Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Calzone To Die For!!

On a recent trip to Italy I was fortunate enough to try the local goodies from the fast pizza shops and stands. One yummy treat was the calzone! It is a stuffed pizza enclosed like a pie. When I got home I thought I would make my own.


1 pkg. prepared pizza dough (I used Trader Joe's)
1 15oz. container ricotta cheese
1 cup mozzarella cheese
1 egg, beaten
1 pound ground beef or Italian sausage 
1/2 onion, minced
1 clove garlic, minced
1 Tbsp fresh parsley
1/2 tsp  fresh oregano
salt & pepper

Saute the onion and garlic in a little olive oil until soft. Add the ground beef or sausage. Add salt and pepper. Cook until the pink is gone, mashing with a fork to make it fine. When done set aside and let slighly cool. Combine ricotta cheese with the mozzarella, egg, oregano, & parsley. Combine cheese mixture with the meat mixture. 

Break off small handfuls of the pizza dough (about 1 to 2 oz.). Roll each ball on a lightly floured surface to form a circle. Place a few tablespoons of the meat & cheese mixture in the middle of the circle. Be careful not to let it touch the edges of the circle. Fold the circle in half with the mixture in it. Close the two sides shut by pinching and folding the dough around the open edge. Place each calzone on a parchment lined baking sheet. Before putting the oven, brush the top of each calzone with a little beaten egg. Bake in a 400 for 10-12 minutes. Serve with a marinara sauce on the side.

* you can use any type of filling in these; scrambled eggs, ham, or pepperoni. 

Monday, July 8, 2013

Vernazza, An Italian Gem

 I have traveled all over the world, but have not been more impressed with the little town of Vernazza, Italy. Nestled on the Ligurian Sea in the region of La Spezia this town is part of what the Italians call the Cinque Terra. This little town bathed in it's traditional pastel colored buildings has been in existence since 1080. It was in fact an important port for the Genoa Republic in the 11th century A.D. Still a fishing village without any car traffic, this quaint town breaths life of the Italian charm one only dreams about.

 The cafes with brightly colored umbrellas start serving lunch early. You can sit and have a cappuccino, a slice of fragrant pizza & pasta, or a full Ligurian seafood meal.

 I caught a picture of the butcher who was taking a little break from inside his store. Upon hearing the click of the camera he promptly ran back inside his safe haven. But, isn't he adorable!!

We were in luck the day that we arrived. The traveling flower and herb market and shown up. It travels from town to town up and down the Cinque Terra. You could feel the excitement from the locals as the beautiful basil was unveiled from the vendor. I just imagined the restaurateurs making pesto for their homemade pastas! 

Anything you could ever want was on this main drag that made up the small town. We stopped in a small take-away pizza shop to eat fresh pizza. There were several gelato stores. My favorite flavor was Kit Kat. There were clothiers, grocers, cheese stores, meat stores. It was all there and more. I miss the cute town of Vernazza, and hope to return again someday!

Tomato Soup My Way

My boys often ask me what my favorite foods are. It is a silly game that really makes me think about the loves of my life. Well, the food loves of my life! I have come to the conclusion that heirloom tomatoes are a food love of mine! They are so sweet, and they seem to be the only tomato in the store that actually smells like a tomato should! With that said, my favorite way to eat tomatoes is in a thin soup.

First I quarter my tomatoes and put them on a jellyroll pan. I sprinkle salt and pepper over with a drizzle of olive oil. Into the oven they go at 400 degrees. I watch for them as they roast to get soft. It takes 30 to 40 minutes to draw out the sweet juices. I take them out of the oven and remove the tough skins from them.

Into a heavy pot they go with the juices from the pan. I add a can of chicken broth, a onion sliced in half, a clove of garlic, a bunch of basil, and salt and pepper. I slowly simmer it with a lid on; mushing up the tomatoes. After about 30 minutes I discard the onions, basil and garlic from the soup. I then strain the soup through a strainer or a food mill. This soup is not chunky or really thick. Serve with a piece of buttered toast. Yummm!

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Refresh and Detox

 We seem to be almost half way into the Summer, and a nice cool drink is a must on a HOT Vegas day. Our days lately have been 120f. With days like that you need not only a cool drink, but one that can help move impurities from your body. This is one of my favorite drinks, and although it may sound odd, give it a try. It has four simple ingredients in no particular amount. Purified water, fresh mint, fresh cucumber, and fresh lemon juice (I squeeze mine from my parents trees and freeze them for later use). Give it all a mix, and a little mash up. Drink and enjoy!

Thursday, July 4, 2013

4th of July Cherry Pie!

