Friday, June 29, 2012

Homemade Pizza, Chicago-Style Deep Dish

June 24, 2012
  • Chicago-Style Deep Dish Pizza
  • Green Salad
  • Vella Merlot
  • Chocolate Chubbies with Mint Chocolate Chip Ice Cream

Pizza is the most versatile of convenience foods.  Pizza is eaten in restaurants. Pizza is taken from the freezer and reheated. Pizza is ordered for take out, either baked or ready to bake. Pizza is delivered to your door, ready to eat. Pizza is made at home with a pre-made crust (e.g. Boboli).  Pizza can even be made using an English muffin and microwave oven. Pizza, however, is not often made at home from scratch. In fact, I don't think I've ever eaten a homemade pizza. 

Well, it's time for that to change. After all, pizza is just bread, cheese, and tomato sauce and if you have been reading my blog you know I enjoy making my own bread.  Fortunately, America's Test Kitchen has recently published two recipes for pizza that  I want to try: one for Chicago-style deep-dish pizza and the other for a New York style thin-crust pizza. For this Sunday's dinner, Caryn and I had a homemade Chicago-style pizza. (Diane is out of town so it really was a dinner for two.)

The Cook's Illustrated recipe makes two 9-inch pizzas. With just the two of us to eat it, I halved the recipe for the dough. I would have halved the sauce recipe, too, but I could only find 28 ounce cans of crushed tomatoes at the supermarket and no 14 ounce cans. Rather than waste the extra tomatoes I made a full recipe for the sauce and will use the leftover sauce on pasta. The interesting challenge for the half recipe came when it was time to roll out the dough. In the original recipe the dough is rolled out to 15″x12. The dough is then buttered, rolled up from the short side, flattened, and cut in half. This process creates multiple layers of dough interspersed with butter, similar to a puff pastry dough, which creates a flaky crust. The best course thus seemed to be rolling it out to be roughly 7½x12, butter it, then roll it up from the long, 12 side. This gives you  roll of dough about the same size as what you would get with the two-pizza recipe and it seemed to work out fine.

Making this pizza took some time and effort especially when you compare it with most of the other pizza aquisition techniques. Making the dough combines techniques used to make bread with those used to make pastry. The sauce was straightforward, being based the Test Kitchen's recipe for Quick Tomato Sauce. (It takes just a little more time and effort than just opening a jar of spaghetti sauce, but if you have a few extra minutes it is worth the effort.) I may have reduced it a little more than called for in the recipe but having a thicker sauce should be OK. I used ½ pound of fresh mozzarella that I grated. The recipe also called for a few tablespoons of parmasan to be sprinked on top of the pizza but I just set aside a little mozzarella rather than buy parmesan when I needed only a small amount.

I had been concerned, seeing the photo published with the recipe, that there was too much sauce in this deep-dish pizza. I imagined every bite of pizza being dominated by an acidic tomato sauce. My concern fortunately turned out to be ill-founded. The amount of dough, sauce, and cheese was well balanced and the sauce is not at all acidic. I should have trimmed off some of the extra crust that overlapped the top of the pan but I liked eating the tender, flaky bread on its own so it wasn't all bad. I look forward to trying the Test Kitchen's recipe for thin-crust pizza to see how it compares with the Chicago-style deep dish version, in terms of both taste and the effort needed to make it.

Chocolate Chubbies from Serious Eats and a previous blog post

Chicago-Style Deep Dish Pizza, from Cook's Illustrated
Makes one 9-inch pizza

8⅛ ounces (1 ⅝ cups) unbleached all-purpose flour
1⅜ ounces (¼ cup) yellow corn meal
¾ teaspoons table salt
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon instant or rapid-rise yeast
5 ounces (⅝ cups) room temperature water
1½ tablespoons unsalted butter, melted, plus 2 tablespoons, softened
Olive oil

