Monday, August 29, 2011

Simply Toast

I was shopping last week at a new store in a near by suburb and came across some bread that I loved the looks of. I came home and started taking some photos. I love interesting breads that have texture and different seeds and grains adorning their crust.

Playing with this bread on set made me want toast. What is it about toast? I don’t eat it everyday but when I see a nice piece of bread I think it must be toasted. Then I can lather on some fresh cream salted butter and maybe some jam or peanut butter. Warm butter melting on hot toasted bread. Simple pleasure.

Definition of toast. Bread that has been browned by exposure to radiant heat. This browning reaction is known as the Maillard (mah-yar) reaction. I remember this from my food science classes so long ago. It is a non-enzymatic browning similar to that of carmelization. It results from the chemical reaction between an amino acid and a reducing sugar usually requiring heat. 

Who knew toast could be so scientific, right?

Monday, August 22, 2011

Herbs a Beautiful Centerpiece

So much for my weekly posting schedule. I cannot believe how this summer is slipping away and I am getting nothing done on my blog. The kids are getting ready for the new school year which starts tomorrow. I think we are all ready for some routine even though they don't think they are. I know I am. I miss my mornings when I dropped everyone off and came home to my quiet house had my coffee and sat to write. The quiet time is so necessary.

Ok so back to the reason I am here my post. I don't know if you do this, but I like to get a vase and fill it with herbs. Especially when the herbs start to flower and you don't want them to go to seed. In an attempt to keep my herbs around longer I give them a good haircut often. Making a fresh herb bouquet is a great way to accomplish this and adds a nice touch to any table. Add flowers too if you have them.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

The Weeds In My backyard Are Plentiful

We should always know our strengths and our weaknesses. As I age they become more apparent. Both that is. For me gardening is not something I love. For me it is so time consuming and my time is spread in other creative endeavors, so my yard is not picture perfect. I do have some very fast growing weeds that tend to amaze me.  Even when we had a drought period and the ground was hard as concrete. The weeds would be oblivious to their conditions. I would think "hey do you not know that I quit watering you"! I would water my plants but not those weeds. They didn’t care. To spite me they grew anyway. I would let them have there way with my yard until I could not take it anymore and then I tackled them with a fury. Blisters and calluses on hands and sore back to boot. They would always win.

In suburbia we have a nice small yard not sprawling by any means. Very square and all fenced in to keep the dogs safely confined. It is actually my favorite room in the house. We have a porch that is screened in with a bottom screen missing, instant doggie door. With three dogs of our own and many fosters along the way we have learned not to fuss about the details.

So in our square little parcel of land we have a nice container herb garden, some tomatoes, brussels spouts, and more weeds than I can handle. Since I am a novice about plants I really don’t know which are the flowers and which are the weeds. Although, I am getting better at deciphering. I really hate weeding but do it and appreciate all my friends who spend day after day making their yards beautiful. God love em.

So while weeding yesterday I discovered something that had just popped up. It looked familiar. Like something I had seen before or read about, and I wondered where on earth it came from. I did not plant it, it just appeared along with the many other weeds, and what I think may be a pumpkin?

So I put on my investigative hat and did a google image search. Aha it was purslane. An edible weed and a wonderfully good for you herb.

Here is what I read about purslane. It has a reddish smooth stem. The paddle shaped leaves are ½ to 2 inches long. In late fall a yellow flower is produced.

Purslane grows from late spring to fall on sunny lawns and meadows and also in partial shade.
The sweet-and sour stems and leaves are good in salads or cooked as a side dish (steam, simmer or sauté 5 to 10 minutes). Use chopped purslane as a thickening agent in soups (like okra).
Purslane is a terrific plant source of heart-friendly omega-3 fatty acids and iron. It is also high in vitamin C; and contains some beta-carotene and calcium. Surprisingly, herbalists have only recently picked up on this herb's benefits.

Purslane originates from India where it was a food crop centuries ago. It was Gandhi's favorite food. If it is good enough for Gandhi I’m there! Now it also grows across America, and around the world. It has a wonderful survival tactic: The succulent (juicy) stem, keeps it from drying out. If someone decides purslane is a "weed" and uproots it, it uses the water in the stem to make seeds before it dies, and soon there'll be even more purslane.

One very important note: Whenever foraging in your own yard or elsewhere. Be sure you know what you have. According to Wildman Steve Brill there is a plant that looks similar called spurge. Beware of spurge, a different-looking poisonous creeping wild plant that sometimes grows near purslane. Wildman Brill says to break open the stem and if there is a milky white substance do not eat that plant. I read this note after I ate some last night then panicked and ran to the back yard to snap a stem open. Whew I’m not gonna die! No milky white.

So I had this growing for free in my backyard? I was so excited that I started thinking of how to photograph it.

We added it to our salad, after washing it of course. With three dogs in a small space I am sure one of them had urinated in the vicinity.

Food to me is such a gift that we never should take for granted. That is why I call myself a conscious eater. Someone who is aware of where their food comes from and respects the process of growing and tending to our food supply. I think when you are conscious you have a better sense of respect for everything in our planet.

