My Killer Chocolate Bread Pudding…Love at First Taste

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Paella Festival

Paella Festival (Photo credit: elsua)

About two weeks ago, one of my friends invited us to their home for an outdoor Paella Festival. It was intended to be a mini-version of the one’s they hold in Spain, only it was held in Pittsburgh, PA.  Close enough I suppose.  We had two very different paellas, prepared by two very talented chefs: one of them a food editor for the Post Gazette, our Pittsburgh newspaper. The other chef, and host for the day, was my friend Mike, a spectacular guy and professional chef that prepares the most amazing food for private parties. I’ve worked beside him a couple of times, and I learn something magical every time. The day was a little chilly and gloomy, and it rained for a short time, but we had a nice tent to protect us from the elements, a warm campfire, a couple of portable propane-fired warmers, plenty of wine and beer and great company to share the afternoon.The paella’s were spectacular. Mike’s was a ‘Cajun style’ paella, made with his own homemade smoked andouille sausage, a deeply carmelized tomato soffrito, and sautéed shrimp added to the paella pan for the final pairing of flavors, textures and eye appeal. The other paella was of the more traditional style, prepared with a lighter, more delicate soffrito, chicken, spanish chorizo, shrimp, clams and mussels. Both were made with homemade chicken stocks and a nice big dash of saffron to authenticate the dishes. Frankly, anything made with saffron is amazingly special. Cooking the paella on outdoor fires gave us all a chance to get a flavor for the way it was prepared back in the ‘old days’. They were terrific! Here’s some pictures.

Mike’s Amazing Cajun Syle Paella

While our two chefs prepped the paella, the guests were expected to bring appetizers, salads, something to go with the main course, or a dessert.

 I had been itching to prepare a bread pudding I had been working on for almost a year. I had experimented with it quite a bit, and I thought I finally had it right. I had literally researched 10’s of recipes, read reviews, tried different ingredients and tested different combinations of flavors to cobble together a very special, uncommon bread pudding. I knew this would be a discerning group of friends–they would be honest about the bread pudding, but appreciative of the effort, even if it didn’t turn out perfect.

So Hot! Guys, let me tell you about this Bread Pudding.  If your lady loves chocolate, she is going to love you big time if you prepare this dessert.

Just so you know, I call this recipe “My Killer Chocolate Bread Pudding”.    That’s because, after My Kathy had her first bite, she stated “she would kill for it”, and proceeded to take physical possession of the remaining leftovers.  My Kathy loves, loves, loves chocolate.  I love, love, love bread pudding.  So, this recipe was created to satisfy both of our passions for a special occasion dessert.

Our Guest Chef’s Traditional Paella

Hot! Guys, read on because this is one of those recipes you will want to have in your repertoire.  I personally guarantee you will be awarded serious WOW! Points with this one, even if your main squeeze isn’t passionate about chocolate.

So what’s the big deal?  Well, it had to be special, made with high-quality ingredients that would turn out a memorable experience, not just an average experience.   As I already stated, it has chocolate—high quality chocolate.  I know very few women who won’t hug a Hot! Guy bearing chocolate!  I wanted the chocolate to be in chunks, spread throughout the dessert like pockets of diamonds waiting to be discovered.  I wanted the bread to be unexpected–a special surprise that one rarely sees in a common bread pudding.  It had to be smooth and silky, soft and pleasing–a sensual texture in the mouth.  And balanced–it had to have just the right amount of the sweetness–not overpowering in any way.  I wanted it to have layers of flavors and textures that could be individually tasted , not a glob of blended undistinguishable flavors.

It had to be souffle-like–light and airy, but rich so that just a little square would be enough to satiate her appetite without being heavy at the end of a romantic meal.  Instead, it would brighten the end of her dinner when accompanied by a glass of Extra-Dry Champagne, a Tawny Port or a hot and steamy Cappuccino.

And it had to be stupidly easy to make.  It had to have just a few great ingredients creating a complex, satisfying dessert.  So simple, that any one of my Hot! Guy followers could make it, knowing with near certainty that it would come out perfectly every time.

Just so you know, I got so many compliments on this dessert from the Paella guests, that everyone wanted the recipe and insisted I post it on the blog.  I barely got a chance to take a picture before it was gone–totally gone.  I had some leftover ingredients and made another batch the next day to give to some of my ‘at home’ friends.  The calls the next day were very encouraging.  There was obviously a lot of “killing’ going on that weekend in my neighborhood.

OK Hot! Guys, this is not an inexpensive dessert.  But, if it’s just you and your main squeeze sharing it, or just two couples, you can easily cut this recipe in half, and you’ll still have plenty leftover for the morning after.  By the way, it’s just as good cold as it is warm out of the oven.  Try it!  I’ll bet you’ll love it too!!  And let me know how many Bonus WOW! Points you were awarded for this one.  I’ll bet it’s a big number.

My Killer Chocolate Bread Pudding

Prep Time: 20 mins | Cook Time: 35 mins | Makes: About 16 servings | Difficulty:Easy

My Killer Chocolate Bread Pudding

Ingredients:

  • 12 stale croissants, cut into bite size cubes (See Notes)
  • 12 ounces Nestle’s or Other High Quality Chocolate Chunks: Milk, Semi-sweet, Dark or a mix
  • 7 cups heavy cream
  • 1-3/4 cups sugar
  • 9 eggs
  • 3 tbsp vanilla
  • Zest of one orange (optional)

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 450°.  Place oven rack in middle of the oven.

2. Layer croissants and chocolate chunks into a 9 x 13 inch pan. Two layers should do it.  Just make sure you have some of the chocolate chunks on the top layer so it’ll melt all the way down to the bottom of the pan.

3. Mix cream, sugar, eggs, vanilla in bowl and pour over the top of croissant layers.

4. Bake for 35 minutes or just a little more until top lightly browns and the texture is souffle-like. Careful to not let top burn.

5. Remove from oven, let cool to warm and serve with ice cream, whipped cream or just by itself.

Notes:

A. This can be easily scaled to a smaller or larger quantity.

B. Instead of croissants you can use stale French baguettes as well as challah bread, or my favorite is to use 1/2 croissants and 1/2 challah.

