Makin’ a Pizza!

The Cokes are pizza lovers; but, because I’m also super conscious about the food we eat (read: Weight Watchers brainwashed me forever…) we don’t indulge in pizza very often.  Twice a month, always on a Saturday night, we’ll make our own deep dish pizza at home.
I like eating out, but I love eating in.  I love eating in when it’s a meal we’ve spent time perfecting; when we’ve created something that we truly do love because it has our favorite spices, flavors, etc.  And after a few years of experimenting, we have become the Pizza Masters.
It started off as a basic supreme pizza on a hand-tossed crust, and evolved into the deep dish vegetarian monster we have today.  I’m going to share the foundation for our recipe with you, but first, I thought I’d share a funny pizza story.  That’s what you’re really here for anyway, right?
Now, there are two funny pizza stories I could tell you.  The first involves Evan making the sauce, and consequently causing all of our taste buds to melt in a Mount Vesuvius frenzy of cracked red pepper.  The second involves Evan…well…makin’ a pizza.  Because I have a few sauce recipes I’ll be sharing down the road, I think I’ll save the cracked red pepper tale, and go with what’s behind door number two (lifetime supply of Turtle Wax!) 🙂
Evan asked me to marry him in August 2004, and two months later, we went on our first vacation together to Bryson City, NC (a combo engagement-birthday-Kristin is FINALLY 21-trip)…and PS, the “Kristin is FINALLY 21” is also a story to share…maybe I’ll do a wine post one of these days.
I digress.  In this early-ish stage of our relationship, we weren’t living together yet (we became heathens the following year) but we did spend most of our time together, and had started cooking dinner together as well.  One of the meals we’d done was, in fact, pizza.  We get our pizza dough in the Publix bakery…their fresh dough is fabulous, and waaay easier than making it yourself.  Back then, we were still in our “hand-tossed” phase, which meant lots of stretching, pulling, rolling, and yes, tossing the pizza dough into the air.
Back to vacation.  We’d arrived at our cabin after a 12 hour drive.  We were definitely ready for some R&R.  Evan decided to take a shower while I unpacked.  I made a few trips to the truck, bringing in bags and cleaning out the remains of our road trip, and each time I came into the bedroom I could hear Evan talking.  Now, I talk to myself frequently, so I thought nothing of it to hear Ev in there, scrubbing away and yammering on.  I tuned him out.
Finally, I brought the last suitcase to the bedroom, and began putting clothes away in the armoire.  My ears perked up as I heard what I thought was a jolly Italian man – in our bathroom.  I slowly opened the door, and tiptoed inside.  I stood there, staring at the shower curtain, positive the noise I’d heard was coming from that direction.  All of a sudden, the washcloth came flying up into the air above the shower, then sailed back down.  “Well that’s a very strange way to shower”, I thought to myself.  It happened a couple more times in silence, and then, I heard my jolly Italian man…
“I’M-AH MAKIN-AH PIZZA!”  (washcloth up, washcloth down)
Excuse me?  Did you say what I think you said?
“I’M-AH MAKIN-AH PIZZA!!!”  (washcloth up, washcloth down)
Oh yes, he did.  He said exactly what I think he said.
I stood in the bathroom, in awe and disbelief, as my fiancee of two months tossed “pizza dough” into the air while he showered.  I was in love!
From that day forward, every single pizza night in our house has started with the phrase, “I’m-ah makin-ah pizza!”  It’s the kitchen equivalent of, “Gentlemen, start your engines!”
I’m sure my husband will be thrilled to know I’ve shared this story with you all.  Coincidentally, it was shared today in the same manner it’s been shared in the past – after two glasses of shiraz. 🙂 And now, because you’ve been so patient, here’s how the Cokes do pizza…
Deeeep Dish Pizza
Pizza dough (no recipe, I’m lazy – go to the Publix bakery)
One jar of Barilla Arrabiata pasta sauce (still lazy – also, sauce story and recipe to follow)
One 16 oz. block of Sorrento whole milk mozzarella
Olive Oil (no measuring)  Hint: I am in l-o-v-e with the Crisco Olive Oil spray (like Pam, but better)
Parmesan Cheese (no measuring)
Italian Seasoning (you get the idea…)
Preheat your oven according to the Publix directions.  Drizzle or spray your olive oil in a 9×9 pan.  Sprinkle parmesan cheese and Italian seasoning in the bottom of the pan, liberally.  Really liberally.  Then, when you think you have enough…add more parm.  Trust me, the crust will be fab.  Work your dough (punch, knead, stretch, whisper sweet nothings) into the pan, and bake for about 10 minutes.  While the dough is baking, prepare your toppings and shred the entire block of mozzarella cheese.
Once the dough is out (won’t be done, but this helps to ensure it won’t be raw in the middle) pour your sauce on top…all over, there’s no crust, so we don’t need to be polite.  Once the dough is sauced (like me – haha!) sprinkle one third of the cheese on top, then add all your toppings, and finish with the remainder of the cheese.  Sprinkle some parsley on top, and toss that puppy back in the oven for another 20-25 minutes.  You’ll know it’s done when it’s oozing over the side of the pan, sizzling in the bottom of your oven.  We always let our pizza rest about five minutes before slicing.
Vegeterian Monster Toppings
We don’t do sausage, pepperoni, ham, etc. on our pizza (anymore…sorry, Ev!).  We’re a veggie-only household now.  Our faves?  In no particular order…Roma tomatoes, green pepers, Vidalia onion, portabello mushrooms, black olives, zucchini, yellow squash, broccoli and cauliflower, along with some fresh basil.  And sometimes, some spinach.  You should see the mess in the bottom of my oven!

