Archive forMarch, 2011

Refried Beans

Some people believe that refried beans are fried twice. They aren’t; the “re” prefix of their Spanish name (frijoles refritos) means “very”. They are simply cooked “very well” – until they are soft enough to easily mash. My refried beans aren’t even “fried” once, as I don’t see the need to add oil (and certainly not the traditional lard). And since I make them in the pressure cooker, they take, tops, half an hour instead of several hours. Healthier and faster! Here’s how I do it:

Refried Beans

1 cup dried pinto beans
1/4 cup diced or crushed tomatoes
vegan bouillon (optional)
1 small or 1/2 medium to large onion, diced
5 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
1/2 tsp chili powder (or more to taste; my chili powder is pretty hot and I was going for flavorful, not spicy), or some diced fresh jalapeno
1/4 tsp ground cumin
salt to taste

Soak the beans either in cold water overnight, or quick soak them by covering in plenty of water, bringing it to a boil, then covering and turning off the heat, and letting it sit for an hour. Drain, then put them in the pressure cooker with all of the other ingredients except the salt. Add water (or stock) to just cover the beans. Bring up to pressure, then reduce heat to low and cook for 6 minutes. Release the pressure, then heat over medium high heat to boil off the remaining water, salting to taste. When you reach a consistency that looks like this:

… remove from the heat and mash.

And that’s it!

Hardly harder than opening a can, right? And so much tastier.

If you don’t have a pressure cooker, they are nearly as easy; they just take much longer. Follow the same instructions, but simply cook on the stove top for three to four hours, or until done. You could probably do it on low in a crockpot as well, although I never have.

My favorite way to eat them is in a burrito. Here’s the one I ate tonight, before I rolled it up:

It also features my pickled jalapenos and homemade taco sauce, which is essentially a small can (8 oz) of tomato sauce blended with garlic, onion powder, chili powder, pickled jalapeno juice, and salt.

I leave you with Gomez thinking pensively about the typical atypicalness of DC weather in March. It was 80 degrees on Monday, 70 on Tuesday, and then last night it snowed. It melted by noon, but Gomez and I hate snow!

Comments (8)

Corned “Beef” Stew

I wasn’t going to post my St. Patrick’s Day dinner because I figured those of you who read a lot of food blogs have been bombarded with very similar recipes all week, and I wasn’t fixin’ to make anything unique. I couldn’t decide, though, between “beef” stew or corned “beef” and cabbage, and so I ended up combining them into Corned “Beef” Stew. Still nothing all that groundbreaking here, but I quite enjoyed it and thought I might want to make it again, so I decided to post it anyway, if only for my own reference. To be honest, I’ve never had corned beef, so I don’t know how corned beef-y this really is, but I used seasonings I think are used for corned beef, and I made it a bit tangier than my usual “beef” stew. This may look like a lot of ingredients, but really it’s a very simple recipe that comes together in no time; perfect for a weeknight.

Corned “Beef” Stew

1/2 onion, diced
1 package Gardein Beefless Tips, “beefy” seitan cut into bite-sized chunks, or your favorite vegan “beef” substitute (TVP chunks are good here, too)
3 carrots, chunked
3 stalks celery, chopped
5 tiny to small (fingerling-sized) or 2 medium potatoes, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
4 cups vegan “beef” broth (I used Better Than Bouillon)
2 Tbsp tomato paste
1 cup pearl onions, peeled (I used Trader Joe’s frozen variety, which seem better than other frozen brands)
2 cups chopped green cabbage
several splashes malt vinegar (other types of vinegar would work as well)

1 tsp yellow mustard seeds
1/2 tsp brown mustard seeds
1/2 tsp coriander seeds
1/2 tsp peppercorns
1/4 tsp red chili pepper flakes
1 or 2 bay leaves

If you’d like, lightly crush the seasonings (except the bay leaves) in a suribachi or with a mortar and pestle, or you can leave them whole if you prefer. Put the seasonings in a mesh tea ball or tie them up in cheesecloth, or something similar, and set aside. Heat a Dutch oven over medium heat, then add some oil. Add the diced onions and cook until soft, then add the “beef” and saute until browned. Add the carrots, celery, potatoes, and garlic and cook for another couple of minutes. Stir in the flour to coat the “beef” and veggies. Slowly pour in the broth (it helps if it’s hot; I heat the water for mine in my electric kettle and pour it into the pot, then add the bouillon to it), stirring so it thickens without lumps. Stir in the tomato paste, then add the pearl onions and cabbage. Bring to a boil and add the seasonings in their container. Reduce heat, cover, and simmer for 45 minutes to an hour. Add the malt vinegar to taste. When you are ready to eat, remove the seasoning container.

