Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Homemade Thin Mints

If you work with me, and you're doing the cookie swap, this is what you're getting from me: Heidi Swanson's All-Natural and Homemade Thin Mints.

All-Natural and Homemade Thin Mints

I've been looking for an excuse to make these since she posted the recipe back in 2006. I don't bake sweet stuff for myself very often, and we have so many birthdays at work that I almost feel guilty bringing in sweets on other days. I forgot about the recipe when I was doing last year's swap, but I remembered this year!

The nice thing about online recipes is that they frequently have a place where people can leave comments. You can tell pretty quickly which comments can be ignored ("I changed most of the ingredients and it didn't turn out right, so this is a bad recipe" is always a favorite) and which ones should be taken to heart. On this recipe, there were several comments about the dough being crumbly and difficult to work with, as well as comments saying that dipping the cookies in the melted chocolate leaves a chocolate layer that's too thick.

Crumbly, persnickety dough. That means that using cookie cutters is going to be a HUGE pain, so I changed the baking method just a bit. The recipe says to roll out the dough to 1/8" thick, cut out shapes, and bake for 10 minutes. Instead, I rolled it out closer to 1/4" thick and used a knife to cut the dough into 1.5" squares. I put them in the oven for 10 minutes per baking sheet, and due to the high butter content, they spread out nicely into 2" slightly rounded squares. I made three batches of the dough so I'd have plenty, and had a nice assembly line going for the mixing. I made one batch, put it in the freezer to chill, used the same bowl for a second batch (no cleaning the bowl necessary, since it's all going to be the same dough anyway), put that batch in the freezer, made the third batch, put that in the freezer, and took out batch #1 to roll out.

Mixing, rolling, and baking took about 2 hours from start to finish: not bad for 9 dozen cookies.
The full batch of cookies cooled overnight, and this morning, I did stage 2: chocolate coating. Instead of dunking each cookie in melted chocolate (which, according to many comments, left far too much chocolate on the cookies), I spread a thin layer of the chocolate on the cookies. It worked well, and had the added benefit of being messy fun. Doing this also allowed me to coat all of my cookies with one 12 oz. bag of semisweet chocolate chips instead of 3 lbs of chocolate--a smidge healthier is always a good thing, and the extra chocolate won't be missed. I got about 4 dozen cookies per batch of dough, and since I only made 9 dozen, I have the leftover dough in the freezer awaiting a chocolate craving attack. :)

The mint flavor in the chocolate is very subtle, and I would definitely add more of the peppermint extract on any future batches. This isn't just because I used less chocolate, because even the chocolate by itself doesn't have that strong mint flavor that the GS Thin Mints have.

All-Natural and Homemade Thin Mints

Playing around with chocolate wasn't a bad way to spend the first snowy morning of the winter!

Friday, November 23, 2007

Cranberry Eggnog Tart

As the baker in the family, I'm always responsible for bringing bread/rolls and dessert for Thanksgiving dinner. I didn't have much trouble figuring out the rolls -- the "butter dipped rolls" from the Bread Bible. This dough took forever to rise, so there's a possibility that I need to freshen up my yeast supply. The finished rolls were very dense and buttery... I was reminded a lot of crescent rolls, both in flavor and texture.

A dessert choice took a little while to hit me. Most "traditional" Thanksgiving desserts are things that at least one person in my family won't eat or (in my case) is allergic to. I've relied on cakes for the last few years, since they transport well. For whatever reason, I couldn't find a cake recipe that I really wanted to make this year.

I turned to Epicurious, like I usually do when I'm in any kind of food quandary. They had picture slideshows of Thanksgiving recipes, including one of "Thanksgiving Pies and Tarts". Most of the recipes fell into the "Only one person would actually eat that" category or the "That has nuts and would make me puffy and unpleasant" category. And then I saw the Cranberry Eggnog Tart. Cookie crust on the bottom, thin layer of cranberry jam, cheesecake layer flavored like eggnog, and another layer of jam on top. The crust and the cheesecake are done in the food processor, and the jam is a basic stovetop cranberry sauce put through a strainer. Easy prep, don't need to use every bowl in the kitchen to make it... perfect.

Cranberry Eggnog Tart, pre-cranberry

My lone problem was that the cranberry "jam" never became anything thicker than a syrup. Maybe my cranberries weren't ripe enough, maybe I didn't force enough of the solids through the strainer; regardless, it would have been impossible to use it for layers in the tart. However, it was a lovely consistency for a dessert sauce, so... problem solved.

Cranberry Eggnog Tart

This was my first time making a cheesecake, and I really liked the "no water bath" aspect of it; it's thin enough that you don't need to bother. It also seems like getting a store-bought jam (cranberry or otherwise) would work nicely in place of the from-scratch cranberry jam. Heck, maybe even a thin layer of lemon curd spread over the top.

This will probably be a strong contender for next year's Thanksgiving dessert as well.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Chicken and Fall Vegetable Pot Pie

I know, I know, I just had a pot pie post fairly recently. I'm a pot pie fiend. Something about 3, possibly 4 food groups all smooshed together in one dish really appeals to me.

