Three-Cheese Calzones with Marinara and Salame Toscano

IMG_1166It was a busy day here in the Solberg house, as we are preparing for Spring’s arrival (someday).  There was cleaning to do on every level of the house, by every member of the household.  There was some initial lawnwork to be done – don’t ask – and both the Twins and the Wild were playing.   In the midst of this there was grocery shopping, laundry to be done, a soccer game and a soccer practice.  Busy, busy, busy!

With all of that, Cath looked over her dinner menu for the day and decided, “I don’t think I want this.  Can you make a pizza dough so we can have calzones?”  Are you kidding?  I always have time to make pizza dough.  Especially for calzones!

We hadn’t made this particular recipe before, and Cath assembled the ingredients for the filling ahead of time.  That was very thoughtful, as all I needed to do was make the crusts and then actually bake them.  The last few times we’ve made calzones they were pretty tough, and I have to take full responsibility.  I worked far too much flour into the dough, and it became very difficult to use.  In addition, I’ve never really measured out that dough, and when it came time to make an individual calzone there was just too much crust!

I’ve learned a lot about pizza dough from my experience with the recipes from Bon Appetit, and that experience served me well here.  I didn’t have the 18 hours of rise time I needed for that crust (no exaggeration!), but I was able to give this crust an extended rise throughout the day.  I also worked in the bare minimum amount of flour needed, so that it was quite sticky.  I’ve found that a high moisture content is a key for producing texture that is crispy on the outside, yet tender and chewy on the inside.  Finally, there was almost no kneading of the dough.  I mixed it, let it rise, and that was about it.

One last key to the success of this dough?  I actually measured it out – gasp! – to ensure I used what the recipe called for.  I know, that just sounds wrong doesn’t it?  Turns out it’s a pretty good idea.  I cut off what I thought was the right amount for a single calzone, and then, for kicks, I decided to weigh it.  The recipe specified each crust to be a quarter pound of dough, but when I measured mine I found I had 8 ounces.  Twice as much!  I was a little shocked, but I dutifully cut the dough in half, rolled it into a ball and let it rise for another 45 minutes.  It didn’t look like it would be enough at all, but it worked perfectly.  Who knew?  Lesson learned; when in doubt measure your ingredients.

These calzones were simple, but they tasted terrific.  We served them with a warmed marinara sauce for dipping, as well as a few slices of Salame Toscano from the deli at our local market.  The cheese filling was a savory mixture of the cheese flavors, and I think I enjoyed the ricotta most of all.  The crust was very light and crispy, with the thicker portions on the ends being delightfully chewy.  The warm marinara was perfect for dipping, and we complemented this flavor with a glass of Spanish red tempranillo we had left over from the evening before.  The salame toscano provided a rich contrast to the cheese flavors, which really helped to make this meal interesting with the changes in flavor in every bite.  In all it was a wonderfully hearty meal for the end of a very busy Sunday.



  • 2 cups shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese (about 8 ounces)
  • 1/2 cup ricotta cheese
  • 1/2 cup fresh basil, chopped
  • 2 scallions, sliced
  • 1/4 cup plus 2 teaspoons grated parmesan cheese (about 1 1/2 ounces)
  • 1 tablespoon breadcrumbs
  • 1 pound prepared pizza dough, at room temperature
  • All-purpose flour, for dusting
  • 1 large egg, lightly beaten
  • Marinara sauce, warmed, for dipping
  • 4 ounces sliced salame toscano


  1. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil.  NOTE:  We are big believers in the pizza stone, and that’s what I used for this recipe.  I placed the stones in the oven, and then preheated to 450 degrees F. for 45 minutes to ensure they were at the proper temperature.
  2. Make the filling: Mix the mozzarella, ricotta, basil, scallions, 1/4 cup parmesan and the breadcrumbs in a medium bowl until combined. Divide the pizza dough into 4 equal pieces. Roll out each piece on a lightly floured surface into a 7-to-8-inch round.
  3. Spoon one-quarter of the filling onto one half of each dough round, leaving a 1/2-inch border. Lightly brush the edges of the dough with some of the beaten egg; fold the dough over the filling and crimp the edges with a fork to seal. Transfer the calzones to the prepared baking sheet.
  4. Brush the calzones with the remaining beaten egg and cut 2 slits in the top of each to let steam escape. Sprinkle the calzones with the remaining 2 teaspoons parmesan, then bake until golden brown and cooked through, 18 to 20 minutes. Serve with marinara sauce and the salami toscano.

