Archive for May, 2010

A Trio of Pizzas

Last night Evan and I had a few friends over for dinner and I made pizzas — three of them. I’ve been working on perfecting my pizza recipes, and we have some clear favorites so far.

Bell Pepper Pizza

Bell Pepper and Onion Pizza

This has been one of our favorite pizzas pretty much since the first time I made pizza from scratch. We love it so much we make it every single time we have pizza and we haven’t gotten bored of it yet. The secret is that the peppers and onions are marinated in a little bit of red wine vinegar, garlic and olive oil. I make a fresh pizza sauce, use mozzarella cheese and finish it off with some fresh basil. It’s a modification from the Chez Panisse Vegetables cookbook. Simple and delicious!

Pear and Caramelized Onion Pizza

Pear and Caramelized Onion Pizza

I made this pizza for the first time yesterday, and I was thrilled with how it turned out. It’s a pear, caramelized onion and pine nut pizza with provolone and parmesan cheese. I cooked the onions for close to an hour and added some balsamic vinegar at the end, and then sauteed the pears briefly in that same pan and with a little bit of rosemary. I also brushed the crust with garlic and olive oil before I put the cheese on.

Mushroom and Zucchini Pizza

Mushroom and Zucchini Pizza with Goat Cheese

I’ve made variations on this pizza a couple of times. It has mushrooms and zucchini sauteed in olive oil, garlic and oregano, mozzarella and fontina cheese, and a little goat cheese added after baking. It also has the same tomato sauce I made for the pepper and onion pizza.

Since I first started making pizza, I’ve also found a new dough recipe that I like a lot. It’s from The New Vegetarian Epicure and I’ve made it three times now — it always turns out light and fluffy, and I’ve started folding over the edges to make a nice rim around the pizza. I also use the sauce recipe from The Vegetarian Epicure, which has lots of fresh tomatoes and herbs cooked down into a very flavorful sauce.

OK, now I want to make more pizza…

Rescuing a Bread Disaster

Whole wheat bread

Monday night I decided to make a loaf of no-knead bread. I’ve made this simple and delicious bread many times and for some reason it always turns out differently — I don’t know if I’m just not consistent with how I’m making it, or switching up the flours as I sometimes do has more of an effect than I thought it would, but this bread looks and cooks differently each time, though it always ends up tasting good.

Well, Monday I really messed up. I was mixing the dough together from memory and doing it quickly, and I forgot — wait for it — the yeast. This bread only has four ingredients — flour, water, salt and yeast — and I managed to forget one!

Worst of all, I didn’t even realize until the morning, so after sitting out all night on my counter, my dough was just a gluey, saggy and wet lump. I wondered if I could just add some yeast in after the fact and tried to mix in the quarter-teaspoon the recipe calls for. After letting it sit awhile, it seemed that the yeast had just settled into one area of the dough and was just creating bubbles in a small area, not throughout.

Still, the dough had an interesting consistency, and I thought that it could possibly be saved, so I decided to look up recipes that use a preferment mixed in with more flour, yeast and water to create a richly flavored bread, and I came upon a rustic bread recipe that used similar proportions of ingredients for its preferment.

So with my unintentional preferment of 2 cups bread flour, 1 cup wheat flour, 1 teaspoon of salt, 1 tablespoon of flaxseed meal, 1 5/8 cups water and 1/8 teaspoon of yeast added after the fact, I added 2 cups bread flour, 2 cups wheat flour, 1/2 teaspoon of yeast, 1/2 teaspoon of salt, and 1 1/2 cups water and mixed it all together.

I ended up with a huge amount of dough, and I had trouble working with it on my small counter, but after a good amount of kneading and some extra flour (the preferment was much wetter than it should have been), I had a nicely textured and very elastic dough.

I let it rise for about two and a half hours, folding it twice during that time, then split it in half and formed two loaves, which I let rise for another hour and a bit.

I was encouraged by how much the bread was rising and I felt like it would turn out pretty well once I baked it. When I put it in the oven at 450 degrees on a baking sheet dusted with cornmeal, I didn’t expect the loaves to continue to grow quite as much as they did. I ended up with two giant loaves that fused together a bit. I took them out after 35 minutes, when they looked nicely browned and the crust had a nice thump to it.

The bread softened a bit when it started to cool, so maybe I should have cooked it another few minutes, but the loaves looked great and when we cut into them they had a decent texture — a few large air bubbles, a thin and crispy crust, and a pretty robust wheaty flavor.