Chicken and Fall Vegetable Pot Pie

This particular one came up as the Epicurious featured recipe of the day a couple of weeks ago: Chicken and Fall Vegetable Pot Pie. Fresh Market had everything I needed except turnip greens, so I decided to substitute some baby spinach instead. Got three huge and absolutely gorgeous chicken breasts back at the butcher counter, and while I waited for my turn, I had some entertainment from the kids at the "make a creepy halloween cupcake" table. Cupcakes, frosting, and every kind of gummy creepy-crawly imaginable... The kids there were having a grand time.

Anyway, there's a reason that this has a 95% "would make it again" rate, with a 4-fork rating... it's really good. With the wine, leeks, and shallots in the sauce, and the departure from the normal "peas, carrots, onions" vegetable mix, this is a slightly more sophisticated version of a pot pie. It's very filling, full of lean protein, vegetables, and greens, with the only "unhealthy stuff" being the butter and shortening in the crust, and the heavy cream in the filling. I like to think the "good for you" cancels out the "not so good for you" in dishes like this.

This was a nice way to officially welcome fall to our corner of Maryland.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Sweet Spelt Sourdough Bread

Oh no, she's breaking out the whole grains...

I promised healthier after my eggs and cheese and butter extravaganza in the previous post, so here's the Sweet Spelt Sourdough Bread from King Arthur Flour Whole Grain Baking.

Spelt Sourdough Bread

Spelt is a new grain for me. The natural store that I shop at carries it, and I got a 1 lb bag on a whim a couple of months ago. I haven't found tons of recipes using spelt, as it's only recently started gaining popularity. This sourdough recipe not only provided a way to use some of the spelt that I'd bought, but also gave me an excuse to poke my starter and see if it was still going strong after several months hibernating in the refrigerator (answer: Yes. Sweet Fancy Moses, yes. It'll probably outlive me.).

The recipe calls for an all-spelt levain. Bakers have a whole bunch of terms that mean "starter".. levain is one of them. It's kind of an intermediate step between your permanent starter and the finished dough. Basically, take a little bit of your starter, feed it, and that's your levain. This recipe actually calls for you to begin with a spelt starter... my starter is good ol' AP flour and bread flour, and I absolutely wasn't going to convert the whole thing to spelt just for the 2 tablespoons that are used to make the levain. I used two tablespoons of my existing starter, fed it with the amounts of spelt and water specified, and set it on my warm oven to ferment. ("Room temperature" for bread tends to be warmer than my room temperature here. Any time I see that something needs to rise at room temperature, I turn on the oven as low as possible and set the rising container on top.)

Now, here's where my fun really started. The basic sourdough recipe that I've made in the past calls for the levain to expand for up to 16 hours... my yeast does this in 4 hours. Using the (faulty) assumption that I would also have a faster rise with this one, I started its 12-hour rise at 5:30 pm on Friday. I figured, even if it took half the time called for, I'd still be able to make the dough around 11:30, nap during rise times, and take fresh baked bread in to work with me Saturday morning.

Of course, this time it took the full 12 hours to rise. I stashed it in the fridge so it wouldn't continue to expand so quickly while I was at work and then out Saturday evening. I got the levain out on Sunday morning, let it come up to room temperature, and then made my dough. This dough was hard as a rock. It sucked up all the liquid and still left about half a cup of dry flour on the bottom of the bowl. I added enough water to make a very wet and loose dough with the flour that hadn't been absorbed, and folded that into the rest of the dough. Slowly, it started to loosen up to a point where I could actually knead it.

Spelt Sourdough Bread

From there, all that was left was to let it rise, shape it, slash it, and stick it in the oven. The recipe calls for one 8" x 4" loaf pan... the one size I don't have. I split my dough into one 7" x 3" and two mini-loaf pans, baked the two mini-loaves for 30 minutes each and the larger one for 40 minutes. After all the various things that had gone wonky with this bread, I wasn't expecting much, so I was very pleasantly surprised to pull out 3 nice, risen, crusty loaves of bread.

The flavor of this is completely unlike any bread I've ever had, and one mini-loaf was entirely gone within two hours. The most surprising thing to me was that, while it smells like regular ol' whole wheat bread, there's none of the bitterness that you sometimes get with whole wheat flour. The finished bread is slightly sweet, slightly tangy (from the natural starter), with a dense crumb that's not overly chewy. Great toasting bread.

Spelt Sourdough Bread

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Turkey Cream Puff Pie

This is one that's been in the (virtual) recipe box for a while, just waiting for the first cooler day of the fall. It does not involve dessert cream puffs in any way; I think it acquired that name because the crust is a choux pastry, like what you use to make cream puffs... but it should probably be "turkey cheese puff pie" or "turkey gougere pie".

Turkey Cream Puff Pie

Making choux pastry is one of those times when you feel like something magic is happening in front of you. Every time I make a batch, I can't believe what happens. You dump the flour into your butter/liquid mixture and think, "Oh, this will never smooth out, I'm going to have a lumpy mess." Lo and behold, it smoothes out and all the lumps disappear. You add your eggs one at a time, and it looks like there's no way the dough will absorb each additional egg... and then you look and the egg you just added is gone. And all of this comes before you even bake it, which causes your sticky, buttery paste to rise and puff and turn a gorgeous golden brown.

