Sunday, October 30, 2011

It's Soup Season

I heart my Dutch oven. And it's going to be getting quite a workout over the next several months, as we have now hit full blown soup season.

I'll make big pots of soup, strew, and chili all year long, but I definitely pick up the pace come cooler weather. There's something about the brisk Fall air that just begs me to simmer something on the stovetop. I have my favorite recipes that I find myself frequently going back to, but I also add a few new soups to my repertoire each year. Turns out this year I'm obsessed with lentils.

Last month I made an amazing pot of lentil and sausage soup that was a near-exact replica of our favorite soup at Carraba's. Just the other night, I had a cup of vegetarian lentil soup at Louise's that was almost as good and had me craving more. Lucky enough, I stumbled across this recipe in the latest issue of Taste of Home. This satisfied my lentil longing, with just a couple minor tweaks (theirs was also vegetarian, but what fun is that? I added sausage).

Lentil Tomato Soup
1 teaspoon olive oil
1 Italian chicken sausage link, casing removed
5 cups water
4 carrots, sliced
1 onion, chopped
3/4 cup dried lentils
3 oz. tomato paste
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 tablespoon white vinegar
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/4 teaspoon dill weed
1/4 teaspoon pepper

Heat oil in Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Cook sausage until no longer pink, about 5 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, remove sausage to paper towel-lined plate. Set aside. Do not clean Dutch oven.

Add water, carrots, onions, and lentils to Dutch oven. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover, and simmer 20 to 25 minutes or until vegetables and lentils are tender. Stir in remaining ingredients, including sausage. Return to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer, uncovered, 5 minutes.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

New York Noshing

I realized yesterday that we returned from our New York vacation more than a month ago. And in that time, I've promised on more than one occasion to write a savory summary of our trip. Well work got hectic and time got away from me, so I'm sorry for the delay!
Being the food nut that I am, you'd expect that our week away consisted of non-stop nibbles. As much as I wish that were true, I just couldn't do it. I would have absolutely exploded had I tried to eat everything I was tempted to try! So here's a rundown of the most notable noshes you need to know about.

Tasting Timeline
Day 1: Testing Our Cottage Kitchen
One of the reasons I was excited to be shacking up in Southampton for the week was that I'd be able to cook a few of our meals! After a tiring day of travel, we weren't in the mood to explore the area on the day we arrived, so we followed the directions to the nearest grocery store and I made a delicious dinner that night.

I was inspired by the pasta making class we'd just taken at the Public Market a few days before, so I chose to whip up some beef braciole with homemade tomato sauce and roasted potatoes and peppers. I need to make this again, and when I do you'll be sure to see the recipe here. Stuffed with cheese and bread crumbs, rolled up, and broiled, this braciole was awesome! A nice start to the week, but one of only two or three times I actually found myself in the kitchen while we were away :)

Day 3: A Montauk Masterpiece
Seeing as how we were in the Hamptons, I felt the need to have something fresh and local. Well it turns out there's no better way to experience that than to stop at a place the locals affectionately refer to as "Lunch."

The Lobster Roll in Amagansett purports to be the originator of the lobster roll (which I suppose makes sense, when you consider it). I can say with conviction that it was the best lobster roll I've ever had ... although if memory serves me correctly it might be the only lobster roll I've ever had. Regardless, it was delish. Massive, tender chunks of sweet lobster in just the right amount of mayo stuffed in a super soft roll ... yum! (The mayo kept Bill from digging in, but hey, more for me.)

Day 4: Fuggedaboutit, I'm Full
So on the fourth day of our trip we found ourselves in NYC. My food mecca, right? There were dozens of things I wanted to eat, but I failed. Perhaps we started off on the wrong foot (quite literally because our three-mile walk there ate up my heels) by trekking to Katz's Delicatessen.
If you don't know Katz's, you don't know New York. Or perhaps you just don't watch the Food Network. Just the night before we'd seen an episode of "The Best Thing I Ever Ate" where Chef Michael Psilakis was touting their knoblewurst sandwich as the best thing he ever ate with garlic. But that's not what made us go there. Katz's came highly recommended by a couple friends who lived in the city, so we had to try it. Bill actually ordered the knoblewurst (which was amazing!) and I had the predictable (but equally amazing) corned beef. We were promptly stuffed. But was it worth it? Hell yes!

