When I was in high school, most of my friends and I worked at a hip gourmet pizza place called Some Guy’s Pizza Pasta Grill. If you find yourself in Indy, Some Guy’s is still around and I highly recommend it. A few years into business, the owners of the restaurant decided to build a traditional wood fired pizza oven and developed a kick-ass menu to go along with it. Correct me if I’m wrong, Charley Sterne, but I believe it was the first of its kind in Indianapolis. A hulking brick behemoth, it became the restaurant’s showpiece: visible to the entire dining room.
My careeer at SG was multifaceted. I started out as as a hostess and buser, before begging to work in the kitchen (almost exclusively male back then). In the kitchen, I began as a dough roller before mastering salads. After what seemed like eternity, I was trained on the regular pizza line before I finally moved to the wood oven. I learned to make delicious appetizers, pizzas and baked pasta dishes. Not only was making the food fun, but keeping the oven and fire at appropriate cooking temps and learning to rotate the food so it cooked evenly and never burned was a challenge. Once I had the hang of it, I was hooked. For perspective, I left SG to open my own place in 2000 and haven’t cooked in that oven since. In all the world and out of all the ovens I’ve cooked in, that one is still my favorite.
I’ve always made pizza at home and dreamed of having my own wood oven one day. Well, friends, that day is coming. Last summer, I extended and expanded my back patio. I added a dining area that’s covered by a pergola. I added tons of landscaping and even a permanent brick barbecue. My eldest son, Franky is a champion charcoal barbecuer and had been dying for one. We researched, watched a bunch of how-to videos and did it. The grill and prep areas exceeded our expectations and Franky barbecued all summer.
As our confidence as budding brick-layers increased, we decided that we’d make plans for a pizza oven. Alas, by the time we started, summer had turned to fall and it quickly got too cold for us to complete BUT we did get half the base built. Our midwestern forecast shows some 60 degree weather in the upcoming days and we’ll be back at it. Stay tuned for progress photos.
Not only am I psyched to make some old favorites, but I’m looking forward to new challenges like baking bread. That’ll be a blast to experiment with and I’m sure my neighbors will enjoy the extras. What excites me the very most? Being able to pull veggies from the garden, rinse them under the hose, toss them with handfuls of fresh herbs and chuck them in the new oven to roast. The produce won’t even make it into the house. Can’t get much fresher fare than that.
Some Guy’s famous lasagna nestled near the fire in their wood burning oven (below). Photo Credit: Charley Sterne.
@someguyspizza @nancycarey @charleysterne #woodfiredovens #brickpizzaovens #cookingalfresco
I’ve had great fun playing with bread recently. I thought I’d share a tiny triumph today. You know, one of those wee victories that comes about when you take a chance?
One of my go-to boule recipes calls for a decent amount of salt. I was running low on regular so I took a look at my fancy (aka finishing) salts to see if something could sub.
I decided on one that wasn’t subtle and crossed my fingers. In full disclosure I picked it because I had a ton: @SanFranciscoSaltCompany Alderwood Smoked Sea Salt.
The result is a lovely rustic bread with a subtle smokiness. This is THE perfect bread to play off the bacon on your BLT. It also would be amazing as grilled ham and cheddar. My family will enjoy warm slices tonight with their pot roast.
Dont be afraid to experiment! Sometimes you’ll end up with a winner.
My kids are huge fans of banana bread. I’m fairly certain they always leave a few bananas to over-ripen on purpose. While I’ve had a tried and true recipe for years, I’ve recently developed this version for my eldest son, Franky. He’s one of those Nutella freaks!
This recipe is chocolate-hazelnut banana bread. Not too sweet, but full of flavor.
CHOCOLATE-HAZELNUT BANANA BREAD
1/2 pound coconut oil or 2 sticks unsalted butter
11/ps cane sugar
3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons salt
3 ripe bananas
1 cup yogurt or sour cream
1/2 cup cocoa powder
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup hazelnuts, toasted and chopped
4-6 oz Dark Chocolate Bar, chopped
It’s too early to start seeds. Plans have been made and varietals selected. Garden season is pretty dormant in Indiana for the next month or so. As a result, I’ve turned to my pantry. As spring approaches, I try to use up the remaining frozen and canned goodies from last year’s harvest to make room for what’s coming.
