Monthly Archives: February 2013

Sunday Fried Chicken – Italian Style – On Thursday

When I was a kid growing up…back in the dark ages….it was pretty much Fried Chicken every Sunday for “dinner”.  In the midwest, dinner was in the middle of the day, and what you had in the evening was called “supper”.  Sunday Dinner was always considered special.  Something to have after church that took less than an hour to cook, and was filling enough, and with enough left overs so that Mom didn’t have to cook again at suppertime.    It wasn’t always fried chicken, but that’s what I seem to remember most.

It was when my “I don’t really like to cook” mama tried harder to put on a bigger spread.  We lived in the same town as my dad’s mom and dad, and my Grandma Ruby, who shamed all her daughters-in-law when it came to cooking….taught me to make it. Being the only granddaughter (my dad only had brothers, and they only had sons!), spending time learning to cook with my Grandma Ruby was a real treat! Now lest I get in big trouble with my 92 year old mother, who still cooks her own meals, and still loves fried chicken, let me stipulate (as my lawyer daughter would say) that Mom is a pretty darn good cook.  But Grandma Ruby was hands down the best meat/poultry/fish cook around! Grandma Ruby’s Fried Chicken has won prizes in the Leavenworth County Kansas Fair!  HerFried-chicken[1] method was to find as fresh a chicken as you could (in those days she just traded for one pecking in our neighbor’s farmyard, wrung it’s neck, plucked it, and washed it and took out it’s “innards”)…now that’s fresh.

Now, my mom has done her fair share of plucking as well, but after seeing it done numerous times….I…uh…well, I’m not sure I have the stomach for it personally.
After the chicken was clean and plucked, Grandma Ruby always gave it a milk bath….in the frig…for about an hour before cooking. Then, she would put flour, salt, pepper, and her secret ingredients…a little chili powder and a whole lotta paprika…in a paper bag.  Dip the chicken in a little beaten egg, throw it in the bag and shake up the chicken pieces in the flour mixture.  Then it got fried in about 1 inch deep Crisco or Lard as hot as she could get it in her black wrought iron skillet.  As soon as it browned and got really crispy, about 20 minutes, she’d pour off the grease,  put it in the oven to finish off, and make the mashed potatoes (a must with fried chicken), the green beans or carrots or both, and when the chicken was cooked through, she’d take it out of the pan and make creamy chicken gravy with the scrapings, a little flour, and whole milk. Mmmmmm!

Painting by William Michael Harnett

Painting by William Michael Harnett

When I lived in Italy, I was reminded of my chicken heritage.  Over the years and now being single, I had succmbed to buying the ubiquitous chicken “parts”, sometimes boneless and skinless, found everywhere in the US markets.  However, if I wanted chicken breast or thigh in Italy, I faced having to buy a whole chicken from the mercato centrale where they only came with the feet and head still attached.  Sort of off-putting for a woman with a squeamish stomach in a one bedroom walk up with no real kitchen equipment…..let alone a sharp knife!  So I often opted for the pre-roasted kind I could get in the local gastronomia. Fresh roasted Tuscan chicken with lemon and rosemary is to die for!  But as time passed, I1325682838Ui0yJe bought one sharp knife, put on my big girl panties, and hacked up the whole chicken once again. I got beyond the trauma of hacking chicken heads and feet off finally, and I was rewarded with FLAVOR! Fresh, organic, bone-in, skin-on chicken parts are getting hard to find in our US supermarkets these days.   But fortunately for me, we have a great market…Chuck’s Produce and Street Market….that can provide me with fresh, organic free range, local, pre-dressed chicken! It’s The Great Food Adventure!  But believe me, it’s worth it! That flavor…that brought me back to the taste I remembered from my youth.  Nothing beats the flavor you get from cooking fresh organic chicken on the bone!.

So when Cooper, the chicken man, came over to cook with me this week…I wanted to recapture that flavor…with a bit of the Sunday Dinner comfort vibe (even if it was only Thursday!)  Olivia was spending the night with a friend, their dad was out of town,  and my daughter Lori had a long day at work, it has been raining for weeks…. so we needed some lifitng of the spirits around here! Some real chickeny goodness.

