Rest In Peace On Earth

19 11 2010

Earlier this year I lost my neighbor Vivian Berghino.  We’ve lived next door to Ed & Vivian Berghino for over 5 years now.  They were brother and sister connected at the hip.  There is a drive way between our kitchen windows, so a ring side seat was always to be had to hear their hot Italian tempers.  The Berghinos have lived in their top and bottom duplex since the late 1940’s when their parents bought the 1920’s building. Their parents were Italian immigrants that came to America via Ellis Island in the 20’s to make a better life for themselves. Father Giovanni “Bob” Berghino and Mom Gilda moved the family west from the upper west side of Manhattan in the mid 40’s. Bob opened a bike shop in Beverly Hills called Bob’s Cycles where he was known as the cities best bikesmith. Bob’s Cycle’s was located at the south east corner of  Robertson & Wilshire (it’s now a Bank of America).

Gilda & Bob Berghino

When we moved in, I immediately took a liking to Ed Berghino.  Something about Ed instantly felt like family to me. Maybe it was the bickering between he and his sister Viv, but most probably it was the warmth I felt being around them. Often I’d hear them outside my window in the morning going back and forth about one thing or the other so I’d go over and join them for a cup of coffee and we’d chat.  They’d tell me old stories of their family and the neighborhood while one or the other would invariably disagree with something, anything or everything.  When things really got heated they’d curse each other out in Italian. That’s when it really got good! Every Christmas  I could always count on a gift of Panettone  bread from Ed & Viv and it was usually gone in about an hour .  We often talked about food and their Mom cooking rich Northern Italian dishes. One of the recipes was to poach a dozen eggs in heavy cream and a stick of butter & serve over polenta! THAT is my kind of food! You could seriously gain 5 pounds from hearing about the cream sauce dishes their Mama always made. I’ve spent quite a few meals in and out with them. One of our favorite outings is Bob’s Big Boy in Toluca Lake.  It’s fun, kitschy and the burgers rock!

Last year I had the neighbors on both sides of me over for Christmas morning breakfast. I made my Mom’s  famous Egg Casserole (that’s been handed down from generations) and we all sat and talked about old stories. It was truly a great Christmas  morning. I’ve always said that family is about who you want to be with not who you have to be with. The same goes for the Holidays. Viv was such a sweet & caring soul. She taught for most of her life and must’ve been an awesome teacher  because she had so many students come back to her later in life to tell her how much she meant to them. I can totally relate to those students and their love for their teahcer. My 7th & 8th grade band teacher changed my life. She said I could do anything in life, anything and everything I wanted to. She had no  idea what kind of monster she created! I believed her and have carried her words with me throughout my  life. I will forever be indebted to her for believing in me. So for Viv and any teacher that can have such a profound affect on a human being, I say is a Saint.

Here’s Ed and Mom  Gilda

A month before Viv passed was the 10th Anniversary of my Grandma Pearls death.  Her Birthday was also this month and she would’ve been 86 . My Grandma Pearl taught me so much about cooking and baking. When she died I was left her 60’s avocado green Kitchen Aid mixer, I call Ethel. The thing is a TANK! I love it and don’t think I could possibly live without it. I was also left with her holy grail.  Her cookbooks! Both her handwritten recipes and her Better Homes cookbook from the 50’s! These are like bibles to me!! From my Great Grandma Jessie’s lemon meringue pie  and her date cookies to Grandpa’s peanut brittle,  Grandma Pearls Banana bread and so many more recipes.  And of course the ever lovin breakfast casserole I cooked for Ed & Viv last Christmas.

Ed, Viv and Mom Gilda

So dear Viv this blog is dedicated to you and all the teachers whom I believe truly have the most important job in the entire world. To be able to positively influence youth is so empowering and such a huge responsibility that when it is accomplished it should not only be rewarded but remembered and honored and observed forever.

In honor of Viv I give you the recipe for our families Holiday Breakfast Casserole. It’s the last meal I cooked for Viv and it’s something my family LOVES to eat. It’s really easy and tastes awesome!

Holiday Breakfast Casserole

Half loaf (6-8 pieces enough to cover bottom of dish) cheap White Bread like Webers cut in 1/2  inch cubes

1 Dozen fresh eggs

4 cups grated cheddar cheese (prepackaged works great but it should be whole milk cheese)

2 tubes of Jimmy Dean ground sausage

1/2 tsp. ground mustard

1 can Campbell’s Cream of Mushroom soup + 1/2 Cup milk

1/2 cup milk mixed into eggs

Optional Ingredients: Diced bell pepper, diced onion, sliced mushrooms

Preheat oven to 350 F.  Grease 9×12 glass casserole dish.

In frying skillet cook both tubes of ground sausage like you would ground beef for tacos or spaghetti.

While sausage is frying beat 1 dozen eggs with 1/2 cup milk and ground mustard. Slice bread into 1/2 inch cubes and layer the bottom of your casserole. MAKE SURE YOUR DISH IS GREASED. Drain the oil off of your sausage once it is well browned. VERY IMPORTANT TO DRAIN THE SAUSAGE. I know that reads like yelling but learn from my mistakes! Spread the sausage evenly over the bread cubes and then spread an even layer of half the cheese over the sausage (reserving half for the top). If you’re going to use the optional ingredients spread them now (it’s perfectly great without them). Now pour your mixed eggs over the entire dish and spread remaining cheese on top of that. THE SECRET; My family always makes this the night before and puts it in the oven in the morning. This way everything has a chance to really soak in. You can put it in the oven right away as well. Whatever you do DON’T FORGET THE CREAM OF MUSHROOM! When  I make it the night before,  I always set the can of soup on the stove so that I don’t forget to put it over the top in the morning. To add, in a bowl mix 1/2 cup milk to the can of mushroom soup and pour evenly over entire casserole.  I usually bake it for about 45 minutes covered with foil and then another half hour to 45 minutes uncovered. Bake it until it’s bubbling and at least golden brown on top (my family likes it a little more well done on top). Take out and serve immediately.

Serves 8-10 Normal people  and 4-6 in my  family.

This what it looks like, but it still could be a little more browned.

Happy Arteries!!  I mean Holidays!


