Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Braaaaaains! Zombies want brains. And exercise?

Looks like I'm gonna do it. I'm gonna lace up my sneakers and enter the world of competitive running. Just last month I posted a picture for my photography project about how I should get off my lazy butt and start running again to shed the pounds my regular workouts weren't getting rid of. I knew that by publicly posting that I wouldn't be able to make any more excuses. So for weeks I've added piddly little two-mile runs to my regular workout routine. No results yet, alas, but upon discovering that there will be a zombie-themed 5k in my hometown of Charlottesville, Virginia I got to thinking that perhaps it's something I can do. Even stranger is that I find myself actually wanting to do it, excited about the idea.

Of course, my nascent running "skills" involve my crawling along at a snail's pace so I don't expect anything from myself but to finish the run. Not to mention that Charlottesville has a huge running community so I'll be up against pros. Oh, and did I mention the hills? Oh yes, the wonderful hills that made learning to drive stick shift that much more fun will also add an extra challenge to the run. One which I can't train for since I live in New Jersey now. Instead I'll count on an even slower time and more fatigue than I'm accustomed to. No matter how poor my time will be I'm still happy to have something to work toward and can't wait to see the zombies out and about in costume. It should be a blast!

Sunday, September 25, 2011

A Photo A Day [Days 376-378]

I've been missing taking photos lately even though I've lost my creative mojo. Today I went on a treasure hunt around the house trying to find something interesting to photograph. Here's one of a bat silhouette we bought to decorate our spooky house.

These last two are attempts to make something ordinary look interesting. It's harder than you'd think.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

A Photo A Day [Day 375]

My husband and I are thinking of adopting. Now it's just a matter of deciding which of these precious angels to bring home with us.

I think we may have found a winner with this one. The resemblance to my husband is uncanny.

Awww. Have you ever seen a more adorable baby? Don't you just want to pinch his chubby little cheeks?

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

The Best Pizza Dough Ever?

I found a recipe touting itself as the "best pizza dough ever" floating around Pinterest. Since I've tried many a dough recipe and have yet to find "the one" I was willing to accept the challenge and try out this recipe for myself.

The first thing I noticed was that there is a lot of information in the instructions. I don't know what it says about me that I prefer that over simple, sometimes non-specific directions but in this case it was a huge plus. The biggest difference between this and other recipes I've tried is that both the flour and water need to be chilled. I'd never had a recipe specify that before. I'm fascinated by this difference and would be interested in learning more about the science behind it but I guess for that I'd have to buy the book the recipe came from, Peter Reinhart's The Bread Baker's Apprentice: Mastering the Art of Extraordinary Bread. Which, incidentally, has been on my Amazon wish list for some time.

Because of the specificity of the instructions I was a little daunted by the recipe. But if you've made dough before nothing's really all that different as far as the basic procedure is concerned. I mixed the dough first by hand and then kneaded it with my KitchenAid, which the poor mixer seemed to struggle with a bit. I noticed the motor got really hot in the process when I went to put it away afterwards. I both liked and hated that after mixing the dough it needs to sit overnight in the fridge. I started craving pizza on Sunday but had to wait until Monday to eat the fruits of my labor. Obviously next time I'll know and will plan ahead accordingly. I'm not usually an instant gratification sort of person but when it comes to food cravings I am helpless. However, I do like that I can whip up the dough the night before and have less to do the day of the pizza baking.

Of course, the real test is obviously in the taste. I followed the instructions to not overload the dough with toppings, opting for a light layer of red sauce, chunks of soft mozzarella, a few slivers of onion, and then a dusting of basil and Parmesan once it came out of the oven. I did use my pizza stone and wound up with a crust that was both crisp on the outside and chewy on the inside, which happens to be my ideal. There weren't any soggy bits and the crust, while thin, was sturdy enough to support the toppings. Those are both things previous recipes I've tried have struggled with so that's two big pluses in my book.