Mark liked his over rice. Serving it over cooked barley would be delicious. Or you can eat it as is. I think I preferred this to my usual “beef” stew.

(Yes, Gomez strikes again in the background of this picture!)

It’s becoming spring-like around here! Tomorrow it is supposed to be 75 degrees!! The kittens are loving the extra hour of sunshine…as am I.

Comments (3)

How to make a rag quilt

This is still a food blog, I swear! To the uninterested, I’m sorry for the back-to-back sewing posts. I’m going to do the bread bag tutorial sometime in the next month or so because several people said they want to see it, but other than that, I promise this is not going to become the “i sew stuff” blog (maybe “i sew stuff badly”!). But I’ve had this post ready to go for a couple of weeks now and I’m sick of seeing it in there with “Draft” next to it, and as the quilt featured in it has now reached its faraway destination of Australia, I can finally publish it! Food next time, no excuses!

The post…

Okay, this is going to be an incredibly long post and there will be no food and only incidental kittens, so most of you can probably just quietly leave now and return soon for the good stuff. But since I did get some interest in a tutorial for making rag quilts, I photographed the steps when I made a baby quilt for Kylie’s new baby boy, Liam. Here we go:

Rag Quilt

Necessary items
cotton flannel (NOT pre-washed)
cotton or cotton/poly batting (you could also just use more flannel)
sewing machine (unless you are extremely industrious and are willing to sew by hand)
size 16 sewing machine needle (you can try size 14, but I broke a couple 14s)
pins, quilt pins if you have them

Strongly recommended items
walking foot for sewing machine
rotary cutter and self-healing cutting mat
rag quilt snips

About the fabric

The first thing you need to do is determine the size of the quilt you want to make and the size of the squares you wish to use. This will tell you how much fabric you need to buy. I have made two sizes of quilt: adult, which contained 8″ finished squares, 7 or 8 squares wide by 8 squares tall, plus a border on all or some sides, and crib, which contained 6″ finished squares, 5 squares wide by 8 squares tall, with a border. I’ll be working with the crib size in this tutorial, and I felt 6″ was good for that, but for the adult quilts, I liked the 8″ squares. The smaller your squares, the more sewing and snipping you have to do.

Once you figure out how many squares you will use and their sizes, you need to decide on the number of fabrics you will use. I used a different fabric for each square in each row, so, for example, for the 7-square wide quilt, 7 different fabrics. Then you can do some math and figure out how much of each fabric to buy. For an adult size quilt with finished squares no larger than 8″ (you’ll be cutting 9″ squares), you can just get a yard of each fabric and it will come out perfectly. I would just get a yard for most baby quilts too, although you will probably end up having leftover fabric.

Joann’s has a large selection of cotton flannel, although I can’t stand the place. Hancock’s also has a lot. Locally, I like G Street, although their flannel selection is not nearly as good as their regular cotton selection; it’s mostly kid stuff. My favorite source for flannel is actually Etsy, because the selection available is great, and most sellers send their fabrics out within a day or two, and honestly, I find it easier to have fabric arrive in my mailbox than I do waiting for it to be cut in a store. I’ve had great luck with this method.

Sometimes sellers on Etsy will offer pre-washed fabric. Do NOT buy pre-washed flannel for rag quilts and do NOT wash the fabric before cutting or sewing it. This is opposite of what you usually do; for most sewing you always wash the fabric first. Due to the nature of rag quilts, though, washing is your final step. The quilt won’t work as well if you use washed fabric.

About the batting

I prefer Quilter’s Dream Cotton batting, which comes in easy sizes like “double”, “crib”, “queen”, etc. I say I prefer this brand, although to be honest, it’s the only kind I’ve used. I really liked it though and have no desire to try anything else. When they were out of all-cotton, I bought a package of cotton-poly, but I haven’t used it yet. It’s just a little less soft and I’m sure it won’t be a problem. G Street Fabrics sells Quilter’s Dream. Other fabric stores may have other brands. I’m sure they are all pretty similar. Instead of actual batting, you could also use additional flannel, either one layer or two.

