Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Slacker Cupcakes

"Grown up" is such an interesting concept. We hope and expect that somehow the days ticking over like numbers on the odometer magically confer on us wisdom, maturity, and self-restraint. But age and maturity don't necessarily go hand in hand.

My sister and I have sons the same age and one day when we were commiserating over our boys' childish ways and wondering whether or not they'd ever grow up, I came up with a list of characteristics that I thought are essential elements of maturity.

1) Impulse Control - Resisting the temptation to do something at the moment the idea occurs, just because it seems like a good idea.

2) Delayed Gratification - Realizing that "wanting" and "deserving" are two different things, and that sometimes you have to put off pleasure until work happens first.

3) Goal Setting - Planning long term for a desired outcome and breaking that outcome into achievable steps.

4) Initiative - The ability to see something that needs doing, and doing it without being asked.

When I saw this post by Peabody, I was smitten by her pictures and swooned over her description of the cake. I wanted it. Now. But I knew I had other things which were on my baking list, and I had no reason to bake cupcakes, and if I made them I'd just eat them, which wouldn't help my waistline at all.

The following day in the grocery store I saw strawberries. They jumped into my cart. I couldn't help it. They practically shouted out, "If you buy us, you can make Peabody's cake!" I'm surprised the other shoppers didn't turn around and stare.

I know I could have frozen the strawberries and used them later at a better time when I had an excuse for making cupcakes or when I fit into my jeans better. But I didn't. I baked the cupcakes, frosted them, and ate them (with some help from my family).

So viewed with an eye toward maturity, I'd say I'm a failure. No self-control, delayed gratification, or goal setting. At least not where cupcakes are concerned. But, I must say, I did take the initiative on baking those cupcakes. Points for that?

I guess I'll just go slouch off to the couch and watch Better Off Dead
again. Should I eat sugared cereal straight from the box? Nah, I've got some leftover frosting, so I could make more cupcakes....


Don't forget to leave a comment here if you'd like to enter to win a free copy of Confetti Cakes for Kids. You have till Nov. 1st.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Something New For You and Me

I get some weird comments and e-mails related to this blog. I got a rant once from an anorexic who was angry about the story I'd posted. Um, sorry, but this is a food blog. Not much of a surprise to get recipes and food stories. I got a request to put a link to someone's blog and when I checked out their blog it was dedicated to nail art. Entirely in Japanese. Well, that really doesn't have much to do with my English speaking readers who want recipes, so, no. And I recently got a request to review a website on my blog. They offered to pay me, whether I gave it a positive review or not. It was a furniture site. Hello, this is a food blog!

Therefore, it's with a bit of trepidation that I open up mail from someone I don't know. But my fears were totally unjustified when I opened an email titled Strauss' Confetti Cakes for Kids. It was an offer to try out the new book by the same title. Hmmm, free cookbook? Letmethink- YES!

I'd seen this book before on Amazon, but hadn't put it into my shopping cart because, and let's be honest about this, I'm not a cake decorator. I marvel at the amazing cakes I see on other talented baker's blogs, but I'm lucky if the frosting goes onto my cakes evenly and doesn't rip holes in the cake. Sprinkles on top is about the upper limit of my decorating ability.

When my copy of Confetti Cakes for Kids arrived in the mail I dropped everything else and sat down to thumb through the book. I was surprised. It does have a variety of showstopping projects - cakes, cupcakes, and cookies - but it also had very basic information so even a novice like me could use the book.

I decided to try out a simple recipe and see what my untalented hands could do. I used the recipe for sugar cookies. The difference in this recipe was not the ingredients, but the instructions. Lots of chilling. Make the dough. Chill. Roll the dough. Chill. Cut out the cookies and then put the whole pan in the freezer for 15 minutes before baking. This certainly helped the cookies keep nice, crisp shapes.

