Tag: pizza (page 2 of 3)

I Finally Tried Imo’s St. Louis-Style Pizza For Myself

The first time Jake tried a Provel pizza he called me.

He described how he had tried to double check that his particular pizza would be topped with mozzerella instead of Provel cheese. The person who took his phone order confirmed this. When his pizza arrived, he knew something was different.

“I found myself eating around the cheese.”

This statement concerned me because Jake loves cheese. Like, a lot. All kinds. Don’t ask what percentage of our typical grocery shopping trip is composed of cheese.

Therefore, I was scared.

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How We Make Our Favorite Thin-Crust Pizzas

One of my favorite meals to prepare is homemade pizza. Restaurants often refer to them as “flatbreads,” but we here, we just call them pizzas. Homemade pizza dough does take some time to prepare, but it isn’t very difficult. Therefore, I typically make pizza for Sunday suppers.

Our favorite pizzas don’t even involve tomato sauce. I just smear the dough with olive oil and garlic, and sprinkle over salt, pepper, and crushed red pepper flakes before adding the toppings. Fresh mozzarella is our cheese of choice. It’s pricier, but has an ideal chew and richness. Scoop up a ball at your local Italian deli or find some at ALDI or Trader Joe’s. Instead of covering the whole pizza with mozzarella, I stretch one ball over an entire recipe of dough by pinching off pieces and dotting them between the other toppings.

The best part about making homemade pizza is that you can add whatever toppings you like. Any vegetable you find at the farmers market probably makes a great topping. We’ve enjoyed pizza topped with everything from roasted kholarabi to shaved radish to blanched potato slices. Here’s a list of our favorite pizza toppings and instructions for making my favorite dough.

Broders Pizza

Pizza inspired by our favorite pie in the whole world, The Eggplant Special at Broders Cucina Italiana in Minneapolis, MN. Topped with fresh mozz, roasted eggplant, bell pepper, caramelized onions, and goat cheese mixed with herbs.

Yeast doughs are more forgiving than you might assume. I avoided making yeast doughs for years because they intimidated me so much! If the yeast is not old and you allow the dough to properly rise twice, all should be well. It’s easy to feel tempted to rush the second rising, but, this will really mess up the texture of your bread. My culinary instructor at Minnesota State Community & Tech College always reminded us that yeast dough rises once for flavor and twice for structure.

When I prepare pizza crust dough, I look for a texture that’s smooth, elastic, and not too sticky. If you find that your dough is too dry, slowly drizzle in a little bit of water at a time, and, if it’s too wet, mix in more flour.

Favorite Toppings:
Fresh mozzarella: We stretch one ball over a whole recipe of pizza dough.
Sliced bell pepper
Roasted eggplant
Shaved hot chilis
Caramelized onions
Roasted (or pulled) chicken
Reduced balsamic vinegar: Reduce in a saucepan until thick and sweet. 
Basil
Slow roasted tomatoes: Instead of roasting at a high heat, drizzle with olive oil, season with salt and pepper, and bake at a low temperature (250-300ºF) until the juices thicken and the skins are tender. This could take hours. Cherry tomatoes work well, but if you only have whole tomatoes, cut into small pieces and remove some of the pulp.  

Pizza Jeni

Pizza inspired by Maxwell’s of West Fargo’s Roasted Chicken & Basil Pesto flatbread: Fresh mozz, pulled chicken leg meat, caramelized red bell peppers and onions, balsamic drizzle.

My Favorite Thin Crust Recipe
Adapted from Saveur’s recipe for Lahmacun. This is an excellent recipe in itself!

