Monday, January 28, 2013

Life's Better With Bacon - Steamed Bacon Buns With Hoisin

Steamed Bacon Buns, Photo: NK
In keeping with the premise of this blog, when I can't take the heat, I get into the kitchen. 

Cooking is my favorite therapy, so that's just what I did when an exhausting and oddly emotional week peppered with endless snafus crescendoed to an impressive finale. 

Just when we thought we could relish the remainder of a blessedly quiet Sunday, we figured out the pipes in our apartment had frozen, leaving us with no water for hours. Sigh... 

When life gets a bit zany, I always check my moon calendar. Sure enough, it was a full one! Thankfully, the situation finally corrected itself, leaving us free to explore the universally restorative power of carbs and salt-cured meats. 

Grace Parisi's shortcut version of one of our favorite Chinese street food - Steamed Pork Buns - is brilliant. 

Delicious Steamed Bacon Buns with Hoisin, Photo: NK 
With my creative powers sapped from exhaustion, I didn't even attempt adapting this already clever and surprisingly easy recipe. Today, I'll just take you though it step by step and suggest some pointers along the way. Parisi's version simplifies your life by using packaged biscuit dough for the buns, and thick-cut bacon to sub in for harder to find pork belly. Add some zesty garnishes like Radish, Scallion, Sriracha and Hoisin sauce, and you've got a bursting-with-flavor tender steamed Bun filled with smoky-sweet Bacon. 
Trust me, you'll impress yourself. 

Steamed Bacon Buns with Hoisin
Photo: NK 
Recipe by Grace Parisi of Food and Wine
Serves 4 

1/2 Pound Thick-Cut Smoked Bacon, cut into 2 inch pieces 
16 1/8-inch thick rounds of fresh peeled Ginger
1 Cup Low-Sodium Chicken Broth
1/4 Cup Mirin
1/4 Cup Unseasoned Rice Vinegar
2 Tablespoons Sugar
1 Tablespoon Soy Sauce
One 16 Ounce Tube Buttermilk Biscuits (Pillsbury Grands - 8 Biscuits per tube)
Hoisin Sauce
Sriracha Sauce
Sliced Radishes
Bread and Butter Pickles 
Scallions, roughly chopped 
Special Equipment: 
Heavy-Duty or Regular Aluminum Foil
A Large Broiler Pan  
A 9x13 inch Baking Pan 

Sizzling Bacon and Ginger, Photo: NK 
In a large and deep skillet, cook the Bacon and the Ginger Coins over medium-high heat for about 5 minutes. 

Turn the Bacon over once midway through. The Bacon should become lightly golden brown. Spoon off some of the fat from the pan and discard. Next, add the Chicken Broth, Mirin, Rice Vinegar, Sugar, and Soy Sauce. Turn the heat down low and simmer, turning the Bacon occasionally until the liquid is reduced to a syrup-like glaze - about 10 minutes. Cover the skillet and keep warm.

Meanwhile, fill up a large roasting pan with 2 inches of water. Set 4 ramekins in each corner or the pan. Line a 9x13 inch baking pan with parchment and spray it down with Vegetable Oil or other non-stick spray. Arrange the Biscuits in the baking pan and set the pan on top of the ramekins in the roasting pan. You are basically creating a makeshift steamer basket. (You could certainly use a traditional metal steamer basket over a pot of boiling water but it would likely only hold 3 to 4 Biscuits at a time.)

Homemade Steamer, Photo: NK 
Now, Cover the roasting pan tightly with foil, heavy duty foil if you have it. The goal is to trap the steam that will rise from the bottom roasting pan so it will flow into the baking pan that's atop it. Set your makeshift steamer over a burner on the top of your stove and turn the flame to medium high. As the water in the pan boils, your buns will begin to steam. Check them at around 8 minutes, being careful of the escaping steam that will flow out (neurotic danger!). The original recipe says the bun steaming should take 8 minutes. My Buns took about 12 ( I think my foil wasn't sealed tightly enough). Just keep an eye on them. When they are finished they will be fluffy rather than doughy and cooked through. 

Remove buns and let them cool for a minute. Carefully split them in half and lay on a cutting board. Spread the bottoms with Hoisin and the tops with Sriracha. Portion out even amounts of Bacon on each Bun, and pour some of the pan glaze on top. Finish with sliced Scallions, Radishes, and Pickles. Close the buns and serve right away. 

