The Art of Pizza

My very first blog post was about my love affair with bread. The combination of four simple ingredients to make a myriad of flavors and textures. It’s a pretty incredible process and one that I’ve continued to master over the years. I love bread, carbs, and gluten. And I don’t feel one bit of shame saying it.


And then there’s pizza. Same ingredients, but a whole different ballgame. I enjoy pizza for what it is – a vessel for creativity in the kitchen. Now I’ve never been an artsy person and my parents probably swallowed a lot of pride putting my elementary school drawings on the fridge (“Well, at least she’s good at math?”). But what limited artist-like traits I possess come out when making pizza.

Pizza dough is a blank canvas. It’s an opportunity to build flavors, textures, and combinations to send your tastebuds on a journey. Personally, I appreciate when a slice has been gently kissed by wood oven flames, has a balanced ratio of crust:sauce:toppings, and provides a gentle crunch-n-chew in the crust. I prefer toppings that aren’t “fussy” and bring their own party to the pizza…like local New Mexico green chiles, fire-roasted, and diced to perfection. Or in the case of this pizza – salumi, locally-grown tomatoes, artichoke hearts, and kalamata olives.

Recently one of Dan’s colleagues, a true Italian who was born and raised in Rome, flicked his nose in the air when Dan mentioned that I make pizza from scratch routinely. Reportedly (as I was not present for this conversation), he was unconvinced that I could replicate anything like the pizza of his childhood…and he’s probably right. But I make a damn good effort to get as close as I can to ‘authentic’ having never been to Italy myself, nor possessing a single chromosome derived from Italian heritage.

As a public service announcement, there is an organization called Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana that protects the integrity of “true Neopolitan pizza” (akin to the German Reinheitsgebot for beer brewing standards). The AVPN is, more or less, the Italian Pizza Police. And, despite my best efforts, everything I’m about to say is probably condemning me to the Napoli gallows.

So let’s live dangerously, shall we?!

There is a world of debate on the internet about how best to go about replicating the magic of Naples pizza kitchens. Let’s be honest – it’s really hard. Our kitchens weren’t designed to pull this off, so we must improvise. So how do I attempt to make Napoli-style pizza at home, limited by my American kitchen and grocery? Two things: 00 flour and wicked high cooking temperature.

The first component is easily resolved. You need some of this stuff:

The “Godfather” of flour

Someday I will write an entire post about flour…all the nuances and mysteries (I could put babies to sleep with all the details), but today is simply a crash course in the context of pizza. 00 flour (“doppio zero”) is a very finely ground flour that is used almost exclusively for making pizza in Italy. This stuff is like powder. It’s probably used as a movie prop for lines of cocaine (don’t quote me on that). And that pulverizing mill process means that it requires less water to make a dough, so you’ll need to do some adjusting to get the right ratio in yours. Also, the protein content in 00 flour is slightly higher than your all-purpose flour that is an American kitchen staple (~12.5% vs ~11.7%), which means more intense gluten development and a fun “window pane” test to help you identify when it’s ready. Developed gluten = better chew, and that’s a beautiful thing.

The rest of the process is a matter of patience and practice. A recipe can say “knead 3 to 4 minutes” but that’s just a ballpark. It could be 2 minutes, it could be 10. Pizza dough, like any bread dough, is a feeling. Hence, the artform.

There is not magic number of kneads, amount of time, or visual identifiers that can peg a dough for readiness. First-timers will probably be annoyed to hear that learning the feel of a finished dough takes time, but once you learn it, you’ll perpetuate the same frustrating advice. See that white scraper thing above? It’s a great tool to start the kneading process when the dough is wet and prevent overworking – it’s simple, plastic, flexible, and costs a few bucks from KAF.

Window pane test against a window? Meta.

There is plenty of hope for newbies though, as the window pane test is as good as any tool when you’re starting out. After kneading by hand for several minutes, stretch the dough gently and hold it up. If it can hold without tearing and you can almost see through it (yep, like a window pane), the gluten is developed enough but not over done. In practical terms: It’s ready.


The second “secret” to awesome pizza is cooking at a temperature higher than any conventional home oven can achieve. In Italy that means wood-fire ovens that reach temperatures of over 1000 degrees. So what do you do when the home designer that built your 1951 ranch home didn’t consider your 2017 need for a wood-fire oven with proper ventilation? Use a pizza stone (or the latest trendy kitchen device: baking steel) and crank your oven to 500 degrees. This may void your oven’s warranty (don’t say I didn’t warn you). Oh, and keep your fire extinguisher handy.

Similar to baking bread, the initial “spring” and sear of the hot stone is key. Slowly cooking a pizza leads to soft, soggy, and underdone dough. So pre-heat that oven and slide the pizza dough onto the stone or steel. A peel is ideal, but I don’t have one. So I have perfected the back-of-a-sheet-pan slide technique that works like a charm, though took much practice. Do not use parchment paper at this temperature – it has a flash point of ~450 degrees (see fire extinguisher comment above).

Another challenge with the pizza stone approach is that the bottom of the crust browns and crisps before the top gets any color. If you’re feeling adventurous, you can switch the oven to Broil for the last 1-2 minutes of bake time to balance it out. Just remember that any time you use the broiler, watch it like a hawk. Things go from beautiful to burned within seconds.


