Sunday, April 10, 2011

sweet potato hash

Hi friends. I hope you all had a good weekend, and got to get out at some point and enjoy the fact that spring may have actually arrived in Minnesota (yikes, I hope I didn't just jinx the whole nice-ish weather thing). I, unfortunately, have spent the majority of the weekend indoors, up to my freaking ears in scientific articles for this grant proposal I'm supposed to be writing. If I have to decipher one more acronym, I think I'm going to hurl this nice ivy plant here across the room, and I don't think my roommate or the cat would approve of that. Plus, I have been working on this project pretty steadily for the last two days, and do you know how much I have actually written? Three pages, you're guessing? Four and a half? You there, the ambitious one, you think I've probably written as many as eight complete pages in this amount of time?

I've successfully finished two and a half paragraphs.And I'm not sure how many of the sentences are actually coherent and/or understandable ideas. I know. Sigh.

I have gotten a ton of reading done, though, so legitimate progress has been made, it's just hard to account for at this point. Also, I figured out the thing you're supposed to use for all the citations, which took a fair amount of time, so that's a positive.

I need to tell you this, too--I stayed home and worked from the kitchen table today, instead of leaving to go study somewhere else. Why is that worth mentioning? Well, it's risky. You see, my roommate is incredibly interesting, and always full of amusing information that can successfully distract me from almost anything I try to accomplish. It's impressive. We've decided that I actually have a kind of learning disability--known as SIADD. Spoon-induced attention-deficit disorder. Don't laugh. It's very real, and I suffer from it.

Pi:  also distracting--she's pretty!
Well, I'm just not going to think of how much is still left to be done with this proposal before Thursday, because it overwhelms me. Can't. Do. Any. More. Putting it off and working on something else seems like a better coping strategy at the moment, despite the fact that it may result in adverse consequences in the next few days.

Psh. I shall live in the moment! And write to you about food!

Thank goodness for vegetables, and butter, and maple syrup, cinnamon, chocolate, basil, and yogurt, and all other wonderful things that are fabulous to eat and cook with...yummmm. Err...random list? Ah, yes, but all good things, you must admit. My supper tonight was kind of a random mixture of things as well, but it totally worked out, which is why I thought I should write down what I did asap, so I wouldn't forget it. I do that, you see. It's kind of a bad habit. I throw a bunch of stuff together with some kind of idea in mind, end up really liking it, and then have no idea what I did when I think I'd like to make it again. SO, while I still remember what I put in the pan, I'm going to share it with you. It was fabulous, by the way. I think it would be classified as a kind of hash...a hash with sweet potatoes. It's random, but it's good--and you could do so many different things with the idea--I'm already looking forward to the leftovers....yessssss.

I approved

Swash...or yash--errr skwaash? Oh whatever.

1 tbsp butter
1/2 tsp cumin
1/8 tsp cayenne
1/8 tsp chipotle pepper
1/8 tsp cinnamon
1/2 onion, chopped
1 medium sweet potato, peeled and diced into 1/2-inch pieces
boneless, skinless chicken breast, also diced
big pinch of salt, or to taste
handful of cilantro, chopped

sour cream
refried beans (optional)
pepperjack cheese
a fried egg? (just an idea)

Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add cumin, cayenne, chipotle, and cinnamon, and stir around, cooking for about a minute, to intensify the flavors. Add the onion and sweet potato, toss/stir around to coat with the butter and spices, and allow to settle in one layer. Cook for a few minutes without stirring (this allows everything to caramelize and get all complex and delicious-tasting), and then stir to make sure all sides cook evenly. Continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until the sweet potatoes are starting to get tender (but not mushy!), about 5-7 minutes. You might have to add a little water, or turn the heat down. Shove the vegetables off to the side and add the chicken. Season with salt. Stir the chicken in, and cook until it looks done (not pink anymore), which shouldn't take long. Stir in the cilantro and remove from the heat. Check to make sure it doesn't need any more salt, and go get a bowl--it's time to eat. Fast, huh?

