Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Have Pizza/Should Travel

    I have had numerous friends ask me to bring a pizza over to their house and cook it for their guests at their house. I am flattered but it really isn't all that easy. I don't have a problem with people enjoying my pizza. What I do have a problem with is making the process portable. Just short of becoming a caterer it would involve a sizable undertaking. The logistics are barely available for myself in a kitchen of my own and that I am familiar with. Next, and I think, most important, is that it doesn't end up being a pizza in a can or in this case, a box with vacuum sealed bags that remind us too much of our childhood. Remember spaghetti in a can? The kids who grew up in the 50's when food exploration and creativity headed south know what I am talking about.
    One of the things that we like to do when we travel is to taste the local vendors foods when in Europe or any large U.S. cities. I can remember the hot dog vendors in downtown Salem, Oregon named Queenies Weenies and Franks Alot. I don't know if they're still there but on a cold day and that steam is blowing down the sidewalk and you get a whiff of those hot dogs it's hard to say no. Sausages and hot dogs seem to be the easiest item to cook and sell on the street as everybody likes a good extra thick sausage steamed or broiled put on a huge french bun with all the goodies. I am no different. When in Berlin or Amsterdam, Munich, Brussels or Copenhagen the temptation is the same but to wash it down with a native beer from that country or better yet, that city is blog worthy. I can remember a time in Edinburgh, Scotland we had walked to the castle at the top of the hill and upon leaving we were getting hungry and thirsty. We asked a local Bobby where a good pub was located nearby. In an accent so heavy that I don't believe Sean Connery would have understood, we headed down the hill in the direction he had pointed. What we thought we heard was Dick and Broodie's turned out to be Deacon Brodie's.  It has become famous over the centuries for the ghosts that are suppose to inhabit it including Deacon Brodie's ghost. Not knowing which ale to order I asked the barkeeper for a smooth dark ale. She poured me a pint that I could only describe as liquid velvet pouring down my throat. This stuff was amazing. Our friends who weren't going to drink until after dinner saw my reaction and bolted for the bar to get a pint. I thought to myself that I must remember this brand as I want to drink this with every meal throughout Europe. Boy, was I naive! It turned out to be a microbrew attainable only at Deacon Brodies in Edinburgh, Scotland. This was major on the WOW factor scale. That's how I want my pizzas to taste. Similar to a micro brewery my pizzas can only travel so far.
Actual mileage may vary
    There is a family up near Auburn that has solved the problem. They show up at local fairs, sporting events and such with their pizza wagon in tow complete with a brick fired Pompeii oven in the back and set up shop to bake authentic home cooked pizza while you stand in line. I haven't yet tried it but from their website it looks like they are doing everything right. Maybe when I get a brick oven built into the back of Sheri's Prius I can start bringing the pizzas to you. So, for now, what I can tell you is to try this dough recipe from Gail. It's an award winning dough that is still my favorite. That pizza wagon isn't going to pull up in front of your house soon so get busy.

Gail's Award Winning Dough Recipe
The following recipe used is from Pizza Therapy
Dough Ingredients:
  • 1 pkg. active yeast
  • 1 3/4 cups warm (110-115F) water (microwave for 1:15 minutes)
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. extra virgin olive oil or flavored oil
  • approximately 5 cups Bread Flour (I use high gluten flour
  1. In a food processor or mixer with a dough hook, combine yeast, pinch of sugar and 1/4 cup water, allow yeast to proof, about 5 minutes.
  2. Add salt, oil and 5 cups of flour. Cover and begin processing slowly adding remaining water. Pulse several times in food processor until dough balls together, or using the dough hook kneed about 5 ( I do mine almost 20 minutes) minutes until dough is shiny and elastic.
  3. Place the dough on a floured work surface adding additional flour if too sticky.
  4. Spray large bowl with oil flavored spray. Add dough and turn the dough a few times to coat with the oil.
  5. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and place in a warm place. Allow the dough to rise for about 1-2 hours, punch down and allow to rise again. The longer the dough is left to rise, the tangier the flavor of the crust will be.
For cooking the pizza you will need additional flour, and olive oil. This recipes makes 4 pizzas. Of course, you need a pizza & baking stone for best results.
Set oven to 500º or 550º and preheat with stone for 45 minutes to an hour. 

