Bar Pizza—It’s What You Crave

There has never been a more one-of-a-kind pizza like the bar pizza.  For the most part they are never good,  many times they are awful, but that has never stopped anybody from ordering one. Patrons order them because they are drinking.  Combine it with hunger and it makes these pizzas far better then they would ever be if a shot of better judgement was in hand.  Without exception a bar pizza reigns over the pink pickled eggs languishing in the murky liquid of the large glass jar back by the whisky.  Bar pizzas are also infinitely better then the microwavable cups of Spaghetti-Os or the burritos ensconced in a cardboard tortilla.  Even so, that doesn’t make them good.

Here is the catch, in Indiana this food exists and maintains a life all its own because in Indiana if a bar sells liquor by the drink it has to be able to serve food to a minimum of 25 people at all times.  On top of that many bars(mostly working class bars) don’t have room for a kitchen much less the money for one.   To get around this law most bar fly  type establishments bring in a microwave, a toaster oven labeled as a pizza oven, or a snack rack where pork rinds rule.   Sporks and disposable tableware abide, as do paper towels used as napkins.  It is less then the bare minimum and ordering anything while the bartender is busy is likely to make him/her hate you.

In the moment though, when hunger and alcohol meet, a bar pizza is the best pizza ever.  It doesn’t happen often but it does happen enough that people continue to order them.   If  all things aline, it hits the sweet spot—that meaty place on the bat that makes hitting a home run feel effortless.  In food speak it is the moment when something is at its best, it is perfectly ripe for eating, and waiting longer is to watch perfection in its decline.

Here is the problem, why would I want to make one of these awful pizzas at home?  If I do make them at home it doesn’t mean I am drinking at home, well not often anyway.   It means I have kids, kids that want pizza—all the time.  I make a great pizza dough.  I make great pizza but then there are those nights where I don’t want too.  It is readily apparent to me why I need to perfect this pizza.  Make it a dinner everyone requests on any given night.

The point is, this is a great pizza to have in your back pocket and I never would have thought much about it until  I read an article at Serious Eats.  At that moment I knew I was going to start making bar pizzas, I was diving in deep and going for it, and I did.  Like lots of recipes though, and maybe even more so,  this one takes practice.   Myself, I always make a recipe three times before I give up on it and in this case it took all three times.  It’s okay, there is nothing wrong with eating your mistakes when it comes to food.

Besides it is not a lot of work and here is why.   My kids love spaghetti and there is rarely a day I don’t have a homemade tomato sauce of some kind in the fridge.  Bacon, ham, salami, or even pepperoni are always in the deli drawer.  I almost always have some sort of mozzarella too, either fresh or grated.   I have taken too keeping tortillas in the freezer for quesadillas, so adding tortillas as pizza crusts to the list of uses is a plus. .  Even so, if you had none of these specific ingredients you have something, say eggs, ham, and gruyere.   If not you won’t make this pizza anyway.

But as I said,  I am looking for the sweet spot, with practice I found it, and ever since making bar pizzas is like effortlessly hitting one out of the park.

  1. ©2016 Tom Hirschfeld All Rights ReservedWhen it is time to sauce the tortilla put a dollop of sauce in the middle of the tortilla and using the back of the spoon spiral your way to the outer edge.  If this were a regular pizza I would tell you to stop short of the edge by about 1/2-inch but with this kind of pizza take the ingredients to the edge.  It keeps the tortilla from being charred beyond recognition.
  2. I have used all kinds of pans to make this pizza, stainless steel, enamel, cast iron and a camol (pictured).  I like the camol best but I also know not everyone has a camol.  I made these in a 12-inch cast iron skillet for a long time before I started using  the camol.  I use a camol simply for ease of access to the tortilla.  I makes the pizza easier to assemble.
  3. Turn on the broiler before taking anything out of the fridge or putting a pan on the stove.  It needs time to get hot.
  4. Keep all the ingredients at pans edge.  These go fast and you have to be ready with the ingredients.
  5. It is important to brown the the tortilla deeply before turning it.  If it isn’t brown enough the pizza will lack the crunch that makes it so good.
  6. Place the top oven rack 7 to 8 inches from the broiler.  This prevents the pizza from cooking to fast and keeps the edges from burning.

