Pizza Pockets

FullSizeRenderCan’t beat the draw of fresh, savory bread, filled with hot pepperoni and gooey melted cheese. Since we’re not Italian, I feel we can’t call these calzones, so they’ve been dubbed “pizza pockets” in our house. And as the definition of a calzone is “an Italian oven-baked folded pizza,” our name works perfectly well. 

It all started with a magazine recipe clipping for “mini French loaves” that sounded more Italian than French in their ingredient listing, and a house full of teenage boys who were bottomless pits. I’d made this dough into buns for dinner, and the guys said, “Hey, this kind of tastes like pizza!” So I decided to make it more like pizza by stuffing it with pepperoni and a mix of cheeses, and then dipping the pizza pockets into purchased marinara sauce. A star was born. (Then I found out that Calzones were a “thing” and I wasn’t the genius I thought I was…oh well. Not the first time!)

I’d not made these for years, and then my son Justin was reminiscing about this dish to his lovely fiancé Ashley. So of course I had to make them for her… She loved them as much as the guys always have, which means she passed the test—welcome to the fam, Ash! 

Now, I have to mention, I’ve tried filling these with a variety of things over the years: sausage and mushroom, green peppers and Canadian bacon and pineapple, etc. But nothing seems to work out as well as the plain old pepperoni and cheese. When something works, sometimes you just have to leave it alone and enjoy the simplicity of it.

Makes 8 pizza pockets

1¼ cups warm water
2½ teaspoons active dry yeast
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 teaspoon garlic salt
1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
½ cup grated Parmesan cheese (Kraft is fine, doesn’t need to be all fancy!)
3 to 3½ cups all-purpose flour

Package of pepperoni slices
1 cup grated sharp cheddar cheese
1 cup grated mozzarella cheese

For Dipping
Jar of purchased Marinara sauce (My pick is Trader Joe’s as it’s about $1.79 per jar and doesn’t use corn syrupn.)

Dissolve yeast in water in large mixing bowl, letting rise until yeast begins to foam on top. Fit mixer with dough hook. Add sugar, seasonings, 2 cups flour, and Parmesan cheese, and beat until all ingredients are combined. Add flour ½ cup at a time and mix on low setting to form a soft dough. Note that you may not need all of the remaining 1½ cups of flour. Only add flour until dough begins to pull away from the sides of the bowl. Turn dough onto floured surface and knead until smooth and elastic. Grease a clean bowl with shortening, and place dough into bowl, turning once to grease top of dough. Cover with damp kitchen towel and let rise in warm place for about an hour, or until doubled in size.

Grease a baking sheet with olive oil, and sprinkle pan with a light dusting of cornmeal. Punch dough down, and divide into 8 equal-sized pieces. Form each piece into a ball. Roll out into an oval disk using rolling pin. Place about 6 pieces of pepperoni on one half of the disk, in a pyramid of 3 pieces, 2 pieces, and 1 piece. Top with a handful of grated cheeses, then fold empty half of dough over the side filled with pepperoni and cheese. Use the tines of a fork to seal the edges of the dough. Move pizza pocket to greased pan. Repeat with remaining pieces of dough.

Preheat oven to 400° Fahrenheit. Let dough rise in warm place for 30-45 minutes, or until almost doubled in size. (I like to fill my sink with hot water, then top the sink with an oven rack, and place pan on rack. This creates nice humid conditions for rising dough.) Once dough is risen, bake in preheated oven on center rack for 12-15 minutes, or until top of bread is light golden brown. Remove to cooling rack for about 10 minutes before serving. Heat marinara sauce in saucepan for a few minutes. Serve pizza pockets with a small ramekin of Marinara sauce for dipping as you eat.

Fresh Tomato Avocado Salsa

Need a quick topping for grilled fish or chicken? Try chopping up a few fresh veggies like this, drizzling them with balsamic vinaigrette and TA-DAAAH!!! You’ve just taken your dinner up a notch in flavor. I grabbed these ingredients thinking they’d pair well with my husband’s grilled tilapia the other night, and boy, did they ever. We gave it a solid 10 out of 10! So simple, there’s really nothing more to say—let’s just get to the recipe, if you can even call it that…

Makes 4-6 servings

1 cup grape tomatoes, halved and quartered
1 ripe avocado, chopped
2 slices yellow onion, diced
A few sprigs of fresh basil, chiffonade*
A splash of balsamic vinaigrette

Combine all ingredients in a bowl, stir, and ladle on top of cooked fish or chicken.

