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Wednesday, November 30, 2011

International Food Market & Istanbul Market

A few days before Thanksgiving, I checked out two different, but related places serving two different, but related variations on pizza, with some interesting results.
International Food Market and Pizzeria in Henrietta opened recently in Jefferson Plaza, on Jefferson Road across from Southtown Plaza. It offers a pretty wide variety of packaged and freshly prepared American and Pakistani foods, and a 100% Halal menu.
I love exploring ethnic cuisines as much as the next guy, but as intriguing as some of the hot dishes looked, on this occasion I was there to investigate the pizza.
There were a couple of sliced pies on a warming tray. One was topped with pepperoni, and at first I wasn't at all sure what the other one had on it. It appeared to be a mixture of cheese interspersed with some unidentified, dark brown bits. Given the name of the place and the presence of various, more or less Middle Eastern items available, I thought perhaps it was some exotic topping that I'd never tried before.
So it was with some disappointment that I learned that it was simply mozzarella cheese that had been overbaked. The guy behind the counter explained that it got a little overly brown, so he put on some extra cheese to compensate, which gave the pizza an unusual, mottled light-and-dark appearance.
I kind of like browned cheese anyway, so I got one cheese and one pepperoni slice. The thin to medium crust was mostly soft, unevenly browned underneath, and screen baked. There was a little crunch along the edge but the edge also had kind of a tough, chewy texture.
The sauce had a thinnish consistency and a tomatoey flavor that was on the bland side. The cheese was as you'd expect, with some caramelized, burnt-cheese flavor mixed, on the cheese slice, with added, melted mozzarella.
The pepperoni was the best thing on this pizza. It had a good, meaty flavor and was just crisp along the edge.
So, not so great pizza, although the market looked to be well worth a return visit.
And most definitely worth a visit was International Food Market's sister establishment on Norton Street in Rochester. Istanbul Market is much smaller, with just a narrow storefront in a strip mall near Portland Avenue. And while it doesn't serve "American" pizza, they do offer lahmacun, a close cousin of pizza that's commonly found in Turkey and elsewhere in the Eastern Mediterranean. In fact, lahmacun is sometimes referred to as Turkish pizza, although the Greeks caused a bit of a stir earlier this year by claiming it as their own.
This was my first time trying lahmacun, but I don't think it'll be my last. A small ball of dough was stretched as thin as, maybe even thinner than a tortilla, to about the size of an average dinner plate, topped with a well-seasoned mix of ground lamb, tomatoes, onions, parsley and spices, and popped into the oven for a few minutes. So if you define pizza as a flattened layer of dough that's spread with toppings and baked in an oven, well then, this is pizza.
I try to avoid the word "delicious" on this blog - it's too cliched, and not terribly descriptive - but this was delicious, with a complexity of flavors and aromas that belied the relative simplicity of its execution. (The young woman behind the counter advised me, by the way, that lahmacun is often given a sprinkling of lemon juice before being eaten, but I had none on hand, so that will have to wait until next time.)
The very edge of the wafer-thin disk had charred nicely in the oven, giving it a crackly crunch right along the rim, though the rest of the crust remained pliable, thanks I'm sure to the protective layer of toppings, which covered nearly the entire surface. You could easily roll this up and eat it like a street vendor's crepe, but I chose to tear off and savor one bit at a time.
Regular readers of this blog will know that with pizza, I'm all about the crust. But while this "crust" (which doesn't seem like the right word, but it'll do) was fine, clearly its main function is simply to serve as a base, or wrap, for the toppings, which are the real star of the show. This was intoxicatingly aromatic and immensely - though not intensely - flavorful, subtle and complex at the same time.
And while, as with a curry dish, it was difficult to pick out all the constituents - cumin? mint? coriander? chiles, perhaps? - there was a certain underlying comfort level here too. I don't think it was the particular seasonings that were unfamiliar to me - I may well have them all in my kitchen - but they were blended in a way that I'd never had before.
Both of these markets offer an interesting selection of food items, and it's fun to browse their shelves and refrigerator cases as well as their to-go menus. Many of the packages are written entirely in Turkish, but an employee will be happy to translate for you, or you could just be adventurous and buy whatever looks good.
As far as the hot prepared food is concerned, I think my brief sampling tends to confirm the truism that when you go to a place that serves food, stick with what they do best. The pizza I had at International Food Market was passable - I'll give it a C-minus - but the lahmacun at Istanbul Market blew it away. It rates an A. (And let me emphasize that those ratings are for the two things I ate - the pizza and the lahmacun - not the markets themselves, both of which are worth a visit.)
Istanbul Market, 1388 Norton St., Rochester 14621
Hours:  Mon. - Thu. 9 a.m. - 7 p.m., Fri. & Sat. 9 a.m. - 8 p.m., Sun. 9 a.m. - 5 p.m.
Tel.: 342-2990
International Food Market & Pizzeria, 376 Jefferson Rd., Henrietta
Hours:  Mon. - Thu. 11 a.m. - 10 p.m., Fri. & Sat. 11 a.m. - 11 p.m., Sun. noon - 8 p.m.
Tel.: 270-4004 (delivery available)

