Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Calzones (or what to do with all that ricotta)

Dear Kate,

You may still be a picky eater, but at least you are branching out within the limited foods you enjoy.  No longer is it plain noodles, but also noodles with red sauce or noodles alfredo.  Then you discovered that noodles, sauce and cheese are even better, liked baked ziti and lasagna.  The same holds true for your beloved pizza.  There was a time when pizza had better be round, not too saucy, not too cheesy, not too brown...well, you get the idea.  This week, during our Pizza Week, you've enjoyed stromboli, deep dish pizza (extremely saucy and cheesy), and calzones.

And not just any calzones, but a calzone with homemade ricotta cheese, which you agreed after viewing the photos, does look like spit up.  Once wrapped in a nice pocket of dough, with a few seasonings and some sauce on the side, you bravely put aside thoughts of spit-up and dug in.  Just a year ago, I think you would have pushed your plate aside and said, "Is there anything else?"  As the saying goes, You've come a long way baby.  (Actually, that is a slogan from an old cigarette ad - something you are not old enough to remember.)

You can make a calzone with any number of ingredients from taco filling to scrambled eggs, but the classic calzone is cheese, maybe some meat or veggies.  For you, I made a simple cheese filling.  For your dad and me, I threw in some chopped pepperoni.  Browned ground beef or sausage is always good too, even leftover meatballs if you have them. The amounts below are guidelines - you can always add more provolone or mozzarella, or other cheese you want to try.


Pizza Dough
2 cups ricotta cheese
4 ounces provolone cheese (shredded)
4 ounces mozzarella (shredded)
2 ounces freshly grated Parmesan
1 egg (lightly beaten)
2 Tablespoons chopped fresh basil (or 2 teaspoons dried)
1 Tablespoon chopped fresh oregano (or 1 teaspoon dried)
1/4 Cup finely chopped or grated onion
Salt and pepper
Garlic Bread Seasoning (see below)

1.  Preheat oven to 450 degrees, with pizza stone in place if you have one, with rack on lowest position in oven.  (If you have a pizza stone, make sure the oven has a good 30-45 minutes of preheating before you put the calzones in.) Mix all ingredients (other than the dough) in a large bowl. 
2.  Divide dough into four equal portions.  Set three aside, covered.  Place a portion on a lightly floured surface.  Let rest for 5 to 10 minutes.  
3.  Roll dough to a 1/4-inch thick circle.  Move to a sheet of parchment paper cut big enough to accommodate the dough, placed on a pizza peel if you have one or the back of a cookie sheet if you don't.  If you don't have a pizza stone, you can put the parchment on a cookie sheet (right-side up).
4.  Place 1/4 of the filling in a semi-circle on one-half of the dough, leaving a 1/2-inch border.
5.  Fold other half of dough over the filling, leaving a bit of the border uncovered.
6.  Fold that little exposed border of dough up and over, pressing to seal.  Sprinkle with Garlic Bread Seasoning.
7. Make 3 slices on the top of the calzone to allow steam to escape.
8.  Repeat with another portion of the dough.  (My pizza stone allows me to make two at a time.  If you can fit more on your stone, repeat again.)
9.  Using the peel or the back of the cookie sheet as if it were a peel, slide the calzones on the parchment paper onto the pizza stone.  If you are cooking on the cookie sheet, simply place in the oven.
10.  Bake for 15-20 minutes.  Because oven temperature and size of the calzones may vary, check often.  The calzone should be golden brown and cheese just bubbling out the slices on top.
11.  Remove from oven and let sit 5 minutes to firm up.  Serve with warm pizza sauce on the side.

Garlic Bread Seasoning

I got this recipe from ourbestbites.com, and while I wasn't thrilled with it on garlic bread, I do like to sprinkle it on pizza crust or calzones.

1/2 cup powdered Parmesan cheese
2 Teaspoons salt
2 Tablespoon garlic powder
2 Teaspoons dried oregano
2 Teaspoons dried basil
2 Teaspoons dried majoram
2 Teaspoons dried parsley

Whisk together.  Store in the refrigerator, in a container with a sprinkle top if you've got one.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Homemade Ricotta

Dear Kate,

At two days old, your inexperienced parents called a nurse into the hospital to explain (in between sobs on my part) that you were not eating and we didn't know what to do.  You were going to starve to death and we were clearly the worst parents ever.  The nurse, with barely an eye-roll, asked why we thought you weren't eating.  Well, obviously you were upset and crying and I just knew, just knew, you were starving.  At the end of this explanation, you turned your adorable face and spit out a phenomenal amount of milk.  The nurse, smiling smugly, informed us that clearly you were eating plenty and the crying was not from starvation but from an overly full tummy.  And we were so relieved to see the amount of food you had consumed that we didn't even mind the fact that we were covered in spit-up.  After a few months of constantly being rained on by baby barf, we were somewhat less joyful about your lack of stomach control.  You were the Spit-Up Queen.  For the next nine months - nine long, messy months. 

