Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Gratuitous Toffee Photo

My grandmother's toffee recipe here.

Rather than chopped nuts, I melted candy melts in a ziploc bag, snipped the corner, and drizzled it across chocolate-topped toffee.

Garlic Cheese Grits

We're celebrating Christmas with my parents, brother, sister in law, and niece the evening after Christmas. My mother is roasting a pork tenderloin, baking a sweet potato casserole, and cooking green beans. Our contribution is garlic cheese grits casserole and peanut butter fudge.

This is a good breakfast/brunch dish, too. It can be made a few days ahead and refrigerated.

Garlic Cheese Grits

1 cup grits, uncooked
4 cups water
2 teaspoons salt
1 stick butter
6 ounces Velveeta, cubed
2-3 cloves of garlic, minced
(OR substitute 1 roll of Kraft garlic cheese, cut in small pieces,for the Velveeta and garlic)
8 ounces sharp cheddar cheese, grated
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
good dash of cayenne pepper
paprika for top of grits

If making to eat now, preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Add grits to boiling, salted water. Cook 5 to 7 minutes until thickened. When cooked, add butter, Velveeta cheese, garlic, cheddar cheese, cayenne, and Worcestershire sauce. Put in greased casserole and sprinkle with paprika.

At this point, casserole can be refrigerated for 2 or 3 days. Bring to room temperature before baking.

Bake for 15 to 20 minutes.

Serves 8 to 10 persons.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Peanut Butter Fudge, aka, The Best Easiest Thing to Make for Christmas or Any Other Day

Every family has recipes that show up each year at Christmas. Traditions. Peanut Butter Fudge is one of my family's. For as long as I can remember, there has been Peanut Butter Fudge around at Christmas.

Mom makes it and keeps it in a tin to snack on, takes it to friends, takes it to work. It's always a hit.

Besides the fact that the fudge is creamy and tasty, it is really, truly easy to make. The recipe has never failed me.*

Peanut Butter Fudge
3 cups sugar
1 cup buttermilk
1/4 cup (1/2 of a stick) of butter (do not substitute)
1 cup peanut butter (smooth or crunchy)
1 teaspoon vanilla
chopped peanuts (optional)

Lightly butter a 10 to 12” round dish and set aside.

Using a candy thermometer, cook sugar, buttermilk, and butter over medium heat until mixture reaches soft boil stage. Remove from heat and add the peanut butter and vanilla. Beat until the peanut butter is dissolved and mixture is slightly thick.

Pour into prepared dish. If you like you can sprinkle chopped peanuts and lightly press them down. Let set up and cut into squares.

*This weekend I had a kitchen disaster, wherein I dumped a cup of brown sugar, meant for the mixing bowl that had butter and sugar in it for the pound cake, in the pan on the stove that had the butter, sugar, and buttermilk for the fudge. We had to throw it out and start over. By "we" I mean The Fiance, who took over the peanut butter fudge making job and mastered it in one try.

Sugar Cookies

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
2 cups sugar
3 eggs
4 cups sifted flour
1 tablespoon vanilla
4 scant cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
dash salt

In a large mixing bowl, cream together butter and sugar. Add eggs, one at a time, and beat until fluffy.

Add vanilla, sifted flour, baking powder, and salt. Mix well.

Cover and refrigerate. (Dough can be refrigerated for several days.)

When ready to bake cookies, preheat oven to 350°.

Working with small portion of dough at a time, roll out on floured board until about 1/4-inch thick.

Dip cutter in flour and cut out shapes.

Place on ungreased baking sheets

and refrigerate while working on the next batch; this will keep cookies from spreading, making their shapes more defined. (For best results, put cookies of the same size on each sheet.)

Bake cookies for 9 to 11 minutes, or until cookies are just beginning to brown on the edges.

Cool on pan for a minute or two, then remove to wire rack to finish cooling.

We decorated these cookies one night last week. We were aiming for fun and for tasty cookies, so how they looked wasn't so much important.

That's why we used a simple buttercream rather than royal icing, which turns out gorgeous cookies but doesn't taste as good as buttercream and wouldn't have been nearly as much for a seven year old.

I creamed a stick of softened butter and added a few cups - about one box - of confectioner's sugar, then a teaspoon or two of vanilla. I love vanilla so you may not need that much. Then add water or milk (I used water because the faucet was closer than the fridge), a tablespoon at a time until it's the consistency you'd want on your sugar cookies.

Brown Sugar Pound Cake

I first heard of this cake from Ezra Poundcake.

Only after I'd double-wrapped the cake, a gift for The Child's sitter, did it occur to me to take a photo.

Brown Sugar Pound Cake

Adapted from Paula Deen’s “The Lady & Sons Just Desserts”

· 1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened
· 1/2 cup shortening
· 1 16-ounce box dark brown sugar
· 1 cup granulated sugar
· 5 eggs
· 3 1/2 cups cake flour
· 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
· 1 cup milk
· 1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
· 1/2 teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 300 degrees F.

Grease and flour a 10-inch Bundt pan.

Using a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together butter and shortening, and add the sugars, 1 cup at a time, continuing to beat. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition.

Sift flour and baking powder together in another bowl, and add alternately with milk to creamed mixture, beginning and ending with flour mixture. Add vanilla and mix well. Pour batter into prepared pan. Bake for 2 hours.

I had a kitchen disaster at this point and when the cake came out of the oven, I read over the frosting recipe and said, "Forget this." Only maybe in not quite those words.

After the cake cooled, I dusted it with powdered sugar.

· 1 egg, beaten
· 1 cup milk
· 3 cups granulated sugar
· 1/2 cup water, room temperature
· 1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, softened
· 1 teaspoon white vinegar
· 1/8 teaspoon salt

To prepare frosting, mix together egg and milk and set aside. Place 1/2 cup of the granulated sugar in a large heavy saucepan. Cook over medium-low heat, stirring constantly until melted and brown. Slowly and carefully, add lukewarm water, and stir until sugar is dissolved.

Add remaining 2 1/2 cups granulated sugar. Mix egg with milk, and stir into sugar mixture.

Add butter, vinegar, and salt. Cook to soft-ball stage (236 degrees F on a candy thermometer), stirring constantly. (A small amount dropped in a glass of water will form a soft ball. If you remove it from the water, it will flatten out.) Cool to lukewarm. Beat until creamy and spread on cake.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Date Nut Spread

This recipe is so simple and yummy. If you need something to bring to an office party or neighborhood open house, this is an easy one that folks will love.

A version of a spread in the famed Come on In! cookbook by the Junior League of Jackson, Miss., this is one of my all time favorite recipes. I’ve never met anyone who didn’t love it.

