DIY Gourmet Pizza: Cheaper than Take Out

If you’re good at starting something, forgetting about it, coming back to it hours later, then homemade pizzas are just the best. They’re so affordable to make, and you can put ingredients on you want on them. Best of all, you can make two pizzas with one batch, and freeze one for those days you’re broke and don’t feel like cooking. Depending on your ingredients, your homemade pizza can cost less than those frozen, cardboard flavoured things you find in the frozen food section of the grocery.

Does it take long? Not really. To be honest, if you start the dough in the morning, or leave it overnight to be rolled out and baked the next day, it’s not too bad. The dough takes about an hour to rise and be rolled out.

Do you need special equipment? Nope. You don’t really need a speed mixer or a food processor, but if you have one – great! It does cut down some of the time mixing the flour and yeast, if that’s an issue. For this experiment, I just used my stand mixer to blend the dough at the beginning.  As for rolling, I didn’t even have a proper rolling pin. I used an empty wine bottle.

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As you can see, rolling pins are optional. 

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 and 1/2 cup all purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon quick-rising instant dry yeast
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

Mix the dry ingredients (flour, yeast and salt) together in a bowl, and pour it all out onto a counter. Make a well in the center, so you have what should remind you of a high school volcano diorama.

Next, run your hot water tap and fill your measuring cup until its 1/2 full: Make sure it’s just a little warmer than room temperature, but if you’re that worried, use a thermometer: It should be 120 F or 50 degrees Celcius. Add the oil, and pour this mix into the hole of your volcano. Instant lava!

Now, here comes the fun part. If you were the kid who loved playing with plasticene in kindergarten, you get to relieve your youth again. Start mashing the sides of the flour-volcano towards the centre of the lava pit, and start kneading. Knead it for at least eight minutes straight, or through the duration of three songs from your favourite album. You really can’t over-knead the dough at this stag.e

If you doubt your stamina or your strength, it’s okay to use a food processor with the pastry blade if you have one, or the dough hook on a stand mixer. The proportions of the dough remain the same.

The first stage of kneading will yield a ropey and raggedy dough, but that’s okay. It’s all part of the plan.

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The first stage of kneading: It doesn’t look like it now, but this will become a nice, smooth ball of dough.

You can put it in a greased bowl, and cover it in plastic wrap, or just cover it with a large bowl. Put this in a draft-free place and forget about it. Clean up a bit. Vacuum your home. Run an errand or two. Call a friend and invite them over for custom made pizza. The rising stage should last an hour: check it to see if it’s doubled in size.

Cut the dough ball in half. You now have the choice of the following:

  1. Wrap the dough balls in plastic wrap. Put the frozen balls of dough in the freezer for thawing and rolling out later.
  2. Keep the plastic wrapped dough balls in the fridge if you want to bake pizzas within the next 24-48 hours.
  3. Roll out the dough – without the plastic wrap, of course – and dress them.

I’ve rolled out the dough of one of the balls for immediate use. I decided to partially bake the other. By baking it halfway, it means the dough is slightly raw, and perfect for cooling and freezing. When you put the frozen (half-baked) pizza in the oven, it thaws and bakes perfectly, just like a store bought frozen pizza. Except this version tastes good.

Sprinkle two 12 inch pans with flour or cornmeal, if you want a crunchy crust. Put the flattened round of dough down, and start topping it any way you want.

I added the following toppings to mine:

  • Pesto, brushed over the top of the dough
  • Kalamata olives
  • Slices of spicy pepperoni
  • Sliced mushrooms

My significant other, Dominic put three kinds of meat on his

  • Tomato paste to coat the dough
  • Dried oregano, thyme and marjoram (to give the flavourless tomato paste some “oomph”)
  • Spicy pepperoni slices
  • Half cooked bacon (it would burn if placed fully cooked on top of the pizza)
  • Salami

Preheat your oven to 500 degrees Farenheit. Here’s the trick to getting the cheese all ooey and gooey: Put add the cheese after you take it out of the oven. Really. Don’t put it on the raw pizza, it will overcook and get crusty. If you like crunchy brown mozzarella, then go ahead, but trust me, half the joy of a good pizza is the way the cheese melts into soft strings as you pull a slice away.

So: Put your veg, meat or other toppings (pineapple? Anchovies? Sautéed mushrooms and caramelized onions?) on the pizza and bake the whole thing in the bottom third of your oven, for about 10 minutes. My oven was slow, so this process was 15 minutes. It needed another minute in the oven after I added shredded mozzarella.

trust me, half the joy of a good pizza is the way the cheese melts into soft strings as you pull a slice away.

Result: Two pizzas. The flour was approximately 50 cents, and the most expensive part of the toppings were the meat slices. We bought an immense brick of cheese that was on sale for $5.00, and we only used a third of it. In all, both pizzas cost about $6.00, and yielded four slices each. That makes it $3.00 per meal since we each ate two slices for dinner, and had the other two for lunch the next day.

