KettlePizza: Increasing Facebook friend counts since 2010

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Every winter I wait patiently for summer to arrive. Not because I won’t grill through the winter – I’m happy to light up the barbie as much in the cold as I am during the summer months. Sure, it takes a little more bundling up and my wife is forever yelling at me for leaving my snowy boots on a small towel in the corner of our kitchen by the back door… but all-the-same I’m out there rain or shine, sleet or snow. Happily, stubbornly grilling my way through whatever mother nature can throw my way. However, there is no substitution for the glorious days of summer when the sun is high in the sky, the kids are playing in the backyard, the bbq is fired up, and we get to hang out with friends enjoying some good food.

This year in particular summer could not come quick enough. Back in December I bought myself a KettlePizza kit – an adapter to a standard Weber kettle grill that turns it into a backyard pizza oven. I’ve done pizza on the grill many, many times but am often faced with the challenge of keeping the heat in. A challenge as I constantly need to lift the lid to check on the pizzas and move them in and out of the bbq. Inevitably I end up with pizzas that are cooked on the bottom, but not quite done on top. The KettlePizza kit resolves this problem by adding a middle band to the kettle grill that acts as a pizza oven door and enables the heat to stay where you want it. There is no longer a need to lift the lid off the top. Brilliant. Beautiful wood-fire charred pizza beckoned… I just needed the snow to thaw.

This past Sunday I finally put the call out on Facebook. What better way to inaugurate my new pizza oven then an open invite to all of my friends to come by and sample my wares! I spent the better part of the day fine-tuning my pizza-making techniques. The KettlePizza was sublime in its simplicity and success was not difficult to achieve as soon as the grill was fired up. The steps were as easy as:

1) assemble the KettlePizza kit

2) light the charcoal and hard wood

3) wait for grill to reach “pizza” cooking temperature (approx 700 degrees)

4) Get grilling!

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The KettlePizza paddle and pizza stone made feeding the pizzas in and out a breeze, and otherwise it was really just a matter of occasionally feeding the flames with some additional hardwood to keep the temperature at a high enough level. Charcoal alone can get the grill hot, but it’s the hardwood that pushes it up into the “pizza hot” stratosphere.

Over the course of the day I had a lot of people stop by and help, and even more people stop by and eat! We cranked out about 20 pizzas over the course of 3 hours and made some solid Grade-A wood-fired pizzas. Brushing garlic-butter and sprinkling Parmesan on the crust really helped propel my backyard pizzas to ridiculous levels. There’s nothing better than spending the afternoon hanging out with friends and sharing some good food. The KettlePizza removed all of the obstacles to making great pizza on a traditional grill and had very little fuss or muss to worry about so I could focus less on minding the grill and more on hanging out and enjoying some great food! I’ll definitely be putting out the “pizza signal” on Facebook again the next sunny Sunday I get.

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image from SeriousEats.com

Homemade pasta

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Yes – I made that bucatini pasta from scratch!

Recently I went on a culinary trip to Italy. I knew before I stepped foot on the plane that the food there would be amazing, and it was. What I wasn’t prepared for was the beauty in the sheer simplicity of Italian eating. Dishes focused on great ingredients that are not complicated by additions to the plate. Fresh, seasonal produce that speaks for itself in flavour and freshness. It really reminded me a lot of why it is that I’m on this food journey to begin with.

Sure I love making and eating delicious food. But it’s about so much more than that. It’s learning about where our food comes from and what food I put in front of my family. It’s about food that doesn’t have to be complicated to be delicious. It’s about knowing how to pronounce everything we eat, knowing what season our food is available locally, and understanding the relationship we as Canadians have with this bountiful country of ours. It’s about sharing that knowledge with my readers.

It’s why I threw my kids in a car a few years ago and made off for the east coast for a month. Stopping at farms, fields, fromageries and fisheries along the way.

In Italy I had the opportunity to stop at an organic wheat mill and meet a family who proudly continues their family tradition in Val d’Orcia, Tuscany. The pride the family members all had in the products really struck home with me (not to mention the overflowing bowls of pasta they kept putting in front of us.) Passion & simple ingredients. Flour, eggs and water. No magic. I knew that one of my gifts for my kids from Italy would have to be some ’00’ flour to make them some fresh pasta at home.

