Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Pizza. Paltrow. Discuss.

I have mixed feelings towards Gywneth Paltrow. She seems cool, but she gets on my nerves. I could go into more detail, but I won't right now. When she came out with a cookbook a few months back, I was mighty skeptical (and wildly jealous). But she has been hanging with plenty o' notable chefs, most prominently Mario Batali, who knows a thing or two about pizza. So when she posted a pizza-centered email out to her GOOP mailing list (that's right -- I subscribe to GOOP), I had to give it a whirl. So for Memorial Day, I made pizza.

Below, I have posted Ms. Paltrow's recipe, along with the amendments I made in red within...

(For reference, here is the original recipe I started with before tweaking it.)

[begin Paltrow]

To make the pizza, I adapted Gwyneth Paltrow's recipe from My Father's Daughter:
If you have a wood fire, I kind of hate you. If not, preheat a pizza stone in your oven at the highest heat the oven can go to for at least an hour before eating. (If you don't have a pizza stone, just hold your horses -- I'll have you covered too. Just preheat the oven to 500 degrees about 1/2 hour before you're ready to cook that pizza.)
First, I round up my Pizza Dough Ingredients:

(I shrunk down the recipe from Gwyn's ginormous one; it made 3 times as much dough)
  • 3/4 cups warm water (divided)
  • 1 teaspoon granulated sugar
  • 1 package active dry yeast
  • About 1 2/3 cups of flour plus more for kneading and dusting. I used bread flour but you can also use Italian "00" flour if you are Gwyneth Paltrow.
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 3/4 teaspoon sea salt
For the dough, whisk together 1/4 cup of the water, the yeast, and the sugar in a large bowl and let stand until the surface has a few little bubbles and is creamy (about 10 minutes).

Add 1/2 cups water, 1 1/4 cups flour, olive oil and salt and stir until smooth. While stirring, gradually add up to another 1/4 cup of flour until the dough starts to pull itself from the edges of the bowl.

Knead the dough on a generously floured surface until it's elastic and smooth—it will take about 8 minutes of lovely fun kneading time. Dust the surface with flour as you go—you don’t want the dough to stick. Work extra flour into the dough as you go if the stuff is still kind of sticky -- I probably added another 1/4 cup a few large pinches at a time.

Form the kneaded dough into a ball, dust with flour, and gently place in a large bowl and cover with plastic wrap or a tea-towel. Let it rise in a warm spot until doubled, about 1 1/2 hours. You can let it sit for up to a couple of hours or even overnight in the refrigerator.

For the sauce you'll need:

  • 2 tablespoons (or so) extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 medium-sized carrots, peeled and finely diced
  • 1/2 large onion, peeled and finely diced
  • 2 large cloves garlic, finely chopped (Gwyn's recipe had no garlic -- WTF, girl?)
  • 1 28-ounce can whole peeled tomatoes with their juice
  • 3/4 teaspoon sea salt
Heat the olive oil in a saucepan over medium heat. Add the carrot, onion, and garlic and cook, stirring now and then, until softened but not mushy, about 8 minutes. Add the tomatoes and their juice and the salt. Turn the heat to high and bring to a boil. Turn the heat to low and let the sauce simmer for 40 minutes; use your sauce-stirring utensil to break up the big tomato pieces a bit while the stuff cooks. Carefully puree in a blender until very smooth. Let it cool before saucing your pizzas. (Or don't, but know that if you top your dough with warm sauce, you risk making the top of the dough a tad mushy and spreading it with the back of the spoon is mildly perilous. Not that this happened to me. {Fine, it did.} But at least let it cool down from lava temps.) This can be made up to a week ahead. (Like I plan a week ahead...)

Here’s my pizza kit ready to get going

  • Pizza sauce
  • Mozzarella (I used the pre-sliced stuff that comes in a log at Trader Joe's)
  • There are squash blossoms in season so I tore them over a few of the pizzas
  • Totally adequate olive oil
  • Herbed goat cheese
  • Giant basil leaves (from my own garden/single potted plant)
  • White truffle oil (a little goes a long way)

To assemble pizzas, stretch dough with your fingers until quite thin. You can also roll your dough out using a rolling pin. (I didn't.)

Now top your pizza. I start with pizza sauce. Be sure not to put too much sauce on (this will weigh it down) and don’t go too close to the edge as this will make it hard to slide your peel under the pizza.

(You may notice at this point that I'm assembling my pizza on the underside of a baking sheet with a lip, dusted with semolina flour. My plan was to attempt to use this as a pizza peel alternative and scoot it onto my heated pizza stone. This did not work as the pizza would not scoot and my pizza stone was acting up anyway after what I can only imagine was a lot of improper non-pizza-cooking usage -- bad Dana -- so I just cooked the pizza on the upside-down cookie sheet, which incidentally worked fine. So now you know.)

