Sunday, January 8, 2012

Perfect Pizza.

     Ladies and gentlemen, I have done it.

     After months of tweaking various recipes I've found all over the internet and trying pre-made mixes, I have settled on a pizza dough recipe that we both enjoy. I have made dozens of pizzas with this recipe. There are air pockets in the dough, it takes plenty of toppings without getting soggy, and is crispy on the bottom. It's good.

     During this experience I have truly seen the light when it comes to baking by weight. Because two flours weigh differently (sometimes drastically different), using ½ cup of a 'similar' flour or starch interchangeably will result in a different end product. It can really screw things up – prevent your crust from browning, make the crumb too doughy, or cause too little moisture for a dry dough that is hard to work with.

     This recipe is heavily based on the trial and error of both myself and others. I studied recipes, poured through books that explained the fundamentals of baking with gluten free flours and starches, and started with a dough recipe that was already highly rated by others in the gluten free world. Because Thomas and I are pretty picky about what we eat, I modified the recipe quite a bit to get it to our preferences. Feel free to do the same. Experiment until it tastes good. You'll still have pizza in the end, and pizza is good. Homemade pizza is ten times better.

Perfect Pizza
Serves 1 or (2)

For the crust:
15 g dry yeast
40 g melted vegan butter
1 3/4 Cups mildly hot water, around 110*F

120 g potato starch
120 g tapioca starch
120 g millet flour
120 g corn flour
dash salt

Optional crust add- ins: crushed red pepper, herbs, basil, sun-dried tomatoes

Pesto or tomato sauce

Toppings: spinach, artichoke, cheese, onion, mushroom, basil, tomato, pineapple, olives

First... Prepare ingredients by melting butter over low heat, weighing out flours and starches into a large mixing bowl along with salt and crust add-ins, and preheating the oven to around 200*F.

Then... Mix 1 cup hot water into the melted butter, sprinkle yeast over the mixture, stir to remove any lumps, and set aside for 5 to 7 minutes.

Then... Pour the yeast mixture into the dry ingredients, stirring well to incorporate. Sprinkle the remaining water into the dough as needed to obtain the proper consistency.
***You want dough that holds together, but is slack like warm silly putty. You won't be able to make a ball that holds a smooth shape with it, but it's not watery and does not stick to your hands. The mixing bowl shouldn't have anything in it but some oil residue at this point.

Then... Let dough sit in middle of mixing bowl for one hour, draped with a towel, near the cracked oven door.

Then... After rising, increase the oven temperature to 425*F, remove the dough from the bowl and place it onto one sheet of parchment with another on top before rolling or patting flat. Slowly peel back the top layer of parchment in the opposite direction. Leave the crust on the bottom parchment paper and transfer this to a heavy baking sheet or a pizza pan.

Finally... Add toppings and bake for 10 minutes or until the edges begin to brown.

     During the tweaking of this recipe I discovered several nuances about it. Too much sauce can keep the crust from crisping on the bottom, so roll it out a bit thicker than normal to keep the sauce from making the dough soggy. Using foil is a bad idea. You'll be picking foil chunks out of the underside of the pizza for several minutes before eating. However, if you don't have parchment, you can roll the dough on foil, just transfer it to a lightly floured pan. The flour might burn in the oven with the high heat, so keep the vent hood on if you have to do this. If we use a baking pan that is not heavy bottomed, the crust does not crisp as well.

     Like I said before, I've made dozens of pizzas with this recipe. I've really made it mine and we are both happy with it every time I make it. We don't change the toppings much from one pizza to the next, but we do change the cheese and sauce which gives us just enough variety. Onions, spinach, artichoke hearts, basil, sun-dried tomatoes, olives, and cheese are our standbys.

     Pizza was my last gluten meal. I had a Papa Johns on the way to the house when I found out I had Celiac. I cried, ate the pizza, and got over it. That day I really thought I was giving up all bread, beer, and pasta forever. It was the very first day for me and I had no clue that sorghum flour or millet flour existed, much less what sorghum or millet was to begin with. I've come so far since then. This January is four years gluten free and I've never felt better. The first couple of years of baking were difficult for me, but with patience and persistence I've really been able to conquer gluten free baking.

     If your first pizza is a flop, don't give up! Just make notes, put the bad experience behind you, and keep tweaking and adjusting until you find what works for you. There are books and websites devoted to help you and guide you, take their advice and build on it.

- Patricia
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Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Here's to 2012!