Then there was the icing. I have only used royal icing before for gluing together gingerbread houses. The book shows step by step how to make an icing fence on the perimeter to keep the icing in place, then flood the inside of the fence with icing. Aha, so that's the magic trick to keep the icing from dripping off the cookie! I think my icing was too stiff, but with a bit more practice, I think I could have some fun with this.

I made up half the dough to take pictures with, then turned my kids loose on the other half and they had a blast cutting, baking, decorating, and then, of course, eating!

I know they're not showstoppers, but this is the prettiest my decorated cookies have ever looked.

And if you're way beyond basic iced cookies and want a bit more of a challenge, take 4 minutes to watch the author, Elisa Strauss, create a spectacular cake.

Now for the really exciting bit - Anna, the kind and gracious lady who sent me the book, offered me 5 copies to give away! Woo hoo! Free cookbooks for you, too! This offer is limited to the United States and Canada. Leave a comment (not anonymously, please) saying that you'd like a book, and you'll be entered. You have until November 1st to leave a comment and I'll anounce the winners next Monday.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Recipe, Recipe, Who's Got The Recipe?

There's a problem with being an avid baker. Well, two actually, but we won't be discussing my hips today. No, the problem that's bothering me right now is the recipes.

I love recipes. I'm always thrilled to get a new recipe to try. I tear recipes out of magazines, I clip them out of the newspaper. I can't bear to throw away freebie recipe booklets, just in case I suddenly need one of those recipes. I've got bazillions of recipes in cookbooks, and I won't even talk about the recipes on the computer. I need another recipe like I need another baking pan (wait, I do need one of those!), but family and friends who know my problem still send me recipes that they've cut out of magazines and newspapers and e-mail me yet more recipes.

I feel like I'm awash in a sea of recipes. My countertops I have dubbed The Cookbook Breeding Grounds because I always have at least 3 cookbooks in a queue . I have folders for recipes, baskets for recipes, and serious shelvage for cookbooks, yet, there always seem to be more, lurking in stacks of papers, hiding inside drawers, and popping up randomly around the house.

The problem arises when I want a specific recipe. I have to remember first of all if it was in a cookbook or not. Then, was it a computer print out or not. Was it on a recipe card or clipped out of a magazine? Too much strain for my poor cheesecloth brain!

My daughter invited me to a tea party she was hosting and said that I was welcome to bring something along. I had 2-1/2 hours in which to whip up something suitable for a tea party. I knew she was making a cake, so my mind naturally went to cookies. Bar cookies are the simplest and quickest and I decided on one of my favorite recipes which taste like pecan pie in a cookie. They're super easy to make and they look lovely, too.

I thumbed through my recipe cards in my first recipe basket. Not there. I looked again. Drats! Had I put it somewhere else? Was it in a folder, a pile, or somewhere else instead? After 5 minutes of searching and language enrichment, I did a mental forehead slap and realized I should just look on the blog. Of course it would be there. Not. What??? I hadn't blogged these wonderful cookies yet?

I eventually found the recipe, baked the cookies, and they were greatly enjoyed. This recipe makes a lot of cookies that are quite tasty in a "have just one more" kind of way, so be sure you have friends to share them with as you'll feel wretched if you eat them all. And now we both will know where to find this recipe.

Pecan Pie Squares
- adapted from Taste of Home

2 cups all-purpose flour
1/3 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup cold butter, cut into small chunks

4 eggs
1-1/2 cups corn syrup
1-1/2 cups sugar
3 tablespoons butter, melted
1-1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2-1/2 cups coarsely chopped pecans

1- Preheat oven to 350 deg. F. Grease a 15-in. x 10-in. x 1-in. baking pan

2-In a food processor, combine the flour, sugar and salt. Pulse a few times to blend. Add the butter and blend until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Press firmly and evenly into the prepared pan. Bake for 20 minutes.

3- For the filling, in a bowl, combine the eggs, corn syrup, sugar, butter and vanilla. Stir in pecans. Spread evenly over hot crust. Bake 25-30 minutes longer or until set. Cool on a wire rack. Cut into squares. Yield: 4 dozen.