I hope you swoon over these the way we did! Wishing a calm and happy week to all! 

Photo: NK

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Super Bowl, Super Flavor - Best Ever Turkey Meatloaf

Here at Neurotic Kitchen our wintertime jones for Comfort Food continues. This week, it's Meatloaf - an American favorite and a perfect consolation food to enjoy if this football season left your favorite team out in the cold. Here in the New York area, we are sorely in need of something to lift our Super Bowl spirits, and this party-ready, bursting with flavor Turkey Meatloaf is just the ticket. 

Best Ever Turkey Meatloaf, Photo: NK 

Today's recipe comes to us courtesy of my good friend Marina. Even though she's moved back to Midwest, she's still keeping me updated on the exciting goings on in her kitchen. Marina is a lot like me - she enjoys big flavors. When we'd go out on the town, our martinis were always extra dirty and our buffalo wings extra spicy. Her very loose adaptation of Ina Garten's wonderful Turkey Meatloaf has a lot going for it: extra spice, extra moistness, and finally, an extra special glaze that doubles as a sauce for serving. 

Looking for a main-event Super Bowl party dish? Look no further. A loaf of Best Ever Turkey Meatloaf, sliced up, feeds numerous guests. Just add rolls and some sauce, maybe even some sautéed onions, and you've got fantastic, boldly flavored make-ahead Meatloaf sandwiches. 

Best Ever Turkey Meatloaf
Adapted from Marina E. and Inspired by Ina Garten
Serves 4 to 5 

Photo: NK
1 large Yellow Onion, roughly chopped
1 Stalk Celery, roughly chopped
1 large Carrot, peeled and roughly chopped
3 large Garlic Cloves
6 Sprigs of Fresh Thyme. leaves only

2 Tablespoons Olive Oil 

1/2 teaspoon Black Pepper
1/2 teaspoon Crushed Red Pepper - or more to taste
1 teaspoon Oregano 
Salt to Taste

1 Lb dark meat Ground Turkey 
1 Lb Lean Ground Turkey

2 Tablespoons Tomato Paste
1/4 Cup Worcestershire Sauce
Just over a 1/3 Cup Chicken Stock
1/2 Cup Sun Dried Tomatoes, roughly chopped - not the ones packed in oil
3/4 Cup Panko Breadcrumbs
2 Large Eggs Beaten 
1.25 Cups Basting and Serving Sauce* Ingredients and Recipe follow 

*Basting and Serving Sauce
Adapted from Alton Brown and Marina E
Yield - About a 1.25 Cups

1 Cup Ketchup
3-4 Tablespoons Prepared BBQ Sauce (optional)
2 teaspoons Cumin
4 teaspoons Dry Mustard
3 Tablespoons Worcestershire Sauce
Several dashes of Tabasco or other Hot Sauce to taste
2 Tablespoons Honey or Agave Syrup
2 Tablespoons of Water or Dark Beer

Meatloaf Preparation Method:
Preheat oven to 325 with rack in the middle, and another rack below. 
*Mix together the Basting and Serving Sauce by combining all ingredients. Set aside. You will glaze Meatloaf with it before cooking and again about a half hour in. 

Using food processor, combine the first 4 ingredients (Onion, Celery, Carrot, Garlic) until they form a coarse yet paste-like consistency. Next, add Fresh Thyme Leaves, and Sun Dried Tomatoes to the processor. Pulse 5 or 6 times until incorporated (little chunks of Sun Dried Tomatoes will taste good in the meatloaf).
Photo: NK

In a medium saucepan  on low heat, add Olive Oil and Vegetable paste mixture. Sweat the mixture until all the rawness has cooked out of it. This should take about 5 minutes. During this time, add a generous dose of Salt, the Black Pepper and Red Pepper, and the Oregano. Now add Chicken Stock, Tomato Paste, and Worcestershire Sauce. Stir to Combine. Pop the pot into the freezer to cool it quickly.

In a large bowl, combine Turkey Meat, Eggs, Panko Breadcrumbs, and the Veggie/Herb/Stock Mixture from the freezer. Make sure all elements are incorporated but try not to overwork the meat. 

Assemble free-form Meatloaf on an ungreased cookie sheet (to help meat hold its shape).
You should end up with a rectangular loaf about two inches high. 

