Costco Pizza Review

Despite being a member of Costco for years I never bought their pizza. I figured it would get cold by the time I reached home, plus we have a local pizzeria we normally buy from (they are good but not great). A few weeks ago my 14 year old daughter accompanied me to Costco and requested a pizza slice while we walked. I agreed, she devoured it and pronounced it DELICIOUS. So it was with only mild trepidation that I splurged on four cheese pies to feed my kids for dinner tonight.

I waited patiently as the pies were prepared. The dough was pressed by machine, as was the tomato sauce measured. Cheese is weighed by hand and distributed over the pie which is then placed in a large oven. About ten minutes later the pies are sliced (one guy used a metal guide to cut it) and boxed. I should note, you can select either 8 or 12 slices per pie- same price.

The pies were still hot when I got home, but as I served the food I immediately saw there were issues. The pies were all too browned. While I know some people like their pizzas roasted, many do not. And it wasn’t a fluke; all the other pies I saw prepared were likewise excessively browned. Had I cooked this pizza myself I would consider it burnt.

There are HUGE problems with the crust. Both in depth and texture. It wasn’t a thin crust, nor sicilian. It was just sloppy. While it had the appearance, especially around the edges, of sicilian, it wasn’t thick enough to be considered as such. But it was too thick to be thin crust. The bread was tough, chewy, and difficult to slice. I’m pretty sure this is due to not being properly rested or cultured, plus being cooked improperly at the wrong temperature.

A few of my kids liked it but most hated it. Two refused to eat it on sight. Even though I am diabetic, for the sake of this blog I ate half a slice. Here is my verdict:

The dough is horrid. Chewy, tough (but not crisp), dense. Either it wasn’t properly rested, or it was simply ill-prepared. The sauce was bitter and metallic, with no trace of italian flavorings. There was too much sauce, especially near the edges. The “burnt” taste only added to the bitterness, and with the thickness of the crust made me feel like I was eating soggy burnt toast. It was actually worse than frozen pizza!

So this pizza gets an ardent thumbs down. Unless you like mushy pizza crust, too much sauce, and burnt cheese, Costco pizza is not for you.


Escape From New York

Yesterday I left Staten Island for the first time in nine years. That’s right, I hadn’t stepped foot off the island, even for other boroughs, in nine long years. Actually that time went by rather quickly.

The drive was surprisingly non-horrific. With two and five year olds in tow I braced myself for the worst. A couple older kids came along for the ride and Mom did the driving, which was heaven sent- I dislike highway driving to the point of phobia.

We went over the Goethals, the turnpike, various parkways. We stopped for lunch at McDonald’s; I had a double quarter pounder sans ketchup and I threw out the bun (not before offering it to the rest of the family, they declined). It was awkward but doable eating the floppy hamburger patties with my fingers, the meat was terribly overcooked. It was edible, but barely, to the tune of $5. My little guys shared french fries and chicken nuggets, mom had a salad, older kids had an egg mcmuffin, more nuggets and fries. For drinks we had water (me), lemonade, mocha latte and diet coke.

I was surprised how many black people and hispanics are now north of NYC. Nine years ago non-asian minorities faded out a certain radius beyond the metro area with the exception of Springfield, MA. Most of the diners at that connecticut McDonald’s were black or hispanic, and it didn’t turn all/mostly white until Vermont.

After five hours we reached my hometown; I didn’t move here until age seven but it’s essentially my hometown. I wondered if I would start crying after all these years. But it was anticlimactic. There were the gorgeous mountains, lush green rolling in distant landscape. There was the guns-n-ammo shop. More lush greenery, an auto shop. Some kind of manufacturing plant (the sole one in the area, industry here has been decimated). The veterinarian where our sick pets were euthanized so long ago. Pretty colonials and victorians, many but not all in disrepair.

We arrived home to my very grouchy father. Grouchy is my dad’s version of happy, it only goes downhill from there. My little guy was all over the place while we unpacked- I tried to lock him in a playroom via baby gate but he howled pitifully so I let him escape.

