jack n’ blue quesadilla

jack n' blue quesadilla

Today I was watching an episode of Mexico:  One Plate at a Time on my dvr and Rick Bayless was making me drool, as usual.  But this time it wasn’t with lots of complicated chiles roasting and vegetables chopping ~ the episode was called “A Case For Quesadillas” and he basically makes and eats a bunch on them.

So it wasn’t much later that I found myself standing in front of my fridge pulling out ingredients to make one for myself.  Locally made flour tortillas, monterey jack cheese, avocado, tomato, sour cream… but I wanted something new in there.  And then I saw it ~ maytag blue cheese.

I got out the griddle and fired up the flame while getting the jack ready.  It wasn’t long before cheese was oozing and I was ready to flip.

quesadilla

Oh joy!  How simply satisfying, and how easy to pull together.  Everyone, well nearly everyone, has a few different cheeses hanging around their fridge.  I keep flour tortilla packages in the freezer and have one on hand in the refrigerator, ready for instant gooey happiness.  The blue cheese was an amazing addition, not traditional Mexican but that tangy salty bite was great with the sweet avocado and creamy sour cream.

As Rick said in the opening of his show today, there’s something about melted cheese and bread ~ what could be better than that?

herb-crust pizza with charred tomatoes

herb crust pizza

Although I am yet to make my own pizza dough from scratch, I’ve been playing around with a local pizzeria’s dough and this experiment turned out quite tasty.

As mentioned in this post, I place the dough balls in a coating of olive oil and let them sit in the fridge for several days, up to a week.  This time I sprinkled a generous pinch of Mediterranean seasoning into the oil before adding the dough.  After a flip in the oil bath and a cover for each bowl, into the refrigerator they went.

herb-infused pizza dough

As also mentioned in the earlier pizza entry, one of the main issues with oiling up the dough as I do is stickiness.  Flouring the pizza peel very generously helps, and as the dough sits for those days the top of the ball is less oily so that goes face-down onto the peel.

Hands floured, peel floured and once the dough is on the peel, work quickly with the toppings.  A great trick I was taught is to lift an edge of the pie and blow under it to loosen it from the peel ~ it really works!

herb-crust pizza with charred tomatoes

Most of this recipe is the same as my previous pizza post linked above.  But this time I charred some grape tomatoes, a technique I picked up from an episode of Alex’s Day Off.

Just heat a bit of oil in a cast iron skillet, add your grape tomatoes in a single layer ~ my large skillet could hold 2 pints ~ then sprinkle them with a tablespoon of dark brown sugar and a pinch or so of salt.  Allow the skins to blister, stirring frequently to keep them moving.

After the skins start to blister and break open, pour in 1/2-cup of dry sherry {or wine of your choice} and turn heat down to low.  Cook for about 10 minutes and you’re done!

cast iron skillet brown butter cornbread

cast iron skillet brown-butter cornbreadNot long ago I invested in a few cast iron skillets.  I’d used one a while back at a friend’s house and loved it.  I think her grandmother had bought it several decades earlier, it was the real thing; the inside was so well seasoned and smooth as silk.  She gave me a few helpful pointers on how to work with it, in case I ever decided to get one of my own.

I’ve made a few dishes in my relatively new skillets and one of my favorite results is cornbread.  There’s something about the subtle minerally taste that the iron brings to the corn.

For me it’s key to make some brown butter in the pan.  It goes into the batter, gets drizzled on top about halfway through baking, and it greases the pan nicely to ensure nothing sticks.  It adds another subtle layer of flavor, a bit nutty.

ingredients:

  • 1  cup fine-ground cornmeal {I really like the Nitty Gritty brand}
  • 1  cup flour
  • 2  tablespoons sugar
  • 1/2  teaspoon salt
  • 1-1/2  teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2  teaspoon baking soda
  • 2  eggs
  • 1  cup cream
  • 1/2  cup sour cream
  • 6  tablespoons butter

directions:

  • Preheat oven to 400F
  • In a large bowl whisk together the cornmeal, flour, sugar, salt, baking powder and baking soda
  • Heat a 10-inch cast iron skillet over a medium flame; add the butter and keep an eye on it for about 4-5 minutes
  • When butter spattering slows and it darkens to a medium brown, gently swirl it all around edges of pan to coat, then transfer melted butter to a small ramekin or glass bowl
  • In a separate bowl, whisk together the eggs, cream, sour cream and 4 tablespoons of the brown butter
  • Add egg mixture to dry ingredients and gently stir until incorporated, being careful not to overmix
  • Pour batter into the skillet; use the back of a spoon to spread it evenly in pan
  • Bake for 10 minutes, then pour remaining 2 tablespoons brown butter on top of cornbread and bake another 10 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean

cast iron skillet cornbread

Some variations ~ that I’m yet to try ~ are adding cheddar cheese, diced green chiles or jalapenos, maybe sweeten it up a bit with maple syrup… delicious!

roasted ratatouille

roasted ratatouilleThe weekly shopping in this house has basically everything one would need to make ratatouille:  I’ve been on an eggplant in oyster sauce kick for a while {recipe coming soon} and cherry or grape tomatoes magically transform into nectar with Lidia’s Raw Sauce recipe {also coming soon}.

So this weekend I’d bought the usual suspects, roasted the eggplant, zucchini and tomatoes up yesterday so they’d be ready for anything… and wasn’t sure what I’d be making.  Last night it seemed like a no-brainer:  ratatouille.

