Tzatziki Sauce

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This. is. the jam! Well, sauce. Technically it’s a sauce. Quite frankly, I think it should be the new ketchup. Sorry ketchup, I’m seeing other condiments. Tzatziki Sauce is perfect over this Yogurt Marinated Chicken. It’s also awesome served on a platter as a dip with fresh vegetables and fruit; sliced cucumbers, bell peppers, cherry tomatoes, pita triangles. If making the grilled chicken kebabs, go ahead and add pita sliced in half, kalamata olives, sliced red onion, loose romaine hearts, pepperoncini peppers and even diced feta.

I tell my guests they can make a plate with whatever they like, a salad or sandwich. People go wild for variety! Try it over baked potatoes, too.

I do a couple of things differently to make it my own: 1.) Adding peel of the ridiculously easy to make preserved lemons for their pungent brightness. 2.) Using Persian cucumbers instead of the more commonly used English (hot house) because they tend to have less liquid, seeds, and are wonderfully fresh and crisp. However, traditional Tzatziki is delicious as is. This just kicks it up a bit.

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Tzatziki Sauce

Ingredients:

1 1/2 cups Greek whole milk yogurt (I swear by Cabot 10% Greek yogurt; It’s very thick and creamy. No need to strain)
1 English cucumber, or 3-4 small Persian cucumbers peeled, cut in half, seeded, finely grated (I prefer to use only the latter because they contain less water)
2 cloves garlic, smashed, pref. with mortar and pestle
1 teaspoon lemon zest plus 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice (I use preserved lemon rind and the juice in addition to fresh for big boost of flavor)
1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill
1 tablespoon fresh chopped parsley
Kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper, to taste. You might not need salt.

Peel cucumber. Cut in half and remove seeds. Grate cucumber using box grater. Add grated cucumber to strainer or colander and place over bowl. Sprinkle cucumber with 1/2 teaspoon of salt and toss throughout. After about 30 minutes (or up to several hours), use hands to squeeze excess water from cucumber.

In medium bowl add all ingredients and whisk together. Allow to sit in refrigerator for at least two hours before using. Drizzle with additional olive oil before serving.

Goes great with Yogurt Marinated Chicken

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Yogurt Marinated Chicken Kebabs

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My favorite thing to serve to guests. Hands-down. I love how easily this meal multiplies. That I can do most of the prep work in advance. And watching people devour it. Which is one of the things you hope to accomplish when planning a meal like this: Utter delight. It hits all the right notes; Warm and creamy, and bright and exciting…Super flavorful. I could wax poetic, but I’d rather just get on with it already. It’s rude to talk with your mouth full, and I’m hungry!

This is the first of a several-part post. I’m starting with these absolutely delicious yogurt marinated chicken kebabs because they will need to marinate for several hours or overnight for full potential.

Serve with this awesome Tzatziki Sauce

Yogurt Marinated Chicken

1 cup plain whole milk Greek yogurt

2 Tablespoons olive oil

2 teaspoons Hungarian (sweet) paprika

1 teaspoon cumin

1/8 teaspoon cinnamon

1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

2 Tablespoon Red wine vinegar

6 cloves Garlic, peeled, smashed; coarsely chopped

1 Tablespoon grated Fresh Ginger

Zest from one lemon

2 Tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice, from one lemon

1-3/4 teaspoons salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

2-1/4 pounds boneless skinless chicken thighs, or breasts, or a mix of each, trimmed of any excess fat and cut into just over 1-inch cubes

Vegetable oil, for greasing the grill

Add all of the ingredients, except chicken, to medium bowl and stir to fully combine. Add in chicken and coat pieces entirely. Cover and transfer to refrigerator.

Instruction:

Preheat Outdoor Grill to Medium-High Heat, or Oven with Cast Iron Grill Pan inside to 450 degrees F.

Thread chicken on to skewers (metal for outdoors) by pushing center of each piece of chicken down skewer. Divide chicken equally among skewers, making sure each piece is touching, but being careful not to crowd them too closely together. I generally put about 6 pieces on to each skewer. Depending on the length of your skewer, you may fit 8.

