Travis and Jacqueline’s Public Square Wedding with Pizza and Beer Reception – Giddings Plaza (Lincoln Square) and Market Bar – Chicago, IL

As we continue to catch you up on our Crafty Broads projects, today’s post is about the very first wedding we stage managed (aside from our own, obviously) – Jacqueline & Travis.

Jacqueline & Travis - July 3, 2011

Jacqueline & Travis

Jacqueline found us through A Practical Wedding, by way of the Chicago contingent of readers nattering on Facebook. She and Travis were looking for someone to manage the setup of their reception, specifically to make sure the wedding wish bowl and family photos were arranged the way they wanted. We had a chat (via internet, as they currently live in Fargo, but were getting hitched in Chicago) and agreed to take care of it for them. After some more discussion of their wedding, it sounded like they could really use a little more help than that, and we were thrilled when they asked about the possibility of coordinating the whole shindig.

Jacqueline works with historic costume and textiles, and as you might imagine, when she mentioned her line of work, there was some giddiness on our end. A fashion historian who needs wedding help and had a 1930s-style bias cut gown made for the occasion? Perfect client for us. And Travis? He’s a wedding photographer and works around most of the midwest. Check out his work and hire him here. For obvious reasons, he couldn’t take pictures at his own wedding, but he did dream up and design a photo booth for the reception – there was a monitor to see yourself on and he rigged up a foot pedal to stomp when you were ready to snap the picture. From the perspective of crafty, tinkering nerds, I can say this was really awesome. And different from the usual small curtained room styles you see everywhere these days.

Cindy cueing Travis to enter the cermony.

Travis waits for Cindy

Travis and Jacqueline had a lovely outdoor ceremony on a really gorgeous day in Chicago’s Lincoln Square neighborhood. They made ribbon wands in their wedding colors for all the guests to wave when they shared their first married kiss – an excellent and fun idea! And it looked really cool.

They and their guests traveled to and from the day’s events on the L trains, which I love, love, love. It’s fun, it’s good for the planet, it’s cheaper than parking, and you get awesome pictures. Win-win.

Jacqueline & Travis First Dance - July 3, 2011

Jacqueline & Travis shared their first married dance as the sun set over the city.

And their reception? Pizza (the really good kind) and an ice cream sundae bar (Yes! Yes.) on a rooftop deck with an amazing view of the city skyline. They shared a first scoop together and then danced in the setting sun. Beautiful.

We had a blast coordinating their wedding, and we’re truly lucky they took a chance and hired us. It was just the experience we needed to decide we definitely want to continue stage managing weddings.

Congratulations, Jacqueline and Travis!

How to Make Yummy Sauce

Growing up, my mom did nearly all of the cooking, but once in a while we’d get treated to a meal made by Dad. (Who should really cook more often, because he’s pretty good at it.) Through some kind of magical Dad-in-the-kitchen osmosis, I have learned to make excellent burgers, meatloaf, and anything even remotely Italian. [It should be noted that as far as I know, there is no Italian blood in our family whatsoever.] If you ask, my Dad will tell you that he just memorized the recipes from The Joy of Cooking, but I am certain he added his own little twists. As do I, in my grown-up kitchen. Anyway, on these special days, I’d watch him put this and that into a big pot and then smell it simmering for hours and hours, at the end of which was a tasty pan of lasagna or dish of spaghetti and meatballs. (We’ll talk about meatballs, meatloaf, and burgers some other time.)

Friends, it’s time to let you in on the secret to great pasta/pizza sauce. Are you ready? Here it is:

Taste, taste, and then taste some more.

Your taste buds are the single most important tool you have, and you will need them to make great sauce. I’ll tell you how I make mine in a minute, but first I’ll say this: next time you pick up a jar of your favorite pasta sauce at the grocery store, turn it over and read the ingredients. Minus the things you can’t pronounce and nasty things like high fructose corn syrup, this is what you’re gonna want to put in your home made sauce. I can’t give you anything more than approximate amounts because I never measure anything when I make sauce. I just keep checking until it smells right, and then I taste it to make sure. That said, here’s my basic recipe.

What You Need:
big can of crushed tomatoes (I use the large, 28.something size)
1 or 2 actual tomatoes, your favorite variety, garden fresh if you can get ’em
a few cloves of garlic
generous handful of fresh parsley
small handfuls of basil, oregano, and thyme
a small onion or half of a large one (I like the big yellow Spanish onions, or use a Vidalia if you prefer a sweeter sauce)
salt and pepper to taste
a healthy pinch of sugar

How to Make It:
1. Put everything into a large sauce pot over medium-high heat until it starts bubbling and spurting. Turn the heat down a little so it’s not making a Pollack masterpiece on your stove top, and let it cook for a few minutes. Taste and add whatever additional spice it needs. [Or revel in the perfection of correctly-guessed amounts.] Reduce heat to low and simmer for as long as you like. Continue tasting and adjusting until you like the flavor.

Really, it’s that simple.

