Three versions of homemade pizza

Last week, we were on a pizza kick. To be honest, I usually feel lazy about once a week and throw a pizza or two in the oven for dinner. Last week though, I tried making pizza dough with our bread machine, and I was not disappointed. We ended up making two pizza last week and another one last night, and I wanted to share the results with you.

I discovered homemade pizzas are easy and enjoyable to make, and you can really mix and match ingredients you have on hand to create some delicious results. It’s also nice when you’re trying to use a little bit of leftover sausage, spinach, peppers, etc. This is exactly what I was trying to do, as we ended up with an abundance of barbecue chicken and hot Italian sausage this week.

I loved making the dough – it was quick prep work with simple ingredients, and it only took ninety minutes in the bread machine.  It was something I could prepare and run while Mon Cœur (MC) was napping, then we could top and cook anytime after nap and before dinner time.

I had so much fun making the first two pizzas with MC, I knew it would be a fun family dinner to prepare together, so yesterday while Chouchou was off, we made personal pizzas. It gave me another opportunity to clean the fridge, this time with leftover veggies!

Dough recipe (from Hamilton Beach Bread Machine book)

  • 1 cup water
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 Tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 3 cups bread flour
  • 2 teaspoons bread machine yeast

I added each ingredient to the machine in order, from top to bottom, then started the dough cycle and 90 minutes later, it was ready.  At the end of the dough cycle, I took the dough out and put it on a floured counter top and let it rest 10 minutes.  

The recipe makes one 16-inch pizza, and the directions say to bake at 475 for 20-25 minutes. At this temperature, in my gas oven, it took about 10 minutes to cook (I’ll discuss the three different ways I baked the pizzas later in the post).

The easiest way I found to shape the dough was to take a sort of circular shape, and holding it vertically, let the dough hang and stretch as I turn it like a wheel.  I don’t spend a lot of time shaping the dough perfectly.

My husband on the other hand, will be forever more be our pizza crust guru. I don’t know how he did it, but with only a third of the dough, he made a perfectly round, thin crust pizza, about 12-14 inches in diameter.

This momma doesn’t have the time or patience for that. If I’m making it, you get organically shaped, thick here, thin there pizza crust. That’s why I’ve now delegated this task to my husband. He was super concentrated and his pizza turned out perfect.

Round one: Pizza with sausage, red peppers, onion, and provolone

The first pizza I made to use the rest of some crumbled sausage, half of a red pepper, a lonely onion, and some provolone we had.  

Prep work was a breeze – everything was ready except for the red pepper and onion.  I sliced those up and put them in the skillet for about 5-7 minutes to soften.  

Next I placed each ingredient in a bowl with a spoon and placed the crust with a thin layer of red sauce on the kitchen table.  MC jumped in and began topping the crust, deciding what topping to put first, next, and last, and sampling all along the way.

As I mentioned, we baked it in a 475 degree gas oven and after only 10 minutes, our smoke alarm went off.  There was no smoke – inevitably whenever I bake a pizza in the oven, the alarm goes off.  I’ve decided that 475 is too high, especially in our gas oven, to bake a pizza, and the crust came out crunchier (but not burnt!) than I would like.

Round two: BBQ chicken pizza

We had enjoyed the first pizza so much and we literally had five extra pounds of barbecued chicken quarters, so I shredded a couple of the quarters in anticipation of making this pizza. 

All I had to do was slice and cook an onion, and I decided to prepare a special pizza sauce with a blend of red sauce (ratio 1:3) and Sweet Baby Ray’s BBQ sauce (ratio 2:3).

Again, I placed the ingredients in front of a sauced-up crust and gave MC tongs to practice using with the chicken.  She topped the pizza and I decided to try this one on the grill.

We have a Green Egg, and I’ve always wanted to try baking on it.  Since the chicken was grilled on the Egg, I thought it would be nice to bake the pizza on it too.  It also kept me from heating the house up or setting off smoke alarms – smile!

