Thoughts on making pizza

Pizza is my favorite food in the world. We’ve been really into making pizza for a few years now, and as it turns out, making pizza is really fun and not all that difficult!

I will say, however, that the process is even easier and the pizza is even more delicious with the right tools. Thankfully, these tools aren’t terribly expensive, and if you really like pizza (like me and my husband), then they’ll be worth the purchase.

We still regularly pay the pros for the really really good pizza (i.e., the restaurants with the ovens that go up to 900 degrees or whatever), and we still order in from the not-as-fancy pizza places when the mood strikes, but making pizza at home is still awesome.

Helpful equipment:

  • Food processor (more expensive, but this will be used beyond just pizza) or stand mixer (even more expensive, but again, will be used for many things besides pizza) for making dough.
  • Pizza stone! We have a cast iron stone that our friends gave to us for our wedding, and it’s awesome.
  • Pizza peel! This has made a big difference. In order to take advantage of everything a pizza stone has to offer, it needs to be preheated in the oven until it’s really freaking hot. Transferring your prepared, unbaked pizza to the hot stone can be tricky. The pizza peel takes care of this for you. While it might take a couple of tries to get right, it’s not too difficult and totally worth it. We have a pizza peel from Crate & Barrel, but there are others out there.

Other stuff:

  • There are like, a billion recipes out there for pizza dough. Everyone has an opinion on pizza dough. We’ve tried a bunch as well. The one we keep coming back to, however, because it’s both simple and tasty, is Mark Bittman’s pizza dough recipe. My favorite part is that we can throw the dough together in the morning and let it rise all day in the refrigerator. The recipe makes one super thick crust (pictured above), or two thinner crusts. The dough freezes perfectly. We’re trying to experiment with reducing this recipe down by a third.
  • Favorite mozzarella cheese: Trader Joe’s brand. It’s stretchy and flavorful and awesome.
  • Favorite pizza sauces:
    • Pesto (store-bought or homemade; we’ve had success with kale pesto as well as classic basil pesto in the past).
    • Tomato sauce: This fresh pizza sauce is really good and easy. However, these days, we’re more likely to make a regular tomato sauce to use on pasta, and then use the leftover sauce on pizza (or freeze to use later). I prefer to blend the tomato sauce with our immersion blender after cooking (I’m not a huge fan of chunky tomato sauce).
  • Favorite toppings (pictured above is pesto, mozzarella, goat cheese, and zucchini, plus basil and chives from our little herb garden):
    • Really good sausage (lightly browned before adding to pizza).
    • Mushrooms (also cooked/browned beforehand, otherwise they’ll make the pizza all watery).
    • Canned artichokes (drained and chopped up).
    • Kale (rubbed with olive oil, salt, and pepper, then added to the pizza towards the end of the baking time).
    • Goat cheese, chorizo (or soyrizo) and avocado (avocado added after the pizza is baked).

Spaghetti squash and black bean tacos with queso fresco


This might actually be one of the best uses of spaghetti squash I’ve ever encountered. I like spaghetti squash for the most part, but I have a hard time enjoying it as a substitute for, well, spaghetti. So, tacos! Much better option.

What worked: The spices were awesome and balanced out the slight sweetness of the squash, they fed me and my husband and a friend who had come over to play video games, and they made great leftovers (always a plus).

What didn’t work: Maybe I just didn’t get the good stuff, but this was my first time having queso fresco in a long time, and I found it be pretty flavorless. Nice texture, but flavorless. Deb mentions in the book that feta could work as a substitute, which I kinda wish I’d used instead.

Would I make it again?: Definitely! I occasionally get spaghetti squash in my CSA, so I would re-create for those times (and use feta instead!).

Leek fritters with garlic and lemon


These are pretty! I like pretty veggies.

What worked: The lemon and garlic flavors were great, and the whole dish was filling without feeling heavy.

What didn’t work: Nothing in particular, but I will fully admit that I’ve never been a big fan of making fritters. They always taste good – I’ve just often found the process to be a bit tedious.

Would I make it again?: Maybe not, for the above reasons, although they were awfully tasty. So, maybe.

