January 2011

I don’t have my 10-6 job anymore, so it’s difficult for me to come home and quickly fabricate a dinner that two people can enjoy while sharing a glass or two of a delicious wine. However, I’ve found a quick and easy way to remedy that situation. Please disregard any account of frustration you may read from this point on. End results are good. Just stick with it, and I’ll try to take my own advice.


Of the things that I can make and make well, pizza is right up there. I usually give it a halfhearted college try on the crust, making a fistful of dough out of a pile of flour and a bloomed cup of yeastwater. I’m not a stickler for consistency, but it’s nice if I can make something turn out relatively similar two times in a row.

With that, I have been on the lookout for a simple, relatively standard pizza crust recipe for months. I don’t have the time or patience to sit and make an artisanal rustic crust, nor do I have the inclination to either seek out the “00” flour that is essential or buy a pizza stone and wait for it to heat up for an hour to make the perfect crust. I’ve experimented a bit with a couple of different preparations, but I think I’ve found a good one this time.

It’s a Jamie Oliver recipe, and it yields a good, thin crust that doesn’t need much to turn out crackery and good.

I’ve long been a supporter of a lot of things Jamie Oliver. I think that his no-nonsense Naked Chef bit is a great way to get home cooks interested in making healthy, interesting dinners for themselves. His unflinching support for changing the American eating habits is inspiring, and it plays a large part in translating everyday recipes into successful dinners.

My old standby has been ketchup. I had never made ketchup before, but really wanted to give it a try. I’ve done it on a few occasions, mixing it up for some fries with curry ketchup, making a cocktail sauce for New Year’s Eve, and just making a batch of it to have around. He acknowledges the monopoly of Heinz, and how they’ve cornered the market on ketchup the world over, but is also keen to point out that they didn’t do it through marketing- they did it by having a very good, standard product that didn’t change. When everyone thinks ketchup, they usually think Heinz, and that’s not a marketing strategy.

With that said, I made my own, using his recipe. Despite the fact that everyone considers ketchup to be tomatoes and vinegar, not many people know what really goes into it. His recipe has fennel, red onion, coriander, basil, brown sugar, ginger, garlic, and celery. Most importantly, it can be made by just giving a rough chop to all the vegetables, pureeing it in a blender, and straining it. After that, time is the only thing standing in the way between you and your ketchup. Check out the recipe at the bottom, courtesy of the Food Network.


Now, he’s got some great marketing on his own, because whenever I enter a search on Google for a recipe, up pops a Food Network recipe from his kitchen. Having a fair amount of earned respect for him, I decided to give his dough recipe a try.

Full disclosure, in case you haven’t read into it yet: Baking is not for me. I love the curiousity of cooking, but I have not the patience for the precision of measuring cups and spoons. The dough probably turned out less than perfect, but it doesn’t really matter to me, because anything above failure in the bread domain, I consider success. For someone in my family who DOES enjoy the baking and using it to address situations that arise in his life, check out my cousin’s blog, Handmade. There’s a link down at the bottom of the page. Lots of baking goes on over there. Life lessons, tips for parenting, and learning things as he goes. Well written and thought provoking. Much better, more patient baker than I.


Back to the dough. I’ve got my flour, my yeast, and a quick tomato sauce of plum tomatoes, onions, garlic, and spices simmering on the stove (Note to self: Do not hit the sauce with a hand blender until you’re absolutely finished. It makes a huge mess). The recipe calls for 7 cups of flour, which I cut in half, along with the other ingredients, but it calls for mixing in the style of an italian pasta- Mario Batali’s famous well method. I’ve done it before (see: Pasta Post), and with marked success, so I start off pretty solid. Sift the flour, make the hole, bloom the yeast, pour it in, start whisking, aaaaaaand COLLAPSE!

The wall of flour has been breached! There is yeast and water and oil and salt spilling all over the counter, and I have no towels, no barriers, or anything to stop it. I try to reinforce it by making a small flour wall, but the force of rushing water is too strong, and it just pushes the flour right onto the floor. The rest snakes around the side of the levee, streaming in rivulets over the lip of my counter like so many tears I’ve shed in previous baking experiments.


