Thursday, May 31, 2012

Dirty Martini Salad a Salty Indulgence for the Summer!!

OK. I know that salt is both a boone and a bane to modern man. I mean salt has preserved, flavored and finished foods for centuries. Our bodies need it to function. But too much of it is a bad thing, especially nowadays with so much added salt added to everything we eat in this country. And yet still I love a good salty indulgence. It's that part of me that will always favor a salty snack over a sweet one.

I have had the opportunity over the last several years to go out to folks houses and prepare some great summer meals for them. This summer will prove to be the same I hope. I also come up with special recipes for entertaining during the summer on my roof deck. It's so awesome to be up there in the summer when my neighbors are not. And they rarely use the buildings roof, ah well more for me!

Two years ago I was invited out to Jersey to my friends John and Mike's house for a impromptu cookout. John asked me if I could bring a salad. I of course said yes. But time go the better of me that weekend with work being busy and Sunday morning I found myself looking at a bus trip in an hour and nothing prepared of even really though through. So I did what I always do, I looked in the fridge to see what I had on hand. After observing the goods, lettuce, green olives, red onion, and blue cheese, I came up with a crazy idea. I had been making martini's the night before for a client and it dawned on me then that I love to eat the marinaded blue cheese stuffed olives while I am drinking my Martini. The salty bomb of flavor just is so satisfying, even as the martini with it's bitter edge and sweet undertones strikes a contrast with the salty pungnet flavor of the olives and is in a word...divine.

So I thought about how I would make this flavor combination come to life in a salad. And it struck me, just mix all the elements into the salad and add a few things to give it texture and contrast and how could that be bad. So that's what I did. I chiffonaded the greens and I chopped the olives. I made a dressing out of sour cream blue cheese and vermouth with a little bit of spices, olive juice and vinegar. I added both chopped red onion and French Fried Onions form the can for spice and I crushed up some Parmesan Crisps I had into little chards to add crunch. It all came together beautifully and I had people asking for the recipe at the end of the afternoon.

So I give you this recipe for your summer party time. Shaken or stirred it's a winner! Enjoy Ya'll

Forrest's Dirty Martini Salad

2 Hearts of Romaine lettuce chopped into chiffonade
1 head of tuscan or black kale ribs removed and chopped into fine chiffonade
2 tablespoon lemon juice
1 table spoon water
sprinkle of salt
8 oz blue cheese crumbled
1 carton on dairy sour cream
3 tablespoon olive juice from the jar
2 tablespoon vermouth (dry)
2 tablespoon white vinegar
1 teaspoon powdered garlic
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/4 cup water
1 small jar of green stuffed olives chopped into slices
1 large can French's brand french fried onion pieces ( 1/4 cup held in reserve for garnish)
1 small red onion chopped
1 package Eli's brand parmesan crisps slightly crushed into bite sized chards

In a bowl add chopped kale lemon juice and 1 tablespoon water and a dash of salt, toss and let sit in the fridge for 30 minutes

In a mixing bowl add the next 7 seven ingredients and whisk to combine and dilute with the water a little bit at a time till your dressing had you desired consistency. ( mine is runny but lumpy)

To serve: Add lettuce and kale to a large mixing or salad bowl
Add the olives, both kinds of onion and the parmesan crisps
Add dressing to taste and toss till well coated. Top with freshly ground pepper and reserved french fried onion pieces. Enjoy!

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Thanksgiving's Summer Vegetable Casserole Cousin

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. I mean go figure. It's in the fall when the seasons have turned and the chill in the air is whispering that the holiday season is near. It's a historical holiday which has it's roots in the story of the Pilgrims and their struggle to find a home here in the new world. And it's a blow out crazy foodie fest day of unrivaled proportions! A day of feasting and celebrating the bounty of the world and the graces given to us. It is a spiritual moment in which we reflect upon all that we have and all that we should be grateful for. It is in short a perfect holiday!

Now many dishes are well known as part of the Thanksgiving menu landscape. Mashed Potatoes, Green bean casserole, Sweet Potatoes glazed or mashed and swirled with bourbon and brown sugar, and of course the Bird are all dishes which we have come to expect in one form or another on the groaning board of our feasting holiday tablescape. These dishes especially the vegetable side dishes are the normally the favorite dishes in both cooks arsenals and in eaters menu choices. I mean who doesn't love Green bean Casserole! Well, there are some. However, many have now tried to reimagine the famous casserole taking it to new and interesting places and new taste and texture and ingredient frontiers.

