Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Herb and Garlic Dinner Rolls

I’m doing a lot of writing…I mean A LOT of writing, which of course is a very good thing. Unfortunately it doesn't give me much time for blog writing. I’m cooking, just not blogging about it. Hopefully that will change soon.

In the meantime, here is a recipe I developed for the Topeka Capital-Journal’s At Home Living section. It’s based on the Shaker Squash Rolls I posted in November. 

The Picky Eater loves them! I've served them both with pot roast and Italian dishes, but they would work with just about any meal.

The recipe makes two 9-inch cake pans full of rolls. One pan is more than enough for The Picky Eater and me, so I popped the second one into the freezer before it went through its second rise. A few weeks later, I took the pan out of the freezer, let it thaw and rise, and then baked. They were perfect!

Update on the family: The doctors are doing what they can to keep my dad comfortable for now. Unfortunately it looks like cancer is going to win the day, but that doesn't mean we are not trying to enjoy whatever time is left. Keep the prayer and good thoughts coming.

Also, my sister-in-law and her husband have adopted the four children in the Ukraine. However, because of the uprising, they are stuck there as they wait for two more passports for the kids. So please send a prayer or two their way as well.

Herb and Garlic Dinner Rolls
Makes 24 rolls

1 envelope active dry yeast
1/4 cup warm water
1 cup milk
4 tablespoons butter
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 to 5 cups all-purpose flour
2 eggs
2 teaspoons fresh minced rosemary
2 teaspoons fresh minced thyme
1 teaspoon garlic powder
Olive oil
Melted butter

Heat the milk and butter either on a stove top or in the microwave until the butter is melted. Stir in the sugar and salt to dissolve. Remove from the heat and let the mixture cool until it is just warm, about 110 degrees or just warm to the touch—not hot.
Pour the warm water (110 degrees) into the warm bowl of a stand mixer. Stir in the yeast and allow it to sand for 10 minutes until the yeast softens and begins to bubble.
Into the yeast mixture, mix in 2 cups of flour, plus eggs, rosemary, thyme, and garlic. Mix on a low speed with the dough hook. Mix in the warm milk/butter mixture. Add 2 more cups of flour, and then add additional flour if necessary, 1/2 cup at a time, until the dough pulls away from the sides of the bowl. Continue to mix for an additional two minutes until dough is soft and smooth. It will still feel a little sticky.
Place dough into a bowl lightly greased with olive oil, turning to grease the top. Cover and let rise until doubled in bulk, about 1 to 1 1/2 hours.
Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Roll out the dough to a 1/2-inch thickness. Cut out the rolls with a 2 1/2-inch biscuit cutter. Place the rolls into 2 lightly greased 9-inch round cake pans, 12 per pan, barely touching. Brush the tops of each roll lightly with olive oil. Cover with a towel and allow to rise until double in size, about 1 hour. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
Bake the rolls for 15 to 20 minutes, or until golden brown. Brush the tops with melted butter and serve warm.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Herbed Chicken and Tomatoes

It is so nice to be back in the kitchen again! Not only am I enjoying making new dishes, but since The Picky Eater was warned by his doctors that he has to keep an eye on his sodium intake, this is the best way for me to make sure he’s getting tasty, low-sodium meals.

I saw the original recipe for this herbed chicken dish in the coupon section of our Sunday newspaper. It is from the folks at McCormick, whose spices I use all of the time. Of course, I tweaked it a little bit. (That’s what we food writers do, right?) I cut the amount of garlic powder and used a fresh garlic clove instead. The Picky Eater doesn't like strong garlic flavors, so I thought this would be the best way to go. I also used regular diced tomatoes instead of petite diced since that was what I had on hand.

The dish was delicious! Best of all, it got The Picky Eater’s seal of approval. His only suggestion was to use tomato sauce instead of diced tomatoes, since he doesn't care for chunks of cooked tomatoes in dishes. (I told you he was picky! Thank goodness he’s also a sweetheart.)

This will now be a regular dish on our weeknight menu.

Herbed Chicken and Tomatoes

1 1/2 teaspoons dried basil leaves
1 teaspoon dried crushed rosemary
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
3 tablespoons flour, divided
4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
2 to 3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 small onion, finely diced
1 clove garlic, finely minced
1 can (14 1/2 ounces) diced tomatoes
1 1/2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
2 tablespoons half-and-half
8 ounces spaghetti

In a shallow bowl or pie dish, mix together the dried basil leaves and crushed rosemary. Transfer 2 teaspoons to a small dish and set aside. Add the garlic powder and 2 tablespoons of the flour and mix together.