Jay’s Signature Pizza Crust

NOTE: I honestly don’t know who Jay is, but I found his pizza crust recipe years ago and it’s been a staple in our house.  It’s very tasty, and wherever Jay is I hope he knows we appreciate it very much!


  • 2 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast
  • 1/2 teaspoon brown sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups warm water (110 degrees F/45 degrees C)
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 3 1/3 cups all-purpose flour


  1. In a large bowl, dissolve the yeast and brown sugar in the water, and let sit for 10 minutes.
  2. Stir the salt and oil into the yeast solution. Mix in 2 1/2 cups of the flour.
  3. Turn dough out onto a clean, well floured surface, and knead in more flour until the dough is no longer sticky. Place the dough into a well oiled bowl, and cover with a cloth. Let the dough rise until double; this should take about 1 hour. Punch down the dough, and form a tight ball. Allow the dough to relax for a minute before rolling out. Use for your favorite pizza recipe.

Guinness Stout-Braised Beef with Irish Soda Bread Buns

Guinness Stout-Braised BeefHappy St. Patrick’s Day!

Here in the Twin Cities we have a bright blue sky, and the sun is shining brilliantly, so you know it’s a lovely day.  In related news, we’re also under a winter weather advisory and, while the predicted blizzard looks like it’s going to bypass us, we are still expecting something like 4-6 inches of snow.  Probably during my morning commute.

So why am I feeling so cheerful?  Who has time to be grumpy on St. Patrick’s Day?  In days long gone we might have been out celebrating with a pint or two of green beer.  That doesn’t happen much anymore, so instead we turn our energy to celebrating with Irish-themed creations in the kitchen.  Usually I try to make my Irish Bread Pudding with Whiskey-Caramel Sauce, but this year we’re doing something different.

In the past we’ve enjoyed corned beef in all its variations, but today we’re having a more authentically Irish dinner:  a beef roast braised in Guinness Stout beer and beef stock.  The idea came from Esquire Magazine, in an interesting article on the Americanization of various cultural holidays across the world.  I have to admit, we have a certain influence on the way these things are celebrated!Irish Soda Bread Buns

In addition to the braised beef, I was reading my Sunday New York Times, as I love to do, and I happened to see a great little article on making Irish Soda Bread Buns.  I’ve never tried them before, but they certainly seemed very straightforward, so I knew I had to give them a try.  In a word, they were fantastic!  My girls love when I bake loaves of artisan bread, and this was definitely a hit with them.  They were no trouble at all to make, and we happened to have the ingredients on hand, so I’m very glad I was able to add them to this meal.

The best part of making this meal?  Every time someone walked in the door on this busy day, I got to hear them exclaim, “Oh my gosh, that smells so good!”  Makes me glad we opted for a tender, pull apart beef roast that required a 4-hour braise in the oven.  Yum!

Guinness Stout-Braised Beef


  • 3-4 lb. boneless beef chuck roast
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 carrot, coarsely chopped
  • 1 onion, coarsely chopped
  • 1 leek, white part only, washed and cut into 4 piece
  • 4 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
  • 10 oz Guinness Stout beer
  • 3 sprigs thyme
  • 2 bay leaves
  • About 1.5 liters veal or beef stock
  • Kosher salt


  1. Preheat oven to 300 degrees F.
  2. Remove any skin or fat surrounding the beef roast, dry it with paper towels, and season it generously with salt. Heat half of the olive oil in a 5- to 6-quart Dutch oven (or other heavy-bottomed, oven-proof pot) over medium-high heat and add half of the butter. Once the butter is hot and bubbling, sear the meat in until it reaches deep golden brown on all sides, 2 to 3 minutes per side, then transfer it to a tray along with any liquid. Heat the rest of the olive oil and butter in the pot and add the chopped vegetables, cooking them until browned. Pour in the stout and stir with a wooden spoon, scraping up any brown bits stuck to the bottom of the pot. Add the stock and the herbs and bring the mixture to a boil. Add the beef — which should sit covered about 2/3 of the way up by liquid — and cover with a lid. Place into the oven for 4 1/2 to 5 hours, until the meat is very tender.
  3. Once the mixture has cooled slightly, transfer the beef to a serving platter and tent it with foil to keep it warm. Strain the sauce through a fine mesh sieve and return it to the pan, boiling it over medium heat until it reaches a saucey consistency, 15 to 20 minutes. Serve the beef with your desired sides.

