“Chopped” Chef or…Chef Chopped?

Although I don’t write about it much, I am a foodie.  I loved the Food Network…when it first came out.  It was great watching chefs showing you how to prepare meals.  I learned a lot.  What do I see now on the foodie stations?  Competitions.  I believe I have come up with a new concept that I want to pitch to the “foodie” networks.  (Note:  I should probably copyright this as someone is going to read this and steal my idea.)  A new cooking show that involves:  COMPETITION!  (I know, right?  A very novel and inspiringly new idea).

Before I reveal my superb revelation, think about all the competitive cooking shows on tv right now.  It’s the same trifecta:  1) Judges 2) Chefs 3) Time limit.  Who can bake the greatest cupcake in the shortest time?  Who can use the weirdest ingredients to make meals (again, clock is ticking)?

IMG_3306Which child can create exotic meals and desserts.  As time passes, I see that there are more and more cutthroat culinary shows being created.  I figured, why not jump on the bandwagon and create another show?  My genius idea came to me suddenly while I was watching Chopped

The gem of an idea began brewing in my grey matter whilst observing my toddler grandchildren eat.  An absolutely brilliant idea for a new show.  It follows along the same lines of the other challenging cooking shows so it should be accepted into the fold.  It’s dastardly and degrading and demeaning (the dream “D” formula for television shows).

Here is my idea:  You want belittling?  You want chefs to be tortured?  You want to watch failure to the umpteenth degree?  I give you Chefs Chopped!  Yes the new and exciting show where trained chefs prepare meals for a panel of toddlers.  You want a challenge?  I am throwing down the gauntlet.

Have you ever tried to feed a toddler?  Yes, there are many of you who have.  You know what it’s like.  Well, in the “olden” days it was basically like this:

Parent:  (*Puts pot of grub on table)

Children:  (*snarf / yum / gobble)

Conclusion:  Lack of food makes you eat everything without complaint.

AFTER DEPRESSION / WWI / WWII:

Parent:  (*Puts food in front of child)

Child:  (*through tears) I don’t like it!

Parent:  Whack!  Eat it or I’ll hit you again!

(Ahhh…the fond memories of my childhood)

After the beating era of life, came the more educated era where there were books and papers and magazines and shows FULL of information on how to raise the perfect child.  This included healthy recipes for feeding your perfect child.  After creating one of these wonderful masterpieces, the food would be placed in front of said model child.  After much begging and pleading, ketchup would be doused all over the nifty, fancy food so that Perfect Child would eat SOMETHING…ANYTHING!

Nowadays, it is even more difficult to feed your child.  Allergies, preservatives, organic or non-organic, pesticides, hormones, cholesterol, saturated fats, etc.  What can you feed your child?  Well, if you listen to ALL the stories out there in web-world, your child should eat…nothing.  Yes, it’s true.  There is no good food out there.  Well, there is good food this week…but next week it will be bad so best not to tempt fate.

“Fruits and vegetables are good right?”  Nope.  Fruit is full of pesticides and many children are allergic to certain fruits.  “What about the frozen ones?”  Yeah…well welcome to E Coli.  “My children are vegetarian (or vegan).”  Good for them!  They won’t survive the food devastation either.  I have done the research.  Between E coli, parasites, viruses, bacterias, hormones, pesticides, etc. there will be nothing nutritious left to consume.

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I, so far, am very blessed and lucky with the kids and grandkids.  I have a few recipes that seem to generate happy smiles and full bellies:

  •  My homemade soup (with homemade noodles) has not killed or maimed any of them.  It is actually requested.  I get disappointed groans if it’s not on the menu.
  • Crépes – to be filled with whatever they choose (Nutella is winning this week)
  • Broccoli – this brassica appears to be a steamed vegetable they all agree on
  • Green beans – that, surprisingly, made the short list
  • Mozzarella – Sliced (not grated) however it must be made by Salerno
  • ANY pasta – lasagne, macaroni, fusilli, orzo…any pasta!