Turkey Cream Puff Pie

I've made choux pastry a bunch of times, mostly for gougeres. The idea of using it as a savory pie crust, however, came from Gourmet magazine (recipe available on Epicurious). I subbed in my usual veggie combo of carrots, corn, peas, and broccoli, and also added a couple of tablespoons of sherry to my filling.

The smell of this baking is out of this world, by the way--my whole apartment is filled with the aroma of butter and cheese. The finished pie is pretty darn delicious. There's absolutely no confusing the choux pastry with a typical pie crust. It's dense and eggy and moist, with pockets of Swiss cheese throughout.

Something healthy next time, I promise.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Meat Loaf Club Sandwich

Ordinarily, sandwiches don't make it to the blog, because my sandwiches tend to be kind of boring. "Take something, put it in bread". This one, however, seemed interesting. It's a meatloaf sandwich that doesn't require one to make a meatloaf first. Ok, I had to have a go at that.

This comes from Food & Wine (found here on their website). You make a seasoned meat mixture, spread it out on a sandwich, and press it on either a grill or skillet. Instant meatloaf in a sandwich.

Mine had no tomatoes and no rosemary, and I put mustard directly on the top layer instead of having it on the side. Two thumbs up. They're garlicky, bacon-y, with moist meat, crunchy toasted bread, and a little kick from the chipotle. It's a little more work than a typical deli meat sandwich, but well worth it.

Meatloaf Club Sandwich

Note to self: next time, make fries. This needed fries. :D

Monday, September 10, 2007

Sour Cream Fudge Cake

As we know by now, I like to bake. Mostly, I lean towards savory things like breads and rolls, and especially yeasted recipes that let me knead dough for 15 minutes. However, for my birthday buddy cake today at work, I really couldn't show up with a birthday loaf of rye bread.

My buddy had requested chocolate, and as I paged through Tish Boyle's The Cake Book, I saw many MANY chocolate cakes. The one that I settled on won out for the simple reason that it can feed a crowd: Sour Cream Fudge Cake (p. 140) with White Chocolate Cream Cheese Frosting (p. 311).

Sour Cream Fudge Cake with White Chocolate Cream Cheese Frosting

It took a little bit of time, but not an unreasonable amount. Both the cake and the frosting required double boilers, and the cake had lots of "add ingredient x in three batches, mixing thoroughly after each addition". I made the cake Sunday night, and got up early Monday morning to make the frosting. I figured, with a cream cheese frosting, fresher is better. I have no cake decorating tools or skills, but I think the pattern came out nicely. Looks like waves, or dragon scales, depending on how you look at it.

It went over very well, despite being just a hair on the dry side. Something in the fridge at work smelled funky and I didn't want the frosting to absorb any weird flavors, so I only had the cake in there for about 3 hours and then pulled it out. The three hours at room temp before we cut into it... it lost a bit of moisture, but not too much. The cake was dense and chocolaty, but not overly rich or sweet. I could eat the frosting by the spoonful. I know white chocolate can sometimes be almost cloying, but the tang from the lemon juice and the cream cheese cuts right through that. The white chocolate ends up being more of a background note.

I've already been told that they're signing me up for dessert duty for our holiday party, and that I'm not getting a vote. :D

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Three days later...

Sauerbraten! I was pleased to see that none of the friends who had threatened to break into my place and steal this while I was at work today followed through.

Sauerbraten and noodles

The meat went in the oven at 7 am. I took it out at 10:45, then strained the braising liquid and made my gravy. I cut back the number of gingersnaps used to 12, because AB's gravy on the Good Eats episode looked almost too thick.

Sauerbraten and noodles

The meat was falling apart and very moist; gotta love a 3.5 hour braise. I had some buttered noodles on the side (organic pasta, even), and had a lovely lunch before I had to go off to work.

The one note I had was that the gravy, although very good, felt like it was lacking something. I was expecting much more of a hit from the vinegar, considering the sheer amount of vinegar in the dish. Something to make that acidity really pop, whether that's a bit more salt or a bit of lemon juice... whatever it needs, it doesn't need much. This is a darn tasty dish.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Sauerbraten, day one

I know, I know, I should be flogged for the lack of posts. I'm going to try to make up for it by taking three days to make sauerbraten.

I didn't even know I really needed to make sauerbraten. However, as I was sitting here Thursday night watching Good Eats, I realized that Alton Brown's sauerbraten was an absolutely essential project for the weekend.

Friday after work, I went in search of the one ingredient I anticipated having problems finding: juniper berries. My first instinct was to check at the natural market, and I was happy to see the berries hiding out in the bulk spice area, along with the mustard seeds and whole cloves that I needed.
Juniper berries

I figured I'd see how much of the rest of the ingredient list I could cross off while there. Most of their products there are organic, but not too pricey. I managed to find everything I needed except the beef and gingersnaps, so there was a quick stop off at Giant to get those. I found a nice Angus 2.5 lb bottom round roast, which is a good size for a roast when it's just me. I'll have plenty of leftovers.

