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Pizza Dough

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Have you ever wished you could make a perfect pizza dough?  Does working with yeast intimidate you?  If you have never worked with yeast and if you like to save money while having endless possibilities of different meals and snacks you can make for your family and friends, this is the perfect recipe to start with!

Pizza dough can of course be made into a great pizza or calzone. But, don’t forget cheesy bread with a marinara dipping sauce, hot dogs wrapped in pizza dough, bread sticks, or even sugar and cinnamon twists, yum! The possibilities are endless once you have a good basic dough under your belt.

This recipe is easier if you have a stand mixer of course, but totally doable if you only have your own two hands, remember Italians have been making pizza for long before electricity was even invented!

Start with some super warm water, about 110-115 degrees.

Add water into the bowl of an electric mixer.

(I keep my yeast in a resealable bag in the fridge because I use so much of it, I don’t buy in packets) Use one packet of Active dry yeast or 3 tsp.

Add yeast into warm water.

Add sugar into water with the yeast.

Stir.

Add one cup of the flour.

Stir.

Don’t worry if there are lumps.

Cover and let rest for 10 minutes.

This is what it should look like… if your mixture is not foaming, your yeast may not be good.

Add in the remaining flour. Stir.

Add in salt.

When your dough starts to look like this, it’s time to use the dough hook on your mixer.

This is my dough hook.

Mix for about 30 seconds to see how wet it is… This one is a bit too wet.

Add in one tablespoon at a time and mix until the dough isn’t quite as sticky, but not too dry either.

I set my mixer’s timer for 5 minutes and knead on level 2. If your mixer does not have a time, be sure to set one.

Add in oil.

Continue to knead another 2 minutes until oil is incorporated. Move to an oiled bowl and let rise 20 minutes.

This is what your dough will look like. Remove and place on a floured surface and knead by hand into a ball this should take about 2-3 minutes.

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Pizza Dough

Makes 2 full size pizza crusts

Ingredients:

5 – 6 cups All purpose flour

1/3 cup sugar (shallow cup)

3 tsp. Active dry yeast

Shallow 1/3 cup vegetable oil

2 tsp. salt

2 cups warm water (110°-115°F)

Instructions:

Bloom yeast in warm water with sugar for 2 minutes, once bubbling add one cup flour, mix, cover and let sit for 10 minutes.  Once bubbly continue.

Add 4 cups flour and salt.  Add remaining flour 1 Tbs. at a time if too wet and not kneading well.  Once desired consistency is reached, knead for a timed 5 minutes.  Add in most of the oil saving some to oil bowl.  Place dough in an oiled bowl, cover and let rise for about 20 minutes.

Turn out onto a floured surface, knead by hand about 2-3 minutes until dough comes into a ball.

 

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Popcorn Chicken w/ Honey Mustard Dipping Sauce

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If your house is anything like mine, chicken nuggets are a staple.  With two toddlers it’s easy and nutritious.  Popcorn chicken is a fun new way to present your chicken nuggets!  Kids love crunch and they love to dip things.

Maybe my kids are odd, but they LOVE veggies, it’s almost hard to get them to eat protein!  However, chicken nuggets and fish sticks are two that I can always count on without question. Although fast food stops are few and far between,  I have to say I am guilty of having a kid who calls out “chocolate milk!” every time we pass by those golden arches.  Eh, no one is perfect. So, when I can make them from scratch, I do.  I love being able to control the ingredients and know exactly what my kids are eating.

Just a quick note before we get started.  Although my kids are big fans (and they are yummy), sometimes I want an adult version of the meal, so take a look under the recipe for a quick and easy adult adjustment.

chicken breast

I have two toddlers, so I start with one chicken breast and that can feed them both for two meals. This recipe is very easily doubled though.

chop chicken

Chop up the chicken to the size you best think your kids would like. I find this (between the size of a quarter and a nickel) works for us and that is what the cook time is based on. If your kids prefer tenders or a classic nugget size, just adjust the cook time by 5 mins more. If you find they truly like them the size of popcorn, then reduce cook time by 5 mins.

soak chic

I find this step to be absolutely necessary when working with boneless skinless chicken of this size. Soak bits in about a cup of buttermilk for a minimum of 30 mins and up to 8 hrs. This both tenderizes the chicken and gives it some juicy flavor.

panko

Next, measure out about 1 cup of panko breadcrumbs.

plain bc

And, half a cup of plain bread crumbs.

