No-cook pizza sauce

Aren’t you always hoping to discover a secret shortcut? A step that can be skipped, with zero consequences?

When it comes to cooking, shortcuts aren’t always a boon. Skip marinating your chicken long enough and you miss out on flavor and tenderness. Throw entire eggs into your waffle batter, instead of separating them and whipping the whites to fold in later, and you compromise fluffiness.

But forgo simmering pizza sauce before putting it on homemade pizza*, and nobody will be the wiser. In fact, you’ll be rewarded, not punished, with bright tomato flavor.

I learned this from Saveur, in those back-of-the-book pages where they sneak in some awfully helpful kitchen tips. Dump a 28-oz. can of whole tomatoes into a blender (diced or crushed are fine, it’s just that whole canned tomatoes retain more of that fresh flavor). Add a couple cloves of garlic and some herbs — a handful of fresh basil along with a scatter of dried oregano, perhaps. Salt and pepper the thing, and maybe sprinkle on some red pepper flakes.


That’s it. The sauce cooks when you cook your pizza, and you’ve saved yourself the cleaning of one pan along with some precious minutes you would have spent watching it simmer.

*Have a favorite dough? Tell us about it here!

If you’re not yet a homemade pizza convert, here are some dough resources to get you started:

My hands-down favorite from Peter Reinhart.

Easy with a twist, from King Arthur Flour.

Mark Bittman‘s recipe

But in the spirit of shortcuts, there’s always the ready-made dough from Trader Joe’s. It’s marvelously easy to work with, and I always keep an extra or two in my freezer for times when I’m not able to make it from scratch.



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Preserving lemons, preserving self

[Recipe: Preserved Lemons]

We humans are a little bent on preservation. Think about it: We preserve everything in sight, from the natural (coral reefs) to the man-made (buildings) to the personal (moments and experiences, captured on camera).

I even take great pains to preserve my children in their various stages, their words immortalized around the house on paper scraps. (My latest jotting is a quote the other night from Emmie: “Mom, I want you to still tuck me in and kiss me good night when I’m 17. Will you promise me you will, even if then I don’t want you to?”)

Naturally, we even preserve food: raspberries at the height of sweetness to be spread on toast; the freshest cod for later, when fresh cod isn’t an option; pickled anything because we have a thing for that pickled flavor.

People have been preserving food forever and why? Because preserving food means preserving life, preserving self — delaying the inevitable in times of scarcity.

There are a couple definitions of “preserve” that I like in particular: 1) protecting something from loss (because who in their right mind wants to lose fresh raspberries?) and 2) saving organic substances from decay.

So in the spirit of use it or lose it, I’ve preserved a nice batch of lemons. I don’t want to lose a single bright, precious piece of citrus to decay, so I’m dousing them in an awful lot of salt and lemon juice and sealing them up tight in a jar with a few peppercorns.

Those simple steps mean that three weeks from now, the lemons will still be useful to me. They won’t get dumped in the bin or tossed in the wash behind my house to become a midnight snack for some javelinas.

What to do with preserved lemons? I love dicing the peel (after rinsing it first) and adding it to quinoa or couscous dishes. I’ve heard they’re good thrown in with a roasting chicken and a must-have in tagine, or any Moroccan dish for that matter (hence, their affinity for couscous). The juice is useful, too. The best thing about preserved lemons — besides that they’re easy to make — is that they add a surprise tart and salty punch to any dish.

This recipe is the one I’ve just used, but in the past I’ve used Mark Bittman’s recipe. His uses more spices than just peppercorns, so be sure to experiment, adding to your jar a few cloves and coriander seeds, for example.


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I’m no meat eater. But hearing Nigella Lawson wax on about eating Irish lamb stew almost makes me wonder if I’m missing some essential aspect of the human experience:

“I mean it doesn’t make for dainty eating. But it’s such sort of wonderful robust, sort of rapturously robust stew, really, that I think it’s okay to take out each little chop as you eat it, and gnaw away and fling the bones away into the fireplace.”

Rather, this is what an evening of delectably messy protein looks like to us: fish fingers produced by Emmie over spring break on her night to cook. Soy sauce dribbles indelicately over our chins and we lick errant sesame seeds from our lips. Breading slips from the tender cod in shards, and we immediately pluck it between our fingers to pop into our mouths.

Our Alaskan cod doesn’t quite conjure the nourishing, lusty warmth of a brawny stew. There are no bones, but that’s just as well since there is no fireplace close enough to be within flinging proximity.

Still, it’s satisfying in a different sort of way. We are eating it together and as we are thoroughly staining our napkins with soy and a little grease, it’s hardly dainty. It may not be rapturous, but it’s wonderful enough.


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Nothing makes me want to cook something daring and complicated than does reading that such activity is still in peril. I thought we were cooking more frequently during these tough economic times in America, but to hear the New York Times’ Kim Severson tell it (reporting from the International Home & Housewares Show in Chicago), we still equate “cooking” with pushing a button or turning a dial. Or at least that’s the definition that appliance and gadget manufacturers are going for.

The author and culinary historian Betty Fussell is worried that another kind of button –- the one that powers up a computer –- is getting in the way of our cooking. She writes in the current issue of Gastronomica that we’re all so caught up in clicking through and critiquing the glut of photos and videos of food on the Internet, that we’re distancing ourselves from all of food’s other sensory experiences.

And it’s probably true –- I know I’ve gazed at more prettily confected cupcakes on Foodgawker than I’ve actually baked. Maybe I do need to spend more time swiping sweet finger-fuls of cake batter or letting  my girls mix up too many colors of icing. But if anything, regarding what other cooks and bakers are photographing in their own kitchens inspires me to get cooking in mine. It’s not just a well-lit shot of golden flatbread; it’s a suggestion that there’s satisfaction to be had requiring action on my part –- not just in slathering finished flatbread with hummus, but in learning how to get that chewy mouthful from a precise heap of flour, some water, salt and perhaps a little olive oil.

Making food and eating the food we’ve made will always be a far more fulfilling human experience than sifting through a worldwide web of food photography. For me, that fulfillment always reaches completeness when I share it with others –- first with the people across from me at the table, the ones whose nightly job it is to put forks at each place and fill the water glasses, who tell me what they like –- or don’t –- about the soup in between dissertations on the worthlessness of math or who chased whom at recess.

Then, every now and then, I share what we eat with the world. I’d rather do it with words than with my own lousy photography, but either way it’s less about show-and-tell and more about speaking up, about adding my voice and my passion to the broad conversation we’re having about food. I don’t want to just tell you what I made for brunch, but I want to tell you about it. All of our breathless blogging and picture posting isn’t in itself detrimental to the art of eating. It’s just another way of expressing that food is so much more than food.


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Few things are actually worth the incessant hype heaped upon them. Among the truly worthy: YSL’s Touche Eclat, Phoenix’s very own Pizzeria Bianco, and reusable shopping bags.

Add to that list freshly ground spices, which add oomph and flavor the way their pre-ground spicy sisters in no way can.

It’s why I love (big-red-heart-with-an-arrow-through-it-love) my spice and nut grinder. This, my cooking friends, is one petite-but-mighty kitchen appliance you won’t relegate to the garage-sale box. I use it for the obvious, for grinding whole toasted coriander and cumin seeds, for whirring grains of paradise into a fine finishing powder, for breaking lots of walnuts into itty-bitty chunks.

But I love it just as much for it’s ability to emulsify a small batch of pesto or blitz chunks of bread into coarse breadcrumbs faster than I can get out and assemble my blender and/or food processor. And then there’s the way it handles our favorite brown sugar, which arrives brick-hard and unusable.

The lone drawback is that it makes a racket, but sometimes things (or kids, for example) have to make a little noise in order to be get the appreciation they deserve.


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This qualifies for the “do try this at home” category: Egg on pizza.

I saw it in the pages of last month’s Sunset magazine: Some hip pizzeria somewhere in hip California is cracking eggs atop pizza moments before it’s fully cooked. Because I’m never one to turn down the lush, enriching quality of an oozy egg yolk, I was effectively intrigued. But since I can’t drop everything and road-trip it west anytime soon (sad, isn’t it, this stable and scheduled little domestic life I lead?), I figured I’d better experiment with an egg or two and some home-rolled pizza dough.

Sunset says the combination works best with toppings that pair well with eggs. Imagine the possibilities then, given that more things taste good with eggs than not.

To wit: spicy tomato sauce, thin-sliced red-skinned potatoes and roasted kale — a deserving wintry cliche — all scattered over with a little mozz and some Parm. I made sure to leave little indentations in the toppings, so that when I pulled my pizza stone out during the last five minutes of cook time, the eggs would have somewhere to go.

I used four eggs, one for each of us, and we each voted that egg on pizza qualifies for another category: that of “Must make again.”


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Just like that: It’s salad weather again. Oh, we had a few months of hunker-down comfort foods, of roasted root-y things and spontaneous “It’s raining!” chilis.

But here comes the sun, pulsing down on our xeriscaped yards, our bumpy piles of granite and scatters of muted desert green. We’re not to the harsh part yet, the searing, unrelenting heat. Instead, it feels almost nice, in the bright way the sun is supposed to feel when the clouds part. So far, it’s the kind of sun that makes you want to take all your meals outside, then lounge in the lounger after with a lounge-worthy read.

So, even though I know we’ll be trying to innovate salad for what will seem like a forever set of months, salad is indeed on the menu. It just seems right somehow. Right to coat baby spinach in a spoonful of walnut oil and a splash of red wine vinegar, to top the perky greens with a heap of sliced avocado and figs and dripping chunks of tangerine, with more than a suggestion of chèvre.

No, it’s not still “winter.” But the food’s good anyway.


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