City pizza in my country kitchen

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I was raised in or near the city where a good pizza was available just about any time of the day or night.  When I moved to Bandera, I realized that my days of 24/7 pizzas had to come to an end.  I do admit that sometimes the late-night pizza commercials make me want to cry.   Real tears.  Really.

I tried the frozen pizza options and while sure – they worked for a while, there were still times (usually at 2 a.m.) where I really wished I had a hot, fresh pizza.

One day I was getting ready to pay $30 for a pizza that, while freshly made at our local pizzaria, just didn’t quite scratch that itch.  I decided it was “good and time” that I started to make my own pizza.  This process may seem to be a lot of work, but this recipe makes enough toppings for 2 pizzas at a good 12” each.   And let me tell y’all – 2 slices of this pizza will fill the hungriest person.  One pizza makes two very filling meals.

This is how you, too, can have fresh piping hot pizzas that will rival the best pies in town.

Ingredient lists:

Dough ingredients:

  • 3.5 to 4 cups of flour
  • 1.5 cups of water
  • 1 package of yeast (active, dry)
  • ½ teaspoon of salt
  • 2 tablespoons of olive oil set aside; extra for working dough and greasing the  bowl.
  • One pinch of sugar.

Pizza sauce ingredients:

  • Italian seasoning
  • Cheap parmesan cheese in a shaker
  • Garlic powder (not salt)
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 small can tomato paste
  • 1 small can tomato sauce
  • 1 pinch of brown sugar

Pizza toppings ideas:

  • One onion, sliced into thin slices.
  • 1/2 pound hamburger meat.
  • 1/2 pound Italian sausage (we used mild)
  • Canadian bacon – rinds cut off, sliced or torn into bite-sized pieces
  • Pepperoni slices
  • Italian seasoning
  • Garlic powder
  • Cheap parmesan cheese powder
  • Salt and pepper
  • Any veggies you like – such as red and green peppers, olives, fresh tomatoes chopped and patted dry with a paper towel, etc.
  • Cheeses:  mozzarella,  cheddar, feta.  For this pizza I used mozzarella and cheddar and Parmesan.

Here is a quick list of the dance steps, the order we’ll take to make the pizzas:

  • Proof yeast
  • Mix dough
  • Proof dough
  • Cook ingredients while dough is proofing, set aside
  • Form crust
  • Cover crust with sauce and toppings
  • Bake
  • Eat until you can eat no longer.
  • Stare at the pizza wistfully wishing you had more room.
  • Fall asleep on the couch.

Note:  the last three steps are VERY important; do not skip them.

Preparing the dough:

Proofing your yeast; always make sure your workers are ready to work!

Any time you are going to be making a yeast-type dough, you always want to proof your yeast.  What this means is that you are going to prove that your yeast is alive and working before you start the dough.  You do this by putting the yeast granules into warm water with a little food (in this case sugar) to activate them.

Measure out very warm but not hot water.  The temperature should be about 100 degrees.   You can test the heat by hand; the water should be much warmer than your skin, but not hot.

Word to the wise:  do not be like me and think you are so smart that you can use any amount of water unless you’re already experienced at dough-making.  When I was Miss Smarty Pants, my yeast did not work and then I thought “Um, how much water was that again?”

Use the pre-set amount of water just in case your yeast fail to work; that way when you dump your yeast concoction out, you know how much water you need to replace.

Feed your workers; yeast like warmth and a good meal.

Place a pinch of sugar into the 1/4 cup of water; the yeast organisms have been sleeping and they are hungry.

Empty the package of active dry yeast into the cup and wait about 5 minutes.  During this time the yeast pellets should dissolve; the yeast organisms awaken, eat, and create foam.  The foam may be just slight, but it should be there.  If no foam appears, your yeast might be expired in date or in life.  If so, just try another package in a new quarter cup of water.

Preparing your dough – the messy but fun part

In a large bowl, mix 2 cups of flour and the salt.  Add the olive oil and the rest of the water and stir well.  The dough should be gloppy (the official word for it, I am sure) and soft.  Once your yeast has proofed, add the yeast-water into the dough.  Add more flour very gradually until the dough is slightly stiff.

