Sunday, January 17, 2010

Welcome our Sunday Guest Blogger - Mary Jane Maffini!

Mary Jane Maffini rides herd on three mystery sleuths and series, but all that writing was easy compared to getting her mother-in-law’s pizza recipe. Trust us! In between successfully closing ‘the pizza files’, this year Mary Jane produced the third Charlotte Adams mystery Death Loves a Messy Desk and the long-awaited sixth Camilla MacPhee book, Law & Disorder, set in Canada’s capital. Before turning to crime, Mary Jane had lots of mysterious fun as a librarian and a mystery bookseller. She lives, cooks, and plots in Ottawa, Ontario with her long-suffering husband and two princessy dachshunds. Lately she’s inviting her friends in for a special snack. Visit her at
Mary Jane, take it away!!
I suppose this could have been a murder mystery, but in the end, it didn’t have to go that way. As the story unfolds: Long ago and far away, I married a nice Italian boy, an only child whose mother was a brilliant natural cook. Let's just say that she had once made lunch for The Queen of England. At that time, my own culinary achievement was that I had once made a tuna sandwich. In fact, all I brought 'to the table' was a certain Cape Breton Irish stubborness. I worked hard at my skills, although my mother-in-law did not share her recipes, claiming not to have any. She did show up at my parties bearing mountains of pizza though, causing each and every guest to instantly lose interest in whatever I'd slaved my little heart over. Her pizza crust was high and fluffy and melted in your mouth. She went easy on the tomato sauce, and was generous with the cheese. Her pizza was the perfect party food. Everyone inhaled it while my cold cuts sat curling forlornly on the sidelines. How I longed to have that pizza recipe.
I had few allies in my quest as my husband has never cared for pizza and my kids gots lots from their Nonna. Years passed, then decades. Finally, I decided to bite the bullet and ask again. Imagine that conversation:
She, spreading arms wide,"What? Pizza? I told you, there is no recipe."
Me, trying to sound pleasant, yet compelling. "Yeah, yeah, sure, no recipe, but there are ingredients."
"Not really."
"No. Really. It's made of stuff. I just want to know what goes in and how much. That's not so hard, is it?"
Big Italian shrug, despairing of my stupidity. "Pizza. It's just flour and water."

[picture of Nonna on the right]
Ah, but she wasn't fooling me. I had taught first and second grade. I was a mom. I knew that perfectly well that flour and water made glue. Plus I had been spying on her.
"Well, what about yeast?"
"Yes. (Deep breath) Yeast."
"Of course, pizza has yeast. How's it going to rise without yeast?" She didn’t make the international symbol for crazy daughter-in-law, but I could tell what she was thinking.
"Um hmm. And didn't I see you put a little sugar and warm water on that yeast?"
"How else is it going to rise?"
"No need to look at me like I'm an idiot. How much yeast? How much water? And sugar?"
"The usual. Whatever."
"I think you put an egg in it."
"An egg?"
"Maybe. Sometimes."
"All the time."
"Oh sure, an egg."
Okay, not such a victory, as I already knew about the egg. An egg is easy. Not too
many sizes. I know she only believed in extra large.
Now to the tricky part. "How much flour do you use?"
"Well, until it feels right."
I really hate that 'feels right' stuff. "How about in measurements. You know, like cups."
"Pfftt. Cups? Who uses cups? Maybe three hands. Full. Or four. Depends."
I look at her hand, large, capable. And mine. Small, inclined to drop things. What would the conversion factor be? 8/6 ½?
"Okay fine. I'll work on that. What about the sauce?"
"Yes. Sauce."
"But why? There's nothing to making sauce."
"I want to hear it."
"Tomatoes and water."
"What?!! What about garlic?"
A pitying look, an ever so slight eye roll. "Everything has garlic."
Okay, you get the picture. Decades later through trial and error I have managed to cobble together a reasonable facsimile of the crust although it might not suit the Queen or measure up to the original. Still, on a chilly January night, when the bills have begun to float in, there's nothing quite as cheap and cheerful as pizza for the family or the gang or just you. This light and fluffy crust has been a real hit and it’s been tested by family and friends. It is the antithesis of thin crust pizza and I have been instructed to bring it to certain gatherings from now on. And when I finally dig out the secret to the sauce, you’ll be the first to know.
1 tbsp granulated yeast (or one envelope)

