Saturday, May 17, 2008


Ever since I was an itty bity Rachie Marie baking has been one of my favorite kitchen cooking activities. Kneading bread and getting my hands all ooey gooey with dough, molding pastry into delicate shapes and meticulously decorating cupcakes so they look almost too pretty to eat. Baking felt like playing to me, like a day in art class creating something not only beautiful to the eyes but delectable to the tummy too. As much as I loved to bake for some reason I never really experimented very much with pizza. Sure we had our fair share of pizza nights at home when I was a kid but more often than not that consisted of a premade Boboli crust swirled with a little tomato sauce and topped with mozzarella and salami. While as I recall this being quite the scrumptious treat to my preteen pallet I don’t think 10 minutes in the oven really qualified it as a gourmetish baked good. It was not until after I stopped eating gluten that I really started to play around with pizza making. I don’t know if it was the fact that pizza was something that I was not suppose to eat anymore or if it was the challenge to come up with something that not only worked but that would be amazingly delicious that got to me more, but for a while there I was on a pizza making mission. And now, two years and some change later I like to consider myself an expert on the subject. Give me an hour or so and I will make you the most amazingly delicious pizza you have ever tasted (and a gluten free one at that!). Sometimes I like to make a crust from scratch, combining different flours, warm water and yeast, kneading the dough and letting it slowly rise. For thick crusted pizzas I like to use the Whole Foods Brand pizza mix or a pizza crust recipe from “Gluten Free Baking Classics” by the lovely and talented Analise Roberts. Both of these recipes yield a thick fluffy crust that is not only delicious for traditional pizza toppings like mozzarella with ham and pineapple or spicy bbq chicken but also make a heavenly garlic bread as well. Sometimes you will find that your choice of toppings work better with a thinner crust and for thin crust pizzas I almost always use Chebe brand mixes. Chebe is a company based out of Iowa that makes delicious mixes for various gluten free bread products based upon a popular bread in Brazil called “pao de queijo” or cheese bread. The mixes can be made with or without cheese and are all incredibly delicious and easy to prepare. I buy Chebe products at my local Henrys store but if you can’t find them in your area fear not you can also order them on the Chebe webby site!

Typically I get a craving for pizza once or twice a month, usually ifs after being at work or a gathering where someone offers me a delicious smelling slice of glutenous pizza. Even though I have become quite the expert in the polite decline when it comes to gluten laden foods the smell of any pizza with or without gluten still makes my mouth water and starts the wheels in my brain churning with different ideas for my next pizza creation.

Like many meals I think pizza is best when enjoyed with friends and lucky for me my most recent pizza night was one that was shared with a few of my favorite people, Matt, Jamie and Steve.

Recipe for a perfect Friday night pizza party

2 delicious gluten free pizzas
2 scrumptious salads
2 bottles of bubbly beverages (my favorite sparkling syrah from South Coast Winery, Ruby Cuvee and a bottle of Santa Cruz organics sparkling tangerine juice)
1 bowl of caramel popcorn
3 wonderful friends
and of course…musical watching!

As soon as I got home from work I started working on the pizzas. I mixed up the ingredients for my two Chebe crusts, kneaded the dough and rolled it our flat on a cookie sheet. With the Chebe dough after you roll it out I find it helps if you prick the crust with a fork a bit to keep it from puffing up too much in the oven. You also might want to put a light coating of olive oil on the crust edges to keep them from browning too quickly. If you happen to have one of those spiffy pans with the holes in the bottom these work great for making a sturdier and crispier crust. While my crusts were cooking I prepped the toppings for the pizza and by the time my lovely guests had arrived my pizza crusts were pre cooked and ready for their toppings.

Spicy sausage and sweet pepper pizza

This was one of the first fancy pizzas I made when I started cooking gluten free. When I was younger I hated veggies on pizza and while I still don’t care much for mushrooms or olives on my pizza I l-o-v-e peppers on pizza. Bell peppers, pepperchinis, jalapeƱos or mini sweet are all delicious and a frequent addition atop my pizzas. I find that the mini sweet work well with the thin crust of this pizza and their sweet crunch pairs wonderfully with the spicy sausage. The cheesy crust was inspired by my middle school pizza eating days at Hungry Howies that was located in the then new town of Carmel Mountain Ranch and was known for their flavored crusts (my personal favorite being the butter cheese).

Dough: Chebe pizza mix (if you can only find the flat bread or all purpose mix just add a sprinkling or two of your own dry Italian spices to the mix).
Crust: After you finish the first round of cooking and before you put your toppings on the pizza you will want to lightly coat the crust with olive oil and then dust the crust with parmesan cheese.
Sauce: Tomato sauce swirled with a generous dollop of homemade pesto.
Toppings: Pre cooked slices of Italian herb or spicy sausage, diced mini sweet peppers (or bell if you can’t find minis) and a combination of part skim mozzarella cheese and mozzarella flavored rice cheese (or just one or the other, I have semi lactose intolerant pals so I use a mix of both to cut the dairy a bit).

Pear, gorgonzola and arugula pizza

This is one of my favorites! The combination of the savory cheeses, sweet pears, crunchy walnuts and slightly bitter arugula make for the most marvelous melding of flavors and textures.

Dough: Chebe bread mix or all purpose mix.
Sauce: a swirl of olive oil.
Toppings: First top with a generous sprinkling of crumbled gorgonzola then top with thin slices of pear (bartlet and/or bosc), add a handful of toasted chopped walnut pieces and lastly lightly dust with cinnamon. After the pizza is cooked top with fresh shavings of parmesan cheese and arugula.

While our pizzas were in the oven we sipped our bubbly beverages and prepared the salads. Jamie made a sweet spring salad with field greens, strawberries, candied nuts, avocado and Briana’s Rich Poppy Seed dressing (I am pretty sure this is gluten free).

I made one of my favorite summer salads, bruschetta (sans bread of course) with chopped vine ripened tomatoes, fresh chopped basil, 4 cloves of crushed garlic a dollop of olive oil, sea salt and fresh ground pepper.

Dinner was a delicious success! Its hard for me to say what I liked best, I think it was a close call between the pear pizza and Jamie’s colorful salad.

For dessert Jamie brought all the fixins to make a sweet treat for us to snack on while we watched musicals. I dusted off the air popper to make the popcorn while Jamie mixed up a scrumptiously sticky pot of caramel sauce.

Jamie’s super yummy caramel popcorn

1 bottle Karo Syrup
1 cube butter
2 cups brown sugar
1 can sweetened condensed milk (Eagle brand)
1 tsp vanilla extract

Stir in a heated pan the brown sugar and karo syrup until melted. Let boil for 2 minutes, stirring. Take off heat and add the butter, sweetened condensed milk, and vanilla. Drizzle desired amount atop popcorn and stir until combined. Save the remaining syrup in a jar in the refrigerator to be used on ice cream, brownies and other sweet treats.

The popcorn was delish and the perfect snacky dessert to enjoy while cozyed up in the living room watching movies. We had a hard time deciding what musical to watch so we watched a few scenes from one of my favorite silly Indian movies, Mujhse Shaadi Karogi and then settled on watching Newsies, since Steve had never seen it before.

Wonderful friends, fabulous food and a little song and dance about delivering newspapers, Friday nights really can't get much better than that. Unless of course we had finished the night by playing X-Box Karaoke Revolution. That might have sent me into a fun coma though, better that we save that for next Friday.

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