Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Semolina Pizza

Finding the perfect pizza crust recipe is a bit like finding the perfect bra, don't you think? It's a lifetime quest for something that most of us never do find, but continue to search for nonetheless. In the spirit of keeping the hope alive, I offer you this little song. I hope it brings you comfort.

Somewhere, out there, beneath the pale moon light.....
Someone's dough is perfect and there's a bra that won't fit tight.

Somewhere, out there, someone's saying a prayer,
That'll you'll find one another, perfect pizza and underwear.

And even though I know how very far apart they are
It helps to think they'd fit inside Victoria's Secret bra,

And when the night wind starts to sing a lonesome lullaby
It helps to think we'll find that single perfect pizza pie!!!

(Had enough yet?) Me too.

The other noteworthy thing about pizza is that since we all have varying opinions on what is pizza perfection, it's difficult to label this one as perfect. If you're from the deep-dish or cracker crust camps, you won't care for this, but if you like a crispy yet chewy crust with the faint crunch of semolina, you're going to find this recipe perfect too.

Semolina pizza dough (adapted from CookingBread)

2 1/2 cups bread flour
1 cup white whole wheat flour
1 cup semolina
2 tsp salt
2 tsp dried basil
1 tsp instant yeast
1/3 cup olive oil
2 cups ice water (40 degrees)

Whisk together the flours, salt, basil and yeast. Add the olive oil and ice water and stir vigorously to combine. Knead by hand for 8-10 minutes or by machine for 6-8 minutes. The dough should be smooth and elastic.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and spray lightly with cooking spray. Divide the dough into six equal portions. I used my scales to do this. Place each ball of dough on the baking sheet and brush with olive oil. Cover the dough balls with plastic wrap and place baking sheet in the fridge overnight and for up to three days. If you're not planning on using the dough within that length of time, spray six baggies well with cooking spray and place each dough ball into baggie. Now place all of those baggies into a gallon freezer baggie and freeze until needed. When you're ready to make the pizza, place the dough in the fridge over night to thaw and then proceed to the directions below.

Remove dough ball from fridge two hours before you're planning to make the pizza. Spray a little cooking spray on the countertop and place dough ball on counter. Spray plastic wrap with cooking spray and cover dough ball.

About a half hour before baking pizza, place baking stone in oven and preheat oven to 500 degrees.

Spray some cooking spray on a piece of parchment paper and sprinkle lightly with cornmeal. Place the dough ball onto the prepared parchment paper, flatten it a bit, then using your fingers and starting from the middle of the dough ball, spread the dough into a 7-8 inch circle. If it fights you, just let it rest for a few minutes and then try again.

Place pizza crust, parchment and all, onto pizza stone and bake for 5 minutes. Remove from oven and top with sauce, cheese and your favorite toppings. Return to oven and bake for an additional 6-8 minutes, until cheese is melted and bubbly and the crust is golden brown.

I'd like to take this opportunity to wish all of you a fabulously happy 2010. Live well, eat well, and be prepared for this blog to lighten up on calories. It's time to slim down folks. Stay safe and know I love you.

Pine Nut Turron Cake (CWF)

This month's Chocolate With Francois recipe was chosen by Joanne of Apple Crumbles and was the first recipe that for me involved unfamiliar ingredients and techniques. I think I'm beginning to understand that Mr. Payard is going to be quite a bit about presentation in many of his recipes.

Pine nut turron is a three layer chocolate dessert built upside down on an acetate sheet enabling the finished cake to boast a smooth and shiny chocolate topping when the cake is inverted before serving.

Sacher cake, a jelly-roll type cake made from eggs, cocoa, almond flour and a little bit of sugar, ends up being the bottom layer. Then toasted pine nuts are processed to a paste and added to melted chocolate to form a creamy middle layer. The top layer is a thin, intense dark chocolate coating that is intended to give the dessert its show stopping appeal.