I had some pepperjack cheese that I grated over my bowl of Swash, and I also happen to adore sour cream, so I put some of that on top as well. Finally, I thought you could eat refried beans or a fried egg with this, perhaps...I think that's the way people eat hash? With a fried egg? Meh, I don't know. Do whatever you want. I need to go try and write another sentence on my proposal. Wish me luck, people.


Oh, one more thing.

If you've never heard of StoryPeople, you should look it up. Cool stuff. The guy has some insight. This is one of the quotes that we love. For you.

"There are things you do
because they feel right
& they may make no sense
& they may make no money
& it may be the real reason
we are here:  to love each
other & eat each other's
cooking & say it was good."

Love it. That's all.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

alton brown's pizza crust

 Today was a good day. Like a really good day. And it's a good thing it was a good day, because I didn't plan to be here this weekend, but had such a ridiculous amount to get done that I couldn't actually justify leaving. Which didn't make me very happy, as you might imagine. But I am responsible--most of the time. So I stayed. And worked--I got stuff done today. Which was actually one of the things that made it a good day. Yeah, you're right, that's kind of I'll give you ten more reasons why I enjoyed my day so much

1. It was Saturday. Nuff said.
2. The sun was shining. And it was warm enough to wear my favorite green dress. Yessssss.
3. Left home early while the city was still quiet. Mmmm I love mornings.
4. Found my new favorite coffee shop, where I spent enough time (7 hours?) to make friends with the sweet Russian dude behind the counter and get some serious work done. Love reading those scientific articles (er, sarcasm here. thanks), but really, made progress.
5. Good coffee. See #4.
6. Talked to littlest sister on the phone. Always an adventure with that one. 
7. Ran in shorts and short sleeves. Did I mention the sun was shining? Then went biking. Felt so good. SO good.
8. Sat on the balcony in the sun with spoon and pi. For a long time.
9. (yes, I'm still going. It was a good day, okay? plus, I'm getting to the reason for this post...getting there) Made awesome pizza with spoon. Real pizza...not that tortilla pizzas aren't real pizzas, spoon. You know how I feel about these things.
10. Ate ice cream and watched the Final Four. Love that March Madness. Sorry for this, spoon....and ps, I hope Butler wins! More of this will surely happen...excitement!

There. It was a good day. And tomorrow is still the weekend..that's why Saturdays are so great.

SO, now. For the pizza. Spoon wanted to make pizza last night, and when this happens, we generally collaborate and make pizza with this quick/simple dough recipe from my recipe box--it takes about 15 minutes to throw together, and is about perfect for one large rather-thin-crust pizza. Perfect for the two of us, in other words. And it's good--it gives us a good base to be creative with the rest of the toppings, gets nice and crispy on the bottom, and is reasonably suitable for dipping in leftover sauce (this is an important criteria too). BUT...honestly, it's just really not that special. Not stretchy and smooth and toss-able like real live pizza dough....

What's the big deal, you ask? WELL. Let me tell you. I used to make pizza. As a job. And no, I didn't work at Dominos--this place was a pizza-for-real, all-from-scratch, small-town-hangout-best-pizza-you've-ever-had kind of place. And you know what? The first thing I learned to do when I started was how to toss pizza dough. Sounds like some kind of silly trick, right? I mean, unless you are trying to show off or have a cooking show about Italian food, you DO NOT toss your pizza dough--it's merely something that you think of, when you're trying to somehow make that lump of dough into a flat, circular disk. The thought is quickly dismissed as ridiculous. Which is what I was thinking when my boss was trying to teach me this, mind you. Luckily, I bought into the whole idea, and wow, it made some fabulous pizza crust. Anyway, my point is two-part:  1. I can throw pizza dough. Seriously--it's impressive, if I do say so myself. and 2. You can only throw really really good pizza dough--it has to be all elastic-y and smooth, or holes are going to happen. So that's how I judge the quality of my dough. And this stuff that we made? It was good stuff.

