Asian Chicken Lettuce Wraps

I won't beat around the bush with all of you amazing moms out there.  My kids were horrified when I placed this in front of them and told them to eat it like a burrito.  My oldest son just kept asking why couldn't he put it in a tortilla and eat it like a real burrito?!?!  My four year old made a huge mess when she took a bite and it all fell apart in her lap.  Apparently none of them have had the pleasure of eating at PF Chang's and enjoying their amazing lettuce wraps!  These aren't as good as theirs but I think they would be much closer if they came with a dipping sauce like the restaurant offers.  I'm going to search around for a sauce recipe and try them again because they definitely have great potential and were really quick to throw together!

Asian Chicken Lettuce Wraps
from Cooks Country (June/July 2006)
1 head iceberg lettuce
3 Tb hoisin sauce
2 Tb soy sauce
2 Tb water
5 garlic cloves, minced
2 tsp fresh ginger, minced
2 tsp plus 2 Tb canola oil
1 pound ground chicken (or turkey)
salt and pepper
1 bell pepper, diced
8 oz can water chestnuts, drained and chopped fine
5 scallions, chopped

1.  Remove 8 large, bowl shaped leaves from head of lettuce.  Whisk hoisin, soy and water together in small bowl.  Combine garlic, ginger and 2 tsp of oil in small bowl.
2.  Heat 1 Tb oil in large skillet over medium high heat until just smoking.  Cook chicken, stirring to break up clumps until cooked through, about 3 minutes.  Season with salt and pepper and transfer to a bowl.
3.  Add remaining Tb of oil to skillet and heat until just smoking.  Add pepper, water chestnuts and scallions and cook until peppers soften, about 3 minutes.  Clear center of skillet, add garlic mixture and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds.  Add chicken and sauce.  Stir until thickened, about 30 seconds.  Spoon mixture into lettuce leaves and serve.

Strawberry Spinach Salad with Grilled Chicken

You would never guess by the amount of baking I have here on my blog, but I honestly work hard to feed my family a healthy and balanced array of meals during the week.  Obviously, with five children, those meals don't receive the same reception as a cheese pizza but that doesn't change my responsibility to be sure my children are healthy and strong.  I never force my children to eat what I have prepared.  It is completely their choice.  But in the Jones household, if you are going to have a treat or any other food after dinner, your plate must be clean.  A sure sign of my kids not liking what I have prepared is after the first bite, someone asking, "Are we having treat tonight?"  If the answer is yes, it is so amusing to watch them try to decide whether or not it is worth eating what is on their plate for a bit of dessert!
This salad is actually one that goes over extremely well as a main dish at my table.  There is a ton of fresh, healthy spinach under all there, but they don't mind one bit because of all the fruit, almonds and delicious dressing.  I also use this recipe as a side dish without the chicken.  The recipe makes a lot of dressing so either make less, or keep it in your fridge for the next time, which is what I do!

Strawberry Spinach Salad with Grilled Chicken
2 Tb sesame seeds
1 Tb poppy seeds
1/3 C granulated sugar
1/2 C extra virgin olive oil
1/4 C white vinegar
1/4 tsp paprika
1/4 tsp Worcestershire sauce
1 Tb minced onion

2-12 oz bags baby spinach
1 qt strawberries, sliced
1/2 C slivered almonds, toasted
1 can mandarin oranges, drained
2 large chicken breasts, seasoned, grilled and sliced

1.  In a medium bowl, whisk together all the dressing ingredients except for the olive oil.  Slowly drizzle in the olive oil while whisking the dressing.
2.  In a large bowl, dress the spinach with desired amount of dressing and toss to coat the leaves.  Plate the greens on each plate and top with remaining salad ingredients.

Raspberry Oatmeal Bars

We live in a great 100+ year old house which comes with many blessings and curses at the same time.  One of those blessings is an abundance of raspberry bushes that produce more berries every summer than I can honestly handle.  We eat our fair share of fresh berries, give much away and turn the rest into freezer jam.  My freezer door is completely full of delicious raspberry jam from years past and more will be coming in a few weeks!!  So when I saw this recipe, I knew it would be a great use of my overflowing abundance.  

