Category Archives: Cheese Dishes

Jim Lahey’s No-Knead Pizza Dough Recipe

I have quite a collection of pizza dough recipes, but somehow, I’ve never made this dish at home.  It’s something that I always prefer to eat out, at places where they have the high-burning ovens that create that crisp-chewy crust, preferably with some char on the top edge.  Last night, that changed.  I whipped up a batch of Jim Lahey’s No-Knead Pizza Dough from this month’s Bon Appetit magazine and invited some friends over to sample the results.

Flour, salt, yeast mixed together

Four ingredients and a bunch of time, as with his No-Knead Bread recipe, that’s all it takes to make this dough.  Plan to start this recipe a day before you want to serve the pizzas.

Adding water to the flour mixture

The water needs to be at least warm.  Boiling hot water will kill the yeast and water that is too cold will not activate its chemical properties.  I’ve messed up yeast before, so I’m always a bit intimidated by working with it.

Dough all mixed together

The dough just needs to come together before it has to sit for a while.  It will not look like much, but this is only the first stage of the process.

Peeking at the progress part-way through

Look at all these great bubbles from the yeast doing its work

After about twenty hours, this was the result, all bubbly and risen high.  I let the dough sit a bit longer as my kitchen temperature was a bit cooler than that stated in the recipe instructions.  Also, note that the top is a bit dry, which is an error that I made in prepping it.  I should have left plastic wrap on top instead of covering the bowl with a towel.

Dough divided in to rounds

It took a bit of work and a bunch more flour to get the dough divided up into rounds for the second stage of the rising process.  Still, I think they look kind of beautiful, don’t they?

Look at all these great pizza toppings!

While the dough was in its last rise and the oven was heating up, I pulled together some toppings for the pizzas, so that when my guests arrived, we could put everything together.

Dough stretched out and ready to cook

I decided to go with rectangular-shaped pies, as I don’t have a pizza stone.  The dough was still really sticky when I tried to shape it, so I just worked with it the best I could.  The baking sheet was lightly greased with olive oil before I put the dough on it, in the hopes that the bottom would get extra crispy.  Then, my friends joined in to pile on their choices of toppings.  As it was a Lenten Friday, with some of the group observing dietary restrictions, we split the pizzas up into all-veggie and meat-eater friendly.

Adding some mushrooms

Then some artichokes

All loaded up with great toppings

Put a bit of cheese on top

Out of the oven and ready to eat

Of the six rounds of dough, we devoured four.  A salad on the side and a couple of desserts, including this Torta al Cioccolato, made of the rest of the meal, along with a few bottles of wine and beer.  It was definitely a casual, relaxed, hang-out kind of Friday night with topics ranging from Downtown Abbey to the Oscars to jobs to dating.

The red peppers and onions went on this one

The pizzas were a hit, with a couple of my friends completely shocked that this was my first attempt to fix them at home.  They were the perfect group dinner: easy to prep, cook, and serve, even with the staggered arrival times of my guests.  Although the smoke detector went off twice, as my apartment isn’t really ventilated appropriately for high-heat cooking, I would certainly make these again.  Maybe, someday, I’ll even get to prepare them in my own backyard Italian pizza oven.

Buon appetito!

Cheese, Meat, and Chocolate Fondue for Christmas Eve

This was our holiday table yesterday for the annual family gift opening gathering.  It is roughly around Christmastime, I have to add, because we try to have our big meal when the maximum number of people are in town.  This is a bit of a challenge when you come from a family that includes 6 children, 5 in-laws (or S.O.s), 7 grandchildren (and counting), parents, aunt, and adopted family.  Last year’s dinner had us trying to fit 13 people around a table made originally for about 8-10.  This year, we had 8 adults, a toddler, and a newborn, so it was less of a squeeze to bring everyone together.

When the emails started going around after Thanksgiving about how to coordinate this year’s get-together several ideas were suggested.  Due to scheduling, we were going to be having a lunch rather than the usual dinner, so no one wanted to fix or eat something as complex and heavy as the Roast Beef with Yorkshire Pudding and Horseradish Sauce, although I would happily eat that for breakfast, if faced that dilemma.   My brother’s best friend’s wife (they joined the family drawing years ago) suggested having fondue, which wasn’t voted down by anyone when I asked them.