Ingredients:
2 cups AP unbleached flour, plus more for rolling out the dough
1 scant teaspoon kosher salt
1 packet of yeast
3/4 cup warm water
1 teaspoon honey or sugar
2 teaspoons olive oil, plus a little extra for oiling the bowl

Instructions For Making The Dough With A Stand Mixer:

  1. Place two cups of flour and a scant teaspoon of salt in a large mixing bowl.
  2. In a small bowl, add the yeast, warm water, and sugar, and gently stir. Water that is too hot will kill the yeast. I don’t measure the temperature, but aim for slightly above luke warm. The yeast will bloom after 5-10 minutes.
  3. Pour the yeast into the dry ingredients. Add the olive oil and mix with a dough hook at a lower speed until it forms a ball. If the mixture is too dry and won’t combine, slowly stream in a little bit of water. If the dough feels too sticky, add more flour.
  4. When you like the texture of the dough, mix on a medium or medium-high speed for about five minutes. It should feel smooth, elastic, and slightly sticky.
  5. Place the dough in a lightly oiled bowl, flipping it around so that the entire surface is oiled. Cover with a towel and allow to rise until it doubles in size. If your home is chilly or you can’t find an available window sill, turn your oven on briefly just to warm it. Rise the dough inside the oven.
  6. When it’s time to make the pizza, punch down the dough and remove it from the bowl.
  7. Divide the dough in half to make two larger pizzas, or smaller balls for personal-size pizzas. Gently roll them out on a lightly floured surface. The thinner you roll the dough, the thinner your pizza crusts will be.
  8. Place on sheet pans lined with parchment, cover with tea towels, and allow to rise again. They might not dramatically double in size, but they should appear puffy.

Topping Your Pizzas:

  1. Brush a light coat of olive oil on the surface of the risen pizza crusts. Rub with grated garlic and sprinkle with salt, pepper and/or crushed red pepper flakes.
  2. If you like pizza sauce, spread it on the dough. We prefer it without.
  3. Add your favorite toppings.
  4. Space pinches of mozzarella over the pizzas.
  5. Bake 400ºF (or higher) until the dough is crisp and golden brown around the edges and the cheese caramelizes.

Taste Test: Pizza Hot Dish In A Slow Cooker

Spending time browsing Pinterest makes me want to do strange things.

After avoiding Pinterest for quite some time, I logged back into my account and gazed in wonder and bewilderment at all of those frosted watermelon “cakes,” two or three ingredient [insert the name of any food imaginable] and recipe round-ups ad nasuem. Of course, nearly every image on Pinterest is vertical because someone’s research found people are more likely to pin them. Now, we have no other choice but to.

Last week my friend posted a nifty recipe for crock pot meatloaf. Between reading her post and seeing crock pot lasagna recipes, pizza hot dish got stuck in my head. I chose to try the Skinny Crock Pot Pizza Casserole recipe from the blog Six Sisters Stuff because it seemed to make slightly less food and contained less cheese and sausage than the other recipes (though I loathe the word skinny).

I did swap ground beef for ground turkey. My new favorite butcher grinds fresh beef and I drained the fat off anyway. Plus, the recipe calls for a cup of pepperoni, so why count calories? A friend commented that this type of pasta dish in the slow cooker can become dry and so I took her advice by adding more pasta sauce and water than the recipe called for. In the end, the pasta had still soaked up most of the sauce.

So, what does happen when you cook marinara sauce, rinsed (but not cooked) spiral noodles, chopped bell pepper and onion, black olives, ground beef, pepperoni, and mozzarella in a slow cooker on low for four-five hours?

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The recipe called for fresh garlic. My pasta sauce smelled garlicky, so I omitted it.

The instructions specifically say no peeking while the dish cooks. Five hours later. . .

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Honestly, the pizza hot dish in a crock post tasted pretty dang good. Since slow cooking is essentially steaming food, the cheese will melt instead of become golden brown. Also, the noodles at the bottom will feel mushier while the ones near the top will be chewier. Depending on how long you keep the meal on warm, some noodles may even become crunchy, but I didn’t even mind the varying noodle textures because they added textural contrast.

This isn’t the prettiest dish and it’s far from gourmet, but pizza hot dish in the crock pot is comfort food like our mom or school cafeteria might have made. We’re enjoying it enough to keep chipping away at the leftovers. Jake’s only complaint is that he did not like the addition of the green pepper. He likes raw green pepper but thought it got overcooked in the hot dish.