The rest of pizza-making is creativity. Playing with combinations of sauces, cheeses, and toppings. I’m not here to judge what you put on your pizza…but I will anyway. Here are my thoughts on toppings:

  • Make your own sauce. That jarred stuff is an abomination and a can of crushed tomatoes and some spices is cheaper anyway.
  • In true Italian tradition, pizza does not have a ton of sauce. However, I’m Eastern European and we don’t abide by Neopolitan rules.
  • Similarly, cheese is a topping, not a blanket. But you do you.
  • Don’t use super-fresh mozzarella (the stuff swimming in liquid) or your pizza will become soup. Buffalo mozz is a pizza necessity – just pat it dry beforehand.
  • Dry out fresh tomatoes a bit before using them (slice and sprinkle a bit of salt to extract the water from them). This will help prevent a tomato juice lake.
  • If you’re using fresh basil leaves, tuck them underneath cheese or other toppings to avoid burning. Pepperoni slices make excellent hiding places.
  • Arugula or other fresh green should be added after the pizza has come out of the oven. Have you ever eaten baked salad? Exactly.
  • Use sun dried tomatoes that have been rehydrated in some fashion (either coming from a jar with liquid or DIY in a small bowl of water).
  • Mushrooms don’t belong on or in anything. Ever. This is not up for debate.
It’s almost like we’re in Ital… Nah, it’s still New Mexico outside.

Oh, and for what it’s worth, Dan’s Roman friend thinks my pizza is awesome. Count it!


Carolyn’s Napol-ish Pizza


  • 1 1/4 cups of 00 flour (Antimo Caputo brand can be found online), plus extra for kneading board
  • 1 cup of lukewarm water
  • 3/4 teaspoon active-dry yeast (not rapid rise!)
  • 1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • Pinch of salt
  • Sauce and Topping as desired


  1. In a large bowl, combine flour and salt. In a small bowl, combine water yeast and olive oil. Pour into dry ingredients and knead with hands or small scraper for about 2-3 minutes. You may need to adjust water or flour. Dough should be soft and flimsy, but not sticky. Let rest for 20 minutes, uncovered.
  2. Knead down on a lightly floured board for 3-5 minutes. Place in a bowl and cover. Let rise for 3-4 hours. You can also put the bowl in the fridge to rise overnight (*if so, let it come to room temperature before the next step)
  3. Divide dough into two rounds. Using the back of your hands, gently stretch the dough from the center to the outside, rotating the circle as you go.
  4. Top as desired and bake in a 500 degree preheated oven (with baking stone) for about 10-12 minutes. If desired, switch oven to ‘Broil’ for last 2 minutes to even the color on top. Slice and serve with a glass of Italian vino.


Carolyn’s Favorite Red Sauce
(Not claiming to be at all authentic, but it is delicious)


  • 1 red bell pepper
  • 6 cloves garlic (peeled)
  • 2-3 Roma tomatoes
  • 1/2 cup chopped onion
  • 1 teaspoon dried basil
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/2 cup red wine (and another glass for the chef!)
  • 1/4 cup tomato paste
  • 14.5 oz can, no-salt-added diced tomatoes
  • 2 Tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • 3 Tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped
  • Pinch cayenne
  • Dash of soy sauce
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • Red chile flakes, to taste


  1. Preheat oven broiler. Cut bell pepper (flatten with hand) and Roma tomatoes in half and place skin-side up on aluminum-foil lined sheet pan. Place garlic cloves on pan too. Broil for 10-15 minutes or until pepper and tomatoes are blackened. Carefully remove and place tomatoes and bell peppers in a bowl and seal with plastic wrap. Set aside for 15-20 minutes to allow skins to peel back. Peel pepper and tomatoes, and chop roughly.
  2. Meanwhile, heat a large skillet on medium heat. Add a bit of olive oil and saute onion and garlic. Add basil and oregano. Add pepper, tomatoes (roasted and canned), and garlic cloves, wine, tomato paste, vinegar, soy sauce, and salt/pepper to taste. Simmer 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  3. Blend tomato mixture in food processor or blender until smooth. Stir in fresh parsley and red chile flakes, cayenne, and salt/pepper to taste. Use on pizza or pasta!

I Scream, You Scream (Gianduja Gelato)

It’s summertime and that means BBQ with friends, Sauv Blanc on the patio, and lots of cold treats.

It’s no secret that I have a huge sweet tooth and despite chronic issues with cold sensitivity, I can put away ice cream like a champ. So, what’s even better than ice cream? Gelato! And what flavor tops the charts? Chocolate Hazelnut.

Arm me with a spoon and some sunscreen…I’m ready for summer!


What’s the difference between Gelato and Ice Cream?
The short story is gelato has less fat and less air than ice cream. Generally, they have the same ingredients – cream, milk, sugar, and eggs (usually just the yolks that get cooked into the custard). The proportions are often different to create unique textures. Gelato typically has a higher ratio of milk to cream whereas ice cream is the opposite (hence, the higher fat content in ice cream). Gelato is also churned at a slower rate which means less air gets incorporated. As a result, it’s a denser, creamier experience.

There is a fantastic gelato place in Phoenix called the Gelato Spot. I love seeing all the colors and flavors filling the stainless steel bins. It’s an absolutely gorgeous display! For years I frequented the shop and splurged on cute containers filled with creamy goodness eaten with the world’s tiniest plastic shovel spoons (you know what I’m talking about). And, of course, that sparked the need to make it myself. For science? For convenience? Pshh, for pure gluttony.


Years ago I received an ice cream maker attachment for my KitchenAid mixer. Hands down it’s my favorite attachment and probably my most used and abused. Fun fact: I’ve made so many batches of ice cream and gelato that it started leaking blue goo (5 years later or so). I’m now on my second ice cream bowl and it’s already taken delicious custard to gelato heaven many times over. Making gelato is remarkably simple, but like most great things, it takes time.