Now…meats, cheeses, fruits, vegetables, preferences vary as they get older (or basically, every 2 minutes).  Each week they decide what they like and don’t like.  It goes from the initial “YAY” whoop of joy to the “BOO” 10 minutes later when it’s on their plate.  Example:  “Can I have that apple?”  After two bites:  “I don’t want it,” and the subsequent attempt to put bitten fruit back into fruit bowl.  Next is the obvious grab for a different piece of fruit which eventually leads to cries of woe when they are informed that they must eat the two-bite-scarred apple first and THEN they can try something else.  Ahhhhh…the great adventures of toddler palate.

So, dear foodie channels, think about how fantastic this show would be!  Children smiling, waiting for their food.  Chefs cook and present their culinary masterpieces.  Suddenly, [camera zooms in] child starts deconstructing the plate.  Toddler Rule #1:  Thou shalt not let one type of food toucheth another.

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Example of carrot invasion into broccoli territory

That’s why many children’s plates are subdivided.

Next:  Food allergies.  Must remove all fruit(s) that child is allergic to.  The eating finally begins and then the contorted faces of disgust and the “Ewwwwws” and “Yucks” start to be heard.  The Chef with the least amount of ewws and yucks wins!  The others?  Well if they haven’t run away or started convulsively crying…then they get chopped (like a karate chop hand coming down on their picture…haha!)  What an amazing show!  All done in the name of fun and supreme competition!  Yes, I give you Chef Chopped!

P.S.  Dear foodie networks, I am available evenings and weekends for a meeting to discuss my future in the television industry.  You’re welcome!

 

Diversity and equality…pizza anyone?

I have previously mentioned that I have a slight love of pizza.  Okay, okay, an absolute obsession.  Thick or thin crust.  Don’t care?  White or red sauce?  Either is great!  Types of toppings?  I’m open.  Cheese?  Mozzarella / feta / goat cheese…I ain’t picky.  Meats?  Any kind are fine.  Veggies?  All are welcome!  False, almost all.  I was in Croatia and got a veggie slice.  There was corn on it.  Not so great.  Picked off the corn and the rest was great!  Being a pizza fanatic I have found ways to eat pizza when the craving hits.  Today, I share with you, the diverse ways to satisfy your pizza craving.  As a bonus, I will share my newfound way of getting a pizza hit!

My mother would occasionally make pizza for dinner.  That enchanting smell emanating from the kitchen…yummy!  Pizza night was the best!  Our parents never ordered take out food.  We never went out to restaurants to eat so pizza at home was divine.  As we got older and started going out, the quickest way to satisfy a food craving at 1 a.m. was PIZZA!  We would order a pie and eat this deliciously, hot, and satisfyingly fresh piece of heaven.  Ah, nothing like pizza.  Then one day, my view of this indelible meal drastically changed.

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I was at work and realized I had left my lunch at home on the kitchen counter.  Hungry, I went to the nearby coffee shop and heard people ordering this thing called a “pizza bagel”.  A what?  It smelled like pizza.  It sounded like pizza.  New pizza heaven!  Crunchy bagel, tomato sauce, cheesy topping.  Needless to say, I became the hero at home when I reproduced this delectable feast.  Slice the bagel in half.  Toast it.  Top with pizza sauce, cheese and your choice of toppings.  Into the toaster oven and bake for about 15 minutes.  BAM!  Lunch was served.  I shared this tidbit with many a co-worker who were grateful for this wonderful and easy way to make pizza at home for their kids.

Then, one day, there were NO BAGELS!  Trauma!  Drama!  I had promised the kiddies pizza and now…well, I had to think of something quick.  I perused the contents of my fridge and inspiration came:  Greek pitas.  Pita bread pizza is so commonplace now, but I tell you, I invented this recipe!  The reason I like Greek pitas is that they don’t have a pocket.  They have a thin crust pizza thickness too.  That day, I pulled four pitas out of the bag.  I put them side by side on a cookie sheet and preheated my oven to 400 F.  Then I told the kidlets that they could put whatever toppings they wanted on their “very own, personal pizza”.  Who was the hero now?  Woot woot!  Yes, necessity is the mother of invention.