(I didn't have time to let the bars cool all the way, so they were a bit gloopy. Delicious, but not dainty enough for a tea party with gloves.)

Store leftovers in the refrigerator in an airtight container, with waxed paper separating layers.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Double-Braided Delicious Bread

I've always admired people with great hair. You know the ones. They could be in shampoo commercials because their hair always looks so perfect, sleek and shiny. Mine is not that way. The best adjective I could think of to describe my hair is 'woofely.' And somehow when the line was forming for the "What To Do With Hair" pamphlet, I was off in line somewhere else, probably at a bakery. I'm pathetic at coming up with new hairdo's so my hair is always the same. In a ponytail for working out or straight down for daily wear. Boring.

However, I do have one hidden hair talent that I perfected in the 80's and people are always amazed by. I can French braid my own hair. In the back. Without a mirror. It's not that hard, it just takes some practice and not obsessing over whether or not it's perfect. But it never fails to produce a gasp of "You can do that yourself?!!"

This month's Bread Baking Babe's project was a lot like that. The Challah loaf is gorgeous and looks like you've slaved over it for hours, but I was surprised at how simple and easy it was to make. And the double braid presentation gives it a spectacular showy quality that will make people gasp in amazement, "You made that yourself?!!"

Plus, as a bonus, this recipe makes two loaves. That's one to enjoy with dinner and one to give away. Or one for now and one to save and have the next day as French toast. It makes fabulous French toast.

So, don't fear the braid. Give it a try. And after you make and post it, send the link to Sara of I Like to Cook, our hostess kitchen of the month, and she'll send you a Bread Baking Buddy badge to proudly display on your site. Your friends will be amazed.

And be sure to check out the spectacular successes of the other Babes (the links for their pages are on the right side of the page).

Thanks, Sara, for such a great recipe!


from The New York Times Bread and Soup Cookbook

Makes two loaves

5 1/2 to 6 1/2 cups flour, unsifted
3 TB sugar
1 1/2 tsp salt
1 package dry active yeast
1/2 cup butter, softened
pinch powdered saffron
1 cup warm water (120-130'F)
4 eggs, at room temperature
1 tsp cold water
1/2 tsp poppy seeds

Combine 1 1/4 cups of flour, the sugar, salt and yeast in a large bowl. Mix in the softened butter. Stir the saffron into the warm water until it dissolves. Add a little at a time to the flour mixture and blend thoroughly. Beat for 2 minutes with an electric mixer and medium speed, scraping the bowl occasionally. Separate the yolk and white of one egg. Blend the single egg white and the other 3 whole eggs into the batter. Reserve the single egg yolk. Stir 1/2 cup of flour into the batter and beat at high speed for 2 minutes, scraping the bowl occasionally. Blend in enough additional flour to make a soft dough. Knead the dough on a lightly floured board about 8 to 10 minutes or until it is smooth and elastic. Place the dough in a greased bowl, turning it once to grease the top. Cover and allow the dough to rise in a warm, draft free place until double in bulk (approximately one hour).

Flour a pastry board lightly and set the dough on it. Divide the dough into 2 equal portions. Divide each portion into 2 pieces, using 1/3 of the dough for one piece, and 2/3 of the dough for the other. Divide the large piece into 3 equal portions. Roll each of these into 12 inch ropes. Braid the ropes together tightly, using your fingers to press the dough together at the ends. Divide the smaller piece into 3 equal portions. Roll each of these into 10 inch ropes and braid tightly. Place the smaller braid on top of the larger one and seal the ends. Repeat this process to form the second loaf.

Place both braided loaves on a greased baking sheet. Mix the reserved single egg yolk with the 1 tsp of cold water and brush the top of the loaves with the mixture. Sprinkle with poppy seeds. Spray two pieces of plastic wrap with cooking spray and lay sprayed side down over the loaves. Let the loaves rise until double in bulk in a warm draft free place (approximately one hour).

