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Neapolitan Pizza in Chicago: Spacca Napoli

30 Oct

Looking for some solid Neapolitan-style pizza on Chicago’s north side? Spacca Napoli is a good option.

We started off with a grilled vegetable plate – a generous amount of grilled eggplant, red and yellow peppers, and zucchini.

Spacca Napoli

The grilled octopus was alright. It came as a a couple large pieces, so it was bit more challenging to eat than most other presentations I’ve seen.

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The pizzas are where Spacca Napoli shines. The Neapolitan-style pizzas are all sized to suite one person. They are so good you probably won’t want to share anyway. There are many options, including a couple of daily specials.

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The disappointment of the night was the Peaches Vesuvio we ordered for dessert, which was I suppose more of a misunderstanding than anything. I thought that the peaches would be fresh, but they are not. The menu says “Peaches (Parco Nazionale del Vesuvio)”, meaning they are jarred peaches from the national park in Italy. Though they may have originated from Italy, they tasted like run-of-the-mill canned peaches from around here…I expressed my disappointment to our server, and he graciously took the dessert off our bill.

Info: Spacca Napoli Pizzeria, 1769 W. Sunnyside Avenue, Chicago, IL 60640 USA
Spacca Napoli Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Forget the PSL, Try Pumpkin Biscotti Instead!

26 Oct

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Now that it’s Autumn, coffee empires like Starbucks will make you think that you absolutely need a PSL to feel warm and fuzzy inside. And they’ll actually expect you to know what “PSL” means. What, haven’t you heard? Everyone is drinking a Pumpkin Spice Latte these days!

If you really knew what ingredients are actually in a PSL (hint: there is no pumpkin), you might think twice before buying one. Instead, you could make your own pumpkin latte at home by blending a little pumpkin puree into your espresso concoction. I haven’t tried that, but if it ends up tasting similar to the Starbucks version, I think I’ll pass (the Starbucks PSL was the most vile espresso-based drinks I’ve ever tasted.)

Here’s my alternative: dunk some delicious pumpkin biscotti into your regular latte, or cup of coffee! Biscotti are twice-baked, so they do require a bit more work than a regular cookie. But these treats are well worth the effort, and they keep well too – so you can make them ahead of time for pot-lucks and other holiday parties.   This was my first time making any kind of biscotti and I’m pretty pleased with how they turned out.

Ingredients

  • 2 cups all purpose flour
  • ½ cup canned pumpkin
  • ½ cup crushed pecans
  • ½ cup chocolate chips (I used semisweet)
  • 6 Tbsp white sugar
  • 6 Tbsp brown sugar
  • 2 tbsp unsalted butter, softened
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 ½ tsp baking powder
  • 1 ¾  tsp cinnamon
  • ½ tsp ground ginger
  • ½  tsp nutmeg
  • ¼ tsp ground allspice
  • pinch of salt

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F and line one large baking sheet with parchment paper. Combine flour, baking powder, salt, and spices until well mixed. Set aside.
  2. In a separate bowl, beat pumpkin and both sugars until well mixed. Add butter. Beat in eggs and vanilla.DSC01078
  3. Mix the flour mixture, pecans, and chocolate chips into the pumpkin mixture until the dough comes together. It will be very sticky!DSC01081
  4. Divide dough in half and shape each half into a log, approx 9 inches by 1 ½ inches. You can put each log between two pieces of plastic wrap and gently shape it. Then, remove one piece of the plastic wrap and flip the log over onto the baking sheet. Leave at least 2 inches between both logs.DSC01084
  5. Bake at 350°F until the loaves are cooked through and are cracked on top, about 30 minutes. Rotate the pan halfway through baking. Remove from the oven and let the pan cool for about 10 minutes. Meanwhile, reduce the oven temperature to 325°F.DSC01085
  6. Transfer the loaves onto a cutting board. Using a serrated knife, cut each loaf into thin slices, about 1/2-inch thick. Lay the slices back on the baking sheet and return them to oven. Bake until crisp and golden-brown on both sides, about 20 minutes. Halfway through baking, turn the cookies over and rotate the baking sheet.
  7. Remove from oven, and let cool. completely. Store in an airtight container.

If the biscotti aren’t fully cooled before you store them, they will soften and end up being more like dry scones than biscotti. Luckily, you can rescue them by toasting them in a toaster oven for about 5 minutes.

  tower of pumpkin biscotti

Best Pizza Around Boston: Max & Leo’s

13 Jul

I don’t even know if I should be sharing this with you. I’ve found the absolute best pizza I’ve had on this continent, and it’s just outside Boston. Many places will boast they have the best pizza – “authentic Italian”, they might say, or “artisan thin-crust,” if they’re hipsters. But often, their pizza dough is too dry and chewy, the whole pie is plain greasy on the bottom, or maybe the crust is so thin that each slice flops over under the weight of a few toppings. Then there are those pizza joints that skimp on the toppings and try to fill you up with a thick crust. Max and Leo’s pizza is none of those things.

Max & Leo's pizza

The restaurant is tiny, with a few bar seats and table seating for only 6 people. The very first time I went there, we were lucky enough to get a table for the three of us. We ordered the L’Umina – a white olive oil pizza with prosciutto, sliced pears, caramelized onions, shreds of basil, dabs of ricotta cheese, and drizzled with a little honey. This creative pizza is absolutely delicious!

