October 29, 2008

Daring Bakers: Pizza

This month's Daring Bakers challenge was chosen by Rosa of Rosa's Yummy Yums. I was, as usual, excited about the recipe...pizza! I'd yet to make my own dough. But, once again (*sigh*) I waited until the last minute and made the pizzas last night.


Several weeks ago, Jerad and I had a pizza throwdown using dough from Trader Joe's. I made my pizza first, but his was much better since he learned from my mistakes. Since I had to make pizza for the Daring Bakers, I challenged Jerad to a Pizza Throwdown 2.0. This time, I made him go first.

I think both pizzas were very good, so we're calling this pizza throwndown a toss-up! (Get it?) The dough was easy and so tasty! It was much less challenging that I expected. The most difficult part is planning ahead!

I went puttanesca style, topping my pizza with tomato & anchovy sauce (with red pepper flakes), caramelized onions, kalamata olives, capers, & parsley.

I then added fresh mozzarella slices & shredded mozzarella.

Jerad topped his with onions, pepperoni, mushrooms, & provel cheese.


Original recipe taken from “The Bread Baker’s Apprentice”
by Peter Reinhart.

Makes 6 pizza crusts (about 9-12 inches in diameter).

4 1/2 cups unbleached bread flour or all purpose flour, chilled
1 3/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon instant yeast
1/4 cup olive oil
1 3/4 cups water, ice cold
1 tablespoon sugar
Semolina/durum flour or cornmeal for dusting


1. Mix together the flour, salt and instant yeast in a big bowl (or in the bowl of your stand mixer).

2. Add the oil, sugar and cold water and mix well (with the help of a large wooden spoon or with the paddle attachment, on low speed) in order to form a sticky ball of dough. On a clean surface, knead for about 5-7 minutes, until the dough is smooth and the ingredients are homogeneously distributed. If it is too wet, add a little flour (not too much, though) and if it is too dry add 1 or 2 teaspoons extra water.

NOTE: If you are using an electric mixer, switch to the dough hook and mix on medium speed for the same amount of time.The dough should clear the sides of the bowl but stick to the bottom of the bowl. If the dough is too wet, sprinkle in a little more flour, so that it clears the sides. If, on the contrary, it clears the bottom of the bowl, dribble in a teaspoon or two of cold water.
The finished dough should be springy, elastic, and sticky, not just tacky, and register 50°-55° F.


3. Flour a work surface or counter. Line a jelly pan with baking paper/parchment. Lightly oil the paper.

4. With the help of a metal or plastic dough scraper, cut the dough into 6 equal pieces (or larger if you want to make larger pizzas).

NOTE: To avoid the dough from sticking to the scraper, dip the scraper into water between cuts.

5. Sprinkle some flour over the dough. Make sure your hands are dry and then flour them. Gently round each piece into a ball.

NOTE: If the dough sticks to your hands, then dip your hands into the flour again.

Dough before rising.

6. Transfer the dough balls to the lined jelly pan and mist them generously with spray oil. Slip the pan into plastic bag or enclose in plastic food wrap.

7. Put the pan into the refrigerator and let the dough rest overnight or for up to three days.

NOTE: You can store the dough balls in a zippered freezer bag if you want to save some of the dough for any future baking. In that case, pour some oil(a few tablespoons only) in a medium bowl and dip each dough ball into the oil, so that it is completely covered in oil. Then put each ball into a separate bag. Store the bags in the freezer for no longer than 3 months. The day before you plan to make pizza, remember to transfer the dough balls from the freezer to the refrigerator.

Dough after rising.


8. On the day you plan to eat pizza, exactly 2 hours before you make it, remove the desired number of dough balls from the refrigerator. Dust the counter with flour and spray lightly with oil. Place the dough balls on a floured surface and sprinkle them with flour. Dust your hands with flour and delicately press the dough into disks about 1/2 inch thick and 5 inches in diameter. Sprinkle with flour and mist with oil. Loosely cover the dough rounds with plastic wrap and then allow to rest for 2 hours.

