Monthly Archives: January 2014

Making More Bath Soap

I hate it when this happens, but now I can’t find the original site where I got this idea from.  The idea is so awesome, however, that I have to share it.

I don’t know about the rest of you parents out there, but I feel like we go through Little Man’s foaming body wash and shampoo like mad.  Then I saw the post (which I cannot find… doh!) about how to more or less create your own foaming soap.  This is one case where I’m not going out and to get the raw ingredients I need to create something, but instead am just making something I already have stretch farther.  I love it!

All you need is an empty foaming soap dispenser and your favorite brand of non-foaming child’s body wash/shampoo.  Pour enough of the body wash into your empty container to fill it about 1/4 of the way full.  Then carefully fill the rest with cool water, leaving enough air at the top of the bottle so that the lid can be reinserted and the contents mixed without spilling.  Then reinsert and secure the lid, and gently tip the bottle up and down until the soap and the water are mixed together.  Resist the urge to shake the bottle as all you will do is make bubbles.  Then use your new foaming bath soap as normal.  Brilliant!  My heartfelt thanks go out to that mystery blogger who gave me this great, money saving idea!

And if you have any other cool ideas, please feel free to share.  I’m all for things that make life easier… and less expensive.

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Birthday Party Food for Kiddos… and Their Very Patient Parents

We are still relative newbies to the world of children’s birthday parties, and the terror that can be instilled in the heart of a parent when s/he sees a precious child return from a friend’s party with a goodie bag so chock full of candy that it rivals Halloween.  I cannot speak to how other people’s children act (well… actually I could, but that isn’t polite) when hopped up on that level of sugar and pizza-party junk food, but I can attest to how my lovely, precocious little boy turns into a whirlwind of high pitched cackles and rule breaking that I can only describe as temporary insanity for all involved.  As fellow parents, shouldn’t we want to set our own children, as well as their friends and parents, up for success?

I’m not suggesting that all birthday party food must be reduced to carrots and hummus (although that would be tasty!), but we can create amazing birthdays while still feeding people well… and inexpensively.  The food that I include here isn’t necessarily healthy.  This is celebration food, not something that you would include in your diet or eat on a daily basis.  Nor is it filled with preservatives or the nearly obscene amounts of sugar found in processed foods.  These are all dishes that can be made a couple days (or more) in advance so that the day of the party can be spent enjoying the birthday boy or girl, not panicking over the stove (I’ve been there too).  So let’s have a party, and not feel sick to our stomachs by the end of the feast.

The foods and drink that I am posting here are actually the same recipes that we’ve used for all of Little Man’s birthday parties so far and many of the recipes are not my own.  For those dishes I’ve included the links to the original sites, so all you have to do is click on the dish’s highlighted name and a window will open with that recipe from its original site.  It’s unlike me to recycle exact menus like this for recurring celebrations, but we’re still finding our way in how to throw great kid parties.  I wanted recipes that I knew would turn out great, that could be done in advance, and that wouldn’t break our bank account or my spirit to prepare.  I might break out and try something different next year, but then again if it isn’t broken…

So here’s the menu:

  • Rainbow Fruit Platter
  • Jungle Juice Punch
  • Amazing Mac n Cheese
  • Zebra Cake
  • Snacks and Goodie Bags

Rainbow Fruit Platter

Rainbow Fruit Platter served on a rectangular bamboo cutting board.

Rainbow Fruit Platter served on a rectangular bamboo cutting board.

One of the most commonly re-pinned items from my Pintrest boards is this Rainbow Fruit Platter.  The original site I pinned it from does not exist any more, but similar images have popped up across the internet.  I don’t know what it is about this simple dish (maybe the avoidance of the tasteless cantaloupe and honeydew melon that so often “graces” fruit plates), but every time I serve this at a child’s party it gets eaten up faster than anything else.  For best results, use fresh fruit.  It seems silly to state this for a fruit platter, but having lived in places where during the winter months you sit back and watch the price of fresh produce skyrocket it can be tempting to go for frozen.  To put it mildly, the texture would be a bummer.  It doesn’t matter what shape platter you use for this, I’ve used both rectangular (above) and circular (below).  Just be sure to give enough room for each color arc to be well represented.