There is an excellent ice cream and gelato recipe book called The Perfect Scoop by David Lebovitz that I recommend to anyone with an ice cream maker. Like all the best cookbooks, it has both incredible recipes and gorgeous photos. Even if you don’t make a single recipe, you’ll appreciate the art. But my favorite recipe in the book? Gianduja. It’s a classic Italian flavor of chocolate hazelnut that is the perfect balance of sweet, creamy, nutty, and chocolatey to hit all the tastebuds.

I’ll be honest. The recipe for Gianduja is a royal pain. There are a lot of steps. It requires stages that are, ideally, done in two consecutive days. But by day 3, you’ll be praising the heavens when you’re scraping the bottom of your fourth bowl of this stuff. It’s that good.


Recently Dan had a colleague who was in town for work. He came over for dinner with us and I had whipped up a batch of Gianduja for dessert. Unbeknownst to me, Dan’s colleague had just returned from two weeks in Italy, devouring gelato at least once if not twice per day. His bar for gelato was high and I was panicking. But after the first bowl he looked at me and said, “There’s more right?” and praised the flavor and texture over his second helping. See? It’s that good. Follow the steps, no substitutes or shortcuts, and you’ll win over hearts at the table.

Day 1

First, you need to gather as many bowls as you can find. There is a lot of moving mixtures from one bowl to another in this recipe. Don’t panic, just keep up with the dishes and you’ll be fine!

IMG_20170610_173954Step 1: Prepare the hazelnuts. Depending on the hazelnuts you purchase, you may have to remove the skins before chopping. The last time I was at TJ’s I came across this magical bag of peeled, roasted, and unsalted hazelnuts. All the work done for me!

You’ll chop them to smithereens (such a great word), preferably in a food processor or chopper. I find that my Ninja works wonders for this job. You’ll end up with a bowl full of finely ground hazelnuts, almost to the point of hazelnut butter, which, by the way, is going to be the new almond butter. You heard it here first, folks.




Meanwhile, on the stove warm the milk, cream, sugar, and salt. Do not boil. Once warm, remove the saucepan from the stove, stir in the hazelnuts, cover, and let steep at room temp for an hour. Think “hazelnut hot tub.”





While all that steeping is happening, you’ll get to work on the chocolate. Chop it up into pieces and place into a bowl. Heat the rest of the cream in a saucepan until it just boils. Pour it over the chocolate and stir until smooth. Then set a strainer on top of the bowl and set it aside.

Once it’s been an hour, you’ll need to strain the hazelnuts and start making the custard.





Using a strainer and a large bowl, pour the hazelnut mixture and then squeeze the mixture with your hands to get out as much of the milk as you can.

The recipe from the book will say to discard the hazelnut mixture. Don’t. That’s blasphemy. If you’re like me, you couldn’t possibly toss $7 worth of sweet, toasted hazelnuts in the trash. Put the mixture in a bowl and leave it on the side – we’ll come back for it later, I promise.

Pour the liquid into another saucepan and rewarm it on the stove. In a separate bowl (see what I mean about the dishes?) separate the egg yolks and whisk until smooth. Then pour the warm, but not hot, hazelnut milk mixture into the eggs, whisking the whole time.

It’s important NOT to do this the other way because the eggs will cook and you’ll have gross hazelnut scrambled eggs and no gelato. And that would be sad.

Then scrape the mixture back into the saucepan and stir constantly with a heatproof spatula until the liquid thickens and coats the back of the spoon.


Remember that bowl with the chocolate? Assuming that you didn’t get hungry and ate it all, pour the warm mixture through the strainer on top of the chocolate. Add vanilla and stir with a spool over an ice bath to cool gradually.

Once cool, cover the mixture and place in the fridge for 18-24 hours. And if that ice cream bowl isn’t in the freezer yet, put that in there too.


Day 2

Now that you’re well-rested from the first day, you’ll be excited to know that Day 2 is a breeze by comparison.

Set up your ice cream maker. Get it turning, pour in the custard, and walk away. Typically my machine takes about 10-15 minutes until it’s ready, but follow the instructions on yours to be sure.


Just before it’s finished, toss in the chocolate shavings until they are mixed through. Pour the gelato into a freezer-safe tub (glass snapware works wonderfully) and put it in the freezer overnight.


Day 3

Eat the gelato. All that hard work? Two whole days?! After that first bite you won’t even care. Enjoy the fruits of your labor…and for goodness sake, have a second bowl! You earned it!


Bonus: Remember that hazelnut mixture that was put to the side? Mix in about two teaspoons of flour, spread it out in a thin layer on a silicone baking mat, and bake for about 20 minutes at 400 degrees. Let cool and crumble over the top of the gelato.




Gianduja Gelato (from David Lebovitz’s The Perfect Scoop)


  • 1 1/2 cup hazelnuts, chopped finely
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 3/4 cup white sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 4 oz milk chocolate, finely chopped
  • 5 large egg yolks
  • 1/8 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 oz dark chocolate, chopped very fine or grated


  1. Rub the hazelnuts in a kitchen towel to remove as much of the papery skins as possible, then finely chop them in a food processor or blender.

  2. Warm the milk with 1 cup (250 mI) of the cream, sugar, and salt in a saucepan.

  3. Once warm, remove from the heat and add the chopped hazelnuts. Cover and let steep at room temperature for 1 hour.

  4. Put the milk chocolate pieces in a large bowl. Heat the remaining 1 cup (250 ml) cream in a medium saucepan until it just begins to boil. Pour it over the milk chocolate pieces and stir until the chocolate is completely melted and smooth. Set a mesh strainer over the top.

  5. Pour the hazelnut-infused milk through a strainer into a medium saucepan, squeezing the nuts firmly with your hands to extract as much of the flavorful liquid as possible. Discard the hazelnuts* (I like to save them for a crumble topping)

  6. Rewarm the hazelnut-infused mixture. In a separate medium bowl, whisk together the egg yolks. Slowly pour the warm hazelnut mixture into the egg yolks, whisking constantly, then scrape the warmed egg yolks back into the saucepan.

