Recipe: My Ultimate Homemade Pizza Base

I love me a pizza. Franco Manca is becoming a date-night favourite when I meet W from his studio, and having The Dynamo a whopping 3 minute walk away is down-right dangerous. The good news? I’ve finally perfected my perfect at-home pizza base. Not only does it taste great, it’s super easy to make, fitting in around our schedule and making homemade pizza all too easy on a work night.

 photo Pizza Dough_zpswwofx8v6.jpgIt does “take a while” but in all honesty there’s hardly any hands-on work. The vast majority of the time involves bunging it in the fridge and forgetting about it – the actual prep you could do in the morning or (if you’re more sleep-inclined) the night before. If you want to me majorly organised then you could even go as far as part-cooking the bases in advance and freezing. Now that’s given me the idea of holding a pizza party…

The slow-rise is essential for creating an almost sourdough-flavoured base. It’s puffed up, slightly crisp on the base, and soft and chewy. This is not your takeaway American-style base, it’s not ‘deep-pan’ and it’s not ‘thin and crispy.’ It’s proper, pillowy, Italian homemade pizza. Maybe not ovely authentic, but it tastes good and fits in with my lifestyle. Basically, it’s a big thumbs up from me. Here I’ve showcased two toppings. One is my Spicy Lamb, perfect for leftover Sunday roast meat. The second is a fresher take on my Black Pudding & Goat’s cheese, using less meat, more cheese and a little courgette to lighten things up. Leaving the black-pudding off and going courgette+cheese (+fresh basil if I have any) is also super good. And my go-to comfort food pizza option? Red pepper pesto and chorizo slices is always a winner!

Ingredients (serves 2)

  • 300g strong white bread flour
  • 6g salt
  • 3g dried yeast
  • 200ml water (warm, but not too hot)

 photo Ultimate Homemade Pizza Dough 2_zpstz8qclr6.jpgPut the flour, salt and yeast into a large bowl, and then pour in 150ml of warm water. Stir the wateruntil a rough ball forms, then bring it together with your hands. The dough will be sticky, and you will get messy and annoyed with it. Sorry!

Knead the dough. I like to alternate between normal kneading and stretching it in the air, over and over again. You should end up with a smooth, not-so-sticky dough after around 10 minutes. Once you get to this (or even before if you feel like your arms are about to fall off, or you need to run and get to work on time) place the into a clean and well-floured bowl, cover the bowl with clingfilm and throw in the fridge.

After around 10 hours (i.e. when you get in from work), the dough should have doubled in size. Gently press all the air out of the dough using your hands, adding in a little flour if it’s still super-sticky. Split into two, and on a floured work surface press out a section of the dough into a rough circle. I tend to do this by hand rather than use a rolling pin (mainly to save on the washing up) – again I tend to do it up in the air, letting the weight of the dough stretch it out. Lay the dough on a floured surface and then begin to work on the second piece. After this, the first will have had chance to rest, you can stretch it again – you want super-thin sections, but also a thicker ‘crust’ around the edge. Repeat with the second piece.

Heat up a large, dry non-stick frying pan over a medium heat, and then carefully lay in one pizza base at a time. Cook the bases for 2-3 minute per side. Each side of the base should be a pale biege colour, with a few dark brown spots – I cook at a slightly lower temperature for longer just to get the base a little crispier, but if you prefer a stronger “wood-fired” flavour and texture then cook for less over a high heat. Repeat for the other base.

Add on any toppings, and then cook the pizzas for 5-7 minutes in an oven at 220 degrees. I’ve discovered that 1tbsp of creme fraiche mixed with black pepper and a small amount of parmesan makes for a divine topping, but for these black-pudding pizzas I simply spread with goat’s cheese to form a ‘sauce.’ You definitely don’t want the toppings to outshine the base here!

 photo Ultimate Homemade Pizza Dough 1_zpsaecak4qz.jpgAnd that’s is, perfect homemade pizza for two. Multiply up the quantities for more, freeze half of the dough (either shaped and part-cooked or just as it is) or one. And if you’re holding a pizza party? Part-cook, stack with greaseproof and keep in an air-tight container until the evening – then serve with a vast array of toppings. I’m thinking different pestos, meats, veg, maybe even the mac’n’cheese pizza topping I came across recently…

What’s your favourite pizza topping? Are you a fan of homemade pizza?