My parents had dinner but I told them I would eat later. I went for a walk around local roads and hopped briefly into the woods, climbing a steep incline padded with pine needles and thin weeds. Pine trees towered overhead like solemn angels. I sat under one and patiently slapped mosquitoes as they landed on my skin. Later I ate some salmon and semi-raw hamburgers. My mother was horrified as she packed them out of sight into the fridge, asking wasn’t I worried about eating rare beef? Nope.

This morning I went to walmart. I needed shampoo and razors, my five year old requested pretzels. My mom warned me: the town looked worse than ever, but as I drove it looked the same. There was a new CVS. There was an abandoned something or other. There was the middle school where I was mercilessly tormented by my peers. I peeked down the street to my childhood best friend’s house- I considered driving past but that would feel stalkerish. I have no idea if her parents are even still living, and she has long since moved away.

Walmart… it looked exactly the same as nine years ago, except the shopping carts were in terrible shape (nothing irks me more than lousy shopping carts) and the walls were dinged up, in need of repainting. Two women said hello and politely asked how are you? This jarred me. They don’t do that in Staten Island, not that Staten Islanders aren’t friendly in their own way.

I am here for my aunt’s funeral. It’s all very sad. She should have lived a good twenty, thirty years further. God gives and god takes away.

Pretzels From God

I’ve been making homemade pretzels for the kids recently. No, not the kind you heat up from the freezer. The kind you make from strange items like flour and yeast.


My fourteen year old said they taste like they were made by God. Well, if ever a cook has received a compliment, that is it! I used Alton Brown’s recipe but tweaked it a little. I used vegetable oil instead of butter, paid more attention to the dough texture than his ratio of ingredients (the texture is incredibly important since you have to shape and boil these) and eventually shaped them differently– the above picture shows Alton’s method. Good but not great.

My picky eaters devoured them like locusts and my oldest daughter has begged me to make them every day.

The irony is that I can’t eat them, as I have type 2 diabetes! I did try one bite to verify their verdict, and yes they are delicious. So go ahead and give these a try, you’ll never buy regular soft pretzels again!

Quick & Easy Homemade Injera

injera main

One of the few things I miss about living in Manhattan are the Ethiopian restaurants. I was skeptical about Ethiopian cuisine at first, but was amazed by the delicacy of the flavors and how it melds with the spongy texture of injera (a crepe-like flat bread used to scoop up stews). There are no Ethiopian restaurants on Staten Island, at least not that I know of, so a year into living here I grew determined to make Ethiopian dishes myself. Unfortunately there are few guides on this matter and the recipes I found online weren’t too useful. The injera recipes were especially terrible. I’ve found a few injera recipes in cookbooks, but like the online recipes they produced burnt glop.

If you’re familiar with Ethiopian cuisine, you probably think the injera in restaurants is made with teff flour flown in from the mother country. Nope. I asked a few proprietors how they make their injera and the answer was always– Aunt Jemima pancake mix! So I decided to forgo the recipes that variously call for teff or bread flour and try the expert advice. I did make reasonably edible injera using boxes of Aunt Jemima pancake mix, but the best by far was produced with Krusteaz buttermilk pancake mix (this is sold in huge bags at Costco).



With Krusteaz I was able to closely replicate the injera served in restaurants; it’s not quite the same but very close, and is flexible and stretchy like the authentic (or at least, restaurant-authentic) variety.

Doesn’t break when bent!

You should also forgo trying to cook injera on a stove top. In Ethiopia, injera is made in specialized pans designed just for that purpose, and a frying pan, or even a crepe pan, just won’t cut it. I get very good results baking at 400F on a pizza pan (use at least a 14″ diameter)– this allows the top and bottom to cook evenly. And when you flip it over onto the cooling rack, you should see the hallmark spongy holes in the bread which are ideal for absorbing sauces. Here is the recipe (yields 2 large injeras):

2 1/2 cups Krusteaz buttermilk pancake mix
1 tsp SAF gold yeast (you could probably use any label yeast here)
2 1/2 cups warm water
3/4 tsp salt (added just before cooking)
2 tbs white vinegar (added just before cooking– this will give it the “sourdough” taste without fermentation)