This morning, I gathered everything up and made the marinade:
Sauerbraten marinade

After browning the beef, I poured the marinade over it and put it in the refrigerator. There it'll stay until Tuesday, when I stick it in a pot, put it in the oven, and forget all about it for 4 hours. Gotta love recipes like this: 20 minutes of work and let time do the rest. :D

Stay tuned...

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Monkey Bread

This was the most "wizard" looking baked good I could think of to bring in for our mondo Hogwarts extravaganza day...

Monkey Bread

Monkey Bread from The Bread Bible, tweaked a little bit to cut down on the sticky/gooey factor. Sticky doesn't work well in a library. I didn't use all of the brown sugar/butter mixture, and I left out the raisins, pecans, and glaze entirely. Still turned out tasty and moist, but not so sweet that it was cloying. This is a nice thing to make for a large group of people; it's already portioned and everyone can just tear off however much they want.

No angel food pan here, so I made it in two standard loaf pans instead. It took about 45 minutes to bake.

I had been intending to dye the dough 4 or 5 different colors so that the individual dough balls would be different colors. Good in theory, but I ended up not having time to do it. I dyed some of the dough pink, and wound up with a nice pink swirled dough in some places.

Monkey Bread

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Kettle corn

Homemade kettle corn

I had kettle corn for the first time earlier this year. Yes, you heard that right... Up until a few months ago, I didn't know what it was, and had no idea how it was different from regular buttered popcorn. I assure you, I'm appropriately ashamed. A coworker had brought in three different kinds of microwave popcorn for a program she was doing, and one of these was a microwave kettle corn made with Splenda. Even with the artificial sweetener, I really liked it. And when I finally had the real stuff a couple of months later... I was hooked.

The problem is, what do you do for it when you're not at a fair or similar event? I'm sure you can buy it in bags somewhere, but I have this thing about bagged popcorn ever since my dad chipped a tooth on bagged popcorn on two separate occasions. All righty, this means I have to make my own.

A quick aside here. If you're a snack junkie like me, go get yourself a supply of popcorn--not microwave popcorn, but the real deal. A 2 lb bag has between 30-40 servings, and will cost about the same as what you'd pay for a large bag of potato chips. It's a whole grain food, is naturally pretty healthy unless you're absolutely drowning it in butter and salt... and it explodes on purpose, so there's a nice "violent fun" factor.

I looked on the internet for kettle corn recipes, and they all said the same thing. "Add the sugar to the pan before the popcorn starts popping, and just shake and cross your fingers." Riiiight...I tried this approach, and ended up with burnt, scorched caramel corn. Just barely edible, and definitely not what I was thinking of as kettle corn.

So, here's my approach. It may be a bit inauthentic, but it turns out a VERY tasty end result without any worries about setting off a smoke detector.

Homemade kettle corn

2 tablespoons vegetable or canola oil
1/4 cup of unpopped popcorn
1-3 tablespoons sugar
Salt to taste

Heat the oil in a large nonstick skillet (one that has a lid) over medium high heat. Add three kernels of popcorn, cover, and wait for all three to pop--this will let you know when your pan is hot enough. Once those three kernels have popped, add the rest of the popcorn and cover the pan. Once you start to hear popping, begin shaking the pan every 10-20 seconds. When the popping slows down, peek in the pan to see how much is still unpopped. If there are still a large number of unpopped kernels, continue cooking.

Once you have almost no unpopped kernels left, turn off the heat, uncover, and immediately sprinkle sugar over the top. If you want just a bit of sweetness, go for 1 tablespoon of sugar. If you want it to be caramel-corn-sweet, use three. The residual heat in the pan and in the popcorn will be enough to just barely melt the sugar, so it will adhere to the popcorn without being sticky. Stir the popcorn to evenly distribute the sugar, add salt, and enjoy.

Makes 2 cups of popped popcorn, enough for one serving. For more than one serving, you won't need to proportionally increase the oil. Another tablespoon per 1/4 cup of popcorn would be more than enough.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Chicken with Black Pepper-Maple Sauce

If you're like me, you probably wish you could put maple syrup on everything. However, you probably also recognize that you'd get some weird looks if you hauled out the syrup bottle to use on grilled chicken...

Epicurious to the rescue! I took a stab at the Chicken with Black Pepper-Maple Sauce tonight, and it's absolutely a winner. The sauce is sweet from the syrup, spicy from the cracked pepper, tart from the vinegar--an excellent "grown-up" way to put syrup on one's dinner. :)

Chicken with Black Pepper-Maple Sauce

I did a few things differently than the recipe says. First off, I didn't feel like spatchcocking a chicken, so I grilled some boneless skinless breasts instead. Since I grilled these, I didn't have a pan that needed to be deglazed, so I just added the vinegar directly to the syrup mixture and let it reduce for another 10 minutes. It was a thin sauce; I probably could have reduced it further, but with all the sugar from the syrup, I didn't want to risk scorching it.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Braised chicken with balsamic vinegar

I had to wait a little whle until the painful stupidity of what I did with this had faded a little bit.