It’s That Time Of Year…

4 11 2010

to get depressed! I don’t know about you but as much as I am happy around the holidays, I get a little depressed too.  Soooo there’s nothing like a cookie to cure that depression! Matter of fact these recipes may have come from the depression era! Most likely they’ve been around well before that, but my Great Grandma was definitely apart of the depression era and she introduced them to me.

Now I’m introducing them to the LA Times Cookie Bake off Contest and to you bloggers!!

Click here to vote for me!!>>>>

I’m entered in the LA Times  Cookie Bake Off with my families cookie recipe called Aunt Goldie’s Date Filled Nuggets.

Every year my Great Grandma Jessie Olson would make this family recipe and  I was always the first to finish them.  Grandma Jessie was an amazing baker. Every Christmas she’d bring over huge tupperware containers filled with different cookies as well as several of her famous pies. My two favorite cookies of hers were her Molasses Iced Cookies and her Date cookies.

Little did I know a lot of the recipes were handed down or were altered by other people in our family. I found all of this out when my Grandma Pearl died and left me all of the family recipes. The books are priceless and contain years and years of recipes by my family. A lot of them quickly written down with no complete instructions!!  I guess they cooked and baked so much they just needed the ingredients. Although I noticed that some of the recipes are clearly missing some ingredients. Luckily I learned from the best so it was pretty much common sense that you can’t make a cookie without flour.

And now to set the mood here is one of my favorite Christmas songs.

My entry into the LA Times contest is the following recipe for Aunt Goldies Date Filled Nuggets which Grandma Olson perfected every Christmas.

Aunt Goldie’s Date Filled Nuggets

4 1/2 C. All Purpose Flour
1 1/2 C. Sugar
1 C. Butter (Soft)
1 tsp. Vanilla
2 Eggs
1/2 C. Sour Cream
1 Tsp. Baking Soda
1/2 Tsp Salt
1 Tsp. Baking Powder

Date Filling
1 lb. Dates diced (or in food processor)
1 C. Sugar
1 1/2 C. Water
Boil all until soft & in paste form. Let cool in the refrigerator.

Cream Butter & Sugar then add eggs one at a time. Mix Soda into Sour Cream and add. Stir flour, baking powder and salt in a separate bowl and add little by little to wet ingredients.
You may chill dough or roll out on a floured surface immediately.
Use a 2 inch round cookie cutter to cut out rounds or a round juice glass floured. Cut an even number of rounds and place a dollop of date filling on half. Cover those with the other half of cut outs and pinch all sides by hand or fork. Place on an ungreased cookie sheet. Bake at 350 f. until golden brown (about 10-15 mins.) Continue until all the dough and/or filling is used.

AND!! To get plenty of good cheer I eat Aunt Goldie’s Minted Nuts!!

Here’s a recipe for Aunt Goldie’s nuts exactly like my Grandma Pearl wrote it down.  I love that my Grandma instructs to stir in a circular motion! Wait until you see some of the other recipes she wrote down. Grandma Pearl often wrote in phonetics like her recipe for Chile Con Queso she writes Chilly Con Kay-so…

recipeAuntGoldiesMintedNuts.jpg Aunt Goldie's Minted Nuts picture by cornbeefonry

Chicken & YUMplins

31 03 2010

For as long as I’ve been an adult people have always assumed and asked if  I’m from the south. I am from south of L.A. and South of California, but  I’m not from any region of the “South” as in confederacy or N’ahlin’s or hard hearted Hannah the vamp from Savannah.

A little Ella for ya

One time, while on some tour, I was in Northern Florida and a  guy asked me where I  was from and I said “L.A.” and he said in the most hickish southern accent you can possibly think of “Lower Alabama?”. Um  no and who ever knew Florida was apart of the south and while we’re on the subject why is  Virginia considered the south? It’s pretty far north, but if you’ve ever been there you don’t doubt you’re in the south. Once when I was in West Virginia we got to town (before internet) and called a local  bar to ask if they knew of any “happy” bars in town. After explaining  what “happy” meant the lady at the bar said on the phone in the most hickish deep in the hills missing tooth kind  of voice “I don’t know of any butt fuckin’ bars in town and if I did I wouldn’t tell any faggots  where they were” click. Welcome to WEST Virginia NOT for Lovers.

I do love the south, don’t get me wrong and I have several things to be thankful for in the south. One being Paula Deen, who will realize one day she wants to adopt me. Isn’t she cute!

Another thing I’m thankful for is The Waffle House where I learned to love grits and kitchens where I could actually watch them add a pound of butter to my food. Thank  you Waffle House for all of your after show meals & your drunken nights.

In Jackson, Mississippi I was surprised to find a  Gay & Lesbian Bank!!! G&L Bank AND they had an ATM!! We don’t even have one in West Hollywood! Don’t ask what I was wearing…it was 1998.

I guess my taste for food has always veered the southern way as well. I’m a huge fan of soul food,  southern,  creole,  fried anything and butter rolled in cheese dipped in batter fried and slathered with mayo. Another time on tour I was so excited when our bus driver’s Mom was going to host the whole cast at her southern home for a real home cooked southern meal. All 50 of us got there and the whole neighborhood had come together to cook us up some amazing food. There were quite a few vegetarians on that tour so it was pretty hard for them to find something they could eat that didn’t have pork something in it. They zeroed in  on salad and  biscuits. While biting into the biscuits we discovered something chewy like an apricot with no flavor. One curious vegetarian chimed in and said “what is this chewy stuff in the biscuits?”.  Momma of the South replied “Oh that’s just a bit of cracklin'” “Cracklin?” we said “What’s that?” Momma South said  “It’s pig skins”. I think all of their faces turned  green and they quickly covered their mouths with their napkins and ran top speed to the bathroom like a fire lit under their ass.  I was laughing my face off!!!  Oh man I still laugh to this day!

Anyhow, you’ll see a lot of  comfort southern inspired food recipes here because somehow it’s how my dna is geared.

The other night I had a hankerin’ for Chicken & Dumplins so here I share with you a KILLER recipe for this southern classic.  This recipe will not disappoint you!

