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Let The Christmas Games Begin

You’ve already seen the beginning of the carol countdown, and an accounting of the related carol conflict, but that’s just the tip of the Christmas and Holiday-themed carousel of seasonal chaos headed your way.  I’ve got more musical selections, tales of my childhood, thrilling accounts of my seasonal holiday activities, and of course it wouldn’t be Old Road Apples without some very festive photos lifted shamelessly, but with the utmost respect, admiration, and affection, from a wide variety of strangers.  Let the rum-soaked holly-festooned revelry begin.  And I didn’t even tell you about Thanksgiving yet.

Because everyone knows that Santa is the REAL World’s Most Interesting Man.

the man

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Pizza Night! Post Your Pizza Pictures Here

Let’s see what you’ve got.  Post a link to your pizza pictures in the comments section.  Ours were perfect, even if the toppings were not particularly inspired–two pies with pepperoni on half and just cheese on half.  One of the better crusts I’ve made in a while.  Sorry the post is late–couldn’t take my eyes off of that Steelers game, and then it took me twenty minutes to find the damned cord to connect the camera to the computer.

Here’s mine:

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Commentary Recipe

Make A Pizza Night–Cooking Yer Pie

The Make a Pizza Night Post will appear Sunday around 7pm–at which point this sentence will turn into a link

Okay, so you’ve got your ingredients and you’re ready to go.  Here are a few final notes.

20120129-cheesypizza1. Preheat your oven a little longer than you think is necessary.

2. If you’re using a pan, make sure to oil the pan when you squeeze the dough out to the edge.

3. If you poke a hole in the middle, just tear a little extra off the edge and patch it!

4. A pizza peel and stone will raise your game considerably–the stone is just what it implies, a piece of porous rock-ish material that sits on your oven rack and provides a pizza-peelbaking surface.  When you put your pizza on the hot stone, moisture is drawn from the crust into the stone, making your pizza lighter and crisper on the outside.  It’s like magic.  The peel is like a giant pancake flipper with which you slide your pizza onto the stone.  To use a peel correctly, dust the surface of the peel with cornmeal, which allows the pie to slide off and on easily. Its like magic.

5. A pizza will cook faster on the pre-heated stone than on a metal pan.  Keep an eye on that bad boy so you don’t burn it.

6. Remember, that necessity is the mother of invention–you don’t need anything fancy to do this.  Pizza is descended from a way to use leftovers–glopping stuff onto collegehumor.b0bf821e82f23ae124e5ad2d73c17e83slices of flatbread.  An old Italian man I knew as a kid–a guy who fled Mussolini by stowing away on a ship, with no money and no documents, and jumping off the ship to swim ashore when it reached New York–wouldn’t have dreamt of eating pizza after he established himself in this country.  He owned a bar and two houses.  Pizza was poor peoples’ food and beneath him.  Enjoy it accordingly.

Oh, yeh–don’t sleep in your pizza.  It’s not done in the best of families.

images

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I Dare You To Make A Pizza Night–Sauce

The Make a Pizza Night Post will appear Sunday around 7pm–at which point this sentence will turn into a link

I’m serious, man.   Make a pizza tonight.

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Picture stolen from some chick on tumblr

 

Sauce.  You can get some damn fine sauce at the store, but part of the joy of pizza is the path you take to get there, so I offer this.

Get a 28oz can of the best damn tomatoes you can buy.  San Marzano tomatoes.  Or, if you’re like us, get some frozen tomatoes from the deep freeze or a jar of self-canned tomatoes from the pantry shelf–if using the latter, a small can of good quality tomato past speeds the process.  In a pinch, you can use puree, but that’s cheating.  Of course, we’ll be cheating ourselves tonight on one of our pies–I’ve got a jar of locally made sauce from Labriolla’s Italian Deli & Grocery–and cheating is perfectly acceptable.  Abandon any recipe that calls for adding sugar.

