Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Everything Calzone

I'm a firm believer that food doesn't always have to look beautiful, and I'm not just saying this because the calzone that I made looks a bit like a sunburnt foot. Sure it's nice to make something that's all symmetrical and perfect-looking, but sometimes the rustic route just does it for me. With perfection you don't get the uneven bits that crisp up better than the rest. You don't get those fat mouthfuls that are devoid of anything except gooey cheese. And sometimes, with perfection you plain just don't fit it in the baking tray. I call this the Everything Calzone because that's pretty much what it is; everything that's sitting in the fridge that would taste good cooked and encrusted in a golden dough shell finds it's way in there. The Everything Calzone starts on a Friday with personal pizzas. Get some friends round, buy a ton of meats, cheeses, fillings and whatever, make a load of pizza dough, do personal pizzas, have a few drinks - you're officially the coolest person in the world. Better yet, there's always going to be dough and fillings left over for a Sunday calzone and maybe a cheeky garlic bread or two.
The basic pizza dough recipe starts with 500g of white flour and a couple of teaspoons of salt, sieved into a large bowl. Mix a 7g sachet of dry yeast, a couple of tablespoons of olive oil and 1/2 a tablespoon of caster sugar into about 320ml of lukewarm water. Add the liquid mixture bit by bit, stirring constantly until it starts to come together, then go in with your hands, mixing it up until you have a dough that you can turn out onto the countertop (which you so cleverly have pre-dusted with flour). Knead until it's nice and springy, then put back in the bowl, cover with a damp towel and leave in a warm place for an hour. Once it's doubled in size, punch it back down (the MOST fun), knead it out and portion. I have no clue about weights, but a ball the size in the picture above makes a deliciously king-sized calzone.
Roll your dough out flat on a floured work surface then ideally transfer to a sheet of baking parchment or a massive baking tray. Note that I did neither. I am a nincompoop. When you start loading the calzone (and load it we will), funnily enough it just gets harder and harder to move around until you're left wondering how you're going to fit the dining table into the oven. Start off with a nice tomato sauce base, spread on just over half of the dough. Homemade is ideal, but this was a lazy one for me.
You can go in with anything you want here, literally go nuts. I packed mine high with some broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, peas, onions, artichoke....
...spinach, loads of grated cheese, and of course all of the meat you can possibly get your hands on. This picture doesn't really do it justice, but I had some salami, some pancetta, a bit of pastrami going on, some ham, a few slices of was pretty epic. Make sure you leave a good half inch clear or so around the edge or else you won't be able to fold the dough over and you'll end up with a pizza, and a very odd looking one at that. Salt, pepper and olive oil your creation and then wet the edge on the half with the filling, stretch over the other half of dough, trim off the excess dough, crimp the edges with a fork and you're done.*
*All easier said than done. But play around with it, get a bit messy and see what happens. Try not to tear the dough, but it's certainly no waste if it has to be patched up a bit. This is roundabout the time when I realised that I had forgotten to put something underneath and began furiously scratching my head. If you're feeling super fancy you can brush it with egg wash for an extra crisp, then bang it in the oven at about 200C, for maybe 30 minutes or so (scientific, I know) but keep checking to make sure. This is one of those things that you know when it's done - it just looks ready to eat.
Once it's finished, slice it up, serve with some salad and marvel at the delicious food you created with your own two hands. Then think about all the cleaning up you have to get started on with your own two hands. If there's any chance that any of this guy survives the evening, it's equally awesome cold for lunch the next day. You're welcome.

Sunday, 13 May 2012

Baked Rice Pudding with Strawberry Jam

They say you don't know what you've got til it's gone. For many people this particular adage refers to a first love or a friendship. Joni Mitchell famously sung these words to lament when 'they paved paradise and put up a parking lot.' Now I don't care about any of that stuff - I miss my rice pudding. When I was growing up - a little blonde-haired, buck-toothed kid - my mom used to make the most delicious rice pudding on the regular. It's one of my fondest memories of growing up, right alongside swimming lessons, jam sandwiches and the Paul Daniels Magic Show, and I probably didn't appreciate it as much as I should have at the time. So when Charlie told me she didn't like rice pudding but would be willing to give it another try, I knew what I had to do.
After I'd gathered all of the ingredients together I began to understand why mom probably made a conscious effort to ween her children off of rice pudding at an early age. Cream, full fat milk, butter and a load of sugar..she would had a few hyper little chubbies running around. So perhaps it's just going to be a treat from now on. You'll need about 100g of pudding rice, 50g of sugar, 2 cups of single cream, the same of full fat milk, 25g of butter, nutmeg and a vanilla pod.
If I have any ardent followers, I apologise for the lack of posts in the past few weeks. I've just moved flats and have been living in an Internet-less world, sitting around on camping chairs and sleeping on a single air mattress. I know, I know, world's smallest violin right? Anyway here's a closeup of some pudding rice, find it in the baking section of any decent supermarket. Rinse it under cold water then place in a large flat oven dish that's been greased with butter (extra chubbies). Preheat the oven to 160C.
Pour the cream, milk and sugar into a saucepan. Slice the vanilla pod lengthways and scrape out the seeds and add these to the pan, along with a good grating of nutmeg - essential to any decent rice pudding. Heat gently, stirring constantly, until it just starts to boil. Remove from the heat, let cool, pour into a tall glass, chug - breakfast of champions. Or if you fancy, pour over the rice, dot with squares of butter and stick in the oven. Check regularly, and stir after 20 minutes or so.
One of the best things about rice pudding is that it doesn't come with a coulis. It doesn't come with a veloute or a foam. It comes with JAM. Good old, chunky British Strawberry Jam.
Wash and chop about a dozen strawberries then blend with couple of tablespoons of caster sugar, the juice of half a lemon and a drop of water until you've got a nice jammy consistency. I add a couple of drops of balsamic vinegar here as cuts through the sweetness and works a treat.
Roughly chop a few more strawberries and stir through to give it a bit more bite. Any leftovers will be great on toast the next morning, if slightly less healthy than your regular bowl of Weetabix.
The rice pudding should take about an hour and a half, but keep checking after an hour or so - it should have a nice gooey, creamy texture and a golden brown crust. With a generous spoonful of jam on top, it really can't get any better than this. For the record, Charlie liked it.