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!