Tuesday, December 28, 2010

We wish you a merry Christmas

and a happy birthday to my son.

Sorry for the short supply of recipes in the last week or so, but in addition to Christmas, today is my little boy's third birthday.

We will, surprise surprise, be having pizza.

This is him at his second birthday party last year. His name is Joseph. He loves dinosaurs.

He also loves this very simple pizza.

Take plain white bread. Cut out round pieces. Sautee in olive oil. Flip over, and top with cheese, which will melt while the bottom browns. Good as is, but Joseph likes his with sliced black olives. I like it with roasted red peppers. My husband takes his with anchovies.

Happy birthday, monkey boy.

Monday, December 13, 2010


My Christmas cookie baking is knocking pizza off the table for a few days.

I recently found anisette sugar, the kind you would use for fancy coffee drinks, at a gourmet shop. Anisette is one of my favorite holiday flavors, giving a licorice snap to my favorite holiday bread, to my husband's favorite biscotti, and to pizzelles. But this sugar gave me another way to use it.

Snickerdoodles have always been one of my favorite cookies. My grandma's snickerdoodles were so sweet and cinnamony, they were even better than chocolate chip, and that's saying something. So this licorice-flavored sugar made me wonder if I could reproduce them with an anisette punch.

I could. I did. OMG.

I started with this light recipe for snickerdoodles from Betty Crocker's website.

All I did was add 1/2 teaspoon anise extract to the dough, and swap out the cinnamon sugar mixture at the end for 1/2 cup of my anisette sugar to roll the balls of dough.

Heaven. Crackling, sweet, licorice-flavored heaven.

This actually makes me determined to try other variations. Almond, perhaps, or citrus. Yum.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Welcome to my family tradition

For some families, Christmas smells like cinnamon, or peppermint, or cloves. Maybe your holiday is about fudge, or sugar cookies, or fruitcake. It might be German stollen, or Italian pannetone, or an English plum pudding.

In my family, Christmas smells like licorice.

To be precise, the smell of Christmas is anise cooked with dried fruit, in a dark bread, best served cold from my grandma's enclosed but uninsulated back porch, which served as a poor man's deep freeze during the Minnesota winters. Christmas, my friends, is bittebrot.

Technically, it should be birnebrot, as it is really Swiss pear bread. My great-grandmother's recipe has it spelled correctly. But I've never heard anyone say anything but "bitte" which I've always found appropriate, as bitte is kind of the German version of aloha or shalom, a word that might mean both please and thank you.

Sometime as we approached the holidays, Grandma would make up massive batches of bittebrot, and it would fill every pan she could find. Loaf pans, cake pans, pie plates, casseroles, free-form loaves on cookie sheets. You never knew what shape the bread might take.

Grandma Marie often lamented that hers didn't taste exactly like her mother-in-law's. Grandma Dehn Sr.'s would have a bread lighter in color, that rose higher. Grandma's was denser and deeper in flavor. Both were wonderful, but I always preferred Grandma Marie's.

Mine is somewhere in the middle...and something kind of different.

When I first stepped up to try my hand at our family tradition, it was the same way it had been made forever. Mixed by hand in a giant bowl with a wooden spoon. Kneaded by hand. Shaped by hand. And it was delicious. It was also hard and time consuming, and frankly, I'm a fan of quick and easy.

Enter the bread machine.

It took some trial and error. There were some failures. There were some spectacular failures. But ultimately, I succeeded in translating my grandma's big-batch bittebrot into a single loaf recipe that all but makes itself. (And Aunt Patty? I'm sorry it's taken this long to get the recipe to you.)

It starts with simmering apples, raisins, and other dried fruit into a juicy compote. Traditionally, it should be dried apples, dried pears, prunes, raisins, and maybe some apricot. I use what I've got. Today, for example, was fresh apple, raisin and dried cranberry.

Cover with apple cider and simmer for 30 minutes or more. Cool to about 100 degrees. (Don't break out a thermometer or anything. If it feels a little warmer than your skin, it's fine.) Measure out a cup and a half, and make sure the liquid, and not just the fruit, comes to the top of your measuring cup. If you don't have that much liquid, add enough warm water to make it up.

The secret, of course, is the anise. I double it up, putting a teaspoon of extract in the liquid, and adding another couple of teaspoons of ground anise (or crushed seed, but crushing anise seed is a tedious business that may also crush your soul) with the dry ingredients.

The rest is simple. Three cups of flour, a teaspoon of salt, and a package of yeast. (To be honest, I don't use a package of yeast. I buy my yeast in gigantic two-pound packages. I use about a tablespoon.)

Now, you may be asking yourself, why won't she just write this like a regular recipe? Well, I'll tell you. This recipe, since it's a tradition, isn't a formula. It's a story. You should learn it the way you would learn it from your grandmother, in explanatory steps.

And also...all bread machines are different. Some want the liquid first, like mine does. Some want the dry ingredients first. If you've got a liquids first, add the fruit and juice, with the anise extract, then top with flour, salt, ground anise, and yeast. I use my machine's sweet dough setting, like you would use for cinnamon raisin bread, with a light crust.

What you get is a loaf that is chewy but light, with the sweetness of fruit and the strength of anise. And Christmas just isn't Christmas without it.

Friday, November 26, 2010


Okay...last one. I promise.

If cranberries are too tart and Asian's too out there for your picky eater, go simple and familiar. Go barbecue.

We have Wolfgang Puck to thank for giving us barbecue chicken pizza. I'm considering building a small, tasteful altar. Just a few candles. Nothing showy. I first found Wolfie's (yes, I call him Wolfie) barbecuey wonderfulness at his restaurant in Orlando. It was lifechanging. Okay, maybe that's a little excessive. But it was what opened my eyes to the idea that a pizza can be more than marinara and pepperoni.

And then we have California Pizza Kitchen to thank for spreading the barbecue glory to grocery store freezer cases all across America.

Barbecue sauce and poultry, after all, is a flavor combination our nuggetized youth have been conditioned to accept with an almost Pavlovian response. Add the shape and cheese of pizza, and it's really hard to go wrong. So hard, they may not realize they are eating leftovers. Again.

Start with that crust. Smear it with your favorite barbecue sauce. I like to take a cheap bottle of something pre-made and doctor it a little with some brown sugar and orange zest until I get exactly the tangy-sweet flavor I like. But if KC Masterpiece or Sweet Baby Ray's is already just what you want, why make it harder on yourself.

Then I get liberal with the turkey. Dark meat, white meat, whatever you've got left will be fine.

Get wild at this point if you want. Red onion, green pepper, whatever you want to do. I actually served it with slaw, so I wasn't concerned about the veggie content. Then, bring on the cheese.

I bypassed your typical mozzarella and went for provolone. It's slightly smoky, and that flavor paired perfectly with the barbecue sauce. What you've got is the perfect snack for football games...that gets rid of leftovers without having people groan at you about "casserole again?"

Now, like all good trilogies, our leftover journey has come to its conclusion.


Friday, November 19, 2010

Revenge of the Leftovers!!!

Okay, you didn't think there could be just one leftovers post, right? 'Cause that would be ridiculous. One meal out of leftovers? What are you going to serve for Thanksgiving? A canary?

