How to Make Great Pizza in a Home Oven

Breakfast pizza with eggs and zaatar.

Breakfast pizza with eggs and za’atar.

Our cob oven makes great pizzas. Why? High temperatures. You just can’t make good pizza in a home oven.

Or so I used to think. This weekend I invited some friends over for an outdoor pizza party but much needed rain put a wrinkle in those plans. I remembered that Josey Baker had some instructions in his book on how to make pizza in a home oven, so I decided to give it a try. I’m happy to report that it works so well that I’m beginning to doubt why I should bother to spend three hours tending a fire to prep the outdoor oven.

Baker attributes this home oven technique to San Francisco street pizza maverick The PizzaHacker. It’s simple. Here’s what you do. Heat an oven safe skillet (we use cast iron) over high heat on a burner. Stretch out your dough, put a little oil in the skillet and put the dough in the skillet. Top your pizza while it cooks in the skillet for around three minutes. Then, stick it under the broiler for three more minutes. That’s it. It works much better than trying to bake pizza on a pizza stone.

Is pizza out of a wood fired oven better? Perhaps, but not by much.

I’ll share my pizza dough recipe in a future post.

Foodcrafting 101

breadinpot

I’ve been teaching bread classes for years now at the Institute of Domestic Technology. It’s about time I made note of this. The class I teach is part of a full day of classes that, in addition to bread, will show you how to make jam, cheese and ricotta. All this fun takes place in the haunted Doheny Mansion! There’s a class coming up in January. To sign up head over here. Gift certificates are available.

Sunday, January 4th, 10am ~ 4pm
Historic Greystone Mansion, Beverly Hills

A 1-Day Workshop with 4 class sessions & lunch.

$195 {includes lunch, beverages, ingredients and supplies}

Unleash your inner foodcrafter. This full-day, hands-on workshop will prepare you to start making your own artisanal bread, jam, mustards and ricotta from scratch. Your d.i.y ambassadors/instructors will be some of the city’s finest food crafters.

The workshop includes four, 1-hour foodcrafting sessions, catered lunch and beverages. Each participant will be sent home with their very own bread, a take-home containers of cheese, bread dough, a jar of fruit preserves and a container of mustard. You’ll also receive the Institute’s signature instruction manual with recipes and materials/ingredient resource guide empowering you to recreate everything at home.

Foodcrafting 101 Workshop Schedule:

Bread Making:

Master the simple technique of bread making from scratch using the no-knead bread recipe from the Institute Director’s own cookbook. Learn about types of flour, where to purchase them, how to shape loaves and achieve the perfect crust. You’ll learn how to recreate a professional bread baker’s oven at home and produce loaves that rival accomplished bakers.

Cheese Making:

Get invited to better dinner parties with this easy technique to turn great milk into fluffy, creamy ricotta. You’ll be able to take home your cheese with some delicious recipes–if you can wait that long!

Jam Making:
Canning is back big time! We will peel, chop, dice and otherwise macerate whatever we find fresh and in season at the farmers’ market that week and learn how to turn it into jam. We will then learn how to can in a water bath and preserve our bounty for up to a year. After class, equipped with your newly-found knowledge, you’ll be well on your way to experimenting at home with other fruits. Besides, we all know someone with a tree of unpicked fruit that simply cries out to be made into jam.

DIY Mustard:

Good artisanal mustard isn’t necessarily something you’ll only find in a fancy jar from France. Crafting handmade mustard from scratch is as easy as turning on your blender. You’ll learn about different types of mustard seed, unique ingredient additions such as Guinness Stout, liqueurs, orange flower water, coffee or fresh citrus zest. You’ll have an entire flavor bar™ of spices, sweeteners and herbs to pick from as you create your own signature mustard blend.

INSTRUCTORS INCLUDE:

Erik Knutzen: Co-author of The Urban Homestead and Making It: Radical Home Ec for a Post-Consumer World and a L.A. County Master Food Preserver

Joseph Shuldiner: Institute Director, and author: Pure Vegan: 70 Recipes for Beautiful Meals and Clean Living, Chronicle Books

Zach Negin: Co-owner of SoNo Mustard company

What Will Be the New Kale?