Which brings us to the dish at hand. What does summer yellow squash casserole have to do with Thanksgiving you might ask. Well in the South it is sometimes served along with other vegetable casseroles as one of the holiday evenings feasting dishes. Indeed I have it every Christmas Eve at my Aunt Beverly's house! However, it is not where I first encountered it. No it was in the summer time in South Carolina on my Big Mama's lunch table. Warm, bubbly, buttery and full of fresh summer squash goodness! My oh My! Was it ever good. It was served with  steamed fresh beans or corn  and sometimes it was maybe the only other thing on the table that was warm. Served along green beans and a platter of sliced ham,  with fresh slices of big ruby juicy tomatoes and cornbread and butter, this casserole was wonderful.

Yellow Crooked Neck Squash or the Yellow Summer Squash are southern vegetable favorites. Easy to grown and voluminous in the amount of food the plants yield it is normal in my mind that along with zucchini it is a staple of the summer table. Vegetables are a huge part of the traditional Southern diet. Something we don't normally acknowledge when we think about Southern food. But even the "Meat n Three" served up at old school Southern restaurants or diners it tribute to how important vegetables were in the traditional Southern diet. Now one must admit that the old school manner in which many of these vegetables were prepared ( i.e. boiled to death)  was not the best preparation. but they were a major part of the diet. Back when "Mac n Cheese" was not a vegetable, as it is often joked about being today in the South.  Squash Casserole is one of those in between dishes. It has many incarnations and it has many varied ingredients but the key is the things that go into it must elevate the lowly squash to culinary nirvana. In short it's a favor bomb born of butter and fat! Yeah Vegetables!

Today's recipe is certainly not one of those newly redone modern takes on vegetables. Oh no! However, as part of a meal balanced with fresh or freshly prepared foods it takes it place as the succulent side dish of the Summer table. It is in short the fatty, yummy dish that while it could, in it's goodness, grace the Thanksgiving Table. It remains a staple of the Summer when fresh vegetables are the center of the table's focus and the bounty of the garden is the fodder of the kitchen's counter. So when you are preparing your summer meals give it a try. It could not be easier and as part of a balanced menu it is that side that indulges that part of us which wants Thanksgiving everyday, even in the middle of the Summer! Enjoy Ya'll

Squash Casserole ala Renee ( Old Family Recipe)
1 pound yellow crookneck squash, cooked and mashed
1/2 cup chopped onion
1 cup grated extra sharp cheese
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1 egg, beaten
1 stick butter, melted
1 sleeve Ritz crackers, crushed

Combine squash, onion, cheese, sugar, salt, pepper, mayonnaise and egg in a large mixing bowl. Stir to mix well. Pour into a greased 2 quart baking dish or 6 individual baking dishes.

Combine melted butter and crushed Ritz crackers in a medium size mixing bowl. Stir with a fork to combine.

Sprinkle cracker mixture over casserole. Bake at 350 degrees for 35 to 40 minutes. Let cool a few minutes before serving, Enjoy!

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Between Soup and Side...French Onion Casserole

When I was in college I lived with some very interesting folks. You see I attended JMU or James Madison University in the late 80's and I had a very interesting time there. You see the town where JMU was located, Harrisonburg, was rather...well small. In every sense of the word. It has since grown and expanded and the University I went to is hardly recognizable any longer it's gotten so large. But trust me when I say it was not the intellectual or cultural mecca I had thought college should be, nor was it located in a town which fostered say...anything beyond the Baptist church.

However, Harrisonburg or "the Burg" as we called it had pockets of interesting and free thinking people. It was just hard to find them. Of course I was always on the search for them. I found them in the Music and Art departments and I found them in the school of hospitality. Creativity comes in many forms and across many disciplines.

 One of my friends Stevie in college was very creative. She had a knack for making up foods that were representations of themselves but not really the dish itself. She was from rural southern Virginia and had grown up eating very limited foods. In college she learned to experiment with both art and food! For example she loved to make casseroles. She loved to make casseroles out of dishes that were not casseroles at all. For example she would take sandwiches like a reuben and make a casserole out of it with corned beef and sour kraut and rye bread and cheese and somehow make a sauce and put it all together and bake it and voila! Casserole Rueben!

