Thursday, April 28, 2011


I don't have a "finished" calzone picture because I was hungry. Please admire my raw calzone.

Recently Andy discovered an early British show with Jamie Oliver on Netflix, Oliver’s Twist. We both love Jamie Oliver and support his food revolution. We also have one of his cookbooks but have yet to see one of his TV shows, so we were intrigued. In two of the shows we watched Jamie made calzones (pronounce the word “calzo-neighs” and you’ll be in the British spirit of the program), both a sweet and a savory.

Watching this got us hankering for calzones, especially since we’ve never made them before and so it became a bit of a challenge. After making the calzones a couple nights later we realized that they’re just pizzas folded over and cooked a bit longer. There’s really nothing to calzone making. For all those calzone novices and pizza experts, you are just 3 simple steps away from making a delicious dinner (or lunch).

Andy's ingredients. Our small plates were a bit too big for one calzone.

Making pizza dough is super easy, even more so if you have a stand mixer to knead the dough for you (or an overactive child who likes to mush things). Andy usually makes the dough and he uses a recipe from Cooking for Dads, which is a website I highly recommend; though I’m sure Jamie Oliver has a recipe too that you could use, since we’re making these calzones at his urging. You could get a pre-made dough if you don’t have time to do your own. Once you get your dough made, roll it out all at once and use a small plate (these are individual sized, unless you only have large plates) to cut out circles for the calzones. For pizzas I usually make them free form, but it’s good to have a symmetrical shape for calzones so that everything seals up evenly.

Load up your calzone like a pizza. Don’t worry about putting all the ingredients on one side, the dough should easily stretch over. We used tomato sauce, sauteed onions and peppers, olives, goat cheese and Parmesan. This is a good meal to use up leftovers, don’t be afraid to try new combinations and use up the odds and ends in your refrigerator. Alfredo sauce or pesto would be good sauce options. The typical pizza toppings such as sausage, pepperoni, you could try chicken or ground beef (maybe cheeseburger calzone?). Different cheeses would give your calzone unique tastes and are always fun to try. You could even take a cue from Mesa pizza and make mac and cheese calzones, but maybe it’s best to take things slowly. To seal up the calzone pull up one side and fold it over the other. To make sure it's really shut it helps to kind of roll up the edge, plus it looks pretty. Slash the top a few times with a knife to let steam out. And the calzone is ready to go into the oven at 400 degrees for about 10 minutes (or until you think it looks done).

My calzone, it looks a little pathetic after seeing Andy's, but it was scrumptious!

Extra calzones do fairly well refrigerated (after baking) and eaten the next day for lunch. Just make sure your lunch bag is big enough to handle it. If you want to show off for a crowd these are pretty simple meals to create for people in advance. Or you could have a DIY calzone party, which is always awesome. If you want to get really crazy, you can do like my friend Matt and make a Stromboli. Whatever you choose to do calzones are really easy and make a satisfying “gourmet” meal!

Monday, April 25, 2011

A Great Day is Brew Day

A completed and delicious maibock is best enjoyed in the great outdoors (or your backyard)

Brew Day is the best day of the week. With maybe the exception of the day you unseal and pour the first bottle of a new batch of beer. The very best day would be if these two days fell on the same day, but lets not get crazy.

Earlier I posted on how to bottle beer, which is only useful knowledge only if you have a nice batch of beer waiting to be bottled. So today’s post will be all about brew day and the steps to making your beer. If beer making seems complicated don’t despair. Allegedly if you can make tea you can make beer and (according to Craft Beer Talk) you’re pretty dim if you screw it up. As someone who has messed up 2 batches of beer, I am not an expert. But I’m not all that dim and I’ve learned from my mistakes. Hopefully that means I can help others avoid similar mistakes.

Get used to this view, you'll be seeing it for quite awhile on brew day

Step One: Assemble your Ingredients and Tools
This is important to make sure you have everything you need and don’t freak out halfway through the boil realizing that you don’t know what happened to the hops, or that your smack pack hasn’t been smacked yet, or the cauldron stir stick has been used to trellis the beans. While assembling your tools it’s important to sanitize everything. While you may be boiling the wort (pre-beer) and killing off bad guys in that situation, you don’t want to be sticking other contaminated things in your clean beer and leaving that to ferment for a few weeks. Though, don’t be a spaz about it, otherwise brew day looses it’s glory. Be sure to get a beer kit, or have some nice person at a brew supply store help you assemble a clone recipe.