C. I added some golden raisins to one of the batches.  Not too many, but they added a nice layer of flavor and texture.

Source: Lou’s Hot! Guys Collection

Odd Couples, Watermelon and Chili Oil

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For those of us old enough to remember the movie or TV series called the “Odd Couple“, you know the plot was all about the ups and downs of two recently divorced and very different guys living together in a smallish New York City apartment.  Felix was the worrying, fussy, conservative, martini drinking type, while Oscar was the care-free, sloppy, live in the moment, beer slugging type.   Audiences were entertained by how they managed to stay friends despite their many differences.

After the movie became a huge success, the popular TV series took the oddities of their daily relationship struggles to the next level, entertaining fans for years.  In the end, the stories about their lives together always made us laugh, because people can be fascinated by how odd couples, unusual matches, opposite personalities, or widely disparate cultures can find ways to work things out.  The series was not the most intellectually challenging, certainly nothing too complicated, but there was always a life lesson in each episode.

The truth is that opposites are attractive to us because it’s fun to get to know someone who isn’t like you.   The fact is that each of us are affected by the people around us.  Some of them teach us things.  Some of them bring out the worst in us.  Some of them bring out the best in us.  Some of them just accept us for who we are.  I submit there is value in every relationship because each one forces us to constantly test where we are in our personal evolution.  Sometimes we make dramatic changes because of the impact others have on us.  At other times we make imperceptible changes in our perspectives, attitudes and behaviours because people with different points of view, philosophies and mannerisms make us more aware of the impact we have on those around us as well.

I honestly believe life is more interesting when it is less predictable–when we are open to adventure and exploration with the people around us and with ourselves.  We love it when something surprises us.  For example, is there any guy out there that isn’t thrilled when our ladies show up for date-night in a new dress or with a new piece of jewelry?  And Guys, I’m pretty sure our ladies love it when we surprise them with something unexpected–like flowers on a day other than their birthday, your anniversary or on valentine’s day.  (Hot! Guys–do it now!!  Call the Florist!!  Order flowers ‘Just Because She Makes Everyday a Special Day Because She is in Your Life’.  Use your words, but do it!!  There’s some serious WOW! Points right there. I guarantee it.)

I think it’s hard for another person to be your soul mate if they always think like you, live like you, love the same things you do or play like you.  I agree that as a relationship progresses we discover many things we have in common, but we also discover more things we have in contrast.  There are some who may disagree, but I believe relationships last longer and remain vibrantly sustainable when there is always something new to discover about your commonalities and differences.  In the end, it’s good to know you aren’t like everyone else out there, and that someone loves you because of your differences.  That’s a pretty powerful validation of who you are and who you will likely become, and good reason to celebrate the differences you and your soul mate have.

watermelon

S&B La-Yu chili oil - Momotaro Rahmen

Get Chili Oil in Asian Food Stores or at Whole Foods Store

So what does Watermelon and Chili Oil have to do with all this?  Well, let me ask this:  would you have ever guessed watermelon and chili oil could ever be companions in a salad?  No, me either.  But this Odd Combination is not only compatible, they do a fantastic dance together in a salad with Arugula, Pistachios and Goat Cheese!

A couple of weekends ago, we had this salad at a neighbor’s home.  We were shocked by how good it was.  We tasted the cool sweetness of the watermelon followed by the peppery arugula and then this slight spark of heat from the chili oil in the back of the mouth.  It was not spicy it was just an amazing experience.  While our neighbor didn’t have a recipe, per se, she told us the general ingredients.  I spent yesterday experimenting with the recipe, and last night we served it to 11 dinner guests in our home.  Virtually EVERYONE raved about Kathy’s meatloaf and the Watermelon, Arugula and Chili Oil Salad.  To a person, everyone asked if I would blog it so they could make it while watermelon was still in season.

Guys, this is one of those recipes that couldn’t be simpler.  I know you can cut up watermelon?  Can you pull Arugula out of the bag and put it in a bowl?  Can you buy some toasted pistachios or pine nuts and add them in?  Can you squeeze a lemon and add some chili oil?  I’m pretty sure you can find goat cheese at the store and crumble it on top.  Guys, that’s it.  Couldn’t be simpler.  I guarantee this salad will surprise and delight her.  She will have discovered something about your cooking skills that will make you an interesting person.  Serve it with a chilled New Zealand Marlborough County Sauvignon Blanc or a crisp Pinot Grigio and you have an incredible luncheon salad or a side salad for burgers or beef off the grill.  There’s major WOW! Points for this one too.

Make it a double play!  Buy her some unexpected flowers and make her this unexpected salad combination.  That’s serious WOW! Points in the bank!  Good luck.

 

Watermelon, Arugula, and Chili Oil Salad

 

Prep Time: 15 mins | Makes: 4 | Difficulty: Easy

 

Ingredients:

 

  • 4 cups watermelon, seeded and cut into 1-1/2 inch cubes

    Looks Great! Tastes Fantastic!

  • 2 cups arugula or watercress
  • 1/2 to 3/4 tbsp chili oil
  • Juice from 1 lemon
  • 1/2 kosher or sea salt
  • 1/2 cup pine nuts or pistachios (toasted)
  • 1/3 cup ricotta salata, goat or feta cheese, crumbled
  • fleur de sel (optional)

 

Directions:

 

1. Whisk together lemon juice, chili oil and salt in a large bowl, whisking until well mixed.

 

2. Add watermelon to bowl and mix well.

 

3. Let watermelon marinate (macerate) in the dressing in the refrigerator for 1 hour. Taste the watermelon. The sweetness of the watermelon should be followed by the subtle heat from the chili oil at the back of the tongue. Add more chili oil if desired, to taste.

 

4. Just before serving, add the arugula or watercress and nuts and toss to coat well. Then sprinkle with cheese and fleur de sel (if using).

 

Source: Lou’s Hot! Guys Collection
Sent from Paprika Recipe Manager

 

Get Flirting with Mussels

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Mussels and barnacles in the intertidal near N...

I know, I know…not everyone loves mussels, but personally, I think they are one of the most romantic things to share with your main squeeze.  There is just something about these jewels of black shell filled with little morsels of tasty shellfish that makes flirting with you special lady so easy to accomplish.  Somehow, the act of using your hands to pick them out of a steaming bowl of the broth placed between you, plucking the meat out of the shell, and then dunking crusty bread or ‘frites’ when all the mussels are gone makes eating them an almost sensuous experience.  And of course the shared beer or wine makes it an even more romantic experience.

