Easy Homemade Pizza…

If you’re anything like me, pizza is something you either eat at a restaurant or order for delivery. I never really thought about making homemade pizza until recently. I was wandering around Trader Joes, saw some pizza dough in a bag and thought I should give this a try. So I bought some. After leaving it in the refrigerator for a few days I decided to use it before it went bad. And the rest was just pure joy.

Pizza is pretty elementary. It consists of the dough for your crust, your sauce, your toppings and cheese – yep, that’s pretty much it. But not really. How thinly do you roll out the dough? How much sauce and toppings do you put on? At what temperature do you bake it so the bottom crust gets done before the sides get too brown? What I found is there are some basic things to keep in mind when making pizza so your results will be perfect. So let’s talk making homemade pizza…

Lesson Learned 1 – Tips for working with pizza dough: Pizza dough, like most other types of dough, likes to rest before you roll it out. One common mistake with using store bought pizza dough is to take it out of the refrigerator and immediately start working with it. Doing that will result in a tough crust. Let the dough rest on your counter for about 20 minutes before you begin rolling it out. That way the glutens in your dough won’t get overworked and you won’t have a tough crust.

The dough that I bought made a 12 inch round pizza about 1/8 inch thick. That’s probably the thinnest you want to go with the crust. I rolled it out on a silpat non stick silicone mat. My mat gives me circular as well as linear dimensions that helps when I’m working with dough that needs to be rolled out to certain specifications. If I have a cookie recipe that says I need to create a 9 inch roll, I can measure that on this mat. I was also able to roll out my pizza dough to a perfect 12 inch round. And even though the mat is considered non-stick, you still need to use flour when working with bread/pizza dough. Most of the time you don’t need it for cookie dough.

Pizza Crisper

Lesson Learned 2 – If at all possible, use a pizza stone or crisper: Pizza stones are designed to bake pizzas in commercial brick ovens although they also can be used at home. Pizza crispers are designed for “regular” ovens. They are perforated to let air circulate under the crust to cook the bottom of the pizza more evenly. Being that I don’t make homemade pizza on a regular basis I just bought an aluminum pizza crisper at the grocery store. It worked beautifully. Plus I can reuse it a few times before having to get another one. Use either a pizza stone or crisper if you want to ensure that the bottom of your crust is not soggy when the rest of your pizza is fully cooked.

Also when using an aluminum pizza crisper (as shown in the picture) you should lightly oil it  before putting the dough on it. I recommend using canola oil because it has a very high smoke point. I also recommend that after you brush on the oil to take a paper towel and go over the crisper and remove any excess. I am very serious about only lightly oiling the bottom. I’d start with about an 1/8 of a teaspoon and go from there. That amount of oil and a paper towel to spread it and soak up any excess should be more than sufficient. You don’t want the bottom of your pizza to be greasy. You just don’t want the dough to stick to the crisper.

Lesson Learned 3 – Don’t drench the pizza with sauce: I used the smallest jar of marinara I could find, 14 ounces, and I still didn’t use all of it. Now you may ask should I use pizza sauce or pasta sauce. I don’t think it really matters. Some make pizzas with alfredo sauce. I don’t think there is a hard fast rule. It’s really all up to you. What’s more important is to make sure you don’t drown your dough in sauce. Just spread it on to lightly and evenly cover it. You don’t want to create soggy dough.

Lesson Learned 4 – Should toppings be put on cooked or raw: That depends. If you want to have Italian sausage on your pizza definitely cook it beforehand. I cooked mine about 75% done (just a little pink – see below) knowing that the time the pizza cooked in the oven would cover the rest. I did not cook my green peppers ahead of time, but I did cut them into smaller diced pieces. Same thing with my mushrooms. They went on raw but I sliced them thin and they were cooked perfectly in the time allotted. I also put on some pepperoni slices, as is, since they can be eaten right out of the package.

Partially Cooked Italian Sausage

Another mistake common in making homemade pizza putting the toppings on too thick. Now don’t get me wrong, I like lots of toppings on my pizza. Just be careful not to create a huge mound. What happens when putting too much toppings on is the crust will get done before your toppings are cooked or even warmed through. You don’t want that.

