Home style Pizza Dough

Writing is such a funny endeavor. It is one of those activities that I think about doing most often around 9 pm while washing my hair in the shower. I’ll start an internal dialogue that suddenly turns to paragraphs that I want to express. Yet, I rarely actually put those thoughts down and instead let them dissipate into the recesses of my mind. Though, I don’t think the readers of this poorly maintained blog would be very surprised to learn this.

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Last night was different. This one I have to share! I was trying to narrow down what I wanted to bake for the following day: something new? maybe a berry studded meringue? sandwich cookies? a cake topped with a meringue sandwich cookie??? (OK, not really that last one) but suddenly I realized the answer: pizza dough. Actually my mother-in-laws super quick pizza dough recipe to be exact.

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Over the years, I have made many different pizza doughs. Yet, there is something about this ultra quick recipe that is comforting and reminds me of the pizzas I grew up eating at home – a little less pizzeria and a little more home style. My mother-in-law passed it down when we were first married and I’ve squirreled it away in my recipe box ever since.

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The interesting part about this recipe is that it uses yeast but skips the rise. Mix all the ingredients together, let it set for a minute, and poof your ready to knead it a few times, roll it and stick it in the oven. Lately, I decided to change a few ingredients and I think the results are worth it. I use instant yeast, bread flour instead of all-purpose, and olive oil instead of vegetable. The higher gluten content of the bread flour makes for a sturdier dough and a finished crust with a bit more chew to it. This dough holds up well to wet ingredients like fresh tomatoes.

Ready to try it?

Quick Pizza Dough

Makes 1 pound of pizza dough and is the perfect amount for our family of four. If using active dry yeast, proof the yeast in the warm water before adding to the remaining ingredients.

Ingredients:

  • 2 1/2  cups bread flour
  • 2 ¼ teaspoons instant yeast
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup warm water
  • 2 tablespoon olive oil

Directions:

Preheat over to 450 degrees. Dust a large baking sheet with corn meal. In a large bowl, whisk together flour, yeast, sugar, and salt. Add water and olive oil and stir with a wooden spoon until combined into a shaggy dough. Let the dough rest 5 minutes (this is a great time to prepare the pizza ingredients). Flour the counter and knead the dough a few times. Roll out dough to fit the baking sheet, adding flour as needed while rolling. If the dough springs back too quickly to roll, then give it another 2 minutes to rest. Transfer dough to the baking sheet, add toppings and bake. Bake for 15-20 minutes or until the crust is golden brown. Enjoy!

 

 

Sweet Corn and Family

My parents just came into town and stayed with us a few days. I always look forward to these trips, as it is my only time I get to see my parents face to face. We talk on the phone throughout the year but it is always special to have them in my house. We always spend a decent percentage of our time just sitting and talking. Talking on the couch, in the back yard, on a park bench. We sit and tell each other stories about events that have happened over the year or plans for the next. Sometime we talk about problems and opinions. Once in awhile these conversations run a bit heated- but that doesn’t last long. We say our piece and then move on to the next topic.

IMG_0868Being Iowa natives, corn is a big deal. Corn is broken into two categories: Feed and Sweet. Feed corn is what is mostly grown and is the corn that is used in products and to feed livestock. Sweet corn is the type that is in the grocery store and consumed by us humans. The family farm is mostly feed corn but my uncle (Thanks Phil!) always plants some sweet corn too. This corn is a precious commodity among the family. Once the corn is harvested then my mom, grandma, and aunts get together and cook the corn, cut it off the cob and place it in quart size freezer bags to be frozen. Each family gets enough to last until the next year’s harvest.

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Eating pastries and drinking lattes at the neighborhood bakery. Mom found the garden seating in the back. Score!

With September here and fresh corn still available, I was in the mood for a comforting soup to usher in the cooler temperatures and bridge the gap between summer and fall. Corn chowder fit the bill. Creamy and satisfying, with just enough smoky flavor from the bacon to add a depth of flavor to the sweet corn.

I made this recipe from Cook’s Illustrated and followed it pretty exactly. Next time, I would skip the step of scraping the cobs for the “corn juice”. I found this tedious and messy, though it did add an extra layer of sweet corn flavor. I’ll add the instructions, in case you feel up to the task. Hope you enjoy it as much as we did!

xoxo,

Rachel

Corn Chowder

Slightly adapted from Cook’s Illustrated. Fresh corn is a must in this recipe since it is the dominant flavor. After removing the husks. Wash the corn thoroughly and remove as many silks as you can. Fresh corn kernels should be plump and not shriveled.

