New Additions In The Kitchen And How They Came To Be, Part 1

January 7, 2012 § Leave a comment

It all started innocently enough right after Thanksgiving. Mrs Ilk came back from her annual post-Turkey Day extended stay at my in-laws and all she could talk about was the damned milk frother. I suppose that’s better than her complaining about the fact I left the kitchen a complete disaster during my 6 days of bachelorhood. But yeah, clearly my inlaws’ latest kitchen gadget purchase had her all excited. “It froths! And scalds! And there’s no clean-up!”

On and on it went. The next couple subsequent weekends as I fired up my French press she’d always ask me how much better my coffee would taste if I had frothed milk to go with it. Naturally I agreed. So when it came time to Christmas shop, I knew exactly what item was on the top of my list. I plowed my way through the Xanaxed Stepfords in Williams-Sonoma at Oak Brook to the coffee accessories section and asked about a frother. Mind you at the time I thought that the milk frother which I was in the market for was one of those flimsy little rods with the coils at the end. But no, turns out that those don’t have a heating element – so they do live up to their name as a frother, but they don’t scald. Nope, what I needed was apparently something that goes by its trade name – an Aeroccino. This magical device retails for $99 and never goes on sale anywhere from what I was told. So I bought it. That next day when we were making coffee the subject of the frother came up yet again…and I was beaming on the inside.

Fast forward to Christmas morning. We moseyed downstairs at the surprisingly reasonable hour of 7:30. I’d been told in advance that there was something I needed to open right away from Mrs Ilk’s dad because he was SO EXCITED TO GIVE IT TO US. For whatever reason it was imperative that I open this before anything else, even before we unleashed Ilk 2.0 on his giant present pile. Mrs Ilk handed me the bag – (immediately dashing my secret hope that it was a set of Titleist AP2s) and I peeked inside.

It was an Aeroccino. Christmas was ruined. I’d misinterpreted secret hints about a present for passive-aggressive yearning for a present. Whoops. Being the brat that I am, the first words out of my mouth were “welp, that’s one less present you need to open” before I grabbed the one that I’d bought out from under the tree, stomped and huffed over to the guest bedroom and dumped it on the dresser in there.

Boxing Day rolls around, and we’re off to the mall to return it. My wonderful wife is a lot of wonderful things, but she has a tendency to be absolutely paralyzed by indecision. It was important that we exchange this mystical device right away, or it would still be sitting on the guest room dresser in April. So we head into WIlliams-Sonoma once again.

Couple side notes on Williams-Sonoma:

1) It is not a good store for a 4 year old. Everything’s at grabbing level and none of it is very interesting to them but they have to touch it anyway.

2) My Iowan-Minnesotan mother-in-law cannot pronounce “Sonoma” no matter how hard she tries. It always comes out “Smomona.” Like nails on a chalkboard for me.

We got funneled to the left side of the store. This happens to be the demonstration side. That particular day’s demonstration item? The Nespresso.

I have a strange sentiment about the whole coffee-in-a-pod trend. Flavia, Keurig, Nespresso all of them are are all the rage right now. All of them are really convenient. Nespressos taste REALLY good, but the yield per pod/cost per pod equation is definitely not value-oriented. I don’t care how strong and concentrated the stuff is, I want a full mug of coffee. Between our French neighbors and my French now-former boss (the story of his reaction to me tendering my resignation earlier this week is a post in itself) I’ve tried my share of it. But the biggest problem of all in my eyes that also gives the greatest insight into my whacked out mind is WHAT HAPPENS IF YOU RUN OUT OF PODS AND SOMEHOW HAVEN’T ORDERED NEW ONES?

Well, I guess that’s a dilemma we may face one day. Because we now own one. Store credit + spending bonus + Christmas money made it a deal too good to pass up. We pretty much plowed through the “starter kit” of pods they gave us when we  bought it in about 48 hours. There was a time last week when I think we pretty much blacked out from overcaffeination. We experimented with shorts, talls, two pods in one cup. “Hey, let’s have another one.” Our coffee cupboard runneth over. I’m cheating on my press pot and feel really guilty but this is almost too easy not to take advantage of.

