People like to discover things before they become mainstream – it makes you feel like you’re in on a secret by being ahead of the trend. We want to hear a song before anyone else does and see that band right before they hit the big time. The same is true with food – chefs are always trying to discover the next big thing. Whether it’s a health-centric product like quinoa and fro-yo or an indulgent like cronuts or the bacon craze, chefs want to be out in front of any new food trend. And to that point, I’m offering my prediction of the next big thing in food – Roman pizza!

Roman pizzas ready for the oven.

There are two pizza styles in the city of Rome (which also happen to be easy to produce at home): pizza al taglio and pizza al metro. These are essentially Rome’s versions of pizza by the slice and are a popular take away food in the city.

Now, when people think of Italian pizzas, they tend to envision Pizza Vera Napoletana. This style of pie was all the rage for many years (and still is one of my favorite styles of pizza). These pizzas are typically baked very quickly in blazing hot ovens and are characterized by charred bottoms and edges; these are knife-and-fork pizzas, and aren’t conducive for sale “by the slice.”

Roman pizza, however is more recognizable to Midwestern sensibilities. The crust is thicker than our typical Midwestern tavern style pies and are sturdier and chewy in comparison; this heartiness makes them great candidates for crazy toppings. In fact, I’ve been preparing Roman pizzas for our special Osteria Centro events (using crust made with a 25-year-old starter I developed back in the early days of my career); be sure to stay tuned for more Osteria Centro events this fall.

Roman pizzas can be cooked in home ovens on stones or black steel pans. Try these at your next get together and by the time this new trend hits the media, you’ll already be an old Roman pizza pro!

Crust Recipe
2 cups warm water
1 package active dry yeast
2 tbls olive oil
2 tsp kosher salt
6 cups of bread flour, or high gluten flour. Substitute up to 2 cups wheat flour if desired

In a large mixing bowl combine the water and yeast and let yeast start to work. Add olive oil.

Slowly add flour (not all at once). Add salt. Keep working in the flour mixture until a soft dough forms. Knead for 5 -10 minutes, adding flour as needed until a smooth dough forms. You may not need all six cups.

Cut dough into two (or more) pieces depending on the size pizza you want. Roll divided dough into tight balls. Place on greased cookie sheet and cover with plastic wrap.

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Once dough has doubled in size, stretch out pizza dough in an oval shape. Dust the bottom of each dough with semolina and place dough on greased cookie sheet.

Top pizzas with a few of my suggestions below, or create your own masterpiece! These pizza recipes are enough for two pizzas (or one large pie).

A seafood pizza from a recent Osteria Centro event.

Broccoli, Cheese and Mortadella with Pistachio Pesto
6 ounces Gateway Market Alfredo sauce
2 cups cooked broccoli, cooked in salted water and seasoned with garlic and olive oil
2 tablespoons Parmesan cheese
8 ounces whole milk mozzarella, sliced or shredded
8 ounces very thinly sliced Mortadella to be added when pizza comes out of the oven
Pistachio pesto – add desired amount on top of the mortadella.

Pesto recipe
3 cups packed fresh basil leaves
2 cups packed fresh Italian parsley leaves
1 cup toasted unsalted pistachios
8 cloves garlic
½ teaspoon salt
1.5 cups virgin olive oil
½ cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

In a food processor, add basil, parsley, pistachios, garlic and salt. Turn on processor and add 1.5 cups of the olive oil in a slow, steady stream. Process to make a smooth paste, stopping to scrape down the sides of the bowl

You can freeze half of the pesto for future use, just pack it in a plastic container with a thin film of olive oil.

White Sauce, Gorgonzola, Toasted Pecan and Caramelized Onion
6 ounces Gateway Market Alfredo sauce
1 cup pecans toasted with olive oil and salt
1 large onion sautéed until caramelized, seasoned with salt
1.5 cup whole milk mozzarella sliced or shredded
3/4 cup crumbled Gorgonzola cheese
2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese

White Sauce, Gorgonzola , Toasted Pecan and Arugula
6 ounces GWM Alfredo sauce
1 cup pecans toasted with olive oil and salt
1 and 1/2 cup whole milk mozzarella sliced or shredded
3/4 cup crumbled Gorgonzola cheese
2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
Top with 2 cups arugula tossed with 2 tablespoons olive oil and a pinch of salt

Sausage, Potato, Olive Oil and Garlic
6 ounces Gateway Market Alfredo sauce
8 ounces whole milk mozzarella
2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
2 gold fleshed potatoes cooked; once done, remove skins and toss with 2 tablespoons olive oil and salt
8 ounces Gateway Market garlic sausage, crumbled raw on top of pizza

White Sauce, Mushroom, Cheese and Herb
6 ounces Gateway Market Alfredo sauce
4 cups assorted mushrooms (shiitake with stems removed, crimini, domestic) sautéed in 3 tablespoons olive oil and seasoned with salt. Cook until all liquid is absorbed and evaporated, then cool to room temperature or refrigerate
2 cups whole milk Mozzarella, sliced or shredded
2 tablespoons Parmesan cheese, grated
2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme
2 teaspoons chopped fresh garlic