These were amazingly simple (less than 15 minutes) and surprisingly delicious.  The bottom of the bar was wonderfully chewy while the topping was crumbly.   I really enjoyed the raspberry flavor, but I couldn't help but start writing down other fillings that would be just as wonderful:  apple, apricot, chocolate, caramel, nutella, fig, coconut......  Will post any new versions I try out!  I made a recipe and a half using a 9 x 13 pan.

Raspberry Oatmeal Bars
from The New Best Recipe
1 1/2 C flour
1 1/4 C oats
1/3 C granulated sugar
1/3 C light brown sugar
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 C finely chopped pecans or almonds
12 Tb unsalted butter, softened but still cool
1 C raspberry preserves (I would add a bit more next time)

1.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Spray 9 inch square pan with nonstick cooking spray.
2.  In your mixer with the whisk attachment, mix flour, oats, sugars, baking soda, salt and nuts on low until combined.  With the speed on low, add butter in pieces and continue to mix until your mixture resembles wet sand, about 2 minutes.
3.  Transfer two thirds of the oat mixture to the pan and press the crumbs evenly on the bottom.  Bake for 20 minutes, or until crust starts to brown.  Using a rubber spatula, spread the preserves evenly over the hot crust and sprinkle the remaining oat mixture evenly over the preserves.  Bake for another 30 minutes until golden brown.  Cool on a wire rack to room temperature, about 90 minutes.


Don't you just love when you are introduced to a new recipe and it is such a hit that it becomes part of your everyday menu?  Such is the case with this bread.  Last month, we had a wonderful visit with my sister and her family and she made us this bread for lunch.  My kids couldn't get enough so I've made it three times already since returning home.  This week we used it in paninis and it is absolutely wonderful.  It is completely versatile so mix in or sprinkle on your favorite herbs, seasonings or toppings.  This week I used grey sea salt, rosemary and fresh parmesan.  I think next time I'm going to knead in some olives or sun-dried tomatoes and see how it turns out.  The recipe calls for a boiled and mashed potato, but I have a ton of dehydrated potatoes in my emergency storage and they work just as well once you hydrate them.  I made a recipe and a half to fill a large jelly roll pan (13 x 18 inch).

1 medium baking potato, peeled and quartered
1 1/2 tsp yeast
3 1/2 C flour
1 C warm water
2 T olive oil, plus more for top
1 1/4 tsp salt

1.  Bring 1 qt water to a boil and add potato, simmer until tender, about 25 minutes.  Drain potato, cool and grate.  You need 1 1/3 C lightly packed potato.
2. Meanwhile in mixer, combine yeast, 1/2 C flour and 1/2 C warm water.  Cover tightly and set aside until bubbly, about 20 minutes.  Add remaining dough ingredients, including potato.  Knead until dough is smooth and elastic, about 5 minutes.  Let dough rise until double in volume, about 1 hour.
3.  With wet hands, press dough flat into an oiled 15 1/2 x 10 1/2 inch jelly roll pan.  Cover dough and allow to double in volume, about 45 minutes to an hour.
4.  Heat oven to 425 degrees.  With two wet fingers, dimple risen dough at regular intervals.  They should be deep to hold the olive oil and seasonings on top.  Drizzle the dough with olive oil and sprinkle desired seasonings on top.  I find the more generous on toppings, the better!
5.  Bake for 23-25 minutes until golden brown.  Allow to cool slightly and cut into squares.

Thick & Chewy Double Chocolate Mint Cookies

Let's talk about friends.  More specifically, friends that your children bring into your home.  I'm going to be honest here and tell you that most of those friends I'd like to take by the ear, escort them back out the door and politely instruct them to return once they have obtained at least one manner or form of politeness.  But then there are the exceptional friends that you pray will be around throughout your child's school years.  They are the perfect compliment to your child and a complete joy to have in your home.  My daughter Tori (13) has been blessed with such friend and today is Laura's birthday.  She is a part of our family and I wanted to bake her something to celebrate.  I gave her complete control over what she wanted and she chose these cookies and man, did she pick a winner!!!
I've been making similar cookies to these for years but they weren't anything near as good as these ones!  So if you have my old Chocolate Chocolate Chip cookie recipe, toss it and print out this one.  I added the Andes mint pieces on top but I can't wait to try them with toffee, M&M's, peanut butter chips, nuts, and anything else I can think of to mix in.  