Lots of spaghetti sauce-based dinners are happening at my house. Grilled cheese with tomato bisque and spoonfuls of eggplant caponata, too. Sausage and mad kraut. It’s fun to get creative with what’s on hand and tidy up at the same time. An organized pantry and freezer bring me joy. @MarieKondo
Using home-grown foodstuffs allows me to know precisely what’s in the food my family eats and lightens the grocery bill, too. I highly recommend trying to preserve at least one thing you grow, each summer.
Because of a very prolific cherry tomato plant, I made a ton of dried tomatoes last year and packed them in olive oil. Not only are the tomatoes sweet and chewy, but the flavored oil is delicious for dipping or sautéing. I have an excess of those little jars so I decided to make a batch of an old favorite.
Though I thought I’d never miss this dish (it was the top seller at my restaurant for nearly 20 years and I was OVER it), I find that I have. It is delicious and versatile. Many people have asked for this recipe over the years, and because it was a signature dish, I didn’t share it. It’s time to spread the love. I give you: Gemelli Pesto.
Before the recipe for sun-dried tomato pesto you’ll need to know what the other ingredients are and how the dish is assembled. Gemelli is a noodle shape: a pasta twist, about two inches long made from two pieces of bucatini (hollow spaghetti). To prepare a serving, you have already cooked the pasta “al dente” and drained it. 1.5 cups of cooked noodles per person is the portion I use. The sauce (again, per person) is as follows: 1/4 cup of Sun Dried Tomato Pesto (recipe below) in a skillet over medium heat. Whisk in a 1/8 cup of heavy cream. When the sauce begins to bubble, toss in the noodles and stir gently to combine. Pour the dressed noodles onto a dinner plate and top with 1/8 cup of fresh chèvre, chopped fresh basil and slices of warm, grilled chicken breast. Multiply as needed. Bon Appétit.
Sun-Dried Tomato Pesto
1/2 tablespoon dried oregano
2 cups sun-dried tomatoes
1/4 cup toasted pine nuts (sunflower seeds are fine, too)
1/3 cup Parmesan cheese, shredded
1/4 cup fresh basil
1/4 cup fresh garlic, minced
1 teaspoon each, salt and pepper
1/8 cup crushed red pepper flakes
1/4 teaspoon cayenne powder
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
In a blender or food processor, combine all but the last ingredient. Blend until very smooth. Slowly pour in olive oil and continue blending until smooth. Cover and refrigerate for up to 10 days. Also freezes well. Oh yeah, it's spicy.
Every new year brings trends in fashion, design, food and music. Entertaining is no different. 2018 saw everything from ultra-violet décor, loads of copper everything, wonderland-themed weddings, geometric shapes in table scapes, lucite accents (the clear chair!), comfort food and let’s not forget the Über trendy “Hygge” style of laid back and cozy Danish entertaining. Whew!
So what’s on the horizon for 2019? First up is certainly anything that is PANTONE color of the year: ”Living Coral”. We haven’t seen this beauty since the early nineties and it promises to be all over the hippest soirées, especially weddings. Graceful swans are in the spotlight too and may show up on cakes, invitations, showers and even kid parties. Other hotties will include “orb balloons” and we’re still seeing monochromatic color themes.
Looking for party-ware? Since “sustainable” is the name of the game, real plates, glass and silverware is new again. That’s right, no more paper if we’re all trying to reduce our carbon footprint. Pull out those lovelies hiding in your dining room and put them to use. And you thought you’d never end up using that wedding china! I’m thinking about high tea in my garden! Domestic diva, Martha Stewart is sharing how-tos for an eco-friendly fiesta.
I’m happy to report that vintage is still cool and the traditional Cocktail Party is back at the pinnacle of hip (was it ever really gone?) but make it current with do-it-yourself drink stations featuring ALL THE FRESH HERBS (Bourbon Bars and Tequila Tables) and “mock tails”.
But the entertainment. Thank heavens the photo booth is on the way out and being replaced by more golden oldies: Tarot Card Readers, ventriloquists and caricaturists. Fun! Coordinate your music with a DJ playing all the Motown or wow the hipsters with bluegrass (Broad Ripple’s oldest show, “A Touch of Grass” plays house parties (email@example.com). I see you, too, Polka Band! For the kiddos, add a play area to your event, with jumbo building blocks, bingo or Twister.