My pizza cravings have never subsided (obviously), but I have found ways to shake things up.  I make my own pizza at home with fresh pizza dough.  I still cheat with the pita bread or the bagel version if I have last minute guests.   Now, for my latest and greatest pizza version.  PIZZA EGG ROLLS!

This idea came to me when the restaurant chain, Kelsey’s, had a summer special of reuben spring rolls.  Yes, they took the reuben sandwich filling and put it in a spring roll, fried it up, cut it in half and there was a mustard dipping sauce on the side.  Incredibly yummy and crunchy.  I took that idea and came up with:

PIZZA EGG ROLLS!

Egg roll wrappers are thicker than spring rolls wraps.  You can purchase egg roll wrappers in the produce section of any grocery store.  The spring roll wrappers are usually only found at Asian markets / grocery stores.  Egg roll wrappers are easier to work with.  They are thicker so not as easy to tear and you don’t need to have a damp cloth over them, like spring rolls, because they won’t dry out while you are filling them.  Genius right?  Thank you.

THE PROCESS:

First you grate up mozzarella and chop up pepperoni into small cubes.

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Next, in a small bowl, make an egg wash  (one egg and a bit of water and with a fork mix, mix, mix).  After that, take an egg roll wrap and put it in front of you so that it is sitting like a diamond.  Put a dollop of pizza sauce in the middle.

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Add some mozzarella and some pepperoni bits on top.

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Take the bottom corner and cover the toppings.  Tuck that corner slightly under the filling.  Then take the left corner and cross over into the middle.  Do the same with the right corner.

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On the top corner, brush some of the egg wash.  This is like licking an envelope closed (for those of you who have ever had to seal an envelope.  I’m showing my age again).  It will seal the egg roll so that it doesn’t open up while you are frying.

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Put that flap into the middle and put your newly rolled pizza egg roll onto a parchment lined cookie sheet (they get kind of sticky so it’s easier to peel them off for frying if they are on paper.

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I have a deep fryer so I fry them in there, but if you are using a pot, make you sure you put in enough oil so that it will cover your egg rolls.  Heat oil to 340 F (170 C).  Put in about 4 egg rolls (in a small pot or 6 in a large pot or deep fryer).  If you put in too many the oil cools off quickly.  Since they float, you might have to flip them to get an even crunch all over so best to have only a few to deal with.

Once they turn a lovely shade of tan / brown remove them with a kitchen spider or a slotted spoon.  Place your wonderful new delectable creations onto a cookie sheet with a cooling rack on it.  This helps to let more oil drip off AND the egg rolls aren’t sitting in their own greasiness getting mushy.

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If you are feeling brave, or are not averse to getting your tongue (or the roof of your mouth burnt) take a gloriously, satisfying bite.  The crunch of the egg roll, stretchy mozzarella cheese, the yummy tomato sauce, the bits of pepperoni.  Mmmmmmm.

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Once these cool, you can freeze them for up to three months.  They can be reheated in the oven on 400 F for about 12 minutes.  You can also take them out of the freezer and put them in the fridge to thaw.  Reheating would only take about 6 to 7 minutes.  The kids get impatient and just microwave them for about 40 seconds.  Not as crunchy, but still satisfying.

With regards to the filling, you can customize it as you would any pizza.  Peppers, onions, olives, pineapple…the pizza egg roll is your oyster.  You can even have a marinara sauce to dunk them in. If serving as bite size appetizers, cut them through the middle on a diagonal once reheated.  They will look colourful and smell absolutely fabulous.

I hope my newest pizza obsession is something you will try.  Very versatile.  Very portable.  Very customizable.  So many great options.  Yes, diversity and equality…found in pizza.

I am a Stoner…

This definition might actually lead you to believe that I partake of cannabis.   I do not.  I am a unique type of stoner.  As you may well know I am a preparer of foods.  I LOVE to cook!  I could put a cot in this beloved kitchen of mine and just live here.  Obsessive?  You betcha.  What else am I totally infatuated with?  Pizza.  Any kind of pizza.  Thick, thin, Chicago style, New York style, hot, cold, etc.!  So, imagine my happy surprise when I received a pizza stone as a gift!  Yes!  I had heard about the benefits of baking up a pizza on this rock, but to actually have one added to my kitchen arsenal was a dream come true!  So, MY definition of a stoner is:  “a recipient and user of a pizza stone.”  Let me tell you about my profligate life using this wonderful wheel of fortune.

