Bread… and more Bread



Like most Italian-American restaurants, Lista’s brought bread to the table before the salads and entrees… served in a napkin-lined basket with those little ‘pats’ of paper-wrapped butter on the side. It was actually French bread that we served — because the long, narrow loaves were easier to slice and they fit better in the small baskets. We also had this stainless steel bread warmer (about the size of a small microwave oven) with a lower drawer that held distilled water and an upper drawer that bread slices were placed in. On the side was a handle or lever (like a slot machine) that was pumped to produce steam which quickly warmed the bread so that when it was brought to the table it would easily melt the little butter pats.

Now as you can imagine, over the course of days, there would be some bread left over and since restaurateurs are a frugal lot, there was a need to find a use for day old bread.

So today I want to give you two simple recipes from Lista’s that helped us solve the bread problem, and may even help your family re-purpose that day old loaf sitting on your counter.

Introducing the Crouton!  Apparently created in 17th century France as a way to make stale bread more palatable, the crouton (or “little crust”) has been around for centuries.  (Ah, but in the early days of Lista’s, croutons were purchased in large boxes and they resembled the kind of thing that is sold at thanksgiving to make ‘stuffing.’ Not very appealing by today’s standards. Of course today we have become kind of ‘crouton snobby’ with umpteen different varieties and options on store shelves… but I digress.)

Somewhere along the timeline, Lista’s began making their own croutons and the resulting crunchy little bread cubes were so popular that customers would order them by the bowlful to munch on while waiting for their dinners.

At Lista’s we actually deep fried our croutons; after allowing the bread cubes to air-dry for some time, they were submerged in the deep-fat fryer until they were crispy and deep brown — then they were seasoned while still hot and allowed to come to room temperature before storing in airtight bins for use on salads, etc.

Since I prefer not to deep fry at home I have written the recipe with a stove top method. However, If you own a deep fryer, then by all means use it for the authentic experience. Unfortunately, baking the croutons really won’t give you the same results.

Lista’s Croutons

Prep time: 5 minutes – plus drying time up to 2 hours
Cook time: 10 minutes
Makes: lots of croutons!

1/2 loaf Day-old French Bread – cut into 1/2″ cubes (about 3-4 cups)
1/2 cup Olive Oil (not extra virgin) – more as needed
1 tsp Lista’s Seasoned Salt (or to taste)
1/4 cup Grated Pecorino Romano
1 tsp Dry Parsley (optional)

1.  Cut day old bread into 3/4″ cubes using a serrated knife.  Spread the bread cubes on a baking sheet and allow to air dry for at least 2 hours.
2.  In a large deep skillet or frying pan — heat all the oil over medium heat.
3.  Add the dry bread cubes and stir to coat with oil — continue to cook and stir over medium heat until the bread cubes start to brown and get crunchy.  (When using a deep fryer follow manufacturers instructions to deep fry bread cubes at 350º F until golden brown and crispy – drain on paper towels before continuing with step #4)
4.  Transfer the browned croutons into a large bowl and sprinkle immediately with seasoned salt, grated Romano and parsley.  Shake or stir to distribute the seasonings evenly over all the croutons.  Serve with your favorite salad or soup.
5.  Allow extra croutons to cool completely and store in an airtight container for up to 3 days at room temperature.  Can be frozen up to a month if desired.

Even though we served lots and lots of croutons at Lista’s, the leftover bread situation continued… Welcome Bread Pudding!

This old fashioned, homey, dessert (somewhat akin to the ubiquitous Rice Pudding found on so many diner menus) became the answer to the day-old bread dilemma.

And as Bread Pudding found its way into the hearts of many of our customers, my Dad became somewhat of a bread pudding artiste, creating several interpretations of the sweetened bread, milk and egg mixture. Dad made the traditional style with cinnamon and raisins, plus apple-walnut bread pudding, chocolate bread pudding, and even a cherry-berry bread pudding. Sometimes he would cut it into cubes and layer it into vanilla or butterscotch pudding like a parfait. Customers looked forward to seeing Dad’s bread pudding on our fabulous salad bar. Later, when Dad worked for SUNY College at Brockport, he took the bread pudding recipes with him and it became just as popular with the faculty and students there.

You can be just as creative when you make bread pudding at home — but here is the basic Lista’s Bread Pudding recipe to start with.