The Bar Pizza

2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 traditional 10-inch flour tortilla per person

2 to 3 tablespoons pizza sauce

mozzarella cheese, both fresh and grated

8 pepperoni, or any other cooked meat topping you desire, prosciutto and pancetta are good choices

1 hot pepper, thinly sliced

flat leaf parsley, minced

  1. Place the top rack approximately 7 to 8-inches from the broiler.  Heat the broiler.
  2. Organize all you ingredients and place them within arms reach from the stove.
  3. Place a 12-inch cast iron skillet over medium high heat.  Add olive oil and swirl the pan to coat the entire bottom surface.  The oil should be very hot.
  4. Place a tortilla into the pan.  Let the tortilla brown deeply but not burn.  Using a pair of grill tongs, turn the tortilla so the cooked side is up.
  5. Place a healthy dollop of pizza sauce into the middle of the tortilla.  Using a spoon spiral the sauce outward.  If you don’t have enough sauce dollop on a small amount and continue spreading.
  6. Sprinkle the pizza with grated mozzarella, spread out the pepperoni evenly, and top with torn pieces of fresh mozzarella.
  7. Place the skillet into the oven.  Turn on the oven light and keep and eye on the pizza.  It will melt quickly and begin to brown just as fast.  When it is bubbling and brown, using an oven mit,  remove it from the oven.  Tilt the pan at about a 45 degree angle and using the tongs, pinch the very edge closest to the cutting board and gently slide the pizza out and onto the board. Sprinkle with parsley and pepper,   slice and serve.
©2016 Tom Hirschfeld All Rights Reserved
©2016 Tom Hirschfeld All Rights Reserved

The Lobster Roll’s Better More Lovable Brother

It is almost August.  The month in which my parents would always load me and my siblings up in the car and we would head to the east coast for vacation.  It was as much a search for a cool ocean breeze as it was a temporary reprieve from the mundane everyday Midwest.

Sometimes while on vacation when we would sit down to dinner at a nice restaurant my parents would indulge us.  When they did I would order lobster.  As a kid I loved it.  What is there not to like about playing with your food?  It is a distraction pretending the prehistoric monster on your plate is attacking the table while the adults sip their coffee and converse.  There is a silent cheer in your head after you defeat the monster with a hammer and pick leaving behind nothing but empty body parts void of flesh.

Since being a kid, I haven’t eaten much lobster because years ago my taste for it waned.  I don’t hate lobster but my feelings about it have changed.   I believe it to be over rated.  As an adult I think lobster is a pain to cook, let alone eat, and on top of that it feels like it is a foil for butter much in the same way the white is a foil for the creamy yolks of a deviled egg.  I need say nothing of the cost per pound.

On the other hand shrimp is accessible, and in this sandwich there are plenty of complementary flavors, like cucumber, celery and spice, and classics like Old Bay seasoning are perfect.  As a home cook shrimp is familiar, the fear of over cooking a lobster is a big factor to not cooking it, while shrimp are easy and take less time to prepare.  The flavor of shrimp also plays a large roll in this new favorite because it is consistent.  In other words with shrimp I know what I am going to get.

A lobster roll is a great sandwich, most assuredly an indulgence,  but a shrimp roll is no less a treat not to mention much easier on your pocket book.
Summertime Shrimp Rolls (Makes 4 Sandwiches)

  • 1 baby cucumber, cut into half moons (about 1/2 cup)
    8 sugar snap peas, cut crosswise into thin rounds (about 1/3 cup)
    1 lb. (450g) raw deveined shrimp (size 26-30)
    1 teaspoon lemon zest
    2 teaspoons fresh squeezed lemon juice
    1/3 cup mayonnaise
  • 1/2 tsp. Old Bay Seasoning
    kosher salt
    fresh ground black pepper
    4 brioche hot dog buns, or whatever hot dog bun you prefer
    leaf lettuce

1. To cook the shrimp place a 3.5 quart (3.5L) pot filled with 2 quarts (2L) cold water over high heat. Add 2 tablespoon of salt to the pot and bring the water to a roiling boil.
2. Add the shrimp and cook them for 3 to 4 minutes. Drain the shrimp into a strainer and run cold water over the shrimp. Remove the shells.
3. Chop the shrimp into 1/2-inch (1.25cm) pieces.
4. In a small mixing bowl combine cucumber, sugar snaps, shrimp, zest, juice and mayonnaise, Old Bay, 1/2 teaspoon of salt and a few grinds of fresh ground black pepper. Mix everything.
5. Split the buns from the top being careful not to cut them completely in half, line with leaves of lettuce and top with shrimp salad. Serve.

