Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Pickin' on shrimp

For our Dinnertime Tuesday, I'm taking you all to my house on Christmas Eve.

Our dinner is a quilt of my husband's traditional Italian fish extravaganza, and the ironically Italian food my German family has made for Christams Eve for years and years.

For my husband, Christmas isn't Christmas without a table groaning under the weight of an ocean of fish. From fried chunks of succulent baccala to curly magenta tentacles of calamari, from salty anchovies to silvery smelt, there isn't a water-breathing beast safe while my husband is around. Especially juicy pink shrimp, which he pines to slather in a cocktail sauce so laden with horseradish it burns behind your eyes and makes you breathe so deeply you can feel the oxygen molecules in your blood.

At my house, Christmas Eve was usually lasagna or stuffed shells. Something more special than spaghetti, but easy to throw together hours beforehand and toss in the oven, forgetting about it until starving people gathered around the table. Then with a couple of quick steps, bubbling cheesy noodles are there like magic to satisfy the masses.

On Thursday, people will be gathered around my dining room table shoveling both traditions into their mouths as fast as they can. But in this post, you get the best of both in one lovely quick-to-make, easy-to-please pie.

Shrimp Scampi and pizza. Italian as the Mona Lisa, and great complements to each other. Shrimp, butter, garlic. What’s not to like? How about the expense? Instead of serving lots of pricey jumbo shrimp as a main dish, or using tiny, water-logged salad shrimp, stretch your shellfish budget by using good quality, middle-sized shrimp. Serving them on a crispy but filling crust means you can get away with fewer shrimp per serving, but everyone can have a real treat.

Buono Natale!

Shrimp Scampi Pizza

1 pizza crust

1 T. butter

1 T. olive oil

3 cloves garlic, minced

1 small sweet onion, chopped fine

1 lemon (zest and juice)

1 pound shrimp, peeled and de-veined (I use the 31-40 shrimp, meaning there are that many to a pound. If I can find bigger shrimp for a good price, I use that, but this isn't a place where you need the biggest you can find. It's also an easy recipe to cut down if you find good quality frozen shrimp in a 10-ounce bag. No one will really notice a few missing shrimp.)

½ c. white wine (No wine? Cheat. Use apple juice. It won’t be as dry, but it will still be darn good.)

Salt and pepper to taste

½ c. parmesan cheese

Fresh parsley

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place pizza crust on baking sheet.

In a large skillet, melt butter in olive oil over medium heat. Add garlic and onion. Add lemon zest, juice, shrimp, wine, salt and pepper. Cook, stirring often, until shrimp is pink and firm, about 3-5 minutes. Spread on pizza crust. Top with parmesan cheese and parsley. Bake 8-10 minutes, just until cheese is melted. Overcooking will make shrimp tough.

Extra! Extra!!!

Statistical Slices – Americans are eating twice as much shrimp today as they did in the 1980s, more than a billion pounds a year. The only seafood more popular is tuna. (Source: Earth Summit Watch)

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Bigger than a bread box?

Not everyone who wants fresh homemade pizza wants to deal with mixing and kneading with her own two hands. Frankly, just thinking about the sticky, gooey feeling of a yeasty dough on my hands, where it dries into a tight, plastery mess makes me frantic to wash my hands.

But I love to make fresh bread. Oh, the quandry.

And that is why I love my brother. In a Christmas related tangent, several years ago, he bought me one of my favorite kitchen tools. My bread machine. (Insert delighted sigh here.)

My bread machine lets me make fresh bread on an almost daily basis. Everything from crusty Italian for my husband to "school made" rolls for my siblings to my updated version of my grandma's traditional Swiss pear bread, bitterbrot. And it doesn't require anything more than throwing things in the pan and pushing three buttons. No mixing. No kneading. Absolutely no icky hands.

Now...should I want to make rolls, or sticky buns, or...oh, I don't Then I have to get up close and personal with the dough, but by that point, it's an elastic, springy mass, perfectly pliable and non-gooey.

Making pizza dough in the bread machine doesn't just mean less mess. It can mean more flavor. Even a simple cheese pizza can get an influx of flavor by adding great ingredients to the bread dough itself rather than putting on toppings. And picky eaters might be more likely to try olives in the crust than seeing black polka dots on top of their cheese.

1 c. warm water

¼ c. milk

1 T. sugar

1 t. salt

1 T. oil

3 c. bread machine flour

2 t. bread machine yeast

Layer ingredients in bread machine in the order recommended by the manufacturer. Place on dough setting and let the machine work its magic. In about an hour or so, depending on model, you’ll have all the benefits of homemade dough without the work or sticky hands.

Variations are even easier in a bread machine since most models have a built in beeper that tells you when to throw in extras. You can try the ones here, or go for something different. There are things I will attempt with a bread machine that I never do by hand.


Olive Pizza Dough - Add ¼ c. sliced black olives to dough when your machine permits, or during the second kneading.

Red Pepper Dough - Add 2 T. coarsely chopped roasted red pepper.

Spicy Pizza Dough - Add 2 T. crushed red pepper flakes, ¼ tsp. cayenne pepper and 2 T. grated parmesan cheese.

Pepper Jack Dough - Add ¾ c. shredded pepper jack cheese.

Extra Extra!!!

The Best Thing Since What? – What’s the big deal about sliced bread? Well, until the 1928, nobody ever saw a whole loaf of sliced bread. Bread, if you didn’t bake it yourself, came to you from the bakery in one whole unsliced loaf. Otto Frederick Rohwedder initially built a machine in 1912 that sliced bread, but no one was interested because of fear the slices would quickly become stale. Sixteen years later, his upgraded model that both sliced and wrapped the loaves was first used in a Missouri bakery. No one is quite sure when “the best thing since sliced bread” was first uttered.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Grandma's Old Red Devil

Welcome to Saturday, the first in The Pizza Principle's "Special Request" series.

I got a lot of great feedback after yesterday's post on the day-by-day reformatting of the blog. So thanks so much for that.

The girls at the NestBump (Hi, Nesties! Hi, Bumpies!) have asked to see some of my non-pizza recipes. With Joseph's birthday (The Big 2) coming up next weekend, I mentioned the chocolate cake he'll be having for his special birthday dinner, and it's going to be our first "request."

My grandma made this cake ALL the time when I was a kid. And when my dad was a kid. And probably when she was a kid. It's a really old recipe, and as far as I'm concerned, it's absolutely perfect.

Grandma's Red Devil's Food is plain and simple, a moist, chocolaty cake that isn't too rich or too heavy, and is utterly perfect with a simple white icing. Grandma usually made hers with melted New York vanilla ice cream instead of butter and milk, just thickening it to a spreading consistency with powdered sugar. Absolutely divine.

Grandma's Red Devil's Food Cake

1/2 c. cocoa
1/2 c. boiling water
1 c. butter
2 c. sugar
1 T. vanilla
2 eggs
2 1/2 c. flour
1 1/2 t. baking soda
1/2 t. salt
1 c. sour milk (I've also used sour cream. It's good, but a little richer. Not a bad thing, but not Grandma's. If you don't have sour milk, add a tablespoon of vinegar or lemon juice to a cup of milk.)

Just mix together, a step at a time. The batter will be a little thinner than your typical box of Betty Crocker. That's okay. Butter a 9x13 cake pan, pour it in, bake at 350 degrees for about 30 minutes, until the center is springy.

Frost how you like. I've had it with Grandma's frosting, cream cheese frosting, 7- minute frosting, canned Pillsbury frosting...there's really no bad way to go. But give Grandma's ice cream icing a shot. It really is worth it. (And flexible. Whatever you've got in the freezer will be fine.)

Friday, December 18, 2009

A little structure, please!

Something I've noticed about the bloggers I'm reading is that they've developed a kind of set program for their posting.
My good friend Jenni at The Foster Family ( has her Wish List Wednesdays. (Hi, Jenni!)
Emily at has a whole slate of plans for her blog, including FAQ Fridays, where she answers questions about her often controversial lifestyle, and Can You Make Money Blogging, in which she takes you on a tour of how blogging affects her bottom line.
Jen at Cake Wrecks (, one of my absolute favorite blogs, does Sunday Sweets, spotlighting the best instead of the normal "holy crap, what is that?" cakes that make me giggle. She also has a set schedule for her postings, which appear like clockwork every morning. Emily, and others I read, have this kind of commitment as well. I admire that.
And so, this somewhat laissez-faire freelance writer is biting the bullet of structure.
I'm sure my editors (past and present) could confirm that I am a person who absolutely NEEDS a deadline. If I am told I have to submit something by 4 p.m., you will have it at 3:45 p.m. If you tell me to get it to you when it's ready, you may grow old and die waiting for it to show up.
And therefore...a schedule.
From this point on, The Pizza Principle will have a program schedule. Like Fox. Except hopefully with fewer cancellations. (Damn you for your treatment of Joss Whedon and "Dollhouse!" Damn you!!!)
My plan:
  • Back-to-Basics Mondays - either building blocks, like crust or sauce recipes, or simple classic pizzeria classics, like pepperoni rolls.
  • Dinnertime Tuesdays - taking favorites off your dinner menu and translating them to pizza form.
  • Cold Fusion Wednesdays - the very best in salads and sandwiches, with a twist.
  • Brunchtastic Thursdays - because there is more to pizza for breakfast than a fratboy fumbling in an old Domino's box under his bed.
  • Something Sweet Fridays - more than just the cinnamon sugar breadsticks every pizza chain slaps on at the end of the meal.
  • Special Request Saturday - Ask and ye shall receive!

So...what do you think? Give me some feedback, people. I need a topic for tomorrow morning!

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Hashing it out

Corned beef hash is great any time of day.

It’s a tasty lunch, a satisfying dinner, even a welcome late night diner munchie after an evening out with friends. (The stories I could tell you about 2 a.m. runs to Denny's...)

But there’s no time like breakfast for hash, particularly when you’ve got a big day that requires some serious carbing up.

And yet, unless you follow "hash" with "browns," a kid can look at you like you are speaking Cantonese when you talk about corned beef. What is that? Beef covered with corn? Is it cooked with corn? Vegetables? Are you giving me pot roast for breakfast? What are you talking about?

For the record, corned beef owes its name to the process that separates it from the same cut of brisket that spends hours in a slow smoker. The meat is basically pickled in a brine, like, oh, a pickle. The "corn" refers to the kernels of salt that draw out the juices and let the flavorful, seasoning sink back in, turning ordinary beeef into something extra special.

And "hash?" Well, that generally means a mixed up concoction. When you mix up chopped up corned beef with the mealy deliciousness of cooked potatoes, you temper the saltiness of the meat, and let the potatoes mellow into a creamy backdrop.

Paired with eggs and cheese, it’s the perfect topping for a morning pizza on a busy day.

