Thursday, April 29, 2010

Red Beans and Rice

This is my adaptation of a classic Cajun recipe. I took some shortcuts by using canned kidney beans instead of cooking a mess of beans with a ham hock. I also added canned tomatoes which I know is a somewhat nontraditional addition to this dish, but my God, it is so tasty! The purists may scoff, but really, they should try it.

I did use the Holy Trinity of Cajun and Creole cooking though, that special Cajun mirepoix of celery, onion and green bell pepper, so perhaps I get a few points for effort if not a gold star for authenticity.

Either way, this is a hearty, spicy dish that helps warm me up on a blustery day.

Red Beans and Rice

  • Olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 2 stalks celery, chopped
  • ½ green bell pepper, seeded and chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • Creole/Cajun seasoning
  • 1 lb. Andouille sausage, sliced (I used an entire package of Gaspar’s)
  • 1 28 oz can diced tomatoes, undrained
  • Water
  • Tomato paste
  • Red wine
  • Thyme
  • 1 15 oz can dark red kidney beans, drained and rinsed

  1. In a large, deep skillet, saute onion, celery and green pepper until soft.

  2. Add garlic and sauté for 5 minutes more.

  3. Push the sautéed veggies to the sides of the skillet and dump in the sliced andouille.

  4. Sprinkle with creole seasoning.

  5. Cook until the sausage is browned, stirring frequently.

  6. Add the can of diced tomatoes, juice and all, add some more creole seasoning, mix well, lower heat and simmer, covered.

  7. After 30 minutes or so, add 1 cup water and 2 tablespoons of tomato paste and a bit of wine (1/4 cup or so).

  8. Mix well, and add 1T thyme. Let cook down some more.

  9. Taste and adjust seasoning, adding more creole seasoning to taste. You may add more tomato paste and water for the consistency you like.

  10. Add the drained kidney beans, cover and let simmer a while longer.

  11. Serve over rice.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Pizza for Shannon

Pizza is a staple in my house. I might go so far as to say that pizza is the staff of life. We have Pizza & Movie Night as often as we can, and as nice as it is to get take out pizza, nothing, and I do mean nothing, beats a good homemade pizza.

I have showed my daughters how to pat out the dough and make their own personal pizzas, which delighted them. Now they don't bicker over toppings or who got more slices. It's really the perfect answer, plus they get the pleasure of cooking with Mommy. My older daughter likes watching me make the dough. I know that she is dying to give kneading the dough a try. She is already pretty adept at using a box grater to shred the block of mozzarella - I just have to be sure that she does not sneak huge handfuls of the cheese when I am not looking! The littler one loves to help out too by assembling the topping ingredients. So all told, it is time together well spent and well enjoyed.

As far as toppings go, sometimes I want something really simple, like a plain old super-cheesy pizza or a spicy pepperoni pizza; other times I get all fancy with the toppings. One of my favorites has kalamata olives, artichoke hearts and feta with a sun-dried tomato pesto. It is a fairly oily and salty pizza from the brines and the feta, but on top of a cracker-thin crust and paired with some really good cheese, it is absolutely sublime.

So yeah, we take our pizza fairly seriously here. No Boboli crusts or pizza dough from a packet for me. A few weeks ago, my friend Shannon asked me for my pizza dough recipe because she said she wanted to start making pizza from scratch. I have experiemented with different dough recipes, but have settled on this, my basic pizza dough recipe. It is fairly fast-acting,and very versatile, but you have to be careful about the type of yeast you use.



  • 3 cups flour
  • 1 T RapidRise Yeast
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • Italian seasoning (optional)
  • garlic powder(optional)
  • onion powder (optional)

  • 1 cup hot water (between 120-130 F)
  • 2 T olive oil


  1. Preheat the oven to 450. You want the kitchen to be good and warm.

  2. Put 2 cups of the flour in a large bowl along with the yeast granules, salt and Italian seasoning, garlic powder and onion powder.

  3. Mix very well with a whisk, breaking up any clumps.

  4. Test the temperature of the water (very important when you are using RapidRise yeast). When it is about 125 F, add 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Add this to the dry ingredients and mix well with a wooden spoon until all of the water is incorporated.

