Friday night pizza night

Friday night pizza night

I’ve gotten into the habit of saving pizza nights for guests, because once I cure the pizza oven, make the dough, make the sauce, mince the vegetables, and precook whatever chicken or sausage I may feel like, it just seems like a lot of work when there aren’t many people to enjoy it. But that’s just wrong. Why wait for guests or holidays to make a meal an occasion? I had the time and a hankering for pizza so went to the trouble for just LL and Kid Two and I on Friday night. Turns out it was not any more trouble than anything else I do. Kid Two practiced making the same face as the dog: Then we cooked our pizzas and watched Touch of Evil (Kid Two enjoys classic film noir) and I sat there thinking, as I often do, it just doesn’t get any better than this. The pizzas don’t get any better than this, either. LL’s favorite is salami, black olive, and mushrooms with tangy tomato sauce: I like prosciutto, fontina, and thinly sliced tomatos with arugula, but I don’t see the arugula here on this one! Look at this great thin crust, though:   I been thinking about the bacon and jalapeño pizza I used to love from Imo’s; it was my go-to pizza in high school. I made this one for Kid Two in honor of his starting high school. It has a base of homemade provel cheese sprinkled with sriracha, thinly sliced garden tomatoes in lieu of sauce, a sprinkling of crispy bacon, cooked fast, then topped with garden greens. It may be my new favorite. Here’s...
Homemade provel cheese

Homemade provel cheese

  True story: St. Louis-born in a decidedly un-foodie time, I did not know that provel and provolone were two different cheeses until after I had moved to California and was married with a baby. Really. I had a sudden taste for one of those delicious house salads we used to get from Talayna’s back when there was only one enormous and dirty location in DeBaliviere, before it got all prettied up and moved. The salad was an enormous mound of iceberg lettuce with a few Greek olives, cherry tomatoes, croutons, and delicious gooey tubes of provel cheese, all tossed together with the house dressing, a garlicky creamy Italian that my BFF assured me her mother said was very close to Marie’s. I can’t find a picture of it, but here’s a similar salad from Leo’s Pizza in Kansas City that will give you the idea: I made the salad that night with provolone and was disappointed. Where was that soft, gooey cheese I craved? I confessed to LL being confused that the provolone in California was so – different from my midwestern cheese. “But we called it provel,” I reasoned. “Maybe there’s some difference.” And that’s when I learned they’re two completely different cheeses. “Provel is like Velveeta,” he informed me. It’s processed. It’s not even cheese. I’ve never seen it around here.” To this day, I have no idea how my native California-husband knew about provel 22 years ago when just 2 years ago even Anthony Bourdain hadn’t. He just knows things, it’s his superpower. So I moved on and found other cheeses, and for all these years provel was just...
Paleo dinner of beef and vegetable rolls

Paleo dinner of beef and vegetable rolls

My brother and several of my CrossFit friends are doing the 30-day Paleo Challenge that kicks off this weekend. More power to them; I don’t want to work that hard eliminating food groups from meal planning. But I realized that, with many gluten-free friends joining us for dinner, many of the meals I prepare for them are actually paleo as well, albeit by accident. Here’s one of my all-time favorite dinner party entrees. You can mix up the veggies and prepare it all well in advance. This is a very simple dish of thinly sliced beef sirloin wrapped around a medley of crunchy vegetables and aromatic herbs that was inspired by the shabu shabu meals LL has eaten in Japan and of which he is fond. It’s taken a few tries to get it right. The first time I ended up with 1/4″ thick slices of ribeye, tasty but unwieldy for this kind of dish. I didn’t realize that real shabu shabu, the kind you find at a Japanese butcher, is sliced almost prosciutto-thin. I’ve learned to ask the butcher use top sirloin and have him slice thinly just like raw roast beef. More marbled cuts of beef tend to fall apart. I lay the slices on a cutting board and sprinkle with garlic and onion powders. Then I layer baby greens – this is a blend of spinach, arugula, and green leaf lettuce – blanched asparagus, shredded carrots, and bean sprouts.   Gently roll each piece of meat around the veggies. I made a big pile for a party: Brush with olive oil and oven roast at 425 degrees F for about...
Pork egg roll with apple, carrot, and jicama