As a child of 70’s era parents, I remember fondue night fondly.  The dark red pot would be put in the middle of the dining room table bubbling away with a sea of molten golden yellow liquid inside of it.  We would each be assigned a different color wooden-handled fondue fork and have to wait our turn to load up cubes of French bread on our plates.  Spearing a piece of the bread and then dunking it carefully into the cheese, making sure not to knock off anyone else’s bread while pulling your fork out of the pot, twirling it just so to make sure to have maximum gooey dairy coverage in each bite, made dinner a fun and interactive evening.

Once in a while, we’d have a meat fondue, too, but I don’t remember eating it that many times.  It might have had to do with the fact that it involves very hot oil being put on the table and, having lots of smaller children around, my mom realized the safety factor wasn’t in her favor with that dish.  We did, however, usually have chocolate fondue, in addition to the cheese.  This meant that we also got to eat Entenmann’s butter pound cake, a special, special treat, as my mother baked all of our sweets and we rarely got to eat anything store-bought or processed, unlike my schoolmates.  My mother served this fondue with cut-up bananas as well, which might have made her feel better as we were ostensibly eating fruit for dessert in addition to all the chocolate and cake.

Everyone enjoyed the lunch and was, I think, a bit surprised at how well it worked out to have a meal as low-stress and quick to throw together as this one was.  After the present-swap and exchanges of good cheer, about half of the group left to continue their holiday celebrations at their next destinations.  Clean up was a snap as well, which as cook-in-chief made this meal a winner for me, too.  The two main dish fondues (meat and cheese) as well as the dessert fondue (chocolate) and a green salad, which not everyone touched, amply fed the assembled mass.  It even got me thinking that maybe next year I should ask Santa for my own fondue pot and start inviting folks to come over to dinner for some spearing and dunking fun.*

Swiss Cheese Fondue

(after a recipe from BBC Good Food from March 2000)

Prep Time: 15-20 minutes

Serving Size: 6-8 people as part of main course


1 Tbsp. Cornstarch
2 Tbsp. Kirsch
1 large Garlic clove, peeled and cut in half
1 2/3 c. dry White Wine (I used Pinot Grigio)
1 tsp. fresh Lemon Juice
12 oz. Gruyère cheese, freshly grated
12 oz. Emmental cheese, freshly grated
1 pinch freshly ground Black Pepper
1 pinch freshly ground Nutmeg
1 Baguette, cut into 1-inch pieces

Prep all ingredients and set out before putting everything together. Combine cornstarch and Kirsch and set aside.

With the fondue pot turned off, rub cut side of garlic along side the base and sides. Discard garlic clove. Pour the wine and the lemon juice into the fondue pot and turn on heat.

Bring mixture to a simmer over low heat and then start adding in cheese by the handful, stirring continuously with a wooden spoon. Stir until all the cheese is melted completely and the mixture bubbles slightly. Pour the cornstarch/Kirsch mixture into the fondue pot and add pepper and nutmeg.

Continue to stir so that the cheese does not stick to the bottom of the pot while the mixture is thickening. Once the mixture has become thick, which takes about 5 minutes or less, turn the heat to low and call everyone to the table. Dish up the bread cubes and start dunking them into the cheese fondue.

Meat Fondue

Prep Time: 5-10 minutes

Serving Size: 6-8 people as part of main course

1 c. Vegetable Oil
1 ½-ish lb. Top Sirloin of Beef, sliced into thin pieces across the grain
¼ Yellow or White Onion, sliced (optional)

Heat oil in fondue pot until it is very hot, which takes about 2-3 minutes. Test by putting a piece of meat on a fondue fork and letting it cook. Let oil continue to heat up if it is not cooking the meat fast enough.

When ready, call everyone to the table. Let everyone put one or two slices of meat onto fondue fork. Place in pot and cook 15-20 seconds for rare and around 45 seconds to a minute for well-done. If desired, place a piece of onion on the fork with the meat for additional flavor.

Chocolate Fondue

Prep Time: 5-10 minutes

Serving Size: 6-8 people

2/3 c. Heavy Whipping Cream
2 4-oz. Chocolate bars, 60% cocoa (bittersweet)
1 Tsp. Chambord, Cognac or Brandy
2 Bananas, sliced into ¼-inch rounds
1 Apple, cut into ¼-inch slices
1 Pound Cake cut into 1-inch cubes

Heat cream and chocolate together in fondue pot over low heat.  When thoroughly combined, add in Chambord, Cognac or Brandy.  Round up everyone and tell them to start digging in by dipping slices of banana, apple and pound cake into the chocolate.

