Friday, November 27, 2009

Taking Some Pizza For a Spin

In July we had our annual family BBQ party at my parents' cottage. It being a potluck affair, I was expected to bring some sort of food item. They didn't have to twist my arm. However, I was faced with the problem of cooking something that was different than my previous summer offerings. I talked it over with Dar, and originally thought about making some sort of pinwheel sandwich but wasn't terrifically enthused until I thought about making pinwheel PIZZA sammies. I checked the internet for recipes, but was only really concerned about how hot to have the oven and how long to cook the little suckers. Turns out, the general consensus is 400F (205C) for 15 minutes. OK.

Now for the toppings. I decided to keep them vegetarian as I have some family members who are veggie, and it just makes it simpler. This of course meant - no bacon. Oh well, there'll be other times and other pizzas...

...what was I saying? Oh yeah, the toppings.

I first sauteed some sweet red peppers and red onions in some olive oil and crushed garlic. Gotta have the garlic. While they were cooling, I tackled the pizza dough.

I actually went to the trouble of buying a couple of balls of pizza dough instead of going with my first instinct - easy-peasy Pillsbury all-you've-gotta-do-is-unroll-it pizza dough. But NOOOOOOO.... I had to get 'authentic'. Not a mistake I'll make again. If I ever use real spin-it-around-your-head-while-trying-not-to-hit-yourself-in-the-face pizza dough, it'll be because I made it from scratch.


I mixed the two balls of dough together, and finally wrestled them into some semblage of a pizza crust and placed it on my plastic wrap-covered upside-down baking sheet. The plastic wrap is supposed to make the rolling up part 'easier'. We'll see.

After spreading a mixture of cream cheese and pesto on the pizza crust, I added some nice black olive tapenade, and then the cooled veggies.

On top of that, I added (as it turned out, not quite enough) shredded cheese then took a step back and thought over how I was going to tackle rolling up this squidgy, gooey yummy thing.

Turns out, it's a lot like rolling up a sleeping bag. You've got to keep tucking in the middle of the roll to keep it aligned with the outside edges as you roll the thing up. Plus, you've got to be careful that you don't tear the dough. D'oh!

So, OK. I got it rolled up and fully wrapped in the plastic, and it looked like this:

Nice, right? I thought so. In to the freezer it went, and there it stayed overnight. Why, you ask? Well, let me ask you this - have you ever tried to slice room-temperature raw pizza dough? I bet you haven't, or if you have you know that you just end up with a pile of yucchh on the table. Slicing it when frozen is so much easier.

After that, it was into the 450F oven for 15 minutes, or until the cheese started to bubble. These can be served hot or cold, and they taste fantastic. Next time though, I'll use a lot more cheese, because they tended to fall apart pretty easily.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Bacon Makes The World Go 'Round

So I've had this particular recipe burning a hole in my consciousness for about a year now, and this past weekend I finally got around to it. Those of you who are familiar with this blog will know about my views on bacon as the perfect food and of my efforts to use it in my cooking in as many ways as possible.

Here's one for ya - Bacon Chocolate Chip Cookies.

There's really only one thing to say to that: "Ooooohhhh yeahhhh...."

Now, I know that I am not the first to discover these gems of chocolate porkulence, but I just may be their biggest fan. Yes, I just may...

The first step in this endeavour was, of course, to make the bacon bits. This was my favourite part, but you knew that didn't you? I had two frying pans going at the same time with a growing mound of crispy bacon piling up on the table. Not too shabby. 'Course, it made the entire apartment smell like bacon for about three days afterward. Normally this would be a good thing, but Darlene and I have both been trying to watch what we eat just lately and there's nothing that kills your resolve like a bacon-flavoured apartment. heh.

So that was my task for Friday night. We were heading to Niagara Falls the following day to hang out with some friends and I'd promised to bring a batch of these cookies with us. I figured that it wouldn't take very long to put everything together on Saturday morning as long as the bacon was ready to go.

