Pizza Margarita in a Skillet: Faster than Dominos can Deliver

When using the very best ingredients it’s hard to beat a great combination like fresh mozzarella, vine ripened tomatoes, and basil leaves.  Add any other specialty touches like a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil, and you have the makings of a masterpiece.

Throw in a fine crispy bread and you will know why Pizza Margarita has long been considered one of the world’s great classics.

Last night I experienced such good fortune when I happened to have fabulous fresh bread dough—as well as all the above ingredients.  Easily, within ten minutes I was slicing into world class pizza.

I had a supply of excellent bread dough on hand thanks to local bread expert Marc Green, who has perfected his own no-knead bread for artisan bread baking.  With that in mind, I pulled out a heavy skillet and heated a good drizzle of olive oil. I flattened and patted out a portion of Marc’s dough, threw it into the hot pan, and covered it with a lid to create an impromptu oven.

Meanwhile, I gathered up pre-sliced mozzarella, thinly sliced fresh tomato, and plucked a few sprigs of basil off my doorstep plant. When the bottom was crispy, I gave it a flip and added my toppings.  It was quickly covered and left to cook for another 3-5 minutes, until the cheese melted and the bottom was golden brown.

Since my dough was well constructed and robust, it raised beautifully, much like a Chicago-style pizza.  Normally I prefer a thinner crust, but this was so good I nearly polished off the whole thing without stopping for a salad!

Given this simple technique, there is no reason why any other bread or ready-made pizza dough would not work.  I also sprinkled on red pepper flakes and sea salt but that’s a personal thing. Simply nothing else is required.  Not even a phone call or text message.

Pizza Margarita in a Skillet

Inspired by Marc Green’s No-Knead Bread

Ingredients
one recipe bread dough
fresh sliced tomato
fresh sliced mozzarella
fresh basil leaves
olive oil

Directions

  1. Turn raised, room temperature dough out onto lightly floured surface. Lightly dust with flour and cut into four or more portions and shape into balls.
  2. Heat a medium skillet (8” approx.), heat 1-2 tablespoons oil into bottom until it shimmers. Flatten one ball with hand and press into the diameter of the skillet; carefully slide the dough into pan.
  3. Cover with a lid and cook 3 minutes until golden brown on bottom and dough has risen, uncover and carefully flip over.
  4. Place the tomato slices, mozzarella slices, and basil leaves on top of the dough.  Cover with lid and cook 3-5 minutes longer until cheese is melted and bottom is golden brown.   Remove to cutting board, cut into wedges and serve hot.  Repeat pizzas as needed.
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Kimchi, the New Salsa

These days kimchi is the condiment I reach for first in the fridge, now replacing a line-up of salsas, from verde to chipotle.

I’ve been collecting kimchi recipes for ages, but have rarely made one, due to the large quantity they yield and the time required to pull it off.  I recently came across an interesting concept that really caught my attention—intriquing enough I  had to give it a try.

In Julie O’Brien and Richard Climenhage’s Fresh and Fermented cookbook, they are talking my language. Their quick and simple kimchi begins with unpasteurized sauerkraut, a naturally fermented process that gives all the flavor and health benefits one could ask for.

I was able to track down the essential Korean red pepper, gochugaru, at my local Asian market. It too, has become one of my favorite seasonings. Mildly hot and slightly smoky, it works well in many applications.

The drained sauerkraut is topped off with the gochugaru, fresh garlic, ginger, and green onion—just enough of each for balance. It’s all covered with a salt brine and left to ferment at room temperature for about a week.

Once it’s burbling nicely, it’s refrigerated and ready to eat, but will improve the longer it ferments.  This simple technique transforms the sauerkraut into a hot and spicy condiment that is good on anything from eggs, to kielbasa or tacos, and of course, on chili!

Quick and Simple Kimchi

Inspired by Fresh and Fermented, Julie O’Brien & Richard J. Climenhage

Ingredients
2 cups unpasteurized refrigerated sauerkraut
1 tablespoon green onion, minced
2 teaspoons Korean red repper (gochugaru)
1 teaspoon minced garlic
½ teaspoon minced ginger

Directions

  1. Drain the sauerkraut and combine with the remaining ingredients.
  2. Pack into a 3-cup jar and top off with brine (see below) to cover the kraut and leave 1” from below the rim to allow for fermenting activity.
  3. Let sit at room temperature out of bright light for about 1 week, then refrigerate.
  4. It is ready to eat but will improve the longer it ferments. Yield: about 3 cups.

