Sunday, January 8, 2012

Calzones with Homemade Dough

How many times has dinner snuck up on you, and you end up standing in front of your fridge at 5pm thinking, "well great – what are we going to eat for dinner?" Don’t feel bad. It happens to everybody, even cook-aholics like me. Inspite of careful meal planning and grocery shopping, there are still those nights when you just don’t feel like cooking, but a bowl of cereal or scrambled eggs just won’t cut it.

So what’s the solution? Keep a stash of highly-processed, MSG-laden bagged meals in the freezer? You know, the ones with the sauce pellets that you nuke, stir, nuke some more? The ones that go on sale buy one get one every other week? Yikes!

There’s a better way to beat the 5pm dinner woes than a bag of mystery stir fry. I like to call it Investment Cooking. You put in a little extra time on the weekends or on a weekday when you’ve got some extra time, and you cook extra meals, double recipes, or just cook large quantities of a protein (roast beef, chicken, etc) to save for using on a later date. One of the best Investment Recipes that isn’t a recipe at all is a roasted chicken, or a boiled chicken. From a single chicken, you can end up with 8 cups of delicious homemade stock and at least 2 cups of meat. You can boil it to use the meat in casserole type dishes like enchiladas or pot pies (then you already have your stock made), or you can roast it and eat it alongside rice and a side salad, then boil the carcass (isn’t that an awful word?) for stock. The humble chicken is a power house in Investment Cooking.

Today’s topic, however, is one that’s a little more fun to think about than boiling a dead bird. Homemade hot pockets! Or if you want to be fancy, we can call them calzones. Whatever you title it, this recipe is my family’s all-time favorite food to have on hand in the freezer for work lunches, Sunday nights, or random Tuesdays when I just don’t feel like cooking. And let’s just say it – hand-held food is fun! And if one of your diners is a child, then hand-held is pretty much a guaranteed hit, at least at my house. It’s easy to double or even triple, and you can fill them any number of ways.

On a side note, any other children of the 80s out there? Is it just me, or can you still sing the Hot Pockets jingle? What about Bagel Bites? My mom never would buy this stuff for my sister and I – she insisted on homemade food, which I recall as a child thinking that was very uncool. Surely all the cool kids got food that magically cooked in the microwave. I also distinctly remember asking for those nifty Kid Cuisine TV dinners each time we went to the store and always hearing a resounding NO. We got the occasional grape soda in the summer, but that’s about as wild as things got. Man, I didn’t know how good I had it. Thank you, Mama, for laying the foundation of good homemade food (even though for a long time I thought you were just being mean not buying me nasty fake rainbow colored food).

Sorry, I get sidetracked easily. Back to homemade hot pockets! I mean, calzones. Dinner pockets? Whatever.

Let’s make some dough! This is a very versatile dough, and one you will do well to learn and have in your repertoire. You can make it ahead of time and stick it in the fridge, or double/triple the recipe: some to use now, some for later. You can make pockets, regular pizza crust, mini pizzas, plain little dough rounds (great with butter and jam for breakfast), or even pitas. If you’ve
never made bread before and phrases like “proof the yeast” freak you out, this is a perfect beginner recipe. Try it! I promise you can do it!

Our humble cast of characters: Flour, oil, salt, yeast, sugar (not pictured) and water (in the sink).
For the record, yes, I know many people think canola oil is evil. It was on sale, and works well in baking. Please don’t let this change your opinion of me. Feel free to substitute olive oil.
I’m not really a recipe follower (except for cookies and candy, which are sciences and not to be trifled with), so bear with me. Measure 1 ½ cups of warm water (tap is fine) into a glass measuring cup. How warm? Like a baby’s bath water. Lots of dough recipes call for taking
temperatures. If you are particular about these things, feel free to google yeast temperature charts and bust out your thermometer. But here’s a good rule of thumb: if it feels like it would be cold on your baby’s bottom, your yeast won’t like it either. If it would burn your baby’s bottom, you would kill your yeast. Simple, right?

Into your 1 ½ cups of baby bath temperature water, add 1 packet of yeast, or 2 ¼ teaspoons (this you do need to measure accurately) of bulk yeast. Sprinkle in some sugar (about a teaspoon), or a squirt of honey to feed your yeast. Set this aside for 10 minutes or so while you get out your mixer, bowl, dough hook, etc. This is called proofing. Your yeast will eat the sugar, and create lots of lovely foam on top of your warm, toasty water.

Ta da! Happy, well-fed yeast:

Now for the mixing. What?! No stand mixer? Never fear, a wooden spoon and your hands will do just fine. (But seriously, though, make a mental note to ask Santa for one next Christmas.)

