Monday, February 26, 2007

The shape of pizza to come

I've looked back at the photos and reconsidered the shape of my proto-pizza. It is not Antarctica, as previously claimed. It is Australia. G'day, pizza fans.

There go Mitch's dump trucks

I have a dream. Not nearly so profound a dream as Dr. Martin Luther King, Junior, but a dream nevertheless. I will tell you about this dream as long as you promise not to laugh, the way Juan Epstein’s girlfriend did in an episode of “Welcome Back Kotter,” when he told her he always wanted to own a fleet of dump trucks, so that when one of the dump trucks went by, everyone would say, “There go Epstein’s dump trucks.” If you will promise not to laugh, I will promise not to mention the words “dump truck” again in this posting.

My dream is to own a pizza place. I have the perfect name picked out for this pizza place, but I will not tell you, because it is so perfect, you will feel compelled to steal it and open your own pizza place. It is not “Domino’s”. Suffice it to say that there will be a theme, and the name of each individual pizza will revolve around that general theme. The name is that good.

But that is not the point. The point is, I am a journalist, and therefore have little experience making pizzas. That has changed recently, thanks to our neighbor, Susan. Susan is an educator, and thus you would not imagine that she has pizza-making savvy. You would be wrong.

Shifting out of that strange narrative tone for a minute, Susan had me and my wife and daughter over for a pizza dinner recently, and I was stunned to find out she was making her own pizza. But she was, and it appeared not to be too challenging. Of course, my role in the pizza making was limited (spreading pepperoni on top of the cheese), while hers was a little more involved (making the dough, making the sauce, rolling out the dough, chopping up the ingredients, etc.), but it led me to believe my dream is within reach.

So, thus empowered, with Susan’s recipes for dough and sauce at hand, I recently set about making my own pizza. My wife and daughter scattered to the living room, while I set about creating a masterpiece. But first, I had to locate the appropriate CD to accompany pizza making. Settling for some reason on Bebel Gilberto, I returned to the kitchen, only to decide I needed older clothes for pizza making. (You’ve probably already gathered that some of my trouble is in setting appropriate pizza-making priorities.)

The sauce came together without too much trouble. It seemed to be a matter of, mainly, dumping stuff into a pot and stirring, which is the kind of culinary art I can get behind. The dough, on the other hand – a different story. There were all sorts of cautions to use water at the proper temperature, and to add flour periodically, to make sure the dough didn’t stick to the side of the bowl. My trouble revolved around our electric mixer; namely, that I had no idea whether I was using it correctly, or if I even correctly identified the “dough hook” attachment. I was never quite sure I wasn’t using a left-handed pasta inverter, or a feta cheese crumbler.

After coming to the conclusion that the wad in the mixing bowl bore a passing resemblance to dough, I followed the directions to let it rest for a half-hour. Of course, by this time, the sauce was long complete, so I entertained myself by deciding whether, as a pizza maker, it looked better to wear my baseball cap backwards. I decided it did.

Next up, cutting the dough into thirds and rolling each into a ball. This I did, though he balls looked more like movie-style blobs of slime. No matter, I figured, they’re just going to be flattened out, anyway. Then, they each got to rest for another ten minutes. I decided to speed up the process next time, I’d just add some Tylenol PM to the mixture.

Finally, the moment of truth. Rolling out the balls of dough. It turns out that the ball shape is pretty important, so that your finished pizza is in the shape of a circle, rather than what mine turned out to look like, which was Antarctica. I called my wife and daughter in from the living room, and we added our variety of toppings to our Antarctic pizzas, and waited for them to bake.

In the end, they were… not entirely unlike pizza. Pretty decent, actually. The crust was more doughy than you might want to eat in a restaurant, but the sauce was excellent, and none of us were hospitalized. I’m definitely on a pace to open my pizza place, inasmuch as my wife is insisting it wait until after our daughter graduates from college, or roughly 19 years from now.

