Homemade Frozen Pizzas

Last weekend Montana skipped straight from the heat of summer to its first snowfall. It didn’t stick much at the city level, but nonetheless resulted in a lovely “November” run on Saturday, and the snow-capped mountains are a welcome relief from the smokey haze we’ve been battling for weeks.

When the weather cools I start thinking about soups and chilis like any sane person, but I also think a bit more about quick freezer meals. One of my (many) odd quirks is that I really prefer not to bake in the dark. I have no idea where this mentality came from, but it sometimes makes the blog posts challenging in those few months of the year when all the daylight is during work hours and the weekends are filled with skiing. Arriving home in pitch black also makes me much less inclined to start a full dinner, and if I don’t have leftovers to reheat I usually end up with a grilled cheese or scrambled eggs. Despite my love of both, they do get a bit repetitive (and not particularly healthy) when eaten too often in lieu of a proper dinner.

A staple of most college kids, frozen pizzas are a quick and easy dinner for those busy evenings. I personally never buy them, since the odd ingredients and all-or-nothing style of vegetables don’t appeal to me, but the idea seemed incredibly sound. Armed with my mom’s dough and sauce recipes, I set off to make my own.

I pre-baked the crust to make it a little sturdier for storage, then topped them all with my favorite mix of meat, produce, and cheese. I am one of those people who likes fruits on their pizza, so sorry (not sorry) in advance if my pineapple and mandarins repulse you. I made one that evening, then froze the remaining five before wrapping in plastic wrap and sealing in Ziplocs to try another day.

Like the store-bought variety, these can be baked directly out of the freezer, sans all the wrappings. The bottoms have a tendency to brown faster than the cheese melts, so bake them one rack above center. If you are truly anti-crispy with regards to crust, bake on a silicon mat instead of directly on the baking sheet. They keep a month or two in the freezer with no dip in quality, and would probably last longer if you don’t eat them before then.

Alternatively, instead of adding the toppings right away, you can freeze the crusts naked and top when you bake them. This takes away a bit of the preparedness, of course, but has the added benefit of letting you add whichever toppings you feel like that day. It also gives you a bit more flexibility since certain toppings (like leafy greens, berries, raw tomato) may not freeze quite as well.

I made mine into small personal sized pizzas as their intended to be a one-off meal, and also so they fit nicely into gallon Ziploc bags for storage. You can make one pizza for tonight and freeze the rest for later, which makes the effort of mixing your own dough and sauce a little less off-putting. Despite the long list of ingredients, this is actually an incredibly easy project, and if you have all your toppings cut ahead of time it’s even fast enough for a weekday meal. Personal pizzas are also great if you have a variety of preferences in the house. M prefers a very high meat:not meat ratio, and loathes olives with a fiery passion; I prefer just a touch of meat and often experiment with more unusual combinations. Having individual pizzas for each of us makes it easy to customize the amounts of each topping, with no chance of contamination.

With school back in session, hunting season underway, and the cold weather imminent, this is a great time to prep a few meals for future nights. Make up a batch or two of dough and in an hour or two you can have 8-10 meals in the freezer for later.

Homemade Frozen Pizzas

Adapted from AllRecipes and Food.com
Serves 4-6 people1

Ingredients

Sauce
2 Tbsp olive oil
1/2 cup onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced

8oz can tomato sauce
6oz can tomato paste
2 Tbsp grated parmesan cheese
1 tsp dried basil
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp fennel seed
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
1 small bay leaf

Crust
1 cup water at 110 degrees Fahrenheit
1 (.25 oz) package active dry yeast
1 teaspoon sugar

2 1/2 cups bread flour
2 Tablespoons olive oil
1 tsp salt

cornmeal

Topping Suggestions2
2-3 cups freshly grated mozzarella cheese
12 oz hot Italian sausage, browned and drained
1 bell pepper, diced and sautéed
15 oz can pitted black olives, sliced
20 oz can pineapple chunks

