Pizza Sauce Hack! Skip the marinara and use THIS instead!

Could this title be any more of a cliche click bait? I know, I know. But it really fits. I hate making marinara/pizza sauce and I hate buying it even more.

First, the kind you buy is WAY too sweet to use for anything else but pizza. And if you don’t already have a half opened marinara jar, there is seriously no way you need that much for your one pizza night.

But you still need something under all that cheese and toppings. Many times I make my own garlic, herb, and oil mix. But last night I looked in the fridge and it practically jumped at me singing “Put me in coach!”

Toum, you are perfect.

What is it? The garlic sauce from Zankou Chicken! Known as Toum, this Lebanese garlic sauce is the perfect consistency and flavor for pizza. To be fair, it is perfect for a lot of things and I’m currently obsessing about it.

As the creepy best friend from Love, Actually said so well: “Toum, you are perfect.”

It is garlicky without being too pungent, and it has a smooth mayonnaise consistency. We had some from our local Greek restaurant, but it only has three ingredients (lemon, garlic, and oil) and looks really easy to make.

So, I’ll try to make it soon.

I make homemade pizzas pretty regularly. We’ve even hosted make your own party nights, which are really a blast. I have a fairly specific method for pizza, developed through trial and error. I think my version works because it keeps the pizza from sticking to the cooking surface, and makes transferring the raw pizza slightly more error proof. I can’t wait to have Toum as a topping option at the next one!

Here’s how I do it:

  1. Make pizza dough. I’m not going to lie to you and say I use my own pizza dough recipe. I use Bobby Flay’s dough recipe, which I chose because it makes sense and is fairly easy to pull together, even the night before you want to make the pizzas. Just let it sit in the fridge covered over night and take it out about 1/2 hour before you are ready to turn on the oven. Otherwise, follow the instructions in the link.
  2. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface. I often use grilling mats because they resist sticking. Shape the dough into a round ball and sprinkle the top with more flour. Then cover with a clean tea towel and let sit for 30 minutes.
  3. Gather your toppings. For this pizza I used Toum, mozzarella, parmesan, mushrooms, and jarred roasted red peppers.
  4. Turn the oven on to 425F (I use a pizza stone– if you do too, be sure the stone is in the oven to preheat as well.) A very hot oven and cooking surface is important to pizza— preheating is crucial.
  5. Uncover the dough and start to push and stretch it into a roundish, flat shape. Mine usually end up being rather square-like.
  6. If you have a pizza tray or board you can transfer the dough (with a grilling mat or parchment paper underneath the dough) to that before you start adding the toppings. If not, a clean cutting board works. This makes it easier to move the pizza to the oven later.
  7. Add your toppings, starting with Toum. Using the back of a spoon, spread the sauce around the dough, from edge to edge. Follow with a thin layer of cheese, any other toppings, and another thin layer of cheese.
  8. Transfer the pizza to the oven with the grilling mat or parchment paper to prevent sticking. Check out my masterful (snerk) pizza slide video:

9. Let the pizza cook for about 20 minutes, checking in after about 15 minutes. Try not to open the oven for the first 10 minutes.

Here are some glamor shots before and after:

10. Eat pizza.

Going Low Carb? Try These Stuffed Zucchini Boat Babies

I had gestational diabetes when I was pregnant with my daughter last year. So I got pretty good at developing meals that were delicious and could satisfy both my hungry husband and my increasingly picky son.

Incidentally, it was pretty irritating that for the 6 months we ate for my dietary plan, my husband lost the teeny tiny beer belly he had been developing. He got ripped. I stayed the same weight, which was actually the right thing for me (I mean, I was growing a wee human). But still. It is sooooo unfair.

In any case, I have since fallen off the low carb wagon, and have been feeling the need to get back on again. I felt pretty good and healthy, with lots of energy. I also know it is the diet I should be following at least 80% of the time.

For the record, I did NOT do Keto. I do not think keto is a healthy way to live. But I did focus on eating (A LOT) more salads and replacing high sugar/high carb snacks with nuts, veggies, and yogurt.

I also cut out bread– but added in quite a few mournful and angry fist shakes.

But I digress. Here is the recipe:
4 zucchini squashes halved and cored
1 lb ground beef or sweet Italian sausage
1/2 onion chopped small
2-3 garlic cloves chopped
1 package of button or porcini mushrooms chopped

1/2 can tomato sauce
1 tablespoon of white wine vinegar
1/4 cup parmesan cheese
Fresh torn basil (for garnish)

To prep the zucchini, simply cut them lengthwise down the middle and use a spoon to scrape out the softer inner portion of the squash. Leave enough flesh on the squash to ensure the boats don’t collapse in the oven. Save the inner portions the stuffing mixture.

If you are paying attention, you’ll notice that I’m only using 3 zucchinis in this recipe, although I called for 4. I had 4 but they were from Trader Joe’s, which means that one went bad before I was able to cook it. I love TJ’s but you all know the produce has a time limit: Don’t buy any of it unless you are planning to use it within three days.

Turn the oven to 400F.

In a large skillet, over medium high heat brown the meat and add the veggies, giving everything a good seasoning with salt and pepper. Give the onions 5-10 minutes in the pan to soften and become translucent. Then stir in the tomato sauce and vinegar and let simmer on low for a few minutes. This should be rather thick, but if it is a little soupy, just let the sauce reduce.

In the meantime, rub a little olive oil on the zucchinis and lightly season them with salt. Place them open side up on a lined baking sheet.

Fill the boats with the mixture and top with parmesan cheese. Put them in the oven for 20 minutes. As soon as they come out of the oven, sprinkle the fresh basil over the top and serve.

