Saturday, October 27, 2012

Homemade Pizza - It Really IS Easy

This is a house of pizza-lovers.  Not that we'd eat it every night ... more like once a week.  If it's a weekday or we're both totally exhausted we'll make a delivery order.  But - when it's the weekend and we've got time - we love to make the pizza from scratch.  That means dough, homemade sauce (made ahead in batches to save time), and putting all the trimmings on top.  It's usually a family affair - with me making the dough and the boys putting it all together after I've rolled out the dough.  It does take a bit of time - hence only doing it on the weekends when I can give myself the time to make the dough - but it's so worth it.

I've tried a number of recipes, including some quick no-rise versions, but the one I'm going to give you today is the best.  Simple, elegant, versatile.  It has never failed me.  I'm sure it won't fail you either!

The ingredient list is small.
  • Sugar - 1/2 teaspoon
  • Water, lukewam (105-115F) - 1 cup
  • Active Dry Yeast - 1/4 ounce package (2 1/4 teaspoon)
  • Olive Oil - 1 tablespoon
  • Flour - 2 to 2 1/2 cups (approximately)
  • Coarse Salt - 1/2 teaspoon
  • Olive Oil - 1/2 teaspoon for coating bowl/dough

TOOLS:  Glass Measuring Cup (2 cup size), Large bowl, wooden spoon or spatula for stirring, tools to measure (1/2 cup, 1 tablespoon, 1 teaspoon, 1/2 teaspoon, 1/4 teaspoon), towel to cover bowl, rolling pin, cookie sheet or pizza pan.

Preping the Yeast:  Pizza needs yeast to make it come alive.  Without yeast you'd have a piece of cardboard for your efforts.  Beyond that - there's no surer method to a failed pizza dough than having old yeast so make sure yours isn't past it's prime.  Run the hot water from your kitchen tap until the water feels warm, but not burning hot.  It should feel warmer than your body, like water in a hot tub.  Fill your measuring cup with 1 cup of water.  Stir in the sugar to dissolve and add your yeast.  Set it aside for a few minutes.  The yeast will feed on the sugar in the warmth of the water and will grow.  When the top becomes foamy you've done right.

While the yeast is growing, measure out 1 1/2 cups flour into your large bowl and add your coarse salt.  Stir to combine.  When your yeast is foamy, add 1 tablespoon of olive oil to the liquid and pour immediately into your flour.  Stir with your wooden spoon or spatula until the flour is completely wet.  It will be quite sticky at this point.  Make room on your counter and take a handful of dry flour and sprinkle it about.  Dump your wet dough into this.

Now comes the part that scares most people - you've got to knead the dough.  It takes a bit of practice to get the feel for it, but once you've mastered it you'll realize how simple it is.  At first the dough will be quite sticky.  You'll likely need to rub it off your hands and combine it back into the dough several times as you add more flour and using the heel of your hands push into the dough, lift with your fingers, turn/flip, and again push with the heel of your hands.  This step will take anywhere from 6 - 12 minutes.  The time of year, the weather - both play a factor in this.  Rainy cold days in winter, hot humid days in summer - each causes dough to behalf differently.  This will also affect how much flour you'll end up adding as you knead.  You are looking for the classic babies skin feel - soft, somewhat pliant, smooth to the touch.  Remember not to add too much flour - dry, coarse dough won't make an edible pizza.

Once you've reached this point it's time to set the dough aside.  I take a few minutes at this point to clean out my large bowl, dry it, and add a little olive oil to the bottom.  Then I drop my dough into this bowl and roll it around so that the dough is glossy with oil.  This step prevents dry, cracking dough skin from forming while the dough rests and rises.  Cover with a lint-free tea towel and place out of drafts for around 70 minutes.  I put mine in the microwave (just make sure that if you use the microwave timer - that you hit the timer and don't accidentally start the cooking cycle of the microwave ... yes, I've nearly ruined dough this way!).

