Saturday, October 14, 2017

Yes, you can make your own pizza!

During the month of October, I will be participating in the Write 31 Days hosted by Crystal Stine. My category is Food, Health & Wellness and my theme is "Into The Kitchen". 

A little pizza history

Pizza is one of the most popular foods in the U.S., but where did it originate? It could have been as the flatbread of ancient times in the Middle East. It could have come from the Greeks and Romans, who baked flatbread topped with olive oil and seasonings now known as Focaccia.

However, most historians agree that pizza as we know it today did, indeed, originate in Italy. In Naples to be exact. A baker named Raffaele Esposito was asked to make a pizza for the Italian King Umberto I and Queen Margherita in 1889. His creation, made with mozzarella, fresh tomatoes and basil, is still made today and known as Pizza Margherita .

Pizza migrated to the U.S. by way of Spain, England and France but did not become popular until after World War II. Our Americanized version of pizza has made it's way back to Italy and is popular there as well.

Making a Great Pizza Dough

Many chefs and home cooks will argue that the secret is in the flour, so let's explore some different types of flour you might use. All purpose flour is a blend of hard and soft wheat and is so named because it is suitable for most baking needs. Bread flour, on the other hand, is high in gluten and therefore excellent for bread and pizza dough. And lastly, there is an Italian 00 flour, which is lower in protein and highly praised for making great pizza crust. However, availability and price may preclude this for many of us. I just use a good-quality bread flour, and here in my kitchen that is good enough.

Ready for the oven.
Topping It Off

While I love a good crust, the adornments are pretty important, too. After experimenting with different commercially-prepared sauces, and one homemade sauce, I settled on a canned sauce from Dei Fratelli which we really like. Since I divide and freeze the remaining sauce, I can get four pizzas from one can. Having just admitted to using canned sauce, I don't grow my own onions or peppers or make my own cheese either. Does that make my pizza any less homemade? I don't think so. 🍕

My favorite cheese is Sargento's Off the Block mozzarella, but I'll use whatever I have a coupon for and/or is on sale. Some of our favorite toppings include pepperoni, Italian sausage, onions, green pepper, and green olives.

Bubble Crust or Not?

I have already posted my recipe, but there are a few things I omitted since they are not critical to a good pizza. I happen to dislike the large bubbles that often form in the crust. To avoid this, after I roll out the dough (yes, I use my rolling pin), and take a fork and dock the dough all over, in other words, I poke holes in it. This gives me a flat pizza, but if you don't mind the occasional bubble in your crust, just ignore this step.

Wood-fired pizza oven.
The Finishing Touch

Another thing I do that I learned from Alton Brown, is to oil the edge of the dough with olive oil before baking. Does it make a lot of difference in the overall scheme of things? Probably not, but the crust is a nice golden brown.

Baking Your Pie

Not everyone has a wood-fired pizza oven (I don't, but I know someone who does). If you don't, then turn your oven to it's highest setting. Mine goes to about 550°-600° F. I use a pizza stone which I always keep in the oven on the bottom rack. Preheat for at least 30 minutes for the best results. My pizza cooks in 8 minutes.

Final Tip

If you are using a pizza stone and peel, roll out your pizza on parchment paper. It makes the transfer to the stone much easier. The pizza and the parchment paper go onto the stone. Our process is when the pizza is done, hubby takes it out stone and all. He then slides the pizza with the parchment onto a wooden cutting board where it slices it, after which he slides it back onto the hot stone. This way the pizza stays hot down to the last delicious slice.

Hot out of the oven.
There are recipes out there with more complex instructions and more detailed ingredient lists, but this is definitely great for beginners or anyone who just wants a good homemade pizza.

What's your pizza? Delivery, take-out or make your own?

If you enjoyed this post, please leave a comment. I would love to hear your thoughts.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Make Your Own Yellow Rice

During the month of October, I will be participating in the Write 31 Days hosted by Crystal Stine. My category is Food, Health & Wellness and my theme is "Into The Kitchen". 

How many of you have ever eaten yellow rice? It's good, isn't it? I thought so too. Then one day, as with other pre-packaged food I enjoyed, I decided to make my own. It is really quite simple, and you can customize it to your own taste. Even better is the fact that your rice doesn't have all the extras such as MSG, anti-caking ingredients and loads of sodium.

What's in that package, anyway?

This is what is in a national brand of yellow rice. I am not saying it is bad, what I am saying is if you want to control what is in your food, make your own.

"Enriched Long Grain Rice [Rice, Niacin, Iron (Ferric Orthophosphate), Thiamin (Thiamin Mononitrate), Folic Acid], Saffron Yellow Seasoning [Salt, Sugar, Dehydrated Onion, Monosodium Glutamate, Turmeric, Garlic, Corn Starch, Spices, Safflower, Saffron, Silicon Dioxide (Prevent Caking)]."