Thursday, July 15, 2010

An Anniversary Pizza?

     I had entered the contest with Santa Margherita Wines from Italy. It looked pretty easy, make a pizza, do a video, and tell everybody how good their wine is with your particular food item. I, of course, chose a Margherita pizza to go with their Santa Margherita Wine and they would say, "How perfect is that!" and make me their official spokesman for their wine and I would travel first to L.A. meet the crew, take Sheri to Chicago and get some experience with the network, go on Oprah, then jet off to Italy and get classically trained in the art of pizza making by the Italians themselves and then make the big decision.

Do I forgo the blog, and painting murals for clients who want a Rembrandt for a garage sale price? 
Do I give up the glamour of painting houses with all the fame that comes with it and the endless parade of autograph seekers and paparazzi or do I submit to their way of life and become the overpaid, under-worked pretty face that pops up every time a bottle of Santa Margherita Wine is uncorked? I look into the camera after taking a sip and say, "Mmmmm, that's good," collect an enormous check and go hang with the beautiful people for the rest of the week until my next celebrity spot. (Hmmm, I may be the most interesting man in the world). I love that TV commercial, sorry.
Well, July 15th is the last day of repeat voting. Yes, everybody could vote as many times as they wanted to or least once each day for every computer that you own. Even still, the numbers just aren't happening and I see the flaw. It wasn't that I had chosen an incorrect pairing with their wine. It was because I wasn't the first to do so and able to post on page one of their website and collect votes from all the lookie-loos who don't click to page two and ultimately to page three where my video sits. I get it. It's a popularity contest and the guy or gal with the video on page one will probably win. It probably doesn't hurt them that they may be the president of their homeowner association and send out a weekly E-newsletter that tells them they have a violation to clear up and can be done so quickly by clicking on this little box under this video and their violation will be eliminated and forgotten about. Heck, if I had thought about it I might have come up with something clever too. Like, for every vote you give me each day it will save ten unfortunate animals threatened by the BP oil spill in our gulf. Tell your friends too that if they click here for the next 30 days something good will happen to them and if they forward this voting box to ten of their friends and ten of their friends etc. 

I suppose that is how the game is played and if I really had a chance to play and win I would have been creative to a fault. So, in retrospect, I have no regrets. I enjoyed reading all the comments from so many of you and your words of encouragement and optimism. The reason I entered it, if you remember, was because Sheri said she wanted to see Chicago. (Shhhh, I think she has already forgotten that's what she had said.) 
    I remember when our 25th anniversary was coming up and I wanted to take her to Italy if I could afford it. As it got nearer I told her it looks like maybe we should go to the Venetian in Las Vegas instead since I can't afford Italy right now. Then unexpectedly, a job cancelled and we decided maybe we'll just go to the Olive Garden and watch a Spaghetti Western at home on TV. August 17th came and I think we ended up getting pizza. It's now 10 years later and we're looking at 35 years being married. I think pizza is a good choice. I'm thinking maybe making her a pizza with the numeral 35 spelled out in pepperoni. I believe anniversary number 20 is power tools, 25 is Silver something, 30 has got to be appliances and 35 is orthopedic devices or something like that. Now if a 35th anniversary pepperoni pizza doesn't say I love you then I don't know what does. Should I make the dough into a heart shape?


