Maybe you can get cheese where you live. If you can, be thankful.

If you can't, this article is for you. How do you enjoy the comfort of pizza without mozzerella cheese? Here's some ideas.

1) BBQ pizza - Homemade barbecue sauce, chicken or pork, peppers, and onions combine to make a great pizza that is good without cheese. Of course, if you do have some cheese that's even better. :-)

2) Chicken alfredo pizza - Parmesan cheese is easy to send over from the States because it doesn't have to be refridgerated. If you have parmesan, you can make a lovely alfredo sauce. (Most alfredo sauce recipes call for cream. Since we used milk powder, I just mixed it extra-rich and called it cream.) Add carmelized onions, spinach, and chicken to make a pizza your hubby will ask for again!

3) Cheeseburger pizza - if you have Velveeta cheese, cheese powder, or some other form of non-grateable cheese (is that a word?) you can make a thick white sauce and melt the cheese into it. Drizzle it over a pizza crust with marinara sauce, hamburger and onions.

4) Breadsticks with lots of garlic butter and marinara sauce for dipping are great. You'll feel like you had pizza and never miss the cheese!

5) Mexican Pizza - spread refried beans on the crust, sprinkle with taco meat, onions & peppers. If you have cheese (any kind) you can also add it at this point, but it's good without cheese. After baking, add fresh lettuce and salsa. I also like to drizzle with a little ranch dressing or plain yogurt seasoned with garlic & onion powder. So yummy!

 

As I am typing these ideas, I'm counting the number of recipes I could share: pizza crust, breadsticks, bbq sauce, alfredo sauce, white sauce, marinara sauce, refried beans. I can't share all of them in one post! Since pizza crust is the common denominator, I'm going to share that one. :-) Please let me know in the comments what other recipes you'd like to see!

 

Fast and Easy Pizza Crust

  • 1 cup warm water
  • 1 tablespoon honey or sugar
  • 1 tablespoon oil
  • 1 tablespoon instant yeast
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2-3 cups flour
  1. In a large bowl or in the bowl of an electric stand mixer fitted with the dough hook, mix the water, honey, oil, yeast and salt. Add the flour gradually until a soft dough forms and pulls away from the sides of the bowl. The exact amount of flour will vary so go by the feel of the dough. The dough should be soft and smooth (not leaving a residue on your fingers but not really stiff, either).
  2. Knead the dough for 2-3 minutes (more like 5-6 minutes if kneading by hand).
  3. Let the dough rest, covered, for 10 minutes. Shape the dough into one large or two medium pizzas, spread with sauce and toppings, and bake at 475 or 500 degrees on a lightly greased baking sheet for 8-10 minutes.

 

One more very random fact - I chose pizza as my theme for this week's post in honor of a childhood friend. Her family's Thanksgiving celebration didn't include turkey or potatoes or cranberry sauce . . . their family tradition was homemade pizza. So if you're wondering what to do this year for Thanksgiving with no turkey, you might give it a try! :-)

Thanksgiving is almost here . . . just over a week away! It can be a challenge to figure out how to celebrate holidays when you live overseas. Is turkey available? Cranberry sauce? Do you know how to make your own stuffing from fresh bread instead of from a Stovetop Stuffing box? And how in the world are you going to make pumpkin pie?

Where we lived in West Africa, we couldn't get pumpkin. Once in a while, we stumbled on some butternut squash which made an okay substitute. But that couldn't be depended on. So I was very thankful for this secret substitute shared by one of my co-workers . . .

Papaya.

That's right, if you have papayas, you can use them in recipes as a substitute for pumpkin. Open the papaya, scoop out the seeds, and cut it into chunks like you would cut a cantalope melon. Boil in a small amount of water until soft, drain well, and mash. This pulp can be used just like pumpkin puree! I have to admit I was pretty skeptical at first, but I tried it and it really does work!

So here's my favorite pumpkin recipe (except for traditional pumpkin pie!). I made this cake using paypaya pretty regularly when we lived overseas!

 

Pumpkin Chocoate Chip Cake

2c. flour

1 tsp salt

2 tsp soda

1 tsp cinnamon

2c mashed pumpkin (or papaya, or winter squash)

3/4 c. oil

2 c. sugar

2 eggs

1 tsp vanilla

1 c. nuts (optional)

1 c. chocolate chips

 

Sift together dry ingredients. Mix liquid ingredients and blend well. Add to dry ingredients. Mix well, using a mixer if you have one. Then gently stir in nuts & chocolate chips. Pour into a greased and floured 13x9 baking pan. Bake at 350 for 30 minutes or until done. This is a very moist cake that tastes delicious without frosting! It is also good with cream cheese or chocolate frosting. Or what I often did, when we couldn't get powdered sugar for frosting, is make a chocolate syrup to drizzle over the top when serving. Delicious! This cake also freezes well.

 

What is the most challenging food for you to make this Thanksgiving? What will you be missing because there is no way to get it or make it in your host country?

 

I love Chinese food. Or at least, my American rendition of Chinese food. :-) This recipe is NOT for those of you living in Asia - I don't mind if you laugh at the severely non-authentic dish I'm about to share! But it's a family favorite at my house, and even yummy enough to serve to company if you're living in Africa.