Coming soon: part 2, the Great Sodastream Caper

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Dining (er, Drinking) In: Egg Nog

December 21, 2011 § Leave a comment

There’s certain foods that are like certain politicians. Horribly polarizing. Marmite’s one of them (love it, understand why people don’t though). Cilantro’s another one. (Love it, have no idea why people don’t like it though). Then there’s egg nog. I’m a huge fan, but lots of people aren’t. One of my Facebook friends even referred to it as “cow mucus.”

My love for the nog goes all the way back to Christmas Eves with my Mom’s side of the family. You know, the Italian side. The loud, boisterous side that squabbles, shouts but loves all its members unconditionally and has a grand old time chowing down on the feast of seven fishes every December 24th. We used to host it every year, but my grandmother did all the heavy lifting. Due to my old man’s disdain for fish, she prepared everything at her apartment and then hauled it over to our house mid-afternoon. One of my most vivid memories is of the year when her watch (which was an heirloom from her mother or grandmother, can’t recall) somehow ended up baked in among the smelts. Luckily she was able to retrieve it before it ended up on someone’s fork. My other vivid memory is the year she decided that clams casino were too much work and started using shrimp cocktail as our appetizer instead. Sigh.

Anyway, there was always egg nog in abundance. All the grownups loved it and ladled many a mug out of my Aunt Linda’s punch bowl. Before every family party, one aunt or uncle was always calling another to find out who had the punchbowl and the giant coffee percolator – quite the family tradition. It was always spiked with rum, but grandma was always nice enough to save a glass or two on the side for her oldest grandson, who if memory serves correct was the only person among my 10 cousins who actually liked the stuff.

And I still do. Much like with my cousins back then, I’m the only person in my house who does. But Christmas isn’t Christmas for me without egg nog. I spike mine with bourbon and enjoy it immensely. Couple years ago I decided to start making my own. I pretty much use Alton Brown’s recipe (with uncooked eggs, Danger is my middle name) as a base.

Ingredients

  • 4 egg yolks
  • 1/3 cup sugar, plus 1 tablespoon
  • 1 pint whole milk
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 3 ounces bourbon
  • 1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • 4 egg whites*

Directions

In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat the egg yolks until they lighten in color. Gradually add the 1/3 cup sugar and continue to beat until it is completely dissolved. Add the milk, cream, bourbon and nutmeg and stir to combine.

Place the egg whites in the bowl of a stand mixer and beat to soft peaks. With the mixer still running gradually add the 1 tablespoon of sugar and beat until stiff peaks form.

However, there’s something wrong here. Your base is 32 oz of liquid, but you’re only adding 3 oz of bourbon. Unacceptable! Sacrilege! What’s the point behind downing that much artery-clogging goodness if you’re not going to catch a buzz? So I use 8 oz of Maker’s. I also toss a pinch of cinnamon in for good measure.

Pretty simple recipe, but there you have it. I encourage experimentation and may try tweaking it a bit more myself (chocolate shavings, couple shots of Bailey’s, maybe SoCo instead of bourbon as one friend mentioned). Will post results.

Merry Christmas, all of you. Enjoy!

Dining Out: Girl and the Goat (complete with really dark pictures)

December 10, 2011 § 2 Comments

I’m not a “Top Chef” person. That comes as a big shock to a lot of people because I’m a food person. But no, I really have no interest in watching a bunch of people shriek and freak over their cooking. It’s bad enough I’ve spent the past 16 years watching people shriek and freak over their trading, and that’s enough drama for 5 lifetimes. So come Wednesday at 9 when Mrs Ilk heads to the basement for her weekly viewing I usually grab a cold frosty one out of the fridge and read on the couch.

I don’t live in a total “Top Chef” vacuum though. I know who Stephanie Izard is. What a great last name – visually it looks like it rhymes with both “lizard” and “slizzered” and you really can’t go wrong with a name like that. Sadly, it’s not pronounced like it looks.

SIDE NOTE: I met Stephanie at a Goose Island party this summer. We were both pretty well in our cups. The general gist of our conversation was that people with curly hair have more fun.

