Saturday, September 24, 2016

Skillet Pizza

I love this recipe for two simple reasons. First, it yields an absolutely delicious, thin-crust pizza. Second, it's so stinkin' easy a 5-year old could do it. The reason it is so easy is because it eliminates dough from the equation. That chemistry lesson of flour and yeast and blah-blah-blah is gone.

The secret? We are going to use a 12-inch flour tortilla for our crust. So from there on out it's basically throw some great ingredients on that tortilla...then heat and eat. The only caveat is that you really need a cast-iron skillet to achieve this thin-crust pizza nirvana. Cast iron skillets are legendary for heat retention and their perfect, non-stick surface.

1, 12" flour tortilla
1/3 cup of sauce (marinara, pesto or plain spaghetti sauce)
1/3 cup of shredded mozzarella cheese
1/4 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
Your favorite toppings: pepperoni, Italian sausage, basil leaves, etc


  1. Place the top rack of your oven as close to the broiler as possible. Pre-heat broiler.
  2. Put a little oil into your skillet, then heat it on your stove top over high heat until the oil just starts to shimmer. As soon as it does, reduce the heat to low and wipe out the skillet with a paper towel. This will help crisp up the bottom, while making sure that it doesn't get greasy.
  3. There are two sides to your with small bubbles and one with big bubbles. Put the small bubble side down in the skillet (big bubbles facing up).
  4. Spread your sauce over the tortilla.
  5. Spread cheeses over tortilla.
  6. Add toppings as desired.
  7. Slide skillet under broiler and cook for 3 minutes.
  8. When done, use a thin metal spatula to gently release the crisp edges from the pan. Then shake the pan so that pizza slides freely. Slide it onto a cutting board and slice.

Wine pairing: Merlot is always my first choice for pizza with red sauce.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Dijon and Cognac Beef Stew

We've already had a few "fallish" days this September. It's that time of year when evening entrees migrate from salads to stews. I was delighted when I stumbled upon this stew recipe in the New York Times. As a lover of both mustard and cognac, I couldn't wait to try it....and I did just that last Thursday night.

I've made a few changes to the recipe. First was the cooking methodology. This was a meal for company, so I didn't want to be cooking while my guests were here. So I made the stew at noon and then cooked it in the oven the rest of the day at 210º. No muss. No fuss. And all I had to do at dinner time was pull the Dutch oven out and serve.

A couple of comments on ingredients. While the recipe calls for Pommery Mustard (which is all but impossible to find in stores), in a pinch you can substitute Whole Grain Mustard. But if you have the time, I would really encourage you to go to and order a jar.  Pommery mustard has been made in Meaux, France since 1632. This mustard is very thick and the whole grain mustard seeds give it a gritty texture. It is an incredible addition to your pantry and puts this dish over the top.

And while Gravy Master was not part of the original recipe, I would never consider making a stew without a little help from Gravy Master. It gives the stew an intense, rich color and incredible depth on the tongue. It is such a fantastic product that I use it in virtually all of my stews, gravies and sauces. However, I find the 2-ounce jars annoyingly small, so I go on and buy the foodservice sizes, which come in both quart and gallon size.

The third stool of the meal is warm, crusty bread. It is considered a mortal sin if you make a stew and have not coupled it with a baguette or two of French bread. My recommendation is Costco, where the loaves are always warm and you can score two for just $4.99. And do not forget to dip!!! This adaptation of Regina Scrambling's recipe serves four to six people.

4 slices of bacon, diced
1 large onion, diced
3 shallots, chopped
2 to 4 tablespoons butter, as needed
2 pounds beef chuck, cut into 1-inch cubes
2 tablespoons flour
Salt and fresh ground pepper
2 to 4 tablespoons butter, as needed
1/2 cup Cognac
2 cups beef stock
1/2 cup Dijon mustard
4 tablespoons Pommery mustard
1 tablespoon Gravy Master
4 large carrots, sliced
1/2 pound mushrooms
1/4 cup red wine


    1. Pre-heat oven to 210º.
    2. Place bacon in a Dutch oven over low heat and cook until fat is rendered. Remove solid pieces with a slotted spoon. Set aside. Raise heat and add onion and shallots. Cook until softened but not browned, 10 to 15 minutes. Use a slotted spoon to transfer to a large bowl.
    3. If necessary, add 2 tablespoons butter to the pan to augment fat. Add mushrooms to pan and sauté until browned and tender. Use slotted spoon to transfer to the bowl with the onions and shallots.
    4. If necessary, add 2 tablespoons butter to the pan to augment fat. Dust beef cubes with flour and season with salt and pepper. Shake off excess flour and place half the cubes in the pan. Cook over medium-high heat until well browned, almost crusty, on all sides, then transfer to a bowl with onions. Repeat with remaining beef.
    5. Add Cognac to the empty pan and cook, stirring, until the bottom is deglazed and the crust comes loose. Add stock, Dijon mustard and 1 tablespoon of Pommery mustard. Whisk to blend, then return bacon, meat, onion and mushroom mixture to pan. Add carrots. Stir to blend all ingredients. Cover dutch oven with aluminum foil and then place lid over foil. Slide pan into oven and cook for 5 hours.
    6. Remove pan from oven. Add 3 tablespoons of Pommery mustard and the red wine. Stir, taste and then adjust seasonings and serve.  

    Wine pairing: A big, bold Cabernet Sauvignon.

