An Adult Pizza Party

Pizza parties added an instant air of “cool” to any party invite when I was a kid. I don’t care what kind of pizza party it was, if pizza was involved, kids got excited. Homemade pizza party where you can make your very own pizza? COOL. Party at Pizza Hut? COOL! Party at the local pizza parlor? COOL! Parents picking up pizza from the local pizzeria for a home birthday party? COOL!

And I’m happy to say that adult pizza parties are much the same way. Adult pizza parties? No, there aren’t whips, blindfolds, and locks involved, but adults are rendered to child levels of glee and excitement at the pizza at hand. Sometimes it’s a DIY pizza party. Sometimes it’s “Come over, we need to eat massive amounts of pizza” and other times your pizza-phile friends invite you over to try some of the magic he’s been making. Jon in Albany is one such pizza-phile in the area, and he invited some of the more recent All Over Albany Tournament of Pizza judges over to taste some of the pizzas he’s been talking about. A reunion? Pizza? How does anything get much better?

20151114_163230[1]The first pizza up with a white pizza with mozzarella, creme fraiche, and sauteed baby bella mushrooms. John’s got his own propane powered pizza oven that all of us were peering in to watch the pies bake. They’re done in about two minutes.

20151114_164612[1]A traditional margherita pizza.
20151114_170137[1]The Rosa pizza. Pistachios, red onion, little bit of parmesan and that’s it. It’s a delightful combination of textures and flavors I’d have never put together before.
20151114_172405[1]Oh, and of course a buffalo chicken pizza. For old times’ sake.
20151114_174419[1]Now this was another creative pizza – topped with a thick layer of utica greens! It was nice to get a bunch of veggies all on one pie, and my first taste of these mystical Utica greens. They are escarole with some garlic and pepper, some parmesan cheese. Overall, a tasty combination.
20151114_175858[1]Jon’s favorite – the meatball bacon. I also loved this. The meatballs were great on a pie, and the bacon was a nice supporting flavor.
20151114_185210[1]It was a great night to see exactly how Jon does it, and leave us plotting and scheming, dreaming of how to get a pizza oven set up in our own homes with spousal approval.

Jon has so much dedication to this (it’s something more than a hobby at this point), and is constantly critiquing himself and his skills just get better and better. These pies were outstanding, and its pies like these that make it so difficult for me to go out to eat anywhere else in the area. Jon, thank you for having everyone over and giving us a glimpse into your pizza world!

The Cookie Experiment

Chewy cookie 350

I don’t know about you, but I like a little science with my cookies.  I was curious to see how I liked my cookies baked: At a higher or lower temperature? I baked some cookies at 350F and 325F.

Chewy Dough Label

I started off with some soft batch cookie dough (you swap out 2 T or so of cornstarch for flour in a given recipe to make them soft batch). Refrigerated for a day, and ready to bake.

Chewy Dough

Hmm, someone’s been eating my cookie dough. Par for the course in Albany Jane’s house.

Chewy Cookies 350 scoop

I also picked up a small cookie scoop and was curious/skeptical of its portioning abilities. Turns out it’s great and man do I ever love it. The cookie above on the left was scooped out with the scooper, the one on the right I scooped out by hand. The right has a little more character, and the one of the left is pretty damn uniform.

chewy Cookies 350 pan

Good amount of scooping size consistency, too. Any way, the cookies above were baked at 350F. They had crisp edges and soft, gooey interiors. My kind of cookie. Mmm.

Chewy Cookies 325 350

Then I let them go 2 minutes longer at 325F.

Chewy Cookie 325

OH NOES I DON’T LIKE THIS COOKIE. The cookies cooked at a lower temperature but for a bit longer wound up puffier and less chewy and gooey. If that’s your thing then, well, bake ’em at a lower temperature for a little longer. Very uniform texture. Not very pliable.

Chewy Cookies all

My favored cookie on the right. 350F gives the cookie a chance to fully cook, while leaving the interior delightfully chewy and soft. The cookies baked at a lower temperature developed slightly more caramel undertones, but were overall less pleasing to me because of their uniform texture.

