Friday, March 13, 2009

When the Moon-a hits your eye like-a bigg-a Pizza Pie that's.....gotta hurt!

Pizza. It's the one word that can bring a room full of people arguing over what to have for dinner into immediate and unanimous agreement. Not many people dislike pizza, however once you've decided on pizza the next argument to settle is what toppings. Some like sausage and peppers, some like that classic pepperoni. And then there are those who love those little dead fish on it. I never could understand the allure of anchovies. I don't hate them by any fact I use them in many sauces because the anchovy itself sort of melts away and adds this slightly salty fullness of flavor to other foods without screaming "I am a dead fish!." However, on my pizza? No thank you. Going out for pizza can be quite costly these days and frankly I'm broke. Being broke though does not mean I'm going without. In fact my daughter and I make pizza at home more times than we go out for it. One reason of course is because it's way cheaper. Second reason, I can make it the way I want it and it tastes awesome. Third reason, it's alot of fun for everyone in the family to make. Finally the fourth's easy! Ok, you can get that "The woman has lost her flippin' mind" look off your face right now. It IS easy. Don't believe me? Ha! I'm going to take great pleasure in showing you just how easy it is.

First of all, you pretty much have everything you need to for pizza right there in your kitchen anyway. I think most people tend to have a bag of some type of shredded cheese in their fridge. As far as sauce goes, you can make your own from tomato paste, water and seasonings or buy a jar of your favorite pizza sauce. Mine happens to be the Ragu Pizza Quick. It's cheap, one jar is enough for two large pizzas and the consistency is exactly what you want. It's not too thick, but it isn't as thin as a spaghetti sauce so it doesn't water down the crust and make it mushy. Speaking of the crust, you have a few options here. You can use the roll out crust that comes in a tube from Pillsbury, however I don't happen to like it. It seems as though they take their basic biscuit recipe and change the shape and call it pizza crust. If you like it, fine. For me? Yuck. Then you have your pre-made crust like Boboli. These will work and actually taste pretty good but for one they can be costly and two, they are a little bready for me. They don't have the soft texture that you normally get in pizza from a pizza joint. Here are the two choices I opt for. I either make my dough in my bread maker (and for this I have THE BEST recipe!) or I'll go to my local pizza shop and buy a couple balls of dough. Our local shop, Garden Pizzeria, sells the dough for $3 a piece so for $6 I can make 2 very large pizzas or 3 medium size ones. Whichever you choose I guarantee you'll love the pizza because you've made it exactly the way you like it and you're not spending an arm and a leg for it. An added bonus is it's really fun to make. Kids LOVE making pizza. They love feeling and stretching the dough and even if they stretch it too much and make a hole, it's easily fixed. They can top it with sauce, cheese and anything else they want and some kids get pretty artistic. In the end they have a great feeling of accomplishment and an awesome dinner at that. *Note - If you are one of those anal retentive, Obsessive Complusive people who don't like any messes at all....don't even think about trying this. Kids make messes. It's one of their God given jobs along with playing and having fun and as a parent you need to know when to allow them to do it and expect a clean up afterwards. This is one of those times. It's a nice trade off though because with pizza making they get to do all three at once. If you like the look of pride on a child's face when they show you how they've colored inside the lines, just wait til they show you their pizza masterpiece. Another great plus is they are getting a great, nutritious meal. Oh....almost forgot....if you have a bread maker sitting on the shelf and have only made one loaf of bread in the past 5 years of owning it, I'm going to show you the great benefits of owning one in the coming weeks. That little piece of machinery is incredible at taking all the work out of making pizza dough and home made pasta. Two things you always thought would be fun to make but were too hard. I'm going to show you how to let your bread maker pull it's weight and make them foolproof. Here are some ideas for pizza's we've made and my dough recipe:

BBQ Chicken Pizza

Sauce - Your favorite BBQ sauce
Toppings - Cheddar cheese, leftover or canned chicken, red or spring onions

