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 Tomato Pie Tour

Last weekend Jon in Albany and his two kiddos drove down to Princeton with me to eat as many tomato pies with Daniel B. as we could. The tomato pie is native to NJ. It is a dainty, delicate pizza compared to NY-style pizzas. The crust is incredibly thin, and the main star of the pie is the tomato, which usually plays second or third fiddle to the other components of a pizza (crust, cheese) in NY.

It was a whirlwind trip full of tomato pie goodness. I’m lucky to have such awesome folks in my life who are willing to ditch their real lives and go have foodventures with me.

Jon’s write up is here. Daniel B.’s is here.

A ton of pictures below:

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First up was Gennaro’s. This was probably the most upscale setting of the tour. Cloth napkins, and waiters dressed in blacks.
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We were some of the first customers of the day. Gennaro’s had the best tomatoes of the day (to me). So freshly sweet without seeming cloying. Jon took an “accidental” detour through the kitchen and saw that they were using canned tomatoes. We would all love to know how they got them to taste so fresh.

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Crust was okay. A nice and crackery crust. Overall, this was a solid example of tomato pie and probably my favorite of the day if I had to pick one.

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Halo Pub was literally right next door, so we made a stop in. You may have read Daniel wax poetic about this place, and it really is a well-priced gem. I would really love to get a look at their business plan and financials. I am really intrigued by how they can stay in business with the quality they have, overhead, and such low prices.

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The Halo Pub van, restocking the ice cream stores from the farm. Golden cow on top. Sadly, I opted against ice cream since I saw they had soft serve, which they make on the farm, but it had just opened so it hadn’t had a chance to freeze and solidify.
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Pizza stop # 2 was good old Papa’s.
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Daniel and I were able to cross off the (half) anchovy mustard pie off our bucket lists. Mustard pies are a specialty of Papa’s, and well… I was imagining something different in my head. The reality of this pie is a swirl of mustard around the crust, and then the toppings laid as normal. I don’t really see the appeal, or what it really adds to the pie. It was something different to try for certain.

The mustard with anchovy was pretty decent, but the mustard pie plain/just cheese was pretty ho-hum. I don’t need to try it again.
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Half sausage, half plain. This came out a bit more burnished than the mustard pie. I brought some home for Albany John, and he declared the sausage very good as well. Papa’s reheated the best out of all of the tomato pie’s.
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Corleone’s. Oh, Corleone’s. Clunker. Skippable. Friendly folks, but not very good pies.
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Well, okay, their pizza was decent if a bit lackluster. Guess who was in charge of ordering and completely screwed it up and ordered a pizza? (WHAT? I’m from New York! It’s a reflex!).
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The deep fried calzone was on the list, though. $6.95, and the fried calzone came out looking like a burnished football.
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Daniel B stabs at it to divide it up.

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Full of ricotta, and a bit of mozzarella. I could have used a bit more mozzarella, as it was fairly heavy on the ricotta. But the fry job was spot on and deceptively light and ephemeral in an “oh god, this cannot be healthy” kind of way.
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The menfolk and the children tapped out after a few bites, so I ate a little over half of a football of fried calzone by myself. What? I love cheese and fried things. It wasn’t the greatest thing in the world, but it was pretty darned good for what it was.
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And then the tomato pie came out. Weaksauce. The tomatoes were too sugary-sweet, and the crust had major tip sag (as in, couldn’t even get it flat, so soggy and sad). Very bland, too. This reheated very poorly and when reheated the cloying sweetness in the tomatoes became more pronounced.

But I was drunk on deep fried calzone, and as I bade farewell to the counter dude, he told me I’d be ready for a nap. 10 minutes later I was glad Daniel B was hauling us around.
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But thankfully we made a stop at the Yardley Ice House for some water ice. Which is like Italian ice, but with a finer grain.
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I went with a “small” key lime pie. I don’t know how people can eat more than a small. It was tart, sugary, and refreshing. Enough to perk me and my growing pizza baby of a stomach up.
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The final stop of the tour was La Villa, which served more of a PA-style tomato pie.
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Rather garlicky, but pleasant in its own right. I don’t think I’d call it a true tomato pie like the Trenton/NJ pies are, but it was a good one.

I can’t believe how full I was after only a few stops, but then again, I did eat over half of a massive deep fried calzone on my own. I am blaming that calzone for taking up way too much space in my stomach and not leaving more room for pies.

