Sunday, May 30, 2021

May 2021 Pizza Challenge

The pizza challenge was to use some kind of green pepper. Any kind.

The first pizza combo that came to mind was one I hadn't made in a while. So one Friday night I made dough thinking that I might get a chance on Sunday. Plans changed and Sunday was out. Oh well. Figured I'd make bread or stromboli with most of the dough. Some might get wasted. No big deal really. It is a little bit of a waste of flour, but not much. On Monday, I came up with an idea. I'm working from home. I could walk out, start a fire and be back at the laptop in a few minutes. Pop out once in a while to toss a log in the oven. Easy peasy.

Well, it turns out prepping the pizza toppings after work is a little bit of a rushed hassle. But what really through me off my game and turned this impromptu bake into an exercise in frustration was nature. More specifically, bugs.

I didn't notice anything during my quick oven visit to light the fire. It turns out carpenter bees have been drilling holes in my roof. There was some kind of ant with wings and I think a hornet was acting like a real estate agent checking out a spot for a nest. And in the back corner of the roof, I could heard a repeated clicking. I think it was carpenter ants eating. So, for the entire bake I was thinking I was going to have to take down a lot of the roof (which was a serious pain in the ass to build) and this threw me off my game. The dough didn't feel right. The stretches weren't right. The launches weren't right (I made a lot of ovals that night).

Yes, I know that a slice of pizza cut from an oval will still taste good. In my online Twitter complaints I was reminded of a Todd English quote: never trust a round pizza. But it was frustrating, I wasn't having fun. Instead I was getting kind of pissed. There were two high points of the bake. The first was trying out a new vegan pizza, a puttanesca. That had sauce, garlic, oregano, crushed red pepper flakes, Kalamata olives, capers and an olive oil drizzle. A light sprinkle of pecorino might be nice or maybe some anchovy, but those would take away the vegan status. Next go around, I'd replace the crushed red pepper flakes and olive oil with a chili oil. Overall, this was still a tasty pizza and it will find its way into a regular rotation. My vegan neighbor liked it too.

The second high point was the pizza challenge pizza. The is a TXCraig1 special. Mozzarella cheese (used both fresh and low moisture), sausage, dried cranberries that have been rehydrated in rum and jalapeno with a hot honey drizzle post bake. This was the roundest pie of the night. Still not quite round, but the dough stretching was not firing on all cylinders.

Not only is this a tasty pizza, but the chef gets a nice glass of cranberry infused rum after everything is all cleaned up. I needed it that Monday. Called an exterminator on Tuesday.

Monday, May 10, 2021

Pizza is fleeting

There's a pizza guy I stumbled across on Instagram. He has a youtube channel and sometimes I check out what he's doing there. It's mainly a more in depth look at what he does on Instagram. He goes by SantaBarabaraBaker and he makes some really nice looking pizzas.

When I first started watching him he was using a pizza steel in his kitchen. He has since moved up to an outdoor, propane Ooni oven. I think he has the Koda 16 model. Would you believe his name is also pretty close to mine? It's Jonathon. His overall enthusiasm for pizza is contagious.

Well, one of his Instagram posts mentioned that he had been interviewed for a podcast titled "What's Good Dough?" which, if you are into podcasts, is available everywhere. Over the past 2 two days, I was able to sneak in listening to the podcast while walking the dog.

In one part of the podcast, he said, "Pizza is fleeting," and I totally get where he is coming from.
The dough will never be exactly like the way it is right at that moment.
The oven will never be exactly the same as it is for a specific bake
The toppings will never be exactly the same, especially produce.
Hell, there is even variation between cans of tomatoes. they will never be exactly the same either.
That moment, that pizza is unique.

