Friday, April 5, 2013

Apéritif Friday - Homemade Pizza, with a Throwback Friend and a Dash of Rick Springfield

Despite it's accidental appearance as a key ingredient in our stuffed pork tenderloin, I loathe Pizza Hut. My aversion stems from the fact that I consumed it every Saturday night between the ages of twelve and sixteen due to its convenient proximity across the street of the Showcase Cinemas in Milan, Illinois where I grew up. Tribes of teenagers ruled the roost at the Hut after seeing Top Gun, or Nightmare on Elm Street (shhh - we snuck in) or Dirty Dancing.

Man, I miss '80s movies.

Maybe I dislike Pizza Hut because I've since grown to love Chicago pizza - both deep dish and thin - and am now a verifiable snob about the pizza I consume.  Don't get me wrong - I like Harris in the Quad Cities and Imo's in St. Louis, but neither holds a candle to Chicago pizza.

Once I tried New York style pizza on a hotel room bed during a business trip, then gagged and ran for the bathroom. Fold it in half? Gross. My crust. Must. Be. Crispy. Cracker-like. Unless you're going for deep dish, which is an altogether different culinary experience. A good one, yes, but not one that I would want to consume with as much regularity as the thin version. Thin-crust pizza might be Mr. Musky's greatest culinary achievement, and I'm highlighting it today.

Kinda. He'll kill me if I give away all of his hard-learned secrets.

So let's get the essentials out of the way, shall we? Apéritif for the evening?
Manhattans, with Hudson Manhattan Rye Whiskey, a gift from a former employee at ATT (Hi Tim!), an assortment of bitters and Antica Formula Vermouth, another gift (Hi Rob and Kara!). I love making cocktails with gifted I can smile and think of those who love and know me so well. For this one, I combined two parts whiskey to 1/2 part Vermouth and added 7 drops of Bolivar Bitters, 5 drops of Orange Bitters and 3 drops of Cherry Bark Bitters. Or...a dash of Angostura works just as well. I shook it vigorously in a cocktail shaker and served over ice.

Mysterious guest with the adorable scarf in the background?
My homegirl Michelle Hughes. We've been friends since third grade, with a brief hiatus thanks to husbands and babies and such, but I'm pleased to say we are once again rejoined at the ear. Since we rocked it out on the ski hills of Andalusia and in the classrooms at Reynolds Grade School, we've mastered the ability to talk for hours-on-end about virtually nothing.
For the diligent observer: Yes. Later in the evening our Aperitif morphed into a homemade vodka and orange juice concoction.
Girlfriend gets me. She'll finish my sentences and understands my propensity for the weird and bizarre. Example: I can text her that I just shopped for two hours at Costco and Meyer with a booger on my left nostril, and she tells me its reason #923 why she loves me. Needless to say, we played '80s music on Muse for Pizza Night, but saved the best song for last. More to come on that (be afraid). Mr. Musky is a very patient man.

Anyway - back to the pizza - it started the night before, with the sauce. I don't have a photo of the sauce ingredients, but here's what you'll need:

Tomato Puree (a large can...28 oz?)
Fresh Basil (one of the plastic containers)
Garlic - couple of cloves?
Shallot - one, I'm guessing?
Red Pepper Flakes - to your liking for spicy
Honey - to your liking for sweet
Salt and Pepper - crank to taste
Dried Oregano - palmful?
Olive Oil - clueless

I can't tell you what proportions, because it's a closely guarded secret. I can't tell you in which order to mix them, because I honestly don't know. The husband is very secretive about his killer sauce, but I know the ingredients as I usually do the grocery shopping around here. I love to watch him make pizza, because he smiles while he works and doesn't even know it.
Here's what I can tell you - he put it all in a food processor, blended it together, then gradually added the olive oil through the tube until the sauce was a consistency he liked. Then he tasted it.

Have your spouse taste it. Give your kids a taste. And adjust the honey, red pepper flakes, salt pepper and oregano to your liking. Make it a day or two ahead of time so the flavors can get married in the refrigerator. When you're ready to assemble your pizzas, nuke it for a few seconds to make it more spreadable.

On to the crust. Ingredients are:
Flour, Kosher Salt, Baking Powder, Garlic Powder and Olive Oil. Oh - and some warm water. Again, I'm no help on proportions. I used to make the crust, but threw a bit of a temper tantrum one day and have since been demoted from the title of Crust Maker to Observer with an Apéritif at the Counter. I guess Mr. Musky didn't appreciate his crust hanging in sticky blotches from the kitchen ceiling, and doesn't like Boboli as an answer to the base for his greatest masterpiece.
Again with the hint of a smile. Sigh. I'm still smitten.
So - dump about a cup of flour, a teaspoon of baking powder and a healthy pinch of kosher salt and garlic powder into a large bowl. Whisk it together. Then add a tablespoon of oil and warm water while working it with your hands until the dough begins to form a ball. It'll be a bit sticky, but resist the urge to throw it across the room. Channel your patience, work it and knead it so the ingredients all come together. Add a bit more flour if it gets too wet and sticky. Wrap it in plastic and put it in the fridge. Repeat for as many crusts as you need. We made four.

