Thursday, January 27, 2011

Stuffed Gouda

Who wouldn't love a new appetizer to bring to or serve at a Super Bowl gathering, right?  Chips and salsa, bread and spinach dip, hot artichoke dip . . . yawn . . . . zzzzzzzzzz.

For several years, the following recipe was my go-to to bring to parties.  I have one friend who particularly loves it, and would ask "so, are you bringing that stuffed Gouda thing?"

It's really really yummy.

But alas, there's a disclaimer, and an update.  When I started making this, I didn't read labels or care much about "natural" ingredients.  Which is why the dried beef (ack!) didn't register on my cooking radar.  I just knew the end result tasted amazing and sometimes that's all that matters.  I've been mulling over what to use in place of the dried beef.

Dried beef?  What on earth?  It comes in jar with a vacuum-sealed lid, and it looks like lunch meat.  It probably is lunch meat, to someone, somewhere.  It's terribly salty and full of nasty things.  There's got to be a better way.

Yet I haven't tried making this right.  Haven't made it in years.  I came across the recipe recently and thought I ought to share it with you all, but here I am with my mouth open and nothing to offer.

Let's toss around a couple ideas, shall we?  How about prosciutto?  The good stuff!  Maybe some chorizo, nice and spicy!  Salami?  Perhaps.  Whatever you (or I) decide, it should be the best you can muster, free from funk.  There's that word again - funk!

Here's the recipe.  It originally came from my Byerly's Cookbook, and I've tweaked it slightly for taste and appearance.  I plan to make it for our Super Bowl evening, so maybe then I'll post a photo.  It looks pretty, as you save the red waxy shell the round Gouda cheese comes in, and stuff the dip back into it.  Hence, the name.

Stuffed Gouda

1 - 7 ounce Gouda cheese round in red wax shell
1/2 cup sour cream or Greek yogurt
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/4 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
dash of garlic powder
hefty dash of Tabasco (to taste)
1 tablespoon minced green onion
1 tablespoon capers, rinsed and drained
1 tablespoon minced green bell pepper
1 tablespoon (or tiny jar) of pimento
2 - 3 ounces of meat (prosciutto, salami, chorizo), chopped

Cut a thin slice from the top of the Gouda shell.  Carefully remove the cheese, keeping shell intact as well as you can.  If you fail, skip it and serve the dip in a bowl!  Cut cheese into 1/4 inch dice.  Combine cheese, sour cream (or yogurt), mustard, Worcestershire, garlic powder and Tabasco.  Stir in green onion, capers, green pepper, pimiento and meat.  Spoon into reserved shell, mounding the top.  Cover and refrigerate for a few hours before serving.  Allow to come to room temperature.  Serve with crackers.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Bacon Grease

Yes.  You all read that right, and you all love it, and you all want to save it and cook with it, but someone SOMEwhere told you that it's bad for you.  It'll clog your arteries!  It'll make you fat!  It's so greasy!

Too bad for them.  Bacon grease is glorious stuff to be saved and savored and used up.

All fat that is both natural and minimally processed or refined is GOOD for us.  Butter, cold-pressed olive oil, properly-rendered lard, virgin coconut oil, beef and chicken fat.  Animals that eat what they were designed to eat produce fat that we were designed to eat.  I know I've harped on that before, so I'll leave it alone for just now.

I buy bacon that is free from nitrates/nitrites and monosodium glutamate.  Often, it will be labeled "uncured" and this is your friend!  If you can find bacon made from small farmers who raise happy pigs, even better.  Please read the label and the ingredients list.  It should have not much more than pork, salt, sugar, lactic acid starter culture. 

Cook up your bacon for Saturday breakfast, or loaded baked potatoes, or BLT's, and then save the grease!  If you cook your bacon in a pan on the stove, just let the fat cool a bit and pour it into a pint-sized, wide-mouth glass canning jar.  I don't strain mine because a few of those tiny bacon shreds add plenty of flavor, but you can strain yours if you like it smooth.  Keep your jar in the refrigerator until you need to use it.

What on earth would you use it for?

Sigh.  Perfectly fried eggs, for starters.  Use it just like you would butter in the bottom of your NON non-stick pan.  Cast iron pans are the choice of the Sassy family.  A couple of teaspoons in the pan, heated to medium, with an egg or two or three cracked in there, salted and peppered, sunny-side or over easy - it really and truly is the best fried egg you'll ever eat.

Use it for scrambled eggs and omelettes, too!

