A Pizza Fiasco

This weekend we hosted our first dinner party in our new home. I was so excited for it! We had recently bought patio furniture for our deck at a ridiculously low price so we finally would have enough seating for everyone! I was also excited to enjoy our new deck, have new and old friends over, and try out some new recipes. I prepped for the night as much as I could throughout the day. My plan was to make four different pizzas, a raspberry-lime slushy, snacks for before the meal, and a simple dessert after.

People arrived and things were going pretty well; I was in the kitchen a little more than I wanted to be, but people were enjoying themselves. I had placed my rolled out pizza dough on my pizza peel and overturned cookie sheets, and these I had on top of the stove because I have limited counter space in this new kitchen. Well, the stovetop was warm because the oven was preheated to 500 degrees Fahrenheit. Due to this, my dough became warm and extra sticky—only I didn’t realize this until it was too late. I tried to slide the pizza, full of toppings into the oven with a quick forward-back jerking movement like I usually do, but it didn’t budge!

Uh oh, don’t panic Whitney, try again.

I tried harder, jerking my arm forward as if I was doing a quick, hard jab in kickboxing. A cherry tomato half and a crumble of goat cheese rolled off the pizza, onto the pizza stone, and then fell to the oven floor.

Oh no!

I knew then that I was doomed, absolutely doomed. I knew from previous experience that bad, bad things happen when pizza toppings come off the pizza in a 500-degree oven. I tried to play it cool, had a friend help me shove more cornmeal under my pizza so it would slide off, tried again, and this time the pizza slid onto the pizza stone in the oven like it normally does.

Whew! Ok, there we go Whitney, breath, let the pizza cook, please stop sweating so much, maybe, just maybe, this will all turn out ok.

I tried to give a confident smile to my friend B, who had helped me, as we checked on my other sticky pizza dough and shoved more cornmeal under them. The time came to take the first pizza out of the oven; I nervously held my breath and opened the door.

Please, please be ok.

A big cloud of smoke came out.


All hope is lost.

The tomato and goat cheese crumble that had rolled off were burning on the bottom of the oven floor along with the extra cornmeal that I had to use to get the pizza off the peel. I took the pizza out as quick as I could and apologized and explained the situation. I had no choice but to put the next one in, and so I did. The other two pizza’s I took outside to Scott and told him to grill them. We’d only tried grilling pizzas once before and they had come out pretty ugly, but this was a dire situation and I didn’t know what else to do.

(The grilled half of the pizza that stayed "together" the first time we tried grilling pizzas.)

(The other half of the pizza, in unintentional pieces.)

When I walked back in the house it was filled with a smoky haze and the majority of our guests were inside.

Why me?! Can I go hide now? Can this be over? Where is a time machine when I need one? Why do I have to get so excited and ambitious and cook four different, original pizzas? Because that’s what I do, I’d be bored if I didn’t. I would, wouldn’t I? Or is it my pride? Oh I don’t want to think about my faults now. More importantly, why did I put the pizza dough on the stovetop? I could have cleared space elsewhere. But I was in a rush and I was in a rush because I made four different types of pizzas. Curse my pride.

I apologized to the guests for the smoke cloud and suggested they move outside. They didn’t move. I tried again.

Maybe the smoke wasn’t as bad as I thought? No. It’s bad. Then why aren’t they going outside? Are they trying to further humiliate me? Calm down Whitney! You’re getting irrational. Wait, I see D moving. He’s going outside! Oh I could just hug him! But that would scare him--he doesn’t seem the type. Please, follow his lead J and O. I beg of you!

They went outside. Hallelujah! I opened the windows, and turned on the fans to try to clear some of the smoke. Three minutes until the pizza needed to come out of the oven, and then the house would be really smoky.

I’m going to burn this place down yet. I feel sick. I don’t know what I would do if the fire alarm went off. Where is our fire alarm anyway? What if I can’t turn the fire alarm off, and then the fire truck comes? What do I do with my guests then? Send them home with empty stomachs as they vow to themselves never to come over for dinner again? Mortifying. Whitney, you have got to get a grip on yourself. Be strong! Your guests look worried for you--smile! God, I need you to disable the fire alarm when this pizza comes out, ok? Thank you. Amen. Ok, breath.

