The house is so quiet, and I am alone during the day again. Why is it so annoying when the kids come home for holidays? Lights left on. Dirty dishes in the sink like it’s my job to clean them. Clothes in the washer and dryer that I have to fold if I want to use it! I would be so happy to have any of those annoying little problems right now. 

Too quiet, so yesterday I made bread (twice a week, usually) and pizza! I love pizza. We usually have pizza on Sunday and watch football, but yesterday (Monday) we had a BIG football game (which we won’t discuss) so I made pizza. And since I have gotten off-topic on the reason for this blog (recipes for my kids), I will start posting more recipes.

Pizza Sauce

1 28 oz can whole, peeled San Marzano Tomatoes

4 cloves minced garlic

1 t salt

1 T oregano, dry

If you can’t find San Marzano tomatoes or don’t want to pay for them, ok. Just use regular whole, peeled roma tomatoes. But the San Marzano’s really are better, plus, the Italian’s have a copyright on their Piazza Napoletana sauce, and they use San Marzano tomatoes. So make it authentic!
Take your tomatoes and put them in a small sauce pan. Bust out your potato masher and mash the tomatoes up. This sauce is more like a jam then a smooth sauce. Add your garlic, oregano and salt and simmer the sauce until the water is gone. You will be left with a lovely tomato jam, this takes about 1.5-2 hours.

San Marzano tomatoes from Italy.

San Marzano tomatoes from Italy.

Pizza Dough

2.5 c flour

1 c warm water

1T honey

1.5 t yeast (or 1 package) 

1 t salt

1 T olive oil

.25 c Starter, if you have. Not necessary if you don’t.

Mix together in a large bowl the water, yeast and honey and let sit until the yeast foams. (That way you know it’s working, no surprises later.) Add the starter if you have some, this will give your dough a little bit of a sour, tangy taste; nummy! Add the salt and olive oil. Add 1 cup of the flour and mix well. If you are using a stand mixer, add flour until the dough stops sticking to the sides of the bowl. You may not need the entire 2.5 cups, I rarely use that much! It just depends on how much starter I use and the day; whether it’s humid or dry outside. If you are mixing by hand, do the same, and add flour until it stops sticking to the bowl. I turn the flour with a big metal spoon, or sometimes I use my hands, mixing it up right in the bowl. When you’re done adding flour, cover the bowl and let the dough rest for 15-30 minutes. It takes less time to knead later if you do this. After it’s little rest, knead the dough for approximately 7 minutes with a mixer or 10-12 minutes by hand, until it’s smooth and springy. Then put the dough in a clean bowl with a lid or cover the bowl with a damp towel or plastic wrap.

Delicious dough rising.

Delicious dough rising.

Allow the dough to rise to twice its size, then punch it down, about 45 minutes. Pre-heat your oven to 500 F degrees. If you have a pizza stone, put it in the oven now. When the dough is twice its size again, it is ready. Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and divide into 2 to 4 pieces, depending on the size of your pizza. (If you want to make one large pizza, this recipe is enough dough for a sheet pan, the 1/2 size sheet that people have in their homes.) I shape my dough pieces into round shapes now. Cover the dough with a damp paper towel and let sit for 5-10 minutes. You’re finally ready to make pizza! Trust me, it is worth the work! Press your dough on to a lightly oiled pizza pan or onto a floured surface. If you have a baking stone, put your pressed-out dough on a pizza peel with a little corn meal sprinkled on top so the dough won’t stick. When your pizza is ready, slide it right on to the stone and turn the oven down to 450 F degrees. It takes about 12-15 minutes to cook. My favorite toppings are basil and prosciutto with fresh mozzarella, but you can make yours any way you want! 

Pizza, fresh out of the brick oven!

Pizza, fresh out of the brick oven!



I have been home from Maryland for 12 days now, and it is time to make bread. I don’t think I mentioned that while I was gone our refrigerator died. Thermostat quit working, and everything inside had to be tossed, including my lovely starter. This was very sad because no starter, no bread. A good starter takes at least 10 days to make, 14 is better. I use a 125% hydration starter, which means I measure equal parts water and flour, mix it up in a bowl and let it sit for 24 hours. I call it 125% hydration because water is more dense than flour, so I am actually putting more water into it than flour, even at the same ratios. And this recipe works for me, I’m not going to change it now! After the initial 24 hours, you need to feed your starter every 12 hours, first remove 1/2 cup starter then adding adding 1/4 cup each water and flour. The wild yeast in your kitchen is what grows in this little science project, and continuous feeding for about 14 days gives it that wonderful fermented sour smell. It gets a greasy looking watery skim on top; you know you’re doing it right when this happens! After 14 days, put it in a loose fitting jar and feed it every week or so. If you’re going to bake bread, take some out the night before baking and feed it, it will be ready to go in the morning!

