Monday Reviews- A Homemade Life

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Sometimes when I’ve finished a book that I really love, I clutch it to my chest and hug it. It can be for a number of reasons, a beautiful story, a character I really relate to, or a flawless writing style. Please tell me I’m not the only one who does this. Anyone?
In the past it has only been novels that have elicited such a loving response, but that all changed when I read “A Homemade Life” by Molly Wizenberg. This was the first cookbook that when I finished, I closed it, took a deep breath, then pulled it into an actual embrace (I also do this with new shoes and I’m sure my husband wonders how he got roped into marrying me). At first glance, I would not have expected to feel this way about this book because it has my least favorite book/cookbook elements. Short stories and no pictures. But from the first page, I knew I had to have this book. The way Molly writes and the stories she tells all blend seamlessly into one another and are told with such rich descriptions, that you can see what she’s baking even without a picture. This book takes you through the life of the Orangette author from the time she is little until the day she gets married. Each story is followed by a recipe that accompanies it. From the Tarte Tatin she makes after her first horrible heartbreak to the cake that introduced her to her future husband. Each chapter ties her life and love of food into a beautiful book you will never want to end. The only reason I ever stopped reading it was my craving for all of the delicious recipes. I hope you run out and read this book today, and when you’ve finished, if you hug it, tell me okay?

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Of all the recipes in this book, the one I’ve made the most is her Butternut Soup. As it is only 70 degrees here today and I have a cold that won’t go away I’m in the mood for a little fall comfort food (And lots of Lemon Chicken Soup).

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    Butternut Squash Soup with Apples and Vanilla Cream

    Adapted from “A Homemade Life” by Molly Wizenberg
    3 tablespoons olive oil
    One 2 pound butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and cut into 1 inch cubes (about 4 generous cups)
    2 apples, peeled, cored, and cut into 1 inch cubes (about 2 cups)
    1 medium yellow onion peeled and corsely chopped
    1 cup apple cider
    4 cups vegetable or chicken broth
    1/2 teaspoon salt
    1/2 cup heavy cream
    1 vanilla bean

    Heat the oil in a Dutch oven over medium-low heat. Add the squash, apples, and onion and stir to coat with oil. Cook for 10-15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the onion is soft and transparent. Add the cider and bring the mixture to a boil over medium-high heat. Add the broth, reduce the heat to medium-low, and simmer, partially covered for about 30 minutes, until the squash is tender. Using a blender or handheld mixer purée until very smooth. Return to pot, if needed, and continue to cook, uncovered, over medium-low heat, until the soup has reduced by one-third it’s original volume. While the soup is reducing, put the heavy cream in a small saucepan. Using a sharp knife, split the vanilla bean in half from top to bottom. Using the back of your knife, scrape the seeds out of the pod. Add seeds and pod to saucepan with the cream and warm over low heat, swirling occasionally, until it steams. Do not allow it to boil. Remove from heat and discard pod. Set aside. When the soup has reduced to you desired thickness, stir in the infused cream. Taste and adjust seasonings as necessary.

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Monday Reviews- Baked Explorations

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I realized I haven’t talked about my dad much yet. This is mostly due to the fact that the man is never in the kitchen. His idea of gourmet is to fry some bologna in a pan and add “decorative mustard swirls”. One day I caught him eating a sandwich with as much gusto as one would an expensive steak, saying out loud, “this is amazing”. Curious what could garner such a response from a man who has dined all over the world I walked over to find him eating, a peanut butter and jelly sandwich (Jif and Welch’s respectfully).

He is easily impressed by the simple things in life.