Since I felt there must be an importance to the smoothness of this top layer, I spent some time looking for the acetate in office supply stores. The 5"X15" specification eliminated anything already precut into the standard size sheets available, so I ended up ordering a large sheet from an online art supply store. I then cut it to the size needed and saved the rest for future fussy recipes. If you find yourself in need of pine nut turron cake for say a wedding reception for 500 people, I have enough acetate to do the job for you.

While I really enjoyed the final product, for the amount of work involved, it didn't live up to my expectations. As I stated earlier, I think this might be one of those recipes that's meant to be more about presentation than actual flavor. If I were to attempt this recipe again, I'd eliminate part of the time factor by substituting peanut butter for the pine nut puree and I'd definitely find a different cake recipe. I wasn't all that impressed with the flavor or texture of the Sacher cake.

All in all this was an interesting recipe and new techniques were learned in the making. I always love a challenge and this dessert definitely provided that for me.

You'll find the recipe for pine nut turron cake posted on Apple Crumbles. Thanks Joanne, for choosing a really unique and challenging recipe!

Monday, December 28, 2009

Ham Spread

I grew up during the pre-food processor era and can remember my Mom slapping the meat grinder onto an old piano bench to grind the ham for this ham spread recipe. When I got married I looked high and low for a meat grinder and when I finally found one while visiting my in-laws in Arizona one year at Christmas time, I bought it and took it back to Ohio with me on my carry on bag. This was back in the days when airport security was next to nothing so when your bag got stopped going through x-ray, everyone nearby paid attention to all the fuss. I explained what the gadget was but was still forced to completely unpack it from the box and show the security agents what the parts were used for. To this day I'm convinced that they were more curious about it than concerned it might be something dangerous.

These days of course, I'm much more apt to pull out my food processor than the meat grinder, but if you happen to have one of those little antiques, please feel free to use it. This is a great way to use up leftover holiday ham and while I have it pictured here used as an appetizer, we normally make sandwiches with it.

Ham Spread

1 pound ham, trimmed of fat and crust/skin, finely diced
3 eggs, hard boiled, peeled, chopped
3 green onions, green parts only, finely diced
1/3 cup sweet pickle relish
3/4 cup reduced-fat mayonnaise

Combine all of the above ingredients in a large bowl. Serve with crackers or use as sandwich spread.


Sunday, December 27, 2009

Stuffed Sweet Dumpling Squash

So how was your Christmas? Did you get everything your precious heart desired? Or did Santa hold out on your naughty little self (I don't need to know the details regarding that, really I don't.) The kids and their dogs left yesterday morning and then me and pa settled in for a long winter's nap. We do that on the day after Christmas instead of the night before Christmas.

Amid the Christmas leftovers, I discovered this sweet dumpling squash in the recesses of the fridge. Hey, that's a vegetable, I thought to myself. I haven't had anything nutritious to eat in a coon's age. Time to get back to regularly scheduled programing here, regarding the diet. So I roasted and stuffed the squash and could feel the pounds falling off of me as I ate it. This morning when I turned sideways, you couldn't even see me.

Stuffed Sweet Dumpling Squash

2 sweet dumpling squash
2 TBSP olive oil, divided
salt and pepper
1/2 pound sweet Italian turkey sausage (I used links with the casings removed)
1 TBSP butter
1/2 onion, diced
1 stalk celery, diced
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 cup dried cranberries (Craisins)
3/4 cup chicken broth
1 tsp poultry seasoning
1 1/2 cups seasoned bread crumbs (I used my homemade seasoned Panko)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Cut squash in half and remove seeds. Brush the cut sides with one TBSP of the olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Place squash cut side down in a roasting pan and add about a quarter of an inch of water to the pan. Roast the squash in oven for 45-50 minutes or until fork tender.

In a large skillet crumble sausage and brown. Remove from pan to a large bowl. Add the remaining olive oil and butter to the skillet. Add the onion and celery, season with salt and pepper and saute until softened, 6-7 minutes. Add the garlic and saute for another minute or two. Add the cranberries, broth and poultry seasoning and turn off the heat. Let the cranberries plump and soften while the squash finishes roasting.

Add the bread crumbs to the sausage and then add the vegetable/broth/cranberry mixture. Toss to combine. You may have to add a bit more broth if mixture seems too dry.