Use crumbled paper towel lightly dipped in oil to brush over grates of an outdoor grill. Use brush dipped in oil to lightly oil Indoor Grill Pan.

Place skewers on to grill. Grill chicken for approximately 10-12 minutes, turning chicken skewers (use tongs or wear gloves) two or three times to brown each side; Until chicken is cooked through.

*Note: This chicken can be grilled out or indoors. I soaked the ends of wooden skewers (since they would be exposed) and grilled mine in the oven on a cast iron indoor grill. Use metal skewers if you are grilling outdoors. Metal skewers can be used indoors as well.

*For guests and parties, I do this entire process a day ahead. After I’ve marinated and skewered the chicken, I place the skewers on a lined sheet pan, cover securely and place them back into the refrigerator until I’m ready to grill the next day.

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Homemade Vanilla Extract

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I live in the last house on a one-sided dead-end street, adjacent to a cemetery. Every year, on the first morning the geese return to that cemetery in all their squawking glory, I know it has officially begun. No matter what the calendar says, fall has arrived. Without fail, and simultaneously, the air cools. The leaves turn. Early rising is met with a damp, church bell ringing, reach-for-your-thick-Pats-socks-and-sweaters reminder summer is over. It’s invigorating. It’s go-time!

Soon we’ll be in the throes of the holiday season. Here, that means baking. More than the usual amount of baking. I make homemade vanilla extract in double batches because I do not dare risk running out. For the vodka, I use the cheap stuff. If you happen to have a water filter pitcher at home, and the patience, you can pour the entire bottle of vodka into the machine–exactly as you would water–and let it filter.

You’d have to repeat this process about five times. See why you’d need patience? And you would want to use a filter that was nearing its end, and then only for the vodka. This process makes sense to me for homemade extracts and liqueurs because I use so much of it. Feel free to spend a little more on the “middle shelf” stuff.

When one bottle of extract is nearly through, I make another batch using the same bottle, leaving the beans from the previous batch in addition to the new beans–8 to 10 this time, for an even stronger vanilla extract. You’ll only do this once though, as all of the flavor from the first batch will be extracted. You can allow used beans to air dry and add them to a jar of vanilla for vanilla-scented sugar. Or grind up dried, used beans and mix the ground up beans into a jar of sugar for a more robust vanilla sugar.

Feel free to remove the beans entirely once the vanilla extract has fully steeped. I like to allow a full two months for an extract unlike anything you can buy. I wouldn’t short on potential here. You can pour the finished product into smaller bottles to give as gifts.

 

You can use any variety or mix of vanilla beans and quality you like. I used a mix of Bourbon Madagascar for its boldness, and what was left of my years’ old Tahitian beans for their slightly sweet and floral notes. Vanilla beans are expensive, but there are sources online where you can find them reasonably priced in bulk and fair trade. I would not recommend buying them from the grocery store.


Homemade Vanilla Extract

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10-12 Vanilla Beans
16 Ounces (2 cups) of Vodka
Bottle large enough to hold 2 cups vodka, plus a little extra room for volume of beans

Recipe can be reduced to half.


Use a sharp knife to carefully split vanilla bean pods down the middle. You can leave tops intact or split the bean entirely. Remove vanilla bean seeds from pods with knife. Add both seeds and pods to jar. Carefully fill with vodka. Store in cool, dark place. For the first two weeks, give your bottle a shake the one time you think of it a couple of times each week. Your extract will be ready to use as its height in about 8 weeks. Shake before each use so that your vanilla seeds dance around and distribute throughout the contents of bottle.
–Ree

