Mr. Apron Makes Pizza

Hello Readers! Occasionally the Pink Apron takes a breather from all of her baking and cooking and allows me to take over the kitchen. No fear though- I do not touch baking as it is not my forte. I do however try to help with dinner when possible and I have a few helpful standby’s (Thank you Kraft Mac & Cheese and pretty much anything frozen that just needs to be microwaved…). On my favorites list is making pizza.

I have always loved making pizza at home and can remember even as a kid scrounging through cupboards so that I could make bagel or English muffin pizzas with things around the house. It’s a quick great way to make a meal and pizza is so versatile that you can spice it to your tastes and add the toppings you choose.

While making dough is on my bucket list I usually just use premade dough you can buy in the grocery store. The dough is the key to pizza and so make sure you try different dough’s as some are definitely better than others. A great tip is to visit a restaurant (like Bertucci’s) or a bakery to see if you can purchase some of their fresh dough- you will absolutely notice the difference.
Pizza dough typically must sit at room temperature for 30 minutes. It can be fairly sticky and so I usually take the dough ball, very lightly sprinkle it with flour or olive oil so that it doesn’t stick to any surfaces and place it in a bowl. You will also need to prep the surface that you are rolling or kneading the dough out on. While a cutting board or counter works the Pink Apron lent me her Magic Dough Pastry Mat which made the process a lot easier.
Once your dough has rested for 25 to 30 minutes you can start to shape it as you wish. While I used to try using a rolling pin I find getting your hands dirty will allow you to shape your dough as you want and you can feel the dough to make sure that you are achieving your desired thickness. Remember that for a typical crust you will need to leave a little extra dough at the outer ring of your pizza or roll your ends over to create a crust. A pizza rolled flat and even will bake flat and even.

One trick I have learned is to pre-bake the dough. After kneading your ball into the shape of your pizza place your dough in the oven at 425 degrees for 3-5 minutes or until the dough just starts to lose its tackiness. I find that most dough’s need longer to bake than is recommended on the packaging and the extra time in the oven will ensure you don’t bite into a pizza crust that tastes under-cooked.
For ease I use pizza sauce found in any grocery store and then spice it up a bit. A little garlic powder sprinkled onto your sauce after you have spread it onto your pizza will give you a great taste as will a little oregano. I then like to use a cheese blend to top my pizza (Trader Joes Quattro Formaggio tastes like it was meant for pizza making) and then place my oven into a 450 degree oven until the cheese is bubbling and slightly brown.

There you have it- a fairly quick and easy dinner or lunch idea and a great stepping stone to more gourmet and fancy pizzas in your future. Happy eating!

Christening Cookies

I hope everyone is having a wonderful New Year.  I know that many people try to eat lighter and avoid desserts after indulging during the holiday season.  I know I am.  But the one thing I've learned during the course of many diets and attempts to loose weight is that you can't deprive yourself completely.  Desserts and comfort food shouldn't be eliminated completely.  But eaten in moderation, they can be in your diet.  Personally, I am trying to be low-carb and eat healthy during the week, but giving myself the weekends to enjoy myself.  So far it seems to working. But then again it's only January 8th, so ask me again how I am doing in February.

This weekend I made cookies for a family friend's Christening. These cookies by no means fall into my healthy eating plan, but they certainly look pretty (and definitely taste good).   I kept it simple, crosses and squares, which I felt were appropriate for the occasion. The only bling I added is a little sanding sugar on the edges of the crosses. 
Here is my go to cookie and royal icing recipe.   As I experiment with some healthier recipes I will be posting some of the more successful ones.  (I will save you from the recipes that taste like cardboard.) 
Sugar Cookies
6 cups all-purpose flour
3 teaspoons baking powder 1 teaspoon salt 2 cups unsalted butter 2 cups granulated sugar 2 large eggs 2 teaspoon vanilla extract Cream sugar and butter until fluffy, about 5 minutes. Add eggs and vanilla. Mix dry ingredients in separate bowl and add to butter mixture. Mix well. Put a handful of the freshly made dough between two sheets of parchment paper and roll to desired thickness. Repeat with the rest of the dough. Put the rolled dough, including the parchment paper, on a cookie sheet and refrigerate for 10 minutes or longer. Your dough will be chilled and ready to cut and bake with now wait and no added flour! Repeat with scraps after cutting cookies. Bake at 350 degrees for 8 -10 minutes. Let cool.
Source: Fancys Flours 
Royal Icing
3 Tablespoons Meringue Powder
4 cups confectioners' sugar sifted 6 tablespoons warm water Beat all ingredients until icing forms a peak (7-10 minutes at low speed with a heavy-duty mixer, 10-12 minutes at high speed with a hand-held mixer). Source: Wilton

Challah Bread Eggnog French Toast Loaf

Now that the holidays are over if you are like me there is still a half a carton of eggnog in your refrigerator and you are not sure what to do with it.  In case I haven't given you enough ideas for eggnog, I have one more.

In November I made Not Your Mother's French Toast using Greek yogurt.  Well a fabulous reader made the suggestion to try french toast with eggnog and I loved the idea.  My family has a big breakfast on Christmas morning and I thought that this would be great time to try eggnog french toast.  But the more I thought about it, I knew that I could make this dish even better.  I decided to use challah bread and added nutmeg to compliment the eggnog. 

The results were incredible! The challah bread melted in my mouth and the eggnog kept the bread so moist Mr. Apron and I did not need syrup.  If you have never tried challah bread, now is a great time to start.  It is slightly sweet and for some reason combined with french toast batter makes the most delicious combination that is quite addictive.  I promise that this dish will not disappoint.  I know I will be making it again next Christmas.  

Challah Bread Eggnog French Toast Loaf
One challah bread loaf (preferable several days old)
1 1/2 sticks butter sliced
1 1/2 cups light brown sugar
2 teaspoons cinnamon divided
2 teaspoons nutmeg
2 cups eggnog
4 eggs
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
Mix together brown sugar and one teaspoon of cinnamon set aside. In a medium sized bowl add eggnog, eggs, vanilla, nutmeg and remaining teaspoon of cinnamon.  Beat together with a handheld mixer until well blended.  Place in refrigerator until ready to use. 
Spray a loaf pan with a non-stick cooking spray.  Slice challah bread as evenly as possible. Layer about three pieces of bread on bottom of pan, enough to cover the bottom. Challah bread isn't uniformly shaped, cut the bread to make it to make to fit the pan as best you can. It's ok if it overlaps.
Evenly distribute one quarter of the brown sugar mixture on top of the bread. Place one quarter of the butter on top of the brown sugar.  Repeat with three more layers of bread, brown sugar and butter. (You may not use the entire loaf of challah bread). Top with remaining three pieces of bread.  Slowly pour eggnog batter on top of the bread.  Be sure to evenly distribute it and get in all the corners and edges.  Cover with parchment paper and wrap with foil.  Place in refrigerator and allow to sit overnight.
The next morning preheat oven to 325 degrees.  When oven is at temperature remove loaf pan from refrigerator.  Place loaf pan on a cookie sheet to catch any dripping to put in oven.  Bake cover for one hour.  After one hour, remove foil and parchment paper and bake for another 20 minutes.  Remove from oven and invert loaf over a cutting board.  Cut loaf and serve.