Friday, December 30, 2011

Pizza Rolls for New Year's Fun!

I love New Year's Eve! Not because I get dressed up and go out on the town ringing in the new year.  (If you know me or my life circumstances, then you know that is not the case.  When you have 3 young kids, and are a homebody, this is not what New Year's looks like.) What I love about New Year's is that it is a marker, a rite of passage each year.  It is a distinct moment when one year is coming to an end and a new one is beginning.

This weekend is a chance to reflect on the past year, which I like to do.  I try to look through a lens of GRATITUDE for all that has happened and the blessings in my life.  I also try to STUDY the year gone by– to learn from the past.  And then look AHEAD at the new year – a clean page and new box of markers (or freshly sharpened pencils, or nice roller ball pens, whatever you like best) – and envision what could be.  I always set goals or hopes for the new year. It helps me set my course.

Another thing I relish about New Year's Eve is food.  I love finger foods.  I think Tapas (or a dinner comprised of appetizers) is a great meal to have on New Year's Eve or New Year's Day, if you have a gathering of friends. These Pizza Rolls are a long-time favorite. 

When I was a teenager, someone gave us this recipe for Pizza Rolls.  They were such a hit that they became a beloved party food of ours.  We have been racking our brains trying to figure out where we learned of them.  I called mom and she thought maybe they were from our family friend, Amy.  That didn't feel right.  I asked my sister and she agreed that she didn't think it came from Amy, but she couldn't remember.  So I called Amy and she said, "No, they aren't from me, I thought they were your family's creation.  I haven't made them in years, but I might now"!  Then I talked to mom again and we thought about our life-long friend, Tim.  He might be the one, or at least know the one... his mind is a steel trap!  He oftentimes recalls details from my life that I have forgotten.  Mom called him and he didn't know, but didn't claim to be the source of the recipe.  So, the mystery is not yet solved. We don't their past but we are glad they are in our present!  They are easy and tasty!

They are made out of frozen roll dough. Rich's or Rhodes are the name-brands that we've used, but you can usually find a store brand in the freezer section that are equally great.  If you haven't discovered frozen roll dough, you need to.  It is yummy tasting dough, very versatile and inexpensive! My breakfast sticky rolls are made out of them too.

Thaw the dough (according to the instructions on the package).
Press the dough to be a flattened disk.
Sprinkle with pizza cheese (mozzarella, or whatever you like), Italian seasoning, and whatever toppings you like (spinach and sun-dried tomatoes/ pepperoni/ ham/etc.)  Fill them as full as you can, so that the bread doesn't dominate them. 

 Then pinch the dough to form a tight pouch, without any gaps.

Dave and Lu- pinch by example
 Place on a parchment-lined baking sheet.
(We drew lines on the paper to indicate what was inside of each section.)

Let rise for a few minutes and bake according to dough package instructions.
Bake until golden.  Remove from the oven and brush with melted butter and sprinkle with Parmesan cheese.

 Serve immediately with pasta sauce on the side.

notice that some of these were more powerful than the pinch
and they popped open!

We made them for dinner the other night, served with a salad and it was a great, different dinner.

The only time-consuming aspect of these is the thawing and rising, so read the dough package and plan accordingly!

Also, a favorite tradition is Chocolate Fondue for dessert, or as we call it Chocolate Fun-Do! I wrote about it last year- Read HERE for more details and recipe.  It's a delicious treat to share with friends.

Happy New Year! I'm thankful for a year of growth, joy, yummy food, rich conversations, good books, great people, teaching and being taught – a year of embracing.  And I'm looking forward to a new, fresh year of opportunity that awaits.  I am hoping to savor the moments of beauty in this new year.  Wishing you a happy, hopeful new year!

Friday, December 23, 2011

Christmas Breakfast & the Love of Traditions

Sitting by the fire is a favorite Christmas tradition in my house
Christmas is full of all kinds of traditions that people cherish. They are diverse and unique, but can mean so much to the people who hold them. 