Whisk the pancake mix, yeast, and warm water together in a large bowl. Cover and let it sit at least 30 minutes. It should grow frothy and bubbly over this period. Preheat the oven to 400F and whisk in the salt and vinegar just before cooking. Spray a large pizza pan (14″+) with a very generous amount of cooking spray, and pour half the batter out in concentric circles– starting at the outer part. Cook on a middle rack for 10-12 minutes or until cooked all the way through and dry to the touch in the center. Note: thicker injera is more likely to break apart when bent, so always err towards making it too thin. If you like, you can divide the batter into three smaller injeras.

Before trying to remove the injera from the pan, run a thin metal spatula underneath it. I do often get the very center stuck to the pan but with some jostling I can usually free it. If it does break apart it’s no big deal, as we normally cut it into fourths for serving, and/ or you can hide the hole with the stews poured on top. Once it is loosened, flip it over onto a cooling rack. Voila! There’s your injera. Kids love to eat this plain, or at least my picky kids do. The two year old just devoured four slices of it. Here it is served with Ethiopian carrots and potatoes (atakilt wat). I will share that recipe the next time I make it.

carrots potatoes

Shrinking Packages

I decided this morning that I’m sick of cooking, and I need a break. The way people cook around Thanksgiving is the way I cook every day, and I’m tired of it. I’m sick of cooking the same things over and over and over again. So on my way to the grocery store I decided I would buy all the stuff I never buy– crackers, bread (I make my own normally), english muffins (ditto), cookies (ditto), maybe even ice cream. I resolved to buy only things that were a generic label, or on sale. But perusing the aisles, I was amazed by what it would cost to feed my family only prepared and packaged foods. If I bought enough poptarts to satisfy seven children on a daily basis, we’d lose our house. I was also amazed by how much packages have shrunk since I last was in the habit of buying convenience foods, or semi-convenience foods as the case my be (which I never did fully, but I used to buy bread and crackers all the time). The Ritz cracker package was 2/3 the size of what it once was, yet cost the same (I got it on sale). The Cheerios box looked HALF the size of what I remember. The only packages that seemed to have retained their size were bread products like rolls or english muffins. Anything in a box had shrunk, and shrunk severely.

This is just a short term reprieve until I regain my bearings. And I’m still cooking a lot: today I’ve already cooked/ prepared brown rice, sweet potatoes, baked beans, chicken thighs, pizza dough, and two salads. And this was all AFTER deciding not to cook for the kids for a while. I think Kristin Wartman was right when she concluded that cooking for a family is a full time job. I am chained in the kitchen hours on end. I cook so much, I often forget what all I’ve cooked in a given day.

So I came home with a lot of bread, crackers, croissants, some bags of snacks like pretzels and potato chips, individual containers of yogurt and some packaged cookies (I buy fruits and veggies at a different store). Tonight I had the free time to make myself whole wheat pancakes for dinner, and then I treated myself to a bowl of potato chips. I hadn’t eaten potato chips in so long, I forgot what they tasted like.

Instant Peanut Dressing


Well it’s not quite “instant” but it only requires some simple measurements and stirring. This is the most unbelievably delicious salad dressing I’ve ever tasted. It’s addictive, and you’ll be craving the next salad just to get a taste of this dressing. I can’t remember how I came up with it, but I’ve been making it for roughly 7 years. You can adjust the amount of nut butter or sugar to your liking, but here is the basic recipe.

1 cup plain nonfat or lowfat yogurt
2 generous tablespoons non-hydrogenated (“natural”) peanut butter
2 generous tablespoons brown sugar

Stir these ingredients together, and, once you have slathered it on whatever you plan to eat, sprinkle with a little salt. And voila, instant peanut dressing that is a thousand times better than the other recipes for peanut sauce out there. You could also serve this as a sauce, but, since it is yogurt, you can’t heat it, though you could pour it over something hot (like roasted potatoes… mmmmm).