I cannot begin to tell you when my pizza obsession began, but I can recall being 8 years old and my mother presenting us with homemade pizza.  I loved the pizza sauce and the gooey mozzarella cheese.  Sometimes one bite would make the mozzarella slip off the beloved sauce and stick onto my lips causing many yelps of displeasure until I could remove it.  Still, each bite was like a fantasy.  Saturdays became a day of excited nervousness:  would it be tasty pizza for dinner or stinky cabbage soup.  As you can imagine the smell emanating from the kitchen was definitely different for each.  The smell of pizza is the best aroma in the world!

For bread lovers out there, I join you in adoring bread.  And really what is pizza but bread with happy food surprises on top!  Who would not or could not fall madly in love with pizza?  (Ok, there are some of you out there, but I still believe you are missing out on actually being able to “taste” joy.  Oh yes, I feel THAT strongly about it).

After Wiseguy and I moved in together I learned how to “order pizza”.  Yes, I could call the pizza place and tell them…nay…order them to make me my preferred pizza pie.  Sidebar:  I really disliked this job.  I disliked having to repeat myself.  Although I have a voice that could wake the dead, for some reason my on-phone ordering skills seemed to change the decibel level of my voice to a pitch only a dog could hear.  All in the line of duty if I wanted to have my pizza AND eat it too.

I first started experimenting and making my own pizzas when the kids were craving pizza and our wallet was craving obscurity.  Instead of ordering 4 or 5 pizzas of differing toppings, all I had to do was make two large rectangular ones (using cookie sheets).  I would account for several slices per person.  I would top with requested meats and/or veggies for personalized slices.  No fighting or whining about the pizza AND it saved us lots of dough.  (Ha!  Ha!  dough…as in slang for money, but dough as in pizza dough as well! I’m ingenious!)

All of a sudden, a pizza revolution occurred!  Forget about the franchise pizza places.  Suddenly there were restaurants opening with unique crunchy, bubbled pizza crusts and exotic toppings.  Some places even made their own mozzarella!  What sort of craziness was this?  Ah-ha!   Imported wood pizza ovens from Italy.  Mama mia!  I had to try one of these super glamorous dough-based spheres.  It appeared that at this time there weren’t many in my part of the globe and worse still, not even in my neighbourhood.  I had heard rumours of one place that had opened in the newly renovated area of our city:  The Bread Bar.  It was local.  It was a 15-minute drive from our place.  We arrived.  It was crowded.  We went in.  We ordered.  20 minutes later and 26.00 dollars lighter we hustled out with our hot little masterpiece.  Mmmmmmm.  More Mmmmmm.  Still more Mmmmm.  The crust, slightly charred with big air pockets.  Nice crunch.  Sauce was stupendous.  We had ordered a basic meat/cheese pizza.  I loved it!  I wasn’t too keen on the price though.  It was after this revelation that I decided it was time for me to start creating my own masterpieces.  How?

Plan A:  convince Wiseguy that we needed to import a wood burning stove from Italy.  (Yes, he still gets tears in his eyes from laughing so hard.)  Plan B:  procure a pizza stone.  As mentioned earlier…I got one!  To add to my new pizza-making pleasure I found a neat setting on my Sub-zero Wolf stove dial.  Check it out!

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The incredible stone setting! It allows me to preheat my oven to 550 degrees!

Other items for fantastic homemade pizza:

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Pizza Paddle:  to slide pizza onto pizza stone

 

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The PIZZA STONE:  Used bi-weekly

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The final result:

 

Ok, besides my creepy, half-drooling voice…is it not fantastic!

I believe Dean Martin said it best:  When the moon hits your eye / like a big pizza pie / That’s amore!  TRANSLATION:  Seeing a pizza the size of the moon means you love pizza.