Friday, February 23, 2007

We're still here


We've been neglecting this space in recent weeks, mainly because we're working on another, super-secret, writing project that we'll probably start blogging about at some point, but not at 6:25 on a Friday morning. But the truth of the matter is, as far as that project goes, we are officially On A Roll, and are worried that the writing Karma gods only allow us to be on one roll at a time, lest we get salmonella poisoning.

We will return to this space again soon. Perhaps later today. The nice thing about that sentence is it is appropriate, no matter what day you're reading it.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

A tsimmering issue

We have a pretty busy kitchen at the 19 Minutes home office. Partly, that's because even with a pretty well-behaved two-and-a-half year old around, there are only so many restaurants that serve grilled cheese, and only so many occasions on which we want to spend an hour trying to sneak bites of our food while attempting to convince our daughter into staying in her booster chair. On the other hand, watching Sylvi order her own meals is pretty entertaining ("I want grilled cheese and moolk!", she says happily, while the waitress attempts to discern what "moolk" is).

But really, the kitchen is busy because it can be. For seven years, we lived in a townhouse with a kitchen that would have looked appropriate in a 737. And after five years, we dispensed with what was formally known as a "dining room table" but more colloquially known as "the repository of car insurance bills, 74-thousand credit card offers, and the L.L. Bean Early-Mid Winter Pre-Boxing Day Sale Catalog" and decided to embrace the notion of eating on the couch. So there really wasn't much incentive to be much more ambitious than frozen pizza. (Dining tip: For a unique twist, try adding Froot Loops to your frozen pizza. I never have, but I'll be curious to hear how it tastes.)

But now safely ensconced in Wisconsin (and you try finding another rhyme for "Wisconsin"), with a bright, yellow kitchen that features - yes - both counter space and cabinet space, we've gotten more ambitious. Ambitious to the degree that by the time Sylvi is 10 years old, she may never see us cook again, because we will have filled eight auxiliary freezers with enough leftovers to last into the Chelsea Clinton Administration. (Granted, she may still be ordering grilled cheese at that point.)

My wife is especially enjoying the opportunity. Last week that manifested itself in my mom's recipe for something called "tsimmes". Or "tzimmes", if you prefer. (Or "simmis". You get the idea.) We are, you'll recall, a Christmas tree-and-menorah sort of household. But despite her Lutheran-ness, my wife enjoys getting in touch with her inner Jewish chef. She makes a fantastic kugel. The problem, though, with most Jewish recipes - at least those handed down from generation to generation - is that they don't quite have the, um, specificity that your typical Midwestern Lutheran recipe might have, which can sometimes lead to unexpected results.

Typical Midwestern Lutheran recipe (written neatly on 3X5 index card)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

1/4 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons sugar
1 12 oz. box, vermicelli noodles
1 8 oz. can, cream of mushroom soup
3 large carrots
dash of garlic powder

Typical passed-down Jewish recipe (written on coffee-stained paper that, on closer inspection, is the back of a form letter from 1973)

Preheat oven to [obscured by coffee stain].

medium-sized brick of cream cheese
box of egg noodles
4 T sugar [or maybe it's "4 t" - you can't really be sure]
4 apples (I use Jonathans)

You get the idea. Anyway, tsimmes is a beef roast-and-potatoes-and-sweet potatoes-and-carrots-and-honey dish that my mom used to make while my brother and I were lobbying for pepperoni pizza. My mom was kind enough to provide her recipe - in electronic form, actually, and with a pretty good level of detail.

My wife adapted it a little - employing a crock pot, for starters - but otherwise followed the recipe pretty closely. It turned out pretty well, though not as thick as my wife thought it
should be, considering a major section of my mom's recipe involved the thickening process. So we checked in with my mom and the following conversation ensued:

Me: So, Gretchen made your tsimmes recipe tonight.

My mom: Really? How'd it come out?

Me: Pretty good. But we had a question about the - what is it called? The

Mom: Right, that's the thickening. It's like when you make gravy.

Me: Right. She followed the directions, but all it did was clump up in three
or four places.

Mom: Yeah, that's what usually happens with mine. Except when I forget and
don't do the thickening at all.

In the spirit of things, I made pepperoni pizza the following night. But at least it wasn't frozen.