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Wednesday 10 August 2011

Quick & Easy Homemade Pizza

Pizza, despite being among my favourite foods, seems like way too much effort to make from scratch. Even though it is (or was, at least) possible to buy a pizza base mix (also used for making doughballs), that's more effort than I'd tend to want to put in. Some time ago, however, I happened to be defrosting some bread and realised that, in it's warm, moist, fresh-from-the-microwave state, a couple of slices could be relieved of their crusts and squashed together to form a quick and dirty (and square) pizza base. I didn't get round to attempting that experiment, and it was a type of bread I don't always buy, so I started considering alternatives. The first one that sprung to mind was Pitta bread... it's almost the right shape anyway, more or less the right consistency, and it's certainly flat enough to support the other makings of a pizza.

So, how does one turn Pitta bread into pizza? Here's the breakdown for a 'Margarita' equivalent - add your own toppings as you please...

  • Pitta Bread
  • Tomato Purée
  • Basil
  • Black Pepper
  • Garlic (either fresh - crushed or sliced - or granules)
  • Mozzarella (can be bought ready-grated or in chunks)
Preparation Time: about 15-20 minutes

Tools Required:
  • Table Knife or Spoon (for spreading the purée)
  • Um... That's it, I think...
  • Unless you're chopping or crushing the garlic, or grating your own Mozzarella, in which case a Kitchen Knife, Garlic Press and/or Grater will be needed

The Process:
Preheat the oven to about 170C (slightly higher for non-fan-assisted models). For each Pitta Pizza, spread a generous helping of tomato purée over one side of the Pitta. Sprinkle on some basil, black pepper, garlic and finally the mozzarella. Add whatever toppings you prefer.

Place the pittas directly onto the middle shelf of the oven, and leave to cook for about 15 minutes, keeping an eye on their progress so they can be pulled out early if necessary.

Wow... How easy was that?

The Results:
I went for wholemeal Pittas, got a bit clumsy with the granulated garlic, and topped my pizzas with large pepperoni slices. In 15 minutes, they were done to perfection, and tasted great (let's face it, you'll never know yourself if you used too much garlic... but someone else might point it out to you). The tomato purée was sweeter than the tomato sauce used on the average shop-bought pizza, or the kind of thing you'd tend to be served in a restaurant, so the addition of basil, black pepper and garlic toned it down somewhat, and gave it a more full-bodied flavour. Because of the size of pepperoni slices I used, each pitta could only usefully accommodate 3 slices, but other toppings could certainly be added more liberally.

The downside to using Pittas is their tendency to open up, making a 2-layer base. That said, if you were that way inclined, you could add more Mozzarella to the interior, creating your very own stuffed crust. The Pittas I used crusted up quite nicely, but this did lead to a rather crumbly base.

Addendum: Having now tried this under the grill, I can confirm that this is the preferable option - in the oven, while the Mozzarella melted perfectly, the toppings remained essentially untouched (well, the pepperoni started leaking its oils, but that's about it). Grilling will not only melt the cheese, but start to cook the toppings too, giving a much more authentically 'cooked pizza' quality to the end result.

Monday 1 August 2011

Birds Eye "Bake to Perfection" Chicken with Tomato & Basil Sauce

On the strength of Birds Eye's first "Bake to Perfection" product, back in February, I vowed to try every other entry in this impressive new range and, finally, here's another.

At first glance, it didn't look like something I'd be particularly keen on - I'm a late convert to the charms of the humble tomato, thanks to a terrible incident from my school days (don't ask... it was horrific... just imagine your own least favourite school dinner memory, and empathise), and still tend to avoid them where I can, or just pretend they're not there when I can't.

But this is Birds Eye, long-standing purveyors of fine foodstuffs, so I was willing to give them the benefit of the doubt. And, let's face it, it's good to try something once in a while that you're reasonably sure you aren't going to like because, y'know, life can surprise you sometimes.

But enough cod-philosophy (see what I did there? Cod? Food-related pun? No? Oh well...), and on to the main event.

BtP Succulent Chicken Fillets with a Tomato & Basil Sauce. They come in packs of two, and they take 30 minutes to cook in the oven. It's basically a chicken fillet with a tomato and basil 'butter' squeezed on top, and the idea is that the 'butter' melts and cooks through the meat "to infuse flavour". I observed with the salmon product that it doesn't necessarily soak in quite the way it's supposed to, but that the end result is nevertheless excellent, and the same is true here... only more so.

The 'butter' essentially kept its exact shape from frozen to cooked, though some oils, etc were released into the foil bag. When serving, if you want the finished product to look anything like the photo on the packaging, you're going to have to spend some time spreading the sauce around.

Once you cut into the meat, it becomes very obvious that none of the butter/sauce has penetrated into the meat (despite these being skinless fillets), and I'd have to say that, were I to attempt something like this from scratch, I'd tend to score the meat several times to help the process along.

That said, the oils that were released from the 'butter' were soaked up readily enough once the meat was cut, and they certainly added to the flavour... but it's the sauce proper that really makes this product. Whichever kind of tomato they've used - the ingredients only specify "Tomato Powder" and "Tomato Paste" - it's been prepared exactly right for my tastebuds. It's a full, rich, sharp flavour balanced with a healthy dose of basil. I'm not entirely sure there's quite enough of the sauce, but that's just my preference. "Slather it all over, then add a bit more" is my philosophy.

In so many situations.

But I digress.

The chicken certainly lives up to its description as 'succulent' - moist without being waterlogged - and, despite this being a frozen product, the plain meat actually tasted pretty good, even without much assistance from the sauce.

As a break from the standard, predictable and, let's face it, dull 'potato and veg' accompaniment, I decided to serve this up with some Uncle Ben's Express rice, in the Savoury Chicken flavour. There was method in this madness, in that I knew the rice could be mixed in with whatever remained of the sauce, soaking it up and absorbing its flavour, and I'm pleased to report that the rice complemented the chicken perfectly.

And, as with the Salmon product, this has inspired me to perhaps try something along these lines from scratch... The ingredients list butter, basil, parsley, garlic, salt and pepper in the sauce, so I figure it wouldn't be too difficult to come up with something with tomato purée and garlic butter as a base...

Watch this space...