While I'm not bold enough to claim this is the best pizza dough ever, I can say it's the best one I've ever made. I wouldn't change a thing about the recipe and look forward to the remaining five pizzas I'll get out of this batch of dough. Another winner from Pinterest!

So-Called Best Pizza Dough Ever
Recipe from 101 Cookbooks, originally from The Bread Baker's Apprentice: Mastering the Art of Extraordinary Bread

4 1/2 cups (20.25 ounces) unbleached high-gluten, bread, or all-purpose flour, chilled (I used bread flour)
1 3/4 (.44 ounce) teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon (.11 ounce) instant yeast
1/4 cup (2 ounces) olive oil (optional, I included this)
1 3/4 cups (14 ounces) water, ice cold (40°F)
Semolina flour OR cornmeal for dusting

1. Stir together the flour, salt, and instant yeast in a 4-quart bowl (or in the bowl of an electric mixer). With a large metal spoon, stir in the oil and the cold water until the flour is all absorbed (or mix on low speed with the paddle attachment), If you are mixing by hand, repeatedly dip one of your hands or the metal spoon into cold water and use it, much like a dough hook, to work the dough vigorously into a smooth mass while rotating the bowl in a circular motion with the other hand. Reverse the circular motion a few times to develop the gluten further. Do this for 5 to 7 minutes, or until the dough is smooth and the ingredients are evenly distributed. If you are using an electric mixer, switch to the dough hook and mix on medium speed for 5 to 7 minutes, or as long as it takes to create a smooth, sticky dough. The dough should clear the sides of the bowl but stick to the bottom of the bowl. If the dough is too wet and doesn't come off the sides of the bowl, sprinkle in some more flour just until it clears the sides. If it clears the bottom of the bowl, dribble in a tea- spoon or two of cold water. The finished dough will be springy, elastic, and sticky, not just tacky, and register 50 to 55F.

2. Sprinkle flour on the counter and transfer the dough to the counter. Prepare a sheet pan by lining it with baking parchment and misting the parchment with spray oil (or lightly oil the parchment). Using a metal dough scraper, cut the dough into 6 equal pieces (or larger if you are comfortable shaping large pizzas), You can dip the scraper into the water between cuts to keep the dough from sticking to it, Sprinkle flour over the dough. Make sure your hands are dry and then flour them. Lift each piece and gently round it into a ball. If the dough sticks to your hands, dip your hands into the flour again. Transfer the dough balls to the sheet pan, Mist the dough generously with spray oil and slip the pan into a food-grade plastic bag.

3. Put the pan into the refrigerator overnight to rest the dough, or keep for up to 3 days. (Note: If you want to save some of the dough for future baking, you can store the dough balls in a zippered freezer bag. Dip each dough ball into a bowl that has a few tablespoons of oil in it, rolling the dough in the oil, and then put each ball into a separate bag. You can place the bags into the freezer for up to 3 months. Transfer them to the refrigerator the day before you plan to make pizza.)

4. On the day you plan to make the pizza, remove the desired number of dough balls from the refrigerator 2 hours before making the pizza. Before letting the dough rest at room temperature for 2 hours, dust the counter with flour, and then mist the counter with spray oil. Place the dough balls on top of the floured counter and sprinkle them with flour; dust your hands with flour. Gently press the dough into flat disks about 1/2 inch thick and 5 inches in diameter. Sprinkle the dough with flour, mist it again with spray oil, and cover the dough loosely with plastic wrap or a food-grade plastic bag. Now let rest for 2 hours.

5. At least 45 minutes before making the pizza, place a baking stone either on the floor of the oven (for gas ovens), or on a rack in the lower third of the oven. Heat the oven as hot as possible, up to 800F (most home ovens will go only to 500 to 550F, but some will go higher). If you do not have a baking stone, you can use the back of a sheet pan, but do not preheat the pan.