Chicken & YUMplin Dumplins (2 hours start to  finish)

Serves  about 6

Tools: Stock pot, ladle, mixing spoons, tongs, ice cream scoop, paper towels, plates, bowls

5lbs. Chicken Thighs (you can get them prepackaged this way)

2-3 Large Carrots

2-3 Stalks of Celery

1 brown onion

6 tbl Flour

1/4 cup white wine

1/4 cup cream

4 1/2 c. Chicken Broth

2 Bay leaves (fresh is best if you can get it)

1 tsp Fresh Thyme (again  fresh is best but dry will do)

1 c frozen or fresh peas

1 tsp parsley

4 tbl butter

2 tbl oil vege or olive

Salt & Pepper


2 c.  Flour

1 tbl Baking Pwder

1 tsp salt

3 tbl. reserved chicken fat from frying

1 cup warm whole milk

OKAY!!  This  can be made in one pot!! First pat your thighs dry then salt & pepper them. Dice your onion and chop celery and carrots into 1/4 inch pieces and set aside. In your stock pot heat 2 tbl oil to cover bottom until just smokin. Add half  your thighs fat side down and fry both sides until golden brown about 5-10 minutes each batch. Remove to  paper towels and do the second batch in the chicken fat oil the same way and remove. Drain all the fat in the pan into a cup to reserve for use later. Melt the 4tbl of butter in the pan and add onion, carrots & celery. Cook until onions are transparent. Multi task while those are cooking by removing the skin off your chicken thighs. Once the onion is well cooked add the 6 tbls of flour to make a roux/thickener. Mix until all veggies are coated. Now slowly add your wine & chicken broth while mixing at the same time and then the cream. it’ll start to  thicken like a gravy almost. Now add your chicken, thyme & bay leaves. Bring to a boil then put on low to simmer for 1 hour. After the hour remove your chicken to a large cutting board and carefully shred the chicken off the bone being careful to remove  any fat or  bones. Remove the bay leaves and add the shredded chicken , parsley and peas.  Salt & Pepper to taste. I even add a little garlic salt and sometimes sliced mushrooms. Leave on a simmer. Now make your dumplings.

In a bowl combine flour,  salt and baking powder. In a micro proof glass heat your milk and chicken fat for about 30 seconds until around 100-110 F degrees. Add that to the flour and stir until fully incorporated. Take your little ice cream scoop or 2 spoons and scoop balls into your  chicken pot just setting right on top of the broth. The scoops can be any size but remember they will at least double in size. It should make about 16- 1 1/2-2 inch balls. Don’t worry about them touching or if they dunk in the liquid, but try to keep them on top. Cover with a lid and let them simmer for about 16-18 minutes. The steam and liquid will cook them perfect.

Now you’re ready to serve!! If your neighbors start coming  over like zombies because it smells so good either invite them in or tell them to bring back all that stuff they borrowed from you.

Here’s what mine looked like

Hawaiian Eye Yi Yi!!

1 03 2010

The Aloha spirit has been all around me the last couple of weeks.  I was genuinely concerned for the fragile islands this weekend with fear of the Tsunami washing away the beachcombers. Hawaii doesn’t need the bad press right now with tourism down. I’m glad everything turned out alright. I simply adore Hawaii with all its spirit and beauty.  I don’t know how it’s possible that I haven’t always felt this way.

I’ve been to Hawaii 3 or 4 times. Why can’t I remember? I think it was three times and the second time felt like 2 times. At any rate the first time I went was with my parents when I was about 8 years old. We stayed in Honolulu, Oahu and went to Lahaina, Maui for a couple days. I have such great memories of that trip. Well except for getting sun burned so bad I had a blister on my ear that I thought was cancer and was going to kill me. My Dad laughed and eased my mind that I would not die. Other than that it was awesome.

The second time I went to Hawaii was when we  ended a national tour of Bye Bye Birdie I was in. I played Hugo Peabody. It starred Troy Donahue who starred in several 60’s surf movies and tv shows including Hawaiian Eye, A Summer Place, Surfside 6, and many more.

Here he is with  Sandra Dee in A Summer Place

Many know his name for being used in lyrics in the musicals Grease and A Chorus Line. Troy was such an awesome guy. He was funny, down to earth and genuinely one of the good guys. He was a recovering alcoholic and I’ll never forget we celebrated his sobriety birthday on the beach in Honolulu at a bar! He of course wasn’t drinking, but that’s how cool he was. I miss the old guy. He wasn’t very old when he died of a heart attack at 65 in 2001. It was pretty shocking because he was in such great shape we all thought. His fiance, the amazing mezzo-soprano Zheng Cao asked me to speak at his funeral. Several celebs spoke as well. Most of them his ex’s like Connie Stevens and Suzanne Pleshette who was there with Tom Poston. I thought that was pretty funny, but Troy was such a cool guy everyone loved him, even his ex’s.

Here we are after a show with my friend Tresa.

At any rate during that trip to Hawaii I extended my stay an extra week because I met someone and thought I was in love. The second day of my second week I wanted the fuck OFF that island. I guess it’s what they call island fever. Whatever it was I quickly found out I was  not in love and that all I wanted to do was go home.

That left a bad taste in my mouth until I bought a trip to Hawaii for Dana’s birthday a few years ago.  Dana is a huge beach lover and has bugged me to move back to the beach as long as we’ve been together. He had a house in  Malibu for many years and misses it. It’s not that I don’t want to move there. I just want to move there for the summer. That’s not an option yet! Dana’s experiences in Hawaii have always been top-notch. For many years, Dana almost right out of USC in the late 70’s started working for The Beach Boys. He ended up managing them until the mid 80’s when he left them to manage Rick Springfield & Andy Gibb full-time. Dana brought The Beach Boys several times to Hawaii and as you can imagine they were treated like King Kamehameha. So we saw and did nothing but the best while we there. It was a pretty magical trip and once again I fell in love with Hawaii. We spent endless days on the beach being served Pina Coladas and nights out at the most amazing restaurants.  We had a great night at Hy’s Steakhouse. Nothing  about  it was very Hawaiian. As a  matter of fact it looked very old school fancy Hollywood, but it is exactly the old school flavor I love!  Check it  out here Hy’s Steakhouse .  We had a very Aloha spirit dinner at the Halekulani’s restaurant called Orchids. Our table was right on the rail overlooking the Ocean. That was so romantic and amazing! Check it out here Orchids at the Halekulani . And finally we went to a luau at The Royal Hawaiian aka The Pink Hotel which was a blast!