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If I were going to make frozen pizza, I would still bake them in the bottom third rack of the oven at 500 Farenheit, but for only 5-7 minutes. Let them cool, then wrap in plastic, or use a re-sealable frozen food bag.Add the cheese and follow the same rules for cooking. The only difference is that with the par-cooked pizzas, you can put those directly on the oven rack as it cooks.

Here are some other recommendations for pizza toppings:

  • Shrimp
  • Caramelized garlic
  • Seared scallops and béchamel sauce
  • Sun-dried tomatoes
  • Red onion rings
  • Green peppers
  • Grilled zucchini
  • Hot peppers
  • Feta cheese
  • Smoked cheese, like Applewoods smoked cheddar, or smoked Gouda
  • Smoked meat (Pastrami, if you’re American)
  • Marinated, grilled tofu

The options are endless.

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Vegan Burrito Bowl for Fifty Cents a Serving

I confess: I’m a burrito addict. Maybe it’s the combination of spices, or the warm tortilla that wraps up the contents in a lovely fluffy blanket, but there’s something about the mix of beans and rice that just says, “comfort food.”

This spring was a tough one, with snow, ice, rain, then more snow coming down almost daily. I don’t think I’ve seen the sun in a week. Sunshine can only be faked in the kitchen with some cilantro, chili peppers, cumin, lemon pepper and smoked paprika. That’s right: If you want to feel the heat – stay in the kitchen.

Though I’m not too far from Kensington Market, the idea of dragging myself out into the cold, damp misery that is early April in Toronto is not appealing…even if it is for fresh from the oven tortillas.

Fighting off a flu, and hobbling about in my kitchen, I had only a few ingredients and a limited reserve of energy to make myself food. Canned beans and a pot of rice is my home version of fast food. I know, purists would soak and boil those beans, but then again, those same purists would be out there planting and hand-picking their own beans, giving each one a name and storing it in an artisanal, hand-crafted vessel.

There are times when canned beans are a blessing, and flu season is one of them. When bought on sale at 79 cents per can, it’s a healthy and very affordable deal. The breakdown for this meal comes to fifty cents a serving, including the rice and cilantro. The avocado brought it closer to a dollar, since I bought a bag for $3 at my green grocer, earlier. The rice was bought in bulk, so it came out to less than what I’d usually pay for pre-packaged brown rice.

I know, purists would soak and boil those beans, but then again, those same purists would be out there planting and hand-picking their own beans, giving each one a name and storing it in an artisanal, hand-crafted vessel.

Another frugal benefit: Leftover beans and rice can be used in soups, stews or stuffed into veggie-burgers. More on that, later. Now, on to our adventures in Cooking While Under The Influence of Cough Syrup!

First step: Take a deep swig of cough syrup. Room spinning? Check.

Second step: Take one cup of brown rice, wash it, and toast it a bit in the pot. This will give your rice a bit more depth as well as guarantee fluffy brown rice.  Add three cups of water or veggie broth – whatever you have on hand, really.  I’ve dolled up my rice with a sprig of bay leaf. Bring it to a boil on your stove top, cover it, and then turn off the burner.

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Third Step: pass out for an hour while the rice steams.

Wake up to your rice being fully cooked. Feel righteous that your rice came out looking restaurant worthy. Celebrate with another swig of cough syrup.

Next, pick a medium sized yellow onion, and slice it into rings. Sauté the onion in a tablespoon or two of olive oil until they are soft, and slightly translucent.

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Next, open the can of beans and rinse it. Yes, I know I’m lazy, but this step is an important one, and even at my most sluggish, I rinse the beans. Why? Some beans break down or get mashed in the can, leaving a pulpy residue. Some also say that rinsing the beans reduces the cellulose that contributes to gas; I just don’t like murky looking beans darkening the rice.

See how nice the beans looked when they’re rinsed?

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Toss them in to the pan along with the onions. Add the following spices:

  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 1 teaspoon lemon pepper (or more, to taste)
  • 1 teaspoon thyme
  • 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper

You can add chilli peppers, chopped jalapeño peppers – whatever floats your boat, really. I decorated it with some fresh chopped cilantro and some avocado:

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Look at them. I mean, just look at them – like little ovoid suns, suggesting balmier temperatures and warmer climes. How could I not put them in my burrito bowl?

Here’s a look at the finished product:

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If this fragrant and spicy bowl can’t kick my bug to the curb, nothing will. I’m only sorry I didn’t chop up some jalapeño peppers for some extra kick, but I can add them to the leftover mix tomorrow.

Now for the truly important question I know you’re dying to ask: How does it pair with cough syrup? Let’s be honest, nothing pairs with cough syrup. I’d recommend a cerveza or a tequila based cocktail, if you’re imbibing. If, like me, you’re medicated, and know better than to mix over-the-counter medication with alcohol, a hot lemon tea works with this meal, too.

To your good health!