*NOTE: Chiffonade is the technique of bunching up herb leaves and chopping into fine, thin strips.

Roasted Red Pepper Hummus

FullSizeRenderMaking your own fresh, creamy hummus is a snap, and once you do it you’ll never want store bought again. We’ve been making a basic Spicy Hummus for years now (found a fave on Rachel Ray’s site) and I can’t remember the last time we bothered buying. Tahini paste—a paste made from ground sesame seeds—is the secret ingredient that makes hummus so, well, hummalicious. But I wanted to mix things up a bit, so I added a jar of Trader Joe’s Roasted Red Peppers to our basic Spicy Hummus recipe.

How was it? My handy taste testers Mitchell and Justin (sons) and Emily (boarder) said they loved it! (Too bad it looks so fleshy in the picture here. Rest assured, it tastes better than it looks!) The only thing that might improve it, would be an added teaspoon of my favorite seasoning, smoked Spanish paprika. I think the smokiness with the roasted peppers would take this dip up a notch. But that’s just my humble opinion.

Makes 6-8 servings

1 (14.5-ounce can) garbanzo beans, rinsed and drained (also called chickpeas)
1 jar (8 ounces) roasted red peppers, drained
2 rounded tablespoons tahini paste
¼ cup olive oil
½ of a lemon, juiced
1 clove garlic, peeled and chopped
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon coriander
½ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
Course salt to taste (about ½ teaspoon)

Combine all ingredients in food processor bowl or blender and pulse until mixture is smooth and creamy. Transfer to small bowl and serve with corn tortilla chips or veggies. Or store in airtight container in frig for 2-3 weeks.

NOTE: Be sure to drain and pat the red peppers dry, or they add a lot of extra moisture to the dip.

Gingerbread Caramel Sauce

FullSizeRender-2Move over, sea salted caramel. You’ve had your 15-minutes of fame. Try this decadent gingerbread caramel sauce, a crazy crossbreed of fresh gingerbread cookies and rich caramel. This ice cream/cake sauce was posted on Martha Stewart’s site as an “under 30 minutes” holiday recipe. I latched onto it because it’s a gluten-free option that looked like a good Christmas gift for co-workers and friends. But I couldn’t give it away without knowing if it was actually tasty, so I did a test batch. How was it? Absolutely, positively, DEE-licious. I couldn’t stop licking the stirring spoon! When my friend Suzie texted me that her husband was smearing it on his breakfast toast just to find a base other than ice cream, I had to applaud his ingenuity. You go, Paul. Sauce it up.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t get a good photo of the sauce in action, as the ice cream melting under the warm sauce made a mushy mess in the bowl. That reminded me of my days working as an art director on Pillsbury cookbooks, and all the tricks we had to pull to get a shot of ice cream under hot studio lights. Here’s rule Number 1 in the food biz—if you’re selling ice cream, you must use your ice cream in the photo. No stand-ins. This required forming dozens of perfect scoops of ice cream, then putting them on dry ice for several hours. Then you had mere moments to pour the sauce and get your photos done. I had to blow through a straw onto the sauce to keep it from frosting over on the hyper-frozen ice cream, while the photographer furiously clicked away. So much work! But what fun to finally get the shot.

Food biz rule Number 2—if you’re selling the sauce but not the ice cream, you can use a salted dough (similar to Play-Doh) that mimics ice cream in appearance. A couple scoops of the salt dough handled the sauces well, and wouldn’t melt under the hot lights. It made for a much easier photo shoot day! Since I didn’t have any stand-in ice cream on hand, my shot above is of my sweet little jars all sealed and labeled for gift-giving.