Luckily, we had miles and miles yet to walk in the city (and luckily I changed shoes). We burned off enough calories to pick up some goodies from Ferrara Bakery & Cafe in Little Italy. I had a box made up with a couple biscotti, mini cannoli, and a few Italian cookies. Then I found even more delicious cannoli from a vendor down the street so I bought more! The best part about cannoli in Little Italy? They come in every flavor imaginable. I had a traditional, then topped that off with one filled with coconut cream, one filled with espresso ricotta, and one filled with Nutella. O. M. G.
Now you might be wondering, "Where's the pizza?" Since it's Bill's all-time favorite food, it had to show up somewhere. Truth be told, we spent hours searching for the perfect slice, but he just couldn't commit. Finally, when we were just about ready to leave, he popped into the last place we passed. And it turns out it was a Famous Famiglia ... which is a chain that just happens to have a home in the Milwaukee airport. Talk about a disappointing way to end the day! I knew we should have picked up takeout when we passed Junior's instead.

Day 7: Homestyle in the Hamptons
By the end of our trip, we were worn out. We spent our last day retracing our steps near the cottage and taking another drive up Montauk Highway. When we were hungry for lunch, we turned to trusty Trip Advisor. You wouldn't think of seeking out barbecue in the Hamptons, but a place called Townline BBQ had some pretty decent reviews so we gave it a shot. And I'm glad we did!
I have a minor obsession with burnt ends, which you don't see on an awful lot of menus in our neck of the woods. There's nothing more delicious to me than the crisp, smoky, flavorful cuts from the end of the meat. The special on the day we visited Townline was burnt end sliders. My choice was a no brainer ... and I wasn't disappointed! The sliders were served on potato rolls with sides of potato salad and roasted beets and sweet potatoes. I could have done with out the sides and more ends, please! I really, really wanted to walk out of Townline with one of their yummy-looking whoopie pies, but once again I just didn't have the room.

Other Notable Noshes
'Wichcraft Oatmeal Cream'wich I would have loved to eat at one of Tom Colicchio's 'Wichcraft locations because their sandwiches look amazing. A few days before we left on our trip I'd seen an episode of "Unique Sweets" on the Cooking Channel in which they featured 'Wichcraft's sandwich cookies. As luck has it, we were trying to find our way out of Rockefeller Center and came across a 'Wichcraft in the basement. So I popped in for a cookie! That oatmeal cream'wich was every bit as yummy as it looked on T.V.

The Dark Horse Pork Loin T-Bone Our last dinner in Southampton was at a restaurant that had been reviewed in a local paper. I didn't have much faith, considering we'd attempted to go there a few nights before and the place was completely empty ... void of servers and all! They redeemed themselves on Friday night with the pork loin t-bone, which was so delicious that Bill polished off my plate after he finished his own. I've never had a juicier, more tender, more flavorful piece of pork. And unless we make a return trip to Southampton, I can't imagine I ever will!

My Dutch Apple Cake Before we vacated our home away from home for the week, I felt the need to leave a parting gift for our gracious hostess, Amy. Naturally, that gift came in the form of baked goods. I don't believe I've shared this recipe with you yet, but I promise I will soon (especially since apple season is upon us). My Dutch Apple Cake is really more like bread pudding in loaf form because it's very heavy on the eggs ... but that's what makes it moist and rich and delicious! I baked a loaf for the homeowner and was able to squeeze out a mini loaf that Bill and I shared for dessert the night before. This is one of my favorite fall desserts, and an appreciative text message from Amy told me she loved it, too!

All in all, we had a terrific time. My only regret is not eating more (although my bathroom scale certainly doesn't agree). You know what that means ... we need to head back to the city soon!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Boo-tiful Meringue Ghosts!

I've been itching to get back into the kitchen because it's been nearly two weeks since I've had a chance to cook. Work has been so busy and I've been so exhausted! But fortunately, that didn't keep me from cranking out some cupcakes just in time for Halloween!

My two creations last week were chocolate cupcakes (using my favorite Test Kitchen recipe) topped with chocolate frosting (from a can ... eek!) and ghost sprinkles (an adorable find from Sendik's) and white chocolate cupcakes (my very own recipe, which I'll share when I'm confident it's perfected) topped with chocolate ganache and ... the cutest meringues you've ever seen!

