Pizza with pizazz (Spicy mango pizza with black beans and zucchini)

I am so fortunate to have consumed some truly wonderful pizza this week.

Ever since deciding to disembark from the generic “pepperoni and cheese” pizza train, my taste buds have been consistently wow-ed by the incredible combination of pizza toppings that exist in this fine universe.

This week’s pizza bender started in Ottawa last Monday. For those who are familiar with the city, you’ll likely know about The Works and ZaZaZa Pizza, two Ottawa-born sweethearts in the food scene. The first – The Works – is home to some truly unique, gourmet burgers. My favourite involves four types of cheese, sliced avocado and an onion ring. Yes, on the burger. The second – ZaZaZa’s – has always been on my radar, but I never got a chance to visit when I lived in the Capital (the original location was across town from Carleton/my house). That’s why I was so excited to see that the Glebe (a close-to-downtown Ottawa neighbourhood) was getting its very own ZaZaZa’s. But malheureusement, it opened after I left.

Thank heavens my two lovely friends Freya and Tara were willing to try it out with me.

I could gush forever about these pizzas (really!), but I’ll keep it simple. I ordered the “Crazy Horse” pizza, with pesto oil, spinach, mozzarella, mushrooms, chicken, caramelized onions, pine nuts and goat cheese. How’s that for gourmet?

Equally as awesome were Freya and Tara’s pizzas, including toppings like brie, pear, eggplant and shrimp.

So that was gourmet pizza inspiration, take one.

Take two came in the form of the pizza pies from one of my favourite Sudbury haunts, The Laughing Buddha. Just a little hole-in-the-wall darling when I was back in high school (pizza orders used to take FOREVER because they only had two stone ovens), the Buddha has expanded to become the go-to spot in town for eclectic eats, a killer imported beer menu and a relaxed atmosphere (not to mention one of the only patios in the city). I didn’t take a picture of my pizza from Friday night, but please know that it was great, as per usual. If you live in Sudbury, go there now. If you’re from out of town, please come visit and stop by after you finish with your Big Nickel photos.

In other news, last night’s kitchen dance party was sponsored by the movie Dirty Dancing, which I curled up on the couch to watch in a tangled cocoon of blankets. It was also inspired by my hippie-esque trip to Sudbury’s Northern Lights Festival Boreal this weekend (I high-fived the members of one of my favourite Canadian band, Yukon Blonde!). What does this mean for my dance moves? Well there was a lot of hip action, pretend partner dancing and artistically flailed arms. I also acted like a wannabe member of Monica Bill Barnes and Company and conducted an orchestra with a rolling pin.

All I can say is that I hope none of my neighbours ever look into our kitchen window when supper is being prepared.

I was so excited to eat this pizza that I forgot to add the cilantro and green onion that I so finely chopped. Perhaps I’ll just have to make this again later in the week…?

Thank you to Kiersten of Oh My Veggies for this pizza recipe! It was brilliant. No. Beyond brilliant. I know it sounds like a weird combination of toppings, but trust me, it’s oh-so-good.

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Gourmet pizza party (five ways)! And a visit from a friend!

Hey all, sorry about the week-long hiatuses recently. I’m still trying to get into the groove of working full-time and living at home, and as such have been finding it hard to blog.

But anyways, this weekend dinner happened.

You know the drill, once in awhile you just need to have a pizza party. Saturday was one of those days. And, since I believe pizza parties are synonymous with socializing, it was perfect that my friend Alan was in town from Montreal to help prepare dinner.

Doesn’t he look like a piece of Microsoft clipart in that right-hand photo?

Now you should know that when it comes to food, I refuse to make the same thing twice (okay, except black bean burgers and other truly delicious concoctions). This kitchen motto especially applies to foods like pasta and pizza, where the traditional serving method of tomato and bread must (a) be avoided or (b) be creatively spiffed up in one way or the other. And so, the evening became a gourmet pizza party. Heck yes.

In addition to three types of cheese (a mozzarella ball, provolone and goat cheese – really, the most expensive part of any pizza), Alan and I had a whole pile of toppings to choose from.