  5. On a well-floured surface (I just use a clean counter) dump out the dough. At this point it is a wet, scary-looking, shaggy mess. Don't worry. You still have 1 cup of flour nearby.

  6. Knead the dough and work in the extra flour one small handful at a time. It takes a good 4-6 minutes to get the right amount of flour in. Because there is oil in it, the dough will still be slightly tacky, though not sticky. If it's sticky, keep adding flour. You will use as little as 1/2 cup of flour and maybe even the entire cup. You'd be surprised what a different the humidity of the air can make.

    How I like to knead: I fold over half the dough and press it in, then I turn the whole ball of dough a quarter turn, and keep on folding and pressing, adding more flour to the counter and to the dough as it absorbs.

  7. Once the dough is slightly silky, shape it into a ball, re-flour a bit of the counter, set the ball on it and dust it with more loose flour then cover it with a cloth. Let it sit for at least 10 minutes, longer is better, like 30 minutes.

  8. When you are ready to shape it, remove the cloth. It ought to have risen nicely - if it did not, chances are the kitchen is too cold or the yeast died. So sad. :(

    Punch it down and divide it into pieces. It makes 2 12-inch pizzas or 4 smaller personal pizzas. or, if you are careful and patient, 3 10-inch pizzas with cracker-thin crusts.

  9. Oil a pan with olive oil (or cooking spray).

  10. Place the ball of dough in the center, and starting in the middle of the ball, flatten it gently. DO NOT PULL or STRETCH THE DOUGH That will just rip holes in it. With your fingertips, press down, gently flattening the dough. It is elastic and will stretch out if you are patient. I turn the pan as I do it to keep it even. If you find that the dough is a little bit resistant and springs back into a smaller shape, put it aside near the oven and let it sit for 5 minutes. The heat will help relax the dough until it's ready to be patted out to a large circle.

  11. Optional- let it sit in a warm spot and rise 10 minutes... OR

  12. Top it immediately with sauce and toppings.

  13. Bake in a wicked hot oven (450 F) for 9-12 minutes. It really depends on the thickness of your crust, the accuracy of your oven, how may toppings you have. At about 9 minutes in, check on it.

  14. Let sit for a good 5 minutes before slicing.

  • Flour I prefer bread flour, but all-purpose works fine too, especially with 1 tablespoon of gluten per cup of flour, but if you have only All Purpose flour, that will be just fine. All the extra gluten does is give the dough a bit more structure. If you like a really cracker-thin crust, though, you might not need the extra gluten.

  • Yeast I have made this with regular old active yeast (non Bread machine, non RapidRise), and have had good results, even with a shorter rising time, although it will probably NOT be ready in just a 10-minute rise. Plan on at least a 30-minute rise PLUS a second rise for 10 minutes once you have the dough patted into shape.

  • Kneading Your first time with this recipe may be weird, especially if you are not used to kneading. This starts out as a very rough, sticky dough, so you have to be generous with the flour and don't be gentle with the dough either. Work that flour in there. It is TOTALLY therapeutic and definitely worth it.

  • Optional Seasonings I have been using this recipe for, no joke, 10 years now. I only recently hit on adding garlic powder and onion powder to the dry ingredients at the start. The kids both commented on how awesome it was. You can add finely grated parm too if you like, though really I like to save the cheese for the topping.

    You may use a bit of whole wheat flour too, but I would not substitute more than 1 cup of the AP flour for WW. After that point you really have to do some fancy finagling and add extra gluten to get the texture right. JMO.

  • Pans I really like the perforated pizza pans, especially if I go a little heavy-handed with the toppings. Sometimes a lot of raw veggies can make things a bit soggy.

    However, when the girls make their own personal pizzas, I just use cookie sheets. If you really like a thicker crust, I would suggest using a perforated pan and lowering the heat to 400/425 and baking it longer.

    If you have a pizza stone, then I am jealous.

  • Adjustments This recipe halves very well to make one pizza. You can also take those halved measurements and add it to the regular recipe to make 3 pizzas. It also doubles nicely to make an obscene amount of pizza.