Makes 6-7 half pints

3/4 cup molasses
3 cups sugar
2 cups heavy cream
1½ sticks cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1-1½ teaspoons salt
1½ teaspoons ground cinnamon
1½ teaspoons ground ginger

In Dutch oven, combine sugar, molasses, and ½ cup water. Heat over medium-high, gently stirring, until sugar has dissolved. Bring to a boil. Continue to cook and stir constantly for 4 to 5 minutes (about 250 degrees on a thermometer, if using). Remove from heat and carefully whisk in cream, butter, salt, and spices, stirring until butter is melted and combined. Ladle into clean half-pint jars; wipe rims of jars to remove any excess sauce. Put on fresh, clean canning lids, and screw on top. Cool jars in refrigerator. (Jars may seal due to rapid cooling.) Once opened, sauce can be refrigerated for up to 2 weeks; reheat before using.

NOTE: I found it works best to have all your ingredients measured out before you start making the sauce. The butter and the cream will make the sugar mixture splatter when added to the pot, and may cause it to cool too rapidly. I turned the heat back on to low to get the butter to melt at this stage. Also, it’s best to sift in the spices and salt, otherwise the cinnamon and ginger tend to clump because the sugar mixture is so hot. As far as the salt content goes, I think the 1½ teaspoon salt was a little much, and will back it off to 1 teaspoon in future batches.

Cranberry, Turkey, and Sharp Cheddar Bites

FullSizeRenderHeading into New Year’s Eve celebrations, this tart and tasty cranberry, turkey, and cheese concoction is a quick fix to have in your kitchen recipe arsenal—IF you have the cranberry conserve made ahead of time! Originally posted about a year ago, the conserve goes together in about 30 minutes, so isn’t a huge culinary black hole. In that post, I also talk about a tasty sandwich option using the cranberry conserve.

But we’re talking about quick appetizers here, so let’s move on! You’re basically making a mini open-faced sandwich, with either deli turkey (or leftover holiday bird) or ham, a slice of provolone, Swiss, or white sharp cheddar cheese, green apple, and a dollop of the cranberry conserve. That’s it! Easy, peasy, lemon squeezey, right? The picture here shows these with “Food Should Be Good” gluten-free corn tortilla/crackers from Costco. But I’ve also make these on sour dough bread or those mini rye bread squares, when I’m not serving a gluten-free crowd. (You know, the ones your Mom used to buy only during holidays for housing the abundant cream cheese spreads…)

Speaking of abundant cream cheese, the nice thing about these appetizers is that they do NOT start with a brick of Philadelphia cream cheese—and that’s rare in nibbles offered on holiday tables.

Serves as many as you want!

Layer the following ingredients and place on serving platter:

  • Food Should Be Good Corn Tortilla Chips/Crackers, sour dough bread, or mini rye bread squares
  • Sliced deli turkey or ham
  • Sliced Provolone, Swiss, or extra sharp white cheddar cheese
  • Green apple, sliced thin (do not peel)
  • 1 half-pint jar of cranberry conserve

Spinach Artichoke Hummus

FullSizeRenderA can of artichokes, and a few handfuls of fresh spinach make for a new twist on classic hummus. I found this recipe in the Fall 2016 edition of Lunds & Byerly’s Real Food magazine, and couldn’t wait to try it. My son Mitchell loooooves spinach in everything, so I wanted to see if this would be another way to give him his spinach fix next time he’s home from college. It was a nice dip for corn tortilla chips, and would actually be great with cukes, carrots, and jicama sticks as well. And if you’re a raw broccoli dipper, go for it. (I personally avoid broccoli in a raw veggie tray at gatherings. That, and raw cauliflower florets…those veggies are best eaten when roasted, if you ask me. But I digress!) If looking for some interesting appetizer ideas, this would be good to include in a hummus trio, with Spicy Sweet Potato Hummus (previously posted), and the classic hummus, for the true hummus aficionados. Serve with warm pita bread triangles, and your family and friends will gobble these up.

