I get excited about food this time of year. Since the first hint of fall temperatures, I’ve been craving soups and breads and all sorts of warm, savory, and sweet things. In the spirit of the eatingest of all seasons, I wanted to share some of my all-time favorite recipes with you, as well as a few new ones that became regulars for our family this year.
I am not an experienced bread maker, and these are two recipes that have never failed for me. The first one has been enjoyed for at least three generations in my family, and it may be my husband’s absolute favorite thing that I make.
Ingredients (in order of appearance):1 c. All-Bran cereal 1/2 c. vegetable shortening 1/4 c. sugar 1 tsp. salt 1/2 c. boiling water 1 egg, beaten 1/2 c. warm water 1 packet dry yeast 2 1/2 c. all-purpose flour 1/2 tsp. baking powder 1/4 tsp. baking soda
1. In large bowl, place All-Bran, shortening, sugar, and salt. Pour boiling water over ingredients, stir, and cool to lukewarm.
2. Add egg, warm water, and yeast.
3. In a separate bowl, sift together flour, powder, and soda. Add flour mixture to All-Bran mixture and mix well. Cover and let rise until double.
5. Place rolls in pan touching shoulder to shoulder and front to back. (I use a 9 x 13, but the rolls only take up about 1/2 the pan.) Bake at 425° for 10 minutes. Then butter ‘em up! (Don’t hold back — it helps to balance out all that silly nutrition from the All-Bran.)
I found this recipe for focaccia bread on allrecipes.com a few months ago, adapted it a smidge, and watched it disappear before my eyes within minutes of baking it. It’s herby and cheesy and perfect with all sorts of soups and entrees. And start to finish, it takes less than an hour to make. This one will be hanging around for the long term.
Ingredients:2 3/4 c. all-purpose flour 2 tsp. salt 1 tsp. sugar 1 T. active dry yeast (or 1 packet) 1 tsp. dried rosemary 1 tsp. dried oregano 1 tsp. dried thyme 1/2 tsp. dried basil 1 pinch ground black pepper 1 T. vegetable oil 1 c. water 2 T. olive oil 1 T. grated Parmesan cheese 1 c. mozzarella
1. In a large bowl, stir together the flour, salt, sugar, yeast, herbs, and pepper. Mix in the vegetable oil and water.
2. When the dough has pulled together, turn it out onto a lightly floured surface, and knead until smooth and elastic. Lightly oil a large bowl, place the dough in the bowl, and turn to coat with oil. Cover with a damp cloth and let rise in a warm place for 20 minutes.
3. Preheat oven to 450°. Punch dough down; place on greased baking sheet. Pat into a 1/2-inch thick rectangle (ovals work too). Brush top with olive oil.
4. Bake for 10 minutes. Remove from oven and sprinkle with Parmesan and mozzarella cheese. Bake 5 more minutes, or until golden brown.
This first soup is one I found in a crock pot cookbook a few years ago, and I’ve made it several times each winter since. Even my 5-year-old, a self-proclaimed tomato hater, loves this soup (especially when there’s fresh focaccia bread to dip in it).
Roast Tomato-Basil Soup
1. Preheat oven to 450°. Line baking sheet with foil. Arrange tomatoes on foil in single layer. Sprinkle with brown sugar. Bake 25 to 30 minutes or until tomatoes look dry and light brown. (For some reason, mine always still look red.) Let tomatoes cool slightly. Finely chop.
2. Place tomato mixture, onion, reserved tomato liquid, chicken broth, tomato paste, and allspice in 3 1/2 – 5 qt. crock pot. Mix well. Cover. Cook on LOW 8 hours or on HIGH 4 hours.
3. Add evaporated milk and basil. Season with salt and pepper. Cook on HIGH 30 minutes or until hot.
This one came along a couple of months ago, thanks to my friend Rebecca Reynolds. It was one of those throw-in-whatever-you’ve-got recipes that turned out pretty darn great.
