Pizza Pockets

FullSizeRenderCan’t beat the draw of fresh, savory bread, filled with hot pepperoni and gooey melted cheese. Since we’re not Italian, I feel we can’t call these calzones, so they’ve been dubbed “pizza pockets” in our house. And as the definition of a calzone is “an Italian oven-baked folded pizza,” our name works perfectly well. 

It all started with a magazine recipe clipping for “mini French loaves” that sounded more Italian than French in their ingredient listing, and a house full of teenage boys who were bottomless pits. I’d made this dough into buns for dinner, and the guys said, “Hey, this kind of tastes like pizza!” So I decided to make it more like pizza by stuffing it with pepperoni and a mix of cheeses, and then dipping the pizza pockets into purchased marinara sauce. A star was born. (Then I found out that Calzones were a “thing” and I wasn’t the genius I thought I was…oh well. Not the first time!)

I’d not made these for years, and then my son Justin was reminiscing about this dish to his lovely fiancé Ashley. So of course I had to make them for her… She loved them as much as the guys always have, which means she passed the test—welcome to the fam, Ash! 

Now, I have to mention, I’ve tried filling these with a variety of things over the years: sausage and mushroom, green peppers and Canadian bacon and pineapple, etc. But nothing seems to work out as well as the plain old pepperoni and cheese. When something works, sometimes you just have to leave it alone and enjoy the simplicity of it.

Makes 8 pizza pockets

Dough
1¼ cups warm water
2½ teaspoons active dry yeast
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 teaspoon garlic salt
1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
½ cup grated Parmesan cheese (Kraft is fine, doesn’t need to be all fancy!)
3 to 3½ cups all-purpose flour

Filling
Package of pepperoni slices
1 cup grated sharp cheddar cheese
1 cup grated mozzarella cheese

For Dipping
Jar of purchased Marinara sauce (My pick is Trader Joe’s as it’s about $1.79 per jar and doesn’t use corn syrupn.)

Dissolve yeast in water in large mixing bowl, letting rise until yeast begins to foam on top. Fit mixer with dough hook. Add sugar, seasonings, 2 cups flour, and Parmesan cheese, and beat until all ingredients are combined. Add flour ½ cup at a time and mix on low setting to form a soft dough. Note that you may not need all of the remaining 1½ cups of flour. Only add flour until dough begins to pull away from the sides of the bowl. Turn dough onto floured surface and knead until smooth and elastic. Grease a clean bowl with shortening, and place dough into bowl, turning once to grease top of dough. Cover with damp kitchen towel and let rise in warm place for about an hour, or until doubled in size.

Grease a baking sheet with olive oil, and sprinkle pan with a light dusting of cornmeal. Punch dough down, and divide into 8 equal-sized pieces. Form each piece into a ball. Roll out into an oval disk using rolling pin. Place about 6 pieces of pepperoni on one half of the disk, in a pyramid of 3 pieces, 2 pieces, and 1 piece. Top with a handful of grated cheeses, then fold empty half of dough over the side filled with pepperoni and cheese. Use the tines of a fork to seal the edges of the dough. Move pizza pocket to greased pan. Repeat with remaining pieces of dough.

Preheat oven to 400° Fahrenheit. Let dough rise in warm place for 30-45 minutes, or until almost doubled in size. (I like to fill my sink with hot water, then top the sink with an oven rack, and place pan on rack. This creates nice humid conditions for rising dough.) Once dough is risen, bake in preheated oven on center rack for 12-15 minutes, or until top of bread is light golden brown. Remove to cooling rack for about 10 minutes before serving. Heat marinara sauce in saucepan for a few minutes. Serve pizza pockets with a small ramekin of Marinara sauce for dipping as you eat.

Marynona’s Whole Wheat Caraway Bread

FullSizeRender-3The only thing that tops the aroma of bread baking, is the taste of that fresh homemade bread, still warm and slathered in butter. Mmmmmmmm. Here’s another recipe that falls in the “Didn’t I post that already?” category, as it’s a family staple. Realized it hadn’t been blogged yet when my son Mitchell was looking for the recipe on forknifespoon.com and couldn’t find it.

My mother-in-law, Marynona, was a fabulous baker, and often entered her baked goods in county fairs around her home town of Albert Lea. This was one of her award winners—and I wish she was still around to tell me what year she earned a ribbon for this recipe she concocted. She would love to know that one of her creations has been passed on and enjoyed by others, as she was always a warm and welcoming hostess. So go ahead and give this recipe a whirl!