I decided to make a braised chicken-and-potatoes dish. It was done entirely on the stovetop, which is nice during the summer when one doesn't want to turn on her oven more than is absolutely necessary.

It serves 4, and there's just one of me. I loaded up all of my leftovers to take with me to work for lunch for the week... and left the container sitting next to my front door. After 9 hours of it sitting out at room temperature, I wasn't taking any chances, so I only had one meal from this. Luckily, it was a very tasty meal.

Braised chicken

3 bacon slices, cut crosswise into 1/4" strips
4 boneless skinless chicken breasts
1 medium onion, thinly sliced (Vidalia, if you can find one)
1 head garlic, cloves separated and peeled, or 12-15 whole peeled garlic cloves
1 can (14.5 oz) low sodium chicken stock
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1 lb waxy potatoes, halved lengthwise and cut into 1/2" wide half-moons (peeling not necessary)

Cook bacon in a deep 12-inch skillet over moderately low heat, stirring, until crisp, about 8 minutes. Transfer the bacon to paper towels to drain, reserving the bacon fat in skillet.

Season chicken with salt and pepper. Brown the chicken (in 2 batches if necessary) in bacon fat over moderately high heat, turning once, about 10 minutes. Transfer the browned chicken to a plate, cover loosely with aluminum foil, and pour off all but 2 tablespoons of the bacon fat from skillet.

Add the potatoes to the skillet and cook over medium heat until starting to brown, 8-10 minutes. Add the sliced onion. Cook, stirring frequently, until the onions are soft and slightly translucent, about 10 minutes.

Add the garlic cloves and chicken broth to the skillet, and bring to a boil for 1 minute.

Return chicken to skillet, nestling the chicken down into the sauce. Gently simmer, covered, until chicken is cooked through and potatoes are tender, about 30 minutes.

Transfer the chicken to a serving dish. Add the balsamic vinegar to the sauce and boil, uncovered, mashing the garlic cloves with the back of a spoon, until the sauce is slightly thickened. Serve chicken and potatoes together, sprinkled with crumbled bacon.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Stout floats

I poke through the new recipes on pretty frequently, and came across one for Guinness-based ice cream floats a couple of weeks ago. I love Guinness, I love vanilla ice cream... sure, I'll give that a try. There's even a pretty picture accompanying the recipe to suck me in further.

There was a bad review... I wrote it off as someone who likes beer but maybe isn't used to drinking Guinness. I got a weird face from someone at work when I told her I was thinking about making this... still, I believed that this was going to be delightful.

Epicurious does me wrong SO VERY RARELY, and I want to make that clear. I love them. I urge all bacon lovers to try out their Sweet and Spicy Bacon recipe, which is like heaven on earth. It takes the basic idea behind dipping bacon in maple syrup and takes it to the next logical step. I can't keep a batch around for longer than 24 hours (which is part of why I try not to make it often, because I have this notion that eating a pound of bacon in a day isn't all that healthy).

The stout floats didn't come out so well. And here's the problem. Ice cream floats should be sweet. Guinness is very bitter, coming in between 45-60 on the IBU scale. Guinness works in something like a chocolate stout cake, where there's some flavor complexity to offset the bitterness. It does NOT work when the only sweetness in the dessert is coming from vanilla ice cream, even premium vanilla ice cream. You just end up with ice cream that tastes bitter. Bleh. Lesson learned.

However, now I'm wondering if a combo of a hefeweizen and lemon sorbet or ice cream would work...

Monday, May 14, 2007

Cinnamon Raisin Loaf

I've been wanting to bake something to bring into work, and decided to make the Cinnamon Raisin Loaf from The Bread Bible (minus the raisins). It struck me as something that would be nice to have early on a Monday morning as we're getting ready for another week of lost library cards and weird altercations in the parking lot.

And if you can't tell, yes, I'm more-or-less baking my way through this book. "More or less" because I'm allergic to nuts, and there are a few nut-heavy recipes in there.

This bread, again, starts out with a dough sponge. Even though yesterday wasn't especially humid, I ended up needing to add a CUP more flour than the recipe calls for just to get it from "thick batter" to "kneadable dough" status. This isn't one of the recipes with listed errors, but 1 3/4 cups of water plus about 4 cups of flour seems off to me. However, seeing that I was supposed to have a "soft dough", I just added flour 1/4 cup at a time until I had something that felt like the right texture.

Once the dough has risen, it goes into the refrigerator to firm up so that it can be flattened into a rectangle. The dough is then coated with an egg wash and a cinnamon-sugar mixture, rolled up, left to rise again, and then baked.

Finished loaf cooling:
Cinnamon Raisin Loaf (minus the raisins)

Yes, that's some cinnamon leakage on the side:
Minor cinnamon leakage

Sliced, showing actual SPIRALS!
Cinnamon Raisin loaf slices

The finished bread is moist and dense; I can't wait to try toasting up a slice or two. It's not too sweet, and makes a perfect breakfast treat.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

"Levy's" Real Jewish Rye Bread

Today was the day, folks. It was finally time to branch out beyond wheat-based flours. I am enough of a dork that I'm excited by that. :)

I decided to finally make use of some of the rye flour that I got a few weeks ago. This called for rye bread. Specifically, a loaf of "Levy's" Real Jewish Rye Bread out of The Bread Bible by Rose Levy Beranbaum.