I held my breath (for the smoke this time) and took the pizza out from the billowing smoke. I immediately turned the oven off and listened for the smoke alarm. Nothing.

Hallelujah. Thank you. Thank you!

With that I went outside and joined the rest of my guests. We prayed and ate. My heart rate slowed down, a bit. I finally got to join in conversation with my guests. People exclaimed over the pizza, said they loved it, and picked their favorites. Normally I would have been thrilled and joined in, curiously asking what they liked about their favorites, but the smoke-out ordeal was too fresh in my mind to relax.

They’re just saying nice things because they feel obliged to. They’re trying to make me feel better. I wonder what they’d say if I hadn’t made us all perform an obligatory fire drill. Would they still say they liked it as much?

As the evening went on I relaxed more and enjoyed the rest of it with our guests. Today I had the left over pizza for lunch. There was one slice each left of the proclaimed favorites. I heated them up in the (cleaned) oven so I wouldn’t make the crust soggy in the microwave, and took a bite. I was shocked! It really did taste great. I had been so anxious the night before that I couldn’t taste anything I was eating. (Do you ever have that when you host?) But now, wow! Maybe my guests hadn’t been lying after all.

Two Pizzas

I’m sorry I don’t have pictures of either of these pizzas but I think you will understand that certain circumstance prevented my remembering to take any photos.

The first pizza I’m sharing with you is a pesto-based pizza that is best when covered with fresh, garden picked cherry tomatoes as they have maximum flavor with a wonderful juiciness when you bite into them. The balsamic syrup drizzled on the pesto pizza is something that I had in a restaurant in Kansas City and loved. It adds a ton of flavor and gives everything a nice “pop.” Try it over pizzas, meats, pastas, whatever tickles your fancy.

The second pizza is a potato pizza that has a unique, creamy caramelized onion sauce that would be great as gravy over meats and potatoes too. To counterpoint the sauce’s richness I topped the pizza with spicy andouille sausage and slices of tart granny smith apples. I’m not convinced that I like the granny smith apples with the sauce so that is optional. I do think though, that if you just had caramelized onions without the sauce, and perhaps add typical hot Italian sausage with fennel (instead of andouille), then the addition of apples would be perfect. Mix and match how you see fit!

Pesto Farmer’s Market Pizza with Balsamic Syrup

Pizza dough for one 12-14inch pizza (When I find a pizza dough I can proclaim "the best" I'll share it with you.)

¼ cup pesto (If you buy your pesto, make sure you buy a quality brand.)

1/3 pound of red cherry tomatoes

1/3 pound of yellow lemon cherry tomatoes (If you can’t find these, use whatever your farmer’s market has as long as it is cherry or grape size, preferably yellow for color.)

3 small Japonese eggplants or about ½ a globe eggplant

3-4 oz. of goat cheese

¼ cup grated Parmesan

2 Tablespoons balsamic vinegar

2 Tablespoons water

Pinch of sugar

Salt and pepper

Preheat oven to as high as it can go with a pizza stone in it. This is important if you’re going for that crispy on the outside, chewy on the inside pizza crust that you would find in a restaurant with a brick oven or wood fired pizza. If you don’t care, then bake it on a cookie sheet that you put into the oven with the pizza on it.

While your oven is preheating, peel eggplant and slice into ¼ inch thick rounds. (If you’re using a globe eggplant salt the rounds and leave them to sit for 20 minutes. This will get rid of its bitter juices. At the end of twenty minutes, wipe off the juice with a paper towel.) Halve the cherry tomatoes, sprinkle the tomatoes and eggplant with salt and pepper and toss with olive oil. Place on a baking sheet covered with aluminum foil (tomatoes can get messy when roasted in the oven) and place the baking sheet into the oven to roast for 20-30 minutes flipping the eggplant slices once, until eggplant is very tender. Set aside.

While your veggies roast, make your balsamic syrup. Into your smallest sauce pan put the balsamic vinegar, water, and a pinch of sugar. Bring to a simmer, turn on your vent fan, and let simmer with the lid off until it reaches a syrupy consistency. Take it off the heat and let cool, the syrup will thicken more as it cools.