The Italians — and I’m one of them — call it giambotta only there are also peppers and potatoes and usually mushrooms.  I used to eat it a lot, and occasionally make it, as a kid.  But I haven’t really made a proper ratatouille, that I can recall.  So off to the internet I went.

I used a recipe from one of my fave chefs, Tyler Florence, as a guideline.  He’s got solid chops and a classic approach from what I’ve experienced with his recipes, and this one was no different.  Here’s what I did:

ingredients:

  • for roasting:  2 medium eggplant sliced in rings 3/4-inch thick; 4 medium zucchini sliced lengthwise 1/2-inch thick; 2 pints cherry or grape tomatoes
  • 2 medium onions, chopped
  • 4-6 cloves garlic, chopped or microplaned
  • 1-2 tablespoons anchovy paste
  • 1/3 cup olive oil + more for roasting
  • 1 tablespoon Italian seasoning or herbs de Provence
  • handful fresh basil leaves
  • 1 teaspoon each s&p + more for roasting
  • splash balsamic vinegar and/or white wine

directions:

  • preheat oven to 400F
  • place eggplant, zucchini and tomatoes on lightly oiled baking sheets; drizzle with more olive oil and sprinkle with s&p
  • roast in oven for about 20 minutes, until tomato skins pop and eggplant browns
  • place eggplant and zucchini on a platter to cool; spoon tomatoes into a glass bowl, including any oil/juice
  • when eggplant and zucchini are cool to touch, slice eggplant into triangles and zucchini into chunks
  • heat a very large cast iron skillet — or a large stainless steel saucepan — on a medium flame; add 1/3 cup oil then the anchovy paste
  • add onions and garlic to pan; cook about 10 minutes; add dried herbs and 1 teaspoon each s&p
  • add eggplant and zucchini, stirring well to incorporate
  • turn down flame to low heat; add tomatoes and fresh basil, stirring gently to incorporate
  • add splash of balsamic vinegar and/or wine; cover pan and allow to gently cook for about 30 minutes

ratatouille

Done!

I’d like to close this entry with a photo of the kitchen mascot — he’s been hanging on a peg over the sink for about a year now, when I picked him up at the local general store.

pez - ratatouille the movie

cast iron skillet pizza

cast iron deep dish pizza

I was born in Queens so I’m a bit biased when it comes to pizza.  As a kid my rule of thumb was if you can’t fold the slice in half — and there’s not a line of oil dripping down your arm — then it’s not really pizza.

But I’m not a New Yorker anymore, and last week on The Chew they made deep dish pizza in a large 14-inch cast iron skillet.  For various reasons I decided to try my own version:   first, I have the very skillet they used on the show; second, I looove cheese; third, I love our local pizzeria’s dough, which can be purchased for an insanely great deal of $2.

So here’s what I did…

ingredients/prep:

  • 2 balls large-size pizza dough
  • 1/2-pound thinly sliced provolone
  • 1 pound shredded mozzarella
  • chop for roasting:   2 onions, 1 head garlic, 1 red pepper, 2 medium zucchini, small box mushrooms — and/or whatever veggies you like
  • roasting liquid:  3/4-cup white wine, 1/4-cup olive oil, 1 tablespoon lemon juice, 1 tablespoon Italian seasoning, 1 tablespoon herbs de Provence, pinch each s&p
  • combine:  16 ounces ricotta, 1/2-cup grated parmesan, 1 tablespoon garlic powder, 1 tablespoon onion powder, 1 beaten egg, 1/4-cup heavy cream, 1 pinch each s&p
  • 1 beaten egg + 2 tablespoons cream {egg wash}
  • 1 tablespoon melted butter + 1 tablespoon olive oil {for greasing pan}
  • fresh basil, optional

directions:

  • Roast vegetables in roasting liquid mixture, in a large lasagne-type pan, at 375F for 1-1/2 hours, stirring occasionally
  • While vegetables are roasting, combine ricotta, parmesan, garlic & onion powders, egg, heavy cream and s&p in a large bowl; set aside
  • When vegetables are done and set on counter, turn oven up to 400F
  • Brush melted butter/olive oil mixture inside entire cast iron skillet, including top edge
  • Roll out one of the pizza doughs {or toss if you’re feeling daring} large enough so it easily conforms to sides of pan and drapes generously over edge
  • Prick a few holes on bottom of dough with a fork
  • Using a large spoon, thinly cover bottom of crust with ricotta mixture
  • Using a slotted spoon, cover ricotta with roasted vegetables, using 1/2 of total mixture
  • Cover vegetables with a double layer of sliced provolone
  • Cover provolone with remainder of ricotta mix
  • Cover ricotta with remainder of vegetables
  • Add several basil leaves if desired
  • Cover with most of shredded mozzarella, leaving some for topping
  • Cover with a single layer of sliced provolone, then the rest of mozzarella
  • Roll out or toss second pizza dough; cover skillet with dough generously, draping over sides of skillet at least halfway between top and bottom of skillet
  • With a sharp knife, cut several 1-inch slits on top for venting
  • Fold crust edges and pinch/roll together, as you would with top/bottom pie crusts
  • Brush with egg wash
  • Bake at 400F  for 35 minutes, until golden brown and bubbly.  If crust browns too early, cover loosely with foil

cast iron pizza

cast iron deep dish pizza

Enjoy!