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RBR Tailgating: Phoning It in for the Bye Week?

Affordable, no hassle, pizza is rarely more than a phone call away, but you can always make it yourself. All it takes is considerably more money and a willingness to make an unholy mess out of your kitchen.

That's only true about "considerably more money" if you want some variety in your pies. Packs of pepperoni usually come in "feed an entire second grade" size portions, as do sausages, mushrooms, etc. Almost anything you want to put on a pizza will require you to buy enough to put on seven or eight pies except anchovies in their 2 oz. tins. That's a topping that knows its audience (Me!) and its place in the world. If you go any other route, you're going to have to pay for some leftovers.

How much this noble endeavor costs is also subject to the state of your larder. Are you the type of person who has flour, olive oil, and yeast on hand? If so, not too bad on the wallet. If not, you have to buy flour, olive oil, and yeast. You're about $12 down before we get this party started.

And the bye week is the ideal time for a homemade pizza party. There's a lot of channel changing. The focus is more big picture/glimpsing multiple games, as opposed to the maniacal amount of attention given to an Alabama game. It's easier to prep for an hour and a half and then pump out a pizza every twelve to fifteen minutes when you merely care about the ebb and flow of a match between conference rivals than when debating whether or not Yeldon or Henry should have been the carrier for a third and four run to the right that resulted in a twenty plus yard touchdown nevertheless. (Trick question - should have been a fake hand off, Sims to the left.)

My (Wife's) Pizza Dough

-          1 cup Warm Water

-          1 package Active Yeast

-          ½ tsp. Brown Sugar

-          3 ½ cups Bread Flour

-          1 tsp. Kosher Salt

-          1 ½ tbsp. Olive Oil

The easiest way to make dough is to buy a KitchenAid Mixer with bread paddle attachment. These usually retail from between $200 - $450. If that's a bit steep, don't worry. You can always get married and put one on your gift registry. Alternately you can knead the dough by hand, but by the end you'll wish you had just taken the plunge and said "I do."

Put the warm water in a cereal bowl and add the brown sugar and yeast. Stir until dissolved and cover with a dish towel until foamy, about 10 minutes. Add 3 cups of the flour to a mixing bowl along with the salt. Make a well in the center, like a volcano, and pour the yeast/sugar/water mixture with the olive oil right into the crater. Mix until firm and elastic. If you are using the KitchenAid, that takes between 6 - 8 minutes. If you've yet to find love, knead until your knuckles bleed, but only if they start bleeding when the dough becomes smooth, about 8 - 10 minutes.

Coat a bowl with a thin layer of olive oil and add the dough. Toss it in the oil, coating all sides. Add more oil if needed, but be sparing. Cover with a towel and leave in a warm but not hot place. When it has doubled in size, after about an hour,  punch it down, cover with a towel again, and let rise for another 40 minutes. You now have enough dough for two 12 inch pies.

My Pizza Sauce

-          1 28 oz. can Whole Tomatoes with juices

-          ½ medium Yellow Onion, diced

-          Carrots, peeled and diced in equal amount to Onion

-          Celery, diced, same as carrots

-          4-6 cloves Garlic, smashed

-          1 handful fresh Oregano, rough cut

-          Red Pepper Flakes, to taste

-          Salt

-          Olive Oil

Sauce Prep

A mix of diced onion, carrot, and celery is known in French as miripoix and forms the flavor base of more sauces, braises, soups, and you name it than can be listed. I mention this because the Cajuns are oh so proud of their "trinity," a blend of onion, celery, and green pepper. That's funny because carrots don't grow easily in Louisiana so they had to accept green pepper as a substitute. Keep that in mind the next time you hear an LSU fan bragging about Creole or Cajun or French roots. It's a compromise cuisine.

Toss a few glugs of olive oil in a sauce pan with the miripoix, garlic, and a bit of salt and sauté until tender. Rip the tomatoes apart in a bowl and then add to the sauce pan with the oregano and red pepper flakes. Keep in mind that the sauce will be topped with copious amounts of cheese and that dairy counters capsaicin as well as most anything else. Don't be afraid to step outside of your heat comfort zone. For those tempted to put in sugar, trust in the carrots. They bring a subtle sweetness.

Immersion Blender

When all the flavors are blended and the vegetables soft, puree in a food processor or with an immersion blender and salt to taste.

Mozz

I like to use fresh mozzarella with a little bit of shredded fontina. I plan on one ball, about 8 oz., of mozzarella per 12 inch pie, but I usually have a bit left over. Slice it thinly and mush it about in your fingers, tear, or press together as necessary. Fontina is a softer cheese and as such is a right royal pain to work with so I put it in the freezer for an hour or so ahead of time before grating.