    Saturday, September 10, 2016

    Refrigerator Pickles

    We were out last night with our BFF's, Steve and Taffy Hirtz, to celebrate quite a milestone...their 44th wedding anniversary. I was best man in the wedding...the groom and I were but 20 years old. What a great couple....which begot a great family. And, oh, how far we've all come since that day in 1972.

    To celebrate last night, we headed down to the highly acclaimed "The Butcher and the Boar". The food was fantastic, but what really stood out for me were their homemade sausages. We had the sampler plate which was comprised of one beef sausage, one wild boar sausage and one pork and cheddar sausage. Just a little bit of heaven!

    Speaking of homemade, the best pickles in the world will be the ones you make yourself. Refrigerator pickles are quick and easy and do not require all of the preservation techniques associated with pickling. They taste a whole lot better than store-bought and you can go crazy by pickling any vegetable you want!


    For the Brine
    10 cloves garlic, peeled
    2 cups white vinegar
    6 teaspoons kosher salt
    Several sprigs of fresh dill
    1 teaspoon celery seed
    1 teaspoon coriander seed
    1 teaspoon mustard seed
    1/2 teaspoon black peppercorns
    1/2 teaspoon pink peppercorns (or more black if you don't have pink)

    For the Vegetables
    6 kirby cucumbers
    6 young spring carrots, peeled and halved lengthwise
    1 handful of scallions or green beans
    A few pieces of cauliflower to tuck wherever they will fit
    4 small hot red chiles or 2 jalapeños


    1. In a medium saucepan, bring 4 cups water to a boil, reduce the heat so the water simmers and add the garlic. Cook for 5 minutes. Add the vinegar and salt, raise the heat and bring to a boil, stirring until the salt dissolves. Remove from the heat.
    2. In 2 clear 1-quart jars, place a few sprigs of dill. Divide the seeds and peppercorns between the jars. Using tongs, remove the garlic from the brine and place 5 cloves in each jar. Then pack the jars full of cucumbers, carrots, scallions or green beans, cauliflower and chiles. You want them to be tightly stuffed.
    3. Bring the brine back to a boil, pour it over the vegetables to cover completely, let cool, then cover and refrigerate. The pickles will taste good in just a few hours, better after a couple of days. And they'll keep for about 3 months.

    Happy 44th, Steve and Taffy!

    Saturday, September 3, 2016

    Warm Mushroom Salad

    I'm a fan of brevity. So I had to fix this spectacular recipe with a horrible name. I opted for "Warm Mushroom Salad" instead of the actual name of the dish: "Warm Mushroom Salad with Bacon, Sourdough Croutons and Pickled-Mushroom Vinaigrette". While the latter certainly does more to fire up your tastebuds...I still like brevity.

    I also like mushrooms. They are a great alternative to meat. I find them every bit as filling as meat. They are high in protein, fiber, vitamins and have zero cholesterol. Their taste characteristics are as variable as beef, chicken and pork. From portobellos to shiitake to white button mushrooms...each mushroom varietal has it's own, unique flavor.

    When you buy mushrooms, always buy organic as mushrooms will contain everything present in their environment. If there are toxins in the soil, there will be toxins in your organic should always be your first choice.

    You might also consider growing your will be astounded by the taste of a freshly picked mushroom. Just do an search for "grow your own mushroom kit" and you will find a huge selection of kits. This is a Rachel Wharton recipe and it makes two entree salads or four side salads.


    For the Pickled Mushrooms

    1/4 pound trumpet or oyster mushrooms, sliced 1/8 inch thick
    1/2 cup red wine vinegar
    1/4 cup water
    2 tablespoons sugar
    1 teaspoon black peppercorns
    One, 4-inch sprig rosemary
    1 garlic clove, crushed
    1 teaspoon salt

    For the Salad
    3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
    1 garlic clove, minced
    Salt and freshly ground pepper
    2 strips of bacon, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
    1 heaping cup bite-size sourdough bread pieces, torn by hand
    2 cups mixed mushrooms (about 3/4 pound total), such as trumpet, oyster, shiitake, etc.
    4 packed cups mixed baby greens (1/2-pound total)
    Sliced radishes and fennel fonds, for garnish


    1. Make pickled mushrooms: Place mushrooms in a small heatproof bowl. Place remaining ingredients in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Cook, stirring once or twice, until sugar and salt dissolve. Strain hot pickling liquid over mushrooms. Reserve 1 tablespoon pickling liquid for vinaigrette and discard peppercorns, rosemary and garlic. Cover mushrooms with plastic wrap.
    2. Make vinaigrette: In a small bowl, whisk together 1 tablespoon mushroom pickling liquid, oil, garlic, and salt and pepper to taste until emulsified. Set aside.
    3. Heat a 10-inch skillet over medium heat. Cook bacon until crisp and most of fat has rendered out. Add sourdough pieces to pan. Cook, stirring occasionally and adding a little olive oil if pan seems dry, until bread begins to get crisp and golden, 7-10 minutes. Transfer bread and bacon to a bowl. 
    4. Increase heat to medium-high. Cook mushrooms in skillet, stirring frequently, until slightly browned, about 6 minutes. Season with salt and pepper and turn off heat. 
    5. Compose salad: Drain pickled mushrooms. In a large bowl, combine greens, warm mushrooms, drained pickled mushrooms, croutons and bacon. Drizzle vinaigrette to taste, tossing to coat. Adjust seasoning as needed. Garnish with radishes and fennel fronds, if using. Serve while mushrooms are still warm.

    Wine pairing: Pinot Noir