P.S.  Feel free to become a Stoner like me and join me in a different kind of high!

 

Mmmm … savory tarts

I believe I had mentioned before that I love to cook.  My favorite meal:  the appetizer.   I love going out to dinner with Monkey Breath…a.k.a. my niece.  (One day I will explain my obsession with giving people bizarro nicknames…lol)  For now I will just tell you about our dinner dates.

Our meal outings involve us turning to the first page of the menu.  Yes, appetizers.  I can forgo any main meal and just enjoy nibbling and noshing on a variety of treats.  Well MB is the same.   Once we order our variety of nibblers, we suddenly have no room for our plates since every appetizer comes out on a large plate all prettily decorated.  But who cares right?  We will have garlic bread with cheese (always cheese…you recall that obsession of mine).  We will have sticky, chicken wings.  We will order mozzarella sticks.  We will order an oriental salad.  On other days, we will have nachos with cheese and bruschetta (Monkey Breath’s all time favourite).  Quesadillas are wonderful too.  We LOVE the appetizer dishes. Sadly, our great need for diversity has us clutching our stomachs because we just have to try everything and our bellies just don’t have that much expansion room.  So, we are extremely grateful to have those lovely little take away containers given to us so that we can enjoy our meal again the next day.  Hopefully we will have made some room in our stomachs by then.  Mmmmm, sooooo good.

Now, I told you that story so that I could tell you this one. 

While grocery shopping (at a leisurely pace) this past weekend, I came to the cheese counter to find out what yummy cheeses were on sale this week.  Mozzarella was on sale so that was good as I was running low and my cheese-aholics would surely be craving some soon.  I wandered around some more and saw that all the Greek cheeses were on sale.  That was nice.  I love making a salad for my lunches comprised of tomatoes and cucumbers and feta.  No salad dressing needed as the feta has a nice, salty taste to it and the juice from the tomatoes mixes nicely with the cheese to make a sort of salad dressing all on its own.  I was just about to leave the Greek display when I saw it.  OMG!  It was halloumi.  Yes yes…real halloumi cheese!  

Now, you may be asking yourself, what the heck is halloumi?  Short description:  It’s a brined cheese made of goats and sheep milk.  The longer description is that it has a higher melting point than other cheeses (i.e. mozzarella) so you can fry it, grill it, bake it.  Really neat right?

So, about two years ago, in the local newspaper, there was a recipe for halloumi tarts.  Wiseguy read it and said, “We should make this.”  Hmmm, what the heck was halloumi?  So, we went to our favourite grocery store and asked for this bizarre sounding cheese and yup…they actually had it.  We brought it home.  Opened up the plastic packaging and cut off a taster piece.  Hmmm, kind of salty, cheese.  Kind of like mozzarella, but firmer.  Then we took our recipe and began creating.  After baking, it was time to taste.  Mmmmm.  Just one more tart.  Mmmmmmm.  Ok, this is the last one.   Mmmmmm.  Ok, all gone…we have to bake some more.  Well, for the last 2 years I could not find this cheese again.  So, imagine my surprise and overwhelming joy at seeing that it’s back!

Let me tell you, this is definitely one recipe that you will love to make again and again. So easy and quick and your guests will love it.  Especially when it’s hot out of the oven.  Opa!

Welcome to my World of Appetizers!  (I will surely be posting many, many more for you to enjoy)

Halloumi Tarts

Ingredients:

  • 36 cherry tomatoes (quartered)
  • 5 oz. (about 1 ¼ cups) halloumi cheese (cut into ¼  inch cubes)
  • 2 tbsp fresh thyme, chopped
  • 36 mini pie tarts
  1.  Preheat oven to 375 °F
  2. Place pie tarts (unbaked) on cookie sheet
  3. Place 4 tomato quarters in each pie tart. 
  4. Wedge about 3 -4 pieces of halloumi cheese between the them
  5. Season with chopped thyme
  6. Bake for about 15-30 minutes or until the pastry and the cheese is a bit browned
  7. Allow to cool a bit before serving

 Serves 12 people (approximately 3 each)

There was some assembly required,
but now ready for the oven

All baked and ready to enjoy.
OPA!

