Although pizza dough is considered a permanent resident in our house, there really are times when the craving for pizza hits before I have a chance to get some dough made up.  But in these moments fraught with potential distress and grief, I am not deterred.  No, if it's pizza we are wanting, it is pizza we will have.  Which is to say, I make pizzadilla.  Which probably isn't technically considered an actual pizza.  Is it?  No matter, it's a remarkably good stand-in when you want pizza and your dough coffers are empty.

So what the heck is a pizzadilla, you ask?  It's probably pretty much what you're imagining, because yes, there are flour tortillas involved.  Specifically, according to Mr. Lopez-Alt over at Serious Eats, a pizzadilla is "what happens when a pizza and a quesadilla meet down in the van by the river for a little late night action: Cheesy, greasy, crisp-edged glory."  :-)  And it's a perfectly apt description of our proxy pizza.  

I know you're wondering what the heck we're talking about, so here's how to make your very own pizzadilla.  We start with a large cast iron skillet that we'll heat up and then set over a low flame. (I have a round cast iron griddle that works great for this too).  Into that we'll place a large flour tortilla.  Then we're going to schmear a little pizza sauce on top...

... and then sprinkle that with some grated mozzarella cheese and a little parmesan, then place another flour tortilla on top (thus the quesadilla reference).  After that cooks for a minute, it gets flipped and basically, there's your pizza crust.  Stuffed with cheese and sauce.  I know.

To that we're going to add a little more sauce, cheese, and the toppings of your choice and stick the whole thing under the broiler to get all bubbly, brown and melty...

Then just slide it out, sprinkle with a little more parmesan (I forgot that part in the photo), slice, and prepare to be amazed by how good our not-pizza is.  Here's our sausage and olive one...

Of course, a traditional, dough-laden pizza is and always will be our first choice, but in a pinch, consider yourselves armed and ready to make pizza at a moment's notice.   Which is a very good reason to keep those flour tortillas on hand.  Here's the recipe...


Click here for a printable recipe

Recipe courtesy of Serious Eats

Pizzadillas are a fun, easy and delicious way to create a pizza on the fly.  A cross between a quesadilla and a pizza, it requires no dough and can be made in minutes.  The downside is that if it sits too long after cooking, the bottom will lose it’s crispness, but a few minutes on a hot griddle will crisp it right up again.  Actually, we didn’t mind the soft crust one bit.

For each pizza:

1/2 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil
2 large flour tortillas that just fit inside your cast iron skillet
3/4 cup store-bought or homemade pizza sauce
5 ounces shredded whole milk low moisture mozzarella cheese
2 ounces grated Parmesan cheese, divided
Additional toppings, as desired

Adjust oven rack to 6 to 8 inches below broiler element and preheat broiler to high. Heat oil in a large cast iron skillet over high heat until shimmering. Reduce heat to low and wipe out excess oil with a paper towel.

Place tortilla in skillet with the rougher textured-side facing down. Spread half of sauce evenly over tortilla all the way to the edges. Spread half of mozzarella evenly over tortilla all the way to the edges. Place second tortilla on top. Cook, swirling pan occasionally, until crisp on the bottom, about 3 minutes. Carefully flip with a large spatula.

Spread remaining sauce evenly over tortilla all the way to the edges. Spread remaining mozzarella and half of Parmesan evenly over tortilla all the way to the edges. Scatter with basil, if you like, and add toppings as desired.

Place skillet under broiler and broil until cheese is melted and starting to brown in spots, 2 to 4 minutes. Remove from oven and sprinkle with remaining Parmesan. 

Using a small metal spatula, gently pry edges of pizza, releasing the cheese from the skillet. Peek under bottom. If more crispness is desired, place skillet over medium-heat and cook, swirling pizza and peeking occasionally, until desired crispness is achieved. Slide pizza out onto a cutting board. Cut and serve immediately.

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Celebrate Me Home...

After 2 1/2 weeks at the Circle B Kitchen Western Headquarters, we landed on home turf just after 11 pm. Tuesday.  Our flight was peopled with weary travelers, most of whom seemed to be returning from summer vacations in possibly exotic locales (I suppose that just about anyplace that's not Omaha might feel exotic).  But the vibe was palpable.