My initial impression after reading the recipe? "Wow... that's all the rye flour that's used?" I naively had been expecting a rye bread to be mostly rye flour, but this particular one is mostly bread flour, with just 3/4 cup of rye flour.

This book hasn't let me down yet, so I went with it. I gathered up my ingredients: Arrowhead Mills Organic Rye Flour, Pillsbury bread flour, bulk instant yeast from the natural market, generic honey, sugar, and salt. The recipes calls for caraway seeds, which I didn't have, so I used sesame seeds instead. "Sesame Rye" had a nice ring to it.

Like many of the recipes in TBB, this bread starts with a sponge that ferments from 1 to 4 hours. I usually jump on my sponges after barely an hour, out of sheer impatience. This one, though, I allowed to sit for almost the full 4 hours. It was very perky by the end of the 4 hours, ready to be mixed and kneaded and left to proof.

Rye bread rising

I was very pleasantly surprised to see a tan dough, with lots of rye speckles... so much for my worries that there wasn't enough rye flour. The dough doubled in about 1.5 hours, got a gentle punching down via the "letter fold" method, and then doubled again.

Shaping time. I wanted this bread for sandwiches, so I eschewed the freeform loaf called for in the recipe in favor of a loaf pan. One last 45 minute rising, and then into the oven with some ice cubes for a nice chewy crust. It baked for 45 minutes, and came out like so:

Loaf of Rye Bread

And I know bakers want to get a gander at the inside:
Rye Bread

slice of homemade rye bread

The crumb is dense, moist, chewy... I love this bread. It's absolutely going into my standard rotation. And since rye flour is a whole grain flour, it has all of those whole grain health benefits--excellent! :)

Friday, May 04, 2007

Lemon Vinaigrette Roasted Chicken with Gorgonzola Mashed Potatoes

So, every month when I get the mailing from the cookbook club I'm in, there's a recipe printed inside the envelope. Usually, I forget about this entirely and throw it out. Luckily, I grabbed this one for Lemon Vinaigrette Roasted Chicken with Gorgonzola Mashed Potatoes, which is from No-Fuss Dinners by Caroline Marson.

Lemon Vinaigrette Roasted Chicken

It wasn't exactly "no-fuss", I'll admit. However, it was an acceptable amount of fuss, especially considering the rather tasty result. The lemon and Gorgonzola complement each other very nicely.

Lemon Vinaigrette Roasted Chicken with Gorgonzola Mashed Potatoes
2 unwaxed lemons
1 medium onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, halved
6 boneless chicken breasts, with skin (about 6 oz. each)
handful fresh thyme sprigs
2 tbsp. balsamic vinegar
2 tbsp. cider or sherry vinegar
4 tbsp. honey
2/3 cup olive oil
sea salt & freshly ground black pepper
wilted spinach and steamed or sautéed green beans, to serve

Gorgonzola mash:
3 lb. baking potatoes, peeled & cut into 8 pieces
3 fresh rosemary sprigs (optional)
1 cup milk, warmed
5 tbsp. unsalted butter
4 oz. Gorgonzola cheese, cubed
sea salt

small roasting pan

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.

Grate zest and squeeze juice from 1 lemon and set aside. Thinly slice remaining lemon. Scatter lemon slices, onion, and garlic over the base of the roasting pan. Place chicken on slices. Season well with salt and pepper, and sprinkle with thyme sprigs.

Whisk together the reserved lemon zest and juice, vinegars, honey, and olive oil in a bowl. Pour vinaigrette over chicken and cook in preheated oven for 25-30 minutes, or until chicken is cooked through.

Meanwhile make the Gorgonzola mash. Rinse potatoes and cook in a large pan of boiling salted water with rosemary (if using) for 12-15 minutes. Drain and mash. Put potatoes back into the pan, and stir briefly over low heat to remove excess moisture.

Beat in warm milk and butter and season well. Stir thoroughly until you have a smooth paste and a peaking consistency—add extra milk if necessary. Gently fold in the Gorgonzola just before you’re about to serve.

Remove chicken from the oven and then from the pan; set aside in a warm place. Place pan over a medium heat and bubble juices until syrupy.

To serve, place a large spoonful of mashed potatoes on each warmed plate and put a chicken breast on the top. Spoon over the lemon juices and accompany with wilted spinach and green beans. Serves 6.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

The Easiest 100% Whole Wheat Bread Ever

For Earth Day, I decided to do a little bit of whole grain baking. I don't know if it's really in the "spirit" of Earth Day, but it made sense in my head at the time. :)

A couple of weeks ago, I accidentally got a copy of the King Arthur Flour Whole Grain Baking cookbook (it was the featured selection for the mail-order cookbook club I'm in, and I missed the reply date to stop them from sending it). Anyway, as I looked through the book, I knew it would be staying here. I'd been wanting to use more whole grains in my baking, and this book fell in my lap at exactly the right time.