My best advice for anyone who wants to make this dish is to add lots of black pepper and change up the ratio of noodles and pasta sauce. Using about 2/3 box of pasta and 16 oz. of sauce + 1 cup of water might create more sauciness. Who knows, though. Cooking pasta in the slow cooker is wild, you guys.

If At First You Don’t Like Provel. . .

Once, I was scared of Provel and now I’m not. I heard so many people describe how much they disliked Provel and it turned into a monster inside my head.

Provel cheese is a St. Louis food tradition. Having lived in Minnesota, North Dakota, and Iowa, I had never heard of Provel until we moved to St. Louis. Provel is a blend of processed swiss, provolone and cheddar cheeses top the famous St. Louis-style pizza made with a cracker-thin crust and sliced into party squares.

The exact origin of Provel seems to be disputed, but according to this St. Louis Today article “Provelology,” a Washington University anthropology major, “traced the trademark application for Provel to 1947.” One individual who helped contribute to the popularity of Provel in St. Louis is Ed Imo who opened Imo’s Pizza chain in 1964 after performing Provel experiments at his Uncle’s pizzeria Old Helen’s Pizzeria #1. There are Imo’s restaurants all over the city and you can even find their Provel squiggles in grocery stores.

Provel squiggles

When we first announced our move to St. Louis, friends warned us about Provel. Many described its flavor and texture as an acquired taste that many non-locals disliked.

Jake commuted to his new job in St. Louis while we searched for a new home. One evening, he ordered pizza delivery to his hotel room. Coworkers had warned him to double-check whether pizzas had Provel or Mozzerrella, and even though he did his due diligence, it arrived covered with Provel. He gave it a valiant effort, but the Provel won. “I found myself eating around the cheese,” he said.

“But how could this be?” I wondered. Jake loves cheese. Our ratio of cheese to things that aren’t cheese in our grocery cart is alarming; cheddar, provolone, swiss, goat cheese, brie, we love them all. Call me crazy, but I actually prefer American cheese melted on classic cheeseburgers and in homey grilled cheese sandwiches. The fact that Jake met a cheese he didn’t like was hard to comprehend.

I just wanted a taste of Provel so I decided to serve a frozen St. Louis-style pizza to my family when they visited from Minnesota. Mama Lucia’s kind face beckoned from the grocery store freezer and I knew she’d show us the way. Plus, they were on sale for $4.

Mama Lucia

“Welcome to St. Louis!” I exclaimed, as I pulled the pizza from the oven. The cheese crisped to a pleasant golden brown. I hesitantly nibbled an edge piece and found that I liked the Provel pizza. This one wasn’t particularly gooey, but I could still taste that processed cheesiness.

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The crisped end pieces reminded me of the edges of a grilled cheese sandwich. One made American cheese of course! Basically, everyone liked the Provel pizza.

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If at first you don’t like Provel, try, try again. It’s possible that you might like one Provel pizza and hate another.

Other St. Louis food traditions I look forward to trying include a St. Paul Sandwich, frozen custard from a Ted Drewes Stand & slinger.

Chicago-Style Deep Dish Pizza At Lou Malnati’s River North

I was provided with lunch at the Lou Malnati’s Pizzeria to facilitate my review. All thoughts are 100% honest and my own.

Welcome back to the fifth part of my six-part series about traveling to Chicago with the North Iowa Bloggers and the Clear Lake Chamber. This post is about that iconic Chicago food known as deep dish pizza.

This trip also marked my sixth visit to Chicagoland. Upon my first visit to Chicago with my family in grade school, our relatives advised us to order deep dish pizza at Gino’s East. Not just any Gino,s either, but the Gino’s East location on Well’s Street. For a suburban, Twin Cities kid, Chicago deep dish pizza tasted utterly fascinating. We were intrigued by our sausage pizza which came with an entire layer of sausage, and its rich, yellow crust.

Lou Malnati’s invited us to enjoy a meal during our trip, so we stopped by their River North location for an early lunch after touring the Skydeck glass ledges (I wrote about my experience here). I asked my cousin, a Chicago resident, about his thoughts on Lou Malnati’s and replied that out of the big Chicago deep dish chains, he prefers Lou’s.

