Monday, April 30, 2012

Homemade pizza

I think there are more serious pizza dough recipes out there, but I like this one for its simplicity and for its ease of use.   Last Saturday I made this for dinner that night and we had a last minute change of plans.  I stuck the dough in the fridge.  On Sunday, I set it out about 1 hour before  making pizzas, and it was just a-okay.  I appreciate that in a dough.  I'm experimenting a bit with adding some seasoning to the dough, to make it a little more tasty, but really, I'm just fine with its simplicity.

My basic pizza dough (Martha Stewart)

2 packets Active Dry Yeast
2 T sugar
1/4 cup olive oil
2 t course salt
4 cups all purpose flour (unbleached)

Pour 1/2 cup warm water in large bowl.  Sprinkle with yeast and let stand until foamy, about 5 minutes.

Whisk sugar, oil, and salt into yeast mix.  Add flour and stir until sticky dough forms.  Shape into a ball and lightly coat with oil (kind of coating the bowl as you go).  Cover bowl with plastic wrap and set aside in a  warm, draft free place, until dough has doubled, about 1 hour.
Turn out on lightly floured surface and gently knead 1 or 2 times.

Did you spy the spinach on my piece of the pizza?  Yep, delicious.  We used some sausage, peppers, onion, and - the key - mozzerella from the cheese section of the store (not the grated cheese section of the store.)  I have future plans to try to make my own mozzerella, but that is a future project and one I can't pull out of my hat without some planning.
And someone, who happens to be a teensy picky, has asked for "that pizza you made that one time not too long ago that was white on top and that you made all yourself and not from a restaurant" no less than three times.  Enough said.


Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Italian Stuffed Peppers

Such a simple, delicious dinner.  I take credit for none of it; we have the chef in the house to thank for its ingenuity.

We love stuffed peppers and make them frequently with combinations of rice (maybe beans), with chicken, beef, or sausage.  Every time we make them we have the same comment - stuffed peppers are so filling without being overwhelming.  The pepper itself provides the bulk of the meal - such a nice, fresh crunch and counterpart to the heavier rice, meat and cheese.

We had some ground beef cooked up and my husband simply added some pasta sauce to it.  He spooned it into the peppers, topped with a little mozzerella, and baked.  And in a clever twist that indicates what was in our fridge - he served it with a sweet potato. {If your only experience with sweet potatoes is the Thanksgiving version with marshmallows, please, oh please, bake one and eat it with a little butter, pepper, and a touch of garlic salt.  Delicious.}  The Italian version of stuffed peppers - seriously great.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Taking Food & Honey Mustard Chicken Salad

Ever since I had a child, I see the importance of taking food to a family with a new baby.  Before I thought it was optional.  I do not think that anymore - especially, oh so especially, if the new mom (or, new mom, again) had a C-section.

I am always on the lookout for recipes that are easy to take to people. I tend to not be the most graceful meal planner.  More like, think up a hair brain plan that sounds good but is hard to execute or requires last minute trips to the store while my husband looks at me like, "really?"  And since I work a full work week, this isn't always the easiest thing to pull off.  Ideally, I'd like to make a meal for the family with the new baby AND for my family . . . saving time, being cost effective and consolidating ingredients. 

My newest idea, that I'm quite proud of, is a dinner we have at our house fairly often. We consider it delicious, healthy and easy, but if you add a few special touches, it kicks it up a notch, making it a special dinner to bring to someone.

Grilled chicken salad with homemade honey mustard dressing & bread

We grill the chicken with a mix of Cavender's and Creole seasoning - it makes it a bit spicy and we like it that way.  We do a simple skillet grill of the chicken, cutting it in strips as we go.

Buy a nice pre-packaged box of lettuce . . . also buy salad toppings:
purple onion
bell pepper (red, green, yellow)
. . . the list can go on.  Chop all of these veggies up for your friend and bag them separately in ziplocks.

Okay, my sister introduced me to this bread and it is ah-mazing.  Seriously.  If you have time, by all means, make your own homemade bread.  But if you are short on time or short on wits, buy this at Target and call it done.  It is delicious, calls for 2 extra ingredients (either beer or sparkling water & butter), and takes 50 minutes. {And a bonus, the mix itself does not have a list of 2 billion ingredients. So, I believe it to be a relatively good thing to eat and make for people}.

Homemade Honey Mustard Dressing
I have my husband to thank for this.  I believe he is okay if I share the secret.  If you are mayonaise averse, I am sorry to break it to you: honey mustard dressing is made with a large proportion of mayo.  Forget I told you, okay?

