Margherita Pizza

Margherita pizza is an Italian classic and one of my favorite pizzas.  It’s incredibly simple, allowing the ingredients to shine: tomatoes, cheese, and basil.  To make this simple pizza great, you need to use high-quality ingredients.  I recommend using San Marzano tomatoes for the sauce, fresh whole milk mozzarella, parmigiano-reggiano, and good, flavorful fresh basil (it’s best if you grow it yourself).

Margherita Pizza

One of the best things about this pizza is the minimal effort required to achieve truly impressive flavor – a flavor made even better if you follow our tips and tricks for How to Cook Brick Oven-Style Pizza in Your Oven.  Give this easy recipe a try and you won’t be disappointed!

Margherita Pizza

Prep Time: 5-10 minutes (not including time to make dough and sauce)

Cook Time: 5-7 minutes for Brick Oven-Style, 15 minutes for traditional cooking

Serves: 2

Ingredients

No-Knead Pizza Dough
Fresh Pizza Sauce
3-4 oz. Fresh Mozzarella
6-8 Basil leaves, julienned
1/4 c. freshly-grated Parmesan (I use Parmigiano-Reggiano)
Optional: 1-2 cloves Garlic, minced

1.  Shape your pizza dough and spread the sauce over it.

2.  Pull the mozzarella into clumps and distribute over your pizza.  If you’re using garlic, sprinkle it over the mozzarella.

Note: Garlic is not a traditional ingredient for a pizza margherita, but it’s a very tasty addition.  The pizza is incredible without the garlic.  Think of it as an optional extra topping for garlic lovers.  We usually have it without garlic, but it’s a nice way to change things up.

Top with Mozzarella and Garlic

3.  Now your pizza’s ready for the oven.  Cook it 5-7 minutes Brick Oven-Style (which I highly recommend) or 15 minutes at 425° F.

4.  Immediately after removing the pizza from the oven, sprinkle the parmesan over the pizza.

Top with Parmesan

5.  Finally, top the pizza with basil and allow to cool a few minutes.  If you don’t know how to julienne basil, see our Four Cheese White Pizza recipe.

Tip: To make the crust extra tasty, brush it with a little olive oil when it comes out of the oven.

Margherita Pizza

Once your pizza has cooled enough not to burn you, grab a slice and enjoy the delicious simplicity!

Marg Pizza Slices

Fresh Pizza Sauce

There could not be a simpler homemade red pizza sauce out there… this sauce comes together in just 5 minutes with only 3 ingredients!  It’s not cooked so there’s an incredibly fresh taste.  Of course, that also means the flavor of the sauce depends largely on the quality of the tomatoes.  I HIGHLY recommend using canned San Marzanos – you just can’t beat ’em.  If you’ve grown your own Roma tomatoes (and know they are super tasty), you can peel and seed them and use them in this recipe.

Fresh Pizza Sauce

This recipe is from Jim Lahey’s My Pizza.  He uses this elegantly simple sauce on all of his pizzas with red sauce.  It really showcases the tomatoes making it the perfect sauce for tomato lovers!

Fresh Pizza Sauce

Prep Time: 5 minutes

Cook Time: 0 minutes

Serves: 2

Ingredients

1/2 28 oz. can San Marzano Tomatoes (~6 tomatoes)
1/2 tbsp. high-quality (first cold-pressed) Extra-Virgin Olive Oil
pinch Fine Sea Salt

1.  Put the whole tomatoes in a small bowl and crush with your hands.  You really don’t need any of the juice from the tomato can.  You can also control the texture of the sauce.  If you don’t like giant chunks, keep crushing until the tomatoes have reached the right consistency for you.

2.  You don’t want the sauce too wet because if you’re using fresh mozzarella (and you should be, it’s so much better!), it’s going to release plenty of moisture as it cooks.  Put the tomato chunks in a strainer and drain until water is only dripping sporadically from the strainer.  Add the olive oil and salt.

3.  Stir the ingredients together and it’s ready to spread over your pizza crust (check out our No-Knead Pizza Dough recipe).

Fresh Pizza Sauce

See, wasn’t that easy?!  Now you’re ready to make a pizza with your favorite toppings.  Or try one of our pizza recipes, maybe a Margherita Pizza

Thai Basil Chicken

This delicious Thai recipe couldn’t be easier.  It’s got great flavor and just the right amount of heat to get that metabolism going.  Plus, you can have it on the table in only 30 minutes making it a perfect weeknight meal.  You have got to try it!

