Friday, December 31, 2010

Indoor Clambake

My third son turned 10 today.  Since he didn't ask to be born on New Year's Eve, we promised him when he was a tiny tot (and didn't care or know) that December 31st would always be his birthday first, a holiday second.  This means we all stay in, make a special dinner, dress up, feast, play games, watch movies, and see who is the last to drop into a coma.

This summer, I saw a recipe in Martha Stewart's magazine for an indoor clam bake, or maybe a lobster boil, or whatever you'd want to call it.  It is essentially a multi-layer pot of seafood, sausage and vegetables.  When it's all boiled and steamed up, there's a delicious broth at the bottom of the pot that, with butter added, becomes a delicious dipping sauce, AND then a perfect start to a pot of 'soup from leftovers' for the next day.

We made this on Labor Day, a terrific way to end the summer and celebrate a love of good food.  For that meal, I did include 3 lobster tails because they were on sale and we thought they'd be fun to have in there.  The recipe called for 3 whole lobsters - spank! at the cash register.  This time, we chose to omit the lobster all together, we changed the type of sausage, and I used both beer and white wine in the broth.

It was delish.  It only takes about 45 minutes from start to finish, and if your store cleans the seafood for you, you have very little prep work to do.  You just need a good pot and excellent ingredients!

Indoor Clambake

2 large onions, coarsely chopped
6 garlic cloves, sliced
12 ounces of pale ale, or 6 ounces beer and 6 ounces of white wine
1 cup water
Fresh seaweed (optional) for layering, well-rinsed
1 1/2 pounds very small yukon gold potatoes, or red potatoes
1 pound sausage (we used mild chicken sausage, but chorizo is yummy!)
Kosher salt
1 1/2 pounds littleneck clams
4 ears of corn, halved
2 pounds mussels
1 1/2 pounds large shrimp, shell on (peeled ones were on sale this time)
3 tablespoons butter
2 lemons, quartered

In a large pot (12 quarts is ideal, bigger is ok), combine onions, garlic, beer/wine and water.  Place a deep steamer basket (or layer of seaweed!) on top of onions, and add potatoes, sausage and a tablespoon of salt.  Bring to a boil and simmer for 15 minutes.  Add clams and corn and 1 teaspoon salt, cover and simmer for 10 minutes.  Add mussels and shrimp and 1 teaspoon salt, cover and simmer 10 more minutes, until shrimp are pink and all clams and mussels are open.

Remove seafood, corn, potatoes and sausage using tongs.  Place on large platters covered with paper (optional) and set aside.  Discard seaweed if you used it, along with any mussels or clams that did not open.  Strain liquid and swirl in the butter.  Serve along with the platters of food, and the lemon wedges for squeezing!

DO NOT throw out the shells from the mussels, clams and shrimp, and DO NOT get rid of the leftover broth!  Put it all back into a big pot, and add enough water to cover, plus a few of the lemon wedges.  Simmer for at least 30 minutes, or up to two hours.  Strain this broth, and add in all the leftover potatoes (cut into cubes), seafood, corn, sausage, etc.  Thicken this soup if you want, taste for seasoning and enjoy some delicious seafood corn chowder for a few more days!  We didn't have much seafood left this time, so I put a few chicken breasts into the liquid to poach, shredded this meat, and added it back into the soup.  It's going to be good!



 Beer, wine, onions and garlic.

Steamer added, plus potatoes . . .

And sausages . . .

And the clams!

 That corn looks like summer - mmmmmm.

My helper, dropping in the mussels.

  Lovely shrimp!

Everything's cooked and ready for the platter.

 Look at those shiny, inky-black mussels!  Freezer paper worked great on the platters,

Brought out the red-checked tablecloth from summer picnics :)


Yum.Yum.Yum.  And yes, my kids all LOVE this meal!



Chili - Your Way

You've heard of Chili:  two-way, three-way, four-way.  Today it's chili the Sassy way!

That's the thing about chili - you can make it YOUR way.  Over the years, I've tried and added and subtracted and rejected a variety of ingredients.  The more I've learned about flavor, the more bold I get in what goes into the pot. 

Go ahead and read the recipe for Sassy Chili and then make it how you like it.  If you need more heat, go for it.  If you like certain kinds of beans, dump them in.  You can even skip the beans!  Ground beef, pork, beef stew meat, bacon, even Little Smokies can all go in there.  Tomatoes are a whole category by themselves, and you get to decide if you like whole, diced, sauce, paste, fire roasted, green chilis added.  Spices, liquids, finishing touches each have their own purpose and pleasure.

Serve it how you like, whether it's over rice, noodles, cornbread, Fritos, tortilla chips, biscuits or baked potatoes.  Cheese, sour cream, green or yellow onions, hot sauce are all ideas for toppings. 

I'd LOVE to hear if you try and like my recipe.  I'd also LOVE to hear what makes your family chili great.

Following is an average amount of chili for a normal family.  We here at Chez Sassy are far from normal, nor do we eat an average amount of chili :)  I made a quadruple batch of the following recipe, because tomorrow is New Year's Day and our annual skating-sledding-games party with friends.  There will be five adults and 16 kids.  And I want leftovers!

Happy New Year!

Sassy Chili

1 large onion, chopped
3 garlic cloves, chopped
4 tablespoons butter
1 1/2 pounds ground beef
3 - 15 ounce cans diced, fire-roasted tomatoes
1 can diced green chilis
1 tablespoon dried oregano
2 tablespoons chili powder
2 teaspoons cumin
2 teaspoons coriander
1 teaspoon chipotle powder (or dried red pepper flakes)
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 teaspoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon unsweetened cocoa powder
3 tablespoons apple cider or red wine vinegar
1/2 - 1 cup beer (dark or light as you prefer, we like an ale)

EXTRAS:  1/2 pound bacon, cooked, drained and crumbled; 1/2 pound Little Smokies sausages, cut into bite sized pieces; 3 cups pinto beans (soaked overnight and then cooked, or 2 -15 ounce cans).

HOW TO:  In a large pot, saute onion and garlic in the butter until softened.  Add ALL other ingredients (except extras) and simmer for a hour or so.  Taste and then correct seasonings.  Stir in bacon, sausages, and beans and simmer for another 30 minutes.

SERVE WITH:  Shredded cheddar or colby-jack cheese, sour cream, chopped green or yellow onions, hot sauce, and over Fritos is our favorite way!


Sassy Chili before the extras and toppings

Thursday, December 30, 2010

German Christstollen

My how the Germans wax poetic about their beloved Christmas bread!  Apparently, the original and far superior stollen comes from Dresden.  Like so many cultures, the Germans have a traditional recipe that can only be made in a certain way by a certain handful of bakers to be considered true Dresden Stollen.

Silly me.  I made it anyway :)

If you hate fruitcake, this might be the alternative for you!  Last year, I made a Dundee Cake (Irish in origin), and is also a lighter answer to the doorstop bricks that most people associate with fruit-laced Christmas breads.  The delightful combination of fruits, nuts, rum or brandy, and sweet, yeasty goodness has me hooked on the whole idea.

After searching the web for recipes, and reading all the "only true and authentic" recipes, I came across one that made sense to me.  I had to substitute and change a few things, but that's where all the fun lies, right?  I ended up a bit under the weather on Christmas, so I baked two loaves to take to my SIL's house, and kept an extra hunk of dough in my refrigerator to make for just us on the 26th.  Needless to say, this recipe makes 3 very large loaves.  Bake it when you have company coming!

But here's a little secret - the BEST loaf was the one the next day!  That yeast dough sat in the cold fridge, "ripening" and developing flavor like nobody's business.  Knowing that, you might want to mix up your dough the day before, divide it into three portions, and bake them all the next day.  Like its more dense and substantial cousins the fruitcakes, Stollen is really tasty for a few days, and toasted with a slather of butter is DIVINE.

Alas, and apologies, there are no photos.  I was lucky to get this out of the oven and into the car for the trip to SIL's.  The loaf itself isn't lovely, but when it is double-dusted with powdered sugar?  Well, then. 