At this point your dough might still be sticky and wet; that is fine.  You are going to work more of the flour into it by kneading.

Work it, baby!

Flour a board lightly.  Dump your dough onto the board and get ready to get messy!  I love this part best of all.  I do know that you can use a dough hook and a machine for this part, but I really believe that you get the best feel of how dough is progressing by doing this hands-on!

Knead the pizza dough, gradually bringing in the flour that is left over from the ingredients.  The amount of flour that your dough accepts depends on the environment.  In the winter or low humidity, you will not be able to incorporate as much flour as you can in a humid and/or warm environment.

You can tell with your hands and fingers how much dough to use.  If the dough is sticky, add some sprinkles of flour to the board and on top of the dough and work it in.  You may think that your dough is fine, but press into it with your fingers and you will be able to tell if it is still a bit wet.

There is no need to fear the kneading process

Kneading used to terrify me.  “How am I going to do that – I’ve never seen anyone do it, I wasn’t raised doing this?”  However, I think you’ll be surprised how simple and comforting kneading can be.  Start with your ball of dough on your board.  With your palms down, place the balls of your palms into the bread.  Then just lean your weight into the bread and sort of smear it forwards.  If the bread feels sticky to your palms, sprinkle with a little flour as if you were powdering with sugar.

Turn your dough one-quarter turn to your right, fold the dough over itself, and repeat the palm-smear once or twice.  Feel the dough’s wetness and adjust with flour as needed.  Turn the dough one-quarter turn and smear.

How long do you need to knead?

Keep kneading and adding slight amounts of flour until you feel you have incorporated as much of the flour as you can and your dough is smooth and silky.  I try to knead the dough for the better part of 10 minutes.  If the dough is sticky, I continue to knead.  If the dough is silky before the 10 minutes is done, I can stop a couple of minutes early.  Roll the edges under your dough to make a pretty ball.

Tuck the dough in for a good rest

Oil the inside of a bowl, preferably one that you can see through.  I like using olive oil for pizza dough.  Go ahead and jump in and use your hands to spread the oil around the bowl leaving a tiny bit spare at the bottom.   Go ahead and keep your hands covered with that lovely oil and pick up your dough ball.  Gently rub the oil over the ball and place it smooth-side-down and spin it in the bowl a little to coat with oil.  Slide it back upright, smooth-side-up, to let the bottom get oiled.  Cover with plastic wrap and set in a warm, draft-free area.

Helpful hint:  placing a piece of tape on the side of the bowl to show how high the dough is at the beginning helps you keep track of how far it has risen.

Another helpful hint: do not try to add tape with oily hands.  I can tell you from experience that this does not work out well.

Turning on the oven light is often enough warmth for your dough.  Put your covered dough in the oven and leave it there for about 20 minutes or until it has doubled, about 40 minutes.  The dough will let you know when it is ready if you use the finger test.  To finger test your dough, put to finger tips into the dough then remove them.

If the dough springs back, it needs more time.  If the dents remain, you are ready to go.

While your dough is resting, prepare your toppings.

Preparing the toppings

Toppings; the meats:

I like to pre-cook all of my toppings.  Simply brown the Italian sausage, making sure to season it well with garlic powder, Italian seasonings, onion powder, whatever you like.  Do the same with hamburger.  Yesterday I used the oil from the Italian sausage crumbles and cooked my hamburger in it; it was divine!

Toppings; the veggies:

For my onions, I use thin slices and then add them to a pan that is hot and has a dash of olive oil in it.  I keep that pan at a medium-low heat and just let the onions sweat and soften in the olive oil.  Season with your herbs at that point before the onions are done.  You can either cook them to where they’re just slightly soft or go ahead and caramelize the onions.  I am convinced that caramelized onions make absolutely everything taste better.