1 pre-baked pizza crust

1 ½ c. corned beef hash (canned or leftover)

4 eggs, scrambled or hard-boiled, or 8 eggs, poached

1 c. shredded cheddar cheese


Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place pizza crust on baking sheet. Spread with hash. Bake 10 minutes, or until heated through.

If you are using scrambled or hard-boiled eggs, arrange over hash layer and top with cheese. Bake 5 minutes, or until cheese is melted. Top with parsley and season to taste. Slice and serve.

If you are using poached eggs, skip the egg layer until after the pizza is sliced. Top each piece with a poached egg. (This is definitely a sit-down version. Drippy egg yolks make for unforgiving on-the-run meals.)

EXTRA EXTRA!!! Her Royal Hashiness – Don’t turn up your nose at corned beef hash just because it is the original leftover dish for yesterday’s meat and potatoes. Not only did Queen Elizabeth II and her sister, Princess Margaret, have a special dish just for their hash (they called it "hoosh-mi") as kids, now she frequently enjoys shepherd’s pie, a hash variation, to use up her Sunday roast at the palace.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Feeling hot, hot, hot

It's very cold out today. The kind of cold that comes in and grabs your feet in your sleep.

And then I look out the window. Snow. Piles of it. And I have to go outside and shovel the car out and scrape off the windows and wrestle my son into snow boots and zip-tie mittens to his hands, and I can just tell it's going to be one long, cold, cold, cold day.

And that makes me want something hot to eat.

I want something that isn't just steaming with warmth. I want a chemical heat, the kind that makes your eyes water when the full impact first hits you. In short, I want peppers. Chiles, to be precise. (Yes, there is a difference between a pepper and a chile. Don't ask me what it is. Go ask Alton Brown.)

I don't like a lot of heat. I don't need a habanero to make me happy. A little jalapeno, a fruity poblano, a smoky chipotle and I'm good to go. A little bit of spice can toast you like putting your shoes in front of the fireplace. (If you have a fireplace. I don't. Sigh.)

And nothing pairs with chile like cheese. Cheese tempers the fire of the chile, turning an explosion into a slow, pleasant burn.

To get the most out of this combo on a cold December day, I'm looking to my old appetizer menu friend...the jalepeno popper. But because I don't have a commercial fryer at my disposal, I'm getting the same flavor in a more convenient shape by turning it into a pizza.

Hot Popper Pizza

1 pizza crust
8 oz. cream cheese, softened
1 small can sliced jalapenos (use fresh, or more, or a different pepper for a hotter pop, or sub in chopped mild green chiles for all the flavor without the burn)
1 c. grated cheddar cheese
2 T. melted butter
1/2 c. breadcrumbs

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place pizza crust on pan. Bake 10-15 minutes, until lightly golden. Set aside about 5 minutes.

Mix cream cheese with peppers. Spread over crust. Scatter with cheddar cheese. Combine butter and breadcrumbs. Sprinkle over cheese. (If you want to top with some more sliced jalapenos at this point, you can.)

Bake 5-10 minutes, until cheese is melted and breadcrumbs a golden brown. Let pizza stand about 5 minutes before slicing to allow cream cheese to set.

Monday, November 30, 2009

No bones about it

What is the deal with buffalo wings?

For some strange reason, frat boys and sports fans the world over seem to love sucking teensy-weensy bits of meat off unwieldy bones while tossing back great quantities of beer. I just don't get it.

It’s not the sauce, or the dressing, or even the beer I’m questioning. It’s going through all that trouble for such a tiny return with wings that have been cut in half to make them even smaller.

Besides, we’re not living in caves anymore. I think humankind has evolved beyond the point where we need to gnaw on bones. If you must gnaw on something, make it a pizza crust.

1 pizza crust
¼ to ½ c. wing sauce (as hot or mild as you like it) or…
3 to 7 T. melted butter
2 to 5 T. hot sauce (depends on how hot you like it, and how much butter you are using)
Dash of Worcestershire sauce
1 pound chicken fingers (Deli are best; frozen are fine.)
1 c. shredded mozzarella cheese
½ c. matchstick carrots, raw
½ c. diced celery
2-4 T. blue cheese or ranch dressing

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place pizza crust on baking sheet. Toast in oven about 5 minutes.

Paint crust with wing sauce. (Making your own? Mix the butter, hot sauce and Worcestershire, and spread it on as thick as you like.) Cut your chicken fingers into bite-sized pieces and scatter on pizza. Cover with cheese. Top with carrots and celery. Bake about ten minutes, or until cheese is melted but veggies are still fairly crisp. Drizzle with dressing. Slice and serve.


One hot chick – Clarence, N.Y., takes its poultry seriously. Home to the National Buffalo Wing Festival, the town crowns a “Miss Buffalo Wing” every year. How do you decide who carries this honor? With three criteria: personal appearance, a chicken wing taste test, and off course, buffalo wing trivia.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Mangia, parmagiana!

In honor of our upcoming traditional holiday, we have a somewhat traditional pizza.

And a clever way to get a kid to try something that might otherwise make him run screaming from the room.

You should remember from our meatball sojourn that I dislike actually "tricking" someone into eating something he doesn't like. Sorry, Jessica Seinfeld, but pureeing things and hiding them in cake batter doesn't teach a kid to like spinach. It teaches him you'll lie to him for your own purposes.

But parmagiana can make a kid receptive to a style, just enough for you to change up what that style might cover. The Parmagiana Principle, anyone?

Chicken, veal or eggplant, a crispy cutlet of something sautéed until golden, then sauced with rich marinara and smothered in melted cheese is a classic staple of any Italian restaurant. Just the name conjures up images of checkered tablecloths and Chianti-bottle candleholders.

Parmagiana is how my mom got me to eat both veal and eggplant for the first time. Both are favorites of mine today that I would never have experienced otherwise. She didn't trick me with a fried slice of eggplant and tell me it wasn't chicken after I swallowed the first bite. She told me up front it was something new, but it would taste kind of like the chicken parmagiana I loved, so I was willing to give it a try.

Admittedly, I don't have to do this for my son. At almost 2 years old, eggplant is just about his favorite thing on the planet. But I have gotten other kids (and a few adults) to expand their culinary viewpoints in a few easy steps via a good parmagiana. My picky niece and nephews actually volunteered to try it at Alfredo's in Epcot. (I was so proud.)

And since it’s already two thirds of a pizza, why not go the extra step and settle the whole succulent mélange on a crust? As a pizza, parmagiana goes from retro-restaurant chic to casual culinary fun.

Got a particularly picky picky eater? Don't use the fancy Italian word. Call it Chicken Nugget Pizza. What kid could possibly say no?

1 pre-baked pizza crust
1 pound breaded chicken fingers (Does your deli counter have chicken fingers, the good all-white-meat kind? That’s what you want. You can also use homemade or frozen breaded chicken cutlets cut into strips.)
1 c. spaghetti sauce (or see the Classico sauce recipe)
1 green pepper, sliced
1 c. shredded mozzarella
¼ c. parmesan

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Place pizza crust on baking sheet.

Cut chicken fingers crosswise into bite-size chunks and arrange over crust. Pour sauce over chicken. Place green pepper in microwave-safe bowl with about ¼ c. water. Cover and cook on high 1 minute. Drain. Scatter peppers over chicken. Combine cheeses and sprinkle over crust. Bake 20-25 minutes. Cheese should be melted and chicken heated through.


Veal – Substitute one pound of breaded veal cutlets for the chicken.

Eggplant – Slice one small eggplant crosswise into even slices. Season with salt and pepper. Dredge in flour, then egg, then breadcrumbs. Fry quickly in hot oil (part olive for flavor, part vegetable, peanut or canola for high temperature cooking). Substitute for chicken.

Extra Extra!!!!

Foreign Food Facts: In Italy, veal Parmagiana is called cotolette alla Bolognese. Loosely translated, that means Bologna slice. (Source:

Monday, November 16, 2009

Here piggy, piggy, piggy

In the South, barbecue is more than just a meal.

It borders on being a religion, with a Holy Trinity made up of ribs, brisket and pork butt. Pulled pork is served alone, or heaped high in sandwiches on soft white bread with cole slaw served alongside, or just piled on top.

This recipe doesn’t start with pork cooked low and slow for the better part of a day. Not necessarily. I mean, it could. In fact, my favorite pulled pork couldn't be easier. It involves a Crock-pot, a pork roast, a sliced onion, a chopped apple and some cider. And that's not hard. But it does require some planning. You need to know you want pizza about eight hours before you want pizza, and cravings tend to defy that kind of timing.

But if you like to barbecue, or you threw a pork roast in the Crock-pot with your favorite sauce and happen to have it lying around, feel free to use the homemade stuff. I cheat shamelessly.

Pulled Pork

1 pizza crust
1 20-ounce tub shredded pork in barbecue sauce OR 1 ½ c. shredded leftover pork roast and ¾ c. barbecue sauce
1 ½ c. shredded Colby jack cheese
1 red onion, sliced and separated into rings
1 green pepper, sliced into rings
½ c. pickle chips
Cole slaw

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place pizza crust on baking sheet.

Spread barbecued pork over crust. Top with cheese, onions and peppers. Bake 15-20 minutes, or until cheese is melted and golden. Scatter pickle chips over top. Serve with cole slaw on top or at side.


Barbecued Ham – Substitute 1 pound chipped ham, sliced in ribbons, and ¾ c. barbecue sauce for pork.

Barbecued Chicken – Substitute barbecued chicken in barbecue sauce, or 1 pound shredded chicken meat and ¾ c. barbecue sauce, for pork.


Geography Lesson – There is no real barbecue capital of the world. There are just too many contenders for the title. Texas, Georgia, the Carolinas and Memphis, TN, are all serious ‘cue centers, but if you had to crown a single city as champ, there is an argument to be made for Kansas City, the home of some of America’s greatest barbecue restaurants, several barbecue cook-offs, and the granddaddy of smoky showdowns, the American Royal.

Thursday, November 12, 2009


There just isn’t anything as decadent as eggs Benedict.

It’s the dish you get when you are being treated like a queen. It’s breakfast in bed, late-morning brunch on Mother’s Day. It is the epitome of a celebration breakfast for my husband. We don't go out for breakfast often, but I know that if we do, he's probably going to have the classic leaning-tower-of-Pisa stack of english muffin, ham, egg and sauce. It’s not something you ever make at home, which is a shame, because it’s delicious.

But I think what scares many people away from making it, and some from even ordering it, is the hollandaise sauce. What is hollandaise after all? It isn’t something most of us encounter on a daily basis. A sublime French creation of egg yolks and butter, it’s daunting because a slowed whisk or an aggressive burner can turn it into a puddle of grease or a bowl of scrambled eggs without half trying.

