2012: A Pizza Odyssey


A year ago, I gave Sam a gift that kept on giving: a pizza stone. He would often talk about his dream of getting a pizza stone, so I thought it was a pretty inspired gift. I ordered it really early, and hid it in my trunk.

And then my trunk got hit by a tree, in a windstorm.

About a week later, I went to the car hospital and secretly recovered the stone. On December 5th I brought it to Sam’s place as a surprise/early gift. Also… I wanted to see if the tree had broken it into several pieces.

It survived!

Luckily, the stone was very well insulated in its Amazon box. And the pizza experiments could begin!

For our first night of pizza-making (December 8th), we… well, we made a lot of mistakes, big and small. Here’s a short list, in retrospect: No pizza peel (the wooden thing), no corn meal (to keep from sticking), use of pre-made dough & too thickly laid out (from Trader Joe’s), use of pasta sauce, use of pre-shredded cheese.

Here are some pictures…

First pizza ever.

Without a pizza peel to prepare our pizza upon, we used a metal pan. And without any cornmeal under the dough… it stuck. So, we ended up baking our first pizza on the pan. Stone fail.

The same night, we prepared our second pizza right on the stone.

Crust much?

Taste-wise, I think the biggest offender of that night was the pasta sauce. It just isn’t right for pizza-making.

I definitely had a moment that first night, where I thought… if this is what homemade pizza is going to taste like — what have I gotten myself into? I tried to remind myself that just as Rome wasn’t built in a day… neither was the perfect pizza. (It might have happened in Rome, though. Definitely somewhere in Italy.)

First slices.

We were excited to correct our mistakes in the next round. Little did we know… some of our funkiest mishaps were just around the bend.

One of our first mistakes on our second night of pizza-making (December 18th) was using pre-made dough again. Trader Joe’s was out of the regular dough, so I had to buy the herb stuff. I’m a thin-crust person, so starting with the Trader Joe’s dough… there’s only so good it can be.

One improvement: Sam made the sauce, using canned tomatoes. (Although he never did that again, so I guess it wasn’t a major hit.)

Pizza peel acquired, but looks like we were still using pre-shredded cheese.

We used corn meal, but it was either not enough or the pizza was overloaded, because when the time came the pizza would NOT transfer onto the peel.

No dice.

Sam was really frustrated and I was saying helpful things like, “Just drop it on.” And I was also giggling like crazy. (I found the situation funny.) A few minutes later, I was laughing so hard that I was lying on the floor. And Sam was… no less frustrated. But I convinced him to cook the pizza, once it finally found its way to the stone. And this was what it looked like:

Creature from Pizza Lagoon.

We still ate it. It was too doughy. Not a shock.

On January 6th we resumed pizza-making. I don’t remember much about that night, but luckily I made thorough notes in my Flickr set: “This time using the dough to make 2 pizzas, more cornmeal, Trader Joe’s pizza sauce, baking the crust a bit before adding toppings. The lighter crust slid easily onto the stone. Success! Next time — better quality mozzarella. (Can I eat that? Maybe a cheeseless one for me.)”

This was right around the time when I found out I was lactose intolerant… I think we made these pizzas before I went to the doctor, and I was labeling them just after.

Tools of the pizza chef.

The pre-baked dough (I think it was still store-bought?) resulted in delightful bubbles. (As I recall, we were pre-baking the dough sans-toppings because we weren’t sure we could transfer the pizza to the stone with toppings on it.) (I also think we only brushed olive oil on the crust that one time, although Sam now likes to drizzle it atop his pizza before baking.)

Bubbles ahoy!

My high praise for our third night of pizza-making was, “Tastes like DiGiorno!” (The frozen pizza brand… which I think is pretty good.)

Looking better, for sure.

And then… perhaps due to my lactose intolerance, or Sam’s new job, or just life in general… we didn’t make any more pizza until November 7th. Or at least I don’t have any photos. By November, I was more lax about my lactose stuff… so I just had “light cheese” on my pizza. (Also, the kitchen looks a little different… new roommate.) (The meat pizzas are typically for the roommate… Sam and I love our veggies.)

On this night, Sam made dough (the recipe that came with the stone) and also grated his own mozzarella.

You may recognize the date… it was election night.

Sam voted (for Springsteen?)… and made dough.

At some point we settled on using Prego Veggie Pizza Sauce. I think Sam tried the regular Prego once, and preferred its Veggie-est version. For now, we’re sticking to that… although we’ll probably continue to experiment, depending on the type of pizza we’re making.

Here is an action shot of the pizza sliding effortlessly from peel to stone… triumph!

Dreams do come true…

I was thrilled by the air pockets in the crust (NOT pre-baked this time).

Hello, friend.

The picture at the top of this post is from our Election Night pizzas. They were a good bunch… the first time our pizza-making felt like it could rival ordering a pizza. (I think the better-tasting pizza results spurred more frequent pizza-making… there’s a direct correlation, as math-doers might say.)

Here are a few more snaps… you can see the self-grated cheese of my “light cheese” pizza.

Pretty pretty pizza.

And here are two pizzas, chillaxing.

Hey guys.

Since we live in CA, Obama was declared the winner before we even finished baking the pizzas. So it was a pizza party.

Then I sprained my ankle and we ordered a lot of pizza at my apartment. But that’s a different post. (Maybe.)

In part because he was so good to me during my ankle times, I gave Sam his pizza cookbook a few weeks before Christmas. We headed straight to the New York style chapter, and Sam pre-made some dough for our first night of NY-style pizza-making (December 11th).

NY-style crust cannot be rolled with a rolling pin, so Sam had to teach himself to do the classic pizza toss. He didn’t drop it!

Action shot!

My pizza, ready for the 500 degree oven.

Love my veggies.

And after…

Almost looks like a heart.

The pizza was really good, though the crust could have been a touch thinner/crispier.

Sam had made a LOT of dough, so he made another pizza on his own. He said it was a bit improved.

And then… December 15th came along. I asked Sam to make me pizza… for breakfast, basically. Haha. (I think by the time it was cooked, it was lunchtime.) The NY-style crust was thin. The sauce was our Prego standby. The cheese was low-moisture (on the previous NY pizza night, it had been fresh). We didn’t use tomatoes as a topping (too water-y). The peel and the cornmeal worked as planned.

The result was… an excellent pizza. With lots of crust pockets!


The crust was crispy and wonderful. And overall the pizza tasted better than a few of the places we’d ordered from during my ankle convalescence. We were competing with restaurant grade!

I’m hungry just looking at this.

I tried to get a cross-section of the crust.

So proud.

So that’s the story of our first year of pizza-making… from blob-monster to restaurant-good. Next up we’re going to try Neapolitan style… Sam’s roommate got him special flour for Christmas, and Sam and I even took a field trip to 800 Degrees to see what Neapolitan is all about. (A very, very thin crust, for one thing.)

I’ll try to post the results here, but you can see the full Pizza Chronicles set anytime on my Flickr.

And if you got a pizza stone for the holidays… happy cooking, and hopefully you manage to avoid some of our gnarlier mistakes.


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2 thoughts on “2012: A Pizza Odyssey

  1. LOVE THIS! You are a very talented writer and photographer, and Sam, well, he is en route to becoming Pizza Preparer Extraordinaire! Jeanne and I LOVE pizza and were spoiled by Grimaldis Brick Oven in Phoenix, AZ. There’s nothing like it here in Castle Rock, CO; best we’ve come across so far is Parry’s (NY style). Perhaps a stone is in our future???

  2. Loved the pizza lagoon caption. Congrats on mastering the art of pizza making after lots of trial and error, and letting us come along for the ride by sharing!

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