Measure 3 cups of flour into your bowl. We’ll start with that, then add more as necessary. Use your favorite flour, so long as it is all purpose, not self-rising. Please don’t use bleached flour. Bleach doesn’t belong in food. Or diapers, either, but I guess that’s for another post.
Add 1 teaspoon of salt, and turn your mixer on low to start stirring. Use the dough hook. If you don’t have a mixer, just stir. Slowly pour in the yeast/sugar (or honey)/water mixture. Add 3 tablespoons of oil. Keep stirring or keep the mixer running on low until it’s all incorporated. Stop and scrape your bowl, then turn the mixer back on. It should look about like this, kind of ropey and gooey.

Slowly add in ½-1 more cup of flour, and continue kneading with the dough hook until the dough comes away from the sides of the bowl, like this:

If you are doing this by hand, you’ll probably have to knead in this last cup of flour, since by now the dough is slightly stiff and stirring would either be too hard or not effective.

At this point, cover your bowl (or put your dough back in the bowl) with a towel and set aside for a couple hours to rise. Or put it in the fridge and think about it tomorrow, Scarlet O'Hara-style. After a couple hours, it should look like this, and will smell amazing! Really! I love making dough and watching it change texture like magic. So does my 3 year old, which makes my heart happy.

At this point, you can turn your dough out onto a floured counter or board and have your way with it. Roll it out for one big pizza, pull off little bits and roll for mini pizza or pockets.
Or, once you roll out the little pieces of dough, let them rest and rise for another 30 minutes, then bake at a high temperature and you have pita pockets! Or if you’re 3, you can eat it as is. Raw. Yum?!

By the way, I highly encourage you to allow your children to help you in the kitchen. With practice, they can probably do much more than you might think! Here are Grant and I, working together to knead the dough after turning it out. I think it is so very important to teach children where real food comes from. Make bread together, so they know it’s not all pre-sliced from the grocery store. Put cream in a jar and shake it so they see what butter really is. Pick blueberries in the summer and make jam together. I even let my son help me stir things on the stove and slice vegetables (with a Pampered Chef spreader with a blunt serrated edge). Children learn by trying, and the more you let them try (and inevitably fail and make a huge mess) the more they
learn. And if they’re anything like my Grant, anything they make themselves they will be much more inclined to actually eat.

But back to the recipe…at this point, we pulled off bits of dough and rolled them into small circles. Don’t roll it too thin, or your calzones (or are we calling them pockets now?) might burst and ooze filling onto your baking sheet and it’s hard to scrape off. (Don’t ask me how I know this.)

I’m pretending you can’t see thesink full of dirty dishes. I cook a lot, ok? Let’s focus instead on the ¼ cup of flour my son is wearing and the fact that my fabulous husband is helping roll
out the dough. Dinner is a family affair around here. See? Here he is with Grant making the filling:

One of our favorite fillings is spinach ricotta, and we dip the finished calzones in marinara sauce. Here’s a basic recipe:

1 small container ricotta cheese
1 egg
½ package frozen spinach, thawed
and thoroughly wrung out
¼ cup parmesan cheese
½ C mozzarella cheese
Basil, oregano, onion powder,
garlic powder, salt and pepper to taste

Ta da! Thank you, sweetie!

Put a little blob (that’s a technical term) on each circle (use your imagination) of dough.

Fold over, and seal with your fingers or a fork.

Bake at 400 for about 15 minutes until golden brown.

I really wish this picture wasn’t blurry. Oh well. See the one in the middle that’s deformed? And the one on the left that’s oozing filling? That’s what happens when you let a 3 year old make your dinner. You know what, though? He ate it! So there!

Make a big batch of these with your family next weekend. Let the ones you don’t eat right away cool completely, then wrap them up in foil and toss them in the freezer. One night down the
road when your baby has a leaky diaper, your 3 year old has a tantrum at preschool, and your husband has to work late, you’ll be so glad you’ve got these yummy things tucked into the freezer! Just thaw them out, and warm in the oven. Ta da! Instant dinner, no microwave required.

Here is our other favorite filling – cheeseburger!

Brown a pound of ground beef with some diced onion and garlic. Drain, then stir in about ¼ cup of ketchup, a few tablespoons of mustard, and a few spoonfuls of dill or sweet relish. Put a slice of cheddar cheese on each rolled out dough round, then put a heaping spoonful of the meat mixture on top of the cheese. Seal and bake at 400 for 10-15 minutes.
Seriously, these are so good. It feels naughty, like fast food, or college-style from-the-freezer food. But guess what - you made it yourself! Hooray! Eat some more!
Happy Cooking, you guys! More recipes to come.
Claire Williamson


Jen Starks said...
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Laura Jackson said...

This looks so yummy! One of my resolutions this year is to make more homemade food, and this looks like a good one to try!