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

 

 

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.

Tomatoes, Peaches, Lemons and Heaven

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Peaches (The Presidents of the United States o...

Peaches…one of the goodies in Tuesdays Surprise Fresh Box!

A couple we had dinner with last week informed us they would be out-of-town this week, and unable to pick up and use their weekly fresh food basket from one of the local fresh vegetable cooperatives.  They had told us in the past they had a subscription membership to this cooperative, and we had always wanted to try it out.  So, they invited us to pick it up and use the goodies, and of course we jumped at it!  We had heard our friends talk about the adventure of receiving this weekly surprise basket (it’s actually a box) of goodies every week, because they sometimes got items they hadn’t tried before.  It forced them to figure out what they had and then how to cook it.  Interesting concept.

On Tuesday, I picked up the box and in it was a couple of cucumbers, some mixed butter lettuce varieties in a plastic bag, fresh basil, a small bag of sugar snap peas, two fresh sweet onions with the green tops attached,  a dozen fresh eggs, beet greens (we think), swiss chard (we pretty sure) and 8 small fresh ripe local peaches!  What fun!

We are still making our way through the ingredients, but I immediately latched onto the peaches.  We were heading to the mountains for the July 4th weekend, and I knew there would be farmer roadside vegetable stands full of the early ripening tomatoes.   And I have this very simple salad that is just right for this time of year.  Sure enough, there were plenty of great tomatoes to buy as we made our way to the mountains.

When got to the mountains, we were hungry.  In 15 minutes flat I had this great little salad sitting atop the outside deck table along with some crusty bread, a couple of glasses of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, and I ordered up a sunny, beautiful view of the mountains.  Hot! Guys, this is a double doze of Heaven–a great simple salad of two sweet summer treats, ripe and full of taste and I ordered up an absolutely gorgeous view of the mountains.  It just ain’t getting much better than this.  Give this one a shot Guys.  You’ll like it–she’ll love it. 

Fresh Tomatoes and Peaches Simple Salad

 Prep Time: 15 mins | Cook Time: 0 hr 0 min | Servings: 4 servings | Difficulty: Easy

Ingredients:

  • 3 – 4 medium homegrown or local vine-ripened tomatoes, thick sliced into rounds

    Tomatoes, Peaches Lemon and Heaven–Oh Yeah!!

  • 3 – 4 medium fresh ripe peaches, stone removed, thick sliced into rounds
  • 1/2 sweet (Vidalia) onion, sliced and cut into 2 inch strips (optional)
  • 4 fresh lemons, halved and juice extracted
  • 1/4 tsp sugar
  • Really good Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • 6 – 8 large fresh basil leaves, rolled together and sliced (chiffonade).
  • Sea salt, to taste
  • Fresh ground pepper, to taste
  • 4 ounces fresh soft cheese (buffalo mozzarella, Brie, Danish Blue, goat cheese)’ cut into 1 ounce portions
  • French banquette, sliced

Directions:

1. On individual serving plates, arrange tomatoes and peaches in alternating, overlapping layers.

2. Top with a few sweet onion strips, if using.

3. In small bowl combine the lemon juice and sugar to mix well. Spoon 1/4 of the mixture over each portion.

4. Drizzle olive oil over each portion.

5. Sprinkle with sea salt and a few grinds of fresh pepper.

6. Distribute basil strips among each plate.

7. Place 1 ounce of cheese on each plate.

8. Serve with French banquette slices.

Notes:

A. Guys, this is one of those recipes where ‘less is more’. Don’t try to do too much. Keep it simple. I’ve served this with just the tomatoes and the peaches, lemon and EVOO and it’s Fantastic! If the tomatoes and peaches are sweet and ripe. B. Don’t try this if the peaches are not ripe, sweet and fresh because it becomes a tasteless grainy mish mash. C. Serve this with any main course or as a nice luncheon salad with some crusty French or Italian bread and a glass of Sauvignon blanc or pinot grigio. Amazing!

Source:Lou’s Hot! Guys Collection

Another Presentation…Don’t You Love the Plates?

Sent from Paprika Recipe Manager

Hot!! Guys and Seven Fishes!!

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Last year, me and one of my neighbors, who is also Italian and a good friend, agreed to be auctioned off at a big Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation Fundraiser in Pittsburgh.  We promised to prepare an authentic, multicourse Feast of the Seven Fishes Dinner for up to 10 people along with appropriately paired wines for each course.  The dinner would be served in both of our historic homes across the street from each another, and we would do all the cooking.  Both Bill and I have reputations for putting on one of the best Seven Fish Feasts every Christmas Eve, and we have been doing it in our respective homes for more than 35 years.  So we have the recipes, the experience, the know how, and the energy–no problem.

At the fundraising event that Sprng Saturday evening, the auction bidding for our Feast began and mounted a crescendo that near the end included two bidders that had ‘raised’ the price to nearly $15,000.  Bill and I are aghast with delight and apprehension while this is all going on!!  The auctioneer, a sly and experienced operator, saw an opportunity to double the benefit for the Foundation, and asked from the podium if we would be willing to do the Feast twice, assuming both bidders were willing to ‘win’ the bid at $15,000 each!!  We responded like anyone answering a quetion like that in front of 1000 people–Of Course We Would!!  The gavel came down–“sold to the winning bidders–thank you and good luck Lou and Bill!!”.  We couldn’t wait to cross the room from our respective dinner tables to give each other a high five!!  About an hour later when we were a bit more sober, we crossed the room again with a different question: “‘what the hell will we serve to someone who just paid $15,000 for a dinner for 10?!!”  The pressure was on.