Additional brine:  Ratio: 1-1/4 teaspoon sea salt to 1 cup room temperature non-chlorinated water.  Dissolve the salt in the water.

Let Them Eat Cake

Oops! I almost ate the last piece of this incredible cake without taking time for a blog photo. That is what happens when you care more about eating cake than preserving its place in history.

What’s in a name?  Somehow, chocolate-and-zucchini do not incite great waves of excitement.  I don’t know if this is the impetus of Clotilde Dusoulier’s beloved blog Chocolate and Zucchini, but it surely should be. As Clotilde aptly describes her Chocolate & Zucchini Cake, ‘the grated zucchini melds into the batter and the strands disappear… into a voluptuous chocolate flavored cake.’

Admittedly, chocolate is not my thing.  But if there is anything that would change my mind, it would not be a flourless chocolate cake, or a rich chocolate truffle, it would be this cake. Right out of the oven, the charming exterior has a crisp brownie-like crust which is elegantly foiled by its light, well-constructed interior crumb.

Thanks to the mysterious zucchini addition, it is perfectly moist, and for a chocolate cake the butter/oil content is surprisingly low. It is a well-balanced cake, not too sweet, but deeply flavored with cocoa powder, chocolate bits, and a hint of coffee.  Yes, it’s all of that.

Chocolate & Zucchini Cake

From Clotilde Dusoulier’s award winning blog, Chocolate and Zucchini. First published in April 2004 and updated in August 2017.
 
Ingredients
1/2 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature, or 1/2 cup olive oil, plus a pat butter or teaspoon oil for the pan
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
3/4 cup light brown sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3 tablespoons strong cooled coffee
3 large eggs
2 cups unpeeled grated zucchini, from about 1 1/2 medium zucchini
1 cup good-quality bittersweet chocolate chips or roughly chopped
Confectioner’s sugar or melted bittersweet chocolate (optional)

Instructions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease a 10-inch round springform pan or 8 1/2-inch square pan.
  2. In a medium mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder, and salt.
  3. In the bowl of a mixer, or by hand in a large mixing bowl, beat the sugar and butter until fluffy. Add the vanilla, coffee, and eggs, mixing well between each addition.
  4. In a large mixing bowl, combine the zucchini, chocolate, and about a third of the flour mixture, making sure the zucchini strands are well coated and not clumping too much.
  5. Add the rest of the flour mixture into the egg batter. Mix until just combined; the batter will be thick. Fold the zucchini mixture into the batter, and blend with a spatula without overmixing.
  6. Pour into the prepared cake pan, and level the surface. Bake for 40 to 50 minutes, until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean. Don’t overbake.
  7. Transfer to a rack to cool for 10 minutes, run a knife around the pan to loosen, and unclasp the sides of the pan. Serve slightly warm or at room temperature. Sprinkle with confectioner’s sugar or a chocolate glaze if desired.  Serves 12

Meditation on Garlic

If you haven’t had fresh garlic, my friend, then you don’t know what you are missing.

In our grocery stores, we are mostly familiar with dried garlic that has likely been shipped in from some exotic port across the world from us.

Lacy Gage from Blue Moose Farm recently supplied me with enough heads of well-groomed garlic from her luxe gardens to make a full complement of fall garlic confit.

Yes, we love our garlic, but fresh garlic is the real deal. It is juicy, easy to peel, sweet, and has flavor worth shouting about. Anything else pales in comparison.

And so it is with my garlic confit.  It took 7 heads or approximately 75 peeled and trimmed cloves of garlic. But when you have something this luscious, it is not work. It becomes a Zen meditation on the profound glory of real food.

In this an ancient method of preserving garlic, peeled cloves are gently poached in olive or other mild oil, rendering the tamed garlic sweet, soft, and sublimely creamy. In very little time, you receive ready to use garlic, plus a richly infused oil for cooking or flavoring, and garlic with much of its obnoxious odor eliminated.

Garlic is good on just about anything.

