Stuffed Grape Leaves

I love food so much it’s ridiculous. Especially eating it. But making it can be pretty fun too. Especially when I’m not just a full-time veggie chopper. Especially, when you get to cook with family or friends, for special occasions, or particularly exciting dishes.

Every year, as per tradition, our family makes the same Middle Eastern dishes for Easter (and family reunions). My great grandfather, Sam Bitar, and my great grandmother came from the Middle East in the early 1900s. Technically he was Syrian and she was Lebanese… they came over just before the post -WWI French League of Nations Mandate that divided the Ottoman Empire (Contemporary Middle Eastern History with Dr. Saffran filled my brain with far too much knowledge). Thus we consider ourselves Lebanese & Syrian. We make grape leaves, fatayers, hummus, tabbouleh, and kibbe. Kibbe nayyi (raw) for particularly special occasions. And for dessert mahmoul & ka’ak cookies. Hummus & tabbouleh are the only two vegan dishes. So I’ve been developing vegan recipes based off of the traditional ones.

But back to the grape leaves, if you’ve had grape leaves you’ve probably had the lenten version… vegetarian (and maybe you called them Dolmas… which are technically Turkish – it gets complicated). But traditionally, my family stuffed their grape leaves with beef & rice. I think lamb is actually the most traditional (at least according to the cookbooks) but probably becomes rather expensive when you’re churning out huge batches for the entiiiiire family.

The gist is, I grew up watching my mom makes these for significant family gatherings. And I tried to help make them… sometimes. And I definitely helped eat them. Straight our of the pot… when no one was looking. Grape Leaves are absolutely a unique flavor but they’re a bit gooey and very tangy (from the lemons & leaves) and definitely delicious. They’re especially wonderful vegan & dipped in hummus or baba ghanoush.

A Lebanese cookbook my grandmother gave me (she had 2 copies!) has “lenten” variations for many of the usually meat-laden recipes. In other words, during the 40 days before Easter, people eat vegetarian cuisine. Needless to say, the “Lenten” chapter of my cookbook is my favorite.

I checked out the listed recipe for lenten grape leaves before deciding to make up my own. The measurements below are a rough estimate. Because honestly, I kept just throwing more of one ingredient into the 4 cup measurer when I thought it looked like it needed more red or green.

The only tedious part of making Grape Leaves is the stuffing part. It’s actually pretty simple though.

Stuffed Grape Leaves

  • 1 Cup White Rice
  • 1/2 Cup Sliced Grape Tomatoes
  • 1/4 Large Onion, finely diced
  • 3 Tbsp Dried Currants
  • 1/3 Cup Fresh Flat Leaf Parsley, chopped
  • 3 Tbsp Mint, Chopped
  • 1 Tsp Cinnamon
  • 1/4 Cup Olive Oil
  • Salt
  • 1 Jar Grape Leaves (You’ll only use about 20 – 30 Leaves)
  • 2 – 3 Lemons, sliced thin

Combine all the ingredients in a bowl and stir thoroughly to combine and coat rice.

Remove a hunk of grape leaves from the jar. They usually come in portions… they roll up about 20 – 40 leaves and shove them in the brine. Rinse the hunk of grape leaves under cold water, just to get a bit of brine off.

You want to use the larger grape leaves. About 6 inches in diameter or so. If you want to be a pro and happen to find a bunch of smaller leaves tucked in there, you can overlap them to make “one” larger grape leaf.

On a cutting board, spread grape leaf with the veins of the leaf facing up. Fill center with about 2 Tbsp of rice filling. Mom always makes hers longer & thinner but I’ve always liked mine shorter & fatter so you can spread the filling to your liking. I do about 2.5 – 3 inches long.

Next, you must rolllllll the grape leaf. Which is just like making a burrito. Which, anyone who’s worked at a Chipotle has mastered… unless you’ve worked in State College – your grape leaves may fall apart, much like your burritos. (Okay, some of their staff are definitely professionals, I’m only teasing).

