Choose-Your-Own-Adventure: Pizza

Friends, I am hosting Thanksgiving this year.  This is the first holiday dinner (of many, I hope) that I'll be cooking and serving as the executive-chef-extraordinaire.  I'm so excited to pull this off... A little nervous about the turkey though, and the sheer amount of food I'm making, but I've got it under control.  You should see my master planning spreadsheet, good lord.  It's beautiful.  It has tabs for the prep schedule, guest list, menu and ingredients, grocery list, and all the odds and ends it takes to make a holiday meal for 9 people.

I'll be roasting my first turkey ever (!!!!!) and serving it with mashed potatoes, apple cider cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, sage and onion dressing, sweet potato biscuits, gravy, brussels sprouts salad with brown butter vinaigrette, and roasted root vegetables.  My parents will be preparing a ham, hors d'oeuvres, and beverages.  And let's not forget that my friends will be baking lots of goodies too as post-dinner fare: kourambiethes (a family recipe for a kind of Greek cookie from the one and only Tor), apple crisp, and pumpkin pie.  Ohhhhhh boy.  This is gonna be good.

I'll share my Thanksgiving escapades next weekend... We'll see if I mess up the turkey or not.  But for today, let's talk pizza.  Now, if you've looked below at the recipe, you may have noticed that there is salsa in the pizza sauce.  Okay, calm down.  It's going to be alright.  Apparently this is a thing, and while I was also skeptical when Jimmy told me his family always does pizza this way, it turned out to be really yummy.  A little unorthodox perhaps, maybe a little blasphemous, but who cares if it tastes good... Am I right?  Can I get a hell yeah?

Errr anyway, we caramelized a bunch of onions, and fried up some Italian sausages and bacon for toppings.  I also had some leftover pesto from dinner earlier in the week, so we pulled together the makings of some epic pizza.

Here's the kicker though: Jimmy doesn't like cheese.  Like at all.  Like, as I grabbed hunks of cheese that had been destined for the pizza and stuffed them in my mouth instead, he sort of gagged a little.  I mean, more for meeeee!  But I am baffled by this.  He tolerates it on pizza, since it holds the toppings in place, but not too much.  Just enough.  Now me, I want the cheese to be oozing all over the place, and stretching into long steaming strings when I try to take a bite.  So we made 4 small pizzas, one of which I could cheesify to my heart's content, and the others we sparsely scattered such that we could share them.  The thoroughly cheesified pizza was a simple margarita-style, with just the fire roasted tomatoes sans salsa, and we also made a pesto with bacon and caramelized onions.  The other two had the salsa-tomato combo with the toppings piled high and interspersed with slices of mozzarella.  For all my heckling about his disdain for cheese, and the blasphemous nature of our pizza creations, they really did turn out well.  I'm very happy.

Pizza Dough:

2 1/4 teaspoon (1 packet) instant dry active yeast
1 c warm water (~110 degrees F)
1/2 tablespoon sugar
~3 c bread flour
3 tablespoons olive oil, plus extra for the bowl
1/2 tablespoon salt
~3 tablespoons cornmeal

In a large bowl stir together the yeast, water, and sugar gently, then let bloom for 20 minutes (it'll puff up).  Add the olive oil and salt, then stir in 2 c bread flour.  Once it's come together in a sticky mass, dust a clean counter generously with flour and knead 10-20 minutes, adding ~1 c dough over to create a soft, supple dough that's tacky but not sticky, and smooth.  Oil a large bowl with some more olive oil, then coat the dough with oil by turning it about in the bowl.  Cover with a clean kitchen towel and let rise in a warm place for 2 hours.

Divide the dough into 2 pieces, wrap with plastic, and let rise overnight in the refrigerator.  Before making the pizzas, let the halves sit out on the counter for a couple hours covered with a kitchen towel, so that they return to room temperature.


1/2 can diced fire roasted tomatoes
1/2 jar medium salsa

Mix together equal parts of salsa and tomatoes, or to your liking.  It sounds weird, but it's good.


Caramelized onions
Sliced apple
Crumbled Italian sausage
Basil leaves

Preheat the oven to 500 degrees F.  If you have a pizza stone, awesome, use it.  I don't have one (sadness), so we just baked them on sheet trays dusted with cornmeal (you should dust your pizza peel with cornmeal too if you're using it with your pizza stone).  To roll out the dough, either use a rolling pin and your fingers to create a thin center and thicker edges for the crust, or stretch it using your knuckles if you're a pro.