Thick & Chewy Chocolate Mint Cookies
(makes 48 cookies)
2 C flour
1/2 C quality cocoa
2 t baking powder
1/2 t salt
16 oz quality semisweet chocolate, chopped
4 large eggs, room temperature
2 t vanilla
10 Tb unsalted butter, softened but still cool
1 1/2 C light brown sugar
1/2 C granulated sugar
1 C semi-sweet chocolate chips
1/2 bag Andes mint baking pieces

1.  Whisk together the flour, cocoa, baking powder and salt in a medium bowl.  Set aside
2.  Melt the chocolate in a microwave safe bowl at 50% power for 2 minutes, stir well then for another minute at 50%.
3.  In your mixer, beat the butter until smooth then beat in the sugars until combined.  The mixture will look granular.  Reduce the speed to low and mix in the eggs and vanilla until incorporated.  Add the chocolate in a steady stream and beat until combined.  Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl with a rubber spatula.  Add the dry ingredients and mix at low speed just until combined.  Do not overbeat.  Add chocolate chips.  Cover with plastic wrap and let stand at room temperature until consistency is scoopable and fudge-like, about 20 minutes.
4.  Heat your oven to 350 degrees and line 2 baking sheets with parchment or silpat liners.  Scoop dough with a 1 3/4 inch ice cream scoop.  Roll top of cookie in mint pieces and place on cookie sheets, mint side up.  Keep bowl of dough covered between batches because the dough dries out quickly.
5.  Bake until edges of the cookies have just begun to set but the centers are still very soft, about 10 minutes.  Cool the cookies on the sheets for 10 more minutes then remove to cool on countertop completely.  Use fresh parchment for each batch, or quickly wash away the grease from silpat before baking a new batch also being sure to only use completely cooled baking pans.

ps.  These have been tested by Jonathan and he completely agrees they are delicious!  It was his first cookie ever and boy did he enjoy it, as attested to by the mess!

Carrot Cake Cupcakes

There was a baptism today at church and I offered to help with the refreshments afterward.  So there I was yesterday digging through my hoards of recipes trying to find the "perfect" treat.  I wanted to make something that would keep both the adults and the children happy.  As an adult, there isn't anything more tempting to me than moist carrot cake with cream cheese frosting and I know there isn't a kid out there who would pass up a cupcake.  I debated whether or not to use nuts because I know they scare most kids away, but pecans were quickly added when I realized that means more for me!  I'm not kidding.  I'm really that selfish when it comes to dessert.

I was brave and tried untested recipes I found on Gigi's Cakes and Joy the Baker.  I was thrilled with the results. The cake was moist and tender but not too light a crumb as many cakes can be.  The cream cheese frosting is made with brown sugar and gives it a bit more depth than normal without being tooth-achingly sweet.  The recipe makes a lot of frosting and I only used about half.  The other half is calling out to me from the fridge, begging me to whip up some cinnamon rolls and slather it on top.

Carrot Cake (makes 24 cupcakes or 2 8" rounds)

2 C all purpose flour
1 1/2 Tb cinnamon
3/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp baking powder
4 large eggs
3/4 C canola oil
2 C sugar
1 tsp kosher salt
1 pound freshly grated carrots
3/4 c pecan or walnut pieces

1.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Line 24 muffin tins with cupcake liners.  
2.  In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, baking powder and cinnamon.
3.  In your mixer bowl fitted with whisk attachment, beat the eggs on high until light and fluffy.  Decrease the speed to medium, add the oil, sugar and salt.  Decrease speed to low 
and gradually add flour mixture.
4.  Remove bowl from the mixer and fold in the carrots and nuts with a rubber spatula.
5.  Divide batter evenly among the cupcakes.  Bake for 25 minutes and cool completely before frosting.

Brown Sugar Cream Cheese Frosting
1 1/2 C butter, room temperature
8 oz cream cheese, room temperature
1/4 C brown sugar
1 t vanilla
3 T milk
5 C powdered sugar

1.  Cream the butter and cream cheese together in an electric mixer.  Be sure they are room temp or your frosting will be lumpy.
2.  Add the brown sugar and vanilla.  Beat for 2 minutes.  Turn off the mixer and add 2 C of powdered sugar.  Turn the mixer of low speed and allow to incorporate.  Add milk and remaining powdered sugar.  If you want a thinner frosting, add more milk or thicker, add more powdered sugar.