Sauce (makes enough for 2 pizzas, or for 1 pizza and some spaghetti)
2 tablespoon unsalted butter
¼ cup grated onion (about 1 medium onion)
1/4 teaspoon driecd oregano
Table salt
2 medium garlic cloves, minced or pressed through garlic press
1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes
¼ teaspoon sugar
2 tablespoons coarsely chopped fresh basil leaves
1 tablespoon olive oil
Ground black pepper

½ pound fresh mozzarella cheese, grated (about 2 cups)


  1. In the bowl of a stand mixer, add flour, cornmeal, salt, sugar, and yeast and stir them with a hand whisk until combined.
  2. Add water and melted butter and stir for about a minute on low speed using the dough hook until incorporated.
  3. Increase speed to medium and knead for 4-5 minutes. The dough should pull away from the sides of the bowl and be glossy and smooth.
  4. Transfer the dough to a medium bowl which has been coated with olive oil. Turn the dough to coat all sides then cover the bowl and let the dough rise at room temperature until doubled, about 45 minutes.
  5. While the dough rises, make the tomato sauce. In a medium sauce pan, melt butter.
  6. Add grated onion, oregano, ½ teaspoon salt and cook with occasional stirring to evaporate the liquid and lightly brown the onions, about 5 minutes.
  7. Add garlic and cook for 30 seconds until fragrant.
  8. Add the tomatoes and sugar and bring the sauce to a simmer over high heat. (Note: it will splatter and make a mess unless you pay attention and stir.) Lower the heat to maintain the simmer and cook for about 30 minutes until the sauce is reduced to 2½ cups.
  9. Off heat, stir in basil and olive oil and season to taste with salt and pepper.
  10. The next step for the dough is to laminate it with butter. Turn the risen dough onto a dry work surface (the dough shouldn't be sticky and you won't need to add additional flour) and roll it into a rectangle,  7½x12 (yes, use a ruler).
  11. Spread softened butter on the dough leaving a ½ margin along all four edges.
  12. Starting on the long side, roll the dough into cylinder then flatten it into a rectangle approximately 9x4″.
  13. Fold it into thirds (like you would a business letter), pinch the seams closed, and form the dough into a ball.
  14. Place the dough ball into your bowl, cover, and let it rise in the refrigerator for 45 minutes until nearly doubled. 
  15. Preheat the oven to 425° with a rack in the lowest position.
  16. After rising, roll out the dough into a 12 circle.
  17. Coat a 9-inch round cake pan with 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Transfer the dough into the pan, gently pressing it into the corners. Optional: trim the dough so it rises about 1 up the sides of the pan.
  18. Reserve 2 tablespoons of the shredded mozzarella and add the rest to the pan, about 2 cups.
  19. Add 1¼ cups of tomato sauce and sprinkle the reserved cheese on top.
  20. Bake 20-30 minutes until the crust is golden brown. Let rest for 10 minutes before serving.

Friday, June 22, 2012

A Dinner for Dad

June 17, 2012

  • Ham and Swiss on Dark Rye
  • Potato Chips
  • Watermelon
  • Cherries
  • Sangria
  • Strawberries with Angel Food

A little over a week before Father's Day I received a gift. Maybe I should have recognized it as a hint, though I don't know if a connection between this gift and my Father's Day Dinner was intended. A large box was waiting for me when I got home from work. The address label showed it was from Harry and David for Father's Day. I wasn't going top open it until the big day arrived but Diane told me I should. (And I hadn't seen the "Open Immediately" notice on the side of the box.) Inside was a basked of fruit. Their wasn't a lot of fruit but it was packed on (not really in) a nice little wicker picnic basket.

As Father's Day approached, I started thinking about what I would fix for Sunday dinner, as I usually do during the course of the week. I've been thinking of making pizza from scratch, which I've never done, or maybe grilled pork chops, or glazed salmon, or pulled-chicken sandwiches. There are so many tempting things to choose from! My ruminations were brought to a halt, however, when Diane gently hinted that she and our daughter, Caryn, were making plans for Sunday and I would not need to cook. I welcomed the chance to take a day off and have them prepare food for me. I give Diane one day off from preparing dinner every week, which I know she appreciates.  I'm sure she would welcome additional days off from cooking.

