Chicago Style Deep Dish Pizza – Cooks Illustrated

I love Valentines Day. I really do.

I don’t understand the seemingly widespread dislike of it (at least judging by my Facebook feed this year!) and the accusations of it being ‘commercialised’ and ‘invented by card shops’ as it clearly isn’t, it dates back to the Middle Ages!  I especially don’t understand people who say “I don’t need a set day to tell my other half I love them.” Fair enough, none of us do. Or we shouldn’t. Me and Ben say I love you every day, often multiple times a day, but still we enjoy a chance to celebrate our love and spoil each other. And, I love the idea that lots of other couples all around the world are doing it at the same time.

So, V-Day 2012. Bit of an annoyance as it was a Tuesday night, possibly the most un-romantic day of the week. But we made it work. We decided against going out for dinner and paying extortionate amounts for a lame-o set menu with a ‘free’ glass of lukewarm bubbly and opted instead to stay in with a home-cooked dinner. I’d had an idea in my head for quite some time and I decided Valentines Day would be the perfect time to put it into action.

When we were in Florida in October we unwittingly ordered a pizza one night that would go on to become the pizza by which all other pizzas would be judged. It was a Chicago style, deep dish stuffed pizza from Giordano’s; original cheese with added pineapple (don’t ask, it’s Ben’s favourite pizza topping…) and when it arrived we were a little gobsmacked:


The thing was huge! And so heavy! I swear it weighed at least half a stone. We forced down a slice each while staring in horror at the side order of mozzarella sticks that had seemed like a good addition when we ordered, before admitting defeat. The rest of the pizza (and the mozzarella sticks…) were carefully placed in the fridge in our hotel room for the next day. The only problem was, we were never really hungry enough for it! Largely due to the amazingly huge American portion sizes. Sadly, we had to throw the majority of the remainder away! (Ben bravely managed to squeeze in a slice late one afternoon.)

We haven’t stopped talking about that pizza since. Unfortunately, it seems you cannot get a deep dish stuffed pizza over here for love nor money so it was becoming clear that my only option would be to create it from scratch myself – a nerve-wracking concept as the only time I’d made pizza dough was at school! A depressingly long time ago.

A couple of weeks before Valentines Day I was so excited about my big plans that I designed a little menu for the evening and gave it to Ben whose face lit up when he read it. I added a spinach and artichoke dip for a starter, (another hard-to-find favourite from our holiday!) Mickey rice krispie treats for dessert (these need no introduction for hardened Disney fans but if you are not, have a look here) and a dress code of ‘Disney’ which we actually didn’t really follow as we decided to dress up nicely instead.

On the Monday night I was in the kitchen for three long hours preparing most of the food, so that I could enjoy a nice relaxed evening with my sweetie the next night. Up first was the dough. I had my beautiful pink Macbook Pro on the side with about 8 tabs open, all holding different blogger’s versions of the Cooks Illustrated recipe, plus a YouTube video of the pizzas being made. You know, just in case.

Here is the Cooks Illustrated recipe that I followed, kindly posted by Thirty Bucks a Week. I chose it firstly because it seemed to be universally popular with multiple accounts of successful recreations, and secondly because it made two 9′ pizzas which coincided nicely with my Mum’s two 9′ cake pans.

First up, all the dough ingredients went into the bowl of my Mum’s brand new super shiny KitchenAid where they were mixed into a lovely plump ball.

I left it to rise for an hour while I got on with prepping the other two courses. When I took it out it looked like this – unintentionally heart-shaped, how quaint!

Next up was the laminating – spreading a thin layer of butter on the dough and then rolling it up to make the dough flaky, buttery and crusty. Mmmmm. Worked perfectly!

I split the dough in two, rolled them into perfect little ovals and placed them side by side in a bowl in the fridge where they would sit patiently  overnight, awaiting their grand reveal on V-Day.

Fast-forward 24 hours…

Ben arrived at my house and we decided to get the evening off to a good start by cracking open a bottle of bubbly (interestingly, the reward at my works Christmas Party for being the proud owner of ‘Highest Hemline!’) and toasting our love 🙂

Then it was time to get down to business! I removed the laminated, risen dough from the fridge and rolled both balls out into discs. I then impressed Ben immensely by managing to whip the dough onto the cake tins first time using the classic rolling pin trick. Genius!