Rainbow Fruit Platter (and Pooh Bear) at the party in 2012.

Rainbow Fruit Platter (and Pooh Bear) served on a circular metal platter.

You can use any combination of your favorite fruits, but here are the ones that I keep coming back to both for their great colors and taste.

Rainbow Fruit Platter

Ingredients

Red: Sliced Strawberries and fresh Raspberries

Orange: Mandarin Oranges, peeled and divided into segments

Yellow: Pineapple, peeled and cut into bite-size pieces

Green: Green Grapes, halved

Blue/Indigo: Blueberries and/or Blackberries

Directions:

  1. Find a large serving platter and set it near your work station.  Depending on the platter’s material, you may want to cover it with plastic wrap before putting the fruit down.
  2. Prepare the different fruits and set them aside in individual bowls.
  3. Begin with the red (and largest) arc of your rainbow, and arrange the strawberries on the platter.
  4. Then fill in each succeeding arc with your chosen fruit.  You may need to adjust the size of your arcs as you go.
  5. Add the most delicate fruits, like the raspberries and blackberries (if using) last.
  6. Once the platter is complete, roll up a small paper towel and place it in the void between the blueberries or blackberries to preserve the arc’s shape.
  7. Cover the platter loosely with plastic wrap and store in the refrigerator until the party.  You can do this the night before, but I don’t suggest doing this too early since the texture of the cut fruit can get mushy.

Click here for a printable version of the Rainbow Fruit Platter recipe.

Jungle Juice Punch

Finding a drink that is both suitable for kids and enjoyed by adults can be tricky at parties.  For my part, I don’t allow Little Man to drink pop (or soda for those south of the border) or any of those popular punches made out of flavor packets that are little more than sugar and food coloring.  Instead I use one of the iced tea and fruit juice-based punches published by Giada De Laurentis on the Food Network website.  For kid-based parties my favorite is Giada’s Apple Mint Punch, which I call “Jungle Juice” for the parties because of its golden green color.  I make a double or triple batch and serve it in a large bee-hive shaped glass beverage carafe.  In Giada’s recipe she makes simple syrup with fresh mint as the sweetener.  It pains me to pay for fresh mint in the store (especially in winter), so I often use dried mint.  If you use dried herbs, just use half the quantity that the recipe specifies.  Dried herbs are much stronger than the fresh, so you don’t need quite as much.  If you are making this when your garden or local farmers market is full of fresh herbs, use whatever mixture of herbs you like best.  My favorite version of this was actually from last summer when my mint had been severely hacked back in a fit of mojito making, so instead I used fresh basil and tarragon.  The punch was delicious!

Amazing Mac n Cheese

Since Little Man still takes naps, I like to have his parties in the morning so that things are breaking up right around the time for him (and his friends) to settle down for nap time.  That means that I want the kiddos and their parents to have something good for lunch, so that they have energy to play, none of us are feeling sick from too much junk food, and the kids can leave feeling happy not completely pooped and grouchy from sugar crash.  My favorite dish for this is an amazing Mac n Cheese from the Pioneer Woman (aka Ree Drummond) also on Food Network.  I make a double batch of this in the morning, pile it into my largest lasagna pan and set it aside until I’m just about ready to serve lunch.  Then I top it liberally with grated, sharp cheddar cheese and broil the top until its melted and golden brown.  I’ve also made this the night before and reheated it for a party the next day.  Just be sure to give yourself ample time to rewarm the casserole in the oven, and hold off on adding the cheesy topping until you are just about ready to serve.  Every time I serve this I have parents’ asking me for the recipe.  Now you have it!