Let’s just call it “operator error”- we can’t seem to get our Egg to get up to higher temps, so we cook at lower temps for a longer time.  I got it up to right under 300 before adding the pizza, and after getting the pizza settled in the grill, the temp hovered around 265 degrees.  I baked it on there for a little over 30 minutes, and the crust came out perfect. A soft, chewy crust, with just a little bit of crunch, and bubbly cheddar cheese.

Round three: Personal veggie pizzas

Yesterday afternoon, I prepared another batch of dough with MC’s help. She loves to dump the ingredients in and she’s become a lot more accurate in getting the ingredients in the bread basket. We practiced counting to eight as she pushed the cycle button until we reached the dough cycle, then she pressed start.

Just an hour and a half later, I was taking the dough out to rest and chopping up veggies. This time we had some garden asparagus, red and green peppers, onion, and black olives on hand.

I placed all the veggies with some provolone on a tray, and while MC was waiting for me to divide the dough, she was sampling everything on the platter.

I’m really quite lucky to have a toddler who gobbles up fresh veggies, but since we only had a little bit to work with, I told her, “No more peppers!” She countered, “Okay, maybe I try the asparagus?” Since the last time she tried asparagus, she didn’t like it, I was thrilled (but contained my enthusiasm) and said, “Yes, try some asparagus.”

When I had the crusts ready to go, she proceeded to dump a bunch of olives and then a bunch of the asparagus onto her pizza and I wondered out loud, “Do you want to eat all of that asparagus?” But she did. She ate two whole slices of her pizza, veggies and all.

Pizza making, I’ve discovered, is an opportunity for a moment-of-zen for Chouchou. I was wowed by his level of concentration and how he assembled his pizza. He got all fancy adding parmesan and spices to his pizza, and I enjoyed watching him work. This was a great ending to a family day, making pizzas together.

Oven or Egg?

With summer right around the corner, and the hotter temperatures last week, I really liked that the Egg kept us from heating up the house.  

I preferred the crust from the Egg, and in the heat of the summer months, the Egg will be our go-to to bake our pizzas.

Last night the pizzas from the oven came out pretty perfect and sans smoke alarm symphony. So a low oven temp on rainy, cold days will be the perfect back up to the Egg.

Teamwork with Mon Cœur

I really enjoyed making the pizzas with MC – she loved it, too.  It gave her an opportunity to really be hands-on in the kitchen, and I was able to be “hands-off” letting her be a little more independent.  This is really the first recipe where I wasn’t really hovering. I sat across the table while she made the pizzas.

She choose the order of toppings, and where and how much to put on.  We discussed the different ingredients she was using- what they were and what we wanted to put on the pizza next.

She had an opportunity to practice using tongs, forks, and spoons for the various toppings, working those fine motor skills.

MC practiced counting and put those finger muscles to work helping me bake the bread and is mastering how to take measured ingredients and add them to a larger bowl.

This is such a great, easy meal to make that can bring together the whole family and requires little prep, with easy clean up. Win. Win. Win.

Do you have a go-to recipe that involves your toddler? Advice on how to cook on a Green Egg? Favorite pizza topping blends? Chime in in the comments section!

Three comfort food casseroles

My number one elixir for anxiety? Comfort food.

Katie Lee

Sometimes your heart and mind just need a helping of comfort food. I am rediscovering those great dishes of childhood past. Ones that I had cast to the side as a young, professional adult, planning my own meals. I was determined to cook all of the gourmet cuisine found in the Food & Wine, Saveur, and Bon Appétit magazines.

After years of saving those recipes and trying them out, I can’t get past the minuscule amounts of obscure ingredients which I needed to purchase in quantities that just weren’t justifiable to me.

As a wife and mom, I have rediscovered the beauty of a home cooked casserole. Before, it was about the simplicity and ease of making the dish after a long day of work; now it’s all about making a dish that will stick to my ribs and tell me everything’s going to be okay.

Below are three of my favorite casseroles, with my tweaks. Because…I love to not follow directions.

Southern Baked Chicken Casserole

Taken from Food & Wine Magazine, March 2011 print issue.