White Sauce, Mixed Mushrooms, Fontina, Taleggio, Garlic and Thyme
6 ounces Gateway Market Alfredo sauce
4 cups assorted mushrooms(shiitake with stems removed, crimini, domestic) sautéed in 3 tablespoons olive oil and seasoned with salt. Cook until all liquid is absorbed and evaporated, then cool to room temperature or refrigerate
1.5 cups taleggio, sliced or shredded
2 tablespoons Parmesan cheese, grated
2 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme
2 teaspoons chopped fresh garlic

Sweet Potato, Bacon, Taleggio, Caramelized Onion and Balsamic Reduction
6 oz Gateway Market Alfredo sauce
1.5 cups taleggio, sliced or shredded
6 slices bacon cooked and chopped
1 large sweet potato cooked until tender (not mushy) and diced, seasoned with salt
1 large onion, sliced and sautéed in 2 tablespoons butter and cooked until brown; seasoned with salt and pepper
Drizzle baked pizza with balsamic reduction

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Pizza comes in many styles and I love them all. As I have said in previous posts, the pizza style of Naples is a difficult one to replicate. But the grilled pizzas of more recent times are a great substitute for those from wood fired ovens and can be easily replicated at home.

Grilled pizzas can have that crisp crust that appeals to Midwestern sensibilities, and you can hold and fold them. Whether you throw them directly on the grill or use a pizza stone, you can still get that authentic flavor and texture at home. Like anything, it may take a little practice, but it’s well worth it to perfect your process.

Heat half of the grill. If you use a gas grill, set the other half to low. If it’s a charcoal grill, make sure all the coals are on the “hot” side.

Flatten and roll one package of Gateway Market premade dough to about 1/4 inch thickness.

Spray both sides of the dough with olive oil. Place dough on the grill over moderate heat until you reach the desired color. You want some dark brown and even some black spots.

Flip the crust over and grill the other side. Do not let this side get as dark, but you want it to get nice and golden brown.

Flip dough back to the first side and begin building the pizza with your desired toppings. Move topped pizza to cool side of the grill and close grill. When toppings are hot and cheese has melted, the pizza is ready to serve.

Here are a few topping pairings that will make world class pizza on the grill or in the oven:

Bacon, Cheddar, Caramelized Onion & Fried Egg
4 oz Gateway Market Alfredo sauce
1 cup grated white cheddar cheese
1/2 onion, cooked over low heat to caramelize
6 strips Niman Ranch bacon cooked and chopped
1 egg fried sunny side up

Funghi Misti, Fontina, Taleggio & Thyme
2 cups assorted mushrooms, sliced and sautéed in 2 tablespoons olive oil and salted to taste. Cook until all liquid has evaporated. Cool.
1/2 cup shredded Fontina cheese
1/2 cup shredded taleggio cheese
1/2 teaspoon chopped garlic
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves

Fontina, Mozzarella, Sottocenere, Sage & Sausage
1/3 cup shredded Fontina cheese
1/3 cup shredded sottocenere (truffle cheese)
1/3 cup shredded whole milk mozzarella
5 ounces Gateway Market breakfast sausage shaped into tiny balls, cooked thoroughly and slightly cooled
6 leaves sage tossed in olive oil and seasoned with salt.

Goat Cheese, Leeks, Scallions, Garlic & Bacon
1/2 cup crumbled goat cheese
1.5 cup leaks and 1/4 cup scallions cooked in 3 tablespoons olive oil. Cooled slightly and seasoned with salt and pepper and tossed together with 1 teaspoon white wine vinegar
1/2 teaspoon chopped raw garlic
1/2 cup cooked chopped bacon

Mozzarella, Fried Egg, Bacon, Yukon Gold Potato & Bermuda Onions
1 cup whole milk mozzarella, sliced or shredded
2 small yellow-fleshed potatoes that have been cooked, scooped from their skins and immediately smashed. While still hot, toss with olive oil and 1/2 teaspoon chopped garlic and season with salt. Cool slightly before using.
1/2 cup sweet onion sautéed in 2 tablespoon olive oil and seasoned with salt.
1/2 cup cooked bacon, chopped
2 eggs, fried over easy
Extra cracked black pepper to top

Taleggio, Parmesan, Mashed Potato, Vidalia Onion & Chive
1/2 cup shredded taleggio
1/4 cup Parmesan
2 small yellow-fleshed potatoes that have been cooked, scooped from their skins and immediately smashed. While still hot, toss with olive oil and 1/2 teaspoon chopped garlic and season with salt. Cool slightly before using.
1/2 cup sweet onion sautéed in 2 tablespoon olive oil and seasoned with salt.
1 tablespoon fresh cut chives sprinkled over the pizza after removing from heat

