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