Well one day she challenged me to make a casserole out of whatever was in the fridge at the time. There were onions and swiss cheese and parmesan cheese. I also had beef stock and croutons. So I made soup...sort of. And this is how this recipe first came into being. It's not really a main dish casserole I will admit but as a side to pan roasted chicken thighs it can't be beat. It's got all the elements of the classic French onion soup but placed in another form, hence casserole. Give it a try, I am sure you will like it! Enjoy!!

Forrest's French Onion Casserole:
makes four servings

5 to 6 Medium Onions sliced
3 tablespoons of butter
2 tablespoons of flour
1/2 cup Beef Broth
1/4 cup Sherry ( always have sherry on hand in the house)
1 1/4 cups garlic flavored salad coutons
4 tablespoons butter melted
1 cup Shredded Swiss Cheese
1/3 cup Shredded Parmesan


Saute onions in butter till they start to turn a lovely golden color
Add in the flour and stir in the beef broth.
Add sherry and season to taste with the salt and pepper
Melt the 4 tablespoons of butter and toss with the croutons
Place into a oven proof pan and top with the croutons
Sprinkle with the cheeses and place under a broiler until the cheese melts
About 2 mins don't brown too long or the croutons may become hard and chewy
Serve as a side dish

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Norma Gene and the Marilyn of all Tuna Melts

When I was in college I took a sabbatical to work overseas for a non profit aid organization and found myself being sent to work in Switzerland where I worked for about 2 years and where I had the wonderful experience of working with some of the most amazing and dedicated people I have ever met and some of the largest souls I have ever had the pleasure of walking with in this life.

We had our regional headquarters in Zurich Switzerland and I found myself all over the place in that country and Germany mostly with some brief jaunts elsewhere. It gave me my first taste of all things European especially food. I was lucky enough over my time there to be invited into some wonderful homes ,where wonderful fun and food filled evenings left me with an enormous appreciation for the origins of so many of the dishes we as Americans take for granted as our own. Yet, those dishes really have their basis in the cooking of some European cuisine.

It was a magical time as a young man to be exposed to so many new experiences and ideas. It was also the first time it occurred to me that not everyone in the world wakes up every morning and says, thank God I'm American! Cause they do not! In fact the people elsewhere know their worlds like we know ours. It seems to be a human condition to come to believe that one's way of experiencing the world is the same as everyone else, or at least the correct way of experiencing it! No wonder we have so many problems in our world with that propensity operating on every level of human living whether local or global.

That's why over time I have come to see food as something that unites people in a way nothing else does. For not only do we share ourselves with others in a social sense when we break bread together but we also share a different sensory experience in how we see the world through the flavors, textures and ingredients we bring to the table. We can break down cultural barriers and share our deepest understanding of our national ethos with others through food, and never leave our kitchens or dinning tables!

Still even as amazing as all this cultural expansion love fest is, the fact remains that occasionally the Ex-pat will want to experience a sense of home and the familiarity. A taste of home if you will. And that is really what this story is about. For as much as I loved the native foods I was experiencing, I was also aware of the fact that I had things I missed from home.

So that brings me to where I would often get a chance to enjoy those homey delights. It was at Pilatusstrasse 11 the headquarters or home office for us. It was also home and office to the President and his wife of the organization Clayton R Hurst and Norma Gene! Wonderful people, Clayton Hurst may remain the most influential man in my life, other than my own father.And he was someone who taught me more about life and love and kindness and being fully and passionately human than anyone since. He is sorely missed as he passed several years ago but remains a beacon of light for me when finding my way in life. I have found myself on occasion thinking "what would Pres. do??" A strong testament indeed!

His wife was also really awesome and a great supporter of all of us "kids"! One of the things she did for us was to make us feel a little homey when we were invited to a meal at the office. On conference days she would often make a dish which by name seems so simple and all American but with the incorporation os Swiss ingredients became a positively gourmet experience. Her famous Tuna Melts!!
Now you may not especially like tuna melts or think they are a little passe but I assure you these were not ordinary!