Honey and harissa farro salad


Farro is awesome, and I’m glad this recipe reminded me to keep farro around in my pantry. It has a heftier chew than rice, and paired very nicely with the softer root vegetables in this dish.

What worked: Everything! Overall, a good hearty salad that made good leftovers as well.

What didn’t work: I actually think it could have used a bit more harissa, which is easily fixed for future renditions.

Would I make it again?: For sure. I love big grain/veggie salads, since they make for awesome and easy lunches.

Big breakfast latkes


These latkes make for a very satisfying breakfast – and might I add, a good hangover cure.

What worked: Pretty much everything! I overcooked mine just a smidge, I think. I also think the fried egg on top is pretty much mandatory. Additionally, the tip in the cookbook about how these can be made ahead definitely works and is recommended. We had more latkes for dinner the next day.

What didn’t work: Nada.

Would I make it again?: Maybe. They’d be fun as a treat, and when I have potatoes around (which I often don’t, to be honest).

Salted brown butter crispy treats


In which I get to make and consume one of the most delicious things I’ve ever eaten, and it’s also insanely easy: The salted brown butter crispy treats story.

What worked: As soon as I cut these treats into squares and put into tupperware to bring to a friend’s party, the insane smell overtook me and made me see stars. Then I tasted one, and was a new person as a result. This is exaggeration, but everyone needs to know how delicious these are. Not only that, but these were so easy to make.

What didn’t work: Absolutely nothing. Make these now.

Would I make it again?: DUH. In fact, I really want some right now.

Shaved asparagus pizza and leisurely pizza dough


This is a story in which we made a tasty pizza that was really annoying to prepare.

Shaved asparagus pizza

What worked: This pizza tastes very, very good. The cheese, the asparagus, the green onions – everything was fresh and satisfying.

What didn’t work: Shaving the asparagus was a royal pain in the butt. Deb made it sound so simple, and it really wasn’t. I tried the method of laying the asparagus down on the counter and using my vegetable peeler to do the shaving, and could only get a couple of strips out of the deal. My husband and I resorted to a combination of peeling, using the mandoline (very carefully), and using a regular knife to make thin pieces. It took quite awhile and in the end, we couldn’t help but wonder if it was worth it.

Would I make it again?: Probably not. It was very tasty (as mentioned), but was too much work (as also mentioned).

Leisurely pizza dough

What worked: Everything! I love making pizza dough in the morning and letting rise all day in the fridge. It’s easy, makes dinner prep even easier after work, and in my experience, the all-day slow rise makes the crust bake up beautifully and taste even better.

What didn’t: Nothing wrong here. Sometimes we prefer a thicker crust, but for those thin crust days, this crust is great.

Would I make it again?: It’s quite likely. I’ll admit that I’m pretty partial to Mark Bittman’s pizza dough recipe (it’s one of those that I have almost committed to memory at this point, and it always comes out well), but I will aim to put this Smitten Kitchen crust in the rotation.

Vinegar slaw with cucumbers and dill, butternut squash and caramelized onion galette



A nice weekend evening became even nicer when this vinegar slaw and butternut squash galette came into the mix.

Vinegar slaw with cucumbers and dill

What worked: This was easy to prepare (especially easy if you have a mandoline), fresh and tasty.

What didn’t work: Nothing in particular, but I think in general that this recipe works better in small doses, and would be ideal to bring to a potluck (or somewhere to feed a larger group of people). We had a ton of leftovers, and I got kind of sick of eating it after a couple of days (having said that, it’s nice that it lasts so long in the fridge).

Would I make it again?: Maybe, to bring to a potluck or picnic. I also think it would taste good on a pulled pork sandwich or something along those lines.

Butternut squash and caramelized onion galette

Goddamnit, this was delicious. And we got to enjoy it all week long!

What worked: Everything! I’ll admit I was skeptical, since butternut squash is sweet and I wondered if this would be feel too rich and sweet as a result. However, this galette was so, so tasty, and a beautiful dish (and made equally beautiful leftovers). The squash and the cheese and the thyme and the crust just sing.

What didn’t work: The only little thing I can think of is that this does take some time and effort to prepare – but I think it’s worth it, so there you go.