Check out this excerpt from the Luah at The  Royal  Hawaiian

A couple weeks ago my friend Ryan Polito had an awesome Tiki party called Cupid Vs. Tiki for Valentines Eve. Ryan is an amazing person and Director. I was Supervising Producer & Set Designer on the Miss California pageant we worked on together for television. Seen here.

He and his wife have a beautiful home in Santa Monica with an amazing back yard that looks like it’s right out of the Halekulani. He built a custom bar that looks like the Tiki room with vintage 40’s-60’s lighting and an amazing collection of Mai Tai glasses. They had Mai Tai’s and Blue Hawaiian’s already made and far too convenient to grab off the bar. They had it catered with a walk up taco bar and it actually went quite well regardless of it not being Hawaiian. Although there is an amazing Shrimp taco truck in Oahu if you’re lucky enough to find it. I brought them some homemade Pineapple Upside Down Cake which I  will share the recipe for later on in this blog.

Saturday my amazing friend Aimee treated me to an awesome night called Supercalifragilistic: A Night With Richard Sherman. This man and his brother wrote an incredible catalogue of songs most of which are world-renowned Disney songs. The first half he played and sang all of his hits as if we were in the office of Walt Disney when he originally pitched them. He spoke admirably and fond of Walt Disney and I had a smile on my face the whole time. I mean the man wrote Mary Poppins, The Jungle Book, Winnie The Pooh, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Bedknobs & Broomsticks, It’s A Small World and apropos to this blog The Tiki Room theme song!!!!

It was an awesome evening capped by a visit to Musso & Franks. Aimee & I are old souls. We love historic romps and preserved history. Musso & Franks has been a Hollywood institution since 1919! Musso & Frank’s fan site We sat at the bar because we both love the perfect Sidecar martini and we knew we’d get one at M & F’s. The interior is right out of the 40’s and the bar has been there even longer. Mario asked us what we wanted & when we said a Sidecar without hesitation he grabbed that shaker and started pouring the Brandy. Most people look at you with a scared look on their face and then you see them flipping though a recipe book! Need I say Mario made us the best damned Sidecar we’ve ever tasted. The staff there is top-notch and you feel like you’re apart of the family  there. So much so that the whole Musso & Frank family WAS there and sat at the bar with us sharing old stories and history about the restaurant. It was an awesome  night and if you ever get a chance I suggest you run down there and experience all the gloriousness of old Hollywood preserved. We wanted to finish the night at Tiki Ti but we were having so much fun we  couldn’t leave.

So onto our

Pineapple Upside Down Cake That’ll Turn You Right  Side Up.

1 springform pan, regular round pan or bundt

3 tbl. butter or margarine

1 8oz can crushed pineapple

1 can pineapple slices

Maraschino Cherries

1/3 c. Pecan pieces

2/3 c. brown sugar

1/3 c. shortening or softened butter

1/2 c. granulated sugar

1 egg

1 tsp. vanilla

1 1/4 c. sifted cake flour

1 1/2 tsp. baking powder

1/2 tsp. salt

Preheat oven to 350  F

Melt the butter and put it into your cake round. swirl it around so it covers bottom. Drain the pineapple and save 1/2 c. of the juice or syrup. Arrange pineapple rings around the bottom and center each with cherries. Sprinkle your pecans over that. Now spread the brown sugar over that and then your crushed pineapple over that. Set aside.

Cake mix; Cream shortening and gran. sugar  until smooth. add the egg and vanilla. Beat until fluffy. Sift the dry ingredients together and alternate adding dry mix and pineapple juice into batter incorporating each first. Spoon your mix into cake pan evenly. Level the cake by lightly tapping pan on the counter.

Bake 45-50 minutes. Cool on a baking rack or near a draft for 5 minutes. Turn onto a cake plate. Served warm with coconut sorbet or vanilla ice cream  is like crack  (although I’ve never done crack it is how I imagine it to be).

Side note: you can omit the pineapple rings and just used crushed pineapple and it’s just as good. I do highly recommend using butter but if you are lactose intolerant a margarine or smart beat will work as well.

I forgot to take a pic of mine, but here is what it looks like  at Clifton’s Cafeteria (which is amazing btw downtown L.A. if you get a chance go!). Our’s will be a lot better than this one, no offense to Clifton’s it’s just the truth.  Clifton’s, although not pretty is pretty damn good.

That’s Amore! Pizza Pizza!

26 02 2010

When the moon hits your eye like a big pizza pie, that’s amore!!

Ah pizza. Italy’s invention, America’s obsession. Pizza is such a personal thing. Everyone has an opinion on their favorite pizzas. I certainly have a lot of opinions on pizza as well as suggestions and a recipe!

Could there be any more perfect food? I mean come on it’s got all your major food groups. Bread, Fruits(tomato), Vegetables(mushrooms), Dairy, and Meat. Of course that’s my pizza. Thin crust, thick crust, New York style, Chicago style, stuffed crust, you name it and there’s 3 million ways to make a pizza.

I have a favorite pizza place virtually everywhere I go. When I was a kid we probably ate it once a week. There was Shakey’s, Dominoes, Pizza Hut, Numero Uno, & ah yes Little Ceasars Pizza Pizza. All pretty horrible now by my standards but I’d still eat them if put in front of my face. My Mom used to get us Little Ceasars when I was a kid. She’d order extra bread sticks. They were brushed with butter  and slathered in processed parmesan. She’d get an extra bag of breadsticks and we’d eat it on the way home. Good times. Well, I’ve grown up and have developed a little more of a discriminating taste for pizza that’s for sure.

I had never made a pizza until two weeks ago, unless you count the english muffin pizzas I make. It’s hard to make a good pizza at home without the proper oven. I would kill for a pizza oven. Something to aspire toward. I did buy a nifty little nonstick perforated pizza pan that does the trick fairly well.  I had a gift certificate to Williams-Sonoma (which is virtually useless to me under $200 because I know I can get everything else cheaper somewhere else) so  I bought one. That’s it to the left.

A little sidebar, did you know you can use a Williams-Sonoma gift cert at  Pottery Barn and Pottery Barn Kids? Well now ya do!