Bread cross section

The air pockets seemed to congregate near the top of the bread

I’m glad what looked like a bread disaster turned out to be a big bread success. It was one of my prettiest and most delicious simple loaves. I’ll definitely be trying something similar again. And with a proper preferment, I’m sure I’ll get much better air bubbles throughout the loaves.

wheat bread

More Than a Year Later, Tuttle LA Is Still Going Strong

Francine at Tuttle LA

Me at Tuttle LA at Toorak Coffee with Jeb and Vaughan in the background. Photo by Ms. Jen Hanen

Remember back when I started posting about Tuttle LA? Well, we started trying to recreate the magic of the Tuttle Club social media cafe that I was involved with in London over here in LA last February. It’s always been a loosely organized group of freelancers, web workers and geeky folks, and through this small but dedicated group, I’ve made new friends, discussed a lot of interesting ideas, worked on a few projects and learned a lot.

When we started, we were meeting at The Library, a quirky coffee shop in Long Beach with an always-changing space. It was cozy and we enjoyed meeting there for nearly the entire first year, but we soon felt like we were outgrowing the changing space we liked to call ours. The tables were getting smaller, the Wi-Fi wasn’t getting any better, the place wasn’t getting any closer to the freeway, and we were constantly surprised by what we found in our meeting room, from a clothing store to a performance space (seriously, check out the older photos from our Flickr group).

We decided to change venues over to a newer coffee shop, Toorak Coffee, also in Long Beach, and we’ve found a happy home. The staff knows us, there’s lots of room for us to stretch out, we never feel like we’re being too rowdy during our heated discussions, and the Wi-Fi is quick and reliable. We only wish there were more outlets for our laptops. It’s also easy to get to since it’s just minutes off the 405.

I’m proud that we’re still meeting every other week like clockwork, and we’re currently discussing adding post-Tuttle educational programs. We’ve also had a number of special guests, including many Tuttle friends from London.

Just this past Friday a group of about 7 of us were discussing how valuable Tuttle has been to us. Since just about all of us work from home, Tuttle has provided an important outlet for meeting new people and adding a social component to our workweek. Because of it, we’ve gotten feedback on new projects, collaborated on work and gotten inspiration to try new solutions or conquer new tasks.

When we started out, I didn’t know if anyone would even show up. Now, our group isn’t huge, but we regularly have 6 to 10 people, and sometimes even a few more. Though I originally hoped we’d have a large, thriving group, I am happy with our steady pack of regulars who are committed to coming and helping each other out.

So Jeb, Jen, Vaughan, Al, Matt, David, Geoff, Kelly, Luke, and everyone else who stops by, thank you for being a part of Tuttle LA. It’s meant a lot to me, and I’m happy to hear that it’s meant a lot to most of you. You’ve helped inspire me creatively and professionally and you’ve introduced me to many great ideas, apps and tools.

Want to learn more about Tuttle LA and when we’re meeting next? Visit TuttleLA.com.

Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo

Kevin Tighe Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo

Kevin Tighe as the Bengal Tiger. Photo Credit: Craig Schwartz

Friday, our friends Sean and Lindsay invited us to go see “Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo” at the Mark Taper Forum. We don’t go to the theater much, so were excited to go out and see and do something new.

The critically acclaimed play (it’s up for a Pulitzer) centers around two soldiers, a tiger and an Iraqi translator in Baghdad during the Iraq War, and the characters are all dealing with their own existential crises and ghosts.

The tiger, played by Kevin Tighe wearing raggedy clothes is the first indication that this play will be something different. In the first scene, he paces in his cage, ranting about life in the zoo and during war-time, dropping profanities left and right. Things quickly take a turn for the worst when one of the soldiers guarding the tiger taunts him with food and the tiger bites off his hand.

As the characters try to accept their fates and deal with their emotional traumas, the play manages to be simultaneously funny and painful, giving a glimpse into the tragic absurdities of war and the stressors that cause people to act out or go mad. “Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo” is engaging throughout, it feels fresh and original and it’s deeply affecting.

Its simple set is also very impressive, using some ingenious lighting techniques to use turn one static backdrop into an office, a zoo, a garden, the desert, the night sky, a hospital and more.

I went into the play with no information as to what it’s about, so I don’t want to say too much, but “Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo” is at the Mark Taper Forum until May 30, and it’s definitely worth checking out. Watch videos, learn more and buy tickets.