2 (8-ounce) packages cream cheese
1/4 cup honey
3/4 cup chopped dates
3/4 cup chopped pecans
2 tablespoons Amaretto (optional)

If desired, toast pecans. While not strictly necessary, it really brings out the buttery flavor of the pecans and isn’t much trouble. Just preheat your oven to about 350°, pour pecan pieces on a baking sheet, and bake for about 10 minutes and let completely cool before chopping.

Allow cream cheese to come to room temperature. Add the remaining ingredients, stirring well. That is it.

Cover and refrigerate several hours or overnight. The spread keeps well overnight and is better a day or two after it’s made.

Serve with apple slices, wheat thins, or your favorite cracker.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Winter Soup

The original recipe is called Red Wine Vegetable Soup, although the first ingredient listed is ground beef. There is red wine but not so much that you can’t call it something else.

The recipe comes from a cookbook called The Sharecropper cookbook. It’s full of easy, tried and true recipes. The illustrations come from stitchery pictures embroidered by the late artist, Ethel Wright Mohamed. One of her original works hangs in the Smithsonian. She hails from my hometown of Belzoni, Mississippi.

This soup is a good one to put on the stove and walk away. Those are my favorites.

1 1/2 pounds ground beef or ground turkey
2 medium onions, chopped
1/2 bell pepper, chopped (I put the whole bell pepper. Otherwise, the half would have lounged in the refrigerator until it rotted.)
3 ribs celery, chopped
28 ounce can tomatoes
2 15-oz cans tomato sauce
1 large potato chopped in small dice (The original recipe called for 2 potatoes. Next time I may try a sweet potato instead. Living on the edge, that’s me.)
2 16-oz packages frozen mixed vegetables
1 tablespoon parsley flakes
1 teaspoon oregano
1 teaspoon basil
1 tablespoon salt (That seems like a lot of salt but it seems to need it. You can cut back on the amount, of course, and add other seasonings.)
1/2 cup red wine
1 teaspoon pepper
3 cups chicken or vegetable stock (or water)

Brown meat in large pot. Add onion, bell pepper and celery – cook until soft. Add other ingredients and simmer 3 or 4 hours. Freezes well.

Makes a ton o’ soup. You could easily halve the recipe.

Sunday, November 30, 2008


I almost called this “No Fail Toffee.” Then I remembered the time I was in college at the University of Southern Mississippi, studying hospitality management, namely catering and food service and such. The irony, it abounds. It was near Christmas and I wanted to make my grandmother’s toffee. I called and got the recipe. It sounded easy enough.

The recipe called for two sticks of butter. Do not substitute, Mee Maw said. I had one stick of butter and one stick of margarine. I had already been to the store once that day, or that week, whatever. I really used to hate going to the grocery store. I still kind of do. I’d rather do all the dishes afterward than go to the store before. So I’d already been to the store and the thought of battling Hardy Street in Hattiesburg, an overdeveloped busy thoroughfare with a jillion stoplights and lots of traffic, was more than I could stand. I probably stomped my foot and whined before deciding to tough it out with what I had.

Since I had one stick of butter and one stick of margarine I decided to use them. I was substituting only half. After all, I thought, how bad could it be?

Let me tell you. Really, really bad. Real bad. I have instant recall to this day as to how that mass of burned butter-margarine smelled. And how it tasted. Oh, yeah, like a fool I tasted that foul stuff. I had to.

Lesson learned. I don’t ever substitute anything when a recipe calls for butter. Sometimes I put butter in a recipe that specifies margarine or shortening, that’s how well that lesson was learned.


1 1/2 to 2 cups chopped blanched almonds (or coarsely chopped pecans, walnuts, pistachios, or hazelnuts or whatever kind of nuts you prefer)
1 cup unsalted butter (do not substitute) (No joking about that.)
1 cup sugar
1/3 cup brown sugar
2 tablespoons water
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup coarsely chopped chocolate

Butter a pan. The recipe calls for 9x13 pyrex dish; I’ve used that and I’ve also used half baking sheets. Anything heatproof works fine.

Sprinkle half of nuts in greased pan and set aside.

Melt butter, sugar, and water together over medium heat. Bring to a boil, stirring often until temperature reaches 300 degrees. Remove from heat and quickly stir in baking soda. Pour mixture into the prepared pan and let harden.

(If you’re going to freeze the toffee, stop here. Let toffee get completely cool and hard, break into pieces, and put in a freezer zip top bag and freeze.)

Sprinkle chocolate over the top and let stand for 5 minutes. Spread chocolate over the top and sprinkle with additional chopped nuts while chocolate is still warm.

Let cool completely and break into pieces.

Keeps well in an airtight container.

When ready to serve or give away, take toffee from freezer and let come to room temperature and thaw – a few hours or so.

Melt chocolate – dark chocolate, milk chocolate, whatever you like – and pour over toffee, smoothing with an offset spatula. You can sprinkle the wet chocolate with chopped nuts and/or drizzle with melted green and red candy melts. I have umpteen pictures of this technique drizzled over sugar cookies or chocolate-dipped pretzel rods or what have you and I can’t find any of them.

You can play around with different combinations – white chocolate and toasted macadamia nuts, bittersweet chocolate and hazelnuts, milk chocolate and peanuts.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Phyllo Is Your Friend

I love phyllo dough. LOVE IT. It's so easy to work with, yet makes me feel so accomplished, kind of like homemade pizza dough (which is easy, easy yet I feel supremely proud of myself any time I make it).

My favorite form of phyllo are phyllo triangles, the wonderful little flaky pockets of goodies. Everyone loves them and the options, there are limitless.

To make them, melt tons of butter, more than you think you'll need. Lay one tissue-paper-thin sheet of phyllo on the work surface and brush with butter. Repeat until you have six layers of phyllo brushed with butter. Slice each stack of sheets into six strips. Place the fillings at the edge of each strip (anyone confused yet?) and fold over, starting at the end like you're folding a flag and go all the way up to make little triangles.

This is a link to a photo tutorial, which may make more sense. It's easy to do yet hard to explain.

For several years, my go-to filling was Tex-Mex. I used leftover grilled chicken or purchased cooked chicken or whatever. Some kind of chicken. Each triangle got a little bit of shredded chicken topped with salsa, shredded Colby Jack cheese, a few black beans, and chopped green onions.

Last weekend we had bought a rotisserie chicken for something and had some left over so I decided to do the phyllo triangles. They are so nice to have in the freezer, especially around this time of year as the holiday season gears up.

This time I branched out a bit and filled the triangles with a bit of chopped chicken, basil pesto, roasted red peppers, sun dried tomatoes, and goat cheese.

And they were AWESOME. We've found a new hit and will be making them again and again. We've already enjoyed some twice - once with a dinner salad and once with soup.

Try them. You'll love them.

Oh, wait. I bet you'd rather like to know how to store and bake them.

If you're baking right away, preheat oven to 375 and bake for about 10 to 12 minutes, until golden brown.

