Friday, November 7, 2008


Not here in Georgia, nor in Maryland where I was for 5 days last week. Lovely weather in both places, actually.

But the freezer, that big energy-suck in the kitchen, has been prominent this week - in a good way.

My sister was gracious enough to insist that she really needed some meals in the freezer when I took over her kitchen (sheepish grin). Better yet, her 6-year-old, "Sunshine", could not wait to help cook. The night I got there she busted out her Easy Bake Oven so that we could make cookies on a lightbulb together, just like her Mom and I used to. Actually, I don't think I ever let my sister anywhere near my beloved Easy Bake Oven, but that's another story. So yeah, all the more gracious for letting me tear up her cooking space.


Sunshine and I practiced measuring and stirring and letting Aunt Stephanie handle things that are hot. She was very pleased with our 3-inch lightbulb cookies.

She did so well on her audition that she was ready for the big leagues. We had a great time making muffin-tin meatloaf (much more practical than a big loaf for kids with small appetites). People Who Cook are welcome to toss in some suggestions on this... Sunshine wadded up balls of foil to put in the bottom of each cupcake well so that the meat would be lifted off the bottom and the fat would run off. Is there any way to keep the mini-meatloaf looking meatloaf-like and not like a large, squashed meatball? We didn't mound the meat too high because I didn't want the fat running onto the top of the tin and, inevitably, onto the floor of the oven and setting off the fire alarm.

Squashed meatball or not, Sunshine was soooo proud of herself for making dinner! Oh, did she ever feel grown-up in her pink Princess apron, shredding zucchini and measuring spices and squishing the meat mixture in her little hands. When I teasingly told her that she could ditch her Strawberry Shortcake Halloween costume and trick-or-treat in her apron, she rushed to assure me that she would consider being a chef for Halloween next year. Gotta love that kid.

For those of you following at home, when the muffin-loaves had cooled we popped them into a Ziploc and froze. When Sis needs a quick dinner, she can take out what she needs and not be stuck with meatloaf all week, the way she would if we made a full loaf.

We also made some Caribbean Chicken which, as she said "P.U. stinks when you make it but it tastes really good." Hmmm, are fresh ginger, fresh garlic, cloves, and soy sauce pungent? Fair enough.

It's so cool that Sunshine and I have this connection. I'm looking forward to seeing how her younger brothers' individual interests develop and where we naturally connect and find fun ways to spend time together. Such strong, sweet little personalities!

I'm back home in Georgia and I've been working intensely on a project for work. So much so that I went straight from the office to get my flu shot and came home and waited for dinner to just make itself. Dang, I'm tired. REALLY tired.

Shopping was out. Driving? Walking down aisles? Waiting in line? Driving again? Too much energy. I decided to break into my own freezer stash. Homemade pizza it was - we had dough and spaghetti sauce in the freezer, and Hormel turkey pepperoni, fresh Parmesan, and fresh spinach in the fridge. And my basil plant hasn't died yet, so I threw some of that on there, too. I usually use mozzarella as well, but for darn sure it wasn't worth the effort to get some.

This pizza crust recipe makes enough for two pizzas. It was originally credited to Weight Watchers, but I have no idea what changes were made to it before it got to me. I usually use half the dough right away and freeze the other half. Warning - if you freeze some or all, BE SURE to spritz the Saran wrap with non-stick spray or olive oil first. This dough can be very sticky when it thaws but it comes off the plastic beautifully when I use the non-stick.

With a good stand mixer with a dough hook this is really low-effort. The yeast and the mixer do all the work. Since I used my last batch of dough this evening, I'll probably just make some up this weekend and go straight to the freezer with it.

1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
2 1/2 cups unbleached flour (at most - I find using all this flour makes it too stiff)
1 package active (not expired) dry yeast
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon olive oil or vegetable oil
1 1/4 cups hot water - 120 to 130 degrees (use a meat thermometer or candy thermometer)
[Option - herbs. Like oregano or rosemary? Toss in a half-teaspoon or so, as long as they're dried herbs and not fresh. The added moisture of fresh herbs will throw off the dough]

Combine 2 cups of the flour, the yeast, and salt in a large bowl. With an electric mixer, slowly beat in the water. If you're health-consciously thinking about leaving the salt out, please reconsider. It's really not that much and the dough will taste like cardboard without it.

Beat 2 minutes, scraping the side of the bowl occasionally with a spatula. With the mixer on medium speed, add in 1/2 cup of the remaining flour, beating until the dough is stiff, about 2 minutes. Work in the remaining flour. You want to get it to the point that the dough is no longer super-sticky, but is still elastic. It should stick to your fingers a little, but it should not stick in big, can't-get-this-damn-stuff-off globs.

Spray a large bowl with nonstick spray; put the dough in the bowl. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and let the dough rise in a warm spot (not the oven or the stovetop) until it doubles in size, about an hour.

Divide the dough in half. If you're going to freeze, wrap the portions separately in oiled plastic wrap and pop them in a Ziploc.

If you're making pizza, roll or stretch the dough into the desired shape. Mine, since I'm worthless with a rolling pin, is usually a one-celled organism shape (amoeba, paramecium, whatever). Some may call it a drastic move, but I found that marrying the kitchen-talented grandson of a pastry chef relieved me of ever having to worry about it.

DO NOT use flour on the baking surface (pizza stone, cookie sheet, whatever). Flour burns at this temperature and it smells just awful. Blech. Use cornmeal instead.

Bake for 4 minutes at 450. This firms up the crust so that it doesn't soak up all the sauce while it's raw and bake up mushy. Top with sauce, veggies, meat, cheese, whatever. Pop back in the oven for another 6 minutes or so.

And get an enthusiastic six-year-old to help you if at all possible. Pizza is way fun to make and is absolutely age-appropriate for spooning on the sauce and arranging toppings.

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