Cooking + Baking

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How cute is Greg enjoying a prickly pear margarita last weekend? I made tamales, red chile, and Anasazi beans to go with them, which was marvelous and photographed poorly, but who really cares with that dazzler of a smile?

How are you? We are at day 15 without leaving the house besides a dog walk. Our food supply is pretty good, except for fresh produce, with three apples, three carrots, and one jalapeno and poblano left. We have plans to get rid of our thorny blackberries (OUCH!!) and replace them with lettuces and spinach, maybe some carrots, too. Though I am sincerely hoping it will be a bonus rather than a necessity, but who knows? These are such strange times.

Our health is good, some sniffles after a super windy walk yesterday, so hoping that doesn’t equate to anything serious. I am worried for my friends in the medical profession, as they are already having meetings about not having enough personal protective equipment to get through the crisis, despite government reports saying there are plenty to go around. And then there is every last person suffering financially. I know my prayers mean not a whit, so we are helping those we can how we can. May it be enough to sustain them until government money arrives.

This is Texas Sheet cake, also made last Sunday (p.s. – If you decide to try it and don’t like a cloyingly sweet cake, cut the sugar in half – you won’t regret it!). My friend Whitney was the first (maybe only?) person to make it for me, way back when I was a whippersnapper of twenty-two. I remember being in her kitchen on Albion Street in Denver, us chatting while she washed dishes, waxing poetic about how easy and delicious it was. I hit the pause button the moment she said it contained cinnamon. My rather unworldly upbringing had never-ever put cinnamon and chocolate together. How weird would it be? Would I like it? The answer was a resounding yes, and now, twenty-six years later, I cannot recall the number of times I have made this fabulous flavor combination.

After lamenting the soy flour contained in the blue corn pancake mix we bought in Santa Fe, I ordered some plain blue corn flour (masa) from Gold Mine and made a batch of pancakes the day the box arrived at our door. They were delicious! If you’d like to try your hand at them, they’ve been added to my long list of pancake recipe combinations that can be found here. Enjoy!

Feeling grateful for our every day walks, this beautiful city, and every moment that makes me smile, like this wee one on his way to work!

Whenever I feel overwhelmed with the news, I think on my light and inspiration, my Great Aunt Mary (who would have been 112 on St. Patrick’s Day!). The oldest of seven, she lived through the death of every one of her siblings (save my Grandma Tess), the youngest at the age of twenty-five.

Her faith was boundless, and she was the most selfless, loving, and giving person I have ever known. Though she may have suffered disappointments, she never let her feathers ruffle, never uttered an unkind word. A smile was never far from her lips, nor a chuckle or a prayer. She walked her talk to the utmost!

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Hi there! More food, ha!

This was Saturday’s pizza, which was truly the BEST I’ve ever made, as in as good as Lombardi’s in New York City. The crust was light and chewy and the flavor perfectly balanced, a little yeast, a little salt. There was many a delicious sigh between the pair of us, I tell you.

What made it so good? Primarily, I think, the rise. I made the dough on Wednesday afternoon, with a very minimal knead (one minute or so, really just until it was no longer shaggy) before popping it into the fridge in a sealed glass container. I tried this to see if it would have the texture I like and be less of a bear on my tender tummy. With all I’ve learned about lectins and all that jazz, it seemed logical that the long rise would predigest a lot of what ails me. We’ll have to see, long term.

It rose only slightly in the fridge. Friday before bed, I took it out and set it on the counter, and it doubled in size by the morning. I made the pizza for lunch, and when I took it from the container it was bubbly and springy, like the New York dough of my dreams.

Another reason I think it was so fantastic is the fact that I started using a baking steel. I had a baking stone for a long time, but it was small and fragile. When I researched options online, this was much larger, pretty much unbreakable, and everyone who used the steel raved about it. It’s not cheap and weighs 15 pounds (!), but after considering the fact that my old stone was my third and could break at any moment, it seemed a smart investment. Boy howdy, was it.

Since I didn’t feel like grappling with it each time I wanted pizza, I left it in the oven when I bought it last year and haven’t taken it out since. As a result, I’ve ceased blind baking many of my pie crusts, as the heat of the steel is enough to do the job. More reason to LOVE it.

The pizza crust is crispier than it ever was on the stone, and I put it on a cooling rack while everything sets up to maintain the texture. I really cannot rave enough!

If you’d like to make your own, here’s my dough recipe, which makes two 10 – 12″ pizzas and can easily be doubled or tripled:

1/2 teaspoon active dry yeast

1 teaspoon sugar

2/3 cup warm water (105-115 degrees)

1 2/3 cups flour – all purpose or bread

1 tablespoon olive oil

3/4 teaspoon sea salt

Dissolve yeast and sugar in the warm water until foamy, about 5-10 minutes. If it doesn’t foam, start over with water that is a little cooler. If it still doesn’t foam, your yeast is probably dead and you’ll need to get to the store, pronto. Mix in olive oil and pour over the flour and salt. Mix with a spoon or your hands until it comes together, then knead until the dough is no longer shaggy but not entirely smooth. Put in a bowl with enough room to at least double in size and cover tightly. Place in the fridge for at least 24 hours, preferably 60 to 72. Punch down dough and divide into two balls. Roll, stretch, or cajole into your desired shape and thickness.

