“Everybody wants to save the Earth; nobody wants to help Mom do the dishes.” ~ P.J. O’Rourke
I don’t know about anyone else, but in our house it is NOT solely Mom’s job to do the dishes. When you have beaucoup kids, washing dishes is the BEST time to have 1:1 conversations with the kids. Accordingly, each one gets a turn to do the dishes with me during the week. They wash, I rinse, dry and put away. Not only are we building good habits but they are learning discipline, organization and it gives us a chance to talk — uninterrupted (usually) because no one else hangs out in the kitchen while the dishes are being done. I get to hear about their problems, their thoughts, memories, aspirations, hopes and dreams. I wouldn’t give this up for anything in the world.
Unfortunately, this is something that isn’t measurable. I know what my goal is behind the activity and this past week, I had not just one but THREE confirmations that the kids enjoy it as much as I do. The first was when one daughter asked to help with the dishes. I could tell she had something on her mind that she needed to discuss. Another daughter, glanced up and asked, “When is it MY turn?” I assured her that she would get a turn later in the week. And as the oldest daughter started to wash the dishes, my son (passing thru) stated, “It’s been awhile since I got to do the dishes.” I assured him his turn would be coming as well.
Last night after dinner, I mentioned I would go run the dishwater. The middle daughter in the household perked up immediately and said, “It’s MY turn, right?” After assuring her that it was, indeed, her turn . . . I don’t believe I’ve ever seen the table cleared quite so expeditiously. The conversation was easy, flowing, there was laughter and giggles. It’s nothing huge, definitely not elaborate, but 20-30 minutes of time alone with undivided attention does kids a world of good.
The other issue I’m running into is finding meals that my newer kids will eat. Having come from an environment where the food selection was left to them and they were sent to the store with a debit card and expected to cook for themselves since the age of 12 . . . their culinary skills don’t extend much past ramen noodles, Hot Pockets, chips and soda. When the money was gone, so was the food. Imagine going from that to a home where meals are prepared daily. I’ve had days where I’ve fixed dinner in the crockpot because I’d be at work during dinner time only to come home and find that no one had eaten yet because, “We didn’t know we could eat that.” Three months and they are still learning that if I prepare food, I expect it to be eaten. Tastes, flavors, textures, dinner routines – it’s all new to them and overwhelming. I just keep cooking.
One area of food where you can never go wrong is pizza. You can’t go wrong with the food choice, you CAN go wrong with the making of it if you aren’t observant. I have on occasion bought store-brand pizzas when I was in a hurry but they are just never as good as homemade pizza. The kids can select whatever toppings they want. I almost always keep browned, seasoned hamburger and cooked shredded chicken in the freezer in 1 cup increments. We always have cheese available, vegetables in the crisper, jars of pickles and jalapenos, bacon, pepperoni (if someone hasn’t eaten all of it), and marinara sauce as well as BBQ sauce and ranch dressing. I call this a no-brainer dinner idea because I have yet to meet a kid (or adult) who doesn’t like pizza and the toppings are almost always available. The key is the homemade pizza crust. It isn’t difficult, or time consuming, but it takes some know-how to get it right.
Easy Pizza Crust
2 1/2 cups flour
1 t. salt
1 T. garlic powder
1 T. Italian seasoning
2 T. olive oil
1 cup warm water (not boiling, hot from the tap will do)
1 T. sugar
one packet of yeast, or 2 1/4 t. of yeast
Preheat your oven to 450.*
In a mixing bowl, combine the flour, salt, garlic powder and Italian seasoning. In a liquid measuring cup* get the hot tap water. Stir in the sugar until almost dissolved, add the yeast and stir so it doesn’t float on top of the water. Cover with a towel and let set for 10 minutes. It will start to foam at the top. When the 10 minutes is up, add the 2 T. of olive oil to the flour mixture and pour in the water/sugar/yeast mixture. Using a fork, stir the ingredients together until it forms a ball in the bowl. (There will probably be some flour and crumbles of dough remaining in the bowl that did not get stirred in and that’s okay.) Grab your pizza pan* and dump the ball of dough onto it. Knead the dough about 10-20 times, working the crumbles and flour into it. Cover with a towel for 5 minutes. When the five minutes is up, use your hands or a rolling pin to roll the dough out working from the center to the edges. Top with your choice of toppings and bake for 15 minutes or until the edges of the crust start to brown.