When I make pinto beans, I soak and cook up a big batch.  Some are used whole in various things, but I like to leave out a couple of cups for refried beans.  3 tablespoons of bacon grease go into a skillet, add the cooked pinto beans, and mash and cook away.  Some of the bean liquid is nice if the mixture seems dry.  Season it up and add it to taco meat, use it as a dip, or anything else you can think of.

Some sausages are lower in fat these days, and a bit of bacon grease in the pan helps them to saute nicely without sticking.  Making chili?  Saute your onions, garlic and peppers in bacon grease before you add the tomatoes and such to the recipe.  A bit of liquified bacon grease added to pancake batter makes REALLY good pancakes!  Next time you're making fried potatoes, use bacon grease in place of butter or oil, and your family will rise up and call you blessed.  Hamburgers, meatloaf, and meatballs are all yummy with the addition of a tablespoon or so of bacon grease.

Saving bacon grease is tasty, healthy and economical.  A pint jar is 2 cups, right?  2 cups of butter is a full pound, right?  A pound of good butter can cost $4-5 (organic, small farm).  A few packages of cooked bacon will easily yield a pint of grease.  And it will last for a long time in your refrigerator.  It costs you nothing.

Start the cycle the next time you cook bacon.  You'll be so glad you did!

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Scones

And I use the term loosely.

I've made all sorts of scones over the years.  The rather dry ones that you pat in a circle, score in triangles and bake.  The not-very-sweet ones cut into round shapes.  I've sweetened, mixed-in, topped, and experimented.

The Sassy Family likes our scones on the sweeter side.  We also break a cardinal rule and add an EGG to the mixture.  Ours are sort of like a hybrid scone-muffin-baking powder biscuit.  And we LOVE them!  Moist and sweet.  Yep.

Scones are good for snacks, breakfast, dessert, late night hunger pangs, and of course, tea parties.  You can make them tiny and bite-sized, round like a biscuit, or traditional triangles.  For us, though, it's about what goes INTO the scones that make all the difference.

I'll give you the basic scone recipe from which to build upon.  The basic recipe is plenty tasty all by itself!  Once you have a batch of the dry mixture ready, you can launch into varieties like Maple-Spice, Cranberry-Orange, Almond-Poppyseed, Chocolate Chip, Lemon, Currant, and whatever else your imagination can conjure and your family craves!

The basic recipe makes one dozen scones.  C'mon, a dozen?  Gimme a few dozen.  Take an afternoon and make several dozen - they freeze beautifully!

Basic Scones

2 cups all-purpose flour (you can substitute 1 cup of whole wheat if you're feeling healthy)
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons sugar
6 tablespoons COLD butter

1 egg, plus buttermilk or sour milk or plain milk to make 2/3 cup

1 egg, beaten
sugar for sprinkling

In a large bowl, mix flour, baking powder, salt and sugar.  Cut butter into dry ingredients until coarse crumbs form.  Stir in egg/milk mixture until dough just comes together.  Pat into a ball, roll out on floured surface.  Cut into circles with a biscuit cutter, or the open end of a drinking glass, about 2 inches in diameter.  Place on parchment-lined baking sheets, brush the tops with the beaten egg and sprinkle with a bit of sugar. Bake in a 425 oven for 12-14 minutes, until tops are golden.  Cool on a wire rack.

Now for the GOOD stuff :)

*Note:  Any ingredients "added to dry ingredients" should be added AFTER the butter is cut into the flour mixture.

Cranberry-Orange
1 tablespoon grated orange peel
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1/3 cup orange juice to replace 1/3 cup of the milk

Stir orange peel and cranberries into dry ingredients.  Use 1/3 cup orange juice, one egg and the rest milk as wet ingredients.  Proceed as above.


Almond-Poppyseed
1 tablespoon poppyseeds
1 teaspoon almond extract
1 dozen whole almonds, or a handful of sliced almonds

Stir poppyseeds into dry ingredients.  Add the almond extract to the wet ingredients.  Brush tops of scones with egg, sprinkle with sugar, and press one whole almond or a few almond slices into the top of the scones.  Proceed as above.


Maple-Spice
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon cardamom
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
2 tablespoons pure maple syrup
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
cinnamon sugar, for sprinkling

Stir spices into dry ingredients.  Replace some of the milk with the maple syrup and vanilla.  Brush tops with egg and sprinkle with the cinnamon sugar.


