Friday, October 8, 2010

Welcome to My Pizzeria! (Whole Wheat Pizza Crust)

I love pizza! I don't know very many people who don't love pizza, come to think of it... :) My family used to have pizza and movie nights every Sunday when I was growing up (and I think they still do!) and for many years my sisters and I made our own homemade pizza crust. I have tried many recipes for crust, all of which were good. But a few months ago, I think I stumbled on my favorite crust yet. I was on a diet (still should be, haha!) and looking for a low calorie, thin crust I could use with some healthy toppings. I can't remember where I found it, actually, so I'm not sure who to give the credit to! But the last two times I've made it, I have gone the healthier route and used whole wheat flour, which I think improved it even more- not only is it good for you, but the whole wheat gives it a great flavor! If you haven't tried a homemade crust, and you like your crust a bit on the thin side, you've got to give this recipe a try. It's easy and tastes fabulous with any toppings! We have tried ham & pineapple (for all you Hawaiian fans!), pepperoni with or without olives, and I've even used leftover sloppy Joe or taco meat for a topping- yum! It depends on what I have between the cupboard and the freezer! But I think our favorite is the ever-being-modified chicken pizza. But I need to start at the beginning!
First things first- as all good recipes start: preheat the oven! This is the only recipe I have ever made where you heat the oven to 500. Yeah. That's hot. :) While the oven is warming up to this insane temperature, I mix the yeast and sugar with warm water and let it sit while I mix the flours and salt together and cook the chicken. After about 8 minutes, I pour the yeast mixture over the flour and stir with my favorite wooden spoon. Then I form the dough into a ball and knead it for about 2 minutes, then press it into a semi-round shape. Then comes the fun part! You can do it however it seems to work for you, but I like to hold the dough in my hand and keep turning it around and around while I gently pull the edges out. I usually do this until it starts to tear a little, then I put it on the greased pizza sheet and begin pressing it out toward the edges of the pan (if you make it pretty thin, it will fit one 15" pizza sheet, but you can go smaller if you like it a bit thicker- experiment!). If any holes appear, just pinch them shut with your fingers!
Next, spread your sauce of choice on top. I like Ragu Homemade style (since we are going homemade here...). Chicken pizza is also delicious with white garlic sauce, but I haven't tried that at home yet. Spread as generously as you like (I go pretty thin- I don't like really saucy pizza), but don't forget to leave the edges sauce-free for the crust! Cheese goes on top of this, of course, and again you can choose your preference! I usually go with all mozzarella for the chicken pizza, and a blend of mozzarella and cheddar for pepperoni, Hawaiian and other varieties. I have also used a blend of mozzarella and feta for the chicken pizza, which is also very yummy. However, feta isn't something I usually have on hand!
The last step in the pizza-building process is the toppings! I think my chicken pizza turns out just a bit different every time, depending on what I have around to add to it!
Tonight's version included: one diced chicken breast, pan-fried in olive oil and sprinkled with Pizza seasoning (a mixture of oregano, basil, marjoram & garlic) and garlic powder, two fresh diced Roma tomatoes, a can of sliced olives, and generous amounts of fresh spinach. A note on the spinach: add this last and don't be afraid to cover pretty much the whole pizza with it. It shrinks lots during cooking, so if you don't put on very much, you'll regret it. If you cover the whole thing, it shrinks up to be just the right amount. This is what our pizza consisted of tonight, but don't be afraid to experiment with your own favorite flavors!
Once all the toppings are situated, pop that pizza in the oven! The blazing 500 degrees cook it in only about 10-12 minutes (or maybe less, depending on your oven!).
One of the best things about making pizza at home is getting your creative juices flowing and creating your own masterpiece! Experiment with flavors. Cheeses, meats, veggies. The possibilities are endless! This is the stuff traditions are made of.

Homemade Whole Wheat Thin Pizza Crust
(printable version)
(if you don't want whole wheat, just use all white flour)
makes 1 pizza

1 .25 oz. package of active dry yeast
1/4 tsp sugar
3/4 cup warm water
1 cup whole wheat flour
3/4 cup white flour
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp Italian herbs

Preheat oven to 500 degrees. In small bowl, dissolve yeast and sugar in warm water. Allow to rest for 8 min. Mix flours, salt and herbs in another bowl. Pour yeast mixture over flour and mix with sturdy spoon. On lightly floured surface, knead dough for about 2 min. Allow dough to rest covered with a cloth about 5 min. Press into a 12" circle. You may also lift off of counter and rotate in hands, pulling dough gently into a circular shape. Place on lightly greased pizza sheet, stretch and press dough to edges. Spread with sauce and add desired toppings. Bake 8-12 min. or until edges are golden brown. Enjoy!

