Saturday, March 19, 2011

Thankful For Pizza

Each year, Ryan and I like to make something unconventional for Thanksgiving and/or Christmas dinner. It's kind of the perk of not spending the holidays with family - you have more control over the menu. This year, we made pizza. As it turns out, having both of us prepare a meal together doesn't make for too many cooks in the kitchen, which is lovely.

I'm not a mother but I suspect that most parents want to put the best food possible into their children but also have to accommodate kids picky pallets. I've never known a kid (or adult really) who didn't like pizza. Of course, when you think of it, pizza is generally perceived as some greasy, cheese-filled dough with too much oil and sodium and not enough good stuff for your body.

Start with a wheat crust. Ryan is quickly becoming a dough expert so this is his very simple and very good pie crust recipe.

3/4 C Wheat Flour
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. sugar
1/2 tsp. yeast
1/2 C water
4 tsp. oil

1. Sift together flour, salt, sugar, and yeast. Once sifted, make a well or hole in the middle of your mixing bowl and pour water into it.
2. Mix and fold with your hands until it's just sticking together. Use a little oil to coat your dough. When putting back into the bowl, pour the remaining oil over + a little bit more water.
3. Let dough rise to your liking (1 hour - 24 hours). If you want it fairly dense, let rise for a shorter period of time. (We usually stick with 1-2 hours).

Once your dough is complete, pull it out of the bowl and mold into your pizza shape with your fingers (it really doesn't need a rolling pin). Add home-made or store-bought tomato sauce (now you know why I make it in bulk). Add whatever toppings you want. I like to keep shredded chicken in the fridge so we usually use that and whatever veggies we have around: broccoli, onion, peppers, tomatoes, spinach, jalapenos, etc., etc., etc.
Cheese is where the health end gets dicey. In all honesty, you can stop here. Believe me, with the style of pizza and all the vegetables, you won't miss the cheese. If you do want it though, feel free to pile it on either before or after the veggies.
Bake your pizza at 425 degrees for 10-15 minutes.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Chicken Parm: Not From Jersey

Ryan and I got engaged about a week and a half ago. Our wedding is planned for October 2012 which is a ways out but we're planning our nuptials to take place in Italy. We've been learning to speak the language which pretty much makes us cultured and fascinating people. Come to find out that Italian much more poetic sounding than The Sopranos makes it out to be, although that could just be because we're learning it without a thick New Jersey accent.

I told Ry that I'd learn to make some classic Italian dishes and the first one I tried was chicken Parmesan (or "chicken parm" as Carmela Soprano says it). I started by doing a little research because I wanted to make it like the Italians do. What I learned is that, like pizza, chicken parm differs by region. In it's infancy it was called parmigiana and made with things like portabello mushrooms or eggplant. Leave it to the Southern Italians to make something hearty out of just vegetables. The Southern Italians continue to use earthy vegetables instead of meat for this dish. The breaded meat cutlets that we traditionally think of was popularized in countries other than Italy but where there was a lot of Italian immigration. Essentially the dish consists of chicken, tomato sauce, and cheese. Obviously there are other elements but that's the basic makeup of it.


2 Boneless Skinless Chicken Breasts
4 Tblsp. good olive oil
Fresh Thyme
Fresh Rosemary
Fresh Oregano
Tomato Sauce (see below)
Shredded Parmesan Cheese
Bread Crumbs

1. Preheat oven to about 400 degrees. Remove leaves from fresh herbs and mix them in with the oil. Put chicken and oil in a Ziploc bag and make sure the chicken is well coated with both oil and herbs.

2. Combine bread crumbs, salt, and pepper. Dredge chicken through, making sure both sides are coated.

3. Place chicken in an oiled, preheated skillet. Sear on both sides and place on a baking sheet. Put in oven and back for approx. 20 minutes.

4. Pull out of the oven and smoother with tomato sauce and Parmesan cheese. Place back in oven for 5-10 minutes or until cheese is melted and just starting to turn golden brown.

My humble opinion is that no matter what you're making, the sauce is the most important element. If your sauce sucks, your meal sucks. End of story. I've become a big fan of concocting sauces although in my kitchen, it's a time-consuming project as I don't own a food processor. So, instead I spend a lot of time chopping until all the elements are properly minced. A basic tomato sauce is pretty simple as long as you don't over-salt it, which is easy to do. A few tips for tomato sauce:

  • Make sure your pan has oil and is hot before you put anything else into it.
  • Once your pan is hot, put your garlic in first and only let it be in by itself for about 20-30 seconds until you add the tomatoes. This allows the garlic to release that savory flavor that everyone is so fond of.
  • Tomato sauce needs sugar. Not a lot but definitely some. Without sugar, it will always taste like it's missing something.
  • It's near impossible to put in too many fresh herbs. Believe me, I've tried.
  • Less is more. Don't get caught up with adding a bunch of spices. Too many ingredients will make the flavor muddy. I generally stick with tomato, garlic, oil, salt, pepper and whatever fresh herbs I'm feeling like that day.

I like to make sauces in bulk, especially ones that I use a lot, like tomato sauce. Once created, you can freeze it for up to a year. However, if you don't have the time or patience to dedicate to homemade tomato, you can purchase some and add your own flavors to it or use marinara sauce from the store.