The further you get from that original meal, the further you want to be from that original meal. In that spirit, today's offering is taking you from Plymouth to Peking. Welcome to the world of Asian turkey. Via pizza.

Yeah, pizza. Read the name of the blog again. Okay, fine, you don't want pizza? Change it up. This makes a great sandwich, open faced on some good crusty bread, or toasted in a sub roll and closed up with a little Asian slaw on top. Or stuck in a pita pocket. Or slapped together, spread with butter and given a turn around a hot pan like a grilled cheese with a serious twist.

But I'm getting ahead of myself.

Okay...start with the bread. I'm going back to that great PennMac crust I used the other day. But use what you've got. Frankly, I'm anticipating some leftover Italian bread, so this could turn into a nice long pizza boat for me, almost a bahn mi of leftovers.

Now we address the sauce. I got some spicy orange sauce in the Asian section at Wegman's the other day, and I've been dying to try it on something. This seemed like a good opportunity. I painted it on the crust liberally, and topped it with the turkey.

I went heavy on the turkey, because I had a lot of turkey. If I had it (and frankly, it would have been great, but I actually didn't have all of the veggies I'd have liked), I'd have then added red pepper strips, matchstick carrots, broccoli, maybe some bok choy. If you like it in a stir fry or with your fried rice, throw it on.

Then we look at cheese. You want something mellow. A cheddar wouldn't fit. A mozzarella would be okay, but you want something that will harmonize with the Asian flavors. So...I used up the brie I had leftover from the the other day. Hey, leftovers! Gotta use 'em up, right?

It's pretty, isn't it? Okay, maybe pretty is a stretch. I was really wishing for some green onion when I pulled it out. But damn did it taste good. Asian flavors and French flavors are great pairings. They took the turkey to a completely different place than the Thanksgiving table it started.

So throw together a pizza. Or a sandwich. Or a pita. Just don't listen to what you tell your kids. Play with your food.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

The Leftovers Before Thanksgiving

As much as everyone loves that giant bird, most of us have a love-hate relationship with what comes after the big meal. Oh, yes. I'm talking leftovers.

Getting a picky eater to approach leftovers can be like making seating arrangements for a Mafia wedding. Difficult and dangerous. It has to be familiar but it can't be a Xerox of the original meal. It has to be new but not too alien. It has to be all things to all people.

This week, I smoked a turkey, trying some new ideas before the big day. Naturally, that left me with piles of meat. After turkey soup, turkey and noodles, turkey sandwiches and turkey salad, even my husband, who would eat an ostrich whole given the opportunity, was starting to look slightly fearful when he asked what was for dinner. I needed something different. Something appealing to an almost-3-year-old, a guy with a big appetite for bold flavors, and, well, me.

So...okay...where's my pizza crust?

Ah. There you are. Let me tell you about this crust, first. If you go to Pittsburgh, to the Strip District, there is a magical place called the Pennsylvania Macaroni Company. PennMac to the natives. It's an Italian market that caters to restaurants and in-the-know afficianados, selling everything from gigantic sides of salt cod and every pasta under the sun to olive oil by the tanker truck and breads like these freshly made, par-baked pizza shells. They did not give me these shells. I wish they had. I love them to death. No, I paid for them. And then I did this to them.

That's my homemade cranberry sauce. It's a bag of cranberries, a couple of oranges, a chopped apple, a cup of apple cider and a cup of sugar, cooked down to a sweet, tangy jam. Do you have to do that? Of course not. Your favorite cranberry sauce is fine, whether it's from a can or a jar or the deli. Just spread a nice layer over the shell.

The turkey was next. I used chunky strips instead of sliced or diced pieces, looking for a substantial, thick layer of meat over the puckery cranberries. I used white meat, but whatever you have will be fine.

That took us to the cheese. Every pizza needs cheese, right? But what works with both the mellow smoke of the turkey and the tart jamminess of the berries? And what is special enough for a holiday meal? Brie. I peeled and diced up some slices of a mild and buttery Brie and scattered them over the turkey.

I popped it in a 400 degree oven for a few minutes, waiting for the cranberry sauce to melt into a glistening glaze, and the Brie to take on its trademark melting texture.

You see that? That's what happens when you combine the pastry-wrapped goodness of a fruit-topped Brie en croute with a good old turkey sandwich. It's perfect. Cut it into narrow strips and it's a perfect holiday appetizer for a tree-trimming party. Slice up nice wedges and you have the perfect snack for cuddling up with some sappy Christmas movies.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Not your Grandma's baked apples

When I was a kid, I was frequently on diets. My mother would have me on diets, and then I'd go to my grandmother for the summer, where I spent weeks following whatever the latest low-calorie miracle plan happened to be. None of them were very long-lived but while they were going on, they were followed with a fervor some people reserve for religion or military service.

No matter what they were called, they all had the same basic tenets: eat less fatty stuff, eat more vegetables, and dessert is the devil.

This translated to a lot of very boring baked apples that were only minimally sweetened or flavored before being cooked to mush and pretending to be dessert when they had much more in common with baby food. I'm here to tell you, pouring a Fresca on an apple and sticking it in the microwave does not make it taste like apple pie, no matter what the little handbook says.

But now, my husband has some heart issues and diabetes. We have some directives. Eat less fatty stuff. Eat more fiber. Dessert is the devil. Sounds vaguely familiar, doesn't it?

What I also have is this kid.

Clearly, he's pretty fond of his apples. Which means we have a lot of them around our house. And despite the fact that he eats them two at a time, it's still a challenge for him to get to every apple in a bushel (yes, a bushel) before they start to see better days.

And that means...baked apples.

I approached the idea with some horror. Obviously, I have issues. Plus, I like food, and I like it to taste good, but I am also pretty fond of my husband and I'd like to keep him around for a while. My objectives, obviously, were at war.

Sweet Heat Apples

4 large apples, halved and cored
4 T. softened butter (I used a butter-canola oil blend)
1/4 c. coconut sugar (maple, demerara or brown sugar would work well, too)
3/4 c. oatmeal
1 vanilla bean, split and scraped
1/2 t. cinnamon
1/2 aji panca chile, finely chopped (Any mild, fruity dried chile would work. If that's not available, use a little cayenne to taste.)
1 c. apple cider

Place apple halves in a large baking dish. Cut butter with sugar, oatmeal, vanilla caviar (bury your scraped bean in some sugar for a great treat, or save and refrigerate to steep in some hot milk for a fantastic alternative to hot chocolate), cinnamon and chile. Divide between apple halves, mounding on top. Pour cider into baking pan (not over apples). Bake at 350 degrees for about 30 minutes. Serve drizzled with the baking liquid.

We have a winner!!!

Thanks to the good people at Random.org, we have a completely randomly generated winner for the giveaway.

Congrats to Amy, who takes home a yummy dip mix. Thanks for following and reading!

Friday, October 29, 2010

The very first Pizza Principle giveaway!!!

Yeah, you heard it. I'm giving stuff away. Just like a real, honest-to-god Pioneer Woman or MckMama-type blogger. Except with less traffic and probably way fewer hits. ;)

It had to be something pizza-related. I thought about a pizza pan or a pizza cutter. Those would have been great. I found a really cool one at the Gourmet Kitchen in the DuBois Mall in DuBois, PA. It rocked. Hand-held, very grippy, good blade. I may have purchased one for myself that I won't share with you. But it's a sturdy little thing, and I worried about shipping. You see, I'm not great with the packing and mailing, and to complicate matters, my post office could lose mail between one room and another...and they only have two rooms. So I wanted something light. Something I could stick in an envelope. But it had to be something worth.

