Crazy Bread

First things first, this isn’t a copy-cat version of the Little Caesar’s classic. 

But, since I brought up Little Caesar’s Crazy Bread I feel the urge to share my thoughts on that ingenious invention.  Long, long ago, in a past career, I was once versed in food cost and clever marketing.  I remember when Little Caesar’s came out with Crazy Bread.  My first thought was, “Well… some marketing guru just earned a big bonus!”

The idea behind Little Caesar’s Crazy Bread is so simple that it needs no explanation, but really, it does.  Successful restaurants make money when they focus on selling mass produced low food cost items.  Conversely, they run the risk of going belly-up if they dabble too much in high food cost items…especially high food cost items that have a short storage life. 

Dough is cheap.  Little Caesar’s knows that.  That’s why they can sell a large pizza for $5. Throw on a little sauce, some cheap cheese and one topping and sell the pizza for five bucks.  They don’t make a ton of money off of the pizza but they sell a lot of them.  Overall food cost for the pizza is probably between 1 and 2 dollars.

About 20 years after Little Caesar’s came into being, they figured out how to increase their profit margin with a gimmick.  Crazy Bread is nothing more than bread dough with a dusting of dried parmesan cheese.  They’re very cheap to make.  They sell 8 bread sticks for just few dollars.  The ingenious part of their scheme is the sauce.  What’s a bread stick without marinara sauce?  Oh, sure you can eat a bread stick without sauce but wouldn’t it be much nicer to dip the soft bread stick in warm marinara sauce?  Mmmmm.   Is a 4 ounce cup of marina sauce worth 60 cents?  You bet!  And that’s where they make the money.  Here we are, nearly 40 years after Crazy Bread was introduced and it’s still going strong.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t have anything against Little Caesar’s or their Crazy Bread and I’m all for capitalism.  I just find this sort of stuff fascinating! 

OK, enough of that…let’s dig into some of my crazy bread.

As I have mentioned previously, I have been working long hours and I don’t have much time to make elaborate meals, or much time to document them for my blog!  I came home rather late one night, recently and knew I had to come up with something quick to prepare.  My first thought was to check the refrigerator for things that might spoil, if not used soon.  Raw meat always tops the list of things to check.  I saw a pound of sweet Italian sausage and knew that it had been in the refrigerator for about three days.  A pasta dish came to mind but I really didn’t want to make a big production.  And then my mind went to bread.  I didn’t stop to think.  I started to make a quick, simple bread dough.  While the dough rose I browned the sausage in a pan and shredded some extra sharp cheddar cheese.

Total time to prepare from start to finish:  1.25 hours.   It was worth the wait!

Ingredients:

3 cups flour

1 packet instant, fast rising  yeast

1 1/4 cup warm water

1 Tbs garlic powder

1 tsp crushed red pepper flakes

2 tsp sugar

1 Tbs honey

1 lb sweet Italian bulk sausage

1 cup grated extra sharp cheddar cheese

Directions:

Mix 2 cups flour, yeast and garlic powder with a whisk.  Set aside.

Add the honey and sugar to a large mixing bowl.

Heat the water in a microwave or stove top to about 100°.  Add the water to the mixing bowl and whisk to blend with the sugar and honey.

Slowly add flour mixture and stir with a spatula. 

Add the crushed red pepper and garlic powder.  Mix to combine thoroughly.   Slowly add the rest of the flour and mix by spatula and then by hand.

Turn the dough out to a lightly floured surface.  Knead for a few minutes until the dough becomes a firm and forms a ball.

Return the dough to the mixing bowl, cover with foil and keep in a warm place.  Let the dough rise for at least 45 minutes.

While the dough rises, brown the sausage and shred the cheese.

Once dough has doubled in size, add the cooked sausage and grated cheese.

Mix the dough thoroughly and let it rise in a warm place for 5 or 10 minutes.

On a lightly greased baking sheet, form the dough into the shape of your preference.  Since this is crazy bread I decided a question mark shape would be appropriate.

