Here’s What’s Cookin’: Pizza on the Grill

This summer I finally got two things I’ve been wanting: one-on-one cooking instruction from Dan Vaillancourt and a really sweet grill. Last weekend I used the awesome grill that my landlords left at my new townhouse to make grilled pizza, using Dan’s pizza dough recipe. Pizza + unseasonably cool temperatures + the start of a three-day weekend + good company + dispensing gentle shaming on the lovelorn = what a wonderful evening.

Now that I am done with grad school, I can use the time I used to spend sitting in the computer lab being unproductive to do things like make my own pizza dough. Dan gave me a tutorial when we were visiting my family in Japan this summer, so I sort of remembered what I was doing and he was kind enough to send me a thoughtfully annotated recipe. Thanks to the internet, you too can have Dan as your personal cooking instructor via his web-based cooking show Funktified Food with Dan Vaillancourt. (My next Dan dish is definitely going to be his shredded pork tacos.)  So, I kicked of my Labor Day weekend making two batches of Dan’s pizza dough, recipe below.

Pizza Dough

Makes two 12-inch thick crust pizzas or 4-8 thin crust pizzas.
3-3 1/2 cups bread flour (or any high-gluten flour)*
1 cup very warm tap water
2 tablespoons active dry yeast (Dan likes Red Star; I went with Hodgson’s Mill because it was on sale at Giant. Also, it took me 10 minutes to find yeast in the grocery store. If I can do this, you can too.)
1/2 teaspoon salt
2-4 tablespoons honey, sugar, or molasses (I used honey)
1/4 cup olive oil
More olive oil to coat

1. Mix salt and honey with warm water.
2. Add yeast... mix lightly and let sit for five minutes.
3. Add half of the flour and mix (used a wooden spoon at this point).
4. Then add oil and continue mixing (still mixing with a spoon).
5. Add remaining flour in small increments and continue to mix until the dough is a good consistency (now I was mixing with my hands and, of course, my phone rang). A “good consistency” is something you feel out—-not too sticky and not too dry, but better a little sticky than dry, so be sure to add that second cup and a half of flour a little at a time so it doesn’t get too dry.
6. Knead 2-10 minutes
7. Coat dough lightly with oil, place into bowl, cover and let rise for one hour or until dough doubles in size. (Will it rise? Will it?)
8. Yes! It rose! Punch dough and knead a little more.
9. At this point, you can use it to grill pizza. Or, you can let it rise again for extra credit. Anyone who knows me would guess that I let it rise twice for extra credit. They are correct.

* Dan usually ends up using three cups of flour exactly, but I used a little less than three cups. It depends on how you measure... it could be a 1/2 cup either way. So, add that flour slowly until you get the hang of it. Dan insists (and I want to believe!) that eventually we’ll learn the perfect amount to add but overall it is better to be a little sticky than too dry. If you end up in crisis at the end you can use a couple tablespoons of water (for too dry) or flour (for too sticky) and mix it in with your hands to fix it.

On the Grill
So, you need to roll your dough out in to whatever size pizza you want to grill. I did two batches of the dough above and make six pizzas with thin(ish) crust. I used a rolling pin directly on the counter because my friend Amanda told me I could and her parents own an awesome pizza restaurant in Caruthersville, MO, so she would know.

The most important thing about grilling pizza is you have to have all of your necessary toppings assembled and ready to go next to the grill outside. So, prep work is key. Chop those veggies and gather those meats together so you can throw them on expediently when it is time.
To grill:
1. Get the grill as hot as possible. This is the most important part.
2. Throw a rolled-out-pizza dough directly on the grill. Wait five minutes. DO NOT open the grill (it really needs to be as hot as possible).
3. Pull the dough off the grill, flip it over, and top it. It should have cooked enough to hold together through all of the pack and forth. Amanda recommends using a "peel" and corn flour to slide the pizza easily, but we made a makeshift peel with a cookie sheet and it worked ok.
4. After you top the pizza, put it back on the grill and close the lid. Let it cook for 5-8 more minutes, or until it's done the way you like it.
5. Eat while it is hot. Mmm.
 Things I Learned:
1. Do not open the grill lid or the grill won't stay hot enough. As a corollary, it is hard to do multiple pizzas unless you start eating as you go. That is probably more fun anyway.
2. It is good to have a helper to roll out more pizza dough while you were grilling. I tip my hat to my multiple helpers.


City Marketing and Taglines

One of the funnier and better scatter plot graphs I've seen.




The most walkable place on Earth?


Growing Pains in DC's Gallery Place-Chinatown

In the wake of a brawl on the Green Line Metro, people in the DC area have begun to assess the past half-decade of economic and commercial revival in Gallery Place-Chinatown. The Washington Post has produced a fantastic feature about the tensions arising from the intersection of all the various contrasts Washington, DC has to offer: prosperity/poverty; young/old; race/ethnicity/religion/sexuality; crime/safety.

Whatever you believe about how much or little this represents dynamics in DC--in a year that has seen rising home prices, rising transportation costs, declining service and satisfaction on the Metro, record snowfall, record heat, record power outages, ugly local and national political battles, and random violence--this piece does an excellent job of painting at least one part (however large it may be) of the story of 2010 in DC.

Fights, teens among challenges as D.C.'s Gallery Place entertainment area matures
(Note: If the site has trouble loading, press the "Print" button in article's Toolbox to view it in printer-friendly mode)

(Article H/T: Lee Stuck. Photo H/T: Wikimedia Commons)


Workday listening: Cigarettes are good!

I listen to some pretty great stuff but this one is tops.  The kind of dark humor I live for but, sadly, this one is not a joke.  Some of you might of heard in on This American Life but here is the original.  So smokers please keep smoking, it'll financially help the rest of us later down the line.