According to the dictionary a tradition         is: a continuing pattern of cultural beliefs or practices; something that is handed down.  

I love traditions. As I reflect on childhood, so many of my cherished memories are attached to traditions.  As an adult I am seeking to draw upon those and forge my own as well. I find that they are hard to establish, and some that we have established have been difficult to maintain, due to changes in circumstances and life stages. But I love them and want to 
work to create and carry on traditions in my home.

I believe these rituals anchor us.  They provide security for us in some way.  The familiar is comforting, when life is so ever-changing and unpredictable. They are something to anticipate.  They cause a break in the mundane.  Songs, activities, rituals, books, and of course, food make up many of the holiday traditions I savor. 

Knowing that Granddad Williams would come in the house, when they arrived in Knoxville, with his gloves in hand, ready to put them on and carry in the beautifully wrapped packages to place under the tree each year, brought comfort and joy to my childhood world.

And the medley of Christmas songs that he would play on the piano signaled that Christmas was here. (Click on player below to hear a recording of Grandad's Christmas Medley.  This was recorded around 2000, when he was in his late 80's.)

The stack of baked goods, made with love from the women in our family, packed in metal tins, labeled with masking tape, is a Christmas tradition that I’ve always loved.  The tins are filled with all kinds of treasures: Peanut brittle, sand tarts, divinity, chex mix, thumbprint cookies, white chocolate covered peanut butter crackers, chocolate covered coconut squares, peanut butter balls, and more.

Nativity Scenes set up around the house have always helped me center on Jesus, and the wonder of Emmanuel:  God with us.  My mom has a thing about Nativity Scenes.  She loves them. People give her sets for gifts and she has accumulated quite a collection. They are made out of a variety of materials, hand-made and store-bought, and include various characters in the scene. She leaves some up all year, and at Christmas, we often have a “count the nativity scenes game" at their house.  

We have a little Fisher Price Nativity at my house that is one of my favorite decorations.  It sits on the coffee table and the kids play with it the whole season, and set the people and animals up in various ways.  Sometimes I find shepherds over by the television, “abiding in the fields”, or the wise men in the east, over on the bookshelf.  Other times they are all lying down resting from the big event and the long journey.  They oftentimes are circling baby Jesus, appropriately focusing their attention on the Christ child.

Christmas breakfast is a time when we want something tasty and crowd pleasing and also easy.  There's no time to be standing in the kitchen when there are presents to open and a fire to sit beside!  Monkey Bread is something we have made for years on Christmas morning.  Not every year, but a lot of years.  We have made several varieties throughout the years, some with yeast dough, some with biscuit dough, some with pudding mix, some with brown sugar and spices.   A few years ago I discovered Paula Deen’s Gorilla Bread.  It’s a ramped up version of Monkey Bread.  (She always ramps it up).  The recipe says it’s called Gorilla Bread because it “kicks monkey’s butt".  Hilarious, that Paula!  And she’s right.  It is monkey bread (a loaf of cinnamon coated bread) but with a blob of cream cheese hidden inside.  She puts pecans layered between the rolls and I put both pecans and dried cranberries.  It's pretty and the Craisins add a nice tart element. 

The prepping of the biscuits, coated with cinnamon sugar and stuffed with cream cheese, and the measuring out of the remaining ingredients can be done the night before.  Then layering it all in the pan in the morning is fast, simple and tidy.

Gorilla Bread  (adapted from Paula Deen's recipe)
1/2 cup granulated sugar
3 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter
1 cup packed brown sugar
1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese
4 cans refrigerated biscuits (10 count)
1 1/2 cups coarsely chopped walnuts or pecans
1 heaping cup of dried cranberries (Craisins)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Spray a bundt pan with nonstick cooking spray.

Mix the granulated sugar and cinnamon in a small dish. In a saucepan, melt the butter and brown sugar over low heat, stirring well (or in a glass bowl in the microwave); set aside.

