I will preface this post by saying that my track record when it comes to making pizza is spotty at best. Finding myself with no plans one wintery Saturday evening, I resolved that I was going to endeavor to make a thoroughly delicious pizza. I bought fancy toppings, I made the dough from scratch, I poured myself a glass of red wine and peeked in the oven with anticipation at the creation I had slaved over. Long story short- it was a huge failure.
The crust didn’t rise and tasted something like a flavourless cracker. The toppings were limp and the cheese was greasy. While it was edible, and became more so with each successive glass of shiraz, it was certainly far inferior to even pizza delivery, and had probably even ended up costing me more. I chalked up my failure to the fact that I don’t have a wood-burning oven in my shoebox apartment, and that neither of my grandmothers are Italian. Clearly, pizza making was something you had to have in your blood.
A few months went by and I had no interest in revisiting pizza making at home until an article on the New York Times website caught my eye. Melissa Clark’s video walked through the entire process and made it seem downright ‘food’proof. And tasty… Really tasty. But my confidence had already been shaken, and as I was picking up toppings at the grocery store I threw an extra-large box of peanut butter cookies in the cart as a dinner contingency plan.
I made the NYT pizza dough recipe and let it rise in the fridge overnight. I watched the video a couple of times, chopped up the ingredients, preheated the oven and set to work.
I swear to you that this is the actual product that came out of my oven. Even Andrew couldn’t mask his surprise. “That actually looks pretty good!” This was the first pizza out of the oven, and was topped with cherry tomatoes, garlic, caramelized onions, mozzarella, goat cheese, mushrooms and fresh oregano. And it was indeed tasty… Really tasty.
The second pizza we took in a different direction, and after it came out of the oven we topped it with prosciutto and arugula, lightly dressed in lemon and olive oil.
On both pizzas the crust was crispy, chewy, had nice air bubbles and was almost perfectly browned on the underside. I couldn’t believe it.
The key to making truly awesome pizza, rather than edible-if-you-drink-enough-wine pizza, is really in the details. The NYT video explains them all, but I’ll recap here, lest you repeat my failures.
- You really do need a pizza stone, and you need to heat that sucker up for a full hour with your oven cranked to 500F. Pizza stones are generally pretty cheap, I got mine for around $10 and leave it in my oven all the time and bake all sorts of things on it.
- Top your pizza pie on the vessel you will transfer it to the oven on. We used an upside down baking sheet dusted with lots of flour.
- Don’t get greedy with the toppings. It will make the pizza too hard to transfer to the oven and weigh it down while rising.
- The trickiest part is getting it into the oven. Pull out your oven rack as far as it will stably go and have a friend help you pull and slide it from the baking sheet to the pizza stone.
- Let your stone warm up again for a few minutes in-between pizzas. You’ll notice our second pizza didn’t brown quite as well as the first, and we believe this is because the stone wasn’t as hot for the second pizza. So remember to give the oven a couple minutes in between pizzas to really get piping hot again.
- Save fresh herbs till the pizza comes out of the oven. They won’t burn and will give the pizza a really pretty green pop of color and flavor.
- Letting your pizza dough cold rise in the fridge overnight will really give it a superior flavor. It’s completely worth the time if you can plan ahead to do so.
Remember: a little goes a long way. You’d be surprised at home much a small amount of cheese and cherry tomatoes spread out. Your virtuous efforts will be rewarded.
Maybe there’s some Italian kicking around my family tree after all.
The parent company of fast food giants like Taco Bell, Pizza Hut, A&W, and KFC is lobbying the Kentucky state government to allow individuals to use their state-issued food stamps at fast food restaurants. While other fast food chains try to lift their brand image and food offerings to market to more affluent clientele, the Yum! brand has decided that the demographic it needs to corner is the poor.
There is a fair bit of controversy swirling around this, with proponents arguing that it increases access to food for food stamp recipients who cannot prepare meals at home. While opponents say it encourages poor nutritional choices and can even be construed as a sort of subsidy for fast food establishments. You can read more about it in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.
While I don’t personally think that spending one’s food stamps on a Double Decker Taco Supreme is necessarily the wisest choice, grocery stores themselves are a mixed bag of frozen fries, doughnuts and hot pockets in addition to healthier options like fruits and vegetables. Shopping at a grocery store doesn’t necessarily mean you’re making any better dietary choices, and I’m pretty sure that no one eats KFC’s florescent green coleslaw for the nutrients. (If there even are any.) So hey, they’re grown adults, let them eat popcorn chicken.
Ever since the U.S. Airways flight crash-landed in the Hudson River two years ago, the feathered fowl of New York City have not had it easy. Flight 1549, bound for Charlotte, struck a flock of geese during takeoff, causing the emergency landing.
