Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Homemade Pizza Crust and Simple Pizza Sauce

My husband and I had been trying so hard to come up with the perfect menu for our kids' combined birthday party this past weekend. I'm not exactly sure what prompted my initial thought, but I started thinking that it might be fun to set up a "make-your-own-pizza" table and allow for a more interactive party, also giving each person the opportunity to have exactly what they wanted! Ordering pizzas was one of our initial considerations, but I always worry that someone may not like what I choose to order or we may run out of a particular variety of pizza that is more of a "hit", forcing people to eat what's left. One of my biggest concerns was selecting a pizza crust. I've never made homemade pizza dough as an adult, so my natural inclination was to purchase something like Boboli (or something of that sort). Then, at just the perfect time, I saw a recipe posted on Macaroni and Cheesecake for a thin crust pizza and easy homemade pizza sauce, originally taken from Annie's Eats. I was all set to make this particular pizza crust recipe, but knew the week of the party was going to be chaotic and was concerned that I wouldn't have enough time to make the dough ahead of time to try it out (primarily to familiarize ourselves with what we were working with so we didn't have a disaster on our hands the day of the party!). I linked directly to Annie's Eats and found another pizza dough recipe that she spoke very highly of and it just so happened that this recipe could be made within a few opposed to having to make it and allow it to sit in the fridge for at least 24 hrs. We tried this recipe a few days before the party and were amazed at how easy it was to make the dough and even more so by how great the pizza tasted! While I did greatly enjoy this recipe and would recommend it/make it again, I am kind of anxious to try the initial thin crust recipe that I saw on Macaroni and Cheesecake. This definitely is a more substantial dough--much more like a hand-tossed. The recipe, as written, makes (2) medium pizzas or (4) calzones. We made (4) individual sized pizzas from each recipe, but they were PLENTY filling...most everyone had some left! The sauce recipe was incredibly easy, as well, but if you don't want to mess with making your own, you could always use your own store-bought sauce. It seriously is SO easy, though and takes all of maybe 5 minutes to prepare! All in all, I think the pizza idea was a huge success...the only problem was that I desperately needed a double oven, but everyone patiently waited and made their pizzas in shifts :) Definitely consider trying this recipe out, instead of buying store-bought crust next time!

Homemade Pizza Crust and Simple Pizza Sauce

½ cup warm water
2¼ tsp. instant yeast
4 cups (22 oz.) bread flour, plus more for dusting
1½ tsp. salt
1¼ cup water, at room temperature
2 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil


Measure the warm water into a 2-cup liquid measuring cup. Sprinkle the yeast over the top. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the bread flour and salt, mixing briefly to blend. Measure the room temperature water into the measuring cup with the yeast-water mixture. With the mixer on low speed, pour in the yeast-water mixture as well as the olive oil. Mix until a cohesive dough is formed. Switch to the dough hook. Knead on low speed until smooth and elastic, about 5 minutes. Transfer to a lightly oiled bowl, turning once to coat. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise until doubled in size, 1½-2 hours.

Press down the dough to deflate it. Transfer the dough to a lightly floured work surface. Divide the dough into two equal pieces. Form each piece of dough into a smooth, round ball. (If freezing the dough, wrap in plastic wrap and freeze at this point.) Cover with a damp cloth. Let the dough relax for at least 10 minutes but no longer than 30 minutes.

To bake, preheat the oven and pizza stone to 500˚ F for at least 30 minutes. Transfer the dough to your shaping surface, lightly sprinkled with cornmeal. Shape the dough with lightly floured hands. Brush the outer edge lightly with olive oil. Top as desired. Bake until the crust is golden brown, and cheese is bubbling, 8-12 minutes.

For the sauce:

1 (28 oz.) can whole peeled tomatoes, drained
1 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
1 tsp. red wine vinegar
2 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. oregano
¼ tsp. ground black pepper


Combine all ingredients in a food processor. Blend until smooth, about 30 seconds. Transfer to a bowl or container and refrigerate until ready to use.

Source: Annie's Eats

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

The LARABAR Experience

This is a Sponsored post written by me on behalf of LÄRABAR for SocialSpark. All opinions are 100% mine.