Since I enjoy surprises, I didn't know, and didn't want to know, what they had in mind. (Around Christmas time you will never find me snooping, knowing what would be under the tree takes all the fun away.) The first hint came Sunday around noon. I was on Skype, talking to my father and other members of my family who had gathered to honor him and the other dads. Caryn and Diane went to the kitchen and food started to be packed into a cooler and that picnic basket. How nice, I love picnics! Good, simple food eaten outdoors in an informal and relaxed setting. But where were we going? I was thinking maybe one of the local city parks. That guess was proven wrong shortly after we started driving and headed out of town. Driving south on the freeway towards Santa Cruz, we exited short of the beaches (another incorrect guess) and headed into the mountains. The closer we got the more certain I became that our destination was Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park. Visiting the redwoods and walking in the cool shade of such awe-inspiring trees is always special. The picnic area was busy but not crowded and we had no trouble finding a place to park the car and a place to park ourselves.

Dinner was simple and very good. No cooking was involved. There was a lot of fresh fruit, wine, sandwiches, and chips. We sat underneath the trees and enjoyed our delightfully simple meal, then relaxed for a while, each of us with a book to read. After a few hours we headed over to the visitor center and the peaceful Redwood Grove Loop Trail through old-growth redwoods. What a nice way to spend the day!

Thursday, June 14, 2012

A taste of Central New York

June 10, 2012
Cornell chicken
Salt potatoes
Grilled sweet corn

I grew up in Central New York (the state, not the city) which, like every other part of the country, has its own culinary traditions. I only really learned this after I moved away. Growing up, I took what I ate for granted, it didn't occur to me that many of the dishes I was used to were not available elsewhere. I had to move to learn that many of my childhood favorites are unknown and unavailable in other parts of the country. Moving provided an opportunity for me to broaden my culinary horizons, but I still missed some of the foods of my childhood. By having them for dinner I was able to introduce these regional dishes to my California family, and to Caryn's boyfriend from Santa Cruz, Alex.

Cornell Chicken was named after the Ivy League University in Ithaca, New York, where the recipe was developed by Professor Robert C. Baker. I only learned about this staple of CNY cookouts and the NY State Fair a few years ago,  I don't remember it from my own childhood. I used the recipe published recently at Food Wishes. It is close to the original from Cornell and simpler than the recipe published by Cook's Country. I purchased a nice organic chicken at Whole Foods for $3.99/lb. I had the butcher halve the chicken  and I removed the backbone at home. Because the chicken weighed over four pounds I also separated the thighs/legs from the breasts and removed the wings in order to reduce the cooking time. I halved the ingredients from the Food Wishes recipe – vinegar, oil, salt, pepper, egg, and poultry seasoning – except for the egg and combined them in a blender.  This is a thin, white, vinegary sauce, nothing like what most people think of as barbecue sauce. I used about half of the sauce to marinade the chicken for about 100 minutes.  Dr. Baker's original recipe does not marinate the chicken; Food Wishes  suggests that an even longer time marinating improves the flavor. I cooked the chicken on the gas grill over low heat with the cover closed. Every five minutes I applied sauce to the meat and flipped it. After 45 minutes I checked the temperature and the meat was already done, overdone if anything. I should have started checking the temperature sooner. That being said, it was still pretty good. The dark meat that I chose was juicy and flavorful with a crisp well-seasoned skin. Diane had white meat and said it was a little dry. I will probably want to try the Cook's Country recipe next. I've only taken a quick look but it uses a thicker version of the sauce that won't run off the chicken so readily and employs fresh herbs rather than dried. It looks like it takes a little more work but it's worth trying.