I flattened the dough into each cake tin and it fit perfectly. Check out that hiiiiighhhh crust!

Domestic Goddess.

It was shortly after this photo was taken that a minor disaster happened. I went into the fridge to get the mozzarella out to start layering on the dough…and there was not a shred of mozzarella in sight. Oops! We must have left it in Ben’s fridge…at his house…15 minutes away by car when you haven’t had the best part of half a bottle of champagne. I started to panic with visions of a cheese-less deep dish pizza and a ruined Valentines Day.

But, I needn’t have worried. Ben to the rescue! Before I could say ‘lets just use cheddar’ his trainers were on, coat zipped up and he was out the door and halfway up the street on the way to the shop. I wandered nervously around the kitchen while he was gone, sipping my champagne and silently praying that the shop (Tesco Express) would sell sufficient amounts of grated mozzarella (the C.I recipes calls for a pound of the stuff!)

In no time at all he was back, two bags of grated mozzarella AND a bonus ball of buffalo mozzarella, “because it was cheap.” God I love you. We were back in business!

I made two pizzas with different fillings so we could experiment a bit. One was plain cheese with one half topped with pineapple (to recreate the magic of Giordano’s) and the other had sliced Quorn sauasges in between the (homemade!!) tomato sauce and the cheese. We layered the pizza, cheese, filling, tomato sauce and a sprinkle of parmesan, and they were ready for the oven. As they cooked, we ate our spinach and artichoke dip which I’m afraid I neglected to photograph because frankly, mozzarella-gate had somewhat thrown me off course. It was really lovely though.

In a perfect timings situation, our pizzas were ready just as we finished our dip. You just can’t make that stuff up. I left them on the side to cool for a bit as we cleared away the dip debris, as advised by my fellow stuffed-pizza-makers. This would make them easier to slice. I took the opportunity to take some photos while we waited and honestly you’d have thought they were newborn twins in the baby ward the amount of cooing and ahhing that took place as we gazed at them.

Twin number one – Sausage (odd name for a baby but this is 2012)


And Twin number two – Plain, half pineapple

And the finale of any deep dish pizza recipe…innards shots!

They were incredible. Cheesy, cheesy, cheesy! The crust was perfect – it tasted EXACTLY like the Giordano’s one…dare I say it, better! It was flaky, buttery and rich. Delicious. It cooked perfectly in the amount of time stated on the recipe too even though I was afraid the bottom wouldn”t crisp up, it did! The tomato sauce was probably the best one I’ve ever tasted – grating the onion and cooking it really slowly as per the recipe made it so intense and deep, I’m glad I didn’t buy a sauce like I was originally planning to.

Obviously this makes a lot of pizza so we had leftovers for the next day…and the next! Easily fed 2 of us for 3 meals.

I was so thrilled that my pizzas had turned out perfectly that I didn’t even care about dessert! Honestly, I was on a dough-based cloud 9. But, I had a boy to feed, and dessert was the cutest part!

Check out these babies 🙂

Mickey and Minnie cake pop rice krispy treat…things. In my head they were a lot more polished and less…homemade looking…but that, I think, is the beauty of them! They were super easy to make – I melted a jar of Marshmallow Fluff, mixed it with rice krispies and moulded them into tiny little balls – a very difficult task; the fluff mixture was so sticky that they just stuck to my hands and not to each other! Eventually I got them to stick, dipped them in a mixture of chocolate and cream and stuck chocolate buttons on as ears. In a stroke of genius, I added heart-shaped cupcake decorations for Minnie’s bow 🙂

They looked really cute on the plate and they were really delicious but we’d unfortunately eaten so much pizza that we could only manage once each! These also worked well as leftovers so in fact our Valentines Day stretched to accommodate the best part of the week!

Overall, a very successful Valentines Day and one of our best to date. Happy Valentines Day Ben, roll on next year!


Crispy BBQ Tofu

So, we’ve been experimenting with tofu a lot recently. Following the success of our Mediterranean tofu scramble I wanted to try something completely different and see the other side of this wondrous soy product. In fact, I wanted to see the dark side. The time had come for…crispy fried tofu! A lot of peoples misconception of tofu is that it is always pale, bland, mushy and flaccid. Which it is. But, it can really reach quite alarming levels of deliciousness with a little TLC and a very hot pan.