Ingredients:4 Bratwurst (I’ve also used Bratwurst patties) 1 stalk of celery, chopped (nothing wrong with using more) Big handful of mini carrots, chopped 7-8 big mushrooms, diced 2 cans of cannellini beans, drained (I’ve also used Great Northern) 2 small cans diced tomatoes, one with garlic/herb 1 tsp. beef base a little water (about 2 cans-worth) 1/3 c. crumbled feta 1/2 huge box of spinach
1. Steam brats. Chop.
2. Add celery, carrots, mushrooms, beans, tomatoes, beef base, and water.
3. Boil a little (or a lot, depending on how crisp you like your veggies).
4. Add feta and spinach. Steam just a second. Mix.
And in case you’re a novice like me, I looked up instructions for how to steam brats:
First, poke some holes in the brats so they don’t explode. Put them in a pan with about 1/2 inch of water. Cover and cook on medium heat until all the water evaporates. Remove lid and cook for a couple of minutes on each side until they get nice and brown.
As much as I would love to be the kind of mom who makes everything from scratch and never feeds any processed foods to her family, I don’t have that kind of time or money. But here are two terrifically easy made-from-scratch recipes that even I can do. It feels pretty good to eat something and know exactly what’s in it. And it doesn’t hurt if it’s yummy, too.
I got this granola recipe from Gina Smith, who got it here. It’s a very basic recipe that you can adapt about a zillion ways. We’ve added nuts, maple syrup, raisins, etc. I make mini batches of it lots of mornings to eat with fruit and yogurt. YUM.
No-Bake Granola Bars
Ingredients:1/4 c. butter 1/4 c. honey 1/3 c. packed brown sugar 2 c. quick oats 1 c. crispy rice cereal 1/2 tsp. vanilla 2 Tbsp. mini chocolate chips (opt)
1. In a large bowl, stir oats and rice cereal together. Add anything other dry ingredients you want (nuts and whatnot). Set aside.
2. In a small pot, melt butter, honey, and brown sugar together over medium-high heat until it comes to a bubble. Reduce heat and cook 2 minutes. Pour in vanilla and stir.
3. Pour melted mixture over dry ingredients and mix well to moisten all ingredients. Serve as a cereal, or with yogurt, or keep reading to make into bars.
4. Pour into lightly greased small jelly roll pan (or really, any pan with sides) and press out to about 3/4-inch thickness. If your pan is too big, just mash everything to one side. Press, mash, pack, and cram into the densest little granola brick your she-muscles will allow. Sprinkle with chocolate chips and press down lightly.
5. Cool on a countertop for 2 hours before cutting into bars. Wrap in parchment or plastic wrap and store at room temperature. And it’s not going to hurt one little bit if they manage to get themselves dipped in chocolate on the way to being wrapped.
This recipe for homemade pancake mix also came by way of Gina Smith, who got it here. It’s super healthy, super easy, and frequently requested by all members of the Ramsey family.
Ingredients:3 1/2 c. quick oats 3 c. whole wheat flour (you still get rock-star mom points for using white whole wheat) 2 c. all-purpose flour 3 T. sugar 3 T. baking powder 1 T. salt 1 T. baking soda 1 c. vegetable or canola oil
1. Mix all dry ingredients together. (I recommend whizzing the oats in a food processor first for smoother texture, especially if these pancakes will be sliding down little-people gullets.)
2. Drizzle oil into the bowl slowly as you stir. After mixing well, squeeze a clump of mix in your hand. If it stays together, it’s just right. If it is still crumbly, add more oil a tablespoon at a time until consistency is correct. This has never happened to me.
3. Store in an airtight container for up to two weeks at room temperature or indefinitely in the refrigerator or freezer. If you add a preservative, I guess you can store it even longer than indefinitely.
To make pancakes:
Whisk together 1 cup of mix, 1 cup of buttermilk, and 1 egg. Let it stand a few minutes while your griddle preheats, and it will thicken a bit. If you want to be festive, replace the 1 c. of buttermilk with 1/2 c. of buttermilk and 1/2 c. of pumpkin puree. And throw in a little shake of cinnamon. Or chocolate chips.