Bake in a 400' over for 20 to 25 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool on wire racks.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Sweet Dreams

Dreams are funny things. Sometimes a dream seems so real that it lingers into the waking day and it isn't until you get a jolt of reality that you think, "I'll take the Ferrari to work today. What? Where's the Ferrari? Did I only dream that I bought that new, red, Ferarri? Doggone it!"

A few times I've had the kind of dream where my busy subconscious invents something so amazing that it will revolutionize the world, eliminate poverty, and auto-process the laundry. I cling to this thought as I wake up, knowing that my genius will fade into the mists if I don't immediately write down this brilliant idea down or tell it to someone. Usually that someone is my husband and as I relate the details of this amazing brain storm, I can see in his face that I'm talking complete jibberish. Dang! And I thought I was going to win the Nobel prize for this one!

One night I half woke with a stupendous recipe idea. I fumbled in the dark for a pencil and wrote it in looping handwriting on the pad of paper I keep at my bedside. When I woke up I looked at it and strangely, it still sounded like a wonderful idea. Take a pineapple upside down cake and instead of pineapple, use pears. And instead of a regular yellow cake, use a gingerbread cake. That sounded like baking genius to me.

Then I found that it was already in a cookbook I owned. Drat! It was such a good idea, but I'll never get to Stockholm for the Nobel awards at this rate. (There is a cooking category for those things, right?)

Then I bought a new magazine, Fine Cooking. For those of you whining about certain cooking magazines that have been less than exciting, get a hold of one of these. It's an amazing magazine that shows techniques, has fabulous recipes, and drool-worthy food photography. I opened up to the section on caramel and, lo, there was a carmelized pear upside-down cake. I could still be brilliant - Carmelized Pear Upside-Down Gingerbread Cake! Yes? Yes!

I followed the magazine's instructions for the pear & caramel part and then added my own recipe for gingerbread. When I'd poured my gingerbread in I suspected that I was in a bit of trouble. My recipe makes a 9 x 9 -inch square of gingerbread, and I was baking in a 9-inch round pan. The difference (if you're nerdy enough, like me, to care) is about 25% by volume.

A smarter person than I, on seeing that the batter came to within 1/2" inch of the rim would have taken some of the batter out and done something else with it. I just don't think that way, so I put it in the oven and hoped for the best. It did bubble over some, but not horrendously, and I had a pan under it, so it didn't produce a charred mess in the bottom of the oven.

Even with bubble over, it was really good. What's not to love about pears, caramel, and gingerbread, all in one incredibly moist slice of deliciousness?

If you want to try this, you can either 1) make it in a 9 x 9 -inch square pan, adding extra pear slices to cover the bottom, 2) use a 10-inch round cake pan, or 3) take some of the batter out and bake it in ramekins to top with vanilla ice cream and caramel sauce. Even more brilliant yumminess!

Carmelized Pear Upside-Down Gingerbread Cake

For the topping:

2 medium firm-ripe Bosc pears
1 cup granulated sugar
1/4 tsp fresh lemon juice
1/4 cup cold water
4 Tbsp unsalted butter, cut into 4 pieces

For the cake:

1/2 cup butter, softened
1 cup sugar
2 large eggs
1-1/2 cups flour
1-1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1-1/2 tsp ground ginger
3/4 cup molasses
1 cup hot water

Position the rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 350 deg. F. (If you plan on cooking the extra batter in ramekins, position the racks in the upper and lower third of the oven.) Butter the bottom and sides of a 9-inch round cake pan (or your choice of other pan). Line the bottom of the pan with parchment paper and butter the top of the paper.

Peel, core, and cut the pears lengthwise into 1/4-inch thick slices. Arrange the pear slices on the bottom of the pan, overlapping the edges slightly, in a decorative pattern with the pointed ends in the center. If the slices don't cover the entire pan, arrange a few more in the center so the bottom of the pan is entirely covered.