Lesson Learned 5 – Cook your pizza at a high heat: I looked over many different pizza recipes and saw a wide variety of recommended cooking temperatures. One recipe even called for the pizza to be cooked at 350 degrees. With the research I did I found the prevailing thought to be that pizza should be baked at higher temperatures. I baked mine at 450 degrees. It was done in 15 minutes and the crust was perfect. Our local take-and-bake pizza store recommends you bake their pizzas at 425 degrees. You could probably do that as well but it will take a little longer for your pizza to cook. If you pile on your toppings it might be better to bake your pizza at 425 to give more time for the toppings to bake. I would guess baking at 425 might add on an additional 5-10 minutes, depending on your oven. The choice is yours, but I would not go under 425 degrees.

It sounds like a lot but it’s actually pretty simple. If you keep these tips in mind you should have a perfect pizza the very first time. This was my first time making it and it turned out perfectly. And how often can you say that about a recipe you’ve tried only once? I really like the fact that I can control what goes on my pizza and so I will definitely make a homemade pizza again. Try this and let me know what you think…

Easy Homemade Pizza...

  • Servings: 4
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Print

INGREDIENTS:

1 bag of pizza dough (I got mine from Trader Joes – Whole Foods also has them)

1 14 ounce jar of pasta or pizza sauce (there will be some leftover)

1/2 pound sweet Italian sausage cooked almost through and crumbled

pepperoni slices, as desired

1/3 cup green pepper, diced small

2-3 medium sized cremini mushrooms, sliced thin

Mozzarella cheese

Parmesan cheese

1/4 tsp. Italian seasoning (you can add more if you like)

1/8 tsp. canola oil

Flour for dough preparation

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat the oven to 450. Take a large pizza crisper and lightly oil the bottom. Remove any excess with a paper towel.

Flour your surface for working the dough.  Roll the dough to a 12 inch circle. Wrap the dough around your rolling pin and transfer it to the crisper. Cover the surface of the dough with pizza sauce leaving about a half inch around the edges uncovered. Arrange the pepperoni slices on the dough. Arrange the Italian sausage crumbles on the dough.

Sprinkle the meats with mozzarella and Parmesan cheese. Arrange the mushroom slices and green pepper pieces on the dough. Top them with more mozzarella and Parmesan cheese.  Sprinkle the Italian seasoning over the top.

Bake for 15 minutes or until the crust cooked and the cheese is gold brown and bubbly. Slice and serve.

 

Vegetable Pizza…

Lately I think I’ve become the queen of the appetizers. But as I mentioned in a previous blog my condo community hosts “happy hour” every Thursday and a bunch of us get together to eat some appetizers and drink some wine. It’s been a hoot. I promise I won’t solely be blogging about appetizers but I have to include this one. I’ve been wanting to make this for some time now and was so glad I did. It was so yummy and a nice departure from the usual varieties of chips and dips.

This appetizer is not only tasty but so colorful it brightens up any table. And a lot of it can be prepared ahead of time, which I did. That way the assembly doesn’t seem quite so overwhelming. So let’s talk vegetable pizza.

Lesson Learned 1 – Chop the veggies ahead of time: I found that to be a lifesaver. I chopped the veggies and put them in refrigerator bags. Then when it came time to assemble the pizza I just opened the bags and sprinkled them on the crust. It was a snap.

Lesson Learned 2 – This is a great refrigerator cleaning appetizer: I had a bunch of left over veggies in my refrigerator and so I decided to use them. I had a bag of carrot coins that I put into my mini food processor and pulsed to shred them. I had a couple of pieces of different kinds of peppers and I just diced those up. And I had a jar with some roasted red pepper marinated in olive oil and garlic and I chopped some of that up. It was great.

Lesson Learned 3 – To the best of your ability, pinch together the perforations in the crescent roll dough: This recipe uses refrigerated crescent roll dough as the crust. Do not separate the dough into pieces. Roll the dough out and pinch together the perforations to form as flat of a continuous base as possible. You can still see the faint outline of the individual pieces, as seen in the picture below, but that won’t matter once you apply the toppings.

The rest is easy. Just mix the cream cheese “sauce” and apply it to the dough, sprinkle on the toppings, cut and serve. I know you’ll enjoy this one!

Vegetable Pizza...

