Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Ice Boxes

Sometimes I swear I'm channeling my grandmother. I am not by nature a person who loves to clean, unlike MomMom who took vacation at the beginning of the summer to take down the heavy winter drapes, wash all the windows (using Q-tips and toothpicks to get into every nook and cranny), and put up the light criss-cross curtains, bleached white, starched and ironed to within an inch of their life.

I silently chuckled when MomMom would scold me if my drawers weren't neat. I could not imagine how the conversation would go, even if someone did dare to peek into my messy dresser. How would they work the topic into conversation? "When I was snooping in Linda's house, I opened her medicine chest. Would you believe that she has expired aspirin?" Or "I just happened to be in Linda's bedroom, and I opened her underwear drawer. She doesn't iron her panties!" Neither scenario seemed likely.

However, in anticipation for the PECO pick up of our garage refrigerator, I found myself elbow deep in soapy water scrubbing down the shelves and walls, removing drawers and soaking them in a bleach solution. Who was I trying to impress? My husband walked past me and acted shocked. "Oh, I see. There was a change of plan. It's Better Homes and Gardens coming to pick up your refrigerator, not the PECO recycling crew." I wrung out my rag and saw the humor in the situation. This appliance served us well, even after it had been relegated to the garage. It was the repository for beverages in case of unexpected guests, it was the place where I would stash a pot of stock to cool quickly, it was the spot to store an over abundance of summer produce, and now I'm waiting for its removal to the refrigerator heaven in the sky.

When the refrigerator recycling truck arrived, two muscled men opened the door to make sure it still operated, then they cut the cord and carted Old Faithful down the driveway. Having a second refrigerator in the garage was the last vestige of my childhood memories of a second kitchen, where my grandmother and mother and (eventually I) would can tomatoes and peaches, where we would bake pizzelles at Christmas over the gas flame, where we would cook in the summer to keep the house cool.

It's no wonder that I was looking at my old refrigerator with my grandmother's critical eye. It's the end of an era, an age when families needed a second kitchen. With just the two of us, it was downright wasteful to run that second refrigerator, storing food that often was forgotten because of its lack of proximity to the kitchen. It was time for a change.

But maybe I should whip up one of MomMom's recipes, for old time's sake. My favorite summer dessert was MomMom's Icebox Cake.

MomMom's Icebox Cake
1 large box chocolate pudding mix (not instant)
1 large box vanilla pudding mix (not instant)
4 cups milk
1 box graham crackers.

Prepare the chocolate pudding according to box directions with two cups of milk. (I use the microwave method, but MomMom always cooked the pudding, stirring constantly over low heat.)
While the pudding is cooling slightly, place a single layer of graham crackers on the bottom of a 9x13 glass baking dish. Cut crackers to fit, and reserve any small or broken pieces.
Pour slightly cooled pudding over crackers.
Place a layer of graham crackers over the chocolate pudding.
Prepare the vanilla pudding as above. Cool slightly, and pour over second layer of graham crackers.
Crush the pieces of graham crackers (enough to make 1 cup of crumbs) and sprinkle over the top of the vanilla pudding.
Refrigerate until well chilled.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

The Italian Flag: Pasta with Fresh Tomatoes and Broccoli

There's nothing like vine-ripened tomatoes. You don't have to do anything to them, and they are delicious. When the farmers at the Growers Market bring their first tomatoes to town, I throw caution to the wind and indulge in a classic BLT on white toast slathered with mayonnaise. When I want to gild the lily, I make a Salad Caprese. Just cut the tomatoes into thick slices, layer them with fresh mozzarella, garnish with basil, and drizzle with extra-virgin olive oil. I'm partial to A Taste of Olive's Peloponnesian.

After the first flush of tomatoes, I start looking for more creative ways to use the bounty. Tonight I made the ultimate lazy summer dinner, rotini pasta with tomatoes and broccoli. It's easy to make, it's nutritious, and it's quick to clean up.

When I'm making a quick dinner, I try to get all my ingredients ready in advance. That way, I don't have to stop and start--once I put the pasta into the pot, there isn't much time for dawdling!