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One of his favorite desserts is pound cake-this apparently goes back to a distant Aunt who used to make it for him when he was little. The first bundt cake I made for my dad reminded him of the cake from his childhood and came from “Baked Explorations: Classic American Desserts Reinvented”. This cookbook along with their first cookbook has quickly become my go to for everything from breakfasts to birthday cakes. It was written by the owners of the Baked Bakery in New York and it is my goal to get there before I turn 30. The whole premise of the book was to take classic American desserts and bring them back to life (strawberry jello salad anyone?) or in some cases make them better (black and white cookies).  Something to keep in mind is that many of these recipes have a lot of steps and some are a little trickier for a beginning baker. Others just take time, like the Mississippi Mud Pie cake. However no matter how many steps they take, each recipe consistently yields delicious desserts that will impress anyone you serve it to. What I love most about both this book and its predecessor is the passion the authors have for baked goods. From the photographs to the paragraphs before each recipe, you can’t help but be inspired to make something delicious for someone you love.

This is the cake I made my dad, I’m pretty sure he liked it even more then PB&J.

Olive Oil Orange Bundt Cake

Recipe from “Baked Explorations: Classic American Desserts Reinvented” by Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito

Makes one 10-inch bundt

  • 3 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 Tablespoon baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 4 large eggs, separated
  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • 1 cup plain yogurt
  • ¾ cup good quality extra-virgin olive oil
  • Freshly grated zest of two oranges
  • 1 ½ teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • ¼ cup confectioners sugar, sifted for dusting

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Generously spray the inside of a 10-inch Bundt pan with nonstick cooking spray. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.

In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the egg yolks until they are pale and light; slowly pour in the sugar until it is completely incorporated. Add the yogurt and olive oil and mix until thoroughly combined. Add the orange zest and vanilla, and mix until just incorporated. Add the flour mixture to the wet ingredients in two parts, beating after each addition until just combined (this will take about 10 seconds). Scrape down the bowl and beat again for 5 seconds. In another large bowl, beat the egg whites until stiff peas form. Scoop 1 cup of the egg whites in the batter. Use a rubber spatula to gently fold them in. After about 30 seconds of folding, add the remaining egg whites and gently fold until they are almost completely combined. Do not rush the folding process. Pour the better into the prepared pan and bake for 40-50 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through the baking time, or until a small sharp knife inserted into the cake comes out clean. Transfer the pan to a wire rack to cool completely. Gently loosen the sides of the cake from the pan. Just before serving, dust the cake with confectioners’ sugar. The cake can be stored at room temperature, covered tightly, for up to 3 days.

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Monday Reviews-Sara Foster’s Casual Cooking

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Monday Reviews

When I think about cucumbers, two things come to mind. The first is middle school spa days which were reserved for only the most elite sleepovers. My friends and I would buy an assortment of goop to put on our faces, toe separators for our pedicures, and cucumbers to put on our “puffy” eyes (7th grade is seriously stressful). The other is lunch with my mom. I’m not sure if she just didn’t like to take the time to make lunch or just liked simple meals so she could save room for dinner. Either way she had an arsenal of quick lunches she would make for us, bologna sandwiches, tuna salad, celery with cream cheese and paprika, and my favorite, cucumber salad. She would take a plastic bag add chopped cucumbers, white vinegar, and pepper. She would shake it up and put it in the fridge for 10 minutes. When they emerged the cucumbers were cold, tart, and crisp. I couldn’t get enough. Sometimes they were my after school snack and other times I would cut up an entire cucumber and eat it for lunch. Either way it was, and still is one of my favorite snacks.

I read this cookbook while on our North Carolina trip. Sara Foster owns the popular Foster’s Market in Durham, North Carolina so I have heard plenty of good things about her. When I started reading I was first intrigued by the way the chapters were set up, for instance “Anytime Eggs” “Party Platters” and “Quesadillas, Tacos, Tostados, and Pizzas”. I liked immediately that Sara didn’t feel the need to stay inside the confines of the traditional breakfast, lunch, and dinner chapters. Mixed into these chapters she also had helpful recipes like, “ten tasty vinaigrettes” and “quick things to do with a bag of spinach”. I don’t know about you, but I can name at least ten times I’ve had to throw away a half full container of wilted, slimy spinach because I didn’t know what else to do with it. While her cookbook is not the most beautiful one on the market, her recipes are thoughtful, simple, quick, and so delicious. This is one of my new favorite books and I will be recommending this one to all my friends. It is perfect for new grads, bachelors, or anyone just learning to cook. 