And finally, the toppings:
Now don't be like me. Please. The toppings are absolutely critical to a fantastic pizza, and they must be as fresh as possible. So don't wait until the last minute to pick up these fine ingredients, with Walmart as the only viable option because you are so pressed for time and are on the other side of town from Caputo's, the delightful Mom and Pop grocery store where everything is tons cheaper and fresher. Normally I'd purchase Caputo's homemade italian sausage, have pepperoni sliced by their master deli counter, pick out mushrooms in bulk and peruse the thousands of cheeses before picking out the ones I need.

Not to mention that Walmart doesn't even have block smoked provolone. The nerve. I had to settle with sliced mumbo jumbo.

So this cheese thing. Last fall Mr. Musky went to a Green Bay / Bears game in Wisconsin and stopped along the way in Door County. There he went to a local pizza pub, and absolutely fell in love with the cheese on it. He asked the owner about it, and was sheepishly surprised to find that it is Provel. At the time, I was staying with my other friend Michele in St. Louis and her husband Mike CRACKED UP that Mr. Snobby Chicago Boy had to concede that something originating in St. Louis was superior. I then received a homeschool lesson on Provel cheese by Professor Mike, ending in his trip to the store to buy me some so I could take it home for our next pizza experiment.

And true to self, like a dufus, I forgot the cheese.

But it didn't matter. Because Provel cheese, as Mr. Musky quickly researched, is a combination of Smoked Provolone, Swiss and White Cheddar. Equal parts. So we make our own. It's Miller's favorite part.
Speaking of family members, the offspring all assembled on this fine evening, completely intrigued by my mysterious guest and her very mature demeanor.
Video games, school friends, texting and teen parties all took a backseat to this:
And they were all in to see how far down the ridiculous path of inappropriateness we'd spiral. Not to mention the stories of mama's good old days, circa 1987, told by she who holds nothing back.

Right - the toppings. We like to pre-cook all of our ingredients so once it's on the pizza it can just warm up and ooze together with the cheese without releasing too much moisture and ruining the crispy crust. So Mr. Musky squished the sausage out of the casings, browned it over medium-high heat (be not afraid of glugging some wine on it) and drained it on some paper towels. He did the same with the sliced green pepper, mushrooms and pepperoni. Rather then actually help cook this meal, I danced with my baby while we belted out some Poison.
Because obviously, every rose has it's thorn.

Next Mr. Musky pulled the dough out of the fridge and began rolling it on a liberally floured surface. Again, his patience prevails, and he rolls it as thin as he can possibly get it before putting it on a greased (with cooking spray) holey metal pizza pan.
He then trimmed the crust around the edge and baked it in a 350 degree oven, just until it could be lifted off the pan with a spatula without bending all Gumby-like. Finally -  assembly time! He schmeared a healthy layer of sauce over the crust, sprinkled on the cheese and finished it off with the pre-cooked toppings. Through trial and error, he's learned to not overwhelm the pizza with loads of toppings, or the crust will get soggy and the tip of each piece will sag down in a droopy, tragic manner. Ideally each cooked piece should remain perpendicular to the counter when picking it up and bringing it to your lips.
Assembled Pizza, pre-baked
Mmmmmmm.  I'm getting hungry.

He baked the pizza at 450 degrees for about ten minutes directly on the oven rack, watching carefully to remove it when the cheese was melted and gooey and the edges of the crust were brown. The pepperoni can burn easily since you pre-cooked it, so be careful!

Meanwhile, back at the looney farm, my whack-a-doo girlfriend told my youngins that they'd better watch themselves, because loopyness was overtaking our faculties. And soon they'd find themselves in the corner, rocking back and forth, doing this:
Miller heeded her warning. "Mama? I'm really scared of this mystery guest! Make her go away!"
But there was no stopping either of us. Especially when we realized that we don't need our curling irons and bottles of Aqua Net for microphones. Parmesan cheese containers and tonic bottles work just as well.  "YOU KNOW, I WISH THAT I HAD JESSE'S GIRL!"
And that, my friends, put Mr. Musky over the edge. He started making out with his bottle of Sapphire. He cradled and snuggled her for continued patience and guidance, asking for her to intercede and show him the way in dealing with his lunatic wife and her crackbrained friend.
Praise the Lord, the pizzas saved us all and were ready to eat, after resting on the counter for a few minutes.

So we dug in and watched Rock of Ages. Naturally.


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