Big Hungry Scacciata

A couple weeks ago, I was craving something cheesy, but wanted something more than pizza. I remembered an old episode of Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives where a guy made a large-format calzone that was sliced up into squares like a sandwich for service, and I thought: bingo.

Put on some stretchy pants, and join me for the step-by-step! Preheat that oven to 450.

Start with a pound of pizza dough from the store, and roll it out into as close to a rectangle shape as you can. Drape what will be your bottom half on a sheet tray, with the other half off the side.

Layer on provolone cheese and salami. I used sopressata this time, which is really robust. Genoa is milder, if that's your preference. 

Next up, layer on vegetables that you like. I used jarred roasted red peppers, black olives, and (gasp!) canned mushroom slices because we had some leftover from something Shawn made last week. If you like artichoke hearts, use 'em! If you hate olives, leave them out! I would just go with something not too watery for the veg, so you don't mess with the moisture level in the delicate ecosystem of your scacciata.

Prosciutto and sliced mozzarella will round out your chief ingredients, and then I sprinkle on a little dry basil and garlic salt, for oomph.

Now it's time to tuck all those delicious babies in for the night. Pull the other half of the dough on top, and crimp all the way around so your delicious cheese doesn't bubble out while cooking.

Egg wash is a good idea. Why? Because it gives a sprinkle of pecorino romano cheese something to grab onto. Like a salty, funky hug!

Poke a steam escape hatch in the top and slide that scacciata into the oven for 18 minutes. Heat up a little cup of marinara for dipping in the meantime. Try not to drool once you start to smell this wonder of gastronomical innovation.

Fetch it from the inferno, slice it into quarters, and behold:

Big Hungry Scacciata

  • 1 lb Pizza dough
  • Packages of sliced provolone, mozzarella, prosciutto and salami
  • Jarred roasted red peppers
  • Sliced black olives
  • Sliced, canned mushrooms
  • Dry basil and garlic salt, to taste
  • 1 egg
  • 2 T Grated Pecorino Romano
  • Marinara sauce
  1. Preheat oven to 450
  2. Roll out pizza dough on a floured surface into the biggest near-rectangle you can manage; drape half on, half off a cookie sheet.
  3. Layer six slices provolone, then salami, then vegetables to taste, sprinkle with basil and garlic salt, then top with prosciutto and finally, six slices of mozzarella. 
  4. Fold top of dough over the ingredients. Crimp edges to seal.
  5. Brush with beaten egg, sprinkle with romano cheese, and poke a small hole in top to vent. 
  6. Bake for 18 minutes, until golden brown. 

Enjoy this easy dinner this winter with your fam, and tell them Big Hungry loves them!


The Sounding Joy

What’s your favorite sound of joy at the holidays? Is it the carols playing in the shops? The squeal of delight when a tiny tot finds her heart’s desire under the tree? Or the contented moan of a colleague biting into your famous Christmas cookies?

I’ve always loved the line “repeat the sounding joy,” from Joy to the World. It is a time of year to find joy in unexpected places, and repeat it to those around us. If you have foodies on your gifting list to whom you’d like to repeat some joy, I have you covered again this year with my gift list.

I am one of those people who can totally take violence in a movie or TV show, unless that violence is of the stabbing/cutting variety. I have an unreasonable fear of cutting myself, even though my knife skills are pretty good. Chalk it up to an early job at a bagel shop and some pretty nasty cuts on the line, I guess. So this BladeBrush from Joseph and Joseph would make a terrific stocking stuffer for me. It allows you to really scrub your knives with a solid piece of plastic between the blade and your hand, rather than a sponge or dishcloth.
I’ve waxed poetic about the delicious attributes of DiBruno Brothers’ Black Lava Cashews to you before, and to satiate my hungry heart, those mad geniuses have cooked up a new treat using them this year: the Black Lava Cashew Dark Chocolate Bar. I can’t even image how good those buttery, salty flavor bombs are going to be enrobed in high quality, bitter dark chocolate. Mine are on order already, but you can (and should!) get yours now.

Confession: I received an Instant Pot last year for Christmas, and I’ve only used it twice. I’m not sure it’s my jam. I have a big one, and by the time the pressure’s built up in that sucker, it doesn’t feel quite so instant. But then Williams Sonoma came out with this line of Instant Pot sauces and starter kits this year, and I’m hoping to try some out and that they’ll make this whole thing feel easier. I have my eye on the carnitas sauce and the tortilla soup starter.