Afraid of yeast? (Yes, you!) That’s just silly! Making bread is no different than playing with Play-Doh, and you enjoyed THAT as a kid, right? The trick is to add your last cups of flour gradually so you keep your dough pliable. Too much flour makes for a stiff, un-kneadable mixture. Too little, and it’s a gooey mess. It’s a little trial and error, but you’ll know it was worth the effort when you proudly pull those steaming loaves of grainy goodness from your oven.

Speaking of flour, I’ve found a new flour I really like called “Ultragrain” at Costco. It claims to be a non-GMO whole wheat grain, and it bakes up like regular old white flour. Those of you with gluten intolerance may be able to use Ultragrain flour in baked goods—I’ve found it works for me. But that’s just my experience!

I had to change a couple things in my mother-in-law’s recipe. She had something called “lecithin granules” in her dough, and she and I once found it at a Whole Foods Market. But it’s not carried at the grocery stores I frequent, and I’m not even sure what it is, or what heath benefits it’s supposed to have! Given it was only 2 tablespoons between 4 loaves, I’ve opted to use chia seeds instead, giving you even more texture in this hearty bread.

Makes 4 small loaves or 2 large loaves

3 cups warm water
5 teaspoons dry yeast (or 2 envelopes)
¼ cup molasses
¼ cup honey
1 cup old-fashioned oatmeal
1 cup wheat germ
1/3 cup vegetable oil
½ cup sunflower seeds
3 tablespoons sesame seeds
2 tablespoons chia seeds
2 tablespoons flax seed (ground*)
1 tablespoon caraway seeds
1 tablespoon salt
4 cups white flour, divided
2 cups whole wheat flour, divided

Fit standing mixer with dough hook. Pour warm water into large mixing bowl. Sprinkle with yeast, and add molasses and honey. Let rise for a few minutes until it starts to foam. Add oatmeal, wheat germ, oil, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, chia seeds, flax seed, caraway seeds, salt, 2 cups white flour and 1 cup whole wheat flour. Stir on low or setting 2 until ingredients are incorporated. Add 1 more cup white flour and the remaining 1 cup whole wheat flour. Again, stir on low or 2. Gradually add as much of the remaining 1 cup white flour as you can, until dough begins to pull away from sides of mixer as you stir. (You are looking for a dough that is sticking to the dough hook, and holding together some what. But you will be kneading more, so it doesn’t need to be totally Play-Doh texture just yet.)

Dust a large cutting board with white flour. Turn dough out onto board and sprinkle with more flour. Start kneading by bringing outside edges of bread into center and punching down. Continue doing this, sprinkling with flour when sticky, and pulling from all sides of mass until dough is smooth and elastic.

Grease large bowl with shortening and drop kneaded dough ball into bowl. Turn dough in bowl to coat with shortening. Let rise in warm place for 60 minutes, or until roughly doubled in size. (My warm place? I fill my kitchen sink with hot water, then put bowl in the water, covered with a damp dish towel. Back when I had a teeny tiny kitchen and my sink wasn’t large enough for raising dough, I put a few inches of hot water in the bathtub, and let the dough raise in there. Some people like to raise dough in a oven on low heat, but I find that dries the dough out. Others love the convenience of a bread maker for rising AND baking.)

Preheat oven to 375° Fahrenheit. While dough is rising, grease 4 small loaf pans, or 2 large ones with shortening. Once dough is risen, punch down and turn onto flour-dusted surface. (Photo 1 below) Divide into 4 or 2 even pieces. (Photo 2 below) Form into ball by bringing outside edges to center and punching into center. Repeat a few times. (Photo 3 below) Then shape ball into an oblong that will fit into loaf pans. Repeat with each piece of dough. (Photo 4 below)

Cover loaves with damp dish towel and let rise for 45-60 minutes, or until almost doubled in size again. (I add more hot water to my sink and rig up an oven rack on top of the sink. Then the loaves sit on the rack, and the towel holds in the moisture creating the perfect bread-rising environment.)

Once bread is risen (It it risen! It is risen indeed!), bake 4 loaves on center rack for 25-30 minutes, or 40-45 minutes for 2 loaves. Bread should sound somewhat hollow when tapped on top crust. (Photo 5 below) Let cool on wire rack until you can handle touching the pans, then remove from pans and let cool completely before storing in airtight container. (Ziplock bags are my go-to bread storage.)

You WILL want to dig into these loaves right away, but resist the urge. The bread will mush and flatten if sliced immediately. Best to let it cool 20-30 minutes before slicing and slathering with toppings of choice. My husband likes peanut butter and slices of tomato, and I do not get that combo. But it’s his mother’s recipe, so he can top it however he likes.

