29 August 2009

For Robin: The Pizza Post (UPDATED) (AGAIN)

this week's pizza: fresh mozzarella, summer squash and red pepper

Robin is my boss. She's the queen of the food-obsessed at my work. She loves all things chocolate-y and bacon-y and just plain tasty. Something like two years ago, I promised her my Mister's thin-crust pizza dough recipe, as homemade pizza has long been a weekly staple (usually Saturday nights) at Chez Salt Teak & Fog. Tempting a foodie's wrath, I slacked off on providing the recipe all that time... until now. Robin, this one's for you! (Am I a brown-noser or what?!)

This recipe is actually adapted from Jamie Oliver's Jamie at Home. Toby tweaked it over and over, adjusting the salt, oil, sugar and semolina content until we had a crust that was delicious enough to eat on its own. This recipe makes 8 portions of the kind of pizza we like: thin, rustic and flavorful. It works for any toppings you like. Toby always creates a meat-lovers special, while I've been on a seasonal all-veggie kick for ages. Kind of like our Monday Taco Nite, which features Friday night's flank steak leftovers, our pizzas are sometimes part of our "hooray leftovers" strategy. To keep us always in dough, Toby regularly whips up a batch, we eat two and freeze the rest in plastic-wrapped portions. They defrost very quickly and make an easy dinner.

(Expecting moms take note: shortly before Jacky's arrival, Toby stocked our freezer with little dough nuggets. Perfect.)

A couple of equipment notes: Many pizza recipes call for corn meal on the underside of the crust, to enable you to slide the uncooked pizza into the oven with a peel. We don't really like corn meal messing with the crust texture, so we instead use circular pizza baking screens, which also make moving the pizzas in and out of the oven a snap. We bought ours at a local foodie equipment store. They work great: you roll out the dough, place it on the screen, add toppings and slide everything in the oven. No more praying to the food gods while you try to shimmy your uncooked, delicate masterpiece into a hot oven.

Also, I think you really do need a pizza stone to get good thin-crust pizza from a kitchen oven (as opposed to an outdoor brick oven--I wish). We have one stone and have developed a method for cooking two pizzas at once. We used to do them one at a time, but waiting around for someone else's food to cook is a bummer. So, with both pizzas on the screens mentioned above, we start one on the pizza stone, and one on an upside-down cookie sheet on a middle oven rack. To get both pizzas crispy and evenly-cooked, we do three adjustments during the cooking process: 1) after 1/4 of the cooking time, rotate both pizzas 180 degrees so they cook evenly (the back of the oven is always hotter); 2) half-way through cooking, switch the pizza positions: bring the bottom pizza up to the rack and the top one down to the stone; 3) in the final quarter of your cooking time, rotate both pizzas 180 degrees again, to keep the cooking even. This might sound fussy, but it makes for beautiful, evenly-blistered pizzas. A final note: I like my pizza really crackery and crispy, so we start mine on the stone. Toby doesn't care as much (or he's just nice to me), so his starts up on the rack. There is a little difference in the two resulting pizzas, but not too much.

Anyway, the recipe!

Toby's Awesome Pizza Dough

We use a kitchen scale to measure the flour, so you'll see it's noted in grams. Sorry if that's wanky.

700g bread flour (Not AP flour; you need the higher gluten content. We use King Arthur brand.)

300g semolina flour (gives more flavor)
 1 kg Italian "Tipo 00" flour
750g Italian "Tipo 00" flour (We found it in the bulk aisle at Rainbow. Score.)
250g whole wheat pastry flour
2 T sea salt
2 packets of dried yeast
2 T light brown sugar
8 T extra virgin olive oil
650ml lukewarm water

