Mama Mia!


 Pizza night is a tradition in many households, a night reserved for takeout or delivery. But why not start a new tradition and make your own pizza at home? I won't lie and say it's as easy as picking up the phone, but it's also not as nearly as difficult as many people think.

Pizza dough is yeasted, like most bread, but what is different is that it requires one short rise. That means there's no punching the dough, trying to guess when it has doubled in size, or any complicated shaping — just put the dough in the oven on the lowest setting and leave it alone for an hour.

While the dough is rising, you can prepare the other ingredients. Decide what kind of toppings you want, mix the sauce, and shred the cheese (or cheat with pre-shredded cheese).

In fact, I'm a big fan of cheating — in the kitchen, that is. If you simply can't bear the thought of using yeast, cheat and use a homemade biscuit dough instead. This dough comes together quickly and can be in the oven within 5 minutes. The resulting crust is different from traditional pizza crust — more, well, biscuity — but delicious nonetheless.

Start this meal with an easy homemade version of Caesar dressing, no raw eggs or tableside whisking required. Start with a jar of mayonnaise, add flavorful ingredients like garlic, Parmesan and lemon juice, and give it a whirl in the food processor — instant Caesar, without the fuss!

Unfortunately, there's no simple way to cheat when it comes to dessert. If you want a rich chocolate cake with creamy frosting, you simply have to put in some time. But boy, is it worth it. This cake will definitely take you back to your youth — or, at least, the youth you wish you had! You can make it the night before to save time; just be sure to take it out of the fridge at least an hour before serving for optimum gooeyness.

Caesar-Style Salad

Depending on the size of your Romaine, you may get enough dressing for more than one head of lettuce. Leftovers will keep in the refrigerator for up to a week.

4 cloves garlic, minced
3 Tbsps. olive oil
4 slices hearty white bread, cubed
salt and pepper to taste
1 Tbsp. chopped garlic
1 tsp. lemon juice
1 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
3/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 cup mayonnaise
1 large head Romaine lettuce, cut or torn into bite-sized pieces, washed, and dried

Preheat oven to 400°.

Combine the garlic and olive oil in a medium bowl.

Add the bread, season to taste with salt and pepper, and toss to combine.

Arrange in an even layer on a baking sheet and cook 10 to 12 minutes, or until golden-brown, turning the croutons halfway through. Set aside to cool.

In the bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade, mix the garlic, lemon juice and oil until smooth.

Add 1/4 cup cheese and mayonnaise and pulse until just combined.

Season with salt and pepper.

Place the Romaine in a large bowl and add the dressing, a little bit at a time, until lettuce is coated to your preference.

Add the remaining 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese and croutons; toss to combine.

Serves 6.

Homemade Pizza

1 batch pizza dough, yeast or biscuit-style (see below)

Sauce Ingredients:

1 can crushed tomatoes
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp. dried oregano
salt and pepper to taste

Topping Ingredients:

11/2 cups (about 6 oz.) shredded mozzarella-provolone cheese blend
assorted vegetables, such as bell peppers, mushrooms, olives and/or onions

Preheat oven to 450°.

In a large bowl, combine all of the sauce ingredients.

Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and divide in half. Roll each piece into an 18-inch disk.

Top each round with half of the sauce and cheese, and then add any vegetables you choose.

Bake pizzas 10 to 15 minutes, or until the cheese is melted and crusts are beginning to brown.

Cool slightly before serving.

Makes 2 large pies.

Yeast Dough

1 package active dry yeast (21/4 tsps.)
1 Tbsp. sugar
11/4 cups warm water
3 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsps. salt
2 Tbsps. vegetable oil or olive oil

Set the oven to the warm setting (or the lowest setting it has).

In a measuring cup, dissolve the yeast and sugar in the water. Let sit for 5 minutes while you measure out the remaining ingredients.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine the yeast mixture, flour, salt and oil. Mix for 5 minutes, or until it becomes smooth and elastic.

Transfer to a greased bowl, cover with plastic wrap and place in the oven to rise for 1 hour.

Biscuit Dough

3 cups flour
2 tsps. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
1 stick unsalted butter, cut into 8 pieces, chilled
1 cup milk

In a large bowl, combine the flour, baking powder and salt.

Add the butter and blend the mixture until it resembles coarse meal.

Add the milk and mix until just combined.

Old-Fashioned Chocolate-Layer Cake

Best served slightly cool or at room temp.

Cake Ingredients:

1 cup cocoa powder
1 cup flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
8 Tbsps. (1 stick) butter
11/2 cups sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 cup buttermilk

Frosting Ingredients:

21/2 sticks butter, softened

8 oz. semisweet chocolate, melted and slightly cooled
3 cups confectioners' sugar
2 Tbsps. heavy cream or milk
1 tsp. vanilla
1/2 tsp. salt

Preheat oven to 350°.

Grease two 9-inch round cake pans.

Combine the cocoa, flour, baking soda and salt in a medium-sized bowl.

Place the butter and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle, and mix on medium-high speed 2 to 3 minutes, or until light and fluffy.

Add the eggs, one at a time, and mix until combined.

Add the vanilla and mix until combined.

Add half of the dry ingredients and mix until just combined.

Add the buttermilk and mix until just combined.

Add the remaining dry ingredients, and mix until smooth and fluffy.

Pour the batter into prepared pans.

Bake about 15 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out with a few moist crumbs.

Cool in the pan about 5 minutes, then run a knife around the edge to loosen the cakes before turning them out on a wire rack to cool completely.

Once cakes are cool, prepare frosting: Place the butter in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle and mix on high speed 30 seconds, or until light and fluffy.

Add the melted chocolate and mix until smooth.

Add the sugar, 1 cup at a time, and mix until combined.

Add the heavy cream, vanilla and salt. Mix on high speed for 30 seconds, or until the frosting is smooth and fluffy.

Place one cake layer onto a cake plate and spread with half of the frosting. Top with remaining cake layer and frost entire cake with remaining frosting.

Serve immediately or refrigerate until ready to serve.

Serves 12.

Keri Fisher is a food writer and co-author of One Cake, One Hundred Desserts. E-mail her at: [email protected]



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