To squirrel some away for later, place the triangles in a singly layer on a baking sheet and freeze for an hour or two. Place triangles in a freezer proof zip top bag and freeze. To bake, place frozen triangles on ungreased baking sheet and cook for about 10 to 12 minutes in a preheated 375 oven.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Unstoppable Chicken Marbella

Based on a recipe from the classic Silver Palate Cookbook, this is one of my favorite go-to dishes. Kids love it, finicky eaters love it, it smells incredible while cooking AND any leftovers make the best chicken salad. It's a win-win-win.

We paired it with the best side evah.

Chicken Marbella

4 chicken breasts (I think the original recipe called for a chicken, cut into pieces and parts)
1/2 head of garlic, peeled and finely chopped
2 Tbsp Italian seasoning
Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
1/4 cup red wine or balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 cup pitted prunes
1/4 cup pitted Spanish green olives
1/4 cup capers with a bit of juice*
3 bay leaves
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup white wine or chicken stock
2 Tbsp fresh Italian parsley finely chopped

* Jeffrey takes issue with capers and he kindly asked me to leave them out, which I did. I don't think I could tell they were missing.

Combine garlic, Italian seasoning, salt and pepper to taste, vinegar, olive oil, prunes, olives, capers, and bay leaves. Put the chicken in a zip-top bag and add marinade. Seal tight and refrigerate for several hours or overnight.

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Lightly grease a casserole dish and arrange chicken in a single layer. Spoon marinade over it evenly. Sprinkle chicken pieces with brown sugar and pour white wine or chicken stock around them.

Bake for 50 minutes to 1 hour, basting frequently with the pan juices.

Serve with some of the pan juices and sprinkle generously with parsley or cilantro. Serve remaining juice in a gravy boat.

(Recipe doubles easily.)

Oh My Gosh So Good

I don't think a whole lot about side dishes. (Unless they're sweet potatoes. I love sweet potatoes.) It seems like you always need something green. In the summer, that's a salad or the much-adored proscuitto-wrapped asparagus.

The rest of the year, you know, green beans or something. Just...(shrug)

Then I realized how much I like this vegetable and this recipe is probably my favorite one.

It starts with sauteeing about four or five slices of bacon. I know! When the bacon is nice and crisp, remove the slices and pour the bacon grease off, reserving about 1 tablespoon. Add about 2 tablespoons of butter to the skillet. (I KNOW; butter AND bacon!)

The recipe called for 1/3 cup of pine nuts, which I didn't have, so I was going to use slivered almonds. Only I couldn't find them in my freezer, so I opted for walnuts. Add them to the heated butter/bacon grease mixture until they're lightly toasted.

Then you add 2 chopped green onions and 1 pound of brussel sprouts, shredded. Wait, come back! It's really good, even if you don't like brussel sprouts.

Season the mixture with pepper and seasoned salt and cook until the brussel sprouts are just tender, about 10 to 12 minutes.

The end result is something that doesn't taste like cooked cabbage, or even bacon, just GOOD. We enjoyed it with the Unstoppable Chicken Marbella.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Cider-Roasted Pork Loin

I loves me some magazines - Real Simple, Oprah, Mary Engelbreit Home Companion, Southern Living, Cooking Light - and I've got lots of them. I hate throwing them out and to soften the blow, I go through stacks of them, tearing out relavant pieces - recipes, articles, random photos for inspiration.

That decreases the number of magazines but also increases the stacks of recipes sandwiched between cookbooks in the pie safe in the kitchen.

A few weeks ago, I went through that stack of recipes torn from magazines. It was probably three inches thick. I culled and sorted, throwing away many recipes that either didn't sound good anymore or that I knew I would never make. (I have an idealistic version of Kitchen Keetha and she spends hours each weeknight in the kitchen crafting delicious and nutritious meals. She grocery shops and has a spreadsheet listing all the ingredients in her kitchen, never runs out of anything, and always has fresh herbs and rarely used condiments on hand. She was the one who saved those ambitious recipes.)

Out of that stack, I set aside a handful of recipes that I would try this fall. One of those was Cider-Roasted Pork Loin. Doesn't that sound so autumney?

After brining overnight, the tenderloin had to roast for something like an hour, which is really too long for weeknight cooking but anyway. As the tenderloin cooked it smelled divine but I was having doubts. WHAT IF this was only so so and we were all starving and I'd been thinking for ages how good it sounded, etc.

But this recipe was great. The tenderloin was juicy and flavorful. The apple cider gave it a hint of sweetness but not maple syrup sweet. It was really good. We're already planning to serve it at a holiday gathering, where we'll have it with yeast rolls and sweet potato butter.

3 cups water
3 cups apple cider
1/4 cup kosher salt
1 tablespoon black peppercorns
1 tablespoons coriander seeds (Note - we left these out because I didn't have any on hand.)
1 bay leaf
1 (2-pound) boneless pork loin (we used one tenderloin and halved all the ingredients)
2 cups apple cider
Cooking spray
1 1/2 teaspoons chopped fresh rosemary
1 1/2 teaspoons chopped fresh sage (I used dried sage. If there's one thing I'm certain of, it's that our local grocer does not have any fresh sage. It doesn't have any fresh parsley.)
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Combine the first 6 ingredients in a saucepan; bring to a boil, stirring until salt dissolves. Remove from heat; cool. Pour brine into a 2-gallon zip-top plastic bag. Add pork; seal. Refrigerate 8 hours or overnight, turning bag occasionally.

Preheat oven to 350°.

Bring 2 cups cider to a boil in a small saucepan over medium-high heat. Cook until cider has thickened and reduced to 1/4 cup (about 15 minutes). Set aside.

Remove pork from bag; discard brine. Place pork on rack of a broiler pan coated with cooking spray. Lightly coat pork with cooking spray. Combine rosemary, sage, and black pepper; sprinkle evenly over pork. Bake at 350° for 1 hour or until thermometer registers 155°, basting twice with cider reduction during final 20 minutes of cooking. Remove from oven; baste with remaining cider reduction. Let stand 10 minutes before slicing.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Ginger Cookies

Remember that train wreck the last time I tried to make molasses ginger cookies?

Erin kindly posted a recipe at her blog after she read of my ill-fated ginger cookies.

I made these cookies last weekend and they are the BOMB. They are exactly the ginger molasses cookie I was looking for. The one of my dreams. The recipe is going in my permanent rotation of fall recipes.

Ginger Cookies
Recipe from First United Methodist Church, Monett, MO Cookbook (Mary K. Scott)

3/4 cup shortening
1 cup sugar
1 egg
1/4 cup molasses
2 cup flour
1 tablespoon ginger
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt

Cream shortening. Add sugar gradually. Beat in the egg and molasses. Sift flour, ginger, soda, cinnamon, and salt together and add to the other mixture. Cool 30 minutes to 1 hour in refrigerator. Roll into balls the size of walnuts and roll in granulated sugar. Place on ungreased baking sheet.

