Thursday, June 6, 2019

Review of Pizzeria Nonna

I've only thrown pizza into the trash twice in my life. Both times were from Pizzeria Nonna. I gave it a chance. Twice I gave it a chance... twice! I live in the neighborhood and I never want ANY business near my house to fail. I go out of my way to order all my vinyls and CDs from the independent shop a mile away even though I spend twice as much as an Amazon Prime member would – a friend routinely points this out.

I also love pizza. I love making pizza. I have about a half dozen different recipes for pizza dough that each provide two pies and I make a batch of one of those recipes every six weeks or so. When I need a quick lunch between double gigs I search to find the closest slice that is consistently appreciated by users of various apps. I will even resort to grabbing a slice from the “sub-par” place half a block from my apartment if I really have to because: how bad can pizza be? Seriously: even bad pizza is – at worst – okay pizza... Right?


Pizzeria Nonna is how bad pizza can be.

Did I mention that I PUT PIZZA INTO THE TRASH INSTEAD OF EATING IT?!?!?! TWICE?!? Both times I resorted to this self-inflicted torment was because (1) it was a Sunday and (2) I had just worked a double and still needed to walk the dog and (3) I had ZERO food in the house and (4) got home after 9:30pm. The two visits were separated by 4 months so this isn't a “one time mistake by an ex employee” situation. The second time I didn't throw the remainder of the pie away immediately like I did the first time. I waited until the next day and reheated a slice using the “Cooks Illustrated” method that, on a previous occasion, actually made a slice mediocre left-over pizza slightly better. (Here's how: Add one or two slices to a non-stick skillet with a tablespoon of water. Cover and cook on medium-high for 6 or  7minutes.)

Once reheated the cheese finally melted and the center of the pie discovered what being not raw felt like. Reheating also enhanced the cardboard blandness that was gag-worthy fresh (when the bottom of pizza was warm and moist) and made it boringly crunchy. The sauce was reminiscent of unseasoned porridge that had been treated with red food coloring. They do have nice sturdy boxes for what they pass off as a sell-able product. They obviously get their pizza ingredients from DollarTree so they have to be using their line of business credit somewhere.

I mentioned my sour experience to a friend who works at a shop nearby Nonna's. He says he ordered a “large pepperoni” and received a pizza covered with sweet peppers. His receipt said “Pepperoni” and was told by the person working at the counter that the “chef must have read it wrong”. I'm no expert on pizza ordering demographics and I'm just guessing that orders for pepperoni pizza are 17 times more common that orders for “pizza with sweet peppers” are. So my questions is: How does that misunderstanding even happen?

The best pizza I have had – and this even beats any of my home made ones – is from the food truck Ramble Pizza. Every type of pie/slice I have ever had from Ramble has been kick-ass. Find them on Instagram @ramblepizza. 

The next best option for me locally is Earth Bread and Brewery, which has excellent beer and an eclectic selection of flat breads. Earth is very good but it isn't pizza (nor do they claim to be) in the classic sense.

So in conclusion: Next time I am looking for classic mouth-watering slice of pizza (and Ramble is too far or not open) I'm going back to Evo. They have never been bad - they have never been great either.  But they are just three blocks away and deliver – or I could get off my fat-pizza-loving-ass and walk down there. The best part of my Pizzeria Nonna experience, both times, was walking with my dog to pick up the pie.  I do love that dog.

PS – on Friday nights Ramble Pizza is at Weavers Way at their Mt. Airy location. I work 49 Friday nights a year so I miss out. But you don't have to!

Easy Summer Garden Soup

So easy and so fresh.  Who knew a hearty home-cooked soup can be made from scratch in just about thirty minutes?  Use this recipe as a guide: try other veggies/herbs/toppings.  I know from other soups that zucchinis will fall apart and thicken the soup if cooked too long so I cut them small and only had them on active heat for a few minutes.