Béchamel, Mozzarella, Pork Sausage, Garlic, Onion, Banana Pepper & Jalapeño
1/4 cup Gateway Market Alfredo sauce
1 cup cubed Gateway Market mozzarella
5 ounces Gateway Market breakfast sausage shaped into tiny balls, cooked thoroughly and slightly cooled
1 teaspoon chopped garlic
1/4 cup chopped yellow onion
1/2 cup sliced mild banana peppers
1 tablespoon chopped jalapeño pepper

Smoked Ham, Corn, Grape Tomatoes & Mozzarella
1/4 cup Gateway Market Alfredo sauce
1 cup shredded mozzarella
5 ounces Niman Ranch ham, sliced and diced
1/2 cup corn (frozen or raw, fresh cut from cob)

Bacon, Fontina, Mozzarella & Red Onion
4 oz marinara sauce
1 cup Fontina
1 cup shredded whole milk mozzarella
1 tablespoon grated Parmesan
8 slices bacon (cooked a little over half way for best results; crispy if you must)
1/2 cup diced red onion

Sausage, Ham & Bacon
4 oz marinara sauce
1/2 cup mozzarella
1/2 cup Fontina
5 oz sausage shaped into little balls and cooked
4 oz sliced ham
6 slices cooked Niman Ranch bacon, chopped

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Everyone – Thanks for playing along with my April Fool’s joke (just chalk it up to Des Moines celebrating the best holidays – like Halloween – a day early). One of the reasons this post got so detailed is that I am actually a huge fan and would love to open a KISS burger. In fact, I wanted this post to serve as the first stage of my pitch for the concept and sent it to Gene Simmons’ reps last week. Hopefully this isn’t the end of the idea; but at the very least you can guarantee that these KISS burgers will be available at Zombie Burger sometime soon!

Some of you have wondered why I’ve been MIA around these parts and took that secret trip to LA last week – well, with the announcement that the rock band KISS is visiting Des Moines, I can finally share the great news. I’m proud to announce that KISS BURGER will be opening in spring 2015!

I have always been a huge KISS fan (little known fact: my classmates and I dressed up and performed “Detroit Rock City” for the McKee school talent show back in the 70’s). In the year after Zombie was up and running, my thoughts turned to other cool burger concepts, but only one thing could be cooler than zombies – KISS!

When I first got the opportunity to meet Gene Simmons in 2012, I of course pitched him my idea for a KISS themed burger joint. I had no idea that Gene was considering the same thing –  in just a few hours, we hammered out the menu and overall concept.

Burgers to me are fun, and I’ve always believed that it’s possible to make seriously great hamburgers in an extremely unique and fun environment. But if you thought the burgers at Zombie were insane, wait until you get a look at what we have in store for KISS BURGER! The creative genius Chef Tom McKern, Gene and I have developed a list of seriously intense burgers that will make you “shout it out loud!”


All the burgers will be quarter pounders made with our special blend of beef; order it “dressed to kill” with ketchup, mayo, shredded lettuce and onion. Get them “Hotter Than Hell” for mustard grilled patties, fried onion and special sauce. Want a double? Order it “deuce!”


A few of our signature burgers will include THE FIREHOUSE (pepper jack cheese, deep fried sport peppers, habanero mayo), THE ROCK AND ROLL OVER (American cheese, onion, KISS Army sauce, Black Diamond BBQ pulled pork and pickles marinated in Red Bull, cherry kool-aid and jalapeños) and the classy BETH BURGER (Brie, Riesling-poached pears and dijonaise).

“Detroit Rock City Dogs” will be a nod to Detroit-style coneys; we’ll use custom made 12-inch jalapeño dogs called “Love Guns” and have versions topped with habanero nacho cheese sauce, fried sport peppers, onion strings, fire roasted pepper guacamole, and brisket coney sauce.

And you can bet there will be a massive bar ­ our signature COLD GIN cocktails include the CALLING DR. LOVE FIZZ (gin, cream, egg white, rose water and lemon), the STRUTTER (gin, blanco tequila, Aperol, berry gastrique and lime) and the GOD OF THUNDER (gin, ginger beer and lime). In addition, we’ll have a large selection of creative “mocktails” that fans of all ages will be able to enjoy.

Just like at Zombie Burger, we’re lucky to have tapped acclaimed artist Ron Wagner for restaurant decor. And for the true fans: the space’s featured mural will incorporate the band’s actual blood in the ink (just like the 1977 KISS comic book)!

Gene and I are very excited to share more details with you in the next year ­ stay tuned to our Facebook and Twitter account for the latest KISS BURGER news!


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It’s hard to find a good food story. It’s not that people aren’t writing about food – there are plenty of reviewers, bloggers, tweeters, posters, and assorted other characters (myself included) chiming in with their take on the best cuisine. But the stories I want to hear aren’t about the latest trends or the craziest concoctions; they’re about the soul of the restaurant.