Irish Soda Bread Buns


  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, chilled and cubed, more for greasing pan
  • 155 grams all-purpose flour (1 1/4 cups), more as needed
  • 95 grams whole wheat pastry flour ( 3/4 cup)
  • 55 grams sugar ( 1/4 cup)
  • 7 grams baking powder (1 1/2 teaspoons)
  • 5 grams salt (1 teaspoon)
  • 5 grams baking soda ( 3/4 teaspoon)
  • 2/3 cup buttermilk, more for brushing
  • 1 large egg
  • 90 grams dried currants (about 2/3 cup)
  • 8 grams caraway seeds (about1 1/2 teaspoons)


  1. Heat oven to 375 degrees.
  2. Lightly grease a large rimmed baking sheet.  In a large bowl, whisk together flours, sugar, baking powder, salt and baking soda. Using a pastry cutter or your fingers, work in butter until mixture forms coarse crumbs. In a small bowl, whisk together buttermilk and egg. Stir wet mixture into dry one until they just form a moist dough. Stir in currants and caraway seeds.
  3. Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Shape into a 7-inch round about 1-inch thick. Cut into 8 wedges. Using lightly floured hands, roll each wedge into a ball and transfer to the prepared baking sheet. Using kitchen shears, snip a small “x” into the top of each bun. (You can also use a knife.) Brush tops with a little buttermilk, and dust lightly with flour.
  4. Transfer baking sheet to oven. Bake until buns are golden brown and firm, 20 to 25 minutes. Cool 10 minutes before serving.

Chipotle-Mango Barbecue Chicken with Cilantro Chimichurri

The heat wave has broken!  Well, for today, anyway.  Our string of 90-degree days has finally come to an end, and we’re enjoying a much more Minnesota-like afternoon in the low 80’s.  During any other summer that’d seem pretty warm, but this year it’s a refreshing break.  Even so, the sun was shining and the lawn was freshly mowed, so it was a perfect day to entertain Jim and Sandra for our monthly dinner.  And how better to celebrate the day?  Bring on some smoke and heat!

The menu today was from a Guy Fieri article in Food Network Magazine entitled “Guy at the Grill”, and right away we knew it would be a winner for a mid-summer cookout.  The bonus for us was that we knew Jim is a huge fan of “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives”, so this choice was going to be a slam dunk.  We were not disappointed!

The Chipotle-Mango Barbecue sauce for the chicken had a fantastic flavor, and there were so many things going on that we found it to be quite complex.  The mangoes and lemon juice and rice vinegar gave us an initial hit of sweetness with just a bit of tart.  On it’s own this might have quickly become too much, but then the chipotle peppers and adobo sauce took over, and the subtle heat gave it a very welcome balance.  The cilantro and garlic flavors were there as a subtle backdrop, and the net effect of all these flavors on the grilled chicken was terrific.  On alternating bites I spread a little of the chimichurri on the chicken, and was rewarded with a bright burst of contrasting freshness.  This was an entree that had everyone at the table smiling!

Some notes on the preparation:  If I had it to do again (and I probably will), I think I’d go without the skin on the chicken.  This has only a little to do with the health aspects of the dish, and much more to do with the ease of grilling.  I don’t know if it’s just me, but whenever I try to grill skin-on chicken I seem to have a little flame-up problem.  Little, like the cauldron at the London Olympic games.  Does anyone else find this to be an issue?  I think if I were to forgo the skin I might be able to control this little issue and not fear that I’m going to burn down my house.  Also, I found the chimichurri to be a little too “liquidy”, and so I drained off some of the liquid before serving.  I tested the flavors and they didn’t seem to suffer at all.  You may want to watch that.