1.5 tablespoons unsalted butter*
1/2 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 onion, chopped fine
2 carrots, peeled and sliced 1/4 inch thick
2 stalks of celery, sliced 1/2 inch thick
garlic, as much as you like but no less than 2 cloves minced
3 cups vegetable stock
4 cups water
1/2 cup STARS pasta (or ditalini or alphabet shaped.. something small)
1 zucchini, quartered lengthwise, seeded, and sliced 1/2 thick
1 15 oz. can of any white/northern/navy bean, drained and rinsed
1 nice large tomato chopped
1/2 cup fresh peas (optional)
1/2-1 tablespoon of fresh lemon juice (omit if not fresh)
1/8 or more cup of freshly chopped dill OR cilantro (don't use both)

  1. In Dutch oven melt butter with oil over medium high heat.  Just as it starts to bubble add the onion and 1/2 teaspoon of salt. Saute for about 4 minutes - until translucent.  Add the carrots and celery and stir to combine.  Cook another 4 or 5 minutes.
  2. Add garlic and cook about 30 seconds.
  3. Add stock and water and pasta.  Bring to boil, reduce heat to simmer and cook 5 minutes.
  4. Add zucchini, beans, tomato and peas.  Continue simmering for about 5 minutes.
  5. Off heat add lemon juice and herb.  Salt and pepper to taste.
* VEGAN VARIATION: Omit butter and use 2 tablespoons of olive oil total in Step 1.

Serve with a salad made up of other items from your garden!
Serve topped with finely grated nutty or sharp cheese (like a pecorino)!
Serve with crusty bread for dippin'!
Try using canned chickpeas instead of beans!

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Christopher's Collard Greens

2 Tablespoon butter
2 Tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 onion finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, smashed
1/2 teaspoon Aleppo pepper flakes (or a pinch of red pepper flakes)
1 large bag chopped collard greens
2 tablespoon Bragg's Amino Acid
½ cup veg stock

  1. Heat butter and oils in Dutch oven on medium-high until shimmery
  2. Add onion and saute 8 minutes
  3. Add garlic and pepper flakes, cook for 30 seconds
  4. Add greens, amino acid and veg stock. Use tongs to turn greens every 60 seconds until most look wilted (about 5 turns)
  5. Cover and cook on LOW for about 45 minutes.
* This recipe can also be done with chopped kale!  If using kale: reduce the cooking time in step 5 to about 20 minutes.

* A non-vegetarian variation: Omit the butter and add about 1/3 cup of diced slab bacon (or pork belly).  Remove the cooked meat before adding the onions to the fat/olive oil mixture (in step 2).  Add the cooked meat back to the pot and stir well before serving.

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Smothered Baked Potato

Today was a cold, ice rainy day.  After two slippery walks with the doggo I realized that the weather was screaming "BAKED POTATO FOR DINNER".  The Vegetable Roux that I am using as a gravy is inspired by a recipe from New Orleans Food by Tom Fitzmorris that he calls Peas in a Roux.  I added some wine, some other veggies in addition to peas and the idea of serving it poured over a hot baked potato just seemed natural.

2 baking potatoes, washed and dried well
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1/4 cup all purpose flour
Salt & Pepper
8 scallions, sliced
4 oz baby bella mushrooms (about a heaping 1 1/2 cups)
2 carrots, peeled, halved lengthwise and cut into half moon discs
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/4 dry white wine
1 cup vegetable stock
1 tablespoon Bragg's Amino Acids
1 teaspoon of Sriracha
  1. Preheat oven to 425 with rack in middle.  Using a fork poke each potato 4 or 5 times (leaving 16 or 20 holes).  Lightly coat the potatoes with olive oil.  Lightly salt the outside of the potatoes and place them on a wire rack that is on an aluminum foil lined baking sheet.
  2. Place the potatoes in the oven and bake for about an hour.
  3. Once the potatoes are done take them out and let them sit for about 10 minutes.
Start the following steps about 10 or 15 minutes before the potatoes come out of the oven.
  1. Melt the butter in a non-stick skillet over medium heat.  Add the flour and make a light roux - making sure to NOT burn the roux by constantly stirring.
  2. Add the 'shrooms, carrots and scallions and lower the heat to medium-low.  Add a pinch of black pepper and two pinches of salt.  Stir every few minutes.
  3. After the 'shrooms about half their volume (about 12 minutes) deglaze the pan with the wine then add the stock, Bragg's and Srirachi.
  4. Stir in the peas and raise the heat slightly until the peas are hot.  Cover and lower heat.
  5. After the potatoes have sat for 10 minutes: Hold each potato with tongs use a fork to make a continuous dotted line lengthwise across the top of the potato.
  6. Place the potato in the tongs so the tongs are holding each "pointed" side of the potato.  Squeeze the tongs and the potato will pop open.
  7. Serve the potatoes smothered with the Vegetable Roux as an accompaniment to a salad, or blackened fish or by itself.