I’m a food guy – I love the history of food, talking about food, cooking food and playing with my food. I like hearing how a place was started. What inspired the chef or restaurateur to build the place? What should I expect when I take a look at the menu? Are there any themes or core food beliefs that guide the place? I know that décor is an important consideration for any restaurant, but the carpet and the ceiling should be a side note, not the main event. (In fact, I’ve been told that there are only two people who look at ceilings: architects and prostitutes!) So let’s stick to food talk shall we?

On that note, let’s talk Centro. We’ve been hard at work there for the past 11 years, so these stories might give you flashbacks. But for those of you who are unfamiliar with the place (I’m always surprised with how many there still are), maybe it will give you some insight into the soul of the place.

Like all of my restaurants, Cento was around long before it actually opened – it was a place I dreamed about opening since I was just getting started in the restaurant business. My childhood was filled with Italian accents and fresh food made with ingredients from the backyard garden. In a time when supermarkets were hawking packaged, frozen and canned foods, I was eating fresh pasta. These dining experiences created the core of what I wanted Centro to be.

I wanted Centro to feature a wood fired grill. Although it’s a very difficult way to cook, wood fired grilling offers a flavor and quality you can’t find anywhere else. I wanted to cook with as many fresh ingredients and local products as I could. But most of all, I wanted pizza.

As many of you know, I adore central Iowa’s pizza scene. I have often said that if we were going to do a NCAA bracket-style tournament of pizza, I would have no fewer than 12 number one seeds. But I wanted Centro’s pizza to be completely different than any of the other great pizza joints around town.

The challenge was creating a unique world-class pizza that could stand the test of time while also appealing to what we Midwesterners have come to expect in a pizza. This to me left two choices: Vera Pizza Napoletana style or New York Style (which were inspired by those same Italian Napelotana pies).

To make this style of pizza, I recalled those old broken down brick ovens from ancient Italian ruins and the modern equivalents (like the backyard wood-fired brick ovens from my grandmother’s house as well as the original South Union Bakery). We’d used these in the past to recreate pretty good Naples-style pizzas, but I wondered if softer dough, minimalist approach and knife-and-fork approach would be a problem.

So to help guide my decision, I established a list of my primary pizza principles:

1. Details. People would have to drive by other pizza places to get to Centro, so we had to be unique while also getting all the details right. Everything came down to nailing a few key techniques and quality ingredients for a world-class pizza. If I could not make a pizza that could stand alone as plain cheese or Margherita pizza, then it’s not worth making at all.

2. Cooking method. I decided against wood and went with coal (not an easy task to find someone to build a coal oven!). I’d been carrying an ad from a pizza magazine for 10 years with the number of a Brooklyn-based coal oven company; although we didn’t use them for Centro, they did help us along on our journey.

3. Crust. Centro’s crust had to stand up to midwestern sensibilities, so I went with a New York style crust rather than Napoletana. For an authentic taste, the crust would be charred with “New York blisters” – burned marks creating a leopard spot-like pattern on the bottom of the pizza.

4. Cheese. I wanted something a bit different than what everyone else was using, so I flew out to New York to source the top-secret mozzarella cheese we use today.

5. Sauce. We focused on specially-selected tomatoes with very simple seasoning. This is not Mom’s Sunday sugo on a pizza (as good as that might be).



So, there you have it. The five principles that led to Centro’s famous pizza. From here on out, I want to dedicate Mondays as “Pizza Days” and offer you suggestions, simple tips and crazy ideas for your own pizza enjoyment. And if you ever want a good excuse to try out Centro’s take, swing by on Monday nights for half-price pizza and Peroni beer. If you haven’t tried it yet, there is no better time – thanks, and enjoy!

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In recent years, the Super Bowl has become much more than a football game – it’s become a modern American holiday! As such, it has its own traditions, culture and most of all… food! Here are a few of my past posts that would be a great addition to your game day spread.

This dog is for anyone who can’t get enough Crab Rangoon.

Hot Dog Party 2: Let the Good Times Roll – How about celebrating the big game with a custom hot dog bar? Take a look at some of these out-of-the-box creations Zombie Burger’s Chef Tom and I came up with last summer, and let your creativity roll!

Pulled Pork for the Big Game – My Super Bowl blog post from last year is still as relevant as ever. The best part about it is that all the heavy lifting is done early in the day, which means more time to enjoy your favorite beverages.

Nacho Average Day – Nothing says “sports food” quite like nachos. This post lists some of my favorite riffs on the dish and includes a recipe for George’s Italian Nachos.

Eat well, and enjoy the party!


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Say the word “pudding” and most Americans think of the chocolate or vanilla custard-like stuff mom made for you when you behaved (as you may imagine, I rarely enjoyed pudding as a youngster!). But those variations are just part of the diverse world of puddings.

Pudding has a rich history dating back to medieval times. Puddings both savory and sweet were ways to preserve meats, fruits and vegetables. It is said that the dried fruits and spices actually helped preserve the meats. For the pudding enthusiasts of the world, there are books dedicated to the subject containing every variation imaginable in their pages.

