Thursday, March 14, 2013

Nut Rolls

~Out of Season~

Hey.  I know this recipe is posted out of season.  In three years, it just never made its way to the blog right before the holidays.  Besides, I got a request for it today.  Crazy, huh?  So while every other food blogger in the world is posting Irish recipes this week, here I go with a traditional eastern European Christmas recipe.  It's okay; I've been accused of quirky before.  Just promise me you will come back here in, say, eight months and pretend like this post couldn't be more timely.

This recipe is a Keeper that goes back several generations.  It was given to my mom by her Aunt Lois.  Aunt Lois got it from her mother-in-law, whose family brought it with them from Lithuania in God-knows-what-year-but-let-me-tell-ya-it-was-a-loooong-time-ago.

Every holiday season of my childhood, we were never without these gems lined up on every square inch of counter space.  I'm sure Mom gave many of them away, but all I remember is we snacked on these morning, noon, and night for about three months each year.  It seems like we constantly had one on the counter from early November until mid-January.  Each one unwrapped and re-wrapped so many times that the foil was a crinkly mess by the time we got down to that last end piece.  Each time one disappeared, another reappeared in its place.  Did I ever mention my dad's never-ending, unstoppable sweet tooth before?  Heck, maybe Mom didn't give any of them away...

So.  You know when you really think a lot of someone, but going out and buying them an actual Christmas gift seems a bit much?  Well, The Dougster (aka HotDog) and I solve that dilemma each year with these nut rolls.  It's become a tradition to gift our good friends and neighbors with these Keepers every year.  Well, almost every year.  What's that saying?  "If the good Lord's willing, the creek don't rise, and the holiday frenzy doesn't get the best of you."  Yeah, that.

Nothing fancy.  I still wrap them in foil like Mom did.  When they are gifted, we adorn each roll with either a stick-on bow or tied with curly ribbon.  (Okay, maybe we DO get fancy.)  We deliver them in person with wishes for the happiest of holidays.  Then we go home, brew a pot of coffee, and eat the ugly ones that didn't make the cut - wrapping and rewrapping until the foil is a crinkly mess, down to the last piece.

Aunt Lois' Nut Rolls

1 cup sugar
1 pound butter
1 can evaporated milk
1 cake yeast
1 teaspoon salt
8 eggs
1 pound box brown sugar (2 1/4 cups)
2 cups sugar
1 pound butter
4 pounds walnuts
1 can evaporated milk

First, plan to make the dough the day before you intend to actually bake the nut rolls.  Since this recipe makes 12 rolls, give yourself plenty of time on baking day.

To make the dough, warm the evaporated milk to 110 degrees F.  Stir in the yeast.

Mix all of the dough ingredients with an electric mixer until the dough comes away from your mixing bowl clean. (Or, in my case, until your old mixer can't continue under the strain, and you have to finish it by hand.)  Place in a large bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate overnight.
To make the filling, grind or finely chop the walnuts.  I find a food processor works well.
Melt the butter.  Combine all the filling ingredients in a large bowl or container.  I like to use a rectangular container so I can mark off 12 equal squares.
To assemble and bake those rolls, preheat your oven to 350 degrees F.  Take the dough from the refrigerator and divide into 12 equal balls.  Sprinkle sugar on your counter or table and roll a ball of dough in sugar until it is 12-14" by 8-10".  Spread a "square" of filling on it, leaving about an inch on all sides.  Slowly make each roll, starting from one of the long sides.
Tuck the ends under and move to a baking sheet, seam side down.  Sprinkle each with a little more sugar.  Plan to bake three rolls per baking sheet; otherwise, they will spread out too much.  It helps to line your baking sheets with parchment or wax paper, which I learned after this batch.
Bake each sheet for 30 minutes at 350 degrees F, or until golden brown.
Let nut rolls cool about 15 minutes before very carefully transferring them from the baking sheet to foil sheets.
When completely cooled, wrap tightly in foil.  I hear they freeze well, but they never made it that far in our house.

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Sunday, March 3, 2013

Kimmers' Red Sauce

~ Out of my Head ~
This recipe was a staple of my childhood. Never written down, my mom made it from her head. She learned it from her mom who, of course, made it from her head. When I went to college and had an apartment of my own, I craved it something fierce. Calling my mom, I got instructions that went something like this:  "Brown some ground meat with some onions and garlic powder, add some sauce and paste - more paste than sauce - with some water to thin it, add some basil and oregano - more basil than oregano..." Umm, yeah. Thanks, Mom. I'm sure it will taste exactly the same.

I cleverly refined my approach:  drive to Mom's house, sit down with paper and pencil, and say, "Okay, make sauce." So I did, and so she did, and so I watched with a keen eye and took careful notes. I still didn't have exact amounts, but I felt confident I could recreate this masterpiece. Wrong-o!

The first time I made it was a disaster. Do you know what happens when you make lasagna with sauce that is way too thin? Those noodles slide all around on your plate like Bambi's attempt to ice skate. It does not stand nicely in cubed form, but rather resembles what I can only describe as "pasta splat". That's what.

In time, I found success. I learned not to over-water. I replaced the garlic powder with real cloves. Sometimes I add fresh basil and oregano. I discovered that a bit of hot sausage is nice. Both my lasagna and I can stand tall. I had achieved making the family red sauce from my head, too.

It's taken many batches of red sauce and trial-and-error with measurements to get this Keeper written down. No longer stuck in anyone's head, I am finally able to share it with you.

Kimmers' Red Sauce
3 generous tablespoons of olive oil
3 medium onions, chopped
5-8 cloves garlic, minced
2-3 pounds ground meat (I use 1 pound each of ground turkey, sweet Italian chicken sausage, and hot Italian chicken sausage.)
3/8 cup dried basil
1/4 cup dried oregano
30 ounces canned tomato sauce (I use two 15 ounce cans.)
30 ounces canned tomato paste (I use two 12 ounce cans and one 6 ounce can.)
28 ounces fire roasted diced tomatoes (I use Muir Glen brand.)
15 ounces water
2 tablespoons sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
In a large pot over medium heat, add onions to olive oil and stir until evenly coated. Add ground meat, garlic, basil, and oregano. (If you use link sausage, remove meat from casing first by running a sharp knife longways along link.) Break up meat into small pieces and cook thoroughly.
Add diced tomatoes, tomato paste, and sauce. Fill one of the 15 ounce cans with hot tap water. Use that water to swirl around in the cans to get all the tomato sauce and paste, then add this tomato-water to the pot. Stir thoroughly. Your red sauce should have a nice consistency, kind of on the thick side.

Using my amounts as guidelines, add salt, pepper, and sugar to taste. The sugar will cut the acidity of the tomatoes to give your sauce a nice flavor.
Ladle sauce over prepared pasta and garnish with grated cheeses if desired. Serve immediately.

* This recipe makes a large batch, which is convenient because it freezes so nicely. To freeze leftover sauce, put it in freezer bags and lay flat on a baking pan until frozen. When ready to use, loosen the freezer bag by running it under hot tap water. Then cut the bag to remove the frozen block of sauce, and place in large pan on low heat to thaw. Stir and turn frequently until heated through.

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