First off they were prepared on wonderful crusty swiss white bread. It was sliced thick lightly toasted and then slathered with a mixture of mayo flavored with rosemary. Then the tuna salad was mixed with more plain mayo, capers, cornichons , pungent red onion, celery,  dijon, garlic powder and curry powder. This was mixed together and then piled on the bread. Then this was topped with a thick blanketing slice of a special stinky Swiss cheese unlike any other. It was Appenzeller Cheese pungent like Limburger Cheese from Germany but more robust in flavor and softer in smell. And as I came to learn, the more a cheese stank, the better is tasted! Anyway these were placed into an oven and baked until warm and bubbly and served up hot with a salad and sometimes a Tomato soup! Yummy!

This was the most amazing tuna melt I had ever had and even as it was a fusion of Swiss ingredients and an American recipe it was still so good and tasted a little bit like home! And sometimes that's just what we needed. We needed a little bit of home cooking before returning to our cultural immersion!

So I give you my version of this recipe.I actually have a scrap of paper with the recipe written down that I have saved all these years! Hotdogs may have been Marilyn Monroe's favorite food, but this Norma Gene sure beats that with this sandwich!  However, I will alter it a bit because I don't have exactly the same products to work with  as she did but just the same here it goes, you enjoy Ya'll!!

Norma Gene's Swiss Style Tuna Melt ( As recreated by Forrest) makes 6 sandwiches

For the Bread

Get a thick peasant bread loaf one which when sliced would make a good size for a sandwich or do what Norma Gene did, slice a larger piece from a big round loaf in half to make a sandwich portion.

Heat your oven to 350 and place the bread slices on a baking sheet and toast until just starting to toast but still a little moist.

make compound butter: Take 5 tablespoons RT butter and mix in 1 tablespoon garlic powder 1 teaspoon black pepper, 2 tablespoons dried tarragon and a pinch of salt.

Slather with a little compound butter when warm and let melt, reserve toast.

For the Tuna Salad

4 small cans of tuna in water ( 1 cup and 1/4)
3 tablespoons capers
1 small red onion finely diced
2 stalks of celery finely diced
1/4 cup mayo ( I like Dukes Brand)
5 cornichons finely diced
1 tablespoon white wine or vermouth
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 tablespoon Dijon ( I like Trader Joe's)
1/2 teaspoon curry powder ( not madras)

Mix all ingredients together and let set in the fridge at least 3 hours or overnight
If too dry add a little more Mayo.

Slice Appenzeller cheese at your cheese monger into nice thick slices of cheese perfect sie for th sandwiches.

To assemble:

Divide the tuna salad between the six slices of bread.
Top with the cheese slices

Heat oven to 325

Place sandwiches on an lined baking sheet and place in the hot oven and bake until the cheese is nice and melted and the tuna warmed through. Serve immediately! Enjoy Ya'll!

Monday, May 14, 2012

Asparagus Salad and Spring in your Step

Spring is a time that I associate with all the normal things we probably all do. Warming weather, pretty skies no longer gloomy with Winter, longer days and even allergies! But for me I also associate it with Asparagus! Why? Well that answer is pretty easy. It's because I really grew to appreciate it as a spring vegetable when I was living in Switzerland. There they serve up big plates of meaty white asparagus with a boat load of creamy hollandaise sauce on the side and big green salad with a creamy garlic cafe dressing and call it a meal.

I wanted to make a salad the other day for a dinner party and decided that would be easy and tasty but also something a touch special. I mean why do anything when you can do something a touch special and change the game totally without a  lot of effort!

So I had 2 bunches of asparagus which I cooked in the microwave and then cooled in the fridge. Cut up the stalks on the bias into 2 inch pieces. Took a jar of red and yellow roasted peppers out and julienned them up and added in some red onion and toasted almonds and pungent romano cheese grated well. A truffled oil touched vinagrette and a splash of siracha hot sauce as a garnish touch and I had a fine and fancy looking salad. So i give this one to you for your spring and summer table. It would make a great addition to any antipasta menu for a summer table outside or a small gathering indoors. Either way, give it a try, enjoy ya'll!!