Step Two: Start Boiling
Many kits and recipes have you start of by not-just-yet-boiling some specialty grains. This is usually your malted barley, wheat, roasted barley, oats and what have you. This is basically like making tea, warm up your water to between 150 - 170 degrees. Pour the specialty grains into the grain bag, tie a loose knot at the top and steep for 20-30 minutes. Quality of water is important here, we get two 2.5 gallon jugs from the grocery. Don’t use hose water, tap water or rain water. Next, bring your wort up to a boil now and while that’s working, take out the grain bag and let it just drip into the pot. Your grains are spent and you can feed that stuff to your horse, chickens or compost pile.

Specialty grain sack draining into the pot

Step Three: Hops, Malt and a Cold One
Depending on what kind of beer your making, you may need to add some hops at this point. Once the wort is good and boiling, add your liquid or dried malt extract (if you’re not awesome and have the capabilities to make an all-grain beer). Use your giant cauldron stick and stir in that goodness. Careful to not boil over, adjust your heat as necessary. Generally you’ll have to boil for about an hour, so this is the best time to, as my book tells me, “relax, don’t worry, and have a home brew.” If this is your first home brew, I recommend relaxing with a local craft brew. Keep an eye on your time if you need to add more hops, and give the wort a stir now and again.

Adding liquid malt extract to the mix

Step Four: Be Cool, Add Yeast, and Lock
Once you’re done boiling and all the grains, malts and hops are added to your wort, it’s time to cool it down and transfer to the sanitized primary fermentor. You can be super fancy get get a wort chiller. Or you can be like us and pull jugs of water from the freezer (did you remember to put those in before boiling?) and pour the cold water into the fermentor. Add your wort by siphoning, pouring, or using a funnel with a screen, just avoid adding the gunk at the bottom. Once the carboy isn’t warm to the touch (about 80 degrees) add the yeast. Stir it all up and seal with the airlock, we use vodka (or whiskey if we’re out of vodka). Keep the carboy in a cool dark place.

The hardest part is the waiting! But your beer will make it all worthwhile when it starts to bubble and foam. That’s the yeast working by eating all the sugars from the malt extract and grains. Those bubbles are helping make alcohol and are turning wort into beer. I can spend an embarrassing amount of time watching the beer bubble.

Transferring from a primary to a secondary is an activity best completed under observation

If you only need to do a primary fermentation, then you’re in luck! After a couple weeks (or longer if you’re patient) then you can bottle, which is awesome. Otherwise, get out your sanitizing gear again and clean out a secondary fermentor and siphon. Transfer beer from one fermentor to the other and you’ll have lovely clearer beer in a few weeks. While you’re waiting, if you don’t have a store of bottles built up, keep drinking! Or get some friends to donate brown, pop-top bottles to you.


Wednesday, April 20, 2011

The Simple and Complicated Life of Bread: Part I

When I tell people we make our own bread they usually respond with, “Do you have a bread machine?” (that’s if their first response isn’t “You can make bread?”). Depending on my level of snarkiness that day, my usual response is: No, I have a husband. Now, I know that not all husbands make bread, but I’m pretty sure all wives would be jazzed if their husbands did. To clarify, when I say we make our own bread, that truly means my husband, Andy, makes our bread. Despite the fact that Andy prefers to be the sole bread-maker, bread making has changed both our lives. Bread may have simple ingredients, but bring fresh loaves into your life and you may get complicated (and delicious!) results.

You may start with bread, but you'll end up making pizza dough...

Andy’s bread making began with the convergence of two books; Michael Pollan’s In Defense of Food and the larger-than-convenient Country Wisdom and Know-How. In Defense of Food provided the “why” of making your own bread, and Country Wisdom and Know-How presented the “how.” Andy and I both began reading labels more often at the grocery store, trying to purchase foods with the smallest ingredient list possible. We did really good at picking better foods and it was shocking to read about all the “food” we didn’t realize we were eating. One trouble spot was bread. The only bread I found with a short ingredient list cost $5 and wasn’t practical for a recent grad.

