Week 19: Mother Sauces – Cheddar Stuffed-Crust Pretzel Pizza

I got a little ambitious for this week’s Mother Sauces challenge (which I’m just now putting together is themed so for Mother’s Day). Making, documenting and incorporating the tomato sauce I regularly make, a batch of which I completed last night for restocking purposes, would be a pretty big yawnfest. Instead, I chose to take the béchamel route and build a pizza around the cheddar sauce so introduced by the designated wikipedia page. What followed was a plot to not only create a pretzel crust to enhance the tasty mustard and cheddar elements, but also to stuff said crust with cheddar. It went pretty alright.

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I began with the sauce, first whipping up a basic béchamel sauce to work from.

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Then dry mustard, cheddar and worcestershire sauce was adding according to whimsy.

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The dough was rolled out and thin slabs of cheddar were wrapped into the crust. Transferring the dough into a pre-heated cast-iron pan without incident proved to be difficult but manageable with the help of a large, flat spatula.

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The cheddar sauce was applied liberally as the base with mozzarella and pepperoni to follow on top.

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A baking soda-boiling water concoction was dabbed onto the crust to earn that familiar pretzel browning from some oven time. Pretzel salt was specifically sourced for this project and the remaining half gallon requires a commitment to future pretzel projects, which I’m okay with.

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All this cheesy business requires a wine that can withstand a salty punch to the face. When a dish veers to an extreme savory note, a push towards fruity expression in wine can offer some balance to the palate.

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Torres Alegre – 2005 “Cru Garage” Zinfandel (Valle de Guadalupe, Mexico) is a sun-pampered, incredibly fruit-driven style expressing dried dark berries and overripe plums with hedonistic intensity. Alone, this wine can sit heavy, especially with a lackluster acidity that would normally be a deal-breaker for me personally. Alongside a plate of salty flavors, all is forgiven as the fruit brightens and sings. The same concept can be applied with most any fruit-forward wine and should be.

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Week 18: Brown Bag Lunch – Homemade Lunchables Pizza

This week’s Brown Bag Lunch challenge dangled the opportunity to poke at my nostalgia buttons and I took a swing at my very own set of homemade Lunchables pizza. Overall, this was a very smart decision.

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To begin, mini crust discs are made to fit the lunching tupperware I use on the daily for packing snacks for work. Puffing up in oven may be an issue, which can be remedied by a few stabs from a fork beforehand or a bit of pressure from above afterwards.

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Next the tomato sauce is made by gently cooking garlic in olive oil and then dousing crushed San Marzano tomatoes into the pot for a quick simmer. Fresh basil and dried oregano make up the whole of the spices used.

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Raw ingredients may vary based on personal preference but fresh tomatoes and pepperoni are great toppings of choice.

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A quick mix of cheddar and mozzarella made for a wonderfully complex assortment of cheese aromatics. For further instruction on preparing a two cheese blend, this brief video guide can provide the necessary guidance for mastery.

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Staging is key in creating a bag meal experience. For the majority of my packed food needs, I turn to a set of Rubbermaid kits I found at Costco once long ago. They just happen to fit the REI lunchbag I bought just as long ago.

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Being the responsible worldly thinker that I am, I chose to feature my handy-dandy reusable lunchbox as my “brown bag” for this project. Stocked with plastic utensils and an icepack, all this lunch needs is a nice view and a cool breeze.

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The build is simple. A microwave or toaster oven can zap this mini pizza into a blissful dance through a flavor meadow, but the extra effort can be easily overlooked when hungry.

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If wine is an option, rosé or lambrusco can make a daytime meal sing. If a lunch is forgotten until the later hours, a Louis Latour red burgundy can transform a Lunchables adventure into an epic midnight snack.

Week 15: Brazilian – Cast Iron Chicken, Requeijão & Heart of Palm pizza

To knock out a killer Brazilian-themed dish the week of my wedding, I decided to make a quickie cast-iron pizza using ingredients sourced from a gem of a shop selling all things Brazilian cuisine. Using shredded roasted chicken, requeijão and heart of palm, I constructed a delicious tortilla pizza, which was then paired with Provençal rosé that was to be served at my wedding two days later. The picture parade to follow will have just a brief overview the details of each step involved.

