People always ask me what I do with the leftover pizza toppings after one of my pizza classes. Most
of the time I just make pizza at home for the family, but after this week’s class I decided to transform my ingredients into 2 separate meals.

The Leftovers:
When I was growing up my parents would inevitably transform our
leftovers into another meal.  One, because it’s easier to take something that is on hand and make an entirely new
meal without so much as a reheat, and Two because food waste was unacceptable in our house.  I still cringe to
this day when I have fruit or veggies beyond human use. I suppose that I could compost the material, it’s just that I haven’t consistently put that into my daily routine and I fall short most times.


I had the following items left from pizza class:
Thinly sliced purple onions, roasted red peppers, peach like heirloom grape tomatoes, and my crushed red tomato sauce.  I have been wanting to make a clam pie for some time now and I found a
great example on one of the pizza websites that I visit often (pizzaquest.com) for great articles, videos, and info on their forum pages.  The recipe for “Redondo Beach Clam Pizza” was my starting point.

The Set-up:

I didn’t serve any clams at the class, but I did go to my local seafood market, Northwest Seafood, in order to procure a bag a Cedar Key Sweets which are small littleneck clams that are very mild in taste with a slight
sweetness to them.  The flesh is also about the size of a penny when cooked so if you’re looking to introduce
clams to kids, these are the perfect size. These clams have been used in several New England clam chowder competitions in which they have yielded prize winning results.  It’s great to have a local seafood market in the north central part of the state because they serve the freshest seafood from both the Gulf & the Atlantic and have a small commercial fishing fleet to provide the freshest seafood available. 

The recipe:
In Brad’s recipe, he used sliced chorizo but I had some leftover Mexican loose chorizo so I used that. 
You can find Mexican Chorizo in the hot dog/luncheon meat/sausage aisle of your store.  Mexican Chorizo
comes in plastic so make sure that you cut open the plastic and squeeze the mixture into your pan before cooking.  Since the chorizo was going to give off its’ own fat I cooked the onions down with the chorizo which took about 5 minutes.  After the chorizo & onion mixture was cooked, I drained the excess fat off of the mixture using paper towels.  Putting the chorizo onion mixture back into my pot, I added my roasted red peppers and my clams. Before cooking your clams, make sure that you use only the closed clams and toss the open clams out.  If
you have a small gap, squeeze the clam shell and if it closes, then it is still good.  The reverse is true after cooking.  Any unopened clams after cooking should be tossed out.  Since my peppers were already cooked, there was no need to cook those down.  Brad used a sliced jalapeno in his recipe & I was hoping to have some roasted poblano peppers leftover from class, but everyone enjoyed those too much! Needless to say, my dish has zero heat factor.  I was thinking about adding some chipotles, but I had none in the pantry. 
I think that the smokiness of the chipotle would have added a nice spicy note as well as a nice smoky note.

Clam time!  Into the pool they go along with a Pilsner style bottle of beer. 
Cover & steam for roughly 5 minutes.  I then removed my clam meat & discarded the shell.  I added the
clams back into the pot along with 2 cups of my crushed tomato sauce, roasted red peppers, and the sweet grape tomatoes which I sliced in half.  I also had some fresh oregano & basil stalks that I threw in as
well.  My sauce lacked some acidity so I added the juice from 2 lemons into my sauce. 
I simmered the sauce until my pasta was ready and then tossed the pasta to coat. Delicious!  

Meal 1 complete.  Next meal, clam pizza.

The Dough          
Nothing special here. I use a 3-5 day cold ferment on KA bread flour.  I don’t weigh my ingredients because I
am trying to teach by feel.  More water here, more flour there.  I
want people to understand and interpret the feeling of the dough and what it needs.  I am a self-taught dough
maker with the help of websites such as www.pizzaquest.com, videos from YouTube, and
several pizza books including one I reference all of the time, “American Pie”.  My recipe is based on
traditional Neapolitan pizza using just flour, salt, water, & yeast.  My only deviations from this recipe is
to substitute beer for the water or add diastatic malt powder to enhance the flavor of the dough.