My good friend Sue sent me this recipe several weeks ago, and I was immediately anxious to try it ... despite the fact that I've never liked meringue. For as long as I can remember, I've been scraping meringue off of lemon pies, avoiding it in baked Alaskas, and shunning the baked meringues that some people try to pass off as cookies. But these little guys were so cute that I was willing to give meringue a break. I figured they'd make awesome cupcake toppings, even if they tasted gross.

Well I'm still going to scrape the meringue off of my pie, but it turns out I didn't know what I was missing when it came to those cookies. When meringues are homemade they're like heaven melting in your mouth. Smooth and sweet with just the right amount of crunch, these ghosts are as tasty as they are adorable!

Meringue Ghosts
2 large egg whites
1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
1/2 cup superfine sugar (see note)
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
Edible ink pen

Place rack in center of oven and preheat oven to 200 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Have a pastry bag (or large ziploc bag) ready.

In a large bowl, beat egg whites with an electric mixer on high speed until foamy. Add cream of tartar and continue to beat until egg whites hold soft peaks. Add sugar, a little at a time, and beat on the highest possible speed until egg white hold very stiff peaks, about 10 minutes. (The sugar should also completely dissolve. Rub a bit of meringue between your fingers - if it feels gritty, continue to beat until it's as smooth as possible.) Beat in vanilla extract.

Before filling your piping bag, dab a bit of meringue under each corner of the parchment to adhere it to the baking sheet. (This will prevent it from sliding on its way in and out of the oven!) Transfer meringue to piping bag and, holding bag perpendicular to baking sheet, pipe 2-inch high mounds of meringue.

Bake meringues 1 to 1 1/2 hours or until dry and crisp to the touch. Turn oven off, crack oven door, and allow meringues to dry in oven several hours or overnight. Use an edible ink pen to draw eyes and mouths on your ghosts. Boo-tiful and delicious!

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Super Soup: Chicken and Dumplings

I can feel a case of the soups coming on. It happens every year around this time ... the weather turns chilly and I'm suddenly compelled to make giants pots of soup in quantities large enough to feed an army. Never mind the fact that I'm just cooking for two. Soup is one of the only big-batch dishes I can make and never end up with leftovers. Bill and I love it that much.

Thursday night's supper (and it feels appropriate to call it that in true Southern fashion) may rank right up there with my favorites: Chicken and Dumplings. I have absolutely no recollection of the first time I had chicken and dumplings. You don't see it pop up on too many California menus and it's certainly not something my mom ever made. Maybe it wasn't until I moved to Wisconsin that I gave it a whirl. And even then, I'm sure I never tasted the real thing. But as far as imposters go, I think I've found a pretty good one.

In the interest of full disclosure, I have to note that this particular recipe requires a few shortcuts I normally wouldn't take. But for a hearty weeknight meal, I'm sometimes willing to resort to cans and boxes.

Chicken and Dumplings
Cooking spray
1 cup onion, finely chopped 
1 garlic clove, minced
Salt and pepper
1/4 cup marsala wine 
3 1/2 cups chicken broth
1 can reduced-fat, reduced-sodium condensed cream of chicken soup, undiluted

1/4 cup water
2 tablespoons cornstarch
2 cups baking mix (such as Bisquick)
2/3 cup buttermilk
3 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into 1-inch pieces
3 carrots, chopped
1 cup frozen peas

Heat a Dutch oven over medium high heat and coat with cooking spray. Add onions and garlic and cook until softened, about 5 minutes. Sprinkle with salt and pepper, then add marsala, broth, and condensed soup. Bring to a boil.

In a small bowl, combine water and cornstarch; stir until cornstarch is dissolved. Set aside.

In a medium bowl, combine Bisquick and buttermilk. Stir until stiff dough forms; knead into a ball. Set aside.

Add chicken and carrots to pot. Stir in cornstarch mixture. Tear off 1-inch pieces of dough and drop into pot. Return to a boil, lower heat, cover, and simmer, stirring occasionally, until chicken and dumplings are cooked through, about 20 to 25 minutes. (Test dumplings for doneness by removing one and piercing it with a fork - they're finished when the fork comes out clean.)

Add peas to pot and cook soup another 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Serve piping hot in big bowls!

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

From Biscuit to Brisket

I was totally channeling Paula Deen and her fellow Southern cooks this weekend. In addition to the fantastic sweet potato biscuits I blogged about yesterday, I also braised a brisket and made caramel-banana custard (I'll get to that later this week!).