*As compensation for allowing me to take photographs during the family meal, I was told that I needed to give an acknowledgement to my sister for her fabulous hand-modeling in the various dipping pictures.  Thank you, too, to the fondue equipment suppliers for the meal, including said sister as well as my brother’s best friend’s family.  Also, thank you to my father for chauffeuring me around to pick up all the ingredients for the meal, but that was mostly because he didn’t trust me with his car.  As he pointed out, “You drive, what, maybe once a year?”

Buon appetito e buona festa a tutti!

“Russia on a Plate” by Karina Baldry

Russian Cooking.  The phrase conjures up crimson red bowls of borscht garnished with a dollop of snow white sour cream and a sprig of fresh dill, caviar-topped blinis, ice-cold vodka, and maybe the mayonnaise creation referred to as “Russian Salad.”  I’ve been to Russia a few times and have eaten some of these things.  I’ve also been served steaming bowls of soup with meat dumplings, brown bread, tart jam and tangy yogurt, and other dishes that now escape my memory.  I think the best part was always the vodka toasts before, during, and after the meal.

When I was doing research for my trip to London this week, I visited the website for one of my favorite cookbook stores, Books for Cooks.  They have wonderful one-off workshops on a variety of cuisines and techniques, so I was just hoping that this time our schedules matched so that I could take one of their courses.  Fortunately, it did and the title of one of them, “Russia on a Plate” intrigued me, based upon my previous experience with this food.  What could they be teaching?

Lobio (Kidney Bean Spread)

Karina Baldry has put together a book of the dishes she grew up with while living in the Soviet Union and which she has adapted to ingredient availability in the UK.  She openly acknowledges that these are her interpretations of these recipes.  The workshop I took today focused on the things that she ate based upon her grandmother’s cooking from the Caucasus region.

Khachapuri (Cheese Puffs)

One of the facts that I took away from the lesson was that this cuisine relies very heavily on herbs and spices.  In fact, except for the sweet at the end of the meal, cilantro was in every dish that she demonstrated for us.  It added an herbal freshness to the Khachapuri na skoruju ruke (Cheat’s Quick Khachapuri) or Cheese Puffs.  In the Lobio (Kidney Bean Spread), cilantro was a refreshing counterpoint to the meaty, dense beans.  The fragrance of the steaming Chakhokhbili (Chicken in Tomato and Onion Sauce) was perfumed with its citrus notes, as well.

Chakhokhbili (Chicken in Tomato and Onion Sauce)

For the dessert Baddam Buri (Georgian Pastries with Walnuts and Cardamom), she made a shortcrust pastry using beer in the dough to give it a bit of a lift.  The filling was spiced with toasted, ground cardamom, which I’ll have to figure out how to replicate once I get home.  This added a wonderful spicy balance to the sweetness of the sugar in the filling making it sort of a savory sweet which would be perfect with tea or coffee.  As she promised, they were irresistible and disappeared as quickly as they were brought out from the oven for us to try.

Baddam Buri (Georgian Pastries with Walnuts and Cardamom)

Getting to see Karina make these dishes first-hand and hearing her talk about the memories that they brought back of her family and the gatherings that they would have has inspired me to see if I can bring some of that warmth into my own home.  I’ve never been that fond of most of the dishes that I had eaten when I was traveling in Russia, finding it too heavy and sometimes greasy, so it’s never really occurred to me to try to explore it further.  Today’s luncheon showed me that I’ve been overlooking some of the wonderful dishes that the cuisine and culture have produced that probably weren’t as well known in the West due to the political climate.  I’m looking forward to lifting my own “Iron Curtain” and making some of her recipes at home.

Buon appetito!

Chili con Queso and Guacamole for Game Day

Today is the big playoff game for New York with the Jets taking on the Patriots this afternoon.  I don’t have any stake in this match-up or in any of the teams that will eventually make it to the Superbowl this year.  What I’ve been thinking about lately, no surprises here, is what great food I can bring to a game-watching party.  As it’s unlikely I’ll be hosting the whole thing, I’ve been toying around with some portable pre-meal snacking options.