Our 2011 crop of spigarello.

Our 2011 crop of spigarello.

Since 2011, we’ve been saying that Spigarello is the new kale. Thanks to a tip from the folks at Winnetka Farms, we may need to wait for BroccoLeaf™ to have its fifteen minutes of fame as the new kale.

The Salinas, California based Foxy Organic is, quite sensibly, marketing broccoli leaves. Broccoli leaves are indeed edible and tasty. Foxy has the recursive media to prove it, a Facebook photo of someone Instagramming Broccoli leaves:

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Now I’ve just blogged about someone Facebooking about someone Instagramming Broccoli leaves. How far can we take this? Will broccoli leaves act as the gateway vegetable to Spigarello?

Why it’s Better to Pressure Can Tomatoes

Image: University of Wisconsin Extension Service

Image: University of Wisconsin Extension Service

As most avid canners know, 4.6 is the pH dividing line between acid foods that can be safely water bath canned and less acidic foods that need to be canned in a pressure canner. Most fruits have a lower, i.e. more acidic pH and can be water bath canned.

Tomatoes, on the other hand, are often near the 4.6 pH level and USDA tested recipes will call for adding either bottled lemon juice or citric acid (I prefer citric acid as the taste is more neutral).

I used to think that this issue was because different tomato varieties vary in their acid content. It turns out that it’s more about when tomatoes are harvested, not to mention what the weather was like during the growing season. Add this variability to other factors, such as how many cans you put in your canner, the material your pot is made out of and the type of heat source and you end up with a tricky question for the food scientists who test home canning recipes. All of these factors are why the recommended hot water bath canning time for raw packed tomatoes is 85 minutes.

I’ve hot water bath canned tomatoes and got great results (especially with San Marzano tomatoes). But 85 minutes is a long time. You can cut the processing down considerably and get better results by pressure canning tomatoes. Here’s a raw pack recipe that includes both hot water and pressure canning instructions. Note that you still need to acidify.

Thanks to Linda Harris, UC Cooperative Extension Specialist, Food Safety and Microbiology who gave a lecture at the Master Food Preserver conference where I gleaned these factoids.

A new spice sensation in the Root Simple kitchen

squashseeds

Last night, while looking for something to spice up some roasted pumpkin seeds, I made a happy discovery:

Korean red pepper flakes + ground sumac (plus lots of salt) = delicious!

These two geographically unrelated spices share shelf space in our cupboard, but I’ve never thought about combining them before, perhaps because they come from different food families, so to speak. So many wasted years! Now they’re going on nuts, seeds, popcorn…maybe as a fish crust. Oh, the things we shall do!

Gochugaru, Korean red pepper powder (also referred to as red chile flakes), is a deep red, coarse powder or flake. Its flavor is spicy, smokey and a little bit sweet. It’s easy to fall in love with this stuff all on it’s own. Gochugaru is the primary spice in kimchi and it’s also the primary flavor in our favorite tofu dish.  You can find it in Asian markets which stock Korean items. Look for it to be taking up a good section of an aisle, and being offered in many sizes–all the way up to big, pillowcase bags of the stuff. No other spice gets this much attention! If you can’t find it, just as for kimchi spice.

Sumac is a a tart, lemony spice you can find in Middle Eastern markets, also a deep red color. It’s great on salads (it’s always on fattoush, for instance) and fish, and both tasty and attractive when sprinkled over hummus and other dip-like things. I often use it to add lemon flavor to food when I have no lemons.  And yes, while I don’t know exactly what kind of sumac is harvested for commercial spice production, it is related to our wild sumacs–it’s from the Rhus genus. So if you want to be all Grizzly Adams about your hummus, you  could forage edible sumac berries and grind them to make your own spice– just be very careful with your identifications.

The combination of the two at about a 50/50 blend makes something warmly spicy with a little lemon kick. It’s snacking gold!