January 31, 2009

Homemade Pizza & Everything You Need To Make It At Home

Pizza is a big part of my life. What can I say? I love it! Thin with cracker-crisp crust. Deep pan pizza with a soft yeasty inside and olive oil crunchy outside. And even some with the crust somewhere in the middle -- but it has to be exceptional crust in that case.

I like to make my own pizza, but I also like to order it and have someone deliver it to my door. That's a big deal, because for eighteen years I lived too far from town for pizza delivery and I didn't have a brick oven in my back yard. Now I live out in the country, but they bring pizza to my door AND I have a brick oven in my back yard.

The moral of that story . . . if you live long enough, you can have all the pizza you want.

But sometimes, even pizza at the front door and pizza out the back door are not convenient. Sometimes I want pizza right in my cozy kitchen from my own oven. That's when I make it myself, and usually that's great pizza too.

I have all the equipment I need to make pizza - a big ol' oven that will get really, really hot. A big pizza stone that lives in the bottom of my oven all the time and is covered with smoked and charred cornmeal. Three, count 'em, three pizza peels - so there is no waiting, of course! A rolling pin - I use my great-grandmother Cora's. A pizza dough docker - I'll show you in a minute. And an excellent pizza cutter. Other than these things, the only other supplies needed are in my pantry.

Of course, I have some specific brands I prefer over others, but the truth is, you can make a most excellent pizza with all-purpose flour, salt, water, yeast, olive oil, sauce, cheese and . . . the other stuff is up to you.

But, you say, I'm afraid of yeast and all the fussiness that goes with using it! No problem, I reply. I have an incredible and fool-proof pizza dough recipe right here, along with a few suggestions you can take or leave, for making delicious pizza in your very own oven. This will be especially useful if you live far from town and just can't abide frozen pizza. I share your pain.

Let's take this step-by-step, shall we?

Equipment and Supplies - If you are not familiar with these tools, you can check them out in my Amazon Store over to the right. Most will be available at stores in your local area, but along with Amazon, other good Internet sources are King Arthur Flour Company, Chef's Catalog, Williams-Sonoma, Forno Bravo and Kitchen Conservatory.

Pizza Stone










Pizza Peel










Pizza Dough/Pastry Docker











Pizza Cutter












CORA'S THIN AND CRISPY PIZZA DOUGH

1 tsp. yeast
1/2 c. + 1 tbsp. warm water
2 tsp. sugar
1 1/2 c. all-purpose flour
1 tsp. salt
1 tbsp. olive oil
1 tsp. olive oil for coating
cornmeal or flour for coating pizza peel

Sprinkle yeast in mixing bowl. Add water and sugar and stir. Let it sit for a couple of minutes. Add flour, salt and olive oil (1tbsp.) mix with rubber spatula until dough hold together. Dough will be very wobbly. With remaining oil (1 tsp.) coat the inside of a glass bowl or casserole dish and place the dough ball inside and roll to coat in oil. Cover with a cloth dish towel, or plastic wrap, and let sit in a warm place for 1 hour. Place dough on a flour covered surface and dust top with flour. Rub flour on rolling pin and roll dough out until very thin - should make one 12-inch crust. Gently fold crust into quarters and lay on a cornmeal covered pizza peel and roll with spiked wheel to make holes. Transfer dough to pizza stone in a preheated 500 degree oven and pre-bake just until edges begin to brown. Remove and cool on a wire rack until ready to build pizza.

PRINTER FRIENDLY RECIPE - click here

January 29, 2009

Barefoot Bloggers: Cheese Platter


This is it! My first Barefoot Bloggers post. I've enjoyed cooking from the Barefoot Contessa cookbooks for years - ever since my dear friend, Robin, gave me the first one for Christmas the year it came out. Of course, the best part was she also gave me a big batch of Ina's Outrageous Brownies and another of Pecan Squares. I couldn't believe how good they were - and I've been a Barefoot Contessa fan ever since.

So now, I've finally taken the plunge and joined the Barefoot Bloggers. Twice a month, I'll be preparing one of Ina's recipes chosen by one of the members. Then I'll be sharing the recipes and pictures with you, here on my blog. To see what the Barefoot Bloggers have prepared during the past year, take a look at the website.

The best part for me is knowing I'll be making - and eating! - at least two Ina recipes a month AND I'll get to enjoy eating them - after the photo shoot, of course! MFH (my favorite husband) is very excited by this happy turn of events.

