Pizza night: Pepperoni and ham with pepperoncini

After a series of rainy or cold spring weekends, as of this Friday the Ooni is back in action. I’ve had the oven for five years now, and every year that goes by the season gets shorter: I am a little less gung-ho about dragging it out of the garage on marginal days in March and April, and quicker to switch to sheet-pan pizza, prepared and eaten fully indoors, in the fall or late summer. According to my spreadsheet, the last use in 2023 was in August — that’s uncommonly early, but probably explained by getting on a Detroit-style pizza kick after our visit to … Charlotte, North Carolina. But that’s another story!

I am using the same sourdough recipe I’ve been using for the last few years: 75% hydration dough fermented at room temperature overnight, then formed into 350g balls and refrigerated till pizza time. This has been pretty reliable, but on Friday the first pie out of the oven was a little tough. I wonder if this is to do with the particular batch of bread flour I am using — I have been buying 50 pound bags of bread flour milled by Baker’s Field in Minneapolis. They use different wheats at different times of year (probably true of all flour!) and this latest batch seems to have less of the strength I associate with a high-gluten flour. Or maybe I’m just losing my edge!

The night’s pies were pepperoni and ham with pepperoncini. Pepperoni is always the most popular around here and was fully devoured; there were some leftovers of the ham pizza. It’s nice to have the oven out again!

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Whole chicken (one-) pot pie

For the last few months I’ve been making the same chicken soup almost every week.

This is how it’s made:Take a whole chicken and put it in a pot. Cover it with water and add salt. Bring it to a boil and cook for 45 minutes. Remove the chicken and let it cool for half an hour, then pick off the meat from the carcass and set it aside in a bowl. Return the bones and skin back to the pot and let it simmer the rest of the afternoon.

An hour before dinner, remove the bones and season the broth with fish sauce, soy sauce, scallions, ginger and cilantro. Let simmer. Meanwhile, cook rice noodles (bánh phở) then rinse and add to bowls, along with chopped scallions and cilantro. About five minutes before serving, strain the broth — I just use a spider skimmer to save dishes — add the chicken meat and bring the soup back to a boil. Ladle it over the noodles and herbs. Serve with chili sauce.

The recipe is from David Chang and Priya Krishna’s cookbook Cooking at Home. The book’s subtitle: “How I Learned to Stop Worrying About Recipes (And Love My Microwave)” really sums up the approach to cooking and many of the “recipes” in the book, many of which are just guidelines or jumping off points.

I’ve been cooking that way more lately, too. It’s a change from my late teens and twenties, when I was a stickler for recipes, insisting on following the steps letter for letter and no substitutions in the ingredient list. But whether because of old age, the compromises involved in raising children or just getting tired of it, in the last few years I’ve found myself reading recipes a lot less closely, only skimming them to get the gist and falling back on kitchen habits.

The nice thing about using recipes as a place to start rather than a hard set of rules is that it makes you adaptable. For example, that noodle soup described above? It could pretty easily turn into chicken pot pie.

Boil the chicken the same way, pick the meat, and strain the stock.

Then in the empty dutch oven, melt four tablespoons of butter and cook chopped onion and carrots. Add flour to make a roux, then slowly add in the stock to make a thick sauce (sauce velouté). Add the picked chicken and frozen peas, cream and a squeeze of lemon. Season with salt and pepper.

You’ll need a pie crust. You could use a store bought crust, but here’s how I make mine: Put a generous scoop of white flour in a food processor, then add a tablespoon of sugar and a teaspoon of salt. Run the machine to mix that, then drop in about seven tablespoons of butter, cut into chunks. Run the processor to cut the butter into the flour. Drizzle a quarter cup of water over the mixture and run the machine till the mixture comes together into a single mass, adding more water if it seems too dry. Turn it on to the counter, need it a couple times and form it into a disk and chill it in the fridge for half an hour before rolling it out.

Roll it out into a circle the same size as the top of your pot. If your pot has a lid, you’ve got an easy template — jut put the lid on top of the dough and trim along the edge. Cut some vents into the dough lid, then transfer it on top of the chicken stew.

Bake for an hour at 375ºF. If the top crust seems too pale you can always turn on the broiler at the end.

And there you have it: a one chicken, one pot pot pie that started life as chicken soup.

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Bun day

Buns using Wordloaf’s Shokupain de mie recipe. Pulled pork coming!

Update: pulled pork

(Still working on focus here!)


Update 3! Worth adding some notes:

  • The burger buns were 150g, which makes a large bun. That’s what I wanted for pulled pork, but it would be pretty big for a hamburger
  • The hot dog buns ended up around 140g only because I was making 3 out of however much dough was left. This is too much for a small hot dog; they ended up being pretty bready.
  • I only decided to make this a few minutes after pouring boiling water in the French press to make coffee. Adding recently boiled water to the glutinous rice flour for the yudane did not cause it to gelatinize immediately. I had to microwave it for a couple minutes. The other time I made this recipe, fresh boiling water did thicken the rice flour immediately.

