Wednesday, November 28, 2007

French Bread Pizza

(Sorry for the delay in posting; holidays and everything kept me busy! —lar3ry)

When the kids were very young, Sandra and I had two vastly different work schedules. She worked from about 3pm until 11pm at night (evening shift), and I worked during the day. We usually had a babysitter watch the kids between the time Sandra had to leave for work, and the time I got home, although we sometimes used day care instead.

What this meant was that I was responsible for feeding the kids their supper. When they were in the "baby food" ages, I had a selection of a few pre-made foods for the kids. Sandra used to joke that I wouldn't feed the kids anything I wouldn't eat myself, and that was actually mostly true. The kids ended up eating a lot of mashed banana, sometimes carrots, and some rice cereal for the most part.

When the children were old enough for "real food," they progressed quickly from Cheerios and other bite-size items to more sophisticated items like soups and pizza.

Now, I've already explained history with pizza in another blog entry, and I won't repeat myself here. Needless to say, I knew that the kids loved pizza, and it wasn't in my heart to avoid it. For a time, those "Red Baron" mini-pizzas that you could cook in a microwave were popular, but they started to get repetitive. Another frozen pizza that I seemed to always have liked is Ellio's (the square pizzas), but they weren't a big hit with the girls. A small pizza from the pizza place just down the road from my house was cheap enough (about three dollars for a plain pizza), that I occasionally chose that as well.

At the time, I was working in Boston's North End in a building that sits right across the street from the Paul Revere house on North Street. The North End is a well known Italian neighborhood, and has many block party "feasts" throughout the year.

On my way home, I would walk from my office, through the North End, towards the Boston Garden, and pick up my commuter rail at North Station. The trek through the North End had me passing a number of bakeries, and one day as I was passing by, I saw a large loaf of French Bread. That got me to thinking about French Bread pizza—something that Sandra and I may have had once or twice, but I don't think we ever made it from scratch. "How difficult could it be?" I asked myself, and I purchased a fresh loaf on my way home.

I love fresh bread, and it was a big act of self-control that kept me from eating the bread while I was sitting in the train on my way home. However, I had a couple of hungry pizza-eaters to feed, so good ol' dad kept his appetite at bay and the loaf made it safely through the train ride in one (complete) piece. Driving home, I stopped at the grocery store to purchase some pizza sauce from a jar (I wasn't that familiar with making my own pizza sauce), and some shredded mozzarella.

I was set.

At home, I cut the bread, added the sauce and cheese, and popped it into the oven until the cheese melted (about 400 F for about ten minutes).

The kids loved it!

I did, too, although I simply made mine without the sauce and cheese—toasted French bread!

Over the years, I varied the recipe a bit, sometimes using leftover (homemade) spaghetti sauce, sometimes adding cooked sausage or slices of pepperoni, and this was always a quick, easy meal to make.

A couple of years ago, while watching Rachael Ray on Food Network's "Thirty Minute Meals," I saw Rachael make what I thought was a French Bread Pizza on Steroids. Of course, she had her own name for it (shown below).

I've made this myself, although I did my own take on the recipe, as neither Sandra nor I wanted the pepper, spinach, or ricotta. Still, Rachael's recipe was a great starting point for a whole new era of French Bread pizza at my house. It's still a quick and easy meal.

Super Stuffed French Bread Pizza Rustica

Source:Rachael Ray—30 Minute Meals—Food Network
Prep Time:10 minutes
Cook Time:25 minutes
Yield:4 servings


1 (2 foot long) loaf French bread

1 pound sweet Italian sausage

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

1 small red bell pepper, seeded and chopped

1 small onion, chopped

2 large cloves garlic, chopped

1 package frozen chopped spinach defrosted and squeezed dry

Salt and pepper

1 ½ cups part skim ricotta

½ cup grated Parmesan

½ pound sweet sopressata, from the deli, sliced thick, chopped

½ stick pepperoni, chopped

1 sack (10 ounces) shredded mozzarella

1 sack (10 ounces) shredded provolone

1 teaspoon dried oregano

1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

Preheat oven to 425°F.

Split bread lengthwise and hollow it out. Cut in half across, making 4 shells for pizzas.