Pudding is found in all kinds of books, here is an excerpt from one of my favorite holiday stories, Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol:

“Mrs Cratchit left the room alone – too nervous to bear witnesses -to take the pudding up and bring it in… Hallo! A great deal of steam! The pudding was out of the copper which smells like a washing-day. That was the cloth. A smell like an eating-house and a pastrycook’s next door to each other, with a laundress’s next door to that. That was the pudding. In half a minute Mrs. Cratchit entered – flushed, but smiling proudly – with the pudding, like a speckled cannon-ball, so hard and firm, blazing in half of half-a-quarter of ignited brandy, and bedight with Christmas holly stuck into the top.”

I love food and food history. Food that has lined the bellies of many generations, hold a special place for me. One such recipe is a good old-fashioned Mrs. Cratchit-style Charles Dickens Christmas Pudding – which is talked about in the excerpt above.

If you’re not familiar with Christmas pudding, just think of a very moist, dense fruitcake, but much more flavorful and steeped in a rich tradition. Typically, presentation of Christmas pudding involved it being set ablaze with ignited brandy and served with clotted cream or heavy cream.

In the 1660’s, the Puritans considered it the invention of the scarlet whore of Babylon… and it’s rich ingredients made it forbidden. Any dish with those reputed origins has my vote for a must-try dish!

Thankfully, pudding and its customs came back into popularity during the reign of George I. George I was known in some regions as the “Pudding King.” He requested that plum pudding be served as part of his royal Christmas feast in 1714 – looks like we all owe old George a proper thank you!

Christmas pudding can also be called “plum pudding.” Plum pudding is a bit of a misnomer since it doesn’t really contain any plum. The name comes from the pre-Victorian term of “plumming ” raisins by soaking them in ale and spirits. Old time recipes call for raisins to be stoned or pitted and cut in half, something we don’t have to deal with today.

It is said that Christmas puddings should be made by the 25th Sunday after Trinity (or the last Sunday prior to Advent, also known as “Stir-Up Sunday”), and often prepared with 13 ingredients, said to represent Jesus and His 12 disciples. Every member of the family should take turns stirring the mixture with a wooden spoon from east to west (in honor of the Three Kings), while making a wish at the same time.

Another fun fact is that this pudding was traditionally garnished with a sprig of arbutus with a red berry on it. It was stuck in the middle of the pudding and a twig of variegated holly with berries was placed on each side. According to a 19th century food dictionary, this was done to keep away witches (God forbid witches show up uninvited to your Christmas gathering!).

Although the ingredients vary, the core of the recipe for this pudding has not changed in centuries. Suet, flour, sugar, treacle or molasses, bread crumbs, milk, eggs, raisins, candied lemon and citron, currants, bitter almonds and sweet almonds, and sweet spices, the most notable being nutmeg. Stout, Ale and brandy are often times added, but a teetotaler’s version is also popular. More savory versions of pudding were stuffed into an animal stomach and boiled, much like sausage. Following that, puddings were wrapped in a cloth, buttered and/or floured and steamed, and dried out on this cloth and steamed again at the time of service. This has given way to the buttered basin used today.

All of the ingredients we used to make our own Christmas Pudding.

There are no written records that refer to this recipe during the eighteenth and nineteenth century. It’s not until the early 20th century that a recipe surfaces – the same recipe used here. Later publications (including the 1929 book Puddings, Pastries, and Sweet Dishes, by May Byron [1929]) provide different versions of this pudding, and several claim to be the “original” Royal Plum pudding recipe.

Dark Christmas Pudding

10 oz currants
10 oz raisins
4 oz plain flour
1 level teaspoon each salt, ground ginger, grated nutmeg mixed spice
8 oz shredded suet
4 oz white breadcrumbs
4 oz demerera sugar
2 oz glace cherries
2 oz blanched almonds
1 oz chopped peel
Finely grated rind of 1 orange and 1 lemon
Juice of 1 orange
3 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla essence
6 level tablespoons black tracle
1/4 pint stout
1 tablespoon gravy browning

Wash and pick over fruit and dry thoroughly. Sift flour, salt and spices into large mixing bowl. Stir in suet, bread crumbs and sugar.

Chop raisins, cherries and almonds. Mix currants, raisins, cherries, mixed peel, orange and lemon rinds and stir into dry ingredients.

Beat orange juice with eggs and vanilla essence and pour into bowl. Add treacle, gravy browning and stout and mix thoroughly. Turn into greased 3 pint basin.

Cook for 7 to 8 hours, less if in pressure cooker. To serve, heat for at least 4 hours.

Cherished family recipes are important in the preservation of food and family history; Christmas pudding recipes are often times handed from one generation to the next. Here is a little story from Rachel Formaro, my sister-in-law, about our pudding experiment for this year:

Christmas Pudding making (and eating) is one of my favorite Christmas memories. Because my mum’s birthday is roughly a month before Christmas, that’s when she would typically make the pudding. Everyone in my family would take a turn at stirring the ingredients in the mixing bowl, being sure to make a wish.