1. Fold the end closest to you up over the rice.

2. Fold in the left & right sides over the top.

3. Roll the filling up the leaf until the top is sealed. You want to make sure they’re rolled well, snug but not “tight.” You don’t want them to fall apart in the simmering water but you want a bit of room for the rice to expand when it cooks.

If my directions make absolutely no sense because I am completely incompetent at explaining kitchen techniques… I’m more of a teach by show kinda gal…. there is a wonderful series of pictures at SouSou Kitchen that show the steps to rolling a grape leaf…. I suggest you visit the site since I don’t even think I understand what I’m explaining. Maybe it’s because it’s really quite simple  – I swear!

Line a large-ish pot with the grape leaves to make a single bottom layer. Squeeze them in snug. Layer the slices of lemon on top of your bottom layer of grape leaves. Now, make a second layer of grape leaves in your pot. Mine didn’t quite fill a second layer, which proved to be slightly detrimental to the whole… grape leaves staying together thing. Or maybe I just didn’t make them “snug” enough. Doh! Top with more sliced lemon. Then fill pot with water until grape leaves are JUST covered. My mom says it’s as simple as cooking rice… which is essentially what you are doing. But I wasn’t that calm. Bring the water to a boil and then reduce to a simmer. Cook until most of the water is absorbed and the rice is thoroughly cooked (aka act like you’re cooking rice, because you are). Some liquid will remain. I like to call this the “juice.” It’s lemony and helps the grape leaves stay moist & flavorful so don’t throw it away… unless you’re going to eat them all immediately. Which is fine by me!

 

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Green Pizza

So I know it’s almost the end of January but I’m still reminiscing about the holidays.

My New Years Resolutions/Goals:

  • Improve Photography
  • Eat a mostly Vegan Diet
  • Work on my Fitness

PHOTOS: My aunt & uncle bought me a wonderful tri-pod for my camera and I can definitely notice my pictures improving in quality. So exciting not to try to hold my camera perfectly still while taking a picture in the right light and getting so nervous my hands shake anyway! Now I just need to figure out all of the rest of those photography tricks… lighting, composition, aperture…

FOOD: I can’t say it hasn’t been difficult. The first week was easy shmeesy & it’s definitely easier than I THOUGHT IT WOULD BE. Aaaand I thought cheese would be the killer. But I get some serious egg cravings. Oh. My. Lord. On the other hand, I made Cathy’s (from What Would Cathy Eat?…. LOVE HER) Chocolate Cake the other day. Um, so freaking good it’s unbelievable. Seriously, I still hardly believe it. And I can guarantee it’s going to be my go-to-chocolate-cake for a long time. Oh, and I made some really incredible vegan biscuits using the FIVE INGREDIENT Baking Powder Biscuit recipe on the side of the container. Using soy milk, of course. 3 times in one week. They’re that good.

FITNESS: Okay, I was slow to start this goal. Last week I finally got my arse on the elliptical & then tromped up & down the stairs for what felt like forever… okay, only 5 minutes… but climbing stairs is SERIOUS. Mom also signed us up to do 6 yoga sessions starting in February & hopefully I’ll remember enough to do it on my own. Seriously girls, who doesn’t love yoga? But mostly I like exercise that doesn’t feel so mechanical. Hiking, anyone?

Okay, okay, the pizza! Now, I call it green pizza because when I was thinking of what I wanted for dinner the other night I had that annoying craving for both a big salad & a greasy pizza. Does anyone get that? I guess so, otherwise why are there so many Olive Gardens & shit? This pizza definitely could have been greener (and obviously there’s not a salad on top), but I used what I had on hand! I found a recipe for a Spinach pizza crust a couple of weeks ago and I was dying to make a spinach crust ever since (I couldn’t find frozen spinach at Fresh Market). I even dreamed about it. The recipe for their fresh veggie pizza looked incredible too (i’m salivating) and must be veganized soon. I also knew I wanted to make an avocado cream sauce to drizzle on top. So I just had to figure out the middle. I’m already devising plans for a Mega Green Pizza. It shall be even greener & mightier… probably with a huge salad on top.