Anyway, everyone in Chicago raves about Girl and the Goat. Restaurants with a high degree of buzz and I usually don’t get along though. I hate being smashed into a bar area 5 deep while waiting to eat. I hate the pretense that’s usually abundant at such places. Most of all, I hate not being able to get a table unless it’s on a Tuesday 3 weeks in advance at 9:30 at night. Every time I lay plans they always go awry. But I knew we had to try the place at some point. 4:45 on a December Friday afternoon? Sure, why not!

Got there, place was about 1/3 full. We were offered seats at the bar immediately or the chance to wait for a table. I didn’t even bother with the “why would we have to  wait for a table when there’s a whole bunch of open ones” argument. Plopped down at the bar and took a look at the offerings.

G&TG is easily the best smelling restaurant I’ve ever walked into. It smells like wood fueled meaty goodness. It makes you want to eat – kinda like how Muzak makes you want to spend more time in the grocery store, or so I’ve been told. One look at the menu, and your first thought is “one of everything.” It was really hard to narrow it down.

Started off with a rye cocktail. It had a catchy name but I can’t remember it and it isn’t on the online menu. I’ve really gotten into ryes over the past year and this drink with its hints of grape (!) and spice was downright awesome.

Mrs Ilk got their take on a Pimm’s Cup (another catchy name I can’t remember) – made with vodka. According to the bartender, they took all their summer cocktails off the menu a couple months ago but had to leave this one on because the demand is so high even when it’s 30 degrees out.

Couple sips of whiskey and it was time to start the feast. The bar staff was AMAZINGLY helpful with advice.

First course was the chickpea fritters.

Fritter? Crispy. Cream? Creamy. Great combination. The thing that impressed me most about this dish was how it was layered. The fritter is perched perfectly on a bed of eggplant and chickpeas. The big surprise is that underneath that bed of veggies is some of the finest mozzarella you’ll ever try in your life.

Next, it was on to the mushroom ragout.

This dish has a sriracha creme fraiche. That alone is enough to make it awesome. Combine that with thin sweet potato ravoli (can’t remember the term) and some really dank mushroom flavors and you’ve got a surefire winner. This is one of the two dishes that I said out loud that I want to learn to make at home. Wonder if it’s in her cookbook.

Next up? The roasted beets.

Spectacular miss, to be quite honest. Pretty unremarkable dish. I used to hate beets as a kid and only started really enjoying them a few years ago. The anchovy in it dominated the taste in a few bites, which is fine by me but certainly might put a lot of people off. The green beans didn’t pick up any flavor and could have used a little cracked pepper lovin’ for sure.

Undaunted though, it was on to the roasted cauliflower.

This was done right. Roasted vegetable trump all other vegetables in my book. Lots of pine nuts and pickled peppers in there, both of which add great accents. The combination of cauliflower and parmesan cheese might be one of my favorite things on the planet.

Then it was time to get into the meats. First up? Duck tongues.

Mrs Ilk picked these and ordered these without so much as a moment’s hesitation. I was a little skeptical. The smaller tongues were perfectly crisped but the thicker ones were just a touch chewy. And I’ll be honest, when they’re a little chewy you start thinking “holy shit, I am eating a duck’s tongue right now.” The chili oil that they’re fried in added a nice heat. Definitely a dish with great flavor but a little inconsistency.

On to the pig face.

“So how do they make it?”

“Well, they take a whole bunch of cheeks/jowls, roll them together and then fry them.”

Hiding below that egg is easily one of the five best things I have eaten in my life. Spicy, crispy and incredibly flavorful. Break the egg and mash it all together and you’ve got a remarkable experience. Bartender told us it’s her favorite hangover cure. This is one of the can’t-miss dishes everyone talks about.

I finished with the grilled octopus. Thanks to Mrs Ilk’s seafood allergy it was mine all mine.

I’ll be honest. I was really hoping they’d present it whole. But that would make it a lot tougher to mix in with two different kinds of beans. It’s served with a lemon vinaigrette that complimented perfectly.

By this point we were stuffed. But not too stuffed for dessert which is a good thing because the chocolate chili gelato is mind-blowing.

It’s a really upscale take on the old “ice cream and a brownie” standby. The gelato definitely trends more toward chocolate than chili. Bartender told us a woman once took the bowl to the washroom after she finished this dish so she could lick it. Classic – and totally understandable.