I didn’t see how much water went over. I don’t want to start over, because that’s another 3.5 cups of flour, another packet of yeast, and about 40 minutes of brooding and grumbling over a recipe that was up until this point to me promising yet unproven. I’m not starting over.

I get another cup of lukewarm water and after piling scraps of dough and flour back on the counter, sprinkle it bit by bit over the mixture until it starts coming together. Then a bit of kneading, and a toss into my floured rising bowl.

This dough feels like a rock. It’s never going to rise. There’s not enough yeast. I’ve once again failed.

I’ve got Tom Petty running through my head as this dough rises. The waiting is indeed the hardest part, and if it doesn’t work out somewhat similar to how it looks in the picture, it’s going to be a Heartbreaker.

To minimize the release and escapement plan of all those gasses in the rising process, I took a plastic bag and covered the top of the bowl. Why? I guess I thought it would do something amazing like saving the day.

I guess it kind of saved the day. I came back after an hour and change to check on it, and it had, in fact, doubled in size.


It Looked Kinda Like This

One of the things that I never cared about was letting the dough proof again after the initial rising. I punched the dough down, divided the doughball into two, and wrapped it, like I do with the pasta dough, in saran wrap, and put it in the fridge for a half an hour.

It made a huge difference. Why has nobody told me about this before?

So, now, I had the sauce, some delicious goat brie that the lady’s mother had sent her back to the midwest with, some sliced red potatoes, and some tomato slices that I had slow roasted with garlic chips and a rosemary oil that I’d made that afternoon.

All of it went on the pizza. The pizza went in the oven.

This is the result:

We had a second doughball proofing for a couple of days in the fridge. I pulled it out last night, spread some more sauce, tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, an egg, some crushed red chile flakes, fresh basil…

The crust is great. A little cornmeal on the bottom, a couple bubbles here and there, and wafer thin. I probably could yield a better result with a pizza stone, but I don’t feel that it’s necessary. I’m pretty happy with how this turned out.

Next time, I just have to figure out exactly how much spilled over the side of the counter, and then repeat it forever. When I open my Italian pizza joint, I will make it so.


Pizza Dough Recipe: http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/jamie-oliver/pizza-dough-recipe/index.html

Ketchup Recipe: http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/jamie-oliver/homemade-tomato-ketchup-recipe/index.html

Handmade – Learn From His Mistakes!: http://psoutowood.wordpress.com/

When I was growing up, we didn’t get sugary cereals. We had Cheerios. Cheerios, Shredded Wheat, and Honey Nut Cheerios if we were lucky. One of the things I do remember about the breakfast table is that on the side panel of each box, and at the end of each commercial, they’d show a picture of a completed table, saying that my cereal was part of a complete and balanced breakfast when served with juice, toast, and milk.

Of course it is. They said the same thing about Froot Loops. If you have anything with whole grain toast, fresh squeezed orange juice, and fresh milk, you have most of your bases covered. What nutritive value could you possibly get from a bowl of Froot Loops? Remember how they also said that they had up to eleven essential vitamins and minerals? Yeah, they don’t make that claim any more.

I wanted to put some kind of picture in this post, but I can’t even find a picture of the 1980’s balanced breakfast if I google it. This is what you get when you look for ‘balanced breakfast’:

THIS is what you get. Look at all that fruit!

A bowl of breakfast cereal, properly measured out, does not yield a single serving. We are always so amazed why we remain unhealthy, sluggish, tired, unready or willing to face the day. We forego a banana or an orange, the glass of orange juice, and end up putting milk and a hell of a lot of sugar into our coffee in the morning. Our best modern day attempt at a balanced breakfast looks like this:

Five servings of cereal

3 servings of 2% or whole milk (not skim, as the recommended daily allowance suggests)

3 cups of coffee in a travel mug

five tablespoons of sugar

No toast

No fruit

Don’t get me started on Pop Tarts. If we go to a coffeeshop, a Panera, a Starbucks, anyplace where we can grab a pastry and a coffee on the go, our health rapidly declines with each visit. Muffins have chocolate chips. There’s smoothies and blended coffee drinks with whipped cream toppings and bits of toffee that are not smoothies at all, but milkshakes.