For you, there is also a benefit. If you're not familiar with Ina from her Food Network show or her cookbooks, you'll be able to follow along with me and see why I enjoy her recipes so much. My guess is, you will want to make many of them for yourself. Ina has a gift for devising simple, elegant versions of classic dishes. After years of catering from her Barefoot Contessa shop in the Hamptons, she knows how to streamline recipes so they are geared to entertaining in a simple and casual way that suits our busy lives.

This month, for my first BB event, I've created a simple Cheese Platter for Valentine's Day, following Ina's guidelines for combining cheeses and pairing them with fruits and nuts to enhance all the flavors. I also paired my cheeses with a yummy Penfolds Grandfather Port, which was a gift from my favorite wine expert, my brother Jeff. If you love good cheeses and want to take your experience to the next level, enjoy it with a glass of good port and you'll be in love, for sure.

For my platter, I chose a French wicker tray and arranged it with Maytag Blue cheese, Spanish Manchego, a soft Chevre, Brie, and a wedge from a Moultonborough country store wheel of Cheddar, a delicious Christmas gift from my friend, Sally, in New Hampshire. The first of the Florida February fragrant strawberries are in my local market, so I had to have those with my cheeses. Then I candied some walnut halves, added some sweet fresh raspberries, and some absolutely incredible organic Medjool dates. The whole platter came together nicely on the round wicker tray, lined with paper grape leaves - sorry Ina, no fresh green leaves around my neck of the woods in January. The little heart-shaped plates were a gift from my friend, Debbie, and I served Jeff's port in some Riedel port glasses. The cheese knives and grape shears are some I picked up on a trip to Sonoma, just knowing there was a beautiful cheese platter in my future.

I just love how everything came together so easily - just like Ina said it would - and I think it would make a lovely finale for a Valentine dinner for your sweetheart, or a casual dinner for some very dear friends.

Thanks to the Barefoot Contessa for encouraging us to arrange simple foods in a beautiful way and share them with those we love to spend time with - on Valentine's Day and everyday. I can't wait until our next Barefoot Contessa recipe!

January 28, 2009

MENU OF THE WEEK #14


Not everyone at the Super Bowl party is there for the game. A few people are waiting for the commercial breaks to see the world's most expensive ads. Others are there for the food - and they are secretly hoping for something a little more exciting than chili and nachos. Today's Menu Wednesday features some tried-and-true recipes sure to please everyone at the party. Click the link to Prairie Wood Kitchen and see for yourself!

January 17, 2009

And The Winner Is . . .

. . . Laura McCrae from Not So Urban Hennery! Congratulations to Laura, who will be receiving her lovely new Lemongrass Le Creuset 5 1/2 qt. Dutch Oven directly from Williams-Sonoma in just a few days. Thanks to all the participants, Menu for Hope V raised over $62,000 this year. And a big thanks to Pim for organizing this event. I am honored to have been a donor and grateful to all my readers who were so supportive. If you haven't yet, you can see the whole list of winners at Chez Pim. I didn't win those great photography lights from Kalyn, but I'll be back next year to try again. See you there!

January 14, 2009

MENU OF THE WEEK - Lucky #13


Welcome to Lucky #13 Menu Wednesday! Today I've got a soup-salad-sandwich combo that is hearty winter food, with just a touch of fresh, sunshine-y goodness. As I was writing this up I was reminded of what my friend and former neighbor Donna used to say - "Soup and sandwich is TWO meals at my house!" And indeed, either the Italian Beef Sandwich or the Minestrone Soup would make for a nice meal in itself, or with the Winter Salad. Combine these in any way you please - one, two or three meals! Just be prepared for a little comfort, a little warmth, and/or a little taste of sunny citrus. Click over to PrairieWood Kitchen to see for yourself.

January 12, 2009

Shopping Strategies and Recipes to Save Grocery Money

SEASON TO TASTE
(My monthly food column for Heartland Women)
January 2009

I’ve been channeling Mary Tyler Moore lately, but not in the happy-go-lucky-hat-tossing way you might think. Remember the opening for her old Mary Tyler Moore Show when she is grocery shopping? MTM takes an item off the supermarket shelf, glances at the price, rolls her eyes and gives it a what-the-heck-a-girl’s-gotta-eat toss into her basket.

