Meat Free Mondays – Garlic Bread Vegetarian Calzones

I’ve been working to perfect my calzones recipe lately and after a few calzone disasters, I finally found one that I’m happy with.

First of all, for those unfamiliar with calzones, they are simply pizza that is folded up into itself, sealed and baked. The result is a mouth-watering pocket of gooey mozzarella, tasty tomato sauce and whatever toppings you prefer.

You can make calzones with any pizza dough recipe you would like, but I’ve been making this garlic bread pizza crust recipe that I found on the wonderful blog “Mom Makes” because it is really flavorful and especially delicious.

For the filliing, I wanted to use all vegetables, but I was concerned that they wouldn’t cook soft enough sealed inside the calzone, so I gave them a quick saute ahead of time. The pizza sauce was my super easy and dependable pizza sauce I always make, but since I’m avoiding white sugar, I replaced it with the same amount of honey.

Finally, I used cute little mozzarella ovalini, which are balls of fresh mozzarella that are about the size of a golf ball. I just cut them in half and put a few in each calzone.

But what really makes this recipe something special is making a garlic butter sauce then brushing the calzones with it just prior to baking. It really brought the flavor to an entirely new level and is something I probably will be doing all the time from now on.

Garlic Bread Vegetarian Calzones

For the crust

1 cup lukewarm water (baby bath temperature)

1 TBS active dry yeast (or one envelope)

1-1/2 TBS honey

1-1/2 TBS Extra virgin olive oil

2 cups all purpose flour

1 cup whole wheat flour

1 tsp sea salt

1 tsp granulated garlic

1 tsp dried basil

1 tsp dried oregano

2 TBS unsalted butter

2 cloves garlic, crushed

For the pizza sauce

8 oz can of tomato sauce

1 TBS Italian seasoning

1 tsp honey

For the pizza

8 oz Mozzarella ovalini, cut in half

1/2 yellow pepper, ribs and seeds removed, julienned

1/2 red onion, julienned

4 oz can of sliced mushrooms, drained

4 oz can of sliced black olives, drained

1. For the sauce, combine tomato sauce, Italian seasoning and honey in a small pot and heat until bubbly. Turn off and set aside. Meanwhile, saute the peppers and onions, add the mushrooms and olives for the final minute to heat through and set aside. Melt butter in a saucepan, add garlic and cook until the garlic just starts to brown. Turn off and set aside.

2. In Kitchen Aid bowl, combine water, yeast, 1-1/2 TBS of honey and EVOO. Let sit for about 10 minutes until it starts to foam, indicating the yeast has activated. Meanwhile, in a mixing bowl, combine flours, salt, garlic powder, basil and oregano and mix together with your hands.

3. Add nearly all of the flour mixture into the yeast liquid — reserving about 1/2 cup for kneading — and blend on medium using the dough hook attachment until a dough ball forms, about three minutes. Sprinkle some of the reserved flour mix onto a work surface then transfer the dough ball and knead adding additional flour mix as necessary until dough is springy and no longer sticky.

4. Grease a clean mixing bowl with about 1 tsp of EVOO and place dough ball into bowl, turning so that all sides are oiled. This prevents a crust from forming as the dough rises. Cover with a clean kitchen towel and let rise in a warm, draft free place until dough has doubled in size, about an hour. Punch down and let it rise again if you want, but it’s not essential.

5. Preheat oven to 500F. Knead dough for a few minutes and let rest for a few more. Then cut dough into four peices. Using your hands and a rolling pin, form each peice into a thin circle, about 8 inches in diameter. When all four circles are complete, add a small amount of tomato sauce into the center of each, then a small amount of the sauteed vegetables, then about 3 or 4 ovalini halves.

6. Fold each circle over so that it forms a half moon, then roll the edges in toward the center about 1/2 inch. Use your fingers to pinch closed all the way around. Transfer calzones to greased baking sheets and brush generously with garlic butter.

7. Bake for about 15 minutes or until brown and crusty.

What sort of pizza variations do you like to make? Share your ideas in the comments section below. And thanks for looking at my blog!




Mediterranean Olive Loaf

In winter time, I like a homemade bread that can stand up to sturdy soups and stews, but not so heavy that it is a chore to eat.