Bake at 350 degrees for 10-14 minutes or until puffed up and lightly browned. Let set a minute on sheet before removing cookies.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Rachel Ray Is a Big Fat Liar

The Fiance and I saw Rachel Ray make Florentine Mac and Cheese and Roast Chicken Sausage Meatballs on her 30-minute meal show. Huh, we both said. Sounds pretty good -and, hey, it takes just 30 minutes!

The reality was something more akin to 70 minutes, and that was with both of us working on it and neither of us are dummies in the kitchen.

We're going to try the recipe again and when we do, we'll use one package of spinach rather than two. As it was the "sauce" was clumps of clumpy spinach. Tasty but nothing like a sauce.

About half the pasta - 8 ounces rather than 16 ounces - would probably suffice. To me, the dish seemed mostly pasta sprinkled here and there with clumps of spinach. I was expecting pasta in a sauce. Color me crazy.

Finally, and this is just a personal thing, I don't care much for meatballs. The texture is very close to meatloaf, which I don't like. These chicken sausage meatballs were good but I think I'd make more like 16 small ones rather than 8 large ones. But that's just me.

Florentine Mac and Cheese and Roast Chicken Sausage Meatballs

1 pound cavatappi corkscrew shaped hallow pasta (We used corkscrew pasta.)
1 1/2 pounds ground chicken (We couldn't find ground chicken after looking at two grocery stores, so we used ground turkey.)
Black pepper
2 to 3 sprigs fresh rosemary, leaves stripped and finely chopped
2 teaspoons fennel seeds
3 cloves garlic, grated
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 cup ricotta cheese
1 1/2 cups grated Parmigiano Reggiano, divided
1 egg
3/4 cup bread crumbs, plus more, if needed*
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
2 boxes, 10 ounces, chopped frozen spinach
3 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 cup chicken stock
1 cup whole milk
1/8 teaspoon grated nutmeg, eyeball it

Preheat oven to 450 degrees F.

Place a large pot of water on to boil for pasta. When it comes to a boil, salt it and add the pasta to cook to al dente. Strain pasta reserving 1 cup cooking liquid.

While the water is coming to a boil, in a large mixing bowl combine the chicken, salt and pepper, rosemary, fennel seeds, garlic, crushed red pepper flakes, ricotta cheese, 1/2 cup grated Parmigiano - a rounded handful, egg and bread crumbs. *If the mixture seems too wet, add a handful of bread crumbs and mix together.

Form 8 large round balls, about 3 to 4-inches. Coat balls in a couple of tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil and lightly grease a baking sheet with 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil. Arrange balls on the baking sheet and roast 17 to 18 minutes until juices run clear.

Defrost spinach in microwave 8 to 10 minutes on "defrost" setting depending on the microwave. Place the boxes in a shallow dish to catch any run off.

While the meatballs roast, in a medium sauce pot over medium heat, melt butter, whisk in flour, cook 1 minute then whisk in stock and milk, season with salt, pepper and nutmeg and thicken 5 to 6 minutes. Stir in the remaining 1 cup grated Parmigiano and reduce heat on lowest setting.

Wring spinach completely dry in clean kitchen towel then separate as you add it to the sauce. Also add the reserved 1 cup pasta cooking liquid.

Toss pasta with the spinach-white sauce and adjust seasonings.

Serve Florentine Mac-n-Cheese with 2 meatballs per person along side.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Rice Dressing

Jeffrey introduced me to this dish and it's been a standard in our kitchen ever since. It came from a cookbook from his hometown of Hollandale, Mississipi. Rice Dressing can be a side dish, not unlike traditional cornbread dressing (only it’s, you know, rice) or a meal-in-one.

1 cup rice, uncooked
1 can Cream of whatever soup (you can use cream of mushroom, cream of celery, cream of whatever your heart desires)
about half that empty soup can of water
1 can French onion soup
1 pound ground turkey (or beef), uncooked
1 onion, chopped
1 bell pepper, chopped
(Or you can use one package of frozen chopped onion and bell pepper.)
About 3 ribs stalks of celery, chopped

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Combine all ingredients in a 9x13-inch casserole dish. Stir well and cover tightly with aluminum foil.

Bake for about one hour.

Note: Smells crazy good while it’s cooking.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Honey Roasted Pork Tenderloin and Baked Sweet Potatoes

As soon as the temperatures begin to turn the slightest bit cool, I crave fall favorites like this.

Honey Roasted Pork Tenderloin

• 1/3 cup honey
• 2 tablespoons soy sauce
• 1 tablespoon brown sugar
• 2 tablespoons sesame oil
• 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
• 2 (3/4 pound) pork tenderloins

Combine everything but the tenderloin in a small bowl. Pour over the tenderloin, which I usually have in a zip-top bag. I like to marinate it for a few hours or overnight.

(When I'm roasting just one pork tenderloin, I use the same amount of marinade because I like it, and also because me dividing fractions is not pretty.)

When you’re ready to cook the tenderloin, take it from the fridge so it come to room temperature.

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

Roast for about 15 minutes, then decrease temperature to about 350 degrees and roast 45 minutes longer or so. Until it’s done, which most people is say is when the internal temperature is 160 degrees.

For baked sweet potatoes, wrap sweet potatoes in aluminum foil and bake. I know! It depends on the size of the potatoes as to how long it will take to bake. I’d say, on average, for around 30 to 45 minutes or so.

I like to split it open and dollop the sweet potato with butter and that’s it. You can add brown sugar and nutmeg and make it your own little sweet potato casserole if you like.

Monday, October 13, 2008


In my book, cooking the first soup or stew of the season is a wondrous thing. Of course, I am a big goober but cooking and smelling and eating this gumbo made me very, very happy in a way that only fall and wintry things can.

Sunday afternoon was the perfect day for it. It was overcast and looked like winter outside. There was enough of a hint of fall in the air to justify gumbo.

· 1 large chicken (young hen preferred), cut into pieces
· 2 pounds andouille or smoked sausage, cut into 1/2" pieces

Season the chicken with salt, pepper and Creole seasoning and brown quickly.

Brown the sausage, pour off fat, and reserve meats.

I had some cooked chicken on hand so I shredded it and added it to the mix rather than browning some chicken.

· 1 cup oil
· 1 cup flour

In a large, heavy pot, heat the oil and cook the flour in the oil over medium to high heat (depending on your roux-making skill), stirring constantly, until the roux reaches a dark reddish-brown color, almost the color of coffee or milk chocolate for a Cajun-style roux. If you want to save time, or prefer a more New Orleans-style roux, cook it to a medium, peanut-butter color, over lower heat if you're nervous about burning it.