Lista’s Bread Pudding

Prep time: 20 minutes
Cook time: 45 minutes
Makes: 12-15 servings

1 loaf day old French Bread – cut into 1″ cubes (about 6-8 cups cubes)
1 quart Whole Milk
4 Eggs – lightly beaten
1 1/2 cups Brown Sugar (plus more to sprinkle on top)
1 cup Raisins (optional)
2 tsp Ground Cinnamon
1/2 stick Butter – melted

1.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
2.  Place the bread cubes in a large mixing bowl.
3.  In a separate mixing bowl whisk together the milk, eggs, melted butter, brown sugar, raisins and cinnamon until well combined — pour over the bread cubes.
4.  Let the bread soak in the milk and egg mixture for about 15 minutes — then using your hands, or a large mixing spoon, stir the bread mixture until well combined and the raisins (if using) are evenly distributed.
5.  Pour the melted butter into a 9×13 inch baking pan – tilt to coat the bottom and sides of the pan.
6.  Pour the bread, milk, egg mixture into the prepared pan.
7.  Bake at 350 degrees F for 35-45 minutes, until the liquid has set.  The pudding is done when the edges are starting to brown and pull away from the pan.
8.  Serve warm or room temperature with a dollop of whipped cream or even ice cream.

There you have it, Bread… and more Bread — two ways to use up that day old loaf. I hope you enjoy these easy to make recipes. Let us know if you remember those Lista’s crouton and tell us what you think by leaving a comment here — liking us — or sharing on social media.

And until next time remember, “The Sauce Makes the Difference!”

Retro Favorites #4 ~ Chicken Croquettes


Popular in the USA during the 1940’s and 50’s, Retro Favorites #4 ~ Chicken Croquettes is one of those comfort food items that you unfortunately don’t often see anymore.

While varieties of croquettes are found in the cuisine of many cultures around the world, the word “croquette” is derived from the French croquer meaning “to crunch.” Recipes for croquettes were noted in France as early as 1691. But it was Monsieur Escoffier who began writing down the recipes in the late 1800’s.

Originally considered a delicacy for royalty, the croquette became widely known as a way for chefs to use up leftover cooked meats and vegetables. Generally, a croquette combines meat or vegetables with seasonings and bread crumbs; which is then shaped as a cone, cylinder, ball or patty, and fried in oil or fat. Many of the fussier recipes use a rich bechamel (white) sauce as the base, but here we will use simple mashed potatoes.

Chicken Croquettes would never have been seen on the Lista’s menu, so this is another recipe I learned to make by watching — not a TV show — but my Uncle Jerry Lista. 

My Dad had two younger brothers and a younger sister. While both my uncles were involved in the restaurant over the years, my Uncle Ray eventually lived and worked near Buffalo and I didn’t see much of him. Uncle Jerry, on the other hand, stayed in Brockport for many years, and our families were often together.

Uncle Jerry was a vibrant, fun-loving, hard working man who easily made friends and always had an off-color joke to tell. And like my Dad, he had a strong culinary aptitude. At different times Uncle Jerry applied his cooking and management skills in some of the better restaurants in the Rochester area. His specialty was steaks and seafood, so when Lista’s expanded in the 70’s to add a char-broiler kitchen, Uncle Jerry ran the show and I got to see up close that he was a truly masterful cook.

Uncle Jerry was also a great home chef, and it was in his kitchen that I learned how to make these Chicken CroquettesI remember standing in the kitchen watching how Uncle Jerry mixed the ingredients and carefully hand formed each croquette explaining that traditional croquettes are cone shaped, so that’s the way he made them. He also told me that the proper way to make a croquette is to use a thick white sauce and add the meat, veggies, bread crumbs, etc. then form them and fry them… but as a short cut he often used leftover mashed potatoes and baked them in the oven (and I still prefer them made that way).

Sadly, Uncle Jerry passed away in 1998 only 3 days after his 61st birthday. He is missed. 