Tilapia, Get Your Groove On! (Fish Tacos)

Looking for a way to spice up your mild, white tilapia fillet? Read on!
I have never in my life eaten a fish taco. Why? I don't really know, except that most places one finds tacos, one would not be too sure about the quality of the fish. I usually only trust seafood places to have good fish. And fish that is not good is...well, not good. However, I have always been curious about fish tacos, so when trying to come up with something different to do with tilapia (I bought a big bag of frozen fillets at WinCo), the idea dropped in my mind to try making my own! This being said, I still have no clue what a normal or truly Mexican fish taco tastes like- but...I do like my own! :) I found a recipe on the site of a woman who lived in Colombia for a time, and makes many Colombian or Central/South American flavored dishes. I figured I could probably trust her! :)
The recipe is very simple, with only a few common spices and flavors, so it isn't overly bold or spicy. I sprinkled the thawed fillets with cumin, salt & pepper and chili powder, then drizzled them with lime juice and olive oil, while a little more oil was heating in a skillet. Then, while the fish browned lightly on both sides (about 4 min per side), I made avocado salsa.

The recipe called for diced avocados, chopped onion, lime juice, cilantro and olive oil, but I kind of made my own variation. I didn't have any cilantro, so I skipped that, and to make it more like salsa, I added a couple of diced Roma tomatoes to the mix. It turned out sort of like guacamole, except less mushy and a little zestier (lime juice instead of lemon?).
I was surprised how easy this meal was! Once the fish was done, I used a fork to break it up into flaky chunks, warmed up tortillas in the microwave (you can also do this in a hot, non-stick, ungreased skillet) and tore up some green leaf lettuce. We then piled the fish, salsa and lettuce into our tortillas and enjoyed them with some roasted potatoes and fresh mango chunks. It was a light, delicious dinner! Travis really enjoyed it, and he isn't really even a fish fan! :) The fish was sweet and mild, with just the faintest zing, and the salsa was delicious! It's a keeper!

Tilapia Fish Tacos
(printable version)
serves about 4

1 lb. tilapia fish
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/4 tsp chili powder
juice of 2 limes, divided
salt and pepper
2 TB chopped fresh cilantro
2 TB diced onion
1 avocado, diced
1 TB olive oil
1-2 Roma tomatoes, diced (optional)
Shredded Lettuce

Place fish on plate and sprinkle with cumin, chili powder, salt and pepper. Drizzle with olive oil and juice of 1 lime.
Preheat skillet over medium-high heat. Add the fish and cook until golden on the outside (about 4 min. per side). Remove from skillet and transfer to a plate. Shred lightly.
Combine cilantro, onion, avocado and tomatoes (if desired) and set aside.
Heat tortillas.
To assemble tacos, place an equal amount of fish in each tortilla, along with a big spoonful of the avocado mixture and top with shredded lettuce.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Monthly Menu- October

I've decided to begin posting a monthly menu (copying my sister-in-law's "weekly menu" series), in case anything looks interesting to you that I don't get around to blogging about! As I have mentioned before, we do our shopping once a month in Spokane at WinCo, which is an hour south of us, since we live in a rural area (Safeway is 17 mi. away!). Although my menu often changes throughout the month, depending on what comes up, I always plan out one for the whole month before we do our monthly shopping trip. We will be heading down today, so I spent a lot time yesterday brainstorming and checking the cupboards. Side veggies often depend on what is on sale or what is in season and I don't usually know for sure until I get there, so I may make some changes to this after we get home! :)
A few notes on the menu: I don't usually plan anything on Sunday or Monday nights because those are my cooking "days off" (since Travis is a pastor, Sundays are very wearing days for both of us and Monday is our official day off) when we eat pretty light and either make canned soup, smoothies, eggs, sandwiches, throw taquitos in the oven, go out to eat or something else that requires minimal energy. Twice a month Travis and I have Date Nights on Mondays (ex. this month it is Oct. 4 and Oct. 18). He picks the days ahead of time so I can plan what to wear! ;) Then he either surprises me or we mutually decide where to go. Wednesday and Thursday nights are soon to be church activity nights (Awana and Home Group, respectively), so I tried to plan for something rather quick and uninvolved since we will be eating early. Saturdays I have just designated as "Soup Saturdays!" It is beginning to get chilly around here and Travis and I both love a good bowl of homemade soup!