Tomato + Mozzarella + Avocado Sandwich

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Of What Becomes

In the midst of these waning days of summer, this begins the two weeks of the year I feel most torn about. When those summer crops rebel against the changing winds, and reward a gardener’s harvest with last tomatoes, peaches, squash that require no peeling and slice like butter, berries, sugary corn
All the things only a warm sun and breezy, lusty air could grow so sweet, so delicate, so…pluck-from-the-garden and eat as-is perfect. Never does nourishing that which I crave; savor, feel more symbiotic a relationship between my sense of taste, the earth from where that bounty began, and every hand that watered, shaded, pruned, picked and provided for its growth. Better still when they were my very own.
But then again, I’m a New England girl through and through. I live for the magic of fall here. Look forward to warming soups with crusty bread. Being enveloped by deep, rich, heady flavors. When lingering salt-filled remnants find their way through the window beside me and take shelter in my olfactory. So it begins…nights, brisk in stark contrast to fleeting swelteringly hot days.
It happens ostensibly in an instant. The morning you wake up, and are taken with the sky ablaze in jewel-toned leaves. Trees whose branches dance, and battle with the vigor and smoky swell of swirling winds. Only to relent the inevitable and surrender.
Rubies, garnets, topaz rain down from the sky like a twisting kaleidoscope in slow motion; wistfully landing on a soil brimming with fertility. The air itself breathes differently. Unlike summer humming fire and flora upon your skin, fall is the point at which things are ceasing and creating in the same place, and at the same time. This occurrence radiates every atom of my being. It is not merely felt or endured.
It is inhaled. It becomes you.
Therein lies the tear…Every season has its toll. Both what one takes, and what remains as each is ushered out. The days, just like the leaves, are numbered before my favorite season for filling my plate are withered empty vines; Dead and taunting with yesterday. And my favorite season for life; To be alive; To live on fire– makes its debut.

Tomato + Fresh Mozzarella + Avocado Sandwich
Makes 2
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1 large heirloom tomato, or other flavorful variety
1 avocado
8 fresh basil leaves, not too large
4 slices fresh mozzarella, thick cut
4 slices sourdough bread, I used sourdough frencese
1 Tablespoon each, Balsamic vinegar and Olive Oil
Pink or Sea or Kosher Salt + Freshly Cracked Black Pepper (I used pink Himalayan salt)

Mix vinegar and oil in small bowl with 1/8 teaspoon of salt and pepper, set aside. I buttered then lightly toasted bread buttered side down in a 380 degree oven for 6 minutes. You could leave it unbuttered and toast bread in toaster. While your bread is toasting, mash avocado with a pinch of salt and pepper in bowl. Remove bread from oven and spread one piece per sandwich with mashed avocado. Add slices of mozzarella,  tomatoes, basil, then drizzle with balsamic and olive oil. Cover with top slice of bread and enjoy.
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I wish you the best of all the little Of What Remains of summer.
–Ree

Snickerdoodles

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I’ll start by telling you that my grandmother is a terrible cook. When people ask what inspired me to start cooking and baking I usually reply: “survival.” If you know anything about Boston Irish grandmother’s, you will understand that any objection to what I was being served was retorted with “Just eat it and shut up!” But Gram, these pancakes are raw in the middle. “Just eat it and shut up.” Gram, the pasta is mushy…The broccoli disintegrated…Eggs make me sick…The chicken is so dry it hurts to swallow…But what is it? “Just eat it and shut up.” She tried. She really did want to be the kind of Grandmother who spent her Sunday’s making a feast and having freshly baked cookies ready for me when I got home from school, but for a number of reasons, that wasn’t possible. She never expected to become a parent again to her grandchild. She worked a full-time job six days a week to make sure I had everything else I needed. And she loved me. Mostly, I existed on cereal as a kid. Gram did like to make pies. Again, refer to my examples above about her cooking. One thing I did love were the scraps of dough she would cover in cinnamon and sugar and roll into little pinwheels, then bake until golden. They were a real treat.
It wasn’t until very recently that I, not only discovered snickerdoodle cookies, but learned they weren’t made with snickers’ candy bars cut up into pieces and baked into sugar cookies. I couldn’t wait to recapture the taste and memories of waiting around the kitchen until Gram pulled those yummy pinwheels out of the oven in these cookies. That are, by the way, buttery balls of goodness, rolled in cinnamon and sugar, then slightly smashed and baked until chewy and golden. I found the recipe in Joanne Chang’s: Flour Bakery Cookbook. I made them once, and then again for my son’s early birthday celebration at school this past June–only with homemade vanilla bean ice cream sandwiched in between. Sublime.