Directions

  1. For the sauce: In a large skillet or saucepan over medium heat, melt butter and oil. Add onion and garlic and saute until onion is soft and transparent.
  2. Add remaining ingredients and bring to a simmer. Continue to simmer at least 30 minutes for best flavor.
  3. Remove bay leaf and use an immersion blender to puree until smooth.
  4. For frozen pizzas, let cool completely and store in the fridge until ready to use. For pizzas you’re baking right away, you can use it now.
  5. For the crust: In the bowl of a stand mixer, add sugar and yeast. Slowly stream in water and stir gently. Let rest 10 minutes, until yeast has foamed.
  6. Gently and briefly stir in flour, salt, and oil. Using the dough hook, beat on low until dough comes together and pulls away from the sides. Let rest for 5-10 minutes.
  7. Preheat oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit and sprinkle pizza pans or cookie sheets with cornmeal. Set aside.
  8. Sprinkle your counter or a cutting board with flour. Divide dough into desired number of servings and gently roll into circles. Transfer to prepared pans.
  9. Bake for 5-12 minutes, until crust is just starting to firm up. For mini pizzas this will be 5 minutes, for one large pizza it could be up to 12. If you’re making frozen pizzas, be very careful not to over bake.
  10. Remove from oven, and allow to cool slightly (for eat it now), or completely (for frozen pizzas).
  11. Assembly for eat it now: Spread sauce onto crusts to within 1/2 inch of edge, and top with desired toppings. Bake an additional 10-20 minutes, or until crust is desired crispness, cheese is melted, and toppings are warm.
  12. Assembly for frozen crusts: Allow crusts to cool completely, then wrap carefully in plastic wrap, seal in a Ziploc, and store in the freezer until ready to use. (You can add your toppings to the frozen crust, then bake as instructed below.)
  13. Assembly for frozen pizzas: Allow crusts, sauce, and topping to cool completely. I like to prep everything on one day, store the sauce in toppings in the fridge overnight, and then make the pizzas the next day. Crusts are fine on the counter in an airtight container.
  14. Spread crusts with sauce to within 1/2 inch of edges, and then add desired toppings. For mini pizzas I about 1/2 cup cheese and 1/4 cup meat, then arrange the other toppings as they fit.
  15. Transfer pizzas to cookie sheets or cutting boards and then freeze until solid.
  16. Remove from freezer and wrap each pizza individually with plastic wrap, then place into Ziploc bags or airtight containers for longer-term storage. They should keep just fine for a couple of months if they are well wrapped. Pro tip: Use tape or labels to write baking instructions on each pizza.
  17. If you have leftover toppings, use them for scrambled eggs or omelets, on salad, or freeze for later use.
  18. Baking: Preheat oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit and for crispy crust on large pizzas move rack to one below center. For personal frozen pizzas with frozen toppings, you may want to move rack to one above center.
  19. Unwrap frozen pizza and place on a cookie sheet or pizza pan. For less crispy crust, use a silicon mat.
  20. Bake an additional 15-25 minutes (depending on pizza size) or until crust is browned on the bottom, cheese is melted, and toppings are heated through. If the toppings are browning too fast for the crust, cover lightly with foil for the remaining bake time (and make a note to yourself that you might prefer to use a lower rack in the future.)

Notes

Lots of options here: one family sized pizza, two larges, 3 mediums, 4-6 personal sized pizzas. I did 6 smallish personal-sized pizzas because I like to have a side salad to make a well-rounded meal. Feel free to do whatever sizes suits you!

These are the toppings used in my pictures, but mix it up or make substitutions to fit your dietary needs/preferences.

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Blackberry Peach Smoothie

Although I mostly stick with my go-to peanut butter and banana smoothie, I occasionally am interested in a more summery flavor profile. Typically I concoct one from whatever happens to be my in freezer at the time, which is usually a mixture of bananas, berries, and melons, and maybe a cucumber or two. Blackberries are far and above my favorite berry but as they are quite strong in flavor I like to pair them with something a bit more mild. Bananas are excellent for this, of course, but in late summer peaches are easily my ideal complement.

