adventures in babysitting, luna bread crust, mashed potato pizza, micuccis, nyc style, otto's, pizza bias, things the missus loves

Edible Obsession: OTTO’s Pizza

When I moved to Maine, my pizza consumption dropped significantly. There just wasn’t, in my opinion, good pie to be had (which is to say, strictly in Portland). I wanted charred, thin crust pizza with just a touch of homemade sauce and quality cheese. What I found was overly doughy, covered in painfully salty sauce and plasticky cheese. Pizza Villa was my only salvation at the time (and no, I had, and still have, not gone to Flatbread for any other reason than an irrational bias against that style of pizza).

Then, even though it is the antithesis of what I’ve sought in a pizza, I fell in love with the sweet and pillowy ‘Slab‘ from Micucci’s. Truthfully, just based on the quality of ingredients(Luna bread as a base!) and the uniqueness of the sauce, how can one not find themselves just a wee bit smitten with it? And, while all was well and good and I was content with loving a chubbier slice, there was still a void.

Then the Missus introduced me to Otto’s.

I was a bit slow to come around to them, honestly. The first pie she brought home, just after they opened, didn’t really wow me. I think we had Fontina and mushroom but I can’t really recall. It just wasn’t that memorable. While the Missus has been back to Otto’s many times since then, I hadn’t really had the desire and was quite content with swinging by Miccuci’s when the pizza jones hit. Then, without reason, I asked her to bring home a pie from Otto’s last week when I was home from work and unable to cook because of an injury. The Missus chose her, and everyone else it seems, favorite: Mashed Potato, Scallion and Bacon pie.

Before I tried Otto’s, I had made my own attempt at the pie at home. Looking back now, I realize mine was more akin to the Pizza Skins from Pizzeria Uno’s. Again, I was facing a pizza that didn’t quite embody what I was looking for in a slice–there wasn’t even a drop of sauce on it, for Christ’s sake–but when I bit into the first slice, I smiled.

It was creamy with the rough mashed potatoes subbing for the sauce as the base, which was laid down on a wonderfully thin, crunchy and charred crust. The thin crisps of bacon added a nice saltiness while the scallions brought in a bit of pepperiness. I sat and ate four slices from the large pie, which is double my normal bored pizza consumption.

A week later, while babysitting a friends son, we picked up two small pies for dinner. We did grab one of their plain cheese and brought along another mashed pizza as our little friend said he was, “In the mood to try something different.” He’s 4. We thought he would love the pizza because what sane person (outside of my ex-wife) doesn’t like mashed potatoes? We were wrong. Little man spent the entire meal digging on the plain cheese.

“Who made this pizza,” he asked between mouthfuls.
“Otto’s. Do you like it?”

Can’t say that I disagreed with him at all. The cheese slice was just as righteous as I thought it would be. Their sauce, neither too sweet nor too salty, was more acidic than anything. The cheese wasn’t dense or plasticky and, again, the crust was perfectly charred and crunchy. It was a cheese slice that reminded me of so many I had eaten while visiting New York City before I moved up here.

I have finally, whether it’s a traditional or unconventionally topped pie, found what I was looking for in Portland pizza.

Otto Pizza on Urbanspoon

bibimbap, fried rice, homemade kimchi, korean rice dishes, things the missus loves


This meal began a few weeks ago the Missus and I took a kimchi making course with the very awesome, very knowledgeable Ms. Kate at Urban Farm Fermentory.

Selfishly, I signed up because I wanted to make sure I attended one of Kate’s workshops before she shipped out from Portland in the fall (which may not be happening after all). I also signed up because of rather disappointing trio of kimchi we had at Little Seoul a few weeks before. The Missus does love her kimchi and I thought it would be nice to be able to start making some at home for her. Well, at the last minute she was able to join me, so now she can make her own.

The class was fantastically fun and informative. While I’ve always been jealous of Kate’s canning and preserving ability, I was in awe of how much information she knew on the topic of fermentation and preserving. I wanted to kick myself for waiting so long to take one of her classes and would encourage anyone to sign up for one of the many workshops she’s doing through the UMaine Cooperative Extension.

At the end of the class, we each took home our own quart of self tailored kimchi.

But it would be a couple of weeks–one week getting funky and fermenting on the counter and one week in the refrigerator–before we would get to dive fork first into our creations. Truthfully, I didn’t know what we’d do with them. I’m not an overly huge fan of the dish (some that I’ve tried have been down right rank and overly funky) so there was some pondering over what would would now do with the two quarts that sat on our shelves.

But, drawing on our recent visit to Little Seoul, the Missus suggested making Bibimbap. Surprisingly, this was a dish that her Lithuanian mother made often when the Missus was growing up. My experience with the dish has only been the forkfuls of crunchy rice I’ve stolen away from her bowl when she’s ordered it out. Recently, there was also an article in Saveur magazine that was passed along to me by Lauren. Something in the universe (the Missus, very bluntly) was telling me that this dish needed to be made.