Cheers! 🙂

Leftover Peanut Butter and Overripe Bananas

In our open-concept kitchen pantry (read: no doors or cabinets – totally open, and beautifully constructed by my hubby) we have what’s called a “baking basket.”  Let me see if I can find a photo…
There…top left corner, that’s the baking basket!
 Of course I have to show off a little bit more…
Have I mentioned how awesome it is being married to a handyman?  This also reminds me I should update the rest of our remodeling photos, now that the construction is finished.
Anyway, back to the basket.  So this baking basket holds exactly what you’d think: sprinkles, coconut flakes, chocolate chips, brown sugar, pecans…everything I need for holidays, birthdays and special occasions.  It gets used pretty frequently from October through December, then again from March through May.  After that, there comes a lull in baking.  But, in good Southern spirit (and with my mom’s voice in the background reminding me that I should never waste anything) I’ll haul that sucker down and take a peek at what’s inside.  And that, my friends, is how many of my husband’s all-time favorite cookie recipes are born.
Since “Baking Basket Day” began a few years ago, we’ve had some really tasty treats come out of this oven…all in oatmeal cookie form.  So today, I thought I’d share the coveted basic oatmeal cookie recipe that all my BBD wonders are made of…
Basic Oatmeal Cookies
1 cup light brown sugar
1 cup dark brown sugar
2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 cups rolled oats (aka “quick cooking” oats, in the oatmeal section)
2 cups all-purpose flour (wheat flour works, too)
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
Directions: Preheat your oven to 375 degrees.  In a medium bowl, combine the salt, baking powder, baking soda and flour.  Using a hand mixer in a medium bowl, or a stand mixer, cream together the butter, white and brown sugars, then add the eggs one at a time, then add the vanilla extract.  Add the sugar mixture to the flour mixture, stir together, then add your quick cooking oats.  Add your favorite baking basket goodies.  Scoop by tablespoon onto a greased baking pan, then bake for 8-12 minutes, depending on whether you like chewy (8ish minutes) or cripsy (12ish minutes) cookies.
So, what can you add to a baking basket oatmeal cookie?  Well, here are the ingredients I’ve added to the basic recipe in the past:
Coco-Choco Oatmeal Cookies: Added the rest of a bag of coconut flakes (I’ll guess a bit more than 3/4 full) along with half a bag of large semi-sweet chocolate chips, and a full bag of mini semi-sweet chocolate chips, along with a dash of pumpkin pie spice.  Yes, pumpkin pie spice…it’s a super lazy way to get all my fave spices in one shake!
Triple Chipperdoodles: Decent amount of white chocolate, semi-sweet chocolate and butterscotch chips, two teaspoons of cinnamon, a dash of nutmeg and a dash of allspice (note: I am a big fan of allspice).
Graceland Oatmeal Cookie: Two very ripe mashed bananas, half a jar of chunky peanut butter, a bag of jumbo semi-sweet chocolate chips and half a bag of walnuts (crushed) and I’m certain some allspice…just a tad.
You may notice there are no real measurements to the basket ingredients…and that’s because I am literally cleaning out the basket.  So, whatever half-empty bags of chips, flakes, sprinkles, etc., are in there, go into the cookie.  It’s really about feeling the cookie; getting that cookie vibe, knowing whether it needs coconut or peanut butter.  Is it a sweet little butterscotch cookie, or a ticked off ginger cookie?  Dark chocolate, or white chocolate?  Where are my dried cranberries?  And just how many chocolate chips is my husband going to think I didn’t see him eat?!
BBD has taught me which spices I love (cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, allspice, cloves) and which I hate (okay, none…).  It’s an awesome way to get creative, come up with a recipe of your very own, and really understand how flavors can work together.
If my mom is reading this (as she should be…) she’s probably surprised I shared a recipe.  Normally, I won’t share the true recipe; I always omit something, or change a measurement (I know, I know).  I’m pretty big on keeping family secrets close to the vest; I usually only share the real-deal recipe with the closest friends, and only when asked repeatedly (also, after bargaining for cat-sitting services or bottles of wine).  But this is one recipe I’m happy to share, because it’s really not mine…it’s yours.  Yours to create something utterly decadent, or totally screw up (stay away from dried apricots).  The choice is yours.
Finally, I’ll share one teensy little baking tip that I’ve found makes cookies and breads even more delicious.  If you come across a recipe (such as the basic oatmeal cookie) that calls for both brown and white sugars…take the white sugar amount, and cut it in half.  Now, add that amount to the brown sugar.  That’s it.  It gives the cookies or bread a warm, sweet, molasses taste, without the super sweet, teeth gritting kick you’ll sometimes get from just plain old white sugar.
And now you know my BBD secrets.  The next time you see a cookie post, rest assured that the inspiration truly was, “what am I supposed to do with three bags of Christmas M&M’s in July?!”
Happy baking!