This is another excellent smoothie for any time of day, an equally delicious way to start your day as it is to end it. With plenty of fresh fruit and a hidden veggie boost, its flavor is reminiscent of a cobbler but much lower in sugar. The spinach muddies the color a bit, but otherwise it’s not even noticeable. Ground oatmeal makes a nice thickener as well as keeping you fuller longer, and my trusty dash of cinnamon rounds it out nicely. If you prefer yours a bit sweeter, add a dollop of pure maple syrup.

It’s not necessary to peel your peaches before freezing them, but make sure they are in small enough chunks to fit in your blender. I typically cut mine into eighths since that’s the easiest way to pit them anyway. Slice and pit a whole tray at once and then arrange on a piece of parchment paper to freeze. Once frozen you can transfer them to a Ziploc or other storage without fear of them sticking into one giant clump of peach. I use this method to freeze all my fruits and veggies for smoothies (and oatmeal) – everything from sliced bananas and berries to cucumber and zucchini. It takes a little prep time, but it’s well worth the convenience later.

Sweet peaches and tart blackberries come together in combination perfect for those later days of summer when both are overly abundant. Whether you’re buying from Costco or local stand, or lucky enough to be picking them yourself, it’s a delicious way to use up excess fruits that are maybe a little beyond the raw-eating prime. With these last few weeks of toasty weather ahead, you should have ample time to give this a whirl.

Blackberry Peach Smoothie
Makes one 16-20 oz smoothie

Ingredients

1/3 cup oatmeal

1 ripe peach (pitted, sliced, and frozen)1
1/4 cup blackberries, frozen
1 – 1.5 cups coconut milk (or any unsweetened milk)

1 – 2 cups frozen and crushed baby spinach
1-2 tsp maple syrup (optional)
cinnamon, to taste

Directions

  1. Place oatmeal in blender (I like to use the single-serve size so I don’t accidentally make a gigantic smoothie) and blend until finely ground.
  2. Add remaining ingredients (optionally reserving a peach slice and two berries for garnish) and blend until completely mixed (this could take a minute or so). If it’s too thick, blend in additional milk one tablespoon at a time until desired consistency is reached.
  3. Enjoy immediately with a straw, a sunny day, and a good book.

Notes

1  I typically slice mine into roughly eighths as they fit into my single-serving blender cup better that way. You can slice yours more or less to suit your needs.

I like to put a bunch in the freezer and then crush it all once it’s frozen. Then it’s really easy to measure out a cup or two for each smoothie on the fly.

Summer Squash Tian

We had a brief stint of summer here, with one day reaching 92, but so far haven’t quite made it to the sustained heat I know is imminent. I am constantly torn between being grateful the heat is holding off, and lamenting the lack of heat training I can do for my upcoming summer races. In any case, as the plants in my garden sprout and grow, it makes me excited for harvest and all the lovely dishes that come with a summer bounty.

Summer squashes like zucchini and yellow squashes are some of my favorite veggies, and their relative cheapness here means I eat a ton of them throughout the summer and early fall. I add them to salads and scrambled eggs, eat them plain with hummus or pesto, and freeze them for when the weather turns me towards soups. Their neutral flavor makes them an easy addition into almost anything, as well as being a delightful standalone.

One of my favorite hot weather recipes is a simple baked dish. Summer squash and sweet potato are accented with onion and spices, then topped with a sprinkle of cheese for an easy but delicious side great for the hot months. You may be wondering how baked vegetables could possibly be warm weather appropriate, but the secret is I actually prefer this one cold! Not only does that make it easy to serve straight out of the fridge for barbecues and leftovers, but it makes for a great make-ahead meal as well.

Simple without being boring, this vegetarian concoction works great as a side dish when you get bored with salad, or as a healthy afternoon snack. For the vegan crowd, you can just leave off the cheese – it’s quite excellent without it – but you may want to add a pinch of salt to your spice mix. Briefly sautéed onions and roasted squashes bring a light sweetness to the dish, complimented with your favorite spices. This one is easy to customize to whatever you’re pairing it with: just change up the spices to match or contrast with your entrée.

