Remember yesterday how I shared with you the recipe for Sunset's best pizza dough? Well, today I'm going to show you what I did with the dough.

While it finished rising, I sauteed some onions and green peppers (as I wanted to make a supreme calzone, as opposed to Conservative Hubby's standard pepperoni and cheese version).

It's a good idea to saute any meat or veggies before you assemble the calzone, as this releases excess moisture that otherwise would be released inside the pocket of dough (if that happens, the dough gets soggy).

Then, once the dough was done rising, I divvied it up into six pieces. One at a time, I rolled the balls out into a circle on a lightly floured surface.

First, I applied the pizza sauce all over the dough, to within a half-inch of the edge.

Then I sprinkled on veggies, meats, and cheese onto half of the sauce-covered portion.

Next I folded the unfilled side over the filling and pinched the edges together.

I repeated this process with the other five pieces of dough, then placed all of the calzones on a baking sheet coated with cooking spray.

I put the calzones in the oven, then promptly removed them because I forgot to poke the top of them with a fork to let steam escape.

Then back into the oven they went, where they baked at 425 degrees for roughly 15 minutes (until they turned golden brown).



Sunset's Best Pizza Dough

I love pizza. Especially homemade pizza. But I have yet to find the ultimate homemade pizza crust.

The packaged ones you can purchase at the store, mix with warm water, and bake are OK. But just OK. Not great.

So now that I've realized working with things like yeast isn't so hard, I've been on the lookout for a good pizza crust recipe.

I found one that looked easy—and good—as I was flipping through some recent issues of Sunset (one of my favorite magazines, despite the fact I no longer live out West). So, naturally, I decided to give it a try.

I began by stirring 1 package (2 1/4 tsp.) active dry yeast into 1 1/2 cups warm water (100 to 110 degrees) in the bowl of a stand mixer. I let it stand until the yeast dissolved, about 5 minutes.

Then I added 1/4 cup olive oil, 4 cups flour, and 1 1/2 tsp. salt.

Next I mixed it with a dough hook on low speed to blend, then mixed it on medium speed until the dough was very smooth and stretchy, 8 to 10 minutes.

The dough felt tacky. (But, fortunately, I wasn't feeling tacky myself.)

I covered the dough and let it rise at room temperature until doubled in bulk, about 1 1/2 hours.

Then I punched the dough down and let it rise again until doubled, 30 to 45 minutes.

From here, I moved on to making calzones, which I'll share with you tomorrow.

This recipe actually was made for grilling, which I'm pretty excited about trying once it's grilling weather (read: not 10 degrees). You can get the rest of the recipe for grilling here.

I'd definitely make this crust again (for regular pizza or calzones). It was incredibly tasty. But I'd also like to try it with whole wheat flour. Any great crust recipes you can't live without? I'd love to try them if you're willing to share!


Some (Live) Country Music

On Sunday evening, Conservative Hubby, T-Bear, Kid Sister, and I (is it just me, or does that sound like a list of characters on a cartoon?) headed to Bloomington for two very important reasons: sushi and country music.

What? You don't think those two go together? I do.

After we had sushi at a new restaurant in B-Town, we were off to the Brad Paisley concert at the U.S. Cellular Coliseum.

It was a great concert. The opening acts, Justin Moore and Miranda Lambert, were pretty good, but Brad Paisley was definitely the headliner for a reason.

I think it helps when you can sing along to every song. And when there are great—but not overdone—effects. And when the fellow up on stage in his Wranglers and cowboy hat is a serious performer.

(And his security folks are also pretty serious too, as evidenced by the woman who jumped up on stage with Paisley and was instantly hauled off by a security guard and a police officer. I have a feeling she regrets that move.)

Even if you're not a huge country fan, you'd have enjoyed the concert. I'm just sure of it.


Chocolate Chip Bread Pudding with Vanilla Cream Sauce

You're not on a diet are you? You aren't still on the post-holiday healthy eating bandwagon?

Wait a second. You are?

Well, good for you. Keep it up. And my apologies, in advance, for what I am about to post.

It's not that I'm against healthy eating. In fact, I'm very much a proponent of it. It's just I'm also a big proponent of things like this.

Chocolate chip breading pudding.

And, yes, the verdict is in: It's as good as it looks.

I made it on Thursday only because I wanted to use up some bread that was getting old. Well, and because Conservative Hubby and I must. have. sweets. Every day, even if only a nibble.

Keep in mind that this isn't the world-famous, secret-recipe bread pudding M.B. makes. This one is from the Better Homes & Gardens cookbook. But it's good, very good. I'd make it again, that's for certain.

All you do is dry 4 cups of bread cubes. The recipe calls for French or regular bread cubes (basically 6 or 7 slices of bread cut up). I used leftover homemade wheat bread instead. Either way, you just place the bread cubes in a large, shallow baking pan and bake them for about 10 minutes in a 350-degree oven.