9. At least 45 minutes before making the pizza, place a baking stone on the lower third of the oven. Preheat the oven as hot as possible (500° F/260° C).

NOTE: If you do not have a baking stone, then use the back of a jelly pan. Do not preheat the pan.

10. Generously sprinkle the back of a jelly pan with semolina/durum flour or cornmeal. Flour your hands (palms, backs and knuckles). Take 1 piece of dough by lifting it with a pastry scraper. Lay the dough across your fists in a very delicate way and carefully stretch it by bouncing it in a circular motion on your hands, and by giving it a little stretch with each bounce. Once the dough has expanded outward, move to a full toss.

NOTE: Make only one pizza at a time. During the tossing process, if the dough tends to stick to your hands, lay it down on the floured counter and reflour your hands, then continue the tossing and shaping. In case you would be having trouble tossing the dough or if the dough never wants to expand and always springs back, let it rest for approximately 5-20 minutes in order for the gluten to relax fully,then try again. You can also resort to using a rolling pin, although it isn’t as effective as the toss method.


11. When the dough has the shape you want (about 9-12 inches in diameter - for a 6 ounces piece of dough), place it on the back of the jelly pan, making sure there is enough semolina/durum flour or cornmeal to allow it to slide and not stick to the pan.

12. Lightly top it with sweet or savory toppings of your choice.

NOTE: Remember that the best pizzas are topped not too generously. No more than 3 or 4 toppings (including sauce and cheese) are sufficient.

13. Slide the garnished pizza onto the stone in the oven or bake directly on the jelly pan. Close the door and bake for about 5-8 minutes.

NOTE: After 2 minutes baking, take a peek. For an even baking, rotate 180°.

If the top gets done before the bottom, you will need to move the stone or jelly pane to a lower shelf before the next round. On the contrary, if the bottom crisps before the cheese caramelizes, then you will need to raise the stone or jelly.

14. Take the pizza out of the oven and transfer it to a cutting board or your plate. In order to allow the cheese to set a little, wait 3-5 minutes before slicing or serving.


October 28, 2008

Tuesdays with Dorie: Chocolate-Chocolate Cupcakes


That's how I've been feeling lately. Just...ugh. I'm simply exhausted...in every sense of the word.

At least it is finally fall here in the mid-west. The weather is cooler, and leaves are changing colors.

I find myself turning to comforting foods when I feel ugh-ly...and when I'm cold in this drafty old house. I think, with the shorter days and with waking up while it's still dark outside, my seasonal affective disorder is starting to kick in.

Therefore, I am hoarding the chocolate cupcakes (chosen by Clara of I heart food 4 thought) I made for this week's Tuesday with Dorie event. I'm not sharing. I need the comfort.

I followed Dorie's recipe and took her suggestion of filling the cupcakes with marshmallow fluff. Several TWDers complained that the cupcakes were too dry. I didn't find this to be true at all, though they were on the crumbly side. I baked them Sunday night but didn't frost them until last night...and I almost didn't frost them. I thought they were pretty good without frosting.

The frosting is a new recipe for me. It's made by mixing melted chocolate with a little bit of powdered sugar and cold butter. It's really more of a glaze than a frosting, that's thin enough to spoon on. As the glaze sets, however, it become thick enough to spread.

The frosting was still a bit warm,
so it was runny when I broke this cupcake open.

October 21, 2008

Tuesdays with Dorie: Pumpkin Muffins

This week's recipe for Tuesdays with Dorie was chosen by......ME!

I wanted to pick something that we haven't yet done (they did muffins in January before I joined the group) and something seasonal (at least seasonal in the mid-western United States, where I live).

My short list of choices included the cardamom crumbcake, salt & pepper shortbread, rice pudding, All in one holiday bundt cake, cocoa almond meringues, sweet potato biscuits and coffee-break muffins. Ultimately, though, I decided to go with the pumpkin muffins. I liked Dorie's description at the beginning. I also thought this recipe would allow for many substitutions or alterations.