Yellow Ricethe essentials

1 cup white rice, preferably long grain
2 cups chicken stock
1/2 cup sweet onions, chopped*
a pinch of saffron or about 1/8 tsp, of turmeric*
Salt and pepper to taste
Olive oil*

Place about a tablespoon of olive oil in a covered saucepan and heat over medium high heat. Add the onions and cook until the onions soften, then add your salt and pepper, chicken stock and saffron or turmeric. When the liquid begins to boil, add your rice, stir and cover. When it returns to a boil, reduce heat to low and cook for 20 minutes. Fluff with a fork and serve.  

I don't measure these so amounts are approximate.* Feel free to play around with amounts, flavors and add-ins such as garlic (or garlic powder), parsley, etc.

What is your favorite rice dish? 

If you enjoyed this post, please leave a comment. I would love to hear your thoughts.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Botanically Speaking...What Are You Eating?

During the month of October, I will be participating in the Write 31 Days hosted by Crystal Stine. My category is Food, Health & Wellness and my theme is "Into The Kitchen". 

Yesterday's discovery that the pumpkin is actually a fruit instead of a vegetable leads us to question the things we eat. Are they vegetables, fruits or berries?

Years back, before I became somewhat enlightened, I thought that vegetables grew in the ground, fruits and nuts grew on trees and berries on bushes. Still I would have thought that peppers were vegetables. This is one of those things that just when you think you have it figured out, Bam! It is not what you thought at all. We are here to learn what is what because in the natural world, all is not clear.

First of all, what are the botanical definitions of fruits, vegetables and berries.

The word vegetable has no botanical meaning, but is based on the part of the plant and is used to categorize the foods we eat that do not fall into the fruit/berry category.

Plant Part        Example
Leaves                  lettuce
Stems/Stalks      celery
Roots                    carrots
Tubers                  potatoes
Bulbs                    onions
Flowers                broccoli

The fruit is the seed-bearing structure in flowering plants (angiosperm) formed from the ovary after flowering. Fruits are the means by which the angiosperm disseminate seeds.

Berries are technically a fruit with multiple seeds on the inside surrounded by edible flesh.

To a botanist, tomatoes, eggplants, grapes, persimmons and chili peppers are also berries, so try and wrap your head around that. Based on this definition, a banana is also a berry.

Okay, now that we have some definitions, let's look deeper. We have pretty much established what vegetables are, and that seems fairly straight forward. The more confusing issue is the fruit and/or berry question.

All berries are fruit. There are subcategories of fruits, and the categories some of them fit into may surprise you. Some foods that you know as berries aren't really berries at all. Included are strawberries, blackberries and raspberries. Blackberries and raspberries are considered an aggregate fruit. Aggregate simply means that the fruit is made up of multiple little sections.

Strawberries are particularly strange because their seeds are on the outside, rather than the inside. For this reason they are known as accessory fruits. Perhaps that is because they wear their seeds like accessories?

In addition to berries, there are other subcategories of fruit such as citrus, drupe or stone fruit (peaches) and pome (apples).

Wow, that is a lot of information. So what do we take away from this?

Vegetables are leaves, flowers, stems or stalks, roots, bulbs and tubers. Examples of vegetables are potatoes, broccoli, carrots, onions, beets, rhubarb, greens, turnips, Brussels sprouts and asparagus.

Fruits are the seed-bearing part of the plants. Examples are watermelon, all legumes, avocados, squash, pumpkin, eggplant, okra, cucumber, nuts, olives, corn and peppers. You may be questioning why corn is listed here. While eaten as a vegetable or grain, botanically speaking, it is a fruit.

Berries are a subcategory of fruit, and most of what we thought were obviously berries are not.

All this lends new meaning to getting your kids to eat their vegetables.

Bananas are Berries?
Wikipedia, multiple entries
Surprising Truth about Fruits and Vegetables
Corn, Is it a Fruit, Vegetable or Grain?
Classifying Fruit is an excellent article detailing the different categories of fruits.

If you enjoyed this post, please leave a comment. I would love to hear your thoughts.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Everything Is Coming Up Pumpkins

During the month of October, I will be participating in the Write 31 Days hosted by Crystal Stine. My category is Food, Health & Wellness and my theme is "Into The Kitchen". 

In the Springtime, a young man's fancy turns to love. In the Summer, our thoughts are filled with sunny days, vacations, and barbecues. When the weather turns cold, hot chocolate and visions of sugar plums and brightly-wrapped gifts abound. What about Autumn, that season of red, gold and green? Where do our thoughts take us? Why pumpkins of course.

Random Facts and Trivia

  • Pumpkins originated in Central America.
  • They are a member of the squash family.
  • Pumpkins are a fruit, not a vegetable as many of us thought.
  • They are grown everywhere in the world except Antarctica.
  • At one time pumpkins were used as a remedy for snake bites.
  • Once pumpkins were thought to be a cure for freckles. (Who knew freckles were an illness?)
  • Native Americans fed pumpkins to their horses.
  • Only tan colored pumpkins are used for pumpkin puree.

Back in the day, there was pumpkin pie and maybe pumpkin bread. Later emerged the ultimate pumpkin treat (in my mind anyway), pumpkin rollthat yummy rolled pumpkin confection filled with cream cheese icing and chopped nuts...preferably pecans, please. 