We made 4 small pizzas, 2 per sheet tray, baking them on the top rack until the cheese was bubbling and dark brown, and the crust sufficiently crusty.  I tore basil leaves over the hot pizzas right when they came out of the oven, perfuming the kitchen with lemon and licorice, which mingled with the aroma of freshly baked bread.

Gingerbread for Breakfast: Yogurt Scones

Last night, my best friend Tor and I engaged in a scheduled quarterly breakdown.  By this I mean that we've been waiting for the appropriate point in the quarter at which we can declare that we're too overwhelmed by the amount of work we have to do any of it; and so naturally, instead of settling in for a night of hard-core studying, we must have a dance party in my kitchen while baking and devouring pastries and ice cream.  

We made peppermint mocha brownies, which will appear in the next post unless I get to the pizza or cranberry crumble bars with mulling spices first (yessss, so much food in my life), in addition to these gingerbread yogurt scones.  They don't exactly follow to the theme of breakdown food (which may be characterized as may I have some butter with my cream and chocolate please), since I made them with the intention of eating them for breakfast in the coming days.   But their being healthy allowed us to justify our subsequent dessert of warm brownies with espresso ice cream.  Win-win.

It should be no secret to you at this point, since this blog is almost a year old now (oh my...), that I love ginger.  I eat hunks of the crystalized stuff while I'm waiting for my oatmeal to cook in the morning, and then proceed to stir some (read: a lot of) slices into the oatmeal once it's done.  And add them to trail mix.  And ice cream.  And plain Greek yogurt with raspberry jam and flax seeds.  And, and... Yes my mom thinks I'm gross (she also thinks I'm gross for eating the frosting off her cake, or most of the dough when I'm making cookies; so clearly she is misguided), but ginger is just so pungently sweet and spicy at the same time, like it's sparkling on your tongue; and when crystallized it also becomes soft and toothsome, like gummy candies (you should also know by now that I love gummy bears and worms).  Often the salty-sweet combination gets the Ideal Flavor Combo Award, but I like spicy-sweet even better.  If you're not as much of a fan, you could - dare I even say it - forgo the crystallized ginger in this recipe.  But I would be sad.  So, so sad.  

P.S. I adjusted the recipe below to reflect any changes I'd like to make with a second batch.  The molasses flavor wasn't strong enough, so I replaced the maple syrup I'd added to the recipe with more.  I increased the amount of sugar to compensate for the lack of maple syrup, but I didn't add too much, since I liked that they weren't incredibly sweet.  These are for breakfast, after all.

Gingerbread Yogurt Scones
adapted from here and here

1/2 c all-purpose flour (unbleached)
1/2 c white whole-wheat flour (unbleached)
3/4 c oat flour (use a food processor to grind regular rolled oats into a powder)
1 c rolled oats
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
5 tablespoons Muscovado sugar, divided
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger, plus extra for sprinkling
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons cold butter
1 large egg
3/4 c plain yogurt
1/4 c molasses
3 tablespoons milk, divided
1 teaspoon vanilla
~7 strips crystallized ginger, sliced

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

In a large bowl, mix together the flours, oats, baking soda and powder, 4 tablespoons sugar, spices, and salt.  In another smaller bowl, whisk together the egg, yogurt, molasses, 2 tablespoons milk, and vanilla.  Chop the butter into 12-ish pieces, making sure it's super cold, then cut the butter into the flour mixture.  The mixture will be crumbly and the pieces of butter the size of peas.  If you think the butter's gotten too warm, just pop the bowl into the freezer for a couple minutes.

Fold the wet ingredients into the butter-flour mixture gently.  Once there are only a few streaks of flour left, add in the crystallized ginger, adjusting the amount to suit your taste.  Mix until just combined.  On a clean surface that's been dusted with flour, dump out the dough and pat it down into a thick disc.  Cut the disk into 8 wedges, then arrange them on a sheet pan that's been covered with tin foil and buttered.  Brush the remaining 1 tablespoon of milk over the scones, and sprinkle with ground ginger and the remaining 1 tablespoon sugar.  Bake for 20-25 minutes until firm and browned.  