Here's the prep:
Start by putting a big pot of water on to boil. As you wait, chop a couple of cloves of garlic and put them in a medium bowl. Add 2-3 tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil (that Peloponnesian works well here, too). If you like a little heat, add red pepper flakes to taste. Sprinkle with sea salt, if desired. Cut a large head of broccoli into bite-sized pieces and reserve. Stack about 12 leaves of basil, thinly slice, and reserve. Cut 8-10 small (2 inch) balls of fresh mozzarella into quarters and reserve.

Now let's cook:
Core two large washed tomatoes and cut an X at the other end. When the water comes to a full boil, drop the tomatoes into the pot and remove them after a minute. Put them into a bowl of ice water. Peel the tomatoes and chop them into 1/2 inch dice. Add the tomatoes to the olive oil and garlic. Add salt to taste to the water, and 1/2 pound of rotini noodles to the boiling water. Follow package direction for al dente pasta (I used Barilla, which cooks up in 7 minutes). When there is 3 minutes left to the cooking time, add the reserved chopped broccoli.

Drain the pasta and broccoli when it is just al dente, but reserve 1/2 cup of the pasta water. You might not need it, but if the pasta is a little dry, it's essential! Return the drained pasta and broccoli to the pot and add the tomato-garlic oil. Toss over low heat for about one minute to warm the tomatoes. If the dish is dry, add a little of the reserved pasta water. Remove from heat, add about 1/2 of the reserved basil. Toss. Put the pasta into individual serving dishes (2 main course servings, 4 appetizer servings). Top with the reserved mozzarella and garnish with the remaining basil. If you like, shave some pecorino romano cheese over the top. Serve with a green salad and good Italian bread.

This dish is open to many variations. Instead of mozzarella cheese, substitute diced pepperoni or ham. Instead of basil, use flat-leaved parsley. Instead of broccoli, try fresh peas or green beans (the peas cook in less time, while the green beans need to go into the pot along with the rotini). You can add a handful of pitted Italian olives or a sprinkling of toasted pignoli to the cooked pasta. If you have a hankering for this summer dish in February, use good-quality diced tomatoes in a can. It isn't quite the same, but it's still a quick, nutritious, easy dinner.


Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Melon Season

Summer isn't summer until melons are ripe. This week, we've had not one but two watermelons. Both were the seedless variety, which often break my heart, yet I buy them again and again. Why? Because I can't stand the waste of the much larger seeded melons. There is no way that two people (well, actually, just me because my husband does not share my enthusiasm for the juicy, crisp, sweet red flesh) can eat a whole seeded melon before it goes horribly south. With perseverance, though, I can finish a seedless melon, if it lives up to expectations. Plus, in the summer, I'm lazy and I don't want to deal with the seeds. Even as a kid, I could never spit seeds, and now that I'm an adult, I don't want to contend with the mess.

That brings me back to this week's melons. Because it is still very early in the melon season, I was skeptical, but it was hot, and the melons were on sale, and I succumbed to temptation. Against today's wisdom, I popped it into the refrigerator as soon as I got home (evidently, watermelon holds its nutritional value better if left on the counter). Before long, though, the siren song called me. With the heat, we didn't feel like eating, but watermelon sounded just right. That is, if the melon itself was just right.

I put the melon on the cutting board, pulled out my biggest chef's knife, and thrust it into melon's heart. It split easily in two, revealing perfectly red flesh. It looked delicious, but looks can be deceiving. I cut one half in half again and began pulling the flesh from the rind, cutting chunks into a huge glass salad bowl, restraining myself. If it was wonderful, it would keep, but for the time being, it was better not knowing. When I topped off the bowl, I finally succumbed. One taste told the tale.

Summer had arrived. The melon was chilled to perfection, the texture was crisp, and the taste was sweet, the taste of summer. Ahhh!

Monday, June 28, 2010

Food from the heart doesn't have to come from the kitchen

Last Thursday, my brother's family returned from Richmond, VA. They had made settlement on their new home, and they were waiting for their furniture to arrive. I wanted to cook something special for them, but my house was one of the 200,000 plus residences still without power after the storm that barreled across Chester and Delaware counties. Even with a gas stove, I depended on electricity for the spark and for temperature controls. I was despondent. I mean, if my family can't count on me to bring sustenance to a life-changing event, what good am I? I couldn't bake a cake. I couldn't make a pot roast. I couldn't even boil water for iced tea.

