Category Archives: food

Opening a coconut with the help of gravity: A Photo/Video Essay

Easy way to open a coconut: Throw it off a balcony.
I forgot to turn off slo-mo :/
The result of throwing the coconut down. Original sound effects.

Pizza for Shavuot

There will be no Spelling Bee post today because it’s the holiday of Shavuot. It’s the holiday that’s seven weeks after the second night of Passover. It commemorates when the Torah and commandments were brought down from Mount Sinai in the desert.

A tradition of Shavuot (literally, “weeks”) is to eat meals that are heavy in dairy food. From what I’ve always understood, this stems from the challenges of the laws of kashrut (what is and isn’t kosher). The rules for dairy are fairly simple while the rules concerning meat are very complicated. As everyone who has been given a lot of new rules at once knows, it’s better to focus on the less-risky stuff first, and when you get the hang of it, go on from there.

So: Dairy food for the holiday of Shavuot.

As I’ve been doing for many years, I made pizza for the holiday. The pizza I make for this is in the style of Chicago stuffed pizza.

For those who are unfamiliar with this style of pizza: Imagine taking a pie crust, putting a cheese wheel in the pie crust, topping that with a cracker, letting it bake till the cheese wheel has turned into soup, dumping kinda peppery pizza sauce on top, and then cutting it up and eating it.

In the past, it’s come out like this:

This is the most picturesque of the ones I’ve made.

My early attempts at deep dish/stuffed pizza was years ago and in a cast iron skillet.

I’m salivating right now.
So hungry!

It had been working pretty much fine. It was a little tricky to get the pizza out of the pan, but I was getting it to work!

Shavuot 2018

Everything changed as a result of Shavuot 2018.

I had the pizza in my oven for the 45 minutes it took to bake, and I went to a friend’s to play some board games. The temperature was low enough, and I was keeping track of time.

There was no fire, and there was no danger. I made it back with many minutes to spare.

I waited till it should be ready, took it out of the oven and let it cool a little on the stove as I’d done for years.

Then I tried to get the pizza out of the pan and into the cooling rack.

But the pizza broke.

the crust cracked in half as I was cautiously sliding the pizza out of the 12″ cast iron skillet.

It hit the cooling rack, and two pounds of mozzarella cheese goop fell through the mesh to the paper towel-lined aluminum foil.

It was all I could do not to start wailing.

I returned to my friend’s with a plate of what looked to be modern art nachos and a morose look that made my friends ask about my wellbeing. They also wanted to know where the pizza was.

“This is the pizza!” I exhaled.

I told them my story of woe and how the hours I’d spent getting the dough just right were all for this thing.

Since 2018

I knew something had to change. I had tried layer cake pans and cast iron skillets, and too much had been left to chance with each.

So I did the logical thing: I got a springform pan!


The Dough

I got a recipe off some site a long time ago. I feel like it was a Gordon Ramsay deep dish pizza crust. If I have time later, I’ll look for it. The pizza crust was fine. But a friend of mine who is from Chicago said that it wasn’t Chicago. He didn’t mean it offensively, and I didn’t take it that way. I like to make things better, so I tried to find out what to do instead. He advised a corn component.

In retrospect, it makes sense because the Midwest. Corn.

But then I have a good friend from Wheaton, Illinois, and he’s told me it’s because they grow wheat there. He may be reading this blog, and I hope he is because this is the only way he’ll know that almost two decades after he told me that that’s why his hometown is named Wheaton that I now know that it’s because it was founded by Warren and Jesse Wheaton. Sure, they were farmers, but they did not grow wheat. Way to keep me going for so long, Winston. Really good job there.

I adjusted the dough recipe to include cornmeal. That would give a different crunch to the dough and would add the corn flavor.

I was on the right track, but it still wasn’t Chicago.

After more research, I found a lot of places saying that it’s corn oil that gives it the necessary flavor. One recipe said to use just enough water to get the yeast growing and then use corn oil for the rest.

I tried it, and it ended up being an oily mess. I should have seen that coming. The dough did not rise. At all.

Now I realize that that was back when I had yeast that I didn’t know had gotten too old. Should I try it again now that I have good yeast? Maybe! But probably not.

The Pizza for Sunday Night

This time around I still used mostly water as the wet ingredients, but I cut down on what I normally use and replaced the balance with corn oil.

But first came the water, sugar, and yeast.

I let that sit but like to see the yeast bubble up.

After enough time came corn oil, flour, and garlic powder.

And then more flour.

When it seemed close, I stuck my hands in there, and balled the dough up.

The dough rose on the counter, and I punched it down.

But since the baking is a Sunday activity, I let the dough rise in the fridge from Friday until Sunday.

Cold and risen.

I like to line the bottom of the springform pan with parchment paper. Is it necessary? Maybe!

Rolling it out to a thin layer is important, but too thin means tears. Tears lead to tears.

For a 10″ springform pan, I make about a 16″ circle. The “about” is applicable both to the size and the circle.

But the dough is stretchy, so it’s important to drape it over the edges and then pack the corners in with cheese. So much cheese. But gently.

Or just dump it in like I do.

But I spread it evenly.

And gently.

The top part needs a smaller circle.