And I am a giant wuss. I fear having a culinary meltdown. Because of this, I avoid it in favor of something everyone loves, an easy, cheesy sauce that looks every bit as impressive without the work.

Cheese is also a great way to sell a kid on, well, anything. A picky eater will grimace at the idea of a fancy French dish and a hoity-toity sauce. But cheese? Everyone loves cheese! And every pizza needs cheese. It's a perfect compromise.

1 pizza crust
1 T. butter
1 T. flour
1 c. milk
2 oz. cream cheese
½ c. shredded cheddar cheese or 2 oz. Velveeta
Dash of cayenne
Salt and pepper
½ pound Canadian bacon
8 poached eggs or 6-8 hard-boiled eggs
Parsley or tarragon for garnish

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place pizza crust on baking sheet. Bake 15-20 minutes. Set aside.

In a small saucepot, melt butter. Stir in flour. Add milk, whisking until combined. Add cream cheese, stirring until melted. Add cheddar or Velveeta, stirring until melted. Season with cayenne, salt and pepper. Spread over pizza crust.

In a skillet, fry bacon just until beginning to brown. Arrange over cheese sauce.

Now, for the eggs. For the most attractive presentation, slice the pizza, top each slice with a poached egg and garnish with herbs. If you don’t have the time or inclination to do this one egg at a time, just use hard-boiled eggs. Slice and arrange over ham. Garnish the whole pie with herbs. This will be easiest if you arrange the egg slices in spokes, putting one spoke on each prospective slice.

Variation: Eggs Florentine – Omit Canadian bacon, replacing it with a layer of fresh baby spinach leaves.


Bacon, eh? – Don’t ask for Canadian bacon north of the border. In the provinces, what we call “Canadian” is simply known as back bacon. The most common kind of back up yonder is almost unknown in the U.S. Called “peameal,” it is cured in a sweet pickling brine before being rolled in cornmeal.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Enchilada pizza for the Pioneer Woman in us all

Okay, I have to make a confession.

Don't tell my husband. But...I love the Pioneer Woman. I love her recipes, her witty banter, pictures that make me extremely jealous, and her deliciously tasty and addictive blog.

And today...I love her white chicken enchiladas. Note to husband: guess what's for dinner.

I love creamy Mexican food. My husband is not so much the fan. And yet, he would eat axle grease if I put it on pizza crust.

And really, what's not to love about this pizza. Cheese, chicken, some zinginess from the chiles. Yum.

So, Pioneer Woman, this one's for you.

Chicken Enchilada Pizza

1 pizza crust
1 8-oz. package cream cheese, softened
1 small can mild green chiles, chopped
Salt and pepper
½ pound cooked chicken, cut in strips
1/2 c. corn, cooked
1-2 c. shredded cheddar cheese
Optional – salsa, black olives, jalapenos, banana peppers, onions, etc.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Place pizza crust on baking sheet.

Mix cream cheese with chiles. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Spread on pizza crust.

Arrange chicken over cheese mixture. Top with corn. Scatter with shredded cheese.

Bake for 10-15 minutes, or until cheese is melted and bubbling, but not too brown. Let pie stand at least 5 minutes before slicing. Serve with optional toppers.

Extra Extra!!

Big Bite – Las Cruces, N.M., is the home of the world’s biggest enchilada, and that’s no one-time title. Each October, the town reclaims its own record at its Whole Enchilada Fiesta.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Steak out

Cheesesteak is in my blood.

My mom is from North Philly. No trip to visit my grandparents was complete without a little ribeye and gooey cheese. What's not to love about juicy beef, chewy bread, creamy melted cheese and the flavorful bite of grilled peppers and onions? Seriously. It's a win-win-win-win.

Unless you are the cook.

If you make cheesesteaks at home, you end up suffering from pancake syndrome. Don't act like you don't know what I'm talking about. Becoming a short-order cook in your own kitchen means that each plate is eaten one at a time, leaving the cook to eat the leftovers alone at the end at best, or hungry at worst as the last plate gets devoured before Mom realizes all the food is gone.

Oh, yes, you can make them in advance and keep them warm until they are all ready. But then you end up with the cheesesteaks from my school cafeteria. Steaks we stuffed with ruffled, oversalted potato chips and doused liberally with ketchup to make them edible. Trust me. That's not a real cheesesteak.

But if you take all the components and pile them high on a pizza crust, bake them to a cheesey finish and serve all at once, you've got a slice of brotherly love at its best.

Grandpa Nick's Cheesesteak Pizza

1 pizza crust
1 box sandwich steaks (the 7 steak size)
1 medium onion, sliced
1 large pepper, sliced
½ cup tomato sauce
1 T. steak sauce
Salt and pepper to taste
½ t. garlic powder
1 T. sugar
½ pound provolone, sliced
1 cup shredded cheese (mozzarella and cheddar blend is good)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Break frozen steaks into bite-size pieces. Sauté with
onion and pepper until vegetables are translucent and meat is fully cooked. Add
sauces and seasonings to taste. Finish with a pinch of sugar to counter the acidity
of the tomatoes. Cook uncovered until sauce reduces and thickens slightly, about
10-15 minutes.

Place pizza crust on baking sheet. Lay provolone slices evenly on surface. Spread meat mixture over cheese. (Think you’ve got too much? Refrigerate leftovers for a great, quick steak sandwich.) Sprinkle with shredded cheese. Bake 20-25 minutes, or until golden and bubbly.


Chicken Cheesesteak – Replace sandwich steaks with 1 pound chicken breast, sliced thinly.

California Steak – Omit onions and peppers in meat mixture. Top pizza after cooking with shredded lettuce, tomatoes, and onions, and drizzle with mayonnaise.

Extra Extra!!!

Lunchtime Lingo – Do you like your steaks wit or witout? That’s not a typo…it’s how you order a sandwich at Pat’s King of Steaks, the original purveyor of Philadelphia’s famous sandwich. If you want your sandwich “wit,” you get it with onions. “Witout?” You’re eating a naked steak.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

If Peter Piper had a peck of peppers...

I like to think he'd pair them with sausage. Because why wouldn't you?

Sausage and peppers is delicious. Just by itself, fried up together in a pan, it's divine. It already sounds like pizza. And it tastes like it, too.

Pepperoni may be the number one topping choice, on 36 percent of U.S. pies, but sausage and peppers both show up in the top five. This isn’t that kind of pizza, though. This pie is modeled after the classic sandwich of sweet or spicy links smothered in sautéed onions and red and green peppers.

And while this is a pizza that has been tried and savored and nommed again and again, you get this pizza today because of a special request on the Bump last night. There was a page...kind of like the Batsignal. A call for help from Susan. She had some peppers and sausage and sauce and tortelloni and wanted to do something a little different with them. I made some suggestions, but her ingredients reminded me of this pizza.

So here it is. Mangia!

Sausage and Peppers Pie

1 pizza crust
1 pound hot or sweet Italian sausage, bulk or removed from casing (For the real gourmets, use half sweet and half hot.)
1 red pepper, sliced
1 green pepper, sliced
1 medium sweet onion, sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 c. petite diced tomatoes
¼ c. red wine (No wine? Leave it out.)
1 T. sugar
2 T. fresh parsley, chopped (or about half that dried parsley)
½ c. shredded mozzarella
½ c. grated parmesan

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place pizza crust on baking sheet.

In large skillet, sauté sausage, peppers, onion and garlic until meat is cooked through and onion is translucent. Drain excess grease. Add tomatoes, wine, sugar and parsley and stir. Simmer 15-20 minutes, uncovered, stirring occasionally. Spread sauce over crust, but watch it. Depending on your tomatoes, this sauce might be a little juicy. You don't want that. If your sauce is too liquidy, use a slotted spoon to drain off some of the juice as you spread it on the pizza.

Sprinkle with cheeses. (There isn’t a lot of cheese here, because it should complement, not camouflage the flavor of the peppers and onions. You want more cheese? It’s your pizza…do whatever you want with it.)

Bake 15 minutes.

Extra Extra!!!

Tasty Tidbit – According to New York City hotspot “21,” legendary entertainer Frank Sinatra passed the time while waiting for his dinner in his own special way… by popping hot and spicy Italian cherry peppers.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Something's fishy...and cheesy!

I love tuna.

I love it in sandwiches. In macaroni and cheese. In pot pies. In dip. I think there is very little you can't do with a can of tuna.

Even pizza.

"Tonnato" is a classic Italian sauce, usually surved on veal, sometimes turkey. A tomato-y sauce filled with Italian, oil-packed tuna. (Nothing better than Italian, oil-packed tuna if you can find it.) And that would make a damn fine pizza. But that's not what I'm talking about.

When I think tuna and cheese, I think tuna melt. But I've seen more than one kid look at my lovely tuna goodness and default to "ewwwww!"

Now, it's not that my tuna is full of weird and inexplicable ingredients. My tuna is a simple thing. I don’t chop lots of veggies. I don’t carefully slice a dozen imported black olives. (Although my son would be in seventh heaven if I did, the little weirdo.)

If you want to throw in capers, or start with a sushi-grade loin of albacore, that’s between you and your God. For me, a tuna melt is the height of ease and comfort, the kind of thing made best
by a diner because it is so very simple. Like grilled cheese or a perfect pancake, there’s no sense in making something convoluted just because you can.

Turning a one-person tuna melt into a pizza that can serve four or more? That’s in perfect keeping with what makes a diner classic a dinner staple.

1 pre-baked pizza crust (I use pre-baked here so the crust gets crispier, just like with a classic tuna melt. But that doesn't mean you can't start with dough. It still tastes delicious with a doughy crust. If you do that, skip the oil, and bake for about 10-15 minutes, until the crust just starts to get golden brown.)
Olive oil
2 small cans (or 1 large can) tuna
¼ c. dill pickle relish (optional)
¼ c. Miracle Whip (or mayo, if, like my husband, you insist)
Salt and pepper
1 c. shredded colby jack cheese

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place pizza crust on baking sheet. Drizzle with olive oil. Bake for 5-7 minutes, just until warmed through and beginning to turn golden. Remove and cool. Don’t turn that oven off yet.

Mix tuna with pickle relish, Miracle Whip and salt and pepper to taste. (Like your tuna runnier? Me too. You can add more Miracle Whip if you want, but trust me, too much makes a drippy pie.) Spread tuna salad over crust. Top with cheese, scattering evenly, but making sure as much of the tuna is covered as possible. If this requires more cheese, go for it.

Bake 5-10 minutes, just until cheese is melted but not browned.

Extra Extra!