Chocolate Chip
1/2 cup chocolate chips

Stir chocolate chips into dry ingredients.  Use egg and sugar on tops as above.


Lemon
1 tablespoon grated lemon peel
2 tablespoons lemon juice

Stir lemon peel into dry ingredients.  Replace some of the milk with the lemon juice.  Proceed as above.


Currant
3/4 cup currants
cinnamon sugar for sprinkling

Stir currants into dry ingredients.  Brush with egg and sprinkle with cinnamon sugar.  Proceed as above.




Almond poppyseed on the left (was out of almonds!) and currant on the right.  They are disappearing quickly!

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Granola

One day, just for kicks, I thought I'd compare the cost of my homemade granola to that of the good stuff at the grocery store or speciality store. 

GASP!

There are plenty of reasons to make homemade food - sauces, dressings, bread, etc.  It's healthier, for sure.  It's tastier, unless you're a horrid cook.  It's more satisfying in many ways.  But for Pete's sake, it's cheaper!

A pound of organic granola in my part of the world can cost between $7 and $9.  Pretty bag, nice list of ingredients, made by small companies (sometimes).

So I bought all my ingredients for making a regular batch of granola.  Using my receipt as a guide, I calculated that I can make the following recipe for about $2.00 per pound.  Yes, indeed, using all natural and organic ingredients.

Do I even have to say how much healthier this granola is than a typical box of cereal?  Even the good cereals from the health food store, the ones that cost $4 or $5 for a 10-12 ounce box.  My granola has whole oats, yummy nuts, butter, pure maple syrup, unsweetened coconut, and plenty of other tasty things.

I often double the batch below.  When I do, it makes about 5 quarts of granola.  I keep it in quart canning jars in my pantry - easy for the kids to handle.  It makes a great breakfast, snack, yogurt topping, and you can mix it with butter and flour and use it as fruit-crisp topping!  We usually eat it with milk and dried fruit, in a bowl, duh, right?

(My 12 year old son is now in charge of granola in the Sassy house.  He eats the most of it, high time he learned to make it, eh?)


Granola

5 cups oatmeal (old-fashioned, not quick cooking)
1 cup raw sunflower seeds
1 cup sliced almonds
1 cup shredded, unsweetened coconut
1 cup chopped pecans
3/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup pure maple syrup
1/2 cup butter, melted
1/4 cup water
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 teaspoon pure almond extract

In a large roasting pan, or in a large bowl, mix oats, nuts, coconut, brown sugar and salt.

Combine maple syrup, butter, water and extracts.  Pour over dry ingredients and mix really well.

If using a roasting pan, bake directly in it.  If not, pour granola onto one or two large, rimmed baking sheets.  Bake at 350 for 30 minutes, stir, and then continue to bake, stirring every 15 minutes until golden.  It should take about 60-75 minutes.  Be careful toward the end, it can burn quickly!

Cool completely, stir or break up, and store in airtight containers in a cool, dry place.

Makes 2 1/2 quarts (or so).



Thursday, January 13, 2011

Shrimp Linguini

There are days we all need a little cream in our lives.  If we can couple it with wine and pasta and seafood, all the better.

I do not like alfredo.  Yep, there I said it.  It's often heavy and gloppy and even grainy with cheese.  It covers up the flavors of anything else in the dish, and relies on merely richness as the attraction.  I want to taste the herbs, the shallots, the wine.  I even like to taste the pasta!  I'm also of the mind-set that seafood and cheese don't belong in the same dish.  Unless, as my friend Maggi reminded me, it is shrimp-oregano-garlic-olive oil-feta cheese light goodness.

It's mid-January here in the North.  That means heaps of snow, cold temperatures, and a hankering for food filled with comfort.  With a family the size of mine, it often takes the form of stew or soup, beef roast or meatloaf.  Pasta always answers the call, though.

My Target store had a one pound bag of  frozen "salad shrimp" on sale for $4.99.  "Wild caught" said the bag.  Works for me!  They're pretty small, which makes them perfect for a cooked dish.  I knew cream should enter the recipe, and I always have white wine in the fridge.  Some garlic, shallots, butter, herbs and other seasonings would easily make a delectable and very simple meal.

This is one of those dishes that seems extravagant and luxurious, but isn't.  Another thing it is not is complicated or time-consuming.  Fresh snow made Mister's commute longer than usual, so he kept me updated on his progress.  Other than boiling the pasta, the dish took 15 minutes from start to finish.

