Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Homemade Pizza!

My favorite thing to make these days is homemade pizza. But we all know that you can't make pizza like they do in a pizza parlor, right? They have some secret that we just can't duplicate at home. Ours always comes out ok, but never the same...not! This lousy cook has figured out the secret to making great pizza, and I will share it with you. The secret is simply in having fresh dough to start with. That's it. You can buy premade pizza crust at the supermarket, but it tastes like cardboard, and it ruins the pizza. To make perfect pizza, you have to make the dough, and if you have a breadmaker, it is really easy. It only takes five ingredients to make bread dough.

1 cup of water
2 tablespoons of olive oil
3 cups of regular(I use Gold Medal) flour
1/2 teaspoon of salt
1 1/2 teaspoons of breadmaker yeast

Put them in the breadmaker in the order above, and when you put the yeast in, make a little well in the flour and pour the yeast in the well. You don't just throw all the yeast in. Put the bread pan in the breadmaker and select the dough setting and 90 minutes later you have perfect bread dough. The key to doing it is to use exact measurements. No guessing, be exact. It has never failed me, ever. You can make dough by hand too but it is more labor intensive in kneading the dough, punching down, and getting the yeast ready. I have done it and it worked out ok, but I much prefer the breadmaker. I may put up a recipe for doing it the old fashioned way soon. For now, I will stick to the breadmaker. After the breadmaker has worked its magic, you have a perfect ball of dough. And that is the secret revealed. Take the dough out of the breadmaker and put it on a wooden cutting board or something similiar. Put flour on the cutting board first and spread it out and put a little flour on the ball of dough so it is less sticky. Then I use a rolling pin and begin to roll it out. The pros usually roll it out a little and then toss it into the pizza shape, spinning it around on their knuckles. I have tried that and can do it a little, but it is a learned skill. I just stick to the roller. It doesn't seem to matter. Once I have rolled it out into a pizza shape I transfer that to a pizza stone which it will cook on. You can buy them at any housewares store. Ours came from the Pampered Chef. Here is a point of contention. The pros will preheat the stone in the oven first, while making the pizza on a pizza peel(that paddle like thing they use) and then slide the pizza onto the stone, or directly into their hot pizza oven. I have done that, but it is stressful. It is a little tough to slide the pizza off without wrecking the pizza, which I have done a couple of times. They make it look easy. I don't think it is that easy, or maybe I am just doing something wrong. I have decided to assemble my pizza on the cold stone and then just cook it longer. It works fine, and my pizza doesn't get wrecked. Once the dough is on the stone, I turn over the edges to get the nice edge that holds everything in. Then I am ready to assemble the rest of the pizza. This is the fun part. I start with about a cup or so of pizza sauce. I go with a little more then you normally get at a pizza parlor, because I like it that way. I buy the pizza sauce at the store. It isn't hard to is basically like spaghetti sauce, but the recipes make a quart or more, which is way more than I can use, so I just buy it. Then on goes the cheese. Mozzarella is the traditional cheese. I like that, but I like to experiment with others. You can use whatever cheese you like. My favorite lately is to do a layer of provalone cheese, and then a layer of pepper jack cheese. I love the kick of the pepper jack. Then on go the toppings. Choose whatever toppings you like. One important trick I figured out, and yes, I figured this out myself, is to blot any veggies on a paper towel after chopping them. That removes excess water which otherwise will cover and soak the pizza while cooking, making it too greasy and soggy. Once the pizza is assembled, I put it in the oven at 450 degrees for 25 minutes. If you are brave enough to use a hot stone and slide the pizza on, then it only takes about 12 minutes. Then you have a perfect pizza. We haven't ordered pizza since I learned to make it myself. You can also freeze extra dough and thaw it when you want it, by putting it in the fridge the day before you plan to make the pizza. Give it a try, you won't be disappointed! That is all it takes to make pizza at home like the pros. The photos show the progression from start to finish.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Pasadena Turkey Chile

We got our first dusting of snow last night and it is football season, so I decided that a bowl of chile would be the perfect lunch to eat during the pregame. I made turkey chile and it worked out very well. The recipe I used is an adaptation of various recipes I have tried in the past. I keep in the things I like and take out anything I don't. I also like to look at various recipes and see what different ingredients they use and try some of them in my recipe. For this recipe I substitute ground turkey for ground beef as it is leaner and supposedly a little healthier. Today the ingredients I used were:

1 pound ground turkey
1/2 onion chopped(use your handy food chopper)
1 green bell pepper
1/2 red bell pepper
3 cloves garlic
1 can(28 oz) of crushed tomatoes
1/2 cup of water
1 tablespoon chili powder
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano leaves
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 can(15oz) of red kidney beans, drained.

I started it the same way pretty much all chile starts. You put the ground turkey, onion, peppers, and garlic in a large skillet and cook over medium-high heat for about five minutes until the turkey is browned. Use a wooden spoon to break up the turkey just as if you were browning hamburger. Next put in the tomatoes and mix that all up, cooking at medium heat for about five minutes. Last you add the water, all the spices, and kidney beans and mix them up well. Bring that to a boil, and then reduce the heat and simmer it for about 30 minutes. When I simmered it, I put the cover on the skillet but placed it askew so it releases the steam and allows the chile to reduce, but also holds the heat in. After it simmered for about 30 minutes, it was a very nice thick and chunky chile, which I really like. It was not runny at all. If you like yours runny, then you could probably add some more tomatoes. I was very pleased with the results and would definitely make this again. Next time I might leave out the cinnamon. I am not entirely sold on having that in chile. It gave it a little sweetness, which wasn't bad, but I think I might like it better without it. This was easy to make and pretty much idiotproof. The photos are in reverse order. The top photo is the final simmering of the chile. The middle photo is just after the tomatoes are added. The bottom photo is the initial ground turkey and onions, etc. cooking. Below is a video of the chile simmering. Mmmm.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Serving sizes