Other than the bacon bits, this is yer basic chocolate chip cookie recipe, so it was pretty straightforward. The cookies came out smelling WONDERFUL, and were cooled and ready to go by the time we were ready to hit the road.

Now, the recipe for the glaze calls for Maple Extract. I looked, but the grocery store I was in wasn't very good, and they didn't have any. Being pressed for time, I improvised. I figured that since the bacon I bought was already maple-flavoured (Oh yes. This is a good thing.) that maybe it wasn't so important to have maple flavouring in the glaze, too. So, I just used a full tablespoon of the vanilla extract instead.

OK. Now we come to the good part - tasting the little suckers. We each tried one, and although I really liked them Dar wasn't sold. She didn't actively DISlike them, but it was more of a 'meh' thing. I decided I needed to try a second one just to verify my findings. You will like them. I promise you.

The thing is, you can't taste the bacon specifically. You get a sense of the saltiness of the bacon, which nicely balances the sweetness of the chocolate. And of course the cinnamon glaze on the top adds an extra 'oomph' to the cookie.

We had to stop on the way to Niagara at my cousins Ted and Sue's place to drop off a saxophone I'd borrowed. That's a story for another day, but suffice it to say we brought the cookies in and had them try one. After the initial, "Bacon? And chocolate? Really?", they both tried one and seemed to really like them. I was feeling optimistic, as so far three outta four ain't bad.

When we got to Eliot and Claudia's place in Niagara Falls, the first thing we did (after cracking a beer of course) was to bring out the cookies and let everyone try one. It was pretty much unanimous. Bacon cookies good. GOOOOOD....

Now, a word about the rest of the food. The first thing we noticed when we pulled into the driveway was a medium-sized smoker sitting in front of the garage. We had been told that (six pounds of) pulled pork was on the menu for that night, but what we didn't realize was that Eliot had also prepared a brisket for the smoker as well. Damn. It was difficult waiting for the meat to be ready, because we could smell it cooking from the back yard.

Here's Eliot sampling his masterpiece. Diet? What diet? We're talking PULLED PORK here, people.

With the oven-baked potatoes and the best gol-durn brisket I've ever tasted AND salads and bread, we really didn't do a whole lot of moving after dinner. It was great.

Oh yeah, the cookies. Here's the recipe. Once again, I don't remember where I got it, so if you recognize it let me know and I'll credit you.

Bacon Chocolate Chip Cookies

The Cookies
1 C butter, softened
2/3 C packed brown sugar
2/3 C granulated sugar
½ tsp vanilla extract
2 eggs
2½ C all-purpose flour, sifted
1 tsp baking soda
½ tsp salt
2 C semi-sweet or dark chocolate chips (or whatever kind you like)
2 C bacon bits
*NOTE* If you want to make your own bacon bits (which I recommend), it takes approximately 2 lbs. of bacon to make 2 C of bacon bits.

Preheat oven to 350F/180C/Gas Mark 4.
Beat together the butter, the sugars and the vanilla until smooth.
Beat in eggs one at a time, until the mixture is creamy.
In another bowl, sift together the flour, the baking soda and the salt.
Add the dry ingredients to the butter mixture and stir together. The dough will be slightly soft.
*ANOTHER NOTE* The recipe I used suggests that for a 'cakier' cookie, you should add another ½C of flour, but the ones I made (with 2½ C of flour) were nice and light, so govern yourselves accordingly.
Add in the chocolate chips and bacon bits and stir to combine.
*YET ANOTHER NOTE* The recipe suggests putting the dough in the fridge for at least an hour, but I didn't 'cause we were in a hurry. Didn't seem to affect them.
Place parchment paper on the cookie sheet.
Roll a walnut-sized ball of dough in your hands, place on the parchment paper and flatten slightly with two fingers.
Bake for 10-12 minutes, or until the dough starts to turn golden brown.
*AND STILL ONE MORE NOTE* For soft chewy cookies, it is very important that the cookies NOT look completely done when you pull them from the oven. If they look golden brown all over, those cookies will be crunchy when they cool. I'm speaking from experience here.
Allow cookies to cool on a rack while you ready the glaze.