Return trip is definitely in order. Didn’t get the chance to try any of the goat entrees, and there’s a lobster-stuffed goat belly with my name on it.

“So THAT’S why Union Station sticks out over Canal Street like that!”

December 5, 2011 § 1 Comment

A few weeks back, my pal John Needham and I were having one of our usual back-and-forths on Twitter. The genesis of the conversation was me making some wisecrack about how the Futures Industry Association had finally issued a statement about the MF Global meltdown, and he and I started cracking jokes about FIA being late to the party and issuing statements on some other historic events in our markets well after the fact. One of the events John joked about was when the CME moved from its former location over Union Station into its digs at 10-30 South Wacker. That former trading floor is now a health club. But one thing you’ll notice about the facility is that it juts out over the sidewalk on all sides, which is pretty unusual. I mentioned this fact to John and told him that there was a tale behind it. He told me that might make a great blog post. Weeks later, I’m finally posting it.

The story behind why it’s so is a classic tale of Chicago-style political sausage making, spearheaded by former CME chairman Leo Melamed. I worked for Leo’s firm in my first “real” job in the business for a few years – the stories from my days on the desk there alone are probably worthy of their own blog, but seeing as that I can barely keep up with this one that’ll just have to wait until I’m retired. Speaking of retired, Leo is 79 years old and shows no signs of slowing down. Here’s the story in his words about how the Canal Street cantilevering came to be, from his book “Escape To The Futures”:

“To move again after only four years in the building was really out of the question–we couldn’t afford it. But could we expand? The Chicago River made expansion to the east impossible. So our architects Skidmore, Owings and Merrill, who had built the Merc’s current structure came up with the only solution. We could increase the trading area by 40 percent by expanding the building to the west by 90 feet. Easier said than done. Such a solution required a major favor from the City of Chicago. We would need to purchase the air rights from the city in order to cantilever the present structure over the Canal street sidewalk, west of the Exchange. The Chicago Buildings Department rejected the plan out of hand. To build over a public sidewalk had only been allowed once in the history of Chicago, and that was for a hospital. The idea was dead in the water unless his honor, Mayor Richard J. Daley, would be willing to override his own Buildings Department’s veto.

I came prepped and rehearsed to the Mayor’s office on the fifth floor of City Hall in the summer of 1976, bringing the architectural renderings and plans that Skidmore had provided. Although he knew me, I was alone and very nervous. After all, I was in my early forties, hardly known outside of Chicago while the Mayor was a world personality and a US powerhouse.He had just been elected to his sixth consecutive term. Besides, I was there to ask for a personal favor, so to speak.

The mayor listened quietly to my plea without interrupting and when I was finished asked one question, “What will it do for Chicago?”

This was not the question I expected, but I thought I knew the right answer. “Mr Mayor,” I responded without hesitation, “if I am right about financial futures, the IMM will move the center of financial gravity of this country a couple of miles westward from New York.”

The mayor broke into a hearty laugh. “I like that,” he said shaking my hand. “Go ahead and expand your building.”

And that’s why the black box on top of Union Station looks so funny, kids.

Dining In: Steak Frites

November 16, 2011 § 1 Comment

One of the bloggers whose content I always enjoy is Jeff Carter over at Points and Figures. Jeff’s part trader, part venture capitalist, part political commentator and part gourmand. At some point early this summer he tweeted about how he was making Steak Frites that evening. I thought to myself “hmmmm, maybe I’ll do the same.” Much like my deep dish recipe, it took a lot of experimentation to get things right. I started with Rachael Ray’s technique as sort of an outline (only because it was the first result that came up in Google) and expanded on it a bit from there.

I decided from the get-go that I was going to do both the frites and the steak on the grill instead of in the kitchen. Much easier to deal with spattering oil that way. Plus it’s pretty hard to beat the taste of a grilled steak, right? The obvious downside is that you lose the sucs for the base of the sauce but that’s a trade that I’m willing to make. Sacrilege to some, I know.

My grill is a good ol Weber Genesis Silver, two burners. To kick things off, I heat it to medium high. As it heats up, I put my 18″ cast iron skillet on the left side, filled with about 2″ of oil. I let the oil heat up for around 8 minutes or so (I don’t actually measure the temp, just the time) before adding potatoes sliced shoestring thin in a single layer. I leave them in for about 6-8 minutes. This is a lot longer than the original technique calls for and probably at a lower temp,  but I’ve found that it works just fine for me. I then pull the potatoes out of the oil, salt and pepper them, and crank the grill all the way to the stops.

After 5 minutes or so, potatoes go back in the skillet for 10 minutes tops. It’s pretty easy to tell when they’re done because they’ll be that nice shade of golden brown and start to curl just a touch at the ends.

As the frites are crisping, I cook the steaks. NY strips, you know the drill – leave them out for 20-30 minutes, salt and pepper. Because the grill’s running so hot I cook them as far away from the middle as I can. 4 minutes, turn 90 degrees, 4 minutes, flip, 4-5 minutes on the other side gets them to that perfect shade of medium rare.

Since I’m way too scatterbrained and clumsy to run back and forth between the deck and the kitchen I let Mrs Ilk handle the sauce. Pretty similar to the original but we use port:

1 shallot, chopped

1 T butter

1 T flour

1 c port (Here I’ll throw in a quick plug for St Francis vineyards, they send us a bottle every Christmas as part of their wine club. If you like moderately priced California reds they’re the tops.)

Salt/pepper to taste

Melt the butter, sweat the shallot in it. Add flour, cook for 2-3 minutes while stirring constantly. Slowly whisk in port and cook until thickened. Plate steak, top with frites, dump sauce on top.

We also saute mushrooms and serve on the side.

 

Dining In: The Failed Doner Kebab Experiment

November 14, 2011 § Leave a comment

For the past 15 years, I’ve considered myself very lucky to work in a field which has facilitated many drunken nights out in European cities. Many of those drunken nights out have ended with me stuffing my face with a doner kebab while trying not to get any on my shirt. They’re the European equivalent of the 3 am burrito. And although they feature sliced spit-roasted lamb, beef and/or chicken served on some sort of flattish bread, don’t even compare them to a gyro. It’s sacrilege.

While in Linz, Austria this past summer on vacation, I decided to expose Mrs Ilk to the wonders of the doner. Her only previous time in Europe was spent with her parents, and if there’s one thing I know about my inlaws it’s that the chance of them walking into a sketchy looking kebab shop are pretty much nil. So it had to be done. She was hooked. So hooked that after a beer-soaked afternoon at the Hofbrauhaus before heading to Munich airport for our flight home we sought out another one.

Somehow Saturday morning we got on the topic about how she was jonesing for one. I’m a firm believer that there are certain foods best outsourced to nasty holes in the wall and doner kebabs are among them, but I’m also a firm believer in kitchen experimentation. A Google search turned up this thread on Chowhound and it seemed easy enough. Was it easy? Yes. Did turn out as expected? Well, not so much.

First, the pide bread. I went ahead and converted the metric measurements to customary when needed, so you can put your calculators away.

Ingredients (serves 8 )
2 tsp  dried yeast
1/2 tsp caster sugar Caster sugar is just plain old boring granulated sugar.
1 cup lukewarm water
3 cups unbleached plain flour
1 tsp salt
2 tbs olive oil
2 tbs natural yoghurt
Plain flour, to dust
Olive oil, extra, to grease
1 egg, lightly whisked
2 tsp sesame seeds
Method
Combine yeast, sugar and 2 tbs of the water in a small bowl, and stir until yeast dissolves. Set aside in a warm, draughtfree place for 10 minutes or until frothy.
Sift flour and salt into a large bowl. Make a well in the centre and add the remaining water, oil, yoghurt and yeast mixture. Use a wooden spoon to stir until combined, then use your hands to bring the dough together in the bowl.
Turn dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead for 10 minutes or until smooth and elastic.
Brush a large bowl with oil to lightly grease. Place the dough in the bowl and turn to coat in oil. Cover with plastic wrap and set aside in a warm, draughtfree place to prove for 2 hours or until dough has doubled in size.
Preheat oven to 425 F. Punch down the centre of the dough with your fist. Turn onto a lightly floured surface and knead for 2-3 minutes or until dough has returned to its original size. Divide into 2 equal portions and shape each portion into a 6″ by 12″ rectangle. Place on 2 non-stick baking trays and press with fingers to indent surface. Brush with egg and sprinkle with sesame seeds. Loosely cover with plastic wrap and place in a warm, draught-free place to prove for 20 minutes or until dough has risen an inch or so.
Bake in preheated oven for 20 minutes or until pide is golden brown and sounds hollow when tapped on the base. Remove from oven and place on a wire rack to cool. Cut into slices and serve with dips.
Notes & tips
You can make this pide up to 6 hours ahead.

When all is said and done, what you end up with is a couple of giant chunks of flatbread that look like this:

They’re crispy on the outside (due to the egg wash), fluffy on the inside – but they’re also really thick and uneven. My first thought when they came out of the oven was “how on earth are you going to stuff this thing with meat and roll it up?” It didn’t sound hollow when tapped on the base. It sounded awful dense.

So…on to the meat we go.

2 lbs ground lamb (we used 1.5 lbs of 1/2 beef, 1/2 lamb)
2 tsp salt
1 1/2 tsp ground black pepper
2 tsp flour
3 tsp ground oregano
1 1/2 tsp italian seasoning
1 1/2 garlic powder
1 1/2 tsp onion powder
1 1/2 tsp dried mustard
1 tsp cayenne
1/2 tsp paprika

Put all ingredients into a mixer with a dough hook and mix for 30 minutes. You want the meat to be pulverized. What you do from here depends on what you have. If you have a vertical spit, you can form it into patties and build a cone. If you don’t, you can form it into a loaf and bake at 350 for 45 minutes to an hour. Just make sure it’s pressed really tight before you bake.

First of all, the ol’KitchenAid can pulverize meat in a lot faster than 30 minutes. It wasn’t even 15 before the meat was whipped to a consistency so disgusting that it made me squeamish – and that’s saying something. I gingerly scraped it all into a loaf pan (as much as a rotating spit would be in the kitchen, I don’t think we have the space) and then used a piece of wax paper to make it somewhat even before popping it into the oven for 45 minutes.

Here’s what you end up with – a slightly shrunken meat mass:

The real quandary with the meat? How to slice it. You want it thin. Tried using a cheese plane and it didn’t work at all. It was impossible t0 get a good grip on the surface of the meat to cut into and the risk of crumbling it was there. So we ended up just slicing it as thin as possible with a carving knife, which still wasn’t thin enough. We piled it onto the pide, added lettuce, tomato, onion and tzatziki and what did we end up with?

Well, pretty much a gyro with slightly different bread. Chalk this one up to the losing column. The loss was compounded by the fact that at no point did I even think about whipping up some of that runny red hot chili sauce that makes it so awesome.

Dining In: Deep Dish

November 9, 2011 § 4 Comments

As an upstate New Yorker transplanted to the Midwest, I hold no particular allegiance to either side in any of the pizza debates that have raged and raged since time immemorial. Upstate, we didn’t eat NYC style slices. Our pizzas were a bit thicker and doughier – think the consistency of a national chain like Domino’s or the Hut only much tastier. Favorite joints growing up were the iconic Proietti’s and the much more low-rent Mr. Shoes. The name of the latter always grossed me out.

(Speaking of grossouts from the age of about 10 until 14 I had an affinity for anchovies. However, they grossed my old man out to the point where “anchovies on half, pepperoni on the other” wasn’t an option. I had to get my own small pizza and eat it in the dining room or family room while everyone else ate in the kitchen. Under no circumstances was I allowed to store leftovers in the fridge. It went from box to plate to garbage disposal because god forbid it sat and festered in the garbage can over the course of a few days. I still like anchovies but eating them is no longer an act of rebellion).

