Isn’t it funny how quickly two people can fall into a routine without even realising it? I remember when YM and I had the Big Talk about moving to Mexico. Up until moving here our entire relationship depended on Easyjet and the National Express. YM was working in London whereas I was teaching in a small, rural Highlands school. The only way we could have been further apart is if I was a wee bit further north in Shetland and YM emigrated to the Channel Isles. For over a year we alternated flying up and down the country pretty much every weekend
Every other Friday I drove south for 3 hours, jumped on a plane to London, landed at Luton, took the train to King’s Cross and finally the Victoria line all the way to Brixton. I traveled up and down the country so much I actually managed to build up a friendship with the lovely Polish airport parking attendants at Edinburgh airport. My last journey was accompanied with a bittersweet ending. I was invited into their inner sanctum (a grubby Portakabin at the end of the car park) for the wonderful honour of having my good health and success for the future drunk in mugs of battery acid vodka. Unfortunately, I didn’t realise how strong the vodka was and ended up having to call a mate to come and get me at 1am. Luckily they didn’t charge me for leaving my car an extra night!
So the idea of emigrating half way across the world to a country where you can’t even speak the language is pretty daunting. To do this with someone you haven’t even lived with before is probably reckless. For them to give up their super job and move out with you in the hope of finding something over there at some point is probably just a bit silly. However, we are obviously a rather silly and reckless couple because we decided to go for it.
This irresponsibility obviously went to my head and every time I had a little bit too much wine in the weeks leading up to the move I would start waxing lyrical. Total rubbish about how we were going to be free, Bohemian and spontaneous spirits in Mexico with our only rule being freedom of expression etc. etc. YM obviously thought that making the Big Decision had turned me temporarily insane and in his wisdom just nodded his assent at judicious moments through my wine-soaked soliloquies.
In my head however, it made perfect sense. We were doing everything wrong and it was working beautifully. Long distance relationship – we had no problems! Moving to the other side of the world when we hadn’t lived in the same country together? Piece of cake! YM quitting his job – so what! We are obviously different to all other couples out there. We are better. We are not bound by any rules. We will never argue about whose turn it is to do the dishes or spend Saturday afternoons bickering round the supermarket. We are Supercouple! We are liberated and impulsive. Only boring middle-class yuppies with a Volkswagon Zafira and a Nectar card have routines.
Sometimes even I can’t believe how much shite spouts out of my mouth. By the second week in Mexico we were yelling at each other about how cleaning the toilets was not equal to mopping the whole flat. By the third week we hired a cleaner. Every Sunday we spend the afternoon at the local market picking meat, fruit, vegetables and cheese for the week. We even sit and watch The Apprentice together. And Sundays are especially sacred in Casa Biriyani. Because every Sunday night is pizza night.
Pizza night is incredibly close to YM’s heart. Our weekends away are always planned so we are back in time to order a pizza. At about 5pm YM’s internal pizza alarm will go off. He will start making suggestions about where we should order pizza from this week followed by an almost pathological discursion on the relative merits of Pizza Hut vs. Papa John’s (Pizza Hut is cheaper but Papa John’s has better side dishes). Any half-hearted suggestion of maybe having sushi or Chinese will be met with a pair of bewildered and slightly anxious eyes followed by a long drawn out silence.
I still remember the day we managed to order a takeaway pizza, in Spanish and to the right address! Sure it might have taken about 45 min with the help of Google Translate and the person taking our order hung up on us a couple of times but it didn’t matter! We managed to order pizza delivery in a completely different language. Not long before we can witter away like the locals we thought (which actually turns out to be completely untrue because a mute 2 year old could still speak better Spanish than I could).
So, in two days time we will have been in this marvelous, surreal country for a year. In spite of our recklessness and our inability (still) to properly communicate with anyone. In order to celebrate I thought I would treat YM to some homemade pizza. This would also give me an opportunity to rekindle my love affair with yeast.
The first thing you need to prepare is the pizza dough for which you will need the following ingredients:
- plain flour
- warm water
- instant yeast
- olive oil
- sugar (still using my vanilla sugar as not organised enough to get normal!)
I would like to take this opportunity to apologise to my two lovely Italian friends in London. I know that what I am about to is an insult to your country’s wonderful tradition of food. Please accept my apologies!
Mix one sachet (about 11g) of instant yeast with 1/3 of a cup warm water. Add a tablespoon of sugar and mix until everything has dissolved.
Add a teaspoon of salt.
Follow with a tablespoon of sugar.
Finish off by adding 2 tablespoons of olive oil (I used extra virgin because that was the only thing I had – it didn’t seem to cause any problems)
Add warm water (about half a mug full) whilst mixing in order to form a firm dough
Try not to get the dough too sticky – add more flour or water if you need to (excuse weird truncated hand photo – I really need to get an assistant!)
