Monday, February 28, 2011

This past weekend was supposed to be our weekend away. To Clinton, Iowa for a wedding, or so we thought.  Our bags were packed, my hair was curled but we weren't going anywhere. Oh, but as that old saying goes, "the best laid plans of mice and men often go astray."

Koa, our 10 year old golden retriever was sick. Not just sick, but bleeding internally; the tumor on his spleen had ruptured and needed to be removed, STAT! My heart sank, my stomach flipped and my head raced. What do we do? Where do go? Will he live? Oh, hell!

Well, the what we do and where we go involved surgery at the local animal hospital. Will he live, well he is right now and that is all that matters.

After a day or so of having him home, and a day or so of processing what happened, here's what I need to share. My only hope is that you can relate to it, find comfort in it, or just read it! 

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Pork Roast Recipe, as promised!

As I mentioned in mt last post I made a to-die-for pork roast last week. Scott picked up the roast but left it up to me to decide what to do with it. Having never prepared this cut of meat before I scoured my cookbooks, looking for a recipe that I had all of the ingredients for in the pantry. What I landed on was the recipe for "Father Tim's Mother's Pork Roast" from Jan Karon's Mitford Cookbook. One thing I didn't have at home was bourbon but I was able to find a half full bottle of brandy hiding in the liquor cabinet. The original recipe also called for a boneless Boston butt pork roast, but I much prefer cooking meat yet remaining on the bone (much richer flavors result from meat cooked on the bone) and I didn't have a boneless but roast at home!

The roast was a cinch to prepare, took hardly any effort at all, and literally fell off the bone when we attempted to slice it. We each enjoyed a serving of pork with baked potatoes, all smothered in the heavenly pan gravy on the night it was first prepared. John even made an over-the-top open face sandwich with the leftovers a day or so later; a couple of slices of beer bread (from a couple posts back) with a generous heap of pork in between, all covered with gravy. This is going to become a new standard for family dinner night at our house.

Pork Rib Roast
Oven: 300°F
Prep time: approx. 30 minutes (don't worry, it's an easy 30 minutes!)
Cook time: 5 hours

  • 2 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 1 tbsp all-purpose flour
  • 1 (3.5 - 4 pound) bone-in pork rib roast (should look like the pork in photo)
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh sage leaves (or 3 tbsps dried)
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh rosemary leaves (or 3 tbsps dried)
  • 1/4 cup choped fresh thyme leaves (or 2 tbsps if dried)
  • 10 cloves garlic
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 3 tbsp bourbon or brandy
  • 2 tbsp unsulted butter, softnened
  • 3 to 4 cups chicken stock
  • an additional 2 tbsp all-purpose flour
  • Cast iron Dutch oven (4qt or larger) 
    • this one of my favorites at home right now ->
    • Mario Batali 4 quart Dutch oven (we have two for sale at Wisconsin Cutllery, one orange, one green) 
  • Large tongs
  • Large plate/serving dish
  • Food processor
  • Baster
  1. Preheat oven to 300°F. Place the oil in a heavy Dutch oven over medium-high heat.
  2. Rub the flour over the meat and place in the dutch oven. Brown all of the sides of the meat, about 5 minutes on each side. Remove the pork from the Dutch oven and set aside.
  3. Place the sage, rosemary, thyme, garlic, salt, bourbon, and butter in the bowl of food processor. Puree until smooth. Rub the herb paste all over the pork roast. Return the pork to the Dutch oven. Pour 3 cups of the chicken stock around the pork, cover, and place in the oven. Cook for 5 hours, checking the meat after 3 hours and adding another cup of stock if the sauce looks too dry. (After 3 hours I had plenty of liquid remaining, but used a baster to run liquid over pork to moisten.)
  4. Remove from the oven, transfer roast to serving dish and let rest for 15 minutes before slicing. Meanwhile add remaining flour to liqiuid in dutch oven and stir over medium heat until gravy thickens. Slice roast (if it doesn’t fall apart completely) and serve with gravy.
Sorry, no photos of the final product. Oh well, if you make it, post a photo of yours and we'll all drool over your version of the roast!