Flying Cauldron Butterscotch Beer

I was recently sent a sample of a new product from Reed's Inc., the makers of naturally flavored soda pops like Reed's Original Ginger Brew and China Cola.
Reed's latest offering, Flying Cauldron Butterscotch Beer, is a non-alcoholic drink that's accurately described on the label as a "butterscotch cream soda." The flavor is simple, straightforward, and sweet, with distinct notes of vanilla and butterscotch. This isn't something I could see myself guzzling a lot of on a hot summer day, but as a "dessert" soda, it's rather satisfying. I haven't tried this yet, but I imagine it would also go very well with a scoop of vanilla ice cream in the glass.
Flying Cauldron Butterscotch Beer is available in 12-ounce bottles, online and at local Wegmans stores. For more information go to

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Make a Difference this Holiday Season with the World Vision Gift Catalog

Let me stray from pizza a bit - well, OK, a lot - to give a plug for the World Vision Gift Catalog. World Vision is, in its own words, "a Christian humanitarian organization dedicated to working with children, families, and their communities worldwide to reach their full potential by tackling the causes of poverty and injustice." They serve 100 million people in nearly 100 countries around the world, and they do not discriminate on the basis of religion, race, ethnicity, or gender.
So what's the deal with the gift catalog? Well, they offer unique items that make great gifts, from jewelry to scarves to coffee. I was provided with a sample of their fair-trade coffee, which blends beans from Ethiopia, Sumatra, and Costa Rica, and I can honestly say it is outstanding, with a rich coffee flavor that's as good as any that I've had.
The great thing about ordering from World Vision is that you can help in two ways. First, many of the items themselves are handmade by individuals from around the world. The coffee, for example, is available in a set that includes a gift bag that's been hand-sewn by women in Africa, and a hand-carved wooden coffee scoop.
Plus, part of the proceeds of your purchase go to help people in need around the world. The prices run a little high, but the amount you pay over fair-market value, and minus shipping charges, is tax deductible. And World Vision also gets a very good rating from Charity Navigator, so rest assured that your dollars are being put to good use.
And while the selection is not huge, you're not likely to find these items at major retailers. Sure, you could get your loved one a scarf at the mall, but countless other people are going to be unwrapping the same scarf on Christmas morning. A silk scarf that was hand-woven by women in Thailand's Surin Province just might mean a little more. The recipient will love it, you'll feel good, and you'll be doing good at the same time.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Dontonio's, Avon

