Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Blink-and-you'll-be-done Tomato Sauce

Every homecook needs a quick and dirty (well maybe not dirty) tomato sauce recipe in his or her repertoire that they can fall back on to toss on fresh farmers market ravioli or homemade pizza crust.  And let's be honest, the quicker the better.  We've got Biggest Loser to watch, people!  This recipe is the fastest tomato sauce recipe I've come across that not only tastes good; it tastes great.  I've toned down the spice and zing (from lemon zest) in the original recipe, but if you are a big lemon person or pepper person, feel free to double the amounts.  According to Heidi, the type of canned tomatoes you use makes all the difference.  When there's only six ingredients, you really should make sure you're using some good ones, or else it might not taste much better than stuff out of the jar.

We used this sauce on ravioli and homemade pizza, and it worked great for both.  Even better, we have half the sauce still in the freezer.  The recipe makes enough for what I consider 4 servings for two people (so two pasta nights and two pizzas).  Now your five-minute sauce got even faster since it's lasting you four nights.

Enough about how quick, easy, and convenient it is - onto what really matters, the taste.  This sauce has an amazing depth of flavor that makes it seem as if it was simmering on your stove all afternoon.  The olive oil adds smoothness and richness to the sauce, while the red pepper flakes and lemon zest create a wham-bam effect to take the sauce to another level.  One try and I guarantee this will replace any other quick sauce recipes you use or even the jarred stuff you have laying around.

Here are our six ingredients - kosher salt, 28 oz. can of San Marzano crushed tomatoes (these won't be found out Safeway, folks, but they sell it at Whole Foods and other gourmet markets), crushed red pepper flakes, olive oil, lemon zest, and garlic.

Our Whole Foods sometimes runs out of the crushed San Marzanos, so I tend to stock up when I see them.

Add 1/4 cup olive oil, 3/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes, 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, and 3 cloves chopped garlic to a cold saucepan.  Turn on heat to medium high and heat until you can smell the garlic.  This took me about 2 minutes.  Be careful not to burn the garlic - that stuff is testy.

Stir in one 28 oz. can crushed tomatoes and bring to a simmer.  Don't worry that the olive oil seems reluctant to combine with the tomatoes.  It will submit.

Remove from heat, and test for salt.  Then stir in the zest of half of a lemon.  As we all learned from the Pioneer Woman, zesting is even easier if you keep the lemon on the cutting board and run the zester on top so that the zest collects easily on the back-side.

Toss this sauce on top of some delicious, pillowy roasted asparagus ravioli that you picked up at the Mountain View farmers market (oh wait, is that just us?).  Or you can use this sauce on any kind of boxed pasta, homemade noodles, or pizza.  It works great on everything because it is delicious, but not too full of flavors that it would overwhelm anything.  

Blink-and-you'll-be-done Tomato Sauce
Adapted from 101 Cookbooks

Makes roughly 1 quart sauce

1/4 cup olive oil
3/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 28-oz. can San Marzano crushed tomatoes
1/2 lemon, zested

Add olive oil, red pepper flakes, salt, and garlic to a cold saucepan.  Turn heat to medium-high and heat for 1-2 minutes, until you just begin to smell the garlic.  Stir in crushed tomatoes and bring to a simmer.  Remove from heat and taste to see if you need to add more salt.  Stir in zest of 1/2 lemon and enjoy over any pasta or pizza.  

Monday, March 29, 2010

Berkeley Food Field Trip

John and I are completely obsessed.  We have driven an hour to Berkeley two weekends in a row now, under some pretense or another, but really just to eat Semifreddi's morning buns.  Two weekends ago we went to Berkeley since the King Tut exhibit in SF was sold out.  This past weekend we went to "try the farmers market."  It's a good thing we both share the obsession, or else I'd be lonely all weekend when John runs off to Berkeley.

They only had two morning buns left, so we had to settle for a chocolate chip cookie too.  Rough life.

This is a look of pure joy.  Don't let it scare you.

For those not acquainted with morning buns (perhaps everyone who doesn't live in California), they are similar to a cinnamon roll, except made with croissant-like dough and without icing.  They actually come with or without cinnamon.  The best part is the center section that is moist, rich, and buttery.  Honestly, these buns are worth moving to the West Coast for.  I guess we need our morning buns to make up for our lack of bagels.