  • Servings: Approximately 25
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Print

INGREDIENTS:

1 can refrigerated crescent roll dough

1 8 oz package of cream cheese, softened

1 package dry ranch dressing mix

1/2 cup mayonnaise

1/4 cup chopped scallions (approximately 3)

1/4 cup shredded carrots

1/2 yellow pepper, diced

1/2 green pepper, diced

6-8 baby tomatoes, chopped and drained

1/4 cup marinated roasted red pepper, chopped

1/2 cup broccoli florets, chopped small

1/2 – 1 cup shredded cheddar cheese

1/2 tsp. garlic fleur de sel, optional

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat the oven to 375. Roll out the crescent roll dough onto a 9/13 pan covered with parchment paper. Pinch together the perforations to form one continuous crust. Bake for 12 minutes and cool for 15 minutes.

Mix together the cream cheese, dressing mix and mayonnaise. Spread the mixture over the cooled crust leaving a small amount of room around the edges. Sprinkle with scallions, carrots, tomatoes, peppers, broccoli, roasted red pepper and cheddar cheese. Sprinkle the flour de sel lightly on top.

Using a pizza cutter, cut into squares. Plate and serve.

Spread On The Cream Cheese Mixture

Add The Scallions

Add The Carrots

Add The Tomatoes

Add The Green And Yellow Peppers

Add The Broccoli Florets

Add The Cheese

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Chicago Style Deep Dish Pizza…

I was born and raised in Chicago. In fact, I spent most of my life there. And I know that quite often if someone says they are from Chicago you eventually find out they lived in one of the adjoining suburbs. But not me. I was born on the South Side, raised in Brighton Park went to college in Illinois and moved to the North side when I got my job with the Chicago Park District. I lived on the North Side in the Lake View area until we moved from Chicago in 1999.

I live right outside of Boulder, Colorado now and although this is God’s country there are certain things I will always miss about Chicago. I miss the various modes of transportation in Chicago, especially cabs. I miss the diversity of Chicago, it doesn’t really exist here to the same degree. And I miss the food in Chicago – the restaurants are beyond compare and often within walking distance of where you live.

I think two of the hallmark foods associated with Chicago are hot dogs and pizza. There are strict rules you must follow when preparing and eating these culinary delights and are they ever worth it. Every once in a while I get such a taste for a Chicago-style hot dog or some deep dish pizza. You just can’t find anything comparable here.

IMG_1958

Pizza Ingredients…

So it was to our delight when a friend of ours emailed us and said he saw online the recipe for deep dish pizza from one of the most renowned pizza parlors in Chicago. The recipe was published by a disgruntled employee. It’s my understanding that it was only online for a short time, but time enough for some to grab hold of it. Our friend was one of them and he emailed the recipe to us.

We’ve made this several times and each time we get better at it. And beyond compare, this tastes exactly like the pizza we used to get in Chicago. So it is my pleasure to share it with you and also to give you my lessons learned after making it for several years.

RECIPE RATING: A++++++ If you love Chicago style deep dish pizza you will LOVE this. We could not believe how good it was when we first made it. Nor could we believe how it tasted exactly like the pizza we used to get at one of the most well known pizza establishments in Chicago. I won’t name it so that I can share the recipe with you. This pizza is to die for! You simply must try it.

IMG_1953Lesson Learned 1 – Invest in a deep dish pizza pan: We use a pizza pan that is twelve inches in diameter by 2 1/2 inches tall. It is the perfect size for this recipe, crust and all. When you get it, make sure you season it before you use it. If the pan does not come with seasoning instructions, just go online and look up how to season a pizza pan. Our pan is so well seasoned that the pizza pops right out. This type of pan is a must for this pizza recipe.

IMG_2454Lesson Learned 2 – Follow the recipe down to the letter: If you want the pizza to taste like Chicago style pizza, you cannot stray from the basic ingredients. The only culinary license you have are the “toppings” so to speak. By that I mean will it be only a cheese pizza, sausage and mushroom, will you add green peppers or olives? That you can choose. But the basics must remain the same. One of the key ingredients is the sauce (or gravy as the true Italians call it). There is a very specific brand of sauce you must use and, at least out here in Colorado, it is not available in local grocery stores. It is called 6 & 1 All Purpose Ground Tomatoes with added extra heavy puree. For those of you living in Colorado you can find it at Valentes Italian Deli in Westminster. For my Chicago friends, I am sure if you have an Italian Deli near your home they will have it. The owner of Valentes told me that people drive from four different states to pick up cases of this stuff. And you must use only this. Otherwise you will not get the consistency or flavor that you want. Regular canned tomatoes from the grocery store are too watery for this recipe. 