In a heavy 2 quart saucepan, stir the sugar lemon juice, and 1/4 cup cold water. Brush down the sides of the pan with a wet pastry brush and water to wash away any sugar crystals. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat and cook until the mixture starts to turn dark around the edges, about 5 to 8 minutes. Brush down the sides of the pan occasionally. Gently swirl the pan when the sugar syrup starts to darken, to even out the color. Continue to cook until the sugar turns medium amber, about 30 seconds more. This happens quickly, so keep an eye on it.

Immediately remove the pan from the heat and whisk in the 4 pieces of butter, one at a time. until they are completely melted. Pour the hot caramel evenly over the pears.

In a mixing bowl beat the 1/2 cup butter until smooth. Add the sugar and beat until light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs one at a time. Add the flour, baking soda, salt, and ginger and mix well. Stir in the molasses and hot water until well blended.

Pour the cake batter over the pears in the pan, till the pan is 2/3 full. If you use all the batter, be sure to put a cookie sheet under the cake pan. If you pour the extra batter into ramekins, place them on the cookie sheet.

Bake until a wooden pick comes out clean, about 45-50 minutes, depending on how much batter is in the pan. Keep an eye on the ramekins, if you're making them, and start checking at about 20 minutes.

Place the pan on a wire rack to cool for 10 minutes. Run a knife around the edge of the cake. Put your serving plate upside down over the cake pan and, using hot pads, carefully invert the cake onto the plate. Gently peel off the parchment paper and serve either warm or at room temperature. Be prepared for oohs and aahs.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Another Chocolate Chip Cookie

When I was in junior high a friend invited me to come over and make chocolate chip cookies with her. At her house I measured ingredients and put them all into a big bowl and started stirring with a wooden spoon. She looked at me curiously and asked why I didn't use the KitchenAid mixer for that. I laughed airily and told her that I thought you got better results doing it by hand. The actual factual truth? I'd never seen a KitchenAid mixer before and had no clue how one worked.

I'm on my second KitchenAid now (my first one didn't die, I just handed it down to my daughter when I got a pretty new, blue one) and have figured out that whole cookie dough in mixer thing. I've made so many cookies that you could recreate the Great Wall of China in cookies from the output of me and my KitchenAid. In that time I've figured out how to make chocolate chip cookies just the way I like them.

There are two cookie schools of thought - hard and crispy or soft and chewy. I'm definitely a fan of the latter category. I tweaked this recipe and the how-to's to make a cookie that's a staple in the cookie jar. I'm not promising that these are the best out there, but they sure are good. Fresh from the oven they're irresistible with melted, gooey chocolate, and they're not so easy to pass up when they're cooled, either. If you have trouble making good cookies, check out my hints here, then try this recipe and see if you don't agree that these are terrific.

The Cookie Baker's Chocolate Chip Cookies

3 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1 cup butter, softened
3/4 cup sugar
1 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 eggs
2 cups chocolate chips (you can reduce this according to your preference. I use about 1-1/2 cups. You can also make it half milk chocolate, half semi-sweet chips.)
1 cup coarsely chopped walnuts (optional, but c'mon!)

1- Preheat oven to 375 deg. F with racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven.

2- In a small bowl, combine the flour, baking soda and salt. Set this aside.

3- In a large mixing bowl cream the butter. Add the sugars and beat till it's light and fluffy.

4- Add the vanilla extract and eggs. Beat till creamy.

5- Gradually add the flour mixture. Stop the mixer a couple of times to scrape down the bowl and make sure all the butter is incorporated.

6- Stir in the chocolate chips and the nuts.

7 - Drop by rounded teaspoonfuls onto an ungreased baking sheet, being sure the dough mounds are of equal size and are equally spaced.

8- Bake for about 9 minutes, rotating pans top to bottom halfway through baking. Remove the pan from the oven when the edges are just starting to turn brown. The top should be set, but not browned.