4 Cups KA Bread Flour
1.5 – 2 cups of water based on current Florida temperature & humidity levels
½ TSP Bread Machine/Instant Yeast
1 TSP Sea Salt

I always mix by hand. I knead enough to develop the gluten and then I let it rest & double in size before balling and refrigerating.  This recipe yields (4) 8-9oz dough balls which can be stretched
to 12-14 inches which are perfect family size pies.

Meal #2

So, I have my refrigerated clam sauce from the first meal which has thickened nicely over the last couple of days.  I couldn’t make pizza the next day after class because I had to make the clam sauce, which we used some for pasta, then I had some nice grey Alabama shrimp which were transformed into shrimp tacos the next day, followed by a meal of tuna noodle casserole (a classic).  Wednesday became pizza night.  The crust was perfect, but for some reason the ladies weren’t feeling the clam sauce on the pie.  The 4 day dough had great structure
& crunch as well as flavor.  They loved it with pasta but not on pizza?  What?  Huh? 
These ladies are definitely becoming bigger pizza snobs than myself! HA!


Remember, leftovers do not have to feel like you have to get through them. “Waste not Want not”, my father used to say to us.  Try reinventing what you have to make it more palatable to your family.  I had it pretty easy with
the clam sauce I must admit!

 
 



The dog days of summer are truly here my friends!  Recently Strega Nona & I gave a dough making class at our local Haile Farmer’s Market.  We had such a
great response!  We sampled our crushed tomato sauce as well as a roasted red pepper sauce and a green chili & tomatillo sauce.  I love
interacting with people and discussing pizza.  This blog is really a big “thank-you”
to those people that I am trying to emulate.

First, I have to thank my wife, Strega Nona (Jennifer), because
without her, I doubt that I would have ever set sail on this current food
adventure that I am on.  It was through meeting her & being part of her family that first started me on
this “pizza quest”.  I have really & truly found what I love in food & in life!

Next, I’d like to thank Peter Rinehart and his book, “American
Pie” and his website “pizzaquest” which keep me on the path to new ideas and
pizza combinations.

Although I’ve never met him, I’d like to send a thank-you to Tony
Gemignani whose motto of “Respect the Craft” is a true call-to-arms for
me.

Locally I’d like to thank Val Leitner & Blue Oven Kitchens for continuing to incubate local food entrepreneurs like myself.  

A big “thanks” to all of the local foodies that I’ve met & shared thoughts & ideas with in
my journey.

I have gained a deep appreciation for all entrepreneurs during this journey.  Every entrepreneur starts with a single dream or concept. They then nurse it from paper to reality.  They take the risk. 
Some succeed. Most fail.  Most that fail will try again.  These are the people that create jobs or opportunities for others. So to my current boss, I big thank-you for providing me an opportunity to
become an entrepreneur myself by taking the risk.


 
 
It has been three weeks since my last blog post. 
In that time, I have attended my nephew’s High School graduation, had my
laptop crash, and then recovered my old laptop, had my laptop crash again,
bought a new laptop, secured funding for a larger pizza oven to go mobile, and
held another pizza class.  I’m still in the process of recovering my old files and I’m fairly certain that my last Blog entry which I broke into several smaller pieces has been lost.  This should be the last installment in my discussion about dough.

So, we’ve made our dough and rolled it into balls. 
My dough recipe usually yields around 30-36oz by weight of dough.  If you divide the dough into 4 dough balls then you should roughly have (4) 7-9oz dough balls which will give you pies in the range of 12-14”.

Proof/Rise/Retard
When are we going to make some pizza?  Well, first you must proof or let your dough balls rise to almost double their size. My dough recipe starts as a 3 hour recipe.  You make the dough.  Proof the dough/balls till double in size at room temperature & then they are ready to use.  The dough will be adequate but I want to achieve more flavor. 
Let’s talk fermentation.  After you mix your pizza dough you can either roll into balls or leave your dough in one mass.   When we mix the dough,  the yeast will
consume the sugars in the flour causing CO2 emissions which in turn makes the
dough rise and feel light and airy.  What if we slowed that process down?  We can achieve this by retarding the dough in the refrigerator.  The coolness of the refrigerator will slow the yeast down and the proofing will happen over several days which in turn will add more flavor to the overall dough.  Cold ferment your dough
between 2-3 days for best results.