IMAG2495Max & Leo’s doesn’t deliver, and they are not open late – closing 9 pm, even on Saturday nights (and at 8 pm on Sundays). But when you make pizza this good, you don’t need long hours, and hungry diners will always come to you. Now, whenever I crave pizza, I stop by Max & Leo’s for takeout.  The secret’s out – they are always packed. Each time I go, the seats are filled and there’s a line of patrons waiting to pick up their pizzas.

Max and Leo's - JuliannThe Juliann pizza (above) is my boyfriend’s favorite, with sopressata, jalapeno peppers, and strips of roasted red pepper over tomato sauce and mozzarella cheese. (This time the crust was more burnt than usual.)

IMAG2499Usually, the crust is a perfect golden brown. It’s thin but stiff enough to hold the toppings, with a springy, poofy edge to hold on to as you eat. Normally, I don’t like eating pizza crusts, but I can’t get enough of Max and Leo’s chewy crust.

IMAG2501The L’Oscar pizza is another one of my favorites – it’s a white olive oil pizza with Italian sausage, caramelized onions, flavourful wild mushrooms, mascarpone and  mozzarella cheese. Sometimes we get the Brooksy, which comes with grilled chicken instead of Italian sausage, and we ask them to add tomato sauce as well.

Well, there you have it. I’ve let you in on my favourite pizza joint! Of course, I’d love to hear about your favourites too!

Info: Max and Leo’s, 325 Washington Street, Newton, MA 

Max and Leo's Artisan Pizza on Urbanspoon

Modern vs. Mike’s Pastry

16 Nov

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Italian Bakeries Face Off!

Take a walk down Hanover St. in Boston’s North End in the late afternoon, or perhaps after dinner, and you’ll find a line of eager patrons waiting outside of Mike’s Pastry, stretching down the block. Diagonally across the street, a line just as long stretches out in front of Modern Pastry. Every visitor to Boston is told that Mike’s is a “must”, but many who live in the North End claim Modern Pastry is where it’s at. Although I’m not particularly interested in Italian desserts, I had to find out for myself what the hype was all about.

Around 6:30 PM on a Saturday evening, my boyfriend and I decided to join the line in front of Modern Pastry (257 Hanover Street,  Boston, MA). After 30 minutes, we finally made it to the front of the line. Already, as we stepped through the doorway, I suspected that we had just wasted quite a bit of time. The first counter after you enter the store is a small gelato case. Behind it, we could see gelato cups and spoons strewn across the floor. This is not a place I’d ever come to for gelato! Above, on the walls, were several hand-written signs indicating the cannoli selection.The gelato was followed by a case of chocolates, and a few slices of pizza and some arancini in a heated display.

Modern Pastry

It’s past the hot food that the L-shaped counter shows off its pastries. Cake slices, tiramisu, creme brulé, and of course,  cannoli – deep fried pastry tubes filled with cream. I was not impressed by the appearance of most the cake slices – the topping on the strawberry cheesecake looked as if it came straight from a can, but the cannoli looked promising.

I was pleasantly surprised by the classic ricotta cannoli. I didn’t think I would enjoy it but it was good. The chocolate creme version however, tasted like store-bought chocolate pudding stuffed into a shell. A slice of ricotta pie was my favourite out of the three pastries we purchased. It had the creaminess and density of a good New York style cheesecake.

Modern Pastry

Modern Pastry - Ricotta Pie

On a Sunday after brunch, around 2 in the afternoon, there were no lines at all in front of either Modern or Mike’s Pastry, so we decided to check out Mike’s (300 Hanover Street,  Boston, MA). We walked right in. Mike’s has a much larger space. A long, U-shaped counter forms a perimeter and wide-eyed customers peer at each display before approaching the counter to place an order.

There is a big selection of cakes by the slice, from carrot to red velvet, huge lobstertail pastries and other cream-filled goodies, ricotta pie, and biscotti. I decided to skip the cannoli this time and try a pasticiotto – a small ricotta-filled pie. It was terrific! It had a sweet cheese filling in a slightly crispy shell.

Mike's Pastry - Ricotta Tart

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If you live far from the North End, it can be a long drive for Italian pastries. However, Newton has its own little bit of Italy in the Nonantum neighborhood. Antoine’s Pastry Shop (317 Watertown Street, Newton, MA) is a family-owned bakery where you’ll find cheesecakes, apple dumplings, and hot cross buns in addition to Italian cannoli, tiramisu, rum slices, whole ricotta pies, and ricotta cheese cups. So, how did the cheese cup stack up against Mike’s pasticiotto?

Antoine's Pastry - ricotta tart

Antoine's ricotta tart

Antoine’s pastry was delicately and evenly dusted with icing sugar. (At Mike’s on the other hand, the tart is plain and the sugar is optional. If you request it, the girl behind the counter adds sugar with a heavy hand).  Flavour-wise, Antoine’s and Mike’s ricotta tarts were almost identical. However, Antoine’s crust had a softer texture, was slightly thicker, and wasn’t as crisp. There was also slightly less ricotta filling, as you can see from the photos. While devouring it though, I barely noticed.

The Final Word: If you’re craving Italian goodies and happen to be near the North End, Mike’s or Modern Pastry might hit the spot. But if the line is sprawling out the door, you’d better be buying a dozen ricotta tarts to make it worth the wait.

Modern Pastry on Urbanspoon
Mike's Pastry on Urbanspoon

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