Monday, July 12, 2010

New York Pizza Review

 Last night I served the genuine New York pizza and got my reviews from a genuine Brooklyn born and raised Jewish woman and genuine heart throb of my friend, Larry.
    First, I served up as an appetizer, one BBQ oven baked Margherita Marinara as a starter. Light and thin, not too filling and cooks before your eyes in about 2 minutes at a high temperature. Garnish it with a few fresh basil leaves and serve hot but in small portions. Next, after we devour that one, the salad is served while we wait for the main course or the pizza that put New York on the map.  Since they are first timers to my pizza I explain to them what they are about to eat. Then I moved back into the house to cook at only 475º on a pizza screen, without a stone, the NY pizza as specified by Francesco Brunaldo. Timing is always critical. So that they can see the pizza before I slide it into the oven, I like to give them a glimpse of what is about to take place. Maybe that's the showman in me but after watching enough of those food channel shows I find it of interest to see what it is supposed to look like before, as well as after it's cooked. This one will cook in about 9-10 minutes so there's time to pour another round of wine and visit a little. I'm nervous that I might blow it and not get a second chance at this. I remove it from the oven and bring it out to the patio hot and steaming with a whiff of baked bread aroma and melted cheese emanating from it. I can tell it's going to be good. My confidence level rises. You can feel it when it's right. Anxiously awaiting her expressions and evaluation I hear her say things that were off the charts. She used words like incredible, amazing, just right and, "It brings back memories of that little place in Manhattan where they served pizza by the slice and we ate their all the time." "Did it hit the mark?" I ask. One by one she dissected it. The crust was soft and chewy and doesn't taste like anything they serve in California. The sauce didn't do a lot for her, right amount and kept simple without a lot of flavors going on and almost lost under the layers of cheeses. That's OK, sauces are not supposed to dominate. For the cheeses, I used Mozzarella and Provolone then some sprinkled blend of Parmesan with Asiago and Romano. Her only suggestion their was maybe more of the hard cheese to accent it. "What's that other salty hard cheese?" she asks. "Prosecco" I say nervously, "No, that's a wine." You're right, Pecorino?""Yes, Pecorino." Like good Jewish friends they thoroughly enjoyed the NY-Italian pork sausage that went in next to the Italian salami and pepperoni. However in my own defense, I did ask ahead of time before serving them any pork products though. "So, what would be your over all evaluation? I don't want gushy I want honesty". She says, "Best pizza in California since I moved here." I ask,"when was that, 3 months ago?" (Sarcasm on my part) She said, "No, 31 years ago." Really? I'm flabbergasted.  I guess this guy Francesco Brunaldo knows what he is talking about. I am more impressed though with the pizza than I am at myself for following his instructions. I think I will keep this pie on my repertoir and she goes on my Christmas Card list. Does it matter if she is Jewish? No, I think they appreciate the thought. I think she has earned a spot at my table.

