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!

Friday, June 21, 2013

St. Paul de Vence

 On a recent trip abroad with my family, we decided to stop in Provence to enjoy another side of the fabulous French people. Rather than take in the normal Provencal cities, we gravitated to a small hillside town above the hustle and bustle of Nice. St. Paul de Vence sits towering on a hillside beckoning you to visit. Built in the middle ages, St. Paul officially became a town in 1388. It became a strong hold of the French Riviera with its fortified walls that surrounded the town. It is in fact the oldest medieval town on the Riviera.

 What impressed me about the little town, is the integrity to its historical roots is manicured nicely to the modern shops and art galleries. We did not find the tacky tourist souvenirs that one might find in some of the other towns. There were no products on the street, just nicely displayed windows. Doors opened so you could wander in and out of the stores with ease. The shop owners were kind and helpful. All the products in the stores were local and unique to the region of France. You did not have to worry about a retailer getting their goods from a third world country. The souvenirs were truly worth taking away from of St. Paul.

 I bought local jams, salts, and mustard that I would not have found here in the United States. I also bought lavender sachets tied up in the local Provencal cloth of the region. We did not have time to sit down and have a proper meal at a restaurant, but the smells emanating from the brasseries were divine! We did, however, find an ice cream store opened where we were able to enjoy the street life and cool weather. St. Paul de Vence is a must if you ever make it to the South of France!

Sunday, March 10, 2013

A Tribute To The Truffula Tree

This year to honor Dr. Seuss, I made Truffula Tree cupcakes for my son's third grade class. In the story by Seuss, The Lorax the trees are described as having striped trunks with soft as silk tufts of hair at the top.
They are suppose to smell like butterfly milk....so the story says. I was not sure what butterfly milk smelled like, so I envisioned a sweet candy vanilla smell.

 My truffula trees were made with a cupcake mix I bought around Christmas time. The flavor was "hot chocolate". I now regret only buying a few of these! Rich creamy chocolate cupcakes were dotted with marshmallows. The cupcakes really did smell like hot chocolate!! The frosting mix was included, and it was a marshmallow topping. Sweet and sticky this made a great base for my trees!

I bought some striped straws last year from my favorite online baking store Fancy Flours! By cutting them in half, it made a perfect tree trunk! The top was the hardest part of all. Cotton Candy was my billowy soft as silk tree toppers! If you have ever grabbed cotton candy with your fingers, you will know it almost melts on contact. So a fork is required to gently pick up and form a little ball to stick on the tops of the straws. Knowing what I know now, I would have topped these in the classroom after arriving. The gentle breeze of the morning picked up the cotton candy tufts and started blowing them away. There were only a few casualties that were fixed after entering the building. The Truffulas were a hit with the kids as we read Dr. Seuss books! So much better than green eggs and ham!

Saturday, March 9, 2013

The Bon Marche Epicerie, Paris

Most girls love shopping for shoes, clothes, jewelry. My eye candy, however, is in the grocery store. I am a sucker for a gourmet grocery with displays that would melt your heart! I love it all; from veggies to canned goods. One of my favorite is La Grande Epicerie de Paris. It is an extension of the Bon Marche department store on the left bank of Paris. Housed in a different building, you can hop buildings quite easily!

I was able to snap a few pictures until the sandwich maker told me to STOP! It must have been classified information. Regardless, I captures the ever so beautiful couregettes, or round zucchini! And then there were the bags of marshmallows or guimauve in French! I brought some home!

 They had a dairy section like non other! Here are yogurts housed in terracotta bottles! There were 20 kinds of butter, and forget about the cheese! There were rows of canned and bottles items; jams, mustard, meats, and veggies! The bread section had bread with crust removed for tea sandwiches! The cookies and candy section had everything you could imagine.

The deli section had marinating meats, olives, cheeses, pate and terrines. There were sandwich makers, Hot food counters, rotisserie chickens, fresh petite fours and cakes, mousses, and creamy confections! One of my favorite items I bought was a designer bottle of diet coke! I looked very chic drinking it I am sure! I can't wait to go back!