With so many options available, I suggested we draw sketches of our pizza (I like visualizing food on paper), though this exercise quickly dissolved into a lesson about the components of DNA (seriously, don’t give a chemistry masters student the chance to draw diagrams), reminiscing about graduation after-parties and a conversation about Nunavut food prices (something that I’m actually reporting on tomorrow).

And so, when pizza making time finally came around, it was time to improvise.

We ended up making five different kinds:
1. White bean sauce with yellow/orange peppers, mozzarella, goat cheese, oregano and sliced Italian sausage (inspired by a white bean stew I saw on the Internet);
2. Tomato paste with peppers, shaved chicken and artichoke with mozzarella;
3. Alan’s “Italian style” pizza with tomato basil sauce, red onion, portobello mushrooms and Italian sausage;
4. Pesto with sautéed portobello mushrooms and red onions, inspired by this former Hilary Makes creation; AND our most creative and off-beat pizza of the evening…
5. A banana pizza with hot sauce, mozzarella and balsamic vinegar, the idea for which was snagged from Alan’s banana omelette recipe (yes, actually a thing). We weren’t originally going to make this one, but after my dad made such a fuss about not wanting banana on his pizza, we had no choice but to go against his will.

Banana pizza!

PS: I am typing this blog post on my new iPad!! Exciting, huh? The keyboard is pretty much the same size as the one on my MacBook, except there is less force required to tap the keys and my iPad doesn’t overheat on my thighs while I’m sitting on my bed. It also has autocorrect just like my iPhone, so that when I’m too lazy to capitalize words or add apostrophes to things, it fixes them for me. Correctly or incorrectly, I’ll never tell. Damn You Autocorrect, anyone?

The best garlic parmesan pizza sauce (with two different types of toppings)

Dear mother of all things holy this pizza sauce (not to mention the pizza itself) was good. Maybe the best sauce I’ve ever made.
 As I may or may not have said in previous blog posts, Pinterest has become my recipe archiver of choice. You’re going to get tired of me saying this, but the inspiration for this pizza was another photo I found while perusing page upon page of beautiful images. The nice thing about recipes you find on Pinterest is that you know that they’re going to create visually stunning meals.
Since I’m really into taking traditional recipes (burgers, pizzas, cupcakes) and switching up the ingredients like it’s nobody’s business, the garlic parmesan sauce featured in this recipe caught my eye. I also had a pile of frozen broccoli florets sitting in my freezer, thus this meal also served as a Operation Clear Freezer accomplishment.
In the end, it looked as though there was a tiny forest growing on my pizza. I also could have warded off the global population of vampires (not to mention men) with my garlic breath. Worth it.
PS: sorry that the photo of the broccoli and spinach pizza isn’t better – I took it in the dim light of my kitchen one evening when I was dashing out. Lack of time = less-than-gorgeous photos and a stomach ache as a result of eating too fast.

Steakhouse pizza with caramelized red onions and a balsamic marinara sauce

When I decide to cook with meat, I go all out. I’m talking monster carnivore.

An aside: Reflecting on the past four days of dinner, I have had a different kind of protein every single night. I have eaten a small farm. Coming home and having your mom pay for groceries (AKA me not being cheap and making quinoa-based meals everyday) really does make a difference in terms of my diet.

As soon as my parents told me they were going out for supper on Saturday night, I knew I wanted to treat the youngest Duff to a brother-sister dinner. Since I have a never ending need to impress him, I decided to unleash the power of pizza. But it couldn’t just be any pizza. Or any meal, for that matter. After googling several different combinations of “food to serve to your teenage brother,” I went to the land of all things wholesome and delicious: The Pioneer Woman Cooks. I finally decided her Steakhouse Pizza was a creation worthy of being inhaled by a semi-appreciative, grunt-if-he-approves brother.

After a trip to the grocery store with my mom where I insisted that yes, a ball of good mozzarella was extremely necessary, and that a $12 flank steak was what needed to top this pizza, I got home and got cookin’.