Serves 6-8

1 (14-ounce) can garbanzo beans*, rinsed and drained
1 (14-ounce) can artichoke hearts, drained
3-4 cups fresh spinach
2 garlic cloves
4 tablespoons lemon juice
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons tahini paste
½ teaspoon salt

Combine garbanzo beans, artichoke hearts, spinach, garlic, lemon juice, olive oil, tahini paste, and salt in food processor, and pulse until smooth. Stop to scrape down side occasionally. Serve. Leftovers may be stored in a covered container in the frig for up to five days.

*NOTE: The original recipe called for soaking dry chickpeas overnight, and then boiling them for an hour, and letting them cool. That sounded like waaaaay too much work for me, so I used the canned chickpeas (aka: garbanzo beans). Also, I added more lemon (as noted above) then called for in the magazine recipe, as it seemed to need more zing.

Rhubarb Strawberry Jam

FullSizeRenderTart, tangy rhubarb makes a perfect fresh, summery jam, especially with a subtle hint of strawberry. So if you’ve got more rhubarb than you know what to do with, stir up a batch of this and give grape jelly a break from kitchen duty. I got this recipe from my friends Tom and Kim, who got the recipe from Tom’s mother, Clara. Clara immigrated to America as a young woman, so English wasn’t her first language. That’s why I smile when I read my copy of her neatly typed recipe, with sugar consistently spelled “suger.” And there’s another twist to this tale—I now work with Clara’s granddaughter, Lauren, and I love it when she shares memories of her “Oma,” who has since passed away.

I’m glad Clara shared this recipe with me 20+ years ago, because it’s become a favorite with my sons who prefer this over the sweeter berry jams. My Mom was kind enough to cut me a wheelbarrow full of rhubarb from her garden this year, as I’d used most of mine making rhubarb cake for parties. This recipe takes a whopping 18 cups of fresh rhubarb, but after soaking it in the sugar (or “suger”) overnight, it shrinks. (I don’t quite get the science of that…) Once you’ve done your overnight duty, this jam is a snap to make. You can freeze it or can it. My directions below are for canning it, which is my preference. And our favorite bread on which to slather this jam? Old Country Potato Dill Bread, previously posted.

Makes 12 pints

18 cups chopped rhubarb
5 cups granulated sugar
2 (6 ounce) packages of strawberry flavored Jell-O®

In large plastic bowl* combine chopped rhubarb and sugar. Cover with plastic wrap or kitchen towel and let set overnight. Juices from the rhubarb will create a simple syrup from the sugar. (See “before” and “after” pictures below.)

Gather a dozen Kerr® or Ball® pint canning jars and wash in hot soapy water, or run through dishwasher. Fill a medium saucepan with water and bring it to boil. Add a dozen fresh canning lids and rings to boiling water. Turn off heat, and let lids sit for 5 minutes in the hot water. Now your jars and lids are ready for canning.

Pour rhubarb and sugar syrup into large Dutch oven. Bring to a boil, then reduce to simmer and cook for 10 minutes, stirring as it cooks. Stir in both packages of strawberry Jell-O and stir to combine. Remove from heat and use clean ladle to pour jam into prepared jars. Wipe rim of each jar with clean, wet rag to remove any excess jam from jar as it will prevent a clean seal. Top jar with clean, sterilized lid, and tightly screw on band. Invert jar. Repeat process with all 12 jars, turning all of them upside down once filled. Let sit for 5 minutes, then turn all of the jars right-side up and wait for them to “plink.” (As they seal, you will hear the sound of the lid creating a vacuum seal. It may take up to an hour for them to all seal.) Test the tops of jars by pressing lightly in center of lid. They are sealed when the center of lid stays down and doesn’t pop back up. Store in cool, dry place for up to a year.

NOTE: Metal bowls will react with the rhubarb, so it’s best to use a plastic bowl. I use the top of a cake carrier. It’s the perfect size for this amount of rhubarb, and since I never make and take cake, the poor container gets used for something, rather than being ignored and neglected in my basement.



