Marynona’s Whole Wheat Caraway Bread

The 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.

Asparagus and Pea Spring Salad

It doesn’t get any fresher than this springy salad featuring asparagus, peas, and spinach. I first tried the Asparagus Ribbon Salad (from Better Homes & Gardens April 2017 issue) for Easter, and our guests all thought it was dee-licious. I made it per instructions the first time, except for the requested arugula, as it’s expensive and I think it has a bitter bite. So I subbed in Bibb lettuce (aka: butter lettuce) and added some spinach—just because I like to add spinach to dishes whenever possible! Good call on the Bibb lettuce, as it was the perfect compliment to the tender asparagus. It was a nice side salad with ham and cheesy scalloped potatoes potatoes (need to post that one), and a refreshing way to serve the green spears, rather than just microwaving and squirting with lemon.

But I thought the long ribbons of asparagus were kind of awkward to eat, and were a total pain in the keister (yet worth it for Easter…) to prepare. Chopping them into 1-2 inch pieces is easier to do, and easier to eat. I also found the vinegar in the BH&G asparagus-pea pesto recipe to be too sharp—asparagus is such a subtle veggie, and I thought lemon might be a better choice for an acid in the pesto. Then because I CANNOT turn my foodie brain off, I thought I’d boil up some eggs and chop some leftover Easter ham on top to make it a whole meal deal. Loved it!!! It was so tantalizing, my co-worker Ben even asked me for the recipe when I brought a salad to work. Or rather, he said, “Hey Kaaren (his wife), you should get that recipe from Cheryl…”

Here you go, Ben (ahem, I mean Kaaren…).

Serves 6-8

For Side Salad
2 bunches asparagus
3 cups frozen peas, divided
3 cloves garlic, peeled and quartered
½-1 lemon, juiced (¼-½ cup)
¼ cup olive oil
½ cup grated Parmesan cheese
½ of an English cucumber, sliced into quartered
2 heads Bibb lettuce, cored and chopped
2 cups fresh spinach, chopped
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon black pepper

For Main Meal Salad
2 cups chopped ham
6 hard boiled eggs, peeled and chopped
1 cup grated white sharp cheddar cheese

Fill a large bowl with cold water and add ice. Set aside to us in blanching asparagus. Trim or snap touch ends off asparagus, then chop into 1 or 2-inch pieces. Fill a medium saucepan with water, add 1 teaspoon salt, and bring to a full rolling boil. Add fresh asparagus, and cook 2-3 minutes, or until bright green. Using slotted spoon, gradually transfer all the asparagus to the bowl of ice water. Let sit for about 5 minutes, then drain. Rinse the frozen peas under cold water then drain in separate strainer. Dab both asparagus and peas with paper towel to remove excess moisture. Toss asparagus, peas, and cucumber together in a bowl. Set aside.

To make asparagus-pea pesto, combine 1 cup of blanched asparagus, 2 cups of peas, garlic, lemon juice, and olive oil in food processor and pulse to form paste. Add Parmesan and pulse to combine. Stir in 1 teaspoon salt, and ½ teaspoon black pepper. Toss pesto with asparagus, peas, and cucumber until all ingredients are combined.

To assemble salad, spread Bibb lettuce and spinach on large platter, or 6-8 individual salad plates. Top with asparagus mixture for side salad. If making a main meal salad, sprinkle with chopped ham, chopped egg, and grated cheese.

Chicken Vegetable Soup with Rice

FullSizeRenderThere’s something extra comforting about chicken soup, and it’s more than just because it’s warm and savory on a cold winter day. If you make your own broth, the boiling of the chicken carcass makes it chock-full of helpful minerals, and the combination of vegetables and chicken stock give this soup anti-inflammatory properties that really DO help you get over a cold or flu. I’ve read countless articles about it. But I’ve also experienced it.

My mom taught me how to make this simple recipe, and I’ve been making it for years. Last year, when we were hosting a student from Japan, I saw it’s healing properties first hand. Poor Hana came down with strep throat while 5,000 miles from home. I felt so bad for the poor girl! We got her a shot of penicillin, and I made her a batch of chicken soup. The soup started her on the mend, and the penicillin finished the job.