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Snickerdoodles

Recipe credit: Joanne Chang


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Ingredients
2 2/3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking soda
¼ tsp. table salt
2 teaspoons cream of tartar (not a typo)
1 cup unsalted butter, softened at room temperature
1 ¾  cups granulated sugar, reserve 1/4 cup for coating
2 large eggs
2 tablespoons ground cinnamon

Directions


1. Place rack in center of oven and Preheat to 350 degrees F.

2. Add following ingredients to medium sized bowl, Spooned and leveled flour, baking soda, salt and cream of tartar. Whisk until blended.

*Use spoon to add flour to measuring cups. This prevents from using too much and creates a light cookie.

3. In a stand mixer using the paddle attachment, blend butter and 1 1/2 cups of sugar on medium speed to light and fluffy texture, approx. 3 minutes. Use rubber spatula to scrape down side of bowl.

4. Add eggs and mix until fully incorporated, approx. two minutes. Scrape down sides of bowl once more.

5. Turn the mixture on low speed and slowly begin to add flour until completely combined, approx. 30 seconds.

6. Wrap dough mixture and refrigerate for several hours or overnight.

7. When dough has chilled, add cinnamon and 1/4 cup of sugar to small bowl. Round Tablespoon sized balls of dough with your hands and drop into cinnamon-sugar mixture individually. You can use a fork to gently turn dough balls to coat.

8. Place coated balls of dough 3 inches apart on lined or greased cookie sheets. Press balls of dough to flatten ever-so-slightly (very little).

9. Bake 15-18 minutes. Edges of cookies should be golden brown and crisp with softer middles. Allow cookies to rest of cookie sheets for 1 minute before transferring to cooling rack.

Store baked cookies in airtight container for three days, or freeze for one month. Uncooked dough can be refrigerated for a week or frozen for at least a month.

Cookies can be eaten in a dimly lit room while you gently weep to yourself about the lack of appreciation for how easy and magical life was when you were a child, or shared with others. Recapture the magic!

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Summer Squash Provençal

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In my last post I talked about the tomatoes I’m growing this year. Although nothing compares to fruits and vegetables you grew yourself– and nothing beats the price, after a few years’ hiatus from keeping a full garden, I wasn’t feeling nearly ambitious or energetic enough to attempt much more than that. This is what makes having so many farmers’ markets available to me in the summer essential for meal planning. I know I can get just about anything I didn’t grow myself, from local farms I know and trust to grow/raise sustainable and organic produce, meat and seafood (alas, there’s no such thing as “organic” seafood). I picked up some gorgeous local, organic green and yellow zucchini, and pattypan squash, along with several types of tomatoes for this Squash Provencal from my favorite vendor, Atlas Farm. I made my own stewed tomatoes, but you can use canned. I used canned for years and it was always delicious. I’ll have a recipe up for the homemade version soon that will render you unable to use anything else. This dish produces a lot of juice; A flavorful marriage of the veggies and tomatoes that make for a delicious sauce. It’s the perfect summer meal over nearly any grain or potatoes, simple baked white fish, roasted chicken, or cooked a little less and served as a side dish. We had it over pasta. You might even be lucky enough to have an abundance of squash growing in your own garden. If so, consider me envious. Nonetheless, I just know you’ll enjoy this dish as much as we do wherever you’re able to get your squash.


Summer Squash Provençal

2 pounds summer squash (green and yellow zucchini, pattypan squash)
1/4 cup olive oil or Butter, Divided

3/4 Cup Fontina or Mozzarella cheese, shredded, optional
1/2 cup grated Parmesan or Romano cheese