Now we’re getting around to the main event. For a lot of people, bread pudding is one of those classic cold-weather desserts that is more than just warm and delicious — it’s comfort and gladness in a bowl. Well, if you know me, I can find an excuse to work chocolate into just about anything. Grant and I experienced a chocolate bread pudding one Valentine’s Day that we just could not get over. So I started looking around for recipes and found this one by Paula Deen. But I modified it a little, because she actually expected me to put chocolate and cinnamon in the same pan together. Don’t mess with my chocolate, woman.
Chocolate Bread Pudding
Ingredients:1 (1-lb.) loaf day-old French bread, cubed 3 c. milk 1/4 c. heavy cream 1/2 c. coffee-flavored liqueur, such as Kahlua (I use Kamora) 1 c. sugar 1 c. packed light brown sugar 1/4 c. cocoa powder 1 T. vanilla extract 6 eggs, lightly beaten 8 oz. miniature semi-sweet chocolate chips
1. Lightly grease a 13 x 9 dish and place cubed bread in the dish.
2. In a large bowl, whisk together milk, cream, and liqueur.
3. Using another bowl, combine sugar, brown sugar, and cocoa powder and mix well. Add the sugar mixture to the milk mixture and mix well.
4. Add vanilla extract to beaten eggs. Combine the egg and milk mixtures and mix well. Stir in chocolate chips.
5. Pour the mixture over cubed bread. Let mixture stand, stirring occasionally, for approximately 20 minutes or until bread absorbs most of the pudding.
Last year was the first time in my adult life that I made sugar cookies. I found this recipe online somewhere, submitted by someone. I have no idea who or where. And it’s a shame, because I really should give credit for a recipe this AWESOME. I think I made 5 batches of these last year, which is 10 dozen. They were devoured by our neighbors, our kids, and partygoers all over Southern Indiana. So thank you, Jane Dough, for some Christmas cookies that knocked our stockings off. (Puns are fun!)
Old-Fashioned Sugar Cookies
Ingredients:3 c. sifted all-purpose flour 1 1/2 tsp. baking powder 1/2 tsp. salt 1 c. sugar 1 c. butter, softened at room temperature 1 egg, lightly beaten and at room temperature 3 T. half-and-half 2 tsp. vanilla extract
1. Sift together flour, baking powder, sugar, and salt.
2. Cut in butter and blend with a pastry blender until mixture is crumbly (um, I just used a fork).
3. With a fork, stir in lightly beaten egg, vanilla, and half-and-half. Blend well with fork, then with your hands. Chill dough for one hour for easier rolling.
4. On a floured surface, roll out dough to 1/4-inch thickness (not too thin!). Cut into shapes.
5. Place on baking sheet covered with parchment paper. (YES to the parchment paper. My life will never be the same.) Bake at 400° for 6-7 minutes or until lightly brown.
This recipe also freezes well for up to 4 weeks, as long as it is tightly wrapped.
Now, because I really wanted to be awesome at sugar cookies, I looked up some sure-fire tips for getting them right. They worked for me, so here they are:
- If you are rolling the dough to use cookie cutters, remember to keep the dough chilled. This might mean leaving half of it in the refrigerator while you work with the other half. As it warms it sticks to everything.
- The thinner you roll your dough, the crispier the cookie will be. Rolling the dough 1/4 inch thick will make them soft with just the right amount of crispness around the edge.
- Soften the butter at room temperature for an hour or two before mixing. Do not microwave butter to soften; it will soften unevenly.
- The eggs should also be at room temperature. Cold eggs can cause the batter to curdle.
- Halfway through the baking process, take a minute to rotate the baking sheet for even baking.
- If you’re making more than one batch, do not put the dough on hot cookie sheets. It will spread, and baking will be uneven.
- The brand of flour makes a difference. Gold Medal or Pillsbury flours are lower-protein. King Arthur is higher-protein, which produces slightly drier, cakier cookies.
And that, dear readers, should be enough carbs to get you through back-to-back marathons. Happy eating!