And now for the toppings... Sprinkle each pizza with the toppings of your choice and then stick them in the oven.

If your oven is nice and hot, the pizza should be perfectly cooked and crisp in two minutes. (Or if you're using a normal, non-wood-burning oven like the rest of us plebes, it'll take about 10 minutes or so.)

[end Paltrow]

In all honesty, the pizza was magnificent. The phrase "I miss the pizza" was uttered by Matt and I each about 12 times after it was gone. I'm kind of obsessed with that sauce too -- it's a great base and I'll be putting it on damn near everything.

And just so you know, I'm making another pizza tonight.


Made another pizza using 1/2 cup whole wheat flour in place of a 1/2 cup of the bread flour and topped it off with some wilted spinach. Delicious.

Monday, May 30, 2011


Ever since I was a kid, I've had a weird obsession with Paris.

Seriously, far before I had any right or reason to.

As an obnoxiously well-traveled child of 5 living in the suburbs of Amsterdam with my ex-pat family, I don't even know where I first heard of Paris or why I decided I wanted to go there. I'm sure it had something to do with pictures of the Eiffel Tower -- no buildings I knew looked like that, and I sure as heck wanted to see one that did.

So when my parents announced that we were going on a trip around Europe with my grandparents and uncles (and their now ex-wives and ex-girlfriends), my only childlike request was that I wanted to go to Paris. No, the adults said. We'd be driving through France but not stopping and not going to Paris.

"But (I imagine I incredulously continued) why would you NOT stop in Paris if we're going to be in France anyway?"

There was no time, I was told. It was France or Spain, and all the grown-ups wanted to hang out in Spain, so Spain it was. France was to be a mere throughway from our stop in Brussels (where we had distant, distant, distant relatives... three times removed) on the drive to Madrid. I have a distinct memory of being in the van we rented as we passed by the outskirts of the city and seeing the Tour Eiffel far off in the distance. I think I remember this -- it very well may be some formulated faux-memory that my brain has accepted as truth. But real or not, I remember seeing the tower silhouetted in the distance and thinking that one day I was going to go there and noting how close it was and wondering how long it would REALLY take to swing over by there and WHY CAN'T WE JUST STOP IN PARIS???

I was one bitter five-year old.

The funny ending to all of this is that we ended up having a kind of crummy time in Spain -- my dad got his wallet stolen, the adults were fighting a bunch, and then it turned out that my dad thought my grandma wanted to go to Spain and my grandma assumed it was him who wanted to go to Spain when in actuality, no one gave a wet blue fuck about visiting Spain.

(Extra dose of irony: These days when I tell friends of mine that I'm planning a trip to Europe, where do they all tell me I simply MUST go? Fucking Spain.)

Why am I thinking about this? Well, in addition to my impending vacation plans, I just went to see Woody Allen's "Midnight in Paris," which is a glowing, gushing love letter to the City of Lights in a way that I suspect only a Francophile will truly get. The opening montage of Parisian streets, from Montmartre to the Champs-Elysees to the Louvre to a series of gorgeous shots of the bridges over the Seine is either just shots of locations around Paris or a swoon-worthy sequence that sets you longing to stroll the cobblestone rues et avenues.

Without giving too much away, the focus of the movie is something called "Golden Age thinking," which basically means longing for an idealized time before your own. For Woody Allen-- uh, I mean his protagonist... Oh, who are we kidding; we all know they're one and the same at this point. The lead is once again a self-deprecating screenwriter obsessed with death, possessing the usual Allen tics. But I don't watch Woody Allen movies for the creative character development; his characters are so recognizable, either from one film to the next or just as being someone so plucked from everyday life, it takes no time to figure out where they're coming from. (Exception: Annie Hall.) I watch Woody Allen movies for very specific reasons -- to laugh, to be charmed, and to see truths about people addressed in that very unique style. And of course, for the opening-jazz tune.

Anyhow, Woody Allen's "Golden Age" is clearly Paris in the 1920's, the haunts of the Fitzgeralds, Ernest Hemingway, surrealist painters, and so forth. Personally, my Golden Age could fall anywhere between the 1920 and 1968 in Paris, but if I has to be more specific, I'd pick Paris in the '60's. Rock 'n roll, French New Wave films... I watch too many movies, but the ones that truly make me want to be in a different time and location take place there and then. (Example: Bertolucci's "The Dreamers.")

But I realized that Woody Allen HAD Paris in the '60's -- when "What's New, Pussycat?" was being shot in 1964, he lived in the city for the duration of the shoot, and that's when he fell in love with it. And I read an interview where he mentioned two of the crew decided that they were staying in Paris, and he considered it for a time, but ultimately returned to New York. (I imagine Woody Allen without NYC is something akin to me walking around missing a shoe. Or a limb.)