Green Pizza

Crust:

  • 3/4 Cups Warm Water
  • 1 Packet Yeast
  • 1 1/2 Tbsp Sugar
  • 1 Tsp Salt
  • 1 Package (5oz) Fresh Spinach
  • 2 Cups AP Flour
  • 1/2 Cup WW Flour
Topping:
  • 1 Medium Zucchini, sliced thin
  • 3 Tbsp Olive Oil
  • 2 Cloves Garlic, paper thin slices
  • 2 Tbsp Zaatar
  • Salt & Pepper
Avocado Cream:
  • 1/2 Avocado
  • 2 Handfuls Fresh Dill, chopped
  • Juice 1/2 Lemon
  • 1/4 Soy Milk (or oat, almond, etc)
  • Salt & Pepper

The crust is so easy. Combine the warm water, yeast, sugar & salt in a large bowl. Let sit until the yeast has softened and “activated.”

Next, you want to wilt/cook the spinach in a saute pan until it’s just cooked… aka, all the spinach leaves have withered. Then you can choose… I was lazy and didn’t feel like getting out the food processor so I chopped up my cooked spinach into tiny bits. You might find it even more lazy to just whiz it around the processor for a few seconds. My laziness was in the ‘cleaning it later’ part.

Stir the spinach into the yeast mixture. Add flour and stir with a wooden spoon to form a ball. You may need a bit more liquid depending on your spinach. Just enough to have a non-sticky dough. You want to be able to run your hand over it without being covered in gooey dough.

Let sit for about 20 minutes.If you have a pizza stone, now is the time to put it in the oven. Pizza stones are amazing. While the dough is rising (just a tiny bit), preheat your oven to 425F. Sprinkle either a large wooden cutting board or a pizza peel with plenty of coarse cornmeal. Then, on a floured surface, begin to shape dough. I usually just use my fingertips to push the dough outward, rotating it to make a circle. If it seems sturdy i’ll pick it up and pull on it some. When it’s about the shape & size you want it, place the dough on the cutting board/peel. If you need to you can reshape it some.

I always pre-bake my crust to ensure it achieves it’s absolute crispiness. If you have the pizza stone this isn’t really necessary, but if you’re a crispy crust lover like myself you can pop it into the oven for about 5 minutes before adding the toppings. If you don’t have a pizza stone use a round baking sheet and if you don’t have a round baking sheet then make a rectangular pizza 🙂

To make the sauce just combine the zaatar, olive oil, garlic, salt, and pepper in a small dish. It should be like a paste. Spread on dough. Cover with zucchini slices and bake for about 15 minutes. Honestly, the baking time will vary with how dark/crispy you like your crust and how baked you want your zucchini. I pre-baked my crust on a pizza stone so mine turned out quite dark but my zucchini was just cooked, not browned.

While the pizza is baking make the avocado cream sauce. SO good. Mash the avocado in a small bowl… you can use the same one you used for the zaatar olive oil mixture to save dishes. Or if you want to be a professional, you can go ahead and use your food processor. Whatever you prefer. Add the rest of the ingredients… the dill, the soy milk, the lemon juice and the salt & pepper and combine until thin enough to drizzle with minimum chunkage. LOL.

Pull the pizza out of the oven and drizzle with sauce… and dunk the crust in as well. It’s good. For real.

I know, I know, so late… But I want to know what everyone else’s goals are this year! What were your New Years Resolutions and have you been sticking to them? What have your greatest challenges been so far?