  7. Stir the mixture constantly over medium heat with a heatproof spatula, scraping the bottom as you stir, until the mixture thickens and coats the spatula. Pour the custard through the strainer and stir it into the milk chocolate mixture. Add the vanilla and stir until cool over an ice bath.

  8. Chill the mixture thoroughly in the refrigerator, then freeze it in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Add chocolate shavings during last minute in ice cream machine. Allow to freeze overnight and serve the next day.

The Tao of Cake

Birthdays. The one day per year that you can channel your inner-child and be blissfully ignorant of your own poor choices from sun up to sun down. An opportunity to go hog wild in gluttony and others can’t judge you (at least not in good conscience). And no such birthday is complete without a cake.

Like most, I have probably eaten my weight in birthday cakes, which is a fun and slightly concerning visual. Growing up all my friends and family had their typical cake – the one they dreamed about for 364 days and then got to devour on the first day of their next trip around the sun.

My best friend always wanted ice cream cake and more specifically, Carvel chocolate ice cream cake with the “crunchies” in the center. My brother still has, and probably forever will have, an obsession with the Funfetti boxed cake that can only be topped with Funfetti frosting — no substitutions. My dad is a chocolate layer cake with chocolate frosting kind of guy, preferably eaten cold with a glass of milk. And I’m the weirdo who always asked for peach cobbler with vanilla ice cream, because I had to be different and I really, really, really like peaches. Cake is personality.

With cake comes memories. There is the spectacle of candle flames, the obligatory awkward singing, the botched slicing of the first piece, the argument over who gets the ‘corner’, and the one germaphobe who is praying to the cake gods that there isn’t too much spit from blowing out the candles. Cake is a vehicle for emotions.


When Dan and I were planning our wedding, we had plenty of input from others about what type of cake to have (or not have). Wedding planning brings out everyone’s unsolicited advice and the cake debate was a magnet for commentary. Ignoring all recommendations we went with what we wanted: strawberry shortcake. Summer wedding, 4th of July weekend, light and fresh. Boom. Done. Check that off the list.
But like I said before, with cake comes memories. When I attempted to cut our cake at the reception, the layers started falling and we only had seconds to react before it came down onto the floor. In swooped Dan and my brother for what ended up as one of my favorite photos from our wedding reception. Cake brings people together.

Cuthbertson_July_790_usb (2)
Stephen using the Force?

But, as usual, I digress…

Last month was Dan’s birthday (29 again!). Before I met him he reportedly did not have “his” birthday cake – the aforementioned annual event with pomp and circumstance surrounding the unveiling of the the dessert so longed for since the last birthday. No birthday cake? You can imagine the look on my face when he broke the news. Unacceptable. Not in my house.

I don’t recall how or why Key Lime Cheesecake came to be “Dan’s cake.” I may have been looking for inspiration on the internet and stumbled across a recipe. Dan might have thrown me a challenge involving citrus. There may have been haphazard mention of “we haven’t had cheesecake in a long time.” Who knows?!


But the result was glorious. And I’ve had almost a decade of Dan birthdays (several 29th birthdays, in fact) to nail this recipe. It is reserved for only one day of the year and can’t make any cameo appearances. You have to earn this one.


Sour yet sweet. Dense but fluffy. Light but creamy. It’s a conversation starter and a conversation stopper at the same time. The head tilt as you experience a slight pucker in the cheeks? Priceless. It’s become legendary among friends and family. And it’s the most requested recipe that I possess.

This recipe is not the dense and intense slices of Manhattan. It’s more carefree and flexible. A laissez faire of cheesecakes, if you will. The bite from the key limes can be as sharp or mild as you like. Dan and I prefer that it packs a punch. You can ‘cheat’ with key lime juice in the bottle or commit yourself to several hours of extracting droplets of juice from several bags of key limes (your call, no judgment). A water bath is a good idea but not necessary. If the cake cracks in the center, no problem, because you cover it in whipped cream anyway. Cake doesn’t need to be stressful. Especially on your birthday.


Key Lime Cheesecake (Dan’s Cake)


  • 2 – 2 1/2 C. finely ground graham cracker crumbs
  • 3 T. white sugar
  • 1/2 C. unsalted butter, melted (may need more if too dry)


  • 24 oz. cream cheese (3 8-oz packages), softened
  • 3/4 C. white sugar
  • 1/2 C. sour cream
  • 3 T. all-purpose flour
  • 4 eggs
  • 2/3 – 3/4 cup key lime juice (to taste, if more juice add an extra T. of flour)
  • 1 t. vanilla extract
  • Whipping cream (prepared the old-fashioned way)
  • Lime zest and lime slices (for garnish)


Graham Cracker Crust

  1. In a bowl stir together the graham cracker crumbs and 2 tablespoons sugar, stir in the butter well. A food processor can also work if you’re starting from whole graham crackers.
  2. Pat the mixture into the bottom and 1/2 inch up the side of a buttered 9 inch springform pan. When pressed firmly it should hold together up the sides.
  3. Bake the crust in a preheated 375 degree oven for about 10 minutes. Transfer the pan to a rack and cool.

