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The Unnatural Cook

a chronicle of weekly meal plans from someone who can't just throw a meal together

Tag Archives: Pizza Dough

Taxes trump blog. It’s the governments fault I’m behind on my posting.

Wednesday night was a bit of a watershed evening for a few reasons:

1) I successfully used a mandolin. I once took a one night cooking class in which the teacher tried to teach me to use a mandolin. “It’s so easy! I love my mandolin!” she exclaimed. It’s so dangerous, I’m going to slice my fingers off, I thought. I was unable to keep the thing steady or make the even slices the tool insists upon. The instructor had never met a student who couldn’t work a mandolin. But then we bought one of our own. And it has a nifty little notch that keeps it firm across the top of a bowl. Using a mandolin horizontally instead of vertically is all I needed. “It’s so easy! I love my mandolin!”

2) The dough rolled out in less than a minute. I don’t know if using whole wheat dough makes the process smoother but I didn’t even need a rolling pin; I was able to spread it with knuckles & fingertips alone.

3) About half way through preparing the meal I realized I’d made it up. I wasn’t following a recipe. I just had the idea that whole wheat pizza with potatoes, rosemary, goat cheese & spinach would be good. That, my friends is the way a natural cook thinks. Who knew?

4) I took the pizza out of the oven when I smelled the crust burning. I know, you think this is very obvious. But I am the type of cook who used to think, “It says 20 minutes, it’s only been 10, it can’t be burning.” I would ignore the smell, even to some extent the smoke, until it was unsalvageable. This time I checked it, saw the one on the bottom was cooking too fast, took it out & finished cooking the pizzas on the top rack, one at a time. When I said at the outset this cooking thing did not come naturally to me, I was really, really not kidding.


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So keeping this blog at the same time as I’m in grad school is proving fruitful. (Note food allusion.)

I am starting to see that my slavish devotion to recipes is a way of not learning. Learning new things takes time and I have never really been interested in taking the time to learn how to cook. I thought I was getting around the problem by following recipes; I could follow instructions and voila! dinner would appear…

But then I started writing about the process of following recipes and made the unfortunate discovery that it was more relaxing to cook when I didn’t follow recipes. It was upsetting because I still didn’t want to devote the time to learn to cook. Then the lessons of grad school kicked in. It turns out that learning to write is really about learning to pay attention to what’s happening when you read. Reading isn’t something new I have to add to my life, I just need to keep doing the same thing, but differently. And now I think it might be true of cooking: I already do it, if I can pay attention to what’s happening when I cook, I can become a better cook.

The blog is basically a way to pay attention to what goes wrong (and right) and use the information to improve the process. To wit: tonight’s pizza. On Week 2: Sunday Night I lamented my inability to roll out pizza dough. I researched to no avail. Next time we had pizza I made sure to plan it for a night that my husband would be home to roll it out; but I couldn’t keep that up for ever. Plus there was something about knowing I would have to write about the pizza, knowing how boring it would be to  write about how I couldn’t roll it out – again – that made me and my husband pay attention to when rolling the dough worked and when it failed. (Unfortunately for him he’s gotten dragged into the thing now)  And guess what? He figured out a technique that worked! (Remember, he’s the natural cook in the family.)

1) Don’t oil the pizza when you put it in the bowl to rise – oil the bowl that the dough is rising in. The idea is to touch the dough as little as possible and an oiled bowl allows you to flip it out onto the rolling surface without touching it.

2) Drown your work surface in flour before tipping dough out. Don’t be shy. Don’t be stingy. Don’t be obsessed with not wasting things. Flour the surface with gusto, then tip the dough into the middle.

3) Dust the dough & your hands with flour.

4) Punch the dough down & use your knuckles & fingertips to start pushing dough out into circle. Here’s a video of a lady who does this well.

5) When you’ve gotten as far as you can with your hands, use a floured rolling pin to keep expanding the circle. The rolling pin will take it to about 1/2 the size you need.

6) The next step is tricky and I haven’t mastered yet: Lift dough up on closed fists and allow gravity to do the rest of the work stretching the dough out by turning the dough around your fists in an ever widening circle.

I didn’t get that last step quite right this time but I’ll be sure to pay attention next time my husband does it – and I’ll know what to look for. Even still, tonight was the most successful and least stressful interaction I’ve ever had with a ball of dough!

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It looks so innocent. Pizza dough rising in a bowl. But no matter how hard I try, I cannot figure out how to roll it out properly. I even did research. I watched videos of people rolling dough out online. Theirs spreads; mine snaps back to its original form with a determination I can only admire. I love eating homemade pizza and I always think it’s going to be an easy dinner. I keep pizza dough in the freezer because I persist in this delusion no matter how many times the rolling goes awry. Tonight John rolled one out (banged, stretched & twirled would be more accurate) and tried to help me with the second. Two false starts. One success(ish). Thank god I’m an optimist – otherwise there’d be no more pizza.

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