Saturday, January 30, 2010

A Taste of Home

When you combine friends and family with the sensory delight of food, a return to that food will always bring back some sweet reminder of the family and friends with which you shared the meal.  So, now that I have returned to the north, although I love trying new flavors, I crave those flavors which taste like home. 

One of the first things that I made when I returned was an attempted replica of the Mediterranean pizza at Tomatino's.  Now, my pizza was no where near the wonder that is Tomatino's Mediterranean pizza, but there is something about the smell and taste of pizza crust, cheese, and delicious toppings that has a reminiscent quality. 

I'll be honest.  I made my own pizza sauce, but I wasn't that thrilled with it, so I'll leave it to you to either make your favorite (and share it here, if you will), or use your favorite store-bought brand.  And I'll keep on the search.  However, I really do like this pizza crust recipe!  I made two eight inch pizzas with thick crusts, but you could easily use a pizza stone or baking sheet for larger pizzas (it should easily make two 10-12 inch pizzas).  Feel free to alter your toppings based on your tastes, too. 

Somewhat Mediterranean Pizza

1 tablespoon molasses
1 cup warm water
2 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast (1 packet)
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon olive oil (plus a little more)
cornmeal (for sprinkling the pan)

Pizza Toppings:
pizza sauce of your choice
sliced roma tomatoes
sliced black olives
quartered marinated artichoke hearts (cut into smaller pieces)
sliced mushrooms
baby spinach
feta cheese
Italian four-cheese blend (or a mixture of mozarella and provalone)

In the bowl of an electric stand mixer, combine the warm water, molasses and yeast.  Stir, and let stand for 10 minutes, until the mixture is bubbly.  Using the dough hook, mix in the flour, salt and olive oil, and stir for 6-8 minutes (alternatively, knead by hand), until the dough is smooth and elastic. 

Pour a little olive oil over the dough in the bowl and turn to coat.  Cover the bowl and let the dough rest for 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 425 degrees.  If you are using a pizza stone, place it in the oven before you turn the oven on.  Prep your pizza toppings.  Sprinkle the baking pans or pizza stone with cornmeal. 

When the pizza dough is ready, divide the dough in half.   Roll each half into 8-12 inch crusts (depending on how thick you want your crust; 8 is very thick (and will be chewy) and 12 is very thin (and will be crispy).  Place the rolled out crust on the baking pan or pizza stone and bake for 10 minutes. 

Remove the crust from the oven and add your toppings.  I like to put cheese both below and above the toppings.  Bake for an additional 10 -15 minutes.  Enjoy, and think of home as you eat it. 
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Thursday, January 28, 2010

Five Favorites from Montgomery

I'm finally back up north.  I haven't quite gotten back into the swing of things, but such is life in limbo before school starts up again (my classes do not start until next week!). 

I spent a wonderful three weeks with my family.  I was able to enjoy time with our sweet friends as well as some good time with my parents, and I cherish every moment.  I went to the church where I grew up, went to the Bible study that has been an integral part of our marriage for the past three years, had a few lunch dates with friends, was able to visit with my grandparents, spent some time with one of my best college friends, cooked with and for my parents, and took major steps in learning how to sew (from an excellent teacher, my mom)! 

Before we left the north for this excursion, my husband asked which of our favorite and frequented restaurants we would want to visit while down south.  After rattling off about five different places, I said that well, I don't really care to go to the restaurants just for the sake of going.  I want to go only if we will be with our friends and family. 

Unfortunately, during the one week in which my husband was in Alabama, he was not able to visit any of these places.  Somehow, before I left, I had visited all of them.  While we lived down south, we didn't go out to eat often, but when we did, we only and always went to these places, the places where we don't even have to look at the menu. 

I'm going to share my list with you, in case you ever visit Montgomery, Alabama.  They are our favorites.  That is not to say that there aren't better restaurants in Montgomery, but those are generally not the kind of restaurants a youth minister and teacher can afford to frequent. 

Ala Thai is our favorite Thai restaurant.  We both always order spring rolls and chicken panang with rice.  The spring rolls taste so fresh, and the panang is the perfect combination of spicy curry and sweet coconut.  My family and I have been visiting Ala Thai since I was in high school, when we would all order the same dish except my brother, who insisted on beef soup.  I am so thankful that my husband has joined my family's love of this little place.  I am sure that there are wonderful Thai restaurants up here, but we haven't ventured out to find them yet, nor could they hold the same reminicent quality for me.

