19 September 2014

Pizza Calzones (freezer meal)

There are very few meals that I make more than once.  On this blog I can only find a handful - carnitas, for sure, protein bars have become a morning staple, and a variation of poutine nearly every Sunday night.  I've got some jalapeno poppers in the fridge right now, and roast chicken is still a regular visitor to my kitchen.  This recipe has been in my arsenal on and off since sometime in college.  It's a great heat-and-eat meal - like the pizza pockets of yore, except they don't taste like cardboard.  They are my favorite in-need meal (ie instead of bringing casserole - bleh - I'll freeze some of these and bring them to a friend in need so that they can be reheated whenever).
 
The fact that they're appearing in my kitchen has almost become a sign that something is wrong.  Despite that, they are DELICIOUS and this time, they only mean that I'm about to be very short on time and need a reliable, semi-nutritious meal that I can pull from the freezer when I'm too exhausted to even chop up some veggies for a stir-fry.
I go super basic here.  Mushrooms, peppers, onions, and some red chilis.  Add to that some (turkey) burger and, for a treat, bacon.
This is a time-tested and approved move:  shred and add the cheese.  I go back and forth this move: add sauce to the filling?  Or leave out and serve on the side?
Pick your dough, let it rise.
Dust your work surface with flour, divide the dough.
Flatten and prep for stuffing.
Put a small amount of pizza stuffing in the middle of the dough.
Seal the dough up and place on a greased pan.
Bake until brown and perfect (and spewing filling...I haven't solved this one yet).
But! the important part is how delicious they are.  And the fact that they can be frozen and reheated to make a perfect busy-night meal.

Pizza Calzones
(makes 12 servings, recipe can easily be halved)
Ingredients*:
  • 1 lb ground burger or turkey, cooked
  • 3 strips of bacon, cooked and crumbled
  • 1 green bell pepper, chopped
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 4 oz mushrooms, chopped (roughly 2 cups)
  • 8 oz mozzarella cheese, shredded
  • Enough dough for two large-ish pizzas (I used 3 of these because they're dirt cheap and my give-a-crap was broken)
Instructions:
1. Grease a cookie sheet and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
2. Mix together all ingredients except pizza dough - this is the filling.
3. Divide the dough into 12 equal parts.  Flour the work surface, then take one portion of dough and flatten it out.
4. Scoop roughly 1/2 to 3/4 c. filling onto the dough.  Seal up the pocket of dough (if it isn't sealing well, use a twisting motion to combine both edges of the dough).  Repeat with remaining dough portions until pan is full - leave a few inches of space between each calzone.
5.  Bake at 350 for 15-20 minutes, or until the dough turns golden brown.  The time will change based on the size of your calzones, so be sure to keep an eye on the first batch.
6. (Optional) Let the calzones cool on a wire rack.  When cool, put in freezer bag and seal.  Throw in the freezer for up to two months. 

*I've made my decision:  the sauce is better on the side.  Plus, who doesn't love dipping their food in delicious red sauce?  Also, feel free to substitute filling ingredients - chicken, cheddar and broccoli sounds good.  Or how about chicken and spinach with a little mozza and asiago?  There's a whole world of fillings to be explored here.
These are so tasty, I should probably make them more often.  These are great for making in big batches - eat some right away, freeze the rest for those nights when you just don't have time to get a big meal on the table.  And I don't think I need to say, but these are definitely kid-friendly.  I've also made them using a gluten-free pizza dough mix and had great results that way too. 