Here are some extra tips:
– I have been known to cook up the whole sauce, including a very, very short simmer time while making the pasta it’s going over. The longer simmer really gets the herb flavors into the tomatoes, but if you’re in a hurry, a quick and chunky sauce can be done in about 20 minutes and still tastes better than the jar.
– To quickly peel garlic, smash the cloves with the flat side of your knife. The peels will split and you can pull them off really fast without getting too much garlic under your fingernails. If you smash with extra force, you will also mush the garlic itself, which make the mincing easier. Your choice of traditional mincing with a knife or putting them through a garlic press. I’m a knife girl myself, largely because I never owned a garlic press until I met Julia, and because I hate cleaning them!
– The longer you simmer, the more your tomatoes will break down. I usually do about a 1/2″ dice, which turns them to sauce pretty fast. For me, it’s not about the sauce texture so much as it’s about having the flavor of fresh tomatoes in with the canned. If you want to be super-authentic about it, you can skip the canned altogether and increase the amount of tomatoes. Just remember the volume will be reduced as it cooks, so you need more than you think.
– Put all the herbs in one big pile on your cutting board and chop them all at the same time. A bigger pile of leafy greens is easier for the knife to go through, at least in my experience. I like to start at one end of the board and chop my way to the other, which flattens out the pile as I go. Then I use the edge of the knife to re-pile it, and go at it again from a different direction. (Rotate the cutting board if, like I do, you have trouble cutting from more than one direction.)
– Unless you enjoy eating big chunks of onion, dice yours pretty small (1/4″ is how I like them). They will not shrink or dissolve as they cook.
– The technical measurement for a pinch is generally agreed to be 1/8 teaspoon, but I really do stick my hand in the sugar jar and pinch. Like in the olden days, when we churned our own butter.
– My Dad always added ground beef to his sauce for a meaty marinara. You could do that, or you could add mushrooms, peppers, sun-dried tomatoes, or whatever you like into your sauce. Don’t be afraid to experiment – cooking is an adventure*!

*Not to be confused with baking, which is a hard science.

The Secret’s in the Sauce

Actually, that’s a lie. The secret is high-quality, fresh ingredients. (Like the Papa John’s commercials say, “Better Ingredients. Better Pizza.” And, well, they are better than some. But still not especially great.) I like to keep my pizzas simple and fresh, which means I don’t put too many different things on and I try to get the best ingredients I can. Because I know you want these pizzas at your house, today I’m sharing recipes.

A disclaimer: I was in a terribly, crabby-ass mood yesterday, and pretty mad that I had to make dinner at all, let alone think about taking any pictures of it. So. I didn’t. And it doesn’t look great cold in the refrigerated foil packs I stored it in. So you will have to use your imaginations to picture what the Mediterranean & French (see my favorite toppings, below) pizzas I made last night looked like…

So, let’s start with the DOUGH. Here’s what you’ll need:
(this recipe taken from America’s Test Kitchen book Baking Illustrated, which everyone should own. It’s full of delicious science.)

1/2 cup warm water (about 110 degrees)*
1 packet or 2 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast
1 1/4 cups water at room temperature
2 tablespoons olive oil
4 cups flour (bread flour is better if you have it, but I never do, and it’s always fine)
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
Extra olive oil for coating the bowl
Extra flour for kneading

*If you don’t have a thermometer or you’re too lazy to use one (but, really, you’re making pizza from scratch so, come on, you are not too lazy…) you can stick your finger in to test it. It should be pretty warm but not scalding. Warmer than a baby’s bath, but not quite as warm as your shower. Hot enough to wash dishes in but not as hot as your tap will go.

1. Sprinkle yeast into the warm water. Do it slowly so each little bit has a chance to get wet. Stir gently if you must to do so. Let sit for 5 minutes while you gather the rest of the ingredients and get your mixer out.

2. Using paddle attachment on the lowest speed setting, combine salt and flour in the bowl of your standing mixer.

3. Once yeast is starting to bubble and smell yeasty, add room temperature water and olive oil to it and stir.

4. Again with mixer on the lowest speed, slowly pour yeast/water/oil mixture into the dry ingredients. When it starts to form a cohesive mass, switch to the dough hook. Let the mixer do all the work, and in about 5 more minutes the dough will be smooth and elastic.

5. Brush the inside of a large bowl with olive oil. Form dough into a ball and put it in the bowl, turning it over once to cover it in oil. Cover the bowl with a damp tea towel and set in a warmish place (65-70 degrees). Let rise until doubled in size, 1 1/2 to 2 hours.

(Now is a good time to go make your sauce and prep all your toppings. You’ll also want to put a baking stone in your oven, if you have one, and preheat to 500 or as hot as it goes. The secret to awesome pizza is a really hot oven, so do this sooner rather than later. I preheat my oven for a full hour.)