Funny homemade bread dough story! My co-worker Tucker was recently making pizza dough with his wife, and they accidentally used powdered sugar to dust the board before kneading dough. He said it just kept getting stickier and stickier, and they couldn’t figure out what was wrong! When they finally realized their error, they quickly salvaged the situation—by calling for pizza delivery.

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Hot Cross Buns

FullSizeRender“One a penny, two a penny, hot cross buns…” If that nursery rhyme song is your only exposure to these Easter treats, you may want to try kneading up a batch and see what everyone was singing about back in the 18th Century. This recipe isn’t quite so ancient—it came from Better Homes & Gardens New Cookbook, circa 1996.

The buns are marked with a cross as a symbol of Christ’s crucifixion, and the spices represent His embalming at burial. And as with anything with a religious bent, there’s a long, controversial history with these treats which were traditionally eaten on Good Friday to signify the end of Lent. Queen Elizabeth I, being a total killjoy, banned the sale of hot cross buns expect on Good Friday or Christmas, with punishments for ignoring her decree. Not exactly sure why they were banned…

There are other stories circulating, but they all kind of make you wonder what the fuss is about. These buns were good, but not to die for. (No Easter pun intended!)  I had trouble finding the candied diced orange peel, and ended up “shopping” in my friend Karin’s kitchen when it wasn’t in any of my area grocery stores. She had some buried in her freezer from Christmas. I wouldn’t bother hunting so extensively for this ingredient again, as it makes the bread a bit bitter. 

So why was I so desperate to make these? My sister Susan wanted to serve them for her book club babes since hot cross buns were mentioned in their selection this month. But when she looked up a recipe and saw that scary word “yeast” she called to see if I’d make them. Handy to have a food-blogging sister looking for excuses to try new recipes, isn’t it! (But yeast dough really shouldn’t be so scary, people…) I may have accidentally put a cup too much flour in these, because they were the stiffest little buns (insert joke here) I have ever made. I think the baked dough is supposed to be more light and fluffy. I may try them again, because the sweet bread with spices and currants held promise for being a pleasant pastry.

Makes 20-24 buns

4 to 4½ cups all-purpose flour
2½ active dry yeast
¾ teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
Dash ground cloves
¾ cup milk
½ cup butter
1/3 cup granulated sugar
½ teaspoon salt
3 eggs (room temperature—and yes you need to do this!)
2/3 cup currants
¼ cup diced candied orange peel (optional)
1 beaten egg white plus 1 tablespoon water

Powdered Sugar Icing

1 cup powdered sugar
1-2 tablespoon milk or orange juice
¼ teaspoon vanilla

In a large mixing bowl, combine 2 cups flour, dry yeast, cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves. In a sauce pan, heat and stir milk, butter, sugar, and salt until butter is almost all melted. Add milk mixture to dry ingredients and stir. Add eggs one at a time, beating on low after each addition. Beat on high for 3 minutes. Add currants, and 1 cup of flour. Add flour in 1/2 cup amounts until dough no longer sticks to sides of bowl.

Turn dough onto lightly floured surface. Knead until moderately soft and elastic, about 3-5 minutes. Shape into a ball and place in greased bowl, turning once to coat. Cover with damp kitchen towel and let rise in warm place until doubled in size, about 1½ hours.

Preheat oven to 375° Fahrenheit. Punch dough down. Turn onto floured surface. Cover with dry kitchen towel and let rest 10 minutes. Divide into 20-24 pieces and shape each into a smooth ball. Place balls on greased baking sheet, a few inches apart. Cover with dry kitchen towel and let rise until nearly doubled, 45-60 minutes.

While dough is rising or baking, make frosting. Combine powdered sugar, 1 tablespoon milk, and vanilla and beat with whisk attachment. Add more milk if needed to make frosting thin enough to drizzle.

Using a sharp (serrated works best!) knife, make crisscross slashes across the top of each bun. In a small bowl, combine egg white and water. Brush across top of each bun. Bake in preheated oven for 12-15 minutes, or until golden brown. Cool slightly. Drizzle frosting into slashes in buns to form a cross. Serve warm, or cool completely and store in airtight container.