     2011 went by much too fast, don't you agree? I accomplished most of what I wanted to and enjoyed the time I was able to spend with family, but I was so busy most of the year that it was hard to enjoy the moments as they happened. 2010 was kind of a miserable year for me that was capped off with a shitty end, so I was determined to make 2011 much, much better. I think it was a success.

      Not only was I able to come back to work for my old employer in February (the one I quit so that I could move to Portland, Oregon at the end of 2010), but I landed a great job with them in a department that I have wanted to work in for a while now. I started that position in November and am enjoying the new challenges and increased customer interaction.

      During the summer I was able to travel around Texas a bit with Thomas and his family. We visited Colorado Bend State Park, Longhorn Caverns, Inks Lake, and went tubing with friends in Gruene.

      I started school up full time this past fall and pulled in all but one A for the semester. This past fall we even had a new kitty join our household! She adds spice to the mix and is always looking for mischief. She's a beautiful cat. 2011 was the year I was determined to make it happen, and I did. I'm even saving for retirement!

      With January 1st rolling around, I have been thinking of ways to make 2012 just as successful as last year. Two clear goals came to mind. The first is to break 1,000 miles on my bicycle this year. I was just shy of 900 miles for 2011, so I think with a bit of effort I could do the 1k! I'll keep you updated on my progress for that goal. The other goal is finding ways to trim our grocery budget this year without trimming out fresh produce, the most expensive part of our diet. This one will be more challenging for me because in the last year I have seen the price of a half gallon of soy milk rise from $2.10 to $2.89. We use just shy of one gallon per week. That's an extra $5.53 per month in milk from one year ago. Add that to the extra few cents per item here, a bad peanut crop there, and the next thing you know your grocery budget has risen by $50 per month. It's just two of us and we can feel it, I can't imagine what it's like for a family of four or five. I'm having to come up with different strategies for saving.

One of the ways I've already been able to cut down on grocery costs is keeping a spreadsheet of prices. This may seem odd, but knowing where to get the best price on a pound of rice or a loaf of gluten free bread is a powerful piece of budgeting. Buying some things in bulk on Amazon, like my favorite cornbread mix, is nearly $1 cheaper per item than in the store. I would not know this had I not had a record of what I've paid for the item in the past. This accounting method also makes you aware of any price changes. The cookies Thomas likes are $2 cheaper at the grocery store down the street rather than the Walgreens across the street.

      Another way I've been able to cut down on prices is to reduce the amount of produce I purchase per week. I think this is another way of saying 'only buy what I am really going to use.' I hate to waste produce, but sometimes it just goes bad before I (or the rabbit) get to it. I combat this by planning my meals to incorporate the items sold in bunches (carrots, spinach, green onions, herbs, leeks, etc) several times throughout the week with the single-use items (broccoli / cauliflower head, bok choi, avocados, tomatoes, etc) to be used close to the start of the week. Because I was already used to meal planning, with just a little extra planning, this was no sweat. I still have my weeks where I am tempted to just eat soup or tots every night, especially with full time work and school, but I know that will just make my body feel tired and run down with low energy intake.

     These strategies and some others that will really save you money on a grocery store trip are found in a book by Jennifer Maughan called “100 Meals for $5 or Less.” You can find the book here. This is a great book that has tips for everyone including the first time 'serious' grocery shopper and the avid couponer. There really is something for everyone in this book. It's a weekend read that you'll want to keep around for reference and future ideas. The first half of the book is tips and advice (bring a list and stick to it!) and finishes with tons of recipes. While the book is not geared for vegetarians or the gluten free, it does have the basic tips that we can all incorporate to make a cheaper trip to the grocery store. With just a few simple substitutions in the recipes, many of them become workable. If you've been vegetarian or gluten free for any period of time, you're used to substitution in cooking.

      I already have several food and recipe books lined up to share with you in 2012! I got Thomas a Kindle for his birthday last summer and we've been reading constantly since then. This year Thomas is challenging himself to read 52 books. He read 22 since getting the Kindle in July, so I think that is a do-able goal for him. This year I am also going to try and stick to being as dairy-free as possible. I have always talked about how unhealthy it is for Celiac patients to be off their diet. I know that milk can be tolerated again after a period of time, but my body just doesn't do well when I intake large amounts of it. Say, a pint of ice cream or a pound of giant holiday-themed candies. I've got a weakness, what can I say?

I'll keep you updated on the progress of my goals throughout the year. I'm hoping to tackle this semester with grades just as good as last semester, cut down on the dairy, increase the miles on my bike, spend less on groceries this year than we did last year, and spend more time enjoying the time in between all that. This is going to be a busy year!

What are your goals for the year?

- Patricia
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