Brick Oven Style Pizza

The following recipe was shared with us by the Schwinger family. As far as I know, this was the winner of the

Schwinger-Finnan Great American Pizza Challenge

We are huge fans of pizza cooked over a wood fire.  We think the taste the smoke imparts on the crust and the cheese is just fantastic and reminiscent of some of the amazing pizza we enjoyed while on a two-week tour of Northern Italy. Here’s how we make them on our deck.

The Oven

Unfortunately, there is simply no way to get the taste we are describing without a good charcoal grill capable of maintaining temperatures over 500º F.  I would love to use a wood burning brick oven, but I don’t have one.  Instead, I use a ceramic kamado style grill with a design that can be traced back to historic Japan.  Specifically, I use a large Big Green Egg brand grill.  The grill has a domed top to focus the heat around and back down on top of the food.  Additionally, the grill has dampers at the top and bottom to control the temperature inside.  Nominally, the grill is 1 inch thick ceramic.  However, the portion of the grill where the food is located is 2 inches thick.  The result is a consistent  cooking temperature surrounding the food which promotes even cooking while retaining moisture.  

When grilling pizza, I use a special insert called a “plate setter” and I place a baking stone directly on top of that.  The plate setter is a ceramic barrier that blocks the focussed direct heat from the coals and directs the heat around the item being cooked/baked.  It is very important to start the grill 20 minutes or so in advance of when I am ready to bake so the coals can burn down a bit and so the plate setter and baking stone can come up to temperature.  Finally, I only use lump, natural charcoal in the grill as I feel it gives a much better wood fire flavor than briquettes.

The Crust

I make my own crust.  The recipe I use is based on the Basic Pizza Dough recipe as found in “The All New All Purpose Joy of Cooking”.  However, I use a custom blend of flours I have settled on over the years.  Here is the recipe:

1 package (2¼ teaspoons) active dry yeast
1⅓ cups warm (105º to 115º F) water
3½ to 4 cups flour
1 cup Semolina Flour
1 cup Bread Flour
1 cup Wheat Flour (white or natural)
The balance, All Purpose Flour2 tablespoons olive oil (extra virgin)
1 tablespoon salt
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon gluten (optional)
1 tablespoon mixed dry italian herbs (optional)

Proof the yeast by mixing it with the warm water and the 1 tablespoon sugar.  Mix well and let it stand for approximately 10 minutes.  A foam should form on top of the water.

Mix all types of flower into a sifter along with the salt and gluten and sift into a large bowl.  After sifting mix the contents of the bowl with a whisk or spoon to fully integrate the various types of flour.

Once the yeast has proofed, begin mixing the flour and the yeast liquid into a mixer and begin to blend.  I use a heavy duty mixer with a dough hook attachment.   I keep the mixer on medium or low until I have everything integrated.  Alternate adding the dry ingredients and the wet until all have been mixed.  You’ll have to determine when the dough is just right.  The dough should not be overly tacky/sticky but should hold together as a cohesive ball.  If the dough is too dry, just add a small amount of water.  If the dough is too wet, add a bit more flour.  Note that it is not uncommon to have flour left over.  Retain this flour for kneading as the last step.  More on that later.

When the flour dough has the right consistency, I like to use the mixer to do the majority of the kneading.  I turn it up to high for 5 to 10 minutes.  This is important to make sure the dough has enough elasticity to retain air while baking.  This will yield those great air pockets in your pizza crust that make the texture so interesting while eating.  If you do not have a mixer capable of doing this work for you, you can also turn the dough out onto a large cutting board or counter top lightly dusted with flour and knead the old fashioned way.  Place the dough ball on the counter and flatten it with the base of the palms of your hands while you push/spread the dough away from you.  Then, pull the top of the flattened shaped down over the bottom and turn the resultant shape 90º (clockwise or counter-clockwise) on the surface.  Then repeat...for 10 minutes!  It is a good upper body workout so be ready!

The finish step, whether you used a machine or your strength to knead, is to knead by hand for a few more minutes.  As before, dust the surface with flour, and your hands if necessary, and knead a few more minutes until the dough is just right.  You’ll know it is right when you press the dough ball with a finger or thumb and the dent you make quickly rises back to the surface of the ball.

