Recipes and Cooking

Recipes and CookingWTEIKC | 18 Jan 2010 01:14 pm

Homemade Chicago style deep-dish pizzaAmong the so-called Chicago style pizzerias in the KC area I have tried lately, I have been pretty underwhelmed. And that is after having read a fair amount online (starting with the usual places like LTH and Chowhound) and asking around for advice on where to get authentic Chicago style pizza here. One restaurant in Lenexa with all kinds of glowing reviews – and it’s worth noting that most of these are pretty far outside the urban core – doesn’t even do deep dish pizza, which makes me wonder why they even bother to use the name Chicago in their advertising.

I have one or two more places to try, but at this point I’m not very optimistic. One friend insisted I try The Dish in Liberty. The slick look of the website makes me wonder if it’s a chain – I can’t tell, but I will still try it. (Did you see the two pictures of the chef on there? Same body, slightly different heads – creepy!) Anyway, this is exactly the kind of desperation that leads me to figure out how to make something for myself, if I cannot find anyone else in town who will.

So after some research and a few nights’ worth of experimentation, I have come up with a method for cooking deep-dish pizza at home that is so satisfying I am now even less interested in whether it is made commercially in KC.

What follows is not a complete recipe for the pie I make, but more of a rubric for the baking technique. While there are countless variations on deep-dish pizza in terms of toppings and type of sauce, there are a few parts of the assembly and baking process that need to be strictly observed if you’re trying to make it at home. The main obstacle to making good pizza of any style at home is the oven, since most domestic ovens don’t get much hotter than 500°F, which itself is an awkward temperature for baking pizza. You have to use a crust recipe and a baking temperature that will give you about the same result as baking a pie in an industrial stack oven that heats evenly at 700-900°F, like the one at your local pizzeria.

Since you will be baking a pie with lots of moisture-rich ingredients in a deep dish with no air holes in the bottom (as is sometimes done with thin crust pizza), you need to bake it on top of something that retains a lot of heat; otherwise, the bottom of the crust will not cook fully and will come out soggy instead of brown and crisp. To create this heat sink, I stack two ordinary, round pizza stones on top of each other. But you don’t need anything fancy; a cheap 1-2” thick landscaping stone works perfectly. Whatever you use, place it on a rack positioned about 2/3 of the way down inside the oven, and preheat the oven and the stone an hour ahead of the time you start baking.

For a crust that will fill a 9” baking dish, you will need:
• 1 3/4 cups high-gluten flour
• 1 teaspoon table salt
• 3/4 cup water at 110°F
• 2 teaspoons (one packet) active dry yeast
• 1/4 teaspoon granulated sugar
• 1 tablespoon olive oil
• 3 tablespoons butter, softened

Combine the flour and salt, and set aside.

Dissolve the yeast and sugar into the warm water and let stand 5-7 minutes until a fair amount of foam has formed on the top. Then pour into a mixing bowl with the olive oil.

Using a wire whisk, stir the water and oil briskly while adding half the flour mixture in very small amounts, to ensure everything combines evenly. Then add the remaining half of the flour and gently fold into the dough with a spatula. When all of the flour has at least been moistened, use your hands to continue mixing everything, and then knead the dough for about 3 minutes. Roll the dough into a ball and brush very lightly with olive oil, cover with a bowl, and allow the dough to rise at room temperature for about 40-60 minutes.

Gently punch the dough ball down with your hands, and use a rolling pin to flatten it into a rectangular shape. Use an icing spatula to spread the softened butter evenly on top of the dough. (This technique is called laminating the dough, and it helps to produce a more crispy, flaky crust.) Then, starting at a narrow end on the rectangle, roll up the dough and then gently reform that elongated shape back into a ball. Don’t worry that it will not stick to itself due to all of the buttery surfaces. Recover and allow the dough to rise again at room temperature for another 30 minutes.

Using just your hands, punch the dough down and gently press it into a circle with the tips of your fingers until the diameter is about 13”.

Grease the 9” baking dish and place the dough circle inside, making sure not to trap any air bubbles underneath. Use your hands to work the dough up the sides of the dish until it is even with the rim.

Assemble the pizza by layering the toppings in this order: Mozzarella cheese (grated or sliced), sauce, meat, vegetables, grated Romano cheese.

Place the pizza into the oven that has preheated at 500°F for one hour. Close the oven and reduce heat to 425°F. Bake for about 30 minutes or until about 1/3 of the Romano cheese has browned.

Remove the pizza from the oven and let it stand for about 3 minutes. Then gently use a plastic spatula to lift the pizza out of the pan and onto a cutting board. Slice and serve immediately.