Dontonios Pizza on Urbanspoon
I don't find myself in Avon a whole lot, but I managed twice in the past month to stop at Dontonio's, a pizzeria on the eastern edge of town on Rts. 5 and 20, right next to Tom Wahl's.
The first time around, I got a couple of pepperoni slices, which was the only thing available on my midday visit. They were "normal" size, and pretty fresh out of the oven, though they did get a quick reheating.
The crust was thin, with a  crackly, bumpy underside. It was not dark, but there were a few small char spots, and it was dry to the touch.
The edge of the crust was especially crackly. On one slice, it broke off from the rest of the slice entirely. The interior, though, was on the chewy side, in a good way. I liked the contrast between the exterior crunch and the interior chewiness.
These were reasonably tasty slices, with a well balanced mix of slightly browned mozzarella, a middle-of-the-road tomatoey sauce, and a bit of spicy kick from the pepperoni. Nothing particularly remarkable there, but they worked well together and were added in good proportion to the crust.
After that good experience, I was looking forward to trying a full pie from Dontonio's, which I did a couple of weeks later. It wasn't bad, but it wasn't quite as good as the slices, I'm afraid.
The crust on this pie was quite thin, but the edge was very thick. The underside was dry and firm, but not really crisp. I found the dough nice and bready, but it seemed a bit bland. Though the underside showed some dark brown spots, it didn't have the toasty flavor or aroma that I look for in a crust. The flavor brought to mind a loaf of bread that was baked at a relatively low oven temperature, giving it a nice texture but not the complex flavors that develop at high temps.
The toppings were also on the mild side. As I often do, I got a plain cheese pizza, which best allows you to see what a pizzeria's pies are really like, so I wasn't expecting that much in the way of flavor, but even taking that into consideration, the sauce and cheese didn't do much to lift the overall flavor profile. The thin layer of sauce added some mild tomato flavor, but not much else. There was a faint hint of oregano, though I couldn't tell if that came from the sauce itself or from a sprinkling of the dried herb.
The cheese on this pie was perhaps the most dominant component, but more because of its quantity than its flavor. It was melted juuust to the point where it was beginning to brown, which is about where I like it, but it too seemed rather bland. Even processed mozzarella sometimes has a certain tanginess to it, but this cheese added more texture than flavor; the addition of a slightly sharper cheese, even just a little provolone or a sprinkling of Romano, would've been welcome. I also wondered if this was part skim cheese, as it was congealed but not particularly smooth or stringy. It had exuded some orangey oil in the oven, so I'm not sure.
Dontonio's offers pizza in 9-, 12-, and 16-inch sizes, plus sheet pizzas, with your choice of 16 toppings. Their only specialty pizza is a chicken wing pie. They also do wings, calzones, subs, salads, and fried sides.
I don't mean to sound overly critical of this pizza. It was OK. But perhaps after liking my slices, I was expecting more from the pie. And frankly, my family wasn't crazy about the pie, which I brought home for dinner, so that probably made me scrutinize it a little more closely than I otherwise would have.
In retrospect, I think the slices benefited from being reheated, which made the crust crisper and the cheese a little browner (and more flavorful) and from the pepperoni, which added some kick. Maybe if I'd simply asked that my pie be "well done," and gotten some extra toppings, I would've liked it more.
And though it's a cliche to say that a dish tastes OK, but could use salt, in fact I think that might've been the case here. The crust tasted to me like bread made with very little salt, and neither the sauce nor the cheese tasted of salt either. I'm not a salt fiend, but a little sodium chloride does have a way of perking up the taste buds.
On the plus side, the dough did have some nice bready qualities, and though it was on the bland side, the outer crust, or "bones," made for good dipping into my homemade hot sauce. And it was a well made, well balanced pizza. I liked my slices better than the pie, but even the pie was all right, and I'm going to average them out to a C+.
Dontonio's Pizzeria, 303 East Main St., Avon
Tel.:  226-3290
Sun. - Thu. 11 a.m. - 10 p.m., Fri. & Sat. 11 a.m. - midnight

Monday, November 21, 2011

Book Review: The Complete Idiot's Guide to Self-Sufficient Living

Last August, I reviewed The Complete Idiot's Guide to Urban Homesteading. In a similar vein, but with some differences, is another volume in the "Idiot's" Series, The Complete Idiot's Guide to Self-Sufficient Living. Author Jerome Belanger, a farmer who's written six books on country living, has written a straightforward manual for those who'd like to become more self-reliant, and less dependent on the government and big business to supply their needs, even as those entities extend their reach into more and more corners of our lives.
On the surface, this may sound a lot like the Urban Homesteading book, but they're different enough to complement each other with little overlap or redundancy. Where Urban Homesteading focused on the nuts and bolts of running what amounts to a small farm in an urban environment, Belanger takes a broader view. He does discuss homesteading and raising your own food - of both the animal and vegetable variety - but he also covers such topics as reducing waste at home, energy conservation, and low-cost "green" housing. His discussions are packed with practical tips and easy-to-follow instructions on everything from making compost to milking a goat.
Belanger also goes beyond simple DIY, how-to stuff, though, by placing his concrete advice within a larger philosophical framework. Literal self-sufficiency in the 21st century, he explains, is virtually impossible on an individual level. Even the most ardent homesteader, or even a hermit, will own and use tools, clothing, and other articles that were manufactured by somebody else.
Self-sufficiency, then, for Belanger, is not about withdrawing from society; it's about refashioning society, or the individual's place in society, one person at a time. That attitude makes this book a good fit in the current trend toward green living, but Belanger is no bandwagon jumper. He founded and edited Countryside magazine for 30 years, and has been practicing a simple, self-sufficient lifestyle for decades.
As between The Complete Idiot's Guide to Urban Homesteading, and the Guide to Self-Sufficient Living, there is of course no reason that you necessarily have to pick one the other. My wife is trying to create a more self-sufficient household, and she loves and uses both volumes.
But if you only want one, or at least one to start with, which one to get depends on your interests, or those of the person you're buying for. I'd recommend the Urban Homesteading guide for those who are primarily interested in raising their own food, particularly in an urban environment or at least on something other than a full-blown, traditional farm. If your interests include, but extend beyond, simply growing your own food, to living a simpler or more ecologically responsible life in general, The Complete Idiot's Guide to Self-Sufficient Living is the book to get.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Tavern 58, University Ave.

