Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Pizza Club Week #3

As set forth earlier, each week I have been hosting a weekly pizza night at my place. But I've hated calling it that because pizza night, while apt, sounds a bit underwhelming. So henceforth, pizza night is now called Pizza Club.

I have to say, last night's Pizza Club went particularly well.


We started out the evening with the pizza above, a white pizza with garlic toasted with cumin, mozzarella, goat cheese, serrano chilies, and cilantro. I purposely held back on the mozzarella and goat cheese as not to overwhelm the pie; I will be increasing the amounts next time. I thought the serrano chilies might be too hot but they gave the pizza a perfect kick. I can't wait to try this one again next week.

In effort to master the general basics of pizza-making, I kept my remaining three pies simple: two pepperoni pizzas and one cheese. Out of these three, the cheese was the best.

This batch of pizzas was my second round with my new Baking Steel. The concept behind the Baking Steel is that steel transfers heat better than a traditional pizza stone. Better heat transfer means a crisp, chewier crust. (Read more about the Baking Steel here and here. I foresee this thing becoming my new best friend.) The crust on the goat cheese-chilies-cilantro pizza was the best I've ever made — light, airy, and crispy with a slight chew (if I can figure out how to to bring out that chew, texture-wise, it will be near-perfect). Because I was worried about burning the cheese*, I pulled the remaining three pizzas out of the oven before the crust was done cooking. Next time I might just have to burn the cheese (or cover it with foil or something).

*This, in spite of freezing the cheese about half an hour before baking, as Kenji Alt-Lopez recommends.

The turn-out was great, 11 people showed up. I wasn't sure if four pizzas would feed that many, so I was grateful for the awesome salad Emily brought and for the drinks Al contributed to supplement the meal.

So far, Pizza Club is off to an amazing start. I'm flattered by the amount of people who have taken interest in my pizza. Every week leftovers are sparse if there are any at all. And I'm grateful to my awesome roommates who allow me to commandeer the kitchen (and fridge and house) for a night (and then some). I hope to one day be as good as making pizza as I am at choosing friends. Thank you all.

Afterword: With the name Pizza Club I am not hoping to create any kind of exclusivity; all are welcome.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Act Fast

[Warning: Spoilers Ahead]

I was genuinely surprised at how much I loved last night's series finale of The Office, and surprised at how moved I was at times. (Did anyone else get all emo when Erin discovered her birth parents?) At the end of the episode, Pam (played by Jenna Fischer) had a moment alone with the camera where she reflects on the past nine years that the documentary crew has spent filming her workplace (and life). What she said struck a deep, resounding chord:

I didn't watch the whole documentary. After a few episodes it was too painful. I kept wanting to scream at Pam. It took me so long to do so many important things, it's just hard to accept that I spent years being less happy than I could have been. Jim [her husband] was five feet from my desk and it took me four years to get to him. It'd be great if people saw this documentary and learned from my mistakes. Not that I'm a tragic person, I'm really happy now. But it would just, just make my heart soar if someone out there saw this and she [he] said to herself [himself], Be strong, trust yourself, love yourself, conquer your fears. Just go after what you want. And act fast, because life just isn't that long.

When I heard that I immediately thought, Holy crap, I'm Pam!

It's only been during the past year that I have begun to feel that I am actually worthy and deserving of the life that I want. And only a few months ago did I really feel that on a deeper level. And I struggle to maintain that because I have 30 years of living during which, for the most part, I have believed otherwise.

Upon hearing Pam's words, I found myself sort of convinced that she was a real person, that The Office, at least from her perspective, was an actual documentary. I wanted to reach out to her and say, "Thank you for those words of inspiration. Thank you for being brave enough to face the fears and obstacles that stood in your way of getting what you want." (I won't lie, I'm now slightly disappointed that she's not real.)

Reality or not, the words Jenna Fischer spoke as Pam still ring true for me. I would echo her sentiment, in hope of passing on Pam's inspiring words, but hugely as a reminder to myself: Life is short and life is urgent. Don't wait to get what you want and what you deserve. Knowing what you want can be incredibly hard and getting it can be harder. If you don't know how to get it, find help: resources exist in the form of family, friends, strangers, books, uplifting entertainment, and YouTube tutorials. I've been so surprised at the amount of people who want me to succeed, many I barely know. Put on the armor of God but toss aside the armor of invulnerability; destroy that armor with the utmost haste — burn it and bury the ashes — and know that God will take care of you if you let Him.

Don't forget that, Myke.

And thanks, Pam.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Jodi Arias's Glasses

Today while scanning my Twitter feed I came across this photo of Jodi Arias:

Image from here.

I saw this photo and thought pleasantly, Hmm. I like her glasses.

I don't know why, but I started thinking about the process she must have gone through to purchase them. She likely had an appointment with her eye doctor. Did she pick out the frames at her optometrist's office? How many pairs did she try on before she settled on these ones? Or did she know at first glance that these were the right pair for her? Or maybe skipped that process entirely and ordered them online.

