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

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 of Love Popcorn

I missed the whole nutritional yeast phenomenon. You know, that staple in the kitchens of vegetarians and vegans used to supplement their diets.

Nutritional yeast

Heralding back 50 years ago, it was the darling of the hippie generation and the many caught up in the massive back to the land movement that followed.  Nutritional yeast was a natural for those rejecting establishment commodities. It was emblematic of the value placed on nutrition and simplified living.

Nutritional yeast is a dried condiment of sorts. Its taste is often described as cheesy; it is fairly low in sodium and has only 60 calories in two tablespoons. It can also be used as a thickener or a binder, like bread crumbs.

Best news, it is considered a complete protein and rich in fiber, and it is high in magnesium, iron, phosphorus, biotin, vitamin B-12, folic acid, and other minerals.  Nutritional yeast is described as a dead yeast, in that it is inactive and often fortified with B1, B2, B6, B12 and more.

On a recent visit to Life Source Market, our local hangout for first rate natural foods, I was wandering the bulk food section with eyes glazed over, when approached by one of the staff.  I explained I was in search of ‘nutrition yeast’. He nodded and pointed out 2 lower bins, explaining that they offer two varieties of nutritional yeast, a flaked and a powdered one, depending on preference.  His voice softened as he praised its health benefits and cheesy flavor. ‘It’s a must on popcorn,’ he murmured, and left me to ponder alone. I theorized that larger flakes would be more of the same, so I cautiously opted for a small amount of the powdered variety, and moved on to the tea bins.

Nutritional yeast is fascinating, no doubt I’ll find plenty of uses for it. For now, I am happy to report I have gotten serious about popcorn again. Here is my current take on an easy popcorn, based on low butter bags of microwaveable on hand. I use a good quality coconut oil which lends a toasted perfume of coconut, a nice change from butter. The dusting of nutritional yeast clings to the popcorn and helps other ingredients to adhere as well.  Korean red pepper, or gochugara, is milder than cayenne-style with a slightly smoky-sweet flavor.  Season to taste with a good quality sea salt.

Yes I am hooked on this mixture; it’s reassuring to know that I can dive into popcorn and get heathy too!  I suspect I will return to the popcorn-in-a-bag concept, mastered a couple of years ago, and give up on the packaged goods.  Winter or summer, popcorn is always in season.

EZ Popcorn

Ingredients

1 medium bag microwaveable popcorn, popped
2-3 teaspoons coconut oil, melted
2 tablespoon nutritional yeast, or to taste
1-2 teaspoons Korean red pepper flakes
Sea salt to taste

Directions 

  1. Empty the popped corn into a bowl. Drizzle with coconut oil and toss well.
  2. Sprinkle with the nutritional yeast and red pepper flakes and toss to distribute.
  3. Season with salt to taste.   Serves 2.

Note: This popcorn is even good the next day!

Biscotti | The Cookie that Keeps on Giving

While rearranging a pantry shelf recently I came across an errant bag of biscotti that had shifted off by itself, becoming the clear culprit in the current traffic jam.

Biscotti du jour

I opened the bag and I gave it the sniff test—a lingering scent of cardamom drifted out.  On the bag I had scribbled near illegibly, ‘Ginger Cardamom’, likely lost remnants of my last biscotti du jour effort.  I do that.  I’ll have a new favorite biscotti that I get stuck on and keep baking more of the same.

Biscotti can be fickle.  The dough can be temperamental and far more trouble than it is worth.  The double baking which aids in its longevity creates an additional step, so let’s keep it simple. Here is my basic recipe for a tender biscotti that I change up with different additions of dried fruit, nuts, flavorings, etc.  It is a very malleable dough that can be quickly mixed by hand.

Ginger in any form is a reoccurring theme on this site.  I adore it because it is soothing, satisfying, and spicy enough to pack a good punch.  Since cardamom is seductive and supportive in its own flavor profile, these two team nicely together.