  1. Sift the flour and salt into a large, clean bowl and make a well in the middle. Combine the yeast, sugar, oil and water and let rest for a few minutes. Then, pour the liquid mixture into the well in the middle of the flours.
  2. Gradually, stir the liquid into the flour with a fork, bringing a little flour in from the sides at a time. When it's all incorporated, dump everything out on a clean, floured work surface, dust your hands with flour and lightly knead the dough. It should be light and elastic.
  3. Work the dough into a ball and place it in a clean bowl. Cover with a damp cloth and leave in a warm place for about an hour or until the dough has risen and doubled in size.
  4. If you're making pizzas right away, preheat oven to 500 degrees.
  5. Return the dough to your flour-dusted work surface, and knead it again to knock the air out a bit. At this point you can divide the dough into 8 portions for making crusts or for freezing. To store, oil the balls lightly with olive oil, wrap them in plastic wrap and place them all in a large freezer bag. They will keep in your freezer for months.
  6. To make crusts, flatten and then pat each dough ball with your fingertips, working it outward and as little as possible, until it's about 1/2 inch thick. Then, pick up the disc by its edge and turn it around and around (like a steering wheel, Toby says) letting the weight of the dough pull itself gently larger. Keep going until the dough is the size and thickness you'd like. Our pizza racks are about 12" in diameter, so we aim to get the dough about that size. The trick is to not work the dough much at all. Non-perfect shapes are OK -- looks homemade!
  7. Let the rolled-out dough rest for a few minutes.
  8. Then, all that remains is to top them (less is more, in my opinion), lightly oil and salt the crust (a great touch) and bake them in a very hot oven. We crank the oven up to 500 degrees and they usually take about 10-15 minutes total. Your cooking time may vary, so just rotate them every few minutes, as noted above, and pull them out when they look good. Practice makes perfect.

ready for freezing

gently patting out the dough

summer squash, ricotta and homemade pesto, before...

... and after

23 August 2009

the weekend, pictorially


- Act 1 -
We have stairs! Project Retaining Wall is humming along...

- Act 2 -
mommy's kitchen helper:

- Act 3 -
"if I shake Kitty's treats, will he be my friend?"

- Act 4 -
more berry picking!


21 August 2009

Oakland on my mind

True to stereotype, as a San Franciscan, I typically don't spend a great deal of time thinking about -- much less being in -- Oakland. Yes I know, I know. I hear the East Bay has a lot of cool stuff. The debate around here regarding the relative merits of one side of the Bay or another will probably NEVER be exhausted*. Friends of mine who either live across the bay or venture over there regularly tell me about the awesomeness of Bakesale Betty, Berkeley Bowl, the Alameda Flea Market... the affordable housing... The sunny summers! For better or worse, the East Bay just isn't usually in my rotation. Or usually on the mind.

Till lately. On my 15-minute BART rides to and from work, and during stolen moments snuck in here and there, I've been spending time in Oakland. On an unlikely homestead in the middle of the 'hood. I'm only a few chapters into Novella Carpenter's Farm City, but I'm finding it one of those rare books that is interesting (to me at least--I'm into growing food, curious about bee-keeping and jealous of people who have chickens), extremely tightly written, personal and funny. It's an engaging, unfolding story of Ms Carpenter's adventures raising her own food on squatted land and finding a like-minded community in an Oakland neighborhood called GhostTown, a partly abandoned area filled with stripped cars, rowdy bars a diverse array of eccentrics.

If you've read it, imagine Barbara Kingsolver's Animal Vegetable Miracle -- which was also part memoir, part instructional -- but set in the 'hood and told by a city-loving, (self-described) "un-cool" anti-hipster. If you're into the DIY spirit and enjoy really good writing, maybe I'll see you at the farm in the 'hood.

*OK, on the funny side, Rebecca shared this HI-larious video about the fabulous land across the Bay. Thanks, Rebecca... my East Bay education is much richer now.

16 August 2009

first harvest

So, despite my prior ambivalence -- today, blackberries good. So good.

We picked them warm and squishy. Ate some in the yard, in the kitchen... made a treat for Jacky and froze the rest. To be repeated in a couple of days!


14 August 2009

garden wishlist

I've been suffering through a mild but annoying sniffle this week, so there hasn't been much doing to report -- on my part at least. Toby, on the other hand, took the week off work to start constructing an awesome, new retaining wall out back. This wall -- while it may not sound sexy -- is very exciting to me. I dashed home as fast as I could at the end of each work day to check out the progress. What's so great about a wall that holds dirt back? First, we live on a hill, so keeping the earth where you want it is key. Also, this central-axis wall will be the "bones" of the backyard, the beginning of defining the space into zones and uses. Consequently (and since I don't feel like doing much else), I've been daydreaming about the future of the garden.