    Note: Not all the gravy will be used.  I find that I need to add another spoonful of gravy about halfway thru eating the potato.
- Add grated cheese before the gravy for a fun twist.

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

My Big Fat Greek Springroll

My first recipe of 2018 and it's a weird one.  I accidentally bought some fillo dough; I wanted puff pastry sheets.  I looked at what I had lying around and came up with this idea.  I like to save time and space by building the "Greek Logs" directly on the parchment lined cookie sheet.

Serves 4

1 9x14 inch square of fillo dough, thawed, cut to form two squareish rectangles
1 pack of goat cheese (4 oz)
1 lemon
1 bulb fennel sliced thin
quarter of  an onion sliced thin
1 red bell pepper cut into thin strips
1/4 cup minced parsley
1/2 cup sliced black olives
2 tablespoons Panko breadcrumbs
freshly grated Parmesan (optional)
dry white wine
Extra Virgin Olive Oil

  1. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper and place thawed dough on it.  Preheat the oven according to dough package instructions.
  2. In a bowl mix the goat cheese, a little lemon zest, a lot of cracked black pepper, the juice of half a lemon and a third of the parsley.  Set aside.
  3. Heat a couple tablespoons of oil 10 inch non-stick skillet over medium high heat.  Add the fennel, onion and bell pepper and a little salt and pepper and cook for about 7 minutes.  
  4. Add a quarter cup of wine, cover and reduce heat to medium and cook for 5 or 6 minutes.
  5. Off heat add the olives, juice of the other lemon half.  Toss to combine.  Mix in the panko.
  6. Using a cheese knife or spoon spread half the cheese mixture across the center third of the Phylo.  It will look like three even parallel striped flag.  Dough on the top and bottom, cheese spread in the center.
  7. Top with parm!
  8. From one of the dough ends start rolling up your "Greek Log".  
  9. Bake per dough package instructions.  I like to over cook them just slightly...  They burn quickly so keep an close eye if you attempt this.
  10. Slice each in half on a bias and serve with a side salad or soup. 

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Music for Nothing? That's Called Stealing

Originally published in the Chestnut Hill Local.

There is a great store up the street from my apartment called Mango.  They sell this adorable "Philly Girl" shirt, one that can be bought elsewhere around the city but locally it is a Mango exclusive.  Imagine a man or woman who go into Mango and informing, not asking, but informing the staff that they needed the shirt yet have no funds in their budget for the shirt.  It's okay though because when people saw them wearing the shirt would know that it was from Mango. The person wearing would even keep some business cards from Mango handy to give out.

Sounds inappropriate, right?  It is something that I deal with multiple times a year as a full-time musician.  What is even more amazing is that these requests for free services always come from groups that have members whose yearly income is double what I make as an independent artist.

I am not sure if a monetary value can be put on the training I have had.  A couple hundred thousand dollars of higher education followed by years of performing six days a week in and around New Orleans honing my craft.  Add to that a few hours a day I currently spend practicing, composing or arranging new material.  Then there is the maintenance on equipment, upkeep on my physical appearance (you gotta look good if you want to get hired), hours - I mean hours - on the phone booking new venues, meeting with potential brides and grooms to help plan their big day, plus dealing with hotels, township offices (if the performance is outside and a variance is needed), the list goes on and on.

Did I mention that in order to stay competitive and be able to put bids in for jobs that I need to have the same liability insurance coverage that a caterer or general contractor has?  Places like the Highlands Historical in Ft Washington won't hire me without it, and it isn't cheap.