The Future is in Regional Governance

Robert Puentes from Brookings's Metro  has a cool post on The Avenue, one of my favorite blogs, that makes a short case that the future success of a place near to my heart, the Hampton Roads area (757 represent!), is in regional governance.

Current thought in planning is that the places that we live and work will work better is we coordinate certain functions regionally, rather than at the local or state level. Yes, that's another level of government. Aren't we really good at adding those? Intervening at this scale and less at the local level makes much more sense given how our urbanized areas are organized. What I'd really like to see is less rigidity in zoning and more coordination at a tree-top level.

Transportation is the clearest example of why regional governance is important, since people regularly cross jurisdictional boundaries on their commutes. Planning transportation networks and investment based on the area included in a commutershed makes more sense than a dozen local governments planning their transit, cycling paths, and roads in isolation. Since transportation and land use are inextricably linked, I think some degree of land use coordination at a regional level is also necessary.

It's daunting to think about the logistics of regional coordination, but at least the 757 has it a little bit easier than our own D.C. area--it's all Virginia!

OK, We'll talk about it, too

I dabble a little bit in the sports blogosphere, and since I've plainly made my Cleveland & NBA biases plainly known on this site, it should come as no surprise to [whatever] readers [we may have left] that I'm a Cleveland Cavs fan, and I've got some opinions on the LeBron James "decision."

After the playoffs came crashing down around the team, I wrote a post about how, even if LeBron leaves, we (as local and expatriate Clevelanders and Cavs fans) needs to not embrace the typical Cleveland sports self-pity and realize that the past seven years of Cavaliers basketball were the best they had ever been.
That was before evidence of tampering, collusion, lying, quitting, teammate-stealing, egomania [haha], secrecy, and throwing-hometown-loyalty-out-the-window surfaced. Then I took a slightly different approach to the matter.

In short, the actual decision of joining friends, taking less money, and moving to another city is not a problem for me. It is cause for sadness for my favorite team, but it doesn't evoke emotions of bitterness and self-reflection. Both that decision was not made in a vacuum.

It has become increasingly apparent that his decision was premeditated to the point where the last few seasons of Cavaliers basketball were put in jeopardy, and that he actually gave up on his team and teammates in the playoffs because of his readiness to move on. On top of that all: the hype, the ESPN special, the information and misinformation–everything made the decision seem cold and callous.

When it comes to grief, I tend to jump around the stages a bit. I’m a fairly positive person, so I like to get to acceptance as fast as possible. I don’t try to tuck away my other emotions, but I try to get past them in a constructive way. Being on Twitter last night was a way for me to see everyone’s reactions to his decision. Maybe I was living vicariously through others’ anger. Maybe I was just feeling numb the whole time and couldn’t feel anything.

Well, I certainly know that’s not true. I know I felt something because when I read Dan Gilbert’s letter, I immediately agreed with everything in it, and then I also immediately agreed (yet tried to deny) any and all criticism of it. My quick thought on Dan Gilbert’s letter: he legitimately felt as duped as the fans, but he also knows that his letter made sure he retained some Cavs fans next season. Even when it’s not about money, it’s about money. Kind of a shame, but that’s how it goes, I guess.

Anyway, as I looked back on my post from May that sang LeBron’s praises as a Cavalier for 7 seasons, one part stuck out to me immediately:

“…we can’t exactly act like this is some shocking surprise when we knew the stipulations surrounding his contract. When he re-signed in 2006, the terms were he would stay a Cavalier if he won a ring or if he was in the best position to win a ring down the road. The Cavs proved they didn’t do those two things. It’s not like the Cavs didn’t try, and it certainly doesn’t mean the city and fans didn’t support him through the process. Thirty teams vie for the NBA title every year (well, usually 24 vie for the playoffs and 6 vie for John Wall), and only 1 can win it. The Cavs tried to stack the odds in their favor, and they couldn’t get it done. He’s not betraying us. He’s doing what a star athlete should do: getting better and putting himself in a position to win championships.”

I still believe that. Except for the betrayal part. That might go away soon, but I think I really have issues with the platform he chose to announce his decision.

But another part of my piece stuck out to me more:

“we as Clevelanders (whether resident or expatriate), need to take ownership of the image we portray to the rest of the country as sports fans, and to some degree we need to change it for the better. We always feel like our backs are against the wall, and we have a pervasive hollow and self-deprecating attitude.  We know that Clevelanders have pride, and that we love our city and our sports. We can no longer allow ourselves to be the punchlines and shameful relatives of other sports cities. But that has to start with us. We have to stop being bitter and living in the past. It’s not the curse of the Wahoo, or the Fumble, or the Drive, or the Shot, or the Jose Mesa [and now the LeBron/Decision]. We can no longer let despair and self-pity consume us. We have to stop acting like we are doomed from ever having anything good happen to us. We rail on LA, Boston, and NY for feeling entitled to win rings because “They have before.” But we feel just as entitled because we haven’t. Now how is this perception any different, except that we get to complain and invoke pity from other fanbases and sportswriters who read and write “Top 10 Unluckiest Sports Towns” lists? We had a really great shot, better than most, and we didn’t succeed. We have the money and the smarts to work to get there again.

…I say we can use this as the impetus to change who we are. No more feeling sorry for ourselves….Yeah it sucks, but we need to learn from it and grow. We didn’t hold back at all. Everyone thought we had the best chance. We set up everything the way we thought, but we overlooked a few angles and it came back to bite us. We must take these lessons and learn from them.

We can’t blame LeBron and dwell on the past. We can only look at our mistakes, try to learn from them, and move forward. No looking back to 1964. Only looking forward to 2011.”

Go Cavs.