Zebra Cake

065Of course I forgot to take a picture of the inside of the cake, but if you want to see the cool, zebra-print pattern check out the link that follows with the cake’s name.  The first time I can across Zebra Cake was from the DIY Queen website.  The original post consists just of cool pictures of the process, but I found a number of other sites where the process is described in greater detail.  Check out Fae’s Twist & Tango for a great example with detailed explanation of the steps and sample cake recipes.  It’s astoundingly simple, and gravity does much of the work for you.  Simply choose your favorite white cake and chocolate cake recipes (or box mixes) and prepare the batters.  The batters need to be of pourable consistency, so if they are too thick you might need to thin them out a little.  Then you start by pouring a small scoop (about 1/3 of a cup) of the white batter in the middle of your prepared (butter and parchment paper) cake pan.  Then add a similarly sized scoop of the chocolate batter, and repeat.  Try to save the last scoop for the chocolate batter.  With each scoop, gravity will slowly push the other rings out towards the edges of the pan.  Then bake, cool and decorate as you would like.  Little Man’s party was animal-themed (hence the cake I chose), so we used a delicious chocolate frosting, simple candles, and a ring of non-toxic plastic animals for decoration.  Once the candles were blown out each child (birthday boy first) got to choose an animal to add to their goodie bag.

068Snacks and Goodie Bags

Beyond the Rainbow Fruit Platter and the Mac n Cheese, I like to keep the rest of the offerings simple.  For this birthday, Little Man’s sole request for food at his party was for Cheezies, a Canadian cheese-puff that is similar to the American Cheetos.  One word of advice, don’t start a discussion with a Canadian about which brand is better.  They are very passionate about their Cheezies…  So to honor Little Man’s one birthday request, and to celebrate our new Canadian home, a good sized bowl of Cheezies appeared next to the Mac n Cheese casserole at his party.

Little Man's sole request for food at his party was Cheezies.

Little Man’s sole request for food at his party was Cheezies.

The Goodie Bags for Little Man’s party were relatively simple in that there wasn’t a ton of stuff, and we tried to keep sugar to a minimum.  Each child got a small bag (gotta love the dollar stores) with their name in puffy paint.  Inside each bag was an animal foam magnate kit to do at home another time.  Then we’d also gotten animal-themed stickers and handed those out after the kids did a great dance party.  Each child also got a handmade animal mask (see next week’s post for more information on those), and two stacks of miniature homemade cookies (Chocolate Chip and Oatmeal Raisin).  We wanted the bags to be fun and special, but not filled with candy or expensive to make/buy.  They were also fun for me to work on over the week prior to Little Man’s Party.

A tray filled with the Goodie Bags and things to go in them.

A tray filled with the Goodie Bags and things to go in them.

On the whole, I think the party was a success.  For the next week Little Man kept asking to have his friends over for another dance party.  The streamers finally came down, and now we’re settling in to these new adventures with a little boy who is one more year older.  It’s fun to day dream about the new adventures we’ll have together over this next year… and what he’ll want for his next birthday party.

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Stocking the Pantry

I am always drawn to the food television shows or magazine articles about stocking your pantry with things that you have made yourself, or how to make fast and delicious meals on the fly from whatever is in your pantry.  Yet it seems that no matter how many of these shows I watch or magazines I read, the pantry staples focused on are never the same ones that I always have stashed away.  I’ve come to the conclusion that our pantries are often as individual to us as our fingerprints are; shaped by our own backgrounds, be this cultural, economic, geographic, etc.  So I am not going to make the assumption that any of you have the same pantry staples as me.  But if I might make one suggestion… you really should have some pizza dough in your freezer at all times.  This is free advice, and therefore worth as much as you pay for it.  Do with it as you will.  In my opinion, good quality pizza dough is worth its weight in gold in terms of quick meal preparation.

You can use the pizza dough, of course, to make your own pizza, but that is just the beginning of the world of things that you can make with your own dough stashed away in the freezer.  I use it to make flat breads to serve with homemade hummus and other meze (small plate dishes from Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cuisines), a knock-off version of naan (a delicious Indian flatbread), bread sticks, garlic knots, calzone, flatbreads topped with oven roasted vegetables, and the possibilities continue.  In fact, if you have any suggestions for how to use pizza dough to create other dishes, please share!  I would love to hear your ideas and to expand my own possibilities.