Making ricotta cheese this week, I was reminded of those days of your infancy as I discovered that curds and whey looks remarkably like spit-up.  I think you summed it up nicely when you said it might be best if you didn't know how cheese was made.  The process is similar - input milk, heat, mix with acid, stir.  Voila!  Cheese or, in the case of a baby, spit-up.  I was so glad that I made the cheese the day before needing it, as once it is separated and refrigerated, the resemblance diminishes. (How did Little Miss Muffet eat curds and whey?  Truly, that has never sounded less appealing.)

See what I'm talking about?  Not the most appetizing thing.

You can chose to buy ricotta, but look for a brand without all the chemicals.  Otherwise, try the following recipe for making a large quantity, such as you need for a calzone.  (Next I'm going to try a five-minute microwave version that makes a smaller amount, but sounds so easy.) You can make this up to five days ahead, storing in the refrigerator.

Now it looks more like ricotta, less like something inedible.

(Technically, this isn't a true ricotta cheese, but close enough for me)
Adapted from: Cosa Bolle in Pentola by Kyle Phillips, who got it from Grace Pilato)

1 gallon whole pasteurized milk 
1/3 Cup plus 1 teaspoon distilled white vinegar
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon salt

1.  Using a large stock pot, place one gallon of milk and salt over medium heat.  (Mr. Phillips recommends rinsing the pot with cold water to help keep the milk from scorching - I'm not sure it really makes a difference.)

2.  Stir occasionally until milk reaches between 180-185 degrees (you really want a thermometer - you don't want the milk to boil).

3.  Remove the pot from heat, and the vinegar and stir gently.  Cover with a clean dish towel for two hours (longer is fine too).

4. Place a piece of cheesecloth four layers thick in a colander over a bowl.  Using a slotted spoon gently ladle the curds out of the pot and place on the cheesecloth (don't be tempted to just pour the mixture into the colander - it will take forever to drain).  Let sit for two more hours.  Save the leftover whey in an airtight container in the refrigerator for other uses.

5.  Pick up the cheesecloth by the corners, pull together corners and gently squeeze out the liquid until it is the consistency you desire.  Place in an airtight container and refrigerate up to five days.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Nana Cookies

Dear Kate,

In honor of your Christmas gift to me, a copy of The Complete America's Test Kitchen TV Show Cookbook, I have been working my way through the cookie section week-by-week.  This week's selection, Molasses Spice Cookies, was not your favorite as molasses is not your favorite flavor.  But for your dad, one bite and he was transported to your great-grandparents', Asa and Vina Adams, summer camp at Cold Stream Pond in Maine, where he spent many a summer vacation.  Apparently every year he would be greeted by a big plate of Nana Adams' molasses cookies, so closely associated with her that they were referred to simply as "Nana Cookies."  Someday you may find you enjoy a spicier cookie and if so, this is well worth making.

Molasses cookies also make me think of my dad, your Pops.  Mention molasses around him and you are likely to hear him warn you that molasses is so deadly it once killed 21 people in Boston.  He is referring to the Great Molasses Flood when a 50-foot tall tank of molasses ruptured sending a tsunami of 2,300,000 gallons of molasses up to 15ft high and moving at up to 35 mph.  I bet he has told you that story too.  Frankly, if I had to drown in a food, I think I would chose the London Beer Flood over the Great Molasses Flood, but that is another story altogether.

You can chose to call them Nana Cookies or Great Molasses Cookies, but I call them yummy.

Nana Cookies
Adapted from The Complete America's Test Kitchen TV Show Cookbook

1/3 Cup sugar, plus 1/2 Cup for coating
2 1/4 Cups (11.25 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour
1 Teaspoon baking soda
1/2 Teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 Teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 Teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 Teaspoon ground allspice
1/4 Teaspoon ground black pepper
1/4 Teaspoon table salt
12 Tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1/3 Cup dark brown sugar
1 large egg yolk
1 Teaspoon vanilla
1/2 Cup molasses

1.  Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Line two baking sheets with parchment or silpat, or lightly grease.  Place 1/2 sugar into a shallow dish for dipping the cookie dough balls you will prepare.