That's where the good people at Country Home Creations came in. Have you tried their dip mixes? OMG. Easy and tasty and yum. Make them with just cream cheese and you have a rockin' cheeseball...or the perfect thing, coincidentally, to spread on a hot crust of some kind and make an impromptu little pizza-ish snack. And therefore, I went with the Pizza Dip Mix. Yum.

For those interested, I bought this with my own money scavenged from the cushions of my couch. Nobody gave it to me. I'm the only one doing any giving.

And how do you get this tasty treat? Follow me, Facebook link me, Twitter about me, and leave me a comment for each action. But also...for a fourth way to win...give me another comment suggesting something you'd like to see a recipe for. It doesn't have to be a pizza, or anything at all pizza related. Just tell me what you'd like to cook.

So go for it, people. I'll be accepting entries until Nov. 5 at midnight. Winner will be announced Nov. 6.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Apple of my eye

This is my son, Joseph. He is 3 feet of pure energy. Whoever said perpetual motion was impossible never met my kid. If we could harness what makes him go, we could end our dependence on foreign oil.

I'm not entirely sure what it is that makes him tick. I know that right now, a large part of his energy source is apples. He loves them. He eats them in any way, shape or form. He likes them with pork roast, or baked in apple cake, or roasted into a chunky baked sauce, but he's really a purist at heart. He particularly likes them stolen whole out of a big basket when he thinks no one is looking.

And if one apple is good, two apples are obviously better.

Oh, and if you come to my house, and feel like an apple, make sure you take a good look at it before you take a bite. He likes to stake his claim, taking a surreptitious bite, before putting it back in the fruit bowl for later. I try to stay on top of this, but he's stealthy.

He also has a special place in his heart for apples in their liquid form. Fresh cider from Way Fruit Farm in Stormstown, PA is his new best friend. (It used to be my favorite fall indulgence. This year, I have yet to finish a cup. Someone keeps drinking it when I'm not looking.)

And so, for Joseph, I give you my favorite recipe for pulled pork. With apples. Because it's damn good together.

First, you take a pork roast. I don't care what cut it is, except to say tenderloin is a complete waste of money here. Where other cuts will get more buttery and succulent as they cook, tenderloin will go from juicy to tough to sawdust, an unappetizing progression. So get yourself a nice hunk of cheap pig and throw it in the crockpot with lots of pepper and some salt. Then slice up one onion and one large tart apple. I like Cortlands, but Granny Smith is good, too. Add them to the roast with a cup of good cider. (Will apple juice work? Yes. So will a can of beer. But I think cider gives the best flavor.) Cook on low heat for 8 hours. Or longer. I like to put mine on before bed on a Friday night and by gametime on Saturday, I'm ready to eat pulled pork while I watch the Nittany Lions.

When it's done, shred with forks and return to the crockpot. This is where you can get creative. Some barbecue sauce is good. So is some spicy mustard and honey. But my favorite way to enjoy this is with just a few tablespoons of brown sugar, which plays up both the sweetness of the cider and the richness of the meat. It's good on crusty rolls, plain white bread, on a hot dog bun sharing star billing with a smoked sausage. But it's also good spread on a pizza crust, topped with some jack (or pepper jack) cheese, and cut into thick, drippy wedges.

It might give you as much energy as Joseph. And if you get that much energy, let me know. You can babysit.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Pumpkin posting on the way...

Off to the pumpkin patch with Joseph this morning. Okay, it's actually an apple orchard (http://www.wayfruitfarm.com/) that is having its big apple festival today, the highlight of which is...pumpkins. Yes, I know the logic is a little off, but I'm getting a hay ride out of it, so I'm not going to quibble.

This means I'll be bringing back pumpkins, but also a couple bushels of apples. And that means preserving them. Apple butter, apple jelly, apple pie filling. In my house, any one of those can end up on a pizza, so I don't think it's much of a stretch to include them here.

I'm trying a new apple butter recipe this year. In an effort to keep my other burners free, I'm making crockpot apple butter, courtesy of Stephanie O'Dea at A Year of Slow Cooking. Here's the recipe. I can't wait to try it. Several friends have tried it and tell me it's well worth the effort. http://crockpot365.blogspot.com/2008/10/crockpot-apple-butter-recipe.html

And for the original portion, of our evening, I'll tell you how I like to use apple butter. On a pizza.

Take 1/2 c. apple butter, combine with 1/2 c. barbecue sauce (you know these numbers are flexible, right?). Simmer together (maybe with a splash of cider) to let the flavors mingle. Toss with shredded chicken. Spread on pizza crust (or French bread...or tortillas...or English muffins...or waffles...or....or...or...you get the idea). Top with sauteed red onion and shredded cheese. I like cheddar with the apple kick, but that's up to you. Bake until hot and bubbly. A great football snack, late night treat, quick dinner, or fun lunch.

See you after the pumpkin picking.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

We interrupt this computer virus to bring you a blog post....and chocolate

This week has been just computer hell. Seriously. If there was something that could happen to my computer, it happened, then thought about it, then happened again worse. I am currently typing on my fourth-string computer because my star is down with a nasty Trojan horse virus, my back-up and its cord parted ways, and someone (I'd really like to blame my toddler, but it was me) splashed water onto my back-up's back-up and it's making a weird sizzling sound that alarms me.

Basically, my computers are the quarterback lineup of the Steelers. If my old Sony, a.k.a. Charlie Batch, doesn't pull through for me until at least one of the other issues is resolved, I'll be going to need grief counseling.

Or, perhaps I will need Smooth Road Brownies.

Let me give you some background. See...I love chocolate. I also love rocky road, with all the chunks of chocolate and nuts and chewy marshmallows giving you little pockets (or, I guess, in keeping with the metaphor, potholes) of flavor. Really, what's bad about that?

Well, according to my siblings, everything. When they were kids, they looked at any kind of lump in a brownie as a personal betrayal. Nuts were a hanging offense.

Look at this kid. Honestly, she ate three things when she was this age. French toast, cheese, and Lucky Charms. (Nice pic, huh? I snitched it off her Facebook page. Why? Well, all my pictures are stuck on the computer with the Trojan horse virus, so I'm making do with what I can get, and yet still fulfilling my commitment to give you people things to look at while you read. I'm dedicated that way.)

But even when I was in high school, I was unwilling to give in to culinary terrorists. I would, however, engage in some minor diplomatic compromise. And so, my rocky road smoothed out.

Here goes a super-simple equation for deliciousness:

Ghirardelli Chocolate Brownie Mix, Chocolate Syrup, 18.75-Ounce Boxes (Pack of 12)

Start with brownies. I like the scratch kind that are really dense and fudgy, but I would be lying if I said there were never boxes of brownie mix in my cupboard. There are. And they are good.

Mix up your batter the way you always do, whether you are melting chocolate and sifting cake flour or just adding some water and an egg. Pour in your greased up pan. NOW STOP.

Jet-Puffed Marshmallow Creme, 7-Ounce Jars (Pack of 12)

It's so smooth and white and puffy. I mean, it's MARSHMALLOW. How can anyone have a problem with that? Grab a spoon. Dollop some over the batter. Eat a big spoonful when no one's looking.

