Quick and Easy Pizza

Pizza. It’s a staple at our house, just like many houses with small children. I started making my own dough a few years ago. It really is the tastiest pizza. It’s also the most affordable, and probably the healthiest. When I first started, I used a recipe that required me to leave the dough for two hours to rise. It made fabulous dough, but it also meant that I was often scrambling around for dinner because I’d totally forgotten to make the dough.

Since then, I’ve discovered that while leaving the dough out to rise does make fabulous pizza, it’s not totally necessary. You can mix this dough up in about 20 minutes, pop it straight into the oven, and still have great pizza. If you’re organized, make it an hour earlier and let it rise once and punch it down. But I almost never do.

Pizza dough
Jacob helps with kneading

I’ve included the seasonings I add in this recipe. They’re all optional. Also, I usually don’t measure the amounts exactly, and I work with what I have on hand. Don’t feel that you have to follow my seasoning instructions exactly. Also, you can use white flour, or whole wheat, or some combination. I typically use half and half, because I find that the extra gluten in white flour helps the dough to rise better.

Finished dough
The dough all stretched out and ready for toppings

While I make my own dough, I will confess that I use jarred sauce. If you had your own jarred sauce, you’d really be set. Or you could make something in small quantities. But I am lazy, and this is meant to be an easy, last-minute meal on a Friday evening, so I take the easy way out.

Covered with toppings and ready to bake
Pizza all ready for the oven

If you would like to make your own last-minute dough, here’s my recipe:

Quick and Easy Pizza Dough

Ingredients:
1 cup warm water
1 Tbsp yeast
1 tsp honey
2 1/4 cups flour
1/3 cup oil
1/4 cup parmesan (optional)
1/4 tsp salt (optional)
1/4 tsp pepper (optional)
1/2 tsp garlic powder (optional)
1/2 tsp onion powder (optional)
3/4 tsp oregano (optional)

Yeast proofing

Preparation:
Dissolve the yeast and honey in the water. Set aside for about 10 minutes until the mixture is all bubbly and frothy on top. This is also a good time to preheat your oven to 375F.

Mix the rest of the ingredients together, and add the yeast mixture. Knead for 5-10 minutes, until the dough is smooth and stretchy. This is something you really just have to get a feel for. Spread some oil on your baking sheet, and then stretch out the dough. I make rectangular pizzas on a cookie sheet, because I don’t have a fancy pizza pan.

Add your toppings, and bake in the 375F oven for 15-20 minutes, or until the cheese is bubbly and the dough is golden brown.

Yield: One large pizza.

Maple Walnut Ice Cream

As you may already know, I have an ice cream maker and I use it constantly. Ice cream has always been one of my favourite foods, but now that I make my own I think my diet may be 27% ice cream. Which is really quite a lot of ice cream. But not too much, because there really is no such thing as too much ice cream.

Given my love of making ice cream, it’s really no surprise that many people on my Christmas list will be receiving a frozen confection from me. I’ve made several kinds of ice cream, and even some dairy-free sorbet, for those who swing that way. But my current favourite has got to be maple walnut.

Making maple walnut ice cream
I buy my walnuts pre-chopped, because I’m lazy like that

I got my maple walnut love from my mother and grandfather. I remember them ordering it whenever we went out for ice cream. And it didn’t seem that hard, in theory, so I read a few recipes and then improvised one of my own. I used real maple syrup from Quebec, of course. I suppose you could try artificial, but it doesn’t really seem in keeping with the whole ‘homemade ice cream’ vibe, and it may actually be a violation of Canadian law. We take maple syrup and hockey very seriously. 😉

4 pints of maple walnut
4 pints of maple walnut, in jars and ready to go

Anyways, if you’d like to try some maple walnut of your own, here’s my recipe:

Amber’s Maple Walnut Ice Cream

* This recipe has always been gluten-free!

Ingredients:
2 cups milk
2 1/2 cups cream
1 1/2 cups maple syrup
1/2 Tbsp vanilla
3/4 cups finely chopped walnuts

Finished ice cream

Preparation:
Whisk the milk, cream, syrup and vanilla together until well combined.

Prepare the ice cream following the directions on your ice cream maker. In mine, which is a countertop electrical machine with a freezer bowl, it took about 25 minutes. 5 minutes before the ice cream is finished, add the walnut pieces. Once it’s reached the desired consistency, serve it up and freeze the rest.

Yield: Approximately 2 quarts of ice cream.

I was inspired to write up this recipe by the Christmas Cookie Recipe Swap over at Farmer’s Daughter. Drop by for even more yummy ideas!