Monthly Menu- October

Week 1 (Oct. 3-9)

Jewel's Pineapple Chicken with Rice and Roasted Asparagus
My sister just sent me this recipe for pineapple smothered baked chicken and I can't wait to try it!
Tilapia Fish Tacos with Avocado Salsa and Fresh Fruit
I have never tried fish tacos, but I'm excited for a new way to cook tilapia. This recipe actually come from a website of a lady who cooks Colombian food, so it should be good! :) Tilapia is one fish that hubby doesn't mind eating, so I sneak it in here and there as part of a healthy diet!
Chicken Stir-Fry with Rice and Chow Mein Noodles
Yep, I'm cheating. I have stir-fry veggies in the freezer and stir fry packaged seasoning in the cupboard. One of these days I'll get around to making it from fresh vegetables!
Pizza with Homemade Whole Wheat Crust and Fresh Raw Veggies
I have a delicious thin crust recipe and it works well with whole wheat. I think we'll have garlic chicken, spinach and tomato pizza.
Bean & Barley Vegetable Soup with Whole Wheat Honey Buttermilk Biscuits
I haven't tried this soup yet, but I wanted to try a vegetarian soup with barley, so I'll let you know how it goes. My friends from out of town will be here, so they can help with the slicing and dicing. The biscuits are amazing!

Week 2 (Oct. 10-16)

Spice Rubbed Pork Chops with Acorn Squash
I have made this several times and they are so quick and easy and soooo delicious! The combination of brown sugar, dry mustard and coriander give the meat a smoky flavor.
Beef Spaghetti and Green Salad
Classic. Need I say more?
Slow-Cooker Lime Chicken and Rice with Corn on the Cob
New recipe from Rice and chicken cook together in the pot. Sounds easy!
Venison Chops and Roasted Potatoes
I still have these venison chops in my freezer, but I haven't decided how to cook them yet. I've made fajitas with them, but the best way was when I put them in the crock-pot with some cream of mushroom soup and served it over rice. They were rich, tender and delicious!
Chicken Tortilla Soup with Tortilla Strips (of course) and all the trimmings
From the freezer. Always a favorite and always delicious!

Week 3 (Oct. 17-23)

Chicken with Garlic-Balsamic Reduction with Brown Rice and Brussel Sprouts
This is a delicious dish. Full of robust flavor and not too time consuming either. The brussel sprout recipe is one I want to try from Ruth Reichl's book "Garlic and Sapphires."
Breakfast Burritos with all the trimmings
Don't you love breakfast for dinner sometimes? This is a hearty one, warm tortillas stuffed with eggs, sausage, fried potatoes, cheese and sour cream. Yum!
Baked Potatoes with Chili and toppings
Pan-fried Tilapia with Pepper and Lime served with Potatoes
A simple, quick and lightly delicious way to serve tilapia.
Ham and Navy Bean Soup with Corn Muffins
From the freezer.

Week 4 (Oct. 24-30)

Ginger Pork Chops with Acorn Squash
A new recipe from a cookbook called "Fix It and Enjoy It" (healthy, quick and simple recipes).
Grilled Teriyaki Chicken with Rice and Roasted Onions
A new recipe from In lieu of a barbecue, I will be using my George Foreman counter top grill.
Homemade Pizza with Fresh Fruit and Veggies
Pepperoni and olives on top!
Turkey Dogs with Chips and Fruit
Chicken Noodle Soup and Grilled Cheese (or leftover Bean and Barley, if there is any!)
Yes, out of a can. Campbell's is a classic, you know! :)

We have potluck this Sunday, and I plan on bringing Cheesy Potatoes.

I've signed up to bring a meal on Tuesday to a dear lady in our church who is in the later stages of cancer, so I've decided to bake her a chicken breast with some roasted potatoes.

We have a board meeting later in the month (which I always make goodies for) and I will likely be making either Chocolate Cinnamon Cookies or my famous Snickerdoodles.

I am going to revamp my breakfast plan this month and try bran muffins and yogurt instead of cereal, so I'm going to make my own Bran Muffins (with real wheat bran!) and freeze them. I found a recipe for "Deep Dark Old Bran Muffins" on that looks just like the ones I used to make for my mom!

Well, there it is! Happy cooking!