Tavern58 at Gibbs on Urbanspoon
Ordering pizza from a place you've never tried before is always a bit of a crap shoot, but that's especially true at restaurants. You can ask the waiter, of course, but you're liable to get anything from pizza on a premade shell, or on French bread, or flatbread. It might be baked, it might be grilled. Some places do use homemade, hand-stretched dough, baked in an oven, but it may be baked in the restaurant's regular oven, at a relatively low temperature that's more suited for lasagna than for pizza.
Tavern 58 on University Avenue falls into the grilled flatbread category. I dined there recently with a couple of friends, and was able to sample two of their pizzas.
Despite the name, by the way, I wouldn't call this a tavern. To me, a tavern is an American version of a pub - a bar, but typically one with a kitchen, serving meals that go beyond mere bar snacks. But at Tavern 58, the bar seems to be the tail of the restaurant dog. It's a restaurant, with a small, separate bar area. But I suppose "tavern" also conjures up a certain type of food, and maybe that's what they're going for here.
Well, restaurant, tavern, whatever. At any rate, they do offer pizza.
As I said, this was grilled, flatbread-type pizza. From the looks of it, the chef had grilled one side of the crust, flipped it, and added toppings to the other side.
When you're grilling a pizza, the cooking time tends to be quick, so as not to burn the crust. That means that the toppings are not going to cook much on the pizza itself. So either you precook the toppings, or use toppings that need little or no cooking, and in any event you don't want to overload the pizza. Veggies are particularly suited to this style, as is good melting cheese, and my grilled vegetable pizza had both. It was topped with roasted sweet peppers, diced tomato, and fresh mozzarella cheese, with an overlay of fresh basil sprouts. A sprinkling of vinegar (balsamic, I think) added another dimension to the flavor, though at the cost of the crispness imparted by the grill, as it did make the crust a bit wet. That was a drawback for me. A pizza crust can be many things - crisp, toasty, oily, crunchy - but wet shouldn't be one of them.
My friend's tomato and marinara with basil was also simply prepared, with a medium-bodied and -flavored tomato sauce and the same, creamy melted cheese.
Tavern 58 has a substantial, traditional American menu, running from burgers to steaks and seafood, with a few Italian dishes in the mix as well. )My other friend's cheeseburger, by the way, was reported to be outstanding.)
While I wouldn't mind going back sometime, I'd probably forego the pizza. It was pleasant enough, but I can't call it great pizza. Even allowing for my general preference for oven-baked rather than grilled pizza, this crust was simply too soft - and wet - and didn't seem to have much of a "grilled" flavor. The toppings were all right, but to me, they could've used a bit more help than just the splash of vinegar - perhaps roasted garlic or grilled onions, a second, more assertive cheese, additional herbs, or even something more exotic, like dried figs. As it was, I found this pizza a bit boring. Granted, there were other pizza choices on the menu, some of which had a wider array of toppings, but my first time at an establishment I like to keep it simple, so as not to let the toppings get in the way of the crust. And this crust just wasn't great, and could've used more help from the toppings. I'll give it a C-minus.
Tavern 58, University Ave., Rochester 14605
Tel.: 546-5800
Hours: Lunch 11:30 - 2:00 weekdays, Dinner 4:30 - 11:00 Mon. - Thu., till midnight Fri. & Sat. Closed Sun.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Truck's Oven, Sodus Point

