Hot pizza, cool people

Few things make me happier than to have a great group of folks gather in my small college apartment, let them help with the prep work (grating the cheese is in fact a crucial task), sit around the table, and enjoy delicious grub in between fits of laughter, friendly arguments, and story-telling. Last night was the first summer dinner party to be hosted at what the boys lovingly named “The Shack,” and if it was any indication of the nights to come, I’d say it’s going to be a pretty eventful season.

Of course my default for any good dinner party is my artisan pizza from scratch: whole wheat thin crust, specialty cheeses, and creative toppings I’d say are restaurant menu-worthy but so much more fun since my friends and I get to dirty the kitchen (what else is it good for?) and throw around ingredients to each other to taste-test along the way.

For my basic, go-to pizza tips and other topping ideas check out my original pizza post here (https://eatpraylearnblog.wordpress.com/2013/05/15/becoming-a-pizza-pro/). For this get-together, I decided on prosciutto, arugula, and truffled cheese, BBQ chicken, and pesto margherita pies.

ImageFor the arugula pizza, I only added an extra-aged asiago, truffle English cheddar, and slices of fresh mozz before putting in the scalding hot oven (as hot as it will go). The last minute of cooking I topped with slices of proscuitto, and then when it finished I covered with roughly chopped arugula, shavings of parmigianno reggiano, and a drizzle of EVOO.

For pizza number two I pre-baked two chicken breasts in BBQ sauce, and other toppings included caramelized onions and green bell peppers. I went for a combo of mozz and pepper jack for the cheese on this one. This one is really all about the kind of sauce you use ranging from sweet and tangy to smoky and spicy.

The margherita pie was simply that (thanks to my sis for the fresh Romas from her garden), with the addition of my homemade basil pesto. Thick slices of fresh mozz and a couple handfuls of asiago and parm, and you’re literally in Tuscany.

We headed to my place after summer LifeGroup at Cameron Park learning how to play spikeball, showing the guys my secret tomboy football skills, frisbee, slack-lining, and hammocking (we do claim to be the #sportysection). This newly formed summer hangout group of Jenna, one of my best friends throughout college, Matthew who has been in our Lifegroup but left Waco last year to attend Bethel School (yes, THE Bethel in California), and his Waco BFF, Daniel (who happens to be a sophomore at a little place down the road where they bleed maroon).

One of the things I love about Waco summers is that you can become tight friends with people that you might not have the chance to during the school year. I’ve known Matt for over a year, but obviously since moving to California we haven’t really stayed in touch. I literally just met Daniel last week, and I feel like we’ve known each other forever. Bonding over pizza and frantically trying to shut off smoke alarms will do that sometimes (the best pizza calls for way-too-hot-ovens and that’s just that). Also, the fact that we all are united through living our life in Christ makes a big difference in these kinds of friendships that are based on so much more than surface-level small talk. These folks are seriously passionate, powerful, God-seeking, kingdom-minded, and wise well beyond their years. Every time I’m around them, just the way they simply walk out their life in the pure JOY of the Lord and speak revelation over others reveals more of God’s character to me than they know. Just last week, I asked if the guys could pray over me and Jenna during this time of applications, MCATs, interviews, and just overwhelming decision-making, and after that night I left with such a new sense of excitement and hope in the Lord from what they said and the pictures that God gave them about us. Long story short, this is an awesome group of the most genuine, encouraging, and hilarious people I could be friends with this summer and ultimately for eternity. I can’t wait for weekly shenanigans with these world-changers.

Image

Advertisements

A school-free summer

I’ve been looking forward to this summer all year because I knew that it would be absolutely school-free (except for that little thing called dental school applications and interview prep). After last year’s scorching hot months spent in nine hours of annoying summer school and studying every spare second outside of normal homework on DAT prep, you could say this year is much sweeter. Now that I’m well into senior hours on my degree plan, there was nothing I really could take, and given the fact that it’s my last real college summer, I was totally fine with that. Since I’m not a business or design major looking to land swanky internships in uptown Dallas and downtown Houston like some of my closest friends, my choices were pretty standard for college part-time jobs.

I originally had extensively discussed with my favorite doc in town about working for him as a surgical assistant at his OMFS practice. This obviously would have been my summer dream job because not only would it be probably full-time with weekends and nights off, but I would have been getting even more up-close, first-hand experience with all the fascinating and intense blood and guts of my potential future career as a surgeon every single day. A few months ago though, the doc broke the news to me that he was actually already overstaffed and wouldn’t have enough work for me after a girl just came back from maternity leave and hiring a new full-time registered assistant. I was super bummed, but of course I understood the circumstances. As a pre-dental student that doesn’t have my RDA, it’s basically impossible to get hired for pay at any dental office that you haven’t shadowed or volunteered with extensively and doesn’t already know you personally.