If you do want to use the dough for its namesake and make your own pizza you won’t be disappointed.  It is infinitely cheaper to make your own pizza than to order out, and you would be surprised by how a little bit of food goes a long way to top your creation.  Let me warn you, however, that once you realize how few toppings your local pizza place is actually giving you compared to what they charge, you might be a bit perturbed.

The best part of all of this (except for eating your creation, of course) is that if you make a large batch of pizza dough you can freeze it in individual portions for up to a couple of months.  I like to make a large batch of dough that creates roughly six portions.  I freeze these individually in plastic bags, defrost them as needed, and when my supply gets low I whip up another batch when I can.  Then when I find that I am in need of a dinner idea but don’t have much on hand, one of my first thoughts always goes to pizza with either a white or red sauce (and yes, I have used jarred marinara here in a pinch… no haters, please), and any number of combinations of the few food items I might have on hand.  You will see some of my pizza creations appearing here over the next few months.  After all, I did just stock my freezer with some dough…  To get your feet wet, try the Harvest Moon Pizza posted recently (Pebble Beaches and Pizza).  I hope you love it as much as my family does.

Harvest Moon Pizza on my Whole Wheat Pizza Dough.

Harvest Moon Pizza on my Whole Wheat Pizza Dough.

Whole Wheat Pizza Dough

Ingredients

3 c. water

1 tbsp. honey

2 packets active dry yeast (or 4 ½ tsp.)

4 c. whole wheat flour

2 c. bread flour (preferably whole wheat)

2 c. all purpose flour

3 tsp. salt

Olive oil, for oiling the proofing bowl

Directions

Pour the water into a microwave safe measuring cup and microwave for 1 minute or until hot to the touch.  Don’t burn yourself, but the water should be very warm (around 100 degrees F or just over).  Add the honey and the yeast to the water and stir to combine.  Set the measuring cup aside for 10 minutes to let the yeast proof… aka get foamy.  If you yeast doesn’t foam up, then try reheating the whole thing for a few seconds in the microwave.  If it still doesn’t foam, then you may have had a bad batch of yeast and you’ll need to start again.

Getting the yeast ready to proof... aka get foamy.

Getting the yeast ready to proof… aka get foamy.

Nicely proofed yeast.  A little bit of honey or sugar goes a long way to give the yeast cells a nice snack.

Nicely proofed yeast. A little bit of honey or sugar goes a long way to give the yeast cells a nice snack.

Method 1: Electric Stand Mixer

Combine the flours and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook.  Once the yeast has proofed, pour it into the bowl with the flours and the salt.  Starting at the lowest speed, combine the ingredients and then let the machine “knead” the dough at the speed recommended by the manufacturer (mine suggests not going beyond speed 2 for doughs) for 6 minutes.

The dry ingredients in the mixer bowl.  Be sure to mix the salt into the flour before adding the yeast.  Salt can slow yeast down, so I don't want the yeast to get a big mouthful of salt all on its own.

The dry ingredients in the mixer bowl. Be sure to mix the salt into the flour before adding the yeast. Salt can slow yeast down, so I don’t want the yeast to get a big mouthful of salt all on its own.

Getting everything mixed together.

Getting everything mixed together.

The dough starts to incorporate into a ball.

The dough starts to incorporate into a ball.

Oh, how I love my stand mixer...  6 minutes later and you have the perfect dough ready to rise.

Oh, how I love my stand mixer… 6 minutes later and you have the perfect dough ready to rise.

Method 2: By Hand

I have done this by hand many times, and there is something immensely satisfying about hand kneading your dough.  However, it does take a bit more time and counter space than the stand mixer method.  To do this by hand, simply combine the flours and salt in a large mixing bowl.  Once the yeast has proofed, stir it into the flours until relatively well combined.  Then turn it out onto a lightly floured work surface and knead by hand, adding as little flour as possible, for about 15 minutes.  The dough should be elastic and only a little tacky to the touch.

