Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Any Way You Slice It

 For quite some time, I've been wanting to have a pizza party.   Some friends were coming to visit last weekend, and this seemed like the perfect excuse!

I sent out the invites via an email attachment.  I love clip art.

I then headed down to Archie McPhee in Seattle to pick up some fake mustaches for everyone to wear.

A couple of the guests already had their own mustache and didn't need one.  Guess which guest here is wearing the fake one!

I wanted to get chef hats for Jim and myself to wear, and while perusing the chef hats at Archie McPhee, I came across this fabulous must-have pizza hat!  Jim and I argued over who would get to wear it.  Can you tell who won?

No, honey, that hat does not make your ears look big.  Really.

I also found some cute mustache charms, bought two, and took them to our local jewelry store, Linds, where the nice woman there put them onto earring wires for me.

Now that my outfit was complete, I just had to figure out a good dough recipe plus dessert.  I've been experimenting with dough recipes for years now.  I won't bore you with all the details, but I wanted one dough I could bake in our oven at a lower temperature (about 425 degrees) and another I could bake on the Big Green Egg at much higher temps, 800+.  I ended up making about 5 dough recipes.  One of the guests, John, is also into homemade pizza and he offered to bring some dough.  So we had plenty of dough!

John likes pizza almost as much as I do!
John also surprised me by bringing along a flashing neon pizza sign, which we set up outside on the porch near the Eggs.  I unfortunately do not have a photo of it, but it was way too much fun and is now on my list of things I really don't need but must have anyway.

Flower arrangement for the kitchen windowsill

To start things off, I made up an antipasto platter of proscuitto, sopressata, roasted red peppers, marinated olives, assorted cheeses, bread sticks and crackers and had a red wine to go with that.  As people arrived, they helped themselves to the appetizers, a mustache, and found their personalized wine glasses.

I started up the Eggs an hour before guests were due to arrive so that the pizza stones would be plenty hot.  John also brought an infared thermometer (this goes on the list of things I absolutely do need and must have), and we were able to check the temps inside the house oven and the pizza stones on the Eggs.  While the dome temps on the Eggs were in the 700 to 800 range, the pizza stones were closer to 650, but we went with that anyway.  I have to say, this party would not have been nearly as much fun if John hadn't been there.  He really knows his pizza stuff and did a lot of the organizing and work.  It would have been a lot harder for just one person to run everything since we had pizzas going on two Eggs as well as in the oven.

Playing with dough is fun!

We started bringing out the dough and one by one people put their toppings on and we baked up the pies.  We then cut the pies up into enough pieces so that everyone could have a sample and we served it up with tastes of the wine that each couple brought to accompany their pizzas.

Kelli and  Rob went first, and I have to say, they set the bar pretty high.  All the pizzas measured up though - it was pretty impressive what people came up with.

There were a lot of artichoke hearts, but everyone did something different with them.  The pizza varieties included:
  • artichoke hearts, tomatoes, pine nuts, basil, olives, red sauce and mozzarella
  • artichoke hearts, tomatoes, pine nnuts, basil, olives, pesto sauce and mozzarella
  • mushroom, pepperoni, red sauce and cheese
  • artichoke hearts, sausage, mushrooms, red pepper, red sauce and mozzarella
  • artichoke hearts, chicken, olives, peppers, tomatoes, red sauce, and mozzarella
  • caramelized onions, sauteed mushrooms and Italian white cheese
  • marinated artichoke hearts, bacon, fresh grated parmesan, red sauce and cheese

For the red sauce, I used my homemade roasted tomato sauce that I make every summer and freeze in small containers.  I like a very basic pizza sauce.   I would normally use canned tomato sauce or crushed tomatoes and then add some garlic, onion powder, oregano, and marjoram.  Basil if I had any.  When I roast my tomatoes in the summer, I also add into the roasting pan garlic, onions, peppers, and basil.  All that gets roasted and then put through a food mill.  So pretty much all the stuff I want in the pizza sauce is already in the tomato sauce and I just use it as is.  I typically do not reheat the sauce as it's going to be cooked on the pizza, no need to heat it further.  And with red pizza sauce, less is more - you really don't need much.

As the evening wore on and more of the wine was sampled, some mustaches began to slip while others defied gravity.

We ended the evening with chocolate chip cookies and a frozen dessert I adapted from a recipe for Sgropino from the book Fabulous Parties.  It was sooooo easy to make and delicious too.