Recipe: Red Wine Braised Ox Cheeks

There’s few things I dislike about Autumn. Spiders are one of them (I HATE the things, some of the monsters in the Lake District were certainly scream-inducing!), and my craving for comfort food is another. It’s not that I don’t love Autumnal food. I do. It’s just that so often it takes a good few hours to cook, and that’s just not possible after work. So I stick to quicker things, dinners far less comforting, and get grumpy as a result.

 photo Ox Cheeks_zpsxujzazec.pngAll that’s changed.

Thanks to Debenhams, I’m now the proud owner of a pressure cooker*. And it makes stews in around half an hour. Add in the chopping, a bit of frying, thickening the sauce and making the mash/dumplings and you’ve got a heart bowl of comforting food in well under an hour. Boom.

 photo Ox Cheeks in Red Wine 9_zpsndjrtnxv.jpg photo Ox Cheeks in Red Wine 1_zpsywqzxyuj.jpg photo Ox Cheeks in Red Wine 3_zps0plqwrqr.jpgI have to admit, the pressure cooker scared me at first. This is by far and away the most technical bit of cooking equipment I have ever used. The strict safety warnings made me worry I was going to create something explosive. It just looks intimidating. It makes horrendous noises when letting the pressure out at the end of cooking. It took us no less than four attempts to do the ‘initial steam’ before first use. But it was worth it.

Boy, was it worth it. By cooking Ox Cheek in a pressure cooker we were able to break down the tough meat quickly, with the result so meltingly tender we divided it up with a spoon.Cheeks are a budget cut of meat (ours worked out at around £1.50 for a massive portion) that are made for slow cooking, and using a pressure cooker cuts this time down massively – I reckon this would take at least five hours normally. We cooked a whole cheek weighing half a kilo and that needed just over an hour to break down, cut into pieces you could do it in 30. Then there’s the sauce. So, so good. The braising gravy is infused with so much tasty flavour and then pureed (my new favourite trick!) to transform into a thick, glossy sauce that coats the meat, soaks into mash and begs to be mopped up with bread or just slurped with a spoon. I have no shame when it comes to gravy like this.

 photo Ox Cheeks in Red Wine 2_zps7u5mttki.jpgIngredients (Served two greedy people with leftovers)

  • 3 tbsp oil, separated
  • 1 large ox cheek (around 500g)
  • 1 onion
  • 3 celery sticks
  • 3 carrot
  • 1 garlic clove
  • 1½ tsp dried thyme leaves
  • 2 dried bay leaves
  • 1½ tsp mustard
  • 400ml beef stock
  • 125ml red wine (we went for the cheapest Sainsbury’s had)
  • plenty of black pepper and salt, to season

Prepare the beef cheek: cut off any large, fatty membrane. Pat dry then cover with plain flour (seasoned with salt and pepper). Heat 2 tbsp oil in a large frying pan over high heat. Sear the beef cheek on each side until nicely browned.

 photo Ox Cheeks in Red Wine 4_zpszvubq49w.jpgTurn down the heat to medium and heat the remaining  oil. Add the onion and carrots. Sauté for 3 minutes until the onion isstarting to soften, then add the celery and garlic and continue to sauté for another 3 minutes. Pop the veg mixture into the cooker and place the beef cheek on top. Pour the wine into the frying pan and return to heat. Turn the heat up to high, bring to boil and let bubble for 1 minute whilst scraping any brown bits from the bottom of the pan. Pour the wine into the cooker, then all the remaining ingredients and season well.

Close up the pressure cooker, following all instructions, then cook on ‘high’ for around 1 hour – we used the ‘Stew’ setting on our cooker. When done, release the pressure and leave until ready to open before testing the meat. If the meat doesn’t fall apart when pressed with a spoon, give it a little longer.

Open the cooker and ladle out around half the veg. Discard any thyme stems and bay leaves. Use a blender to puree the veg, then add back to the cooker and stir well – it should thicken the sauce well. If it’s still a little thin, puree a bit more veg, if it’s too thin add a little stock or some water. Taste taste and season if necessary, then serve with mash and plenty of green vegetables.

 photo Ox Cheeks in Red Wine 6_zpsfdkqtp3e.jpgIn just over an hour we had a gorgeous comforting meal on the table, and having played around with the pressure cooker a little more we figured out cutting the meat up would give us the chance of cooking a stew in under 30 minutes. Can’t get better than that!

What’s your favourite comfort food? Have you tried using a pressure cooker?