Saturday, July 17, 2010

Just getting it off my Chest

I thought that coming back to this blog would be a strange thing to do, as it's been sitting abandoned and idle for so long, but I needed to get something off my chest. Not something deep and dark, just a little something I have been noticing more often lately. Something Daniel has even begun to comment on. Something obvious that still needs noting.

Fast food is not that fast. Paying someone else to do something for you does not really save you time. Quality is also a huge issue here, but most people seem to cave in and order takeout because it supposedly saves so much time. I just don't see it.

So many people seem to be in such a time squeeze that they feel they have no time to actually cook. They think it is much faster to order out, or go out to eat, than to make food themselves. I disagree.
In our house, we've been paying attention to what we put in our mouths, what we are using as the building blocks of cells in our body, what we eat when we celebrate, and what we eat when we need comfort, because yes, that is a function of food in our lives. And we are conscious of something that seems counter intuitive to our culture...good food is not hard to prepare.

Last night at 7 pm Daniel pointed out that it was dinner time...did I have plans or should he run out for burgers? We had had a lazy day, caught a movie in the middle of the afternoon and lots of popcorn.
We don't order out when we are home. I looked at him like he was crazy. If we are away from home and shopping we will stop for something, but generally we eat at home. It makes no sense to us to spend $30 on mediocre (at best) fast food because we were too lazy to make a sandwich for ourselves before leaving home.

I gave this a little thought as I got busy in the kitchen. Pizza seems to be the most popular fast food for home consumption. But pizza from most take-out places is not that great...lots of crust, a few greasy toppings and a sprinkle of stringy mozzarella. Not my idea of pizza. Why would you not make it at home? It's so simple. A good pizza dough takes minutes to throw together, and a half hour of resting, raising time is all you need in a pinch. I don't even feel the need for a recipe...yeast doughs are not rocket science.

Here is my method:
In a large bowl, pour in about 2 cups of hot tap water. Add to this two or three good glugs of olive oil, a spoonful of sugar or honey and a teaspoon or so of salt and mix it a bit. Add a heaping cup of flour and stir it with a wooden spoon. Add about a tablespoon of quick yeast...I measure it in the palm of my hand, and mix it all up really well. Then start mixing in more flour, a cup at a time. It takes about 6 cups total, but it's not exact, and if you add a little less you will know if your dough is really sticky. Mix with the spoon until it gets too stiff, then get in with your hands and punch the flour into the dough. It should be soft, but not too sticky. It shouldn't be like a sludge from the black lagoon, hanging between your fingers, but it shouldn't be so hard you have to punch with all your might to knead it either.
All the recipes say you have to take it out of the bowl at this point and knead it for 5 or 10 minutes. I say "bah!" I do it in the bowl...less mess...and this is fast food! I just keep pushing and folding the dough, as the bowl sits in my kitchen sink, neatly containing any mess. Maybe 2 minutes is all I give it on a normal day. When it's smooth and soft and feels like pizza dough it's done.
I give it a little rest and start pulling stuff from my fridge to top it with. I grate some cheese, whatever I have, or grab the soft goat cheese and don't even have to grate it. Same with Feta...crumbling it is fine, and fast. I see if there is any ham, chicken, spinach, onions (I like to saute them quickly in a little olive oil till they are translucent), sliced peppers, know the stuff you like on top...just wing it. My fridge/pantry staples for pizza preparedness are like this:
  • Extra lean ham (sandwich meat)
  • left over roast chicken
  • cheddar or mozza
  • goat cheese
  • Feta
  • olives
  • peppers; fresh or canned
  • sauces: canned tomato sauce, jars of pesto, BBQ sauce, Ajvar (say's a Yugoslav sweet red pepper sauce in a's like their ketchup...mild and delicious. It can be found in the condiment isle at Superstore, an Italian market or sometimes Sobeys)
  • fresh spinach
  • canned pineapple
  • real bacon bits
  • canned artichokes
  • anything else I spy that seems fair game

I gather my loot while the pizza dough sits there resting and as I heat the oven up to 450 or 500. Then I glug a bit of olive oil on a pizza sheet, a cookie sheet or a stone, and sprinkle some cornmeal over that to give it some crunch (or not...depends on how fast we want would only add maybe 60 seconds to my prep time, so I usually go for it).
I then take half the dough and stretch it out right on the pan. It doesn't have to be pretty, or perfectly's handmade and rustic...much better than mass produced, so of course it should look different too. Do the same on pan number two, (or else make one big pizza on your largest cookie sheet.)
Add a sauce of your choice. Add toppings. I put the cheese on last but some people like to get crazy and do it first.

Put it in the oven. Set the timer for 20 minutes.
I have a little trick to really kick the pizza up a notch or three. I had a wonderful goat cheese and fresh vegie pizza at Brewsters that was finished with a Balsamic reduction. It was unbelievable! If you want to impress someone (or yourself) try this:
While the pizza is cooking, get out a small frying pan and pour in about a 1/2 cup of balsamic vinegar and turn the heat on high. Get it boiling really well, and add some honey (or maple syrup maybe? About 2 tablespoons worth) Cook it down till it's syrupy. I then take it off the heat and add a couple cloves of minced garlic and a tablespoon of olive oil, and stir it up. This is liquid gold, and likely to bring about confessions of undying love from anyone you serve it to, so use it wisely!
In 20 minutes look at your pizza. Does it look golden and toasty and melty? Peek at the bottom crust by carefully lifting a corner. Is it done? Take it out or leave it in for another few minutes. Then remove it and gloat. Smirk. Smile. Drool, along with everyone else in your immediate vicinity.
Cut that pizza anyway you like it...pie shaped? Rectangles? It's your baby!
Drizzle with the Balsamic reduction, grate a little Parmesan over it or pass it on the table, and enjoy gloating. You can do 100% better than the pizza place down the street. The total time invested is about 45 minutes, from inspiration to ingestion. I kid you not.

