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March Daring Bakers: Lasagna (Gluten Free)

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I will go ahead and admit that I wasn’t that excited when I saw this month’s challenge.  I know there is a Daring Cooks group to debut soon, but this seemed too close to cooking, and I wanted to be more challenged in the baking arena.  I also had to make the gluten free version and I thought it would be a pain.  But, like the dedicated Daring Baker I have promised to be, I forged ahead and made the lasagna.

I am really glad I did, because I was very pleasantly surprised at how this turned out.  The gluten free version required a mix of several different flours, but it came together fairly easily.  Because of the lack of gluten, it was a bit dry and crumbly, but I added some water and it started to come together just fine.  Rolling out the lasagna was much easier than I thought.  I didn’t even bother to make them into perfectly even lasagna shapes, but just kept them as I rolled them.  I did all of this one night and then assembled the lasagna the next day.

When I told David that I was making lasagna, he didn’t look too excited.  He is not a big fan of ricotta cheese, and most lasagna is made this way.  He was much happier when I told him that it involved a bechemel sauce.  This bechemel sauce was so easy to make.  I thought at first that it could take forever to thicken, but it actually thickened very quickly.  I don’t like meat in my lasagna, so I made my usual marinara sauce instead.  I am really happy about this recipe.  It was nice to have lasagna again and making my own noodles was a great experience!  I have wanted to make homemade pasta for a while now and this was a great way to make myself get in the kitchen and do it!

The March 2009 challenge is hosted by Mary of Beans and Caviar, Melinda of Melbourne Larder and Enza of Io Da Grande. They have chosen Lasagne of Emilia-Romagna from The Splendid Table by Lynne Rossetto Kasper as the challenge.

Lasagne of Emilia-Romagna (Lasagne Verdi al Forno)
(Serves 8 to 10 as a first course, 6 to 8 as a main dish)

Preparation Time: 15 minutes to assemble and 40 minutes cooking time

10 quarts (9 litres) salted water
1 recipe Spinach Pasta cut for lasagna (recipe follows)#1
1 recipe Bechamel Sauce (recipe follows)#2
1 recipe Country Style Ragu (recipe follows)#3
1 cup (4 ounces/125g) freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

Method
Working Ahead:
The ragu  and the béchamel sauce can be made up to three days ahead. The ragu can also be frozen for up to one month. The pasta can be rolled out, cut and dried up to 24 hours before cooking. The assembled lasagne can wait at room temperature (20 degrees Celsius/68 degrees Fahrenheit) about 1 hour before baking. Do not refrigerate it before baking, as the topping of béchamel and cheese will overcook by the time the center is hot.

Assembling the Ingredients:
Have all the sauces, rewarmed gently over a medium heat, and the pasta at hand. Have a large perforated skimmer and a large bowl of cold water next to the stove. Spread a double thickness of paper towels over a large counter space. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit (180 degrees Celsius). Oil or butter a 3 quart (approx 3 litre) shallow baking dish.

Cooking the Pasta:
Bring the salted water to a boil. Drop about four pieces of pasta in the water at a time. Cook about 2 minutes. If you are using dried pasta, cook about 4 minutes, taste, and cook longer if necessary. The pasta will continue cooking during baking, so make sure it is only barely tender. Lift the lasagne from the water with a skimmer, drain, and then slip into the bowl of cold water to stop cooking. When cool, lift out and dry on the paper towels. Repeat until all the pasta is cooked.

Assembling the Lasagne:
Spread a thin layer of béchamel over the bottom of the baking dish. Arrange a layer of about four overlapping sheets of pasta over the béchamel. Spread a thin layer of béchamel (about 3 or 4 spoonfuls) over the pasta, and then an equally thin layer of the ragu. Sprinkle with about 1&1/2 tablespoons of the béchamel and about 1/3 cup of the cheese. Repeat the layers until all ingredients are used, finishing with béchamel sauce and topping with a generous dusting of cheese.

Baking and Serving the Lasagne:
Cover the baking dish lightly with foil, taking care not to let it touch the top of the lasagne. Bake 40 minutes, or until almost heated through. Remove the foil and bake another 10 minutes, or until hot in the center (test by inserting a knife – if  it comes out very warm, the dish is ready). Take care not to brown the cheese topping. It should be melted, creamy looking and barely tinged with a little gold. Turn off the oven, leave the door ajar and let the lasagne rest for about 10 minutes. Then serve. This is not a solid lasagne, but a moist one that slips a bit when it is cut and served.

Alternative Recipes from Mary of Beans and Caviar

#1 Gluten Free Egg Pasta

The choice of the first flour is personal. I used corn flour because the subtle taste blended well with the dish. However, this is a matter of personal taste – please feel free to substitute a different flour for the corn flour but don’t subsititute a starch.