Almost every culture in the world has recognized mussels as an important part of their cuisine.

 

For example, in Belgium, the Netherlands and France, mussels are often served with french fries or bread.  In Belgium, mussels are sometimes served with fresh herbs and flavorful vegetables in a stock of butter and white wine.  Belgian beer is almost universally associated with them in most places around the world.  In the Netherlands, they are sometimes served fried in batter or breadcrumbs, particularly at take-out or at street vendor locations.  In France, you will find baked mussels along some of the beaches in the South of France.

In Italy, mussels are often mixed with other seafood, or eaten with pasta.  I have an awesome recipe for this in my collection.  I’ll share it sometime soon.

In Spain, they are consumed mostly steamed by boiling white wine, onions and herbs, and serving the broth with lemon. They can also be eaten as a sort of croquette using the mussel meat, shrimp and other fish in a béchamel sauce, then breaded and fried.

In Turkey, they are either covered with flour and fried or filled with rice and served cold,  usually with beer.

They are prepared in Ireland by boiling them in seasoned vinegar, serving the “bray” (broth) as an accompanying hot drink.

In Cantonese cuisine, mussels are cooked in a broth of garlic and fermented black beans.

In New Zealand, they are served in a chili or garlic-based vinaigrette, processed into fritters and fried, or used as the base for a chowder.

In India, mussels are popular in Kerala, Maharashtra, Karnataka-Bhatkal, and Goa. They are either prepared with drumsticks, breadfruit or other vegetables, or filled with rice and coconut paste with spices and served hot.

Mussels are just not that hard to prepare well.  Guys! You can do this!  If your lady likes them, and you serve them as an appetizer or as a main course with a fresh green salad, crusty bread, beer or wine or her favorite iced tea, you will have made her day, and I’m guessing yours too!

In Lou’s culture, we keep the recipe simple.  These little mollusks just don’t need a lot of help from heavy spicing or sauces.  And if this takes you more than 10 minutes to prepare and serve, you are over thinking the process or overcooking the mussels.  And if you’ve never had them before, try this recipe because I’m pretty certain they’ll become a mainstay of your eating-out or eating-home menus.

Mussels In White Wine

Prep Time: 15 min | Cook Time: 18 min | Makes: 2 servings | Difficulty: Easy

Ingredients:

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 3/4 cup sweet onions, chopped

    Get Flirting With Mussels

  • 1 large stalk celery, chopped
  • 2 tbsp garlic, chopped
  • 3 tbsp celery, chopped
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 sprigs fresh or 1 tsp dried thyme
  • 1-1/2 cups white wine (prefer Pinot Grigio or Prosecco)
  • 4 tbsp butter, cut into cubes
  • 2 pounds live mussels, scrubbed and debearded
  • 5 tablespoons chopped parsley
  • Salt and pepper
  • Crusty bread

Directions:

1. In a sauce pan, heat the olive oil.

2. When the oil is hot, saute the celery, onions and garlic until translucent and tender.

3. Add the wine and bay leaves and bring to a boil.

4. Add the mussels.

5. Sprinkle the thyme, parsley, butter and several grinds of fresh black pepper on top of the mussels.

6. Cover and bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer.

7. Simmer the mussels for 5 to 8 minutes until the shells open and the mussels are done.

8. Discard any that do not open.

9. Season with salt and pepper, if needed.

10. Divide the mussels and broth between two bowls (or share them right out of the pot) and serve with crusty bread and a spoon to enjoy the broth.

Notes:

A. Careful with the salt. It really doesn’t need a lot because the mussels tend to be salty.

B. If desired, add just a little cream at the end of cooking to offer another layer of taste.

C. I’ve also added a jigger of Anisette or Ouzo at the end.  Awesome!! For a change of pace.

Source: Lou’s Hot! Guys Collection

Sent from Paprika Recipe Manager

 

Cooked mussels DSC09244

Properly Cooked Mussels

 

 

“Moving Sale–Guy Stuff” or Chicken Piccata!

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English: A "man cave" housing vintag...

A really cool “Man Cave’, but is it Moving?

Well I’m back from Alaska.  I hope you enjoyed the Cycling Alaska Posts from 4000 miles away.  It was an amazing experience, and I can now check off one of the things on my bucket list.

An Interesting? Threatening? Concept

I’m sharing one last picture of a road sign we passed while in Alaska.  I’ve seen many moving sales signs in the past, but not a one specifically indicating ‘guy stuff’.  That caused our riding group to speculate on what might be prompting such a unique sale.  After 250 miles of riding together, we were desperate for new discussion material.

One of the guys suggested they were selling their stuff in phases, and since ‘guy stuff’ was usually under foot, it was the easiest to sell first.  Ok that works.  Another is that his wife was unreasonably demanding he remove his guy stuff from the living room, garage or man-cave, otherwise HE was going to be moving.  Certainly a possibility.  And there was no downside to cooperating with his wife’s demands because he secretly knows guys don’t buy other guys stuff .  That’s one of the basic guy rules we learn when we are about 10.

Another offers the guy ran out of wall room for all the moose and bear heads, and he was selling some of the ‘older’ heads to make room for ‘newer’ heads.  So he was just ‘moving things around’, not really moving.  That one got a lot of traction, because every guy has done that.  It’s basic guy behaviour.  Another suggested it might be a guy with a new girlfriend hoping to convince her to move in, and he’s making an effort to self-police his place to impress and make room for his new roommate.  No one took that one very seriously.   Real guys don’t self-police themselves.  Us guys were having some fun with this speculation, when our lone woman riding companion told us we weren’t even close!

She said the sign was too well-printed to be the handiwork of a man.  Therefore, she concluded that sign was prepared by a woman.  She had a point there.  She then went on.  Assuming the sign is the work of a woman, then there are only a few possible situations.  Most probably, the lady of the house has already ‘moved out’ the man of the house, and she is disposing of his “guy stuff” in the quickest and most profitable way possible.  Why burn it when you can get a few bucks for a wasted couple of relationship years? 

