Simple pizza dough makes amazing pizzas

My family loves pizza night, but I don’t mean buying it from the neighborhood pizza place. Making your own pizza dough is simple, fast, and fun. Let me tell you how I do it.

Cheese pizza and buffalo chicken pizza
Cheese pizza and buffalo chicken pizza

Making the pizza dough

Pizza dough is so simple – it’s just flour, water, yeast and salt. Some recipes call for oil and sugar. But that’s it. Mix it up ahead of time, let it rest, and soon you’ll be making pizza.

I started making pizza with a bread maker. When it broke, I resorted to buying pizza dough in the store when it was on sale for $1 per one-pound ball. I’d buy several and freeze them, then pull one or two out and leave them in the fridge to thaw. One, one-pound ball feeds about four adults. Eight slices, two per person.

Looks like I added some leftover sauteed peppers and onions. I always drizzle with Sriracha.
Looks like I added some leftover sauteed peppers and onions. I always drizzle with Sriracha.

Then I discovered this free Craftsy perfect pizza at home class. It’s a great introduction to making a variety of pizzas. Again, simple recipe, make the dough ahead of time, cut the recipe in half, store, and you have two pizzas ready to bake by later that day or, (better yet), the next day. (The dough needs to rise for several hours. Don’t rush it.)

Things got even easier when I signed up for Artisan Bread in Minutes on Craftsy. I still can’t get over how simple it is to make bread. Put your ingredients in a bowl, mix by hand, let sit, refrigerate, make pizza. That’s it. And it comes out fabulous. I made this Sicilian pizza last night. I made it on a cookie sheet. It’s covered with a simple marinara sauce from a jar, shredded mozzarella and Asiago, and pepperoni. It was delicious.

Sicilian pizza with  tomato sauce, mozzarella and pepperoni
Sicilian pizza with tomato sauce, mozzarella and pepperoni

Toppings

That brings me to toppings. We are not typically plain pizza people. I like variety, and a pizza can really hold anything. I’v even put Thanksgiving leftovers on pizza (sans the stuffing).

Our favorite starts with a layer of mayonnaise, which is topped with broccoli, tomato, bacon and cheddar cheese.

Broccoli, bacon and tomato pizza with cheddar cheese
Broccoli, bacon and tomato pizza with cheddar cheese

We also love starting with a layer of Italian dressing, topped with sautéed spinach, carmelized onion, and bacon. Hawaiian pizza starts with tomato sauce, followed by chopped deli ham, mozzarella and pineapple. Then there’s buffalo chicken pizza – which is a layer of ranch or blue cheese dressing, mozzarella cheese, then loaded with leftover chicken smothered in Texas Pete mixed with melted butter.

Cheese pizza and buffalo chicken pizza
Cheese pizza and buffalo chicken pizza

Barbeque pizza is a hit too. We’ll start with a layer of your favorite barbeque sauce, then top it with mozzarella cheese, leftover chicken dressed with more barbeque sauce, peppers and onions (cooked or uncooked – it’s up to you.)

As you can see, the possibilities are endless.

Pizza stone

I would be remiss if I didn’t talk a little bit about cooking your pizza. First, your oven/grill needs to be piping hot. I cook my pizza at around 450 degrees. Whether on the grill or in the oven, it is crucial that your pizza stone also be preheated and hot.

The one exception to this rule is my Sicilian pizza. While my oven was heated up for at least 15 minutes, I did not pre heat the cookie sheet. My pizza came out good, however, in my opinion, the top was a little overcooked. The dough was perfect. (I cooked this pizza at 475 for 15 minutes. Next time I’ll do 450.)

I use an Emile Henri pizza stone. You can buy a cheaper one, but they are typically very heavy. This stone retains a lot of heat and is easy to move out of the oven when the pizza is done because it’s thin. You can see it here resting on my stove top.

Spinach, carmelized onion and bacon pizza
Spinach, carmelized onion and bacon pizza

A pizza peel is also a must. And parchment paper. For a long time, I was flouring my pizza peel, rolling out my rested dough, then shuffling it into the oven or on the grill. If the pizza became heavy from the toppings, it would stick just a little, causing the toppings to tumble into the oven (or the grill), and remain there as burning reminders for the next few days. Now I flour a piece of parchment paper, put that on the peel, easily transfer the pizza to the oven (no dropped toppings), and take it off the parchment paper when it comes out.