Raspberry Wine Bread

FullSizeRender-1This sweet bread with a raspberry filling and cream cheese frosting is an absolute favorite with my current (but soon to be former!) co-workers. These are best for brunch, or as a treat with a cup of coffee or tea. Since it tastes similar to a Swedish kringle, I’m not sure why this is called “wine bread,” as there is no wine used in the recipe. Does it go great with a glass of red or white? I don’t know. All I know is that I’ve been making this recipe for years, ever since it was given to me by my host mom during a Bethel College women’s choir tour. Maybe it was the break from church basement potlucks featuring red Kool-Aid and green Jell-O that made this treat especially delightful, or maybe it was the thoughtfulness of the South Dakota mom who made the effort to go beyond chocolate chip cookies to welcome her guests. In hindsight, I think the poor woman was a little shocked that a skinny little college girl (this was a while ago…), could down as many of these delicious treats as I did. She simply had to share the recipe so I could get my fix once I got home. She sure didn’t want me stalking her for more.

Don’t let the fact that there’s yeast in the recipe scare you. This is one of the easier yeast dough’s to make, as all the eggs and butter make it very pliable. I’ve included photos below of how to roll out and assemble, in case my descriptions don’t make sense. Then once you’ve tried it, give me YOUR opinion of how it got it’s name.

Makes 4 pastries, each one yielding about 8 pieces

For pastry:
1 cup butter (2 sticks)
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 teaspoon salt
2½ teaspoons dry yeast
4 cups all-purpose flour, divided
2 eggs, room temperature
1 cup milk
Raspberry pie filling *

For frosting:
8 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
1½ cups powdered sugar
¼-1/3 cup milk
1 teaspoon almond extract
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Garnish:
Sliced almonds

In small sauce pan, melt butter. Stir in sugar and salt, and stir until they are dissolved. Let cool to lukewarm. Pour into mixing bowl; fit mixer with dough hook. Sprinkle yeast on top of butter mixture. Mix eggs in small bowl, then add to butter and yeast in bowl, along with 1 cup of the flour. Stir to combine. Add milk and the rest of the flour all at once, and turn mixer on second to lowest setting. Stir until dough clings to dough hook, and no bits remain on outside of the bowl. Cover dough with plastic wrap, tucking it right on top of dough ball. Chill at least 15 minutes, or up to 3 hours.

Preheat oven to 350° Fahrenheit. Divide chilled dough into 4 equal parts. Sprinkle cutting board with flour and drop one section of dough onto surface, and knead into a ball. Sprinkle a little flour on top. Roll out with rolling pin to about ¼” thickness. Transfer to a baking sheet. (You will need 2 baking sheets for the 4 pastries.) Spread one-quarter of the raspberry filling down middle section of the dough, then fold 1/3 over from each side on top of filling. Repeat process with other three sections of dough to form the rest of the pastries.

Bake for 20 minutes. Remove from oven and place each pastry on a cooling rack. Cool for about 30-60 minutes. Then make frosting. Place cream cheese in smaller mixing bowl, then add powdered sugar and cream thoroughly. Gradually add ¼ cup milk, and both extracts. If frosting is not thin enough to drizzle on pastry, add more milk. Drizzle or spread onto cooled dough, then sprinkle sliced almonds on top. To serve, slice into 1-2 inch wide strips. Store any remaining pastries in an airtight containers.

*NOTE: While I prefer raspberry pie filling for this recipe, you can also use blueberry or peach. I’ve made this with all those flavors, but usually raspberry is the fan favorite.

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Old Country Potato Dill Bread

FullSizeRenderTo keep homemade bread tasting just-from-the-oven-fresh, do what your great-grandmother did, and add leftover mashed potatoes to the batch of dough. I’ve been making this recipe since 1990-something, after running across it in a Country Home magazine (read while waiting for my son at the orthodontist, if I remember right…), but I rarely have mashed taters leftover from a meal. So I follow the instructions below for boiling up potatoes to make the dough.

(Disclaimer: No, I did not steal a magazine from the orthodontist’s office. I politely asked the receptionist if she’d make a copy of the recipe for me, rather than tearing it out and ruining some other mother’s day by leaving behind a mutilated magazine. The receptionist looked at me like I had two heads, but copied it off anyway. Apparently not a lot of people request copies of recipes while at the orthodontist, huh!)

FullSizeRender-1Now to confess the REAL reason I write this blog. I’m selfish. I want all my recipes in one, handy, organized place, so I don’t have to search through a gazillion cookbooks, and dig in piles of old newspaper and magazine clippings to unearth my tried-and-true favorites. Since I’ve been posting for over a year, I was shocked and surprised when I couldn’t find the potato bread recipe after searching for tags like “potato” and “dill.” How could I not have posted this treasure yet!?! This is far and away my three son’s fave bread. They loved it as an after school snack when they were kids, slathered in peanut butter. They love it with meals as adults, with butter, or without. It’s so moist, it doesn’t even need butter to be the best bread ever.