The other possibility is she has threatened to put his head on the living room wall next to the moose and bear heads if he didn’t do something about his stuff –NOW!  Did I mention in my Cycling Alaska posts that everyone has rifles in Alaska, including the women?   This one sounded plausible too, because in this case the guy is ‘moving’ from the living room chair to the living room wall.  Therefore, the sign was painted by the lady while the guy collected his stuff and put it outside for the sale.  The rifle was loaded and standing ready if he delayed one more moment.  Us riding guys bought this one too because we have occasionally experienced this attitudinal shift in our lovely ladies at home.  It’s usually not a pleasant time in our lives.  And usually the word ‘moving’ enters the discussion often and that word can have many meanings.

It also occurred to us that the guy might be moving into his girlfriend’s place, and she said, “come alone, and with one suitcase” because she had previously seen his ‘guy stuff’.  That’s a real possibility. 

After a few nervous laughs among us guys, we agreed the poor soul was in trouble.  I suggested we help him out.  We should go back and give him the blog site address for HotCookingGuys.  It would be a long shot, but he might be able to recover the gun if he cooked her a great dinner.  Nice thought, but we were too far down the road by then.  Furthermore, our lady rider suggested we might actually get ourselves shot trying to help this guy out!  Apparently, one of the rules 10-year-old girls learn is that when pissed off at one guy, you are allowed to treat all other guys the same way until you are over it.  Yep, we had seen that rule in play before.  Let’s keep riding. 

Now, had I had the chance to talk with this fellow, I’d have to assume he’s not the smartest guy in the world to get himself into this corner.  So I’d offer up one of the fastest, easiest, simply elegant and delicious dishes I have in the Hot! Guys Collection, because as we already acknowledged, there may not be a lot of time or room for error here.

Here it is–Chicken Piccata.  Guys this is always a favorite of the ladies, and trust me, it is pathetically easy.  Yet, it’s one of those dishes most people only order in restaurants.  I have personally used this recipe for ‘recovery’ situations with my Kathy, and it works almost every time.  Yeah, sometimes nothing works.  Serve it with a nice bright-colored salad and some fresh green beans, and maybe you can recover one or two of your most favorite guy things from the yard sale!  Give this one a shot guys because it’s Hot!

Chicken Piccata

 Prep Time: 15 min | Cook Time: 25 min | Servings: 4 servings | Difficulty: Easy

Ingredients:

  • 2 skinless and boneless chicken breasts, butterflied and then cut in half (have the butcher do this for you)
  • Sea or kosher salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • All-purpose flour, for dredging
  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
  • 1/4 cup white wine (dry preferred)
  • 1/3 cup chicken stock
  • 1/4 cup brined capers, rinsed
  • 1/3 cup fresh parsley, choppedChicken Piccata. http://pdphoto.org

Directions:

1. Season chicken with salt and pepper.

2. Dredge chicken in flour and shake off excess.

3. In a large skillet over medium high heat, melt 2 tablespoons of butter with 3 tablespoons olive oil.

4. When butter and oil start to sizzle, add 2 pieces of chicken and cook for 3 minutes. When chicken is browned, flip and cook other side for 3 minutes. Remove and transfer to plate. Keep warm.

5. Melt 2 more tablespoons butter and add another 2 tablespoons olive oil. When butter and oil start to sizzle, add the other 2 pieces of chicken and brown both sides as in 4. above. Remove pan from heat and remove chicken to the plate.

6. Into the pan add the lemon juice, wine, stock and capers. Return to stove and bring to boil, scraping up brown bits from the pan for extra flavor.

7. Check for seasoning. Return all the chicken to the pan and simmer for 5 minutes. Remove chicken to platter.

8. Add remaining 2 tablespoons butter to sauce and whisk vigorously. Pour sauce over chicken and garnish with parsley.

Notes:

A. The wine, lemon and stock quantities are a good balance for this recipe. If you do not have wine or prefer not to use it, replace it with a bit more lemon and more stock.

B. Excellent recipe and very easy.

C. RH

Source: Lou’s Hot! Guys Collection
Sent from Paprika Recipe Manager

“What Comes From the Heart, Goes to the Heart”

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Heart-shaped cloud

What Comes From The Heart, Goes To The Heart“.  This is one of my favorite quotes.  It comes from Samuel Taylor Coleridge, an mid-18th century English poet, romantic and literary philosopher.

In nine simple words it conveys how our best relationships will be touched by a circular connection that is at once intangibly romantic and simultaneously grounded by a positive attitude about how the relationship should be respected, understood, and governed.   It signals there is something special and compassionate between and among the people in a relationship, because it explicitly implies those in the relationship have agreed they are better off together and in the relationship, than they would be apart from it. 

It’s amazing how such a short phrase can so clearly message how we should behave and act towards each other to protect, nurture and grow a relationship.

Here’s a personal story that exemplifies “what comes from the heart, goes to the heart”. 

Garlicky Stuffed Bluefish Drenched In White Wine.

When my daughter was about 7 and my son about 5, we lived in Westport, CT where bluefish was inexpensive and available all year-long.  My kids have never been fussy eaters and they loved bluefish, even though it’s a dark, oily, ‘fishy’ tasting fish.  While Kathy normally prepared it, I volunteered to do it this one night because she had been busy with the kids that day.

Westport

At the time, I was still a rookie cook learning the boundaries of reasonable variation from a recipe.   I   remember thinking that if 2 cloves of garlic were good in the recipe, 6 cloves would be even better.  I love garlic.  I also substituted white wine for the fish stock to moisten the stuffing.  I assumed this  variation would ‘cut’ the oil in the fish, making it sweeter and less fishy tasting.  Funny how at the time those sounded like such great ideas, yet today I would think they were about the dumbest ideas ever. 

When the fish came out of the oven, I opened the packet.  I remember thinking it smelled a little more garlicky than I had expected, but it looked great and the fish was cooked perfectly.  I placed a portion of the fish and vegetables on four plates, called everyone to the table and proudly served our favorite family dinner.  I remember wondering if anyone would notice the strong aroma of garlic in the kitchen.

Kathy came into the kitchen and immediately turned the exhaust fan on.  That was the first sign of a problem. 

We all sat down and began to eat.  When I took my first taste, I was immediately disappointed because it was nowhere near as good as Kathy’s.  The stuffing was soggy, reeked of raw garlic, and the wine had overpowered the entire dish.  All I could taste was the acidity in the wine and a double kick of rawness from the garlic.  Of course, I was too proud to admit we had a disaster on the table [remember, I’m Italian], and assumed the peanut gallery would start chirping at any moment.  Bewildering as it was, Kathy and the kids were quietly eating what had to be the worst thing ever served in our home.  But I caught Kathy nodding her head a couple of times to the kids, as if saying:  “Don’t say anything!  Not a word.”