That’s why I love this Mediterrean olive loaf. It has the texture of a good whole wheat bread without the treacly denseness of a pumpernickel or heavy rye. Plus it’s so easy to make.

Mediterranean Olive Loaf

Mediterranean Olive Loaf

There’s no greater cooking pleasure than making bread with your own hands. There’s something for all five senses — sight, smell, sound, touch and taste. Okay, maybe not so much sound, but four out of five isn’t bad!

This loaf is peppered with tiny specks of black olive. I also use the water the olives come packed in to make the loaf a deeper, satisfying grey-brown. And the fennel seed topping gives it just the right hint of licorice flavoring.

Like all breads, you can make this loaf into any shape you want. I chose the rounded ball, but it easily can be rolled into a long loaf, formed into rolls or placed into a traditional Pullman loaf pan. It would be really interesting to try it as a flatbread or even a pizza crust.

"This loaf is peppered with specks of black olive ..."

"This loaf is peppered with tiny specks of black olive ..."

I used medium whole black olives, but you could really use any kind of olive, including kalamata or green olives. Just remember to remove any pits ahead of time.

Mediterranean Olive Loaf

1-1/2 cups lukewarm water (baby bath water temperature)

1 TBS active dry yeast (or one envelope)

2 TBS honey

2 TBS molasses

2 TBS vegetable shortening (or butter)

3 TBS nonfat dry milk powder

1-1/2 tsp sea salt

2-1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1-1/2 cups whole wheat flour

1 cup rye flour

6 oz can medium black olives, sliced


1 TBS corn meal

1 egg, beaten

1/4 tsp coarse sea salt

1/2 tsp fennel seed

1. Pour the water from the olive can into a measuring cup then add enough water to bring it 1-1/2 cups. Heat in microwave until lukewarm, about 15 seconds on high. Pour into Kitchen Aid bowl (or mixing bowl) and whisk in yeast, honey, molasses and shortening. Let let sit until mixture begins to bubble, about five minutes. Meanwhile, combine milk powder, salt and the flours together in a separate bowl.

2. Attach the dough hook attachment to the Kitchen Aid (or just use a wooden spoon). Set to low speed, then slowly add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients. When combined, increase speed to medium and mix until dough is formed, about two minutes. Finally, add olives and mix until combined.

3. Flour a work surface and roll out dough. Knead with your hands for a few minutes, adding additional flour if necessary. The dough should be slightly tacky, but not sticky. Grease the bottom and sides of a clean mixing bowl with the EVOO, then place the dough in the bowl, rolling around so all sides are greased. Cover with a clean dish towel and let rest in a warm draft-free place until doubled in size, about an hour. Punch down, then let rise for another 30 minutes.

4. Spray a sheet pan with pan spray then dust with corn meal. Punch the dough down again, let it rest a minute or two, then cut in half with a sharp knife. Form the two loaves into whatever shape you want then place them on the sheet pan. Cover the loaves loosely with the dish towel and let proof about 30 minutes.

5. Preheat oven to 375F. Using a sharp knife, make 1/2 inch deep slits every two inches or so, then brush loaves with the egg wash and sprinkle with the coarse sea salt and fennel seeds. Place pan in oven and cook 30-35 minutes. You can tell that the loaves are done when they give a hollow sound when thumped on the bottom. Cool loaves on wire rack.

Do you have any favorite accompaniments to winter soups and stews? Why not share them in the comments section below? And thanks for looking at my blog!


Sunflower Seed Multi-Grain Bread

The weather has been particularly nasty around here the past couple of days. Since I currently work out my home office, I’ve been trapped in the house with our three dogs as the rain, wind and even snow have rolled through the Chicago area.

It’s days like these that are perfect for bread baking.

The oven warms the whole house and the aroma of baking bread wafts through every room, turning a lousy day into a magical experience. Even the dogs cheer up.

Autumn is perfect for a heavier bread, such as this multi-grain loaf with sunflower seeds. It’s denser than a traditional French baguette or a softer Italian loaf, yet not so heavy as a pumpernickel or Lithuanian rye. It goes perfectly with a bowl of hot homemade soup.