In the movie, it becomes clear that every time is someone's Golden Age, and that Golden Age will seem boring to the people who live there and then. The protagonist of "Midnight in Paris" experiences his Golden Age, among others, but [SPOILER ALERT] ultimately decides not to stay. While Woody Allen experienced my personal Golden Age, it wasn't enough to make him stay; I can't even fathom having been in 1964 Paris and not wanting to up and move there. But then again, I've been a great many places which will be Golden Ages to somebody (somewhere, maybe someone is saying "I wish I could have been in Hong Kong in the early '90's") and haven't stayed.

In all honesty, southern California in 2011 ain't bad.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Memorializing my Three-Day Weekend

Since I'm saving up all my vacation days this year for a big vacation in September, I've been really looking forward to and appreciating every day that my office is officially closed. Wait, that sounds bad -- I really love my job, but taking no vacation days can wear on a person. But as Matt's got work and I've got stuff to do, no mini vacay for us this time around. I had originally been kinda bummed, because I figured my weekend would be just like all my other weekends with an extra day tacked on, since Matt's working Monday BUT I have worked out a reasonable mix of fun things and productive things so that I do not feel like I totally wasted my time come Tuesday morning.

Things I'm doing this weekend:
- going to see a couple friends' plays (like I do most weekends)
- going to an audition (which I do many weekends)
- cooking fun stuff (which is also de rigeur)
- hitting a yoga class (which I do sometimes but not enough)
- going to the friggin beach (I NEVER DO THIS. Not sure if it's gonna be bathing-suit-at-the-beach weather tomorrow morning, but Matt and I are going anyway)
- possibly going to a carnival (I just discovered one freshly set up a few blocks away with all the usual janky rides that I love)
- getting rid of the giant boxes of packing material that have invaded my living room
(This is the stuff that came, minus a large jewelery box, a lamp, and some books...

... and these are the boxes they came in)

- re-pack some of those items for proper storage
- play some ukulele
- do some writing (that does not include what I'm writing now)
- attempt to spend time outside without getting sunburnt
- go see "Midnight in Paris" on Monday while Matt's working (It's a WOODY ALLEN MOVIE set in PARIS and MARION COTILLARD, ADRIEN BRODY, and ALLISON PILL are in it! How Matt has no desire to see it, I have no idea.)
- turn in my passport info-- oh wait, I already did that this morning (super productive)
- possible online shopping (THE SALES! THE SALES!!!)

I'm currently in the midst of a post-pancake stupor, trying to work up the energy to take a shower. One more cup of coffee should do the trick...

Monday, May 9, 2011

I don't want to hear "I don't really like lemon" out of you

This is my favorite lemon bar recipe. It has never served me wrong. I have seen batches of this disappear before my very eyes. And though I love me some BFC, I can't just follow a recipe to the letter. Since I love limes, I subbed in lime juice for some of the lemon. And it RULES.

The Lemon Bars
Slightly adapted from the Barefoot Contessa -- it's pretty much her recipe though...

[not pictured because they never last long enough for pictures]

For the crust:

* 1/2 pound unsalted butter, at room temperature
* 1/2 cup granulated sugar
* 2 cups flour
* 1/8 teaspoon kosher salt

For the filling:

* 6 extra-large eggs at room temperature
* 3 cups granulated sugar
* 2 tablespoons grated lemon zest (4 to 6 lemons... and maybe some limes)
* 3/4 c. freshly squeezed lemon juice
* 1/4 c. freshly squeezed lime juice
* 1 cup flour
* Confectioners' sugar, for dusting

Note: If you use lime zest along with the lemon, it will be tasty BUT there will be little dark-ish flecks in your lovely lemon filling, which isn't quite as pretty. But if you love limes like I do, it may be worth it to just not be so freaking superficial.


For the crust, cream the butter and sugar until light in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Combine the flour and salt and, with the mixer on low, add to the butter until just mixed. Dump the dough into a greased 9 by 13 by 2-inch baking pan (with high sides), and press the bits of dough into a solid layer using your hands, building up a 1/2-inch edge on all sides. Chill dough and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Once oven is hot and dough is cold, bake the crust for 15 to 20 minutes, until very lightly browned. Let cool on a wire rack (or upside-down muffin tin, like I use). Leave the oven on.

For the filling, whisk together the eggs, sugar, zest, lemon juice, lime juice, and flour. Pour over the crust and bake for 30 to 35 minutes, until the filling is set. (Trick: If there is lemon goo touching the edge of the pan above the crust, it may behoove you to run a knife around the inner edge of the pan after it cooks, to keep the most-cooked part of the sugary filling from fusing itself to the pan.) Let cool to room temperature.

Cut into triangles (or squares or rectangles) and dust with confectioners' sugar.

Makes as many as you want it to make. (What, it's true. It can be, like, 60 tiny li'l squares or one massive bar to rule them all... though I can't recommend that unless you're on death row or something.)