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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The Mind of a Chef

Call me a creature of habit, but it seems that about once a month I make a frittata of some sort.  It’s usually on the weekend, but more important, it is the reassurance of knowing I’ve got my buddy in the fridge for back up during the week.

One of the most versatile of dishes ever, the frittata is equally welcome hot, warm, room temperature, and even cold.  Designed for portability, a wedge makes a convenient hand-held lunch on the run, or a simple dinner with salad.  Little mouth-sized portions make flavorful bites with drinks.

So, it’s no surprise that my mind tends to wander in terms of would that work in a frittata?  With a little manipulation, the answer is usually yes.  Here’s my latest frittata creation, and the answer is yes, absolutely, to all of the above mentioned applications.

This all began when a friend brought over beautiful sprigs of soft sage from their garden. I set them aside to dry, knowing they would come in handy very soon. When I spotted a small pristine head of cauliflower at the farmers’ market, I paused over it quizzically. My mind slipped into frittata mode.  With sage and what else?

Let’s face it, much like a white canvas, cauliflower needs help. My mind kept going… there were a couple types of blue cheese rumbling in the cheese bin and I probably had a little ham in the freezer.

Back at home I sliced the cauliflower and broke it into smaller pieces.  The idea here is to give the cauliflower more flat surfaces to brown and intensify flavor. The cauliflower was briefly blanched in boiling water,   quickly cooled to stop the cooking, and well drained—to avoid any mushy/sogginess later.

When I was ready to prepare the frittata it was a mere matter of browning onion and cauliflower, then adding the sage and ham. A combination of bleu cheese and creamy gorgonzola was scattered over the cauliflower and ham for a brief melt into the action below.

The eggs, milk, and seasoning were poured over the cauliflower mixture and allowed to set up in the pan and lock everything in place.  A quick run under the broiler puffs the frittata and browns the top. This is one serious frittata, she grins.

Cauliflower-Ham Frittata with Sage-Gorgonzola Cheese

Ingredients
1 small head cauliflower, ½” slices, broken in florets and blanched @ 3 minutes, drained
1 tablespoon combination evoo and butter
½ onion, chop
¾ teaspoon dried sage, crumble
½ Anaheim pepper, seed and chop
¼ lb. smoked ham, ¾ cup cubes
½ cup combo gorgonzola and bleu cheese, in pieces
6 eggs
¼ cup milk
½ teaspoon sea salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
¼ teaspoon nutmeg

Directions

  1. Heat 9” or 10” oven-proof skillet over medium heat with olive oil and butter. Sauté the onion until soft, add the sage and continue until onion begins to color.
  2. Add the cauliflower and continue cooking, gently tossing until it begins to brown.  Add the Anaheim pepper and the ham, and cook a couple of minutes.
  3. Sprinkle the cheese evenly over the top.
  4. In a medium bowl, whisk the eggs, add the milk, salt, pepper and nutmeg and pour over the eggs.
  5. Tilt the pan, loosen the eggs from the bottom with a spatula and let eggs run into the bottom of the pan.  Continue to turn the pan and allow the eggs to flow to bottom of the pan and the egg mixture begins to set.
  6. Run the frittata under the broiler until it begins to puff and the top begins to brown in places. Release frittata with from pan with a spatula and slide onto a plate. Cut into portions and serve hot or room temperature.  Serves 6.

Heat Wave?  Just Add Ice

Here in the Pacific Northwest we are known for our extreme coffee consumption.   At any time of the day or night, drive down a busy street and you will likely find multiple drive up coffee stands positioned to service the staggering number of customers queued in line for their next quick fix.

And when it comes to heat waves, rather than sweet tea, iced coffee is often our drink of choice. With temperatures soaring over 100 degrees for multiple days recently, my friend Chuck’s house specialty is a refreshing Thai iced coffee.

Thai Iced Coffee

Thai Iced Coffee

He suggests sugar muddled in a glass with a spiced coffee base, filled with ice cubes, and finished with half and half to taste.

Of course this took me right back to my coffee days in the Bahamas and Caribbean.  Since fresh milk was considered a luxury that required refrigeration, condensed milk was often favored due to its greater shelf life.  So popular, it was also served in most cafes and restaurants; after a while its taste just became part of the experience.

Since I’m not a big fan of sugar in my coffee anyway, I opted to stay with tradition and go with my old standby, sweetened condensed milk.  If you are a blog follower, then you are likely familiar with other recipes here praising its virtues, like Key Lime Pie and Dulce de Leche.  Its light caramelized flavor adds a richness, it rounds out, and enhances the cardamom and cinnamon flavoring brewed into the coffee base – it’s that simple.   Just add ice!