(breath-taking view of San Simeon Cove; One of our favorite beach walks)

Across the aisle was a suntanned family that we guessed was returning from Hawaii...two sets of parents, 4 or 5 kids and a set of grandparents.  The youngest child was so over the whole traveling thing and cried his way onto the plane, complaining about leaving vacation.  He slept for part of the trip and then cried all the way off because he had to leave the plane.  The parents handled it all with grace and patience, but there's really only so far that vacation energy can take you when it's all over.

Sitting next to me was a young woman who had been studying in France, vacationing in Barcelona and returning home to start her next life chapter which, of course, we hope will be as exciting as the previous.  Her exhausted eyes hinted that her return might signal that perhaps life was about to get more real.

And then there was the little girl in front of us who, as we were landing, could not for one second control her joy that she was HOME!!  Her voice carried through the plane and brought smiles to our faces as we recognized how precious that feeling really is.

Our own feelings about returning fell probably somewhere between the crying boy and the squealing toddler.  We were feeling the sadness of leaving vacation and our cozy little place on the Central Coast in almost equal measure to the joy of returning home.  And as often is the case, my thoughts turned to food, and how our first meal when we return home has traditionally been chosen to welcome ourselves home and to match the parallel moods of consolation and celebration.  Since returning home from vacation is a fairly common experience this time of year, I thought I'd let you in on how we have been doing it for lo these many years.

Traditionally, the meal that celebrated our return home would most often be a simple pasta dish of spaghetti with marinara sauce.  I would make the sauce before we left and stash it in the freezer along with plenty of grated parmesan cheese.  Sometimes we'd come home to pasta #5 which we named thusly so we could identify our favorite penne pasta with an herby tomato sauce.  

But perhaps the most iconic of all comfort foods for me was a pasta dish that I made as the kids were growing up that we just called "Mostaccioli".  Mostaccioli is a pasta shape similar to penne, only a little larger and a little harder to find here in the Midwest, but by happy coincidence, I found some yesterday and last night we celebrated our homecoming and simultaneously consoled ourselves with Mostaccioli pasta.  

Now, the whole idea of a homecoming meal is that it should be easy.  As in no recipes, no fussiness, just a fun way to really feel the truth of being home with familiar and comforting ingredients, tastes and aromas.  And that perfectly describes our Mostaccioli, which consists of just 4 ingredients... Italian sausage, marinara sauce, pasta and cheese.

You could very easily use your favorite jarred pasta sauce here, but making marinara sauce is in some bizarre way very relaxing and sort of grounding for me, so I usually start by making some sauce. Then just brown a pound of bulk Italian sausage in the pan.   Once that's pretty much cooked through, add 2-3 cups of marinara sauce and stir all of that together, letting it simmer while you cook your pasta... one pound of any pasta shape will do here, but we're partial to the short shapes, i.e., mostaccioli.

Once your pasta is cooked, add it to your pan with the sauce and maybe just a little of the pasta cooking water.  Stir that all together and then add 2 good handfuls of mozzarella chunks.  I use whatever mozzarella I have on hand (not grated), and sometimes I just cut up about 5 sticks of string cheese.  Stir that in, heat it all through until the cheese starts to get melty, top it with a little grated parmesan and consider yourself officially welcomed home.

Marinated Zucchini Salad with Olives and Fresh Mozzarella

I'm pretty stoked to report that this post is being sent directly from the Western Headquarters of the Circle B Kitchen.  Which is to say, we're snuggled into our little place here on the Central Coast of California for a couple of weeks.  This time we brought our daughter and 4 of our spectacularly wondrous grandkids (ages 11 to 19).  I don't think it's even possible to describe how much fun we've been having here with them, so I won't even give that a try.  Suffice to say it has been epic.

But their week here is over, they've all flown back home now and the quiet that has settled in their wake is a bit unnerving.  But not in a completely bad way.  We can actually hear the ocean once again, and as much as we miss those monkeys, this is nice too.

