Homemade. Dinner. Fast.

Homemade. Dinner. Fast. You don’t often see those three words standing so close together. But with a little preparation, it can be done–and done well.  The trick is to keep what you need in your freezer.

It involves three main ingredients:  pizza dough, grated cheese and sauce.

From the freezer: dough, grated cheese, pizza sauce.

From the freezer: dough, grated cheese, pizza sauce.

In the morning transfer them from freezer to refrigerator.  Keep them all in the fridge for most of the day to thaw slowly.  The dough came out a couple of hours before dinner to sit on the counter and finish thawing. I then removed the plastic wrap, set the dough on a plate and covered it with a clean tea towel to warm up and rise a bit.

The crust:  I’ve been using this particular recipe for the past year.  It makes a thin, extremely crispy crust that is absolutely delicious.  Find the recipe on another really great blog, Dinner a Love Story.  The only difference being that I substitute half the white flour with whole wheat.  Works perfectly.  I also am a fan of prepping the dough in my food processor. It’s quick and easy.  The recipe makes enough for two crusts.  Wrap each in plastic wrap and tuck them into a freezer bag.

Grated cheese:  Freezing grated cheese destined for melting works well.  I cut a pound of mozzarella into three equal pieces that would fit through the intake tube of my food processor.  Freeze the cheese for about 20 to 30 minutes in advance for easier grating. Use the grating blade attachment.

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The food processor will definitely save time, but hand grating works fine, especially if you have lots of eager helpers.  I packed the cheese equally into three pint size freezer bags. One bag works for one lightly cheesy pizza, but use two bags if you like yours rich and gooey.

Ready for bagging!

Ready for bagging!

The sauce:  If all you have is a large can of diced tomatoes (or a freezer full of frozen ones), you can whip up this pizza sauce in minutes with the addition of four more common ingredients.  There is no cooking required! The recipe comes from cookbook author, Amanda Haas.  It’s so easy your kids can make it while you prepare a green salad.  Use some and freeze the rest.  I prefer sturdy jars for freezing this sauce in.

Putting it all together:  Simply spread the dough in a large, very thin rectangle on a heavily oiled (olive oil–it does great things to the crust) cookie sheet.  Cover with sauce and sprinkle with grated cheese.  I brush olive oil on any exposed crust, but I try to take the toppings as close to the edge as possible. I also drizzle some good quality olive oil over the top as well.

Bake at 500 degrees.  Check after ten minutes.  The edges should be brown and the cheese bubbly.

The result?  Gourmet pizza at a fraction of the cost of take-out.

What pizza toppings do you prefer?

With the addition of black olives.

With the addition of black olives.

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You Can’t Eat Shoes

I have a confession to make.  I collect cookbooks the way some women collect shoes.  It’s a problem because I’m running out of shelf space and because Jim rolls his eyes every time a book sized Amazon box arrives at our door.

While there are plenty of cooking websites online that I can and do turn to for inspiration, there’s nothing that can take the place of real paper.  I love my entire collection–from the tattered old copy of Laurel’s Kitchen I had in high school to my treasured How to Cook Everything by Mark Bittman.

I happened to be at Whole Foods Market the other day with Sam and paused to look through a large selection of them on an end aisle (a marketing ploy that really works!).

The colorful cover of Cooking Light Real Family Food by Amanda Haas caught my eye.  I handed it over to the family food critic for a once over.  He enthusiastically agreed with my selection.

Here’s what we like:

  1. Use of photographs:  Every recipe gets a delicious looking full color picture.  Even the table of contents comes in thumbnail photos.  Great for your nonreaders…or anyone!
  2. Icons:  Haas employs icons to help you decide what to cook.  It’s easy to see if a recipe is vegetarian, can be prepared quickly, or is gluten or dairy free.  Love the Kids can Help icon which points out ways little hands can assist.
  3. Philosophy:  One Family One Meal Plan.  She focuses on menu planning, grocery shopping, budgeting, and simple cooking.  It certainly is a lot simpler if everyone eats the same thing.
  4. Recipes:  Lots of hits at our house.  Chili-Roasted Sweet Potato Nuggets (we’re becoming a household of sweet potato aficionados), Quiche Bites (pack in lunches!), Pumpkin Muffins, Cheesy Stuffed Shells With My Secret Tomato Sauce were all well received at the family dinner table.
  5. Readability:  Nicely laid out, attractive cookbook.  Recipes are preceded by a short informative introduction, easy to understand and nothing tricky in preparation.  Each is followed by full nutritional information. Nice.

My only regret is that the index is listed by main ingredient or type of food.  I often search for recipes based on the ingredients I have on hand.  Cabbage, for example, is not listed although there is a recipe for coleslaw.

To increase the nutritional content we’ve used brown rice and whole grain pastas and breads in place of the white counterparts.

If you’re looking for dinnertime inspiration, Amanda Haas, the founder of OneFamilyOneMeal.com, has created a cookbook that helps parents make healthy and delicious family dinners happen.  Sam has requested the Pork and Mango Stir-Fry, and I still want to try the Chicken Divan.  We’re not done with this one yet.