The Maple-Cinnamon Glaze
2 C powdered (icing) sugar
1 tbsp maple extract
1 tsp vanilla extract
½ tsp cinnamon
enough water to make a thick glaze (I used about 3 tbsp)

Mix all ingredients together until smooth and creamy. If lumpy, use a whisk.
Spread a small amount of the glaze on the top of each cookie.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Cross-Border Holiday Weekend

So about a month ago, we here in Canada celebrated Victoria Day weekend. Or, as it's commonly called - May Two-Four. Some would say that this is because Victoria Day is traditionally observed on or about the 24th of May, but we all know the truth, don't we? Yes we do - a 'two-four' is a case of twenty-four bottles of beer. 'Nuff said about that.

So, we finally have some beautiful weather, it's a holiday weekend, and what do I do? That's right - I go to Michigan.


Y'see, Darlene's great-aunt just turned 90 and there was a big birthday blow-out, so we went to where the party was. Just so happened it was in Pontiac. Hmmm... it's always the last place you look.

Well, after the party, a stay in a pretty nice Best Western just off the interstate and a trip to the Detroit Zoo, we headed home. On the way home, Dar suggested stopping to eat at a little place in Mexicantown right near the Ambassador Bridge call Xochimilco. For those at home, that's pronounced "so-she-MIL-co".

Xochimilco is a cool little Mexican restaurant that was absolutely packed when we got there. So much so that we had to wait in the lounge and have a few drinks before a table was available. Not really a hardship, as we'd spent the day wandering through the Zoo, so we were ready for some cold ones.

We were seated at a long table, and chips and salsa were dropped on the table immediately. Yummy. Of course, the whole point behind the 'free' chips and salsa is to make you thirsty and thus buy beer, so we did. They really didn't have to twist our arms. I ordered a Negra Modelo beer (hey, when in Rome and all that) and surveyed the substantial menu.

We started with some guacamole, because it's one of my favourite things. It was pretty close to the best guac I had ever eaten. That title goes to El Sol Restaurant on The Danforth in Toronto. It's our favourite Mexican restaurant in the city. This stuff was still fantastic, though. Since I was feeling ravenously hungry after our busy day and because everything on the menu looked great, I ordered a combo plate. Combination Plate #3, to be exact.

"And what exactly is Combination Plate #3?", I hear you ask... well I'll tell you.

THIS is Combination Plate #3. Ohhh yeahhh....

The plate had one soft beef taco, a steak burrito and a cheesy chicken enchilada along with rice and refried beans. Everything a growing boy needs. It was yummy, but damn was it a lot of food.

Having said that, I still wanted dessert so I ordered a cherry empanada. I guess I was picturing yer basic fruit pie that you can get in a corner store, but what I got was the behemoth of empanadas. Feast your eyes...

I tell ya, after polishing off that bad boy, I was well and truly full. It was a good thing we still had an hour in the car, because I needed a nap. Sadly, that was not to be as I was the one doing the driving. Ah well. It was a good weekend.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Finally Back At It.

Ok, so I've been neglecting the blog. Certain contributing factors including, but not limited to, Facebook, apathy, moving to a new apartment, have resulted in me not posting anything since back in September.

I have now remedied the Facebook part of the equation by recently ditching all of those stupid time-sucking 'social networking'-type games and by removing all of the people on my friends list who I had added for no other reason that to increase my crew or mafia or clan or whatever. So, if you're still on my Facebook friends list, there's a good chance I've either actually met you or have had at least several conversations with you via e-mail or telephone.

As a result of all of this, I'm seriously backlogged with stuff I'd like to post, and with folders full of pictures from things I've done over the last six months. I will now be getting to these things so please stay tuned.

Things to watch for over the next little while:

* Our recent Victoria Day weekend excursion to Michigan
* Gallumphing Around China (yes, THAT China)
* A new contributor to the Blog - my fiancée Darlene.
* And hey, I might even cook something...