Homemade Pizza with Chicken Sausage, Fennel and Sweet Onion

So, this was my first real attempt at homemade pizza and I must say, it was a serious success.  The flavors in this recipe were delicious together — those folks at Cooking Light know what they are doing.  There were a lot of firsts for me in this recipe.  First, chicken sausage.  What in the world is that?  Ask you butcher at — where else — Publix.  It looks just like italian sausage, just ten times healthier.  There was virtually no fat as they browned in the skillet.  While I’m talking about the sausage, you can break it into a lot smaller pieces in the skillet, Frank just likes them in bigger chunks.  It lots a little weird in these large chunks, but just go with it. 

Second ‘first’ — fennel. 

I bought a fennel bulb and had to Google it because I had no idea how to chop it or what to do with it.  Found this very informative video on the internet (what did we do before the internet, seriously?) on chopping fennel.  It’s a breeze, don’t worry.

Third ‘first’ — fresh pizza dough.  I had heard that Publix (am I obsessed?) makes incredible fresh pizza dough and I heard right, it was really good.  You can find it in their bakery section, in a small refridgerated case.

Fourth ‘first’ — pizza itself. 

But it turned out fabulously, please you MUST try this, I promise you’ll love it.  Serve with a salad of greens, tomato and red wine vinegar.  Let me know!

Pizza with Chicken Sausage, Fennel and Sweet Onion

  • 1 package of chicken sausages, chopped
  • 2 teaspoons olive oil
  • 1 1/2 cups vertically sliced sweet onion
  • 1 cub thinly sliced fennel (watch the video, I promise)
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • fresh pizza dough
  • 3/4 cup of Gouda cheese, shredded (I bought a wheel of Gouda and shredded myself)
  • 1 tablespoon chopped chives (from my herb garden!)

Preheat oven according to the pizza dough label instructions, probably 450.  Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat.  Brown sausage until cooked.  Remove from pan.  Add oil to pan and saute the onion and fennel with the salt, covered for 10 minutes or so, until tender and lightly browned.

In the meantime, place the dough on a lightly floured countertop.  Sprinkle about half a handful of flour on top of the doughball and roll it out with a rolling pin to desired thickness.

Move dough to nonstick cookie sheet.  Put the onion/fennel mixture on the pizza, then the gouda, then the cooked sausage. 

Bake for about 12 minutes or until crispy.  Sprinkle evenly with chopped chives and serve!

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Spring Has Sprung!

 

This year, I’ve decided to start an herb garden.  In the spring and summer, I am known to spend a small fortune buying herbs for just one recipe — a little rosemary or basil at the store is like $3.99 and you use it once before it goes bad.  And Frank’s personal pet peeve, when I would buy $2 worth of parsley just to garnish something.  But, for less than that one container’s worth at the store, you can plant that same herb and have it all summer long.  So far, I’ve got basil and cilantro, chives and parsley (both flat leaf and curly), mint and a rosemary bush.  All for like $30.00, the rosemary bush being $20 of it.

It’s really a no-brainer, it just takes a little dedication to get it going.  Here a few tips I’ve picked up this spring from the professionals at the nurseries.  If you live in the Birmingham area, Colliers Nursery has beautiful herbs and very knowledgable people to help you maximize your plants.

  • Use containers instead of planting in the ground.  They will need more frequent watering, but you can move them inside in the event of a drop in temperature and you can control the herbs that tend to take over your yard, like mint.
  • Invest in good potting soil and plant food to give them a good start.  Then, all they will need is water.
  • Make sure you position your garden in full sun.  Ours is in a strange part of the yard, but it’s the only part with full sun that isn’t already in use by other landscaping.
  • This time of year, you can get away with watering every other day, but in the real heat of summer, you need to water them every day, especially if you use containers and not a planting bed.
  • Rosemary is a low-maintainence shrub and great for landscaping needs.  If you plant it in the ground, leave a little of the bush sitting up and not buried.  Also, I’m told that you should plant rosemary in less than great soil.  This keeps the rosemary root ball short and stumpy, but maintains the flavor of the herb.  If it’s in really good soil, the roots spread out, go deep and the plant loses it’s flavor.
  • You can plant different types of herbs in the same container, but mint tends to take over, so keep it in it’s own planter.