I went a little crazy taking macro pics of all the cool flowers and things in Berkeley.  We did a lot of walking around and everyone seemed to have gorgeous flowers sprouting everywhere.  Must be a Berkeley thing.

Hello beautiful street that runs in between the world's best ice cream and the world's best morning buns.  I would like to live on you, immediately.

Preferably in this adorable house.

We walked from Claremont to College Ave (at least I think it's an Ave).  I love all the great signs.

This adorable store, The Treehouse, sells a bunch of "green gifts" that are impossible to pass up.  We ended up getting a blue bamboo serving bowl, because clearly that is a must-have item.

Here's a pic of the whole store.  Wouldn't you love to own and run a place like this?  Or is it just me?

That bowl I love strikes again!  I vow that next time I see this set I will buy it!

Guess you need some bees to pollinate all the blooms around town.

This house was not one of our favorites.  We were especially intrigued by the bizarre metal contraption in the bottom right.  I thought it looked like it would hold an Olympic flame or something.  Any ideas?

These flowers were an electric purple that you don't see in nature much.  The whole yard was covered with 'em.

This flower...bush....well, plant...reminded me of something from Dr. Seuss or perhaps something you'd see growing in the ocean.  And yes, they were as soft and fuzzy as they look.

Lola is another favorite store of ours on College.

Toast/bread serving platters are just about the cutest pieces of wood you can imagine.  They had these last time we were here too, but almost everything else in the store was completely different.  I love these little shops where the owners just fill them with interesting things that don't match but somehow go together perfectly.

I would like to place this table in my house in Berkeley.  Please ignore the fact that I don't have that house, because it would go great!

And naturally we made it back to Ici.  This place gets better every time we go.

We found out Mitch somehow had been ordering his ice cream in a cup this whole time.  What a sucker.  These handmade cones with chocolate tips are not to be missed.

John agrees.

Secret kitchen tucked away in the back.  I wonder how they come up with their fun flavors.  I had orange chocolate chip.  Ice cream with a light orange flavor, tiny pieces of candied orange peel, and chocolate chips.

I need to start storing my cookies around the house like this.  Tupperware just won't hack it anymore.

We also went to a sushi restaurant for dinner that night, but I usually restrain myself from taking pictures in sit-down places, so there's no visual for you.  Obviously sushi doesn't really compare to morning buns and ice cream though, anyway.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Stilleto Contessa

Earlier this week I went to Costco right after work, so that meant I was picking up 36-packs of t.p. in 5-inch heels.  It was pretty noticeable to me considering I used to wander the aisles in these:

Barely-there flip flops I've had for years.  I actually gave up flip flops entirely when I lived in New York because they were passe and actually quite uncomfortable with all of the walking involved.  But flip flops found their way back on my feet once we moved to California.  They haven't been out much since I've been working again, though.  Just because some people wear leggings to work (what?!) doesn't mean I would ever venture in wearing these.  Not even on casual Friday.

But don't worry folks, I haven't changed anything other than improved my footwear recently.  I walked out of Costco bearing a two pound bag of active dry yeast.  It cost the same for a 2 lb bag at Costco as it does for a three-pack of 1/4 oz packets at Whole Foods.  I've been going through a lot lately with all the pizza crust I've been making, so I wisened up and went jumbo.

Maddie enjoyed all of my footwear picture taking because it meant I was sitting on the floor, at her level.

And when you are at her level, she often goes in for the kill - she got pretty close to licking the lens with this one! 

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Chocolate Birthday Cake

Did anyone else have to read that Agatha Christie book, And Then There Were None in middle school?  It was probably the best thing we read (i.e. most fun to read) for years.  Well, this picture reminds me of that, because about ten seconds after this picture was taken, "then there were none" cake slices left.  Yes, I realize that sentence is a bit of a stretch (well, more than a bit). 

It's a testament to this cake that we actually went through the whole thing in a few days.  Usually with just a couple of people, most of a cake will go to waste, but this one was so delicious that we managed to go through it all (with some help from Natalie and Mich on day one).

My memory card was full during the mixing of the cake batter, so you'll just have to read the instructions below.  It's a devil's food cake, and let me tell you, there are a lot of steps.  But this is a Magnolia Bakery recipe people, and no cheap tricks are going to get you Magnolia Bakery taste.

It's always important to make sure you bake your cake with enough time to allow it to cool before you need to ice it.  But it's also a good idea to ice your cake before your guests arrive.  Didn't follow that advice myself when I made this.  Whoops!