Photo: NK
Place a pan of water in the oven one rack below where the meatloaf will cook. This will help the top of the Meatloaf not to crack on top. Baste Meatloaf all over with the Glazing Sauce (don't double dip your basting brush so you can use any remaining sauce to serve with cooked meatloaf). 

Cook about 1 hour and 10 minutes, basting meatloaf again at about midway through cook time. Take Meatloaf out of the oven and let rest in the pan 7 minutes tented with foil.

Slice, and serve with any leftover sauce.


Monday, January 21, 2013

The Easy & Fast Way - Marc Forgione's Chili Lobster & Texas Toast

 Marc Forgione/TriBeCa, Photo Courtesy of Restaurant Marc Forgione
"Chef Way, Real Way" is one of my favorite features in Food and Wine Magazine. In it, the magazine's contributors figure out ingenious ways to make even the most involved and time consuming pro chef dishes more accessible to the home cook. 

This week, motivated by a fierce, ever-burgeoning obsession with a restaurant dish that "had me at hello," we're tackling Iron Chef Marc Forgione's bestselling appetizer "Real Way" style:

Chili Lobster with Texas Toast

Restaurant Marc Forgione in NYC's TriBeCa is a delightful place for a special night out. Check out their website HERE.  Forgione's creative and playful take on New American fare is as unique as it is well executed. The restaurant's rustic yet still modern ambiance is warm and inviting, and the service is always on point.  Order Chili Lobster as your appetizer. Please. You won't be sorry. What's it like? Well just imagine bite-sized chunks of Lobster bathed in a super spicy, buttery, and herbacious Asian Chili Sauce served along with thick slices of Sourdough Texas Toast that's just begging to be dipped. So now you know why we just had to to remake this showstopper recipe for the home cook.
Photo Courtesy of

Our Changes to the Forgione Version:
Forgione's original recipe calls for Lobster Stock. Stock can be time consuming to make and requires you to have several lobster carcasses on hand, which both drives up the price of the recipe as well as the time it takes to prepare. Some specialty food markets do carry a paste-like Lobster base specifically for Lobster Stock. If you can find it, that would be a great option. Instead, my gourmet market carried a more widely available high-quality seafood stock concentrate that listed Lobster as one of its ingredients - it's called Glace de Fruits de Mer Gold from a brand called More Than Gourmet. Use this appropriately red-hued concentrate at full strength for this recipe and you will be left with a fast and fantastic lobster-ish stock that does the job. If you can't find it, regular Seafood Stock is another great option. We like the one from Kitchen Basics

Photo: NK 
Forgione also calls for various parts of the Lobster to be sauteed and baked separately. To make our Chili Lobster the faster home-cook way, we exclusively use easy to find frozen Lobster Tails that need only to be thawed, sliced in the shell, and very briefly stir fried in a blazing hot wok. Our version of Chili Lobster will save you time and the hassle of buying and processing several whole lobsters. As an added bonus, you don't have to worry about boiling live lobsters if you are squeamish about executing the poor guys - which I absolutely am, hypocrite though I may be.

Time to get out your fish forks. We're ready to cook. 

NK's Chili Lobster with Texas Toast
Adapted from Chef Marc Forgione of Restaurant Marc Forgione 
Serves 2 as a large appetizer or light entree 

1 Lb of Lobster Tails - Four 4 Ounce Tails (defrosted if frozen)

1 Cup Lobster Stock - Or prepare your own Mock Lobster Stock according to the below* OR 1 Cup Seafood Stock (We prefer Kitchen Basics) OR** 3/4 Cup Clam Juice mixed with 1/4 Cup Water

Mint Chiffonade and Scallion Threads, Photo: NK
2 Tablespoons Sriracha
1 Tablespoon regular Soy Sauce
3 Tablespoons Unsalted Butter
1 Tablespoon Ginger, minced
1.25 Tablespoons Garlic, minced
Juice of 1 Lime
2 Tablespoons Mint, cut into a chiffonade
2 Scallions, green parts only, thinly sliced lengthwise into skinny threads (optional) 
4 Thick Slices of Sourdough, toasted
2 Tablespoons Canola Oil
Salt, to taste
Pepper, to taste

*Ingredients & Prep of Seafood Stock 
(Yields 3.75 Cups/Adjust to the amount you desire - **you will only need 1 cup of stock per every 2 servings)
3.75 Cups Water
1.5 Ounce Container of "Glace de Fruits de Mer Gold" Stock Base by More Than Gourmet 

~To make Seafood/Lobster Stock, simply combine the entire 1.5 Ounce container of Glace de Fruits de Mer with water and stir over low heat.
~**Alternate Seafood Stock Substitute**- Simply Mix 3/4 Cup Clam Juice with 1/4 Cup Water

Chili Lobster & Texas Toast, Photo: NK

If you haven't already, toast the Sourdough and set aside. 