I don't get out to Sodus Point very often, but I always like going there. It's a nice setting, and even though I'm not a boater I enjoy strolling down Greig Street, visiting the lighthouse, or just relaxing in the park out at the tip of the Point.
A few days ago I had to drive out that way on a personal errand, so I decided that this would be a good time to check out the pizza in Sodus Point. Which pretty much means Truck's Oven.
There may be a convenience store or two where you can get pizza in Sodus Point, but to my knowledge, Truck's is the only full-fledged pizzeria in town.
I was going out to dinner a short time later, so I just got  a couple of pepperoni slices, one of which I saved for later. I don't know if this is how it always works there, but apparently they took two cheese slices, added pepperoni, and popped them back in the oven. But I could imagine them not getting enough customer traffic at this time of year to keep multiple kinds of slices on hand, so that makes some sense I guess. The pie from which these slices were cut came out of the oven while I was waiting, though, so these were very fresh.
The first thing I noticed about these was the addition of extra cheese on top of the pepperoni. Lots of places give the pizza a light dusting of grated Romano or Parmesan, but this was the first time I'd seen a pizzeria sprinkle extra shredded mozzarella on a slice before reheating it.
The next thing I noticed was the crust, which was rather interesting. The slices were thin, and the bottoms were dry, but with a very unusual appearance. Golden brown areas, where the dough had been in contact with the cooking surface, were interspersed with large pale areas, presumably where the dough had bubbled up a bit. (The deep, yellowish colors you see in the photos are due to my taking these pictures in the late afternoon sun.)
The texture was unusual as well. The crust was somewhat crisp, yet it had an almost biscuitlike feel to it, with a bit of crunch.
So intrigued was I by the crust that I hardly noticed the toppings. But there was an ample layer of sauce, with a straightforward tomatoey flavor, a slightly browned, uniform layer of cheese, and then the pepperoni and added cheese on top. Since the slices only went back into the oven for a brief time after the addition of the latter two ingredients, the pepperoni was just cooked to the point of softening, and the cheese was nicely melted but not browned. I imagine if I'd ordered a pepperoni pie, the pepperoni would've gone on at the beginning, and turned crisper.
Truck's Oven - which, by the way, beat out ten other pizzierias to take top honors in a Wayne County pizza contest earlier this year - offers pizza pies in 14" and 18" sizes, as well as "personal" size pizzas (not sure of the diameter of those). Sixteen toppings are available, and four specialty pizzas, including "ABE's Big Dog," a double-crusted pizzas stuffed with garlic butter, mozzarella, and your choice of toppings, and a sundried-tomato pesto pizza that's described as a house favorite, with garlic, ricotta, the aforementioned pesto, sauce, cheese, sausage, mushrooms and onions (wow!).
If you like wings at all, don't miss Truck's wings, which are available with over a dozen sauces. The "Stunners" sauce, described as "hot and spicy nacho cheese," sounds tempting, but the most unusual has to be the "Spicy P B & J" sauce. According to the menu, it is exactly what the name implies - peanut butter, jelly, and spice.
The rest of Truck's menu includes hot and cold sandwiches, "tunnels" (stuffed-bread subs), lobster rolls (which are apparently only available on Saturdays), calzones, fries, and soups. Truck's daily specials go beyond the commonplace, chicken French and eggplant parm variety. Truck's Facebook page shows, for example, that a recent day's special was garlic, beef, chicken and spinach enchiladas with a side of cilantro lime cole slaw, and lobster and crab chowder was the soup du jour.
Getting back to the pizza, this is a tough one to rate. The crust was unusual, and in some ways rather different from my ideal pizza crust. And yet I couldn't help liking it for its distinctiveness. I can see how some people could really dig this, and others find it not to their liking, so inasmuch as my ratings constitute an implied recommendation, it's difficult to know where to put this one. I'll just go with my gut, and my gut says a B-minus feels about right, but with the added advice that if you get a chance, check out Truck's pizza yourself. Love it, hate it, or fall somewhere in between, it's something you should try.
As for me, I'm not sure when I'll next find myself in Sodus Point. But when I do, I'm pretty sure I'll be making a return visit to Truck's. And no knock on the pizza, but next time around might be a wingfest instead. There's just something so culinarily perverse sounding about PB&J wings that I don't think I can resist.
Truck's Oven, 8487 Greig St., Sodus Point
Tel.: (585) 967-8787 (967-TRUX)
Truck's will be open Friday through Monday during the winter season. I believe they're open from noon till 9:00 on Fridays and Saturdays, noon till 8 on Sundays, and 4:30 to 8 on Mondays, but call ahead to confirm.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Tony Pepperoni''s, Henrietta, X-Large Cheese Pie