I call Cooper my chicken man because whenever you ask him what he wants for dinner…he always says “chicken”.  (Plus he does a mean chicken dance!)  Nananana! Clap Clap Clap Clap!

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In Italy my Italian Pan Fried Chicken was made with beautiful local Olive Oil and 20130221_174239_resizedherbs.  I pan fried it in just about 2 T of Extra Virgin Olive Oil  with just a sprinkling of salt and pepper, chopped fresh rosemary, garlic, and sometimes a sprinkle of red pepper flakes.  Once done, a squeeze of fresh lemon and mmmmm delicioso!

But since coming back home, (although I LOVE REAL olive oil!) I have rediscovered coconut oil.  Read here for the wonders of this good stuff! So that is what Cooper and I used for our Pan Fried Chicken.  Kids love sprinkling things…so he had fun sprinkling on the herbs (salt and pepper, paprika, thyme, and hot and spicy Mrs. Dash)  and I even helped him to turn the chicken pieces in the skillet.  He is getting quite adept!

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20130221_173715_resizedOnce the chicken was seasoned and browned in the skillet.  We put it in a 400 oven with the potatoes for about 30 minutes.  Even though Cooper LOVES mashed potatoes we opted for roasted rosemary and garlic potatoes with the promise that he could mash them up on his plate.

To brighten up all the white food…we opted for a jewel toned salad.  Arugula, sliced beets and blood oranges we found during our market trip.  I had originally planned for the addition of jicima, but Cooper vetoed that idea!  We made salad dressing out of orange juice, a little balsamic vinegar, a hint of mustard, and olive oil, salt and pepper…Cooper likes to shake it all together in a jar.

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Now for the COMFORT!  Instead of “gravy” we made a pan sauce that is easy and really great with chicken.  My favorite is Cherry Mustard Sauce (Sugo Mostarda con Ciliegia), or another favorite:  Mushroom Mascarpone Sauce (Besciamella di Funghi). Recipes here.  But, we opted for a simpler more kid friendly version.  Just pan drippings with a bit of mascarpone!  I can happily teach my grandkids to make “gravy” without feeling guilty for upsetting their healthy eating habits because although these sauces are rich and creamy…a tablespoon or two of mascarpone is all you need…not a cup of cream gravy dumped over mashed potatoes!

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Mangiare a sazietà! (eat your fill!)

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The Great Food Adventure

imarenegade_350In teaching my gkids how to cook some of my old favorite recipes…I’ve updated many of them to make them a bit more healthy but I am always up for a bit of adventure.  Having lots of recipes and cooking experience in my head helps me to keep things fresh, interesting, and challenges me to be more creative.  In my own food journey, I have embraced the buy local, organic, and sustainable food logic.  And this is an excellent thing to pass on to my gkids (and yours).

I have it easy because these kids have been eating healthy food since they were born.  Their mom and dad are both fans of whole, healthy food, and don’t indulge their every sweet tooth and fast food fantasy.  Not to say any of us are perfect, we all succumb to the occasional burger and/or pizza, but mostly, we try to keep things healthy.

So I was thrilled when I found Food Renegade.  This helpful website has a million ways to eat better with recipes, tips, and all around good food advice!  One of their features is Fight Back Fridays. What is that?  Well their description is: “bringing together another collection of recipes, tips, anecdotes, and testimonies from members of the Real Food Revolution”.  You will find a lot of fellow adventurers on this site.  Please go and check them out.  So many helpful hints!

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In that vein, I am in the process of converting lots of my family’s old favorite recipes into healthier versions.  As I’ve mentioned before, I learned a lot about down home cooking from my Grandma Ruby, and expanded my repertoire as I traveled throughout our time in the military. My own mother likes ready-made food and is good at shortcuts. For me, living in lots of different states and lots of different countries made me appreciate being adventurous with food, cooking local, growing your own, and applying what I learned to cook to what I find on the spot and trying to adapt to healthier alternatives to old favorites.