150 gr corn flour or masa in North America – yellow with a slightly gritty feel (250 mL, 1 cup) NOT a starch
100 gr corn starch* (3/4 cup, 187.5 mL)
100 gr tapioca flour* (225 mL, 9/10 cup or a little over 7 volume ounces)
150 gr of potato starch* (250 mL, 1 cup)
100 gr of glutinous rice flour* (200 mL, ¾ cup)
10 gr of Xanthan powder (1.5 tsp, 7.5 mL)
10 gr of salt (1 tsp, 5 mL)

6 extra large eggs (60 gr each or 2.5 oz in weight, 1 fluid oz in volume)
3/8 cup of water (95 mL)
50 mL of extra virgin olive oil (1/5 cup)
Note: If you add cooked chopped spinach to this recipe, you may have to reduce the water. The recipe was not tested (yet) with the addition of spinach.

*fine white powder that squeaks when rubbed between fingers

Plastic wrap or parchment paper for your work surface
Aluminium foil to cover the lasagne

Sift all the dry ingredients together in a large bowl. Make a well in the middle of the dry ingredients.

Whisk together 3 eggs, the water and/or spinach, and the oil. Pour into the middle of the dry ingredients. Mix with a sturdy wooden spoon, gradually drawing more of the flour mix into the wet ingredients. Add each egg as needed. The dough will be crumbly at the beginning but will gradually come together as you add the eggs. You will need to use your hands to squeeze and mix the dough.

The dough will be firm and stick together when ready. It will not have the elasticity of gluten dough therefore it will crack when kneaded and pushed. Form it into a smooth ball, oil it lightly, and cover securely with plastic wrap. Let it rest for an hour.

Put a sheet of plastic wrap on your work surface. This is very important as the dough will not hold together very well when lifted. Have flour ready for dusting (corn flour etc) and dust the surface lightly. Cut a piece of dough about the size of really large egg – it doesn’t matter the size but start small for the first one to gauge how much space you need. Keep the remaining dough covered so it does not dry.

Roll the dough into a ball and flatten into a disc with your hands. Put it on your work surface and flatten with your hands. Use a rolling pin and gently push the dough down and out ward from the centre. You may have to place one hand on the plastic wrap as you push the dough down and away. Gluten free dough does not stretch like wheat dough therefore it needs gentle flattening and pushing. If it breaks, pat it back together. If it is too dry, dab a little water with your finger.

The gluten free dough will be thicker than wheat dough and you will barely be able to see your hand through the dough. Once it is flattened, cut into strips or squares that will fit your pan.

Set the dough aside on the plastic sheet. There is no need to dry the dough. But if you do dry the dough, it will not be able to hang because it will break. Stack the rolled out dough with plastic sheets in between.

Stack the sheets when dry and wrap securely. Store in the fridge until ready to use. Freezing will make the dough crumbly and difficult to work with – so freeze only as a last resort!

This dough does not need to be precooked before being assembled into the lasagne.

#2 Gluten Free Béchamel – White Sauce

2 & 2/3 cup milk
4 tablespoons unsalted butter or Extra virgin olive oil
4 tablespoons corn starch (fine white and squeaky) – another starch can be substituted
Salt and pepper to taste
Freshly grated nutmeg

Mix the corn starch with ½ cup of cold milk. Heat the rest of the milk in a small sauce pan until steaming but do not boil. Add the milk/cornstarch mixture to the steaming milk. Stirring constantly, raise the heat and heat the mixture until thick. Once it is thick, remove it from the heat and add the butter, salt, pepper and nutmeg. Taste and adjust the seasonings. Have the béchamel warm or at room temperature ready to assemble the lasagne. Whisk the sauce occasionally if it becomes stiff or thick.

Assembling the Gluten Free Lasagne

The assembly is the same as the regular lasagne with the addition of water. Gluten free lasagne noodles need a little more moisture for the lasagne, so you will be adding a little bit of water to the lasagne.

Before assembly, pour plain water into the pan, enough to form a thin film of water over the bottom. A 9 x 13 inch or 25 x 33 cm pan required almost ½ cup (125 mL) of water. Once the lasagne is assembled, pour a tablespoon or 15 mL of water into each corner of the dish. Cover the lasagne tightly with aluminium foil. Be careful not to touch the top of the lasagne with the foil. Bake as directed.

This lasagne was baked in a glass baking dish. Adjustments in time and temperature may be needed if your dish is metal!

Marinara Sauce:

Saute 1 large onion and about 2 cloves of garlic in olive oil. Add 2-3 cans tomato diced tomatoes (If I buy these from the grocery store, I use 15-ounce cans, but often David’s grandmother gives us canned tomatoes from her garden so I use those). Add 2 (15-ounce) cans of tomato sauce and 1 (8-ounce) can of tomato paste. Then add spices: oregano, basil, salt, pepper, and sugar to taste.