You could easily substitute salmon, or scallops, or even chicken if you felt so inclined.  The chicken would leave a void in terms of sea-tasty essence, though.  With a nice green salad and some herby bread on the side, you'll have a very satisfying meal.  If you happen to have some frozen peas hanging around, toss a cup or so into the sauce just before it's finished - lovely color!

Shrimp Linguini

3 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons minced shallots
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 pound of frozen, pre-cooked "salad" shrimp, thawed
1 teaspoon dried basil
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
large pinch of red pepper flakes
1 cup dry white wine (Sauvignon Blanc, or dry white vermouth)
1 cup heavy cream
1 pound linguini (or other pasta) cooked and drained, 1/2 cup pasta water reserved

In a very large skillet, melt butter over medium low heat.  Add shallots and garlic and saute until softened, about 5 minutes.  Increase heat to medium, and add shrimp.  Cook for a few minutes, adding in the basil, thyme, salt, pepper and red pepper flakes.  Add the wine and simmer for 3 minutes.  Add the shrimp and cook briefly, a minute or two.  Stir in the cream and simmer for another 2 minutes.  When the pasta is cooked, add it to the saute pan with the sauce and a bit of the pasta water to coat the pasta.  Using tongs, turn the pasta in the sauce until well coated.  Turn into a large pasta bowl and make sure there are plenty of the shrimp on top to look pretty. 

This recipe served the 8 of us, with bread and salad as part of the meal.


 In the pan . . .

 In the bowl . . .

Up close and glistening . . .

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Ranch Dip Mix

Last night I had a group of friends at my house.  Someone else brought the treats.  I cleaned the bathroom.  Nice distribution of power.

The friend who brought treats is known for her hospitality and her tasty morsels.  She loves to give teas and parties and has a zillion kids and grandkids who are always in her house, eating her food.  Her house is the one to visit early on Halloween - two BIG bowls of a variety of candy and a welcoming smile from "Grandma Sue" with an invitation to "dig in kids, take as much as you like!"

That's the kind of person I want to be.  One with a stocked pantry, fridge and freezer, a moderately clean house, and an attitude of "c'mon over and eat what I'm serving."  To really love food and people are among the great essences of life.

What that all has to do with Ranch Dip Mix is this:  The mix is perfect to have around to whip up a quick batch of veggie or chip dip, or to thin out with buttermilk for dressing, or to sprinkle on breadsticks, or finish off the top of the cheese on pizza, or or or or.

And best of all, it doesn't come in a packet of Hidden-MSG.

The second thing is that I gave a jar of this to Sue last Christmas as a hostess gift for a lovely tea she gave for our Bible study group.  She told me last night that every time she makes a batch of dip for a gathering, people rave and ooo and ahhh.  We like that.

I recommend doubling or tripling the following recipe.  It keeps well in a jar in the pantry, and a single tablespoon makes a nice amount of dip.  Put some in half-pint jars with cute labels and give it as a gift.  Then you'll have a Sue thanking you :)

Ranch Dip Mix

2 teaspoons salt (use the good stuff)
2 teaspoons garlic powder
3 tablespoons onion powder
2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
2 teaspoons sugar
2 1/2 teaspoons paprika
2 1/2 teaspoons dried parsley

Mix all dry ingredients in a jar.

Ranch Dip

1 cup mayonnaise
1 cup sour cream (or plain yogurt)
1 heaping tablespoon Ranch Dip Mix




Monday, January 10, 2011

Family Dinner Saves Your Life?

Read the following (and excellent) article from the Huffington Post. 

Sassy could have written this . . . maybe not so well, but it's what my heart and head tell me is right!

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/dr-mark-hyman/family-dinner-how_b_806114.html

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Choco-Coffee-Rum-Yum Cake (with Rich Chocolate Glaze)

Every once in a while, you just want something out of the ordinary.  I'm not a big cake baker, and I certainly am no cake decorator.  The mere idea makes me extremely wiggy.  But I do like a good cake - rich, moist, depth of flavor, and fairly good to look at.

Our standard family birthday cake is "Crazy Cake" as we say.  Some people call it "Salad Dressing Cake" or "Chocolate Mayonnaise Cake."  In a nutshell, it uses mayo (or miracle whip) in place of eggs-oil-butter-vinegar-etc.  It's good.

Sassy #1 son turned 15 this week.  He's the one that wanted something different for his birthday cake.  Since the rum balls from Christmas are such a favorite around here, together we thought a combo of rum and chocolate would be a nice cake.

