For the first Friday of Foodie month, I asked Michelle Melton, of Michelle Melton’s Photography, to share one of her favorite weekend recipes. She graciously shared her thoughts and recipes for gluten-free pizza packets (for convenience) and a favorite gluten-free pizza recipe.
Mixes: Convenience in a box
When baking, there is nothing like a box mix for convenience. Even after I had mastered more complicated baked items from scratch such as pies, yeast breads, and pizza crust, I still enjoyed the results I achieved from box mixes. If I was short on time, the helpfulness of just adding a few wet ingredients to the mix and then popping it in the oven was always tempting. Whether it was pancakes for breakfast or a cake for a celebration, if I was in a hurry, I’d reach for a mix. And mixes can make the gluten-free diet easier to manage.
My first exposure to a gluten-free diet was about 10 years ago. Although I was familiar with celiac disease from textbooks and nutrition classes, I never knew anyone who had it. Celiac seems to be like other diseases that don’t have outward or visible symptoms; the casual observer would never know that a person has it. This was not the case, however, for my friend of mine. From the time I met her several years before, the one thing you could not avoid noticing was her dermatitis-ravaged skin. Her face and neck were especially affected; she was constantly scratching. Doctors assumed it was eczema and prescribed medications to soothe the symptoms but nothing rid her of the flare-ups completely. Then in the spring of 2008, when we met for lunch, the woman sitting across from me was not the friend I had previously known. Clear-skinned and relaxed she explained that a doctor diagnosed her with celiac. It wasn’t eczema at all but a flare-up of the disease. Once she became gluten-free, her dermatitis was under control. Needless to say, I was amazed.
I began to investigate (sort of toe tipping into the water) gluten-free recipes to see if a diet change would make managing my Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis easier. Since gluten sensitivity causes inflammation, I was curious if at least reducing gluten in my diet would ease the stress on my thyroid. Ten years ago, however, the problem was every gluten-free recipe called for a different flour blend. There was little overlap; one blend would not give the same results when used in a different type of recipe. At the time, I tried making the flour blends that the cookbooks recommended but they required so many ingredients and the taste left a lot to be desired so eventually I gave up.
In recent years, it has become economically advantageous for some companies to cater to the gluten-free diet. First, only specialty grocery stores carried mixes and already baked products but now major chain stores carry them as well. I liked the convenience of mixes because I no longer needed a specific flour blend for every item I wanted to bake. In some cases, the taste was still an issue but I found my favorites and used those often. While we were not totally gluten-free, these new offerings made it easier to include gluten-free snacks and baked products in our diet.
What’s in the box?
Approximately a year ago, I decided the time had come to make further changes to my diet. We had always eaten healthy, organic when possible, and left most fast and processed food behind. I knew I had to take one thing at a time, make the changes, and allow for mistakes before changing something else. The first thing I decided to try was sugar alternatives (as opposed to sugar substitutes) in all my cooking. By sugar alternatives, I mean coconut sugar, xylitol, honey, maple or rice syrup. I will discuss my choices in more depth in a future post that features a gluten-free cake recipe but for now, let me say that upon making this decision I found myself reading packaging even more than I did before to determine what type of sweetener a product used. Cane sugar or syrup was in many things. The more we moved away from products with cane sugar, the more my body reacted when I ate a food that contained it. I experience a fidgety and restless feeling for about an hour afterward. It is not a pleasant feeling so it became worth it to be diligent in my label reading for everything from mixes to snack foods.
With the success of eliminating cane sugar, the next thing I changed at the beginning of this year was to go totally gluten-free. That is when I realized that my preference for gluten-free mixes was now on my “no” list since many mixes contain cane sugar. I understand this since sugar can offset the less pleasant taste of gluten-free flour blends. That is when I decided to make my own mixes, so to speak. Again, because there is a market of consumers willing to purchase these products, companies like King Arthur and Bob’s Red Mill manufacture the flour blends which home cooks used to have to create for themselves. These blends offer either a one-to-one substitution for wheat flour to be used in any recipe (they usually contain xanthan gum) or blends without xanthan gum which are meant to be used in a specific gluten-free recipe. I have used both types from both companies but the one I find most useful for my needs is King Arthur Flour Gluten Free All Purpose Flour (non-sponsored link).
One last word about these diet changes: I can say that, as a runner, being cane sugar-free has helped with my training and race recovery. I am not as tired after running and my race recovery, even after half marathons, does not take as long as before. I don’t have the muscle aches. I cannot point to any scientific or medical evidence; this is just my own experience. On the other hand, I cannot say that I have noticed any benefit from being gluten-free for the past nine months. It may be one of those things that take longer to notice but it has not, by itself, made managing my Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis any easier. I choose to eat gluten-free out of preference. I do not require it; I just abstain or choose alternatives whenever possible.
Saturday night’s alright for …pizza!