I reverse-engineered this loaf because I’ve had some sunflower seeds lying around that I bought a while ago while on a health kick and wanted to use them up. And they fit really nicely in this recipe. You can leave them out, or substitute walnuts or even raisins.

So when the weather turns nasty outside your house, mix up a batch of this dough, turn on your oven, and turn your day around.

Sunflower Multi-Grain Bread

1-1/2 cups lukewarm water (baby bath water temperature)

1-1/4 tsp active dry yeast (or one envelope)

2 TBS honey

2 TBS molasses

2 TBS vegetable shortening

3 TBS nonfat dry milk powder

1-1/2 tsp sea salt

2 cups all-purpose flour

1-1/3 cup whole wheat flour

1 cup rye flour

1/3 cup sunflower seeds


1 TBS corn meal

1 egg, beaten

1/4 tsp coarse sea salt

1. Whisk water, yeast, honey, molasses and shortening together in bowl of Kitchen Aid and let sit until mixture starts to bubble, about five minutes. Meanwhile, combine milk powder, salt and the flours together in a mixing bowl.

2. Using dough hook attachment (or just a wooden spoon), add dry ingredients into wet ingredients and mix until dough is formed, about two minutes. Then add sunflower seeds and mix until combined.

3. Pour out onto slightly floured work surface and knead for a few minutes to finish dough. Grease the bottom and sides of a clean mixing bowl with EVOO then add dough ball, turning over to coat all sides. Cover with a clean dish towel and let rise in a warm, draft-free space until about doubled in size, about an hour. Punch down, then let rise for another 30 minutes.

4. Spray a sheet pan with pan spray and dust with corn meal. Cut dough in half and form into desired shapes (I usually make one round loaf and one long loaf, or you can use bread pans). Place on sheet pan and cover loosely with a dish towel and let rest about 30 minutes.

5. Preheat oven to 385F. Use a sharp knife to make 1/2 inch slits every two inches or so, then brush loaves with egg wash and sprinkle with coarse sea salt. Place sheet pan in oven and cook 30 minutes. Cool on racks.

This recipe makes two 1 lb loaves. You can also use it to make about 24 dinner rolls, if you prefer.

What do you cook to warm up a cold, blustery day? Why not share your ideas in the comments section below? And thanks for looking at my blog!

Baking Your Own Garlic Bread

There’s something special about making your own bread for your family, especially this delicious, amazing garlic bread. Not only does it fill your house with a wonderful aroma, but it warms the hearts and feeds the soul of the people you love most.

I love garlic bread, but I don’t love those greasy frozen loaves you buy at the grocery store. Garlic bread should taste like garlic, not fake butter and salt. So I set out to create my own recipe.

I started with a basic French bread recipe. Simple enough. Then I roasted an entire head of garlic, crushed up the nutty brown cloves and kneaded them into the dough. Finally, just before baking, I sprinkled the formed loaves with a generous amount of granulated garlic and coarse sea salt.

The result: Amazing garlic bread that actually tastes like garlic, but doesn’t overpower and goes perfect with any pasta dish.

I chose a pasta recipe I’ve been making for almost 30 years that combines whole wheat pasta with steamed broccoli, Italian sausage and carmelized onions, tossed in a simple combination of extra virgin olive oil and grated parmesan cheese.

Garlic Bread

1 TBS fast-acting yeast (or one envelope)

1 cup lukewarm water (baby bath temperature)

1 TBS sugar

1 tsp sea salt

1 head roasted garlic, cloves removed and crushed

3-1/2 cups all purpose flour

3 TBS vegetable oil

1/4 cup cornmeal

1 egg white

1 TBS cold water

1TBS granulated garlic

1 tsp coarse sea salt

1. Cut the top off an entire head of garlic, drizzle it with a little EVOO, wrap in foil and bake at 350F until soft and brown, about 45 minutes. This can be done up to a day or two ahead of time.

2. Place yeast and sugar in bowl of Kitchen Aid mixer (or mixing bowl) and whisk in water and wait for bubbles to form (about five minutes, it means the yeast is activating). Meanwhile, combine the flour and salt in a mixing bowl. Add garlic and oil to liquid and attach bowl to Kitchen Aid, then add about half the flour mix and mix on medium using the dough hook attachment for about two minutes. Slowly add the remaining flour until  the dough is formed, about five minutes.

