yogurt into towel and let stand 5 minutes or until whey (the watery stuff) is drained out. Scrape into a bowl.

Place salt and crushed garlic into a mortar and crush until smooth. Drizzle with 1 T olive oil; stir with small whisk. Add garlic mixture and lemon juice to yogurt. Cover and chill.

Greek Salad
1 bunch romaine lettuce (if you prefer the crispiness of iceberg lettuce, you can use just the heart of the romaine for the crunch without the, uh, iceberginess)
1/2 red onion, sliced
1-2 medium tomatoes
pepperoncini or banana peppers
crumbled feta

Start making the croutons about 20 minutes before the chicken is done. They're baked at the same temperature, so you can just pop them in for the last 10-12 minutes for the chicken.

Homemade Croutons
from Raising the Salad Bar by Catherine Walthers
1 medium-sized Italian, French, or sourdough loaf, crusts removed, cut into cubes (about 3 cups)
2 T olive oil
1 t finely minced garlic
salt and pepper
Preheat the oven to 350 F. Place the bread cubes in a bowl and toss them with olive oil and garlic; season with salt and pepper. Place the cubes on a baking sheet and toast them in the oven for 10-12 minutes, or until the bread is slightly crisp and brown but still soft on the inside. You can substitute 1 tablespoon melted butter for 1 tablespoon olive oil or toss in fresh herbs like chopped parsley or rosemary.

Voila, two-and-a-half episodes of Gilmore Girls later, you have a light, healthy and savory dinner.

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