Bubbly wild yeast starter.

Wild yeast starter.

So here is my recipe. I use grams because water is more dense than flour, this way it comes out right.

Chequamegongirl’s Sourdough Bread

440g AP Unbleached Flour
125g Whole Wheat
30g Rye Flour
125g Starter
350g Water
10g Salt

If you have an stand mixer, that works great. If not, you will need to knead by hand.
So, put all ingredients EXCEPT salt into your stand mixer and mix until all is incorporated, 1-2 minutes. If you are doing this by hand, stir it up until you need to use your hands and dive in! Just knead the dough in the bowl. Next, we let it sit for about 30-40 minutes, no need to be exact. This process is called autolyse, and allows the flour to absorb the water so the gluten strands can begin development. You will shorten your kneading time in half if you complete this step. Just cover your bowl with plastic wrap and walk away, do something else for 30 minutes!

Dough after autolyse.

Dough after autolyse.

After your dough has had it’s rest, add salt and knead dough for 5 minutes with the dough hook, or knead by hand. Sourdough bread is much wetter than yeast breads, and it will stick to your fingers and countertop. Try not to let this bother you too much; wash your hands and rinse with cold water. This will help with the stickiness. Use as little flour on your kneading surface as possible. Knead until the dough passes the windowpane test. Go here for an excellent picture of this, we are looking for a medium-developed gluten:
Dough is kneaded and ready for preferment.

Dough is kneaded and ready for fermentation.

Notice the difference in the dough between autolyse and after kneading. The dough is stronger and more opaque looking. Now put the dough back in a ceramic or glass bowl (just not metal) and cover with a damp towel, a lid or plastic wrap. I use a plastic tupperware-type bowl with a cover. This stage is called fermentation, and unlike making regular bread, the dough doesn’t rise much, it ferments. It builds on that wonderful sourness we love. Set a timer for 50 minutes, the next step is to fold, or stretch the dough. You will stretch your bread two times in 50 minute intervals. Here’s how you do it:
Scoop your dough out of the bowl and hold it on one end, allowing it to hang and gently stretch using gravity, don’t pull. Pick up the bottom end and invert the dough, continuing the stretch. Fold the dough in thirds back into the bowl. Scoop it up again and let the dough gently stretch again in the same manner but in the opposite (shorter) direction. This stretch will be considerably less because the gluten strands are fighting back, and have toughened since that first stretch.
First stretch, after being inverted.

First stretch, after being inverted.

Second stretch, notice length compared to first stretch.

Second stretch, notice length compared to first stretch.

When you have completed you two stretching sessions, put the dough back in the bowl for another 50 minutes. The total fermentation process takes about 2.5 hours. You’re almost done! This is when I go outside to fire up the brick oven. If you don’t have a brick oven, use your kitchen range. A baking stone is preferable, but if you don’t have one, use a dutch oven.
When the 50 minutes is up, take your dough out of the bowl and cut it into two equal portions using a sharp knife or bench knife. Let it sit for 5 minutes, sourdough needs a rest after you do anything with it. Next shape into batards or boules and place seam up in a basket or bowl lined with a cloth napkin, sprinkled with a little flour. Throw a towel over them and let them sit for 1.5 to 2 hours.
Boules for final proofing.

Boules for final proofing.

30 minutes before cooking your bread, set the oven to 500 F degrees and put the dutch oven or baking stone in the oven. When you are ready to bake, lower the oven temperature to 450 F. Quickly put some cornmeal into the dutch oven and add the dough (gently!). Make slash marks with a serrated knife if you like. Add steam to the oven by misting water into the oven or throwing a couple ice cubes onto the oven floor. If you’re using a baking stone, put your bread dough on a peel with some cornmeal so it will easily slip off. Make slash marks with a serrated knife. Slide the batard into the oven from the peel. Mist with water as with the dutch oven method. You can only bake one loaf at a time using this and the dutch oven method. After 15 minutes, check the bread to see if it needs to be turned, and lower the oven temperature to 425F degrees. It should be done in another 10-15 minutes. Here is a picture of the bread baking in the brick oven.
Oops, not enough steam?

