Wednesday, September 23, 2009

A Peek into my Pantry and the Best Pizza Crust EVER

It's been some time, but I have been a busy bee in the kitchen as always.
Fall is in full swing and we've been squeezing what we can out of the waning hours of daylight, including lots of walks with the doggie.

Speaking of, here he is on a big pile of laundry...

...which I've been dealing with in a very different way these days. I've started making my own laundry detergent. It works well and is VERY cheap. Here's the recipe:

2 parts Borax
2 parts washing soda
1 part grated soap (I use Fels Naptha)

I use 1/4 c. per load. If you prefer to have scented laundry, you can add a few drops of your favorite essential oil.

This, plus the no poo method I use to clean my hair, have greatly reduced the amount of packaging and money involved in keeping myself and clothing clean.

Some other things have been keeping me busy this week. My attempt at saving seeds from my green beans this year:

And what happens when you tie up two rambunctious doggies:

Moving into the kitchen, I've been harvesting a few tomatoes each day from the garden and putting them to good use.

This includes a real BLT (not that I don't love me a TST, but boy is this good):

and eating them sliced with just salt and pepper:

I thought I'd also share a photo of my pantry, since I spent some time cleaning and reorganizing it this weekend.

A few notes on pantry basics:

Keep anything that needs to be used often or soon up front where it's easy to reach, but more importantly, easy to see. You're likely to forget anything that gets buried out of sight.

Spices should only hang around for a few months if they're preground, and at most a year or so if they're whole, so buy as many of your spices whole as you can and toss anything that has lost its smell.

I use canola oil for most of my cooking, and as such buy it in large containers, which you can see on the top shelf.

I keep tons of grains and dried beans on hand, so I bought some glass containers and sprayed the flat fronts with chalkboard paint. I keep them stocked from the bulk area of my co-op. I love this approach because the glass lets you see how much you have and you can update the front each time you refill so you know exactly how long the product has been there.

A well-stocked pantry is important for seasonal cooking. Having a strong base allows you to build meals around fresh products quickly and easily. Eventually I'll share my list of pantry must-haves, but for now here's a shot of the whole shebang:

The top shelf holds tall bottles and rarely-used baking materials. You can also see the jar of oil I saved from deep frying for reuse. It would be better in a dark jar, but that's all I have.

The second shelf holds all the grains and beans (you can see the bulgur jar on the far right behind the wheatberries). It also holds different salts, oils, and vinegars that I find myself reaching for often.

The bottom shelf holds canned foods, spices, and things that need to be eaten quickly like crackers, jelly, and peanut butter.

Pizza Dough
(adapted from Peter Reinhart)

3 c. unbleached all purpose flour
1 1/2 c. whole wheat flour
1/3 to 1/2 c. olive oil (you can choose based on your preference, but I wouldn't omit it completely, as it lends a really nice crunch to the crust)
1 tbsp. instant yeast (bread machine yeast)
1 tbsp. salt
up to 1 3/4 c. ice cold water

When approaching a leavened bread recipe, the main concern is the final texture of the dough. Unlike other baked goods, which require a greater deal of precision, doughs such as this one provide for some wiggle room with respect to the final recipe. Also note that older flour absorbs less water, and any flour that's been stored open to the air has absorbed some moisture and thus will absorb less water in the mixing process (meaning you may end up using less water). This is all to say that you will learn what to expect through experience. What's going on in your bowl dictates how much water to add and when to stop kneading.

Combine the instant yeast with the dry ingredients in the bowl of an electric mixer or any large bowl. Then add the oil and enough cold water to bring it together. Knead by hand for 7-10 minutes, or with a dough hook for 4-7. The surface of the dough should be smooth and it should be warm to the touch.

At this point, you can wrap the dough in plastic and keep it in the refrigerator overnight, or put it in lightly greased bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and let sit at room temperature until it doubles in size (approximately one hour).

Dump that out on the counter, get out your dough cutter, and slice it in half once, then again, then once more, so you have eight pieces. Roll them up into balls (you can review this tutorial I did about making dinner rolls) to be stored in the fridge, or let them rest at room temperature for 30 minutes to an hour before rolling out.