... or even spinach spaghetti!

Commercially made breads have ridiculously long ingredient lists, all to make one of the world’s most basic foods softer, whiter and sweeter. From Country Wisdom and Know-How we learned that bread is really simple (in addition to learning about how to build a rabbit hutch and weave baskets). It’s made of four basic ingredients: flour, yeast, water and salt. Andy wanted to make bread that would be inexpensive yet more nutritious than anything we could buy, so he set to work.

Andy is a tinkerer at heart and bread is an infinitely tinkerable food. This is a hobby that was destined to last. Since he started making bread he owned it. Bread is his territory, and I can be invited in, but it’s not my business. Though I am all about the taste testing. We began to buy bread less and less and with Andy’s first few loaves we realized that bread has taste, good taste, it’s not just a stale encasing for sandwich bits.

Not all bread needs to be loaf shaped, it can be braided, pretzled, or just smushed into an oblong form

To be honest, there were some bad aspects of the early breads. As with any new activity, things are not always going to turn out perfectly. A lot of my early sandwiches were held together by mustard and cheese slices, the bread was too crumbly. It took practice, patience and time. The bread was so delicious that I was fine picking it up in pieces from off the table to eat, instead of in the “traditional” slice form. We stopped buying bread altogether and would run into troubles when Andy was on bread making hiatus, we learned to live without.

Our revolutionary mixer and a honey whole wheat loaf resting.

One of the biggest breakthroughs with the bread came when we got married. A wedding gift from his parents was a KitchenAid mixer and it revolutionized our bread options. We had a garage sale bread maker at one point, but the loaves turned out large and cube-like and really didn’t improve the process that much. The mixer on the other hand was a fantastic addition. Recipes from Shirley Corriher’s Cookwise were put into rotation and delicious honey whole wheat and focaccia loaves made their way into our lives. We were eating better than ever and quite content. Andy tinkered with abandon on his recipes and I lunched on sandwiches that stayed together.

An option for a focaccia lunch, prosciutto wrapped asparagus, with dipping sauce, and of course beer.

Believe it or not there’s more to our bread lives! I’ll let you know all about the glories of stone ground flour and mayhaps share a recipe. Because it just wouldn’t be fair to talk about all this delicious food without sharing.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Herbs, Medicines, and a New Hobby

With the weather getting better every day, my husband and I have been out in the garden more and more. Andy suggested splitting up our gardening duties to ensure we both take responsibility for the gardening and then we can be held accountable for our areas. I thought it was a great idea because sometimes we can forget to harvest, or weed, or water. So now we each have an area to care for, which is helpful because we keep adding garden to our garden. Andy is in charge in of vegetables and I’m in charge of herbs and flowers.

Parsley and Cilantro

Additionally (since we’re not weird enough) Andy requested a medicinal herb garden. At first I wasn’t too into this request. I wasn’t sure what he was looking for. Lotions? Teas? Brews of eye of newt and children? I didn’t know where to start with a medicinal garden, which herbs to grow and how to make them into medicines. Later on Andy specified that he wants to have an herbal remedy for headaches so he doesn’t take so much ibuprofen, and the medicinal garden is an idea he got from a tour of the Hermitage. So that sounded legitimate, less backwoods hippie-ish and potential illegal, and gave me a starting point to look into which herbs would be best to grow.

I quickly back-tracked into the backwoods hippie-ish and potential illegal frame of mind when I was found Sunday afternoon browsing in the Wicca section at the bookstore. Thankfully I didn’t find anything there and instead found a fantastic book called Grow your own Drugs by James Wong (still sounds a bit potentially illegal doesn’t it?) in the crafts section. This book is great because it spells out in plain language how to make tinctures, decoctions, and poultices. My other herbalist book just says to make a tincture or a salve with such and such ingredients, but doesn’t explain how to do any of it. Already from Mr. Wong I’ve learned what a tincture is (like tea but with alcohol), how do I make it? (chop herbs and steep in vodka), and how long does it keep? (up to 5 years).