Using a kitchen scissor, clip all the tiny legs off the underside of the Lobster Tails.
Place Tails on a cutting board and cut, keeping the shell on, into 1 inch pieces. Note that it is easiest to cut through the crease in the shell segments and it requires a little elbow grease. 

Pan Sauteeing the Lobster Pieces, Photo NK
Over a medium flame, add Canola Oil to a Large Saute Pan or Wok and heat until the oil begins to smoke. 

Add the Lobster Tail pieces carefully (the oil may spit) and cook about 1 minute, stirring. Flip pieces over and cook for another minute. 

Toss the Garlic and Ginger into the wok and deglaze the wok by adding 1 Cup of Lobster Stock or Storebought Seafood Stock. 

Remove Lobster to a plate.

Turn flame up just a bit and allow Stock to reduce by half. This should take a few minutes but make sure to keep your eye on it. 

Next, add Sriracha (less if you are spice sensitive), and whisk in the Butter, tablespoon by tablespoon, into the wok. Stir to combine. 

Add Soy Sauce, several generous squeezes of the Lime, and Salt and Pepper according to your taste. Turn off the flame and toss Lobster back into Wok and give it a quick stir to coat. 

To Plate: Portion out Lobster Pieces into two bowls. Pour equal amounts of Chili Sauce over each serving. Perch 2 Slices of Texas Toast on the rim of each bowl. Garnish the Toast with Scallion Threads and the Lobster with the chiffonade of Mint. Serve with fish forks and enjoy!

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Neurotic Homestyle - Chicken and Dumpling Soup

Had it not come out so tasty, this recipe for Chicken and Dumpling Soup might never have made it to Neurotic Kitchen. 

Chicken and Dumpling Soup, Photo: NK

It's great to use a large Dutch Oven for this dish Photo: NK
Before setting out to adapt a really wonderful version of Chicken and Dumpling Soup from Taste of Home Magazine, I conveniently forgot that when I made it last year it took quite a while and made a colossal mess in my kitchen because it requires so many pots and bowls. See, the trouble is, there are several steps to this thoughtful recipe - which is probably why it comes out so good. The original author ingeniously suggests using a pre-cooked Rotisserie Chicken to cut down on prep time. I followed that very clever directive, but still found the process of creating the stock, browning the Vegetables, simmering the Broth and Chicken, preparing the Dumpling Batter, and finally, cooking the Dumplings, a bit too time consuming and messy for a weeknight meal. What I'm getting at is, I just can't say with certainty that this is a fast, no muss no fuss meal - what I can say is that it's delicious. 

Before setting out to cook, I planned out a few changes to the recipe meant to make it slightly lighter. The main change was to use Evaporated Milk instead of Heavy Cream. Doing so shaves 120 calories and 18 grams of fat off the original. Even still, this is definitely not a diet meal by any means, but lightening it up never hurts when no flavor is sacrificed. We also used mostly Fat Free Chicken Broth, less Oil, and less Butter. What makes this recipe special in the first place is that it has an element of spice (which I admittedly increased) and also results in particularly tasty dumplings thanks to a healthy dose of Cayenne Pepper and Salt in the batter. Some Chicken and Dumpling recipes can be a bit bland for my taste, but this version has a ton of flavor and loses none of the homey comfort qualities that make this classic Southern dish so well loved.

I realize I am sending mixed messages but this dish is worth making. Do it when you have an hour and a half, and start it at least that long before you'd like to serve it. A hungry partner staring at me never helps me stay calm in the kitchen.  