About the thread

Buy a good quality, like Coats & Clark. You need a lot for quilting (probably more than one spool), but you’ll be sewing through many layers at some points and you want something that won’t break. Buy a color or colors that go with your color scheme. I used “winter white” for most of my quilts, which goes with just about everything.

About the walking foot

A walking foot is a special sewing machine foot that has feed dogs on the bottom of it, so the fabric is being gripped and pushed through the needle area evenly from the top and bottom. This is important when you are trying to sew through several layers; it keeps the layers moving in tandem. It’s hard to sew a quilt sandwich without having the layers shift, causing puckers, unless you use a walking foot. I know from experience. Many machines come with a walking foot, but if yours does not have one, you can buy a universal walking foot for about $15-$20, which I think would be money well spent, even for a single rag quilt, as it will save you a lot of frustration.

About the rag quilt snips

Like the walking foot, I feel some of you may feel this is an investment you don’t care to make if only ever make a single rag quilt, and I can’t lie: it is a rather single-purpose tool. But the snipping part is a pain, I’ll be up front about that, and I can’t imagine doing it with regular scissors. The Friskars rag quilt snips are a good price on Amazon, and Joann’s sells them as well, and I know they often send out coupons, so maybe you can get them for even less that way.

About the rotary cutter and self-healing cutting mat

You can certainly cut your fabric and batting with regular fabric scissors. But a rotary cutter makes it much easier, and unlike the snips, you’ll find you use them often for other projects. I’m pretty terrible at sewing, so a lot of what I do is based on straight edges, and the rotary cutter is a huge help. These can be a bit pricey, especially if you get a larger mat, but you don’t want a mat that’s too small.

Okay, now that we’ve discussed the supplies, I think we’re ready to begin!

Once you’ve amassed all of your fabrics and batting, it’s time to cut them into squares. Your flannel squares should be cut 1″ larger all around than the final size, so if you are doing 8″ finished squares, you will be cutting 9″ squares out of the flannel. Your batting squares will be cut the same size as the finished square. I usually put a half-size, solid-color border, either on the top and bottom, or on all four sides of my quilts. These are rectangles; to size them take half of the finished square size and add an inch to get your height. The width is the same size you cut for the squares. So for a border rectangle for a quilt with 8″ finished squares, your border rectangle dimensions would be 9″ x 5″. For 6″ finished squares, they would be 7″ x 4″. I’ll show you this later. For now, lets start with our interior squares.

You need to cut two squares for each block: a front and a back. So if you are making a quilt with 8 rows of 8 squares each, and each square is a different fabric, you need to cut 16 squares of each fabric. If you are using regular scissors, just cut these squares. I’ll demonstrate doing it with a rotary cutter.

If your flannel is very wrinkled, iron it first. I don’t believe you need to be quite as fanatic about perfectly pressed flannel for rag quilts as you do for most sewing, but you definitely do not want heavy creases or big wrinkles.

Fold the fabric selvage to selvage (the selvages are the finished sides), ensuring it is wrinkle-free and smooth. Lay it on the mat so the selvages are on the left and line the folded fabric up so it is straight, using the grid on the mat. Use the rotary cutter and a ruler to cut the selvages off, and also trim the bottom to square it. (I couldn’t take photos of myself cutting, but this is a great tutorial with photos.)

Use the ruler and rotary cutter to cut strips from top to bottom, the width of your flannel squares. (Remember, that’s 1″ more than the finished square size.) If the grid on your mat is ruled (and most are), unless you start at “0”, make sure you are cutting at the right inch mark! If you butt your fabric up against the 1″ mark, you need to cut at the 10″ mark for a 9″ square.

Take one of your strips and put the newly-cut edge to the left again, and square it with the grid. Cut into squares.

You will end up with pairs of squares when you do this, and they will be lined up in the right direction, back to back, just like you need them. Since you are cutting two squares each time, you need to make the same number of squares as need for your quilt (not double, as you would if you were cutting one ply at a time). Make a nice stack.

If you are using a border, those pieces need to be cut in rectangles as described above, but the process is the same:

Next up is the batting. Open the package and unfold the batting a while before you use it, to help it lose any creases. Then cut it like you did the flannel, but make the squares the same size as your finished squares are to be, i.e., 8″ for an 8″ finished square quilt.