My brother Tom and his daughter Ella stirring and wishing

This recipe in particular is my grandfather’s, my mum’s dad. It is called a dark Christmas pudding – I’m not sure if that’s because a dark stout is used in the recipe, or just because of the dark color of the pudding! We always had the pudding on Christmas Day, after a traditional turkey dinner. My mum, dad and sisters (and any visiting relatives from the UK) would be wearing silly paper crowns that were contained in Christmas crackers (not the edible kind) that we opened at the start of the meal. Then mum or dad would pour a bit of brandy over the pudding and set it aflame – a very brief blue flame mind you, but enough to get an “oohh” and “ahhh” from anyone. Dessert dishes of pudding would be served with some Cornish or Double Devon cream. I would often get caught trying to get every last bit of cream out of the jar it had come in, well after everyone had left the table.

Rachel taking her turn

While this is the first year I’ve actually made the pudding, I have never gone a Christmas without a pudding.  I usually get a Matthew Walker Christmas pudding. Thank goodness for Amazon, as it would be hard for me to get my hands on one locally (or so I’ve found in the years that I’ve been in the United States). Now that I’ve married an Italian-American, our Christmas dinner is a fun mix of traditions. We have an interesting combination of Christmas lasagna followed by Christmas pudding all while wearing silly paper crowns of course!

Unveiling the finished product


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I don’t think we focus enough on things that are just plain awesome. In my opinion, there’s enough room in this town to celebrate all that is great. Our pizzas, bread, restaurants and markets can be just as good as New York’s, if not better. Our prosciutto is certainly better and we have Zombie Burger!

B&B’s counter where you can find some of the best sandwiches in the city.

One place that could hold its own anywhere in the U.S. is Des Moines’ own B&B Grocery, a small store tucked away on the South Side. They’re famous for their “Killer” sandwiches and were nominated for Iowa’s Best Burger in 2013. They are winners of Cityview’s “Best Sandwich” award and are a top-notch place for iconic Iowa’s food as well.

We have covered many burger variations on this blog, including beef fat-fried and lard cooked. (I am also working on the Connecticut “Steamed Burger” and the Mississippi slug burger… coming soon to the Formaro Files!).

B&B’s burgers are made with a meat blend that seems a bit fattier than the typical 80/20 – it makes for a delicious burger that stays juicy, even at well done. At B&B, I usually order the double, two thick quarter pound patties. The burgers are loosely pattied for a burger with a great “crumble” as you eat it.

Patties on the grill.

The beef is simply seasoned and cooked on a char broiler type grill rather than a flat top. The grill itself is not screaming hot; the burgers cook nice and slow. As the burger cooks, the fat drops onto the bottom of the grill to make a slight smoke. Not a heavy smoke like one would associate with the finest “Q,” but a subtle smoke that adds a flavor that I don’t care to mask with ketchup and mustard.

A great burger place doesn’t always have to make its own bun. I do it only because I am the “bread guy” and a self-proclaimed dough whisperer. But there are bad homemade buns out there, so when a place sources a good bun for its flavor and doesn’t just make their own for the novelty of it, that’s important. B&B uses the wonderful white “squishy ” buns typical to old-fashioned burgers. Now, these guys are smart – they spread a little mayo on the bottom bun, knowing that the delicateness of the bun will get greasy without the oil barrier of the mayo.

A double cheeseburger and B&B’s signature tenderloin.

I have them add classic white and yellow American cheese to my burger – no need for fancy pants cheeses here. Onions and pickles finish the burger nicely; the tartness from the pickle and the acidic sweetness from the onion work with the fat and juiciness of the burger.

B&B makes a great burger – if you haven’t had B&B before you should give it a go, I promise they won’t disappoint. Enjoy the moment and the burger!

Posing with my lunch.

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In preparation for Thanksgiving, I thought I’d look back to last year’s post about dealing with the holiday’s inevitable leftovers. Try some of these recipes out this year and have a great Thanksgiving!

Growing up in an Italian-American household meant that my Thanksgivings were a bit different than the Norman Rockwell-approved gatherings. Besides those traditional, new-world dishes (turkey, stuffing, etc), Mom went all out on all our Italian favorites. We especially loved my Mom’s Thanksgiving lasagna, and I have fond memories of waiting in line at Graziano Brothers to get ricotta cheese, mozzarella cheese, sausage and Elana Piccola pasta, which my mom insisted on using for her lasagna (I’ll do a separate post about Mom’s Thanksgiving day lasagna down the road).

If you’re like me, you’ll have tons of this stuff left over after Thanksgiving.

So what does all this mean? Well, usually the family would go after all that good Italian food and largely leave the turkey and fixings untouched at our holiday table. For days after Thanksgiving, we’d eat the leftover turkey in the form of sandwiches on toasted American bread (that’s what my Mom called everyday sliced white bread) with Miracle Whip and sometimes a slice of cheese. While that’s still a classic approach, I’ve developed some new ways to take care of that leftover bird. And like me, you may even find yourself getting an extra turkey or the biggest damn one you can find just so you can try these out. Here are three recipes that make great use of turkey (or Gateway’s rotisserie chickens). I put these together in the Gateway kitchen and just pulled everything I needed straight from the shelves.