It might sound a bit naff, but I really like the Tex-Mex classics, even though I know that they might not represent authentic Mexican cuisine, which I also do enjoy.  They were the way that I first learned about these flavors, which were completely foreign to my generic 1970s-80s upbringing.  One of the things I probably first ate was Chili con Queso.  I used to love to order it when we went out, but I never seem to do so now.

Chili con Queso

For a game day party, however, I think it is the perfect thing to offer to your guests.  It’s gooey, rich, cheesy, with a punchy spiciness.  Frankly, when I was testing this recipe, I forgot how much I enjoyed it and how addictive it can be.  Why did I ever stop eating it?  Paired with another version of Guacamole that I also created to go along with it, these two things should keep your hungry hoards satisfied, no matter who ends up winning the match.

Chili con Queso

Prep time: about 15 minutes
Serving Size: Depends upon your group

8 oz. Cream Cheese
1 1/2 cup Cheddar / Monterey Jack Cheese mix (or plain Cheddar)
1/3 to 1/2 cup Brooklyn Salsa Company’s Brooklyn Salsa (or your favorite)*

In bottom half of double boiler, bring about 1 inch of water to the boil.  Put in the top half of the boiler and add the cream cheese, stirring until it becomes smooth and creamy, rather than being a solid block.  Add the cheddar / monterey jack cheeses and stir until they melt completely into the cream cheese.  Pour in 1/3 c. of the salsa and stir thoroughly to blend together with the cheeses.  Add more salsa as necessary to taste.  Serve immediately, garnished with tortilla chips for dipping.  This can be made in advance and re-heated.

*The salsa that I recommend, which can be found several places in New York or on line, is their hottest one, so proceed accordingly and add the lower amount first, bringing the dip up to your desired level of spiciness by gradually adding more.  If you prefer, substitute a less spicy version and add more salsa to the cheeses to give the dip its kick.


Prep time: about 15 minutes

Serving Size: Depends upon your group
2 ripe Avocados
1 Jalapeno, finely minced
1/3 cup White Onion, finely chopped
1/2 tsp. Salt
1/4 tsp. ground Black Pepper
1/4 tsp. ground Cumin
1/4 tsp. ground Coriander
1 1/2 Tbsp fresh Cilantro, finely chopped
1 Lime, juice of, plus wedges for garnish
Peel and mash avocados in medium bowl leaving some chunks, if desired.  Add jalapeno and onion and stir to incorporate.  Add remaining ingredients and stir to combine thoroughly.  Allow to sit for at least an hour, covered before, serving with tortilla chips.
Buon appetito!

This entry is also cross-posted at Blogher.

Spinach-Artichoke Dip

As I’ve mentioned in some other posts, I was let go by my employer earlier this year and am looking for my next opportunity.  On Monday, it was my turn to host my job search networking/support group.  Aside from having to scrub my apartment and hide the pile of recipes that I seem to pull but never get to trying, this also meant that I was to provide some snacks.

With a reputation as a food person and with everyone in my job-search group knowing about this site, I knew that making a few different kinds of treats was going to be the way to go.  This was a good excuse to pull out some tried and true favorites and to try my hand at making a hot Spinach-Artichoke Dip.  At the end of the meeting, there wasn’t much left for me to put away, so I can only assume that everyone enjoyed the treats.
I whipped up a batch of my Rosemary-Garlic White Bean Dip to serve alongside some vegetables that I picked up at the Greenmarket on Saturday (including the last of the summer’s peppers).  In addition, I made some pita crisps for dipping.  I thought that this made a colorful display.
Then, I made some Cheddar Cheese Gougères from a recipe that I found on Leite’s Culinaria and have used several times with perfect results.  For this particular batch I used the nutty, sharp Clothbound Cheddar from the Cellars at Jasper Hill, which I’d sampled previously at the Piglet Party.  This cheese gave the same consistency as the gruyère which is typically used to make these light, airy puffs.  I paired this with the Bardshar Chutney from Schoolhouse Kitchen, which made a slightly spiced, fruity counterpart to the richness of the gougères.