For actual kid parties, Liz Bates (Bates Black Tie- Event Planning | firstname.lastname@example.org) takes play to a new level in ’19. “ Although traditional parties for kids are always a hit, expect to see parents take more of a hands-on approach in the DIY area. This makes for a unique and fresh take on the modern day kids party which the entire family can enjoy.” In the warm months, the fam could pitch in to build a new dog house to welcome a new puppy (great birthday gift) or duh, plant a garden! The possibilities are endless.
With so many fun, but not over-the-top party ideas in this new year, entertaining can be fun, unique and affordable. Be extra. Be EXTRAordinary. Cheers!
Looking for a special Valentine bottle? Show your love some love with one of these great options that won’t break the bank. I’ve got three pretties to share: a white, a red and a sparkler. Just because its good doesn’t mean it has to be expensive. Cheers!
The white is Hugel Gentil, 2014 is an Edelzwicker (blend) from Alsace, France. It’s heavy on the Gewurztraminer with smaller amounts of Riesling, Pinot Gris and Muscat. A full-bodied and refreshing wine with a beautiful perfumey nose. In the glass are crisp fruit flavors with a lean, lemony finish. A great choice with fish and shellfish alike. This wine is an old favorite of mine that is consistent from year to year. Dry and $15.
2015 Charles Smith Wines “Velvet Devil” Merlot, $14, is from Washington. A dense red wine that begs for beef dishes or dark chocolate dessert. Expect a mouthful of dark cherries and blackberries, big cedar and sweet tobacco. Velvet Devil offers big flavor in a luxurious, velvety smooth finish. This one goes down fast and easy.
This unique sparkler is bone dry and dark red with pretty pink foam. Midici Ermete I Quercioli “Secco” is a Lambrusco from the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy and will set you back about $15. This works beautifully with cheesy pasta dishes like Ravioli and is also a successful choice with clams, mussels & oysters.
@Hugel @CharlesSmithWines @MidiciErmeteIQuercioli #ValentineWine #WinesUnder$20
I’m a member of the @HCMGA Hamilton County Master Gardeners Association. Tomorrow is the day if you want to score some awesome heirloom seeds and a wealth of knowledge. Check out this free event and the tantalizing line-up of guest speakers. @seedsavers #saveseeds #HCMGA
Growing up, Sunday meant carry-out from Hollyhock Hill, a popular family-style restaurant on the North side of Indianapolis. Fried chicken with all the fixin’s and a late afternoon meal with family. I’m not sure when we stopped doing that with regularity, but I imagine it had something to do with everyone’s schedules taking them in different directions. About a year ago, my family decided to resurrect Sunday dinners and it has been a wonderful thing. I thought I’d share this sort of intimate gathering with you, because I can’t think of entertaining that I enjoy more.
Sundays now rotate between the homes of various family members. We take turns hosting. Dinner is at 6:30 and if you can come, you bring something. If you can’t make it, not a big deal but I’m finding that everyone largely enjoys it and has prioritized gathering.
Sometimes we have a theme (This past weekend was Greek. Opa!) but often it’s just tasty, down-home fare. Since there are about 10 regular attendees, I’ve been working on a delicious version of meatloaf in a double-batch quantity. I’m going to share the recipe with you. If you are entertaining, great! Make it as is. If not, you can freeze one of them to use later or simply cut the recipe in half.
I’ve served it with both baked and mashed potatoes and a green salad. Leftovers make an excellent meatloaf sandwich. This version uses lean beef, lots of seasoning and doesn’t dry out. Let me know what you think and if it inspires you to gather with family and friends.
Elizabeth’s Maple-Glazed Meatloaf
2 pounds 90% lean ground beef
2 cups of dried, seasoned bread crumbs
1 white onion, diced
1 cup of milk
¼ c ketchup
2 T Worcestershire salt
1 t salt
1 t garlic powder
1 t black pepper
For the Glaze:
½ cup ketchup
2 T apple cider vinegar
¼ cup maple syrup
In a large bowl, combine all of the ingredients for the meatloaf and mix very well to incorporate the bread crumbs and milk. This is a fairly “wet” mixture but won’t disappoint.