Asparagus Salad with Peppers and Almonds

2 bunches Green asparagus stalks trimmed and cooked in the micro wave for about 3 mins. Cooled in the fridge and then sliced into 2 to 3 inch pieces.
1/2 red onion sliced thinly and separated into rings
1/2 jar about 4 to 5 pieces roasted red peppers in juice, sliced into matchstick julienne pieces
1/4 cup toasted almond slices
1/4 cup romano cheese grated ( hold a few tablespoons to sprinkle over the top)
Siracha for garnish

For dressing:

1/4 cup olive oil
5 tablespoons balsamic glaze ( reduced vinegar till it's a syrup)
1 1/2 tablespoons truffle oil
onion powder
garlic powder
2 tablespoons dijon mustard
1 tablespoon honey
1 anchovy filet
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon dried savory
salt to taste

Combine all these ingredients in a jar and shake till emulsified.

Method Gently toss all salad ingredients together in a bowl with dressing till dressed to your taste.
Place on a platter and serve immediately or hold in the fridge for a hour to let the flavors marry.
Right before serving sprinkle with the remaining cheese garnish with few dabs of siracha hot sauce for color and spice!

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

The Magic of Tyson's Corner Mall was a Magic Pan

Picture it, Sicily 1945, well not really it was more like Mclean Va., 1983. I was a wipper snapper looking for a job, and needing that pre college money for my year at school. My friend Kai Larson was working at a restaurant in the Mall and got me an interview for the job. It was the summer, it was awesome, it was the Magic Pan at Tyson's Corner Mall!

Now if you have been reading my blog you will know that I have referenced the Magic Pan Restaurant before. But for those of you who have not been a brief story.

The Magic Pan was a restaurant chain started by a Hungarian Couple , the Fono's in San Francisco in the 1970's. The original concept had been an Austrian style crepe restaurant mostly with recipes from Mrs Fono's family background. There were Ham crepes and Spinach crepes and chocolate and Strawberry crepes for dessert.

The business expanded and was purchased by Quaker Oats in the 1980's. They took the concept expanded it to a french country kitchen concept and rolled it out across the nation. The center piece of each Magic Pan was the giant tile enclosed Crepe Wheel which spun around and cooked the crepes and other dishes while the customers looked on. I remember as a 12 year old being taken to the Pan and being just mesmorized by the giant cooking wheel of crepe goodness! It was one of the first "chain" restaurants in the country in a time when the US was just beginning to discover different foods. The Pan delivered that and at a decent price point. It was also a perfect time for a crepe restaurant as like fondue, crepes were all the rage in the 1970's. The thing that was interesting about the Pan looking back was that all of the food was cooked on site with real recipes. This required a staff of cooks to be behind the scenes at all the locations and was not a cheap way to do business. Amongst the many reasons for the demise of the chain was the rise of sit down restaurants like TGI Friday's and Applebee's that offered a full service bar and menu with a central commissary supplying the chain. This meant cost savings on site and guaranteed that that food was the same everywhere. Interestingly enough this concept was pioneered by Howard Johnson's, who with Jacque Pepin at the helm produced frozen entrees which could be uniformly served all over the US.

Eventually through falling revenues and customer base the Pan collapsed. Interestingly enough the last Pan to close was the Mclean Store where I worked. A testament to Sue the manager and eventual owner I understand, who ran a tight ship and kept it afloat!

Even as people turned away from the Magic Pan because of trends so today people are looking back and recognizing the value that the concept had  not only as a novelty but as a place and a culinary experience. Whether the scene of many a boozy lunch by the ladies of Mclean or candle lit dinners for couples in love in the evenings, the quiet elegance and french country charm enveloped the diner in a world beyond the Mall and beyond their own. Upon entering the Tyson's Pan one was struck by the charm and sophistication of the surroundings. The excellent service and of course the tasty and interesting food. Food which for the time was new, foreign, and different. Before food TV, Media, food blogs and the internet., Americans were new to many of the foods the Magic Pan was serving.
And many look back with fondness to the time and place they discovered those foods for the first time. The Magic Pan.

