"Perhaps the most impressive of all the cookbook blogs are the three devoted to the 2004 edition of Gourmet magazine's "The Gourmet Cookbook" -- all 5¼ pounds and 1,300-odd recipes of it. Befitting this culinary Everest, all three writers are overachievers in their professional lives."

--Lee Gomes, The Wall Street Journal, May 28, 2008
"I should have told you before how much I've been enjoying reading your thoughts. You seem like such a great cook."

--Ruth Reichl, Editor-in-Chief of Gourmet Magazine, June 8 2008, comment on "Chocolate Velvet Ice Cream".

Friday, May 11, 2007

Basic Pizza Dough, or Why Ordering Pizza Is Sometimes Easier and Cheaper

It all started innocently enough. I said no to my son's request to get pizza for dinner. "We can make pizza," I said. And we could. We had yeast, flour, a pizza stone...all we needed was a little trip to the store to get some pizza sauce and pepperoni.

Easy, right?

It even started easy. The yeast was good. The dough was fine to work with (very loose, but that's ok). I dredged the two dough balls in flour and set them on their own dinner plates to rise. I went upstairs to work out while O'Malley taped himself playing Guitar Hero.

While I was in the shower my husband stuck his head in the door. Pizza, he asked? Didn't I remember what happened last time we tried to make pizza?

I did remember. My philosophy of not cleaning the oven because nobody ever looks at the inside of an oven finally caught up with us in the form of thick acrid smoke that billowed forth when preheating the oven to 550 degrees (which is what the book asks you to do--rather hot, it seems to me). We ended up grilling pizza that night.

It's ok, I said soothingly. I'll just scrape whatever-it-is off the bottom of the oven and we should be fine. So he went out for a run and I went downstairs to clean the oven as best I could and preheat it with the pizza stone. Then I went upstairs to lay down with a book--a little rest before cooking dinner.

That was the end of the easy part.

"Mom! Don!" my son screamed with evident alarm, eighteen minutes later. I leaped up and yelled, "What?" "Mom! Don!" he screamed again.

I ran down two flights of stairs to find O'Malley bracing himself on the kitchen floor, breathing in the only clear air in the room. Thick grey billows of acrid smoke issued forth from the oven. I looked at the smoke alarm--it would go off any second.

"Get up," I snapped. "The house is not on fire." I turned the oven off and opened the door. A huge cloud of black smoke belched out. I shut the door, and every smoke alarm in the house--all seven of them--went off in unison.

"Pick up that rug," I yelled over the alarm, and O'Malley and I flapped area rugs around and opened windows until the alarms went off.

O'Malley, excited now, thought we should put the cat in a cat carrier, turn the oven on as high as it could go, and leave the house while it incinerated three years worth of grease. I explained that the neighbors would surely be upset by listening to our smoke alarms sound for god knows how long.

No, I said. We'll grill the pizza instead.

This would have been an easy solution except that there was no gas in the tank.

Reader, if you're wondering why I didn't just pick up the phone and order pizza at this point, which was 7pm, it's because a) we generally eat late anyway and b) I have a stubborn streak. Or you could say I'm task-oriented, which sounds kinder.

So I got an empty tank--we had two!--and headed to the hardware store, which was closest. Closed. Across the town line to Foster's Grill Store, attached to a gas station. Closed, but the clerk said there was a store open across town by the movie theater. (very far away) Well, I thought, I'll try Stop n Shop, which had a tank exchange bin out front last summer, then I'll drive to the place across town, and if THAT'S closed I'll stop at La Rosa's and drink a big glass of red wine while I wait for them to make some pizzas for us.

Stop n Shop did not have the tank exchange bin, but the place across town was open, and I got a pep talk from a very cute young man on the price of gas and what a rip-off all those other places were (they only charged me $11, compared to $20 or even $22). I left there very perked up.

At home Don hooked up the tank and we turned it on. I had the brilliant idea of putting the pizza stone in the grill instead of grilling the pizza right on the rack, which is an operation fraught with peril. The grill gets easily as hot as they want you to preheat the oven, I reasoned, and with a pizza stone I can make two large pizzas instead of four small ones.

O'Malley made his dream pizza (lots of mozzarella and pepperoni) and I got it on the stone without too much trouble. I set the timer for 10 minutes, thinking to err on the cautious side, and started making ours (asparagus, feta and proscuitto). At nine minutes I asked Don to check the pizza and he came back with the pizza on a cutting board, looking distraught. "It's a little burnt," he said, lifting it up so I could see the bottom, which was as black as...well...as the inside of my oven. "I don't think the fire helped," he said. What fire, I asked? The fire in the grease trap. Oh.

We turned down the heat and flipped the stone over, which at this point was pretty sooty. The grease trap with its little pan of incinerated grease rested on the patio table, and I gamely slid our pizza onto the waiting stone. We hovered over it, anxiously checking the bottom ever minute or so. At one point we took it off, only to realize it was underdone. More grilling, more hovering, and finally, two minutes later, we had an edible pizza that was only slightly charred on the bottom.

I sliced the top off O'Malley's pizza, which meant that I got the top part of the crust and all of the goopy stuff in the middle. "Think of it as a cross between spaghetti and pizza," I said, as I handed him his plate.

We finally sat down to eat at shortly after 9pm, with O'Malley complaining bitterly and Don trying to discreetly scrape burnt patches off the bottom of his slice. I ate my two pieces(burned the roof of my mouth) and was suddenly consumed with weariness.

"This day has defeated me," I said to Don. "I'm going to bed."

Next time, La Rosa's.

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