Thai Basil Chicken

I love this dish with chicken, but it’s also great (though not as healthy) with ground pork if you want to mix it up a little.

Thai Basil Chicken

Prep Time: 5 minutes

Cook Time: 20 minutes

Serves: 2

Ingredients

1 1/2 tbsp. Canola Oil
1 Shallot (both cloves), finely-chopped
1 tsp. minced Fresh Ginger
4 cloves Garlic, minced
12 oz. Ground Chicken
3 Thai Chiles, finely-chopped
1 tbsp. Fish Sauce
1 tsp. Brown Sugar
1/2 tsp. Sweet Soy Sauce (Kecap mantis)
1 bunch Thai Basil leaves, torn
2/3 c. Jasmine Rice

1.  Heat the oil in a wok over medium-low heat.  Add the shallot, garlic, and ginger and cook for several minutes until the shallots begin to turn translucent.

A note on shallots: If you’ve never worked with them before, they are purple in color and are kind of a hybrid between an onion and garlic.  They are made of two halves that look similar to giant garlic cloves.  If a recipe calls for one shallot, you want to use both halves/cloves.  You can typically find them in the grocery store near the onions and garlic.

2.  Add the chicken to the wok and increase the heat to medium, stirring as it cooks and breaking the chicken into small pieces.

3.  As the chicken cooks, cook your rice according to package directions and gather your remaining ingredients.

Note: Sweet soy sauce (aka “Kecap Mantis”) is NOT the same as regular soy sauce.  It’s sweeter, obviously, and has a much thicker consistency, almost like molasses.  You’ll probably have to go to an Asian market to find it…

Ingredients

4.  Once the chicken has lost its raw pink color, stir in the Thai chiles.

5.  Continue cooking until the chicken begins to brown.  It should be pretty and golden and smell delicious…  Then add the fish sauce, brown sugar, and sweet soy sauce and stir until well-mixed.

Stir in Sugar, Fish Sauce, and Thick Soy Sauce

6.  Add the Thai basil leaves and stir until the leaves are slightly wilted.  Serve over Jasmine rice.

This dish is not particularly filling by itself so, to make it a meal, serve it with a side such as steamed broccoli or, my favorite, Lucky brand spring rolls!  YUM!

Thai Basil Chicken Meal

Southern Cornbread

I love cornbread!  It’s the perfect accompaniment to BBQ (especially if you fry it to make hushpuppies!) and is delicious with any kind of comfort food.  Having grown up in the South, I like my cornbread savory!  You’ll notice a glaring omission from the ingredient list for this recipe – sugar.  That’s right, no sugar.  If you’re one of those people who likes sweet cornbread, I’m afraid this isn’t the recipe for you.  Or, you could try this Southern classic and sweeten it up our way by spreading some honey butter on it or drizzling it with plain ol’ honey.  I prefer it without, but to each his own.

Corn Bread Pieces

My favorite restaurant cornbread is Cracker Barrel’s.  They achieve the perfect buttery flavor and slightly crumble texture.  Of course, we don’t have a Cracker Barrel here in Alaska… or anywhere that serves any kind of corn bread (much less the unsweetened version that I like).  So I have to make my own.  For a while I was making a cornbread recipe I’d found online and modified to reduce it’s sweetness.  It wasn’t perfect, but it was better than nothing.  Needless to say, my Southern cornbread search continued, and I kept my eyes open for any promising new recipes I came across.

Then I found ItFrank Stitt’s recipe on Williams-Sonoma’s blog.  The ingredient list looked right and the description sounded like just what I was looking for.  I whipped some up the next time I was making barbeque and found myself in comfort food nirvana!  It is wonderful and so incredibly close to Cracker Barrel’s cornbread.  Now I’m sharing it with you, so you can enjoy what cornbread’s supposed to taste like!

Southern Cornbread

Prep Time: 5-10 minutes

Cook Time: 20-25 minutes

Serves: 3-4 (6-8 pieces)

Ingredients

1 c. Cornmeal
1/2 tsp. Baking Powder
1/2 tsp. Baking Soda
3/8 tsp. Salt
1/4 c. Flour
3/8 c. Whole Milk
3/8 c. Buttermilk
3 1/2 tbsp. Butter
1/2 egg, beaten

1.  Preheat oven to 450°F then place baking dish in preheated oven.  (I use a glass Pyrex 8″ x 6″ or 7″ x 5″ rectangular dish or two mini cast iron skillets)

2.  Put flour and cornmeal in a bowl.  Gradually stir in the milk and buttermilk.

3.  Add butter to hot baking dish to melt.

4.  While butter is melting, stir baking powder, baking soda, and salt into batter.

5.  Once butter has been in the oven 5 minutes, pull the pan out of the oven.  Pour all but ~1/2 tbsp. of the melted butter into the batter and stir.