Time to make the pizza. 
Okay, we’ve made our dough, cold fermented it for 2-3 days, have it rolled into balls, now we can sling some pies. Pull your dough out 1-3 hours before baking so that your balls come to room temperature. Allowing your balls to come to room temperature will allow the gluten to relax thereby allowing you to stretch & work the dough into a pizza. Gluten formation acts like a muscle. If you have worked your
dough too much it will tighten up much like a muscle that has been worked
out.  Leave your dough alone for a few minutes & the dough will relax. 
People ask me all of the time about the dough balls at Publix.  I have always had trouble with them because they have a high gluten content which makes them difficult to stretch.  Americans started the practice of tossing dough.  Partly because NY style pizzerias starting using a higher gluten flour and the tossing aides in stretching the dough.  In another blog we’ll talk about the different flours and the evolution of pizza, but for now I digress.

Place your pizza stone or baking steel in your oven in the center
& crank it up as high as it will go. I have a basic electric oven and I can get mine to 550F.  At 550F a pizza will bake in roughly 5-6 minutes.  Adjust accordingly to whatever your oven temperature will reach.  So, if it takes 1-3 hours for the dough
to be ready then you must time your oven preheat as well.  Next we are going to stretch our dough.

The Stretch


Grab your rolling pin. STOP!!!!!  We’ve just made this beautiful dough.  It is soft, supple, light & airy.  Using a rolling pin will make it super thin and your pizza will become the consistency of a cracker!  You will smash all of the air bubbles/pockets out of your dough.  You will be able to hand-stretch your dough by using gravity and the backs of your hands.  First take your dough out of your container and lightly dust w/flour.  Place the dough on your work surface and lightly/gently with your fingers
start to press down from the center of your dough to the outside of your dough.  Flip it over and repeat.  Once it is somewhat flattened, pick the dough up between your thumbs and index fingers and start working the dough through your hands while the rest of the dough is being stretched by gravity.  If you can’t visualize this step do a web search again for a video which will show you what I am talking about.

Once your dough is sufficiently stretched, it’s time to assemble your pie.  Grab your pizza peel and rub some flour on its’ surface to keep your pizza from sticking. 
You can’t wait all day to slide your pie into the oven so you had better
make your pizza quickly once it’s on the peel.  If you wait too long your pizza will
stick to the peel and when you go to slide it onto your stone it will hang and
launch half of your toppings into the oven causing black smoke & fire alarms.Trust me. 
Successful pizza launching from peel to oven is key! 
Bake pizza 5-6 minutes, use another peel to remove your pie from the oven
and slice but do not eat immediately or the roof of your mouth will pay a heavy
price!

Once again let me say this about what I’ve blogged about.  I’m no pizza expert for the masses nor do I profess to be one.  I went from never having made dough to being able to make 150 dough balls & pizzas for an event.  I’ve turned all of the tips & techniques that I’ve learned from other pizza pros and adapted them to my style & usage.  I tell people all of the time that it is fine to follow a recipe but follow your
own instinct and make it your own.  It is through trial & error that I’ve been able to put everything that I’ve learned about dough in this blog & my business. 
My way may not work for others & I’m cool with that.  If you understand the concept then you can adapt those concepts to your own unique style.

I am constantly trying to make my dough better or try different
ingredients.  If you’d like to get
a more hands on experience, then come to one of our Pizza Making classes.  You’ll learn how to make dough, stretch dough and make pizza.  We’ll also throw a little pizza history in as a side bonus. 
Fun for all ages & skill levels.