I then went on to apply to over ten places in Waco, mostly in the food/drink business or retail. Most weren’t interested in hiring just for summer or simply never responded to the online applications. After some stressful weeks of waiting and hoping at least one or two would work out and getting a few interviews (all during the time of finals), I eventually got hired to be a sales associate at GAP and a server at Shorty’s Pizza Shack – my favorite pizza joint in town. I was so glad that I wouldn’t be jobless and then probably forced to go back home for the summer to be bored out of mind or work somewhere I would dread every day.

Now that I’ve had either training or a few shifts at each place, I’m starting to get in the swing of things. Here’s some initial thoughts on each…

GAP:photo

1. 50% off full price employee discount at Gap, Old Navy, and Banana Republic. Enough said.

2. Mostly independent work, and I enjoy being given little projects to check off each shift.

3. I really don’t like pushing the GAP card. I’m not a pro sales major, sorry.

4. “Recovery” doesn’t refer to exercise or post-op – it’s the lovely task of refolding and sorting sizes throughout the entire store before I can leave.

5. Really laid back people that are easy to work with.

6. I have some shifts that are “on-call.” Am I already a doctor?

7. An upbeat and interesting music playlist to sing along with when I’m in the back scanning for LRT.

8. Not too shabby pay for retail.

SHORTY’S:shortys

1. Pizza, Beer, Sports. College hangout paradise.

2. If I thought Gap was laid-back…

3. On night one (of ever being a waitress in my life), I pretty much was already waiting my own tables and felt like I had the hang of things. I knew I was always cut out for the restaurant business.

4. I can now successfully carry four pitchers at once and more than one large pizza.

5. After serving two 21st birthday guys, I realize the confidence boost they get when I ask for their ID and the flirty banter when I gladly bring them another to keep on celebrating. I turned 21 not too long ago, so I understand 🙂

6. Free snacks when it’s not as busy is always a plus.

7. The total in tips at the end of the night are actually going to be way more than I first thought.

Between these two gigs and still teaching cycle a couple times a week (talk about a funny dichotomy – serving pizza and beer one night and leading sweaty classes as a fitness role model the other), I think I’ll definitely keep busy. I’m excited to see what these jobs will bring in the next few months and the people I’ll get to come in contact with every day. If you’re in Waco, come see me in my element!

Easy BBQ Chicken Pizza for One

I remember the first time I heard of BBQ chicken pizza a few years ago as it was gaining popularity in the food scene.  Being a mostly pizza-purist, obsessed with all things Italian and secretly hoping it’s somewhere in my family tree (a lost cause, I know), I was slightly appalled at the idea of such an American concept tainting the art of real pizza.  I eventually decided I’d loosen up and try it one day, not expecting to be impressed. Well, I admit I was wrong. I now understand the craving for the unexpected, slightly sweet and smoky BBQ flavor stealing the show from the familiar tomato sauce.  Caramelized onions are a key supporting role, and I personally love the addition of a little more veg and fresh cilantro.  Another great thing about this recipe is there’s no kneading or rising of homemade dough – don’t get me wrong, it’s still the best way to go. However, when you’re up to your eyeballs in homework and studying like me, pizza on the table in less than 20 minutes is simply more appealing.  It also lightens it up in terms of total calories and carbs.

Ingredients

1 whole wheat tortilla

Cooking spray or extra virgin olive oil

2 oz sliced rotisserie chicken (or deli turkey, cooked chicken breast, etc.)

1-2 T BBQ sauce

1/4 c bell pepper- any color, diced

1/4 c  onion, diced

Garlic powder/cumin/chili powder/paprika/crushed red pepper to taste

S&P to taste

1 oz shredded part-skim mozzarella

1/2 oz shredded extra sharp cheddar

Fresh green onion

Fresh cilantro

1/4 avocado, thinly sliced

Directions

Preheat oven (or toaster oven) to 450. I used my pizza stone, so if you have one have it in your oven while preheating. If not, a small baking sheet will work fine.  Spray the tortilla with a little bit of oil on both sides and put in on the stone by itself for a few minutes to help it crisp up before adding the toppings. Combine the chopped chicken and BBQ sauce and set aside. Saute the onion and pepper in a little bit of oil or cooking spray over medium heat with spices for about 5 minutes, or until the onions are softened. After the tortilla has been baking a few minutes, take it out and top with BBQ mixture, veggies, and cheeses.  Bake for about 10 more minutes or until the cheese is melted and the tortilla is as crispy as you’d like.  Finish off the pizza with the avocado, fresh green onion, cilantro, and try not to drool over that sweet, smoky, spicy and satisfying little pie.