For me the Pan was a great place to work, filled with a fun and interesting cast of characters. I learned a lot form those folks. Many of them were full time employees, I was the summer help but we all got along and they welcomed me and Kai into the fold with open arms. Salty and Rough they were the workers who make this country great. They worked hard and they played hard. But as a group they were awesome to spend that summer with. And this was where I learned that food service comes with a healthy serving of humor, cause people are very funny when it comes to their eating habits and the things they say about food. For example a young couple came in and was obviously on a date. Trying to be proper and order for his date the young man announced to me that... "she will have the St. Jacques "Creepie" and I will have the Beef  and Mushroom "Creepie"", mispronouncing the word "crepe". Well as you can imagine it was hard to keep a straight face, and the crew referred to the crepes as "creepies" the rest of the summer. Lots of milelage from that one. Ah, but it's the little things that make life fun!

Now to the food. There were serveral dishes which made the Magic Pan famous and there are people who would disagree which were their favorites. There was of course the famous Potage St. Germain, or french country pea soup served with a dallop of sour cream and a mini decanter of Sherry wine. There was the Orange Almond salad. Amongst the crepes were the chicken and beef and seafood options and then there was the famous Monte Cristo Sandwich which to this day I have never had duplicated. ( Although I hear Bennigan's ripped off the recipe). Then there were the saute pans, with veal picatta and fettucini Carbonara ( Still my favorite version ever). And lastly the desserts. All excellent washed down with the Pan's excellent Bloody Mary. ( Recipe to come)!

But today I can't think of another crepe recipe I would rather recreate than the famous Chicken Elegante Crepe. Now finding the exact recipe for this would be very difficult indeed. Just looking online leads to many deadends. However, I think that I can recreate this for you and take to the place where is would be just so tastily amazing. So without more adieu I give you...

Chicken Elegante Crepes ( As inspired by the Magic Pan)

You will need:

8 crepes ( you can make these or you can buy them pre-made at the grocery store)
1 cup chicken stock
3 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons of flour
2 cups diced cooked chicken
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1/8 teaspoon paprika
2 tablespoons chopped chives
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
2 egg yolks at room temp.
1/2 cup light cream at room temp.
1/4 cup parmesan
1/4 cup shredded swiss cheese

Saute butter and flour together till browned
Slowly add stick whisking in
Add chicken and next 5 ingredients
In a bowl add the eggs to the cream and slowly whisk together
Add some of the hot sauce to the cream mixture to temper it.
Then add it to the rest of the sauce
add the parmesan cheese

Fill the crepes evenly and place in the bottom of a greased baking dish or in individual baking dishes
sprinkle with swiss cheese and place under the broiler.
Serve 2 per person onto a plate and garnish with some paprika. Enjoy Ya'll!!


Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Pizza Night at Home...Ranch BLT Pizza

Growing up in a cooking family I had 3 Cooks in the house. My Mother, my Grandmother, and for special occasions, grilling and baking, my Father. This led to an ever changing world of menu items and food adventures born out of both creativity and financial necessity.

As with many families in the 1970's we were pretty strapped when it came to the monthly budget. The funny thing about that was that I for the most part never felt like we were anything but a largely normal family living the life that the average person had. There were none of the electronic games and gizmos that kids today require to entertain themselves or their friends. In the summers and good weather it was out the door in the morning for adventures in the neighborhood with the kids who lived around us. We would be gone until lunch then out again exploring our world. We were soldiers and adventure seekers, bike riders and fort builders, spacemen and cowboys. Our world was unlimited by the creativity and imagination we had and television was still only a backup to the world's we created in our heads.

Those days also saw the family dinner table as a round table of discussion and sharing. There were speeches and debates, fights and drama, hugs and great conversations. It was a safe and a good place and one we all would be at as a family. Sharing thoughts and foods. As any of you who are home cooks know bringing quality home cooked meals to a table day after day can be a daunting task. In fact, down right difficult. But somehow we always had dinner, and 99 percent of the time it was amazingly good.

One part of living on a budget is creativity. And my Mom and Grandma had plenty of that. We would have the general American dinner menus but we would also have theme nights. Mexican taco night or Enchilada Supper. Meat Fondue cooked right at the table with condiments and tasty side dishes. My Grandma took a Chinese cooking class and many a night was spent enjoying the fruits of her studying. Egg Foo Young mixed with Chinese cabbage salad and chicken dishes with fried rice! There was spanish night, greek night, Italian night, fried chicken night. And then there was the one fun night that out did them all in my opinion , Pizza night!