I've done one blog post about Tony Pepperoni in Henrietta, but it's been two and a half years, and that post was only based on one slice. So it was high time to go back and get a full pie.
Tony's pizzas come in 12-, 16-, and 18-inch sizes. I went with the 18", extra-large pie, just cheese. I also recently shared a 16" pie, which I didn't photograph or take notes on, but I will comment on that too, just to offer some comparisons.
The crust on the 18" pie was rather thin, and though Tony's offers thin, regular and thick crust, I didn't specify. So I would assume this was "regular," but I also can't imagine their crusts getting much thinner than this. So maybe if you don't specify, you get thin. Or maybe the 18" pie runs toward the thin side because they take the same amount of dough and stretch it out wider. The 16" pie did seem a shade thicker, although it was still pretty thin. But I like thin crust, so regardless, I was OK with this.
The underside on this pie was dark brown, though not charred. It was crisp and toasty, with a chewy, bready, narrow lip. The 16" pie was closer to charred, with a few nearly black spots on the crust, but not dramatically different.
The mozzarella cheese was moderately applied, and lightly browned here and there. The sauce - well, this was odd. I found it on the mild side, with a slightly sweet-salty tomatoey flavor, and a hint of oregano. My wife, on the other hand, thought it was quite salty - too salty for her, in fact. She's not generally overly sensitive to salt, so I don't know what to make of these different reactions we had to the sauce.
Salty or no, the pizza was pretty well balanced, with healthy doses of cheese and sauce, but not so much as to overwhelm the thin crust.
My family and I did all like the crust on this pizza, and it wasn't hard for me to polish off several slices. As has been my experience with Tony Pepperoni's in the past, it seemed to me like a derivative of New York style pizza. There were enough slight differences that I wouldn't actually call this New York style (nor does Tony Pepperoni claim it to be), but it's kind of like a cross between New York pizza and Rochester's more generic "American" style. A little heavier on the sauce than a New York pie, a little less crackly-crisp on the bottom, but still a bit bready, not greasy, and with the crust, sauce and cheese in good proportion to each other. I enjoyed it enough to give it a B+.
Tony Pepperoni's, 4164 West Henrietta Rd.
Tel.: 334-2830
Open daily 11 a.m. - 10 p.m.

Book Review - Everyday Exotic: The Cookbook

"TV chef" has become a loaded term these days, covering everything from latter-day Julia Childs who have made the transition from classically trained chef to media star, to pretty faces whose cooking skills don't extend much past knowing how to open a can of condensed cream of mushroom soup.
Roger Mooking, host of Everyday Exotic on the Cooking Channel, seems closer to the culinary end of that spectrum. He's got some serious credentials, with formal training at the George Brown Culinary Management Program, work experience at the Epic Dining Room in Toronto's Royal York Hotel, and he's the executive chef and co-owner of Nyood Restaurant in downtown Toronto.
The premise of Everyday Exotic is that each episode will show you how to "give everyday weekday meals a fantastic exotic twist with one new ingredient" that's a bit unusual but still easily found at any well-stocked supermarket. So in general, we're not talking here about stuff you have to look up on Google, but they may not be ingredients that the average home cook would typically have on hand - think fresh ginger, pine nuts, lemongrass, celeriac (well OK, I did have to look that one up), and so on.
Mooking's new cookbook, straightforwardly named Everyday Exotic:  The Cookbook, brings together a year's worth of recipes from his show. It starts with a brief explanation of his concept of the "obedient ingredient" - ingredients that most of us may have little experience with, but which are easily mastered in the kitchen to serve our culinary needs. From there, the book moves on thematically, with chapters on "comfort classics," the gamut of meat-based entrees, pasta, one-pot meals, desserts, drinks, and more.
In general, the titles of the dishes tend toward the verbose variety that you see on a lot of higher-end restaurant menus, with "Salt Cod Fritters with Creamy Mustard Sauce & Orange Chili Sauce & Pineapple Chutney served with Shredded Zucchini Salad" being one of the more longwinded examples. Each recipe is illustrated with at least one full-color photograph, and preceded by a brief introduction by Mooking, with cooking tips and advice about using the more exotic ingredients. The index is thorough and easy to use.
I always check to see if there are any pizza recipes, and I found one here, for "buffalo mozzarella and tomato pizza." Essentially, it's a Margherita pizza, topped with canned tomatoes, fresh mozzarella di bufala, and fresh basil. I guess the cheese, made from buffalo milk, qualifies as the exotic ingredient here, but there's no reason you couldn't substitute ordinary fresh mozzarella, or even the low-moisture variety. Mooking's recipe is pretty good - I'll give him points for advising the reader to let the dough rise overnight in the refrigerator if possible and for suggesting the use of a pizza stone. Personally, though, I'd crank my oven up to the max (550 F, for most people), instead of the 450 that he calls for. 
With free recipes so easily available on the internet, cookbooks are becoming rarer in American homes, but I think they still deserve a place in most people's kitchens. What's changed, from my perspective, is that we can be more discriminating these days. Everybody still should own at least one good, basic cookbook, but beyond that, a cookbook should fill some niche. 
Everyday Exotic falls into the latter category. This isn't the book to turn to if you want to know how long it takes to hard-boil an egg, or the correct ratio of water to rice. And while Mooking's instructions are clearly written and easy to follow, this book is generally aimed at readers who have a certain comfort level working in the kitchen, especially if you're going to put together one of his meals, which means preparing several dishes more or less simultaneously. 
But if you've been cooking for a while and find yourself getting bored with the same old stuff, Everyday Exotic is a useful resource, especially if you do much entertaining. It's chock full of recipes for dishes that will wow your guests, yet that aren't necessarily any more difficult to prepare that more traditional fare. After all, what sounds more impressive to you - "lemongrass baked snapper served with ginger butter potatoes and crispy garlic broccoli," or "fish and potatoes"? Even if that's not a major consideration, this is still a good source of ideas for literally spicing up your dinners without a lot of extra effort beyond picking up a few extra items when you're grocery shopping.
Everyday Exotic:  The Cookbook. Paperback. 192 pages. Whitecap Books Ltd. (November 21, 2011)