Don’t forget to cut batting for the border as well:

Next it’s time to assemble the quilt sandwiches. As I mentioned, if you used the rotary cutter method, you ended up with perfect sandwiches that just need batting stuffed between them, so this step is pretty easy. If you used regular scissors and didn’t cut from folded fabric, make sure the front and back of any fabric with a design that has an orientation match are lined up correctly.

Take the top piece off the sandwich and position a square of batting in the middle. It doesn’t need to be exact, so don’t measure it or anything, but just line it up evenly on all sides.

Then put the top back on. I pin the large squares; not in the center, but a bit above so I can sew them later without removing the pin. Really flannel doesn’t move around on batting, so honestly, the pinning is optional.

Sandwich all of the squares, including the border pieces if you are using them. (See, i didn’t bother pinning the border pieces; they just stay in place.)

Now it’s time to sew! If you’ve never used a walking foot before, consult your machine’s manual on how to install it, but I took this photo because the first time I tried to use one, I didn’t understand where the weird arm went. It grabs onto the screw that holds the needle in. Speaking of the needle, for quilting the sandwiches, you can use a standard size 11, but later I’m going to make you swap it out for a bigger one.

I mentioned in the post where I showed you the quilt I made my mom that I free-motion quilted the squares. I didn’t do that for Liam’s quilt because I didn’t want one of the first things the boy learns to focus on to be my horrible quilting. I can show you how I did my mom’s quilt in a later post if you’d like, but unless you already know how to do free motion quilting (which requires a different presser foot), just sew an X in each square, from corner to corner. This is the traditional, normal way to make rag quilt anyway.

For the border rectangles, just sew a straight line down the middle, lengthwise. Corner squares get an “L” as shown in the picture. Notice that for this quilt I used a decorative stitch, despite my owner’s manual telling me not to, because I don’t follow rules I don’t believe in. DON’T DO THIS. I’m pretty sure I broke my walking foot by using the decorative stitch. Fortunately, I had a backup from my old sewing machine, but using only the special walking foot stitch with the walking foot is now a rule I believe in. It’s also much more obvious when this fancy stitch doesn’t line up from square to square, so until you are an expert (which I am not), I suggest using a straight stitch in a color matching the fabric, with the goal of having the stitching blend in, not stand out.

Closeup of the corner square:

Now the fun part – laying out the design. You probably already have an idea how what you want it to look like, but what I do next is lay the whole quilt out on the floor and make sure I like the order of the squares. The kittens are a huge help with this step (ugh, actually the drive me crazy!!).

Once the quilt looks the way you want it to, it’s time to pin the rows together. When you pin, pin back side to back side, then open the fold open.

Make a chain of each row.

I then roll each row up – be sure to keep them in order!

Although I try to be fairly neat when I pin the squares together, when I’m ready to sew, I unroll two squares, then remove the pin and very carefully line the two pieces up so their edges exactly match.

Then sew together with a 1/2″ seam allowance – that is, so the needle is 1/2″ from the edge of the fabric.

Keep unrolling squares, carefully aligning, and sewing squares until the row is finished. Make sure every seam you stitch is on the same side as the others.

When you have sewn together every row, it’s time to switch your needle to a size 16, which is necessary for sewing rows together as you will be going through many layers in some parts. I was unable to use even a size 14 without it breaking. Size 16 works like a charm, however.

I sew the rows together starting at the bottom and going up. It’s really easy to get confused about orientation when you are pinning rows together, so go slow and check after pinning every time! Place the bottom row in front of you so the quilt top is facing down (that is, the seams are facing the ground), and the designs are oriented correctly as you are looking at them. Take the next row and place it on top of the first, but so that the quilt top (the side with the seams) is facing up and the design is facing away from you.

Pin together, about 2″ from the edge, once in each square. I line each square up, making sure the seams match exactly. If you didn’t cut or sew some of the squares perfectly, you can make small (very small; you do want to be careful with the cutting and sewing) adjustments by bunching one square up slightly to make it fit. Then open the quilt and look at the rows and make sure you pinned them correctly. DO THIS EVERY TIME! Like I said, it’s very easy to get disoriented, and I think it gets easier to get confused the more rows you do. Here I am checking that it’s pinned correctly.