Pizza as you know is not always cheap and feeding a family of five including two growing and hungry boys on pizza was not inexpensive. Plus this was not the era of mass pizza distribution. Pizza Hut was new and other chains were not as popular nor as prolific as they are today. Nor was it the era or the artisanal pizza maker. Most pizza joints were of questionable quality unless you enjoyed a great Italian trattoria in your home town.

So thus was the great home cook challenge to create a great pizza at home with little or no money and also tailor it to your families taste palette, whatever that may be. My homemade pizza was not a yeasty but flat and crispy dough which was further augmented by the use of cornmeal on the bottom to keep the dough from sticking. It might be round or it might be square in shape. It was topped with a homemade sauce of simple garlic and herbs and then topped with a variety of vegetable toppings and ground sausage or hamburger and sometimes pepperoni. The cheese was cheddar or mozzarella or a mix of the two and the green canned parmesan cheese from kraft foods flowed freely!

See the 70's were fun, and not just because of key parties and LSD!

So moving right along into my kitchen today. I still love to make pizza at home. There are really two great stumbling blocks in the way of making great pizza at home. The one being, the dough. The other being the cooking oven. Now I can't do anything about the oven you have, unless you have access to a wood burning oven in your house, in which case we need to be friends. However, you can do something about your dough. Now I am not going to tell you that you have to make pizza dough from scratch. In fact I think that's a lot of work and maybe for you not a lot of return. That's fine. If you have a great dough recipe use it! I will give you the one like the one I grew up with. It was a yeast free dough which accounted for it being so easy, and the fact my Mother was terrified of baking and making yeast breads. That was my Dad's job! Plus it was easy and quick and what house wife and home cook does not like that! Or, you can just buy a dough at the grocery store. Most upscale grocers carry dough now. Either way the dough is your base.

Now I have made a variety of pizzas over the years but the one I am sharing with you today is my recipe for my Ranch BLT Pizza. Now I love this pizza. It is sold in various pizza joints around the country. Mine is based on a pizza I had while doing theater in the Berkshires at a little Italian joint near the theater. But BLT Pizza is also sold at the California Pizza Kitchen. So good! I love it because it embraces the hot yummy gooey cheesy goodness of pizza and the cold crisp crunch of salad, and the tang of salad dressing all in one. In my opinion the secret to a great BLT is to mix the mayo with the shredded lettuce. So move over pepperoni. BLT is on it's way!!

Forrest's Ranch BLT Pizza

Pizza Dough ( non yeast) 

  • cups flour
  • teaspoons baking powder
  • teaspoon salt
  • 2/3 cup milk
  • 1/4 cup salad oil
  • tablespoons salad oil

  •  Method:

    1. Heat oven to 425°F.

      Measure ingredients (except 2nd amount of salad oil) into a bowl.
    2. Stir vigorously until mixture leaves the side of the bowl.
    3. Gather dough together and press into a ball.
    4. Knead dough in bowl 10 times to make smooth then divide dough in half.
    5. On lightly floured surface roll each half into a 13-inch circle or rectangle.
    6. Place on pizza pan.
    7. Turn up edges 1/2 inch and pinch.
    8. Brush circles with remaining 2T of salad oil.
    9. Add toppings and bake for 20-25 minutes or until it looks done

      Ranch BLT Pizza Toppings ( for 2 pizzas)

      12 pieces of bacon cooked and chopped
      6 plum tomatoes chopped
      1  small red onion finely chopped
      3/4 cup ranch dressing
      2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
      1 1/2  cup shredded parmesan cheese
      6 cups shredded romaine lettuce
      6 tablespoons fine quality mayo plus more if needed
      ground fresh pepper and sea salt
      dash of garlic powder
      dash of hot sauce

      Prepare dough in pan

      Spread dough with the ranch dressing divided on the two pizzas.
      Cover the pizzas with the tomatoes, onion, bacon and mozzarella and 1/2 the parmesan.
      In a large bowl mix the lettuce with mayo season with the hot sauce and garlic powder and lots of black pepper.
      Season to taste with salt.

      Cook pizza for 25 to 35 mins.
      When pizza if done remove from the oven and let sit for 4 mins
      Top with the lettuce mixture and sprinkle with the remaining parmesan cheese.
      Grind some pepper over the pizza and Bon Appetite! 

      Enjoy Ya'll!