Diner Table – When is a diner a diner, and when is it just another place to get breakfast? It’s a question akin to creationism versus the Big Bang Theory, and one just as likely to provoke vehement responses. While some people say that a diner is defined by the food it serves, others go with the strict Webster’s Dictionary version, “a restaurant in the shape of a railroad dining car.” (Source:

Monday, November 2, 2009


Thanks to Jenni for the heads up on this. (Hi, Jenni!

Thirty posts in 30 days, that's all it takes to participate. I think I can handle that!

I'm already doing a post every day for my other blog, The Exponential Penny Experiment ( And I post almost every day here, anyway. So why not make the commitment?

Today's recipe? A quickie, just like this post.

Got some leftover pizza crust? Fancy it up as a quick and easy appetizer. Cut in strips (works with dough or a pre-cooked crust). Brush with olive oil (or butter...I'm not your priest or your doctor. You don't have to confess to me.). Sprinkle with herbs and spices.

This is a great way to introduce a kid to the new flavors of spices they might not have encountered yet. Dill, fennel, basil, marjoram. Try them one at a time, or experiment with how they work together. Dill and some chopped garlic is a favorite of mine. Add a smattering of cheese (again, whatever kind you want to try), and bake at 400 for about 10 minutes.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Hey there, pumpkin!

Do you have people who are squeamish about squash? Not up for a savory, salt-and-peppered spaghetti squash, or a steamy mashed butternut? Don't worry. There's always the fallback gourd, the perennial staple of autumn. It's probably sitting on your front porch this morning, sad and withered with the stump of a candle inside.

Pumpkin is perfect for pizza. After all, it may be indigenous to the New World, but it has definitely been embraced by Italian cooks. In fact, it probably ranks right behind tomatoes and corn as one of the Mediterranean nation’s favorite American imports.

Italians enjoy suash in gnocchi, as a sauce for pasta, as a filling in ravioli, layered in lasagna. (A quick tour of will yield plenty of pumpkin-rich recipes from Italian celeb chefs like Mario Batali, Giada DiLaurentiis and Rachael Ray.) Some baked or steamed squash chunks on a classic cheese pizza are actually a delicious addition. A smear of pureed pumpkin instead of tomato sauce, with a layer of mozzarella and a drizzle of olive oil with a smattering of sage is also delicious.

But it's also traditionally delicious as dessert. Plus, it’s already familiar as one of our favorite pies. Why wait until Thanksgiving to dig into a slice of your favorite spicy squash? You can make a great pumpkin pizza any time of year.

1 pizza crust

1 c. canned pumpkin

1 c. mascarpone or cream cheese

½ c. brown sugar

1 egg

1 t. cinnamon

¼ t. nutmeg

¼ t. ginger

½ c. crushed gingersnaps

½ c. chopped pecans

1 T. butter, melted

Whipped cream

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place pizza crust on baking sheet.

In a bowl, beat pumpkin with cream cheese and sugar until well-combined. Add egg and spices. Spread on pizza crust. DON'T overload your crust. If you have more filling than you need, you can bake it in muffin or custard cups alongside the pizza.

In another bowl, toss gingersnaps, nuts and butter. Sprinkle over pumpkin layer. Bake 20 minutes. Allow to cool 5-10 minutes before slicing. Serve with whipped cream.

Extra Extra!!!

Fruity facts – Like tomatoes, pumpkins have suffered through years of species confusion. The orange globes are not vegetables, they are fruits. In fact, they are members of the family Cucurbitacae, the same viny clan that produces cucumbers, gourds, melons and a host of other squash. I mean, squashes. Or maybe squashi? (

Friday, October 30, 2009

Carnegie Deli? They don't have pizza!

But...they do have Reubens.

My husband loves a Reuben. There is a better than average chance that if there is a Reuben on the menu, he'll be hip-deep in corned beef or pastrami in the very near future. He would sell his soul for good sauerkraut, so it's really his sandwich Nirvana.

Therefore, a Reuben pizza had to be pretty damn good. It had to hit all the highpoints, and not leave him wishing he had his toasty deli masterpiece.

That just begs one question. How can you make a Reuben on a pizza crust? What about the rye bread? Is this even allowed?

While there are probably deli men in every corner of New York who will say “no way,” I’m here to tell you differently. A Reuben is about so much more than the bread. It’s the subtle blending of very different flavors in one delicious overstuffed sandwich. If you’ve got the pastrami, the sauerkraut, the cheese, the dressing, you’ve got a Reuben, whether you’re eating it on a nice piece of marble rye, or a flour tortilla. (But if you want a pizza that’s truly out of this world, grab a box of bread-machine rye mix and whip up a caraway-laden crust that’s to die for.)

1 pizza crust (pre-baked works best here, or else add a 10-minute baking at the beginning)
½ pound Swiss cheese, sliced
1 ½ pound corned beef or pastrami, sliced thin
1 c. sauerkraut (or cole slaw)
2 large kosher dill pickles, sliced thick
½ c. Russian or Thousand Island dressing

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place pizza crust on baking sheet. (This is where you are adding your first baking if you are starting with dough instead of crust.) Top with cheese. Bake just until cheese is melted but not brown, about 5-7 minutes.

Top crust with corned beef. Spread with sauerkraut. (For some people, a Reuben’s not a Reuben unless it has cole slaw. If that’s you, go for it.) Scatter top with pickle slices. Drizzle with dressing. Slice and serve. (Want your Reuben cheesier? A second layer of cheese on top at the end and a quick trip back to the oven make for a great pie, and I think it even slices better.)

Variation: Rachel Clare – Substitute Monterey jack or pepper jack for the Swiss cheese. Substitute smoked turkey for corned beef. Add roasted red peppers with pickles.

Extra Extra!!!

The seedy side of rye bread – It’s a long-time deli favorite, but rye bread has a dark side…and I’m not talking pumpernickel. Rye grain is susceptible to a fungal growth called ergot. When heated, it changes chemically to the compound “ergotamine,” a powerful toxin related to LSD. But is this really dangerous? Ask the experts. Some modern scientists have blamed ergot blights on rye crops for everything from a medieval convulsion disorder called St. Anthony’s Fire to the Salem witch trials. Today the grain is carefully screened to prevent it from ending up on your turkey sandwich, but it isn’t gone. Doctors use derivatives to treat patients for bleeding and migraines.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Who needs chips?

Not me. Okay, often I do need chips. Ridgy potato ones I can dip in ketchup. Don't judge me!

But not for my nachos.

How does one have nachos without chips? (Hint: look at the title of the blog.)

The thing about nachos is this. I love them. I think they are a great way of trying new things because you can be kind of selective about it. I really don't like black olives, for example. But my husband does. So when we get nachos, he eats the olives and jalapenos. I eat the...well, there's really nothing he won't eat on there, but you get the point. And if I accidentally end up with some black olive? There's probably enough salsa and sour cream to mask it.

But that brings us to my LEAST favorite part of the nacho experience. If you don't want your chips to turn to moosh, you have to eat them pretty quick. I can't do this. I eat really slow. I've gotten very used to being able to use a spoon for my nachos by the time I get to the bottom.

Another problem, particularly with kids, is the idea of equity. My husband tries to "save" me by helping me eat my nachos. Usually after he's eaten whatever he got for his own meal or snack. And somehow, he misses the stink-eye he's getting as he innocently scoops up my cheesy goodness.

Kids want fairness. They want to know that Alex didn't get three more chips than Logan, and that Rachel didn't get all the cheese while the boys get naked chips.

Nothing solves these problems like a pizza.

A sturdy crust can hold up to the drippier ingredients of a good nacho. The sour cream, guacamole, salsa, even chili. (We've already proven that with our chili dog pizza.) None of them will leave a pizza crust weak and limp the way they will a thin, crispy chip.

Pizza is easily divided with mathematical precision. No counting out exactly how many chips each kid gets or "MOM! He got more than me!!!" And the cheese is spread in an even blanket over the whole pie, not just on the top layer of chips. Is there anything more disappointing than having half a dozen ooey-gooey delicious nachos, and then a plate of over-salted, usually half-stale chips?

Also, this lets you use real cheese more effectively. I love real cheese on my nachos. Downside? It doesn't stick well and pulls off like the celophane wrapper on a slice of process-cheese food. Melted cheese sauce sticks well, but it doesn't have the same flavor for me.

This is also a flexible recipe. You can make the simple cheese and chile pie, cut it up and let eveyrone add his favorite toppings. This can make it even easier to encourage a picky eater to try something new because there's no commitment. You don't have to try a whole piece of black olive pizza, only to have to pull off the black olives you don't like after the first bite. You can put just one black olive on the tip, and if you don't like it, you're done with it.

Nacho Pizza

1 pizza crust
1 c. shredded mild cheddar
1 c. shredded mozzarella
1 small can mild green chiles
Salsa, sliced black olives, jalapeno peppers, guacamole, chili, onions, shredded lettuce, refried beans, sour cream, cilantro, chopped tomato

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place pizza crust on baking sheet. Bake 10 minutes.

Combine cheeses and sprinkle over pizza crust. Scatter chiles evenly. Bake 10-15 minutes until cheese is melted and faintly golden brown. Let stand 5 minutes before slicing, or cheese will be too gooey. Serve with remaining ingredients, and let everyone top their own nacho with exactly what they want.

Extra Extra!

Tasty Tidbit – In 1943, Ignacio “Nacho” Anaya first covered chips with cheese and chiles for a group of Air Force officers’ wives lunching in Mexico, just across the border from Texas’ Fort Duncan Air Base. The maitre’ d, Anaya couldn’t find the cook to make something for the ladies, and so he whipped up the dish and named it Nacho’s Especiales. (Source: San Antonio Express-News)

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Say cheese!

Sometimes, it's the things you are most resistant to that end up being your absolute favorites. I call this the "Green Eggs and Ham" principle. (In an unrelated note, if you like Dr. Seuss classics reinterpreted in hilarious ways...with here. It's worth it.)

I sampled my first cheese Danish when I was 12, under duress.

I had no interest in trying what was explained to me as a doughnut filled with cheese. (The small picture of a wedge of Swiss on the side of the bakery box didn’t help my somewhat vivid imagination.) I'm not sure why anyone would think this was the way to go. It's kind of like offering a cupcake with gravy.

But try it I did. And there was no going back. My refrigerator is never without cream cheese. I use it in everything. You'll see it make more than one appearance in this blog. In fact, I think it's already shown up a few times. I have trouble getting enough protein in my diet, and cream cheese offers me a delicious way to up the number of grams I get in a day. If you have a seriously picky eater, adding some cream cheese to his mashed potatoes or Kraft macaroni could give you a little piece of mind about rounding out his diet.

Something sweet is usually a much easier sell than something savory, however. And as a breakfast food, a good cheese danish is hard to beat. It's got dairy, protein, carbs, a solid foundation for a morning of work or school, especially if paired with a glass of juice.