I don't know the answers to those questions. You probably don't care, and frankly, neither do I. I don't know Ms. Arias and, beyond this particular blog post, her choice of eye-wear has very little impact, if any, on my life.

But for that moment, she wasn't crazy and she wasn't a murderer.

I don't condone murder. I nevertheless felt that it was worthwhile to consider Jodi Arias — a fellow human being — in a light different from the one in which she has been most recently cast.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Pizza Night: Pancetta, Soppresatta, Margherita

In my pursuit of perfect pizza—making and eating it—I decided that I'm going to have pizza night once a week at my place. This will provide me with consistent pizza making practice and with an environment where I benefit from the feedback from others. This post is about the pizzas I made last Wednesday.

For the past year I've been using a great dough recipe that I found in an issue of Cook's Illustrated. Lately I've been following J. Kenji Lopez-Alt's pursuits of making great pizza at home on, so this week I tried his basic New York-style pizza dough instead of the Cook's Illustrated recipe.

I think I like the CI dough a bit better, but because they're so similar, I'm going to keep trying Kenji's dough and tamper with that till I can get the crust I want. Both doughs require mixing in a food processor. My food processor is too small to handle a lump of pizza dough so I used my stand mixer. According to Kenji, prolonged exposure to oxygen during kneading will adversely effect the flavor of the dough. For most doughs, the kneading process to develop gluten can take quite a bit of time. A food processor is recommended because the fast-spinning blade can knead the dough in 30 seconds. I might consider purchasing a larger food processor in the future.

Like the CI dough, Kenji's dough requires a rise in the refrigerator of at least 24 hours. I kept my dough in the fridge for the minimum time period. I'm going to let my next batch of dough ferment a little longer, maybe two or three days.

My first creation was a white pie:


I topped this guy with a bit of olive oil, roasted garlic, a ton of mozzarella, rosemary, lightly sauteed spinach, and pancetta. Pancetta comes my favorite part of the pig, the belly. It's almost the same thing as bacon; where bacon is smoked, pancetta is not (it's sometimes referred to as Italian bacon). I prefer pancetta to bacon, especially on pizza. I'm not sure how much the spinach adds to this pizza so I will reconsider that the next time I make it. This pizza turned out great.


I have yet to make a tomato sauce that I totally love. I wanted to keep the sauce simple, so I processed a can of whole San Marzano tomatoes with salt and fresh oregano. I added some sugar to temper the acidic tomatoes, but ended up adding too much, which killed much of the sauce's brightness. The oregano didn't add much unless you bit into one of the small leaves and then it was almost too flavorful. Next time I will use an actual recipe (like this one) and add or subtract to that instead of winging it.

I topped the pizza above with tomato sauce, mozzarella, and soppresatta (salami). The soppresatta had a great flavor but I sliced it a little too thick, and as a hard salami, so it was tough to bite through. Next time I'll try to find a pre-sliced soppresatta. I wanted to throw some olives on this pie but I couldn't find any that looked like the right quality. Again, something else to look for.


This one was my attempt at a Margherita pizza: tomato sauce, mozzarella, and basil. It was my least favorite. Just too bland. Besides getting the crust right (which I didn't on this pie), I feel like the key to a good Margherita is the sauce, which as I explained, was not the forte of this week's pizza making.

All three pies were baked at 500°F on a pizza stone on the top rack of the oven. (Really looking forward to trying my new Baking Steel next week.)

Other notes and things to try next time:
— Look into investing in a large food processor.
— Leave the dough in the fridge for two to three days.
— Using the same dough recipe, make four or five smaller pies instead of three large-ish ones. I had a hard time making the dough consistently thin. Smaller pies will make this easier until I get better at it.
— Find some pre-sliced soppresatta.
— Go easy on the cheese. I didn't think the phrase "too much cheese" had a place in my vocabulary. After these three pizzas I was sad to discover that it does.
— Keep the pizza in the oven longer and rotate earlier for even browning.

Thursday, May 9, 2013


About a year and a half ago I came across this quote by Steve Jobs: "There's an old Hindu saying that comes into my mind occasionally: 'For the first 30 years of your life, you make your habits. For the last 30 years of your life, your habits make you.'"

On the cusp of turning 30, that quote scared me. Although they're not as lofty and ambitious and real as they are now, I had plans for those 30 years and the the 30 years beyond those (I do plan on living till I’m 90), and I didn't want some habit, good or bad, that I acquired in my first 30 years of living to determine how I passed the 60 years of life I had left.

In the year and a half since I've read that, I feel like I've grown in tremendous ways. I wish I could share the account of how all that happened, but so much of it is a story that is still happening, a story quite personal. At this moment I don't know which pieces are complete enough and appropriate to share.

This growth has been both subtle and dramatic, and as I see it though, I realize that for 30 year-old Myke, Steve Jobs' Hindu saying is a load of crap. (I have no problem with it for folks younger than me if it inspires them to create habits that will allow them to get what they want out of life.)