Toasted Coconut Ice Cream

Back in March a lovely friend of mine offered me her ice cream machine. She was moving to Toronto, and didn’t want to take it with her. I snapped it up and made my very first ice cream a couple of days later. The verdict? Really good. I have come to love that machine with a passion that’s not entirely reasonable.

Shredded coconut
Shredded coconut, pre-toasting

I eat a lot of ice cream. And I talk a lot about ice cream. In fact, according to the Twitter stats tracker Klout ice cream is my number one topic of influence. A quick peek through my Twitter or Facebook updates, or even through my past blog posts, will confirm my preoccupation with this dessert. Ice cream is my favourite food, hands down.

Coconut, toasted
Shredded coconut, post-toasting

It’s no surprise, then, that I have been making heavy use of my ice cream maker. At least once a week I make a batch. I’ve tried chocolate, mint chocolate chip, pumpkin pie, crème fraîche, chocolate raspberry coconut milk ice cream, chocolate chip cookie dough, peanut butter cup and strawberry. I’ve enjoyed them all. But one of my favourites is my own take on toasted coconut ice cream.

Milk, sugar and vanilla
Milk, sugar and vanilla, all whisked up and ready to go

I got a recipe for coconut ice cream from a Twitter friend, and she got it from the Australian Women’s Weekly Ice Creams and Sorbets cookbook. There is a whole subculture of ice cream lovers who make their own, as I’ve discovered, and we’re only too happy to share our favourites. I liked the ice cream – it was really good. I decided to tweak it for my own kitchen and laziness. I took out the egg yolks and removed the cooking step, I swapped out vanilla bean for vanilla extract, and I toasted the coconut. I’m quite pleased with the results, if I do say so myself.

Finished ice cream
The finished product

I held off on buying my own ice cream maker because I wasn’t sure if I would like it or use it. I can’t tell you how glad I am to discover the joys of making my own ice cream. If I’d known about this, I probably would have bought my own ice cream maker years ago. And so, because I want to contribute to the homemade ice cream subculture, I am sharing my recipe for toasted coconut ice cream with you. Enjoy!

Coconut ice cream with a dollop of chocolate is heaven
Served with some homemade chocolate ice cream on top

Amber’s Toasted Coconut Ice Cream

* This recipe has always been gluten-free!

Ingredients:
2/3 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
1 1/4 cups milk
1 1/2 cups cream
1 400mL / 13.5oz can coconut milk
3/4 cup sugar
2 tsp vanilla

Preparation:
Toast the coconut. To do this, I spread it in a baking dish under the broiler in my oven. Watch out – it toasts fast! On my first try I totally burned the coconut. I found that about 20 seconds under the broiler, one quick stir, and another 20 seconds did the trick. Put the toasted coconut in a bowl in the freezer to chill while you prepare the rest of the ice cream.

Combine the milk, sugar and vanilla in a bowl, and whisk until the sugar has dissolved. This can take a couple of minutes, but it’s necessary because you don’t want gritty ice cream. Once the sugar has dissolved, add the coconut milk and cream and stir to combine.

Prepare the ice cream following the directions on your ice cream maker. In mine, which is a countertop electrical machine with a freezer bowl, it took about 25 minutes. 5 minutes before the ice cream is finished, add the toasted coconut. Once it’s reached the desired consistency, serve it up and freeze the rest. I personally love a bowl of toasted coconut ice cream topped with a little bit of chocolate ice cream. So. Good.

Yield: Approximately 1 1/2 quarts, or 12 servings of 1/2 cup each

Snack Attack

Snacks make the world go ’round when you have little kids. Snacks can diffuse a tense moment or stop a tantrum in its tracks. Hungry kids are grumpy kids, and if you don’t keep feeding them kids can be hungry pretty much most of the time. The conventional wisdom that all of the parenting books share is to keep the fridge stocked with healthy snacks at all times, so that you always have something to feed the grumbling masses. Which totally makes sense, in theory anyway.

I am going to admit that for most of my parenting career I haven’t really been a snack superstar. I relied on breastfeeding to see me through for the longest time. And even after that became insufficient, I somehow didn’t pick up the slack. Muffins aren’t my strong suit, I don’t like most of the widely-available pre-packaged snack foods and I am often pressed for time when I’m heading out the door. I keep lots of fruit and cheese on hand, but I am nowhere like some of the moms I know who always have 5 different options at all times, as well as water, napkins and unbreakable plates.

Processed dates and cashews
Making snacks

It was with some gladness, therefore, that I recently discovered a snack that the kids and I will all eat. It’s loosely based on the Power Bites from Micaela Preston’s book Practically Green, with some modifications of my own to create a chocolate and coconut version. Because I heart chocolate and coconut, especially together. I make a batch, I keep them in the fridge, and when fruit stops hitting the spot I have something ready-made to pull out. I feel like quite the domestic goddess, in fact.

