Calzones for a Crowd

December 26, 2007

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Cooking for one—when I was in college (though, let’s be honest, cooking was pretty rare during my college days) and when we were in D.C., while Kevin was in grad school and sometimes had night class—was tough. It’s difficult to buy portions, divide up recipes and, more than anything, to get excited about cooking for yourself. Cooking for two can have many of the same problems in terms of portions and recipe quantity, but, at this point, I’m pretty used to it.

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Even though I’ve gotten the hang of cooking for two, I still revel in having an extra person or two (or ten) at the table when I’ve cooked breakfast, lunch or dinner. That’s one reason why I love Family Dinner so much. It’s also a major reason why I enjoy going home for the holidays. As you’ve probably noticed from the last few days’ posts, my status as a food lover does not make me unique in my family. Holidays often center around meals (and snacks and sports and card games, too).

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While my mom had a file folder bulging with recipes to try over this long Christmas weekend, I was pretty sure I’d have my chance to cook for the crowd too. And while I absolutely adore cooking for a crowd, it’s also not without its challenges. Especially when the appetites you’re aiming to please span more than fifty years and various likes and dislikes.

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As Sunday night rolled around, I got to thinking about a dinner that would suit the evening, which was going to be anchored by an important Vikings game and a blizzard, and the appetites. The answer came to me: calzones. I was looking for something that involved a “project” of sorts—something I might not do on an ordinary night. Making pizza dough fit the bill. And I definitely wanted something cozy. A packet of dough swollen with delicious ingredients satisfied that criterion. And, of course, I had to have something that would please everyone. By stuffing four calzones with different fillings, I had my perfect meal.

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We settled on the following calzones: (1) Italian sausage and spinach, with mozzarella, (2) Canadian bacon and cheddar, (3) roasted peppers and mushrooms with fontina, and (4) pepperoni and mozzarella. An informal poll after dinner revealed that the meat lovers were satisfied (more with the sausage than with the pepperoni, which just wasn’t bulky enough to fill the calzone’s pocket), the mushroom hater had plenty to enjoy despite the calzone featuring roasted veggies, and the more traditional palates weren’t pushed outside of their comfort zones (Canadian bacon was the favorite there). A great success. And infinitely adaptable for one, two or ten—both in terms of numbers and appetites.

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Christmas Morning Mimosas

December 25, 2007

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Mimosas are not an every morning kind of thing (unfortunately). And more than that, these mimosas are not an every mimosa-morning kind of thing. These mimosas are sort of like the Cadillac of all mimosas.

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After a joyful night of feasting, gifts and carols, we all woke up this morning excited to sift through our gifts—reading instruction manuals, trying things on and packing gifts up for the trip home. All this had us very hungry, of course. Good thing my mom had an incredible brunch in store.

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We dined on a great frittata (loaded with spicy greens and ricotta), freshly-baked cinnamon rolls, smoky breakfast sausages fresh from a local source, and a gorgeous plate of fresh fruit. All this had us very thirsty, of course. Good thing my mom had some wonderful mimosas in store.

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And, like I said, not just any mimosas. With Grand Marnier, a festive sugared rim and a lining of pomegranate seeds, these mimosas were definitely holiday-worthy. We sipped on them while we were opening gifts from our stockings. And during the intense game of Taboo that ensued. And during the card games that came next. Obviously, it’s time for a Christmas Day nap.

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Mother Knows Best

December 24, 2007

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I’ve resigned myself to the fact that I simply will never be able to make certain things as well as my mom.  She makes an excellent cup of coffee, the chewiest cookies, the most delicious breakfast potatoes and the list goes on.  One that has particularly roiled me is her stuffed mushrooms.  She makes them for all her parties and they are always quick to vanish. 

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I tried to recreate my mom’s version several times and finally gave up.  For our holiday party this year, I went for a new recipe all together.  I wrote about the results here.  As I said, they were just okay.  So when my mom announced she was making stuffed mushrooms—her stuffed mushrooms—yesterday, I jumped at the chance to spy.

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My sleuthing uncovered a few tidbits: use a grapefruit spoon for cleaning out the mushrooms, double the herbs and be sure to use ciabatta (crust removed).  I still have a sneaky suspicion that, even armed with this inside knowledge, my mushrooms will never be as good as hers.  

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And they were good.  The filling is really savory, and flavorful enough to stand up to the strong earthiness of the mushrooms.  We had some leftover filling, which was no problem.  We baked it up in a small soup crock and it was perfect for dipping.  I’m looking forward to trying these once I’m back at home, but, as I said, my hopes aren’t high that I’ll approximate my mother’s.  I’ll just have to keep coming home for them, I guess.

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The Gift of Spin

December 23, 2007

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Okay, okay! I know this isn’t exactly the most festive recipe to share today. A quick glance around the blog-o-sphere lets me know that most people are immersing themselves in baking, whipping up last minute homemade gifts and planning Christmas feasts. But, as I’ve told you, I’ve been a leetle busy with exams, so rather than being in the kitchen with any one of these glorious tasks, I’ve been buried under books. So forgive me for this not-so-festive post. That said, I like to think I have the gift of “spin”—I can make this post into a holly, jolly post if only I try hard enough.

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Picture this, you’ve just finished trimming the tree. You’ve got fresh-from-the-oven cookies cooling on several wire wracks. And you are heading out to the ice rink for a little ice skating. (PS: I haven’t told my not-so-winter-sports-oriented husband yet, but I’m pretty sure that an ice rink–and possibly even a pick-up game of hockey–is going to be part of this holiday. I’ll be sure to let you know how that goes.) What do you want to greet you when you return home (aside from a house twinkling with Christmas lights and warm with holiday cheer)? Why, a steaming cup of soup, of course! (If you answered hot chocolate, I’m sorry, but you lose. This is my game.)

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So, let me assure you that this soup will provide just the post-ice-rink warmth (both because of its temperature and because of the considerable heat imparted by jalapenos and chili powder) you’ll need. And this soup is not only hot, but it’s smoky (cumin) and hearty (lots of veggies) and perfectly tangy (freshly squeezed lime juice). Top it with tortilla strips or a dallop of sour cream or slices of avocado (or all of the above) and enjoy.

 

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Snowy Morning Breakfast

December 22, 2007

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After braving the traffic, fog and drizzle on the roads last night, we made it to Minnesota. We were greeted by a house draped with fresh garland and aglow with twinkling lights, warm from a blazing fire. It’s Christmas.

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Everyone waited up for us last night, but we weren’t much fun. After a long week of work and exams and a long drive, we crashed pretty quickly. And, oh, did we sleep well. The morning brought the surprise of a fresh layer of beautiful, light, bright white snow. Oh, and the most satisfying, hearty and holiday-ish breakfast possible: baked oatmeal.

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Admittedly, some were not thrilled with the prospect of oatmeal for breakfast. But this was nowhere near boring or bland. By using dried cranberries over raisins and swapping pecans for walnuts, this dish was perfect. And it’s got everyone ready for a day of last minute shopping and wrapping. As we noshed this morning, we kept coming up with more permutations for this dish: dried cherries, pistachio, a drizzle if icy cold cream, a sinful scoop of ice cream, an extra dusting of cinnamon. Whatever form it takes, it would be a wonderful addition to any snowy morning—like a leisurely Christmas morning.

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