Overall, this was a terrific meal!  We served it with Guy’s “Smoking Potato Salad” and “Long Beach Coleslaw”, and I’d recommend both of those as well.  It was a terrific day, and a smokey, grilled meal with a bit of peppery heat complemented it perfectly.




  • 3 mangoes, peeled, pitted and chopped
  • 1-1/4 cups loosely packed fresh cilantro, not chopped, stems and all
  • 3 chipotle chili peppers in adobo sauce, plus 1 tbsp sauce from the can
  • 3 tbsp rice vinegar (not seasoned)
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 3 tbsp fresh lemon juice
  • 1-1/2 tbsp canola oil, plus more for the grill
  • Kosher salt and freshly cracked pepper
  • 12 pieces skin-on, bone-in mixed chicken thighs and drumsticks (about 5 pounds)


  • 1-1/2 cups fresh cilantro leaves
  • 1/2 cup fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves
  • 2 scallions, white parts only, roughly chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 cup grapeseed oil
  • 1 tsp agave syrup
  • 1/4 cup fresh lime juice
  • Kosher salt and freshly cracked pepper


  1. Prepare the chicken:  Put the mangoes, cilantro, chipotles, adobo sauce, vinegar, garlic, lemon juice, canola oil, 1 tbsp salt and 1 tsp pepper in a food processor and puree until smooth.  Adjust the seasoning to taste.
  2. Toss the chicken with half of the mango mixture in a resealable plastic bag and massage to coat the chicken with the sauce.  Refrigerate at least 6 hours to marinate.
  3. Put the other half of the mango mixture in a small saucepan and simmer over low heat until thick, stirring often, about 15 minutes.  Season with salt. Set some of the simmered mango sauce aside for serving and use the rest for basting.
  4. Preheat grill to medium and brush with canola oil.  Remove the chicken from the marinade, brushing off the excess marinade so it doesn’t burn, and put on the grill.  Grill the chicken, turning, until fully cooked through, about 30 minutes.  Baste with the simmered mango sauce during the last 5 minutes.
  5. Meanwhile, make the chimichurri:  Combine the cilantro, parsley, scallions, garlic, grapeseed oil, agave, lime juice, salt and pepper to taste in a food processor and pulse to roughly chop.  Continue processing until the sauce is finely chopped but not smooth (it shouldn’t be a puree).  Set aside at least 15 minutes before serving.
  6. Transfer the chicken to a platter and serve with the chimichurri and reserved mango sauce.

Pork Milanese with Arugula and Cherry-Tomato Salad

There are days when simple is wonderful, don’t you think?  When you want to savor a dinner without a big fuss, and enjoy a few moments with your family.  Tonight was that type of evening, and I’d love to say that it was all about our sense of togetherness, but I have to admit that we had a bit of encouragement from the weather.  Did I mention that it’s nearly 100 degrees outside?  Our Minnesota sensibilities have been rocked by this heatwave, and it was obvious that tonight we just needed to move slowly and speak in a leisurely manner.  This meal was a fantastic centerpiece for just such a plan.

The original menu called for hamburgers on the grill, but late in the afternoon a hot wind began buffeting the house and we knew it’d be tough to keep a grill lit for cooking.  Thank goodness!  I offered to give it a try, but Cath had a better idea: pork chops in a pan.  I have to admit that I was secretly relieved.  The scent of these chops frying in olive oil was heavenly, and the crunchy crust was a terrific complement to the savory moist meat.  The arugula salad was quite simple as well, but we very much enjoyed the peppery flavor.  Megan, our oldest, commented on how much she enjoyed the salad as well.  New tastes are developing here in the Solberg house!

This is an easy meal, perfect for an evening when you’re not driven to create culinary art.  Funny, it felt a little artsy as we plated it to serve, so maybe it was an example of a reductionist abstract with a – oh forget that, it was delicious.  And that’s good enough for me!