Trying to find a good recipe for a pizza is like looking for a needle in a haystack. EVERYONE has an opinion. I’m still convinced even after making one with my new pan that you must have a pizza oven. Nonetheless it turned out pretty well and I thought was better than a frozen pizza and cheaper than delivery. Speaking of frozen pizzas, one of my favorites is made by Freschetta. I don’t know if you get them where you are. They’re sometimes even hard to find in L.A. Don’t get the precut pan one. I tried that one and it’s horrible. The best one is the small regular one. I put it right on my oven rack at 400 for 20 minutes. My market doesn’t carry it anymore though. I’ve asked them several times to get it to no avail. The crust is  great and it doesn’t get watered down like California Pizza Kitchen. Although I do like the CPK Chrispy Thin Crust Sicilian. Again baked right on the oven rack. It’s like pizza  on a cracker. Yum.

I consider myself pretty lucky to live in a city that has absolutely THE best pizza place in the U.S. called Casa Bianca in Eagle Rock. I don’t care what anyone says THIS is the best pizza I’ve ever tasted EVER. It’s a little mom and pop joint near Pasadena in a charming part of L.A. called Eagle  Rock. The extra large sausage and pepperoni pizza is so lip smacking good you will jump on the table and sing the praises of the messiah cometh. When with a couple people we order an antipasta salad, extra large sausage & pepperoni and a regular of the same so we can take some home. I can’t exaggerate enough how good this pizza is and it’s cheap! Ya gotta get there early and prepare to wait. No worries though, they have $2 glasses of wine while you wait! Check it out here  You don’t want to order take out though,  trust me. Pizza usually doesn’t have a chance in a box. The box builds up condensation and basically ruins the original form of the crust. If you HAVE to order take out I suggest putting it in the oven when you get home directly on the rack at 420F for a few minutes.

Casa Biancas

I also can’t deny my love for the classic historic L.A. staple Miceli’s.  This old school Italian eatery is a landmark in Los Angeles. While the food is pretty standard Americanized Italian, I love it just the same. The waiters get up and sing and there’s always music playing live on the piano. You feel like you’re in Lady & The Tramp. The rolls they serve are addicting!  It’s where Lucille Ball learned about pizza throwing for the famous pizza episode. I prefer the original on  Las Palmas in Hollywood, but there’s also one in Studio City on Cahuenga by Universal Studios.

When I’m in New York city I always go back to my college hangout called Big Nicks! This joint is way cool and my opinion on Nicks might be biased because I have such fond memories of college hanging out there. I’ve been back several times and it never disappoints me. The first time I ever had white cheese pizza was here and they make an AWESOME one! The last time I was in NY my friend Jennifer and her husband Dave met me there and our same waitress from college was still there! Her name’s Suzi and if you’re ever lucky enough to go make sure you ask for Suzi’s section. She’s a spit fire and the woman is on her game! I think she’s pretty famous there. I found a picture of her on Google.

I don’t know who the guy is, but isn’t she cute?!! They don’t allow laptops in Big Nicks, but not to worry there’s plenty to read on the walls and the menu. The menu is 4 years long and I don’t know how it’s possible to keep that much food fresh. Matter of fact I know it’s not. That’s why I usually stick to pizza, garlic bread and anything fried. They have pretty good diner salads too.

Big Nicks is at 77th & Broadway on the Upper West side.

2175 Broadway.

So onto making your own Pizza. Like I said, this is very personal. Make it YOUR way. YOU are in control remember?!! But here is a basic dough recipe that works well

This made me  one large and one medium pizza. I under cooked the medium pizza wrapped it in foil and a ziplock and froze it. We ate it last night. I just put it in t he oven at 400 for about  20 minutes and it was as good as the fresh one!

For fresh pizza I like to let it settle for about 15-30 minutes before I put it in the oven. It gives the dough crust  a  chance to rise again. The oven for a fresh pizza on the pan should be set at 450F for about 20 minutes depending on how well you like it cooked.

Pizza  Dough

1 1/2 tsp. active dry yeast

1 tsp sugar

3/4 c warm water

1 c cake flour

1 c & 3 tbl. all purpose flour

1 1/4 tsp kosher salt

2 tbl. extra virgin olive oil

In a bowl whisk yeast, water & sugar. Let stand till foamed about 5 min.

In food processor or kitchen aid with dough hook or by hand if necessary blend flours & salt well.

whisk 1 tbl of olive oil into yeast. with  motor running slowly add yeast mix  incorporating little by little. Mix until dough comes off the sides of the bowl. It will be sticky.

Coat the inside of the bowl  with remaining olive oil. dust your hands with flour  and work the dough into a ball. Place in oiled bowl and let rise in warm place till doubled. I turn my oven on low and set the bowl on stove top.

When risen cut dough in half.  Roll the dough out until fairly thin and transfer to pizza pan or cookie sheet and shape it to the pan stretching it in the side. Careful not to rip the dough. If you do just try and pinch it back together or re roll and stretch. It doesn’t have to be perfect especially if it’s just for you.

Have fun with the toppings!! This is where you come in, but here are my suggestions and toppings.

1 can contadina tomato sauce

1 small can of tomato paste or from the tube.

I mix these together to make a semi thick  sauce I suppose you could use a spaghetti sauce too.

I shake dried oregano on top of the spread out sauce and some garlic powder.

Hormel pepperoni

Jimmy Dean loose sausage meat (i lightly cook it first to cut the grease but you don’t have to)


This is probably the most important part! I use the best cheese possible. It’s important to use whole  milk mozzarella.

Most grocery store mozzarella is part skim milk. Go to your deli where they  have sliced meat. They usually have mozzarella made with whole milk. I also sprinkle on a little extra sharp cheddar. In my opinion Kraft Cracker Barrell extra sharp cheddar is the best tasting store-bought cheese in your typical cheese section. If you want to be really fancy go to a cheese shop where they have amazing selections and you can actually taste them. Bristol farms and Whole Foods are great for that!



Now eat the hell out of it!!

And now to set your mood!!!

My favorite!!!

Comfort Food Junkie

25 02 2010

My name is Ryan Black and I’m a comfort food junkie.