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

From Valerie's Kitchen - Rolled Almond Cookies

This past week I had the pleasure of spending a day at home with my 3 year old. We completed puzzles, worked on crafts and played with Legos. He took a nap, the dogs ran circles round the yard enjoying a warm February day, and I got lost in food, again! 

The item that consumed the most oven hours was the pork rib roast; a dish I winged with some inspiration from a recipe for pork roast I found in  Jan Karon's Mitford Cookbook. (Super yummy ... maybe if I get a free moment tomorrow I will post the recipe. No photos, though, it didn't last!)

The item that brought the most smiles to my families faces and assembled in a cinch was the scrumptious little heart cookies that Bodie and I made. Below you'll find their recipe, found in the Cookie and Biscuit Bible which I received a couple years back as a gift. Next time you're wanting to make cookie cutter cookies, try these, and share the joy!

Rolled Almond Cookies
Makes 24
  • ½ cup butter, softened
  • ¼ cup superfine/baker’s sugar
  • 1 tbsp ground almonds
  • 1 ¾ cups all-purpose flour
  • 2tbsp cornstarch
  • 2 baking sheets
  • baking parchment or silicone baking sheet (if not greasing pans)
  • Whisk
  • 1 Large mixing bowl, 1-2 small mixing bowls
  • Sifter
  • Wooden spoon
  • Plastic wrap
  • Rolling Pin
  • Flour to dust work surface
  • 2 ½ in. fluted round cookie cutter (or any cookie cutter of roughly the same size ... I used a heart)
  • Palette knife or metal spatula
  • Cooling rack
  • 12oz. Squeeze bottle

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Lightly grease two baking sheets or line them with baking parchment/silicone baking sheet. Beat the butter and sugar together until creamy in large mixing bowl. Gradually add the egg, beating well after each addition, then beat in the almonds. Sift over the flour and cornstarch and mix to a soft dough.
  2. Lightly knead the dough on a floured surface for a few seconds until smooth. Do not overwork the dough or the butter will start to melt and the gluten will “develop”, giving the cookies a tough texture.
  3. Shape the dough into a ball then flatten slightly into a round. Wrap in plastic wrap to prevent the dough from drying out and chill for about 30 minutes, or until firm but not too stiff to roll. (If you are making a large quantity of dough, divide it into pieces so you will be able to handle it more easily when rolling.
  4. On a floured surface, roll out the dough lightly and evenly in one direction to a thickness of about ⅛ in.
  5. Stamp out 2 ½ in. rounds using a fluted cookie cutter. Gather up the scraps and re-roll to stamp out more cookies.
  6. Transfer the cookies to the prepared baking sheets using a palette knife or metal spatula. Rolled cookies shouldn't spread as much as drop cookies during baking, but you should still leave at least 1” between each cookie. Chill the cookies for at least 30 minutes before baking them, as this will help them to retain their shape.
  7. Bake for 10 minutes until the cookies are a pale golden brown, making sure you rotate the baking sheets halfway through the cooking time. Remove the cookies from the oven and leave on the baking sheets for 2-3 minutes. Transfer the cookies to a wire rack using a metal spatula to allow them to finish cooling.
  8. Decorate with royal icing (recipe to follow) after cookies have cooled to room temperature.

Royal Icing 
(this icing sets hard to give a beautiful finish - great for piping designs/words on cookies)
Covers up to 30 cookies

  • 1 egg white, at room temperature
  • 2 cups confectioners sugar, sifted, plus extra if necessary
  • food coloring, if desired

  • Beat the egg white and a couple of drops of food coloring, if using, for a few seconds with a fork. Mix in the confectioners sugar a little at a time until the mixture stands in stiff peaks. Transfer to squeeze bottle or pastry bag with tip. Decorate cookies as desired. Leave to set.

~ Enjoy!

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Our weekly bread

For the past two years now I've been lucky enough to have the ability to bake my own bread each week. At first it was out of necessity; it's a lot cheaper to bake amazing, healthy bread then it is to buy healthy, high-quality bread. Now it's out of the love of baking; the rewarding feeling that comes from sharing my hand-made, home-baked loaves and the joy of baking with others (especially my son) is unmatched.