After 70 minutes (or so), your dough should have doubled in size.  [Take a moment to turn your oven to 400F at this point.]  Flour your counter lightly and pull your dough out of the bowl and knead it a few times (yes, it will deflat - that's OK).  Using your rolling pin, roll your dough out to the size of your cookie sheet or pizza pan.  Place the rolled out dough on your pan - likely you'll have to stretch and push it a bit to conform.  Let it rest a few minutes while you gather your toppings.

Spread your sauce out first - white, red, lot's or just a little - it's your choice.  Next any toppings you want - veggies, meats - anything that takes your fancy.  Finally, pick your cheese.  Most often we use Gouda here.  Yes ... Gouda.  We buy it by the wheel - it's eaten every day in this house.  With so much around, it's a natural for our pizza.  But, be a purist if you want and use mozarella.

Now.  It's time.  Place it in the oven.  Set your timer for 15 minutes to begin with.  Nobody wants burnt pizza.  Especially when you've gone to the trouble of making the dough.  After 15 minutes check your pizza.  Are the toppings bubbly?  Is the crust golden?  If so, it's ready.  If not, give it a few more minutes.  When it's ready, give it a few minutes rest on a cutting board before slicing it up and devoring.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Granola - It Doesn't Have to Be Store Bought

Part of being frugal and eco-friendly is finding ways to avoid boxed, premade items.  Some things are plain difficult - chocolate, for instance.  Yes, I'm sure I could source cocoa beans, learn how to turn those beans into a substance that I could use to make edible chocolate items ... but really?  I think if my only choice was to make it myself or do without I might have to learn to live without chocolate - and that would be a tragedy ;)

I'm slowly building a repertoire of recipes, crafts, and ideas that are both frugal and eco-friendly.  One recipe that I've been doing for quite some time now is Granola.  I started with a recipe I found on The Frugal Girl blog.  I never completely followed the recipe, and learned along the way that granola is one of those very forgiving foods that you can tweak to your hearts content.

Go to the link above if you want the original recipe, otherwise, here's my version:

West Coast Granola

  • --Dry Ingredients--
  • Oatmeal/Grains - 6 cups total
  • Nuts and seeds - 1 or more cups
  • Dried Fruit - 1 or more cups
  • --Wet Ingredients--
  • Oil - 1/2 cup
  • Honey - 1/2 cup
  • Brown Sugar - 1/4 cup, loosely packed
  • Vanilla Extract - 1 tablespoon
1.  Get out all the ingredients you plan to use.  For the oatmeal, I tend to use a mix of 4 cups regular quick (not instant) oatmeal and 2 cups of a more exotic flake grain - right now I'm using rye flakes.  Cut up anything that needs cutting - perhaps you have whole nuts or dried fruit that are fairly large.  Try to make everything somewhat uniform - you don't want whole brazil nuts next to tiny currants - cut up the brazil nuts.  You might have noticed that for the nuts/seeds and dried fruit I said 1 or more cups - add the amount you want.  This isn't the store-bought granola where you are lucky to get one sliver of almond every three bites - you can have tons of almonds in every bite if you like!

SOME IDEAS FOR GRAINS, NUTS, SEEDS and DRIED FRUITS:  Oatmeal, Rye Flakes, Quinoa Flakes, Flaxseed, Sesame Seeds, Sunflower Seeds, Pumpkin Seeds, Almonds, Hazelnuts, Pistachios, Walnuts, Coconut Flakes, Raisins, Dates, Prunes, Craisins, Dried Mango ... the list goes on.  Pick what you like - try those that add colour, flavour, texture, and good nutrients.

2.  Preheat your oven to 300 F degrees.  I use my convection setting at this temperature and it works fine.  Make sure you have two racks in your oven - one at mid-point and one about 2-3 inches lower.  Get out two large cookie sheets - preferrably with good raised edges.  Put aside - you'll need them in a few minutes.

