Wednesday, March 24, 2010

local pizza inspired by niagara - recipe: bacon, apple & cheddar pizza with walnut-sage pesto & maple syrup

During March Break, my husband and I were lucky enough to spend three days in Niagara-on-the-Lake. It was our first vacation alone in over two years. Paired with the incredible weather it was bliss.

Of course we missed our little guy John, but it was so nice to sleep in until 8 a. m., catch up, read, watch movies and dine out. Thanks to John’s grandma and grandpa for babysitting.

During the drive home, David and I reviewed our favourite meals from our mini-vacation. We came up with two overall winners.

The first was an exceptional dinner at the Stone Road Grille, known to the locals simply as “Rest”. David had a fabulous carrot and pulled pork risotto to start, while I choose the bibb lettuce, duck, quail egg, olive and “tomato raisin” salad.

Selecting a main was difficult, as they all sounded so good. After some debate, David chose the lamb shank shepherd’s pie and I had the Charlie Baker chicken with bubbly sauce, truffled sweet potatoes and collard greens.

We managed to save room for dessert and shared their delicious apple crumble on shortbread served with cinnamon merlot ice cream. We’ve been to the restaurant before and it never disappoints. If you are heading near Niagara-on-the-Lake in the future, this is definitely a spot to check out.

The second winner came from a little place called The Pie Plate Bakery & Cafe in Virgil ( ), which is only a five minute drive out of Niagra-on-the-Lake.

The Pie Plate specializes in — you guessed it — fruit pies, along with a slew of other freshly baked goods. However, it was their thin-crust pizza that really won us over — this pizza is quite possibly the best I have ever tasted.

The first day, we tried their seasonal pizza which was apple with walnut sage pesto, bacon, cold pack cheddar and a drizzle of maple syrup. The second day, David tried their mozzarella, sausage and roasted red pepper variety while I ordered the mozzarella, pear, walnuts, blue cheese and prosciutto variety.

If I had to choose between the three, the seasonal pizza would be my favourite. I liked it so much that after only two days of being home, I tried to recapture the flavours myself — I hope that you enjoy them too!

bacon, apple & cheddar pizza with walnut-sage pesto & maple syrup

ingredients for pizza toppings
(choose your own favourite pizza dough recipe)

  • 1/4 cup walnut sage pesto
  • 1 cup cooked, crumbled bacon
  • 2 cups grated cheddar cheese, divided
  • 1 1/4 cups peeled, sliced, sautéed apples (cook them in a little veg oil over medium heat for 5-7 minutes or until softened)
  • 2 or 3 tablespoons hot banana pepper rings, chopped (note: this was not on the original pizza, but David and I like a bit of heat with our sweet so we made this addition). 1 tablespoon pure maple syrup

method for pizza

  • Preheat oven to 450 degrees (move oven rack to centre of oven). Line a 13” by 18” greased baking sheet with a thin layer of pizza dough (or, use a traditional pizza pan).
  • Spread the pesto on top of the dough. Top with the bacon, 1 1/2 cups of cheese, the apples and the hot peppers.
  • Top with the remaining 1/2 cup cheese.
  • Bake in oven for about 20 minutes, or until the crust is golden and the cheese is bubbly.
  • Remove pizza from the oven, drizzle with the maple syrup and cut into squares or slices and serve hot.

ingredients for pesto

  • 1/4 cup fresh sage leaves
  • 1 cup walnuts, toasted
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/3 cup good quality olive oil

method for pesto

  • Blitz walnuts, sage and salt in the bowl of a food processor until pureed, about 30 seconds.
  • Add olive oil and blitz until incorporated and smooth, about 10 seconds (note: this is a thick pesto).
  • You only need 1/4 cup of pesto for the pizza — note that you can freeze the remaining pesto for future use.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

foodie shops for something different - recipe: tempura-style shrimp & vegetables

Last week, I was fortunate enough to go on an overnight girl’s shopping trip to Troy, Michigan.

I love Michigan. Not only is it home to Zingerman’s — my all-time favourite deli, restaurant and bakery ( ) — but it is also home to many fabulous outlet malls, unique shops, and of course, restaurants.

With only 24 hours to shop, we were on a mission. The bulk of the trip was focused on shopping, not eating, which is unusual for me, as I would definitely classify myself as a “foodie” who when vacationing, plans her daily itinerary around meals not malls.

That being said, my companion and I definitely wanted to treat ourselves to a nice meal and a glass of wine after a long and tiring day of shopping. Yeah, it’s a rough life.

We narrowed our list down to two possible restaurants: The Melting Pot, a fondue franchise and PF Chang’s China Bistro, a Chinese-fusion chain. We decided upon PF Chang’s — we had both been there before and enjoyed the ambiance and yummy food. Also, it didn’t hurt that the restaurant was located in the Somerset Collection shopping mall, our last stop of the day.

We shared Chang’s Chicken Lettuce Wraps to start. In my humble opinion, a visit to PJ Chang’s is not complete without sampling this dish — it’s their signature appetizer of stir-fried ground chicken, mushrooms and water chestnuts, spooned into iceberg lettuce cups, topped with a spicy sauce and eaten burrito-style.

Next, we shared a few vegetable side dishes — wok-seared mushrooms and spinach stir fried with garlic, as well as an entrée — salt & pepper prawns with chili peppers, ginger and green onions. We didn’t realize that the shrimp would be lightly breaded and fried (we were trying to order and eat healthy) but truth be told, no one was complaining when we bit into the warm and crispy tem-pura-style shrimp.

tempura-style shrimp & vegetables


  • 5-6 cups vegetable oil, for frying
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1 cup ice water
  • 1 cup cake flour
  • 2 tablespoons cornstarch
  • A variety of vegetables (such as broccoli, carrots, green beans),
    cut into two-inch pieces, cleaned and dried
  • 1 lb. raw shrimp (peeled and deveined), cleaned and dried
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • light soy sauce or your favourite Asian-style dipping sauce


  • In a medium bowl set over an ice bath, stir the egg yolk with a whisk. Add ice water and stir until combined. Sift flour and cornstarch into egg mixture and stir until just combined.
  • Heat oil over medium heat (in a wok or large, deep sauté pan).
  • The oil is hot and ready for deep frying once it reaches a temperature of 365 -375º F.
  • Coat vegetables and shrimp in batter and let excess drip off.
  • Deep fry in small batches until golden brown, turning often.
  • Drain on a piece of paper towel and sprinkle with salt and pepper, if desired. Serve with your favourite Asian-style dipping sauce or light soy sauce.

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