Uncle Jerry’s Chicken Croquettes

Prep time: 20-30 minutes
Cook time: 30-45 minutes
Total time: 2-3 hours with chilling
Makes: 12-15 croquettes

2 cups Prepared Mashed Potatoes – cooled
2 TBSP Butter – melted
1/4 cup Milk or Chicken Broth
1 tsp Dry Parsley
3/4 tsp Salt
3/4 tsp Black Pepper
1/2 tsp Poultry Seasoning

1/4 cup Plain Bread Crumbs
1/2 small Onion – minced
1 large Egg – beaten
1 1/2 cups Roasted Chicken Meat – finely chopped
3/4 cup Panko Crumbs
1 large Egg – beaten
1 TBSP water
Olive oil cooking spray

1. In a bowl mix together the potatoes, butter, milk, salt, pepper, poultry seasoning and parsley until combined but not smooth (you want some texture). Add 1 egg, minced onion, and ¼ cup plain bread crumbs. Mix to combine. The mixture will be sticky. Fold in the chopped chicken until just combined. Cover and refrigerate for 1-2 hours.
2. When you’re ready to make croquettes, preheat the oven to 450 degrees F with rack in the middle. Line a rimmed baking pan with parchment paper and cooking spray.
3. In a shallow bowl or pie plate beat the remaining egg with 1 TBSP water. In a second bowl or pie plate add the panko crumbs.
4. Make an assembly line starting with the croquette mixture, egg and then breadcrumbs with the baking sheet at the end.
5. Using your hands, take about 1/3 cup of the mixture and form into cone shaped croquettes (or the shape you choose).
– Dip, coating all sides, in the egg mixture.
– Roll in the panko and coat evenly. (Panko crumbs make a crunchier coating.)
– Place 2 inches apart on the baking sheet (reshape cones if needed) and repeat making the rest of the croquettes. Generously spray the croquettes with olive oil cooking spray. 
6. Bake in preheated oven for 30-45 minutes until nicely brown and internal temperature reaches at least 165 degrees F.
7. Serve with homemade or store bought chicken gravy or the traditional white sauce recipe below.

To make Basic White Sauce (about 1 cup):
Melt 3 TBSP Butter in a small sauce pan, add 3 TBSP Flour and whisk until smooth. Cook “roux” for 3-5 minutes on med-low heat. Slowly add 1 cup Milk – whisking the entire time until incorporated. Continue to cook whisking occasionally until thickened. Season with Salt & Pepper to taste. Spoon over Chicken Croquettes before serving.

There you have it, Retro Favorite #4 ~ Chicken Croquettes with a small tribute to my uncle. This basic recipe works great with leftover mashed potatoes or you can whip up some instant potatoes instead. It’s best to use roasted chicken since it has more flavor — so the meat from a supermarket rotisserie chicken works great! And during the Holidays you can use that extra turkey or ham. So next time you have some leftovers why not give this recipe a try.

Note to my Gluten Free friends: I really like Metropolitan Gourmet Gluten Free Organic Breadcrumbs (I found them at Wegmans but they’re not listed on the website).

Until next time remember, “The Sauce Makes the Difference!”

Retro Favorites #3 ~ Strawberry Pretzel Salad


Retro Favorites #3 Strawberry Pretzel Salad is probably my best loved childhood dessert. Yes it has an odd name, but then again, I didn’t name it. When I look back in the old cookbooks most people did, and still do, refer to it as “salad.”  Actually, I was never sure what it was called and just called it “that strawberry pretzel thing I like.”  But whatever the name, when I was a kid, it was always present at church pot luck suppers and picnics at Mrs. D’s house.

Mrs. D was my Mom’s close friend and coworkers at the local Catholic school. She seemed to be the only person, outside of family, that we ever spent much time with. I remember going over to her house several times over the summers to gather with a few other families (more of my parents friends) for back yard cookouts.

Mrs. D’s family was also Italian American so there was definitely plenty of food around, and beer, and bocce.  The kids, of course, would be chasing each other with squirt guns or water balloons or sticks or whatever; while the men would be hanging around the grill and beer cooler, and the women would be sitting in the shade talking about the men; their latest fad diet, or the recipe for whatever they brought to the party.  It was at those gatherings that I realized I enjoyed hanging around the women chatting about recipes and cooking techniques more than running around with the other kids. To this day, in most social situations, I will still gravitate toward those foodie conversation. I might not know much about football or politics, but I can definitely tell you how to make a wonderful pasta e fagioli!

The thing I love about Strawberry Pretzel Salad — other than it bringing back childhood memories — is that it has those classic combinations of sweet and salty, crunchy and creamy all in one. And who doesn’t love a cool and refreshing strawberry dessert in the summer?