Unlike Cornell Chicken, salt potatoes were a regular at our family barbecues. They're so easy to fix and so delicious that it's hard to understand why they are not known outside of CNY where you can buy bags of potatoes packaged with a big packet of salt. The best resource I found for how to cook these (and some interesting history, too) came from Wikipedia, of all places. The process is dirt simple. Boil potatoes in brine made from salt and water. You don't use big ole russets for this but small, bite-sized potatoes, according to the Wikipedia article "Size B Grade US No. 2". These are usually available only some of the time (and in some places, like CNY) but you can usually find a reasonable substitute. I purchased German Butter Potatoes at Whole Foods and while the result was not quite the same it was still very good. I had almost three pounds of potatoes which were cooked in 12 cups of water that had been brought to a boil with 2 cups of salt. Brine boils at a higher temperature than water resulting in very creamy  potatoes. The brine also coats the potatoes with a thin layer of salt. The potatoes were served, as is tradition, with bowls of melted butter on the side. You simply dip the potatoes into the warm butter and pop them into your mouth.

The remaining two parts of this meal are not particular to Central New York. White corn from California (though we don't have local corn yet) was husked and put on the grill. Grilling imparts a different flavor – sweet, still, but also a little smoky – than microwaving, our usual method and it imparts a slightly chewy texture. For a beverage we had homemade lemonade.  Diane, remembering that we had some lemons in the fridge, juiced four lemons producing about ⅓ cup of juice. This was combined with ⅓ cup of bottled lemon juice and ⅔ cups of sugar in a two liter pitcher. Ice and water were added to fill the pitcher. The resulting juice was fresh and well balanced, neither too sweet nor too sour, and it was much better than any store-bought juice. For Caryn we bought some fake chicken (Smart Tenders Savory Chick'n) which only needed to be heated, not cooked, and this took but a few minutes on the grill. She tried it with some of the Cornell sauce but preferred Bull's-Eye Original that we almost always have on hand.

The Internet is great! Not only do I get to write this blog (notice I didn't say the Internet is great because you get to read my blog) but I can go on-line and buy some of the endemic CNY foods that I can't get in California. Why, I can even get Grandma Brown's Baked Beans from Amazon. My mom always sprinkled brown sugar on top and baked these beans in the oven producing a sweet crunchy crust.

Cornell Chicken from Food Wishes
Salt Potatoes from Wikipedia

BLT salad is just no good left over. Diane and I both had it for lunch on Monday. Even though the croutons were seperate and so still crisp, it just wasn't worth saving. Later in the week, though, Diane made a better version of the salad than mine. She made smaller croutons with a better mix of greens, tomatoes, and dressing.
One of the best features of homemade, no-knead bread is the crisp crust. Usually we store what is left over in a plastic bag. It keeps well but the crust is no longer crispy when it is stored this way. So we tried storing it on a cutting board, cut side down. It was a few days until we ate it and while still edible it had dried out some and lost some of its flavor. The crust was crispy but this method is probably only good if you'll be eating the bread the next day.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Inspirations for a menu

June 3, 2012

  • BLT Salad with Buttermilk Dressing
  • Almost No-knead Sourdough Bread
  • Vella Chardonnay

Many factors contribute to the creation of a menu. As the last few weeks have shown, the amount of time available for cooking is an important factor. Some weekends are free from commitments and there is more time to spend preparing food. Others are jammed full of activities and commitments and you need to minimize time spent shopping and cooking. The time of year is a factor, too, with winter being suited to heavier meals (soups, stews, braised meats) and summers to lighter fare (pasta, salads, grilled meats). The tastes of the people you're serving, the ingredients that are available and fresh, your kitchen skills, tools available, your culinary history, and many more factors can play a role in your decisions for what to eat on any particular day.

This was a busy weekend with a concert on Friday night (The Beach Boys 50th Anniversary Tour – a great show!) in Berkeley and a Giants game in San Francisco on Saturday. Combine that with the need to repair our broken bed (we've temporarily moved to the futon in Caleb's room while our bed is down for maintenance) and the usual weekend activities, and this had to be a simple meal. The menu was inspired by a  Whole Foods recipe for BLT Pasta Salad. I didn't use this recipe, largely because pasta seems such a strange ingredient for this salad (who puts pasta in a BLT sandwich?), but it did inspire me to dig out another BLT Salad recipe that I had made before. Salad and bread are always a good combination and I had come across a suggestion for substituting sourdough starter for yeast and I wanted to give it a try.