Okay, yes. This recipe came from Food and Wine. And this one I actually follow pretty much faithfully. Except if I’m missing the bell pepper or decide to use a green one instead…or if we don’t have Tabasco, I use another hot sauce…

Southern Baked Chicken Casserole with Kale Salad

Because I follow this recipe to the tee, and because it’s already typed so nicely by F&W, get the Southern Baked Chicken Casserole recipe here. This is my absolute favorite casserole. The only note I have is that I don’t measure the shredded rotisserie chicken – I just shred a whole rotisserie chicken and use it.

Tuna-Noodle Casserole

Originally from Better Homes and Gardens New Cookbook, copyright 1965.

This is one of my go-to recipes. We typically have some version of this once a week. It is so forgiving if I don’t have a particular item, I can either drop it (*) or easily find a substitute (^), and if I feel like experimenting, it’s easy to make swaps, too.

Tuna Noodle Casserole

Ingredients:

  • 6 oz egg noodles
  • 1 can tuna, drained and flaked
  • ½ cup mayonnaise
  • 1 cup sliced celery (*)
  • ¼ cup diced green pepper (^ frozen green peas)
  • ¼ cup chopped pimientos (*)
  • dash of salt
  • 1 can cream of celery
  • ½ cup milk
  • 1 cup shredded sharp cheddar
  • 1 sleeve of Ritz, crushed

Directions:

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Cook noodles according to directions, drain, cool. Combine noodles, drained tuna, mayonnaise, veggies, and salt. In a separate bowl, blend soup and milk and heat through. Add cheese, mix and heat until cheese is melted. Add soup mixture to noodle mixture. Pour into casserole dish. Top with crushed ritz crackers. Bake for approximately 20 minutes give or take.

Prep hint: Even though the recipe calls for only half of a bag of egg noodles, I boil the whole bag, and after draining and cooling the noodles, I bag half and stick it in the freezer. The next time I make this dish, the noodles just need to be thawed!

Variations: I’ve substituted canned chicken in place of the tuna, cream of chicken instead of cream of celery, used broccoli instead of the peas/peppers, and dropped the pimientos and celery to make a yummy chicken, cheese and broccoli dish.

Treet Asparagus Casserole

Originally from a Campbell’s Cream of Asparagus Soup can label.

Totally modified and reminiscent in some ways of my Mom’s treet casserole. There’s no picture because: A. It’s a four serving dish, B. I didn’t take a picture before sitting down to dinner and C. when I woke up the next morning, all that was left was an empty casserole dish!

Ingredients:

  • 1 can condensed cream of asparagus soup
  • ½ cup milk
  • ¼ tsp. onion powder
  • ¼ tsp. ground black pepper
  • fresh cut asparagus (up to 1 ½ cups)
  • 1 can diced Treet/Spam
  • 2 ¼ cups of pasta rings cooked, drained, and cooled.
  • 1 cup shredded cheddar cheese

Directions:

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Cook pasta according to directions, drain, cool. Combine pasta, soup, milk, spices, asparagus, diced Treet, and ½ cup cheese. Mix well and pour into casserole dish. Bake for approximately 20 minutes give or take. Add the remaining cheese and bake for another five minutes.

Notes: They called for cooked, cut asparagus; we used raw, fresh asparagus – about six spears from our garden. We liked the crunch. If you prefer, cook the asparagus before adding to the casserole.

I didn’t grease the pan, but next time I will grease it lightly. The noodles stuck ever so slightly.


These casseroles have been the perfect comfort food – easy to prep and make, with short cook times and a soothing element, both in preparing the meal and consuming it.

A spoonful of any these casseroles allows me to breathe a little deeper, take a sigh and say, “This too shall pass, and we will get through this.”

What is your comfort food?

Avgolemono : Greek Lemon Chicken Soup

The other day we found ourselves at a lovely local Greek restaurant, and since it was a chillier day, I was looking at the soup options.  I saw the Avgolemono Greek Lemon Chicken soup and was curious.  I ordered a cup and fell in love.