Thai Iced Coffee

Ingredients
4 tablespoons coffee, freshly ground
1/3 teaspoon cardamom, ground
1/8 teaspoon cinnamon
6 cups water
1/2 cup sweetened condensed milk
1 cup milk
Ice
Garnish:  Cinnamon or cinnamon sticks

Directions

  1. In basket of a coffee brewer, place ground coffee, cardamom and cinnamon. Brew with water and allow to cool.
  2. In individual glasses add 1-2 tablespoon sweetened condensed milk and thin with 1-2  tablespoons milk.
  3. Add ice and pour in cool or chilled coffee; top off with additional milk as desired. Garnish with a sprinkling of cinnamon or a cinnamon stick. Serves 4.

A Natural Wonder: Strawberries and Cream Polenta Orange Cake

This weekend we have finally been able to string a few warm days together.  It’s a welcome reminder that summer is on the way and flats of fresh strawberries are just around the corner.

One of my favorite ways to show off the season’s best berries is with Polenta Orange Cake, a low squat European-style beauty imbued with a slight crunchy-sweet corn essence.  The orange zest and polenta join together in a burnished gold crumb dense enough to welcome a good soaking of orange syrup or juicy berries.

Strawberries & Ricotta Cream Orange Polenta Cake

For strawberries and cream cake, slice the cake in half torte style, fill it with sliced strawberries, and spoon on whipped cream. Or, for my favorite ricotta cream, cut the whipped cream with half ricotta.  It’s a natural wonder.

Polenta Orange Cake

Ingredients
Cake
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup medium to fine-grained cornmeal or polenta
2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup butter, room temperature
1/2 cup sugar
3 eggs, room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 orange, zest and @ 1/3 cup juice
Orange Syrup
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup sugar
1/3 cup orange juice
1 orange, cut in half
1/2 teaspoon almond extract

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350° F.  Line a 9″ cake pan with parchment or foil and spray with baker’s spray.
  2. Combine the dry ingredients and set aside.  In a mixing bowl, cream butter until light, slowly add the sugar and beat until light. Add the eggs one at a time, until fluffy.  Add the vanilla, orange juice, the zest and mix. Don’t worry if it curdles. Add dry ingredients, mixing just to incorporate.  Scrape bowl down and spread the batter evenly into pan.
  3. Bake for 30 minutes, until cake springs back when touched.  Remove from oven and brush liberally with orange syrup while still warm.
  4. For the Syrup:  place all but extract in a small saucepan and bring to a boil; continue to boil briskly for 6 to 8 minutes, until it begins to thicken.  Let cool slightly, remove orange and strain.  Add the almond extract and brush over the warm cake.

Strawberries and Cream Cake
4 cups strawberries, rinsed, hulled, sliced (save a few for garnish)
2 tablespoons sugar
Sweetened Whipped Cream topping
1 cup whipping cream
1 tablespoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla

  1. Prepare strawberries and cream:  combine the berries with sugar and chill; save a few pretty whole ones for garnish.  Whip the cream, add the sugar and vanilla.
  2. To assemble:  slice the cake in half horizontally, brush the bottom layer with orange syrup, layer with some of the sliced berries, spread with whipped cream.  Add the top layer, top with more berries and garnish with whipped cream and few pretty berries.  Serves 6 or more.  The cake can be baked a day ahead.

Cheaters Risotto

There’s nothing like authentic risotto for sheer artistry. But at home I don’t seem to have the patience or inclination to constantly stir assorted liquids with rice in order to achieve the layers of flavor and creaminess it requires. Here’s an easy solution using orzo instead that takes all the work out of the process.zuke orzo one pot (480x640)

While the orzo and other goodies simmer away, diced zucchini can be stirred into the pot and cooked along with it.  I discovered it was the ideal opportunity to whip out my new inexpensive spiralizer, which cranks out perfect spaghetti-like strands in the flick of a wrist. The zucchini sits atop the simmering orzo, and steams to an al dente state in no time at all.zuke orzo (480x640)

To finish:  spoon into bowls and add a dollop of ricotta-basil cheese for extra creaminess.  

Orzo and Zucchini Risotto-style

Ingredients
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 medium onion, chop
1/8 teaspoon saffron
1-1/2 cups orzo
14 ounces chicken stock
2-1/2 cups water
2 medium tomatoes, seed and dice
1 medium zucchini, diced or cut into 6” julienne strips or spirals
¾ teaspoon salt and pepper to taste
½ cup Parmesan cheese grated
Optional ricotta topping
½ cup ricotta
1 tablespoon Parmesan cheese grated
1 tablespoon fresh basil, julienne

Directions

  1. In 2-quart pot with lid, sauté the onion in olive oil to soften, adding the saffron in the process.
  2. Stir in the orzo and sauté for 1 minute.
  3. Stir in the broth, water, tomatoes, and bring to a boil.  Cover, reduce heat and cook for 8 minutes.
  4. To finish with zucchini, scatter the strands on top of the orzo, sprinkle with salt and pepper and parmesan cheese, cover and cook about 3 minutes longer, until the orzo is just tender and zucchini is al dente.  If liquid remains, increase heat, stirring until liquid evaporates and it is creamy.
  5. Spoon into bowls, top with a spoonful of ricotta cheese topping and serve.  Serves 3-4

Clafoutis Calling…

Hello?