German Christstollen

1/2 cup rum
1 cup chopped citron
1 cup chopped candied orange peel
3/4 cup golden raisins
3/4 cup currants
1 tablespoon dry yeast
1/2 cup lukewarm water
1 cup 1 plus tablespoon sugar
2 cups whole milk
2 teaspoon salt
1-1/3 cups butter
2 lemons
2 teaspoons almond extract
7 to 8 cups flour, as needed
4 eggs, lightly beaten
1-1/2 cups chopped blanched almonds
1/2 cup melted butter, approximately
1/3 to 1/2 cup granulated sugar, for sprinkling
Powdered sugar, for dusting

Combine rum with citron, orange peel, raisins and currants and let stand for 1 hour. Drain, reserving rum and fruit.

Dissolve yeast in lukewarm water with 1 tablespoon sugar and set aside in a warm place for 10 minutes, or until foamy. Scald milk with 1 cup granulated sugar, salt and butter. When butter melts, cool to lukewarm. Add grated rind of the 2 lemons, 4 tablespoons of the reserved rum, and almond extract. Stir in yeast and 2 cups flour. Mix well and set in warm place for 30 minutes until the bubbly. Stir in eggs and work in as much remaining flour as need to make a soft, light dough that does not stick to your hands.

Turn dough onto floured surface and knead until dough is smooth and elastic.

Dredge drained fruit lightly with flour.  Knead in fruits and nuts only until well distributed. Gather into a ball, place in a lightly buttered bowl, and cover loosely with plastic wrap.  Place in a draft-free corner for 1 hour, or until doubled in bulk.

Punch dough down, divide into thirds and set aside for 10 minutes. Lightly roll each third of dough into an oval about 3/4i nch thick.

Brush top of each oval with a little melted butter and sprinkle with a tablespoonful or two of granulated sugar. Fold each oval lengthwise, almost in half, so that edges do not quite meet. Press closed.

Slide loaves onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper, brush tops with melted butter and let rise in draft-free corner for 1 hour, or until almost doubled in bulk.

Bake in preheated 375 degree. oven for about 1 hour, or until golden brown and hollow-sounding when tapped on bottom. Cool slightly, but while still warm, brush tops with melted butter and dust with powdered sugar. Cool completey and dust with powdered sugar again before slicing. Serve thinly sliced, with or without butter.

To store, place in plastic bags and tie closed, or wrap in double thickness of aluminum foil. Makes 3 loaves

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Barbeque Sauce

If you live in the South, or have a decided opinion on the subject of barbeque, this might get your cooking hackles up.  Like any other great food genre, barbecue is WIDE open to interpretation.  Wars, or at least family feuds, have likely been fought over the nuances of what ought to be included in the recipe.  State, city, county, and no doubt street address make a difference in the perfect barbeque sauce.

Let me just digress for a tad and talk about my (our family) favorite barbeque restaurant.  It's in Naples, Florida, which is near where my parents live during the colder months, and it's the seat of annual family vacations since I was 3 years old.  Michelbob's. 

This place was started by a guy who used to be in politics and decided sunshine and ribs would be a good next move.  We go there every single year and order a mess of food.  You can imagine the eight of us and my parents with more than a few bones flying.  We get ribs, chicken, and brisket, and the things that come along side of it all - Texas toast, beans, coleslaw, fries, sauce, slobber slobber slobber.  After a day at the beach or on the golf course, the food literally gets inhaled.  We all make a point of wearing red shirts, and consequently care little about manners or splatters.

Sigh.  It's a loooong time until our annual April pilgrimage.

So here's the barbeque sauce recipe that works best for us.  I use it on ribs, chicken, brisket, shredded beef-chicken-pork sandwiches, pinto beans, and any time a bbq dip is needed.  It's simple and calls for ingredients that you most likely have right now in your pantry.  It takes 15 minutes or so to make, and freezes beautifully.  Tangy, sweet, spicy if you want, answering the call for standard barbeque flavor.  Start with the recipe below, and make it your own!

Sassy Barbeque Sauce

‎2 tablespoons butter
1/2 medium onion, finely chopped
1 crushed garlic clove
1 cup ketchup (or plain tomato sauce)
1/4 cup cider vinegar
1/4 cup molasses
2 tablespoons brown sugar
2 teaspoons dijon mustard
2 teaspoons worchestershire
1 tablespoon chili powder
1/4 teaspoon cayenne (or chipotle) and more to taste if you like spicy
salt and pepper to taste

Saute the onion and garlic in the butter for 5 minutes.  Add all other ingredients plus 1/4 - 1/2 cup water, simmer until thickened a bit, about 15 minutes.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Merry Christmas!

Here's to a SWEET and SASSY Christmas!


Swedish Meatballs

There are Swedish Meatballs and then there are SWEDISH MEATBALLS.  I make the latter.  A rather big batch is needed this year, because I'm bringing them to my sister-in-law's for Christmas Dinner tomorrow, and there will be around 30 people.  Most of them are Swedish in origin, some of them rabidly so.  For some reason, they trust a Norwegian woman to make these for the special meal.

What makes them authentic?  Scratch.  If you buy a bag of frozen meatballs at the store, you might as well buy a jar of spaghetti sauce and boil up a pot of pasta.  Seriously!  Those meatballs, other than being full of yucky ingredients, lean toward Italian in flavor.  The other thing that just won't do is the 'can of cream of mushroom soup and some sour cream' for the gravy.  Nuh-uh!  Gravy from the drippings, sweet and salty and laced with nutmeg and creamy goodness.  This is not a fat free dish, friends.  Fat free has no place at Christmas dinner.

Don't worry, New Year's is right around the corner and you can resolve to deal with the Holiday Hams that have mysteriously appeared on your backside.  ;)

This recipe is based on one I got from the Byerly's Cookbook.  Byerly's is a wonderful grocery store in our area, rather specialty and staffed by some terrific people who love food and love serving their customers.  I've tweaked the recipe some to suit my style.  I recommend YOU do the same.

My brother in law, who is also Norwegian and knows what he's doing, would put the meatballs and gravy on a heap of mashed potatoes.  And he'd recommend YOU do the same.

Merry Christmas, God Yul, Bless You All!

Swedish Meatballs

1 cup minced yellow onion
2 tablespoons butter
1 large egg
1/2 cup whole milk
1/2 cup bread crumbs, fresh or dried
1 1/4 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon allspice
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1 pound medium lean ground beef
1/2 pound pork sausage, or ground pork

Saute onion in the butter until soft.  In a large bowl, combine egg, milk, bread crumbs, salt, sugar, allspice, and nutmeg.  Add sauteed onions and the meat.  Mix well (with your hands, works best).  Shape into 1 inch meatballs.  Place on a lightly buttered jelly roll pan or 9x13 pan.  Bake at 350 for 25 minutes.  Remove to a casserole or crock pot.  Scrape every bit of the drippings out of the baking pans into a saucepan on the stove for the gravy.

Gravy

Drippings from baked meatballs
1 tablespoon butter
3 tablespoons flour
2 teaspoons sugar
1 teaspoon salt
generous grinding of pepper
1 cup water
3/4 cup half and half (or cream)

Add the butter to the drippings, bring to a boil.  Stir in the flour, sugar, salt and pepper.  Add the water, bring to a boil and simmer for one minute, making sure all the lumps are gone.  Add the half and half and heat through.  Pour over the meatballs, and heat in a 325 oven for 20 minutes, or in the crock pot on low for an hour.



Creamy Goodness

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Surprise Pancakes!

What's with the surprise part?

Lots of things.  Mom (or cook) doesn't have to stand and flip endless flapjacks.  They only need 5 ingredients, plus toppings.  They mix up in about 2 minutes, and after 15 minutes in the oven, they are surprisingly puffy and beautiful.  The main surprise here is how much and how quickly my freakishly hungry kids can consume.

You need 1 - 9 inch glass pie plate for every 2-3 people, depending upon age and emptiness.

We serve these with maple syrup for those that are so inclined, but the preferred way to eat them is with lingonberries and powdered sugar.  Lingonberries are very Scandinavian and so delicious!  You may be able to find them in the jams and jellies section of your grocery store, otherwise a gourmet shop or Scandinavian shop will have them.  They are small, deep red berries that all by themselves are extremely tart - think cranberry tartness.  Thankfully, there's sugar in there, too.  One of our favorite children's books "A New Coat For Anna" tells a story of a girl who needs a new coat, and wants it to be red, so they dye the wool with lingonberries!

