Archive for the ‘Recipes’ Category

Homemade pizza made simple

Simple, delicious, homemade cheese pizza is a staple at our house. I hit on the easiest, no-fail way to make and roll out (and transfer — always the trickiest part!) the dough several years ago, and I never looked back.

The first time I attempted homemade pizza…well, let’s just say it didn’t quite work out. And it was years before I tried again. After all, good pizza is just a phone call away, right? Unfortunately, unless you like chain pizza, it’s also at least $20 for great ‘za. Sure, middling pizza can be had for a better price, but making it yourself is both yummy and ultra-affordable.

For me, the essential tools for quick and easy homemade pizza include:

  • a breadmaker
  • a pizza stone
  • a pizza peel
  • and, most importantly, parchment paper

I could certainly make the dough by hand if I didn’t have a breadmaker, but I truly don’t think my sometimes clutzy tendencies would succeed in making palatable pizza without those final three tools.

Homemade cheese pizza

Dough ingredients:

3 cups flour
1 tsp. kosher salt
1 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
3 cloves minced garlic
1 Tbsp. olive oil
1 tsp. active dry yeast
1 cup lukewarm water


Tomato sauce
Mozzarella cheese
Parmesan cheese
Fresh basil

Add all dough ingredients to breadmaker, select the “dough” setting, and then hit “start.” Done. (See? So simple!) Now, go do something fun for awhile.

Once the dough is done (my machine takes just under 90 minutes), preheat your oven to 500 degrees with a pizza stone sitting directly on the oven’s bottom. My pizza stone lives in our oven, actually; I never bother to remove it no matter what I’m baking.

Tip the dough out of the breadmaker ban and, using a bench scraper, cut the it in half. Form each piece into a rough sphere, and place each on one of two 12-inch square pieces of parchment paper on your counter.

Drizzle a bit of olive oil atop each dough round, and using your fingers (poke the dough all over to get it going) and the flat of your palm, flatten the dough out into a 10- to 12-inch circle. Get it quite thin; you’ll quickly find the thickness you like best.

Next, sprinkle the dough with a bit more salt and pepper, then swirl your favorite canned tomato sauce evenly over the top. Cover with grated mozzarella and a bit of grated parmesan.

Also? Please, please don’t use the pre-grated stuff; it’s much more expensive and also uses an anticaking agent, usually cellulose, to reduce stickiness and mold growth. Sound yummy? No. Take the one extra minute to grate a block of cheese and enjoy a much fresher taste.

I like to trim off the parchment paper corners to avoid having them brown and flake off in the oven.

Using a pizza peel (which you can find cheaply at any home or kitchen supply store), slide the first pizza directly onto the pizza stone in your oven. This is where the parchment paper is key; no sticky pizza dough on to the counter, the peel or the pizza stone.

Set a timer for 8 minutes; the pizza is ready once the cheese starts bubble and turn slightly brown.

Let the first pizza cool while you slide the second one in the oven, and then cut fresh basil into ribbons to sprinkle over both finished pies.

Serve to oohs and ahs, but never let on just how easy it all was.

I also make a variation sans sauce with wild mushrooms, or sometimes add prosciutto under the cheese for a salty kicky.

And if you don’t want two pizzas, simply wrap half the dough in plastic and freeze. Pull it out of the freezer an hour or two before use, and it’s ready to go.

If you’ve ever felt too intimidated to make your own pizza from scratch — or failed at the endeavor altogether — grab the necessary tools and give it a(nother) try. You’ll find yourself reaching for pizza coupons and the telephone a lot less often.


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It’s the time of year when folks gather in the kitchen to prepare traditional treats that only appear around the holidays.

For my family, Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without peanut butter balls. Easy, delicious, and quick-to-vanish, it’s the annual treat we never quite get enough of — so we look forward to making them every December.

Peanut Butter Balls

  • 1 1/2 cups creamy peanut butter
  • 1/2 cup butter, softened
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • 4 cups confectioners sugar
  • 1 12-ounce bag semisweet chocolate chips (always keep a second bag on hand, in case I need to melt a smidge more)

Combine peanut butter, butter, and vanilla by hand in a medium bowl, until relatively smooth. Add confectioners sugar, one cup at a time, and stir. As the mixture becomes stiff, switch to combining with your hands. The finished dough will be dry and crumbly, and will take a bit of work to form into small balls.