The crust works thin and thickish, so play around with different styles and toppings. Just remember that less is more. Here are some of the many ways I've made pizza with this crust:

Fresh mozzarella and fresh basil:

Buffalo Chicken:

Roasted Vegetables:

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Local Culinary Walk featuring Drinks, Food, and Farms

Fall is definitely upon us, but I can't complain a bit. The weather has been and being outside is a constant pleasure. I've been walking and riding my bike and simply can't get enough. Everything is still bright green and lush, though it could frost any time now.

The river is just gorgeous, and so green.

My basil is following suit and is nearly up to my waist. We cook with it almost every day.

We've been eating a heck of a lot of these, too:

A friend let us take our fill of his heirlooms, which are doing much better than mine this year:

I couldn't stop playing with them.

And they were delicious, every one. I canned some, froze some, ate some before washing them, and made sandwiches from others.

Our new favorite:

Tofu, Spinach, and Tomatoes (TST)

Toasted wheat bread, lemon aioli from vegenaise, spinach, tomato slices, and slabs of tofu lightly fried in canola oil with just salt and pepper, garnished with basil.

I can't even tell you how good this is. We are hooked.

I also got some local plums, which are beautiful and sweet.

On to the titular walk! Last week, Tim and I took part in a Culinary Walk around Iowa City. The tour was put on by the Johnson County Local Foods Alliance as part of the Field to Family Local Foods Festival, which runs through October. The Culinary Walk lets eaters sample small plates from some of the best restaurants downtown. The goal of the walk was to celebrate and strengthen our local food community, so the participants were encouraged to use ingredients from local farms.

The tour included seven stops. The first for us was The Motley Cow.

The Cow served up a colorful plate composed of healthy basics that were well prepared. This included what I think was amaranth, some raw cabbage slaw, a piece of slowly cooked meat that tasted like pot roast, and some very tasty and sour pickled cucumbers from the Maharishi Vedic City Organic Farm.

Our plates came with a fresh veggie drink, something like V8, which I think had beets, tomatoes, and rutabaga.

Passports and forks in hand, we walked across the street to our next stop,


First we were poured a small glass of some dry local cider from Sutliff Cider.

The owner described the pork dish to me, but all I heard was bacon paté. It was served with some little cheddar biscuits, vegetarian paella, and a small cup of gazpacho.

Next, we took a walk to the booth run by the catering department at one of the major sponsors, the University's Iowa Memorial Union.

We got, um, a can of Coke, and a wrap that included noodles and a full chicken breast. This booth was certainly the odd duck.

Next, we hit up the New Pioneer Coop. This was my favorite plate of the night. It came with a beer from Millstream and two cheese samples from Milton Creamery. We got two delicious bites composed of fried sweet potato chip, a piece of pork tenderloin, a smear of creamy cheese, a dollop of strawberry balsamic reduction and sliced chard. Mmmm.

We moved across the street to the Red Avocado, a vegan restaurant that I love. Coincidentally, they served us more of the Sutliff, as well as these little corn cakes with some kind of tomato relish and roasted red peppers, which I believe were also from Vedic City.

Next, we moved on to 126, which included flat breads from its new extension, Hearth. Our plate included a Margherita style flat bread and a slice with bacon and carmelized onions. We also got some fresh corn and new potato ragout, and another small cup of gazpacho garnished with pickled watermelon rind.

Our tour ended at Atlas with a basic bruschetta, some fresh corn ice cream, a pulled pork sandwich, and lots of elk products from Wildlife Lakes Elk Farm, including pastrami.

It was a perfect evening for strolling around town, and the variety and quality of food shows that Iowans are putting their resources to good use. It reminded me to take some time to explore the path our food takes from its farm beginnings to the table, and support the people who are doing it well.

Since I last posted, I've canned another nine quarts of tomatoes, bringing our total to 14 quarts! This is going to be a fine winter.

In the words of Garrison Keillor, who had a stroke this week, be well, do good work, and keep in touch.
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