bc in bag

Place them in a bag with a pinch of kosher salt, some fresh cracked black pepper and a pinch of plain paprika just for color. (if your kids like spice, you could also either add in a dash of cayenne pepper or switch the paprika to Hungarian paprika)

drain chic

Remove from buttermilk with a slotted spoon. The goal is to drain the buttermilk away from the milk, otherwise you’ll create a gloppy mess.

chic in bag

Add chicken into bag. (Now, if you have kids helping with this you may want to do this in divided amounts so everyone gets a turn)

close

Zip up bag. Kid’s love to help with this part! Shake it up!

coated in bag

This is what you should start to see.

coated on tray

Spread out on a parchment covered sheet pan. Separate the pieces as much as possible. This one chicken breast was enough to cover an entire sheet pan. So, if you are doing more than one, plan accordingly.

crispy on tray

Place the bits in a preheated 350°F oven for 25 minutes. And here is the result. (If you like them to look a bit more browned, spray with a canned canola oil before placing in the oven. I don’t find that my kids care, so I don’t. They are certainly crispy enough without it. It’s just a matter of color.

Now onto the dipping sauce, we are making a Honey Mustard dipping sauce:

mustard

I start with about a half cup of dijon mustard.

add honey

Add in a quarter cup of honey

add sour cream

Add in a dollup of sour cream (1 heaping tablespoon)

sauce done

Stir together and wala! Honey Mustard Dipping Sauce. These three ingredients can definitely be adjusted to accommodate your taste, so play with it until you find that it works for your palate. You could also add in a pinch of salt, although I did not.

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Recipe for Popcorn Chicken:

(serves 2-4 kids or 1-2 adults)

1 boneless, skinless chicken breast, chopped

1 c. Japanese Panko bread crumbs

1/2 c. plain bread crumbs

1 tsp. kosher salt

1/4 tsp. ground black pepper

1/4 tsp. paprika

For the dip:

1/2 c. dijon mustard

1/4 c. honey

1 heaping Tbs. sour cream

Directions:

Chicken:

Pre-heat oven to 350°F.

In a gallon size zipper bag, add in bread crumbs and seasoning.  Combine.  Add in chicken bits, shake.  Place on a parchment lined sheet pan.  Bake for 25 minutes.

Dip:

Add all ingredients to a small bowl.  Stir.

Enjoy!

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Here is the adult version I promised you!

adult 2

To make this chicken: * Soak chicken in buttermilk (and a dash of hot sauce if desired) for at least one hour. * In the bread crumb mixture add in 1 tsp. Hungarian paprika for spice if desired. * Bake for one hour or until the chicken comes to 160°F with a meat thermometer.

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Crack-a-lackin’ Cracker Jacks

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“Buy me some peanuts and Cracker Jacks… I don’t care if I never get back!”

Ahhh… The sweet sounds of spring (and the 7th inning stretch). Have you ever wondered why the kid needs Cracker Jacks AND peanuts?  I mean there are peanuts right in the Cracker Jacks.  Anyway, I digress.  I thought it would be nice to round off my week of celebrating the great game of baseball with everyone’s favorite… the CrackerJack!  The ingredients are simple, the method is easier than you might think; just takes a little bit of patience.  And as usual, I will give you the recipe and provide little short cut tips along the way in case you aren’t a purist like me!

Here we go:

 

kernals

Start with popping corn! Remember this stuff? It actually exists outside of a microwaveable bag! Growing up I used to watch the commercials for Jiffy Pop popcorn (and it seemed they sponsored half the TV shows in the 80’s) and I always wanted them. My Mom loved to make her own popcorn though, so alas we never got the Jiffy Pop. When I got older, I realized Jiffy Pop wasn’t all it was cracked (or popped) up to be anyway. Again, I digress… If you aren’t a fan of making your own pop corn or feel more comfortable with an air popper or your microwave, have at it. Just be sure it’s plain and you have enough for about 10 cups when done (like three bags)

oil

If you are coming along with me on the old fashioned popping train… Just follow your package directions. I’m just adding a few tablespoons of oil to a large dutch oven.

add kernals

Then add in the kernels over high heat. Put the lid on the pan. When you hear your first few pops, start vigorously shaking the pan until you hear no more pops.

pop corn

And here is your final product… a lovely pot of fresh popped pop corn. No matter how you achieve this… Just be sure it is plain, fresh, and about 10 cups when all is said and done.  Add peanuts in at this point.

oven

Continue prepping. Set your oven to 250°F.