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This recipe reminds me of my moms cucumbers with a few additions. It’s simple but impressive enough to make for a nice summer dinner.

Recipe from Sara Foster’s Casual Cooking by Sara Foster

Classic Cucumber Salad
Serves 4-6

•       1 hothouse seedless cucumber, peeled in strips and thinly sliced (about 3 cups)
•       3 Tablespoons white wine vinegar
•       2 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
•       2 Tablespoons chopped fresh dill, cilantro, or mint
•       Grated zest and juice of one lime
•       1 teaspoon sugar
•       Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Combine the cucumber, vinegar, olive oil, dill (or cilantro or mint), lime zest and juice, and sugar in a medium bowl and toss to mix. Cover the bowl and refrigerate for about 30 minutes to chill. Just before serving, season the salad to taste with salt and pepper and toss again.

RTK note: My cucumbers let off a lot of liquid while sitting in the fridge and I had to drain them before serving, you might want to do the same to avoid puddles on your plate.

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Monday Reviews- Stirring the Pot

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Monday Reviews:

As a young child I had absolutely no patience for picky eaters. I would watch disdainfully as kids from other families pushed food around their plates until they were excused from the table. At school I made sure to keep my coveted Lunchables away from the roving eyes of the picky eaters at the 3rd grade lunch table. And I always made sure to finish my meals, so as never to be confused with the “other” kids. You can imagine my embarrassment then, when my younger sister Madeline began shunning the dinners my mom would put in front of her. At first it was just salad. She would only eat it with French dressing, then she would only eat salad if she could dip the romaine leaves into the dressing. I watched in horror as she descended further down the picky eater slope, eventually eating only buttered noodles and McDonalds chicken nuggets. I thought all hope was lost until a birthday dinner at Olive Garden one night. She was presented with a huge plate of Chicken Parmesan. Fate intervened and Maddie added a new dinner to her repertoire. Her love for this dinner gradually expanded into more foods and our relationship -and my third grade reputation were saved.

Stirring the Pot was the first Tyler Florence cookbook I bought and I love his style. The first chapter is devoted to de-cluttering and making the most of your kitchen space. It teaches you how to utilize your freezer, fridge, and pantry. He also shows you the knives and pans to buy at three different price points. 

The recipes in this book are simple and taste great. He breaks the second chapter into 8 sections: Roast, Sauté, Braise, Fry, Grill, Steam, Bake, and Fresh and Raw. He teaches you the basics of these techniques while providing you with delicious recipes. I love the acorn squash stuffed with cheese tortellini’s, his perfect roast chicken (covered with 2 sticks of butter!), and of course the Chicken Parmesan. This version is sautéed in a pan first and then placed in a hot oven to finish. The result is a crunchy, cheesy masterpiece that everyone will love no matter how picky they are.

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RTK note: To get a few more veggies into this dinner. I’ll sometimes replace the noodles with spaghetti squash. Also if I’m feeling especially lazy, instead of making the sauce below I’ll use previously made sauce from my freezer or a good jar of pasta sauce.

Recipe from Stirring The Pot by Tyler Florence

Chicken Parmesan

 (Makes 4 servings)

  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus 3 tablespoons
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1/2 cup kalamata olives, pitted
  • 1/2 bunch fresh basil leaves
  • 2 (28-ounce) cans whole peeled tomatoes, drained and hand-crushed
  • Pinch sugar
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 4 skinless, boneless, chicken breasts (about 11/2 pounds)
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1 tablespoon water
  • 1 cup dried bread crumbs
  • 1 (8-ounce) ball fresh buffalo mozzarella, water drained
  • Freshly grated Parmesan
  • 1 pound spaghetti pasta, cooked al dente

Coat a saute pan with olive oil and place over medium heat. When the oil gets hazy, add the onions, garlic, and bay leaves; cook and stir for 5 minutes until fragrant and soft. Add the olives and some hand-torn basil. Carefully add the tomatoes (nothing splashes like tomatoes), cook and stir until the liquid is cooked down and the sauce is thick, about 15 minutes; season with sugar, salt and pepper. Lower the heat, cover, and keep warm.

