Monday, September 30, 2013

The Zen of Pizza

I've been busy with some other writing projects.  Sadly, my personal blog is last priority right now.

Today I'm going to talk pizza!  Now, this isn't primarily a food blog, but I think a lot about food.  During my last couple of health episodes, my diet was severely restricted - not permanently, but long enough that I sometimes dreamed about food.  Jim Gaffigan was right when he said that the Food Network is like porn when you're hungry.  I watched a lot of food porn.

The eating challenge / competitive eating shows always make a big impression on me, but likely not for the intended reasons.  They disgust me.  Not just because it's mindless eating, which is bad both physically and morally, but also because it removes a lot of the joy of eating.  I try not to eat too fast, because I want to savor whatever I'm eating.

Forgive me for jumping around in this post, but I feel like I have to explain why I spend more time being conscious of my food.  I spent a good portion of my 42 years overweight, if not actually obese.  Food, like alcohol for some people, has been my greatest joy as well as my biggest enemy.  Even having 18 inches of my guts removed a few years ago wasn't quite enough to make me take my health seriously.  Once our daughter moved away, my wife and I both decided that enough was enough.  Since January of this year, she's lost nearly 80 pounds, and I've lost over 60.  Friends and strangers are disappointed when they asked how we did it.  No magic pill, folks, just eating less and moving more.  It's just physics.

In some other post, if you want to know, I can go into the details, but for now, all that's important to my point is that we cut our daily calories by more than half.  So when we did eat, we were VERY conscious of what we were having.  The funny part is, we ate less and enjoyed it more.  One of the side effects of the new lifestyle was that we cooked at home a lot more.  I discovered (well, rediscovered) that I enjoy cooking.  A lot!  It runs in the family.  I can go into that sometime, too.

Backing up a bit, pizza is for me, and maybe for you, a celebration food.  Pizza is more of an event than simply a meal.  It was a reward at school, or a Friday night treat, or even a middle of the week-had a crappy day comfort food.  Pizza is one of those great dishes that can be made a hundred different ways, and none of them are really bad.  Like sex, right?  Even when it's bad, it's still pretty good.

For me, early on, pizza was my livelihood, too.  My first job out of college was at a pizza joint.  I tossed dough the day before my daughter was born.  Once I had my first real grown-up job, I worked at another pizza chain on the weekends for beer money.

Is it clear, yet?  Pizza is a big deal.

Now that I've pretty much reached my goal weight, I don't have to deny myself quite as much.  But the constant food awareness is habit, now.  Since we're cooking at home more, I spend too much spare time looking up recipes and techniques.  I decided a few days ago that I wanted to try two things:
  1. To start making pizza at home again, and
  2. to try cooking with cast iron.
I could have bought new cast iron pans, but I'm cheap and I like treasure hunts too much.  A local antique shop yielded a two new to me, well used pans this morning.  What follows is the story of today's cast iron pizza adventure.  Thanks for sticking with me this far.  I told you we'd get there.

First off, the pans are used, so some restoration was the first order of business.  A Google search provided lots of options for cleaning.  I opted for the cheapest.

Here are the pans, just as I found them.

I used some table salt and half a potato to grind off the worst of the rust and grunge

Then a coating of oil and some time hanging out in a hot oven.  Here they are - cleaned, seasoned, and ready to rock and roll.

Now I'm back in familiar territory, making pizza dough.  I've tried a few recipes, but they're all fairly similar: flour, water, yeast, salt, sugar - nothing fancy.  Some mixing, a few minutes of kneading - perfection.

Let that bad boy rise for an hour or so, then time to make magic!

The rest of this is all experimentation.

Add some homemade sauce - Thanks, Lisa!


And into the oven.

22 minutes later....

And we're done!  Time to eat!

The verdict?

Well, remember what I said about sex?  The cast iron pan worked perfectly, no sticking, the bottom of the crust was evenly browned, so no complaints there.


Way too much crust.  I could have made two, maybe three of these with that one dough ball.  The pizza was just too bready.  My other compliant?  I still haven't cracked the code on getting the yeasty, deep dish flavor in the dough.  Even though this was made from scratch, it tasted like it could have been Bisquick.  I've been working on that puzzle for at least five years and any number of dough recipes.  Any suggestions?

I still call this one a success.  Since we controlled all the ingredients, the calories, carbs, and sodium were within reason.

We don't eat out much these days, but tomorrow I'll be making an exception.  October 1st, and Dairy Queen rolls out the pumpkin pie Blizzards.  I'm good for another year once I've had one, but I look forward to it like I do the first day of Autumn and Riley Days.

I'll try not to take another month to post again.  Whatever you eat - enjoy it!

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