If you’ve never had this dessert I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised at how good it is. If you have had it, and you remember it fondly, then I hope you take time to make it again and share with your family or friends.

Strawberry Pretzel Salad

Prep time: 20 min.
Cook time: 10 min.
Total time: 2-3 hours with chilling times
Serves: 12-16 servings

2 cups Crushed Pretzels (about 8 ounces)

3 TBSP Sugar
3/4 cup Butter — melted

1 cup Sugar
2 (8 oz) packages Cream Cheese — softened

1 (8 oz) container Whipped Topping (like Cool Whip)

1 (6 oz) package Strawberry Gelatin
2 cups Boiling Water
1 (16 oz) package Frozen Strawberries

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

2. Make Crust: Place pretzels in a zip top bag and crush with a rolling pin or other heavy object. In a bowl, combine the crushed pretzels, 3 TBSP sugar, and melted butter. Press into bottom of a 9×13 inch baking dish. Bake in center of  preheated oven for 10 minutes. Cool completely on a wire rack.
3. Make Filling: In a medium bowl, beat together cream cheese and remaining sugar until smooth. Fold in the whipped topping. Spread evenly over pretzel crust making sure you get filling all the way to the sides of the baking dish. Refrigerate until chilled (at least 30 minutes).
4. Make Topping: Dissolve gelatin in boiling water in a large bowl. Mix in frozen strawberries and stir until thawed; Refrigerate until partially set (about 30 minutes). Carefully spoon strawberry topping evenly over cream cheese filling.
5. Refrigerate finished dessert for 1-2 hours or until firm. Cut into squares and serve with additional whipped topping if desired.

There you have it, Strawberry Pretzel Salad (dessert)!  And I hope this either reminds you of how much you like this recipe — or it becomes a new favorite. Either way, I think you’ll enjoy the crunchy, creamy, salty, sweetness of it as much as I do.

Until next time remember, “The Sauce Makes the Difference!”

Retro Favorites #2 ~ Quiche “Lorraine”

“Real Men Don’t Eat Quiche” said Bruce Feirstein in 1982. Too late, I had already been making and eating quiche for some time by then.

Quiche, that creamy egg pie with the distinctly French sounding name, gained popularity in the U.S. around the 70’s and 80’s. Originally coming from the Lorraine region, quiche has its roots firmly planted in French cuisine. Actually, I read that Lorraine was once a possession of Germany so the origin of quiche may have its roots in the German word “kuchen.

Quiche “Lorraine” is my Retro Favorite #2 because I fondly remember watching reruns of “The French Chef” on PBS WGBH out of Boston and since Quiche Lorraine is one of Julia Child’s signature dishes I’m pretty sure that’s where I first learned to make it.

According to Julia, the original quiche Lorraine only contained eggs, cream, seasoning and bacon (usually lardons or the French poitrine fumé – not the heavily smoked and salted American bacon) …and no cheese at all! 

Still, the recipe I’m posting here is my version of Quiche “Lorraine” as it evolved over several years of my cooking career.  I have chosen to make this quiche with bacon, Gruyere, and onion, so I guess my recipe is really an illegitimate grandchild of a true quiche Lorraine, and therefore I have called it “Lorraine” (imagine the air quotes) so you know it’s not a literal interpretation.

When choosing bacon I prefer the uncured kind and thick cut if you can find it (it will have a more meaty, less salty/smoky flavor).  I love Gruyere cheese but any good Swiss will work — or combine 2/3 cup mild Cheddar or Monterey Jack and 1/3 cup Parmesan. You can also choose to use shallots or scallions in place of the onion. And you can certainly make this using a store bought pie crust or your own favorite crust recipe.

When I think of quiche it reminds me of the brief time I worked at SUNY Brockport in 1981. Just after we closed Lista’s Restaurant my Dad started his second career working for the college dining services where he oversaw the Gallery restaurant and eventually the catering department. One summer, when I was between jobs, Dad landed me a prep-cook job at Brockway dining hall. As a young non-union worker I wasn’t looked upon with much favor by the other cooks so I pretty much stayed in a corner and did my work. After a few weeks my supervisor decided I would be better off cooking in the Rathskeller (the bar on campus) where I made a variety of pub foods including, believe it or not, three types of quiche! I always thought quiche was strange company for the usual fare of pizza, burgers, wings, potato skins and mozzarella sticks. Still it was at that bar in the basement of the college union where I practiced and perfected making quiche.