And the recipe I'm sharing with you today has nothing whatsoever to do with any of that.  

It's something I made a whole bunch of times before we left home, and every time we were surprised by how good it was.  Just a few simple ingredients... zucchini, fresh mozzarella, kalamata olives and a little lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper, but it's definitely one of those instances where the end result is much better than the sum of its parts.  Or something like that.  Put more succinctly, the experience of this salad seems way better than it should be.

We're talking very thin slices of zucchini which are marinated in olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper.  This on its own was startlingly good, but the addition of the mozzarella and olives made it even more tasty.  There's something about those super thin slices of marinated zucchini...

I used baby zucchini from Trader Joe's, but any zucchini or summer squash will do.

If you don't have a mandoline, just use a vegetable peeler, but if you wanted to use your spiralizer and make zoodles, nobody here's gonna complain.

You can marinate the zucchini for days in the fridge and it only gets better.  When you're ready to serve it, just sprinkle it with olives and chunks of fresh mozzarella and you've got yourself a wondrous side salad for your next barbecue or picnic.  It would also make a great lunch for the office.  I mostly keep a fork handy for diving in whenever the fridge door is open.  Here's the recipe...

Marinated Zucchini Salad with Olives and Fresh Mozzarella

Click here for a printable recipe

We were surprised at how scrumptious this salad turned out to be.  The flavors and textures are spot on and make the perfect summer side dish.  One of the beauties of this salad is that you can prepare the zucchini days in advance - it only gets better the longer it marinates.  Just stir in the cheese and olives just before serving.  I used baby zucchini from Trader Joe's and they were the perfect size for a salad.  I recommend you use the smallest squash you can find and if need be, slice them in half or quarters lengthwise before running them through the mandoline.  I only had a ball of fresh mozzarella on hand, but can imagine how delicious it would be with the buffalo mozzarella.  Enjoy!

Reciped Adapted from Food52

4 medium yellow or green zucchini
Juice of one lemon (about 3 tablespoons)
2 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 balls buffalo mozzarella (I used standard fresh mozzarella)
16 kalamata olives, pitted and halved
Fresh basil and oregano leaves (cilantro and mint work well, too), finely chopped

Cut the zucchini into ribbons with a mandoline or a vegetable peeler. Put them in a bowl and add the lemon juice, olive oil, and salt and pepper to taste. Stir well. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.

Cut the mozzarella into small pieces and add them, the olives, and the chopped herbs to the chilled zucchini. Taste for salt and pepper.  Stir well and serve!

Banana Breakfast Crumb Cake

We've all been there; that bowl of ripe bananas on the counter getting riper by the minute.  You can hear the clock ticking... any moment now those babies are going south; brown and shmushy being their inevitable fate.  But you have a few options available to prevent the ultimate horror of over-ripeness.  Firstly, you could pop them in the fridge which really does slow down the ripening process.  It also turns the skins a very dark brown, but the banana itself will still be good for several days longer.  

Or you might pull out a loaf pan and get some banana bread made pronto, or you could throw em in the blender and make smoothies for everyone, or you could also slice em up and throw em in the freezer to be used at a later date for ice cream or future smoothies.

But then you could maybe do what I did and make yourself an incredibly delicious banana breakfast cake.  There are no bad options in that list of possible banana uses, but this breakfast cake was a revelation... moist, flavorful and just the right amount of crunch with that crumb topping.  Such a lovely way to accompany one's coffee first thing in the morning, and a very happy way to start the day.

Those of you who have been reading this blog for any amount of time know that I'm not much for extended cooking projects first thing in the morning (not that this is all that difficult, but it does require one to be fairly awake and conscious for most of the steps).   You will be happy to hear that I made this the day before and warmed some up for our breakfast.  And it was perfect. Because it's so moist, it keeps very well on the counter overnight (tightly covered) and for several days (or longer) in the fridge.  It doesn't even need to be warmed, but it was ever so good that way.

And, by the way, it's not just the cooking that I resist first thing in the morning, there's also this...