Still a loose interpretation of circle.

It’s coming together, and I’m really excited for this. I’m writing this blog as I go rather than at the end, so I’m going crazy from the actual work and from the pictures. So hungry right now, but I don’t dare get full before dinner.

Pinching the crust closed makes for something pretty. Or ridiculous if you have absolutely no affinity for this type of pizza.

I like to make some holes in the top so the pizza doesn’t puff up from the heat. If it puffs up and then bakes hard that way, it will be very difficult to make the sauce stay in place later.

Hang on while I preheat the oven to 425F and do a few other things.

OK I’m back after putting the pizza in. I set the timer for 15 minutes. I’ll check on it then. It should be something like half an hour overall, but this is a nervewracking activity.

Now, I have used all kinds of sauces for the pizza. I’ve used Barilla marinara and other marinara sauces. Kirkland marinara is cheap and in bulk, so I have that on hand usually.

About two years ago, I made the pizza for Calah, but I also gave a piece to my friend JT. His critique was that the sauce wasn’t spicy enough. The sauce was too sweet. I understood. He was correct. There was nothing to cut down the sweetness, and that made it, you know, worse.

This time around, I decided to add crushed pepper. So I put Kirkland marinara sauce and crushed pepper flakes into the food processor to make a more uniform combination and to get rid of the tomato chunks.

OK 15 minutes in, and the pizza dough top has risen some. I’d been checking and seen no sign of that kind of rising, but here we are. Could be worse, but it’s still kinda rough.

Another 11 minutes on the timer after rotating it.

After cooling on the cooktop for many minutes, it was time to open the springform pan and put it on the cooling rack.

Unfortunately, that’s the update I’ll have for you this time around.

The sauce will go on closer to eating time, but it’ll be too late to take a picture then because the holiday will have started.

Also I won’t be able to cut into it until dinner tonight (that is to say last night by the time this publishes), so I don’t have a conclusion for you as to how the pizza is. I have no slice to display.

I’ll let you know the result and reactions when I recover from the certain food coma.

Chili for dinner and chili for lunch

Hello from Friday afternoon. Dinner tonight and lunch tomorrow is chili. Calah refers to it as my famous chili, but since I don’t think I’ve written a blog post about it before, how famous could it possibly be?

Over the years I’ve changed how I make chili. I’ve added some ingredients and swapped almost all fresh for canned. I do have dried kidney beans in the pantry, but I still haven’t broken away from canned. I think that is mainly caused by a fear of breaking my teeth on rocks in dried beans. I’ve heard warnings from my mom whenever she’d soak beans for cholent. I have to learn to make cholent.

I used to cut up all the ingredients and throw them in at the same time and let them sit. Cooking time was about two hours. Now I stagger when I add things to the pot and cook it for longer.

Oh! On the topic of cutting up ingredients! I sharpened a knife with my whetstone. I do that from time to time. I use my knife steel to keep the edge straight, but sometimes knives need sharpening. Using a whetstone freehand is a real bother, but check out the results:

I cut up the celery–an ingredient that I hadn’t originally included–so I can add it to the pot first. Stubborn celery can add a bitter crunch to an otherwise pleasant chili. For those who like that, add it later, I guess.

Adding it to a big pot with a little bit of oil.

I heat the pot at a little below medium heat on the stove to start the celery. I stir every about every 10 minutes. I turn the heat down to 3 about half an hour in.

The second-most stubborn ingredient I use is bell pepper. I use green bell peppers. Green bell peppers aren’t as sweet as the other colors of bell peppers. While the other colors make for prettier chili, green bell peppers ultimately do not make it monochromatic.

Two bowls of green bell peppers is a good quantity, too.

The addition of the bell peppers about an hour after the celery I think is about right.

Dicing onions is a problem for many. The crying, the slowness. None of that is for me. I like the Gordon Ramsay approach better.

But I cut into the onion sideways first. I find it’s easier to do that part before the head-on vertical slices. I use a whole onion.

Then comes the tomato. I used to use canned tomatoes. Those are fine. Fresh is better. I dice those up. Two bowls works.

About an hour of the celery and bell peppers being in there together, they’re much softer.

And it’s time to add onions.

And then the tomatoes.

Stirring shows how the colorful bell peppers weren’t needed.

I used to use garlic powder for this dish. Garlic powder is easy. But it’s not fresh garlic.

And while I used to use exclusively random chile powder, I’ve started to use jalapeƱos, too.

What’s nice about the jalapeƱos is that they look just like the green bell peppers, so who knows what’s on that spoon?

Chile powder varies in heat. I use about 3/4 tsp in my chili.

After these go for a bit, I add the canned kidney beans.

This goes awhile, too.

The last thing I add is the meat.

I use two pounds of ground beef. I used to just kinda throw it in and let it cook with the rest, but I’ve long stopped doing that.

My college roommate Darren gave me an Instant Pot for a birthday a while ago. The Instant Pot instructions for chili said first to cook the meat on a crazy-hot setting of the Instant Pot. The meat initially cooked that way and the saved juices make for a better chili, per those instructions.

I now do that but for a regular chili pot.

When browned, it’s ready to add.

I then let the chili go till it’s ready to eat. I like it with basmati rice.