Sgroppino *, Gwen's Version

4-1/2 cups heavy cream
3/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
2-1/4 cups sugar
grated zest from 3 lemons
Prosecco or other sparkling white wine, chilled
blueberries to garnish

Mix the cream, lemon juice (I used the juice from the 3 lemons I zested and then topped off the measuring cup with a little bit of bottled lemon juice), sugar and lemon zest.  I mixed this in a mixing bowl and then poured it into a shallow casserole dish, but there's no reason I could not have mixed it right in the final casserole dish, which I will probably do next time.

Cover and freeze overnight or for however many days until you need it.  I used a casserole dish with a glass lid.  What I did was put saran wrap over the dish and then put the lid on. I wasn't sure the lid alone would give it a tight enough seal and I didn't want any freezer burn or ice crystals.

When ready to serve, dish it up in small serving dishes (I used a cookie scoop and made little round balls), pour some of the prosecco over each serving, and top with a few blueberries, or whatever other berry you'd like to use.  Depending on how hard this mixture freezes up for you, you may want to let it soften a little bit before scooping into the serving bowls.  But pouring the prosecco over it softens it up quickly, so the harder it is when you scoop, the better.

We had about 15 people at this party and this made plenty.  I even have some left over.

* I have no clue how to even pronounce that.  Need to make up a new name for this dessert!


Everyone said they had a good time.  I hope so because I thought it was one of the funnest parties we've ever had, and I definitely plan to do it again!

My #1 pizza son Jesse and his girlfriend Melanie making their own pizza out of all the left-over ingredients

Pizza Dough for a home oven (bake at 425 - 550 degrees, the hotter, the better)

1/2 cup warm water
1 envelope (about 1-1/2 teas) instant yeast
1-1/4 cup room temp water
2 T olive oil
4 cups (22 oz) bread flour, plus more for dusting
1-1/2 teas kosher salt

Sprinkle the yeast in 1/2 cup warm water and let stand til dissolved.

Mix the flour and salt and then start adding the liquids.  Start with the water/yeast mixture, then add in the oil, and then slowly add in the remaining water until the dough begins to form a ball.  You may not need to use the entire 1-1/4 cup of remaining water.

Let sit for 15-20 minutes, then knead either by hand or with a dough hook to form a smooth ball.   Put the dough into an oiled bowl and cover.  Let rise on the counter for 1-1/2 to 2 hours.  At that point, you can either use it straight away or put it in the fridge overnight.  Pizza dough oftens improves from sitting overnight in the fridge, so if you have time, try and make it a day ahead.   Makes enough for 2 to 3 pizzas, depending on the size.

Pizza Dough to use with high cooking temps (650 is good, 800 is better)

This recipe is adapted from the website.  There are a lot of recipes on that site and some of them get pretty complicated.

22 oz flour (use regular flour, bread flour, 00 Italian flour, or a mixture)
13 oz water
1/2 teas instant yeast
2 teas kosher salt
1.5 T oil
2-1/4 teas sugar or honey

I used my Kitchen Aid mixer with a dough hook to mix this all up.

Mix together the salt, sugar (or honey), and water.  Add in the oil.  Gradually add in the flour and yeast on low speed, using a spatula if necessary to scrape down the sides of the bowl so that the flour is directed into the path of the dough hook and forms a rough ball. Adjust the quantity of flour so that you end up with a slightly tacky dough.

Let it sit 15-20 minutes.

You can then knead by machine for 2 minutes at the slow speed.  Increase the mixer speed to medium and knead for an additional 5 to 6 minutes.  Remove the dough from the bowl and knead by hand to form a smooth round ball.  Divide the dough into 3 equal parts, wipe the three dough balls with a small amount of oil, and place in a bowl or other suitable container.  Cover and refrigerate for 24-48 hours.

When you're ready to make pizza remove the dough from the fridge, place it on a work surface, lightly dust it with a bit of flour, and cover with a sheet of oiled plastic wrap.  Let the dough warm up for 1 to 2 hours or until the dough reaches an internal temp of 60 to 65 degrees.

Dust a pizza peel with semolina flour and shape one of the dough balls into an approximately 12-inch round.  If you're worried about sticking, you can shape the dough on a piece of parchment and slide the parchment right onto your pizza stone to bake it.  The parchment will slide right out from under the pizza in a minute or two.

Bake until the crust is nicely browned and the cheese is melted.  The baking time will vary depending on your baking temps.  Obviously the hotter the oven temp, the faster the pizza bakes.  The quicker you can get your pizzas baked up, the more tender the crust will be.

If you are grilling your pizzas, you'll need to buffer your pizza from the direct coals.  When I cook on the Egg, I use the platesetter feet down, the three little Egg spacers on top of that, and then the pizza stone on top of the spacers.  Some people even add an additional pizza stone in there, but I have not found that necessary.  If you're having problems with the crust burning, parchment will help somewhat with that.