Monthly Archives: January 2010

Delizioso Neapolitan Pizza

Pizza is always a hit in my house. It’s definitely one of those go-to meals when I can’t figure out what else to make. Plus the kids like to “decorate” their own pizzas, which I like since then they eat more!

I used to use the Pillsbury pizza crust dough from the refrigerated section but found that it didn’t get crispy enough for my liking, and it had a bit of a processed taste.

So one day I was going through my way-too-big collection of recipe books and found this little gem: “The Little Guides: Pizzas” from Fog City Press. The Neapolitan pizza dough recipe was the first one I tried out of the book, and it is definitely my favorite. It takes about an hour and a half for the dough to be ready for baking so it does take a bit of planning, but the hands-on time is only about 15 minutes.

Neapolitan Pizza Dough – This recipe makes two 12-inch-ish pizzas.

Dough Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 teaspoons active dry yeast
  • 1/4 cup lukewarm water
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/2 cup cold water
  • 1 2/3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour, plus a little extra for kneading
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt

Put the yeast and warm water in a bowl and let stand for about 10 minutes, until creamy.

After 10 minutes, stir in the cold water and olive oil, and then whisk in the salt and flour, 1/2 cup at a time. It’s difficult to whisk in the last cup of flour so just stir it in a bit and then you can knead it all together.

On a lightly floured surface, knead the dough until smooth, about 10 minutes. Cover loosely with a kitchen towel and let rest for 15 minutes.

Divide the dough into two pieces and knead very briefly. Roll dough into balls and let rest for an hour.

Preheat the oven to 500 degrees, with a pizza stone inside.

When the dough is ready, flour a pizza peel and gently stretch the dough and place on peel. Top with whatever toppings you like.

For the sauce: I like to use a can of diced tomatoes that has the Italians herbs (basil, oregano and garlic) already in it. I strain the tomatoes to get rid of a bit of the watery juice. Then I put them in a mini-food processor, season with salt and pepper, and whirl for a few seconds. Easy peasy. This is my version of Punch Pizza‘s sauce which always tastes so fresh and simple.

For the toppings: We tend to make pepperoni or sausage pizzas. One of our favorites is sausage, usually turkey Italian, with carmelized onions.

No real explanation for pepperoni – just out of the package.

For the sausage: Brown in a pan with a little salt and pepper. For the carmelized onions: Cut thin, half circles of an onion (I use sweet yellow). Heat some olive oil in a pan on medium/high heat and saute the onions for 15 minutes or so until they are brown and very soft. If they start to burn, just turn down the heat.

Cheese: We like to use fresh mozzarella. Just slice it up and put little pieces all over the pizza.

Bake each pizza separately for 10-12 minutes until the crust and cheese are browned up.

Yum!

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Abandoning Photography

Back in the day, I lived in a little town called Minneapolis. It was a simpler time. Newly married, little house (not on the prairie), new kitten, no kids, and lots of good friends. Where am I going with this? Not sure – sometimes my mind just wanders.

Oh, here’s where I’m going…back in Minneapolis, I have a good friend named John who I met when I was working for a small catalog/advertising company. I was the sole female among the 7-person copywriting staff, which wasn’t a surprise since the company specializes in motorcycle parts and accessories. John was, and still is, the head photographer for the company. He shoots a tailpipe like no one else! But on the side, he photographs some amazing landscapes.

Twin Butte School - Abandoned North Dakota by John Piepkorn

Landscapes is a bit confining for what John photographs because it is much more than that. His “specialty” is shooting abandoned buildings and ghost towns in the upper Midwest, mainly Minnesota and North Dakota. His family probably finds him a bit crazy as he ventures into abandoned, dilapidated buildings to document the odd, interesting stuff people leave behind. It’s quite fascinating, somewhat voyeuristic – and very beautiful.

Left Hanging - abandoned Minnesota by John Piepkorn

After spending an inordinate amount of time looking at his gallery on Flickr, I was thrilled when John agreed to sell me some of his prints. I love the idea of having original artwork. And I love the idea of having a friend’s original art in my home.