3. Dust a work surface with flour, then turn the dough out onto the work surface and knead for a few minutes until dough is smooth. Grease a mixing bowl with EVOO, then place dough ball into bowl and roll around until all sides are covered with oil. Cover with a clean dishtowel and let sit in a warm, draft-free place until doubled in size, about an hour.

4. Punch down dough, knead for another minute or two, then let rest five minutes under the dishtowel. Use pan spray to grease a baking sheet then sprinkle the cornmeal onto it. Cut the dough into two halves and use a rolling pin to form each half into a flat rectangle about 5″x18″. Roll up tightly, beginning with the 15 inch side. Pinch the edge of the dough into the roll to seal well and place on baking sheet.  Make 1/4-inch slashes across the top of each loaf about every 2 inches. Brush with cold water and let loaves sit uncovered in a warm, draft-free place until doubled, about an hour.

5. Preheat oven to 375F. Whisk together the egg white and 1 TBS water, then brush the loaves with the egg wash. Sprinkle each loaf with granulated garlic and coarse sea salt, then bake 35 minutes. Remove to cooling racks.

Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section below. And thanks for looking at my blog!

The Mystery of Foccacia Bread

One of the things that inspired me most to become a chef was bread.

Bread is alive. It eats, it breathes, it grows, it changes shapes. I was drawn to the mystery of how all those things happened.

Tomato and Mozzarella Foccacia

Tomato and Mozzarella Foccacia

Even after studying the scientific facts of bread, and memorizing lists of what each ingredient adds to the equation, and reporting on bread faults and what causes them, I’m still filled with a sense of wonder about the whole process.

I understand how it works. I just like to think about why it works because it’s beautiful and magical.

Baking bread is one of my favorite things to do. I’ve written before about how I wish more people would bake their own bread, and how easy and rewarding it is. The aroma of baking bread fills your house with goodness.

So when I came across a recipe for focaccia bread — an oil-rich Italian flatbread that is a relative to pizza — on the wonderful Hungry in Milwaukee blog, I knew I had to try it.

Foccacia dough is stickier than other bread doughs

Foccacia dough is stickier than other bread doughs

Focaccia dough is stickier than most bread doughs I usually work with. It reminded me of coffee cake dough with its tacky texture.

The inclusion of a sponge starter — a little bit of yeast, water and flour made the night before that helps foccacia to get a running start on fermentation — means it will have holes of various sizes, rather than than uniformity, when you cut it open. I like that.

But the real attraction for me is that you can pack foccacia with cheese, olives, onions, tomatoes, you name it, and it is strong enough to not only hold everything together, but stand up to the flavors and not let them overpower the bread.

A side note: Normally I can find sun dried tomatoes at one of the local grocery stores, but for whatever reason there weren’t any this week, so I made my own oven-dried tomatoes. Just cut some plum tomatoes in half, use your finger to pull out the seeds, salt them, let them drain face down for about an hour, then flip them over and roast them in a slow (200-225F) oven for several hours. The result is a tomato with a highly concentrated flavor, perfect for this recipe.

Sun Dried Tomato and Mozzarella Foccacia

Foccacia sponge

1/16 tsp active dry yeast

1/2 cup water

1/2 cup plus 3 TBS all-purpose flour

Combine yeast and water and let rest 5 minutes. Then add bread flour and stir. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and let sit at room temperature 12-24 hours. Sponge will become thick and bubbly.


1-1/4 cup plus 2 TBS water

1/2 cup EVOO

Focaccia sponge

1-3/4 tsp active dry yeast

2 TBS plus 3/4 tsp corn meal

3-1/3 cup all purpose flour, more if needed

1 TBS sea salt, plus more for sprinkling over loafs

4 oz fresh mozzarella, cut into 1/2″ cubes

4-5 sun dried or oven dried tomatoes, slightly rehydrated, rough chop

1 tsp dried thyme

1. Combine water, 1 TBS EVOO and sponge in bowl of Kitchen Aid mixer (or mix in bowl with wooden spoon if you don’t have one). Combine yeast, corn meal and flour in another bowl. Using dough hook, mix on low and slowly add the flour mixture to the wet mixture.