Nette’s Cranberry Salsa

FullSizeRender-2Tomato salsa is so last year! This cranberry salsa has some kick and some sass, just like my neighbor Nette—which is fitting, since I got this recipe from her. You’ll need a food processor or blender to make it, but if you’ve got the tools, it’s a snap to whip up. If you serve it with corn tortilla chips, it’s both gluten free AND dairy free—how many appetizers can make that claim? Not many! At least not the appetizers found on most midwestern buffets in the cold winter months. And if you need more incentive to try this recipe, take note that cranberries are higher in antioxidants than the highly-acclaimed blueberry, and offer 24% of your daily allowance of vitamin C. So stick THAT on your chip and eat it. (Smiley face…)

1 Granny Smith apple, peeled, cored, and cut into slices
½ cup granulated sugar
½ cup chopped red onion
Zest of 1 lime
Juice of 1/2 a lime
1 fresh jalapeño pepper, seeded and membranes removed, and coarsely chopped
2 tablespoons chopped pickled jalapeño (like Mrs. Renfro’s brand)
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
1 (12-ounce) bag fresh or frozen cranberries, rinsed and drained

Combine apple, sugar, onion, lime zest and juice, fresh and pickled jalapeño, and cilantro in a food processor or blender and pulse several times. Add cranberries and pulse until grainy. Refrigerate for 1-2 hours before serving for flavors to blend. Serve with tortilla or pita chips.

Spicy Sweet Potato Hummus

FullSizeRenderWith the holidays in full swing, you can’t leave your house without a plate of something to share at a gathering, and most often it’s an appetizer involving a brick or two of cream cheese. Here’s a recipe that strays from that formula, yet tastes rich and creamy sans the cheese. This sweet potato hummus was posted on Yummly, sent in by (a food blogger who gives top billing to her dog…go figure!). I made several adjustments to her spice amounts, most notably to the cayenne pepper. The 1½ teaspoon suggested seemed excessive. I preferred to up the smoked paprika and cumin, so there were other flavors and less heat. 

Now let’s talk about the blessed sweet potato we’re all so obsessed with, and give credit where credit is due! Admit it. We’re all guilty of it. Lumping yams in with sweet potatoes, that is. Truth be told, most of us have never even tasted a yam, but since our grocery stores use the names interchangeably, we think yams are darker orange versions of the sweet potato. But true yams have black or dark brown skin, white flesh, and are drier and starchier. You have to go to a specialty grocery store to find them, if they can be found at all in the USA. Sweet potatoes come in two categories: firm sweet potatoes (with golden skin and paler flesh, sometimes even close to white), and soft sweet potatoes (with red or copper skin and orange flesh). We tend to prefer the soft sweet potato, which cooks up moist and creamy. The soft sweet potato that’s prevalent in our stores closely resembles the true yam, so that’s why they are often labeled as such in the bins. 

Enough with the food source education! Let’s get back to this delicious dip! It’s awesome with Simply Naked pita chips, corn chips, or the gluten-free “Food Should be Good” brand cracker-chips (sold at Costco and other stores). I made this for a couple parties over the weekend, and was told it was quite tasty. I myself have yet to verify that, as I’ve got a nasty cold and can’t taste a dang thing. But I trust my taste-testers. They wouldn’t lie to me. Although one of my taste-testers (and son) Justin said there was zero heat in the dip. The guy who practically puts Sriracha sauce on his Cheerios thinks I’d say mayonnaise has “kick.” So consider the source.

Serves 8-12

2 medium sweet potatoes
1 (14.5 ounce) can garbanzo beans (aka: chickpeas), rinsed and drained
3 tablespoons olive oil
3 tablespoons tahini paste
2 cloves garlic, peeled, and quartered
Juice of 1 lemon
2 teaspoons smoked paprika
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon sea salt
¼–½ teaspoon cayenne pepper (I used ½ teaspoon. Add ¼ first and taste!)

Preheat oven to 375° or 400°. Place 2 potatoes on a sheet of aluminum foil and bake for 45-60 minutes, or until tender when pressed. Set aside until cool enough to handle.

Scoop sweet potatoes out of the skins, and place in bowl of food processor or blender. Add garbanzo beans, olive oil, tahini paste, garlic, lemon juice, smoked paprika, cumin, salt, and cayenne. Process until smooth. Serve with chips or cucumber slices and carrot sticks. Store in airtight container and refrigerate any leftovers.