3.  Measure your oatmeal/grain, and nuts and seeds into a large bowl.

4.  Next, get out a medium pan.  Measure the oil into this pan and without rinsing out the measuring cup measure and add your honey.  The oil residues will help prevent the honey from sticking to the measuring cup.  Add the brown sugar.  Now stir constantly - you want the brown sugar to melt and the ingredients to come together somewhat.  Once this is achieved, remove the pan from the heat and add your vanilla extract.  Stir to combine.

5.  Pour your wet ingredients over your dry ingredients.  Stir to coat everything fairly evenly.  You'll think there isn't enough to cover all your dry ingredients - don't worry, there is enough.  It's meant to be a fairly light coating.  To give just a little sweetness, but not too much; and the oil helps to bake the ingredients without making everything feel greasy.

6.  Now divide this mixture between your two cookie sheets.  Make sure the mixture is evenly spread out so that the heat of the oven can do it's work properly.

7.  Place both cookie sheets in  the oven - each on it's own rack.  Set your timer for 15 minutes.  Clean up whatever needs to be cleaned up.  Measure out your dried fruits - you'll need them just before you package up your granola.

8.  After 15 minutes take both sheets out.  Take a few minutes to stir the mixture around.  Then put the sheets back in the oven, switching locations.  Another 8 minutes.  You're looking for a slightly golden granola colour.  Not too dark or it might taste bitter, but at the point where you think you're eyes are playing tricks on you because you're not certain it's achieved that golden hue.  Take the sheets out of the oven.

9.  Let the mixture cool completely in the sheets.  Over night is fine.  Just before you are ready to package your granola add your dried fruit.  Stir it in so it's spread throughout.  Now you can store your granola in whatever container you have that seals nicely.  I've used those large 1.9 litre canning jars from Canadian Tire and the Montana Jars that also come from Canadian Tires offered in a variety of sizes.  Both work great and look kind of fancy.

That's it.  It might sound like a lot of work.  It really isn't.  It takes me, from start to finish, approximately 35-40 minutes.  It makes A LOT of granola.  For a fraction of the price of store-bought granola.  Enough to gift some away - if you have any left!

E-Course Homework - My Bio/About Me

I read a lot of blogs.  Daily.  On days when most have new postings it can take me a couple of hours to get through the whole list.

One of the exercises in the e-course I'm taking right now is to update my own Bio/About Me area.  With that in mind, I used this long list of blogs that I follow (currently, that's 70!) to read through the Bio/About Me area for each.  Here's what I found ...

Some had long Bio's, some had brief ones.  Some were light and humorous, some quite serious and business like, and a few were fairly dry.  There were even some well followed ones with no Bio/About Me area.  Most had at least one photo - usually of themselves, but not always.  After reading all of them I came to the conclusion that it was nice to know something about the Blogger, but not essential to my liking their blog.  For those that write in a personal style, often including tidbits of their lifes in their postings, it didn't seem to matter if their Bio was short, long, or even there.  If the Bio was too long it sometimes got boring.  Almost invariably, brief was better.  I particularly liked the ones that gave a brief Bio followed by some technical information - cameras and software they used.  Many included how to contact them, including a texted email address (along the lines of mynameATsomeplaceDOTcom so that bad people can't scrap their emails from their website).  Finally, there were a few discussing privacy, use of their content and photos, and one - Chez Larsson - who discussed safety and non-liability ... a concept that I thought smart for those sharing DIY tutorials/ideas.

With this research under my belt I feel a bit more confident in doing my own Bio/About Me.  Let's see how it goes.

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

I'm Enrolled!

I'm getting out of my comfort zone here by taking an e-course called "Blogging Your Way" which is held by Holly Becker of decor8 fame.  Here's my school badge :)

decor8 badge -

The course started on Friday, October 5th, and it looks like the lessons come on quickly - with three per week ... so, you'll likely see more content than normal here as I work my way through.  Hopefully between work, homelife, and school work I'll keep on track.

I've set up my Twitter account.  Next I need to set up a Flickr account and create an Avatar.  And, of course, I have to write some skookum blog posts.  Skookum is so very British Columbian - without clicking on the skookum linky do you know what it means?!

OK - off to school I go!!