Several of the TWD'ers used dried cranberries instead of raisins or different kinds of nuts. Many people added chocolate chips with rave reviews. Joanna spiked hers with bourbon (my kind of girl!). Leslie suggested adding candied ginger (brilliant!). I made mine as Dorie's recipe said, but added chocolate chips after reading the suggestions!

Most everyone seems to like these muffins, even those who admitted to not liking pumpkin previously. I, for one, thought they were fabulous!

Pumpkin Muffins

The best pumpkin muffins in New York are made by Sarabeth Levine, the mistress of Sarabeth's jams and the founder of Sarabeth's restaurants. Her muffins are big and spicy, packed with raisins and topped with sunflower seeds. They're so good they out to be the standard for all pumpkin muffins in the world. Like the originals, these are a beautiful orange-gold color and have a moist and tender cakey crumb, a gentle spiciness and the hallmark sprinkling of sunflower seeds across their crowns. They are good minutes out of the oven, at room temperature or split and toasted. And while they're luscious on their own, they're even better with a little butter and a lot of orange marmalade or apricot jam.

2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/8 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
pinch of ground allspice
1 stick (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, at room temp.
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup (packed) light brown sugar
2 large eggs
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4 cup canned unsweetened pumpkin puree
1/4 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup golden raisins
1/2 cup chopped walnuts or pecans
about 1/3 cup sunflower seeds, for topping.
  • Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Butter or spray 12 cupcake molds in a regular-size pan or fit with paper cups. Place the pan on a baking sheet.
  • Whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and spices. Set aside.
  • Working with a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment or with a hand mixer in a large bowl, beat the butter at medium speed until soft. Add both the sugars and continue to beat until light and smooth.
  • One by one, add the eggs, beating for a minute after they are incorporated, then beat in the vanilla.
  • Lower the mixer speed and mix in the pumpkin and buttermilk. Add the dry ingredients in a steady stream, mixing only until they disappear. To avoid overmixing, you can stop the machine early and stir in any remaining dry ingredients into the batter using a rubber spatula.
  • Stir in the raisins and nuts. Divide the batter evenly among the muffin cups and sprinkle a few sunflower seeds over the top of each muffin.
  • Bake for about 25 minutes, or until a knife inserted into the center of the muffins comes out clean. Kelly's note: A lot of the TWD folks found that 25 minutes was too long, taking theirs out around 17 minutes.
  • Transfer the pan to a rack and cool the muffins for 5 minutes in the pan, then carefully remove each one from its mold to finish cooling on the rack.

October 19, 2008

Crostini di Fegato (Chicken Liver Crostini)

This summer, I bought a pound of fresh "Young Chicken Livers" at the Tower Grove farmers' market. I thought I'd make pate, or saute them, or at least fry them up. But, I never did. I stuck the livers in the freezer.

The thing is...I don't really like liver. Fried chicken livers are okay; I can stand to eat a couple every once in a while. I really want to like pate, but I haven't been able to stomach many that I've tried so far (except the Chicken Liver Terrine I had at Niche earlier this month. THAT was damned tasty...rich & meaty).

Friday night at Kitchen Conservatory, the class made a chopped liver crostini. It was also very tasty...flavorful with none of that icky liver-i-ness.

So, tonight I thawed out those fresh young livers (doesn't that sound naughty?) and used them to make this:

Crostini di Fegato

1 carrot, peeled and finely chopped
1 onion, finely minced
1 celery stalk, finely chopped
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 pound chicken livers, cleaned & roughly chopped
4 anchovy fillets
1 tablespoon capers
2 tablespoons butter
1/4 cup chopped parsley
white wine or stock
French bread
  • Saute the onion, carrot & celery in the oil until softened.
  • Add the anchovies & capers and cook briefly.
  • Add the chopped livers and cook until browned.
  • Moisten with a couple tablespoons of white wine or stock (I used veggie stock.) & cook until all juices are evaporated.
  • Add 2 tablespoons of butter.
  • Transfer the mixture to a cutting board & chop the mixture very fine.
  • Serve on toasted French bread slices. Garnish with chopped parsley.