Greek Pizza

Sauce - Basil Pesto Sauce, either home made or from a jar (the stuff keeps forever in the fridge)
Toppings - Feta cheese, black olives, sliced or sun-dried tomatoes

Philly Cheese Steak Pizza

Sauce - Ranch Dressing
Toppings - Chopped leftover steak or Steaks'ums, mozarella cheese, grilled onions, mushrooms and peppers

Taco Pizza

Sauce - Salsa or Taco Sauce
Toppings - (before the oven) Leftover taco meat, monterey jack Cheese, (after the oven) shredded lettuce, chopped tomatoes, onions, sour cream

My Pizza Dough Recipe

1 C Water
1 Beaten Egg
1 Tsp Salt
2 Tbsp Sugar
3 C Bread Flour
3 Tbsp Dry Milk Powder
1 1/2 Tsp Active Yeast

Add ingredients to bread maker just as they are listed. Select Dough setting on the machine. Press the Start/Stop button. When timer reads 0:00 take out the dough and allow it to rest for about 10 minutes covered with a towel. Turn onto a floured surface. Pat it and stretch it by hand into a circle or rectangle if you prefer. *One trick I've learned if you don't own a pizza peel (one of the wooden paddles to make pizza on) and pizza stone to cook it on, use a cookie sheet turned upside down to make the pizza. Just put a little flour or cornmeal on the surface and place your dough on that. Add your toppings and put the pizza into a 450 degree pre-heated oven. Pizza is done when the crust is a nice brown and is no longer soft in the middle, about 10 minutes or so. Take it out of the oven and slide it onto a cutting board (this is why we used the underside of the cookie sheet, it slides easier) and allow to rest for a few minutes before slicing.

Let me know how you and your family like your pizza and I'd love to see pictures too! Email your pictures to and I'll put them on a new post in the future. "Mangia Bene, vivi felice!" - Eat well, Live happy!!!

Monday, March 9, 2009

The Prodigious Potato, A Spectacular Spud!

I don't know who was hungrier, the first person to eat an oyster or the first to eat a potato. Imagine walking down a deserted stretch of beach. The ocean is actually hard to hear over the growling of your very empty belly. Suddenly, you stumble upon what looks like a funky shaped rock. Without quite knowing why, you start hitting it against another rock until it opens up to reveal what looks like snot. Yes, a shell. You are so ravenous with hunger that before your gag reflex can even begin to kick in, you've sucked it down...raw...and whole. Every salty, slimy bit. What's even more amazing is you go back for a second one! Then there's the potato. Again, you're starving. You'd have to be to actually dig into the ground and find a filthy, dirty, lumpy root that almost looks like something your horse may have once eaten (hmmm....did you ever think of eating the horse?!) and devouring it almost like an apple. I wonder if the first potato was eaten raw? I know there are countless numbers of people who dig oysters and that's fine. I just happen not to be one of them.

