"Life is really simple, but we insist on making it complicated." ~Confucius

Monday, January 3, 2011

Better Than Take-Out: Pizza

One take-out food that we've become very good at imitating is pizza! We actually include it in each week's meal plan now because it is easy and satisfies our junk food cravings. I really love recreating this meal  because it works no matter what you've got leftover in the fridge or hiding in the back of your pantry.

This was one of our very first attempts at making homemade pizza. It involved using a pre-made pizza crust and pizza sauce from a can. We were at the end of our paycheck when we made this, so we used leftover chicken breast, carrots (yes, I said carrots!) and a few mushrooms we had in the crisper drawer. It was good, but definitely not a hit!

Our first truly homemade (and obviously overcooked!) pizza was also not a huge hit, but we knew we were on the right track. The dough was easy to make and tasted better than it's store bought cousin. One batch makes a deep dish crust that fit our largest cookie sheet perfectly, but you could easily roll it out more if you prefer a thinner crust. I'd love to try baking the crust on a pizza stone to compare, but we're still lacking that utensil in our kitchen. A tip here is to stab the dough repeatedly with a fork before you put the sauce and toppings on to avoid air pockets when baking. I also found later that brushing the crust with olive oil before baking makes it crisp up a bit more authentically.

Homemade Pizza Dough~

2 1/4 teaspoons of yeast
1 teaspoon sugar
1/4 cup of warm water
4 cups a.p. bread flour
pinch of salt
1 cup water
1 tablespoon oil

Mix the yeast, sugar and warm water and let it sit 10 minutes until foamy. Add the flour, salt and water to the yeast mixture to form a sticky ball. Knead on a floured bench until smooth, then put it in an oiled bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Let dough proof in a warm spot for 1 hour. Remove plastic and punch down dough until deflated. Roll out to desired shape and bake on oiled surface or parchment.

*Dough can also be stored in the fridge overnight before baking.

It was the homemade sauce that finally won us over! All I did was take a small jar of our homemade tomato sauce base and a few tablespoons of our homemade tomato paste from last summers canning projects, and heat them in a saucepan with some chopped garlic and dried Italian herb mix. It took less than 5 minutes to make, but it tasted like it had been simmering on the stove all day, probably because of all the work that went into making the sauce base when the tomatoes were fresh during the summer.


As you can see, our more recent attempts are much more successful, and Pizza Night has become a much anticipated event in our household. One of the things we've learned it that you'll need way more cheese than you'd expect to use! We actually like to do two layers, one light layer over the sauce and then another thicker layer over the toppings. Also, make sure that you slice the veggies thinly or the crust will be done before the toppings are.

Before, our pizza delivery bill would typically run between $20-30. Now we can make one extra large pizza for the whole family for around $5! The most expensive components for us are the pepperoni and the cheese, and everything else we typically have on hand. If you were to make a vegetarian pizza then you could easily pay less than a dollar provided that the dough ingredients are something you already have in your pantry.

The dough also works for calzones and as focaccia bread. We like to make calzones when we are short on ingredients, or when we need to please several different palates. The key here is not to over stuff them and to make sure you get a good seal around the edges. One batch of dough makes 3 large pizza pockets. And as I mentioned earlier, a brush of olive oil helps you get a nice golden crust! We cooked these at 350 degrees for 15-20 minutes and the crust & filling were done at the same time. A calzone also makes a good meal on the go, so make an extra one for lunch the next day!

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Dark Days: Lamb Shank Soup

We are always ecstatic when our meat guy throws a package of lamb shanks into our bi-weekly taster pack because we love Lamb Shank Soup! It is the perfect recipe for the Dark Days Challenge and it is especially wonderful on a chilly evening like tonight.

Ok, let me run down the SOLE in this dish. The lamb shanks are from Da-Le Ranch, the carrots are from Suzie's Farm, and the onions and corn are from another random booth at the farmer's market. The bay leaves were given to us by our friend, the beef broth is organic and was purchased at our food co-op along with the pearl barley from the bulk bins. Lastly, the tomato paste was canned by us last summer and the zucchini was a rogue grower in our garden.


Boil shanks in a stock pot 1/2 full with water and a couple of bay leaves for about an hour. Remove the shanks, then de-fat the water and remove the bay leaves. Pour the water back into the pot, add the barley and cook until soft. When meat is cool, cut it off the bones and dice it up along with the vegetables. When the barley is ready, add the diced onion and carrots, and either (it's up to your preference) some beef stock or 2 beef bouillon cubes. Cook for 10 minutes before adding the rest of the vegetables and the meat. Add tomato paste and cook another 10 minutes. Then add cornstarch slurry until it reaches the consistency you desire. 

We recommend serving it in your biggest soup bowl so that you only have to go back for seconds and not thirds! HAHAHA! Oh, and don't forget the freshly baked bread or your favorite biscuit!