Now my original intention was to barbecue that brisket, which would have been even more Southern. But I got a bit of a late start and was afraid three to four hours wouldn't be enough smoking time on the grill. Based on past experience, I knew that would be just the right amount of time for braising (you typically need about an hour per pound), so into the oven it went.

The last time I braised a brisket, it was with a recipe from Cooking Light. This one was also inspired by Cooking Light, but modified quite a bit from the original recipe to reduce the number of steps involved! Now you know I'm normally not apt to simplify a recipe, but I just didn't have the energy for the straining, re-boiling, de-fatting, and thickening this recipe called for. And so I decided to forgo the fancy sauce and simply spoon some of the cooking liquid over the meat instead. The verdict? It was still one of the most flavorful, super tender, delicious briskets I've ever had. And it was even better on a sandwich the next day!

The shredded bits are a-maz-ing!
Braised Beef Brisket
1 (3-4 lb.) beef brisket, fat trimmed but not completely removed
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon dried thyme
Salt and pepper
1 tablespoon olive oil
3 cups beef broth
1/2 cup red wine, such as merlot
1/2 cup red wine vinegar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cut shallow slits in top of brisket.

In a small bowl, combine garlic and thyme. Stuff garlic mixture into slits in meat. Season with salt and pepper. Rub meat with olive oil.

Heat a Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Sear meat on all sides, beginning with oiled side. Remove meat to plate and set aside. Add broth, wine, and vinegar to Dutch oven. Bring to a boil. Place meat back in pot and place pot in oven.

Cook 3 to 3 1/2 hours, turning twice. Remove from oven, allow to rest 10 minutes, slice and serve.

If you want to go to fuss with the fancy sauce ...
After 2 hours of cooking (and 1 turn), strain the cooking liquid from the pot through a fine mesh strainer into a 2-cup measuring cup. Pour liquid into large, zip-top bag. Snip a hole in one corner of the bag and squeeze liquid into small saucepan, stopping before reaching the fat layer. Bring to a simmer, return to Dutch oven, add meat, and cook an additional hour.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Love at First Bite: Sweet Potato Biscuits

I LOVE sweet potatoes. I always have and always will. All I need is a piping hot, baked sweet potato and a fork butter, no brown sugar, no salt and pepper, nothing. It's the only food I can think of that is absolutely perfect on its own, no embellishments required.

Unfortunately, Bill doesn't agree with me. He's never liked sweet potatoes and thought he never would. So I decided to get a little sneaky.

I braised a brisket yesterday (which I'll get to in a day or so because it was a-maz-ing), and told Bill I was baking biscuits to go with it. I wasn't going to mention the sweet potato part because, seriously, what he doesn't know can't hurt him. I knew he'd figure it out when I put the plate on the table, or at the very least when he took a bite. But I figured keeping it quiet gave him less of a chance to put up a fight.

Then he walked into the kitchen while I was mashing the sweet potato. Whoops. There was no more hiding it - I had to admit to my scheme. Luckily he went along with it and he gave them a fair chance. Now for me, it was love at first bite with these biscuits. They're DELICIOUS! Bill agreed that they were good, but they didn't leave him looking for seconds.

This recipe came from the Mary Mac's Tea Room cookbook, which my good friend Sue brought back for me the last time she was in Atlanta. It's endorsed by Paula Deen, so you know it's got to be good Southern food. I absolutely must go here, especially if these biscuits were any indication of the deliciousness I'll find!

I should note that I cut the recipe in half, which should have produced (a reasonable) six biscuits. Instead, I ended up with ten. That leads me to believe that Mary Mac must make biscuits as big as your head. (Not that there's anything wrong with that.)

Sweet Potato Biscuits
1 1/2 cups flour
1/3 cup sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/8 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons butter
1 cup mashed sweet potatoes (baked)
1 tablespoon buttermilk

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Grease baking sheet and set aside.

In a medium bowl, combine flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Cut in butter (with a pastry cutter or two knives) until mixture resembles coarse cornmeal. Stir in mashed sweet potatoes (I discovered that the pastry cutter also works well for mixing these in ... and has the added advantage of giving you a smoother mash!). Stir in buttermilk until dough comes together in a ball (at this point, you're really pressing the dough against the sides of the bowl to ensure it all comes together).