My wish list for our approximately 1100 sq ft plot, as it stands today:
  • lots of seating for entertaining or just resting in the shade
  • more shade for hot days (it cooks back there some days)
  • attractive but productive vegetable patch and herb garden
  • fruit trees: lemon, lime and apples
  • grassy playspace for Jacky (anyone know of a water-wise grass?)
  • composting area
  • potting bench or area
  • decorative borders: low-water perennials and succulents galore
  • even more succulents!
  • comfy lounge chairs
  • vertical garden on back wall of house (smaller scale, but similar in spirit to Flora's)
  • fragrance, especially lavender
  • other bee-friendly plants
  • modern, decorative lath screens (to hide old walls and neighbor's yard)
  • grass or creeping thyme growing between pavers
  • natural, textural aesthetic
  • croquet! (it's the new bocce)
What's not (any longer) on the list:
  • outdoor pizza oven. Boo! (I know, I know -- major mistake. I did some research and we simply don't have the space to do it properly. And, the mister (who wasn't a fan of the idea anyway -- even though he's the pizza-making guru) reminded me the other night that we could *just* build one up in Montana (at the family property) instead. Brilliant, I said! Yes, let's do that instead! .....Of course, the chances of this ever happening are slim... well played, Toby. Well played.)
Image: Martha Stewart's mind-blowing vegetable "garden" (more like farm), from marthastewart.com

10 August 2009

the weekend, pictorially


- Act 1 -

Squeaky clean!

Glamorous, no?

- Act 2 -
Project: Retaining Wall

A whole lotta holes were dug and posts were placed (thank you, Nels)

- Act 3 -
I love me some 'nanners!

Dude, I can feed myself!

mmm... nom nom, mmmm

Hey--I was promised an endless supply of bananas!!


Not pictured: Jacky's first dip (literally, we got maybe both feet in) into a swimming pool! All geared up with a swim diaper and new trunks, he gave it a shot, but got scared by the cold temp and the rowdy big kids splashing around and throwing splash bombs. Next time!

06 August 2009

Blackberries: Friend or Foe? (or Frenemy?)

Reading Michael Tortorello's post the other day on plants for the "E-Z gardener" (no work, bountiful harvest, with raspberries being the obvious choice for the lazy gardener), I thought of my own, new backyard. No, there's no gardening going on there yet (lazy or otherwise) -- talk to me in a couple of months -- but at the back of this otherwise recumbent dirt patch is a zone of exuberant, thorny productivity that we inherited from the previous owners. (Though I suspect they never actually planted it.)

What is it? A huge, writhing, angry (I kid you not, plants assume attitudes!) bramble of blackberries, slowly ripening whenever the sun manages to break through the SF summer fog.

My attitude toward this mass of deadly-serious thorns, rolling pin-thick canes, shiny, darkening berries and delicate, frilly flowers is mixed: Fruit is good. Free, abundant fruit is one's own backyard is really good. Pollinators (bees, especially) are loving it, which benefits everyone. And I'm sure the squirrel I spied snacking at my potted blueberry bush the other day is also happily anticipating his next treat.

But, man oh man, this plant is INVASIVE. It has a lust for conquest. We already hacked everything back once this spring (it was waist-high), but the big bramble's young, eager cousins are again poking through neighboring fences, cracks in the old retaining wall, open dirt, anywhere really. Shoots of new growth reach and r e a c h outward for more space to inhabit. I actually saw them eyeing our house greedily, arching up and out, towards the back deck, 50 feet away. I do not turn my back on this plant.

OK, I kid. Sort of.

Anyway, the funny thing is that when I cross the street, my attitude changes completely. It is instantly clarified, in a positive direction. Walking through the Glen Park canyon, I marvel at big, beautiful clutches of the very same blackberries ripening everywhere alongside the paths. (Yes, these plants are also aggressive spreaders in the canyon, but someone else has to do battle with them, whacking them back, back, back.) In the canyon, I'm the greedy one, making plans to come back and pick as many as I can, the instant they're ripe. I simply love that there are hundred of pounds of wild berries growing across the street from my house, in this urban setting.