Both methods come together here…

Once the dough is kneaded, whether by hand or machine, get a large bowl to allow the dough to proof or rise.  Drizzle a little olive oil around the bowl’s walls.  Form the dough into a large ball, place it in the oiled bowl and then flip it over so that the dough is oiled on all sides.  This will keep it moist during the rising process.  Cover the bowl loosely with plastic wrap and then cover that with a clean dish towel.  Set the bowl aside in a warm place to rise for about one hour or until doubled in size.

Getting the dough ready to proof.

Getting the dough ready to proof.

Tucking it in...  For this batch I brought the dough downstairs where our wood burning stove was cranking out some heat.  It was toasty warm down there, rather than the cool kitchen upstairs.

Tucking it in… For this batch I brought the dough downstairs where our wood burning stove was cranking out some heat. It was toasty warm down there, rather than the cool kitchen upstairs.

The plastic wrap helped keep my massive bowl of dough from completely overflowing.

The plastic wrap helped keep my massive bowl of dough from completely overflowing.

Once the dough has proofed, gently press it down to deflate or degas the dough.  Let it rest for about 5 minutes and then form it into individual portions.  This batch should make 6 regular-sized pizzas, or you can use different portion sizes to create larger or smaller pizzas.  Divide the dough up evenly, form each portion into a ball, and unless you are using the dough immediately place them into individual freezer bags.

At this point the dough can be frozen for 1-2 months and used as needed.  From frozen, simply remove one of the portions the night before you want to use it and let it thaw in the refrigerator overnight.  If like me you forget to do this step, do not fear.  Simply remove the frozen dough from its plastic bag and place it on a microwave safe plate.  Then microwave the dough for 1 minute, and let it sit in the microwave oven for 5 minutes.  Then check to see how it is doing.  If the center is still frozen, give it another 30 seconds in the microwave followed by another couple of minutes to rest.  Then use the dough as desired.

Once the dough is thawed, or if you use it right after proofing, simply place your portion on a lightly floured work surface and roll it out or hand stretch it to your desired shape and size.  Then proceed with any pizza or flat bread recipe of your choice.  Enjoy!

Click here for a printable version of the Whole Wheat Pizza Dough recipe.

The pizza as it is just slid into the oven on my pizza stone.

A Changing Landscape

Things have changed for us, here on the island.  Where we moved from, the heartland of the States, the land is flat, and that is a generous statement.  The first time I landed in the Great Plains, it was disorientingly flat.  The vista was so extensive it felt like you could see the curvature of the Earth on the horizon, like you could simply tip off the planet.  I grew to see the beauty of the fields of corn stretching as far as the eye could see, but mountains and ocean always felt like home to me.  Then when we first moved to Vancouver Island with its immense forests and at least suggestions of mountains, driving along the highways felt like the trees were arching inward over our heads.  You could only see as far as the clear cut highway would let you, vistas shut off by trees at every curve of the road.  It was stunning, but after the vastness of the plains the forests of the island gave a slightly claustrophobic feel.

A little Little Man on a farm in the prairie.

A little Little Man on a farm in the prairie.

But like I said, things have changed.  I’m not exactly sure when it happened, but the other day as I was driving down the highway I noticed that it felt different; more open.  The trees stretched straight up to the skies and made you want to stand up taller, like you too could touch the sky.  Where before they felt constricting, now they felt like life, like wanting to fill your lungs to bursting with fresh air.  More like home.

Out for a walk

Out for a walk

Now we just need to be able to start putting names to the new faces of our landscapes.  Like the name of the hills/mountains that we live in.  Learn more about why/how the nearby lake was drained for the mining industry.  Figure out the names of the trees new to us on our walks.  We’ve learned Arbutus, the Eucalyptus looking tree in the above picture, but that’s the extent of our botany.  It’s fun to think that as Little Man expands his vocabulary at an alarming rate, we too are expanding our homeland vocabulary and learning how to speak from/about “home.”

Remember the moai from one of the first posts?  Here's the long promised picture.

Remember the moai from one of the first posts? Here’s the long promised picture.