The smells that came from the kitchen when this was being prepared were gasp-inducing. Within minutes of sautéing, the red onions became translucent strands, their shiny purple backs absorbing the the balsamic that was slowly reducing in the pan. Then there was the marinara sauce combined with even more balsamic and a hint of Worcestershire Sauce. When baking, the smell of it bubbling on the crust made me stick my head in the oven even more than usual to absorb the aroma.

Since no picture of the finished product can even begin to do the intricacy of this pizza justice, I thought I would stand on a kitchen chair and give you a bird’s eye view of the different layers.

And because photos like this always lend themselves well to gif animations, here you go! Knock yourself out with excitement. I know it’s not as good as the one of Oprah and bees, but it will have to do.

Garrett and I ate this in the family room while watching the Big Bang Theory. He said it was “actually good,” which in 18-year-old boy language means that he approves. I’m thrilled.

We all enjoyed the leftover 1.5 pizzas as a family the next day and I wish there had been more.

I swear he's happier than he looks!

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Kicking off my self-taught German lessons with a French-German flammkuchen

I want to learn German. ICH MÖCHTE SCHRECKLICH GERNE DEUTSCH LERNEN.

(That’s German for “I want to learn German so badly”)

I know it might not be the most practical language, but it is definitely the most fun. And by fun, I mean expressive, angry and passionate. You could be telling your puppy how cute it is and it would still sound like you were furious.

The flammkuchen and fall colours

When in Austria this past summer, I was surrounded by everything German (including delicious bratwurst hot dogs). I found myself able to understand a few of the signs, since English is like bastardized German. Seriously, take an English word, tack about 10 letters on to the front and/or back and mess it around a bit and you have the original German term.

Take for example my two favourites:
– Apfelstrudel = apple strudel
– Schokolade = chocolate

Cool, right? I swear the translation rule also applies to words outside the realms of food, but you know me. It’s all about the dessert.

Anyways, my Austrian adventures were only my first inspiration for this meal.

My second inspiration can be credited to a meal I had at The Lindenhof, a German restaurant in Ottawa’s Little Italy neighbourhood. The trip was just one stop on a moveable feast I attended and wrote about for the blog Local Tourist Ottawa. I could explain all about the gluttonous eve that transpired, but just click the link instead. One thousand words detailing a night of culinary wonder.

Anyways, at The Lindenhof we were served flammkuchen, the very meal that inspired the creation of this pizza-like dinner. According to Alison, the owner of the restaurant, flammkuchen literally translates to mean “flaming tarte.” Another thing I learned was that the tarte is technically a French specialty, originating in the Alsace region of the country. To be fair, the area used to belong to Germany before the end of WWI. Close enough.

The flammkuchen at The Lindenhof

Alison’s thin-crust flammkuchen had a special smoked cheese, bacon and caramelized onions.

And so, rather than trying to create some sort of spin-off adaptation of The Lindenhof’s flammkuchen (why fix something that isn’t broken?), I decided to use the toppings on their pizza to create my own. I’m also at home this weekend, and wanted to make a meal that was familiar enough that my family would still eat it. A pizza dinner is always a safe bet.

After frantically searching the interwebs for a recipe for crème fraiche (which was sold everywhere in Europe, but is nowhere to be found here) and flammkuchen, I was relieved to stumble on Smitten Kitchen’s recipe. Not only is the blog one of my favourites, but it finally offered an alternative to the impossible-to-find creme fraiche. The answer? Half ricotta and half sour cream. Brilliant.

This was a great dinner and super fast to make. It got rave reviews from my family. Even though my dad kept called pancetta “principessa” (the Italian word for princess), I knew he enjoyed it. He did steal lots of princesses off my plate, after all.

PS: I also blame Inglorious Basterds and a fierce Diane Kruger/Melanie Laurent for fuelling my desire to learn German. Thanks a lot, Tarantino.

PPS: if using this recipe, you should note that it made a hell of a lot of pizza. How much? One rectangular cookie sheet and one 9-inch round pizza worth. I recommend you go halfsies if making this just for yourself.

Enough freshly-made pizza dough to feed a small army

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