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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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.

 

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.

The Everything Crepe

From tortillas to injera bread, just about every country in the world has its variation of a quick, simple bread often prepared in a unique pan, on the grill, or in the oven.

Then there’s the crepe. Let’s call it a multi-national bread because it has pancake cousins spread across continents, too. In this version, we have high jacked the Italian crespelle for the basis of an inspired Asian wrap.  Semolina flour lends added chewiness and flexibility that makes it quite irresistible. There are so many dumplings and breads of note in the northern reaches of China that this crepe should feel quite at home wrapped around other Asian flavors, like Anise Poached Chicken from the previous post.

The Everything Crepe

Take the basic crepe batter, add a little chopped green onion and a smattering of mixed sesame seeds (or highly recommended Trader Joe’s Everything but the Bagel Sesame Seasoning Blend) and proceed as usual.

If you choose to go the Asian route, slather your finished crepe with hoisin sauce and wrap portions of Asian Salad, Anise Chicken, Char Siu, or other barbecue pork—you name it!

Easy Asian Wrap

Or, you could go New York-style, forget the sauce, and fill your crepe with creamed cheese and lox!

The Everything Crepe

Ingredients
2 eggs, room temperature
1 cup water, room temperature
½ cup fine semolina flour
½ cup all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon melted butter
1 tablespoon mixed blend of black and white sesame seeds and poppy seeds, or see below*
1 tablespoon green onion, chopped

Directions

  1. In medium bowl sift the dry ingredients, beat the eggs, butter and water together and slowly add to the dry, whisking until smooth. Stir in the seeds and green onions to combine.  Allow to stand at room temperature for about 1 hour or chill for up to 2 days and bring to room temperature before proceeding.
  2. Heat a 10” crepe pan or flat round skillet over medium to medium-high heat, depending on unit.  Brush the surface with butter, or wipe with coated toweling.  Stir down the batter and thin with a bit of water if it has thickened beyond the thickness of heavy cream.  Pour about ¼ cup of batter into pan and quickly swirl it to reach the entire surface.  Pour any excess back into bowl.  Trim any errant edges as it cooks.  When bubbles begin to form, about 1 minute, carefully turn with spatula or wood spoon and cook 2nd side for 30 seconds to one minute.
  3. Remove the crepe to a holding plate, wipe the pan if necessary with more butter and repeat, stacking the crepes with 2nd side up.  Yield: about 10 crespelle.
  4. If made in advance, wrap the crepes in plastic wrap or foil.  Can be made ahead 2 days, stored in refrigerator, or freeze well wrapped.

*Trader Joe’s Everything but the Bagel Sesame Seasoning Blend is a mixture of white and black sesame seeds, poppy seeds, seas salt flakes, dried minced garlic, dried minced onion.

Anise Chicken: Ready for Summer Heatwaves

When summer arrives and the heat sets in, my eating habits change. I shift to lighter, easier meals—foods that perk up an often peckish appetite.

I’ve always been a big fan of the Chinese method of poaching chicken.  It results in a beautiful clear broth, utterly pristine flavors, and meat that is succulent and tender. Here’s an outstanding riff on that approach which requires very little actual cooking time—much relies on the broth’s residual heat to do the work. It’s an ideal technique for summertime heatwaves.

The idea comes from Wendy Kiang-Spray’s lovely cookbook The Chinese Kitchen Garden. A whole chicken (here I’ve used the equivalent, 2 Cornish game hens) is dry rubbed with salt, stuffed with whole star anise, and refrigerated for 1- 3 days. When ready to launch, it’s brought to room temperature before lowering into to a pot of simmering water and cooked uncovered for a mere 10 minutes. Then, it’s covered and allowed to steep in the hot broth’s residual heat for 45 minutes. The chicken is fast cooled in an ice water bath for 15 minutes and patted dry.

The resulting broth is bewitchingly addictive: the star anise flavor is present, but not overtly so.  It’s a lovely liquid for cooking rice, grains, vegetables, etc.  For a soup stock, I opted to keep it light and not overwhelm it with too many heavy flavors.

A few slices of ginger, some garlic, and a dash of soy sauce hit the right balance for a soba noodle soup with chicken and a few fresh vegetables.

The anise chicken has happily starred in a variety of applications. When pressed, I have whipped up a simple Asian dipping sauce, but Wendy also suggests a Ginger-Onion Garlic Oil, also included because it is such a nice touch.

Of my favorite uses, I remain a big fan of an easy Asian Chicken Salad served with plenty of sesame crepes (yum—coming soon!) along with spoonfuls of hoisin sauce for stuffing/rolling purposes. Welcome to summer 2017, rolling out with record 101° heat.