October Daring Bakers: Peter Reinhart’s Pizza

The Daring Bakers are baking up another Peter Reinhart recipe for October’s challenge.  I didn’t mind one bit because I love Peter Reinhart and his book and because I had really been wanting to try out his recipe for pizza dough.  This gave me just the nudge I needed!  Rosa of Rosa’s Yummy Yum-Yums chose this recipe to honor Sher of What Did You Eat? who sadly died over the summer.  They were supposed to host together, so Rosa kept this challenge in the spirits of what she and Sher had already talked about.  I was excited about this challenge because I love making and eating pizza!  I know it’s a simple meal, but it has always been one of my favorites.  I really like how you can customize pizza toppings to your own tastes, and you can make mini pizzas and try a variety of toppings.

I already had a fabulous pizza dough recipe and was interested to find out how this would compare.  I’ve been making my own pizza dough for about a year now, and it’s so satisfying to make.  It’s been a while since I made the Baking Illustrated version, so in all honesty, I can’t tell you which one I like the best.  I’ll have to make them both again to be a better judge 🙂  This dough was incredibly soft and easy to work with.  It had great flavor as well.  It took longer to make than my other version, but I would say it was worth it, and resulted in a very soft, flavorful crust.  I really liked this dough and thought it was a great recipe.  I like a variety of toppings for my pizza, but my husband has very simple tastes when it comes to pizza, so I just made a cheese pizza since I knew he would eat it.  I also used my own sauce recipe, which I love to make!  Thanks Rosa for a great October recipe.  I can’t wait to find out what November brings!

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

Makes 6 pizza crusts (about 9-12 inches/23-30 cm in diameter).

Ingredients:
4 1/2 Cups (20 1/4 ounces/607.5 g) Unbleached high-gluten (%14) bread flour or all purpose flour, chilled – FOR GF: 4 ½ cups GF Flour Blend with xanthan gum or 1 cup brown rice flour, 1 cup corn flour, 1 cup oat flour, 1 ½ cup arrowroot, potato or tapioca starch + 2 tsp xanthan or guar gum
1 3/4 Tsp Salt
1 Tsp Instant yeast – FOR GF use 2 tsp
1/4 Cup (2 ounces/60g) Olive oil or vegetable oil (both optional, but it’s better with)
1 3/4 Cups (14 ounces/420g or 420ml) Water, ice cold (40° F/4.5° C)
1 Tb sugar – FOR GF use agave syrup
Semolina/durum flour or cornmeal for dusting

DAY ONE

Method:
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/10°-13° C.

Or

2.  FOR GF: Add the oil, sugar or agave syrup and cold water, then 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.

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.

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 thee 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 tablespooons 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.

DAY TWO

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/1.3 cm thick and 5 inches/12.7 cm 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.

Or

8.  FOR GF:  On the day you plan to eat pizza, exactly 2 hours before you make it, remove the number of desired dough balls from the refrigerator.  Place on a sheet of parchment paper and sprinkle with a gluten free flour. Delicately press the dough into disks about ½ inch/1.3 cm thick and 5 inches/12.7 cm in diameter. Sprinkle the dough with flour, mist it again with spray oil. Lightly cover the dough round with a sheet of parchment paper and 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.

Or

10.  FOR GF: Press the dough into the shape you want (about 9-12 inches/23-30 cm in diameter – for a 6 ounces/180g piece of dough).

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/23-30 cm in diameter – for a 6 ounces/180g 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.

Or

11.  FOR GF: Lightly top it with sweet or savory toppings of your choice.

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

Or

12.  FOR GF:  Place the garnished pizza on the parchment paper onto the stone in the oven or bake directly on the jelly pan. Close the door and bake for about 5-8 minutes.

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 abour 5-8 minutes.

Or

13.  FOR GF:  Follow the notes for this step.

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.

REMARKS:
Tossing links: http://www.wikihow.com/Toss-Pizza-Dough, http://www.vids.myspace.com/index.cfm?f … D=35480534, http://www.ehow.com/how_2066953_toss-pizza-dough.html, http://www.classic-hand-tossed-pizza.bl … hands.html, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mhcTKeslAmk, http://www.ask.yahoo.com/20050222.html

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NOTE ON SAUCE: Your sauce (any) should not be too thick as it will thicken in the hot oven. Less is more but make the less truly more by using quality ingredients.

