Pizza inspired by tapas "queso de cabra al horno"

I made an amazing pizza last night and I want to share the recipe. It was inspired by the dish "Queso de Cabra al Horno" from Emilio's Tapas in Chicago. This wonderful tapas is garlic toast topped with baked tomato sauce, goat cheese, and kalamata olives.

We don't know what's in Emilio's amazing tomato sauce, so Alice made this roasted red pepper sauce recipe from Epicurious. It turned out thick, fragrant, and sweet. It took about an hour to make (15 minutes active time) though you could get away with a jarred roasted red pepper sauce.

While prepping the ingredients, I preheated a pizza stone to 475 degrees. The first thing I prepped was garlic butter:
  • 2 tbsp unsalted butter
  • 3 cloves garlic
I pressed the garlic, mixed it in with the butter, and let it rest. Then:
  • 1/2 small onion, coarsely chopped
  • 1 yellow pepper, coarsely chopped (actually I cut it from top to bottom, then sliced it thinly into long earlike shapes)
  • 1/2 cup or more pitted kalamatas, coarsely chopped
  • 5oz or so goat cheese, sliced into discs (I put it in the freezer for a while to make it easier to slice)
I spread out a ball of whole wheat pizza dough onto parchment paper and baked it on the stone for 3 or 4 minutes before adding the toppings. It blew up like a pillow and I had to stab it to deflate it - I'm still working on my crust technique, obviously.

Once the crust was baked (and re-flattened) I spread it with the garlic butter. If it looks like there's way too much butter and garlic on there, just keep going. I actually used four cloves of garlic, not three. Then on went the rest of the ingredients (I arranged the pepper strips in a sunburst pattern and finished with the cheese) and I baked it for 14 minutes.

Was it faithful to the tapas I remember fondly? Pretty close. I can tell you this would make excellent garlic toast if you left off everything else. I had added the pepper and onion for bulk, but I feel like we could have done without the pepper. Alice suggests using a sharp Spanish onion instead of the sweet Vidalia I used. This pizza was rich and delicious and I will absolutely make it again.

The martini glass and Marie Antoinette

Currently, "martini" is to cocktail as "multimedia" was to computer in the early 90s.  I'm waiting for this fad to die.

In Marie Antoinette's time, champagne was drunk out of wide, shallow glasses that were said to be the size of one of her breasts.  The delicate scents of the sparkling wine drifted away from these glasses, never to be smelled by the amorous Frenchmen of the 1700s.  These days we use tall, narrow glasses to concentrate the aromas:  champagne flutes.  They work!

Right now I'm drinking a Manhattan out of an "up glass" or martini glass, the cone-shaped thing that girly drinks have been delivered in for the last decade.  This glass sucks. Martini glasses are hard to carry and hold, easy to spill, and they don't stay cold.   

Martini glasses are for gin or vodka and vermouth, anyway.  Why put chocolate syrup in the damn thing?   Other ingredients belong in rocks glasses (the short, heavy-bottomed ones) or in Collins glasses (the tall narrow juice glasses).   What do you really need to drink out of a plugged funnel? Motor oil?

Put a short, wide glass in the freezer and leave it there until the next time you want a mixed drink.  You won't need ice, and your drink will benefit.  So many recipes depend on the details of execution:  if the glass just came out of the hot dishwasher, too much ice will melt and the result will be watery. To hell with drinking out of cones anyway. And that's my Martin Amis moment for the day.

Blogger tools roundup

I have a few newly discovered blogging tools to share; I mostly posted them elsewhere to avoid boring my non-blogger readers to the point of drool. These all relate to Google's free blogging service, Here's a recap.
1. If you blog for a while, eventually somebody will come along and comment on an old post, and you might never know it. You need some way of being notified of all comments that appear on your blog.

2. I used the new Pages feature to modify this site. Pages brings Blogger closer to being a general-purpose site tool. I may even move my simple personal site to Blogger pages - or to Google Sites. By the way, did you know you can buy a domain name and hosting services from Google, just like GoDaddy?

3. The template is a blog's color scheme, background, fonts etc. Over at the Lake Erie Moose Society Test Blog, I posted about a new Template Designer that's in beta. You can start using it by working in Blogger In Draft.

4. Wait a minute, you say, what is Blogger In Draft? It gives you access to features that are in development but haven't yet been released to all users. Here's where the Blogger In Draft team discusses ongoing work, and here's where the main Blogger team discusses the services available to all users.

5. The Test Blog, by the way, is a sort of guinea pig we use for playing with the appearance and settings of default Blogger blogs. I have posted a few things about templates over there.
I do plan to update this site's appearance (it's minimalist even by my standards, and probably would have looked simplistic in 1998) but I'll wait until I can use one of my own photos as a background image. Currently the Template Designer is restricted to the stock photos Google has made available. This morose gothy black theme no longer really suits me. On the other hand, I care a lot more about function than appearance, and I'm not willing to put a lot of effort into making things pretty. A blog is a content management system, and this one is doing its job.

New feature: standalone web pages in Blogger!

In February, Blogger added the ability to create freestanding Web pages for your blog. Until now, every page in a Blogger blog was a post, so if you wanted to provide an "about me" page, you had to host it elsewhere. No longer!I noticed this new "edit pages" tab in my Blogger Dashboard today. If you create a page, you get a form to type in that's almost exactly like the "edit posts" form. Click "publish" and you're given the opportunity to display the page in your sidebar (my right hand column), as a "tab" at the top of your blog (my blog doesn't have any tabs), or just as a web page you can link to. I chose the latter. The text on my new "about this blog" page is identical to what I had put in the post I used to use for this purpose, except, of course, I no longer need the caveat about it being back-dated.

