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Dad steps up for dinner

Chef Jess and I added a tiny person to our family a couple of weeks ago. In the time leading up to our addition, she often commented on how she should be creating and saving articles for her column so she wouldn't have to write one immediately af...

Sprinkle the apple slices with brown sugar and cracked black pepper. (Grand Forks Herald photo by Jessica Karley Rerick)
Sprinkle the apple slices with brown sugar and cracked black pepper. (Grand Forks Herald photo by Jessica Karley Rerick)

Chef Jess and I added a tiny person to our family a couple of weeks ago. In the time leading up to our addition, she often commented on how she should be creating and saving articles for her column so she wouldn't have to write one immediately after the little boy's birth.

Jokingly, I made a comment that I should fill in for her to give her a week off. I thought it was a funny joke at the time, but now you're stuck reading a food article written by an athletic director instead of a chef. For that, I apologize.

Originally, I was asked to just write about what the boys and I do for dinner when Jess isn't home. Here's what I wrote:

• Bake a large bag of pizza rolls. Eat them.

• Open a box of ice cream. Eat it.

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Apparently, that wasn't enough, so I had to dig deeper. A little-known fact around our house is that I actually make about half of our family meals. That percentage used to be higher when Jess was working full time in food service but, thankfully, she's home earlier now, so we all can eat real food again.

I'm not nearly as creative as she is, but I can follow a recipe like nobody's business and, from time to time, copycat something I've liked. I have one of each of those examples to share today.

A couple of years ago, Jess and I were in Anaheim, Calif., wandering around downtown Disney looking for a place to eat. She already had approved our previous lunch at the ESPN Zone for me, so the dinner choice was hers to make. Ultimately, we landed in a pizzeria that made several different creations. That night, we ate a really good caramelized pear, prosciutto and arugula pizza with Gorgonzola cheese. As much as we liked the pizza, there were three problems with making it ourselves:

• With three boys, we can't keep pears around long enough to actually use them.

• We don't routinely have prosciutto in the house.

• Jess is allergic to Gorgonzola (bleu cheese). Side note: I learned this fact while eating this pizza in Anaheim. Nothing says date night quite like your fiancee struggling to breathe during dinner. (She thought she'd "be fine" and didn't tell me because she really wanted to try the pizza.)

To re-create our version, I used ingredients we usually have on hand in the house. This pizza has been our go-to dinner many times when we're home alone or after the boys are put to bed.

Caramelized Apple, Bacon and Arugula Pizza

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1 pizza crust

2 tbsp olive oil

4 tbsp butter

1 apple, sliced into circles (something firm and sweet, like a Gala or Fuji)

1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese

⅓ cup shredded Parmesan cheese

⅓ cup bacon bits (we use the Hormel Real Crumbled Bacon)

⅓ cup packed brown sugar

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2 ½ cups arugula

Nonstick pan spray

Black pepper

Sea salt (or any coarse salt)

Directions: Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Heat a skillet to medium to medium-high to melt the butter. Once hot, add the apple slices and cover with brown sugar and ½ teaspoon black pepper. Cook for three minutes per side to caramelize the apples. While the apples are cooking, spread the olive oil over the pizza crust. Sprinkle ⅓ cup mozzarella cheese on the oiled crust. Once the apples are done, distribute the slices evenly on the crust. Sprinkle the bacon bits over the apples and cover with the remaining mozzarella cheese. Top with Parmesan cheese and cook for 10 minutes.

After removing the pizza from the oven, allow it to cool for two minutes. Then, slice as desired. I prefer to slice the pizza before adding arugula to help keep the arugula from wilting. Once sliced, top pizza with arugula, quickly spray with nonstick pan spray and top with salt to taste.

I couldn't allow the opportunity to write a food article slip away without sharing something for dessert. Those people who know me well also know I have a fairly uncontrollable sweet tooth; if it has sugar, I probably like it.

Growing up, my mom had specific birthday cakes for each one of us (mine was a hot fudge upside-down pudding cake). The one my siblings and I looked forward to all year was our dad's cake. Mom had borrowed a recipe from someone else in our town that replicated a popular peanuts and caramel ice cream treat found at a local chain restaurant. The best part about Mom making this cake was that it was too big to store in the refrigerator's freezer. It had to be stored downstairs in the freezer chest - meaning, downstairs where I spent most of my time at home. I'm not going to say I routinely brought a fork downstairs with me to sneak bites at night, but I'm also not going to say I didn't. I'm also going to naively continue to believe that Mom didn't know why Dad's cake disappeared so quickly in the freezer. You may want to find a way to hide this in your freezer if you plan to enjoy a second piece.

Dad's Birthday Ice Cream Cake

1 package Oreo cookies (I actually use 1.5 packages, but one package would be enough)

¼ cup melted butter

½ gallon vanilla ice cream

12 ounces dry roasted salted peanuts

1 jar or bottle of caramel ice cream topping

12 ounces Cool Whip

Directions: Crush one package of Oreos. (If only using one package, set aside ⅓ cup after crushing. If using more, separately crush an additional ⅓ cup from the second package.) Mix crushed Oreos with melted butter and pat into a 9-by-13 pan. Spread the ice cream on top of the Oreos (allowing the ice cream to melt a bit first makes this step easier). In layers, add the peanuts, caramel topping, Cool Whip and remaining crushed Oreos. Freeze until serving.

Related Topics: FOOD
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