February 22, 2007

Comfort Food: Wheat Pizza

I had another entire posting figured out, but for a few reasons that is getting pushed back to a later date. Look for a posting about my adventures with baked donuts and sorbet in the near future. However, for today, I am blogging about pizza. I like my crust thin, crispy on the bottom, and soft on top. Somewhere, I read about using pastry flour to make such a pizza crust. I have found that using nearly equal amounts of pastry flour and all-purpose flour gives me the best results. That's the crust I make for other people, but lately for myself I have been making a wheat variation (I've also been experimenting with oat flour, but that recipe isn't ready for print yet) and that is the recipe that I am presenting today.

Everyone has an opinion about how they like their pizza and I find that what I like changes constantly. Pizza is one of those great meals to use left over ingredients from other projects. If I have a few slices of prosciutto in my 'frig or some leftover soppressata, I chop it up and toss it on top of the cheese (since prosciutto is so salty, I leave the salt I sprinkle over my sauce off). Left over chicken breast screams out for some tomatillo salsa to replace the traditional tomato sauce and some queso fresco, instead of mozzarella. Below is my version of comfort pizza, this is what I make when its been a really bad day. Because it is so basic it is easy to keep everything I need on hand all the time.

About mozzarella – if you haven't had the fresh, whole milk, real deal, then you've been missing out. It is more expensive than the bland, rubbery blocks or pre-grated stuff, but you'll only need a little and its a whole new experience. The mouthfeel alone is enough for me to prefer it, but the flavor difference is just as amazing. There are various different commercial versions and they vary on quality. If you've never experienced it before, I suggest you try to find one packaged in whey for your first experience, but I find that for pizza making I prefer the plastic wrapped version (there is less leakage as it melts).

About sauce – I have found that I like my sauce simple. Lately I have been using Muir Glen Crushed Fire Roasted Tomatoes. I just open the can and use the back of the spoons to spread out the couple of tablespoons that I have put on the crust. Usually I'll just sprinkle some kosher or sea salt on it, but I'll also grind some black pepper over it, crumble some dried oregano over the sauce, or sprinkle on some fresh, chopped rosemary.

Note: For the last couple of years I have been using a scale for more and more of my baking (its more precise, etc.). That is how I make this pizza, but I will try to remember next time to measure these ingredients and update the recipe later. If someone knows what volumes these weights correspond to – great – please leave a comment.

Whole Wheat Pizza

The dough:

4.5 ounces whole wheat pastry flour

5.5 ounces all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon kosher salt (if using table salt use ½ teaspoon)

1 Tablespoons granulated sugar

¾ cup hot water (between 95 to 105 degrees)

1 packet active dry yeast (2 1/4 teaspoons)

The pizza:

One can crushed tomatoes (as above, I prefer Muir Glen Fire Roasted)

Olive oil

salt and pepper

Mozzarella (whole milk) – torn or sliced into thin strips

Any other add-ons (prosciutto, arugula, mushrooms, parmesan shavings, etc.)

Place a pizza stone in the oven and preheat to 500° F.


Place the flours, salt, and sugar in a medium sized bowl. Stir to blend thoroughly. You may not need all of the water, start with ½ cup. While stirring with a large spoon (I like wooden spoons) pour the hot water in a slow stream into the water. Stir until the dough comes together as a sticky ball – if it isn't sticky it needs more water.

Cover the bowl with plastic wrap or a damp towel and allow the dough to roughly double in size. Yeast doughs are (mostly) forgiving. It should double in size in about 30 minutes. Clear some work space on your counter and sprinkle it with a tablespoon or so of flour and scrape the dough onto the floured workspace. Sprinkle the dough with some more flour (only a teaspoon or so) and knead the dough into a smooth, consistent, round ball. Cut into six equal pieces (this makes a manageable single serving pizza). Round up the pieces and let them rest for about 5 minutes (this make the dough easier to work with). At this point the dough balls can be placed in a plastic bag or sealed plastic container or up to three days. Just take the dough out of the refrigerator about an hour before you want to put the pizzas in the oven.

Flatten each ball out gently with your hand. If you're good at working with pizza dough stretch the dough out into a very flat circle shape (supposedly the best way). However, if you're like me and you only end up with holey dough that way use the following method.

Take out a rolling pin and start rolling the dough out until it is about ¼ inch thick. Flip the dough over after every few rolls to make sure it isn't sticking to the counter – add as little flour as possible at this point since extra flour can cause the crust to be dry and dense.

If you own a pizza peel (and if you don't you should, they're cheap and very handy) prepare it by rubbing a teaspoon of flour into the surface. You can also use a flat cookie sheet sprinkled with flour or a piece of parchment paper (you can lay the parchment directly on the stone). Lay on piece of the flattened dough onto the peel and gently stretch it out. You don't want to put holes in the dough or get to be see through, but stretching it out does improve the final texture.