Remove squash from oven and fill with the stuffing mixture. Return squash to oven and bake another 10-15 minutes or until stuffing has browned and heated through.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Peanut Butter Pretzel Bites

If this recipe leaves you with a sense of deja vu, do not be alarmed. It is indeed very similar to my recipe for Buckeyes, with the only additions being that of the pretzels and the little Christmas sprinkles. Think of it as my regift to you on this day before Christmas Eve; my second go-round with the same recipe, yet not quite. It is my "I'm up to my eyeballs in Christmas preparations so I don't have time to blog about anything else" offering to you so that you'll have something to read upon your visit here today.

Truth be known, you all are out racing around like chickens with your heads cut off as well. Who am I kidding.... I'll be lucky to have anyone even reading this today. But if by chance you're one of those people who has EVERYTHING FINISHED (I say that with much envy and disgust, of course) please enjoy this recipe for cute little peanut butter pretzel bites.

Peanut Butter Pretzel Bites

4 TBSP unsalted butter, softened
1 cup smooth peanut butter
1/2 tsp vanilla
1 cup powdered sugar
12 ounces semi-sweet chocolate chips
2 TBSP shortening
1 bag waffle pretzels

Cream together the butter, peanut butter and vanilla. Add powdered sugar and stir to combine well. Place dough between two sheets of waxed paper and roll to a little less than 1/2" thickness. Trim edges so you'll have a straight rectangle. Cut dough into 1" pieces.

In a double boiler, melt chocolate chips and shortening. Stir until smooth. Dip pretzels into chocolate and lay on a cooling rack. Sprinkle with glitter or other candy decorations if desired. Place pretzels in freezer for a few minutes to firm chocolate.

Place one square of the peanut butter mixture between two pretzels to form a sandwich.



Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Sweet Chicken Bacon Wraps

When it comes to appetizer preparation, those of you who are in-the-know realize that it's actually much less time consuming to prepare a full meal than to prepare a dozen different appetizers, but because so much of the prep work can be done ahead of time, and because this promotes a much more laid back atmosphere on Christmas day, I have gone the route of appetizers for the past couple of years. (Yes, that was all one sentence.)

This recipe for sweet chicken bacon wraps comes from Paula Deen. It is the second Paula Deen recipe I've blogged about that includes no butter. The first recipe was for her lemonade and how she squeaked by without including butter in that one, I have no idea.

Sweet Chicken Bacon Wraps

1 1/4 pound skinless, boneless chicken breasts (about 4 breasts)
1 pound sliced bacon
2/3 cup brown sugar
2 TBSP chili powder
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Cut chicken breasts into 1-inch cubes. Cut each bacon slice into thirds. Wrap each chicken cube with bacon and secure with a wooden pick. Stir together brown sugar, chili powder and cayenne pepper, if using. Dredge wrapped chicken in mixture. Coat a rack and broiler pan with nonstick cooking spray. Place chicken wrap on rack in broiler pan. Bake 350 for 30 to 35 minutes or until bacon is crisp.

TIPS: Do yourself a favor and line your pan with aluminum foil. It makes for much easier cleanup. Also, spray the baking rack thoroughly with cooking spray to help with the cleanup as well.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Linguine And Ham Frittatas

Will you be having a house full of family later on this week? Will there be hungry mouths lined up at your kitchen counter on Christmas morning and then for the rest of the weekend as well? Not that Christmas cookies and candy aren't completely acceptable breakfast entrees at this time of year, but if you're feeling like you might want to feed your family something more substantial, these little frittata muffins will certainly fill the bill. Made in muffin tins, these individual ham and linguine frittatas are an easy alternative to omelets and can be adapted with your favorite ingredients to suite your own tastes.

(Did she just say there's linguine in that frittata?) Yes, she did. But before you call her crazy, note that she based this recipe on one from Giada De Laurentiis on the Food Network.