Give up what ?!!!!

I feel like I am 23 years old.  On the inside.  On the outside, my 43-year old body is telling me a different story.  As we age, there are fun things that begin to happen.  It doesn’t matter if you are male or female, you notice the changes. 

There are expiry dates on body parts.  I truly believe this.  Suddenly ankles seem to make weird cracking noises.  Back pains…upper and lower.  It’s like there is a bullseye on your back.  “Aaargh….Ow….I can’t move or stretch or bend or breathe!”  Nothing like it.  Eye twitches, joint pains, Achilles heals, tendonitis, stiff knees, weird moles, etc. This is the age of “I slept funny”.  Sleeping used to be easy.  Close your eyes and sleep.  Now, you never know what crick you will wake up with the next day. 

I decided to talk to my sister-in-law about making my life healthier.  She is a practitioner of homeopathy, naturopathy, kinesiology, iridology, acupuncture.  Yes, quite the mouthful, but  basically…she knows her stuff!  Anyway, I started a NO chip / chocolate / candy / ice cream / sugar / anything-defined-as-snack-food eating style.  The new “old school” eating style.  Go back to natural foods and include some daily exercise.  SIL recommended that I start off with a cleanse to purge my body of toxicity.  At least 10 days on this cleanse and come out a brand new you. 

So, she sent me a list of items I COULD eat on this wonderful cleanse.  All veggies and legumes, grains, chicken and fish.  Awesome!  Now, over to the right side of the page was the NO list.  No beef or pork.  Fine.  No fruit.  That’s ok, I’m a veggie lover.  No potatoes.  No bread or anything made with yeast.  Done.  And then I saw it and was horrified.  NO DAIRY.  What?  That means NO CHEESE.  This was sacrilege!  She calmly replied:  “You can give up cheese for ten days.”  Me…give up cheese!  NO! NEVER! NEIN! NYET!  I love cheese.  I love cheeses.  I love everything cheesy.  I love Blue cheese. I love Swiss cheese.  I love Cream cheese.  Bocconcini and Jarlsberg and Gouda and Ricotta and Cottage cheese and Mozzarella and Provolone and Fruilano and Parmessan.  I even love Kraft processed cheese slices.  As you can obviously tell….I LOVE CHEESE!  To make matters worse, I have infected my family with the desire for cheese.

It started with The Wiz.  Kraft cheese slices, my goodness.  Fantastic with Kraft Dinner macaroni.  Mmmmm.  So creamy.  Who cares if it’s a leftover scrap cheese made anew.  It is amazing!  He also loves good ol’ cheddar especially shredded on nachos.  Yum!  The Princess and The Debater agree, hands down, that mozzarella is the best (preferably Salerno brand).  They refer to it as  “The Good Cheese”.  That white brick of yumminess never lasts long.  We have even infected the family newbies.  Actually, The Baker just prefers cream cheese, but that still counts.  The Artist is now a renegade Mozzarella fan.

Cheese is the rescuer of many a failed dinner recipe.  Cheese elevates dishes to a new level.  Gooey or creamy…nothing like cheese.  To get nice smiley faces in pictures we tell everyone to say “Cheese”!  Need I say more.

Thank you to the cows or goats or sheep or buffalo that provide this lovely snack / meal.  Thank you to the cheese makers.  You are artists.  You are creators of taste sensations.  Thank you to all the retailers who have decided to sell such varieties to us consumers.  And thank you to my patient sister-in-law.  Although giving up cheese would make my body feel better, you let me be and don’t judge me for my cheese addiction. 

P.S. In the end, I did take my SIL’s advice.  I decided to proceed with the cleanse and forgo cheese for 10 days.  After just 3 days I was feeling more alert and more energetic.  Any bloating I had experienced before was gone.  It was wonderful! I felt great! 

I must be a fast healer.  I accomplished in 3 days what should have taken 10 days.  Time to celebrate my victorious achievement!

Mmmmm….ham and cheese pizza.
Yeasty, white flour dough.
Wood oven baked crust.
Congratulations to me!
Bon appetit!