Let it rest

In making all these pizzas, the most important tip I can give you is to NOT use your dough straight from the cold refrigerator. Take the dough out and let it rest on the counter for at least 20 minutes. That will let the gluten relax, and allow your dough to be stretched into your pie shape much easier. We’ve tried fighting with the dough, but it would just bounce back and not hold its shape. If you have that problem, walk away. Have a glass of wine. The dough will rest and become more pliable and you’ll have a more enjoyable experience.Two pizzas ready for eating

Two pizzas ready for eating

So, armed with all these simple and amazing pizza options, what’s on your menu tonight?

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Paper pieced leaves make great table runner

If you’ve never tried paper piecing, I urge you to give it a go. It’s a lot of fun. I wanted a challenge so I bought this leaf pattern from Quiltworx. It was expensive. When I opened it and saw the instruction booklet, I let it sit for a few months. It was so intimidating. When I finally urged myself to create it, I was thrilled with the result.IMG_0251

The pattern calls for enough fabric and paper to make the two leaves. I made both at once, knowing I wouldn’t want to go back and do all that cutting again. Take your time, read all the instructions first, and follow them thoroughly. You’ll learn to sew curves, and glue baste. I had never done either before and I was so pleased how these leaves turned out.

I had a few questions during the binding portion. I emailed Judy Niemeyer, who owns Quiltworx and created all the gorgeous, intricate patterns. She responded immediately and helped me stay on track.

I stitched in the ditch around the veins so it wouldn’t take away from the beauty of the finished product.

IMG_0253I love the way these leaves came out. Don’t you?

Easy baked salmon with tons of flavor

We try to eat fish at least once a week and salmon is usually on the menu. I buy it frozen in individually wrapped packages at Costco, and just pull out the servings I need. This recipe is a keeper. It’s probably good as is, but I put my own twist on it. Biggest change: adding more vegetables and baking in the oven, rather than on the stove.

First I carmelized red onion. I sprinkled salt, pepper, brown sugar and a dash of balsamic. I had some baby spinach so I threw that in there too. About half a bag. It cooks down to nothing.

Then I made the glaze for the salmon. I didn’t marinade it as the recipe suggests. I just placed the cooked vegetables in the bottom of my casserole dish and poured the glaze over the salmon. I felt the need for a splash of balsamic vinegar. It was just calling my name. This is how it looked before I popped it in the oven.

This is how it looks after about 10-15 minutes in the oven at 450 degrees. I use a thermopen to make sure the fish reaches about 145 degrees. I’m happy with it a little under. Better less cooked than over, in my opinion.

(I highly recommend this thermometer. Yes, it’s expensive, but well worth the investment. I use it on everything.)

One quick looked at the finished dish on the plate before I tore into it. It was absolutely delicious.

If you have any left over, simply flake the salmon with a fork and chop the onions and spinach. Add some sriracha and mayonnaise – not too much. — Pile it on some artisan whole wheat bread topped with arugula and you have the perfect salmon salad for lunch the next day.

Let me know if you try this. You won’t be sorry!

Corded fabric bowl from scraps

Corded fabric bowl from scrapsI’d seen corded fabric bowls on a Facebook sewing page and thought, how hard could they be? They looked fabulous. I had to give it a try.

I found this tutorial on You Tube and it is really good. I would suggest you follow it. I made a left turn. I should have stayed the course. 



 The object of the game is to buy clothesline (I got mine at Walmart) and wrap half-inch or so WOF scraps around it. You use a regular foot and a zigzag stitch to hold the clothesline together and create the bowl.

I wanted to use up the scraps that were leftover from this table runner that I made from a jelly roll. I cut the strips in half, but I probably should have halved them again. They were a bit too fat.

Make sure you have a good base for your bowl. 



The first time I made one, I started shaping the bowl too soon and ended up with a narrow base and a wobbly bowl. In addition, when you start to craft the bowl, be sure that you are turning it up to the left of your machine so it doesn’t start to grow under the throat. I made that mistake the first time too.

Also, be prepared for the bowl to have a very scrappy, threaded look, unless you cut your fabric on the bias. It will start to shred and untangle as you wrap it around the clothesline.

So, what do you think? Do you like my corded fabric bowl? Will you make one yourself? Let me know in the comments.