If your giftee loves Harry Potter AND eating (like me!), you might want to go for the Solemnly Swear appetizer plates from Pottery Barn. They were on my list this year, and I can’t wait to feast from them. I love that they’re Harry Potter-themed, but not obviously for kids. There’s some sophistication to the spell these will put on you.

If you want to help someone make their kitchen elegant AND festive, you can’t go wrong with Kate Spade Christmas kitchen towels. I’ve already gifted this set, and more are on their way as the season progresses.

I’m mad for tomato salt. Well. There’s a sentence I’ve never written before. Listen, salt infused with dried tomato powder is good for many dishes, but the flavor punch it gives plain white rice really makes my skirt fly up. I found some made by Saltopia, and it’s going in some of the holiday baskets I’m making for folks this year, so I thought you might want some, too.
I always give you a cookbook to buy, yes? This year, I love Chrissy Teigan’s Cravings: Hungry for More, which I received for my birthday, but what might be even cooler for the Gen X foodie you love would be the Beastie Boys Book – part memoir, part cookbook, with illustrations and playlists that will make your beloved’s next kitchen romp so much edgier.
So that’s my list, Hungries! I hope you find that elusive gift for the food lovers on your list right here, and I hope you repeat the sounding joy whenever and wherever you can this holiday season, whether than means baking treats for your office, making snow angels with your kids, or snuggling up with a hot toddy by the fire. As for me, I’ll be watching enough Hallmark movies to give myself a toothache. Happy Holidays!


Dispatch from Denver: Binghamton Son Shuns Spiedies

Remember that old slogan with a name like Smuckers, it has to be good? Well, if you're from in or around Binghamton, you might think: with a name like Lupo, it has to be spiedies. Spiedies are a Binghamton staple, and Lupos is a big name in the marinated meat arts in these parts.

So when my colleague, whose surname happens to be Lupo, encouraged me to try her son's restaurant out during an upcoming trip to Denver, I wasn't sure if I should just expect a marinated chicken breast sub, or what.

Her son, Jesse Lupo, is sous chef at FNG Restaurant, a new hot spot in Denver right next door to a Detroit-style pizza shop, and utterly devoid of the crunchy granola stoner aesthetic the Mile High City sometimes serves up. I was visiting my friend Big Hungry Jill in Denver, and she had never dined at FNG, so we added it to our schedule.

FNG is exceedingly cool inside, but not so trendy that it comes off as pretentious or intimidating. They're playing rock music, and the clientele is a mix of olds and youngs. I'm pretty sure I've officially crossed over to the old side of that equation, so the fact that our server didn't show any outward signs of disgust at our hideous countenances helped put us in a partying mood.

We ordered the mac and cheese with green chile as an appetizer, because that's completely sensible, and told our waiter that we craved a word with his sous chef. The cavatappi pasta was al dente, the cheeses were rich and well-blended between sharp and round to add tons of flavor, and the green chile was savory rather than off-the-charts spicy. The kicker was the topping of toasted, crushed goldfish crackers, which added texture but also a secondary cheese flavor that was surprisingly complex. I would have guessed it would just be gimmicky, but the crackers actually added to the satisfaction of the dish.

Jesse came out to greet us, and was delightful, of course. FNG has an open kitchen, and we were there on a Saturday night, so the joint was jumping. The fact that Jesse took the time to come out and say hi, and then returned to bring us a charcuterie and cheese taster on which nearly every single item was house-made, was kind of amazing. The Colorado fruit mostarda might have been my favorite item on the board. It was a mix of pureed fruit and mustard seeds that made that whole sweet/tang thing really come to life. We also loved the house made salami, which was garlicky and silken in texture. I highly recommend this starter if you visit.

Lamb dip is not a sandwich I've ever seen on a menu before. It is now a dish I wish would appear on many more. You like a French dip, correct? Of course you do, because you're wise. Who doesn't like a chewy roll topped with tender roast beef just begging to be dipped in a well-seasoned beef jus? Now swap out the beef for lamb, a protein that almost always outpaces beef for meaty flavor (it does in this case). Grilled onions and red pepper pesto added sweetness to what can sometimes be a salt bomb, and the jus in this instance was robust and delectable - very rich.