Have you felt like that lately too? I sure have! Every item at the grocery store has gone up in price, and if I’ve noticed, I’m sure everyone else has. After all these years, I know what we like to eat at my house – I’m just clever like that – so I don’t always pay strict attention to the prices. But anymore, when they ring up that total, my first impulse is to speed dial my eye doctor, because I’m sure I’ve suddenly lost my ability to distinguish numbers at a distance. When I’m handed my receipt though, the problem is never my eyes – it’s always higher food prices!

Let’s look for the silver lining though, if we can. The good news is you can all but scrap a new year’s resolution to diet. Restaurants are in on it too, so dieting is not going to be a problem. Crisp new menus reflect higher prices and smaller serving sizes. A local restaurant I like makes a great hamburger, but when I ordered it the other day, the price was up about a dollar, and the burger was noticeably smaller on the plate. Again, this is not totally bad, as I’ve long maintained that most restaurants cater to lumberjacks and sumo wrestlers. We need to eat out less often, and enjoy it more.

The same phenomenon is true at the grocery store. Food manufacturers have embraced the “less is more” philosophy in their own way. Packages may look the same, but they are actually shrinking in size, at the same time prices are going up! Look at a six-ounce can of tuna – the price is higher, but now it contains only 4.5 ounces. Usually the size of a product decreases when something is “new and improved”, but they don’t even bother with that approach anymore. The differences may be subtle on the shelves, but they are very real at the register.

While our family was with us for Thanksgiving, my sister-in-law, Janet, asked if she could have the coupons from our Sunday paper. As she clipped and filed them away in her expanding file, I remembered doing that myself in years gone by. Diligently, I would save magazines and newspapers to clip grocery coupons, which I would organize by category in a little file I could carry to the market. My grocery list had little stars beside each item with a coupon. It took some time, but it was nice to see all those pennies come off the final bill.

Even before becoming a coupon clipper, I was an ad shopper, combing the Wednesday and Sunday papers to see what was on sale before I made up a menu and a grocery list. A weekly trip to McDonald’s was a big treat for us then, so food was prepared and eaten at home. Our meals were well balanced, moderately portioned, and affordable. Youth was on our side when it came to weight back then, but I’m guessing the whole foods and reasonable portions we ate had a little something to do with it too.

Normally I would plan a month’s dinner menus and shop for the non-perishable and freezer items once a month. I’d make smaller weekly trips for things like milk, bread, and lettuce. In our early Air Force years, I could feed the two of us, and invite a few bachelor pilots for dinner at least once a week, for less than $100 for a whole month – with the help of commissary prices, of course.

Even after menu planning fell by the wayside, which is a frequent problem for busy women, I relied upon a well-stocked pantry for quick, easy and nutritious meals. To this day, I like to keep canned and dried beans, rice, pasta, canned tuna, canned salmon, canned tomatoes and sauce, canned and frozen vegetables, chicken broth, onions, flour, sugar, butter, eggs and lots of herbs and spices on hand. Experience tells me I can always come up with a delicious, impromptu and inexpensive meal with these basic ingredients.

So, the other day, when I flashed on Mary Tyler Moore and her frustration at high food prices, it got my attention. I thought about Janet’s discipline at coupon clipping for her young family. I thought about planning meals based on what was seasonally fresh and sale-priced in the weekly grocery ads. And I reminisced about some of the early meals I prepared for my new husband and his friends. We ate good food, we had lots of friends over for dinner, and we saved enough to reward ourselves with a simple night out every now and then. Life was good, even if money was tight.

I decided to change my lazy shopping habits, so I’ve made a few alterations designed to help the bottom line. I approach meal planning, list making, shopping strategy and the foods I prepare much like I did when I was first married and money was tighter. It was a lesson well learned and too soon forgotten.

With Janet’s inspiration and a nice little trip down memory lane, I’ve started clipping coupons again. Janet also told me about an Internet site, called The Grocery Game, with a database she can use to help her match coupons with store specials. That puts her ahead of the game when figuring out who has the best price for the foods she needs right now, as well as the non-perishable grocery items she can stockpile for future use. It’s a well thought out method and worth investigating, especially if you love organizing and saving.

Although I’m not recommending The Grocery Game, if you want to read about it, I can tell you I saved 44% the first week I matched up the weekly coupons with the store specials. The four-week trial period is $1.00.

