Southern Spanakopizza with Hot Honey

Despite my nerve injury, this pandemic, and the overall state of the world, I am thankful for love and support from friends and family during this time. My friend and I have been able to enjoy weekly park chats in the sun, which have been so helpful for my sanity and so much fun for my extroverted personality. A few weeks ago, we were discussing what our four words to live by are (because we are the #middleclassfancy meme IRL), and I immediately replied, “Never follow a recipe.” I am fully supportive of Samin Nosrat and others’ cooking philosophy that celebrates the five senses and inspires aspiring chefs to unlearn the absolutist nature of recipes. Instead of relying on instructions that involve specific temperatures, amounts, etc., learn to trust your instincts and taste the food along the way because these metrics are not as precise as you might think.

For example, different brands of salt vary in their salinity, so a pinch of kosher salt will not produce the same taste as a pinch of table salt. Additionally, oven temperatures vary while cooking, so a recipe may tell you to preheat your oven to 350 and bake a pan of brownies for 35 minutes when, in fact, they may only need 25 minutes. The internal temperature actually is fluctuating between 325° and 400° degrees, not held constant at 350°. An internal oven thermometer can help, but why not check just to be sure. Trust your sense of smell, too. Please read Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat if you are interested in leaving recipes in the dust to produce better dishes and have more fun in the kitchen.

Why did I just devote space to express my skepticism of recipes prior to offering you a recipe of my own? I want to emphasize that this method of cooking worked for me given my particular set of appliances, cookware, the brands of salt, flour, etc. However, this set of ingredients is definitely worth combining while keeping in mind that you may have to do several steps differently depending on what you have on hand and what sort of kitchen you have. Essentially, this pizza is a bastardized version of spanakopita but instead of spinach, I used kale and cooked it like I’d cook collard greens. I’d like to think this pizza represents my Greek and southern roots, with the caveat that we owe the roots of “southern food” to BIPOC.

Ingredients

Your favorite pizza dough (I used this recipe, and I made it with Sierra Nevada’s Fantastic Haze Double IPA, despite the recipe calling for a light beer. I like hops. I am unashamed. I also let mine rest on the counter covered in plastic wrap for 2 hour prior to shaping)
Bread flour, for dusting
12 oz Kale, chopped
2 strips bacon
1 yellow onion, half diced, half sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
32 oz Chicken or vegetable stock
10 oz honey
1 Thai hot chili pepper, sliced
1-2 tablespoons chili oil
Feta cheese, to taste
Mozzarella cheese, to taste
Salt and pepper, to taste

Instructions for Pizza

  1. Read the recipe all the way through. Thanks for that reminder, Ina!
  2. First, make the pizza dough, or take your prepared dough and set out on the counter to come to room temperature. I let mine sit out on the counter for 2 hours.
  3. After an hour passes, preheat an oven to 500 degrees, and place a pizza stone in the oven as it preheats. Skip this step if you do not have a pizza stone.
  4. Cook two slices of bacon in a large, non-stick skillet over medium heat for about 4 minutes each side.
  5. While the bacon is cooking, heat a small saucepan over medium heat.
  6. Place the honey and Thai chili in the saucepan, seeds and all.
  7. Whisk for 2-3 minutes, then reduce to a simmer.
  8. Remove the bacon from the pan, set aside on a paper towel to dry.
  9. Add the diced half of the onion and garlic to the pan without removing the bacon fat, and sauté for 2-3 min until fragrant.
  10. Add a few cups of the kale to the pan along with a cup of stock.
  11. Monitor the hot honey as you prepare the kale.
  12. Increase the heat to medium high.
  13. Continue to add kale and stock as the kale wilts down, and continue to cook until the kale has absorbed the entirety of the stock.
  14. Season with salt and pepper, to taste.
  15. Place the two pieces of bacon on a cutting board, and finely dice.
  16. Check on the hot honey. I simmered mine for about an hour.
  17. If you are not using a pizza stone, preheat your oven to 450 degrees.
  18. Scatter a handful of flour on a clean surface, then roll out your pizza dough to your desired shape and thickness.
  19. Remove the pizza stone from the oven, or select your favorite pan, and spray with nonstick cooking spray.
  20. Shape the dough on the stone or your pan, and parbake for 10 minutes in a 450 degree oven.
  21. Remove the pizza dough from the oven, then brush with one to two tablespoons of chili oil. I used one, but feel free to use two if you want more of a “sauce effect” from the oil.
  22. Top the pizza with kale, then the diced onion, then the cheeses. I noted in the ingredients section that you should use as much or as little cheese as you want. In my experience, I find that using too much cheese prevents the crust from crisping properly, but if you don’t mind that, then pile it on!
  23. Scatter the bacon pieces on the pizza, then bake for 20-25 minutes, or until the crust achieves a golden color.
  24. Every oven is different, so please don’t use this time as an exact instruction. Keep checking to see when your pie is done.
  25. Remove pizza when done, and place on a counter to cool for at least 5 minutes.
  26. When cooled, drizzle hot honey over the entire pie, and enjoy! Opa, y’all!