Key Lime Filling

  1. In a large bowl with an electric mixer, beat cream cheese and 3/4 cup sugar until smooth, beat in the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition.
  2. Beat in the sour cream, flour, lime juice and vanilla and mix until it is smooth. Add lime juice to taste for desired flavor and tartness.
  3. Pour the filling into the crust. It will go above the height of the crust.
  4. Water bath option: To reduce cracking, fill a 13 x 9 pan about 1/3 – 1/2 way up with water and place on lower rack of preheated oven.
  5. Bake the cheesecake on center rack at 375 degrees for 15 minutes, reduce the temperature to 250 degrees and bake for 50 to 55 minutes longer, or until center is barely set. If you gently shake the pan, it will jiggle slightly in the center.
  6. Let the cheesecake cool on a rack.  After 10 minutes of cooling, use a paring knife to gently separate the edge of the cheesecake from the pan. Chill, covered, in the fridge overnight.
  7. To serve, cover top of cheesecake with a layer of freshly whipped cream and top with freshly grated lime zest. If making ahead, you can store it covered in fridge or freezer without whipped cream and garnish (top just before serving).

World Cuisine Challenge: Fiji

Several years ago Dan started bringing home strange ingredients and challenging me to make something out of it. Perhaps spawned from my binge-watching of Chopped, or just because he knows that I love a good challenge, this became a frequent event at dinner time. I tackled all kinds of bizarre ingredients and, to be honest, I probably spent more time Googling than cooking. Some efforts were rewarded with tasty meals and others were total flops.

Then, sometime last year, I informed Dan that this Chopped-ish challenge would go both ways. After all, he was clearly missing out on all the good times. He agreed, but we revised and upgraded the plan.

Thus, World Cuisine Challenge was born.

The new rules: One person picks a country (any country). The other person has to research the country’s cuisine, pick a night of the week, and cook a typical dish from that country. No whining, no excuses…Cook like a champion.

Verdict: SO MUCH FUN!

To date we have researched and cooked with inspiration from eight countries (as follows):

  1. Laos (Dan)
  2. Romania (Carolyn)
  3. Angola (Dan)
  4. Azerbaijan (Carolyn)
  5. Papua New Guinea (Dan)
  6. Bolivia (Carolyn)
  7. Italy (Dan)
  8. Fiji (Carolyn)

We’ve have some rock-star dinners, mediocre meals, and a few epic failures. It’s all about the journey.

Tonight was Fiji night. Here’s how it went…


Food in Fiji

Fijian food is remarkably simple. That’s probably because Fiji is an island smack in the middle of the world’s largest ocean. But with isolation comes resourcefulness.

The people of Fiji know how to use a few core ingredients to whip up some delectable dishes of fish, root vegetables (taro, cassava, and something called duruka, which is a flower of a cane root), rice, and coconut. There is some culinary influence from India, as there were a handful of folks who came over in the late 1800s, but otherwise things have stayed much the same.

For my Fijian challenge I chose a coconut-based, curry-like fish dish that is loosely referred to as “fish in lolo.” The internet boasts several variations based on a similar core ingredients: mild white fish, coconut milk, hot peppers or chilies, and limes/lemons/lemongrass.

Sign. Me. Up.

In post-meal reflection, “fish in lolo” reminded me of a blend of Thai and Indian curries. Spicy yet sweet, creamy but light, and super flavorful. According to the internet (i.e., numerous authors of varying quality, accuracy, and expertise), this is a common curry-like dish that uses up “what’s left in the fridge.”

Like many curry and curry-ish recipes, this comes together quickly. I’m a big curry fan because they are fast and simple, and they make for some delicious leftovers.

Want to up your curry game? Try this one out!

Step 1: Mise en place. Yes, that’s the extent of my French. Mise en place means “put in place.” Or, my translation: “Get your s*** in order.” This is really important for curry recipes, as they are so fast that you don’t have the time to leisurely dice a pepper before your coconut milk has burned. Chop everything ahead, measure out your spices, and have all ingredients on the counter before you start. Use small prep bowls (a great investment if you love to cook) or sort items on a large cutting board. Prepping ahead means less stress later (that phrase could go on one of those generic inspirational posters with pictures of oak trees…).

Now that everything is prepped and ready, let’s get started!

Start with the aromatics. Swirl a bit of olive oil into a large, deep skillet, and add the garlic and ginger. Stir it around for a minute or so until it smells delectable – not too long or it will burn.


Add to the skillet the red onion, hot pepper, lemongrass, and about 1/3 of the coconut milk. Stir it all together. If it looks like frosting for a Mardi Gras king cake, you’re on the right track!

I’ve got the cake! Now where are the floats?

Give this about 3 minutes to cook and meld together. When you start to smell the lemongrass, add in the rest of the coconut milk, the turmeric, and the cumin. It’s going to turn yellow and that’s OK! Some might argue that it would be better to toast the spices with the garlic and ginger at the beginning – try it either way.

After the sauce has returned to a uniform color, add the fish pieces and toss to coat. Then add the fish sauce, brown sugar, and lemon juice.


Cover with a lid for about 7 minutes (still medium heat) to cook the fish through. Don’t know what to do with yourself while you wait? I recommend pouring yourself a glass of chilled Sauv Blanc. Cheers.

Rowan looking characteristically unimpressed by dinner-in-the-making.

Return to the stove (preferably with glass of vino in hand). Add the crushed tomatoes. It will now look like a McDonald’s advertisement. Don’t worry, your dinner is going to taste WAY better than that sorry excuse for “food.”


Then add the sweet potato (par-cooked makes the process faster). I found a purple sweet potato at the store, which loosely resembles the violet color of taro root. Oh hey, Phoenix Suns curry!

This one’s for Charles Barkley, Dan Majerle, and Steve Nash…

Put the lid on again for a few minutes while you gather some plates. When plating, serve the curry on top of rice. Top with basil and/or unsweetened coconut flakes.


When your first plate is gone, go back for seconds. No judgment.