Dan’s Quiche “Lorraine”

Prep time: 45 minutes
Cook time: 60 minutes
Serves: 4-6

1 1/4 cups All Purpose Flour
1/4 tsp Salt
1/2 cup Butter (1 stick) – cut into ½” dice and chilled
1/4 cup Ice Water (as needed)
8 oz. Bacon (preferably uncured) — cut into 1/2″ pieces
1/2 cup Onion — diced
3 Eggs
1 1/4 cup Half & Half
Salt & Black Pepper to taste
Pinch of Ground Nutmeg (optional)
4 oz. Gruyere Cheese — shredded (about 1 cup)

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
2. Make the crust: Whisk flour and salt in a mixing bowl. Add the chilled butter pieces and work it into the flour until it’s well-distributed (some larger pieces will still be visible). Tossing flour/butter mix with a fork (or your fingers), drizzle in the ice water until the dough starts to come together. Squeeze the dough in your hand — if it holds together easily without crumbling it’s ready (if it is still dry or pieces break off easily add a bit more water until it’s totally cohesive).
3. Gather the dough into a ball and gently pat/shape into a rough disk. Wrap in plastic wrap and chill for at least 30 minutes before rolling.

3. Roll out pastry to fit a 9″ pie plate and flute edges. Prick the bottom and sides several times with a fork. Place a sheet of foil over pastry and weigh it down with dried beans or pie weights making sure the whole bottom is covered. Bake in preheated oven for 10 minutes. Remove from oven and carefully lift the foil and beans out of the crust. Discard beans. 
4. Make the filling: In a skillet or medium heat, cook the bacon pieces until they begin to crisp (about 10 minutes). Remove bacon with a slotted spoon to a paper towel lined plate. Leave 1 TBSP bacon fat in skillet and saute onions until translucent and tender (about 5 minutes). Set aside.
5. In a mixing bowl whisk the eggs, half & half and seasonings until fully blended.
6. Evenly distribute cooked bacon over bottom of prepared crust; evenly distribute sauteed onions over bacon, and evenly distribute shredded cheese over onions.
7. Slowly pour egg mixture over the bacon/onion/cheese until it fills the crust completely but doesn’t overflow.
8. Bake quiche in the preheated oven for 40-45 minutes until fully set (knife inserted near center comes out clean) and nicely browned on top. Allow to rest 10 minutes before cutting into wedges and serving.

There you have it, Dan’s Quiche “Lorraine.” This always goes well served with a nice green salad as a light meal or is a great addition to a brunch menu. With a little extra work you can press the crust into mini muffin tins and make a great appetizer for a party. I hope you give it a try and as always I would love to hear your comments.

Until next time remember, “The Sauce Makes the Difference!”

Retro Favorites #1 ~ Zucchini Casserole

I thought for the next few posts I would step away from Lista’s Italian Cuisine recipes and focus on some stories of my favorite home recipes from the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s.

Growing up in the 60’s and 70’s I loved watching those early TV cooking shows on PBS. I faithfully watched “The French Chef” with Julia Child and “The Galloping Gourmet” with Graham Kerr. I really liked to watch the cooking segments with Chef Tell Erhardt (“very simple, very easy”) on the “Dialing for Dollars” and “PM Magazine” TV shows. And I continued to watch as a young adult in the 80’s with shows like “Louisiana Cookin'” with Justin Wilson; “Yan Can Cook” with Martin Yan, and “The Fugal Gourmet” with Jeff Smith. For me, the TV was not only a source of entertainment, but was also a way to learn new and different ways to prepare foods. So I did a lot of cooking as a kid, mostly because I wanted to be like my Dad, but also because I loved food, enjoyed cooking and liked trying new recipes and, as it turns out, I became a pretty darn good cook. 

My family was always very supportive when I would try out a new TV recipe or technique. One of my favorite memories from those days was when my Dad brought home a whole suckling pig so I could roast it the way Julia Child did on her TV show. But then there was the time I watched a show where the chef (probably Graham Kerr) prepared polenta in the “rustic fashion” by pouring the cornmeal mush on a wooden board and then topping it with tomato sauce, vegetables, and bits of meat. I think the idea was that the family would sit around the table and scoop up forkfuls of polenta hoping to be first to get some of the meat. I begged Grandma Lista to make it for me. “You won’t like it,” she kept saying, but I pleaded until she relented and made the dish. It looked great — so authentic; very old world… yeah, I didn’t like it.