Mushroom Risotto

Whenever I make risotto, I always want to make mushroom risotto. Sometimes I throw peas in too. And even though I want to try something new I always end up with mushroom risotto. It’s my fallback. Probably because it’s really really good. And probably because I always make risotto when it’s cold outside. Mushrooms, with their earthy, woodsy flavor in a rich risotto just scream autumn! winter!

I have a sinus headache that I can’t seem to shake so I apologize if the cooking instructions below don’t make a whole lot of sense! I shall revise at a later time. Honestly, I don’t really know the proportions I used so I’m about to guess… but I swear, risotto is super easy. You just have to be able to watch it & stir… which is really quite therapeutic.

 

Mushroom Risotto

  • Olive Oil & Butter
  • 1 1/4 Cups Arborio Rice
  • 1 Pack of Baby Bellas, diced
  • 1/2 Medium Onion, finely diced
  • 1 Shallot, finely diced
  • 1/2 Cup White Wine (preferably dry)
  • 5 Cups HOT Water
  • 1/4 Cup Dried Oyster Mushrooms
  • 1/4 Cup Dried Porcinis
  • Zest of One Lemon
  • Freshly Grated Parmesan (optional)
  • 1/2 Cup Frozen Peas (optional)
  • Fresh Thyme
  • Salt & Pepper

Soak the dried mushrooms in 5 cups of hot water and let sit for about 15 minutes or until reconstituted. Remove the mushrooms from the water and set the water aside to use to cook the risotto. Dice the mushrooms and add to diced fresh mushrooms.

Heat mushroom stock in small pot over low heat keeping it warm while cooking.

Heat oil & a pad of butter in a medium pot over medium heat. Saute the mushrooms with some fresh thyme (to taste) until lightly browned. Set aside.

In the same pot saute the onion and shallot until translucent. Add arborio rice and stir until covered in oil/butter. Add the white wine and stir. Add 1/2 cup of the mushroom stock and stir risotto until mostly absorbed. If adding peas, now would probably be the time. Continue adding stock in 1/2 cup increments, stirring, absorbing, etc. cycle until risotto is cooked all the way through, tender and creamy.

When the risotto is done cooking, add the lemon zest & parmesan cheese. Stir to incorporate. If you want your risotto extra creamy you can add 1/4 cup of cream, otherwise the risotto tastes great without any added dairy (even without the parmesan).

Amish (aka Amazing) Dinner Rolls

Every Thanksgiving we have a crowd of around 30 family members. I don’t know how long we’ve been doing it, but we always get part of our Thanksgiving dinner from Congressional Country Club…. that means one of the turkeys, some extra mashed potatoes, green beans, cranberry sauce, gravy, stuffing, *lobster bisque*, and of course… rolls. This is done (I hope & think) so that there’s enough food for everyone’s family to have leftovers. (Of course, we also employ a potluck style method where everyone makes a little somethin somethin. There’s homemade macaroni & cheese, homemade sweet potato casserole, homemade oyster stuffing, homemade mashed potatoes, homemade stuffing, two deep fried turkeys, homemade kale, homemade corn pudding, etc. You get the picture, we have an absolute shit ton of food.)

Anyway, my parents come home with a HUGE box full of Congressional food and one tiny white cardboard box that looks like it must contain pastries. No. It contains 12 dinner rolls. TWELVE. MA, we’re gonna need a few more rolls!!!

No fear, I pull out my handy dandy Amish Cook’s Baking Book, find the “Top-Notch Dinner Rolls” (that’s really what they’re called) recipe on Page 66 and work on making about 30 more dinner rolls. So my brother, Fred, helped measure the ingredients for the dough and we let it rise. Then I formed the rolls, let them rise again, and finally baked… perfection.

The rolls turned out FREAKING AMAZING. Besides the ones that were burnt on the bottom from being on a very low rack… hey, it’s thanksgiving and we only have one oven.