Hershey Hot Fudge Topping 16-oz. Jar (Pack of 6)
Yeah, that's hot fudge. In brownies. Is it overkill? Maybe. Do I care? No. More dollops of goodness, please.

JIF Peanut Butter Creamy 40 oz Jar

Oh, and that? That's the peanut butter. Because peanut butter is good with chocolate. And it's good with marshmallow creme. And it's good on radial tires. Put some on there! (I find it easier to melt it slightly first in the microwave. Just a few seconds.)

Now take a knife and swirl them all slightly. And then bake.

And then eat.

And then you might want to ask your doctor about some insulin.


Monday, September 27, 2010


The difference between a bad pizza, a good pizza and a really fantastic pizza can be summed up in one simple word.


If you go out and have a really good pizza, and can't really pinpoint what this one has that another one doesn't, chances are, it's the cheese. Good pizzarias guard three things jealously: their crust recipe, their sauce recipe, and their cheese blends.

Most people assume that "pizza cheese" is mozzarella, but mozz is only a part of the story.

See that? That's the good stuff. Fresh mozzarella. But I've got a secret. Not that great for pizza. Oh, it's got a place in the pizza pantheon, namely on the Margherita pizza, with sliced uber-fresh tomatoes and basil leaves. That's divine, but it's also high art, not really the kind of thing that goes with movie night or tailgating.

The more familiar mozzarella is what we know from the inside of a million pizza boxes and tubes of string cheese and molten hot crunch coated sticks of deep-fried goodness. It's drier than fresh mozz, and melts into delicious webs of stringiness.

And then, there's provolone. Shredded and mixed with the mozzarella, it's a fantastic way to add more flavor to the mild taste of the other cheese. Provolone has a slight nuttiness, and is sometimes smoked. As it ages, it becomes more sharp. Sliced provolone is great for creating layers of flavor in your pizza. Place a blanket of slices over your crust, then top with sauce and shredded cheese to keep crust from getting gummy.

Shredded parmesan is very different from powdery grated parmesan. It melts like mozzarella, but has a real flavor punch. A little goes a long, long way. I buy a quarter pound chunk of fresh parm every month. I use it in a lot of stuff, but those four ounces last and last.

A simple cheese pizza is one of my favorite things. Nothing extra. Nothing fancy. Just a couple kinds of cheese, tossed together on some bread with a little sauce. I can give you this easy formula for pizza success:

1 crust + 5 slices provolone + sauce + 1 c. shredded mozzarella + 1/2 c. shredded parmesan.

Easy to add any topping you want, but trust me. Just once, keep it simple. Stop and savor the cheese.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Fear and intimidation in the kitchen

There are really two things that I believe about cooking in general. First, a recipe is a guideline, not tax law or the formula for making aspirin. (Incidentally, I made aspirin once in 10th grade chemistry class, but Ms. DeStefano made us all swear we wouldn't take it or feed it to our siblings or give it to the dog. Apparently, she feared what would happen if we just used the recipe as a jumping off point.) Second, food should always be fun and never be intimidating.

But I admit it. I have been intimidated by paella.

First, there is the fact that "real" paella requires a special pan. The kind that someone's great-grandfather made in Barcelona a hundred years ago, the pan that gets handed down through the family and revered and worshipped. I don't have a pan like that. I've got a nice T-Fal chicken frying pan I inherited from my mother-in-law, and some rusty cast iron, but nothing that seems just right for paella.

And why do you need the special pan? Because the rice is supposed to be perfectly cooked, and yet form a crispy crust on the bottom.

I have avoided making paella since I got married, which is hard because my husband loves absolutely everything that is in it. But then, my grocery store had a special on lobster tails. Small ones. Not really good by themselves. Perfect for paella. Sigh.

But then I decided to embrace the challenge in a new way. Make paella accessible. Use the rice to make a new kind of crust and build it from there.

So I drafted my rice cooker. Possible the first time a rice cooker has ever been used for paella purposes. Also, I cheated shamelessly. My good friends at Goya were called into action. I made a big pot of yellow saffroned Spanish rice, using chicken broth instead of water, and adding a chopped onion and a cup of frozen peas. (Why did I do this rather than mixing my own with the gigantic jar of rice on my counter and breaking into my spices? Because saffron is freaking expensive. And I am freaking cheap.)

Then the oven went on 400 degrees, and in went a cookie sheet that looked a little like this:

Don't be afraid. That's just half a pound of shrimp, half a pound of very small lobster tails, half a pound of smoked sausages, some celery, onion, green pepper, and garlic, all drizzled generously with olive oil and seasoned with salt, pepper, parsley, oregano and lemon. I threw it in my hot oven and let it roast until the shrimp were pink and the lobster shells were red. Built in thermometers don't just come with Butterball turkeys.

By this time, the rice was done. I left the oven on high, liberally oiled my pizza pan, and spread on the rice to make my crust.

Right up to the edges, filling your pan, keeping it nice and even all over. The oil will crisp it on the bottom but keep it tender on top, just like that handmedown heirloom pan somewhere in Madrid.

And then we come to the artistic part.

I layered on my seafood, my sausage, and the vegetables. I added some roasted reds just because they were in my refrigerator and they kept looking at me.

I will also now make a confession. I think this pizza needs something, and according to the Food Network, it's a hanging offense. Scott Conant and Alexandra Guarnaschelli keep telling me that cheese and seafood are never to mix. I think this pie is absolutely crying for a little parmesan or romano on top. But I have been cowed by the experts and didn't do it. This time.

Next time, I'm tossing the rule book and this puppy's getting a blizzard of cheesy goodness at the end.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Chocolate: the Wonder Drug

I am pretty sure that there is nothing that cannot be solved with chocolate. I think the Cold War could have ended decades earlier if there was hot and cold running fudge at the UN. I think Bush and Gore could have resolved hanging chads over good brownies. I think peace in the Middle East would be a hell of a lot easier if everybody's mouths were full of Hershey bars.

The endorphins, the brain chemistry, the antioxidants...there's just no downside. And that's before you even get to the taste.

When my friends and I were pregnant, and in those early days of being a mom, when colic made you question reality and sleep-starved brains warred with hormones that flucuated like the Dow Jones, chocolate was a necessary tool of our lives. We circulated a desperation treat for those late-night cocoa calls, a chocolate cake that mixed in a mug and baked in the microwave. It filled a hole, but it wasn't really...satisfying.

But chocolate doesn't have to be as complicated as the chemistry of cakes and cookies. A chocolate pizza is ridiculously easy, with just four (or five) ingredients that are probably in your kitchen right now.

This last-minute dessert is as elegant as French pastry because, well, that's kind of what it is. It's really a variation on pain au chocolate, or chocolate bread. You've probably seen it in a snooty bakery as chocolate croissants, with buttery dough rolled  around semisweet chocolate.

My version starts with something that is almost always in my refrigerator. Crescent roll dough. I've made it with pizza crust, bread dough, puff pastry, pie crust, pate a choux, etc., but crescent roll is really my favorite. First, it's buttery, and second, it's crazy convenient. Just unroll, press out in your pan, and you're ready to go.