Jill went for the gusto with the chicken fried steak. That thing was stellar: crowned with fiery/savory green chile sauce and served atop a mountain of mashed potatoes. The crunch on the steak was perfect and somehow uncompromised by the sauce, and a few crisp-tender green beans were draped over the pile to make you feel less guilty about the carb and fat overload. Every element of this plate was given the individual attention needed to make the whole thing come together deliciously. No one item stood out, but everything balanced and worked together. That's the mark of a kitchen in harmony.

Jill and I began to joke at this point about how our slogan should be "I'm so full," but we ordered dessert anyway, because it seemed like the right thing to do. Maybe it was the numerous Bang Your Head cocktails we had consumed by that point guiding us? Passion fruit foam is a compelling temptress. Or maybe I earned the name Big Hungry for a reason. In any event, the desserts at FNG are just a legit as the rest of the eats.

The banana cream pie was Jill's favorite - it was a thick banana custard with just a few thick slices of fresh banana, but a decadently buttery graham cracker crust. I preferred the Oreo pudding. Sounds boring, right? Wrong. It isn't easy to made a chocolate pudding this dense, smooth, and rich with dark chocolate. Sprinkling it with crushed Oreo cookies is pretty simple, but the whole here was worth more than the sum of its parts. Trust.

I liked more than just the food and individual attention we received at FNG. The vibe there is really cool - we were seated at a big, communal table right near the open kitchen, and made quick friends out of the folks next to us, who were eating the gorgeous slabs of focaccia with cheese and loaded tater tots. The environment is loud, but not so much so that you can't talk across the table without shouting. And that open kitchen lends an energy to the dining space that's kind of infectious. You see those guys hustling on the line, and smiling while they're cranking, and you just want to have a good time.

Our Lupo is making really good food out west, and there's nary a marinated chicken sub in sight. If you head to Denver, you should pay him a visit, and tell him his mom misses him.


South Side Dumpling Destination

There's a new restaurant on Binghamton's South Side. It isn't fancy, it hasn't advertised, its Instagram feed has no posts, and only three people are working the weekend day shift. But on Saturday at 1 p.m., every table but one was full. I haven't tried enough of the menu at Beijing Dumplings yet to give it a full review, but I'm going to go ahead and recommend it based on my visit this weekend, which was promising indeed.

The storefront is tucked into an old house on Vestal Ave, and you'll order at the counter, then grab a table. Hot tea is free. The menu is in Chinese and English, and in addition to house made dumplings, there are noodle dishes and entrees.

I started with the fried pork buns - a mixture of ground pork and scallions stuffed inside fluffy white dough, steamed, and then pan fried on the bottom to make them crisp. They're served with a soy sauce and black vinegar mix which cuts through the fattiness and adds great flavor. The buns are fluffy and savory, though the pork inside isn't seasoned strongly - really delicious.

I also enjoyed an order of Beijing dumplings, 15 to an order for only $9. These were very bland, but completely awoken by the soy sauce - I will ask for chile oil next time and see if they can accommodate. That said, they were tender and homemade, with the same pork and scallion filling. With some chile oil, they would have been dynamite.

I want to go back and try the stewed beef noodle, which I saw being taken down at the table next to mine, as well as the garlic broccoli, and the egg and scallion cakes not on the menu board but noted on the paper menus at the counter. I'm hoping they add even more authentic Chinese street food as the menu board promises, because I am totally down for more of this food, which is a scarcity in our area. And if the owners are reading this, let me put in a request now for a cheung fun (rolled, steamed rice noodles with garlic and hot chiles)!

Big Hungry Shelby: always hungry; never thirsty.


Fantasy Dishes

Sometimes I peruse a menu before eating out, and wish there was a dish on it that's not on it. Anyone else? My dream dishes are always in keeping with the culinary viewpoint or style of the restaurant, but I often find myself wishing a place I'm planning to go had more pork dishes on offer, or a really wonderful duck entrée with crispy skin, or a dessert with a little bit of salt to offset the sweet.