I usually follow recipes closely, but for this BLT Salad I just used the recipe as a guide. (As some people suggest you should always do.) Caryn was not home for dinner (I would have served the bacon on the side if she was with us) so I roughly halved the amounts called for in the recipe. I used Earthbound Farm Spring Mix for the greens, because we had them, but I think the prescribed romaine hearts would have been a better. As directed by the recipe, I first made the dressing (buttermilk, mayonnaise, vinegar, salt, pepper) in a bowl then added the other ingredients and tossed them. The salad could have used more bacon and smaller croutons. I made the croutons from a loaf of supermarket french bread which toasted up nicely in the oven. We thought the tomato quantity was small, too, until we discovered them hiding under the lettuce at the bottom of the bowl. Whether they were just shy or fearful of their fate, we couldn't tell.

The bread was inspired by an article I found when searching for no-knead sourdough bread recipes. It suggests that you can substitute ¼ cup of sourdough starter for ¼ teaspoon yeast. This is seems a very convenient suggestion.  To see how well it works, on Saturday morning before the Giants game I took the starter out of the refrigerator, where it had been sitting for several months, stirred it up, and fed it. When we got back home that evening it had expanded and was nice and bubbly. To test the substitution, I used the recipe I am most familiar with, the Cook's Illustrated Almost No-Knead Bread. The dough rose nicely overnight but I found it to be very wet and had to add quite a bit of flour to do the small amount of kneading called for in the recipe. Even with the extra flout, the dough was still pretty wet and it spread out more than it rose during the second rising. However, the baked bread was reasonably light and definitely had a tangier flavor than the bread made with yeast. Because the flavor was so good I plan to try this again to see if I get the same result. If the dough is still too wet then I will reduce the amount of water to compensate for the extra liquid provided by the starter.

This was a simple meal with a menu inspired by circumstances, season, and through reading about what others have done with food. The meal was relatively quick to prepare and suitable for warm weather. I saw a BLT salad recipe on the Facebook page for Whole Foods which reminded me of another BLT salad recipe we had enjoyed previously. I hadn't made sourdough bread in a while so went searching for a no-knead recipe which I could make in the time available. The no-knead method for making bread doesn't require much time from the cook. In the end it all came together and we had an enjoyable meal.

BLT Salad with Buttermilk Dressing from Steamy Kitchen
Almost No-Knead Bread from Cook's Illustrated
Some America's Test Kitchen recipes require registration before they can be viewed on-line. You may be able to find these recipes on other web sites.

Kitchen Tip
Bacon is great, but the mess it leaves behind is not. A convenient way to clean up the grease is to put several paper towels in the pan while the grease is still liquid. When it cools off and solidifies remove the paper towels and discard them. I find this to be easier than finding a container to pour the liquid grease into or wiping out the solid grease later.

Leftover fajitas were easily prepared by re-heating the meat and vegetables in the microwave then serving them with the condiments and tortillas. They're not quite as good as when fresh, the vegetables in particular lose some of their flavor and texture, but this is still a good weekday meal. I like to take use the extra tortillas to make peanut butter burritos: just spread a tortilla with peanut butter, roll it up, and enjoy.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Read the recipe all the way through, in advance

May 26, 2012

  • Fajitas
  • White corn
  • Refried beans (vegetarian)
  • Sangria
  • Banana pudding

For the second week in a row I cooked on Saturday instead of Sunday and a baseball game was again partly responsible. Every Memorial Day weekend the power is shut off at IBM Research -- Almaden, where I work so the Facilities folks can do maintenance. When the power comes back on I need to go to work and power up some servers so Researchers can resume their calculations. While power was planned to back at 5 PM Sunday, it is not unusual for it to be ready either earlier or later, depending on the progress of the maintenance work. We had tickets for the Giants game on Monday and I planned to go with Diane but Caryn was standing by in case I needed to work on Monday. To allow me the maximum flexibility to go into the lab on Sunday to complete the work, I decided to cook on Saturday.