 

Sweet & Sour Chicken

1 onion, chopped

1 green pepper, chopped (or any color sweet pepper)

1 clove garlic, minced

1" ginger, grated

1/2 pineapple (or a whole small one)

1 c green beans or other veggie (optional)

1-2 c. cooked chicken, chopped (pork is good also)

1/4 c. soy sauce

1/2 t.salt

1/2 c. vinegar

1/3 c. brown sugar (white is fine too)

1 c. chicken broth or water w/chicken bullion (if using bullion, reduce salt)

3 T. cornstarch

 

Fry onion and green pepper in a small amount of oil until soft. Add garlic & ginger for the last few minutes, but be careful because they burn quickly. Add remaining ingredients EXCEPT cornstarch. Cook 20-30 minutes, or until pineapple and green beans are tender. Add more water if needed while cooking. Just before serving, mix cornstarch with a small amount of water (1/4 c.) and slowly add, stirring vigorously to avoid lumps. Serve over steamed rice.

This recipe can also be used to cook chicken legs or breast pieces, if you want to serve more meat with your meal (nicer for company meals.) Follow the same instructions, except add raw chicken pieces instead of chopped meat, and use water without bullion. Be sure to cook at least 30 minutes, or until chicken is done.

As I was going through my recipes, I realized how many of them depend on my system of cooking meat. So before we go any further, I'm going to talk about that a little bit. Not that you have to do it the way I did, but knowing what I did will help you to understand my recipes better! :-)

For me, one of the biggest challenges of cooking in West Africa was knowing what to do about meat. Where we lived for the first two years there were no nicely packaged fresh cuts at the grocery store. We could get canned meat - sausages, Spam, corned beef, and tuna - but all of those things were expensive, and rather gross, too. There were little "cold stores", which usually consisted of not much more than a deep freezer holding a few boxes of frozen chicken and frozen fish. And then there was the meat market . . . an open air market with bloody chopping blocks, huge dead animal parts, and swarms of flies. I think I might prefer Spam!

But realistically Spam wasn't a good option, so I learned to buy fresh beef in the market. Some tips I learned for buying...

  • Make friends with a butcher and try to go back to the same one over and over. He will [probably] give you a better deal, and learn to understand what you're looking for so you don't have to explain yourself every time.
  • If you have a big daily market, animals are probably butchered fresh every morning. Go early to get meat when it is the freshest, before the hot sun and flies have had time to do their work.
  • If you have a smaller market, find out what day(s) they usually butcher, and buy meat on those days.
  • Don't buy meat that looks dried out, dark red or old
  • Ask for boneless cuts. Cutting huge bones out of the middle of big chunks of meat is not fun.
  • Ask for "no fat". This doesn't mean there will literally be no fat, but it might avoid getting HUGE thick chunks of fat with your meat.
  • If they offer to cut it into pieces for you, graciously refuse. They will indiscriminately cut through bone chips, veins of fat and gristle. I prefer to trim and chop my own meat.

To save the inconvenience of going into the meat market too often, I would buy several pounds at a time. Once I got home, the meat needed to be cooked or frozen promptly. What I usually did was cook it all right away, to be frozen in meal-sized packages for later use. Here's the cooking process I used:

  1. First I would wash it thoroughly with clean water, hopefully getting most of the bone chips and loose dirt off
  2. Next with a sharp knife, I start cleaning off the fat and gristle
  3. As I clean it, I chop it into small peices such as you would use for stir fry or stew meat.
  4. Throw the meat chunks into a big pot with a lid and cover with water
  5. Be sure to wash your hands and disinfect cutting boards or surfaces after handling raw meat
  6. Add a chopped onion or two, a few cloves of garlic, and a generous dash of soy sauce (this will not add distinct flavor, only enhance the meat)
  7. Boil, and boil, and boil for hours . . . literally about 3 hours!
  8. Be sure to add more water as needed so your pot doesn't boil dry
  9. Don't worry about germs, dirt, or bugs . . . the meat will be perfectly safe to eat after boiling for so long!!

If you've eaten local beef, at least in Africa, you know that it's quite tough! But we've found that meat cooked this way becomes nice and tender. If you have a pressure cooker, you can use that instead and shorten the cooking time significantly . . . but I've never used one. When it's done cooking, I package it into meal-size portions, and put it all in the freezer. Then I can pull a package out anytime to quickly add meat to stir fry, stew, spaghetti sauce, rice pilaf, or whatever I might be making for supper. And don't forget to use the rich broth from cooking to make some delicious gravy or wonderful soup! You really can't taste the soy sauce (unless you put way too much in), it just makes the meat/broth taste rich and salty.

The other meat that we commonly ate was chicken. We actually bought frozen chicken leg quarters from those little "cold stores" by the case (25lb box) and it was usually Tyson brand! I would fill up my biggest pot with as much chicken as would easily fit, add an onion and some garlic (but skip the soy sauce) and boil it for about 45 minutes. After letting it cool for an hour, I would debone it, and then package the meat into meal-sized portions and freeze. It's so convenient to use in everything from fried rice to alfredo sauce and even my rendition of some of the local dishes. {I actually still do this now that we're in the States, buying 10-20 lbs of chicken and cooking it up all at once!}

Most of my main dish recipes depend on one of these two meats - cut up and precooked, frozen in meal-size portions, and ready to add to whatever I'm cooking. I found this to be so convenient, significantly shortening prep time for many of my meals. And SO much better than that slimy canned meat at the store! :-)

Any tips to add? Have you used a pressure cooker for meat? How do you get/use meat where you live?