Pork egg roll with apple, carrot, and jicama

My first homegrown monster Mutsu apples inspired this recipe. Make your slaw in advance; you will have leftovers by design that are wonderful tossed with cashews on a lettuce or tortilla wrap with avocado. The first time I made these these egg rolls with fresh fried calamari rings (the recipe is at the bottom of the post) and miso soup. We are having them again tonight with steamed tilapia and miso soup again. (What can I say, we like miso soup!) First, the slaw recipe. Here’s a tip I just learned: peel fresh ginger by gently scraping off the peel with a spoon. Works like a charm. And for this recipe, make sure your ginger is very finely grated or you’ll get odd gingery chunks. Apple, carrot, and jicama slaw   Save Print This is a crunchy, sweet, and tart slaw that's delicious served with pork loin as an entree or as a sandwich or wrap filling. Author: Life in a Skillet Recipe type: Salad Ingredients 1 cup jicama, peeled and julienned 1 cup tart apple, julienned, and tossed with 2 tbsp lemon juice to keep from browning 1 cup carrot, julienned 1 tbsp grated ginger ¼ cup minced red onion 1 tablespoon sesame oil 2 tablespoons olive oil 1 tsp ground black lemon pepper. Instructions In a large bowl, stir together the jicama, apple, carrot, onion, and ginger. Drizzle with olive and sesame oils. Toss well. Add pepper and toss again. Cover tightly and store in the refrigerator. Wordpress Recipe Plugin by EasyRecipe 3.2.2089   Now make it into an egg roll: Pork loin egg rolls with apple, carrot,...
Ice cream bread is a real thing

Ice cream bread is a real thing

I thought the email that Downtown Tom forwarded me from a distant cousin was a joke – the one that said “ICE CREAM BREAD TWO INGREDIENT (no joke!)” in the subject line. It had to be a joke, right? The only two ingredients were 2 cups of softened ice cream and 1-1/2 cups self-rising flour. But it made sense that it would work. Ice cream is milk and eggs and sugar; self-rising flour has baking soda and salt, so all the components are technically there. So in the interest of science, we made it. The Kids brought home Dryer’s low-fat cookie dough ice cream and regular flour for the project*,  so I added the baking soda and salt myself to make it self-rising. I didn’t have the required 8×4 inch bread pan, so I used a larger 9×5 inch. And it was bread, to be sure, but not a particular interesting or flavorful one. The dog like it, though: So I made it again. The problem had to be the low-fat ice cream, we thought, so the second time around we used Marianne’s 1020 ice cream, a rich, luscious creamy caramel ice cream with fudge swirls and chunks of Oreo cookies that’s made locally in Santa Cruz. Oh, and I bought actual self-rising flour and an 8×4 inch loaf pan, just in case that made a difference. I didn’t, really. It was still a lovely small loaf, dense and moist, perfectly passable but still disappointingly bland. There is something lost in translation, I suppose. We were expecting sweet ice cream flavor and all we got was, well, bread. Bread...
Crispy prosciutto and melon salad

Crispy prosciutto and melon salad

This is an elegant twist on the quintessential Italian prosciutto e melone – crispy prosciutto tossed with melon chunks and garden mint and then drizzled with a lovely rich olive oil. The recipe came from an old Sunset Magazine my mother-in-law brought over one day; I can’t find it right now for proper attribution, but here is the link on Sunset’s recipe page. It’s very simple. Cook 2 slices of prosciutto on your skillet on medium heat for 3 – 4 minutes. Remove to a plate and let cool. In the meantime, cut a half of a cantaloupe into bite-sized pieces, or use a melon baller to scoop them out. Crumple the cooled prosciutto over the melon. Chop 6-8 mint leaves and add to the salad. Drizzle with 2 teaspoons high-quality olive oil, toss gently, and serve. I’ve been serving this all the time this summer, with poached eggs for weekend brunch, as a side dish with spaghetti and artichokes, or by itself for a solitary lunch in the...
Rosemary and garlic brined pork

