Sunday, April 20, 2014

Koulouria (Greek Easter Cookies)


Back when I had my first job, my first real, full time, not-Christmas-help-in-the-cosmetics-department job, I met a Greek man with a wonderful cookie recipe. Each year at Easter, he and his wife would bake up a huge batch of these and distribute them to everyone in the department. Because they looked rather plain, my expectations were low, but overwhelmed by his sincerity, I tasted one.  Proof positive that one cannot judge a book by its cover or a cookie by its rather simple appearance, these cookies were addicting. They are also very special, not just because they came from a friend in whose family they had been a long tradition, but for the way, through delicious food, they can illustrate the true meaning of Easter. The shapes of these cookies, you see, are to represent the crown of thorns and nails used in the crucifixion.  

This recipe makes a huge batch, but it is considered good luck to receive them, so you will want to share them with all of your friends. 

Koulouria
(Greek Easter Cookies)

1 pound unsalted butter
1 cup Crisco
6 eggs
4 cups granulated sugar
1 Tablespoon vanilla
4 teaspoons baking powder
Dash salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
Juice of one orange
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup whole milk
14-15 cups flour

1 egg
1 Tablespoon water

Preheat oven to 350°F.

In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, whip together butter and Crisco. In a separate bowl, whisk together eggs and sugar until thick and lemon colored. Whisk in vanilla. Combine egg mixture with shortening mixture and beat to blend. Blend in baking powder, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg. 

Mix baking soda into orange juice and add all at once to above mixture. Add milk and blend together on low speed. With mixer still running on low speed, add flour slowly. Continue adding flour until dough is soft and pliable and doesn't stick to your hands. 

Empty dough onto work surface. To shape, pinch off walnut-size pieces and roll into a rope about 5" long and as big around as your finger. Shape into crowns, thorns, or nails. 

Whisk together egg and water to make egg wash. 

Place shaped cookies onto ungreased cookie sheets and brush with egg wash. Bake about 25-30 minutes or until light golden brown. 

Note: This recipe can easily be halved, or if you are rather clever with math, cut by thirds.  The dough can be made ahead of baking up to two days prior. The dough freezes well if you find yourself overwhelmed with cookie baking.

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Thursday, April 17, 2014

A Simple Bunny Table

 Do you ever outsmart yourself?  I do it all of the time. Take last year, for example.  I shopped at Pier 1 after Easter, and was quite chuffed at coming away with a plethora of amazing things. When I packed them away for this year, so excited at the prospect of a truly smashing table, I told myself to be sure to remember where I had put everything, and creating a table setting would be a breeze. Huh. I wonder where I told myself that was.  This year, all I could find were turkeys and pilgrims. I have no clue where I put the darling bunny basket, or the matching bunnies, the bunny ear napkin rings, or egg cups, or rabbit plates, or anything else. Nothing. Nada. 

So, it was quite a scramble to make use of what I had to come up with something even remotely seasonal. What this proves, of course, is that if I can create an Easter table from nothing, so can you. So get started!
Yes, this is a centerpiece that I use a lot, but that just goes to show how versatile a thing like this is.
 
The bunny tins I purchased years ago with the idea of filling them with grass, eggs, peeps, and chocolate bunnies, and putting them at each place setting.  ThenI lost them.  Amazingly I did find them this year, but only three, so they will just have to content themselves with peeking out between the spring grasses. 
I went crazy over these cute little cages at Michael’s.  I can picture using them all summer with nests and eggs, baby birds, and butterflies.  I couldn’t resist pressing them into service here with peeps inside. 
As you know, I’m madly in love with these black polka dot plates.  You’ve seen them here and here.  I wasn’t sure whether I liked them with this setting, so went with the Lotus plates. 
The napkin fold is a cinch.  Susan at Between Naps on the Porch has a great tutorial here.

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Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Egg Brunch Casserole

 I make no apologies for liking casseroles.  In fact, I love them, always have.  There is something both homey and mysterious about digging into a piping hot dish of ingredients that I find so soul soothing and satisfying.  The make-ahead aspect is another plus.  Being able to assemble a dish hours prior to baking or, in some cases, the day before, make these okay in my book.  I like main dish casseroles, lunch casseroles, and vegetable casseroles.  This recipe was one that my mother used to make for holiday brunches.  She used to host both Christmas and Easter brunches, the Christmas brunch she hosted for more than fifty years.  Imagine!  She made this recipe with chopped green pepper and crumbled bacon.  I make mine with spicy bulk sausage and roasted red peppers.  That’s the beauty of a casserole.  You can pretty much layer anything that you like, pour an egg mixture on top and bake it, and you have a nice meal.

Egg Brunch Casserole

½ package spicy bulk sausage (I used Bob Evans)
2 Tablespoons butter, melted
2 cups croutons
1 cup grated sharp Cheddar cheese
3 extra-large eggs
1 cup milk
1-1/2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
¼ cup roasted red bell peppers, diced (I used Melissa’s)

Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 325°F.

Place sausage in a large, deep skillet. Cook over medium high heat, breaking up with a fork, until evenly brown. Drain, crumble and set aside.

Spray an 8 x 8 square baking dish with vegetable spray. Melt butter in a small dish in the microwave. Place croutons in the bottom of the dish, and drizzle with melted butter. Sprinkle with grated Cheddar cheese.

