Chicago-Style Pan Pizza

Chicago-Style Pan Pizza

[Makes two, 9 inch pizzas or 5-6 small personal pan pizzas]


  • 2 T olive oil, plus extra for greasing the pans
  • 3/4 c plus 2 T skim milk heated to 110 degrees
  • 2 t sugar
  • 2 1/3 c all-purpose flour, plus extra for the work surface
  • 1 envelope rapid-rise or instant yeast
  • 1/2 t salt
  • 1 1/3 spaghetti or pizza sauce, your favorite
  • 3 c shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese

1. To make the dough: Adjust an oven rack to the lowest position and heat the oven to 200 degrees. When the oven reaches 200 degrees, turn it off. Lightly grease a large bowl with vegetable oil spray. Coat each of two 9-inch cake pans generously with oil. (I used 5 small cake pans that I have that are the perfect size for a personal pan pizza).

2. Mix the milk, sugar, and 2 T oil in a measuring oil in a measuring cup.

3. If using a standing mixer: Mix the flour, yeast, and salt in a standing mixer fitted with a dough hook. Turn the machine to low and slowly add the milk mixture. After the dough comes together, increase the speed to medium-low and mix until the dough is shiny and smooth, about 5 minutes.

4. If mixing by hand: Mix the flour, yeast, and salt together in a large bowl. Make a well in the flour, then pour the milk mixture into the well. Using a wooden spoon, stir until the dough becomes shaggy and difficult to stir. Turn out onto a heavily floured work surface and knead, incorporating any shaggy scraps. Knead until the dough is smooth, about 10 minutes.

5. Turn the dough onto a lightly floured work surface, gently shape into a ball, and place in the warm oven until doubled in size, about 30 minutes.

6. To shape and top the dough: Transfer the dough to a lightly floured work surface, divide in half ( or fifths if you are making smaller pizzas, and lightly roll each half into a ball. Press the dough into a 91/2 round inside the oiled cake pan if making 2 pizzas. Cover with plastic wrap and set in a warm spot (not in the oven) until puffy and slightly risen, about 20 minutes. Meanwhile, heat the oven to 400 degrees.

7. Remove the plastic wrap from the dough. Ladle about 2/3 c of the sauce on each round, leaving a 1/2 inch border around the edges. Sprinkle each with about 1 1/2 c of cheese. Bake until the cheese is melted, about 20 minutes. Remove from the oven; let the pizzas rest in the pans for 1 minute. Using a spatula, transfer the pizzas to a cutting board and cut each into 8 wedges. Serve.

Cinnamon Swirl Bread

Cinnamon Swirl Bread

[Makes one 9-inch loaf]

  • 1/2 c granulated sugar
  • 1/4 c packed light brown sugar
  • 4 t ground cinnamon
  • 1 1/4 c warm whole milk (110 degrees) [I used nonfat milk]
  • 3 T unsalted butter, melted and cooled, plus extra for brushing
  • 2 large egg yolks
  • 4 c all-purpose flour
  • 1 envelope (2 1/2 t) rapid-rise or instant yeast
  • 1 1/2 t salt

1. Mix the sugars and cinnamon together in a small bowl. Measure out 2 T and reserve for the topping. Whisk the milk, melted butter, and egg yolks together in a large liquid measuring cup.

2. Combine 3 1/2 c flour, the yeast, salt and 1/4 c of the sugar mixture in the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the dough hook. With the mixer on low-speed, add the milk mixture until the dough comes together, about 2 minutes.

3. Increase the speed to medium-low and knead until the dough is smooth and elastic, about 8 minutes. If, after 4 minutes, more flour is needed, add the remaining 1/2 c flour, 2 T at a time, until the dough clears the sides of the bowl but sticks to the bottom.

4. Turn dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and knead by hand to form a smooth, round ball. Place the dough in a large, lightly greased bowl and cover with greased plastic wrap. Let rise in a warm place until doubled in size, 1 to 1 1/2 hours.