 
 
So, we’ve talked about the components.  Let’s talk recipe:

4 cups bread flour

1.5 – 1.75 cups H2O room temp

½ tsp -3/4 tsp Instant Yeast or 1 tsp Active Dry yeast

1 tsp Sea Salt fine

K.I.S.S. (Keep it Simple…..Seriously)

Add dry to flour slightly mix w/fork to incorporate.  15 secs tops.

Add water to bowl and mix to incorporate.  Make sure that you mix w/your dominant hand only keeping the other free to answer the door, let the dog in, hold your beer.  2 dough claw hands are not as good as 1.  We are mixing here, not kneading! 2-3 minutes.  There will be some flour sticking to the bowl.  Once it seems that you have mixed all that you can mix, with dough hand grab mixture & w/free hand dump remaining flour onto work surface.  If too dry, add small amounts of remaining water to incorporate the rest of the flour.

Let’s get kneading!  If you are pro-style, knead for 5-10 minutes to develop gluten and windowpane.  For you amateurs, we are trying to develop the gluten strands to make the dough which in turn will make our crust.  Easiest method is to take your dough ball and stretch to small loaf size and fold it in on itself.  Hence the name Stretch & Fold.  4 stretch & folds will adequately develop the gluten & windowpane.  So, stretch to a loaf, 1 fold towards you in half & take other half and stretch away from you, the flip & let it rest 5 mins before next stretch & fold.

Windowpane:  Once the gluten develops sufficiently, you should be able to take a small piece of your dough and slowly pull & stretch it to where you can almost see through it like a windowpane.  You can also cut you dough in half and notice several striations in the dough which is a check to let you know that you either kneaded the dough enough or adequately performed the stretch & fold method.

There is also a “no-knead” recipe out there.  Just search “Jim Lahey” no kneads pizza.

Okay.  Once the kneading, folding, stretching are complete shape your large dough ball into a round ball and press to make a disk.  Cut your dough into 4 equal portions.  Perfectionists will use a scale here.  Weigh your dough & then you’ll be able to portion each ball into almost the same size.  I use a scale for events, & parties because I want the same consistent size pizza and at home I am not concerned about food costs & plus it’s another piece of equipment to clean.

Dough balls should be round.  We are trying to create surface tension when shaping the dough ball so when it proofs, it will proof round.  Grab a ball with both hands and fold inward, flip and then fold again.  Hey, these directions don’t make any sense!  Ok, then you should do a web search for a video, that’s how I learned how to do it!

 
 
We were at the Hogtown Craft Beer festival this past Saturday and I was approached by several pizza fanatics like myself.  I had a lot of brief & interesting discussions about dough, sauce, wood, the oven, and are you getting the picture?  So this blog is dedicated to helping the local pizza guy out (sorry ladies I don’t practice PC & “guy” means everyone to me). 

When I started my pizza journey, I asked people what they felt was the most important component of a great pizza.  The majority answered “the crust”.  There is a ton of information on the 3 w’s about making pizza dough.  It took time to sift through the thousands of dough variations to come up with what I feel is a universal dough recipe.

Pizza dough in its purest form is Flour, Water, Yeast, & Salt.  These are the standard ingredients of pizza dough.  People then add “conditioners” to the dough for various reasons.  Olive Oil, sugar in one form or another, herbs, and malt powders are just a few things that I’ve seen or that I have added to my dough.

Let’s talk about flour.  For the home pizza maker, who is going to make pizzas in their oven at home, the ideal flour is BREAD FLOUR.  I use the King Arthur Unbleached Bread Flour in the blue bag.  If you have an Italian Style or Pompeii Oven, you should be using Italian Caputo flour because these ovens can cook pizzas between 700F & 900F.  Now, these 2 types of dough recipes will differ only in the amount of water that is added which is referred to as “hydration” and the ratio of water to flour is referred to as “hydration percentage” in serious pizza making forums.  Remember, wetter dough for higher temp and less wet for lower temp.

Water:

This is a highly contested subject.  New Yorkers will have you believe that NY Style pizza is good because of their water supply.  Well, Italians make excellent pizza and they use bottled water in Naples because just like Mexico, the locals say don’t drink the water!  I use spring water because I don’t want the chlorination of city water to affect my flavor profile. 