2.  Stir together the flour, remaining sugar, baking soda, ground cinnamon, ground cloves, ground allspice, ground black pepper and salt in a medium bowl.

3.  In a large bowl, cream the butter and brown sugar on medium-high speed until light and fluffy.  Add the egg and vanilla and mix on medium speed for 30 seconds.  Add the dry ingredients and mix until just combined.  Scrape the bowl down as needed.

4.  Scoop about 1 tablespoon of dough into your hands and rolls into a ball.  Drop until five formed balls into the sugar from Step 1 above.  Roll to coat and place on cookie sheet, about 2 inches apart.

5.  Bake for about 11 minutes, rotating cookie sheets halfway through.  Be careful not to overbake - they should appear slightly underdone.

6.  Cool on the cookie sheet briefly, then remove to a wire rack to cool.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Menu themes - Philly Firecrackers

Dear Kate,

A couple of weeks ago I was working on the grocery list before heading out to the store.  As you know, this generally involves me pouring over a few cookbooks and saying repeatedly to anyone listening, "What should we have for dinner next week?"  My eyes glaze over as I flip through page after page of my cookbook collection or search my favorite recipe blogs and websites seeking inspiration.

This particular week I decided that one night I would make a Tex-Mex meal, including Spanish rice.  This decision created a new problem - my favorite Spanish rice recipe makes enough to feed a small Mexican village.  I toyed with the idea of reworking the recipe to reduce the quantity, but decided on another approach.  All the meals that week would be centered around the theme of Tex-Mex food, each meal sufficiently different to keep us from getting bored.  The rice reheats well and could be used more than once during the week.  With the decision made to have each meal be some variation on the Mexican food theme, planning meals was a breeze.

Mexican week being such a success, I followed up with Italian week.  Another hit and another easy week of meal planning.  Maybe I was onto something here.  Why not try again?  And thus, this week I debuted Sandwich week.  We had BBQ sandwiches, chicken sandwiches, veggie pita sandwiches and the finale was roast beef wraps.  There was enough variety to keep it from being monotonous and Sandwich week was another success.

I realize that you are a vegetarian and so may not be interested in roast beef wraps, a.k.a. Philly Firecrackers.  Nevertheless, you may find yourself called upon to provide sandwiches for a party or a school function and these are easy to make ahead.  And you never know, you might change your mind about eating meat or maybe marry a carnivore.  Therefore, you can expect to see plenty of non-vegetarian recipes posted in the future, just in case.

These sandwiches are best if you let them sit for 8 hours or so.  You can make them 24 hours ahead, although they get just a little soft by then.  Better to make them in the morning and have them for dinner, or the night before and have for lunch.  I wrap these up in dry waxed paper sheets I buy in bulk, which are surprisingly handy to have around the house.  You can also use regular waxed paper, parchment paper, or plastic wrap.

Philly Firecrackers
Adapted from Southern Living, month and year unknown :(

1/2 Cup sour cream (may use reduced fat)
1/2 Cup mayonnaise (may use reduced fat)
1 scallion, chopped finely
2 Tablespoons prepared  horseradish (I like Kraft Creamy Horseradish Spread)
1/2 Teaspoon salt
1/4 Teaspoon pepper
8 (12-inch) flour tortillas
1 pound roast beef, sliced thin (24 slices) (Boar's Head Londonport is my favorite)
1 pound sharp cheddar deli slices, sliced thin (Land O Lakes Extra Sharp Cheddar is my favorite)
2 Cups shredded iceberg lettuce

1.  Mix together the sour cream, mayonnaise, scallion, horseradish, salt and pepper.  (May be made ahead and refrigerated covered for 1 to 2 of days.)

2.  Spread mixture on one tortilla, top with 3 slices of beef, 2 slices of cheese, and sprinkle with shredded lettuce.

3.  Roll up the tortilla, place on a sheet of dry waxed paper, 15x10 inches, and roll up.  Twist ends to look like a firecracker.  Repeat with remaining tortillas.  Chill 8 hours.

You may use a sheet of parchment wider than 15 inches, but if you use a narrower piece it will be hard to twist the ends.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Start with the chocolate - Chocolate Chip Muffins

First and foremost, this blog is an open letter to my 11-year old daughter, Kate, in an attempt to pass on the recipes we eat at home, including those recipes passed down through generations which shouldn’t be lost, as well as any tips and tricks.  The forum may be a little more public than a hand-written letter, but I hope that with some friends and family looking over my shoulder, maybe I’ll be more diligent. (Kate, please see your barely written in baby book for an example of my ability to drop the ball with memory-keeping.)  And while this is written specifically for Kate, friends and family are invited to read along and join in.