Cranberry Conserve

FullSizeRenderDon’t bother with canned cranberry sauce, the stuff that “schluuuuuuurps” out of the can on it’s way to the serving bowl, maintaining it’s telltale ridges. This fresh and tangy relish is the perfect accompaniment to turkey or ham, and has a variety of other uses too. What can of cranberry sauce can make that claim? This recipe came from a Better Homes & Garden magazine sometime in the 90’s, and I’ve been making it every year since I stumbled on this gem. I can’t wait for cranberries to appear in the store so I’ll have jars of this on hand for our family, or to give as hostess gifts over the holidays. (This year I was lucky enough to get a beautiful bag of marble-sized berries from my friend Monique, who got them at a cranberry festival in Wisconsin. Thanks, Mo!)

FullSizeRenderIf a dollop of this relish on your roasted bird isn’t your thing, then try spreading it on some sour dough bread or gluten-free 100% rye bread (pictured here on Trader Joe’s bread), top it with slices of that leftover turkey or some deli ham, Swiss or provolone cheese, and finish with thin slices of Granny Smith green apples. Best sandwich EVER!!! This also makes a nice addition to a wine and cheese tray. The sweet and tangy pairing perfectly compliments aged cheeses and red or white wine. (Or so I’ve been told—I don’t do alcohol…) Or make a quick appetizer with some hearty crackers or earthy flatbread topped with warmed brie or cold cream cheese, and then some cranberry conserve. Give this recipe a whirl, and tell me how YOU liked it best!

IMG_1222IMG_1226Have to tell you this is the first recipe I’ve posted that warranted a trip to the after-hours clinic. My wonderful son, Mitchell, had kindly sharped my knives this week, and then I was commenting on how great it was to work with these super sharp knives while chopping the onions, and WHOOOSH! Off goes a chunk of my thumb, nail and all. My husband layered on the Band-Aids, and I finished the conserve. (Because I’m just that dedicated to my food preparation.) Then I went to the clinic to get a tetanus shot and properly bandage my wound. So all those jars of cranberry conserve lined up like little soldiers on my kitchen counter are extra special this year!

Makes 12-13 half-pint jars

Ease rating: medium (My sister Judy would never make this, so I’ll bring her a jar.)

2/3 cups packed dark brown sugar
2/3 cups butter
4 teaspoons white vinegar
3-4 large yellow (milder flavor) or red onions (stronger flavor), chopped
8 cups fresh or frozen cranberries
1 cup raisins
½ cup apple cider or apple juice
½ teaspoon ground allspice
½ teaspoon ground cloves
7 cups granulated sugar
2 cups toasted pecans, chopped

Wash 12-14 half-pint glass jars in hot soapy water, or in dishwasher. Set upside down on clean towel to dry. Fill medium sauce pan with water and bring to a boil. Turn off heat, and drop in 12-14 Ball or Kerr canning lids. Let sit until ready to use.

In a large skillet, cook and stir brown sugar, butter, and vinegar over medium heat for 1-2 minutes. Add onions and cook uncovered over low heat for 10-12 minutes, or until onions are glazed and tender. Stir often. Set aside.

In 8-quart kettle or Dutch oven, combine cranberries, raisins, cider or juice, allspice, and cloves. Bring to a boil, stirring occasionally. Continue to cook, uncovered, on medium heat for 5 minutes. Stir in cooked onion mixture and granulated sugar. Return to boil and cook uncovered for 10-15 minutes more. As mixture thickens, stir frequently to prevent sticking. Remove from heat and stir in nuts. (May seem thin after cooking for the 10-15 minutes, but it will thicken up significantly as it cools, so do not over cook.)

Pour conserve into prepared glass jars, filling to 1/4-inch from top. Wipe rim of jar with clean towel to ensure there is nothing on rim, then pull a lid from sauce pan, and place rubber side down on top of jar. Add screw top band and tighten. Place jar upside down on counter. Repeat with remaining jars until all are filled. Let jars sit upside down for 5 minutes, then turn over to cool completely. As jars “plink” you will know they are sealed. If any do not seal, place in freezer. Will keep for up to a year.