I take one (or two) days each week and dedicate their theme to baking two to six loaves of bread for my family. Some weeks  are busy and I revert to my impossible-to-fail "Amish white bread" recipe. Other weeks are more relaxed and I put a bit more time and love into my loaves and bake the amazing Rustic Italian Loaf from Cooks Illustrated (worth every moment of it's creation!).


This past week was one of my busier weeks; my boss was out of town for 9 days, leaving myself and a couple of gracious part-timers to run the store. *My one day away from the store was spent running two cars around town for servicing with my amazingly tolerant toddler, with the hope of baking bread sometime before midnight. *(whine.)


We finally made it back to the house around 3pm and I was, at last,  able to start baking. Since we didn't have plans for the remainder of the day, I decided to hunt through my cookbooks to find a new bread recipe. What I landed on was a recipe for "Best-Ever Beer Bread" from Something Special From Wisconsin, 1987. Since I have a tendency to alter recipes and I wanted  a little bit firmer, heavier loaf, I chose to add quick oats and used a bit of honey to reduce the amount of cane sugar involved. From start to finish, the bread took right about 4 hours to complete. Try my recipe for the Improved "Best-Ever Beer Bread" and you too could be enjoying a crusty, warm slice of bread with butter for breakfast.


Improved Best-Ever Beer Bread
Based on a recipe from “Something Special From Wisconsin”, circa 1987

  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 (12 oz) can beer (I'm sad to admit I used Budwiser)
  • 3 tablespoons oil
  • 4 to 5 cups flour, divided
  • 1  cup quick oats
  • 2 packages dry yeast
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 1 egg, beaten (for washing loaves before baking)
  • 1/4 cup quick oats (for topping loaves)

  • Medium Sauce Pan
  • Stove
  • Stand mixer with dough hook
  • Large mixing bowl
  • Flexible bowl scraper
  • Two 9"x5" bread pans (I'm a HUGE fan of pyrex bread pans)
  • Bakers knife
  • Plastic wrap
  • Oven

  1. Combine water, beer and oil in saucepan: heat to 120 to 130 degrees. Set aside. 
  2. Combine 2 cups flour, 1 cup oats, yeast, sugar and salt in bowl of stand mixer. Add beer mixture and honey. Beat 5 minutes on speed 2 of mixer. Stir in enough remaining flour to make a soft dough. 
  3. Turn dough out on floured surface; knead until smooth and elastic, about 8-10 minutes. Place in greased bowl, turning to grease top. Cover and let rise in warm place, free from drafts, until doubled in bulk, about 1 hour. 
  4. Punch dough down; divide in half with bowl scraper. Shape each half into a loaf, place in 2 greased 9x 5 loaf pans. Cover and let rise in a warm place 45 minutes or until doubled. 
  5. Brush with egg, then sprinkle with remaining oats. Using a bakers knife, cut 3 slices in top of loaf no more then 1/3" deep.
  6. Bake in a preheated 375 degree oven for 30 to 35 minutes or until loaves sound hollow when tapped and have a nice golden brown color on top.
  7. Slice and eat warm, if possible.

    Monday, February 7, 2011

    Super Sunday Snacks

    Well, yesterday marked the day of Super Bowl XLV. Being the Wisconsinite that I am, and a "bit" of a Packer Fan, it was sort of an important day. What better way to celebrate then by eating some SUPER sinful, Super Sunday Snacks?

    I was stuck at work all day and wasn't able to cook but was delighted by the smell of the house when I got home. John had just finished making a batch of bacon wrapped water chestnuts and I had not yet a decent meal.  I made sure to sample one for quality control purposes and then put them out of my mind until the game started. Once the balls started flying and the helmets started smacking, we reheated the chestnuts, mixed some brandy & cokes, and enjoyed our snacks while watching the Packers kick A*@.

    After an amzing dinner of rib-eye steaks and couscous and an even sweeter Packer's victory, we got to enjoy our appetizer as a completely over the top, yet amazingly tasty dessert (sure to win the heart and stomach of any man). So print out this recipe and enjoy at your next soiree. And really, don't be afraid of the chocolate covered ones ...