9- Let the cookies sit on the baking sheet for 2 minutes then remove them to a cooling rack.

Be sure the cookie sheet has cooled completely before scooping more dough onto it.

Note: If you want to bake up only half of the dough, you can freeze the other half in a plastic airtight container. Then you'll be able to whip up cookies on short notice. Cover the dough's surface with plastic wrap so it won't get freezer burned and be sure to label it. You can thaw it in the refrigerator or on the counter if you're impatient.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

A Meal In Need Is a Meal Indeed

When my first child was born my mother came up to help out. I needed that help badly. Since my son was born two weeks before the due date I missed out on the section of the childbirth classes that dealt with what to do after the birth. I had no idea how to pin a cloth diaper or what to do with a crying baby.

My mother stayed with us, made meals for us, and got up in the middle of the night with the baby. She'd change him, bring him to me to nurse, then take him away and put him back to bed. It was wonderful.

Of course, like all good things, it had to come to an end and she had to return home and I had to learn how to do it all on my own. After about 3 weeks, when I wasn't certain I could make it through another day, a sweet friend brought over dinner and a pan of homemade cinnamon rolls. What a wonderful gift! She had a little one of her own and told me she'd learned that the best time to bring a dinner is not right after the baby's born. That's when mom gets all the help and attention. It's several weeks after the birth, when all the helpers have gone home and mom is a sleep-deprived zombie, that the gift of a dinner means the most.

I've taken her words to heart and have now perfected my "in time of need" dinner, Easy Enchiladas. When I make the dinner for my family I double the recipe and put into zip-lock bags a meal's worth, then I have extras in the freezer for a dinner later, or I can grab one and take it to a family who's had a baby, a hospitalization, or been down with the flu and haven't been able to get to the grocery store in a week. And if they've been flooded with casseroles, they can stick the enchiladas into the freezer and pull them out when they need them.

These are not "authentic" by any stretch of the imagination, but they're quick to fix, don't call for any obscure ingredients, and my family gets happy every time these are on the menu. Even my 6 year old, who dissects his food, gobbles them up.

Easy Enchiladas
- adapted from Good Housekeeping Illustrated Cookbook

1-1/4 lbs ground turkey
2 cups shredded Jack cheese
3/4 cup sliced green onion
3/4 cup sour cream (low-fat is OK)
3 Tbsp snipped parsley
1-1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp pepper
24 oz. canned tomato sauce
3 Tbsp canned chopped green chilies (optional - I usually do without)
1 Tbsp chili powder
1/4 tsp ground cumin
Flour tortillas
Olives (optional)
Guacamole (optional)

1- Preheat oven to 350, if you're going to cook the enchiladas today.

1- Cook and stir the ground turkey in a skillet until light brown: drain. Remove from the heat.

2- In a large bowl combine 1-1/2 cups of the cheese, the green onion, sour cream, parsley, salt, and pepper. Add the cooked meat and gently toss to combine.

3- Heat remaining ingredients, except tortillas, olives and guacamole, to boiling. Reduce heat. Simmer uncovered for 5 minutes.

4- Spoon about 1/4 cup of meat mixture onto each tortilla, roll the tortilla. If you're preparing the meal to eat today, place the rolled tortillas into a rectangular baking dish (11 x 7 works well). Spread the sauce over the top and sprinkle with the remaining 1/2 cup of cheese.

5- Bake uncovered for 20 minutes. Garnish with sliced olives and guacamole before serving.

To save enchiladas in the freezer, place as many as you need for a meal into a gallon zip-loc bag. In a snack-size bag, place the half cup of cheese for garnish. In a sandwich size zip-loc bag put enough sauce for topping. Seal both bags in with the enchiladas. Write baking instructions on the bag with a sharpie.

