Wednesday, November 18, 2009

'Tis The Season For Panic -- And For Baking


Right now, our front sidewalk appears to have been booby-trapped by Wile E. Coyote (Supergenius), except that instead of being lined with marbles fresh from The Acme Company, our sidewalk -- weed-whacked-edge-to-weed-whacked-edge – is encrusted with acorns.  Thousands and thousands of acorns.  Which, actually, with their needle-tipped ends, are more hazardous than marbles.  Even steelies.

This sidewalk is hardly a paved path.  It’s an ankle sprain waiting for crutches and the EMS to arrive.  Followed immediately thereafter by a personal injury lawyer.

Our neighborhood squirrels are frenzied – near panic – trying to harvest and store the bountiful harvest before it’s crushed beneath villainous car tires and Mike the Mailman’s heels.  Or worse, collected as evidence in the aforementioned lawsuit.

I’m with the squirrels.  The holiday season is upon us, and I’ve got my own frenzy -- making lists and stashing them in my purse, my room, the desk drawer, on the computer, the iPhone, and the backs of Harris Teeter receipts.  I’ve also begun stashing gifts, and in the process, have even found a few “lost” gifts from Christmases past.  (As if someone in the household could still fit in size “00” jeans.  Sigh.)

I’ve also, joyfully, begun holiday cooking.  Next week will be filled with pies – pecan, pumpkin, the dreaded mincemeat, the Best Cheesecake Ever – and the surprisingly irresistible Gingered Orange Cranberry Sauce.  This week, though, is devoted to things that can be prepared in advance, the impossible-to-eat-just-one Cheddar-Blue Cheese Wafers, cranberry-spiked Pumpkin Bread, Super Savory Crispix Mix, and the inadequately named and homely-sounding Sausage Bread.

Sausage Bread requires only three ingredients and is a holiday necessity Chez Wiles.  Not only is it the mandatory breakfast for both Thanksgiving and Christmas mornings, it makes a terrific tailgating treat, a welcomed hostess gift and is easily prepared in advance and frozen for travel.

Not quite, perhaps, as “genius” as Wile E. Coyote, but pretty darn close.  And to this point, no lawsuits either.

Sausage Bread
1 pkg (three loaves) frozen white bread dough (I use Bridgford)
2 lbs. good quality bulk sausage (I use either Fresh Market’s or Neese’s)
1 lb. grated Cheddar-Montery Jack blend
1 onion, diced, sautéed (optional)
1 bell pepper (any color) diced, sautéed (optional)

flour
mustard

Thaw dough and allow to come to room temperature.

Brown sausage in large skillet, breaking into small bits.  Stir in onion and bell pepper, if using.  Drain well in a colander.

Working with one loaf at a time, on a well-floured pastry board, roll and stretch dough out into a rectangle, measuring (very roughly) 9” x 14”.  (Note:  If dough is too chilled, it will not stretch sufficiently.)  Scatter 1/3 of sausage over dough.  Sprinkle with 1/3 (1 1/3 cups) cheese. 

Starting along long edge, gently roll up dough, tucking in sausage and cheese as you go.  This is a sloppy and imperfect process.  The dough will is very forgiving and will stretch, which is a good thing.  Just try not to tear it.

Once you’ve rolled up the entire loaf, jelly-roll style, use your finger to dampen the entire long edge with water, which will help “glue” the dough to itself.

At this point, I either cut the loaf in half, lengthwise, to form two smaller loaves, tugging the dough at either end and using water to “glue” it closed, OR, I form the entire long loaf into a circle, tucking one end into the other.  (The round loaf makes a lovely presentation as a gift.)

Repeat with remaining loaves, moving each to a well greased baking sheet.  Then, allow loaves to rise, until overall size increases by about 50%.  Depending on the temperature in your home, this may take 2-3 hours.

Once risen, bake in a 350 oven for 30-45 minutes, until well browned and crusty.  Remove from oven and cool on racks.  Serve warm with mustard, or allow to cool completely and freeze until needed.
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