SUCE IDEAS: Pestos, white or brown sauce, tomato sauce, sour cream, thick cream, Bolognese sauce, etc…
Check here for sauce recipes: http://www.tenspeedpress.com/page.php3?ftr=300

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TOPPING IDEAS: Seafood, fish, meat (dry, cured, smoked or ground), cheeses (Gruyère, Gorgonzola, Mozzarella, Provolone, Ricotta, Maroille, Munster, etc…), nuts, tofu, veggies (tomatoes, bell peppers, artichokes, hearts of palm, zucchinis, pumpkin, red onions, etc…), herbs (mixes, fresh or dried), spices (garlic, gourmet salt, pepper, curry, berbere, ras-el-hanout, za’atar, etc…), nuts (pecans, walnuts, cashew nuts, Brasil nuts, macadamia nuts, etc…)….

Pizza Sauce (Source: Me!)

2 (8-ounce) cans tomato sauce or 1 (15-ounce) can tomato sauce
2 teaspoons basil
1 teaspoon oregano
1 teaspoon marjoram
¼ teaspoon hot pepper flakes
½ teaspoon garlic salt
½ teaspoon kosher salt
¼ teaspoon pepper
1 teaspoon sugar

Mix all ingredients together in a small saucepan on medium heat until warm. Spoon over pizza dough.

Gnocchi with Oregano-Butter Sauce (and my 100th post!)

I have never had gnocchi until I made this, but after seeing it on a Food Network show (I think it might have been Emeril), I knew I wanted to make it. I somehow just knew that I would love it. The only thing that stopped me was that I did not have a potato ricer. Finally, a few weeks ago, I picked one up at Williams Sonoma and knew that I could be on my way to making gnocchi soon.

I decided to try the version from Cook’s Illustrated because it seemed so straightforward. There were a few recommended sauces: a tomato-mint sauce, pesto, and a butter-sage sauce. I used the butter-sage sauce as inspiration and made it with oregano instead. Gnocchi is surprisingly easy to make. I wasn’t sure what exactly to expect in terms of taste, but I was really to find out how delicious it was. David described it as being like potato dumplings. I was really glad he loved it too, because I hate when I love something and he doesn’t because I know that means it will be a long time before I make it again! I really liked the sauce I chose to use with this. It was great with Parmesan cheese on top. I can’t wait to try different sauces when I make this again- and I will most definitely be making this again and again!

Potato Gnocchi (Source: Cook’s Illustrated March 1995)

2 pounds russet potatoes (or other baking potato), washed

1 ¼ cups unbleached all-purpose flour, plus more as needed

1 teaspoon table salt, plus more for cooking liquid

1. Heat oven to 400 degrees. Bake potatoes until a metal skewer slides easily through them, 45 minutes to 1 hour, depending on size.

2. Hold potato with a pot holder or kitchen towel and peel it with a vegetable peeler or paring knife (see illustration 1); rice peeled potato into a large bowl. Peel and rice remaining potatoes. Cool until potatoes are no longer hot, about 15 minutes.

3. Sprinkle 1 1/4 cups flour and 1 teaspoon salt over warm potatoes. Using your hands, work mixture into a soft, smooth dough. If dough is sticky (which is often the case), add more flour as needed, up to 1 1/2 cups total.

4. Roll about one-quarter of dough into a long 3/4-inch-thick rope (illustration 2). If rope won’t hold together (illustration 3), return it to bowl with remaining dough and work in more flour as needed. Repeat until all dough is rolled.

5. Cut rope of dough into 3/4-inch lengths (illustration 4). Holding butter paddle or fork in one hand, press each piece of cut dough against ridged surface with index finger to make an indentation in center. Roll dough down and off ridges and allow it to drop to work surface (illustrations 5, 6, and 7). (Gnocchi can be placed in a single layer on a baking sheet and refrigerated for several hours. Or, baking sheet can be placed in freezer for about 1 hour. Partially frozen gnocchi can be transferred to plastic bag or container, sealed, and frozen for up to 1 month.)

6. Bring 4 quarts of water to low boil in large pot. Add 2 teaspoons salt or to taste. Add about one-third of the gnocchi and cook until they float, 1 1/2 to 2 minutes (about 3 minutes for frozen gnocchi). Retrieve gnocchi with slotted spoon and transfer to warm, shallow serving bowl or platter. Repeat cooking process with remaining gnocchi; see related recipes for topping suggestions.

For Sauce:

6 tablespoons unsalted butter

12 whole fresh sage leaves, cut into thin strips, (other fresh herbs such as oregano, thyme, chives, or marjoram can be substituted)- I used oregano

½ cup grated Parmesan cheese, plus extra for passing

7. For Sauce: Melt butter in small skillet. When butter foams, add sage. Remove pan from heat and set aside until needed.