I used an Italian spice blend, but you can easily concoct your own mix or just include one spice for a simpler flavor profile. Pairs beautifully with a side of grilled anything, and makes for an easy lunch since it requires no reheating. I’ll admit it’s a little messy and time-consuming to slice and vertically arrange so many items, but it’s worth it for even cooking and presentation points. I like to use a sweet potato, but if you prefer a white or red that is excellent too. The dish is easiest if you can find squashes and potatoes of roughly all the same diameter, but as you can see I have a variety of sizes in mine and it’s completely manageable.

When the over abundance of squash hits your area, give this a try and let me know what you think!

Summer Squash Tian

Adapted from Budget Bytes
Serves 6-8

Ingredients

1 medium yellow or white onion, chopped
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
1 Tbsp olive oil

3 lbs zucchini and yellow squash (about 6 medium, I used most of one of the bags Costco sells)
1 narrow sweet potato
3 Tbsp olive oil
1-2 Tbsp Miscuglio (or your favorite spice mix)

1 cup shredded cheese (I used cheddar and Gruyère)

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. In a small or medium frying pan, heat 1 Tbsp olive oil over medium-high.
  3. Add onions and garlic and sauté until onions are soft and translucent, about 5 minutes. Spread evenly into the bottom of a 9×13″ baking dish.
  4. Using a mandolin or a sharp knife and a lot of patience, slice zucchini and yellow squash into approx 1/4″ slices (I used the thickest setting on my mandolin.)
  5. Using the same method, slice sweet potato into less than 1/8″ slices (I used the thinnest setting on my mandolin.) This ensures the potatoes cook in the same amount of time as the squashes.
  6. In a large bowl, combine squashes, sweet potato, 3 Tbsp olive oil, and spices. Stir until well coated.
  7. Arrange upright in rows, avoiding having large sections of the same vegetable if possible. This is messy, but worth it for even cooking and prettiness.
  8. Cover dish with foil and bake for 30 minutes.
  9. Remove foil, top with cheese, and bake an additional 10-15 minutes until cheese is to your desired level of meltiness.
  10. Let cool briefly before serving, or store in fridge and serve chilled.1

Notes

This does not reheat well but I actually prefer it cold which makes it not only a great make-ahead meal, but also a great side dish for hot summer days.

Sweet Potato Hummus

Hello from sunny South Dakota! Okay so maybe this isn’t an ideal summer destination, but since it’s where M is for his field season it’s where I find myself every couple months. Pro tip: when traveling make sure you bring a computer with an SD card reader…my new work MacBook is lacking in useful ports and I just have to say it’s a good thing M was around to let me use his computer. But I digress; let’s move back to food.

Sweet potatoes are used heavily in fall and winter dishes, but are often skipped during the summer months. This is a terrible mistake I’m here to help you rectify. As someone who lives alone most of the year but still buys sweet potatoes at Costco, I can easily eat them for every meal of the day. This recipe has the wonderful bonus of letting me have them as a mid-afternoon snack as well, which is how I spent a pleasant afternoon on a lawn in Lead.

It was a long time before I started to enjoy hummus and at first I really only liked the flavored ones, with roasted red pepper being my favorite. At this point I pretty much like all of them (excepting avocado hummus, because my “crazy” palate thinks avocados are awful) but this one is definitely my newest favorite. Chipotle and sweet potato is one of my favorite combinations and it is as excellent as ever in this one.

The standard creamy hummus texture is packed full of sweet potato, complimented by smoky and spicy adobo chipotle peppers. My low spice tolerance and I kept our version quite mild, but this recipe is supremely easy to kick it up if spicy is your thing. My version used one pepper and two tablespoons of adobo sauce, so add more of each and/or some ground chipotle if you really want it spicy.