Serves 6

Ingredients:

  • 8 ears of corn, husked, trimmed, and rinsed thoroughly
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 yellow onion, diced
  • 4 slices of bacon, chopped in 1/4 inch squares
  • 1teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1/4 cup all purpose flour
  • 5 cups water
  • 12 ounces yukon gold potatoes, halved and quartered
  • 1 cup half and half
  • 3 tablespoons fresh basil, chopped for garnish (optional)
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon pepper

Directions:

In a medium bowl, stand corn on its end and slice the kernels off the cob and into the bowl and set aside. If desired, in a small bowl, use the back of a butter knife to scrape the cobs of their pulp and then layer a few paper towels on the counter. Working quickly, spoon pulp onto paper towels and quickly wrap pulp in the towels and squeeze the juice into a small measuring cup. I had about 1/2 cup but Cook’s Illustrated said there would be about 3/4 cup of the juice.

Melt butter in a large soup pot over medium heat. Add bacon, onion, thyme, measured salt and pepper and cook and stir until onion is soft and beginning to brown, about 10 minutes. Whisk in flour and cook for 2 minutes. Continue to whisk and add water. Make sure to thoroughly mix during this step so that you do not get lumps in the soup. Bring to a boil and then add potatoes and corn kernels. Return the mixture to a simmer and cook until potatoes are soft, about 15 minutes.

Remove 2 cups of the chowder and blend in a blender until thick and creamy, about 2 minutes. Return blended corn mixture to the soup pot and mix (look how creamy it is now!)  Add half and half and return pot to a simmer. Once simmering, take soup off the heat and mix in the corn juice (if using) and season with salt and pepper to taste. Ladle into bowls, top with basil if using, and serve with a thick slice of crusty bread.

Marinara Sauce

Growing up, our family ate a lot of pasta, spaghetti in particular. I remember coming home from school, falling asleep on the couch with the Nightly News on, and waking up to the glorious smell of tomato sauce on the stove.  I never grew tired of eating spaghetti. Out on my own, it was one of the few meals I felt like I could make.

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Boil water, stir in the pasta, and warm up the sauce. Done! How hard could it be? Well, lets just say I had plenty of room for improvement. When my husband and I were dating, he came over to my apartment and I made spaghetti one night for dinner. I had bought the absolute cheapest sauce (I think it came in a packet mix!) and dried spaghetti noodles. Needless to say, we did eat that meal, but you can be sure he didn’t marry me for my pasta cooking skills.

As with most (all?) things in life – the devil is in the details as they say. Making a homemade sauce, cooking the noodles to al dente in salted water, finishing the noodles in the sauce, and topping with parmesan; have all made pasta night one that brings everyone running to the table, just like it did growing up.

xoxo,

Rachel

Spaghetti with a Basic Marinara Sauce

I especially like that Deb Perelman’s sauce and have simmered the half onion in the same way that she calls for in her sauce. If you happen to over salt, a pinch of sugar will correct the problem.

Serves 4-6

  • 32 ounce canned, diced tomatoes in their juices
  • 1/2 yellow onion, peeled
  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons dried basil
  • 1 1/2  teaspoons dried oregano
  • kosher salt
  • 1 lb of pasta
  • 1/2 cup pasta cooking water

Directions:

Heat oil in large heavy bottomed pot. Saute garlic and spices until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add tomatoes and nestle onion in the pot. Add a pinch of salt. Stir and reduce heat to medium low to simmer. Stir every 5 minutes or so. The sauce will reduce and thicken. You will know it’s done when the flavors meld and the sauce flavor deepens and doesn’t taste as bright. About 30 -40 minutes.

As the sauce is cooking, bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil and then add a tablespoon kosher salt. Add the pasta and cook until al dente. Reserve 1/2 cup of the cooking water and drain pasta into a colinder. Once sauce is ready, discard onion. Add reserved pasta water and pasta to the sauce. Coat the pasta in the sauce. I find tongs helpful at this point. Simmer to finish the pasta. Plate and serve with shredded parmesan. Enjoy!

Whole Wheat Pitas and Easing into Summer

The lazy days of summer are almost here and I’ve made myself a promise. This year will be different. I will not put myself into a frenzy trying to schedule every minute and then feel frustrated that I’m the only one that wants to do these things that I’ve planned. Summer is to be enjoyed and not just by the children. I want to embrace the slowness.

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Relish in the sunshine and enjoy the adventures planned on the fly. As a child, I spent the majority of my time swimming at the local pool, reading at the library, and baking. And honestly? That’s pretty much what I want to do this summer (though I’ll take the beach over the pool).

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I want ice cream and fireworks and hikes through the woods. But even with all those adventures, the days can feel very looonnnggg. I know I’m not alone here feeling some pre-summer anxiety. So here is the summary of my list from last summer, my notes to myself for this year. (Are you really that surprised??)

  • Have a daily schedule written on the white board (great for negotiation purposes!)
  • The kids aren’t bored, I am.  Have a variety of home based projects to do
  • Grocery shop on the weekend (sanity!!)