For your veggies like peppers and tomatoes, I do like to toss them in a warm pan – perhaps with the onions – if they take a while to cook.  I also like to cook mushrooms first as they will release a lot of moisture which can make your pizza soggy.  Letting your veggies release their moisture in a pan helps to ensure that your pizza will not be too moist and messy.

I do not cook the pepperoni and other prepared meats such as salami, pre-cooked bacon, etc.  The very slight amount of oils and liquid that comes out of these meats only adds flavor, not sloppiness, to the pie.

Let your toppings cook while you are preparing the sauce.  When they are ready, place them in a paper-towel lined bowl to soak up extra oil.

Preparing the sauce

Empty your small can of tomato paste and of tomato sauce into a bowel.  Add 2 tablespoons of cheap powdered parmesan.  Add about 1 teaspoon of Italian seasoning and a hefty pinch (or two) of garlic powder.  Salt and pepper to taste.  Add one pinch of brown sugar to counteract the acidity of the tomatoes.  Stir and give it a taste test.  Set aside for when you top the crust.

Preparing the crust

Take the dough out and put it back on your board.  Give the dough a couple of good reassuring pats to “punch down” the air.  I like to push the dough down to where it is about 3 inches tall.

Take a plate and use the plate as a cutter to divide the dough into two halves.  Form both halves into balls.  At this point, if you wish, you can lightly oil the outside of one dough, wrap in saran wrap, and put it in the freezer to use later; just thaw, shape, and bake with your toppings.

Oil a pizza pan if you are making a pan pizza.  Place the dough you are going to use and place it in the oiled pan.  Start in the middle and press the dough into a pizza crust shape from the inside outwards.  Use your fingers to lightly press the dough towards the outside, gently stretching the dough into a shape.  Rotate your dough as you go around.  Keeping your hands oiled with olive oil helps this step tremendously and gives the dough such a great flavor!

If the dough wants to spring back really hard – it is okay: let it rest a few minutes and try again.  Sometimes this allows the gluten to relax and the dough to shape more easily.

If you want a nice roll of dough around the outside, then leave a little ridge of dough on the outsides.  Alternately you can flatten the edges out.  You can control how thick or thin the dough will be.

Make one pizza; have one ready any time you have a craving

Remove half of the ingredients and place in little ziplock baggies.  Place all of those baggies into one bigger baggy when they are frozen; that way you will have a “pizza kit” ready with barely any work.  Just thaw your ingredients, shape the crust, top it, and bake!

Toppings, toppings, toppings!

Once you get the dough in the shape you want, rub oil over the entire crust gently – including the crust edges.  Season the entire dough – including the edges – with your Italian seasonings and a sprinkle of cheap parmesan.

Take your pizza sauce and place a blob of it into the center of your pizza.  Use your hands or a wooden spoon to paint the sauce outwards onto your pizza.  Again, sprinkle with the parmesan.

Sprinkle a very thin layer of mozzarella cheese over the sauce.  Add a little of your hamburger and sauce crumbles at this point; their flavor will infuse the sauce.  Sprinkle a little more mozzarella, a little more seasoning, and sprinkle with garlic powder, salt, and pepper.  Add your pepperoni and Canadian bacon slices all over the pizza along with any veggies you choose.

Then sprinkle yet more parmesan, mozzarella, and then some cheddar cheese.  This pizza is not for sissies!

Make sure this last layer of cheese goes over the crust .  The cheese will melt onto the crust and just looks and tastes absolutely fabulous!

Baking your pie

Place the pizza in a 350 degree pre-heated oven.  The amount of time the pizza takes varies.  My pizza took about 30 minutes for the crust on the outside to puff, set, and turn a little golden and lovely.  The outside crust edges will tell you a lot about what it going on under the pizza.  Make sure all of your cheese is melted and lovely.  Remove the pizza and let set for 2-3 minutes.

Slice the pie into halves twice, then get your knife and fork ready; this pizza is really filling and hefty.  I always make the 2-slice bet; I’ve never seen anyone who could eat more than 2 slices, no matter how badly they wanted to eat more.  I win more bets that way!