But I digress.

Here's the recipe.  Serve as you like with syrup, jam, powdered sugar, yum yum yum.  I make a quadruple batch of this for our family of 8.

Surprise Pancakes

2 eggs
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons butter
Cinnamon sugar

Beat eggs, milk and flour in a bowl until mostly smooth.  A few lumps won't hurt.  Preheat oven to 450 degrees.  Place butter in a 9 inch glass pie plate and add to the oven for the last few minutes of heating - the butter should be melted and the pie plate hot.  Remove from oven, pour in batter, and sprinkle with cinnamon sugar.  Carefully return pie plate to oven and bake for 15-17 minutes until puffy and deep golden.  Cut into wedges and serve immediately with toppings!


Monday, December 20, 2010

"Tortillas for Dinner"

This is not a recipe to make your own tortillas.  I buy mine at the store.  Good for you if you make yours from scratch.

One of our top five dinners is "tortillas" which essentially means there are tortillas on the table, and a whole bunch of things to put into them.  Tonight was the fajita version of "tortillas" because I had an abundance of bell peppers that needed a good use.

Tortillas for dinner usually yields plenty of leftovers for another favorite meal, called "Quesadillas" at our house.  Think grilled cheese with tortillas instead of bread, and chopped up, leftover fajita ingredients for the filling. 

Here's how I roll.  Feel free to interpret widely and liberally with whatever makes you and your family happy.  Don't forget to make too much, because the leftovers are completely worth it!

Tortillas For Dinner

6 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, sliced into strips
juice from 3 limes
salt and pepper
oregano, cumin, chipotle powder
3 tablespoons olive oil
3 garlic cloves, crushed

Place all of the above in a large glass bowl, turn to combine, and put in the refrigerator for a few hours, stirring once or twice.

3 bell peppers of assorted colors, cored, seeded and sliced
2 large yellow onions, sliced
salt and pepper
juice of half a lime
olive oil and butter

In a large skillet (cast iron!), heat enough oil and butter to coat the bottom of the pan - medium high is good.  Add onions and peppers, season with salt and pepper.  Stir from time to time, and when they are slightly soft, squeeze the lime juice over them.  Increase heat, stir more frequently, and they'll be done when the onions are browned and the peppers are a bit brown and somewhat blistered.  Remove to the serving dish.

Add a bit more oil to the skillet.  Drain the liquid from the chicken and add meat to the pan.  Cook, stirring here and there, and pour off some of the liquid if it's too much.  You want the chicken to brown.  When it's done, add it to the serving dish with the vegetables.

We serve with the following:
Shredded cheese
Shredded lettuce
Fresh cilantro
Sour cream
Salsa
Hot sauce
Pickled jalapeno peppers
Chips
Guacamole (recipe follows)
"Drunk" Pinto Beans (recipe follows)


Guacamole
3 avocados, seeded and scooped
Juice from 2 limes
salt and pepper
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon chili powder
2 garlic cloves, finely minced
1/4 cup fresh cilantro, chopped

Place all of the above in a bowl, and mash to your liking.  If you like it chunky, smash it less  :)


Drunk Beans
3 cups pinto beans (either soaked and cooked, or canned), drained
salt and pepper
1 teaspoon cumin
1/2 to 1 teaspoon chipotle powder
3/4 cup beer (something with substance, but not too dark)
3 tablespoons bacon grease or lard (if you plan to mash for refried status)

Put beans, seasonings and beer into a sauce pan.  Simmer for 20 minutes, stirring here and there.  If you want "refried" beans, drain off some of the liquid and add the bacon grease or lard to the beans, mash coarsely or thoroughly as your mouth prefers.  Eat as a dip, or in tortillas.


Quesadillas

Leftover chicken and peppers and onions from fajitas
Shredded cheese
Tortillas
Salsa and sour cream for serving

Chop chicken and vegetables finely.  Heat a large skillet over medium heat and add a pat of butter.  Place one tortilla in the hot skillet, add a half cup (or so) of chopped chicken-veggies, then a generous sprinkling of cheese.  Leave a half-inch free at the edge of the tortilla.  Place another tortilla on top.  I like to cover the pan at this point.  After a minute or two, carefully flip the quesadilla and brown a bit on the other side.  Remove from pan and cut into wedges, serve with salsa and sour cream.  If you're not happy about turning the big quesadilla, then only fill one half of the bottom tortilla, fold it over and cook and flip as above.  You'll get 2 or 3 wedges rather than 4 or 6.

Enjoy!

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Gingerbread Houses

Lest you think it's all "homemade" around here, today was Gingerbread House Day at Chez Sassy. 

Remember that whole "I don't like decorating cookies?" thing from the other day?  There's a good reason we (I) chose Sunday for the gingerbread houses - Mr. is home and can lead the project.  I on my couch and they at the table - that works best for everyone.  My much better half is very patient, good with reading directions, and actually enjoys the whole creative design thing. 

So I bought a kit at Target.  They had a few to choose from, and we liked the little village one the best.  Five small houses were included, which meant the four middle kids each had their own, and the teen and the tot did one together. 

I paid a whopping $9.99 for our kit, which are now on sale for $8.  The kids enjoyed the process so much, it took all of 30 minutes to make them from start to finish, and Dad kept his cool so well, it would have been worth triple the price I paid :)

Here's some pics to enjoy.  We are NOT eating these things ourselves, but will include them in the sweets feast on New Year's Day when we have lots of friends over for skating!  Hoping they survive the next two weeks on the table (dog and 3 year old are considered a threat).



Friday, December 17, 2010

Sugar Cookies

I am so not into decorating cookies.  Forget the frosting.  My sassy kids are lucky to get colored sprinkles, sanding sugar and chocolate jimmies.  Oddly, they seem to be satisfied.

This is the best sugar cookie recipe I've found.  For years I used a recipe that called for regular, granulated sugar.  They were fine, but when I started using powdered sugar, WOW, what a difference!  They hold their shape so nicely, do not spread, and make for a tender and delicious cookie.

Of course I use almond extract in addition to the vanilla.  Plain vanilla is just fine, I told my friend from the East Coast, but here in the Great White North, almond is the deal.  In everything.

Sugar Cookies

1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
1 cup softened butter
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp almond extract
1 egg
2 1/2 cups unbleached, all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder

Cream sugar, butter, egg and extracts together in a bowl.  Add flour and mix to combine.  Form into a ball and chill, covered, in the refrigerator for an hour or two.  Roll out 1/4 inch thick (or a bit less) and cut out!  Decorate with sprinkles, then bake on parchment lined baking sheets at 375 degrees for 8-10 minutes until just baaaarely golden on some of the edges.  Cool on a wire rack.




Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Pepperkaker

Like every other Christmas baking tradition, there are a million different "authentic" recipes for Pepperkaker (pepper cake) out there.  Norway claims to be the birthplace or at least experts, but don't tell the Swedes or Danes that little tidbit.  I don't care who makes it or how, there's nothing quite like spicy, crispy, gingery pepperkaker.

You know this as gingerbread.  We cut out "man" shapes but do not decorate.  Decorating is for sugar cookies at our house, which will be in a few days.  I roll out my pepperkaker fairly thin to make them crispy and light.  I really wish I had a pig-shaped cookie cutter, apparently that's a traditional shape.  Fun!

I made a double batch of the following recipe.  3/4 of it was rolled and cut into man-shapes, and 1/4 is rolled into a log and sitting in the fridge to be sliced and dusted with sparkly white sugar.  Ok, fine, there's some decorating for you.

Pepperkaker needs to be spicy!  Don't skimp on the spices.  And this year I substituted something with good results - I did not have lemons in the house and therefore could not use grated lemon peel.  BUT, I always have a supply of essential oils around here, and I used Lemon Essential Oil from www.beeyoutiful.com in place of the lemon peel - AWESOME.

Enjoy!