You are having a cupcake and a hideous milkshake for breakfast.

They have something called a Double Chocolaty Chip Frappuccino® Blended Beverage at Starbucks. Most people figure that for the money, the largest size gives the best value. It also has 670 calories. That is more than an entire head of lettuce, and with an amazing 129 grams of carbs (1/4 lb of what? Sugar?), it gives you more than just a caffeine buzz.

Everything now comes with garnish. Chocolate shavings and whipped cream appear on your drinks. There is cheese and meat on your salad, not to mention way more creamy salad dressing than you’d ever need to make something taste good. If you order something with skim milk, you get a funny look at the counter. Most people, when asked what they look for in a coffee, respond with the same basic answer: a Rich, full bodied dark roast.

Really, what they want is a weak, watered down coffee essence with a lot of milk, a lot of sugar, and a lot of froth to make it seem light. That’s not a coffee drink. That’s a dessert.

What can we do? If you’ve got to have your coffee fix, make it yourself. Coffee has caffeine, and if that’s your thing, just do it straight. Don’t have a coffee with fancy frills. Dumb it down with skim or 2%, pouring it into your cup, along with a metered amount of sugar, before you pour your coffee in. That way, you know exactly how much you’re getting. The trick that a lot of coffee bars use is offering the milk and sugar for free, knowing that we will taste and adjust the flavor with as much milk and sugar as it takes to dull it down and make it palatable for our delicate, yet refined coffee drinking sensibilities. What we end up with is normally a half a cup of half and half, and at least 3 to 4 tablespoons of sugar, if it’s coming from a free flowing sugar jar. At that point, does it really even matter what the coffee itself tastes like? For however long they spend procuring the beans from just the right bush in Ecuador, roasting them to just the right degree for optimal flavor, don’t you think you owe it to yourself to taste the subtle, nuanced hints of your ridiculously expensive cup of sugarmilk?

Don’t get decaffeinated coffee. If you want something decaffeinated, drink water. Drink something else. Same thing with cola. If you want something without calories, don’t drink diet soda. Drink water. Don’t drink a Hazelnut coffee for breakfast- That is just gross. Treat yourself right. Remember that our country is one of convenience, but convenience often, and in fact almost always replaces our need to treat ourselves and our bodies right when it comes to nourishment. Don’t just grab and go with your food. Take the time to sit and savor, even if it means just relaxing in your car on your lunch break with a pasta salad you brought from home.

Here’s an easy recipe, one that incorporates a bunch of different food groups, that you can make a big batch of and eat at your leisure.

Pasta Salad

1 box (16 oz) RotiniTri-colored if it makes you feel healthy. Generally, a more colorful meal means a healthier one. Colors to enjoy on a regular basis? Green, Red, Yellow, Orange. Colors to avoid? Brown (unless it’s whole wheat), white. Let’s see what else we can put in the salad…

1 Red Pepper, diced

1 Tomato, diced

1 Green pepper, diced

4 oz. sandwich cheese (cheddar, perhaps. Maybe provolone), cut into small pieces.

Fresh basil, torn, however much you want.

Fresh spinach, handful or two, rinsed and patted dry

one light swirl of Olive oil

Fresh lemon juice

Boil the pasta in salted water for the recommended allotment of time. Drain and put in a bowl to chill tossed with olive oil to make sure it doesn’t stick together. Add vegetables, cheese, basil, and finish with a dash of lemon juice and a couple grinds of black pepper.

The big thing here is not to put it in big containers. Get yourself a bunch of small, portion sized containers, and portion them out for a week or so. A good rule is this: Take out a lunchbag or purse. If you can’t fit your container and a sandwich comfortably in there and close the top, it’s too much food. While saving the environment with reusable packaging, save your stomach by recognizing that having a giant tub of food is not going to make you feel good in the long run. Yes, some people can stuff their gullets full of hot dogs, but your stomach is not designed for anything more than what you can fit in a lunchbag. Trust me, it’s enough food, and there are nutrients in there that will sustain you throughout the day.

I don't care what you think. All those hot dogs do not go in your belly.