Stretch out dough to desired thickness and width. If it doesn’t want to stretch leave it alone for a few minutes and let it relax. It will be more willing when it’s relaxed. Place dough onto a pizza peel (or baking sheet) that has been sprinkled with cornmeal. (Do this only if you’re using a pizza stone that is already in the oven.) Spread your pesto on to the dough and then top with the eggplant, cherry tomatoes, crumbled goat cheese, and freshly grated parmesan. Slide the pizza into the oven and bake for 8 to 11 minutes depending how hot your oven is. When the pizza is done baking drizzle the balsamic syrup back and forth over the whole thing. Yum.

Rosemary Potato and Caramelized Onion Pizza

Check out this link as to how to make the sauce and prepare the potatoes. Make HALF of the recipe if you’re only making once pizza.

1 link of andouille sausage

½ Granny Smith (or other tart apple) - optional

Preheat your oven as stated above. Stretch out your pizza dough and top with sauce, potatoes, sausage, and apple. Bake in the oven until crust is nice and crisp. Remove from oven and devour—with a smile.


Paul Bunyan Wannabes

Yesterday Scott had a day off and we decided to be productive with that time and rent a sawzall with an extra long blade from our neighborhood hardware store and trim some trees. At least that’s what I thought we were doing. However, when I got outside I saw this.

“What are you doing?” I asked Scott. “Cutting down the tree in two sections.” Scott nonchalantly replied. “Really?!” I thought. We had talked about wanting to cut down some trees for some time now, but Scott never seemed to think that we could do it on our own and that we needed professional help—and I could see his point. “Oh, ok. I’ll hold your ladder.” I said, thinking that Scott was crazy, but at the same time admiring his brave, take charge attitude and rejoicing that we were going to reclaim our front yard from the wild.

So we went at it with full steam ahead. We cut down that tree and then Scott moved on to the next while I trimmed off the branches of the fallen tree and threw them into a pile. It was hard, sweaty work and the blade of our sawzall was the first to show it. It became so hot that the metal bent and warped into and “S” shape. Still, we plowed on cutting down our third tree. Since we only had one saw I had to use our long-handled snips to cut off branches that would normally be too big for it. Being my competitive, determined self I faced each branch with defiant resolve as I straddled it and place the handles of the snips on the inside of my knees and adducted with all of my might “grunting” like Maria Sharapova. Dead, brittle branches brought out my inner Lara Croft Tomb Raider. I came after them swinging the snips around my head as I galloped toward the branch, bringing the snips down yelling “hi-yaa!” as the branch snapped and shattered. I finished the deal with a “tough guy” shrug and looked menacingly around at the other branches as if daring them to challenge me.

Scott, meanwhile, was having a tougher time with the now possessed “S” curved sawzall. It vibrated terribly, seemingly going nowhere at all, and had a mean kick-back when the blade got caught in the wood that would jam his arm. On our fourth, and last, tree he’d had enough and tried to push and kick the tree the rest of the way over. When that didn’t work, I suggested tying a rope around the top and pulling while I pushed. Still no luck. Then Scott thought he’d tie the rope to his truck and pull the tree down with that. “Brilliant” I thought, that always works in the movies. Excited, we tied the rope to his car and I took pictures and cheered my man on.

The excitement was short lived. The rope snapped.

We tied it again, the rope snapped again in a different place. Disappointed, and knowing that Scott needed a break, I grabbed the sawzall and told the tree it’s time had come and I went at it. It hurt my arm and my hands and my wrist, but I bit my lip and tried harder. I dislike sissies and I didn’t intend to be one. The jiggling and snapping of my arm to and fro at the mercy of the psychotic will of the sawzall only made me angry as I gripped the beast tighter and forced it further into the tree. With my adrenaline waning, I stopped to rest with my thumb throbbing from a newly formed blister. Scott took over then, and with my pushing and him sawing we were finally able to topple that tree!

After we cut down that tree we decided to stop. So what if our yard was in shambles and it looked like a tornado had passed through?