Pebble Beaches and Pizza

In a previous post (A Day Off in Wine Country) I wrote about how this last summer Dave surprised me with a wonderful day off (aka a Surprise Day), touring local wineries on Vancouver Island like we used to do in New York.  Then, just before the end of this last semester, I decided it was the perfect time for me to surprise him too.  So Little Man and I went to pick him up at our normal time, but we weren’t going home for a slow cooker super that evening.  Little Man “hid” behind his special teddy bear (both in the rear car seat of course) and yelled “SURPRISE!” as soon as Dave got to the car.  We then whisked him off to the shore for a walk along the pebble beach at Neck Point.

View from the trail leading to Neck Point.

View from the trail leading to Neck Point.

This Surprise Day was actually inspired by the water table at Little Man’s Strong Start program (more on that program in a future post).  For those readers who don’t have toddlers, a water table is a sensory tool where kids can explore different textures and types of things in water.  You can fill a plastic storage tub with anything you would like, then put in a couple inches of water… or sand… or whatever you would like.  The one that Little Man was playing with had a couple of inches (or a few centimeters, depending on which side of the border/metric unit you prefer) of water in which floated a scattering of plastic sea animals, as well as a number of smooth, rounded pebbles and assorted sea shells.  Little Man loved playing with the pebbles in the water and I asked the teacher where she found them.  The answer was Neck Point.

Walking along the beach in the shadow of the forest.

Walking along the beach in the shadow of the forest.

Neck Point is a popular pebble beach and walking path in Nanaimo and I had heard of it but not had a chance to check it out yet.  The directions posted on the Nanaimo Information website  are as follows: “Turn off Hammond Bay Road onto Morningside Drive, north of Pipers Lagoon. Or, you can park at the end of McGuffie Rd and follow a path.”  We followed those directions and our GPS and got there unscathed, with about an hour of light left before the sun started to go down.  A perfect amount of time for a toddler-sized walk along the beach before food/snack is required.

View from the parking lot.

View from the parking lot.

From the parking lot, you first see a beautiful pebble beach, but to get to the “neck” of Neck Point you need to walk a bit further.  We took the trail to the left of the pebble beach and headed in what we hoped was the correct direction.  The path curved around to the left, climbing slowly, and passing a couple of scenic benches and picnic tables.  Then as we turned the corner and walked into the shadow of the mountain, we saw a beautiful log-strewn pebble beach.  With the blue, blue sky and the cries of the cormorants, it was stunning.  Little Man scampered down the stairs, over the logs and had a great time threw rocks into the sea.  Dave clambered over rocks, over the logs, and out on some sea rocks looking like he was walking on water.  In the shadow of the forest with the sun lowering behind the trees it started to get a bit cold, too cold for a picnic dinner.  But once we get into springtime, we are definitely going to be giving that a try.

Stretching our legs

Stretching our legs

run

After a bit of family clambering around and pebble hunting, I realized that we hadn’t quite made it to the “neck.”  So we continued down the curving path, up a long stairway and raised wooden walkway leading over the rocks, and down again towards the “neck.”  During low tides the “neck” consists of a narrow strip of pebbly land that juts out to a “head” of rocks surrounded by sea.  We were lucky in our timing and were going out just before the tide started to come back in.  The view was gorgeous, and we all had fun climbing around… though I was wishing we had brought Little Man’s lion tether as he kept creeping closer to the edge and wasn’t feeling like holding his parents’ hands while climbing like a little mountain goat.  A few tussles later and we decided it was time to head back for dinner.

Dave walking on water.

Dave walking on water.

Timber strewn pebble beach

Timber strewn pebble beach

The walkway to the "neck" of Neck Point.

The walkway to the “neck” of Neck Point.

Neck Point at low tide reveals a narrow pebble path to the sea rocks.

Neck Point at low tide reveals a narrow pebble path to the sea rocks.

Climbing on the sea rocks.