A few months ago, my son Justin brought his girlfriend over when she was super sick with a cold and fever. I went into Mom-mode, and had Ashley popping Advil and sucking on cough drops while I stirred up some chicken soup. She spent the day getting hydrated and sipping soup. Again, the healing powers of chicken soup did the trick! (And that girlfriend is now his fiancée—more magical mystery powers of the soup? It may have played a part…)

This week, my friend Marylee came down with a nasty virus. I brought her a couple jars of chicken soup, and the next day she was on the mend. She told me I should post the recipe for “sick soup” and I told her I was sure I’d already posted a basic thing like chicken soup. But surprisingly, I hadn’t! So here it is. Incidentally, it’s also delicious when you’re NOT sick! 

Serves 6-8

For broth
1 rotisserie chicken
5-6 carrots, peeled and cut into 2-inch chunks
Center leafy pieces of celery bunch
1 yellow onion, peeled and cut into quarters
1 tablespoon salt
1 teaspoon celery seed
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
2-3 bay leaves

For soup
6-8 cups home made chicken broth
3-4 carrots, peeled and diced
2-3 stalks celery, washed and diced
1 cup diced cooked chicken
¼ to 1/3 cup white rice, uncooked
1 teaspoon salt
Dash smoked Spanish paprika

Remove chicken from one whole cooked rotisserie chicken, reserving skin and bones. Set meat aside. Put chicken carcass and skin in Dutch oven with carrots, heart of celery, onion, salt, celery seed, pepper, and bay leaves. Cover with water and bring to a boil. Reduce to low and let simmer for 60 minutes. Strain broth off, and discard all vegetables and chicken bone and skin.

Put 6-8 cups of chicken broth in large sauce pan or small Dutch oven. Add carrot, celery, chicken, rice, salt, and paprika. Bring to a boil. Reduce to simmer and cook for 20 minutes. Taste and add salt or other spices as necessary. Serve to your sick foreign-exchange student, friend, or your son’s future bride.

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.

Chocolate Pasta with Pecans and Caramel Sauce

FullSizeRender-1Hey people—I’m baaaa-aaack! Not that you’ve been waiting with baited breath for the latest forknifespoon.com posting or anything…I’m well aware I’m no Pioneer Woman! Been a tad cray-cray at my new job lately (my offspring LOVE it when their 50-ish mother gets all hip with the jive talk), as I’ve been trying to update our website and didn’t have a minute to spare. Now that it’s up and running, I can get back to an occasional recipe post.

Also, I have to say, I tried several new dishes in January and February that were bombs, and I won’t share what NOT to make with you. But this unusual chocolate pasta dish from Nigella Lawson is worth trying. I’d gotten Pappardelle’s chocolate pasta from my sister Judy for Christmas, because she knows I like to try weird ingredients and new recipes, but she’d apparently forgotten I’m not doing gluten. So I served it to a group of couples who had no dietary restrictions, and they said it was delicious! It’s more rich than sweet—like the Europeans eat, not the sugar-crazed Americans. You wouldn’t eat it every day or serve in place of spaghetti and meatballs for dinner, but it was fun for something different. So, thanks Judy, for pushing my culinary buttons a little!

Serves 6

8 ounces cocoa or chocolate pasta
Pinch or two of salt
1 cup unsalted pecan nuts, roughly broken up
6 tablespoons soft unsalted butter
½ cup dark brown sugar
1 cup heavy cream, plus more (optional), to serve

Fill a pot with water to make the pasta, and heat on high. When water starts boiling, add a pinch of salt and the pasta, and cook, setting a timer for 2 minutes before the package instructions say pasta will be done. Put a medium non-stick frying pan on the stove and tumble in the pecans, then toast them over medium heat. Once you can smell the pecans toasting, remove from heat and place on a cold plate.

Stir butter and sugar together in the frying pan over low heat, until you have a hot, thick syrup. Carefully, pour in the cream. Stir, and let the caramel mixture bubble up, then add the toasted pecans and a pinch of salt. Turn off the heat.