Anise Poached Chicken

Inspired by The Chinese Kitchen Garden by Wendy Kiang-Spray

Ingredients
3 pound whole chicken
2 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon coarse salt
20 pieces whole star anise
Ginger-Onion/Garlic Oil (optional)
2” section ginger, peel and slice
3-4 garlic whistles or 3 “bunching onions” (a leek-like variety), cut in 2” lengths
¼ cup oil

Directions

  1. Rinse and pat dry chicken. Rub inside and out with 2 tablespoons coarse salt. Place the star anise in the cavity. Place in zip lock and refrigerate 1-3 days.
  2. Remove chicken and bring to room temperature (about 1 hour ahead).
  3. Fill pot with enough water to cover chicken and bring to a boil.  Lower anise-filled chicken into pot.  Bring to a boil, reduce heat to medium low.  Simmer chicken uncovered 10 minutes. Skim residue off top of water. Turn off heat and cover with tight fitting lid.  Allow to steep undisturbed for another 45 minutes, until chicken is cooked through.  Meanwhile make Ginger and Onion Oil. Crush ginger and onions with mortar and pestle or pulse in food processor. Place the paste in heatproof bowl and add 1 tsp salt.  Heat the oil until hot. Carefully pour the hot oil over the ginger and onion mixture.
  4. When chicken is cooked through, remove from pot, reserving pot liquid for another purpose:  cooking rice or other grain, etc.  Lower chicken into an ice water bath to quickly stop the cooking process. In about 15 minutes when cooled, remove and pat dry.
  5. Chop into pieces and serve with a drizzle of ginger-onion oil. Nice over steamed white rice or other. Serves 4-6.

Potstickers Galore

Not long ago, I came across a small bamboo stacked steamer in an Asian market that looked to be the right fit for my 5-quart Instant Pot.  It’s quite charming sitting in my tiny kitchen, but more than that, eyeing it caused my mouth to water—as visions of  steamed dumplings danced in my head.

When I spotted Martin Yan’s potsticker recipe I knew I had the perfect excuse to pull everything together and start cooking.  Although I tailored this for my Instant Pot and steamer set-up, any steamer, wok or large  pan with a lid or foil to seal will do the trick.

The process is very much like making wontons. Martin incorporates Napa cabbage, ground pork or turkey, and dried black mushrooms in his filling. I’ve made a few adjustments, like adding an egg white for binder and extra moisture plus a bit of hoisin and mushroom soy sauce instead of oyster sauce. Instructions follow for Instant Pot as well as Martin Yan’s browning/steaming in a 12” sauté pan.

This makes plenty of potstickers!

I ended up making batches two days in a row—smartly pacing self to avoid eating all potstickers in sight.  So many did I have, there was an Asian salad event and more to freeze for a later soup.

Potstickers

Inspired by Martin Yan’s Potstickers.

Ingredients
40 round potsticker or wonton wrappers
2 tablespoons cooking oil
water
CB’s Spicy Dipping Sauce
2 tablespoons  sriracha sauce or chile paste
¼ cup soy sauce
1 tablespoon vinegar
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 teaspoon sesame oil
Filling
4 dried Shiitake mushrooms
1 cup shredded Napa cabbage (approx.)
2 tablespoons green onion, chop
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 pound ground pork or ground turkey
1 clove garlic, mince
1 teaspoon minced ginger
2 teaspoons cornstarch
1 egg white
1/2 teaspoon sesame oil
2 teaspoons hoisin sauce
1 tablespoon soy sauce

Directions

  1. Make spicy dipping sauce: in a small bowl, combine ingredients and set aside.
  2. Soak mushrooms: In a bowl, soak mushrooms in warm water to cover until softened, about 15 minutes; drain. Discard stems and coarsely chop caps.
  3. Salt cabbage: In a bowl, combine Napa cabbage and salt, toss well and set aside until cabbage wilts, about for 5 minutes. Squeeze out and discard excess water.
  4. For filling: combine mushrooms and cabbage with remaining filling ingredients in a bowl; mix well.
  5. To shape potstickers: moisten the edges of the round wrapper and place a teaspoonful of filling in center. Pull up, flatten bottom, and pleat edges with some filling showing. Or, lightly fold in half, then press the outer edges inward to create a 4-pronged star on top. Keep remaining wrappers covered with a damp cloth to prevent them from drying. Repeat until filling is used or set aside half and make as needed.
  6. To steam in Instant Pot: line 2 steamer baskets with cabbage leaves or parchment paper.  Set in baskets without touching. In bottom of Instant Pot add about 2 cups water.  Place bamboo steamer on wire rack and cover with bamboo lid or seal top with foil. Cover tightly, close vents, steam for 6 minutes and use quick release.  Repeat as desired.  Yield: about 40 potstickers.