Oops, not enough steam?

A few remarks: I have read that when the loaf erupts in this manner, it’s because it didn’t proof long enough. I did allow the dough to proof for 2.5 hours, but the temperature in the house today was 69-70 degrees, which may require another hour to proof (it should be 75 degrees). Or maybe I didn’t have enough steam in the oven, and the crust set up before yeast had finished blooming. Then the dough erupts out of the crust. Oh well, still tastes great!
Finished product.

Finished product.

I think it turned out pretty good. Next bread recipe will be one that spends more time in the fridge, fermenting slowly. Happy Eating!

Cookies and Knitting

I just returned from visiting my sister in Maryland. I was making cookies. 15,300, to be exact. 4200 fudgy brownies, 5600 biscotti and 5500 chocolate chip. Needless to say, I won’t be eating a chocolate chip cookie for awhile. Why on Earth was I doing that, you ask? My sister, who has a more than full time real job also owns a catering business. She was contracted to make these cookies as congressional gifts and for Wounded Warriors. The latter, I figured, was a good cause.

Chocolate Chip Pistachio Biscotti

Chocolate Chip Pistachio Biscotti

I have also been knitting my brains out. Every Christmas I try to knit something for my kids. This year they all got socks. I mentioned in my last post that I would make something with an X and O pattern, but I changed my mind and went for dancing girls and boys with snowflakes.
Socks modeled by daughter Leanne.

Socks modeled by daughter Leanne.

Homespun, hand knit.

Homespun, hand knit.

I am currently working on Leanne’s socks and these are knit from the toe up. I have never knit in this fashion and decided to try it out. It has been difficult as the pattern I bought digitally from Amazon has no instruction on techniques, and I couldn’t figure out how to do the cast-on. I have since figured it out and am on my way! I’m not sure how I feel about this style of knitting because the needles get in the way and I have to concentrate more, not good for me. And my cat wants love and I am trying to concentrate! She got mad at me, and grabbed the knitting off the table and made a run for it with a mouthful of sock. She ran in circles through the house trailing yarn behind her. I yelled at her “Bad kitty!” and now I haven’t seen her for about 2 hours!
What a mess!

What a mess!

Spinning and Dyeing

Thanksgiving has come and gone. What a busy time of year! Both my daughters were able to make the trip home but my son, who lives in Durango, CO. had to work. It was very sad with him missing. 

While the girls were here, I was spinning up cream colored, carded fleece for a pair of socks that I am making for my friend Patti. It was her birthday in September and I am just getting around to making them; who wants to knit when it’s warm? I sure don’t. And speaking of the weather, what a change we have had! Thanksgiving day was warm and nearly 60 degrees! The very next day, 3 inches of snow! One day fall, the next, winter. That’s how the seasons change in Northern Wisconsin.

Cold and lonely!

But back to the girls. Of course, I was asked what I’m making. I paused. Sam just remarked last night about how a client had asked if her mother had completed the poncho she was making her? Do I dare say I’m making socks for Patti as I haven’t even started the poncho? I have had trouble finding a nice moorit fleece, and I have my heart set on that type. Sam has beautiful strawberry blonde hair and it would compliment her fairness; moorit means three colored, and they tend to be brownish, red and cinnamon. They’re very soft, usually a Merino or Icelandic breed. So I thought it best to say that I didn’t know what I was going to make.  Yesterday afternoon I finished spinning the wool and last night I dyed the contrasting color. 

I haven’t exactly decided what pattern, but I’m thinking an X and O pattern for hugs and kisses. 

Cornucpoia and Mawikwe Sea Caves

You will find me frequently writing about the Lake Superior South Shore. I am lucky that my family had a cabin on the shining Big-Sea-Water. It was a glorious place to grow up, with an expansive quartz sand beach and crystal clear water. There is a creek on the western side of the property where we would catch minnows and leeches with our fingers. In late summer, blueberries grow everywhere; my mom would make blueberry pancakes with pure maple syrup. My fondest memories stem from this place.