I thought it would be fun to pose some of these to my favorite restaurants around Upstate New York, because maybe my chef friends need some inspiration! Plus, it's just fun to fantasize about food. Comment below with the dishes you wish your favorite restaurant served!

MJ's Bar and Restaurant - Owego

Fried chicken sandwich on a buttered, toasted Kaiser roll with sweet pickle chips and Cajun cream sauce. The Cajun cream sauce they make at MJ's is utterly fabulous - potently spicy and unctuous, and it would crown a fried chicken sandwich, which is a difficult menu find in these parts, like a total boss.

Gram's Diner - Adams

Tourtiere - which is a Montreal specialty - a double crusted savory pie filled with ground pork, onions, and spices. Served with buttery mashes potatoes, a pork jus, and green beans with toasted almonds and lemon zest.

China Garden - Endicott

I go to this place for lunch all the time. It's right across from my office. I am positive they do not read my blog, but it is very important to me that they begin to make a cheung fun, which is a dim sum dish of steamed rice noodles rolled and served with hot chile oil and scallions. I need this in my life on the regular. Honestly, soup dumplings and scallion pancakes would also be welcome.

Ryan's Lookout - Henderson

Ryan's makes baller shrimp. They're always super sweet and just crisp, because they toss them in rice flour before frying. So I wish they would bring me a big, fat pile of fried shrimp scampi in a skillet of sizzling garlicky, winey, butter, with slabs of toasted Italian bread to slop up all the lemony, buttery sauce once I've scarfed down all the shrimp.

Food and Fire BBQ Taphouse - Johnson City

Well, what do you know? They already make my fantasy dish: BHS's briskett poutine. And it is an awesome mouthful to behold.

Social on State - Binghamton

I love tapas, but when I'm sitting down for a small plates meal, I also want to go old school and have the Spanish tapas classic: pan con tomate. This is just fresh, raw tomato rubbed on crusty, toasted bread, then covered with either paper thin slices of jamon Iberico or Manchego cheese. Simple, but glorious.

Dell'Arco Ristorante - Endicott

I am dying for this place, which serves awesome pizza, arachini, and carbonara, to do a lunchtime porchetta sandwich with salsa verde on it. Pork belly wrapped around pork loin, seasoned with an herbaceous gremolata between the layers, roasted in a scorching hot oven, and served with a refreshing herb, oil, garlic, and lemon pesto on ciabtta? Yessssssssss please.


The Epicenter of the Thousand Islands’ Culinary Rise

When I was a girl, dining out in the Thousand Islands typically meant Alexandria Bay, and it was considered fancy. Bonnie Castle, the Riveredge, or Edgewood dining all meant dressing up – for a wedding or for dinner before prom or some such occasion. Of course, the democratization of good food and restaurants has gone a long way to making dinner with a view into something more accessible to the masses.

In 2018, Alex Bay has some catching up to do in comparison to its once-sleepy neighbor, Clayton. From the always-busy 1000 Islands Harbor Hotel, to the always-delicious Clipper, the elegant Johnston House and the new jewel DiPrinzio’s, Clayton has gotten its act together at exactly the right time. Leading that charge is The Chateau, down Route 12, with the most spectacular views, attentive service, and deliciously upscale cuisine this side of the St. Lawrence.

I’ve been dying to eat at the Chateau, and finally stomped my foot hard enough this past weekend to get my way. Why was that necessary? I think fine dining still has a mountain to climb in the Northcountry in terms of acceptance. When a menu sports words like curry, wasabi, bottarga, and sumac, many folks are intimidated by the threat of ingredients they’ve never tasted and whether they’ll be plunking down $18 for a salad they might not like. That’s not an accusation I’m casting in the direction of the diner nor The Chateau’s experienced executive chef, Christian Ives, but it’s an observation I made first hand as my party took our seats and perused the menu last Saturday night.

But let’s back up to the opening strains of the symphony The Chateau is waiting to play for you. As you enter Fairview Manor, this onetime nunnery will immediately set you at ease and transport you to a more genteel plane. The hearths are decorated with flowers, the 18” thick stone walls are insulated by acoustic panels to create a hushed interior, and the balcony off the main level welcomes you with a panoramic view of the river. The entire restaurant is inviting, clean, and comfortable, and a cocktail at the bar while you wait for the rest of your party to arrive will afford you with an eyeful of the international channel that makes this corner of the world so special.