New Illustration: Pigeonholing

pigeonhole illustration

Click image for a larger view

I created this quick little illustration yesterday for a blog post Evan wrote ranting against pigeonholing editors. Check it out. It’s a good read. The post: “Opinion: The Absurdity of Pigeonholing Across Mediums.”

Updates and Changes

I know I’ve neglected this blog a bit. For a long time I wrote weekly if not more, but lately it’s beginning to look like more of a monthly project. I’d like to change that, and I’d also like to get back to writing about a more diverse set of topics.

When I started this blog in November 2007, it was about travels, living in new countries and lots of exciting first-time experiences. Now that I’ve been back in the U.S. for more than a year and a half, plugging away at my freelance work and doing the usual things with my usual friends week in and week out, I haven’t been as inspired to share as much, but that’s not to say there isn’t much to share.

If you’ve been following my posts, you’ll know that I’ve been cooking a lot lately, and I must say that only a small fraction of what I make even makes it on here, mostly because I don’t always take photos. Just recently I’ve made spanakopita, multiple pizzas, multiple types of bagels, rye bread, multiple types of veggie burgers and much more.

I’ve also been doing some interesting things, like going to plays, watching new movies and spending an interesting day on jury duty. And I’ve still been going to Tuttle LA every other week.

Most recently, I’ve decided to make a very conscious effort to start exercising more and live a healthier life. It’s been difficult for me to stick to any regular exercise plan since I’ve been freelancing, and though I’ve gone through some different health kicks for short periods, I’m ready to truly start trying out more options to find what will really work for me in the long term. So far, I’ve been to yoga, step aerobics and other 24 Hour Fitness classes, Evan and I have been playing ultimate frisbee in a pick-up game in Will Rogers Park, and I’ve been running in the park near our place a bit.

And after taking a quarter off from taking classes (everything I wanted to take was full), I’m looking to sign up for another one or two starting in June so I can continue to improve my design skills and can encourage myself to do new things.

I have a lot of other plans, so watch this blog because I’ll be posting more in the very near future.

So One Night I Was Inspired to Make Gyoza…

One night about a week ago, it was getting a bit late and I hadn’t figured out what I’d be making for dinner when I saw a photo a friend posted on Facebook of homemade potstickers.

They looked great — the edges were crimped nicely, the dough was slightly translucent, and even though they were filled with pork, they inspired me to at least find out what it would take to make them.

Searching online, a lot of recipes I found just ignored the dough and said to buy it premade, but since I wasn’t about to go out to the market, I needed to know how it was made. I finally found a site that posted a recipe, and it was inexact at best, but I tend to be inexact in the kitchen, so I decided to try it out.

I started with my filling, which I had to improvise a bit to deal with the ingredients I had on hand. I settled on broccoli, tofu (which I crumbled), garlic and soy sauce. I started it going in the pan and cooked it until the broccoli was nice and green and everything smelled good.

So I went another direction and was inspired to make gyoza. Surprisingly easy!

Gyoza put together and waiting to be cooked

Then, to make the dough, following the recipe I found I eyeballed about the same volume of flour as the filling I had, added a little salt, then mixed in hot water until the dough felt good — not too soft and not too stiff. Then I separated the dough into small pieces and started rolling them out into circles about 4-5 inches in diameter and quite thin.

When I started stuffing them, I realized they were a bit larger than the gyoza I had had before, but I couldn’t exactly go and make them any smaller at that point so I just went with it. I only had a small amount of filling left over when I was done, and I doubt I would have even had that had I not started worrying that I was going to run out and adding a bit less filling to the last few potstickers.

To get th dough to stick together, I only had to pinch the edges — no egg wash or water like you’d need with the store-bought variety. And the consistency was right since they stretched well to accommodate the filling.

To finish cooking the gyoza, you put it in a pan with a little oil until the bottoms are browned, then fill the pan about halfway with water and cover to steam them. The first batch I did I crowded a little too much and a few stuck together, but the second batch turned out better.

potstickers

Gyoza almost done cooking

They did look like the real thing, they tasted fresh, and I liked my filling choice. It also didn’t take as long as I thought it might — about an hour start to finish. I read that you could also freeze them before the final cooking steps and just cook them later.

I’d love to experiment with other fillings and work on getting the size just right, but I think my little evening experiment went quite well for a first try with very little to go on as far as a recipe.