Variations:
To fully cook in skillet:  heat 10-12” skillet over medium high until hot.  Add 1 tablespoons oil to coat bottom of pan.  Add about 10 potstickers, flat side down and cook until bottom are golden brown, about 3 minutes.  Add 1/3 cup water, reduce heat to low, cover and cook until water is absorbed, 4-5 minutes. Remove and serve with spicy dipping sauce.
To reheat/brown the bottoms:  if desired, heat a skillet over medium high heat. Add 1 tablespoons oil to cover bottom of pan, add a layer of cooked potstickers and cook until bottoms are golden brown, about 3 minutes. Add a couple of spoonfuls of water in pan to create steam, cover and cook briefly until warmed through and water is absorbed, about 2 minutes. Serve with spicy dipping sauce.

Pizza Dough: Playing with Flax

I have a new bag of flax meal that I’ve been tinkering with… it’s my way of boosting my omega-3 fatty acid levels by mixing it into breakfast cereal, smoothies, and such. I’ve learned that a little goes a long way. Flax has a generous amount of fiber that can roar through your system, plowing past anything in its path, so use an amount based on preferential tolerance.

Recently I discovered that flax is a natural in pizza crust and other yeast breads. Its inherent nuttiness and pale tobacco color are a perfect complement to a crust enriched with a touch of whole wheat.  Used in my current go-to pizza dough, a combination of all-purpose and whole wheat flours laced with flax meal yielded a toasted-yeast flavor and a resilient texture that rolls out like a dream.

Even though there a two phases to this dough, the entire rising process still takes only an hour.  The first 15-20 minute proofing period activates the yeast with warm water, a bit of sugar, and flour to give the rising process a kick start.  This is stirred into the flour/flax mix until a well-blended mass forms, then turned out and kneaded until smooth. It’s covered, placed in a warm spot, and left to rise until double, about 40 minutes.

Since I prefer pre-baking my crust to move through the ‘fussing with dough’ phase—and ward off sogginess—I like to punch it down, roll it out as thin as I please, and give it a quick bake to set, 8 to 10 minutes. Then, it’s only a matter of gathering together toppings and baking it all off in a hot oven for 15 or 20 minutes until it’s hot and bubbly.

As often with my pizzas, the topping combination is invariably a matter of what I have on hand. On this day, I had a partial bag of mixed greens: kale, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and cabbage.  I envisioned a creamed greens base for my pizza topped with sliced onion, red and pasilla peppers, Kalamata olives and Havarti cheese.

For the creamed greens I sautéed onion, slivered garlic, rosemary, and crushed red pepper in olive oil, then added a couple of cups of the shredded greens to the pan and continued to toss and slowly cook until soft and reduced. A slurry of ½ cup milk and 2 teaspoons cornstarch was stirred in along with a dash of nutmeg, salt, and white pepper.  As it cooked I added a couple of spoonfuls of grated Parmesan and simmered the creamed greens until thick and tender.

All of this was layered onto the crust and baked until bubbly and golden brown. Yes, indeed, an evening with the Tony Awards—and another gourmet delight!

Fast Double-Rise Pizza

Ingredients 
1 envelope quick rise yeast
1 teaspoon sugar
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
2/3 cup warm water
1-1/4 cup all-purpose flour or a combination of: 2/3 cup all-purpose flour, ½ cup whole wheat flour, 2 tablespoons flax meal
1 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup flour or more for roll out

Directions

  1. In a 2 cup measure or bowl, combine the yeast, sugar, 1/4 cup flour and water; proof in a warm place until bubbly and light, 15-20 minutes.
  2. In mixing bowl place 1-1/4 cup flour (see above for combination with flax), and 1 teaspoon salt. Add the yeast mixture and combine well. Turn out onto floured surface and knead until smooth.
  3. Cover and let rise in a warm space until doubled, 30-40 minutes.
  4. Preheat oven to 400-425° F; oil a pizza pan or baking sheet. Roll dough out on floured board into desired size and shape.
  5. To fully bake with toppings:  Roll out, add sauce and toppings of choice and bake 15-20 minutes, until center is bubbly and crust is golden brown.    Yield: 1 large pizza.

Note: To pre-bake for later use:  bake 8-10 minutes @ 400-425°, until firm to touch, but not yet colored. Bake as needed in hot oven for about 15 minutes.