I guess I'm just not sure if (or how) we'll choose to coexist with the blackberries in the backyard. The master plan for the yard makeover does not provide for thorny shoots popping out of just anywhere. Maybe we'll leave the bramble in the back to be our productive, slightly unruly friend. (Though the Mister of the house wants no part of that plan.) Who knows. But, it puts me in mind of something Gayla Trail said on You Grow Girl (and I'm clumsily paraphrasing), that gardening -- though it can seem a little precious and "civilized" -- is often an act (futile or not) of conquest.

Postscript: the Tortorello post led me to this interesting urban homesteading blog: Homegrown Evolution. I'm greedily reading the archives.

Notable Workday Lunch: Tacolicious

who: Rebecca y yo
what: 3 delicious and tiny, street-style tacos:
  • guajillo-braised beef short rib
  • pork shoulder in chili verde
  • black-eyed peas, peppers, nopales
...and a refreshing nectarine-honey agua fresca
where: Tacolicious stand at the Thursday farmers market, Ferry Building
when: Today @ 11:45 -- line up early to avoid crazy lines!
why: if taco is a question, the answer is always yes
how was it?: So tasty. Especially the saucy, succulent short rib option. Tacos come with a perfect little side of pickled veggies and peppers. And they've gotten their system down now -- fast service.

04 August 2009

Lunchtime reading

In lieu of the promised (to some people) all-food blog (maybe someday!), this blog will from time to time deal with cooking, food, food writing, food politics, etc.

So, it's lunchtime and I'm perusing my favorite food blogs... and I pass this dish to you:

Michael Ruhlman's impassioned post about Julia Child, cooks vs foodies (me? I'm a cook, not a foodie), and Michael Pollan's NYT essay that I will be reading on the way home tonight.


03 August 2009

why going back to work doesn't suck

It's true I miss little Jacky when I head downtown 3x per week. But, my funny, creative and bacon-obsessed (even the (mostly) vegetarian one) co-workers make putting on "real job" clothes and jumping on BART a fun change of pace.

Case in point: (First, know that we are totally food-obsessed. Neighboring departments must be sick to death of hearing us blab on and on about recipes, ingredients, techniques, chocolate, bacon, etc etc.) Soooo, last week, we held the first annual BACON OFF® in my department. (Sadly, I was too busy (read: lame) to get a dish together, but I was happy to sample... I do what I can, people.)

There was solemn tasting (think original Iron Chef), some high-falutin' chef-talk, some judging and a few much-coveted awards given to these fine, bacon-y entrants:

{robin's esoteric baco-chocolate delight. have you heard of bacon sugar? you have now!}

{kevin's down-home surprise: bacon, eggos & pecan ice cream? oh yes.}

{and rebecca's take on a classic (and my personal favorite sandwich)... B to the LT. Avec signage no less.}

It's on.

the weekend, pictorially


We went to the park across the street... much swinging and big-kid-watching was had...

then, during a couple of nap-times, the grown-ups set about digging some trenches (~70') for a retaining wall... isn't it amazing what can happen during a couple of baby snooze sessions?

more trench-tastic-ness...

some more roots were pulled up... (very METAL-looking, as Max would say)

all kinds of crazy, corroded stakes were pulled out of the old (maybe 60, 70, 80-year-old?) retaining wall...

and today (since it's still the weekend for me!), we went for a hike in the canyon across the street... seriously, how amazing is this? right in the middle of san francisco, and right out our front door.

oh, and don't attempt to adjust your monitor... that's sun! and blue sky! in the summer! in san francisco! I know. :D


not pictured: jacky's first trip to the landscape-supply company (aka The Rock Yard) to look at and caress pavers (OK, that was me), and lots and lots more digging in the backyard. We are sore. But that dirt pit is one step closer to becoming my awesome, amazing, productive, organic veggie patch.

oh, hi -- you're still here?

See what happens when you try to start a blog but then never tell anyone! It's really easy to just stop. No one knows, so no one's going to miss it! Well, it's time to get things going again. It's been so long that the post directly below this was shot in a totally different home. Ay chihuahua.

So. We've been busy around these parts, with the kid, the house, the yard (aka dirt patch), returning to work PT, etc. More on all those fronts pronto! The little bambino is waking, so must scoot...
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