Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Patio Spruce-Up

A couple months ago, I mentioned that a recent hail storm had busted the crate I store my BBQ supplies in and I was looking for a new, possibly greener, solution. I asked you for ideas, and got a whopping... zero. Zip, zilch, nada. Left to my own devices, I waited for divine inspiration.

Awaiting inspiration from the DIY gods.

And then, one day, I saw this. Smith and Hawken was closing its doors for good, and yours truly just happened to have $75 worth of gift cards from her last birthday that needed spending pronto. The next day I headed over to my local S&H, which was absolutely mobbed with like-minded deal seekers. Hidden in the Clearance section, underneath a few layers of orphaned garden gloves and chipped pots, was a small potting bench. It was perfect (especially for the low price of $99, minus my gift cards - $33 including tax)! Turns out it's from S&H's children's furniture line, Sprouts, which is why it's the perfect height for a little side table. Made of sustainably-harvested eucalyptus wood (certified by the Forest Stewardship Council), it's weather-resistant and green. Bonus!

Add in a few hanging plant pots (also from S&H), some succulents from my favorite local nursery, a watering can and a storage bin, and a hanging utensil rack for the BBQ tools, and...


Plenty of work space on top and storage space underneath, and pretty plants to look at while I grill. I had considered putting casters on the bottoms of the legs, to raise it up a couple more inches and make it more portable, but it didn't turn out to be necessary. Long term, I would like to replace the little plastic basin with a deeper, stainless steel one that we could fill with ice and use to chill drinks when we (finally) have friends over for a cookout, and also replace the doormat with something a bit more stylish. But until then, it's pretty darn cute the way it is, if I do say so myself. Grand total: $157. Not too shabby.

And not to worry, the old storage bin won't be tossed in the trash. I'll use it for storage in the garage, where the golf ball-sized hole in the lid won't matter quite so much.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Bites: Blueberry Scones with Lemon Glaze

Lately, it seems like the only blog-worthy things I do involve food. I swear, sometime soon I'll change it up. But until then...

Last week I made a batch of Blueberry Scones with Lemon Glaze , a Tyler Florence recipe from the Food Network website. These are super-easy to make and even tastier to eat. I highly recommend these the next time you have some extra blueberries on hand.

Blueberry Scones with Lemon Glaze
Makes 8 scones

For the scones:
2 cups all purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons sugar
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, cold, cut into chunks
1 cup heavy cream, plus extra for brushing the scones
1 cup fresh blueberries

For the glaze:
1/2 cup fresh squeezed lemon juice
2 cups powdered sugar, sifted
zest of 1 lemon, finely grated
1 tablespoon unsalted butter

Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.

Sift together the dry ingredients (flour, baking powder, salt, sugar). Using 2 forks or a pastry blender, cut in the butter until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Make a well in the center and pour in the heavy cream. Fold everything together just until incorporated; do not overwork the dough. Fold the blueberries into the batter. Take care not to mash or bruise the blueberries because their strong color will bleed into the dough.

Even when the photo is blurry, it still looks good.

Press the dough out onto a lightly floured surface into a rectangle about 12" long x 3" wide x 1 1/4" tall. Cut the rectangle in half (so that it forms 2 rectangles, each 6" long), then in half again, so that you have 4 (3-inch) squares. Cut the squares in half on the diagonal to give you 8 triangles.

Place the scones on an ungreased cookie sheet and brush the tops with a little heavy cream.

I interpret the words "a little heavy cream" liberally.

Bake for 15 to 20 minutes (it took me about 22 minutes) until lightly browned. Transfer to a rack to cool slightly.

While the scones are cooling, make the glaze. I've found that this recipe makes about twice as much glaze as I need, and I apply it pretty liberally. I usually make a half recipe, but the directions are the same whether you make the full recipe or just half.

Combine the lemon juice and powdered sugar in a microwave-safe bowl, stirring until the sugar dissolves. Stir in the lemon zest and butter. Microwave on high for 30 seconds. Remove from the microwave and whisk the glaze until the butter is melted and glaze is smooth. Drizzle the glaze over the scones. Let sit a minute before serving (if you can).