Potatoes though.....ooooh, you'd be hard pressed to find a soul that doesn't love a spud. Mashed, boiled, fried, baked, shredded, hashed and's hard to mess up a potato. Mashed potatoes are one of the classics among comfort food. What would Thanksgiving be without mashed potatoes to go along with the bird? Meatloaf? It goes together with mashed potatoes like peanut butter goes with jelly. How many times have you ever gone through a drive-thru without ordering french or curly fries?? And what goes along with our eggs for breakfast better than home made hash browns? Potato chips are the most popular snack food on the planet. Of course the British have to be be frou-frou about it and call them crisps. (They also call the bathroom "the loo"....what the?!) Anyway, I said over the weekend that I was going to focus on meals that can get the family together around the dinner table and even get the kids involved. Today I was thinking about a potato bar. What could be easier than throwing however many potatoes you need into the oven? Not the microwave!.....the oven. A microwave actually steams your potato. Yes it cooks it, but it's seriously lacking in that classic flavor, fluffy flesh and crisp outer skin that only comes from baking it in the oven. No matter how many your baking, wash the potatoes off with water and dry them thoroughly before placing them in a 400 degree oven for about an hour. If you really like your skins crisp try rubbing them with a little olive oil, salt and pepper then wrapping them in foil before baking. While these are baking you and the little ones can get all the fixin's for a potato bar ready. Be creative....this is when those little imaginations really come in handy. Of course if your 3 year old suggests M&M's on his potato you'll probably want to nix that idea for something a little more nutritious. Besides, M&M's can be dessert. There are the classic toppings: butter, sour cream, chives, cheese. To make the meal complete, serve a protein along with it. Maybe some deli ham cut into small cubes. As a nod to my friend Gretchen who is passionately in love and I do believe lust, with bacon, some real bacon bits would be good or how about some left over taco meat and salsa or chicken you might have leftover in the fridge? Steamed broccoli with cheese is always good.
The reason I'm so hip on getting kids involved in food preparation and cooking, is that I've noticed over the years that the more dependent we've become on fast and prepackaged foods to feed our children, the less they really know about where their food comes from. Alot of kids think that hamburger just magically appears on a Styrofoam tray wrapped in plastic at the grocery store. Many don't even know which animal it comes from! That's pretty sad. Not only do they need to know where it comes from, they need to know that food is more than just something to fill your belly. It contains the building blocks that makes your body healthy and strong. The more nutritionally valuable the food is the healthier you'll be. With the rise and popularity of cooking shows and Food Network more and more people are starting to get in touch with their domestic side and cooking at home. Children need to learn how to cook so they can care for themselves when they get older. I can't tell you how many of my friends didn't know how to boil water when they finally got out on their own. It's hard for me to comprehend. When I was growing up I'd watch my parents, who both loved to cook, in the kitchen. It was like having Cooking 101 every night. My father who was from the south, taught me to love grits, collards, corn bread and fried chicken. My mom, a northerner, taught me how to make classic northern dishes; chicken corn soup, pork, saurkraut and mashed potatoes for New Year's and whoopie pies. Children learn best from example. Let them help in the kitchen as much as possible. Let them wash the potatoes and rub the oil on. Give them the bowls and let them put the toppings in and set the table. Doing this makes it more than just a family makes it a memory, one that they'll cherish.

Just a side note about potatoes. Potatoes rank highest in potassium among the top 20 most frequently consumed raw vegetables and the 20 top most frequently consumed raw fruits. This nutrient can help reduce the risk of high blood pressure and promote heart health. One medium potato (5.3 ounces) with the skin contains 620 mg of potassium. That’s 18% of your daily requirement and more than a banana. Potatoes are are sodium free, fat-free and contain just 110 calories per serving. They have:
  • More protein than most of the 20 most frequently consumed raw fruits and vegetables – 3 grams per medium potato
  • 2 grams of fiber (with skin on), which may aid in weight loss, lower blood cholesterol levels and decrease risk of heart disease
  • 45% Daily Value (DV) of vitamin C, or as much as you will find in a tomato. Vitamin C is an antioxidant that keeps the immune system healthy
The trick to keeping this meal healthy is to use healthy toppings. Some of the modifications I use to reduce fat and calories are:

Reduced fat sour cream - The fat free just doesn't have the same taste or feel and reduced fat has only 40 calories for 2 tablespoons.

Hormel 50% Less Fat Bacon Bits - These are real bacon and taste great! I use them on potatoes, in omelette's, soups...anywhere you'd want real bacon.

Reduced Fat Cheese - Ok, you know I'm a cheese snob, but not necessarily for this type of meal. A good, reduced fat, sharp cheese works very well. It may not melt quite as much but it tastes pretty good.

So, don't let you or your kids be couch potatoes! (Sorry, I know it was bad but I had to say it) Get everyone involved and bring back the Family Dinner Table, one meal at a time. Let me know if you have any ideas or recipes that would help the family gather together!

Friday, March 6, 2009

The Family Dinner Table - A Relic of the Past??