Mash a few cloves with or without butter for instant garlic bread; make a quick salad dressing with a few smashed cloves, a bit of infused oil and a dash of vinegar; toss mashed cloves with steamed vegetables; add mashed cloves and oil to hot drained pasta with chopped tomato and a bit of basil. Or, slip mashed garlic under its skin before roasting chicken.

Garlic Confit

Ingredients
7 heads garlic, cloves trimmed and peeled
Enough olive oil to cover, approximately 1½ cup
1-2 sprigs of fresh thyme, rosemary, or savory
Bay leaf, dried red pepper

Directions

  1. Place the garlic cloves, oil, herbs, and a dried red pepper if desired in a small pan over medium-low heat; cover and poach until the cloves are tender but not browned, about 30 minutes.
  2. Cool to room temperature, transfer cloves to a clean 3-cup storage jar and cover with the infused oil.
  3. Cover tightly and store in refrigerator for several weeks; keep covered with oil.  Use clean utensils and handle with care to avoid contamination.  Yield: 2-3 cups.

One-Bowl Formula Cookie

Old-fashioned, soft, spicy Hermit cookies have never really gone out of style, but they certainly could use a make-over. Here is an updated version designed to meet today’s taste for cleaner, brighter flavors and textures—with less fat and more fiber.

It is my latest go-to cookie because it lasts well, is very tasty, and nearly foolproof to make. I call it my formula cookie because it can be easily varied, depending on need, mood, and availability.

For example, the 2 cups of flour can be replaced with nearly any type or combination of flours. For best rising, I tend to use a base of at least 1 cup all-purpose flour. Any variety of dried fruits and nuts will work, I especially like to include dates because they are meltingly sweet and moist.

The ingredient variations listed below are a recent favorite, but don’t let that stop you! The warm spices of cinnamon, coriander, and ground ginger are an excellent combination that works well with a variety of dried fruits and nuts, especially dates, dried cranberries, and a few pumpkin seeds.

This cookie is easy to assemble and best of all, it requires only one bowl. The fairly heavy dough comes together very quickly, yielding a soft cookie when baked. Best when not overcooked, plan on about 10 minutes per batch.  Store these airtight at room temperature for a week or longer.

Hermits Redux

Ingredients
2 cups AP flour, or of choice:  1-1/3 cups AP flour, 1/3 cup whole wheat flour, 1/3 cup cake flour
2 teaspoons warm spices of choice:  1 tsp. cinnamon, 1/2 tsp. coriander, 1/2 tsp. dried ginger
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup quick oats
¾ cup dried fruit and nuts: 1/2 cup pitted dates, 2 tbsp. dried cranberries, 2 tbsp. pumpkin seeds
1 egg
2 tablespoon oil: coconut, safflower, or canola
2/3 cup light or dark brown sugar
1/4 cup buttermilk or sour milk
1 teaspoon vanilla

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 375°F.  Line baking sheet with silpat or parchment.
  2. On waxed paper, sift flour through salt; mix in the oats, add the dried fruit, nuts and toss to coat.
  3. In mixing bowl, whisk egg and oil together, whisk in the brown sugar and milk, then the vanilla.  Stir in dry ingredients with large spoon only to combine, it will be thick.
  4. Using a small scoop or form rounded teaspoons of dough and roll into balls, place 2″ apart on baking sheet.  Flatten with a moistened fork while rounding the edges.
  5. Bake 9-11 minutes, until barely set and the tops begin to brown. They should be soft and seem undercooked; they will firm up as they cool.  Cool on rack and repeat.  Yield:  27 cookies.

Summer Tea and the Good Life

Mountain Rose Herbs makes a caffeine-free bulk tea called Evening Repose Tea that I have gotten in the habit of enjoying in the evening. It’s a relaxing balance of peppermint and spearmint, chamomile and cornflowers, lemon verbena, lavender, rose petals and organic stevia.

But once the summer heat cranked up, hot tea no longer held that same appeal. I hit on a solution that has become my go-to iced tea during the day and well into the evening.

Still a sun tea of sorts, I’ve ramped up the process just a tad.  Instead of leaving the tea to steep outdoors via the sun’s rays for an entire day, I gently pour boiling water over the bulk tea wrapped in cheesecloth and set it out in the sun for a couple of hours. It’s just enough time to infuse yet remain well-balanced, clear, and very refreshing.