Or you can use Tony Chachere's roux mix, which is what we did.

· 2 large bags of frozen chopped onions and peppers, thawed
· 4 ribs celery, chopped
· 3 tablespoons of minced garlic

We sauteed the veggies in the skillet we'd browned off the sausage to give them a bit of flavor.

Add the vegetables and stir quickly. This cooks the vegetables and also stops the roux from cooking further.

Continue to cook, stirring constantly, for about 4 minutes.

· 2-3 quarts chicken stock
· 2 bay leaves
· Creole seasoning to taste
· Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Add the stock, seasonings, chicken, and sausage. Bring to a boil, and then cook for about one hour, skimming fat off the top as needed.

· 2/3 cup fresh chopped parsley (we used dried parlsey because our local grocery didn't have fresh parsley)
· 1 bunch scallions (green onions), tops only, chopped

Add the chopped scallion tops and parsley, and heat for 5 minutes.

· Filé powder to taste

We couldn't find the filé powder in the cabinet, so we didn't use it.

You know how when you crave something and then you get it and it is so good? That's what this was, not to mention how much fun it'd been to get in the kitchen and enjoy it.

I like to chop and measure and stir. I like to, you know, cook, and I don't feel like I've done any cooking in a while. It felt good to be in the kitchen on a gloomy Sunday afternoon, warm and cozy and with good smells all around, looking forward to a delicious, hearty meal.

We're having it for dinner tomorrow evening and I'm already looking forward to it. I bet it will be even better than it was last night and it was plenty good last night.

This yielded a bunch. I know; I'm very scientific and accurate. The three us each had a generous bowl-ful and I put up five or so containers full, containers being an assortment of sizes. I'd say it yielded about a gallon of gumbo if I had to guess.

Molasses Cookies

Lest you get the very wrong idea that everything we cook turns out beautifully, here is a post where I am keeping it real.

I loves me some autumn and little says fall like baking a batch of cinnamon-y smelling cookies.

I saw this recipe on Saucy's blog and on a nice, chilly Sunday afternoon in October, it sounded ideal.

I didn't use the exact recipe she used because that one was a Martha Stewart recipe and naturally had persnickety ingredients. Like what is unsulfured molasses? Is that regular ole molasses? See, I didn't know either. had a molasses cookie recipe that had a nice high rating and a jillion reviews.

Things began well enough. You start with butter. What can go wrong when a recipe starts with a bowl full of butter?

I melted the butter, let it cool a bit, and added it to the sugar and egg, per the recipe's instructions. I added that mixture to a mixture of flour, salt, baking soda, cinnamon, ground cloves, and ginger (yummmm...those spices smelled good).

At this point, the cookie dough is refrigerated for at least one hour. Around the holidays, I like to make Plum Spice Cake. It's an easy, dense cake that's baked in a bundt pan. This cookie "dough" reminded me of that batter - it was about the same color and smelled very similiar and also, was like batter, not like cookie dough.

I was begining to have misgivings but I'd gotten emotionally vested in these cookies - these fallish cookies, so perfect for munching on by the fireside after a cozy dinner. Right?

I dutifully refrigerated the dough/batter but I knew in my heart of hearts that these cookies were probably going to flop.

Because I thought it would be fun to learn something after the fact, I went back to the recipe online and then read the reviews rather than before I began baking, which would have made more sense. Cooks mentioned substituting brown sugar for the white sugar and increasing the spices, but no one mentioned the batter/dough being an odd consistency for cookies. I wondered if I'd accidentally put only 1 cup, rather than 2 cups, of flour. No, the two-cup measuring cup was still on the counter with bits of flour in it.

After about an hour and a half I got out the dough/batter from the fridge and we rolled pieces into walnut-sized balls, then dipped each one into orange sanding sugar, until Dear Son dropped the canister and spilled the rest, at which point we turned to festive orange and black sprinkles.

When I bake cookies, I always, always refrigerate them after they're shaped and on the cookie sheets. It helps them hold their shape, which is particularly true of cut out cookies. I slid the baking sheets with cookies in the refrigerator, then preheated the oven.

I baked the cookies for the prescribed time and when I took them out of the oven, this is what greeted me:

Sad cookies. Sad, sad cookies.

They don't look that bad in the photo but the fun part came when I tried to lift them from the silpat onto a cooling rack. I used a thin metal spatula. The cookies scrunched and scooted whichever way the spatula went, leaving me with thin, crinkled, oddly-shaped cookies.

The cookies smelled divine and actually tasted good if you don't mind buttery and then more buttery (which I don't). They'd be good crumbled over vanilla bean ice cream. But for chewy, molasses-tasting cookies? Not so much.

They spread a lot and were quite flat, something none of the reviews I read mentioned. I had to scrape the bottom of the orange box to get the two teaspoons of baking soda the recipe called for. I'm thinking the baking soda may well have been old and that's why they didn't do right. What do you think? Any food scientists out there?

I'm going to try them again, because they were easy and scented the kitchen with autumn smells, always a plus in my book.

Molasses Cookies

3/4 cup margarine, melted (I used real butter)
1 cup white sugar
1 egg
1/4 cup molasses
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 cup white sugar, colored sugar, or sprinkles

In a medium bowl, mix together the melted margarine, 1 cup sugar, and egg until smooth. Stir in the molasses. Combine the flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, cloves, and ginger; blend into the molasses mixture. Cover, and chill dough for 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C). Roll dough into walnut sized balls, and roll them in the remaining white sugar or sprinkles. Place cookies 2 inches apart onto ungreased baking sheets.

Bake for 8 to 10 minutes in the preheated oven, until tops are cracked. Cool on wire racks.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

The World's Best Coconut Cake

Hey everybody! I haven't posted in awhile so I thought I'd share with you a little piece of heaven that I experienced in Charleston, SC over the past weekend.

Keetha has started a multi-part post on her blog that details our fun, longer than normal, weekend. This trip started out as a chance for her to meet my best friend and his wife, but little did we know what food wonders were to be had while we were there.

She and I had seen a program on The Food Network that really peeked my interest. It's fairly known that Keetha doesn't care at all for coconut, but it's one of my favorites. The show detailed a resturant in downtown Charleston that in known for it's coconut cake. Once we decided to go, there wasn't any doubt that I just had to sample this cake. So about three days or so before we left, I called up The Peninsula Grill and made reservations for the four of us for Saturday night.

The meal was, to say the least, exceptional from start to finish. However, the coop de gras was without a doubt, for me at least, dessert. I just can't begin to tell you just how good this cake was. Matter of fact, I somehow talked Keetha into having not one, but two bites of my cake. She later told me that I have never been so insistant with her about anything. And I apologized to no end to her for that fact. It was just plain heavenly!

Y'all keep a watch on her blog for more on our fabulously entertaining weekend filled with fun and FOOD!