Set oven to preheat at 350 degrees F. Cut off ends from each squash. Slice squash into 1/4-inch rounds cross-wise, or 1/4-inch slices starting at the side end of pattypan squash.
Coat bottom of a 9 x 12 baking dish (or close enough in size, any shape, but round dishes make for a prettier presentation) with 2 Tablespoons of butter or oil.
You can use a deep-dish 10-inch pie plate, but remember this produces a lot of juice. So make sure the dish is high enough–a good full inch in height above the squash, to accommodate for the juice.
I didn’t and pulling the pie plate out of the oven was precarious.
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Stewed Tomatoes
Two cups of diced stewed tomatoes
1 teaspoon dried oregano
Scant teaspoon fresh thyme
1 1/2 teaspoons chopped garlic
3/4 teaspoon sea or kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon cracked black pepper
Optional, 1/4 teaspoon each garlic and onion powder
Add all ingredients to bowl, stir to combine and set aside. Proceed with assembly.
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Begin arranging squash starting from the outside and working your way towards the middle of dish until you’ve used all of your squash. Don’t be afraid to re-arrange and slant the squash to fill in large gaps or disperse colors.
Dot with 2 Tablespoons of butter or Drizzle w/ 2 Tablespoons Oil. Cover w/ Stewed Tomatoes mixture.
Bake for 35 minutes, covered with foil. Remove baking dish and check for doneness by pricking with a fork. If you’d like your squash cooked a little longer, recover and bake for an additional 10-15 minutes, but remember it’s going to cook longer once you add the cheese.
Remove baking dish and remove cover. Top with fontina (optional) and/or just parmesan cheese. Return to oven uncovered and bake until cheese melts, approx. 5-10 minutes. You may broil for a minute to brown cheese.

Serve over or as a side. Enjoy!


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All About Tomatoes

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I LOVE growing tomatoes. I don’t have a green thumb. At. all. Mostly because I have commitment issues. So watering, nurturing, paying attention to consistently, etc. …Forget about it.

There are exceptions: tomatoes. When I started attempting my own container garden several years back I planted lots of herbs, bells, jalapenos, cukes and tomatoes. I had some hiccups with the cucumbers, but eventually they all grew wonderfully. Tomatoes were the most rewarding–I found, of all these things to grow.

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They’re also pretty forgiving. I find that the most important quality for a gardening ne’er-do-well like myself. I mean, you can’t totally neglect them. They like exactly what they like and they’re pretty straight forward about their needs: Water. Sun. Not too much, neither too little. I’m cool with that.

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How quickly they grow, that moment they start to ripen, and the amount you get in return for the small effort of making sure these beauties stay hydrated and get just a little love make them by far my favorite thing to grow.

How fortuitous since they’re omnipresent in quite a lot of my meals through October. Not to mention, the flavor of a tomato you grew yourself is other-worldly.

Gorgeous, right?

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We’re nearing the start of the thickest part of the season. That’s when things really get fun! Healthy growing and happy harvest.

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Love, Ree

Chinese Chicken Salad

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When I think about how good a dish is, I usually ask myself : Is this sellable? I mean, if in another life that reoccurring dream I have came true where I open a little café in the country up North–more North than Boston–say, Maine. I’d serve all of my favorite foods and desserts with absolutely no rhyme or reason being offered together on the same menu. Just because they’re what I love, and what I know other people would love, too. Would this be on it? Answer: Yes! Would I buy it? Oh yes. There’s a reason Chinese Chicken Salad is ubiquitous and so popular. It’s salty and vibrant and umami, and… just delicious. I ate this salad three days in a row. On the third day it was my breakfast. You’ll notice that a few of the ingredients are optional. To be honest, the vinaigrette is so killer that spooning just a bit over lettuce, maybe carrot and something crunchy would taste great.


Chinese Chicken Salad 
2 boneless, skinless breast, or 4 boneless, skinless thighs, Organic if you can, pounded so that breast or thigh are even in thickness. 
2 Tablespoons Non-GMO Soy Sauce or Shoyu
1 1/2 teaspoons sesame oil
1 teaspoon sunflower, or Non GMO canola oil
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
 
4 cups romaine lettuce, or a mix of two, torn or chopped (I like romaine and Boston red)
2 carrots, thinly sliced diagonally, or grated
2 celery stalks, thinly sliced diagonally (optional)
1 cup loose packed red or napa  cabbage, thinly shredded
1/2 red bell pepper, thinly sliced
1/2 green bell pepper, thinly sliced
(or 1 whole medium red bell pepper) (optional)
2 scallions, green and white parts, thinly sliced
1/2 cup thinly sliced and fried wontons or chow mein noodles
1/4 cup sliced almonds, toasted. I used whole chopped.
1 ripe avocado, sliced (optional)
1 tablespoon white sesame seeds, lightly toasted
 
In gallon sized Zip bag or bowl, add chicken, soy sauce, sesame and sunflower oil, plus pepper. Allow to marinate refrigerated for 30-45 minutes, turning once or twice.
Prepare salad and vinaigrette while chicken marinates.