This trip was just what I needed to recharge my batteries. Getting out of town for a day, doing something crazy with friends (don’t tell me it’s sane to decide to drive 8 hrs RT in one day to go eat some tomato pies). It’s just fantastic being around other pizza obsessives and, well, geeking out over the variations and nuances of each pie. I’m more of an introvert than an extrovert, but when you’re around people all day who have a lot of the same passions that you do, well, it’s just so darned refreshing. Extroverts, I think I kind of get part of what makes you tick.

The drive, aside from being long, was actually really easy. No traffic either way, and Jon was an awesome navigator and brought his GPS (and also cheddar bunnies! which are as tasty as they are adorable), which came in handy when my phone decided to crap out after leaving the 518 area code and take forever to do anything (oh, phone…). The kids were angels. Seriously. Parents like Jon & Daniel (and their respective partners) make me entertain the possibility of caring for some small human child in the future.

Pizza & Pasta at DeFazio’s

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It’s probably not a good idea to let me order for a table when I’m at DeFazio’s. There’s a good chance I’ll over order. Between 8 or so of us, we split a chicken pesto antipasto salad (SO good). For $11.95, this was great for a group and super satisfying.

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They had a special of white pizza with cherry tomatoes and balsamic glaze. So much yum. I can’t get enough of that delicious crust – so poofy, tender, and flavorful.
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And a clam pizza. So good, check out that charring on the edge!
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Pesto linguine ($12.95). How can you not love pesto + anything? So good.
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Spinach and garlic linguine ($12.95). Yum.
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Fettuccine Rosario ($12.95) was the only clunker. The sauce was good, but the fettuccine was a little undercooked and clumpy.

There was also a gluten-free pizza tossed in there. For 8 people this was a bit too much food, but super awesome to try so many different things. I think part of the charm of DeFazio’s is their inconsistencies. Today the pizzas were perfect, but the fettuccine was a bit hard. But the service is always friendly, warm, and welcoming.

 

Princeton, NJ

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Sometimes you need to get away from it all. Sometimes the location is important, but sometimes it’s the people that help you reset. Fall 2013 has been one heck of a doozy for me. Being an adult is a wonderful thing, but sometimes responsibilities and things like that toss in a few complications. I’d been planning on visiting Daniel in Princeton, NJ for a few weeks, and by the time I got there it was exactly the mental reset I needed. You can read his account of our adventures here.

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I left Albany Saturday morning, and by the time I got through all of the craptacular NJ traffic (seriously, it was smooth sailing until exit 17 on 87S, then a bunch of eye rolling until I got to Princeton) it was time for lunch. Greasy and so-bad-but-so-good sounded good to me, so Hoagie Haven it was!

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I loved the interior – one big open space with a menu and chips on the left, and the ordering line up front. You could customize any order you wanted, and they had a cute menu of their own custom sandwich combos.
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Daniel suggested we go with sandwich halves, which was a good call. Like, a really good call. Each half was about the size of my forearm. Dan and I split a Sanchez (fries, chicken cutlet, mozzarella sticks, cheese, special sauce) and a Wakeup Call, which is more of a breakfast sandwich that Dan customized as eggs, bacon, cheese, pork roll, .hash browns, and mozzarella sticks (mozz sticks in place of their “steak” slices). And we also got fried mac and cheese. The kiddos split a half sub which was a Sanchez, but with marinara sauce in place of the sweet sauce we got.

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Overall, the kids deemed the mac & cheese better than their sub, which I have to agree with. Those were freakin awesome fried triangles of mac and cheese. Just the right amount of crunch exterior and creamy interior. Get the mac and cheese bites from Hoagie Haven.
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We paired the subs with River Horse Hop Hazard beer.
The Sanchez. Meh. Not my thing. The sauce was way too sweet, and the fries were too heavy and didn’t add anything to the sub. The chicken cutlet was okay because it was meat, and how do you not like meat? But overall, just “meh” in terms of sub. Thank goodness Dan also got the wakeup call so I wouldn’t forever judge his select sub shop with a raised eyebrow. The wakeup call was pretty freaking awesome. Hash browns are a way better sandwich choice than fries at Hoagie Haven. If you see fries, just swap them for hash browns. But no, the pork roll, bacon, and eggs were pretty tasty. I didn’t think the mozzarella sticks added much flavor on either sandwich, which was pretty disappointing and weird that they didn’t add much flavor.
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After lunch, the food coma started to set in, so Dan made some of his super sugary Cuban coffee for me.
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The mixing of the espresso with some sugar, turning it into a creamy fluff of sorts.
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The pour

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Bam, energy shot in a glass
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And then, get this, we went for a WALK after coffee time! I know! The Veal of People wanted to go for a walk. I am so happy for the exercise addition in his life!