Pretty? Oh, it's just dough, people. It's not art. Yet. That's why we spread on a little butter and sprinkle on a couple tablespoons of sugar. Throw it in the oven at 400 degrees until it's golden brown. Kind of like this.

Better already, isnt' it? Just wait. Next, you take some chocolate chips. I use about 6 ounces. Unless it's been a bad day. Or it's a day that ends in Y. Have the chips ready to go when you pull the crust out of the oven. Dump them on. Let them melt. (You can turn off the oven and just set the baking pan back in to hasten melting if you wnat. Just make sure you only do it for a few minutes. Good chocolate is a terrible thing to burn.)

Holy melted chocolate. Now, you can let this sit just the way it is. Or you can spread it. I prefer to let it retain its organic chippiness, but that's up to you. This is also a good time to point out that you can go with milk chips. Or white chips. Or any kind of chips, mixed and matched.

And that's it. You're done. It's delicious. It's simple. There's no way to make it better.

Unless you go one more step. With melted chocolate, you can throw on all kinds of fantasticness. My personal preference? Peanut butter. Melt a couple tablespoons in the microwave and drizzle over the whole thing. But you can also do chopped nuts, or crushed toffee, or raisins, or marshmallows, or leftover candy canes beaten within an inch of their lives, or...well, you get the idea.

Isn't that the best thing you've ever seen?

What? You don't have crescent roll dough...or any of the other options I mentioned? I've got a secret. A delcious secret. A friend makes the absolute most sought after treat at our local Chocolate Festival every year. People beat down the doors for his grilled pain au chocolate. Doesn't that sounds fancy? It's not. It is, pure and simple, a grilled chocolate sandwich. White bread, filled with chocolate (he uses Hershey bars), buttered and griddled like every grilled cheese sandwich you've ever had. Do NOT tell your children. They'll never eat a normal lunch again.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Vampire B-Gone

For some people, the best part of an Italian meal is the pasta. Or the sauce. Or the antipasto. Or the salad.

For me, it is garlic bread. The kind that is absolutely saturated with butter and smells like a can of vampire repellent. Covered with a melted blanket of gooey cheese? Even better.

My husband is unnatural and wrong. He doesn't like garlic bread. He's a very bad Italian, in my opinion, but I'm willing to go with it because he is content, even happy, to eat naked slices of plain bread while I retain possession of all the butter-soaked goodness.

In my opinion, there is no better example of garlic bread the way God intended it than Schwan's Five Cheese Garlic French Bread.

Isn't it lovely? Sigh. The crust is basically just a vessel to contain the butter, and a platform for the cheese. It should come with a vial of nitroglycerin, and I just can't bring myself to care.

It's hard to get exactly the right effect at home. Too much butter and it gets soggy. Too little and it's light on flavor. Not the perfect bread and it falls apart. I've tried it a dozen different ways, and it's always paled beside my ideal. Until now.

My recent forays into the doctoring of store-bought pizza have had an unforeseen benefit. I may have made the best garlic bread ever.

I started with a plain cheese pizza. I used a store-brand rising crust. A DiGiorno knock-off. I followed the package directions for oven temperature.

And then I got out the butter. I melted 2 ounces in a small saucepan, and added the same amount of olive oil. Before it was too hot, I threw in two cloves of chopped garlic, and cooked over low heat. I threw in a tablespoon of fresh parsley from my garden, and a half-teaspoon each of dried basil and oregano. I added a dash of pepper. (I might throw in some crushed red pepper next time, just for kicks.) And most important, I watched it carefully and pulled it off the flame before the garlic turned brown. Burned garlic makes for nasty garlic bread.

When I heard Dracula pass out cold on the porch, I drizzled the fragrant mix all over the frozen pizza. Then I popped it in and...

Yeah, don't be ridiculous. Like I'd stop there. That's when I broke out more cheese. A cup of mozzarella, and a few tablespoons of parmesan. The shredded kind, not the grated stuff in a can. I'm not usually a big ingredient snob, but everybody has the hill they choose to die on, and decent parmesan is mine. At least in this instance.

Then in the oven it goes. No pizza pan. Just straight on the rack, or if you are lucky enough, on a blistering hot pizza stone, like this one.

I've actually got a professional restaurant kitchen pizza oven, a souvenir from the days when my husband actually offered some of the finest pizzas in the greater Pittsburgh area. I love it. But I find it easier to just use my regular oven with a pizza stone most of the time, and a good stone gives you almost exactly the same quality. If you can get the effect of a $1000 oven with a $36 stone, go for it.

When you're done, you get something that looks like this:

It's got everything my favorite garlic bread does, with the added punch of extra herbs and pepper, and the slight background tang of the smattering of pizza sauce, which is reduced to a condiment instead of a starring player by the garlicky butter.

There's also another perk. Eating garlic bread for dinner can get you some side-eyeing. But pizza is clearly a meal, even if it's one that will keep the Twilight crew at bay.

Monday, September 13, 2010

This one's for the girls

On my moms board, that is.

A good idea is always community property with us. It doesn't matter if it's a photography pose, a craft project, or a recipe. If someone comes up with something wonderful, we're always going to share the wealth. That's how we all came to the wonder that is salsa chicken.

I love the simplicity of salsa chicken. Take one slow cooker, add chicken and salsa, and anything beyond that is gravy. Literally. Yum. There are a couple of good recipes for it floating around the board, but my favorite way to do it is to go Iron Chef on it: take the secret ingredient, look at what I've got and make it work. Yesterday, after an unfortunate Lightning McQueen incident led to the destruction of my plans for roasted chicken with Paula Deen's cornbread dressing, I had to shift gears quickly. And I needed something simple since I suddenly had to clean two pounds of spilled cornmeal off my kitchen floor.

I threw my chicken in the Crock Pot, poured on a pint of mild salsa, and started to look around. Now, I've stopped with just the salsa before, and it was great. I've also added a variety of other things. At different points, my salsa chicken has included Velveeta, hand shredded cheddar, mushroom soup, queso fresco, sour cream, homemade bechamel, even mayonnaise. Today, it ended up with a can of cream of chicken soup, some chicken broth, and some cubed cream cheese. Six hours later? Tomato-y, spicy, creamy goodness. I poured it over green chile rice. Heaven.

But it was heaven that had leftovers. And in my house, that means a snack-time application of the Pizza Principle. Except there was a complication. No pizza crust.

That should never keep anyone from trying a recipe, however. Substitutions are part of that whole "necessity is the mother of invention" thing. So I looked around. What could stand in for a crust? Well, given the southwestern nature of the chicken, I drafted some flour tortillas.

But a plain old tortilla isn't going to say pizza. It's going to say drippy mess. That's why there was a quick spray of oil and a turn in a hot pan to crisp it up.

Next, a heaping scoop of salsa chicken, and a smattering of mozzarella and cheddar cheese, and it's ready for the oven.

And 10 minutes at 400 degrees later, I've got a delicious snack out of leftovers, improvisations and odds and ends. If I'd had them, I could have added peppers, olives, or other veggies to bump up the nutritional value. However, oddly, at midnight on a Sunday night, when you're watching True Blood and feeling a little peckish, nutrition isn't the first thing on your mind.

But from now on, I'm making sure I've got a scoop or two in reserve when I make salsa chicken, because this was totally worth the effort.


Friday, September 10, 2010

Listen up!

