Sunday, July 19, 2015

Pizza How You Like It

Our family loves pizza.  Who doesn't? We've come a long way though from our early days of ordering delivery from you-name-it pizza chain. Over the years, as we've tried various restaurants and experimented with our own versions, it's always a win for mom when they hear, "It's pizza night" and I don't even mind cooking it. The thing about making your own pizza though, is that everyone likes something different so it's hard to agree on toppings or decide who will split which pizza so you can do half/half.  I generally make two full pizzas for our family of 5, but the personal tastes and differences in topping and base choices is enough to make one scream (ok, not one-- me) sometimes.

This past week was no different when we rented a house in one of our favorite summer spots, Sunriver.  My daughter brought along a friend and I really didn't know what she would think of our kind of non-conventional pizza choices. In addition, I had forgotten to bring along my pizza pans, and knowing that vacation rentals generally only come with the kitchen basics, I decided to give everyone a ball of their own dough, set out a bunch of base and topping choices and let everyone make their own mini-pizzas.

While this blog entry will give you some basic instructions for pizza making, there really is no recipe to follow, except the dough; and I'll even give you a quick tip on that.  I'll share some of my tips, including what to do when you don't have a rolling pin, and I'll share some of our family favorite toppings and a few quick shortcut hacks for easy pizza night.  So, don't expect to love my recipe as much as you get to decide what you like, maybe take a few pointers and then start rolling and topping for just you!

So let's start with the dough.  When I got my KitchenAid many years ago, I started with the manual that comes with it. There is actually a pretty good, and fool-proof dough recipe in that manual. These are the basics from that recipe:

Ingredients for Pizza Dough:
  • 1 package of active dry yeast
  • 1 1/2 cups warm water 
  • 3 1/2 cups bread flour (I use wheat)
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 teaspoon sugar

  • Directions:
Pour warm water in the mixing bowl. Add yeast package into the warm water. Stir once and then let it sit for 5 minutes until the yeast is dissolved. The yeast should react and create little bubbles.

Mix in the salt, sugar, and olive oil on low speed for a minute and add the flour a half cup at a time. Using the dough hook attachment, knead the pizza dough on medium until the dough is smooth and elastic. If the dough is too sticky, add a T flour at a time until you have the right consistency.

Place the large dough ball in a large greased bowl. Cover the bowl with a cotton towel and let sit in a warm spot for at least 30 minutes. The dough should about double in size.  

The dough recipe above should give you enough to make two large sized pizzas. Or divide into 4ths, or 5ths, or whatever you like to make several smaller size pizzas.  On our Sunriver trip, my daughter rolled out her dough, adding the toppings and rolled it up into a calzone.  Or make stuffed bread sticks. The choices are only limited by your imagination!  

Dough Tips:
I like to put the oven on for a little while during the dough prep. When it's time to let the dough rise, I turn off the oven, open the oven door to let some of the heat escape and set the bowl on top of the stove. This creates a nice warm place for your dough to rise. 

Don't have time to make your own dough or just don't want the hassle? Stop by any grocery store that sells ready-made pizzas and ask about buying a ball of dough. I have tried several and they are always accommodating. Some started putting the dough balls out now in the deli for regular purchasing.  In my area, I like Safeway's dough the best.  Sometimes pizza restaurants will also sell you just the dough. I have a friend who gets dough from Bellagios.

Keep your rolling pin and your counter or tabletop surface sprinkled with flour to prevent the dough from sticking when you roll out the dough. Be sure to turn the dough over after several rolls to even out the crust. Don't have a rolling pin? Grab the nearest bottle of wine and improvise!

What if you don't even want to be bothered with all that rolling?  Try these simple substitutes.  Remember that deli counter where I asked about the ball of dough? Well, sometimes they also have the crusts already rolled out an in an oven-ready baking pan. If you can't find that, please don't go Boboli on me. There are some better alternatives.  Try Naan bread or a good pita bread found in grocery store bakery. My kids will happily make their own dinner if I keep these three things on hand in my kitchen:

Ok, lets' talk base now:  
Huh?  Many restaurants now also offer base choices other than the typical tomato sauce base, including, but not limited to alfredo, pesto, bbq sauce and ranch (eww). 

