Preconceptions of Eats

December 2 of 31 December-ish posts

I’ve been dabbling in making pizza as of late.


Except having just been in New York City and now having a trip to Chicago planned for later next year, defining what exactly kind of pizza in which I’ve been dabbling is not so clear.

Pizza is bread with stuff, right?

After watching a dozen videos online with titles something like “ranking styles of pizza” or “why is New York pizza better than Detroit pizza” my brain has been aflutter with the actual definition of the food I’ve been trying to create, let alone setting down a strict approach that would serve me for the long term.

I have this preconception of pizza, and it comes from the fact that I grew up eating a very specific variety of medium-crusted disc with a slab of various meaty toppings sluiced between a layer of sauce and a top layer of cheese. I also worked for a summer in a pizza chain (formerly) called ‘Panagopolous Pizza’ (but now and since rebranded to ‘Panago’ likely because they got tired of people trying to order Greek food, as what happened to us numerous times over that summer in the mid-90s.)

All that is to say: pizza, at least the mental picture of pizza in my head, is something very, very specific and yet, open to interpretation.

Who or what are you leaving behind in 2022?

Preconceptions of eats.

I mean, that’s the goal, at least.

I’ve been dabbling in pizza-making lately, and none of that pizza I’ve made recently fits neatly into my former preconceptions of what my mid-90s self would have considered pizza made so-called correctly.

Up until the aforementioned “lately” I’ve long strove to make good pizza at home. I added a cast iron pizza pan to my collection about five years ago, and that fourteen inch circle of seasoned iron was the latest (and one of the greatest) additions to my pizza-making toolkit. Amazing crusts, for one. But alas, still merely another kitchen gadget geared at my goal of matching that mental image of the perfect pie.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that approach.

Not that seeing the thing in your mind that you want to create and striving to replicate it is at all a bad approach. Arguably, it is the foundation of understanding and education. By many measures, it is the core of becoming better at that thing you are trying to get better at. Practice by immitation.

I can’t say we ever really managed it tho.

That is, I can’t say that trying to create the pizza that existed in my mind’s eye was a goal that I ever really reached. We made great dough and in the last year our sourdough crusts have been tasty and devine. We’ve dabbled in ingredients and cheeses and sauces and temperatures. The thing is that homemade pizza in a standard home oven probably cannot ever compete with what any local pizza joint can crank out every five minutes with high-heat pizza ovens. Our idealized pizza was restaurant pizza and I don’t live in a commercial kitchen.

Preconceptions fall hard.

New York pizza is a style of pizza that seems to be as much religion as it is culinary art form.

Sitting in a little shop a couple blocks from the 5th Avenue branch of the Public Library, I don’t know if we found the best pizza in NYC, but we certainly found a great example of it. Three burly guys-guys behind the counter asked us to pick our slice and then they heated it up in a big slot of an oven before serving it on a paper disc and a checkerboard sheet of parchment. We folded it in half and bit into it and sat facing out onto the sidewalk where folks strolled by.

I could almost certainly find a recipe for that, a million recipes for everyone else’s attempt to replicate that, but there is more to it than making the dough just right or finding a spice that fits the right New York jive to call what I created New York style pie. As much as sitting on a wobbly stool overlooking a bustling street with sirens wailing in the distance, I just don’t have the tools in my house to do what they do in that Big ol’ Apple.

So what’s my point? That I can’t make good pizza as I imagine it? That good New York style is out of reach? That probably the same barriers hold true for Chicago, Detroit, Neapolitan, whatever. Just why bother?

My point is that pizza is all of those things and more. Pizza is a set of tasty food whose definition is broader than the narrow subset of examples that I happen to hold in my own personal mind. Pizza is bigger than my preconceptions of pizza.

I’ve been dabbling in making pizza lately and it looks nothing like any other pizza that I’ve ever made.

There’s probably a style, a name, a geography that belongs to whatever the pizza I’m accidentally making now most closely resembles. I’ve been making pizza that works with the tools I own. And it’s turning out really well.

Thick, hearty crusts that more closely resemble focaccia than pizza crust. Salty cheese blends. Spicy thick tomato sauce that doesn’t turn watery in my lower-temp oven. Cured meats and pickled peppers and even more cheese mostly on top, but loose along the edges of the big cast iron frying pan in which I cook it. I cook it in stages. I cook it to a crusty, crunchy dark brown. I cook it so that those cheese bits fall down the edges and fry on the sides of the pan. I cook it until the meat is curling and the cheese is bubbling and the crust is crisp and cracks when you take a bite.

If I could go back to the mid-90s and serve it to myself I’d probably like it, but I may look sidelong at my time travelling doppelganger and tell him it wasn’t exactly pizza.

So, who or what are you leaving behind in 2022?

I’m officially leaving that guy behind. I mean, I think I left him behind a long time ago. But I’m leaving him behind for reals and for good, I think.

Pizza is more than what’s in my head. Just like bread or doughnuts or cookies or other kinds of amazing food that I’ve been striving in mediocrity to replicate precisely at the cost of actual good flavours. Preconceptions of eats have been holding me back, I think, and next year, both overthinking it and completely ignoring my own brain.