Top how you like. I mix a small can of tomato paste with garlic, red pepper flakes, oregano, and salt, until it tastes right, and divide it over the two pizzas. I only use fresh mozzarella, it’s got the best flavor and texture to my taste. A note, if you prefer using fresh tomatoes or tomato sauce (rather than the paste) and also use fresh mozzarella, this is A LOT of moisture. Go easy with the sauce and any other moisture laden topping, like mushrooms, the first time around. You really don’t want a sad, sad soup on top. The voice of experience talking, here. But don’t fret if it happens, you’ll get the hang of it!

Bake at 550 degrees, preferably on a steel, until it’s perfect. For me, it’s when the tomato sauce bubbles madly, usually about 4-5 minutes. Cool for a minute or two on a rack. Cut and eat and feel the JOY that is pizza!

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A left-handed mug from a potter in New Mexico, whose name I have long forgotten. I say left-handed because, if you’ll note the curve on the bottom when the handle is on the left and the flat side opposite. I, a lefty (explains a bit, eh?), never noticed it, and was puzzled (and even chuckled) every time a righty used it and spilled drink on him or herself. Then a friend (Hi Brooke!!) put two and two together. It’s pretty much MY mug now, though I do explain and give the option to guests.

How are you feeling? Healthy, I sincerely hope. I am well, with a mild case of paranoia. Is the scratch in my throat COVID-19? Wait, I just sneezed or sniffled or dry-coughed or whatever. No, seriously. Is this IT?

So we are drinking steaming beverages in fine mugs (see above), for comfort and joy. If we’ve got it, we’ve got it. Though it’s been a full week since making contact with another human, besides yards away on Juniper jaunts, and quite literally spraying mail & packages with disinfectant, rendering me hopeful. That said, some people are asymptomatic for 10-14 days. So there’s still time for this bugger to make itself known. Ugh.

What to do in the meantime? Cook and eat, of course! Pray. For every single one of us. Every chance I get. Sweat out my anxiety with a morning workout plus the aforementioned twice daily Juniper jaunt. Read magazines, books, blogs, a cereal box. Watch movies and home shows and whatever strikes our fancy on HBO and PBS and Netflix (more on that later). Put NPR on for the essentials and turn off before becoming demoralized. Find great solace in music. All kinds. Yesterday we went Texas style with a jammin’ ZZ Top (La Grange!!) and Stevie Ray Vaughan (Lenny!!) marathon. Hot damn.

As for the eating, I’ve made: roasted red pepper and tomato soup; jalapeno and cheddar spoonbread served with Boulder breakfast sausage; blueberry coffeecake; walnut and blue cheese crackers; curried cauliflower soup; blue cheese salad dressing atop a lovely tossed salad; peanut butter cup and birthday sprinkle ice cream – complete with cake batter (pasteurized eggs) and frosting! Double hot damn.

I realize I’m full on What I Ate at the moment. Sore-ee, not sorry. It all photographs nicely and our local exterior landscape has been pretty uninspiring, as in brown, very brown. I do see some tufts of greening grass and crocus peeking their heads above ground, and maybe a tulip or two, the eternal hope of spring. So maybe something other than nibbles will grace this space soon.

In the meantime, much love and good health to you and yours.

A new coat for Juniper, in one of my favorite colors (teal!) and with a useless and utterly adorable faux fur hood. I feel sort of lame buying her such things, but our girl’s genetics did not prepare her for our weather, and so I must or watch her shiver.

A couple of Greg’s favorite eats: red chile and chocolate cake! I also tried my hand at pupusas because 1. I never had, and 2. They are filled with cheese. A duh if ever there was. I also like them because they are far easier than homemade corn tortillas. I know my way around the kitchen, but dang, do I have a difficult time keeping them from sticking.

I made his favorites, not just because I love him, which would be enough, but also because my best love had hernia surgery last week. He deserved extra special treatment!

It was a nice role reversal, with me the one waiting and hoping and uttering every little prayer the surgery would be as uncomplicated as the doctor had foreseen. Thankfully, it was.

He was and remains a good patient, utterly silly while the drugs wore off, rejoicing in the complex flavors of ginger ale and saltines (the best ever), wielding them like precious metals, giggling (and grimacing – ouch my tummy hurts!) and making me do the same. It only took a few days before he could walk at his normal pace on our Juniper jaunts, but he’s still got a way to go in terms of pain. Please think good thoughts for him.

Makings for a rhubarb apple crisp on our regularly scheduled dessert day (Sunday). As I peeled the apple in one long go, I thought of how I marveled at adults who could do the same when I was a child, how it seemed so impossible to keep the peeler going, going, going. How lovely it is to learn and grow and mature, the impossible made simple and everyday. Life is a wonder…

Our very orchestrated Sunday supper. If you hadn’t noticed, I really love to cook, but I prefer a big bang for my buck in the kitchen. I don’t generally want to painstakingly create meals that will be gone in minutes.

That being said, I also like a little adventure and own cookbooks galore. Some of the recipes are of the painstaking, slow Sunday Supper ilk. I was feeling a strong pull toward my Teutonic roots and have a glorious German cookbook by Alfons Schuhbeck in need of a little mileage. So, I stuffed chicken breasts with ham and cheddar and topped them with a butter laden sherry wine sauce. The potato salad came from the same book, but it is sadly missing radishes because two grocers were out of them and dried tarragon! What the?

The bright colored salad is the closest I could get without the aforementioned tarragon to a carrot salad we rather enjoy at Uwe’s, one of our favorite local places.

And the cake, oh good grief! It is Christina Tosi’s Apple Pie Cake from Milk. Talk about laborious. So very many steps! Such deliciousness, though. My stars.

Our fab shed dolled up with icicles and wild bee house!
The light!

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