Blood Loss and Brownies

Preface: I am not a health “nut” per se, but I do pay very close attention to the foods we eat, in the least OCD way I can manage. J

 Every once in a while, I’ll read about something new in the world of healthy living…could be a new workout routine (damn you, Jillian Michaels), a new vitamin supplement, a new vegetable I can add to our “salad in a blender” breakfasts, or a new way of eating (I refuse to call it a diet – Weight Watchers trained me well).  About a year ago, I met one of those “ways of eating” that I knew we just had to try.

 It was going to change our lives.  It would cure Evan’s (undiagnosed) gluten intolerance.  It would help us thwart the (conspiracy theorist’s idea of) government’s control over the nation’s grain industry.  We would sleep better, feel better (after three weeks of the “Atkins Flu”), and look better.  It was a revolution in food…a foodolution, if you will.

 We were going paleo.

 What is Paleolithic eating, you may ask?  Simple, really.  It’s following the same diet as our hunter-gatherer ancestors.  You know, spearing free range, grass fed buffalo; gathering nuts, berries and twigs.  Catching salmon with our bare hands from cool, Alaskan streams.  Did you know Paleolithic man was in better physical health than today’s average man?  Eating all-natural whole foods, protein without chemicals and hormones, and never, ever under any circumstances ingesting dairy (Louis Pasteur wasn’t around back then).  Also, never eating potatoes.  Or legumes.  Or grains of any sort (no flour, wheat, barley, etc.)  No alcohol (gasp!), caffeine or sugar.  Big deal if the average life expectancy was only 34, right?  They were in rockin’ good shape!  Probably from being chased down by mountain lions, setting up camps and literally fighting to survive.  Sort of like a trip to Publix on a Saturday morning when the Apron’s lady is prepping the “meal of the week.”  I know that I always seem to find myself surrounded by ravenous senior citizens on those days.

 Fruits and veggies: If you can eat it raw, it fits (hence no potatoes or legumes).

Meat: If you can catch it, you can eat it.  I’m looking at you, annoying raccoon who won’t stop sneaking through the pet door and drinking out of our pool every night…

 So, paleo we went; albeit my husband, begrudgingly so.

 For a few weeks we did lots of fish, free range chicken and organic veggies.  With veggies on the side.  Topped with veggies.  And veggies for dessert.  Oh, and some fruit.  I’ll admit, I lost three pounds and wanted to keep on…but that little voice inside me kept telling me there was no stinkin’ way I could keep this up.