The last thing that I put together for the nosh table was a Spinach-Artichoke Dip.  I’d found a few recipes on line, but none of them captured the exact spirit and flavor that I wanted.  I might still tweak this one some more, but for the moment, and from what I’ve seen when I’ve served it, this one does quite well at the appetizer table.  I’ve found that tortilla chips or pita crisps make the perfect dipping tool for it.  And, I decided to skip that naff bread bowl that this dish was served in during the ’80s and ’90s.  Time to bring this dish into the 21st Century!
The wrap up for the day was a batch of my Almond Butter Crunch.  So simple to make, yet always impressive and tasty, this was a sweet end to a meeting about a bitter topic – job searching and being unemployed.  If only it was as much fun to send out my resume and go on interviews as it was to host this gathering, I think I might have already landed my next job.

Buon appetito!
Spinach-Artichoke Dip
Prep Time: 40 minutes (including baking)
Serving Size: 6-8 as appetizer
1 Tbsp Unsalted Butter, plus more for greasing pan
1 Tbsp Olive Oil
1 14-oz. can or jar Artichoke Hearts, drained and cut into quarters
1 10-oz. package chopped Spinach, thawed
2 cloves Garlic, finely minced
1/4 tsp. Cayenne Pepper
1/4 tsp. ground Black Pepper
1 tsp. Salt
1 8-oz. package Cream Cheese
1 8-oz. package Sour Cream
3/4 cup grated mixed Italian Cheeses
Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.  Butter a casserole dish (oval or 8-inch by 8-inch).  Heat olive oil and melt butter in saucepan over medium heat.  Add artichoke hearts and spinach to pan and cook for five minutes.  Add garlic, peppers, and salt and mix together.  Cook for one minute more.
Add cream cheese, sour cream, and 1/2 cup of the cheese and incorporate thoroughly so that there are they are no clumps of dairy.  Cook for two minutes.  Turnoff the heat and pour mixture into casserole dish.  Sprinkle remaining 1/4 cup of cheese on top.

Put in the oven and cook for 30 minutes, until the mixture is bubbling and the cheese is melted on top.  Remove from the oven and let sit for five minutes.  Serve with tortilla chips or pita crisps.

Curried Lamb Burgers and Grilled Veggie-Mozzarella Sandwiches

As much as I love a great hamburger, as seen a few posts down, over the past few years, I’ve really started to get into Lamb Burgers. I’ll opt to get that if I see it on a menu when I’m out to eat so I can see how they are prepared. Restaurants also seem to be realizing that patrons are willing to try something a bit out of their comfort zone and offer more lamb on the menu, which I’m really glad to see.
A couple of years ago, Bon Appetit published a recipe that has now become part of my summer rotation. This Curried Lamb Burgers with Grilled Vegetables and Mint Raita is a handful of a title for a dish that is actually super simple to make and has great flavors. The lamb is moist and meaty with a bit of a kick from the curry (without it being too spicy or overwhelming). The yogurt sauce or raita cools it all down with a mint-citrus freshness, and the grilled vegetables take full advantage of the fresh, local produce now available.
This is definitely one of my summertime standby recipes. I love just loading up on eggplant, zucchini, and peppers and grilling up a whole batch to serve alongside these burgers. The burgers themselves freeze very well, so it is easy to have them on hand for a weeknight supper. This weekend, I seemed to have overbought in the vegetable department. I ended up cooking the whole batch and put them into the refrigerator hoping for some culinary inspiration.
Fortunately, I didn’t really have that long to wait. One of my other late-summer favorite meals is a mixed, grilled vegetable sandwich with cheese on toasted bread slathered with homemade pesto. Usually I use a goat’s cheese, but today I had a hankering for mozzarella. So, I headed to Milano Marketplace, the Italian deli down the street, bought some handmade cheese, and went back home to build my perfect sandwich.
I started with a round bread roll, sliced it open, and drizzled extra-virgin olive oil on each of the facing sides. Then, I placed it on a hot grill pan to toast. After about a minute, I took the bottom half of the roll and spread some of the pesto I made earlier onto it along with a few slices of the cheese. I layered the grilled zucchini, squash, eggplant, peppers, and some more mozzarella on top of that.
Then, I put the more-grilled top half of the bread over the filling. The whole sandwich was returned to the grill pan for another minute to warm it all through. Biting into the crisp exterior with the gooey cheese, soft vegetables and savory pesto, this is the perfect summertime meal in a sandwich.

Buon appetito!