We live in a microwave society. We want what we want and we want it NOW. Everything is go, go, go, do, do, do! We have to be here and we have to be the same time! We schedule band practice, ballet lessons, soccer games, PTA meetings, home school meetings, etc...out the whazoo! I didn't even know I had a whazoo until after I had a child! Now, I want you to sit back and really think....when was the last time you had meal as a family? Sitting in the McDonald's drive thru and scarfing down a grease laden bag of fries (although they do taste oh so good) and a burger doesn't count. I'm talking about the whole family sitting at the table, plates full of food before them, with no one having to be somewhere other than right there. The family table has become a rarity these days. I remember, on my good days when my senility is at a modicum, growing up and having a set time when dinner was on the table. I was expected to be home, relatively clean and sitting at my spot ready to eat whatever Mom put before me. I make it sound so "Leave It To Beaver-ish." Trust me, civility was, on some days, quite questionable and instead of a quiet meal our dinner table resembled more of a WWF Championship Wrestling Match.

Announcer: And now, in this corner-er-er, wearing the Girraffe Garanimals with a hole in the knee-ee-ee, weighing in at a whopping 45 pounds and able to spit a wad of meatloaf farther than he can throw a ball-all-all.....Jumpin' Jimmy Mills!

My mother, God bless her, had more patience than Job. After separating and securing us to our respective seats with a hard glare from her evil eyeball, we thoroughly enjoyed being together and eating the wonderful food made by her. Kids these days, and adults as well, are missing out on this great opportunity to not only nourish their bodies with food that didn't necessarily come out of a deep fryer, but to also nourish their soul with quality time well spent with the people they love. Yes, kids get a little out of hand at times, heck so do adults. The point is everyone is together. These are the times that we as adults look back on with fond memories. Don't you want your children to have that too? It's not as hard as it seems. I know that with everyone working hard these days it's sometimes difficult to come home and prepare a meal. I personally want nothing more than to get horizontal on my couch the second I come in the door. However, with a little planning and some help from the kids (this is not optional....they need to earn their keep lol), you can have a great dinner on the table at least 5 nights out of the week. Starting next week I'm going to have a few ideas on how the kids can help and how you can make dinner interesting for them. In other words I'll tell you how to bait and capture the little boogers so they actually are at home and enjoy dinner with the family. Chairs and whips are optional. If you have some ideas share them as well. I'd also like to hear some of your memories of mealtimes when you were a kid. Man, talking about years gone by makes me feel old. I need to buy a good wrinkle cream. Anyway, next week look for some meal ideas that get the kids involved and taste yummy too. Have a great weekend!!!!

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Fiber-licious food doesn't have to look like sticks and twigs.... to trick your child into eating something good for them

I've been trying to switch my daughter over to the "brown" side for years now and she's having none of it....or so she thinks. (Insert evil, snarky laugh here) I'm talking about getting her to eat anything other than white bread which has virtually no health value whatsoever. Yeah I know, it's soft and fluffy, has a few, and I stress few, vitamins in there courtesy of your local bread manufacturer and kids pretty much love it with PB&J. The thing is, with anything you put in your mouth you want the biggest "bang for your buck." This not only applies to how much something costs but how good something is for you. You can eat good, wholesome food and get your nutrients or you could pop a Flintstones chewable and eat a bag of chips. Same caloric content and vitamins, give or take, but truly not the same at all. Back to the bread. I happen to love whole wheat bread. The denser the better. When I chew it I want it to have a texture all it's own. I like knowing that the fiber found within is going to aid in my digestion and help me to stay fuller, longer. And we all know what else fiber does. It's got it's own Roto-rooter action thing happening that helps things along when your "dropping the kids off at the pool," if you get my drift.

