Thursday, December 26, 2013

GUEST POST :: Howie's Perfect Anytime $1 Pizzas

Hey guys!  I've been having a lot of fun cooking in the kitchen with my hubby.  He's been coming up with some excellent creations of his own and I thought it was about time he got the spotlight.  It's been fun doing the posts on my own until now but he's been the inspiration for a lot of what I do, so I'm excited to share some blog love with my man.  These pizzas are easy, super convenient and deliciously awesome, I know you'll enjoy!  -Steph

p.s. my personal favorite toppings lately have been arugula and garlic - the deliciousness is pictured below :)

[Enter Howie]

I'm so impressed by Steph's cooking and her blog.  All of her time and creativity in the kitchen has rubbed off on me in a great way - I'm learning a ton and we're enjoying healthy food more than ever.   That said, at the end of the day I am still a sucker for some of the basics in life.   For those who know me, that means a few things.  Chief among those is a great breakfast, and man do I have a post coming your way soon on that.   Another food with an eternal place in my heart is amazing pizza.  The best part about the recipe that follows is that you can make a few dozen of these pizza crusts in an afternoon and freeze them, and then anytime you want whip up a gourmet pizza in less than 5 minutes hands-on time by just grabbing a crust from the freezer, topping, and popping in the oven for 10.   Makes for a super easy but interesting and tasty anytime dish, plus can easily delight (and impress) folks who drop by for a visit.

Now, I'm not sure if my pizza affection has to do with knowing I was a ninja turtle while growing up, over-advertising in my youth ("pizza in the morning, pizza in the evening, pizza at suppertime....")  or too many late nights out in NYC capped off by some of the best pies on the planet.   If I had to pin down where it all started though, I'd point to a Baltimore staple:  Joe Corbi's Personal Pizzas.  These were kits that were sold by youth sports teams, churches, etc. as fundraisers, and they contained in them everything a young man needed to create delicious, crunchy pizza sans the help of a single adult.   If you know what I'm talking about, I don't need to say more, and if you don't, the recipe here will help you create your very own, HEALTHY version of the JCPP...

My baby's got sauce.  Now some people are dough boys, some are cheese heads, but for me, good pizza starts with the sauce.   This is why I always loved Ledo's.   I tried 3 different sauces, and the one that stood out to me head and shoulders above the rest was Muir Glen Organic Pizza Sauce.   I just order a 12 pack on Amazon Prime and then can have gourmet sauce on hand and ready at my beckon, any time.   Each can of sauce makes about 4 of these pizzas, so you get pretty good mileage too.

Next comes the dough.   I tried 4 different dough mixes, and the one that wins is Namaste Gluten Free Pizza Crust Mix.    Healthy, sweet yogic name, plus the easiest to make.   The trick, which I will elaborate on later, is to make the dough into VERY thin pizzas, like 1/4 inch thin.

For cheese, we generally just pickup like a gallon bag of mozzarella from the grocery store and use it over the course of several weeks.  I also sometimes go with Daiya mozzarella.

Topping these bad boys is the best part!   Literally whatever is laying around can be made onto pizzas. I have done garlic + arugula (yum), charcuterie and grape tomatoes, truffle oil and black pepper, and dozens of other combinations that make each time fun and unique.

Now for the "how to."    

Part 1 is getting a bunch of crusts made up and into your freezer for anytime grab-and-go. 

1)   Prep the pizza dough by blending olive oil, water, and the dough mix.   Ignore the "makes X # pizzas" on the bag, since we won't be making round pies but rather personal rectangular(ish) pizzas.

      Keys to perfect crust

  • For the water, use hot water.   Also, use a power hand mixer on the dough if possible.
  • Spray a bunch of cooking sheets and make the pizzas into pies slightly smaller than a piece of paper folded in half.   This will be the perfect size rectangle pizza for a lunch or dinner with salad, and make for great sharing plates.
  • You MUST make the pies very thin -- thinner than you think -- still thinner -- more thin -- okay, there.   I'm not kidding, 1/4 inch thickness is about right.   Just keep using your spatula to paint the dough into shape and the dough blobs will eventually thin out.

2)  Bake the dough on pans, I can generally get about 3 pizzas on a pan and use several pans at once, so you can see we're going to have a lot of pies.   Bake them for 18 minutes on 450.   Yep 450.   I do 2 batches of 3 pans with 3 crusts each, which means I can have nearly 20 pizza crusts done in just an hour.

3)   When done, let cool and then take the crusts and wrap them in tin foil in individual wraps.  Then pop em in the freezer for anytime use.

Part 2 is the fun part - finishing the job.

4)   Heat oven to 415.  Grab a crust out of the freezer, unwrap it, and pop open a can of sauce.  Use a spoon to coat a thin (thinner than you think) layer of sauce onto a crust.   Saran or foil cover the sauce can and save the rest for your next pizza.

5)   Sprinkle the mozzarella cheese on top of the sauce.

6)   Add on any awesome toppings you want!

7)   Bake for 10-12 minutes on 415 degrees.

