pizza party

I want you all to put your thinking caps on, use your inside voices, and think back to that blue-industrial carpeted, windowless, cement walled room covered in bulletin boards with cut outs that generically represented whatever season it happened to be. It smells like kids and chalk and old books. You’re in third grade, and sentence conjugation and algebra are a bummer. What was the number one most exciting thing that could ever happen on a school day such as today (besides the school day being cancelled for snow)? What’s the one thing that would awake you from your ‘is-it-recess-yet-slumber’? That’s right: PIZZA PARTY! Usually pizza party day coincided with ‘watch a movie’ day, so basically as soon as you saw this:

ERMEGERD PERRRZEERR

ERMEGERD PERRRZEERR

And this:

ERMAGERD MERVEEERS

ERMAGERD MERVEEERS

Your tiny 8 year old heart was about to explode with joy.

Well, maybe the rest of you have grown up a little more than me, but as far as I’m concerned, anytime I see pizza I still feel like eating it while laying on my stomach on the floor and watching a crummy edited VHS version of The Indian in the Cupboard. (true story). Nowadays, the pizza is the only thing that’s grown up. And the movies. Sometimes.

Making your own pizza at home is super easy, super cheap and super fast. You can seriously make a pizza at home, from scratch, in less time than it would take you to order a pizza and have it delivered by a high school kid who has hit every bump on the way to your house, causing the majority of your pizza toppings to remain firmly attached to the roof of the pizza box.

I started making this pizza crust years ago, and it’s so easy it’s absurd. Like, it’s actually insane to me that everyone doesn’t do this and that people still buy pre-made pizza crust. First, there are only FIVE ingredients (besides water), most of which you probably already have in your cabinets. Second, the crust is this delicious, chewy, wonderful thing when you’re done. Not too thick, not too thin. If you’re one of those people who likes pizza that is essentially a heavily topped cracker, this is not for you. And for those of you who like pizza that was baked in a cake pan and you have to eat with a fork, it’s so thick, this is not for you. But for everyone else – this is our pizza crust.

Homemade Pizza Crust

pizza party crust

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup warm water (110 degrees F)
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 packet of Fleischmann’s pizza crust active dry yeast (2 1/4 tsp)
    (find it in the baking aisle of your grocery store)
  • 3 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 1/2 cups AP flour

Method:

  1. Add the sugar and yeast into the water, stirring until dissolved 
  2. Stir in the olive oil and salt, then the flour, stirring until well combined
  3. Knead the dough very lightly just until a ball of dough forms. Let dough rest in the bowl for 10 minutes.
  4. Pat dough out onto pizza stone or pan into desired shape, 1/4” thick. Top with olive oil, garlic powder and herbs, if desired before topping with ingredients.
  5. Bake at 425 for 15-20 minutes or until done. Let rest five minutes before cutting and serving.
Top it up.

Top it up.

Your ingredients can be whatever you want, but I love a good Greek pizza, and usually just throw together whatever I have on hand at the house. In this case, I topped the dough with a little more olive oil, Italian seasoning and garlic powder, then I put down a sauce that I had frozen from some local tomatoes mixed with some tomato paste. You can just use store-bought pizza sauce – no big deal. Then I topped that with a thin layer of fresh grated Parmigiana Reggiano, low-fat mozzarella, kalamata olives, diced sundried tomatoes, sliced pepperoncini peppers, half an onion, thinly sliced, and most importantly – browned, ground, local, Italian sausage from Windhaven Farms. I used about 1/3 of a pound. Since I’ve got a lot going on there, I bake my pizza for a good 20 minutes. I don’t want the dough to be underdone in the center. Take it out of the oven and let it rest for a few minutes. This will be the hardest part, cause when it comes out it looks like this:

pizza party pizza

And your 8 year old self is going to just want to grab it and stuff it in your face before that greedy kid with the runny nose touches it.

What are your favorite pizza toppings?

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Crock pot chicken

I am about to share with you one of my favorite recipes of all time. Why is it one of my favorites? There are a few reasons:

1. It is easy

2. It cooks in the crock pot

3. It uses lots of fresh, local ingredients

4. You do not have to remember to THAW the food in advance, which I am terrible at

5. It saves you MONEY

I can’t take credit for this recipe – it came from a local farmer who raises chickens and was interviewed in the local paper last year about how she likes to prepare her own local, pasture-raised poultry. This recipe is a very slight variation on her original, but I give all the credit to Alison Wilson of Full Quiver Farms. I knew I had to make this recipe when Julia Child’s 100th birthday came around a few weeks ago, and the infamous taping of her roasting a chicken was inescapable. She was a completely lovable spaz, and I feel certain, based on that footage, that she got salmonella more times than she could remember. But, despite all that, I wanted to make a chicken.

First, you SLAP the chicken!

This is a basic crock-pot chicken. But when done right, it is flavorful, can be used for several meals, and will provide you with nearly 10 cups of fresh, delicious chicken stock. Let’s get started.