I’m going to try to change that. Not just for pizza, but for a lot of things. Bring on 2023.

Our Well-Loved Cookbooks: Cooking with Friends

Bear with me.

Just as I may be accused of jumping on the pop culture bandwagon (following my twitter and news feeds being filled yesterday with the sensationalized announcements that some middle-aged actors from a television show that ended fifteen years ago are having a reunion episode) apparently authors of cookbooks do the same.

Back in 1995, when the sitcom Friends was barely a season old, some bandwagons were jumped upon by a couple of folks who (with motivations unknown to me) published a collection of recipes co-branded with a soon-to-be generation-defining television show.

I don’t remember exactly who or why… but someone gave me this cookbook as I shipped off and moved out of home setting out towards University.

I’d be lying if I told you this book had been cracked open as more than a curiosity in the decade prior to this morning.

But, for a very long time, it was one of approximately three cookbooks I owned.

Was I a fan of the show? Well. I watched it, but mostly because in the nineties as a student without cable television, we watched whatever was broadcast over one of the four channels that reached our apartments via the little rabbit ears antenna.

Yesterday I couldn’t help but open my twitter feed and see countless people promoting the reunion episode trailer that had been posted online. Serious news agencies devoted writers, resources, and space on their properties to dissecting the cultural impacts of a ten-year-long, millennium-spanning sitcom.

I was reminded that I had this book on my shelf.


On my shelf mixed in among the other mostly-serious cookbooks.

Latching onto popular culture to inspire recipes is not an obscure thing, tho.

Beside the Cooking with Friends cookbook on my shelf there was also (I kid you not) a copy of The Unofficial Harry Potter Cookbook (which technically belongs to my daughter) and a more recent acquisition Binging with Babish: 100 Recipes Recreated from Your Favorite Movies and TV Shows, which I bought to support Youtuber Andrew Rea who runs a remarkably well-produced and genuinely brilliant cooking channel where he instructs and entertains around a very similar premise. (After I’ve cooked a few more recipes from his book I’ll post a breakdown in a future post.) I’d also be obscuring my fascination with pop-culture-inspired recipes if I didn’t mention that I own a healthy digital collection of PDF cookbooks containing such titles as The Geeky Chef Cookbook, Minecrafter’s Cookbook, The Nightmare Before Dinner and of course The Wizard’s Cookbook: Magical Recipes Inspired by Harry Potter, Merlin, The Wizard of Oz, and More.

All that said, one season in to the show Friends there was insufficient inspirational fodder for the Cooking with Friends cookbook to be anything but a co-branded cash-grab. The recipes are broad and basic. Italian food (because one of the characters is Italian) or coffee-house treats (because they all spend a lot of time drinking coffee in a café.) Later seasons would turn one of the main characters into a working chef (which certainly would have provided some interesting recipes) and revolve entire episode plots around eating, cooking, dining, drinking, and other food-related activities. But little of these stories is to be found between the covers of this book.

The little blue page flag visible in my photo above opens to a page with a recipe for pesto pizza a recipe that, yes, we did cook a few times, using both the pesto and the pizza dough recipe from this cookbook. I don’t recall the characters ever having much to do with pesto pizza… but the pizza was pretty delicious if I recall.

My twitter feed has already forgotten about the Friends reunion episode trailer that was the star of the news cycle yesterday. Maybe the bandwagon has rolled on. I spent half an hour as I started my day with a cup of coffee flipping through the recipes in this old, once-treasured book. It was well-loved, and perhaps now long-forgotten, but it served us well for a time.

Like an old friend. Friends? Friend.

Making Homemade New York(ish) Style Pizza for Pi Day

The kid was determined to eat round for March 14th.

We’d already made a pair of fruit dessert pies for later, but she decided that pizza was on the menu. What better way to make use of one of those specialty cast iron pieces that doesn’t otherwise see much day-to-day use: the 14 inch pizza pan.

Sadly I didn’t give myself enough runway to make use of my sourdough pizza crust recipe.

Some recipe research and light modification produced the following, which actually turned out fairly awesome from a “reminds me of that time in New York” slice perspective.


450 g all purpose flour
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon active dry yeast
1 1/4 cups tap water

1 cup tomato sauce
blend of pizza spices, to taste
2 cups grated mozzarella cheese
assorted pizza toppings

We blended the flour, salt, sugar, and yeast in a food processor, then drizzled in the water and oil until a shaggy dough ball formed. This was kneaded on the floured countertop to a smooth consistency, then divided into two smaller portions, rolled until smooth. We oiled these up and let them rest and rise on the counter for a couple hours.

I heated up the tomato paste in my small cast iron melting pot, stirred in the spice mix, and let it bubble away for about fifteen minutes until everything was nicely blended.

The proofed dough balls were hand-shaped to two fourteen inch crusts, docked, and baked at 450F for about ten minutes (or until I noticed they were starting to brown on the top.) Ideally you should crank your oven a little hotter, but I need to clean mine and 550F would have smoked us out of the house.

The pizza crusts were topped and then baked back in the still-hot oven for about 12 minutes until the cheese was bubbly.

She missed out on a school trip to New York city last fall thanks to pandemic lockdowns, but with a recipe like this… well it smoothed out the rough edges a little bit.