If you are meeting, or think you might meet, similar resistance when you serve this delicious concoction, feel free to call it what my nephew does: white frosting pizza. I don’t intend to correct him for at least five years.

1 pizza crust
1 T. butter
8 oz. cream cheese, softened
½ c. sugar
1 T. vanilla
1 egg
2 T. butter
2 T. brown sugar
¼ c. flour
½ c. powdered sugar
1 t. vanilla
1 t. milk

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place pizza crust on baking sheet. Spread with butter. Bake 10 minutes. Remove and set aside.

Combine cream cheese, sugar, vanilla and egg. Spread over crust. In another bowl, combine butter, brown sugar and flour. Sprinkle over cheese mixture. Bake 10-15 minutes, until crust begins to brown, but the cheese is just beginning to set. Remove and cool. The cheese will set up more.

Combine powdered sugar, vanilla and milk. Drizzle over cooled pizza. Slice and serve.


Jeweled Danish – Spread 1 c. blueberry or cherry pie filling over c cheese layer before sprinkling with streusel. Bake 15 minutes.

Lemon Cream Danish – Omit streusel. After baking the cream cheese layer, spread with ½ c. lemon curd. Sprinkle with flaked almonds. Replace vanilla in icing with lemon juice.

Extra Extra!!

Where in the world does Danish pastry come from? – Actually, it’s Austria. If you walk into a bakery in Denmark and ask for a Danish, you’ll get some funny looks. Ask for some “bread of Vienna” though, and they’ll know just what you want. Why? According to, the answer lies in a kitchen workers’ strike in 1880, when bakers walked off the job and were replaced by Viennese masters whose pastries were ultimately lighter and flakier than their Danish colleagues’ treats. When the bakers came back to work, customers were clamoring for the Viennese delicacies and savvy chefs had to learn to make them the same way. Those wily Danes weren’t melancholy for long. They got the last laugh since no one ever orders a cheese Austrian with their morning coffee.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

She sneaks, she scores!

I would like to preface this post with a disclaimer.

I am intrinsically opposed to the Deceptively Delicious/Sneaky Chef philosophy. I don't believe that tricking people into eating things they can't necessarily identify is appropriate. I mean, if you have a kid who hates spinach, and you hide spinach in brownies, you aren't offering him a chance to change his mind. You're essentially pulling a less oogy Soylent Green on him. And you're teaching him he can't trust you.

Do I put things in a pizza that might be less recognizable? Yes. But they are never obscured to the point of "Hey, this is great! What do you mean there's tomato in this?" The whole point is to get kids to like new things, not encapsulate them so they don't realize they are even being exposed.

Well...usually. This may be the exception. And I don't feel good about it. I assuage my conscience with the fact that trickery wasn't the goal. I was just short an egg.

The last time I made meatballs, I was about to go grocery shopping the next day. I was cleaning out the fridge. I was mixing up my famous (rightly so...they're delicious) meatballs for a good old-fashioned spaghetti with my husband's 2-day sauce.

I had the meat in one bowl. I broke one egg into another bowl. I reached for the second, and last, egg. And dropped it on the floor.

So now, I've got a dilemma. My meatballs need two eggs. I don't have two eggs. My husband has taken the car to go buy weird plumbing widgets. So I'm left with ingenuity instead. Ingenuity, and some leftover pumpkin.

I'm here to tell you, an egg-sized dollop of pumpkin in your meatballs is a perfect sub for an egg. And it's moist and delicious. And you never taste the pumpkin. (I was kind of disappointed about that.) And where an egg would have added fat and cholesterol, the fat-free pumpkin added beta carotene, vitamin A and potassium.

DO NOT BE TEMPTED TO REPLACE BOTH EGGS. You need the egg for binding or it all falls apart (but does still taste good). In fact, in re-tooling the recipe, I have kept both eggs, but used pumpkin in place of part of the milk, again giving a more nutritious punch. And yes, I'm not oblivious to the fact that with a little cinnamon, I'd be adding pie filling to my meatballs.

So don't lie to your kids. But feed them these meatballs. Call them Jack O Lantern meatballs. Kids will eat anything at Halloween.

Delectable Meatballs

(This recipe makes about 30 good sized meatballs. You can cut it down, but I recommend making the bigger batch and freezing what you don't need if that's too many.)

2 lbs. ground beef or meatloaf mix (I often do 1 lb. hamburger and 1 lb. Italian sausage)
2 eggs
1/4 c. pumpkin
2 T. milk
2 t. mustard
1 T. ketchup (or tomato sauce)
Salt and pepper
1/2 onion, chopped
2-3 slices fresh bread, torn, or 2/3 c. dry breadcrumbs
Optional: 30 tiny mozzarella balls (ciliegine, not bocconcini), or 1 pound mozzarella cut in 30 small pieces

Break up your meat in one large bowl, much larger than you think you'll need.

In a small bowl, beat your eggs. Whisk in the pumpkin and milk. Add the mustard, ketchup, seasoning and onion. Then gently stir in the bread or breadcrumbs. Then sit it aside for a few minutes. You want the bread to naturally soak up the liquid.

Add the egg mixture to the meat. Gently incorporate them together. Don't overwork the meat or you'll get tough meatballs. Form into about 30 balls. (This is where you can stuff them with the cheese as you shape them. If you like. I do. They are sooooo good with the cheese.)

Now...when I'm making pasta, I cook the raw meatballs in the sauce. This makes the sauce better, and flavors the meatballs at the same time. Delicious. Just simmer, covered, in the sauce for 30 minutes or so. Longer's okay. Just don't let the sauce burn, but don't stir it too much or you'll break up the meatballs. A low flame is really important.

But if I'm freezing any, or making them for pizza, I bake them. A jelly roll pan, a 350 degree oven, and about 20 minutes or so.


Monday, October 26, 2009

Hot potato

As a little girl in Minnesota, I knew nothing of pierogies. To me, ethnic food was an anise-flavored Swiss fruit bread my grandmothers made every Christmas.

But then we moved to Pennsylvania, where so many grandmothers are Ukrainian, Polish, Russian, Slavic of all varieties. These are people who understand the value of a good carbohydrate, people who think a potato is good, but a potato wrapped in a noodle is even better.

I’m not much of a noodle maker myself, but when you put creamy mashed potatoes and caramelized onions on a pizza, that’s something to write Eastern Europe about.

1 pizza crust
1 T. butter
1 onion, sliced
Salt and pepper
2 c. mashed potatoes, hot
1 c. cheddar cheese
Optional: parsley, bacon, diced fresh tomato, fresh or cooked broccoli

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place pizza crust on baking sheet.

In skillet over low heat, sauté onions in butter, seasoning with salt and pepper to taste. Spread potatoes evenly over crust. Scatter cheese over potatoes. Top with onions. If desired, add any optional ingredients, like herbs, bacon or vegetables.

Bake 15-20 minutes, or until crust is crisp and golden and cheese is melted.

Extra Extra!

All’s Fair – While there is some universal fair fare, like corn dogs and snow cones, there are also some things that you can only get in certain areas. In Pennsylvania, no carnival, big or small, is complete without a selection of Eastern European specialties, including pierogies (a thick-doughed dumpling filled with mashed potatoes and sautéed with onions), halupki (rice and meat rolled in a cabbage leaf and simmered in a tangy tomato sauce), and halushki (cabbage and chewy homemade noodles pan-fried together). In the upper Midwest, it’s fried cheese curds; in the Southwest, it’s Native American or Mexican specialties like nopalitos (prickly young cactus pads) and Navajo fry bread. Even the names can be regional. Ask for a candy apple in some parts of America, and you get what someone else would call a caramel apple. To get a sticky red-dipped snack, you might have to ask for a taffy apple.

Friday, October 23, 2009

What's this green stuff?

I think that we can agree...getting someone to eat spinach can be very much like getting them to willingly eat dirt. Actually, with kids, it can be much harder. Many a kid will cheerfully munch his own handmade mud pies but wouldn't touch a plate of creamed spinach if there was a large cash prize involved.

Which is why it's important to introduce things early, often, in a variety of ways, and in forms a kid might like overall. Like, oh,

Spinach is great on pizza. Any pizza. A little fresh spinach sliced in ribbons and stirred into pizza sauce ups the iron and vitamin C, increases fiber, and gives a delicious, rich background flavor. A scattering of whole baby spinach leaves under the cheese gives texture and color, particularly on a garlicky white pizza.

But for my money, the best way to introduce spinach is with something creamy. A little spinach in a ricotta cheese topping, spread on a crust, with a light tomato topping becomes a gigantic version of florentine ravioli that can be sliced in wedges.

1 pizza crust
1 T. olive oil
½ c. ricotta cheese
¼ c. grated parmesan
1 c. frozen spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
¼ t. nutmeg
Salt and pepper to taste
1 c. tomato sauce
1 c. shredded mozzarella

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place pizza crust on baking sheet. Drizzle with olive oil.

In a bowl, combine ricotta and parmesan. Fold in spinach. Add nutmeg, salt and pepper. Spread over crust. Top with tomato sauce, just covering the cheese. (Save any remaining sauce to serve with pizza.) Top with mozzarella.

Bake 20-25 minutes. Let stand 10 minutes to allow ricotta to set. If you don’t let it set, the ricotta layer will be too melted to cut and you won’t be able to eat your pizza without a fork. Or maybe a spoon. It will still be delicious though.

Extra Extra!!!

Gotta love those Italians - Even Popeye hasn’t been able to counteract the bad rap that spinach has with most kids and more than a few adults. But when it’s done right, spinach can be sublime, as the residents of Florence, Italy, can tell you. Their city doesn’t just have a dish named for it. They have a whole style of cooking, all built around the addition of one of Americans’ least favorite veggies.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

A chili is in the air

My mother isn't allowed to have chili dogs anymore.

Once, when she was pregnant with my brother, she needed a chili dog so bad, she made my stepfather get a ticket for making an illegal left turn. That was the end of chili dogs for her.

But I can understand. Okay, my pregnancy cravings never ran toward Coney dogs, but hey, what's not to like. Zesty, meaty chili. Zippy, stringy cheese. The ever popular hot dog. It's a classic combination.

Actually, on a pizza, chili dogs have all the fun of the original, but none of the drippy mess.

Chili Dog Pizza

1 pizza crust
1 cup chili (homemade, take-out, canned, whatever)
½ c. light red kidney beans
8 hot dogs, sliced into coins
1 c. shredded sharp cheddar
1 c. shredded mozzarella
Onions, relish, ketchup, mustard, etc. (optional)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place pizza crust on baking sheet.

Mash kidney beans with a fork. Stir into chili until combined. Spread over pizza crust. Scatter hot dog slices over chili. Top with cheeses. Bake for 20 minutes. Serve favorite frankfurter condiments for topping individual slices.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The Muffin Principle

Yes, that's right. Muffins.