Heat 2 tablespoon of the olive oil in a large non-stick skillet. Dredge the chicken breasts into the flour mixture, shaking off any excess. Add the chicken to the skillet and cook until golden brown on each side. Remove the chicken and place on plate. Cover with foil and set aside.

Set a large pot of water on the stove over high heat so it comes to a boil. Meanwhile, add the remaining oil to the skillet. Saute the onions until soft and translucent. Add the garlic and cook for 30 seconds, and then add the remaining flour to the onions and cook for 1 minute. Add the tomatoes, chicken stock, and remaining seasoning, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer the mixture for 5 minutes. Turn the heat to low, add the chicken and heat through.

Boil the spaghetti to desired doneness. Drain and divide between 4 serving dishes. Place a piece of chicken on top of the spaghetti. Add the half and half to the remaining tomato mixture and spoon over the chicken. Ready to serve!

Monday, January 6, 2014

Happy New Year…I hope!


I thought it was time to check in since I haven’t posted anything in quite a while. Life has thrown me a few curve balls this past month that kept me on my toes but out of the kitchen. I didn't even make any of my traditional holiday treats. Hardly seemed like Christmas at all. (This cute flower arrangement was from The Picky Eater for our second wedding anniversary on Christmas Eve.)

My dad is doing okay. He had surgery to remove a tumor and part of his lung the week before Christmas. (Yes, it seems his cancer has spread.) He made it home before Christmas, but he’s still recovering. The family got together on the 29th to celebrate and it was wonderful to spend some time together. (My sister took this photo of our parents in front of a beautiful tree at the University of Missouri Hospital.)

I've also been dealing with my husband’s heart issues this past month. The Picky Eater is going through some tests in preparation for bypass surgery. Right now the doctors are trying to determine just how strong his heart is…four heart attacks have taken a toll on the poor thing. Hopefully we will know more by the end of this month.

I’m having kitchen withdrawal! I have stacks of new cookbooks just waiting for me to explore. Hopefully I’ll have some new posts for you very soon. Cooking has always brought me relaxation and comfort, both of which I could use right now. So stay tuned! (This set of nesting dolls was a gift from my sister-in-law after a trip to Ukraine!)

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Dad's Potatoes

I’m thinking about my dad a lot today. He is battling bladder cancer, and today he’s having a biopsy on his lung to see if the cancer has spread or if he just has an infection. I’m hoping and praying for the latter. I feel bad he has to go through this during the holidays. Plus, his sense of taste is all out of whack from the chemo, which has to be so difficult for him since he loves food. (I get my love of cooking from him and his side of the family.)

For dinner a couple of days ago, I made Dad’s Potatoes. It is a yummy recipe he just made up one day, filled with bacon, onions, cheese and, of course, potatoes. He makes it in the oven and it is so easy, but I've also come across similar recipes made
in a slow cooker—also very easy.

I like Dad’s potatoes served alongside ham or pork chops, but they would work as a side dish with almost any meat. I've also made them with ham instead of bacon, and without any meat at all.

Dad’s Potatoes

1/4 pound bacon, cooked until tender, not crisp, and diced
1 medium onion, sliced thin
4 medium potatoes, sliced 1/4-inch thick (I used Yukon Gold.)
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
Salt and pepper, to taste
1 tablespoon butter, cut into small pieces
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese

For the oven: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Spray a baking dish with non-stick cooking spray. Place
half the bacon in the dish, and then a layer of half the onions. Toss the potatoes with garlic powder, salt and pepper, and then layer half on top of onions. Dot with half the butter. Repeat the bacon, onion, potato and butter layer with the remaining ingredients.

Cover the dish and bake for 40 minutes, or until the potatoes are tender. Remove the cover and sprinkle the cheese over the top. Return to the oven, uncovered, and bake for 5 minutes to melt the cheese.

For the slow cooker: Line the slow cooker with foil, leaving some hanging over the sides, and spray with non-stick cooking spray. Follow the layering steps above, and then fold the foil over the top. Put the lid on the cooker and cook for 4 1/2 hours on low. Then uncover and sprinkle the cheese on top, re-cover and cook for another 5 or 10 minutes until the cheese is melted. 