And there are two routes to go, it seems: the simple and the hard. The simple would basically be soy sauce seasoned ground beef over rice and topped off with a fried egg and commercially made kimchi or pickles, while the hard would get you as close to authentic as you can get, either making your own pickled salad or procuring them at a local Asian market. I planted myself somewhere down the middle.

There were definitely a lot of steps and ingredients to this dish with the recipe I chose from Rasa Malaysia website. But, there was already kimchi fermenting and I had, just a few days before, started a cucumber and garlic scape kimchi loosely based on a dish from David Chang’s Momofuku cookbook.

The rice, the centerpiece, took the longest time and most attention. Having actually never cooked sushi rice before, I relied on Just Hungry for a very in depth lesson:

To make 4 cups of cooked rice, you will need:

  • A heavy-bottomed pot with a tight fitting lid, or an electric rice cooker
  • 2 cups of uncooked japonica rice or ‘sushi rice’ (or substitute Vialone)
  • 2 1/4 cups of water (If using a rice cooker, add water up to the specified level marked in the inner bowl)

Measure out the rice carefully into your pot and rinse vigorously under running water. Swish the rice around with your hands – the water will turn a milky white color.

Drain the cloudy water away and add fresh water, and swish the rice around again. Repeat this step 2 – 3 times.

Drain, leaving just a little water, and rub the grains together several times with the palms of your hands gently as if you were polishing them.

Add plenty of fresh water and rinse out the rice. Drain and rinse until the water is almost clear.

Drain the rice in a fine mesh sieve and leave for a little while, preferably at least 30 minutes.

Put rice in a rice cooker or pot. Add the water to the rice. At this point you should let the rice soak for a while. The length of time depends on the quality and freshness of the rice. The older the rice, the longer it needs to soak. Soaking for at least 30 minutes to an hour is generally recommended, but don’t soak for more than 8 hours or so or the rice will get a bit watery and lose any flavor. And if the weather is too hot, it might even start to ferment! (Some rice how-tos emphasize the importance of soaking, but I think the washing and rinsing is the most critical part of making proper rice, which is why it’s described in so much detail here.) Brown rice however does need to be soaked before cooking.

If you are using a rice cooker, just switch on (or if you need the rice later, set the timer; you can calculate in the soaking time here.) If you are using a pot, bring to a boil over medium heat then put on a tight fitting lid. Cook on high for 1 minute, then reduce the heat to medium, and cook for another 4-5 minutes until you can see the surface of the rice, then reduce to low heat for about 10 minutes or until the water is completely absorbed. (Don’t open the lid to peek!) Turn up to high heat for a few seconds to get rid of any excess moisture if necessary.

If you are using a pot, remove it from the heat and drape a cloth over the pan for about 10-15 minutes to let it fully absorb the moisture and rest. This final step really makes a difference if you want grains that stick together but are not mushy or watery. A good rice cooker includes this resting time in the cooking cycle, and also allows for condensation to evaporate, so you don’t need the cloth draping step.

From the Rasa website, I took two recipes–of the five they have listed–and their instructions on assembly:

Seasoned Spinach Salad
Makes 1 1/2 cups

1 pound (500 g) spinach, rinsed carefully
2 tablespoons toasted sesame seeds
2 tablespoons dark sesame oil
1 teaspoon fine-grain sea salt

1. Fill a large pot with water and bring to a boil. Add the spinach and cook for 1 minute.
2. Strain the spinach into a colander and rinse with cold water. Take one handful of spinach at a time, and squeeze the water from the spinach. Lay the spinach on a cutting board and cut into 2-inch (5 cm) pieces.
3. Transfer the spinach to a bowl and add the sesame seeds, sesame oil, and salt. Mix well.

Seasoned Beef

2 oz rib eye cut into strips (or ground beef)
2 teaspoons soy sauce
1/2 teaspoon sesame oil
1 teaspoon brown sugar

1. In a small bowl, mix together the beef, soy sauce, sesame oil and brown sugar. Let marinate for 15 minutes.
2. Heat a small skillet and stir-fry for 2 minutes. Set aside.

Because the crunchy bits of rice are extremely important (and just really f’ing good), make sure you have the pot (I used a cast iron skillet) until the oil smokes and keep the rice in the pan for at least 10 minutes.

To Assemble

1. Have the seasoned salads and beef prepared in individual bowls.
2. Place a cast iron skillet or pot on medium heat and add 2 tablespoons of the sesame oil.
Heat the oil for 1 minute. Add the rice and spread it around the bottom of the pot to form an even layer. Cook the rice for several minutes or until the rice begins to brown on the bottom. You will hear the rice sizzle.

3. Carefully arrange each of the seasoned salads on top of the rice grouping each one like the spoke of a wheel. Place the beef in the center. Continue heating for 2 minutes.
4. Transfer the casserole to a heatproof pad. Set one fried egg in the center on top of the beef.
5. To serve: fold together the egg, vegetables, rice and 2 tablespoons of the Tangy Red Pepper Sauce. Make sure to scrape the bottom of the pot to distribute that crunchy crust throughout the dish.

6. Serve in individual bowls with a drizzle of sesame oil and extra Tangy Red Pepper Dressing.

*You can make one fried egg per person to mix into individual servings.