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I’ve written before about my love for homemade pizza. Pizza out at a restaurant? No thank you? Pizza made in your kitchen? Yes, please.  Make sure there is plenty, and – this is important – stand back and watch as any semblance of self restraint falls away and I eat my weight in pizza. Be prepared to listen to me complain about how unbelievably full of pizza I am for at least an hour afterwards.

Where was I? Oh, yes – I love homemade pizza. I love the simplicity of the ingredients, I love the smell of the yeast, and I enjoy the process of kneading the dough from a sticky mass into an elastic ball ready to be called pizza. I also love the possibilities that pizza affords a home chef.

I’d like to thank Rosa of Rosa’s Yummy Yums for hosting this month’s DB challenge and for choosing a recipe that allowed us DBers a lot of freedom of culinary expression. I also want to thank her for the belly laughs that the mandated tossing of the dough caused. I must confess: I was an utter and complete failure at properly tossing my dough, but I did document the experiment. In the end, I stretched my dough by hand before topping it.

I topped my pizzas with the following:

Vegan Yum Yum’s Eggplant Creme, zucchini, broccoli, and mushrooms.

Homemade sauce (1 large tomato, fresh herbs – rosemary, basil, oregano, and parsley, 2 cloves garlic, salt and pepper smashed together), Morningstar grillers crumbles, and shredded soy cheese.

Herb sauce (olive oil, balsamic vinegar, fresh basil, fresh mint, garlic, salt and pepper pureed together), tomato, peppers, mushrooms, and broccoli.

Melted semisweet chocolate, agave, bananas, strawberries, shredded coconut, and a dusting of powder sugar.

Basic Pizza Dough
Original recipe taken from “The Bread Baker’s Apprentice” by Peter Reinhart

Makes 6 pizza crusts (about 9-12 inches/23-30 cm in diameter).

4 1/2 cups all purpose flour, chilled
1 3/4 tsp Salt
1 tsp Instant yeast
1/4 cup olive oil
1 3/4 cups water, ice cold (40° F/4.5° C)
1 tbsp agave syrup
Semolina/durum flour or cornmeal for dusting

DAY ONE

1. Mix together the flour, salt and instant yeast in a big bowl.

2. Add the oil, agave and cold water and mix well in order to form a sticky ball of dough. On a clean surface, knead for about 5-7 minutes, until the dough is smooth and the ingredients are homogeneously distributed. If it is too wet, add a little flour (not too much, though) and if it is too dry add 1 or 2 teaspoons extra water. The finished dough should be springy, elastic, and sticky, not just tacky.

3. Flour a work surface or counter. Line a jelly pan with baking paper/parchment. Lightly oil the paper.

4. With the help of a metal or plastic dough scraper, cut the dough into 6 equal pieces (or larger if you want to make larger pizzas).

NOTE: To avoid the dough from sticking to the scraper, dip the scraper into water between cuts.

5. Sprinkle some flour over the dough. Make sure your hands are dry and then flour them. Gently round each piece into a ball.

NOTE: If the dough sticks to your hands, then dip your hands into the flour again.

6. Transfer the dough balls to the lined jelly pan and mist them generously with spray oil. Slip the pan into plastic bag or enclose in plastic food wrap.

7. Put the pan into the refrigerator and let the dough rest overnight or for up to thee days.

DAY TWO

8. On the day you plan to eat pizza, remove the desired number of dough balls from the refrigerator. Dust the counter with flour and spray lightly with oil. Place the dough balls on a floured surface and sprinkle them with flour. Dust your hands with flour and delicately press the dough into disks about 1/2 inch thick and 5 inches in diameter. Sprinkle with flour and mist with oil. Loosely cover the dough rounds with plastic wrap and then allow to rest for 2 hours.

9. At least 45 minutes before making the pizza, place a baking stone on the lower third of the oven. Preheat the oven as hot as possible (500° F)

NOTE: If you do not have a baking stone, then use the back of a jelly pan. Do not preheat the pan.

10. Generously sprinkle the back of a jelly pan with semolina/durum flour or cornmeal. Flour your hands (palms, backs and knuckles). Take 1 piece of dough by lifting it with a pastry scraper. Lay the dough across your fists in a very delicate way and carefully stretch it by bouncing it in a circular motion on your hands, and by giving it a little stretch with each bounce. Once the dough has expanded outward, move to a full toss.