On a lightly floured surface, press dough into a 1/2-inch thick circle. Use a biscuit cutter to cut out rounds (roll and cut the scraps until there's nothing left). Bake 15 to 18 minutes or until golden brown.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Asian Persuasion

Bill seems to get a hankering for Chinese food at least once a week, but we rarely indulge that craving with take out (although I pretty sure he hits up a Chinese buffet for lunch about that often.) I'm a big fan of Chinese food, but we don't order in often because there are other things I'd much rather blow my calories on (like frozen custard).

So in several attempts to satiate Bill's taste for take out, I've attempted a few Asian-style dishes. I've produced a decent stir fry here and there, I've made great fried rice, and I even made fried won tons. These dishes have always turned out satisfactory, but they're not necessarily mind-blowingly good substitutes for the real thing. It's one of those things that just doesn't taste as good if you're not eating it from a take out carton. Something's missing (perhaps it's the MSG).

This week I took on lo mein, and Bill insists it was as delicious as any he's ever had. I'm still convinced it was good but not great, although I'd definitely make it again. It's super simple and super speedy, so give it a try and let me know what you think!

Pork Lo Mein
1/2 lb. thin cut boneless pork chops, thinly sliced
2 cups sugar snap peas
1 cup carrots, sliced into 1/4-inch sticks
1 package (9 oz.) refrigerated linguine
1/3 cup chicken broth
1 tablespoon soy sauce
2 teaspoons cornstarch
1 teaspoon sugar
2 teaspoons fresh ginger, minced or grated
2 cloves garlic, minced or grated
2 teaspoons vegetable oil
1/2 cup red onion, thinly sliced
Toasted sesame seeds

In a 3-quart saucepan, bring 2 quarts water to boiling. Add pea pods, carrots, and linguine. Return to a boil.Boil 2 to 3 minutes, or until linguine is tender. Drain.

In a small bowl, whisk together broth, soy sauce, cornstarch, sugar, ginger, and garlic. Set aside.

In a 12-inch non-stick skillet or wok, heat vegetable oil over medium-high heat. Add pork and onion. Stir fry about 2 minutes or until pork is no longer pink. Stir broth mixture into skillet. Stir in drained pea pods, carrots, and linguine. Cook 2 minutes, stirring occasionally. Sprinkle with sesame seeds and serve.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

I Swoon for Macarons: Part II

French macarons are becoming the new cupcake - a classic dessert that has suddenly been reinvented and transformed into haute couture. The only difference is that where cupcakes were transformed from classically comfortable to surprisingly fancy, French macarons have turned from classically sophisticated to much more approachable. If you're a fan of all shows Bravo (as I am), you'll appreciate this comparison: What pastry chefs have done for cupcakes is what Chris March has done for costume gala gowns, and what home bakers have done for French macarons is what Rachel Zoe has done for Chanel.

I was completely unfamiliar with French macarons until I saw Wolfgang Puck sing their praises on an episode of "The Best Thing I Ever Ate." That inspired me to seek them out at the very place Wolfgang recommended you have them - Payard Patisserie & Bistro inside Caesar's Palace, Las Vegas. I documented that mind-blowing moment here, and French macarons immediately went on my recipe wishlist.
It wasn't until I came across a French macaron cookbook at TJ Maxx this weekend (yet another indication that they're now everywhere) that I remembered they were on my to-make list. And so I was determined to do so on Sunday. (For those of you who are wondering, yes, I did make these at the same time as my deep dish pizza. I do not recommend attempting to accomplish both of these challenging recipes at once.)

Before you set out on the French-macaron-making mission that I did, there are a few very important questions you must ask yourself ... First, do you have a store nearby carrying almond flour? Second, are you willing to spend $12.49 for 16 ounces of said almond flour? So as not to compromise the recipe, I answered yes to both questions. I was lucky enough to find almond flour at Sendik's (although I was prepared to grind skinned almonds as my back up plan), and while I had a minor heart attack at the price on the shelf, I sucked it up. And I'm glad I did!

While the French macaron makeover has put these cookies within reach of the home chef, they're still challenging. I have improvements to make on my next batch, but this first attempt went surprisingly well and they were absolutely, delightfully delectable.