World Culinary Challenge is a blast. I encourage others to try it out in their own kitchens. Even if it’s just once a month or every-other month, expand your horizons, and check out recipes from lands unknown (or at least unknown to you). Passport to culinary adventure begins now!




“Fish in Lolo” (Fijian-inspired Coconut Curry with Fish)


  • 1 lb. sturdy, white fish (Mahi Mahi, cod, snapper), cut into 1-2 inch pieces
  • 1 large taro root (sweet potato is a good substitute), chopped into 1 inch pieces and par-cooked over the stove for about 10 minutes
  • 1 hot chile pepper (serrano, red Thai chiles), finely chopped
  • 2 large tomatoes, coarsely chopped and seed removed
  • 1 stalk of lemongrass, minced  (if you can’t find lemongrass, extra lemon juice will work)
  • 1 can (400mg) of coconut milk
  • 1 tsp. tumeric
  • 1 tsp. cumin
  • 1 tsp. garlic, minced
  • 1 tsp. fresh ginger, minced
  • 1 tsp. fish sauce
  • 2 tsp. brown sugar
  • Juice of 1/2 of a lemon
  • Basil (chiffonade) and unsweetened coconut flake, for garnish


  1. Prepare ingredients: Remove outer leaf of lemongrass and finely chop. Dice onion. Peel the garlic and mince the ginger. Slice chile, scrape out seeds, then finely chop. Roughly chop tomatoes. Chop the sweet potoates into cudes. Cut up the fish. Measure out the turmeric and cumin.
  2. Heat a large fry-pan on medium heat. Add ginger and garlic and cook until fragrant (1-2 minutes). Add ¼ cup of the coconut milk, lemongrass, chile, and onion and cook until tender, 2-3 minutes.
  3. Stir in remaining coconut milk, turmeric, and cumin. Simmer for a minute or two.
  4. Add fish pieces and toss to coat. Cover and let cook for about 5-7 minutes, until fish is cooked through but still tender.
  5. Add tomatoes, lemon juice, fish sauce, and brown sugar. Simmer for 2-3 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste.
  6. Serve over rice. Top with basil and/or unsweetened coconut flakes


Chocolate Bloom Explained

Yesterday a friend of mine sent me a panicked text about chocolate.

She was gathering ingredients to make a chocolate cake and she noticed that her chocolate had turned “white.” Our conversation went something like this:

Kim: Carolyn! Is my chocolate ok?! Is that mold?!
Me: It’s fine, you can use it. It’s called “chocolate bloom”
Kim: Am I going to die if I eat it? I’m making a bday cake – the livelihood of others is on the line
Me: No one is going to die. It’ll taste the same, just melt it like usual
Kim: Ok, thanks!
Me: I think you need a glass of wine…
Kim: Probably more than one.

Kim had sent me a photo of her chocolate. It resembled this:


You’ve probably been through this before. Walk into the pantry to grab the bag of chocolate chips or blocks of baking chocolate. You open the package and the chocolate looks old and dusty, like a box in grandma’s attic.

“Attic” chocolate!

That’s called “blooming” and there is no reason to panic!


Let’s talk science, shall we?

First let’s address the ingredients in chocolate. Most baking chocolates are made of cocoa (in the form of powder, liquor, or a combination), cocoa butter, and some elements of sugar and soy lecithin (prevents the cocoa and the cocoa butter from separating). The latter ingredients are what distinguish unsweetened, bittersweet, and semi-sweet chocolate varieties.

Chocolate, in its form as baking bars, chocolate chips, etc., is a shelf-stable product…so long as you treat it with care.

In a basic scientific explanation, things stay the same unless an external agent is introduced. This can be called stability, constancy, or equilibrium.

That chocolate bar wants to stay the way it is. Unfortunately, our kitchens are not stable environments. The weather changes outside (temperature swings, rain, snow, dry heat, humidity), you open and close windows, and the pantry gets shuffled around. If you’re in my house, Dan finds his way into the bag of chocolate chips when you’re not looking, forgets to seal the bag, and the next day he blames it all on the dog.

When chocolate is exposed to the “elements” for a period of time, the chemistry of the chocolate changes. Typically this occurs in one of two forms…


What is “Bloom”?

There are two main causes of bloom: Fats and Sugars

Fat Bloom:

Fat bloom occurs when the cocoa butter separates itself from the cocoa solids. This is usually due to drastic temperature change. Ever left a chocolate bar in your car and then tried to “freeze” it back to a solid state? It probably suffered from fat bloom and looked like the surface of Mars was covered in a blanket of chocolate…mmmmm…

If Mars is made of chocolate, put me on the next shuttle!

Fat bloom will make the chocolate more brittle. It also probably won’t taste as delicious if you simply eat it. However, it works “normally” in any recipe that requires you to melt or temper the chocolate. All the ingredients are still there, they have just have to be put back together. You need to melt it all back to chocolate harmony. Check out a great tutorial on tempering chocolate (without ruining it) here.


Sugar Bloom:

Sugar bloom is the result of water or moisture coming into contact with the chocolate. This is what happened to poor Kim.

When moisture comes in contact with chocolate, the sugar separates (in a similar manner to the cocoa butter above), causing the sugar to crystallize. From a glance sugar bloom looks like chalk or dust. But if you zoom in, it will remind you of tiny Champagne bubbles.


The dusty white stuff on the outside is crystallized sugar that has risen to the top/outside of the chocolate. A quick fix to this is to grate off the bloom (I prefer a thin Microplane but any grater will do). You don’t have to go crazy because it is a very thin layer. Your chocolate will look good as new!

Similar to chocolate that has suffered by fat bloom, sugar bloomed chocolate can still be used in recipes that require melting or tempering. You can throw still use chocolate chips that have experienced sugar bloom, but the chips will still look chalky in the final product.