Hudson Police Cruiser by John Piepkorn

John has had his work recognized in lots of local publications and websites like the Minneapolis Star Tribune’s Top Reader Pictures from 2009 (11th photo in the slideshow) and the City of Minnetonka’s 2008 Photo Contest (honorable mention).

If anyone is interested in adding John’s photographs to their collection, you can email him: j_piepkorn65 (at) yahoo (dot) com [sorry for the cryptic email address but spamming stinks] or contact him through Flickr (if you’re a Flickr member). He’s a great guy with a great eye!

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I Made Bread – And It Was Good!

Woo hoo, you say. Bread, no big deal. OK, so it’s isn’t like I built the Taj Mahal, but I’ve always thought it would be fun to learn how to make real bread – not just banana bread or the like. Don’t get me wrong. I LOVE banana bread, but I don’t want to eat it every day.

I made real artisan, taste-like-you-bought-it-at-the-bakery bread. And it was easy!

One of my “Things to Do in 2010” was learn how to make bread, so I bought the book, “Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day.” Five minutes a day? Really? Yes, it’s really true. I’m always skeptical about the prep time recipes list since it usually takes me longer than what is stated, but the title of this book doesn’t lie.

I started yesterday morning, and it took about 10 minutes to combine the ingredients and put it in the container where it rises and is stored in the refrigerator. And I must note that this 10 minutes included a brief “potty break” as my daughter who is in the midst of potty training had “to go to the potty NOW!” while I was putting flour into the mixer. So 10 minutes is a bit of a lengthened prep time.

After two hours of resting time at room temp, the dough was put into the refrigerator for about 4 hours. You make enough dough to last you about a week – making one loaf a day. After the four hours of chilling, I cut off enough dough to make a loaf and rounded the dough into a French boule shape (that’s the round loaf with slashes on the top), which took only about a minute. After letting it rest for 40 minutes, I popped it into the oven for 25 minutes, and Voila! Bread.

My husband, who is often leery of my new culinary adventures, even loved it. My kids ate it up. We sat and ate it before dinner with some brie. Oh la la. We thought we were French for an evening! I’m gonna make more tonight!

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Nature, it’s all around me – So I have to take photos!

My husband always mocks me when I break into the The Samples song, “Nature.” “Nature, it’s all around me. Nature is so astounding.” There I go again.

It all stems back to when I was a camp counselor at Aloha Hive (I know, funny name) in Fairlee, Vermont. It was the summer after my freshman year in college, and I thought maybe I should be a crunchy, hippy-kind of chick. Far cry from the preppy girl that showed up at the camp. I later figured out that “crunchy” meant disheveled and kind of dirty. I ended up not liking that so much.

But anyhoo…I do love taking photos of nature. And I do love playing with my new favorite photo editing program, Picnik.com. Here’s a few of my latest creations.

Wooly Caterpillar using the Grainy and Cross Process features on Picnik

Dragonfly using the Cross Process feature on Picnik

Butterfly using the Fancy Focus feature on Picnik

Now if only I had more wall space in my house to print and frame all my photos. Perhaps a rotating gallery is what I need. I do have a set of three photos of Paris shop fronts that I took on our trip in 2006 hanging in the dining room. Maybe I could rotate photos there. Hmm. I feel an idea emerging. I’ll keep you posted!

Maybe a rotating photo gallery in the dining room?

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Roasted Veggie Pasta: A Winter Delight

I don’t usually do New Year’s resolutions, but for some reason, this year I’ve come up with a few. I like to think of my list as more of a “things to do in 2010” than resolutions since it’s not like I’m trying to really change my life – just make my life a little better, more organized and more fun. So get to the point already…I know.

One of my “things to do in 2010” is to try one new recipe a week. We (OK, I) get into a cooking rut sometimes. Most people do, I think. I have several “go to” recipes that seem to make appearances more than what my family would like. So my first new recipe this year was a variation of Baked Penne with Roasted Vegetables from Giada De Laurentiis‘ show “Everyday Italian.” I love Giada. Her food makes me happy!