Heat a skillet over medium high flame and brown sausage in extra-virgin olive oil. Brown and crumble sausage. Add red bell pepper, onion and garlic. Cook 3 to 5 minutes, add spinach. Remove mixture from heat and season with a pinch of salt and black pepper, to your taste.

Transfer to a bowl. Combine sausage and veggies with ricotta, Parmesan, sopressata and pepperoni. Fill bread shells and top with mounded mozzarella and provolone cheeses. Place in hot oven on cookie sheet and bake until cheese melts and bubbles and bread is super crisp, about 10 to 12 minutes. Top pizzas with oregano and hot pepper flakes. Serve immediately, or snack all night!

Bon Appetit!

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Pasta with Meat Sauce

My family has come to enjoy my pasta with meat sauce recipes. I use the plural here, because my sauce comes in about three varieties: traditional, without vegetables, and with ground meat.

The first variety, which is most closely associated with the Italian Bolognese sauce, consists of cubes of beef simmered with onions, carrots, celery, beef stock, and crushed tomatoes. Now, according to the Wikipedia, my use of tomatoes may make it less than authentic, but we seem to enjoy it this way.

Sandra, however, doesn't really like when I add the finely cubed vegetables (carrots and celery) to the meat, which is about the only time that I prefer more vegetables to a dish than Sandra. If I'm in a rush, I will use ground meat (make sure it's relatively lean, about 85%) to make a quick meal. Hence the three varieties.

Below is my traditional meat sauce with notes at the bottom for additional varieties.

Bolognese Sauce

Source:My recipe that evolved over twenty some-odd years
Yield:Serves 4-6


2 ribs of celery, chopped into small cubes

1 carrot, chopped into small cubes

2 Tbs olive oil

1 ½ lbs lean beef, cut into small cubes

1 medium onion, chopped

1 can beef broth

¼ cup red wine

1 Tbs dried basil

1 Tbs dried bacon bits (artificial is fine)

28 oz can crushed tomatoes (Contadina preferred)

6 oz can tomato paste

1 lb hearty pasta (linguine, tagliatelle, perciatelli, bucatini, or penne)

Grated hard cheese (Parmesan or Romano)

Chop the ribs of celery and carrot into tiny (about ⅛") cubes. Slice the onion thinly, and then chop to make small cubes.

Using a Dutch oven, drizzle the olive oil onto the bottom of the pot over medium-high heat, and rotate the pot until the oil covers the bottom. Add chopped carrots, celery, and onions, and cook for about five minutes, stirring occasionally, until the onions are translucent. Add extra oil, if necessary.

Add the cubed beef and continue to cook, stirring occasionally to ensure that all the beef is cooked. Sauté the meat and vegetable mixture for an additional three minutes and then add the broth, wine, basil, bacon bits, tomatoes, and paste.

Wait until the mixture starts to bubble and then lower the heat to medium-low. Cover the pot and simmer for at least twenty minutes— the longer you cook, the more chance for the flavors to "marry."

Prepare a pound of pasta according to package directions until al denté.

Serve Bolognese sauce over pasta, garnishing with Parmesan or Romano cheese, as desired.

  • Add one frozen sausage, cubed for additional flavor
  • Ground beef may be substituted for the cubed meat
  • Sandra prefers the sauce without the cubed vegetables

Bon Appetit!

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Sour Cream Chocolate Chip Cake

Here is an understatement: Baking is not my forté.

I'll give you a moment to recover from your shock, but it's true. My wife and kids love to cook brownies, cakes, pies, and all sorts of great dessert dishes, and I am usually relegated to watching from a distance.

Immediately after I married Sandra, she moved to Miami with me. I had been living there for about three years at that time; our long-distance relationship turned into a marriage that has been going on for over a quarter of a century now.

As with most marriages, the first year was probably the most difficult. It was the first time either one of us lived with somebody else that was not directly related and, adding to the many things that Sandra had to put up with, she was living fifteen hundred miles away from her family in sunny, hot, and humid Miami.

Now, I can give you a list of many nice things about Miami, but it would be augmented by an equally long list of things that weren't so nice, especially if you consider that she moved down her in the aftermath of the Mariel boat lift with the attendant rise in crime throughout south Florida. If you don't know what I'm talking about, watch the Al Pacino movie "Scarface."