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Shaker Squash Rolls

Since my dad’s chemo treatments have knocked him for a loop (and messed up his taste buds so most food tastes bad to him), my parents decided not to host Thanksgiving this year. On the flip side, my sister-in-law is busy in the Ukraine adopting three teenage girls, so she isn't hosting my husband’s family either. The result: Instead of trying to juggle two family gatherings, my sweetheart and I decided to have a Thanksgiving dinner made for two.

We’re having a pretty traditional meal including the turkey (I’m putting herb butter under the skin for the first time, using Ina Garten’s recipe), dressing (a sausage recipe from my former neighbor John in New Hampshire), mashed potatoes and gravy (a must!), green bean casserole (The Picky Eater insists we have this dish), cranberry sauce (a Martha Stewart recipe from years ago), rolls and pumpkin pie.

Does your menu include those crescent rolls that come in the blue can? Or maybe some other heat-and-serve rolls? May I make a suggestion? Pick up an extra can of pumpkin and try these Shaker Squash Rolls.

I got this recipe while working as a tour guide for the Canterbury Shaker Village in New Hampshire and shared it in a pumpkin article I wrote for the Topeka Capital-Journal. The Shakers were a Christian group who came from England in 1774. Shaker communities existed from the east coast to Ohio. They were a peaceful people who lived in a communal setting and showed their love of God through hard work. They were also celibate and lived as brothers and sisters, which may explain why their membership has declined to just a handful that now live in Maine.

Working at the village was one of my favorite jobs. It’s a beautiful place, and a sense of peace always came over me when I stepped onto the grounds. (Be sure to visit there any time you’re in New England.)

These rolls can be made with any type of squash puree and are somewhat sweet, similar to Hawaiian rolls. What I like about the recipe is you cut the rolls out like you would biscuits. To make ahead, you can either freeze or refrigerate the unbaked rolls and then bake when ready. (Do this after they are cut out and placed in the baking pan, but before the final rise.)  Just give them time to warm-up and rise before you

Believe me, these rolls are worth the time. I plan to make mine the day before. They will also taste great along side a warm bowl of soup, stew or chili throughout the winter.

Shaker Squash Rolls
Makes 24 rolls
1 cup milk
4 tablespoons butter
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 envelope of active dry yeast
4 to 8 cups flour
2 eggs
1 1/2 cups squash puree or 16 ounces pumpkin puree
Melted butter
Heat milk and butter either on a stove top or in the microwave until the butter is melted. Pour into mixing bowl and add sugar and salt. Stir until sugar and salt are dissolved. Let mixture cool until it reaches 105 to 115 degrees. (When you touch the mixture, it should just feel warm.) Add yeast and stir to dissolve. Let sit for a five minutes until yeast become active.
Mix in 2 cups of flour, plus eggs and squash puree. If using a mixer, mix on a low speed with the dough hook. Add 2 more cups of flour, and then add additional flour if necessary, 1/2 cup at a time, until the dough pulls away from the sides of the bowl. Continue to mix for an additional two minutes until dough is soft and smooth. Turn out onto a flat surface and knead until dough is smooth, soft, and springy.
Place dough into a lightly greased bowl, turning to grease the top. Cover and let rise until doubled in bulk, about 1 to 1 1/2 hours.
Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Roll out the dough to a 1/2-inch thickness. Cut out the rolls with a 2 1/2-inch biscuit cutter. Place the rolls into 2 lightly greased 9-inch round cake pans just 1/8-inches apart. Cover with a towel and allow to rise until double in size, about 1 hour. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.
Bake the rolls for 15 to 25 minutes, or until golden brown. Brush the tops with melted butter and serve warm.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Cider Donut Muffins

I adore cider donuts. I first had these luscious treats at an apple orchard in Massachusetts. In fact, I made trips to that orchard just to get the donuts! I was thrilled when I discovered Rees Fruit Farm here in Topeka also makes them. The donuts are available all year, but I crave them in the fall when the apples and cider are fresh.

Recently I saw a Facebook post about donut muffins, and I thought, “Why not make cider donut muffins?”

Oh my, am I in trouble. These muffins are so delicious and easy to make I will be making them a lot! (The Picky Eater even tasted one and asked me to be sure and save him a couple.) The crunchy cinnamon sugar on the outside makes a nice contrast to the soft, moist interior. Unlike the typical sturdy breakfast muffin, these are more cake-like…in other words, like a donut. They taste best warm, so if you need to warm them up, just zap them for 20 seconds in the microwave or put them in a 350-degree oven for a minute or two.