Cut the cream cheese into 40 cubes/ blobs.

Press the biscuits out with your fingers and sprinkle each with 1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon sugar. Place a cube of cream cheese in the center of each biscuit, wrapping and sealing the dough around the cream cheese.

Sprinkle 1/2 cup of the nuts and 1/3 cup of cranberries into the bottom of the bundt pan. Place half of the prepared biscuits in the pan. Sprinkle with cinnamon sugar, pour half of the melted butter mixture over the biscuits, and sprinkle on 1/2 cup of nuts and 1/3 cup cranberries.

Layer the remaining biscuits on top, sprinkle with the remaining cinnamon sugar, pour the remaining butter mixture over the biscuits, and sprinkle with the remaining 1/2 cup of nuts and 1/3 cup cranberries.

Bake for 30 minutes or until golden and fully baked. Remove from the oven and cool for 5 minutes.

Place a plate on top and invert.

Merry Christmas to you!  May you cherish old traditions, enjoy starting new ones and savor the season. 

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Cranberry-Pear Cake Bars

Sometimes you can predict how good a recipe is just by taking a look at the list of ingredients. 
This recipe, for Cranberry Pear Cake Bars, that I make in December, is case in point.
Just check out some of the ingredients included in the recipe:

butter –always a good sign
cinnamon- festive
light brown sugar- makes everything better
       grated orange zest- zest always adds a zing
 a lovely fruit that melts when it is baked 
fresh cranberries - colorful and tangy

Yum, Yum and Yum. 

In my opinion, complex baking techniques are not the sign of a quality recipe.  Rather, the list of ingredients is the key.

I am a huge fan of the cranberry/pear combination...and I love cranberry/orange too. So to put them all together is a lovely trio!  [It's similar in tartness/sweetness/mellowness/color of my favorite summer combination of blueberry/peach.]

This Cranberry-Pear Cake recipe is another one of my favorites from Everyday Foods from several years ago.   Not knowing what the texture or flavor would end up being, I made it because the list of ingredients looked so delicious.  It was love at first bite.  

It is moist, sticky, and kind of like coffee-cake. It is made in a 9 X 13 and isn't frosted.  It's not that beautiful, except for the pop of those red cranberries, but it is comforting.  I took it a few years ago to the Hunt house for Christmas, thinking it would travel well.  It did and was gobbled up. 

1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, melted

2 cups flour

1 tsp. soda

1 tsp. cinnamon

1 tsp. salt

1 3/4 cups packed light-brown sugar

2 large eggs

1 tsp. vanilla

1 Tbsp. finely grated orange zest

2 firm pears, peeled, halved, cored, and diced
8 oz. fresh or frozen cranberries

1/2 cup walnut pieces, optional

Preheat oven to 350. Spray 9 x 13″ pan lightly with cooking spray.  Then line with parchment paper. 

In a medium bowl, combine flour, soda, cinnamon, and salt. Set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk sugar, butter, eggs, vanilla, and zest until smooth. Add flour mixture; mix just until moistened (do not overmix). 

Fold in pears, cranberries, and walnuts.

the batter is thick and chunky 
      Transfer batter to prepared pan; smooth top.  Bake until a toothpick inserted in center of cake comes out clean, 35-40 minutes. Cool completely in pan set on a rack. If using parchment, pull the   overhang out to easily cut.  

It's tasty topped with whipped cream, or with a side of vanilla ice cream.  It's great warm, cold, even for breakfast (I mean, it's basically fruit, right?). 

right out of the oven

Christmas on a plate

I've been baking a lot this month and have many things I want to post, but decided on this because not only is it one of my perennial holiday favorites, but it is a recipe I somehow lose every year!  When I couldn't find it last week, and couldn't locate it on Everyday Food's Website, I had to email my friend, Melissa to get the recipe.  (She also makes this cake and is a regular user of Everyday Food recipes.)  I think I misplace it because it is seasonal and because it is an awkward sized, loose recipe in my life.  I figured if I write about it here, I will remember where I put it!  