Finding this herb is so ironic. Or as my daughter would say “that is not irony”. You know what I mean I have been cursing weeds the whole summer. It seems like the only thing that I can do well when it comes to gardening. Then I find this gem of a weed that is edible and delicious and good for you. I found this quote that says it well.

Weeds are flowers too, once you get to know them. ~A.A. Milne

So my new weed is not a weed after all. I am looking at my weeds a little differently now and in my desire to slow life down a bit I have even started enjoying the process of weeding. It is in the quiet moments that thoughts are born.

Monday, August 1, 2011

I Can't Wait Any Longer...I Am Making The Pizza...I don't Care that it is 95 degrees

Fresh Tomato, Yellow Squash, Thai Basil

Goat Cheese, Carmelized Onion, Thai Basil

Ok I said it. Whew!

I got this flour a month ago from King Arthur Flour company whose flour I love and adore. It is a bread flour called Sir Lancelot, how funny. Long story short I have had a gluten obsession for months. I have been wanting to make bagels, too hot. My homemade pizza with the 500 degree oven too hot. The weather this summer in the burbs of Chicago has been hotter than Florida, Texas and Arizonia. We are SO not used to these high temps for this long.

My husband is a total air conditioning fiend. He has to have it at a regulated temperature at all times. Me, I could live outdoors. Really though I do see a need for air conditioning at night when you can’t sleep but during the day I like to hear the outside world and not live like the boy in the bubble. Plus I am usually photographing on the screened in porch and three dogs are in and out forget about keeping the doors shut.

So where was I. Oh, Pizza. Ok so today my husband left to pick up my daughter at camp. She is in the northwoods of Wisconsin hopefully having the time of her life. Really miss her this year. Not that I did not miss her other years it is just the mom forgetful thing. You know how we forget things like how painful childbirth was, where our keys are, how much we missed our kids at camp a year ago? Anxiously awaiting their arrival tomorrow. Oh forgot, I promised to have a red velvet cake waiting for her. Now where is that recipe I used last time? See what I'm talking about.
So with husband gone for the night, I decided I could not wait any longer to try out my new flour with my standard dough recipe. So I am heating up the kitchen real good. But when my son and I eat this pizza it will be so worth the sweat.

I got this recipe for crust from a very old Saveur magazine. I use it always. Very simple. Today I am varying the flours to see if I can get a little harder crispier crust.

One very important element I learned years ago in making homemade pizza is these tiles. You can get them from Home Depot or a tile store. They are Terra Cotta. Not treated and measure 6x6 inches. I keep them on the lower rack of my oven at all times. Just fit them together tightly on one whole oven rack. To clean just dust them off. No soap and water. I have had these for probably 10 years. The only way to make a good pizza crust in my opinion. Preheat the oven for a good 20 minutes to get the tiles nice and hot. They really hold the heat.

When I make pizza I like to get creative. The thai basil I have is taking over in the garden so I will use lots of that. I have some Vidalia onions I carmelized. A beautiful yellow squash I found at the grocer. A great farmers market tomato and of course mozzarella cheese. I always use whole milk mozzarella no part skim here. 

Yellow Squash and Thai Basil

Mozzarella Cheese and Favorite Grater


1 7-gram packet active dry yeast
1 1/2 cup bread flour
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 cup warm water, about 110 degrees F
1 tsp salt

Don't you just love to make dough. I absolutely love the feel of dough. So get your water to about 110 degrees F. To hot and you will kill the yeast that makes the dough grow. Too cold and the yeast won't be activated. So this step is important.

Put about 1/4 cup water in a large bowl. Sprinkle the yeast on top. Let sit a good 5 minutes to do it's magic. In the meantime add the flours and salt together.

When the yeast is foamy add a bit of the flour mixture while mixer is running. I use my stand up kitchen aid. Then a little water and more flour, etc. until all done and a dough is formed. Knead with mixer for about 5 minutes. Then continue by hand until it feels right. It should look like the picture. Put dough in a large bowl greased with olive oil. Put in a warm not hot place and cover with a kitchen towel for about 2-3 hours. It should double in bulk.

When done make sure your oven is preheating. Divide the dough into 2-4 pieces depending on the pizza size you want. Place it on a well cornmealed pizza peel and start patting into a shape. Use a rolling pin if you'd like. When formed add your ingredients sauce first then cheese and whatever else your adding.


Whole canned tomatoes no juice
Dry oregano, sprinkle
Dash sugar, cuts the acidity of the tomato
Splash extra virgin olive oil

Just put everything together and heat on low to break up the tomatoes. Mash with an immersion blender until smooth.

Take dough and place on pizza wheel that has been dusted with corn meal. Pat or gently roll into a nice shape. I like it thin so I roll it very thin.

Spread sauce on the dough. Make sure the sauce is not piping hot when you put it on the dough. It will make the dough stick to the peel. Always slide the crust around to make sure it is not sticking.

Place whatever toppings you have in mind and quickly slide it into your 500 degree oven on your tiles.

Bake until cheese is melted and lightly browned.


I did like the bread flour combination. It produced a harder crust as I imagined.