12 September 2014

Jetsetter

I tried really hard to have a recipe or something worth reading this week, but I just have zero content right now and zero time to generate it.  Please keep your expectations low for September.  Instead, I'll be rehashing the epic tale of my travels last month.
It started out with Jimmy Johns, which is my go-to travel food.  If I'm eating a JJ #12, I'm most likely on a road trip (in this case, the road that led to the airport).  A few hours later, I was in Boston.  And half an hour after that, I was at Walden Pond.  THE Walden Pond, apparently there are two of them in the area.  Thus began my week-long habit of parking illegally.  I got to the Pond about half an hour before the park closed, and the ranger station wasn't staffed so I didn't really know what to do.  I just parked.  Oh well.
What I found was Thoreau's idyll, overrun by parents and children trying to squeeze in the last rays of the summer sun.  There was also a (replica) Thoreau cabin to explore.
The whole experience, I'm sorry to say, was completely the opposite of Thoreau's.  Rather than simple or self-sufficient, my side trip put me way behind and maybe even too late for dinner.  My phone died and I didn't have a car charger so I was forced to fire up the laptop just so I could get enough juice to navigate the ridiculous driving experience that is Boston.  My first post-Walden priority was Night Shift Brewing for their uniquely flavor-infused brews.
My selection did not disappoint.
Whilst there, I inquired with the bartender whether he knew of any nearby restaurants that were still serving food.  He recommended Sarma in Somerville, and it was an excellent choice.  Small-plate Turkish bites - absolutely fantastic.  In all honesty, if work hadn't been paying for it there's no way I would have eaten there (the prices were a little higher than what I'm used to), but if you're splurging it's definitely worth it.
The flavor profile reminded me strongly of our Moroccan Christmas last year.  So delicious.  And it was only a little bit weird to be eating alone.  Walking back to the car I realized I was yet again parked illegally - there was a sign hidden by a tree branch, and the car that had been parked in that area (the one that let me know it was okay to park there) had left.  After that it was a late check-in at the hotel and I was dead to the world until morning.
The next night I bee-lined for the coast.  I ended up in the fancy-pants section of town (again parked illegally - it was residents / parking by permit only, which I didn't realize until I'd been there for half an hour). 
I had a delightful chat with the couple in this photo.
From there, I headed to downtown Salem, where the overhyped death of 20 women has led to a huge commercialization of...witches. (I realize that comes off as insensitive.  What I mean is that there are many events in history where the death toll was wildly higher, and sometimes I feel that those events are not given the respect they're due, whereas the small number of deaths in this case is popular only for the bizarre circumstances.)
I stopped at a brewery to try some different craft beers, but I was ignored for so long that I decided I would rather be walking around while the sun was still out and the air was still warm, and I left before ever even talking to a server (disappointing).  It was a GREAT night to be wandering around town - perfect weather.  This was an odd sight in the middle of an urban setting - at first I thought it was fake but those are indeed very, very old gravestones.
Next was a late meal at another fantastic restaurant - Dube's Seafood.  I had found this one online before I left.  It was in the middle of a residential area and the building was extremely nondescript.  I even stopped some patrons outside the restaurant to confirm that the food was worth eating.  The waitress warned me that my swordfish would take some time, which made me concerned that she meant they had to thaw it first, but it was clear when it arrived that the time was due to its enormous size.  Lemon slice for scale?  Sorry for the filter, it was a dark restaurant and the filter improves the photo a bit. It was so perfectly cooked and so tasty, I was blown away.  I ended up taking half of it home and eating it for breakfast the next day.
Day 3!  I took approximately three photos because as soon as training was over I headed straight to the airport.  Harpoon brewing has an airport location so there was no question about where I was eating dinner.
My little brother picked me up at the airport and arranged a bed for me to sleep on, then I spent Thursday at the farm working in the gardens with him (okay, so I slept for the first few hours while he worked but after that I gave it 100%!).  Later, he pawned me off my my dad, who drove me up to Cadillac.  After saying hi to my parents, Kyle and I visited some friends and had some wine.  I have one photo from Thursday and it begs too many questions to actually post here, so here's Zeppy instead.  Actually, I have hardly any photos from the rest of the trip.
I visited the gardens where my mom works, we visited my grandma, we went canoing, we had a cookout, all great fun!  But no photos.  Oh wait.  It occurs to me that Kyle took photos at the cookout, but they're on the camera, not my phone.
Then on Sunday, we visited my other grandma.  It was really great to see family on this trip.  It's definitely been hard to be so far away while they've been going through so much.  And after the visit, we started our journey home - with a quick stop at Horrock's to pick up a few of the Michigan craft beers that we missed (huma lupa!).  You just can't find beer like this in SC!
We made good progress on Sunday but called it quits with ten hours left to go in the drive.  On Labor Day, we timed our lunch stop to sneak in a quick visit to Asheville, NC to try out a brewery there.  We stopped at LAB, and the beer was great but I can't recommend the food.  Hopefully it was just an off day for the cooks.  Oh, and this is a very "Asheville" story:  when we first parked, a guy came up to our window and said he was leaving and still had two hours left on his meter, and we were welcome to take his spot.  So yay for legal, paid parking!  And the kindness of strangers!
So that was my whirlwind trip.  Oh, and one last photo.  After spending half my week in gardens, I brought home tons of fresh produce, including this pile of heirloom tomatoes left out to ripen.  Sure, they're slightly blighted and I threw most out before they were usable, but I still got 12 pints canned this week!
It was a awesome trip, starting out with great food and ending with great people.  Excellent weather, fresh veggies, fresh air, fresh perspectives.  It was exactly what I needed.