1 cup warm water
1 tsp sugar
3 – 3 ¼ cups all purpose flour (or more if needed)
1 ½ tsp salt
¼ cup oil
1 egg, beaten
Corn meal
In a large bowl, melt yeast in warm water, and sprinkle sugar.
Leave 10 minutes.
Add beaten egg and oil. Stir in flour and salt. Mix until smooth and elastic and flour is all absorbed.
Let rise for an hour or until double, covered (tip: heat oven to 110 degrees and turn off immediately for an almost ideal temperature)
Punch down dough and divide in half. Roll out to 2 inches thick on a floured board. Let rest for ten minutes. Roll again to 2 inches thick.
Shape into oiled baking tray, pizza tray or jelly roll pan, dusted with corm meal if you like. Cover and let rise again (in warm spot)
Finish off with your favorite tomato-based pizza sauce (because getting that recipe could be the subject of an entire blog!), grated cheese and your preferred toppings. Cheese and bacon has been popular as is chicken, pesto and goat cheese.
Bake 425 for 15 minutes or until done
Or bake for ten minutes – then put toppings on and finish baking
You can freeze the dough, or freeze the pizzas cooked or uncooked with or without toppings. Lots of options here! Thaw and bake a few minutes longer than for fresh.
This sounds like a lot of work, but the hands-on time for crust is only about 10 minutes! You can have a party with the time and money you save.

Thank you, Mary Jane, for a wonderfully fun post! Love it!
Readers, don't forget that you can enter our next Iron Chef contest.
Also remember that tomorrow, Monday, is our finale for Iron Chef "Egg" week. Happy Pizza!!!


  1. I love homemade pizza, and I think the crust is the trickiest part to make; it can really make or break an otherwise good pizza.

    Your MIL somewhat reminds me of my mother, who is Japanese. She makes a curry dish in particular that the entire family is mad for. When asked how to make it, all of a sudden she shrugs her shoulders and acts as if she doesn't speak English. She mumbles and wanders off, keeping her secrets.

    Glad you were able to obtain the recipe. Thank you for sharing.

  2. MJ - okay, you did it again - made me snort. I can picture this conversation, I see you gritting your teeth as you try to smile and I feel your frustration, but I'm putting my money on your pizza, honey. I know it's delish!

  3. Mary Jane, you are so funny and I'm glad I got to meet you at Bloody Words last summer. Btw we love Charlotte Adams and Camilla MacPhee, too. Thanks for the wonderful recipe, but it's, unfortunately, far too late. At our house, "Friday is Pizza Night".

  4. I'm with Kaye, MJ. You made me snort, too. Too funny. Loved your story. My Busia (Polish Grandma) made the best chicken noodle soup ever. My mom -- her *not* Polish daughter-in-law -- asked for the recipe because my brother and I loved it so much. She also shrugged, but at least told my mom she could watch her make it -- once. Considering my Busia barely spoke English and my mom spoke zero Polish makes me understand why we never, ever got that soup at home.... And Busia's Hoska bread was the best. Wish I had that recipe too.

    Thanks for joining us, MJ! So much fun!


  5. Oh, this was wonderful. Not only do we get to meet another great author, but we get an amazing story and an incredible recipe. I love the fact that each of these recipes has a story to go with it. Now when the family sits down to eat pizza, they can enjoy a story about a family with a "closely guarded secret pizza recipes." I love it. Thanks so much.

  6. MJ, you are too funny! I've been thinking about making pizza, so I'm definitely going to try this crust. Can't wait! Just curious -- does Nonna show up in any of your books? She's quite a character!

    ~ Krista

  7. Katy, I'm glad to know that other moms and MILs share this trait. Japanese, Italian, Polish ... all the same!
    And Kaye, darling. I live to make you snort! You know that.
    Bobbi - hope to see you again at the next Bloody Words or elsewhere. Thanks for your kind words about Charlotte and Camilla.

  8. Julie - you obviously appreciate the frustration, first-hand and soupless!
    Thanks, Mason. Glad you liked it. Somehow 'secrets' just taste better. Why is that?
    Krista - you hit the nail on the head. I would love to have a series with Nonna and her sister "Zia Lena" as elderly Italian sleuths, but I might laugh too hard to writer it! Stay tuned!

  9. love pizza... and a corn meal crust... very interesting.

    But i mostly love the story that goes along with this. Great post, thanks for visiting

  10. What? No throwing of dough? That's good for at least one "now let me tell you about that stain on my ceiling" story! LOVE this post (yes, I'm *virtually* snorting along with Kaye). I'm not even going to get started on my roster of Italian relatives. But it makes me grin to know that Japanese, Polish, and Italian grandmothers are often cut from the same crazy quilt. Here's to our Nonnas, God bless them! And here's to the lively, witty writing of Mary Jane Maffini!


  11. '|Year on the grill' I appreciate your comments. I love the story too, more so, now that I've succeeded. It was fun visiting.

    Cleo! Thanks so much. I wondered if it would all sound familiar. You would know from Nonnas. We are not dough throwers, but there are plenty of stories about the stains on our ceilings.