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A hostess led us upstairs to a large table in a corner nook and our server Jason greeted us warmly. He was obviously a seasoned employee who knew the menu inside and out and kept up with our banter. After examining the menu, we chose our own deep dish pizzas in the “personal” size and one group member added the Trio of Dips With Pizza Chips appetizer to share. Since so many of us ordered a side salad, Jason recommended a family-sized house salad instead.

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I had planned to order my own side salad and felt apprehensive about sharing because I wanted to eat a lot of salad and not feel bad about taking too much. We’ve all been in those situations where someone asks us to share or split something and you oblige even though you totally want to eat your own. Eating enough fruits and vegetables on trips is challenging. When I’m away from home, I realize how off-balanced my body feels when I don’t eat as many vegetables as I do from cooking my own meals.

Jason was right. The large house salad was huge and provided more than enough for all eight people. I even went back for seconds. He brought us ramekins of four salad dressings including red wine vinaigrette, creamy lemon garlic, gorgonzola and ranch. The group’s favorite was the creamy lemon garlic which they sell by the bottle. I thought the red wine vinaigrette was especially well-balanced.

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The trio of dips included spinach artichoke dip, hummus topped with giardiniera, and roasted garlic.

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I wanted to leave room for the pizza, so I just took a small taste of each dip. If I hadn’t anticipated a plane ride later that day, I would have polished off the roasted garlic. I was pleasantly surprised to find that it tasted like pure, roasted garlic puree.

My pizza arrived topped with pepperoni and hot giardiniera (spicy pickled vegetable relish). This turned out to be my ideal combination. I wish I could order pepperoni and giardiniera pizzas everywhere. The giardiniera had a pleasant heat and was super chunky with carrots, celery, and olives. I liked how the pickled vegetables helped to cut the richness from the cheese and provided some textural contrast.

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In writing this post, I learned that Gino’s pizza crust does not actually get its golden hue from cornmeal, but yellow food coloring and corn oil. Lou Malnati’s advertises a signature Buttercrust. Some Lou’s prepares some of their pizza combinations on Buttercrusts, you can upgrade their regular deep dish to a Buttercrust for $0.75.

In 2004, Eater Chicago wrote a feature on Lou Malnati’s and interviewed Lou Malnati’s son Marc Malnati. Malnati shares how their recipe for dough has remained the same 42 years. Each batch of Buttercrust is fermented for 48-hours and really does contain butter. Other interesting facts I learned from this Eater feature is that the restaurant makes the sausage from lean pork without fennel (since Malnati feels fennel is overpowering), and sends staff to California each year to personally approve which tomato harvests will be picked and canned.

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Donna ordered a gluten-free personal-sized pizza with a sausage crust (Lou Malnati’s also offers gluten-free thin crusts). Like Gino’s East, Lou Malnati’s sausage is above average. It’s the complete opposite of those sausage pellets we find so often on cheap pizzas. While I enjoyed the flavor of this gluten-free pizza, I don’t think I could eat more than once slice during a meal.

gluten free pizza

Photo courtesy of Beth at It’s Just Life.

All in all, Lou Malnati’s serves a craveable deep dish pizza in a crust that tastes lighter and more crisp than it appears. I also learned that spicy giardiniera is my ideal pizza topping, which is inconvenient given that I’ve never seen it offered anywhere that I’ve lived. Spicy giardiniera looks like it’s easy to prepare, so I’ll have to whip up a batch before I make my next batch of pizzas at home. Lou Malnati’s did provide us with a gift certificate, but I examined the prices and found them to be reasonable. My personal pizza with two toppings costs about $9 before tax and tip and provided enough for a leftover slice. The family house salad costs $10.85 and fed our group of eight with leftovers.

Touristy or not, Chicago deep dish pizza is delicious. We can’t find it in North Iowa, so I’m looking forward to trying Laura’s recipe for deep dish which is flecked with cornmeal.  On this weekday, the restaurant was packed with local business people and tourists, alike.

Thank you Lou Malnati’s for treating us to lunch & a cookie pizza and to Jason for providing excellent service to our big, loud, enthusiastic group. 

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