05 September 2014

Things Worth Reading

So my last post was a little depressing.  I could have waited until I was in a better mood before writing it, but I firmly believe in posting the good, the bad, and the ugly.  I know that typically, life online is all about the "highlights," and I like celebrating the highs, but I also think it's important to give some time to the lows.  Maybe not quite as whiny and as in-detail as last week's post, but I think this post by Windtraveler sums it up nicely:  "Most of us share only the best and bury the rest which leads to a bunch of people seeing our "ideal" lives and feeling inadequate or insecure, or worse - making those of us who suffer feel tremendously alone in our pain."  Sometimes you just need someone to commiserate, especially when a lot of the people I'm close to (emotionally) are so far away (physically).
The world according to social media is perfect and it is total bull-crap.
I had a business trip last week!  That means I ate really good food.  I was pretty pleased to return home and find that the scale hadn't slipped upward, despite what I'm certain were a couple 4000 calorie days.  Luckily, I've read this article by Coach Calorie and so I try not to stress about a day or two of crazy eating.  The article is titled "How to Turn a Dietary Slip Up Into Weight Loss Gold," but even if you aren't trying to diet and lose weight, it's a nice reminder that you can't gain five pounds in a day.

While I was in Michigan, I gathered tons of fresh produce to cart home to South Carolina.  This means STIR FRY!  And conveniently, one of the blogs I subscribe to posted a bunch of really delicious looking stir fry recipes.  I can't wait to try a few.

I've been looking at our finances pretty closely lately - our cost of living has gone up immensely - and came across this article by The Simple Dollar.  It outlines the four stages of financial independence:  freedom from the paycheck-to-paycheck cycle, freedom from debt, freedom from your job, and freedom from employment.  These are definitely in line with where I want to take my life!  It's exciting stuff.

In my efforts to cut our spending I've been looking into some unconventional methods.  This article outlines some awesome ideas that also reduce your environmental impact.  For instance, the author decided to stop buying single-use convenience items:
If I couldn't think of a suitable reusable replacement, I called my mom and dad and asked what they used when they were growing up instead of Saran Wrap (a plastic shower cap) or a to-go coffee mug (a jar with a tight fitting lid). Every single use item has its reusable counter part. Often it took just a few moments of looking around the house to find a suitable reusable replacement — a practice that is actually way more convenient than driving to the store to buy consumables.
And lastly, while writing this post I got a call from my dad.  My grandma passed away today, so if you're in the mood, sing a hymn in memory of my sharp-witted, travel-inclined grandma.  Heaven is a little brighter today.
She took a couple of my cousins and I on a trip to the British Isles.  Here is what she thought of the haggis that we tried while in Scotland!
 
She will be missed, but I'm grateful that we made the trip up to Michigan in time to see her again.

29 August 2014

Moving on to September

August.  The month from hell.  The heat was fine, it was all the other stuff that totally. fell. apart.
So.  August.  Good riddance.
  • Elderberries are now fair game.  The neighbor helped us pick a crapload and even aided the de-stemming process.  5 gallons of wine are fermenting in the carboy and I've got plans to make a small batch of port out of the berry remains.
  • Prickly pears.  I want to at least try some prickly pear juice, but I'd love to make wine out of it.  Right now all I've done is make a tiny amount of juice out of one pear.  It was not sweet.  It was not very good.  I did not die (or get really cold) after drinking it.
  • Buy a flippin house.  Ugh.  Can we not talk about it?
  • Car oil change.  Done.  By Kyle.  Because I find it impossible to make it to normal 9 - 5 businesses within normal business hours (hint:  I tend to work that same schedule).
  • Bus work.  Hey, that's done!  We did some of it and another place did some of it and hopefully when we get home it's going to be awesome.
  • Enjoy the pool more.  I went down to the pool a couple times.  It's pretty great unless there are kids.  There, I said it.
I feel really defeated right now, so I'm not even going to bother with goals for September.  I've already done some pathetic venting on facebook, so I'm going to try to give the cliffnotes here.  We've found two foreclosed houses that we've wanted to buy, but they were both being sold by super-sketchy online auction sites.  After doing research (the seller limits their liability 100%!  They won't turn on the water and electricity for an inspection!  It's not a scam, but it's close enough!) we've decided that any home being sold by these sites is off our table - as a first-time home buyer I'm not interested in taking on that kind of risk.