Monday, September 22, 2008

Sausage Cheese Balls

An autumn morning in the Delta is beautiful and melancholy. It’s more than the chill of the temperatures, although that’s a part of it. In early spring, the actual temperatures of a typical morning are probably the exact same degree, but the feel is something altogether different from the fall. It feels like childhood days, mornings rich with anticipation of the day’s pep rally before the home football game. The smell of the central heat clicking on in my home, one of the first times since February or March, probably adds to it…as does the smell of coffee perking, and the cotton defoliant that ag pilots spray on fields before harvesting.

I remember with great clarity one particular fall morning. It was mid-October, one of those perfect autumn days that is so gorgeous it makes you hurt. The sky was incredibly blue, the temperature nice and crisp – my idea of the perfect day, in other words. I was in the kitchen preparing sausage balls for a catering client. She and her family were traveling to Ole Miss for the ballgame and tailgating in the Grove. It was morning, the windows open in the kitchen and the little gas heater on. I do see the irony in that but I’m the type who, if I had a fireplace, would crank up the air conditioner in September in order to use it. That morning’s activities sum up all that is good and fine about the season – cool air, blue skies, football, and food.

Scrumptious little sausage balls are one of my favorite foods of fall. I always associate them with autumn and rarely, if ever, make them any other time of year.

There are surely as many versions for it as there are for Chicken and Rice Casserole. My favorite version is garlic-laden and spicy:

Sausage Cheese Balls

3 cloves garlic, minced
16 ounces grated sharp or extra sharp Cheddar cheese
1 pound sausage (hot or mild)- can use turkey sausage
2 ½ cups baking mix
1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
1 good dash Worcestershire sauce

Combine all ingredients until thoroughly mixed. You may as well go ahead and use your hands – they’re really easier to mix up that way. Shape the dough into small balls and place on an ungreased baking sheet.

At this point, sausage balls can be baked immediately or frozen.

To freeze, place baking sheet with sausage balls in the freezer for at least an hour. Write baking instructions and date in permanent marker on a zip-top bag and place the frozen sausage balls in the bag. Don’t forget this step! I cannot tell you how incredibly efficient it makes you feel when you pull that bag from the freezer and see neatly penned instructions, written in your very own handwriting.

When ready for a few, simply remove however many you’d like from the bag and bake on an ungreased baking sheet; no need to thaw first.

To bake, preheat oven to 350° F. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes or until lightly browned.

NOTE: I usually double this recipe, using one pound hot sausage and one pound mild sausage. However, I learned the hard way that my KitchenAid bowl can’t handle that much dough, so I mix up two batches. Cleaning sausage and cheese bits from all corners of the kitchen was fun only once.

Recipe excerpted from More Culinary Kudzu.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Keetha's Classic Sugar Cookies with Royal Icing

You may remember from your readings here that we promised the recipe of the sugar cookies we made and decorated to take to our friends who welcomed us into their tailgates with open arms. Some of you dear readers may remember seeing the recipe here, with a slight variation.

When your ready to bake your cookies, begin working with a small ball of dough at a time. Keep the rest of it in the fridge as it will be easier to work with when it's cold. Lightly flour your workspace and rolling pin. Roll out the dough slowly until it's about 1/4" thick. Keetha tells me that anything thicker and your cookies run the risk of not cooking all the way through. Dip your cookie cutter into flour, and cut away! Try to put the same size cookies together on the same baking sheet for the best results. Finally, bake the cookies at 350 degrees for about 10 minutes.

To decorate the cookies, we mixed up a batch of royal icing.

1 pound of confectioners' sugar
3 tablespoons of meringue powder*
4-6 tablespoons of warm water
2 teaspoons of flavoring, if desired (we use vanilla, but you could use almond, lemon, butter, etc...)

*meringue powder can be found at cake decorating supply shops or heaven forbid, large discount stores!.

(Sorry about the photo, Blogger is being difficult!!! Just cock your head to the right and MAYBE you can get the picture!)

Start by sifting the confectioners' sugar into a mixing bowl. Add the meringue powder and mix thoroughly. Set your mixer on medium speed, and add the warm water 1 tablespoon at a time. Then add any flavorings that you may wish to use, and any more warm water to get the consistancy that you need. The icing should be fairly thick for outlining, but have somewhat of a thinner consistancy for large fill areas.

Start off with the outlining. This will create sort of a damn for the fill area, if you chose to do so. Keetha suggests using squeeze bottles (like those neat, old soda fountain ketchup & mustard bottles) to ice as they are a little easier to handle for those of us (and by that I mean ME!) that have trouble using a piping bag. The icing can be stored at room temperature for a pretty good while as long as the container is sealed very well.

Let your decorated cookies dry completely, and then you can wrap them in small celophane bags and tie with a nice colored ribbon. Something to this effect...

(This photo used courtesy of Write Kudzu...Thanks Kiddo!)

We had a great time in Starkville this past weekend, and already have plans set for this weeks game! Stay tuned in to the Kudzu Kitchen and Write Kudzu for updates about GAMEDAY! GO DAWGS!!

PS... These recipes and MUCH, MUCH more can be found in Keetha's books, Culinary Kudzu and More Culinary Kudzu. Go on over to Pecan Street Press and take a look!

Saturday, September 6, 2008

GAMEDAY - Week 2 MS State vs. Southeastern Louisiana - UPDATED!!

Hey kids! I'm just about as giddy as a 6 year old on Christmas morning right now! It's GAMEDAY! Keetha and I will be making the short journey over to the "Promised Land" later today for State's first home game of the season. FINALLY, an excuse to make a trip back to one of my favorite places on earth! Anyway, no reason to put you all through this but to share in my excitement! HA! ;-)

Well, we wanted to share something nice with friends who graciously welcome us into their tailgates in The Junction. So, here is what we decided...

We'll post up the receipe for the sugar cookies and the royal icing for decorating very soon, BUT after all the whole point of this endeavor was for GAMEDAY! So, we're already thinking about when we'll leave and what's for lunch....(let's just say it's a GREAT hamburger joint in beautiful downtown Starkville.). GO DAWGS!!

UPDATE-- Well this is what we ended up having for lunch...

And, if you're interested in finding out how our beloved Bulldogs fared, click here.

Monday, September 1, 2008

We were quite excited about Game Day on Saturday. We had a festive table and everything.

We had food, too, not just maroon mums and such.

Jeffrey grilled some boudin, which we served with sharp cheddar cheese that he sliced and sprinkled with creole seasoning and pickle spears.

He also sliced a baquette, brushed it with garlic olive oil, sprinkled it with sea salt and fresh ground pepper and grilled those. THAT was good; we'll be doing that again.

Friday morning I went to the Heart of Darkness and, be still my heart, they had the fall! and! halloween! decorations out! I love fall. They had miniature cupcake papers printed with little pumpkins and HOW COULD I RESIST THAT? I couldn't, that's how.