Pepperkaker

2/3 cup butter, softened
3/4 cup packed light-brown sugar
3 tablespoons cream or half-and-half
2 tablespoons dark molasses
2 cups unbleached, all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/2 teaspoon black pepper (freshly ground!)
1 teaspoon grated lemon peel (or 10 drops essential oil of lemon)
1 teaspoon baking soda



In a large bowl, cream together butter and brown sugar.  Add cream and molasses, beat well.  Combine spices and flour and baking soda, add to wet mixture and stir well to combine.  Roll into a ball, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate one hour.  Roll out thinly, about 1/8 inch, and cut into shapes.  Place on parchment covered baking sheets and bake in a 350 degree oven for 10-12 minutes until firm but not brown.  Cool completely.  Another great cookie to freeze!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Norwegian Kringler

It occurred to me that I won't be baking this until Christmas Eve (to have for Christmas morning brunch), but some people asked for the recipe and might want to make it sooner than that.  The drawback is that you don't get a picture with this recipe.  You'll be ok.

This is not a cookie, it's a pastry.  Make sure you have plenty of butter and almond extract on hand.  And coffee.  My sisters-in-law and nieces are hilarious with this stuff.  They'll make a batch and eat the WHOLE thing, then have to make more later that day or again the next day.  Lather, rinse, repeat.  I would love to know just how many batches they can make in a week together during the holidays.   Maybe one of the younger girls will spy and report back.  I promise I won't name names, really.

PLEASE READ ENTIRE RECIPE - it's broken into sections!

Norwegian Kringler

1 cup all-purpose, unbleached flour
1/2 cup cold butter
1 T (or more) cold water

Cut butter into flour like you would for pie crust.  Stir in the water, adding a bit more if necessary, to make a stiff dough.  Roll it out less than 1/4 inch thick directly onto a large baking sheet, in a rectangle or oval shape.  If you don't have a flat sheet, turn over a standard jelly-roll pan and roll it out on that.  Works slick!

1 cup water
1/2 cup butter
1 cup flour
3 eggs
1 teaspoon almond extract

In a medium saucepan, bring water and butter to a boil.  Using a wooden spoon, add flour and stir well.  Turn heat down and add eggs, one at a time, until each is completely incorporated.  It'll seem like they will never absorb, but keep stirring, they will.  Remove from heat and add almond extract.  Spread this mixture onto the first layer of pastry you've rolled out, coming almost to the edges.

Bake this at 375 for 45 minutes until golden.  Don't worry about it puffing, it will deflate as it cools.

1 cup powdered sugar
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon heavy cream
1 teaspoon almond extract
sliced almonds (this means flat with skin on, slivered are the stick kind)

Cream sugar, butter, cream and almond together.  Spread on cooled pastry, and sprinkle with almonds.  Cut into diagonal, finger-length pieces to serve.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Roast Leg of Lamb

A thousand of my closest friends and I went to Costco today.  We all met and tried to politely crash our carts together and jockey for position at the sample kiosks and smile and pretend we love shopping during the holidays.

My primary purpose was to replenish my supply of butter.  Costco has the best price on organic butter, and let's just say that Sassy's been baking her way through a few pounds of butter in the last few weeks.  One of these years I will count the pounds (of butter, not my weight) that I use from the week before Thanksgiving through New Year's Day.  Then again, it might be a number I do NOT want to know (like my weight).

Enough of that, let's talk lamb.  They had boneless leg of lamb at a good price, so I choked and picked up a 5+ pound roast for $26.00.  Believe it or not, I have rarely cooked lamb in my 21 years as a home cook.  Back in the day, when we were both working, husband and I enjoyed lamb chops a few times.  I am pretty sure I've cooked a bone-in leg once or twice since then, but it's always seemed an expensive luxury meat to me.  When you're feeding 6 hungry kids and a carnivorous husband, lamb isn't often on the grocery list.

So the butter and the lamb (and the many other things) came home.  I asked my Facebook pals how they liked to cook lamb, read a bit on some cooking sites, and then consulted "Julia" who is all-knowing.  The following is the hybrid recipe I attempted.  Everyone loved the lamb, and the accompanying victuals.  We had Sour Cream Mashed Potatoes (just add sour cream to your favorite mashed potato recipe), Herbed Focaccia, Mixed Greens with Tarragon Vinaigrette and Blue Cheese Crumbles, and some Spicy Cranberry Chutney.  And "Well Red" which is a favorite red wine from Trader Joe's - it's smooth and rather Pinot-ish, and organic to boot.

Roast Boneless Leg of Lamb

One 5-6 pound boneless leg of lamb, tied up nicely by the people at Costco
3 large garlic cloves, chopped finely
2 teaspoons dried oregano
2 teaspoons dried rosemary
2 teaspoons coarse salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 large onion, coarsely chopped
white wine (one cup total)
2-3 tablespoons butter

Heat oven to 450 degrees. 

Mash-mix together in a bowl the garlic, oregano, rosemary, salt, pepper and olive oil.

Place roast on a rack in a roasting pan.  Roast for 20 minutes, turning at 10 minutes.  Reduce oven temperature to 350.  Slather the herb-paste all over the top and sides of the roast.  Scatter the onion in the bottom of the pan, and pour in about a half cup of the white wine.  Roast, basting every 20 minutes, until a meat thermometer reads 140 degrees.  (My size roast took 2 1/2 hours to cook).

Here's the tricky part.  We like ours medium rare.  Some parts of your roast might be more done and some less done, but you want the center of the roast to be pink.  At least we do.  The roast will sit for 20 minutes while you make the sauce and yell at your kids to wash their hands.  If you like your whole roast well done, then shoot for 155-160. 

Remove roast from pan and cover with foil.  Pour off most of the fat from the accumulated juices.  Put the roasting pan on top of the stove and heat to boiling.  Add another half cup of white wine and simmer for a few minutes, stirring to loosen any brown bits from the bottom and sides of the pan.  Swirl in the butter, a tablespoon at a time until the sauce is velvety.  Taste for seasoning.  Strain into a bowl and serve with the roast.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Sandbakkels

Oh how I love my heritage!  I'm a quarter each Norwegian, Irish, English and German.  I look and act and feel Irish, but I bake cookies like a true Scandinavian.  I'm very blessed to have my Norwegian grandmother's set of Sandbakkel tins.  Two sets, actually, one large and one small.  They only come out at Christmastime.

Sandbakkel translates to "sand tart" and the best way to describe them is "almond-flavored butter cookie in the shape of a muffin paper."  Sand tart refers to the tart-shape as well as the crispy-sandy-buttery texture.  When one sees the shape for the first time, the assumption is that surely they are made to be filled with something, perhaps custard or ice cream or fruit.  NO.  Ok, you can if you want, but we don't, and traditionally they were not filled, but rather eaten as a cookie alone.  Do what you like and don't tell your Nana.

So here's the recipe that came in the box of tins I have.  Nothing magical in the ingredients, except for the mysterious happenings when butter, sugar, egg, almond extract and flour get together in a bowl.  The process is putzy at best, but if you have nice sister in law handy, or some dexterous kids, or some fast-working thumbs of your own, then it'll be a breeze.  I would guess you can find the tins at plenty of online shopping sites, but if you have the time and inclination, seek out a local Scandinavian retailer or specialty food store and buy a set from them.

I'll brew you some coffee, put on good music, and you can have a seat at my kitchen counter.

Sandbakkels (Sand Tarts)

1 cup butter (2 sticks), softened
1 cup granulated sugar
1 egg, unbeaten
1 teaspoon almond extract
2 1/2 cups unbleached flour

Cream butter and sugar together.  Add egg and almond extract, beat until fluffy.  Add flour and beat to make a stiff dough.  Form into a ball, cover and chill 1-2 hours.  Pinch off a small amount and press into bottom and sides of tins, making it as thin as possible without holes.  Place tins on a cookie sheet and bake at 375 for 12-15 minutes until golden brown.  Cool partly before popping gently out of tins (tap gently!).  Cool tins before filling again with dough.  Cool cookies completely.  They freeze great!  Do not wash tins, just wipe out with a cloth.

Grandma's set, original box and recipe.


Cooling in the tins.

The finished product!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Brown-Eyed Susans

Not the flower, those are Black-Eyed Susans.  These are cookies.  The all-around, hands-down Sassy Family favorite.