So how do you like your cookies? A little crisp on the edges, and gooey in the center? One texture? Crunchy? Or maybe straight out of the container?

Last Bit of Toronto Recap

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Ah, Toronto. You’re going on my list of places to return to. Jimmy’s Coffee on Baldwin was around the corner from my Air BnB rental. Albany John found them and they were a favorite morning stop for us. They even made me a really tasty decaf cappucino (I was on a decaf kick for a while there). They also had a pretty tasty pecan butter tart, which makes for a fabulously decadent vacation breakfast.

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Since I was staying in the heart of Hipsterville, Toronto (Kensington Market), I decided to check out one of their many unique food offerings. Bunner’s Bake Shop on Augusta Ave was just a skip away from my rental. The storefront itself was minimalist once inside, with an open plan so you could peep everyone making goodies in the background. They have a vegan soft serve which I had to try just out of curiosity. It was a small cone, about 3-4″ high for around $3. We’d probably call this kiddie-sized here in the Capitol Region.
Overall it wasn’t really my thing. It was icy, had a bit of a lingering aftertaste that was parts cloying and bland. I think it was an almond-milk based plain vanilla cone that tasted mostly of almond milk, which is to say, not much. Hard serve vegan ice cream has a better texture and flavor to me. It was fairly icy because of the milk used (coconut milk, with its higher fat content, would yield a creamier confection). If I were vegan, this would rock my world because I hadn’t seen vegan soft serve before. But since I’ve been eating dairy-based ice creams all summer I found this gritty and generally unsatisfying.

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But thankfully Bunner’s is right next door to Dolce Gelato. Someone tipped me off to their pistachio gelato, and I had to get in on that (left). Oh man, was that ever delicious. They use real pistachios, and the flavor just shines through. This rich, toasty pisatchio gelato just hit the spot for a creamy, rich dessert. The pink grapefruit on the right was also a winner – tart, sweet and perfectly nailing grapefruit in frozen form.

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And then I got a cold, because what else do I do on vacation? Albany John and I walked around downtown Toronto as much as I could (not much). We came upon a street fair and watched some buskers perform. That was cool. This guy was great, too. He really knew how to work the crowd and heckle rude audience members.

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More walking called for some banh mi. Not as good as Montreal or NYC, but better than we have in Albany.

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And a disappointing falafel wrap back in Kensington Market for dinner.

We grabbed some Montreal-style bagels at NuBugel on our way out. I like the size. They are a little more dense than NY bagels, smaller, and sweeter. Good for what it is, and something I’ll grab if it’s around, but not something I’ll go out of my way for.

I still hate crossing back into the US. The guards in Toronto were more aggressive than in Montreal. I wish the US guards would take a note from our neighbors to the north. The Canadian guards are nothing but polite, convivial, and generally nice people. The US border guards in my experience are usually aggressive and combative, as if they assume that you’re doing something illegal and want to catch you. The last time I had a positive interaction with US border patrol was over a decade ago. I just don’t see the point in the current mentality. Dude. I didn’t buy anything. I just went to Toronto for the weekend to see family and tourist around. No I didn’t buy anything. No, really, I’m not bringing anything over. Ok, did I buy anything? Yes, I bought dinner last night. And some chips at duty free. Which you should see since I have to give my license to check out at Duty Free. We could really be doing a better way of policing our border without coming off as stereotypical American bully types, you know? When I was at the 100th birthday party dinner everyone else spoke of how much they disliked crossing into the US because of how rude the US border patrol was. I am embarrassed as an American for this to be the first interaction someone may have when crossing the border, for this to possibly be their first interaction with an American.
The silver lining to this is that while the border patrol agents are more aggressive at the US/Toronto border, the line also moved much faster than Montreal, where I’ve usually had a 45 minute wait to return on a good day. Toronto was about a 20 minute wait. So I guess if I have to pick, I’ll go with ruder but faster border (ugh, one time I waited 3 hours in line to return to the US from Montreal. People were getting out of their cars and playing football on the side of the road).