French Macarons with Chocolate-Hazelnut Filling
1 cup confectioners' sugar
3/4 cup almond flour
2 egg whites, at room temperature
Pinch of cream of tartar
1/4 cup sugar (Martha recommends superfine, but regular granulated sugar is ok too)
1/2 cup Nutella spread

Pulse confectioners' sugar and almond flour in a food processor until combined. Sift mixture twice.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Whisk egg whites with a mixer on medium speed until foamy. Add cream of tartar, and whisk until soft peaks form. Reduce speed to low, then add sugar. Increase speed to high, and whisk until stiff peaks form, about 8 minutes. Sift flour mixture over whites, and fold until mixture is smooth and shiny.
Transfer batter to a pastry bag fitted with a 1/2-inch plain round tip, and pipe  into rounds 1 inch apart on parchment-lined baking sheets. (Martha says you should drag your pastry tip to the side of rounds rather than forming peaks - I had a hard time with this!) Tap bottom of each sheet on work surface to release trapped air (I apparently didn't tap hard enough because I had a few air bubbles). Let stand at room temperature for 15 minutes (I don't know why, but I did it because Martha said so). Reduce oven temperature to 325 degrees. Bake 1 sheet at a time, rotating halfway through, until macarons are crisp and firm, about 10 minutes. After each batch, increase oven temperature to 375 degrees, heat for 5 minutes, then reduce to 325 degrees (again, I don't know why, but who am I to question Martha?).

Let macarons cool on sheets for 2 to 3 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack.

Sandwich 2 same-size macarons with 1 teaspoon Nutella. Enjoy the crack of the sweet, meringue-like shell, followed by the chewy inner cookie, followed by the creamy, chocolate-hazelnut-y goodness :)

Monday, October 3, 2011

Have a Piece-a Pizza

Growing up, I'm sure I had dish deep pizza a time or two. But deep dish pizza is not necessarily synonymous with Chicago style deep dish pizza. Outside of Chicago, I think a majority of people assume that you can press any old pizza dough up the sides of a pan and call it deep dish. Well, any old dough does not a Chicago pie make.

I didn't get a true taste of Chicago style until I moved within 90 miles of the city. Shamefully enough, my first taste didn't actually occur in Chicago, but rather in Milwaukee (where we have some surprisingly suitable imitations). I started on Edwardo's, a chain serving Chicago style pies that they call stuffed. Then I think I went to Uno, which is actually a Chicago original that has branched into locations across the country. But it wasn't until just a few years ago that Bill brought me to Chicago for Gino's East, one of the most famous pizzerias in the city (along with the original Uno and Lou Malnati's, neither of which I've had the pleasure of trying yet).

Simply put, Gino's was life changing. It is the definition of Chicago and nearly insurmountable in the pizza world. If you haven't been wowed by Gino's pizza yet, let me try to describe it for you ... the crust is thick, flaky, buttery, colored a rich, golden brown, and insanely delicious. It's almost like a pie dough, which is what makes the signature Chicago style pie.

I immediately jumped at the chance to replicate this deliciousness when I saw the recipe on ATK's The Feed this weekend. Could it be?, I thought. A true Chicago deep dish with the buttery, pie-like crust? By all the work involved, it certainly sounded like it.

So I set out on Sunday to at least match our favorite Gino's pizza. I tweaked ATK's version slightly, by cutting it in half, adding Italian sausage (which is what we always get at Gino's), and taking some liberties with my sauce. And when all was said and done, Bill told me ... that it was better than Uno's. I'll take it! (In fact, I didn't even ask how it compared to Gino's. The Uno's comment was good enough.)

BTW, I had one genius idea that the Test Kitchen didn't come up with (amazingly enough). I made my pizza in a springform pan (the one reserved for the cheesecakes I never make). It released brilliantly, and less cooling time required!

Chicago Style Deep Dish Pizza
For the Dough
1 1/2 cups flour
1/4 cup cornmeal
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar
1 1/8 teaspoons instant or rapid-rise yeast
3/4 cup water, room temperature
1 1/2 tablespoons butter , melted, plus 2 tablespoons, softened
1/2 teaspoon olive oil

For the Sauce
1 tablespoon butter
1/4 cup grated onion
1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
1 garlic clove, minced
1 (14 oz) can crushed tomatoes
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon dried basil
1/2 tablespoon olive oil

For the Toppings
2 Italian sausages (I used chicken, my new favorite!), casings removed
2 cups mozzarella cheese, shredded
Grated Parmesan cheese

Mix flour, cornmeal, salt, sugar, and yeast in bowl of stand mixer fitted with dough hook on low speed until incorporated, about 1 minute. Add water and melted butter and mix on low speed until combined, 1 to 2 minutes, scraping sides and bottom of bowl occasionally. Increase speed to medium and knead until dough is glossy and smooth and pulls away from sides of bowl, 4 to 5 minutes. (It honestly took about 4 minutes and 47 seconds for this dough to come together completely. I was nearly read to hand-knead it, but patience truly paid off.)