After a while, I put on my thinking cap and realized that perhaps food doesn't always have to come from my kitchen to come from my heart. I made a trip to the grocery store and ordered a variety of lunch meats and cheeses. I bought Italian rolls and a loaf of marble rye. With some chips, pretzels, and bakery cookies, I rounded out the picnic basket. I tossed paper products and beverages into my cart. From home, I added butter, mustard, and mayonnaise, pickles and olives, a sharp knife and a big box of plasticware. I had the ingredients for a meal that was easy to prepare and to clean up.

Since there are plenty of boxes left to be unpacked, I can still make a casserole to relieve my sister-in-law of kitchen duties as she gets settled into the new house, but in the future, I'll know I have other options if my kitchen is out of commission!

Friday, June 18, 2010

Institution Food or How We Eat at the AP Reading

There is nothing like the smell of Sterno to remind me of the taste of institution food. This past week, that scent was strong. Let me backtrack. I spent the last eight days in Louisville as a guest of the College Board reading essays for the Advanced Placement Language and Composition exam. To get any doubts out of the way, yes, it is insane, but it is also a wonderful opportunity to meet other equally crazy English teachers and to share with them best practices in the classroom and our favorite books and movies. However, whenever anyone tries to feed close to 2,000 people at a crack, the food is not going to be what your mother made, unless she was the cafeteria lady of a large high school.

Institution food suffers from trying to feed many people in a reasonable amount of time. The many people part means that the choices are driven toward the taste of the masses. You are not going to find Brussels sprouts being served, for example. You will find chicken breasts and sliced turkey, beef in barbecue sauce and poached mild fish. Basically, you'll find anything that keeps reasonably well in a chafing dish, but the food is never quite warm enough and always too salty. Unfortunately, the only seasoning used IS salt. Correction. We were served mixed vegetables that were heavily seasoned with oregano. While I love oregano on pizza, for my money, it doesn't enhance broccoli mixed with carrots and corn.

The salad bar suffers from the opposite problem: it is difficult to keep the greens crisp and cold in this environment. The toppings look tired after the third day. And I'm a dressing snob. At home, I drizzle only the finest extra-virgin olive oil into a bowl that I have rubbed with the cut side of a clove of fresh garlic, then I add a smidgen of red wine vinegar (made in small batches and sold in one of my very favorite stores in Philadelphia's Italian Market), a dollop of dijon mustard, and a generous sprinkle of chopped fresh herbs. The dressings in the cafeteria line were mass-produced, gelatinous, overly salty, and probably very bad for anyone with high cholesterol.

The foods that are most successful for a crowd are the very foods that I should be avoiding: the starches (they serve a wide variety of potatoes and pasta salads) and desserts (the brownies were out of this world). It is far to easy to justify dessert when the rest of the meal felt unsubstantial. However, the bottom line is that calories, whether they taste good or not, are still calories. Did I need that slice of cake? Of course not. I am no where close to starvation. Yet, somehow it jumped onto my tray and disappeared.

As an adult, I feel silly jockeying for position in a cafeteria line, juggling a tray, eating off of plastic plates with plastic forks that break before the meal is over. I revert to my adolescent whine as I criticize each bite I put in my mouth. However, even as I complain about the mystery meat and the wilted lettuce, there is a part of me that appreciates the fact that I did not have to plan the meal, shop for the ingredients, or cook.

And now I have to figure out what to make for dinner tonight. Hmm. Is there any cheese to go with this whine?

Thursday, May 27, 2010


Broccoli has gotten a bad rap. After George Bush proudly proclaimed his dislike for this cruciferous vegetable, a raft of people jumped onto the anti-broccoli bandwagon. I'd like to say a few words in its defense.
When prepared well, broccoli is perhaps the most beautiful and delicious vegetable available for those of us who live in a climate that has distinct seasons. Broccoli is an easy side dish steamed, stir-fried, or creamed. When my children went through their anti-vegetable stage, they still liked "trees" for dinner.
However, broccoli brought my husband and me together. You see, when we were dating, my father called a meeting with my future husband, and the outcome was that we were not going to see each other any more. Several nights later, I got a telephone call. It was my husband-to-be. He had a head of broccoli and didn't know what to do with it. Of course, the next night I prepared the broccoli, and we have been together ever since.
Broccoli is at its best sauteed quickly with a little garlic, red pepper, and olive oil. But it also makes a delicious and easy soup. Here's a quick and easy recipe that makes an excellent first course. People will think you slaved all day. I won't tell that it only took 15 minutes!