Service is attentive though not overly formal. I liked that we were asked if we preferred sparkling or still water – a European traditional that’s a nice touch stateside. In addition, we were informed that our table was ours for the evening, inviting us to relax and exhale - no turn-overs expected here. The wait staff also is very patient and knowledgeable about menu questions, and willing to address diners' concerns about those more challenging ingredients. At least two of the guests in our party have more conservative palettes, and our waiter Damien was great about accommodating their requests.

Right out of the gate, the amuse bouche, or “mouth amuser,” of the evening pleased almost everyone at our table. I thought it was an absolute slam-dunk. Pork, cilantro, and an assertive punch of lime tucked into a crunchy, fried wonton garnished with fresh tomato and pickled red onion kicked off our meal with the perfect amount of mmmmmm. One person detected heat in hers, but everyone else tasted a savory dumpling packed with flavor, and were glad for it.

Another crowd pleaser were the dinner rolls, which are usually a pretty hum-drum milestone in a restaurant meal. At The Chateau, the impossibly ethereal, fluffy rolls are brushed with butter and sprinkled with parmesan, and served with a peppery olive oil infused with rosemary and other herbs and seasoned with sea salt. They were irresistible, and really delicious.

The fried green tomato and crab salad dish served as dinner for one of the more conservative of our diners, and while the sumac vinaigrette and saffron promised on the menu worried her, she ended up absolutely loving her meal. Chef Christian is a master at taking a complex suite of ingredients and balancing them perfectly to deliver flavors that are intricate but nuanced. In this dish, the creamy saltiness of the pistachios in the crust of the tomatoes gave them personality which played perfectly against the citrus punch of the lemon and the sumac dressing the jumbo lump crab salad. That acidity counterbalanced the sweetness of the shellfish, and the brightness of the microgreens on top pointed the whole thing up. It was wonderful and light, a fantastic dish if you want to hold on to summer just a moment longer.

Our other picky eater went for the sea bass, despite her concern about wasabi, curry, and crabmeat. But this dish, like the last, was a sonnet rather than slam poetry. The fish was as mild as possible, with a gorgeously moist, delicate texture. The risotto didn’t deliver a curry wallop, but rather a depth of flavor to carry the fish upon – its flowery saffron and earthy curry anchoring the subtle bass.

The beef tournedos also advertised a curry marinade, but didn’t bring with them any of the strong scent or spice of Indian food. The beef was impeccably tender, and well-seasoned, while the lobster on top was buttery and rich. A large portion of mashed potatoes alongside were earthy and creamy, and the garlic red wine reduction was silky darkness upon the tongue.

My order was the duck en croute, and I was enchanted from the first bite until the last. The lavender- duck fat glaze leant fragrance without a flowery taste, and the duck was cooked with a gorgeous blush at the center. The potato/chanterelle mushroom/blue cheese gratin that came under the duck was richness incarnate, and you have got to taste it. Duck is a sweeter meat, so to have the intense umami of the blue cheese and mushrooms with it was just delectable. A little bundle of broccolini alongside brightened up the rich plate, and a maple butter sauce under it reinforced the sweetness and was wonderful with the vegetable.

We couldn’t help but order dessert. One of them was a tableside bananas foster presentation, and you all know how much I love that. Watching the flame of the banana liqueur is such a fun sideshow gag during a meal – and the results were sweet, creamy, and just plain yummy.

Even better was a key lime pie that backed nicely off what can be an either too tart or too sweet confection. This one was extremely creamy, with the piercing citric tang of lime zest, but enough panache in the velvety topping to balance it out.

The peanut butter pie was a masterpiece of textures – lightly crisp layers along with a chewy base and a creamy filling that also somehow avoided an overly saccharine finish that claims so many chocolate and peanut butter efforts.

While we were inhaling all of this amazing food, we also had a magnificent overall experience. Damien kept the drinks fresh and treated us to extra rolls when asked, we had this beautiful view out the windows, and we felt enveloped in the warm atmosphere they’ve taken pains to create at The Chateau. The deft hands at the work in the kitchen created cuisine that was enormously satisfying, never heavy and never fussy, despite the elaborate menu descriptions.