Place the dough ball in a bowl that is lightly oiled with olive oil.  Turn the ball over in the bowl once to get the entire surface covered with oil and cover with plastic wrap.  Place the bowl in a location that is quiet and warm and let the dough rise for 1 hour.

After the first rise, turn the dough back out onto the kneading surface, lightly floured,  and punch it down to get the majority of the air out.  Basically, knead it a few more times.  Once this is complete, divide the dough into two equal portions and make each part into a round ball.  Wrap each portion in plastic wrap leaving enough room for the ball to rise once again.  Place each dough portion in the refrigerator and let it rest/rise over night and preferably for 24 hours.

The Toppings

I typically make one pizza with some type of meat and one vegetarian from the divided dough portions.  The meats I like to choose from are prosciutto ham, pancetta bacon, or pepperoni.  The vegetables are generally some combination of tomato, garlic, onion, and bell pepper.  I like to use canned organic pizza sauce.  The cheese I use is organic, also.  Typically, I use a combination of mozzarella, parmigiano reggiano, pecorino romano, and feta.  For the pizzas I made during this session, here’s what i needed:

1 can pizza sauce (I use this organic brand)
2 - 3 slices of prosciutto ham
1 - 2 tomatoes, seeded and thinly sliced
1 medium onion, halved and sliced thin
2 - 4 cloves garlic, thinly sliced or minced
1 green bell pepper, seeded and thinly sliced (I only used half)
3  - 4 cups shredded mozzarella (approximately 1 cup per pizza)
1 wedge parmigiano reggiano
1 wedge pecorino romano
1 package crumbled feta
optional, mixed dry italian herbs (oregano, basil, marjoram, thyme, and rosemary)

The Pizza

For this round of pizza, I made two dough balls, for a possible total of 4 pizzas.  In this case, I made three - a Greek Style Veggie, a Prosciutto Ham, and a Quatro Formaggi (Four Cheese).

Lightly dust a pizza peal or cookie sheet with finely ground corn meal.  Using your hands, gently flatten and thin the dough ball into a generally round shape and place on the peal/cookie sheet.  Press it down with you fingers to get much of the air out, but be sure the corn meal is keeping the dough from sticking.  Next, add 1 to 2 tablespoons of sauce - be careful not to add too much sauce or the pizza will be too wet.  Next add a layer of mozzarella.  From here, I add the toppings:

Greek Veggie
Thinly sliced tomatoes (seeds removed)
Thinly sliced onion
Thinly sliced/minced garlic
Sliced bell pepper
Sliced black olives (preferably kalamata)
Crumbled feta cheese, sprinkled on top
Grated parmigianno reggiano cheese (grated on top)
Grated pecorino romano cheese (grated on top)

Prosciutto Ham
Thinly sliced tomatoes (seeds removed)
Thinly sliced onion
Thinly sliced/minced garlic
Sliced/chopped prosciutto ham
Grated parmigianno reggiano cheese (grated on top)
Grated pecorino romano cheese (grated on top)

Quatro Formaggi
Thinly sliced tomatoes (seeds removed)
Thinly sliced/minced garlic
Crumbled feta cheese
Grated parmigianno reggiano cheese (grated on top)
Grated pecorino romano cheese (grated on top)
Once all the toppings are added, I like to dust the pizzas with an italian blend of dry spices I have in my spice rack (oregano, basil, marjoram, thyme, and rosemary)


Adjust the temperature of the grill to between 500º and 600º F.  Lightly dust the surface of the baking stone with the ground corn meal.  Slide the pizza onto the stone and close the lid.  The pizza should cook in 10 minutes, give or take a few minutes and depending on the temperature, so check periodically.  The stone should prevent the crust from burning, but check it as the pizza gets closer to being done.  Once the pizza is complete, take it of the stone and enjoy!


Delaney M. and family shared this recipe with us. Sounds delicious and nutritious!

Here, buttermilk replaces nearly all of the oil. Very ripe bananas give the best flavor. Cooking the bananas in the microwave first gives lots of banana flavor without making the muffins too soggy.  The reduction infuses the bread with a ripe, intensely fruity banana flavor.

