White Bean & Sun-Dried Tomato Dip

Pretty in pink.

Better Half was up north at our “farm” enjoying pond building and pond blitzing with buddies (for you not in the know, pond blitzing is visiting as many ponds as you possibly can and fishing the heck out of ’em).  As for me, I enjoyed ME time!  Saturday night my dear friend R came over with her knitting and a delicious shrimp and corn salad.  I provided wine and appetizers for our girls-night-in, which is how I came up with this delicious White Bean & Sun-Dried Tomato Dip.

Before sharing this simple recipe, I must tell you that R and I cracked ourselves up that evening.  My sweet friend J (with whom Better Half stayed part of the time) sent me a text/picture of her cooking for the pond blitzers.  I cheekily sent her a picture of R and I toasting each other with our wine glasses.  J replied with a picture of her chugging a bottle of wine.  Hilarious!  However, she’s messing with a master.  I grabbed two antique “hooch” jugs and sent back a picture of us drinking out of the jugs.  Then, we took a picture of us with straws drinking out of 5-gallon carboys.  To finish the fun, the final picture was us drinking out of a spigot from a 5-gallon vat.  We were being so silly, but we were busting our guts. We’re not done. . . .  Dear J, we wish you had been here with us instead of taking care of the fishy-smelly guys!

White Bean & Sun-Dried Tomato Dip

1 can cannellini beans, rinsed and drained
¼ cup sun-dried tomatoes (packed in olive oil is best)
1 T capers
2 cloves garlic (or more if you like)
Dash of red pepper flakes
1-2 T olive oil
Salt and pepper, to taste

Combine first five ingredients in food processor and pulse until well blended.  While processor is running, drizzle in olive oil and blend until smooth.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.  Serve with fresh veggies, crackers, or fresh baguette slices.


Morel Mania

aka Morel Madness.

Don’t ask me where I found them because no self-respecting morel hunter will divulge the secret spots.

I grew up in the South.  Morel ′shrooms do not exist in the south.  When I married Better Half he told me stories of the great morel hunts he experienced in his youth in NW Missouri.  I heard all about the elusive morels and how amazing they were when lightly coated with cracker crumbs and fried.  Silly man, he had me at the word “fried”!

Unfortunately, since we moved immediately upon marriage to Alaska, morel mushrooms were not to be experienced.  Until the farmer’s market, that is.  One lovely, beautiful day a vendor was selling a stash of morels he’d had shipped.  They were, to the best of my memory, $10 for a small bag.  I bought a bag, followed BH’s directions for soaking, breading, and frying.  Lovely Daughter (who’s not fond of mushrooms) and I swooned.  We were SOLD.  Unfortunately, so were all the morel mushrooms at the the next farmer’s market.  They never graced our plate again while in Alaska.

Fast forward to living in the Ozarks.  How exciting to be able to hunt morels!  The key word is “hunt.”  We found one our first year.  We found ten two years ago.  Ah, the pain and agony.

This week I literally stumbled upon a patch of them.  The freaky thing is that I had just “planted” a concrete (aka fake) morel mushroom in one of my garden beds and while walking toward BH I almost walked on a morel!  We’ve since found over 20 in this same area and none anywhere else–NONE.  Zero. Nada.  Seriously-how can this spot be the only place in the Ozarks sprouting morels?

When they hit the pan, the aroma is earthy, woody, yummy deliciousness.  I’ll leave you craving morels.  As for me, no moral dilemma–my priorities are with morels for the next few days!

Italian Country Bread

Artisan bread—at last!

Crispy, chewy, full of big, airy holes. . . ah nirvana!  I’ve been baking bread since I was a child, yet I’ve never mastered the true “hole-y” artisan bread.  Lord knows I have bought every type of flour imaginable from King Arthur Flour, but still something was missing.  Found it!  Actually my dear friend R’s sister-in-law found it, but lucky me because it was passed on.

This bread will make your bread-making life complete—well, not complete maybe, but it will make you and everyone you share it with very, very happy!  The process beforehand is equivalent to making a biga, which is what helps with the flavor and holes.

Don’t be scared of the three-day process.   For a bread this amazing, it is ridiculously easy.  If you’re an experienced user of yeast, the texture of this bread is very different.  You will not get the satisfaction out of pretending it’s your former boss by bashing and kneading it to death, but you will get enormous satisfaction after you taste it.

It’s kind of slimy, but it’s supposed to be.  Your KitchenAid will be your best friend.  Use only the paddle, not the hook or whisk.  On the third day be very generous with the flour on your board or pastry cloth.  Drop, flip, cut, shape, and move it (gently) to your pan.  Slash it and proceed with the misting, etc.  You will not be disappointed.  You will be in awe.

Here’s the recipe exactly as it was given to me.  If you have any questions or concerns, email me and I can explain.  Please try it.  Pretty please.

Italian Country Bread

First day:  Mix ½  teaspoon yeast in 1 cup warm water in mixer bowl; when dissolved, add 1 cup flour (King Arthur White.)   Beat 50 times to mix.  Cover bowl with plastic for 12 to 24 hours.

Second day:  Dissolve 1 ¼ teaspoons yeast in 1 ½ cups warm water.  When dissolved, add to starter and mix.  Then add 2 cups flour to starter and mix 50 strokes.  Cover with plastic wrap  for 12 to 24 hours.

Third day:  Stir 1 ½  cups flour into starter with a wooden spoon 20 or 30 strokes.  Put mixing bowl in mixer, using the mixing blade (not the dough hook), turn on to lowest speed and mix 17 minutes.  Turn off mixer, letting dough – which will be VERY wet – slide into bowl while you get 1 Tablespoon salt.  Turn on mixer to lowest setting, sprinkle salt slowly into bowl and mix 3 minutes.   At this point you can leave dough in bowl to rise or transfer to an oiled large bowl.  Cover bowl with plastic and leave for 4 or 5 hours – should be tripled in size.