5. Grease a 9 by 5-inch loaf pan. Turn the dough onto a lightly floured work surface and press into a 20 by 8-inch rectangle with the short side facing you. Spray the dough lightly with water, then sprinkle evenly with the remaining sugar mixture, leaving a 1/2-inch border at the far edge. Lightly spray the sugar mixture with water until it is damp but not wet.

6. Loosen the dough from the work surface using a bench scraper or metal spatula, then roll the dough into a tight cylinder and pinch the seam closed.

(For some reason my bread roll was so big I cut it in half in the middle and made 2 smaller loaves. I was pretty sure what I had was too big for 1 loaf pan and I didn’t want to risk ruining the recipe and wasting my time and ingredients). Place the loaf, seam side down, in the prepared pan. Coat the loaf with vegetable oil spray, cover loosely with plastic wrap, and let rise in a warm place until nearly doubled in size and the dough barely springs back when poked with a knuckle, 45 to 75 minutes.

7. Adjust an oven rack to the lower-middle position and heat the oven to 350 degrees. Brush the loaf lightly with butter, sprinkle with the reserved sugar mixture, then spray lightly with water. Bake until golden, 40 to 60 minutes, rotating the loaf halfway through baking. Cool the loaf in the pan for 15 minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack and let cool to room temperature, about 2 hours, before serving.

Variation: In step 4, after turning the dough out onto the work surface, knead in 1/2 c raisins by hand until evenly distributed. Proceed as directed.

Brown Sugar Banana Bread

Brown Sugar Banana Bread (from The Back in the Day Cookbook)

[Makes 1 9 inch loaf and two mini loaves]

  • 2 c flour
  • 3/4 c packed light brown sugar
  • 3/4 t soda
  • 1/2 t fine sea salt
  • 1 t ground mace (didn’t have so I used nutmeg)
  • 1/2 t ground cinnamon
  • 1 1/4 c pecans toasted and chopped (I substituted 1/2 c mini chocolate chips)
  • 1 1/2 c well-mashed ripe banana (about 3)
  • 1/4 c sour cream (I used reduced fat)
  • 2 large eggs
  • 6 T melted butter, unsalted
  • 1 t vanilla
  • 2 T dark brown sugar for sprinkling (I only had light)

In a large bowl mix first 7 ingredients. Set aside. In a medium bowl. mix everything left except the extra brown sugar. Gently fold the banana mixture into the flour mixture. Scrape it into a lightly sprayed with Pam 9 by 5 inch loaf pan. I had enough extra batter for 2 mini loaves. Sprinkle the tops with the 2T brown sugar.

Bake at 350 degrees for 45-55 minutes. The mini’s took 25 minutes.

Serve warm or at room temp. Enjoy with a little butter and a cold glass of milk.

Fatwa for Falafel

Raj wanted falafel, but not just any falafel–he wanted the best, most highly rated falafel in ALL of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. After a short visit to Jerash (second time around), we headed downtown toward Hashem Restaurant, an institution in Amman since 1956. (Note: downtown is the area near the Citadel (it took us three weekends to find the Citadel), near the flea markets ON the street–a particularly frustrating and confusing place to drive; not a smart move given the fact that Raj was already hungry (Remember, Raj gets ‘hangry’ (hungry plus angry) when his blood sugar levels dip and I didn’t have any ‘snack packs’ to tide him over–a particularly vulnerable position to be in).

Invariably, we had difficulty locating the elusive Hashem’s. I was getting worried because at this point I was hungry, imagining how Raj had to be starving. We drove around searching for about thirty minutes–at this point I was ready to give up and go ANYWHERE…but Raj was undeterred. Lucky for us, Raj’s friend who accompanied us is an Arabic speaker and he helped us out tremendously along the route asking passers-by for directions. Eventually we found it, no small feat since the signs for Hashem are in Arabic (except for the one above which faces away from the street).

Quick day trip to the Roman ruins at Jerash
Nubian goats at Jerash (they have "Roman' noses, seriously)

The restaurant is outside in a little alley way along a busy street. It’s certainly not fancy, perhaps a little dingy (euphemism for dirty), but very busy and FULL of Westerners. If you’re persnickety, RUN (or bring along lots of hand sanitizer and wipes to quell the neatniks you may be traveling with–I forgot mine and admit I was bothered). There are no plates here (probably a good thing), just thin paper used in place of plates. You may be surprised that I ate here with my history of ‘street-food’ syndrome, but what was I supposed to do? We were ALL starving!