Yield: Makes at least 24 muffins

2 large eggs
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup brown sugar
5 very ripe, heavily speckled,  bananas
1/3 cup buttermilk
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 3/4 cups all purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup mini chocolate chips (can do more or less to taste)

Preheat oven to 325°F.

Lightly Pam  muffin tins.  You can use the Pam with flour in it as well.  

Place the bananas in a microwave safe bowl; cover with either a microwave safe plate or with plastic wrap and cut several steam vents in plastic with paring knife. Microwave on high power until bananas are soft and have released liquid (about 5 minutes).  Remove bowl from microwave and gently mash bananas with a potato masher.  Transfer bananas to a fine-mesh strainer placed over a medium saucepan and allow juice to drain, stirring occasionally and gently press liquid out using the back of a rubber scraper.  (You should have about 1/2 to 3/4 cup of liquid).

Cook liquid over medium-high heat until it has reduced in volume (by about 1/2), about 5 minutes.  Be sure it doesn't boil over!  Once reduced, remove the pan from heat and allow to cool completely.

In a small bowl mix the chocolate chips with a big spoonful of flour.  Stir to coat the chips.  This keeps the chips from sinking to the bottom of the muffin.  Set the chips aside to be added to the batter at the end.

Using electric mixer; beat eggs and sugar in large bowl until thick and light, about 5 minutes.

Mix in cooled smashed bananas, cooled banana juice reduction,  buttermilk, oil and vanilla.  Make sure it is well mixed together.

In a separate bowl combine flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt together.  Use a wire whisk to gently and completely mix the dry ingredients together.

Carefully add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients and  beat with the mixer until just blended.

Carefully add in flour coated chocolate chips to the mix.  The extra flour may be added in as well.  Mix just until blended.

Transfer batter to prepared pans.  Fill muffin tins to about 1/2 to 2/3 full.  It is very easy to fill the tins using a medium sized, lightly Pam'd ice cream scoop for the batter.

Bake muffins until golden brown on top and tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 22-25 minutes. Turn muffins out onto rack and cool.


Joseph Bush shared his families guacamole recipe. If you’ve never tried guacamole, give this recipe a try. If you go into it with an open-mind, I believe you will love it!

3 ripe Avacados
1 can of drained Rotel (diced tomatoes with green chilis)
½ cup of chopped onions
½ tsp chopped garlic
Lemon, salt and peper to taste

Guacamole, a dip made from avocados, is originally from Mexico. The name is derived from two Aztec Nahuatl words - ahuacatl (avocado) and molli (sauce). The trick to perfect guacamole is using good, ripe avocados. Check for ripeness by gently pressing the outside of the avocado. If there is no give, the avocado is not ripe yet and will not taste good. If there is a little give, the avocado is ripe. If there is a lot of give, the avocado may be past ripe and not good. In this case, taste test first before using.

Source: Simple Recipes

Breaded Chicken Cutlets Over Pasta

This recipe was provided by the Cipola family. Let’s not let the fact that they are Yankees fans detract from the fact that this Italian family can cook!

Ingredients for breaded chicken cutlets, Italian style
-    2 Eggs  
-    1 ½ cups Italian seasoned bread crumbs  
-    1/3 cups grated parmesan cheese  
-    Teaspoon Oregano  
-    1-2 lbs. Thin-sliced Chicken Breasts  
-    Teaspoon Pepper
-    Olive oil to fill frying pan quarter in. high
-    1 lbs pasta
-    24 ounces pasta sauce 

1)    Crack the eggs in a regular size bowl beat the eggs.
2)    Put the chicken in the bowl and mix with eggs.
3)    Take the 1 ½ cups of bread crumbs on a plate mix with cheese, oregano, and pepper.
4)    Take a chicken breast and put it in the mix cover both sides.
5)    Place a chicken cutlet in frying pan fry till golden brown on each side.
6)    When cutlet is done place on a napkin covered pate to dry any excess oil.
7)    Boil pasta water.
8)    Put pasta in for 10 -12 min for al Dente perfection.
9)    Strain put pasta back in pan
10)  Put sauce in pan, mix.
11)  Serve.