Top-Notch Dinner Rolls from The Amish Cook’s Baking Book

(slightly adapted, but barely)

  • 1 Cup Warm Water
  • 2 Packages Active Dry Yeast (for those of us who buy in bulk, I used a little less than 2 Tbsp)
  • 1/2 Cup Plus 1 Tbsp BROWN Sugar
  • 1 !/2 Cups HOT Water (I stress the HOT because the shortening is supposed to melt… didn’t happen for me)
  • 1/2 Cup Softened Shortening (maybe this is why mine didn’t melt)
  • 2 1/2 Tsp Salt
  • 5 Cups Bread Flour, plus more as needed (I think I used about an extra 1/2 Cup)

In a small bowl combine warm water, yeast, and tablespoon of brown sugar. Stir and let sit for around 10 minutes or until yeast are activated and top of mixture becomes foamy.

In a LARGE mixing bowl combine HOT water, BROWN sugar, SOFTENED vegetable shortening, and salt. When the mixture is no longer hot (don’t want to kill the yeast), add yeast mixture and stir to combine.

Add Bread flour one cup at a time, stirring between each addition. I like to use a wooden spoon to combine everything at this point. After the 5 cups of flour the dough should begin to shape into a ball and no longer stick to the sides of the bowl. Mine was still a bit sticky as I turned it so I sprinkled it continuously with flour until I could move it to another large, clean and greased bowl to let it rise. I’d say it was about 1/2 cup of extra flour. Lovina says “Work in just enough more flour to make a soft but not sticky dough.”

Cover and let rise until doubled in size, about 1 hour give or take. I covered mine in a dry dish towel, plastic wrap works too… or both! After the dough has done all it’s rising, punch down, and let sit for 10 minutes.

Like about 3 baking sheets with parchment paper. Begin to form rolls! It’s basically like kneading a tiny loaf of bread. You just tuck it over itself until it’s round. Leave enough space in between the rolls for another period of rising & doubling in size. If they touch a little bit after they rise/bake – no big deal, they’ll pull apart easy as pie. After you’ve filled your baking sheets with all your beautifully shaped little balls of dough, cover them and let rise another 45 minutes or so until doubled. We covered each sheet in plastic wrap and then covered it in a towel.

While the rolls are rising, heat the oven to 350 Degree Fahrenheit. Bake until golden brown… about 25 minutes. I highly recommend using the higher racks in your oven. The first batch I put in (on the top rack) came out perfectly. You could coat your rolls in melted butter (before baking), honey, or and egg wash. Once you’re finished baking the rolls, let them cool on a wire rack before serving.

These rolls made our turkey day house smell like AMISH baked bread. It was seriously divine. They turned out so well I was doing happy dances and telling everyone I made them. And if you don’t add anything to the top, they’re vegan!!!

Mini Zaatar Pizzas

I don’t know if I’ve mentioned this but my ancestry is part Middle Eastern. My grandfather’s parents came from Syria & Lebanon. And that side of my family is HUGE. We have family reunions at the beach where 100 of us are trying to have dinner in 2 apartments. We have big feasts of stuffed grape leaves, hummus, baba ganoush, kibbe, kibbe nay, meat fatayers, spinach fatayers, pita, tabbouleh, baklava, mjadra, and more.

When we were growing up my cousins & I coveted the meat fatayers my grandmother made. Fatayers are little triangle shaped pies… sort of like the British pasty, except the fatayer dough is softer. We’d sneak into the kitchen at night and steal them out of the refrigerator. Clearly, I don’t eat them anymore, but there are so many great “beef crumble” substitutes that they’re practically the same when I make them today.

Though my grandmother is not of Middle Eastern descent (English all the way) she learned how to make all of the family recipes. She also raised 7 children while granddad honed his entrepreneurial skills to support his family. Last year she gave me one of her Lebanese cookbooks (she had 2 copies!) and I looked through it cover to cover over and over again. Since then, I’ve been trying to broaden my horizons to make more middle eastern dishes. I’ve also figured out how to make the perfect (in my opinion) Tabbouleh, which I shall post next time I make it.