  • 8 1/4-inch thick boneless pork chops (1-1/4 to 1-1/2 pounds total), trimmed of excess fat
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
  • thick slices white sandwich bread
  • 3 tbsp grated parmesan cheese
  • 2 tbsp chopped fresh parsley
  • 1/2 tsp minced fresh rosemary
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for frying
  • 5 cups baby arugula
  • 1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
  • lemon wedges, for serving


1.  Season the pork shops all over with salt and paper.  Pulse the bread in a food processor to make coarse crumbs (you should have about 3 cups).  Transfer the breadcrumbs to a shallow baking dish and toss with the cheese, parsley and rosemary.  Whisk the eggs in a shallow bowl.  Put the flour in another shallow bowl.  Dredge each chop in the flour, then dip in the beaten eggs and coat in the breadcrumb mixture, pressing so the coating sticks.

2.  Heat 1/4-inch olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat.  Working in batches, cook the pork chops until golden brown and cooked through, 2 to 4 minutes per side.  Transfer to a paper towel-lined plate to drain.

3.  Toss the arugula and tomatoes in a bowl with 1 tablespoon olive oil, and salt and pepper to taste.  Divide the pork chops among plates and season with salt.  Serve with the arugula salad and lemon wedges.

Teriyaki-marinated Flank Steak with Pineapple Rice

Summertime in Minnesota is a lot like summertime anywhere else, only a little more so.  Big words, right?  I mean, why should a summer day in the north mean any more to me than it does to your average Floridian?  I’ll tell you why:  because we just don’t have enough of them!  Not like this, not like today.  When you live in the north you endure months of winter, with cold and snow and ice, with frozen ears and work commutes in darkness both morning and night.  It wears on you and beats you down just a little, until you start to think it’ll never end, because how could it, really?  These days are all you can remember anymore.  It’s really cold out there.

And then, like magic, summer comes.  Suddenly, on a day like today, you really notice how the sunlight washes over you and just makes you feel happy.  You appreciate fully how beautiful this place can be. 

So what’s the big deal?  What brings all this to mind?  Today was a long day of working in the yard under a summer sun, with my dog lounging nearby to keep me company.  When all the days chores were finished and the dirt washed away, my little homestead wasn’t perfect but it sure was beautiful.  For the perfect end to a great day, Cath prepared this delicious meal that truly tasted like summer feels.  Savory seared beef, with a citrusy-tart glaze.  A side of basmati rice infused with pineapple and mixed with edamame and pecans, and a side of  cold Samuel Adams Boston Lager.

I’m sure most of us love summer, no matter where we live, but I continue to believe that it’s special in the north.  We don’t see nearly enough of it, so when it comes we have the non-negotiable urge to wring every bit of enjoyment from it.  If you get the chance, you might want to give this recipe a try.  I suggest you enjoy it on the deck, with a late day summer sun and a cold glass of beer.



Flank Steak:

  • 3 tbsp teriyaki sauce
  • 3 tbsp red-wine vinegar
  • 2 tbsp brown sugar
  • Juice from 8-oz can pineapple chunks (reserve pineapple for rice, below)
  • 1/2 tsp red-pepper flakes
  • 1 flank steak (1-1/2 lb)

Pineapple Rice:

  • 1 large shallot, finely chopped
  • 1 tbsp plus 1-1/2 cups water
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 3/4 cup basmati rice
  • 3/4 cup edamame
  • Drained pineapple chunks from 8-oz can, chopped
  • 2-1/2 tbsp finely chopped pecans
  • 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper


1.  Flank Steak – Combine teriyaki, vinegar, sugar, pineapple juice and pepper flakes in plastic food-storage bag.  Add flank steak; seal; turn to coat.  Refrigerate at least 2 hours or overnight.

2.  Pineapple Rice – When ready to serve, coat 3-quart saucepan with cooking spray.  Place over medium heat.  Add shallot and 1 tablespoon water; cook until softened, about 4 minutes.  Add remaining 1-1/2 cups water and salt.  Bring to a boil.  Add rice; lower heat.  Cover, simmer 15 minutes.

3.  Meanwhile, heat oven broiler or prepare outdoor grill with hot coals, or heat gas grill to hot.

4.  Remove steak from bag; drain marinade into small saucepan.

5.  Broil or grill steak 4 inches from heat 5 minutes on each side for medium-rare or longer for desired doneness.  Let steak stand 5 minutes, keep warm by covering with foil.  NOTE:  As we don’t have a great broiler, we simply heated a pan over medium-high heat and seared the flank steak for 6 minutes per side for medium-rare.