I love the lemon taste – how it made me pucker just a little – and I was intrigued by the broth, which I later learned was thick due to the eggs in the recipe. Simply yum,

Three reasons I love Avgolemono

It’s hearty, but doesn’t weigh you down.

It’s lemony, clean, and refreshing.

It’s super easy to make.

Avgolemono recipe

Thanks to Jeff Mauro at Food Network for the above linked recipe. Below is my interpretation of the recipe. I completely spaced and used two chicken breasts instead of four – and I think it was still mighty meaty.

Ingredients:

  • 4 quarts low-sodium chicken stock
  • 2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
  • 1 cup orzo
  • 3 large eggs, separated 
  • 1 tablespoon lemon zest plus juice of 4 fresh lemons 
  • Kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper 

Directions:

  1. In a large stockpot, bring the chicken stock to a boil.
  2. Add the chicken breasts and lower to a simmer. Simmer until the chicken is just cooked through – 15 to 20 minutes
  3. Remove to a plate and let rest. Once cooled, shred the chicken and reserve.
  4. Add the orzo to the pot with the chicken stock and cook until al dente, 5 to 8 minutes.
  5. In a large bowl, whisk the egg whites to soft peaks.
  6. In a medium bowl, whisk together the egg yolks and most of the lemon juice, reserving some to add later as needed.
  7. Combine the egg yolk mixture into the egg whites. Then, ladle in some hot stock to temper the egg mixture, whisking constantly and adding the hot liquid slowly. (I filled nearly the entire bowl before adding the warmed egg mixture into stockpot.) Very slowly, add the warm whipped egg/lemon mixture into the pot, whisking constantly to prevent any curds or clumps from forming.
  8. Continue to cook over medium-low to medium heat, whisking, until the soup thickens, about 10 minutes more.

Instant Pot Adventures: Loaded Potato Soup

As I transitioned back to staying at home, committing to Mon Cœur (MC) and Chouchou full time and trying to post regularly, I decided to try at least one new Instant Pot recipe a week. I started looking online and then I found an Instant Pot app.

Yes – there’s an app for the Instant Pot. And I love it.

Three reasons to love the Instant Pot app:

  1. You can change the number of servings and the recipe ingredient amounts are automatically adjusted. An accurate cooking time and difficulty level are also included.

2. It has step by step directions and timers built in that you can start and stop as you reach those parts of the recipe.

3. The recipes run the gamut from desserts to soups to roasts. All sorts of recipes are available to try from the traditional to the adventurous.

Loaded Potato Soup Recipe

I tried Heather Schlueter’s recipe which I found on the app. Although I was worried at first about the soup being a little too runny, it did thicken up and was wonderfully delicious.

Ingredients:

  • 8 slices of bacon, chopped
  • ½ onion, chopped
  • 4 red potatoes, peeled & cubed
  • 1 cup sharp cheddar
  • 1 ½ tsp salt
  • ½ tsp black pepper
  • ½ tsp red pepper flakes
  • 4 cups chicken broth
  • ½ cup sour cream
  • 2 Tbsp sliced fresh chives

Directions:

  1. Preheat Instant Pot on Sauté.
  2. When hot, add bacon and cook until crispy, 5 minutes.
  3. Cancel sauté, remove bacon to a plate lined with paper towels.
  4. Drain off bacon fat.
  5. Add onion, potatoes, seasonings, and broth to pot. Stir well.
  6. Close, lock lid and ensure steam release handle is in sealed position.
  7. Pressure cook on manual, high for 5 minutes.
  8. Natural release for 10 minutes then quick release.
  9. Add sour cream, cheddar, and bacon to pot and stir well.
  10. Garnish with fresh chives.

I made this on a cold rainy day, and this was the perfect cure.

Do you have a favorite soup you make in the Instant Pot, or any favorite recipes from the app? Share them in the comments section!

***all photo images for this post come from the Instant Pot App. All credits for food pics go to Heather Schlueter. I was not quick enough with the camera before the family taste-tested!***

Instant Pot Adventures: I can cook pasta in the Insta – wha?