While your crust is rising….

28oz tomatoes, fresh or canned, or puree
tomato paste if you want
olive oil
1 head of garlic
salt, pepper,
parsley, basil, oregano as desired
Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil on medium low heat in a large skillet, being careful not to scorch or burn the oil (you’ll smell it if you do, in which case just wash out the pan and start again being more careful and using less heat.)

Roughly mince about 4 cloves of garlic (or more if you’re feeling it, or less if you’re–well, there’s no need for insults) and toss it into the olive oil.  Cook it just long enough that the garlic releases its scent–I don’t know how else to explain it, because I’m not a trained cook, but sauteed garlic reaches a point where it releases a puff of sweet, garlicky goodness–pay attention and you’ll notice for yourself.  That scent means that it is perfectly done, and another 30 seconds will ruin it.  Get it off the heat, or get your tomatoes in there.

Put your tomatoes into the skillet and stir to mix in the olive oil and garlic.  Add an optional half cup of a hearty, clean wine–whatever you’ve got handy or open.  Then settle in, and stir every few minutes, until the sauce is reduced.  It will turn darker as you cook–that’s the sugars in the tomatoes changing.  I have an old Italian sauce recipe that calls for cooking all day until it turns brownish, the sugars partially carmelized, but we don’t need that for a nice, wholesome tomato sauce.  If the sauce does get too thick, simply add water a teaspoon at a time until you get a good consistency.  When you’re nearly done, add a tablespoon each of fresh finely chopped parsley, basil, and two teaspoons of oregano, a pinch of black pepper, and a scant teaspoon of salt–and cook it for about 5 more minutes–you’ll get a much better, fresher taste from your herbs this way than if you cooked them all along with the sauce. If you’re using dried oregano, leave it out of the sauce and just sprinkle it very lightly over the cooked pizza when you’re done.  Some people cook onions or peppers in their sauce–don’t.  Better to dice them and add them as a topping.

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Remember: Sunday Night Is I Dare You To Make A Pizza Night

The Make a Pizza Night Post will appear Sunday around 7pm–at which point this sentence will turn into a link

http://foodstoriesblog.com
http://foodstoriesblog.com

Make a pizza.  Post a link on the Pizza Post that will appear on this blog Sunday Night.  It’s a double dog dare–you can’t refuse.  If you must, shortcuts are allowed: pre-made crusts, sauce from a jar, whatever it takes.  Hell, send out or heat a frozen cardboard pie.  I’m going to make this easy for you…here’s a crust recipe, with a sauce recipe to follow this evening.

Perfect Pizza Crust

You can make this up to a day ahead of time, or any time up to 2 hours before you’re ready to eat.  The longer it has to rise, the more subtle and tasty it will be.

1. Put 1 Cup of very warm water in large, heavy bowl.  Add a tablespoon of brown sugar, honey, or even plain old sugar if that’s all you’ve got, and a tablespoon of flour–we like pastry flour or 00 Semolina, but use whatever rocks your world.  Mix it up to form a pasty broth.

2. When the water has cooled (but remains warm–ideally around 100-105 degrees F, the temp you’d use for a baby bottle–above 114 degrees you risk killing your yeast) add 2.5 teaspoons of dry yeast, mix that in until it dissolves, and set it aside for 5-10 minutes.  It will get a little foamy–that’s little baby yeast growing up. While it proofs, get the rest of your ingredients ready.

3. Add 1.5 cups for flour, 2 tablespoons of olive oil  (or some sort of fat, like softened but not melted butter, or even vegetable oil–but if you use a solid, make sure it gets mixed in), and 2 teaspoons (or I heaping teaspoon) of salt.  Chemically, you need the salt, but erring on the side of caution is preferable to too much).  Mix this mess together with a fork until it’s a sticky ball, adding more flour (a little bit at a time) as needed.