The Best Pizza Dough

Chelley read my mind this week when she made this pizza dough. Over the weekend I decided that I wanted pizza sometime this week and the recipe that Chelley used was the same recipe that I had planned to try. I had previously tried a recipe from allrecipes.com that was popular for a while. It was okay, but I found it to be much to doughy and chewy. I knew that my Baking Illustrated book would not let me down, and so I wanted to give their version a try. After Chelley’s review, I was confident that it would turn out well.

I was not disappointed! This pizza dough was absolutely perfect. It was crispy and a bit crunchy on the outside but was just soft and chewy enough on the inside. It also helped that I made the best batch of pizza sauce I’ve ever made 🙂 I decided to make my favorite type of pizza, which is a simple one with just cheese and pineapple. I never prebake the crust before adding the toppings, but this recipes calls for you to prebake the pizza stone for at least 30 minutes, which I think contributed to the amazing texture and consistency of this dough. It was also very easy to put together, thanks to using a food processor. When I was finished blending it together in the food processor, I knew by the texture of the dough that it would be good- it was so soft and easy to work with. I’m including the full recipe for the dough, which yields three medium-sized pizzas, but since it’s just the two of us I cut the recipe in half and it made one large pizza. I also included my recipe for pizza sauce.

Pizza Dough
(Source: Baking Illustrated, pages 153-155)

Makes enough for 3 medium pizzas.

We find the food processor is the best tool for making pizza dough. However, only a food processor with a capacity of at least 11 cups can handle this much dough. You can also knead this dough by hand or in a standing mixer (see the variations that follow). Unbleached all-purpose flour can be used in a pinch, but the resulting crust will be less crisp. If you want to make pizza dough in the morning and let it rise on the counter all day, decrease the yeast to 1/2 teaspoon and let the covered dough rise at cool room temperature (about 68 degrees) until doubled in size, about 8 hours. You can prolong the rising time even further by refrigerating the covered dough for up to 16 hours and then letting it rise on the counter until doubled in size, which will take 6 to 8 hours.

1/2 cup warm water (about 110 degrees)
1 envelope (about 2 1/4 teaspoons) instant yeast
1 1/4 cups water, at room temperature
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
4 cups (22 ounces) bread flour, plus more for dusting work surface and hands
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
Olive oil or nonstick cooking spray for oiling the bowl

1. Measure the warm water into a 2-cup liquid measuring cup. Sprinkle in the yeast and let stand until the yeast dissolves and swells, about 5 minutes. Add the room-temperature water and oil and stir to combine.

2. Process the flour and salt in a large food processor, pulsing to combine. Continue pulsing while pouring the liquid ingredients (holding back a few tablespoons) through the feed tube. If the dough does not readily form into a ball, add the remaining liquid and continue to pulse until a ball forms. Process until the dough is smooth and elastic, about 30 seconds longer.

3. The dough will be a bit tacky, so use a rubber spatula to turn it out onto a lightly floured work surface. Knead by h and for a few strokes to form a smooth, round ball. Put the dough into a deep oiled bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Let rise until doubled in size, 1 1/2 to 2 hours. Press the dough to deflate it.

Pizza Dough Kneaded by Hand
Follow the recipe for Pizza Dough through step 1. Omit step 2 and instead combine the salt and half the flour in a deep bowl. Add the liquid ingredients and use a wooden spoon to combine. Add the remaining flour, stirring until a cohesive mass forms. Turn the dough onto a lightly floured work surface and knead until smooth and elastic 7 to 8 minutes, using as little dusting flour as possible while kneading. Form the dough into a ball, put it in a deep oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and proceed with the recipe.

Pizza Dough Kneaded in a Standing Mixer
Follow the recipe for Pizza Dough through step 1. Omit step 2 and instead place the flour and salt in the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle. Briefly combine the dry ingredients at low speed. Slowly add the liquid ingredients and continue to mix at low speed until a cohesive mass forms. Stop the mixer and replace the paddle with the dough hook. Knead until the dough is smooth and elastic, about 5 minutes. Form the dough into a ball, put it in a deep oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and proceed with the recipe.

Pizza Sauce

2 (8-ounce) cans tomato sauce or 1 (15-ounce) can tomato sauce
2 teaspoons basil
1 teaspoon oregano
1 teaspoon marjoram
¼ teaspoon hot pepper flakes
½ teaspoon garlic salt
½ teaspoon kosher salt
¼ teaspoon pepper
1 teaspoon sugar

Mix all ingredients together in a small saucepan on medium heat until warm. Spoon over pizza dough.

Spicy Italian-Style Chicken with Sausage, Peppers, and Onions- Scarpariello

I was looking through the Cook’s Illustrated website for dinner ideas and came across this recipe when I was searching for chicken ideas. It sounded interesting and I wanted to try something different, so I decided to go for it. We ended up really enjoying it. I haven’t done a whole lot of cooking with bone-in chicken breasts, so this was a great way to get some practice. I really liked this combination of flavors. I didn’t find this to be all that spicy, so if you like spicy food you might want to adjust the seasonings. I would definitely make this again!