Spoon's dad, who does a fair amount of cooking, as I understand it, swears by Alton Brown's recipe for pizza dough. Since we have found spoonfather and Alton to be trustworthy sources for good recipes, we decided a while back that we were going to have to give this recipe a try sometime. It turned out to be this weekend. The caveat with this recipe, and the reason we didn't try it sooner, is that it requires more planning than we are usually willing to allow for--i.e. the dough must be allowed to rest overnight. We are generally quite spontaneous with our pizza habits, so this is tough for us. After making the dough on Friday night, though, the anticipation for the surely-epic-pizza-to-come was exciting. We should plan ahead more often.

After a night in the fridge, the dough was super stretchy and elastic, and the gluten had developed enough that it actually had some strength--you could play around with it without tearing it to pieces. We split our big dough ball into two smaller ones so that we could each have our own to play with. It was definitely tossable dough, which I had fun with. Also, I discovered that, much to my delight, the tossing of pizza dough is actually just like riding a bike--once you learn, you don't forget. Spoon was skeptical of my antics, and played along briefly before resorting to more practical methods of dough-disk formation. The dough was so stretchy that we would try to make our pizzas bigger only to have them shrink slowly back to a medium-smallish looking size. Since we don't have much patience when it comes to things such as dough stretching, we just opted to top them and hope that they would come out thin-crusted like we prefer.

Alas, they got quite puffy in the oven--the crust was actually very thick, and as I mentioned spoon and I are very much in favor of thin crusted pizza. But wow. The crust was really, really good. SO good. crispy on the bottom, tasty, soft, but chewy...yummm. Next time (yes, there will definitely be a next time), we will have to be more patient with the whole spinning/stretching part, but I don't think we'd change anything else. Verdict = good stuff. With potential to be even better. I'll report back if/when we get it perfect. And we will.

Alton Brown's Pizza Crust
 adapted from Alton Brown...derr


2 1/2 teaspoons sugar
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 tablespoon pure olive oil
3/4 cup warm water
2 cups bread flour
1 teaspoon instant yeast
2 teaspoons olive oil
Olive oil, for the pizza crust
Flour, for dusting the pizza peel

Place the sugar, salt, olive oil, water, 1 cup of flour, yeast, and remaining cup of flour into a standing mixer's work bowl. Using the paddle attachment, start the mixer on low and mix until the dough just comes together, forming a ball. Lube the hook attachment with cooking spray. Attach the hook to the mixer and knead for 15 minutes on medium speed.

  Tear off a small piece of dough and flatten into a disc. Stretch the dough until thin. Hold it up to the light and look to see if the baker's windowpane, or taut membrane, has formed. If the dough tears before it forms, knead the dough for an additional 5 to 10 minutes.
Roll the pizza dough into a smooth ball on the countertop. Place into a stainless steel or glass bowl. Add 2 teaspoons of olive oil to the bowl and toss to coat. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 18 to 24 hours.

Place the pizza stone or tile onto the bottom of a cold oven and turn the oven to its highest temperature, about 500 degrees F. If the oven has coils on the oven floor, place the tile onto the lowest rack of the oven. Split the pizza dough into 2 equal parts using a knife or a dough scraper. Flatten into a disk onto the countertop and then fold the dough into a ball.

Wet hands barely with water and rub them onto the countertop to dampen the surface. Roll the dough on the surface until it tightens. Cover one ball with a tea towel and rest for 30 minutes. Repeat the steps with the other piece of dough.

  Sprinkle the flour onto the peel and place the dough onto the peel. Using your hands, form a lip around the edges of the pizza. Stretch the dough into a round disc, rotating after each stretch. Toss the dough in the air if you dare. 

 Shake the pizza on the peel to be sure that it will slide onto the pizza stone or tile. (Top and bake the pizza immediately for a crisp crust or rest the dough for 30 minutes if you want a chewy texture.)
Brush the rim of the pizza with olive oil. Spread the pizza sauce evenly onto the pizza. Put on all your toppings and and cover with cheese. 

P.S. Want to know what we used? 
Spoon:  mushrooms, spinach, canadian bacon, mozzarella, and parmesan. Oh, and some oregano.
Ginger:  canadian bacon, fresh pineapple, canadian bacon, broccoli, and mozzarella

Slide the pizza onto the tile and bake for 7 minutes, or until bubbly and golden brown. Rest for 3 minutes before slicing. If you can...then devour!!