To cook, thaw the enchiladas,then follow cooking instructions above.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Dinner Is All Rolled Up

I'm not a fan of horror movies. The heart pounding tension of not knowing what the next horrific disaster will be - it's too much like the hour before dinner time at my house. If I haven't menu planned and prepped my ingredients for the day, 4:00 is a terrifying time. What's for dinner? What to cook? I pace the floor muttering the meager contents of the refrigerator as a mantra. "Cheese, mayonnaise, leftover rice, cheese, mayonnaise, leftover rice," as if the incantation would somehow produce a palatable meal for my family.

I try to be good and menu plan for the week, but inevitably I forget to pull meat out of the freezer to thaw or forget to run to the grocery store for a crucial ingredient and then my wonderful and infinitely patient husband says, "Sure, honey, I'd love pancakes for dinner."

There is a secret weapon in my arsenal, though, to help me avoid this kind of scenario. It's the freezer. And just a little bit of forethought.

One of the books that really influenced how I cook for my family is Once-A-Month Cooking. I was floored by the concept behind the book - if you're already spending the time and energy to make dinner, why not double the ingredients and put half the dinner in the freezer for another dinner later. The book outlines how to do a huge day of cooking once a month and then have meals to pull out of the freezer all month long. I tried that a couple of times, but figured out my family was happiest and it worked best for us if I just applied the principles on a smaller scale. My family loves variety and having to eat the same casserole 4 times in a month made for some dinner time crankiness, especially if they didn't like it that much the first time around. But if I had had a busy day and wasn't even home till 4:00, what a blessing to have a dinner ready to go in the freezer.

This is one of the recipes that I adapted from the book and my family never got tired of it. It's a versatile recipe that you can tailor to your family's tastes and what is on hand or on sale. It takes barely any more time to make a huge batch of these rather than a single dinner, and you'll feel so proud that you're serving your family homemade, tasty food on those hectic days, rather than resorting to the drive-through at McGrease.

Pizza Roll-Ups
adapted from Once-A-Month Cooking
by Mimi Wilson & Mary Beth Lagerborg

1 recipe of pizza dough
or 2 loafs frozen bread dough
1 lb ground turkey (I use 1.25 because that's how it's packaged here)
1 lb. bulk Italian sausage
2 tsp salt
1 tsp pepper
4 cups grated mozzarella cheese
2 tsp Italian seasoning
2 Tbsp chopped fresh parsley
Your favorite spaghetti or marinara sauce
Olives (optional)

1-Make or thaw the dough.

2- While the dough is rising or thawing, cook the turkey and sausage together. Drain the grease.

3- Place the cooked meat in a large bowl with the rest of the ingredients except the spaghetti sauce and olives. Mix well.

4- Preheat oven to 400 deg. F.

5- Divide the dough in half. Roll one half out into a large rectangle about 1/4" thick. Spread 1/2 of the the meat mixture on the rectangle. Roll up the dough lengthwise like a jelly roll, and cut into 2" slices. You can cut them thicker or thinner depending on your preference and how many roll-ups you'd like to have. I cut mine into 14 slices.

6- Place the rolls, evenly spaced, on a baking sheet treated with baking spray. Let the rolls sit for 10 minutes.

7 - Bake for 20 to 25 minutes or till golden brown. While the first batch is baking prepare the second half of the dough into rolls.

8 - Remove the rolls to a cooling rack to cool. Bake the second batch.

9- Once the rolls are cooled, place enough for a meal into a gallon zip-lock bag, smooshing as much air out as you can and sealing it. Stack the bags in the freezer. You can label the bag at the top with a sharpie to tell the contents or the cooking instructions, if your sweetie will need to be the one pulling it out of the freezer and getting dinner on the table.