Spicy Italian-Style Chicken with Sausage, Peppers, and Onions- Scarpariello

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

8 ounces sweet Italian sausage , casings removed

2 pounds bone-in, skin-on chicken breast halves , trimmed of excess fat and skin and cut crosswise into 2 or 3 pieces (see illustrations below)

Table salt and ground black pepper

1 medium onion , halved and sliced 1/4 inch thick (about 1 1/4 cups)

1 large red bell pepper , stemmed, seeded, and cut into 1/4-inch strips (about 1 1/2 cups)

3-5 pickled hot cherry peppers , stemmed, seeded, and cut into 1/4-inch strips (about 1/4 cup)

3 medium cloves garlic , minced or pressed through a garlic press (about 1 tablespoon)

2 teaspoons granulated sugar

1/3 cup white wine vinegar plus 2 additional tablespoons

3/4 cup low-sodium chicken broth plus 1 tablespoon

1 teaspoon cornstarch

1 teaspoon minced fresh thyme leaves

1 tablespoon minced fresh parsley leaves

Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 350 degrees. Heat 1 teaspoon oil in 12-inch skillet over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add sausage and cook, stirring to break sausage into 1/2-inch pieces, until browned, about 3 minutes. Transfer sausage to plate lined with paper towels. Remove skillet from heat; pour off fat into small bowl and reserve; wipe out skillet with paper towels.

Return skillet to medium-high heat and heat remaining 2 teaspoons oil until smoking. Pat chicken dry and liberally season with salt and pepper. Add chicken, skin side down, and cook without moving until well browned, 3 to 5 minutes. Using tongs, turn chicken and brown on other side, about 3 minutes. Transfer chicken to large plate. Remove skillet from heat and pour off fat into bowl with sausage fat; wipe out skillet with paper towels.

Return skillet to medium-high heat and heat 1 tablespoon reserved fat until shimmering. Add onion and cook until beginning to soften, about 2 minutes. Add bell pepper and cherry peppers and cook, stirring occasionally, until bell pepper begins to soften, about 4 minutes. Add garlic and cook, stirring frequently, until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add sugar, 1/3 cup vinegar, and 3/4 cup broth; bring mixture to boil, scraping up browned bits from pan bottom.

Add sausage and chicken (with any accumulated juices) to skillet, arranging chicken pieces in single layer, skin side up, on top of peppers and onion. Transfer skillet to oven and cook until instant-read thermometer inserted into thickest part of chicken registers 160 degrees, 18 to 22 minutes, removing smaller pieces sooner if necessary. Meanwhile, combine cornstarch, thyme, and remaining tablespoon broth in small bowl.

Carefully remove skillet from oven (handle will be very hot) and transfer chicken, skin side up, to platter or individual serving plates. Place skillet over medium-high heat and stir in cornstarch mixture. Simmer sauce mixture until slightly thickened, 2 to 3 minutes. Off heat, taste sauce and add up to 2 tablespoons vinegar. Adjust seasonings with salt and pepper. Spoon sauce around chicken, being careful not to pour it directly over chicken. Sprinkle with parsley and serve immediately.

Source: Cook’s Illustrated May 2007

Chicken Cacciatore

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This dish used to be in our regular rotation but we haven’t made it in a while.  The recipe is originally from Emeril, but as I have prepared and eaten it, it has been adjusted to my personal tastes.  Last week I decided that I wanted to make it again and since this month’s Weekend Cookbook Challenge was Pressure Cookers, Dutch Ovens, and Crockpots, I knew it was a good time to fix it.  I love this dinner because it has so much flavor and it’s very easy to prepare.  I made a few changes to the recipe.  I only used boneless skinless chicken breasts and pounded them thin and sauteed them after adding the seasonings.  I have found that this works better than cooking them in the sauce because the sauce tends to make the coating soggy.  I also use double the amount of mushrooms because I love mushrooms in a red sauce and I didn’t think this one had enough.  I also added a few dashes of red pepper flakes to make it a little bit spicier.  This is a great recipe and one that I always enjoy making, and I am submitting it to this month’s Weekend Cookbook Challenge, hosted by Lis of La Mia Cucina.