On a personal note, three years ago today I went to a local grocery store parking lot to meet a man I connected with on Little did I know I was meeting my future husband and the love of my life. Happy first-date anniversary to the Picky Eater.

Cider Donut Muffins
Adapted from a recipe on Serious Eats
Makes 12

For muffins:
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ginger
3/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
1 cup apple cider
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
3 tablespoons melted unsalted butter, cooled

For topping:
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
4 tablespoons melted unsalted butter, cooled

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Spray the muffin tin with non-stick cooking spray. Set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg. Add the brown sugar and then, using your fingers, mix in the sugar while breaking up an sugar clumps.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the cider, egg, vanilla and melted butter. Make a well in the middle of the dry ingredients and then pour the wet ingredients into the well. Gently fold the ingredients together just until all the streaks of flour disappear.

Spoon the batter into the muffin tin, dividing evenly between the cups. Each cup will be about 2/3 full. Bake the muffins for 15 to 20 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the middle of a muffin comes out clean.

Prepare the topping while the muffins are baking: In a small bowl, whisk together the cinnamon and sugar. (Or mix the cinnamon and sugar together in a paper or plastic bag.) Put the melted butter into another small bowl. When the muffins are done, remove them immediately from the muffin tin. While still warm, roll the muffins in the melted butter and then toss them in the cinnamon/sugar mixture. Place them on a rack to cool completely. Store in an air-tight container. 

Monday, November 4, 2013

Nutty Shortbread

November has arrived, which means the approach of autumn's end. Here in Kansas the leaves have just reached their peak and are now beginning to fall until the trees are bare and dormant for winter. The last farmer’s market of the season was this past Saturday, on a chilly, windy, sunny morning. Now thoughts turn from tricks and treats to the ultimate celebration of the season in Thanksgiving.

However, before I start to post about America’s day of thankfulness and feasting, I wanted to share a wonderful book that honors all that autumn offers. I discovered Country Harvest: A Celebration of Autumn by Linda Burgess and Rosamond Richardson on the wonderful blog, Months of Edible Celebrations. When I saw the post last month, I knew I had to find the book.

Country Harvest was published by Prentice Hall Press in 1990 and has a distinct British feel. It is full of beautiful seasonal images and a unique collection of recipes and tips for preserving the late summer/early autumn harvest. There are recipes for jams, jellies, chutneys, conserves, vinegars, and sauces for the pantry, plus breads, pies, cookies and cakes to enjoy now, with cordials, country wines, and teas to go with them. Readers can also learn how to preserve late-summer flowers, ornamental gourds, leaves, seedheads, and herbs. If autumn is your favorite season, this book belongs on your shelf.

I chose to make the Nutty Shortbread recipe because it sounded perfect served with a cup of tea on a chilly autumn afternoon. They were perfect—slightly sweet and full of nutty goodness.

The recipe called for walnuts or hazelnuts. I though pecans would work well, too. As luck would have it, I didn't have enough pecans or walnuts for the recipe, so I combined the two and it worked very well. Also, instead of baking the shortbread in a one-pound loaf pan as the recipe recommended, I used my smallest (9-inch) springform pan. The result was wedges of shortbread instead of strips.

I’m looking forward to tea with nutty shortbread cookies to bring autumn's afternoons to a relaxing and delicious end.

Nutty Shortbread

Adapted from Country Harvest: A Celebration of Autumn by Linda Burgess and Rosamond Richardson

1 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
6 tablespoons packed light brown sugar
1 cup pecans, walnuts, or hazelnuts (or a mixture), finely chopped

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F and grease a 1-pound (8.5” x 4.5”) loaf pan or a 9-inch springform pan. (I used cooking spray.) Set aside.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour and baking powder. Set aside.

In the bowl of a mixer with a paddle attachment, beat together the butter and sugar until combined and fluffy. Add in the flour mixture and chopped nuts, mixing until combined. The mixture will look crumbly, like sand, but when you squeeze a handful, it will hold together.

Press the mixture into the bottom of the prepared pan. Bake until golden brown, 30 to 40 minutes depending on your pan size. Remove from the oven and sit on a cooling rack for 5 minutes. Using a sharp knife (I used the sharp edge of a bench scraper), mark the baked shortbread into strips or wedges. Leave the shortbread in the pan until completely cooled, then remove and finish cutting the shortbread into individual cookies.