Tuesday, July 29, 2014

DIY Series - Homemade Pizza Sauce

Pin It A while ago, I asked friends and readers on my Facebook page what they would like to make at home from scratch. 

As I confessed in my earlier post, we've been making a lot of stuff at home these days. Things that we usually buy readymade are slowly being phased out. We didn't particularly like the price tags of some of them and didn't like the amount of chemicals and additives in the rest of them. 

A lot of the responses were great, and I've started making and compiling the recipes already! Today, I'm super excited to start the series off with one of my favorite DIY recipes - classic pizza sauce - from scratch. This recipe uses fresh tomatoes. Because the ingredients are so easily available, I think this is an awesome recipe to have in your repertoire. I've already shared the recipe for the pesto sauce I use on pizzas. This is my go-to tomato sauce recipe. 
This recipe isn't easy to standardize to precision though - mainly because the main ingredient is so inconsistent. One day you get flavorful, ripe tomatoes, and the next time you might have bland or super acidic ones. So, while the base recipe is the same, I will also share a little at the end about how you can adjust the taste of the sauce to make it taste just right. 

Choosing tomatoes: For this recipe, you want the tomatoes to be ripe. Uniformly red, firm with a little give when pressed. As far as possible, try not to choose one which have green or yellow spots. Those just aren't ripe enough.

Homemade Pizza Sauce
Ingredients   
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 tbsp unsalted butter 
1 large or 2 medium onions, roughly chopped into chunks 
4 cloves of garlic, peeled
1 tsp dried oregano
3 sprigs fresh frozen basil leaves (or or frozen basil leaves, or 1.5 tsp dried basil)
1/4-2 tsp dried chilli flakes (to taste)
900g fresh, ripe tomatoes
2 tbsp tomato paste 
1 tsp sugar
Salt and pepper, to taste 

Method:
1. a. Blanching and peeling the tomatoes: In a large pasta pot or saucepan, bring about 1.5 liters of salted water (I used 4 tbsp rock salt) to the boil. b. While the water is heating up, wash the tomatoes and on the bottom of each tomato score an 'x' using a sharp paring knife. It doesn't need to be deep. Just deep enough that it cuts through the skin. 
c. Make ready another bowl/saucepan with a similar amount of ice cold water - I used cold water with extra ice cubes added in. 
d. When the water is at a rapid bubble, gently immerse the tomatoes and leave them in the bubbling water for about 30 seconds. Fish them out using a ladle or slotted spoon and cool them down instantly by plunging them into the bowl of iced water. 
e. Leave them there for a minute or two. Using the 'x' mark on the bottom of each tomato, peel back the skin and the skin should slip right off with no difficulty. 
(If the tomatoes have any raw spots, you will find that the skin doesn't come off easily in those areas. So get ripe, red tomatoes!)
f. Cut the tomatoes into halves or quarters and core the.  
g. In a large blender jar, purée the tomatoes until mostly smooth. A few small chunks are fine, according to me! Set this purée aside. 

2. In a large saucepan, add the oil, butter, onions and garlic. I add all these into a cold pan and then bring the heat up gently. I find this keeps the butter and the garlic from burning. Sauté these ingredients until soft and fragrant, but not brown. 
3. Add the dried oregano, basil - fresh, frozen or dried,- and the red chilli flakes. Sauté until fragrant. 
4. Add the puréed tomatoes, the tomato paste, sugar snd about 1/2 tsp of salt. 
5. Stir well and allow to cook on a medium heat for 1-1.5 hours. I like to speed this up by using a pressure cooker and cooking it for about 30-40 minutes. Either way, you want the sauce to reduce by more than half. 
6. Taste the sauce and adjust the salt. Add a dash of pepper too.
7. Adjust the thickness of the sauce. It should be a good spreading consistency. Almost ketchup-like in thickness. 
8. Store in an airtight box for upto 5 days in the refrigerator and up to 3 months in the freezer. 
Adjusting the flavors: As I mentioned earlier in the post, the flavor of the sauce depends on the quality and ripeness of the tomatoes you use. So here are some adjustments you can make. 

1. Too bland - add a splash of vinegar, and a little extra sugar. 
2. Too tart - add a tsp or two of cocoa powder. Just dilute in a little warm water so it isn't lumpy in the sauce. The cocoa adds a richness and balances out the flavors well. If needed, add a tiny bit of sugar too. 
3. Too sweet (this usually doesn't happen unless you've gone overboard on the sugar) - add a splash of vinegar, some more tomato paste and some cocoa powder as mentioned a above. 

Basically, vinegar, sugar and cocoa will help you adjust the flavors to get a perfectly balanced sauce. Just taste as you go!

This recipe makes enough sauce for about 6-10 pizzas that are about 9" in diameter. Of course, this depends on how much sauce you like on your pizza.
The sauce goes well with any pizza topping and we have used it for years. The blanching process can be time consuming, and I admit that I have skipped it sometimes, but you do risk getting those annoying bits of tomato peel in your mouth. If you want a smooth, perfect pizza sauce, take that extra time to blanch the tomatoes. 

Make a large batch and freeze some. You'll never be tempted to buy bottle pizza sauce again!
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Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Orange Spritz Cookies

Pin It My kids love cookies. They're always asking for a cookie. The other day, I took the time to read through the ingredients on a bag of cookies and I was appalled. I mean cookies are basically fat, sugar and flour. Maybe some add-ins like chocolate chips or dried fruit. Maybe some leavening agent. Maybe some flavoring or  extracts. Maybe even some food coloring. I get it. I'm not unreasonable! But the things in these cookies looked like something out of my chemistry book from back when I was in school! And don't get me started on to amount of shortening and unhealthy fats in the sandwich cookies!