1 pound cooked turkey breast, diced
4 ounces Gorgonzola or crumbled Maytag Blue
1 rib celery, finely minced
1 cup mayo
4 ounces green onions, finely chopped
1 ounce Louisiana hot sauce
salt to taste
4 pita breads, lightly toasted
finely shredded lettuce
diced red onion
diced tomato

Mix ingredients. Eat. It’s that simple.

This one’s stupidly simple. Just combine the first seven ingredients, mix well and stuff the finished product into a pita. Garnish it with the lettuce, red onion and tomato.

Finished product.


1 pound macaroni, cooked to package instructions

For the cheddar cheese sauce:

4 cups heavy cream
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese
6 tablespoons corn starch
8 tablespoons water
2 teaspoons garlic, chopped
1 cup sour cream
1 1/2 cups blanched broccoli florets (cook in salted boiling water for about 2 minutes and cool)
1 pound cooked diced turkey
1/4 cup sliced green onions (green and white together is fine)
4 teaspoon Parmesan cheese, freshly grated

Ol’ Cheese Mountain.

Mix corn starch and water together to make slurry.
Saute chopped garlic; do NOT brown.
Add cream and bring to boil; stirring occasionally.
Add salt and pepper.
Reduce heat and simmer.
Add corn starch and water mixture to thicken sauce; simmer for 1 minute to cook slurry.
Add sour cream.
Add cheddar cheese, melt into sauce.
Add cooked broccoli florets, green onions and Parmesan.
Toss with freshly cooked pasta.

Mix them all together.

How to show off: Top with toasted buttered panko bread crumbs and add cooked Niman Ranch bacon or crispy LaQuercia proscuitto on top.

All ready to go!

1 pound diced or shredded turkey
3 tablespoons butter or olive oil
2 small baking potatoes diced into small pieces
1 small onion
1 bell pepper
1 cup sliced mushrooms (optional)
1 teaspoon chopped garlic
8 eggs, beaten
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
plenty of salt and pepper (chef’s secret: season each layer individually for maximum flavor)
Cauliflower, optional

The base of your Black Friday Brunch

In a large skillet or Dutch oven, melt butter over medium high heat.
Add potatoes and without turning, let them start to brown.
Continue cooking till nicely brown season with salt, pepper and garlic powder; remove and set aside.
In the same pan, add onions, peppers and mushrooms and chopped garlic. You should have plenty of butter or oil left in the pan, if you need more, add 1 tablespoon before adding veggies. Brown slightly; season with salt and pepper.
Add cooked turkey and heat.
Add back fried potatoes.
Add eggs and cook; season with salt and pepper. Do not overcook or over mix.
When eggs are nearly done (or done to your liking), add cheese and melt.
Serve with warm tortillas, salsa and sour cream if you like.

Add some eggs into the mix.

Resist the urge to eat straight from the skillet.

Pair with tortillas, salsa and sour cream for the energy needed to face the deal-hunting savages.

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Turkey may be the hero of Thanksgiving, but stuffing is the lovable sidekick. Although the word “stuffing” was replaced in the late 19th century with the word “dressing,” we still use both words interchangeably today. No matter what you call it, you can bet it will be on your dinner table this holiday season.

Stuffing had humble, utilitarian beginnings: it was designed to keep your bird from drying out as it cooked. A pleasant bonus was that it resulted in a tasty side dish flavored with the natural cooking juices from the bird. And while stuffing still can serve that purpose, it’s no longer necessary. In fact, starting in the 70’s, Stove Top Stuffing made it possible to enjoy the great taste of stuffing with any meal, any time of the year.

There are several prominent stuffing styles, largely dependent on region and traditions. A few notable styles are:

Traditional – This would consist of stale, dried or toasted white bread, turkey broth, sage, thyme and other spices. Onion and celery are added, usually with cooked giblets. Butter and sometimes egg, cream or a little flour top it off.

Oyster Stuffing – Gaining popularity in the 19th century, this stuffing is generally not seasoned as highly as traditional stuffing. True gourmands would never use sage and thyme… but I would. In fact, you could even update this recipe with smoked andouille sausage, rice, garlic, celery, onion, green pepper, white, black, and cayenne pepper.

Chestnut Stuffing – The base of this stuffing comes from boiled, shelled and mashed chestnuts, often times seasoned minimally with salt and pepper. Additions to this base include breadcrumbs, butter, stock and/or cream. You can add mushrooms, celery, garlic, onion, and an egg for a rich and earthy flavor.

Cornbread and Sausage – This one is popular in the southern United States. Starting with cornbread (not too sweet), add a little broth, butter, sage, thyme, onion, celery, garlic and cooked and crumbled sage-style sausage (or what you may think of as breakfast sausage). Some southern cooks like to add cream of mushroom soup as well as eggs and a little white bread.