Lemon Artichoke Linguine

Cold cereal.  That is what my children ate for dinner on Thursday.  I just want you all to realize that I don't cook/bake like this everyday for my family.  Life is just too hectic some days to even take 30 minutes to throw something together in a pot.  Thursday was a day I knew was coming for about a month and dreading with every glance at my calendar.  I just want to know what genius at our school district decided to schedule 4 concerts for my kids on the same night, in different buildings?

This recipe is one I created after being inspired by another recipe I saw online.  I absolutely love lemon and artichokes together and this comes together in a matter of minutes.  The basis is my lemon artichoke pesto I use in paninis but I made a few changes.   I ate more than my fair share of this dish and found it so fresh and delicious.  I used whole wheat linguine, but it certainly isn't required.  If you haven't tried it yet though, your family will never know the difference.....

Lemon Artichoke Linguine (serves 6)
12 oz jar artichokes, drained and lightly rinsed
1 lemon, juice and zest
8 sprigs thyme, stripped
2 handfuls cilantro
2 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
6 T extra virgin olive oil
sea salt
fresh ground pepper
freshly grated parmesan cheese
1 lb whole wheat linguine

1.  Cook your linguine according to box directions.
2.  While pasta cooks, process everything but the cheese together in your food processor.  My finished texture is shown in the pictures.
3.  Drain pasta, pour into serving bowl and immediately top with artichoke mixture.  Toss until mixture evenly covers the pasta and top with parmesan cheese.

Wonton soup

Aahhh, the joys of living in Minnesota in May.  One day it is 73 and beautiful only to wake up the next morning to find 6 inches of snow waiting to be shoveled.  While we have had briefs views of spring, it has been mainly cold, wet and miserable.  My gardens and flower beds are screaming for attention but another rainy day has led me once again to my kitchen.  Normally chocolate does wonders for my spirits on a day like this, but I chose to whip up my favorite soup instead and boy was it a great choice!  My eight year old, Luke claims it is the only soup he likes, which shocks me since it is packed with veggies.
If you have never made wontons, don't let that intimidate you.  They are so simple to make and surprisingly quick.  This pudgy hand is my four year old helping me so you know they can't be that complicated!  The amount of filling this recipe makes actually fills 48 wontons, so either double your soup base or I freeze the filling and extra wrappers for another day.  They both freeze beautifully.  This recipe is very versatile as far as the veggies are concerned so throw in your favorites.  I do have to insist on the mushrooms though because they add an amazing depth to the broth that can't be replaced.  If you don't care for mushrooms, just pull them out before you add the other ingredients and you would never know they were there, but the soup would taste so bland without them.

Wonton Soup (serves 6)
1/2 pound lean ground pork
1/4 C finely minced onion
1/4 C finely minced celery
1 Tb soy sauce
1 egg
1/2 tsp cornstarch
24 wonton wrappers

6 C chicken stock
1 Tb soy sauce
1/2 tsp pepper
1 1/2 C sliced mushrooms (I use cremini) 
1/2 pound baby spinach
1/2 C chopped scallions
1.  In a large saucepan, combine stock, soy sauce, pepper and mushrooms.  Bring to a boil and simmer for 5 minutes.  Add the spinach and simmer 5 more minutes.  Turn off the heat, add the  scallions and cover the pan.
2.  Combine pork, onions, celery, soy sauce, egg and cornstarch in a medium bowl.  Keep wrappers covered with a damp towel to keep them from drying out.  Dampen two adjoining sides of the wrapper with a wet finger.  Place 1 level teaspoon  of filling in the center of the wrapper.  Fold wrapper in half to form a triangle with the point facing away from you and press close firmly around the filling.  Bring the right and left sides of the triangle together and press together.  Repeat with all 24 wontons.
3.  Bring 2 quarts of water to boil in a large saucepan.  Add some salt and drop wontons into the water and cook for 6 minutes.  With a slotted spoon, remove from the water and add to the soup.  Serve immediately

Dixie Bars

I can't believe the end of the school year is just a few weeks away!  While my children are itching with excitement, I will be completely honest and admit that the thought of all five of them being home with me all day long makes me queasy.  My sanity is based on two hours of quiet every afternoon while Elisabeth (4) and Jonathan (10 months) sleep.  Soon those two hours will be filled with the shuttling of children, putting out sibling fires and countless "I'm bored!" whinings.