I was not the least bit familiar with LÄRABAR products until just recently and must admit, I was completely in awe of the simplicity of ingredients.  Being a registered nurse, I do try my hardest to ensure that my family eats as healthily as possible, but that's often rather difficult when you have a 3 and almost 6 year old and a husband who craves anything and everything sweet and/or salty!  I have spent a great deal of time looking at various "fruit and nut" bars at our local grocery stores, however, it's quite unsettling when you begin to read the lengthy list of ingredients.  It's often hard to decipher just how "healthy" certain bars are, when you see countless ingredients that you cannot even recognize.  Upon receiving 13 different flavors of LARABAR products to sample, my husband and I were shocked at the fact that all of the bars contain only 2-9 ingredients--all of which are all natural, have no added sugars or sweeteners and no preservatives, fillers or colorings.  As if that is not remarkable enough, the majority of the bars are gluten free, soy free, dairy free, vegan, Non-GMO, and Kosher.  I do want to note, though, that the chocolate chips in the three chocolate chip flavor varieties are made with Fair Trade Certified chocolate, sugar, cocoa butter and vanilla and while no dairy is use to make their chocolate chips, they are made on a line that also produces chocolate chips that are in fact made with dairy products.  LARABAR does not claim that these three varieties of bars (containing the chocolate chips) are dairy free, soy free or vegan and they do contain cane sugar, as well. 

I'm not sure if any of you are fans of the show "The Biggest Loser", but these bars were actually featured on the show on Wednesday, March 8, 2011 by trainer Brett, with contestants Ken, Rulon and Justin.  Just to give you a little background information on LARABAR, it was founded in 2003 by Lara Merriken.  LARABAR currently produces 19 flavors and the company prides itself on producing simple, whole food products.  The bars are available worldwide at not only specialty retailers, but conventional grocers, as well.  The bars range in cost from $1-$2 each.  When you take into account the fact that you're truly getting a very nutritious snack with all natural ingredients, it's hard to put a price tag on that!  As you all know, my family is living on a budget now, with my husband being back in school full-time, but I found these bars on for an average of $1.30/bar.  Regarding the flavors, I have to be brutally honest.  I sampled quite a few of the flavors and found many to be a bit on the bland side, however, I did like the Peanut Butter Cookie variety.  I asked my husband to rank his top three favorites and he agreed that the Peanut Butter Cookie was his favorite, followed by Chocolate Chip Brownie and Cookie Dough.  We both agreed that the Cashew Cookie was our least favorite. is currently offering a coupon for $1 off 2 LARABARS and I would recommend that you give them a try!  I'll be anxious to hear which varieties you all enjoy!

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Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Simple Split Chicken Breasts

If nothing else, I can always count on at least one local grocery store to have split chicken breasts on sale every week--generally for $.99/lb. While we really do love red meat, we've been attempting to eat more healthy. Boneless, skinless chicken breasts may be a bit more versatile, but split chicken breasts are usually about half the cost and the skin and bone really do tend to keep the chicken more moist and flavorful! My husband has a knack for making GREAT grilled split chicken breasts, but the thought of grilling in this cold and gloomy weather didn't really appeal to either of us. I searched on first and nothing really caught my eye, so I turned to google for a more broad search! I've never seen this particular blog before, but quite a few people commented on the chicken after trying it and it got rave reviews! My husband, kids and I all felt that it was exceptionally moist and tender, which can be hard to achieve when baking split chicken breasts. I'm not sure that I was as in love with this recipe as some of the other reviewers...I kind of wished the flavor had permeated down further into the chicken, but all in all, it was an easy dish that I would make again. Perhaps had it not been SO hyped up, I would have thought more highly of it! Just like with anything, when you expect something truly outstanding, right off the bat, it's a little disappointing when it doesn't quite meet your expectations.

***Before I get to the recipe, I wanted to let you all know that I recently was informed of a site by a friend of mine, that offers the opportunity to write reviews about different products. My first sponsored post is due to be published on my blog within the next day or two. I started this blog as a hobby and while I am excited to have the opportunity to review different products, I fully intend to keep my blog pertaining to food and money saving ideas for people living on a budget. Now on to my recipe...***

Simple Split Chicken Breasts

3-4 lbs split chicken breasts (4 breasts)
olive oil for brushing
1 1/2 tsp Kosher salt
1 1/2 tsp garlic powder
1 1/2 tsp onion powder
1 tsp paprika (or 1/2-3/4 tsp cayenne pepper if you prefer a little heat!)