Heaven-Sent Ham Soup and Breathtaking Biscuits

It is fall here in the Inland Northwest, and that means it is time for football, falling leaves, chilly nights, harvest moons, late roses...and soup. Doesn't a fall day just make you want to get out your favorite, comfortable soup recipes? Well, it has that effect on me- in fact, I've just decided to have one soup night a week (at
least through the winter!). Soup Saturdays! :) Most soups can be made in the crock-pot, which makes them tantalizingly easy, and most freeze well, which adds to the appeal! Well, I speak of old, familiar recipes, but the one I tried last week was a new one concocted from familiar flavors. It is a traditional ham and navy bean soup, but depending on the flavor your meat holds, you could get a completely different taste each time! So I will recount for you my ham's history...

I normally don't cook a roast or a ham unless we are having company, because it is such a large meal for just two people. So, when we found out our friends from Oregon would be spending some time with us, I knew it was the perfect excuse to use the ham in my freezer! The day company arrives, I usually try to have a crock-pot dinner, since it allows me to be more free to visit with my guests instead of slaving away in the kitchen, making them feel like they need to help me. So, having decided on the ham (and it was a rather small ham), I began the internet search for a really great crock-pot whole ham recipe. This was a challenge, because, a
s usual, there were a lot of them. I came across many recipes for hams cooked in cola, which interested and frightened me at the same time. It sounded adventurous (My mom later informed me it is a southern trait to cook everything imaginable in cola), but what if it didn't turn out well? And all I had was
Wild Cherry Pepsi and Diet Coke on hand...and several recipes warned against diet. I finally found comments stating that cherry cola gave a good flavor and decided on a recipe that had a brown sugar, mustard and cola glaze. So I bravely followed the recipe, which made a thick paste to smooth over the ham, then put the ham in the crock pot and poured the rest of the cola in the bottom. There it sat, simmering happily all day, and it smelled wonderfully promising! I snitched a piece once the ham was cooked through and it was marvelous! I will standby the
fact that I think this is the best ham I have ever had. I will make it again. And again. For family. For parishioners. Even foreign dignitaries, if they should drop by. ;)

Anyway, that is the background on my ham. The original recipe said to reserve the extra liquid and use it in a soup, so I did. The soup recipe I used was simply a ham and white bean soup, which called for cannellini or Great Northern beans, but I just used navy, which are also, ironically enough, white. :) I soaked them overnight, then, in the morning I rinsed them and threw them into the crock-pot with the ham bone and the chopped up leftover ham, some beautiful onions (fresh from my father-in-law's farm!), carrots, celery, garlic, the leftover liquid plus water, pepper, salt and then I stopped. Hmmm. The recipe called for "Herbs de Provence." Not sure what blend that was, I went to my trusty Better Homes and Gardens cookbook, flipping to the section which described different herbs and spices. Sure enough, they mentioned the mysterious "Herbs de Provence" and claimed it was equal parts basil, fennel, lavender, marjoram, rosemary, sage, savory and thyme. Leaving out the ones that I did not posses (lavender and sage), I made my own by scooping 1/4 tsp of each into a container, sealing it, and shaking thoroughly to mix. I doubled the recipe (but only added one extra cup of liquid) so I could have some extra and it made enough for one dinner, one lunch, and enough to freeze for another dinner!

When all this was in the crock-pot, I put it on low and left it to simmer for the rest of the day. Later I scoured the internet again for a biscuit recipe using whole wheat flour (part of my effort to cook healthier!). The one I found (whole wheat buttermilk biscuits) turned out absolutely delicious, hands down the best biscuit I have ever tasted, if I do say so myself.

The soup was so yummy and fallish, with wonderful sweet and subtle herb flavors and the biscuits, as I stated before but must say again, were out of this world! I think I had three (tsk tsk). :)

White Bean and Ham Soup
(printable version)
from Today's Creative Crock-Pot
serves 4

1/2 lb cannellini or Great Northern Beans (or navy!) soaked overnight
1 ham shank or meaty ham bone
1 med. carrot, diced
1 med. yellow onion, diced
2 ribs celery, diced
2 cloves garlic, sliced
1 qt. water (or liquid plus water)
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp. Herbs de Provence

Place everything in slow cooker, stir gently. Cover, cook on low 8-10 hrs or high 4-6 hrs.

Whole Wheat Buttermilk biscuits can be found here, except I added 2 tbsp of honey to the mix! :)
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