Cream of Broccoli Soup
2 cups chicken stock
1 stalk celery, cut into 1 inch pieces
1 medium carrot, cut into 1 inch pieces
1 onion, chopped
1 clove of garlic
a generous pinch of cayenne pepper
2 cups steamed broccoli (still bright green)
1 cup heavy or whipping cream
Bring chicken stock, celery, carrot, onion, garlic and cayenne pepper to a boil in a medium saucepan. Reduce heat to medium and simmer for 10 minutes. While the stock is simmering, steam the broccoli and drain. Working with half of the stock and the broccoli at a time, puree in a blender (be very careful because the mixture is very hot). Return the pureed mixture to the medium saucepan and add the cream. Reheat gently (do not bring to a full boil), and season to taste with salt and pepper. If you like, garnish with chopped parsley and a dollop of sour cream.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Making Bread

A long, long time ago, in a galaxy far away, my summer job was in a commercial bakery, the kind that makes bread and cookies and fish-shaped crackers. For me it was only a summer job, and I was lucky to get it in a bad economy. Because I was a girl (they didn’t call us women), I got to work on the line.The college boys worked in maintenance, standing around the perimeter of the cavernous factory floor holding push brooms as props for their infrequent inspections. The girls on the line earned $4.35 an hour. The boys, I learned later, earned three or four times that.

Depending on the line, there might be six or eight stations, and girls rotated from one to the next on twenty minute intervals. Some study had determined that routine increased productivity. It certainly cut down on boredom.

I started on the line that produced commercial rolls that were shaped like the lower-case letter “e,” creatively called E-rolls. We girls worked around two sides of a long machine that mixed the ingredients, shaped it into cylinders that were propelled down a conveyer belt. The first girl on the line twirled the handle that sifted additional flour onto the belt, kept an eye on the extruder to make sure the cylinders were uniform, pulled off the irregular ones and the ones that didn’t get shaped, moved full trays of rolls from the end of the line to the proofing trays, and rolled the full cart into the proofing oven.

The next position was responsible for shaping every other cylinder into a perfect letter e. While the first day my rolls didn’t come anywhere close to approximating that shape, by the end of the summer, I could keep up with seasoned veterans.

As you might guess, the next seat on the line also shaped the cylinders, but that position was responsible for tidying any rolls that didn’t make quality control. The fourth girl on the line moved the rolls from the conveyer belt onto the trays before they were dumped unceremoniously to the floor. Then you moved to the other side of the machine. E-rolls were probably the hardest to make, but we also had to learn the tricks to form hotdog and hamburger rolls, parker house and butter rolls, and all the rest if we wanted to keep our job.

All the rolls were shaped before lunch. The girls who were lucky enough to have hours scheduled after lunch also rotated from one job to the next. The trays of rolls were fed into large conveyer-belt ovens, and when the oven discharged the hot trays, we grabbed them in gloved hands, smacked the trays so the rolls loosened, then flipped them onto the cooling belt. The rolls rode to the packing area where we picked up the rolls and moved them into the next belt that fed the rolls into plastic bags. Those bags were stacked onto large metal trays that eventually made their way into trucks where the rolls went off to be delivered to local restaurants. That is in an ideal world.

Our world was often less than ideal. The packing station was the most temperamental. A machine puffed air to open plastic bags, but if the air puff wasn’t strong enough, or if the bags didn’t release properly at their perforations, there was nowhere for the rolls to go, but there was also no way to stop them. We had to pull trays and stack the rolls onto them so the rolls didn’t tumble to the ground, a total loss.