See those flecks of lemon zest? Those give this glaze what I call "punch you in the face" lemon flavor, which is the only kind of lemon flavor I like. The glaze really makes the scones - honestly, they taste a little bland without it. If you're not a fan of blueberries and/or lemon (what's wrong with you?!?), I imagine you'd be pretty successful substituting cranberries for the blueberries and orange for the lemon. I've also heard tell (from Sarah over at Pretty Bird Press) that substituting mini chocolate chips for the blueberries and topping the scones with a vanilla glaze is quite delicious as well. This got me thinking that mini chocolate chip scones with a ginger glaze (or ginger-vanilla glaze?) might be good too.

Do any combinations come to mind for you? Do you have any recipes that spark your creativity (and that you'd care to share)?

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Bites: Grilled Pizza Fail

When I first created Bites, I promised it would include both my successes and *my failures* in the kitchen. Today, I make good on that promise by showcasing my spectacular failure at grilled pizza.

Right before the long Fourth of July weekend, I solicited your best pizza dough recipes. I received a whopping... one. One! And so, I resorted to the Google, which is rife with pizza dough recipes. After much weighing of pros and cons, I settled on this one from Simply Recipes:

Simply Recipes' Homemade Pizza Dough
(Makes enough for two 10 to 12-inch pizzas)

1 1/2 cups warm water (105 - 115 degrees Fahrenheit)
1 package (2 1/4 teaspoons) of active dry yeast (I used Fleischmann's)
3 1/2 cups bread flour or all-purpose flour (I used all-purpose flour)
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon sugar

In the large bowl of a heavy duty electric mixer (I used my Kitchen Aid), add the warm water. I used a candy thermometer to make sure it was the right temperature, so I wouldn't kill the yeast. Sprinkle the yeast over the water and let sit for 5 minutes, until the yeast is dissolved. Stir to dissolve completely if needed at end of 5 minutes.

This is how it looked after 5 minutes. The yeast had dissolved and "bloomed."
I gave it a little stir to make sure it was all evenly distributed.

Attach the mixing paddle to the mixer. Mix in the olive oil, flour, salt and sugar on low speed for about a minute. Mine looked like this:

Remove the mixing paddle and replace with a dough hook. Knead using the mixer and dough hook, on low to medium speed, until the dough is smooth and elastic, about 10 minutes. If you don't have a mixer, you can mix and knead by hand.

Now, this is where I should have known I was getting in over my head. Because it took 25 minutes of kneading with the mixer and an "extra" 1/2 cup flour to get the dough to come together. I say "extra" because there was a moment when I was measuring out the flour that I thought to myself, "Hmm, was that 2 1/2 cups, or 3 cups? Probably 3..." So there's a definitely possibility I was short 1/2 cup of flour when I started kneading, explaining the need for extra. At any rate, the dough did indeed become "smooth and elastic" and formed a ball (which I forgot to take a picture of, of course).

Place the ball of dough in a bowl that has been coated lightly with olive oil. Turn the dough around in the bowl so that it gets coated with the oil.

It was in a ball before this, I swear...

Cover with plastic wrap, like this:

See how the plastic wrap is touching the dough? That's what the photos
accompanying the instructions looked like, so that's what I did.

Let sit in a warm place (between 75 and 85 degrees Fahrenheit) until the dough doubles in size, about 1 to 1 1/2 hours. If you don't have a warm spot in the hou
se you can heat the oven to 150 degrees, and then turn the oven off. Place the bowl of dough in the warmed oven to rise.

After about 1 1/2 hours, my dough had more than doubled in size.

This is the point where you punch the dough down. Once again, I hit the Google to find out what exactly this entailed. Then I felt silly, because it's exactly what it sounds like. You punch your fist in the middle of it to knock out all the air...

One swift punch later.

And then fold the sides down into the center...

Turn the dough out onto a floured surface, divide into two equal pieces, and set aside to rest for about 10 minutes.