View from Hashem's

I’m not sure what we ordered (our friend ordered for us), but it seems that everyone around us got the same thing: a basket of small meatball sized falafel, another basket of larger falafel covered in sesame seeds, a handful of steaming hot pita bread, tomatoes and onions, tea with mint, hummus, and fuul (fava-bean paste).

The verdict? It was all very good AND for three of us it cost only $6 JD’s. (Imagine how happy that made Raj, see below?) Best of all, no one got sick and I’ve agreed that we need to go back (although this time I’ll come equipped with hand sanitizer and maybe some wipes for the table top and chairs).

Christmas in Amman in April

Summer weather has finally hit Amman, making my days much happier and enjoyable. I’m still constantly searching for things to keep me busy but given my sorry lack of crafting supplies, I’m limited to what I have on hand, which isn’t much other than felt left over from my calaveras phase. I searched online for felt ornament inspiration and found a treasure trove of ornaments to recreate.

In five days, I’ve managed to crank out an ornament each day. Here’s the menagerie so far:

  • This is my first one and still my favorite. You can pay to download the pattern from this blog:, or you can make up your own template, like I did, adjusting the coat to your tastes. (I didn’t have any little buttons like the inspiration piece, but I did have small pearl beads. I’m loving the little wire hangar that I fashioned out of floral wire).

  • Here’s the second one. Again, the inspiration came from the same site as above ( It’s a deer in case you couldn’t tell–the upper right black dot is an eye and the dot below the eye to the left is a nose. After I finished it, I asked Raj what he thought, “Oh, it’s an elephant!” was his reaction. (Not what I was looking for!) I admit, the perspective of the eye and nose are a tad confusing at first glance, but once you see the face, you get it.

  • Moving onto ornament number three, it’s a polar bear and the inspiration? You guessed it, the same He’s cute, but not my favorite. I think he turned out too small.

  • I was especially proud of this one…that is until Raj’s inquiry, “Is that a donkey?” In case you can’t tell, this is no donkey, but a schnauzer (like our dog, Shanti). I really liked the eyebrows, but Raj said the eyes were “too small.” (I should know by now not to solicit opinions). I found inspiration for just about every dog breed except schnauzers, so I was forced to create a template for this one on my own.

Since we didn’t really celebrate Christmas properly this year (we were in Egypt and our Christmas tree was left behind in storage), I’m anticipating a HUGE Christmas next year to make up for the lost celebration (along with ALL of the other holidays that we didn’t get to celebrate like Valentine’s Day, Easter, Halloween, Thanksgiving…).

Retro Banana Chocolate Chip Cupcakes with Cocoa Frosting

Retro Banana Chocolate Chip Cupcakes with Chocolate Buttercream Icing (from The Back in the Day Cookbook)

[The recipe calls for a chocolate cream cheese icing but I’m using a lower fat recipe from my favorite Penzeys cocoa cake]


  • 2 c cake flour
  • 1 1/3 c sugar
  • 1 t baking powder
  • 1 t baking soda
  • 1 t fine sea salt
  • 2 eggs separated
  • 1 large egg white
  • 1/4 t cream of tartar
  • 3/4 c buttermilk
  • 1/3 c canola oil
  • 1 t vanilla extract
  • 1 c mashed ripe banana (about 2 1/2 large)
  • 1/2 c chocolate chips (I used mini)

Beat egg whites with cream of tartar until frothy. Add 1/3 c sugar and whip until soft peaks form. Set aside.

In a large bowl whisk cake flour, 1 c sugar, baking soda, baking powder and salt. Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients. Add half of the buttermilk, the oil, vanilla, and the mashed bananas. Whisk or stir for 1-2 minutes. Add the egg yolks and the rest of the buttermilk, stirring until just combined. Gently fold in the beaten egg whites and chocolate chips.