Rosemary and garlic brined pork

I never really got the whole brining-meat thing. . . seemed like a lot of time and effort when, presumably, a decent piece of meat cooked well and/or a nice sauce would do the trick. But after watching enough cooking shows – most recently Bobby Flay’s Barbecue Addiction – I caved and decided it was worth an experiment with a lean pork loin. And I totally get it now – it was tender and juicy, infused with rosemary, and perfectly seasoned without adding extra salt. Why is brining such magic? Harold McGee explains in On Food and Cooking. First, the salt “disrupts the muscle filaments,” so it acted as a tenderizer. The salt also interacts with the protein on a cellular level, which means the roast held more water, and all the flavors of my aromatics moved into the meat. (Remember osmosis? Never mind.) Any moisture lost in cooking is balanced out by the brine, so I ended up with an internally salted and flavored protein. Technically a brine is just salt and water, or vinegar and water. Most recipes include sugar to balance the saltiness as well as herbs or aromatics for added flavor. Because fat adds flavor and moisture to meat already, brining works best on lean or tough cuts of meat, pork, chicken, and turkey. It’s not a quick process, though. Here’s what I did to make the magic this first time through: Based on Bobby Flay’s brine recipe, I boiled 8 cups of water and then added 1/2 cup salt and 1/4 cup sugar, 4 garlic cloves, a handful of thyme and 4 sprigs of rosemary from my...
Easy scallion cakes (green onion cakes)

Easy scallion cakes (green onion cakes)

Scallions (also known as green onions, spring onions, salad onions, table onions, green shallots, onion sticks, long onions, baby onions, precious onions, yard onions, gibbons, or syboes) are the edible plants of various Allium species, all of which are “onion-like”, having hollow green leaves and lacking a fully developed root bulb. -Wikipedia Smitten Kitchen got me hooked on scallion cakes. It’s all because her recipe for Japanese vegetable pancakes, or okonomiyaki, that caught my eye one afternoon. Sliced cabbage, carrots, scallions, and kale mixed with eggs and a little flour to bind it all together. It sounded fresh and fast and a different sort of way to get some veggie love in with dinner. I gave it a shot. It was fresh, only too fresh, like an iceberg salad without the dressing. Perfectly acceptable, but with no depth of flavor – nothing I’d crave, or even think to make again. It was a good starting point, though. I liked the idea of the recipe, but I kind of wanted some punch. Everyone seemed to agree. After his first bite, LL said, “These would be really good if they had lots of onion, like scallion cakes.” Scallion cakes? That is not a dish I knew about, ever saw on a menu or tasted. Now, after doing the tiniest but of research, I’m just not sure how I missed them all my life. A.K.A. Cong you bing, 葱油饼; scallion pancakes, green onion pancakes . . .  this dish is one of Asia’s great street foods, as ubiquitous to Chinese cultures as muffins are to your corner Starbucks. I had to make it, yes. I love green onions. But you do know it’s tricky – even dangerous – to attempt...
Thomas’ zesty flavored oyster crackers