Lesson Learned 3 – Be patient: you may find that it will take a couple of times to master this recipe. Our challenge was the crust and getting it so that it wasn’t too thick. Eventually we figured out how to roll it out so that we had very little adjusting to do when fitting it into the pan. For us, making the dough was easy but getting it to fit in the pan and not be too thick was the challenge. All I can say is that this recipe is definitely worth the trial and error for putting it together, especially if you love Chicago style deep dish pizza.

Anyone who has ever lived in Chicago or loves Chicago style deep dish pizza will love this recipe. Feel free to pass it on. It’s a great way to get great Chicago pizza no matter where you live. Enjoy, and I’d love to hear from you once you’ve made this!

Chicago Style Deep Dish Pizza

  • Servings: 8
  • Difficulty: Medium/Hard
  • Print

INGREDIENTS:

1 cup water

1/3 cup oil (80% corn oil/20% extra virgin olive oil)

1 packet quick rise yeast (only if using the dough the same day, otherwise regular yeast)

1 Tbs. sugar

1/4 tsp. cream of tartar

3 cups bread flour

1/4 cup corn flour or corn meal (if using cornmeal sift before combining with bread flour) plus extra to sprinkle on the bottom of the pizza pan

1/2 tsp. garlic salt

1/2 tsp. dried oregano

1/2 tsp. dried basil

Sliced mozzarella, enough to cover the bottom of the pizza (do not used packaged grated mozzarella)

1 28 oz. can of 6 & 1 All Purpose Ground Tomatoes (see picture above)

Grated Romano and Parmesan blend (enough to cover the top of the pizza)

Other pizza ingredients: (if using sausage or pepperoni precook until 75% done – ingredients like green peppers, mushrooms, etc., cook and add as dry as possible so as not to make the crust soggy)

DIRECTIONS:

In a large bowl combine water (temp. no higher than 115 degrees for quick rise yeast), yeast, sugar and cream of tartar. Whisk until dissolved. Stir in oil. Combine flour and cornmeal and mix with yeast until consistency of dough is no longer sticky. Remove from bowl and knead. (I use my stand mixer with the dough hook and knead for about 4 minutes – if you don’t have a stand mixer knead by hand for about 10 minutes). Roll the dough into a ball and very lightly coat the outside of the dough with oil. Place the dough in a large bowl, cover with plastic wrap and a dishtowel and let rise for a minimum of 4 hours (or overnight if not using quick rise yeast).

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Coat a 12 inch by 2 1/2 inch pizza pan with butter and sprinkle lightly with cornmeal. Punch down dough (it will rise quite a bit) and roll it out on a lightly floured surface to allow for 1/4 inch of dough all over the pan including the walls of the pan. Arrange the dough in the pizza pan. Place dough in the oven for 5 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven and cover the dough with mozzarella slices. Top with other ingredients (sausage, mushrooms, etc.) and top with the ground tomatoes. Lightly sprinkle with oregano, garlic salt and basil. Top with the Romano/Parmesan blend. Place back in the oven and continue baking for about 25 minutes.

Turn off the oven. Remove the pan from the oven and let rest for 5 minutes on the stove and then put the pan back in the cooling oven for about 5 minutes. (this is necessary for the pizza to set).

Slice and enjoy!

The dough will rise quite high...

The dough will rise quite high…

The pizza dough...

The pizza dough…

Roll out the dough to a quarter of an inch to cover the bottom and sides...

Roll out the dough to a quarter of an inch to cover the bottom and sides…

Dust the bottom of the pan with cornmeal...

Grease the pan with butter and dust the bottom with cornmeal…

Arrange the dough in the pan (it doesn't have to be pretty)...

Arrange the dough in the pan (it doesn’t have to be pretty) and cook for 5 minutes…

After baking crust for 5 minutes, top with mozzarella slices...

After baking crust for 5 minutes, top with mozzarella slices…

Add your preferred ingredients (we used sausage and mushrooms)

Add your preferred ingredients (we used sausage and mushrooms)

Top with sauce, seasonings and parmesan/romano mixture...

Top with sauce, seasonings and parmesan/romano mixture…

Chicago-style deep dish pizza

Chicago-style deep dish pizza

Chicago style deep dish pizza

Enjoy a slice tonight…