And what goes perfect with this bread? Sweet-tart Strawberry Rhubarb jam, recipe to come later this week when I make my annual batch.

Makes 3 loaves

Sponge (another name for “starter”):
2½ teaspoons active dry yeast
½ cup all-purpose flour *
½ cup warm water (at least 100° Fahrenheit)

Dough:
2 medium red potatoes, peeled
3¼ cups all-purpose flour *
2 teaspoons dried dill weed
1½ teaspoons salt
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided

To make starter: Combine yeast and water in medium bowl, and stir in water until all ingredients are combined and no dry patches of flour remain. Set starter in a sink filled with 2 inches of hot water. Let rise 20 minutes. (Or overnight—the recipe suggests that it makes for a more flavorful bread as it gathers more mold spores that way. I’ve never done this, so I can’t vouch for an enhanced flavor for your efforts!)

To make bread: Fill a small saucepan with enough water to cover the potatoes. Cover pan and bring water to a full boil. Reduce to medium heat and cook potatoes until tender, about 15-20 minutes. Remove potatoes with slotted spoon, and place in bowl of mixer. Reserve 1 cup of potato water and let cool to room temperature. Mash the potatoes in the mixer bowl, and stir in potato water.

Fit mixer with dough hook. To bowl of potatoes and potato water, add flour, dill weed, salt, 2 tablespoons olive oil, and bread starter. Stir on 1st or 2nd mixer setting until dough forms into soft ball, riding around on dough hook, and no dough remains on sides of bowl.

Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface, and sprinkle top of ball with more flour. Knead dough by hand, adding more flour as dough gets sticky. Continue to knead until dough is smooth and elastic.

Add remaining 1 tablespoon of olive oil to a medium-sized bowl, and rotate bowl to coat bottom and sides with oil. Drop dough ball into bowl, then turn dough to coat all sides with oil. Cover bowl with a clean, damp cotton kitchen towel and let rise in sink filled with 2-3 inches of hot water for 1 hour, or until dough is doubled in size.

Preheat oven to 400° Fahrenheit. Drizzle baking sheet or 3 pie tins with additional olive oil, then use paper towel to spread oil evenly across pan(s). Sprinkle baking sheet or pie tins with a light dusting of corn meal (which acts as ball bearings for your bread as it rises and bakes on pan). Punch dough down, and turn onto lightly floured board. Cut into 3 equal pieces. Sprinkle pieces with flour. Working with 1 piece of dough at a time, bring outsides of dough into center and punch down, and continue doing that until nice ball of dough has been formed. Place 3 balls of prepared dough onto baking sheet or 1 on each pie tin. Cover dough with dry kitchen towel, and let rise in warm, draft-free place for 45 minutes to 1 hour, or until dough is almost doubled in size.

Once dough has risen sufficiently, slice across top of each loaf 3 times with a sharp, serrated knife, going about 1/4″ or 1/2″ into top of dough. Place dough in preheated oven, and bake for 20-25 minutes, or until top and sides of bread is golden brown. Bread should sound hollow when tapped when it’s done. Remove to wire rack to cool immediately out of oven. Cool bread for at least 30 minutes before cutting into a loaf. Cool bread for 2-3 hours before placing in Ziplock bag to store. Do not refrigerate.

*NOTE: Original recipe called for using bread flour, but I’ve never found much difference in taste or texture when I’ve used bread flour over all-purpose flour to make bread.

Jorunn’s Hearty Flatbread

FullSizeRender-3It was worth the trip to Norway, just to have a piece of this awesome flatbread made by my cousin’s wife, Jorunn. She’s a retired home economics teacher, and a fabulous cook, and she came up with this recipe to serve with aged cheese, and smoked salmon or salty herring. It’s great as a side with soup, or works as breakfast when topped with boiled egg slices and cheese. We also fell in love with geitost (also spelled gjeitost, pronounced “yay-toast”) on our visit to Norway—a caramelized semi-hard cheese that is sweet and nutty and almost tastes like dessert. Pictured here is the flatbread served with sliced ham and geitost. Add a dollop of raspberry jam, and it’s a hearty treat done the Norwegian way. Used to be a challenge to find geitost in the U.S., as it was only at Kowalski’s or specialty cheese shops. Now Cub Foods and other grocery stores carry the blocks of Norwegian cheese wrapped in it’s signature red packaging.

It was a bit of a trick to convert Jorunn’s recipe from metric to Imperial measurements (American), but once we figured out the liter to cup conversion, we were able to commit the recipe to paper. This bread is chock-full of flax and oats and sunflower seeds, but no white flour, and is my only whole wheat bread recipe that can claim that. Normally, you need a heaping helping of white flour or else the bread won’t rise. Since this is meant to stay flat and be like a soft cracker, rising is not an issue.