I pressed the tofu for about half an hour, sliced it into square slabs and dipped each slab into seasoned flour – the key to getting a super crispy edge.

I then carefully added them to a hot pan of oil and left them for about 10 minutes, turning every so often to momentarily relieve each side of it’s immersion in the oil.

After a little while they started to look like this! Complete transformation and in my opinion proof that tofu can look appetising!

I added barbecue sauce (combination of leftover jarred BBQ sauce, ketchup, honey and soy sauce) to the tofu and left it to hang out in the pan for a little bit while we plated up our extremely classy, circa-1981 pub grub accompaniments – fries, onion rings and a corn on the cob. Niiiiiice.


The result was really, really good. The texture of the tofu had changed completely; crisp, crunchy edges with caramelised BBQ sauce and a soft, pillowy centre. Amazing! Immediately promoted to the top of the Regular Dinners list, clever tofu!



Southbank Centre Real Food Market

We were in London the weekend just gone for a friends birthday and stumbled on this amazing little food market while wandering around Waterloo station before catching our train home.

The market is just outside the station on the way to South Bank and we were so surprised to see it! It was really busy when we visited (about 12.30pm on Saturday) and we immediately jumped in to start exploring the stalls. It needs to be mentioned that we were both pretty hungover after taking full advantage of London’s generous drinking opportunities and the discovery of a food market was perhaps more enthusiastically received than it would usually have been.

Grow your own mushrooms! Amazing!

After sampling some rich, aged balsamic vinegar and various types of cheese and bread, we stumbled on this wondrous sight – Arancini Brothers. I have seen arancini on so many food blogs recently but I’d never had the chance to try them so I was beyond excited to see this stall! For those that don’t know, arancini = fried risotto balls. Yum!

You can see the arancini waiting to be fried to dizzyingly crisp heights on the right here –

Ben was overjoyed by the prospects of this stall and immediately gave the guy (an Arancini brother?) his order – two arancini in a salad wrap. The guy set about making his wrap and we watched in stomach-growling fascination.

For an extremely reasonable £3.50 Ben got a deliciously fresh wrap crammed with two arancini and accompaniments of cucumber, tomato, sliced apple, crispy onions, chilli tomato chutney and homemade garlic mayonnaise. Upon receiving the wrap he clutched it to his bosom, visably drooling as I dithered about what to order for myself. I decided to just go for the two arancini on their own, which came with the tomato chutney and garlic mayo for an even more reasonable £1.50. They came very thoughtfully presented in a little bamboo dish with generous lobs of the sauces and a wooden fork for easy eating, always a bonus in my eyes. We thanked the Brother profusely and scampered over to a nearby table to stifle our hungover stomach lurches with our snacks.

Arancini Brothers arancini are seriously good. They were hot throughout; crispy on the outside and sticky and soft in the middle. Each ball had a generous amount of breadcrumbs on the outside, providing a perfect contrast to the gooey cheese in the centre which was flavoured with flecks of spring onion, garlic and chilli. Both the chilli chutney and garlic mayo were delicious too and to be honest toward the end I was using the arancini more as a vessel to get the sauces into my mouth. Mmmm. Ben’s wrap was gone in a matter of minutes and he announced in a sorrowful voice that he wished he’d got the large, which came with 4 arancini. We have learnt from our mistakes and will be ordering much higher quantities next time.

We seriously debated going back and buying additional fried items but we had a train to catch and wanted to see what wonders the rest of the market held.

This focaccia looked and smelled incredible. We were offered a lot of samples from the various stalls as we wandered round, the atmosphere was really friendly and jovial and you could tell all the stall owners were really passionate about their food. Always great to see!

This garlic that made up this paste was roasted for a full 5 hours! I tried a sample and the flavour was so intense, I felt like I needed a sit-down! I really love garlic and I wish I’d bought a jar, we’ll have to go back so I can.

Once I’d eaten my sample of slow roasted garlic it was unfortunately time to head back to the hustle and bustle of Waterloo Station. I felt like we had travelled miles away when we were wandering around the market; the enticing smells, relaxed atmosphere and sounds of laughter and music made me forget I was in Central London and for once, the wait for a train was a pleasure rather than a chore 🙂