I love Italian dishes – they are hearty and stick to your ribs.  But I hate cooking pasta – all that water wasted, and it takes lots of time to wait for the water to boil.  Recently we had dinner at a friend’s house and she made an Instant Pot pasta dish.  It took thirty minutes and was done.  It was also delicious.  So as I resolved to use my Instant Pot at least once a week and share my adventures here, I was on the search for a pasta recipe to try and share. 

Not all pasta can be cooked in the Instant Pot, I’d never try actual spaghetti, vermicelli, or fettucine. However, penne, bowtie, or shells could all work I think.

The following recipe was quick, easy, and absolutely delicious.  Chou chou put it in the top three favorite dishes I’ve ever made, and MC dug in with a large table spoon and fork.  She devoured this.  Kid friendly, husband approved, and quick?  Check, check, and check.

Instant Pot Tuscan Chicken

Click on the link above for the exact recipe I found online. Below are the ingredients I used and the directions for the way I made it.

Ingredients

  • 2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
  • healthy shakes (teaspoon or so) of spices of choice: rosemary, garlic powder, minced onion, Italian spices, salt & pepper etc.
  • 2 Tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 1 Tablespoon Italian seasoning
  • 1 small jar of sun-dried tomatoes, drained and roughly chopped
  • 2 cups chicken broth
  • 1 cup evaporated canned milk
  • 3 cups penne pasta
  • 8 ounces cream cheese, room temperature & diced
  • 1 ½ cups parmesan
  • 4-5 cups fresh spinach

Directions:

  1. On a plate, shake spices of choice & blend together. place chicken breasts on plate, flip on both sides to cover in spices.
  2. Set instant pot to Sauté, once hot add the olive oil.
  3. Cook chicken on both sides for 2-3 minutes (until golden brown). Remove from pot.
  4. Add oil as necessary, then add onion and cook for 1-2 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  5. Add Italian seasoning and chopped sun dried tomatoes. Stir.
  6. Add chicken broth & with a wooden spoon scrape the bottom of the pot.
  7. Add pasta and evaporated milk and stir gently.
  8. Place chicken breasts on top.
  9. Cover & seal the lid. Make sure valve is sealed.
  10. Pressure cook on high pressure for 4 minutes.
  11. Once the Instant Pot has cooked on high pressure for 4 minutes, instant release.
  12. Open cover & remove chicken to a cutting board.
  13. Select sauté and add cubed cream cheese. Gently stir for 1 minute.
  14. Add parmesan and stir gently for another minute.
  15. Add the spinach to combine.
  16. Turn off the pressure cooker.
  17. Cube chicken and add to the pot. Gently stir one last time.

Surprisingly, I did follow the directions, more or less.  I didn’t have all the seasonings for the chicken, so I just used the ones mentioned in the above ingredients list (rosemary, garlic powder, minced onion, Italian spices, salt & pepper).

I also didn’t cover the chicken with foil at any time – it seemed to add a step when I was moving along through the recipe and the chicken stayed warm anyway.

Frozen prep version:

The recipe requires one cup of evaporated milk, and the cans that I have are two cups, so I made another batch to use the remaining milk.  I’ve frozen this to have a ready-made dinner upon our return from France. I’ll keep you posted as to how well this works out!

I had enough chicken, evaporated milk, and spinach, but I didn’t realize I didn’t have enough sun dried tomatoes until I was just about to make this again. So for my frozen version, I substituted a can of diced Italian style tomatoes for the sun dried tomatoes. Instead of 2 cups of chicken broth, I took the empty can of diced tomatoes and filled it ¾ of the way with water. We tried this version with shells instead of penne as well.

I hesitated adding the cream cheese and parmesan before freezing. I’m not exactly sure how that would turn out. I’d rather make a “sauce” with the cream cheese and parmesan when I thaw the meal. and then incorporate it together before serving.

Have any Instant Pot insights involving pasta? Ever had any success freezing dishes with cheeses? Share your tricks in the comments section!