Preheat oven to 450 degrees, place rack in lowest position in oven.  Have a spray bottle of plain water ready.  Use parchment paper on large silver cookie sheet.  I fold the parchment paper in the middle of the sheet to form a barrier between the two loaves.

Turn the dough out on a heavily floured surface (I use a pastry cloth).  The dough will slowly fall out of the bowl in a wet heap.  Take one side of the circular heap of dough and pull it toward you until the dough is turned over and the floured side is up.  The dough will now have an oblong shape. Cut it down the center with a dough knife or large narrow-bladed knife, forming two narrow, long loaves.  Tuck the ends under to maintain a uniform rectangular shape  and transfer each loaf to the pan.  The dough will be very soft and shapeless making it hard to handle until you get used to it.  I put a hand on each end, push the dough toward the center and lift it quickly to the  sheet, spreading it to the shape I want. Score the loaves with a sharp knife, three cuts on each loaf.

Put the bread into the oven, spray the bread and oven with water, close door.  Spray every 3 minutes for 3 times.  Total cooking time is 38 minutes including spraying time.  The purpose of the spraying is to keep the crust soft at first so the bread can expand and form a lovely texture.

Now, let me say I have violated every one of these instructions in one way or another and I’ve never had a failure – this bread is incredibly forgiving.  I don’t say this as a challenge – I’m sure it can be screwed up – but so far any reasonable effort has been rewarded.

Oh, make sure your butter is at room temperature so when the bread comes out of the oven you can slather some on your first slice!  And, for more yeast love check out YeastSpotting!

Southern Belles

Northern cooks can make ’em too!

Better Half and I visited friends to help them put a roof on a rental home they own.  Well, let me clarify: Better Half was going to help with a roof and I was playing around with my buddy C.   These Southern Belles (courtesy of my cookbook Sassafras)  are my contribution to the good folks that volunteered to roof.  It takes maybe five minutes to prepare these caramel morsels.  I also made a few snide comments to some of the guys—those count as contributions too. . . .

C and I had a blast.  We shopped in a little Ozark town and played around on their 100 acres.  We went on a golf ball hunt, (the men love to see how far they can hit the golf balls) which sort of reminded me of an Easter Egg hunt.  Not surprisingly, I found very few while C found a sackful!  We walked around the property quite a bit and listened to the beautiful sound of the water rushing through their cave.  The cave is huge and amazing; archaeologists have visited to find and document Indian artifacts.   C’s husband is awesome at finding arrowheads in the creek and cave.  We played multiple games of dominoes, marbles, and gin rummy.  We made homemade feta and mozzarella cheeses, as well as visiting their workshop where we gals utilized saws, drills, and other myriad “manly” tools and crafted something special for my knitting. . . . (another post!).

We had a lot of fun cooking loads of food for the men and talking until the wee hours.  Oh, we also damaged a few items: an antique chair from France (honestly, I don’t weigh that much!) and C’s thumb (which I’m sure will grow back together.  Thank God she’s an RN!).

Southern Belles

2 c flour
1¾ c packed light brown sugar
1 c butter, softened
1½ to 2 c whole pecans
1½ c chocolate (semi, milk, etc.) chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350°.  Mix flour, 1 c brown sugar and ½ c butter until crumbly.  Press on bottom of ungreased 9″ x 13″ pan.  Sprinkle with single layer of pecans.  Combine remaining butter and brown sugar in small saucepan and boil one minute.  Pour over pecans (making a thin layer).  Bake 18 to 22 minutes or until caramel layer bubbles.  Remove from oven and immediately sprinkle with chocolate chips, gently spreading as chocolate melts.  Cool and cut into bars.

Enjoy y’all!

Healthy Irish Brown Soda Bread

Relax—no yeast required!

Mmm, I love bread but with me trying to get back into my wedding “shorts” (yes, shorts) I have not been baking like I used to.   I spied the March, 2010 edition of Cooking Light in my doctor’s office.  In honor of St. Patrick’s Day it was full of great Irish recipes, and I’ve always wanted to attempt Irish soda bread and was surprised to realize it doesn’t contain yeast.  It’s a quick bread so even those scared of yeast (R, I’m talking to YOU!) can make this yummy, healthy bread.  (Although once you get started working with yeast you will get the hang of it and love the feel and texture of yeast goodies.)  The nutritional value of this bread is great: 160 calories a slice, 1.8 grams fat and 7.2 grams protein.  Enjoy!

Healthy Irish Brown Soda Bread

Cooking spray
2½ c whole-wheat flour
½ c all-purpose flour
½ c steel-cut oats (such as McCann’s)
2 T brown sugar
1 T wheat germ
1 t baking soda
1 t baking powder
½ t salt
2 c low-fat buttermilk
1 large egg, lightly beaten

Preheat oven to 325°.  Coat a 9 x 5–inch loaf pan with cooking spray.  Line the pan with parchment paper, and coat with cooking spray (I did not line with parchment and had great results).

Lightly spoon flours into dry measuring cups, and level with a knife.  Combine flours and next 6 ingredients (through salt).  Combine buttermilk and egg; add to flour mixture.  Stir just until combined.

Spoon the mixture into prepared pan. Bake at 325° for 1 hour and 5 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean.  Invert bread onto a wire rack; cool completely.  Slice bread into 12 slices.

Don’t forget to wear green on the 17th!

P.S. to Lovely Daughter, I know this is your favorite holiday; enjoy sweetie!


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