I don't have a lot of pictures of herbs yet, so here's one of our potato plants.

Mr. Wong gives his top 10 herbs to grow if you don’t have a 5 acre lot and I was happy to discover that I already had 5 of the 10 herbs prior to his sage advice: German Chamomile, lemon balm, rosemary, marigolds (not sure if they’re the right kind though), and peppermint. Pretty good for a novice eh? You can also forage for ingredients, such as horse chestnuts, and I think that sounds fun. It’ll give purpose to some of my walks with my husband. It’s best to be careful when foraging, you don’t want to eat something that looks similar to what you want but is actually toxic. I’ll be playing it very safe when foraging. But that’s just such a fun word, forage, and it’s like treasure hunting so how can I resist?

So what can I use my herbs for already? Here is a bit of information from Grow your own Drugs.

Dill: Good for easing digestive disorders and cramping, expelling gas, treating colic, toning down bad breath.
Lemon Balm: Soothe nervous tension, relieve anxiety, promote sleep, inhibit cold sores.
Parsley: Use for a diuretic, antiseptic, helps anemia, sweetens breath.
Peppermint: Soothe digestive problems, relieve pain and tension headaches, reduce muscle spasms, relieve nasal congestion.
Rosemary: Improves memory and concentration, relaxes digestive muscles, helps mild depression, also sweetens breath.
Thyme: Is an antiseptic, expectorant, soothes sore muscles and rheumatism.
Chamomile: Helps with indigestion, colic, inflamed skin, anxiety and poor sleep. This is common in tea and can ease gout, cause relaxation. It also helps with teething pain, for all of my infant readers.
Marigold: Use as an antiseptic, anti-inflammatory, and to speed up healing, soothe sunburn and minor burns.

Here are some random healing plants that I think are fun, also from Grow your own Drugs.

Elderberry: Can be anti-inflammatory for coughs, sore throats, and bronchial infections, loosens sinuses, antiviral, also use stems for creation of wand of destiny.
Hops: Not just for beer anymore! Used as a mild sedative, calms and reduces anxiety and helps with menopause.
Chili/Cayenne Pepper: Acts as a antiseptic, stimulant, skin soother by increasing circulation and desensitizing pain, protects against gastrointestinal infections.
Marshmallow: I was pretty excited to use marshmallows for a remedy, but then I found out that in this case marshmallow is a root, not a sweet, poofy treat. Soothes and reduces inflammation, expectorant and cough preventive, also can soothe and soften skin.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Swinging the Axe

You hear a lot these days of local food, locavores, and locomotion. One thing that isn’t in the mainstream, unless you’re going to a state park, is local wood. There are some benefits to harvesting the fire wood from around you instead of buying it from a big box retailer. First, it’s free, and free is always better than not free (even if not free is on sale). Second, you don’t spread pests that live in wood, such as emerald ash borer.

That sounds all well and good, but I live in the city and I don’t have acres of trees to choose from! Never fear, there are two simple ways you can get local wood, even if you’re a city dweller. First, you can look up sellers of firewood on Craigslist, there’s a surprising amount. Second, you can do what we did and wait for a windstorm to knock a bunch of trees down.

We only had a few branches/limbs fall in our yard, but we needed more wood to last us the season. Local residents were really quick about chopping up their fallen trees and placing them alongside the road. Local government was really slow about picking up said trees, and my dear husband saw his opportunity. After purchasing the correct sort of axe (there’s a difference between a log-splitting axe and a tree-felling axe) and a saw Andy discovered his new favorite activity: log splitting.

I say “we” a lot, but to be honest, I have nothing to do with this log splitting activity. I recently turned 92 and threw out my back, also my clumsiness forbids most activities with sharp, heavy objects. Andy didn’t grow up having ever split a log. He learned it the hard way, with long hours watching You-Tube videos and shards of wood banging against his shins. So if you burly men and women are a bit shy about swinging the axe (is that a euphemism?) here are some tips to harvest and store your very own local wood.