Would I make it again?: For sure. It would be especially great for entertaining.

Big cluster maple granola


Granola was one of the first things I learned how to make. Back when I had multiple roommates and a bigger house, the whole place would fill with the smell of nuts and cinnamon and toasty oats. I’ve tried variations with almond butter, banana, coconut oil, olive oil, etc., plus all different kinds of nuts and dried fruits. Over the course of four years, I’ve only ruined (burned) one batch. I’ll call that a win.

With this Smitten Kitchen granola recipe, I was intrigued because it included a variation that I hadn’t seen or tried before: The inclusion of an egg white. The purpose of the egg white was to encourage the “big clusters,” as described in the title of the recipe.

What worked: The flavor of the granola was delicious – the maple really sang. While my granola didn’t really cluster as the recipe described, the egg white made the granola especially crispy, which was great. It paired especially well with yogurt.

What didn’t work: As mentioned above, my granola really didn’t “cluster” as it was supposed to. I don’t know why, but to be honest, I didn’t really care. It tasted great regardless.

Would I make it again?: Definitely!

Kale salad with with cherries and pecans (almonds), rushed pizza dough, eggplant and three cheese calzone

Kale salad with with cherries and pecans (almonds), rushed pizza dough, eggplant and three cheese calzone

Our friend Andrea came over for dinner recently, and she requested the kale salad and the eggplant and three cheese calzone from the smitten kitchen cookbook project! It was a successful evening of good food and good conversation.

Kale salad with cherries and pecans: I completely forgot to get pecans at the store, so I polled my dinnermates and asked if they preferred almonds or walnuts as a replacement, and almonds were chosen. Also, I didn’t realize that I was out of honey, so I had to substitute light agave for the honey in the salad dressing. Both turned out to be worthy substitutes, as the salad was super tasty and satisfying.

What worked: Everything! This was a super easy and lovely accompaniment to our overall dinner. I’m sure this salad would be great as a main dish as well. I’ve never been known to choose a honey mustard-type dressing, but this dressing was perfectly balanced. I would definitely make sure to follow Deb’s suggestion to dress the salad and then let it sit for 20 minutes before eating – I dressed the salad once I put the calzone in the oven, so the timing was perfect.

What didn’t work: Nothing wrong here!

Would I make it again?: Absolutely!

Rushed pizza dough: I had been planning to make the leisurely pizza dough before I left for work that morning, but then I forgot. That is my story.

What worked: This dough was tasty and worked perfectly for the three cheese and eggplant calzone.

What didn’t work: After mixing the ingredients together based on the recipe proportions, my dough definitely did not have enough liquid, and would not come together enough to knead. I added an additional splash of water, and all was well. Also, the dough definitely had not doubled in size after 30 minutes of rising time, and still had not quite doubled an additional 30 minutes after that. As a result, the dough took a little extra time to roll out – I had to take a couple of brief breaks to let the dough rest before rolling to the directed size. However, as noted above, the end result was really tasty.

Would I make it again?: Yes. I want to see if I have the same rising issues, and also wanted to try as the base for an actual pizza and see how it goes.

Eggplant and three cheese calzone: My husband and I both don’t especially like eggplant, finding it too fleshy and strange, especially when not prepared well – so I was a little skeptical about this one. Having said that, the preparation of the eggplant for this recipe (roasting before adding to the calzone) was perfect, and this calzone was just delicious.

What worked: As noted above, roasting the eggplant beforehand proved to be a genius move. The eggplant and the cheese melded together amazingly, and the simple tomato sauce prepared separately and served as a condiment to the calzone (as opposed to baked into the calzone) proved to be a perfect accompaniment.

What didn’t work: For the tomato sauce piece of the recipe, I interpreted “strained tomatoes” as whole peeled canned tomatoes, strained of any extra sauce, but this turned out to be incorrect. After simmering and crushing a bit with a fork, the tomatoes were still whole, so I pureed the mixture with my immersion blender, and all was well. I still don’t really know what “strained tomatoes” means though.

Would I make it again?: Most definitely, especially to feed multiple people easily!