If you would like to attempt to duplicate my snack glory you’re in luck, my recipe is just below this photo.

Finished snacks
Mmm, chocolate and coconut

Amber’s Chocolate Coconut Snacks

* This recipe has always been gluten-free!

Ingredients:
1 cup packed dates, whole or chopped
1/2 cup cashews
1/2 cup coconut
3 Tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder

Preparation:
Put dates and cashews into the food processor, and process until the nuts are broken down into small pieces and the ingredients cling together easily. Add coconut and cocoa, and process briefly to combine.

Form the mixture into balls approximately 1 1/2 inch across. If you want the balls to hold together better, you can refrigerate, but it’s not necessary.

Happy snacking!

Do you have any sure-fire tricks for keeping the children full and happy at all times? I now have one weapon in the war against hunger, but I could certainly use more. Especially of the non-muffin variety.

Chocolate Chip Cookie Monsters

I know a lot of moms who like to make healthy treats. Think muffins with hidden vegetables or mashed chick peas, or cookies sweetened with applesauce. I can see why you would do this, and I respect their efforts to make snack time healthier. I have to confess, though, that I am not one of those moms. Grating carrots or adding tofu on the sly just sounds like a lot of work to me, and thankfully my children will generally eat fruits and veggies and cheese and so on without any subterfuge. If that weren’t the case, I’d be keeping zucchini in my freezer, too, I’m sure.

When I bake I don’t make any particular gestures towards healthy eating. I make treats, which are understood to be such. These are ‘sometimes foods’, and our favourite sometimes food is chocolate chip cookies. I have made these so many times I have long since given up using a recipe, or for that matter much in the way of measuring cups. I can whip up my chocolate chip cookie recipe by feel wearing a blindfold, more or less.

Cookie dough close-up

I think the secret to delicious chocolate chip cookies is not to overthink them. Use few ingredients and don’t get too creative. The perfect chocolate chip cookie is not an artistic creation, it is the simple stuff of childhood, and it is served warm. Or, if you’re like me, eaten in batter form, raw eggs and all.

Cookie close-up

It is a rare occasion when I make cookies without at least one little helper. Although they’re really not any help at all, truth be told, and I spend more time trying to keep them from eating butter like it’s a snack food than we spend in happy bonding moments. I’m sure I was the same way when I was a kid, though, and I remember baking fondly. So cookie creation becomes a family activity, and it drags on and leaves me more than a little frazzled.

Cookies fresh from the oven

The recipe here is based loosely on a recipe off of a bag of chocolate chips. It has been sufficiently modified by me that I feel comfortable calling it my own creation, although it’s hardly original in any way, shape or form. I’ve also created a gluten-free option, which is really very yummy.

Amber’s Chocolate Chip Cookie Recipe

* Gluten-free option

Ingredients:
1 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 1/4 cups yellow or cane sugar
2 eggs
2 tsp vanilla
1 tsp baking soda
2 cups flour – OR – 2 cups gluten-free flour blend + 1 tsp guar or xantham gum
1 1/2 cups chocolate chips (I use semi-sweet)

Making the cookies:
Cream together the butter and sugar, and then add the eggs and vanilla. Beat together until smooth. Add the baking soda and mix well, then add the flour and mix well. Sometimes it can be hard to mix in the flour, and when this happens I use my (clean!) hands. Because, let’s be honest, I am eating generous amounts of the batter anyway, and your hands are better at mixing than a wooden spoon could ever be. Finally, add the chocolate chips and mix one last time.

Drop the batter in balls on the cookie sheet. I like to bake with parchment paper to keep the cookies from sticking, but you can also bake them on an ungreased cookie sheet and they should be fine. I use my hands for this step, too. I’ve found it’s faster just to grab a big hunk of dough and break off small pieces than to try to scoop with a spoon. Make the cookies as large or small as you like, there is no right or wrong here within reason. Bake at 375 F for about 10 minutes.

If you have not made yourself sick eating cookie dough, then now is the time to make yourself sick eating warm cookies. Leave the rest on a cooling rack to, you know, cool. And, if your child likes to ‘help’ like mine, you might want to get out the dustbuster.

Jacob after 'helping' bake cookies

Happy cookie making!

Macaroni and Cheese

I have learned how to cook a few things from memory since I became a mom. Chocolate chip cookies. Chicken nuggets from scratch. The sorts of foods you imagine small children like to eat. So, of course, I’ve also perfected macaroni and cheese.