One of the very first things I remember cooking for my family was Italian Zucchini Casserole. Actually I don’t remember where I learned the recipe but it was probably while watching one of those cooking shows. Or maybe it was one of those things that happened by necessity — as I recall we always seemed to have a lot of those giant over grown zucchini people give you. I think we were getting tired of making batch after batch of zucchini bread… zucchini muffins… and zucchini snack cake. So somewhere along the line I learned how to use the zucchini for something other than baked goods. 

Italian Zucchini Casserole

Prep time: 20 minutes
Cook time: 45 minutes
Serves: 6-8 servings

Cooking Spray (such as Pam)
2 large or 6 small Zucchini – shredded (about 6 cups)
1 medium Onion – finely diced (about 1 cup)
2 TBSP Butter 

3 large Eggs – lightly beaten
1 cup Ricotta Cheese

1/2 cup Italian Seasoned Bread Crumbs (divided)
1/4 cup Grated Pecorino Romano Cheese
1/2 tsp Salt (or to taste)
1/2 tsp Black Pepper
1/2 tsp Garlic Powder
1/2 tsp Italian Seasoning

For Topping:
1/2 cup Italian Seasoned Bread Crumbs
1/4 cup Grated Pecorino Romano Cheese
2 TBSP Melted Butter
1/4 tsp Paprika

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Prepare a 9x13x2″ baking dish with cooking spray.
2. Shred unpeeled zucchini using the large holes of a box grater or food processor to yield about 6 cups. Place in a colander and sprinkle with salt. Allow to rest for 10 minutes, then squeeze out the extra moisture. Place in a large mixing bowl.
3. Heat 2 TBSP butter in a medium skillet and cook the diced onions until tender — about 5 minutes. Add cooked onions, beaten eggs, ricotta, 1/2 cup bread crumbs, 1/4 cup Romano cheese, black pepper and Italian seasoning to the zucchini and toss until combined. Spoon 
evenly into the prepared baking dish.
4. In a small bowl combine the remaining 2 TBSP butter, 1/2 cup bread crumbs, 1/4 cup Romano cheese and paprika — blend until crumbly.  Sprinkle evenly over the zucchini casserole.
5. Bake uncovered in the preheated oven for 45 minutes until casserole is firm and browned on top. Remove from oven and let set for a few minutes before serving.

There you have it, Italian Zucchini Casserole, circa 1974. It works great as a side dish or as a brunch item. So the next time one of your neighbors or coworkers brings in those late harvest over grown zucchinis I hope you give this recipe a try.

Thank you all for following my blog.  Thanks for “liking” us here and on Facebook — and leaving your comments — we love hearing from you.

Until next time remember, “The Sauce Makes the Difference!”

Dan’s Meaty Hot Sauce!

Every region of the world cultivates its own local flavor. Upstate New York is no different. Our Upstate neighbors have given us some familiar favorites like Buffalo Wings, Beef on Weck, Spiedies, Salt Potatoes, Utica Greens, Thousand Island Dressing, Chicken Riggies, Grape Pie, and Sponge Candy.

Yet, Rochester has given us a true culinary legacy. Rochester has always been a food town, called the “Flour City” in the 1800’s, due to the many mills along the waterfalls of the Genesee River, it is the birthplace of French’s mustard, Gerber baby food, Ragu, Cantisano & Francesco Rinaldi pasta sauces, and Zweigle’s hot dogs to name a few. Many say we are the originators of “Chicken French” and that can be debated… but Rochester is definitely the home of the White Hot and the original Garbage Plate! And what is a Garbage Plate without that uniquely Rochester ground meat hot sauce.


Meaty Hot Sauce” (as my kids have always called it) is somehow different than other hot dog toppings. Not really a chili like Coney Island or Cincinnati nor a tomato/onion sauce like NY City street carts. But a spicy, meaty, greasy (admit it) slurry of heat and texture that you have to grow up with to really appreciate.

This week my son and his girlfriend have been visiting, and they absolutely love Zweigle’s white hots. So white hots were the first thing on this week’s menu and, of course, I ran right out to Wegmans (another Rochester original) to stock up… and, of course, I had to make a batch of Dan’s Meaty Hot Sauce.