Yeast:

Active Dry yeast is usable but you’ll need to use more than Bread Machine yeast which is also referred to as Instant Yeast which is not to be confused with Rapid Rise yeast.  Confused yet?  Active Dry means that you activate the yeast in water in order for it to bloom.  I used this yeast when I was first making pizza dough.  I have now found several professional bakers & pizza makers who still use active dry but who don’t “activate” it anymore because it is rare for the commercial yeast not to work.  I have been using Instant lately because I am trying to have a more controlled “rise” when we talk about dough making.  Rapid Rise yeast is a no-no for both bread & dough making.  It will give you a cracker type crumb and let’s face it, bread & pizza dough takes time to develop flavor, so just say “NO” to Rapid Rise!

Salt:

Salt is not Salt.  Table salt has Iodine which back in the day (late 20’s) they added to reduce the number of Goiter cases.  Today, iodine can be found in several foods.  Keep the added chemicals to the minimum.  Sea Salt or Kosher Salt will do nicely.  Just remember, if using Kosher salt, use less as the crystals are larger.

I will discuss my perfect pizza dough recipe in the next blog

 
 
It has been a little cooler lately and people have been coming into the Ham Shop for ham bones & it put me in the mood for chili.  I have never had a hard and fast recipe for chili.  I remember my Dad’s Chili and it always had celery & red kidney beans.  Not too hot, not too sweet, just a solid all around chili.  When I make chili it is never quite the same as the time before.  Sometimes I experiment with different meat and spice combinations, but the base is always the same.  Here are some hard & fast rules when it comes to Chili though:

1.  If you are going to use fresh beans, then by all means, SOAK, SOAK, SOAK, COOK, and COOK, And COOK!

Please use canned beans if you are looking to make chili in a day.  Fresh sometimes is never better.  Fresh beans, if not soaked or cooked properly, will leave a slight crunch in your mouth leaving the taster to wonder why you can’t follow the simplest cooking rule of all when it comes to beans.  Canned beans are much easier to use when making chili than fresh & they have a much creamier texture.  Just remember to drain the juice off as it will affect the salt content of your final product.  Also add your beans at the end of the recipe.

2.  Roast your veggies. 

Today you can find fire-roasted tomatoes in the tomato aisle.  Use them.  Grab different colored peppers (Florida Sweets), place them in a roasting pan with a little olive oil, S&P, and pop them in the oven @ 350F until they start to blister.  Cool, de-skin, deseed, & then slice or dice.  Onions can be sautéed until translucent or caramelize them to bring out the natural sugars.

3.  Build flavors w/fresh & dried chili peppers.

A good chili begins with a great base of flavor.  You can certainly use fresh chilies to achieve a great tasting chili, but it requires more than using dry chili powders.  I will usually roast a few Poblano or Anaheim chilies for flavor but mostly to enhance the “heat” factor.  Chipotles in adobe is another method for adding some heat as well as a smoky note to your chili.

4.  Deglaze your pan with beer or wine.

After I cook my veggie mixture, I add my dry spices.  I then use a local craft beer to deglaze the pan which is a fancy way of saying the liquid helps get every speck of flavor from the pan.   It also adds another layer of flavor. 

5.  Meat or no meat.

I am a carnivore so for chili I like to use a combination of ground beef (75/25) and ground pork sausage.  Just remember, 2 to 1 ratio beef to pork.  This is the same ratio I use in my meatloaf but that’s another blog! 

No meat chili, just omit the meat & increase the bean and or veggie count.  You might want to also use Portobello mushrooms or eggplant for the meat component.

Below is a condensed version of my chili recipe.  By condensed, I mean enough chili for 1-2 meals (1-2 gals) and not for a chili cook-off (5-7gals).