6.  Meanwhile, bring marinade to a boil; boil 3 minutes.

7.  When rice has finished cooking, stir in edamame and pineapple.  Heat through.  Just before serving, stir in pecans and cayenne.

8.  Thinly slice steak across grain.  Serve with marinade and rice.

Fire Roasted Tomato & Ricotta Pizza

Okay, everyone, let’s give it up once again for the good people at Bon Appetit magazine!  Honestly, when it comes to cooking magazines I’m an easy mark.  I was walking through the Kowalski’s Market near work, innocently looking for lunch of some sort, when I saw the cover photo of the March 2012 issue and knew immediately that I had to have it.  It was a brilliantly colorful image (of course) of a Tomato & Stracciatella Pizza with a big headline that read “Make Pizza Like a Pro”.  It was a wonderful rustic looking thing, with charred bits on the edges of the crust, and dotted with swirled dollops of a creamy cheese which I later learned was stracciatella.

Hmm.  Pizza like a pro sounded like a challenge, and I have to admit I’m getting to be pretty confident with my pizza skills.  It’s not always perfect, but it’s usually pretty darned good.  But right below that bold headline it said “Pie Master Jim Lahey Shares His Secrets”, and at that point I knew I had to have it.  Blast you, Marketing staff at Bon Appetit!

So, fast forward to the results:  I did learn something from this article, and I’m glad they pushed my buttons to make me buy it.  First, I learned how to get tomatoes onto my pie without going for the can of sauce.  I don’t mind sauce, but it really isn’t a favorite in my house.  My girls are partial to the sauceless variety, with a layering of extra virgin olive oil instead.  I did brush the crust with olive oil, but the addition of crushed tomatoes was wonderful.  I will say that the original recipe calls for canned tomatoes, and I trusted my instincts and substituted canned fire-roasted tomatoes instead.  Big flavor win!

Secondly, the method for making crust here takes more time (overnight), but the resulting texture is something that I’ve been wanting to create for a long, long time.  It definitely required some skill in handling, but the slightly wet and sticky dough yielded a crust that was crispy on the bottom but light and chewy everywhere else.  I’ll go back to my other methods for crust from time to time, but this is probably my favorite of any I’ve made.  We were very happy with this pie.

To sum it up: thanks Jim Lahey for sharing your secrets!  We’re pizza hounds in this house, and you just made our dining experience a little bit better!  I can’t wait to apply these methods to some of my tried-and-true ingredient combinations to see what happens.  Bon Appetit!

Crust (2 pizzas):


  • 3-3/4 Cup All-Purpose Unbleached Flour
  • 2 tsp kosher salt
  • 1/4 tsp active dry yeast


Whisk flour, salt and yeast in a medium bowl.  While stirring with a wooden spoon, gradually add 1-1/2 cups of warm water; stir until well incorporated.  Mix dough gently with your hands to bring it together and form into a rough ball.  Transfer to a large clean bowl.  Cover with plastic wrap and let dough rise at room temperature (about 72 degrees F) in a draft-free area until surface is covered with tiny bubbles and dough has more than doubled in size, about 18 hours (time will vary depending on the temperature in the room).

Transfer dough to a floured work surface.  Gently shape into a rough rectangle.  Divide into two equal portions.  Working with one portion at a time, gather four corners to center to create four folds.  Turn seam side down and mold gently into a ball.  Dust dough with flour; set aside on a work surface or a floured baking sheet.  Repeat with the remaining portion.

Let dough rest, covered with plastic wrap or a damp kitchen towel, until soft and pliable, about one hour.



  • 1 ball of dough for crust
  • 1 14.5 oz can fire roasted tomatoes
  • 1 cup freshly shredded mozzarella cheese
  • ricotta cheese
  • 2 tbsp roughly chopped fresh oregano leaves
  • red pepper flakes
  • kosher salt
  • extra virgin olive oil


During last hour of dough’s resting, prepare oven:  place pizza stone on rack in upper third of oven.  Preheat the oven to its hottest setting:  500-550 degrees F for one hour.