Linguine And Ham Frittatas

1/2 pound linguine
7 large eggs
1/2 cup milk
1/4 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup cream cheese, room temperature
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp salt
3/4 tsp pepper
1/8 tsp nutmeg
6 ounces ham or canadian bacon, diced
5 ounces smoked mozzarella cheese, diced (1 cup)
1/2 cup Asiago cheese, grated
1/4 cup parsley, chopped

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Spray muffin tin with cooking spray.

Cook linguine in boiling water per package directions. Drain and coarsely chop into smaller pieces. Place in large mixing bowl. Add the diced ham, cheeses and parsley. Stir to combine.

Place eggs, milk, cream, cream cheese, garlic powder, salt, pepper and nutmeg in blender. Blend until thoroughly combined.

Distribute linguine and ham mixture among 12 muffin cups. Then pour egg mixture over the top of each.

Bake in preheated oven for 30-35 minutes or until set. Let cool for 3-5 minutes before removing from tin.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Buckeyes

(snicker, snicker, har har har)

Since my daughter firmly believes that the Three Wise Men arrived in Bethlehem bearing gifts of gold, frankincense and buckeye balls, tradition mandates that every year for the holidays, I make these chocolate peanut butter candies which bear resemblance to the real deal.

If you're not familiar with the buckeye, I'll just let you know that it is the state tree of Ohio and its fruit (nut) has become a symbol of tradition with regard to all that is Ohio State University. The term Buckeye applies to students, alumni, sports fans and Ohio residents in general. In my case, though I no longer live in Ohio, I remain a Buckeye by birthright.

You don't have to be a Buckeye to enjoy these little balls of chocolate peanut butter bliss, but if you are, you'll love them even more!

Buckeyes

1 stick (8 TBSP) butter, room temperature
2 cups smooth peanut butter
1 tsp vanilla
3 cups powdered sugar
18 ounces semi-sweet chocolate chips
2 TBSP shortening

Cream butter, peanut butter and vanilla together in mixing bowl. Slowly add in powdered sugar until all is incorporated and the dough sticks together nicely. Form dough into 1" balls and place on cookie sheet lined with wax paper. Place cookie sheet in freezer while preparing the chocolate.

In double boiler, melt chocolate and shortening. Stir until smooth. With a toothpick, dunk each peanut butter ball into the chocolate, leaving just a little bit of the peanut butter ball uncovered. Place back on cookie sheet. Allow chocolate to firm. Store Buckeyes in a covered container in the refrigerator.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Merry Christmas... Or Happy Holidays? (Weekend Whine)

I may be about to touch on a nerve with some of you, but in the interest of peace and goodwill to ALL during this special time of year, I'd like to offer an explanation to those of you who seem to get offended when someone wishes you "Happy Holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas."

Some background information first. I am and will always be a Christian. And by that proclamation, I must devoutly hold true to the belief that "Jesus is the reason for the season," and "Let's put the Christ back in Christmas." I feel a strong message needs to be sent to all my Christian sisters and brothers that our beliefs mandate that we put Christ first in the celebration of Christmas. Of course, there is room for all of the other traditions that accompany this joyful honoring of Christ's birth, but He will remain first and foremost in my thoughts and prayers on Christmas.

That being said, I must admit that I get a little miffed at those who campaign against the retail establishments who have chosen to go the route of wishing their patrons "Happy Holidays." Does it not make sense to you (and you know who you are) that there are other faiths in this world we live in and that by wishing us "Happy Holidays," regardless of faith or tradition, we are ALL being wished good will, peace and happiness at this time of year?

I worked as a dental hygienist for thirty years. And during those years, I got to know many of my patients on a personal level. If I knew they were Christian and/or celebrated Christmas in whatever way they'd become accustomed to, I wished them a "Merry Christmas" when I greeted them. However, if I didn't know their traditions or beliefs, I wished them "Happy Holidays." It's the right thing to do when you're in a professional/public business environment. It shows respect rather than lack thereof. I mean no disrespect for my Lord and Savior. Quite the contrary, I'm showing Him that I love Him by respecting others' beliefs and that I accept the differences between myself and my neighbor.