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Princeton’s grounds are beautiful.

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Okay, enough of walkies, let’s get back to food. We went for two dinners, because that’s how we roll. The first place was Papa’s Tomato Pies.

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There was a magician at Papa’s, which the kiddos enjoyed, and was a nice distraction from the relatively short wait until our plain cheese pie came out. From what I can tell from this brief experience, Tomato Pie is kind of like a really thin (crackery) crust pizza with chunky tomato sauce, or chunks of sweet tomato sharing the spotlight with cheese.

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Papa’s crust was nicely thin. Not quite crackery, but quite ephemeral on its own. Papa’s tomato pie had a very short half-life in terms of enjoyability. The first slice was great. The second slice just a few minutes later was firmer and less enjoyable than the first as it cooled off. Still enjoyable, but just not as good as the first slice.
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Our second stop was DeLorenzo’s, which had one hell of a wait, and one hell of an inefficient hostess. The waiters were all taking peoples names and putting them on her list, telling her to seat people quicker. Yikes. And for some reason, she just kept telling the servers to wait, and slowly seating people. It was a weird experience. I’ve never seen waiters so openly tell the hostess they could handle more tables, and to seat more people.

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DeLorenzo’s pie was more of a crackery-crisp crust, which Dan and I preferred. The kids deemed Papa’s pie to be their preference of the two.

Compared to Papa’s the atmosphere at DeLorenzo’s was more chaotic – lots of TVs, bright lights, and not much in the way of noise control. It was a little overwhelming for me. BRIGHT LIGHTS, LOUD SOUNDS, AND PEOPLE EVERYWHERE. Bit the pie was a nice crackery crust, and the tomatoes shone through.

Prices for both of the pies were in the $13 range. Not expensive, but I could see an adult eating a whole pie with ease.

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Then we were off for two desserts for our two dinners. First up was The Halo Pub, which is an ice creamery and not a pub.

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I got a scoop of peanut and cashew praline. The cashew was really good. The peanut, eh. This was only like, $2.50 for the ice cream, though!

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Then it was off to the Bent Spoon. I suppose you could call the Halo Pub an old school institution. Lots of wood everywhere. The Bent Spoon would be like the hipster child of the Bent Spoon. They had banana “ice cream” and more non-traditional flavors than the Halo Pub (but Halo Pub had more selection).

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Wall of hard to read flavors (for old people. I could read them just fine).
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Flavors for the sampling! These seemed more like gelato than ice cream by how they had them displayed.

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I got their Wild Turkey & caramel flavored ice cream, along with the very locally sourced NJ pumpkin and NJ mascrapone ice cream. They were both so good. Expensive, but so good. Something like $4 for this small ice cream. But really good. Like, I couldn’t pick a favorite between the two. They just nailed those flavors.

One of my favorite moments here was when Little Miss Fussy almost started crying. Why? Because she was full and sad that she couldn’t finish her ice cream. So freaking cute.

So then we went and slept off our foodings. To prepare for more foodings the next morning:

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Nino’s Pastry Shoppe for their icing filled donut. Which Dan said was more of a frosting sandwich, so of course I was all in.

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Their portions were enormous. Every good here was gigantic.
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Then it was off to the Eet Gud Bakery. Love those signs.
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Also very large portions.
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Here are the sweets we got from Nino’s: frosting-FILLED donuts, cream puffs, and cookies for the kids. The cream puffs were pre-filled, but maintained crisp exteriors. Nice job.
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We may have gone a little crazy at Eet Gud. So many things just looked so gud, though.
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So here is Nino’s frosting-filled donut on the left, and Eet Gud’s frosting-filled donut stick on the right. Nino’s frosting had more of a buttery feel to the filling, but it wasn’t great butter, so it had a bit of a greasy lingering thing going on in your mouth after you ate it. Not too sweet, either.

Eet Gud’s donut stick was my favorite of the two similar donuts. A slight shell of an exterior on the donut, cushy interior, and a sweet, thick frosting inside. Nice textural differences. Dan preferred Nino’s to Eet Gud’s for those same reasons, haha. He liked the softness of the whole dougnut and wasn’t a fan of the different textures of Eet Gud’s donut.

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Raspberry filled donut on the left, “mango” on the right. I say “mango” because that filling seriously tasted like Pez. There was no mango in there, but a whole lotta Pez.

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Pumpkin filled on the left, custard on the right. The pumpkin was awesome. Mixing the pumpkin with their frosting, Eet Gud churned out a donut with a great pumpkin flavor and a mousse-like texture filling. The custard on the right was like a Boston cream, but without the chocolate.

