Sunday, August 22, 2010

Barney loooves good pizza!

   So the summer is nearly over and school has started for those who participate. I have lost count of how many pizzas I have made and eaten over the last couple of months, but that isn't what is important.  Perfecting my technique and making improvements along the way is what I am looking for and I  continually change things a bit at a time.
   The first summer that I had friends over for my first pizza trial were so impressed that they told me not to change a thing. I was flattered that they thought that highly of the pizza I was making back then. That has been 2 years now and I can't believe how much it has evolved. Then, I was following word for word the teachings of Beverly Collins whose DVD, Secrets of the Pizzeria , I had purchased online. The dough, the sauce and the techniques I  did again and again to educate myself and get it right. Those were some good pizzas but as with everything, it has evolved. I have treated myself to many other pizzas along the way. From world champion pizza maker Tony Gemignani's pizzas to our local Pizza Guys and many more in between. All were of  different styles, approaches, techniques, flavors and textures. I have liked them all. Peter Reinhart, a world class bread/pizza expert says there are only two types of pizza. Pizza that is good and pizza that is very good. He is right: everybody puts their personal signature on each pizza they create.
    I'm not sure what my signature is just yet. I used to hate it when discussing art with somebody who was unfamiliar with Fine Art would say, "I don't know much about art but I know what I like." For me that statement didn't go deep enough. One could say that about pizza as well though but I, personally want to know what it is about pizza that I like. Is it the dough with all it's variables in thickness, texture, flavors, consistency? Is it the sauces that range from extremely simple 5 ingredient recipes to overly complex sauces with multiple layers of texture and taste? Is it the type, brand, blend, meltability (if that's a word) of cheeses that make pizza so interesting, fun, inviting, memorable and mouth watering? Is it the combination of toppings and quality of ingredients? Yes, yes and yes! I still don't know of anybody who doesn't like pizza, but it reminds me of an old Andy of Mayberry scene that was on that show many decades ago. Aunt Bee had just cooked an 'out of this world' dinner for Barney and Thelma Lou with Andy and Opie there at the table. After getting up from the dinner table Andy and Barney walked out onto Andy's front porch and sat down in the porch swing and said, "Boy, that was some goooood food." Then he asked Barney, "Do you like good food?" Barney immediately admitted, " Oh, I loooove good food. Nothing like stating the obvious, but that's how I would have to answer about pizza.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Their Favorite Uncle

    Elk Grove is nice place to live but I wouldn't want to visit here.  What I mean by that is this: nice communities, parks, scenery, people, and even a few dog-friendly parks. If it had a nick-name it would be called Franchise City. Burger King, McDonalds, Taco Bell and Starbucks, Chili's and Outback are the common sites in this town. The lack of places to go for a family visiting is limited. We actually have a winery in the city limits to take adults to, but when nieces visit from out of town we are limited.  After touring our nieces through the beautiful Nugget grocery store with metal sculptures and huge murals we ended up at the best yogurt shop in town called Tops Yogurt. I know it's the best because they have more than a hundred toppings for their huge selection of frozen yogurts. Fourteen is the minimum number of frozen yogurts available plus each of their 4 stores has a hand painted mural done by yours truly, me! The owner, Ray, prides himself in having the most productive yogurt shop in all of Northern California. I like to think that it's my murals that draw them in, but in reality it's the choices the customer has. The murals are a city-like-scapes of cartoon people centered around the Tops Yogurt shops and the areas around town that are identifiable to the community. My nieces say that Tops is better than any yogurt shop they know of in the East Bay Area.
   After a bustling day of walking Presley at the park, coffee at Starbucks, a trip to Nugget and maybe a yarn shop for the girls yarn projects, and finally a tour of Tops Yogurt to get a frozen one and a chat we end up at home. The big event at Uncle Vince's house will be making pizza.  They are going to get one of Uncle Vince's home made pizzas.  I always have a couple of dough balls in the fridge so when the time is right we can pull one out to warm up and start chopping up some veggies, turn on the oven & all while they unravel the mistakes in Aunt Sheri's knitting projects.
    Some day when they are older they will be telling their kids what a great aunt and uncle they had. They will say, "They used to take us all over Elk Grove trying to show us a good time. They took us to grocery stores and dog parks but the best part was we always ended up back at the house where Uncle Vince made us the best pizza we ever had."
    Maybe Elk Grove isn't the most exciting place to visit but we like living here and the nieces keep coming back every summer. By the obvious thumbs up I would have to say it's either the pizza or maybe it's their favorite uncle.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Pizza in D Minor