La Zona Rosa is our favorite Mexican restaurant.  I cannot stray from the vegetarian fajita quesadilla, which has a wonderfully fresh mix of mushrooms, spinach, and onions.  La Zona Rosa also has yummy margaritas with salt, please.  I didn't really discover my love for Mexican food until I was married, and this restaurant quickly became a favorite for friday night dates and dinners with friends.  This is one thing that our current city is completely lacking; the TexMex restaurants which are so prevalent in the south are replaced by Irish pubs up here. 

Tomatino's is our favorite pizza joint.  I don't know what the deal is with the pizza places up here, but the pizza is always so greasy!  I love a slice with good tasting crust and lots of fresh ingredients.  At Tomatino's, we always split a garden salad with goddess dressing and a mediterranean pizza (hold the red peppers on both, for us).  The salad is a delight in and of itself; there are more toppings than lettuce in the bowl!  Tomatino's was one of the first and most frequented date spots when we first started dating.  We almost always brought out-of-town guests here, too. 

Connected to Tomatino's is Cafe Louisa and Louisa's Bakery.  When we visit for coffee after a date night at Tomatino's, I always get a sugar cookie (no ordinary sugar cookies here!) and he always gets a dream bar. 

Finally, Nancy Patterson's Bistro is a favorite place for birthday lunches with my sweet Montgomery friends.  Although my entree varies most times I visit, I always love having a bite or two of strawberry cake before leaving (or else pick up a strawberry cupcake on my way out)!

There you have it.  My five favorite Montgomery restaurants.  If you live near Montgomery, or are ever passing through, try to visit one or all of them.  Of course, their appeal for me is much more than good food; it is family and friends.  They carry with them sweet memories of sweet times.

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Saturday, January 2, 2010

A Long-Awaited Blog Post

Well!  It has been a busy few weeks!  If you're reading this, thank you for sticking with me, and patiently waiting for my return to the blogosphere. 

Our Thanksgiving trip was fabulous!  Three of us made the whirlwind trip to NYC.  We saw the parade, picnicked in Central Park, took pictures in front of the Christmas tree at Rockefeller, watched the Radio City Spectacular, walked through Times Square, and across the Brooklyn Bridge.  In the words of our co-adventurer, "This was the most memorable Thanksgiving.  Ever."  Of course, that does not diminish our wonderful family memories in the least.  We truly missed them, and spent much of the day on our cell phones, anxious to hear the voices of the ones we love and miss! 

We returned to a different kind of whirlwind; much more urgent and much less fun.  Why we all wait until the last minute to produce thirty-five plus pages of papers, digests and reports for school is beyond me, especially when those documents comprise roughly half of our grade.  But that is what we did.  After the rush of papers, we spent our days preparing for exams.  In addition to studying, those few crunch weeks were spent eating (or feasting) on Thanksgiving leftovers, cleaning out the refrigerator, and being creative with pantry staples.  After taking four exams in three days, we were homeward bound.

Christmas with family in Tennessee

We spent a week with family in Tennessee, where we celebrated Christmas Day, and then drove south to Alabama for another week of reunion with family and friends, where we enjoyed a big New Year's Eve meal.  Being on the road and being away from my own kitchen has taken its toll; although I've helped out with a dish or two, I really haven't spent much time in the kitchen for the past month.  I've not been as faithful in taking pictures nor have I spent much time on the computer until now.  I'll spend the next couple of weeks down south, away from my kitchen and my beloved husband, who will be up north working diligently on his winter classes.  I'm sure that once things calm down, I'll find some good time in mom's kitchen and share some wonderful recipes with you, but for now, I wish you a belated Merry Christmas and a happy new year.  I hope that 2010 is a blessed year for all. 

New Year's with family at the farm in Alabama

Our New Year's Meal:  Collard Greens, Black Eyed Peas with Rice, Roasted Vegetables and Smoked Pork Loin with Pear Chutney

*A special thank-you to my sister-in-law, brother-in-law, dad, husband, and friend who all took their precious time to proof-read my papers.
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