Line 24 cupcake liners in pans. Use an ice cream scoop and fill about 3/4 way to the top. I had extra batter so made a mini 1 layer cake. You probably have enough batter for 6 more cupcakes, but I didn’t feel like waiting for my pans. Bake at 350 for about 18-20 minutes until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool 20 minutes.

Penzeys Cocoa Icing:

  • 1/3 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 1/3 cup cocoa powder
  • dash salt
  • 6-8 cups powdered sugar (I only used about 3 cups)
  • 1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
  • 2-3 tbl. hot water
For the icing, cream together the butter and cocoa powder until fluffy. Add dash of salt. Gradually add the powdered sugar, beating well. Add the vanilla extract and mix well. Add just enough water to reach your desired consistency. Frost cupcakes.

Running at the Lowest Place on Earth


Running in Amman is a challenge. Prior to moving here, I ran outside almost everyday, along a beautifully maintained path that paralleled the Potomac River. Here, I can’t really run outside. Sure, I could run with a group that runs on Friday mornings, but then I’m not a social runner (it takes ALL of my concentration and focus just to run, so conversations are out of the question). For me, running in Amman is limited to running on a treadmill. It’s not that bad, but training on a treadmill is difficult, to say the least.

I ran a half marathon (only my second) last Friday down at the Dead Sea. Raj dropped me off at Sport City at 5:00 AM. I boarded a bus at 6:00, and the race began at 7:40. The organization of the race was fabulous, the route was beautiful, and the weather couldn’t have been better! Where else but Jordan will you be able to run alongside camels and donkeys or see goats and sheep across the road?

The plan was to meet Raj at the finish line and then go to one of the hotels to spend the day away floating in the Dead Sea, but that didn’t happen. I ended up telling Raj not to meet me, afraid that the hotels would be booked to capacity thus making my Dead Sea soak a bit too crowded. We’ll be making up for the lost soak in an upcoming weekend when it’s less crowded and when my muscles aren’t as exhausted as they were at the run’s completion. All in all it was a great run (even though the race results aren’t up yet), well worth the hours of monotonous training on the treadmill!

View of the Dead Sea
Taken just a week before the race at the Dead Sea with friends


Easter Bunny Buns and Orange Rolls

In Jordan, we get to celebrate TWO Easters, Western (Catholic and Protestant) Easter (last Sunday, April 8th) and Greek Orthodox Easter (April 15th). I didn’t do much for Easter, Part I, so I plan on making these adorable Bunny Buns for Easter Part II, this upcoming Sunday (thanks to my sister for emailing me the pics and recipe).

Easter Bunny Buns and Orange Rolls

  • 1 package active dry yeast
  • 1/4 c warm water
  • 1 c milk, warmed but not boiling
  • 5 1/2 cups flour
  • 1/3 c sugar
  • 1/2 c butter
  • 1 t salt
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 1/4 c orange juice
  • 2 T grated orange zest

Glaze: 2 c powdered sugar, 1/4 c milk or water, 1 t softened butter, splash of orange juice and vanilla extract

Sprinkle yeast in warm water, set aside.

In another bowl mix milk, softened butter, sugar and salt. Cool until lukewarm, then add eggs, water with yeast, orange juice and orange zest.

Stir in flour a few cups at a time to make a soft dough. Let stand for 10 minutes.

Put in Kitchen Aid and use dough hook to knead for 5-10 minutes. Alternately this can be done by hand on a lightly floured board. When it is smooth and elastic, place in a large greased bowl. Turn to coat the dough. Cover with a clean kitchen towel or plastic wrap and put in a warm place. Let rise for 2 hours or until double in size. Punch down dough and let stand for 10 minutes.

On a lightly floured surface, roll dough into a rectangle 1/2 inch thick about 30 by 10 inches. Cut dough in half if making rolls and bunnies, otherwise make all into bunnies.

For the bunny half, use a pizza cutter to cut about 14 one half-inch strips. Save one strip to roll into circles for the bunnies’ tummies.

Roll strips between hands into rounded snake shapes.