Best to not have to face this before at least 2 cups of coffee, right?  If you're like me and happen to be cooking-averse before 10 a.m., another option might be to mix the cake ingredients and the crumb topping separately the night before, stash them in the fridge and assemble and bake the next morning. Can't think of too many things better than waking up to the aromas of banana cake baking in the oven.  Except possibly the blissfully divine experience of nibbling on a piece of said cake with one's morning coffee.   Here's the recipe...

Banana Breakfast Crumb Cake

Click here for a printable recipe

Recipe courtesy of Relish Magazine

As I mentioned in the blog post, this is fairly simple to put together, but you can easily make and bake this the day before.  It keeps beautifully on the counter overnight or in the fridge for longer.  You could also make the cake and topping separately, stash them in the fridge overnight and then assemble and bake the next morning.  However you choose to put this together, you will be well rewarded.

1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
6 tablespoons cold unsalted butter
1/2 cup finely chopped walnuts

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
2/3 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup mashed very ripe bananas (I used a little more than this)
1/3 cup 2 percent low-fat milk

Preheat oven to 350F. Coat a 9-inch-square baking pan with cooking spray.

For topping, combine flour, brown sugar, cinnamon and butter in a food processor and process until mixture resembles fine crumbs. Stir in walnuts.

For cake, combine flour, baking soda, baking powder, nutmeg and salt in a medium bowl.

Beat butter with a mixer at medium speed about 30 seconds or until smooth. Gradually add sugar and beat 3 to 4 minutes or until fluffy. Add eggs 1 at a time, beating well after each. Add vanilla and bananas and beat until well blended. Add flour mixture alternately with milk, mixing after each addition only until smooth. Pour batter into prepared pan; sprinkle with topping.

Bake about 35 to 45 minutes, until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. (Mine needed about 40 minutes).  Cool in pan on a wire rack. Serve warm or at room temperature.

The cake can be covered tightly and stored on the counter overnight and reheated in a low oven (300-325 degrees) to crisp the topping.  It will also keep for several days (or longer) in the fridge.

Avocado Hummus

This is an outstandingly delicious hummus dip that we probably shouldn't even be calling hummus.  The hummus police tend to be sticklers when it comes to what sorts of ingredients go into their traditional chickpea dip, and I knowingly risk the ire of those folks by daring to mention hummus and avocado in the same breath.

But we're accustomed to living dangerously here in the Circle B Kitchen, and if avocado makes hummus just that much more luscious, then we're in.  Hummus purists might want to give this one a taste before judging; we could have a few converts.

The recipe comes to us via the good folks at Food and Wine magazine.  It was delicious exactly as they made it, but I couldn't help messing with it just a bit.  Of course, I added a bit more tahini, because Tahini!  I also cut back on the amount of olive oil, but we loved that drizzle on top.  I also added a few toasted pine nuts at the finish for some crunch and texture.  Mmmmmm.

And if you're a card-carrying member of the hummus police (we know you're out there), we're fine if you prefer to call this "avocado chickpea dip".  It's still gonna taste awesome.  Here's the recipe...

Avocado Hummus

This is such a deliciously luscious version of traditional chickpea hummus.  We loved the silky texture and lovely flavors that avocado brings to the party.  I added a little more tahini and less olive oil than the original recipe below, and I also added toasted pine nuts to finish the dish.  Good stuff.

Click here for a printable recipe

Recipe adapted Food and Wine magazine

2 medium Hass avocados, peeled and roughly chopped
One 15-ounce can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
1 1/2 tablespoons tahini sesame paste (I added closer to 2 tablespoons)
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling (I only used between 1/4 and 1/3 cup)
Kosher salt
Freshly ground pepper
1/4 cup toasted pine nuts
Assorted crudités, pita chips, crackers, bread or tortilla chips for serving

In a food processor, puree the avocados with the chickpeas, lemon juice and tahini. Add the 1/2 cup of oil and puree until smooth; season with salt and pepper. Transfer the dip to a bowl, drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with freshly cracked pepper and toasted pine nuts.

Serve with crudites, crackers, bread or chips.

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