We detour this evening in honor of a friend. Larks wants muffins. Carrot cake muffins, to be precise.

Muffins, much like pizza, are a perfect venue for getting things into a picky eater that a picky eater might otherwise scorn.

Like the carrots in question.

A kid can look at a carrot with the same fear, loathing and distrust some people reserve for tax auditors or salesmen hawking $2,000 vacuum cleaners door to door. But a muffin? A muffin is practically a cupcake. Who doesn't implicity trust a cupcake? Cupcakes don't mislead you. They are straightforwardly sweet and delicious at all times.

Even when they contain carrots.

And so, for the distrustful picky eater in us all, this cupcake, sorry, muffin is for you.

Carrot Cake Muffins

4 oz. cream cheese, softened
2 T sugar
1 t. vanilla
1 t. lemon zest
1/3 c. butter or margarine, softened
1/2 c. packed brown sugar
2 eggs
1/2 c. sour cream
1/4 c. apple butter (applesauce will work)
1 c. finely grated carrots
1/2 c. raisins
1/2 c. pecans, chopped
1 1/2 c. all-purpose flour
1 t. baking powder
1/2 t. baking soda
1/2 t. ground cinnamon
1/4 t. nutmeg

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Combine cream cheese, sugar, vanilla and zest. Set aside.

Line 12-cup muffin pan with cupcake liners, or grease well.

In a bowl, combine butter and brown sugar. Add eggs, sour cream and apple butter, then stir in carrots raisins and nuts. Separately mix flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon and nutmeg. Add to wet ingredients, stirring just until combined. Do not overmix. Overmixing is the downfall of a good muffin.

Distribute half of the batter between the muffin cups. Add a spoonful of the cream cheese mixture, and top with remaining batter. Bake 20-25 minutes, until lightly browned and set.

Cool before eating. Then eat them. All. Okay, if you have any left, just make sure you put them in the fridge. Cream cheese, remember?!

Monday, October 19, 2009

Pizza...on the Cobb

My husband loves Cobb salad. He orders it everywhere we ever go. Does he do this so he can experience the joy of eating something he loves?


He does it so he can complain about it. If I have heard "This isn't a real Cobb salad" once, I have heard it ten million times. I cringe when I see Cobb on a menu. I know exactly where my day is headed from there.

He has issues with the ingredients. People like to change things up, after all, and if you change something that SHOULD be on a Cobb, he feels you are honor-bound to call it something else. No avocado? Pack it up and go home. No blue cheese? How can you even serve that to people?

And making huge changes? Illegal. Possibly a federal thing. There was an instance with a Mexican Cobb once... I felt really bad for the waiter.

And so, I was naturally reluctant to subject myself, and my Cobb pizza, to this kind of scrutiny. It required planning and research. Did I hit all the high points? Were all the components present?

The great thing is, pizza is a perfect canvas for a Cobb. As a composed salad, one that depends as much on arrangement as it does on ingredients, a pizza crust offers possibly the only way to easily and neatly serve a Cobb salad to a group. And the chewy bread is a great foil for the mix of creamy and crisp textures in the mix of traditional toppings.

Are there things that some people won't want? I admit, I'm not a fan of blue cheese. Or avocado. But there's just something about the artistic presentation of a Cobb that makes it seem wrong to pull out the stuff you don't like. So you give it a try. And everything harmonizes so well, you go for another bite. And another. And before you know it, you've eaten the whole thing.

"But that's not really a Cobb."


Cobb Salad Pizza

1 pre-baked pizza crust
Olive oil
1 avocado, sliced thin
1 large tomato, sliced thin
4 hard-boiled eggs, sliced
1 c. shredded lettuce
½ pound cooked chicken, diced
½ c. crumbled bacon
½ c. shredded cheddar
½ c. blue cheese or ranch dressing

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place crust on baking sheet. Brush or spray with olive oil. (A little garlic at this point isn't bad either.) Bake 15-20 minutes. Cool.

Alternating avocado and tomato, layer the two in a circular pattern over crust. Top with a layer of sliced egg, then lettuce. Scatter with chicken, bacon and cheese. Drizzle with dressing. Slice and serve.

Sidebar box: Recipe roulette – You never know what you might find in your kitchen in the dark of night. Famed Hollywood restaurant owner Bob Cobb found gold in his refrigerator in 1937, when a late-night scavenger hunt yielded a bowl of vegetables, eggs, cheese and cold chicken that quickly became known as the Cobb salad. According to the Brown Derby Restaurant Group, the offspring of Cobb’s eatery, since that time, more than four million of the salads have been made at Brown Derby restaurants alone.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Hitting the sauce

Okay, I admit right up front that this sauce is nothing like my husband’s grandmother’s sauce.

Hers cooked all day, sometimes overnight, and tasted like, well, an elderly little Italian woman had been working on it all day and overnight. When Matthew wants sauce like that, he makes it himself and doesn’t let me touch it. When he’s in a less snobby frame of mind, he lets me make sauce myself.

I aspire to Nana’s sauce, but I know I’ll never really get there. In the meantime, this one makes a good pizza, a great dip for breadsticks and a nice complement to heavy pastas like rigatoni and rotini. It is worth the effort if you have the time. It’s also chunkier and a little more sophisticated than a plain smooth tomato sauce or a commercial pizza sauce. Give it a go after your kids have gotten accustomed to something a little higher in tone.

Nana's Sauce

2 T. olive oil
¼ c. chopped onion
¼ c. chopped celery
¼ c. chopped carrot
1 clove garlic, minced
1 15 ounce can diced tomatoes
1 small can tomato paste
½ c. beef broth
½ c. red wine
1 T. sugar
1/2 t. dried oregano
1 t. dried basil
Salt and pepper
1 T. grated parmesan

In a heavy, non-aluminum saucepan, heat oil. Add onion, celery, carrots and garlic. Cook until softened and onions are translucent. Add tomatoes with liquid. Cook until liquid is reduced by half. Add tomato paste and stir to combine thoroughly. Add broth, wine and one tomato-paste can of warm water. Stir in sugar, seasonings and cheese. Cook over low heat, stirring frequently, until sauce is thick and almost ketchup-like in consistency. For pizza sauce, it has to be thick. To use for pasta, add more water, broth or wine, whichever appeals to you most.


Bolognese - Add 1 lb. ground sirloin or Italian sausage after cooking vegetables and before adding tomatoes. Brown thoroughly and drain excess grease before proceeding. Lace with a drizzle of cream before serving.

Puttanesca - Add ½ c. sliced black olives and 1 T. anchovy paste with tomatoes.

Arrabbiata - Add 1 hot banana pepper, sliced in rings, with tomatoes. Add 1 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes with seasonings. Increase sugar to 2 tablespoons.

Extra Extra!

Looking for a Few Good Women? – Many people know that pasta puttanesca is named for the puttas, or prostitutes, who first assembled it from the odds and ends in their cupboards when they had time between customers. Most people don’t know that it has a second name, Pasta a la Buono Donna, or Good Woman’s Pasta, so as not to impugn the honor of the average Italian housewife who whipped it up, too.

Friday, October 16, 2009

What are you, chicken?

I love chicken cacciatore. Some people pick at chicken in tomato sauce like it's a bizarre hybrid, like a hot fudge sundae with a cherry tomato on the whipped cream.

I don't get it. What's not to like? Rich with tomatoes and onions, chicken cacciatore, or hunter’s-style chicken, is a timeless Italian favorite. Almost. Like Chinese food, Italian cuisine is peppered with dishes that aren’t really native to the country we think. Chicken cacciatore, while based on a typical way of cooking game in central Italy, is an invention of the restaurants of ethnic neighborhoods across America.

But still...everybody likes chicken. So maybe it's just the bubbling pot of stewy-ness that's scary. I say, throw it on a pizza and bring 'em to the table.

Cacciatore Pizza

1 pizza crust
1 pound roasted or poached chicken (Leftover chicken is perfect, but the tender, succulent meat from a deli rotisserie bird is also wonderful.)
1 c. canned diced tomatoes
½ c. white wine
1 c. chopped onion
1 c. chopped red and green peppers
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 t. sugar
Salt and pepper to taste
1 T. chopped fresh basil, or 1 t. dried basil
½ c. shredded mozzarella
¼ c. grated parmesan

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place pizza crust on baking sheet.

Cut chicken into bite-sized chunks. In a saucepan, combine tomatoes, wine, onion, peppers, and garlic. Cook on medium, covered, until the mixture comes to a boil. Turn heat down and simmer until reduced and slightly thickened. Add sugar, salt, pepper and basil. Stir in chicken. Cook another 5 minutes.

Using a slotted spoon, remove chicken and vegetables from the sauce and spread over crust. Serve remaining sauce with pizza. Top with cheeses. Bake 15-20 minutes, or until cheese is bubbling and golden.

Extra Extra!

Fowl Play – In Venice, the Padovano chicken is a popular item on many menus. The bird in question was developed when the Marchese Giovanni Dondi brought an unusual bird back from Poland in the 14th Century. It produced a cross-breed that was formally acknowledged in the 17th Century as Gallina Padovano, and referred to as “a race caught between myth and reality.” And it tastes pretty good, too.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Asian Fusion

This is where I admit that I do not personally have a picky eater. My 2-year-old son would eat caterpillars and gravel if I gave them to him with green beans. He doesn't turn up his nose at anything. Nothing. At all. Okay, beef liver and mangoes, but for a kid who has been eating table food since six months, I think that's pretty darn good.

But the best example I can ever find of his open-minded, open-stomachedness is clearly a Chinese buffet.

He cheerfully chomps his way through absolutely everything. Scallops, crab legs, shrimp, broccoli, pepper steak, lychees, California roll. You name it, he wants a bite of it. And then he will take it away and eat it for you.

My siblings did not come to Chinese food this easily. My middle sister, who will be 32 next month, has only recently embraced the idea of chicken lo mein.

My picky eater experiences are valid. All of these recipes have been tested on actual picky eaters, old and young, and have changed hearts and minds along the way. So if you have someone who is turning up a nose at moo shu and General Tsao's, give this a try.

Chinese Chicken Pizza

1 pizza crust
½ c. tomato sauce
¼ c. hoisin sauce
1 T. soy sauce
1 T. honey
2 t. sesame oil
1 t. grated gingerroot
White pepper, just a dash
1 pound cooked chicken (Leftover dark meat is great, but rotisserie or pre-cooked strips like Louis Rich’s work well. I've even done it with breaded chicken fingers cut in pieces.)
1/3 c. chopped green onion
1 red pepper, sliced in rings
1 c. broccoli florets, blanched, steamed or stir-fried
½ c. mozzarella cheese
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place pizza crust on baking sheet.
In a bowl, whisk tomato sauce, hoisin, soy, honey, sesame oil, ginger and pepper. Spread half over crust. Arrange chicken on pizza, drizzling remaining sauce on top. Scatter vegetables evenly over surface. Sprinkle with cheese. Bake 15-20 minutes, or until crust is golden brown and cheese is melted.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Hold the onions?

