Monday, August 30, 2010

Who wants pizza?

One of our staple freezer meals is pizza but I always hate the feeling of dying of thirst afterwards, not to mention the fact that you are limited to the few standard options for toppings that are available at your store’s freezer section. The other night I decided to go for it and make my own pizza dough. Not being one to really like planning ahead, waiting for up to a day for the dough to rise, as many recipes call for just isn’t an option for me. But I found a recipe by Giada De Laurentiis on that only requires a total of 3 hours of rising time. Now that I can handle. So it was actually in the afternoon that I decided to go for it, to have pizza for dinner.

For my hubs I made the typical onion and pepperoni. For myself I made something that I’ve been craving lately. A mix of toppings that my cousin and I would make weekly one particular summer in our teens: tuna, onion, and pineapple. A sort of variation on the Hawaiian, I suppose. For the tomato sauce I just used a store brand can of crushed tomato. I’m not a big fan of the prepared pizza sauces. They tend to be too salty and otherwise over seasoned. The plain crushed tomato has a clean bright taste that doesn’t distract from the other toppings. For cheese I used shredded mozzarella. The crust came out fairly thin but still chewy and not too dry or crunchy. The hubs gave his pizza a big thumbs up and actually devoured the entire 13 inch pie! I was very happy with mine and suffered major pregnancy related heartburn that night because I ate way too much. Missy was already in bed, so she got her pizza for lunch the next day.

I must say I was quite amazed when I was rolling out the dough and topping Missy’s lunch pizza. She also got a variation of the Hawaiian, with turkey breast instead of ham, and finely diced onions. For the half hour or so that it took to roll, top and bake the pizza, she was dancing around the kitchen singing, “Pizza, pizza, pizza!” It’s not like she gets pizza all the time. She’s had it maybe once before. I really couldn’t understand how she knew to be so excited about it. She even ran off to grab her baby doll and pressed the doll’s face into the oven window! With all that anticipation I was actually nervous when it was ready. What if she didn’t like it? Then what? Thankfully I didn’t have to find out because she devoured her slice and even nibbled on the edges of a second slice. In fact she was so enamored of the pizza that at dinner time, she started up her pizza song and dance again and I thought for a moment that she’d refuse to eat her fish sticks and veggie sticks (yeah, momma doesn’t cook for every meal). Thankfully though she did eat her dinner.

Even though making the pizza dough was quite a bit of work, since it makes enough for three 13 inch pizzas (or two larger ones) you could easily feed a family of three or four with one pizza and some sides and with the same effort make enough dough for two or three meals. Considering the pizza dough probably cost $2 at the most (it’s just flour, water, and yeast after all), it also makes for a super economical meal. Even your toppings won’t add that much to the cost. The recipe doesn’t mention anything about freezing, but I’m assuming you can put a ball of dough in a freezer bag and pop it in the freezer if you don’t intend to use it all right away.

Here is the pizza dough recipe and directions for baking.

Pizza Dough

Recipe courtesy Giada De Laurentiis

Prep Time:

15 min

Inactive Prep Time:

3 hr 0 min

Cook Time:





3 (13-ounce) balls of dough


· 1 1/2 cups warm water, 100 to 110 degrees F, plus extra as needed

· 1 (1/4-ounce) packet active dry yeast

· 5 cups all-purpose flour, plus extra as needed

· 1 1/2 teaspoons fine sea salt

· Olive oil, for drizzling


Put the water in a small bowl. Add the yeast and stir until dissolved.

In a large bowl, whisk the flour and salt together. Add the yeast mixture and stir until a soft dough forms. If the dough is too dry, add a little extra water, 1 tablespoon at a time. If the dough is too sticky, add extra flour, 1 tablespoon at a time. Transfer the dough to a floured work surface. With floured hands, knead the dough until it becomes smooth and elastic, about 10 to 12 minutes. Drizzle the inside of a clean bowl with olive oil. Put the dough in the bowl and cover loosely with plastic wrap or a damp kitchen towel. Set the bowl in a warm, draft-free place, until the dough has doubled in size, about 2 hours.

Using a fist, deflate the dough in the center and cut it into 3 equal-sized pieces. Form the dough pieces into 3 balls and put into 3 oiled bowls. Cover each bowl loosely with plastic wrap or a damp kitchen towel and let rest for 1 hour. Remove the dough and wrap in plastic. Refrigerate for up to 1 day.