Dear Kate, 

When I was your age, your uncle was already a terrific, confident cook and I was determined to be a modern working woman who could care less about the kitchen.  Your uncle is still a terrific cook, the natural kind who can “toss it all together” and make something great.  I, on the other hand, have come to the game late and still tend to cook like I’m in organic chemistry and might blow up the lab if I don’t follow the directions precisely.  Sure I’m a modern working woman, but I’ve come to love my kitchen.  It has been a long road since the day when I had to ask the neighbor to help me cook spaghetti noodles the first time I made dinner for your dad. (Do you the boil the water first?  How long?  How do you get them out of the water?)  And you and your brother continue to inspire me to try making new things. (Remember those chocolate ├ęclairs?  Never would have happened without you asking me to make them for your class.)  Hopefully, I, too, will one day be a "toss it all together" kind of cook and if you aspire likewise, you can too.

Tonight we made your favorite muffins, which seems an appropriate way to begin a recipe collection designed for you.  Breakfast has never been an easy meal to prepare for you as for many years you would NOT eat eggs, cereal, toast, bagels, pancakes, waffles, French toast, bacon, sausage, oatmeal, etc. etc.  Name a breakfast food and chances are you would not like it.  Do you remember how we fed you chocolate frozen yogurt milkshakes for breakfast through most of Kindergarten?  Having discovered that the sugar, fat and caloric values of this breakfast was really no worse than pancakes and syrup, we whipped up a shake every morning (feeling vaguely guilty about the unconventional breakfast food nonetheless.)

You’ve come a long way since Kindergarten, eating some cereal and even pancakes and French toast, but you do still like your chocolate, don’t you?  So pancakes must have chocolate chips, and so do these muffins for which you’ve discovered a fondness.  Much like me, you somewhat grudgingly eat a regular breakfast and don’t really want variety in the meal.  Most days, you chose a muffin, cereal and glass of milk.  I think I ate a blueberry muffin or a bagel every morning all four years of high school, so I know how you feel.  (And remember longingly a time when I didn’t think about the fat, carbs or calories of breakfast.  Ah, youth.) 

Your great-grandmother, Grammy June, gave me this muffin tin of hers when she was moving, about a year before I got married.  That's my excuse for why it is such a mess, many years of use!
This is a simple muffin recipe that makes a surprisingly tasty muffin with little mess to clean up.  You can substitute blueberries for chocolate chips if you find you develop a taste for blueberry muffins in the future.  For now, I’ll continue to indulge your love of chocolate, even at breakfast, so long as you keep chasing the muffin with a big glass of milk and hearty serving of shredded-wheat cereal. 

Chocolate Chip Muffins
1 ½ Cups unbleached, all-purpose flour
¾ Cup granulated sugar
½ teaspoon table salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/3 Cup vegetable oil
1 egg
1/3 Cup buttermilk (or regular milk if you don’t have buttermilk)
¾ Cup chocolate chips (stop shouting “more, more” – this is plenty for a breakfast muffin)
Cinnamon sugar (I don’t have a recipe for this, I just always keep a small container of granulated sugar mixed with cinnamon in the cupboard for just this sort of thing.)

1.       Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Spray muffin cups with cooking spray.
2.       Combine flour, sugar, salt and baking powder in a medium-sized bowl.
3.       In a 1 or 2-cup liquid measuring cup, lightly beat with a fork vegetable oil, egg and enough buttermilk to fill to one cup. 
4.       Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredient and mix until just combine (don’t overmix, lumps are ok.)
5.       Add chocolate chips and stir to incorporate.
6.       Fill muffins cups ½ full for 12 muffins.  If you want bigger muffins, fill to 2/3 full for 9 muffins and increase the cooking time (see #8 below).
7.       Sprinkle tops with cinnamon sugar.
8.       Bake for 17 minutes or until browned on top.  If you made bigger muffins, increase the time by 3 to 4 minutes.  Cool 2 minutes, remove from pan and cool on wire rack (or a cold pizza stone works well also).

Clearly, I'm a lawyer, not a photographer.  Maybe I'll improve with practice?

TIPS:  Fill any empty muffin cups with water before placing in oven if you make less than 12 muffins. You can also made a delicious crumb topping by mixing ½ Cup unbleached all-purpose flour, ¼ Cup dark or light brown sugar, ½ teaspoon cinnamon, and ½ stick of butter cut into pieces – either cut together with two knives, blend with a pastry blender or process in a food processor until it resembles coarse meal.  Any leftover topping may be refrigerated or frozen. If you are using blueberries, feel free to add a whole cup.