After paging through it and filling my head with too many ideas, I had a flour spree at the natural market. Rye flour, white whole wheat flour, and spelt flour... in addition to the all-purpose flour, bread flour, and regular whole wheat flour I already had on hand. I think I may have a problem.

This afternoon, I busted out a quick 100% whole wheat bread--specifically, "The Easiest 100% Whole Wheat Bread Ever". It's a yeast bread, but comes together much more like a quickbread. Everything is mixed together in a bowl, with no kneading. After mixing for a couple of minutes, you put the dough in a loaf pan to proof for an hour (although the recipe does warn that the dough will not actually "rise" at all), and then bake it for about 45 minutes. They're not kidding about the "easy" part.


Really nice, sweet flavor, thanks to orange juice and molasses in the dough. Because there wasn't much kneading, the finished bread turned out dense and moist. It fell apart pretty easily--again, no kneading will do that. And check out the color:
100% whole wheat bread

The recipe note suggested a light slathering of cream cheese... who am I to argue? :)

Friday, March 30, 2007

Beer Bread

Got in some baking time last night:
Beer bread

That's a couple of slices of Rose Levy Beranbaum's Beer Bread. I've made a few different beer bread recipes over the years, some with yeast, some without. Overall, I think I like the yeast recipes better. The beer quickbreads that I've made have come out really dense and cakey. That's fine, but with beer bread, I don't want to feel like I'm eating cake. The yeast recipes come out much lighter, although they obviously take longer because of the rising time.

This recipe has both whole wheat flour and white bread flour in it, along with a little bit of either malt powder or sugar to balance out the bitterness from the beer and whole wheat flour. I usually use a stout or a porter for beer bread, but for this one I used some Wolaver's brown ale, which yielded a lighter color bread with a more subtle beer flavor to it. Put some butter and honey on a warm slice of this... that's a couple of minutes of happiness right there. :)

Beer bread

Sunday, March 25, 2007

MoJack Flank Steak

How yum does this look, non-vegetarians?

MoJack Flank Steak

A Jack Daniel's-and-citrus-based marinade? I'm intrigued. I've never cooked with whiskey... wine, sherry, vodka, but never whiskey. I'll have to try this out and report back. :)


Verdict: Yum.

Good ol' meat and potatoes

Giant didn't have flank steak when I went, so I grabbed a top round instead. I marinated it for about 5 hours, then slapped it on my electric grill. With all of the citrus in the marinade, I was a little worried that this would come out tasting like lime and nothing else, but I worried for nothing. All the flavors balance out nicely... and NO, it does not taste like bourbon, either. (Lesson learned today: bourbon is a type of whiskey. I learned this at the liquor store, after looking through the "whiskey" shelves in vain... and then finding the elusive Jack Daniel's in the bourbon shelves. A-HA!)

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Pretzel Bread

And, if there's "part 1" of homemade snackage, you know there's a part 2... I made a batch of the intriguing-sounding "pretzel bread" rolls from The Bread Bible. They're rolls crossed with soft pretzels: how bad can that be?

First, the with-flash shot of the full batch right out of the oven:
Pretzel Bread

And here's the nicer natural light shot:
Pretzel Bread

I take SEVERE issue with this recipe claiming that you should be able to get 12 rolls out of the amount of dough it makes. I had 8 normal-sized rolls, and they'd have to be really tiny in order to give you a full dozen.

Other than that minor problem, this was a nice recipe. I was raised on Philly soft pretzels, the ones from the street carts that are big and doughy and wonderful, and I miss them. These rolls are definitely NOT soft pretzels, but they have that same dense chewiness that I love.

I didn't do the lye glaze, because lye kind of scares me. You're not supposed to touch it with bare hands because you might get a chemical burn from it... but I'm supposed to put it on rolls that I'm going to eat? Maybe somewhere down the line, but not today. I did the same sugar/baking soda glaze used for the bagels in the book, with good results.

This is a nice, easy, fast recipe -- a yeast bread that takes 2 hours total? Yay!

Maple Caramel Popcorn

Part one of today's homemade snackage:
Maple caramel popcorn

A batch of yummy maple caramel popcorn, adapted from the recipe found here.

Maple caramel popcorn

No nuts for me, so I left out the pecans. I only had 1/2 cup of maple syrup on hand, so I cut the caramel syrup recipe down to a third of what it's supposed to be. It's still plenty sweet and maple-y, but didn't require a cup and a half of pure maple syrup (which, having tasted this, I think would make it WAY too sweet).

I have a horrible tendency to burn sugar any time I try to make candy, and I was THRILLED that I caught the syrup before it burned (and yes, it was definitely heading that way). It was around 290 degrees at that point, which is close enough to 300 for me... poured it over the popcorn, and it started to harden almost immediately. I did get it spread out on a baking sheet to cool before it hardened completely, and then broke it up once it had cooled. This is some very tasty stuff, and hopefully, with 8 cups to munch on, I won't eat all of it today. :)

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Crackers and breadsticks and chicken, oh my!