Just before draining the pasta, dip in a cup to remove a little pasta-cooking water, then toss the drained pasta into the frying pan with the dark and nutty caramel sauce, adding a tablespoon or two of the cooking water to help coat the pasta. Stir to combine before dividing between bowls. Serve with a little extra cream in a small pitcher to pour as you eat, if you wish.

Roasted Red Pepper Hummus

FullSizeRenderMaking your own fresh, creamy hummus is a snap, and once you do it you’ll never want store bought again. We’ve been making a basic Spicy Hummus for years now (found a fave on Rachel Ray’s site) and I can’t remember the last time we bothered buying. Tahini paste—a paste made from ground sesame seeds—is the secret ingredient that makes hummus so, well, hummalicious. But I wanted to mix things up a bit, so I added a jar of Trader Joe’s Roasted Red Peppers to our basic Spicy Hummus recipe.

How was it? My handy taste testers Mitchell and Justin (sons) and Emily (boarder) said they loved it! (Too bad it looks so fleshy in the picture here. Rest assured, it tastes better than it looks!) The only thing that might improve it, would be an added teaspoon of my favorite seasoning, smoked Spanish paprika. I think the smokiness with the roasted peppers would take this dip up a notch. But that’s just my humble opinion.

Makes 6-8 servings

1 (14.5-ounce can) garbanzo beans, rinsed and drained (also called chickpeas)
1 jar (8 ounces) roasted red peppers, drained
2 rounded tablespoons tahini paste
¼ cup olive oil
½ of a lemon, juiced
1 clove garlic, peeled and chopped
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon coriander
½ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
Course salt to taste (about ½ teaspoon)

Combine all ingredients in food processor bowl or blender and pulse until mixture is smooth and creamy. Transfer to small bowl and serve with corn tortilla chips or veggies. Or store in airtight container in frig for 2-3 weeks.

NOTE: Be sure to drain and pat the red peppers dry, or they add a lot of extra moisture to the dip.

Sausage Mushroom Egg Bake

unnamedGood egg bake” is often an oxymoron, but this recipe with sausage, mushrooms and roasted red peppers isn’t the usual tasteless mush served at potlucks across the Heartland. I found this recipe called “Patsy’s Egg Casserole” on the Midwest Living website when I was looking for brunch recipes to serve at my son Mitchell’s high school graduation open house a few years ago (a tradition unique to Minnesota, I hear). My mother, sister Susan, and a couple friends all made a pan or two of this and the bacon/asparagus variation, and every single dish was delicious! It’s truly a fool-proof recipethere were no differences in outcome between cooks. You could even say this is Judy easy! (For my sister Judy who doesn’t love cooking like I do…)

My trick to keep it from slipping into soggy, is to use french bread loaves instead of a sliced loaf of white bread. French bread is stiffer, and the fact that it has more crust helps too. The other reason I love this recipe, is that there’s no butter in it. Not that I have anything against butter—it’s often a staple ingredient in my recipes!—but I’ve had so many egg bakes that were positively swimming in melted butter, and that’s just diary overkill. 

Just made this recipe for a birthday brunch for my daughter-in-law Jessica, and we all remembered how much we liked it, so I thought it was about time to post this breakfast, brunch, or brinner winner. My husband loves it so much, that the first words out of his mouth this morning were, “Is there anymore of that egg bake left?” Good morning to you too, sweetheart.

Serves 6-8

1 pound uncooked Italian sausage or ground pork
2 cups (8 ounces) fresh cremini or button mushrooms, rinsed and sliced
1 (8 ounce) jar roasted red peppers, drained and chopped
8 cups cubed French bread
2-3 cups shredded cheddar cheese
8 eggs
3 cups milk
1½ teaspoons dry mustard
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper

Lightly coat a 9″x13″ baking dish with cooking spray. Set aside. In a large skillet, cook sausage and mushrooms on high until sausage is no longer pink. Drain off fat and extra moisture. Stir red peppers into mix and set aside. Place half of the bread cubes in prepared baking dish. Top with half of the sausage mixture, and half of the cheese. Repeat with remaining bread, sausage mixture, and cheese.