As we had some plans for Saturday, too, I wanted a fairly simple meal. Recently, Dr. Dan had published a simple recipe for Beef Steak Fajitas on his blog, 101 Cooking for Two. Not only could the fajitas be prepared without spending a lot of time in the kitchen, the recipe was easily adapted to provide food for vegetarian and omnivores alike. The filling  consisted of sirloin steak (I purchased a 1.2 pound "Top Sirloin Steak"), peppers and onions, plus condiments. I made the mistake of not carefully reading the recipe in advance so I missed the part about marinating the meat. The recipe calls for at least a 1-hour marinade but overnight is preferred. I ended up marinating the steak for only an hour due to my lack of planning. The marinade added good flavor to the steak and perhaps helped keep it tender. I had been concerned the fried steak would be tough but this turned out not to be the case as it was nice and tender. The recipe called for 1 onion, 1 green pepper, and 1 red pepper. Since Caryn would be having no meat with her fajitas, I added another pepper, choosing yellow for the color, and another onion. These were fried in some oil and were served alongside the tortillas, steak, and condiments.The fajitas were assembled at the table. For condiments we had tomato, avocado, sour cream, mango salsa, and tomato salsa. The salsas were fresh, purchased at the supermarket.

The side dishes all came from the supermarket: vegetarian refried beans and fresh (more or less) white corn, both of which were cooked in the microwave. I considered other options, making refried beans from scratch and grilling the corn, but in the end I used the time-saving microwave oven. I remember a time before every home kitchen had a microwave oven. There was a time when they were so rare that only a few restaurants had them. In my home town there was a restaurant called "The Electronic Kitchen" because it used microwave ovens. I never ate there and the building has been a Vet's office for many years.

I made banana pudding on Saturday afternoon but, again because I hadn't read the recipe all the way through in advance, it wasn't ready to eat until Sunday. The recipe calls for 7 large bananas, 8 egg yolks, 6 cups of half-and-half, half a box of vanilla wafers, among other ingredients, and it is serves 12. Even after halving the recipe we ended up with a tremendous amount of pudding. The instructions also call for using a "3-quart trifle dish". Maybe you have a collection of trifle dishes, but we do not, so I used a 2-quart glass casserole. This may have affected the end result as this wider, shallower bowl led to me using more than half a box of vanilla wafers.  Like most puddings, this one is pretty easy to make as you combine most of the ingredients on the stove and heat until boiling, with constant stirring. The pudding is assembled in layers, alternating pudding with layers of sliced banana and the cookies. It then sits in the refrigerator for at least 8 hours so the wafers soften. While the pudding has a good banana flavor I doubt I'll be making it again. Even halved it makes way too much even for three of us. The softened cookies lead to a pudding that is less smooth, less creamy than most and you lose the crispness which is one of the appeals of these wafers.

The weekend plans worked out well. I went to work after Sunday supper and was there from 6 to 10 PM bringing up computers. With a little coaxing and a little patience they all came back up. Diane and I enjoyed a day in the sun watching the Giants play the Diamondbacks at AT&T Park. The USS Nimitz was anchored in the Bay beyond the right field wall, an appropriate reminder of what Memorial Day is all about.

Beef Steak Fajitas from 101 Cooking For Two
Banana Pudding from Cook's Country
Some America's Test Kitchen recipes require registration before they can be viewed on-line. You may be able to find these recipes on other web sites.

Last week's Pasta Caprese was reheated in the microwave. It made a good meal again but not as good as the original. The cheese, which was in nice, firm pieces, originally, melted into a bit of a gooey mess in the microwave. It didn't taste as fresh and the texture was certainly not as pleasant as in the original.