It looked good on paper…


English: Bow section of tanker SS Pendleton gr...

Years ago, I traveled to Central America each summer, and our flight would always seem to land in Belize as the first stop. If possible, I tried to sit on the right side of the plane. Why, you ask? Because I knew that just off to the right, less than a mile from the start of the runway, I would be able to see at least two planes, or – at least the tail sections – sticking up out of the forest. These planes had crashed and were left there for all to see. I asked someone why they were never removed and the answer was a simple one. “They are like ships who ignored the lighthouse, serving as a warning to all pilots that the landing isn’t over until you stop at the other end of the runway, so pay attention.”

So I had this thought (I know, I know) that I could make an easy, quick and tasty version of pigs-in-a-blanket gone wild. Think about it. Get some hot dogs, some salsa, and one of those tubes of ready-to-bake pizza crust and put it all together and bake it. What could go wrong?

I couldn’t even bring myself to take a picture, to serve as a warning that the recipe isn’t over until people eat it and enjoy it. I didn’t pay attention, I guess.

The problems were evident right away. I had made my own salsa (black beans, corn, diced tomatoes, cayenne pepper, cumin and fresh cilantro, cooked over medium heat until boiling, then cooled) and that seemed okay. Except that I didn’t wait long enough, apparently, and the semi-hot salsa, when drizzled on the uncooked pizza dough, caused the dough to melt down and become unmanageable. I did get one dough “rectangle” wrapped around a hot dog and some salsa, but it wasn’t pretty.

So I bake it, along with some salsa-less pigs in a blanket.

At this point, I am thinking “maybe” on the salsa dog in dough, and “probably” in the regular dogs in dough.

Like the crashed planes in the jungles of Belize, these pigs in blankets fell short. The hot dog was fine. The salsa melded with the dough, which was not fine.

Perhaps using a tube of croissants would be better, but I still don’t think the salsa would work.

Oh well, it looked good on paper…

Pay attention.



Mashed Potato Pizza


Mashed Potato Pizza

There are many recipes for mashed potato pizza, most of them involving spreading the mashed potatoes all over the crust, in place of the usual red sauce. To me, that is taking the carbs just a bit too far. As it is, my Adkins diet went sailing through the window with this one!

But this pizza has cheese AND bacon. Need I say more? (wink, wink, nudge, nudge!)

Give it a go and see what you think.


Pizza crust, thin – I used a pre-baked one. You can make your own if you wish. Just bake it first.

Cheddar cheese, shredded – 8 oz. or more. I always go for “more.”

Mozzarella cheese, shredded – 4 oz

Red onion, finely chopped – 1/4 cup

Cooked Bacon, rough chopped – 3 slices

Garlic, minced – a pinch, maybe two

Mashed Potatoes – enough for 8 – 10 melon ball sized globs (glob is a technical term, sorry)


Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.

Place your pre-baked pizza crust on a pizza pan.

Sprinkle enough cheddar cheese on top of the crust, covering the entire surface. Try to save some cheese, you will need it later. If you use all of it – get more cheese!

Add the mozzarella cheese next, followed by the red onions, making sure everything is evenly distributed.

Carefully place the chopped bacon on top. You will be tempted to eat some. DON’T DO IT. Okay, maybe just one piece. But not two.

Okay, maybe two. But definitely not three.

Add a pinch of minced garlic, just for good measure.

Now the fun part-

Take a melon baller (a very, very small ice cream scoop) and scoop out 8 – 10 little mashed potato “meatballs” and place them on the pizza. Spread them around so that every slice will get at least one.

Cover with the remaining cheddar cheese.

Bake in the oven for 10 – 12 minutes. This will heat everything up and make the crust extra crispy.

When done, take out of the oven and carefully (remember, it’s hot!) slice into 6 – 8 slices.

Pairs well with any good table wine, as well as Dr Pepper on ice.  A&W Root Beer is a good option, as well.

Mashed Potato Pizza





Franco’s Italian – Norfolk, Virginia


Franco's Italian in Norfolk, Virginia

Tucked away in a small shopping center off the corner of Norview Avenue and Military Highway in central Norfolk is a hidden gem called Franco’s Italian. If you live or work in the area, you probably already know about Franco’s. If you don’t, you probably haven’t been there yet.  But you should go. Really.

Franco’s is a small place. There are a fair number of tables and booths, all positioned to make the most of the limited square footage. When it gets crowded, you will have to wind your way around people and chairs to get from the door to your spot. If you are already seated, be prepared to have people brush against you as they pass by. Personally, I am okay with this intimacy given the quality of the food. If you aren’t, well, I told you so. Just pretend you are in New York City.

Back to the food.

I have been to Franco’s for both lunch and dinner, once with a good friend and once with my family. We all agreed, this is a great place to get tasty, made-from-scratch Italian food. I did not get a chance to speak with him, but I think Franco was cooking in the back. The servers were good, not too intrusive, yet helpful when needed. Some people have mentioned they aren’t too friendly, but I have not seen anything of the sort.  In fact, our server last night was great – bringing us warm pizza bread without us having to ask. And you have to ask, since it’s not on the menu. Consider yourself a local now. Ask for the pizza bread.