Before we begin, some tips on how to make the preparation just a little smoother:

Purchase and chop up a ready-cooked Chicken such as a Rotisserie Roaster, perhaps even do so the day before if you can. It's no fun to have Chicken shrapnel all over your hands when you are trying to stir broth and simultaneously brown Vegetables at the same time. The recipe below asks you to use the whole Chicken (a roaster big enough to serve 2) but the Soup would be just as good if you only have half the chicken. It'll just be a bit less chunky. This means that perhaps you can make sandwiches with half the roaster the first day, and chop up the rest for the soup. You could also use a couple of cans of ready-cooked Chicken. That's not really my thing because such a product is hard to find in organic form, but if you choose to do so, it would certainly eliminate a lot of the mess and chopping. I should also mention that any type of cooked Chicken will do! Light meat, dark meat, tenders, breasts, thigh meat shredded off the bone. Chicken and Dumpling Soup is a great thing to make with leftover cooked Chicken from any other recipe. 

Stir up all your Dry Dumpling Ingredients (Baking Powder, Flour, Cayenne and Salt) in a large bowl before you start cooking. Whenever I am messing with Flour and cracking eggs mid-recipe, I inevitably make an unholy mess. 

Same story with the Wet Dumpling Ingredients (slightly beaten eggs and Buttermilk). Crack and beat the eggs and combine them with the Buttermilk in a measuring cup or small bowl in advance. When it's time to create the quick Dumpling batter, having everything ready and at your fingertips is most definitely a good thing.

Ready Chopped Celery and Carrots can be a huge timesaver. Unfortunately, they can also add to the expense of the produce. At the very least, you can certainly buy pre-peeled small carrot sticks so you don't have to peel the carrots. I like to do this because Carrot Sticks make a handy snack to have around for later and you'll definitely have some leftover. It's also important to chop all your Garlic in advance so it is at the ready. 

Set aside a sieve with a handle if you have one. I use this to scoop out the aromatics that must simmer in the broth as you are creating the Chicken Stock. A slotted spoon works well too. I do this so I don't have to mess up yet another bowl when the recipe calls you to strain out the Thyme Sprigs, Garlic, Bay Leaves, and much of the Crushed Red Pepper. If you have cheesecloth and twine, you can also wrap up the aromatics in a little bouquet so they are even easier to fish out.

Have all additional ingredients out on the counter and ready to go. 

Finally, feel free to have a plan for your Buttermilk. You will have a bunch left over. Use it as an overnight marinade for Chicken or Pork Chops, or maybe you are craving Buttermilk Pancakes this weekend? 

Now, Are we ready to cook? I think so!

Chicken and Dumpling Soup
Adapted from Taste of Home/Jessica Rehs
Serves 4 to 5 
4 Cups Reduced Sodium and Fat Free Chicken Broth 
2 Cups Prepared Chicken Stock
1 Cup Water
3 Bay Leaves 
1.5 teaspoon Crushed Red Pepper Flakes 
6 Fresh Thyme Sprigs
5 large Garlic Cloves, peeled
3 Garlic Cloves, minced and set aside 
1 Cup chopped Carrots
1 Cup chopped Celery
2 Tablepoons Olive Oil
1 Tablespoon Butter
2 Tablespoons All Purpose Flour
1 Cup Frozen Peas
1 Rotisserie Chicken, meat chopped into bite-sized pieces
1/4 Cup Evaporated Milk
1/2 Cup chopped Chives (optional) for garnish 
Dumpling Ingredients: 
2 Cups All Purpose Flour 
1 Tablespoon Baking Powder
Removing the aromatics, Photo: NK
1.25 teaspoons Cayenne Pepper
1.25 teaspoons Salt 
1 Cup Buttermilk 
2 Eggs, lightly beaten

Create the Stock:
In a large saucepan, add the first 7 ingredients and combine. Bring liquid to a boil, reduce the heat, and allow to simmer uncovered for about 25 minutes. Once done, scoop out most of the Crushed Red Pepper, all of the Garlic, Thyme, and Bay leaves. Discard. 
Note: You can also leave a few Cloves of whole Garlic in for the entire cooking process if you like extra Garlic flavor. I did of course. Just be sure to remember to scoop them out later! 