Presto, dry bread cubes.

While the bread cubes cool, beat together 4 eggs, 2 1/4 cups chocolate milk, 1 tablespoon vanilla, and 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon.

Then toss the bread cubes in a 2-quart square baking dish with 1/3 cup semisweet chocolate chips. Add more chocolate chips because that doesn't look like enough.

Now it's time to pour the egg mixture evenly over the bread mixture. Press the mixture down lightly with the back of a large spoon.

And that's it. Now you simply bake it uncovered in a 350-degree oven for 40 to 45 minutes, or until it's puffed and a knife inserted near the center comes out clean.

But wait a second. I almost forgot. There's one more step.

Just before the bread pudding is done, it's time to make a vanilla cream sauce (because, naturally, it isn't decadent enough already). I scrounged around and found a quick and easy sauce recipe from Southern Living.

Stir 2 cups whipping cream, 1 cup sugar, and 2 tablespoons all-purpose flower together in a sauce pan.

Add 1/2 cup butter and cook, stirring constantly, over medium heat until the butter is melted and the mixture is beginning to boil. Then cook, stirring constantly, for 3 minutes or until the mixture is slightly thickened. Remove from heat and stir in 1 teaspoon vanilla extract.

Once you remove the bread pudding from the oven, cool it slightly. Serve it with the warm cream sauce.

(And don't worry about no stinkin' diets, at least not today. You only live once.)


New Artwork

I'd like to begin this post by saying that I love my friends. I mean, I really love them.

Not only are they incredibly talented and intelligent and entertaining and sweet and ... well, you get the idea ... but they also know me so darn well, even when we go months without seeing one another.

Case in point: this Christmas/wedding season. A number of packages arrived at our front door from these dear friends, and all of them have contained the most perfect gifts. They're so thoughtful.

And did I mention they know me really well?

Case in point: the new artwork now gracing our walls.

One lovely friend and her handsome hubby sent me this.

It's hanging on one of the sunny yellow walls in my office and makes me happy every time I look at it. For one thing, it's pretty darn cool (although you may not be able to tell that from the photo; please see disclaimer below).

For another, it was painted by an artist right here in L-Town, Kit Sunderland.

Yep, lovely friend #1 knows how much I appreciate buying local. And contemporary art. And nailed it on both counts.

Then there's this.

Lovely friend #2 also knows how much I like original art—and personalized gifts. As you can see, this one also serves a very important function of reminding Conservative Boy when we got married. Just in case he forgets. Because I didn't engrave our wedding date inside his ring or anything thoughtful like that.

(It's hanging in the kitchen, so I can see and enjoy it while cooking and C.B. can see it as a reminder on his way to the fridge or garage or Man Cave.)

This piece was created by Leah Fitts of Studio Zen. I checked out her other work at her Etsy shop (the place for handmade anything, by the way), and it's all pretty cool. So I suggest you go see for yourself.

Then there's lovely friend #3. She sent me this treasure all the way from Mexico. It's a mirror surrounded by Mexican tile, and isn't it just the coolest? I hate to hog all the art in my office, but I think this would look awfully good on my yellow walls. I'm still contemplating the best spot for it though.

Of course, if you wanted the longest post in the world I could go on and on about more friends. But I'll give you a break for today. And thanks, lovelies. You're the best.

(I apologize for the photos—the flash doesn't do it with framed artwork, and I'm a bit wobbly for taking no-flash photos at a distance. Still, my point-and-shoot gives me its all, even when it's covered in bread dough, and for this I thank it.)


White Chicken Chili

I've realized on a number occasions lately that despite all the random recipes (both successes and failures) I share here, I have missed posting about some of my most favorite meals—those old-standbys I come back to when the file folders full of new recipes just aren't inspiring me (or when Conservative Boy tires of playing guinea pig).

One such recipe is white chicken chili.

This recipe came to me by way of my adopted family.

No, I'm not really adopted. But when I was at Drake, I signed up for an adopt-a-student program at the Catholic church on campus. A wonderful family—a mom, a dad, and three little kids—"adopted" me. I'd spend time with them most weekends, baking and cooking with Adopted Mom, hanging out with Adopted Kids (which I loved, as interaction with children is usually rather limited on a college campus), watching sports and talking books with Adopted Dad.

One Sunday, Adopted Mom made white chicken chili. And, as she often did, she shared the recipe with me. It's a good thing too, because on one of his visits to Adopted Family's house with me, Conservative Boy tried the chili and loved it.

It's a tasty treat I haven't been able to make in a while because we haven't had a Crockpot, and although I suppose I could simmer it for hours on the stove, a slow-cooker is much more energy-efficient.