I am a fan of these magazines, and recipes from magazines in general, but I have a hard time figuring out a great system for storing them.

What are we to do with recipes from magazines?
I have tried many methods of cataloguing them:

*pasting the clippings in Sketchbooks
*3-hole punching the pages and putting them in a binder

*putting them in plastic sleeves in a binder

*just keeping the magazine in tact, if it's a cooking magazine

*and piling them in a massive stack – which is currently overflowing in baskets under my desk, and the recipes haven't been used, or even looked at for over a year.  (Clearly this is the LEAST effective strategy).

I think there are pros and cons to each method. 
I like the look and feel of the sketchbooks best – I have an affinity towards spiral bound things, but there is no order to them, and so now I am on book #4 and I find myself going through all of them to find the recipe I'm looking for.  If I had had the forethought when I began, I would have made one for main dishes, one for desserts, etc.  But instead they are all together.  I'm thinking maybe I should create a table of contents at the beginning of each volume.  At least that would simplify the search.

Do you have a system that works?
Please share! 

And don't forget to buy some cranberries while they are still available (READ HERE if you don't know about the very short season of cranberry availability).  While you're there buy a couple of pears and go home and make a cake! 
And listen to some Christmas Music while you do it. (Our favorite new Christmas Album of the year is Matt Wertz's Snow Globe).

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Double-Digit Birthday Boy Celebrating!

My son is double digits! His birthday was Friday.  It’s hard to believe.  I can’t really remember life before Asher, but I certainly can’t believe I have a 10 year old, and that we are fast approaching adolescence!  I debated on whether or not to post about his birthday celebrating because I have already written about Strawberry Cake, his cake-of-choice.

But because he is my child who most likes a celebration in our family, I thought it would be fitting to share some of what we did for his day.

Our goal is to try to celebrate in a way that really honors the child, and isn’t too much work and doesn’t cost too much.  Intentional and simple is the goal.

We had a few of his friends over and had a scavenger hunt in the city. They set out into the city to FIND THE MISSING MUPPETS! (Asher loves the Muppets and loves adventure so it just made sense)! It was crazy-fun, 10 year old boy style. 

Gonzo, one of the "rescued muppets"

And they returned home for pizza, fruit kabobs and strawberry cupcakes (read HERE if you want the history of my son and strawberry cake).  This year I attempted to bring the theme into the cupcake by making these little Kermit toppers with an image I found online.  It was funny to see 24 little Kermits sticking out of pink cupcakes.

For the past few years, Asher has asked that I make a giant cookie (cookie cake) to take to his class on his day.  So, I made the requested giant cookie and we took it to his class to celebrate with his classmates.  The children were so fun and cute and excited.  One boy said, “truly, this is the best cookie I’ve ever had in my entire life!” “Wow! I’m so glad!”, I replied.  It's really the easiest thing to make.  I gave that little guy the scoop on how to make one at home.

Do you ever make a giant cookie?  They are so great because most everyone loves a chocolate chip cookie.  And what could be better than a giant one?  Well, I guess that chocolate chip cookie being topped with buttercream frosting!

I use the basic Toll House Chocolate Chip Cookie recipe that’s printed on the back of the yellow chocolate chip bag.  I make one alteration, that originally my friend Melissa B. suggested.  Instead of the ¾ brown sugar, ¾ white (granulated) sugar, I usually use 1 cup brown and ½ cup granulated.  It just gives it a little more toffee-like flavor. 

As I was cutting the cookie in the classroom, I told the kids about the MATH that I was doing, trying to figure out the division of the cookie, to cut enough pieces that were the same size.  I asked them to help me think through the math.  Then I told them of the math I had used when making the cookie to change the sugar proportions and asked them to solve the fraction problem.  It was fun and his teacher was glad for proof that MATH IS USEFUL in life!