If you’ve read my blog and my recipes, you should know that I will give you tips and further instructions to make sure your food turns out great, and I’m finding that some folks don’t realize the discrepancies between different tools in the kitchen.
- Preheating the oven to 450. This is for those pizzas that have a lot of ingredients — meats, veggies, cheese. You need this much heat to move thru all the ingredients and cook the crust. If it is a simple cheese pizza, drop the heat to 425.
- There is a difference between liquid measuring cups and dry measuring cups. The liquid measuring cup has a handle and a pour spout – usually in 1 cup or 2 cup sizes. Dry measuring cups are usually round with a flat handle which allows you to run a knife or a spatula across the top to measure dry ingredients accurately.
- Yeast comes in single use packets or jars. I buy the jar of yeast because I do make pizza frequently as well as baking my own bread. It’s just cost effective for our family. The packets are pre-measured to be 2 1/4 t.
- ALWAYS check the expiration date on your yeast. If it has expired or it is getting close to expiration, your results may not be as tasty. The chemical reaction between the sugar and yeast, fueled by the warm water is what will either make or break your pizza crust. Dead yeast equals a flat, dense pizza crust.
- The hot water required to fuel the yeast/sugar is important – if it is boiling it will kill it, the reaction will not occur as well as evidenced by a lack of foam when the 10 minutes is up. I simply use my tap water on hot, let it run for a few minutes until it is hot and measure it into the cup.
- Do not over stir the yeast and sugar – it will not dissolve with your manpower. I swirl the sugar a few times before adding the yeast to make sure it is incorporated into the water so it can interact with the yeast. I stir the yeast just enough to get it wet.
- Covering the water while the yeast and sugar consummate their relationship is just thoughtful. JUST KIDDING! The towel actually holds the heat in and helps it create a lovely head of foam – if you aren’t seeing foam that would make the stoutest lager proud, your yeast is probably old. The crust will still be edible, just not as light.
- What is a good foam? I’m talking 1-2″ of dense foam.
- I use a fork to stir the crust after I’ve added the water and oil – the tines seem to help blend things like a spoon doesn’t. Even after the ball starts to form, keep stirring to get as much of the flour incorporated as you can, but it won’t be a smooth ball by any means.
- Pizza pans differ in their composition. I highly recommend a stoneware pizza pan! The stone heats evenly allowing the crust to rise equally and it is usually a natural non-stick surface. Metal pizza pans will require a light spray of oil before rolling the pizza crust out to prevent it from sticking to the pan, making it hard to dish up.
- Kneading simply means you push into the dough with the heels of your hands, then grab the edge with your fingertips and fold it in. Turn the dough a quarter turn and repeat. The rhythm is actually quite soothing if you’ve had a rough day.
- If you haven’t got a rolling pin. . . .improvise! This is a recipe for pete’s sake, not a practical exam. Look for round, rollable objects that you can use as a substitute – unopened soda cans, drinking glasses, unopened canned vegetables (just take the paper off, wash the outside of the can and use a Sharpie marker to write on the end what it is)
- When adding toppings, I use marinara sauce instead of pizza sauce because the flavor is better IMHO. After the marinara sauce, regardless of whatever toppings we are using, I always put a layer of shredded Parmesan cheese. As it melts during cooking, it seems to help hold the heavier ingredients in place. Have you ever taken a bite of pizza only to have the topping of cheese and then the other ingredients slide off the top of the pizza? Yeah . . . me too and it’s frustrating. I’ve found that just a light layer of Parmesan (or any other cheese) helps prevent this.
Last night we had two pizzas – Cheese and Bacon Cheeseburger. I used Parmesan, Mozarella, Cheddar and Pepperjack on both. For the Bacon Cheeseburger, I used 1 cup of browned ground beef, and two slices of bacon (already cooked) and torn into pieces which I sprinkled over the ground beef. I could have added a stream of mustard and pickles under the cheese, but I was tired and didn’t.
If you’re making pizza crust for the first time, using my recipe . . . please comment and let me know how it turned out. Better yet . . . share your favorite pizza toppings!