the ‘za of the week (jan 6 – jan 12)

For dinner tonite, Mare and I planned on a pizza topped with 2½ links of Italian sausage, six freshly-sliced white mushrooms, half of a red onion sliced, and a sliced jalapeño on half. The sauce was marinara, and we used mozzarella cheese.

The prepared pie awaiting entry into the preheated oven.

A snapshot of some of the fresh toppings. The jalapeño was a very rich green.

Homemade pizza for dinner = delicious as usual.

the ‘za of the week (dec 28 – jan 5)

On Thursday, Mare and I made a specialty pizza. This one did not have too many toppings, but it was a break from the usual marinara-based pizza. We used an Alfredo sauce topped with spinach, chicken and marinated artichoke hearts.

The chicken was prepared the same way as last week’s ‘za. Spinach keeps well in the fridge, so we used the rest of what we had. The artichoke hearts were marinated in an Italian dressing-type marinade. The combination created a very unique flavor.

Since I decided to use the rest of the spinach, it went over the edges. I used about two times more spinach than the previous ‘za, since this one didn’t have as many toppings. You’ll see in the next picture why the spinach needs to be covered with cheese.

This pie came out beautiful. As you can see, the spinach that wasn’t under the cheese dried up.

Amongst the savory deliciousness, the artichoke hearts brought a tangy flavor to the mix. We should have gone with artichoke hearts that were kept in something else like a garlic oil infusion or even just stored in a brine. Overall though, this pizza was very satisfying.

This post wouldn’t be complete with the close-up. Near the bottom of this photo, the spinach kept its moisture due to being placed under the chicken and artichoke hearts. Always keep this in mind when cooking spinach on a pizza: cover it.

Continue reading “the ‘za of the week (dec 28 – jan 5)”

the ‘za of the week (dec 23 – dec 29)

Yesterday, Mare and I made a deluxe pizza. This one was topped with: fresh spinach, seasoned chicken, fried garlic, sliced Roma tomatoes, a sliced portobello mushroom and fresh jalapeños on half. The flavors were bold and intense and made for a savory pie.

I worked with a different lighting setup in hopes to bring you better-quality images to represent the ‘Za of the Week. Here’s a fancy display of the toppings before they were placed on the pizza.

The chicken was boneless and skinless, cut into even slices with most of the fat trimmed off. Before it was cooked, kosher salt and black pepper were generously sprinkled on the slices placed together in an even block arrangement. I used the package the chicken came in to get this shape.

The chicken was placed in the pan seasoned side down and was fried with blended oil that was preheated. More salt and pepper was applied on the side that wasn’t seasoned. A good amount of water will leave the chicken which will create too much liquid in the pan. It’s best to drain off most but not all of the liquid.

Make sure to keep the chicken moving stir-fry style for even cooking. Once the chicken starts turning the color of cooked (not pink), I generously sprinkled some Italian seasoning (marjoram, thyme, rosemary, sage, oregano and basil) all over and stirred in some more.

At this point, about five more minutes of cooking will ensure the chicken is cooked thoroughly. About a couple minutes in, I evenly sprinkled some of the best seasoning for chicken: Tony’s Creole Seasoning. I didn’t add too much, just enough to modify the aroma just a little bit. The chicken was stirred some more, and right before I took it off the heat, I added some more Italian seasoning.

The order of the toppings is especially important in making this pizza. After the sauce is spread on the crust, this is an optimal method in placing the toppings:

  • Before sprinkling the pizza cheese on the sauce, sprinkle some Parmesan on the sauce to soak up some of that excess liquid.
  • Put about two-thirds of the cheese evenly on the sauce. Save the rest of the cheese to place on the rest of the toppings at the end.
  • Next topping: fresh spinach. Place the leaves evenly on the pizza. It’s important that this topping is at the bottom, because it will burn and dry up if placed on top. Also, use twice as much spinach as you think might be enough, because spinach shrinks dramatically when cooked.
  • Sprinkle the fried garlic evenly over the pizza. This is one of the hidden toppings since the pieces are small but supplies that extra punch in the signature flavor.
  • Put the chicken on top of the spinach and garlic. The chicken’s already been cooked. You don’t want to cook it anymore. The grease will also help keep the spinach moist.
  • Mushrooms go next. They need some cooking.
  • The tomato slices are near the top. They will need the most cooking and also hold the most liquid of all of the toppings. I sprinkled some Italian seasoning on each slice to give them some flavor. It’s best to sprinkle some more Parmesan over everything here to soak up the liquid that will leave the tomatoes.
  • I only used one jalapeño on this pie. I sliced off the top of the pepper, cut it in half lengthwise and removed all of the seeds from the middle. I made thin slices with both halves and placed it on half of the pie.

Sprinkle the rest of the pizza cheese on top of the pie. Place the pizza in the oven preheated at 460°F. I usually cook my pizzas at 450°F, but this one is loaded with toppings that will require that extra heat to cook.

Bake the pizza for ten minutes. Turn it 180° in the oven about five to six minutes into the baking process.