6. Get two pieces of parchment paper just larger than pizza size ready. We’ll use those to keep the pizza from sticking to the baking stone and for ease of getting it in and out of the oven. Divide the dough into two pieces. Roll each into a ball. Now, you’re going to shape this into a proper pizza crust. I like to make flatten the ball into a disc first. Then I make fists with both hands and put the dough on top of them. Then kinda punch in the general direction of the ceiling as you rotate the dough in a circle. It will thin and spread out. Keep going until it’s just about pizza-sized. If your ambitious, you can actually toss it in the air. It’s not that hard – really – and it’s super fun. Plus, you know, it helps the dough spread out. Then put it down on the parchment paper and press it the rest of the way into a circle. About 1″ from the edge, go ahead and press extra deep so that the edge rolls up and forms that rounded crust you’re looking for. (I realize now that this step really, really wants pictures. Next time. Promise.)

7. Almost done! Brush the crust with a little bit of olive oil, then use a fork to poke lots of holes all over the middle part. (Don’t put any holes in the outer crust edge.) Spread a thin layer of sauce (or not, if you like more) and then add your toppings. I recommend putting non-cheese toppings on first, and then covering them with the cheese. You can do it how you like, but note that putting any fresh herbs and greens (spinach, etc.) under the cheese will keep them from wilting and drying out as it bakes.

8. Using a pizza peel (ha! right, like you have one. I don’t.) or a rimless baking sheet (that’s more like it), transfer the pizza on its parchment paper to the baking stone. Parchment paper is oven-safe; it will turn brown while it cooks. DO NOT USE WAX PAPER. It will melt. If you don’t have parchment, sprinkle your prep surface and the baking stone with a thin layer of cornmeal to prevent sticking.

9. Bake until cheese is browned, about 10 minutes. Yep, that’s all it takes when your oven is good and hot. Using the baking sheet or pizza peel, transfer pizza and parchment to a cutting board.

10. Slice and serve with a big glass of wine!

Onto the SAUCE!
Admittedly, I cheated last night because I was grumpy, and I used a jar of tomato-basil marinara instead of whipping up my own. And seeing how long this post is already, I think I’ll save homemade sauce for another day.
Moving on…

Some of my favorite pizza TOPPINGS are:

Lamb – ground, pre-cook until it’s about halfway done; I like to shape it into tiny balls
Feta – fresh from the deli is the way to go
Red Onion

Ham – I get deli ham and ask for one or two super-thick slices, and then I cube it
Gruyère Рshred directly onto pizza
Shallots – yum! I love shallots on lots of things, and pizza is no exception

Traditional Margherita
Tomato (sliced) – I prefer Roma, but if you have access to garden fresh tomatoes of any kind, definitely use those!
Basil – fresh, whole leaf, not the stuff you sprinkle from a jar. It makes a HUGE difference!
Mozzarella – best fresh from the deli, still in the liquid, rather than the little ‘gourmet’ packaged kind

Veggie Lovers – you can use any veggies you like; here are some suggestions
Spinach – I like baby spinach for this
Artichoke Hearts
Arugula – sounds weird, tastes good
Bell peppers
Mushrooms – I hate mushrooms and I pick them off, but other people seem to enjoy them.
Fresh Herbs – whatever you have on hand; oregano, basil, thyme, and parsley are all good

Ham – I like Canadian bacon style or deli ham
Pineapple – I like the rings as opposed to chunks, you can make a pretty pattern with them on your pie

Craft night redux.

If you were reading last week, you remember how our craft night became an eating and drinking night, and we kinda promised that this week we’d do some actual crafting. Well – let’s just say we crafted pizza and ice cream, and call that a promise kept. And another failure (success?) was that we devoured it before grabbing a camera. So, you’ll have to live with a description instead.

Prior to turning the night into a food free-for-all, we had discussed just having some ice cream, and Jenni tossed out the idea of peach and bacon for the flavor. You may also recall that in not making the initial shrimp dish last week, we consequently did not consume the peaches we’d bought for it. So – this was a perfect idea. Jenni volunteered to candy some bacon and we decided to mince some ginger and add it to the peaches. Wait, I’m getting ahead of myself. What about dinner, you ask?

Right, so early in the day on Tuesday, after finding out Greta couldn’t make it, we decided to invite Jenni and Rebecca to head over early and join us for dinner. I had been wanting to put homemade pizza on the menu sometime during the week, and this seemed like a perfect opportunity. We asked Jenni and Rebecca to bring toppings for one pizza (they brought mushrooms and Mexican cheese; we used some garlic and onion pasta sauce as well) and we had some “like gruyere” cheese and herb sausage from the farmers market, shallots, and pomegranate balsamic vinegar for the second pizza, which was a “white’ (a.k.a. no red sauce) pizza. They were both delicious.

Then we made the ice cream. In order to keep it edible for everyone (Rebecca is a vegetarian) we kept the candied bacon out of it, and just sprinkled it on top. It turned out a bit more gingery than I was expecting, but not in a bad way. Everyone agreed it was yummy (though secretly Julia and I were both thinking that the strawberry basil was better.)

Next week, we’re really going to craft. I swear!