1 cup old-fashioned oatmeal
1 cup salted or unsalted sunflower seeds
½ cup flaxseeds, ground*
½ cup oat bran
1½ teaspoons salt
2½ cups boiling water
1 cup whole wheat flour
¾ cup rye flour
2½ teaspoons yeast
½ cup vegetable oil

In large bowl, combine oatmeal, sunflower seeds, flaxseeds, oat bran, and salt. Stir in boiling water with wooden spoon until all ingredients are moistened. Let stand until mixture is luke warm. Add whole wheat flour, rye flour, yeast, and vegetable oil, and stir until ingredients are incorporated. Set in a sink of warm water, and cover with a clean, damp, kitchen towel. Let rise for 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 400°. Line large (11″x17″) baking sheet with parchment paper. Spread bread mixture onto lined pan, using a spatula to press dough down into pan. Cover with damp towel again, and let rise another 30 minutes.

Bake in preheated oven for 20-25 minutes, or until brown around edges, and dough begins to pull away from edges slightly. When fresh from oven, cut bread into 20-24 pieces with pizza cutter, and move squares to cooling rack to cool completely. Once cooled, store in container with lid set slightly ajar to keep bread from getting too moist.

NOTE: Flaxseed needs to be ground in order for your system to be able to utilize it’s health benefits. If you buy it whole, you can run small amounts of the seeds through a coffee grinder to get a quick, course grind.

Spicy Pumpkin Bundt Cake

IMG_1172You can’t swing a dead cat without hitting something pumpkin flavored in the fall, so it’s at the risk of pumpkin overload that I post this. I just tried this moist and delicious pumpkin cake recipe, after seeing it on Martha Stewart’s website. It called for cake flour, which I didn’t have, so I subbed in all-purpose flour using this little trick that’s all over the internet: measure out 1 cup flour, then remove 2 tablespoons, and sift in 2 tablespoons corn starch. Use that concoction cup for cup as a replacement for the cake flour. I have a confession to make—I don’t think pumpkin actually has much flavor! Now, don’t pummel me with candy corn for my sacrilege against the sacred gourd. While it adds moistness to a recipe, it’s really the cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg and cloves in a recipe that we associate with the pumpkin-infused desserts and drinks so popular in autumn. (Personally, I think butternut and acorn squashes have more going on in the flavor department…)

Some people, like my daughter-in-law Jessica, can totally rock a layer cake. But cake making is my Achilles heel, so I love a good, simple Bundt®* cake recipe, especially one like this that requires no frosting. A light dusting of powdered sugar is all that’s needed to finish this tasty cake, and bing, bang, boom, it’s ready to serve. Maybe add a dollop of whipped cream or Cool Whip if you’re going to serve this instead of pumpkin pie for Thanksgiving… And then watch this clip from “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” as a reminder that the term “Bundt® cake” isn’t universally recognized.

Serves 12-16

Rating: easy

4 cups cake flour (not self-rising), or 4 cups all-purpose flour minus ½ cup flour, plus ½ cup cornstarch
4 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon ground ginger
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
½ teaspoon ground cloves
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
2½ cups packed light-brown sugar
4 large eggs
1 cup buttermilk or sour milk**
1 (15 ounce) can pumpkin puree
Confectioners’ sugar, for dusting

Preheat oven to 350° Fahrenheit. Spray a 14-cup Bundt® pan with cooking spray or coat with butter. Dust with flour, and tap out excess.

Whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves. Set aside. Beat butter and brown sugar together in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, on medium speed until pale and fluffy, 2 to 3 minutes. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition and scraping down sides of bowl. Reduce speed to low. Beat in flour mixture gradually, alternating with the buttermilk or sour milk. Beat until just combined. Add pumpkin puree, and beat until combined. Pour batter into prepared pan.

Bake cake until golden and a wooden skewer inserted into the center comes out clean, about 55-60 minutes. Let cool on awire rack for 30 minutes. Carefully turn cake onto rack to cool completely. Before serving, dust with confectioners’ sugar.

*FUN FACT: The Bundt® pan was created in the 1950’s by Nordic Ware, a Minneapolis company started by a husband and wife post-WWII to make Scandinavian ethnic cookware products. It comes in a wide variety of fluted or ridged configurations within the general ring shape. No one recipe needs to be used with the Bundt pan—it works for hundreds of different cake batters, as well as making a beautiful Jell-O mold.