But our lease is up, so we're looking for a new apartment with a competent landlord.  We found one we both really liked, and kept trying to set up a showing with the current tenant.  We really wanted to see it before turning in our notice to our current landlord, and after two weeks of failed attempts I finally was able to see the house the morning before I flew out for a business trip.  Right down to the wire - I wanted to give notice before the first of the month and the day I flew out was the last day I'd be around in August.  It's been stressful.

While all this was going on, Kyle's vehicle overheated and died.  The mechanic quoted us $7k to put a new engine in it, which is about the value of the car.  Kyle ended up selling it as-is, although the money he got for it barely covered the $1200 mechanic bill just for taking the engine apart to see what would need fixing/replacing.  So that's been a huge loss of assets, which is why the bus is currently in the shop - we're lucky enough to not NEED a second vehicle but it sure is nice to have.  Plus we want to use the bus!  But losing the Escape has been very hard on both of us.

We scrambled to get all this figured out before last weekend, because we both had business trips this week that ended with us both in Michigan to say goodbye to someone who might not be around next time we make it north.  So while trying to squeeze as many hours from the day as possible, I've also been dealing with the emotional ramifications of contemplating death and what I should say to someone I might never see again.  Not to mention the thought of someone I love suffering.  It's been hard.

I know all the right words - we'll figure it out, things will work out eventually, this will pass.  Just do what you can today, tomorrow will be a new day.  

I feel like I'm barely recovering from yesterday's bruises before today starts swinging.  I'm actually writing this on the 24th, as I don't know how much time I'll have this week whilst traveling.  I'm really looking forward to this week.  I'll finally have some downtime where there's literally nothing I can do about my situation, which means all I can do is enjoy exploring a new city.  There will be no work-life stress and minimal home-life stress.  And at the end of the week I get to see my family.  So by the time you read this, I'm sure I'll have recovered from August a great deal.  Right now I'm still pretty black and blue.

And as always, photos from my month.  Starting with hiking on a rainy day.
The scenery is a little different than hiking in Michigan.  The spiders are bigger, too.
I love it when it rains here.  It is a quick, intense storm.  The temps drop a little afterwards.  The sun comes back out.  
We stopped at the favored taco truck for some tacos al pastor and the horchata that inspired this post.
We tasted Kyle's first homemade Belgian - and approved.
And, you know, this happened.
And life goes on.  The photo at the top of the post is from pinterest - my mother-in-law just sent it to me a few minutes ago.  I may not feel better today, but I know after this month, I can handle just about anything.  Except the ridiculous comma that I edited out of the image before I posted it here.

22 August 2014

Authentic Mexican Horchata (and a bonus recipe)

It's been way too long since I posted a drink recipe, so after trying the horchata at our favorite Mexican taco truck I knew I had to recreate it at home.  I've already described it as the Mexican eggnog, but don't wait until the holidays for this drink.  It's perfect for hot summer days, and pairs well with spicy carnitas!
Horchata can easily be made vegan / dairy free (and possibly even improved) by using almond milk instead of cows milk.  In fact, I would bet that a homemade roasted almond milk would add unbelievable flavor to this cinnamon-spiked drink.  Or if you're really getting into the holiday spirit, a shot of rum wouldn't be out of place either...
And I know I've posted a recipe for carnitas before, but PEOPLE! you need to try this version.
The great news is that carnitas take extremely minimal effort.  Take all the ingredients, throw in the crockpot and...that's it.  And with my crockpot in long term storage (why!?  Why would I do that!?) I've found that you can also make these just as well on the stovetop.
Top with the most minimal topping ever - minced onions, cilantro and lime juice marinated for a couple hours - and you have the. best. taco. ever.  I don't even like onions, but somehow the cilantro-lime marinade just works.