If you are inclined to get your kids in on some cookie baking, this is the time to do it.  My 12 year old son is an expert 'ball-roller' and my 7, 5 and 3 year olds seem to have a knack for pressing in the mint wafers.  Maybe it's their little fingers.  Whatever the reason, we can really crank out a whole bunch of these cookies in no time flat.

Mint wafers.  NOT kisses, not rum wafers.  They must be mint.  They are round, flat discs of dark chocolate with mint flavor. Not all stores carry them, and not all year round, but I can always find them at Christmas time.  I snatch up a bunch of packages early in the season because there have been years where my store runs out and those fools do not re-stock them, for some odd reason.  Do they not know the needs of the people?  Just kidding, I love my local stores.  They just need to keep a stock of mint wafers in the back for my baking pleasure.  Anyway, look for them, in a bag, in the section where you find baking stuff - they hang by the nuts and other baking supplies.  Gurley's is my brand.

I need 10 dozen of these babies for a cookie exchange on Friday night, plus about 8 million more for my cookie monsters.  The following recipe makes 3 1/2 to 4 dozen.

Brown-Eyed Susans

3/4 cups soft butter (1 and 1/2 sticks)
1/2 cup sugar
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 3/4 cups flour (all purpose, unbleached)
mint wafers (50 for good measure, there will be snacking)

Cream together butter and sugar.  Add egg and vanilla, cream.  Add salt and flour, blend to combine.  Chill, covered, for 2 hours in the refrigerator.  Roll dough into small balls, about walnut size.  Press a mint wafer into the top of each, enough to "stay put" but not enough to crack and spread the dough.  Bake at 400 degrees for 8-10 minutes, until just barely golden at the edges.  Use parchment paper, it's always a good idea.  Remove to wire rack and cool until the chocolate is set - this takes a couple hours (or put them on your wintry deck for quick chilling).



Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Hot Bacon Dip

Fine.  It's not a Christmas cookie recipe.  And it is NOT fancy nor gourmet in any way.

But give me a spoon and put me in the corner.  Seriously, this is really good stuff.  Warm, cheesy, bacony, tangy.  Get some chips and dig in!

(Variations and ideas at the end)

Hot Bacon Dip

2 - 8 ounces packages of cream cheese
4 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese
1 cup half and half
1 teaspoon Worchestershire sauce
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
2 teaspoons minced shallots
12 slices bacon - cooked, drained and crumbled

Combine all but the bacon in a crock pot and set to low.  Stir after a couple of hours.  Cook no longer than 4 hours, watch carefully for possible burning.  Stir in the bacon at the end and serve with chips.

Variations:
*  Substitute goat cheese for half the cream cheese
*  Use any grated cheese instead of cheddar, or a mixture
*  Go ahead and use heavy whipping cream instead of half and half, you know you want to
*  Use a coarse, grainy mustard in place of the Dijon
*  Or better yet, use some prepared horseradish
*  Use chopped green onions in place of the shallots, and increase it to 1/4 cup
*  Shake in some hot sauce - I use either Tabasco Green Jalapeno or Crystal
*  Might as well use the Frito Scoops for this deal

Monday, December 6, 2010

Peanut Butter Balls

Another favorite of Mr. Claus here.  He pretends they are healthy.  Also, boy 9 really loves these.  He can almost get over his "gross stuff on my hands" problem to help me roll them out.  The whole process is kind of ooey and gooey, and has a few steps, but they are awfully tasty and fun to pop in your mouth.  So go for it!

And maybe Mr. is right - the protein offsets the sugar.  Sort of.

Peanut Butter Balls

1 cup butter, softened (2 sticks)
1 cup peanut butter (natural works best), you can substitute half or all almond butter
2 cups powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 bag of chocolate chips, melted

Cream all of the ingredients together in a large bowl, until pale and fluffy.  Cover and chill for at least two hours.  With clean (and cold!) hands, roll into bite-sized balls, about as big as a walnut.  Place on wax paper covered cookie sheets and chill again.  Melt the chocolate chips in the microwave or in a double boiler until smooth.  With your fingers, dip half-way into the melted chocolate and place them back on the wax paper, chill for an hour.  Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator.  Makes 5 dozen.

Helpful Hint:  Keep your hands cool.  Put the mixture back into the fridge or freezer to firm it up if necessary.  I usually have to rinse off my hands every 8-10 balls, then start again. 


Friday, December 3, 2010

Rum Balls - Rated "R" for Rummy

Oh, these are good.  Mr. Sassy begs for them.  My manager commands, I must comply.

They're quite rummy.  And they are not baked.  Eat at your own discretion.  This is one of the few times I use junky, prepared ingredients to make a cookie.

Rum ball memory from many years ago:  Early in our marriage we had a cat named Bugs Bunny.  She was a snotty, disobedient cat, but she was smart and funny, too.  One day in December, I was making rum balls and my hands were in the dough, rolling them up.  Bugs kept getting up on the table (good reason to own a dog, not a cat) and sniffing in the dough.  I grew tired of washing my hands and trying to get her off the table, so on the zillionth time she got up, I grabbed her with my mouth by the scuff of her neck and spit her onto the kitchen floor.  She was so mad and offended she didn't return to the scene of the crime.  Me?  I was embarrassed and picking cat hair out of my mouth all afternoon.  What on earth was I thinking?

Rum Balls

8.5 ounces of Oreo cookies, crushed or ground in a food processor
1 cup pecans, ground
1/2 cup powdered sugar
3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
2 teaspoons corn syrup
1/3 cup rum
granulated sugar

Mix together the cookies, nuts, powdered sugar and cocoa.  Stir in the corn syrup and rum.  Chill in the refrigerator 2 hours.  Roll into small balls, about the size of a walnut.  Roll in granulated sugar.  Store in the refrigerator.


Thursday, December 2, 2010

Coconut Macaroons

Merry Christmas OR Happy Hanukkah.  Equally opportunity cookies here :)

My friend Lindsay asked for this one, so here it is.  Two important tips:  please use parchment paper on your cookie sheets, and watch the time carefully - they can go from golden to burnt in a nanosecond.

This is my mom's recipe - Thanks Dodo!

Coconut Macaroons

2/3 cups all purpose flour
5 cups lightly packed, shredded and sweetened coconut
pinch of salt
1 - 14 ounce can of sweetened condensed milk (or 1 1/3 cups)
2 teaspoons vanilla, or 1 tsp each of vanilla and almond extract
sprinkles for decorating

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  In a large bowl, toss flour, coconut and salt together.  Add milk and vanilla, stir well to combine.  Scoop by 1 1/2 tablespoon amounts (I use a small ice cream scooper) and place on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper.  Decorate with sprinkles - red, green, chocolate jimmies, whatever you like.  Bake at 350 for 17-20 minutes or until just starting to turn golden on the sides and bottom.  Cool completely on a wire rack - they will firm up nicely.

2 1/2 dozen.  Sheesh - what was I thinking making ONE batch?


Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Cookies - The Master List

December is here.  Bakers, start your ovens! 

I come from a heritage of Scandinavian bakers.  And my husband is Swedish.  What's a girl to do, but bake?  I have my grandmother's set of Sandbakkel tins (sand tarts) which is one of my most cherished possessions.  They are a putzy, labor-intensive cookie to bake, but they are so delicious and delicate and perfect that I made oodles of them.  Then, I carefully pack a box of them and ship them to Florida to my dear daddy.  It was his mother, after all, and I am pretty sure they bless his Norwegian heart.

Another favorite is Kringler.  It's more of a pastry than a cookie, but it must be made at least once during Christmas.  Let's just say butter, flour, sugar, eggs, almond extract and sliced almonds have never known such glory.  A cup of coffee has never been so elevated as when accompanied by a slice (or three) of Kringler.

So here's the master list.  As I bake, I'll publish recipes, and if the teenager complies, this blogger just might start posting pictures.  Warning:  if you bake and eat the following items and do not compensate by intense exercise, your backside will expand.  You've been told, now you're on your own.

Coconut Macaroons

Sandbakkels

Decorated Sugar Cookies

Brown-Eyed Susans

Rum Balls

Toffee

Pepperkaker (Norwegian Gingerbread)

Kringler

Meringues

Peanut Butter Balls

Candy Cane Truffles

Bark (several varieties)

Pretzel-Kisses

Molasses Crinkles



Stock up on your butter, flour and sugar, and STAY TUNED!