I had the peppers and sausage grinder for lunch, and the penne with meatballs for dinner (on separate days – the lunch was so filling I doubt I could have made a second trip within hours.)  I’m telling you, nothing beats a homemade meatball, the kind fashioned with veal and pork goodness. These were awesome. Moist, full of flavor, possessing a gentle texture. And fairly big, too. Size matters with meatballs, especially if they are this savory.

My wife had the Eggplant Parmesan, which she was very happy to receive. I had the leftovers today and I can see why she was so happy. The marinara sauce was beautiful; and not too acidic. My daughter, who favors plain noodles, ordered the linguine with oil and garlic sauce. All I can say is she was a very, very happy camper! Portions were more than generous and the bread products were either baked on site (the pizza bread) or baked locally and delivered daily. I took the photo in the morning, just as the bakery dropped off the day’s grinder rolls.

There is one problem with Franco’s Italian and I would be remiss if I did not mention it now. There are so many great sounding items on the menu, you will want to keep going back to try new dishes. I have already decided that on my next visit, dinner will start with mussels in wine sauce, followed by puttanesca over spaghetti.  Puttanesca, for those not familiar, involves anchovies, olives, capers, garlic and marinara sauce.

And people seem to rave about all of the grinders and pizza. Will there ever be enough time to try them all?

I hope so!


Franco’s is located at 6200 North Military Highway in central Norfolk, just down the street from the airport. Look for the Shell gas station on the corner; Franco’s is way in the back. They are closed on Mondays, but open Tuesday through Saturday for lunch and through Sunday for Dinner.

(757) 853-0177


Major credit cards and cash accepted.

Beer and wine on premises.

Franco's Italian on Urbanspoon

Chicken Pesto Pizza

chicken pesto pizza

This was awesome!

Thank goodness I live on a street that looks dreadful enough at night that wayward Halloween characters always stay away.  Keeps the puppies from going crazy, which in turn keeps me from going crazy. Man, that’s a benefit that Carlos the Realtor never mentioned, so I guess I should buy him a coffee the next time I see him.  (Hmmm…maybe I should let him remind me of this post; it’ll show that someone actually reads this blog.)

But enough about me, let’s talk chicken pesto pizza.

I use a pizza dough recipe from Wolfgang Puck. Makes 4 small, 2 medium, or 1 big pizza.

3 C. Flour

1 tsp salt

1 TBspn honey

2 TBspn Olive Oil

3/4 C. cool water

1 package dry yeast

1/4 C. warm water (100 – 110 degrees)

1.  Combine salt, honey, olive oil, 3/4 cup cool water in a small bowl. Mix well.

2.  Dissolve yeast in 1/4 cup warm water. Use a thermometer to ensure temp is no higher than 110. Let sit for 10 minutes.

3.  Put the 3 cups of flour into a large bowl or on a large counter or cutting board.  Create the classic volcano, complete with crater.  This will come in handy.

4.  Pour the yeast into the other liquid ingredients. Mix gently.

5.  Pour the liquid into the crater and start mixing.  If it’s too sticky, add a touch of flour, but not too much.

6.  Once the dough has started to become a single mass, turn it out onto a flour-dusted counter or cutting board and start kneading.

7. With the dough ball now smooth, put it into a buttered bowl, Cover with a towel and let rest 30 minutes.

8.  Punch down, roll into a tight ball.  Divide into smaller balls if making small or medium pizzas. Lightly dust with some cooking spray and cover with film (Saran Wrap.)

9.  Refrigerate dough until one hour prior to use. Let dough raise to room temperature.

10.  Using whatever technique you dare, shape into pizza. Being of German descent, I lack “tossing skills” so I put the dough ball on a pizza pan and used my French rolling pin to spread the dough out.

11.  No matter how you did it, if your dough is in the shape of a pizza, you have almost succeeded. You must now “dock” the crust. Take a fork and stab the pizza, creating little holes all over the disk.  This will help steam escape during baking.  Makes for a much better crust.

Back at the ranch…

1/2 to 1 baked chicken breast, chopped up into small peices.

3 – 6 TBsp pesto (amount depends on how much chicken you use)

Mozzarella cheese

Parmesan cheese

Artichoke hearts (get the stuff already prepared and marinated in oil; sold in little jars)

1/2 red onion, sliced

2 – 3 TBSpn Olive oil

2 cloves garlic

So here’s how it all works:

Take 2 cloves of garlic.  Press them, putting the meat into a small glass bowl.  Add 2 – 3 TBspn Olive Oil.  Let steep while prepping everything else.

Shred enough mozzarella to cover the size pizza you have chosen. Shred about 1/4 of that amount of Parmesan.

Coat the chicken with the pesto.

Assembly time:

Cover the dough with the shredded mozzarella and Parmesan cheese.

Evenly distribute the pesto-chicken and red onion.

Add artichoke hearts to taste.

Drizzle the garlic-olive oil over the entire disk.

Add a bit more cheese if you want.  You really can’t have too much, in my opinion.

Bake on a stone or a circular pizza pan at 400 degrees for 15 minutes or until crust done and cheese melted.

Serve with a good glass of wine.  I always recommend the Merlot from the Williamsburg Winery in Virginia.