Thursday, December 27, 2012

icebox potato rolls

It's no secret that I'm a sentimental gal - the kind that keeps every sweet cards she get in the mail...cherishes family traditions...mourns those "last time I'll ever [fill in the blank]" moments...and captures every special moment with friends on film for future review (all the while saying, "You'll thank me for this later!" ;-). So, while we've already established the fact that I love church cookbooks, it goes without saying that this one holds a special place in my heart.

First, it's a recipe that was submitted by a dear friend of my parents - the wife of the pastor who married them 30 years ago. Not only does Annie make amazing yeast rolls, but she's also known for her phenomenal pies...and ever-present sweet smile.

Second, it's a recipe my mother has been making for years - her go-to pick for every holiday and company gathering. Piping hot from the oven, they can always be counted on to show up in a towel-lined basket at her dining room table for such special events.

And if those aren't reason enough for me to want the recipe for my own kitchen, the perfect taste and tender texture certainly are.

Sentimental or not, I'm sure you'll agree.

Icebox Potato Rolls

1 cup warm milk
3/4 cup shortening
1 cup boiled, mashed potatoes
2 packages yeast
1/2 cup sugar
1 tablespoon salt
2 eggs
5-6 cups flour

In a small pan set over medium-high heat, warm the milk until just beginning to boil. Allow to cool to lukewarm.

In a large bowl, dissolve the yeast in 1/4 cup of warm water. Add the milk followed by the potatoes, shortening, sugar, and eggs. Add the flour and salt, starting with 5 cups of flour and using up to 1 additional cup until the dough is no longer sticky.

Cover and store in the refrigerator overnight or up to 5 days.

Roll the dough out to an even thickness, about 3/4 inch thick, on a floured surface. Using a biscuit cutter or cup, cut out rounds in the desired size. Place on a greased pan and allow to rise for 1-2 hours or until doubled in size.

Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 400°. Bake for 15-20 minutes or until golden brown on top.

Can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for several days or frozen for later use.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

purposeful celebration

In homes around the world, today holds the promise of so many cherished traditions. The excitement of gift giving and receiving. The reunion of family and friends from far and wide. The expectant hope for snow flurries and subsequent dreams of Bing's White Christmas. And, yes, the devouring of gourmet meals and tasty treats.

Amidst all of these wonderful memory-makers, though, is a truth far more sacred. Set aside to celebrate the holy birth of Christ here on Earth, Christmas is most importantly a day of thanksgiving and reverence - for Christ's sacrifice and salvation.

And so, my friends, I hope this day is full of all the goodness of the season in your hearts and homes. But, between the wrapping paper and bows...Christmas ham (or turkey, if you please) and endless baked traditions and antics, I hope you'll take some moments to reflect on the greater meaning of this most special day.

Merry Christmas, y'all!

Sunday, December 23, 2012

fudge brownies

Remember those fabulous wedding cake fillings I posted about way back when? You know, before pumpkins and butternut squash got in the way?? At the time, I promised a follow-up recipe to make with any leftover mocha, Nutella, or raspberry goodness...and then I just left you hanging. My most sincere apologies.

When looking for a new brownie recipe to accompany these flavors, I knew that Deb wouldn't let me down. Almost fudge-like in their denseness and chocolatey richness, these bad boys are pretty near perfect on their own. Top them with a dollop of any one of the fillings, though, and they're somehow even better. Either way, they're pretty life changing.

Fudge Brownies
Yield: One 8x8 pan

3 ounces unsweetened chocolate, coarsely chopped
1 stick unsalted butter, plus more for pan
1 1/3 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon flaky sea salt or 1/4 teaspoon table salt
2/3 cup all-purpose flour

Preheat oven to 350°F. Line a 8x8 square baking pan with parchment paper or foil, extending it up two sides of pan. Butter the liner. Set aside.