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Pauly's Pizza, Batavia

Pauly's Pizzeria on Urbanspoon
I recently had occasion to stop in Batavia, and took the opportunity to check out Pauly's Pizza.
When I stopped in around noon, there were plenty of slices available, but pepperoni was about the only choice. There may have been a cheese pie in there somewhere but pepperoni seemed like the way to go. Always best to go with a high-turnover choice when you're getting slices.
My two slices had a thin-to-medium crust, with a considerably thicker edge. The underside was dry, not oily, nicely browned, and lightly dusted with corn meal. The slices were soft enough to be folded, with a little exterior crunch, and a bit of interior breadiness as well. Which means it was a pretty good crust.
These slices had a "heavy" feel to them - in other words, they felt heavier than I expected them to, from their appearance. The crust wasn't particularly dense, so I think that was mostly due to the generous layer of cheese, and to some extent the sauce as well. The pepperoni wasn't applied in abundance, but these were cheesy, saucy slices.
The cheese - which Pauly's stressing is "100% high quality REAL cheese," seemed to be all mozzarella. It was uniformly applied and melted to just short of browning. A few flecks of dried herbs were visible, and tasteable (which is a word) in the sauce.
Pauly's (which has one of the busiest - and I'm not talking about web traffic - websites I've seen) offers 17 pizza toppings, and six specialty pizzas, plus a substantial menu of wings, subs, ribs, pasta, and more. Beer and wine are available.
This was good, well-made pizza. Decent crust, generous but not overloaded toppings, and good flavor. I'm not going to say it was head and shoulders above other pizzerias around here, so I'm not giving it an A, but it was above average, and without any real flaws to speak of, so I'll give it a B+.
Pauly's Pizza, 314 Ellicott Street, Batavia
Phone:  (585) 343-3100
Also 9980 Main St., Clarence. (716) 759-7700
Open from 11:00 a.m. daily

Monday, November 7, 2011

Book Review: The 150 Best Slow Cooker Recipes

If you'd like to do more home cooking but are pressed for time, you have a couple of options. One is to cook dishes that don't take long to make. While that doesn't necessarily mean limiting yourself to ramen noodles and mac 'n' cheese, it does limit your options, especially if you want to cook from scratch.
The other option is to use a slow cooker, or what most of us refer to as a crockpot. With one of these countertop appliances, you can throw something together in the morning and have a hot entree waiting for you when you arrive home in the late afternoon.
Trouble is, even if you have a slow cooker ("Crock-Pot" is a registered trademark of the Rival Company"), and even if you're handy in the kitchen, you may not have a lot of ideas about what to do with it, aside from a few obvious dishes like stew and chili.
To expand your slow-cooker repertoire, The 150 Best Slow Cooker Recipes can help. Now in its second edition, this cookbook by food writer Judith Finlayson combines a useful general guide to using your slow cooker and a broad compendium of recipes covering everything from appetizers and fondues to soups, meat entrees, grain-based sides, and desserts.
According to the back-cover blurb, the second edition includes 100 recipes from the first edition, which was published ten years ago, plus 75 new recipes, "including 25 bonus recipes!" I'm not sure why it's not just called The 175 Best Slow Cooker Recipes, or what makes those 25 recipes "bonus," but there's enough here to allow you to dine on slow-cooker meals for months without getting bored.
The recipes run from basic, tried-and-true standards like chicken and dumplings and pot roast to ethnic dishes like lamb korma with spinach and pork vindaloo. The recipes are clearly presented and accompanied by practical tips about matters like cooking techniques and ingredient substitutions. For the most part, ingredient lists and instructions are relatively brief, and all the recipes in the book can be put together in a reasonably short time. An eight-page introduction also provides a succinct overview of slow cooker basics.
The book is logically arranged, with chapters progressing from appetizers to entrees, sides and desserts. The index is thorough and easy to use, and the book is nicely illustrated, with full-page color photographs of about a third of the finished dishes.
When I've got the time, I enjoy preparing a full meal, step by step. And thankfully I've got a wife who prepares home-cooked meals for our family most days, when I'm at work. But there are times when we're both going to be tied up all day, and when that happens, a slow cooker is a great option. And now we don't have to get bored with the same old dishes. I like beef stew and chili as much as the next guy, but I'm looking forward to working my way through The 150 Best Slow Cooker Recipes.
The 150 Best Slow Cooker Recipes, by Judith Finlayson. (2nd ed. 2011) Robert Rose, Inc. 288 pages.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Tony D's Tomato Pie

