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?

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!

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!

Perfect grilled BBQ chicken

bbq chicken
Delicious and moist, grilled chicken thighs and legs with BBQ sauce

I was on a mission to make barbeque chicken that was moist, juicy, and not burnt. I find those three attributes do not occur in unison when we use our grill to cook chicken. The time needed to cook bone-in chicken on the grill quickly dries it out, and the barbeque sauce always ends up burnt because of its high sugar content. Enter Tyler Florence.

Using this Food Network recipe, I brined my chicken thighs and legs for two hours. I’m a dark meat girl, and bone-in chicken is my favorite over white, boring, skinless, boneless breasts. For this chicken, I left the skin on and soaked it in a brine made from water, brown sugar, salt and garlic for about two hours. That was the key to its deliciousness.

Another important factor is drying the chicken. Soggy, wet chicken will not give you a crispy skin. So about an hour before cooking, I took it out of the brine, dried it thoroughly with paper towel, then put it back in the fridge to dry some more.

Next step is grilling. And only for 10 minutes. The total cooking time is one hour. I was skeptical about leaving the chicken on the grill for just 10 minutes, but that evaporated when my chicken skin caught fire and burned. I should have watched it more closely. After 10 minutes, however, it was off, and I had my grilled, smoky flavor. The rest of the cooking takes place in the oven.

Off the grill and ready for the oven.
Off the grill and ready for the oven.

While the chicken is cooking, I created Tyler’s homemade BBQ sauce, and it was a winner. Leave out the thyme and feel free to replace the molasses with honey. I eyeballed all the ingredients, and it came out delicious. Just watch how much vinegar you add. How much tang you want is a personal preference. I like it sweet and hot so I kicked it up a notch with some cayenne pepper.

bbq sauce

Serve with creamy potato salad and fruit salad.
Serve with creamy potato salad and fruit salad.

The chicken came out fabulous. Juicy, crispy, fall off the bone good, sweet, tangy, everything you could want from grilled barbeque chicken. I urge you to try this. We ate it with homemade potato salad, and we’re having the leftovers tonight.

Grilled salmon and summer corn salad

grilled salmon and cornWhile I would love to say that I buy everything organic from the farmer’s market down the street, I can’t lie. We are Costco regulars. It’s hard to beat the prices and the convenience. Buying in bulk, however, is not ideal. That was the problem with the corn. My husband came home with 8 ears of it. We ate 4 ears one night and it was delicious – I sprayed it with olive oil, grilled it, then sprinkled on the salt. No butter needed. However, I knew those other ears would go bad quick.

Enter salmon. We used to buy huge fresh slab of salmon when we went to Costco. Then my nephew told me to try the frozen fish. What a find! You can buy individually wrapped salmon fillets in the freezer section (there are several different types of fish to try). Now we have fresh fish at least once a week.

Here’s comes the fun part. I found this simple recipe at Kitchen Culinaire. We have organic greens (from Costco again), so it worked perfectly.

I made a few tweaks – had 4 ears of corn instead of 3 and added only 1 avocado. Don’t stress about the mustard. I had a chile-infused mustard my brother gave me. It worked wonders.

corn tomato and avocado salad

Since everything is better with bacon, I microwaved 4 or 5 slices and crumbled them over the top at the end.

corn, tomato and avocado saladMy husband actually ate this scrumptious concoction on a roll. Not a bad idea.

After dinner, I flaked the leftover salmon and added it to the corn when I put away the leftovers. The next day, I sprinkled some feta over the top for my lunch. I just couldn’t resist.

Will you try it? This is a light, healthy, delicious way to celebrate the bounties of summer. Even if those bounties do come from Costco.

Cantaloupe gazpacho

When summer comes, I eat gazpacho for lunch almost every week. It’s the most versatile soup. You can create it the traditional way, with tomatoes, a cucumber and a red pepper – I’ll post that recipe soon. However, since I eat it so much, I am always on the lookout for new ways to puree raw foods so I can combine them with flavors that make them outstanding.