Ingredients: Canned Items

2 cans Crushed Tomato

2 cans Chili Beans (which are pinto, feel free to sub here)

1 can Fire Roasted diced tomato

1 container (16oz) fresh salsa

½ can or more Chipotles in Adobe (add more for more heat/smoke)

Ingredients:  Fresh items

1 Large Onion, chef’s choice

Handful of sweet peppers, roasted

1 Poblano and or 1 Anaheim roasted

2 cloves garlic

Ingredients:  Meat

1LB Ground Beef (75/25)

½ Ground Pork Sausage (Italian or Sage flavor Jimmy dean will add more flavor)

Dry Spices

1 tsp Black Pepper

1 tsp Cayenne Pepper

1 tsp Italian Seasoning

2 tsp Chili Powder

2 tsp Paprika

1 TBSP Cumin

1 tsp Coriander

1.        So, I have been roasting my peppers lately, so that is the 1st step.  Either roast them in the oven @350F with a little olive oil until they blister or you can roast them on your grill at home.  Remove the skin and the seeds & add to a food processor with your chipotle peppers & adobe.  Pulse until smooth & set aside.

2.       Open all cans and add every tomato product including fresh salsa to your chili pot over medium heat.

3.       Cook & drain your meat and then add to chili pot.

4.       Dice your onion and cook in 1-2TBSP Olive Oil until translucent or caramelize.

5.       Add pureed pepper mixture to onion mixture.

6.       Toss in dry spices and cook 3-5minutes or until your mixture starts to dry out.

7.       Deglaze your pan with 12-160z of a local craft beer (preferably a stout) or a bottle of Guinness.

8.       Pour your veggie/spice/beer mixture into your chili pot.

9.       Stir to combine.

10.   Add your beans

11.   Stir to combine.  Taste.  Salt as needed.

12.   Bring to a boil; reduce to simmer for 15-20 minutes.

 
 
I have always been a visual, hands on learner.  While studying nuclear engineering in the US NAVY, I viewed my technical manuals as somewhat of a chore to read.  Sure, they were chock full of the principles that I would need to use when operating a nuclear propulsion plant, but it wasn’t until I was working with the pumps, valves, and controls that I could apply what I had memorized.  It was the checking of temperatures and pressures which made the technical manuals come to life.  I could see the power plant come to life.

The same holds true with my food experience.  I am in essence an “operations” guy.  I have encountered thousands of recipes in my food career, but it isn’t until I start combining actual ingredients when the recipe comes to life for me.  I am comfortable stepping outside the confines of the recipe.  In fact, the most unsuccessful meals have been ones where I followed the recipe & didn’t deviate.

I view recipes as a guideline as well as a jumping off point.  I realize that the TV Chefs know how to cook as well as create without recipes.  I believe that for them, the recipe comes as an afterthought.  Here in my blog I will talk about recipes as general things.  My home is my test kitchen and I assure you that I don’t make the same dish exactly the same way every time, just ask my family.  Why?  My family cooked without recipes.  We had more of a verbal hands-on approach.

I’ll give you a perfect example.  I can make some serious chili (non Texas style).  In fact, in 2012 I came in first in a local chili cook-off and then I followed that performance up with a 2nd place finish at a different cook-off.  Well, I must have a good recipe right?  Well, in the first contest I didn’t have a recipe, but I had a general idea of what I wanted my chili to taste like.  I made one test batch but it was the second batch that I made which had won the contest.  I had written the basic recipe outline during the 1st batch and had used it on the second batch, but I had made a few changes.

I am not saying recipes are bad.  Recipes are created so many people can make a single dish as well as make the same dish over and over and over again…..consistency.  We have chain restaurants and different franchises.  How can the chain restaurant meal taste the same in a different state?  It is through the recipe that they achieve this consistency.

My wife (Strega Nona) is a recipe person, but I think that she is an entirely different recipe person.  She has recipes that her mother made which were given to her from her grandmother.  So for her, recipes represent a cooking heritage in her family which serves as a bridge between the present & past.  I will also say that she is a better baker than me.  She feels comfortable following the recipe because she gets proven results every time.

So whether you are recipe person or a person who uses the recipe as a guideline, just remember to keep on cooking!