For variations, you can use any non-hydrogenated nut butter. Before our food processor broke I often made almond butter which is equally delicious in this simple recipe. You can also use maple syrup, or honey, instead of brown sugar, though I wouldn’t suggest using white sugar as it doesn’t taste quite the same. For a thai taste you could add some mashed garlic and a sprinkle of cayenne pepper.

This dressing tastes best with the kind of peanut butter that needs to be stirred before serving. And don’t mix it in a food processor or blender, as the random small chunks of clumpy peanut butter throughout the salad are delicious.

Enjoy and eat your veggies!!

Faux Chocolate Croissants

feature 2

These are extremely delicious, and taste just like chocolate croissants, yet they don’t involve the all-day hassle of creating pastry crust.  I use a brioche-like bread dough, press it out flat, brush with butter, place on a layer of chocolate chips, then roll it up (similar to how cinnamon buns are made), but I cook them like stuffed bread without laying each segment out on a baking pan.  For a dessert, these are also low in sugar, though I’m not going to claim they’re good for you.

6 cups flour
1 1/2 tbs SAF gold yeast (please do not use any other kind yeast)
4 eggs
1/2 cup vegetable (canola) oil
1/2 cup sugar
2 tsp salt
about 2 cups water (see directions)

1 stick butter, melted
2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips

1 egg
1 tsp pure vanilla extract

Stir together the flour and yeast in the bowl of a standing mixer; add the remaining ingredients. except for the water.  With the dough hook begin to combine the ingredients, and slowly add the water, adding just enough water to create a soft but not sticky dough. The dough should like like so:

dough consistency

I allow my mixer to knead for about ten minutes.  After this is done, place the dough in an oiled bowl, cover with a cloth and allow to rise for about an hour, but not more than two hours.

Oil your work surface with a little oil.  I prefer to use an oiled, instead of a floured, surface.

oiled surface

Divide the dough into thirds,

three sections

…and using your hands flatten each piece into a rectangle like so (roughly 10 inches by 18 inches, but it needn’t be exact):

three sections flattened

Take your melted butter and using a pastry brush, or the back of a spoon, gently brush each section with a third of the butter.

three sections w butter

Next, distribute the 2 cups of chocolate chips evenly over each section.

three sections w chocolate chips

Then roll up the dough starting at a long side, like so:

rolled up

rolled up 2

You can pinch the seams to keep them closed.  Then transfer each section to a cookie sheet (don’t panic if they come apart while being moved, just pinch them back up on the cookie sheet) that has been sprayed with no-stick spray. Using very sharp scissors, snip the dough at ~2 inch intervals, cutting not quite all the way through.

cut dough

Cover loosely with plastic that has been sprayed with no-stick spray, and allow to rest for 30 minutes. Here I use a grocery bag that has been cut open to accommodate the width.

covered dough

15 minutes into the resting period, start your oven to 375F with the rack on the second to top slot. Prepare your egg wash by whisking together the egg and vanilla extract,


and using a pastry brush gently paint the surface of the dough all over. Wait five minutes, and repeat.

dough w wash

Pop them in the oven for 23-25 minutes; you don’t want the bottoms to get too dark or hardened, this is the real trick in making these.  So check them toward the end of the baking period.

And there you go, an entire sheet of “chocolate croissants.”

out of the oven


If you’re ever feeling masochistic, you can make real chocolate croissants using my homemade croissant recipe.

Huevos Haminados


While trawling the internet for ways to make eggs in the slow cooker, I stumbled upon a description of a Sephardic dish that cooks eggs over a long period at low simmer (for which a slow cooker is perfect). This began as a sabbath dish– since a fire could not be lit on the sabbath, jews created a number of dishes, like cholent, that cook slowly overnight on a fire lit before sunset.  Huevos haminados are eggs that are simmered over seven or more hours, and due to various chemical reactions within the egg, the egg white turns a yellow-gray color and takes on a meaty taste and texture, while the yolk becomes crumbly with a distinctive, pleasant, nutty taste.  I am not a big fan of egg dishes in general, and you couldn’t pay me to eat a traditionally hard boiled egg, but these slow cooked eggs taste nothing like rubbery hard boiled eggs and are quite delicious.  So delicious, in fact, that four of my picky kids wolfed them down happily.