This hummus pairs well with pretty much anything, but carrots and bell peppers turned out to be my favorite. It’s also great on a wrap or sandwich if you want to use it in more of a main dish. Its deliciousness makes it easy to eat the rainbow of vegetables any time of year, but I’m looking forward to having it with carrots right out of the garden later this summer. Admittedly I don’t currently own a full-size food processor and I borrowed one to make this hummus (thanks Amanda!), but this might be the recipe that convinces me I need my own.

Sweet Potato Hummus

Adapted from Sweet Peas and Saffron
Makes about 4 cups

Ingredients

1 (15 oz) can chickpeas (garbanzo beans)
3 Tbsp olive oil
2 Tbsp tahini
2 Tbsp adobo sauce (from chipotle can)
1-2 chipotle peppers
juice of one lime
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp coriander
1/2 tsp chili powder

2 cups cooked and mashed sweet potato1

optional: chipotle powder, to taste

Directions

  1. Combine all ingredients except sweet potatoes, starting with 1 pepper and 1 Tbsp adobo sauce, in a 7-cup food processor.
  2. Pulse until mixed, scraping the sides at least twice.
  3. Add sweet potatoes and process for at least one minute, scraping the sides again, until mixture is smooth.
  4. Taste and add another pepper, more adobo sauce, or additional spices as necessary, processing again for 30-60 seconds if you do.
  5. Serve with your favorite veggies or crackers, and store leftovers in the refrigerator.

Notes

To make puree: scrub 2 large sweet potatoes and stab a few holes in them. Bake at 400 degrees Fahrenheit for 40-60 minutes, or until easily pierced with a fork. Let cool about 10 minutes, then remove skin and mash with a fork. Let cool to at least room temperature before using in hummus (overnight, if you want to do this part ahead of time) or plan on letting your hummus chill in the fridge for an hour or two after you make it.

Brazilian BBQ Quinoa Bowls

It is rare that I go out for lunch, typically opting to bring my own (or scrounge an affectionately called “Workiva Special” from the complimentary office snacks) since it’s much cheaper and much easier to make healthy choices. However, on the days I am not on top of life and don’t want to eat yet another quesadilla, my favorite quick, inexpensive, and reasonably healthy spot is a local Brazilian BBQ place. Since you pick your base, your toppings, and your sauce, it’s easy to customize and they offer lots of vegetables. (Plus they have sweet potatoes, which is a sure way to win me over.) My go-to order is brown rice with greens, roasted root vegetables, black beans, steamed collard greens, and their mango BBQ sauce: delicious, filling, and a hefty serving of vegetables all in one.

Since all of these components are pretty simple to make, craft night with friends seemed like a great chance to try my own version. Although it requires a fair amount of prep work and oven time, it’s definitely not complicated and allows all your guests to adjust their bowls to their own preferences. If you use vegetable broth or water to cook the quinoa, your vegetarian and vegan friends can easily join in. And if there are any leftovers, everything reheats great.

For the roasted vegetables I chose sweet potatoes, bell peppers, and eggplant, but you can obviously pick whichever ones you want. Just make sure to adjust your baking times accordingly, as everything can take somewhat different times to reach their optimal texture. Potatoes take the longest, followed by things like broccoli or Brussels sprouts, and peppers or summer squash take the least. Keep an eye on things in the oven and you’re good to go.

Stir-fried steak is easy and doesn’t take any extra oven space, but shredded (or diced) pork or chicken are also great options. Not a meat-eater? Just skip this step entirely, the bowls are delicious without any animals in them too. I tend to eat quinoa in lieu of rice, but any similar grain will work great. I like to cook my quinoa in broth to give it a bit more flavor, but if you don’t have any around just use water as normal. Spinach goes with everything so I sautéed some here, and also added some black beans because why not.

Now, let’s talk about some sauce.

