Category Archives: Cooking

Pizza

Pizza is one of those foods that there are lots of strong opinions about.  I now have three different types of pizza that I make, with very different recipes.  (I’m not going to post a lot about carb counting pizza, because my little one with diabetes won’t eat pizza.)

The pinacle of pizza-ness is the Chicago style stuffed pizza.  I do mean stuffed pizza, not deep dish pizza.  A stuffed pizza has a crust on the bottom, followed by cheese and lots of fillings, then a second crust, and only then the pizza sauce.  It’s very rich and filling because it’s about 2 inches thick.  If stand mixers could talk or have feelings, I would be sure than my Kitchenaid is angry every time I make this pizza.  My old Kitchenaid got too hot to touch every time I made the dough.  I have a recipe for the crust that works well, but am still looking for a sauce recipe.  For those who have access to one, the pizza chain Giordano’s is what I strive to match here.  This pizza is far too rich and time consuming to make very often.

I also like using Alton Brown’s pizza recipe.  It works well, and the crust has a pleasant flavor and is very chewy.  This pizza is made using a pizza peel and pizza stone.  However, the crust needs to be made the night before, so this also is too much for weekly pizza.

I’ve just recently discovered how to make a thin crust pizza that reminds me of what I grew up with in the Chicago area.  It’s a thinner crust than Alton Brown’s.  Also, the flavor of the crust is rather bland, which is good, because I don’t want to emphasize the crust here.  The secret was to make a crust type that I used to make, but much thinner.  This has become my weekly pizza, because it’s less than two hours from start to pizza.

Tonight I’m only going to post the recipe for the Chicago thin crust pizza.  If you’re a fan of ‘New York style’ pizza, this is probably not the pizza for you.  This is an adaptation of the pizza crust recipe from the Kitchenaid stand mixer manual.

Chicago thin crust pizza
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Serves: 2 pizzas
Ingredients
  • 2½ cups King Arthur bread flour
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 2¼ teaspoons SAF red instant yeast
  • 2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 cup water
  • 1½ cups pizza sauce of your choice
  • 1½ lb mozarella cheese
  • pizza toppings of your choice
Instructions
  1. Combine all dough ingredients in the bowl of a stand mixer with the dough hook. Mix on low speed, then raise speed to knead dough. If the dough is too sticky, add a little more flour, up to 1 cup. Continue to knead the dough until a grape sized doughball can be stretched so thin you can see through it. I often like to finish up the kneading by hand.
  2. Round the dough into a ball, put back into the mixer bowl, cover bowl with a cloth, and allow to rise for about 45 minutes. After about 30 minutes, preheat the oven to 500 degrees with a pizza stone on the lower rack, the upper rack removed. About the time the oven claims it's done preheating, the dough should be done rising, so that the pizza stone can continue to preheat as the pizza is assembled.
  3. When the dough is ready, grease a thin pizza pan with a little olive oil. Punch down the pizza dough, and divide it in half. Use your hands to shape one piece of the dough into an even disk about ½ inch think, and put this disk into the center of your greased pizza pan. Starting at the center of the pan, use the heel of your hand to press and stretch the dough very thin. A few little rips that you can squish back together are OK; I've never gotten the dough thin enough without them. Leave a very small collar of dough that is a little thicker at the edge of the pizza. You don't want it very thick because it puffs up a lot. The dough should be almost transparent, and reach almost the edges of a 16 inch pizza pan.
  4. Now spread sauce over the entire pizza, except for the collar. It's a matter of personal taste exactly how much, but you do want to be able to see the crust a little through the sauce. On top of the sauce put half the cheese and your choice of toppings. I sometimes put the toppings above the cheese, sometimes under.
  5. Put your pizza pan onto the pizza stone and bake for about 12 minutes, until the crust is golden and the cheese is just barely starting to brown. You may need to rotate the pizza half way through baking.
  6. As the first pizza is baking, assemble the second pizza. When the first pizza is done, let it cool for about 3 minutes on the pan, then slide onto a large cutting board. Put the second pizza into the oven when you take the first one out. Let each pizza cool about 5 minutes after removing form the pan before cutting. Cut into squares or rectanges, about 3 inches per side.

 

I plan to post later the recipe for stuffed pizza and a homemade pizza sauce that works well in this pizza.