Thomas’ zesty flavored oyster crackers

Today I am thrilled to share a blog post from my nine and a half-year old nephew, Thomas. Even though we don’t live nearby, Thomas has spent quite a few vacations with us in Santa Cruz, from a fussy babyhood through a giggling Spongebob Squarepants-dom to the Renaissance child he has grown to be. Thomas loves to read, plays the piano, is working toward black belt, and can sing a mean Lady Gaga cover. Recently he’s started a computer recycling business too, so watch out world! He’s been learning to cook and is here to share a recipe with us. Enjoy! Hi, I’m Thomas, Maggie’s favorite nephew. [Ed. note: nice try, Thomas, but I think your brother and cousins would like to be favorites, too!] I’ve been taking cooking classes. I have delicious recipes for you. Now, oyster crackers may not seem appetizing but they are. I got this recipe from my grandma. If you want to make it make sure to read the recipe because it is not just a oyster on a cracker.   Ingredients: ¾ c. salad oil (olive oil) 1 envelope (1.0 oz.)  Hidden valley ranch original ½ t. dill weed ¼ t. lemon pepper ¼ t. garlic powder 12 – 16 oz. plain oyster crackers Instructions: Whisk together first five ingredients. Mix with crackers. Place on a baking sheet and bake at 275 degrees for 15 – 20 minutes. The first time I made these my grandma told me to mix the lemon pepper and the garlic power in a separate bowl because the garlic power clumps together. Plus, once you put the garlic powder in the...
What do you do with 12 pounds of salmon?

What do you do with 12 pounds of salmon?

Don’t let the prospect of purchasing 9 or 12 or 15 pounds of salmon ever keep you away from buying a whole fish – although you do need a dependable freezer. Surprisingly, it goes faster than you imagine. Here are a couple of tricks I’ve picked up from my fishy friends for preserving that fresh sea flavor: Get it home as quickly as possible while keeping it cold. Fisherman Frank assures me that temperature fluctuation hastens that “fishy smell.” Exposure to air also makes your fish smell fishy instead of like the sea, so if you have access to a vacuum sealer, fantastic. Just vacuum pack individual portions and then freeze. No worries if you don’t, though – you’ll have to just MacGyver it. Put individual portions into freezer-friendly zip-lock bags. Seal almost all the way, and then suck the air out yourself. You know, with your mouth. Like in the old days when you smoked. Do it right and the baggie collapses around the fish, and you can breath freely again. Finish zip-locking it and freeze. Now you have freshly frozen pieces of salmon to defrost and cook at your leisure. Your first meal with that super-fresh salmon could be little sashimi. You don’t have to be a sushi chef to do this, just use a super-sharp blade and respect the fish. Slice thinly. Layer with a little avocado, while you eat close your eyes and imagine the sea:   I don’t like to use any sauce or marinade on salmon that is this fresh – I just toss it on a super-hot barbecue dressed with a little lemon, salt,...
Caprese salad with chicken, penne, and pine nuts

Caprese salad with chicken, penne, and pine nuts

A simple recipe for you today for this quick and easy caprese salad, a light dish for these longer hotter nights. The pine nuts are a nice touch, adding a crunchy earthiness and finishing the dish. 1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved 1 cup fresh mozzarella balls, halved   1/4 cup each Italian parsley and basil, cut into ribbons 1/4 lb cooked chicken breast, diced   2 cups cooked penne and 1/4 cup toasted pine nuts Toss with Italian vinaigrette and serve. Caprese salad with chicken, penne, and pine nuts   Save Print Caprese salad becomes a dinner entree with the addition of chicken and penne, and pine nuts add crunch and earthiness. Author: Life in a Skillet Recipe type: Entree Serves: 4-6 Ingredients 1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved 1 cup fresh mozzarella, halved ¼ cup EACH Italian parsley and basil, cut into ribbons ¼ lb cooked chicken breasts, diced 2 cups cooked penne ¼ cup toasted pine nuts Instructions Combine ingredients in a large bowl. Toss gently. Add your favorite Italian vinaigrette and toss again. Serve either chilled or at room temperature. Wordpress Recipe Plugin by EasyRecipe 3.2.1753...
Doctor up your pancake mix