Place one long piece of dough onto a foil or Silpat lined baking sheet. Place one end of the strip over the other to make a loop; bring the end that is underneath up and cross it over with the other end. Place a ball of dough on top of the bottom loop.

Cover bunnies and let rise in a warm place 45-60 minutes until nearly double in size. Bake at 375 for 12-15 minutes.

For glaze, stir together glaze ingredients and frost while still warm. I use mini chocolate chip eyes, an upside down heart sprinkle for a nose and 4 sprinkles for whiskers.

Orange Marmalade Rolls:

Makes about 17

Grease 2 disposable cake pans

Use the other half of bunny dough. It should be rolled out thin about 30 by 10 inches. Coat the dough with about 3 tablespoons of melted butter. Spread about 1/4 cup of orange marmalade. I used homemade Clementine marmalade. Sprinkle about 1/2 cup light brown sugar all over. Roll the long side towards you. Pinch the seams together. I use a pastry cutter to divide the log in half. I then cut each half into about 7-8 pinwheels. Arrange the rolls cut side down in the greased pans. Allow rolls to rise before baking. Bake at 375 for 17-20 minutes. Take out when golden brown and frost with the powdered sugar glaze.

Adults and children alike will be very glad that you made these orange yeast wonders for them 🙂

Oh Little Town of Bethlehem, Over the Wall

View of the Separation Wall

We finished lunch in Jerusalem, boarded another bus (seven vans/buses throughout the day) that whisked us out of Jerusalem towards Bethlehem to the Church of the Nativity, the last stop of the day.

In case you didn’t know, Bethlehem is in the West Bank, meaning our guide, an Israeli citizen, was unable to escort us across the border (think border crossing into Mexico) because of his passport (no entry for Israeli’s). (On the way out of Bethlehem, we had to go through immigration and had to show our passports for exit back into Jerusalem). At the border (a massive separation wall), our tour group was handed off to a Palestinian tour guide who walked us though a never ending, snaking corridor that led out onto the other side of the imposing wall. From here we hopped into yet another van, which eventually dropped us off at the Church of the Nativity, the birth place of Jesus.

Entrance to Main Hall of the Church of the Nativity

The 5 cross 'Jerusalem Cross' or 'Crusaders Cross' representing the five wounds of Jesus

From the outside, the church looks more like a medieval fortress. The entrance to the church (called the Door of Humility), once grand, was lowered by Crusaders to prevent mounted horsemen from entering, so you have to stoop down to enter.

Interior of the church
Mosaics along the nave

Original 4th-century mosaic floors
Closer shot of the mosaic flooring

Once inside, the church is light and spacious. There are fragments of mosaics flanking the walls and in the center of the church on the floor are lifted-up wooden panels revealing the church’s original 4th-century mosaic floors.

The line to get into the Grotto of the Nativity was massive so our tour guide did some fancy finagling and got us all front of the line passes (on the sly) much to the chagrin of those who had waited (patiently) in line. (I’d be mad too if I was them). The “exact” spot that marks the birth of Jesus (and the cause of the massive line) is marked by a fourteen-pointed star (this star also boasts the dubious honor of being the cause of the Crimean War). We missed the Chapel of the Manger (where Christ was laid) and the Altar of the Adoration of the Magi (where the Wise Men are believed to have adored the infant Jesus) somewhere down in this same vicinity, but line cutters can’t be choosers (or get too greedy). We were given seconds to see and snap shots and told to surface as quickly as possible (hence, the pictures are a little fuzzy).

A small door in the main church leads to an adjoining courtyard and (Roman Catholic) Church of Saint Catherine (built in 1881). This is the church where Christmas Eve Midnight Mass is televised throughout the world.

Mass going on in the Church of St. Catherine

Entrance into St. Catherine's

This was the conclusion of our tour of the Church of the Nativity. We got back into a van and were escorted once again to do more shopping at another ‘certified’ shop. Raj was able to work his haggling-magic one last time, enabling us to purchase some beautifully hand-carved olive wood serving bowls.