I've been experimenting with recipes lately that I already know Nicole likes, and sneaking whole wheat flour in there instead of all purpose. My latest is banana bread. The child loves this stuff and anyone who knows me knows how much I detest waste. Bananas are notorious for going bad before you get to the end of the bunch so I almost always go for the green ones when I buy them. We eat however many we can until they start getting too brown or pithy tasting and then they become bread. This recipe also has no sugar in it. Yep nada and the kid still loves it! Go figure. Usually when you use whole wheat you have to remember that it has less gluten in it than white flour so it generally doesn't rise as much. To remedy this baking soda is used and it rises just wonderfully. It has a great texture. Since there isn't any sweetening other than honey it's not as sweet as most other banana breads but this is easily remedied by either adding a little more honey or if you must have sugar, about 1/4 cup should do the trick. Please try it first without the sugar and see what you think. I'm telling you, if MY child will eat this and proclaim to love it, we have a winner.

Whole Wheat Banana Bread

1/3 C Vegetable Oil
1/2 C Honey
1 Tsp Vanilla Extract
2 Eggs
1 1/2 C Mashed Bananas
1 3/4 C Whole Wheat Flour
1/2 Tsp Salt
1 Tsp Baking Soda
1/4 C Hot Water
1/2 C Chopped Nuts (optional, I use walnuts)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a large bowl beat oil and honey together. Add eggs and mix well. Stir in bananas and vanilla. Stir in flour and salt. Add baking soda to hot water, stir to mix and add to batter. Blend in chopped nuts. Spread batter into a greased 9x5 inch loaf pan.

Bake for 55-60 minutes. Cool on wire rack 1/2 hour before slicing.

Servings - 12
Calories - 229
Fat - 10.6 grams
Carbs - 29.6 grams
Fiber - 2.9 grams
Protein - 4.4 grams

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Bliss, thy name is Chocolate

I have come to the conclusion that God was in an exceptionally good mood the day He created chocolate. I don't know if He felt like rewarding Himself for a job well done on that first day of rest or what, but He couldn't have made anything more perfectly sinful (note the irony) than chocolate. Just the word itself causes the salivary glands to go into overdrive. I am pretty positive this is how it happened;

God (speaking to Jesus, the Holy Spirit and any angels hanging out): "Pardon me for tooting my own horn here, but I didn't do such a bad job creating that whole earth, skies, seas, man thing.....oh who am I kidding, It's PERFECT! I'm worn out. I deserve a treat. Something that will melt in my mouth and make my eyes roll back in my head."

The heavens rejoiced!!!

Chocolate was born. We eat chocolate on the day we celebrate the resurrection of Christ....coincidence? I think not my friend.

The fact is chocolate is full of anti-oxidants, has about as much caffeine as 1/2 a cup of coffee or a cola. Antioxidant-rich diets have been linked to a lowered risk of heart attacks, stroke, cardiovascular disease, cancer, high blood pressure, cholesterol problems, arthritis, asthma, Alzheimer's and more. So it stands to reason that if chocolate is chock full of antioxidants, it's actually good for you...that's all I'm sayin'. True, chocolate can be addictive, maybe not physically but certainly mentally. It's not surprising that so many people choose chocolate as a sacrifice to give up for Lent every year. Also, I can count on both hands and feet the number of people I personally know who, when stressed, turn to a bit of the chocolately goodness as a mood enhancer and a deterrent to killing anyone within arms reach. We all know someone who should wear a medic alert bracelet reading: In case of emergency, administer chocolate immediately!

My friend Michael is a self-described chocolate addict. The man eats a Hershey bar for breakfast every morning. He's also an Executive Chef. So, when I made him my "Make You Slap Yo' Mamma" Chocolate Cake and he raved about, I felt honored. I'm sharing it with you so if, in fact, you are one of the people who have given up chocolate for Lent, let me apologize now. If not....stop wasting time and get baking!

Shelley's "Make You Slap Yo' Mamma" Chocolate Cake

  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1-3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup HERSHEY'S Cocoa
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 cup boiling water
1. Heat oven to 350°F. Grease and flour two 9-inch round baking pans.

2. Stir together sugar, flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda and salt in large bowl. Add eggs, milk, oil and vanilla; beat on medium speed of mixer 2 minutes. Stir in boiling water (batter will be thin). Pour batter into prepared pans.