A while back, I got some feedback on the blog from some people with good suggestions.

First, I was encouraged to provide pictures. That's a great idea, and definitely one that would make things more interesting. Let me give you a short list of why that hasn't happened before:

  1. I'm technologically backward. This means I am dependent on my husband to download my pictures and put them in a place where I can access them.
  2. I am intimidated by blogs with good photography. The Pioneer Woman and Bakerella make me want to go hide under my bed, but I can't because the dust bunnies will eat me.
  3. I don't actually eat pizza every night. Yes, it's a shameful confession, but it's true. Most of these recipes were tested over the course of a couple years, and I'm kind of spur-of-the-moment about which recipes I decide to include.
I'm going to try. I'm turning over a new leaf! Unfortunately, it's almost officially autumn, so my new leaf might fall off my old tree in short order. Sigh.

But here goes. And I think a picture of my son improves almost anything, so here he is petting a pig:

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Get your gooey on

Cheese was a great thing to happen to bread for centuries before peanut butter and jelly got in on the act. There is a reason why almost every sandwich is made just a little bit better by the simple addition of a slice of cheese.

But my favorites are always when cheese is the star of the show. And nothing does that like a good old grilled cheese sandwich.

Now, I will pause here to address some issues for sticklers. To me, a grilled cheese sandwich is cheese (classically, in my childhood, American or, better yet, Velveeta) between two slices of the whitest white bread to be found, slathered on the outside with butter. My grandmother insists that this is called a "dream sandwich" and that a real grilled cheese isn't buttered, but fried in melted butter. I think this is a semantical argument that doesn't matter to your clogged arteries. Then there are the people who call it a toasted cheese, which I say is a cheese sandwich on toasted bread and has nothing to do with a griddle at all.

Okay, now that I've gotten that off my chest, we can proceed. Kids love grilled cheese. I defy you to find a kid's menu that doesn't feature them. (TIP: you can even get them at Burger King if you ask nicely.) And the humble grilled cheese is, like pizza, a great vehicle for getting kids to try things they might not like.

Take me for example. When I was a child, I'd have eaten my left foot before I ate a tomato. Unless you put it in a grilled cheese sandwich. Grilled cheese with tomato and bacon was my mother's secret weapon when our garden overflowed with tomatoes that I looked at with distrust and contempt. (It also helps if you make the experience special. I remember many a late-night movie date with my mom: just us, some grilled cheese and tomato, and something wonderful on TV late at night while everyone else was in bed.)

But cheese and bread are adaptable, and turning a diagonally cut sandwich into wedges of pizza is a lot easier than putting square pegs in round holes.

Grilled Cheese Sandwich Pizza for Mom

1 pre-baked pizza crust

1 T. butter

½ pound provolone cheese, sliced

½ pound sharp yellow cheddar, shredded

1 large ripe tomato, sliced

½ pound crisp cooked bacon, crumbled

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Rub bottom of crust (yes, the side that touches the pan) and 1-inch edge of top with butter. Place on pizza pan. (If you are using pizza dough, melt the butter and pour into pan, just painting edges. I actually don't recommend this for this pizza because it makes it harder to shape.)

Top crust with provolone slices and cheddar. Bake 5-7 minutes, until cheese just starts to melt. Scatter tomato slices and bacon over cheese. Return to oven for another 7-10 minutes, or until cheese is bubbling and starting to brown.

Color conundrum – How do you like your cheese? Yellow or white? Many people will argue the point, saying one tastes better than the other, but anyone from a cheese-producing area will tell you, there’s very little, if any, difference. Most manufacturers add yellow dye to their cheese because they know some people won’t buy white. Others, like Cabot Creamery in Vermont, refuse to add dyes to their cheese on principle. While some people say the color was originally added to distinguish where the cheese came from, it really comes down to the seasons. Cows eat differently during the summer months pastured in a field than they do in winter stabled in a barn. Anyone who read the Little House on the Prairie books can tell you how Ma had to ring the juice out of a carrot to make the butter look better in the winter, when the fat didn’t have the same pretty yellow color.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Yoo hoo! Food Network!!!!

So...here's the story.

I auditioned for the Next Food Network Star on Tuesday. They said that they would contact people in 24-48 hours.

As it is now four days since I bared my bubbly soul to the casting chick in a banquet room at the Loews Hotel in Philadelphia, I am guessing that I will not be giving Guy Fieri a run for his money anytime too soon. (Although I do hold onto somewhat futile hope. When I was on Food Network Challenge, they said I'd hear by the end of the week. I actually heard from the production company more than two weeks later.)

But one of the things they wanted people to do for the show was to start creating original recipes. At least 30 original recipes, actually, to take into semifinals and callbacks and the thrilling last stage...the month of intense final competition with other contestants in January/February 2011.

Well, I might not be getting called back, but damn it, that call for original recipes has spurred some real creativity in me.

And therefore, you aren't getting any pizza today. Nope, today, the good people (okay, person) at The Pizza Principle bring you...French toast.

I start with an admission. While I adore French toast, it's something I hate to order out because it isn't my French toast. And my French toast is weird and stems from the fact that I am too impatient to fry things properly.

I soak my bread completely in the custard, so saturated with egg that it's almost impossible to take out of the batter without a spatula. And I come damn close to deep frying it. I can't just lightly grease a griddle and let it go. Why? Because I don't let it cook long enough if I do that, and then I end up with grilled bread filled with raw egg. Blech. No, I heat half an inch of oil to a blistering temperature, then ease in the bread and turn once. The result is a crispy slice with a pudding-like interior.

Now we get to the original part.

I spread it with a hearty portion of pumpkin cream cheese filling, top with another slice of crunchy custardy goodness, and then pour on my grandma's homemade brown sugar syrup, pumped up with a little toasted pecan.

Now, if NFNS calls me, I can't use this recipe. But you can. Try it. Sooooo good.

Pumpkin Cheesecake French Toast


8 slices good bread (Hey, use what you've got. If that's Sunbeam, that's fine. But if you've got acces to some really yummy brioche or challah, you'll be really happy you tried it.)
4 eggs
1/2 c. milk
1/2 c. cream
2 T. sugar
1 t. vanilla


8 oz. cream cheese
1/2 c. pumpkin
2 T. brown sugar
1/4 c. powdered sugar
1/4 t. cinnamon
1/8 t. nutmeg


1 c. brown sugar
1 T. corn syrup
1/2 c. water
1 T. rum
1/4 c. chopped pecans, toasted

Mix all toast ingredients except bread. Soak slices thoroughly. In a large skillet, heat 1/2 inch of oil (I like canola) to about 350 degrees. Gently add slices to oil, cooking until golden brown on one side and turning carefully to finish. Remove.

Mix all filling ingredients. Place one slice of toast on plate. Add a scoop of filling. Top with another slice of toast.

Mix all syrup ingredients in a small saucepan. Heat until brown sugar is dissolved. Pour over toast.

Monday, August 30, 2010

On a roll

Have you ever been struck by the simplicity of something? I mean, just bowled over by how easy and obvious an idea is, and how, despite that, you knew nothing about it?

This is how I feel about pepperoni rolls.

Right hand to God, I never heard of a pepperoni roll until I was dating my husband. Pepperoni pizza? Sure. Bread sticks? Uh huh. Cheesy sticks? Absolutely. But the idea of simply combining pizza dough with spicy slices of pepperoni? Never thought of it.