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F.

Get the ingredients together for the chicken so you have a little assembly line. Put the chicken breasts side by side on a cutting board and lay a piece of plastic wrap over them. Pound the chicken breasts with a flat meat mallet, until they are about 1/2-inch thick. Put the flour in a shallow platter and season with a fair amount of salt and pepper; mix with a fork to distribute evenly. In a wide bowl, combine the eggs and water, beat until frothy. Put the bread crumbs on a plate, season with salt and pepper.

Heat 3 tablespoons of olive oil over medium-high flame in a large oven-proof skillet. Lightly dredge both sides of the chicken cutlets in the seasoned flour, and then dip them in the egg wash to coat completely, letting the excess drip off, then dredge in the bread crumbs. When the oil is nice and hot, add the cutlets and fry for 4 minutes on each side until golden and crusty, turning once.

Ladle the tomato-olive sauce over the chicken and sprinkle with mozzarella, Parmesan, and basil. Bake the Chicken Parmesan for 15 minutes or until the cheese is bubbly. Serve hot with spaghetti.

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Monday Reviews- 5 Ingredient Fix

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Monday Reviews:

I have noticed a problem. I talk (type?) too much. The story behind this cookbook was a page long before I was halfway through. Oops! I guess minoring in English will do that to you. I love writing and food and I get a little carried away sometimes. So let’s get started.

“5 Ingredient Fix” changed my whole cooking philosophy. Before this book I used to waste so much time with complicated ingredients and recipes. This book taught me how to simplify meals using only 5 ingredients. I doubt I would have ever picked this book up off the shelves if I hadn’t seen the show first. In an episode called “Cook Once, Eat Twice” Claire (in my kitchen I’m on a first name basis with the chefs) made Pork Roast with Hard Cider Gravy and Parsnip-Potato Mash. It looked so good I immediately looked the recipes up on my computer and made it for dinner that night (can you tell I’m a little impulsive?). It was amazing. I couldn’t believe only 10 ingredients could make an entire meal that was also delicious. I ordered the book the same night.

“5 Ingredient Fix” covers it all, from breakfast to cocktail hour to dessert and is laid out very simply. The five ingredients are at the top of the page with the instructions below and two tabs are listed on the side of the page. One states: “What makes this recipe really sing” where she introduces the recipe with a couple of sentences about why she likes the dish. The other tab says “What to toss in if you have it”. This gives you a more options if you want to go above the 5 ingredient limit. The directions are clear and easy to read and the photographs are lovely. Looking through this book I realized just how many of her dishes I have made, some of my favorites are, Lemon-Tarragon Chicken Soup, Spaghetti Squash with Basil Butter, Edemame Hummus, and Pecan Cheese Straws.

The only downside to this book is the time factor. Since you are only using 5 ingredients, you have to work a little harder to bring out the flavors. This is usually achieved in this book by roasting, which can add about 45 extra minutes so keep that in mind. However I think the extra time is well worth it and would recommend this book to anyone who craves simple, delicious food.

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I make this soup whenever I’m feeling under the weather. I usually have the ingredients on hand and the mix of roasted garlic, hot soup, and lemon always makes me feel better.