Here are a few reasons I think you’ll really enjoy this pizza:

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Moving forwards towards happiness

Barbra Schulte wrote this and I read it today in her newsletter: “Did you know that the month of January is named after the Roman god, Janus who symbolizes letting go of things that don’t work and moving forward in productive ways?”

I know that last year meant letting go of a lot of things, things I didn’t ever think that I would or could ever release. But I released them and, in doing so, freed myself.

Think carefully. Are there things in your life that cause you pain, feel like a weight that sometimes is unbearable, or keep you tethered in the past? If so – they’re not going to let you free voluntarily. You yourself have to cut the bonds yourself; sometimes physically, sometimes emotionally, sometimes both.

Don’t be fooled that you can cut them once and they’ll just flit away into the air, either. Once cut, things that stubbornly kept you down will try to continue to do so. Keep pushing them away. If you need help, ask God, ask me to ask God with you, or if your beliefs run differently just talk to me about it – it helps to talk things out. I will stand with you for a better, healthier, happier life.

Isn’t it time to let go, let God, and get free? I highly recommend it. It’s soooo worth it. LET yourself be happy this year.

Love, your friend.

Nat
For more information about Barbra Schulte, please visit her site:  http://barbraschulte.com/  While she writes towards horse people, her methods work for everyone to build a new life, achieving your dreams.

Mediterranean chicken and roasted potatoes

med chicken plated

Bandera, Texas is usually a very warm place; however, this time of the year the winds can pick up and it gets pretty chilly for a Texas town!  After doing a morning’s chores, I decided I wanted something warm, flavorful, and filling but not necessarily fattening.

Today, I knew I had some really nice roma tomatoes from the store that I could not resist, a small package of goat cheese I picked up as a treat, and frozen chicken thawing in the fridge.  I also had potatoes that needed to be used while they were still good, so I decided to make my Mediterranean chicken and roasted potatoes.

Both of these dishes are simply delicious, do well with one another or paired with other sides, and are really very easy to make. They bring color, flavor, and love to your table and will definitely reward you for all of your hard work outside!

Mediterranean chicken and roasted potatoes.

The potatoes:

You will want to do the potatoes first because they cook in two segments at 40 minutes each.

  • 6 medium sized baking potatoes, cut into wedges.
  • 1/4 cup olive oil (I prefer extra-virgin for its fruity flavor)
  • 1/2 cup of water.
  • 3 tablespoons of lemon juice – fresh or bottled.
  • 1 teaspoon of oregano
  • salt and pepper
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced finely.

Preheat your oven to 425 degrees F.  Spray a pan large enough to hold all of your potatoes with a non-cook spray.

Take your washed and dried potatoes and slice them in half lengthwise.  Place the flat side down and cut into half twice and then again twice so that you have evenly-sized wedges.  The closer in size the wedges are width-wise, the more uniformly they will cook.

In a separate container, mix the oil, lemon juice, oregano together.  Add the garlic to the oil mixture and stir well.

Place the potatoes in a deep bowl and salt and pepper them. Toss them around a little to make sure the S&P gets on each of the potatoes.  Then add the oil to the bowl.

Wash your hands thoroughly and then use your hands to mix the potatoes and oil.  Yes, you will smell  like garlic.  If that bothers you, use vanilla extract in  your hand-washing soap when you are done tossing the potatoes.  If that does not bother you, you are like me.  I love garlic, love the smell of it, and I don’t mind getting a sniff of it here and there as I’m cooking!  The more the merrier!

Place the oiled potatoes into the baking pan and pour the water into the bottom of the pan.  This is the secret to roasting potatoes without them becoming dry and sponge-like.  (Don’t tell your friends – let them just imagine you’re a genius.)

Place the potatoes into the oven and set the timer to 40 minutes.  At the end of 40 minutes, stir the potatoes around making sure to spoon the delicious garlic-infused oil/water over the potatoes.  While the first 40 minutes is taking place, you can prep your ingredients for the chicken dish.

