Thursday, December 31, 2009


When I was growing up, Christmas
was about eating. But it wasn't about cooking.

In fact, my earliest memories of Christmas morning breakfast is of the fabulous cakes my mom would make weeks in advance and park in the freezer, marked "Do Not Open Until December 25."

Her first Christmas standard was a Danish Pastry Wreath, which came to be known as "Huber's Christmas Wreath." As mom notes in the family cookbook, it "fell out of favor ... since it is very time and labor intensive." So when mom started working full time, she began making this "Bubble Wreath." I added the pecans this year, since not even mom's tried and true recipe can escape my need to make it up as I go along.

Bubble Wreath
3 1/2 to 3 3/4 cups flour, divided
1 package active dry yeast
1 1/4 cups warm milk
1 tsp. salt
8 T butter, divided
2 T light corn syrup
1 1/4 cups sugar, divided
1 egg
1/4 cup brown sugar
Cinnamon sugar
3/4 cup almonds, divided (optional)
In the large bowl of a stand mixer, combine 2 cups flour and yeast. Add 1 cup sugar to warm milk and salt and stir until dissolved. Add to flour mixture and begin mixing, scraping the bowl often. Add egg and slowly add remaining flour until it comes together in a ball (I used a total of 3 1/2 cups, but the amount will vary depending on your flour). Knead until dough is smooth. Spray a large bowl with cooking spray and let dough ball rise until doubled in volume (about two hours)

Heat oven to 350 F. Put 4 T butter in a tube or bundt cake pan and place in oven until melted. Add 1/2 cup brown sugar, corn syrup and pecans, if using.

Melt remaining butter. Cut do
ugh into walnut to golfball size pieces and roll into balls. Roll balls in butter, cinnamon sugar and then place in prepared pan. Let rise until dough fills the pan, about an hour.

Preheat oven to 375 F. Bake wreath until cooked through, about 35 to 45 minutes. Immediately turn out onto a plate and cool.

May be wrapped tightly and frozen.

If you are feeling ambitious, here's the recipe for the original "Huber Christmas Wreath." I've made it, and it is a labor of love. But well worth it, especially since it makes two
wreaths, and you can have the second one for New Year's.

It appears to me that the first part of the recipe is making your own puff pastry, and maybe one of these days I would consider substituting frozen.

1 1/2 cups butter, softened
3/4 cup milk
1 tsp. salt
2 packages active dry yeast
4 cups flour, divided
1/3 cup sugar
1/2 cup very warm water
1 egg

In a bowl, beat butter and 1/4 cup flour until smooth. Spread on wax paper into a 12x8 rectangle. Chill on a cookie sheet.

Heat milk, add sugar and stir to dissolve. Cool.

Put water into a large bowl, sprin
kle with yeast and stir to dissolve. Add milk mixture, egg and 3 cups flour. Beat with a wooden spoon until smooth. Mix in remaining flour by hand until dough leaves the sides of the bowl. Cover dough and refrigerate 30 minutes.

Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface and roll into a 16x12 rectangle. Place chilled butter mixture on half of the dough, remove wax paper, fold dough in half to cover and pinch to seal edges.

With fold at right, roll out from center to a 16x8 rectangle. From short side, fold in thirds. Seal edges and chill 1 hour. Repeat rolling and folding. If butter breaks through, brush with flour. Seal edges again and chill 30 minutes. Repeat, wrap in foil this time and chill 3 hours or overnight.

Cut dough in half. Cut each half into thirds.

2 cup almond paste
1 1/2 cup crushed zwieback (about 8 biscuits)
1 cup melted butter
2 egg
1 tsp almond extract
Mix together to make filling. Divide filling evenly and fill center of each dough strip with about 1/3 cup filling. Close edges and
seal. Take three strips and braid together. On a cookie sheet lined with parchment, form a wreath, 6" in diameter in the center (repeat with remaining three strips). Let rise until doubled, about 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 375 F. Bake until cooked through, about 30 minutes. Cool slightly on rack.

2 cups powdered sugar
3-4 T milk
Mix together to form a glaze. Drizzle over breads.

Decorate with red and/or green sugar or candied red and green cherries (if desired).

I must admit, this year we took the"no cooking on Christmas" mantra to new heights. For lunch I put out cheese, meat and crackers. And for dinner, while friends of mine slaved over hams and turkeys and fixings all afternoon, we watched movies, took naps and feasted on frozen pizza....

Sunday, December 20, 2009


The kids finally got a chance to play outside in the snow today.
While the rest of the East Coast was buried under a foot or more of snow, we managed just 3 inches. But it was enough to make snow forts and have snowball fights.
And when everyone came inside to warm up, we made more snowballs. But this time we made them out of soap, to give to the teachers at school as Christmas gifts.

4 bars Ivory soap, grated on a cheese grater or in a food processor
1/2 cup warm water

Drizzle water over soap and mix until it becomes a clay-like mass. Shape into balls. Set on a baking tray to dry. Package in holiday wrapping.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Better than Betty

I think it was 8-year-old Diana who first said my cooking was "Better than Betty Crocker." It's since become the standard compliment if they like the dinner I make.