Central Market Florence  Ceramic olive oil bottles on display, Central Market, Florence, Italy

The best food tip I learned living in Italy is to buy what’s fresh that day and make a meal out of it.  I learned quickly not to decide on a recipe and then try to find ingredients.  It might not be in season, or in Italy, especially, I either didn’t know the word for what I wanted or it was hard to find.  Have you ever tried to make chocolate chip cookies in Italy without chocolate chips and without an oven?  Ha!   “Scuzi, hai pezzi di cioccolato per al forno?”  Blank look.  Pointing next door.  (Thus I discovered the local pastisseria – bakery).

20130214_155934_resizedI know most modern families just don’t have the time to shop every day and cook from scratch, but most of us grandparents have time to do that every now and then!  I also know that for many, finding a farmer’s market open in Kansas in the middle of winter is a pipe dream.  But there are lots of ways you can still cook fresh and buy local foods.  Following that example, one of my favorite things to do with my gkids is to visit the whole foods/organic store in the area (everywhere has at least one) on our special cooking day, and let them decide what to cook based on what we discover there.  It’s always an adventure, and we get a chance to talk about food, where it comes from, how and where it grows, and how it sustains us.

20130214_160100_resizedAND they come up with some pretty amazing ideas!  Our menus are very adventurous, depending on what we find, and it tugs at my creativity to see what we can come up with.

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It does take a bit of advance planning, but we try to be as spontaneous as possible. If we don’t have everything we need when we get home for our idea…we improvise with what’s on hand.  Improvising is something that is good for everyone to know and to practice.  We relax a little, and we remind ourselves we don’t have to be perfect.  Sometimes flops are the most fun. Figuring out substitutes and alternatives in a recipe is a good life-training skill and makes for some pretty interesting meals!

Here is what we found this week!

Free Range Chicken

Jicama

Beets (red, golden, candy striped, garnet)…what a choice!

Blood Oranges

Red Potatoes

Stay Tuned for the recipes!

An All American President’s Day

postcard1321This week, the gkids and I decided to cook something worthy of President’s Day.  George Washington is known for not telling a lie about chopping down the cherry tree…so definitely something  cherry.  Also there’s Lincoln. Hmmmm….let me think.  Lincoln is on the penny, right?  My Grandma Ruby used to make something called Copper Pennies…carrots with tomato sauce…YUK!  But maybe I could come up with a carrot dish that will entice us all to eat more veggies And what could be more American than Meatloaf.  Yea, I know…pedestrian meatloaf….either you love it as great comfort food….or you hate it because your mom served up a rather lifeless one when you were young.  (Or maybe you’re vegetarian?…which frankly, this beef-eating girl from Kansas doesn’t really get…but OK).  Maybe I can make it so you will like it. Well, maybe not the vegetarians…3 kinds of grass fed meat, prolly not. But for the rest of you?  We’ll try.

The nice thing about cherries, is that they go so well with chocolate!  (well we ARE all choclaholics in my family).  So how about some Brownies! to go with those cherries? (Can you tell I love my heart cookie cutters?)  Or if you are strapped for time…there are things at the store called “Brownie Bites” these days…oh sure…just make it that much more CONVENIENT to add bulges to my thighs!  (These days I only make brownies at the gkids house…and I LEAVE them there!)

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While those are baking…we will tackle the Meatloaf.  My grandma Ruby used to make this basic recipe, only she used saltine cracker crumbs which we put in a brown lunch bag and smashed with a rolling pin…talk about get out your aggressions?!  Well now we have Italian Bread Crumbs…which taste better to me…and are a whole lot safer.  You really don’t want Coop chasing Olivia around the kitchen with a rolling pin!

My gma also used to use only ground beef and Lipton Onion Soup Mix (dry) in hers…but I am trying to reduce the packaged food we all eat, and opted for a mix of grass fed meats, locally butchered:   ground pork, ground veal, and ground beef…but I also sometimes use ground turkey.  This adds a lot of flavor to the meatloaf.  And…the gkids love mushing it all together with their clean little hands!

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EWWWW!  Nice and gooshy!  Cooper really got into it!  They were OK until we added the eggs…then it was Nana’s turn!

So the Lincoln Copper Pennies….yea, OK…so maybe they are only orange glazed carrots…but that’s what we’re calling them…and hey…they look like pennies, right? That’s my story and I’m sticking to it!  They did have fun peeling the carrots, and the small bit of orange juice I added made them very appealing!