Monday, November 29, 2010

Chicken, Mushrooms and Cream - A Perfect Trifecta

This is not the blog about Julia Child.  They have their own book and movie.  Not me. 

However, I have a deep and abiding love and respect for Julia Child, her books, recipes, television shows, and her general personality.  I have learned much from her masterpiece "Mastering the Art of French Cooking" and am grateful for her great accessibility over the years.  She made gourmet food understandable for the average American cook.

Chicken, mushrooms and cream belong together.  It's a basic fact of life.  Oddly, they are all simple, cheap, pedestrian foods.  Yet, when combined with a few other supporting ingredients, they are elevated to the stature of greatness.  Here's what we had for dinner at Chez Sassy tonight, and it's a repeat of an oft-favorite dinner.  Try it, you'll be sold on it's luscious simplicity.  My version is an extremely abbreviated of Julia's classic.

Saute of Chicken, Mushrooms and Cream

8-12 ounces of crimini or white button mushrooms
3 tablespoons butter
salt and pepper
8 chicken thighs (skin on, bone in)
olive oil
2 tablespoons minced shallots
1/2 cup dry white wine, or dry white vermouth
1 cup heavy cream
Fresh parsley, chopped

Wash and stem mushrooms, halve or quarter, depending upon size.  In a very large skillet, heat butter on medium heat.  Add mushrooms and saute until soft and brown, season with salt and pepper.  Remove from pan with a slotted spoon and set aside.  Add chicken, skin side down, and brown for 3-4 minutes.  Turn and brown on other side.  Season with salt and pepper.  Turn heat down, cover and cook until nearly done, about 30 minutes, turning and basting with pan juices.  Remove chicken to a plate.  If needed, add a tablespoon of olive oil to the pan.  Saute shallots for a minute, do not brown.  Add wine and deglaze pan, scraping up all the brown bits, simmering for a few minutes.  Add cream to pan, and simmer for a few minutes.  Return chicken to pan, skin side up, and add mushrooms.  Baste with pan sauce.  Continue to simmer for about 10 minutes, basting once more with pan sauce.  Adjust seasoning.  Transfer to a serving dish, sprinkle with parsley and serve with rice or buttered egg noodles, a green vegetable, or just a simple green salad with vinaigrette dressing.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Wrap-Up, and Countdown (and Turkey Hotdish, and a Sandwich)

Thanksgiving was wonderful!  Such a good day with family and friends.  We ended up with 18 for dinner, ages 3-84, and then a couple extra folks came for dessert and games.  Husband and teen son did all the dishes and left the kitchen in tip-top order.

The meal was, I must say, mighty fine.  The true stars were the salad, green beans (mmmmmm, bacon), and the potatoes.  Frankly, the stuffing was rather dry, but had good flavor.  The turkey turned out nice and moist and everyone seemed happy with the different twists on the menu.  I was too full for dessert, but managed to force down some of the chocolate cherry bread pudding late in the evening.  Bliss.  All in all it was a great day, and we all feel truly blessed.

We spent yesterday eating leftovers, listening to Christmas music, and enjoying Nana and Papa, who have to leave today.  I actually did he crazy get-up-early-and-shop thing!  Woke at 5, laid there contemplating my choice for an hour, then hit the shower and got out the door by 6:30.  I drove a whopping half-mile to my local Target, loaded up, and then went to our terrific local toy store, and kept them in business for another day.  You can imagine how much shopping Santa has to do for 6 kids and a husband who have all been more nice than naughty all year.

Guess what it's time for?  COOKIE BAKING!  I make an obscene amount of Christmas cookies, at least a batch every other day.  Many go in the freezer, some to the neighborhood cookie exchange, and the rest get devoured by my skinny and starving children.  They are all hollering "What are you making first, Mom?"  Yesterday the votes were Rum Balls, Peanut Butter Balls, and Brown-Eyed Susans.  Apparently, I need to make a trip to the store for supplies, because the season is upon us and we obviously didn't get enough to eat this weekend.

So stay tuned.  I'll be posting all my favorite cookie recipes, plus a Stollen I'll be making for Christmas Eve, various appetizers and treats, and in between, some healthy and delicious dinners I'm making for my family.

What in the world is HOTDISH, you ask?  It's what you eat in Minnesota.  The rest of the country calls it "casserole" but the Scandinavian-German-Farmer-Simple folks here in the Northern Plains have their own name for this phenomenon. 

When you have a bunch of leftover turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing, gravy and cranberries, you simply must make hotdish.  Or hot turkey sandwiches, or turkey-wild-rice soup.  Or put it all in the freezer and order pizza.

This is neither Sassy nor Gourmet, but your family will love it.

Turkey Hotdish
Turkey
Stuffing
Gravy
Vegetables (corn, peas, you know)
Cranberries
Mashed potatoes
Grated cheese, optional

Get out at least a 9x13 baking dish.  Butter the bottom and sides, and lay down a layer of stuffing.  Next comes a layer of turkey, then any vegetables that didn't get eaten.  Pour a thick layer of gravy over all of this.  For the cranberries, you have two choices - either add a layer to the dish here, or serve them on the side.  I don't like them mixed, but you might.  Now you can get fancy and thin out your mashed potatoes a bit, spoon them into a bag, and pipe them into pretty designs on top of your dish.  OR, you can spread them like frosting.  Whatever does the job.  Sprinkle on a bit of cheese if you are in the mood, and pop the whole thing into a 350 degree oven for at least 30 minutes until it's piping hot and the potatoes are starting to get golden and crispy on top.  That, my friends, is HOTDISH!


If you're feeling rather full and a tad more civilized, try this sandwich:

Turkey Cranberry Sandwich with Dill Cream Cheese
2 tablespoons cream cheese
1/2 teaspoon dill
pinch of salt and pepper
Milk or cream
Leftover turkey, thinly sliced
Cranberries
Romaine lettuce
2 slices whole grain bread, or 1 whole wheat tortilla

Blend cream cheese, dill, salt and pepper with a few drops of milk, until smooth and creamy.  Spread on both slices of bread, or all over the tortilla.  Layer the turkey, cranberries and romaine lettuce.  If using a tortilla, roll it up, secure with two toothpicks, and slice in half.  Serve with chips and a tart dill pickle.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Thanksgiving - Prepping Food and Love

Tomorrow is shopping day!  I'll be picking up my de-boned and butterflied turkey breasts from the meat department, plus the rest of my groceries for the meal.  The man plans to hit Trader Joe's wine shop for a few bottles of white (either Sauvignon Blanc or an un-oaked Chardonnay) and a few bottles of red (Pinot Noir works best for turkey dinner), and a bottle of Prosecco for the two of us to toast the day, before company arrives.

Amazing how much prep has to go into the whole deal, isn't it?  Many families do pot-luck style holidays, which takes some of the heat off the hostess.  But there's still the shop-prep-cook-clean house frenzy that comes with it all.

Thanksgiving is a pure holiday.  By that I mean, it's all about food and family.  No gifts, little decor, and really only one big day.  The focus can be on the people and the sharing of food and thanks.  That's what makes it so pure!

We here at Sassy HQ are very thankful for many things.  A family in harmony is one of them.  We all love each other, get along, enjoy each other's company, all that jazz.  No fights, no cold silences, no grudges.  That is a blessing indeed.  We have good health, jobs, homes, cars that mostly work, and many of the simple things that make for a happy life.

We try to be aware of those who are not so blessed.  My favorite thing to do is invite the lonely, unloved, or unlovely to share in our feast.  Orphans, strays, and misfits are people that need the invitations more than anyone.  Do you know such people?  Can you put another chair at your table?  Scrounge an extra plate in the cupboard and fill it with food and love?  There's probably someone in your neighborhood, office, church or wider circle of acquaintance - INVITE THEM.  Trust me, whatever blessing they get out of the whole deal, yours will be ten-fold.