Because I worked hard and learned pretty quickly, I worked at least 40-hours a week, earning enough to pay for my tuition at a state college for three years in a single summer. And it’s a good thing that I did, because I didn’t want to return. I had a constant cough from the flour in the air. My back ached from picking up the heavy trays. My arms were scarred from transferring the rolls from the trays to the cooling rack. I appreciated my college education because I knew what it cost me physically to earn it.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Putting on the Ritz

Sharing a meal brings friends together. Making a meal together with friends cements those bonds. For months, a group of my friends has been planning a foodie event. Our host planned a menu based largely on recipes from Fine Cooking magazine, and we shared responsibility for gathering ingredients. On Saturday morning, we loaded up the car and drove to New Jersey to prepare the feast. Annette, our host, provided a beautiful venue, including her dining room set with an antique linen tablecloth and sterling, and shopped for fish and chicken and vegetables. Judy visited the Devon Farmers Market for fresh berries, cantaloupe, kiwis, and cheeses. Paola provided the wine. I brought along chocolates from Eclat and ingredients to make fresh pasta and sauce. We were set.
Together we chopped, sliced and diced; we sauteed, braised and roasted. We rolled pasta dough. We laughed and we learned. We paired appetizer cheeses, bread, and crackers with Italian bubbly (don't call it champagne!) as we waited for the guys to return from a hike. We moved to the dining room for the arugala, shaved baby artichoke and parmesan cheese salad tossed in a lemon vinaigrette. We twirled pasta fresca in tomato sauce without getting stains on the linens. We feasted on fresh trout stuffed with herbs and lemons, chicken with mushrooms, sun dried tomatoes and caramelized onions, asparagus drizzled with truffle oil, and roasted fingerling potatoes. We ended with fresh berries, more cheese, and chocolates.
Dinners like this were a staple in my parents' house. Almost every month they hosted a dozen friends who dressed in tuxes and formal dresses. My mother spent the week before polishing silver, ironing tablecloths and napkin, rinsing the crystal, shopping, cooking, and baking. My grandmother and I helped her prepare and assisted in the clean up. I remember watching the adults sit at the table, the candlelight reflected in the crystal and silver. I listened to them talk about politics and religion. I saw the faces flush with excitement and with wine. I envied their glamour.
This dinner party echoed that glamour in all the important ways. Annette pulled out all the stops, and the conversation rose to the occasion. I felt adult in a way that it is impossible to do when sitting in the kitchen with the everyday dishes and tableware.
My generation is different from my parents'. I used to wonder why we didn't use the good stuff everyday, but I seldom use my grandmother's china or the good silver even when we have company. After this weekend, though, I'm looking at the china cabinet with a new glint in my eye. The next time we get together with friends, we'll have dinner in our dining room with the crystal and the china and the silver, and we'll behave like the grownups that we are. Finally.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

What's for dinner?

What's for dinner? That is a question that strikes terror in the heart of day-to-day cooks. After four decades of cooking, I figure I've turned out something in the vicinity of 10,000 dinners alone. (If you don't want to know your own startling statistic, don't do the math--it frightened me, for sure!) After a while, making dinner gets boring. What else is there to make? And if your house is like mine, you don't get many suggestions from the peanut gallery. Maybe I should take it as a compliment, but my family trusts me implicitly with meal planning. It's a nightly dance. "What do you want for dinner?" "Oh, I don't know. Whatever you want to make." AARGH!

Chicken is my go-to entree. Out of those 10,000 meals, I bet over half have involved some form of fowl. It's versatile and easy to prepare, but I usually end up grabbing a package of skinless, boneless breasts because they cook more quickly than the whole bird. Here's a good compromise that is featured in the May 2010 issue of Everyday Food (although I've seen it in other books and magazines long before it appeared there).

Pre-heat the oven to 500 degrees. Yes, 500. It's going to make the skin crispy without drying out the delicate breast meat. While the oven preheats, take your chicken (3 to 4 pounds), rinse, dry, and place it breast-side down on your working surface. Using sharp kitchen shears, cut down one side of the backbone, turn the chicken, and then cut down the other side. (I collect the backbones and the necks in the freezer until I have enough for stock. Waste not, want not.) Flip the chicken so the breast is skin up, and press on the breastbone until the chicken is flat. Sprinkle generously with salt (if using) and freshly ground pepper. Gently loosen the skin and insert aromatics (slices of lemon, or halved garlic cloves, or springs of thyme or rosemary) between the skin and the breast and thigh meat. Place the prepared chicken in a roasting pan or oven-proof skillet.