In June 2018, we had a birthday party for my daughter. In my mind, those were the best pizzas I have ever made. Everything clicked. The dough was just right, I was giving them just the right amount of time at room temperature before stretching. The sauce was great. Stretching was a breeze. Launching the pizzas in the oven was smooth, all clean launches, nothing stuck. And the flavor, it was the best crust I ever made

Since June of 2018, I have tried to replicate that crust. I've come close. And even if everything were exactly the same, I'm not sure I would believe it was. The day and the event may have elevated those pies in my mind to better than they actually were. But that particular bake, even though duplicating it is unobtainable, that's the bake I chase every time.

Because pizza is fleeting.

Wednesday, May 5, 2021

April 2021 Monthly Pizza Challenge

Running a little late here. Wasn't sure what I was going to do for this, had some yardwork projects going on (trying to grow grass but I think I am mainly giving grass seed to birds), not sure about a the timing of a wood oven bake...anyhow, managed to do the challenge just under the wire for dinner on April 30th. Seems fitting to be posting about it a week into May.

The Challenge: Celebration! Add an ingredient that elevates your pizza to something for a special occasion.

Wasn't quite sure what to do. I've been seeing a lot of different, fancier cured meats on pizza and remembered a mortadella-pistachio combination I saw for a Neapolitan pizza some time ago. A little google search and I was able to track down the pizza I was trying to remember from Serious Eats.

Took a break from re-watching Letterkenny to make some dough Thursday night. Had the kids take the panned dough out of the fridge when they got home from school to give it a chance to warm up a bit. Heated up the oven and prepped some toppings and we were off..

The Celebration pie was mortadella under the cheese with crushed pistachio/olive oil stripes. If I make this again, I think I'd try it with a light brushing of dijon mustard under the mortadella. All in all, it was pretty tasty.

I have 4 of this size pan, so I figured since I got to pick one topping, everyone else could pick how they wanted one topped. We had bacon, olive and a mushroom too.

You could do much worse for dinner on a Friday night. On to planning the May Challenge.

Wednesday, March 31, 2021

March 2021 Monthly Pizza Challenge

The monthly challenge on the Pizza Forum ( was "smoked."

Over the holidays, one of my neighbors got a pellet smoker. He's been making some really good stuff in there. We had already been talking about collaborating on a pastrami (pastrami is so damn good) and even discussed a few pizza ideas. So when the challenge came up, I texted him and we made some plans.

First up was going to burnt ends. Since the Detroit style pizza I have been working on only takes about 5 hours from idea to baking in the inside-the-house-oven, it was a prefect match for the absurdly windy March we have been having. I made the dough and he dropped off a bag of smoke brisket burnt end pieces. For that pizza, I've got the dough topped with a colby-jack/mozzarella/muenster cheese blend. I put on 6 jalapeno slices so there would be one in each piece of pizza. When the pizza came out of the oven, I added a barbecue sauce drizzle and depending on the eater, a little pickled red onion I made. Personally, I think red onion really perked it up. Made one for me and another for my neighbor.

A little later in the month, we collaborated on a pulled pork pizza. For that, it looked like the weather was cooperating and I was planning to fire up the wood oven for a zoom birthday party (pizzas were made at 5 locations in New York, Connecticut and Wisconsin, it was a fun time). Well, I was expecting a cup or two of smoked pork. He brought me 6 or 7 pounds. And cole slaw. And buns. This is a rough neighborhood.

I ended up making a pretty similar pizza using a different dough and the wood oven. Little bbq sauce on the dough, no Muenster in this cheese blend just colby-jack and mozzarella, some jalapeno, a post bake bbq sauce drizzle and the pickled onion. This came out pretty good too. Made one for my neighbor (also brought them a cheese) and another pulled pork pizza later for me.

When we were talking a few days later, he told me that just before  I dropped the pizzas off, a family had arrived for a pulled pork dinner. So now they've got 2 pizza boxes there. The dad friend asks, "I thought you made pulled pork. You ordered pizzas too?" 

"Nah, those are from my neighbor."

"But they're in boxes?!?"

"Yeah, He really likes pizza."