When you are sure it’s pinned correctly, fold it back on itself to be sewn, and again, sew the rows together 1/2″ from the edge. It helps to pull your sewing table away from the wall if it’s against one, so the quilt has somewhere to go.

This starts out relatively easy but gets more challenging to maneuver the more rows you add! But it also gets more exciting because you’re almost done.

When all rows have been sewn, sew a line all around the entire border, 1/2″ from the edge. (Do this even if you didn’t use border rectangles.)

Lay the quilt out on the floor…and get comfortable; you’re going to be there a while.

Get your rag quilt snips if you have them.

Now start snipping all of the seams – all of them – about 1/4″ apart, being very careful not to snip the seam. Don’t do this all in one sitting; you’ll go crazy and your hand and back will be killing you. I usually take at least one meal break and/or try to get out of the house in the middle of it.

Personally, I hate this part, but at least I always have company.

Don’t forget to the do the edges too.

Now, grab a book you’ve been wanting to read and take the quilt to a laundromat. It needs to be washed and dried in commercial machines the first time because it will produce too much lint for home machines. Wash it in cold water (detergent is optional), then dry on medium or high heat. The next time it can be washed in a regular machine, and it should only become softer and more raggedy with each washing, so wash as often as you’d like, but always clean the lint trap afterwards. When I get mine home, I like to tug at each of the seams and make sure I didn’t snip any. I found a little hole in one of my quilts from snipping a seam, so I went and sewed it back together.

Whew! That’s it! Hopefully that helps someone out there. I think rag quilts are great for beginning quilters and others who aren’t great at or lack confidence in sewing – and all of those categories include me. They are fairly easy and don’t take so long you get sick of it or frustrated. (It generally takes me about a week to complete one, though if you were determined, you could do it in a weekend.) My final tip is this: make a practice quilt for yourself before making any for gifts, and be easy on yourself about the practice quilt. Expect to make mistakes. I made my practice quilt for Mark (which is the same as making it for me) before making any others, and I’m very glad I did, as I made a few mistakes. None of them were things he would notice, but I learned a lot from each of them and didn’t make them in subsequent quilts. When I finished the practice quilt, we had a very useful (if not entirely perfect) new blanket (which you can never have too many of), and I felt a lot more confident about my sewing skills. I wouldn’t have wanted to give the first one to anyone but my husband, but I went into my second quilt knowing I could make something I’d feel comfortable giving someone else. And even though I hate sewing in general, I actually had fun making these. So I think it’s a great project.

Comments (30)

How to make a lunch bag tote

I know I keep mentioning that I hate and am terrible at sewing, but then I keep posting sewing tutorials, which I guess may seem odd. One thing I am slightly good at sewing, though, is bags and purses. That’s because I have a terrible time finding purses I like so I have to keep resorting to making my own. Well, I’m set for purses right now, but the other day the bag I’ve been toting my lunches in, some cheap little thing I got at Whole Foods, tore. It wasn’t really big enough to begin with, nor strong enough to carry the Pyrex bowls I take my lunch in (I will only microwave in glass). So this weekend I decided I was going to make a bag to carry my lunch in, and hey, that’s food-related, right? So I made a tutorial. I know several of you are waiting for the new bread bag tutorial I promised, and it’s coming, but I have to go to the fabric store first and I’m just not ready for that yet. (After a positively disastrous visit to JoAnn’s during President’s Day weekend, I sent my parents an email entitled My Black Heart Seethes with a Burning Hatred of JoAnn’s about my experience, which they seemed to find hilarious, but I have yet to recover.) In the meantime here is how I made a lunch bag.

Lunch Tote Bag

1/2 yard cotton fabric
1/2 yard another cotton fabric in a coordinating color
loop turner (optional)

Wash and press your fabrics. Cut two 14″ x 15″ pieces of each fabric (for a total of four squares). I prefer using a rotary cutter but regular scissors work just as well. (I cut both squares at the same time, on folded fabric.)

Cut two 2″ x 17″ strips of each fabric; these will become the handles.

Pin right sides together of one of the fabrics, leaving the top side open.

Sew the three sides, leaving a 1/2″ seam allowance.