Pop the Bubbly: A Definitive Ranking of Wegmans Brand Seltzer

I have lived in State College, PA since August, and I have not had the chance to explore my new home to the extent I wanted thanks to the pandemic. I also have not had a chance or the desire to spend time writing for pleasure thanks to spending last summer hurriedly finishing my 200-page dissertation. However, I have intended to write a post on this new professional/personal-hybrid blog for some time now, and thanks to the slower pace of the summer, I finally have the time.

Despite living in PA for less than a year, it took one trip to Wegmans to confirm that it would be my new happy place, filling the void of the Chapel Hill Trader Joe’s. I love so many products offered by Wegmans, and I can confirm that their hoagies/subs/whatever the hell I’m supposed to call them are delicious. I immediately fell in love with their seltzer selection when apartment hunting last summer, so I vowed to try all of the options and provide a ranking for my Instagram followers and new friends who enjoy it as much as I do.

21. Lime Mint I am a social scientist. I say this to myself when my Imposter Syndrome flares up, and I said this to myself when I bought a 12-pack of this seltzer despite knowing I would most likely hate it. I do it for the data, y’all, and I’m also happy to take one for the team while embarking on this months-long project. If you enjoy Junior Mints, but while you’re eating them, you want an even more aggressive toothpaste flavor sans chocolate, this option may be for you. Lime can save us from mediocre tequila on occasion, but I’m afraid it only made matters worse for this flavor. Ew, David.

20. Coconut Lime Here’s the deal on coconut. I love it in some contexts (curry, coconut rice, piña coladas, etc.) and hate it in others (Almond Joy, macaroons, etc.). This seltzer falls under the latter condition, because whatever coconut “natural flavor”  the lab concocted tastes eerily similar to Coppertone sunscreen. Again, the lime does no favors, merely adding an acidic aftertaste. I have yet to try a coconut-flavored seltzer that I’ve enjoyed, though, so I don’t blame Wegmans for this mishap.

19. Peach I saw a meme recently (my mom says, “Back in my day, we didn’t call them memes; we just called them cartoons.” Precious.) that said La Croix seltzer tastes like carbonated water but in the next room, you hear a person whisper, “grapefruit.” I used to drink La Croix religiously during the BW (Before Wegmans) period of my life. A sad time. While it gets the job done, the flavors are muted, and this peach option from Wegmans suffers from the same issue. It’s not bad, per se, but it’s not much of anything. Polar makes a peach flavor that is far better than this one, so if peach is your flavor, shell out the extra few dollars for Polar.

18. Tangerine Lime If you’re already tired of my long-winded (read: southern) take on these flavors and find yourself scrolling to the end of this post, you’ll notice several lime flavors enjoy spots near the top of the list. When flying solo or paired with lemon, it shines, but in most other cases, I think its acidity makes some flavors worse. This tangerine lime was not nearly as repulsive as lime mint or coconut lime, but it does a poor job of representing the Wegmans brand seltzer prowess. The sweetness of the tangerine does not stand a chance against the lime.

17. Orange I feel like orange is always a downer that ruins the party. Sour Patch Kids. Starbursts. Jolly Ranchers. Those disgusting chocolate oranges that pop up during the holidays. I don’t hate orange, but I don’t like it. The same thought applies here.

16. Mango Lime I love mangos. I love limes. This seltzer is proof that the whole isn’t always greater than the sum of its parts. Lime juice with chili powder on fresh or even frozen mango? Sign. Me. Up. But this drink? It’s gonna be a no from me, dog. See my thoughts on lime tangerine. Slightly better, but not by much.

15. Mixed Berry I initially thought I would hate this flavor, that it would be too reminiscent of the Mixed Berry Trix Yogurt that I ate as a child. Though I wouldn’t buy a 12-pack again or ever feed my future child Trix Yogurt, I wouldn’t be opposed to buying a bottle of it in the future. It was far better than expected but still not great.

14. Plain Have you ever tried Topo Chico? It’s a Mexican mineral water that is quite popular in Texas, my home state. If you’ve ever tried that, you know what superior plain sparkling water should taste like. This pales in comparison, but to paraphrase Ina Garten, if I can’t get Topo Chico, this is fine.