I searched around the internet and most of the recipes for "Chocolate Rum Cake" used boxed cake mix and boxed pudding mix, neither of which I use.  FINALLY, I found one that was from scratch with real ingredients.  Plus - major bonus! - it called for espresso powder.  Hello.

The cake turned out just great, but I knew I'd need a special glaze for it.  After all, it was a bundt!  (Cue up the hilarious scene from "My Big Fat Greek Wedding."  A bundt.  A boondta?  Bundt!  Boonka?)

Like all good social-networking junkies, I posted a querie on my Facebook page for a "really good chocolate glaze" for my cake.  My pals did not disappoint.  Roxanne came through with the best recipe, and I only needed to add a bit of rum to the glaze to carry through the flavor from the cake.

Here's the cake and glaze recipe.  I changed a fair amount of the cake recipe to suit my ingredients and tastes.  I found it originally on http://www.food.com/.  The name of the cake is my own silly creation.

(Note:  if you do not have or do not want to use rum for the cake, that's too bad because it's completely necessary.  And all the alcohol bakes off.  You can, however, omit it from the glaze and substitute a tablespoon of very strong, dark coffee or espresso.)


Choco-Coffee-Rum-Yum Cake

2 1/4 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt 
1/2 lb butter, softened (2 sticks)
2 cups sugar 
1 teaspoon vanilla 
3 extra large eggs
5 ounces unsweetened chocolate
1/4 cup instant espresso powder 
1/2 cup boiling water 
cold water
1/2 cup light rum 

Butter and flour a 10 cup Bundt or tube pan.  Preheat oven to 325 and place rack in the lower third of the oven.

Melt the chocolate in a double boiler or in the microwave until smooth.  Set aside to cool.

In a medium bowl, mix together the flour, baking soda and salt.

In a large bowl, cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy.  Add the vanilla.  Add the eggs, one at a time, mixing well to incorporate each one.  Blend in the cooled chocolate.

In a 2-cup glass measuring cup, dissolve the espresso powder in the boiling water.  Add enough cold water to make 1 1/2 cups, and then add the rum (you should be at the 2 cup point now).

Alternating the flour mixture and liquid, blend each into the chocolate mixture. 

Pour into prepared pan, smooth the top, and bake at 325 for 1 hour and 10 minutes, testing with a toothpick or cake tester into one of the center cracks.  It should come out clean.

Cool on a wire rack for 15 minutes, then turn out of the pan and cool completely.

Rich Chocolate Glaze

1 ounce unsweetened chocolate, melted
2 tablespoons soft butter
2 tablespoons light corn syrup
1 cup sifted powdered sugar
1 tablespoon cream (or whole milk)
1 tablespoon light rum (or dark espresso)
1 teaspoon vanilla

Whisk all until smooth and creamy.  Pour carefully over cooled cake, allowing it to run down the sides.

(Makes 12 servings)




(Pretend you don't notice the finger smear through the glaze on the plate)

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Daily Bread

"Since the carb police have been patrolling twenty-four hours a day, bread seems to have become public enemy number one.  To me it's just sad that so many people are forgoing one of life's most elemental pleasures for the sake of a dead-end weight-loss strategy . . . Does bread make people fat? Ridiculous!  Too much of most things will make you fat, of course.  But there's nothing wrong with bread per se.  Eliminating it from one's diet is lamentable, probably unhealthy . . . and very un-French."
Mireille Guiliano, in French Women Don't Get Fat

(If you are having to live gluten free - I am so sorry.  I hope you can find a bread that suits your needs.  You can stop reading this post now if you like.)

I've been baking bread for my family for 15 years.  I bought a Bosch mixer and a Grain Master Whisper-Mill when my oldest son was a few months old.  I'd buy 50 pound bags of organic wheatberries, grind my own flour, and bake the most delicious and nutritious bread for my family every week.  As the years went on, I waxed and waned on the baking of this basic bread, adding others to my line-up, winning a few county fair ribbons along the way, and becoming fearless in the use of flour-yeast-water-salt.  Pizza dough, baguettes, sandwich bread, cinnamon rolls, and many more delights have been a passion of mine for a very long time.

Crusty bread intimated me.  I figured I didn't have a wood burning oven that could make the perfect hard crust and tender, holey inside, so why bother?  The bakery makes such nice offerings!  Stubbornness and pride drove me to find a way.