Open the seams near one bottom corner, then pull either side of the fabric away from each other and flatten. This is easier to show in a picture than describe:

Take a ruler and find the line that is 4″ across under the point of the corner, where the seam is at exactly 2″; use a pencil or fabric marker to draw this line. Again this is easier to show in a picture:

Sew the line you drew. Don’t forget to lock the stitches by sewing backwards for a few stitches at the beginning and end.

Trim the corner off about half an inch from the new seam.

Repeat with the other corner. You now have an inside-out bag.

Follow the above procedures with the other fabric. Turn the lining fabric right-side out …

… but leave the exterior fabric inside out.

Place the lining inside the exterior; right sides will be facing each other.

Next make the straps. There are two ways to make them. Since I hate ironing and have a loop turner, I will show you that way. I’ll also describe what to do if you don’t have a loop turner. This is what to do if you have a loop turner:

Pin one piece of the lining fabric to one piece of the exterior fabric, right sides together.

Sew both of the long sides, leaving a 1/2″ seam allowance. For the loop turner I have, I also have to sew one of the short sides.

I have a tube that I slid into the open side of the strap …

… and push it all the way to the end.

Then I push the rod through the tube …

… until it comes out the other end. Then pull it all the way through.

If you don’t have a loop turner, fold 1/2″ over on both long sides of all four strap pieces, so you end up with a 1″ wide strip, and press so it holds the creases. Place a pressed lining piece onto a pressed exterior piece, right sides out, so the folds are sandwiches inside. Pin.

Whichever method you used for the straps, edgestitch both sides; if you are using the second method of making the straps, you’ll actually be sewing the two sides together in this step. For turned straps, you are just flattening them and making them neat.

Next you will be attaching the straps to the bag. Position one strap so the exterior fabric is facing up and it makes a U, with the ends meeting the top of the bag. You are just positioning the strap, it will NOT be sewn as it is shown in this picture.

Move this strap INSIDE the top two layers of the bag: between the right side of the exterior fabric and the right side of the lining fabric (which are facing each other). Place each of the ends 2″ from the side seams. Pin.

Again, the strap is caught between the right sides of the inside and outside fabrics:

Pin the other three strap ends as well, then pin the rest of the top edge of the fabric. Most sewing machines have a removable area that makes the sewing surface smaller for sewing sleeves and the like. If yours does, remove this piece. Sew a seam almost all of the way around the top of the bag, sewing the straps in as you go, leaving a 1/2″ seam allowance. DO NOT FINISH THE SEAM! Leave a 3″ gap in the seam, which you will use to turn the bag right side out.

Here is the hole I left:

Pull the bag through the hole so you see the right sides of both fabrics. You’ll also pull the straps through.

Push the lining into the bag.

Pin the hole together, making sure the edges are turned under.

Edge stitch (stitch as close to the edge of the fabric as possible) all the way around the top of the bag, closing the hole in the process.

And that’s it!

Hey guess what – it’s reversible!

These are the Pyrex dishes I use, so the bag was sized to fit them.

Here is a prototype I made using cotton flannel. It’s slightly less wide.

I also made a bigger bag for toting library books and shopping for smaller, non-grocery items. It also has longer straps so I can use it as a shoulder bag.

The library tote was a bit difficult to photograph, even with the assistance of kittens.

Speaking of kittens, they aren’t kittens any longer. 🙁 Their first birthday was March 9 so I guess they are just the boring old cats now, but they’ll always be “the kittens” to me.

Comments (12)


In my last post I described how I make my current favorite pizza dough. And now I will explain how to turn it into a full-blown pizza of deliciousness.

First, remove the dough from the refrigerator one hour before you wish to bake it. At the same time, preheat your oven as high as it will go; mine is 550 degrees Fahrenheit, but yours may only be 500. Jeff Varasano, from whom I got the dough recipe, has rigged his home electric oven to heat to 800 degrees, which I kinda want to do, but a) my landlord probably wouldn’t be too keen on it and b) my oven has caught on fire twice as it is so I’m thinking messing with its temperature control is probably a bad idea.