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4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, pounded thin
Cayenne, paprika, salt, and pepper for coating chicken
1/2 cup flour
1/4 cup olive oil
1 cup chopped onions
Salt
Freshly ground black pepper
4 cups mushrooms (I used cremini)
2 tablespoons chopped garlic
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 cup chopped fresh tomatoes, peeled and seeded
1 cup tomato sauce
1 cup chicken stock
Pinch of crushed red pepper
1 bay leaf
2 sprigs of fresh thyme
1 tablespoon chiffonade basil
1/2 pound cooked fettuccine or spaghetti
4 ounces grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh parsley leaves

Season the chicken parts with desired amounts of paprika, cayenne, salt, and pepper. Dredge the chicken in flour, coating completely.  Saute chicken in olive oil until done, and place in warm oven until ready to serve.
In a large Dutch oven, over medium-high heat, add the oil. Add the onions. Season with salt and pepper. Saute for 2 minutes. Add the mushrooms and garlic. Season with salt and pepper. Continue to saute for 2 minutes. Stir in the wine, tomatoes, tomato sauce, and stock. Bring the mixture to a boil. Stir in the red pepper, bay leaf, thyme, and basil. Add the chicken back to the mixture. Reduce the heat to medium and cover. Simmer until sauce is of desired consistency and flavors are blended together.
Serve over pasta, garnished with cheese and parsley.

Source: Adapted from Emeril Legasse, originally in  New New Orleans Cooking, published by William and Morrow, 1993

Lasagna

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Lasagna is one of my favorite dinners. It’s such a nice classic dinner and it’s hard not to like it. I hadn’t had it in a while, so the other day I decided to make it. It’s hard to find the perfect recipe for the sauce. After searching tons of lasagna recipes, I came up with my own combination of flavors to create a really tasty sauce. I love how all of the flavors blended together. I let it cook on the stove all afternoon to get the best flavor.  I think this would also be very good with some Italian sausage.  I don’t like ground beef in my lasagna, but I do love sausage! I will definitely stick with this recipe. It’s definitely a keeper!

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Lasagna

½ cup chopped onion
1 (15-ounce) can crushed tomatoes
1 (8-ounce) can tomato paste
1 (15-ounce) can tomato sauce
¼ cup water
2 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons basil
¼ teaspoon ground fennel
½ to 1 teaspoon marjoram
1 teaspoon oregano
1 ½ teaspoons kosher salt
½ teaspoon pepper
2 tablespoons parsley
8 lasagna noodles
12 ounces ricotta cheese
1 egg
¼ teaspoon salt
1 to 1 ½ cups mozzarella cheese
½ cup Parmesan cheese

In a Dutch oven, cook onion until browned and tender. Stir in crushed tomatoes, tomato sauce, tomato paste, and water. Add sugar, basil, fennel, marjoram, oregano, salt, pepper, and parsley. Simmer, covered, for at least one to two hours (the longer the better), stirring occasionally.

Cook lasagna noodles according to package directions. In a small mixing bowl, combine ricotta cheese with the egg and a small amount of oregano and parsley, and the salt. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

To assemble: spread 1 cup of sauce in the bottom of an 8×8-inch pan. Arrange noodles over sauce. Spread half of the ricotta cheese mixture on top of noodles. Top with 1/3 to 1/2 cup mozzarella cheese. Spoon ¾ cup sauce over the mozzarella with ¼ cup Parmesan cheese. Repeat layers, and top with remaining mozzarella and Parmesan cheese. Cover with foil and bake in preheated oven for 25 minutes. Remove foil, and bake an additional 15 to 20 minutes. Cool before serving.

Mini Italian Meatloaves

I have had an interesting relationship with meat loaf during my life. When I was younger, I hated when my mom would make it for dinner. When I was about nine or ten, she finally stopped making it and I was content to completely deny meat loaf’s existence forever. I figured I would never have to be faced with having to eat it again.
I was wrong. A little over a year ago, David and I were talking about foods we hated as a child. I of course mentioned how much I hated meat loaf. He told me that he hated lima beans but actually liked meat loaf and would like to have it for dinner sometime. I ignored this for a while hoping that it would never be brought up again. But, after hearing him mention it a few more times, I agreed, but said that he would most likely be alone in eating it for dinner and that I would eat something else. I made a meat loaf for dinner that night and agreed to taste it. I was shocked when I ate a bite. I actually like meat loaf! The next time I made it, I came up with my own recipe that I now use. I am so glad that David convinced me to make it.
This past week I wanted meat loaf again, but instead of my usual recipe (hopefully that will be in a post in the near future), I decided to make a version of the Mini Italian Meatloaves that I saw in Chelley’s blog and in Amber’s blog. It was a nice change of pace from the typical meat loaf, and I really liked it and would make it again. I like the way the spices tasted together and the combination of the sauce and cheese on top. I like to bake meat loaf on a roasting pan to let the grease drain to the bottom. Good sides to make with this are field peas (David’s favorite), salad, rice, green beans, and mashed potatoes.