2. Add the salt and increase speed to medium. Mix until dough starts to pull away from the walls, about 6-8 minutes. Add additional flour if dough is too damp.

3. Pour TBS of EVOO into a clean mixing bowl, then use a napkin to spread the oil throughout the bowl. Turn the dough out into the bowl, then cover tightly with plastic wrap. Let it sit undisturbed in draft-free, warm place until doubled in size, about 90 minutes.

4. Gently dust a counter with flour, then turn dough out onto counter. Acting as if the round has four sides, fold the edges of the dough toward the center. Sprinkle a little more flour on top, flip the dough, then return it to another clean, greased mixing bowl and cover tightly with plastic wrap. Let double in size again, about an hour.

5. Measure out 1/4 cup EVOO, then pour evenly into two 9″ cake pans and swirl around so that the bottoms and walls are completely covered. Dust the counter again, turn out the dough again, then use a knife to cut into two equal halves. Place the halves in the cake pans then cover with a clean dishtowel and let rest about 5 minutes.

6. Use your fingers to poke holes in the dough and fill each hole with a cheese cube or sun dried tomato. Cover the pans with the dishtowel and let rest about 30 minutes. Meanwhile, preheat oven to 425F.

7. Just before putting the dough into the oven, brush with EVOO and sprinkle liberally with thyme and salt. Bake on center rack for 30 minutes, then move to lower rack for the final 5 minutes to form a crisp bottom crust. Remove from pans and cool on racks.

You can play around with different cheeses and herbs — cheddar and rosemary are a good combination — as well as vegetables, such as carmelized onions or olives. Foccacia is great on its own, or it goes well with pasta. I served mine with a gemelli in red sauce with grilled Italian sausage.

What bread recipes do you love to cook? Why not share them in the comments section below? And thanks for looking at my blog!

That’s right, Banana Bread!

Want to hear something weird? I get excited whenever our bananas start to go bad.

Because that means … wait for it … banana bread!

Bananas on the Turn

Bananas on the Turn

See, brown, mushy bananas are perfect for banana bread. The older a banana gets, the more flavor it develops. Have you ever eaten a banana that was still a little green? Almost no flavor at all, right? Now try one that has a few brown spots on it. Mucho flavor.

Let that same banana age another day or two and you are in for a culinary treat.

I love banana bread because it sounds healthy but is actually a sugary,  chocolatey indulgence: “What are you eating?” “Banana bread.” “Oh, okay, that’s good.”

I chock my banana bread with chocolate chips, so it kind of tastes like banana flavored chocolate chip cookies. There’s also a ton of butter in it, so it’s texture is dense and filling. My love for banana bread is tempered by the fact that I can’t eat very much of it without getting full.

Banana bread, still slightly warm from the oven with a hard brown crust on it, is like nothing else in the world. You don’t need to slather it with butter or add anything to it at all, except maybe a late winter afternoon and a cup of hot tea.

Now that’s living.

About 30 years ago, my mother and her friends collected recipes from all the ladies in our parish and published them in a book, “The St. Catherine’s of Alexandria Cookbook”.  A lot of the recipes are kind of dated, or at least not nutritionally “correct”, but I think that’s what I love about them. They are kind of like a document of how life was when I was growing up.

This banana bread recipe is from that cookbook.

Banana Bread

1/3 cup butter (5-3/4 TBS)

1 cup sugar

2 eggs, well beaten

3 TBS sour milk (or sour cream or buttermilk)

1 tsp baking soda

1 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp salt

3 bananas (the riper the better)

1 cup chocolate chips

Cream butter and sugar. Add remaining ingredients and mix well. Bake in greased bread pan at 350F for 1 hour or until a toothpick comes out clean.

I realized I haven’t had any baking recipes until now in this blog. That’s partially because it’s been warm out and baking goes more with cooler weather. But I admit that while I enjoy baking, it’s not my strong suit. Like they say, cooking is art, baking is more like chemistry.

But to improve I must focus on my weakness, so more baking. Plus it’s getting cooler out, so baking makes more sense now.

What tried and true recipes do you like to make for a cool autumn afternoon? Why not tell us about them in the comments section below? And thanks for looking at my blog!

