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 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:

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.
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. (And yes, having a recipe listed on 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.

Monday, January 11, 2010

From the garden

Okay, my garden happens to be under two feet of snow and ice at the moment, but there's someone out there supplying the world with veggies right now, and thank goodness! Because I'm in the mood for a little vegetarian extravaganza right now.

There are two problems with a veggie pizza most of the time, but those problems have the same root. A lack of imagination.

Problem #1? Often, a veggie pie just isn't very good. Usually, it consists of the four basic vegetables in any pizza joint: mushrooms, onions, peppers and olives. There's nothing wrong with those vegetables at all, but are they fresh? Frankly, I believe canned mushrooms on a pizza should be a hanging offense. Black olives must be canned, but they also can't be old. And the onions and peppers are also a conundrum. Raw, and the pie can cook before they do, giving an unpleasantly jarring difference when eaten. Cooked, or more to the point, overcooked, and you've got a wet, limp mess.

Problem #2? Mushrooms, onions, peppers and olives may be the four things on a pizza menu, outside of anchovies, that are hardest to convince a kid that can't even be helped by melted mozzarella. And all the reasons in Problem #1 are exactly why.

There is also an intrinsic complication to a vegetable pizza, should you break outside that mold and embrace new and interesting plant life. When you cook a vegetable, it releases water. The only thing worse than water on dough is water on bread. Sog sog sog.

So what do you do? Give up the idea? Abandon vegetables entirely? Let the kids win? Don't be silly.

Roasting your veggies solves all your problems at once. A drizzle of oil and seasoning, a trip through the oven, and you've got tender, sweet bites of vegetables your kids love, maybe one or two new ones to try, plus you've tamed the liquid inside, preventing a pie that needs a life preserver.

"Where's the Meat?" Pizza

1 pizza crust

2 c. mixed fresh vegetables (Use your imagination. There is a world of vegetables that work just fine on pizza outside of the your standard peppers, onions and mushrooms. Tomatoes, broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, snow peas, even fresh green beans all work beautifully.)

3 T. olive oil

Salt and pepper

1/2 c. tomato sauce

1 c. shredded mozzarella (This is also a good place to use the fresh stuff, but only if the kids are going to appreciate it. While pushing veggies that might be a stumbling block, you might want to stick with the cheese that won't be a struggle.)

¼ c. grated parmesan

1 T. parsley, chopped

1 T. fresh basil, chopped (or 1 t. dried basil)

1 T. olive oil

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Clean and cut vegetables into bite-sized pieces. What veggies are you using? Harder varieties like carrots should either be in very small pieces, like the pre-cut, pre-washed matchsticks for salads. Cauliflower, broccoli, asparagus, green beans, etc., don't need tons of cooking, so they can be left slightly larger, but it's nice to have all your veggies in a uniform size. Also, don't forget to take into consideration how much your kids like a vegetable cooked. My son, for example, likes his broccoli raw or cooked to death, nothing in between. Oh, and if you are using fresh tomatoes, make sure you seed them to keep your pie from getting soggy.

Toss the veggies with 3 T. oil and salt and pepper. You can experiment with more seasoning if you like and your kids will tolerate it. I like dill, garlic and rosemary. Spread on a sheet pan (make sure this pan has sides or the oil could cause problems) and roast in oven. This is the part I can't give you numbers for. Depending on the veggies you pick and how cooked you like them, this part could be 10-15 minutes or more than 25-30. Check them regularly, and remember they will get more cooking time on the pizza, so don't let them brown too much.

Spread sauce on crust. Start with half, adding more if necessary, or saving some to serve with the pizza. Top with vegetables. You can either arrange one variety at a time, or toss them together and scatter them evenly. Add the cheeses and finish with herbs. Drizzle crust with olive oil.

Bake about 15-20 minutes, or until cheese is melted and golden and crust nicely cooked.


Deadly Dinner – For hundreds of years after being discovered in the New World, Europeans and American settlers believed the tomato was poisonous. Not only was it closely related to the deadly nightshade plant, but the highly acidic tomatoes actually did kill wealthy diners who ate off pewter plates. (The acid caused lead to leach out of the plates. It was really the lead that did people in.) The tomato’s reputation was saved by Colonel Robert Gibbons Johnson, who munched a ripe, red fruit publicly in Salem, N.J., and lived to tell the tale. (Source: Encyclopedia Brittanica)

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Going for a dip

January is a time for Crock-pots. And nostalgia. Here, we bring you both.

When I was little, we always had roast beef on Tuesdays (yes, today IS Tuesday, isn't it?) because I had Brownies after school, and Mom had been tricked into being Scout Leader. Throwing a roast in the Crock-pot made sure we had dinner ready when we got home. That was great. I loved my mom's pot roast, with those beefy potatoes and carrots that soaked up all that lovely broth all day. But the best part wasn't until Saturday.

That was when we had leftovers, yummy hot roast beef sandwiches dripping gravy. I still feel all gooey inside when I see them on a diner menu, but it wasn't long before I discovered something just as good in a different way. The French Dip. All the steamy heat of the sliced meat, piled on crusty bread instead of sliced white, with your own little cup of broth to dip in.

Sorry...I have to wipe off my keyboard. I'm drooling.

This would be a time where making a pizza doesn't just make a cute presentation and a convenient dinner your kids will eat without protest. I mean, sure, it does all that. But it also lets you create a hybrid between the comfort food of your childhood and the sophistication of what you've found since you grew up.

Oh, and the best part? With deli roast beef, you don't have to wait for leftovers.

Hot French Beef Pizza

1 pre-baked pizza crust

1 T. butter

1 large onion, sliced thin

Salt and pepper to taste

¼ c. beef stock or apple cider

1 t. sugar

1 pound thin-sliced deli roast beef

1 ½ c. beef gravy (homemade or bottled...I use homemade but I'm not a snob. Better to use a jar than miss out on a great pizza. But give your grocery store deli a check. Wegmans has great prepared sauces, including a lovely beef gravy, with its ready-to-go foods.)

½ pound provolone cheese, sliced

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

Melt butter in skillet. Sauté onion over medium heat until translucent. Add salt and pepper to taste, beef stock (or cider) and sugar and reduce heat. Simmer, stirring occasionally, until mixture is reduced and onions fully cooked.

Slice roast beef into ribbons and place in a bowl. Pour ½ c. gravy over beef and toss. Spread over pizza crust. Arrange cheese slices over beef, and top with onions. Bake 15-20 minutes, until beef is hot and cheese is melted. Heat remaining gravy and serve drizzled over each slice.


The Best in Beef – While shopping for steaks and roasts, many people look for the most lean meat, with very little white fat, but they might wonder why restaurant steaks taste so much better. It’s all about the fat. The very best grade of beef is Prime, a quality sold almost exclusively to restaurants. It is well-marbled with the fat, giving the meat a tender quality and rich flavor throughout. Choice and Select grades available at grocery stores have less marbling. The most expensive beef in the world, Kobe beef, has the most marbling, and it should. The pampered Wagyu cattle are fed beer every day, massaged, and brushed with Japanese sake! (Source: Giant Eagle, Inc.)