18 people will sit down to eat at our house on Thursday.  We're hoping for a few extras to show up for dessert and games later.  God has blessed us tremendously, my husband's business is going well, and we have food to share.  We will give hearty thanks to the One who has blessed us, and thanks to each other for love and family and big-hearted joy.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Thanksgiving 2010 - The Menu

This is the big one.  The meal I look forward to planning and preparing ALL year long.  We usually do the turkey-stuffing-gravy-taters-cranberries deal, but not this year! 

This is the year for fun.  Husband says so.  His sister cooks the traditional turkey dinner at Christmas, so we're going to change it up for Thanksgiving.

I can't tell you how much I enjoy the whole process, which makes me weird in the eyes of some.  I love the reading of recipes, gazing at pictures, gathering recipes and ideas, writing out my menu and shopping lists, and the shopping itself (except for that whole paying part).  I love stuffing my fridge and cabinets, and spending several days preparing things ahead of time, and hovering in the kitchen in a merry frenzy.

May you and your family have a wonderfully satisfying, cozy, filling and joyful Thanksgiving with your family and friends.  There is much to be thankful for!

THE MENU

Rolled Turkey Breast

Potato, Red Onion and Havarti Gratin

Almond and Rosemary Panko Stuffing

Cranberry-Orange Relish

Spicy Cranberry Chutney

Maple-Cinnamon Butternut Squash

Green Beans with Bacon Vinaigrette

Mixed Greens Salad with Fennel and Apricots

Pumpkin Cheesecake

Chocolate Cherry Bread Pudding

Haralson Apple Pie

Pecan-Walnut Pie


THE RECIPES

Rolled Turkey Breast
12 green onions (scallions)
6 pound whole fresh turkey breast, deboned and butterflied
2 large garlic cloves
6 ounces mixed dried fruit
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1/3 cup pine nuts
1 bunch fresh thyme
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons pure maple syrup
salt and pepper

Place turkey, skin-side down on a clean surface.  Crush first garlic clove and rub into the flesh.  Lay 3 whole scallions on the flesh, arranged mixed fruit on top, scatter cranberries and pine nuts and 1/4 cup thyme leaves over the entire surface.  Season with salt and pepper.  Roll breast up tightly and tie with string.  Crush second garlic clove and rub into the skin.  Preheat oven to 375, lay remaining scallions in a roasting pan and lay turkey on top.  Pour olive oil and maple syrup over turkey, season with salt and pepper, and scatter remaining thyme branches in the pan.  Roast 1 1/2 hours or until thermometer reads 155 F.  Transfer turkey to a platter and tent with foil, let rest 5 minutes.  (If you want a sauce, you can add a cup or two of broth to the roasting pan, place it on your stove top, and boil for 5-10 minutes til reduced, strain and serve with turkey).  Slice turkey and serve.


Potato, Red Onion and Havarti Gratin
2 1/2 pounds Yukon gold (or other) potatoes
1 cup very thinly sliced red onion
3 cups half-and-half
2 teaspoons salt
pepper to taste
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh tarragon, or 1 tablespoon dried
8 ounces thinly sliced havarti or fontina cheese

Preheat oven to 375.  Peel potatoes and slice very thinly.  Place potatoes and onions in a pot with the half-and-half, salt and pepper.  Stir well, bring to a boil and then lower heat and simmer 15 minutes.  Transfer half the potatoes, onions and cream to a shallow ovenproof baking dish.  Sprinkle with the tarragon.  Add remaining potatoes, onions and cream.  Sprinkle with remaining tarragon.  Cover completely with an even layer of cheese.  Press down lightly.  This may be refrigerated for a day.  To bake, place on a baking dish and bake 40 minutes (or an hour if refrigerated), until golden.

Almond and Rosemary Panko Stuffing
4 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 cup finely chopped celery
2 cups chopped onion
2 teaspoons dried basil
2 teaspoons dried oregano
1 cup sliced almonds
2 cups panko bread crumbs
2 slices firm white country bread, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
1/2 cup grated Grana Padano cheese
1/2 cup chopped prosciutto
salt and pepper to taste
1 3/4 cups chicken stock
1 large garlic clove, crushed
1 tablespoon finely minced fresh rosemary

Melt 2 tablespoons butter and the olive oil in a 4-quart pot.  Add celery and onions and cook for 10 minutes until soft.  Add basil, oregano, and almonds and cook 2 minutes.  Stir in panko and bread cubes and cook 2 minutes until coated.  Transfer stuffing to a large, shallow baking dish.  Stir in cheese and prosciutto, and salt and pepper to taste.  Add garlic to chicken stock and pour over bread mixture.  Mix well.  Stir in rosemary and dot with remaining butter.  Cover and refrigerate until ready to bake.  Bake at 375 until golden brown and crispy, about 1 1/2 hours.

Cranberry-Orange Relish
1 - 12 ounce bag fresh cranberries
1 cup sugar (or half sugar, half honey)
1/2 cup orange juice
1/2 cup water
chopped zest from 2 oranges
chopped flesh from those 2 oranges
1 cinnamon stick

Place all ingredients in a sauce pan, simmer until most of the cranberries have popped and are soft.  Remove cinnamon stick before serving.

Spicy Cranberry Chutney
12 ounces fresh cranberries
2 large, tart apples, chopped
1 cup brown sugar
3/4 cup water
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
1 medium onion, chopped
1/2 cup dried apricots, chopped
1 tablespoon chopped fresh ginger
several gratings fresh black pepper
pinch of salt
large pinch of crushed red pepper flakes (or to taste)
1 teaspoon cinnamon

Place all ingredients into a sauce pan.  Simmer over medium heat until thick and saucy.  Refrigerate or can until ready to use.

Maple Cinnamon Butternut Squash
One large butternut squash, halved lengthwise and seeds removed
4 tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
3 tablespoons pure maple syrup

Place squash, flesh side down, in a baking pan, add 2 cups water.  Bake at 350 until a knife inserted into the thickest part moves easily.  Cool slightly, scoop flesh into a large bowl.  Mash with the remaining ingredients.

Green Beans with Bacon Vinaigrette
2 pounds green beans, trimmed
6 slices bacon
2 shallots, minced
2 tablespoons cider vinegar
2 tablespoons whole-grain or dijon mustard
2 tablespoons olive oil
salt and pepper

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and add beans.  Cook until barely tender, 4 - 5 minutes.  Drain and run under cold water to stop cooking (or plunge into an ice bath).  Transfer to a serving bowl.  Cook the bacon in a skillet over medium heat until crisp, about 6-8 minutes.  Drain, cool and crumble.  Discard all but 2 tablespoons of the bacon drippings from the skillet and return to medium heat.  Add the shallots and cook, stirring for 1 minute.  Stir in the vinegar, mustard, oil and 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper.  Add the dressing to the beans, add the bacon, and toss to combine.

Mixed Greens Salad with Fennel and Apricots
1/2 cup sliced almonds
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 cup lemon juice
1 tablespoon honey
salt and pepper
12 cups mixed greens
2 small small bulbs fennel, halved, cored and thinly sliced
4 scallions, thinly sliced
1/2 cup dried apricots, quartered
2 ounces shaved grana padano cheese

Toast almonds in a skillet until just golden.  Whisk together oil, lemon juice, honey, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon pepper.  In a large bowl, combine greens, fennel, scallions, apricots, cheese and almonds.  Toss with dressing just before serving.

Pumpkin Cheesecake
8 ounces goat cheese
1 1/2 cup sugar
2 - 8 ounce packages cream cheese
1 1/4 cup canned pumpkin
1 cup sour cream
3 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon dried ginger
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon salt

Beat goat cheese and sugar, add cream cheese and beat one minute.  Add remaining ingredients and beat 10 minutes until smooth.  Transfer to a graham cracker or ginger snap crust in a spring form pan.  Bake on a rimmed baking sheet at 350 for 1 hour and 15 minutes.  Refrigerate for 6-8 hours before serving.

Chocolate Cherry Bread Pudding
2/3 cup orange juice
8 ounces dried cherries, chopped
1 - 16 ounce loaf country bread, cubed
1/4 cup melted butter
8 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
6 eggs, beaten
3 cups whole milk
2 cups half and half
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla

Bring orange juice to a boil and pour over cherries in a small bowl, let stand 1 hour.  Do not drain!  Preheat oven to 350.  Toss bread cubes with melted butter, place in a 3 quart baking dish.  Sprinkle 1/2 the chocolate over this, add 1/2 the cherry/juice mixture.  Mix eggs, milk, half and half, sugar and vanilla, pour over bread.  Press down.   Bake, covered 45 minutes, then uncover and bake 30-45 minutes more until set.  Sprinkle with remaining chocolate and cherries.