Buttered Batter

6.  Stir in the egg then pour the batter into the dish and bake 20-25 minutes.  (The batter should spread the butter remaining in the pan essentially greasing it for you!)

When the cornbread is done, the top should be lightly golden brown (and look wonderfully tasty!).

Finished Corn Bread

Slice it up and serve alongside pulled pork or BBQ chicken (or anything you want!).  I’ll even eat the leftover cornbread for breakfast.  Delicious!

Corn Bread Pieces

Smoked Salmon Puffs

Looking for something to take to your next party or cookout?  Check out these gorgeous little beauties: Smoked Salmon Puffs.  My boyfriend smokes his own salmon every summer so I’m always on the look-out for new ways to use it.  Smoked salmon is tasty, but it’s nice to be able to do something with it other than eat it by itself all the time.  I found this recipe in a book on smoking salmon and it’s a WINNER – I made it for a family cookout last summer and the first platter was gone before they ever made it to the table!

Salmon Puffs

When I make food to share at a party, I generally look to finger food because it’s easy to eat – no mess and no utensils necessary.  Of course, I also want it to be delicious!  This recipe fits the bill perfectly.  The smoked salmon puffs are simple and easy so I can make them for informal occasions such as cookouts.  They also look and taste impressive, making them appropriate for more formal gatherings such as holidays and special occasions.  Their ease and versatility makes them one of my go-to recipes for entertaining.

Smoked Salmon Puffs

Prep Time: 5 minutes

Cook Time: 35 minutes

Serves: ~2 dozen puffs

Ingredients

Puffs
4 tbsp. Butter
1/2 c. Lemon-lime Soda (I use Sierra Mist Natural)
1/2 c. Flour
2 eggs
Salmon Filling
3/4 c. flaked Smoked Salmon
4 oz. Whipped Cream Cheese, at room temperature
1 tbsp. thinly-sliced Green Onions
Salt
Pepper

1.  Put the butter in a saucepan and melt over medium heat.   Once the butter has melted, add the lemon-lime soda and bring the mixture to a boil.  (It can be a little hard to tell when it’s boiling due to the soda’s carbonation, but once it’s bubbling vigorously you’ve heated it long enough.)  Remove the pan from the heat and add your flour, stirring with a wooden spoon.

2.  Once the flour is mixed in, add the eggs, one at a time, stirring after each addition.  Once you’ve completely worked the eggs in, the dough should look something like this.  I will say this is one of the most unusual dough textures I’ve ever worked with so don’t worry if it’s not what you normally expect from a dough.

Puff Dough

3.  Using a teaspoon, drop the dough onto a baking sheet.  There’s enough butter in the dough that you really shouldn’t need to grease the pan.  If you made the dough right, the dough balls should hold their shape pretty well.  The rounder and taller they are before you bake them, the better they’ll come out.  Cook at 375°F for 15-20 minutes until the puffs are lightly golden brown.

Drop Dough

4.  While the puffs are cooking, make your salmon filling.  Combine the smoked salmon, whipped cream cheese, and green onions in a bowl.  Stir together until the filling is well blended then season lightly with salt and pepper.

Salmon Filling

5.  When your puffs are done, they should look like this.  Allow them to cool slightly (I leave them on the pan).  You want them to be cool enough to handle but still warm.

Cooked Puffs

6.  Once the puffs have cooled, split them using a bread knife.  I don’t cut them all the way through to leave a little hinge on one side of the puffs.  Once all the puffs are cut, fill them with the salmon mixture and serve!

Salmon Puff Platter

These tasty little bites will be a crowd-pleaser and earn you tons of compliments… don’t expect to have any leftovers to bring home!

