Food & Drink

June 18, 2008

One little misstep and I'm playing with fire (again)

The kids and I burned Father's Day dinner.

The kids and I burned Father's Day dinner.

Well, to be truthful, I could have been responsible for some of the burning. All right, most of the burning. OK, I burned it all. Black. To a crisp.

And guess what? My husband didn't mind.

He knows my history. I hesitate to bring this up, because I now write a food column, but it wasn't long ago that I burned dinner — or otherwise messed it up — on a regular basis.

In high school, I would offer to help my parents in the kitchen and my brother — an expert in all things culinary, having landed a job as a bus boy at Sambo's Restaurant — would roll his eyes. In college, my roommates wouldn't let me in the kitchen because my presence always seemed to trigger the smoke alarm. (I didn't even have to cook anything; apparently, just being in the room was enough).

When I was a cub reporter, my fellow journalists noticed when we went out for lunch, I'd save half my plate to take home for dinner.

It wasn't that I didn't want to cook. I didn't know how. Remember in "Bridget Jones's Diary" when Bridget made the blue soup? That was me.

But I was hungry, so I kept trying. Hundreds of Food Network shows and failed meals later, I now do OK in the kitchen.

My secret? I follow directions. Compulsively.

Except for Father's Day, when I decided to wing it and nearly burned down the house.

The dish was caramelized-onion and Gorgonzola grilled pizza. I chose it because my husband loves Gorgonzola, a particularly sharp kind of blue cheese.

My regular grocery store had most of the ingredients, except Gorgonzola dulce, a sweeter version of the cheese that melts easily. We bought regular Gorgonzola instead. We picked up ready-made pizza dough in a bag from Trader Joe's.

Rolling out the dough — the kids helped — took a bit of time. When we finished, we had a crust that looked more like the Island of Sodor than the 12-by- 10-inch rectangle the recipe specified. We figured dad wouldn't mind.

Caramelizing the onions? Also time-consuming. Finally, we were ready to grill.

The recipe calls for putting the toppings on the pizza while on the grill. The kids — they're 3 and 5 — carried out the little dishes of Gorgonzola, chopped parsley and toasted walnuts. I held my breath, but they didn't drop them.

Transferring the uncooked crust to the grill was surprisingly easy. The problem? I didn't bother to read how much oil to put on the top of the pizza, so I dumped a bunch on, and the excess slid off the crust into the flames. This made more flames. Bigger, scarier flames.

The kids panicked and ran for their dad. By the time he arrived, it had occurred to me to turn off the gas, and the blaze was under control.

But our pizza was ruined. We ate salad instead. Dad didn't mind.

Next year, we'll buy him a tie instead.

Bee staff writer Kerry McCray can be reached at 578-2358 or at

What The Testers Had To Say

We had this pizza as part of a Father's Day lunch, and it was surprisingly good. I was afraid it would be a bit dry as there is no "sauce," but the oil, onions and cheese combined to form a tasty topping. I did add spinach and mushrooms, but I think you could add just about anything. A couple of cautions: The onions may take longer than 20 minutes to caramelize; keep an eye on the grill or the crust will burn. The consensus around the table was to definitely make this again.

— Sandy Loya, Modesto

I love making pizza, mostly because I can experiment with all sorts of toppings. I've found that grilled pizzas work best with just a few toppings and that the ingredients should all be warmed or at room temperature. I used regular crumbled Gorgonzola in this recipe and added some thyme while caramelizing the onions (a trick I learned from making French onion soup). I made one pizza with walnuts and one with crumbled bacon. I liked both, but hubby preferred the one with bacon (mmmm ... bacon). Definitely one to make again and to have fun playing with the ingredients.

— Carrie Munroe, Modesto

Surprisingly, this was a great pizza appetizer. I used homemade pizza dough and cut the dough into 4-inch circles with a large glass mug. I thought this would make the dough easier to turn over, and it worked well. I chopped the walnuts and parsley first , as I knew the onions would bring on the tears. My husband is a great fan of Gorgonzola cheese, so most were made just as the recipe stated. However, I did make three with fontina and Parmesan. The dough did stick to the grill a little, even though I carefully brushed it with oil. I used a large flat metal spatula to loosen the dough. I thought the baking time would be a little less due to the smaller size of the dough, so I checked after about 10 minutes cooking time; it was done soon after. We enjoyed this interesting variation.

— Shirley Cantele, Modesto

Yummy! This recipe is more of a foccacia-type bread and less of a pizza. The toughest part was getting the stretched-out pizza dough onto the grill. It fell through the grill a bit and we ended up with a South America-shaped bread. Neither my husband nor our guests complained, it is hard to go wrong with caramelized onions and Gorgonzola. I couldn't fit all of the ingredients on the dough in the quantities recommended, but am looking forward to using the leftovers to make another one. It would be easy to get creative with this recipe.

— Ann Griffith, Modesto

It was kinda fun to grill a pizza, and this recipe is very adaptable. My gas grill and my first pizza had to get acquainted, and that led to a second pizza! I've been told that charcoal is good for the digestion, but a little goes a long way. Mostly, we ate topping only on the first try; the onions and walnuts were really good with the Gorgonzola. My second pizza's crust fared a little better, but the onions were gone, so I used slices of pear and skipped the parsley. ... Try the pears with this cheese ... so yummy! This recipe has gotten me started and I will grill more pizza of all kind.

— Carolyn Conser, Modesto

I've been wanting to try a grilled pizza for the past year. Aside from being a fun conversation piece, this is super quick and easy. Knowing not everyone was going to be loving onions and Gorgonzola cheese, I also purchased sauce and a cheese blend for pizza. A couple of things to look out for: On a gas grill, this really only takes a minute for the first side, and after it's flipped and topped, probably three minutes, so don't turn your back on it. I had to turn the grill setting down to just above low. As we found out with the first tester pizza, it scorches very easily, causing the crust to be very dry. I used the Pillsbury canned dough and, for the first pizza, tried it as one whole pizza; much too flimsy to handle. Our next pizza was quartered, which is much more manageable. Also, a flat cookie sheet is the only way to scoop up the pizza safely and quickly. As much as I expected the plain pizza to be the favorite, it was this wonderful combination of toppings that was the hit. I thought the strong flavors of the Gorgonzola and the parsley would overpower the sweetness of the onions. I did make the topping exactly as called for and, amazingly, everything was balanced and wonderful. This is way too rich for the main course, but a delicious appetizer, leaving everyone wanting more!

— Lisa Moreci, Oakdale

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