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Requeijāo cheese is a gooey, mild cheese adored in Brazil with many uses. Heart of Palm seem to have a fanciness to them I don’t yet quite understand. Working with both is a treat since I really don’t know what I’m doing even a little bit.

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The heart of palm seems to break apart in a rather satisfying way. The goal here is to blend it alongside the pulled chicken for a streamless sense of texture.

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With chicken and heart of palm combined, a little cheese is added and the whole is mixed for consistency.

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The tortilla is placed over a well-warmed skillet and topped immediately: first with a coating of requeijāo cheese, then the bulk of the payload, then a sprinkle of cheddar.

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Once dressed, the skillet is taken off the heat and placed in a pre-warmed toaster oven of 400 degrees F.

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For funsies (and tasty green notes), fresh chives are chopped for the final plating.

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Meanwhile, rosé is popped to accompany such a quick, light meal.

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Mmmm.

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There’s no other way to be.

Week 4 – Brunch: hash brown breakfast pizza

At the dawn of this week’s challenge, it was clear a simple breakfast pizza, softball it may be, would be all too straightforward. With three-pounds of homemade hash browns squirreled away in the freezer for any and all breakfast burrito needs, I knew I could tap this stockpile for the base of this next project. This particular batch of hash browns was made with particular care in an effort to perfect this brunch-time afterthought. I did okay. The thawed hash browns were still soggy with moisture I had failed to wring out of them. Luckily, it wasn’t too late to correct this problem with a minor squeeze session over the sink. When it came time to cook, I could only hope my efforts would provide a crispy enough base that could be spread thin while also supporting the extra weight of toppings.

Hash Brown Breakfast Pizza

To begin, preheat the oven to 350°F and toss in a couple pieces of bacon until crispy (approximately 12-15 minutes). Oven-cooked bacon is one of the many life hacks that has so many benefits it should have its own brochure. Not only does it provides complete control for even cooking, it also frees up the stovetop, makes clean up easy and keeps those damned grease pops safely tucked away.

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Meanwhile, the bacon fat rendered can be used in cooking the goodies up top.

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Just as with latkes and fritters, a binding agent is needed for the hash browns to hold its shape, which in this case is the shape of pizza dough. One medium egg is scrambled and tossed with the potatoes, plus some chopped yellow onions and chives for some pizzazz.

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The mixture is spread into an oiled steel crepe pan over medium heat, evenly spread out and smushed into the natural circular shape of the pan. Once set in place, the potatoes are not to be fussed over until the bottom begins to crisp up (approximately 3-4 minutes).

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The trouble now is the flip, which is why the crepe pan is preferred for its mildly-sloped edges. Using a spatula, loosen the hash browns from the pan all around so that it can easily slide off onto a cutting board, cooked side down. Having very lightly coated the pan in oil again, flip the pan upside-down over the potato disc and then quickly flip the cutting board over to place the potatoes cooked-side up in the pan. Cook over medium heat while placing on toppings of cheese and bacon.

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Place the crepe pan, again crucial for its metalware, into the oven to melt the cheese fully. To secure this pizza in the breakfast realm, an egg can be cracked over top and cooked until soft at this time. After pulling the pizza from the oven, the spatula is once more utilized to carefully move the pizza onto a cutting board. More toppings of tomato and finely chopped chives are added just before serving to keep their delicate textures intact.

 

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The pizza is pretty outstanding. The mix of cheeses (cheddar, monterey jack, mozzarella and cottage cheese) provides a medley of textures ranging from chewy to creamy. The gently-cooked onions offer a layer of extra flavor in each bite, the tomatoes pop with a subtle juiciness and the bountiful heaps of bacon on top and bacon fat throughout do not go unappreciated.

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As for wine, what better way to preserve the traditions of brunch than to pair this pizza with Champagne. All the grease and cream and fat of brunch dishes can easily be whisked away by refreshing bubbles and crisp acidity while more delicate mainstays like eggs are heightened by an equally light wine.

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Gosset – “Excellence,” Brut, Champagne, NV, the entry-level offering of the house, is the most complexity needed when brunching. There are hints of limestone and toasty brioche in the glass, and while there is a muskiness in the wine that mirrors the earthy elements in the pizza, the aromas do not inspire much reflection. It’s thoroughly enjoyable without the pressure of having to talk tablemates out of adding a splash of orange juice.

For those who indulge in this brunchtime combo, consider keeping sour cream close by for a truly hedonistic experience.