Have your pizza stone in the oven while you are preheating it. I guess you can try baking this pizza on the back of a baking sheet if there is simply no way you can possibly purchase a pizza stone, but I don’t think I could live live without one. I have a Fibrament and it never leaves my oven. Of course, most of the things I put in my oven are pizza or bread, so it’s rather a necessity for me. I don’t like those small, thin, cheap pizza stones you can buy at places like Bed Bath and Beyond. Any stone you are expected to load and remove with the pizza is not a good stone. It needs to be preheated with the oven, and it needs to remain in the oven to cool down with the oven, otherwise it will crack and break. This has happened to me, so I can attest that that is true. Good baking stones are expensive, and many people recommend unglazed quarry tiles as an inexpensive alternative. You can get these at places like Lowes and Home Depot, and I used them for a short time. I found them annoying to deal with because I bake so frequently, but if it’s the difference between having a baking stone and not, go for it.

While the dough is coming to room temperature and the oven and pizza stones are preheating, prepare your toppings. Toppings should be minimal. Even before I was vegan, I hated a lot of junk on my pizza, even the extra cheese well-meaning people wanted to add when they heard I was vegetarian. Especially extra cheese. It’s just gross! Even as a vegetarian, I believed all of the goodness of a pizza was in the dough and the tomato sauce. And traditionalists agree with me. So if you decide to add anything more than I describe here, please try to keep it to just one thing.

There is no need to ever buy pizza sauce. I’m astounded they even sell that stuff. Just buy the highest quality, best tasting canned tomatoes you can find. This is what I’m buying right now, even though as Jeff Varasano points out, this brand using deceptive advertising by burying the fact they are just “San Marazano Brand,” and not really grown in the San Marzano region of Italy.

I buy the whole tomatoes and crush them on low speed in a food processor.

Although I sometimes treat Mark to vegan pepperoni, usually the extent of my toppings are:

Currently we use Daiya mozzarella, although I technically prefer Cheezly. Unfortunately, we can no longer get Cheezly. In the shaker is Dragonfly’s Bulk, Dry Uncheese Mix.

After the dough has sat out of the refrigerator for an hour, sprinkle some bread flour on a workspace and roll one of the dough balls in it lightly, then flatten.

Use your fingers to make a little moat around the perimeter, about where you expect to spread the sauce to, and stretch the pizza out a little.

If the dough resists being pulled out, that is, it springs back, let it rest for several seconds before trying again. If you are making more than one pizza, you can use this time to begin preparing the next dough.

Gently push the dough outwards, keeping a thick lip around the edge, until the pizza is about 12″ in diameter – but do’t worry about keeping it in a perfect circle.

Jeff Varasano recommends NOT using semolina or cornmeal to dust the peel, but I like using one or the other – just a little bit. I once read that cornmeal acts like little casters for moving pizza off peels onto stones, which is an image I like. In any case, transfer the crust to a peel.

Once the crust is on the peel, work quickly so the pizza does not get soggy. Smear some of the crushed tomatoes onto the crust, using less than you think you need – it will thicken up as the pizza bakes. A single 14.5 ounce can of tomatoes should be enough for three 12″ pizzas.

Next I add some dried basil (unless I have fresh on hand), and dried red chili peppers, then a small amount of Daiya.

Then I sprinkle it with some dry “cheese” and just a very few flakes of Maldon salt.

Transfer the pizza to the stone and bake until it’s beginning to char. This takes about five minutes for me.

Remove from the oven.

While I was preparing the pizzas, Mark was cuddling his little babies. Torticia loves to be held like a baby!

Gomez…he needs to be in the right mood.

Comments (10)

Cheezy Pizza Crust

Pizza is a constant in my life; one of my top five favorite foods, and of those, the one I eat most often, almost every week. My pizza dough, on the other hand, is not constant. I make one type for a few months in a row and then decide to change it up. I’ve read Jeff Varasano’s pizza tutorial before and incorporated parts of it into my own pizza making, but a few weeks ago I decided to follow it almost exactly. His page illustrates one of my favorite things about the internet. This guy loves pizza – I daresay as much as Peter Reinhart! – and although he owns a pizzeria that I’m sure he hopes you will come spend money in, he wants to share his knowledge with you for free even if you don’t. His page on making pizza is just stuffed with both passion and information, and I love it!