Pork Tamales

PSA: I wrote this a few weeks ago (this being the text after the ***), after I'd finally gotten back into cooking and made both the Egg and Tofu Spring Rolls with Nori and the Sausage and Rye Bread Pudding.  I hadn't cooked in a very long time, which, as you might guess, was both indicative of the mental hole I was in and instrumental in keeping me down in it.  I was planning on posting this soon after I'd written it, but it became tangental rather than central to both of the other two posts as I tried to write them, so I cut this out.  I've included it for this post instead, since I enjoy writing in stream of consciousness sometimes.  I like the way it turned out, anyway.

This week, now that I've been sleeping more in addition to cooking more, I've been feeling so so so much better.  My work ethic has decreased to accommodate an adequate amounts of sleep each night, which isn't an excellent thing to do, but it's important.  You have to take care of yourself sometimes.  I've overcommitted myself this quarter for sure, but I am surviving, and now I know what my limits are.  I just have to hang on, get my schoolwork and work assignments done, and not ever ever ever again give myself a schedule like this.  Not ever.

Note 11/21/2013: Pictures are up, finally!


I went grocery shopping after practice and made myself a nourishing meal.  Several meals, actually, for the days to come.  I haven't done that in quite a while, mostly subsisting off the tamales I'd made with Jimmy and Stefan a couple weeks ago and stashed in the freezer.  But yes, oh how lovely it was that I came home after practice and didn't do any school work, no real (that is, job) work, no coding psych data.  I just set my groceries on the counter and went to work: sautéing sweet onions and sausage, chopping up stale rye bread into fragrant hunks redolent with caraway seeds, tossing them in a quick milk-and-egg custard with fresh parsley and a sprinkle of nutmeg, and throwing my savory bread pudding into the oven alongside a couple sweet potatoes, before setting my sights on some rice paper wrappers and nori sheets I conveniently had in the pantry.

I heated up a skillet with canola and sesame oils, put my pretty red kettle on to boil, and broke apart a slab of silken tofu, tossing it with the warm oil and a mound of grated fresh ginger.  I pulled a couple eggs from the fridge and beat them before tossing them gently with the tofu to make something of a tofu omelet, which I cooked completely and chilled before slicing into strips.  Avocado, nori, omelet, and a sauce of tahini and soy were folded into the rice paper, which had been softened by the hot water.  I took photos in our apartment's bright living room, filled with light from the east-facing windows, first of the delicate spring rolls, and then of my sausage and rye bread pudding that was still steaming from the oven.

Pork Tamales:

1/2 pound dried corn husks

Soak the corn husks in water overnight.  When you're ready to make the tamales, drain and rinse the husks.

Braised Pork Shoulder:

4-5 pound bone-in pork shoulder
1 bay leaf
1 large onion (or 2 small)
4 garlic cloves
1 1/2 teaspoons chili powder
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon Mexican oregano (it's okay if you just have regular dried oregano)
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
~1 teaspoon Kosher salt

Place the pork shoulder in a large slow-cooker and cover with water.  Peel the onions, quarter them, and add them to the pork, then peel the garlic and add the cloves whole as well.  Add the bay leaf and spices, adding more or less of each as you see fit.  Cover and cook on high for ~6 hours until the bone basically comes out of the shoulder on its own and the meat falls apart at the touch.

Let cool slightly before transferring the meat to a bowl and shredding, either with your fingers or two forks.  Remove the bay leaf from the broth, then blend the vegetables into the stock in a blender (or with an immersion blender, which is especially useful here).  Add enough broth to the bowl of shredded pork to keep it moist but not drown it (you don't want the tamales to be too watery).


1 1/2 c lard
6 c masa harina
~2 teaspoons salt
~2 teaspoons chili powder

In a large bowl combine the lard, salt, and chili powder, then whip thoroughly until aerated.  Stir in the masa harina.  Begin by adding 1 c of broth, and continue to add more broth in ~1/2 c increments until the dough has come together and it doesn't crumble when you try to roll it into a ball with your hands.  I mixed my masa by hand rather than with a utensil, but you could use a hand mixer instead if you'd like.  If you put a little ball of masa into a cup of water, it should float when it's properly hydrated and beaten.  When you're mixing the masa you really want to make sure to aerate it by beating well.

Fill a large pot with a steamer basket in the bottom with about an inch of water.  If you don't have a steamer that can fit inside your pot, you can just throw a bunch of silverware (that won't melt with the heat) in the bottom so that you can put tamales into the pot without them touching the water (you just want the water to create steam).