Thank you for reading another edition of Weekend Whine. It's what I do when there's nothing good on TV on a Saturday night. We'll return to regularly scheduled programming next week. Lots of fattening Christmas/holiday goodies to get your cholesterol good and ready to take the New Year's diet plunge.... promise.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Christmas Sugar Cookies (Treats For Co-Irkers)

Meet Frosty the Sugar Cookie. Tell him how cute he is. It'll make him melt.

Frosty came to be because the nice folks at Domino Sugar sent me a $20 gift card and asked me if I'd like to use it to purchase ingredients to make some delectable recipe from their website. Do you think there was any need to twist my arm on that one?

I checked out several of their online recipes but I already knew what I was going to make. Christmas wouldn't be Christmas without cutout sugar cookies. I had already ordered some new cookie cutters and couldn't wait to try them out. The Christmas ornament cookie cutter reminded me of a snowman face with a hat sticking up so I took that idea and ran with it. I first outlined the entire cookie with white icing and then flooded it with thinned icing. I then outlined the hat with red icing and added the crosshatches and "knitted" brim and ball on top with a star tip. Black and orange icing complete the eyes, mouth and nose and the hat is trimmed with green sugar pearls.

I also made some very simple Christmas trees with outlined and flooded white icing and then decorated with white trimming and green and red sugar pearls. To outline and glaze all my cutout cookies I use glazing sugar from King Arthur. It's basically powdered sugar without the added cornstarch and I just love how easily it mixes and how smoothly it finishes the cookie's surface.

The sugar cookie recipe can be found on the Domino Sugar website so I won't reprint it here, but I will give you the recipe for the icing I used to decorate these cookies. I've used this buttercream recipe for years. The added meringue powder enables this soft icing to crust over just a bit so the cookies are more stacking and storage friendly.

Buttercream Icing

1/2 cup solid vegetable shortening (Crisco)
1/2 cup butter, softened
1 tsp clear vanilla
4 cups sifted confectioners' sugar (approximate 1 lb)
3 Tbsp meringue powder
2 Tbsp milk

Sift together confectioners' sugar and meringue powder.

Cream butter and shortening with electric mixer. Add vanilla. Gradually add sugar, one cup at a time, beating well on medium speed. Scrape down beater and sides and bottom of bowl often. When all sugar has been beaten in icing will appear dry. Add milk and beat on medium speed until light and fluffy. Keep icing covered while decorating as it dries out quickly.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Pugliese Pizza Buns (BBA Challenge)

When I read that I'd be dealing with another wet dough during this week's Bread Baker's Apprentice Challenge, I started to get nervous. Pugliese, originating in the southeastern Italian region of Apulia, is a rustic bread with a high level of hydration and I still have bread maker's night sweats over the last high-hydration bread I made. So I did what any proper coward would do. I took the easy route and made this dough into pizza, well actually pizza buns.

I already had my dough fermenting on the counter when I made this decision. You see, while I was waiting for the dough to rise, I was reading through my daily blog roll and found a fantastic recipe for pizza buns at Baker's Banter, King Arthur Flour's web blog. Pizza dough is rolled out and cheese and whatever toppings you like are sprinkled over the top before rolling the dough into a log and slicing it into cinnamon roll-like slices. The rolls are then partially baked before adding pizza sauce and more cheese. After returning to the oven to finish baking, these rolls are cheesy, saucy bundles of pizza goodness. I'm not kidding you, this is perhaps my favorite recipe find of the year! You're going to love these.

I'm going to guide you through the process here in the way that I made these pizza buns, but feel free to check out Baker's Banter for a pizza dough recipe as well as very detailed step-by-step photos of how they made these buns with different toppings.

Pizza Buns (adapted from Baker's Banter)

1 1/2 lbs bread/pizza dough
2 tsp olive oil
1/2 onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
4 oz. turkey pepperoni, diced
3/4 cup green olives, diced
1 cup pizza sauce
3 cups mozzarella cheese, divided

Heat olive oil in a skillet. Add onions and saute to soften, 5-6 minutes. Add garlic and saute another minute or two. Remove from heat and cool to room temperature.