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My favorite projects in the summer, require lots of time. Yeast bubbling, double rises, and the end result being something we can all devour and appreciate. Bread is spectacular. Practical (less trips to the grocery store!) and though it takes some time to let the yeast do its thing, it isn’t fussy. You can let it sit extra long or even pop it in the fridge over night like I did with these pitas.

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I’ve made pitas a couple times but these by far are my favorite. The bread flour adds a nice chewiness and the white whole wheat has an added bonus of whole grains. I found this recipe intriguing because of the extra step of a quick sponge. The end result is a chewy, soft, pocket pita with a complex wheat and yeast flavor.

Hope you enjoy these as much as we did!

xoxo,

Rachel

Whole Wheat Pitas

This recipe is adapted from a recipe from epicurious.com. I used white whole wheat flour and added an extra rise so that I made them over 2 days. I found this easier, but you are welcome to skip the overnight rise and roll the pitas out after shaping them. Just let the pitas rest for a good 30 minutes before popping them into the oven. These made 10 pitas that were around 2 ounces each. I topped mine with hummus, roasted zucchini and red pepper, lettuce, and goat cheese.  You could also cut them in half to stuff the pocket.

Ingredients:

 

  • 1 (1/4-ounce) package active dry yeast (2 1/2 teaspoons)
  • 1 teaspoon honey
  • 1 1/4 cups warm water (105–115°F), divided
  • 1  1/2 cups bread flour, plus more for kneading
  • 1  1/2 cups white whole-wheat flour, plus more for rolling out pitas
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • cornmeal for dusting baking sheets (optional)

Directions:

In the warmed bowl of the mixer, combine the yeast,  1/2 cup warm water and honey and let sit for 5 minutes until smooth and frothy. In the meantime, combine the flours in a medium bowl. Once the yeast mixture is smooth, mix in 1/2 cup of the flour mixture and combine until smooth. Cover with plastic wrap and let sit for 45 minutes until doubled and bubbly.

Once mixture is has risen, add the oil, salt, remaining 3/4 cup warm water, and the rest of the flour. Stir together. Using the hook attachment to your stand mixture, knead for 5 minutes. You will need to add additional bread flour during the kneading time. Add more once the dough starts to work its way up the hook, adding 2-3 tablespoons every couple of minutes as needed. The dough will be soft but not sticky. Shape into a ball and place in a large bowl that has been slightly oiled. Let rise for 1 hour or until doubled in bulk.

Scrape dough onto slightly floured surface and cut into 10 equal parts, about 2 ounces each (I like to use a scale for this part). Roll into a ball and wrap in plastic wrap. Place dough balls into a tupperware container and let sit overnight.

The next day, preheat over to 500 degrees F. Let dough warm to room temperature for 20 minutes or so and then roll out into 5 inch circles. Don’t be shy with the white whole wheat flour for dusting. If the dough is still sticky, add some cornmeal to the baking sheets to prevent sticking. Roll 3 pitas per sheet. Place baking sheet on bottom rack and bake for 2-3 minutes on the first side (watch them puff!) Then flip and cook for another minute or 2.Place finished pitas wrapped in a kitchen towel and let them cool. Once cool, store in an air tight container in the refrigerator for up to a week.

Enjoy!

 

Ham & Swiss Sandwich with Mom

Being a mom is serious business and I am so lucky to have mine. Mom is always there, a constant in the stream of life. So much so that it takes becoming a mom to fully appreciate what it is like to mother.

Mom always has the answer, mom would know what to do, mom would make dinner and fold the laundry. She was there every morning and every afternoon. It seemed as if mom had always been “mom”. As a child, I was always surprised to remember that at one time, she was a little girl just like me.

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My mom holding my twin sister and I. I’m the one looking at the camera.

Now 8 years into motherhood, I know that it was no easier for her than it is for me. I don’t always know the answers, but I do love my children fiercely, in the same way my mom loves me.

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My first day of motherhood.

Every day in high school, my twin sister and I would come home for lunch and I would eat a ham sandwich and we would talk about our day and discuss friends, boys, and teachers.

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It was such a nice reprieve from the business of school work and after school jobs. So today, on Mother’s Day, I will do like I did then and talk to my mom (on the phone this time) over lunch with a ham sandwich. Love you mom!

xoxo,

Rachel

Sliced Ham and Swiss Sandwich

  • 1 hoagie
  • 1 slice of swiss cheese
  • 3 slices deli ham
  • brown mustard
  • 1 leaf of romaine

Instructions

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place a hoagie face up on a baking sheet. Split swiss cheese in half and lay on one side of the hoagie. Place ham slices on the other half. Toast in the oven until the ham is warm and a bit toasty around the edges and the cheese is melted, 5-10 minutes. Take sandwich out of the oven and move the ham to the cheese side. Spread mustard on blank side and add romaine. Close, slice, and enjoy!