Kathy Maister's Start Cooking

How to Make Pizza

posted in Main Dishes by Kathy Maister

For beginner cooks with hectic schedules, Do-It-Yourself pizza is a quick and tasty weeknight dinner solution. In the time that it takes to have pizza delivered, you can actually make your own!

All you have to do is create the basic elements:

  • a doughy crust
  • tomato sauce
  • shredded cheese
  • and whatever toppings you like.

The nice thing about DIY pizza is that you can have fun personalizing it. You can incorporate your favorite flavors and textures, or whatever happens to be in the fridge. There’s no fixed recipe to follow! Let’s get started.

First, the crust!

Ready-made crust: The bread section of the grocery store typically offers several brands of ready-made crusts that you simply top with whatever you like and bake according to the instructions. Some of these crusts even come with a package of tomato sauce! They’re usually sold in rounds that make enough for several people.

In addition to ready-made crusts, there are several different types of “breads” that will work as a pizza crust. In the photo below there a some great choices for a quick pizza crust including focaccia, crumpets, English muffins, pita bread and tortilla wraps. (Keep reading for the recipes using these various breads as a pizza crust!)


Tortillas (wraps)

If you like thin-crust pizza, you can’t get thinner than this! It’s a good idea to pre-heat the tortilla in a toaster oven or regular oven at 350F just for a few minutes to make it a bit more solid, then turn the oven up to 450F. Put the wrap(s) on a foil or parchment paper-lined baking sheet.

Tortillas are the base for Humbecue Pizzas — dressed with hummus, barbecue sauce, spinach, ham and feta cheese. Photo courtesy of Jenn at Eating Bender.

Then add whatever sauce, cheese and toppings you like. Go easy on toppings so that the whole thing doesn’t get soggy. Put the tortilla in the oven for 10 minutes and check to see when it’s done – the edge of the tortilla should become brown and crispy. Here’s a recipe for Humbecue Tortilla Pizzas, which are made with hummus, barbecue sauce, spinach, ham and feta cheese.

Pita bread

Pita bread is another great option for those who like thin, crispy pizzas. There’s no need to toast the pita before putting on the toppings; follow the same baking directions as with the tortilla pizza.

Here, plain old pita gets dressed up with Italian sausage, peppers and carrots.
Photo courtesy of Cookthink.com

This Pita Pizza (shown above) topped with Italian sausage, peppers and carrots looks simple and scrumptious.

Focaccia bread

For a more substantial crust, use focaccia bread, which is often sold in big rectangular pieces. When it comes to baking the pizza, preheat the oven to 450F and cook for 10 to 15 minutes.

English Muffins

Here at startcooking.com we have already posted a video on English Muffin Pizzas, which are topped with tomato sauce, ground beef and cheese.


These mini pizzas are irresistible, and if you don’t have any ground beef on hand, you can make them with tuna.


If you would prefer to substitute crumpets for English muffins, go right ahead, old chap!

Bagels and baguette

A lot of bagel shops now have bagel pizzas.

Making your own is easy as long as you have the necessary ingredients on hand! Buy your bagels ahead of time and store them (sliced!) in the freezer. Bagels freeze beautifully as long as they are wrapped tightly in plastic wrap and then put in a zip lock bag.

The Sauce

Pizza traditionally has a layer of tomato sauce between the crust and the cheese. You can buy ready-made pizza sauce in a can or jar, or use tomato sauce (the kind you would use for pasta). If you don’t have either of these on hand, you could try tomato paste or salsa.

Some pizza lovers prefer their pizzas “white” – with no tomato sauce. White pizzas may be topped with pesto, ricotta or Parmesan cheese and pine nuts. Or with alfredo sauce (which you can buy ready-made) and other toppings.

In this recipe for Spinach, Mushroom and Goat Cheese Pizza , from Cooking By the Seat of my Pants, the sauce is a combination of sour cream and Greek vinaigrette.

Spinach, mushroom and goat cheese pizza — not something you see on a takeout menu!
Photo courtesy of Jerry D. Russell at Cooking by the Seat of my Pants.

If you love basil, try Pioneer Woman’s version of pizza using pesto rather than tomato sauce, fresh mozzarella, tomatoes, basil and parmesan.

The Cheese


Mild: Most pizza places use mozzarella cheese, which turns nice and gooey when it melts, and has a very mild flavor. Other mild cheeses that can substitute for mozzarella are colby, cheddar, gouda, edam and Monterey jack. You can grate the cheese yourself or buy bags of pre-grated cheese. Ricotta, bocconcini and fresh mozzarella are other mild options that offer a gourmet twist because of their rich, milky textures.

Strong: Try mixing mozzarella with stronger-tasting cheeses, or going for something really distinctive. You’ll find that you can use a smaller amount of cheese if it’s strong-tasting. In our video on English Muffin Pizzas, startcooking.com suggests blue cheese with chopped fresh sage and walnuts. Some other strong cheeses to try are: parmesan, provolone, goat cheese, aged cheddar and gorgonzola.


This is where you can really make a pizza your own. Here’s a list of topping ideas to get you started, as well as some great-tasting combinations.

Tip: Any meat toppings should be cooked before being added to the pizza.

Meat options:


Other toppings:

  • Anchovies
  • Chopped nuts
  • Fresh herbs, like basil or sage


  • Hawaiian: chopped ham and pineapple
  • Mexican: ground beef, avocadoes, salsa
  • Greek: feta cheese, olives and oregano

Good luck with your pizza creations!

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How to Load a Dishwasher

posted in Around the Kitchen by Kathy Maister

The first three apartments I lived in had no dishwasher — except for me, that is. For that matter, none of my early apartments had kitchen windows either.