Making the cookie is so easy.  I made it in a pizza pan.  I lined it first with aluminum foil, (main reason being that my pizza pan has holes all through for even-pizza-baking, and I didn’t want gooey cookie dough oozing out of the holes).  Of course you can use a rectangular jelly-roll pan instead.

I blob the dough out with my small cookie scoop and wet my hands with water to pat the dough evenly, without it sticking to my hands.

Bake until golden.  The edges have to brown in order for the middle to be done enough.

After cooling, frost a design with buttercream frosting, making sure you put enough frosting that every slice gets a little frosting!

Asher loves green (especially lime green) so I colored the frosting lime green. I have to recommend that if you have never used food coloring gels, you need to try them.  They now come in squeeze bottles, which are really convenient and not messy.  They make all kinds of colors and I got this set last year at Michael’s Craft Store, when I was making the Dia de Los Muertos cookies and needed bright colors!  Two drops make a lime green.

We also did a couple of things to start his day that I found through PINTEREST.  (If you haven’t discovered Pinterest, I’d love to introduce you to each other).  They seemed very "Asher" and he did love them.

We put streamers all across his door, early in the morning, so that he woke to a streamer-web.  My thought was that he would bust through in the morning, as a passage of entering into his double digits of life!  To my surprise he said, “WOW! This is cool!” and got on the floor and shimmied UNDER the web on his belly, as he didn’t want to mess it up.  I didn’t see that coming! And during his party, with boys in and out of his room, they were all crawling their way in under the streamers.

We also made a sign of 10 things we love about him on his 10th birthday on butcher paper to hang on the hall wall outside his room.  (We saw this idea on Pinterest too).  It was really fun to make and fortunately, it was not hard at all to come up with 10 qualities that we love about him.
He loves the banner.  It was fun to make a list of qualities that we love about him, that we wanted to make sure he knew were big deal qualities that we admire.

We had a couple of adult friends help out with the scavenger hunt.  When I asked Will and Rich (who drove and led one of the cars of boys on the hunt) what the highlight of their team was, Rich said, “The Banner.” And he shared that Asher had told the group of guys in the car about the "10 Things We Love About Asher" banner and the guys all responded, “Oh, that’s sweet”, “Oh, that’s great!”, "Oh we did that for our Aunt when she turned 50".  Rich and Will expected the guys to make fun of it, to give him a hard time. But rather, they thought it was cool.  This is in juxtaposition with the following events, a few minutes later, when they were hanging upside down on the monkey bars reciting the Pledge of Allegiance and drinking coke until they burped.  Perhaps this is the beauty of ten-year-old boys, I am learning.  

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Chili Nights

It has been chilly here this week, which means it’s time for some Chili!  I like chili, especially when it is topped with sour cream and served with chips,  grilled cheese or cornbread.  There are many opinions about what makes chili, well... chili.  And some people passionately defend their definition of chili as the way it is meant to be.

There is Texas Chili, which is typically meaty, with chili peppers and spices added.  It is usually thick.  It can be made with ground beef or with beef tips – or even with venison.  

Then there’s the question of beans and the option of tomatoes: to include or not to include?  I think yes on both accounts, but some people disagree. 

And there are varieties of soups in the Chili category like Taco Soup, which includes beans, ground beef, as well as corn and tomatoes.  
And chicken chili OR white chicken chili (which is white because it has chicken and white beans and no tomatoes, so really I guess it’s the presence of chili peppers that even allows it to be called chili.  I'm guessing Texans would call it sacrilege to have chili in its name.)

I like them all!  I really like the flavor and heartiness of chili.  And since I don’t adore meat and don’t love what beef does to my stomach, I really like vegetable chili.  (It is also healthier and less expensive!)