Is it even possible to NOT like comfort food? I have no idea. I have no real grasp on that. Anything that has butter or cheese or  sugar or flour is usually on my daily menu. My friend Aimee is allergic to Dairy AND the only meat she eats is fish. I don’t know how she does it?!! I  just can’t imagine my life without dairy and lots of it. No cheese? No butter? That’s one of my worst nightmares!!! I need my dairy fix and I need it now!! How do I do it and keep my girlish figure? I don’t.  1 year ago I was 40 pounds heavier. Gaining weight is definitely not a problem for me for as long as I can remember. I’ve also always been afraid of gaining weight for as long as I can remember. I come from a family of weight gain. Both of my parents have yo yo’ed. My Dad’s done the most yo yoing of both, but both have maintained being overweight my whole life. My younger sister is probably the most overweight, while my older sister & I have  maintained our weight fairly well. Fat runs in the family I guess. My Grandparents were fat, but oddly my great grandparents weren’t. Is it the crap in our food now? Is it the go go grab & go of our daily life? I’m sure there are many contributing factors. I can pretty much only speak for my own eating habits. I can say this though about my younger sister and that is she is almost completely unaware of what she eats. She lived with me for a short while a couple years ago and she always talked about how she didn’t eat any more than any other person. Then she would have 3 doughnuts and a coke.  I love my sister, don’t get me wrong, but I think one of the biggest problems is that people aren’t aware of what they eat. This is why they tell you to log the food down that you eat in a journal. I think most people would be shocked. You hear it all the time “Everything in moderation” &  “Balance”.

I’m not exactly worthy of calling my daily meals balanced, but I can say I am acutely aware of everything I eat and take full responsibility for it! I started becoming aware of weight and eating at a very young age. I can remember all the way back to summer camp when I was 8 and I didn’t want to take my shirt off  at the pool because I thought I was fat. This stigma went  on for many years. I remember my Mom saying time and time again “You don’t want to grow up to be fat like Mom and Dad do you?”. Yes Mom, it’s my dream to be fat just like you and dad. Of course not! Hello!?! Who wants to be fat?

Growing up I was teased for the junk in my trunk. Even my parents called me bubble butt. Although when I grew to be an adult I fully embraced my bubble  butt and realized it was an asset (pun intended). I remember when I was in little league, yes I played baseball and was pretty damned good thank you! Back to back home runs & a triple in one game to lead my team to division champs! Anyhow, when  I was in little league I can remember this kid looking at my legs in my tight white baseball pants and I said “what are you looking at?”. He said “you have fat legs”. I think my response was “yeah well you’re gay”. I think he was actually and wasn’t that the pot calling the kettle Ryan Black. I can remember back to 1st or 2nd grade when little Mark  Emmons saw my Mom after she dropped me off and said “your Mom is fat!”. I never saw her that way and I went home that day and cried to my mom about what he said. It really disturbed me.  Besides my Mom wasn’t obese, she just had a lot of junk in the trunk.

In High School it got worse. I was always dieting one day and eating a Hostess Cherry Pie the next day. My Grandmother always shopped on HSN and was a sucker for gadgets and deals. One time she bought Richard Simmons Deal A Meal. It was this little pocket-book folder with cards on one side and slots on the other.

Each card had a food group on it and every time you ate something on that card you moved it over to the slots. When your cards were gone you couldn’t eat anymore. She used it for a week and then I took it. It actually taught me a lot about eating. My cards were usually folded  by lunch. EEK! Well…schools have horrible menu items and snack bars. It’s too easy to eat like shit in High School. Endless amounts of sugar and fat.

The straw that drank its last milk shake was when I was in college in a dance class and my ballet teacher Casey Colgan said I needed to lose ten pounds.  We wore tights in class which was completely mortifying to me to begin with. They showed everything! I even had cellulite! That was humiliating. A boy with cellulite? I’d ask God “Why God? Why me? Why cellulite?”. Yeah  I was pretty dramatic. A couple months later I left school and came home. When I got home I got my first gym membership at 18. That was it! No one anymore is going to comment on my fat, my ass, my legs or anything else negatively related to my body. I’m taking control!! Kind of. At least control of me.

Well, I was never really that consistent at it, but it was a start. I started learning about running and weight lifting and cardio and heart rates and body fat ratios. I wouldn’t say I became obsessed, but I definitely started to notice a difference and I liked that. I’ve continued over the years going back and forth to gyms. In the last year I’ve been my most successful. 2 years ago I was at the fattest I’ve ever been. I know exactly how it happened. I was depressed. I was unmotivated. I felt empty. Food ah my lovely friend. It’s always there for you isn’t it? I know it’s always there for you because there’s a 300 pound homeless man that stands outside of 7 11 all the time asking for food or money.  I usually opt to give him money.  Back to my weight gain.  I am a control freak and a perfectionist and I’m cast as type A. So this can go one way (or weigh) or the other. When my career is down, my weight is up. When my career is up, my weight is down. When my love life is down, my weight is up. When my love life is up, my weight is  down. Some of these things you’d think would be the opposite. As a control freak why can’t I control it all. I think because I give up control to try to control the other. Why can’t they coexist? They can. We just try to fill voids in our life. Things get boring, monotonous, redundant, repetitive or any other adjective you’d like to choose as an excuse. I had to choose to control it all. I’m not happy being over weight. I’m not even that happy eating that horrible food, well that might be a lie. I  love a big mac, a hostess cherry pie, pizza blah blah blah, but I realized I could have my cupcake and eat it too.  I had to get control of my life and my weight again. For the clothes buying experience alone! There’s nothing more frustrating than not being able to fit into anything because your eyes still see your old waist size. I’d eyeball jeans and try them on only to be shocked that they didn’t fit! I didn’t understand. I didn’t look that much fatter to me. I have the fortune or misfortune of gaining weight fairly equally on my whole body with a special nod to my legs and ass. It takes me a while to notice my weight gain. This is why it became imperative for me to measure my own body. Sounds like a pain, but especially when you’re working out it’s important. Muscle does weigh more than fat and the scale does nothing to show you that. So each week I would log my measurements head to toe. Contrary to popular belief my head never increased in size.  This was excited to me. Seeing the progress or lack thereof was both motivating and  fun.  I don’t always like to workout but I started to find things that I love. I love to hike our local canyon called Runyon. I love to see the difference in measurements. I love the pina colada protein smoothie at the end of my workout  (wish it had rum in it though). I love the music on my ipod. I shudder to say I love my orgasm more tee hee.  I love getting out of my home office and seeing the world. I love a good stretch at the end of working out…so peaceful and tranquil.