Doctor up your pancake mix

Trader Joe’s Buttermilk Pancake Mix is my breakfast shortcut of choice. Just add eggs and water – or eggs, water, and oil for waffles – and presto! Pretty good homemade-tasting pancakes in a few minutes. It’s hard to find a from-scratch recipe that has that same rustic taste, and at just under two dollars per box it’s not a bad deal. I say pretty good, because I’ve figured out a way to doctor up the mix to make them great . . . more dense and toothy, moist and flavorful, even more healthy-feeling. Just follow the waffle recipe on the box: 3 1/2 cups mix, 2 eggs, 1 cup water, 1/2 cup oil. Only swap out 1/2 cup of whole wheat flour for 1/2 cup of the mix mix, substitute 1/2 cup applesauce for the 1/2 cup oil, and stir in 1 cup of oatmeal and 1 tsp cinnamon. Cook them slowly on medium-low heat. Mmmm. What is your favorite doctored-up baking...
Fast, hearty, and delicious chicken, leek, and artichoke penne

Fast, hearty, and delicious chicken, leek, and artichoke penne

Oh. My. Gosh. This improvised dinner that was absolutely, fabulously divine, with a hint of earthiness from the mushrooms, flavor from the leeks, and brightness from the artichoke hearts all coming together to coat the penne with love and delicioiusness. It’s easy to make, with a simple broth of just artichoke water, butter, and olive oil thickened with a bit of flour. Read on!

Gluten-free soy sauce alternative

Gluten-free soy sauce alternative

If you are looking for a gluten-free soy sauce alternative or just for a couple of new flavors, try these two MSG and preservative-free, non-GMO, Japanese-influenced condiments made by American companies . . . a cross cultural alphabet soup of tasty, healthy goodness. I can hear my mother’s voice in my head asking, “what is that weird stuff you’re eating in California?” But there’s nothing strange or odd-tasing about either one of these items, mom. Sure, they may not carry these in your local Schnucks or Safeway, but they’re readily available in natural food stores and inexpensive to order on Amazon.   The first one is an awesome find for soy sauce fans wanting to eliminate gluten from your diet. Look no more for that perfect substitute . . . Bragg’s Liquid Aminos have come to the rescue. It’s a gluten-free, preservative-free umami-packed goodness in a bottle that looks, smells, and tastes remarkably similar to supermarket soy sauce. Bragg’s Liquid Aminos smells richer and earthier when compared to Kikkoman soy sauce, the consistency is slightly thicker, and the taste is more complex and full-bodied. This succulent flavor is reflected in the serving size; just 1/2 teaspoon of Bragg’s Aminos packs the same punch as 1 tablespoon of soy sauce. In this case, you will want to follow that serving size guideline . . . you actually won’t need, or want, to use more than that. It’s about double the price of an inexpensive soy sauce, but the contents will last much longer than soy. Give it a try. The second one is Eden Shake. Eden Shake is a mixture of...
Taco soup your way, either fast or slow

Taco soup your way, either fast or slow

Two recipes for taco soup, a dish I had neither made nor tasted, popped up in my inbox recently. The first one is a slow-cooker recipe from Janice Gullett, a Life in the Skillet reader who found me while planning a trip to Loreto, Mexico. The second one, courtesy of one of my lovely sisters-in-law, is a super-fast, super-efficient, 30 minute to the table version. A note: both call for taco seasoning – which is what makes them taco soup. Janice’s for any supermarket brand packet and Rita’s for the taco seasoning from Penzey’s. I always make my own; it’s actually really easy to make with regular pantry ingredients; click here for my recipe. They are both delicious. The slow-cooker version I’ve put here first has quite a bit of spice from the adobo chilies, and the chicken is exceptionally tender. Don’t try and take the shortcut to add the adobos in the beginning or it will be too spicy. I used dark beer and parsley instead of cilantro and served with flour tortillas. Double up on the beans on either recipe to make a vegetarian version. Slow cooker chicken taco soup   Save Print Prep time 15 mins Cook time 7 hours Total time 7 hours 15 mins   This is a spicy slow-cooker meal in a pot. Author: Janice Gullett Recipe type: Entree Cuisine: Mexican Ingredients • 1 onion, chopped 1 (16 ounce) can kidney beans, rinsed 1 (15 ounce) can black beans, rinsed 1 (15 ounce) can whole kernel corn, drained (or use frozen) 1 (8 ounce) can tomato sauce 1 (12 fluid ounce) can or...