Waiting for the van...
Olive wood carved serving bowls

Jerusalem Syndrome

Our tour guide/comedienne wryly dismissed the feverish singing, prostrating, and otherwise excessive displays of religious fervor that we witnessed throughout the day as ‘Jerusalem Syndrome.’ I can see where one might become afflicted with such a syndrome given Jerusalem’s historical, biblical and cultural significance. In fact, I felt a twinge of it this day while traipsing the Via Dolorosa, walking the ‘Path of the Cross,’ contextualizing the Stations of the Cross as a physical route rather than merely text read during the Lenten season. Regardless of your religious views or beliefs, visiting these sites is powerful and awe-inspiring.

We toured a lot in a short amount of time, making it difficult to digest each landmark, marker, and site, yet a trip like this is something that will stay with me through the years, increasing my appreciation of the privilege of having visited such an important place.

I’ll cut to the chase and give you a photographic chronology of what we saw along with each site’s significance, in case you’re interested.

Mt. Scopus: First stop on the tour was Mt. Scopus, offering great views of the area.

View from Mt. Scopus

The Mount of Olives (about three minutes by van from Mt. Scopus): Here there’s a great view of the whole of Jerusalem, especially the Temple Mount. Below the crest of the hill is the Mount of Olives Jewish cemetery (the biggest and oldest in the world). To the right of hill where we stood to take pictures, is the Grotto of Gethsemane, the spot where the disciples rested while Jesus prayed, and where Judas kissed him.

Mt. of Olives overlooking Jerusalem
Dome of the Rock
Gethsemane to the right (the grassy area)
The Tomb of the Virgin

The Wailing Wall: The main attraction in the Jewish Quarter is the ancient retaining wall of the Temple Mount. The men’s side is HUGE, about three times that of the women’s side. People write prayers, thoughts, hopes, etc. on small slips of paper and place them in crevices in the wall. Raj wrote something down (he wouldn’t tell me what; it’s secret) and placed it into the wall on the men’s side.

Walking toward the Temple Mount to the Wailing Wall
The Wailing Wall (men's side)

Via Dolorosa: The “Way of the Cross” is the path taken by Jesus to his crucifixion. Along this route are nine stations of the cross (the 10th-14th being inside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre); Our guide pointed out three, each with a small chapel attached. As you can see from the pictures, there are lots of great shopping opportunities for a philistine, like myself to become easily distracted. It was difficult racing after the guide when I wanted to stop and have Raj bargain for me. We were assured that there would be shopping…just not yet.

Walking along the Via Dolorosa (a modern-day shopping bazaar)
Walking upstream as people are on their way to mosque

This bazaar sells EVERYTHING!
The 5th Station of the Cross
7th Station of the Cross
Chapel inside the 7th Station

Church of the Holy Sepulchre: This is the church generally ascribed as the site of Christ’s crucifixion, burial, and resurrection. Within this church are the last five Stations of the Cross. (10th: Jesus was stripped of his clothes; 11th: He was nailed to the cross; 12th: Where he died on the cross; 13th: Where his body was removed from the cross; 14th: His tomb; The 10th-13th stations are all on the Hill of Calvary (a quick right as you enter the church and up about 20 narrow steps), the final one (down the step and into the center of the church), the tomb, is the centerpiece of the church.)

The "Immovable Ladder" above the entrance. (It's been here since before 1852 and is related to an Armenian and Greek dispute over the ownerships of the ledge and windows. It cannot be removed until the dispute is resolved, despite the fact that the ladder has since rotted and must be replaced.)
Entering the Church of the Holy Sepulchre
On the Hill of Calvary, the Altar of Crucifixion??? I'm not sure. Too many people were here to linger.
Still on the Hill of Calvary
The Stone of Anointing, where Jesus is said to have been anointed before burial
Oculus above the tomb
In front of the tomb with a HUGE line

FINALLY, a shopping break: As promised, we were escorted to our first shopping break, a shop that was certified in something–not quite sure what (everything bought came with a certificate of authenticity). Raj was in good form this day, prepared to bargain. Here are the fruits of his labor.

The master haggler

…and all of this was before lunch. After lunch we were headed for part two, Bethlehem and the Church of the Nativity.