Bake at 400° for about 30 minutes.  Remove and allow the bread to cool for a few minutes before serving.

Serve with a fresh salad.

This is the first time I have made bread this way and I was pleasantly surprised.  I imagine using breakfast sausage next time and serving with scrambled eggs and fresh fruit. 

Quick Italian Something

After spending most of the day in the kitchen, cutting vegetables and cooking sauces, the last thing I wanted to do was make an elaborate dinner.  But, I wanted a meaningful and heartfelt meal to end the day.  Since I still had fresh tomatoes and basil on the kitchen counter, I decided to make something Italian-ish. 

Most of the time, when dinner time rolls around, I don’t have anything planned, and this was no exception.  So I did what I normally would do.  I stared at the contents of my refrigerator and started grabbing things that would go well together.  Some ground beef, some cheese and oh, the little tub of ricotta that I kept overlooking.  I considered making spaghetti but I thought it might be a little boring so, I opted for a the partial bag of wide egg noodles in my pantry that looked particularly lonely. 

I had just finished cleaning a bunch of dishes, bowls and pots and pans and I didn’t want to do a lot of clean-up after dinner so I made the entire dish with one large ovenproof skillet and two bowls. 

Ingredients:

If preparing homemade marina:  2 cups cut, fresh tomatoes, ½ tsp garlic powder, ¼ tsp dried oregano, ¼ tsp dried rosemary, pinch of red chili flake, pinch of salt

2 cups marinara sauce (store-bought or homemade)

8 oz egg noodles

1 Tbs olive oil

¼ cup diced onion

1 lb ground beef

3 oz mozzarella

3 oz parmesan cheese

15 oz ricotta cheese (almost forgot, even though it was the reason I made this)

Directions for the marinara sauce:

Core and remove the seeds from 5 or 6 medium sized tomatoes.  Cut the tomatoes into 1” pieces.  Cook tomatoes in a skillet over medium heat.  Add garlic powder, oregano, rosemary, chili flake and salt.  Mash the tomatoes every so often and reduce to about half, or until the tomatoes are completely softened and the sauce has thickened.

“Reduce the sauce and add spices to make the marinara”

While the sauce reduces, cut the mozzarella into bite-sized chunks and shave the parmesan.  Cut the basil in thin strips (chiffonade).  Set aside.

Pour the finished sauce into a bowl and set aside. 

Directions for preparing the Italian Something:

Fill a skillet with water, about half way.  Bring the water to a boil and add the noodles.  They will cook quickly…maybe 8 to 10 minutes.  Strain the cooked noodles and put them in a bowl and set the bowl aside. 

Heat the oven to 350°.

Return the skillet to the stove and add heat the olive oil.  Add the onions and soften the onions for a few minutes.  Add the ground beef and sauté until the meat has browned. 

Add the marinara and noodles to the beef, in the skillet and mix.  Top with mozzarella and parmesan.  Bake in the oven at 350° for about 15 minutes, until mozzarella has melted.

Now here’s the interesting, and somewhat embarrassing part.  One of the main reasons I made this dish was to get rid of the ricotta cheese that had just recently passed its “Best if Used By” date.  I couldn’t stand for that so, I pulled the skillet from the oven and plopped the ricotta cheese on top and gently swirled it with a spatula.   

In case anyone might be concerned, such as the people who ate this dish, the “Best if Used By” date is not the same as an “Expiration” date.  “Best if Used By” means that the food might have lost some of its freshness, aroma or taste.  If it has passed its expiration date, don’t use it. 

Either way, I unsealed the ricotta and, after checking the aroma, I deemed it worthy!

Return the skillet to the oven for another 5 or 10 minutes.  Remove , top with basil and serve in the skillet. 

Serve with a glass of nice red wine.  You deserve it!

If I make this again, I will probably introduce the ricotta during the last few minutes again because it allowed the ricotta to stay slightly firm, instead of dissolving into the sauce.