What milk is ideal?

I posted a few days ago about why we don’t drink organic milk.  This post is meant to balance that.

The minimum standards I have for milk, in addition to freshness, are rbst free and not ultra-pasteurized.  This level of ‘pickiness’ I do not have trouble meeting.

Other things that I would like are the following:

  • low heat/vat pasteurized (a few dairies still do this, it’s even a slower and lower heat process than standard pasteurization)
  • not homogenized (this is a different process than pasteurization.  Pasteurization is heating to kill pathogens.  Homogenization is breaking up the fat particles so they stay suspended)
  • reduced use of antibiotics (not quite as strict as organic; I mean that a cow is only given antibiotics when sick, and the milk is not used until a few days after the cow is no longer on the antibiotics)

I would consider the following to be nice, but probably too expensive:

  • organic
  • cows eat grass in a pasture during the summer
  • local, small dairy where I can see where the milk comes from

Why we don’t drink organic milk

I know that among the real food community, organic foods can be very popular.  However, there are two reasons that we don’t buy organic milk.  One is the cost.  The other is that the organic milk in our stores is always ultrapasteurized.  Not only do I find ultrapasteurized milk unpalatable, but also the higher heat makes many more changes to the milk than the lower heat of normal pasteurization.  Thus, I consider non-organic but RBST-free milk to be more natural and less processed than ultrapasteurized organic milk.  I’m sure that if I bought milk from a source other than the normal grocery store I could find some that is not ultrapasteurized and organic, but that’s simply not an option for my family right now.

velveeta

In my pursuit of real food, I wish that I could cut out Velveeta cheese.  It’s far too processed to count as real food.  However, there’s a family recipe for a spicy dip (I’ll get back to this later in the post) that I just can’t do without.  Because of this, I was really excited when I saw a post on King Arthur Flour’s blog showing how to make a velveeta substitute.  I looked around the internet and saw the same recipe many places.  I made it, following the directions.  It firmed up properly, and tasted good.  Then I make my recipe with it… the family recipe that had never failed in over 40 years with velveeta… and came up with something inedible.  It didn’t melt properly.  Instead of being smooth and creamy, it was entirely grainy, almost in curds.  I don’t know what I did wrong.  I used a block of mild cheddar cheese.  The only thing I can think of is that there were still little chunks of cheddar in the finished cheese.  Maybe that’s why it didn’t melt properly.  No one else on the various blogs that posted the recipe seems to have to problem I did.

The recipe that did not work was for a cheese dip that my family has always called Chile Con Queso.  I know that something similar become popular recently, often made with Rotel, but my grandmother and then my mother have been making it the way listed below for at least 40 years.  Probably more like 50 or 60, but it’s hard for me to be sure.  (well, except for the microwave part.  That doesn’t go back quite so far)

Chili Con Queso
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Author:
Ingredients
  • 2 lb Velveeta cheese
  • 1 can salsa
Instructions
  1. Cut velveeta into 1" cubes and put into microwave safe bowl with a cover. Pour salsa over. Microwave on 50% power, stirring every few minutes, until smooth and creamy. It will look like it's done a few minutes before it actually is. When it's actually done, the color is very consistent.

 

I don’t have a carb count for this recipe because my little one with diabetes won’t eat it because it’s spicy.

I’ll have to give the homemade velveeta substitute one more try, and watch out for cheese chunks.

The pie story

Fruit pie has always been one of my favorite desserts.  It’s one of the first desserts I took the time to learn to make well when I started needing to cook for myself.  And yet I went without it for almost two years.

The problem with fruit pie is that when you cut into it, the filling pours out, so there’s no way to make sure that the 1/8 of the pie crust that you serve someone has almost exactly 1/8 of the filling.  With something as high carb as fruit pie, this means that there’s too much uncertainty as to the carb total to feed it to a small child with diabetes.  I didn’t want to thicken up the filling, because I don’t like pie fillings that are gelatinous or starchy.  For this reason, I did not make any fruit pie, and so did not eat any fruit pie, for almost two years after my daughter’s diagnosis with diabetes.  There were times when it seemed like I was crying because I wanted fruit pie, although of course I was really crying about diabetes in many ways.