Budget Cooking – The Bread Line

For our parents’ (or at least our grandparents’) generation, home baking was a part of everyday life. Homemade bread, dinner rolls or fresh biscuits were on the table at most family meals.

But in recent decades, we’ve gotten away from that due to people being much too busy for the time-consuming mixing, proofing and baking required for this family meal staple.

As a result, food producers have realized they can steadily increase the price of bread because it’s not something most people are willing to make at home anymore. A recent research trip to the local grocery store showed a basic loaf of plain white bread now costs anywhere from $1.78/loaf for Wonder Bread to $2.95/loaf for Sara Lee. Specialty artisan loaves can cost up to $5.00/each!

What we’ve forgotten, however, is that making our own bread is one of the most primal pleasures in life, dating back to our caveman days. When the aroma of fresh-baked bread wafts through your kitchen, I defy you to not feel a sense of serenity. And when you place the loaf you kneaded and baked with your own hands on your family’s table, there are few things more rewarding.

For a lot of people, myself included, once you start baking your own bread, it becomes
an obsession. How can I make it better, what can I add to it? What about sourdough starters? Quick breads? Brioche? Holiday breads? There’s no bottom to the bread maker’s obsession.

It also can be a fun activity for your whole family. Cut off a chunk of your dough and give it to your kids and they can play for hours kneading and shaping it into whatever they want. Where do you think the idea for Play-Do came from?

Here’s a simple white bread recipe that’s easy and foolproof. The quality is every bit as good, if not better, than any loaf on your grocery store’s shelf, plus there are no preservatives or artificial additives.

Also, this bread cost only $.98/loaf to make, less than half the cost of the average
store-bought loaf. Then there’s the satisfaction of having made it yourself.

This recipe makes two approximately 1 lb. loaves – one to serve right away and one to freeze for later or give away to a neighbor or friends. Save the bags and ties from store-bought bread and use them to keep your homemade loaves fresh longer.

Basic White Bread

1 pkg Active Dry Yeast

2-1/2 cups warm water (110-115F)

½ cup nonfat dry milk powder

½ cup vegetable oil

2 TBS sugar

1 TBS salt

8-1/2 to 9 cups AP Flour

1 TBS butter, melted

Mixed Bread Dough

Mixed Bread Dough

1. In a large mixing bowl, dissolve the yeast in ½ cup of lukewarm water (baby bath temperature). Once the mixture begins to bubble (about 5 minutes), add the remaining water, dry milk powder, oil, sugar, salt and 3 cups of flour. Use Kitchen Aid with dough hook  attachment or hand mixer (or just a wooden spoon) and mix at medium speed for three minutes or until smooth. Slowly add the remaining flour until a soft dough forms.

2. Lightly dust a counter with flour, then turn out dough and knead until completely smooth and elastic, about 5 minutes.  Place in a greased bowl, turning once to completely cover the dough with a thin sheen of oil. This prevents a skin from forming. Cover with a clean dishtowel and let rise in a warm, draft-free place until doubled in size, approximately 1 hour.

Let rise until double in size

Let rise until double in size

3. Punch down dough and knead for another minute. Let rest for a few minutes, then use a sharp knife to cut dough into two equal halves. Place the two pieces  in two 9”x5”x3” greased bread pans. Or for an Italian loaf, roll into torpedo shape, place on greased sheet pan, and cut 2-3 slits in top with sharp knife. Cover again and let rise until doubled, about another hour.

Form dough into loaves

Form dough into loaves

4. Pre-heat oven to 375F. Place pans in oven and cook until golden brown, about 35 minutes. Remove from pans to cool on wire racks. When completely cool, brush with melted butter.

Warning: Baking your own bread is highly addictive. Once you start, you’ll want to try all kinds of different variations. For example, try replacing 3 cups of the AP flour in the above recipe with whole wheat flour for a heartier, more dense whole wheat bread.

Once you get hooked, you’ll want to learn more about bread baking. There’s a ton of great books out there, but I highly recommend “Bread Alone,” by Daniel Leader, a master artisan baker who studied in France ($21.45 hardcover from Amazon, but try your local library first). The pictures alone are worth the cost.

Bread baking is one of the most fun culinary experiences you can have. I hope you take the time to try it out. If you enjoy it half as much as I do, it will be well worth the effort.

Have fun!