For a while, I'd been making the baguette recipe out of the above-quoted book.  It was good!  I bought the correct pans - perforated with many tiny holes to let in air and steam, creating a nice crust all around the loaf.  My family liked the bread.  A combo of white and whole wheat flour was fine, all-white produced the lightest and tastiest loaves, though.

Then my friend Gwen at www.gwens-nest.com came through with an amazing, revolutionary, simple and perfect bread recipe.  Truly, it has taken over my kitchen life!  I've used it for bread, pizza dough, cinnamon swirl bread, savory herb-cheese bread and more.  It is unlike anything I've ever made before, and since I'm so excited, I need to tell you how I make it.  Please visit Gwen, she has step-by-step pictures which are helpful to understand the process and oddness of it all :)  I've tweaked her recipe a bit to suit my taste, and thankfully found out she tweaked her own recipe she got from someone else.  And so it goes, and so it should be!

You can make this bread from start to finish in a couple hours, including rise time.  BUT, the longer the dough stays in the refrigerator, the better-developed the flavors get.  The beauty of this bread?  Few ingredients, no kneading, fast baking, yummy taste and satisfying texture.  Try it!  You'll love it!

You'll need: 
*  a large mixing bowl
*  a wooden spoon
*  plastic wrap
*  a baking stone
*  a "peel" or an upside-down baking sheet
*  parchment paper

Daily Bread

3 1/2 cups water, "blood warm" which means about 100 degrees
1 tablespoon sea salt
2 tablespoons sugar (optional)
1 heaping tablespoon dried yeast
6 1/2 - 7 cups flour - organic, unbleached is best - I am experimenting with some whole-wheat, too

Pour water into a large mixing bowl, add salt, sugar and yeast.  Stir until dissolved.  Add flour and stir until a thick and sticky dough forms, and all flour is incorporated.  THAT'S IT!  Cover with plastic wrap.  Place on your counter out of the way for an hour.

At the point, the dough will rise and completely surprise you with its size, bubbly-yeasty appearance and fragrance.  In an hour or so, you can shape and bake.  But if you put it in the refrigerator and let it sit for a few hours, or overnight, or a day or two, the flavor will develop, strengthen, and take on a more yeasty component.  At that point, you can just pull off a hunk and shape and bake, leaving the remainder for the next baking.  When the dough is gone, the stuff stuck to the sides of the bowl becomes your "starter" for the next batch.  Just add a fresh round of ingredients and have a go, all over again!

To shape and bake:
Pull off a hunk of dough.  This batch makes 3 nice large loaves.  You'll want to flour or oil your hands VERY well, this is a sticky mess of dough!  Shape the dough into a circle or "baguette" shape or whatever suits your fancy.  It will NOT look pretty or loaf-like.  That's ok!  Roll it out on a floured surface and sprinkle with cheese and herbs and melted butter and roll up, or sprinkle with cinnamon and sugar and melted butter, rolling up and pinching closed.  Use it for pizza dough!  Or mix in some chopped olives and herbs.  The variations are endless.

Anyway, shape it onto a piece of parchment paper on top of your peel or your flat, unsided baking sheet.  Let it rest!  If it was cold to start with, give it about 30 minutes.  Room temperature needs about 15.

Preheat your oven to 450 degrees, with your baking stone in the oven.  When the oven is ready and the dough has rested, cut a few deep slashes in the top of the loaf and slide the loaf-on-parchment onto the stone. 

Bake at 450 for about 25 minutes.  It should be dark golden, lovely, and sound hollow when tapped on the bottom.  Let it cool on a wire rack and enjoy it.

So there it is - fresh bread made from dough out of your refrigerator in less than an hour.  I made a batch this morning and about 2/3 of it will become crust for pizza tonight.  The other hunk will get baked tomorrow morning to have fresh bread for tuna sandwiches for lunch at noon.  I'll start another batch before I go to bed tomorrow night. 

Simple.  Routine.  You get the picture.







Finished and ready for savoring :)

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Simple Pear (or Apple) Dessert

Just in case you're on the "no more desserts until Valentine's Day" kick, I thought I'd give you a recipe that will get your through your deprivation.

No dessert, in my book, means no fun.  Dessert doesn't have to be expensive, time-consuming, or fattening.  It should be a tiny bit of sweet deliciousness at the end of a meal.  Those eight dollar pieces of Death By Mediocrity that you succumb to in a restaurant after you're already stuffed have no business calling themselves dessert.