6. Generously dust a peel or the back of a sheet pan with semolina flour or cornmeal. Make the pizzas one at a time. Dip your hands, including the backs of your hands and knuckles, in flour and lift I piece of dough by getting under it with a pastry scraper. Very gently lay the dough across your fists and carefully stretch it by bouncing the dough in a circular motion on your hands, carefully giving it a little stretch with each bounce. If it begins to stick to your hands, lay it down on the floured counter and reflour your hands, then continue shaping it. Once the dough has expanded outward, move to a full toss as shown on page 208. If you have trouble tossing the dough, or if the dough keeps springing back, let it rest for 5 to 20 minutes so the gluten can relax, and try again. You can also resort to using a rolling pin, though this isn't as effective as the toss method.

7. When the dough is stretched out to your satisfaction (about 9 to 12 inches in diameter for a 6-ounce piece of dough), lay it on the peel or pan, making sure there is enough semolina flour or cornmeal to allow it to slide. Lightly top it with sauce and then with your other top- pings, remembering that the best pizzas are topped with a less-is-more philosophy. The American "kitchen sink" approach is counterproductive, as it makes the crust more difficult to bake. A few, usually no more than 3 or 4 toppings, including sauce and cheese is sufficient.

8. Slide the topped pizza onto the stone (or bake directly on the sheet pan) and close the door. Wait 2 minutes, then take a peek. If it needs to be rotated 180 degrees for even baking, do so. The pizza should take about 5 to 8 minutes to bake. If the top gets done before the bottom, you will need to move the stone to a lower self before the next round. if the bottom crisps before the cheese caramelizes, then you will need to raise the stone for subsequent bakes.

9. Remove the pizza from the oven and transfer to a cutting board. Wait 3 to 5 minutes before slicing and serving, to allow the cheese to set slightly.

Makes six 6-ounce pizza crusts.

A Photo A Day [Day 374]

A sneak peek at the pizza I made last night. Recipe post to follow soon. It's probably my favorite dough recipe of all the ones I've tried. This shot, however, is not my favorite. I think I overdid it a tad with the processing. I'll be sure to upload a more normal shot with the recipe later today.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Fall Baking at King Arthur Flour

We had a teaser of fall-like weather last week before temps returned to the 80s. That teaser was enough to get me thinking about fall and everything that comes along with it: crisp, cool weather, cozy sweaters, fall baking, and Halloween, my favorite holiday of the year. I can't say enough good things about King Arthur Flour so when I got an email from them featuring their fall and Halloween recipes and products I knew I just had to share it with you.

First up is a lovely fall recipe full of the best flavors of the season: Caramel apple mini cakes. The apple flavor comes from a combination of apples, applesauce, and apple juice or cider with a little cinnamon, nutmeg, and brown sugar in the batter. The cakes are topped with a homemade caramel icing for a perfect flavor combination. While they're pictured as dense little squares made in a pop-up pan, if you lack the fancy equipment a muffin pan will do. As soon as I saw these I added them to my to-bake list.

In lieu of going on a real shopping spree I've gone on a virtual one and picked out my favorites from their fall/Halloween line. While I certainly don't need any more cupcake liners these cute polka dot Halloween liners are hard to resist:

I'm intrigued by their black cocoa, which not only promises to be incredibly rich but it will also lend a dark tint to your Halloween-themed treats:

By far my favorite flavor of the season is apple. I'd love to get my hands on some of this boiled cider, which works both as a flavor enhancer in recipes and as a standalone sauce to drizzle on ice cream or other goodies. Yum!

As far as Halloween is concerned, they've got a whole page of decorating ideas including these spooky little fondant ghosts and eyeballs:

Ooh, I'm starting to get really excited about the season!

Obviously there are many more items and ideas I haven't featured so be sure to stop by King Arthur Flour for your fall baking fix.