4. When it’s relatively solid, spread a little flour on a flat, clean surface and start kneading.  Press the dough ball flat, fold it in half, turn it one quarter turn, fold it again, squeeze it flat, and keep going like that for 10 minutes, until you’ve incorporated enough flour to make the dough “silky”–pliant and smooth, but not sticky.  If the dough becomes difficult to work, let it sit for five minutes then continue. If you get too much flour and the dough feels flaky, add water a few drops–literally– at a time.

5. Put a tablespoon of oil in that large bowl, throw the ball of dough in on top, and swirl the dough around until it’s coated, then cover the whole deal with a damp towel and sit it in a warm, draft-free place to rise until double.  An hour is probably about right, but once it’s done one rise you can put it in the fridge or just leave it on the counter over night and it will be even better.  The proportions I gave you should be enough for one really big pizza, or a pair of 12-14″ pies, depending upon how thick you like your crust.

6. Preheat your oven to it’s hottest temperature.  Some people use the “self clean” setting, but if you’re like me your oven locks on that setting and burns your pie to ash.  I can get 575 out of my vintage hotpoint gas stove–but a good brick oven place is cooking your pie at upwards of 800, so don’t be shy.

7. Get your pizza flat.  The best way to do it is by stretching it, working around the edge, or tossing it.  I’m terrible at that , so I sort of push it out with my fingers from the center to the edge of the the floured surface I’m working on ( you can also squeese it out directly on the pan you’re using).  A rolling pin is an option I use when I’m cooking several pizzas in a row, for guests, but squeezing the dough changes the texture a little–and purists will regard the use of a rolling pin as sacrilege.  Stretching, if you can do it, is preferable.

8. You know your oven.  If it’s not really hot, you may want to pre-cook the crust for about 4 minutes before adding the toppings–especially if you put your pizza in a pan with an edge (like a cookie sheet).  Throw on your toppings and go to town–remember if you use a lot of watery veggies that they can make the pizza runny.  Avoid this by laying the veggies on top of the cheese and other toppings.

9. Cook until the cheese is bubbly and just beginning to brown on top.

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Sunday Evening is Pizza Night–I Dare You to Make a Pizza

The Make a Pizza Night Post will appear Sunday around 7pm–at which point this sentence will turn into a link

The Steelers play a late game on Sunday, so we’re making pizza from scratch.  I dare you to join me.  I double dog dare you.  Nobody says no to a double dog dare!  Make a pizza and post a link in the comments section of the PIZZA POST which will appear on this blog around 7pm on Sunday, October 26.  Plenty of time to go shopping.  Now, if you just can’t do it, no matter how much you want to, no matter how long it’s been your dream–I understand.  Send out for a pizza, or cook up a frozen pizza, snap a picture, post it on the web–your blog, your facebook page, twitter, tumblr, stumblr, mumblr, tattoo it on aunt sally’s…oh, you get the idea.

It’s this easy.

SAM_0488 SAM_0491

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I Am Sorry I Am So Lame

My last post read like an editorial in a high school newspaper, and for that I apologize. I mean to do better, but it is late, and I’m tired, and I’ve been concentrating on this damn novel at the expense of the poetry and wit you deserve. More retro clipart at http://www.clipartof.com/(caveat: I’ll get paid for the novel, but I get nothing for the blog and even less for poetry–however, if you want more and better original content just let me know and I’ll set up a kickstarter or something–I’m a better poet and a better cook than that potato salad guy).

Send me some money and I’ll make a totally badass pizza. From scratch. Heck, I’ll auction off one of these bad boys (I do a veggie, too, and a white pizza with fresh garlic, just picked from my back yard garden yesterday) and if it goes for over $1000 or equal to .50/mile I’ll deliver it in person, along with an age appropriate beverage. SAM_0490

Ahem, where was I? Anyway, back to the lame posts:  today was the final straw.  My freaking chair broke–it was an old, straight-backed wooden chair that needed some of the dowels replaced.  It was getting wobbly, and I didn’t glue it, and I’m a BIG guy.  One of the dowels broke and it all just came apart.  Now I’m sitting on the most uncomfortable chair in known space–and it’s worse than a lot of the stuff they have in unknown space, too. (trust me, I know.)