Shape the dough into balls and line up on wax paper- or parchment-lined baking sheets. My spheres are relatively small; I can fit 40 on one baking sheet, and fill 2 sheets.

Yes, that’s a lot of peanut butter balls. Your friends and family will be thrilled.

Refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Melt chocolate in a microwave safe bowl, watching carefully so chocolate doesn’t scorch.

Remove balls from refrigerator and dip into chocolate, using a spoon to roll and completely cover each peanut butter ball. Some folks prefer using a toothpick and leaving the top of the peanut butter ball bare; hence the often used name “Buckeyes.” Choose your favorite. My family loves chocolate, so the more, erm, the merrier.

Again, place on baking sheet and refrigerate until firm, about 30 minutes.

You can freeze peanut butter balls or store them in the refrigerator. Warning: peanut butter balls left in the fridge tend to disappear faster.

Happy, happy! Merry, merry!

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It may not look pretty on the plate, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t supremely tasty.

Adapted from Not Your Mother’s Slow Cooker Cookbook, this meat loaf recipe is a fantastic way to get dinner on the table with little fuss but lots of flavor.

Meat loaf and potatoes à la slow cooker

Meat loaf:

2 tablespoons olive oil
5 potatoes, scrubbed clean but unpeeled, and cut into 1-inch cubes
3 cloves garlic, minced or grated
1 medium onion, chopped
2 pound ground sirloin
2 eggs, beaten
3/4 cup crushed saltine crackers
3/4 cup ketchup
salt and freshly ground pepper


    3/4 cup ketchup
    1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar
    1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

      Drizzle the bottom of your slow cooker with the olive oil. Add cubed potatoes and toss to coat.

      Combine all meat loaf ingredients in a large bowl and mix thoroughly but gently, taking care not to compact the meat. I like to use a fork, and then switch to my hands once the mixture is fairly well incorporated.

      Shape the mixture into a loaf the same shape as your slow cooker and carefully place atop the bed of potatoes.

      Mix all the topping ingredients together and pour over the meat loaf, using a spatula to cover entire loaf.

      Cook meat loaf on high for one hour, then switch slow cooker to low for 5 to 6 hours. When an instant-read thermometer reads 160°, the meat loaf is done.

      Use a large slotted spoon to serve the meat loaf and potatoes, taking care to let grease at the bottom of the cooker sift through the spoon before plating.

      This is one of those recipes that may be even better served cold the next day as sandwich fixings.

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      A friend of mine calls the soups she concocts from whatever she finds in her kitchen on a particular day “whatchagot” stew. I’m continually inspired by her creativity and the almost always successful culinary outcomes.

      Today for lunch I found myself stumped. Nothing looked good. But a few things from last week’s CSA lingered on the counter and in the crisper — and if I didn’t get to them by tomorrow’s delivery, they’d probably go to waste.

      A quick glance in the freezer uncovered frozen turkey meatballs from Trader Joe’s. That, tossed together with yellow bell pepper, onion, garlic, and cherry tomatoes became a splendid sauce tossed with simple spaghetti noodles.

      Lunch was saved — and I felt accomplished for making up something scrumptious on the fly.

      Whatchagot pasta

      1/2 pound dried spaghetti
      olive oil
      1 yellow bell pepper, diced
      1 yellow onion, diced
      2 cloves garlic, minced
      cherry tomatoes, halved
      frozen turkey meatballs
      1/2 cup reserved pasta water
      salt and pepper to taste
      grated Parmesan cheese for garnish

      But the water on to boil for the spaghetti, and then grab your chef’s knife: roughly dice the bell pepper and onion, mince your garlic, and halve the cherry tomatoes.

      Heat a dollop of olive oil in a large skillet on medium-high. Once the oil is hot, add onion, pepper, and garlic. Season with salt and pepper. Cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the peppers have softened and the onion begins to brown.

      Microwave three or four frozen turkey meatballs (my favorite are from Trader Joe’s), and then roughly chop.

      Add the tomatoes and meatballs to onion and pepper mixture, then lower heat to medium. Stir occasionally while you wait for the pasta to be cooked to al dente.

