What I Made for Dinner

What I Made for Dinner: 3/3/08

Another in our ongoing series dreamed up by web editor Laura Conaway about the food I cook for my family for dinner:

Last night was a semi-disaster. I attempted to make a homemade pizza and a green salad. The salad went okay. The pizza not so much:

Here's my salad recipe:

Semi-wilted boston lettuce (wilting optional)
A cucumber, peeled and sliced width-wise
A handful of precut "baby bella" mushrooms
Baby carrots chopped up small
A green pepper, sliced into chunks of varying sizes (slipshod knife-work)
I would have done tomatoes but I think I saw a mold spot
A bottle of the only salad dressing in our fridge (balsamic vinaigrette)
Chalk to write note on blackboard: "buy more salad dressing"

The Pizza after the jump:

The Pizza:

A store-bought premade pizza crust (you know the kind, right? sealed in plastic?)
Spaghetti sauce because I forgot to buy pizza sauce (is there a difference?)
Shredded skim mozzarella cheese
For kid's third: pepperoni
For dad's third: pepperoni and mushrooms (see salad, above)
For mom's third: pepperoni, mushrooms and a couple of kalamata olives that I tried to pry loose from their pits, resulting in an olivey mush
I shook some frozen chopped basil over the top of the whole thing
I put the pizza in my countertop toaster/convection oven and set it for 425 degrees per the instructions on the pizza crust bag and set the timer for 10 minutes.
It came out kinda dark brown, and the basil looked like burned spots. My husband took one look at it and pronounced it inedible. He quickly pulled out some leftovers from the weekend and got to nuking.

I ate the pizza anyway. It was okay. The crust was a little soggy and the top was a little burnt. Not my finest hour.



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Tricia: assuming you keep canned diced tomatoes on the shelf, dump a can into a saucepan over medium high, add a pinch of salt and a pinch of sugar and cook it down, stirring occasionally, until it's reduced by about half and is the consistency of pizza sauce. Add fresh or dried basil and any other herbs you like and/or have on hand. It doesn't require much watching, so you can do it while you're making the salad, and it's SO much better than jarred sauce.

Sent by Stewart | 1:56 PM | 3-4-2008

We had homemade pizza two nights ago (this was one of my fav meals as a kid). I recommend the Pillsbury pizza crust (in the can), pre-cook the crust, then add toppings, then cook again.

And there is a difference between spaghetti sauce and pizza sauce. Definitely.

Good luck next time.

Sent by G | 1:56 PM | 3-4-2008

It's hard to make good pizza without a pizza stone. As for the dough, do you have a pizzeria near your house? Sometimes they will sell you an uncooked dough. These are fun to work with and probably better than pre-packaged stuff.

Sent by Sarah Goodyear | 2:25 PM | 3-4-2008

I second the above tomato sauce recommendation. There's simply no reason to buy sauce in a jar. (OK, I guess if you don't have the 30 minutes needed to cook the tomatoes...kids...I understand...)

If you want to spend a bit more time, shred some carrot, instead of using the sugar, and cook that with a diced onion in olive oil before adding the tomatoes.

The basil probably was better used in the sauce than on the pizza.

In my next comment, I'll explain why you should always make your salad dressing, and never buy that in a bottle...(hint: so easy! tastes better!)

Sent by carlo | 2:50 PM | 3-4-2008

We have pizza night every two weeks... muir glen makes an awesome canned (organic) pizza sauce. Being a family of three, we typically only use half of the sauce and freeze the remainder. As for crust: we do this really easy semolina flour crust- no rising time needed. It takes less than 10 minutes to throw together an put on the pan. http://www.cooking.com/recipes/static/recipe1972.htm Finally, the basil should always be tossed onto the pizza after the cheese melts (we throw it on after the pizza is finished)- it will burn in most ovens.

Sent by Anna | 4:02 PM | 3-4-2008

I'll third the tomato sauce recommendation. Much better than anything from a jar. It's good spice-cabinet velcro as well. Try throwing in a little anise. It goes well with sausage. Maybe some thyme if you're going for chicken pizza. Maybe some garlic. Maybe a lotta garlic. Play. Live.

I'll also second the salad dressing bit. Your standard dressing is 2 parts oil to 1 part vinegar salt, pepper, and herbs to choice. My fave:

4 tablespoons olive oil (nothing too fancy)
2 tablespoons vinegar
1 teaspoon dried basil (or more to taste)
1 clove garlic
1 pinch salt
2 grinds pepper

Hit it with a stick blender, stand up blender, or food processor. Or if you don't feel like blending just leave out the garlic (sniff) and whisk vigorously. This takes 2 minutes tops and you'll never be out of salad dressing again.

Fresh herbs shouldn't be cooked. Sprinkle them on at the end. Cheese shouldn't be cooked much. I bake my pizzas for 20 minutes and the cheese is only on for the last few. Just enough to melt.

But, more important than anything else, "this dinner is inedible" is semantically equivalent to "I volunteer to cook for the next two weeks." This rule can be enforced with a variety of methods. I learned this lesson the hard way.

Sent by Dave Wiley | 5:45 PM | 3-4-2008

Just to be clear - The dinner was "inedible" only by the standards applied by our finicky toddler. The leftovers were pulled out for her. I had a piece of the pizza and the salad was great.

Sent by Tricia's Husband | 6:41 PM | 3-4-2008

Stick blender? Whisk? Meh. Trish has a small child. Put the dressing ingredients into a glass jar with a screw top, like an empty jelly jar. Hand jar to small child and say, "Small child! Help mommy with dinner!" Small child shakes the bejeebers out of jar, creating a perfect emulsion of oil and vinegar and simultaneously learning that, hey, this whole cooking thing is fun.

Sent by Stewart | 6:46 PM | 3-4-2008

Thanks to all of you for your comments, including my husband. For the record, I didn't mean to imply that my husband is a bad husband or doesn't pull his weight around the house. I meant to imply only that I am a lousy cook. And I don't mean to imply now that he's breathing down my neck while I type this.

I have made my own salad dressing before. I just poured equal parts olive oil and balsamic vinegar in a jar, threw in a little squirt of dijon mustard and shook away. But since I don't have the vinegar to hand and I have a tiny kitchen and I'm up to my eyeballs in dishes, I prefer to go the bottled salad dressing route.

I honestly didn't know not to sprinkle fresh herbs on top of my pizza. I'll know better next time.

And you know what? The spaghetti sauce wasn't bad.

Sent by Non Martha Stewart, a.k.a. Tricia NPR | 6:56 PM | 3-4-2008

And Stewart, not a bad idea as long as you're sure that top is screwed on reeeeeeaaallllyyyy tight.

Sent by Tricia, NPR | 7:00 PM | 3-4-2008

For a great, quick pizza sauce I would suggest combining equal parts of your favorite spaghetti sauce with tomato paste. Stir it together and then continue adding spaghetti sauce until it reaches a flavor and consistency you like. No heating is required. And if you do the mixing in a storage container, the excess sauce can go straight into the fridge.

Sent by John Blackwell | 9:02 AM | 3-5-2008