For the uninitiated who are as clueless as I was, they are just as good as they sound. In the classic, it's nothing but bread and meat, but in baking, the pepperoni releases its savory oils and bathes the dough in flavor. I like to add a sprinkling of parmesan cheese for a salty counterpoint.

You also often see them fashioned in a kind of knot shape that traps all that goodness inside, but I think this has a downside. You end up with pockets of spice in the midst of crusty bread. I like to make mine in a jelly roll configuration that insures regular intervals of flavor and structure.

1 ball pizza dough (or one recipe of homemade, or one tube of the popping fresh variety)
3 oz. pepperoni
1/4 c. shredded or grated parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Grease a baking sheet or a pizza stone.

Roll out dough into a rectangle about 1/4 inch thick. Scatter pepperoni evenly across the dough. Top with parmesan. Roll up in cinnamon roll fashion, pinching closed. Slice into inch-thick slices. Place cut side down on baking sheet or stone. Bake 10-15 minutes, or until golden brown and cooked through. (Yeah, you'll probably have to throw yourself on some fresh baked bread to see if it's done. The ultimate sacrifice.)

Friday, February 5, 2010

The building blocks of childhood

They aren't Legos or Lincoln Logs.

If you were to build a child from scratch, you wouldn't need plastic or silicone or wood or joint compound. You need peanut butter and jelly, the hydrogen and oxygen of kid-dom, the substances that make up the majority of all rugrats, the way water covers most of the Earth. (And in my experience, peanut butter and jelly covers most of the children I know, so that's a good analogy in more ways than one.)

If you can’t get a kid to eat PB&J, you’ve got a kid that won’t eat anything. A kid that will sneer at macaroni and cheese, tacos, hot dogs, hamburgers and grilled cheese sandwiches will still gratefully gobble up peanut butter and jelly.

That is not to say that there aren’t concessions to be made. I have one nephew who demands strawberry jam for his sandwiches. The other wants “the purple stuff,” but then again, sometimes he slaps on cheese and ketchup, too, the little freak. My niece wants whatever I can convince her Hannah Montana would eat on a peanut butter sandwich. None of them have any interest in my chunky peanut butter and apple jelly on wheat toast, but that’s just fine with me. I can still get my son to indulge in interesting jams, as long as there is plenty of peanut butter that he can ultimately rub in his hair. What can I say? He's a connoisseur.

1 pizza crust

1 c. peanut butter

1/2 c. cream cheese

¼ c. brown sugar

¾ c. strawberry jam

1 c. sweetened whipped cream

Optional: Teddy Grahams and gummy bears

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place pizza crust on baking sheet. Bake 10-15 minutes, until just starting to brown. Cool.

Beat peanut butter with cream cheese and brown sugar until smooth. Spread over crust. In a microwave-safe bowl, heat jam in microwave for 10 seconds, until just slightly loosened. Spread evenly over peanut butter layer. Chill.

Place whipped cream in a piping bag, or just a plastic zipper bag with a corner cut. Pipe cream in a decorative pattern around the edge. Garnish with Teddy Grahams and gummy bears. Slice and serve.

Variation: Super-easy PB&J – After toasting crust, spread with ¾ c. peanut butter. Cool. Using a squeeze-top bottle of grape jelly, let the kids squirt on a funky jelly pattern. Slice and serve.

Sidebar box: Shell Game – Peanuts aren’t actually nuts. They’re legumes, like beans or lentils. According to leading peanut butter producer Skippy, three jars of the tasty spread are sold every single second, totaling about 90 million jars a year. It takes 850 peanuts to make one 18-ounce jar of peanut butter, and most of those come from Georgia, Texas, Florida and Oklahoma.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Cocktails anyone?

There are certain staples you just expect to find at a good restaurant. Heck, even a somewhat mediocre restaurant. Even, on occasion, in a refrigerated vending machine with delusions of grandeur.

Things like a nice steak. Or a decent piece of cheesecake. Or the mother of all appetizers, the shrimp cocktail.

What’s classier than a martini glass brimming with zesty, tomato-y cocktail sauce, festooned with huge curls of chilled shrimp. For me, it always brings to mind special dinners out when Grandpa would share his appetizer, or my first real date at a fancy restaurant. A shrimp cocktail is a celebration you can eat, a fancy party even if you are eating it all by yourself.

But why wait? I mean, shrimp is so plentiful today, it doesn’t have to be kept for special occasions. Maybe tonight, the special occasion is Wednesday. I think that calls for some...

Shrimp Cocktail Pizza

1 pizza crust

Olive oil


Kosher salt

½ c. cocktail sauce

½ c. petite diced canned tomatoes

2 lemons

1 pound large shrimp, cooked, peeled and deveined

1 red onion, sliced

¼ c. mayonnaise

1 t. prepared horseradish

1 T. Dijon mustard

Salt and pepper


Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place crust on baking sheet. Brush or spray center of crust with olive oil. Dip fingers in water and gently moisten edges of crust. Sprinkle lightly with kosher salt. Bake 10-15 minutes, until just beginning to brown. Set aside.

In a bowl, combine cocktail sauce and tomatoes. Zest and juice one lemon, adding to the sauce mixture. Season to taste. Chill.

In a second bowl, toss shrimp and onion with the zest and juice of second lemon. Chill.

In a third bowl, combine mayonnaise, horseradish, mustard, salt and pepper.

Spread cocktail sauce mixture over crust. Drain lemon juice from shrimp. Scatter shrimp and onion over crust. Drizzle with mayo dressing. Finish with parsley. Slice and serve immediately.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Wild Wild West

How was the West won? With breakfast.

Come on. Think about it. Those good ol' cowboys might have subsisted on beans for lunch and biscuits and whiskey for dinner, but that's just not going to cut it for breakfast. You can’t rope all those steers and round up those dogies without a good stick-to-your-ribs meal first thing in the morning.

And what chuck wagon chef wouldn’t have appreciated a Western omelet pizza? Handheld, no plates required, it’s perfect for a cowpoke on the go.

1 pre-baked pizza crust

2 oz. cream cheese

1 T. butter

4 eggs

2 T. milk

Salt and pepper

½ c. diced ham

½ c. diced red pepper

½ c. diced green pepper or 1 small can mild green chiles (Feeling feisty? Use a jalapeno.)

½ c. diced onion

1 c. shredded cheddar cheese

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place pizza crust on baking sheet. Bake 5 minutes. Remove from oven. Spread with cream cheese. Set aside.

Melt butter in large skillet. Beat eggs with milk. Over medium-low heat, cook eggs, stirring frequently, until soft set. Season with salt and pepper. Arrange over cream cheese on crust. Sprinkle with ham, peppers, and onions. Top with shredded cheese. Bake 10 minutes, until cheese is melted. Let stand 3-5 minutes until slicing and serving.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Pizza and gravy?

That just doesn't sound right, does it? Especially on our Brunchtastic Thursday.

Until you think "Well, she puts EVERYTHING on a pizza." And then you think "What kind of gravy could it be at breakfast?"

That's right, people. Sausage gravy. That cholesterol-laden Southern staple...in pie form.