Rainbow acrylic pour, with a surprise (for me) at the end!

Well, it seems I’m cursed. This is the third video I’ve made and although the first came out, the second had to be deleted. This one I decided to keep, even though the end product had a wee little surprise for me.

It was so pretty!

Check out the video and let me know what you think! Should I keep doing these?

Spoiler alert, we are pretty sure it wasn’t kiddo. It must have been a fly or some other insect in the garage that skated its way across the wet painting…

Live and learn.

Get well soon chicken soup

We’ve been ravaged by illness this week… some type of 24 hour bug that involves high fever and makes it hard to keep food down. When that happens, I make chicken soup.

Soup is the original one pan one process dish. It is really easy, although when you don’t feel good, it might seem like an insurmountable task. Trust me, the result is highly worth it. The science is with me on the benefits of chicken soup.

My recipe isn’t complex, but it does contain many powerhouse ingredients that can strengthen the immune system, including chicken, garlic, ginger, honey, cabbage, and spinach, plus a generous amount of fresh herbs.

First off, wipe off every door and toilet handle with a good cleanser. Wash your hands really well. Then get out your ingredients.

Boneless, skinless chicken thighs or breast
1/2 onion
5 cloves garlic
1 tablespoon fresh ginger
3 carrots
1/4 head of green cabbage, sliced thin
1 1/2 cups of any other fresh, canned, or frozen veggies you happen have (celery, broccoli, spinach, peas, corn, water chestnuts, etc)
5-8 cups of water
1 tbs soy sauce
1 tbs honey
A handful of fresh or frozen herbs of your choice (parsley, basil, mint or cilantro tend to work best).
1 cup of small pasta or wild rice.
Salt and pepper

Chop the onion fine and grate the ginger and garlic. In a large dutch oven or similar pot, put chicken and onions with some salt, pepper, and paprika, together and let them cook over high heat. You are looking for a caramel color (deep but not quite burned) on the meat. Be patient. This is where a lot of flavor comes from since we are not using chicken broth.

Add the garlic and ginger, soy sauce, honey and water. Start with 5 cups of water and add as much as you desire for your soup. Let the soup simmer for 20 minutes. Add any and all of pasta or rice and the veggies except delicate veggies (e.g., spinach, frozen peas) and continue to simmer for 10-15 minutes.

Turn off the heat and add any additional veggies and the herbs. Stir and season to taste.

Get Salty. Three Tips to Achieve Perfectly Seasoned Food

Who’s feeling salty today?

When cooking, you might find yourself adding far more salt that you think you should. Don’t worry. You will still not be adding as much sodium as what is found in prepackaged foods. But go slow when adding salt and season multiple times during cooking.

Tip 1. Know Your Salt

As Samin Nosrat notes in her phenomenal book, Salt Fat Acid Heat, Mastering the Elements of Good Cooking, the saltiness of salt can vary depending on the structure and the size of the crystals.

The key is to know your salt. If you use fine sea salt (very salty), go easy. If you use Diamond Crystal (the least salty salt) you can add quite a bit. Taste your salt and adjust your recipes accordingly.

Tip 2. Salt Strategically

Follow this basic plan of when to salt your food as you cook:

Salt 1- Initially season the meats and early veggies. I generally use a large crystal salt for this step. For example, I’ve found about 1 teaspoon of Morton’s kosher salt for 1 lb of meat or main protein source is about right. I might also use a salted spice blend, e.g., Trader Joe’s African smoke. If so, I will cut back on regular salt.

Salt 2- At some point in the middle of cooking you’ll add salt again. This is usually an alternative source of salt (aka, one with MSG). Soy sauce, a parmesan end, fish sauce, etc. This source will deepen the flavor and add additional notes.

Salt 3- The final tasting. Stir it all up and grab a spoon to taste it. Season your food, stir it and taste again. Here is where you might want to go with finer ground salt so it incorporates more quickly (See tip 3).

Salt 4 (optional)- The finishing salt. I tend to think of this as the “at the table salt” an individual person might apply. However, there are lots of finishing salts to apply after a dish is served if you are feeling fancy. These are rather crunchy because the texture is part of the experience.

Tip 3. Be Patient

Whenever you are seasoning be sure to stir the food and give the salt a few moments to distribute. Keep tasting after you season and add a little bit at a time. If you need to give your taste buds a break, drink some water and relax.

What to do if you over salt?

It has been a long time since I over salted. The method described above helps a lot. But it does happen. In fact, after I read Nosrat’s book, I started experimenting with my salt sources and ended up with some puckered dry-mouth meals (sorry, family).

Although I think it is better to leave something slightly under salted, if you do happen to go over board there are a few (limited) ways to rescue a dish:

  • Add potatoes. Yeah these babies can take a lot. They can soak up some salt and help redistribute the dish. This is an easy fix for soups or casseroles.
  • Add grated carrot. I use this to revive coleslaw, soups, and even tomato sauce that has gone too far into the dead sea.
  • Add sugar. Sugar balances salt like nothing else. Of course, it might not work for all applications. However, you would be surprised how sugar enhances savory dishes.

Happy salting you salty MFers!

Acrylic pouring! My first video

Hey, check out my newest fun thing to do. This time I set up the camera.

What do you think? Now that the piece is dry, I don’t love it… the colors are a bit too muddy. I guess I should have guessed that when using gray. I might do it again. I will not let this canvas defeat me!

Also, here is another small piece I did with teal, red, purple, and gold. You can see, I do know what I’m doing: