Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Ladies, It's Casserole Week!

Casseroles in America are a Wham! Bam! Thank YOU Ma’am! style cooking. Cheap, easy, quick and dirty. On Wiki someone defines casseroles as a dish containing a meat, vegetables, a starchy binder and possibly vegetable stock or booze (might be) added along the way. STOP RIGHT THERE! Booze in a casserole?? That is our kind of cooking! Alas, Booze Week is coming up soon, so we’ll just drink the alcohol we’ve stocked up on in preparation while we cook and look forward to the day. Hmm...We’d better add a bottle to the grocery list because it’s lookin’ a little low.

Okay back to Casseroles. Sorry. Our minds wander. Casseroles are today's working woman's chance to emulate the 1950's Efficient Housewife. They can be made in minutes – boil noodles, add tuna and cream of mushroom soup, stir and done. They are a great way to use up leftover meat and probably one of the most cost effective ways to feed a family. And the range! Noodles, potatoes, tortillas, vegetables, beans, what doesn’t go in or hasn’t been used to make a casserole?

Let’s face it ladies, when you’ve had a long day at work, there wasn’t enough caffeine in the world, your kids are screaming and your feet hurt from walking in heels, casseroles are a fucking quick meal. They just scream Monday night. So whip one up, put it in the oven to bake and sit down to enjoy a glass of wine...or a dry vodka martini with two olives, one onion. Either way, kick off those heels, enjoy that glass of muscle relaxer and make a casserole!

Nikki's Ultimate Comfort Food: The Sandwich(es)

When initially presented with the challenge of coming up with a sandwich recipe I started thinking big: maybe a panini with fresh basil, mozarella, sun dried tomatos, a fancy home-made sauce.... Then I really considered it and realized that for me a sandwhich is all about convenience and above all: comfort. Realistically I'm not going to put that much effort in a sandwich, I just throw crap in between two slices of bread and take a big bite... if its not working I add more crap... the other day for example I ended up with sharp white cheddar cheese, 4 bbq chips, 3 cheddar sour cream chips, lettuce & green peppers... it was pretty damn tasty... and about as gourmet as I'll ever get with a sandwich. So rather than create something spectacularly new that I'll never make again I'm going to share my go-to sandwiches for cruddy days:

Grilled Cheese (to be served with tomato soup of course)
2 slices of good hearty bread (I'm using whats left of my pumpkin oat-nut bread)
1-2 slices of sharp cheddar cheese (NO american cheese allowed!!)
non-stick skillet with a lid
spatula for flipping

Ok now that we've assembled our ingredients, lightly butter the pieces of bread on one side only, place one slice of bread, buttered side down, on a skillet over medium-high heat (if you dont use a non-stick pan I'd spray some pam in there first!) next layer on some good sharp cheddar cheese and top with the second slice of bread, buttered side up and put the lid on the pan (the lid traps the heat and helps the cheese melt... if you MUST use American cheese leave the lid off, it doesn't need help melting... better yet throw it away and go buy some real cheese...). Allow to cook for about 1 1/2 minutes, remove lid and flip. If the cheese is fully melted then leave the lid off, if not then put the lid back on until it is. If you have to put the lid back on you'll want to flip the sandwich over and re-brown the top because the lid also traps moisture and a proper grilled cheese sandwich must have a little bit of a crisp to it :) Allow the bottom to cook until it gets to you liking, I like mine with a little char, then plate it up and serve with tomato soup. Delish and perfect for a chilly fall day!

My next sandwich is one I concocted as comfort food. When I was little my mom would smear peanut butter on bananas for snacks, that has stuck as one of my favorite comfort foods but after seeing a seeing an Elvis sandwich on a menu once (that one had bacon... I'm not so sure about that!) I realized it could be so much more :)

Nikki's Elvis Sandwich:
2 slices of bread (again I'm using my pumpkin oat-nut bread)
peanut butter
1/3 of a banana, cut into very thin peices

First lightly toast your bread (you dont want it super crunchy, this is mostly just to heat it up) then spread a nice thick layer of peanut butter on one slice of bread, layer on your banana slices and drizzle with honey. Sprinkle just a dash of cinnamon on top and put the other slice on top, and enjoy!

I hope you enjoy my favorite sandwiches :)
Eggin’ Pancetta Croissant

Sandwich = crap shoved and/or stuck between two holding objects, usually of a bread nature. Well that sounds like a culinary adventure… NOT! BUT…it could be!

Welcome to the wonderful world of sandwiching, more affectionately known as Sammies. Sammies can provide you with everything from a quick grab and go lunch to a full meal for the masses. And again, the possibilities are quite endless.

In determining which Sammie I’d share with you today, I took a family poll. I asked them, “What’s your favorite sandwich of all time?” to which they responded with a, “You have GOT to be kidding me…” stare. I was quite confused for a moment knowing we had all eaten sammies at some point in our lives. Finally the cloud was cleared when my teenage daughter, in her infinite wisdom, said, “mom, I have eaten at least a million sandwiches, how can I possibly pick a favorite?” It was actually quite an eye opener. “Would you like me to pick a wrap, a panini, subs, muffaletta or do ice cream sandwiches count?”

Hubby responded in much the same way. “Well I like that one you make with the peanut butter, apple and bacon and then I really like just a good old grilled cheese or a PB&J. But, oh I like the turkey clubs too and the Monte Cristo with the turkey and apricot preserves. Does that include wrap and subs? And Oh, what about Philly Cheesesteaks or a good burger…is THAT a sandwich?” OK. OK. I get the point.

After much debate on the home front I decided to share one of my personal favorites that begins with a simple egg salad, but adds a little gourmet flare with a little crispy pancetta. Today our culinary adventure in sandwiches will take us to the far corners of the kitchen cutting board to create the ultimate Eggin’ Pancetta Croissant!

Eggin’ Pancetta Croissant

6 hard boiled eggs
¼ cup mayo with olive oil
3 tablespoons sweet pickle juice
12 slices pancetta (Italian bacon that has been cured in salt and spices and then air-dried. )
6 butter croissants
Salt & pepper to taste

Begin your egg salad by mashing your boiled eggs. I like them a little chunky, but that’s personal preference. Next, mix in your mayo, pickle juice and salt and pepper. Blend well and chill. I meant chill the egg salad, not you! You’re making a delicious Sammie…You can chill later WITH your sammie! Next, place your pancetta in a pan and brown until slightly crisp, like you would prepare bacon. Finally, assemble your Sammie on the croissants with a little lettuce on the bottom, then the pancetta, then top with a nice scoop of egg salad. These are awesome for picnics and for a light spring luncheon or brunch. They also keep well wrapped in plastic wrap in the fridge.

Yes, we’re done. NOW you can go chill with Sammie in hand! Bon appetit’!

PS: I apologize for the lack of photos with this recipe. Some were mutilated in the making of this Sammie. Then I figured, hey, you guys KNOW what boiled eggs look like right?

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Lacey's S(eductive)AND(evilishly)W(ondrous)-ICH Sandwich

What!? you say can possibly be seductive about a sandwich? Ask you husband or significant other about what makes you sexy in a hot dress? He'll say in not so many words that the dress hugs your curves, your cleavage shows just enough to keep him looking, and the Sexy As Hell F*ck Me Stilletos give you the confidence to pull it all off. In guy-speak: Baby you should wear that dress and those shoes all-the-time!

Sandwiches can be simple just like a tshirt and jeans, or they can be more exciting like that hot dress and stilletos with a few simple substitutions. By "dressing up" a few of the ingredients we can easily improvise the rest - just like we do every morning we go into our closets and flip thru the hangers until we find something to wear.

Today, we go meatless...we're going to go lite on the spreads and add a little cheese instead (Hey! I rhymed!)

Dress up the bread - buy something hearty like a baguette of sourdough or artisan bread with herbs. If you don't use all of the bread for these sandwiches, freeze the rest in an air tight bag for later. There are lots of things you can do with bread. For this recipe I'll be using the bread I made in last weeks blog. Slice the bread into 1/4-1/2" thick pieces. Lay 4 pieces flat on a cookie sheet. Preheat oven to lo broil.

Cheese - you don't have to spend alot of money on cheese to have it taste good. Dubliner's Cheddar or a nice Gouda cheese is always great to have in the fridge. For sandwiches I prefer to use a cheese that is strong in flavor because we often eat meatless sandwiches. Also, I like a variety that isn't going to make the sandwich soggy (that isn't sexy at all). I used some Grana Padana (similar to Parmesano Regiano) and some Sage infused Cheddar (the green stuff in the pics below). Slice cheese into 1/8"ish slices, place on top of bread.

Spread - rather than use mayo or mustard, make your own healthier and more flavorful version: 1/2 cup nonfat plain yogurt (I used greek)
1/4 cup olive oil
1 egg yolk
2 tbsp grey poupon
1 tsp lemon juice
2 garlic cloves
1 tsp spices - use what you like. I usually have italian seasonings on hand, so I used them.
Salt and Pepper to taste. I prefer to use a good sea salt.
Place all the above sauce ingredients in a blender/food processor and blend long enough for the garlic to get chopped up.


Once blending process is done, place sauce in an airtight container and put in fridge. The egg will help keep the olive oil and other ingredients emulsified. Once the sauce gets cold it will be approximately the same thickness as grey poupon. If kept in a good container in the fridge, this will last up to two weeks.

Slice two tomatoes and place on top of cheese, stick these into the oven until cheese is melted and bread is slightly toasted.


While the bread/cheese/tomato combo is broiling, slice up some lettuce (preferably not iceberg since it is essentially worthless in terms of nutrition). I had a lemon cucumber from the garden, so I sliced it up too. As for lettuce, it will be a deep red and green for me. Put it in a bowl, or on the cutting board and drizzle with some good balsamic and evoo, add a little sea salt and pepper. Mix it up. If you don't have balsamic, you can sub in some salad dressing. But we're trying to go lite here, so don't pick a heavy dressing. The cheese and the sauce spread will be strong in flavor already.


Once the cheese and bread is toasty, take it out of the oven and let cool. Place bottom halves on a plate, top with your homemade spread, layer the lettuce salad (and cuke if you added it) and top with the upper slice of bread.


At this point if you are salivating at the aromas and beautiful colors in front of you, eat away..but part of making a Sexy and Devilishly Wondrous Sandwich that will give your hubby the "ich" is all about presentation. I picked up an oblong recycled glass platter at Target on clearance for $7.99 the other day, and it is perfect for this meal. Layer your sandwiches on the platter, add any leftover salad in a pretty pile on one end/side and wipe off any drips or drops that landed on the plate.

Place it in the middle of your dinner table, fill a couple glasses of good wine, light a candle or two..put on an unstained shirt, maybe even some cute high heels and tell your man that dinner's on the table. And don't be surprised if you hear him say "Baby, you should make these all the time!"


Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Sandwiches, a Staple of Survival

While trying to write this week’s blog description, I decided to see what the “official” definition of a sandwich was. I was overwhelmed by what came up when I typed “define: sandwich” into google:

1. To insert or squeeze tightly between two people or objects
2. A Filipino rock band that was formed in 1995
3. A town in Barnstable County, Massachusetts
4. A 2006 Bollywood comedy film
5. A parliamentary constituency in Kent
6. sexual behaviour involving more than two participants at the same time (yes, it said that!)
7. two (or more) slices of bread with a filling between them

This week’s blog is focused on the latter of the definitions I found. Although, you just might find a couple of other sandwiches thrown in there…ice cream sandwich, or knuckle sandwich if things don’t go well! Sandwiches have evolved a lot from when I used to have them as a child. There are SO many types of breads, veggies, meats, cheeses and spreads that are acceptable sandwich components now days! It no longer has to be plain old sliced bread…there’s Ciabatta bread, pita, wraps, croissants, you name it! American cheese? Puh-leez! Now we use artisan cheese like chevre, havarti, manchego, and gorgonzola. Meats are still kind of limited, as I do not believe God created any new animals to slaughter but we still have beef, poultry, venison, buffalo, fish, lamb, etc. And spreads can be fancy mustards and mayos, or dressings, you get the picture. Sandwich combinations are limitless! I used to eat a sandwich with American cheese and strawberry jam. So see? You are only limited by your own imagination! So this week we offer you the four chick’s sandwiches. And no. I’m not referring to definition number 6 above. Contain your disappointment. Because once you read our sandwich blogs you will want to rush into the kitchen and make a sandwich of your own!

Monday, September 21, 2009

Nikki's Savory Oat-Nut Pumpkin Bread

Ok so I love bread. I mean, I love ALL bread, whole wheat and white, rye and pumpernickel, sweet breads, savory breads, muffins, croissants, you name it, I'll scarf it down :) now... MAKING bread on the other hand... just the idea is enough to break out in hives while rushing to Panera to buy a fancy loaf, to heat up in the oven and claim I baked it (yes I have done that... and no, no one believed me...) the one and ONLY time I ever attempted to make bread I was 19 and had the bright idea to make a Thanksgiving dinner, from scratch, for 10 friends with little to no assistance and in between the mayhem I suddenly remembered my bread dough that I had left rising on the counter. I went to inspect it and it was just sitting there, looking exactly as I had left it... not even an 1/8th bigger... I poked at it a bit, choked back a few tears... and sent a friend to super walmart for rolls... it was an extremely disheartening experience and was one of my first real failures in the kitchen and I don't believe I had recovered from it...

So with MUCH trepidation I began researching online. My favorite breads are rich, and dense, moist and flavorful with just a touch of sweet. I looked outside and saw the leaves on the trees beginning to turn and a bit of a chill on the breeze and decided that pumpkin should definitely be involved. The only problem: google "pumpkin bread recipe" and you will find 1,370,000 hits for different variations of sweet dessert-style pumpkin breads. This created a slight problem as I had no clue what ratios of pumpkin vs. flour i would need. So I began hunting down savory breads with other moist ingredients like sour cream, cottage cheese, applesauce, ect... After much research, and more than a little nervousness I wrote my basic recipe, assembled my ingredients and got started:
My first step was to put yeast in "warm-not-hot water". This proposed a bit of a challenge as my city's water tastes AWFUL so I used water from my brita pitcher which is cold, so I nuked it but I overnuked it (remember, "warm-not-hot"!) so I had to add more cold water, then pour off the extra, then I thought it was too cold so I stuck it back in the microwave for 5 seconds... I began to get nervous, this was already turning into an ordeal! I finally got the water to what I approximated to be "warm-not-hot" and dumped my packet of yeast in, stirred it up with a fork and then stared at it...
it didn't seem to be doing anything so I gave it another stir and stared some more... realistically only about 45 seconds passed but it seemed an eternity of nothing happened and my nervousness began to escalate to pre-panic mode... Finally I do what any sane girl does when she's freaking out about a recipe: (cue trumpets) I called Melissa! who didn't answer (booooo!) Next step is call my favoritest aunt who lives in Alabama and is a PHENOMENAL cook. She answers on the first ring (see Melissa, SHE was prepared for my panic!) I explain my ordeal and she says well you used "warm-not-hot" water right? (I love how this phrase is said as if its one word...) I said yes (very confidently of course, no need to let on to my "warm-not-hot" issues) then she says well all you need is the yeast the "warm-not-hot" water and sugar... Wait wait wait, why do I need sugar? she then explains that I need to "feed the yeast" or the bread won't rise... what's up with that?? this is a very high maintenance ingredient... I add a teaspoon of brown sugar, stir it up a little and stare at it... Aunt Diane nicely explains that it takes a few minutes and to just leave it be and move on to the next part of my bread... I think she just didn't want to listen to me breathe in her ear while I waited for the yeast to jump up and sing showtunes like that frog on that old cartoon (remember? "hello my baby hello my darling..." yes? no?) so I move on to the oat-nut flour.

In my handy little black & decker power chopper I throw in 1/2 cup of walnut halves and 1/2 cup of quick oats and pulse until its ground up fine... I make it 2 pulses before rushing back to check on the yeast, and GUESS WHAT!!! it DID something!!! nothing so cool as singing showtunes (how great would that be?? better than grilled cheese Mary!!) but it had developed a thin layer of foamy stuff that took it from the 1/4 cup mark to the 1/3 cup mark!!! Look!!
After confirming with my aunt that that's what its supposed to be doing I let her go and commenced with the breadmaking. Out comes my fabulously beautiful Kitchenaid Stand Mixer (any day that I get to use my Kitchenaid is a good day in my book, I inherited it from my Grandma who aside from being a really cool lady was an amazing cook, I spent many a summer watching and learning from her!). I finished pulsing the oats & walnuts to a fine powder I set aside about 3 tbs of the powder and dumped the rest in the bowl along with 2 cups of pumpkin from a can (mark this date my friends this is one of the few times you will ever see me use something from a can!!) my yeast-water mixture (which by this point has foamed up so much I'm worried it might start spilling over the sides of the cup!) 1/3 cup brown sugar, 1/4 tsp of baking soda, 1 tbs cinnamon, 1 tsp salt, and 1/2 cup of Hodgson Mills Gluten Free baking mix (it has good stuff like flax in it) and I start the mixer.
Once everything was mixed together nicely I began adding flour. Now I was told a few very important things about the flour one: there IS a difference between regular white flour and bread flour. I looked around and found Bob's Red Mill Unbromated (whatever that means) Unbleached White Flour and I will tell you I bought it mostly because it specifically said "Superb for breadmaking by hand or machine" now if Bob says something is superb, I trust him, he's never steered me wrong before (side note: have you SEEN how many different varieties of flour he makes??? I saw green pea, hazelnut and coconut!!) The other important thing I was told (by my aunt) was that you should make sure at least half of your dry ingredients are normal flour so that you'll have a "finer crumb"... I have no idea what that means but I made sure that I countered the cup of oat-nut mixture and the 1/2 cup of Hodgson Mills with at least that much white flour. Anyway so I started adding the flour a half cup at a time into the mixer until the dough started to hold together in a ball (I had added 2 1/2 cups) I sprinkled a light layer of flour on my counter and slapped my dough ball on the counter and began kneaing it, adding a little bit more flour any time it seemed too sticky (all together there was about 3 cups of flour in my bread) I kneaded it for about 8 minutes, until all the flour was incorporated into the dough and it wasn't overly sticky.
Now for the scary part: I spread a little butter into a big bowl, stuck the dough in the bowl and lightly covered it with plastic wrap. And then I stared at it... Photobucket
After a few minutes of nothing happening I finally left it be and cleaned up the kitchen then went to read for the hour it was supposed to rise. After my hour was up I rushed back to the kitchen and IT ROSE!!!!! I cannot tell you how excited I was, I actually had to go back through my camera to check and make sure it really was bigger! So a bunch of the recipes I looked at said to punch it down, re-cover and let it rise again for "a finer crumb" agian, I have no clue what that is but I'll go with it. I punched it down (breadmaking is therapeutic, I mean when you kneed it you really put your strength in there and then you get to beat it and on top of that you get a lovely sense of accomplishment when you see its doubled in size!) I covered it up again and pored myself a celebratory glass of wine and went back to my book (book 3 in the Twilight series if you're wondering...) and after 40 minutes i peeked again and will wonders never cease? it rose AGAIN!
I pulled the dough out (after very lightly dusting my counter again) and rolled it into a rectangle roughly 9x12 and then using my pizza cutter I sliced it into three strips, leaving the tops attached.
I then braided the strips (this part is a bit of a pain) and tucked the ends under the dough and transported it to my buttered cookie sheet, covered it again and went back to the vamps. Photobucketafter another 40 minutes I came back and yet AGAIN it had nearly doubled in size! (I wonder if that works on other things? beat on it, ignore it and it doubles in size? your thoughts?)
I pre-heated my oven to 375, cracked an egg in a bowl and whipped it with a fork and spread a light layer on the bread (I had to use a spatula, my nifty basting brush has gone missing... I suspect the dogs...) then sprinkled the oat-nut powder, a little bit of brown sugar, a little bit of cinnamon and some more non-ground up oats on top and stuck it in the oven for about 35 minutes.

I pulled it out and tapped and was rewarded with a lovely hollow sound, signaling proper done-ness, let it cool and sliced a piece off to share with hubby (cue angels singing) it tasted great! not overwhelmingly pumpkiny but rich and dense, a bread that won't get lost in a sandwich. Hubby rated it an A plus :)

So Nikki's official recipe for Savory Oat-Nut Pumpkin Bread:

1 packet active dry yeast
1/4 cup warm-not-hot water
1 tsp plus 1/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup walnut halves
1/2 cup oatmeal
1/2 cup Hodgeson Mills Baking Mix (really not necessary but I had it in the cupboard, sub another 1/2 cup flour if you don't use this)
2 cups canned pumpkin
1 tbs cinnamon
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp baking powder
1 egg
1 greased/buttered bowl
1 greased/buttered baking sheet
plastic wrap
mix yeast and 1 tsp brown sugar into warm-not-hot-water, set aside for 5 minutes
put oats and walnuts into food processor and pulse into a fine powder, reserve 3 tbs for topping
Check to ensure yeast is foaming up (ie: alive) if so pour into a large mixing bowl, add oat-nut flour, baking mix (if you're using it), pumpkin, cinnamon, salt and baking powder. Blend until mixed. Add flour, 1/2 cup at a time until dough forms a ball.
Place dough on a floured surface and kneed for 8-10 minutes adding flour in small increments until its no longer really sticky. Form into a ball and place in greased bowl, loosely cover with plastic wrap and set in a warm place (I pre-heated my oven to 200 then turned it off and kept the bowl near the burner that the oven vents out of) leave for 1 hour. recommend cleaning up the mess you made of the kitchen during this hour... but if you're not as messy as me (I'm really messy) you can find other more... constructive... things to do with the time...
After the hour is up return to the bowl and you will see it has doubled in size! (woo hoo!!!) punch the dough down a few times and re-form the ball, cover again and leave it for about 45 minutes (until it doubles again)
** This next part is optional, if you don't want a braid just stick the dough in a greased loaf pan (its a lot of dough you might need two loaf pans...) and skip on to the cover/let rise part**
Take dough out and put it on a lightly floured surface, roll it out to a 12x9 rectangle, cut into 3 strips, leaving the tops attached and braid. Fold the ends under and carefully transfer to a greased cookie sheet. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let it rise for 45 minutes.
Preheat oven to 375. Lightly beat egg and spread on top of bread dough sprinkle oat-nut flour, more oats, a little brown sugar, and cinnamon (use your taste/judgement, if you want a lot sprinkle a lot!) and bake for 35-40 minutes (until bread sounds hollow when you tap it) place on wire rack and allow to cool, slice it up and serve it however you wish, I toasted it and topped it with butter & honey:

Melissa's "F" Bread

The "F" Bread

The “F” Bread

I recently watched a documentary titled, “How To Cook Your Life” featuring Zen Priest Edward Brown. He “…demonstrates that cooking is a feast of the senses.” I can totally buy that. In the documentary he goes on to say we as a society do not use our hands and hands were meant to be used. Our hands have become idle. They say idle hands are the devil’s tools. I’m not sure I buy that. I only get in trouble when I USE my hands. Anyway, I’m pretty sure that statement is not valid in MY home to begin with…we use our hands quite a bit…some more than others. However, I get his point, and one of the most perfect uses for hands, is the art of bread making, although hubby may beg to differ. I just love to roll in…I mean roll THE dough!

I love to bake and breads are at the top of my list, both sweet breads and savory. (Sweet breads as in cinnamon rolls and the like; not to be confused with internal organs. Gross.)

Next, the hard part…Decisions, Decisions! Would I make a pear and bleu cheese braid? …A Parisian Diplomat? …Monkey Bread? …A Croatian Walnut Roll? (mouth watering over that one!) …Dosa, Flatbread, Foccacia, Povitcia, Chiabatta, Challa, Stollen, Pannetone, Hot Cross Buns? …should it be a loaf, a baton, baguette, roll, boule, Swiss roll, crescents, knots? If we’re going by personality a twisted knot would fit beautifully, however, I decided to go with one of my all time favorite and most fun recipes… Fig Bubble Bread. Huh? Yep! It’s fancy, fun, fresh, figgy and FABULOUS…. all the good “F” words! Watch and see how much figgin’ fun you can have with this bread and I hope you try this at home!


1 package Fleischmann’s yeast
¼ cup warm water
1 cup warm milk
2 cups fruit preserves
½ cup sugar
2 tbsp. sugar
4 cups flour
½ cup butter
2 eggs

1/3 cup honey
2 tbsp butter
1 tbsp. vanilla

First, dissolve the yeast in warm water about 5 minutes. Make sure the water is room temperature. If it’s too warm it will kill the yeast (similar in nature to Monistat) and you will have very, cardboardish, flat bread. You cannot revive your yeast. You will have to start over.

Next, add the milk, sugar, eggs, flour and half of your butter. Mix it until well blended and a soft dough forms. You can perform this step in a mixer with a dough hook, but I prefer to get my hands dirty! It reminds me of being a kid and playing with paper mache…ewwwww fun! Hopefully it will not turn out like paper mache or your figgy bread will be a figgin’ speed bump!

When done, turn your dough out onto a floured board or surface and knead about 6-8 minutes. To knead the bread, start by folding your dough in half. Push the dough away from you with the heels of your hands. Make a quarter turn with the dough and fold in half again, always folding towards you. Continue this method of folding and pushing by quarter turns and you are officially kneading your bread. You’ll know when the process is complete when the dough becomes smooth and shiny. To test, press two fingers in the dough. If the indent stays, it’s ready to rise.

Place the dough in a greased dish, turning to coat both sides. Cover and let rise in a warm, safe place about 1 to 1 ½ hours or until it’s doubled in size. Punch down the dough…this is a GREAT way to rid yourself of built up hostility… and turn it back out onto your surface.

Next, divide your dough into 24 pieces or dough balls. We can NEVER seem to get away from our balls can we? Flatten and fill each piece of your dough with 1 tsp. preserves, pinching each closed, forming your balls. (Men, I’d skip reading this next part… said covering eyes.) Put ½ your balls into a bundt pan and brush them with butter, then sprinkle with sugar. (Oh the visual!) Place the remaining dough balls into your pan and repeat butter brushing and sugar sprinkling.

Allow your balls to rise about 35-45 minutes, then bake at 350 for about 30 minutes. Mix the ingredients for your glaze and pour over your bread. Let cool and serve. I hope you and yours enjoy this fine figgy creation! I think MY prisoners will approve.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Lacey's Thank Gawd It Turned Out Sundried Tomato 'n Carmelized Onion Sprouted Grain Bread

Bread. The final baking frontier. To many, me included, baking bread is a daunting task. Hell to be honest baking anything is a daunting task for me. I can make white banana bread. I'm beginning to think it is a "gift from God" to have that ability. Don't ask my how I do it either, cuz I haven't a clue...I have waited until the bananas are so freaking stinky they make me gag, and following my mothers recipe to a T, the shit still turns out white. At least I can take solace in the fact that I AM NOT ALONE. Thus, YOU are not alone either if you too have turned out white banana bread (although I am sure that I am a rarity in that regard), burnt cookies or just go for the Pillsbury can instead of making biscuts from scratch.

For a long time I gave up on baking. I just didn't do it. But my three year old daughter does much better when she doesn't eat wheat or too much dairy (and by better I mean she doesn't get ear infection after ear infection), so I've made the 110 mile trek to Whole Foods to stock up on gluten free stuff, soy yogurt, rice pasta and gads of other highly priced "non wheat" products. And about six plus months ago I picked up the book Essential Eating Sprouted Baking by Janie Quinn. I skimmed it once I brought it home and then it sat on the shelf for quite a while. I mean, it was about baking. Shudder...Baking.

Luckily I belong to a snazzy group of Four Chicks who encourage each other in the kitchen, even though we recently confessed to eating a shit ton of halloween candy early, and now here I sit typing up a freaking blog about baking bread. Go figure.

Since I'm supposed to be the Organic Chick in the group, here's what I got for the week:

I am using both buckwheat flour and sprouted wheat flour. Buckwheat is gluten free. That's really all I know about it, except for the fact that the consistency is like silt. It is super fine and not fluffy like regular flour at all. Sprouted flour is pretty cool stuff. Due to the way the grain is...processed...for lack of a better word, sprouted flour digests more like a vegetable than a starch. And from what I understand some people who have a gluten intolerance can eat sprouted grain products without issue. The word "enriched" does not come into play with sprouted flour. At all. Whatsoever. For that, we loves it much. (Read more about it here: http://www.essentialeating.com/, or google sprouted flour). Unfortunately sprouted flour is freaking expensive, and I've only been able to buy it online.

I'm also using organic milk, organic olive oil, organic sucranat, organic onion and garlic.

1/2 lbs total sundried tomatoes diced, sauteed onion and roasted garlic (I used my handy dandy weigher thingy)
1 1/2 olive oil
2 1/4 active dry yeast
2 tsp sucranat
1/4 cup milk
3 1/4 cup sprouted flour
1/4 cup buckwheat flour
2 1/2 tsp sea salt
1 tbsp herbs de provence (rosemary and thyme)
1/3 cup shredded parmesan cheese


Chop the onion and saute it. Set it aside to cool.

While the onion is cooking, place water in large bowl, add sucranat and stir to disolve. Next add the yeast to the bowl and let sit for ten minutes until it bubbles. Add milk to bowl and stir. (I used a Kitchenaide mixer)

Take out two cups of sprouted flour and start adding it to the wet mix slowly.

In a second bowl combine 1 1/4 cup of sprouted flour with the buckwheat flour, salt and dried herbs. Add this flour mix to the other slowly..I read something about salt slowing down the yeast processing, you don't want to add it too soon, so add it to the mix in the second batch of flour, blah blah blah -so I'm trying it.

Once you've added all the flour into the bowl and it is mixed up, add the onion/tomato/garlic and mix. Now add the cheese and mix. The dough at this point should be sticky - like when you put your hand to a Stick It Note sticky.

Place the dough on a lightly floured counter and start kneeding. Push the dough away from you with the heel of your hand, pull the flap back over, turn 1/4 turn and repeat. Do this for like 8-10 minutes. I set my kitchen timer so I wouldn't forget. At the end of all that, the dough should be elasticy and your hands should hurt. At least mine did. And bakers do this for a living? My God!

It should look like this:


Next coat a clean bowl with some olive oil, plop the dough in it, cover with saran wrap and let it sit. It needs to rise double its size. It took mine about and hour and a half to do that, and I had the oven going baking a butternut squash.


Now take out some aggression, but not too much, and punch the dough a couple times to alieve some gas. You'll hear a fizz/whiz sound when you do it.
Take the dough out, shape the bread into a round and put it on a lightly floured baking sheet. Cover (I used a warm towel that I nuked..yes I really did), and let it double in size again.

Preheat the oven, if you haven't already, to 450. Once the dough has doubled in size add some nice salt to the top with more herbs de provence, put it in the oven. Bake for ten minutes, reduce heat to 400 and let it cook.

Wa-la: BREAD!


The hubby and I both agree that the bread is damn good. The sundried tomato flavor is strong, but the onion and cheese balance it out nicely. The original recipe I used called for bread flour, and since I subbed that out for sprouted flour I added some sucranat, also not called for. It was a total guess on my part, but after studying up the bread recipes in Essential Eating, every bread recipe in that book calls for maple syrup or sugar (which can be subbed for sucranat and vice versa) and I've read on a few websites that sugar can help the yeast out - so I tried it. Go big, or throw it away I guess. And it worked.
I still think I might have been a bit too impatient on the second round of dough rising. I know that I definitely let the dough double in size the first time - I took pics for this blog and looked back at them to see (ha ha)..but I might have listened to the timer in my head a little too closely the second time. Next time I think I will be a bit more patient. Either way, the flavor of the bread is fantastic. And now that I've been successful in making bread, I will be ordering more expensive sprouted flour and trying even more recipes.
If there is any left over, I'll be using this bread for our sandwich blog next week. As it is such a strongly flavored bread, it will surely be a challenge attempting to pair it with veggies and/or meat to be successful. Looking forward to it!

Monday, September 14, 2009

WEEK 2: Yeasty Concoctions aka BREADS!

What do you call a bunch of blondes with yeast infections? A whine and cheese party! What do you call an anorexic with a yeast infection? A quarter pounder with cheese.

Sure. There are tons of jokes out there about yeast. But it’s a major component in this week’s experiment. The Four Chicks will take a basic bread recipe, and manipulate it, finger it, knead it, pound it, then let it rise again and pound it some more (maybe even add cumquats?). The finished product will be mouthwateringly soft and delicious, and make you want to lick every little white morsel off your fingers after you swallow it.

BREAD is the theme of this week’s blog. So pull yourself out of the gutter and concentrate. We will provide our perspectives on working with a basic dough recipe in our own cooking styles

What can four completely different chicks, scattered across America, come up with using basic bread dough? Stay tuned and see…we guarantee a completely calorie-free, carb-less, breadgasm that can cause mastification and jactation (look it up).

What toy will the Hooker Cooker choose for this session? Which personality will the schizophrenic Wild Card use this week? Can the Gifted Gourmet compete in a category that contains food typically fed to prisoners? and what kind of organic crap will the A la Carte girl decide to use? Stay tuned...and keep your vagisil handy.

Here is the basic bread ingredients that we will use and abuse and make our own.  Stay tuned to see how our loaves develop!


• 6 cups flour
• 1 tablespoon sugar
• 2 1/2 teaspoons salt
• 1 envelope active dry yeast
• 2 cups very warm water, about 120°
• 2 tablespoons softened butter

(Fine Print: Although every effort is made to ensure the accuracy of the information on this World Wide Web site, mistakes will occur. Four Chicks will not be responsible for any damage done to your diet or your waistline following consumption of these recipes… We can't be held responsible for your actions. We are not acting in any way to force you to consume bread products; you are choosing to eat it! Continuing to read further means that you understand and accept responsibility for your own actions, thus releasing the creators of this Web page and our bread products from all liability.)

Melissa's Buffalo Bleu Balls in Red Mud Sauce

Buffalo Bleu Balls in Red Mud Sauce

Bill Murray stars as Tripper, the nutty leader (and trainer) of a motley crew of camp counselors. But Tripper proves to be more than just a wild and wacky leader, as he takes a special interest in Rudy, an insecure camper. Thought for the day: "It Just Doesn't Matter!" Directed by Ivan Reitman, who went on to helm such hits as TWINS and GHOSTBUSTERS.

OOPS! That's the WRONG Meatballs! But hey, anything goes here right?

So no I did not attempt to direct a remake of the classic movie in my kitchen. I did however, attempt to create a moist, succulent version of an American staple, although Italian in origin.

Meatballs are more than just a garnish for a huge plate of spaghetti! They make an awesome sandwich, a great topping for pizza, a decadent soup, and AMAZING appetizers like the recipe I'll share with you today.
Fall is in the air and with the crisp breeze and colorful leaves comes the start of FOOTBALL, FOOTBALL season! What a great appetizer for any game! I mean, footBALL, meatBALL, they were just created to form a beautiful partnership! They're hearty enough to feed the menfolk and a basic recipe provides enough to feed the masses.

I decided to take a bit of a "Clean-out the fridge" approach, as you can do with meatballs. They allow themselves to successfully take on most any ingredient you can thow in the bowl! After taking inventory, and locating a brilliant bit of Shropshire Bleu cheese hiding in my cheese drawer, I decided on Buffalo Bleu Balls...a little spicy, a little saucy and a little sassy.
Buffalo Bleu Balls in Red Mud Sauce

• 3.5 pounds lean ground beef
• 1 package Onion Soup mix
 • 1 cup Rye bread crumbs
• 1/2 cup crumbled bleu cheese
• 1/4 cup chopped onion
• 1/4 cup chopped red apple
• 2 eggs
• 1/2 cup Texas Pete hot sauce (reserve 1/4 cup for sauce)
• 1 Tbsp Worchestershire sauce
• 2 Tbsp minced garlic
• 2-3 dashes Liquid Smoke
• Salt and pepper to taste

First, place your ground beef in a bowl and add remainder of ingredients. Mash lightly with your hands until the ingredients are well combined. Keep in mind, the more you play with your meat, the more tough and dry it will become (sound familiar?) Pay close attention to the consistency of the mixture...you must keep it moist and well lubbed for proper balling to occur.

After meat is well belnded, form your balls. I prefer to use a cookie scoop to ensure all balls are uniform in size. I just love balls in uniform :) Finally bake your balls at 350 degrees for approximately 15-20 minutes or until no longer pink in the center. It is appropriate to sample and test your balls. I do not commit to (serving) anything I haven't sampled.

Finally, remove your balls from the oven and serve with the red mud dipping sauce; recipe listed below.

This recipe should provide you and your guests with over 48 mouthwatering, scrumptious balls perfect for tailgaiting or any other occasion! Bon appetit'!

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Nikki's Italian Stallion Balls (aka "Inconspicuously Healthy Meatballs That My Husband Will Eat")

*edit* OMG I just realized I never posted the pics... I am so sorry that I have deprived you of the beauty of my balls... it will NEVER happen again (until the next time my camera's battery dies...)
*Disclaimer* I will be adding pictures tomorrow, the battery in my camera died and apparently you can't retreive the pictures until its been re-juiced!

I opted for a more traditional italian style meatball that I served in meatball subs for friends on Saturday night. I must note that my hubby is not happy with the name of my balls (he's Polish, not Italian) although after some deliberation he decided that Polish Balls wouldn't be much better as he wasn't particularly crazy about saying that he was eating Polish Balls... Anywhoo here we go:

My history with meatballs is a short one, hubby and I have attempted to make them on several occasions only to come up with balls that are Sahara Desert Dry and horribly bland. Our very own Hooker Chick, Kim told me her super secret ball boiling method so I decided to give that a shot... I have coupons for Pizza Hut if this doesn't work out.

My guests were due at 6pm so I headed out shopping at about 4 (I'm not so good at the advanced planning thing...) and got immediately to work when I got home.
This is everything but the egg and breadcrumbs...
Into my skillet went the healthy stuff:
1 red bell pepper diced itty bitty tiny
1 small yellow onion diced itty bitty tiny
4 oz of portobella mushrooms (you guessed it) diced itty bitty tiny
I drizzled about 2 tbs of EVOO over the top added the lid & turned the heat to medium-high.
Into bowl number one:
1 italian sub roll torn into small pieces
1/3 cup 1% milk
I mooshed that together and realized there was WAY too much milk in there so i drained off the excess and was left with probably 1/4 cup. Set this aside to soak.

Before moving on to the meat mooshing I gave the skillet with my veggies a little jiggle to make sure everything was cooking evenly & turned the heat down to medium.

Into bigger bowl number two:
20 oz (1.25lbs) hot italian turkey sausage (it was in "link" form so I had to squeeze it out...)
.98lbs of 90% lean naturally raised ground beef
1/2 cup Sargento's Italian Blend cheese
(don't start smooshing yet!!)

At this point the veggies were sufficiently softened so I added them to the milk/bread mixture (I was afraid start cooking the meat if I dumped them in still hot... probably this wouldn't have made a difference... but it made me feel better... and that makes AAAALLL the difference...)

I now added all of my ingredients together and commenced with the smooshing (after removing all jewelry first, I didn't want my guests choking on my wedding rings... the only CPR I know is what learned from TV...) after thoroughly smooshing all ingredients dear hubby reminded me that I forgot the egg... I couldn't remember why I needed an egg but figured it couldn't hurt so had him crack one in there (I forgot Lacey's cardinal rules and had both hands in on the mooshing) At this point hubby points out that it seems to sticky so we tried to form a ball... and it just wasn't happening so he got the bread crumbs down for me and dumped about 1/4 cup in. I mooshed that together and had another failed attempt at creating a solid ball. Hubby got in on the mooshing and declared that I had over-moisturized them to the consistency of snot. I ended up having to add a full cup of bread crumbs before everything held itself together.
On to the ball rolling and boiling!!

I dumped a really really big can of low fat, low sodium chicken broth into a pot, turned the burner on high (or rather my lovely husband did all this because I was... goopy...) and started rolling balls while it heated. Now, I prefer bigger balls than the rest of the chicks(I like to have something substantial to sink my teeth into) so I made each one about 2 to 2 1/2 inches in diameter. Once the pot reached a rolling boil I dropped about 10 in and timed them for about 8 minutes before pulling one out to check for pink. Everything looked good so I pulled them all out to drain on a papertowel and dropped in the next 10.

While those boiled I tasted my first ball and it was FANTASTIC! Not too spicy, not bland, not dry, not overly vegified, my only complaint... the reason I picked red peppers is I wanted them to blend with the meat (remember these are supposed to be INCONSPICUOUSLY healthy balls) BUT after boiling the meat turned really pale and the peppers stuck out like a sore thumb. It all worked out though because once I added them the pot of simmering Prego Mushroom spaghetti sauce too keep warm everything blended right in :)
I completely forgot to count the balls but I know I boiled 4 batches with about 10 in each plus there was one last half batch so we'll guestimate that it turned out to be 45 good sized balls.

Hubby prepared the foil boats for the italian sub rolls and I put three balls in each, topped them off with a little extra sauce and more italian cheese. They went into the oven at 350* for 10-15 minutes (until the cheese is good and melty and the buns are sufficiantly toasty). We sat down to eat at about 6:30 (see my shopping procrastination only made us a half hour late!)
The meatball subs were a hit, and no one got food poisoning so I would declare the Italian Stalion Meatballs to be a success!!

Official recipe for Italian Stallion Balls (aka "Inconspicuously Healthy Meatballs That My Husband Will Eat")
1 red bell pepper (locally grown!)
1 small yellow onion (also locally grown!)
4oz portobella mushrooms (from the grocery store... but I tried!)
2tbs Extra Virgin Olive Oil (note: I used a nonstick pan, if you don't you'll need more oil!)
1 italian sub roll (2 slices of italian bread will probably work just as well)
1/4 cup 1% milk (rBGH free!)
20oz lean hot turkey italian sausage links (5 links)
1lb 98% lean ground beef (naturally raised with no hormones or antibiotics!!)
1/2 cup italian blend cheese (I used Sargento's... because they make tasty cheese)
1 egg (free range AND locally... um... layed...)
2/3 to 1 1/3 italian seasoned bread crumbs
1 48 oz can low fat, low sodium chicken broth

Dice the red pepper, mushroom and onions up itty bitty and stick them in a skillet over high heat. drizzle EVOO over them and toss lightly to coat, allow to cook covered while you assemble the rest of the ingrediants. Tear your sub roll into tiny peices and let soak in a bowl with the milk. Toss veggies lightly again and turn heat down to medium. In a large mixing bowl squeeze turkey sausage out of casing add ground beef, egg, cheese and 2/3 cup bread crumbs. Add veggies to milk/bread mixture then dump everything in the big bowl. Using the Lacey approved one handed method smoosh to mix, then attempt to make a ball roughly 2 inches in diamiter. If the ball isn't sticking add more bread crumbs in 1/4 cup incremints until your ball retains its shape (no one likes saggy balls!) and then form all of your balls. Pour chicken broth into a medium sized sauce pan and bring to a light boil. CAREFULLY add 8-10 balls into the pot (I burned myself a few times on boiling ball broth...). Boil for 8 minutes and put them directly into a pot of simmering sauce or onto a serving dish. ENJOY!