Here's what I did with my snowy Sunday...

I made whole wheat cumin seed crackers, topped with sesame seeds and kosher salt:
Whole wheat cumin seed crackers

I experimented with an apricot chicken and rice dish:
Apricot glazed chicken and rice

I made a batch of crunchy herbed breadsticks (this batch had oregano and parsley, and romano cheese instead of parmesan):
Homemade crunchy breadsticks

To explain 2/3rds of what I did: I'm not buying any store-bought snack foods during Lent this year, so I'm hauling out various cracker and snack recipes to make in the meantime.

The whole wheat cumin seed crackers are part of a larger Charlie Trotter recipe for a seared tuna something-or-other... I thought the cracker part looked good (fish allergy, blah blah). The cumin seed flavor is actually a bit much in the crackers. I say that as someone who LOVES Indian food and is a fan of cumin seed in general. But, in these crackers, it's kind of overpowering. They're not BAD (half of them are gone already)... just not quite what I was expecting. Happily, I got a chance to test out a substitute "egg" wash that I thought would work nicely for these. Instead of using an egg + water, I mixed equal parts of honey and water, and brushed it on the crackers to adhere the sesame seeds and kosher salt. It worked very well. The honey gives a nice little touch of sweetness that works well with the whole wheat flour in these.

I've made the breadsticks before, and have talked about them here before... they're a nice snacking option, and I figured that I might as well make additional snack stuff while I had the time. :)

The apricot chicken and rice... let's just say that, when it snows around here, other people's driving gets incredibly scary. I decided to stay home and make dinner with what I had on hand. I don't normally make up recipes from scratch; I'll take an existing recipe and change half the ingredients around, but I don't usually just plop down a bunch of ingredients and say, "What can I make with this?" The fact that I came up with something that I actually want to make again... yay! I'll play around with it, and once I get a recipe for it, I'll pass it along.

Thursday, February 22, 2007


I have wanted to make homemade bagels since I started getting into baking a couple of years ago, and this past Sunday was the day to finally do it.

For a first attempt, they came out nicely. I have several notes for the next time I try this. Knead for longer than I think I have to; make bigger holes; check them halfway through the baking time to see if they're browning too quickly.

This is what I had before baking:
Plain bagel, pre-baking

And here's what I had after baking:
Finished bagels

They got a lot browner than I meant for them to be, and the holes on all but one of them closed up from the amount of puffing that took place during baking.

Here's the one that retained its hole:
Homemade bagel

Once I get the recipe down perfectly, the folks at work are definitely getting a batch of these and English muffins some morning...

However, definitely acceptable for a first try.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Potato, Sage, and Rosemary Pizza

I made this recipe for a party I went to last weekend:

Potato, Rosemary, and Sage pizza

And the more food-porn-y shot:
Potato, Rosemary, and Sage pizza

I grilled the potatoes on my countertop grill, rather than sautéing them. I'm using every excuse possible to use this grill... I love it.

I switched out Romano cheese for the Parmesan cheese that the recipe calls for, mainly because I have a hunk of Romano cheese that I'm trying to use up before anything fuzzy happens to it.
My only complaint was that the rosemary ended up being a bit overpowering and bitter. I would definitely cut back both the rosemary and sage by half if I were to make this again.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Grilled Cajun Chicken Salad

Broke out my new countertop grill/griddle/panini press tonight, for the "grilling" part of this Grilled Cajun Chicken Salad with Spicy Ranch Dressing from Epicurious.

Cajun Chicken Salad

Tasty, yes. "Cajun" or "Spicy", no. I'll make it again, but with at least twice the cayenne pepper the recipe calls for, maybe a bit more. I found a nice arugula and baby greens mix for the salad, and had a hunk of sourdough bread on the side (because a carb-free meal is NOT a meal for me). The dressing is excellent; it could even be almost-healthy, if you used low-fat mayonnaise. It's creamy and tangy, exactly what ranch dressing is supposed to be like.

Cajun Chicken Salad

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Semolina gnocchi

I have a bit of a tradition of making myself a nice dinner on the first night of the 24 season premiere each year. I'll sit there watching all the glorious violence, with my lovely meal and a glass of wine... Yes, the premiere of 24 is an event for me.

Beef and gnocchi

This year's offering was Giada De Laurentiis's Involtini of Beef, with her Gnocchi alla Romana (semolina gnocchi). Both recipes are from an episode of Everyday Italian about Roman cuisine. The gnocchi in particular were something I'd been wanting to make for a while. Semolina flour and chicken broth, cooked until it's the consistency of polenta, then mixed with an egg and spread on a cookie sheet to cool. As the mixture cools, it hardens to a point where it can be cut into pieces. Those pieces are arranged in a dish, topped with butter and cheese, and broiled. Relatively little work, really nice payoff.

I'm working my way up to potato gnocchi.

Semolina gnocchi

Kinda pretty, no?

The beef involtini are thin slices of beef rolled around a a veggie stuffing, cooked in a tomato sauce... also very good, but really, I made this meal because I wanted to try the gnocchi. :) They were a nice change from rice or pasta... this is a definite repeat dish for me.