I like to put my oven to work, so I add vegetables to the pot. Tonight, I peeled a large sweet potato, cut it into chunks, dressed it with olive oil, and added the chunks to the pan. They were tender and slightly charred when the chicken was ready. I've also added chunks of potatoes and carrots. Everyday Food has several other suggestions.

Put everything into the oven for 30 minutes, or until the juices run clear and the temperature at the thigh reaches 165 degrees. Let the chicken rest for 15 minutes before serving. Another advantage to this preparation: you don't have to actually carve a bird, one of my least favorite chores. This recipe serves four. When you add a salad, slice a crusty loaf of bread, and pour a glass of your favorite white, you'll think you're in Tuscany.

Bon appétit!

Monday, April 19, 2010


Nutritionists say that breakfast is the most important meal of the day, but when I was a teenager, I balked a breakfast like a filly approaching a jump. There was no amount of cajoling that would get me to eat. Eggs were slimy, cereal soggy, and pancakes, French toast and waffles set-my-teeth-on-edge sweet. My mother, the saint that she is, whisked an egg into a cup of whole milk augmented with sugar and vanilla, and she barricaded the front door until I gulped it down. Mind you, these were the days before anyone worried about cholesterol, and e. coli and salmonella poisoning had not been invented. And those were the days that no amount of food added an ounce to my skinny frame.

Today I don't need any coaxing to eat breakfast. I'm spoiled for choice. Maybe oatmeal, topped with raisins and walnuts, sweetened with brown sugar. Maybe Rice Krispies with a sliced banana. Maybe a fresh pear with a big dollop of ricotta cheese. Maybe a sliced orange sprinkled with toasted coconut and a slice of Italian toast slathered with Plugra. Maybe a hard-boiled egg with French sea salt and some thinly-sliced radishes from Saturday's Growers Market. Maybe a slab of sour cream coffee cake and a mug of caffe latte with a thick cap of foam dusted with cinnamon sugar. See what I mean? What's a girl to do when she is on sabbatical and the kitchen is open?

Here's my latest favorite coffee cake recipe. It starts with a version found in The Scholarly Chef: The University of Richmond Cooks, but I've modified it. It's buttery and decadent!
Sour Cream Coffee Cake with Cinnamon Chips
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup butter, room temperature
2 cups sugar
2 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla
1/2 cup sour cream
1/2 cup good quality plain yogurt
4 tablespoons brown sugar
1 cup chopped pecans
1 teaspoon cinnamon
Grease a 9x13 inch glass baking dish with butter. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Sift flour, baking powder and salt onto a sheet of waxed paper or a paper plate. Reserve. Beat butter until light and fluffy. Add sugar gradually and beat until light. Add eggs one at a time and beat until well incorporated. Add vanilla. Mix sour cream and yogurt. Reserve. Add the flour to the creamed butter mixture in three portions, alternating with the sour cream and yogurt (use the waxed paper or paper plate to make a funnel to pour the flour into the mixing bowl). Pour half of batter into prepared baking dish. Sprinkle with cinnamon chips. Top with remaining batter and smooth. Combine topping ingredients in a small bowl. Sprinkle topping over cake. Bake for 40-45 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature. You get to decide how many servings!

They say that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. It's certainly the most versatile.

Bon Appétit!

Sunday, April 18, 2010

The Perfect Pizza

When I was growing up, Friday was the night for pizza. My father would pick up a couple of pizzas and a stromboli so my mother had a night off. As I got older, I learned how to make pizza from scratch, and I would make pizza for the family. I loved the feel of the yeast breathing life into the flour as I kneaded five pounds of flour into dough, no mean task, I assure you. There was enough pizza for a party, or for our family of nine.

To me, there are two kinds of pizza. No, not the Sicilian square and the Neapolitan round. I'm talking homemade and everything else. If you have never tried to make pizza on your own, there's no need to fear. Yes, it does involve yeast, and many people run from yeasty bread recipes as if they are being chased by the devil himself, but trust me, pizza is as easy as pie.