Sesame Peanut Vinaigrette
Recipe courtesy Food.com


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1 Tablespoon peanut butter
1/4 cup soy sauce
2 Tablespoons brown sugar
2 Tablespoons lemon juice
2 Tablespoons rice wine vinegar
1 Tablespoon minced fresh ginger
1 Tablespoon minced shallot
1 teaspoon sambal chili paste
1/8 cup sesame oil
1/4 cup sunflower or peanut oil
salt and pepper to taste

Add all ingredients to blender and mix until combined, or whisk medium bowl until combined.
Add all ingredients, except wontons, almonds, avocado and sesame seeds in large bowl. Toss to combine. When chicken is done and salad is ready to be served add almonds,  sliced chicken, wontons and sprinkle with sesame seeds.
Grill chicken on indoor grill, in oven preheated to 450- 475 degrees F. approx. 3 minutes each side, or until juices run clear. Can use outdoor grill alternatively. Do not overcook. Allow to rest for a few minutes before slicing.
I like to dress salad in individual portions as you only need a very little. About a Tablespoon for each serving.
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Classic Shrimp Scampi

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I love tried-and-true recipes. They’ve earned their reputation by being good. And consistent about it. That kind of thing is easy to take for granted, however, it matters. It really matters to me. I spend a lot of time trying new things; things I’d never hear of, from far and wide. I adjust recipes to suit my taste, and revamp those that need…a re-imagining. It’s exciting, rewarding, challenging. If not always successful.  I’ll admit, sometimes it disappoints too. When I want something sure to please: my family, a group of friends, anyone I’d have the pleasure of sharing a meal with, having dishes that are no stress, proven, and always delicious refuel my desire to keep forward–venturing places I’ve yet to go, or have yet to discover because I know that ahead await dishes I’ll look to and rely on to deliver and endure. Always. This is one such recipe.


As is especially the case with a simple dish like this, good ingredients are key. I would avoid that watery and transparent, frozen to near fossilization, and unsustainably farmed “shrimp” you find too readily available, and too inexpensive to make sense. That would defeat the charm of simplicity. I like shrimp that are “meaty.” Being a New England girl, I can tell you that good shrimp have a quality similar to the tail of whole fresh lobster.

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Pizza Montanara Strarita (Fried Pizza w/ Fresh Marinara Sauce)

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When I stumbled upon this recipe on Saveur I was immediately intrigued by the thought of what would result from the sorcery of combining crispy on the outside-chewy on the inside first fried dough topped with fresh tomatoes, basil, chili flakes, and two types of cheese, including the pièce de résistance, deep and complex (also hard to find) smoked mozzarella. Only to be briefly placed in a super hot oven until melty deep golden perfection is achieved. I know. I know. I could barely contain myself either.

I knew that for a pizza that sounded this special I would forgo the same-day crust I’ve been using for years and instead make Peter Reinhart’s Napoletana Pizza Dough Recipe from one of my favorite baking books, ‘The Bread Baker’s Apprentice.’ Whoa! When I tell you that in my haste, choosing convenience over the one or two night refrigeration recommended by any respected pizza chef, I, in fact, deprived myself the experience of ever truly tasting pizza as the gods intended. I mean it. This pizza, in its entirety, is sublime.

Can we talk about ‘The Goonies’? Yes, the never say die classic  every child of the 80’s can still quote lines from. Do you remember the final scene from the movie when *spoiler alert: the kids are rescued, the treasure has been found and Chunk’s mom greets him on the beach with a box of pizza, his favorite. Something he’d waxed poetic about and pined for in a couple of previous scenes in the movie. Such a great film!


Well, ‘The Goonies’ was the featured movie for May at Food ‘n Flix hosted this month by Heather of Girlichef. I was able to catch it on TBS for, I don’t know, maybe the 15th time. This was great choice. It never fails to make me nostalgic, and there are so many awesome ’80’s food references. Food ‘n Flix is a fun club anyone can join in where each month one of the hosts selects a movie to be watched by all the participants and then we make a dish, dessert or drink inspired by the movie. Cool, right? This pizza is my contribution.

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