The first time I made it, I intended to make the dough exactly the way he instructs you to, which is very traditional – nothing but flour, water, salt, and yeast. (Another thing I love about his method is the use of wild yeast, or sourdough. I don’t know if you know this about me, but I am a sourdough fanatic.) But on a whim – I think the reality is I’d just bought a bunch of nutritional yeast and it didn’t all fit in the container I have for it, so I was trying to use the excess up – I mixed a bit of the yeasty goodness in with the flour. Although I (and my cats) love nutritional yeast, I felt a little guilty defiling Jeff Varasano’s very pure recipe with the stuff, especially since as a vegan, I love it when pizzerias use very traditional crusts instead of all those disgusting American things like cheese-stuffed monstrosities. But you know what? I did it anyway and I’m not sorry! I loved the crust! I’ll make it sans nutritional yeast sometime and I’m sure it will be just as if not more extraordinary, but damn it, this was great. But feel free to simply omit the nutritional yeast if you want to be pure or just don’t like or have it; there is no need to adjust the water.

Again, this recipe and technique, other than the nutritional yeast, are from Jeff Varasano’s page and all credit goes to him. I’m just offering my photos of the process and suggesting you read through his very thorough instructions as well for a great background.

If you don’t have a sourdough starter, there are tons of resources online, including my link above, on how to make one. My current starter is from King Arthur Flour, and actually, if you asked me nicely and live in the continental US, I’d probably be willing to send you some of mine. If none of those options are happening, you can try omitting the sourdough starter and increasing the instant yeast.

Cheezy Pizza Crust
makes enough for six 10-ounce/300 gram (about 12″) pizzas

1000 grams (35.5 oz) bread flour (I prefer, as does Jeff Varasano, King Arthur) divided into 750 and 250 grams.
36 grams (1.25 oz) nutritional yeast (optional, though it won’t be “cheezy” without it)
36 grams (1.25 oz) salt
3 grams (.1 oz) instant yeast (optional)
75 grams (2.7 oz) sourdough starter
660 grams (23.3 oz) water

Weigh out 1/4 of the flour (250 grams) and set aside.

Put the other 3/4 of the flour (750 grams) into the mixer bowl and add the nutritional yeast.

Cats and nutritional yeast! They love the stuff! Bad cats, get out of there!

Weigh the salt …

(Torticia would NOT leave me alone!)

… and instant yeast, if using …

… and the sourdough starter.

Put all that stuff in the mixer bowl.


Weigh the water and add that.

Mix on low speed for about a minute, until it’s all combined. Then let sit for 20 minutes.

After 20 minutes of rest, start the mixer back up and let it run for 5 minutes. After 5 minutes, begin adding the rest of the flour, spoonful by spoonful, over the course of another 3 minutes, for a total of 8 minutes of kneading. On a Kitchen Aid mixer, you can go up a speed when you begin adding the rest of the flour; my Bosch is powerful enough that I don’t bother. After the 8 minutes of kneading, when all flour has been incorporated, it will look like this:

It’s quite tacky, by the way. This is a very wet dough. Don’t be alarmed.

Cover and let it rest for another 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, prepare your containers. If you will be making any pizzas in the next three days, store the dough for them in a container at least three times larger than the dough volume. Ideally you would freeze the dough in the same container you will rise it in, but who has that much freezer space? Not me, so I store the doughs I will be freezing in containers that just fit them. Whether freezing or refrigerating, spray a very tiny amount of olive oil into each container and wipe it around to completely cover the surface.

This is a dough I’ve just removed from the freezer.

I want to bake it tomorrow, so I removed it from the tiny container and moved it to a larger one (which I treated with another tiny amount of olive oil) that will allow it to rise in the refrigerator over the next 24 hours. When you want to bake a frozen dough, just do the same, at some point 1 to 3 days before bake day.

After the dough has rested again, sprinkle a small amount of flour on a work surface and spread it around a bit. I really used way too much flour in the picture below; you don’t need that much. Pour the dough onto the flour.

Round the dough, allowing it to become lightly dusted with flour. You’ll be surprised how easy this is – you don’t need to manipulate it very much. It should feel very soft and well, just wonderful. Don’t go ruining it by allowing a lot of flour to get mixed in – just keep a little bit of flour on the surface to keep the dough from being too sticky to touch.

Divide the dough into 6 equal pieces; you can weigh them or just eyeball it. Form little rounds.

Place each round into a prepared container. Pizza Inspector Torticia is giving my containers the old smell test. I hope I passed.

(By the way, the kittens are not allowed on the island when I’m working with dough, and I thoroughly clean it before and after working dough…)

This has been long, so I’ll do a separate post later this weekend when I bake the pizzas. To tide you over, here’s an earlier photo of a pizza made using this dough:

Comments (8)