Jules asked me to write once a week and “share my talents” with the blogging world. Talent-shmalent, I just love food. I spend a substantial amount of time thinking about my next meal and what new things I can try. One thing I DON’T spend my time thinking about is what recipe I should use. And in that spirit, if you’re wanting recipes out of me, you’ll likely be disappointed.
The problem with recipes is their limitations. We’re all lead to believe that if we don’t follow the recipe exactly, somehow a tire iron is going to end up in our food and we’ll forever be branded as a bad cook. Don’t get me wrong, strict observance to recipes has its place. I just think that place should be limited to baking (which, for the record, is my least favorite part of cooking).
I know what some of you are thinking. “Chris, I’ve been in your house and you have more recipe books than anyone I know.” Of course I have recipe books. I love reading them and you’d be hard-pressed to find a time when the food network is not on the TV in our house (actually, just come visit during one of the Food Network Cake Challenges- I refuse to watch any of those because the dude with the spiky hair and glasses is the most boring person alive. Actually, there are times I’m not even sure he IS alive). But what we’re looking for in a recipe is inspiration, not a road map. I know that some people feel that a recipe just makes life easier. You don’t need to think about what to put together, because this little piece of paper tells you exactly what to buy. What could be easier than measuring out exactly what is on the sheet and cooking it for exactly how long the sheet tells us? Hmm, well, maybe NOT measuring? That could be easier. It could also be easier to just go to the store and buy what you want to buy, and feel confident that you can make a good meal on your own. Doesn’t that sound so liberating?
Now I know this is quite the mental shift for a lot of us, so I want to help. Every week in my post I’ll share two things:
1- a meal we had that was exceptional (in my own pseudo-recipe format)
2- the techniques used to create the meal
I might share some other useful tools and ideas, but techniques are the best thing anyone can learn. A technique can be used to create thousands of meals, but a recipe can really only create 1. Enough limits, I say!
So this post is quickly getting too long, so let’s keep this week simple. And what’s more simple than pizza? No, seriously, pizza is really simple. Check it.
First and foremost, buy a pizza stone. I know it seems like a one-trick pony, but they’re really not that expensive and we use our pizza stone for lots of things, not just pizza. Chicken nuggets, mozzarella sticks, whatever. The key to a pizza stone is preparation. Pizza stones need to be preheated for a long time. I mean a LONG time. We usually put our stone into the oven for at least 30 minutes, and ideally it would be longer. Not only that, but your oven should be cranked way up between 450 and 475. I know that sounds excessive, but professional pizza ovens work closer to the 1000 degree range, so we’re just trying to get as close as our conventional ovens will allow. And there’s nothing worse than a pizza with a puddle of liquid in the middle and a soggy crust on the bottom. Nobody wants to eat that.
*Note: if you buy a pizza stone, do not EVER wash it with soap. When you heat it up to such high temperatures, any residue will brush right off. We clean ours simply by rinsing it with water (after it has completely cooled down- completely) and wiping with a paper towel.
We bought a tube of Pillsbury premade pizza dough (we have our own recipe which rocks the house, but don’t always have the time to make it- say it with me: Pillsbury is our friend, Pillsbury is our friend…) and rolled it out over corn meal. Corn meal is really cheap, and if you only use it for pizza like we do (Thursday night=pizza night) it lasts a really long time. Flour is NOT a great substitute. Cornmeal adds bite and flavor and is crucial if you want good results. Of course, don’t go overboard with the cornmeal. You’re looking for just enough to keep it from sticking.
Question: Do you own one of these?
Neither do we. Unfortunately, because we’ve been heating the pizza stone we can’t assemble our pizza on it without burning the crust, burning our fingers, cooling down the pizza stone and basically ruining Christmas for millions of children all over the world. So we need something we can build the pizza on and just slide it onto the stone. Fortunately, even though we don’t have a peel (the thing in the picture above), we do have one of these:
An insulated baking sheet. It works perfect because it’s flat and doesn’t have edges, but if you don’t have one of these you can still use the flat underside of any baking sheet you’ve got, you just have to use a little more finesse when sliding onto the pizza stone.
Ok, so for the rest of our ingredients, really simple:
a couple chicken tenders, cooked in a pan with a little olive oil (not extra virgin) and cut into pieces
some red onion, thinly sliced
a mushroom, thinly sliced (1 is usually enough for a pizza)
some tomato, cut up however you want
crumbled feta cheese
shredded mozzarella cheese
That’s it! What? Sauce you say? Hmm, well, I guess you could use sauce if you want. Actually, Jules makes an awesome pizza sauce, but we didn’t have the stuff for it, so we improvised (which is just how we roll). You could simply use some Sweet Baby Ray’s BBQ sauce (my favorite BBQ sauce on the planet) and make BBQ chicken pizza, or do what we did. Take the heated olive oil used to cook your chicken, add a minced garlic clove and just let it sit there for a few minutes. You want to make sure the oil isn’t super hot, so the garlic doesn’t burn but infuses the oil (discard whatever oil you don’t use- nobody wants botulism). That’s all we used. So here’s how it went together:
Pizza dough on our makeshift peel, garlic oil, thin layer of mozzarella, rest of the toppings, another layer of mozzarella. Slide from the peel straight onto the stone and cook (still between 450 and 475) until the edges brown up, cheese bubbles and the crust is crispy when you tap it with your fingernail. Usually only takes 7-10 minutes.
Easy, huh? I was so excited to eat it I started to cut into it before taking a snapshot. Our pizza dough was square and doesn’t fit completely on our round stone, but who cares? The pizza was really good and took about 20 minutes, start to finish (not including stone heating time).
Give it a try. Start your own pizza night, because the beauty of pizza is you can have it every night, and still make it different. Lots and lots of delicious, easy, and incredibly affordable options.