In a large mixing bowl, beat eggs with whisk attachment. Slowly pour in milk and whisk again. Sprinkle dry mustard, salt, and cayenne over eggs and milk, and beat one last time to combine. Carefully pour egg mixture over the layered bread mixture in dish. Gently press down the bread using the back of a large serving spoon to get it to absorb some of the egg and milk. Cover and chill for at least 2 hours or up to 24. (NOTE: The beauty of this recipe is that you can make it ahead! I love to make this the night before serving. Quick and easy party the next day…)

Preheat oven to 325° Fahrenheit. Bake uncovered for 50-60 minutes, or until skewer inserted in center comes out clean. Let stand for 10 minutes before serving.

BACON AND ASPARAGUS EGG BAKE VARIATION

Prepare as above, except replace sausage with 8 strips of crisp-cooked bacon. Cool bacon, and crumble or chop. Replace mushrooms with one bundle of fresh asparagus. Cut asparagus into bit-sized pieces (snapping off tough ends), and drop into salted boiling water for 1-2 minutes. Drain asparagus, then toss in bowl with bacon and chopped roasted red peppers. Use 2-3 cups shredded Swiss cheese instead of cheddar cheese.

Creamy Potato, Parsnip and Leek Soup

FullSizeRenderBacon, potatoes, and leeks blend together in creamy goodness in this simple soup recipe that goes together in about 30 minutes. Published in a Real Simple article praising potatoes in the November 2016 issue, it grabbed my attention because of the addition of leeks, which have a milder and sweeter flavor than onions, and I love an excuse to use them. Every time I cook with leeks, I remember the verses from the Old Testament where the Israelites complain about missing leeks and garlic as they wandered in the desert (Numbers 11:5). They missed them so much, that they sort of forgot they were enslaved to the Egyptians when they were cooking with those leeks and garlic. That’s the power of good ingredients—they make you forget the misery of every day life, even when that misery includes making bricks for the pyramids without any straw.

So my mind wanders a bit when I cook! What can I say? I’ve made this soup twice already since first trying the recipe, as the first batch was gobbled up in a hurry. I adjusted all the vegetable amounts and added more seasoning to the Real Simple version. And they had garnished their recipe with bacon bits and scallions, and I found the scallions to be overpowering in this mild soup. Chopped chives would be a better garnish. I think even the Israelites would approve of that tweak to this dish.

Makes 8 servings

6-8 slices bacon, cut in half
3 russet potatoes, peeled and chopped
1 pound parsnips (about 5 medium or 3 large)
2 leeks thinly sliced, including some of tender green portions
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon dried dill
4 cups chicken broth (32-ounce box)
1 cup heavy cream or half-and-half
¼ cup chopped chives, optional, for garnish

In large Dutch oven, cook bacon over medium heat until crisp. Remove bacon to plate with paper towels to drain and cool. Add potatoes, parsnips, and leeks to the pot. Cook, stirring now and then, for 10 minutes, or until vegetables are tender. Add garlic and cook a few minutes more. Sprinkle in salt and dill and stir. Add in broth and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and cover and cook for 15 minutes.

Working in batches, process 2 cups of soup at a time until smooth. Return all the blended soup to the pot and stir in cream while element is on low. Top individual bowls with crumbled bacon bits, and chopped chives, if desired.

Gingerbread Caramel Sauce

FullSizeRender-2Move over, sea salted caramel. You’ve had your 15-minutes of fame. Try this decadent gingerbread caramel sauce, a crazy crossbreed of fresh gingerbread cookies and rich caramel. This ice cream/cake sauce was posted on Martha Stewart’s site as an “under 30 minutes” holiday recipe. I latched onto it because it’s a gluten-free option that looked like a good Christmas gift for co-workers and friends. But I couldn’t give it away without knowing if it was actually tasty, so I did a test batch. How was it? Absolutely, positively, DEE-licious. I couldn’t stop licking the stirring spoon! When my friend Suzie texted me that her husband was smearing it on his breakfast toast just to find a base other than ice cream, I had to applaud his ingenuity. You go, Paul. Sauce it up.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t get a good photo of the sauce in action, as the ice cream melting under the warm sauce made a mushy mess in the bowl. That reminded me of my days working as an art director on Pillsbury cookbooks, and all the tricks we had to pull to get a shot of ice cream under hot studio lights. Here’s rule Number 1 in the food biz—if you’re selling ice cream, you must use your ice cream in the photo. No stand-ins. This required forming dozens of perfect scoops of ice cream, then putting them on dry ice for several hours. Then you had mere moments to pour the sauce and get your photos done. I had to blow through a straw onto the sauce to keep it from frosting over on the hyper-frozen ice cream, while the photographer furiously clicked away. So much work! But what fun to finally get the shot.