If you are going to use a tomato base, I suggest mixing half tomato paste with half tomato or marinara sauce. The tomato paste has a nice thick consistency to it and adds a little bit of sweetness. Be sure to sprinkle with oregano-- I call that the "pizza spice." If you don't believe me, just open up a jar of oregano and take a whif. Tell me that doesn't shout "pizza" all over your olfactory senses?

Our family prefers two different bases: pesto and plain old olive oil. Since my husband is dairy free, he chooses just the olive oil. I switch back and forth between the pesto and the olive oil, depending on my mood and my calorie count for the day.

And now, the toppings:
No matter what the base you add, now comes the fun part with the toppings. The choices are endless, but you might consider some of these more non-conventional toppings that have made their way onto our pizzas.

Eggplant- I'm not kidding.  Years ago, we used to order a pizza every Friday night from a locally owned pizza parlour. The owners were Persian and I was pleasantly surprised how much I loved eggplant on my pizza! Just cut into cubes, saute with a little bit of olive oil in a pan and it's ready to use.

Whole roasted garlic- wrap a head of garlic in aluminum foil and cook in 400 degree oven for about 15 minutes. Remove and let cool. You will love the amazing aroma as it fills your kitchen and topping your pizza with these soft little bites of gold will make your pizza extra special. Who needs kissing after you've had a pizza like this anyway?

Leafy greens- spinach, kale, arugula.  Any of these are great added nutrients and fiber to your pizza. Be sure to either put them under moist toppings like eggplant or tomato before cooking unless you like your greens crispy, or add them as fresh ingredients after the pizza is done cooking. 

Our favorite pizza is a mediterranean style with an olive oil base, and toppings that include chicken, eggplant, diced tomato, kalamata olives, artichoke hearts and feta or goat cheese.  Of course, the kids love pepperoni, pineapple and black olives.  Did I mention you can make individual smaller pizzas?

Be sure to consider herbs, too.  Top with fresh basil, rosemary or sprinkle with dried Italian Seasoning mix.

What is your favorite topping?  Leave a comment below and share your creative tastes.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Island Salmon Tacos

Disclaimer: The name of this dish is a bit of a misnomer. You won't find any tropical islands in the Copper River where this bad boy salmon was caught, but it is the best salmon flavor in my opinion. Adding some tropical flavors of pineapple, mango and lime just screamed "Island" to me, and since this is my blog, I get to name these recipes anything I want.

2 pounds salmon fillet, cut into 1 inch long strips
1/4 cup soy sauce*
1/4 cup honey
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 T butter
Corn tortillas
2 limes

Salad from Scratch:
2 cups chopped green cabbage
1 cup shredded carrot
1 cup chopped cilantro; divided into two equal parts
1/3 cup greek yogurt
1/4 cup olive oil
2 T apple cider vinegar
Juice from 1 lime
1 mango
1 cup cubed pineapple
1 avocado cubed

OR a quick easy substitute:
1 package Taylor Farms Southwest Chopped Salad found in your local grocery produce department (in my town that would be Fred Meyer or Safeway)
1 mango
1 cup cubed pineapple
1 avocado cubed


Place salmon pieces in shallow baking dish. Whisk together soy sauce, minced garlic and honey and drizzle over top of salmon. Use the back of a spoon or marinade brush to smooth marinade over each piece.

Heat butter in large skillet. Cook salmon pieces in skillet until browned, approximately 3-4 minutes on each side.

In a food processor or blender, blend together 1/2 cup cilantro, yogurt, vinegar and lime.

Toss together the cabbage, carrot, remaining cilantro, avocado, mango and pineapple. Mix with dressing.

Heat corn tortillas by wrapping them in wet paper towels and heating in microwave for 1-2 minutes.

Serve one spoonful of salad mixture and 1-2 pieces of salmon per tortilla. Garnish with fresh lime.

Tips and Notes:

* Use Tamari Sauce as a gluten free alternative to regular Soy Sauce

If you haven't seen Wildtree products, it might be worth looking into. I could imagine using this Golden BBQ sauce as a substitute for the soy sauce/honey blend I made in this recipe. Wildtree is all organic and many of the products are gluten free.  They are sold by local independent distributors and one can be found near you on the Wildtree website.