Once I got with the program, I’ve come up with other variations. One of my favorites is simply to boost the lavender and rose values by tossing in a bit more of it from a pretty bowl I have drying on a nearby table. Add ice, perhaps a little lemon, sugar if you must, and life is good.

Summer Tea

Ingredients

1/3 cup bulk tea, such as Evening Repose Tea
6 cups boiling water

Directions

  1. Wrap the bulk tea in 2 layers of cheese cloth and tie securely with culinary twine. Place in 2 quart container with lid.
  2. Gently pour boiling water over the tea, loosely cover and place in the sun for 2 hours.
  3. Remove the tea bag and pour into a storage container. When cool, chill and serve with ice and lemon slices. Serves 4 or more.

Mission Accomplished

My good buddy Jerry and I have been talking about lamb shanks for a very long time. When we get hungry, one of our favorite topics centers on lamb shanks: why slow and low cooking is essential to their tender-to-the-bone succulence, and how all that bone intensely flavors the meat. They truly are a labor of love.

A mound of Basque Lamb Shanks

We can talk for hours about the best way to prepare them. Of course, Jerry considers himself an authority on lamb shanks, with good reason.  He lived in Boise, Idaho for many years, and at one time married into a clan of Basques who cooked lamb like nobody’s business. He also made a point of frequenting the region’s Basque restaurants and managed to get into the kitchens of some of the best. Of one in particular, Jerry maintains they credited their outrageous lamb shanks to a slow oven simmer in an awesome sauce based on mushrooms, red wine and sundried tomatoes.

One weekend, we decided to stop talking and tackle the lamb shanks. We knew what we had to do and we were ready!  Lucky us, we found absolute beauties at Roth’s Market that were just our size. One additional challenge:  to utilize my fairly new Instant Pot, which sears, braises, and slow cooks until the cows come home.  Two of these shanks fit perfectly in the pot, and still, there would be more food that we could possibly eat in one sitting.

Jerry pulled out his knives and did the honors of stripping the shanks of excess fat, silver, and sinew until they were perfectly prepped and ready for the pot. It is attention to such details that can make the difference between ok and outstanding.

Once the shanks were well browned off and holding in the slow cooker, the vegetables were sautéed in the pan’s drippings and added to the cooker. The pan was deglazed with wine and poured over the shanks, followed by the sundried tomatoes and their liquid, the beef stock, and herbs. Now, it was just a matter of time for the preliminary sauce to work its magic on the shanks.

Lamb Shank, partially devoured

And so it did—to perfection. Although the photos indicate a mound of meat, in no way do they give adequate credit to the lamb shanks. In fact, they were taken in an absolute rush and secondary to the mission at hand.  We had our hands full!!

Basque Lamb Shanks, Slow Cooker

Ingredients
2 lamb shanks, @ 1.25 lbs each
1-2 tablespoons canola or safflower oil
1 medium onion, chop
1 carrot, peel chop
5 cloves garlic, mince
1 cup or more cremini mushrooms, chop
½ cup dry red wine
¼ cup sundried tomatoes, reconstituted in 1/2 cup water and cut up. Save water.
½ cup beef stock, approximate; more as needed to thin sauce
1 teaspoon fresh rosemary
1 teaspoon fresh thyme
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
1 teaspoon lemon grated zest

Directions 

  1. Trim silver and fat from shanks.
  2. Heat a wide skillet over medium heat and pour in oil to coat pan. Sprinkle shanks with salt and pepper and brown on all sides, about 10 minutes, and transfer to slow cooker.
  3. If necessary drizzle additional oil into the pot. Add onion, carrot, and garlic to pan and cook stirring often, until onion softens. Add the mushrooms and cook to release their liquid; transfer to slow cooker.  Deglaze pan with wine and add to slow cooker.
  4. Add all ingredients except lemon zest, cover and cook for about 3 hours on high and test for tenderness. Add lemon zest and cook for approximately 1 hour longer approximately, or until the meat pulls back from the bone and is fork-tender. Adjust seasoning and serve with more lemon. Serves 2 very hungry people.