**NOTE: I’ve never bought buttermilk when it’s called for in a recipe. I always make my own sour milk by putting 1 tablespoon of white vinegar in a measuring cup, and filling it with 1% or 2% milk (don’t use skim—the milk needs some fat to “sour”) to 1 cup measurement. Stir and let sit for 5-10 minutes before using in recipe.

Fabulous Fajitas

IMG_1020Fajitas can be quick and easy weekday fare, and are a great way to use any meat you may have leftover from grilling. My husband loves to grill or smoke a pork roast or large pork chops for dinner one night, and then we can use the leftovers to make fajitas or stir fry another time. Grilled beef roast or flanks are also awesome in fajitas. Or sometimes he sears the meat on the grill just for flavor but doesn’t cook it all the way, and then we finish it up on the stove top with the peppers and onions. If you don’t have time or space for grilling, chicken can be sautéed in a pan with the veggies.

I can assure you the recipe I’ve come up with below is easy (Judy easy!) and perfect for a couple or small family. The trick with fajitas, is to cut everything—meat, onions, and peppers—in strips so you can grab the meat and veggies with tongs when loading up your tortillas. And the secret flavor booster is the sesame oil, a wonderfully nutty and earthy addition. It’s found in the Asian food or oil aisle of your grocery store.

Serves 4-6

1 pound pork roast, beef roast (or 8 chicken tenderloins)
2-4 tablespoons soy sauce
Drizzle of olive oil
Garlic salt
1-2 large yellow onions, halved then sliced
2 green peppers, or 1 green and 1 sweet red pepper, sliced in strips
2 cloves garlic, minced
1-2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons sesame oil
1 tablespoon sesame seeds

Toppings

One recipe Spicy Hummus, or purchased hummus
Crumbled feta cheese

One recipe tortillas, or store-bought tortillas

Put meat in bowl and drizzle with soy sauce. Turn to coat. (Use 4 tablespoons soy sauce for the pork or beef, and 2 tablespoons for the chicken tenderloins.) Grill meat until just pink in center, sprinkling with garlic salt while grilling. Or use chicken if making your whole meal indoors. If using chicken, drizzle olive oil in a large sauté pan and heat on high. Add chicken to pan and sear on each side about 2 minutes, sprinkling with garlic salt while cooking. Remove to plate to cool.

Drizzle olive oil in pan and heat to high. Add onions and saute for 1-2 minutes. Turn down to medium-high heat and continue to cook until onions are translucent. Add peppers and cook until pepper are tender-crisp. Add garlic, stir and cook 1 minute more. Turn heat back up to high. Slice meat into long, thin strips and add to pan. Add soy sauce, sesame oil, and sesame seeds. Stir to combine, and then let ingredients sauté about 1-2 minutes more.

Heat tortillas on hot skillet for a few seconds on each side. Add fajita mixture to tortilla. Add hummus and feta cheese. Roll up and eat!

Best Blueberry Muffins Ever

IMG_1025Saturday breakfast, Sunday brunch, or anytime you’re in a blueberry muffin kinda mood, these are simply the best. You can use either fresh or frozen blueberries, but I’ve made them more often with frozen fruit as those are cheaper year round. Plus, if you keep a supply of berries in the freezer, you’re always ready to whip up these easy treats.

These are so popular in our house that they’ve become the “it’s your birthday” breakfast muffin, as well as the Father’s Day or Mother’s Day staple (if I want to make them for myself), too. I scribbled the recipe on scratch paper after seeing it in a magazine years ago, and don’t recall which one—probably Better Homes & Gardens or Family Fun. The key to their fabulosity is the nutmeg sugar topping. I once forgot to add that before baking, and we were all like, “What’s wrong with the muffins today? Where’s the magic?” So don’t be tempted to skip that last-second sprinkle before tossing them in the oven. It really does make these the best blueberry muffins ever.

Makes 12-18 muffins

½ cup butter (1 stick), softened
1 cup granulated sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
½ cup milk
2½ cups fresh blueberries or 12 ounces (1½ cups) frozen blueberries

Topping

1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

Preheat oven to 375 ° Fahrenheit. In large mixing bowl fitted with paddle, beat butter until creamy. Add sugar and beat until fluffy. Add eggs one at a time and continue to cream mixture. Add in vanilla and cream again.

In separate bowl, combine flour, baking powder, and salt. Stir to combine. Alternately add flour mixture and milk to the creamed butter and sugar mixture until all ingredients are incorporated. Remove bowl from mixer and fold in blueberries by hand.