Zaatar is a traditional Middle Eastern blend that usually contains a combination of the following: thyme, cumin, anise, coriander, fennel, salt, sesame seeds, lemon, pomegranate molasses, and sumac. I love sumac. It has a tart kick about it that is just so tasty. The first time I had Zaatar it was spread over pita bread with olive oil. I toasted it and ate it by itself. I ate all of it. It was so good – definitely comfort food.

Mini Zaatar Pizzas

For the Dough: (Makes 4)

  • 3/4 Cup plus 2 Tbsp Warm Water
  • 1 Pkg or 1 Tbsp Yeast
  • 1 Tsp Brown Sugar
  • 1 Tsp Honey
  • 1 Cup Bread Flour
  • 1 Cup Whole Wheat Flour
  • 1/2 Tsp Salt
  • 1/2 Tsp Sumac

For the Topping:

  • 1/4 Cup Zaatar (the more, the better!!!)
  • Black Pepper
  • 3 Tbsp Olive Oil
  • 1/2 Medium Onion, finely sliced

Preheat your oven to 400 Degrees Fahrenheit.

I made the dough a little bit sweet since the Zaatar is salty & a little bit tart. I just really like the contrast but you can change the dough recipe how you like in terms of saltiness or sweetness.

Combine warm water & yeast. Add sugar & honey. Let sit for about 5 minutes until the yeast are activated and the water begins to look foamy. Add the salt & sumac. Add the flour one cup at a time. If using a dough hook, keep on low speed. Otherwise, stir with wooden spoon to combine. My dough was a little bit tough. Make sure not to over mix. The dough should pull away from the sides of the bowl and form a smooth ball. Separate into 4 evenly sized balls, cover, and let rise in a warm spot for about an hour. I always microwave something (like water for tea) and then stick my dough in the microwave afterwards. My dough was ready in about 30 minutes and it looked much prettier after rising. It should double in size. With extra flour (dough will become sticky after rising) shape the balls into discs for your pizzas. The thinner, the crunchier.

Combine the Zaatar, oil, and black pepper to make a paste. Spread on top of the dough and top with onion slivers. Bake for about 10 to 15 minutes, until the crust turns golden brown and the onions start to brown.

Let cool before eating so you don’t burn your tongue!

Amish Bread

Today I made Amish bread! From the cookbook Stephen got me for my birthday – The Amish Cook’s Baking Book by Lovina Eicher. I modified the recipe only slightly and as my first time making bread like this, I think it turned out pretty well. It was extremely yummy. I kept pulling pieces off after I’d already had a couple of slices.

Lovina’s Homemade Bread (modified only slightly)

  • 1 Tbsp Active Dry Yeast (or 1 package)
  • 2 1/2 Cups Warm Water
  •  Lard  Vegetable Shortening (amount the size of a large egg)
  • 2 Tbsp Sugar (I used light brown sugar)
  • 1 Tbsp Salt (I used 2 teaspoons, but mine turned out a little sweet – I liked it)
  • Enough bread flour to make a soft dough

I think I used about 4, maybe 5, cups but I really have no idea. I was too focused on adding 1/2 cup of the flour at a time and watching how the dough looked to see if I was doing it right.

Grease a 5 by 9 inch loaf pan.

In a bowl, combine 1/2 cup warm water with yeast to soften. In another bowl, combine 2 cups warm water, softened vegetable shortening, sugar, and salt. Incorporate the yeast mixture. Stir until combined. Add bread flour 1/2 cup at a time “mixing until the dough is elastic and doesn’t stick to the sides of the bowl.” I was a little unsure of myself with this step because I haven’t made a lot of bread in my life but I did my best at guessing how it should look.