Climbing on the sea rocks.

climb2On this particular night I was going to treat Dave to our favorite Indian place, Amrikos, for dinner.  Our plans changed when we discovered that the restaurant had suffered a horrible fire and had moved locations at least temporarily.  So our dinner was good, but a bit subdued that evening.  To make up for it, the next weekend I made a pizza inspired by one of our favorite restaurants called Farm in Bloomington, Indiana.  The food is amazing and it’s still a place that we miss even years after moving from the area.

The Harvest Moon Pizza is inspired by one of their seasonal flatbreads.  The Farm version used locally sourced kielbasa and smoked gouda, along with homemade sauerkraut and grainy mustard.  It may sound a bit odd on your pizza, but it is absolutely delicious.  My version uses more premade items, and switches up the flavors a bit, but it still comes from that homey, cold-weather type of comfort food… on a pizza crust.  Feel free to make your own pizza dough, I’ll be sharing my recipe for that in an upcoming post, or pick some up premade from your favorite store or pizzeria.  I’d suggest not buying the pre-baked variety, but go for something that is still the dough that you can shape and season to your own liking.

038Harvest Moon Pizza

Ingredients

Premade whole wheat pizza dough (white flour dough can be used too)

2 Tbsp. butter

2 Tbsp. flour

1 cup milk, preferably whole milk but any grade will do

1 bay leaf

1 garlic clove, crushed

¼ tsp. grated nutmeg

1 tsp. dried mustard powder

¼ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese (not the canned stuff)

Salt and pepper, to taste

Olive oil

1 tsp. herbs de provance (or other dried green herb like thyme, basil or oregano)

½ package kielbasa, sliced into ¼ inch rings (save the rest for another meal)

Small can of sauerkraut, drained

1 ½ cups good quality white cheddar, freshly shredded

Directions

Preheat your oven to 450 Fahrenheit.  If you have one, this is the time to put your pizza stone in your oven.  Mine stays on the lower rack all the time, so it’s always there when I want some solid, ceramic-based heat.

The Sauce

First, make your roux, or mixture of butter (or other fat) and flour.  In a medium saucepan, melt the butter over medium low heat.  Once the butter is melted whisk in the flour, and keep on whisking for one minute.  Watch your roux like a hawk, and do your best to not let the flour color, turning down the heat if necessary.  After a good minute, slowly pour in the milk, whisking all the while until everything is smoothly combined into a thick béchamel.  Add the bay leaf, garlic clove, nutmeg, and mustard powder to your sauce, and cook gently for about 5 minutes or until very thick, stirring often.  This is not a light béchamel for pasta, but is a thicker version for the white sauce for your pizza.  Your sauce will be more robust rather than dainty.  Once the sauce has thickened whisk in the parmesan cheese until velvety smooth.  Taste your sauce for seasoning, adding a little salt and pepper if necessary.  You should have a slight bite from the mustard, but it should not be overpowering.  Once the flavors are to your liking, take the sauce off the heat and set it aside.

The beginning of a roux, or thickener made from butter (or other fat) and flour.

The beginning of a roux, or thickener made from butter (or other fat) and flour.

Adding the flour

Adding the flour

Now whisk like you mean it

Now whisk like you mean it

Adding flavor to your bechamel, in this case from garlic, a bay leaf and mustard powder.

Adding flavor to your bechamel, in this case from garlic, a bay leaf and mustard powder.

The bechamel is thickened.

The bechamel is thickened.

Parmesan cheese rounds out this flavorful white sauce for your pizza.

Parmesan cheese rounds out this flavorful white sauce for your pizza.

The Pizza

If you have a pizza stone, it should already be heated in your oven.  If you do not have a pizza stone, place a large baking sheet upside down on your middle oven rack.  This will serve as your stone.

Heat a non-stick skillet over medium-high heat, and then add your kielbasa slices to the pan.  Continue to cook and toss your kielbasa until it is golden brown in spots.  Then turn the kielbasa out of the pan onto a paper towel- lined plate and set it aside.

Adding the kielbasa to the hot pan.

Adding the kielbasa to the hot pan.

Golden brown kielbasa for the pizza.

Golden brown kielbasa for the pizza.