Authentic Mexican Horchata (based on this recipe)
Ingredients:
  • 2 c. long grain rice
  • 3 c. hot water
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 4 c. milk*
  • 1 c. sugar (or less - to taste)
Instructions:
1.  Put the rice and hot water in a large bowl (with a lid).  Break the cinnamon stick into a few pieces and add it to the bowl.  Let sit for 2 hours up to overnight.  It does not need to be refrigerated.
2.  Blend the rice/water mixture until the rice is finely ground.  Using cheesecloth, strain out the rice solids.  Mix in the remaining ingredients - I found that one cup of sugar was too much, so I would start out with half a cup and taste test from there.
3.  Refrigerate the horchata up to four days. 

*I would highly recommend making almond milk out of roasted almonds and subbing that in.  It is less traditional, but makes the horchata dairy-free!
Even Better Carnitas (based on this recipe)
Ingredients:
  • 3 lbs pork shoulder
  • 1 c. water
  • 1 onion
  • 1 orange
  • 2 cinnamon sticks**
  • 4 garlic cloves
  • 2 tsp roasted cumin
  • 2 tsp chili powder
  • 2 tsp cayenne pepper (or to taste)
  • 1/2 tsp pepper
  • 1 1/2 tsp salt
Instructions:
1.  Trim the fat off the pork as you cut it into 2-in. pieces.  Heat a large pot dish (cast iron or something with a thick bottom works best) over medium-high heat on the stove.  Sear the pork for a couple minutes.  Gently pour in the water.
2.  Quarter the orange and chop the onion.  Add both to the pork.  Break up the cinnamon sticks into a few pieces and add those too!  Add in the rest of the ingredients.
3.  Bring the pot up to a boil then turn the stove down to a low setting OR throw the whole mess in a crockpot.  Cover the pot with a tight fitting lid.  Cook the pork on low for 5 to 7 hours, until it easily shreds.  Drain the broth (save for later use - makes an awesome soup!) and shred the pork.  Discard the cinnamon sticks and orange remains.

**Seriously, do not skip the cinnamon sticks.  Seriously.  You won't believe the flavor they add.
Make these spicy carnitas and soothe the burn with a sip of this amazing horchata.  And if there's anything that can be done with rice flour strongly tinted with cinnamon, let me know - I'd love to try it!

Edit:  I made these snickerdoodle cookies with the rice flour (first I dried it in the oven on the "warm" setting for about 45 min, then I ran it through the blender again, then I put it through a sifter that didn't really help too much).  The cookies were still pretty grainy.  But delicious.  Oh, also, since there was plenty of cinnamon in the flour I didn't add any to the cookies as the recipe directs. 

15 August 2014

Bus Update: New brake lines

It's been a while since there's been a post about the bus - May was the last one - but there's a good reason for it.  Transition and apartment living haven't lended themselves to bus work.  Just letting it sit unused in the parking lot was driving us crazy, though, so we did a little stealth work this weekend (disabling a vehicle in the parking lot is discouraged at this apartment, so we're choosing to broadly define "disabling" - and also do our work after-hours).
Two of the biggest things keeping us from driving Sixer on a regular basis are the brakes and the exhaust leak.  The latter of those might take some serious effort, but according to the samba the brake issue was a pretty easy fix.
Our problem is that the bus would pull to the left when braking hard - we discovered this when a light turned red and Kyle hit the brake pedal like he meant it.  Prior to that we were babying her pretty well.  The samba reiterated the root cause:  "Sometimes the hose collapses inside & does not allow the fluid to return after braking."  Pulling to the left indicates there is an issue with the brakes on the right.  So, new brake hoses in the front of the bus (both sides).  In the above photo you can see the old hose and the new one.
Kyle hit the old hoses with PB Blaster every day for a week or so, which made the project relatively easy.  Unscrew the nuts, pull off the tabs, remove the old hose.  Thread on the new hose, torque down the nuts, replace the tabs.
Bleed the brakes, replace the fluid in the system.
Take her for a test drive.  No more pulling to the left!  All in all the project was pretty quick, and greatly eased by the tasty IPA we bottled a couple weeks ago.