Haralson Apple Pie
The magic here is the apples.  If you don't live in Minnesota and can't get Haralson apples, use Granny Smith.  Please make your crust with all butter or lard.  I use the Betty Crocker cookbook for this one :)

Pecan-Walnut Pie
1 1/4 cups light corn syrup
1/2 cup packed dark brown sugar
1/4 cup granulated sugar
3 large eggs
2 tablespoons butter, melted
2 teaspoons vanilla
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup pecan halves
1 cup walnut halves
1 pie crust for a 9 inch pie

Heat oven to 350.  In a large bowl, whisk together syrup, sugars, eggs, butter, vanilla and salt.  Stir in pecans and walnuts.  Fit crust into pie plate, place on a rimmed baking sheet, pour filling into crust, bake until center is set, about 45-50 minutes.  Cool completely before serving.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Nana Rolls

Disclaimer:  Remember that stuff I said about whole wheat flour being good for you?  Set that aside for just now.  There's a time and a place for white flour and THIS is the time and place, right here, right now.

Who is "Nana?"  She was my husband's paternal grandmother.  Who also happened to be an amazing cook and baker, gardener, canner, and all those other cool things that grannies used to do.  She won so many ribbons at the State Fair for her various canned and baked goods, that the press came calling.  Nana appeared in newspaper ads as a spokeswoman for a national yeast brand.  She was featured in articles and interviews.  My husband still remembers the sound that her basement closet door made - it was a swishing-fluttering noise made by the layers and layers of ribbons she hung there.

When it turned out I liked to bake, the recipe was passed along to me.  One batch had me believing this was the stuff from which legends were made.  I entered those rolls in my county fair that summer and won a purple Grand Champion ribbon.  Yep.  I've won ribbons for whole wheat bread and pumpkin bread, but only one recipe garnered the Grand Champion prize:  Nana Rolls.

I'm the odd baker that will share a winning recipe.  What do I care?  Sure, you can have the amounts and steps!  The touch and love are up to the individual :)  Pay attention at the end to a few variations I've tweaked over the years.  This is essentially Nana's recipe, with a few minor changes to make it my own.  Make sure you time the baking to have them fresh out of the oven in the mid-afternoon.  You'll need, of course, some Swedish egg-coffee to go along with them, but if you lack that desire or skill, regular coffee, tea, or milk will suffice.  If it's winter, make some cocoa, will ya?

Nana Rolls
1 cup milk
1/4 cup butter
1 tsp salt
1/3 cup sugar
2 tsp yeast (one packet)
1/4 cup warm water
1 tsp sugar
2 eggs, beaten
4 1/2 cups unbleached flour, divided

Heat the milk and the butter so the butter melts and the milk is approximately 100 degrees (blood warm).  Stir in the salt and sugar until dissolved.  Combine the water, yeast and 1 tsp sugar in a small bowl and let foam for a few minutes.  Dump the milk mixture into a big bowl, and add 2 cups of the flour, stirring to combine.  Add the beaten eggs and the yeast mixture, stir to combine.  Add 2 more cups of flour to make a soft dough.  Turn out onto a floured surface and knead, adding more flour to make a smooth and elastic dough, about 10 minutes.  Shape into a ball and place in a greased bowl, cover with a damp towel, and let rise until doubled.

Punch down the dough and shape into rolls.  I make a knot shape (like a little fat pretzel), but you can make horns, rounds, fans, whatever you like.  Let rise again, covered, until doubled.  Bake at 375 for 8-10 minutes until light golden on top.  I put parchment paper on my baking sheets which prevents sticking and burning.

Eat them warm with jam, butter, honey, or just stuff one in your hungry mouth plain!

Variations: (remember that loaves take longer to bake!)

*  I have used half whole wheat and half white flour with great results, and a teeny bit less guilt.
*  I have added cardamom to the first flour addition and it makes a nice, very Scandinavian-tasting roll.
*  I have rolled out ropes of the dough and braided them for pretty loaves.
*  I have been in a hurry and just plopped the dough into my regular bread loaf pans.  This makes great sliced bread or toast, but I do NOT recommend for sandwiches - too sweet.
*  If you are really in the mood for some yum, roll the dough out into a big rectangle, spread it with butter, sprinkle it with cinnamon sugar (and chopped nuts if you like), then roll it up, slice it into rounds, put them in a greased baking pan and you've got cinnamon rolls that will make you weep.  If you like caramel-topped rolls, grease that pan heavily with butter and sprinkle with plenty of brown sugar before you add the rolls.

Here's to your Nana!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Apricot Chicken

Have you ever cooked something and looked at it and said, "This just doesn't look fabulous!"?  Like something was missing?  Not taste, it tastes fine.  But looks.  Welcome to my dinner tonight.

I love this recipe, but I haven't made it in ages and now I remember what I forgot to get at the store - COLOR.  Seriously, it matters.  Or at least it sure should.  I am not the queen of presentation, and I do not decorate cakes nor make radish roses.  However, I do like a colorful and flavorful pile of food on my table. It's part of the "pleasing the eye" aspect of cooking.  Missed the mark tonight.

Apricot Chicken is a sweet-sour-savory dish.  Chicken, onion, apricot jam, vinegar, mustard, broth, dried apricots.  Other than that bit of orange in the apricots, it's rather beige.  So I'm going to give you a recipe based on what I SHOULD have made, not what my family will be gobbling up in a few minutes.  Suffice it to say, I neglected the peppers.


Apricot Chicken
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cubed
1 large onion, chopped
1 green pepper, chopped
1 red pepper, chopped
salt and pepper
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar, or white wine vinegar
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
2 cups chicken broth
a large handful of dried apricots, snipped into thirds
1 cup apricot jam or preserves

In your largest skillet, heat the olive oil.  Add the chicken and saute for 5-7 minutes.  Season with salt and pepper.  Add the onion and red and green pepper, saute 5 minutes.  Splash in the vinegar and mustard, simmer for a minute, then add the broth, apricots and jam.  Turn the heat down and simmer gently for 10-15 minutes until its nice and saucy.  Check for seasoning, I feel like it needs a good bit of salt to counter the sweet and tangy nature of it all.

I'm serving it over Trader Joe's Brown Rice Medley, and a big dish of Oven Roasted Sweet Potatoes with Thyme and Olive Oil.  And a Green Salad.  Ok, there's some color.

Least favorite text message from husband:  "Going to be late."  Grrrr..........

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Banana Bread - Amped Up

We've all made banana bread, right?  Funky brown nanners in the fruit bowl just begging to be smashed and baked into sweet goodness.

Plain old regular banana bread is fine.  But BOY there are some great things to add and change to make a really yummy, moderately healthy and family-pleasing loaf.  So get out a really big bowl, a wooden spoon, and turn on your music.  If you have the inkling, let the kids help.  Otherwise, boot them out to play in the snow, they need the fresh air and exercise.

This recipe makes two loaves, which is the smallest amount I'd make for my brood.  Feel free to halve the recipe for one regular loaf.

Sassy Banana Bread
1 cup butter, softened
1 cup packed brown sugar
1 cup white sugar
4 eggs
2/3 cup hot water
2 cups mashed bananas, about 4 large bananas
1/2 cup coconut flakes
2 cups whole wheat flour
2 cups unbleached white flour
1 teaspoon salt
 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 1/2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 cup chopped pecans (or walnuts)

Preheat oven to 350.  Butter two 9 inch loaf pans.  In a large bowl, using a wooden spoon, beat together the butter and sugars.  Beat in the eggs.  Stir in the hot water and mashed bananas.  Add coconut, flours, salt and soda, stir until combined.  Stir in the chocolate chips and nuts.  Pour into prepared pans.  Bake at 350 for 70-80 minutes, until the cracks on the top look dry and/or a toothpick inserted comes out clean.  Cool in the pan for 15 minutes, then turn out onto a rack and cool completely.  Freezes great!