To prepare tomatoes, place contents of the can (with juices) in a stainless steel bowl, and crush with your hands.  Alternatively, puree in a blender.

Working with one dough ball, dust dough generously with flour and place on a floured work surface.  Gently shape dough into a disk.  Sprinkle pizza peel (or cutting board) lightly with flour.  Place dough disk on peel.  Drizzle olive oil over the crust.  Spread 1/2 of the crushed tomatoes over the crust, almost to the edges.  Sprinkle the mozzarella cheese evenly over the crust, leaving approximately 1/2″ of the crust uncovered.

Using small back-and-forth movements, slide pizza from the peel onto the hot pizza stone.  Bake for 7-9 minutes, or until well browned on top.

Remove pizza from oven, and allow to rest on pizza stone.  Sprinkle lightly with kosher salt, then sprinkle with red pepper flakes.  Place dollops of ricotta cheese in random locations on the top of the pie, and then sprinkle the oregano to taste.


Cheesy Mac ‘n’ Bangers Bake

A quiet Friday night alone with my youngest, and dinner to be made.  What to do, right?  Actually, that decision was made for me when Cath left the recipe and ingredients for Rachael Ray’s Cheesy Mac ‘n’ Bangers Bake before taking off for a night out with her sister, Terry and friend, Dawn.  I’ll be honest, I’d heard the term “Bangers” before, but I really didn’t know much about them.  Turns out a banger is just a one of a variety of flavoured sausage made of pork or beef or a Cumberland sausage.  (That’s straight out of Wikipedia, so I really couldn’t tell you much about a Cumberland sausage.  If you do the research, get back to me and let me know!)  We don’t have great access to authentic Irish sausages, so we decided to use the sweet Italian sausage instead.

There were a few steps to the preparation, but once we had all our ingredients in place it was just a matter of assembling and baking the dish.  When I first heard the name I had a mac ‘n’ cheese type of picture in my head. When you look at the ingredients, however, you note that the cheese is cream cheese and grated parmesan.  Hmm, definitely not what I expected, but the flavor was terrific!  We cooked for the recommended time, and then made sure to let it rest for a bit.  Our reward was a perfect square that lifted nicely out the pan and looked beautiful on the plate.

Kelly looked a little bit nervously at the spinach when I was assembling the dish before baking, but after her first taste she exclaimed “Yum!  This is really good!”  I’m going to count that as a great review.  This was a simple, hearty dish of savory comfort food, and it was perfect for a Friday evening dinner at the kitchen island with my lovely young dining companion.



  • 1/2 lb elbow macaroni
  • 1 lb Irish bangers or sweet italian sausages, casing removed
  • 2 tbsp unsalted butter
  • 1 small onion, finely chopped
  • 1 lb thawed frozen chopped spinach, squeezed dry
  • 4 oz. cream cheese, at room temperature
  • 6 eggs
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1 cup grated parmesan (4-1/2 oz)
  • 6 slices white sandwich bread, crusts trimmed


In a large saucepan of boiling salted water, cook the macaroni, stirring often, until al dente.  Drain and cool; do not rinse.

Meanwhile, in a large skillet, cook the sausage over medium heat, breaking it up with a wooden spoon and stirring occasionally until crumbly, about 5 minutes.  Transfer to paper towels to drain.  Melt the butter in the pan, then add the onion and cook, stirring often, until softened, about 5 minutes.  Add the spinach and cook, stirring, until heated through, about 3 minutes.  Stir in the cream cheese until blended; season with salt and pepper.  Let cool.

In a large bowl, using a fork, beat together the eggs, heavy cream, 2/3 cup parmesan and 1/2 tsp each salt and pepper.

In a 9-inch square baking dish, evenly layer the macaroni and cover with the bread slices.  Top with the spinach mixture in an even layer, then the sausage.  Pour the egg mixture on top and sprinkle with the remaining 1/3 cup parmesan.  (Cover and refrigerate overnight if desired.)

Let the casserole stand at room temperature for 30 minutes to an hour.  Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F and bake until browned and crusty on top and set in the center, about 20 minutes.  Let cool for 5 minutes before cutting.