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

squash-tacos

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!).

Cookies Swap 2011: Toffee Cookies

Toffee Cookies

Welcome to my contribution for the Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap 2011!

I had very different plans for this cookie recipe. I envisioned, specifically, an Apple Cider Toffee Cookie, with a pronounced apple cider taste, enhanced by buttery toffee. Unfortunately, I was left with a cookie with a strong toffee flavor and only a hint of apple – which, by all means, is not a bad thing, just not what I originally wanted.

My original plan was to use this recipe for Maple Syrup Cookies and produce an apple cider syrup to use instead of the maple syrup. Brilliant, I thought! I am a genius!

Except making apple cider syrup proved more difficult than I thought. With my first batch, I kept waiting for the cider to get a thick, syrupy consistency, and I ended up with a tasteless, sticky substance that became hard as a rock once cooled. With my second batch, the consistency was thinner than I would have liked, but it tasted great, so I decided to just go with it.

While making the cookies, I found that a more syrupy consistency would have been helpful. When I added the syrup to the wet mixture, there was a lot of separation that occurred. It came together fine once I added the dry mixture, but upon tasting the dough (before stirring in the toffee), I found with disappointment that the apple cider flavor was subtle at best.

But these cookies are still tasty. They’re just not apple cider cookies. It’s probably not worth the effort to cook down the apple cider and add the brown sugar just for this recipe, but I’ll include the instructions anyway, just in case. Perhaps I will purchase some honest-to-goodness boiled cider and see what that produces.

Toffee Cookies
Adapted from The Cooking Photographer
Yield: I can’t exactly remember. I think it was around 4 dozen.

1 cup butter, softened
1 cup packed brown sugar
1 egg
1 cup apple cider syrup [note: I doubled the recipe but used only 2 cinnamon sticks, and omitted the brandy]
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 cups all-purpose flour
1 8 oz bag toffee bits/pieces (I used Heath; use less if you want a less pronounced toffee flavor)
Granulated sugar for rolling

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and put racks in the bottom and top thirds of the oven. Sift or whisk the flour, salt and baking soda in a medium bowl and set aside. Cream the butter and sugar in a large bowl (I used my stand mixer) until light and fluffy. Add egg, apple cider syrup and vanilla, and mix until blended. The mixture will separate a little bit, but will come back together once you add the dry ingredients.

Stir in the flour mixture until just combined. Add the toffee bits and stir until well-distributed. Refrigerate dough for 30 minutes to an hour (optional, but I found it to be helpful).

Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Shape dough into 1 inch balls, roll in sugar, and place on baking sheets about 2 inches apart. Bake for 10-12 minutes, switching racks halfway through the baking time. Remove from oven and let cool, preferably on a wire rack.

Toffee Cookies

A daily song: The National – “Apartment Story”

I put together a Genius playlist on my iPhone yesterday with New Order’s “Age of Consent” as the seed. The result was all sorts of awesome: more New Order, some Spoon, Broken Social Scene, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, Beirut, Arcade Fire, My Bloody Valentine . . . and the National.

I’ve always really liked the National, but haven’t had many “listen-on-repeat” instances with their songs. Today, however, when revisiting the “Age of Consent” playlist, I just kept hitting repeat once “Apartment Story” come up in the mix. I was hooked. It’s just so divine.

“Tired and wired, we ruin too easy.”

The National – “Apartment Story”

A daily song: Colin Hay – “I’m Waiting for my Real Life to Begin”

I seem to have a different song and/or melody stuck in my head on a daily basis. I will try to post them here as often as possible.

Blame it on the cycles, be it moon, weather, or hormone-based – the nature of this song is hitting me upside the head, knowing so much but wanting more.

Colin Hay – “Waiting for My Real Life to Begin”

I actually first discovered this song from a “Scrubs” episode. The early years – ahhh, yes: