Monday, April 18, 2016

Cracker-crust pizza

It's amazing to me how pizza varies so much from region to region, and how much I love each and every type. While Chicago is famous for its deep dish, the Midwest is also known for another pizza on the complete opposite spectrum: cracker-crust pizza.

If you've never had cracker crust it's exactly what it sounds like--super thin and crispy pizza that holds up to its toppings and snaps like a cracker. I'm relatively new to this style of pizza as well, but man I love it.

Not only is it delicious, it's also the easiest dough you'll ever make and comes together in minutes! The yeast-less dough needs only a short rest before you're ready to roll it out. And yes, I said "roll" it out. Unlike other pizza dough, which can be difficult to handle, you roll this one out between 2 pieces of parchment paper to an exact diameter. That makes it 100% easy and 100% idiot proof.

Rolling out your ball of dough between 2 pieces of parchment. Drawing a 12" circle directly on the parchment paper makes it super easy to make your pizza the exact size. Your dough will be super thin, but that's the way we roll!

Lift off the top piece of parchment, then lightly roll up the sides to create a small rim.

Once you've rolled out your dough, top it with pizza sauce, cheese, and toppings of your choice. You keep the dough on the bottom parchment paper, since you'll use this to transfer your pizza directly onto your pizza stone. (Yes, you keep the parchment on the pizza--I promise it won't burn in your oven and it makes it a million times easier to transfer your pizza to the oven!)
Salami and onion
What's amazing to me is not only how thin the crust is, but how crispy it remains no matter what you top it with. Sure, it got a touch soft when we put fresh tomatoes on top, but it was still delicious. I've made a ton of different flavor combinations, and they all work really well with the cracker crust.
The salami pizza cooked--crispy and delicious!
Fresh heirloom tomato and basil

Artichoke hearts and green olives (and a few pepperonis)

So if you've never had cracker-crust pizza before, I can't stress enough how awesome it is. And while I love me a deep dish oozing with cheese, this pizza just hits the spot sometimes.

Buen Provecho,

Cracker Crust Pizza, from Lottie + Doof (adapated from the cookbook The New Midwestern Table)

Note: I love using Trader Joes fresh pizza sauce (not the canned one, the one in the refrigerated section). I always keep a container of sauce and a block of mozzarella in the freezer for when a pizza craving hits. If you want a recipe for fresh pizza sauce, the Lottie + Doof link has you covered.

Also, make sure to check out my previous post (with a recipe for quick pizza dough). It has a bunch of great little tricks when making pizza at home.

Cracker-Crust Pizza (from The New Midwestern Table by Amy Thielen)

Pizza Dough - makes three 12" pizzas
3/4 cup cool water
1/4 cup canola oil
1 teaspoon fine sea salt
1 teaspoon sugar
2 cups plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour, plus more as needed

pizza sauce (I like 1/4 cup sauce per pizza)
mozzarella (I like 3 to 4 ounces of cheese per pizza)
extra-virgin olive oil, for brushing

Topping ideas
fresh basil leaves
onions, sliced
mushrooms, sliced
green or black olives, sliced
artichoke hearts
banana peppers
heirloom tomatoes (though it'll make your crust a bit softer)

  1. For the pizza dough: pour the water, oil, salt, and sugar into a large bowl. Add 1 cup of the flour and whisk until smooth. Switching to a wooden spoon, gradually add the remaining flour, stirring until the dough comes together. Turn the dough out onto a clean surface and knead until it is smooth and supple, about 5 minutes. Divide the dough into three equal pieces, shape each one into a rough disk, cover with a cloth, and let rest on a board for at least 30 minutes (and up to 3 hours) before rolling.
  2. Set a pizza stone on a rack on the bottom third of the oven and preheat the oven to 500°F (I like to heat it for at least 30 minutes, longer if possible.)
  3. Cut out 6 pieces of parchment paper. Draw a 12" circle on 3 of them.
  4. Roll the pizza dough: once the dough has rested, roll one portion of dough between two pieces of parchment paper, making sure the top piece has the 12" circle facing up. Roll your dough very thin until it reaches 12" in diameter.
  5. Peel off the top layer of parchment. Fold over the edges of the crust and pinch the edge into a small roll, as you would crimp a pie (see pictures above).
  6. Brush the dough lightly with olive oil, and then spread the top with sauce (1/4 cup), cheese (3-4 ounces), and toppings.
  7. Slip a pizza peel beneath the paper and transfer the pizza to the pizza stone in the oven (keeping the parchment on the bottom of the pizza!). Bake until browned on top and slightly charred on the edges, 15 to 18 minutes.
  8. Transfer the pizza to a cutting board, swiping the paper out from underneath the pizza. Cut the pizza into small squares and serve immediately. Repeat the process to make two more pizzas.


Saturday, April 9, 2016

Lasagna soup

It's April 9, and the windchill outside was 12 degrees this morning. What. Is. Happening?

The only good coming from this shitty weather is that I can share this creamy and cheesy lasagna soup recipe with you so late in the year, and it's still weather appropriate!

The ricotta and mozzarella cheese are hidden below the hot soup,
getting ready to surprise you with melty goodness.
As happens too often, these photos do not capture how awesome this dish is. I ate this soup every night for a whole week and didn't get tired of eating it once. Sure, I love myself some lasagna, but apparently it is wayyyyy better in soup form. And much easier to make!


Part of the reason I loved this soup so much was how cheesy and creamy it was. But if you have someone who isn't as much as a cheese-freak as I am, this recipe is actually perfect, because the cheese portion is prepared and served separately from the soup. So while I used the whole cheese shebang in my bowl (ricotta, pecorino, and mozarella), the boy opted for just the ricotta and pecorino. Win-win!

I liked serving the cheese at the bottom of the bowl, so it melts with the heat of the soup and is a fun little surprise to dig into. And as you eat more and more the soup becomes creamier and creamier...

What kind of food blogger would I be if I didn't share what the dish
actually looks like after a few (delicious) minutes?

Buen Provecho,

Cheesy Lasagna Soup, adapted from A Farmgirl's Dabbles
Note: This soup makes 6-8 servings. If you're serving it all at once, you can cook the pasta directly in the soup (in step 5). Otherwise, if you're going to be eating any leftovers, cook the pasta separately from the soup and toss with a bit of oil after cooking to prevent sticking.


For the soup
2 tsp. olive oil
1 to 1.5 pounds Italian sausage (I used mild)
3 cups chopped onions (yes, this sounds like a lot, but it's perfect)
4 garlic cloves, minced
2 tsp. dried oregano
1/2 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
2 TBSP tomato paste
1 28-oz. can fire roasted diced tomatoes (I like Muir Glen)
2 bay leaves
6 cups chicken stock
8 to 10 oz. pasta of your choice (De Cecco brand is the absolute best, I used orchietti this time)
salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1/2 c. finely chopped fresh basil leaves

For the ricotta mixture
8 oz. ricotta
1/2 cup grated Parmesan or pecorino romano cheese
1/4 tsp. salt
pinch of freshly ground pepper

extra cheese: 2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese

  1. Heat olive oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add sausage, breaking up into bite sized pieces, and brown for about 5 minutes. 
  2. Add onions and cook until softened, about 6 minutes. 
  3. Add garlic, oregano, and red pepper flakes. Cook for 1 minute. 
  4. Add tomato paste and stir well to incorporate. Cook for 3 to 4 minutes, or until the tomato paste turns a rusty brown color. 
  5. Add diced tomatoes, bay leaves, and chicken stock. Season with salt and pepper. Bring to a boil and then reduce heat and simmer for 30 minutes.
  6. While the soup is cooking, prepare the ricotta mixture: in a small bowl, combine the ricotta, Parmesan/pecorino, salt, and pepper. 
  7. Also get your pasta ready while the soup simmers: in a separate stockpot, bring salted water to a boil over high heat for the pasta. With about 10 minutes left for the soup, cook the pasta until al dente. Drain and toss with a little oil to avoid sticking. 
  8. To serve, place a dollop of the ricotta cheese in each soup bowl, sprinkle some of the mozzarella on top, and add pasta. Ladle the hot soup over the cheese. Top with fresh basil.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Buttery buttermilk cake

Do you ever have those times when craving for a particular type of food strikes, and you hunt through your saved recipes on Pinterest until you hit upon one you can whip up using ingredients on hand?

A craving for cake led me to this...

Buttermilk cake with whipped cream and cherry jam
You see, as someone who decorates cakes, most of the time I'm making my go-to yellow or chocolate cakes + German buttercream frosting. But those aren't really the cakes I want to eat. The ones I prefer are rich, not-so-sweet, and rustic. More of a snacking cake than a layer cake.

This buttermilk cake was exactly that.

The original recipe called for sour milk jam and gin-poached cherries to accompany the cake. But nobody aint got no time for that when you're trying to indulge your craving! So instead I whipped up a bit of cream I had in the fridge and topped it with this tart cherry and white tea jam from quince and apple. (Not a sponsored post, I just looove this company and their Wisconsin-made jam!)

I won't lie--this cake is incredibly buttery and rich. So a small slice is all you need to hit the spot.

Buen Provecho,

Buttermilk Cake, adapted from Lottie + Doof (who adapted it from Bon Appetit)

Note: if you're interested in recipes for sour milk jam and gin-poached cherries, check out the original Lottie + Doof post. I simply topped my cake with whipped cream and a mild jam made with whole tart cherries.  

1 1/4 cups (2 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
2 cups all-purpose flour plus more
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup sugar
2 large eggs
1 cup buttermilk

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter and flour a 9" cake pan (I like to use a thin coat of baking spray [like Pam with flour], insert a parchment round on the bottom, and respray.)
  2. Whisk flour, baking soda, salt, in a medium bowl; set aside.
  3. Using an electric mixer, beat sugar and butter in another medium bowl until light and fluffy, about 4 minutes. Add eggs one at a time, beating to blend between additions and scraping down sides of bowl.
  4. Reduce mixer speed to low and, with motor running, add dry ingredients in 3 additions alternating with buttermilk in 2 additions, beginning and ending with dry ingredients. Scrape batter into prepared pan.
  5. Bake until cake is golden and a tester inserted into the center comes out clean, 40-45 minutes. Transfer pan to a wire rack and let cake cool before turning out.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Black bean soup with bacon

Every time I read food blogs I end up saving a ton of them to Pinterest. But I'm not sure I've ever read a recipe and been so inspired that I immediately go to my kitchen and start cooking.

That is, I'd never done that until I read this post for hearty bean soup with bacon.

Such a humble dish, it seems surprising that beans would get me off the couch and into the oven. But I guess I shouldn't be too surprised. First off the recipe was dead simple. And I had a bag of black beans in my cupboard. And there was a chill in the air, so I was craving soup. It was the perfect storm.

What is it about beans and bacon that makes such an incredible combination?! I mean this would make a delicious vegetarian soup, but a touch of smoked bacon gives this dish such a deep and complex flavor. It also didn't hurt that I was using the best bacon I've ever had, this thick-cut smokey bacon from a tiny town in Minnesota across the river from the boy's hometown in Wisconsin.

Not sure my post will get you off the computer and into your kitchen, but I hope so!

Buen Provecho,

Bean Soup with Bacon, adapted from Seasons and Suppers

You can thicken your soup in a couple of ways. Use an immersion blender to break the beans up just a bit (a potato masher or fork would work too). You can also thicken with a bit of cornstarch (or arrowroot starch) dissolved in a bit of water.

4 slices of bacon, diced into 1/4-inch pieces (if you don't have smokey bacon, add a few drops of liquid smoke to the soup, to taste)
1/3 cup diced onion
1 cup finely diced carrot (about 1/4-inch dice)
4 cups chicken broth
2 cups water
1 cup dried beans (I used black beans)
bay leaf
3 Tbsp. tomato paste
Salt and pepper to taste
Optional: 1-2 drops of Liquid Smoke (don't add if you're using a super smokey bacon)
Optional: 2 TBSP cornstarch (or arrowroot starch) mixed with 2 TBSP water, to thicken

  1. In a large, heavy bottom pot over medium heat, cook the bacon until almost crisp. Remove half the bacon, place in a small bowl, and store in the refrigerator. 
  2. Discard all but 1 TBSP of the bacon fat from the pot and heat over medium heat. Add the onion and carrot to the pot and cook, stirring, until the onions are tender. 
  3. Add the broth, water, dried beans and a bay leaf. Bring to a boil over high heat, stirring regularly, then immediately reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer for 90 minutes. 
  4. After 90 minutes, start testing your beans by taking a bit of one, and continue simmering, covered, as necessary until beans are tender (testing every 15 minutes). 
  5. Remove and discard the bay leaf. Add the tomato paste and Liquid Smoke (if using). Taste and adjust seasoning as necessary (add more salt/pepper/tomato paste, to taste). 
  6. To thicken the soup, use an immersion blender or potato masher to smash the beans. I didn't puree the soup completely and left some chunks of beans in there. If you’d like your soup a little thicker, add the cornstarch/water mixture to soup and cook over medium heat, stirring until soup thickens.
  7. Once the soup is at the consistency you'd like, add in the the reserved bacon pieces until warmed through.

Crispy tofu with honey garlic sauce

Do you ever go to Chinese restaurants and wonder how they get that cracking coating onto tofu? I'm sure 9 times out of 10 oil + frying are responsible, but if you're looking for a great technique to get a similar crust by baking your tofu you've come to the right place.

I originally found this recipe on the blog I am Food Blog, and I'd highly recommend checking out her post because she has some gorgeous photos and a few close up shots of the process.

The process is simple, and you simply toss the tofu with cornstarch and bake until crispy. Then in the last few minutes of baking you make a delicious sticky sweet sauce to coat each crispy nugget.

This works great as a snack, side dish, or I could imagine adding it to some vegetables and meat to make a main dish.