So, lo and behold, when a lovely new crockpot arrived in the mail the other day from some generous family friends, I decided to fire it up (figuratively, of course; there's no fire involved with this form of slow-cooking) and make the chili, because it's one of C.B.'s faves.

As I say with most recipes I make, this one is pretty easy. (I make no illusions that I'm a gourmet cook. I'm not good enough with a sharp knife or creative enough for that nonsense.)

First you chop a large onion, mince two cloves of garlic (or three ... or four ... garlic is very good for you), and drain the liquid from two small cans of chopped green chilis.

Add the onion, garlic, and chilis to the slow cooker, along with two cans of chicken broth.

Next, add two teaspoons of ground cumin, one teaspoon crumbled leaf oregano, and three to four dashes of Tabasco (or half a bottle, if you want to spice it up enough for Conservative Boy's taste and make his tomorrow miserable).

Next, tear off all the lovely tasty meat from a rotisserie chicken and add it to the pot. (Or you could use two to three cups of cooked, boneless, skinless chicken breasts. Or if you don't do meat, just use vegetable broth and roll extra of the beautiful bean footage I'm about to bring you.)

Finish by pouring in one 48-ounce jar of Great Northern white beans (including the liquid).

Heat for several hours, stirring occasionally just so you can get a good whiff.

Serve with shredded cheddar cheese, sour cream, and baked tortilla chips.

(And oyster crackers, if Conservative Boy is dining with you. Don't ask me why. Hubby just likes to be difficult.)


Mel-O-Cream Donuts

At dinner on Saturday night, somehow the subject of donuts came up, and I admitted that I had never had a Mel-O-Cream donut. (Mel-O-Cream is the donut shop in L-Town.)

At the exact same instant, with the same horrified tone, Conservative Boy and T-Bear both exclaimed, "What?!"

I realized I was in big trouble.

"Are their donuts really good?" I asked innocently, but before I even got the words out both Conservative Boy and T-Bear said again, in unison, in that horrified tone, "Wow."

And I realized I had the answer to my question.

So on Sunday morning, Conservative Boy took me to Mel-O-Cream. We picked up a half dozen donuts and two coffees, because I also learned on Saturday evening that Mel-O-Cream coffee is pretty darn good.

We opted for two glazed donuts (my favorite), one glazed cinnamon twist, a caramel long john, a white-frosted long john with sprinkles, and one frosted cake donut with sprinkles.

(I was overwhelmed by the choices and after picking a glazed donut could not decide, so C.B. took over and promptly ordered the rest. He informed me I was taking too long, although I was only paralyzed by the options for about 20 seconds.)

Within an hour of our trip, only the cake donut and half of a long john remained. In other words, Mel-O-Cream donuts are as good as Conservative Boy and T-Bear's simultaneous exclamations led me to believe they are.

They're dangerous. Very dangerous.


Opening Boxes

Between Christmas, a certain conservative fellow's birthday, and getting hitched, we've had an occasional box arriving at our front door in the past month.

This gets Butter worked up every time.

First, of course, there's the UPS delivery man who, nice as he may be, is still an intruder in Butter's eyes.

Then, once the big brown truck drives off, there's the big brown boxes that have been left behind.

What's this? Butter asks, sniffing tentatively.

He'll pace around as I cut into the box and dig out whatever treasure is hiding inside.

Sometimes he'll sniff at the gift, but usually he's more interested in the packaging that came along with it. Most days it's lots of crumpled up brown paper. But one day, he discovered the wonder of packing peanuts.

And tried to eat one.

Fortunately, he didn't find it too tasty, and instead promptly began staring at his treat cupboard. Clever fellow.


Linguine with Gorgonzola Cream Sauce

I can't believe it. This can't be right.

I've gone all this time without sharing Uncle H. and Auntie R.'s recipe for linguine with gorgonzola cream sauce?

I must have lost my mind.

Ever since they made it for us at the lake a few years ago (and generously shared the recipe with me), it has become a go-to dish.


Because it's incredibly easy. Exceptionally flavorful. And, as I may have mentioned, easy.

There are two versions to the pasta—with meat and without meat. I'm going to show you the meaty version, as that's what I make for Conservative Boy.

If that doesn't interest you, however, just ignore the first part of this post. And later, when you serve your pasta, top it with 1/2 cup coarsely chopped toasted walnuts. You won't be disappointed.

So anyhow. If you opt for the meaty version, begin by browning a pound of spicy sausage. We're talking hot. Really, that spice is necessary.

While the sausage is browning, boil a pot of water and add 3/4 pound of dried linguine. (This also is delish with the fresh stuff, if you feel like splurging.)

After the sausage is browned, drain it and set it aside. Then place 6 ounces of gorgonzola cheese (cut into pieces) in a large skillet.

Add 1 cup of cream or half-and-half and cook, stirring frequently, until the cheese melts and the sauce thickens.