You have to find the joy. It’s work like everything else, but it’s all in how you set your mind. I’m not saying I don’t fall off  or have a day where I don’t want to, but you have to find the joy in it. And everything for that matter. It’s too easy to bring the negative into everything and I’m as guilty as anybody if not more so of that. There are very few things we have total control of in our life. We can’t control that annoying person on their phone in the car in front of us. We can’t control our friends who make the wrong choices.  We can’t control the person who has 20 items in the 15 items or less line. We can’t control the people who don’t pick up their dog shit. We can’t control the idiot at my gym who clearly doesn’t believe in bathing.  I could go on for hours BUT we can control our own bodies. Isn’t that empowering to think? We spend so much time trying to control so many things around us while paying little attention to the one thing you can control the most and that’s you! You are the most important person in your life. Without you, you can’t make a difference in the world. Without you, you can’t make the company you work for better. Without you, your kids or your dog for that matter wouldn’t have a better life. It all starts with you.  It’s  like when they tell you on an airplane if we’re going down put your mask on first then put a mask on your child. That always sounded odd to me because your child should always be first, but your child is history if you pass out from lack of oxygen. So you have to take control of your own air first so that your child has someone to rely on. That bachelor wall street guy sitting next to you’s not gonna be thinkin’ of your kid while he’s cryin’ for mama.

So enough of the Oprah hour and back to comfort food. I guiltlessly present to you last nights comfort food. I had a couple t-bones in the freezer and really wanted a meat & potatoes meal. I made Au Gratin Potatoes  and OH MAH GAW. All in moderation right? That’s why both Dana & I paused American Idol to get seconds. I’ll give you the recipe here for both that & my candied carrots I call Kettle Carrots. Then I will go work out for 2 hours.

OHHH Gratin Potatoes

serves 8 (or 4 in my family)

5  med. white potatoes

1 white onion

6 pieces bacon

1 1/2 c. milk

1/4 cup cream

1 1/2 c. extra sharp cheddar cheese grated

1/4 c. sour cream

3 tbl. flour

2 tbl. butter

1/2 tsp. Paprika




Preheat oven to 400F

First I slice the onions & potatoes with a mandolin. I bought my first mandolin a couple months ago and I LOVE it. I don’t know how I lived so long with out one. It’s OXO brand and it looks like this

They have them at William Sonoma,  Sur La Table & Bed Bath & Beyond I believe for $39. I’m sure they’re online as well. Well worth it!!

So either slice both potatoes and onion thin or on the mandolin I do 1/16th cut. You may like them thicker depends on your taste. You’re in control! See?!

Put a pot of boiling salted & oiled water on the stove for potatoes. In the meantime fry the bacon to a chrisp. Remove to paper towel. Reserve 2 tbl. of bacon grease and put into a medium sauce pan.  Over medium heat put the butter into the saucepan and melt with bacon grease. Slowly whisk flour in to make a roux/thickener. Immediately whisk in milk and cream bring to a simmer and turn off heat. Mix your cheese into this and then your sour cream.  Add paprika, salt & pepper to taste. If you think it’s too thick add a little milk and heat on low for a minute or two. Chop two tbl. parsley and crumble bacon. In your boiling water add the potatoes & onions carefully. Boil only for 2 minutes and completely drain being careful not to break the potatoes.

In a gratin or casserole dish sprayed with cooking spray layer potatoes, bacon, & sauce in that order twice. Then top with parsley & more paprika and pepper if you like.  Bake at 400 for about 35 minutes until golden and bubbly on top. I like it a little more done so I bake for about 40-45  mins.

Kettle  carrots

serves 2

1/2 pound carrots  (i get the already peeled & prepared kind)

1 tbl butter or margarine

1 tbl. brown sugar

pinch of salt

Boil the carrots in a medium sauce pan for about 10 minutes & drain. In the same pan melt butter, then add salt & sugar. Blend until combined completely about 1 minute or less. Add carrots,  toss & swirl around in pan. Serve.

OHH Gratin

The dish

Take That Jive Turkey Pot Pie!

24 02 2010

So I told you last night I’d post about my Turkey Pot Pies I made last night, but first I  must gripe.

I get on facebook this morning & check my messages to find this.


Jack February 24 at 8:51am Report

Can you do me a favor and stop sending me invites for Bananas in my freezer? Thanks.


Fair enough. My reply


Ryan Black February 24 at 10:36am

Sure, but why dont you just unfriend me if it’s that annoying to you?
I’m just promoting myself & my future book. Just like you do when you post things about your band. Peace


Now I’m not innocent of being annoyed by posts on Facebook, but I simply delete them or press ignore. I mean is it really that hard? This guy posts really annoying things all the time about his horrible band & things he thinks are funny and I don’t, but do I ask him to stop? No. There’s a guy who’s a real estate agent in Chicago that constantly asks me to join his page for real estate in Chicago. Does it annoy me? Yes! It’s every fucking day for two weeks! What do I do? I delete him. I’m not in Chicago ya idiot nor do I want real estate there. It’s very simple. Mind you I’ve only had Bananas In My Freezer for about 4 days and I’ve sent out requests maybe 2 or 3 times. Too aggressive for my first week? I don’t know. I don’t care. If you don’t like it delete me. I don’t give a care and I certainly won’t miss you. It’s that simple ya Jive Turkey (as George Jefferson would say to Tom Willis).

If you want something, you go after it. If it annoys people along the way. Fuck’em. If you can’t understand that I’m simply fulfilling a dream, you are no friend of mine. Land sakes alive!

Turkey Pot Pies!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I’m not kidding you when I say these’ll  make you wanna slap your Grandma. The pastry is out of this world and Marie Callender is currently trying to dig out of her grave to steal the two left over in my freezer.

Yeah that’s her. Look at her tryin’ to be all cute n stuff. Well Marie you better mind your peas and carrots cuz this pot pie’s taking no prisoners!