Once combined, cover and let rise in warm spot until doubled. Takes from 1 to 1.5 hours. Preheat oven to 325 Degrees Fahrenheit while the dough is rising. Once risen, punch down dough and form into loaf shape (for me this required a lot of extra flour but perhaps I didn’t add enough to being with). Place in greased loaf pan and allow to rise an additional 30 minutes until the dough fills out the pan and is about level with the top.

Bake for 45 minutes. Lovina suggests coating the dough with oil before baking to keep the bread soft or brushing with butter when it’s finished for similar effect. I brushed the top of mine with honey before baking.

NOTE: My vegetable shortening didn’t really start to combine until I added the flour but the warm water eventually made it melt (sort of) into the mixture.

Sooo yummy.

Jambalaya Pizza

All weekend Stephen wanted to make Jambalaya. I think he’s wanted to make it for some time now. So on Friday when we went to Wegmans we picked up some vegetarian sausage. We’d never tried replacement sausage before so I quickly Googled the best brands and read that Field Roast was a winner (it definitely was). We bought the standard “Italian” flavor.

Now, last weekend when we went to Wegmans a gentleman convinced us to make our own pizza dough. We make our own pie crust, our own pretzels, and so on but we’d never made our own pizza dough for some reason. Well, we decided to heed his advice & Stephen bought some pizza dough yeast.

Late afternoon we decided to make the pizza crust but we weren’t going to have enough time to make a pizza so we deliberated on what kind of pizza we would make when we got home from a couple of meetings. Why not try to make a jambalaya inspired pizza?

Jambalaya Pizza:

For the Dough:
  • 3 1/4 Cup All-Purpose Flour
  • 1/4 Cup Organic Whole Wheat Flour (a little extra for kneading)
  • Pinch of Salt
  • 1 1/2 Cups Warm Water
  • 1 Package Yeast (2 1/4 TSP)
  • 1 TBSP Brown Sugar
For the Topping:
  • Olive Oil
  • 1 Green Bell Pepper, large dice
  • 1 Medium Onion, slivers
  • 1 Green Finger Chili, diced with seeds & ribs
  • 1 Clove Garlic, minced
  • 2 Field Roast Italian Sausage (vegan)
  • 2 Small Tomatoes, diced (roma would work)
  • Cajun Seasoning
  • Dried Thyme
  • Trappey’s Red Devil Hot Sauce
  • Mozzarella Cheese

To prepare the dough: In a large mixing bowl combine 1 1/2 cup warm water with a packet of yeast and brown sugar. Stir gently and let sit for about 5 minutes to activate yeast. Then stir in the flours using a rubber spatula, until ball forms. Flour a flat dry surface, turn out the dough, and kneed. Add flour as necessary. Tip:  flour your hands! Next oil a bowl and place dough into bowl. Allow 30min-2hour rise time, depending on climate conditions. To expedite, we covered bowl in foil and put it in front of a space heater on low!

Flour (or semolina) a pizza pan or cookie sheet. Punch down risen dough to remove air pockets. Turn out onto pan and spread with fingers to size of pan. Rub lightly with olive oil & cracked black pepper. Cook at 425 Degrees for 5 minutes or until just turning light golden.

Heat olive oil in medium/large frying pan. Add liberal amount of cajun seasoning and sizzle to bring out flavor. Sautee bell pepper & onion over medium heat until tender. Add chili and continue to sautee. Add bite-sized pieces of Italian Sausage. Add garlic & tomatoes to pan. Add pinch of dry thyme. Add plenty of hot sauce (to taste). The vinegar adds a nice kick of acidity and punches up the flavor. Turn heat down while all ingredients cook.

Spread sautéed mixture on slightly precooked pizza dough. Sprinkle with desired quantity of mozzarella cheese. We kept the cheese light this time, just using up the remaining cheese from the fridge.

Bake at 425 Degrees for 10 more minutes or until cheese bubbles and turns light brown. Remove from oven and let cool for at least 2 minutes. I know it’s hard to wait.