Serve this one with New Belgium’s Mothership Wit organic wheat beer. The potent flavor of the pizza opened up my taste buds to fully capture the unique taste of this extraordinary beer.

The close-up.

Sliced and waiting to be eaten.

the ‘za of the week (dec 16 – dec 22) #2

The second pizza we made in the week was the one we mentioned making the week before: the Texan-style pizza.

Instead of marinara, we used barbeque sauce. Two of the toppings shown here are sliced white onions and sliced fresh jalapeños. The seeds were removed before putting them on the pie to reduce the fire.

The other toppings were shredded sharp cheddar and ground beef. We used ground round which has less fat than chuck but isn’t as lean as sirloin. The beef was browned first before put on the pizza.

I decided to take a picture of the step-by-step process in topping the pizza. I know it isn’t a difficult task, but it looks neat to see how it all comes together.

After the dough is stretched, the barbeque sauce is spread over the crust with the bottom of spoon. About half an inch of the crust is left without sauce.

The sharp cheddar is sprinkled evenly all over the sauce.

Add the onions.

The beef was put on next. We cooked a whole pound of ground round, but it was way too much. I’d say half a pound of beef is adequate to load on a pizza.

The last topping on the pie were the jalapeños. Notice how I removed the seeds from each slice.

Baked to perfection.

This is one of my favorite close-ups of pizza toppings. I especially like the jalapeño slice at the bottom that looks perfectly cooked.

the ‘za of the week (dec 16 – dec 22) #1

Before the big server meltdown that kept me from uploading these photos, Mare and I made two pizzas last week. Now that everything is stable again around here, last week’s ‘Zas of the Week can finally be posted.

Here’s the first one. It was a simple pie.

Black olives sliced in half, sliced pepperoni, and fried garlic.

Assembled and on its way into the hot oven.

This pizza came out a little well done, but it tasted amazing.

A close-up of the cooked toppings. The golden specks on the pepperoni is the parmesan cheese soaked in the delicious oil.

the ‘za of the week (dec 9 – dec 15)

We made this week’s ‘za on Tuesday. I must say it was one of the better ones we’ve made lately. The fried garlic contributed to its uniqueness, and the blend of fresh toppings plus a little extra sauce on the crust made for the tastiness.

The toppings (clockwise from top-left): black olives pitted and sliced in half, half of a purple onion sliced, a sliced portobello mushroom, sliced pepperoni and fried garlic.

The pre-oven procedure *OR* This is how the magic happens

  • Spread some extra virgin olive oil on a pan with a kitchen brush. This helps the crust cook well and keep it from sticking.
  • Stretch the dough as far to the edge as you can and as even as you can.
  • Spread a generous amount of marinara on the crust with the bottom of a large spoon. The crust will want to shrink but use the spoon to push it back to the edge.
  • Sprinkle a generous Parmesan cheese over the sauce. This will help absorb excess liquid from the sauce and grease from the pepperoni and cheese. Use a decent amount but don’t go too overboard.
  • Evenly sprinkle about two ounces of the pizza cheese over the sauce. Start around the edges and work your way towards the middle.
  • Lay down the pepperoni slices about a couple centimeters apart from each other.
  • Sprinkle some more Parmesan cheese over everything.
  • Sprinkle some fried garlic evenly on the crust. A little goes a long way with fried garlic so don’t use too much.
  • Evenly place the black olives followed by the mushrooms then the onions.
  • Sprinkle the rest of the pizza cheese over all of the toppings.

You should have something Pollock like this:

The oven, preheated at 450°F, eagerly waits for this.

A close-up of the fresh toppings.

After ten minutes of baking, the pizza looks something like this. About six minutes into the cooking time, I like to rotate the pan 180° to ensure even cooking across the pie.

We placed the pizza on a cooling rack this time which helped maintain the crispiness of the crust. When the pies lay on a flat surface while they cool off, the steam stays trapped underneath and moisture collects which slowly starts to make the crust get soggy.

The onions will shrink dramatically after cooking.

The aroma was hypnotic. The pie was so tasty that we devoured every slice.

Next week, we’re planning on a pie with a Texan touch to it so tune in then!

the gold medal wine club

The writers at Modern Soapbox enjoy wine. We recently received an offer to enjoy exclusive, small-batch wine from one of America’s leading wine clubs, the Gold Medal Wine Club of California.

The wine was package very securely with Styrofoam fit for the bottles. Included in the shipment were: two bottles of wine, a gift card and their newsletter. This is one of the better promotions we’ve received lately and were very excited to give it a taste.

The estate grown wine is produced and bottled by Madroña Vineyards in Camino, California. One bottle was a 2004 Merlot, and the other was a 2003 Cabernet Sauvignon.

Both varietals have that signature, West Coast flavor. The flavors remind of when I visited another winery in Napa Valley this past November.

The Gold Medal Wine Club newsletter, The Wine Press, contains information about the included wines, the family who runs the winery, and some food recipes that go well or use the wine.

We give a big thanks to the Gold Medal Wine Club for giving us an opportunity to try out a couple of their award-winning wines.