March 29, 2012

Easy Homemade Pizza

Woo what a weekend! I headed over to the Reason Rally that was held in DC. It was quite an experience, and the turn out was fantastic despite the downpour. I had a great time, made some new friends, and I even got a schooled in my cutting techniques.

I will have to go further in depth about it at some point, but when I cut stuff up, it isn't pretty. I just sort of slap the knife around until the poor vegetable is butchered to approximate size I wanted. It's sad. But this weekend, I learned to mince up a garlic clove the way cooking professionals intended.

So, now that I'm feeling pretty guilty about my cutting skills... so here's some pizza! No cutting involved. Pizza is a wonderful thing that way.

This pizza really doesn't need a recipe, because it's the lazy-man's homemade pizza. The crust is store-bought flatbread. I used lavash for this one, which is a popular Middle Eastern flatbread. Trader Joe's kindly stocks it. You could make your own sauce, but it wouldn't be easy pizza if you did. I used a sauce from, you guessed it, Trader Joe's. I can't help it, it's a 4 minute walk from my apartment so I shop there often.

Just make sure you go easy on the sauce, a little goes a long way and too much will make it soggy. Top with whatever cheese strikes your fancy. Preheat your oven and baking stone to 425, and bake for about 6 minutes until the crust is crisp. Dig in!

March 20, 2012

Strawberry Banana Smoothie

Now that the weather is turning nice, having hot oatmeal for breakfast has fallen to the wayside in favor of something cold and refreshing. I give you: delicious and easy smoothies. With all sorts of things coming into season, I'm sure I'll be trying many variations soon.

Strawberry-Banana Smoothie
Makes 2 generous servings, 4 Points+ each

What You'll Need:
2 1/2 cups frozen strawberries*
2 ripe bananas
1 cup fat free milk
4 Tbs sugar

*Buy them frozen or cut the tops off fresh ones and just toss them in the freezer for a few hours. They have to be frozen, because that replaces the need for icecubes. In my opinion, using ice just waters down the smoothie, so I avoid using it whenever possible.

The Process:
    Put all ingredients in blender. Blend until a smooth, liquidy consistency is achieved. For my blender, I've found that putting the strawberries on the bottom and using the ice crush setting first works best. You may have to experiment a little with your own blender to get that nice smoothie consistency every time.

March 19, 2012

Why You Need A Baking Stone

Two years ago, I got really into baking bread at home. Not a soft pumpkin loaf or the bread machine stuff, but genuine, crusty loaves.  I tried tons of recipes. Some of them were good, but most were subpar. Even with the good ones, I was never totally impressed with the results. The taste was usually fine, but the texture and the nice crunchy outside didn't turn out quite right.

Then everything changed when holidays rolled around. My mother gifted me a copy of "Artisan Bread in Five Minutes A Day" by Jeff Hertzberg and Zoe Fran├žois. My relationship with bread evolved into an all-out affair as soon as I cracked open that volume. Aside from having fantastic (and simple) recipes for great bread, it contained the single best advice I have ever gotten for making fabulous bread: get a baking stone.

Wonderfully grimy, isn't it? Just burned bits of cheese, sauce, etc.
I'd never heard of such a beast before. I looked them up and found so many kinds. The one I ultimately bought came from Williams-Sonoma (called a pizza stone). I chose this one because its square shape makes it large enough for baguettes, it's thick enough to avoid cracking, and it came with a lifetime guarantee. This stone was more expensive ($45) than most of the others, but it seemed likely to last me far longer than the cheaper alternatives.

Now, I don't just use the stone for crusty bread, because it is also great for pizzas, calzones, and flatbreads. I make pizzas at home all the time now, pizzas that are so much healthier than the delivery version. The baking stone is great for these things because it is what gives bread and pizza that thin, crispy outside, but chewy inside.

March 9, 2012

How to Make Bias Quilt Binding

When I first started quilting, I bought pre-made binding because I had no real idea how to make my own. The palate was limited almost entirely to solid colors, and it was depressing. Somewhere along the way, I learned to make my own and it's my favorite quilting trick.

It's my favorite because most fabric collections have a print or two that would make fantastic binding. It matches the colors of the collection already, and you can use it to show off a print you liked and used a lot or one you didn't get to use at all. I also think using a print instead of a solid can really make a good quilt into a great quilt.