When I moved to Chicago in the summer of ’93 and tried my first “Chicago style” pizza I was confused. I just assumed all Chicago pies were deep dish, but nope, this stuff was cracker-thin and cut into squares. (Later I learned from one of my hipster foodie friends that the proper term for that is “tavern cut.” So now you all know too.) It wasn’t until the family made our first pilgrimage to Lou Malnati’s in downtown Naperville that I experienced deep dish for the first time. Then I understood – there’s actually three types of Chi pie. Thin crust, deep dish and stuffed. Like the first two, can’t stand the latter.With the abundance of pizza places in the area, I never really gave much thought to making my own (especially not deep dish) until Cook’s Illustrated ran a how to on it in January of 2010. From that moment on, it became an obsession. I’ve probably taken 15-20 cracks at this recipe since then and I think I’ve finally got it perfected. So here it goes, with my adds and mods.

Dough ingredients:

3 1/4 c flour

1/2 c cornmeal

1 1/2 tsp salt

2 tsp sugar

1 packet rapid rise yeast

1 1/4 c water, room temperature

4 T softened butter (which you’ll use now), plus 3 T melted (which you’ll use to laminate later)

 Mix flour, cornmeal, salt, sugar, and yeast in bowl of stand mixer fitted with dough hook on low speed for about a minute. I use the lowest possible setting on mine.  Add water and softened butter while continuing to mix on low until mixture starts resembling dough. Increase speed to medium and knead until dough is one big unified lump and pulls away from sides of bowl. This usually takes around 5 minutes or so. (Dough will only pull away from sides while mixer is on. When mixer is off, dough will fall back to sides.)

Form the dough into a nice big ball. Then drop into a lightly oiled bowl and let rise for an hour or so.

Once the dough is risen, you get to laminate it. This is the most fun part of the process next to eating it, because by “laminating” they mean “the dough is the canvas and the butter is the paint.”  Here it’s probably important to note that instead of two 9″ pies that the recipe has you make, I go with a single 12″ instead. So no need to separate the dough into two balls.

Flip the dough out onto a dry surface and roll it out. Take the melted butter and brush it onto the dough with a soft spatula or barbecue brush. I use the latter. Then, fold the dough in half and brush it again. Fold it once more and brush again, and then fold one final time. Place it back into the bowl and refrigerate for at least an hour.

While it’s soaking up the butter in the fridge, I work on the sauce and the toppings. I stay almost exactly true to the basic pizza sauce recipe:

2 tsp butter

1/4 cup grated onion

1/4 tsp oregano

2 cloves garlic (I’m Italian, so I double it to 4)

1 28 oz can crushed tomatoes

1/4 tsp sugar

2 tsp chopped basil (if I don’t have any on hand, I throw in a pinch of dried)

1 T olive oil

Heat the butter until melted, then add in onions and oregano. When onions are brown, add garlic and cook for about 30 seconds. Add tomatoes and sugar, turn heat up to high until it simmers. Simmer for a few minutes, then turn heat down to medium low and cook for 30 min. Off heat, stir in basil and oil, then season with salt and pepper.

The original recipe calls for just cheese as a topping, but what fun is that. I’ve discovered that it’s best with:

3 hot Italian sausages, casing removed

1/2 onion, chopped

1 package fresh mushrooms, chopped

Saute it all together, mashing up the sausage as you go. Once sausage is cooked through and mushrooms are softened, you’re ready to put it all together. Go ahead and preheat your oven to 425 and lightly oil a 12″ pan.

Transfer  dough ball to dry work surface and roll out into an 18″ disk of an even thickness – 1/4 to 1/2 an inch seems to work.  Press the dough into the pan, working into corners and 1 inch up sides. You will end up with extra dough for sure – I carefully tear it off and then make sure to press the edges nice and neat to the side of the pan. I roll the extra dough into loaves, put it into the oven with the pizza and behold – poor man’s crazy bread!

Once you’ve got the dough pressed out, add a base layer of 1 lb shredded mozzarella, then toppings, then top off with sauce. Original recipe cautions against using shredded cheese in the notes at the beginning, but I have found that it melts just fine every time and there’s no real difference from using slices.

Bake at 425 for 27 minutes (that seems to be my magic number, anyway). Let sit for a few minutes, sprinkle with a little grated parmigiana, then slice and enjoy.

Special thanks to Test Kitchen intern and friend Lena Hanson for the help with making sure I did everything in line with ATK/Cooks Illustrated guidelines.