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For good measure, and for Cooper’s benefit…he loves mashed potatoes…we added those to our menu.  The kids love mashing them.  To make them special, I added sour cream.

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And now for dessert.  First a brownie, then vanilla bean ice cream,  then our cherries jubilee (recipe here)  with just a drizzle of chocolate sauce!  YUM!  GEORGE WASHINGTON SMASHED CHERRY CHOCOLATE CHERRIES JUBILEE!  ta da!  As fun to name as it is to eat!

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DECADENT!  And Very Presidential, don’t you think?

Enjoy and Happy President’s Day!

Monday, Bloody Monday

Ever had one of those days?  First, I woke up later than usual because I’d had a fairly sleepless night.  Something that happens to me more frequently now that I am getting older.  Lots of reasons, weakened bladder, too much on my mind, noisy crack-of-dawn neighbors, etc. 2-3 hours in the middle of the night of sleeplessness, then falling asleep again at 6:00?!  Don’t get me started.

What woke me was an 8:00 am call from my daugher who told me that our planned cooking session with the kids later today was off.   Cooper’s BB practice had been changed to Mondays – right in the middle of our usual cooking time.  Since my daughter and her family are quite busy most of the time, carving out a time to be with the gkids is very difficult.  She suggested Thursdays, which are OK, I can roll with that, but I have to move a bunch of things around, and it’s complicated.  Not ideal.  I tried to stay upbeat and flexible….very hard in my curmudgeony mood today.

Then, a call from the exray lab that my latest check-up  “films” got damaged by accident and could I please come in and have more done…no charge.  Ugh.  One more uncomfortable fasting day with poking 20130211_112600and prodding scheduled for next…yup…MONDAY. By this time, I was cussing Mondays.

Then there was lunch.  Started out to try to recreate a wonderful blood orange and beet salad I’d had recently.  I decided not to cook beets from scratch, since I was cooking for one, so I said OK to canned baby beets I planned to slice thin.

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Really?  My kitchen looked like an episode of CSI.

OK, Plan B.  After cleanup on Aisle 1, still seeing red, I opted for some quick tomato bisque.  This is really easy, tasty, and generally warms my soul on rainy chilly days like today.  So. just open a can of whole plum tomatoes (I like San Marizano best) and improvise!   I softened some 20130211_10465520130211_104703onion in a bit of butter, poured in the can of tomatoes, and let it simmer until the tomatoes began to fall apart (feeling affinity here).  I mashed them up further with a fork and added some Spike seasoning.  Simmer, simmer, simmer…like my mood.  To add some creamy, I added a couple tablespoons of ricotta, but you could just as easily add yogurt, sour cream, mascarpone…or even whipping cream.  I ended up having it with green onion on top and buttered toast.

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OK…that was better.  I was almost human.

Then I spotted it.  The reason I love being around my gkids.  The reason I don’t stay a grumpy curmudgeon.  It was magnetized to my fridge with a hand made cow magnet that Cooper colored and Olivia had covered with plastic and glued a magnet to.  She gave it to me last Grandparent’s Day, and it actually turned my day around.

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I heart you too!

I Heart Waffle You, Valentine!

Want something fun to do with your gkids this Valentine’s Day? How about Vold valentinealentine’s Day Waffles? If you aren’t able to be there for breakfast (it IS a school day) on the 14th, how about Valentine’s Waffles for Supper? Might give Mom and Dad a chance to have their own Valentine’s celebration!?

With all the sweets and chocolate around that day, I wanted to throw in a little healthy along with the mix of ooey gooey love!.

Making waffles with my Grandma Ruby and getting to drink “coffee” was a cherished Saturday morning event back in the day, so I thought Thursday Night Waffles might b20130204_202610_resizede a good substitute. And since it’s Valentine’s Day…why not Heart Shaped Waffles? And Cooper loves anything with Bacon in it…so maybe a little Baked Bacon. Olivia who is almost 10 going on 22 would like Kid Coffee, and to make it extra Valentiney…why not some bright red berry syrup that I call Razzleberry Syrup? Sounded like a plan.  So once again, it’s Cooking With Nana!

