Sunday, August 23, 2020

Giada's Positano Pizzas {Dreaming of the Amalfi Coast}

In my dreams, I'm walking under a canopy of lemon trees overlooking the Tyrrhenian Sea on the Amalfi Coast. Breathtaking terrain, dramatic coastline, terraced vineyards, orchards, and enchanting views of vibrant water, all things I long to see one day.

In another dream, Italian music plays in the background as I sit on a terrace surrounded by flowers, limoncello in one hand and pizza in the other, looking out at the sea as the ships come and go. Paradise.

Good things come to those who wait, so in the meantime, I will enjoy Giada's cute little Positano Pizzas at home in Georgetown, KY (a very far cry from Positano).

Pizza dough cut into hearts and briefly baked before being sliced in half horizontally, stuffed with roasted tomatoes tossed with pesto, and smothered between fresh mozzarella and Parmigiano-Reggiano. These pizzas are delightfully cute, very light, and quite delicious.

The heart shape wins me over, but I have to say I'm quite fond of cutting the pizza dough into various shapes and think this would be a great activity to do with kids while we're all being safe at home. Choose any shape, any cookie cutter, bake up the shapes briefly, slice in half horizontally, then fill with your favorite pizza toppings, brush the tops with oil and herbs and bake up for a few, then enjoy! A little happiness for everyone!

Positano Pizzas
Adapted from Giada In Italy
by Giada De Laurentiis
Serves 6

1 (16-ounce) ball of store-bought pizza dough
 pint cherry tomatoes
3 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 garlic cloves, smashed and peeled
2 fresh basil sprigs
all-purpose flour, for dusting
1/2 cup freshly grated mozzarella cheese
1/2 cup fresh grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano

Place the pizza dough in a lightly oiled bowl, cover with a towel, and allow it to rest in a warm place for at least 1 hour. Preheat oven to 375F. (I placed the dough in a covered bowl on top of the oven).

Pierce each tomato with the tip of a paring knife. On a small rimmed baking sheet, combine the tomatoes, olive oil, salt, garlic, and basil. Toss to coat and roast for 30 minutes, or until the tomatoes are beginning to blister. Set aside to cool. (I had leftover basil pesto so instead of tossing my tomatoes in the mixture here I used a couple tablespoons of pesto). 

Raise the oven temperature to 425F.

On a lightly floured board, use a rolling pin to roll out the pizza dough to a 1/4" thickness. Using a cookie cutter or the tip of a sharp knife, cut out six 5-inch hearts and place them on a rimmed baking sheet. Bake the hearts for about 12 minutes, or until lightly puffed and beginning to brown. Remove from the oven and cool slightly. Split the hearts in half horizontally, as if you were making a sandwich. Divide the mozzarella and tomatoes over the bottom halves and sprinkle evenly with the Parmigiano-Reggiano. Replace the tops and brush with extra-virgin olive oil. Sprinkle each heart with oregano. 

Bake for 5 minutes, or until the cheese is melted and the tops are golden. Serve warm, drizzled with more extra-virgin olive oil, if desired.

Sunday, August 16, 2020

Curtis Stone's Pesto

I grew up in the 80's and early 90's in small blue-collar town called Elyria, Ohio (just about 20 or so miles south of Cleveland). It sounds cliche, but life was simpler then. It really truly was.

When you got to be a junior or senior in high school, and it was time for Homecoming or Prom, you went to the Spitzer Plaza Hotel for dinner beforehand. Back then the Spitzer was about the ONLY fine dining establishment around, and you had to drive out to the lake which was about a half hour to get there. Now this is a BIG DEAL because as I mentioned, life was simpler and NO ONE drove half an hour to eat anywhere in those days.

My friends and I would get real dressed up for our big date. Again, times were simpler. We didn't get our nails done. We didn't get our hair done. We didn't get our makeup done. But, we did do it ourselves and we were happy with that. We didn't know any different. We'd wear our fancy gowns, we always had fancy gloves up to our elbows, gaudy rhinestone jewelry, shoes dyed some neon color to match our dresses, and we were SET. Let me tell ya...we thought we were something else. We were like movie stars going to eat at a fancy restaurant.

I can still remember the first time I walked into the restaurant. I'll never forget all the blue velvet and  also never forget that this was the first time I ever heard of pesto. None of us knew what the Pasta Pesto was, but we figured pasta was the safest bet so we ALL ordered it!

When the pasta came out and it was green we were surprised and interested. What was this dish sitting before us so different than anything else we'd had before? It felt so exclusive and fancy with the freshly grated Parmesan on top. Funny enough, I don't remember if any of us really liked it, but I DO remember that we all had a blast living it up drinking our Shirley Temples and eating our Pasta Pesto. Those were the days. No worries. No responsibilities.