I think I liked the burnt end pizza a little more. Both we're really good and I definitely would turn down a slice of either right now. The beef was just more flavorful. We had a nice pulled pork dinner the next night, some with bbq sauce and some with a North Carolina vinegar sauce I threw together. There was enough leftover for me to freeze pizza topping sized portions of the pulled pork for future pizza bakes. 

Wednesday, March 10, 2021

Untitled Pizza Movie

 I've been watching and enjoying the documentary Untitled Pizza Movie.

I first heard about it on the pizza form, because, really everything I hear about is on the pizza forum. I don't get out much (but no one does these days). The movie isn't just about pizza, it is more about life, people, addiction and redemption with a running pizza connection between everything.

One of the threads in the movie follows Andrew Bellucci for about 25 years. I've never spoken directly to Andrew but we have had a few interactions on the pizza forum. Not sure they are enough that he would remember my name, but maybe. The guy is clearly passionate about pizza. It has been such a big part of his. From a start at Two Boots, moving on to Three of Cups and wood fired and then the reopening of Lombardi's with a coal oven. There's a little hiccup in the story line when some earlier fraud/theft caught up to Andrew. All of this happened before I had ever heard of him.

When I first new of Andrew he was on the pizza forum talking pizza. He then went to Kuala Lumpur to open NY style pizza places and introducing the area to a slice. He built a very cool looking multi fuel oven at his place. It was neat to see the oven in the movie after seeing it on the forum. From there, Andrew worked at the Joe's near Times Square (if you want the recipe, it is on the forum) and then went to Michigan to open the Ann Arbor location.

There are ups, there are down and there is the currently ongoing shot at redemption. Back in December, Andrew opened Bellucci's in Astoria. Looks like business is booming. They've run out of dough at least once. And by run out of dough, it isn't that there wasn't dough in the shop. There wasn't enough properly fermented dough and he'd rather close then sell something less than ideal.

The photos of his pizzas look great. One of the topping combinations is a Vodka-Roni. It starts with just cheese and pepperoni on the dough. When the pizza is done, splashes of warm vodka sauce are blotched on Jackson Pollock style. The last time I made pizza, I gave it a shot with my own, quick n easy vodka sauce that doesn't actually have vodka.

I think I've got to get the sauce a little thinner. Even so, this was delicious and I definitely want to try the original. I predict you will see this is more and more places just like Hot Honey went everywhere a few years ago.

Andrew's isn't the only story in the movie. There are also two childhood friends who grew up in the city. In the beginning, they look like they could be out of an old Billy Joel song. Like they might not have been friends with Brenda and Eddie - the popular steadys and the king and queen at the prom, but they knew who they were. It follows their lives as they go from inseparable to distant. One of my favorite moments so far is Leeds talking about a greasy, orange slice in the first episode. "The old orange slice. You remember that slice? It was orange, it was greasy, it was super thin. They handed it to you with both hands. It's a dying thing. I never seem to find that slice. Maybe technically it's not the greatest slice you ever had in your life you know, etcetera, etcetera, but it was an old friend. It was the slice of my childhood." This is basically the pizza cognition theory a full decade before the pizza cognition theory.

For about another week, the Untitled Pizza Movie will be up at Metrograph. It's a $5 monthly membership for access. I haven't watched the extras yet, but most episodes have interviews immediately after the screening. The last episode comes out tonight. The rumor is that the sreies is getting picked up by another distributor (3 letters, starts with H and ends with O is the rumor).

Anyhow, if you get a chance, give Untitled Pizza Movie a shot. I've been enjoying it.

Monday, February 1, 2021

It Really Tweaks My Melon - Health Food Store Edition

It is time for the annual Best Of list from our local paper, The Times Union. Year's ago, Daniel formerly of FussyLittleBlog fought the good fight against the list. There were some pretty weak things in the list back then. Subway was voted best Sandwich shop with Panera in the #2 spot. A Japanese restaurant in the Best Chinese restaurant category, that kind of stuff.