  12. My grandfather was a chef but he died when I was very young. But my mother knew all his secrets. She took many of them to her grave because she, too, said, "I don't have recipes." I managed to get a facsimile of her German potato salad because she at least wrote down the ingredients. I have had to fiddle with it for 30 years to even come close. I know exactly what you're talking about!

  13. Loved the story, Mary Jane! I feel like I was in the room with the 2 of you, although I'm sure she would have kicked me out for laughing so hard. Those of us with immigrant relatives who were born cooking or baking foods of their heritage can really relate to the pulling teeth problem of getting a recipe. Sounds delish...and if I were a cook, I'd try it.

  14. Leann, we are adding the German moms to the list. Congrats on the potato salad success! I bet people hound you for that!

  15. What a wonderful story!

    My grandmother, Welsh by birth, made incredible pizza (and pannetone and pizzelles) thanks to the Sicilian neighbor who taught her to cook when she was a newlywed. Grandma's pizza had a fluffy crust, much like what you're describing. She'd dimple that crust, baste it with olive oil, dot it with fresh garlic and oregano, and top it with fresh tomatoes and a little cheddar cheese (doesn't sound authentic, but I swear it was heaven).

    She wrote down all her recipes, including her pizza recipe and her recipe for iced lemon cookies (my favorite), but she didn't actually *use* the recipes when she cooked. So when I follow them, the food just doesn't taste the same.

    I'm going to try Nonna's pizza crust, and maybe that wil be the last piece of my own personal pizza mystery. :)

  16. I was glad to see you here today, Mary Jane, as I happen to be reading "Organize Your Corpses" at the moment! My grandmother cooked a lot like your Nonna, and evidently I do too, as when someone asked me for a recipe recently, I had to go back and take out all the " til it looks right" remarks!

  17. Thanks, WLW - I love idea of your Welsh grandmother making pizza and the toppings too. Nonna's been known to do that style as well. As for Cheddar, in recent years she's switched to Black Diamond Old Cheddar for pizzas, but I thought no one would believe it!
    I mean, what next? Ice cream?

  18. I'm glad to see you here too, Shel. Small and cozy world. And I must confess I do a lot of cooking by look and feel too. And I'm also a mother-in-law ... There is something to be said for 'til it looks right.
    Hope you like Organize Your Corpses - no recipes there!

  19. LOL, MJ! I never measure anything, but it does not turn out quite as well as your Nonna. No one
    has ever tried to badger a recipe out of me.
    Great story -- can't wait to try the crust -- I could live on pizza.

  20. Hi MJ! Thanks so much for coming by the Kitchen today! What a fantastic story...I can just see your Nonna. And this crust looks amazing! I'm going to have to try it. For some reason, my pizza crusts never seem to turn out quite right.

    Mystery Writing is Murder

  21. This sounds like a fabulous crust. My kids always love thick crust. Sounds like a rather trying time to get the recipe, but it sounds like it was worth the work!

  22. O.K. Now that I know that Nonna used cheddar like my Grandma Watson, I absolutely *must* make this crust. You're the first person who hasn't scoffed at the idea of cheddar on pizza. :)

    p.s. As for the ice cream to go with, perhaps a piquant basil gelato? Mmmm.

  23. Thanks Jenn and Riley/Elizabeth. I felt honored to be a guest blogger in this fabulous and mysterious kitchen.

  24. MJ, I'm TERRIFIED of making anything with yeast. My only brush with dough was with--GASP--pizza. But I think after 18 years I should give it another go, and this is the recipe I'm going to try. I'll let you know how it goes.

  25. Thanks, Lorna. Yeast is mean and tricky and can fink out on you, but I know you can master it because you're a whiz in the kitchen. I'll sit tight.

  26. Oh, boy! I love pizza! Can't wait to try Nonna's pizza. Thanks, Mary Jane! My dogs thank you, too :)

  27. Organize Your Corpses may not have recipes, but I'm enjoying it tremendously!

  28. Such a good story, MJ.
    I loved and admired my late mother-in-law. She was an inspired teacher and musician but a truly dreadful cook. The family still laughs about some of the more alarming disasters to emerge from her kitchen.
    Thanks for the pizza recipe. I think you've nailed it!

  29. Thanks, Sue - and I love those disaster stories. Hope to serve you pizza this winter!

  30. Great pizza recipe and I love the story!

  31. I love this! I have a friend (a C list friend) who claims she is happy to give out her special recipes ... but ALWAYS leaves out a key ingredient!

  32. Thanks so much, MP - glad you could drop by!

    And Hannah, you have to fire that friend! Or put her in a book (I could do that for you) After C list really it's D for out the door.