Pizza with tahini, lemon and za’atar

Pizza with tahini, lemon and za'atar // Dinners for Winners

Earlier this year while planning my sister’s baby shower, I arrived at FedEx Kinko’s to print invitations and found a typo in my design. And I’d only brought the PDF with me! My ears burned a little (I was a proof-reader in a former job), but I knew that the Word document was hiding somewhere in my email since I had sent it to myself. The very (…very) friendly Kinko’s employee asked if I wanted to log into my web email on his computer, pull up the file, edit it there, then print proofs, none of which he charged me for doing.

Ok, sure.


in the email attachment next to my invitation document was a giant 58-page file — my cooking journal.

I jot down recipes I’ve made, what I liked about them, what I changed, or how I’d tweak things as I develop my own. It’s nice to go back and remember what I made last summer for cookouts this year, or brainstorm menus for dinner parties or occasions. The first dish I typed ages ago when I started this file was shakshuka so that’s what I named the document.

“What’s ‘shakshuka?'” Mr Kinkos asked as the invitations slipped one by one from the humming printing press.

“Uh…….. well. –It’s eggs cooked in tomato sauce,” I answered quickly, suddenly uneasy at the thought of someone having access to my journal as soon as I left the building.

Pizza with tahini, lemon and za'atar // Dinners for Winners

You guys! Seriously what if he started reading this thing? Journals are kinda private, I mean Kurt Cobain knows that. And mine maybe contains a rant about a terrible blog post that I started as a polite comment on the icky/confusing/ridiculous recipe, but when I realized that there was no way I could post it graciously I just let it become a typed record of HOW I REALLY FEEL ABOUT ILL-INFORMED RECIPE WRITERS WITH SIX THOUSAND REPINS STEERING FOLKS WRONG and pasted it into my journal. No one needs to read that. What would he think of headlines such as “Vacation-beach-house fish-fry top choices” or my thirteen hacks at patatas bravas? Or of entries such as “Saturday: Amber’s birthday bash! I totally food-destroyed at Crafternoon with Deb’s rosemary flatbread and Alexandra’s homemade ricotta — so easy and good!”

oh em gee.

It was hard not to picture him at his computer, 24-hour Kinkos lights flickering overhead, killing time and reading my “I think I added lime? I don’t remember because bourbon. But IT WAS SUH GOOD”

For some reason it made my skin crawl.

Pizza with tahini, lemon and za'atar // Dinners for Winners

What I wanted to be when I grew up was someone who wasn’t bothered by what others thought of her.

So you know. That still needs some work.

If Mr Kinkos did dig into my cooking diary I’d like to imagine he was impressed. Because homemade ricotta is a dream to eat and a breeze to make. The batch I made the other weekend was added to a pizza that has been on my “to cook” list in my journal for way too long, inspired by the lovely Alexandra, who writes one of my most-beloved blogs. Her methods never disappoint, from the aforementioned  homemade ricotta to preserving my own lemons to putting them together on dough and making a really wonderful pizza.

We loved this dinner… starting with a familiar no-knead pizza dough that I spruced up with a little spelt flour — nutty and delicious. For a base, a heady slick of roasted garlic smashed with tahini and olive oil, and since I made two pies, I tried chopped preserved lemon for one and thinly-sliced fresh lemon for the other. You know, just in case you don’t have preserved lemons sitting around. Both were winners!

Za’atar sprinkled the top of the pizza, perfuming everything with oregano, thyme and citusy sumac. (At least the za’atar I used contained oregano…. all versions of this spice mix do not, but there is no wrong version.) We loved the bittersweet lemon with salty feta cheese (you could even swap cotija) and creamy ricotta. In my cooking journal: “I am SO proud of myself, this is one of the best pizzas that ever came out of my kitchen!” So there ya go. Enjoy!

Pizza with tahini, lemon and za'atar // Dinners for Winners



Pizza with tahini, lemon and za’atar

Inspired by Alexandra Cooks
Scale as needed. For each large pizza:
  • 1 head garlic, roasted and peeled
  • 3 tablespoons tahini
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • salt
  • half a preserved lemon, seeded and chopped –or– half of an organic lemon, very thinly sliced and seeded
  • thinly sliced red onion
  • a few dollops ricotta, homemade or purchased
  • grated parmesan or crumbled cotija or feta cheese
  • za’atar for sprinkling

Preheat your oven to 500 degrees (or use your favorite pizza-baking temperature and method). Gently stretch the dough into a 14-inch round or fit to a half-sheet pan, letting it rest as needed to avoid tearing. Once it’s sized, sprinkle your pan with cornmeal and gently arrange the dough on the pan.

Smash the roasted garlic in a small bowl with tahini and olive oil; season with salt and spread over dough. Sprinkle with lemon pieces or slices, red onion, ricotta and then crumbled or grated salty cheese of your choice. Sprinkle generously with za’atar and bake until crust is browned and cheese is bubbling.

*note: I subbed 1/3 of the flour for spelt. If you do this you will need to add more water than called for.

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Angel food cake trifle with marionberries and whipped coconut cream

Angel food cake trifle with marionberries and coconut cream // Dinners for Winners

In this season of summertime fairs and outdoor festivals, though I cannot tolerate spending an arm and a leg to possibly lose an arm and a leg on sketchy carnival rides, I DO love the availability of cotton candy. It is a miraculous confection! Puffy clouds of cottony sugar — is it made using static electricity? I don’t even know but I can’t get enough of watching it layer up inside that giant buzzing, metal bowl.

When we were kids, our involvement in 4-H meant long, warm days at our local Polk County Fair tending to our livestock exhibits or getting on those cooking demonstrations. We ate a lot of fair food: plain-jane hamburgers (just ketchup?! Why?); tiny waxed cups of overpriced root beer that quenched my thirst for only moments; Sno Cones were fifty cents and cotton candy was a dollar. Yes — mostly I remember scrounging for loose change to buy another sticky billow of finger-staining pink threads…. I wanted more, more!

My segue to this recipe is that during the rest of the year, when I couldn’t get my cotton candy fix, my mom’s angel food cake had a similar spun-sugar quality; fluffy and sweet, melting in my mouth. And I was crazy for it. She made an angel food cake the other night while I was at my parents’ house using the sewing machine for our new curtains. IT IS AS AMAZING AS I REMEMBER, that cake! I was so full from pizza we had made on the grill that night but I just kept slicing off more clouds of cake heaven! Boy.

Angel food cake trifle with marionberries and coconut cream // Dinners for Winners

So I’ve made an angel-food cake trifle for the summer issue of Willamette Valley Life Magazine! Chunks of feather-light cake get toasty and layered with Marionberries, a local specialty, which are made into a raw jam thickened with chia seeds. Heaven. I love the rich whipped coconut cream on top of everything, brightened with a dusting of lemon zest. Seven ingredients and dessert is done! Easy enough for any fair/festival-filled weekend evening. Click over to get the full recipe at Willamette Valley Life! Hope y’all are staying cool out there. Cheers!

Angel food cake trifle with marionberries and coconut cream // Dinners for Winners



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