I needed longer than the 10-12 minutes the recipe states for kneading the dough but then the recipe I scribbled down months ago said to use 4 cups of flour and 1 cup of water. I did end up adding several table spoons of water to make the dough smooth and elastic and it took quite a bit of kneading (maybe 20 minutes). I also added 1 tsp of sugar as food for the yeast to make sure the dough would rise. Here is a link to the recipe as well as a video of Giada making it.

Now you would think that the logical next steps in the directions would be rolling out the dough, topping it and baking it, but you need to search for a pizza recipe (as opposed to a pizza dough recipe) to get those steps. Giada has a recipe for a Caramelized onion, sausage and basil pizza that seemingly uses the same pizza dough. I haven’t tried it, but it sounds tasty. Here is the link for the complete recipe if you want to try it:

I have copied the relevant parts of getting the dough ready for toppings and baking it below. The way I see it, once you have the basic instructions, you can use whatever toppings you like, which is what I did for our pizza.


· Cornmeal, for dusting

· Extra-virgin olive oil, for drizzling

· All-purpose flour, for dusting


Put an oven rack in the center of the oven. Preheat the oven to 475 degrees F. Sprinkle a heavy baking sheet (without sides) with cornmeal and set aside.

On a lightly floured work surface, roll out the dough into a 13-inch diameter circle, about 1/4-inch thick. Transfer the dough to the prepared baking sheet and drizzle with olive oil (supposedly this prevents the crust from getting soggy from the toppings). Spread the [toppings] evenly over the dough, leaving a 1-inch border. Sprinkle the cheese on top. Bake until the crust is golden and the cheese has melted, about 15 to 17 minutes. Remove from the oven. Cut the pizza into wedges and serve.

Quite simple really. I feel like I can tackle other dough recipes now. And I have to say there is something quite rewarding about having your hands covered in flour and seeing these simple ingredients come together as a dough.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Hamburger Helper Aint Got Nothing on Me!

I have to begin this post with a disclaimer. I have never actually made or eaten Hamburger Helper, so I don’t know exactly what goes into it, but I imagine from the ads that it’s some sort of pasta, ground beef, and cheese concoction. This meal was born out of a need to come up with something nutritious for Little Missy, having not managed to drag myself to the store as I intended. In my defense, it was super hot and humid, Missy had barely napped and the house was shrouded in blue tarp as our roof was getting redone (hence the lack of a nap, even though the lighting in the house made it feel like The Napping House), oh yeah and being 24 weeks preggo on top of all that hardly made getting to the store a tempting thought. So, it was another evening of peering into the pantry and freezer to come up with ideas. Lucky for me I always stock certain things that can be whipped up into acceptable meals. I always have different types of whole grain pasta, various frozen veggies, shredded cheese, frozen ground beef and turkey. So I decided to make a cheesy, pasta burger thingy with some hidden bonus veggies. Quick and easy! Actually it’s so simple that I’m almost embarrassed to post this but, then again not every meal has to be totally gourmet, right?

Ingredients (enough for 2-3 toddler sized servings):

Whole grain penne pasta (about 1 cup uncooked)

1 frozen beef patty

Frozen mixed pepper strips (half cup or so)

Shredded cheese (1-2 handfuls)

Salt & Pepper (to taste)

Ketchup (a couple of squirts)

Take out a frozen beef patty and allow to thaw on counter as you boil water for pasta.

When water comes to a boil, add some salt if you wish and add the pasta.

While pasta cooks pour frozen pepper strips into a microwave safe bowl, add enough pasta water to just barely cover the peppers. Microwave in 1 minute intervals until peppers are cooked (2-3 minutes). Most of the water will evaporate as they cook.

Once peppers are cooked, puree them in a mini food processor and set aside.

Put burger patty on a microwave safe plate, cover with damp paper towel and finish thawing it in microwave. This should only take about a minute. Transfer thawed patty into hot sauté pan and finish cooking it, breaking it up as you go along. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

When pasta is cooked, drain it (you can reserve some pasta cooking water in case the mixture is dry) and return to hot pan. Add the pepper puree, cooked ground beef (minus any grease) and mix with a couple of handfuls of shredded cheese and ketchup.