So yesterday, my friend Dani and decided to hike the trail above the Mawikwe Sea Caves. This last summer we took our kids up to Cornucopia (locals call it Corny) to kayak the caves, and Dani had never been on the trail above. Normally you would park your car at Meyers Beach, but we parked at my super-secret location because my ankle doesn’t like long hikes. This would shorten the hike 1.5 miles so the total was less than 4 miles. Perfect for my arthritic ankle! The terrain on this trail can be considered a little rough, you will travel up and down about 10 ravines, the first probably the worst. Large steps, reinforced with logs were 2-3 feet high. But the views are well worth it. This was out first view of Gitche-Gumee.

Shining Big Sea Water

As we approached the caves, you could hear the swells crashing against the Devils Island Formation, a thinly bedded series of fine to medium-grained sandstone deposited over one billion years ago. From the water, you can see amazing cross-bedding and ripple marks, uncovered from centuries of erosion.

The most fascinating erosional remnant on this hike is a large crevice in the bedrock jutting out into the lake, with two land bridges that you can walk over. One has a bridge over land for the faint of heart, while the smaller and definitely more scary, does not. I chose to take the bridge. I am guessing that this crack was created by thousands of years of frost wedging where water gets into joints in the rock, freezes, expands and cracks the rock. After time, Mother Nature wins, the rock breaks and mass wasting occurs.

Crevice in the rock.

As you follow the trail in an northeasterly direction, the views of the caves are astounding. Some portions of the path take you to dangerously breathtaking vistas. There is a life float back by the crevice should someone fall off the cliff, although it would be a long, cold mile long swim back to the beach! If you bring children, keep them close to you.

Mawikwe means “weeping” and you can see the ground water weep out of the rock.

View from precarious perch.

I did this same hike last winter with my daughter on a beautiful March day. My ankle did not like that hike; it was a warm day that became cold when the sun went down and my snowshoes froze up. My ankle didn’t like that! I enjoyed this late fall hike immensely. I was able to access areas I couldn’t in the winter, allowing for better views of the caves. I highly recommend this hike, and would urge you to do it in the spring or fall when it’s cool and the bug population is low. There is a fun geocache in the area too!

Dani enjoys the view of Eagle Island.

Sunday Funday

I love Sundays. I usually fire up the brick oven and we have pizza for dinner. But tonight I wanted something different, Stromboli. I was thinking about my sister-in-law the other day and how she would make Stromboli on Sunday. I could never master rolling the darn thing up and keeping the goodies inside; mine was always a mess. But that was 25 years ago and I have become a much more accomplished cook! So I decided to give it a whirl. You start with the dough.

Pizza Dough

1 C water (110 degrees, not warmer than 115)

1 1/2 t active dry yeast

1 T honey (or use sugar)

2 1/2 – 3 C flour

1 or 2 T olive oil

1 t salt

Add honey and yeast to water, let sit about 10 minutes until frothy. Add 1 cup flour and mix about one minute on low or beat until all ingredients mixed. Add the salt and olive oil and mix. If using a stand mixer, add the remaining 1 1/2 cups flour and knead on low for 5-7 minutes. Otherwise, add flour until dough no longer sticks to sides of bowl, dust your counter top with flour, and begin to knead in remaining flour. Remember that you may not use all three cups of flour, or you may need more. A lot depends on the humidity.

Put the dough in an lightly oiled glass or plastic container, not metal. Cover with a towel or plastic wrap. I use a rubbermaid bowl with lid. Let rise until double in bulk, about 1 hour. Punch the dough down with your fist and let rise again until double in bulk, 35-45 minutes. Turn dough out onto floured surface and let rest for 5 minutes. Using your fingers or a rolling pin, push flour into a rectangle. When you get to the point where the dough isn’t stretching easily, cover it with a damp cloth and let it rest for another 5 minutes. Keep doing this until you have a rectangle (it doesn’t have to be perfect). Add your toppings, I made mine with hot italian sausage, (I cooked it before adding) pepperoni and hard salami. Drizzle a little olive oil on top and sprinkle with salt, pepper, and italian herb mix.

Dough rolled out and topped with italian sausage, pepperoni and genoa.

Next, just add your cheese. I used fresh mozzarella and provolone.

Just add cheese!