NOTE: Make only one pizza at a time.
During the tossing process, if the dough tends to stick to your hands, lay it down on the floured counter and reflour your hands, then continue the tossing and shaping.In case you would be having trouble tossing the dough or if the dough never wants to expand and always springs back, let it rest for approximately 5-20 minutes in order for the gluten to relax fully,then try again. You can also resort to using a rolling pin, although it isn’t as effective as the toss method.

11. When the dough has the shape you want (about 9-12 inches diameter – for a 6 ounces), place it on the back of the jelly pan, making sure there is enough semolina/durum flour or cornmeal to allow it to slide and not stick to the pan.

12. Lightly top it with sweet or savory toppings of your choice.

NOTE: Remember that the best pizzas are topped not too generously. No more than 3 or 4 toppings (including sauce and soy cheese) are sufficient.

13. Slide the garnished pizza onto the stone in the oven or bake directly on the jelly pan. Close the door and bake for about 5-10 minutes.

NOTE: After 2 minutes baking, take a peek. For an even baking, rotate 180°.

If the top gets done before the bottom, you will need to move the stone or jelly pan to a lower shelf before the next round. On the contrary, if the bottom crisps before the cheese caramelizes, then you will need to raise the stone or jelly.

14. Take the pizza out of the oven and transfer it to a cutting board or your plate.

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Yellow Pizza Sauce

I believe that, at least once, everyone should try his or her hand at gardening. Personally, I used to be wary of keeping plants. I was your typical houseplant killer. I would somehow procure cute little green houseplants and would inevitably, without fail, forget to water them. I would then eventually end up tossing their shriveled, dry little carcasses out with the trash and then employ the pots for other uses, such as pencil holders or an odd-and-ends catchall. Recently I again tried my hand at houseplant maintenance in my office at work. That experiment ended when a coworker informed me that the droopy plants in dire need of attention in my office did little to inspire confidence in my abilities to care for others (namely people), thus, those plants found their way out of my office into my compost bin. I’ve accepted that I do not have a great enough appreciation for houseplants to be able to enter into a long-term relationship with one. The occasional bouquet is enough inside greenery to keep me happy. Gardening, however, is a whole different matter.

I started my love affair with gardening last spring when a friend of mine built a raised garden in my front yard for me. Now, one year later, my gardening endeavors have expanded into larger plots that run the length of the south and west facing sides of our cottage. You do not need large plots of land for gardening. Heck, you don’t even need a yard. One can easily start a windowsill garden in window or a container garden on a small balcony or patio. Gardening is accessible to all.

I love gardening because it is my belief that gardening is an exercise in consciousness, an act of sustainability … it promotes stewardship, a love for what is natural, and it inspires us to be less wasteful. By nurturing food from seed to plate, we develop a close, personal relationship with what we eat. We can then appreciate food in its simplest of forms for its unique and wonderful flavors, which inspires us to eat food in as close to its natural state as possible rather than eating food that has been manufactured in a lab and is full of chemicals, preservatives, corn syrup, and ingredients that we cannot pronounce. We are also reluctant to throw away any part of what we have nurtured and sown, which promotes us to be more aware of our resources and to utilize all of what we have rather than mindlessly allowing food to rot and end up in the trash. Additionally, gardening increases our awareness of natural processes and systems. We are then more likely to compost trash to create rich soil for our garden, thus completing the cycle from earth to seed to fruit to plate back to the earth. I believe that gardens help to make our world a better place by improving our lives through healthy eating and more positive environmental practices, which, in turns, help us to make this planet a better place for others.

Currently, I’ve got a number of things growing in my garden: oregano, cilantro, basil, parsley, mint, black beauty eggplants, Japanese eggplants, ancho peppers, habanero peppers, flavorburst peppers, zucchini, watermelon, and yellow cherry pear tomatoes. The tomato plant, far and away, has been the most productiveve member of my garden. We’ve had a seemingly endless supply of deliciously sweet tomatoes for the past few months, which has inspired great creativity in how to make use of all of those tomatoes. Our most recent tomato concoction was yellow pizza sauce. I love home made pizzas with freshly made dough, and we topped these particular pies with the sauce, sliced peppers, sliced mushrooms, and slices of Field Roast Grain Meat Co. sausages.