As I mentioned above, you do not have to thaw your chicken first, which is possibly my favorite thing about this recipe. It’s so hard to remember to take something out of the freezer in the first place, and then when you get into the realm of poultry, trying to figure out how many hours it needs to thaw based on the pounds….well, that’s called Math, my friends, and I don’t ride that train. But because you can put the chicken into the pot frozen, it will take a full 8-10 hours to cook to completion, so keep that in mind – get up a little early to get this one in the pot, OR do it overnight and wake up to a house that smells like the inside of your grandmother’s kitchen on Sunday afternoon – both good options.

I used a 5lb pasture-raised chicken from G-square farms in Isle of Wight County, VA. I bought and received this chicken within a week of it being processed. It does come to me frozen, but it is still tender and delicious when cooked. I paid $16 for a 5lb chicken, which I realize is more expensive than a chicken from the grocery store, but I feel like I shouldn’t have to explain to you all at this point why it is better to pay a little more for a quality, ethically raised chicken. Plus, you’ll see how $16 is going to make 2-3 meals.

In the bottom of your pot, dump your mirepoix (a combination of sliced and diced celery, carrots and onions). I use one onion, two carrots and two stalks of celery. Cover the bottom with this mixture and season with salt/pepper and then toss in a few cloves of garlic (or if you’re me – an entire head of garlic), crushed.

On top of that mixture, place your frozen chicken. Make sure, if it has gizzards, that those are removed. Then, this is where my recipe varies – I top the chicken with as many fresh herbs as I have on hand from my garden. In this case, a tiny bit of oregano, sage, rosemary, thyme and chives. I also season the chicken with poultry seasoning, more salt and pepper. Then cover the whole things with water. Ideally, you want the water to come up over the top of the chicken, but just put in as much as you can without overflowing. Finally, the secret ingredient – add 1/4 cup of apple cider vinegar. According to Wilson, the vinegar helps draw out the flavor and nutrients from the chicken bones.

Mirepoix, pasture-raised poultry, fresh herbs, crock pot chicken!

Then….walk away. Just walk away. 8-10 hours later you’ll have something that looks like this:

Your final product(s).

Remove the chicken from the pot carefully with tongs – it will fall apart a bit, so just go fishing for the drumstick, which inevitably is the first thing to go. Set the chicken out on a rimmed baking dish and let it cool. While it’s cooling you can deal with the broth, but for the sake of explaining this picture – once it’s cooled, debone the chicken (this is the most time consuming part of this recipe). I separate out the dark and white meat, but do whatever you like here. Then I take out what I need for whatever I’m making that night and refrigerate or freeze the rest. I only needed about one breast and a bit of dark meat for that evening, the rest went in to tupperware and supplied TWO more dinners!

When you’ve removed your chicken from the crock pot, you’ll have broth and a whole lot of bits and pieces left. To separate the broth from the solids, place a sieve over a large measuring cup or container and use a ladle to strain the broth:

Look at you with your homemade broth!

Once the broth has cooled, I store it in different sized containers. I feel like recipes are always calling for just a 1/4 cup or a few tablespoons of broth, so I freeze an ice cube tray of broth, which I then pop out and store in a zip lop bag once they are completely solid – each cube is about 1 oz of liquid, so just pull out a cube at a time as needed for recipes. I also freeze 1 cup servings and then a large 4 cup container. The broth is naturally pretty low fat since we didn’t add any oil and pasture-raised animals are pretty lean, but if you’d like you can use a fat separator OR just store the broth in the fridge for several hours and skim the fat off the top once it’s congealed.

SO, now you have 10 cups of broth and an entire deboned chicken (I had about 8 cups of meat, but that will depend on the size of your chicken). What to do next? Well, I’m sort of a sucker for chicken wings, but let’s face it those deep fried, smothered in sauce, then dipped in another sauce appetizers are not doing anyone any favors. So here is my health(ier) take on buffalo wings.

Take one breast and tender and 1/2 cup of your dark meat and chop it up or shred it. Place it in a bowl and add 1/4-1/2 cup of buffalo wing sauce (depending on how saucy you want it). I use the Texas Pete brand because I think it’s spicier than others, and I’m not playing around when I want buffalo, but you can buy a milder brand. Then add 1/2 packet of dry ranch dressing mix. Mix well. From here, you can do whatever you want with this – put it on sandwiches, make a salad, whatever. I did lettuce wraps with iceberg lettuce, home made ranch dressing, shredded carrots, diced celery and crumbled blue cheese.

Buffalo chicken and accouterments.

Served along side some local corn on the cob and home made potato chips made from local potatoes, oh and of course a Corona with lime . . . whoa.

There isn’t a bar in town with buffalo chicken this good.

This recipe used about 1/3 of the whole chicken and served two people for dinner and then two people for lunch the next day. Another 1/3 got used in a chicken pot pie, which three very hungry people consumed in one meal, and then the other 1/3 is in my freezer – just waiting to become something else delicious. I use the chicken stock in everything, and barely ever have to buy it from the grocery store because I make a crock pot chicken once or twice a month, keeping me stocked with . . . stock.

Recipes like this just make me happy – they are a breeze to do, they work on so many different levels, they give you two products for the price of one and will feed you for a week.

What are your favorite dual purpose recipes?