If you are new to this site, then you wouldn’t know about me and clafoutis and that I can’t say no. I have zero resistance.

Clafoutis

Clafoutis

As far as I am concerned it is good morning, noon, and night. And that is likely what will happen today… since dessert is still on the horizon.  What’s not to like about a silky crepe-like batter poured over fruit and baked in the oven until puffed and golden?  I’m still confounded by the magic that occurs when these two components meld into one blissful package and blossom into a creamy light filling afloat with fruit—snugly surrounded by its own self-imposed crispy light crust.

Today’s version was not planned.  It merely seemed like a good idea to use up the few pieces of lingering fruit: a couple of peaches and a pear and then fill in the gaps with a handful of dried fruit, which happened to be prunes softened in orange juice.  A slight touch of almond in the batter and a handful of almonds sprinkled on top manage to make this taste like I started with a plan.  Oh, my.clafoutis slice(640x457

Well, I’ve got to go now, the clafoutis is calling me…

Mixed Fruit Clafoutis with Almonds

Ingredients
1 pound ripe juicy fruit, peel, pit, slice or quarter; or a combination using partial dried fruit
1-2 tablespoons juice or brandy, depending on quality of fruit
3 large eggs
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup flour
pinch nutmeg, or complementary spice
1 teaspoon almond or vanilla extract
2/3 cup milk, warm
1 tablespoon butter plus more for dish baking
1/4 cup almonds, sliver or slice, or other complementary nuts
To finish:  1 tablespoon sugar for dusting on top

Directions

  1. Butter an oven proof shallow 9″ casserole dish, quiche dish, or pie plate.
  2. Toss the dried fruit with juice or brandy, microwave briefly until hot and let stand until needed.
  3. Prepare batter. Warm the milk and the butter together. In a medium bowl, whisk eggs and sugar until frothy, sprinkle in flour, spice, extract, and whisk until smooth. Gradually add warm milk mixture, whisking until well combined. Let stand 1 hour at room temperature.
  4. Preheat oven to 350°F. Distribute the fruit evenly in the baking dish.  Pour the batter over the fruit and scatter almonds on top.  Bake for 40-45 minutes, until puffed and brown. Sprinkle with granulated or powdered sugar.
  5. Serve warm or room temperature with a spoonful of ice cream or sweetened whipped cream.  Cover and chill for storage.  Serves 6

Note: if using apples or other firm fruit, begin with a quick sauté in 1 tablespoon butter, 1 tablespoon of sugar and toss until slightly softened.

Malted Milk Cake: retro relevance

The idea of a malted milk cake has been on my mind for a while now, but it wasn’t coming together. Things started clicking when my friend Pat Clark mentioned memories of  hot milk cake.  She grew up in a large Southern family and fondly recalls her mom’s cake as a childhood favorite of all of her brothers and sisters.

After a little preliminary research the hot milk cake began to look even more intriguing.  This no-frills sweet has a rich history spanning back to the Depression era, when the most basic staples were hard to come by. Here, the clever use of sugar manages to transform a few simple ingredients into a memorable cake with impressive texture, volume, and flavor.  hot milk cake dusted

Take a generous amount of sugar, whip it with eggs until a voluminous mass forms, add a bit of flour, the hot malted milk, and you’ve got the basis of light, high flavored cake that’s not cloyingly sweet—and requires no frosting.

Pairing malted milk with the hot milk cake is a natural combination, injecting an inspired caramel nuance into this vibrantly moist cake and giving it a relevant retro touch. Bake it all in a bundt pan or other pretty mold, a dusting of confectioners’ sugar across the top is all that is necessary to make it unforgettable. If you must, serve it with a caramel glaze or drizzle.

Vanilla Malted Milk Cake

Ingredients
1/2 cup butter
1 cup milk
½ cup malted milk, such as Carnations powdered
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
4 eggs, room temperature
2 cups granulated sugar
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 325°F.  Prepare a bundt or 9”x 13” pan: spray with non-stick spray and dust with flour.  Sift together flour, baking powder, salt, and set aside.
  2. In a small saucepan over low heat, melt the butter.  Combine the malted milk, the milk, and the vanilla and stir into the butter; heat until small bubbles form around the outside of the pan and the mixture is very hot but not boiling. Reduce heat to low.
  3. In an electric mixer fitted with a whisk attachment, combine eggs and sugar and beat on medium-high speed for 5 minutes, until light, thick, and tripled in volume.  On low, slowly add the hot milk mixture, mixing until incorporated. Add the dry ingredients in two batches, mixing after each addition until just incorporated.
  4. Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Bake bundt pan for 1 hour, checking 5 minutes prior to baking end time;  9”x 13” pan 40-45 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the middle of the cake comes out clean, with a few crumbs attached. Do not over bake.
  5. Cool in the pan for 10 minutes before inverting onto a cooling rack or serving plate to cool completely. Dust with confectioners’ sugar and serve.  Serves 12