Stop! Put Down That Frozen Pizza!

Simple five-cheese and olive pizza.

Simple five-cheese and olive pizza.

What’s in that frozen pizza?  Does it have exactly the toppings you want or did you have to add/subtract some after opening the package?  Did you notice all that packaging you now have to try to recycle?  These days, there are a variety of ‘healthier’ options when it comes to frozen pizzas but even with all of the choices, nothing quite beats making pizza yourself.

I started making our own pizzas last year after finding myself completely frustrated by the lack of vegetarian options among frozen pizzas.  We eat mostly vegetarian (for environmental reasons) and keep biblically kosher (no mixing meat and dairy, no pork, no shellfish) so as I read the back of every box I grew ever more impatient.  Pepperoni was out.  The supreme pizzas had the veggies we wanted but also sausage.  There were a few vegetarian pizzas but they were fairly limited to the margherita or what I like to call, the garden (I love broccoli but not so much on my pizza).  Initially, we just bought cheese pizzas and added our own toppings.  Obviously, being frugal as I am, I quickly realized how cost ineffective that was.  I would have to start from scratch.

Below is the fairly basic pizza dough recipe I use.  It makes a 12″ round pizza or an 8″ round and a 9×13″ rectangle depending on how you do things (we do the round and rectangle combo because my son likes pieces from the round).  Also, this makes a chewy, rising crust because that’s what we like.  If you really spread out the dough evenly to make a larger pizza, it will make it slightly crunchier.

2 1/4 tsp active dry yeast (or one packet pizza yeast)

1tsp sugar

1 cup warm water

2 1/2 cups unbleached flour

2tbsp olive oil or melted butter

1tsp kosher salt

1tsp dried oregano or Italian seasoning

Butter or cooking spray to grease pans if using metal ones rather than a pizza stone, etc.

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.  Combine sugar, olive oil, salt, and warm water in a large bowl.  Sprinkle in yeast and stir briefly.  Let settle until yeast starts to bloom (I usually prepare my toppings and grease my pans while I’m waiting for this).  Once the yeast mixture looks foamy, add dried herbs and begin adding flour 1/2 cup at a time until the dough comes together.  Turn out onto a lightly floured surface and knead until the dough stretches well without tearing and is no longer sticky.  Form into a disk.  Press, roll, or toss your dough until you’ve reached your desired size and move to your prepared pan.  It’s okay if you have to press it out a little more and if it rips, just pinch it back together.  Add your favorite sauce, cheese, and toppings and bake for about 15 minutes or until crust is golden and cheese is bubbly.

Tips:  Do not add too many toppings!  I know the freedom of finally getting to pick your own toppings is thrilling, but if you add too many or too much of any one topping, you will probably end up with a soggy mess.  Also, I would recommend adding things in the sauce-cheese-toppings-maybe a tiny bit more cheese order.  Putting the cheese down before the toppings will help keep the cheese from all sliding off the top when you take a bite.  Finally, this pizza dough recipe can be used to make some decent garlic knots.  I cut the dough into 6-8 even pieces, knot them (roll into log and basically tie a knot), and then place them in a cake pan that has 1/2 cup melted butter and 4 cloves of grated garlic in the bottom.  Bake until golden and turn the pan out upside down onto a plate to serve.

Frugal Fact: Depending on your ingredients, homemade pizza could cost as little $4.  That’s tough to beat for a frozen pizza this size that serves at least 3.

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Pie, Sweet Savory Pie

I had an all-butter frozen pie crust sitting in my freezer for longer than I care to admit.  Really, it’s astonishing that a pie crust lasted that long without being used around here at all.  But, I digress.  While I love sweet pies and have a father whose favorite food on earth is apple pie, I really really enjoy a good savory pie.  There’s something about a slightly sweet and buttery crust with a slightly salty and savory filling that hits me just right, especially in cooler weather like we’re having now.  Below is a super easy recipe for a cheese and mushroom pie which I served with some panko-crusted white fish recently.

1lb. mushrooms, cleaned and sliced

2tbsp. unsalted butter

1tsp. kosher salt

1/2tsp. fresh black pepper

2 cloves garlic minced

1 cup ricotta cheese

1 cup shredded cheddar

4 beaten eggs

9″ deep-dish frozen or homemade butter pie crust

Sauté mushrooms and garlic in butter with salt and pepper over medium heat.  In the meantime, mix cheeses and eggs well in a medium bowl.  Once mushrooms are soft, add mushrooms and garlic to cheese mixture and mix well.  Be sure to avoid adding any excess liquid from the mushrooms to the cheese mixture.  Spoon mixture into pie crust and bake at 375 degrees until center is set and top is golden (30-40 minutes).

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For the Love of Bread

In a world overrun with ‘low-carb,’ ‘sugar-free’ dare-I-say-nonsense, I believe there’s still a place for the most basic of human food staples.  Since humans domesticated grain, nearly every culture has devised some way of turning it into that most basic food.  Being unable to afford it has resulted in revolutions and riots in fact.  So why all this hate for bread now?  I could get into a long discussion about the role of GMOs, refined sugars, and processed foods in general in the demonizing of modern bread, but I think most of it is tied to a variety of fad diets out there.  If you have Celiac’s Disease, you no doubt find the idea of going gluten-free as a diet slightly offensive (and you probably realize there are wonderful gluten-free options nowadays which still allow you to enjoy bread if you choose).

I love to bake my own bread.  I bake bread at least once a week around here, usually the obligatory challah on Friday afternoons.  Sometimes I bake bread for other occasions though, such as garlic knots for pasta, sandwich loaves, or the delicious cousin to bread, buttermilk biscuits on weekend mornings.  To me, it’s about more than just getting my carb fix.  It’s about tradition and that link between my kitchen and the millions of others throughout time which have provided this basic subsistence through baking.  It’s also a great food to start getting young kids in the kitchen.  You usually don’t need a knife for basic bread and kids like to get their hands in the dough and squish it up.  Punching down the dough?  That’s fun for everyone and I’ve found, a great stress-reliever for mom particularly.

Here’s my favorite recipe for challah adapted from A Day Apart: Shabbat at Home by Noam Sachs Zion and Shawn Fields-Meyer (Shalom Hartman Institute 2004, p.17).  My changes from the original have been marked with an asterisk.

Combine 2/3 cup olive oil*, 1 cup sugar (raw or organic), 3 teaspoons kosher salt, and 2 cups warm water in a large bowl, stirring gently.  Sprinkle in 3tbsp. active dry yeast and stir once or twice more.  Let settle for 10-15 minutes or until foamy-looking*.  Add approximately 5 cups organic unbleached flour and stir until dough comes together (dough will be sticky, but I work in another 1/2 cup or so while kneading)*.  Generously flour a flat surface and knead the dough ball, working in additional flour until no longer sticky but smooth and pliable.  Then, I rinse out my large bowl and add in 1/2tsp. olive oil to oil the entire bowl*.  Return the dough ball to the bowl, cover, and place in an oven which had been preheated to 180 degrees and then turned off*.  Let rise for 1-2 hours (longer is better).  After dough has doubled, scoop back out onto flat floured surface.  From here, you can cut and braid it any way you like.  It can make 2 large traditional braided loaves or 4 smaller ones.  I sometimes make small knotted rolls which are baked in a round cake pan and are delicious.  You could even make a round-top loaf in a loaf pan.  I would recommend brushing any of your creations with an egg wash or melted butter*.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees and bake until golden on top (times will vary based on your braiding, etc.).

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