The intention of this cooking guide is to counter the growing opinion in our culture that being able to cook is some sort of special skill, it’s not. I believe every adult should be capable of preparing a homemade dinner for two as part of their basic life skill set.
I know it can be an intimidating prospect for an inexperienced first timer but I hope to show it can be fun, simple and rewarding. Cooking is not only economical and healthy, it’s impressive if you can do it well. The fastest way to someone’s heart is through their stomach, or so the old saying goes. There is also the old proverb that preparing a meal for others is the purest expression of affection.
In either case, a basic mastery of your kitchen is a valuable skill to possess in our increasingly expensive and plastic world. Included in this guide will be photos and tips on where to shop/ source ingredients and cooking gear locally, even some vegetable and herb gardening tips. Anyone can cook, whatever your circumstances in life are, all you have to do is try. Over time cooking will enrich your life and the lives of those you care about most in wonderful, even unexpected ways.
Eat well – Live well.
What is more ubiquitous that Pizza? Cornerstone of the American diet and staple of any gathering. There are a million different varieties and permutations of the basic “flatbread with toppings” some are ultra-healthy, some are the exact opposite. I have been making pizza at home for about 7 years now and I have tried many different methods and formulas in that time and the one I am going to share with you is the best of any I have tried, my personal standard. Admittedly there are simpler versions of the dough which you are free to experiment with, but I have found that this method yields the best results, by far.
About 3 cups Flour (I use King Arthur Bread flower, Blue Bag, you can also mix it up with whole wheat/half whole wheat etc…)
1 cup warm water
1 pack (or 1 tsp) “Rapid Rise” yeast (That’s the best choice)
1/2 tsp Salt
2+ tbl Olive Oil
1 egg white
1 tsp Malted Barley Powder
(Easily sourced locally at Niblack Foods)
This method involves an overnight (12 hour+) starter rise:
In a stainless steel bowl mix 1 cup flour, half your yeast pack, 1 TSP of Malted Barley Powder and 1 cup of warm (not hot) water and stir until it is an even mixture (kind of like wallpaper glue). Cover bowl with a cloth towel and let sit at least 12 hours before you intend to cook.
2 hours before you plan to cook, take your starter and sift in about 1 ½ + cups of flour, about 2 tbl spoons of olive oil, a dash of salt, a dash of Barley Powder, the remainder of your yeast pack, 1 egg white and stir until even thick mixture. Salt can interfere with the yeast, so make sure you don’t use too much.
Turn out the dough to a floured surface (Ideally a piece of polished stone like granite) and work the dough until it’s a smooth and glossy texture, adding additional flour as needed but being careful not to get the mix too dry.
Kneading should take 7-10 min, don’t skimp on this, the better you knead the better the glutens will form and the final taste and texture of the dough will be. It will take a few attempts to get your technique and consistency right, you don’t want the dough mix too wet or it will stick and be difficult to work with, you also don’t want it too dry, experience will show the difference.
Take a clean stainless steel bowl and lightly dust with flour, work your dough into a ball and place in the center of the floured steel bowl. Lightly dust the top of your dough and cover the bowl with a cloth towel and let rise in a warm place* for 2 – 2 ½ hours.
*Note on a “warm place”: You can (in the winter especially) use some special techniques to help your dough rise well. One method (if you have a cheaper oven with less insulation) is to set your oven to bake on a low temp and place the bowl with the dough on top of the oven (outside), the heat will rise from the oven and keep the dough warm as it rises. Alternatively you can use an electric heating pad (the kind you might use on a sore back) set to low and place the bowl with the dough right on that. Both methods work well, with my old oven I used to use the first method, and with my new oven/stove I use the heating pad.
There are any number of various topping choices and you can use whatever you like, but my advice is to go light with the sauce and limit yourself to 3 toppings + cheese.
Cheese can be shredded or sliced and many different cheeses can be used or combined. My personal preference is sliced fresh mozzarella and shredded parmesan. Sliced cheese gives you more texture contrast. If using shredded parmesan, its best to add that when the pizza comes out of the oven (or just before), not when it goes in.
Baking on stone is really the best way to go. You can get a breadstone just about anywhere that sells cooking gear for around $20 and a “peel” (aka wooden shovel) will run you about another $12.
Alternatively you can use a pizza pan ($3) or if you have a cast iron frying pan, it can be used to make “Deep Dish” pizza, but the baking method is different (450⁰ for 30-40 min).
Preheat your oven to its maximum temperature, usually 550⁰, and if you are using a stone allow it some extra time to fully heat.
Turn dough out onto a floured surface, roll into a pizza shape and using your knuckles go around the rim (about an inch inward) to form a “crust” shape, dusting with additional flour as needed. Transfer to your peel (or pan) that’s been dusted with cornmeal.
Brush/spray the dough with olive oil. Using a spoon top lightly with sauce outward from the center and layer in your toppings of choice along with salt and pepper to taste. Slide pizza from your peel to the stone (or place your pan on the middle rack of the oven) and cook until golden with a little black and bubbly cheese (about 10-15 min), and let stand about 5 min after it comes out of the oven so the crust can properly form.
Cut, serve and enjoy.
Pictured: Half whole wheat-white dough, sliced fresh mozzarella, shredded parmesan, red sauce with fresh basil, spinach, red onion and mushrooms.
About:J.Nevadomski (also known as Juda) is an accomplished musician and artist from Rochester. He has recorded with musicians from all over the world for his project “The Fragile Path” (which he heads and produces) and is a veteran artist who’s paintings have been featured in galleries, newspapers and exhibitions throughout the Rochester area. In 2012 he was the “artist guest of honor” at RocCon: Rochester’s Anime, Sci-Fi and comic book convention. He lives in the NOTA area of Rochester, keeps a yearly urban vegetable garden and regularly cooks and hosts dinner parties for friends and colleagues.