We started with Kid Coffee.  Don’t panic…it’s not real coffee!  But they like to pretend it’s coffee.  This coffee’s closest relative is a latte – kid style.  We heat up regular or almond milk and add flavors.  Brown sugar or maple syrup will turn it brown like real coffee.  Olivia likes chocolate almond milk and cinnamon in hers, but Cooper is a purist…Just honey for him.  But just like the adults you can fancy up your coffee with a little chocolate or caramel syrup, almond or vanilla extract,  Pick a flavor that the kids really like and serve it in a grown up mug.

Now for the heart-shaped strawberry waffles.  I particularly like real buttermilk waffles but sometimes buttermilk is hard to find.  For these fancy waffles, I am using strawberry yogurt.  Also, in this version, I’ve substituted 1/2 cup of whole wheat flour and 1/2 cup of white flour for the cup called for, and added wheat germ for a bit of crunch and extra B-Vitamins. This recipe doubles easily and waffles freeze well, so make a lot and freeze them for an anytime treat!   As a special treat, I put lollypop sticks in the batter while they were baking in the waffle iron.  Cooper with eat anything on a stick!  Another fun idea!  You could use any flavor yogurt and/or nuts if you like.   Here’s the full recipe.

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I have a great heart-shaped waffle maker these days, but if you don’t you can still make heart-shaped waffles the old fashioned way my Grandma Ruby and I used to do it….with a heart-shaped cookie cutter. Basically make your square waffles and then cut them into hearts with the cutter before serving….easy peasy.  If you are not a waffle lover, this idea works just as easily with your favorite pancakes.

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Bacon is everyone’s favorite, but Cooper is the Bacon King.  However, to make it a bit more healthy…I use local bacon that has been minimally processed.  It’s not as salty and a bit more smokey.  Baking it also reduces the nitrates found in curing the meat. He doesn’t seem to mind, and it’s very easy to make bacon the safe way – in the oven. Oven at 400, bake for 12-17 minutes.  DON’T OPEN THE DOOR!

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And last but not least why not top it all off with Razzleberry Syrup!  I make it the quick way by starting with All Fruit Black Cherry or Seedless Raspberry or Strawberry Preserves (no added preservatives and low in sugar) and add freshly stewed berries to the heated jelly.  You can use any kind of red jelly or jam for this and it’s not as sweet as regular syrup.  I also add fruit with a low seed count so I don’t have to strain it.  Great additions are strawberries, blue berries, and cherries.  To cut the sweetness, I also added a dribble of lemon juice.  Not too much or the syrup will not thicken.  If you are having waffles on a stick, pour some into a small dunking bowl and let them dip!

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Olivia uses a serrated plastic picnic knife to slice the strawberries.  Kid friendly, and not sharp enough to cut little fingers.  I’ve ordered some fancier kid knives for us to use in the future, but these work really great.

Yummy!  These are some happy tummies.

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Happy Valentine’s Day!

Poker Pizza

A few nights ago, my daughter posted these pictures to Facebook:

more pizza and poker     coop is also in the picture

The caption was…”This is what happens when Nana doesn’t cook. Grabbing pizza late on a Monday night after a long day at the office.  And playing Blind Man’s Bluff Poker with only half the deck”….Really?

Well…Cooking with Nana LogoI only play with half a deck…so I thought. . .  high time, Nana teaches more people in this family to cook….their poor overworked Mom knows how and cooks well, but never has enough time.  Dad grills like a champ, but is gone a lot (he’s a pilot). Such is the reality of most working parents.  So I thought the least I could do was maybe show up to cook for them one night a week and show the kids how to cook some easy stuff, pass on a few family recipes, and keep them from the dreaded Poker Pizza Night.  Do they look like they’re having fun?  Nope. And just like that….a blog was born.