Yellow Tomato Sauce

2 tbsp olive oil
5-6 cups yellow cherry pear tomatoes
2 cloves garlic, minced
Basil leaves, chopped
Salt & pepper to taste

Heat the olive oil in a Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the tomatoes, whole and skins intact. Cover the pot and sauté over medium-low heat for 15 minutes. Uncover, and use a potato masher to smash the tomatoes. (I like to leave some whole). Add the garlic, basil (to your taste), and salt and pepper and simmer for 15 minutes. Remove from heat and enjoy!

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HHDD: Pizza

I love home made pizza. I love the smell of the dough as I knead it. I love the rising time that the dough affords me to imagine what to top the pizza with. I especially love the endless possibilities that pizzas offer.

Recently while blog surfing (“blog surfing” = perusing a much frequented blog, clicking on a link in their blogroll, perusing this new blog, clicking on a link in their blogroll, so on and so forth, until suddenly you are looking around in wonder at how you got to the blog you are presently enjoying) I came across this post for this blog event called Hay Hay it’s Donna Day, named such in honor of Donna Hay. For this round of HHDD the recipe of choice is pizza. How could I resist? The pizza stone that I received for Christmas has been anxiously awaiting its use. For this particular pizza I decided that I wanted to do something different from my usual tomato sauce base. I decided to make use of what I already had on hand, so I set out to make a caramelized onion and mushroom topping.

Once the onions had caramelized, the mushrooms were ready, and the mixture was pureed in the food processor, I was faced with the decision of what else would go on the pizza. Knowing that the onion-mushroom puree would be a thick and rich topping, I wanted to keep whatever else I put on the pizza light. Suddenly I got an idea that seemed so delicious to me that I couldn’t fathom putting anything else on this pizza. Still …. it seemed unorthodox enough that I was a little nervous that perhaps it wouldn’t be as delicious as I thought it would be. Also, I needed to be sure that Dan would want to eat it. I explained to him the onion and mushroom puree that was ready for the pizza and he was enthusiastic. Then … I laid on him what I wanted to round the pizza out with. My decision was .. are you ready for this? … apples. I was met with a brief moment of silence, a solemn nod of the head, and the declaration that it could, indeed, be delicious. That was all I needed. I thinly sliced an apple on the mandolin, placed a ring of them around the pizza on top of the onion-mushroom puree, and popped it into the oven. In the end, there was no need to fret … the apples were a perfect compliment to this pizza, which did a quick disappearing act at dinner.

Caramelized Onion, Mushroom, and Apple Pizza

1 recipe pizza dough (recipe below)
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp soy butter (Earth Balance Buttery Spread)
3 small onions, thinly sliced
1 pinch of salt
4 cups of chopped mushrooms
1 tsp Herbes de Provence
Salt and pepper to taste
1 apple, thinly sliced

1. Heat the oil and soy butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the sliced onions and the pinch of salt, and lower the heat to medium-low. Sauté the onions for about an hour, stirring every so often, until the onions are golden brown.

2. Prepare the dough. (Recipe below)

3. Add the mushrooms and the Herbes de Provence to the caramelized onions and sauté for an additional 15 minutes. In the meantime, pre-heat the oven to 425F.

4. Remove the onions and mushrooms from the heat and add salt and pepper to taste. Let the mixture cool for about 10 minutes and then puree the mixture in a food processor until smooth.

5. Use a rolling pin and roll out the dough on a floured surface. Sprinkle some cornmeal on your pizza stone or baking sheet and place the flattened dough on top.

6. Spread the caramelized onion and mushroom mixture onto the dough. Place the apple slices on top and bake for 20-25 minutes, until crust is golden brown.

Pizza Dough
(from Modern Classics I by Donna Hay, page 186)

1 teaspoon active dry yeast
Pinch sugar
2/3 cup (5 fl oz) warm water
2 cups plain (all-purpose) flour
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 tablespoon olive oil

1. Place the yeast, sugar, and water in a bowl. Set aside until bubbles form.

2. Add the four, salt, and oil, and mix to form a smooth dough. Knead for 10 minutes or until smooth and elastic.

3. Place in a clean, oiled bowl, cover, and allow to stand in a warm place until it has doubled in (I made my dough right after I started my onions and let it rest until I was ready to put the pizza into the oven, about and hour and a half). Makes one pizza.

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