The best fruits right now are pears and apples, along with citrus fruit.  Find yourself some nice crisp Bosc or D'Anjou pears, or lovely Golden Delicious or Gala apples, and make a quick batch of this treat.  Your family will love you for it, and you'll feel like you've indulged without compromising your convictions.

Mr. Sassy and the kids ate this so fast I could not find the camera.  Sorry.  It's kinda pretty, but super delicious.

Pears in Red Wine

(this recipe serves 6)

3 firm pears, such as D'Anjou or Bosc, or apples
3 tablespoons butter, divided
generous sprinkling of cinnamon sugar
1/2 cup sweet or light red wine
pinch of salt

Slice each pear into eighths.  In a large skillet (cast iron!), melt 2 tablespoons butter over medium heat.  Arrange pear slices in a circle in the pan, sprinkle with cinnamon sugar and the pinch of salt.  Simmer for 5 minutes.  Add red wine and simmer for another 5 minutes until the sauce begins to get syrupy and the pears are tender.  Add the remaining tablespoon of butter in small dots around the pan, let it melt into the sauce, and spoon the sauce over the pears.

Serve a few slices on a small plate with the sauce spooned over it.  If you feel the need, you could add a dollop of sour cream, whipped cream, or small scoop of vanilla ice cream.  But trust me, it doesn't need such embellishment.

Monday, January 3, 2011

French Vegetable Soup

I call this "French" simply because I got the recipe idea from "French Women Don't Get Fat."  Yet I do believe the French make and eat many more light and healthy soups than we Americans do.  No doubt they eschew the canned varieties loaded with funky ingredients.

Fresh vegetables are key.  Seasonal is preferred.  Winter is a perfect time to make a pot of this soup, especially after the long holiday season of overeating and over everything.  True, there are no 'seasonal vegetables' here in the Great White North in January, but there are plenty of offerings at your local grocery store that can find their way into a pot.  You will be warmed on the inside, refreshed back into good health, and spend very little time and money in the process.

This soup is a great "diet" starter.  One secret I've learned is light eating in the evening.  I can eat a hearty breakfast and a good lunch, if I end the day with a light and nutritious dinner.  So if you're feeling that stuffed and sluggish post-holiday way, make a large pot of this soup and enjoy it for a week, either at lunch or dinner.

If you like chunky soup, skip the blending step at the end.  A blended soup fools us into believing that it is creamy and indulgent, but please make it the way you and your family prefer.  If some of the vegetables seem foreign or frightening, TRY THEM ANYWAY.  Turnips, celery root, and cabbage are delicious, mild, cleansing and life-giving veggies.  Get out a large soup pot and spend an hour in your kitchen - getting the ingredients ready is most of the work, the soup cooks itself.

French Vegetable Soup

2 or 3 large leeks, white and light green parts, sliced lengthwise and then into half-moons, well-rinsed
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
3 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup dry white wine
2 medium-large Yukon Gold potatoes (red or russet are ok, too), peeled and cubed
5 large carrots, chopped
2 purple-topped turnips, peeled and chopped
1 celery root, peeled and chopped
1/2 small head of cabbage, chopped
1 - 15 ounce can diced tomatoes with juice (optional)
Fresh or dried thyme, parsley, tarragon (thyme is my favorite)
Salt and freshly ground pepper
Lemon juice

In a large stock pot, saute the leeks and garlic in the butter until softened, about 10 minutes.  Add a bit of salt and pepper and the white wine.  Add potatoes, carrots, turnips, and celery root and enough water to cover, plus a bit more salt and pepper.  Simmer until almost tender, about 20 minutes.  Add the cabbage and tomatoes (if using) and the herbs, simmering for another 10-15 minutes or so.  Test the vegetables to make sure they are tender, and taste for seasoning.  If it seems to need more "brightness" add in splash of lemon juice.

At this point you can cool the soup slightly and then blend with a hand-blender or in a regular blender.  If you prefer it with a bit of "tooth" then leave it as is.

To serve the blended soup, add a small dollop of sour cream or yogurt on top and a sprinkling of fresh herbs.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Healthy Thinking

Oh, groan.  Sassy's going to go all "New Year's Resolution" on us!

Not so much.  But since we all tend to turn out thoughts toward new things at the flip of the calendar page, I thought it would be a good time to talk about how I think about food, and maybe encourage just one person to change his or her thinking about food, health, and pleasure.  Yes, I said pleasure.