My sisters and brother had some very strong opinions about onions when they were kids. It wasn't that they didn't like the flavor of onions, which you could tell because they ate anything that had onions in it...

Unless they could SEE the onions.

My mother spent years scraping onions off McDonald's cheeseburgers with a french fry. We cooked onions and peppers separately to add to spaghetti sauce and steak sandwiches. And Mom made the ultimate mistake in leaving the veggies off the kids' pizza and having another pie completely decked out for those of us without unreasonable onion prejudice.

Pizza's a great way to disguise something like an onion, without actually hiding it. Cooked onions are sweeter than raw, and in my opinion, bring a lot more to the party. They don't have a jarring crunch or that pungent flavor. Plus with everything else going on, why not just put the onions under the cheese, present but not aggressive.

Or just go for it. Be in your face. Make an onion pizza that is unapologetically all about the onion. And damn good.

South of France Onion

Imagine thick little crockery bowls filled with rich broth and sweet onions, tucked under crusty French bread and a blanket of gooey, melted cheese. It’s a combination so lush, yet so simple, one story suggests it was created by King Louis XV himself on a hunting trip. Far from France, Georgia’s succulent Vidalia onions are perfect in the soup, or caramelized down to a rich onion jam to grace a truly regal pizza.

1 pre-baked pizza crust
2 T. butter
2 large Vidalia onion, sliced
2 T. brown sugar
1/2 c. apple cider
1/2 c. beef broth
Salt and pepper to taste
1 c. shredded mozzarella
¾ c. shredded provolone
¼ c. grated parmesan
1 T. chopped parsley
1 t. thyme

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Place pizza crust on baking sheet.
Melt butter and saute onion until translucent. Add sugar, cider, broth and salt and
pepper. Cook on low until syrupy.
Spread pizza crust with onion mixture. Toss cheeses together and sprinkle evenly
across onions. Scatter herbs over cheese. Bake for 10-15 minutes.

Extra Extra!

Root Rule – According to Federal regulations, to be called a Vidalia, onions have to be produced in a 14,000-acre area of Southeastern Georgia. Only 225 growers cultivate the bulb, a cousin of the lily, but that humble harvest has an estimated $150 million impact on the state’s economy. (Source:, L.G. Herndon, Jr., Farms, Inc.)

Monday, October 12, 2009

Make a Break, Fast

Ask any frat boy. Pizza is great breakfast food. More tests have been passed and early morning classes reached with cold pizza fuel than Wheaties have won Olympic gold. But a half-empty box lying on the coffee table under a pile of Intro to Psych books isn’t the only way pizza and breakfast can come together. There is definitely room for pizza in your morning routine after you’ve given in and become a full-fledged grown-up.

Still, the kid-friendly idea of pizza for breakfast is a great way to appeal to the real kids in your house. While you might have to arm-wrestle your offspring to convince him to sit down and eat an egg before rushing for the bus, what self-respecting ‘tween is going to turn down a slice of pizza as he’s running out the door?

Even better, it’s a breakfast that doesn’t have to be a nutritional compromise on your part. It isn’t a fatty drive-thru meal. It’s not a sugar-soaked, ultra-preserved dessert in breakfast’s clothing. When you make a breakfast pizza, you are tailoring it to exactly what your children will eat without scrimping on what you want them to eat.

Petrified of what they’d say at the PTA? Don’t worry about it. After all, bread has historically been a part of breakfast. Topping it with some typical breakfast foods is a natural way to go.

Huevos Rancheros Locos

Okay, I confess. Real honest-to-Pedro huevos rancheros feature fried eggs, which I love. However, whole eggs just don’t work as well on a pizza. In experimenting with different breakfast pizzas, I came to one conclusion very early. Scrambled is the way to go. And with rancheros, it’s a perfect pairing. The spicy sauce and melting cheese meld better with the soft, forgiving scrambled egg. The result is easier and less messy, but with familiar flavors kids will appreciate. (And I found it much easier to get kids to eat scrambled eggs with extras than fried eggs on their own.)

1 pre-baked pizza crust
¾ c. salsa (as hot or mild as you like it)
2 T. butter
6 eggs
2 T. milk
1 c. cheddar cheese
½ c. sour cream
½ c. salsa
Optional: crushed corn chips, jalapenos, chopped green chiles, bell pepper, onion, cilantro, parsley,
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place pizza crust on baking sheet. Bake 5 minutes. Spread with salsa.
Melt butter in large skillet. Beat eggs with milk and cook, stirring frequently, until soft set. Spread over salsa. Top with cheese. Bake 10 minutes.
Drizzle with sour cream and remaining salsa. Finish with optional extras. Slice and serve.

Extra Extra!

To Beak or Not To Beak – While “salsa” means something very specific in America, in Spanish, it simply means sauce. That could mean almost anything, from the chocolate-enriched mole to a rich French béarnaise. But what most people associate with the word salsa is actually pico de gallo, a chunky tomato, onion and pepper concoction that translates as “beak of the rooster.” Sounds weird, but today, salsa has really cut the mustard, replacing ketchup as the number one condiment in America.

Perfection...with a twist.

Everyone knows that pizza is bread, cheese and tomatoes. The most simple and classic, the Margherita, is a marvel in its melted simplicity.

But what if you didn't melt it? What if you didn't cook it at all. (Okay, the crust gets cooked. But that's all.)

The components of cool, creamy fresh mozzarella with steaky slices of bright red tomato are their own tradition. A little basil, a drizzle of oil and a splash of balsamic vinegar, and you have Caprese salad.

Building a Caprese on a pizza crust is perfection, in more ways than one. The bread is a great vessel for the salad, allowing for perfect bites of all the components at one time. And from a visual standpoint, it can't be beat. A layered or concentric presentation is tailor-made for Caprese, and the pizza crust plays to it magnificently.


1 pizza crust
Olive oil
2 large ripe tomatoes (one red and one yellow is a nice touch)
2 large mozzarella cheeses
Salt and pepper
Balsamic vinegar
Fresh basil, sliced in ribbons

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Place crust on baking sheet. Brush or spray with olive oil. Bake 10-15 minutes, until lightly golden. Set aside.
Slice tomatoes into even slices. Slice mozzarella cheese into slices the same width. Alternating tomatoes and cheese, layer in a pinwheel pattern over crust. Drizzle with more olive oil. Season with salt and pepper to taste and sprinkle with a splash of balsamic vinegar. Finish with fresh basil. Allow to stand, letting flavors blend, for at least 10 minutes. Slice and serve.

Extra Extra!

Holy oils – Franciscan monks brought more to the New World than churches and schools. According to The Olive Oil Source, the Catholic monastic order is responsible for the olive crops in California. Most of the oldest orchards in the Golden State are in the North, where development has not made it too expensive to devote land to raising the trees.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Pizza on the dessert cart

I love a dessert tray. Seriously, it's an addiction. My measure of a truly splendiferous restaurant is one that will bring over a beautiful tray or lovely tea cart with stunning desserts arranged on it like engagement rings in a jeweler's front window. It's something spectacular to see.

That is why when I began this pizza adventure, I had to include some dessert pizzas.

Dessert pizzas at pizza places usually leave me cold. They are almost always canned apple pie filling spread on overcooked crust with some crumbs and white icing. Sometimes this gets changed up with blueberry or cherry filling.

At home, they are usually no better. What people call a "dessert pizza" is seldom a pizza at all. It's a cookie or cake baked in a pizza pan and decorated to look like a real pizza. Sorry people, I'm not interested in gummi pepperoni.

So I went back to the drawing board and worked on real dough, with good ingredients. I wanted a pizza that could feel proud on a dessert cart. Like this one.

Chocoholics Anonymous

I created this dessert for a friend who adored chocolate. Actually, I made it for her March birthday…after she gave up chocolate for Lent. It was evil, true, but the result was so good, she graciously forgave me after the first bite. And the second slice. And the last crumb. She didn’t let anyone else have any.

1 pre-baked pizza crust
1 c. semi-sweet chocolate chips
½ c. heavy cream
1 3-oz. package cream cheese, softened
1 c. milk chocolate chips
1 t. vanilla
2 T. rum (or 1 t. rum flavoring or 2 T. coffee)
1 c. heavy cream
Garnish: shaved white chocolate, chopped nuts

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place pizza crust on baking sheet. Bake 5-7 minutes, just to warm. Set aside.

Place semi-sweet chocolate in a large glass bowl. In a glass measuring cup, microwave half cup cream for 30 seconds. Pour over chocolate. Microwave 30 seconds, stirring every 10 seconds. Continue microwaving in 10-15 second intervals until melted. Whisk until smooth. Spread over pizza crust.

Place cream cheese in a large bowl. Using same microwave technique or a double boiler, melt milk chocolate with vanilla and rum. Beat with cream cheese until smooth. Whip one cup of heavy cream. Fold whipped cream into chocolate mixture about half a cup at a time. Spread over semi-sweet chocolate layer. Chill at least one hour. Garnish with shaved white chocolate and nuts. Slice and serve.


Divinely Delicious – How many foods are so good that they are deemed sincerely heavenly? The Greek word for chocolate is “theobroma,” literally, “food of the gods.” The name is a reference to its importance to the Aztecs that introduced it to their European conquerors. Originally a beverage, chocolate was an important part of religious ceremonies and sacred to the goddess Xochiquetzal. Theobromine, a compound found in chocolate, is thought to be a good cough suppressant. Chocolate also contains caffeine, tryptophan, magnesium and cannabanoids related to marijuana, plus it is believed to release endorphins and promote seratonin production in the brain. Just think of a candy bar as really, really good-tasting medicine. (

Friday, October 9, 2009

A German-Italian alliance is forged!

Okay, that might sound a little scary to some. But this isn't about keeping the trains running on time or going after the rest of Europe with a whip and a chair. It's about introducing delicious German food through a classic Italian staple.

You see, my husband is Italian. Both sides, all the way back to the Naples and Calabria. Me? I'm a Germanic mutt. My family tree has a German trunk, with major branches from Switzerland, Austria, and Prussia. Our kitchen is a metaphor for our marriage, alternately producing veal Milanese and wiener schnitzel.

My husband loves German food. My father-in-law doesn't particularly trust anything that isn't a steak or a bowl of pasta. This pizza was a way to produce the ethnic flavors I love in a comforting, familiar form for him.


You don’t have to wait until fall to appreciate juicy German sausages cooked in beer, or mustard with a spicy kick different from Dijon or hot English varieties. A pizza crust topped with Deutschland delicacies is a welcome slice of October any time of year.

