Saturday, December 10, 2011

Free Formin'

Thomas and I braved the cold today ... it was a mere 18* Fahrenheit when we took off to the Farmers' Market!  I dressed Thomas in his coziest (and cutest) sweatsuit before stuffing him into his Polar Bear fleecey bunting-esque zip up, and off we went!  I've been trying to get used to that "Jellybean" baby carrier that we received as a gift from friends as a quick, easy alternative to the Mei Tai that I looooove ... and so far, so good.  It can be a lot to deal with trying to get him into it with all of our wintery layers, but it did it's job today.  We cruised the market, buying a butternut squash for baby T, a birthday gift for Aunty Margaret and a hot coffee for me when all of a sudden we were face-to-face with SANTA!  He was walking the market, ringing a bell, and hauling a satchel full of toys for the children, and yes ... he even had a toy for Thomas!  Hahah - Thomas received his first gift from Santa .. a small stuffed orca .. =)  It was very festive, and very sweet.  Thomas wasn't so sure what to think of the big guy ...

After our market run we zipped up to Target to pick up wrapping paper, ribbons, labels ... all the works to start wrapping Christmas presents for family ... and hoop dang, low and behold, Target was carrying the game I was searching for at Barnes & Noble last night as a gift for Gisela's children ... Qwirkle!  I swear it's going to be the perfect "all ages" game for them to play as a family on the floor of their new living room, cozy in front of the fire ;-) the highlight of our purchase being the $5 off!  While shopping I was so distracted by zipping in and out as quickly as possible I forgot to pick up a few ingredients for the artichoke dip I was going to make for my "Mom's Night In (MNI): Ornament Exchange"  ... which left me hangin' and put me in the perfect position to free form an oldie but a goodie ... it's so simple to make, yet there are so many variations ... why not make up my own?

So I started with a batch of fresh french bread ... hoping to make toasties, but clearly an hour late as it was barely out of the oven when it was time to go ... here's my recipe:

French Bread -
Combine 2 packets of yeast (4 1/2 t.), 2 c. flour and 1 1/2 - 2 t. salt ... mix til combined ... at 2 c. warm water and mix on medium/high speed for about 3 minutes ... stir in as much of the remaining 5 - 6 c. flour as you can, kneading remaining flour in until a smooth yet elastic dough forms ... knead for approximately 8 minutes ... flip into an oil bowl and let rise in a warm place til doubled - about 1 hour.  Punch down and form 2 loaves by rolling dough into a rectangle and rolling up like a Swiss cake roll .. let rise 45 minuets, slash the top of your dough 1/4" deep-ish, then bake at 375 for 20 minutes or until golden .. egg / oil / butter wash as you choose!

The trick with this recipe is not adding too much flour while kneading ... you want your dough to be somewhat moist, and if you can, use as little (if any) flour when rolling it out, or when you make your Swiss cake roll the roll won't seal into a full loaf of bread and it'll be tough as opposed to light and airy.

Here's how my free formed Artichoke dip came out ...  It was sort of a trick, because I didn't have parmesian cheese ... and I wanted a little more going on than artichoke, mayo, salt, pepper and mozzarella (what we DID have in the house for cheese ...) so I added some smokey delicious bacon (from the Farmers' Market - natural apple wood smoked, a close second to Nueske's bacon) ... and sauteed some onion in a bit of the bacon fat til tender ... As my husband says, "Bacon makes everything better!"

I was a little nervous that it'd be too salty, not salty enough, too mayo-esque, not artichokey enough ... and to top it off I didn't have any bread crumbs to put on top ... so I just added some cubed bread from our Thanksgiving stuffing package ... <sigh>

Here's my recipe:

Artichoke Dip -
Using a cooking shears, cut 3 slices of bacon (you could easily do 2 slices for a less-bacony dish) into 1/2" pieces and fry til golden brown ... toss out onto a paper towel to drain.  Drain all but 1 T-ish of bacon fat and fry about 1/4 c. onion until tender.  Set aside to cool slightly.

Coarsely chop up 2 cans of artichoke hearts.  Combine all of these ingredients in a bowl:  bacon, onion, artichoke hearts, approximately 1c. mozzarella (or parmesian) cheese, dash of salt and pepper, and enough mayonnaise to coat your ingredients as you choose.  I think the recipe said something crazy like 1-2 cups ..!!  I went with my theory on tuna salad ... too much mayonnaise is gross ... so start with significantly less than you think and gradually add more!

Turn your dip out into a casserole dish.  Top with bread crumbs or cubes, your choice ... before baking at 375 for 30 minutes, or until bubbly and gooey looking.  Remove lid if you're using one ... and bake 10 minutes more or until your cubes look delish.

In hind sight, I maybe would have tossed my bread cubes in some olive oil so they were a little softer ... but I didn't do this at first because I didn't want to ADD FAT to this mayo/cheese heavy dish.  It got rave reviews at the MNI! and I think DH liked it, too.  "It was O.K. Not traditional. It had a lot of mayo-tangy to it, ya know?"  His exact words.  I think that's where some lemon juice would've done the trick ... or parmesian cheese v. mozzarella.

I came home to a quiet house long after Thomas' bed time.  I love when DH puts T to bed ... but I miss our little nightly ritual. =)

I got a lot done today .. and it felt great.  You can see our tiny little tree with a few gifts wrapped up beside it ... among them are the books I bought for Thomas at Barnes & Noble yesterday, a little package that arrived today for Ryan and Thomas, and the game I picked up for Gisela's kiddos.  Tomorrow I'll be wrapping up some of the gifts I've been sewing!  The other day I posted a picture of a red tie beside a spider man project I was working on ... and I should have included a picture of Otto, because the red tie belongs to him ;-)  A project my mom worked through a few years ago at Christmas (l2009).  Doesn't he look handsome?  His mustache is a little whiter these days.  I almost snapped a picture of my sewing space so you could see where I work ... but man alive our house is such a treacherous mess.  Ryan and I tackled the laundry today, thank goodness ... and reorganized some of the loot out of the car.  It's wild to think that Christmas is just 2 weeks away ... man I can't wait to get home to see family. <3

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