Southern Peach Cobbler

Here in the south, there is an abundance of fresh fruit and vegetables.  For a lot of people, a few steps out the back door is as far as you need to go.  When we finally move out of this apartment and into our new house, I will be starting my very first garden!  I’m so excited to be able to pick my dinner (or at least part of it) seconds before I cook and eat it.  There’s just something so wholesome and intimate feeling about caring for the food you’re going to eat.  Anyways, back to the cobbler…

Since I like to buy locally grown and harvested food, the season definitely tends to play a huge role in what gets put on the table.  In the summer, watermelons, berries, and peaches are in blissful abundance.  So on our way home from the beach a couple weeks ago, we stopped in Clanton to get some peaches (I highly recommend a stop by Heaton’s if you’re ever traveling I-65).  I bought a bushel!  And apparently, great minds think alike, because my mom went to the farmer’s market while we were gone and bought a ton herself.  We were eating plenty of them, but just couldn’t make it through them before they started to soften… there were sooo many.  So my mind starting racing… what all can I make with peaches?  Sauces… Syrups… Ice Cream… Bread… Waffles… COBBLER.  I actually made two of them this week (in addition to syrup, bread, and ice cream!).

Piece of Cobbler

Cobbler is probably one of the easiest desserts to make – six simple ingredients (plus water) and very little work.  You can use canned pie filling or just plain ole canned peaches to make your life simpler.  But using fresh peaches and cooking them down yourself will seriously make your taste buds jump for joy!  It really isn’t hard and only takes about 12 minutes.  To cook down enough peaches for a 9×13 pan of cobbler, wash, peel, and thinly slice roughly 6 to 8 medium peaches.  To easily slice a peach, stand it up with the stem on top and run a sharp knife just to the right of the stem.  Let your knife find the top of the pit (the giant seed in the middle) and run it down and around the edge.  Repeat on the other three sides then slice your four sections thinly.  You want at least 4 to 5 good cups.  I usually set a measuring cup beside my cutting board and slice the fruit right in the cup, letting it almost overflow before I dump ’em in the pan.  A heavy-bottomed saucepan that is.

raw peaches in a pan

Add 1 cup of sugar and the water to the peaches in the pan and turn the burner to medium low.  Cook, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking, until the mixture starts to simmer.  Then simmer for roughly 1o minutes – you want soft peaches and a thin syrup when you’re done.  Remove the pan from the heat and allow to cool while you finish up your cobbler.

Cooked Peaches in Syrup

Place the stick of butter in a 9×13 dish and put in the preheated oven to melt.  When you pull the pan out of then oven, rock the dish side to side to try to evenly distribute the butter.  Set aside.

In a medium bowl, combine the remaining sugar and all the flour.  Stir them together to distribute evenly.  Now, slowly pour in the milk while stirring constantly.

pc8

You don’t want any lumps to form.  This is the milky slurry you want after adding all the milk.

thin pastry

Now pour this over the melted butter in the pan, distributing as evenly as you can. But do not stir them together.

pastry on butter

IMPORTANT NOTE: The most important thing about making a cobbler is NOT to stir your layers together.  Yes, I said NO STIRRING.  And yes, it will look a little bit like a hot mess as you place it in the oven.  But what you pull out of the oven 30-45 minutes later is no mess… it’s BE-U-TI-FUL.

Now take your cooked peaches and pour them over the pastry in the pan, again trying to distribute them evenly.  And you guessed it, no stirring.  Put down that ever-tempting spoon!  Trust me.

pc5

Sprinkle the top with cinnamon, more or less depending on your taste.  I’m a pretty big fan of cinnamon so I give it a pretty good sprinkle.

pc4

Now pop in your oven.  Bake for 30-45 minutes or until the pastry is set and golden brown and the peaches are bubbling up around the edges.  Just look at that beautiful baby!  So golden and warm and delicious!

Baked Cobbler

Ideally, you want to let the cobbler sit for a few minutes after taking it out of the oven to allow the peaches to set, creating a pretty piece of cobbler when you cut into it.  But if you’re like my family, the spatula is cutting the first piece before the pan ever touches the pot holder!  Now scoop a giant ball of homemade (or BlueBell) vanilla ice cream next to your cobbler, and rejoice!

Piece of Cobbler

Mmmm…. Mmm.  My taste buds are dancing the jig… jumping for joy… shouting with glee!  It’s the perfect combination for your palate. The warm, soft, pastry on top with those juicy, sticky sweet peaches nestled underneath, and to top it off, the cool, slowly melting ice cream… it’s simply devine!

Now jump up and run on into your kitchen, honey!  And prepare your taste buds for a little dance… A Happy Little Peach Cobbler Dance!