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I’ve never made pasta before so I turned to my friends at KitchenAid for some help with this. They sent me their Gourmet Pasta Press which took a lot of the pressure off. There was enough worry about making pasta for the first time for my three kids without having to be concerned about forming the pasta too! It just pops on the end of my stand mixer and forms the pasta dough into fun shapes.

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Making pasta from scratch really isn’t that difficult, and if you’ve got a mixer to get the dough started then it’s strikingly simple. Easy. Simple. Delicious. Right up my alley. You don’t need a pasta press to form the pasta but it will make it incredibly easy to create complex shapes like bucatini or rigatoni that would be impossible with a simple pasta roller.

I decided to throw one of my favourite recipes for a ragu of shredded beef short ribs in the slow cooker that morning so that I could focus on just making the pasta for dinner. I got my kids involved helping me knead the dough and feed the pasta press. Everything turned out perfectly – I great homage to my visit to Italy and a great eye opener for my kids who just assumed pasta was born in plastic bags at the grocery store.

KitchenAid and I would love to give one of my Canadian readers a pasta press. A chance for you to give homemade pasta a try at home. Simply tweet out your family’s favourite shape of pasta and be sure to include @gavmartell and @kitchenaid_ca

Winner will be chosen by random number generator on March 20, 2015

Contest winner: Kat Inokai. Congrats!

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Sometimes You CAN Teach An Old Dog New Tricks

I’ve been grilling for about as long as I can remember. Every time I think I have figured out my earliest grilling experience I can remember with tongs and hamburger spatula in-hand, I think of an even earlier one before that. I’ve grilled, I’ve smoked, I’ve rotisseried. I’ve used chunk wood, chips, lump charcoal, gas, and briquettes. I’ve grilled in backyards, snowstorms, parking lots, dense forests, and once in the back of a family station wagon (which sublimely smelled of grilled meats and smoke for years to follow…). I’ve grilled meats, seafood, vegetables, soups, desserts, cheeses and an entire Thanksgiving dinner. So, to call me an ‘old dog’ of the grill would hardly be an insult. However, the magical thing about cooking food is that you can never stop learning. There is always more information, better technique, and more inspiring dishes out there. So when I was invited to check out Weber Canada’s new Weber Grill Academy with a group of bloggers I was all too thrilled to make sure I cleared my calendar to attend.

Visiting Weber’s new facility in Vaughan was a little bit like sending a kid into a candy shop. A big giant candy shop for this big giant kid…

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Weber has been reaching out to Canadians this past year. After storming onto the the backyard grilling scene over 60 years ago, Weber-Stephen Products LLC, recently expanded its global operations and opened the first Weber-Stephen Canada office in Vaughan, Ontario. In addition, the company proudly debuted the Weber Grill Academy, Canada’s first and only cooking school dedicated to the art and skill of grilling. As I walked through the doors I felt like I’d walked into my second home. Visitor’s can either sign up for a pre-scheduled class or book the Weber Grilling Academy for corporate events. Grillers of any level can take part in one of Weber’s scheduled classes such as their beginner’s couples class all the way up to more challenging grilling adventures such as smoking and desserts! As Weber Grill Specialist Chef Michael P. Clive will proudly tell you “If you can cook it in your oven, you can grill it.”

Chef Michael clearly has a passion for all things grilled and his smile and ease with guests make the entire experience a real treat. Presented with a slew of recipes at various complexities guests are challenged to stretch their use of the grill and really make full use of the array of Weber products in pulling together delicious dishes during the course of the class.

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For this experienced griller it was a great chance to talk with Chef Michael about our shared passion and hear his thoughts on grilling, smoking and their endless possibilities. The versatility of the grill as a mixed-use cooking device is limitless. There are not many appliances that mix conduction, convection and radiation cooking all at one time. The perfect reason for grillers of all levels to head to the Weber Grilling Academy to help hone their skills. It’s not everyday you get to watch dessert slide perfectly out of its pan, still hot off the grill!

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If you want to expand beyond burgers and hot dogs, try out this recipe I learned on my visit to the Weber Grilling Academy for Asparagus and Potato Napoleons with Tarragon Vinaigrette. They were grilled perfection!

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