Lessons Learned

I can’t take credit for the idea for this post.  The latest issue of Cooking Light (one of my absolute favorite publications) has an article called the 25 Most Common Cooking Mistakes and How to Avoid Them.  I was reading it the other night and was amazed at how many of the things on the list I do on a daily basis.  While all 25 tips are excellent reminders of technique and common sense, I’m sharing just a few of the ones that I am guilty of the most.  Read the rest of the article at cookinglight.com or click the article title above.

If you happen to know me well, you’ll start to see a pattern linked to my personality fairly quickly — I’m always, always in a rush.  A lot of this has to do with my job — deadlines, deadlines, deadlines all day long, on an hourly basis, total chaos all the time.  But  I’m trying to learn to slow down life a little bit and these few common mistakes that I make remind me to chill and ENJOY my favorite hobby.  Hope you learn something here too! 

1.  You pop meat straight from the fridge into the oven or onto the grill.

This makes the meat cook unevenly — the outside gets too done while the inside remains undercooked.  Reason being, the meat gets so cold in the fridge, if it’s not allowed to warm up just a bit, it won’t cook thoroughly on the inside.  So, the outside cooks normally and looks ready, but the inside isn’t cooked to a safe temperature. 

Solution:  Let meat stand at room temp for about 15-30 minutes, depending on how big the cut is.  Regular weeknight chicken breasts only need 10 minutes or so, but this helps tremendously.

2.  Meat gets no chance to rest after cooking.

I thought this was really interesting.  I know you’re supposed to let your beautiful Christmas Day rib roast stand for a bit, but this is true for all meats.  If you slice any meat too early, the juices (and flavor) are released onto your countertop, leaving the meat dry.

If you let it stand for a bit, the cooling off time lets the juices migrate to the center of the meat, retaining the flavor and juiciness.  For a large cut of meat, let it rest for about 20 minutes; chicken breasts and individual steaks just need 5 minutes.  If you’re worried about keeping it warm, loosely tent aluminum foil over the meat.

3.  You turn the food too often. 

I’m getting better at this, but the fact remains.  It’s tempting to turn your nicely breaded chicken breasts or fish fillet in the skillet too soon.  All this dones is scrape your breading or seasoning off the meat, resulting in not a nice crust but a soggy bottom.  Learning not to turn the meat or rush the cooking was so hard for me.  I kept thinking I was burning the bottom, but if you have enough fat (olive oil, butter, cooking spray, whatever) to saute or fry, you need to let it cook at medium heat until you can easily slide a spatula or tongs underneath and it lifts easily away from the pan.  As Cooking Light says pithily, “It’ll release from the pan when it’s ready.  Don’t try to pry it up – the crust will stick to the pan, not the chicken.”  And don’t forget to let it rest before serving!

My latest obsession

I’m totally obsessed with my latest kitchen addition, my beautiful, 5 1/2 quart round Le Creuset french oven in Citron.  I love yellow, I love french cooking, french products and the French in general, so this really works for me. 

Thanks to my sweet mother-in-law once again, I am the proud new owner of this fabulous piece of  cookware.  It’s perfect for soups, stews, spaghetti sauce, any number of things.  Lately, I’ve been leaving it on the stovetop just to admire it.  But, in addition to it’s sheer prettiness, they are extremely functional.  Enameled cast iron distributes heat evenly and quickly, but the heavy bottom also keeps food from sticking, keeping your food in tact and the pot looking clean and new much longer.

I used her recently to make Julia Child’s Bouef  Bourguignon (which is basically braised beef stew), which I will post about some other time, when I have about 4 hours.

 My collection of Le Creuset has begun…hint, hint, Frank!

Flexible Cutting Boards

This post isn’t about food (obviously).  But, in an effort to continue to share my tips on making cooking easy, I had to share one of my favorite kitchen tools.  For Christmas a year or so ago, my sweet mother-in-law gave me a set of flexible, plastic cutting boards.  At first, I wasn’t sure how I would like them, but now I use them every night.  They are perfect to chop several different things and then you can roll it up into a funnel shape and dump your chopped veggies, herbs, fruit, whatever, straight into the pan or bowl.   In addition to taking up literally NO room in the dishwasher, they are also great for chopping chicken and other meats.  Bacteria can absorb into wooden cutting boards, even when washed well, making them not great surfaces for chopping meat.  And, they are super-cheap!

image from epicurious.com