You may have noticed that I haven't put any serving sizes on the posts yet. I may start doing that, but I really hate those serving sizes. The typical serving doesn't feed one person, at least one normal hungry person. The serving sizes are usually what I would expect to see in a concentration camp, not on my offense to dictators who may be reading this. I usually eat at least two servings, and I am not a large person, and I am not overweight. The serving sizes seem to be more for the benefit of the manufacturers these days, not what a real person actually eats. As prices go up, serving sizes get smaller. I may have to start my own serving size nomenclature. Two recipe servings = one redneck serving, or something like that. I am not running a French restaurant where the food is about enough to feed a bird. They must think their customers are like veal who never move from a box and don't burn any calories. I want to eat like somebody who actually works for a living and leads an active lifestyle. As I post recipes, I will post how many real people it actually feeds. Enough about that. Now I just have to figure out what I will cook tomorrow. Maybe meatloaf, maybe spaghetti, maybe chile..hmmm. Stay tuned.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

My food chopper

My food chopper has become my favorite tool around the kitchen lately. So many recipes call for chopping, which I suck at. Hence the name of this blog. They way they precisely chop an onion, for example, on the cooking shows, just is a little beyond my skill level. Something always goes wrong when I try. The food chopper makes it unnecessary and saves all the time. Just cut up whatever you need to chop into pieces that fit under the chopper, and push down on the handle about 10 times, and your ingredients will be all chopped for you. It works beautifully. The chopper is pretty cheap too. We got ours from Pampered Chef for about 20 bucks I think, maybe less. They can be bought in stores also. I highly recommend getting one, that way you won't be intimidated when you see the need to chop in a recipe.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Mashed Potatoes

In my quest to get better at cooking, here is one more thing that I have learned how to do, and so can you. If you grew up in the Midwest, as I did, there is no greater sight than a big heaping pile of mashed potatoes. It is one of the greatest foods of all time. I used to have some trouble making them, however I finally learned the secret. The secret is to start them in cold water, and then bring them to a boil, rather then just dropping them in boiling water. I peel the potatoes and cut them up into about one inch squares or so. I doesn’t matter that much as they get mashed anyway. As I peel and cut up each potato, I put them in the cold water in a large cooking pot on the stove. Putting them in the water as you peel them keeps them from going brown as you peel the rest. Once all the potatoes are in the pot that I want to cook, usually four at a time, then I turn the burner on high and bring the taters to a boil. Keep them at a boil for 12-15 minutes, and then they are done. Test them at 12 minutes and leave them in for a few more minutes if they need a little more time. I pour them into a strainer and drain the water, and then put them back in the pot, where I add about a ¼ cup of butter or margarine and ¼ cup of milk. Bring on the potato masher and go to work. You can add a little more milk and butter to adjust it to your taste, and you can mash them however much you want. I don’t mind leaving some lumps in to give them a little more texture. That’s all there is to it. So easy even I can do it!

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

My Bread Machine

One of the few things that I have learned to do fairly competently is use my breadmaker. Baking seems to be a little more down my alley then other types of cooking and there is a good reason for it. Baking requires very precise measurements and the recipes always tell you exactly how much of each ingredient to use. Being a guy, that makes sense to me, as I have a typical male mind that grew up learning how to do things like carpentry, projects around the house, etc. Therefore, I am used to precise measurements and expect that. I always get annoyed when I watch cooking shows and they say things like use some oil "once around the pan," or "a palmful of" such and such. How much is once around the pan? Whose palmful? Why can't they just say "use a half a cup of oil," or a tablespoon of such and such. The plumbing books don't tell you to "cut a dash of pipe." It is a blow to my cooking confidence if I don't know if I am using the right amount of ingredients. If I load the breadmaker following the directions exactly, it works perfectly every time. Therefore lately I have been using it to make pizza dough, using the dough setting, which they all have. As a result, I have been making pizza once a week on Sundays and it is working out really well. I make the dough in the breadmaker(three cups of regular Gold Medal breadflour, 1/2 a tablesoon of salt, 1 1/2 tablespoons of yeast, one cup of water at room temperature or slightly higher, and two tablespoons of olive oil). Then roll out the dough into a pizza shape, add pizza sauce, cheese, and whatever toppings I want, and cook it in the oven on a pizza stone at 450 degrees. I have refined the recipe so that I think it is every bit as good as pizza parlor pizza, and actually much better then what I can order for home delivery. I will get more into pizza making this weekend and talk about everything I have learned about it, and give up any secrets I might have. I will also post pictures of the process of making the pizza this weekend. I am now on the quest to make the best pizza I can possibly make, and in the meantime learn how to cook other things. I wouldn't mind eating pizza for every meal, but that probably isn't a good idea.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Burritos-a no brainer

Burritos are a no brainer for those of us who suck at cooking. The recipe is the same as for tacos, only instead of using a taco shell, you wrap everything up in a flour tortilla. I also like to add refried beans(bought in a can) to them. These burritos make a complete meal and I don't need any side dish. It only takes me about 20 minutes at most to make them as all you have to do is brown the meat and add the taco seasoning, then simmer it for a few minutes. Meanwhile, heat up the refried beans either in the microwave or on the stove. Set out whatever fixings you like, such as lettuce, cheese, sour cream, etc. Whatever you want to put in them. Then you are good to go. Everyone can assemble them as they like, sort of buffet style. It doesn't get much easier then that and it tastes great. Perfect for an idiot cook like me.