Cooking Ahead

Regular readers may be wondering why this column is titled Cooking Ahead when most of our tips and recipes have to do with freezing. We have found freezing to be one of the most helpful techniques in having good food ready-to-eat.

When you look at most recipes, one of the daunting tasks for preparation can be all the chopping, mincing and slicing. Many recipes become easier and quicker to prepare if some of these chopped, minced and sliced ingredients are sitting in the freezer.

Our freezer frequently contains grated cheeses, chopped onion, sliced celery, chopped nuts, minced herbs and sliced meats ready for cooking. In some cases the pre-prepared ingredients may need defrosting, but in many cases they can go straight from the freezer to the cooking dish. One of our favorite quick meals is homemade pizza (recipe following). With frozen dough in the refrigerator, we have a fresh, hot pizza faster than the half-hour delivery guarantee.

You may first bake the dough into a pizza shell or put the unbaked dough into a plastic freezer bag for later use. If the unbaked dough is frozen, it is a good idea to put it in the refrigerator for thawing the day before you plan to use it. You should also let it rest at room temperature about ½ hour before forming the dough.

Either way, what goes on top of the pizza is usually decided by what is in our refrigerator. Leftovers find their way out of the dark corners of the fridge and onto the pizza. Be careful of the moisture content of certain foods. High moisture foods can be sautéed or drained in a colander before going on top of the pizza crust.

Use your imagination in your creation. If you have children in the house, pizza time can be fun way to get them involved in cooking. Let the kids put whatever they want on the pizza and be sure to try a bite of their creation. If you are concerned about a 12-inch peanut butter and grape jelly pizza, just give the kids smaller pieces of dough for their pies.

Another way to create wonderfully flavored pizzas is to cook them on the grill. Be sure and use plenty of olive oil on the grate before placing your uncooked dough on the grill. You should experiment before dedicating an entire meal to this process.

If you want a "ready-to-go" pizza in the fridge, try making calzones. Make the pizza dough and brush it with olive oil leaving a one-inch oil-free border. Place your filling on half of the pizza. Then brush water on the one-inch border. Fold the dough over the top, sealing it.

Place the completed calzones on a baking sheet with cornmeal sprinkled on it. Put the sheet in the freezer until the calzones are thoroughly frozen. Then place the pocket pies in freezer bags. Thaw them before baking just like your pizza.

Next time...breakfast ahead.

Basic Pizza Dough

  • 1 teaspoon light honey
  • 1 cup lukewarm water (98-100 degrees F)
  • 1 package active dry yeast
  • 2 cups whole wheat or unbleached flour
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

In a large mixing bowl, combine honey, the warm water, and yeast, and stir until yeast dissolves. Let mixture stand, uncovered, at room temperature for 5 minutes.

Stir in 1 cup of the flour and mix well. Let batter rise for 20 minutes, then stir down and add remaining flour, oil, and salt.

Turn dough onto a lightly flour board. Knead dough flouring lightly as needed to prevent stickiness. Knead until the dough does not stick to your hands, but will stick when pinched. It will be smooth and elastic. (You can do this in heavy duty mixer also, finishing with a brief hand kneading.)

Lightly oil a large bowl and place dough into it. Cover with a lightly oiled plastic wrap and let rise for 30 minutes. Punch down, then divide into 2, 3 or 4 balls. Roll into rounds. If the dough is difficult to handle, let it rest before rolling.

Dough is now ready for pizza. Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Top pizza and bake for 10-15 minutes. Crust may also be prebaked 10 minutes before topping.

  • Yields: 2-4 crusts, depending on size
  • Preparation Time: 1 1/2 hours

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