Combine sugar and nutmeg in a small bowl. Put papers in a muffin tin. Fill each paper with batter. Sprinkle each muffin with about 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg sugar. Bake for 25-30 minutes, or until light golden brown on top. Remove muffins from tin and cool on rack for about 10-15 minutes. (Or eat immediately and burn your mouth on scalding hot blueberries—it’s your call.)

EASE RATING – Judy

(Based on me and my sisters, and our interest and comfort-level in the kitchen)
Judy—I hate to cook, but I’ll make this one!
Susan—I’m fine with cooking and will tackle something a little more challenging.
Cheryl—I love to cook and bake and seek out food challenges

Better-Than-Take-Out Pizza Dough

IMG_0927You can make—and bake!—pizza made from this dough in the time it takes to order and pick up a pizza. I’ve been using this recipe to make personal pan pizzas for about 15 years now, and it’s always warmly welcomed by family and guests. This summer, my husband and I have used this dough to make and bake a couple pizzas in the Big Green Egg, and those are definitely killer. (Greek pizza pictured here—full recipe to come.) I’m posting this not only because it’s so easy and tasty, but because my scrawled pen and paper recipe is worn and tattered beyond legibility. My daughter-in-law Jess wanted to make this dough once, but she couldn’t make heads or tails of the faded chicken scratching on the recipe once she found it. So before this family fave is lost for all eternity, I’ll post it. And run a hard copy for back up. Cause that’s how I roll.

Oh, and where did I find this super simple gem? It was featured in a Family Fun magazine in the 90’s. It uses yeast, but really people, it’s nothing to be afraid of. Embrace the yeast! It’s your friend! This dough is no more difficult than mixing up a batch of Play-Doh. Only this, you can eat.

Makes 8 personal pan pizzas, or two 12-inch pizzas

1 cup warm tap water
2 1/2 teaspoons dry yeast (or 1 package, if using individual packets)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, divided
olive oil
corn meal

Preheat oven to 425° Fahrenheit. Rinse large mixing bowl with hot water to warm it. (Especially important in winter to take the chill off the bowl, which could reduce water temp and keep yeast from rising properly.) Add warm water to bowl. Sprinkle yeast on top of water. Let stand 5 minutes, or until yeast is dissolved (water will be cloudy and/or foamy).

Stir in olive oil, salt, and 1 cup of the flour with large wooden spoon. Add remaining 1 1/2 cup flour and stir until dough begins to cling to spoon, and most of flour is incorporated into loose ball.

Sprinkle butcher block or large cutting board with flour. Drop dough down onto board, and knead by bringing outside edges in and punching them into the center of ball. Sprinkle flour on top when dough gets sticky. Repeat until dough is smooth and elastic. Pour 1-2 tablespoons of olive oil in a medium bowl and rotate to coat. Drop kneaded dough into oiled bowl, and then flip dough, so that whole ball is coated in oil. Cover with damp towel, and place in sink. Fill sink about a quarter or third with very warm water. Let dough rise for 30 minutes.

Punch dough down and toss onto floured board. Divide into 8 pieces for personal pan pizzas, or 2 pieces for a couple of 12-inch pizzas.

To make personal pan pizzas:

Lightly oil 3 baking sheets, and sprinkle with a light dusting of cornmeal. Form dough pieces into balls by binging outside edges in to center a couple times. Roll a ball out flat with rolling pin, about 8 inches in diameter. Place up to 3 crusts on a baking sheet, zig zagging to fit. Top with purchased marinara sauce, spreading to within 1 inch of edges. Add other toppings such as grated mozzarella cheese, chopped green peppers, onions, olives, mushrooms, pepperoni, sausage, etc. Bake in preheated oven for 12 minutes, with pans on top, middle and bottom racks. Rotate pans half way through baking – top to bottom, bottom to middle, and middle to top. Move to wire rack to cool for 5 minutes. Serve.

To make two 12-inch pizzas:

Lightly oil 2 round baking sheets, and sprinkle with a light dusting of cornmeal. Form each dough piece into a ball by binging outside edges in to center a couple times. Roll a ball out flat with rolling pin, about 12 inches in diameter. Move dough to prepared pans. Top with purchased marinara sauce, spreading to within 1 inch of edges. Add other toppings as desired. Bake in preheated oven for 12 minutes, rotating pans in oven halfway through baking. Slice and serve.

P.S. Changed the name of this recipe from Easier-than-take-out to Better-than-take-out, after reading my friend Peggy’s hilarious synopsis of her attempt at this dough in the comments below. In the end, she loved it! So it’s worth trying to get this one right.