    *See that hand of cards ... yep, I had the winning hand at the end of the game!

    bacon wrapped water chestnuts

    • 3 cans of water chestnuts
    • 1/2 lb. thick cut hickory smoked bacon
    • 1/2 cup soy sauce
    • 1/4 cup Worcestershire sauce
    • 1/2 cup brown sugar
    • 1 tsp cayenne pepper
    • Zest of one orange
    • (sriracha if desired, to taste, for heat)

    • chef knife
    • toothpicks (40-50)
    • 2 9”x13” pyrex casserole dish
    • oven (350° F)
    • Medium mixing bowl
    • Balloon whisk
    • Tongs
    • Large Serving Dish

    1. Cut strips of bacon into thirds or strips long enough to completely wrap one chestnut. Wrap chestnuts and secure bacon with toothpicks. Arrange in one casserole dish.
    2. Bake for 30-35 minutes in a 350 degree oven. Meanwhile, mix remaining ingredients in mixing bowl, making sure sugar is dissolved and mixture has a smooth consistency.
    3. After 35 minutes of baking, remove from oven and transfer chestnuts to second casserole dish.
    4. Pour liquid mixture over chestnuts and return to oven for another 15-20 minutes.
    5. Remove from oven and transfer to serving dish. Serve hot.

    helpful travel tip:
    If taking these tasty treats on the road to your next fiesta ..
    Complete steps number 1 - 3 at home. Pack up casserole in thermal travel bag, bringing sauce along in mason jar (shake before pouring over chestnuts), tongs, and your serving dish. Complete steps number 4 and 5 at their place, serving hot and watching as they drool.

    Feeling Adventurous? (This is stinkin’ delicious, by the way!)
    chocolate covered bacon wrapped water chestnuts
    • 1/2 cup semisweet chocolate chips
    • 6 baked bacon wrapped water chestnuts cooked until fully crisped (requires an additional 10 minutes baking time, flipping chestnuts halfway through that time.)

    1. Fill a medium saucepan 1/3 of the way up with water and begin to bring to a boil. Place a stainless steel or heat resistant mixing bowl in the saucepan, warm chocolate until melted. (Option, use a double boiler to melt chocolate.)
    2. Once chocolate has melted, using dipping tool, dunk crisped chestnuts in chocolate and cover as much of the surface as possible. Place on wax paper lined cookie sheet. Repeat until each one is dunked.  Pour remaining chocolate on top of each chestnut to completely cover surface.
    3. Chill chestnuts at least a half hour in the freezer (if you can wait that long) to allow chocolate to set.
    4. Serve cold and enjoy the decadence!

    Sunday, February 6, 2011

    Kitchen Comfort

    February in Wisconsin can lead people in all different directions. Some people get cabin fever and head to the hills to launch themselves downward with a couple of fancy 2x4's strapped to their feet, or to the lake to freeze their tuckus while praying a fish bites. Some folks head to the kitchen, cooking vats of chili and baking dozens of loaves of bread. Others suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder and keep quiet until the light and warmth of Spring lift their spirits. I, unfortunately, fall somewhere in between all three. But no matter what time of year, no matter what my mental state, nothing picks me up quicker then a few minutes of tinkering in the kitchen.

    This past week we had one heck of a blizzard dumped on us in Madison, with 18+" of snow falling over two days (into a city that was already loaded with snow). Rather then wasting the day away on the couch, I cooked. I roasted a pumpkin and made a new version of pumpkin soup, surprised myself with a no-recipe, no-clue cheesecake, and made the most to-die-for shredded chicken (recipe & photos to come ASAP). By Thursday afternoon we had so many tasty snacks around the house I hardly knew what to do with it all! Fortunately, I have friends that are usually very willing recipients of any food surplus I might have. The best part of all was that my 3-year-old offered to do the dishes for me on Friday. Bless his little heart!

    No matter your age or skill level, I hope that cooking brings you the same joy it brings to me.

    Oh heck, if nothing else come over and sit in the kitchen with me while I cook. We can scheme about what we'll do in the more pleasant months to come and enjoy the comfort of my warm kitchen.