When your timer is up and your potatoes are turned and bathed, set the timer for another 40 minutes; use this time to actually cook the chicken dish. The total cook time will be 1 hour and 20 minutes.

Mediterranean Chicken

  • 3-4 chicken breasts, washed and then salted and peppered, cut into halves or thirds.
  • 6 roma tomatoes – diced into pieces around 1/2″
  • 1 tablespoon of capers, drained and rinsed
  • I small can of black olives, sliced (or slice your own)
  • 2 tablespoons of lemon juice – fresh or otherwise
  • half a small onion, sliced thinly
  • Worchestershire sauce – 1 tablespoon
  • Garlic powder
  • Olive oil
  • 2-3 pats of butter.
  • Fresh goat cheese crumbles

I’m going to go on a cooking rant – I can just feel it bubbling up inside of me, so buckle up because here we go.  Cast Iron.  No, no, no – I know – they’re heavy, they’re confusing sometimes, they don’t have the ever beloved teflon non-stick that people are convinced they MUST have – but really…. if you can just try one nice big cast iron pan, I promise that you will hear angels sing, see fireworks, and ask it to marry you.

OK maybe I’m exaggerating a wee bit.  But seriously – a well-seasoned cast iron pan will rock your world and your cooking and even clean up time!  If you’re new to cast iron pans, I’ll post an article about how to choose, use, and enjoy them.

So – no matter what pan you choose (subliminal messaging:  cast iron) you will want to heat the pan to medium/medium-hot.  If you use stainless, I sometimes use a simple non-stick spray to help clean up.  Once the pan is good and warm, add your oil and let it heat.

While the oil is heating, combine all of your other ingredients except for half of the onions and all of the lemon juice into a bowl and let them meet each other.  Toss in your seasoning, give them a little stir so that they’re mingling and getting happy, then get  ready to do more with your chicken.

Vegetables: Mediterranean chicken

Vegetables: Mediterranean chicken

Eat at least 2 olives and pretend that you’re doing quality control on the way.  Don’t tell anyone you did it – deny it vehemently if anyone suspects anything!

Note, in this case I used green olives because we had a party and ate all of the black olives.  Oops!  I really cannot resist olives!

Gently nestle the seasoned chicken breasts into the olive oil.  I really believe the care you give to the food you’re cooking and the fun you let yourself have comes out in the quality at the end.  Enjoy the process!  Listen to them sizzle as they hit the pan.  Give them a little bit of a wiggle so that the oil gets under them and they stick a little less.  Then let them be for a bit.

You want the one side of the chicken to sear a bit.  You don’t want to micromanage the food, poking it, looking at it, moving it around; you’ll anger it and it’ll decide it wants to ruin your dinner party.  Let it just rest until the one side is at least white (not pink), and preferably has a little color to it – just a bit.

If you’re impatient and you really just cannot resist doing something to it, show it some love by putting some more seasonings on the top side.

Once the chicken is ready on one side, go ahead and flip it over to give the other side some color.

chicken and onions

At this point I added the reserved half of the onions to the skillet to start to pick up some color and caramelize a bit.  To me, there are few flavors that really make a dish as interesting as caramelized onions.  Cook until the chicken breasts are nearly cooked about 10 minutes.

Chicken browning, veggies are on standby.

Chicken browning, veggies are on standby.

Once the onions have picked up color and the chicken breasts have as well, dump the tomato mixture into the pan with the chicken.  Stir the tomato mixture around the chicken gently so that the tomatoes and the chicken both have a chance to touch the bottom to continue cooking.

med chicken

Breathe in deeply and enjoy the smells.  Tangy, rich, bright, deep – they’re all there.

med chicken close

Turn down your heat to medium/medium-low so that you don’t cook this too quickly.  The goal is to let the tomatoes cook down and lose their structure, but not to burn them or let them get too mushy.

Go in occasionally and use a spoon to lift up the cooked tomatoes, put them on the chicken, and let the still-uncooked tomatoes get their turn at the bottom of the pan.