My saved cooking notes on this batch indicate that I added a dash of sesame oil.  I still like that notion. Call me a purist, but when it comes to nuts in biscotti, I have my moments.  In the case of sesame oil, it does not compete with the lovely chewiness of the candied ginger, yet complements both the ginger and cardamom.

What a nice surprise! After a month or so lost in storage, these cookies are still good enough to warrant a fresh cup of coffee and another round of biscotti for me and my friends.

Ginger Cardamom Biscotti   

Ingredients

1-2/3 cups flour
¾ cup granulated sugar
½ teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon cardamom
¾ teaspoon powdered ginger
¼ teaspoon salt
2 eggs
2 tablespoons canola oil (I included 1 teaspoon sesame oil.  Not obvious, but nice)
1 teaspoon vanilla
¼ cup candied ginger
Optional drizzle topping: ½ cup white chocolate chips melted with 2 teaspoons coconut oil

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 325-350° F. Prepare parchment or silpat lined baking sheet.
  2. Combine dry in small bowl and whisk.
  3. In a medium mixing bowl, whisk eggs through vanilla until well blended.  With spatula, stir in dry ingredients just to combine.  Stir in candied ginger.  Scrape onto baking sheet dividing and shaping into 2-3 narrow loaves @  1″ high and 2″ wide, keeping them about 2 ½” apart.  They will spread.
  4. Bake 30 minutes, until firm but springy.  Cool briefly.  Using serrated knife, slice loaves into ½” diagonal slices.  Lay cut side down on sheet.  Bake 12 minutes. Turn slices over and bake 12-15 minutes longer, until light golden brown.  Cool on rack.  If desired drizzle with melted white chocolate. Store airtight at room temperature. Yield: 2-3 dozen biscotti.

Peanut Butter Cookies to Impress

We’ve talked about peanut butter before. There are times when nothing is more satisfying than creamy, rich peanut butter—with a spoon, right out of the jar.  The next time that impulse strikes, you might want to consider a slightly more civilized approach.

Here’s an opportunity to have an easy peanut butter fix in cookie form.  These seductive thumbprint cookies are tailor-made with five basic ingredients, and they bake in ten minutes. If you can recruit any tiny hands, their simple shaping contribution will make everyone happy.

The thumbprint variation allows for the option of quickly filling the little center imprint with whatever pleases you:  jelly, jam, Nutella, dulce de leche, or perhaps marshmallow crème.

Roll the cookies in granulated or brown turbinado sugar before baking for an extra sparkly touch.  When cookies are set, remove them from the oven and fill the center of each with the product of your choice. Briefly return the cookies to the oven to finish baking and set the filling.

Beware.  Do not be tempted to eat these standing up, directly from the pan. Let the hot cookies rest briefly in their pan to firm up and then cool on a wire rack.  You will avert scorching any hovering open mouths.

Peanut Butter Thumbprint Cookies

Ingredients
1 cup peanut butter, either creamy or chunky
1 cup sugar
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ cup granulated or turbinado sugar (optional, for rolling)
Filling of choice:  berry jam, grape jelly, Nutella, dulce de leche, or marshmallow crème

Directions 

  1. Preheat oven to 350° F. Spray a baking sheet with baker’s spray or line with parchment or silpat.
  2. In a medium bowl stir the peanut butter and sugar together with a spoon. Add the beaten egg and baking soda and stir to evenly combined.
  3. Using a teaspoon, shape rounded spoonfuls of dough into balls. Roll in sugar, if desired.  Set on the baking sheet about 1” apart. With a water moistened thumb, press down in center about ½” to make a well.
  4. Bake for 7 minutes until puffed.  Using back of small spoon, press the thumbprint down again and fill with jam or other filling.  Return to oven and bake another 3 minutes.
  5. Let the cookies cool a couple of minutes and remove with spatula to cooling rack.  To store, layer cookies between sheets of waxed paper.  Store airtight for up to a week.   Yield: approximately 24 cookies.