Saturday, June 16, 2012

June 16, 2012

Noelle's Fresh Tomato and Mozzarella Pizza

Being home has its perks! Like real food. =D And for those of us who consider culinary undertakings a therapeutic retreat, being able to cook my own food is something I look forward to with great excitement. Especially when the produce is fresh from the farmer's market down the street or pulled from our own kitchen garden.

Friday nights has long since been an O'Brien tradition - pizza, Pepsi, and a movie or boardgame as a family. But unlike the American version, which would entail picked up the phone and calling Papa John's delivery services, the "pizza" phase actually denotes several hours in the kitchen - from three to five, depending on the amount of pizzas being baked up.

It all begins with a little fine flour, fragrant olive oil, and fresh basil. From there the sauce is simmered on the stove - rich chunks of tomato blended with Italian spices and raw garlic. Kendon is the master of sauce for us, and he is not want to disappoint. =)

The dough is made from scratch on an vintage solid wood board, flour and milk blended by hand in a rhythmic massage called kneading. Yeast and sugar, the key ingredients for the sweet, "pillowy" consistency of the crust, are warmed until the yeast begins to puff into a fluffy balm. Combined with the flour into dough, it is left to rise for an hour or two, then punched down, and left to rise again. Keeping the dough warm and moist is essential to attain correcting proofing. The bowl is left near a warm stove, floating in a sink of warm water, or covered with warm towels and placed in the close proximity of a microwave.

In the meantime, the knives come out and fresh vegetables are prepped for toppings. Take your pick - but our selection is usually sweet peppers (yellow and orange), golden onion, black kalamata olives, green olives, white mushrooms, ripe red tomatoes, whole garlic cloves, squash, and pineapple. (yes, pineapple!) Herbs? Fresh basil and cilantro, finely chopped and bruised to release their delicate oils and aroma.
Meat? Well, the guys buff it up with pepperonis from the US, but I prefer seasoned chicken or sardines in oil. Dog tastes decent as well.... okay, just kidding. =P But no giving me a hard time about my seafood! lol
Sharp yellow and orange Russian cheese, grated, is the last of the preparations.

Roll out the dough on a floured surface, pat onto a baking stone prepared with oil. I prefer my pizza to be deep-dish crust, about an inch and a half thick, and placed into a pie pan. Sauce, cheese, and toppings. Bake for twenty blissful minutes as the smell fills the house, and voila - dinner, the O'Brien way.
Compelled by my adventurous spirit from time to time to experiment a little, I took the key ingredients of my favorite Panera Bread panini, tomato and fresh mozzarella, and turned it into a pizza. Atop a bed of sauce and cheese, I spread large slabs of fresh mozzarella and slices of tomato, alternating in a checkered pattern across the whole pizza. Sprinkle fresh basil here and there (be liberal!) and then crush fresh garlic, sprinkling over the tomatoes. Be sure to be liberal with the garlic as well... there are fewer ingredients that produce better taste and aroma!

If you have a camera ready when the first piece is sliced from the oven, hot and bubbly, you can capture the mozzarella stringing in jaw-dropping perfection. =) As the Russians say, Na zdorovye! Enjoy =))

Red Sauce:

1 8oz tomato paste
1 tsp oregano
1/2 tsp marjoram
1/2 tsp basil
2-3 whole cloves of garlic, crushed

Pizza Dough:

2 tsp vinegar
3/4 cup water
3/4 cup milk
1 tbsp yeast
1 tbsp sugar
2 tbsp olive oil
1/2 tsp salt
*microwave for 30 seconds until yeast begins to rise, stir, let sit 15 minutes
4 cups flour
*combine liquids with flour and stir, knead on a floured surface, and place in a lightly-greased, covered bowl for 1-2 hours or until doubled
*punch dough with fist, portion into balls the size of a two fists, and roll out into desired thickness for crust.
*let sit 10 minutes on baking stone, top with ingredients

Bake 20 minutes or until golden on the bottom. Be prepared to fight over who gets second helpings!

Saturday, June 9, 2012

June 9th, 2012

My brother is married!!!!! Steven and Nina tied the knot on June 02, and I could not be happier! I have the world's best little sister now, and Nina and I have already managed to sneak in an exclusive shopping day as legal siblings. We bought shoes =) What a perfect week!

The big day was simply ethereal. As Steven later said, "The wedding was magnificent, enchanting..." And enchanting it was. From Nina's dress of Indonesian lace and Italian satin, to the caravan of black Mercedes, to the best man's custom designed bowtie, to the banquet of  nine courses, and then of course the waterfall tiered cake to follow.... it was overwhelming. There will be professional photos uploaded on Facebook sometime next week, and I will sneak a few of my favorites on this blog. =)

I had the privilege of being Nina's maid of honor, and it was so much fun. She was the ideal bride, in every way. I was inspired by her tranquility, her excitement, her attention to detail, her thoughtfulness of her guests, her devotion to her fiance/groom. And the Lord's blessing was all over her and Steven as the event turned out better than anyone could have imagined!

The ceremony was held in the church, fresh for it dedication that coming Sunday, with the pristine white marble tile spreading like a milky glass sea from the foyer up to the wedding arch. Floating candles, a profusion of white Dutch roses, floor-length satin drapes gathered in billowy folds along every wall, an overflowing gift table... every thing was a fairytale. Nina's wedding colors, pearlescent white and dramatic royal purple, stood out in vivid contrast against the empty canvas of the newly-finished church. Wow.
The ceremony was packed with emotion. Both fathers cried, the mothers cried, the best man (Kendon, groom's brother) kept chasing the ring bearer (Sasha, bride's little brother), the guests awwed at the first church wedding they had ever seen. The vows were bilingual. Steven recited his in English, and Nina in Russian, but the first kiss was without interpretation.... everyone cheered =)

The reception kicked off the arrival of the caravan for the destination photoshoot. The bridal party rode in sleek black Mercedes, while select guests followed in a white bus. We toured the historic parks and gardens of the city, frolicking along cobblestone streets, playing at the fountains of the Grand Theatre where the Russian ballet performs, and jumping off WWII monuments. The main sights were the Kharkov Arch and Reflection Pool, adjacent from the theatre, Freedom Square, second largest square in the world, and Park Gorkova, a small city in size with mile-long alleys and perfectly sculpted lines of silver fir, delicate birch, shady maple, skyscraper cottonwood. The morning started with romantic rain showers, and ended with translucent sunshine. Thank you, God, for adding your own touch =)

Congratulations, Steven and Nina!

With love from your little sister <3