    ALSO! If you make the regular batch but decide that you just aren't feeling gluttonous enough to eat 2 whole pizzas in one sitting, you can take the 2nd ball of dough and put it in a plastic bread bag and stick it in the fridge. Give it some room in the bag because it WILL expand.

    When you are ready to make it, say, the next day, take it out and let it come to room temperature. Then shape to fit the pan, top, bake and devour.

Gallery of Pizzas

Here is my younger daughter's favorite, your standard pepperoni pizza.

She really patted out the dough on her own after I got her started with the ball of dough. The first time she made this, she layered the pepperoni slices on so thickly, it looked as though the pizza was shellacked with pepperoni!

She ended up pulling off almost all of them, but she still devoured the pizza.

This is my older daughter's specialty: the stuffed-crust, super-cheesey pizza.

She pats out the dough extra wide so that the crusts are super thin and hanging over the edge of the pan. Then she takes string cheese and rips it into long, thin shreds, places them around the perimeter and rolls up the extra crust around it.

She finishes it off by mounding it with shredded mozzarella and grated parmigiano and pecorino.

My most recent pizza, this is a white pizza topped with andouille, red potato and a sprinkling of thyme.

I really wanted something different and was not in the mood for a tomato sauce base.

It was really, really delicious.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Spaghetti Bolognese

Ok, actually this recipe is not a traditional ragu alla bolognese with its rich, milk-simmered cut of beef and pancetta, but it is more than simply "Spaghetti with Meat Sauce."

This recipe churns out such a lovely, thick succulent sauce of meat, herbs and tomatoes that it is almost chili-like. In fact, when I am avoiding carbs, I will eat just a bowl of this and call it "Italian Chili." I bet if I tossed in some white cannellini beans this would be over-the-top good.

You might say that nothing is worth waiting the hours it takes to cook, but in fact you would be wrong. I usually let this simmer on the stove for a few hours, letting all that collagen in the meat break down into gelatin, though it can be ready about 3 hours after you start.

Topped with some freshly grated parmigiano reggiano and a chiffonade of fresh basil, you have a satisfying and sublime dish.

See? I ate this last night with no pasta, just a bowl full of sauce. It was insanely delicious.

Spaghetti Bolognese

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 3 large onions, sliced
  • 4 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 red bell pepper, chopped
  • pounds lean ground beef
  • 1 cup beef broth
  • 2 (14 ounce) cans peeled and diced tomatoes, juice reserved
  • 1 cup red wine
  • 1 (6 ounce) can tomato paste
  • 1 stalk celery, chopped
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 tablespoon Italian seasoning
  • 1 T dried basil
  • 1 T minced sundried tomato and garlic* (See Notes)
  • ½ cup red wine
  • 1 T minced sundried tomato and garlic

  1. Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Saute onions and garlic until onions are tender. Stir in red bell pepper and saute 2 minutes.

  2. Place ground beef in the skillet and cook over medium high heat until evenly brown. Stir in beef broth, diced tomatoes (without the juice), wine and tomato paste. Bring to a boil and add celery, bay leaves and Italian seasoning.

  3. Reduce heat, cover and simmer for 1 hour, or until sauce thickens. Check from time to time and stir, making sure that it is not sticking and burning. You don't want this to scorch.

  4. Add 1 tablespoon of the minced sundried tomato and garlic, 1 T of basil and let simmer for another hour.

  5. Remove the bay leaves, add ½ cup of red wine, the reserved tomato juice and the final tablespoon of minced sundried tomato and garlic, raise the heat slightly, uncover and let cook down if necessary.

  6. Serve over pasta.
Even better the next day.

  • About the sundried tomatoes and garlic - I often buy California brand minced sun-dried tomato with garlic, but if I can't find that, I will substitute jarred sun-dried tomato pesto.

    Barring that, I make my own mixture by dumping 1/4 cup of sun-dried tomatoes into a bowl and covering them with really hot, near-boiling water and let them sit and rehydrate.

    Then I chop them finely and add minced garlic and a wee bit of olive oil and let them sit for about 30 minutes.

  • Be sure to use your largest skillet or good-sized dutch oven, because this makes a ton of sauce.
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