Tomorrow is Elisabeth's last day of preschool and I needed a treat for her teachers to thank them for all their hard work.  I decided to try this recipe that I found on a baking blog.  It is not my normal practice to try something new for anyone other than my family but I had all the ingredients on hand so I figured why not?  They are very rich and yummy but I cooked the filling a bit too long because I was looking for the caramel color as described in the instructions.  The result was a much harder filling that was a bit crumbly., but I promised I would share all my experiences with you, not just the complete successes!   I will definitely makes these again because I want that chewy interior that was promised and compared to Twix bars!

Dixie Bars (makes 24)
1 1/4 C flour
1/4 C sugar
1/2 C unsalted butter
1/8 tsp salt

1 can sweetened condensed milk
1/2 C sugar
1/2 C unsalted butter
2 Tb corn syrup
1 C pecan pieces (I toasted mine)
1/8 tsp salt

3/4 C semi sweet chocolate chips
1 Tb butter

1.  Heat oven to 350 degrees.  Combine flour, sugar and salt in medium bowl.  Cut in butter and press evenly into an 11x7 pan.  Bake for 20 minutes.
2.  Combine milk, sugar, butter, corn syrup and salt in a medium saucepan.  Cook and stir over low heat until sugar is dissolved, about 5 minutes.  Bring to a boil over medium-low heat and boil for 6-8 minutes, stirring constantly until mixture thickens slightly and turns a very light caramel color.  Remove from heat and stir in pecans.  Spread evenly over base and chill.
3.  Combine chocolate and butter in small bowl and microwave for 30 seconds.  Mix and microwave for 10 second intervals, mixing after each one until melted.  Spread over caramel layer.  Allow chocolate to set before cutting.

Lemon Chicken Cutlets over Roasted Tomato Salad

This is the second time for me on this specific recipe and it was just as delicious this time around as I remember.  Both times, my kids made those wonderful "eeewww" faces when I put it on the table, but they really do enjoy it....though they would never admit to it! 

I think what I enjoy so much about this recipe is the balance with textures and flavors.  A few years ago, I would have never even attempted this recipe due to the blue cheese, but I have come to discover I like it in small amounts in dishes such as this.   The tartness of the lemon is so nice with the rich blue cheese and it isn't strong or overwhelming at all.  I like to have a bit of each ingredient on my fork with each bite and I just find it heavenly.  

Lemon Chicken Cutlets over Roasted Tomato Salad
6 roma tomatoes, cut in half lengthwise
extra virgin olive oil
1/2 Tb fresh thyme leaves, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
salt and freshly ground pepper
1/3 C pine nuts
1/2 C flour
2 C italian bread crumbs
1 lemon, zest and juice
2 eggs
2 pounds thin chicken cutlets (I used regular breasts that I butterflied and pounded thin)
canola oil
12 oz baby spinach
3/4 C crumbled blue cheese

1.  Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Toss the tomatoes in medium bowl with a drizzle of olive oil, thyme, garlic, salt and pepper.  Arrange on a rimmed cookie sheet and roast for 16 minutes.
2.  Toast pine nuts in a skillet over medium heat, stirring frequently until lightly golden.  Set aside.
3.  Place flour, salt and pepper in shallow dish.  In another dish, combine bread crumbs and lemon zest.  Beat eggs in another dish with a splash of water.  Coat the chicken in the flour, then the egg and finally in the bread crumbs.
4.  Heat a thin layer of canola oil in a large skillet over medium heat.  When hot, cook the chicken in 2 batches for 3-4 minutes on each side until the juices run clear.  
5.  Place spinach in large serving bowl.  Remove roasted tomatoes from the oven and coarsely chop.  Transfer tomatoes over the top of the spinach and allow the heat of the tomatoes to slightly wilt the spinach.  Add lemon juice, more olive oil, pine nuts, salt and pepper.  Top with the chicken and sprinkle the cheese over the top.

Chocolate Peanut Butter Bars

Our little town was honored to have the Minneapolis Children's Theater perform tonight the classic children's book, If You Give a Mouse a Cookie.  It was an amazing night and my kids loved it.  I decided this afternoon that it would be cute if we had a batch of cookies to eat after the show.....yes, I am that kind of corny Mom!  Well, there was 10 of us to feed since my kids were bringing friends so I needed a lot.  Then I was asked to make some cookies for a different function tomorrow.  I figured I was going to need about 5 dozen cookies and didn't feel like spending my only sunny afternoon this week scooping out individual cookies, so bar cookies were the winners.