3 parts mayo
1 part mustard
1 part honey
a few shakes of paprika on top

Pack all of this up nicely for your friend - I got a large foil lasagna pan and packed it full.  Bring bread and salad mix & they have the makings of a great, simple dinner.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Best Morning Smoothie

I have been making this smoothie (in spurts) for a good long while, but it has never been this good.  Recently, some magic happened.  First magical event: we replaced our broken Magic Bullet with a new one.  Second magical event: frozen bananas.  Third magical event: Hershey's cocoa powder (unsweet).

When I like something, I become an Ambassador for it. I start telling everyone I know why they need one. So I am the Ambassador for the Magic Bullet.  At first I thought they were hokey, counter space junk.  And then I had a baby.  And that baby needed bottles.  And there was no better way to mix that bottle than through the magical Magic Bullet.  We wore that one out, truly.  The reason the Magic Bullet is {magic!} is it enables you to make a healthy smoothie without all the hassle of getting the blender out.  Or cleaning that big ol' thing when you only used the bottom cup of it. And then there is the perk of drinking that sweet little smoothie straight from the cup it was mixed in - no extra dishes.

Frozen Bananas.  Do not ever throw away another soft banana again.  I confess, I've thrown out a LOT of bad bananas, and I'm not sure where my logical head has been.  When they start getting soft, slice them and place on wax paper on a cookie tray.  Let them freeze for 30 min. to 1 hour and then you can bag them up and use them in your recipes.  I find that one banana is about 10 slices, so that is how many I put in smoothies.  Or if a banana bread recipe calls for 3 bananas, I'd throw in 30 thawed slices and get to mashin'.  Slice a few and you'll get a feel for how many equals one banana.  It is the frozen banana and the ice that give the smoothie the "smoothie" feel.  Without the frozen fruit component, your smoothie will be foamy and a big ooey-gooey.

Cocoa Powder.  What a genius idea - I saw an almost exact replica of my smoothie through the Make and Takes website, and I was giddy to see the use of unsweetened cocoa powder.  This is a great way to change the taste of your smoothie without adding a bazillion unnecessary calories.  Add a little bit or up to 2 tablespoonsful, depending on your taste. 

Another good thing to do is add honey instead of cocoa powder.  It just changes the flavor and keeps you happy in the mornings.

Best morning smoothie:
1 heaping spoon of crunchy PB
1 spoon of Hershey's unsweet cocoa powder, or, to taste
handful of ice (about 3 large cubes)
1 frozen banana, sliced (10 frozen banana slices)
approx 1 cup to 1.5 cups milk (thinner vs. thicker smoothie)
optional: 1 spoonful of wheat germ, if you like adding wheat germ to things
Put in your adorable, handy Magic Bullet and let her rip!

Say good morning to a new breakfast routine that you'll enjoy during the long, hot summer to come.  And be sure and let your kids have a sip - could be a new breakfast option for ALL!

Monday, April 2, 2012

Attempting cheesecake

A good friend's birthday brought me to attempting cheesecake.  I've never been opposed, believe me, but they seem a bit fussy.  I don't typically have time for fussy.  But the moon and stars aligned and I had a Sunday with not too much to do and so, the attempt began. 

When I am unsure of something {and I really, really need it to turn out!}, I consult the Barefoot Contessa.  As I have mentioned before, she is a reliable and trustworthy kitchen friend of mine, and I do hold her dear.  Her recipe is here, and it is the one I used.

When I was investigating cheesecake tips, I kept hearing of springform pans (check) and water baths (what?).  A water bath, as I found out, is the method of placing your springform pan with cheesecake inside of a larger pan that you then fill with hot water, while all of this bakes in the oven.  It assists in even cooking.  Not too scary afterall.  The Contessa does not suggest a water bath; hmmm.  I do not typically break recipes, but I did decide to implement this technique, because so many sites online suggested it.

I was mixed over what topping to use and, in the end, decided on this one, which is just fruit with an apricot preserve on it.  The recipe over on My Baking Addiction looks great, too, and I may try hers sometime.

As it turns out, cheesecakes are fussy.  If you have to make a dessert under pressure, I would not recommend a cheesecake from scratch.  There are lots of steps, lots of time, lots of oven adjusting, lots of cooling.  If you have a calm day right before the day in which you need a fantastic dessert, then a cheescake could be the dessert for you - as they keep very well and pretty much require being made 1 day in advance. {I started mine at 2 p.m. and it wasn't fridge ready until 8 p.m. . . . and it still had to chill for a minimum of 5 hours, or preferably overnight.}  But one bite will redeem all of your hard work, trust me.  You might even have co-workers making marriage proposals for your baking skills.

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