Although, technically, I don’t even use macaroni. I prefer shell pasta. But it tastes pretty much the same either way so it’s your call. I suppose you could even get really wild and use rigatoni. Or those weird little wagon wheel noodles. I won’t judge you for your pasta preference.

Measuring pasta for mac 'n cheese
Measuring the pasta for this post – the things I do for the blog

The big obstacle to homemade macaroni and cheese (at least for me) is grating all that cheese. And grating isn’t a task you can do one-handed with a fussy baby on your hip. So I have taken to using my food processor’s grater attachment. It does a passable job, and it saves me a lot of time.

I know that some people like to put bread crumbs on top of their mac ‘n cheese. But I melt shredded cheese on top of mine instead. Because the only thing that can improve a plate of cheesy carbohydrates is more cheese.

Mac 'n cheese ready for the oven
Ready for the oven

So without further ado, here is my finely honed recipe for macaroni and cheese. It’s the only kind my 4-year-old will eat. 🙂

Amber’s Mac ‘n Cheese

* Gluten-Free Option

Ingredients:
4 Tbsp salted butter
4 Tbsp flour – OR – gluten-free flour blend
1 Tbsp dry mustard
1 tsp fresh ground black pepper
2 1/2 c milk (I prefer 2%)
5 c grated medium cheddar
2 1/2 c dry pasta (gluten-free pastas work fine, as well)

Making the sauce:
Melt the butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Add the flour and simmer for 2 minutes, stirring regularly. Add the mustard, pepper, and milk, stirring well. Add 2 1/2 cups of the cheese, and set the rest aside for later.

Stirring the sauce regularly (like every minute or two) heat on medium until it’s thickened.

Meanwhile, while the sauce is thickening:

Cook the dry noodles. And drain them. This part is important or your result will be very watery. 😉

When it’s all done, put the pasta and sauce together in a lightly greased 3 qt casserole dish. Cover with the extra grated cheese. Bake uncovered at 375 F.

If you want to eat it right away, put it in the oven for 15 minutes. Or you can refrigerate and heat later, in which case it needs about 30 minutes.

Enjoy!

Yummy carbs and cheese
Yummy carbs and cheese

Banana Bread

There are some recipes that you have to go and shop for. Like if you’re baking a fancy birthday cake, or trying a new ethnic cuisine. You almost certainly will not have everything you need on hand unless you have a much more fully-stocked kitchen than I do.

And then there are other recipes. Recipes you prepare specifically because you have the ingredients on hand. Maybe you even have one or more items that need to be used immediately or sent to the compost bin. I think this is how a lot of soups and stews and casseroles get their start – let’s just throw it all in a pot and hope for the best. I also think this is usually the story behind banana bread.

It’s a shame, really, because I love banana bread. It’s sweet but not too sweet, and slathered with butter it’s heaven. I love to eat it for breakfast myself, justifying the choice because banana is a fruit, and fruit is healthy. Ergo, banana bread is healthy.

But the fact is that you can’t make banana bread with just any banana. You really need a banana just slightly past its prime. A really sweet, mushy banana. The kind you probably don’t want to eat straight. And so banana bread is the refuge of the person who bought too many bananas and is now looking for a good use. Or maybe, like me, you sometimes deliberately buy too many bananas so you will have to make banana bread. Either way, I don’t judge.

I got my own banana bread recipe from my grandmother. She made the best banana bread, and so when I found myself with some overripe bananas as a university student I called her one morning and wrote her recipe down on a piece of paper that I still have. I have tweaked the recipe in the years since. I use whole wheat flour (the better to convince myself it’s healthy) and honey instead of sugar. And instead of the traditional chopped nuts I favour raisins. Although this is purely a matter of personal taste, and recently I have tried hemp hearts as well, and those are perfectly lovely.

Banana bread with raisins
Banana bread warm from the oven

Should you be in search of a banana bread recipe for your own overripe fruit, look no further. Here is my very own favourite banana bread recipe. And the best part? It’s easy to adapt for gluten-free baking, and no one can even tell the difference.

Amber’s Banana Raisin Bread

* Gluten-Free Option

Cream together:
1/2 c butter
1/2 c honey

Add, mixing well:
2 large bananas, mashed
1 egg
1 t baking soda
1 1/2 c whole wheat flour – OR –
1 1/2 c gluten-free flour blend +
3/4 t guar or xantham gum

Optional (add at end):
1/2 c raisins
1/2 c hemp hearts

Pour batter into a lightly greased loaf pan. Bake at 350 F for 45 minutes, or until a knife inserted near the centre comes out clean.

Slice and slather with butter. Remind yourself how healthy it is, being a fruit and all. 😉

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