Divide the mixture between two (lightly greased) loaf pans and shape the tops to resemble smooth loaves of bread.
In another bowl, combine the ingredients for the glaze and whisk together to combine. Pour half of the glaze onto each of your meatloaves and use a basting brush to cover each with the mixture.
Place both loaves on the center rack of a 350-degree oven. Bake for 55 minutes. Cool for 5 minutes before slicing and serving.
Sometimes the very best parties are the simplest. Enjoy.
A few weeks ago I shared my love of Sherry. Right on the heels of Sherry seems like the perfect time to mention another fortified wine: Port. Red Port is a blend which uses many grape varieties and comes from the Duoro river valley in Portugal. A “vintage” designation is given to those wines from the best years. They are great during the holidays and cold weather, but actually appropriate throughout the year. Sub them for an after-dinner drink, or even a stand-in for dessert.
2011 Taylor Fladgate Vintage Port is a crowd-pleaser. It can be described as a classic. A smooth but meaty option with heaps of black cherry. It is a delicious mouthful and great with chocolate and caramel. A little pricey at $49 for the smaller, 375mL bottle.
2008 Dow’s Port, Quinta Senhora da Ribera presents a deep, dark color with spiced berries on the nose. The finish is at once bright, long and lingering. An intense and concentrated wine. Lovely with dark chocolate. $75
2016 Kopke Vintage Porto is another black beauty. Kopke is the oldest port house in the world, founded by a German diplomat in 1638. The hand-stenciled bottles stand out on a bar and add a sentimental nod to tradition. Very dark in color with aromas of black fruit in the glass and one of my favorite flavor combos: cocoa, violet and black pepper on the tongue. An aggressive mouthful, Kopke layers balance, flavor and tannin beautifully. Big, long finish. About $60
The aforementioned will be a hit with dark chocolate, caramel and fruit desserts but work with dinner, too. Berry flavors can be a terrific match with savory fare like roasted meat, blue cheese and duck. Cheers!
@TaylorFladgate @DowsPort @KopkePorto #PortWine #Portugal
Winter has officially arrived, making it the perfect time to explore Sherry. It’s definitely appropriate year-round but is a fortified wine (read higher in alcohol) which gives the “warming” effect that’s perfect in cold weather. I’m not talking about the grodie stuff your mom used for cooking. Sherry is Spanish in origin and made from white grapes (usually the Palomino grape). The wines range from table styles such as Manzanilla and Fino to much heavier versions like Amontillado and Oloroso.
If you’re new to Sherry, start with a very old brand, Emilio Hidalgo. An excellent choice is their Bodega Hidalgo La Gitana Manzanilla. A nice, dry table wine, it is well-known as a standard by which others are judged: an excellent jumping-off point. It’s about $15. Tastes like apples, with a little bit of herb and salted almonds.
Ahhh, this one is an old friend from early in my restaurant days. I discovered it at a tasting I hosted in 2002 and it became a year-long obsession. One of the kitchen guys and I polished off a bottle per week between the two of us. Bodegas Dios Baco 20 Year Old Amontillado Sherry. This will set you back $80ish. Keep in mind that this is a sipper so a bottle goes a long way. It makes a lovely offering with nuts and hard cheeses or with dessert after a meal. Or whenever, actually. It has a light mahogany color and tastes like nuts and caramel. Serve it at room temperature.
El Maestro Sierra offers two Oloroso styles. My favorite is this big boy: Oloroso Extra Viejo 1|7 VORS (El Maestro Sierra). This is high in alcohol at 22% and is very intense with dried fruit (apricot & figs) and roasted nuts (almonds and hazelnuts). Complex with cinnamon, dark chocolate and butterscotch. An enormously long, lovely finish. Extremely limited production. ½ bottles hover around $100
Pro Tip: An opened bottle of table-style Sherry will last nearly a week in the fridge. Amontillado and medium-sweet Sherries will last for 2-3 weeks and Cream Sherries can last up to three months.
#BodegaHidalgo #BodegaDiosBaco #ElMaestroSierra