While these are some tried-and-true stuffing varieties, don’t be afraid to experiment with unique ingredients. Shrimp, Italian sausage, crayfish, apples, dried fruits, sautéed fresh fennel, ground dried fennel, Cajun seasoning, wild rice and pecans all would give a unique spin on any stuffing recipe.

The Thankskilling at Zombie Burger – complete with stuffing buns!

The Zombie Connection

As you may know, we always enjoy putting a fresh twist on classic dishes. Lately, I’ve been fooling with the idea of forming stuffing into a loaf and slicing it like bread. Last year, we gave it a shot and I’m happy to report that our “stuffing bun” is making another appearance this year at Zombie Burger! Chef Tom is bringing sexy back with the new, improved THANKSKILLING BURGER – complete with house-smoked turkey breast, ham, mashed potato croquette, turkey gravy and fried onion rings, all on a stuffing bun. It’s only available through Nov. 21, though, so hurry up!

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Happy National Nachos Day! Although the nacho may have Mexican roots, I consider it a uniquely American dish.

The nacho was reportedly invented in the Victory Club, located in the small Mexican border town of Piedras Negras. This club was a popular spot for the wives of U.S. military servicemen stationed across the Rio Grande in Eagle Pass, TX.

As the story goes, several women from the base dropped by the Victory Club one day for a bite to eat. Although the restaurant was closed, the maître d’, Ignacio (“Nacho”) Anaya seated them anyway. Ignacio headed back to the empty kitchen and using the only ingredients he had on hand, threw together pieces of tortillas, shredded cheese and jalapeño slices, calling the dish Naco’s Especiales. These “nachos” were a hit and were soon coopted by other restaurants serving their own take of the dish.

The biggest growth in nachos’ popularity can be attributed to a man named Frank Liberto. Frank sold nachos at Arlington Stadium (former home of baseball’s Texas Rangers). Although the elements of the nacho remained the same (chip, cheese and jalapeño), Frank’s nachos introduced a new take. There were was no room for a broiler at the stadium, and real cheese hardens when heated for an extended period of time. To make a product that fans would enjoy, Frank replaced shredded cheese with a cheese sauce that would stay semi-liquid at room temperature and would not separate when held in a warmer for the duration of a game. The jalapeño peppers were also replaced sliced pickled peppers, and the tortillas were pre-fried well in advance of final preparation.

This introduction resulted in an explosion of popularity and the nacho became a global iconic food. Although the original nacho is a simple, honest product, today’s cooks have developed creative, impressive concoctions that take nachos to the next level.

You can make some rather imaginative creations yourself; in my world, it’s perfectly acceptable to substitute flour tortillas, fried wontons skins, even French fries or tator tots for the traditional corn tortilla chip. Any of these will give a unique base to your nacho creations.

Some past Formaro Files recipes can even be incorporated into your custom creations; from short ribs, roast pork and pot roast to the sauce featured in my mac and cheese blog. Try some of the following approaches for a unique spin on nachos – I was able to assemble everything in these photos from items off Gateway Market’s shelves!

  • Pulled short rib tossed with Korean chile paste or Korean BBQ sauce, with shredded cheese, cheese sauce, charred scallions, diced red onion, pico de gallo, chopped cilantro, jalapeños and Sriracha mayo.
  • Roast pulled pork shoulder, red chile salsa, guacamole, cheese, cheese sauce, cilantro sour cream, sliced black olives, sliced jalapeños, green onion, diced onion and chipotle mayo.
  • Ground beef seasoned with garlic and onion with cheese sauce, chopped onion, green onion, black olive and sour cream.
  • Sautéed shrimp with garlic and ground chile, chipotle cream sauce, diced tomato, sour cream, shredded cheese, green onion and corn and black bean salsa.
  • Smoked brisket or pork tossed in sweet and spicy BBQ sauce, cheese sauce, sliced jalapeños, green onion and cheddar cheese
  • Sautéed seasoned chopped spinach, feta cheese, sautéed leeks, green onions, diced onion, diced tomatoes and Alfredo sauce and sliced grilled chicken.
  • Shredded chicken tika masala with sauce, yogurt, feta cheese, diced tomatoes and green onions.

Italian Nachos

  • 2 packages flour tortilla chips; cut into triangles, fry, and salt (for a simpler approach, just use two bags corn tortilla chips)
  • 1 quart Alfredo sauce
  • 1 lb. Italian sausage
  • 1/2 red onion, diced
  • 2 bunches green onions, chopped
  • 1 lb. shredded jack cheese
  • 3 tomatoes, diced
  • Chipotle sauce

Place chips in oven-proof baking dish. Top with Italian sausage and shredded jack cheese.

Bake in a 400 degree oven until cheese is melted. Remove from the oven and add your desired amount of Alfredo and chipotle sauce.

Finish with diced tomatoes and red and green onion.

If desired, take this one to the next level by adding salsa, shredded lettuce, sliced black olives, sour cream and pickled jalapeños.

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