In the past, I've written about about the TU food reviews that I've stopped reading, but I still try to keep up on the food scene comings and goings in the paper's Table Hopping blog and the weekly food section. I typically flip through the food/restaurant portion of the Best Of issue that will be coming out soon. But not this year, I'm done. Out. Not even going to hate read it. Right in to the recycle bin.

The list starts with a nomination period. That system might be a few years old. Every ad in Sunday's paper had a "Nominate Us" thing in it. This isn't about a local survey of businesses people love any more. The Best Of is now just product placement for advertisers. Last night I saw the one that really tweaked my melon. It was for Best Health Food Store. Honest Weight Co-Op versus Trader Joe's, a battle between the local store and a national chain.

I don't consider Honest Weight a health food store. It is a great store and I enjoy shopping there, but it isn't a health food store. I also like Trader Joe's and enjoy shopping there but, no way in hell is Trader Joe's a health food store. If our state's liquor laws were different, the local Trader "Not A Health Food Store" Joe's would have a wine section. Ever hear of Two Buck Chuck?

Simply having some things that would also be found in a health food store does not make you a health food store. You can get vitamins, lots of gluten free stuff and even my preferred brand of lactose free, soy free, gluten free, nut based "mozzarella cheese" for vegan pizzas in Target. Doesn't make Target a health food store. Neither is Walmart, Price Chopper, Hannaford, Wegman's, Whole Foods, Healthy Living Center, Trader Joe's or Honest Weight Co-Op.

What has happened is that the availability of items that typically could only be found in a health food store can be found in lots of places now. Earthly Delights in Schenectady was a health food store. Dean's in Westgate was another. When I first started making gluten free things, you had to go to a health food store or use mail order to get ingredients, That stuff is everywhere now. Sad truth is, we are running out of Health Food Stores. They are going extinct. Both Earthly Delights and Dean's are gone. Online shopping and expansive supermarkets have pretty much eliminated them. 

So, yes, you can get some vitamins and lots of things in a Trader Joe's are organic. It's not a health food store. And yes, you can get those things plus I'd argue even more health food store style things at Honest Weight. It's not a health food store.

If you are going to have a Best Of category for health food stores, might as well actually rank the few remaining real ones. But chances are they never advertise in the Times Union.

(Hi Mom!)

Wednesday, December 9, 2020

YouTube, Simon & Garfunkel and fondue

I was screwing around online last night. Mostly watching music videos from the 80s and 90s. Then I watched a Springsteen video (an early 80s live version of Thunder Road). Off to the side in the you might also like column was a clip of Simon and Garfunkel Live in Central Park. I hadn't thought about that concert in forever.

The Simon and Garfunkel concert in Central Park was my my second concert. The first was Sha Na Na. I was a fan of their show and my parents took me when they had a concert nearby. For the Simon and Garfunkel show, I was 10 with older brothers and they brought me. We got to Central Park in the late afternoon. There were so many people there we couldn't see the stage, but we could hear the concert. So on a warm September night, me, my two brothers, my brother's friend and an estimated 500,000 other people listed to Simon and Garfunkel. It was pretty cool.

Years later, as a senior in high school, I was part of an exchange program with a school in France. One evening in a small town outside of Nimes, I was in the house of one of the French students that was also participating in the program. While we were talking before dinner, they were playing the album of the Simon and Garfunkel concert in Central Park. They listened to the concert regularly. In my best French, I told the story of being at the park for the concert. It was fun connection point to have with the family. 

Part of the dinner at that house was the most amazing fondue I've ever had. Everything about it was amazing. The bread. I'll never know what cheeses where in the mix. Even if I did, I probably couldn't get them in the US. As the fondue got down to the last few tablespoons or so, they added something - a little local wine or maybe a liquor - and stirred it all up. That bite...that was the best bite of fondue I will probably ever have.