Crack the eggs into a bowl, whisking to break up the yolks. Continue to whisk while you add the milk, mustard, salt, and pepper. Pour mixture over the croutons and cheese, sprinkle with sausage, and dot with peppers.  Press mixture down into the dish.
At this point it can be covered and refrigerated overnight.  Otherwise, bake in the preheated oven for 35-40 minutes. Remove from oven and allow to stand 10 minutes before serving.

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Monday, April 14, 2014

“Everything” Rolls

 

I have a new best friend. Would you like me to tell you who (actually what) it is?  Because when I do, it will become your new best friend as well. Are you ready?  Okay...my new best friend is Rhodes Frozen Bread Dough. No, they are not paying me to say this. I am saying this because it is absolutely 100% true.

I was introduced to frozen bread dough by the good people at Celebrate Magazine, the only magazine, by the way, that I subscribe to in paper form. I keep each issue, and reread them year after year. The pages are dog-eared and worn, the recipes spattered, but my issues can feel the love.

In the current (March/April) issue I found a recipe for Everything Rolls.  Mr. O-P and I are quite the fans of the Everything Bagel, so this recipe caught my eye. I, as you know, am a fond lover of homemade rolls, so when I saw this called for frozen bread dough I initially balked. What if someone finds out?  I asked myself. Would I lose all credibility?  How will they taste?  Will it be obvious that I cheated and used frozen dough?  Well, let me tell you, no one will know from the look and taste of these delicious rolls that you didn't labor over them yourself. They are fresh, chewy, flavorful, and with a bakery shop texture that will have you hiding the package and bragging to your guests.


In short, both recipe and dough are superb! First of all, look at them.  Are they beautiful, or what?  They also look like work. They aren't. Thaw the dough, flatten, brush with butter, sprinkle with goodness, roll and bake. Then step aside for the stampede. Mr. O-P asked if he could try one. Sure, I told him, as I prepared to photograph them for the blog. By the time I had turned around he had not only tasted them, but he had eaten two rolls!  Yep, this recipe is a keeper.


Here is the recipe as it appears in the magazine (you're going to have to buy the issue for the other great recipes), my alterations follow.

Everything Rolls

4 teaspoons white sesame seeds
4 teaspoons grated Parmesan cheese
4 teaspoons granulated garlic
4 teaspoons yellow cornmeal
4 teaspoons poppy seeds
1/2 cup butter, melted
1 (1-pound loaf) frozen bread dough, thawed

Spray 18 muffin cups with cooking spray.

In a small bowl combine sesame seeds and next 5 ingredients.  In a separate small bowl, place melted butter.

On a lightly floured surface, roll dough into a 12" square.  Using a pastry brush, brush dough with half of melted butter. Sprinkle seed mixture over dough.  Roll up dough, jelly-roll style, pressing seam to seal. Cut into 18 slices. Place slices in each prepared muffin cup.  Brush rolls with remaining butter. Let stand in a warm (85 degree) draft-free place for 45 minutes, or until doubled in size.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Bake for 20 minutes until golden brown. Serve immediately.

My notes: I didn't have enough sesame seeds so used only a tablespoon. I like Parmesan cheese so used 2 tablespoons.  I used Rhodes brand Frozen Bread Dough.  Only my jumbo muffin tins were handy, so I cut the dough in 2" pieces, pushing them up from the bottom to make them crown, and so my yield was 9 large rolls. It took about 1-1/2 hours for them to raise to the height that I wanted. 

Divine!


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Saturday, April 12, 2014

Cookies and Coffee

 If you've ever struggled to come up with a clever sweet to serve at a ladies coffee, how about stamped shortbread cookies?  Your guests will be delighted to see these clever, whimsical, and delicious cookies plated and set with the coffee things. Food is all about taste and fun, and these are guaranteed to please on both counts.
 I have found a kindred spirit in Monique from the La Table de Nana blog. She seems to love cookie stamps as much as I do, the only difference is that she actually does something with hers whereas I generally just smile and admire mine. Encouraged by her continued and successful use, I bought a Chinese Moon Cake mold with the Starbucks logo off of eBay.  I am an avid fan of Starbucks, so much so that when I drive up to the window the barista looks at me and says, Oh, it's you!  I never know quite how to take that, but I'm hoping he means it in a positive way. 
The recipe that I used for the cookies is an adapted version of  Ina Garten's shortbread. It is a personal favorite because it rolls and cuts like a dream, and tastes buttery and delicious. It took a bit of pressure to leave a deep impression, but overall I was very pleased with the results. (The cookies that yielded less than perfect results, we just had to eat. Immediately.)

Ina’s Shortbread

1-1/2 sticks unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1-3/4 cups flour
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together the butter and sugar until just combined. Add the vanilla. In a medium bowl, sift together the flour and salt; then slowly add the dry ingredients to the butter-and-sugar mixture. Mix on low speed until the dough starts to come together. Dump onto a surface dusted with flour and roll shape into a flat disk. Wrap in plastic and chill for 30 minutes.

Roll the dough 1/2-inch thick and impress design into dough, rocking mold back and forth ever so slightly.  After image has been pressed into the dough to your satisfaction, cut out with a 3 round biscuit cutter. Place the cookies on an ungreased sheet.  Freeze for 30 minutes to an hour.

Preheat the oven to 350°F.

Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until the edges begin to brown. Allow to cool to room temperature.

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