French braid table runner

french braid table runner

When I asked my sister for fabric for Christmas, I really didn’t know to expect. I wanted to try some different patterns and create some easy projects. She gave me two jelly rolls. After opening this one, and seeing how perfect it matched my kitchen, I scoured the internet for a table runner.  I decided on a a variation of a french braid.

Most french braids have pointed ends, and have a diamond in the middle. Here’s a tutorial from Jenny Doan at the Missouri Quilt Company if you want to follow that idea. I wanted a rectangle. And, because I only had jelly rolls, it would be difficult for me to make the large diamond in the middle. I made my own version.

I started sewing pieces together, using the light 2 inch square in the center. If I had followed the tutorial, I probably would have been more efficient with my fabric. As you can see, I ended up with longer and longer pieces. I started using shorter pieces to preserve fabric, but then I was concerned the table runner wouldn’t be wide enough.

IMG_3198Once I measured my table, and a table runner I already had, I settled on my width and length and squared it up. I used the leftovers to make a simple backing, and pieced together enough light pieces to make the binding, which I machine sewed.

IMG_3357On to the quilting. I had taken Crafty’s Creative Quilting with Your Walking Foot (This class is my all time favorite so far – Jacquie Gering is an excellent teacher.) One of the more fancy stitches she recommends is the serpentine stitch. At first I thought I would do it both ways, crossing at the middle. But after finishing this table runner, I had enough. Straight line quilting is a bit tedious. And, even though she makes it look easy, believe me, it is not.

IMG_0271While I can see all the mistakes -the stitches are uneven, and a bit wobbly, – I think the overall look of the table runner is very consistent. And I love the contrast between the thread and the fabric.

This table runner is proudly displayed on my kitchen table. How do you like it?

french braid table runnerNext I’ll share what I did with the leftover scraps.

Best shepherd’s pie

Shepherd’s pie doesn’t get any better than this. I craved it one day after my brother-in-law posted a picture of his on Instagram. I instantly went to Allrecipes.com, where I found this recipe.  It’s a good starting point, but let me tell you how to make it easier, and faster.

First, don’t bother peeling, cutting, and boiling potatoes to make the mashed potatoes. Simply Potatoes are absolutely delicious, made with all real ingredients, and cover the top of this pie perfectly. That’s about 50 percent of the work gone right there.

Next, the meat. Saute one pound of ground beef, or whatever meat you like. I’m sure it would taste just as good with ground lamb (which I believe was in the original, I mean really original, shepherd’s pie), turkey, chicken, etc. Dump the grease (leave about a tablespoon if you used beef to saute the vegetables) and remove meat from pan.

Now let’s talk about the vegetables. Do not boil carrots until mush. And take a look in your fridge to see what you have. I sauteed carrots (added a little water after browning them a little, covered and let them steam for about five minutes). Then I added some more olive oil, and added one chopped onion. Peas are not welcome in my house, per my son, but spinach – surprisingly – is. So I threw the rest of the opened bag of baby spinach in there too and waited till it wilted. Add the meat to the vegetable mixture.

Finally, the piece de resistance for me is Pioneer brown gravy mix. Follow the directions to make the gravy, but use the one can of beef broth called for in the Allrecipes recipe. Pour that goodness all over the meat mixture.

Spray your casserole dish with olive oil, add the meat and vegetable mixture, and top it with a layer of cheese. Warm up your mashed potatoes so they are more creamy and easier to use, and spread over the top, dropping in dollops all over the place, and mushing together with a spatula to cover your meat and cheese mixture.

Pop it in the oven at 350 degrees and cook for about 20 minutes until you get this oozing, delicious, wonderful meal. It truly is the best shepherd’s pie. Ever.

Simple gravlax recipe

I was at Monuts in Durham recently, where I had a delicious sandwich featuring house cured gravlax, creamy cucumbers, and pickled radishes (I think). I really wasn’t sure what gravlax was, but I knew it was something akin to smoked salmon — we always called it lox in my house.

Something in the back of my mind said, maybe I could do this. So I gave it a try. After analyzing dozens of gravlax and smoked salmon recipes on the internet, I ended up using this 1998 version from The New York Times. The title of the article said it all, “Gravlax Without Fear: A Stunning Dish Just Looks Hard.”