empty trays

Line a couple of sheet pans with parchment. You can use baking dishes, or whatever you have handy. Just be sure whatever you have has a rim, otherwise you may have popcorn slipping off into your oven… not fun. If you only have one, that will do, it will just mean more mixing during the process, but I’ll explain that later. Oh, and the parchment is kind of a must, unless you have some other type of non stick surface like a Silpat or something. Remember, we are essentially making candy here, so you want to be able to work with it without it sticking to everything. Which brings me to my next step.

spray bowl

You’re gonna want to spray both a very large bowl (I use my Vavo’s massa bowl) and your rubber spatula (or whatever you have on hand) with cooking spray. We don’t want sticking!

ingredients

Now, gather up some ingredients. You have no time once you start on the stove to gather these ingredients. So, be sure you are prepped ahead of time. In addition to these already measured out ingredients, be sure to have both your vanilla and baking soda at the ready.

add sugar

Start with a medium sauce pan. I like my non-stick. It doesn’t have to be non-stick, just my preference. Melt your butter and then add in your sugar.

add corn syrup

Once that is in and starting to dissolve, add in your corn syrup and salt. DO NOT LEAVE THE STOVE. I repeat, DO NOT LEAVE THE STOVE. This is not the time to get distracted, answer the door, check your text messages or discipline the children. You need 5-10 minutes of uninterrupted time here. You need to stir constantly.

stir

Keep stirring.

252

Once you get to right around 250°F on a candy thermometer or in my case a meat thermometer. Try to keep it at that temp. for around 3-4 minutes. This will likely include lowering the heat. You want to keep checking back. Don’t freak if it gets a little higher, just do your best.

vanilla

Once you make it through that 3-4 minutes, breathe. Then remove from heat and add in the vanilla. This is not the time to skimp out on the vanilla. Please please please use your very best PURE vanilla extract here. This one I am using is Madagascar bourbon vanilla, it’s my preference. But, you aren’t allowed to make this with that imitation stuff! (kidding, but really, don’t)

add baking soda

Now, add in the baking soda. I use a heaping half teaspoon. I like the fluffiness and lightness it brings. Careful not to overdo it though, baking soda can backfire in flavor if you go overboard.

stir2

Now stir to combine your new ingredients and it should look something like this.

pour caramel

OK… quickly pour this over your popcorn and start stirring. Again, not a time to take a break. You need to work briskly here.

mix in caramel

Keep stirring. Try to work all that caramel in throughout the popcorn as best you can. This process will take some time, assume a good 5 minutes for this step. Be fast but gentle, you don’t want a bunch of pop corn crumbles at the end.

done stirring

This is what you should have… I don’t like to overdo it with the caramel coverage. If you like more caramel coverage, just use 8 cups of popcorn. I wouldn’t go less than that though unless you are an experienced candy maker, because the caramel may clump up on you quite a bit.

spread on trays

Spread your mixture onto your prepared sheet trays.  Pop them in the oven for an hour.  But be sure to stir the mixture 3-4 times throughout their time in there.  I set my timer to every 15 mins.  This helps to further distribute the caramel and ensure you don’t have one big clumped mess when through.

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And there you have it folks. Crack-a-lakin’ Cracker Jacks! Enjoy!

 

Recipe for Crack-a-lakin’ Cracker Jacks:

(serves 4-6) (or one, shhh!)

10 c. plain popped pop corn (instructions above)

3/4 c. peanuts

1 stick unsalted butter

1 1/4 c. light brown sugar

1/3 c. light corn syrup

1/2 t. kosher salt

2 t. pure vanilla extract

1/2 t. heaping, baking soda

Directions:

Prepare all ingredients along with all equipment.  You will need a medium saucepan, preferably non-stick.  Two sheet trays with rims, lined with parchment.  And an extra-large bowl and rubber spatula sprayed with cooking spray. A thermometer with capability to go to 250°F.  Also, pre-heat your oven to 250°F.

Place popped corn in the extra-large bowl with the popcorn.

On the stove over medium/high heat, melt butter.  Add in brown sugar, corn syrup and salt.  Continuously stir until it comes to a boil.  Once it comes to a boil, check the temp. until it comes to 250°F.  Keep it at that temperature for 3-4 minutes, checking frequently and adjusting heat.

Remove from heat.  Add in vanilla and baking soda.  Stir.

Pour over popcorn and peanuts.  Quickly, but gently stir to combine.  This process takes patience.

Pour out onto prepared sheet trays.  Bake at 250°F for 1 hour.  Stir mixture 3-4 times throughout baking.

Cool.  Enjoy!