November 27, 2007
Growing up, my sister was a stand-out hockey player. Yes folks, in Minnesota (and elsewhere), girls play hockey. I, on the other hand, can fend for myself on a pair of skates—but give me a hockey stick, and it’s all down hill (read: it’s all fall down) from there. While she was the captain of her hockey team, I was the student council president. While she shot pucks at our battered garage door, I tucked into good books.
Our differences continued during our childhoods and early adulthood. I hesitantly chose a college that, at 7,500 undergrads, seemed impossibly large to me. By contrast, her Big Ten alma mater seemed just big enough to her at 30,000 undergrads. There, she developed a real flair for the social life, which garnered countless great stories—some riotous and others regretful. As she put it in her Maid-of-Honor-Toast at my wedding last August: “Kristin chose a career in the law. And, me? I’ve had a few run-in’s with the law.” (Don’t worry, nothing serious.)
So I guess it shouldn’t come as a shock that I developed a penchant for complicated recipes and obscure ingredients when I finally had a kitchen to myself after college, while my sister has turned to Lean Cuisines with a vengeance in her newly-fresh-from-college days. Despite my deep, wide, intense dislike for frozen, boxed dinners (especially those containing 50% or more of one’s daily recommended intake of sodium), I can’t complain too much. You see, my sister’s first real kitchen is here in Chicago—less than mile from my place.
This proximity has spawned what we now affectionately call “Family Dinner.” My parents aren’t here (and we always wish they were!), but my sister, husband and I have formed a little Windy City tradition of our own. Each week, Ali gets a respite from the Lean Cuisine regimen and makes the trek west on Armitage to our place (never fear—she cues up her DVR to catch whatever TV shows she might be missing that night). And I have an excuse to hatch a particularly delectable menu approximately once a week (and an excuse to have an extra glass of wine, too!).
During one of our first Family Dinners, we embarked on a homemade pizza recipe I found at smittenkitchen.com. As an avowed pizza connoisseur, I have never been bowled over by the pies I’ve whipped up myself. The crust is too spongy, the sauce lacks pizzazz (wow – that almost spelled pizza – cool), and the toppings just never attain the right level of doneness. They simply can’t live up to my favorite Chicago spots (none of which, by the way, involve the deep dish style for which this fair city is known): Spacca Napoli, Piece and Coalfire.
But I’ve come to trust Deb, the woman at the helm of Smitten Kitchen. And, with her pizza recipe, she didn’t lead me astray. In fact, she even led Ali on one of her first major culinary voyages—she and I staged a pizza cook off, of sorts. We each made a pie and left my husband, Kevin, (all too happy to be the judge) to choose a winner.
In the Family Dinners since then, I’ve taken the reins on much of the cooking. I assumed my sister would much prefer a home-cooked meal (one that didn’t leave her up-to-the-elbows in flour) to being roped into sous chef duties. Much to my surprise, then, my mom recently called while my sister was visiting her in Minnesota. Apparently, Ali had announced a make-your-own pizza night, using none other than the recipe we’d used during Family Dinner. Maybe we aren’t so different after all. And perhaps my assumption that Ali didn’t like being “roped into” a kitchen duty or two was just plain wrong.
Oh, and the winner of the original Family Dinner bake off shall remain nameless!
Notes: We received a grill pizza stone as a wedding gift; we used it in our oven and it worked great (though it made for an oddly shaped pizza; see above). I’d love to try a circular stone made for the oven and have the benefit of a peel next time around. As for toppings, Ali’s pie featured spicy Italian turkey sausage, caramelized onions and a sprinkling of basil ribbons. I studded my pizza with thin Roma tomato rounds, slivers of green pepper and shreds of basil. The pizza at the top of the page, from my sister’s recent visit home, starred Italian sausage from an incredible local Italian deli and mixed bell peppers.