Friday, July 9, 2010

A Pizza Symphony

    I'm getting ready to test myself. I invited some friends over for pizza for Friday night. He is a long time friend, went to China with us and a favored client as well. Not only have I painted two murals for him I also built him a pond and waterfall plus a stone barbecue island for his backyard.  His heart throb is my challenge and critic. She's a Brooklyn born and raised New Yorker with a keen taste for original New York pizza. She will be my harshest critic to date. This is what I've been needing to guide me in my journey through  the realms of genuine New York pizza. I have made this pizza only twice before. The first one I studied and I shopped and re-read and I shopped a second time just to get the exact ingredients as described in the book the Ultimate Pizza Manual by Francesco Brunaldo. Slight adaptations have to be made however as specific New York or East Coast brand names don't exist in California such as Red Pack tomato puree or a certain brand name of chicken bullion. I substituted an Italian brand tomato puree and used my regular chicken bullion hoping it won't divert the authenticity too much. The first one of these genuine New York pizzas that I made was an absolute success, in my mind anyway. The second, I admit, I was distracted by the conversations in the kitchen and left out two minor steps that affected the flavor over all. This time I vow to get it right once again. I am working directly from the book that has no less than 27 steps before going into the oven! For the west coasters reading this I can only describe this pizza as something we don't get to experience in California. It would be as unique as seeing the Aurora Borealis from downtown Los Angeles. We just don't get this here. New York has a taste all their own and unique to New York. However, I am going to change that Friday night with a little luck. Today I made the dough from scratch as always and worked it for 20 minutes with the dough hook before chilling it to let it proof in the refrigerator. I also cooked up a fresh batch of sauce and chilled it as well. I bought some new mozzarella and provolone which I believe really adds a layer of richness to the cheese texture and taste. The best way to describe it would be the difference between whole milk and skim milk or at least low fat milk.
   What I am hoping for is to hear her, my New York critic, say is,"Vince, you nailed it." On the other hand when I was told that my clam and garlic pizza was already better than Tony's I felt like I lost something there. I felt like my challenge was met, I made the hurdle and now I don't have to try and improve upon it. I can remember back to when I played hardball as a kid. My goal over the years was to try and be the best player on the team.  I believe I finally did it one year but I was disappointed quickly because then I found out that all of my teammates were crappy.  I  had to support the team. As it turned out it became the last year I played baseball. So, if your goal is to find something that you have misplaced, do you continue looking for it after you have found it? I'm hoping for both a thumbs up and a word of advice or a constructive bit of criticism. But again to use another sports analogy, in football, on any given Sunday in the NFL, any given team can beat any other given team despite what the odds are. It happens every season. What I do hear in my head though are the words of Chris Bianco, one of the Legends of Pizza say, that on any given day, pizza can kick your butt. It's nice to know that one of the biggest names in pizza still has to be on his game every day in order to keep it coming out the way it should. One can't let the distractions keep you from perfecting the ultimate pizza.
    As a hobby years ago, I took vocal training or voice lessons both in group and privately. One of the things my instructor did when I would be performing for her was to create a multitude of distractions while I was singing. At first I thought it was just plain rude until I realized that the object was to concentrate no matter what was going on around me. She was slamming cabinet doors, answering her phone, rummaging through stacks of papers all while I was trying to sing a ballad or something. It was a test. I passed but I wasn't thrilled with her as an audience. She told me to expect those kinds of distractions and more when performing. It wasn't going to be like we were in church! So it is when entertaining too, I suppose. I'm performing by trying out a new number on my audience despite the interruptions, distractions, conversations, questions and expectations it still has to be a perfect symphony of crust, sauce, cheeses, and toppings all in harmony with perfect timing.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

No Cheese Oil, Cheez-el

I have this habit that just comes out when I get excited at one point during the process of making a pizza. It usually happens when the pizza is already in the oven and I peek inside to see how it's doing. If the dough has risen correctly, my timing in using the dough was spot on and the crust is just starting to turn that golden brown and I start to speak in tongues! No, not like biblical tongues but maybe a more accurate assessment would be I get excited and I start speaking in a bad Italian accent. The wave of heat that escapes from the oven and blasts me in the face usually sets me off. I will close the door quickly and start telling myself out loud in this pseudo-Italian accent: "Vincenzo, you uh make uh one uh helluva peezza, you know? Everybuddys gonna like uh deez uh peeza. It's a gonna be da besta peeza you ever make uh, you know?"