Don't forget about that linguine, now. It should be almost done.

Stir that spicy sausage into the sauce.

Then, once you drain the pasta, mix it all together and serve it with 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese.



Donating to the Relief Efforts

To say what happened in Haiti is horrible is about the worst understatement of the decade. Granted, the decade just started. But it's a ridiculous understatement nonetheless.

I've been trying not to watch too much of the coverage on television because I know once I start I won't be able to stop—and it's the sort of thing that just gets more and more painful the longer you watch.

However, I have been listening to a lot of news reports on NPR in the past couple of days. And I've been reading an occasional article here and there, hoping for the best (that relief will arrive more quickly, that the thousands buried in the rubble will survive).

Now it's time to do something. I can't rush to the aid of the Haitians, armed with medical supplies and fresh water and hugs. But I can send a few bucks of spare change their way in the hopes it will at least help a little bit with the devastation.

Now the dilemma is to figure out where to donate. I'm thinking of sending my money to UNICEF, which promises to give 100 percent of donations for the disaster to emergency relief efforts in Haiti.

I'm also a bit intrigued by all these mentions of texting for the relief effort. Apparently if you text HAITI to 90999 you instantly donate $10 to the Red Cross (I think it ends up on your phone bill). Or if you text "Yele" to 501501 you donate $5 to Yele Haiti, which is Wyclef Jean's foundation to improve the lives of people in his home country.

Are you donating? If so, how? Have you tried the text method?


Gettin' Crafty (Sort Of)

I am not the craftiest person in the world.

I like to pretend I am, and fill my head with notions of the wonderful DIY projects I'm going to tackle. But the reality is, I'm limited in my skills.

That's why I have a crocheted scarf that has been half-finished for longer than I dated Conservative Boy (in fact, now that I think about it, I believe I started it almost exactly 7 years ago).

And I have another knitted scarf that's not even half-finished, which I carried with me to evenings spent crafting with friends in Des Moines who actually were crafty. (I would part-pretend to work on it just to hang out with them and see their creations.)

And now I even have a sewing machine, which I have yet to use. (But I will, I promise, if for no other reason than to prove Conservative Boy wrong.)

Still, the other day when I saw a blog post about upcycled sweater boots, I got the DIY itch. BAD. I decided I had to make them.

And why not? I had all the supplies—namely, a hot glue gun, a pair of scissors, an old sweater that was destined for the second-hand store, and old worn-out ballet flats (which I'm still devastated about having to retire).

So I assembled my armful of supplies in the crafting/sewing/laundry room (a new moniker I just gave it about two seconds ago) and set to work, using the instructions from Craftster.

And boy oh boy did I pick an easy craft project. We're talking super easy. We're talking done in minutes, no curse words easy.

Mine, of course, aren't nearly as cute as the ones in the instructions, which boast buttons and embroidered embellishments. But I figured with colorful stripes, I didn't need any other bling.

Now, any guesses what Conservative Boy thought when he walked into the laundry room and saw me hot-gluing a striped sweater arm to the soles of my ballet flats?

What's that?

Wow, you're good. How'd you know?

He was shocked and befuddled and a bit disgusted and ran upstairs before my craziness could wear off on him.

His loss, because he missed out on the finished product ...

and the ensuing fashion show.

So sweet.

(Postscript: Conservative Boy just discovered the sleeveless sweater sitting in my office and got incredibly excited. And I quote: "Dude, a cutoff sweater. That's awesome." I'm glad at least one part of my project pleased him.)


Oh So Sweet Scones



What is this?

It's starting to look good, isn't it?

Oh wow, now things are really taking shape.

Meet my scones.

Delightfully tasty scones, studded with dried cranberries. The sort of scones that have some weight when you pick them up yet manage to be light and just a little bit sweet and almost-melt-in-your mouth good.

I made a batch of these dreamy cream scones—a la Smitten Kitchen—last week. Just because I hadn't ever made scones before. Just because I wanted to give them a whirl.

I loved them. I ate most of them rather quickly.

Not because I was being a pig.

No, really, I promise.

But because scones are best fresh (or relatively fresh) and so they needed to be consumed quickly.

Conservative Boy ate a few too. He first tried one out as dessert the day I made them, and so his first reaction was that they weren't sweet enough. "They need frosting," he insisted.

Frosting? On a scone? Ack! That would ruin the loveliness of a scone, best served with coffee or tea, best eaten when you have time to linger and pick up every last crumb from your plate.

This I tried to explain to him, on multiple occasions when we were both poised over the container of scones.

But there are two things you should know about Conservative Boy. One is that he most definitely inherited his father's sweet tooth. The other is that he is exceptionally stubborn.

In other words, he still insists they should be eaten with frosting.

And I still disagree.