Using lightly floured hands and board, roll or stretch your pizza dough out into a circle.  I like whole wheat here, but if you can only find white flour dough that is good too.  The dough should be rather thin.  Pierce the dough all over with a fork (or dough docker… I love mine.  It does this task in about one second), leaving a scant inch border around the edges for the crust to rise.  These little holes will keep large bubbles from forming in the middle of your pizza dough.

Docking the dough, or piercing it all over with little holes, keeps bubbles from popping up and pushing your toppings to the side.

Docking the dough, or piercing it all over with little holes, keeps bubbles from popping up and pushing your toppings to the side.

Transfer the dough to a pizza peel, or if you don’t have one you can use a metal pizza pan or the back of another large baking sheet.  Drizzle the dough with a little bit of olive oil, and then sprinkle over the Herbs de Provence or other dried green herb mixture.  This ensures that you have great flavor in every layer of this pizza.  Slide the dough onto the pizza stone or upside down baking sheet in your oven, and bake for about 10 minutes or until starting to brown in spots.  The crust may not yet be fully cooked, but I find this step creates a crisper and less doughy crust, and it will finish cooking in the next step.

Seasoning the pizza dough with olive oil, herbs de provance and a little salt.

Seasoning the pizza dough with olive oil, herbs de provance and a little salt.

The prepared crust.

The prepared crust.

Remove the pizza crust from the oven and transfer it back to your work surface.  Now you get to put all the pieces together.  Slather the crust with your mustard cheese sauce, leaving a border around the edges for your crust.  Scatter the browned kielbasa evenly over the sauce.  Then scatter a thin layer of sauerkraut over the sauce.  You likely won’t use the whole can, but can serve the extra in a small bowl for passing at the table.  Lastly, cover the pizza generously with your shredded, white cheddar cheese.  This is where I have to fight off big boy and little boy hands from snatching the cheese right off the pizza before I can get it into the oven.  Slide it back in the oven before an all-out battle breaks out in your kitchen.

When saucing your pizza crust, be sure to leave a nice border for the crust.

When saucing your pizza crust, be sure to leave a nice border for the crust.

Kielbasa scattered over the pizza.

Kielbasa scattered over the pizza.

First give a light scattering of sauerkraut to your pizza, then cover it with a generous helping of freshly shredded white cheddar.

First give a light scattering of sauerkraut to your pizza, then cover it with a generous helping of freshly shredded white cheddar.

Bake this for about 15 minutes, or until the cheese melts and gets bubbly and brown on top.  Sometimes I switch the oven to broil, and then stand guard like a hawk until the cheese is nicely browned.  From personal experience, don’t step away from a broiling oven for a second or you might just get a bit more “carmelization” than you hoped for.  Remove the pizza from the oven, and let it sit for a moment so it isn’t “hot lava” hot.  Then slice, serve and enjoy!  We like to serve this with a harvest or Oktoberfest ale, and a green leafy salad with sliced apple and walnuts and a balsamic vinaigrette.  Delicious!

The pizza as it is just slid into the oven on my pizza stone.

The pizza as it is just slid into the oven on my pizza stone.

Golden, bubbly and delicious, dinner is ready!

Golden, bubbly and delicious, dinner is ready!

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Click here for a printable version of the Harvest Moon Pizza recipe.

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On the Eve of New Year

I have made no resolutions, save to be happy.

I have eaten nothing “lucky” or numbered 7, but I shared a simple feast with loved ones.

I may not even make it to midnight.

Our first Canadian snow.

Our first Canadian snow.

But this has been one of the best and most unsettling (or unsettled) years of my life.    Everything is set up to start, and I’m excited to see what it will all end up being.  A new life in an old country.

Closer and yet still far from family.

New friends being made, and mourning the distance from others.

Ridiculous toddler and amazing husband.

A first view

A first view

New as we approach the new year, I hear the ending verse of Maya Angelou’s “On the Pulse of Morning” over and again.  It is my New Years wish…

“Here on the pulse of this new day

You may have the grace to look up and out

And into your sister’s eyes, into

Your brother’s face, your country

And say simply

Very simply

With hope

Good morning”

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