No Recipe Greek Nachos

Greek Nachos

You don’t need a recipe.  You can make these from scratch and it will take you less then 10 minutes.  Of course that doesn’t include grocery time, I am making the assumption you did a little pre-planning.  Although when I made this the other day it came out of leftovers, no planning required.  (Don’t want to make the tzatziki, sub in ranch dressing and go for it.)

Pile good quality corn chips onto a plate.  If you are making the ranch/tzatziki sauce scoop about 1/2 cup of mayonnaise into a bowl, just eyeball it don’t dirty a measuring cup.  Add a splash of buttermilk, milk, or kefir and whisk it to make a smooth dressing.  To thick, thin it out with another splash of liquid.  Add a half a tablespoon of chopped dill.  No dill, use dried oregano just make sure to let it sit and hydrate in the dressing for a few minutes.   Again just put it into the palm of your hand, does it look like half a tablespoon?  Toss it in, add salt, pepper and a little lemon juice if you want.  Stir it again then set it aside until you get the rest of the ingredients together.

Slice some grape tomatoes in half, cut some olives, pit them if you have the fancy kind but pitted California black olives work fine.  Chop some cucumbers, I like the baby kind but big ones work too.  Any kind of cooked chopped-up ground meat works here.  Don’t have any animal protein around, drain a can of chickpeas and rinse them.

Drizzle the chips with the tzatziki, top with everything else, add a bit of crumbled feta, a sprinkle of minced parsley and green onion, if your heart is in it, and serve.

Fried Bologna Sandwich on Challah with White American Cheese Sauce

Fried Bologna with White American Cheese Sauce

I was probably thirteen or fourteen years-old the first time I had a fried bologna sandwich and I will never forget it. I was watching some TV show and they ate it on the show. I thought I had seen the most amazing culinary treat ever. I went to the kitchen and made one and was shocked to find bologna was even better hot.

I used to save my school lunch money, for things I shouldn’t have been buying, and came home from school starving. My mom wouldn’t make me anything to eat because it was my fault I was hungry.  That said, she didn’t care if I made something for myself and from that moment  on  fried bologna became a staple.

This is my ode to the days of old, I don’t eat one of these often but when I do this is how I want it served.

SERVES  1

4 thin slices of good garlicky German bologna, French garlic sausage, or mortadella

2 slices of Challah, toasted

1 large egg

1/3 cup heavy cream

1 1/2 teaspoon Nathan’s mustard

3/4 cups grated white American cheese

3 dashes Worcestershire sauce

2 dashes Crystals Hot Sauce

1 tablespoon canola oil

1 green onion, sliced

1. Place a small sauce pan over medium heat and add the cream and mustard. Bring to a boil and then reduce the heat. Add the Worcestershire, hot sauce and cheese. Stir to combine and continue to heat until the cheese is melted. Remove from the heat and keep warm.

2. Place a medium saute pan over high heat.

3. Fold each piece of bologna in half and then into quarters so it looks like a triangle. Place the four triangles into the hot saute pan and sear until it looks like a hot dog that was over cooked on a campfire. Remove the bologna and place it on the bottom slice of Challah and top with the remaining toasted bread.

4. Reduce the heat on the pan and add the oil. Fry the egg to your desired doneness.

5. Pour the desired amount of sauce over the top slice of bread and then top with the egg and green onions. Serve with an ice cold Pepsi, or Coke if you must.

Advent at Dusk

country captain soul gravy for noodlesby Lynda Balslev @tastefoodblog.com 

It’s the weekend of advent, and I am sitting in my California living room, sipping gløgg and watching the flames dance in the fireplace. It’s raining outside. As I listen to the drops furiously pellet the windows and tap dance over the wooden deck, I take another sip of the steaming spiced wine and sink further into the sofa. I don’t mind the weather one bit. It reminds me of Denmark.