It is impossible to write anything interesting when your ass is numb except for the occasional shooting, stabbing, mauling pain as a battered and abused nerve manages to fire.  So that’s where I am–seriously thinking about bringing a lawn chair indoors until I can make it to the thrift store for another comfortable antique.

strays
What the hell?

Here’s a found picture to soften the blow.  That’s a lot of dogs–probably a missed opportunity for a trite jibe at Chinese restaurants.

But really, it’s a good pizza.  And no, I’m not drunk.  My ass just hurts.

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Exhausting, But Damn Fine Weekend Part 2: Concert

We had yet another trip to Pittsburgh in store for us Saturday–my fourth in a row, as I’d been in the suburbs Wednesday to help my mom pick out 2011-chevrolet-cruze_100330176_land negotiate for a new car–a long but unexpectedly pleasant experience with Day Chevrolet in Murrysville, PA.  We got her an almost new Chevy Cruze–a perfect Grandma-car, but still a little sporty, a little perky to drive.  Way to go, Detroit–this one brings a hammer to the Compact Dance, and has the Asian marques in a tizzy, I’d wager.

After that, and the two days of swim meet, let’s just say I was less than enthusiastic about another day crammed into a car, even though the plans for the evening were for recreation.  I was grumpy all day, sick of restaurant food, weary of having a seat belt carving into my cartoid, and just plain tired.  If we hadn’t been locked in to the tune of $130 I would have been tempted to bail.  I just wanted to sleep.

That would have been a shame, because we had a semi-potluck in the mid-afternoon: ham, oven-baked herbed potatoes, salad, lots of fresh fruit and tasty bread, and apple pie for desert, with 4 friends and our kids, then the grown-ups saddled up and made the very familiar drive back to Cardiac Hill.  This time, after hours on a weekend, the parking was easy.  We quickly found a space in a small garage, downed some beers in the van–the garage was full of folks sitting in their vehicles, bartending out of PetersenEventsCenter_at_Pitttheir trunks.  Soon enough it was time, and we strolled up to the Peterson Center, a pretty fantastic venue on the Pitt campus.  We were there to see  The Old Crow Medicine Show and The Avett Brothers, and it turned out we got enviable, fantastic seats, just above floor level.

Old_Crow_Medicine_Show

And man, it was awesome.  Old Crow opened with a boisterous cover of John Denver’s seminal kneeslappin’ Thank God I’m A Country Boy and the crowd roared into Full Whoop–where is stayed through their too 4380881794_bf3f2fcf32_oshort 50-minute opening set.  I loved the crowd–more beards per capita than anyplace but downtown Islamabad– so I felt right at home, enjoying the irony of realizing that at the same moment Old Crow was jamming out genuine old-school Grand Old Opry-grade country to 35,000 hipsters in Pittsburgh, PA all over the country so-called Country Bands were shoveling candy-coated bubblegum pop to hundreds of thousands of rednecks.  The energy was pure and joyful–especially during the most popular songs, when the bands and 35,000 background singers–just listen to the voices….

By the time the Avetts ripped through more than two hours (!!) of their show then re-emerged onstage the crowd was in a danced-up, esq-avett-xlg-38788231full-flowering bliss, seemingly impossible to improve–until they called Old Crow out on the stage for a magnum freaking opus encore medley of Willie Nelson’s On The Road Again, The Carter Family’s Will The Circle Be Unbroken (you know an alt.country band is certified when they cover The Carters in their encore), and–finally–an inspired cover of the Spaniels’ Goodnight, Sweetheart.  Freaking awesome, and utterly perfect.  A stop for take out from Mineo’s Pizza on the way home, and the night was complete.