Recipe from 5 Ingredient Fix by Claire Robinson

Lemon-Tarragon Chicken Soup

(Makes 4-6 servings)

  • 1 large head garlic, cut in 1/2 horizontally through cloves
  • 6 cups low-sodium chicken stock
  • 1/2 cup fresh lemon juice, plus thin slices for garnishing
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh tarragon leaves, plus more for garnishing
  • Sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper
  • 2 boneless skinless chicken breasts, preferably organic, cut into bite-size pieces

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

Put the garlic halves, cut side down, on a sheet of aluminum foil on a rimmed baking sheet. Add 2 tablespoons chicken stock and wrap the foil around the garlic, keeping the cut sides flat on the sheet tray. Roast until the garlic is very soft, about 30 minutes. Remove the garlic from the oven and let stand until cool enough to handle.

Squeeze the soft garlic from the head with your fingers into a large saucepan. Whisk in 1 cup of the stock to loosen the garlic paste and put the pot over medium-high heat. Add the remaining stock, lemon juice, and chopped tarragon; season with salt and pepper, to taste. Bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer and add the chicken. Cover and cook until the chicken is just cooked through, about 9 to 12 minutes.

Ladle the soup into bowls and garnish with thin slices of lemon and a sprinkle of fresh tarragon leaves.

“What to toss in if you have it: You can add just about any vegetable to the soup; chicken breast cooks quickly, so there are no worries about overcooking vegetables in the broth. Broccoli, peas, fresh corn kernels, celery, and carrots would all be great additions.”

Monday Reviews- Jamie’s Italy

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Monday Wednesday Reviews:

To help me blog on a more regular basis I thought I would turn to my other favorite love, cookbooks. This isn’t a story from my childhood of days spent flipping through cookbooks with my mom. In fact, my mother rarely used cookbooks, instead she relied on a handful of staple dinners and Italian recipes handed down from her mother and grandmother. Italian woman rarely write anything down, and my mother was no exception. My sister Amelia and I have had myriad conversations regarding our frustration that she never wrote down the recipe for her lasagna with homemade sauce and have spent the past three years attempting to recreate it from memory. (Amelia has recreated a similar version and now gets requests to make lasagna for the family on an almost monthly basis.)

Ironically my mother has shelves packed with old cookbooks from Martha Stewart and The Joy Of Cooking. But the only time I ever saw her use these cookbooks was to make two things. Birthday punch (which she made for rare special occasions) and a multi-step egg soufflé (which she made on even rarer occasions). For this reason I grew up believing cooking was just something that happened naturally. I imagined I would move out on my own and years of cooking wisdom would magically appear fully formed in my brain.

For this reason, a large part of my college diet consisted of microwave oatmeal, apples with crunchy peanut butter, ramen noodles, cheese quesadillas dipped in barbeque sauce, and frozen vegetables. Occasionally I would stumble across a recipe in a magazine or feel the need to cook my boyfriend a “fancy dinner” (usually the same baked salmon and rice) and break out of my rut for a while. However I still never thought to pick up a cookbook or learn to make myself anything worthwhile.

A few things helped to change this pattern. One, I got married, being a wife, I now wanted to learn to make dinners so my husband Nick and I could sit and eat together (also if I had let Nick make dinner, we would have eaten frozen pot pies every night). Two, for my bridal shower my mother in law gave me a cookbook and had all the guests bring me their favorite recipe to add to it. It was one of the most thoughtful presents I have ever received and really helped teach me to make some great dinners. My third breakthrough happened while wandering through Lowe’s of all places. You know those racks of magazines that cover every topic from landscaping to grilling? I picked up one called “Ultimate Italian”, it had so many delicious looking recipes I quickly added it to our cart of painting supplies and light bulbs. When I got home I read through it and saw a recipe for homemade pizzas from Jamie Oliver’s cookbook “Jamie’s Italy”. My mom had loved him back when he was known as “The Naked Chef” so I decided to try the recipe. I went to the store and bought semolina flour and golden caster sugar, came home and made my very first homemade crust. It was easy and more importantly it was better than any crust I could have gotten from the delivery guy. I was hooked. I knew I had to have whatever else Jamie Oliver was cooking in his book. I went out that night and bought my very first cookbook.