        I don't know if what I did is the proper thing to say at a moment when it appeared to me, the intention was to try and intimidate me. It was years ago when Sheri and I had been invited over to a potential clients home for dinner and maybe a drink along the way. I think some people want to meet you to see who they will be doing business with and I suppose, to see if I look like Bigfoot or Charles Manson and can they trust me to paint in their house while they are off to work. That's fair. This was going to be something of a test and I was ready. It wasn't a dress up evening but we dressed casual/nice. Pass or fail?  The couple had ordered pizza to be delivered and possibly were testing me. Should I have sprung to pay for the pizza when it arrived? Remember, they invited us. I didn't buy. Pass or fail? I had a glass of white wine with them before dinner and Sheri did not. Pass or fail? I let the hostess serve up the pizza and sat down to be waited on. Pass or fail? We waited until they dug in with both hands to start eating with our hands.  Pass or fail? Suddenly she jumped up out of her chair and said, "I forgot to put some music on." I knew now, that this had to be a test! Watching someone squirm at your choice of music can be insightful. Intimidation can produce interesting results. She re-entered the dining area and I heard the first few bars and said, "Oh, that's Beethoven's Pastoral 6th Symphony in D minor." while wiping cheese from my face. They stared at me in disbelief. There was silence and a very awkward moment waiting to be pounced on. I quickly had to cover the silence by asking them a question. I blurted out, "Did you buy your copy at Safeway for 99¢?" That's all it took and we all broke out in laughter and the moment was saved. What I hadn't volunteered was, I owned one Classical Music album at the time that I bought at Safeway for 99¢. It was Beethoven's Pastoral 6th Symphony in D minor. The "let's see if we can intimidate him" routine didn't work so they opted for Plan B.  Plan B was,  let's see if they can carry a conversation and have a nice evening. That worked and I got the job.
    It's funny how some people have to test you. I have been on jobs where there were literally stacks of $50 bills sitting on their bureau. Others where they are so paranoid that we might steal their underwear that they keep a very close eye on you the whole time. Other times I make sure I mention a Bachelors Degree ( for what it's worth!) in there or sometimes Catholic School relaxes them and for others it's making them laugh that eases them. They test us too. Offering us beer on the job is a way to find out how disciplined I can be. They will offer us coffee in the morning or even sodas and cookies, sandwiches and snack mix. What's wrong with that? There's always a price to pay...almost always. Some people are just good souls and wish to share. Others have ulterior motives. It's hard to say no to someone while munching on their cookies and sipping their soda when they ask if I wouldn't mind painting their patio furniture since I have the sprayer all set up and ready to go. I have gotten better at reading them though. What might look like an easy task can be exasperating if it doesn't turn out to their approval. How much is this costing me? Much more than a soda and a couple of stale cookies. What I have learned to say is that I can give you 15 minutes of free labor but after that I have to charge you. Suddenly their request gets withdrawn and I'm out of the hot seat.
    I still listen to that album from time to time although it's on a CD now but I always laugh at myself for saying that back then. I think it made us equal for a moment and put us on level ground. The fact that pizza was being served was a perfect choice too. Pizza doesn't intimidate or offend but just makes the moment that much better.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Another Breakfast Pizza

    My pants aren't fitting like they used to.  Sheri says I've added an extra inch or so to my waistline. This can't be! I've weighed the same plus 5 pounds since high school. For those of you keeping track, that was 1971 when I graduated. She says it's too much pizza for dinner. I have to disagree, can you ever have too much pizza? Well, I told her I was going to do something about it. Cut down on the pizzas for dinner. The solution I came up with wasn't the kind of solution she was hoping for but marriage is about compromise, right? Why should I give up pizza all together? I agreed that pizza for dinner 3 times a week is a bit much even if I'm not making all the pizzas but trying pizza places whenever we go somewhere.
    This is my plan, I decided to cut down on the pizzas for dinner like she suggested and have pizza for breakfast instead. Problem solved! I told her I need to build on my breakfast pizza recipes and add to them. One of my favorite breakfasts was a Benedict Scramble sold at the long gone Perko's we used to have before being replaced by a Starbucks. The Benedict Scramble was a toasted English muffin with an scrambled egg (can be over easy as well), slice of ham and cheddar cheese and glazed over with Hollandaise sauce. This would be an excellent pizza I thought and decided to give it a try. One dough ball left in the fridge, so I pulled it out Sunday morning and gave it a shot. I Googled up a Hollandaise sauce recipe made in the blender that took 3 eggs. I used the Hollandaise sauce in place of tomato sauce, opened up a vacuum sealed package of Prosciutto and laid on a few strips. Sprinkled over it with mozzarella and provolone cheese cracked a couple of raw eggs into the center then coated it all again with a bit more hollandaise sauce. I baked it at 500ยบ for about 10 to 11 minutes on the pizza stone and did the standard 4 cut making 8 slices.
    I don't know if this is being done already but this was awesome. Sheri's first bite into it and she says we could serve this to guests. So, unless you're spending the night you will have to take my word for it. Benedict Scramble Pizza is a major hit.