Preventing Chocolate Bloom

It’s all about storage. To prevent fat or sugar bloom, it is best to keep chocolate in an air-tight container, in a cool, dark place, and away from windows, heat sources, or other things that affect temperature.

I recommend a small, glass Snapware tub to keep air and moisture out.


Can chocolate expire?

Absolutely. Typically chocolate bars last between 4-6 months stored (properly) in the pantry, and may last a few extra months if stored in the fridge or freezer.

When in doubt, throw it out. Expired chocolate does not have a distinct visual change but the flavor is often bitter. It will not be remedied by melting or tempering.

In my house chocolate never expires. It gets eaten way before that could ever happen, but word on the street is that not everyone has the same self-control issues that we do. Guilty as charged.

There you have it! Chocolate science!

And if you’re wondering, Kim’s cake turned out great, the birthday party was a blast, and nobody died.

Bake on!


Lava Me Tender

When it comes to desserts, I prefer recipes that are utterly complicated. Weird, I know.

But there are some nights that I want chocolate and, to quote Veruca Salt, I want it now!

Ooozy, chocolatey goodness!

Lava cakes are one of the best kept secrets of any home baker. They look like they have taken hours of work, tons of ingredients, and complex techniques. But they don’t.

Six ingredients. 30 minutes from start to finish. Seriously.

Not long ago I taught my former roommate (a guy whose livelihood depends on the microwave) to whip these up for a girl he was trying to woo. He got it on the first try. Oh and he got the girl too!

“Hold on, you said 6 ingredients. I’m only counting 5.”                      Patience, young padawan…


Let’s do this.


Break up your chocolate and throw it into a microwave-safe bowl with the butter. Microwave on high for 30 seconds, take it out and stir, then repeat until it looks like this:


Resist the urge to eat a spoonful and add the powdered sugar. Whisk it in until it’s a uniform color.



Then add the eggs and egg yolks and whisk them in. I prefer to beat them in a coffee mug beforehand to make it easier to incorporate. Add the flour and whisk until the batter is a uniform dark color again.

Up to this point you will have a classic chocolate lava cake. No bells or whistles.
Enter my secret weapon.

The sweet nectar. If you’re ever in Fort Collins, Dancing Pines should be your first stop. No excuses.

This stuff is a game changer. Honestly you can add any flavoring to your batter and the experimentation is half of the fun. Try vanilla, rum flavoring, bourbon, Cointreau (orange), Kahlua (coffee),  whatever you fancy. Add about 1/2 teaspoon and mix it in.

Now to prepare the ramekins. The most harrowing moment of lava cakes is turning them out onto a plate. If you butter your ramekins adequately, you won’t even break a sweat.


Now THAT is how you butter a ramekin!

Pro tip: Butter the crap out of your ramekins! “But I always use cooking spray for my pans and it’s totally fine.” No. Use butter – a lot of it. Don’t hold back. I’ve found that it’s easiest to use a sandwich bag for this (yes, like going-for-a-walk-with-your-dog style) to get good coverage on the ramekins and keep your hands completely clean. Magic!

Bake for 13 minutes (no more, no less) in a 425° oven. They are done if the edge is firm and the center is squishy – technical terms, I assure you. Pull them out of the oven and let them sit for a minute. Then run a butter knife around the edge.

Now for the magic inversion: Grab a small plate and cover the top of the ramekin (this will be the bottom of the cake). Flip it over and gently lift the ramekin. And for goodness sake, use potholders and don’t burn yourself!


Now dust with some powered sugar, add a scoop of ice cream, and voila!

Wait for it…

See? That was a piece of cake…err, easy as pie…. Why are all idioms food-related? Weird.

What are you waiting for? Stop reading…Get a spoon!


Molten Lava Cakes


  • 4 ounces semi-sweet baking chocolate*
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 6 Tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon of flavoring (e.g., vanilla, bourbon, Kahlua, etc)
  • Extra powdered sugar or ice cream



  1. Preheat oven to 425° F. Butter four ramekins/custard cuts. Place on baking sheet.
  2. In a microwaveable bowl, melt the chocolate and butter together. Start with 30 seconds on high, then stir with a whisk, and repeat until smooth.
  3. Stir in powdered sugar until well blended. Add in eggs and egg yolks with wisk. Stir in flour and flavoring of choice. Divide batter between prepared custard cups.
  4. Bake 13 to 14 minutes or until sides are firm but centers are soft. Let stand
    1 minute. Carefully run a small knife around cakes to loosen. Invert cakes onto
    dessert dishes. Serve immediately with a dusting of powdered sugar and a scoop of ice cream. Yields 4 lava cakes.

*Bakers brand chocolate used to come in 1 oz squares. The newer packaging is slightly different where 1 “old” square = 4 new pieces. Make sure to read the box to get the correct measurements.

Bread: A Love Story

Bread is beautiful. It is so simple, yet incredibly complex. Four ingredients can come together in a thousand different ways. Making bread is every bit science as it is art.

For me, bread started it all. So it is only fitting that it is also the start of this blog.

Fresh Beginnings:
If you would have asked me ten years ago how to bake bread I would have little knowledge to offer. I was a college student with a small budget, limited time, and a definitive lack of culinary prowess. I shopped the clearance shelves at the grocery store and concocted weird recipes to satiate my basic nutritional needs. This included day-old bread from the bakery. Less than 24 hours out of the oven a gorgeous crusty baguette or a soft seeded loaf would be cast aside and slapped with a discount sticker (the dunce hat of the bakery world).

For shame.

I considered myself a rescuer of all things gluten and found ways to turn even the gnarliest looking loaf into something delicious (French Toast, bread pudding, breakfast casserole, croutons…you get the idea). Heck, I considered it a challenge. And I LOVE a good challenge.