Spray counter top with cooking spray. Using a greased rolling pin, roll pizza dough into a 12"X18" rectangle. Sprinkle 1 cup of the cheese on the dough and press into the dough lightly.

Evenly spread cooled pepperoni topping over the rectangle.

Starting with the short end, roll the dough into a log, seam side down.

Using a ruler to help guide you, score the log into 1 inch sections.

Continue slicing through the score marks, creating twelve pizza buns. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper and place six buns on each sheet. Cover the buns with plastic wrap that has been sprayed with cooking spray. Let rise for 60-90 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Bake pizza buns for 15 minutes then remove from oven.

Top with pizza sauce.

Then top generously with cheese.

Return the buns to the oven to finish baking, 15-20 minutes. Remove from oven and transfer to cooling rack.

Once cool, you can freeze these individually wrapped in plastic wrap then placed in a ziploc freezer bag. Thaw at room temperature then reheat in microwave for 15-30 seconds.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Chipotle Bean Soup

Got your Christmas shopping finished? Don't you hate it when people ask you that? Me too. Mainly because I never get finished. I just have to accept that whatever I have bought and wrapped come Christmas Eve is what everyone is going to get. Period.

I had to get my Maxine Christmas mug out today to remind me that this is not the time of year to be cranky. Christmas will come and go and no one will remember if the bow on that box matched the paper or if there was a smudge in the icing on that Santa cookie. The birth of Jesus should foster feelings of warmth and happiness, not frustration and exhaustion. Do yourself a favor and take it a little easier on yourself this year, OK? I give you permission.

Here's a delicious soup recipe to warm your heart and tummy after a long day of Christmas shopping or gift wrapping. If you're squeamish about using bacon grease just use all olive oil, but it really does add to the overall smoky flavor in this soup. Also, if you like extra heat, add another chipotle or some of the adobo sauce to get it to the hotness level you like.

Chipotle Bean Soup

6 strips of center cut bacon, cooked crisp and then crumbled. Reserve one tablespoon of the bacon fat.
1 lb. northern beans, sorted, rinsed and soaked overnight, then cooked per package instructions and drained. (or 3 16 oz. cans of northern beans, drained)
1 TBSP olive oil
1 onion, diced
1 stalk celery, diced
2 carrots, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 potatoes, peeled, cubed
2 TBSP tomato paste
1 chipotle pepper in adobo sauce, minced finely (I actually pureed mine in the food processor with a little of the adobo sauce)
6 cups chicken stock
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
salt and pepper

Heat reserved bacon fat and olive oil in large soup pot. Add onions, celery and carrots. Season with salt and pepper and saute until onion is softened, 6-7 minutes. Add garlic and saute for another minute or two. Stir in the tomato paste and chipotle puree and mix well. Add the chicken broth and potatoes. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, season well with salt and pepper and simmer for 15 minutes. Add the beans and simmer for another 15-20 minutes. Remove from heat and add chopped parsley. Ladle soup into bowls and garnish with crumbled bacon.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Harvest Grains Bread

I've been wanting to tell you about this bread since I made it last month but I got so caught up into posting about Thanksgiving recipes and then Christmas treats that it was put on the back burner until I finally found the time and place to address it.

Harvest Grains Blend is a mixture of whole oat berries, millet, rye flakes, wheat flakes, flax, and poppy, sesame and sunflower seeds. All of these high-fiber ingredients add wonderful texture and flavor to this bread and if you enjoy hearty bread with a little chewy crunch, this recipe is for you.

I'm going to give you the recipe right off of the package but tell you here that I made one small change in the technique. I make a soaker out of the Harvest Grains Blend and 1/4 cup of water and let it sit on the counter overnight before making the dough the following morning. I then subtracted that 1/4 cup of water from the total amount needed for the final dough. I did that because this recipe reminded me of the multigrain bread that I'd made awhile back for the Bread Baker's Apprentice Challenge and the directions for that stated that this soaking process initiates enzyme action. I'm neither a scientist nor a professional baker, but this sounded like an important step to me and made me feel like I knew what I was doing. HEE!