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Sheet pan pizza 2022

Pizza making around here follows an annual cycle. Since getting a portable, outdoor pizza oven, summers are devoted to Neapolitan-style pies. But in winter, when it’s too cold for the outdoor oven (I found that the Ooni struggles to stay hot enough when it’s below 20º out, plus who wants to walk out there?) we switch to focaccia or Sicilian-style pizza baked in a half-sheet pan.

My dough recipe has evolved, but all versions have adhered to some general principles. I make a very wet since it gets baked in a pan and doesn’t have to be shaped by hand or slid off a peel. A kilogram of dough is the right amount to fill a half-sheet pan.

For last year’s version of pan pizza, I would mix almost equal masses of water and flour with salt and a very small amount of yeast and let that ferment overnight in the refrigerator before panning and baking it the next day.

But that all changed this fall after I made Andrew Janjigian’s Sicilian Slab pizza recipe. This is one you really should try — it makes this fluffy, pillowy pizza — almost a cross between a pizza and a doughnut.

The Slab pizza recipe is very good, but it was a little too sweet and not quite as chewy as what I like to eat on a regular basis. But the key thing I learned from that recipe is that I could do away with the overnight fermentation and make the dough the same day as I planned to bake the pizza.

For the current recipe, I mix together:

  • 515 g bread flour
  • 485 g water (94 percent hydration)
  • 11 g salt
  • A few teaspoons yeast (I just eyeball this)

Once all the flour is incorporated, I let the dough rest for 30 minutes. Then I stretch the dough out and fold it over itself in four directions and let it rest another half hour. I’ll repeat this a fewe times as time allows. If I start the dough around 1 p.m., it’s in good shape to pan around 5.

About putting it in the pan: I prepare a half-sheet pan by spraying it with cooking spray and brushing it with olive oil — using a lot of olive oil gives the bottom of the crust a texture like fried dough, if you’re in the mood for that. After a final 30 minute rest, I turn the dough out on to a well floured counter and stretch and pat it into a rectangle.

I carefully lift the dough rectangle into the sheet pan, pour on more olive oil, and then lightly stretch and dimple it out to near the edges of the pan (it will resist going all the way to the corners). I let that rest another half hour, then use my fingertips to again dimple the dough out to the edges of the pan. From there it’s ready to top and bake in a 500ºF preheated oven, preferably with a stone or steel in it (I use both stacked on top of each other), for about 30 minutes, or until the cheese looks as brown as I like.

Speaking of toppings, I make a variant of the crushed tomato sauce from Peter Reinhart’s American Pie (actually, I thought it was exactly his recipe, but having looked back at it recently I realized I’ve diverged):

  • A 14oz can of crushed tomatoes, or a can of whole tomatoes that you puree in the food processor or with a stick blender
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • ½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • Black pepper
  • A splash of red wine vinegar
  • A splash of olive oil
  • A minced garlic clove

Just stir it all together and spread it on the pie — no need to cook it, since it’s about to go in a very hot oven.

For cheese, we use regular low-moisture whole milk mozzarella.

That’s where things stand with sheet pan pizza now. The weather in Minneapolis is warming up, so it will soon be Ooni season again (I’ve been making my Neapolitan dough with sourdough recipe based on this recipe, also from Andrew Janjigian). But when it cools down again in the fall, we’ll be back to this — or whatever its next iteration is.

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Does anyone else make sloppy joes with minestrone soup?

The first time I ever ate a Manwich sloppy joe, I thought it was so weird — and definitely not a sloppy joe. It’s not that I’m a snob about food the comes out of a can. It was because, growing up, this is how my family made sloppy joes:

  • Cook some minced onion and add ground beef and brown it, then drain the fat.
  • Pour in one can of minestrone soup.
  • Add a healthy squirt each of ketchup and mustard.
  • Cook until the soup is reduced and the mixture is thick enough to hold together on a bun.

The result is very different from the sweet, tomatoey meat mixture that comes out of a Manwich can or that you get from most from-scratch sloppy joe recipes. For most of my adult life, though, I’ve tended to forsake my culinary heritage and instead make “proper” sloppy joes. (Recipes I’ve tried include Sam Sifton’s no-recipe sloppy joe recipe and one in Cook’s Illustrated, and one whose source I can’t remember that involved just tomato paste, Worcestershire sauce and spices added to meat cooked with onions.)

But recently, I started thinking fondly back to the sloppy joes of youth. After all, aren’t these the recipes that have made me who I am today? So I cooked a batch. And I’ve got to say: they are really good. They are much less sweet and more meaty than standard joes, and it’s kind of a fun surprise when you encounter a bean or a bit of pasta in your sandwich.

It also got me thinking: Where did this recipe come from? Is this recipe a regional passed on through the generations in my family? (Couldn’t be that many generations, though, since per Wikipedia the sloppy joe was invented in the 1930s.) Or did my grandma just decide to make a recipe from a magazine one day and it stuck? An internet search didn’t yield any quick answers, though some people do apparently make “soupy joes” using various canned soups. (This “Minnesota Sloppy Joe” recipe uses, what else, cream of mushroom soup.)

Does anyone else make sloppy joes with minestrone?

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