The process is very simple, just make sure you plan ahead and put them in the slow cooker seven hours before you plan to eat (they can also be stored, once cooked, in the fridge). Place however many eggs you wish to make in a slow cooker and cover completely with water.  If desired, add some papery skin from onions, especially red onion, to color the shells. Place the lid on the slow cooker, set to LOW, and allow to cook for seven hours.

After seven hours have passed, peel them under cool water and serve with a sprinkle of salt.  We’ve also had these with barbecue sauce and peanut dressing.

All-Purpose Vegan “Meat”


As I’ve stated elsewhere, I’m not strictly vegan nor do I have any agenda against meat eaters. I’m a lifelong picky eater and one of the foods I’ve always hated is meat.  However, on occasion, I do get a hankering for “something meaty,” which is where this easy fake meat recipe comes in handy.

This isn’t an official recipe as I tend to cook it on the fly, so I won’t tag it as a recipe, but I will give the basics of how I cook it.  This method is similar to homemade seitan, but doesn’t require ages of simmering.

You need to utilize the following ratio– 3 parts beans (drained and rinsed): 1 part vital wheat gluten: 1 part white flour: 1 part liquid, plus your seasonings.  So this would translate into, say, 1 1/2 cups beans: 1/2 cup vital wheat gluten: 1/2 cup flour: 1/2 cup liquid. For the “liquid” component I usually use 1/4 cup water, 2 tbs soy sauce, and 2 tbs olive oil (for a total of 1/2 a cup of liquid).  For seasoning I add a teaspoon of thyme and maybe 1/2 teaspoon salt.  But this “recipe” is very flexible and you could add whatever seasonings suit your fancy, such as onion powder, garlic, diced onion, italian seasonings, and so on.

Pick your beans according to what kind of “meat” dish you’re making.  If you want it to look like chicken, select a light colored bean like white beans or chick peas.  If you want it to look like beef, pick black, pink, or red beans.  I don’t recommend using lentils as they tend to be very watery when cooked.

Puree all the ingredients in a food processor until it is stringy like bread dough (please don’t substitute anything for the vital wheat gluten– this is the main “meaty” tasting ingredient).  Then, shape it according to what dish you’re making.  In the photographs here I made “meatballs” which I then cut into chunks of “meat” for the veggie dish and soup.  But you can stretch portions of the dough into fillet shapes, or any shape you prefer.  The dough shouldn’t be too sticky, and should be easy to handle.


Stir fry beef… fooled you!

I like to cook the “meat” in a shallow layer of olive oil at 375F for about 17-20 minutes, flipping halfway through.  That’s exactly how I made the meatballs shown here.

You can also use these hunks of “meat” for dishes like lemon chicken, chicken marsala, sweet and sour chicken, and so on.

Vital wheat gluten may sound like an exotic ingredient, but it is available from any bakery supplier, health food store, and is in the baking section of many supermarkets.  My grocery store carries the Bob’s Red Mill variety for about $6/ 16 oz. bag.  It may seem a little pricey but you only need half a cup per recipe of “meat” (which is much less than seitan recipes call for). And of course, it’s still much cheaper than real meat.

Homemade Croissants


No longer do you need to be enslaved to the patisserie down the street.  With this inexpensive, simple (if somewhat tedious) recipe, you can create your own fluffy, flaky, delectable croissants.  Even better, you get to eat them warm.  My picky kids devour these croissants like locusts.

Just a note before you begin: you will need a dough scraper (only $1.95, buy a few!), a pastry brush, and a good quality yeast.  As  I mentioned in the pizza dough recipe, we only use SAF gold, available from King Arthur Flour.  Buying it by the pound is much cheaper than buying packets at the grocery store, not to mention those packets tend to be a poor quality yeast anyway.