Enjoy!   If you've done these right they will be crispy, light, and delicious.   Cut into 4 pieces and share with a guest or an amazing someone ;)

Finally, some microcosting.   12 pack of sauce cans costs $16 and each can makes 4 pizzas.   That is a per pizza cost of $0.33 cents on sauce.   6 pack of dough mixes costs $30 and each bag makes 18 pizzas.  That's about $0.27 cents on dough.   Adding in olive oil and mozzarella, both of which are not super expensive, and you can see that we're landing on a per pizza cost of about $1.00   Not bad for something this tasty and quick.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Caprese Christmas Wreath

Merry Christmas!  This is a festive variation on the classic caprese salad.  I brought this over to my Mom's Christmas party yesterday - it was super easy to put together, and the colors were so vibrant.  If you're looking for a last minute app to bring to Christmas, definitely check this one out.  I don't own very much in the way of Christmas decorations or items, but I do happen to have a couple Christmas plates.  I didn't even know I had this cute Christmas bird one, but when I saw it I knew it would be perfect.  The only thing was that the plate was square, so even though I tried to round out the sides, the wreath still ended up taking the shape of the plate a bit too much.  If you have a small round plate instead, you'll be set - although I still think the square shape was worth it for the cute bird :)

I've also made this appetizer for other parties, sans wreath shape.  In this case, the basil leaf seems to fit best between the mozzarella and tomato instead of on the end.  It's a great colorful addition to any party table.

I hope everyone has a safe and happy holiday, and that you all get to enjoy some good quality time with family and friends.

Caprese Christmas Wreath

  • mozzarella balls
  • grape or cherry tomatoes
  • fresh basil leaves
  • toothpicks
  • olive oil
  • balsamic vinegar
  • salt & pepper
Pick out basil leaves that are all about the same size, wash, and let dry on a paper towel.

Use the toothpicks to start assembling the wreath sections.  You could also randomly change up the order of the mozzarella and tomato as you go to add some variety.

Add a second layer on top of the first to help make the wreath a bit more full.

Whisk together about a tablespoon of olive oil, a teaspoon of balsamic vinegar and a sprinkle of salt and pepper.  Spoon the mixture over the wreath.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays, everyone!!

Monday, December 16, 2013

Lemon Dijon Shredded Brussels Sprouts

I was fortunate enough to grow up in a house where we all loved Brussels Sprouts, so my mom made them often.  Usually it was just steamed sprouts with some butter - which I still think is excellent as is.  This recipe is just a few more steps than that, but the flavors are so much more complex and delicious.  This would be an easy side (or meal, as is often the case for me) to make for someone who is not so sure about those "baby cabbages".

Lemon Dijon Brussels Sprouts

Adapted from Love & Lemons
  •  ~4 C brussels sprouts
  • oil or butter (you know you've been wanting to try the grass fed butter I mentioned in my last post!)
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1/4 C pine nuts
  • 1/4 C parmesan cheese
  • 1/4 C olive oil
  • juice of 1 lemon
  • 1 Tbsp dijon mustard
  • 1/2 tsp honey
  • salt & pepper

Cut the ends off the brussels and chop them into about 4 slices for an average sized sprout.  This will help them to shred, and they will continue to separate as you stir and cook them.  Don't worry if there still end up being larger chunks, they will be tasty, too.  Put them in your colander and give them a hearty rinse once they are all chopped.

Heat up a large pan (I used a cast iron skillet) with a teaspoon or two of oil or butter and cook the garlic for a minute or two.

Add the Brussels to the pan, season with salt and pepper, give them a good stir and continue to stir occasionally.

While the sprouts are cooking, combine the dressing ingredients and whisk together.  For dressings, I usually combine the ingredients in a 1 or 2 Cup glass measuring cup - that way I can measure out my oil, have plenty of room to whisk and not dirty more utensils than necessary - the practical/efficient engineer in me is very pleased with this step ;)

In a small pan, toast your pine nuts over medium heat for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Once the Brussels Sprouts have turned a vibrant green color and a few bits start to brown (usually about 10-15 minutes of cooking), toss in the pine nuts and parmesan and remove from the heat.

Put in a serving bowl and top with the dressing.  Bon apétit!

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Avocado Spinach Grilled Cheese

It was a cold Sunday afternoon but nice and cozy in the house.  One of those take a nap on the couch and just read for hours kind of days.  All I wanted was to chill and have some comfort food.  Grilled cheese immediately came to mind, but I knew a standard grilled cheese was not what my body needed.  I've found that with just a bit of creativity, it is usually pretty easy to make a traditionally unhealthy dish much more nutritious.  Enjoy!

 Avocado Spinach Grilled Cheese

  • two slices whole grain bread
  • dijon mustard
  • shredded cheese of choice (I used cheddar and mozzarella)
  • 1/2 avocado, chopped
  • 1/2 jalapeño, chopped
  • handful of spinach
  • butter (we've been using butter from grass fed cows - if you haven't heard of it, this is a decent article summarizing what it is and discussing its nutritional content: Is All Butter Created Equal? )

Heat up a skillet on medium heat.  

Butter one side of each bread, and place one slice butter side down in the skillet.  

Layer with the dijon, light layer of cheese, avocado, jalapeño, spinach and another light layer of cheese, topping with the other slice of bread butter side up.

Give it a little squash with your flipper spatula and let things start to melt together.  Once the cheese starts to get pretty gooey on the bottom, carefully flip and let the other side melt a bit.

Thank yourself for choosing a somewhat healthier version of a classic comfort food :)