Harvest Grains Bread (from King Arthur Flour)

2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/4 cup white whole wheat flour
1/4 cup yellow cornmeal
2/3 cup Harvest Grains Blend
2 tsp instant yeast
3 TBSP sugar
1 1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup milk
1/2 to 3/4 cup water
2 TBSP canola oil

Combine all ingredients using the smaller amount of water in a large bowl or the bucket of a bread machine. Mix and knead by hand, electric mixer or bread machine until dough is smooth and supple, adding additional water or flour as needed. Place dough in a lightly greased bowl; cover and let rise about one hour. Turn dough onto lightly oiled work surface. Shape it into a loaf. Place the loaf in a lightly greased 8 1/2" X 4 1/2" pan. Cover pan and let loaf rise about 1 1/4 hours, or until it's crowned about 1 inch over the rim of the pan. Bake the bread in a preheated 350 degree oven for 40-45 minutes, (tenting it with foil for the final 10 minutes if it appears to be browning too quickly); or until its internal temperature registers 190 degrees. Remove from oven, remove from pan, and allow to cool on a wire rack.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Family Traditions (and Buffalo Chex Mix)

Decking the halls, caroling, cookie decorating, present wrapping, fruitcake, kissing under the mistletoe, Jerry the elf, Jockstrap Barney, and el Matador are just a few of the holiday traditions that make this time of year so special for me. What? You're not familiar with Jerry, Jockstrap Barney or el Matador? Well don't worry, because if you keep reading you'll learn more than you ever wanted to know. WAY more. (Oh, and for the record, I lied about the fruitcake.)

But first, this Buffalo Chex Mix. The holidays wouldn't be complete without a big batch of Chex Mix sitting on the counter to munch on. It's the only time of year that I make it and I'd venture a bet that more Chex cereal is sold during the month of December than the other eleven months combined. And while I really love traditional Chex Mix, this year I wanted to try something different so I decided to go a little bold and make this Buffalo Chex Mix. Frank's Red Hot adds a little zip and heat to this crispy, crunchy snack but it doesn't take it over the top to hot and spicy. Feel free to add a little more than is called for if you want additional heat.

Buffalo Chex Mix (adapted from Chex.com)

4 cups Rice Chex cereal
4 cups Wheat Chex cereal
2 cups Parmesan-flavored tiny fish-shaped crackers
2 cups pretzel twists
6 tablespoons butter
2 1/2 tablespoons hot sauce
1 packet ranch dressing mix
2 teaspoons celery seed

Preheat oven to 250 degrees.

In microwavable dish melt butter in the microwave for 30-60 seconds. Add the hot sauce, ranch dressing mix and celery seed. Stir to combine.

Place cereals, fish crackers and pretzels in a large roasting pan. Pour butter mixture on top and stir well to coat pieces. Bake in oven for one hour, stirring every fifteen minutes. Remove from oven and cool mixture on paper towels. Store in air tight container when completely cooled.

Now onto Jerry the elf, Jockstrap Barney and el Matador. (this is where'd I'd click the "x" in the upper right hand corner if you're not a family member because it's going to be a bit like watching other peoples' home movies. By the time I'm through, you're going to want to go home and eat your young.)

When we lived in Ohio I'd decorate the house in pretty much the same manner every year. The carolers went on the wood stove, the Christmas tree went in the front living room, Molly's kindergarten snowman hung from a stick pin on the pantry door, and Jerry the elf stood on building blocks that spelled "Jerry Loves You" on the book shelf in the family room. The building blocks have letters on several of the sides and are supposed to spell out "Merry Christmas," but one particular Christmas at least ten years ago the kids were playing with the blocks and decided to tape a nametag on the elf and rearrange the blocks with the now traditional saying. The entire month of December passed before I even noticed that they'd changed it. I laughed myself silly of course. Every year since, I put the blocks together to spell "Merry Christmas" and someone (and always when I'm not looking) changes them back to Jerry and his love for us.

Meet Jockstrap Barney and el Matador. (I don't even know where to begin.)