Who needs to mix up a fresh-from-scratch batch of biscuits first thing in the morning? (Okay, for our purposes here, we're just going to ignore the fact that flaky, delicious, buttery homemade biscuits are, in fact, flaky, delicious and buttery. Go with me, will you?) Creamy sausage gravy stands up better to the toasted crispiness of pizza crust anyway. And unlike biscuits, which have a tendency to be smothered in the high-calorie but delectable sauce, crusts let a little go a long, tasty way.

For convenience? This pizza is absolutely perfect with a pre-made storebought crust. Even those ones that look like a great big really flat hockey puck and come in a bag of three or four. It also works great with something that popped out of a can. Frankly? It even works wonderfully on a loaf of French bread you've split and toasted in the oven. But if you just can't imagine your sausage gravy sans biscuit? Make your biscuits, whether boxed or scratch, and spread the dough on your pizza pan. Still the fun and portion control of pizza, but more of the flavor of the original.

1 pre-baked pizza crust

½ pound breakfast sausage

3 T. flour

2 c. milk

2 oz. cream cheese, cubed

Salt and pepper

1 c. shredded colby jack cheese

Parsley or chives

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place pizza crust on baking sheet. Bake crust for 5 minutes. Set aside. (Working with an unbaked crust, or biscuit dough? Just blind bake it for about 10-15 minutes. If you're using French bread, just split and toast until barely golden.)

In a skillet, crumble and brown sausage. Remove sausage to another dish, but do not drain the pan. Place the pan over medium heat and sprinkle flour over sausage drippings. Depending on the sausage, you may need more or less flour to make a paste or roux. Slowly add milk, stirring constantly, until a creamy, spreadably thick sauce is achieved. You may need more or less milk. Stir in cream cheese until the gravy is smooth. Add the sausage and remove from heat.

Spread the gravy over the crust, using only as much as you think your pizza needs. Any leftovers are great with toast. Sprinkle with cheese and finish with parsley or chives. Bake 10 minutes or until cheese is melted but not browned.

Extra Extra!!!

It’s official – Biscuits and gravy are more than a truck-stop staple. The simple, oh-so-country fare is so important in some parts of the country that the government has gotten into the act. In 1988, the Oklahoma State Legislature named sausage gravy and biscuits as an Official State Meal.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Et tu, chicken?

When Julius Caesar met his end on the Ides of March more than 2,000 years ago, he probably never imagined how popular he would be today. After all, when was the last time you went into a restaurant that didn’t feature a Caesar salad on the menu?

The dressing is what definies a Caesar. Simultaneously creamy and oily, it's almost a fresh-made mayonnaise with the bite of garlic, the salt of parmesan, and the deep, intangible background of anchovy. (Okay, you're probably going to want to keep that one to yourself with the picky eaters. I just write pizza recipes. I don't have a wand.)

Don't like Caesar yourself? A good parmesan peppercorn or even ranch makes gives a similar feel. And don't feel like that's a bad thing. Making substitutions is part of opening people's eyes, and tastebuds, to new things. But that doesn't mean you force the issue in areas that have already been tried and deemed "not my style."

What else makes a Caesar a Caesar? The right lettuce. You can put the dressing on anything you want, but authenticity demands Romaine. The long, straight leaves of this special green are crisp and sweet, and much easier to get kids to try than some of the bitter or spiky foliage in a spring mix.

And the chicken? It's become synonymous with Caesar, probably because its mellow, adaptable flavor and pleasant texture make it a perfect foil for the pop of the dressing.

Pile it all on a crispy, chewy pizza crust for something new in a salad staple.

Chicken Caesar Pizza

1 pizza crust

Olive oil

2 T. grated parmesan cheese

Salt and pepper

2 c. romaine lettuce, sliced thin

1 pound cooked chicken (preferably deli roasted)

¼ c. Caesar dressing (Don’t like Caesar? Ranch works fine.)

Parmesan cheese


Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Place crust on baking sheet. Brush or spray with olive oil. Season with parmesan cheese and salt and pepper to taste. Bake 15-20 minutes, or until cheese melts and begins to brown, but not until crust is too crunchy to cut. Cool.

In a bowl, toss lettuce and chicken with dressing until lightly coated. Pile on crust. Garnish with more parmesan and parsley. Slice and serve.


It’s NOT imperial! – While Caesar salad was first popularized in Hollywood’s Golden Age, and for years was only available at restaurants with a dress code, it isn’t a dish with royal roots. Italian immigrant Caesar Cardini created the dish in 1924 for his Tijuana, Mexico, restaurant, catering to those crossing the border to have a little wine with dinner during Prohibition. The dish was known for its theatrical value, since it was prepared at the table, but that just makes it the perfect dish for entertaining today. Doesn’t everyone always end up in the kitchen anyway? (Source: www.cuisinedumonde.com)

Tuesday, January 12, 2010


Yeah. That's my word. What about it?

I know it's not hard to get a kid to eat a taco. No harder than getting him to eat a pizza. Tacos are fun. It's a salad wrapped up in a big Dorito, for crying out loud. What's bad about that?

Well, some of these recipes aren't about getting a kid to eat something he wouldn't normally eat. They are about opening a kid's eyes to trying new things and exploring new ways of doing things.
I do recipe contesting. That means that a big part of my life is spent looking at one thing and figuring out how to recreate it in a new, unusual, and hopefully appetizing way. I think I'm pretty good at it. For Steak-umms, I rebuilt barbecue using steak. http://www.delish.com/food/award-winning-recipes/steak-umms-recipe-contest
For the National Beef Cookoff, I reinterpreted my husband's favorite Caprese salad as a burger with my favorite grilled polenta instead of a bun. http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/caprese-polenta-burger-small-plates-big-taste-recipe/reviews/index.html (And yes, having a recipe listed on http://www.foodnetwork.com/? One of the highlights of my life.)

Looking at things in new ways doesn't just open you to trying my Taqueso (get it? Taco + Queso?) Pizza. It can be the start of seeing how you can take something good and make it something great. Looking at things from a new perspective is creativity at its most basic, and has taken us into space, into microchips, into the DNA of the human body.

So make some pizza. It's good for your brain.

Taqueso Pizza

Tacos are really just little pizzas bent in half. Already sporting meat, sauce, cheese and toppings, the dish is perfect to make the leap from crispy tortilla envelope to flat bread shell.

1 pizza crust

1 pound ground beef

1 small onion, chopped

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 small can green chiles

½ c. tomato sauce

2 t. chili powder

1 t. cumin

1 ½ t. sugar

Salt and pepper to taste

Cayenne pepper or hot sauce (optional)

1 c. shredded cheddar

1 c. shredded mozzarella

¼ c. pickled mild banana pepper slices

1 T. chopped fresh cilantro or parsley

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

In a large skillet, brown ground beef over medium heat with onions and garlic. Add chiles, tomato sauce, chili powder, cumin, sugar, salt, pepper and, if desired, cayenne or hot sauce. Simmer 5-10 minutes. Spread on pizza crust and top with cheeses. Scatter with banana pepper slices. Bake 20 minutes. Garnish with cilantro or parsley.

Serving suggestion – Instead of topping your taco pizza with lettuce, salsa and sour cream, serve them alongside. Wedges of iceberg lettuce drizzled with salsa and topped with a dollop of sour cream make a great salad accompaniment to a fun pizza.