They kind of look like lungs, don't they?

Now, this is where things took a turn. I used my fingers to spread the dough, resulting in some spots that were too thick, and others that were so thin they tore. Next time, I'll use a rolling pin for better uniformity.

I referred to several different websites and blogs for advice on grilling pizza, and cobbled together my method from all of them.

I have a charcoal grill, so I started the coals in a chimney and built a fire for indirect heat. The grill seems to have gotten pretty hot - around 525 degrees Fahrenheit.

I brushed the grill grate with olive oil, and brushed the top of the dough with olive oil. Lacking a fancy-schmancy pizza peel, I improvised and dusted my unrimmed baking sheet with flour, then put the pizza dough on. I headed out to the grill, went to slide the dough onto the grill and found that it.... stuck. Like glue. After scraping with a spatula and prying with my fingers, I finally got the dough onto the grill. I tore a few holes in the dough in the process. After patching, it looked like this:

Not pretty.

Most sites recommended that I let the dough cook for a few minutes, until it was golden brown on the side closest to the coals, then rotate 180 degrees. I went to do this, and discovered that the side furthest from the coals was completely uncooked. Rotating the dough was a nightmare that resulted in more tearing and patching. Now it looked like this:

Even less pretty.

After the bottom had finished cooking, I pulled the dough off the grill (not easy). I brushed the top (uncooked) side with olive oil, the flipped the dough over so the cooked side w
as facing up. I topped the cooked side with fresh mozzarella, fresh tomato, and basil, then returned the dough to the grill, clamped the lid on, and repeated the cooking process: cook, rotate, cook. The pizza broke into several pieces this time, and came out looking like this (apologies for the blurriness):

Final product tasted better than it looked.

The second pizza came out much the same. In both cases, the thickest spots in the dough never cooked through. I loaded the second pizza up with too many toppings, which actually made that one a little bit soggy.

I think this method has potential, but I'll do a few things differently next time.
1. I'll make 4 smaller pizzas, instead of 2 larger ones.
2. I'll roll the dough with a rolling pin for more uniformity.
3. I'll dust my makeshift peel with cornmeal instead of flour, since that supposedly helps the dough slide off more easily ("it's like little ball bearings" one person said).
4. I'll build the fire differently. I'll try scattering a layer of coals all across the bottom of the grill and cook the dough with the lid on from the beginning, in the hopes that it will cook more uniformly.
5. I'll top the pizzas sparingly.

Have any of you ever tried grilled pizza? Got any tips for next time?

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Cats on Wheels

Midway through a small DIY project this morning (that I promise to blog about later), I hit the Google in search of casters. You know, those things you attach to the bottom of table legs so you can roll the table around? Yes, those things. And on one of the major home improvement store's websites, I came across this:

Go ahead and click on that photo folks, so you can see it in all its glory. No really, go ahead. I'll wait. And while you're there, pay special attention to the part I circled.

Yes, that's right, this store is suggesting that you attach these casters to each of your furry kitty's paws for what I can only imagine is some bizarre version of feline roller derby. I've heard of cats behind the wheel, but never cats on wheels. I briefly considered the idea, then thought better of it. But still - I want to know who wrote this. Do you hear me Big Box Home Improvement Store??? I want answers!

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Please Mom, can I get one? Pleeeeeeeeeeease?????

New under the "Fake Stuff I Want for Real" heading is the amazingly awesome Tauntaun sleeping bag that ThinkGeek debuted as an April Fool's prank earlier this year.

After overwhelming fan response, they promised they'd make it for real. Now, it looks like it might be a reality.

Who's got two thumbs and can't wait to sleep inside a tauntaun? This girl!!!

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Bites: Calling All Pizza Dough Recipes

I'm looking for the perfect pizza dough recipe: bakes up slightly crispy on the outside and chewy on the inside, and makes a great canvas for a variety of toppings. I'll admit to resorting to Boboli in the past, but with a long weekend coming up I thought I'd try my hand at a homemade pie.

Do you have a favorite pizza dough recipe you'd care to share?