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Nevada Reading Week

This week was Nevada Reading Week. Our school had a ton of activities for the children to participate in. Each class was given a set amount of pages to read for a heated competition to win a Subway sandwich party. My 9 year old took it upon himself to single handily win the party for the class. On his first day he read the 500 pages that were given for the entire week. Bursting through the door, he ran upstairs to read, read, read way into the night. Shall we just say,  Rick Riordan's Percy Jackson series did the trick! He did not stop there though, he met the challenge given everyday after that as his teacher increased the number of pages. On dress up as your favorite character from a book my boy was...can you guess? Percy Jackson. He was so happy all day as he discovered that there were many other Percy Jackson young men walking around school too! How wonderful that in this age of computers and crazy technology that a paper book (and my son only likes paper books so he can turn the pages) can cause so much imagination, excitement, and motivation! Hurray for Nevada Reading Week!!

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Escape to Monterey Bay

One of my favorite places to visit is the ever beautiful Monterey Bay. When I was much younger -- about 20 years ago -- I lived in Monterey. After a long day at work it was always a treat to run off to Asilomar Beach, stick my toes in the sand and watch the HUGE waves crash onto the beach and surrounding rocks.

When I got married and had children it was obvious where I wanted to spend vacation time. Monterey, Pacific Grove, Pebble Beach, and Carmel-by-the-Sea is the perfect vacation for families. One of my favorite activities in Monterey is going to the world famous Monterey Bay Aquarium. If you have older children, and plan your vacation right, there are wonderful marine biology classes and camps that they can attend. You can even learn to scuba there! If you are a beach goer there is a variety of beaches to explore. From the sandy Asilomar to rocky Lover's Point, and one can't forget Carmel-by-the-Sea white beach!

You can visit Carmel's old Mission, take nature walks right in the city of Carmel, and peruse the old storybook cottage neighborhoods. You can even have high tea at the Tuck Box! If you drive a little farther south to Big Sur you can watch wales migrating or stop off at the one of the hippie community restaurants. Don't blink though, you could miss the small town of Big Sur! On your way back up you can visit the EarthBound Organic Farm. There is a wonderful children's garden and store.

Finding a place to stay in the area is simple. From rustic lodges, to fancy B & B's, or to big hotels, the area has it all. We like to stay near Fisherman's Wharf and Cannery Row. There are fun shops, restaurants, and those every entertaining barking sea lions. There is even a fun maritime museum walking steps from the water. Just north of Monterey is a Dennis the Menace themed park great for little one's to run around. Why, there is so much to do on this little bay, I've forgotten to mention it is John Steinbeck country! Oh! And I must not forget the most darling lighthouse, Point Pinos Lighthouse in Pacific Grove! Sigh! Just take my word for it and run away to Monterey!

Monday, February 25, 2013

A Trip To Alaska

 I have been absent for months! I can't believe how time has slipped away from me as I plugged away during the holidays. As my kids get older, I find that my life gets busier. But today I have been daydreaming about taking a trip. And when I do that, I always reflect upon some of the best trips I have had with my family.
The vacation I am thinking about today was the beautiful time we went to Potlatch Totem Park in Ketchikan, Alaska. Set on the waters of the Pacific in the pan handle of Alaska is Ketchikan. You can only arrive by plane or boat. Ketchikan is famous for the t.v. show "Deadliest Catch", where cold water fishermen go out and catch crab in the icy waters of Alaska's coast. Our trip, however, was spent eyeballing the tall totems at the Potlatch Park.

Our tour included a really fun walk through the woods learning about what kind of trees they use. Then we were able to lean about the different totems and the stories they tell. At the end of the tour the children of the group were asked to paint a block of wood that would be nailed to this dragon totem, their names and the date they were there forever placed on the dragon. A cool way to leave your mark in history!

All the totems were carved and hand painted beautifully. I loved the fact that they had not only ancient totems, but the tradition at the Potlatch Park are still being taught today in this tiny fishing village.

The lodge where the kids were painting looked just like an ancient house that the natives had lived in.
The colors were vivid and beautiful at the totem park. I'm dreaming of where I might go next!