So the natural first thing to learn to cook was pizza!  Yes, they have been making pizzas themselves for a while now….the on-an-English-Muffin kind, the frozen kind, the out-of-a-box kind….but not real EYE-TALIAN Pizza!  I am a bit of a pizza snob.  I lived in Florence, Italy for a year studying art and learning to live like a local.  My 14 months in Firenze improved my Italian, my art, and my taste buds.  Did you know that if you order pepperoni pizza in Italy…you get one with sweet peppers on it?  Peperone (sounds the same) in Italian means pepper.  Living there really did change the way I eat and cook…so why not pass that on.  Nothing better than bubbling hot pizza …..and there was this little hole in the wall place with these gorgeous Italian men who worked there who…..well, we won’t go into that.

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I also know that pizza is a good way to sneak in some veggies.  If you let Cooper use the fancy chopper, he’ll eat most anything he gets to chop.  Olivia will try stuff she says she doesn’t like – especially if it is disguised a little, like onions that are first sauted with a little sugar and butter.  We put the veggies in a muffin tin and let folks build their own.  And besides having a great time picking out their own toppings, they will generally make healthy choices.

Here’s what I like in the muffin tins: fresh pineapple chunks, prosciutto, some real peperone (chopped red or green), black olives, mushrooms, grape tomatoes..and if you want to splurge a little, some jarred artichoke hearts.  Any veggie that you think the kids might like.  I’ve seen carrot rounds, cauliflower and broccoli florets, and pea pods in the mix and they love it all.

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Lucky for me, I can get ready-made pizza dough from my local market.  This takes the guesswork, the kneading, and the mixing out of it!. . .  Alora!  pizza-making with the gkids becomes fast and easy… La Dolce Vita!.  You can even find whole wheat pizza dough now in most stores.  Look in the refrigerator section.

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You can make one big pizza, but it is more fun (and saves an argument over who likes what) if you let them build their own individual pizzas. Divide the dough into 6 balls and give each kid a hunk and let them shape it into any shape they like.  Cooper likes traditional round pizza, while Olivia often fashions hers in the shape of a horse…she loves horses!  They can stretch it out with their clean hands, roll it with a rolling pin, or mush it flat any old way they want.  To them, it’s sort of like playing with silly putty, and they can make more than one.  Any left overs can get baked off, wrapped in plastic and frozen for lunches or snacks at a later date.

Also instead of high fat, highly spiced pepperoni I am substituting this healthier and more authentic choice:  prosciutto – Italian thin sliced ham.  Or try buying thin sliced smoked ham from the deli if you can’t find prosciutto. If you like sausage, use Soppressata,  an Italian dry salami found in the deli case, or try splitting the casing on some fresh Italian Sausage links, and frying it up until it’s golden brown and crumbly.  Drain off as much fat as you can.

Now for the sauce and the cheese.  You can buy pizza sauce in a jar if you like it…but we generally just used fresh or canned plum tomatoes.  I don’t use the juice (save that for your morning juice) and I pat the pieces dry with a paper towel first.  My gkids are not wild about tomatoes, so sometimes we skip the tomatoes and/or sauce all together.

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Most Americans (and most kids) like to sprinkle on pre-shredded Mozzarella cheese on the top. OK if you like that stuff…but it tastes like plastic to me – no flavor.  I prefer to buy balls of fresh buffalo mozzarella cheese packed in water and slice it and place it on top of the pizza and let it melt.  I like its soft gooey texture and so do my gkids.  For extra cheesiness,  I use a bit of shredded fontina and a sprinkle of freshly grated Parmesano Reggiano (the best kind…not that nasty sprinkle stuff in the green can).

For a special treat for the freezer (and instant pizza supper next week), we also made a large Pizza Margherita for Mom and Dad.  Simple ingredients, tomato, minced garlic, olive oil, buffalo mozzarella slices, and a chiffonade of fresh basil, plus…I added a little more shredded fontina and parmesano reggiano, just for good measure!

Once you’ve assembled all the pizzas, bake them off in a very hot oven 450-500.  If you have a pizza stone, this will provide a crispier crust, but if you don’t put the pizzas on a greased pizza pan or a cookie sheet and bake off about 10-12 mintues, longer if you are making a larger pizza.  At that temp, they don’t take long.  Just til the cheese gets bubbly and the crust is golden brown.20130204_174245

Listen…I gotta tell ya…this beats Poker Pizza any time.