All day I dream of baguettes…

I met my (future) husband, Dan, in 2008. There’s a long story about an epic snowstorm, a Mustang, and the Super Bowl, but I’ll spare you those details. Eventually we moved in together when we were both graduate students. Grad school meant working long hours for very little money – supposedly for the love of science (at least that’s what we told ourselves). It didn’t take him long to discover my love of a good deal and a good challenge. So he dared me to make bread.


As in, that stuff that makes the grocery store smell so good. The magical loaves that I could only assume were formed by the hands of baking elves and other wizardy.


He wants me to become a wizard.

“Ok, Carolyn, you can do this.” I told myself with clueless optimism. It was time for research.

I started where I always do: Google. What did people do before the Goog? “Go the library, duh” says my librarian mother (“Touche, mom”). Quickly I was down the rabbit hole reading about yeast strains, baker’s math, and sourdough starters dating to the mid-1500s. I was in over my head.

But then I came across an article by Ken Forkish. I had no idea who he was at the time and it would be several years before he would publish my favorite book on breadmaking. His writing spoke to me. He explained everything simply, elegantly, and enthusiastically. He explained that bread is only as intimidating as you make it. Humans have been doing this for hundreds of years – you can too. Cheers, Ken.

From Frisbees to Boules

My first attempt at bread was one for the record books. Dan and I still joke about that hard, flat disc. It went into the oven with such potential and love behind it, only to come out as a laughable, flavorless Frisbee.

Oh hey Frisbee bread!

In hindsight, I did everything right and, at the same time, I did everything wrong.

I am a scientist at my core. I measured everything…twice. I read the directions…thrice. I double-checked my work, appropriately distinguished between volume and weight, adjusted bake time to account for our oven’s uneven heating, and computed Vegas odds of success vs failure.

So how could I have possibly screwed this up?

Well, I wrongly assumed that baking bread was simply science.

Silly psychologist, bread is also an artform.

I failed to acknowledge the presence of the Bread Gods. The ones who whisper in your ear when the dough is perfectly kneaded, the ones who guide your hands to form a flawless round, the ones who watch over your bread in the oven when you walk away to practice tricks with your dog. I did not yet appreciate the zen of bread.

Over months I made loaves that were variations of terrible: flat, “ballooning,” overbaked, underbaked, overworked, full of holes, you name it.

Forgot the salt? Yep. Killed the yeast? Of course. Burned the crust? Let’s just say more than once.

There were a lot of bad batches (translation: a lot of homemade croutons!)
But I got there.
And it was a damn good challenge.

Hello, Gorgeous!

During this venture I learned a lot of things about baking, but also about myself. Regarding the latter, I’m annoyingly perfectionistic. I hate screwing up but I can adapt quickly and problem-solve in a heartbeat. I’m not patient (surprise!). Baking relaxes me. Oh and I really, really, really, love sourdough (the tangier, puckerier, sourer…yep, I’m making up words…the better).

I now make bread several times per month with old and new recipes. I’ve developed friendships of recipe exchanges with fellow breadbakers. I even attended a three-day conference about breadbaking (more on that later – it was incredible!). I love the versatility of four ingredients – the science and the art coming together – and the end result of a crusty, golden boule. It’s truly a love story without the bizarre photos of Fabio. Plus nothing beats the smell of fresh bread in the oven! Mmmmmm…

Learning to make bread teaches patience, vigilance, and humility. It’s a lesson in failure, resilience, and self-examination. I challenge you to try it. Like me, you may fail the first time. When/if you do, dust yourself off (literally and figuratively) and do it again.

You’ll love the smell of victory from the oven.


Simple French Boule

I can’t promise that this recipe is fool-proof, but I can assure you it’s the easiest place to start. Boule is French for ‘ball’ and reflects the shape of the dough as a round loaf. Recipe yields 2 small rounds.


  • 3 cups lukewarm water (100 degrees F)
  • 1.5 Tablespoons active dry yeast (not rapid rise)
  • 4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour (you may need a bit more/less depending on wetness of dough)
  • 1 Tablespoon kosher salt


  1. Whisk together water and yeast. Let sit on counter for 15-20 minutes until bubbly.
  2. In another bowl, whisk 3.5 cups of flour with salt. Add water gradually and combine with a robust mixing spoon until dough is thick and difficult to stir.
  3. Turn out onto a floured board. Knead for about five minutes, adding a bit of flour as you go (up to 4 cups total). Don’t know how to knead? No fear – go here. To avoid Frisbee bread, knead the dough until it can stand on its own without morphing into a flat blob on the counter (these are technical terms, by the way). It should spring back slowly when you press gently with your finger.
  4. Place into a greased bowl, cover loosely with plastic wrap or light towel, and let rise in a warm place until doubled (about 30-45 minutes).
  5. Shape into a boule. It’s simpler than it sounds. There is an excellent video tutorial here. Cover lightly with plastic wrap or light towel while the oven heats up.
  6. Preheat oven to 450° F. If you want to get fancy, use a really sharp knife and cut a few lines in the bread about 1/2 inch deep.
  7. Bake for 40-50 minutes and crust is golden brown. If crust starts getting too brown before time, tent with tin foil. Allow to cool completely before cutting into the bread. For nerds out there, the internal temperature of the bread should be at least 180° F.
  8. Fun tip: If you want that bakery-style crispy crust with chewy crumb, place a 9×13″ pan in the oven when you preheat the oven (I usually put it on the rack below the bread). Right after you put the dough in, throw a cup of water into the pan and quickly close the oven door. The steam will help create that delicious, crackly crust!