In a medium heat-proof bowl set over gently simmering water, melt chocolate and butter together until only a couple of unmelted bits remain. Off the heat, stir until smooth and fully melted. Whisk in the sugar, then eggs one at a time, then vanilla and salt. Stir in the flour until fully incorporated and then scrape batter into a prepared pan, spreading out until even. Bake for 25-30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Let cool before cutting into desired size bars. May also be frozen prior to cutting for cleaner margins.

From Smitten Kitchen

Thursday, December 20, 2012

butternut squash lasagna

Some dishes are a favorite simply because of how tasty they are. Others are loved for the wonderful memories they evoke. For me, this dish qualifies for both categories.

The first time I had this meal was last year in my dear friend Erienne's home. One bite, and I was smitten. With it's predominant butternut squash flavor and the depth of heat from the spicy meat, it was the perfect dinner for a cold, fall night in my book. So with a firm resolve, I determined that it would definitely be on my calendar for this year's Autumn harvest.

And alas, if truth be told, I made this dish a couple of months ago in the prime of fall when butternut squash cheered eagerly for attention from the produce aisles of every grocery store in Virginia. Unfortunately, the chaos of work got in the way of our little blog visits, leaving me now rushing to capture the fleeting moments of Autumn's bounty on this, the eve of Winter Solstice, before you, too, are forced to wait a year before adding it to your menu.

At first glance, this dish may seem complicated and difficult with its instructions to cut the awkwardly round and hard squash into thin slices. But, let me assure you, it's surprisingly easy to do so. Trust me...and see for yourself.

Butternut Squash Lasagna
Yield about 6 servings

1 pound hot Italian sausage (I found hot poultry Italian sausage at Wegmans and loved it, but regular pork sausage is delicious as well, though.)
1 medium red onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 15-ounce can pizza sauce
1/2 cup roasted red peppers
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 bunch of fresh basil
1 large butternut squash, peeled

Preheat the oven to 400°.

Cut the neck from the bulb of the squash and set aside the bulb for another use. Slice the neck in half lengthwise then carefully slice into thin cross-sections. Set aside.

In a large saucepan set over medium-high heat, brown the sausage and onions. Add the garlic and stir until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Remove from the heat and set aside.

In the bowl of a food processor, combine the pizza sauce, red peppers, oil, and 2 large leaves of basil. Puree until smooth.

In a 9x13 inch baking dish, spread a dollop of the sauce mixture to cover the bottom. Place a single of the squash over top, fitting in as many pieces as possible in a uniform direction. Top with the meat mixture, evenly distributing it throughout the dish. Chiffonade 2 additional basil leaves and sprinkle over the meat. Pour half of the remaining sauce evenly over the top. Place a second layer of squash slices evenly on top. Top with the remaining sauce.

Cover the dish with foil and cook in the oven for 40-45 minutes or until the squash is fork-tender.

Garnish with additional chiffonaded basil leaves.

Adapted from Easy Paleo

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

graham crackers

This year has most definitely been a year full of weddings for me - five in all - with three of them being those of my closest friends.

First there was Rach - my Kindred Spirit...and the one who can make me smile at the very thought of her. :) Hers was the stuff of fairy tales - the celebration of a truly great man at last marrying the girl he had fallen in love with as a thirteen year old boy. Oh, and did I mention it was a double wedding with the bride's fabulous sister and her Prince Charming? Such a fun day...and such an honor to not only stand up in support of my beloved friend in Malibu Blue but also make the 'cutting' cake for the bride and her groom.

September brought the wedding of Lolo - my greatest encourager...and the one I can always count on for amazing hugs and late night giggle parties. :) Hers was the perfect Southern affair - Hotlanta style. With a bridal party that included our group of close friends - looking mighty fine in Italian Plum, if I must say so myself - and a reception full of fabulous dance moves, it was pretty much the perfect wedding weekend.