Food biz rule Number 2—if you’re selling the sauce but not the ice cream, you can use a salted dough (similar to Play-Doh) that mimics ice cream in appearance. A couple scoops of the salt dough handled the sauces well, and wouldn’t melt under the hot lights. It made for a much easier photo shoot day! Since I didn’t have any stand-in ice cream on hand, my shot above is of my sweet little jars all sealed and labeled for gift-giving.

Makes 6-7 half pints

3/4 cup molasses
3 cups sugar
2 cups heavy cream
1½ sticks cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1-1½ teaspoons salt
1½ teaspoons ground cinnamon
1½ teaspoons ground ginger

In Dutch oven, combine sugar, molasses, and ½ cup water. Heat over medium-high, gently stirring, until sugar has dissolved. Bring to a boil. Continue to cook and stir constantly for 4 to 5 minutes (about 250 degrees on a thermometer, if using). Remove from heat and carefully whisk in cream, butter, salt, and spices, stirring until butter is melted and combined. Ladle into clean half-pint jars; wipe rims of jars to remove any excess sauce. Put on fresh, clean canning lids, and screw on top. Cool jars in refrigerator. (Jars may seal due to rapid cooling.) Once opened, sauce can be refrigerated for up to 2 weeks; reheat before using.

NOTE: I found it works best to have all your ingredients measured out before you start making the sauce. The butter and the cream will make the sugar mixture splatter when added to the pot, and may cause it to cool too rapidly. I turned the heat back on to low to get the butter to melt at this stage. Also, it’s best to sift in the spices and salt, otherwise the cinnamon and ginger tend to clump because the sugar mixture is so hot. As far as the salt content goes, I think the 1½ teaspoon salt was a little much, and will back it off to 1 teaspoon in future batches.

Cranberry, Turkey, and Sharp Cheddar Bites

FullSizeRenderHeading into New Year’s Eve celebrations, this tart and tasty cranberry, turkey, and cheese concoction is a quick fix to have in your kitchen recipe arsenal—IF you have the cranberry conserve made ahead of time! Originally posted about a year ago, the conserve goes together in about 30 minutes, so isn’t a huge culinary black hole. In that post, I also talk about a tasty sandwich option using the cranberry conserve.

But we’re talking about quick appetizers here, so let’s move on! You’re basically making a mini open-faced sandwich, with either deli turkey (or leftover holiday bird) or ham, a slice of provolone, Swiss, or white sharp cheddar cheese, green apple, and a dollop of the cranberry conserve. That’s it! Easy, peasy, lemon squeezey, right? The picture here shows these with “Food Should Be Good” gluten-free corn tortilla/crackers from Costco. But I’ve also make these on sour dough bread or those mini rye bread squares, when I’m not serving a gluten-free crowd. (You know, the ones your Mom used to buy only during holidays for housing the abundant cream cheese spreads…)

Speaking of abundant cream cheese, the nice thing about these appetizers is that they do NOT start with a brick of Philadelphia cream cheese—and that’s rare in nibbles offered on holiday tables.

Serves as many as you want!

Layer the following ingredients and place on serving platter:

  • Food Should Be Good Corn Tortilla Chips/Crackers, sour dough bread, or mini rye bread squares
  • Sliced deli turkey or ham
  • Sliced Provolone, Swiss, or extra sharp white cheddar cheese
  • Green apple, sliced thin (do not peel)
  • 1 half-pint jar of cranberry conserve