Now there are some distinct advantages to making continuous bias binding. It's more durable than straight grain binding, and it's incredibly useful on curves. I use it for almost all my projects. The best part? It's really easy to do! The first time you make it, it can be a little tricky to visualize exactly what to do. I made this tutorial with tons of pictures to help clear up some of the confusion at a few of the steps.

First, you'll need some yardage. How much depends on how much binding you need and how wide you want to make it. In the example, I use a 1/2 yard piece and cut it 2 1/2" wide. That gave me about 11 yards of 1/2" binding. If you make it wider, you'll end up with less binding, so plan your yardage accordingly.

Ready? Let's go!

Iron your fabric before beginning and then lay it out on your workspace with selvages on the sides (instead of top and bottom). Trim off the selvage edges.

Now you want to take the top right corner of the fabric and fold it over to give you a 45 degree angle, just like this:

You definitely want to make sure it's lined up properly along the bottom. I like to press it to give it a nice crisp edge, but you don't have to. Cut along the fold line.

Now take the triangle you just cut and slide it straight over to the left side. What you want to have is the two selvage edges next to each other, like this:

March 8, 2012

Crate Mat for Piper

For National Quilting Month, one of my projects was making a mat to put down in Piper's crate. She's a snuggly dog, and I wanted to make her crate a little more comfortable for her. For some reason, I didn't think the dog bed and dog blanket was enough.

She gives me that look a lot when I take out the camera.
 It was very easy to do. I measured the plastic pan in the bottom, cut two pieces of fabric to that size, and then quilted it up, along the lines in the pattern. I used two pieces of batting to make it extra cushy. I machine stitched the binding on. It looks like I succeeded in making it comfortable, since I didn't even need to encourage her to lay down on it.

You'd think I'd bombed her house.
She was a little annoyed that I *gasp* messed with her crate. But she is a loving dog, so she quickly forgave me. I ironed it and made it all nice for her, but the minute I left her alone in it, she did what she usually does which is pile everything in the back and lay on it. That'll teach me to make her nice things.

March 5, 2012

Vegan Chocolate Mousse Pie

Last weekend, Hubby and I went to a really great vegetarian place called the Vegetable Garden. We had a vegan orange chocolate mousse pie that was so slamming words cannot describe. It was probably the best pie I've eaten in my life. The look, the taste, the texture... I don't even like the orange/chocolate combination that much.

I wanted to recreate that pie, without the orange. Turns out, there are about a thousand recipes for it out there. They are all pretty similar- variations on chocolate and tofu. That's what I expected since the restaurant lists out the ingredients for it- tofu, dairy-free chocolate chips, cane sugar, and sea salt. This was my first attempt at it, and I am pleased with how it came out, but it wasn't quite that pie. The search continues!

Vegan Chocolate Mousse Pie
Adapted from Vegan Epicurean

What You'll Need:
6 oz. vegan chocolate
12 oz. silken tofu
1/2 cup sweetener- I used Sugar in the Raw but maple syrup might be a good choice, too.
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 graham cracker crust (I used a chocolate one I found at Whole Foods)

March 1, 2012

National Quilting Month Begins!

In honor of March being National Quilting Month, I'll be doing a few special things. First, each day I will be tweeting a photo of a current project (you can find me @LilThunderLiz). Today's photo, though, is below.

Yup, those are pawprints.
I picked up this fabric for my birthday. It's an adorable collection called Max and Whiskers by Moda. I've been meaning to make a little mat for the dog's crate since we got her. Piper does everything in her power to be as comfortable as possible. This includes laying down on clothes I'm trying to fold, a errant blanket that fell on the floor, and even on top of the foam used to protect Warhammer figures.

Also, on this rug because it's slightly more comfortable than the carpet.
 She has her own blanket and her own bed already, but they don't cover the whole plastic floor of her crate. So I am going to make her a nice little covering to put down in there. I'll probably use a double layer of batting to make it extra cushy for my spoiled pup.

In addition to my quilting photo of the day, I am setting a challenge for myself. I have seven unfinished projects (including Piper's crate pad). Seven. My challenge is to finish them all by the end of the month. I better go get started.
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