Friday, January 30, 2009

Nature's Most Perfect Food: the Calzone

You thought I was going to say pizza, didn't you? For years, when I craved comfort, I made pizza. Yeasty dough, garlicky sauce and bubbling cheese made heaven on a plate. Always looking for something new to try, I made calzones last year, and I'm a convert now. The calzone, for the uninitiated, is a rolled-up pizza, all the fillings encased in the dough. Genius.

I make a slightly different dough from my tried and true pizza dough (see earlier post), fill it with a variety of porkular products (sausage, bacon, ham), gooey cheese, Parm, and the slightest bit of an easy breezy tomato sauce, roll and bake it. These are so good, it's embarrassing to admit how quickly my small family scarfs them down.

The original dough recipe calls for a mixer. I use the food processor, just because that's what I'm used to. If using the mixer, switch to a dough hook for the kneading, about 2 to 3 minutes.


3 1/2 cups unbleached bread flour (I've had good results with all-purpose flour as well)
2 teaspoons sugar
1/2 teaspoons salt
1 1/4 tsp. instant yeast
1 1/2 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil

Combine the flour, sugar, salt, yeast, and olive oil in the bowl of the food processor fitted with the bread blade. With the processor running, add about 1 1/4 cups room temperature water. Mix until the dough comes together in a ball, just a couple of minutes. Touch the dough, if it islightly sticky, then it's done. If the dough seems dry, add a bit more liquid, tablespoon by tablespoon, until you get the right consistency. Using the food processor, knead the dough for a minute or two.

Pour a couple tablespoons of olive oil into a bowl that's larger than the dough ball. Place the dough in the bowl and then turn the dough so that ball is coated with the olive oil. Cover the bowl and leave at room temperature if using in a few hours, or place in the refrigerator for up to three days.

Tomato Sauce

1 (28 oz.) can crushed tomatoes (organic, if you can find them)
2 or more cloves garlic, minced
salt and pepper to taste

Mix the ingredients together. No need to cook, unless you feel so led.


About 1 or 2 cups of assorted bits that are probably kicking around your fridge or freezer. I keep a special container in my freezer with odd amounts of leftover sauteed spinach and mushrooms, bits of ham, cooked and crumbled bacon and sausage. For a good melting cheese, I buy the shredded pizza cheese (not exactly gourmet, so sue me).

Assemble and Bake Calzones

The surprise with this dough is that you don't use extra flour when rolling it out, just extra oil and it doesn't stick. Take the dough out of the refrigerator, set it on a lightly oiled counter, and divide into four pieces. Roll each piece into ball. Let the dough rise at room temperature for up to two hours (I have successfully skipped this rising and gone straight to the assembly and baking. The only difference is that the dough has substantial snap at this stage and may be more difficult to roll out. My advice is if you have the time, let the dough rest at this point.)

Heat the oven 450 and place a baking stone in the oven. Assemble the fillings and sauce. Lightly oil a rolling pin and roll each dough ball into an approximately 9-inch circle. On one half of each dough, place about 1/4 cup of sauce. Sprinkle with 1/2 cup melting cheese such as mozzarella and then the filling ingredients. Fold the dough over and seal the edge, by turning and crimping. Brush the dough with additional olive oil and cut a small steam vent or two.

Place on hot pizza stone and bake for 12 to 15 minutes. Let cool for a couple minutes and serve with a small bowl of the room temp tomato sauce alongside. These will amaze and astound your family. Serve with a tossed salad with all the Italian restaurant goodies -- pickled beets, chickpeas, tomatoes, pepperoncini, and a homemade vinaigrette. Your world will be warm and hazy and there will be no leftovers.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Menu for a Cold Inaugural Day

It's a glorious, cold day in Georgia. Sitting on the sofa with my tv clicker and a box of tissues, watching my President take the oath of office, I planned tonight's menu.

Sauteed Halibut Fillets
Winter Root Vegetables with Horseradish and Dill
Fudgy Brownies
The vegetables were from the Gourmet Cookbook and featured steamed Brussels sprouts, turnips, potatoes and carrots in a horseradish and butter sauce, tossed with fresh dill just before serving. I thought the vegetables were terrific, but as a whole, the dish didn't overwhelm the kids. When I make it again, I will just use the sprouts and potatoes, kind of a Lilliputian version of colcannon (with horseradish).

