Monday, October 31, 2011

Princess Makes It Mondays

Princess has been asking for kitchen time.  Yes, you read that right - the teenager wants to do more cooking.

Now, I have cooked with my children a little bit - letting them stir and taste here and there, and of course lots of cookies over the years.  But this is getting more serious.  She's not that far from the age where she'll leave home and be on her own.  It's time to get a few dishes under her belt that she can fall back on.

We've decided as part of her "Home Management Skills 101" class for homeschool that she will now be responsible for preparing dinner on Monday nights. Bubba has an activity every other Monday night at a local pizza establishment, so it's usually just us girls for dinner.  That takes a lot of the pressure off - no feeding a whole starving family.  Besides, when she finds her "someone special" someday, she'll be cooking for two to start, and she'll need to know how to take an existing recipe and scale it back.

We're starting out on the easier side of things - crockpot cooking.  Crockpot dishes can also be easily translated into oven cooking.  Most have some type of slicing and dicing, and some even include browning meat first.  A crockpot can be used for main dishes, sides, desserts, and beverages.  They are the lifesavers of a busy family, especially our busy family.  Knowing how to use them and what to make will be lifesavers for her future family as well.

Check out the note below to see what's in our crockpot today, and check out Stephanie O'Dea's books Make It Fast, Cook It Slow and More Make It Fast, Cook It Slow - they are our "user's manuals" for our crockpots, and all the recipes in them can be made gluten free.

Happy Monday All!

Friday, October 28, 2011

Pizza Party Friday

When I was in grade school, everyone would always get so excited for school lunches on Fridays because we ALWAYS had pizza.  Yes, that nasty stuff that actually had soggy cardboard for a crust, sauce and something that vaguely resembled cheese.  As a grown-up and a mom, I've tried to carry on the "pizza on Friday" tradition.

Now that we are gluten free, pizza has been a real challenge for us.  Most GF crusts we've tried lack flavor, stay soggy in the middle, and basically are almost as sad as the pizza I used to get so excited about.

Enter a GF recipe for Puffy Pizza Casserole in Stephanie O'Dea's book, More Make It Fast, Cook It Slow. Her recipes, in general, have all been big hits with the kidlets and the hubster, and especially me because crockpot cooking makes life so much easier and cheaper, and when the GF decision had to be made, her recipes were a doorway into the world of what was safe and delicious to eat.  She is a big hero in house!  We tried the pizza puff.  The saucy part is so good, you will want to lick it out of your crockpot.  No, really.  You'd even be willing to have the sauce on your nose and wear it as a badge of honor!

This is one of the VERY FEW that ended with a whimper instead of a bang.  Again, it all boiled down to the "crust" which is actually a biscuit-type object on the top of the sauce.  Was it a texture thing?  Maybe.  Anyone who's gone from eating gluten to eating gluten-free can tell you that things have a different texture.  The flavors and textures of stuff you used to love really REALLY taste and feel different when you switch.  Lots of things left me cold.  This biscuit left me lukewarm.  It was warm.  It was cheesy.  It had "safe" pepperoni.  I think because it started out more like cake batter, and cooked up more like cake.  Maybe that was it.

So tonight, the sauce is bubbling away in my soup pot and the "garlic bread crust" is baking away in the oven.

Here's how you do it:
1 box King Arthur (brand) Gluten Free Pizza Crust Mix, made according to package directions through first rise and stir down
1/4 c butter, melted
Garlic powder, oregano, powdered Parmesan cheese to taste (ALL OPTIONAL)

2 pounds ground beef
Salt and pepper
1 small onion, diced
1 T minced garlic (more or less to your taste)
1-2 T dried oregano (to your taste)
1 25-ish oz. jar Muir Glen (brand) Spaghetti Sauce (choose your favorite)
2 c mozzarella cheese, grated
1-2 T Parmesan cheese (more if you like)

While the dough is rising for the second time, preheat the oven to 400.  Put two large cookie sheets into the oven while it preheats.  This is the KEY to avoiding soggy crust syndrome.  They will act like a pizza stone.

Once your sheets are preheating in the oven, brown the ground beef.  Season with salt and pepper as it's browning for better flavor.  After beef has browned, drain all but about 1 T of oil.  Add onion to pan and continue cooking for about 5 minutes.  Then add minced garlic and oregano.  Heat through, about 1-2 minutes.  Stir in spaghetti sauce and cheeses.  Heat over low heat until cheeses are really melty and gooey and uberdelicious.  You can safely let this simmer while the "crusts" are finishing.  If your sauce starts to look too dry, add a few tablespoons of beef broth (Pacific brand).  This can also be done in a crockpot for about 4-6 hours.

When the second rise is done, spread olive oil generously onto each sheet (about 1-2 T/sheet).  Divide dough equally between the sheets, spread as much as possible, and bake for 12 minutes (box says 8-12 so keep an eye and a nose on it).  After the first bake, spread melted butter lightly over tops of crusts.  Sprinkle with garlic powder, oregano and Parmesan cheese if desired (we just did garlic because I used the last of the oregano in the sauce).  Bake for another 10-ish minutes, until golden brown and baked through.  Please note: where the crust is exceptionally thin and covered with butter, it will still get soggy.  Sadly.  When the crusts are done, cut into strips with a pizza cutter to make sticks, and serve while hot.

So the judges gave it a 8.5 out of 10.  Princess Picky Eater actually had seconds.  She compared it to Chili Mac, which she usually doesn't like, but said this was delicious.  The men had trouble staying out of the pan while the crusts were baking and I lost track of how many pieces of crust everyone had.  I'm still having texture issues.  When you grow up eating pizza in the Chicagoland area, you take your 'za very seriously.  I found it cake-like and a bit gritty (that's the rice flour).  The flavor was just right, but like I said, I'm still having texture issues.

Fixes I'm considering (it tastes too good to not try again):
  • After the second bake, cut into strips and bake a 3rd time, kind of like biscotti
  • Maybe adding a cup or two of GF all-purpose flour to make the dough more biscuit or bread-like
  • Trying a different brand of pizza crust mix
What are your thoughts?  Do you have some other ideas I should try?  Did you try the recipe and get different results?  Do you have a special ritual for one night of the week?

Thanks for reading, and have a good weekend!