I am not a health freak. We do eat junk food sometimes. I am just not comfortable with so much of artificial stuff and chemicals in something my kids eat EVERY DAY! Yes, we still buy cookies. But only when we have run out of homemade ones and I haven't had the time to make more. Apart from that, we have been enjoying homemade shortbreads, fudge cookies, and my kids' favorite - these pretty spritz cookies. 
If you don't have a cookie press just shape them into 1 inch balls with your hands and lightly flatten them on the baking sheet. 

Orange Spritz Cookies 
Adapted from allrecipes.com
Ingredients 
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened 
1/2 cup plus 2 tbsp powdered sugar 
1/4 tsp salt
1 large egg yolk
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
Zest of half an orange 
1 1/4 cups all purpose flour

Method
1. In a large bowl, cream together the softened butter, powdered sugar and the salt until creamy and light using a spatula or a whisk. You could also use an electric or stand mixer, but it is really easy to do by hand. 
2. Add the egg yolk and mix well until completely incorporated. 
3. Whisk in the vanilla and the orange zest. 
4. Mix in the flour and stir using a spatula until completely incorporated and no dry flour is seen. 
5. Preheat the oven to 180C/350F. 
6. Prepare your cookie sheet by lining it with Silpat or baking parchment paper.
7. Fit your cookie press with your plate of choice. I changed plates in between twice, making three designs. 
8. Fill the cookie press 3/4 full with the dough and press the cookies out on the baking sheet with an inch between each cookie. 
9. Bake in the preheated oven until the edges just start to turn golden brown. This doesn't take long at all - around 8-10 minutes. Keep an eye on the cookies after the 6 minute mark. 
10. Remove from the oven and allow to cool for a few minutes before transferring them to a cooling rack to cool completely. 
11. Store in an airtight jar. 
These cookies have just a hint of orange in them and that's just how we like it. If you want them more orange-y, you could use a little orange extract too. If you like the orange-chocolate combination, you could add a little cocoa powder to the dough. If it makes the dough too dry, you could always add a few drops of orange juice. 
And when the kids want a sandwich cookie, we just sandwich them with a chocolate-hazelnut spread, with jam or with regular peanut butter. So yummy!

I've made these with just plain ol' vanilla extract, with lime zest, and with an awesome pumpkin spice mix. But my orange-loving daughter declares that these are the bestest. I hope you like them too!!

<3
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Saturday, July 12, 2014

Orange-Walnut Scones

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I just love baking in the morning. Especially when no one else is up yet. These days, the kids don't allow me that alone time because they're up along with me at 5:30am these days. So I had two gorgeous assistants to help me with this recipe. 
To be honest, only one was actually assisting me. The other just hung on to my leg as I walked around the kitchen trying to get breakfast together. I wish I had someone to take a picture. She was literally hanging on with her little arms around my leg while I moved around. It wasn't comfortable, but let's just call it weight-training!

Aimee helped a lot with stirring the flour mixture, breaking the walnuts into smaller pieces and of course, doing the all-important sprinkle of sugar. What would I do without her! <3 
These scones are really yummy. I was considering throwing in some chocolate chips at first but I'm so glad I went the walnut route. The flavors were just amazing!

Orange-Walnut Scones
Makes 6-9 scones

Ingredients
1 cup all purpose flour
2/3 cup whole wheat flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/4 cup castor sugar, plus 1.5 tbsp extra for sprinkling 
1/2 tsp salt
Fine zest of 1 whole orange 
1/2 cup chopped walnuts 
113g/1/2 cup cold butter, cut in small cubes 
4 tbsp fresh orange juice 
3 tbsp whole milk 

Method 
1. Preheat the oven to 190C/350F. Line a baking tray with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat and set aside. 
2. In a large bowl, combine the flours, baking powder, sugar and salt. Stir well to combine. 
3. Stir in the zest of one whole orange. 
4. Add the cubed, cold butter and work it into the flour mixture using just your finger tips. Working gently, rub in all the butter until the mixture resembles coarse bread crumbs. 
5. Gently stir in the chopped walnuts. 
6. In a small cup, combine the orange juice and whole milk.
7. Create a well in the middle of the flour mixture and pour in the orange juice mixture. 
8. Mix gently until the dough comes together but is slightly crumbly. Do not knead! 
9. Transfer the dough onto the prepared baking tray and flatten into a 3/4 inch thick square or circle. 
10. Using a damp knife, cut through the scone mixture to mark the pieces. This will make it easy for you to break off pieces when baked. Sprinkle the top evenly with the remaining castor sugar. 
11. Bake for 15-18 minutes until the surface of the scone is dry and springy to the touch and the base is golden brown. 
12. Remove from the oven and allow to cool for 10 minutes before gently cutting the pieces apart. 
13. Serve warm with accompaniments of your choice. 

My choice of accompaniments for this scone would be a thin spread of a nice marmalade and a generous dollop of clotted cream. Now if only clotted cream was easily available here. Sigh. 
The flavor of these scones is just right. Strong but not overpowering fresh orange flavor, an amazing buttery flavor that only real butter can give, and toasty walnuts that add some crunch texture to an otherwise melt-in-the-mouth scone. The sugar on top adds a little bit of extra sweetness because the scone itself isn't too sweet. 

This makes a small batch and it was just enough for us for one breakfast. We really enjoyed these scones, and I think it will be a hit with your family too!

Until next time... <3


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