So last winter I decided to try to create a Vegetarian Chili recipe that would be so yummy that meat-lovers wouldn’t even miss the meat.   I recall making Barefoot Contessa’s Chicken Chili from her Parties Cookbook, which calls for an unbelievable 8 cups of onion and 8 cups of peppers in the recipe and and it is delicious!  So I decided to start with gobs of onions and peppers and improvise from there.

Here is what came of it.  

As I was throwing things into the pot, I began scribbling down on a piece of paper the ingredients and measurements that I used, JUST IN CASE it turned out good.  [I recommend you do this, when you are experimenting with recipes, so that you don’t forget what you did, in case it was good enough to repeat it.]

2 Tbsp. olive oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
3 cups onion, chopped
3 bell peppers, a variety of colors, chopped

2 tsp. cumin
3 tsp. chili powder
4 tsp. salt
a sprinkle of crushed red pepper
if you want more kick sprinkle enough cayenne pepper to your liking

2 cups tomato juice
1 cup apple juice

1 28 oz. can diced tomatoes, with juice
1 can Rotel tomatoes with chilies
4 cans of beans (of your choice) I use black,
kidney, and white

Chop peppers and onions.  Drain and rinse beans. Heat olive oil in large pot on stove top.  

Add garlic and onions, cooking until onions are translucent.  
Add peppers and spices.  Stir together and cook for a few minutes. 
Add beans, tomatoes and juices.  Stir together.  

Bring to a boil, then return to a simmer for 30 minutes, 
or until the flavors meld.  
Serve topped with sour cream, cheese, etc. 
(It tastes even better day 2!)

I thought about calling it "Vegetarian Chili", but then it seems a little off-putting for meat eaters, like it's a chili for a specific people-group.  

So then I thought about calling it:
"You Won’t Miss The Meat Chili"
but maybe that is too maybe 

"Where’s the Beef? Chili"
and then I quickly realized this would date me and not make sense to many of you.

[For those of you who were born before 1980 will probably remember the funny Wendy's "Where's the Beef" commercials that were popular in the early 80's. ]

This time-lapse seems to be a trend for me this week. 

Yesterday in my social work class, we watched a video, after which I asked the students if anyone else thought the man in the video sounded like Michael Douglas.  They said, “Who?” I said, you know Michael Douglas! Super star! He's got that amazing, raspy, intense voice.  He's been in a ton of movies: The American President, Fatal Attraction, Traffic, etc."  A couple of students, two I think, said they knew and tried to help the others to remember.  One said, "You know, he's battled cancer." Another said, "He's married to Catherine Zeta-Jones and he was really popular in the 90's."  I realized that all of the films I mentioned were in the 90s and my students were born in the 90s! They were probably not seeing Fatal Attraction at age 4! (I would hope not.) 

 So maybe let's call it: Vegetable Chili

And alongside Chili I recommend fancy grilled cheese sandwiches, or these corn cakes made on the griddle. I like cornbread, especially nice, moist cornbread.  I am not the best at getting cornbread cooked properly and without dryness, so corn cakes are great.  You can’t mess them up. They are fun individual little cakes, and delicious hot off the griddle.  
When I was looking for the recipe the other night to make them, I laughed when I found 3 different handwritten copies of the recipe in various places in my kitchen.  All of them were written while calling my mom on the phone for the recipe.  It’s a winner and can be altered as you’d like.

½ stick butter, melted
2 cups self-rising cornmeal
2 eggs
½ cup onion, finely chopped
1 small can of creamed corn
1 cup  sour cream           

Melt butter, add other ingredients, stir until blended.  Heat a griddle, or skillet on medium high heat.  Lightly grease with butter. 

Pour blobs of batter onto griddle.  When the edges start to come up, and bubbles form on the wet side, flip. 
Serve with softened butter and with a bowl of Chili.

I think I might put on a pot of Chili, make some corn cakes and turn on The American President (since it's in my instant queue) and enjoy a little Annette Bening and Michael Douglas on a cold night this week.