Using a brush, the back of the spoon, or even your fingers spread about 1 teaspoon of olive oil over the top of the dough. Drop a few tablespoons around on the dough and spread out – I prefer a thin layer of sauce. Sprinkle with a pinch of kosher salt and a few grinds of black pepper. Sprinkle with a few pieces of mozzarella – I leave large spaces of sauce showing. (If I remember I will add a picture of the pizza before it goes into the oven).

Using the peel, slide the pizza onto the pizza stone and bake for about 7 minutes or until the cheese is melted and the bottom of the crust is brown and crispy. If you like your cheese brown turn the broiler on high before placing the pizza in the oven (only use this method if you have a pizza stone preheated). If using the broiler the pizza will cook in about 5 minutes.

February 12, 2007

In the beginning... there was comfort food

So after a year of spending hours reading other peoples' food blogs, I have decided to take the plunge and begin a journal of my own culinary adventures. What is the raison d'être for this foray into an already crowded space? Honestly, I hope it serves as a record of what I've read, what I've tried, and a record of what works and what doesn't.

Now the name I've chosen may imply that this blog will be specific to a particular type of cooking or may be specific in some other way, but that is not the case. I spent a considerable amount of time contemplating what I would name my blog, but in the end it was my in-house marketing guru who came up with Roasting Rambler (I think the latter inspired the former). Instead of covering one single topic, my goal is to see where I've been and push myself to try new things. I seldom choose the simple path, if a recipe calls for puff pastry, I plan ahead and make it. If I want lard for cooking potatoes, I buy pork fat. Partially, this is from necessity, as living in central Iowa I do not have access to a variety of specialty stores, butchers, or bakeries, but I also enjoy knowing about my food and how to prepare it.

I will also celebrate the great restaurants, farmer markets, and local food producers that populate my tiny corner of America. I am not a skilled photographer, but I will try to include photographs whenever possible. So for my first blog, I present a Pork and Orange Stew. This is a reworking of a recipe from Parade magazine (sometime Fall '06), which I was asked to test drive for someone. I pulled my version together on a snowy night when I wanted something rich and warming.

If you don't want to try my recipe, then try the Spiced Candied Walnuts from Heidi of 101cookbooks.com (click the photo for the recipe). I made these the next night, sent some home with friends, and took the rest with me when I flew to Tennessee. I'll have to make more though since Dana made me leave the rest with her when I flew home.

Pork and Orange Stew

Serves 4

1.5 pounds boneless sirloin chops
Salt and pepper
2-4 Tb lard or neutral oil
1 onion chopped
2 cloves garlic chopped
1 cup or about 4 chopped plum tomatoes (from a can of peeled whole plum tomatoes)
1 Tb brown sugar
Zest of 1 orange (in long strips – see notes)
1 ½ cups chicken broth
½ cup white wine (I used a Viognier)
4 carrots, halved and cut into 1 to 2 inch lengths
2 Tb chopped fresh mint

Egg noodles (see notes)

2 Tb butter soft
3 Tb all purpose flour

Cut the pork into 1 to 2 inch cubes. Season well with salt.

Heat a dutch oven over medium high heat and when hot add the lard. Brown the pork in batches, moving the browned pork into a bowl to reserve for later.

When taking out the last of the pork turn the heat down to low, adding more lard or oil if needed, and add the onions and garlic. Cook for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Add the tomatoes, orange zest, chicken broth, wine, some ground black pepper and sugar. Turn heat up to medium-low and add the pork back to the pot, making sure to add all of the juices that have leaked out while the meat was resting. Simmer for 30 minutes and then add the carrots and mint and cook for about another 30 minutes or until pork is tender and carrots are your preferred texture.

After adding the carrots and mint, prepare the beurre manié. In bowl large enough for the flour and butter plus one to two cups of liquid, work the flour, a tablespoon at a time into the butter until it is a smooth and consistent paste. When the carrots and pork are nearly done, ladle about ½ a cup into the paste and whisk until smooth. Add more liquid, as necessary to make the liquid pourable, about 1 cup.

Pour the thickener into the dutch oven and stir to incorporate throughout the dish. Bring the pork to a simmer until the sauce is smooth and thickened. Remove the large pieces of zest and chop or break up and add them back if desired. Serve over egg noodles.


  • A vegetable peeler can be used, but I find the best tool for getting the zest off in large pieces without a lot of the bitter white pith is a paring knife. Do not use a zester or a microplane.

  • This is the time to buy a nice uncoated, organic orange, if you can.

  • I like a few small pieces of zest to be left behind, they give a quick blast of orange flavor, but you'll want the pieces small.

  • Homemade egg noodles are best here, but if you use store bought make sure that they are thick, high quality noodles (homestyle).