Now, this is the part I hate. Try to make sure you leave 1/3 inch or so all around with no food to make a seam. Take an egg and break into a small bowl and mix with a fork. Using some sort of brush, spread the egg wash onto the 1/3 salvage edge, then carefully roll the whole thing up on the long edge. I had to bend mine to get it onto the peel.

The Stromboli all rolled up.

Make sure you pinch the ends shut and make sure the seams are tight! Paint the rest of the egg wash over the top. If you don’t have a brick oven, you may want to have a pizza stone in your oven. If you don’t have either, slap that bad boy onto a cookie sheet and bake in the oven for 20-30 minutes at 350 degrees. If you do have a brick oven, let it cool to about 350-400 degrees. I cooked mine for about 12 minutes, and it burned just a little bit on the bottom. It didn’t taste burned, but I wished I’d have let the oven cool for 5 more minutes. The finished result was delicious!

Let it rest a few minutes, then cut it open!


Here is a list of the remaining ingredients:

1/4 lb pepperoni
1/4 lb genoa
1/4 lb hot italian sausage
1/3 lb provolone slices
Fresh mozzarella, I used the little pearls but you could slice or use shredded.
Salt and pepper
Italian herbs

This is our backyard brick oven.

It’s not finished, it still needs a ceramic blanket for insulation and a couple coats of stucco. It works great making pizza, chicken and bread. Tonight we are going to make Stromboli.

Pompeii style brick oven.

My boyfriend has told me many times that he has wanted a brick pizza oven in the house. We both knew that wasn’t going to happen without a major overhaul. (I never thought it would happen, period.) But one day, while on Facebook, a friend that I went to college with was hosting a “Learn to make a temporary brick oven” class at the Borner Farm project, an organic farm in Prescott. It spurred my attention, and I googled DIY brick oven. There was a plethora (I love that word) of information on the subject, and I sent my man an email stating that I have decided to make him an outdoor pompeii style brick oven. That was February of 2012 and in April I started construction.

I got a big nail, the kind that go into railroad ties and I tied a 24 inch length of twine to it. I walked into the backyard, just off the patio and stuck the nail into the Earth. I had another nail tied onto the opposite end and I scratched away at the ground, forming a 48 inch diameter circle. Then I grabbed the shovel and started to dig. We live in an area of Wisconsin where there is considerable glacial till, so once I got into the B horizon there was a variety of poorly sorted pebbles to cobble. It took a couple days but I dug the hole 28 inches deep.

The next step was multiple trips to the gravel pit, ironically due north 1 mile. We share the same address. Perhaps I live on a glacial moraine? Anyway, I lined the the diameter with chicken wire and lined the chicken wire with some sort of black building fabric I found in the basement. I attached it to the chicken wire with twisties that I stash from the produce section of the grocery store. I started to fill the void with gravel, and then mortared rock around onto the chicken wire.

Brick oven foundation.

Ok, a little lie here. I actually filled the whole thing with gravel, 3000 pounds of gravel! I didn’t have the rock mortared around for support, and the darn thing started to lean, like the tower of pizza! I had to dig all the gravel out. That was a sad day. I was so mad, I didn’t work on it for 3-4 days.

It is starting to lean, but you can’t really tell. Notice bulging, too.

So, time to start over. This time I filled with gravel as I mortared rock up. Worked much better!

Rock solid foundation.

Next was an insulating layer. And another confession. I daily checked Craigslist in search of recycled firebrick, and found 60 in the Cities. I went to St. Paul to pick it up. When I got home, I realized that I had bough insulating firebrick, not heat holding firebrick. Oh well, I decided to use it as insulation. A little pricey at $1/brick but at least it was useful.

Insulating layer complete.

Next, a thin layer of fine-grained sand to help level the firebrick for the oven floor.

Level and ready for firebrick!

Next, you lay out the firebrick for the oven floor. Of course, I over-thought this and did it about 6 times. I wanted it to be perfect so the pizza peel wouldn’t get hung up on a brick when I put the pizza in or take it out!

Not good enough! Check out that gap!

After you get the brick laid, you need to make a form for the door. I decided to go with an arch. I found a piece of not-quite-rotted-pine, and made the door. Wish I’d had a table saw. Then I made the arch. You use 1/2 bricks for the arch, and set it up using little pebbles.

Lookin’ good!