Bill and I and our wives, who kicked in to help out in a very big way, spent weeks digging through and comparing recipes, talking, emailing, agonizing and finally settling on the menu which was served to the first winning bidder last summer.  (The second bidder will get their dinner this summer).  While this menu has many of the traditional items from the Christmas Eve Feast using recipes from both our family traditions, it has many other of our favorite house recipes we knew our guest would love.

It took us three days to shop for ingredients and wine, and the preparations and cooking began 4 days before the event.  Our wives were specatacularly tolerant of our anxiety and last minute crises, and they were incredible in the kitchen at their own recipe contributions.  After the evening was over, we heard many of our guests proclaiming Bill and I as the HOT!! Guys of the night.

Enjoy the Menu…and I’d love to hear your comments.

Summertime Festival of Seven Fishes

 Saturday, July 9, 2011

Gli Antipasti–A Taste of Christmas in July

Fritto Misto di Pesce—Flash Fried Calamari, Smelts, Shrimp served with lemon

Baccala Matecato—Freshened and Poached Salt Dried Cod Fish, dressed with parsley, garlic and EVOO

Cozze e Vongole Meuniere—Clams and Mussels steamed in shallots, butter and white wine

Acciughe e Cipoline–Carmelized Onions with olives and anchovies

Gazpacho Martini with choice of Poached Shrimp or Jumbo Lump Crabmeat

Moletto Vino Spumante Prosecco Treviso—Motta di Livenza, Itally

I Primi

Trenette con Aragoste—Handmade Trenette  Pasta with Fresh Mint and Basil Pesto, Arugula and Lobster Parmesan-Reggiano Alfredo Sauce

Bastianich Sauvignon “B”—2009—Fruill-Venizia, Italy

I Secondi

Swordfish alla Favarella presented with Green Olive, Rosemary Buerre Blanc

Fresh Salmon Filets grilled with garden herbs presented with Salsa Verde

Fagiolini al Pomodoro–Steamed Locally Grown Green Beans dressed with Tomato, Basil and Garlic

Cavolo Verde—Sauted Cabbage

MacRostie Wildcat Mountain Chardonnay—2007—Sonoma Coast, CA

Castello Di Fonterutoli Chianti Classico—2005—Siena-Tuscany, Italy

Insalata

Romaine Lettuce, Red Onions, Grapefruit Sections, Gala Apples with house made

Danish Bleu Balsamic Vinaigrette

Fresh Baked House Made Ciabatta

I Dolci

Zabaione con Limone–Lemon Tapioca Custard

Chocolate Hazelnut Torte—White Chocolate espresso with Hazelnut Praline

Crostata de Chocolate e Raspeberry—Fresh Raspberries, bittersweet chocolate and toasted almonds

Ricotta Aubilocche Torte—Ricotta Cheese and Apricots in pastry

IPSUS, Duca di Castelmonte, Passito di Pantalleria—2007—Trapani, Italy

Menu for the Money!!

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Over the past six years, my wife and friends have volunteered me to be auctioned off by a variety of charitable organizations, helping raise money for important causes.  The auction item typically involves collaborating with the winning bidder to create a customized five to seven course dinner, plus paired wines for each course.  I then prepare and serve the meal in my 110 year old historic home for up to eight guests of the winning bidder.  The lowest winning bidder has spent nearly $4,000, and the highest bidder has spent $15,000 for these dining events.  I did 4 of them for the Pittsburgh Botanic Garden over a 5 or 6 year period.  Check out the below menu for the dinner I did in August 2011. The secret to these evenings has not been gourmet-prepared food using complicated and elaborate cooking skills–it has been simple ingredients, uncomplicated recipes carefully prepared, and artfully presented.  That’s it!!  And everyone can do this–even Guys!!

In future blogs, I’ll begin sharing some of the recipes from this menu and others, so stay tuned!!

Gardens and Gourmet

Winning Bidder Guests Botanical Gardens Auction Dinner

 Saturday, August 6, 2011

Gli Antipasti

Goat Cheese and Fresh Mango Snow Drops rolled in Toasted Almond

Tiger Shrimp BBQ with Tarragon Buerre Blanc

Balsamic Dipped Pastore Cheese and Strawberry wrapped in Parma Prosciutto

Mionetto Vino Spumante Prosecco Brut–Treviso, Italy

I Primi

Chilled Vichyssoises with Fresh Chives

Domaine de la Perriere Sancerre—2009—Sancerre, France

I Secondi

Fresh Lumpmeat Crabcake with Orange-Vanilla Scented Port Wine Cream

Sterling Vineyards Chardonnay—2009—Napa Valley, California

Insalata

Mesclune, Belgian Endive and Toasted Pecans dressed in Housemade Raspberry Vinaigrette, Ash Goat Cheese Crostini Garnish

 I Premiere

Pork Tenderloin Medallions and Polenta with ‘Seven Seas’ Mushroom Herb Sauce

Steamed Locally Grown Green Beans dressed with Tomato, Basil and Garlic Concasse

Domaine Carneros Pinot Noir—2008–Napa Valley, California

I Dolci

Steel City ‘Cherries Garcia’ Jubilee

Two Hands For the Love of Money, Late Harvest Cane Cut Semillon—2007

Barossa Valley, Australia