Many of us have twisted relationships with food and our bodies.  Ranging from mildly obsessive to downright dangerous, eating issues plague so many American women in particular.  It's part media culture, part pace of life, and part disgusting products disguising themselves as food in our lives.  We all want to be supermodels, or at least look like them, but then we are faced with boxed and canned and packaged and processed stuff at restaurants and grocery stores that whisper to us to buy, consume, feel horrid, lather, rinse, repeat.

Some years ago, I had to change my body and health.  I was 80 pounds overweight and completely obsessed with food.  Either what I was or was not going to eat!  I dieted all the time, gaining and losing, feeling bad and guilty about what the scale said and what I put into my mouth.  To me, pleasure was all about quantity and comfort.  I enjoyed cooking and trying recipes, but my favorite thing for comfort was a large bowl of orange macaroni and cheese and a coke.  Yep.

It took me plenty of time to lose the weight - I kept having babies!  2006 was the year I finally got to my goal.  Then I had another baby in 2007 and had to lose some baby weight.  For the most part, over the last 4 years, I've stayed within 5-10 pounds of my ideal weight. 

You all know I eat butter, cream, bread, cheese, meat, sugar and all the other diet no-no foods.  How can that be?  How can you either lose weight, or maintain a healthy weight (and relationship with food) and eat such luxurious things?

No one has expressed it better than a woman named Mireille Guiliano, in her lovely book "French Women Don't Get Fat."  I'd heard about this book years before I read it for the first time last year.  I highly, HIGHLY recommend that every woman in America read this book, men might as well, too!  Her follow-up book "French Women for All Seasons" is excellent, too, and I've now seen there's a cookbook.  That's fun.

Anyway, it's all about "The Secret of Eating for Pleasure."  Doesn't that sound nice?  And doesn't it contradict our silly way of thinking about food and dieting?  We torture ourselves with eating 'rabbit food' as I call it, exercising ourselves to death, and wonder why we can't maintain the weight loss, or why we feel so awful in the process!

You gotta love a woman who tells us to eat butter on our bread.  Even eating bread seems evil in our low-carb minds.  But Mireille maintains that we can eat bread if we change how we think about it!  Sounds simple - and it is!  Eating bread is not eating half a loaf.  It is taking a reasonable slice, putting a bit of butter on it, putting that bread on a plate, and sitting down to EAT IT.

Sit down!  Now there's an epiphany.  Put your food on a plate, take a knife and fork, sit down and eat it.  No computer, no tv, no book, no yelling at your kids.  Taste the food, enjoy the flavors and textures.  Eat slowly.  Use a pretty napkin.  Make sure you table is pleasant, not all cluttered with papers and laundry.  I guarantee you that this one, simple step alone might change how much you eat in the course of a meal.

You just need to get this book and read it.  The library is a good start, because you can read it and then fall in love with it and go buy it.  Might as well get all three of her books while you're at it!
My challenge to you, and to myself again, in 2011, is to eat for pleasure.  No big plates full of food.  No mindless snacking.  No empty calories of stupid convenience foods.  Buy and prepare the highest quality ingredients you can afford.  Try new recipes and learn new techniques, concentrating on flavor.  French women are really on to something with their purposeful eating and enjoyment.

Move our bodies!  If you enjoy the torture of the fitness center, go for it.  My own preference is walking.  I am blessed to live a half mile from town, and I can walk to Target, the bank, library, grocery store, and a multitude of other errands.  I love to get my kids settled for their nap or rest time, put on my backpack and my iPod and head to town.  I can do some light errands, and make a two-mile loop in the process.  The walk home is always more of a workout as my backpack is full of library books or groceries, along with a bag in each hand.  Often, the kids will come with me on bikes and scooters, and there's an extra benefit for me.  I have to walk faster AND they can all wear backpacks to spread out our return load :)

Learn all you can about healthy food and healthy eating and healthy living.  You might have some issues with your mother, a broken heart, a stressful job, or a husband that doesn't understand you.  I wish I could help you with those things, but I can't.  For me, I had to remove my list of excuses as to why I couldn't be healthy.  It all came down to me and the control I had over what and how much went into my mouth.  I had to learn about real food and real portions.

(Confession:  right now I'm in the 10-over idea range.  Oops, too many cookies.  I'm planning to re-read "French Women Don't Get Fat" over the next couple of days and renew my thinking once again!)

Here's to a healthy and tasty and SASSY 2011!