Kathy knew how sensitive I was about my evolving cooking skills, and I’m pretty sure she didn’t want this total failure to discourage me.  She also knew I had prepared the fish “from the heart” because I was trying to give her a break that day.  So she was simultaneously suffering through the meal, and silently managing the kids reaction to this awful meal, mainly to protect me from embarrassment and heckling from the kids. 

I knew something was ‘fishy’ (pun intended) when Kathy and my daughter began having a discussion about school, which was not in session at the time.  I was just about to admit failure and suggest it wasn’t too late to call in Chinese, when all of a sudden, my innocent and totally honest 5-year-old son blurted out, “Mom, I think Daddy’s fish is not feeling good.  Should we take it to the hospital?” 

Well, that unleashed the dog from the chain, and all of us began laughing uncontrollably.  And the comments began fly.  “Dad, this is the worst fish we’ve ever had!  This stuffing is awful.  What did you do?” came from my daughter.  My son was sticking to his assessment that the fish was sick and needed a doctor, which made us laugh all the more!  Apparently, Kathy’s silent management of my son hadn’t worked so well, and his ‘from the heart’ innocence had called me out as only a 5-year-old can.  And of course he was right, the fish needed emergency transport to the garbage disposal. 

Anyway, we ended up having breakfast for dinner that night—cereal, fruit and milk.  And we laughed and joked about Daddy’s cooking disaster and my son’s hospital comment at every meal that week.   To this day, when one of my cooking efforts goes sideways, the family always tells me nothing will ever be as bad as that Garlicky Stuffed Bluefish Drenched in White Wine back in Westport, CT.   And my son asks if we should call the hospital.  Some quotes never go away in a family.

When I got up from the table that evening, I remember apologizing to Kathy and the kids for the spoiled fish dinner, and promised to make it up to them the next weekend.  I’ll never forget what Kathy said: “Honey, I loved your fish tonight because it came from your heart, and anything coming from your heart tastes good to me.”  Nevertheless, I was crestfallen by the colossal failure of my attempt to cook our family’s favorite dinner. 

Later that night, I made my rounds to say good night to the kids.  They had obviously talked with their mother before going to their rooms.  When I reached down to kiss them, they both wrapped their little arms around my neck and told me my cooking wasn’t perfect yet, but I was already a perfect Dad.  And they made me promise to be careful with the garlic and wine in the future!! 

As I’ve grown older, I’ve thought about that night many times. Life is full of imperfectly executed recipes because people are not perfect.  I’ve messed up several dinners over the years, and as a human being, I have several flaws just like everyone else. But what I’ve learned over the years is that learning to accept each other’s faults – and choosing to celebrate our differences and flaws—is one of the most important keys to creating a healthy, growing, and lasting relationship.

In the context of this blog, you may assume I am trying to set a good example for you.  Therefore, I will urge you to say and do only things that are intended to  cause a positive and compassionate reaction from the people around you.   I will try to not suggest acts that could be interpreted as emanating from self -interest or hurtful sentiments.  I will also assume you will be all about creating the confidence that you will consistently behave that way as often as possible.  I will not be perfect in any of this, but I will try hard to achieve improvement on the journey.

Samuel Taylor Coleridge

What comes from the heart, goes to the heart”.   What this quote says most to me is that no matter what you do or say, the special lady in your life will gracefully forgive your mistakes and miscues as long as they come from your heart, with an intention to please and from a caring attitude.  If you can remember this quote and live it, I guarantee you will have a long-lasting, loving, caring and respectful relationship with a soul mate that thinks you are her ONLY Hot! Guy.

Perfect Steak–The WOW! Way

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Butcher Shop

My Kathy’s Favorite Store: A Butcher’s Shop

Not long ago, I learned a valuable lesson in my relationship with Kathy.  Turns out, I can dazzle her (and win significant WOW! Points) when I prepare and cook her favorite food items.  You ask: How did you not know that sooner than recently?  Well, it’s because SHE always prepared and cooked her favorite food items because she liked them HER Way.  I sort of thought that since they were her favorites, and because she knew how she liked them prepared and cooked, it was better to leave those items to her skills.  Seemed logical rational to me.  Until recently.She has been busy of late, and hasn’t had much of a chance to cook.  But one day recently, she had selected a nice, thick steak (her #1 favorite dinner) while she was at the store, and intended to grill it for dinner that night.  Some days don’t go as planned, and on that particular day she called home to let me know she was running very late.  So I volunteered to take on the task of preparing the steak, with the proviso that I could prepare it ‘my way’.

Keep in mind Kathy thinks steak is at its best when grilled to a black char on the outside, and to a perfect rare to medium-rare on the inside.  She calls it ‘black and blue’.  I have no idea what that description means other than it’s a Pittsburgh thing, and her father called steak prepared this way ‘black and blue’.   She also knows I don’t like to grill, and ‘my way’ would not be ‘her way’.  But at that point, it was me or her preparing dinner at 10 pm—she chose me.  Wise choice.

There was a lot at stake–pun intended!  I knew I was setting myself up for Kathy’s “it’s good, but not as good as mine” evaluation by doing the steak My Way, but I had not done it for her in quite some time and I had honed my skills and know-how over the past several months.  I was ready and up to the challenge of demonstrating my prowess at the altar of the Best Steak Competition with Kathy.   I was already getting some serious WOW! Points for getting dinner ready while she was on the way home.  But if I got a WOW! out of her for the steak preparation, I’d also get a bunch of Bonus WOW! Points.  And to tell the truth, I’d made a few large POW! Point withdrawals recently, and needed a big WOW! Point deposit to replenish the account!   

So I went to work.  She loves a Simple Salad with my Balsamic Vinaigrette [see June 8,2012 Post] to go with her steaks.  So I got one done and got the steak ready for cooking.  When she walked in the door, there was a glass of Bordeaux to go with her while she changed (Bonus WOW! Points awarded).  And then I got the steak cooking.  In the time it took us to catch up on our day, about twenty-five minutes later, we were at the table with ready to eat.