3. Bake 30 to 35 minutes or until wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool 10 minutes; remove from pans to wire racks. Cool completely. Frost with chocolate frosting (recipe follows). 10 to 12 servings.

Chocolate Frosting

1/2 cup (1 stick) butter or margarine
2/3 cup HERSHEY'S Cocoa
3 cups powdered sugar
1/3 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Melt butter. Stir in cocoa. Alternately add powdered sugar and milk, beating to spreading consistency. Add small amount additional milk, if needed. Stir in vanilla. About 2 cups frosting.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Chinese on the Cheap

Alot of people these days are having a hard time making ends meet. I don't know if you've heard or not but we're in, what economics experts call, a R-E-C-E-S-S-I-O-N. Yeah. I was shocked to hear it too. (note sarcasm) Everyone is having to really evaluate what's most important in life, paring back on things not deemed necessities. I remember reading the Little House series when I was young and how hard life was for families back then. No matter how hard it was they never seemed to complain so, that's what I've been telling my daughter. What must be done should be done cheerfully. She's no different from any other teenager. She's used to eating pre-packaged foods to some degree, getting ice cream whenever the craving takes hold. Heck, my child could go through a gallon of apple juice in a day if I let her. Those days are no more. She's feeling the crunch just like the rest of us. I've taken this on as somewhat of a challenge. She and I are now forced to use our noggins to come up with inexpensive meals that are going to last more than just one sitting. Thank God my child is pretty open to anything food-wise. She LOVES sushi, was eating raw oysters by the dozen at age 4 (ugh! snot in a shell if you ask me!) and likes to try new things. One of her favorite meals happens to be one of the cheapest and it makes alot. It also is one of those meals made of things you usually have on hand and really, you can add to it with anything you think would taste good. So....without further delay......

Nicole's Noodles

1 Lb Linguini
1 Lb Sirloin (or any type meat you prefer, tofu works too)
1/2 Head of Cabbage, sliced or shredded
2 Carrots, sliced
1 Lg Onion, sliced
2-3 Cloves of Garlic, minced
Kikkoman's Stir Fry Sauce

Slice your meat into very thin slices. It's easier to do this if you place it in the freezer for about 30 mins before slicing. Heat a large pot or wok on high. Add oil and then meat. Saute until meat is done and remove to the serving bowl. Add more oil to the pot/wok and turn heat down to med to med-hi and add the veggies and saute until done stirring almost constantly. When veggies are just about done add the garlic. Remove veggies to the bowl with the meat. In another pot (or this one washed out) boil linguini until al dente. Drain. In the same pot add all the cooked ingredients (noodles, veggies and meat) and add Stir Fry Sauce to your liking. I usually use about 1/2-3/4 Cup. Mix all together, move to serving bowl and serve.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

A salad dressing that's lite AND tastes good?? Right, and I'm engaged to Bigfoot...

I don't know about you but I always try to trim calories, fat and carbs out of my diet whenever possible. A couple things I can't stand, however, are lite, creamy-style salad dressings and mayonnaise. While I'm still on the hunt for a lite mayo that tastes decent enough to put on a sandwich, I have found the Holy Grail of lite ranch dressings. I kid you not this stuff tastes exactly like regular ranch dressing. I totally don't believe me. Well I gave it to my daughter with a bunch of celery to munch on and she couldn't tell the difference. In fact she even told me how good it was . Now that's all she eats! My supervisor in the 911 call center I work for can be really picky and she refused to even look at the stuff. Well she snuck some in the kitchen one night at work and actually came in to tell me that I was right. It's called Naturally Fresh Lite Ranch Dressing. I buy mine at Food Lion but it's carried by other stores as well. Here's the link to their website:

Am I being paid to endorse this stuff? Ha! I wish! I'm just some poor shmuck who feels that if I find something that's as good as this it's only fair to let others, who are suffering by eating that white stuff in a bottle that tastes like garbage, know about this treasure. Try it and let me know what you think. Also...if you have found something that is healthier and tastes good share it so we can all feel the love.