2 tsp yeast
3 tbs warm water
1 tsp sugar

2/3 cup warm milk
2 tbs vegetable oil
2 tsp sugar

2 1/4 cups flour
1/2 tsp salt

1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, softened but NOT melted

for egg wash:
1 egg
2 tbs water

Before you begin, make sure that your butter is at the right consistency and temperature.  It should be softened but not melted.  If you warm up the butter in the microwave and it melts, don’t panic; just let it sit at room temperature for a while.  However, you don’t want it to be chilled.  It should look like the butter below:


In a mixing bowl, whisk together the 2 tsp yeast, 3 tbs warm water, and 1 tsp sugar.  It should bubble and be frothy after a few minutes.


Meanwhile, warm up your 2/3 cup milk (warm but not hot to the touch), and whisk in 2 tbs vegetable oil and 2 tsp sugar.


Add the milk mixture to the yeast mixture and whisk.

liquid 2

Add the 2 1/4 cups flour and 1/2 tsp salt; knead with the dough hook until it forms a cohesive mass.  The dough should not be too sticky.  If it is sticky (as pictured below) add one more tbs of flour.

too wet

As you can see, that 1 tbs of flour did the trick.


On a lightly floured surface roll the dough out into a rectangle.


It should be between 1/8 and 1/4 of an inch thick, as illustrated by comparison to my daughter’s fingertip.  The rectangle should be roughly 9 X 12 inches but it doesn’t have to be exact.


Now take your butter and smear it on the top two thirds of the dough.  I went a little overboard here, but just make sure you leave a section butter-free at the bottom, and leave a slight margin around the edges.


Fold up that third at the bottom over the middle third.

first fold

Fold the top third down.

second fold

Press the dough down slightly, but don’t roll it out.


Now, fold in thirds again, being careful to scrape any butter that oozed out back onto the dough  It doesn’t matter which third you fold first, just fold it into thirds and press it down slightly again.



Place in a plastic bag,


and put it in the fridge for 2 hours.

After 2 hours, remove the dough from the fridge, and once again roll it out into a rectangle the same size as you did before.  Again, fold up the bottom third, and fold down the top third.



Turn the dough 90 degrees, and roll it out slightly.  This second roll doesn’t have to be as thorough as the first, but you need to roll it out sufficiently such that it can be folded into thirds yet again.  Fold up the bottom third, fold down the top third,


… and put back in the plastic bag, and in the fridge for another 2 hours.

After the second 2 hours round in the fridge, the pressure rises a bit  You need to work fast because you want the dough to remain slightly chilled as it goes into the oven.  Of course, you could always shape the croissants, cover with dish towels, and but them back in the fridge, but you’ve already waited 4 hours for those warm croissants!

Preheat oven to 475F with the rack in the top slot.  Spray a large cookie sheet with cooking spray.  Remove the dough and once again roll out into a rectangle of roughly 1/8-1/4 thickness.  Slice this in half widthwise (assuming a short side of the rectangle is facing you) and put one half back in the fridge.  Roll out the remaining half as thin as you can, but keeping the shape of a rectangle.  Cut this rectangle into thirds (again, cutting the narrow length) and then cut each third diagonally into 2 triangles.  So you’ve just made 6 triangles.  It may sound complicated, but I promise it’s not.

croissant triangles

Now take each triangle and roll them up starting at the wide side down to the point.  Place them point side down on the cookie sheet; you can stretch a little as you roll and turn the crescents in slightly for a classically “croissant” shape (I don’t bother with this, too much hassle!).  Keep working quickly, and repeat the process with the other half of dough.

Now prepare the wash.  Whisk one egg together with 2 tbs water, and with a pastry brush, brush over each croissant.  Here’s on old trick from making challah: after you’ve “painted” each croissant, wait a minute or two, and brush the wash over again. This makes for a glossier finish.

croissant wash

By this point the oven should be hot, so pop them in on the top rack.

Cook at 475F for 6 minutes, then lower the temp to 375F and cook for 5-6 more minutes.  Let cool before eating!  My girls love to slather these with cream cheese.