The outcome?  She enthusiastically declared that Perfect Steak—My Way was at least as good as Her Way.  YES!!  Bonus WOW! Points in the bank.  And better yet, even though she will still do steak her way when she cooks it, she stated she would let me do Perfect Steak—My Way more often.

So Hot! Guys here’s the Rule to take from this post:  Nothing demonstrates how much you care for the lady in your life more than identifying and memorizing her favorite foods and preparations.  It shows you are paying attention to the ‘little things’ in your relationship with her.  Then spend the time and effort to learn about them, because that shows you are enthusiastic about investing in your relationship with her.  Finally, amaze her by preparing them as well, if not better, than the way she does it.  This shows you want to please her.  This is one of the few Hot! Guy Rules that gives you a triple  shot at becoming Hot!  Take it and enjoy the windfall of WOW! Point rewards.

It might be chicken, fish or something else, but my guess is that many of you Hot! Guys are with women who love a great steak.  This really is a fantastic way to prepare a perfect steak every time.  If it’s not already one her favorite food items before you prepare Perfect Steak–My Way, it may become one.  Good luck and have fun!

I know this recipe has a long list of directions, but don’t panic.  Most of it is really good advice on how to choose the right cut of meat.  Then I guide you on how to take 4 other  ingredients and turn them into a steak masterpiece of artful taste, texture and tenderness.  Read through the directions and go to work. 

Perfect Steak–My Way

Prep Time: 10 mins | Cook Time: 15 mins | Servings: 2 servings | Difficulty: Easy

Ingredients:

  • 2 12 to 16 ounce New York Strip, Filet Mignon or other high-quality (Choice Cut) steak

    The signature New York Strip Steak

    Perfect Steak–My Way

  • 2-3 tbsp vegetable oil
  • Sea or kosher salt, to taste
  • Freshly ground pepper, to taste
  • 2 Small pats unsalted butter

Directions:

1. BUYING: First off, we already know the best ingredients yield superb results. Therefore, you need to buy a great steak. And here’s my thinking on the subject. I don’t eat red meat very often, but when I do, I want to indulge myself with the very best. Therefore, I buy a nice 1-1/2 to 2 inch thick New York Strip, one of the best sirloin cuts, and by far my favorite. Many people love Filet Mignon because it is the most tender part of the tenderloin and the taste is milder. I also like a T-Bone Steak because it has two cuts of meat on-the-bone: one side of the bone is from the top loin, and the other is a strip of tenderloin. Keep in mind that cuts of meat are called different names in different parts of the country, so do your homework.

The key is to look for cuts of steak that are well-marbled with medium to large size pockets or long narrow strips of fat, evenly distributed throughout the meat. This fat is the key to the caramelizing I want to achieve and to the superior taste of these cuts of meat.

Prime grade beef makes up only 2% of all the beef produced in the United States and is usually sold to the very best restaurants. (That’s why high-end restaurants have the best tasting, most tender and most expensive steaks.) What you will normally find on the shelves at the store or in butcher shops is Choice and Select cuts of meat. Since I’m indulging, I always buy Choice cuts, and so should you. You will notice a difference. The price is higher, but the tenderness and marbling of the meat will be far superior to Select cuts of meat.

Here’s the best advice I can offer in the buying department. Find a good butcher and take his or her advice on both the quality and cut of the meat and the portion sizes for your steak purchases. My butcher is at the Whole Foods Store down the street from me, so don’t think you need to go far to find one.

2. SEASONING: If a high-quality cut of meat is cooked correctly, you really don’t need much more than salt and pepper. Which makes you think that seasoning a steak should be easy. Well my Kathy and I have hot debates on this topic all the time, and we don’t usually agree on the “salt early” or “salt late” philosophy.

Advocates of the Salt Early Approach argue that salting meat many hours or even days before cooking breaks down the protein in meat and makes it more tender. Initially, the salt draws out moisture, but over time the meat re-absorbs the juices, which is now flavored with salt and thus adds more succulent flavor to the meat.

The Salt Late Advocates admonish that salt dries meat out. No more argument needed. Don’t add it until immediately before cooking.

Since this is Steak My Way, and since I spent a fair amount of money for a Choice Cut of meat that is already tender, I find salting the meat about a half-hour before cooking is ideal, but doing it right before cooking works just fine, too. I will admit that if you choose to buy the less expensive Select Cuts of meat, salting early is a good way to go, but you need to do it at least 3 to 4 hours before cooking to get the benefits of this approach.

3. PREPPING: Before seasoning, always make sure to pat the steak dry with paper towels. This simple step is critical. I also brush the steak with vegetable oil (avoid olive oil, which can become bitter at high heats) or a combination of melted butter and oil before seasoning to help the outside of the steak brown. Season both sides of the steak, using a teaspoon or less of either kosher or sea salt and freshly ground pepper. Remember, you can always add more seasoning after the steak cooks, but you can’t unseason the meat.

4. After seasoning, let the meat sit quietly so it comes up to room temperature, about 20 minutes for a 2 inch steak.

5. COOKING: You already know I’m not much of a griller. And I actually love browning my steak stove top and then finishing it in the oven. When I do it this way, I get a crisp, caramelized coating on the outside of the steak without over-cooking the inside. In my view, this is harder to achieve on a grill. Using a combination of the stove top and the oven is a tried and true method for perfect steak, and often used by high-end restaurants to prepare their most flavorful steaks.

But of course, Kathy and I debate this issue too. Kathy thinks the ONLY way to cook a steak is on a hot, uncontrollable grill, over flames jumping up trying to set fire to my precious meat after sucking the all the life-giving fat out of my carefully selected, beautifully marbled steak. Kathy claims cooking steak on a grill is an Art-form that takes years of practice and experience before perfecting. My view is this is how our ancestors living in caves cooked their meat. Some of us have now evolved beyond caveman cooking techniques, and should use them to our advantage.

Here’s the thing about grilling. Before gas grills, I think the slight taste charcoal or wood-fired cooking gave to the meat was a nice layer of flavor, worth the extra effort and investing in the know-how. But now that more than 90% of us use gas grills that impart virtually none of this wood-based taste, it’s not worth the effort.

My Way is the more evolved, sophisticated approach, requires much less guesswork, and yields perfect steaks EVERY TIME. As mentioned, I first sear the steak on the stove, then finish it in a hot oven. This is my preferred method, and the one I use most often. It involves:

A. Pre-heating the oven to 450° to 500° Fahrenheit.

B. When the oven is ready, drizzle a little oil in an oven-proof pan (cast iron works great) and then heat the pan on the stove over high heat for several minutes until it just barely starts to smoke.