Here is the recipe (Source: Sugar & Spice and Amber’s Delectable Delights)
1 pound ground beef
1 egg, beaten
1 cup marinara sauce, divided (I used my own homemade version)
1/2 cup mozzarella cheese
1/2 cup breadcrumbs
1/4 cup onion, chopped
salt and pepper to taste (I used kosher salt)
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon onion powder
3/4 teaspoon parsley
3/4 teaspoon basil
1/4 teaspoon oregano

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Gently mix 3/4 cup marinara sauce and remaining ingredients together. Divide into 4 or 5 equal size pieces and form into desired shape. Place on greased roasting pan. Pour remaining marinara sauce over top of each loaf and top with desired amount of extra cheese.
Bake for 40-50 minutes or until internal temperature reaches 160 degrees. (It took 40 minutes for me).

Shrimp Fra Diavolo


I came to the conclusion that David and I were in a food rut. We always have good dinners, but we were too restricted to the same foods in our rotation. We couldn’t think of what we wanted or didn’t look for new ideas. I decided that it was time to get out of our rut, so I went through my Cooking Light magazines from the past year and tore out pages of recipes for us to try. We both decided that it was time to try something new. We are going to make it a goal to try as many new recipes as possible. The first new recipe I decided to make was Shrimp Fra Diavolo. According to Cooking Light, “fra diavolo” is Italian for “brother devil.” It is a sauce that is usually tomato-based and always spicy. It does not traditionally have mushrooms, but the mushrooms really add to the flavor and texture of the dish. I liked the spiciness of the dish, but if you like really spicy food, you can definitely add more red pepper. David loved this meal and declared it his new favorite shrimp dish. We are big shrimp lovers, so this comment meant a lot to me. I will most definitely make this again. I’m glad our first new dish was a success. Here’s the recipe from the October 2007 issue of Cooking Light:

8 ounces uncooked spaghetti
1 tablespoon olive oil
4 cups cremini mushrooms (about 10 ounces)- *I used portabello mushrooms
2 1/2 cups marinara sauce (I used my own homemade version)
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper
1/4 teaspoon salt (I used kosher salt)
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 pound peeled and deveined medium shrimp
Parsley sprigs, optional (I added dry parsley to the sauce)

Cook pasta according to package directions. Drain; keep warm.
Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add mushrooms to pan; saute 6 minutes. Add marinara, red pepper, salt, and black pepper (and parsley if you add it here like I did); bring to a simmer. Cook 5 minutes. Add shrimp; cook 3 minutes or until shrimp are done. Serve over pasta. Garnish with parsley sprigs, if desired.

YIELD: 4 servings (serving size is 1 1/4 cups shrimp mixture and 1 cup pasta)
439 calories and 8.5 grams fat per serving

Chicken Stuffed Shells


This is a popular dish with David and me. We are both huge fans of any kind of Italian food, and we eat pasta pretty often. These stuffed shells are pretty easy to put together and it’s so good! I got the recipe from Amber’s Delectable Delights, but I did make a few changes after making it for the first time. It’s also a great way to use up leftover rotisserie chicken. I used the chicken from my roasted chicken a few posts below. The rotisserie chicken adds a lot of flavor to the dish. This dish also freezes well. Here’s my version of the stuffed shells:

18 to 20 uncooked jumbo pasta shells
2 teaspoons olive oil
2-4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 1/2 to 1 3/4 cups cooked chicken (I use leftover rotisserie chicken)
1 (15-ounce) container ricotta cheese
1/3 cup dry breadcrumbs
Marinara sauce (I always do a homemade version)
salt, pepper, parsley, oregano, and basil to taste
Parmesan and/or mozzarella cheese for topping

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Spray a large baking dish with nonstick cooking spray. Cook pasta shells according to package directions and drain. Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Combine chicken and garlic and cook for 3 to 5 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in ricotta, chicken, breadcrumbs, salt, pepper, oregano, parsley, and basil. Spread about 1/2 cup marinara sauce in the bottom of the dish. Fill cooked shells with chicken mixture and place filled sides up in baking dish. Pour desired amount of sauce over shells (I always use a lot of sauce). Bake covered with foil for 18 to 20 minutes; remove foil and bake until filling is lightly browned, about 5 more minutes. Sprinkle with desired cheese toppings and serve.

I always make homemade marinara sauce to go with these types of dishes. I never measure, but here is my “recipe” for marinara:

Saute 1 large onion and about 2 cloves of garlic in olive oil. Add 2-3 cans tomato diced tomatoes (If I buy these from the grocery store, I use 15-ounce cans, but often David’s grandmother gives us canned tomatoes from her garden so I use those). Add 2 (15-ounce) cans of tomato sauce and 1 (8-ounce) can of tomato paste. Then add spices: oregano, basil, salt, pepper, and sugar to taste.

This makes a ton of sauce. I like to freeze it in small containers to bring out when I need it.