October 18, 2008

Pepin's Middle Eastern Couscous with Saffron

I must admit that I am not all that impressed with Jacques Pepin's new cookbook, More Fast Food My Way. Most of the recipes do not sound (or look) appealing at all, and many of them call for canned foods (like fruit) and other "prepared" short cuts.

Someone asked him about the book at the signing on Wednesday. He said that this is how he cooks at home during the week when he is in a rush. He mentioned some of his favorite quick meals, including buying a rotisserie chicken from the supermarket, cutting it up, plating it over Boston lettuce leaves, and topping with a quick sauce.

The recipes in More Fast Food My Way are like that. However, there are a few recipes that sound good and peak my interest...like turkey scaloppine with dried morels, sausage patties with pumpkin seeds & mushrooms, lamb curry, pumpkin gratin, Tibetan flatbread, and Seckel pears in coffee.

I tried his Middle Eastern Couscous with Saffron tonight. I bought some of the couscous earlier this week, because I've never tried it before. So, I was excited to see this recipe.

Pepin writes: In the last few years, a larger, pebblelike variety of couscous, known variously as Israeli, Middle Eastern, Moroccan, or Italian couscous, has appeared on the market. Like instant couscous, it is made of semolina, but is grains are much larger, about the size of peppercorns. For this recipe, I cook the couscous covered for about 10 minutes and then uncover it and cook it for for a few minutes longer, stirring occasionally, to produce loose, soft, tender grains that are neither sticky nor soupy. I season the dish with onion and saffron and add pumpkin seeds for crunch.

Middle Eastern Couscous with Saffron

2 tablespoons good olive oil
2/3 cup finely chopped onion
1/4 cup pumpkin seeds *
1 teaspoon crushed saffron pistils
1 cup Israeli couscous
1 1/2 cup chicken stock
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
4 sprigs fresh tarragon or parsley, for garnish

* Kelly's note: I used sunflower seeds because I couldn't find shelled pumpkin seeds.
  • Heat the oil in a medium saucepan over high heat and add the onion, seeds, and saffron. I would recommend using a non-stick pan. Cook for 1-2 minutes.
  • Add the couscous, mix well.
  • Add the stock, salt, and pepper. Mix well and bring to a boil.
  • Reduce the heat to very low, cover, and cook for 10 minutes.
  • Uncover and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, for 2-3 minutes longer to dry the grains and make them fluffy.
  • Serve garished with the herbs, if desired.
Serves 4.

Meeting Jacques Pepin

Famed French chef Jacques Pepin was in St. Louis Wednesday night to promote his new PBS show and cookbook More Fast Food My Way.

He was actually very funny--in his purple pants, orange shirt, and tweed blazer--telling stories of how he got into cooking (his mother & aunts owned restaurants), his television shows (he's done so many!), and his opinion of celebrity chefs (he was very complimentary: "Whatever gets people cooking!").

In talking about meeting and working with Julia Child, he told of how when filming an episode of their show, Julia would tell the producers..."We are going to cook, and we'll tell you when we're done." They once cooked for several hours, he said. The producers had to edit it down to less than 30 minutes.

I was last in line to get my book signed, and the woman before me insisted on talking to Jacques for a while, telling him all about the baking contest she's won and how she got her son to try new foods when he was younger by saying that Julia Child was his aunt. The assistant had already given Jacques my book, and he had already signed it. I quickly sat down next to him for a picture. He looked at me, I introduced himself, shook his hand, and asked for a picture. He looked at the camera, but quickly looked away after the pic was snapped...because that woman was STILL talking to him!

I didn't get a chance to take another--better--photo. So, here I am with Jacques Pepin...in all my blurry, closed-eyed glory. At least I look happy!

October 10, 2008

Red Lentil & Pumpkin Soup

It's been a rough week.