Safety First!
  • Wear a helmet, gloves, shoulder pads, shin guards, and a mouth gaurd, you can never be too careful.
    • Actually, Andy only recommends steel toe boots (if you have them), gloves, and eye protection.
  • Stand back an arms length away from your to-be-split log.
    • A piece will attack your shins at some point (or somewhere even less desirable), so keep as far away as practical.
  • Stack your wood chunks so that they can dry out, which means it’ll burn better later.
    • This is called “seasoning,” don’t mistake this for how to “season” cast iron.
    • It helps to keep them covered if it’s going to rain.
  • Get a stump of a firm surface for chopping on, this way you don’t have to lean over as far.
  • Don’t swing for the fences. That’s literal, don’t chop up your fence. But also, don’t try to show off whilst chopping wood. You’ll probably hurt yourself.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Sorta Sorbet

I love sweets. So when someone gives me blackberries in exchange for muffins (of Muffins Madness fame), I get pretty excited. There was no way I could eat all those blackberries before they went fuzzy, so I had to figure what I could do to best utilize them. Time for sorbet!

When I don’t know how to make something the Splendid Table is one of my main go-to resources. I know the information and recipes will have been tested, and also it’s a creative and down-to-earth. Simple and straightforward is good, and that’s what I get at the Splendid Table. (This isn’t a paid advertisement by the way, I’m a public radio member so I pay them, they unfortunately, don’t pay me.)

In the case of the blackberries Hungry Woman’s Simple Sorbet pretty well stood up and said “Make me because my name explicitly describes what you are and what you want to eat.” I couldn’t argue with that logic so away went the blackberries into the freezer.

If you want to know a little trick to freeze berries so they don’t form one large berry mass follow these directions. Wash them good, dry them off, and put them on a cookie sheet and place in the freezer. This way all your berries freeze individually, so when the time comes to make your sortbet you have nice individual berries to utilize. If you’re not going to to use the berries right away, after they’re good and frozen just pour them into a zipper bag continue utilizing that space for such important tasks as frosting beer mugs. As an aside, the cookie sheet technique works well for freezing veggies and homemade meatballs as well.

The recipe infinitely improvisational. I actually didn’t have the amount of fruit called for, and I was lazy and not about to get more. All you have to do is adjust the amounts of the other ingredients slightly, since there’s not much of them it should be pretty easy. Pay particular attention to the amount of salt though. Salt lifts up flavors and in a sweet dish you shouldn’t be able to taste the salt. Inadvertently I did not proportionally decrease the amount of salt I put in my sorbet, so instead of a pinch, my sorbet had a relative dash of salt. This made for a salty sweet treat, which is what my husband likes, but not me.

Despite the saltiness this was an excellent (might I say guilt-free?) dessert. You can use any fruit you have on hand, cut out the sugar, change out the flavorings, and save many a fresh fruit from having a green, fuzzy end. I most like at the end of the recipe is that it calls not for putting the sorbet in bowls, but in teacups or wine glasses. We have these tiny purple wineglasses that never get used because a laughably small amount of wine fits in them. But they’re an heirloom and cute, so I haven’t gotten rid of them. Putting the sorbet in these little wineglasses cheered me up so much that I didn’t mind this recipe going from down-to-earth to slightly fancy.

Here’s the recipe from the Splendid Table website:

Hungry Woman’s Simple Sorbet
© 2005 Lynne Rossetto Kasper. All rights reserved.

This cross between a fruit ice and a sorbet sidesteps the usual sorbet formula of sugar syrup and smoothing out in an ice cream machine. It's crumblier and more rustic than a sorbet, and takes 3 minutes in the food processor.

The whole idea here is how to make even mediocre frozen supermarket fruit taste very fine, and how to make great frozen fruit even better. All you need are my flavor boosters: almond extract, salt and lemon. Almond lifts fruit flavor as does salt and citrus. Consider them insurance policies.
  • 1 14-ounce bag frozen peaches, or other fruit, or 41/2 to 5 cups home-frozen fruit chunks
  • 1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon almond extract
  • Pinch salt
  • 3 tablespoons sugar, or to taste
  • Juice of half a small lemon

1. Turn fruit into a food processor. Add other ingredients and puree. Taste for sweetness and balance, adding more sugar or extract as needed.
2. Immediately pack into teacups or wine glasses. Top with shavings of fresh ginger, or mint, or whipped cream. Serve very cold.