Buen provecho,

Crispy Oven Baked Honey Garlic Tofu Bites Recipe, from I am Food Blog
serves 2
total time: 50 minutes

1 package pressed tofu (or firm tofu that you have pressed with a weight)
1 TBSP cornstarch
2 TBSP honey
1 TBSP soy sauce
3 cloves garlic, minced
freshly ground pepper, to taste
sliced green onions and toasted sesame seeds, to garnish

  1. Preheat the oven to 400°F. Dry off your tofu with a paper towel and cut into 1/2 inch cubes. 
  2. Toss the tofu with the cornstarch and arrange on a parchment-lined baking sheet. 
  3. Bake for 30-45 minutes, making sure to flip the tofu cubes midway through baking.  
  4. When you have ~5 minutes left on the baking time (at that point your tofu should be a light golden brown) start the sauce. In a small frying pan, heat up honey, soy sauce, and garlic over medium heat until bubbly and thick. Taste and season with freshly ground pepper. 
  5. Remove the tofu from the oven and toss in the sauce. Garnish with sliced green onions and toasted sesame seeds (if you like them...)

Spring roll dipping sauce

I love spring rolls in the summertime, when it's hot and sticky outside and your body wants fresh, light food to nibble on. But they're great year round--in the Winter (when you want to jump start your healthy eating), and in Chicago Spring (no pun intended), when temperatures can range 30+ degrees in days.

I love all those herbs and crisp veggies. But I won't lie to you, the spring roll portion can be *relatively* mild in flavor. Yes, the herbs are a great punch of flavor. But the veggies, rice noodles, and shrimp (optional) portion of the rolls can be a bit flat in terms of complex flavors.

That's where your dipping sauce comes into play! And this dipping sauce will not disappoint (well, it won't disappoint if your taste buds are anything like mine). It comes together in a jiffy and contains only a handful of ingredients, but takes these spring rolls to another level.

Spring rolls take a bit of time on the front end to prep all those veggies, but in the grand scheme of things its a very simple dish. And I won't even pretend to be an expert on the rolling process (I tend to overstuff my rolls to the gills), but if you're interested in learning more you must check out this post from White on Rice Couple. They have a ton of photos, which really helped with my rolling game.


Spring roll dipping sauce, slightly adapted from the gorgeous book A Change of Appetite

4 cloves of garlic, minced
1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
1 TBSP sugar or superfine sugar
3 - 4 TBSP lime juice (~2 limtes)
2.5 TBSP fish sauce (more or less to taste)

Mix ingredients until sugar is dissolved, and serve with fresh spring rolls.


Sunday, January 10, 2016

Peanut quinoa salad

Remember this Thai salad with chicken and cabbage I posted a while back? (Fun fact: it's still one of my favorite salads ever!) Or how about this veggie-packed quinoa salad I recently posted about?

Thai salad on left and quinoa salad on right
Wellllll, today's recipe is like those 2 recipes had a baby. A delicious, Thai-inspired quinoa baby! It's got the peanut-y and lime kick and cabbage from the salad on the left, with the quinoa and red peppers from the salad on the right.

Oh, and of course it has red quinoa instead of the white variety, because I love the hearty and nutty flavor of the red quinoa, which stands up really well to this thicker peanuty sauce.

Just like its mama and papa salads, this recipe is perfect to make on a Sunday and eat throughout the week. I've been obsessed these days with my weekly salad fix, so having different recipes to pull from keeps me from getting too bored.

Buen Provecho,

Thai-inspired quinoa salad with cabbage, adapted from Ambitious Kitchen

¾ to 1 cup uncooked quinoa (I recommend red quinoa, or a tri-color mix)
½ small head of red cabbage, sliced thin
1 red, orange, or yellow bell pepper, diced
½ red onion, diced
1 cup shredded carrots or 3 carrots, chopped
1 cup chopped cilantro (~1 bunch)
¼ cup diced green onions (I use the whole thing, green and white part)
½ cup cashew halves or peanuts, optional (I didn't use)
1 cup edamame or chickpeas, optional (I didn't use)

¼ cup peanut butter
2 tsp freshly grated ginger
3-4 TBSP lime juice (~ 2 limes) 
3 TBSP soy sauce or tamari
1 TBSP honey (agave is another alternative)
1 TBSP red wine vinegar
1 tsp olive oil
1 tsp sesame oil, optional (if you like it, which I do not...)

  1. Cook quinoa according to package directions. Set aside until cool in a large bowl (the same one you'll eventually add all your ingredients to).
  2. Start chopping the rest of your salad ingredients and add to the quinoa bowl.
  3. To make dressing: Add peanut butter and honey to a medium microwave safe bowl; heat in microwave for 20 seconds. Add in ginger, lime juice, soy sauce, vinegar, and olive oil and stir until mixture is smooth and creamy.
  4. Pour dressing over the salad, stir, and refrigerate to let the flavors meld a bit.
  5. Serve chilled or at room temperature with lime wedges.