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I wasn’t a huge fan of the custard. It was kind of weak in the flavor department, so this was my wee dreg of donut.

And then I drank an entire pot of coffee, filled up with some cheap NJ gas and was on my way to Flushing, NY to see my uncle.

Gluten Free Pizza Girls’ Night

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Baking Suit invited me over for a night of gluten free pizza and girly shennanigans. Pizza? Shennanigans? I’m in.
Two kinds of pizza were had that day. Well, two different kinds of pizza crusts. And toppings.

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First up was Bob’s Red Mill. This crust required a lot of baking time (much more than it said on the package) in order to get it crispy and more pizza crust-like. The edges crisped up, the parts under the cheese were still a bit soft. Decent for a gluten-free option. Didn’t really taste “off” or weird.

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My favorite was the Bisquick gluten-free crust, though! This pizza was also white, which is one of my favorite pizza types, with red-wine mushrooms (Baking Suit’s family recipe). So good! The gluten free Bisquick crust was REALLY good. But maybe not really like a pizza. More like a biscuit crust. So buttery and delicious. But it didn’t taste gluten free at all. Had all the properties of Bisquick with gluten in it. I want 80,000 of these pizzas every week.

Whole Wheat Cold Fermented Pizza Dough

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Whole wheat cold fermented pizza. I am so bad about keeping exact measurements of my dough. I just like to add water until it’s a little sticky. I used a preferment this time, and I’ve gotta say… this dough came out pretty freaking awesome. Sadly, it does require a bit of planning, what with the preferment and cold fermentation, but I think it’s worth it for the few occasions I make pizza at home.

Nicely tender and a bit fluffy. Not dense as a rock or what you’d imagine whole wheat pizza dough to be. Although I suppose when you slather the entire thin in cheese, sauce, and pepperoni, you’d imagine the dough to be secondary. But it was a delicious supporting character.

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Whole Wheat Cold Ferment Pizza Dough:

Preferment:
1 C whole wheat flour
pinch of yeast (1/8 tsp or less)
1/2 C cold water

Leave this out the night before covered with some plastic wrap. Shoot for at least 12 hours of counter time.

Dough: Preferment (all of the stuff above that’s been sitting on the counter)
2 C whole wheat
1 C AP flour
1.5-1.75 C water
1.5 tsp salt
.75 tsp yeast

Mix it all together, then stick in the fridge for at least 3 days. Start with 1.5 cups of water. If it has the consistency of regular bread dough, add a little more water so the dough is a bit shaggier.

After 3 days, pull the dough out and let sit at room temp for 2 hours before using.

Giovanni Rana Pastas & Sauces – Review & Giveaway


Giovanni Rana pasta and sauces

Giovanni Rana sent me some pastas and sauces to try that they are selling in local supermarkets. You can find them at ShopRite in the Albany/Capitol Region area. I’ve tucked into a few of these products, and so far, I’m digging them. Giovanni Rana is also going to give one reader 4 pastas and one sauce to try! See the many ways I’ve eaten their products below, or skip to the end to see how to enter.DSCF5243 The artichoke ravioli go for $4.99 for 12 oz, which is a pretty fair deal for them. The ravioli skins were pliable, and fairly thin, although they still had a decent tooth to the texture. If you roll your own pasta, imagine this on the 2nd or 3rd from thinnest setting. There was also a noticeable semolina flavor from the pasta, too.

Albany John had made some of his own marinara sauce, so that’s the sauce you see above. The artichoke flavors came out quite well – the filling itself didn’t disintegrate into the sauce when I cut into them with a fork, but it wasn’t super firm or dry, either. They also were easy to boil and none of them broke while cooking.

Giovanni Rana ravioli The next ravioli I tried were the Cheese Forte, which was a sharp cheese blend of cheeses (including parm reg). It went well with Albany John’s smoked salmon cream sauce (cream sauce cheat: he dissolves a bit of cream cheese with chicken broth so it’s a little tangy, but not too rich as a sauce base).

The cheese was pretty pronounced and sharp, held up well to the strong flavors of Albany John’s sauce. I’m really digging the ravioli as an alternative to homemade ravioli. I like this Giovanni Rana ravioli over other refrigerated pastas like Buitoni (which is  thicker/tougher-skinned and the fillings are dryer in comparison). It’s not the same as my homemade ravioli, but I’d probably pick up a baggie if it were late and I was in OMG-need-ravioli-now mode, because it’s pretty close.