That’s it! All done, in about 15 minutes. For anyone wanting to try a vegetarian version, I have made this with red lentils instead of the ground beef. I just added a small amount of red lentils to the pot as the pasta cooked. The beauty of red lentils is that they don’t need to be presoaked and cook up quite fast. They are barely noticeable in the cheese mixture and add a nice nutty flavor and of course tons of protein. As it turned out Little Missy enjoyed both the ground beef and lentil versions of this dish, so it will be added to the repertoire.

This is very obviously a kid dish. However, you can easily make an adult version with the same basic ingredients. Picture pasta with pepper strips, shredded parmesan and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil for example. I have yet to test any grown up friendly recipes, but promise to post as soon as I do. Of course, if you’re like me, you end up eating what you made for the kiddos because the thought of making a second dish, even with mostly the same ingredients is just overwhelming.

Monday, August 9, 2010

I Feel Like Curry Tonight

A typical dinner related conversation in our house might go like this:

Me: “I feel like curry tonight.”

Hubs: “Where are we ordering from?”

But not this time. One of my dearest friends came over recently and we made curry together. She’s promised to do this for some time now but since coming over involves hopping a flight from Europe, I’ve had to be patient. Lucky me, she was in town for a week and we had a glorious time catching up and making delicious food. My friend hails from India and I was always jealous of her because she got to eat home cooked Indian food every day growing up. Not that I’m knocking my mom’s cooking, but eating authentic Indian food every day; there’s a serious drool factor there. Turns out home cooked Indian food is quite different from the creamy stuff you get at restaurants. It’s much simpler, much healthier. That also means that it’s much easier to make. And you know what? It’s so much more rewarding to eat!

The first thing we did when my friend arrived was take a run up to the Indian grocery near my house. Walking in is quite an experience as the aromas of spices and fresh herbs and vegetables hangs heavy in the air. For me this is a little bit like going home since I grew up in Singapore and these aromas and “ethnic” groceries are quite familiar for me. (As a side note, for those of you keeping track, my heritage is Finnish and I grew up in Singapore – Foodie Heaven, as Anthony Bourdain calls it. Bourdain hasn’t been to Finland as far as I know. Gordon Ramsay has and he wasn’t impressed. Though I respectfully disagree with Ramsay’s opinion, the two countries definitely represent culinary extremes! But I digress.) We picked up some red and green peppers, carrots, fresh cilantro, garam masala, cardamom pods, paneer (Indian cheese), and fresh roti (Indian flat bread). We headed to my regular grocery for some chicken, where we decided to save money and buy a whole chicken. In any case, chicken on the bone is definitely the way to go for flavor and tender, moist meat. Our plan is to make a chicken curry and vegetable paneer.

Ingredients for Chicken Curry:

Whole Chicken, broken down or chicken pieces of your choice (how much depends on how many you are feeding)

Plain yogurt (enough to cover the chicken)

Garam masala powder

Curry powder (generic turmeric based powder)

Cinnamon powder

Cumin powder

Powdered ginger (fresh is of course OK, but we were lazy)

Garlic, minced (2-3 cloves, or to taste)

Onion, diced

Can of crushed/diced tomatoes (I like to use fire roasted, for extra flavor)

Vegetable oil for sautéing

Fresh cilantro (2-3 sprigs roughly chopped and a few left whole for garnish)

Salt to taste


I don’t have a whole lot of experience in breaking down chickens though I’ve seen it done both on TV and in person. I have the theory down, it’s just the practice that’s a little iffy. It looks so easy when someone else does it yet somehow it still turns into a bit of a struggle. For example, the whole concept of popping out the tendon just doesn’t translate into practice all that well for me anyway. Luckily I am not one of those people who cannot handle meat on the bone, so I happily attacked the bird while my friend tackled the veggies. I managed to hack off the drumsticks, thighs, wings and breasts and they don’t look too mangled. We also cut the breast pieces crosswise into two and separated the thigh from the drumstick to allow for more even cooking. I threw the carcass into the freezer for a soup.

Marinate the chicken pieces in yogurt and curry powder (overnight is best but even the time it will take to prep the veggies will be enough).

Wash, peel, and dice veggies, and dice paneer. Mince garlic.