Week 1: Lacey's Everything but the....Balls!

Ahhh meatballs. These delectably meaty balls call my name when the weather gets colder and I find myself needing to cook and store food for winter like a little squirrel. I like meatballs for a multitude of reasons. One, they go with alot of dishes, two, you can freeze them, three, you can pretty much use anything in them and they taste great, and four they are the perfect food to make for people who get bored easily. If I get sick of cooking pan after pan, which I always do, I can just toss the rest of the mix in a seal a meal bag and throw it in the freezer to finish up later - which I did this time. As usual.

Now...I have three Cardinal Meatball Rules:
1. Keep one hand on the bowl so it stays clean while mixing the meat and bread with the other in case you need to add more ingredients – making meatballs is a messy business. You can of course wear gloves but I find this to be sissy-ish (just get in there and get dirty!), plus mushing all the ingredients together makes for softer skin anyways.
2. Breadcrumbs will almost always thicken up a too runny meatball mix, keep it nearby and don’t add any until everything is mixed together.
3. Food process the wet bready stuff if you can. Its just nicer that way.

That being said, my general recipe for balls is as follows:
1 lbs low fat all natural/grain fed hamburger
1 lbs italian sausage
2 eggs
1/4 cup milk
4-6 slices of fresh french bread loaf (about an inch thick
1 small yellow onion
1 green bellpepper
2-4 cloves garlic
garlic salt
italian seasonings
that Kraft cheese in a can (aka Stinky Cheese in our fam)
Italian style breadcrumbs

This week however I decided to clear out some stuff and tossed in some organic cream instead of the milk, red bellpepper instead of green, Italian Three Cheese in lieau of Stinky, added Rogue Creamery Bleu Cheese and some locally mixed Garlic Death cheese I had left over and a 1 lbs package of natural ground lamb I ran to the store for in the bowl as well.

So..here goes:

In the food processor -crack the two eggs, add the milk/cream, tear up and add the bread and pulse for a few seconds coating the bread thorougly and let sit for a minute. If you don't have a food processor just put it all in a bowl and get your hands dirty, it works the same but will just be a bit chunkier - who cares! It will all taste the same.
Chop the onion and bellpepper, crush the cloves of garlic and remove shell - add it to the processor and turn it on until everything is mush. Next, add the bleu and any other cheese you like to the top. It should look about like this:

In a(nother) large bowl - add all the meat, dump in some of the spices you like - I personally add about 3 tbsp italian seasonings, 1 tsp garlic salt, 1 tsp seasalt, about ten cranks on a pepper grinder, 1/4 cup of italian bread crumbs, and some preshredded italian three cheeses.
With one hand on the bowl (rule #1 remember?), start mixing all of the meats and dried seasonings together. Mix it! Mix it good! Now add in the bread mush from the processor and mix some more. A lot more!

Aaaaaand Houston? Do we have a problem?!?....Now is the time you will notice...did you overestimate the amount of cream/egg/bread mix and now have to go to the store for more burger? This is what you could get with the "dump and pour method" I prefer to use. I don't measure much ingredients. If you form a meatball at this point and it doesn't hold its form, well...refer to Cardinal Meatball Rule #2. It saves my arse. Every. Single. Time.

Now that your meatballs are all mixed, pop that bowl in the fridge, turn the oven on at 350 and start to clean up the mess you made. I am a firm believer - if you are making meatballs and there isn't a mess, you didn't do it right!

Once you've cleaned up, get out a cookie sheet and the bally mixture and start forming balls. Make them about an inch big if you can...mine usually end up larger than a golf ball for some reason. Place them an inch apart and cook for 20 minutes. If they are about a ping pong ball size, then 20 minutes should do it. If they are bigger like mine, you can flip them, and cook for another ten. And repeat, repeat, repeat. Or if you are like me and get bored, cook what you want for that night and toss the rest of the mix in the freezer (labeled so you know what the hell it is) and be done with it.

We like to warm our balls in the microwave and serve with a little salad and dried tomatoes drizzled with Evoo and balsamic , cheese and ciabatta bread. Or just slap those balls around in some sauce and noodles and call it good!

Ultimately when playing with these hairless balls it is all about consistency of the meaty mixture. The technique and ingredients don't matter. If it is too runny they won't hold up when cooking. They should be firm to the touch, holding their shape even when put under intense heated pressure. Remember Ladies: No one likes a flat ball!

WEEK ONE: Kim's Mi Amigas Bolas (Mexican Meatballs)

So, I decided to make Mi Amigos Bolas, (aka My Friend’s Balls). I guess now, I should’ve called them Mi Enemigos Bolas (My Enemy’s Balls). I rarely ever cook with beef so I decided to use ground turkey instead of beef. One pound.
Thursday, I started with a package of Mexican cornbread. Add 1 egg and milk (or use package directions). I baked my cornbread a couple of days before to allow it to dry out some.
Skip to Saturday… I gathered up my ingredients and arranged them for a picture. Not realizing I had left out the chicken bouillon cubes and the egg. Rather than redo the picture, I just decided to let them star in their own photo.

Friday, September 11, 2009

WEEK 1: MEATBALLS!! Balls, balls...everywhere!

The general recipe for meatballs calls for hamburger, eggs, breadcrumbs, spices and maybe some onion and worchestershire sauce. Search for basic meatballs on any search engine and this is what you will find, trust me, I checked. But seriously? There are a multitude of variations a gal could do with meatballs. And this being the start of fall and football season, meatballs are a great food to make for the masses as they are plentiful and freezable if you have left overs. Just don't let your man get too close to the kitchen until they are done!  So stay tuned for the ball blogs...I mean...meatball blogs.  Can you guess which chick will make which balls?  Bleu balls? Italian (stallion?) balls? Mi Amigos bolas? and Everything but the...balls?

OH!!! And next week, we will be featuring yeasty concoctions to tease your lips and palate...it's basic bread dough week!!