When the days are hot and you feel like takeout, I challenge you to stay in and cook anyway.
I realize it’s easy for me to say – I work from the comfort of my home office and my days aren’t packed with meetings and kid pickup. But if we all approached dinnertime with a dash of gratitude for the blessings we have – our family, our friends and good food – then we could make it through what should be the most relaxing hours of our day, though they’re often the most stressful.
If you know me at all, you know I’m completely right brained. Don’t ask me to balance a checkbook, touch a spreadsheet or anything of the sort. We all have different talents. But I do love to cook and work hard, and it’s even better when the two things collide. The reason last week I skipped writing my column was because I chaired the grape leaves committee at St. George Cathedral for the Annual Lebanese Dinner. This labor of love created by my church community has been going strong for 84 years. I wish I could count the pieces of kibba, cabbage rolls and pieces of baklava we’ve served in those years, but I don’t know. I just know a ton of hard work goes into cooking all of that food.
A great team of volunteers rolled, cooked and packaged over 5,500 grape leaves over two days. Yours truly cooked every last pot of those babies. They’re now neatly packaged and in the freezer for the public to purchase on the days of the dinner, but needless to say, I was so engrossed in grape leaves, I forgot to prepare ahead and write a column. Please forgive me. (The dinner, by the way, happens on Oct. 8 and 9 this year.)
I’m so ready for fall, I have to keep myself from driving to the nursery to purchase mums and pumpkins. Summer isn’t my favorite season. Fall really is because of the cooler temperatures, cozy sweaters, braised foods and pumpkin everything. Yes, I fall into that category of people who would eat anything pumpkin flavored. But we’re not there yet, so we better make the best of the rest of these summer days.
Pizza is a fun thing to make either in the oven or on the grill. Kids love helping with rolling out the dough and adding toppings, and it bakes up in a jiffy, so lunch or dinner can be done quickly. You can get really creative with toppings or stick to the old, traditional standbys. This week, I had an overabundance of white peaches. I love peaches, but white peaches are even better. Their sweetness is just unbelievable – that slightly milder peachy flavor coupled with the lighter colored white flesh is irresistible. If you haven’t tried them yet, I’ve seen them at almost every store I’ve been inside recently.
I paired those white peach slices with some prosciutto slices because that salty, savory flavor and chewy texture makes a wonderful contrast to the soft-fleshed peaches. I used olive oil for the “sauce” on this one because I wanted the toppings to shine through. I used fresh basil leaves, too, however they did dry up a bit while I baked it in the oven. Perhaps you can add more fresh basil after it comes out of the oven if you make this one.
Pizza is a fun thing to serve to guests with a nice salad and some wine, and it’s also simple enough to make on a weeknight for your family. I like its versatility. I also love that you can literally forage around your fridge for fun toppings. Sauté mushrooms, onions and peppers. Try artichoke hearts or hearts of palm. Drizzle your slices with a thick, syrupy balsamic vinegar or date syrup to add a touch of sweetness and a fabulous tang. Or stick to pepperoni and sausage, but if you do that, add some fresh oregano.
A few pieces of equipment that come in handy while pizza making: a pizza stone, a pizza paddle and a pizza cutter. It will make for much easier moving, baking and slicing of your pizza. And once you start making them, it’s a little addictive. You’ll want to keep making them, trying new flavors and having your friends over to indulge with you. Don’t hesitate to invest a bit in the equipment. I suggest a round pizza stone, and the most economical one I found on Amazon after a quick search was by Wilton brand and cost about $13. It even had handles, which mine doesn’t.
When using a pizza stone, make sure you put it in the oven before you preheat the oven or it’ll crack. The drastic change in temperature isn’t good for those stones. If you don’t want to purchase any equipment, you can make your pizza on a sheet pan. The stones are great for getting a crisper crust. But this dough makes a nice soft one, so roll it out thinner if you prefer thin crust.
I roll my pizza dough out on my kitchen table and move it to the pizza paddle before adding the toppings. Once the heavy toppings are on top, it’s tough to gracefully move the pizza without reshaping it. Although, I’ve accidentally made heart shaped pizzas before, and I think maybe it even made Randy blush. He might have thought it was on purpose.
Get creative, have some fun and happy quick-meal making. Oh, and don’t forget to sip a little wine while you cook.
My Favorite Pizza Flavors:
- Peach, Prosciutto and basil
- Olive oil, mozzarella, pear, blue cheese and pecan (no red sauce)
- Tomato, basil, garlic and mozzarella
- Italian sausage, mushroom and peppers
- Pesto, chicken, sun dried tomatoes and artichoke hearts
2 ¼ teaspoons yeast (1 packet)
1 teaspoon thin honey
4 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons kosher salt
Add yeast, honey, 1 ½ cups warm water and 1 ¼ cups flour into mixer bowl with the bread hook attachment and mix. Cover the bowl with a cloth and leave in a warm place for about 30 minutes to let the yeast begin to activate.
Add the remaining flour and 1 tablespoon olive oil and mix in until the dough comes together. The dough should be soft and sticky, if not – adjust as needed with water or flour. Add salt and mix thoroughly. Cover and leave the dough for 10 minutes.
Roll or knead out half of the dough into a circle. Move the dough onto a pizza paddle prepared with a bit of flour or corn meal. Add sauce, cheese and desired toppings.
Bake at 425 degrees for 10 to 15 minutes, until crust is golden brown and cheese is melted.