Predictably, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has taken it upon itself to control the population of geese to avoid future aviation mishaps, and have culled over 1,600 from the New York City region. When the slaughtered birds ended up just rotting away inlandfills, environmentalists and other social activist groups were up in arms. It turns out one man’s trash is another man’s treasure with a currant glaze, and the birds will be filling out the dinner menu at NYC soup kitchens in the fall.
I’ve heard mixed reviews on how a Canada Goose actually tastes, but I’m guessing that if they tasted great the city would capitalize on the situation by selling them rather than serving them to the homeless. Let’s not also forget that the story is how you spin it: I presume New York will be the first to provide its marginalized citizens with naturally raised, free range goose.
You can read more about this initiative in the New York Times. Waste not, want not, New York.
(Photo courtesy Kevin Winston)
Burgers are all the rage these days, and with burger places cropping up on every corner it can be hard to sift through the riffraff to find the real deal. More and more, burger joints are going the way of Toronto street hot dogs: mounds and mounds of toppings to keep you distracted from the sub-standard meat. But the burger patty shouldn’t be a vehicle for toppings, rather the star of the show. And at The Burger’s Priest, a hole in the wall neighborhood burger joint, they get that. They grind their own meat in-house several times a day using different cuts to ensure it’s fresh. They also cut their own fries instead of using the frozen variety. And best of all, your burger won’t come with brie, foie gras or any of those other shenanigans.
The menu is simple: burgers, fries, chili fries, and ‘The Option’, a deep fried panko crusted portabello mushroom and cheese for those disinclined to the carnivorous lifestyle. The burgers and ‘The Option’ are an obvious nod to the Shake Shack, the famed NYC burger institution in Madison Park (and other locations now). Griddle-cooked loosely packed patty, melted american cheese, steamed white bun. Its simplicity works because each element of the burger is honest-to-goodness tasty in its own right.
While I’ve been a fan of the Priest since it opened a little over a year ago, what caught my eye this week was a piece in the National Post revealing a secret menu item: the so-called High Priest. A take on the Big Mac, it’s a three-layer bun behemoth not for the faint of heart. It’s got all the usual suspects: pickles, special sauce and cheese, but kicked up a notch over the soggy mess you get served at McD’s. Check out the deconstruction, as featured in the Post.
And a little further digging revealed that there are actually a plethora of secret menu items!
- The Vatican City, which takes the regular burger and replaces the buns with grilled cheese sandwiches. (Also known as a fatty-melt in some circles.)
- Jarge-style, where the patty is fried in mustard a la In-N-Out Burger’s Animal Style, the popular west coast chain with a stellar secret menu of its own.
- Noah’s Ark, which adds chili and cheese to the veggie burger.
- The Religious Hypocrite, which is a veggie burger served with bacon.
Overall, as much as I love The Burger’s Priest, I have to say they’ve borrowed heavily from the big hitters in other cities. (Like Shake Shack and In-N-Out.) But imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and there are no insults here. Sure, it’s not original, but it’s delicious and that’s really all that matters. The secret menu items are also a lot of fun, kind of like a little reward for the loyal (borderline obsessive) customer who enjoys the smug (albeit immature) feeling of being ‘in the know’. What can I say, I get my thrills where I can.
The Burger’s Priest - 1636 Queen St. E. Toronto, Ontario, Canada
(Photo courtesy Dave Moffat)
There are some things that are just quintessentially ‘kid’ foods. Boxed macaroni and cheese, pixie sticks and any and all confections made from breakfast cereal. Rice Krispy treats, Chex Mix muddie buddies, I presumed all of these cereals were produced just for said recipes. After all, who on earth would want to eat that cardboard with milk?
When I was a kid my favorite treats were Haystacks, made by my best friend’s mother in plenty. Made from butterscotch, peanut butter, chocolate chips, and corn flakes, these little crunchy snacks were the highlight of many a sleep-over weekend and one of the simple pleasures of my 12 year-old life. I had all but forgotten about them until one day in the grocery store…
Mass produced knock-offs are never as good as their homemade originals, but in the spirit of making a truly informed decision before I passed judgement, I brought them home. They weren’t bad, but let’s be honest; they’re charging $3.49 for a little bag of simple ingredients melted together. Anyone can do this, and trust me, they’ll taste better too.
These aren’t a classy dessert by any stretch of the imagination, but you put them out at a party and these tasty little critters will disappear. And if there are any leftovers, you can pour milk over them and call it breakfast the next day.
Time: 15 minutes to make, 45 minutes to cool
- 6 cups corn flakes
- 1 bag butterscotch chips
- 1/2 cup peanut butter (smooth or crunchy)
- 1/3 cup shortening
- 1/2 cup chocolate chips
- Measure corn flakes in a large bowl.
- In a small saucepan, melt the butterscotch chips, peanut butter, and shortening over low heat, stirring until smooth.
- Pour mixture over corn flakes and gently fold until corn flakes are coated.
- Add the chocolate chips, gently folding until incorporated.
- Drop heaping spoonfuls onto baking sheets or waxed paper, letting set until firm.