I melted about two-thirds of a bag of semi sweet chocolate chips. It was in the pantry; I don't know why I had opened it and used a few of the chocolate chips but whatever. It was there so I used it.

Once the chocolate was melted and smooth, I stirred in some Nutella.

As well as some chow mein noodles. I had a bag in the pantry for topping salads. I poured in a cup or two. Actually, I have no idea how much I poured in. I stirred in some peanuts, too, because if there is anything better than chocolate and halzelnut, it's chocolate and peanuts.

I lined three miniature muffin tins with the seasonal! autumn! cupcake papers and filled them with the mixture. I put them in the fridge to harden a bit and we enjoyed them with the tailgate fare.

These are incredibly easy and quite tasty. You can make them with milk chocolate or white chocolate. I've done similar chocolate clusters with pretzel pieces, rice crispie cereal, and peanuts.

If you don't have any cute seasonal theme cupcake papers, you can dip out spoonfuls of the mixture onto wax paper.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Seared Tuna Steak and Sauteed Spinach (I Love Alliteration)

Friday evening we enjoyed tuna steaks and spinach. We heated about a tablespoon olive oil and a tablespoon of butter and added about half of a yellow onion, diced and 2 cloves of garlic, minced. We covered the skillet and cooked it on low for about 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, we set tuna steaks out to come to room temperature whilst we enjoyed an adult beverage. Or two.

We walked in and out of the kitchen a few times to stir the mixture and MY GOSH did the onions and garlic smell good! Man alive.

When we were ready to eat, I added a bag of fresh spinach to the skillet. I don't know how many ounces or whatnot but just a bag of spinach. I mashed it in there the best I could and put the lid on top.

Jeffrey heated about 1/4 cup of olive oil in a skillet. He coated the tuna steaks with blackened redfish seasoning and Greek seasoning. He cooked them for about 1 1/2 minutes on each side.* About that same time, the spinach was done.

In other words, in less than five minutes, literally, we had dinner on the table.

The dinner was GOOD, too.

* The tuna was rare, as it should be.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

It's a Party, It's Chicken, It's Party Chicken

I recently bragged about my ability to time travel.

I did it again last night – time traveled, not bragged about it - wherein I prepared a chicken dish my mother used to make a lot in the late 70s. It’s called Party Chicken. Bacon and a can of Cream of Mushroom soup are involved. Sounds like a party, doesn’t it?

Party Chicken

1 (2.25-ounce) jar of dried beef
Bacon (can use turkey bacon)
4 chicken breasts (bone in or boneless skinless)
1 can Cream of Mushroom soup (I used Healthy Request)
8 ounces sour cream (I used light)

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Shred half the jar of dried beef and place in a 9x13 casserole dish.

I could not find a photo of the jar of it the way I usually see it, but this is the same brand, just different packaging. Maybe it's a southern thing? I don't know?

Save the rest to use in another recipe. Like a cheeseball – recipe to come.

Wrap chicken breasts in bacon, 1 to 2 slices each, depending on the size. Place in casserole dish.

Combine soup and sour cream and pour over chicken. Bake for about an hour.

Last night as I was pulling this dish from the oven, I remember that my mother always baked this at a lower temperature, about 250 degrees, for a longer time, about two to three hours. It made the entire house smell so good! Growing up, we often had it for Sunday dinner because you could cook it so slowly.

I bet this would work nicely in a slow cooker, too, although I haven't tried it yet.

We had brown rice and sautéed spinach with the chicken. I love sautéed spinach. We sautéed about half a yellow onion and a clove or two of garlic in olive oil and a bit of butter, then added the spinach, and covered until it was cooked. It’s really tasty and so easy.

All in all, a delicious and easy, easy meal everybody liked. There were happy plates all around.

We’re planning to have seared tuna steaks with spinach Friday night for dinner, tailgate food Saturday afternoon and evening while watching the game, and filets and prosciutto-wrapped asparagus Sunday night. Maybe hamburgers Monday.

What will you eat over the Labor Day weekend?

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Snickers Cheesecake

Snickers must be the most beloved candy bar in the U.S.of A. What's your favorite? I'm in the majority as Snickers are probably my favorite, although I like Reese's peanut butter cups, too. And Baby Ruth and Butterfinger. Apparently, I just like candy.

I also like cake, all kinds of cake, including cheesecake. I have known people who don't like chocolate but I don't think I've ever met anyone who doesn't like cheesecake.

Snickers + cheesecake = out of this world

I first got this cheesecake recipe from Bon Appetit magazine in the early 90s. I've made umpteen variations of it and it always turns out very tasty.

4 8-ounce packages of cream cheese, at room temperature
1 cup sugar
4 eggs
1 tablespoon vanilla
1 package Snickers miniatures, chopped
plus a regular size Snickers bar to garnish
various and sundry enhancements like caramel sauce, fudge sauce, peanuts - all optional

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

For the graham cracker crust, combine about 1 1/2 cups crushed graham crackers with 2 tablespoons of sugar and about 6 tablespoons melted butter. Press into springform pan. Wrap outside of springform pan with aluminum foil; this will be important later.

Beat cream cheese and sugar until light. Add eggs one at a time, stirring after each addition. Stir in the vanilla. I love the way vanilla smells. The original recipe undoubtedly called for less vanilla but I always put more so I upped the amount some. I don't know by how much; the original recipe has been lost in the annals of time.

Pour about half the batter in the prepared springform pan. Sprinkle with the chopped miniature Snickers bars. Top with remaining batter.

Place cheesecake pan, wrapped in aluminum foil, in a larger dish, like a casserole dish. Pour warm water into the casserole dish so that it comes within an inch of the top of the springform pan, creating a warm, toasty water bath. I think that must be the secret of this cheesecake, and why it comes out so darn creamy.

Bake for about 1 hour and 10 minutes or until the center of the cheesecake isn't jiggly when you shake it.

Let cool on wire rack for an hour or two. You can remove the foil whenever you want, but leave the cheesecake in the springform pan.

Refrigerate for several hours or overnight. When ready to serve, remove springform pan and garnish the cake. You can take chocolate icing (like from a can, pipe rosettes around the top of the cake, and press a piece of Snickers bar in each chocolate rosette. Or you can drizzle store-bought ice cream toppings, such as caramel and fudge, and toss the whole thing with peanuts and pieces of Snickers pie. Or you can leave the whole thing blank if you want to. Whichever way, it still tastes good.

Monday, August 11, 2008

It's Been a Long, Been a Long Time

My apologies. It's just that a lot has happened between then and now.

We have posts - lots of them - to come. Like the one about the marinated, grilled pork tenderloin that was SO GOOD. We carefully wrote down all the ingredients. Aaaannnd then lost the piece of paper everything was written on. We have a grill tutorial in the works. Oh and there's the Snickers cheesecake. And a bunch more stuff.