This is my "go-to" bar recipe that always disappears faster than I can imagine.  I know there are a million different versions out there of this type of bar but I really found this one to my tastes best.  I know many of you will be tempted to use butter instead of shortening, and usually I am right with you but this is one of those recipes that just isn't the same if you do.

Chocolate Peanut Butter Bars
3/4 C butter flavored shortening
1/2 C sugar
2 C brown sugar
2 eggs
2 t vanilla
3/4 C creamy peanut butter
3/4 tsp ba
king soda
1/4 tsp salt
1 1/2 C flour
2 C oats

12 oz bag chocolate chips
1/4 C creamy peanut butter
2 T milk
1 C powdered sugar

1.  Preheat oven to 325 degrees.  In your mixer, cream shortening and sugars together.  Add eggs and vanilla.  Mix to combine.  Add peanut butter and mix.  Add all dry ingredients and mix until incorporated.
2.  Spread batter into a 13 x 18 inch pan, making sure to get the batter as even as possible across the pan.  Bake for 16-18 minutes on middle rack until golden brown on top.
3.  Remove from the oven and sprinkle with one bag of semi-sweet chocolate chips.  Allow to sit until chocolate melts then spread over the bars.  Mix together the 1/4 C peanut butter, milk and powdered sugar.  Drizzle over the bars and swirl into the chocolate. 
4.  Allow bars to cool completely.  You can put them in the refrigerator if the chocolate needs to harden after they have cooled.  I cut off the edges when serving, but that is just my preference.

Turkey Chimichurri Burgers

If you are looking for some good comedy during  your supper tonight, may I suggest serving these burgers to anyone under the age of 8.  Tonight at dinner, we had quite a show watching Elisabeth (4) and Luke (8) attempt to shove these huge burgers into their tiny little mouths.  I, on the other hand, was blessed with a big (and loud) mouth and blissfully enjoyed every bite!

I am a big fan of all types of chimichurri with meat so I had to try this recipe when I saw it.  The original recipe calls for ground chicken but our store only had turkey when I went shopping.  I also wanted to try throwing them on the grill instead of smoking up my house, but of course, it was pouring rain at 6:00 pm tonight.

Turkey Chimichurri Burgers (makes 4 burgers)
4 stems fresh oregano, stripped of leaves
5 sprigs fresh sage leaves, stripped
6 stems fresh thyme leaves, stripped
1 generous handful fresh italian parsley
2 garlic cloves
1/2 red onion, finely chopped
zest of 1 lemon
3 Tb red wine vinegar
1/3 C extra virgin olive oil

1 1/2 pounds ground turkey or chicken
salt and fresh ground pepper
2 C chopped Napa cabbage
1 large ripe tomato, sliced
4 crusty rolls
dill pickles
spicy brown mustard

1.  Prepare the chimichurri:  Pile herbs together, finely chop and place in medium bowl.  Finely chop the garlic and add to the herbs.  Add the red onions and lemon zest.  Add red wine vinegar and olive oil.  Mix until combined.
2.  Heat large skillet over medium high heat.  Place ground meat in another bowl and add half of the chimichurri sauce, salt and pepper.  Combine well with your hands and form into four equal patties.  Cook in hot skillet about 6 minutes on each side.
3.  Pour the remaining chimichurri over the napa cabbage, toss and season with salt and pepper.  Season the sliced tomatoes with salt.
4.  Assemble the burgers topped with pickles, tomatoes and piles of cabbage.  Slather the top bun with the mustard.

French Bread

When I became a Jones 15 years ago, it quickly became clear that I needed to learn to bake french bread like my mother-in-law.  Her bread is the star of her kitchen and coveted by all who taste it.  During a visit about a year after being married, I absorbed as much of her technique as I could while she instructed me.  She sent me home with her recipe in my pocket and I was very anxious to make it for my husband.  Over the years, I feel I've mastered this bread and that recipe card is very worn and stained.

So imagine my surprise when about a year ago, in my kitchen in Minnesota, my mother-in-law looks at that same card and asks, "Where did you get this recipe?  This isn't my french bread recipe."  I would never accuse my wonderful mother-in-law of anything sinister but can anyone say.... sabotage?