1 pizza crust
1 pound bratwurst or kielbasa (Yes, I know, kielbasa’s Polish.)
1 beer
1 sliced red onion
¼ c. spicy German mustard
1 c. sauerkraut
1 c. shredded Swiss cheese
1 c. mozzarella cheese

In a large skillet, combine sausages, beer and onions. Simmer, covered, until sausages are plump and cooked through. Remove lid and continue cooking until beer is just evaporated. Remove from heat. Let cool about 5-10 minutes.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place pizza crust on baking sheet. Spread crust with mustard. Slice sausages into bite-sized pieces. Scatter onions and sausages over crust. Top with sauerkraut. Combine cheeses and sprinkle on pizza. Bake 15 minutes or so, until cheese is melted and starting to brown.


The gang’s all beer – When most people ask for a beer, they don’t think about what kind of drink they really want. For most people in the U.S., a beer is really a pilsner, a clear gold drink with bohemian roots. But that isn’t the only lager on the loose. A beer by any other name might be an ale, a stout, a wheat, a porter or a lambic. Each has characteristics as different as varieties of cheese or wine.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

If it's Monday, it must be meatloaf...

Today, we'll get to the meat of the Pizza Principle. The point? That pizza can pull you off a ledge.

The problem used to be boring routine at dinnertime. Then it was lack of time. With Mom and Dad working late, and kids trying to squeeze in friends and homework around soccer, marching band, cheerleading, drama club, and that part-time job at the video store, dinner has a tendency to get lost in the shuffle. When we do have time to sit down together, it seems like a special occasion, and celebrating with processed packaged macaroni and some hamburgers just doesn’t cut it.

Using pizza crust as a platform is an easy way to bring some fun to the Tuesday night supper table, jazz up your stable of potluck staples, or surprise guests with the unexpected. Anything you can marry to bread (and a few things you’d never think to) can turn into a great pizza, and a great reason to eat with your family.

Football season is the perfect time for pizza. In my house, a good Nittany Lion play is cause for celebration, and more than one carpet has been ruined by potato salad and barbecue gone flying into the air. Pizza is easier to keep in hand. And when you’re watching Penn State score, you aren’t eating sloppy joes, you’re eating sloppy JoePas, in honor of the best coach to ever bully a 300-pound linebacker on the sidelines. (Note: In no way does this imply that the always dapper Coach Paterno is ever any less than impeccably groomed.)

Sloppy JoePa Pizza

1 pizza crust

1 pound ground beef

1 diced onion

1 chopped green pepper

½ can tomato soup

1 T. ketchup

1 t. mustard

2 T. brown sugar

2 t. apple cider vinegar

½ t. garlic powder

Cayenne, just a dash

Salt and pepper

2 c. shredded cheddar and mozzarella blend

Green onions and banana peppers, optional

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place pizza crust on baking sheet.

In a large skillet, sauté ground beef with onions and peppers. Drain. Add tomato soup, ketchup, mustard, brown sugar and vinegar. Cover and cook 10 minutes. Season with garlic powder, cayenne and salt and pepper to taste. Spread meat mixture over crust. If there is more meat than you want on your pie, save it for a sandwich later. Top with cheese.

Bake 15 minutes, or until cheese is bubbling and crust is golden. Garnish with green onions and banana peppers if desired.

Extra Extra!!!

Tailgate Time – At Penn State, football is serious business, and home games turn tiny State College, Pa., into the third largest city in the state, outstripped only by Philadelphia to the east and Pittsburgh to the west. That’s not surprising when you consider that Beaver Stadium holds 107,282 enthusiastic fans, currently the largest crowd in the NCAA. Outside, even more fans fill the parking lots, watching the games on portable sets while they chow down on favorites like burgers and dogs, barbecue, nachos, and yes, pizza.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

A Slice of History

Pizza was born of necessity, but not when, or where, most people think. It isn’t really something that was created in Italy sometime after Columbus discovered tomatoes in the new world. It’s much, much older than that.

Flat bread has been around since people first discovered grain. Topping it with other good things to eat was natural. There is evidence that many Mediterranean cultures, including the Babylonians, Egyptians, Israelites and, okay, yes, even the Romans were making a dish akin to modern focaccia thousands of years ago.

It wasn’t until the 1800s that cooks in the Naples region, finally embracing the tomato they once thought was poisonous, began to experiment with the flavors most commonly associated with Italian food, and pizza, today. In the late 19th century, an innovative baker combined a flat crust with tomatoes, mozzarella and basil, creating the dish now known as pizza Margherita to honor his queen and country. Pizza has been on a roll ever since.


This is the pizza that launched a worldwide love affair with Italian food. It is classically Neapolitan, as was intended by Raffaele Esposito when he created it to honor his country, with the red, white and green colors of the Italian flag, and his queen, whose name it bears.

1 pizza crust (fresh or your favorite pre-packaged convenience crust, dough, mix, whatever)

1 pound tomatoes, peeled (Roma are best, but sliced beefsteaks are fine.)

1 T. olive oil

Salt and pepper to taste

2 T. fresh basil, sliced in ribbons (or 1 t. dried basil)

½ pound mozzarella, sliced

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place pizza crust on baking sheet.

Slice tomatoes. If you are using Romas, halve them and gently squeeze out seeds. Quarter larger tomatoes. If you are using beefsteaks, slice them somewhat thickly, about ¼ to ½ inches, and place on paper towels for a few minutes to absorb liquid. Gently remove seeds. (If tomatoes aren’t in season, use canned whole Romas instead. Season and warm the puree they are packed in to serve with the pizza.) Arrange tomatoes across crust. Season with salt and pepper. Drizzle oil over tomatoes and around crust. Scatter half of the basil over tomatoes. Cover with sliced mozzarella. Bake 15-20 minutes, until golden brown if using fresh dough, or until cheese is melted if using a packaged crust. Scatter remaining basil over cheese.

Extra Extra!!!

Ingredient Info – Fresh mozzarella cheese is more expensive then bags of shredded cheese. It’s very good, but not a big enough difference to justify the expense if you are feeding kids (and adults) a traditional pizza they will swallow whole without noticing. A Margherita pizza, however, is a good place to use it. The fresh flavor complements the whole tomatoes and bright herbs.

Monday, October 5, 2009

You can't have a pizza without a crust

Making fresh dough isn’t as easy as opening a wrapper or cracking into a cardboard tube, but it does have its rewards. Mixing flour and water is ancient custom, one of the earliest ways human beings fed themselves. The heady scent of developing yeast and burgeoning dough is an almost primal connection to the past.

It’s also a great way to introduce kids to the kitchen while throwing in a little science and math for good measure. What makes powdery flour and warm water turn into a satiny elastic? How does dough rise? How do you double a recipe to make two pizzas instead of just one?

But dough isn’t all there is to a good pizza. To cover the basics in full, you’ve got to have the sauces, the spices, and some of the other things that any good pizza chef knows inside and out.

Simply Splendid Pizza Dough

I would like to pretend that this is my recipe. I can’t. It’s my husband’s. It really had to be. Matthew is so Italian he bleeds olive oil and balsamic vinegar, and if a crust isn’t up to snuff, he has no problem picking off the cheese and pepperoni and leaving the bread lonely on the plate. Let that be a lesson to you. While good toppings can cover a mediocre crust and give you a great meal, a great crust is the first step in something that’s truly wonderful.

1 envelope active dry yeast
½ c. hot water
½ c. milk
2 t. sugar
1 T. butter, melted
3 c. bread flour
1 ½ t. salt

Place yeast in bowl. In a glass measuring cup, combine hot water, milk, sugar and butter. Pour over yeast and mix gently. Allow to sit about five minutes or until yeast is developed and creamy. Add half of the flour and all of the salt, stirring until thoroughly combined. Add remaining flour a spoonful at a time, kneading by hand until dough is thick and tacky. Continue kneading for at least two minutes. Dough should be smooth and stretchy when ready.

Drizzle dough with oil. For truly Italian flavor, use extra-virgin olive oil, but any vegetable oil will do. Use a couple tablespoons, enough to lubricate the dough and the bowl. Set aside for about an hour, or until dough has doubled in size.

If you are not ready to bake, the dough can be wrapped and refrigerated for up to two days.

When you are ready to get baking, let your dough come back to room temperature. By hand, pinch and pull your dough into the same basic size and shape as your pan with a heavy lip around the edge. A round metal or stone pizza pan is your best choice, but the final decision will have an impact on how your crust turns out, and how long it takes to cook.

On a metal pan, crusts will cook to a chewy, doughy turn in about 15-20 minutes at 350 degrees. For a firmer or crisper crust, push that a little further. The best way to judge whether a fresh dough crust is done is to check the lip for desired doneness, then use a spatula to lift the pie off the pan and check the color and doneness of the bottom. As a rule, if the bottom of the crust is golden brown, the inside will be perfectly cooked.

On a stone pan, cooking time will actually be lower, if you place your pan in a cold oven and bring up to temperature as the oven preheats. This means you have to form your crust on another surface and slide it onto the hot pan. My favorite way of doing this is to use a cookie sheet (a pan without sides, not to be confused with a sheet pan that has shallow sides like a cake pan) dusted with corn meal to allow the crust to slide easily. This can take a little practice and may result in some abstract, free-form pizza shapes. Don’t worry about it. They still taste good.

Welcome to my lab

Everyone knows the idea. Mom works all day, rushes home late, there’s nothing to eat, and so her poor children are forced to eat take-out or frozen pizza.
Do you know a kid who would cry over this dilemma?
Many a mom has been sent to therapy over the idea that she’s neglecting her kids by feeding them their favorite food. However, there are just as many who worship at the mozzarella altar in thanks for one meal without temper tantrums and turned-up noses.
The child who wouldn’t eat a tomato at gunpoint will slurp down pizza never realizing that some of the best sauces in Little Italy are nothing more than canned crushed you-know-whats. The kid who shuns all vegetables doesn’t really count peppers and mushrooms if they’re on a Sicilian crust. A budding vegan who refuses to sit down to a meal with her family of carnivores can be coaxed into sharing a peace pie with roasted garlic and soy cheese.
The Pizza Principle is this: you can get someone to eat, or try, just about anything if you start by placing it in the comforting costume of something they enjoy. And the pizza they know, the familiar tomatoes and cheese and pepperoni, is a great place to start. More than just round bread, it can be a well-rounded meal, with all the food groups represented. When ingredients are monitored, it can even be low-fat, or low-carb, or low-salt, conforming to whatever dietary parameters given. And when you apply a little bit of imagination, pizza can be the gateway to a world of variety, nutrition and exploration any mom can feel good about.
And it all starts with a crust.