And alas, most recently, there was the wedding of Cater - my rock...and the one who's listening ear, wise counsel, and patient heart mean the world to me. Hers showcased the beauty of Virginia Autumn like none other. Held at a quiet, rural vineyard and embraced by the last fall-tinted mountain trees of the year, the evening was the very definition of understated sophistication. Opting to forgo a wedding cake for a bonfire and s'mores bar, the lovely bride had, like most any reasonable person, planned on purchasing some good ol' dependable store-bought ingredients for the sweet treats. Ah but I, of course, would have none of it. Without having ever made either of them before, I insisted upon contributing enough homemade graham crackers and marshmallows to feed 100 hungry s'mores makers. Oy pressure there!

First up, graham crackers. Talking about the project at work, my coworkers repeatedly asked me if it was worth the effort...are homemade graham crackers really any better than the ones in that dependable blue box at the store? The conclusion? Absolutely. Especially considering the fact that I had to go a step further and...wait for it...monogram them. Seriously, how can you say no to homemade monogrammed graham crackers?!

The flavor of the crackers wasn't incredibly different than the store bought was just better. Using basic pantry staples, the final product boasted a pure, uncomplicated honey graham flavor. The texture - though slightly less crunchy and crumbly than the packaged ones - had just the right amount of crispness and chewiness to enjoy as a simple snack...or as a piping hot s'more... :)

Note: While I very often measure my baking ingredients by volume, I took the time to weigh everything but the baking soda and salt for this recipe.

Graham Crackers
Yield: about 4 dozen 2-inch squares

2 cups plus 2 tablespoons (300 grahams) all-purpose flour
1/2 cup (75 grams) whole wheat flour
1 cup (176 grams) brown sugar, lightly packed
1 teaspoon (6 grams) baking soda
3/4 teaspoon (4 grams) coarse sea salt
7 tablespoons (100 grams) unsalted butter, cut into 1-inch cubes and frozen
1/3 cup (114 grams) mild-flavored honey (I used clover)
5 tablespoons (77 grams) whole milk
2 tablespoons (27 grams) pure vanilla extract

3 tablespoons (43 grams) granulated sugar
1 teaspoon (5 grams) cinnamon

Combine the flours, brown sugar, baking soda, and salt in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade. Pulse on low speed to incorporate. Add the butter and pulse in 1-second bursts until the mixture is the consistency of a coarse meal.

In a small bowl, whisk together the honey, milk, and vanilla. Add to the flour mixture and pulse in 1-second bursts until the dough has come together. It will be very soft and sticky. Transfer the dough to a large piece of plastic wrap that has been lightly dusted with flour. Form into a disk, wrap, and chill until firm, at least 2 hours.

Meanwhile, prepare the topping by combining the sugar and cinnamon in a small bowl, stirring until blended. Set aside.

Divide the chilled dough in half and return one portion to the freezer. Working on a large sheet of parchment paper that has been evenly dusted with flour, roll the dough into a long rectangle, approximately 1/8 of an inch thick. Use either a cookie cutter or a pastry cutter to cut the crackers into the desired shape. Transfer the cutouts to a silicone mat-lined baking sheet, leaving at least an inch between them. Re-chill and re-roll dough scraps as needed. (The dough will get stickier as it warms to room temp.)

Chill the dough once more in the freezer until firm, about 15 minutes. (I started skipping this step on about batch 3 out of 5, and I didn't notice a difference in the final product.)

Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 350°.

If desired, use the blunt end of a wooden skewer to create a dotted pattern on the top of each cracker or use a small cookie/fondant cutter to lightly press a unique design. Lightly and evenly top with a dash of the topping mixture.

Bake for 12-18 minutes until firm and slightly firm to the touch. Allow the crackers to cool on the baking sheet for 2 minutes then transfer to a cooling rack until completely cooled. Store in an airtight container.

(Note: These freeze very well. Simply allow the crackers to come to room temperature before serving.)

Adapted from Smitten Kitchen