What I’ve come to find out about gravlax is there are a lot of ways to approach this piece of fish that is not cooked, but instead, is cured with sugar and salt. I went out of my way to purchase a good piece of salmon (about 1 pound) at Publix, and started the process. After I got my piece ready, I read some recipes that suggested freezing the fish first to kill any parasites that might be lurking inside. Yuk. And too late. Well, I eat a lot of sushi so I figured I’d be okay. (So far I am.)

I read you have to press the fish while it cures with a board topped by cans or something similar to weigh the fish down and help it release its moisture. I read that you cut the fish in half and press the two halves together so the skin side is up on both sides with the sugar/salt mixture in between. I read that you have to turn it several times during the curing process, which could last from two to five days. You can add vodka, herbs, etc, or you could keep it simple.

I chose to forego the pressing, the turning, and the varied ingredients (and the freezing, which I just might do for safety’s sake next time). I coated the flesh side of the fish (which I did not cut in half, by the way) with A LOT of sugar and salt and chopped, fresh dill. Then I wrapped it in plastic, and left it alone for about 48 hours. I didn’t turn it (although I probably would next time). A lot of rather thick liquid, almost like a gel, came out of the fish and into the casserole dish I was using to house it while in the fridge.

Once I rinsed off the sugar and salt, I sliced it thinly. I slathered vegetable cream cheese on a ritz cracker and laid some salmon on top. It was delicious. I ate it every morning for breakfast on a whole wheat english muffin with some capers.

If you like Nova, lox, smoked salmon, or whatever you want to call it, you have to try it.  I will definitely be making this again. However, next time I won’t be so thorough about the rinsing because it would have been a little more salty and dill-like. I’ll also layer on the dill first, then add the sugar and salt. I might even experiment with brown sugar instead of white, or sprinkling a little vodka on the fish first like they do in Norway. So many new things to try!

Drafting my own skirts

After making my own skirt sloper following the directions from SoSewEasy,.com, I decided to delve further into pattern making and signed up for the skirt sloper class on Craftsy. It’s a really good class and Suzy Furrer is a careful, thoughtful instructor.  I wanted to experiment with the different varieties of skirts featured in the Craftsy class.

After making my skirt sloper, my first attempt was a wrap skirt. Don’t ask me why. I think it was because I was afraid of zippers and waistbands. That’s a significant concern because beyond the pattern drafting, there are no sewing instructions with this class. You make the pattern and then you are on your own when it comes to constructing the actual skirt. If you’re like me, an eager beginner, you can either wing it or sign up for another class.

wrap skirtI “wung” it and made the wrap skirt. I left off the waistband, but I also didn’t give a lot of thought as to how to close the skirt. I ended up using two snaps on one side and two hook and eyes on the other. But I have nightmares that the skirt will fall off me so I have yet to wear it to work.

Zippers and waistbands

On to skirt two. It was time to face my fear of zippers and waistbands. So I decided to start with the first skirt variation that Suzy teaches and go with the A-line. Back at Craftsy, they had a new class on, lo and behold, zippers and waistbands, offered by Suzy’s colleague, Sara Alm.

It’s good, but again, not all the instruction you need if you don’t have the experience. I started with my muslin, got the invisible zipper in, but then it came time to the waistband. As you can see, I had a problem. I sewed my waistband on upside down. I didn’t know what was wrong till I posted this photo on a sewing enthusiast facebook page and they gave me the bad news. No worries. I ripped it off, flipped it around, sewed it on again and it came out okay.

bad muslin

So it was on to the actual skirt. I bought a quilting cotton at Joann’s because it was on sale, I wanted a pattern, but I didn’t want a pattern that would jam me up – something that had to be matched or anything crazy like that. Here’s where I’m at. The pink is elastic on my dress form to mark the waist. This is a drop waist skirt so I’ll be adding the waistband soon. Wish me luck!   a line

I finished the skirt. I added the waistband, made a button hole, and even sewed on the button using my machine. I’ve never done that before! But it’s no good. Because I didn’t line the skirt, it is see through. I need a slip. And it has a funny poof going on in the back. I asked the Craftsy instructor, and she told me to fix the center seam where it  met the zipper. We’ll see how that goes.

It’s not bad. I definitely need to learn more about adding waist bands and zippers. But it’s not good enough to wear to work.

Back to the sewing machine to try again