As a huge fan of barbecue sauce in general, the mango version at Five on Black is a fun twist on a classic. I slightly adapted a recipe with a similar profile and it really takes these bowls up a notch. Obviously you can substitute your favorite homemade or store-bought sauce, but if you have the time I hope you give this one a shot. Lightly sweetened with maple syrup, a vaguely tropical flavor profile from the mango, and a little kick of chipotle, this sauce hits all the right taste buds in all the right places. Definitely use a very ripe mango for the best flavor, and adjust the syrup and adobo sauce amounts in order to lean sweeter or spicier. I’m pretty wussy about spice so I didn’t add any extra, but if you like a spicy experience you could easily double or triple the adobo sauce, or even add an extra chipotle pepper.

Tons of veggies, good sources of protein, and a magnificent sauce come together in a wonderful and healthy meal, perfect for all weather. Give my version a try or create your own, but be sure to let me know what you come up with!

Brazilian BBQ Quinoa Bowls

Inspired by Five on Black
Serves 4-6

Ingredients

3-4 medium sweet potatoes, peeled and cubed
2 bell peppers, seeded and sliced
1 eggplant, peeled and cubed
2 Tbsp olive oil

2 lbs steak, thinly sliced1
1 Tbsp olive oil

3 cups broth or water1
1.5 cups quinoa

8-10 cups spinach and/or kale
1 tbsp olive oil

1 recipe Mango Chipotle BBQ Sauce (below)
1 (15 oz) can black beans, drained and rinsed
optional toppings: chives, green onion, etc

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit, adjusting shelves to fit two pans. Line two baking sheets with aluminum foil.
  2. In a large bowl, mix sweet potatoes and 1 Tbsp olive oil until well coated. Spread in one layer on one of the prepared baking sheets.
  3. In the same bowl, mix eggplant and 1/2 Tbsp olive until well coated. Spread in one layer on half of the other baking sheet.
  4. In the same bowl, mix eggplant and 1/2 Tbsp olive until well coated. Spread on the other half of the baking sheet.
  5. Place sweet potatoes on the top rack and roast for about 40 minutes, until softened and lightly browned.
  6. After about 20 minutes, place eggplant and peppers in the oven and roast for about 20 minutes, until peppers are starting to blacken and eggplant is nicely browned.
  7. Meanwhile, cook quinoa in broth or water according to package directions.
  8. When the vegetables are almost done, heat 1 Tbsp olive oil over medium-high in a large wok or frying pan.
  9. Add the steak and sauté until browned. Drain, remove from pan, and set aside. (Obviously skip this for vegetarian/vegan modification.)
  10. Wipe out extra meat juice from the wok, and heat another tablespoon of olive oil.
  11. Add spinach/kale and sauté until wilted and heated through.
  12. For each bowl, start with quinoa, and arrange veggies, beans, steak, and greens on top. Drizzle with mango BBQ sauce, and optionally top with green onion.
  13. Enjoy hot and refrigerate any leftovers in separate containers, for easy build-your-own dinners and lunches.

Notes

For a vegetarian or vegan meal, skip the meat and use water or vegetable broth to cook the quinoa.

Mango Chipotle BBQ Sauce

Adapted from 1 Big Bite
Makes 3-4 cups

Ingredients

1 very ripe mango, peeled and diced
1 (15 oz) can, fire-roasted diced tomatoes (drained)
1 medium onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
2 Tbsp maple syrup
1 chipotle pepper (from a can of chipotles in a adobo)
1 Tbsp adobo sauce (from the same can)
1 Tbsp molasses
1/2 Tbsp Worcestershire sauce2
1 tsp salt

Directions

  1. In a small saucepan, combine all ingredients and bring to a boil.
  2. Reduce heat to medium low, cover with a lid, and simmer for at least 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  3. Remove from heat and puree completely using an immersion blender1.
  4. If desired, stir in additional syrup or adobo sauce to suit your preferences.
  5. Store in sealed container in the refrigerator.

Notes

If you don’t have an immersion blender, you can use a regular one or a food processor, but let the sauce cool for about 10 minutes first.

2 This recipe is vegan if you choose a vegan Worcestershire sauce.