Southern Peach Cobbler

6-8  medium peaches
1/2 cup water
2 cups sugar, divided
1 1/2 cups self rising flour
1 1/2 cups milk
1 stick butter
Cinnamon

Step 1:  Preheat the oven to 400°.  Peel and slice your peaches and dump them in a heavy-bottomed saucepan.  Add to the fruit 1 cup sugar and 1/2 cup water.  Stir together and place on the stove over medium-low heat.  Cook, stirring occasionally, until they begin to simmer.  Simmer about 10 minutes, continuing to stir occasionally, until the peaches are nice and soft and you’ve made a thin syrup.  Remove from heat and set aside.

Step 2:  Place butter in a 9×13 baking dish and set in the oven just long enough to melt the butter.  Remove from oven and set aside.

Step 3:  In a medium bowl, combine the remaining 1 cup sugar with the flour and stir together.  Slowly pour in the milk, stirring constantly to prevent any lumps from forming.  Pour mixture evenly over the butter in the pan; do NOT stir together.

Step 4: Pour peaches and syrup over the pastry evenly.  Do NOT stir together.  Sprinkle the top with a little cinnamon.  Bake for 30-45 minutes, or until the pastry is set and golden brown and the peaches are bubbling up around the edges.

Step 5:  Allow the cobbler to cool for a few minutes before serving.  Serve with vanilla ice cream.  Cue happy dance.

Four Cheese White Pizza

When I was going to school in Tuscaloosa, there was a restaurant downtown that had a half-price wine and pizza night.  My roommates and I would go out to dinner together and split a pizza and a bottle of wine (Ah, the good old days…).   My favorite pizza there was a creamy four cheese pizza made with no sauce.  I haven’t seen anything like it on a menu since, so I set out to make my own four cheese pizza at home.  I found this recipe from the Curvy Carrot that comes close to replicating the pizza from my college days.

Four Cheese 22_2

This delicious white pizza is made with fresh mozzarella, ricotta, parmesan, and goat cheeses.  Garlic olive oil is used in place of tomato sauce, and it’s finished with fresh basil.    One bite and you’ll be in cheese pizza nirvana!

Four Cheese White Pizza

Prep Time: 5-10 minutes (not including oven heating or dough making)

Cook Time: 5-7 minutes (Brick Oven-Style) or 15-20 minutes (Traditional Cooking)

Serves: 2

Ingredients

No-Knead Pizza Dough or 1/2 recipe Thick Crust Pizza Dough
3 tsp. minced Garlic (about 3-4 cloves)
2 tbsp. Olive Oil
3-4 oz. Fresh Mozzarella
2-3 oz. Goat Cheese
1/4 c. Whole-milk Ricotta
Salt
Pepper
1/4 c. freshly-grated Parmesan (I use Parmigiano-Reggiano)
6-8 Fresh Basil Leaves, julienned

1.  Combine the garlic and olive oil.  The earlier in the day you do this, the better because the longer it sits, the more flavor will diffuse.  If you want to speed the process, you could put the oil and garlic in a skillet and heat over medium low heat for 10-15 minutes then allow to cool.  You could also cheat and use a store-bought garlic olive oil.

2.  Gather your cheeses and season the ricotta with salt and pepper.

Four Cheeses

3.  Brush the dough with the olive oil mixture being careful to avoid the edges of the crust.  Set the leftover oil aside for later.

4.  Pull the mozzarella into clumps and spread over pizza.  Next, crumble the goat cheese over the pizza.  Drop dollops of ricotta onto the pizza then finish it with parmesan.

Top with Cheeses

5.  Cook brick-oven style (See How to Cook Brick Oven-Style Pizza in Your Oven) or at 425°F for 15-20 minutes until golden and bubbling.

6.  While the pizza is cooking, chiffonade your basil.  Start by stacking the basil leaves then roll the leaves like a cigar…

Roll Basil

Finally, slice the rolled leaves.  This should leave you with julienned strips.

7.  Once the pizza is done, remove it from the oven and brush the crust with some of the leftover olive oil mixture.  If desired, you could also drizzle some of the extra oil over the pizza.

Four Cheese Pizza

8.  Sprinkle the basil over the pizza and allow to cool for a few minutes.

Top with Basil

Once the pizza has cooled slightly, slice, serve, and enjoy!!

Four Cheese 22_2