I have three months and some change before I turn 31 on August 24. I plan on using the momentum of the last year and a half to accomplish, do, and create that which I have struggled with in the past. Here are a few examples of what I aim to complete before my 31st birthday:

Lose 45 pounds. That's a lot to lose in a short amount of time. I started counting calories a week ago and I've lost four pounds so far. Most of that came off in the first few days. I don't know how to maintain that momentum (is that even healthy?) but I don’t have to know how to keep trying.

Develop a concept and menu for a pizza restaurant or food truck. I know that I love making pizza and sharing it with others. I would love it if people found my pizza so delicious that they would want to pay me money for it. I don't know if that will translate into owning a restaurant or food truck, and I don’t know if I would even like owning a restaurant or food truck. But if that's what it turns into, and if that's what I want, then I want to be ready.

Travel to Northern California. I've been aching to return to Northern California, specifically Monterey County—Steinbeck country—since my last visit there a couple years ago. I'm finally heading back in July with some friends. Our plans include lunch at the Steinbeck House (John Steinbeck's boyhood home in Salinas), a trip to the Monterey Bay Aquarium, a day at the Gilroy Garlic Festival, a hike through Muir Woods, and much more.

Celebrate my birthday. I turned 30 last year but didn't do much to celebrate. Partly because I was traipsing around this fine country of ours for a good part of the month of August and didn't have time to plan anything. Photographic evidence of said traipsing:

Just four best buds, somewhere in South Dakota.
(Photo courtesy of Whit.)

So this year, as I complete my thirty-first year, I plan on celebrating my birthday like I never have before. I have no idea yet what I will do but I have no doubt that I will come up with something fitting.

Three and a half months early, happy birthday, Myke.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Pizza Quest: Pizzeria Bianco & La Bocca

This week's installment of Pizza Quest took me back to two joints I've visited before: the superlative Pizzeria Bianco in downtown Phoenix and La Bocca on Mill Avenue in Tempe.

Pizzeria Bianco: Tuesday afternoon Jeremy texted me, "Any thoughts on getting pies tonight?" I always have thoughts on getting pie, so we made plans to meet up at Pizzeria Bianco at 8:30. In the comments of last week’s Pizza Quest post, Jeremy listed 15 pizza places we haven't tried yet. But rather than go for something new, we chose to revisit Pizzeria Bianco. We figured a reminder of what the best pizza place in the country is supposed to taste like would provide a good benchmark for the rest of our quest. More importantly, they have really awesome pizza.

I went with the Rosa (red onion, Parmesan, rosemary, and Arizona pistachios) and Jeremy got the Sonny Boy (tomato sauce, fresh mozzarella, salami, Gaeta olives). I loved the complementary nutty flavors of the Parmesan and pistachios. The red onion sweetened it up and the rosemary rounded the whole thing out. What I loved about this particular pizza was that the toppings and the crust seemed to meld together to produce one complete flavor. Sometimes pizza toppings, cheese, and crust compete with one another instead of complementing each other. This is not a bad thing; in fact, experiencing the different flavors and textures can be one of the most exciting things about pizza. On the other hand, something has to be said for Bianco's ability to blend toppings and crust into one unique taste. I imagine this is partly why this pizza is ranked among the best.

Upon leaving the restaurant, Jeremy and I agreed that while Pizzeria Bianco may serve the best pizza in a technical sense, it's not necessarily always our favorite pizza, similar to how The Empire Strikes Back is technically the best Star Wars movie but sometimes I prefer Return of the Jedi. (If Pizzeria Bianco is The Empire Strikes Back of pizza, does that make Il Bosco Return of the Jedi?)

La Bocca: On Wednesday, I met up with my friend Brooke to try out La Bocca in Tempe. My first and only trip to La Bocca was a good three years ago, which was long before I started acquainting myself with great pizza, plus, my palate doesn't have the best memory, so a revisit was definitely warranted. I tried the porco (pulled pork, serrano chilies, mozzarella, caramelized onions, and herbs) (say "porco" aloud and it will have you thinking about a certain He-Man character) and Brooke got the truffled mushroom (mushrooms, tomatoes, goat cheese, mozzarella, and spinach with balsamic vinaigrette and white truffle oil).

There's something about pulled pork and serrano chilies that just does me right. It's a combination that works well on tacos and sandwiches and, why not, pizza. Looking back I don’t know how necessary the caramelized onions were, as pulled pork is usually sweet enough by itself—perhaps if their flavor was more oniony and less sweet. The crust reminded me a lot of Humble Pie: Neapolitan-inspired and somewhat bready. While that style is not my favorite, if that’s what they were going for, they pulled it off well. If I go back, I really want to try the Bocca trio: San Marzano tomatoes, pepperoni, salami, sausage, mozzarella, Fontina, Queen Creek olives, and fresh herbs.

This has been a great week for pizza, and it’s not over yet: tomorrow is pizza party night with friends.

(Maybe one day when I have a better camera on my phone or if I have my 50mm lens repaired, I'll start photographing the pies for your visual enjoyment here. In the mean time, get out there and eat some pizza yourself.)