Now before I go any further, I want to tie this post (somewhat loosely) to 74 Main Street

One of the stories my Dad told back in the day was that he had always wanted to put hot dogs on the menu at Lista’s but my Grandpa ‘Pat’ was totally against it saying it wasn’t classy enough for Lista’s. So that humble American icon never graced the menu of Lista’s Italian Cuisine. Ironically, I was also told that “franks and beans” was one of Grandpa’s favorite meals. Go figure!

…now back to the present — serving grilled white hots with meaty hot sauce.

Meaty hot sauce is typically a blend of ground beef, onions and several spices — some add tomato paste, some don’t. Some like to thicken the sauce with bread crumbs or corn starch, while others leave it in its loose, watery state. And most locals know that wherever you go to eat, if they offer a hot sauce, it’s going to be different from place to place. And the person eating the hot sauce will vary in their like or dislike of said hot sauce. So the whole thing is very subjective. But one thing I think meaty hot sauce aficionados would agree upon is that a hot dog without meaty hot sauce is like… well, really, why even bother finishing that similitude.

Dan’s Meaty Hot Sauce

Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook Time:
1 hour 15 minutes (or more)

1 TBSP Olive Oil 
1 lb. Ground Beef
1 medium Onion – finely diced
2 cups Water
1 (6 oz) can Tomato Paste
2 TBSP Cayenne Pepper Sauce (like Red Hot)
2 TBSP Ground Cinnamon (or more to taste)
2 tsp Chili Powder
2 tsp Paprika
2 tsp Crushed Red Pepper
1 tsp Black Pepper
1 tsp Salt (or more to taste)
1/2 tsp Granulated Garlic
1/2 tsp Cayenne Pepper (or more to taste)

1. In a medium sauce pan, heat the oil and add the ground beef and diced onions. Using a wooden spoon break up the ground beef while cooking and stirring until it begins to brown about 10 minutes. Do not drain the grease off.
2. Add the water, tomato paste and pepper sauce — stir until it is completely blended with the beef and onions.
3. Add all the dry spices and blend into the meat sauce (I use a wire whisk at this point). Bring to a boil and cook for 5 minutes — then reduce to a simmer, cover and allow to simmer for about an hour — stirring only occasionally to be sure it’s not sticking/burning on bottom. You can add a little more water if needed but it usually just simmers and reduces nicely to a thick sauce. (Personally I like to let it simmer up to 3 hours because I think it develops more heat and flavor as it cooks.)
4. Taste and adjust the salt/spice if desired. (I like the authentic cinnamon taste so I sometimes add more.) If you prefer a hotter sauce add another 1 tsp cayenne.
5. Serve warm over hot dogs, burgers, sausages, or your homemade garbage plates.

So there you have it, my version of the Rochester “Meaty Hot Sauce.” I hope you try it or use it as a base to create your own personal version. Either way if you live or have lived in the Rochester area please don’t deprive your family and friends of the authentic local experience when grilling this summer — serve some Meaty Hot Sauce with those white hots! 

Until next time remember, “The Sauce Makes the Difference!”

Try Our Fabulous Salad Bar

During these hot midsummer days I sometimes enjoy a cool salad rather than a hot meal. The other day, as I was putting together yet another romaine salad with leftover grilled chicken, I started thinking about all the various salads and such that we made at Lista’s.

In the early 1970’s Lista’s was one of the first restaurants in the area to offer a salad bar with all its meals. My Dad had our first salad bar specially constructed by a local handyman, Jacques St. Pierre, and it was made from a sheet of 4′ x 8′ plywood painted gloss black (very chic). The plywood top had several round holes cut into it that held stainless steel bowls of the various salads and toppings. This sat over a similar sized galvanized tin pan filled with ice so the food bowls would stay cold. This sat on a table with a plexiglass “sneeze guard” over the top.

Since I was the younger sibling and couldn’t work in the main “service” kitchen I did lots of prep work for the salad bar in the back kitchen — when I wasn’t washing dishes or scrubbing pots and pans. Cutting up cases of lettuce and tomatoes; slicing bags of onions (while shedding lots of tears) and shredding hundreds of carrots, purple cabbages, and red radishes on the old Bromco box grater. I skinned my knuckles so many times on that thing! That box grater is the only thing I have left from the restaurant. I keep it on my bookshelf as a reminder of my Dad and the way we made everything from scratch back then.