Giovanni Rana fettuciniThe pesto sauce has been my favorite so far! What is not to love about pesto in the winter? It’s rich, but also bright! Albany John mixed some sweet onions and garlic with the pesto and tossed it with their Fettuccine, which, okay, I was really jealous about because this is the thickness and width that I want my homemade pasta to be, but for some reason I just can’t get it like this.

The pesto sauce is going to be the sauce one lucky reader gets to try! (And you have to tell me what you thought 😉 ) For some reason I kept thinking that this would make an awesome/impressive kind of Valentine’s day dinner if you didn’t want to go out to eat, weren’t the most confident in your kitchen skills, but wanted something satisfying for you and your dinner date. Wow, that is kind of oddly specific. Or maybe pesto just makes me all sorts of mushy and romantic.

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Okay, so you know what the marinara sauce is good for? Can you guess? It’s another one of my loves.

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Yes, pizza! Haha! Shape this baby into a heart and now you’ve got my Valentine’s day attention. I made Kenji’s Foolproof Pan Pizza dough from the Pizza Lab at Serious Eats, and I totally forgot to make a pizza sauce! Ahhh! And Albany John is not as much a fan of white pizzas as I am. I was scouring my pantries and fridge to see what I could come up with in a pinch, and… sweet! I was gonna repurpose this marinara sauce! It’s got sun-dried tomatoes in the sauce, so there’s a little sweetness in there, and since it’s in a plastic container there’s no tinniness to it. It’s a bit on the thick side, so if I were going to use it with pasta, I’d probably reserve some of the cooking water to thin it out a bit.

The dough above is in a 10″ cast iron pan, and I used about 2 tablespoons of marinara sauce.

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It was a kalamata olive pizza kind of night in our house. DSCF5300

Baked! The sauce was a nice supporting character in the pizza play that went into my mouth. Overall, I think I’m not so much a pan-pizza kind of gal, preferring thin crusts over thick and poofy ones, although this one was not the least bit dense, even though I subbed in about a half cup of whole wheat flour. DSCF5308
Interior shot of the pizza – the hole structure in the dough made for a soft and pliable crust. The bottom of the crust crisped up nicely. Cooked in a cast iron, this was like a grown up Pizza Hut pie. I think it would be even better rolled out thinly and tossed on a stone, though, if you’re more into thin crusts like I am.

So, would you like to try some of Giovanni Rana’s pastas and a pesto sauce? If so, why don’t you leave a comment and tell me what your plans are for Valentine’s day.
I’ll start: Going to an anti-Valentine’s day celebration of some sort: show your love every day, not just one day a year!

(US entries only, comments close Wednesday, February 6th)

Sciortino’s

Sciortino's meatballs

Went to Sciortino’s with Garnish Marketing for a quick snack. Meatballs were not too bad, if a bit more dense than my tastes tend to prefer. $5.95 – The plating made them seem a bit meager.

Sciortino's PizzaBBQ chicken pizza! $5 for a slice, which might sound like a lot, but this slice is gigantic! It hung off of the edges of the paper plate, and it comes sliced into six daintier squares, which makes for easier handling. The crust is thicker, but still quite poofy and soft while maintaining height.

Cash only, very friendly service. The interior seating is the same as it was when it was Miss Albany, and there are jugs of Carlo Rossi all over. My kinda place.

Bacchus


I went to Bacchus (32 2nd St, Troy, NY 12180) with my sib-in-laws last Friday night for dinner. It’d been a while since I’d been, and I remember my initial impression wasn’t the greatest. I am very happy I returned (their restaurant week menu was a pretty big pull), because we had a great time. We ordered the shrimp & artichoke appetizer. This was something like $6, and well worth it. Fresh wood-fired bread, and a big bowl of deliciousness.


My brother-in-law went with a pizza with jalapenos, chicken, & onions. He really liked it, and even said it was pretty spicy.


My sis-in-law Maka went with a design-your-own pasta with tri-color spirals & some red pepper cream sauce.

Albany John and I both got their restaurant week menu, which was $10 for a margherita pizza & a glass of wine or beer. I went with a glass of Malbec, Albany John got a glass of beer. They’ve got a nice selection of beers on tap – something close to a dozen, and all priced fairly, mostly in the $5-7 range. This Neapolitan-style pizza was awesome! A thin, flavorful crust with bubbles & char. No sogginess. I’ll definitely be back for more pizza and drinks in the future.

Bacchus strikes me as a nice place to catch up with friends or take a date. It’s a basement restaurant, so it’s got a cozy vibe with the exposed brick walls and low lighting.