A study from 2015 found that the average yearly income of a full-time musician in the United States is around $20K.  I mentioned earlier that, in my experience, those looking for free music are wealthier than I am and always white.  When talking to older musicians I am told that $100/man was considered a fair paying gig in the early 1960's.  Why then am I fighting to get $150/man in 2017?  And remember: $150/man doesn't include what I need to put aside for my insurance.  And taxes.  Don't forget the tax man.  As I said: I am a full-time musician.  That also means Uncle Sam gets about 23% of what you are paying me.  Suddenly a $100 gig becomes $77, which becomes $50 or less once I take care of the insurance bill.  I need gas to get to the venue and that brings us down to $40.  Am I performing downtown?  If so: parking garages are about $25 or $30 for a weekend night, right?  So at the end of the night I may have $15.  $15 for three or four hours of work.

Why then, time and time again, am I approached with "Our group is hiring a few musicians to entertain but we don't have music in our budget"?  If this is the case then (1) you aren't hiring musicians at all and (2) you should focus on what actually is in your budget. 

When I am asked for something for free from people who make more in one week that I make in one month is insulting and borders on indentured servitude. What is amazing to me is that when I am asked to perform for groups from lower income areas (ie: West Parkside Business Assoc, various community groups in Germantown, Mt. Aity, etc) my price is never questioned and a generous tip is almost always included. Why does this issue seem to be native to Chestnut Hill, Philadelphia's “Garden District”?

Don't think I don't do "freebie" gigs.  I donate my time and talent to a number of good causes.  There are a few children's charities that I contribute a silent auction item of a performance in your home, and many time I will perform for free at the auction itself. Occasionally my band mates join me and the auction item becomes a jazz trio for a house party, etc.  It always comes back around in the end.  A child gets medical bills paid and you get some great music in your house.  But asking musicians to play for nothing more than "business card placement" is despicable.

I am a firm believer that live music makes any event more memorable.  If you feel the same and don't "have it in your budget" then ask your members/friends/neighbors for help.  If you have 25 members and they each contribute $20 then you have $500 for music, which - in 2017 - is a fair price for a duo to entertain for 3 or 4 hours.

Music for nothing?  That's called stealing.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Whole Wheat 3 Cheese White Pizza with Roasted Peppers & Arugula Pesto

for the pesto
2 cups arugula
1 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup grated parmesan
1/2 cup toasted walnuts
1 clove of garlic

for the roasted peppers
2 red bell peppers, seeded and taken apart

for the pizza
1 1/4 cup cold water
1 1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1 cup bread flour
2 teaspoons honey
1 3/4 teaspoons salt
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon yeast
8 oz skim mozzarella, grated
1/2 cup parmesan, grated
3/4 cup crumbled feta
Penzy's "Tuscan Sunset" herb blend
Penzy's "Dried Aleppo Pepper Flakes"

  1. In a bread machine set to the "dough" setting, combine the water, flours, honey, salt, oil and yeast.  As the saying goes: Set it and forget it.
  2. Plan to do the rest of these steps once your dough has finished.  Keep the dough in the bread machine until you are ready to use it.
  3. Combine all the pesto ingredients into your "Magic Bullet" and pulse until combines.  Place in fridge until you need to use it.
  4. Turn on your broiler and put the rack about 3 inches from it.  Line a baking sheet with foil and coat with cooking spray.  Lay out your peppers, skin side up, and broil for 13 minutes, rotating halfway.  Remove from oven and - using tongs - pile the peppers in the center of the foil and then close the foil to make a pouch.  Let the peppers sit and steam for ten minutes.  Then open foil.  Once they are cool peel off the charred skin and then slice the peppers into thin strips.  Put aside.
  5. Pre-heat oven to 450 degrees.
  6. On a floured surface plop your dough out and, using flour coated hands, work the dough into a 10 inch round.  Then place the round on a greased 12-inch-round "crisper tray" and with those floured hands work the dough out into a 12-inch round.
  7. Top the pizza with the mozzarella, feta, parm and the two Penzy's herbs.  Bake for about 15-18 minutes, rotating it halfway and pulling it out before anything burns.  Place pizza on cooling rack so the bottom stays crispy.
  8. While pizza is cooling put your pesto into a bread bag (or pastry bag if you is fancy).  If using a bread bag: once you have loaded it up cut the corner off so there is tiny hole to squirt out the pesto.  If using a pastry bag use the smallest tip.
  9. Place the peppers and squirt the pesto on your pizza.  I like doing a lattice of horizontal red and vertical green (see picture above).
  10. ENJOY!