This month’s recipes feature beans, rice and pasta, along with smaller portions of meat. I have a couple of ways to use leftovers, which is a good way to stretch more expensive items like meat. I’ve also tried to use foods that are minimally processed, have long storage potential, and are some of the least expensive you can buy. Whether you’re clipping coupons, making a shopping list, searching for recipes or planning menus, start with this grocery list and these recipes to eat well and save money at the same time.


LUCKY 13 SHOPPING LIST

Canned salmon
Canned tuna
Eggs
Beans – canned and dried
Peanut butter
Pasta
Rice
Canned peas
Canned tomatoes
Canned tomato sauce
Concentrated fruit juice
Frozen fruits
Frozen vegetables

BAKED ZITI
1 box ziti or penne pasta
1 lb. ground beef
16 oz. ricotta cheese
1 jar spaghetti sauce
2 c. shredded mozzarella cheese
1/2 c. grated Parmesan

Bring large pot of water to a boil and cook pasta; drain and place in a large mixing bowl. Brown ground beef and drain fat; add to bowl with pasta. Stir in ricotta, spaghetti sauce and mozzarella cheese until well blended. Pour into a large 13 x 9-inch baking dish – or smaller dishes to freeze for later – and sprinkle top with Parmesan cheese. Bake at 350 degrees for about 30 minutes, or until bubbly around sides. Whole recipe serves 8 – 10.

SALMON PATTIES
1 can salmon, drained
1/3 c. finely chopped onion
1 egg
1/2 c. crushed saltine crackers
2 c. crushed saltine crackers
vegetable oil

Mix salmon, chopped onion, egg and 1/2 c. crushed saltine crackers in a bowl. Shape salmon mixture into patties. Place 2 c. crushed saltine crackers on a plate and coat salmon patties with cracker crumbs. Refrigerate salmon patties for one hour or longer. Heat frying pan and add vegetable oil. Fry salmon patties until brown and crispy on both sides. Makes 6 salmon patties.

TUNA NOODLE CASSEROLE
1 pkg. egg noodles
4 tbsp. butter
4 tbsp. flour
2 c. milk
2 c. shredded sharp cheddar cheese
2 cans tuna, drained
1 can LeSueur peas drained or 1 c. frozen peas
Choice of topping: 1 c. crushed potato chips, 1 c. shredded cheddar cheese, or 1 can French fried onions
Cooking spray

Boil egg noodles in a large pot of salted water; drain. In a saucepan, melt butter until bubbly; stir in flour and continue for one minute. Add milk to butter and flour mixture and continue to stir over medium heat until bubbly and thickened. Stir in shredded cheddar cheese. Pour cheese sauce over hot noodles; add tuna and peas and stir gently to mix. Pour tuna noodle mixture into a large casserole dish coated with cooking spray; sprinkle top with choice of toppings and bake at 350 degrees for 30 to 40 minutes, until heated through.

BAKED STUFFED PEPPERS
6 red or green bell peppers
1 lb. ground beef
1/2 c. chopped onion
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 c. cooked rice
16 oz. tomato sauce
2 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp. Italian seasoning
Salt and pepper to taste

Cut tops off peppers and clean out seeds and membranes. Stand hollowed out peppers in a large flat baking dish – trim bottoms, if necessary, so peppers will stand upright. Brown the ground beef in a skillet with chopped onion and minced garlic. Drain the ground beef and pour into a bowl with cooked rice, 8 oz. tomato sauce, Worcestershire sauce and salt and pepper. Spoon ground beef mixture into each pepper. Add Italian seasoning to tomato sauce and pour over the peppers. Bake in a 350-degree oven, basting every 15 minutes, for about 1 hour until peppers are tender.

SLOW-COOKER ITALIAN BEEF SANDWICHES
see recipe here


MINESTRONE SOUP FROM LEFTOVER ITALIAN BEEF

see recipe here

PASTA FAGIOLI
1 (16 oz.) box elbow macaroni
3 tbsp. olive oil
1 onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 (15 oz.) cans tomato sauce
1 box frozen chopped spinach
1 (14 oz.) can diced tomatoes
2 qts. chicken broth
1 tbsp. dried parsley
1 1/2 tsp dried basil
1 1/2 tsp. dried oregano
1/4 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
1 tsp. salt
2 (15 oz.) cans cannellini beans
1 c. grated Parmesan cheese

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and cook elbow macaroni until al dente. Drain in a colander and run under cool water to stop cooking. Set macaroni aside to cool. Return large pot to stove and add olive oil and chopped onion; cook over medium heat until translucent. Add minced garlic and cook briefly. Reduce heat and add tomato sauce, frozen chopped spinach, diced tomatoes, chicken broth, parsley, basil, oregano, crushed red pepper, salt and beans. Cover and simmer for 1 hour. Add the cooked macaroni and Parmesan cheese; continue to heat and stir until cheese is melted. Serve with crusty Italian bread.