This bread is amazing and it is what I deliver to all our friends every year for Christmas.  I have made a few slight changes over the years to yield a chewier interior and a better crust.  Anyone who has a history of bread-making knows that experience is what will give you a great loaf.  After making many batches, you learn what your dough should feel like and how to work with it, so keep at it and you will get better with each batch!  If you don't have french bread pans, you can form them on cookie sheets, but the result isn't quite the same.  There are many pans on the market that make a wider loaf that remind me more of an italian loaf, but I suggest the thinner baguette size for a true french bread.

French Bread (makes 4 baguettes)
3 C warm water
1 Tb sugar
2 Tb yeast
2 Tb canola oil
3 rounded tsp salt
7 -8 C bread flour (yes, it makes a difference)

1.  Using your electric mixer with a dough hook, mix the water, sugar, yeast and 2 cups of flour into the bowl.  Allow to sit until yeast activates and begins to bubble.  Add oil and salt.
2.  Slowly mix in remaining flour.  You want the dough to just barely pull off the sides of your bowl once the flour in fully incorporated.  It should still be a soft dough.  Knead dough until smooth and elastic, about 8 minutes.
3.  Remove dough hook and form dough into a ball inside the bowl.  Cover and allow to rise until double, about one hour.
4.  Gently turn out dough onto a lightly floured surface.  Divide into four equal pieces.  Flatten each piece into a general triangular shape.  Starting on the small point, roll and seal your way across the triangle until you have a small log.  Roll the log on the counter to stretch your baguette to the proper length, keeping the thickness uniform across the loaf.
5.  Place dough into greased french bread pan, slit the top with a sharp knife and brush with an egg wash.  Allow to rise about 15-20 minutes.
6.  Bake at 375 degrees for 20-25 minutes until golden brown.  The bread is completely baked at this point and can be cooled on racks.  When it is time to serve,  I prefer to place the loaves on the oven racks and bake them for an additional 5-7 minutes.  This heats the bread and creates that great crust while keeping the interior soft and chewy.  In my opinion, this last step makes all the difference.

Buttermilk Biscuits

Both my husband and I grew up in homes where most times than not, Sunday night dinner was the big and fancy dinner of the week:  Roast, potatoes, veggie, homemade rolls and dessert.  I wish I could say that tradition continues in our home.  But let's be honest, by the time I've survived (I mean enjoyed) three hours of church with five kids, gotten everyone home for lunch and taken my obligatory Sunday afternoon nap, there just isn't time or energy to put out that kind of spread.  The majority of the 15 years we've been married, Sunday dinner has been eggs and biscuits.  If we invite another family for dinner, I pull out the works like our Mom's.  It is quite a show and would never tell our guests about our usual Sunday fare or even worse, that when I'm feeling extra lazy, I pull out the cold cereal....

This is a new biscuit recipe I decided to try today.  There is a cookbook that is all the rage among food bloggers: Baking from My Home to Yours by Dorie Greenspan.  Instead of throwing down $40 for a cookbook, I got it from the library first to see if I was impressed with the recipes.  This biscuit is different from my usual because it uses all butter, which gives it a very rich flavor and a crispier crust.  This was my first try using my fingers to cut in the butter, but whatever method you use, be sure to leave enough bigger pieces of butter.  As the biscuit bakes, it is those chunks that form flaky layers as the water in the butter steams.

Buttermilk Biscuits by Dorie Greenspan (makes 12)
1 3/4 C all purpose flour
1/3 C cake flour
1 Tb baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
2 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp salt
6 Tb cold unsalted butter, cut into 12 pieces
3/4 C cold buttermilk

1.  Preheat oven to 425 degrees and line baking sheet with parchment or silicone mat.
2.  Whisk the flours, baking powder and soda, sugar and salt together in a bowl.  Drop in the butter and using your fingertips (or pastry blender) rub the butter into the dry ingredients until the mixture is pebbly.
3.  Pour the buttermilk over the dry ingredients and toss with a fork gently until you have a nice soft dough.  Knead the dough very gently 3 or 4 times just to bring together.
4.  Lightly dust work surface and quickly pat the dough with your fingers into a 1/2" thick disk.  Use a 2" biscuit cutter and cut the dough into 12 biscuits and transfer to your baking sheet.
5.  Bake biscuits for 14-18 minutes until they are puffed and golden brown.