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Publishing Empire Expands

Click on on the right column to see my piece "A Walk in the Woods" on the official blog for the Atlanta Flower Show. One small step towards my goal of publishing greatness, you might say, but remember, Martha Stewart was once just a caterer.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

The Perfect Scone

In order to further endear myself to my new co-workers, and prove in these tenuous times that I am the Indispensable Employee, I brought fresh-baked scones to work today. Success. Happy hands and mouths joyfully proclaiming that these are the best scones they have ever eaten. Natch. Just wait till you try my Blueberry Scones. Or my daughter's favorite, Apricot-Cream Cheese Scones.

Before I reveal the recipe, I must give credit where credit is due. This is based on Mean Chef's Buttermilk Scones, although I changed the quantity of liquid and the mixing method. Mean is the resident curmudgeon of Cookstalk, the forum for readers of Fine Cooking Magazine. And he's one heck of a cook and baker as well. The buttermilk gives them a tender texture and a slight tang. If you can find the wonderful full-fat buttermilk at the grocer's, by all means use it. The texture is even more sublime, and the lovely orange buttermilk specks freckle the scones.

The second key is to rest the scones after shaping. The shaping is detailed in this post. In order to make these for breakfast, I make the dough the night before, shape and chill the scones so they are oven-ready in the a.m. When I get the coffee brewing, I preheat the oven, pull out the scones and brush them with a quick wash of dairy, a sprinkle of non-melting sugar, and Bob's your uncle, in the oven they go.

Mean's Buttermilk Scones
3 cups all purpose flour
1/3 cup sugar
1 tsp. salt
2 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
3/4 cup unsalted butter, frozen
1 1/4 cups buttermilk
half and half or milk or cream for glazing
demerara or sparkle sugar for glazing

1. In a batter bowl, mix dry ingredients together. Using a microplane grater or a regular grater, shred the frozen butter and lightly mix the shavings into the dry ingredients. Using your hands and a gentle, quick touch, make sure the butter is evenly distributed throughout the flour mixture.

2. Pour in the buttermilk and stir gently with either a wooden spoon or my instrument of choice, a silicone spatula. If mixture seems dry, add additional buttermilk until a cohesive dough forms. The dough should be slightly wet and sticky, but not overly so.

3. Take an 8-inch or 10-inch cake pan and line with platic wrap, so that it overhangs the sides of the pan. Pat dough into pan. Cover with additional plastic wrap and place in fridge to chill at least a half-hour and preferably overnight. Before turning in, place parchment-lined cookie sheet on counter.

4. When ready to bake, preheat oven to 400 degrees. Remove cake pan from fridge and turn the chilled round of dough onto a clean counter. Discard the top layer of plastic wrap. Using a knife or a bench scraper, divide the dough into at least eight wedges. Place wedges on cookie sheet. Carefully brush each wedge with milk or cream and sprinkle sugar over the top. (this is an excellent job for a helpful child.) Bake at 400 for at least 15 minutes. They may need a bit more time, depending on your oven, convection, etc. Scones are ready when they are golden brown on top and bounce back when touched lightly in the center.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

New Year's Day 2009 Menu

Oven-Braised Black-Eyed Peas
Crispy Bacon
Skillet-Sizzled Buttermilk Cornbread
Collard Greens
Make Your Own Ice Cream Sundaes

We're starting the New Year with the traditional Southern meal of Black-Eyed Peas and Greens. For those not familiar with the tradition, the peas bring you good luck and the greens ensure a pocket full of greenbacks throughout the year. I usually cook the peas on the stovetop, but due to a gas leak, my stove is shut down temporarily. I cooked the peas in the oven instead, and I have to say they were the best I've ever made. The gentle oven braising ensured the peas didn't break open and the broth was unmuddied from vigorous boiling.

This is how I made the peas:

1. New Year's Eve, I opened a one-pound bag of dried peas and poured them into a shallow baking pan. After picking out the duds, I covered the peas with about an inch of water and left the pan on the counter overnight.

2. The next morning, I poured off the excess liquid and tranferred the peas to a Dutch oven. I covered the peas with water up to an inch above the pea-line. To the pot, I added one frozen smoked turkey wing, one chopped Vidalia onion, two smashed garlic cloves, salt and pepper.

3. I placed the pot in the oven and set it on 250 convection for four hours. I checked throughout the cooking time to make sure the liquid didn't get too low. After four hours, the peas were luscious and the house smelled warm and wintry.

4. I let the peas continue to cook in a low oven for a few hours. And that's it. How easy can it get? There was a lot of liquid, which made the peas more like soup, which was ok by me, especially nice to crumble the cornbread into.