Telling you the story of these two traditions is going to clue you in to the true insanity that is my family (brothers and sisters.) For the last twenty or so years we've rented a hall to host our family Christmas party because there are just too many of us to fit into a house. Each year a different brother or sister is in charge of the festivities and makes the decisions regarding games we'll play and how the gift exchange is going to take place. Some years we have a genuine gift exchange with real gifts, but many years we opt for the crazier "white elephant" exchange. Jock Strap Barney made his appearance about 15 years ago and has since returned every year to adorn the gift table. When we first met him he was actually wearing a jock, but in the past few years that's been replaced by a diaper and we're now considering renaming him Incontinent Barney. I'll keep you updated.

The el Matador mug is actually an award given to a male family member who best displays the qualities of (this is where it becomes difficult to explain) whatever it is they want to be qualified for. Some years the winner is chosen because of his lifetime achievements related to bizarre behavior and other years the chosen one is voted in because of hardship or best display of family values. It just really all depends on the year but regardless of reason, the tradition itself has grown to the point of craziness.

The presentation starts with a past winners' processional down the stairs. My nephew, clad in a blue terry cloth robe, then unveils el Matador while everyone sings "Oh Holy Night." Have you figured out that there are copious amounts of alcohol involved?

Every male family member then gives a speech stating why he deserves to be crowned the new el Matador and then we all are given a chance to vote. These are the past winners.

And here's my brother Al, this year's el Matador recipient. Pay no attention to the red headband. We didn't. (Congratulations Al!)

The mug holds exactly 6 1/2 beers and the winner goes around and shares his first drink with all who are in attendance. (I wonder how many of us will be sick for Christmas.)

This year there was also an attempt to get an "ugly Christmas sweater" tradition started. My nephews Mike and Craig look stunning in theirs, don't you think?

Here's the whole motley crew (minus my brother Ken) with our mother. She was able to attend the party for a few hours before the rowdiness forced her to escape back to the quiet solitude of her assisted living facility.

Do you have any favorite family traditions during the holidays? Don't be shy. I mean really, look what I just unveiled about my family traditions.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Whole Grain Oatmeal Peanut Butter Christmas Cookies

(for those family members visiting from Jason's email, please note that he's got my el Matador vote due to his dedication to the following and promoting of my blog. Good luck to you all and may the best man win. For the rest of my readers who have no clue what this is about, trust me, you don't want to know.)

You didn't think I was going to have all my Christmas cookies be of the unhealthy variety, did you? I mean come on, you know me better than that. I may have been oblivious to my own lack of healthy eating since the opening day of cream cheese season (which coincidentally is Thanksgiving day,) but that doesn't mean I'm not thinking of you, my healthy friends.... my friends who are built from stronger stock than myself during this time of temptation.. I know you need cookies too, and because I love you, I offer you these delicious oatmeal peanut butter cookies.

Remember those Coach's Oats samples that were sent to me? I had exactly enough left to make these cookies. They're 100% whole grain and while they're not low fat, the majority of the fat comes from the peanut butter, which is one of those good-for-you fats. Please feel free to substitute regular old-fashioned rolled oats for the Coach's Oats if they're not available in your area. And please.... enjoy these little guys with a minimal amount of guilt, OK?

Whole Grain Oatmeal Peanut Butter Christmas Cookies

2/3 cup peanut butter
4 TBSP unsalted butter
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp baking soda
2 large eggs
3/4 cup oat flour
1 1/2 cup Coach's Oats (or regular old-fashioned rolled oats)
2 cups holiday M&Ms

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray baking sheets lightly with cooking spray.

Cream the peanut butter, butter, sugar, vanilla, salt and baking soda in mixing bowl. Beat in the eggs, scraping down the bowl occasionally. Then add the oat flour and oats and continue mixing to combine. Stir the M&Ms in by hand.

Drop the dough by tablespoonfuls onto prepared baking sheets. Bake for 11-13 minutes, until they're barely set and just beginning to brown around the edges. Remove from oven and let cool on cooling rack.