When you make layer cakes, make sure you cut off the domes so that the cakes have completely flat tops.  This way you also get to have a nice little cake snack in the middle of the afternoon.  Shouldn't all days be like this?

The chocolate buttercream icing was my favorite part (though the cake was John's favorite).  Both the cake and the icing use melted chocolate instead of cocoa powder, which gives it a super rich, deep chocolate flavor.

We let the birthday boy cut his own cake, which meant we ended up with some mighty thick slices. 

No, we didn't eat half the cake on the first night, but we ate a big chunk and then gave Mitch a thick slice to take home.

Next time you want to celebrate a birthday, do so the Magnolia Bakery way.  It's the right thing to do.

Devil's Food Cake
From the Magnolia Bakery Cookbook

3 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
3 large eggs, separated, at room temperature
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) softened unsalted butter
2 cups light brown sugar, firmly packed
8 oz. unsweetened chocolate, melted
2 cups milk
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Separate the eggs while cold and let them come to room termpature.  Grease and flour two 9 or 10-inch round cake pans (the recipe calls for 9-inch ones, but I only had 10-inchers) and then line the bottoms with waxed paper.  In a bowl sift together flour, baking soda, and salt.  Using a double boiler (or glass mixing bowl over a bowl of simmering water), melt chocolate over low heat for 5-10 minutes until smooth.  Allow chocolate to cool for 5-10 minutes.  In a separate bowl lightly beat egg yolks until thick and bright yellow (about 2 minutes).  In the bowl of a stand mixer cream butter and sugar for about 3 minutes. Beat in egg yolks until well combined.  Mix in chocolate.  Add dry ingredients into batter mixture in thirds, alternating with milk and vanilla extract.  Beat well after each addition.  In another bowl beat egg whites on high speed of electric mixer until soft peaks form.  Gently fold beaten egg whites into batter.  Evenly distribute batter into two pans.  Bake for 40-45 minutes at 350 degrees (until toothpick comes out clean).  Cool cake in pans for 10 minutes and then invert cake onto cooling racks and remove from pans.  Ice cake when completely cooled.

Chocolate Buttercream
From the Magnolia Bakery Cookbook

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, very soft
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon milk
6 oz. semisweet chocolate, melted and cooled to lukewarm
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups sifted confectioners' sugar

Melt chocolate in double boiler (or glass mixing bowl over simmering water) on low heat for 5-10 minutes.  Stir occasionally and melt until completely smooth.  Allow chocolate to cool for 5-10 minutes.  In the bowl of a stand mixer beat butter until creamy (about 3 minutes).  Carefully add milk and beat until smooth.  Add cooled, melted chocolate and mix well.  Beat in vanilla for 3 minutes.  Slowly add confectioner's sugar and mix until creamy.  Will cover 24 cupcakes or a 2-layer cake.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Butter Softening Magic

So the other day when I was making John's chocolate birthday cake I forgot to soften the butter that morning and was in a rush to get softened sticks, or else I wouldn't be able to bake the cake before the pot roast needed to go in the oven.  It was a nice warm sunny day - maybe 70 degrees or so - and it dawned on me that the sun might be just what I need to make soft butter (but not melted in the microwave).  Microwaving butter to soften it is not a good idea when baking, because it usually just starts to melt the butter.

So I set up a little sun oven outside.  I place a small sheet of foil (shiny side up) outside and placed a small tupperware bowl on top with my butter inside.  Just because I wasn't sure if it would attract bugs, I put saran wrap on top.  The saran wrap probably wasn't necessary because it didn't have to be out there long.  It took less than an hour for the butter to become extremely soft - I was shocked at how quick it was.  So next time you are in a pinch (and it's sunny), soften your butter outside. 

I wasn't going to post about this, but John insisted!

Tuesday, March 23, 2010


Spring is here, so John, Maddie, and I (way overdressed for the warm weather) went for a hike this Saturday at the Lexington Reservoir.  And let me tell you, it was a bit of a hike.  The trail starts off at one of the steepest inclines I've ever been up, and I couldn't help but stare in disbelief at the runners slowly jogging by.  Hills are not my thing, especially when running.  Luckily, the rest of the hike isn't nearly so steep, and it just becomes a nice climb.

These pretty orange wildflowers dotted almost the entire trail.  Or trails I should say, because we went on several.  And not on purpose. 