Cook Vegetables and Create the Soup Base:
In a large dutch oven or very large pot add oil and melt butter. Add Carrots and Celery and sauté until they are tender, stirring occasionally and taking care not to burn. This should take about 6-8 minutes

Dumpling batter, Photo: NK 
Bring it all together:
Next, add the Minced Garlic and cook about 1 minute longer, stirring. Stir in the 2 Tablespoons of Flour until incorporated. Now, slowly add the prepared Stock. Bring it to a boil and cook, stirring, for 2 to 3 minutes to allow it to thicken. Add the Peas and return the mixture to a boil. Cook for another 3 or so minutes until Peas are tender. Stir in Chicken and Evaporated Milk and lower the heat a bit. Allow the mixture to heat thoroughly for another 3 or so minutes.

Make, add, and cook the Dumplings:
In a large bowl, combine Flour, Cayenne, Salt and Baking Powder. In a separate smaller bowl combine slightly beaten Eggs and Buttermilk. Pour the Wet ingredients into the dry ingredient bowl and stir until incorporated and just moistened.

Photo: NK
By the teaspoonful, drop batter into the already simmering broth. Add as many dollops of batter as you'd like keeping in mind that you may have some batter left over. When done, cover the pot and simmer for 15 to 20 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean when poked into a Dumpling. 

When the Dumpling are finished cooking they will inevitably have stuck together. You can easily remedy this by running a sharp knife around each to separate. 
Photo: NK 

To Serve, portion out the Soup and Dumplings into individual bowls and garnish with ample amounts of Chives.

Cooks note - this "soup" has the potential to come out more stewlike - much of liquid gets sucked up by all the Dumplings, especially after you've stored this and served it as a leftover. You can certainly store the Dumplings apart from the broth, or feel free to add more Chicken Broth or Even a bit of water before reheating to 
increase the amount of liquid. 
Ready to serve Chicken and Dumpling Soup, comfort food at its finest, Photo: NK 

Monday, January 7, 2013

Cooking With a Pizza Stone - Pizza Piccante

One of the great things about being known food and cooking enthusiast is that people never need wonder what to get you for a gift. This year, my mom got us an amazing Pizza Stone which utterly delighted me and especially my pizza-loving husband. 
Pizza Piccante - Hot Soppressata, Sweet/Hot Peppers, Fresh Oregano and Mozzarella, Photo: NK 
We've already used our pizza stone three times in two weeks. The first attempt, (not pictured) was a classic Margherita with Basil, Tomato Sauce, and fresh Mozzarella. The results were delicious, but the cooking was not without challenges. The dough was impossible to shape, so in the end our Pizza tasted waaaay better than it looked. In fact, our romantic tandem cooking intentions were nearly derailed completely once I began muttering angrily about the disobedient dough, followed by my husband declaring "you're ruining pizza night!" and stomping out of the kitchen. After I coaxed him back with a hug and, when that didn't work, promises of mozzarella, we thankfully recommitted ourselves to the business at hand. In our house, when dinner's at stake, failure is not an option.

Round two, which is pictured above, proved to be a fabulous creation that came out quite good - a recipe I like to call Pizza Piccante. I encourage you to try it!  Piccante, in Italian, roughly means spicy, hot or piquant. Our Pizza Piccante was spicy, sweet, and vinegary - alive with the flavors of Hot Soppressata, Spicy Vinegar Peppers, Fresh Oregano, and gooey Fresh Mozzarella - all my favorite tastes in one place. Before you start cooking, feel free to first scroll all the way down for my general dough-handling pointers as well as a handy you tube video (not starring me!) on how to roll dough like a pro. 

Pizza Piccante - Mozzarella, Spicy Red Peppers, Hot Soppressata and Fresh Oregano
Serves 2-3 

1/8 Lb Hot Soppressata chopped into bite sized pieces

7 or 8 small North African Sweet/Hot Peppers cut in half, or 3-4 Hot Cherry Peppers, seeds removed, roughly chopped 

Ingredients, Photo: NK 
1 Tablespoon Fresh Oregano, finely chopped

1/2 LB Fresh Mozzarella, thinly sliced

1 small can plain Tomato Sauce (we used Del Monte brand) or Homemade 

Salt and Pepper to taste 

2 or 3 Tablespoons Olive Oil

1 teaspoon Crushed Red (or to taste)

1 standard size round of Pizza Dough 

*Cornmeal for dusting (only if you are using a pizza peel to place pizza on the stone)

*Parchment Paper (only if you are using a pizza stone but have no pizza peel)

Place pizza stone in the oven. If not using a stone, prepare pizza as normal in a pizza pan. 