Flour a work surface. I have a handy-dandy pizza rolling and measuring surface that I like to use, but a clean counter top works too.

Plastic Surface

Plastic with Flour

Roll the dough out and pop as many air bubbles as might remain and place on a well floured peel.

Pizza Peel

With a ladle, sauce the center and radiate outward, adding sauce as needed until moderately covered.

Ladle Sauce

Add mozzarella.

Uncooked Pizza

Add whatever toppings you might want and then lightly sprinkle fontina over the top. I should probably mention at this juncture that that, in addition to the peel there is one piece of equipment that is absolutely required. You need a pizza stone. This is a heat conducting piece of stone or ceramic that sits in your oven. I preheat to 500˚ and wait 20 minutes until the stone is good and scorching.  The stone is going to give your crust a manly, confident handshake.

You'll get better at sliding the pizza from the peel to the stone with practice. It's a matter of shaking and tilting and trig and geometry that is eventually replaced by muscle memory. If you want to avoid messy oven clean up on your first few tries leave yourself an inch or so of un-sauced and un-cheesed crust at the front end so you have some leeway for your toppings as you shake the crust forward.

Keep a long fork on hand to pop air bubbles in the crust if they arise, let cook for ten to fifteen minutes and remove. Cool for 1 or 2 minutes, cut, and serve.

Bacon Pizza

Above is the in my house mandatory bacon pizza. Eight year olds love it.

That's pretty much making pizza. I'm not going to tell you what toppings to use. If you like pepperoni, add pepperoni. If you like sausage, add sausage. Ditto the whole ground beef, ham, Canadian bacon, black olives, green olives, green peppers, onion, etc. standard pizzeria menu. That said, I've gone on for just over 1300 words so I might as well mention a few flavor combinations.

The Haller Pizza

I worked at a terrific fine dining restaurant that made an ambitious misstep. The misstep was lunch. What was envisioned as a Mecca for local executives to wow potential clients over upscale casual fare and a selection of fine wines quickly devolved into a dining room full of octogenarians, sweet though they were, nursing iced tea and sharing a chicken salad sandwich while they camped out for two hours. A lot of money was lost until it became a dinner only establishment.

As there were practically no tips, one of the few perks of working the early shift was the half priced lunch. In those incunabular days we had a line cook who generally manned the pizza ovens and on occasion the grill. He would quickly work his way through the ranks and become executive chef, but at that time was known merely as the guy with the really hot girlfriend. His name was Haller. There was a button on the ordering screen of the computer that read simple "Haller Pizza." If you hit the "Haller Pizza" button, you put yourself in his hands. He would make an original creation and you took what he gave.

My favorite Haller pizza ever: Sauce and cheese as above. Top with asparagus, shaved corn, and lardons. If you're not familiar with lardons, that's yet another unnecessarily French cooking term in post about an Italian classic. They are batons of bacon, cut to allow maximum rendering of fat to flavor other ingredients. This is my all time favorite pizza that has no anchovies.

Haller Pizza

Staff Meal

This is so simple and so good. A sous chef I worked with threw this together to energize a very tired staff fresh off a lunchtime weekend catering. It was his way of saying, "I'm sorry I'm about to yell at you to get moving after you all slaved over this lunch that required us to come in at five in the morning, but it's time to get ready for dinner service."

Instead of tomato sauce use crushed chick peas or hummus. Top with mozzarella, parmesan, sliced summer sausage, tomato, and black olives.

Chick Pea and Sausage

And if we're on the subject of black olives: Tomato sauce, mozzarella, fontina, prosciutto, and black olives.

Prosciutto and Olive Pizza

Chicken Pesto Pizza

This isn't so odd, but I remember when it was. There was a time in my youth that pesto was new and weird. I've added and subtracted sundried tomatoes, peppers, artichoke hearts, and feta. This what I like right now.

Simple pesto (Olive oil, basil, garlic, salt, with Parmesan and pine nuts optional) mozzarella and fontina, pulled precooked chicken thigh meat, green and red peppers, red onion, and sliced tomato.

Chicken Pesto Ing

Chicken Pesto Pizza

So on the bye week take some time to distract yourself with unnecessary and extravagant kitchen messes. This is a bad week to pay too much attention to football. You might find yourself rooting for Auburn over Ole Miss. Which you should. I hate to tell you that. You should.