 Nothing says 4th of July like a homemade pie. This year I wanted to make a cherry pie. My boys were happy to help with the festivities which included using my nifty German cherry pitter. What boy would not love to slam a pit out of 2 pounds of cherries! We started though by taking the stems off the cherries (save the stems they can make a medicinal tea). Then we washed our cherries.

 Next came the fun part. Slamming the cherries through the pitter. Although not automatic, and not 100% fool proof (I always check them afterwards to find any stray pits) it works fast and really well!

 Within 30 minutes the cherries are done! Oh, make sure you put on some old clothes. Some cherry juice is known to squirt out onto you! The boys loved that bringing peels of laughter.

 You then take your 2 pounds of cherries and put them in a heavy pot. No aluminum please. sprinkle 1 1/4 cups of white sugar over the cherries with 12 teaspoons of cornstarch. Let the cherries sit for 10 minutes to draw out the cherry juices. Then give it a good stir.

Turn the stove on to get a rolling boil on the cherry mixture. Turn the heat down and let simmer for 1 or 2 minutes. Depending on your stove it may take longer. I have a gas grill with fire. A flat cook-top may take longer. The mixture should turn thick when you stick a spoon in. When that happens it is done cooking. Set the hot pot aside to cool down to lukewarm.

I used Trader Joe's frozen pie dough. I know many will say, "but it is so easy to make pie crust..." Well, I am here to tell you that after attending cooking school for a year, and working on pies only for three weeks, I could never master pie dough. Puff pastry? No problem. So frozen dough it was for me. After getting the dough and filling assembled, I gave the crust a little egg wash (egg yoke and 1 Tsp of water) Then I sprinkled the pie with a little sugar.

Preheat the oven to 375. In the oven place a parchment lined jellyroll pan. Let the pan heat up. When the oven is ready, take the pan out of the oven and place the pie on it. This will aid in not getting your oven dirty if there is a spill. Bake the pie for 45 - 55 minutes. Let the pie cool for several hours before cutting. And there is your 4th of July treat!

Sunday, June 30, 2013

The Ponderosa Lemon

 When I was growing up in Arizona my father planted three "small" Ponderosa Lemon trees. He planted them to keep the neighbor's kids off the wooden fence that divided our properties. The "small" trees did the trick, because in no time at all those fragrant lemon branches were reaching as tall as the fence. The long thorns that lined the branches kept the neighbor's kids from scaling the fence. As the years went by the lemon trees flourish and produced the largest lemons of anyone around.

 The variety of Ponderosa Lemons has been around since the late 1800's. It is actually a hybrid of a lemon tree and a citron tree. The Ponderosa fruit is distinct by it's thick bumpy outside, plethora of internal seeds, and tart flavor. Despite all of these seemingly nasty attributes, however, this lemon makes the best lemonade! The trees produce hundreds of lemons, and the fruit unloads large amounts of juice. I just mix strained lemon juice with water and sugar. There is no particular quantity of ingredients. You just have to go with the taste of each batch!

Whenever we go to visit my parents in Arizona, my boys like to pick the lemons for a refreshing drink. Picking one at a time is taxing, so we end up shaking really hard. Of course there is some duck and cover action required for the shaking of the tree, but well worth the labor!

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Jamon Serrano & Jamon Iberico

 There is nothing more serious to the Spanish than their dried cured hams. There are entire stores on every corner dedicated to these meaty wonders. Museums dedicated to this delicacy. There are two types of cured ham; the more common Jamon Serrano & the expensive Jamon Iberico. The difference in the two hams is in the pig itself. The Serrano ham is made from a white pig. The Iberico ham is made from a free range pig that is fed upon acorns. The taste is more intense than the mild Serrano ham. Drying and curing Spanish ham has been in existence since the time of the Romans.

To cure the ham, the meat with bone still in is stacked and then covered in salt. It cures in a cool area for several days to draw out the moisture. After this process that ham is hung to completely dry in a drying shed that is in the cool mountains. Here they sit to cure for anywhere from 6 to 18 months.

To eat the ham the Spanish slice the meat razor thin. The full flavor is gained from doing this. They eat the ham on its own, paired with cheese and fruits, or on a sandwich. It makes a great snack, appetizer or meal.

 In many of the deli shops you can find small paper cones spilling with the ham to be eaten as a street food. Although it is difficult to find this delicacy in the United States there is an importer of the ham La Tienda is a Spanish Catalog devoted to bringing the finest of Spain cuisine right to your doorstep. So next time you are throwing a party or feeling adventurous, give the Spanish Jamon a try!