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At Lista’s we had always made all our salad dressings from scratch and over time we created dozens of home style salad items to go on the salad bar. Some time later we started putting out large loaves of locally made breads so that customers could help themselves… and eventually added fresh made soups and a hot pasta entree to make the salad bar a self serve buffet at lunch time.  This was cutting edge at the time and Lista’s was well known for having a great salad bar.

During that time my family drove around in a baby blue VW Microbus with a magnetic plastic sign advertising Lista’s Italian Restaurant. My son has one of those old signs hanging in his kitchen and as you can see it invites everyone to “Try Our Fabulous Salad Bar.”

So today I’m giving you three of my personal favorite salad bar recipes. Each one is a little different and represents the variety of items we would have featured at Lista’s.  I hope you can give them a try and share them with your family this summer.

Lista’s Carrot Raisin Salad

Prep time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 15 minutes (soaking raisins)
Serves: 4-6 servings (about 3 cups)

1 lb Whole Carrots – peeled
1/2 cup Raisins – soaked
1/2 cup Crushed Pineapple
1/2 cup Mayonnaise
2 TBS Brown Sugar
1/2 tsp Salt

1. In a small microwavable bowl add raisins and 1 cup water and microwave on high for 3 minutes. Remove and allow to soak for 15 minutes – drain and cool.
2. Shred carrots on the large hole of a box grater and place shredded carrots in a large mixing bowl. Add pineapple, soaked/drained raisins, mayo, brown sugar and salt. Blend together until incorporated and coated with dressing.
3. Cover and refrigerate 30 minutes or more before serving.

Lista’s Italian Four Bean Salad

Prep time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 10 minutes (if using fresh beans)
Makes: 8-12 servings (about 6 cups)

1 can Cut Green Beans – drained and rinsed
1 can Cut Yellow Wax Beans – drained and rinsed
1 can Dark Red Kidney Beans – drained and rinsed
1 can Garbanzo Beans – drained and rinsed
1/2 large Sweet Onion (such as Vidalia) – very thinly sliced
1/2 cup Olive Oil
1/4 cup Red Wine Vinegar
2 tsp Chopped Fresh Basil
1 tsp Sugar (optional)
1/2 tsp Salt (or to taste)
1/4 tsp Black Pepper
1 clove Fresh Garlic – minced

Note: You can use garden fresh or frozen green and yellow beans — just trim and cut into 1 inch pieces and cook quickly in boiling water (about 10 minutes) until just tender. Cool and use instead of canned.

1. In a large mixing bowl combine the green, yellow, kidney and garbanzo beans. Add the sliced onion.
2. In a separate bowl whisk together the oil, vinegar, chopped basil, sugar, salt, pepper and minced garlic. Pour dressing over beans and toss to coat.
3. Cover and refrigerate for 30 minutes or more before serving.

Lista’s Corn & Rice Salad

Prep time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 30 minutes to cook rice/corn relish
Makes: 6-8 servings (about 4 cups)

2 cups Cooked White or Brown Long Grain Rice
2 cups Corn Kernels (fresh or frozen/thawed)
1/2 medium Sweet Onion (such as Vidalia) – finely diced
1/2 medium Red Bell Pepper – finely diced
1 stalk Celery – finely diced
1/2 cup Cider Vinegar
1/4 cup Sugar
1/2 tsp Salt (or to taste)
1/4 tsp Dry Mustard (such as Colemans)
1/4 tsp Celery Seed (optional)

1. Cook rice according to package directions (1 cup rice to 2 cups water) and cool to room temperature.
2. In a medium saucepan combine the corn, onion, red pepper, celery, vinegar, sugar, salt, dry mustard and celery seed (if using).  Bring to a boil, reduce heat to medium, cover and cook for until vegetables are tender – about 20 minutes.  Remove from heat and allow to cool to room temperature.
3. In a bowl combine the cooked rice and corn relish. Adjust salt if desired. Cover and refrigerate for 30 minutes or more before serving.

There you have it… three of my favorite salad recipes from the Lista’s Fabulous Salad Bar. These would be a nice addition to a family picnic or potluck or as a refreshing side dish with grilled steaks, chicken or burgers.

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Until next time remember, “The Sauce Makes the Difference!”