Now, if you had decided to order in, it would likely take that long, at least to have a soggy crust, half naked, mass produced pizza arrive at your door. Would there be love in it? Not likely. It would be OK, I'm sure, as even bad pizza is still pizza, and who turns down pizza? But if you could have a real, lovingly crafted, one of a kind delicious custom made, gourmet pizza in the same time why would you settle? You also have to take into account your sense of immense satisfaction that you...YOU, made this incredibly delectable delight, and fed it to your adoring family. That is, to cop a cliche, priceless.

Also, if you had to earn that money to buy that pizza, you spent a good hour of so working just to pay it off, right? At minimum wage, someone would have to work at least a couple hours. So figure some of that time in. You do have to buy the ingredients, it's true, but a bag or flour, water, salt and yeast and a small bottle of oil will make a lot of pizzas, and the toppings are so much cheaper to buy in the grocery store. There are also savings on taxes. If you buy the ingredients at a grocery store, you don't pay GST, but restaurants charge you tax on that take
out. And a tip...and delivery. See what I mean? You burn gas making a special trip to pick up a single pizza for a single meal, but chances are when you buy the ingredients, it was a trip that will feed you many pizzas of superior yumminess. I LOVE homemade pizza. I do it on my BBQ when it's too hot to use the over. (That's another post.)

If you don't feel like pizza, make a quick and easy tomato sauce like the one from Jamie, while you're boiling up some pasta. Spice it up! Add fresh garlic, some red wine, grate some cheese on top and you are done in 20 minutes! This is what I actually did last night when we realized it was dinner time and we had no plan. I opened a large can of diced tomato, whirred them in the blender, added yummy stuff from the fridge (another great use for Ajvar is to add body and flavour to a plain tomato sauce)
We sat down and gave thanks for a beautiful, delicious, fast meal and also for the prospects of left-overs for a couple of days. That's always a reason to rejoice in a house with teenage boys!

Fast food in our house isn't just pizza or pasta. It can mean throwing a burger on the BBQ, putting a piece of salmon in the oven and cooking some rice and having a salad on the side (under half an hour on the table), or a hundred other scratch meals. With a stocked freezer and pantry, you can have more delicious, nutritious, quick and inexpensive food on the table and more time with your family. It's just a different way of thinking. Don't be intimidated into thinking good food is too difficult. Try the pizza...see what your family thinks. See how great you feel!


Kim Mailhot said...

Yummy, Brilliant, Brava, Yes, Yes, Yes ! ;)

You are on my RSS Feed and it always makes me happy when your blog is highlighted !
Hugs and I hope the summer is treating you right !

Karyn said...

Arlene, I always love the way you share recipies. And, since you are 'the Cadillac of cooks', I know they are good.

It is true that most folks have a misconception about cooking for themselves....once you start thinking in this direction, good food is quick and easy - faster than most take out.

Dawn said...

Your pizza is in my oven as we speak. I think it took me longer than it does you, but I think it'll be de-lish!

You should write a cookbook, entitled Homemade Fast Food: Nourishing foods for the busy family.

Now go write your book ~ it'll be a best seller!!

arlene said...

Dawn, will you illustrate the book?

creative sandwich's lovely proprietors said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Dawn said...

Yesss ~ let's do it!!
(I blogged about the pizza I created from following your recipe on your post ~ take a look)

arlene said... have your first assignment...illustrate the pizza post! I'll get to work on another recipe!

Anne Gaal said...

Hi, Arlene! We adore our homemade pizza, too! Especially because we can eat half a pizza that has the same calories as a single slice some places! And it tastes soooooooo much better! We even mix oregano and basil into the dough for extra flavor! I see you like to do the cheese last like I do, too! Thanks for sharing your yummy recipe and photos! Making me drool! :-)

arlene said...

Hi Anne,
Yes I do love to add rosemary into my dough with the liquid when I mix it up too. The flavour is sublime! I never thought about the calories, but you're right. That's why mine isn't dripping in grease but instead is loaded with vegies and good stuff!

Dawn said...

Okay I have my first assignment ~ yay! We could use illustrations and photos eh?

Karyn said...

I made homemade pizza tonight. I cheated and used premade pizza crust, forgetting you had a recipie for the dough as well. But we made a small pizza for each - designed by the one who would eat it. THEN Victoria and I made your Balsamic Reduction.

You have even more folks pledging undying love to you, our favorite cook! It was amazing. Tor figured it would be great on lean ribs, too! or as a salad dressing. It is just plain delicious!

Thanks for sharing....and I'd stand in line for that cookbook!

arlene said...

The balsamic reduction just takes everything it touches to the next level, doesn't it!! I love the stuff. Josh and I once cooked it down till it turned into taffy and made little candies. They were unbelievable! Who woulda' thunk??
I bet your pizza party was fabulous. Half the thing with cooking is who you are sharing it with, and Hutchy's know how to do the family thing! Love you guys, and I am seriously considering the cookbook! It sounds like a fun project!

Robin said...

Mmmm...if only I had an oven! I'll remember this one for when I do. Or a bbq, remember when we made pizza on the bbq at your place, it was so good!

swapon said...

I like pizza that make by vegetables because its very essential for our Fitness.