PORTUGUESE KALE SOUP
2 cans kidney or pinto beans
1/2 lb. Chorizo or Linguica sausage, thinly sliced
16 oz. beef broth
16 oz. chicken broth
1 medium head cabbage, chopped
2 bunches kale – rinsed, dried and chopped
5 potatoes, peeled and cubed
1 qt. hot water, or more as needed
Salt and pepper to taste

In a large pot, combine beans, sausage, beef broth, chicken broth, cabbage, kale, potatoes and enough hot water to cover. Cook until the potatoes are tender, about 20 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Simmer on low heat for an hour before serving.

CHILE RELLENOS BAKE
2 small cans chopped green chiles
1 lb. medium cheddar cheese
1/2 c. flour
2 eggs
2 c. milk
1 tsp. salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place chopped chiles in the bottom of a casserole dish. Cut cheese into long finger shaped pieces and place over chiles. Beat eggs; add milk, flour and salt and mix well. Pour egg mixture over chiles and cheese. Bake for 1 hour, or until set. Serve hot.

BAKED TOMATO CASSEROLE
2 – 16 oz. cans diced tomatoes
1 c. diced onions
Butter
1/4 c. sugar
1/4 c. brown sugar
3 slices toasted bread, cubed

Preheat oven to 300 degrees. In a skillet, brown tomatoes and onions in butter; add sugars. Cook for 10 mins. Add bread cubes and stir. Pour into a casserole dish and bake for 1 hour.

MICROWAVE PEANUT BUTTER OATMEAL
1/3 c. oatmeal
2/3 c. cold water
Sprinkle of salt
Sprinkle of cinnamon
1 tbsp. peanut butter

Place oatmeal, cold water and salt in a bowl large enough to keep oatmeal from boiling over. Heat on high for one minute; remove and stir. Return to microwave and heat another minute; stir again. Return to microwave and heat one minute; stir in sprinkle of cinnamon and peanut butter and serve.

January 7, 2009

MENU OF THE WEEK #12


Today's menu actually goes hand-in-hand with the post below about lowering your grocery bill. Coincidence? I think not!

Actually, the menu for this week is a delicious bean soup and some easy artisan bread. Now, before you decide you don't like bean soup and you don't bake homemade bread, wait a minute.

This is about expanding your horizons, trying new things, serving something delicious, and even waging war on the post-holiday budget. Now tell me you don't have an interest in at least one of those things!

Yeah, I thought so.

So click on over to Prairie Wood Kitchen and see what's cooking. If you've got a better bean soup recipe or a crustier, easier homemade artisan bread, I want to know about it. No, make that -- I need -- to know about it!

How to Lower Your Grocery Bill

A DOZEN LITTLE HELPERS TO LOWER YOUR GROCERY BILL
Dried Beans
Rice
Dry Pasta
Canned Tomatoes
Canned Tomato Sauce
Canned Tuna
Canned Salmon
Peanut Butter
Eggs
Frozen Vegetables
Frozen Fruit
Frozen Fruit Juice Concentrate

When I look at this list two things occur to me:
1. For the most part, these are the foods I grew up eating in my large family with six kids to feed.
2. These foods are still a good buy for delicious, nutritious and affordable meals.

By planning meals around these items, plus some staples like flour, sugar, salt and spices, and then shopping the weekly specials on fresh meats and produce, you can stretch your food dollar and still eat feed a family with today’s soaring food prices. If you clip coupons, you’ll save even more on items you probably buy frequently:
Cereal
Cheese
Soups and stocks
Baking supplies

In fact, you can probably save enough to splurge every now and then on a nice meal at a real sit-down restaurant or an elegant dinner at home.

Do you have a favorite recipe that uses these twelve money-saving food items? I'll share some this week, but I'd love to find hear some of yours too. Leave a comment or email a recipe to me - coracooksblog@gmail.com