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Wash the chicken breasts and pat dry with a paper towel. Lightly coat the chicken skin with olive oil. Combine Kosher salt, garlic powder, onion powder and paprika (or cayenne pepper) in a small bowl; season chicken generously on both sides, carefully lifting the skin and placing the spice mixture under the skin, as well. Place chicken breasts on a rack in roasting pan and bake for 1 hour. Let sit 10 minutes before serving!

Source: Adapted from Cooking with Baby

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Roasted Pork Loin with White Wine Sauce

Have you ever found that there's been one particular cut of meat that you really struggle to prepare perfectly?!? I've found that pork loin is one of my most problematic foods! I've always struggled to make sure that it's cooked enough (especially since I don't care to eat undercooked pork), but not so much that it's dry and flavorless. I just can't seem to find that "happy medium"! I will tell you, though, that this particular recipe came out PERFECTLY! I was so very proud of myself--it was about time that I got it right, seeing as how this is likely about the 6th or 7th time that I've made a pork loin roast. Here's the thing, though...the original recipe said to cook a 2 pound pork loin roast for about 2 hours. Thankfully, I used my digital thermometer and did a little research, as that seemed as if it was way too long of a cooking time. I found several sources that stated that as a rule of thumb, pork should be cooked approximately 25-30 minutes per pound. I set my digital thermometer to alarm when my pork reached 160 degrees, so you can imagine my surprise when it started beeping about an hour into the cooking time--especially since it was almost a 4 1/2 pound roast! This goes back to why I struggle so much with pork loin--I adjusted the thermometer a bit and all of a sudden, the temperature started dropping. I don't know if I didn't have it deep enough or if it was resting against a portion of the pork that just happened to be hotter than the rest, but it did take about 1 3/4 hrs. The pork was excellent--so very moist, which can be hard to accomplish with such a lean piece of meat. Here was my one gripe about this particular recipe and actually, it has nothing to do with the recipe itself. My husband and I are completely oblivious when it comes to wine--we wouldn't have a clue if we were drinking an expensive glass of wine, versus a $3 bottle...we're not the least bit savvy when it comes to wine! Give us a mixed drink and we're happy :) Anyway, I had purchased a relatively inexpensive bottle of white wine to use for cooking a little while back and used the remainder for the sauce. I did enjoy the concept of the wine sauce and thought it had a great deal of potential, but I would be most appreciative if someone would offer a suggestion for a good cooking wine! My husband and I weren't overly fond of the very distinctive wine flavor and I know it had to be related to the quality. I hope you enjoy and I will be anxious for feedback regarding a good wine to cook with!

Roasted Pork Loin with White Wine Sauce

8 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon dried rosemary (I used a Rosemary and Garlic Seasoning)
salt and pepper to taste
1/3 cup olive oil
4 pound boneless pork loin roast
1 to 1 1/2 cups white wine
2 tablespoons flour


Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Combine olive oil, garlic, rosemary, salt and pepper in a small bowl, making a paste. Place pork loin roast in a baking dish and cut 1/2 inch slits all over roast; cutting relatively deep into the meat to make little pockets. (My slits were about an inch apart). Insert the paste deep into each pocket and then rub the remaining oil and spice mixture over the entire roast.

Place pork loin into oven (fat side up) and loosely cover. Cook until the pork reaches 160 degrees or is no longer pink in the center. (My pork loin took about 1 3/4 hours and I used a digital thermometer to monitor it closely. Make sure the thermometer is placed in the very center of the roast!) Remove roast and place on a dish or platter, allowing to rest for approximately 15-20 minutes. Add the wine to the baking dish and stir to loosen the browned bits. Whisk in 2 tablespoons of flour to thicken the sauce. Place baking dish back in oven (on 350 degrees) and allow sauce to come to a boil and thicken. (I left mine in for about 20 minutes, while my pork was resting). Cut pork loin into 1/2 inch thick slices and serve with wine sauce. I would suggest serving with mashed potatoes :)

Source: Adapted from