Once about half of the tomatoes are cooked down, I turn the chicken over.  Use a spoon to pick up the juices from the tomatoes and bathe the chicken pieces in them.  Take your lemon juice and sprinkle over the top of the chicken pieces, season with a little more salt and pepper – just a little.

When all of the tomatoes are done and the chicken is complete, about 15 minutes, put 2-3 pats of butter into the sauce and stir it in to finish your sauce.  Get your warm plates ready.

For this dish, I put the potatoes on the plate first.  Then you serve the chicken beside it, or on top of the potatoes.  That being said, I think serving them on the side is best because the roasted potatoes keep crisp and you can always drag them over to the tomato sauce to pick up some of the goodies.  Yum!!

Sprinkle a tiny bit of fresh goat cheese crumbles on top of the chicken.  Then be sure to eat some of the extra goat cheese because it is Just That Good!!

Just look at that.

med chicken plated 2

This is a dish that is piquant, warm, so easy to cook, and very pretty with its reds and greens topping the beautiful golden chicken.  Be sure to share it with friends and family.

med chicken plated for 2

Enjoy!!

Poooor PonySue

Well I have to apologize for not posting for a bit.  PonySue got a good taste of “Why You Don’t Mess with Hormonal Mares 101” and got the ever loving stuffing stomped out of him – and his pride.

Frankly, fear not – the latter was hurt worst.  Here’s the short tale of what happened:

Center stage: cute fat little mini-horse grazing with now-pretty-darn-fat pregnant paint horse mare.  Fat dumping decides he’s going to play with a soccer ball, located on the other side of the fence.  Owner walks out and sees the chubby one reaching through the fence to get the soccer ball.

I mean, how cute is that?  Of course I had to call Chris out to see.

By the time Chris got there, Kat (aforementioned preggers mare) had walked up to see what was happening.  Unfortunately, PonySue had no intentions of sharing the soccer ball and did his trademarked 100-kicks-a-minute move while walking backwards at her.

Having been the recipient of that move – I know exactly what she got mad and decided that she had enough.  She took after him and kicked him a good resounding hit on his side.  He was fine, walking off (quickly – note) so I turned around to tell Chris what he had missed with the soccer ball.

When I turn around, I saw Kat on TOP of PonySue (who was on his back fighting for his life) just giving him everything she had with every hoof and with her mouth.  Wow!

After screaming like a teenaged girl in a 50s horror film, I ran towards them but the fight had broken up and PonySue was trotting off. Kat was going to go for more, but Mighty Jo walked in between them and gave Kat the proverbial “stink eye” which said “do it, and you have to go through me”. 

Needless to say he was sore.  Stranger yet, his attitude just hasn’t really bounced back.  I wanted to make sure that he gets good and healed up before I start asking anything of him, which should be this coming week or two.  He was NOT a happy boy, but it seems like his ego is intact and back in action so there should be more PonySue tales coming up.

In the mean time, Kat is out for her pregnancy except for some groundwork which I will be glad to share when it occurs.

However, it looks like we’ll have a new pretty face around here soon – a certain Flash (who in my mind has already earned at least a half dozen dorky nicknames which to protect what little dignity I have left I’ll just keep to myself thank you) will be joining us here shortly.

Flash is a 5-year-old sorrel gelding, Investor and Impressive bloodlines on top – Two Eyed Jack from a gorgeous buckskin mare on the bottom.  He’s unregistered but for what I think he’ll do papers won’t be necessary.  This is a stout 15 hh horse that I think can go in just about any direction he or I want: roping, reining are a definite “yes”, perhaps a little cutting (which The Investor actually was a point and NCHA money earner; not just a pretty face).  He could well be a poles horse, maybe barrels.  Definitely we’ll be taking a look at making him an all-around SHOT type stock horse. This could be exciting.  He’s too smart for his own good which will definitely make it fun for me.  Barely green broke, he’s had a rider but not a lot of work – just a lot of love and groceries from  his previous family.  So now we’ll be welcoming him here into our family – and onto the blog.

More later – including pictures of the new boy in town.