I’m a huge pot pie fan. When my Mom was working nights when I was a kid, it was up to my Dad to cook us dinner. I can remember quite a few Hungry Man Jack’s & especially pot pies. I’m sure they were Stouffers or something. Every once in a while my Dad would cook Shark & I can remember eating sardines with Ritz crackers with him too. I’m not a huge fan of seafood now & the thought of sardines especially makes me yak. Back to the pies. My dad would give me the pot pie so frickin’ hot it would burn the roof of my mouth. He’d always say turkey pot pies made you eat chicken for days (meaning the dangling burnt skin on the roof of your mouth). The fact is pot pies are so good you want to eat them right away. When you puncture the crust that creamy loveliness inside is irresistible. Well hold on to your hat’s and glasses folks because this pot pie is gonna take you for a ride!

One precautionary tale: It took me a half an hour to find my dough blade for my cuisinart because Dana never puts anything back in the same place twice.  I felt like my Mother nagging him. “Where did you put it? Well it doesn’t have legs. It couldn’t just walk away! Can’t you put anything back where it goes??!!” . Finally I showed him the metal blade and told him it looked just like it but was plastic. He says “Oh it’s sitting right there on the counter. I didn’t know what it was”. ARGHHHH. Moral of the story. Do your own dishes. And if you don’t want to do your own dishes & you say “If you can’t do anything right, don’t do it at all”. Be prepared to hear “Do your own dishes”. Fine.

Turkey Pot Pie!!

Serves 4

The Dough

You’ll want to make this first as it really should chill in the refrigerator while you make the filling. This dough is out of this world and should be followed to the T.

2 cups all purpose flour

1 & 3/4 sticks butter (I use salted)  or 7 ounces chilled & cubed

1 tbs vegetable shortening

1/2 tsp sugar

pinch of salt

1/3 c. ice cold water

This should be mixed in a cuisinart or food processor. If you don’t have one you can cut in all the ingredients or use a kitchen aid with dough attachment.

For processor put all ingredients in the bowl with dough blade except water. Pulse it about 10-12 times until crumbly. Add the water and pulse a few times until just barely comes together. It may still be crumbly at this point but don’t worry. Don’t knead the dough together. Place the dough on plastic wrap and bring it together & flatten it. Place in fridge while making the filling. The key here is not mixing the dough too much. When  we’re ready to roll out you can add a few drops of water if dough pieces aren’t coming together.

For filling


2  large turkey breasts (or two cups when chopped) or 4 chicken breasts

2 – 3 large carrots quarted  & cubed

2 large celery stalks cut in 1/4 inch pieces

1 Fennel bulb  sliced

1 leek sliced

1 bunch of shallots/green onion chopped

1 basket of sliced mushrooms

1 cup peas

1 herb bouquet (sprigs of thyme , tarragon, oregano,parsley) or 2 tbl of French or Italian season blend

1 tbl chopped garlic

1 tbl kosher salt

1 tsp. fresh pepper

About 8 cups water

reserve 2 tbl. of parsley set aside

You’re going to first boil or poach all of these ingredients together except peas. I put a strainer at the bottom to easily remove the contents & we’ll also use the poaching liquid. Leave the turkey or chicken breasts whole. I also throw in a lot of extras like the fennel stalks, celery leaves, leek leaves, parsley & basically whatever is in the chrisper. You could also add 2 cups of white wine. 1 cup for you & 1 cup for the poach. You could even add bacon crumbs if you really want to send your cholesterol on end.

Bring to a rapid boil then reduce to an even slow boil for 20 minutes. Turn off heat & cover. Let sit. You can remove immediately but for better flavor let it sit for a half hour or so.

Take the strainer out and pour contents out into a large bowl leaving liquid in the pot. Remove herb bouquet & any large stalks you may have added. Dice the turkey or chicken and return to the vegetable mixture & add  the peas and 2 tbl of chopped parsley.

For the Cream sauce or Veloute

3 tbl butter

4 tbl flour

4 c. poaching liquid

1 c heavy cream (i know but omg)

salt & fresh pepper

Making the sauce.

Ladel 4 cups  of the poaching liquid into a saucepan & reduce it by half to 2 cups. After reduction in another sauce pan melt the butter and whisk the flour into it making a thick paste. Mix for a minute over the heat and remove. Add this to the reduced liquid and whisk rapidly over heat. Add the cream and whisk  over heat for a couple minutes until the sauce coats a spoon. Salt & pepper to taste.

Fold this sauce into the vegetable mixture. Cover & set aside.

Prepare the dough

Preheat oven to 400 F

I use 4 – round 14 oz. souffle dishes but you can also use 1 big round gratin. I prefer individual servings.

Roll out the dough with plenty of flour on both sides into one large sheet. I roll it fairly thin. Then I cut it into 4 equal pieces. Now, I like dough on the inside of the cup as well as on top. Some people just put on top. It’s up to you. If you only put on top then you can cut the recipe in half. I strongly suggest you do it inside as well!  Place each of the 4 pastry pieces into your cups lightly tucking into corners. Don’t worry if it rips or tears. You can repair it, fill it in or leave it. There should be plenty of dough left hanging off the side to trim off to make your lids.  Take the scraps and roll into a ball then roll out and cut into 4 equal pieces. If it looks like they’re not big enough to cover lids then cut into two pieces and after you fill the pies you can continue cutting scraps and re rolling them.  You’ll get the hang of it. This dough recipe will make exactly enough dough inside & out for the 4 – 14oz. souffle dishes. I mean exactly!

Whisk one egg in a bowl & set aside with an egg wash brush

Fill your pies. There should be enough filling to reach the top of your 14 oz. dishes almost perfectly. Now start to cover your pies. After your pies are all covered and  trimmed to the edge, brush the lids with plenty of egg wash. Even brush the sides where the dough meets the dish (you can even brush the rim before placing lids on but I don’t find it necessary if you brush plenty of egg on and pinch the lid to the cup edge).

Place your pies on a cookie sheet on the center rack for 20 minutes. Reduce the heat to 375 F and cook for another 20 minutes or so until golden. I don’t find it necessary to vent the pies, but you can.

Usually I only cook 2 and the other 2 I plastic wrap and ziplock in the freezer.

Once you get the hang of this recipe you’ll find it easy and you’ll never want to go back to frozen pot pies. Believe me, the effort is well worth it!

Now eat the living hell out of  them!