What else could you do with pages? My friend Donna wants to keep a running list of what she and her friends are reading--except she uses Wordpress and I'm sure they have their own ways. You could provide a glossary, a list of references, an old-fashioned link page - whatever you like. Any ideas?

Cold and brittleness

You can tell a cold morning by the high-pitched crackle of ice under your feet. Have you ever broken a tool while working on your car outside in the winter? Or dropped a plastic lunch container out of the freezer and seen the corner break off? Cold and brittleness are inextricably linked in people's minds, but on the surface there's no real reason for it. I'll put on my lab coat for a moment here and go a little deeper.

Steel is the classic example. There was speculation that the Titanic sank because the iron hull had been embrittled by the frigid waters of the north Atlantic. It's true that during World War II, twelve Liberty-class cargo ships broke in half. The ensuing research uncovered the cause: the ductile-to-brittle transition in bcc metals. Steel is an example of a bcc metal (which refers to the arrangement of the atoms in the structure) and when warm it can be bent quite a bit before it breaks (it is ductile). However, at around the temperature of ice water, the tiny crystals that make up steel parts harden to the point where cracks simply separate them, instead of the crystals stretching to blunt the tip of the advancing crack. These free-running cracks then allow the part to simply break in two.

Those tiny crystals (above) are at the root of most of this behavior. As I mentioned, the atoms in each crystal are arranged in an orderly fashion, which allows them to deform in a similarly orderly fashion. Now, the amount of force it takes to deform a crystal is smaller at high temperatures. (That's why the World Trade Center buildings didn't collapse immediately when they were hit by planes: it only happened after the jet fuel fire softened and bent the steel girders.) But the amount of force needed to pry two neighboring crystals apart doesn't change. That means that when it gets cold enough, steel cracks like styrofoam instead of each crystal pulling like taffy.

What about the lunch containers that crack when they fall out of the freezer? They're not metal. It turns out that plastics have a "glass transition temperature" above which they are softer. Window glass has such a temperature too, but it's red hot; the same word is used because plastics and glasses both have a random atomic arrangement. Above the glass transition temperature, plastics and glasses respond quickly to external forces - picture a glassblower bending red hot glass. So when you drop a cold plastic tub, it can't change shape fast enough to deal with the impact and it breaks.

So maybe there's something behind the perception that everything gets brittle in the cold. Everything I've talked about here is based on the mobility of atoms, which vibrate more at higher temperatures. Those vibrations allow plastics to flow and metals to deform. And there's your materials science lesson for the day!

Ambient writing

When asked what kinds of music and movies I like, I often struggle, and say that I end up liking the kind that has a lot of atmosphere. Not proficient instrumentals or a great plot, but rather an evokation of mood or a sense of place. I think the same idea might be relevant to writing as well.

I was recently introduced to the new blog What we are supposed to do when we are at our best, penned by a young man in mourning. (Hat tip to Coudal Partners. Hope this link sticks.) His short pieces are thick with tension or sadness or whatever he's dealing with at that moment, but they don't claim to say anything concrete.

The poem I posted was inspired by his work. It reminded me of what's possible when you free yourself from a direction, when you write what comes instead of deciding on a conclusion and then straining towards it. I started with the opening line of a poem spoken on a Harold Budd album, wrote about an appropriate situation for it, and excised everything but the sensations of being in that situation, leaving little but the title to describe the place. I'm happy with it.

Budd's album
is an example of ambient music, a term popularized by his collaborator Brian Eno in the late 1970s. It is "as ignorable as it is listenable", made for the express purpose of evoking a mood without occupying your attention. (A far cry from the bastardized pop songs and classical pieces heard in elevators, this was an avant garde idea in its time - Philip Glass and Steve Reich are as responsible for it as Eno.) This is one of those kinds of music that I like.

While reading necessarily occupies one's forebrain more than listening to music does, I'm going to call my poem, and J. S. Yingling's blog, ambient writing. They evoke without constraining. I name this because the name empowers me to seek more of it. Do you have any other examples?

Carnitas tacos, traditional style

In Chicago I fell in love with a certain kind of taco they made there: two soft corn tortillas, pork "al pastor", onions, and cilantro, with a lime squeezed over the top - that's it. No cheese or tomatoes or lettuce or any of that other garbage. I haven't found quite the same thing here yet, so I thought I'd try to make them myself.

Mark at recently posted a yummy sounding recipe for pork carnitas. I made the pork Sunday and I'll use it to make tacos Wednesday. It was easy, and went pretty much the way Mark said it would; I'll second his recommendation to use a heavy pan or Dutch oven with a heavy lid. I think my light-lidded pan allowed too much steam to escape, as there wasn't much liquid left at the end. But, the pork tasted fantastic: it had a little tang from the limes, a little heat from the anchos, and amazing flavor from the cumin that I ground fresh that day.

Now, carnitas is not the same as al pastor. The flavor in al pastor comes from adobo, one of my favorite Mexican sauces. You can get adobo concentrate in little jars in most grocery stores. Al pastor meat (usually pork, as is carnitas) is made by layering the meat onto a spit basted with the sauce and sliced off--just like gyro meat!

This gives me an opportunity to give a shout out to Falafel Cafe in University Circle, who make the best gyros I've had in Cleveland. Their french fries are on the greasy side, but I keep coming back. And I'll let you know how the tacos turn out Wednesday.


P.S. Wondering where on earth you can get odd spices like whole cumin seeds? Look no further than Penzeys. I've been ordering from them through the mail since the late 90s, and there's a branch on the East Side of Clevleand.