C. Put the steak in the pan and let it sit without touching it for 3 minutes.

D. Turn on the exhaust fan or open some windows–there’s going to be smoke.

E. If the steak is stuck to the pan, it’s not done browning yet and needs a little more time. When it comes up relatively easily, usually after 3 minutes, flip the steak.

F. Put the pan, with the steak in it, in the oven.

G. Let it bake for several minutes, then check it with a thermometer or ‘feel’ the texture for doneness. (see discussion below).

6. TESTING FOR DONENESS: A thermometer is the most accurate way to gauge if steak is done to your liking. If using an instant read thermometer, slide it about an inch or so into the side of the steak for,the best reading.

Although your thermometer will probably tell you that 145 degrees is rare for beef, most chefs will tell you differently. Rare in a chef’s mind, meaning very pink, is closer to 125° ; medium-rare is 125-130°; medium, 130-135°; medium-well, 135 to 140°; and well, 140° and above.

You can also give the steak a poke with your finger. Rare is squishy, medium-rare is spongy, and medium-well is taut. The steak will continue to cook at least five degrees when it’s out of the pan, so err on the side of taking it away from heat earlier rather than later.

7. SERVING: The last steps are critical and include cutting a small pat of butter and placing it atop the steak. Then, before cutting it, I let the meat rest under a loose cover of aluminum foil. As the meat cools down the proteins begin to firm up and hold moisture, so when you cut into the steak all the juicy goodness won’t run out. Furthermore, while the proteins are firming, they will also absorb the butter to add some flavor and richness to the meat. About 8-10 minutes should do it. Coincidentally, that’s about the time it takes for me to break open a French Bordeaux or rich California Cabernet Sauvignon and grab a couple of wine glasses for the table!

Source: My Hot! Guys Collection
Sent from Paprika Recipe Manager

 

 

Pizza Margherita–My Grandmothers Way

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Italian Cuisine

Italian Cuisine (Photo credit: Thomas Hawk)

In case you haven’t figured it out already, I’m Italian.  My paternal grandparents emigrated from Bologna and Naples, Italy and my maternal grandparents arrived from small villages in Sicily.  Depending on whose home in which we were eating, there would be styles of cooking ranging from the lighter and sophisticated cooking from Northern Italy to the North African influenced Sicilian styles, and just about anything Italian in between.We only ate italian food–I didn’t even know there were other food cultures until I was in high school.  My two grandfathers owned an Italian Restaurant in the Italian neighborhood called Federal Hill in Providence, Rhode Island.  When we ‘went out’ for dinner, we went to the family restaurant and ate italian food.  The only difference was my grandfathers prepared the food instead of my grandmothers.   My friends were italian, and I ate italian at their houses when I visited.  My Uncle Mario married Aunt Bobbi.  She was Irish, and the first non-italian in the family–a very difficult position to hold.  She suggested we try irish stews, corned beef and cabbage and other non-italian dishes, but my grandmothers were in charge of the food.  They ate Italian.  Therefore, there was very little chance of anything irish, french, mexican or any other culture ever making it to the Sunday Supper table.  Besides, my Uncle Mario didn’t like anything that wasn’t italian either.  That’s just the way it was.

Federal Hill neighborhood gateway arch with

Federal Hill Neighborhood Gateway Arch with “la pigna” (pine cone, sometimes mistakenly called “pineapple”) sculpture over Atwells Avenue, Providence, Rhode Island

Everything was homemade, including the linguine, paparradella, or macherroni for every Sunday Supper.  We ate at one of my grandparents home every Sunday, and attendance was mandatory.  If you missed one of the Sunday Suppers, you better be in the hospital, in jail or dead, because…well just because!My two sets of grandparents were great friends, creating a wonderfully fun and safe environment to grow and learn about the food culture of our extended italian family.   And I was also the first grandson, a very privileged place in the family, except at meal times.  That’s because my grandmother’s routinely competed for the ‘favorite meatball’, or the ‘best pizza’, the lightest homemade gnocchi or the best sour cream coffee cake, my favorite childhood sweet.  And I found out early on that if I told one grandmother her meatball was the best ever, it wouldn’t be long before my other grandmother was making her best meatball recipe.   As you can imagine, I wasn’t leaving the table until I said IT was the best meatball ever.  So at the ripe young age of about 10, I learned how to become a politician–mainly from my mother who had learned over many years how to keep peace among the grandmothers.

What my mother taught me was how to be more attuned to the ingredients in the food my grandmothers prepared.  That would give me an edge on staying out of the ‘favorite’ battlefield.  I’d say, “Grandma, I love the lemon rind you put in your meatballs–makes them special and just great”.  To my other grandmother, I’d say, “Wow Grandma, those pine nuts in the meatballs are just a great idea–I love them!!  I told one grandmother her Neapolitan thin, crusty and simply dressed pizza margherita was “like nothing I had ever eaten before”.  I told the other grandmother that her Sicilian-style pizza, thick and covered with tomato sauce, anchovies, black olives and garlic was ‘like nothing I had ever eaten before”.  Clever huh?  I became quite adept at the politics of staying Number One Grandson for both grandmothers, and at the same time learned how to pick out every ingredient in their recipes.  A skill I still use today to duplicate dishes I’ve liked at restaurants or other people’s homes. 

Now that my grandmothers have passed into the Big Italian Kitchen in Sky–I am absolutely certain every street corner in Heaven has an Italian Restaurant run by all our italian grandmothers–I can admit that my one and only favorite pizza is my paternal grandmothers Pizza Margherita.  It is one of those simple pleasures in life that can and should appropriately be different every time it’s made, even though it only requires four ingredients:  extra virgin olive oil, tomatoes, mozzarella cheese and basil on a thin crust.  Somehow, with just these four ingredients, the taste is interestingly and subtly different each time I make it.  Sometimes the fresh tomatoes are slightly sweeter than the last time, or I use San Marzano tomatoes out of the can.  When I can get it, I use Buffalo mozzarella instead of the ‘regular’ mozzarella.  During the winter, the basil comes from the grocery store rather than from my garden.  But the beauty of this pizza is it’s sophisticated and simultaneously simple; it has many layers of taste from the nicely browned crust, the aromatics emanating from the baked olive oil and tomatoes, the cheese and the basil, all melted together, but individually tastable. 