We moved to Miami in the early summer, when the humidity was pretty brutal. Sandra isn't a big fan of "hot and humid," which was about the only way to describe the climate. However, in the autumn, the humidity was starting to get manageable, and usually stays that way until spring rolls along.

The two of us survived the fifteen months that we lived there, though. We even had some fun.

At the time, I was working at Burger King's headquarters, which (then) was situated right across the street from the Dadeland Mall. Sandra was working at Jordan Marsh at that mall, and we'd usually meet every day at the mall for some lunch.

In the mall, one of our favorite restaurants was La Crepe, a French-like bistro that specialized in crepes that had some nice salads—in fact, it was the only place where I've had a spinach salad more than once! This restaurant was located near a food court, which had some interesting fast food places that we sometimes patronized as well. There was a Victoria Station restaurant there as well, where you could get some great prime rib for a decent price.

In the food court at Dadeland Mall was a place that was popular with the people at work. Its name was "Hot Cookies" (it's apparently still there!) and this place specialized in Toll House style cookies. I remember seeing that they advertised special occasion cakes as well.

That next November, when Sandra's birthday arrived, I asked some of my co-workers what I could do that would be special for her first birthday in Miami. Somehow, I got the idea for a special birthday cake, and Hot Cookies sprang immediately to mind. I had a mental image of a Toll House cookie the size of a layer cake, and with that image in mind, I ordered a birthday cake for Sandra.

Later on that day, I picked up the cake, then invited Sandra to the office to celebrate her birthday. I admit that I was a bit surprised when I picked up the cake; instead of something yellow with chocolate polka-dots that I was expecting, the cake was a frosted with a deep, dark, chocolate brown icing. I brought it to the office and we put on the candles, and when Sandra arrived, we let her blow them out and she, my co-workers, and I had a happy snack.

That chocolate chip cake was wonderful! Below the dark chocolate frosting was a light yellow bundt cake with chocolate chips embedded within.

On a later trip to Hot Cookies, Sandra and I asked about the cake, and we found out that it was a sour cream cake with a dark chocolate sour cream frosting.

Since Burger King was owned by Pillsbury at that time, I naturally had a copy of a Pillsbury cookbook (I purchased a few the previous December, and used some as gifts). I managed to find a recipe for "sour cream chocolate chip cake" in that book. In another recipe book, James Beard's "American Cookery," I found a recipe for sour cream chocolate frosting that used chocolate chips. I combined the two recipes, and managed to re-create that wonderful birthday cake that Sandra had for her birthday.

Let me put this in context. I managed to re-create that cake, despite my admitted unsophistication with baking. Now, add the fact that this was also the first cake I ever tried to bake that didn't come out of a box. My goodness, I think I must have hit a jackpot!

Ahh, the memories...

Our nest won't be so empty next weekend, as the kids and Sandra's father come over to visit for Sandra's birthday. It's my plan to once again attempt to bake this cake for Sandra's birthday. The recipe is easy, although I've found that getting the chocolate chips to scatter throughout the dough is a bit tricky—they usually seem to pool around the middle of the cake when I make it. However, if I don't get it perfect, I know that I'll probably have a couple of helpers around to help me get it right. After all, they are the bakers!

Happy birthday, Sandra!

Sour Cream Chocolate Chip Cake

Source:Pillsbury Kitchens' Family Cookbook (cake)
James Beard's American Cookbook (frosting)
Prep Time:10 minutes
Cook Time:40 minutes.
Yield:1 bundt cake


2 cups all-purpose or unbleached flour

1 ½ cups sugar

2 tsp baking powder

½ tsp baking soda

½ tsp salt

1 ⅓ cups dairy sour cream

⅔ cup margarine or butter, softened

1 tsp vanilla

3 eggs

½ cup sugar

1 tsp cinnamon

1 6 oz package (1 cup) semi-sweet chocolate chips

Heat oven to 350°F. Grease (not oil) bundt cake pan.

In large bowl, blend first 9 ingredients at low seed until moistened. Beat 3 minutes at medium speed.

Pour half of batter (about 2 ½ cups) into prepared pan.

In a small bowl, combine ½ cup sugar and cinnamon. Sprinkle half of sugar mixture and chocolate chips over batter.

Repeat with remaining batter, sugar mixture and chocolate chips. Bake at 350°F for 35 to 40 minutes, or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.