This week I was inspired to make cantaloupe gazpacho. I first got the idea from this Food 52 post. However, it just looked like too much work. Soaking bread, crunching up almonds…it sounds great but I just didn’t feel like going to that much effort. So I kept looking. I came up with this post from Bon Appetit which looked great, but didn’t have great reviews. Still, I figured I’d give it a try and put my own spin on it.

cantaloupe gazpachoHere’s my twist: replace the water with rice wine vinegar (as one of the revieweres recommended).  Then add some honey to give it a little more sweetness. And, you can’t have sweet without spicy, in my opinion. So I had to add a swirl of siracha. I can’t eat anything without siracha.

It came out fantastic. Watch how much salt you add if you are sensitive. Add less until you get the right balance. This one’s a keeper.

 

 

 

 

Chorizo and black bean enchiladas

chorizoblackbeancheeseenchiladas.jpg
Enjoy chorizo, black bean and cheese enchiladas at home.

I’ve been wanting enchiladas for weeks now, and came up with the perfect way to satisfy my craving. These chorizo, black bean and cheese enchiladas were a hit in my house last night. It’s the perfect way to get some veggie and beans into my meat-loving family’s bodies while still delivering the savory spiciness of chorizo sausage.

The recipe is simple. I sauteed the chorizo (drain the oil if you see a lot in your pan; I didn’t have enough to drain), chop the onions and peppers and add to pan after the chorizo is cooked. Then add the beans. I used a can of black beans. Any beans will do the trick.

20140505-075349.jpgOnce your mixture is cooked (about 10 minutes or even less), set it aside. I used flour tortillas, but you can use corn. After putting together the enchiladas, bake for 20 minutes. I topped them with sliced olives, and mexican crema. Have you tried that? It is absolutely delicioso! It’s like a very creamy sour cream with a slightly sweet flavor.

If your family is more adventurous than mine, you could top the enchiladas with chopped cilantro, or chopped green scallions. If I had jalapenos, I would have topped my dish off with them. We’re a medium spicy family.

Here’s the recipe. Let me know how you do!

Chorizo and black bean enchiladas

  • 3 chorizo sausage links (casings removed)
  • 1/4 large vidalia or sweet onion, chopped
  • 1/2 bell pepper (I used yellow, any color will do)
  • 1 can of black beans (drained and rinsed)
  • 1 16 oz. can enchilada sauce
  • 8oz (or more) shredded mexican cheese blend
  • Flour tortillas (I bought the soft taco size and used 6 – smaller corn tortillas would work well too but you will definitely need more than 10)
  • Mexican crema
  • 8 oz. can of sliced black olives

Optional: jalapeno slices, chopped green onions, chopped cilantro for garnish

Directions. Take the chorizo out of the casing and saute the ground meat. Drain the oil. Add the chopped peppers and onions. Saute until soft, about 7 minutes. Add the can of drained black beans. Cook until heated through. Remove from heat. Add about a tablespoon of the enchilada sauce to the meat and bean mixture.

Use spray oil to coat the bottom of your oven-safe pan. (I used a rectangle glas oven pan). Preheat over to 350 degrees.

Pour 2 tablespoons into a fry pan (large enough to fit your tortillas) and heat on low. Add more sauce as needed. Sip tortillas so that each side is covered by the warm sauce. Add about 3 tablespoons of meat mixture to tortilla. Cover meat mixture with cheese. Roll up and place in pan. Repeat until all mixture is used. Cover with remaining sauce and cheese.

Cook at 350 degrees for 20 minutes. After it comes out of the oven, drizzle with the crema, top with olives and anything else you decide to add.

Enjoy!

4 generous servings.

 

Pork Banh Mi

I have wanted to eat a pork sandwich that combines French and Vietnamese influences ever since I saw it on the Great American Food Truck Race.But every recipe looks way too complicated. I have no fear of brining, which many recipes call for, but I just didn’t have the time. Then I found this recipe on Food52. It’ offered a simple and fast way to marinate and grill the pork. The recipe for the pickled radishes and onions scared me a little since it looked like way too much liquid. Instead, I cooked down 1/2 cup of cider vinegar, 1/2 cup of water, 4 tablespoons of sugar and 1 teaspoon of salt. Let me tell you, the sweet and savory crunch of the radishes, combined with the salty, sweet pork, was absolutely divine. Slather some good mayonaise on your French bread, pile on the pork, radishes, fresh jalapenos, sliced cucumbers and cilantro leaves.

We took these sandwiches to the beach to celebrate Father’s Day and they were a hit! Let me know if you try it.