IMG_4156

Becoming a Pizza Pro

If I’ve ever had you over for a food get-together of sorts, chances are I’ve made my homemade pizzas the main event.  Ever since my sister and I traveled to Italy two years ago, my hunger for artisan pizza and how to perfect it has been a never-ending project.  Since good, authentic pizza is one of my top comfort foods, I never get tired of it.  I’ve never made a pizza that let me down, and I always leave the night with a fresh appreciation for interesting flavor combos, a new level of perfectly blistered crust, and surrounded by happy people I love.  Many people think of homemade pizza-making as something beyond what’s possible with their limited kitchen experience or simply are fine leaving such a seemingly daunting task to one of their foodie friends.  I’m here to tell you that you can have the confidence to create a beautiful night of imperfectly perfect pizza that you can proudly deem “from-scratch.” Another tasteful and healthful benefit of making your own pizza is you know exactly what’s going into it as opposed to the mysteries of sodium-loaded (yet still bland) sauce, piles and piles of cheese (low quality mozzarella trying to cover up sub-par toppings), and dough that wasn’t hand-kneaded just hours before eating (like yours will be).  Trust me, it’s worth it.

Now onto some of the pizza making tips that really take it to the next level.

1. HEAT! Seriously, this is what makes a pizza great.  If you go to any pizzeria, those ovens are usually close to 1000 degrees and the pies get flash-baked for less than three minutes.  So unless you’re cooler than me and have your own wood-fired pizza oven in your backyard, your kitchen’s oven can be maxed out to give you that perfect pizzeria crust.  I have a pizza stone that I really believe is a key player for the perfect crispy crust, but if you don’t want to invest in that for $20 or less, a baking sheet/pan that’s been preheated with your 500 (or as high as it will go) degree oven for about thirty minutes will give you similar results.  I’ve also grilled my pizza which can be even better, and I might make a later post about that as an option.  To maneuver a delicate pizza in and out of that fiery furnace, I recommend a lightly floured with a sprinkle of cornmeal pizza peel (those giant wooden “spatulas”).  Usually ten minutes (max – just check periodically to make sure nothing is burning) or until the crust is lightly charred and the cheese is bubbly.

2. As far as ingredients go, try to resist the urge to load up one pizza with every single topping that you love. Your pizza won’t be able to handle all that love at once and will give you a soggy crust.  When I make pizzas, I typically will have 2-4 different kinds, each with no more than about 3 different toppings. That way, I can experiment with different flavors and try to make all my guests happy.  Since I am a self-proclaimed “flexitarian,” I’m not known to have a meat-lovers pizza, but I do love the occasional splurge on prosciutto or pancetta for my pizzas.  The main thing here is to have fun and play with toppings that YOU like, but don’t be afraid to branch out and try new things.

3. I’m a fan of light sauce.  Again, to not weigh down your beautiful hand-made dough, but also so you can actually taste that dough as well as the individual toppings or maybe that specialty cheese that would otherwise be drowning in sauce.  I usually have a general menu of one tomato sauce-based, one pesto, and one “white” (no sauce – just maybe an herb/oil brush or ricotta base).

Those are essentially the basics! I’m attaching the link to the whole wheat dough that was the first dough I made, and I’ve stuck with it.  Adjustments I make are to usually divide it up into two or three pieces because I’m a fan of thin crust, as well as sometimes freezing the dough balls before I let it rise for a later day.  Then I just take it out about 4-5 hours before to allow thawing and then rising.  Dividing it up can make the same size pizzas, just with the crust being 1/2 or 1/3 as thick.  I also like to mix in a pizza seasoning (basically just S/P and italian herbs).

http://www.eatingwell.com/recipes/thin_crust_pizza_dough.html

Here are some of my creations to get you thinking, but I didn’t want to post pizza “recipes,” because that’s the fun of pizza making! It really is an art-form because you create YOUR work with your hands, your imagination, and your friends. If you have any specific questions, just comment on this post, and I’ll try to answer them.

Balsamic fig, prosciutto, fresh arugula, shaved parmesan

Balsamic fig, prosciutto, fresh arugula, shaved parmesan

Ricotta, caramelized onion, lemon-marinated asparagus ribbons

Herbed ricotta, caramelized onion, lemon-marinated asparagus ribbons

Classic Margherita (mozz, tomato, fresh basil)

Classic Margherita (mozz, tomato, fresh basil)

Grilled veggie

Grilled veggie

Ricotta, green apple, prosciutto

Ricotta, green apple, prosciutto

Kale and spinach pesto, sun dried tomatoes, caramelized onion

Kale and spinach pesto, sun dried tomatoes, caramelized onion

Balsamic peach, goat cheese, fresh basil

Balsamic peach, goat cheese, fresh basil

Now go make some pizza. Tonight.