To form the tamales, take a couple tablespoons of masa and roll it into a ball between your hands.  Hold a corn husk such that the tapered end is facing away from you and the edges are curling upward.  Smear the masa against the front half of the corn husk such that you have a 1/8 inch thick rectangle with an inch or so border of husk showing on the bottom, right, and left sides (you're going to fold up the back half, so you want to keep that empty too).  Take about a tablespoon of shredded pork and place it in the center of the masa, making sure to leave some masa showing all around the filling.  Fold up the right (or left first, if you're so inclined) side such that the exposed edges of masa touch and create a seal all around the filling.  Fold the other side over to enclose the masa pocket with the corn husk, then fold over the bottom half to create an envelope (the end that was closest to you will be left open).

Fill your prepared pot with tamales - you can just stack them on top of each other.  Set over high heat to bring the water to a boil, then reduce to medium-low and simmer for ~2 hours.  Make sure to check the water level often and add more water as necessary.

I served my tamales with salsa, sour cream, and black beans.  I wish that I'd had some cilantro too!

Sausage and Rye Bread Pudding

Thus life returns to normal.  And by normal I actually mean excellent.  It's strange how suddenly the reversal came - like I was gradually returning to emotional equilibrium when suddenly, I took a sharp turn that dislodged all the awful feelings I've been harboring since, well, May if I'm being honest.  Granted, I'm drowning in work, and nursing my back injury that has continued to nag me.  But I am terribly happy, finally.

This weekend I raced at the Head of the Hooch, a pretty sizable regatta in Chattanooga, Tennessee, with 190 crews total competing.  UChicago has never gone to this regatta before, for lack of money or time for another race in our schedule, especially one so far away, et cetera et cetera.  I've had my heart set on competing here since, oh I don't know, probably July, with the intention of bringing the entire varsity squad.  Usually for regattas like this, which are outside the Midwest and feature a relatively high level of competition, we only bring priority boats; that is to say, only a select group of the fastest rowers.  That's all well and good, but I really wanted to involve the whole team in a big race like this, which is on par with regattas like Dad Vail in Philadelphia and ACRA in Gainesville, Georgia, if you're familiar with the rowing scene.  Anyway, the non-priority rowers deserve not only to compete at an upper echelon regatta like the Hooch (or Dad Vail or ACRA), but also to be involved in the inherently social experience of traveling, essentially living, with their teammates for a few days.  Those are the experiences that we remember, the stories we tell to the new novices every fall and to our friends (who don't know what we're talking about but smile and nod along anyway, because they understand how much it means to us).  

There were a couple members who weren't able to be boated this weekend, which disappointed me, since I wanted everyone to be able to come.  But we had 23 rowers and coxswains from our 29-person varsity squad compete, and that was excellent.  I was so proud to be there, and to have made it possible for us to go.  Of course, there were so many other people instrumental to making that race a reality, especially my crew little sister Annika who helped me with the preparations and all the donors, who in total sent $5490.  Amazing.  That's a lot of money.  And even though my boat didn't win our event (Women's Club 8+), or medal for that matter, I was incredibly happy just to have planned a successful trip and to be healthy enough to row.  

If you could see me writing this I have a big stupid grin on my face.  It's great.

Sausage and Rye Bread Pudding

1/2 loaf stale rye bread
~1 tablespoon canola oil
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 small onion, diced small
3 links sweet Italian chicken sausage (or whatever sausage you want) removed from its casing
1 tablespoon maple syrup
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
Handful parsley, chopped
4 eggs
2 cups whole milk (you could use a lower-fat milk if you're so inclined)
~1 dash ground nutmeg
Cooking spray

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.

Heat the canola oil in a medium-sized skillet over a medium flame.  Reduce the heat to medium-low/low and sauté the onion with a dash of salt and pepper until soft and translucent.  Push the onions into a pile off to the side of the skillet, then break up the sausage into the center.  Cook the sausage until crisped, then add in the maple syrup and Dijon and cook for another minute or so.  Remove from the heat and stir the onions into the sausage.

In a medium bowl whisk together the eggs, milk, and nutmeg, then stir in the parsley.  Chop the bread into 1 inch cubes and stir into the egg mixture.  Let the bread soak up some of the custard while the sausage cools.  After 10 minutes or so, add the sausage mixture.  Spray a casserole dish with cooking spray and add the bread mixture.  Bake for 35-50 minutes until the custard is set and the top of the pudding has browned.  I'd suggest serving this with gravy, or an egg with a nice runny yolk oozing over the top.  Mm.