Turn oven on to 525 with the rack placed in the middle. Preheat the stone for 30 minutes. 

Flour a clean counter top and your hands. Place extra flour nearby.
Form Pizza Dough into a ball. Press it down onto the counter and continue pressing until you have a flat round. 

Form dough into your desired pizza shape, making it as thin as possible - ideally an eighth of an inch thick. Pinch the edges of the dough all the way around to form a crust. 
Check out this great video I found on the web for dough-handling pointers HERE.

Once Pizza Crust is formed, carefully transfer it onto a cornmeal dusted peel or parchment paper that is cut to a size just slightly bigger than the dough shape (enough to grab it on each side). If you are using a pan and no pizza stone, you needn't do either of the preceding steps. 

Now you are ready for toppings:
Drizzle a Tablespoon or two of Oil onto the dough. 
Using a paper towel, spread the Oil around the entire surface of the dough.
Using a Tablespoon, slowly spoon on Tomato Sauce and spread it around. The dough need not be totally covered (your pizza will be too saucy) and should appear similar to the first photo below).

Next, add the Fresh Oregano, Hot Peppers, Soppressata, and Crushed Red Pepper. 
Nestle slices of Mozzarella all over the Pizza, leaving some space in between them. You want some sauce and toppings to show through!

Sprinkle the entire pizza with Salt and Pepper to taste. If using a peel, slide Pizza onto the Pizza Stone. If using parchment, lift the Pizza and the Parchment onto the pizza stone. You may leave the parchment in the oven while cooking.

Cook for 10 minutes or until crust is crispy, puffed, and golden. 


Saucing the Pie, Photo: NK

Toppings, Photo: NK

Ready to Cook, Photo: NK 

Buon Appetito, Photo: NK 

Pizza Pointers

Given how much I cook, I haven't made too many pizzas in my life. Anything with dough or flour generally scares me. I've just never had the touch. I don't pretend to have a foolproof method for perfecting Pizza, but below are some general dough-handling pointers that worked for me. These can help you whether you have prepared your dough from scratch or purchased it ready-made. I would never dream of making my own dough. What can I say? I personally like the convenience of buying it, but if you are a dough maker, you have my utmost respect.

Pizza Stones are a great investment and can make a big difference in the quality of your pizza result. By providing a screaming-hot surface on which to cook your pizza, stones allow you to get an evenly cooked and crispy crust each and every time. Our pizza stone is from Emile Henry. We just love it so far. 

Preheat the Stone - Always. Give it a good thirty minutes in the oven before placing your topped pizza on it. To preheat, you'll want to use the hottest oven temperature available to you on your oven. For us, that was 525.

It's a nice bonus to have a pizza peel. I had to learn this the hard way. A peel is the wooden implement with a handle that you see used at pizza places to get the pies in and out of the oven. If you have one, good for you. Your life will be a lot easier. For the peel owners, you'll roll out your pizza dough on the counter, transfer it to a peel dusted with cornmeal, and then top the pizza right on the peel before transferring onto the pizza stone on it. 

If you are like us and you don't have a peel, here's how to handle your dough successfully: We prepared our pizza dough by rolling it out directly on our counter. Always flour your rolling surface and sprinkle both your hands and the dough round lightly as well. Once the dough is rolled out into your desired shape, transfer it onto a sheet of parchment before topping the pizza. This way, you can simply lift the parchment onto the pizza stone when ready to cook. Note that you may need an extra pair of hands to hold the parchment level as you place it on the stone so that none of the toppings slip off -  or, as an other option, you can certainly slide the parchment onto a stiff, portable surface (cutting board, perhaps) and carefully use that to shimmy it onto the pizza stone that is waiting in the oven. 

Be one with the dough. Call me crazy, but handling pizza dough feels to me like a highly psychological endeavor. Stay calm and make no sudden moves. Move slowly yet deliberately. As with any dough or kneading, be sure not to overwork. Smoosh and squeeze too hard and you can end up with a hard as a rock crust. A light touch is your best bet.

Who cares if your pizza isn't round? I sure don't. Here at NK, we have yet to achieve a truly round crust. Somehow our pizza dough seems easier to prepare in a rectangular(ish) shape. This is fine! It all tastes the same on the way down :)
Have fun with it!
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