I have one very challenging class (lots of absences, in-school suspensions, failing grades, apathy), and I gave them a good talking to on Wednesday. I hope it took. I am just so frustrated at working my ass off to plan fun and interesting activities for them, then having very few people actually finish the assignments. While they are not bad kids, for the most part, there are a few students who constantly have their heads down, ignore what I say in class, blatantly refuse to participate and complete work, or interrupt with annoying comments.

And then, there was some drama today at the school that required police involvement and a change in policies "until further notice."

Ahhh...the joys of teaching high school.

I miss my college job.

Anyway, I needed something soothing when I got home this evening. This lentil & pumpkin soup topped with spicy caramelized onions, from Nigel Slater's The Kitchen Diaries, did the trick. (This is one of the recipes I am making at my cooking class on Sunday.)

1 small onion
2 cloves garlic
ginger, a walnut-sized knob
1 cup + 2 tbsp red lentils
1 1/4 tsp turmeric
1 1/4 tsp chili powder
2 cups pumpkin
1 small bunch fresh coriander, roughly chopped

For the onion topping:
2 medium onions, cut into thin rings
2 tbsp oil
2 small hot chili peppers, halved, seeded and chopped finely (or to taste)
2 cloves garlic
  • Peel the onion and chop it roughly. Peel and crush the garlic and put it with the onion into a medium-sized, heavy-based saucepan. Peel the ginger, cut it into thin shred and stir that in too. Add the lentils and pour in 6 cups of water (You can use chicken or veggie stock instead). Bring to the boil. then turn the heat down to an enthusiastic simmer. Stir in the ground turmeric and chili powder, season and leave to simmer, covered, for 2o minutes.
  • While the soup is cooking, peel the pumpkin and scoop out the seeds and pulp, & chop the flesh into fat chunks. Add to the soup with 10 minutes left in the cooking time. The pumpkin should be easily pierced with a fork.
  • To make the onion topping, peel the onions and cut them into fine rings. Cook them in the oil in a shallow pan until they start to color. Cut the chilies in half, scrape out the seeds and slice the flesh finely (I just used 1 teaspoon of red pepper flakes). Peel and finely slice the garlic and add it with the peppers to the onions. Continue cooking until the onions are a deep golden brown. Set aside.
  • Remove the lid from the lentils and turn up the heat, boiling hard for five minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and puree the soup in the blender (for safety, a little at a time) until smooth (I used a stick blender in the pot). Pour the soup back into the pot and stir in the roughly chopped coriander and check the seasoning. Nigel finds this soup "likes a more generous than usual amount of salt."
  • Serve in deep bowls with a spoonful of the spiced onions on top. (Makes 4 good-sized bowls.)
The onions really are a MUST with this soup; they add a spicy/sweet depth of flavor. You could also roast the pumpkin seeds with a little olive and salt (at 350 for 15-20 minutes) and sprinkle them on top of the soup.

October 9, 2008

Huevos Rancheros ala Smitten Kitchen

One of the food blogs that I read is called Smitten Kitchen. It's gorgeous. I want to make everything she posts. But, when I saw her version of Huevos Rancheros, I just had to try it immediately.

You can follow the step-by-step instructions (with pictures!) at Smitten Kitchen, but it's an easy enough recipe for me to explain.

Heat a corn tortilla in a non-stick pan with a little oil. When it's brown, flip it over. Sprinkle some shredded cheese on the tortilla, then carefully crack an egg on top. When it's about half-way set, flip it over (again, be careful). When the egg is cooked, flip it back over onto a plate. Decorate with black beans, chopped tomatoes/onions/jalepenos (or use prepared salsa), avocado & sour cream.

This is really, really tasty and makes for a great weekend morning brunch or a light supper.

October 8, 2008

Spiced Apple Sorbet

It's the first week of October, but this weekend it's supposed to be 80 degrees here in the St. Louis area. That just isn't right. The leaves are just starting to change, barely. My internal clock is ready for long pants and cozy sweaters, comforting soups and casseroles, fireplace fires and cuddling under blankets...but Mother Nature isn't cooperating.