13. Watermelon I love watermelons, watermelon Jolly ranchers, and most watermelon candy. When I lived in North Carolina, it seemed like so many local breweries experimented with watermelon-flavored beer every summer. I have yet to try a watermelon beer I like, so I was afraid this flavor would go the way of the beer. I’m happy to say I like it far better than any watermelon beer, but I still found it too sweet. I’d rather eat my watermelon in its purest form. And if it’s going to be sweetened, I’d rather see the sugar on full display (see: Sour Patch Watermelons).

12. Orange Pineapple Someone please remove all pineapple slated for pizza topping and put it toward whatever “natural flavor” is used for this beverage. Surprisingly tasty. We’re nearing the part in this list where the flavors all slap. I like this one a lot. I don’t “like, like” it, but it’s solid.

seltzer

11: Raspberry Some who don’t stan gummy candy over chocolate don’t know that the iconic Swedish Fish and Sour Patch Kids red candies are actually raspberry-flavored, not cherry. Raspberry is a great flavor, and Wegmans does this seltzer really well. Bonus points for offering this option when so many other brands do not. It’s a bit sweet, but otherwise no complaints.

10. Lemon A classic for a reason, lemon seltzer seems to have existed well before some of these more whimsical options. Wegmans doesn’t disappoint here. Not much to say, but if I’m craving lemon seltzer, I’ll buy the store brand over Perrier or La Croix.

9: Grapefruit Now, make no mistake. Grapefruit isn’t my favorite flavor. BUT. It’s a popular seltzer option for a reason and is the favorite of so many people I know. Refreshing and tart, grapefruit stands up to many foods. This option shines far ahead of the Pamplemousse La Croix, more like pompous-lemousse, amirite. That was not my best food pun, by far, but you get the point. Wegmans delivers far more flavor for a fraction of the price.

8: Passionfruit Once again, major points for originality from a store brand. I love you longtime, Trader Joe’s, but Wegmans is my favorite store in State College because it carries similarly exclusive products and a bomb cheese selection but also has a liquor license and wider aisles.

7: Lime Lime is my go-to seltzer flavor. Like pizza, even when it’s bad, it’s not that bad. But the lime flavor from Wegmans is quite good and does not disappoint, except when mixed with the aforementioned options.

6: Lemon Lime There is an exception to most rules, and this lemon lime seltzer stands as the exception to the rule that Wegmans lime seltzer is best on its own. The lemon-lime option combines two tart citrus flavors perfectly, and Wegmans once again earns points for offering this flavor that exists outside of the grapefruit-lime-plain trifecta of most mainstream brands.

5. Blackberry Tangerine Summers in the South involve blackberries and blackberry desserts like the quintessential blackberry cobbler. Tangerine stands in for the cobbler topping in this seltzer, cutting the sweetness of the berry with a burst of tart citrus.

4. Cherry Pomegranate Cherry is another fickle flavor that can go from fresh fruit to Tylenol-tasting if we’re not careful. The combination of two red fruits is a real winner here. Yellow Tail should take note if they ever consider updating their red blend. Sophisticated and classy, this seltzer is sure to please.

3. Black Cherry Vanilla I occasionally crave the taste of soda, or as we say in Texas, “Coke.” This flavor does the best job of any seltzer of mimicking the taste of soda without the added sugar. Again, I have nothing against sugar; I just prefer it in the form of Sour Patch Kids.

2. Dragon Fruit Berry: She’s assertive; she’s unique; she’s sweet, but not cloyingly so. This seltzer embodies all the qualities I aim to possess on a good day. I rarely measure up, but this flavor embodies all of these traits and then some. Not to mention, I haven’t seen this flavor offered from any of the popular seltzer brands, which is another reason Wegmans soars far above the other grocery store options in this area and so many others.

1. Ginger I’m finally done with graduate school, but I am quite close with my advisor, so I check in with her at least once a month. She and I are quite different (she’s as introverted as I am extroverted), but we are similar in many important ways. Notably, we both select ginger-flavored anything as our favorite. She has a separate freezer to store gingerbread during non-winter months, and I wish I had a separate fridge to store this seltzer. It is incredible. Out of the can? Sheer perfection! Mixed with bourbon? Fabulous. A less sweet Moscow Mule? Get you a seltzer that can do both! One of my favorite scenes from “Bridesmaids” shows Kristin Wiig in her car pulling up to Maya Rudolph’s bridal shower. Sipping on fancy lemonade handed to her by a butler, she exclaims, “Shit. That is fresh!”

Shit. That ginger seltzer is fresh!

ginger