Coat large bowl with cooking spray. Transfer dough to bowl, turning once to oil top. Cover tightly with plastic wrap. Let rise at room temperature until nearly doubled, 45 to 60 minutes.

While dough rises, heat butter in medium saucepan over medium heat until melted. Add onion, oregano, and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Cook, stirring occasionally, until liquid has evaporated and onion is golden brown, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Stir in tomatoes and sugar, increase heat to high, and bring to simmer. Lower heat to medium-low and simmer until reduced to about 1 1/2 cups, 25 to 30 minutes. Stir in basil and oil, then season with salt and pepper.

Heat oven to 425 degrees. Using rubber spatula, turn dough onto dry work surface and roll into 15- by 12-inch rectangle. Spread softened butter over surface of dough, leaving ½-inch border along edges. (The Test Kitchen suggests using an offset spatula to do this, which I'm sure works wonderfully but I was too lazy to get mine out. I just used my fingers and it worked just as well.) Starting at short end, roll dough into tight cylinder. With seam side down, flatten cylinder into a rectangle, fold into thirds like business letter, then pinch seams together to form ball. Return ball to oiled bowl, cover tightly with plastic wrap, and let rise in refrigerator until nearly doubled in volume, about 40 minutes.
Coat a 9-inch springform pan with 2 tablespoons olive oil. Transfer dough to dry work surface and roll into 13-inch disk. Transfer dough to pan by rolling dough loosely around rolling pin and unrolling into pan. Lightly press dough into pan, working into corners and 1 inch up sides.

Sprinkle mozzarella evenly over dough. Spread 1¼ cups tomato sauce over cheese and sprinkle 2 tablespoons Parmesan over sauce. Bake until crust is golden brown, about 20 minutes. Remove pizza from oven and let rest 10 minutes before slicing and serving.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Feels Like Fall: Cream-Filled Pumpkin Cupcakes

Fall has long been my favorite season. The crisp air, the changing leaves, the impending holidays ... I love everything about it! But as far as I'm concerned, the best part of fall is that pumpkin flavored everything comes back into season.

I honestly don't need an excuse to bake pumpkin treats - I'm willing to do it year-round! But when it begins feeling like fall, I finally return to my all-time favorite pumpkin recipe. I found these Cream-Filled Pumpkin Cupcakes online at Taste of Home a few years back and every time I make them they get rave reviews. This week Bill called them the best cupcakes he's ever tasted (granted, he has a short memory). But they are the most delectable pumpkin treat I've ever had. They're outrageously moist and the sweet, creamy filling is the perfect balance to the rich, spicy cake. I can't wait to break out more of my pumpkin recipes and keep the baking going!

Cream-Filled Pumpkin Cupcakes
For Cupcakes
2 cups sugar
3/4 cups vegetable oil
1 can (15 oz.) pumpkin
4 eggs
2 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon allspice

For Filling
1 tablespoon cornstarch
3/4 cup milk
1/4 cup shortening
1/4 cup butter, softened
2 cups confectioners' sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
24 whole cloves

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line cupcake tins with paper liners.

In a large bowl, combine sugar, oil, pumpkin, and eggs. In a separate bowl, combine flour, baking soda, salt, baking powder, cinnamon, and allspice. Gradually add flour mixture to pumpkin mixture and beat until well mixed.

Fill prepared cupcake liners 2/3 full. Bake 18 to 22 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center of a cupcake comes out clean. Cool in pans for 10 minutes; remove to wire racks to cool completely.

While cupcakes are baking, prepare cream filing. Combine cornstarch and milk in a small saucepan over medium-low heat and stir until smooth. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Remove from heat; cool to room temperature.

In a large bowl, cream the shortening, butter, and confectioners' sugar. Beat in vanilla. Gradually beat in cooled milk mixture until smooth.

Using a sharp knife, cut a 1-inch circle about 1-inch deep in each cupcake. Carefully remove tops and set aside. Spoon or pipe filling into cupcakes. Replace tops and add a clove "pumpkin stem" to each cupcake.