      Reserve 1/2 a cup of pasta water while draining spaghetti, and then toss noodles into the pan with your sauce. Stir well, letting the pasta soak up the flavor of the sauce. Add pasta water as desired until you get the consistency you like.

      Finish with a dusting of freshly grated Parmesan cheese, and then dig in.

      That’s what I came up with today — who knows what it might be next time.

      I’d love to hear about your latest, greatest “whatchagot” meal.

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      You can take the girl out of the Midwest, but you can’t take the Midwest out of the girl.

      There are some recipes that I never get out of my system. They aren’t fancy or unique. In fact, they’re simple and solid. But I made them when I was young, growing up in Iowa, and they traveled with me to the Pacific Northwest.

      This is one of those easy, tasty, handed-down-by-a-great-aunt recipes that always pops up at family reunions with kids and dogs running circles in the hazy heat while the older folks sit at shade-protected picnic tables and fan themselves.

      Layered bean dip

      16-ounce can refried beans
      1 can bean dip
      16-ounce container sour cream
      1/4 cup mayonnaise
      1 jar Pace chunky salsa
      1-2 cups Shredded cheddar cheese
      tortilla chips

      For the first layer, combine refried beans and bean dip, then smooth along the bottom of a 9X13 pan.

      Next, stir together sour cream and mayonnaise, and carefully smooth out atop beans.

      Top with salsa and finish with shredded cheddar. One important tip: please, please don’t use pre-shredded cheese. It’s never going to taste nearly as good (or feel so nice to your wallet) as a large chunk of cheddar that you shred yourself.

      Think of it as a mini-workout before you dig in with a bowlful of tortilla chips and devour this family-friendly comfort food.

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      Photo by Camilo Rueda López

      Microwave popcorn has been added to the list of things that could, theoretically, cause cancer. Then again, what isn’t on that list these days?

      If you’re even the tiniest bit concerned about the possible dangers lurking in that flat Orville Redenbacher bag, skip it altogether — and save a ton of money in the long run — by making your own microwave popcorn without the bag (and hard-to-pronounce additives and chemicals).

      You can still enjoy the speedy convenience of using your microwave. Simply measure the directed amount of popcorn into a microwave-safe (ceramic or glass) bowl, add a tablespoon or two of oil and a sprinkle of salt, and then top the bowl with a microwave-safe plate or matching glass lid.

      If you’re looking for a slightly different flavor boost, try popping your kernels in olive oil rather than the usual vegetable or canola.

      Punch in 5:00 on your microwave, at high power, and wait for the pop-pop-pop sound of your impending snack shaping up. Remove from microwave once the popping subsides.

      Voilà: An affordable, tasty, healthy whole-grain treat — without the potentially cancer-causing chemicals.

      What came from Netflix today?

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      The rain has returned to Olympia and there’s no better way to hunker down on a drab and drippy day than with a warm bowl of chili.

      Adapted from Cooking Light magazine, this deceptively simple chili is made with absolutely no cutting or chopping of ingredients (except for a spin in the mini food processor for the diced tomatoes, but that’s just because of my personal weirdness about tomato chunks in my chili).

      Think an extraordinary chili needs to simmer for hours? Nope. This simple, no-chop chili tastes like it’s been on the heat for ages, but needs less than 30 minutes.

      No-chop chili

      1 lb. ground beef
      1 (14 ounce) can lower sodium chicken broth
      1 1/2 cups frozen whole-kernel corn
      1 cup bottled salsa
      2 Tablespoons chili powder
      1 Tablespoon sugar
      2 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
      1 1/2 teaspoons dried oregano
      1 (16 ounce) can chili beans, drained
      1 (14.4 ounce) can diced tomatoes undrained

      Brown the ground beef in a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat for 5 minutes or until any pink disappears, stirring occasionally.

      While the meat browns, use a small food processor to process the can of diced tomatoes until smooth. You could buy crushed tomatoes to start with, but I find the flavor brighter with diced (or, even better, whole) canned tomatoes. I always have canned diced tomatoes in bulk in my pantry, so that’s what I use.

      Stir in the chicken broth, then add the remaining ingredients. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and then simmer for 25 minutes, stirring occasionally.

      You really have to try this one to believe it. It tastes like half-day chili, done in just half an hour.

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