We were hot, sweaty, sticky, covered with dirt and sawdust, exhausted, dehydrated, short on patience, and, just to top it off for good measure, a bee stung me. Yup, we’d had enough. After showering, speeding to McDonalds with our free smoothie coupons, and then guzzling the smoothies down in delicious silence punctuated with the occasional “Ahhh,” we started to feel better.

For supper that night I made a delicious, vegetarian meal that Scott declared was in the Top Five of Any Meal in Durham. For Scott to rank something vegetarian that high is a great compliment. I toasted tortilla shells in the oven so they’d become crisp like a cracker, spread on a slightly sweet and smoky black bean purée, and topped it with avocado slices, broiled tomatoes, black beans, and peach slices that had been tossed in a cumin-lime vinaigrette. Simple, fast, refreshing, and delish—sounds like a keeper to me! I hope you enjoy!

Avocado Salad on a Tortilla Spread with Black Bean Puree

While this is great as a meal, it can also be served as hors d’oeuvres. Also, depending on the tortilla used, I believe this could also be a vegan recipe. Finally, I think some thinly sliced red onion would taste and look great on this if you would like to add it--I didn't because a certain person doesn't like ANY raw onions.

Serves 2

2 whole wheat tortillas
nonstick spray (I used olive oil spray)
1 can of black beans, drained and rinsed
1/2 medium-large onion, diced
1 clove of garlic, minced
1/4 teaspoon of ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon salt
Juice from 1/2 a lime or about 2 tablespoons
1 Tablespoon water
1 avocado, sliced
1 peach, sliced (You can substitute with a mango (very sweet) or pineapple (more tart) if peaches are not good.)
About 14 grape tomatoes, halved
Salt and pepper
VINAIGRETTE adapted from a Bobby Flay recipe
2 Tablespoons fresh lime juice
1 Tablespoon rice wine vinegar
1/2 Tablespoon (1 1/2 teaspoons) honey
1/2 Tablespoon toasted cumin seeds or around 1/3 teaspoon of ground cumin
2 Tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro leaves (I did not have this b/c I didn't have any on hand, but I think it would be better with cilantro)
1-2 Tablespoons of olive oil
Salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 400F.
While the oven preheats, sauté the onion in olive oil over medium heat until golden brown (this is where the sweetness comes from in the black bean paste). When the onions are almost done, add the garlic about 30 seconds before removing the pan from the heat. Put 2/3 of the black beans in a food processor with all of the onion and garlic, 1/4 teaspoon ground cumin (this gives the paste the "smoky" flavor), 1/4 teaspoon salt, 2 Tablespoons lime juice, and 1 Tablespoon water. Puree the mixture until a smooth paste forms.

Spray each sides of the tortilla with nonstick spray and lay flat on a cookie sheet. To prevent tortilla from bubbling (see picture below), try poking holes in the tortilla with the tines of a fork. Salt and pepper halved tomatoes and arrange skin-side down on the baking pan next to the tortillas. When oven is preheated, toast the tomatoes and tortillas for 10 minutes or until the tortillas are crisp and hard. I cook the tomatoes because we like them better this way but if you're a raw tomato lover you can certainly skip this step!

While the tortillas and tomatoes toast, make the vinaigrette. Combine in a bowl lime juice, vinegar, honey, cumin, cilantro and whisk in the oil. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Peal and slice the peach and avocado* and place slices immediately into the vinaigrette so the avocado slices don't turn brown.

When the tortillas are cool enough to handle spread on your black bean paste.

See that big air bubble I got? Don't worry if you have this, your tortilla will just be all the lighter and more crispy for it!
See, you can hardly tell it was there.
Top with tomatoes, the rest of the beans, and the peach and avocado slices, straining the vinaigrette from them as you take them out of the bowl. Drizzle some of the vinaigrette over it all for lots of flavor, but make sure you don't end up with too much vinaigrette on your tortillas as they'll turn soggy. Cut into slices and enjoy!

*First halve the avocado and remove the pit/seed. Then take a knife and slice through the fruit, but not through the skin, longways to get nice long slices. Then, take a spoon and carefully scoop the fruit out and separate the slices with you fingers.