Then, instead of making a birthday cake for myself, I tried to make individual blueberry pies in canning jars, following an idea in King Arthur Flour’s blog.  They were good, but they somehow didn’t qualify as fruit pie.  I think that the shape and the filling to topping ratio were just off a bit.  Also, the filling and crust were cooked separately.  The carb counting was OK, though, which was encouraging.

Then, about a month ago I remembered that I had mini pie pans in the cabinet.  They make about 1/4 of an 8″ pie.  I made apple pies with these, and gave my child with diabetes half of one.  This was OK, I can split something in half and eye how much of the escaped filling goes with it.  Now, I can make fruit pie occasionally.  I found myself in tears again that night after the rest of the family was in bed.  I had fought one more little piece of normal away from diabetes, and it was one that was important to me.

Before I could make fruit pie, I needed several things.  I needed the idea of making small pies so that the carb counting was reasonable.  Also, I needed the confidence to tackle a food with such a high carb total.  This experience reinforces my belief that there is no real food that my child cannot eat if I put enough thought and effort into it.

Hunting down my favorite foods

I grew up in the Chicago area, so there are three foods that I really miss living anywhere else:

  • stuffed pizza
  • italian beef sandwiches
  • gyros

Years ago I found a recipe that mimics most of my favorite stuffed pizza place.  The tomato sauce is the only part I haven’t yet got quite right.  A few weeks ago I started trying to find a solution to the other two.  On the italian beef, I found a recipe to start with, but it just wasn’t right.  I need to find some other recipes and try again.

The gyros I’ve come close to finding a solution to.  I’ve now tried to make them twice.  Both times I used all lamb and followed Alton Brown’s recipe.  Both times it was good, but far enough off to be exasperating.  There was a funny ‘farm-like’ taste.

After the second unsatisfactory attempt tonight, I spent some time on the internet.  I found a website for my favorite gyros place, and they list the provider of their meat.  I then found that provider’s web site, and all their gyros logs use more beef than lamb!  That’s what we’ve been tasting.  I think next attempt I will try the recipe as written, except use half beef and half lamb.

I also have a tzaziki sauce recipe that I keep adjusting until it is just right.

Once I get the recipes just right, I’ll post again with them.

A failed experiment

My family loves eating Alton Brown’s ‘The Chewy’ chocolate chip cookies.  Last Friday, tried making both his puffy and his thin chocolate chip cookie recipes.  However, the resulting cookies looked almost exactly the same!  When I investigated, it turned out that my baking powder was getting weak (i.e. it foamed gently in hot water, rather than bubbling vigorously), and the puffy cookie used baking powder while the other cookies I’ve been making use baking soda.

I plan to repeat the experiment some other time and post the results then, including pictures and carb counts.

The moral of the story: be careful of the age of your baking powder.

kitchen tools for carb counting

To go along with my posts on the basics of carb counting, I thought I would talk about some of the tools that I use frequently in cooking while carb counting for diabetes care.

The one device that many home cooks don’t have that I couldn’t live without is my digital scale.  Mine is intended for baking, so all it gives me is the weight, to the nearest gram or nearest 1/8 oz.  It does not try to count carbs for me.  I had it for several years before my child’s diagnosis for baking, but then I used it about once a week.  Now I use it on average about 5 times a day.  I even use it to measure sandwich spreads.

I also have a more generous supply of volume measuring devices than most.  I have two sets (exactly the same so they are interchangeable) of metal dry measuring cups.  I also have several different liquid measuring cups, including the Emsa Perfect Beaker.

These are the only tools that I would say are influenced by the carb counting.

Tastes good = unhealthy??

I’ve been reading The Taste of Sweet by Joanne Chen, and it has me thinking.  Do many people really equate ‘tastes good’ with unhealthy?  I don’t know that this is something I would ever have agreed with.

Of course, before you can answer this question, you have to decide what is ‘unhealthy’ food.  After reading and thinking, I’ve come to a conclusion that doesn’t agree with either the current orthodox opinion or the main competitor.  I do not believe that fat, saturated fat, or cholesterol in food is any measure of its healthiness.  I also do not believe that carbs, sugar, or wheat are unhealthy.  It’s processing and chemical ingredients that I have suspicions about.