Chocolate Frosting, Helen Evans Brown

5 oz semi-sweet chocolate

⅜ tsp salt

½ cup sour cream

Melt the chocolate in the top pan of a double boiler over hot water. Blend in the salt and sour cream and let the frosting cool.

This recipe provides enough frosting to cover the top and sides of a bundt cake.

Bon Appetit!

Friday, November 2, 2007

Indian Cuisine

Today's column will discuss Indian food.

Indian food was one of the first "exotic" cuisines that I ever tried. I was in Sydney, Australia on a business trip, and a friend asked me to try it out. I was immediately hooked!

While the cuisine has a reputation for being spicy, you can easily order anything you want and have it prepared mild at any restaurant.

Papadums are spicy lentil wafers (I've written about them before in this blog), and most Indian restaurants offer an appetizer sampler to allow you to sample different types of offerings. Pakoras are vegetables or bits of chicken dipped in a chick pea batter and deep fried and are very popular. There are also Samosas, which are pastries stuffed with cheese as well as peas or ground meat. Most appetizers come with various chutneys to enhance their taste. Onion chutney, mint chutney, and tamarind are quite popular.

Indian breads are, for the most part, flat breads. The standard naan is offered plain or with extras (garlic naan is popular, as is naan with bits of meat). If you are interested in something weirdly different, try a poori... this is a flat bread that is fried in such a way that it puffs up like a balloon!

Tandoori is Indian grilled food; the name comes from Tandoor, a clay pot which used for grilling at high temperatures. The Tandoori meats are marinated in yogurt and spices before they are grilled, and the result isn't as spicy is it is "spiced" (tasty, actually). I tend to recommend Tandoori to people that are a bit afraid of Indian food's spicy reputation, and most people tend to love it.

Biryani is a rice dish that incorporates various vegetables and/or meats to make a meal in itself. I find it to be a good quick lunch if I am in a hurry.

Most other Indian dishes come as stews.

Indian cuisine is well known for a large selection of vegetarian dishes, most made with beans (lentils are very popular), peas, eggplant, chick peas, and/or spinach. I've found that if I have a vegetarian friend, the variety of these dishes is very much preferred to that found in other restaurants that seem to think "vegetarian" means "person that eats salads." I'm not usually very fond of vegetarian foods myself, but I found a number of Indian foods that I really like, including Aloo Mattar (peas and potatoes in a nicely spiced red sauce) and Dal Makhani (lentil beans and spices in a cream sauce).

For the non-vegetarians, you can find lamb, chicken, and seafood dishes of various styles. Vindaloo is a very spicy (hot!) mixture of meat and potatoes. If you prefer something less hot, I would recommend Tikka Masala, which is seasoned meat simmered in a creamy tomato sauce. Jalfrezi is meat prepared with tomatoes, onions, and bell peppers in a fresh vegetable sauce.

Most Indian dishes come with basmati rice, which is usually cooked in water laced in fragrant spices (cloves, cinnamon, cardamom seeds). The rice itself, outside the spices, has a delicate flavor that goes very well with the spiciness of the rest of the menu.

A lot of Indian places offer a lunch buffet where you can try out various dishes in order to determine which ones appeal to you the most. You can usually find breads, appetizers, rice, tandoori (usually chicken), as well as salads and the various chutneys to enhance your food.

There are a few Indian restaurants near Salem, NH (with one actually in the town). Here is a capsule review of the ones that I've tried.

Bollywood Grill (Rt. 114, Andover, MA)

Good food and a good selection. There's a section of the menu for Tikka Masala (Sandra and the girls' favorite Indian meal), but no Chicken Makhani (Butter chicken). Papadum is occasionally a bit soggy, but still quite tasty. Decor consists of Bollywood actors and actresses and scenes from Indian movies. This place advertises free WiFi...!

India Palace (South Willow Street, Manchester, NH)

Very good food and a great selection. This place has one of my favorite Indian lunch buffets around, which is stocked very nicely and contains many selections. Chicken Makhani is available, as is a very nice Tikka Masala. Free papadum when you first arrive, and you can easily order more (more! MORE!).

India Palace (Amherst Street, Nashua, NH)

Same owners as previous entry, and same menu. In this place's favor, I would have to point out that about a half block away across the street, there is a Cold Stone Creamery, which is probably the best place for dessert anywhere!

Bon Appetit!