Fast forward about 30 years and I'm making pesto in my own kitchen with ingredients that I always have on hand and basil that I grew in my bourbon barrel out back.

Pesto is no longer a specialty ingredient and times, well....they are certainly no longer simple. 

I have tried lots of different pesto recipes over the years and this one is my all-time favorite. The pesto turned out perfectly balanced. THIS IS THE PESTO RECIPE!

Adapted from Parade Magazine
by Curtis Stone
Makes about 1 cup

2 garlic cloves
salt, to taste
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
2 cups fresh basil leaves, lightly packed
1/4 cup pine nuts, toasted
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1/3 to 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil, plus more to cover the pesto

Note: I had SO MUCH fresh basil so I used 2 cups basil in place of 1-1/2 cups like the recipe was written. Because I used more basil I also used more oil, 1/2 cups per batch. Traditional basil pesto is made in a mortar and pestle and that is how Curtis makes his. Directions for both the mortar and pestle and food processor are below.

To make the pesto in a mortar and pestle: Mash the garlic, salt and red pepper flakes into a coarse paste. Ad 1 cup of the basil and pound until it is coarsely ground. Add the remaining 1/2 cup basil and pound until a coarse puree forms. Add the pine nuts and pound just to break them up. Add the Parmesan cheese and olive oil and mash until the nuts are coarsely ground and the mixture is well blended.

To make the pesto in a food processor: Pulse the pine nuts, garlic, sald and red pepper flakes together until the nuts and garlic are finely chopped. Add the basil and Parmesan cheese and pulse about 10 times to chop the basil. With the machine running, gradually pour in the olive oil.

Transfer the pesto to a container and float a thin layer of olive oil on top. Cover and keep refrigerated, but bring to room temperature before using.

Pickled @ IHCC

Sunday, August 9, 2020

Rick Bayless' "Emergency" Black Bean Tacos {Perfect for Busy Weeknights}

I have been feeling very overwhelmed lately thinking about the upcoming school year and the fact that we are having "in-person" classes. I am so worried about my co-workers and the kids and I'm trying my best to be optimistic, but I know the odds are that someone will end up with the virus. Don't get me wrong, I want to go back to school. I want to see the kids. I want to have class, but it keeps me up at night. I am really hoping that someone calls it soon and we end up doing 100% virtual. With cases spiking it is really the safest option.

In addition to worrying about going back "in-person" we lost a few people to budget cuts which means a new position for me. I will no longer be teaching reading intervention, which is my passion. Instead, I will now be teach math intervention, which is going to be a challenge for me as math is not my favorite. I know it will all work out okay, but everything is going to be so new and different.

I'm not embarrassed to say that I'm struggling. In fact, I think we should admit these things more often. Everyone struggles and no one should feel alone in their struggle. I allowed myself to take a break last week, but I forced myself to get it together this week for a post. I bought myself some cute little taco stands (the link is here and there are wonderful, two-sided with options to hold either two or three tacos, depending on the side you chose- not afilliated) and searched high and low for the simplest of taco recipes. Let me tell you, I found the very simplest of taco recipes and you should give it a try.

 Rick Bayless' "Emergency" Black Bean Tacos are perfect for a weeknight when you are feeling tired and overwhelmed with everything. Simply saute some black beans in bacon grease, or oil, with a little garlic, warm up some corn tortillas, and whip up a super Avocado-Tomatillo Salsa in the blender. You've got a really quick and delicious dinner that would pair very well with a frosty margarita.

This is another economical meat-free option for your pandemic pantry. Food prices continue to be astronomical where I am, with meat prices absolutely sky-rocketing. While I have been cooking a number of things, I don't feel right sharing the bacon-wrapped pork loin I made a couple nights ago, so I'm trying to share things that anyone and everyone could make right now. These tacos are a perfect example of that.

Emergency Black Bean Tacos

Adapted from Rick Bayless Website

by Rick Bayless

Serves 4


2 tablespoons bacon grease

2 garlic cloves, peeled and minced

1 can black beans

2 tablespoons crumbled feta or Mexican cheese

1 cup Avocado-Tomatillo Salsa (see below)

cilantro, for garnish

corn tortillas, in a warmer


For the Tacos: Place the bacon grease in the bottom of a large sauce pan over medium heat. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds, then add in the black beans. Using a potato masher, mash the beans into a coarse texture and cook for 5-7 minutes. 

 Meanwhile make the avocado-tomatillo salsa. Scoop the beans into a warm corn tortilla and garnish with cheese, salsa, and cilantro.

To make the salsa: Blend 3 chopped tomatillos, 1 chopped jalapeno, 2 cloves garlic, 1 handful cilantro, and one half of an avocado until smooth.