To get to the top of the hill and to see this cool view of Silicon Valley, you have to go halfway around a loop.  We decided to just keep going on the loop, since it would take us back to our original trail.  Unfortunately, my map reading skills were poor, and I mostly just followed the people in front of us, who...lead us to an entirely different entrance to the park.  That entrance was about a mile away from where we parked!  So we had to turn around, after we were already pretty exhausted, hot, and thirsty, in search of our car on the other side of the hill.  John seemed to take the detour I lead us on with ease, though I'm not sure I would been so forgiving.  Luckily a Jamba Juice a few miles away revived us.  And frankly, the thought of Jamba kept us going that extra stint.  Next time I'll pay a bit more attention to the map and a bit less attention to the orange flowers.  

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Pizza Chronicles

I've been obsessing a bit lately.  Obsessing about pizza.  I bought a pizza stone last Saturday and proceeded to make pizza three times in the past week.  With no good pizza in Mountain View, I figured I should be the one to bring it to my fine city.  So I've been testing out some different methods and recipes, and now I'm here to share my results.

The first night I made Smitten Kitchen's pizza crust with grated fresh mozzarella and some sauce I made awhile back and had in the freezer.  This pizza came out well, but I think I needed to make the crust thinner and use less cheese.  Those are the key elements to homemade pizza - the thinnest crust imaginable and just enough cheese to barely cover it. 

Next up I tried the Pioneer Woman's recipe, mostly because you could make it in advance and let it rise in the fridge.  The problem with making pizza during the week is that the crust usually needs to spend some time rising, and that doesn't really work when you come home from work ready to eat.  Pizza crust almost always uses very simple ingredients.  This one uses olive oil, flour, warm water, kosher salt, and active dry yeast. 

Do you like my amazing cookbook holder?  John's mom sent it to me, and I didn't realize how much I would love it until I started using it.  It's so much easier than having to prop the book open with heavy things around the kitchen.

The recipe makes two crusts, which is perfect if you want to cut down on prep time.  I made the recipe one night after dinner and then we had it two days that week.  The crust is apparently best after rising in the fridge for 1-4 days.

You want to pull the crust out as thin as possible without actually tearing it (or just patching up any holes that happen).  I recommend putting your crust on parchment paper so you can slide the pizza onto your stone or pan to bake it.  Or you can do the cornmeal method, but that makes it much harder to get the pizza onto the stone.

We tried the pesto, mozzarella, and tomato pizza recommended by PW, and it was amazing.  I've never had many pesto-based pizzas before, but it really works well for homemade varieties.  Using pesto makes sure the crust doesn't get too laden down with sauce.  I just bought some pesto sauce at Trader Joe's, and it worked great.  Obviously homemade would be better, but life goes on.

The thinner the tomato and mozzarella slices, the better.

You have to bake your pizza at the hottest temperature your oven will allow (mine is 500 degrees).  Check on the pizza after 8 minutes, but wait until the cheese and crust brown before taking it out of the oven.  For me this is between 10 and 12 minutes.  

I can't really tell you how the bubble formed, but John and I were both very impressed with the bubble.  I got to eat that piece.

Browned cheese and delicious pesto - thank God for homemade pizza.  

I didn't have enough pesto to cover the next pizza, so I decided to go halfsies with tomato sauce.  The pesto side was definitely better, but I'm going to keep working on tomato sauce versions to try and get that perfected. 

No, that's not basil, I didn't have any.  I threw a handful of spinach leaves on and was surprised you couldn't even really taste them. 

Next time more spinach!  And more pizza - though probably 3 times a week is probably plenty.

Pizza Crust

Makes 2 crusts

1 teaspoon instant or active dry yeast
1 ½ cup warm water
4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon kosher salt
⅓ cups olive oil

Sprinkle 1 teaspoon yeast over 1 1/2 cups warm (not lukewarm) water.  In a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, combine 4 cups flour and 1 teaspoon kosher salt. With the mixer running on low speed, drizzle in 1/3 cup olive oil until combined with flour. Pour the yeast-water mixture into the bowl and mix until just combined.  In a separate mixing bowl, add a drizzle of olive oil, and form the dough into a ball. Toss to coat the dough in olive oil, then cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap or a lid and store in the fridge until needed.
The dough is best if made at least 24 hours in advance, and is even better if made 3 or 4 days in advance.
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