If they only knew that sometimes I cheat off Betty.

I hate to bake. It's far too much of an exact science, and I'm much more of a "Oooooo, think I'll throw in a little of that" kind of a cook. But when I was growing up, Mom always made batches and batches of Christmas cookies, and I want these kids to have the same. So I compromise, using Betty's mix as the base for all kinds of cookies. Each of these recipes starts with a bag of sugar cookie mix, prepared according to package directions (unless otherwise noted) and baked at 375 F. for 9 to 11 minutes.

White Chocolate Pistachio
Add to the mix:
1/2 bag of white chocolate chips
An equal amount of shelled pistachios.
Form into a ball or drop on cookie sheet and bake.

Mint Chocolate Almond
Add to the mix:
1/2 bag mint chocolate chips
An equal amount of chopped almonds
Form into a ball or drop on cookie sheet and bake.

Almond delight
Add to the mix:
1/2 tsp. almond extract (or to taste)
Form into a ball and place on cookie sheet.
Press 1 almond into the top of each cookie and bake.
Make a glaze with
2 T milk
1 cup powdered sugar
almond extract to taste
Drizzle over cookies after cooled

Lemon chocolate
Add to the mix
1/2 tsp. lemon extract (or to taste)
Form into a small log and place on cookie sheet and bake.
While still warm, top with 3-4 semi-sweet chocolate chips. Return to oven for 30 seconds. Use knife to spread chocolate over top of cookie.

Cream cheese and jelly thumbprints
Eliminate butter from cookie dough mix and add 1/2 cup cream cheese (I used whipped because that's what I had in the 'fridge)
Form into a ball and push a thumbprint into the top of each. Fill thumbprint with jam or jelly (I like seedless raspberry) and bake.
Make a glaze with
2 T milk
2 cups powdered sugar
Vanilla extract to taste
Drizzle over cookies

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Mmmmmmmm mushrooms!

Once upon a time, green olives were my pizza topping of choice. But for complicated reasons, I had to switch favorites, so I tried their sauteed mushrooms and was immediately hooked. I've since moved away, but when I visited yesterday I stopped by for a slice. And while chatting with the new pizza guy, he told me the secret behind the mushrooms, which they make in the restaurant's Newport News kitchen every day. In fact, they are so good that the pizza guy said he puts them on everything he makes for himself.

I'm going to tinker with the recipe a bit, I think. But here's the basics:

Mushrooms (pizza guy said they slice theirs in quarters so they are nice and thick)
Dry red wine
Salt, to taste
Melt the butter and add the quartered mushrooms. Sautee slowly over low heat until brown. Add wine, stir, and let continue to simmer over low until liquid is cooked into the mushrooms. Season with oregano, salt and pepper.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Inside-out Pizza

Every other Saturday here is movie night. Part of the fun is the mystery of the movie: Scott and I pick it, and it's a secret until the house lights go down and the screen lights go up. So far we've seen everything from classics like "The Wizard of Oz" and "The Dark Crystal" to new movies like "Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian" and "Up."

But the other part of the fun is the special dinner and/or drinks we have in front of the TV, which is also a mystery until movie time.

Last week the mystery dinner was Inside-Out pizza, deemed by the kids as good a delivery from Papa John's. And at $2.50 a serving (vs. a minimum of $5.50 a serving for delivery), it was a hit with mom and dad too. And best yet, you can fill it with your favorite toppings.

Inside-Out Pizza

You can either use prepared pizza dough available in the refrigerator section of many grocery stores, or make your own:
1 2/3 cups to 2 1/4 cups flour
1 package yeast (Fleichman's has a pizza yeast, and I used that. But any yeast would do)
1 T sugar
1 tsp. salt
3 T olive oil
1 cup warm water
In a stand mixer with a dough hook, mix together 1 cup flour and the rest of the ingredients. Add remaining flour until dough forms a ball. Remove from mixer and kneed until smooth, about 5 minutes. Form into a ball and let sit 10 minutes.
Stretch/roll dough to form a rectangle that's about 12"x8"
Spread toppings to within an inch of dough.
Working from long end, roll dough slowly. Pinch seam together and tuck and pinch ends.
Let sit 10 minutes.
1 egg
1 T water
Whisk together and brush over top of bread
Preheat oven to 400 F. Bake until bread is cooked through and golden on top, about 20 minutes.
Slice into 1" pieces and serve with bottled pizza sauce (for dipping)

Topping suggestions:
-- Pepperoni, sweet Italian sausage (remove from casings, break up while cooking through), mozzarella and Parmesan
-- Mozzarella and Parmesan (for the kids who like their pizza plain).
-- Mushrooms (saute in butter, cool completely); chopped spinach (1 box frozen, thawed and squeezed throughly dry), mozzarella, feta or goat cheese (optional)
-- Deli ham, salami and cheese (Swiss, American or mozzarella).
-- Your favorites!