I lived near Copenhagen for 6 years with my Danish husband and our 2 children before we moved to California in 2007. Each first advent weekend before Christmas we would load up our car with kids, dogs and provisions and drive 1 ½ hours to my sister and brother-in-law’s farm, a thatch roofed cottage nestled in a pine and beech forest in the center of Zealand, the largest island of Denmark. The capitol, Copenhagen, was a mere 60 kilometers away, but once we turned off the main highway and snaked our way over the gently rolling hills deep into the wooded countryside, we might as well have been a light year from the bustle of the city.

The winter sun is finicky in Denmark. If it shows its face at all, it’s austere and reserved, never shining too high or bright, shimmering white like an icy Nordic beauty. More often than not, it rains. Mindful of the elusive daylight, we would immediately get to the task at hand upon our arrival. The youngest kids would be swathed in fleece and goose down suits, and the adults would pull on their hardiest outerwear, while stuffing their pockets with bottled libations capable of fortifying a grown man in near freezing temperatures. Strong, dark Danish beer is the best portable antidote to the winter climate.

Three generations of family would pile into the flatbed of the battered old Land Rover, where we bumped and swayed as my brother-in-law navigated the rugged pitted paths and trails as only he could do, the hired game keeper for this compact and tidy forest kingdom. Finally the truck would grind to a halt in a clearing, who knows where, and we would tumble out of the truck with wicker baskets and burlap bags in hand. Every man, woman and child would scatter in 4 directions, scurrying about gathering twigs, pinecones and moss from fallen logs, low hanging boughs and the forest floor. We had to work fast. The silvery sun, if visible, would begin its descent at 3 pm, and the cold would eagerly creep in, numbing our fingers, toes and tips of our nose, despite the paddings of wool and fleece. Long shadows would grow between the trees, challenging our footing and teasing our imaginations. If you believe, then this is the time you would keep watch for the forest spirits and elves who would make their presence known, and if you didn’t believe, then you would take another long pull of the hoppy Christmas brew, and be very careful with your step. As the darkness marched in, we would climb back into the truck with our collected loot and head home to the warmth of the farmhouse, glowing like an ochre beacon in the dusky valley.

The pillowy warmth of the kitchen would envelop us like a plump grandmother as we walked indoors and shed our cold and soggy clothes. Muddy boots would be replaced with felt and shearling slippers, fires would be stoked in the ovens and the stove would be lit under a cauldron of gløgg, a heady purple concoction of wine, spirits, fruit and spice. The convergence of our chilled bodies with the warmth of the crackling fires would fog up the leaded window panes with steamy silhouettes reminiscent of shadowy mountainscapes. It might have been cold and wintry outside, but inside everything was warm and toasty. We then laid claim to a space at the long farmhouse table where our forest harvest was dumped and heaped in the center. Candles would be lit for hygge, the special Danish brand of cosiness. Adults and children would sit shoulder to shoulder on the long benches and get to work, weaving branches into wreathes, candle holders, and tree ornaments bejeweled with holly and moss. While we did this, the scent of orange, cinnamon and cloves would waft through the room from the simmering gløgg. My sisters-in-law would take turns making batches of æbleskivers in worn well-seasoned cast iron skillets with golf ball sized indentations in which the cakes nestled. A continuous cycle of platters of golden pancakes would be passed up and down the table. We would pluck a few and dip them in bowls of homemade strawberry preserves – a whisper of summer past – and sprinkle with powdered sugar before greedily devouring them, washed down with mugs of hot spiced wine.

This is the 6th winter we won’t be in Denmark for Christmas. The rain has stopped outside, and from the sofa I can see spots of blue sky peeking through the towering redwoods on our steep hill. Friends will be arriving shortly. It’s time to get up and prepare the batter, since it must rest for at least an hour. If the rain holds off, we will take an afternoon walk by the lake near our house. Then we will return home, and while my family and our friends sit by the fire and sip gløgg, I will make aebleskivers.

Two beautiful recipes, one for gløgg (mulled spiced wine) and one for æbleskivers.