And what a book. Jamie Oliver is the kind of person I want to be friends with. He makes you feel confident and also says fun British words like “meat with two veg”. The book has beautiful pictures of Italian countryside’s, grandmothers making pasta, and (my favorite) a truck bed stuffed with pans of lasagna. This book totally immerses you in the culture. The recipes are made with simple, non-processed ingredients and they really challenge you to use fresh food and know where it comes from. It seemed so obvious when I read it but it had somehow never really occurred to me before. Inspired, Nick and I starting going to the local farmers market down the street and even planted a couple of vegetables in our tiny yard. I loved this book, I loved it so much I spent a whole month making recipes out of it. Until one night after a dinner of chicken tetrazzini (made with 2 cups of heavy cream and twice as much cheese) Nick and I realized eating pasta 5 nights a week was making our pants a little… tight. That night I vowed to cut back on the pasta dishes and dust off my running shoes. But I was a new woman. This book made me realize just how delicious food could be when I put a little effort into it and, that with a little guidance I could make delicious food whenever I wanted. I was liberated and knew this was the beginning of a whole new way of cooking.

This recipe is the first thing I made from “Jamie’s Italy”. The crusts are simple to make and bake up beautifully. I just put all the toppings in small bowls and let everyone make their favorite (Nick and I like Margarita pizza the best). It is also easy to double the recipe and freeze some for later too.

Recipe from Jamie’s Italy by Jamie Oliver

Pasta Per Pizza-Basic Pizza Dough

(Makes 6-8 medium-sized thin pizza bases)

  • 1 3/4 lb strong white bread flour (about 3 ½ cups)
  • 1 ½ cups fine ground semolina flour or strong white bread flour
  • 1 level tablespoon fine sea salt
  • ¼ oz envelope active dry yeast
  • 1 tablespoon golden castor sugar
  • just over 2 cups lukewarm water

Pile the flours and salt onto a clean surface and make a 7-inch well in the center. Add your yeast and sugar to the lukewarm water, mix up with a fork and leave for a few minutes, then pour into the well. Using a fork and a circular movement, slowly bring in the flour from the inner edge of the well and mix into the water. It will look like stodgy porridge (How British is that??!) – continue to mix, bringing in all the flour. When the dough comes together and becomes too hard to mix with your fork, flour your hands and begin to pat it into a ball. Knead the dough towards you and your right hand to push the dough away from you at the same time. Repeat this for 10 minutes, until you have a smooth, springy, soft dough.

Flour the top of your dough, cover it with plastic wrap, and let it rest for at least 15 minutes at room temperature. This will make it easier to roll thinly. Now divide the dough into as many balls as you want to make pizzas, i.e. lost of small ones or a few larger ones, but I suggest that 6 is a good quantity for this amount of dough.

Timing-wise it’s nice to roll the pizzas out 15 to 30 minutes before you start to cook them. If you want to work more in advance, it’s better to keep the dough wrapped in plastic wrap in the fridge rather than having rolled-out pizzas hanging around for a few hours. Take a piece of the dough, dust your surface and dough with a little flour or semolina, and roll it out into a rough circle about ¼ inch thick. Tear off an appropriately sized piece of aluminum foil, rub it with a little olive oil, dust it well with flour or semolina, and place the pizza base on top. Continue doing the same with the other pieces and then, if you dust them with a little flour, you can pile them up into a stack, cover them with plastic wrap, and put them in the fridge.

When you’re ready to cook them, preheat your oven to 500F. At this stage you can apply your toppings. Remember: less is more. If you can, cook the pizzas on a piece of granite or marble in your conventional oven- if not, do them one by one on the bars of the oven shelf toward the bottom of the oven. (If you’re going to cook your pizzas on the bars of the oven, make sure they’re not too big- otherwise they’ll be difficult to maneuver.) Cook for 7 to 10 minutes, until pizzas are golden and crispy.