Baked Penne with Roasted Vegetables

Here’s how I did it (slightly different than Giada’s but still quite delightful):

1 red pepper, cut into 1-inch wide strips
2 zucchini, quartered lengthwise and cut into cubes
A few cremini mushrooms, cut into quarters
1 yellow onion, sliced into 1-inch strips
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon salt, divided
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, divided
1 pound (or a little less) penne pasta
3 cups marinara sauce (store bought)
1 cup grated fontina cheese
1/2 cup grated smoked mozzarella
1/4 cup grated Parmesan, plus 1/3 cup for topping

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F.

On a baking sheet, toss the peppers, zucchini, mushrooms, and onions with olive oil, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Roast until tender, about 15 minutes.

While the veggies are roasting, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the pasta and cook for about 6 minutes. Since you will be cooking the pasta a second time in the oven, you want to make sure the inside is still hard. Drain in a colander.

In a large bowl, toss the drained pasta with the roasted vegetables, marinara sauce, cheeses, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Using a wooden spoon, gently mix, until all the pasta is coated with the sauce and the ingredients are combined.

Pour the pasta into a greased 9 by 13-inch pan. Top with the remaining 1/3 cup Parmesan. Bake until top is golden and cheese melts, about 20 minutes.

I wasn’t sure about using a jarred marinara sauce because so many of them taste really sweet to me, but since I wasn’t feeling up to making a homemade sauce, so jarred sauce won. To my amazement the sauce tasted great. I attribute that to the roasted vegetables – and the loads of cheesy goodness. The roasted veggies brought a smoky flavor to the sauce that made it taste great.

It’s a relatively easy recipe. I hope you love it too!

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Have you met my new friend? Lonny Magazine

I went through a deep depression when my favorite magazines (Blueprint, Domino, Cookie) closed shop. OK, deep depression may be a little exaggerated but I was pretty bummed.

Winter 2009 issue of Lonny Magazine

But I now have a new light in my life – Lonny Magazine. The first issue of Lonny was published in October last year and a second Winter 2009 issue in December. With 175 pages of great design, articles and photographs in the Winter issue, my yearning for magazines gone by has disappeared.

Lonny is strictly online right now, which does give them the opportunity to publish so much great stuff, but I do miss having a printed copy to lounge around on the couch with. Maybe they’ll do print runs in the future. In the meantime, I’ll just cozy up to my Mac when I need a design fix!

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My Design Style – Rustic Revival. Who Knew?

I have a habit of tearing out pictures and pages from magazines and saving them for way too long. And since it’s January 1st, I figured it was time to go through all the recipes, photos, design ides, etc. that I’ve been saving for a year.

I came across an article from the May 2009 issue of Sunset magazine that I saved that is called “One-click home design.” It lists three online decorating services that cost way less than that of a traditional interior decorator. One service, Sproost, is free. I like that price!

So I went onto the Sproost site and took quiz to see what my design style is. The quiz shows you multiple photos of rooms and you have to rate them as: Love it, Like it, Just OK, Don’t Like it, or Hate it. Based on my choices, I’m deemed Rustic Revival. I like it – or should I say I love it?!

Photo of "Rustic Revival" from LivingEtc.

“You are one of the unique individuals who loves a mix of modern and country. The clean lines of the modern softened by rustic /vintage elements is the perfect mix in your mind,” the explanation tells me. I really think that pegs me pretty well. I love modern styles furniture but couldn’t live without our antique store finds. I feel like a home needs a sense of history, even if it’s not necessarily your own. Does that make sense?

After taking the Sproost quiz, I was reminded of one of my favorite decorating books, Found Style by David and Amy Butler. (On a side note, I never realized that the book was written by Amy Butler who happens to be one of my favorite fabric designers.)

Found Style by David and Amy Butler

When I bought the book back in 2003, I fell in love with the style – modern pieces interspersed antique/garage sale/thrift store/flea market finds.

We’ve got a little decorating project in our heads for this year – changing our dining room into a “fish tank room/sitting room” and our little-used living room into the dining room. You can bet I’m going to be looking for “found style” inspiration this year!

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