By now your yeast should have foamed up and is smelling similar to your local after the Rugby club night out. Perfect! Add it into your dough.
Now mix it and let the kneading begin!
Kneading is essential to light, fluffy pizza. Think of someone that irritates you and pretend the dough is their face (fecking taxi driver that cut me up the other day and then had the audacity to flick me rude signs – this is your punishment HAH!)
Keep kneading (and add flour or water as required) until you have a firm, elastic ball of dough. You will get there – I promise!
Lightly grease a bowl with some more olive oil.
Now add your ball of dough to the bowl and give it a bit of a shoogle so it also becomes coated in olive oil.
Cover the bowl with a damp tea towel and leave somewhere warm until the dough doubles in size. This will take about 1 to 1 and 1/2 hours.
After your dough has risen you are ready to begin assembling you pizza! (spot the big dent in the dough where I dropped my camera whilst trying to photograph it – did I mention I needed an assistant?)
Whilst you are waiting for your yeast to work its magic, why not make some tomato sauce to top your pizza base with. In fact, I tend to make big batches of tomato sauce and freeze them in single-portion ziploc bags. My all-purpose tomato sauce can be used on pizzas, as a base for bolognese sauce , lasagne sauce and it doesn’t taste of chemicals like Dolmio does. When’sa your homemade tomato sauce day (going to be)?
You will need:
- some fresh/tinned plum tomatoes (I have just over 1kg in this photo)
- half a bulb of garlic
- a good handful of basil (showing off my amazing franken-basil that started off as a sickly seedling but has recently turned into a bolting monster)
Start off by adding a really good glug of olive oil to a pan on a medium heat. You want enough to cover the bottom of the pan and then some.
Add basil – just tear up the leaves and thrown them in. This recipe requires no finesse. I haven’t specified exactly how much garlic and basil because I want to leave it open to your taste. Feel free to experiment too. Some fresh chopped chilli can also be a really nice zingy addition!
Now put the lid back on and go and have a beer. The dough is rising beautifully and your tomatoes are slowly cooking down. They should be ready in about 20 min (depending on how many tomatoes you used of course!). You should return to a pot full of what looks like chunky tomato soup.
Now strain the contents of the pan through a coarse sieve. It has to be coarse because you want the nice pulpy tomato – you just don’t want the seeds and the skin. If you only have a fine flour sieve – that’s okay. It just means you will need to simmer it for longer to reduce it and add either tomato puree or cornflour/water to thicken it up to pizza sauce consistency.
You know – seriously, it’s your sauce. Add whatever you like! Chilli, more garlic, rosemary, thyme – whatever! Just make sure you taste as you go along. I decided to mix things up (I like to live on the edge) and added some dried oregano.
Simmer. Simmer, simmer, simmer, simmer and….simmer. Simmer until the sauce has reduced in volume and thickened in consistency ( you want it to be around the consistency of ketchup). Now your homemade tomato sauce is ready for use (and freezing)!
Now the dough has risen beautifully, your tomato sauce is ready…on with the pizza! Start by preheating your oven to as hot as possible (my top setting is 350 degrees C). I’m not going to tell you what toppings to put on your pizza. Pizza toppings are a very personal thing. I know someone who can read your personality from your pizza (however this person also believes they have a radio in their head controlled by Fidel Castro so maybe not the best example to use). This is just an example of what I use (and like!). For this pizza I finely sliced some mushrooms, chilli, onion and green pepper. I also had some finely shredded arrachera (flank steak).
I also decided to make a stuffed crust pizza. Since it costs a fiver for about 75g of fresh mozzarella here, I use lovely homemade oaxaca cheese from my cheese seller in the market. It is produced in a similar way to mozzarella and has a similar texture when melted. Roll your dough out (now using a bottle of diluting Horchata as a rolling pin – come on YM, get your act together!) on a well-oiled pizza pan. I don’t have a pizza pan, or a baking tray. I use the tortilla grill that came with my oven as a baking tray (it does a good job but I’m sure many a Mexican is shuddering at the thought of such blasphemy!). I could be fancy and say I am going for a Sicilian style pizza but that would be a lie.
Once you have organised your cheese stuffing, roll the excess dough over the cheese and firmly underneath. Seriously – it’s that simple! I can’t believe Pizza Hut make it sound like the most amazing thing in the world when it really is that simple.
Now add your cheese (in whatever form you are using!) Be brave and experiment with different cheeses – Monterrey Jack cheddar also makes an awesome pizza topping as does crumbled Stilton (wouldn’t recommend Brie though – trust me on this one). Or be totally mad and use a combination of cheeses!