Recipes and CookingWTEIKC | 09 Jan 2009 07:10 pm

A few weeks ago a foodie-guru friend gave me a great idea for a variation on spinach salad. Basically, it’s a bed of baby spinach, slices of cooked (chilled) beets, orange slices, and pomegranate seeds. I made a light vinaigrette but used it sparingly. Beets are one of the few things I generally cannot stand, but I think I have a new appreciation for them.

Recipes and CookingWTEIKC | 29 Nov 2008 02:20 pm

Have you noticed that people just love to rave about the free-range, organic, Birkenstock-wearing, carbon-neutral bird they acquired from the local co-op (and for which they proudly took out a home equity loan)? Makes you want to just poke’em in the eye.

Despite the admitted health and flavor benefits, none of that haughty environmentalism counts for much if the bird isn’t prepared right. I get rave reviews every Thanksgiving about my roast turkey; “My mom/grandma/aunt/bookie never did it so well!” is a pretty common response. As much as I’d like to ride that ego trip and take all the credit, I think my own success is owed more to 1) years of experience (i.e., royally screwing it up a few times and learning the hard way), and I think more importantly, 2) finding a recipe that emphasizes technique over ingredients (in this case). One I’ve adopted over the last few years (and probably tweaked a little by now) is Alton Brown’s Good Eats Roast Turkey. As of this writing, the link to the now years-old recipe is still live, and there are also video excerpts of the show, wherein Brown breaks down some of the most crucial moments of the whole roasting process.

For instance, don’t listen to naysayers on the topic of brining. It’s easy and doesn’t require expensive ingredients or apparatus (anything beyond salt and brown sugar is just gravy…so to speak). I use a $5 plastic wastebasket for this task, and set it out in a cold garage overnight (tightly covered, of course).

A lot of people are afraid of basting, too, and so go the easy route of cooking the bird in a covered roasting pan for the full length of the oven time. This only steams the bird and, as the venerable Rombauers wrote long ago, doesn’t do much for flavor. The trick to basting is just making the effort to do it. So get yourself a cheap, loud timer and learn to obey it. After the first 90 minutes of roasting (during which the oven is not opened at all), I baste every 30 minutes until done. That’s it. I used to baste every 15 minutes, but that results in more time the oven is open, and the skin doesn’t quite get that classic, deep roasted appearance. The ONLY covering over the turkey is the thick piece of foil over the breast which Alton Brown suggests. During roasting, the foil is removed for basting and then quickly replaced.

Finally, you can’t get by without a good thermometer. I think this is what separates my bird from the one cooked by your grandma – God love her – until it had the texture of shredded wheat and it tasted like sand. Overcooking has to be the commonest blunder in turkey roasting, but it’s also the most preventable.

So let’s look at this from a toolbox perspective. If you screwed up the Thanksgiving turkey and want a do-over for Christmahaunakwansikah, you will need:

  • A medium to large sized plastic trash can (sans the swingy-lid) for brining. It should have a flat, level opening, so you can cover it with plastic wrap and then a heavy board while it sits out in the cold garage.
  • An instant-read meat thermometer
  • A turkey baster – using a spoon to baste is just asking for trouble
  • A heavy roasting pan with a lid (only use the lid after roasting, for when the bird has to rest about 10 min. before carving)
  • A sturdy, flat rack to set in the bottom of the pan, just to provide even a half inch of ‘breathing room’
  • A pair of substantial, take-no-prisoners oven mitts
  • A very sharp chef’s knife (or carving knife, whichever you prefer) and a meat fork
  • An annoyingly loud kitchen timer that will make you feel guilty if you don’t come when it calls

If you’re headed to the department store now to buy any of these things, remember: You will only have to buy them once and most of the items are not very expensive. But having the right tools makes the job so much easier that you will wonder why you were so scared to roast a turkey in the first place.

Just a further note on Alton’s recipe, a friend in San Francisco tried it for the first time this year, and he said the apple in the aromatic stuffing made for tasty pickings after dinner. I have not tried this and might not recommend it for the same reasons that cooking stuffing inside the bird cavity has fallen out of vogue. But if you decide to live dangerously, it may be a nice treat. I did include the aromatics with the carcass for making stock afterward.

Recipes and CookingWTEIKC | 07 Aug 2008 02:43 pm

A yearning for a good backyard burger also led to the creation of some pretty decent home fries. A friend had recently given me some farm-fresh red potatoes, which worked out pretty well.

The really cool thing about this meal is that both the potatoes and grass-fed beef were locally grown/raised products.

Recipes and CookingWTEIKC | 31 Mar 2008 03:14 pm

Whilst researching pizza sauce recipes, I came across this very practical version with some interesting commentary.

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