During my recent mini-tour of Rochester pizzerias with fellow pizza blogger "Lapp" from, one of our stops was Tony D's in Corn Hill.
I've done a couple of posts now about Tony D's, the most recent being this past April. But I knew there were more pizzas on the menu that I wanted to try, so when Lapp mentioned that somebody had recommended Tony D's to him, I happily seconded the idea.
As things turned out, I made no further progress on the menu, though. As I was perusing said menu while sitting at the bar overlooking the open kitchen, a freshly made pie was briefly placed on a tray next to me, before being whisked off to a customer's table.
Sometimes when you're eating out, you see a dish, and you think, "That's what I'm getting." (Which is far preferable to seeing it after you've already gotten your food, and you think, "That's what I should have ordered.") This was one of those times. This pie looked simple but delicious.
I was able to corral a nearby server and found out that the pizza in question was that night's special, a tomato pie with sun-dried tomatoes, Romano and basil. It had sounded promising when our own server told us about it, but seeing one up close clinched it.
Lapp chose a 10-inch pie for his dinner (check out his review of his pie here), but I went with the large, which is 14 inches in diameter. But I didn't have to fly home the next day, so I knew I could take any leftovers home without much difficulty.
My pie tasted as good as I expected. It wasn't all that much different from Tony D's Margherita pizza, perhaps a bit more tomatoey, with a sharper cheese flavor, but overall there was a good balance among the tomatoes, cheese, basil and crust.
As for that crust - visually, it bore all the hallmarks of a great, crisp crust from a super-hot oven, with charring along the edge and underneath. In fact, in some spots on the bottom, the outer surface of the crust was charred right through (see bottom photo). And it did have a certain smokiness to it.
So it was a surprise to find that the crust was really quite soft. It wasn't mushy or spongy or anything like that, it was just not at all crisp.
Now before I go criticizing Tony D's about things I don't really understand, let me say that I have read that pizzas in Naples typically have a soft, pliable crust. It mostly has to do with the flour they use, which is relatively low in protein. Clearly heat wasn't the issue here, so it seems to me that it must indeed be the dough that resulted in this soft, pliable crust.
Technical matters aside, then, this crust may not be far off from "authentic" Neapolitan pizza. But for me there was still a bit of a disconnect between the appearance of the crust and its texture.
I must admit, though, that I prefer a crisp crust. And I guess I also expect to get a crisp crust from a place with a coal-fired oven (actually they were using both coal and wood on my visit, but no matter), which conjures up images of old-time pizzerias in New York City, with crusts that crackle a bit when you bite into them.
So that's where rating a pizza gets tough. I don't want to downgrade this pizza purely because of my subjective preferences, but it's hard to completely put those preferences aside.
I've given Tony D's an A-minus before, and I think I'll stick with that. As I've said in the past, the grades are no more than a rough guideline, and readers should focus on my descriptions to decide if they think they'd like the pizza at a given establishment. If I thought that Tony D's had been striving for something else here, but fell short of the mark, I'd lower the grade, but as far as I can tell, they simply use a dough that bakes up rather soft. I've downgraded places for soft crusts before, but generally only if the crust was greasy, spongy, or had some other defects. So with the caveat that Tony D's serves up a soft-crusted, but well-charred pizza, I'll again give it an A-minus rating.
I do have one thing to add, though.This 14-inch pie cost $18, while Lapp's 10-inch pie, with custom-ordered toppings, was less than half that amount, at $8. If you're going by surface area, his pie was a little over half the size of mine, and unless sun-dried tomatoes are more expensive than I thought, mine seemed pretty pricey. Cost doesn't figure into my grades, but I think it's worth making readers aware that if cost is an issue, ordering your toppings a la carte may save you a dollar or two.
Tony D's, 288 Exchange Blvd. 14608
Tel. 340-6200
Hours:  Sun.  4 - 10 p.m., Mon. - Thu. 11 a.m. - 10 p.m., Fri. 11 a.m. - 11 p.m., Sat. 4 - 11 p.m.