This state of seasonal schizophrenia inspired me to make ice cream at 9:30 last night. I had some apples left from the farmers' market a couple weeks ago and thought about making apple sauce. But, since it was fairly warm in my house (I refuse to turn my AC back on in October!) my apple sauce became...

Spiced Apple Sorbet

4 medium (or 6 smaller) red-skinned cooking apples, like Jonathan
1 1/4 cup water
1/3 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice (or more to taste)
juice of 1 lemon

  • Quarter & core the apples (do not peel!), then slice them into eighths.
  • Put the apples, water, sugar, spice, & lemon in a medium sauce pan and bring to a boil.
  • Turn the heat to low & simmer, covered, until the apples are tender (about 15 minutes).
  • Blend the apples and their liquid in a blender until smooth.
  • Strain the puree through a sieve into a small bowl. Place the bowl in an ice bath to chill the apple puree (or chill in the fridge).
  • Churn the sorbet in an ice cream maker according to the manufacturer's directions. Initially, the mixture is brown in color. As it freezes, it will become a pretty pink color
I topped the sorbet with caramel bits, and it tasted like a caramel apple!

October 7, 2008

Tuesdays with Dorie: Caramel & Peanut-Topped Brownie Cake

Thursday was my 35th birthday. I am not one to let birthdays bother me; I love celebrating my birthday. In fact, I was excited to turn 30. I bragged to everyone..."I'm thirty, and I still get carded for R-rated movies!" At the time, my (now ex) husband and I were starting to talk about having kids. "But I've got another 5 years to make that decision," I protested, thirty-five being my baby deadline.

Oh my, how quickly those 5 years have gone by.

So, here I am...35. My life is completely different that I expected it to be. I am 35...and babyless. That's okay, though, I haven't really ever been thrilled about motherhood. And, who knows...motherhood may still be in my future ( I think that clock thing might finally be ticking). And, I still get carded all the time!

Don't get me wrong...I don't fixate on having babies. Quite the contrary, actually. I'm just saying that 35 is hitting me just a bit harder than 30 did. Nonetheless...

I had a wonderful birthday, a celebration that lasted a long weekend. On Thursday, Jerad gave me a huge Le Creuset dutch oven, new wine glasses & decanter, and a wine & cheese pairing book. He also took me out to dinner at Niche, and it's as good as I expected it to be. We tried the "fried pig's head" (pork cheeks) with foie gras, the chicken liver terrine (the best pate I've ever eaten), a green apple & rosemary sorbet (compliments of the chef), seared scallops, the "pork duo," liquid chocolate cake and carrot cake semifreddo.


On Saturday, we took a few of my girlfriends out in a limo. We had dinner at Vin de Set, beers at The Stable, White Castles at 2:00 in the morning, and copious amounts of champagne. At dinner, my best friend Sarah asked, "Do you realize we've been friends for 21 years?" She went on to remind me of all we've been through together...high school & college, 1 almost marriage, 2 marriages, 1 divorce, 1 baby, several deaths, a period of silence, so many concerts...all of the good times and bad times. She then took out a small, black velvet box.

"After 21 years, I think it's time we make it official," she said as she opened the box. "Will you be my BFF...forever?" Inside was a silver diamond ring.


It was hysterical!

With all of the birthday festivities, I didn't make myself a birthday cake. So, I am considering this my birthday treat.

This week's Tuesdays with Dorie recipe, Caramel & Peanut-Topped Brownie Cake, was chosen by Tammy of Wee Treats.

I decided to make cupcakes that would be easy to take to school. I imagined that the batter wouldn't rise very much, leaving room in the cupcake liners to spoon in the peanuty caramel. But, I was wrong.


So, using a spoon, I created little wells in each cupcake when they were still warm.


I then spooned the topping into the cupcakes, letting it spill over the edges a bit.