I really felt like I had arrived by the time I owned my first dishwasher. Of course, saving quarters for the communal laundry machine in my apartment building went on for many more years to come!

If you have a dishwasher, I don’t need to tell you how wonderful they are!

However, it surprises some people to discover that there is a right and a wrong way to load a dishwasher. Do it wrong and you’ll end up with dishes not getting washed properly and possibly even breaking a few in the process.

Loading a dishwasher is easy as long as you follow a few simple rules:

First, quickly rinse dishes before putting them in the dishwasher in order to remove big chunks of food. Dishwashers can choke up unless you pay attention to this, and paying for a plumbers’ visit to unclog them can be expensive.

No need to fuss too much with this step (let the dishwasher do the washing!) but don’t leave it out.

Next, be sure to put glassware, coffee cups and plastic containers on the top rack, which was designed to hold them. If you have a lot of glasses that need washing, you may be tempted to put them on the bottom rack, but there is a higher probability that they will break there.


Since it’s generally hotter on the bottom than it is on the top, even dishwasher-safe plastic containers may melt on the bottom rack. Proceed with caution.

Plates, bowls, and anything that needs a stronger wash put on the bottom rack. Did you know that the top and bottom racks often have a different amount of water pressure? Who knew? You obviously need to exert less energy washing a water glass than a plate with dried-up tomato sauce on it!


Naturally, silverware and utensils go in the special holder. Some people clump spoons together, forks together, and knives together. Others say, no, “nesting” the utensils means they don’t get cleaned properly — mix them up. Be warned: how one does or does not put silverware in the dishwasher can break up a beautiful friendship or marriage!


It’s important, in my view, to put sharp, pointed things (like knives and forks) pointing downward. (There is nothing worse than being impaled by utensils while loading – or unloading – the dishwasher!)

You should never put your good knives in the dishwasher. Something that big and that sharp just should not go in there — and it’s easy to wash good knives by hand. Small, inexpensive paring knives are often dishwasher-safe.

Always empty the bottom rack first. The glasses and cups on the top rack will often drip as you are unloading them (so many seem to have those little crevices on the bottom that accumulate water.) You won’t get the plates on the bottom all wet if you have already unloaded them first.

Never turn the dishwasher on and then go to bed. You never know when there could be a leak or a problem with your dishwasher! Turn it on after dinner so that it has finished running before you go to bed. (That’s actually a tip from most fire safety experts.)

Many people don’t turn it on until every square inch of space is filled, but I turn the dishwasher on every evening. It’s just too icky (technical term!) to think of dirty dishes hanging out in a sealed box overnight. If it’s not full, I just use the light setting.


Many dishwashers have several settings. The settings on mine include: ‘pots & pans’, normal, light/china, quick/glass, ‘rinse & hold’, sani-rinse, and an ‘energy saver dry’.

The pots and pans cycle is the longest running cycle for really tough jobs.

The sani-rinse is a very hot rinse useful for really killing germs. I use it if someone in the house has a cold or the flu.

‘Energy-saver’ means the heating element to dry the dishes is not activated, and the dishes will take longer to dry on their own.


Inevitably, once you start the dishwasher you always find another glass or plate or spoon that needs to be washed. Generally speaking, in the beginning, while the water is heating, you can open the dishwasher and add that dirty dish. Then re-push the start button. Many dishwashers will have an indicator of some kind to tell you what part of the cycle it’s in. Some even have a pause button. If it’s already in the wash cycle then it’s too late to open the door, and you may flood the kitchen if you do. Alas, you may have to wash that last item by hand!

On a final note, here’s some personal advice if someone you really care about loads the dishwasher for you, but does it incorrectly. The first time, say nothing, thank them and turn out the lights. You want to encourage them to pitch in and help right?

By the third time they do it “not quite the way you think it should be done”, gently offer suggestions — with reasons. No-one likes being criticized, but if you use it as a form of education “By the way, did you know WHY they say you should…….?” You may get away with both your goals: getting it done right and keeping your relationship strong!

Does anyone else have any advice (or questions) about using dishwashers?

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Quesadillas with Tomatoes and Olives

print recipe card posted in Lunch, Vegetarian by Kathy Maister

A quesadilla is a flour tortilla, filled with savory ingredients. You can fill a tortilla with lots of different fillings the same way you would choose lots of different fillings for a sandwich.

Cheese is very often one of the main ingredients. I’m using leftover Monterey Jack shredded cheese with scallions, black olives and sun-dried tomatoes.

Buy the 8 inch flour tortillas. The 12 inch are just too big to handle.

Lay one flour tortilla in a non-stick pan and top with 1/3 cup of cheese.

Wash one scallion (green onion). Cut off the hairy bit on the end. Cut the scallion into quarter-inch slices and sprinkle on the tortilla.

Chop the black olives and sprinkle on top of the scallions

Dice three sun-dried tomatoes and sprinkle them on top of the scallions.

Now sprinkle on the remaining 1/3 cup of cheese

And top with the second tortilla.

Set the pan on the stove top and turn the heat onto medium. (A brush of butter or oil on the tortilla does give it a nicely browned and crispy finish but, on very rare occasions, I do like to try and save a calorie or two!)

After about 1.5 minutes the tortilla should be lightly browned and the cheese is starting to melt. Flip the quesadilla over with a spatula.

Cook for about another minute on the flip side. Peek inside the quesadilla to make sure the cheese is all melted before removing it from the pan. You may need another minute or so. Slide the quesadilla out of the pan and onto a cutting board.

With a large kitchen knife cut the quesadilla into six slices.

Serve this quesadilla with some salad and you’ve got yourself a perfect lunch or light supper!


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