Pizza is a fun food. When we lived in a small town in the northeast, dining out choices were limited to one high-end restaurant, a Chinese restaurant, two fast-food chain restaurants, and 3 pizza restaurants. Actually, at one point, there were 4! Still, the quality was not great. The drive to better tasting pizza was long therefore not conducive to take-out and, especially in the winter, was not always worth it. So, we made our own pizza. It was a family event. I made the dough and shaped the crust. My husband and daughter created the toppings. It was also a tradition to make homemade pizza when my nephew would visit for the weekend. There was nothing better and it was fun. So much fun, in fact, that my nephew, who is now 28 years old and living on his own, asked for the recipe.
When we moved to a bigger city, there were so many more choices and we found a few pizza chains that became our favorites. It was a treat to order online and convenient to not have to make it from scratch. But when we went totally gluten-free earlier this year, traditional pizza made with wheat flour was therefore out of the question. I have noticed one or two chains are beginning to offer gluten-free pizza but I cannot attest to their quality because I haven’t tried it. I assume their crusts would have to contain sugar which might be a problem. They are also quite small (usually 10”) and expensive since there is low demand. In an effort to get around having to make it completely from scratch, we did try buying a frozen pizza and then putting additional toppings on that. While it tasted good, I think the sugar used in the dough was enough to cause my fidgety reaction whenever we bought it. I was left with no choice but to make gluten-free pizza from scratch (since the mixes also contained cane sugar) if I was ever to enjoy pizza again!
Once I found a gluten-free pizza recipe that I liked, I decided to accommodate my desire for convenience, by making my own “box” mixes— take the dry ingredients listed in a recipe, mix them together, and then put them in a labeled Ziploc bag. I currently do this for bread and pizza crust because these are items I like to bake regularly.
Pizza Mix Packet
To make a pizza mix packet, whisk the following ingredients in a medium bowl:
1 ½ cups King Arthur Gluten-Free All-Purpose flour (for flavor, I like to use a blend of 1 cup King Arthur Gluten-Free Multi-Purpose flour and ½ cup quinoa flour)
2 tablespoons buttermilk powder or nonfat dry milk powder
1 teaspoon baking powder
¾ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon xanthan gum
Place the mix in a quart sized Ziploc bag and label it. As a reminder to myself, I annotate on the bag that I did not add the sugar or yeast. Yeast is a living organism, therefore, it requires refrigeration until ready to use. Sugar is food for the yeast so it is best that the entire measurement of sweetener is available to feed it.
Serving Size: 8 slices
Note: you must use a stand mixer or electric hand mixer to make this dough; mixing by hand doesn’t do a thorough enough job.
One “Pizza Mix Packet” as listed above, or the following ingredients if you don’t have a packet made up
1 1/2 cups King Arthur Gluten-Free All Purpose flour or other brown rice flour blend (or 1 cups King Arthur + 1/2 cup quinoa flour)
2 tablespoons buttermilk powder or nonfat dry milk powder
1 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon xanthan gum
Additional ingredients for the recipe
1 1/2 teaspoons yeast (the original recipe calls for instant yeast but I use dry active yeast)
1 tablespoon sugar or honey (the original recipe considers this optional but it is not)
1 cup warm water
2 tablespoons olive oil (for dough)
2 tablespoons olive oil (for pan)
Toppings of choice
Place the dry ingredients or one packet of the mix (except the yeast and sugar or honey, if you’re using it) into a large mixing bowl; the bowl of your stand mixer is perfect. Mix until thoroughly blended.
Place the sugar or honey, warm water (approximately 110 to 115 degrees), 2 tablespoons olive oil, yeast, and about 1/2 cup of the dry mixture into a small bowl. Stir to combine; a few lumps are OK. Set aside, covered, for 30 minutes or so, until the mixture is bubbly and smells yeasty.
Add this mixture to the dry ingredients, and beat on medium-high speed for 4 minutes. The mixture will be thick and sticky; if you’ve ever applied the spackling compound to a wall, that’s exactly what it’ll look and feel like. Note: you must use a stand mixer or electric hand mixer to make this dough; mixing by hand doesn’t do a thorough enough job.
Cover the bowl, and let the dough rest for 30 minutes or so.
Preheat the oven to 425°F.
I put parchment paper sprinkled with cornmeal in the pan then place the dough in the center of prepared pizza pan. Drizzle with 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Cover with plastic wrap. Use fingers or a rolling pin to shape dough to fit pan. Create an edge or crust.
Let the dough rest, uncovered, for 15 minutes.
Bake the crust for 8 to 10 minutes, just until it’s set; the surface will look opaque, rather than shiny.
Remove from the oven and top with whatever you like. Return to the oven to finish baking, about 10 to 15 minutes depending on the toppings you’ve chosen.
Remove from the oven, and serve warm.
Yield: one 12″ to 14″ pizza.
To bake the crust and pizza on a stone:
Place the stone on the center rack of the oven and preheat the oven to 425°F. Shape the dough on parchment paper and allow to rest as instructed above. Place the crust (with only the parchment) directly onto the stone without the pan, and bake it for 8 to 10 minutes, just until set. Remove it from the oven by sliding the crust back onto the pan and add toppings. Return it to the oven, again directly on the stone without the pan for another 10 to 15 minutes, until the toppings are cooked to the desired doneness.
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All photo credit: Michelle Melton Photography