What this means is that a homemade chocolate chip cookie isn’t on my ‘awful for you’ list.  It’s something that can be quite healthy in moderation (i.e. the family sharing a batch of homemade cookies or two a week).  A package of cookies from the grocery store is much more unhealthy, with the hydrogenated oils usually used, preservatives, and the fact that much more of the preparation is done in a factory.

How does this relate to taste?  Homemade chocolate chip cookies do taste much better than anything from the store.  So in this case, healthier and tastes better are the same foods.

Actually, this is probably an almost universal rule.  For any food which has both a packaged and homemade version, the homemade version is healthier because it is less processed.  It also can always be better tasting, if enough time and money are put into the effort.  However, none of us have the time and energy to do this for all foods.

Then we should consider the foods that just can’t be made at home.  Some foods can’t be made without the use of processes that we just can’t replicate at home.  In my mind, many of these are also the most unhealthy foods.

Some of these considerations also apply to ingredients.  White flour that has not been bleached or bromated has been made for over a century.  It’s not far beyond what we could do at home, if we wanted.  We at least can make whole wheat flour.  Canola and soybean oils require industrial processes that we cannot possibly do at home.  Olive oil and lard were made at home, or at least on family farms, for centuries if not longer.

Do I want to live on a farm and eat nothing that I have not grown and processed every step of the way myself?  No, of course not,  But I do want to eat foods where I could conceivably make that food truly from scratch myself (i.e. plant a seed or raise an animal), if in the proper climate.  Like other grand ideals, I need to do what I can and be at peace with the fact I could always do more.  This afternoon, the way this looks is the following:

  • My crockpot has been working all day on corned beef.  I brined it myself for the last week and a half, but I used a purchased spice mixture.
  • I just put two loaves of homemade white bread in the oven.  They could have been whole grain, but that wasn’t what I wanted today.  I did use unbleached, unbromated white flour from King Arthur Flour.  The recipe I used called for shortening, and so I used a palm oil shortening instead of hydrogenated or interesterified shortening.  I’m making bread of the kind I want to eat, using the best ingredients easily available to me.
  • I’ll be steaming a fresh vegetable later.  Not organic, so I could have done better, but still a fresh veggie.  I’ll probably serve it with a little butter and and herb or two.

As the above set of examples shows, I do what I can about nutrition, and refuse to feel any guilt for the things that I can’t or choose not to do.

Returning to the original question, I think that given my definition of healthy food as less processed, and a variety of foods, tasty does not in any way imply unhealthy.

I would like to hear what you, the reader think.  Do healthy and tasty conflict?

Fruit on the bottom yogurt

My kids and I love fruit on the bottom yogurt.  It somehow always feels more ‘fruity’ than the yogurt with fruit flavor all over.  I’ve been making my own yogurt for a long time, but we either ate it plain or put some jam on top in a bowl and stirred it in.  It was far less convenient than the individual cartons, both to serve the kids and to carb count.  So yesterday I made my own.

I started out by making my own yogurt.  I used the instructions here, as usual.  I don’t use organic milk, but I do use whole milk.  Do not add dry milk, or that will change the carb totals.

Then I made a batch of blueberry goop for the yogurt.  It’s not jam, because it has less sugar and is runny.  It’s not syrup, because it has too many solid blueberries in it.  It’s not pie filling, because it has no flour or other such thickener.

IMG_0682

Blueberry Yogurt Goop
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Author:
Serves: 24 servings
Ingredients
  • about 1 lb frozen blueberries
  • 1 cup sugar
  • ⅛ cup lemon juice
Instructions
  1. Mix ingredients in a large saucepan. Heat, stirring frequently, until mixture reaches 220 °F.
Serving size: 4 teaspoons Carbs: 10 g

 

I made yogurt cups by putting 4 teaspoons of blueberry goop in the bottom of each 1 cup canning jar.  Then I stirred up the yogurt (it got runny; this is OK) and put 3/4 cup of yogurt into each jar.  Then I put a lid on each jar and refrigerated them overnight.  The yogurt thickened back up as it cooled. Yum!

IMG_0681

Total carb count per jar: 9 grams for the yogurt and 10 for the goop.  This gives a total of 19 grams of carbs for a jar.  This is about what a container of Greek yogurt from the store has, and about half what Yoplait or Dannon has.

I think this would turn out better in a wide mouth 1 cup jar.  It would be easier to stir and eat.