Why bother making your own dough when Domino's is just a phone call away? First of all, you get to control the quantity and quality of all the ingredients. Second, it tastes infinitely better than anything out of a delivery box. Third, it is satisfying to watch those you love dig into a pizza you made all by yourself--or with their help.

The ratio is simple: 3 cups of flour to an envelope (a scant three teaspoons) of yeast (regular or quick rise), a generous sprinkling of salt, a cup of warm water (give or take, depending on the humidity in your kitchen), and a drizzle of olive oil. With a food processor, preparing the dough is almost too simple to imagine. Put the dry ingredients into the processor bowl, take it for a brief spin, then slowly drizzle the water through the feed tube while the processor is running. Add the olive oil (a couple of tablespoons, if you are squeamish about guestimating). When the dough comes together, stop, wait five minutes, then give the dough another 20 second mix. Transfer the dough to a flour-dusted counter top and knead briefly. Grease a large bowl with another tablespoon of olive oil, and transfer the dough into the bowl. Turn the dough so it is covered with oil, cover the bowl with plastic wrap, and wait. If you are using instant yeast, the dough is ready in well under an hour. If you are using regular yeast, wait two hours or longer. You will know that it is ready when it is puffy and your fingers leave an indentation (rather than just springing right back at you). This quantity of pizza will serve four people with ordinary appetites. If you have teenagers in your house, you probably will want to make two times the recipe. Don't be tempted to put the doubled ingredients into your food processor at the same time, however!

Once the dough is nicely risen, the fun begins. Preheat the oven to 500 degrees. That's about as hot as a home oven gets. Then choose the size and shape of your pizza. With the above recipe, you can make one thick square pizza in an 11x16 inch jelly-roll pan, or you can make a thinner pizza in a 16 inch pizza pan, or you can divide the dough into fourths and make personal round pizzas as thin as you can roll the dough. I don't use a pizza stone personally, but there are some people who swear by them. I found I was usually swearing at mine.

Sprinkle corn meal on the pan to prevent sticking. Shape the dough in the pan and let it rise a second time while the oven heats. Add your toppings. Bake for 10-18 minutes, depending on the size and shape of your pizzas. You want your crust to be a golden brown, no matter how thick or thin. The thinner the pizza, the shorter the cooking time. Remove from the oven when the crust in golden brown and the toppings are bubbling.

Time your pizza so that people will be able to eat it hot from the oven. Of course, you probably want to make enough for left-overs. Cold pizza is a delicacy in and of itself.

Here are some ideas for toppings:
Traditional margharita: spread the dough with your favorite pizza sauce (see below for an easy recipe), bake for 6-7 minutes, remove from oven to top with fresh mozzarella cheese sliced very thin and torn fresh basil leaves. Return to over and continue baking until crust is browned (about 7 minutes for a 16-inch round pizza).

The Italian flag: drizzle the dough lightly with olive oil. Cover with thinly sliced fresh tomatoes and sprinkle the tomatoes with salt to taste, then arrange ricotta cheese and lightly cooked spinach attractively over the tomatoes. Bake for 14-16 minutes until the crust is golden brown.

White pizza with broccoli: Drizzle olive oil over the dough, sprinkle generously with shredded mozzarella cheese, and top with broccoli cooked al dente (I stir fry my broccoli with olive oil and garlic until it gets bright green). Sprinkle with red pepper flakes, if desired, and bake.

Other toppings: roasted red peppers, mushrooms, pepperoni, cooked Italian sausage. Really, just about anything. Artichoke hearts, asparagus, broccoli rabe, cauliflower--almost any vegetable is at home on a pizza. Experiment with cheeses. While I love a good gooey mozzarella, any grated cheese alone or in reasonable combination can be enlisted.

Quick pizza sauce: Pour a tablespoon of extra-virgin olive oil into a heavy medium saucepan over low heat. Add 2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped (about 2 teaspoons) and red pepper flakes to taste (I usually add about a teaspoon of red pepper). Cook for 3-4 minutes, stirring frequently and watching constantly (don't let the garlic burn). Add a 28-ounce can of good-quality chopped tomatoes in puree and a bay leaf, and bring to a boil over medium high heat, then reduce to low and simmer uncovered for 15-20 minutes. Add salt to taste.