I give The Chateau at Saint Lawrence Spirits a 10 on the BHS scale. I almost never do that, but there really was no way our experience could have been improved – it was delightful. It was one of those evenings that causes you to linger as you step out of the building towards the parking lot, reluctant to bid farewell to friends or to let the spell break. And that’s the real magic of this place – you are lulled by the flavors Ives and his team weave together into a meal here, compounded by excellent wines and cocktails and set to the rhythm of the St. Lawrence River. It’s a heady composition, and it’s one you should add to your list. For a place with castles perched on islands and sailboats decorating every splendid sunset, we're a bit short on magic. This isn't your mother's Thousand Islands, but you should make sure to make it yours.


Satisfy Your CRAVEings in The Cape

I honestly didn't expect to be writing you a post on Cape Vincent. I've been attending the French Festival parade in The Cape for years with my Miss Thousand Islands contestants, and the food scene there has always seemed...meager. There's the cute coffee shop, the fabulous pottery shop, Chateau, and the general store, but the restaurants were, for years, more bars than eateries.

Last year, CRAVE opened right on E. Broadway in the heart of this gorgeous waterfront village, and I'm fairly certain the entire hamlet's resident rejoiced. I had to go for myself and check it out.

CRAVE's website boasts comfort food and crafty cocktails. When we visited, I wasn't presented a cocktail menu, but we enjoyed some comforting foods that were on the creative side, and for that, we rejoiced as well. I started my meal with a Caesar salad replete with homemade dressing and bowtie pasta. The dressing was on the milder side, with neither a pronounced anchovy nor parmesan flavor, but there was plenty of the grated cheese on top to compensate for that salty, nutty flavor. The pasta mixed in with the romaine lettuce leant a chewy texture to the salad, though the croutons were a little stale.

Even before the salad came, our table was graced with a little plate of focaccia squares accompanied by a small dish of garlic oil and one of roasted garlic. They explained the delicious scent of garlic that we could smell as soon as we parked outside the building. The bread was airy and moist, and the roasted garlic smeared on top made this a savory/sweet starter.

One of the fish choices on deck the night we visited was tuna, which we tried blackened, with cole slaw and sweet potato fries. The tuna was cooked just to order (medium rare), and the blackening spice served some assertive salinity and heat. The sweet potato fries and cooling slaw were actually perfecgt foils for the spicy fish, and I have to tell you: the portion size was huge. The entrée was $15, and that piece of fish was flawlessly textured and probably a full six ounces, cooked.

The chicken curry is, simply, a work of art. Okay, okay. It actually looks like a hot mess in the bowl, I admit that, but if you put a bite in your mouth, you will taste the symphony hiding in the chaos. The coconut curry sauce was rich and complex, the veggies were crisp-tender, and the chicken was juicy and tender. I would order this dish again in a heartbeat.

The veal osso bucco arrived with a pleasing shank bone stick out of the bowl. You guys know how I love caveman food. There were plenty of baby carrots in the rich "sangria" demi glace sauce, but I did feel that the sauce could have used a hit of acid right before service, with a sprinkle of sea salt over the meat. It was tender, delicious, but just a hair on the flat side, with all the sweetness of the carrots in there.

I predict that the key lime pie at CRAVE will be a famous dish throughout the Northcountry by the end of this summer. First of all, again, the portion is gigantic. It's almost a whole pie! The graham cracker crust is thick and sweet, the lime filling is tart enough to just pucker your mouth, and there's tons of whipped cream on top and served around the plate. You have got to get your hands on this dessert.

The chocolate soufflé was no slouch, either. Deep and dark, this flourless cake was still light, and not too sweet. There was richness to it without heaviness, which is the mark of a skilled pastry chef.

I will warn you that the charming front dining room at CRAVE is sunny and casually elegant, but also extremely noisy when the restaurant is busy. There are almost no soft surfaces in the room to absorb sound, so if you have trouble with background noise, you may want to sit out on the back deck. Other than that fact, we thoroughly enjoyed our dinner at this new darling of the TI region, and we intend to return for more good eats.

I give CRAVE an eight on the BHS scale, and I hope you can make the drive up to Cape Vincent to try it out yourself this summer! Who woulda thunk it - great food, right in The Cape? My hunger is big; my personality is bigger!