speaking of pizza
One of the other posters mentioned Trader Joe's. I've been making pizza dough for 10+ years and I think TJ's 99 cent ball of dough is fantastic. Gotta be careful though...after you roll it out make sure you prick it with a fork all over or it will blow up on a hot pizze stone it will rise so high.
I still make my own sauce and cheese blend and then put toppings on to suit my crowd, but for the crust, if I don't want the time and hassle of making a batch myself, the TJ's serves as a great alternative
A few interesting things to try
Texas Ranch Pizza
Ranch dressing "sauce", shredded monterey jack cheese, and grilled chicken can use leftover fajita chicken.
garlic olive oil, feta cheese kalamata olives roasted red peppers and basil
BBQ chicken pizza
Your favorite bbq sauce, grilled chicken with cajun spice, carmelized onions, and mozzarella
garlic oil, Carmelized onions, rosemary, Chevre cheese, and chicken marinated in jerk spices and oil and then grilled.
I always use a pizza stone, but I never use a cooked sauce. I always use crushed Italian tomatoes, straight from the can. I use fresh mozarella, although you realy should use cheese that is a day or two old, as the fresh can be too wet. I also sprinkle torn fresh basil, grated Pecorino Romano and EVOO on top when I pull it from the oven. I usually make any basic pizza dough, I'm sorry I can't find my recipe at this time (it was taken from a Wolfgang Puck book wink,wink)
I make the dough from Crust & Crumb's Pizza Dough I recipe. Double the recipe; mix, knead, and first rise happens in the bread machine. Then I cut it into portions, wrap them, and freeze for later (even months later).
After defrosting and letting a piece have a second rise, I "smear" it onto oiled parchment paper (I like it thin as possible), put on the toppings, and it goes onto a pizza stone to cook (but I don't think the stone's a crucial step).
All-in-all, it's way less intimidating than it sounds. Lately, my favorite has been combinations of bleu-ish cheeses and figs, with and without caramelized onions.
Not sure if you are blessed w/ a nearby Trader Joe's, but I get all my pizza fixings from them. I usually make classic pizza margherita:
Basic Pizza Dough (~$1)
Pomi marinara sauce ($2+)
Fresh basil (I think about $2)
Part-skim mozzarella (brand is North Beach, I believe; I buy the whole ball since I like to shred myself, don't remember price)
If you want meat: spicy Italian sausage ($2+)
I have noticed dif. in their dough by region though. For instance, the ones in LA always seemed very fresh and proofed well at home. I could make 2 thin-crust, medium-size pizzas. Whereas the dough here in Santa Cruz seems more dense, doesn't proof as well, and results in 1 medium crust and size pizza. Still good though.
If you want fresher dough, I have asked pizza places to sell me a dough ball. Most oblige and charge $1-2. I don't like to spend time making dough at home.
I bake my pizza on a pre-heated pizza stone (a cheapy one that has lasted for 5+ years) in the lower third of the oven. Crank your oven to the max. It usually takes about 10-15 min. for the crust to get crisp-golden and for the cheese to bubble. Take the pizza and stone out together and let rest on the stone for 10 min. for the crust to crisp further.
The boyfriend and I just made pizza for the first time this past weekend, we thought making our own dough would be a hassle but it actually was very, very easy. We used a simple marinara and cooked it on a pizza stone. After having done it once I would never think to by store bought dough, it's just not worth buying, it's that simple to make at home.
Sure it's simple to make pizza dough, but it is a leetle messy and somewhat time-consuming, especially in the plan-ahead sense. And, it can actually go wrong at home, and ramping up to double or quadruple if you invite people over turns out to be much more kneady than you realized.
I'm not knocking making your own dough, but instead I'm encouraging a variety of alternatives for flexibility. Also, if you want to make at home, bread machines do a serviceable job, and you can keep dough in the fridge for days, though the rising properties will change.
Many supermarkets and pizzerias sell dough ready-made and cheap, and you can buy it on your way home from work, along with some combination of a can of crushed tomatoes, mozzarella, provolone, parmesan, basil, pesto, olive oil (on top of the pizza, not on the crust) and there you have it, fresh pizza tonight.
I like making it in the toaster oven, believe it or not. Spread it thin and cook the dough a bit first, then add stuff and put it back in. Small, ok, so cook a second one while eating the first.
Listen as well to the advice of others if you are in pursuit of the perfect pizza; I'm content with pizza that comes out different every time, but uses a few great ingredients that would taste good to me raw.
I make my own pizza dough; it's very easy to do. I don't think sauce is passe, but it depends on the style of pizza you want. Heavy sauces just don't do well on thin crust pizza, which is what I make and prefer. For example, if I want pizza margherita, I make a simple and quick homemade tomato sauce using canned tomatoes and spread it VERY thinly on the pizza, then into the oven it goes. When it is almost done, I add coins of fresh mozzarella and basil leaves. Sometimes a little sprinkling of parmesan. My other favorite doesn't have a sauce, just caramelized onions, blue cheese and walnuts.
I do use a very inexpensive pizza stone that I got at a restaurant supply shop for about $10--same stuff you get at fancy cookware places for a lot more. You must preheat the stone at your oven's highest heat for about 30 minutes in order to get a crispy crust.
How do you keep the pizza stone from cracking? I've purchased several--from a fancy cookware place and they all crack. I follow directions totally and they still crack. Thought about using a tile (like Alton Brown recs) but haven't been able to find one in our area. What's your secret?
Gosh, I don't have a secret. I've never had a problem with my pizza stone cracking, and I leave it on the floor of my gas oven 24/7. I got my stone at Surfas in L.A. (Great store to visit if you live in LA--when I lived there I got almost all of my cooking supplies from them.) Surfas has a website -- www.surfasonline.com -- but note that the price has gone up to $28 -- I know I paid way under $20 for mine but it was a long time ago, at least 4 or 5 years and maybe up to 7 years ago.