Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Calzone Jones

There are some foods I crave on a regular basis.  Calzones are one of these foods.  Unfortunately, I'm really picky about my calzones.  The crust has to be perfect and the filling has to be top notch.  I've had some bad calzones in my day.  Crust dry and too flaky.  Raw garlic that had too much bite.  No ricotta cheese at all!  I mean, I'm not Italian (well, except in a past life), but I just can't imagine a calzone with no ricotta cheese. 

So when I get these kind of cravings, and I end up buying a calzone from a local eatery, I'm always disappointed with the outcome.  So this is when I have to take matters into my own hands and create my own damn calzone.   

Preheat oven to 425.  I used my go to pizza crust recipe.  And I browned some italian sausage.  I then mixed about a cup of ricotta cheese with a 1/2 up of Parmesan and 1/2 cup of mozzarella cheese (use the real stuff!!)  After my pizza dough had risen, I divided it into 4 balls and rolled each ball out to about a 6 inch round.  I then topped one side of the round with the ricotta mixture, then the sausage, then I added a few leaves of raw spinach.  Fold the empty side of the dough over the topping side and pinch to seal it off.  Place (carefully) onto a cookie sheet.  Brush the outside of the calzone with an egg wash, cut about 3 slits into the top of the calzone so you don't have a calzone blow out, and cook for about 15-18 minutes.  Keep checking the little bugger so it doesn't burn on the bottom.  Once it's to your desired brownness, take it out of the oven and let it cool for about 5 minutes.  Serve with your favorite marinara. 

I find that the stuff I make at home tastes better than the stuff I buy.  Maybe it's because of all the love that goes into making it, but seriously, try making your own items you crave.  You'll be so much more appreciative with the outcome than you would if you just went out and purchased it. 

Tuesday, October 08, 2013

Cheese Please!

This my friends, is my first attempt at Mozzarella cheese.  Yes.  I made it with my own two hands.  It's something I've been wanting to make forever and I finally got the balls to actually try it.  I was worried about it.  I mean it can't be easy to make cheese, right?  I thought my first attempt was going to be a disaster, but I'm quite impressed with how easy it was and with the final product.

Here's the deal with making cheese.  You have to have 3 specific ingredients to do it:
1. Milk that isn't ultra pasteurized.  Preferably milk from a local farm.  And luckily we have amazing food stores in Memphis called Easy-Way.  Which is where I purchased my 1/2 gallon of milk. It even came in a fancy little glass bottle, like when the milk man would deliver it.  (Ok, so I never in my life had the milk man deliver milk, but it's a fun visual).

2.  The next thing you need is Citric Acid.  To be quite honest, I really have no idea why the hell you have to have this ingredient, but in every cheese making recipe I read, it was listed.  And on the bottle it says it can be used as a substitute for salt, so putting two and two together, I assume it's some sort of preservative/flavoring used in cheese making.  If you really want to learn more about it, go here.

3.  And finally, you need Rennet.  What the hell is rennet, you ask?  Well that's exactly what I asked.  Rennet is a bunch of enzymes, found in the stomach of mammals that, in cheese making, causes milk to coagulate, separating the curds from the whey.  Luckily for the faint of heart, or the vegetarian variety, they have vegetable rennet.  That is what I used.  I found both my citric acid and my rennet on Amazon.com.  They both cost me about 15 bucks.  I've bought small chunks of cheese for that price. 

Here's the recipe I used.  It's really easy to follow and even has pictures!  HOORAY!  Trust me.  It's not scary.  I halved the recipe and that scared me because I felt like I was in a serious science project with cheese making.  But cheese is forgiving!  Gotta love that damn cheese!  It's good AND forgiving!  Here's the rest of my process:

This is what happens after you add in the vegetable rennet and let it sit for 5 minutes.  It solidifies the milk.  So cool!  The process is really fun and amazing.  If you have kids, I think they'd really enjoy helping!

 Little Miss Muffet ain't got shit on me!  Here's the separation of my curds and whey. 

Here's what you get after heating your milk to the desired temperature.  You then have to squeeze out all that whey. Which is a lot of fun. 

And it starts to look like ricotta cheese at first.  But the more you work with it, the more it begins to resemble mozzarella.

Yep!  That's my string of cheese.  I know it's blurry.  You try taking a picture holding moving cheese in one hand and a camera in the other! 

The only thing I did other than the recipe suggested was I added in some salt at the end.  In fact, I added in a GOOD pinch of salt and I think it still needed more.  So be sure to add in this step!

Happy Cheese Making!  Don't be afraid.  It's so cool!  

Friday, October 04, 2013

Okie Dokie, Artichokie

I am a sucker for artichokes.  They are my favorite vegetable.  Hands down.  I am also fascinated by them.  I mean who on earth would discover an artichoke and think, "hmm...I bet if I get past all these prickly leaves and then get rid of this hairy afro of a choke, there's a tender, tasty little heart in here that probably tastes like heaven"?  My sister and I used to have to share an artichoke when we were little.  Who knew two little girls would eventually try to kill each other over not receiving their fair share of the heart.  My mother quickly learned that we all needed our own choke to avoid future scuffles.  

I've had artichokes in a number of different ways.  In artichoke dips, on salads, boiled, stuffed, etc.  But it wasn't until recently that I tried a grilled artichoke.  And I was blown away.  It's so good, so smoky, and so much easier to eat than a boiled artichoke.  You can make an aioli to dip your artichoke in for extra flavor.  I like just melting a little butter and adding lemon to it for dipping.  

Here's the thing.  If you've never prepared and/or eaten a whole artichoke before they can be pretty intimidating.  And I'm pretty sure that if I tried to tell you how to do it, you'd be eating all the wrong parts.  So here's a link to help.

Here's How To Make Grilled Artichokes:  
Prepare a charcoal grill.  Follow the above link (Note...No need to trim off the stem for this recipe.  The stem becomes an extension of the heart and the more heart the better).  Once you get your choke all trimmed up, cut it in half.  You will notice a fuzzy choke.  You don't want that part.  So scoop it out with a spoon.  Now, throw your artichoke halves into a pot of boiling water for 20 minutes (you can apparently steam them this way too if you like, but I've never steamed an artichoke and I didn't want to mess anything up).  After 20 minutes, drain the artichokes and drizzle with olive oil, salt and pepper and grill for about 4-6 minutes on each side.  You really just want to add some color and some smoky charcoal goodness at this point.  Just don't burn em. 

When they are done, you can eat them.  Just avoid the rough part of the leaves.  Peel the leaves off and using your teeth, scrape the meaty edge of the leaf into your mouth.  Once all the leaves are gone, you are left with the best part to eat.  So eat it all...before I come and fight you for it.