 Southerners, imagine a life with no baking or starches.  No cornbread, no biscuits, no cakes, no cookies.  No chicken ‘n dumplings, no chicken pot pie, no shepherd’s pie (gosh, we love pie for dinner, huh?), no baked potato with your steak. 

 Others, imagine a life with no coffee (gasp!) or wine (double gasp!) or ice cream (faint!)

 Oh yeah, it was exactly as much fun as you think it was.  By the way, we had also taken on the challenge of P90X at the time (oh, that will be its own post, trust me).

 After spending the better part of an afternoon at work totally goofing off and reading paleo blogs, I found the solution to my weakening fortitude – PALEO BROWNIES!  Yes!  Finally, I could bake something besides tilapia and cauliflower.  I was stoked.

 Evan took me to Mother Earth so I could get the necessary supplies: coconut oil, walnuts (LOTS of walnuts), eggs, unsweetened cocoa squares (80% caocao?  Something like that), and some other items that are still hiding in the back of my pantry.  Now, the recipe called for zero flour, zero sugar, and zero butter.  But I would not be deterred.  I was baking brownies, and because baking is one of my many talents, I knew they would be awesome.

 We got home, and immediately went to work.  By now, you might be wondering how you can have a brownie with no flour.  Well, in the paleo world, it’s rather simple.  You grind two pounds of walnuts in your food processor until they turn into nut butter (yes, you read that correctly) then you mix everything in with it.  Seriously.

 So, Evan processed the walnuts into oblivion while I finely chopped the dark chocolate squares.  Normally when I bake, I have a glass of wine.  But, this is restricted on the paleo diet, so I’m blaming this injury completely on the lack of fermented grapes in my kitchen at the time.

 I was on my very last square when it happened.  My knife skills have slowly improved, but in my famished-brownie-craving state, I slipped.  The 7” Santoku slipped off the chocolate, and into my ring finger.  Blood.  Everywhere.

 Evan quickly grabbed a kitchen towel, and instructed me to apply pressure and hold the gaping wound over my head.  All I could do was stare as blood dripped into my $12 organic dark chocolate squares.  I finally took a good look at the damage I’d done to my finger, and my knees began to buckle.  He slowly guided me to a chair, wrapped my finger, and held my arm up for me.  Because I was nearly catatonic, I stayed in that chair and in that position while he finished the brownies (side note: he finished the brownies at my request…something about not letting the chocolate go to waste…)

 Finally, the brownies were in the oven.  With my arm still draped over the top of my head, my finger throbbing and screaming, cursing me for ever buying things like coconut oil and brussel sprouts, I joined Evan in the living room to watch Jeopardy.  Eventually, the excitement of a “true Daily Double, Alex” took my mind completely off my wounded finger.  I would periodically pay closer attention to the smells coming from the kitchen, waiting for that delicious brownie odor to fill the house.  It never happened, but I was not deterred.

 At last, the timer buzzed…the brownies were done!  Man, I was so excited to have a big old brownie with a glass of…water. And a scoop of…bananas?  But it was still a brownie!

 I won’t lie; they actually looked delicious.  Tall, gooey, dark brown…exactly what I expect to see in a brownie.  We carefully cut them, with no difficulties (probably because of the lack of butter, flower, sugar and milk) and served ourselves our very first paleo baked goods.  Back to the living room for Final Jeopardy.  I hoisted our soon-to-be new favorite dessert to my piehole, and took a great, big bite.

 It. Was. Awful.

 Absolute worst baked good I’ve ever put in my mouth (and I’ve had SPAM cupcakes).  I could taste walnut butter, coconut oil, and that horrific 80% pure cocoa those paleo nuts tried to tell me was “just as good as Ghiradelli!”  LIES.

 I spit it out.  Evan didn’t even try his.  It was that terrible.

 And that was our last day of paleo.  Nearly losing a finger in my craze to have a simple baked good told me one thing…if my body was that starved for something decadent, this was not the “lifestyle change” for us.  And we’ve never looked back.

 Oh sure, I regained the three pounds.  But I also got to eat things like sweet potato soufflé, cornbread, ice cream, Belgian waffles, and cous cous.  I could also have wine and coffee again.  I was finally sane again.

 I know a few folks who stick to the Paleolithic lifestyle, and kudos to them.  But I won’t lie; every time I have a glass of merlot with a giant hunk of brie, a fistful of Pepperidge Farms crackers and a cupful of grapes, part of me cries a little for those people. 

Thanksgiving must be miserable.