I burned cinnamon toast this morning, so I feel pretty awesome about my kitchen prowess.

Food posts are coming anyway.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Traveling Sugar

We made a batch of sugar cookies to take on the beach vacation last week.

Classic Sugar Cookies

1 cup unsalted butter, softened
2 cups sugar
3 eggs
4 scant cups sifted flour
1 tablespoon vanilla
2 teaspoons baking powder
dash salt

In a large mixing bowl, cream together butter and sugar. Add eggs, one at a time, and beat until fluffy.

Add vanilla, sifted flour, baking powder, and salt. Mix well.
Cover and refrigerate. (Dough can be refrigerated for several days. In this case, I froze the dough for about a week.)

When ready to bake cookies, preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Pour various colored sugars or sprinkles or what have you in bowls.

Pinch off dough and roll into balls. Roll in the colored sugar and place on a baking sheet.

The Child, who is six, enjoyed that part. Really enjoyed it.

Using a glass, smoosh the cookie dough down a bit to form disks.

Bake until done, about 9 to 11 minutes. Cool for a minute or two on the baking sheet before transferring them to a wire rack to cool completely.

This was easy-peasy. When we finished and the cookies turned out so pretty and we all had such fun making them, I knew we'd employ this method again. So much so that when we visited the shops at Foley, we got an assortment of sprinkles with these very cookies in mind.
Can't you JUST SEE the autumn cookies - the sugar cookies rolled in sparkling pumpkin orange sugar and assorted fall-shaped sprinkles? Can't you?? BECAUSE I TOTALLY CAN.

Not that I didn't already have an abundance of assorted, seasonal sprinkles in the cabinet.
Now that I think about it that looks like an intervention waiting to happen.

Don't mind me and my obsessive tendency toward sprinkles. Enjoy the sugar cookies.

You can also roll out, cut out, bake, and decorate these cookies:

Working with a small portion of dough at a time, roll out on floured board until about 1/4-inch thick. Dip cutter in flour and cut out shapes. Place on ungreased baking sheets and refrigerate while working on the next batch; this will keep cookies from spreading, making their shapes more defined. (For best results, put cookies of the same size on each sheet.)

Bake cookies for 9 to 11 minutes, or until cookies are just beginning to brown on the edges.

Cool on pan for a minute or two then remove to wire rack to finish cooling.

Completely cooled cookies can be wrapped and frozen for weeks. Thaw cookies in packaging at room temperature before decorating.

Like these at Christmas.

Or these that made great Easter happies.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Again With Pizza

We eat pizza more often than I mention it here because I figure how many different ways can I write the same thing over and over? This time it is a little different in that it starts with homemade pizza dough.

I love homemade pizza dough. Love. It. It's not much trouble; I don't know why I don't make it more often. I think it's the idea of the homemade dough -- the kneading, the rising, the waiting, and whatnot.

This particular recipe is one of my favorites.

It's made in the food processor so the hand kneading is kept to a bare minimum (big plus). The dough is a joy to work with, too, nice and elastic and smooth - not sticky at all.

(One trick I learned from a bread baking class taught by Betsy Oppenneer is to use a bit of oil, such as olive or vegetable, rather than flour, when rolling out dough. Dough won't stick to the oiled surface and you don't run the risk of incorporating too much flour in the dough, as I almost always did when I'd use flour. The dough would stick to the surface, stick to my hands, stick to everything so I'd dust it with flour and more flour and even more flour, and the end result was often packy and heavy.)

Caveat: This recipe is from, um, Martha Stewart's Hors d'Oeuvres Handbook. I know. I'm generally not a fan of her recipes as they tend to involve ten steps too many, and obscure, often expensive ingredients and specialty equipment. Howevah, this book I really like. The handful of recipes I've tried in it have all turned out very well. I especially like this pizza dough because it can be made anywhere from 12 hours to three weeks ahead of time.

Pizza Dough
Makes enough for three 10-inch pizzas or four 14-inch pizzas.

1 cup warm water (110 degrees) - You may want to invest in a good instant read thermometer to be sure.
1/4 teaspoon sugar
1 1/4-ounce (about 2 teaspoons) active dry yeast
2 3/4 to 3 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tablespoons kosher salt
1 1/2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for oiling the bowl

1. Pour the warm water into a small bowl. Add the sugar and sprinkle in the yeast. Using a fork, stir the mixture until the yeast has dissolved and the water has turned putty colored. Let the yeast stand until becomes creamy and foamy, about 5 minutes.

2. In the bowl of a food processor, combine 2 3/4 cups flour and the salt, pulsing 3 to 4 times.

Add the yeast mixture and 1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil. Pulse until the dough comes together, adding more flour as needed until the dough is smooth,not tacky, when pinched between two fingers. Transfer to a clean surface. Knead the dough 4 or 5 turns and shape it into a ball.

3. Brush the inside of a medium bowl with olive oil, and place the dough in the bowl, smooth-side up.

Cover tightly with plastic wrap, and place in a warm spot until doubled in size, about 40 minutes. Remove the plastic wrap, and push your fist into the center of the dough to punch it down. Working in the bowl, fold the dough back onto itself 4 or 5 times. Turn the dough over, folded side down, cover with plastic wrap,and return to the warm spot to rise again until the dough has doubled in size, about 30 minutes.

4. Punch down the dough again, and transfer it to a clean surface. Using a bench scraper or a sharp knife, divide the dough evenly into three or four pieces, kneading each piece four or five times.

TO MAKE AHEAD: Follow the recipe through Step 3, tightly cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for up to 12 hours. When ready to use, remove the plastic wrap, punch the dough down with your fist, and let it sit at room temperature until ready to soft and pliable, about 30 minutes. Which is what I did last Sunday afternoon when we made pizza.

TO FREEZE: Punch the dough down after it first rises in Step 3. Fold it back onto itself 4 or 5 times as instructed. Divide the dough and roll it out to the desired-size rounds. Stack the rounds, separated by parchment paper, then double-wrap the stack tightly in plastic wrap and freeze. To use,m unwrap frozen dough and thaw slightly until the rounds are easily separated. Place each round in a lightly oiled bowl and thaw at room temperature for 3 to 3 1/2 hours, until each is completely thawed and the dough has doubled in size. Proceed as in Step 4 of the recipe.

About an hour and a half before we planned to eat, we began caramelizing a yellow onion in olive oil and butter.

We preheated the pizza stone, along with the oven, to 450 degrees. After rolling out the dough, I plopped it on the hot pizza stone and topped it with our usual: pesto, shredded rotisserie chicken, roasted red peppers, sun dried tomatoes, goat cheese, and mozzarella.

The pizza baked until the cheese was melted and the crust nicely browned.