All photos from King Arthur Flour

Saturday, September 10, 2011

A Photo A Day [Days 372 & 373]

I went a little cat crazy this morning and took over 200 photos of my critters. Of course, being cats they weren't so good about sitting still or looking at the camera so only a handful are usable. I narrowed them down to my two favorites and simply couldn't decide between the two, so I took advantage of some gaps in my project to upload two today.

Punky knows she rules the roost around here. In this shot she's surveying her kingdom and her humble subjects:

Loofy has been featured in my project before but never this well. Why, she hardly looks cross-eyed at all in this shot! Now if only her whiskers weren't so long I could have fit them all into the frame. She's like the Wilford Brimley of the cat world.

Friday, September 9, 2011

A Photo A Day [Day 371]

"It takes a long time to become young."
-Pablo Picasso

Like Picasso, I am apparently entering my blue period.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Ooey Gooey Banana Nutella Bread

Some recipes you see and just have to make immediately. Impulse baking, if you will. This was one of those recipes, although I'm sure the dreary, rainy weather contributed to my desire for a warm, freshly baked treat.

Now, I've made Nutella banana bread in the past and liked it well enough. But this recipe takes that idea to a whole new level with the use of 3/4 cup of the stuff and the ingenious idea to mix it with a little of the batter to help it mix in and bake up better. Not surprising that it should be so deliciously laden with Nutella as I got the recipe from a girl who received a 12-pound jar of Nutella as a present and documented the various ways she used it up. I dream of receiving a gift like that, although I can also understand the great responsibility and heavy burden that comes with such a dispensation.

Do I really need to say more to convince you to try this recipe? The Nutella bits are wonderfully chocolatey and the entire cake is moist and full of flavor. What more do you need to hear?

Nutella Banana Bread
Recipe from Nutella Every Day

2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1 1/4 cups mashed ripe banana
1/3 cup skim milk
1 tsp. vanilla extract
3/4 heaping cup Nutella

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray 8×4-inch loaf pan with nonstick spray.

2. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda & salt.

3. In a separate large bowl, beat sugar and butter with an electric mixer at medium speed until blended. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add banana, milk and vanilla. Beat until blended.

4. Add flour mixture, beat at low speed just until flour is incorporated (don’t over mix).

5. Spoon Nutella into a small dish and soften in the microwave for about 15 seconds. Add 1 cup of the banana bread batter to the Nutella and stir until blended well. Spoon Nutella batter alternately with plain banana bread batter into the prepared pan. Swirl batters together with a knife.

5. Bake 50 to 60 minutes, it will seem a tiny bit undercooked but that’s what makes it good. Cool for at least 15 minutes in the pan, and then turn out onto a wire rack to cool completely.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

A Photo A Day [Day 369]

It is not in the stars to hold our destiny but in ourselves

Today was a dreary, rainy day. The sort of day that requires a warm cup of coffee, soft, cozy blankets, and a hint of sparkle to brighten things up. I tried playing around with bokeh to get a little of that sparkle and shine in my photo. Didn't get it exactly right but this one cheered me a bit.

I can't claim credit for the idea as I stole it from here via Pinterest. Her version is much better than mine. Which just goes to show that even if you're stealing an idea the execution can be just as much work as the idea itself.

Monday, September 5, 2011

A Photo A Day [Day 368]

A Study in Scarlet

"There's the scarlet thread of murder running through the colourless skein of life, and our duty is to unravel it, and isolate it, and expose every inch of it."

Sherlock Holmes, in "A Study in Scarlet"

Saturday, September 3, 2011

A Photo A Day [Day 367]

I am on a roll! Took pictures two days in a row. I guess old habits die hard.

Tried something today that didn't work out so I wound up with this.

A Photo A Day [Day 366]

That's right. I'm back! Seems my hiatus didn't last as long as I'd expected. I guess I'm so vain that I missed photographing myself. Picked up my camera for the first time since I finished my project so I could show off (if that's even the right word) my latest selfie. :)