Usually every sentence will end in the phrase, "you know?" Someone told me when I started to make pizzas that there is a little bit of Italian in all of us. I think they may be right. I don't actually recall if I ever have spoken in a bad Spanish accent when making tamales or a bad British when I'm making steak & ale pies. It makes me wonder why the Italian accent. I know I'm bad at it but I can't help but think of this client I had once on a paint job. It was the Ferrari family who owned this Italian deli that had hired me to paint their house. One day when we were there power washing, his brother-in-law who must've just come over from the old country brings out this twisted, gnarled grape vine of about 75 plus years that he had ideas of using it somehow as a piece of furniture. I shut off the power washer and wait for him to speak up. He says in his very hard to understand Italian accent, "Can uh you uh wash uh deeza for me. I uh try ev'ryting, you know? I uh try soaking it, I uh try a scraping it, I even try uh cheese oil.
Nothing works, you know?" I said to him, "cheese oil? You tried cheese oil?" "No cheese oil, cheez-el,  cheez-el.""Ohhhh, chisel, you tried chisel." At this point I almost have to turn the power washer back on so he doesn't hear me laughing at my own misunderstanding. I gave it a shot and cleaned up his grape vine for him and maybe even removed all the remaining cheese oil that might have been on it. Of course as soon as he left I had to stop everything and tell my crew so we would all get a good laugh out of it. Now, some 20 years later when something is stuck or difficult to remove I usually will suggest some cheese oil to remove it. I'm not certain where you get cheese oil, from cheese I suppose but what if I wanted to buy some? Would I have to go back to the Old Country to get it? Maybe I could start bottling it and marketing it. Vincenzo's original Cheese Oil. Removes everything except bark from grape vines.
    As for speaking in tongues, maybe it's because of the optimistic and uplifting sound that an Italian accent has. I remember Steve Martin said, "you can't play a sad tune on a banjo. It's just too happy of an instrument and if Richard Nixon had played a banjo then things might have turned out differently for him." I think the same applies when I start speaking in a bad Italian accent. It's an indicator that that pizza is uh gonna be uh good uh one, you know?

Friday, July 2, 2010

Pizza served at Alice's Restaurant

I'm at this mixer to promote my mural business that is put on by a Sacramento Networking group and somebody I have met before mentions pizza to me. I smile and say yes, I write a pizza blog. Oh, are you a reporter or a journalist? their friends ask.  No, I'm a muralist and I make pizzas as a hobby. What kind of pizzas do you make?  I make all kinds, Italian, New York, Rustic, California style. What about Chicago style? No, not yet, I'm not that interested in Chicago style. Have you seen any of my murals around town? I ask. No, what kind of flour do you use? I tell them I have a variety of flours depending on the type of pizza I'm making. Do you use King Arthur flour, No, I can't find it here on the West Coast. Try Nugget. That's where I go for my pizza supplies. Oh, so you make pizzas too? I've been making pizzas for years at least once a month and you? Yeah I make about 3 a week. Oh so you're serious about your pizza making they say. I guess so, but it's a hobby and I write a blog to catalog my work you might say. Do you have a card with your website address? It's not a website it's a blog. How do I get to your blog? Do you make money from this blog? No, I make money from painting murals. What line of work are you in? Murals. I paint them. Do you make Margherita pizzas too? they ask.  
    Right about now I reach into my wallet and fetch a pizza blog card. Fortunately I had printed some cards up that I still  had in my wallet for my relatives when I went to pay my respects to my uncle who recently passed over. Instead of mural cards that I gave them anyway which disappeared quickly once handed over to them, they dwelled on the blog address card. I only made them on the computer because I thought it would be easier to hand someone a card instead of trying to find something to write on. I really didn't think it would be that difficult to remember a blog address but it seems to stop people like a deer in the headlights when I tell them how to look it up or to just Google Rediscovering Pizza and it will come up. Seriously, I didn't realize that people quit listening when you have too many syllables to memorize. Heck, I still remember my friends phone numbers from grade school and if you asked me at 4:30 in the morning to recite all 16 minutes of Alice's Restaurant by Arlo Guthrie I could do it
without skipping a beat. I have done it on numerous occasions. Ask me to report on Art History and the High Renaissance and I can't remember much even though my degree was in Fine Art. I think though, todays' technology prevents us from remembering anything. We just open up our cell phones or PDA's and file it away like it was second brain. So the card idea was a good one and I will continue to keep a couple in my wallet in case I go to another mixer and try to promote my mural business again. I always hate those things anyways because nobody cares if they met an artist but if they met that guy that makes pizzas it was a good night for them. It can have it's advantages I suppose. If it hadn't been for my pizza legacy those poor people would be talking about this poor sap who tries to paint murals for a living. Instead they are driving home with a smile and saying to themselves, I wonder if there's a pizzeria around here somewhere. I'm hungry.