I loved pumpkin roll so much that one year my Mom asked a neighbor lady to make one for me for my birthday. So good!

It's Everywhere

Fast forward 30 years or so and it seems there is pumpkin everything. As of October 2017, here is a partial list of all things pumpkin spice flavored.

Krispy Kreme Doughnuts, glazed and cake
M & M's
Ice cream, multiple brands
Pumpkin Ale
Subway Cookies
Starbucks Lattes and Frappuccino
Yogurt, multiple brands
Baily's Pumpkin Spice 
Pumpkin Spice Wine from the California Fruit Wine Co.
Peeps Pumpkin Spice Latte
Chipotle Pumpkin Salsa
Toll House Pumpkin Spice Morsels and Cookies
Terra Chips
Cream Cheese
Sugarland Shine Pumpkin Spice Moonshine
Thomas Bagels
Godiva Chocolates
Krusteaz Pancake Mix
Planters Almonds
DQ Blizzards
Quaker Oatmeal

Pumpkin, it's not just for dessert anymore.

While the first thing we think about are the sweet treats, there is a savory side to side to pumpkin as well. Let's start with simply roasting. Take your pumpkin and, with your chef's knife, slice it in half and use a spoon to scrape out the seeds. Lay the halves on a baking pan, drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Turn the halves cut side down and roast at 400 degrees for 35-45 minutes, or until the flesh is very soft. You may eat your pumpkin exactly as is, or use in a number of savory recipes. (Leave off the pepper if what you are making is going to be sweet.)

In lieu of the cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger and cloves usually associated with pumpkin, you may choose cayenne, thyme, rosemary, turmeric, cumin or basil for your savory pumpkin dishes. Personally, I might add sage to that list, as well. The only way I have eaten pumpkin is as a dessert, and as pumpkin roll when I can get it.

What is your favorite way to eat pumpkin? Have you ever tried a savory pumpkin dish?

Bye the way, I intentionally didn't mention Jack-O-Lanterns. That's a whole 'nother post.

If you enjoyed this post, please leave a comment. I would love to hear your thoughts.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Let's Talk Onions

During the month of October, I will be participating in the Write 31 Days hosted by Crystal Stine. My category is Food, Health & Wellness and my theme is "Into The Kitchen". 

An onion is an onion...or not.  Who doesn't love a basket of freshly made onion rings? However not just any onion can be an onion ring. Keep reading to see which one makes the cut.

One can do a lot of reading about onions, and there is more information than we can cover here in detail, so we are going focus on type and sizes of onions, the best use for each and a few of their health benefits.

Have you ever looked at a recipe that calls for one large onion, chopped. What is a large onion and how much does that yield? I much prefer when the recipe states the amount in a quantity like one cup. Truthfully, I rarely measure, but if I know I need a cup, I can eyeball that. On the other hand, if it calls for a large onion, what is that comparitively?

Okay, let's break that down because there is an actual onion size chart.

Super Colossal                        4½" and up                   yellow, red, white
Colossal                                    3¾" and up                   yellow, red, white
Large/Jumbo                          3" and up                        yellow, red, white
Medium                                    2 - 3¼"                           yellow, red, white
PrePack                                     1¾ - 3"                           yellow and white
Small                                         1 - 2¼"                            yellow and white
Boiler                                         1 - 1 7/8"                           yellow and white
Creamer                                    under 1"                           yellow and white

This chart gives you an idea as to labels and sizes, but you need to know these equivalents, too.

Small onion = 1/2 cup chopped
Medium onion = 1 cup chopped
Large = 2 cups chopped

Types of onions

These onions have the strongest flavor and good for caramelizing, especially in French Onion soup, because of their higher sugar content.

Red onions are often served raw and usually used on sandwiches, burgers and salads. They are also used for grilling and roasting.

You want to look for these when you need a little texture in your dish. They are used in salads, white sauces and Mexican cuisine.

To more easily spot sweet onions, look for a more orange skin. Walla Walla and Vidalia are types of sweet onions. They have a mild flavor and a higher water content, which makes them good for salsas. These are also the best onions for onion rings.

Green Onions (also known as Scallions)
These are the stalks of onion bulbs and are best used raw or lightly cooked. They add a mild flavor to your dish, and are often used as a garnish.

In addition to their great taste and wide variety of uses, onions of all kinds are good for you, too.

Health Benefits

What makes them healthy? Onions contain high amounts of:
  • Vitamin C
  • Sulphuric compounds
  • Flavonoids
  • Phytochemicals
  • Significant source of antioxidents
In summary, onions of all kinds are flavorful, healthful additions to our diet. I hope this helps you choose the right onion for your dish and your taste buds. 

Personally, I seriously do not like red onions as the taste and smell is very off-putting to me. My favorites are the sweet onions, followed by regular yellow onions, for all my cooking needs.

Which onions do you prefer? Do you have a favorite onion-centric recipe?

If you enjoyed this post, please leave a comment. I would love to hear your thoughts.


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