Heat oil in a dutch oven or large pot. Sauté onion, garlic, ginger, garam masala, cumin, and cinnamon. Add the chicken pieces and allow to brown. The spice amounts are all to taste. We used a couple of generous shakes from each jar (maybe 1-2 tsp). As the spices cook, the flavors develop and each spice adds a different layer of flavor. Tasting as you cook and adding more spices isn’t a good idea as you may end up with an overwhelming flavor once everything is cooked. Garam Masala adds a lot of heat, so 1 teaspoon might be enough. Curry powder is a mixture of many spices and varies from brand to brand. It is usually milder so you can add around 1 tablespoon and then adjust according to taste as you get more familiar with your palate and cooking with spices. Cumin has a very smoky flavor, so 1 teaspoon is probably enough. We decided to keep things more mild because of our Little Missy’s delicate palate. I have to admit my friend (the expert) handled the spicing and her approach is “a little of this, a little of that.”

Once the chicken has browned, add the tomato, cover, lower the heat and allow to simmer while you prepare the other dishes. Give the chicken an occasional stir.

Add the cilantro at the very end of cooking and add salt to taste.

Ingredients for Vegetable Paneer:

1 Red pepper, diced

1 Green pepper, diced

1 Onion, diced

3 Carrots, diced

One package of paneer, cubed

Curry powder

Garam masala powder

Cumin powder

Oil for sautéing

Salt to taste

Optional: can of crushed tomatoes

The beauty of this dish is that you can use any vegetables you like. This also means that it can easily turn into a variety of side dishes once you have the method down.

Heat some oil in a deep sauté pan. Add garlic, onion and spices and allow to cook. Add carrots, peppers, and paneer. You may add a can of tomatoes or a little bit of water. We poured about half a cup of water into the tomato can for a little flavor and put that in the vegetable and paneer mixture. Cover the pan, lower the heat and allow to cook while you make the rice.

Ingredients for Aromatic Rice:

Rice (I use regular grocery store brand Jasmine rice)

Cardamom pods (5-6 or to taste)

Cinnamon (a few shakes)

Whole Cloves (1 tsp or to taste)

2-3 Bay leaves

Oil for sautéing


Heat some oil in a pan, add your desired amount of rice and sauté, mixing all the time so rice doesn't burn. My friend and I had never actually done this but since her mom always sautés her rice, we decided to try it out.

Add water according to the rice cooking instructions (ie. twice as much water as rice). My friend’s mom will just eyeball the amount of water and never goes wrong. I always measure and end up having to add water before the rice is done. So, we decided to emulate mom and eyeball the water and cook it until done (not necessarily for the 20 minutes as instructed). Guess what? It worked! We added cardamom pods, opened to allow the seeds to come out, cloves, cinnamon, and the bay leaves, covered and let the rice simmer (approximately 20 minutes).

When everything is ready to serve heat up the roti in the microwave for about 30 seconds under a damp paper towel. The beauty of the chicken and vegetable dishes was that they were able to simmer away while the rice cooked and everything was ready at the same time. As my friend puts it, food is always cooked “to death” in India, so allowing stuff to simmer away until you are ready to eat won’t kill the flavor. Actually it’ll probably make it tastier. Of course you don’t want to overcook the rice! All in all the chicken cooked for about an hour, while the veggies took about half an hour. I have to apologize since I have no photos of the finished product. We served ourselves straight from the stove top and scarfed our food down without pausing for a photo opp. Also my friend and I were far too busy catching up as we cooked to stop and take photos (plus there was absolutely no need to immortalize what I did to that poor chicken).

We had a delicious meal that evening and an even more delicious lunch of leftovers the next day since the flavors just continue to develop with time. Little Missy didn’t have a chance to taste it until lunch and I am happy to report that she enjoyed it. The lesson here is to not be afraid to offer flavorful dishes to your little ones (as long as they’re not packed with heat). I definitely plan to incorporate cooking with spices into my repertoire.

In parting, I have to say cooking with my dear friend was loads of fun. There were plenty of “remember when” moments and it was a nice way to catch up, definitely better than sitting in a restaurant. Finally, I have to give a huge public thanks too to the hubs for keeping Little Missy occupied while we cooked.

If you, my dear readers make sense of these recipes and try them out, please let me know how they come out!