My grandmother always made her own dough, and it was the best.  I’ve made my own in the past, but to tell the truth, it’s not something I like to do, and my shortcut works great every time!  I buy it from the local pizza shop that makes the best thin crust pizza in town.  Most of them will sell it to you for a reasonable price.  Try Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s fresh pizza dough–it is also very good.

Hot! Guys, I know this recipe looks daunting.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  I’ve just put the steps in detailed explanations so you cannot screw it up–even if you try!!  Guys, pull out this recipe for your lovely lady some Friday night after work, have a glass of wine or a beer with some cheese and crackers while the dough is getting ready, throw together the Simple Salad (See Blog Recipe Index), and then throw a romantic chick-flick into the Blu-Ray while sharing your homemade at home Pizza Margherita and Salad.  I guarantee it–you have just earned some very serious WOW! Points.  And I’m betting she is going to ask for a repeat performance the next weekend.  Try it–you gonna like it!

Pizza Margherita–My Grandmother’s Way

Prep Time: 20 mins | Cook Time: 15 min | Servings: About 6 nice slices per pizza | Difficulty: Easy

Ingredients:

  • 1 – 2 large fresh tomatoes or 1 cup San Marzano (canned) whole tomatoes, lightly crushed with your hands
  • 1 – 2 tbsps extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 cup fresh basil leaves, coarsely chopped or chiffonade
  • 1/2 cup fresh grated Parmesan-Reggiano cheese (optional)
  • 1/2 pound buffalo or other fresh-style mozzarella, sliced 1/4-inch thick
  • About 2 pounds pizza shop dough, or store-bought frozen pizza dough (thawed), or Basic Pizza Dough (below), rolled out for 2 (12-inch) pizzas (See Notes)

Basic Pizza Dough:

  • 1 package active dry yeast
  • 1 cup warm water (110 degrees F)
  • 2-1/2 to 3 cups flour, plus more if necessary

    Traditional Neapolitan pizza.

    Traditional Neapolitan Pizza Margherita with Buffalo Mozzarella

  • 1-1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 1-1/2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

Directions:

For the Pizza:

1. Preheat oven to 500 degrees F and, if you have one, place a pizza stone (a good investment if you make this often enough) on the bottom rack of the oven. I’ve even used thin bricks I bought from the hardware store, washed them and placed them in an old cookie sheet to heat up in the oven. It works really well. Otherwise, you can bake the pizza in a dark cookie sheet.

2. If using shop bought or fresh store-bought dough, follow Steps 7, 8 and 9 in the below Basic Pizza Dough Recipe. If using frozen dough, follow the packaging directions.

3. Cut the dough in half, and use your fingers and the palm of your hand to gently stretch the dough on a floured surface. Don’t use a rolling-pin– it compacts the dough and squeezes all the valuable air bubbles out.

4. When the dough is about 12 inches round, its thin enough.  Don’t worry if it’s not perfectly round–rustic is preferred.

5. Carefully transfer the dough to the thoroughly cleaned BOTTOM of a cookie sheet or to a pizza paddle (peel).

6. Scatter the sliced tomatoes or place a light coating of the San Marzano tomatoes over the top. If using can tomatoes, be careful not to use too much of the juice on the pizza–it makes the dough mushy when cooking.

7. Drizzle the extra virgin olive oil over the tomatoes.

8. Sprinkle sea or kosher salt and several grinds of fresh ground pepper over all.

9. Spread the basil over all.

10. If using, sprinkle the Parmesan-Reggiano cheese over the top.

11. Carefully place the mozzarella cheese over the top. Do not cover the whole pizza with cheese. The mozzarella is intended to be ‘islands’ of white in a sea of red tomatoes.

12. Transfer the pizza on the cookie sheet to the oven, or slide the pizza onto the hot stones in the oven.

13. Bake for about 8 minutes, or until cheese is bubbling, the edges are golden brown, and when you lift the bottom edge, there’s a slightly burnt appearance.

14. Remove pizza from oven by sliding it onto the pizza paddle or using tongs to ‘pull’ it back onto the back of the cookie sheet.  Let it sit for about 5 minutes while ou get a nice cold Peroni Beer, Coca-Cola or Italian red wine.

15. Slice and think about your grandmothers cooking when you were a kid– it was just like this pizza, but just a little different.

For the Dough:

1. In the bowl of a heavy-duty mixer, stir together the water, yeast and sugar; let sit until the mixture is foamy, which takes about 5 minutes.

2. Add 1 1/2 cups of the flour, the oil and salt into the yeast mixture and, using the paddle attachment, combine until mixture is smooth.

3. Switch to the dough hook.

4. With the machine running at low, add remaining flour, 1/4 cup at a time; make sure each addition of flour is incorporated before adding the next.

5. Once all the flour has been added, turn up the speed and let the machine knead the dough for about 3 minutes; it should be very smooth and perhaps a bit tacky.

6. Don’t be afraid to knead the dough an extra minute or two by hand if you wish; it won’t hurt the dough at all.

7. Rub the insides of a large mixing bowl with a little olive oil; remove dough from machine, form into a ball, and place into oiled bowl, turning dough over to make sure all sides are oiled.

8. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and place in a warm, draft-free area to rise; the dough should nearly double in size, which will take about 60 to 90 minutes.

9. I place a towel around the bowl, just to make sure no drafts get to the dough.

Notes:

A. Go to the local pizza shops and find one that’ll sell you their pizza dough. You’ll find one or two. It’ll coast about $2 or $3 a pound, but it’s worth the money and little effort.

B. Some of the fresh store-bought pizza dough is really good–try Whole Foods or Trader Joes–you’ll not do better making it yourself.

C.  Of course, this is a basic pizza recipe as well.  Add some italian sausage or a few pieces of peperoni for a change of pace.  Try mushrooms or spinach with ricotta cheese instead of mozzarella.  Guys–this is all about what you and your special lady like.  Don’t be afraid, just try it!!

Source: Lou’s Hot! Guys Collection
Sent from Paprika Recipe Manager

English: Picture of an authentic Neapolitan Pi...

Another Nights Pizza Margherita with the same four ingredients, a different presentation, but the same great tastes.