To serve the rolls, thaw and warm in a pre-heated oven for 10 minutes and top each roll with a dollop of warmed spaghetti sauce and sprinkle olives on, if you'd like. Or you can top with the sauce and microwave on high for 1 to 2 minutes (check to see if it's warm - microwaves vary). Ta da! Dinner on the table in under 15 minutes! Throw a green salad on the side and your family will adore you. Well, they probably already do, but this might prompt them to mention it.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Pie Time is Back

There is a lot to worry about these days. The election, the stock market roller coaster, and the travails of the honey bee. I know these things are troublesome, but in spite of that, or maybe because of that, I think it's important to have a break. Somewhere to relax, think happy thoughts, and eat pie.

Yes, in case you didn't know or care, tonight is the return of Pushing Daisies, my favorite fantasy escape to a world of fabulous fashion, intrigue and puzzles, quirky characters, and pie. Always pie.

Last season I took on the ambitious task of making a pie a week to celebrate the show. Unfortunately for me, but fortunately for my thighs, the show was cut short by the writer's strike. I don't think I'm up for a pie a week this time around, but I'll certainly be working some pies into the baking schedule, and of course I had to celebrate the return with a pie. A pie I'd never made before.

A blue berry pie isn't out there, weird, nouveau cuisine by any stretch of the imagination. It's just that I've never made one before. I had a 1/2 flat of blueberries in my fridge and my son said, "Pie!" so I tried something new.

I used Dorie's Never Fail Pie Crust and her recipe for Blueberry Pie. My family was hovering in the kitchen while the pie was baking, drawn by the irresistible smell of baking pie. (Why doesn't someone come up with a perfume like that? Obvious answer: it would be annoying having to swat drooling men away all day long.) I was seasoned enough to know it had to cool down and firm up a bit before cutting into it, but it was hard work keeping away the eager tasters and resisting the siren call myself. Worth the wait, though, to get neat slices and lovely, dark blue oozy filling. None of the glutinous, nasty, canned filling here - this is the real deal, homemade blueberry pie. Worthy of the return of the pie maker!

Blueberry Pie
- adapted from Baking by Dorie Greenspan

1 double-crust pie dough, either from here orBaking
2-1/2 pints fresh blueberries
1 cup sugar, or more, to taste
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
Pinch salt
Coarsely grated zest of 1/2 lemon
Squirt of fresh lemon juice
1/4 cup dry bread crumbs

Egg Wash:
1 large egg beaten with 1 tsp. water

Sugar, for dusting

1- Butter a 9-inch pie plate. Roll 1/2 of the dough to a thickness of about 1/8 inch. Fit the dough into the pie plate and trim the overhang to 1/2-inch. Roll the other half of the dough into a circle, 1/8-inch thick and place it on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or a silicone mat. Cover both halves of the dough with plastic wrap and refrigerate while you preheat the oven and prepare the filling.

2- Place a rack in the lower third of the oven and pre-heat the oven to 425 deg. F.

3- Put the berries in a large bowl and gently stir in the sugar, flour, salt, zest and juice. Let this mixture sit for about 5 minutes then taste and adjust the sugar and lemon juice, if needed.

4- Remove the pie shell and top crust from the refrigerator. Sprinkle the bread crumbs into the bottom of the pie pan. Gently stir the filling then spoon it into the crust.

5- With your fingertips, moisten the rim of the bottom crust with a little cold water. Center the top crust over the filling and gently press the top crust against the bottom. Fold the overhang from the top crust under the bottom crust and crimp the edges attractively with a fork or pinch with your fingers.

6- With a small, sharp knife, cut 4 slits and a hole in the center of the top crust. Brush the top with the egg wash, then sprinkle the crust with a little sugar to give it sparkle.

7- Place the pan on a baking sheet (to catch any bubble over - your oven will thank you for this step) and place the pie in the oven.

8- Bake for 30 minutes. Reduce the oven temperature to 375 degrees F and bake for another 30 minutes or so until the crust is a beautiful golden brown and the filling is bubbling up through the slits. If the crust is browning too quickly, tent loosely with foil or use strips of foil around the edge of the crust to protect it.

9- Transfer the pie to a rack and let it cool and settle for at least 30 minutes before serving.